Sunday, 30 April 2017

The Classics Book Tag.

Jillian has tagged me for the The Classics Book Tag, which I thought looked rather fun, so here are my answers....
An over-hyped classic you really didn’t like: 'The Paliser Novels' by Anthony Trollope. I wouldn't go so far as to say they're "over-hyped" and I do appreciate people love them, but, aside from Can You Forgive Her? and The Eustace Diamonds I really didn't like them.

Favourite time period to read about?: I do have a particular liking for books set in pre-Victorian times, say mid-18th Century to early 1830s. This was about the time of the Industrial Revolution, but the books I like largely (not entirely) ignore that aspect. The actual effects of the Industrial Revolution, the social novels that is, tended to come in the 1840s and it's not that I don't like those, I positively do, but the mid-18th Century - early 1830s seem simpler times, a time when, though the changes were occurring, the country wasn't ravaged by industry and rampant capitalism. Here's a few examples:
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen (1811), Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens (1836-37), Adam Bede by George Eliot (1859; set in 1799), The Journal of the Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson by James Boswell (1786) and A Country Parson: the Diary of James Woodforde (1758-1802).

avourite fairy tale?: 
The Ugly Duckling by Hans Christian Andersen (1843).
Faery Tales by Hans Christian Andersen illustrated by Maxwell Armfield (1910).

Hans Andersen's Fairy Tales illustrated by W. Heath Robinson (1916).

What is the most embarrassing classic you haven’t read?: Le Morte D'Arthur by Thomas Malory (1485). I'm not embarrassed that I think everyone's read it but me, more because I have been meaning to read it for years and I have an absolute block with it, even though I'm sure I'll love it!
The Romance of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, abridged from Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur,
illustrated by Arthur Rackham (1917).

Top 5 classics you want to read: Aside from Le Morte D'Arthur - As I Crossed the Bride of Dreams (11th Century), The Golden Ass by Apuleius (2nd Century), Elizabethan Love StoriesThe Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole (1764), and Spring Torrents by Ivan Turgenev (1872).

Favourite modern book/series based on a classic?: He Knew He Was Right by Anthony Trollope (1869). I know this is not exactly modern, but it's an excellent take on Shakespeare's Othello.

Favourite movie version / tv series based on a classic?: Has to be Pride and Prejudice directed by Joe Wright (2005).
Worst classic to movie adaptation?: I haven't actually seen any bad ones - I don't watch many films at all, so when I do they tend to be almost universally liked! I have heard that William Wyler did terrible things to Wuthering Heights in 1939, and, the short snatches of it I've seen, it does seem very wooden.
Wuthering Heights starring Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon
Favourite editions you’d like to collect more of?: I'm not much of a collector of different editions, I'm really not bothered as to what the book looks like or who published it, just so long as it's readable. That said annotated editions are a God-send for certain novels and I wouldn't mind an annotated Finnegans Wake and Ulysses by James Joyce.

An underhyped classic?: So many! Émile Zola's short stories, Richard Kennedy's A Boy at the Hogarth Press (1972), which is about Kennedy's experience working for Leonard and Virginia Woolf, James Woodforde's Diary, Émile Najac and Victorien Sardou's Let's Get a Divorce! (1880), Diary of a Pilgrimage by Jerome K. Jerome (1891), Francis Kilvert's Diary (1870-79), and Marcel Proust's Jean Santeuil (1952) come to mind.

I shall tag anyone who wants to join in! 😊

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Chapters XXXVIII - XL of The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens.

Last month we were left with a wee cliffhanger: why has Mr. Winkle gone to Bristol of all places, and will Sam Weller find him?

How Mr. Winkle, When He Stepped Out Of The Frying-Pan, Walked Gently and 
Comfortably Into The Fire

'Conviviality at Bob Sawyer's' by Phiz.
The chapter begins,
The ill-starred gentleman who had been the unfortunate cause of the unusual noise and disturbance which alarmed the inhabitants of the Royal Crescent in manner and form already described, after passing a night of great confusion and anxiety, left the roof beneath which his friends still slumbered, bound he knew not whither. The excellent and considerate feelings which prompted Mr. Winkle to take this step can never be too highly appreciated or too warmly extolled. ‘If,’ reasoned Mr. Winkle with himself—‘if this Dowler attempts (as I have no doubt he will) to carry into execution his threat of personal violence against myself, it will be incumbent on me to call him out. He has a wife; that wife is attached to, and dependent on him. Heavens! If I should kill him in the blindness of my wrath, what would be my feelings ever afterwards!’ This painful consideration operated so powerfully on the feelings of the humane young man, as to cause his knees to knock together, and his countenance to exhibit alarming manifestations of inward emotion. Impelled by such reflections, he grasped his carpet-bag, and creeping stealthily downstairs, shut the detestable street door with as little noise as possible, and walked off. Bending his steps towards the Royal Hotel, he found a coach on the point of starting for Bristol, and, thinking Bristol as good a place for his purpose as any other he could go to, he mounted the box, and reached his place of destination in such time as the pair of horses, who went the whole stage and back again, twice a day or more, could be reasonably supposed to arrive there.
Waiting for Mr. Dowler to calm down a little, Mr. Winkle decides against contacting Pickwick, instead deciding to stay in Bristol. He gets lost, and who should he bump into? Bob Sawyer and Ben Allen! Furthermore, we also learn Arabella, Winkle's sweetheart, is also in town avoiding a suitor. To Winkle's dismay he learns that Ben wishes her to marry Bob. All of this is put aside however when Mr. Dowler shows up. Happily their differences are sorted, but no sooner is that put to bed Sam Weller walks in and rebukes him for causing Pickwick more upset. They reach a compromise:
That Sam should retire, and leave Mr. Winkle in the undisturbed possession of his apartment, on the condition that he had permission to lock the door on the outside, and carry off the key; provided always, that in the event of an alarm of fire, or other dangerous contingency, the door should be instantly unlocked. That a letter should be written to Mr. Pickwick early next morning, and forwarded per Dowler, requesting his consent to Sam and Mr. Winkle’s remaining at Bristol, for the purpose and with the object already assigned, and begging an answer by the next coach—, if favourable, the aforesaid parties to remain accordingly, and if not, to return to Bath immediately on the receipt thereof. And, lastly, that Mr. Winkle should be understood as distinctly pledging himself not to resort to the window, fireplace, or other surreptitious mode of escape in the meanwhile. These stipulations having been concluded, Sam locked the door and departed.
Chapter XXXIX
Mr. Samuel Weller, Being Entrusted With A Mission Of Love, Proceeds To Execute It; With What Success Will Hereinafter Appear 

The next day Sam keeps a very close eye on Winkle, and at eight o' clock that evening Mr. Pickwick arrives, saying
‘I thought it better to come myself,’ said Mr. Pickwick, addressing Mr. Winkle, as Sam disencumbered him of his great-coat and travelling-shawl, ‘to ascertain, before I gave my consent to Sam’s employment in this matter, that you are quite in earnest and serious, with respect to this young lady.’
Sam is then sent to find Arabella, who, by chance, lives next door to Mary, Sam's own sweetheart. She, Arabella, agrees to meet with him (chaperoned by Pickwick), and when they talk she reveals her love for him. Everything seems to be going swimmingly, and later in the chapter Pickwick meets "an elderly gentleman of scientific attainments" and the phenomena of light is discussed...

