Saturday, 29 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 Euston railway station was opened, and, of course, the sixteen instalment of The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club was published.

Chapter LXIV
Treats of Divers Little Matters which Occurred in The Fleet, and of Mr. Winkle’s Mysterious Behaviour; and Shows how the Poor Chancery Prisoner Obtained his Release at Last

We left the Pickwickians with not only Mr. Samuel Pickwick in gaol but also Sam Weller, who had chosen to join him by deliberately borrowing money borrowing money from his father, not paying it back, being taken to court by his father, and imprisoned along with his dear friend and employer. The chapter begins,
Mr. Pickwick felt a great deal too much touched by the warmth of Sam’s attachment, to be able to exhibit any manifestation of anger or displeasure at the precipitate course he had adopted, in voluntarily consigning himself to a debtor’s prison for an indefinite period. The only point on which he persevered in demanding an explanation, was, the name of Sam’s detaining creditor; but this Mr. Weller as perseveringly withheld.
Sam is unrelenting, and so we move forward to a new character, a cobbler called Smangle in the Fleet Prison over a disagreement with an inheritance. Our old friends Tupman, Snodgrass, and Winkle appear (we haven't seen them for quite some time, months in fact), and their mood is accordingly sombre: "The triumvirate were much affected. Mr. Tupman shook his head deploringly, Mr. Snodgrass drew forth his handkerchief, with undisguised emotion; and Mr. Winkle retired to the window, and sniffed aloud." They eat (and drink of course) together and Mr. Winkle is particularly distracted. They depart, and Tom Roker appears to tell Mr. Pickwick a fellow prisoner is on the point of death. Pickwick goes to comfort him, and the man passes away. The chapter ends on a bleak note - of the prisoner Dickens writes, "But he had grown so like death in life, that they knew not when he died."

Chapter XLV
Descriptive of an Affecting Interview between Mr. Samuel Weller and a Family Party. Mr. Pickwick Makes a Tour of the Diminutive World he Inhabits, and Resolves to Mix With it, in Future, as Little as Possible

'The Red-Nosed Man Discourseth' by Phiz.
The chapter begins,
A few mornings after his incarceration, Mr. Samuel Weller, having arranged his master’s room with all possible care, and seen him comfortably seated over his books and papers, withdrew to employ himself for an hour or two to come, as he best could. It was a fine morning, and it occurred to Sam that a pint of porter in the open air would lighten his next quarter of an hour or so, as well as any little amusement in which he could indulge.
Having arrived at this conclusion, he betook himself to the tap. Having purchased the beer, and obtained, moreover, the day-but-one-before-yesterday’s paper, he repaired to the skittle-ground, and seating himself on a bench, proceeded to enjoy himself in a very sedate and methodical manner.
First of all, he took a refreshing draught of the beer, and then he looked up at a window, and bestowed a platonic wink on a young lady who was peeling potatoes thereat. Then he opened the paper, and folded it so as to get the police reports outwards; and this being a vexatious and difficult thing to do, when there is any wind stirring, he took another draught of the beer when he had accomplished it. Then, he read two lines of the paper, and stopped short to look at a couple of men who were finishing a game at rackets, which, being concluded, he cried out ‘wery good,’ in an approving manner, and looked round upon the spectators, to ascertain whether their sentiments coincided with his own. This involved the necessity of looking up at the windows also; and as the young lady was still there, it was an act of common politeness to wink again, and to drink to her good health in dumb show, in another draught of the beer, which Sam did; and having frowned hideously upon a small boy who had noted this latter proceeding with open eyes, he threw one leg over the other, and, holding the newspaper in both hands, began to read in real earnest.
He had hardly composed himself into the needful state of abstraction, when he thought he heard his own name proclaimed in some distant passage. Nor was he mistaken, for it quickly passed from mouth to mouth, and in a few seconds the air teemed with shouts of ‘Weller!’
The shout is to alert him that his father has arrived, accompanied by his wife and the Reverend Stiggins (someone else we haven't seen for quite a while). Sam shares a plan to help Pickwick escape:
 ‘Sammy,’ whispered Mr. Weller, looking cautiously round; ‘my duty to your gov’nor, and tell him if he thinks better o’ this here bis’ness, to com-moonicate vith me. Me and a cab’net-maker has dewised a plan for gettin’ him out. A pianner, Samivel—a pianner!’ said Mr. Weller, striking his son on the chest with the back of his hand, and falling back a step or two.
‘Wot do you mean?’ said Sam.
‘A pianner-forty, Samivel,’ rejoined Mr. Weller, in a still more mysterious manner, ‘as he can have on hire; vun as von’t play, Sammy.’
‘And wot ‘ud be the good o’ that?’ said Sam.
‘Let him send to my friend, the cabinet-maker, to fetch it back, Sammy,’ replied Mr. Weller. ‘Are you avake, now?’
‘No,’ rejoined Sam.
‘There ain’t no vurks in it,’ whispered his father. ‘It ‘ull hold him easy, vith his hat and shoes on, and breathe through the legs, vich his holler. Have a passage ready taken for ‘Merriker. The ‘Merrikin gov’ment will never give him up, ven vunce they find as he’s got money to spend, Sammy. Let the gov’nor stop there, till Mrs. Bardell’s dead, or Mr. Dodson and Fogg’s hung (wich last ewent I think is the most likely to happen first, Sammy), and then let him come back and write a book about the ‘Merrikins as’ll pay all his expenses and more, if he blows ‘em up enough.’
Mr. Weller delivered this hurried abstract of his plot with great vehemence of whisper; and then, as if fearful of weakening the effect of the tremendous communication by any further dialogue, he gave the coachman’s salute, and vanished. 
It's a plan worthy of Baldrick, perhaps!

