baswood part 3 - back to the books

KeskusteluClub Read 2011

Liity LibraryThingin jäseneksi, niin voit kirjoittaa viestin.

baswood part 3 - back to the books

Tämä viestiketju on "uinuva" —viimeisin viesti on vanhempi kuin 90 päivää. Ryhmä "virkoaa", kun lähetät vastauksen.

1baswood
elokuu 14, 2011, 10:34 am

My previous thread got taken over by my postings about the Marciac Jazz festival. A two and a half week period where there was little time for reading. It all felt like a massive indulgence and as this is supposed to be a thread about books and reading (mainly) I have opened up part 3. My previous thread is http://www.librarything.com/topic/116851#2871825

2baswood
Muokkaaja: elokuu 14, 2011, 4:21 pm



53) Light, M. John Harrison For science fiction genre lovers who can take some hard science in their stride and are used to being cast adrift in a world where few things are familiar. For the rest of us this could get in the way of a novel that has some merit.

There are three plot lines and part of the challenge is to see how and if Harrison is able to bring them together, of course you have to read on until the final few chapters for that, but there are clues along the way for those attentive enough to pick them up.

Strand 1 AD 1999 - Michael Kearney is a serial killer of women, who has no trouble in evading capture. He is haunted by nightmares and has in his possession some strange dice that he throws addictively every time he feels the need to change direction. The dice appear not to be of this world and Kearney comes to rely on them to escape an apparition that he calls the Shrander

Strand 2 AD 2400 - K-captain Seria Mau Genlicher of the space ship White Cat is a bounty hunter of sorts, working for an alien entity. Her indiscriminate killing of humans however has alerted the Nastic who are anxious to catch up with her.

Strand 3 AD 2400 Ed Chianese is some sort of virtual reality addict living in New Venusport. He is on the run from a pair of local female gangsters: the Cray sisters.

Stand 1 is the easiest plot line to follow as it is set in London and the scenario is familiar. There are still however moments where events do not seem real. Why does Kearney's killing spree remain undetected? Is the Shrander part of his dream world and why does a bag lady mention the Kefahuchi tract?. For the two strands set in the future Harrison provides only snapshots, just as he does for strand 1 and so the reader is immediately in an unfamiliar world with no history and where anything is possible. Being cast adrift in unfamiliar territory is par for the course in much science fiction writing, however here the reader is adrift for most/all of the novel. It is not until page 139 that some history is filled in and then just about enough to grasp some of the issues raised by the novel. Fantasy genre novels as opposed to science fiction tend to provide clearer pictures of their worlds and this might account for their popularity. My advice to the more general reader is to just plough on through and accept that you will not understand everything and in most instances you don't need to.

The three plot strands do come together towards the end, but apart from that there are similarities between the strands and the central characters, which lift the novel outside a plot driven science fiction story. All of the characters have an issue with sex. They are all damaged in some way by sex and as the story's develop this becomes more and more a central issue. Harrison seems to be saying that the human race is obsessed by sex. His human characters indulge in fucking at every opportunity. It is fucking that they do: mechanical sex that means little more than the hard core porn movies that Ed Chianese is addicted to. This paints a depressing picture of humanity and this pervades throughout. Kearney and Seria Mau Genlicher are both cold blooded killers and this is paired with their sexuality or lack of it. The new men that appear in the future scenarios masturbate every twenty minutes.

The novel is well written, but there are some unnecessary references to pop culture that smacks of Ian Banks: "Ah whispered the shadow operators Its all too beautiful" and "Something is happening here but we don't know what it is" The novel builds towards it's climax and while it pays homage to 2001, there is a feeling that a re-read would be worthwhile.

An interesting and thought provoking novel if you are willing to read through to the conclusion. I enjoyed it the further in I read. Of course I did not fully understand the denouement, but then I didn't expect to.

3Poquette
elokuu 14, 2011, 7:28 pm

No need to apologize for the musical detour, Barry. And thanks for the link to the new thread. That is always helpful.

Light sounds way different from most of the science fiction I have read. I shall give it a look. Great review, BTW.

4baswood
elokuu 14, 2011, 7:47 pm

Thanks Suzanne, Light is similar in style to Ian Banks or Alastair Reynolds perhaps.

5tomcatMurr
elokuu 14, 2011, 10:45 pm

yeah no apologies necessary for your recent focus on music. It was like we were with you there. I'm looking forward to next year already!

6tomcatMurr
elokuu 14, 2011, 10:46 pm

The new men that appear in the future scenarios masturbate every twenty minutes.

gosh, where do they get the energy?

7baswood
elokuu 15, 2011, 6:41 am

Life expectancy for new men was 24 years, no doubt they perished from exhaustion.

8kidzdoc
elokuu 15, 2011, 8:35 am

I also loved your musical excursions, and hope that you'll continue to post comments about concerts, recordings, etc. on your thread.

9baswood
elokuu 15, 2011, 10:37 am

Thanks Darryl and TC

10Jargoneer
elokuu 15, 2011, 11:59 am

It was because of your thread I bought a copy of Return to Forever's Anthology and remastered copies of Eric Dolphy's Out There and Sonny Rollins' Way Out West when I was browsing in a music store at the weekend. Your thread made me seek out the Jazz section again so count me in as another satisfied reader.

