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Showing posts from August, 2017

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark.

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The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is Muriel Spark's most famous novel. It was first published in The New Yorker and then in novel form in 1961, is on a great many 'Top 100' lists, and contains one of the world's most famous snobs ever created.
Miss Jean Brodie is, in her own words, very much "in her prime". She's a teacher in Edinburgh and has a 'set', the best girls, "the crème de la crème": Sandy, Jenny, Rose, Mary, Monica, and Eunice, and each of them stands out for something. She teaches them what matters, not the curriculum but life - art, history, beauty, love, and fascism - and there is the rub. Her charisma and passion will be Miss Brodie's downfall: her set, her girls whose lives are determined by Miss Brodie in some way or another, and her control over them becomes an almost dark force and she is similar in a way to one of her idols Mussolini. One of them will eventually turn on her and reveal to the headmistress exactly what i…

Wordless Wednesday.

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A Tale of Four Dervishes by Mir Amman.

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A Tale of Four Dervishes (قصه چهار درویش) is a small collection of stories and is also known as Bagh-o Bahar (باغ و بہار,; The Garden and Spring). The stories were originally composed in Persian in around the 14th Century by Amir Khusrow and were then known as Qissa Chahar Dervesh (Tale of the Four Dervishes). In 1803 Mir Amman translated the tales, which he explains in the Prologue: Mr John Gilchrist, the noble and beneficent and a great patron of the noble ones (may he ever remain exalted as long as the Jamuna and the Ganga flow), kindly urged me to render this tale into pure Hindustani which the Urdu people, the Hindus and the Muslims, men and women, young and old, and high and low use in common parlance. As desired by him, I have written it in the conversational style. The book was later translated by Duncan Forbes into English (1862), however I read the much more modern translation of Mohammed Zakir.
The book has a frame-story structure: the basis for it is seen in the first sect…

The Duchess of Padua by Oscar Wilde.

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The Duchess of Padua was the second play Oscar Wilde wrote (following Vera) and was to be performed in 1883, however after some very complicated negotiations with Mary Anderson, the actress who Wilde wished to be the Duchess, she ultimately refused and the play was not performed until 1891 under the title Guido Ferranti. It didn't do as badly as Vera, which only managed a week of performance, but it didn't do much better: this lasted three weeks before it was shut down. Again, as with Vera, I think that was a little unfair, but I must admit it is wildly melodramatic.
The Duchess of Padua is Beatrice, the wife of Simone Gesso, the Duke of Padua. Guido Ferranti is a young man who has travelled to Padua to learn who is true father is: as a child he was left, we learn, with a man who he refers to as his uncle. Once in Padua Moranzone tells him his father, Duke Lorenzo, was murdered by the Duke and he must take his revenge. Moranzone show Guido what was once his father's knife,…

Vasari's Lives of the Artists Chapter X: Brunelleschi.

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It's been well over a month since I blogged about Vasari's Lives of the Artists because, in all truthfulness chapter ten, 'The Life of Filippo Brunelleschi, Sculptor and Artist', was not only particularly lengthy, but I didn't feel I got so much out of it: this, I think, is one of the challenges of reading about artists many of whom I haven't heard of. But these posts are mainly for images so, as with other posts, I'll write briefly and then get to some of his works. It is worth noting, though that this is a very long chapter. A quick look at the contents tells me this seems to be only second to the penultimate chapter on Michelangelo, and is far longer than those of Raphael, da Vinci, Titian, Botticelli, and Donatello, all artists who I thought may get a longer section.
The Life of Filippo Brunelleschi, Sculptor and Architect [1377 - 1446]
"Nature has created many men who are small and insignificant in appearance but who are endowed with spirits so ful…

Chapters XLVII - XLIX of The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens.

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We've now reached the 17th instalment of The Pickwick Papers. 180 years ago this month as it was first published there was a General Election which was triggered after the death of King William IV (this would be the last election triggered by the death of a monarch). Once again the Whigs, led by William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne won however Robert Peel and the Conservatives closed the gap yet again: in the next election in 1841, Robert Peel would win. Elsewhere, August 1837 was a notable date as it was the year Britain saw its first black policeman John Kent (born in 1795). Finally, if you like cheese on toast this is highly significant, Lea & Perrins began making Worcestershire sauce. Quite a month, then. As for The Pickwick Papers, we left on quite a cliffhanger - Mr. Pickwick and Sam Weller remain in prison, but they are now joined by Mrs. Bardell!
Chapter XLVII
Is Chiefly Devoted to Matters of Business, and the Temporal Advantage of Dodson and Fogg—Mr. Winkle Reappears U…

Wordless Wednesday.

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My local church in the mist.
{ Wordless Wednesday } { My Previous Wordless Wednesdays }

Vera by Oscar Wilde.

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Vera; or, The Nihilists is Oscar Wilde's first play, written in 1880 and first performed in 1883 in New York in the Union Square Theatre. It didn't do too well, the New York Times said it was "unreal, long-winded and wearisome" and the New York Herald described it as "long-drawn dramatic rot". It was closed after just a week, and, after another bit of bad luck with The Duchess of Padua (performed the same year), Wilde left the U.S. for Paris.
But, what do critics know? Vera is actually a great read, though far removed from his comedies of the '90s. Firstly it's a tragedy, secondly it's not set in drawing rooms but Russia following the French Revolution of 1793. It tells the story of Vera, "the priestess of liberty, the flame of the revolution, the torch of democracy" as she's referred to in the later part of the play. The play begins with a prologue set in a tavern in Russia, which is on the road to Siberia where prisoners are take…

An Unsocial Socialist by George Bernard Shaw.