After Tony departs Pickwick appears and a moment later so does Mr. Jingle:
He looked less miserable than before, being clad in a half-worn suit of clothes, which, with Mr. Pickwick’s assistance, had been released from the pawnbroker’s. He wore clean linen too, and had had his hair cut. He was very pale and thin, however; and as he crept slowly up, leaning on a stick, it was easy to see that he had suffered severely from illness and want, and was still very weak. He took off his hat as Mr. Pickwick saluted him, and seemed much humbled and abashed at the sight of Sam Weller.
Following close at his heels, came Mr. Job Trotter, in the catalogue of whose vices, want of faith and attachment to his companion could at all events find no place. He was still ragged and squalid, but his face was not quite so hollow as on his first meeting with Mr. Pickwick, a few days before. As he took off his hat to our benevolent old friend, he murmured some broken expressions of gratitude, and muttered something about having been saved from starving.
Pickwick departs with Jingle and Sam stays with Job, and throughout the rest of the chapter Pickwick takes in his miserable surroundings. The chapter ends,
... Mr. Pickwick wandered along all the galleries, up and down all the staircases, and once again round the whole area of the yard. The great body of the prison population appeared to be Mivins, and Smangle, and the parson, and the butcher, and the leg, over and over, and over again. There were the same squalor, the same turmoil and noise, the same general characteristics, in every corner; in the best and the worst alike. The whole place seemed restless and troubled; and the people were crowding and flitting to and fro, like the shadows in an uneasy dream.
‘I have seen enough,’ said Mr. Pickwick, as he threw himself into a chair in his little apartment. ‘My head aches with these scenes, and my heart too. Henceforth I will be a prisoner in my own room.’
And Mr. Pickwick steadfastly adhered to this determination. For three long months he remained shut up, all day; only stealing out at night to breathe the air, when the greater part of his fellow-prisoners were in bed or carousing in their rooms. His health was beginning to suffer from the closeness of the confinement, but neither the often-repeated entreaties of Perker and his friends, nor the still more frequently-repeated warnings and admonitions of Mr. Samuel Weller, could induce him to alter one jot of his inflexible resolution.
Chapter XLVI
Records a Touching Act of Delicate Feeling, Not Unmixed with Pleasantry, Achieved and Performed by Messrs. Dodson and Fogg 

Mrs. Bardell encounters Mr. Pickwick
in prison' by Phiz.
Mrs. Bardell has shaped a good section of Pickwick Papers however she's yet another character we haven't seen in person for quite some time. Until this chapter.
It was within a week of the close of the month of July, that a hackney cabriolet, number unrecorded, was seen to proceed at a rapid pace up Goswell Street; three people were squeezed into it besides the driver, who sat in his own particular little dickey at the side; over the apron were hung two shawls, belonging to two small vixenish-looking ladies under the apron; between whom, compressed into a very small compass, was stowed away, a gentleman of heavy and subdued demeanour, who, whenever he ventured to make an observation, was snapped up short by one of the vixenish ladies before-mentioned. Lastly, the two vixenish ladies and the heavy gentleman were giving the driver contradictory directions, all tending to the one point, that he should stop at Mrs. Bardell’s door; which the heavy gentleman, in direct opposition to, and defiance of, the vixenish ladies, contended was a green door and not a yellow one.
The three are Mr. and Mrs. Raddle, and Mrs. Cluppins, gone to their Mrs. Bardell's; and from there to Hampstead where who should appear but Mr. Jackson of Dodson and Fogg's, requesting that she accompany him back to see Mr. Dodson. The matter involves a cognovit: the Legal Dictionary defines this -
A creditor may ask the borrower to sign a cognovit note when credit is extended. If the debtor falls into arrears the creditor can obtain a judgment against the person without notification to the debtor. There is usually little the debtor can do to attack the judgment when it is discovered. The Supreme Court has held that cognovit notes are not necessarily illegal but most states have outlawed their use in consumer transactions.
As she hasn't complied, she is imprisoned in the Fleet along with Pickwick and Sam! The instalment ends,
‘Don’t bother the woman,’ said the turnkey to Weller; ‘she’s just come in.’
‘A prisoner!’ said Sam, quickly replacing his hat. ‘Who’s the plaintives? What for? Speak up, old feller.’
‘Dodson and Fogg,’ replied the man; ‘execution on cognovit for costs.’
‘Here, Job, Job!’ shouted Sam, dashing into the passage. ‘Run to Mr. Perker’s, Job. I want him directly. I see some good in this. Here’s a game. Hooray! vere’s the gov’nor?’
But there was no reply to these inquiries, for Job had started furiously off, the instant he received his commission, and Mrs. Bardell had fainted in real downright earnest.
We have to wait until next month to find out what happens, and fortunately that's only a few more days! 

Thursday, 27 July 2017

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 of original and is supplemented with the Vatican Fragments. Gaius Julius Hyginus was a writer and superintendent of the Palatine library, born in 64 B.C., almost 200 years after Eratosthenes, though it's believed the summary of Catasterismi was written roughly around the time of Hyginus' birth. It's not wholly agreed that Hyginus was the author of De Astronomica.