>1 baswood: - it is worth searching out more Harrison, especially Viriconium a collected volume of his novels and short stories about the eponymous, and Climbers, a mainstream novel which may be his best.

11baswood
elokuu 15, 2011, 5:54 pm

Thanks for that Jargoneer and I am sure that you will enjoy those cd's. My absolute favourite Eric Dolphy is Out to lunch, but I love all his stuff. Sonny Rollins, one of the jazz greats always delivers. He was at Marciac a couple of years ago, but I didn't get to see him, probably too late now.

I thought that M. John Harrison wrote very well and I will be interested to read more by him. I will give Virconium a try and I have definitely added Climbers to my to buy list. It has picked up some very good reviews.

Back to the jazz and your post highlighting two saxophonists made me think about the recent festival at Marciac, which was dominated by trumpet guitar and piano players. Trumpet players particularly dominated with Wynton Marsalis, Dave Douglas, Avishai Cohen, Enrico Rava, Ibrahim Malouf, Paulo Fresu, Roy Hargrove, Alexander tassel and Nils Petter Molvaer all fronting groups. By contrast great jazz saxophonists were in very short supply: only Joshua Redman and Yusef Lateef appeared.

12detailmuse
Muokkaaja: elokuu 16, 2011, 7:59 pm

my postings about the Marciac Jazz festival ... felt like a massive indulgence
You made it so for me too, wonderful. I've only now caught up on your previous thread so will just comment that I suspect I'd feel like the Henrietta Lacks family if commerce (not science) was making ginormous profit off my body; I've wishlisted Salmon Fishing in the Yemen; and I'm enjoying your reviews and the conversations and the book-club saga :)

13baswood
elokuu 16, 2011, 8:21 pm

Thanks detailmuse, nice to see you here.

14baswood
Muokkaaja: elokuu 18, 2011, 8:18 pm



The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell.
I was never entirely convinced by Cloud Atlas, But Mitchell's latest novel proves what we all thought he could be: a master story teller. This is a rich, exciting and coherent work of modern fiction.

Mitchell's tale of deception, greed, corruption and lust is largely set in and around Dejima; a small artificial closed island off the coast of Japan and in Mount Shiranui Shrine; a three day journey from Nagasaki high in the mountains of the Japanese mainland. Dejima was from 1641- 1853 Japan's only connection (apart from China) with the wider world. It was a trading post leased by the Dutch East India Company (VOC) and was the biggest trading concern in Asia. Mitchell's story takes place at the turn of the 18th century, when corruption, mismanagement and changes in the world order had left the VOC in its death throes. Mitchell uses this setting as background for his story. His characters are fictional but his skill in rendering both character and background make them come alive as though they had just stepped out from this period of history. These are turbulent times for Mitchell's Dejima: the small Dutch community under constant surveillance by Japan's network of interpreters and spies are riven with corruption and self seekers. Into this world steps Jacob de Zoet brought out by an American ship to take up a position as clerk in the VOC. His violent introduction into the community severely tests his Christian beliefs, his task of investigating corruption charges ostracises him from his colleagues and his early difficult relationship with the enlightened Dr Marinus isolates him further. His infatuation with Orito; a Japaneses midwife and seminarian of Dr Marinus, add more complications and he is soon in deep water.

David Mitchell demonstrated in Cloud Atlas his ability to develop a story through multiple perspectives. His extensive use of the first person and his division of the novel into separate parts which corresponded with shifts in the time frame nudged his readers into making their own connections in the narrative and themes of the novel; a stimulating exercise for some. This is not his approach in The Thousand Autumns... and although it is split into three distinct parts Mitchell skillfully interweaves his story line to present the reader with a unified narrative. Much of the first person narrative has gone, but his ability to pick out different voices is still very much apparent. Part 1 focuses on the Dutch employees of the VOC marooned on Dejima. In Part 2 there is a change of pace as dramatic events are enacted in and around the shrine of Mount Shiranui. Orito has been abducted by a powerful warlord and imprisoned in the shrine. Her escape attempts and a rescue attempt by a band of mercenaries is related as it must be from a Japanese perspective. The momentum continues through part 3 where we witness a British gunship's attack on Dijema. Mitchell is able to slip effortlessly between Japanese British and Dutch voices to bring his story to a conclusion.

Multiple voices, different perspectives linking motif's and themes are all present in The Thousand Islands.... , but Mitchells extensive use of short haiku like paragraphs especially when denoting the Japanese standpoint lifts this novel into an altogether higher bracket. it is quite extraordinary how this technique points out the difference in culture between the Japanese and the Europeans. The codes, unspoken rules, sense of honour and acceptance of ones' fate are all suggested by Mitchells use of the haiku. He achieves this by representing his characters thoughts in italics but the thoughts are separated by the authors interjections in standard script. Some examples are:

If faults were copper coins, he thinks, I could buy Dejima

I am your son, Uzeamon groans, your husband and not a mediator

I can't hear you, Orito careful to keep her mouth closed, lump of wood

There are also a number of instances where Mitchell uses hiaku like short paragraphs at the end of a section:

There is no birdsong, he notices, in winter's cage.

