Showing posts from July, 2017

Chapters XLIV - XLVI of The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens.

You can't imagine how surprised I was a few days ago when I updated my reading status on Goodreads and found we were 87% (depending on your edition) through The Pickwick Papers! 87%... When I came up with this idea almost two years ago the frame of this read-along seemed so long, almost comfortingly long, and the end of it was so far away although I intended to stick with it I somehow never envisaged finishing it. Yet here we are, 87% of the way through, and after this there's only four more instalments. How time flies!
180 years ago, when the once pre-Victorians were all of a sudden Victorians (they'd been Victorians for just over a month now), Queen Victoria moved into Buckingham Palace making this the official London residence of the monarch (it was previously St. James' Palace, which is now the London residence of the Princess Royal). There was a General Election (once again William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne secured the majority for the Whigs), London's Eus…

Constellation Myths by Eratosthenes and Hyginus, with Aratus's Phaenomena.

Earlier in the month I read Constellation Myths published by Oxford University Press. It includes: Catasterismi (Καταστερισμοί) by Eratosthenes of Cyrene.De Astronomica, or Poeticon Astronomicon by Gaius Julius Hyginus.Phenomena (Φαινόμενα) by Aratus. Eratosthenes and Hyginus' writings / mythical narratives are presented together under the headings of the certain constellations (accompanied by a commentary), and Aratus' work comes in the second part of the book.
Catasterismi by Eratosthenes of Cyrene and De Astronomica by Gaius Julius Hyginus.
Eratosthenes of Cyrene was a mathematician, geographer, the founder of scientific chronology, a poet, astronomer, and the chief librarian at the Library of Alexandria. He was born in Cyrene, part of the Greek Empire which is now modern day Libya, in around 276 B.C. In Catasterismi he writes not on the scientific study of astronomy but the myths of the constellations, and it would appear the original work is lost. Catasterismi is a summary…

Wordless Wednesday.


Thyestes by Seneca.

Thyestes is a tragedy by Seneca the Younger, written most likely around 62 A.D. It's a play I've been looking forward to: in Greek myth, Thyestes was the son of Pelops and Hippodamia, and the brother of Atreus; Atreus was the father of Agamemnon and Menelaus; Agamemnon was the father of Orestes, the basis of Aeschylus' trilogy I love so much - the Oresteia (Ὀρέστεια; 458 B.C.). Thus I was already fairly familiar with what's known as the 'curse on the house of Atreus', though only in the context of the Orestes tragedy. Thyestes was, for me at least, part of the back-story.
The curse of the house of Atreus begins with Myrtilus, a servant who was promised, among other things, half of Pelops' kingdom. Pelops reneged and threw Myrtilus into the sea and, with his dying breath, he cursed the line. Pelops' sons were, as I say, Atreus and Thyestes. The play begins with the ghost of Tantalus, father of Pelops and the founder of the house of Atreus, who was punish…

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

I've been meaning to re-read Crime and Punishment (Преступлéние и наказáние) for years: it was the first novel by Dostoyevsky I'd read and it seemed like everyone had read it (I seem to think it may have been on an A' Level syllabus at some point). Fact is, I didn't like it when I read it but I did however go on to read more of Dostoyevsky's works and loved them, so the plan was to revisit this, yet it sat for almost a decade without being re-read. Finally though, yes, I've re-read it and do seem to like it a little more the second time around.
It was first published in 1866 and immediately follows Dostoyevsky's much shorter Notes from Undergroundand it is almost as dark though there is some hope of redemption to it. It tells the story of Rodion Raskolnikov, a law student living in absolute poverty in St. Petersburg. He is, at the beginning of the novel, very much on the edge, though on the edge of what we are uncertain. He is forced to pawn some of his po…

The Employments of a Housewife in the Country by Samuel Johnson.

Before I begin on Johnson, a quick note on the Deal Me In Challenge: why I don't know, but I can't seem to settle into it this year. I was supposed to be writing about an Oscar Wilde essay this week but was put off by it (one day I'll write about it and give a considered reason why!), so, again, I've changed a few of the titles and added plays back into the mix as well (I always enjoyed Deal Me In with a plays category!). So, this week, not Wilde but The Employments of a Housewife in the Country by Samuel Johnson.

This is an essay first published in The Rambler on 11th September 1750. It opens with a quote from Marcus Valerius Martialis, a Roman poet:
"Stultus labor est ineptiarum."
["'Tis silly to waste time on foolish trifles"] And one from James Elphinstone (a writer, 1721 - 1809),
"How foolish is the toil of trifling cares!" The essay begins,
"As you have allowed a place in your paper to Euphelia’s letters from the country, an…

Journals of Dorothy Wordsworth.