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An Unsocial Socialist, originally called The Heartless Man, was my introduction to George Bernard Shaw, most famous I dare say for his play Pygmalion (1912), and it was all rather bizarre. I can't honestly say if I liked it or not: The Guardian, who reviewed it in 1887 (four years after publication), sums it up quite neatly: "This is very nearly a good book, and still more nearly a bad one." I've no idea what to make of it.
It tells the story of Sidney Trefusis, our unsocial socialist, who is married to Henrietta (by Victorian ideals it was a very good match), who he swiftly leaves to live a true socialist life and encourage others to do the same. It begins in a girls' boarding school, In the dusk of an October evening, a sensible looking woman of forty came out through an oaken door to a broad landing on the first floor of an old English country-house. A braid of her hair had fallen forward as if she had been stooping over book or pen; and she stood for a moment…

An A to Z.

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Every once in a while Jane at Beyond Eden Rock does an A to Z and I thought this time I would join in...

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A is for Aᴜᴛᴜᴍɴ.

It's beginning to look very autumnal here. The leaves have faded, some are even yellow, and the flowers that survived this abysmal summer are going a little brown on their edges. The season is most certainly changing.
B is for Bɪɢ Bᴇɴ Rᴏᴡ.


It was announced that Big Ben would be silenced for four years, for the first time since 1859, whilst vital repair work is done on it. But, for some of us it seems, the idea of silencing Big Ben is too much, so there's a debate (almost overshadowing Brexit) on whether it is a) best to silence it, b) best to deafen the workers, or c) if it would actually deafen the workers anyway. To add to the trauma, it's also just come out that the Ayrton Light, installed at Queen Victoria's request, will be switched off: it's only ever been switched off for World War I and World War II.
C is for Cʟᴇᴀɴɪɴɢ.
This is how I wi…

Wordless Wednesday.

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The Famous Tragedy of the Queen of Cornwall by Thomas Hardy.

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The Famous Tragedy of the Queen of Cornwall is, judging by Goodreads, a very under-read Thomas Hardy play - it only has 6 ratings (his novel Tess of the D'Urbervilles for example has 190,358). But Thomas Hardy is known best for his novels and his poetry, so it seems that reading his plays is just a matter of curiosity. Nevertheless I'd say I was well rewarded. 
The play was published in 1923, and the Queen of Cornwall refers to Iseult the Fair, the wife of Mark of Cornwall and the lover of Sir Tristan. This is the third time I've read a version of the 'Tristan and Iseult' myth (I've read Strassburg's Tristan, 13th Century, and Béroul's The Romance of Tristan, 12th Century). It begins with a prologue by Merlin:
Pʀᴏʟᴏɢᴜᴇ
Enter Mᴇʀʟɪɴ, a phantasmal figure with a white wand. The room is darkened: a blue light may be thrown on Merlin.
Mᴇʀʟɪɴ
I come, at your persuasive call,
To raise up in this modern hall
A tragedy of dire duresse
That vexed the Land of Lyonnes…

The Last Days of Socrates by Plato.

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I promised myself this weekend I would get some of my more intimidating reviews on my pile done; yesterday was Aristotle's Ethics, and today Plato's The Last Days of Socrates which, I dare say, is marginally less tricky, but still it's very dense. The book is made up of four parts: Euthyphro (Εὐθύφρων)The Apology of Socrates (Ἀπολογία Σωκράτους)Crito (Κρίτων)Phaedo (Φαίδων) They were written in the early 4th Century B.C. and are concerned with the trial and death of Socrates (399 B.C.). Euthyphro  This is largely a dialogue between Socrates and Euthyphro, a religious man who has brought charges against his father for manslaughter: one of his workers died as a result of Euthyphro's negligence, and that same worker in fact murdered a slave earlier. Euthyphro greets Socrates who informs him he is being prosecuted for impiety, and the charges were brought by Meletus. In this short section (it's about 20 pages) the two discuss holiness: a holy deed, argues Euthyphro, is …

Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle.

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However difficult I found reading this and however unnerving it is to write about, this is quite an exciting post for me: Aristotle's Ethics is the 100th title on my Ancient Greek and Roman Challenge. It's taken over two years to get to this point and I'm certain that, right now, I'm focusing on the most difficult section of it: the 4th Century B.C. Plato and Aristotle, who dominate this era, are by far the most challenging authors I've come across and it so happens I have both of them in my to-be-reviewed pile: this, and my 101st title, The Last Days of Socrates by Plato. I hope you'll forgive me for these two reviews will be relatively brief: I've accepted my limitations and would urge anyone looking for decent information on these authors to look elsewhere! Nevertheless, I'll try and say a few words.

First, the easy part: Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics (Ἠθικὰ Νικομάχεια) was written around 350 B.C. It was so called as it was written most likely …

Oedipus by Seneca.

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One of my favourite things about reading Seneca is that in doing so I revisit or am reminded at least of some of the great Greek plays of the 5th Century B.C. Thyestes recalled Aeschylus' Orestia, and Phaedra Euripides' Hippolytus, and this week Oedipus is a return to Sophocles' Theban Plays: Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus, and Antigone. I can't honestly say that I prefer Seneca to any of these greats, but still I do very much enjoy these plays not just for the reminder of the olds, but simply for the plays themselves. 
Oedipus, as I say, is a re-telling of Sophocles' Theban Plays, focusing on Oedipus Rex. It begins with a lengthy monologue by Oedipus, full of dark portents and omens: The night is at an end; but dimply yet
The Lord Sun shows his face - a dull glow rising
Out of a dusky cloud. It is a torch
Of evil omen, this pale fire he brings
With which to scan our plague-polluted homes... He goes on to describe how all is not well in Thebes, and how he came to be in…