Silver birch shiver, whatever she wishes is all that matters.

Under the blanket, she lies on her side, gazing into the fire garden.

I get the feeling that Mitchell puts his closed communities under a microscope and he does not like what he sees. The Dutch on Dijema are virtual prisoners, the inmates of Mount Shiranui shrine are prisoners, the community of Nagasaki is cut off from the rest of the world and the sailors on the British Gunship are prisoners in an even smaller space. The human race is predatory and the Dutch are the most naked of the predators as they bully and cheat their colleagues in attempts to enrich themselves and exercise power. The prisoners on Mount Shiranui are at the mercy of their overlord and the society of Nagasaki, with its patronage, spies, and informers keep people in a constant state of apprehension. The British are similar to the Dutch but exercise their power through the naval ratings system. Characters who are inherently honest and humane like Jacob and Orito have to fight hard not to get swept away. Some Japanese characters are allowed an honourable death and some others show flashes of humanity, but we are all a sorry lot according to Mitchell.

The use of language is a key theme in Mitchell's oeuvre and this multi linguistic story allows him to explore this on many levels. The tiered and structured school of Japanese interpreters results in much misunderstanding and confusion, if your interpreter is from a lower rank. Jacob strives to teach himself Japanese which he has to do secretly, but results in bringing down one of the most evil characters. Mitchell also stresses the importance of written documents, their use and misuse and what power they can wield.

There are some purple patches of prose; The description of Nagasaki that starts with "Gulls wheel through spokes of sunlight" and then over a page and a half turns inevitably towards the muck, the filth and the human detritus, before finally the gulls are seen again through a puddle of water and becoming "blurred reflections of gulls wheeling through spokes of sunlight". The preparations for a ritual suicide and the role of the Kaishaku (second) is sensitively done. There are many other memorable scenes.

Mitchell's control of the narrative is impressive throughout. He has produced a novel rich in texture and exciting to read. It is deeply satisfying. Surely he is one of the most important novelists of his generation, he at times appears head and shoulders above the rest. A thumping 4.5 star read

15Poquette
elokuu 18, 2011, 8:30 pm

Outstanding review, Barry! I have this on my Kindle ready to read — hope to get to it soon! I quite liked Cloud Atlas, and many people are less enthusiastic about The Thousand Autumns, so it will be interesting to see where I come out on that continuum.

16tomcatMurr
elokuu 18, 2011, 9:34 pm

ok, I'm getting it. I found Mitchell's previous books a bit gimmicky, but this review persuades me that I might like this book. Well done bas

17kidzdoc
elokuu 18, 2011, 11:16 pm

Bravo, Barry! In retrospect, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet was the best book I read from last year's Booker Prize longlist. I'm glad that you also enjoyed it.

18baswood
elokuu 19, 2011, 5:30 am

Thanks folks. I am very much in the camp that thinks The Thousand Islands of jacob DE Zoet is a finer acheivement than Cloud Atlas although the latter was more ambitious. I have not read his earlier novels, but I am encouraged now to seek them out.

Hope you enjoy it TC and Suzanne if you get to it.

19edwinbcn
elokuu 19, 2011, 5:48 am

Thanks for your extensive and detailed review of The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. I bought this book a while ago, but haven't come round to reading it.

20dmsteyn
elokuu 19, 2011, 6:40 am

Great review, Barry! A book I also enjoyed - it really stuck to the traditions of great storytelling: narrative verve and lucid prose. I remember not loving part 2 as much as the rest, but that was more from a personal aversion to what seemed a bit too much like the traditional view of Oriental intrigue. Maybe I saw too many bad ninja movies when I was young! (Not to imply that Mitchell's writing is in any way similar to these movies)

21baswood
elokuu 19, 2011, 6:57 am

Dewald. Part 2 does read a little like an adventure story in places and could serve as a plot for a bad ninja movie. The term bad ninja movie implies of course that there were good ninja movies. Not sure I have seen too many of those, but our friend tomcatMurr is no doubt an expert on this subject.

22theaelizabet
elokuu 19, 2011, 8:41 am

Lovely review, Bas. I read "de Zoet" last summer and would agree with your assessment. Cloud Atlas sits in my TBR pile.

23baswood
Muokkaaja: elokuu 21, 2011, 5:27 am



Ten great French writers criticised by John Cowper Powys

24baswood
Muokkaaja: elokuu 21, 2011, 8:03 am



Suspended Judgements: Essays on books and sensations by John Cowper Powys

Published in 1916 when the flower of Europe's youth was entrenched in Northern France in a world war with no end in sight. Powys's reflections on the art of literature concentrating overwhelmingly on French writers must have seemed particularly poignant to those reading during the war years.

Powys selected 16 authors from the western canon whom he believed were touched by greatness. In each essay Powys concentrates on an individual writer teasing out the qualities that set him/her above their contemporaries, with reference to some of their works. Powys is very much aware of his role as a critic and says:

Criticism whether of literature or art is but a dead hand laid upon a living thing, unless it is a genuine response to the object criticised of something reciprocal in us.