Chapter XL
Introduces Mr. Pickwick to a New and not Uninteresting Scene in the Great Drama of Life

'Mr. Pickwick sits for his portrait' by Phiz.
... And from light to darkness. Dear Pickwickians, this is indeed a sad chapter. Mr. Pickwick having returned to Bath remains there, in which time nothing of note takes place. On returning to London, however:
On the third morning after their arrival, just as all the clocks in the city were striking nine individually, and somewhere about nine hundred and ninety-nine collectively, Sam was taking the air in George Yard, when a queer sort of fresh-painted vehicle drove up, out of which there jumped with great agility, throwing the reins to a stout man who sat beside him, a queer sort of gentleman, who seemed made for the vehicle, and the vehicle for him. 
The vehicle was not exactly a gig, neither was it a stanhope. It was not what is currently denominated a dog-cart, neither was it a taxed cart, nor a chaise-cart, nor a guillotined cabriolet; and yet it had something of the character of each and every of these machines. It was painted a bright yellow, with the shafts and wheels picked out in black; and the driver sat in the orthodox sporting style, on cushions piled about two feet above the rail. The horse was a bay, a well-looking animal enough; but with something of a flash and dog-fighting air about him, nevertheless, which accorded both with the vehicle and his master. 
The master himself was a man of about forty, with black hair, and carefully combed whiskers. He was dressed in a particularly gorgeous manner, with plenty of articles of jewellery about him—all about three sizes larger than those which are usually worn by gentlemen—and a rough greatcoat to crown the whole. Into one pocket of this greatcoat, he thrust his left hand the moment he dismounted, while from the other he drew forth, with his right, a very bright and glaring silk handkerchief, with which he whisked a speck or two of dust from his boots, and then, crumpling it in his hand, swaggered up the court. 
It had not escaped Sam’s attention that, when this person dismounted, a shabby-looking man in a brown greatcoat shorn of divers buttons, who had been previously slinking about, on the opposite side of the way, crossed over, and remained stationary close by. Having something more than a suspicion of the object of the gentleman’s visit, Sam preceded him to the George and Vulture, and, turning sharp round, planted himself in the centre of the doorway. 
‘Now, my fine fellow!’ said the man in the rough coat, in an imperious tone, attempting at the same time to push his way past. 
‘Now, Sir, wot’s the matter?’ replied Sam, returning the push with compound interest. 
‘Come, none of this, my man; this won’t do with me,’ said the owner of the rough coat, raising his voice, and turning white. ‘Here, Smouch!’ 
‘Well, wot’s amiss here?’ growled the man in the brown coat, who had been gradually sneaking up the court during this short dialogue. 
‘Only some insolence of this young man’s,’ said the principal, giving Sam another push. 
‘Come, none o’ this gammon,’ growled Smouch, giving him another, and a harder one. 
This last push had the effect which it was intended by the experienced Mr. Smouch to produce; for while Sam, anxious to return the compliment, was grinding that gentleman’s body against the door-post, the principal crept past, and made his way to the bar, whither Sam, after bandying a few epithetical remarks with Mr. Smouch, followed at once. 
‘Good-morning, my dear,’ said the principal, addressing the young lady at the bar, with Botany Bay ease, and New South Wales gentility; ‘which is Mr. Pickwick’s room, my dear?’ 
‘Show him up,’ said the barmaid to a waiter, without deigning another look at the exquisite, in reply to his inquiry.
He is shown up, and we learn he is the sheriff, and he has a warrant for Pickwick's arrest. Mr. Perker swiftly shows up but cannot convince the sheriff and our man Pickwick is taken to debtors prison where he must have his portrait done before being locked away. The chapter ends,
‘Where am I to sleep to-night?’ inquired Mr. Pickwick. 
‘Why, I don’t rightly know about to-night,’ replied the stout turnkey. ‘You’ll be chummed on somebody to-morrow, and then you’ll be all snug and comfortable. The first night’s generally rather unsettled, but you’ll be set all squares to-morrow.’ 
After some discussion, it was discovered that one of the turnkeys had a bed to let, which Mr. Pickwick could have for that night. He gladly agreed to hire it. 
‘If you’ll come with me, I’ll show it you at once,’ said the man. ‘It ain’t a large ‘un; but it’s an out-and-outer to sleep in. This way, sir.’ 
They passed through the inner gate, and descended a short flight of steps. The key was turned after them; and Mr. Pickwick found himself, for the first time in his life, within the walls of a debtors’ prison.
If we thought Winkle's flight to Bristol was a cliffhanger, what can we say about this! Our Pickwick in debtor's prison... And to make matters worse, for us at least, there will be no instalment for May. We must wait until June to discover Pickwick's fate...

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

The Diary of a Farmer's Wife (1796 - 1797).

The Diary of a Farmer's Wife is an absolutely gorgeous book I've been meaning to read for about two years now. This is the diary of Anne Hughes, a married woman in her 20s at the end of the 18th Century living, it's thought, in Herefordshire (on the English border with Wales) near Chepstow (which is in Wales). Kilvert's Diary by Francis Kilvert, interestingly enough, was partly set in roughly the same area some 75 years later. The book itself is somewhat of a mystery: the story goes that a young girl, Jeanne Keyte, was sent from her home in Gloucestershire to Herefordshire to be a companion for her cousin. There she met Mary Anne Thomas née Hughes, the daughter of Anne Hughes, who would read her mother's diary to Jeanne. Jeanne, very taken by it, transcribed it and some thirty or forty years later and in 1937 published it as a serial in the Farmers Weekly

However, the Anne Hughes' Diary research team who have been unable to find any evidence of the "lonely cousin" story. The manuscript appears to have been transcribed in Sarsden in Oxfordshire (Chipping Norton), but the original diary is either lost, or it never even existed: The Diary of a Farmer's Wife may in fact be fictional, created by Jeanne, and Anne Hughes may also have been Jeanne's creation. It's almost certain that Jeanne added parts, but how much we don't know, and furthermore we can't be certain, if Anne Hughes did exist, that she was writing her diary between 1796-97. If there is a diary, it's thought it was given to American soldiers from Alabama, either as a gift or a loan, and when the soldiers left they were never seen or heard from again. Either way, if the diary exists, it may well be in America, but no one can be sure. For more information, do check out the Anne Hughes' Diary website.