In the Oxford World Classics edition of these two works there are seven broad headings:
  1. Constellations of the Arctic Circle
  2. Constellations between the Arctic Circle and the Summer Tropic
  3. Constellations between the Summer Tropic and the Equator
  4. Constellations of the Zodiac
  5. Constellations between the Equator and the Winter Tropic
  6. Constellations between the Winter Tropic and the Antarctic Circle
  7. The Milky Circle, Planets, and the Constellations of Late Origin
They are an absolute treasure trove of myths, many of which are familiar from stories from, for example, Ovid, Homer, and Hesiod, but there are also some more obscure ones too. It has been noted that some of these placings of the constellations aren't wholly accurate; the real delight in reading both Catasterismi and De Astronomica is in the myths. Here's an example (picked at random):
Draco, The Dragon (The Arctic Circle)
Eᴘɪᴛᴏᴍᴇ 3. Sᴇʀᴘᴇɴᴛ [Eratosthenes]
This is the large Serpent, the one that lies between the two Bears. They say that it is the one that guarded the golden apples and was killed by Heracles; it was placed among the constellations by Hera, who had appointed it to guard the apples in the land of Hesperides. For according to Pherecydes, when Hera married Zeus, the gods brought gifts for her, and Earth came with golden apples; on seeing them, Hera was filled with admiration, and asked that they should be planted in the garden of the gods, which lies near Atlas; and because the daughters of Atlas constantly stole the fruit, she stationed this enormous snake there as a guard.
The Constellation
The Dragon is located between the two Bears, and it seems to enclose the small Bear in a coil of its body in such a way that it can be seen almost to touch its feet, while it reaches the head of the large Bear with its curved tail; it draws in its head, as it were, to touch the arctic circle, and its body is coiled as though in a spiral. And if one looks a little more closely, one can distinguish the head of the Dragon in region of the tail of the large Bear. It has a star on each temple, a star on each eye, one on its chin, and ten distributed over the whole of the rest of the body. So there are fifteen stars in all.
The Mythology
With its huge body, it is shown as lying between the two Bears. It is said to be the serpent that guarded the golden apples of the Hesperides; it was killed by Heracles, and was placed among the constellations by Hera because it was her bidding that Heracles had set out to confront it. This is the snake, so it is believed, that watched over the gardens of Hera. For according to Pherecydes, when Zeus took Hera as his wife, Earth arrived bringing branches with golden apples on them, and Hera so admired them that she asked Earth to plant them in her garden, which stretched out toward the Atlas; and because the daughters of Atlas were constantly plucking the apples from the trees, Hera is said to have stationed the snake there as a guard. Further indication of this provided by the fact that the figure of Heracles is shown in the heavens as looming over the Dragon, as Eratosthenes points out; so anyone can understand from this that the name of the dragon belongs to this figure above all. 
According to some accounts, however, this is the dragon that was hurled at Athena by the Giants when she was fighting against them; but she seized the writhing serpent and hurled it into the sky, fixing it to the very pole of the heavens. And so it can be seen there to this day with its twisted body, as though it had only just been transferred to the sky.
Aratus's Phaenomena

Aratus was a Greek poet born in around 315 B.C. His major work was Phenomena (Φαινόμενα), which can be divided into three parts:
  1. The Constellations
  2. Measuring of Time through Observation of the Heavens
  3. Weather Signs
It begins,
Let us begin with Zeus, whom we men never leave unnamed: filled with Zeus are all the streets and all the meeting-places of human beings, and filled too the seas and harbours; and everywhere all of us have need of Zeus. For we are indeed his offspring, and he in his paternal kindness sends us helpful signs to mortals, and rouses people to work by reminding them of life's demands, he tells us when the soil is most fit for oxen and for picks, he says when the right season has come for digging trees into the ground and sowing every kind of seed. For it was Zeus himself who fixed the signs of these things in the heavens by making out the constellations, and arranged that the stars over the course of the year should provide men with most dependable signs of the passing seasons, so that everything may grow as it properly should. And thus it is that first and final homage is always addressed to him. Hail Father, great marvel that you are, and great source of benefit to human beings, hail to you and to the prior race! And to the kindly Muses, one and all! As for me, I who am praying to you to be able to tell fittingly of the stars, guide my song right through to the end.
Aratus goes on to write about the northern constellations and the signs of the zodiac, the southern constellations, the five planets (he writes, however, "no longer do I have confidence in myself when it comes to them"), the circles of the celestial sphere, risings and settings of the constellations, and various weather and seasonal signs, for example:
If a misty cloud is stretched out along the base of a high mountain while the uppermost peaks look clear, you should then have very fine weather. You will also have good weather when low cloud appears above the broad sea, not rising up to any height, but pressed down right there like a sheet of flat rock.
He concludes,
Keep a close eye on these signs, all taken together, throughout the year, and you will never drawn an ill-founded conclusion from what you see in the sky. 

These works are all fascinating from a scientific point of view, but it is the myths the authors explain that make it invaluable. I'm so happy to have come across this: one of my friends on Goodreads had read it, and immediately bought it when I saw! If you get the chance, do read it.