It is his ability to convey his passionate responses to his selected authors that make these essays so lively and interesting and they will often trigger thoughts and ideas on the precious qualities of life which he weaves into his text in such a way that he never loses sight of the author he is criticising. With the great war in the foreground of most European peoples thoughts, it must have felt for some that civilization was coming to an end. Powys says in a final essay of summation that "the burden of humanity must not be allowed to press all joy, originality, all waywardness, all imagination out of our lives" John Cowper Powys's reading of the classics was extensive and he leaves the reader in no doubt that this has informed his views, he has no time for those critics who cannot see traditional beauty and merely acclaims the latest, newest sensation: "one begins to surmise that a person of this brand is not a rebel or a revolutionary,but quite simply a thick skin endowed with the insolence of cleverness, which is the enemy of genius and its works"

Of the sixteen selected authors ten of them are French and Powys writes about them more or less chronologically. Montaigne, Pascal, Voltaire Rousseau, Balzac, Victor Hugo, Maupassant, Anatole France, Verlaine and Remy de Gourmont are all examined for their contributions to the canon. Montaigne is described as a shrewd pagan spirit, who gave palpable intellectual shape to the different spirit and temper of the classics. Pascal is admired for his ability to tear himself away from peddling and compromise and to "look the emptiness of space straight between its lidless ghastly eyes." He admires the passion of Voltaire as a living indictment of the madness of politicians and the insanity of parties and sects. Balzac is undoubtedly the greatest purely creative genius who ever dealt with the art of fiction, while Victor Hugo is the essence of pure poetic imagination. Guy de Maupassant is the greatest realist that ever lived, while Verlaine understood like no one else that the art of poetry is the art of heightening words by the magic of music. Remy de Gourmont is described as a spiritual anarchist who was the shameless advocate of pleasure as the legitimate aim of the human race.

There are only six essays left to cover the rest of the western canon and William Blake, Byron, Emily Bronte, Joseph Conrad, Henry James and Oscar Wiide are selected. While Powys's writing is just as insightful and passionate on this group he is more likely to diverge from his subject and to worry about their short comings. I found his essay on Conrad particularly fascinating. He is described as a philosopher and a psychologist who writes particularly well about women. Powys launches into a critique of the opposite sex, saying that they want to posses their men body and soul.

"That they are forbidden this complete reciprocity by a profound law of nature excites their savage fury and they blindly wreak their anger upon the innocent cause of their bewildered unhappiness."

This could be Powys' view of the women in Conrad's novels, however it sounds more like something that D H Lawrence might say. Perhaps their is a bit of Powys in there too.

The final essay; suspended judgements is not an attempt to tie everything together as this would be very difficult, it is more generally a plea for the individual artists of genius not to be swept away by the unruly mob, who lack the imagination to do much else. It is not overly pessimistic as I am of the opinion that Powy's believes that great art endures. I think a true test of a book of critical essays such as this, is as to what extent the reader is persuaded to explore or explore further the authors criticised. I will certainly keep Powys's thoughts in my head as I continue my reading. I would rate this as a 4.5 star read.

.

25Poquette
elokuu 21, 2011, 7:37 am

For some reason, Barry, I'm wide awake at 4:30 a.m, and so here I am checking out the action on LT. And what do I find? "Name That Picture!" What fun! But while I was composing my post, your excellent review appeared. So "Name That Picture" is moot.

I have been jumping around in the book myself and am nowhere near finished, but you can guess that I made a beeline for the Remy de Gourmont chapter. I wasn't going to spoil the game except to highlight something wonderful Powys said about Gourmont who I would not even know and much less appreciate if it were not thanks to him:

. . . the essence of de Gourmont's genius is to be found in an insatiable curiosity which the absolute closing of any vista of knowledge by the final and authoritative discovery of truth would paralyse and petrify. He does not . . . seek for truth with any hope or even any particular wish, to find it. Truth found would be truth spoiled. He seeks it from sheer love of the pursuit. In this respect he is precisely of the stuff out of which great essayists are made. He is also placed in that special position from which the illusive phenomena of this challenging world are best caught, best analysed, and best interpreted, as we overtake them in their dreamy passage from mystery to mystery.

The mere fact of his basic assumption that final truth in any direction is undiscoverable—possibly undesirable also—sets him with the wisest and sanest of all the most interesting writers.


—JCP, "Remy de Gourmont" in Suspended Judgments (boldface added)

26baswood
elokuu 21, 2011, 8:03 am

Goodmorning Suzanne, you are up late.

I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed Suspended Judgements and thank you for chipping in with a quote from the book. I read it on my kindle and found that by the time I got to the end I had highlighted over 40 passages. Far too many to put into a review. There is some great stuff in there, including the passage that you have quoted. I think it is a book young zeno would enjoy.

I feel a bit miserly in giving it only four stars, perhaps I will go back and change that.

27baswood
elokuu 21, 2011, 9:07 am

Here is another bit I like as Powy's works himself up over Voltaire's Candide.