The journals of Dorothy Wordsworth are so beautiful they could make you weep. They are, of course, the diaries of the sister of one of England's finest poets William Wordsworth. Dorothy was born on Christmas Day in 1771 (a year after William) in Cockermouth, Cumbria (then Cumberland). After their mother died they lived apart for a period but eventually they were reunited and lived together, first in Alfoxton House in Somerset where the journals begin in 1798, then to Grasmere in Cumbria, and then to Rydal Mount, Ambleside, pictured above.
What's so remarkable about Dorothy's diaries is the fact that they are by a woman who was more or less independent, that is she was not guided by an older woman or man, marriage and children was not her goal, and she was not limited by how the life a woman ought to live in the late 18th, early 19th Century. She and William lived how they wanted to live (though of course within their means) and she defined her own life and expectations. S…

As You Like It by William Shakespeare.

As You Like It is a comedy by William Shakespeare written around 1599, and first performed around 1603. It is notable for, among other things, the character Rosalind, who has the longest speaking role out of all of Shakespeare's female characters, speaking some 685 lines (seven more than Cleopatra of Antony and Cleopatra and exactly as many as Richard III in Richard III). The leading men in Shakespeare's plays as we know tend to have much longer parts though this isn't a hard and fast rule: Hamlet has 1,506 lines, Iago of Othello 1,088, Henry V 1,031, Othello 880... There are in fact thirteen male characters with more lines that Rosalind. Having read As You Like It I took the opportunity to compare the number of lines of some of Shakespeare's most famous women with some of the men using the website Shakespeare's Words - here's some of my favourite female characters, their number of lines, and how it corresponds with male characters:

Rosalind of As You Like It (1…

Vasari's Lives of the Artists Chapter IX: Masaccio.

The Life of Masaccio from San Giovanni di Valdarno, Painter [1401 - 1428]
"It is the custom of nature, when she makes a man very excellent in any profession, very often not to make him alone, but at the same time, and in the same neighbourhood, to make another to compete with him, to the end that they may assist each other by their talent and emulation; which circumstance, besides the singular advantage enjoyed by the men themselves, who thus compete with each other, also kindles beyond measure the minds of those who come after that age, to strive with all study and all industry to attain to that honour and that glorious reputation which they hear highly extolled without ceasing in those who have passed away. And that this is true we see from the fact that Florence produced in one and the same age Filippo, Donato, Lorenzo, Paolo Uccello, and Masaccio, each most excellent in his own kind, and thus not only swept away the rough and rude manners that had prevailed up to that time, bu…

The Legend of Saint Julian the Hospitalier from Three Tales by Gustave Flaubert.

The Legend of Saint Julian the Hospitalier (La légende de Saint-Julien l'hospitalier) is a short story by Gustave Flaubert from Three Tales (1877) about the saint Julian the Hospitaller, inspired by a stained glass window that Flaubert saw in Rouen Cathedral in Normandy, France (the window was created in around 1220-30). 
The story begins: "Julian's father and mother lived in a castle in the middle of as forest, on the slope of a hill. The four towers at its corners had pointed roofs covered with lead scales, and the base of the walls rested on blocks of solid rock which fell steeply to the bottom of the moat." Julian's mother, Flaubert describes, saw a vision of a hermit in a moonbeam; he said, "Rejoice, mother, for your son shall be a saint!". She gives birth and her son grows up to be a keen hunter: too keen, in my mind, and he kills everything he sees. One day he sees an awful lot, slays it all, until a stag appears. He shoots that too, and - "…

Plato's Symposium.

Plato and Aristotle are by far my most dreaded authors. I find them both devilishly hard and they are the reason why I've stalled on my Ancient Greek and Roman Challenge. But, as I want to move forward, I'm returning to the hardest section so far of the challenge: the 4th Century B.C. (Aristotle, Plato, and Xenophon) with the hope that I'll finish that section before the year is out. In returning to it I decided to begin with, not an easy option, but a marginally less difficult one: The Symposium (Συμπόσιον) by Plato, written around 385 - 370 B.C. It is on the subject of love.
The setting is a dinner party attended by Socrates, Aristophanes, Phaedrus, Alcibiades, Pausanias, Agathon, and Eryximachus, and it's decided that the group will give praise to the god of love: Eros. It is a competition, and each speech will be judged by Dionysus.
Phaedrus, an aristocrat and close associate of Socrates, begins, speaking very highly of Eros and saying, "We should look to Love…

Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie.

Peter Pan, first published as Peter and Wendy in 1911, is one of the most famous children's stories of all time. It was written by Sir James Matthew Barrie and was one of several 'Peter Pan' stories: the first was in one of the stories in The Little White Bird (1902); the story was the published alone as Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens (1906); between these publications the play Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up (1904); in 1908, When Wendy Grew Up – An Afterthought, and finally in 1911 - Peter and Wendy, or as it is now more commonly known, Peter Pan. The idea for the stories was largely inspired by the Davies boys, or the Llewelyn Davies boys who Barrie met in 1897: George, John, Peter, Michael, and Nicholas, the sons of Arthur and Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, and first cousins of the writer Daphne du Maurier. Following their parents' death in 1907 and 1910 Barrie, along with  Emma du Maurier, Guy du Maurier, and Compton Llewelyn Davies, became their trustee a…