To finish, some illustrations found via Shyam from Alexander Jamieson's Celestial Atlas (1822) -

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

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 punished by Zeus for sharing ambrosia and nectar with his fellow mortals and thus revealing the secrets of the gods (his punishment was to forever stand in a pool with fruit just out of his reach: his name gives us the word 'tantalising'). He says,
"Who hales me from my miserable rest
Among the dead below, where my starved mouth
Gapes for the food that runs out of its reach?
What god bids Tantalus returns again
To this abode he never should have seen?
Os there some punishment in store for me
Worse than to stand dry-mouthed in running water,
Worse than the everlasting yawn of hunger?"
He goes on and is eventually answered by Fury, who replies "On with your task, abominable ghost: / Let loose the Furies on your impious house...", and goes on to torment him, warning him that his cursed house will see "a Thracian tragedy", referring to Procne and Philomela; Tereus, Procne's husband, raped Philomela and, out of revenge, Procne killed and cooked their son and fed it to him (we see this tale in Book VI of Ovid's Metamorphoses, Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus, and Chaucer's The Legend of Good Women). The scene then changes to Atreus, raging against Thyestes his brother: the two are battling for the throne of Mycenae, and Thyestes also seduced Atreus' wife Aerope, leaving a question as to the true father of Agamemnon and Menelaus. He plans, as the Fury warned, to kill Thyestes' children (Tantalus the younger, Plisthenes, and a third son), have Agamemnon and Menelaus lure him back, and then, as with the Procne myth, cook them and serve them to him. The plan is put into action and Thyestes returns, no longer wanting to fight for the throne. The two brothers apparently reconcile, but, unknown to Thyestes, Atreus kills his three sons, and manages to trick Thyestes into eating them, telling him with great triumph, "You, you yourself have dined on your sons' flesh! You have consumed this monstrous banquet!". The horrified Thyestes replies,
This was the sight you could not bear to see!
This was the sin that drove the daylight back
To where it came from. O what words can tell,
What grieving can assuage my agony?
There are not words enough to speak of it.
Here are their severed heads, I see, their hands
Chopped off, the feet left from their broken legs,
The leavings of their father's gluttony.
My stomach moves; the sin within me strives
To find escape - cannot escape its prison.
Lend me your sword, brother, lend me that sword
Already glutted with my blood; its blade
Shall set my children free. You will not? Hands,
Beat in this breast until it breaks into pieces!
No! Strike not, wretch! We must respect the dead.
When was such horror seen - when, in the days
Of Heniochus upon the awful crags
Of barren Caucasus, or in Procrustes' den,
The terror of the land of Attica?
I press my sons to death - they press their father.
Is sin illimitable?"
It ends with a plea to the gods: "My revenge," says Thyestes, "The gods will give. I have no other wish / But to entrust them to your punishment." A few words from Atreus, and then the play ends. According to some myths, Atreus will eventually be murdered by Aegisthus, the son of Thyestes.

It's dark in the way only the Ancients could be. It's a forceful play, strange in so far as one could, if one was hardhearted enough, feel some degree of contempt towards Thyestes, with Atreus playing a kind of anti-hero - witty, strong, but thoroughly rotten to the core. A great play, my first Seneca, and, I would say, a very good introduction to his plays.

And Thyestes was my 30th title for the Deal Me In Challenge. Next week, another Seneca: Phaedra.

Monday, 24 July 2017

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

Scenes from Crime and Punishment
by Viktor Semenovich Vilner (1971). 
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 Underground and 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 possessions to the pawnbroker Alyona Ivanovna, and, whilst seeing all the poverty and degradation that surrounds him, he hears someone say that Alyona Ivanovna would be better of dead, as though she was a canker; the very cancer that pervades society and causes the ill. He agonises over this proposition, and plans to murder her; his decision making out of desperation is so realistic, it's actually sickening to read. Dostoyevsky continues to build the tension masterfully until the deed is done: Raskolnikov murders Ivanovna. He is caught in the act by her sister Lizaveta and so he murders her too.

What follows is the agonies of the soul: he covers his tracks just about, then has a nervous breakdown, falling into unconsciousness. He recovers, somewhat, and slowly but surely guilt and the fact he took two lives eats away at him. It is a psychological novel, a novel about the self or soul, something Virginia Woolf would later express her admiration for in The Russian Point of View:
The novels of Dostoevsky are seething whirlpools, gyrating sandstorms, waterspouts which hiss and boil and suck us in. They are composed purely and wholly of the stuff of the soul. Against our wills we are drawn in, whirled round, blinded, suffocated, and at the same time filled with a giddy rapture. Out of Shakespeare there is no more exciting reading.
It's a difficult book to read because Dostoyevsky's descriptions of Raskolnikov's anxiety and desperate struggle to justify his crime are so vivid. It is, as Woolf writers, a "seething whirlpool", I felt almost dizzy reading it at times. Unpleasant as it is, it's one of the greatest novels of the 19th Century portraying the effects of crime on the perpetrator, exploring ideas of punishment and redemption, and, like Notes from Underground, nihilism; an individual alienated from society and those closest to him. It's a masterpiece: reading it is to be in the presence of greatness, but, Lord, I do not like reading it. It is too good.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

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

The Statue of Samuel Johnson in London
by Percy Fitzgerald (1910).
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, and appear to think no form of human life unworthy of your attention, I have resolved, after many struggles with idleness and diffidence, to give you some account of my entertainment in this sober season of universal retreat, and to describe to you the employments of those who look with contempt on the pleasures and diversions of polite life, and employ all their powers of censure and invective upon the uselessness, vanity, and folly, of dress, visits, and conversation."
Johnson describes how he was invited to stay at someone's house (as he is every year for the past seven years) and what he observed during that time he stayed there. He did not find "leisure and tranquillity" as he expected, more "a confused wildness of care, and a tumultuous hurry of diligence, by which every face was clouded, and every motion agitated". He writes of an old lady, his father's relation, who spent much of her time instructing and losing patience with her daughters. There appears to be some preparations for a big event: a funeral perhaps? Or a wedding more likely, he decides. Later, he enquires and is met with a fairly oblique answer, and then was told they were to go to bed early that evening for "they were to rise early in the morning to make cheesecakes."