It opens its astonished laughing eyes upon the meanness of men and the cruelties of men and the insane superstitions and the illusions of men and it mocks them all with mischievous delight. It refuses to bow it's head to hoary idols. It refuses to go weeping and penitent and stricken with a sense of "sin" in the presence of natural fleshly instincts. It is absolutely irresponsible-what in a world like this should one be responsible for?-and it is shamelessly frivolous. Why not? Where the highest sanctities are so lamentably human, and where the phylacteries of the moralists are embroidered with such earth spun threads, why go on tip-toe and with forlorn visage? It is outrageously indecent. Why not? Who made this portentous "decency" to be the rule of free-born life? Who put the fig leaves on the sweet flesh of the immortals? Decency after all is a mere modern barbarism; the evocation of morbid vulgarity and a perverted heart.

So much for decency then! from Suspended Judgements

28Poquette
elokuu 21, 2011, 10:35 am

LOL! "Works himself up" indeed! Positively frothing at the mouth. And very apt as well.

29baswood
elokuu 22, 2011, 6:32 pm



56) The confidential agent by Graham Greene.

- The author doses himself with Benzedrine in order to bash out a novel in six weeks.
- He sits down every morning at his typewriter without much of a thought as to where his plot will take him
- He writes an espionage thriller knowing precious little about the world of spies and spying.

Knowing this background would you want to read the finished novel? Well you might if you knew the author was Graham Greene. It is to his credit that he has fashioned a novel that is entertaining and engaging. It has the feel of a good noir B movie: plenty of atmosphere but not always plausible.

Written in 1938, Greene captures the uncertainty, the paranoia and the recklessness of pre-war England. Kafka it is not, but the hero D suffers similar uncertainties to Kafka's heroes: not being able to trust anyone around them and a feeling of helplessness as they are tossed around by other peoples devious plans. The main characters are well drawn although others are introduced just to service a plot that creaks and groans in places. There are flashes of a superior writer at work and I enjoyed it enough to forgive some of its missteps. A fun read. 3 stars.

30tomcatMurr
elokuu 23, 2011, 8:57 am

>27 baswood: Decency after all is a mere modern barbarism; the evocation of morbid vulgarity and a perverted heart.

excellent. No wonder old JCP loved Rabelais so much. It's interesting that he doesn't deal with Rebelais in this book of essays. He writes about him extensively in In Spite Of and in other places.

I love the pictures.

31baswood
Muokkaaja: elokuu 23, 2011, 5:30 pm

Rabelais is on my to read list as I crawl up through the centuries.

32baswood
elokuu 23, 2011, 7:14 pm



57) Medieval Philosophy: A New History of Western Philosophy, volume 2 by Anthony Kenny.
Now I know why I don't read too many books on philosophy: they can be so damn difficult to understand.

I read this as part of my continuing interest in late medieval literature. Another avenue to explore in my search to discover how educated people of the 14th century viewed their world. Anthony Kenny has organised his material by subject matter and so there are chapters on; Philosophy and Faith, The Schoolmen, Logic and language, Knowledge, Physics, Metaphysics, Mind and Soul, Ethics and God. In each chapter he uses Augustine as his starting point and moves chronologically through the development of thoughts taking in those of; the Islamic school, Thomas Aquinus, Duns Scottus and Ockham. He will also stop to pick up on the way, where appropriate ideas from; Boethius, Wycliff, Abelard, Bonaventure and Anselm. I found this approach very useful in assisting my understanding of each subject and the chronological development of the arguments through the various philosophers meant that by the time I arrived at the final chapter I had a pretty good idea of what they would say on the subject of God.

Some of the chapters tested my grasp of the subject matter to the limit. At times I felt I was in very deep water struggling to find a foothold. This was no doubt because of my unfamiliarity with some of the technical language and terms used. After all this is a book subtitled the History of Western Philosophy and so the reader should not be surprised by some of the content. Kenny does his best to explain many of the terms used and provides plenty of examples. There was enough here to hold my interest and keep me going through some of the more demanding chapters. It is a book I will come back to. It is a splendid reference tool. It is nicely presented with some very good illustrations.

One LT reviewer has said "I finally finished this book! I'm ready for the agent intellect to beam me up" I know what he/she means, its not a book to be read quickly, it does require patience and perseverance, but if the subject interests you, it is well worth the time and effort. I rate this book as a 3.5 star read, but I can understand why others rate it at 5 stars.

33Poquette
elokuu 24, 2011, 2:40 pm

I believe I would like to read this book, Barry, based on your review. It sounds like it would mesh with and inform my current interests very well. I'll look for it.

34baswood
elokuu 24, 2011, 4:27 pm

Suzanne, I think you may like it. I am certainly glad I read it, but it will be just as important as a reference tool. Perhaps not a book to read all in one go. It is very useful in the way it summarises the thoughts on each subject, so that the reader can see the development and the sometimes subtle variations that each philosopher brings to the argument.

35baswood
Muokkaaja: elokuu 25, 2011, 7:35 pm



Piano concertos Nos 1 and 2 - Alberto Ginastera
Dora di Marinis and the Slovak national Radio Orchestra.


These exciting piano concertos by the Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera have been on my CD player all week and every time I listen I hear something new. As you would expect from music written in the 1960's and seventies, the overall feel of the concertos is atonal, but don't let that put you off, they are very approachable with some fine melodic and lyrical writing and logical development.