All I can do now is talk about the actual content, be it real or fictional. It begins,
Today hav John and I bin wed this 3 yere and here I do set down all that I do every day.
Today I did do my butter maken, leving Sarah to cook most of the dinner, as the butter was a longe time cummin, indeed not till John had put in a crown piece and turned did it cum. Sarah did burne the dinner, like she always do, and John was very crosse therebye, he mislyking Sarahs cooken, so I do sometimes hav to let him think it is me. Men be verry tiresome sometimes.
From here the day to day events are seemingly mundane, feeding hens, pigs, cows, and sheep, going to market, tidying the house, local gossip, clothes, recipes, and the daily challenges of farm life: grumpy husbands, occasionally ineffective maids, and, sadly, some grief. It is a portrayal of the goings on in a small rural area towards the very end of the 18th Century and, in parts, it is almost idyllic, though not without some very hard work. Despite the initial difficulty of getting into the writing, the style and spelling being more akin to early modern (Shakespeare and the like) than our own, it is a very charming and funny book. Anne Hughes, be her real or fictional, has a strong personality, is kindhearted (though she does not suffer fools gladly), and has a good sense of humour. We also learn about the courtship between her maid Sarah and the local parson and of the day to day life of her husband John. It is such a vivid and warm work.

If this is a real diary, it's an invaluable historical document, if it's not I can't deny the book is devalued, even only slightly in terms of entertainment; part of the pleasure of reading it is thinking of Anne Hughes as a real woman writing about her own life. Should it be a hoax ("hoax" would be the correct term as it was presented as fact), we do lose that part of it. Of course here is where our imagination ought to kick in, and in those terms I stand by what I said - it's a gorgeous book and quite a feat too. That said, I do well understand that it could be somewhat of a disappointment knowing their is doubt cast over its authenticity.

Whatever the case, I loved this. Here are some of my favourite parts:

John gets knocked over by a cow:
John hav bin verrie cross at the brindel cow which did knock him over and spil milk on his small cloes. Sarah seeing him did start to gigel, so I did send her to the chest for dry cloes ere John did see her laff, he not liking to be laffed at. But later in the dairy Sarah and me did laff much.
A sermon:
We to church this morne, and John did fidgett much, he not liking thee passon; which be a new one, who did tell us that hell be nere and we all going there; and that it be wronge to heard monies, for the divell will get it all. Ande he did look so hard at John that I did fear he off from the church wrothefullie. But John did staire back at the man, and fould his armes and look puffed up.
Sarah meets the Parson:
We hav made much cider these 2 dayes and John cum in to say old Joe had got a bellie ake with too much drinkeing of the newe jouice. But I pittie him not, he being a greedie old man who do want all.
Passon did go away on Mon-morne, after thankeing me and John right hartilie. He did aske much about Sarah, and I feare me he will want to cum acourten her. He shaiken her by the hand, she did go verrie pink, the sillie wenche.
The snow on December 15th 1796:
It have snowed so hard this 2 days, that we be quite cut off from every body by the deep drifts. John and sheperd did have to dig the sheep out which was buried under the snow and make a road for them to walk home to the yards. It di look verrie strange from the winders to see nought but snow, it be verrie cold and the house verrie dark with so much snow agen the walls. I be thankful there be plentie to eat. I do pray there me no dum things cast away in the snow. Carter and sheperd did have to dig their way to work, and Johns mother and Sarah did dig to the pigges and calfs. The snow do make a bad mess on my clene kitchen floors, but Sarah do clean with a will, so it not too bad. Bein bussie I cannot rite more now;.
The celebrations before Sarah's wedding:
The sillie wenches was verrie noisie and so we did not get scarce any sleep, but we did laff much at their antics. One of them did go over with a great bump when she did try to stand upon her head upside downwards.

Monday, 24 April 2017

The Happy Tag.

I saw this very lovely meme at Jillian's: you write what makes you happy under the titles 'Books', 'Words', 'Movies / Television', 'Fictional Characters', 'Scents', 'Songs', and 'Miscellaneous'. This came at just the right time: I'm thoroughly fed up with the General Election (campaigning has barely even started!) and this gave me a much needed opportunity to dwell on the positives! So, here are some of the things (for I'm bound to have forgotten a few) that make me happy...


The Worm Forgives the Plough by John Stewart Collis ✯ The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame ✯ The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E. M. Delafield ✯ Jean Santeuil by Marcel Proust ✯ The Pillow Book of Sei ShōnagonThe Warden by Anthony Trollope ✯ A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare ✯ The Darling Buds of May by H. E. Bates ✯ Little Women by Louisa May Alcott ✯ The Diary of a Country Parson 1758 - 1802 by James Woodforde ✯ The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer ✯ The Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow by Jerome K. Jerome ✯ Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome ✯ Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll ✯ Swan's Way by Marcel Proust ✯ Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf ✯ Orlando by Virginia Woolf ✯ Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen ✯ The Diary of a Nobody by George & Weedon Grossmith ✯ Essays by Francis Bacon ✯ The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett ✯ Kilvert's Diary 1870-79 by Francis Kilvert ✯ The Merry Wives of Windsor by William Shakespeare ✯ I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith ✯ Hyde Park Gate News: The Stephen Family Newspaper by Virginia Woolf, Vanessa Bell, and Thoby Stephen✯ The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter ✯ The Tailor of Gloucester by Beatrix Potter


Fellow ✯ Love  ✯ Ethereal ✯ Splendid ✯ Iridescent ✯ Eloquent ✯ Bucolic  ✯ County  ✯ Cosy ✯ Dally ✯ Onomatopoeia  Pastoral  Fortuitous  Serendipity  Dulcet  Kindness ✯ Ancestry ✯ Demure ✯ Tsundoku (a Japanese word I learned just today meaning to buy more books than one can read) ✯ Gumusservi (Turkish for the glimmering moonlight on water)

ovies / T҉elevision

Marie AntoinettePride and Prejudice (2005) ✯ Fantasia ✯ Clueless ✯ Gone With the Wind ✯ Rebecca A Christmas Carol A Christmas Story ✯ Downton Abbey ✯ Blackadder ✯ Eggheads ✯ Pride and Prejudice (1995) ✯ French and Saunders ✯ Dad's Army ✯ Porridge ✯ Gardeners' World ✯ Have I Got News For You ✯ The Good Life ✯ To the Manor Born ✯ The Golden Girls ✯ Roseanne ✯ To Walk Invisible ✯ Victoria Wood: As Seen on T.V.  Fresh Prince of Bel Air ✯ Buffy the Vampire Slayer The Tale of Peter Rabbit and Friends Oliver! ✯ Peter Kay: Live at the Top of the Tower and Live at the Bolton Albert Halls

ictional Characters

Redcrosse from The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser ✯ Septimus Harding from The Warden by Anthony Trollope ✯ Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen ✯ Jane Eyre from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë ✯ Badger and Toad from The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame ✯ Alice from Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll ✯ The Wife of Bath from The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer ✯ Marianne Dashwood from Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen ✯ Eeyore and Piglet from The House at Pooh Corner by A. A. Milne ✯ Beth March from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott ✯ Hermione Granger, Molly Weasley, and Professor McGonagall from Harry Potter ✯ Sybil Crawley from Downton Abbey ✯ Cousin Violet from Downton Abbey ✯ Olivia Benson and Sonny Carisi from Law and Order S.V.U. ✯ Prince George from Blackadder III ✯ Norman Stanley Fletcher from Porridge ✯ Margo and Jeremy Leadbetter from The Good Life ✯ Benjamin Bunny from Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter ✯ Ma Larkin from The Pop Larkin Chronicles by H. E. Bates ✯ Puck from A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare ✯ Sgt. Wilson, Private Godfrey, and Private Walker from Dad's Army 


