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Showing posts from May, 2017

The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare.

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The Merchant of Venice is quite possibly my least favourite Shakespeare play, and I'm always amazed at how well-liked it is (a poll by Timeeven put it above Richard III!). There are, I must admit, some good moments in it, but I found it such an absolute effort to get through and I was rather relieved to finish it. As I've been re-reading Shakespeare's plays and reviewing them, and as this is my 33rd post on a Shakespeare play (35th if you include the apocrypha and 41st if you include the poetry!) I feel I have to push through this aversion and say something, however whatever I do come up with is going to be brief.
The Merchant of Venice was written somewhere around 1596 to 1597 but it wasn't performed until 1605 (in front of King James who apparently liked it so much he requested a second performance). The merchant of Venice of the title is Antonio: his friend Bassanio is in love with Portia and needs to borrow money in order to woo her. Antonio cannot lend his friend m…

Heidi by Johanna Spyri.

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Heidi by Johanna Spyri is such a famous and well-loved children's novel I don't know how it is I've never read it before now! But, of late, I've been very much in the mood for late Victorian / Edwardian children's literature and I'm glad I've finally got to this one. It was first published in two parts in 1881: Heidi: her years of wandering and learning (Heidis Lehr- und Wanderjahre) and Heidi : how she used what she learned (Heidi kann brauchen, was es gelernt hat), and it has two main settings: the Swiss Alps, and Frankfurt in Germany.
The story is very simple: Heidi, an orphan, is taken by her aunt Dete to live with her grandfather in the alps around Dörfli (the Sertig Valley in Graubünden, Switzerland). He has the reputation for being awkward, bitter, and anti-social but Heidi's warmth, cheerfulness, and enthusiasm quickly wins him over and she spends several years with him, the goatherd Peter, Peter's mother Bridgget, and his grandmother. Howev…

The Queen Who Flew by Ford Madox Ford.

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The Queen Who Flew is a fairy tale by Ford Madox Ford, first published in 1894 back when Ford Madox Ford was Ford Madox Hueffer (he changed his name in 1919; it's suggested "Hueffer" sounded too Germanic). He is perhaps best known for his Parade's End(1924-28) and The Good Soldier (1915; I'm planning on read this very soon), but Ford was also the author of several fairy tales: The Brown Owl and The Feather (both 1892), and this, The Queen Who Flew.
The story begins, Once upon a time a Queen sat in her garden. She was quite a young, young Queen; but that was a long while ago, so she would be older now. But, for all she was Queen over a great and powerful country, she led a very quiet life, and sat a great deal alone in her garden watching the roses grow, and talking to a bat that hung, head downwards, with its wings folded, for all the world like an umbrella, beneath the shade of a rose tree overhanging her favourite marble seat. She did not know much about the ba…

Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy.

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A few hours ago I finished Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy, the final novel Hardy wrote (though he did re-write The Well-Beloveda few years later), and the final novel I have on my Hardy's Major Works list. It's hard to know where to begin with this novel: it is one of the most impressive novels I've ever read, one of the most darkest and complex, and I do believe this is Hardy at his absolute peak. Jude the Obscure was actually one of the first Hardy novel I read about 12 years ago and I always had in mind when reading his other novels. I had a sense, which may well have been a false sense, that everything he wrote was building up to this crescendo. It embodies most if not all of the common themes and motifs in Hardy's other works before it: marriage, love, gender, and fate.
We first meet Jude Fawley as a young boy at Marygreen (in Hardy's Wessex) who has dreams of going to Christminster (modelled on Oxford) to become a scholar, inspired by his schoolmaster Rich…

Another exciting discovery!

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We're a week away from June and every day, almost every moment, the garden is changing. I've got quite a few pictures now to share for June's post, but this can't wait: this evening whilst watering the greenhouse after a spectacularly hot day (40 °C on the patio!) I found a White Ermine moth (or, to give it its Latin name, Spilosoma lubricipeda). I've never seen one before, I'd never heard of one before, and, not being a butterfly-buff, I didn't know there were white moths in the UK. But there is and it's laying its eggs on my Morning Glory plant! 
My camera's not too good at close-ups, but here's two pictures I took just a few minutes ago:


Such discoveries are why I love gardening so much! I was planning on moving this Morning Glory (Ipomoea tricolor) out into the garden but I think, if there's eggs on it, it perhaps ought to stay in the greenhouse. I'm looking forward to seeing caterpillars (I know caterpillars will eat some of my pla…

Jacques Damour by Émile Zola.

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Jacques Damour (one English translation calls it Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder) is a short story by Émile Zola, published first in Vestnik Evropy in August 1880, then in his short story collection Naïs Micoulin in 1884. In 1887 Léon Hennique turned it into a play.
The story is divided into five chapters and begins, Sometimes, as he sat beside the sea, scanning the black horizon, visions of his past would flit through Jacques Damour's mind: the hardship of the siege, the savage fighting with the Commune and the final brutal wrench which tore him from his home, to land up, broken and bewildered, in this faraway Pacific island of Noumea. This was no recollection of pleasant times, of love and affection, but the dull brooding of an enfeebled mind returning, again and again, to certain unchangeable, precise facts that alone stood out amidst the general collapse of everything. Jacques, Zola goes on, had married Félicie, "a tall and beautiful girl of eighteen, the daughter of …

20 Books of Summer.

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I want to write a positive post today as things in the UK are, as you can imagine, pretty tense. Yesterday I woke up to the dreadful news of the attack in Manchester, and this morning the news that we are on critical alert, meaning an attack is thought to be imminent and the army have been deployed. It's very sobering, and I think like many people here some happiness and joy should be shared. To cheer up myself and hopefully others I thought I'd make my list for the 20 Books of Summer interspersed with some of the nicest pictures I've seen of books and summer.
For the past few years Cathy of 746 Books holds a 20 Books of Summer Challenge from 1st June to 3rd September and this will be my fourth year of joining! I've never yet managed to read from my 20 Books list (previous attempts: 2014, 2015, and 2016) but perhaps this will be the year. My personal best I think is 15, so anything above 15 will be regarded as a big achievement! For my list I've decided to take 5 …

The Fragments of Menander.