The first movement of concerto no 1 is Cadenza e Variente which opens with a crescendo from the orchestra that ushers in descending piano chords and from then on we are in the colourful world of Ginastera's scoring as the piano meshes with some imaginative orchestral playing. There are passages of intense rhythmic activity interspersed with more lyrical playing and some real drama. The second movement is a scherzo and features some ethereal scoring for the orchestra and delicate passages for the piano that sometimes develop a rocking rhythmic pulse. The Adagissimo soars to a dramatic climax before the Tocatta Concertente bursts from the speakers. This final movement rocks, I mean really rocks. Fierce rhythmic pulses from the orchestra propel some rocking bass notes from the piano. This final movement was adapted by Emerson, Lake and Palmer (Rock group from the 1970's) for a track on their Brain Salad Surgery LP, however it falls woefully short of the excitement and brio generated by the orchestra on this recording.

The longer piano concerto no 2 opens with 32 variations on a chord by Beethoven (the chord is apparently from the final movement of the 9th symphony). The variations are imaginative and logical with plenty of variety in rhythm and texture. The scherzo that follows has some beautiful writing for the piano. The movements that follow explore some Latin American rhythms before another exciting finale with some crashing piano chords and some rip roaring orchestral playing

This recording is on the Naxos label (budget priced) and sound fine to me. I don't think there is a comparable recording of these concertos anywhere else. I think this is great music and it will stay in my cd player for a few more weeks.

36kidzdoc
elokuu 26, 2011, 9:15 am

Thanks for that compelling review of Alberto Ginastera's piano concertos, Barry. I'll look for this CD next week.

37baswood
Muokkaaja: elokuu 26, 2011, 4:53 pm

Darryl, Hope you enjoy the Ginastera and have a great time in London

38baswood
Muokkaaja: elokuu 26, 2011, 7:50 pm



58) The Greatest Traitor: The life of Sir Roger Mortimer Ruler of England 1327-1330 by Ian Mortimer
Historian Ian Mortimer presents an exciting narrative history of the reign of Edward II

To rule England effectively in the 12th and 13th centuries Kings needed to be first and foremost warriors, but they also needed strength of character, military skill, and the ability to manage the powerful landowners on whom they relied to keep the kingdom from lapsing into anarchy. Edward I and Edward III had theses qualities in abundance but Edward II sandwiched between them did not and lost his crown as a result.

Edward II reign was effectively just one squabble after another between the feudal lords and Mortimer chooses to tell the history from the standpoint of the most powerful of these lords: Sir Roger Mortimer. This allows him to present a full portrait of the life and times of a 14th century English warlord, who was at the centre of most of the important military and political events of the period. It is an exciting story taking in the wars with Scotland, the disaster at Bannockburn, the exiling and deaths of the kings favourite courtiers and of course the deposition of the king himself.

Mortimer has set his stall at writing a popular history and he succeeds admirably here. Over 100 pages of notes appendices and an index point to a rigorous scholastic approach. He says in his introduction that:

"This book is not a series of academic arguments as to the strengths and reliability of individual pieces of evidence; it is an attempt to illustrate the vast chessboard on which Roger Mortimer and his eminent contemporaries played out their ambitions..... That age was one of unbridled personal ambition and bloodshed; it saw enough betrayal, corruption, greed and murder for it to merit the title 'The Age of Treason'. And yet it was also full of piety, chivalry and patriotic fervour. It was a society in which all its leading participants struggled to survive."

The manner of Edward II death: his murder from a red hot poker inserted into his anus is tackled full on by Mortimer who gathers much evidence to refute this popular myth. It could be said that Mortimer treats this as a cause celebre and does indulge in academic arguments over strengths and reliability of pieces of evidence to back his claims, however he does not allow this section of his book to become overly dry and dusty. He holds the readers attention with his enthusiasm and erudition relating to his detective work on this issue.

History brought to life by a historian who knows he has a good story to tell and knows he can tell it well. 4.5 stars.

39katiekrug
elokuu 26, 2011, 9:18 pm

That sounds fascinating, Barry. I'll have to check my local library for it.

40dchaikin
elokuu 26, 2011, 10:53 pm

bas - catching up, fascinated by JCP reviews and excerpts. Love the excerpt in post 25 about searching for truth "from the sheer love of the pursuit." (posted by Suzanne). However, that hot poker is a bit disturbing...

41Poquette
elokuu 27, 2011, 1:12 am

>38 baswood: Gripping review of The Greatest Traitor. This is a subject I know embarrassingly little about.

>40 dchaikin: Dan, I've fallen in love with Remy de Gourmont and wish my French were strong enough to read his writings that are not available in English. Obviously I was taken by that excerpt as well. Glad you liked it too.

42kidzdoc
elokuu 28, 2011, 3:13 am

Fabulous review of The Greatest Traitor, Barry!

43baswood
Muokkaaja: syyskuu 3, 2011, 4:58 pm

44baswood
syyskuu 3, 2011, 7:38 pm

The Romance of the Rose by Guillaume de Lorris and Jean De Meun
This was a best seller in its day. Perhaps the most widely read and controversial poem of the late middle ages and early renaissance. It was quarrelled over and moralised about; not surprising since its subject matter is amorous desire, but does it still have any relevance for the modern reader?