The next morning Johnson took a walk around the garden, seeing nothing remarkable, and then spent some time with the lady:
"It was not long before her ladyship gave me sufficient opportunities of knowing her character, for she was too much pleased with her own accomplishments to conceal them, and took occasion, from some sweetmeats which she set next day upon the table, to discourse for two long hours upon robs and jellies; laid down the best methods of conserving, reserving, and preserving all sorts of fruit; told us with great contempt of the London lady in the neighbourhood, by whom these terms were very often confounded; and hinted how much she should be ashamed to set before company, at her own house, sweetmeats of so dark a colour as she had often seen at mistress Sprightly's."
There is, Johnson goes on, rather a large degree of being busy with trivialities and that is that: "The lady has settled her opinions, and maintains the dignity of her own performances with all the firmness of stupidity accustomed to be flattered." Books are "follies", orange puddings "sublime", and pickles take precedent.
"Lady Bustle has, indeed, by this incessant application to fruits and flowers, contracted her cares into a narrow space, and set herself free from many perplexities with which other minds are disturbed. She has no curiosity after the events of a war, or the fate of heroes in distress; she can hear, without the least emotion, the ravage of a fire, or devastations of a storm; her neighbours grow rich or poor, come into the world or go out of it, without regard, while she is pressing the jelly-bag, or airing the store-room; but I cannot perceive that she is more free from disquiets than those whose understandings take a wider range. Her marigolds, when they are almost cured, are often scattered by the wind, and the rain sometimes falls upon fruit, when it ought to be gathered dry. While her artificial wines are fermenting, her whole life is restlessness and anxiety. Her sweetmeats are not always bright, and the maid sometimes forgets the just proportions of salt and pepper, when venison is to be baked. Her conserves mould, her wines sour, and pickles mother; and, like all the rest of mankind, she is every day mortified with the defeat of her schemes, and the disappointment of her hopes."
It is a rather harsh essay I thought on women and rural life. Rather than be impatient with Lady Bustle I sympathised: she liked to be engaged, she liked things just right, and this is where her energies were directed. Had she have been a man, perhaps she could have done great things. That said, I don't necessarily hold this against Johnson, it is quite a funny essay, but I do think it does shed some light on life for women in the mid-18th Century and attitudes to such women wholly concerned with domestic tasks.

And that was my 29th title for the Deal Me In Challenge. Next week: Thyestes by Seneca.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Journals of Dorothy Wordsworth.

Rydal Mount, near Ambleside, in the Lake District, Cumbria. Home of Dorothy and William 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. She wrote, mainly, on nature, often in quite brief notes, but, as Virginia Woolf wrote in Four Figures (from The Common Reader Second Series, 1932),
"Even in such brief notes one feels the suggestive power which is the gift of the poet rather than of the naturalist, the power which, taking only the simplest facts, so orders them that the whole scene comes before us, heightened and composed, the lake in its quiet, the hills in their splendour. Yet she was no descriptive writer in the usual sense. Her first concern was to be truthful — grace and symmetry must be made subordinate to truth. But then truth is sought because to falsify the look of the stir of the breeze on the lake is to tamper with the spirit which inspires appearances. It is that spirit which goads her and urges her and keeps her faculties for ever on the stretch. A sight or a sound would not let her be till she had traced her perception along its course and fixed it in words, though they might be bald, or in an image, though it might be angular."
Other than nature notes, a glimpse into her life as a woman of this era, as a sister of the future Poet Laureate (William Wordsworth is notable for, despite being a great and prolific poet, being the only Laureate who didn't actually write 'official' poetry at the time) who she loved very much indeed, and as a friend of the likes of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. We see, for example, a hint of the Wordsworth's fears of his opium addiction when she notes on 19th March 1802,
"... Coleridge came in. His eyes were a little swollen with the wind. I was very much affected with the sight of him - he seemed half stupefied.... My spirits were agitated very much."
1897 edition of Journals of
Dorothy Wordsworth
The best part of the journals though is the nature notes, and even the shortest observations are stunning. For example:
"21st [January, 1798]. Walked on the hill-tops—a warm day. Sate under the firs in the park. The tops of the beeches of a brown-red, or crimson. Those oaks, fanned by the sea breeze, thick with feathery sea-green moss, as a grove not stripped of its leaves. Moss cups more proper than acorns for fairy goblets."
"Saturday [23rd June 1800].—Walked up the hill to Rydale lake. Grasmere looked so beautiful that my heart was almost melted away. It was quite calm, only spotted with sparkles of light; the church visible. On our return all distant objects had faded away, all but the hills. The reflection of the light bright sky above Black Quarter was very solemn...."
And she's not afraid to be dull, either, yet it's intriguing:
"17th [March 1798].—I do not remember this day."