Roses ✯ Daffodils ✯ Fresh paint ✯ Vanilla ✯ The forest in early autumn ✯ Summer ✯ Basil ✯ Vine tomatoes ✯ Stalosan F (this is a weird one, I know, but it does smell nice and fresh and it reminds me of summer)  ✯ Christmas cake cooking in the oven ✯ The lingering smell of polish ✯ Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) ✯ Night-Scented Stock (Matthiola longipetala) ✯ Lemons ✯ Bergamot ✯ Thyme ✯ My vanilla frosting Yankee candle ✯ Chimney smoke in the winter ✯ Freshly cut grass (it's only a cliché because most people do!) ✯ Old churches ✯ Cinnamon ✯ Compost ✯ The hens (they smell a little like cucumber) ✯ Marshmallows ✯ Honeysuckle ✯ Raspberries ✯ Hay ✯ Pink grapefruit ✯ Newly washed bedding ✯ Wild garlic ✯ Chocolate Cosmos (Cosmos atrosanguineus)


So many songs! Juicy by The Notorious B.I.G.✯ Oh to be in Love by Kate Bush ✯ Fun for Me by Moloko ✯ Release the Pressure by Leftfield ✯ John Wayne by Lady Gaga ✯ Malibu by Hole ✯ Sunset Strip by Courtney Love ✯ Love is Only a Feeling by The Darkness ✯ Bliss by Tori Amos ✯ Ms. Jackson by OutKast ✯ Ain't Nobody by Chaka Khan and Rufus ✯ You Can't Always Get What You Want by The Rolling Stones ✯ Kashmir by Led Zeppelin ✯ Shackles (Praise You) by Mary Mary ✯ Country House by Blur ✯ Get Off of My Cloud by Rolling Stones ✯ Def Con One by Pop Will Eat Itself ✯ Whole Lotta Trouble by Stevie Nicks ✯ Mo Money Mo Problems by The Notorious B.I.G. ✯ Jupiter from The Planets by Gustav Holst ✯ Kite by Kate Bush ✯ Wasted Youth by Meatloaf  ✯ It Was a Good Day by Ice Cube ✯ Sorted for E's and Wizz by Pulp ✯ Wake Up Boo! by The Boo Radleys ✯ Ebeneezer Goode by The Shamen ✯ The Importance of Being Idle by Oasis ✯ Dominoes by The Big Pink ✯ Praise You by Fatboy Slim ✯ Have a Nice Day by Bon Jovi ✯ Intergalactic by Beastie Boys ✯ I Wish by Skee-Lo ✯ Pretty Fly (For a White Guy) by The Offspring ✯ Feeling Good by Nina Simone ✯ Night Scented Stock by Kate Bush ✯ The Life of Riley by The Lightning Seeds ✯ Flow Joe by Fat Joe ✯ 711 by Beyoncé ✯ The Four Seasons by Antonia Vivaldi ✯ Roll with It by Oasis ✯ I Don't Feel Like Dancing by The Scissor Sisters ✯ Big Time by Peter Gabriel ✯ Hey Ma by Cam'Rom ✯ Mack the Knife by Bobby Darin ✯ No Diggity by Blackstreet ft. Dr. Dre and Queen Pen ✯ Flowers by Sweet Female Attitude ✯ The Man Comes Around by Johnny Cash ✯ Two Princes by Spin Doctors ✯ Everything's Cool by Pop Will Eat Itself ✯ Ain't Nothing Going on But the Rent by Gwen Guthrie ✯ Tequilla by Terrorvision ✯ Three Little Birds by Bob Marley ✯ Mozambique by Bob Dylan ✯ Take Your Mama by The Scissor Sisters ✯ And Dream of Sheep by Kate Bush ✯ Beautiful Stranger by Madonna ✯ Waltz of the Snowflakes from The Nutcracker by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky ✯ Down the Old Coal Hole by George Formby ✯ Loaded by Primal Scream ✯ Lucky Man by The Verve ✯ Buffalo Stance by Neneh Cherry ✯ Human Behaviour by Björk ✯ Life is a Flower by Ace of Base ✯ Ode to Joy from Ninth Symphony by Ludwig von Beethoven ✯ Not this Time by Kate Bush ✯ Edge of Seventeen by Stevie Nicks ✯ Honey by Moby ✯ Respect by Aretha Franklin ✯ Govinda by Kula Shaker ✯ Brimful of Asha by Cornershop ✯ Small Town Boy by Bronski Beat ✯ Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana ✯ It's Tricky by Run D.M.C. ✯ Rabbit Heart (Raise it up) by Florence and the Machine ✯ Mustt Mustt by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan ✯ Ce Martin Lá by Air ✯ Get Up Offa That Thing by James Brown ✯ Temptation by Heaven 17 ✯ L'Amour Looks Something Like You by Kate Bush ✯ Free by Ultra Naté ✯ Morning Mood from Peer Gynt by Edvard Grieg ✯ Gloria by Patti Smith ✯ California Love by 2Pac feat. Dr. Dre ✯ Beautiful Ones by Suede ✯ Sugar-Coated Iceberg by The Lightning Seeds ✯ New World Symphony by Antonín Dvořák ✯ You Get What You Give by The New Radicals


My boyfriend and my mother ✯ My pets ✯ A cool breeze ✯ Lying or indeed sitting in a sunbeam ✯ Eating fresh bread when it's still warm from the oven ✯ Water in the sunlight ✯ The tinkling of a wind chime ✯ Bubble baths ✯ New toiletries ✯ A clear, starry sky ✯ Autumn mornings that start off very misty but by mid-morning it's bright sunshine ✯ Warm, sunny days ✯ A new book ✯ A full moon in June ✯ A crescent moon in December ✯ Coming home ✯ The first frost ✯ Dandelion fluff ✯ Illustrations ✯ Planting seeds ✯ Buying a new plant ✯ Hearing owls as I go to sleep ✯ Dappled sunlight ✯ Trees ✯ The first snow ✯ Pink nail varnish ✯ The budgies singing ✯ Robins ✯ Waking up to a sunny day ✯ Early mornings ✯ Cuddles off Agnes and Florence (Meg and Ruby don't like cuddles, though Ruby sometimes consents to standing awkwardly on my knee) ✯ Bees ✯ John William Waterhouse ✯ A newly cleaned and tidied house ✯ A crackling fire ✯ The cuckoo ✯ Lazy Sundays ✯ Garden centres ✯ Little fluffy clouds ✯ Old pictures of where I live ✯ Clean sheets ✯ The feeling of having done something I've put off for a while ✯ Toads ✯ Clean glass ✯ New leaves on the trees in mid-spring ✯ Blackbird song ✯ How excited the chickens get when I go out with their treats ✯ Newly dug up potatoes, boiled ✯ Going into the garden in early evening to pick herbs to go with dinner ✯ Sleeping with the window open ✯ Watering my plants ✯ Ladybirds ✯ Watching the garden birds ✯ The dawn chorus ✯ Collared Doves ✯ Sparrows ✯ Chaffinches ✯ Chimneys ✯ When the leaves start to turn ✯ Snowdrops ✯ Celebrations after England win something ✯ Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall ✯ Cows ✯ Seeing sheep with their lambs and how proud and protective they look ✯ Hexham Abbey ✯ Jedburgh Abbey ✯ Bamburgh Castle ✯ Puffins ✯ Mary, Queen of Scots' House ✯ Starting a book I know I'll love ✯ Finishing a very difficult book ✯ Primroses ✯ Dog roses ✯ Swallows ✯ Streams ✯ Donkeys ✯ Halloween ✯ Christmas ✯ Carving pumpkins ✯ Pansies and violas ✯ The crackle of a vinyl record ✯ The sound of rain on the window ✯ The Capon Tree in Jedburgh (it's over 2,000 years old)  ✯ Gifs ✯ When my boyfriend returns home