It helps that the version I read was the prose translation in English by Frances Horgan, which is accessible to the modern reader, but still maintains a feel for the medieval text. There appears to be no liberties taken with the language and no modern idioms jump out at you. It is one of the great allegorical dream visions of the middle ages started by Guillaume de Lorris in the middle of the 13th century and then enlarged and enhanced by Jean de Meun some forty years later. Part I opens with a twenty year old man dreaming that as he is walking along a river bank he comes across a walled enclosure. Idleness invites him inside to a beautiful garden owned by Pleasure. The dreamer is invited to join in with a group of dancers and then as he gazes into a clear stream he spots the reflection of a rosebud. At that moment he is shot by five arrows released by the God of Love and from then on he is the Lover with only one thought in his head: to pluck the Rosebud. He is helped initially by Fair Welcome, but Rebuff bellows at him to leave the garden. Sorrowful and lonely the Lover is counselled by Reason and then a Friend suggests he try again in the garden. He gets inside the garden and finds the Rosebud, but when he kisses her all hell breaks loose and Evil Tongue, Rebuff and Jealousy drive him back out of the garden. Jealousy then erects a castle around the roses and imprisons Fair Welcome. Jean De Meun then picks up the story in part II where the Lover is again counselled by Reason. He rejects her advice and again seeks advice from Friend. he fails in an attempt to get Wealth to help him, but finally the God of Love summons his barons to launch an attack on the castle. They have False Seeming and Constrained Abstinence now on their side and with the help of Old Woman liberate Fair Welcome from his prison. A pitched battle ensues with Jealousy and her minions and it is only with the help of Nature and Genius that the Lover gets to pluck the Rose.

Part I written by Guillaume De Lorris is a medieval romance based on the provisions of courtly love. In this version the Lover only manages to kiss the Rose and the feeling is that this is as far as he should go. It is a charming story written in the first person and has some beautiful descriptions of the garden and the dancers. It has a dream like quality, but there are some disquieting undertones which come to life with the appearance of the hideous Evil Tongue and the rough Rebuff. This part ends with a soliloquy as the Lover bemoans his fate in typical medieval fashion:

"love is so capricious that he robbed me of everything at once, just when I thought I had won. It is the same with Fortune, who fills men's hearts with bitterness but at other times flatters and caresses them. Her appearance changes swiftly, smiling one moment sad the next. She has a wheel that turns and when she wishes, she raises the lowest to the very highest place, while he who is at the top is plunged with one turn into the mud"

Part II written by Jean De Meun is five times longer and picks up the story where De Lorris left it. In De Meun's hands the charming tale of courtly love becomes something entirely different. It becomes a story of how a Lover will use all possible ways and means to get into bed with the Rose. The allegorical framework is preserved with the personifications introduced by De Lorris continuing to play their parts. This time however False Seeming and Constrained Abstinence play crucial roles. The innocence of the dream vision that was so much a part of De Lorris's tale has gone for good. The text becomes more wordy, less unified, there are now digressions, sermons and debates. De Meun starts his story with long speech by Reason, who discourses at length on love in all its various forms (carnal desire, natural love, fellowship, friendship). Much of this is a re-write of Boethius's Consolation of Philosophy. Reasons advice is rejected and Friend launches on a long discourse on the subject of women. The Consolation of Philosophy is again used as source material but this time it is bent and warped out of shape. "I am not speaking of good women - there are none" says Friend and much of his speech appears misogynist, however much of what he says is ironical and even satirical:

" But if the women beats him or insults him, he should take care that his heart does not change. If he sees himself beaten or insulted, even if she should tear his living flesh with her nails, he should take no revenge, but rather thank her and say he would be happy to spend his whole life in such torment, provided that he knew that his service was pleasing to her, or even indeed that he would freely die there and then rather than live without her."

De Meun as is usual with medieval writers relies heavily on his sources. Apart from Boethius, Juvenal, Ovid, Horace and Plato are all heavily plundered. This together with his use of irony and the personifications allows him to present a number of different view points. There is no one "authority" here, but a number of them and the reader is never sure whose views are being expressed. De Meun can hide behind this to a certain extent and allows his text to be opened up for debate. It has the feel of being written for the universities where debate held centre stage: Does the Romance show how a rose can be plucked or does it show the moral degradation that such an activity suggests?

The poem continues to become more diversified as De Meun distances himself from the Lover. All sorts of stuff is crammed into the text: Aristotle's cosmology, a debate on chastity, women's hygiene, table manners, a condemnation of the mendicant friars and the right way to deal with premature hair loss. Much of life in medieval times is recorded here. It just about holds together with De Meun going back to his story of the Lover and the assault on the castle. Jealousy is finally put to flight and the Lover finally gets to his Rose, leaving the reader with little doubt as to what happens next:

"I can tell you that at last when I had shaken the bud, I scattered a little seed there. This was when I had touched the inside of the rosebud and explored all its little leaves, for I longed and it seemed good to me to probe its very depths."

The poem was written in the vernacular (13th century French) as opposed to Latin. French was just beginning to find acceptance in official circles. Jean De Meun was able to demonstrate the power of the written word as people were able to read into it just what they liked. There was something for everybody and it showed how a text was open to different interpretations. De Meuns use of irony and satire managed to keep his poem just the right side of propriety.