I don't think it's unreasonable to say that Dorothy Wordsworth is one of the finest diarists in England. The Journals, as you can no doubt tell, is one of my most favourite reads. Her keen observation and simplicity is charming and evocative, and it's such a pleasure to read about the flora and fauna of the area and about the changing seasons. This is a great work.

Holdford, Somerset by Jason Pittock.

Dove Cottage, Grasmere, Cumbria.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

As You Like It by William Shakespeare.

'The Wresting Scene from As You Like It' by Francis Hayman (1740-42).

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 (1599)
Number of lines: 685
Number of lines of male lead (Orlando): 331
Male character with approx. same number of lines as Rosalind: Richard III of Richard III (685)

Number of lines: 542
Number of lines of male lead (Romeo): 517
Male character with approx. same number of lines as Juliet: Troilus of Troilus and Cressida (537)

Number of lines: 221
Number of lines of the male lead (Petruchio): 589
Male character with approx. same number of lines as Katherina: Jacques of As You Like It (221)

Number of lines: 574
Number of lines of the male lead (Shylock): 352
Male character with approx. same number of lines as Portia: Prince Hal of Henry IV Part 1 (572)

Number of lines: 391 
Number of lines of the male lead (Othello): 880
Male character with approx. same number of lines as Desdamona: Valentine of The Two Gentlemen of Verona (391)

Number of lines: 141 
Number of lines of the male lead (Bottom): 255
Male character with approx. same number of lines as Titania: Lord Hastings of Richard III (140)

Number of lines: 173 
Number of lines of the male lead (Hamlet): 1,506
Male character with approx. same number of lines as Ophelia: Duke of York of Henry VI Part 3 (173)

While we're at it, there are, I believe, some 1,358 male characters in Shakespeare's plays compared with 175 female characters, but, despite all that, I'm not actually going anywhere with this (though I would remark that in some of these plays it is quite fitting that the male lead dominates all, especially the female lead), it was just a good opportunity, what with Rosalind, to compare and I do like some facts and figures!

So, back to As You Like It. It begins with a speech by Orlando:
As I remember, Adam, it was upon this fashion
bequeathed me by will but poor a thousand crowns,
and, as thou sayest, charged my brother, on his
blessing, to breed me well: and there begins my
sadness. My brother Jaques he keeps at school, and
report speaks goldenly of his profit: for my part,
he keeps me rustically at home, or, to speak more
properly, stays me here at home unkept; for call you
that keeping for a gentleman of my birth, that
differs not from the stalling of an ox? His horses
are bred better; for, besides that they are fair
with their feeding, they are taught their manage,
and to that end riders dearly hired: but I, his
brother, gain nothing under him but growth; for the
which his animals on his dunghills are as much
bound to him as I. Besides this nothing that he so
plentifully gives me, the something that nature gave
me his countenance seems to take from me: he lets
me feed with his hinds, bars me the place of a
brother, and, as much as in him lies, mines my
gentility with my education. This is it, Adam, that
grieves me; and the spirit of my father, which I
think is within me, begins to mutiny against this
servitude: I will no longer endure it, though yet I
know no wise remedy how to avoid it.

We learn that Orlando's father Sir Rowland de Boys has died and Orlando's brother, Oliver, has been entrusted to care for Orlando and Jacques, the third brother. Oliver however has abused his authority and neglected his responsibilities, and treats Orlando very badly. Orlando, as it turns out, is an excellent wrestler and his skills caught the eye of Rosalind. She is the daughter of Duke Senior, recently usurped by his brother Duke Frederick. Oliver hears that Orlando plans to wrestle Charles, a wrestler in the court of Duke Frederick, and Oliver spitefully tells him Orlando is a dirty player. 

Meanwhile, Duke Senior is living in exile in the Forest of Arden; Rosalind remains in the court of Duke Frederick with her best friend Celia, the daughter of Duke Frederick. She falls in love with Orlando whilst watching him wrestle Charles, and when Rosalind is later exiled herself Orlando is also on the run, hearing of Oliver's plot to burn his house down with him still in it. Rosalind disguises herself as a pageboy, Ganymede, whilst Celia who has also run away with her adopts the guise of a poor woman, Aliena. They're accompanied by the court fool Touchstone. 

And so, all the 'exiled' - Duke Senior, Rosalind, Celia, and Orlando are in the Forest of Arden and it's not long before they all come together, however, at first, Rosalind maintains her disguise and even 'coaches' Orlando on how to be a good husband. To add some confusion, the essential ingredient in Shakespearean comedy, Phoebe, a shepherdess, falls in love with 'Ganymede'. But, all eventually resolves itself: Oliver tracks down Orlando to kill him, however Orlando actually saves Oliver's life, and so Oliver repents; Celia ends up falling in love with him, and Rosalind finally reveals her true identity. Jaques de Boys appears and announces that Duke Frederick has renounced his throne following a recent conversion, so Duke Senior returns to claim it. Orlando and Rosalind marry, as do Celia and Oliver, Touchstone and Audrey (a country girl), and also Phoebe and Silvius, a shepherd.

This is a very fun and warm play, though with a touch of darkness at times. It portrays love as a positive force, far from the tragic love stories in Shakespeare and other Elizabethan / Jacobean plays. There is also the idea of nature being a force of restoration on a soul too immersed in city life; everything is resolved in the Forest of Arden. Finally, it shows the powers of forgiveness and repentance. This is not necessarily a favourite of mine, but all the same I did enjoy reading it.