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

The Parson of the Parish by Anthony Trollope.

Anthony Trollope by Spy (1873).
The Parson of the Parish is the fifth essay in Anthony Trollope's 1866 Clergymen of the Church of England, Trollope's essays on the Church of England first published anonymously and serialised in the The Pall Mall Gazette from November 1865 to January 1866. Trollope begins by defining what a parson is, and what he not:
The word parson is generally supposed to be a slang term for the rector, vicar, or incumbent of a parish, and, in the present day, is not often used without some intended touch of drollery, - unless by the rustics of country parishes who still cling to the old world. But the rustics are in the right, for of all terms by which clergymen of the Church of England are known, there is none more honourable in its origin that that of parson.... Parsons were so called before rectors or vicars were known, and in ages which had heard nothing of that abominable word incumbent. A parson proper, indeed, was above a vicar, - who originally was simply the curate of an impersonal parson, and acted as priest in a parish as to which some abbey or chapter stood in the position of parson.
He goes on to write that the parson has "full charge of his parish" and "the full benefit derivable from the tithes [one tenth of annual produce or earnings donated to the Church of England]" and,
In speaking, therefore, of the parson of the parish, let us be understood to mean the parish clergyman, who has that full fruition of his living which is given by freehold possession.
After a little more to-ing and fro-ing, which I must admit was rather confusing, he finally begins his observations.
The parson of the parish is the proper type and most becoming form of the English clergyman as the captain of his ship is of the English naval officer.
By this, Trollope suggests that the parson is able to devote himself wholeheartedly to the task in hand with no distractions faced by, for example, a bishop in the House of Lords and, "as simply parish parson, he fills the most clerical office of his profession". This man, often with his Oxbridge education, was assuredly at the very least a gentleman. Trollope continues in what is surely one of his most surreal passages:
And in no capacity is a gentleman more required or more quickly recognised than in that of a parson. Who has not seem a thrifty household mistress holding almost unconsciously between her finger and thumb a piece of silk or linen, and telling at once by the touch whether the fabric be good? This is done with almost an instinct in the matter, and habit has made perfect in the woman that which was born with her. Extactly in the same way, only much more unconsciously, will the English rustic take his new parson between his finger and thumb and find out whether he be a gentleman. The rustic cannot tell by what law he judges, but he knows the article, and the gentleman he will obey and respect, in the gentleman he will believe.
Returning to the point, yes, the Parson is more often than not of Oxbridge stock, and is either a son of a parson or the younger son of a squire. He is attune to the zeitgeist of the community, will let slip a little drunkenness or Sabbath breaking, but is happy to terrify the community with sermons on the afterlife. He is often a bigot, but not a fanatic nor a zealot, and would be happier if some Act of Parliament would make all men members of the Church of England. Trollope continues:
The parish parson generally has a grievance, and is much attached to it, - in which he is like all other men in all other walks of life. He not uncommonly maintains a mild opposition to his bishop, upon whom he is apt to look down as belonging to a new order of things, and whom he regards, on account of this new order of things, as being not above half a clergyman. As he rises in years and repute he becomes a rural dean, and exercises some small authority out of his own parish, by which, however, his character as a parish parson, pure and simple, is somewhat damaged. He is great in the management of his curate, and arrives at such perfection in his professional career that he inspires his clerk with mingled awe and affection.
And then, Trollope concludes that the role of the parson will "soon cease to become", yet:
The homes of such men are among the pleasantest in the country, just reaching in well-being and abundance that point at which perfect comfort exists and magnificence has not yet begun to display itself. And then men themselves have no superiors in their adaptability to social happiness. How pleasantly they talk when the room is tiled, and the outward world is shut out for the night! How they delight in the modest pleasures of the table, sitting in unquestioned ease over a ruddy fire, while the bottle stands ready to the grasp, but not to be grasped too frequently or too quickly. Methinks the eye of no man beams so kindly on me as I fill my glass for the third time after dinner as does the eye of the parson of the parish.
This was quite a tricky essay I must say. I freely admit I'm rather distracted right now with the old General Election thing (at present we in the UK is very much into voting for big things that surely end in misery), but even so I didn't get on terribly well with this one. As we Trollope fans know Trollope does like to wander about when writing, but this, even for me, was excessive. It is humorous and had a nice, nostalgic air to it, but it was an effort to read and I frankly had a miserable time trying to sum it up. All the same, these essays are interesting and so far, until this, have been largely enjoyable. I'm not put off though, I will look forward to reading another and seeing if this was a slightly unfortunate one off. But it won't be next week - next week's Deal Me In Challenge title is Bookshop Memories by George Orwell.

Monday, 17 April 2017

The Pillow Book of Sei Shōnagon.

Sei Shōnagon by Kikuchi Yosai
The Pillow Book (枕草子) is an absolutely outstanding work by Sei Shōnagon (清少納言), a Japanese writer and court lady who served Empress Teishi during the Heian period of Japanese history (Shōnagon lived from c. 966–1017-25). The genre of the book is known as "zuihitsu" (随筆), which relates to personal essays, a perfect of example of which would be The Pillow Book. It's like a diary, but it's more a series of observations, some obviously pertinent (an event, for example, duly recorded), some less so: Sei Shōnagon simply writes a list of things she likes or dislikes.