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Since I read Menander's Dyskolosabout a month ago I've been slowly reading the remaining fragments of Menander's plays. I've read fragments of Greek plays before, Sophocles' Ichneutai and Other Fragments, and I still remember it primarily as quite a moving experience straining to hear the echoes of one of my most favourite authors. With Menander there was that element of almost frustration in never being able to grasp the full picture, comedies once enjoyed and loved but now lost, though with tantalising hints of what was once loud and clear. However Menander is not a favourite author, and in fact though I enjoyed Dyskolos I can't say I was particularly fond of what was left.
Of the many plays Menander wrote, there are only six that have more or less survived (though still with great gaps; up to half missing): Dyskolos, Samia, Epitrepontes, Perikeiromene, Aspis, and SikyonioiSamia, or The Girl from Samos (Σαμία) is the longest fragment of Menander with 116 l…

Vasari's Lives of the Artists Chapter IV: Duccio.

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Following the chapter on Simone Martini, a brief chapter on Duccio, who is the final artist of Part I in my abridged edition of Vasari's The Lives of the Artists (1550).
The Life of Duccio, Sienese Painter [c. 1255 - c. 1316] No doubt those who are the inventors of anything notable attract the greatest attention from historians, and this occurs because new inventions are more closely observed and held in greater amazement, due to the pleasure to be found in the newness of things, than any number of improvements made later by anyone at all in bringing these things to their ultimate state of perfection. For that reason, if no beginning were ever made, the intermediate stages would show no improvement, and the end result would not turn out to be the best and of marvellous beauty. Duccio, says Vasari, was one who inspired many followers and his 'invention' was "chiaroscuro", which uses light and dark giving a more three-dimensional effect: ... he gave honest shapes to…

Vasari's Lives of the Artists Chapter III: Simone Martini.

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The next two chapters of Vasari's The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects (Le Vite de' più eccellenti pittori, scultori, e architettori; 1550) in my edition (abridged; published by Oxford World Classics) are rather short and they focus on Simone Martini and Duccio. However short though, I'd like to include some of my favourites of their artwork and give each artist a spotlight: today, then, I'll be putting up two posts, one on Simone Martini and one on Duccio. Here's the first (the second is here):
The Life of Simone [Martini] of Siena [c. 1284 - 1344]
Truly happy are the men who are by nature inclined to those arts which can bring them not only honour and great profits but, what is more important, fame and an almost everlasting reputation; even happier are those who in addition to this inclination exhibit from infancy a gentility and civility of manners which make them most pleasing to all men. But happiest of all, finally, are those (sp…

The Reluctant Dragon by Kenneth Grahame.

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The Reluctant Dragon is a short story from Kenneth Grahame's Dream Days, first published in 1898, and I've been looking forward to it since I discovered it - I think like a lot of people, the only Grahame I've read is The Wind in the Willows and I was eager to read more of Grahame's writings. The Reluctant Dragon didn't let me down.
Grahame tells a story within a story: it begins,
Footprints in the snow have been unfailing provokers of sentiment ever since snow was first a white wonder in this drab-coloured world of ours. In a poetry-book presented to one of us by an aunt, there was a poem by one Wordsworth, in which they stood out strongly—with a picture all to themselves, too—but we didn't think very highly either of the poem or the sentiment. Footprints in the sand, now, were quite another matter, and we grasped Crusoe's attitude of mind much more easily than Wordsworth's. Excitement and mystery, curiosity and suspense—these were the only sentiments …

Roses for English Gardens by Gertrude Jekyll and Edward Mawley.

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Today has been a grey, miserable day, mostly rain, yet still very muggy. And it's been an irritable, restless sort of a day: our car's broke down (the back axle snapped, fortunately not whilst driving!) so all plans have been cancelled, everything's up in the air, and it's one of those days trying to sort things out and being thwarted left and right. So I thought I'd treat myself to some lost time - one thing I find fun (and rarely get the chance to do) is look up random books on Internet Archive as I do love beautiful book covers and illustrations, and it's fun to go down a hole and stay down there looking at all the old images for a while. As I did I came across Roses for English Gardens by Gertrude Jekyll and Edward Mawley from 1902. To be clear: I haven't read this book but I was very struck by the photography in it. Honestly, I suppose I found the pictures quite moving: roses are so beautiful and timeless, yet the black and white, the quality, the dre…

The Vicar of Bullhampton by Anthony Trollope.

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Anthony Trollope's The Vicar of Bullhampton was published in 1870, three years after the final book of the Chronicles of Barset: The Last Chronicle of Barset(1867). I would love, one day, to read all of Trollope's 47 novels but for now I'm just picking out the ones with the most appealing plot, and The Vicar of Bullhampton looked interesting for the similar themes of the Barset books which I loved so much, the feuding churches, problematic courtships, and a clergyman at the centre of it all.
The clergyman in question is Frank Fenwick, and in the novel there are three plots that surround him. Firstly, that concerning the Brattle family, the head of which is Jacob Brattle. His son Sam, having fallen into the wrong crowd, is, along with his friends, suspected of murder when a farmer is killed during a burglary (sure of his innocence, Fenwick acts as a bondsman). Jacob's daughter Carry, meanwhile, has become a prostitute having been denounced by her father for succumbing …