Friday, 14 July 2017

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, but incited and kindled so greatly, by reason of the beautiful works of these men, the minds of those who came after, that the work of those professions has been brought to that grandeur and to that perfection which are seen in our own times. Wherefore, in truth, we owe a great obligation to those early craftsmen who showed to us, by means of their labours, the true way to climb to the greatest height; and with regard to the good manner of painting, we are indebted above all to Masaccio, seeing that he, as one desirous of acquiring fame, perceived that painting is nothing but the counterfeiting of all the things of nature, vividly and simply, with drawing and with colours, even as she produced them for us, and that he who attains to this most perfectly can be called excellent.[Pg 184] This truth, I say, being recognized by Masaccio, brought it about that by means of continuous study he learnt so much that he can be numbered among the first who cleared away, in a great measure, the hardness, the imperfections, and the difficulties of the art, and that he gave a beginning to beautiful attitudes, movements, liveliness, and vivacity, and to a certain relief truly characteristic and natural; which no painter up to his time had ever done."

Masaccio, or Tommaso di Ser Giovanni di Simone, was according to Vasari a very single-minded artist, "absent-minded and unpredictable" and "caring very little about himself and even less about others". Yet, Vasari doesn't interpret this negatively, going on to note that"he embodied goodness itself". He goes on to praise Masaccio's skills in perspective and originality, however his work was not able to improve and develop: as Vasari writes,
"But although the works of Masaccio have ever been in so great repute, it is nevertheless the opinion—nay, the firm belief—of many, that he would have produced even greater fruits in his art, if death, which tore him from us at the age of twenty-six, had not snatched him away from us so prematurely. But either by reason of envy, or because good things rarely have any long duration, he died in the flower of his youth, and that so suddenly, that there were not wanting people who put it down to poison rather than to any other reason."
These are some of Masaccio's works:

Desco da parto (1427-28).

Baptism of the Neophytes (1426-27).

Raising of the Son of Teophilus and St.Peter Enthroned (1427).

Adoration of the Kings (1425-28).

The Agony in the Garden (1426).

Madonna Casini (1426).

Crucifixion (1426).

Portrait of a Young Woman (1425).

Distribution of Alms and Death of Ananias (1424-25).

St. Juvenal Triptych (1422).

The Trinity (1427-28).

Next time: The Life of Filippo Brunelleschi, Sculptor and Artist.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

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

St Julian the Hospitaller window 
in Rouen Cathedral.
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 -
"The great stag did not seem to feel it. Striding over the dead bodies, it came steadily nearer, apparently bent on attacking and disembowelling him. Julian fell back in unspeakable terror. Thee huge beast stopped; and with blazing eyes, solemn as a patriarch or a judge, and to the accompaniment of a bell tolling in the distance, it said three times: 
'Accursed, accursed, accursed! One day, cruel heart, you will kill your father and mother!'
Immediately Oedipus springs to mind: as Sophocles wrote, Oedipus was told by Tiresias, "You are yourself the murderer you seek". The analogies don't end there: Julian believes, after two unfortunate accidents, that he has indeed killed his parents and he goes into self-imposed exile as Oedipus had done in Colonus, in Julian's case joining the army. He becomes famous for his strength and victories, and later marries the daughter of the Emperor of Occitania (which now encompasses southern France, Monaco, and parts of Italy). One day whilst he was out hunting, an old man and woman appear arrive at his castle and reveal themselves to be Julian's parents. Julian's wife provides them with food and drink and they question her about Julian before going to bed. When Julian returns he finds the man and woman in bed and assumes the woman is his wife and she is being unfaithful:
"In a burst of uncontrollable rage he lunged his dagger into their bodies, stamping his feet, foaming at the mouth, and roaring like a wild beast. Then he stopped. The two victims, pierced through the heart, had not even moved. He listened closely to the rattle of their dying breath, which came almost in unison, and as it grew fainter another in the distance took it up. Vague at first, this plaintive, long-drawn voice came nearer, grew louder, took on a cruel note; and to his horror he recognised the belling of the great black stag."
Julian realises that, as the stag predicted, he has in fact murdered his parents. He buries them, and then leaves to live the life of a beggar. One day he comes across a leper, and Julian feeds him, gives him drink, and then, extraordinarily, warmth by allowing the leper to lie naked with him, and:
"Then the Leper clasped him in his arms. All at once his eyes took on the brightness of the stars, his hair spread out like rays of the sun, and the breath of his nostrils had the sweetness of roses. A cloud of incense rose from the hearth and the waves outside began to sing.
Meanwhile an abundance of delight, a superhuman joy swept like a flood into Julian's soul as he lay there in a swoon. And the one whose arms still held him grew and grew, until his head and feet touched the walls of the hut. The roof flew off, the heavens unfolded - and Julian rose towards the blue, face to face with Our Lord Jesus Christ, who bore him up to Heaven."
The story then ends with the words,
"And that is the story of St Julian Hosptiator, more or less as it is depicted on a stained-glass window in a church in my part of the world."
It is a strange tale, and it's a very unpleasant one. This is a good example of a piece of fiction that I know is very good in terms of writing, but there was little I enjoyed about the story, aside from the Oedipus similarities. It's the second of the Three Tales, the first being A Simple Heart and the third, the one I'm most looking forward to, Herodias.

And that was my 28th title for the Deal Me In Challenge. Next week: The Soul of Man Under Socialism by Oscar Wilde.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Plato's Symposium.

Depiction of Plato's Symposium by Anselm Feuerbach (1871-74). 