The opening of the book is famous:
1. In Spring It Is the Dawn
In spring it is the dawn that is most beautiful. As the light creeps over the hills, their outlines are dyed a faint red and wisps of purplish cloud trail over them.
In summer the nights. Not only when the moon shines, but on dark nights too, as the fireflies flit to and fro, and even when it rains, how beautiful it is!
In autumn the evenings, when the glittering sun sinks close to the edge of the hills and the crows fly back to their nest in threes and fours and twos; more charming still is a file of wild geese, like specks in the distant sky. When the sun has set, one's heart is moved by the sound of the wind and the hum of the insects.
In winter the early mornings. It is beautiful indeed when snow has fallen during the night, but splendid too when the ground is white with frost; or even when there is no snow or frost, but it is simply very cold and the attendants hurry from room to room stirring up the fires and bringing charcoal, how well this fits the season's mood! But as noon approaches and the cold wears off, no one bothers to keep the braziers alight, and soon nothing remains but piles of white ashes.
From here come a series of essays and observations, some 185 of them, on a variety of subjects. As I say, she writes on things she likes, such as the first day of the first month, the Kamo Festival, blossom, hollyhocks, finding "a large number of tales that one has not read before", beautiful paper, and many other little details. Then there are depressing things, hateful things, elegant things, unsuitable things, rare things, annoying things, embarrassing things, distressing things, dirty ink stones, and the feeling of being disliked. Sei Shōnagon also records gossip, such as that under the title "Masahiro Really Is a Laughing-Stock", then things that should be large, things that should be small, things worth seeing. And, intertwined, there are some stunning nature notes. This is my favourite:
84. I Remember a Clear Morning 
I remember a clear morning in the Ninth Month when it had been raining all night. Despite the bright sun, dew was still dripping from the chrysanthemums in the garden. On the bamboo fences and criss-cross hedges I saw tatters of spider webs; and where the threads were broken the raindrops hung on them like strings of white pearls. I was greatly moved and delighted. 
As it became sunnier, the dew gradually vanished from the clover and the other plants where it had lain so heavily; the branches began to stir, then suddenly sprang up of their own accord. Later I described to people how beautiful it all was. What impressed me was that they were not at all impressed.
It is an eclectic collection of things and moments that moved Sei Shōnagon to write. She an interesting woman, above all else a keen observer, also somewhat of a snob, and one gets the impression she is most elegant. The sheer beauty of it, and the careful accuracy of her writing makes this a very moving read. I read it over a few days, but I think it's a book I'll always keep to hand and dip into. The Pillow Book of Sei Shōnagon is one of my favourite reads of 2017.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Cannery Row by John Steinbeck.

I haven't read Steinbeck in years and that's for a fairly weak reason: I've read several Steinbeck novels, The Pearl, Of Mice and Men, and Grapes of Wrath as well as the delightful Travels with Charley, and every one of them was as close to perfect literature as I can get. As they say, even Homer nods, and so do our favourite authors, and I really was not relishing the moment I sat down to read some Steinbeck and discover that even Steinbeck nods. But, I've had enough of not reading Steinbeck and my reason for not reading him is frankly ridiculous, so I've got seven of his works on my new Classics Club list and Cannery Row (1945) is the first one, and the first Steinbeck I've read since 2013 (so long ago I had to check my old blog to find that out).

I'm happy to start by saying that John Steinbeck did not nod in Cannery Row. This is a short novel set in a waterfront street in Monterey, California, a nickname for what was once known as Ocean View Avenue (in honour of Steinbeck it is now known as Cannery Row). Steinbeck describes it in the preface:
Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream. Cannery Row is the gathered and scattered, tin and iron and rust and splintered wood, chipped pavement and weedy lots and junk heaps, sardine canneries of corrugated iron, honky tonks, restaurants and whore houses, and little crowded groceries, and laboratories and flophouses. Its inhabitants are, as the man once said, "whores, pimps, gamblers, and sons of bitches," by which he meant Everybody, Had the man looked through another peephole he might have said, "Saints and angels and martyrs and holy men," and he would have meant the same thing.
This novel is about Cannery Row, not just what happens to occur on the avenue, nor just a random setting for a snapshot of 1930s America during the Great Depression: one does get all of this, but above all else the novel is about the actual avenue and its inhabitants. It is home of a variety of characters: those that stick out are Lee Chong, the owner of a grocery store described as "a miracle of supply", local madam Dora Flood, Mack, Eddie, and Hazel, three contented unemployed men living in the Palace Flophouse, and Doc, a marine biologist. The plot, such as it is (it's quite loose), is that Mack and his friends decide to cheer Doc up and do something nice for him, and after a few failed attempts they finally get somewhere. The real part of the novel for me is the community and the setting that unites them. Through little vignettes we learn about each character and their lives, thoughts, and attitudes on any given day without any great drama or event. Cannery Row is just life, or a part of it at least. The characters are seen through the eyes of others, and their stories and history, and in such a short space Steinbeck builds a picture of a spirited community with real people, characters who don't conform or even relate to their stereotypes. 

Cannery Row is a great achievement and in its way it reminded me of the modernism we see in Woolf and Joyce, but Steinbeck is far more approachable. Like Ulysses it captures and embodies a sense of joy and spirit. That's not to say it's a light novel, there are some dark themes with in it, but the novel is a celebration of all that life has to offer, the good and the bad. It's a warm, often humorous, and keenly observed work proving Steinbeck's great genius.

Friday, 14 April 2017

The Divine Comedy Cantica III: Paradiso by Dante.

Dante con in mano la Divina Commedia (Dante and His Poem) by Domenico di Michelino (1465). Hell is depicted on the left of the painting, Purgatory behind, and Paradise in the sky.

My re-read of Dante's The Divine Comedy (1308 - 1321) has drawn to an end as I reach the third and final part of the poem, Paradiso. So far we've seen Dante travel with Virgil through the nine circles of Hell (Cantica I):

  • The First Circle: Limbo (Canto IV - V)
  • The Second Circle: Lust (Canto V)
  • The Third Circle: Greed (Canto VI)
  • The Fourth Circle: Avarice (Canto VII)
  • The Fifth Circle: Wrath (Cantos VII - VIII)
  • Gate of Lower Hell, or, City of Dis (Cantos VIII - IX)
  • The Sixth Circle: Heretics and Sceptics (Cantos IX - XI)
  • The Seventh Circle: Violence (Cantos XII - XVII)
  • The Abyss (Canto XVII)
  • The Eighth Circle: Fraud (Cantos XVIII - XXX)
  • The Pit of Cocytus (Canto XXXI)
  • The Ninth Circle: Treachery (Cantos XXXII - XXXIV)
  • Centre-point of the Earth (Canto XXXIV)

And then through the seven terraces of Purgatory (Cantica II):

  • Ante-Purgatory (Cantos I - IX)
  • The First Terrace: Pride (Cantos X - XII)
  • The Second Terrace: Envy (Cantos XIII - XIV)
  • The Third Terrace: Wrath (Cantos XV - XVII)
  • The Fourth Terrace: Sloth (Cantos XVII - XVIII)
  • The Fifth Terrace: Avarice (Cantos XIX - XXI)
  • The Sixth Terrace: Gluttony (Cantos XXII - XXIV)
  • The Seventh Terrace: Lust (Cantos XXV - XXVII)
  • The Earthly Paradise (Cantos XXIX - XXXIII)

Now in Cantica III Dante leaves Virgil behind and travels through Heaven with Beatrice, through the nine celestial spheres of Heaven up to Empyrean, the highest heaven. Here each part is divided into 'spheres' and corresponds with the planets and stars, and as Hell and Purgatory correspond with the seven deadly sins (though treated differently), Heaven corresponds with the four cardinal virtues (Prudence, Justice, Temperance, and Fortitude) and the three theological virtues (Faith, Hope, and Charity), and the Christian angelic hierarchy.

Illustration by Gustave Doré.
The poem begins,
The glory of him who moves everything
Penetrates the universe and shines
In one part more and, in another, less.
I have been in the heaven which takes most of his light,
And I have seen things which cannot be told,
Possibly, by anyone who comes down from up there;
Because, approaching the object of its desires,
Our intellect is so deeply absorbed
That memory cannot follow it all the way.
Nevertheless, what I was able to store up
Of that holy kingdom, in my mind,
Will now be the matter of my poem.
Dante and Beatrice fly upwards through the sphere of fire to heaven until they reach the moon, the first sphere of Paradise.

First Sphere: The Moon (The Inconstant; Cantos II - V)

Dante describes the moon like a jewel, "like a diamond caught by the sun" and the "eternal pearl". Beatrice and Dante discuss the moon in both theological and Medieval-scientific terms, and then they begin to see the first souls of heaven who are described as inconstant, like the beautiful moon that waxes and wanes. These are the people who broke their vows or lacked moral strength, such as Piccarda who was forced by her brother Corso Donati to leave her convent and marry a man. They also see Constance, Queen of Sicily, who was forced into marrying Henry VI, the Holy Roman Emperor (1191 - 1197). Beatrice explains the sanctity of vows, and making vows or 'rash promises' is not enough, one must adhere to them at all earthly cost.

Second Sphere: Mercury (The Ambitious; Cantos V - VII)

Here Dante meets "a thousand brilliances", glowing figures who swarm to him like fish in a pond. This is where the ambitious reside, those who did good for fame. He meets Justinian I, who reformed Roman laws (Codex Justinianus), and he talks of the history of the Roman Empire. In doing so the crucifixion is discussed, particularly the idea that it at once redeemed mankind, but also killed the son of God.

Third Sphere: Venus (The Lovers; Cantos VIII - IX)

Venus, the planet associated with the goddess of love, is the place where all the lovers are. They are the ones who lacked temperance, and here Dante meets a king of France (unnamed, but we know it's Charles Martel of Anjou who reigned from 1271 - 1295) who he talks to about the necessity of diversity. He also meets Cunizza da Romano, an Italian noblewoman and lover of Sordello: her brother  Ezzelino III da Romano, though being of the same kin, is in the seventh layer of hell. Dante then meets Folquet de Marseilles and they talk about love and temptation, as well as corruption in the priests of Florence.

Fourth Sphere: The Sun (The Wise; Cantos X - XV)

This section features in it some very famous writers and thinkers from ancient times to the high medieval. Dante meets -
  • Thomas Aquinas (author of the Summa Theologica)
  • Albertus Magnus (Magister Sententiarum)
  • Gratian (Decretum Gratiani)
  • Peter Lombard (The Four Books of Sentences)
  • King Solomon (Book of ProverbsEcclesiastes, and Song of Songs)
  • Dionysius the Areopagite (Corpus Dionysiacum)
  • Orosius (Seven Books of History Against the Pagans)
  • Boethius (The Consolation of Philosophy)
  • Isidore of Seville (Etymologiae)
  • Bede (Ecclesiastical History of the English People)
  • Richard of Saint Victor (The Book of the Twelve Patriarchs)
  • Siger of Brabant (De anima intellectiva)
  • Bonaventure (Commentary on the Sentences of Lombard)
In this section Thomas Aquinas recounts the life of St. Francis, and they talk too of St. Dominic as well as the relationship between knowledge and God. It is, or at least I found it, a particularly complex part of The Divine Comedy.

Fifth Sphere: Mars (The Warriors of the Faith; Cantos XIV - XVIII)

Here dwell the souls of those who fought for and died for God. There he meets Cacciaguida, a crusader and great-great-grandfather of Dante. He also meets Joshua; Judas Maccabeus, who led the Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucid Empire in the Second Century B.C.; Charlemagne or Charles I, king of the Franks; Roland, a military leader under Charlemagne; Godfrey of Bouillon, one of the leaders of the First Crusade; and Robert Guiscard, who rescued Pope Gregory VII. It is Cacciaguida who urges Dante to write of all he's seen in Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven.

Sixth Sphere: Jupiter (The Just Rulers; Cantos XVIII - XX)

As the moon is seen as inconstant, Venus associated with love, the sun with light, and Mars with war, Jupiter is associated with gods or rules. Here Dante meets 'just rulers', those rulers who have applied justice and mercy to their judgements. He is guided by an eagle symbolising the Roman Empire, and he quickly condemns evil Christian rulers: those who rule and claim to be Christian but their actions prove them to be anything but. Dante meets King David, Hezekiah who reigned over Judah, the Roman Emperor Trajan, Constantine the Great, William II of Sicily, and Ripheus, who appears in Virgil's Aeneid, and who was given a chance to convert.

Seventh Sphere: Saturn (The Contemplatives; Cantos XXI - XXII)

Saturn represents temperance, and in this sphere each person Dante meets embodies this virtue. Here he sees St. Peter Damian, once known as Peter the Sinner, and they talk of corruption and failure of the church, predestination, and monasticism. He also meets St. Benedict, Macarius, and Romualadus, and they speak of Empyrean among other things.

Eighth Sphere: The Fixed Stars (Faith, Hope, and Love; Cantos XXIII - XXVII)

The eighth sphere represents the Church Triumphant, which refers to those who have beatific vision. He sees the Virgin Mary, St. Peter, who discusses with him aspects of faith, St. James who talks of hope, and St. John who talks of love. He also sees an overwhelming vision of Christ, who passes forward to the ninth sphere. Again the church is criticised, particularly Pope Boniface III.

Ninth Sphere: The Primum Mobile (The Angels; Cantos XXVII - XXIX)

This is considered the final sphere of the physical universe and it's where the angels live. The point of the sphere is moved by God, which in turn causes everything else to move. Dante sees God as a bright light surrounded by nine rings of angels:
  1. Seraphim
  2. Cherubim
  3. Thrones
  4. Dominations
  5. Virtues
  6. Powers
  7. Principalities
  8. Archangels
  9. Angels

The Empyrean (Cantos XXX - XXXIII)