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.

Cupid [Eros] complaining to Venus
by Lucas Cranach the Elder (c. 1525).
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's origins to see one of the chief reasons why both men and gods find him a great and awesome god. The point us that he is venerated as a primordial god, as is proved by the fact that no layman, and no poet either, assigns Love parents. Hesiod says that Chaos came first, 'and then broad-breasted Earth, to be a safe seat for all, and Love'. Acusilaus agrees with Hesiod, and Parmenides says about Love's origins, 'The very first of all the gods she devised was Love'. So there's wide assent that Love is a primordial god."
He continues, saying that Love inspires great and noble deeds, making people virtuous, and people are willing to die, to sacrifice themselves for Love. This is why, he concludes, 
"Love is one of the most ancient and venerated gods, and one of the most effective in helping a person, during his lifetime or after it, attain goodness and happiness".

Following Phaedrus is Pausanias, known as the lover of the poet Agathon who speaks later. Pausanias distinguishes two types of love, one noble and directed towards young men establishing a close and lifelong relationship, and one base, concerning merely sexual gratification, directed at boys and women. 
"As we all know, Love and Aphrodite are inseparable. Now, if Aphrodite were uniform, so would Love be; but she is twofold and so, inevitably, Love is twofold too. The duality of Aphrodite is undeniable: one Aphrodite - the one we call Celestial - is older and has no mother, though her father is Uranus; the other, the younger one, is the daughter of Zeus and Dione, and is called Common. It follows, therefore, that the same distinction of title - Common and Celestial - should be applied to the different Loves who are the associates of one or the other Aphrodite."
He goes on to discuss different attitudes to homosexuality throughout various cities in the Greek empire, some sympathetic like Sparta, some unsympathetic like Persia. Athens, he notes, encourages the Celestial love and discourages the Common.

Aristophanes should now follow, however "he happened to be having an attack of hiccups - perhaps because of overeating, but there could have been some other cause", so Eryximachus takes his turn. Eryximachus, a physician, speaks on how far-reaching love is:
"The body of every creature on earth is pervaded by Love, as every plant is too; it's hardly going too far to say that Love is present in everything that exists. You could say that one of the things I've noticed as a result of practising medicine professionally is that Love is a great and awesome god who pervades every aspect of the lives of men and gods."
Continuing from Pausanias he argues that there is a healthy and unhealthy love that effects everything accordingly, in a healthy or unhealthy way. Everything is governed by Love.

Cupid’s Target, from ‘Les Amours des Dieux’
by François Boucher (1758).
Now Aristophanes' hiccups are over, he follows Eryximachus with what may well be the most famous section in Symposium. Aristophanes claims that, in the dawn of time, we were in fact two people joined together but, out of fear, Zeus severed us into two separate beings and now we search for love in order to return to our primordial self. Love literally completes us. It is an amusing passage, and also a very powerful one in which, I feel, Aristophanes, or Plato rather, accurately describes the feelings of love.

Next, Agathon, a poet also known for being a character in Aristophanes' Thesmophoriazusae (411 B.C.), who argues that love isn't the oldest or primordial god but in fact is the youngest. Rather than praise love, he despairs over it in old age, claiming it favours the young. He agrees that encourages virtue, as well as grace, wisdom, and a sense of justice.

Socrates is the penultimate speaker, first entering into a dialogue with Agathon. Citing a wise woman, Diotima, he explains that Love is not a god but a spirit half-way between the gods and men, and is not wisdom and beauty as such, more a desire for wisdom and beauty. It was born of two parents, Contrivance and Poverty and embodies both of their attributes. To love someone is the first step in attaining absolute and divine Beauty, which is not merely physical but also moral.

Finally, Alcibiades arrive. He drunkenly compares Socrates to Eros, and the two discuss inner beauty as well as the nature of their relationship.

The Symposium is not an easy read, but it is an entertaining and interesting one, well worth the effort. From it we are encouraged to think not only on love, but also sexuality, morality, and the definition and manifestations of beauty. I did very much enjoy it, and I only wish I found Plato's other works to be as engaging!

Monday, 10 July 2017

Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie.

1911 edition of Peter and Wendy.
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 and guardian. Peter was the 'real' Peter Pan, and his brothers the Lost Boys.

Peter Pan is such a famous story one hardly needs to summarise it. It begins with one of the most famous beginnings, "All children, except one, grow up", and Barrie goes on to describe the Darling household: Mr. Darling, eminently practical, Mrs. Darling, who is very beautiful and (I found this odd), had a "sweet mocking mouth [with] one kiss on it that Wendy could never get, though there it was, perfectly conspicuous in the righthand corner", Wendy, Michael, and John. One night Peter Pan, accompanied by Tinkerbell, sneaks in in search of his lost shadow. Wendy sews it back on and reveals she knows lots of stories, so Peter Pan convinces her, Michael, and John to return to Neverland with him. There their adventures really begin: they see mermaids, rescue Tiger Lily, and do battle with the evil Captain Hook.

It is, in Peter's words, an "awfully big adventure" and one of the most magical in children's literature. It's one of my favourite reads for its perfect escapism: fairies, mermaids, pirates, and the nostalgia of it: the Edwardian setting and feel to it and also a tale from my own childhood: really, Peter Pan (appropriately) transcends time. I've read it many times and I know it won't be terribly long before I read it again.

And to finish this brief review, some illustrations for the 1911 edition by F. D. Bedford:

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