We now reach the final part of The Divine Comedy. Dante started his journey in the wilderness on the night before Good Friday in the year 1300; now he reaches the Empyrean (from the Greek ἔμπυρος meaning 'in the fire'), the abode of God, and it is the Wednesday following Easter Sunday. Nearly a week has passed. Beatrice who has accompanied him throughout Paradiso has become steadily more beautiful and now it renders Dante speechless. He then sees a rose with a bright light shining at the centre, and as his eyes grow accustomed to the light he sees a stream:
And I saw light in the form of a stream
Of resplendent brilliance, in between two banks
Painted with all the marvels of spring.
From this river there issued live sparks
Which everywhere settled themselves in the flowers
Like rubies which have been set in gold.
Beatrice, who has represented theology, now leaves Dante and returns to her place in the rose, and Dante is taken by his third and final guide - St. Bernard. They talk of predestination before Dante finally sees God, three circles representing the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. He contemplates the circle, and Paradiso ends,
So was I faced with this new vision:
I wanted to see how the image could fit the circle
And how it could be that that was where it was;
But that was not a flight for my wings:
Except that my mind was struck by a flash
In which what it desired came to it.
At this point high imagination failed;
But already my desire and will
Were being turned like a wheel, all at one speed,
By the love which moves the sun and the other stars.
Paradiso, even compared with Inferno and Purgatorio, is an intensely difficult read. It's often difficult to grasp its meaning. I felt some small degree of confidence with the first two, but not with this. Despite that I admire it greatly, it is one of the most beautiful works I've ever read. I've read The Divine Comedy three times now, but still I want to read it again. Perhaps the fourth time I'll get further into it, but for now, as ever, I love reading it and learning more about the Medieval world view, politics, religion, art, and beliefs on the afterlife. There's a vast array of characters, many from Dante's own times, and many more from Ancient times, but the more I read (of this and others) the more I begin to recognise more names. Still, though, I find myself fumbling for words. I'm in awe of it, but this last part is one tough read.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Old Cantankerous by Menander.

Old Cantankerous, also known as The Grouch, The MisanthropeDyskolos (Δύσκολος), and similar names, is a play by Menander, the 4th Century B.C. Greek playwright. His works are an example of Ancient Greek New Comedy, which influenced the likes of William Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, and William Congreve, as well as the Roman playwrights Terence and Plautus of the 2nd Century B.C. However, of the estimated 108 comedies only one survives in its almost entirety - Old Cantankerous - and of the others, only fragments remain. Furthermore, Old Cantankerous was discovered relatively recently by Egyptian archaeologists in 1952 along with further fragments of The Girl from Samos and The Shield as well as some key Christian texts. These are known as the Bodmer Papyri, which are currently held in the Vatican library.

Old Cantankerous was first performed in about 316 B.C. at the Lenaian festival (usually held in January) where it won first prize. In the prologue, the god Pan explains the story: he has cast a spell on Sostratos to make him fall madly in love with Myrrhine, a young peasant girl, however there is one thing that gets in their way: Myrrhine's father Knemon, or 'old cantankerous'. Pan tells us about Knemon:
... he's a real hermit of a man, who snarls at everyone and hates company - 'company' isn't the word: he's getting on now, and he's never addressed a civil word to anyone in his life! He's never volunteered a polite greeting to anyone except myself (I'm the god Pan); and that's only because he lives beside me, and can't help passing my door. And I'm quire sure that, as soon as he does, he promptly regrets it.
Pan, he goes on to explain, has made Sostratos fall in love with Myrrhine as she has been very good and "careful in her service to the Nymphs... and so we think it proper to take some care of her". When Sostratos realises his love for Myrrhine he sends his servant to see Knemon about the matter, however he is beaten off the land, and when Knemon sees Sostratos he dismissed too. However he remains after Knemon is gone and helps Myrrhine with one her tasks. He is then spotted by Gorgias' slave: Gorgias is the step-brother of Myrrhine who runs the farm. When he is convinced that Sostratos truly loves Myrrhine he plans to intervene and talk to Knemon himself, and in order to gain some favour with Knemon Gorgias advises Sostratos to help on the farm as a labourer rather than appear to be so very much 'above' them. He does help, and that evening they enjoy a dinner together, during which Simiche, Knemon's maid, has an accident and loses the bucket for the well. Unsurprisingly she is beaten by Knemon off-stage but, also off-stage, Knemon cries out: he himself falls down the well. Gorgias and Sostratos rescue him, and such is his gratitude he agrees to let Sostratos marry Myrrhine and Gorgias marry a sister of Sostratos. The festivities take place, but Knemon remains in bed issuing all kinds of awkward demands, which does not, however, bring down the good mood.

I mentioned before that Terence was greatly inspired by Menander and re-wrote several (if not more) of Menander's plays. Given I have, I must admit, a bit of an aversion to Terence I wasn't greatly excited about reading Menander, however I thoroughly enjoyed Old Cantankerous. It was fun, warm, and light, and very entertaining to read. From here I'm going to go on to the fragments, which include The Girl from Samos, The Arbitration, The Rape of the Locks, The Shield, and more, and I'll post about them in the coming weeks.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Vasari's Lives of the Artists Chapter I: Cimabue.

I've been meaning for a while now to reading Giorgio Vasari's The Lives of the Artists (1550). This encyclopedia, the full title being Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, from Cimabue to Our Times, is pretty vast but I do have an abridged version published by Oxford World Classics which I'd like to spend the next year or so reading and blogging about. If I'm able, I'd like to blog about each artist in the book, I think it'd be at the very least interesting, but also I'll be able to teach myself a little something about art history (out of the Pre-Raphaelites I don't do so well). With that in mind, on to the first chapter!

The Life of Cimabue, Florentine Painter
[c. 1240 - 1320?]

The endless flood of misfortunes which swept over and drowned the wretched country of Italy had not only destroyed everything that could really be called a building but, even more importantly, had completely wiped out its population of artists, when, in the year 1240, as God willed it, there was born in the city of Florence to the Cimabue, a noble family of those times, a son Giovanni, also named Cimabue, who shed first light upon the art of painting.
So begins The Lives of the Artists. Vasari describes his early life, being sent to Santa Maria Novella for schooling however instead spending "the whole day drawing men, horses, houses, and various other fantasies in his books and papers". During this time there were a great many Greek artists in Florence and young Cimabue would enjoy observing them. When it was agreed he had a great talent he devoted his time to practice, taking an interest in Greek art but, as Vasari writes, his style was "more alive, more natural, and softer than the style of those Greeks, whose works were full of lines and profiles both in mosaics and in paintings". His works were primarily of a religious theme and Cimabue would go from church to church and monastery to monastery painting altar dossals, panels and the like. As he grew in confidence and ability he began to paint frescoes on walls of many churches of Mary, Jesus, St. Francis, John the Baptist, and others, and Vasari specifically comments on his use of vivid colours on gold backgrounds, and how he captured the light and shadows in his subjects. In his later years he worked as an architect for Arnolfo Lapi.

As the chapter closes Vasari notes that Cimabue's fame was somewhat eclipsed by Giotto (1266/7 - 1337), quoting from Dante's Purgatorio:
Once Cimabue thought to hold the field
As a painter: Giotto now is all the rage,
Dimming the lustre of the other's fame.
He then refers to a commentator of Dante's time who wrote,
Cimabue of Florence was a painter who lived during the author's [Dante's] own time, a nobler man than anyone knew, but he was as a result so haughty and proud that if someone pointed out to him any mistake or defect in his work, or if he had noted any himself (as happened many times, since an artisan may err because of a defect in the materials he uses or because of some shortcoming in the tools with which he works), he would immediately destroy the work, no matter how precious it may be.
Cimabue, Vasari argues, was the lesser talent when compared with Giotto, but Giotto was a follower of Cimabue who, whatever his faults or shortcomings, was "the principle cause of the renewal of the art of painting".

And to finish, here are some works by Cimabue:

Saint Francis Of Assisi (Detail).

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