What relevance has the poem to readers today? Well, I think it is an essential read for anybody interested in medieval literature. One of the first and best allegorical dream visions. Frances Horgans prose translation opens it up for the more general reader, who may enjoy the dreamlike quality of Guillaume de Lorris. Jean De Meuns continuation where the poem leaps in all sorts of directions is full of interest. It has its longueurs, but I think there is enough here to delight, annoy and scandalise. What more do you want? 5 stars of course.

45Mr.Durick
syyskuu 3, 2011, 8:14 pm

A friend went to France with my request that he or she pick me up a copy of The Romance of the Rose in French and came back with it. Alas, I have never picked it up, and don't even know where it is now.

You make me want to find it.

Robert

46Poquette
syyskuu 4, 2011, 3:54 am

Barry, what a marvelous review! I am absolutely relishing it! This has absolutely got to go on my reading list. It is kind of embarrassing that I haven't already read it. As you will undoubtedly remember, this is one of the examples cited in The High Medieval Dream Vision by Kathryn Lynch that I read and reviewed earlier this year. Your review fleshes it out even more. The quote about Fortune and her wheel is delightful and I'm adding it to my list. Great job! Thanks!

47janeajones
syyskuu 4, 2011, 5:05 pm

Wonderful review of Romance of the Rose, Barry. I first read it in Western Civ back in the late 1960s, and I think it was crucial in my choice to go into Medieval Lit. I found it incredibly funny at the time -- not being deeply versed in medieval allegory then. Christine de Pisan took great umbrage in the misogyny and played a significant role in the "Querelle du Roman de la Rose."

48janeajones
syyskuu 4, 2011, 5:08 pm

Wonderful review of The Romance of the Rose, Barry. I first read it in a Western Civ class back in the late 1960s. At the time I found it very funny -- not then being versed in deep medieval allegory. It became the the subject of the famous "Querelle du Roman de la Rose" in which Christine de Pisan excoriated Jean de Meun for his misogyny.

49baswood
syyskuu 4, 2011, 5:37 pm

Robert, I am so impressed that you can tackle The Romance of the Rose in French.

Susanne, I am sure that you will get much out of the Romance of the Rose as Boethius is heavily plundered.

Jane, Thanks for alerting me to Christine de Pisan, I will read her "querelle" with interest. I see that Norton do a critical edition of her work and so I will get hold of that.

50Mr.Durick
syyskuu 4, 2011, 5:49 pm

As I said, I haven't picked it up. The French course I took in college presumed we could read Rabelais in the original, so I thought I could at least take a stab at it. If I found I needed a trot, I'd probably slowly ease over into that, so I'm not so proud of myself in that regard.

Robert

51tomcatMurr
syyskuu 5, 2011, 6:57 am

Brilliant review. Outstanding.

52baswood
syyskuu 5, 2011, 10:10 am

Getting Up

At the entrance to my dream I met the author
I had no time to tell
If he was pleased with his creation.
He ran from it like hell
with his old coat, his battered Leica.
I think he wished me well.

ALISON BRACKENBURY

53baswood
syyskuu 7, 2011, 10:41 am



Piazza Signora Florence 1904

54kidzdoc
syyskuu 7, 2011, 11:59 am

55baswood
Muokkaaja: syyskuu 7, 2011, 6:23 pm



60) A Room with a view E M Forster
Muddling through with E M Forster, whose wit is at its sharpest in this superb novel. The simple tale of a young woman whose spirit is awakened after a trip to Italy, which leads to her rejection of a "good" marriage, which Forster transforms into a novel that explores many aspects of life and society for the upper middle classes in England at the turn of the 20th century.

The novel was published in 1908, when 19th century mores were still prevalent, but under attack from a rising middle class. This is only one of the many recurring themes in the novel. There is the struggle for individuality, the barriers between the social classes, a religious community losing its grip and of course a woman's place in a changing society. These heavyweight themes are all there for the observant reader to discover, however they are presented with such a lightness of touch and such good humour that the reader is more likely to gasp with pleasure than to become embroiled in a serious discussion of the human condition. That is the art of this novel.

Forster's dialogue is brilliant and witty throughout and his keenly observed characters are so well rounded that when they do or say surprising things (and many of them do) we are not surprised. The most obvious examples are Cecil Vyse's acceptance of Lucy's rejection of him and her subsequent assessment of his character; "His voice broke, I must actually thank you for what you have done - for showing me what I am." Then there is Mr Beebe who we have come to think of a reasonably progressive and tolerant parson, whose belief in celibacy allows him to take pleasure in broken marriage engagements. Forster's favourite character and one that I think he uses to speak through is the old Mr Emerson. A free thinking socialist whose sometimes outrageous comments signal major issues for the characters. "Beware of muddle" he says "life is glorious but it is difficult" Many of the characters are in a muddle, feeling their way through, most of them trying to do right, but all of them constrained. Lucy and George do break free, but it does not lead to happiness ever after. Life and world events intervene as Forster makes clear in an appendix written in 1958. Surprisingly enough the most underdeveloped character is George. We hear about him mainly through his father Mr Emerson, who relays to us his sons thoughts and personality. Whenever George appears he is largely silent or boisterous or just is. Perhaps this is what Lucy loves.

Forster's ability to conjure up the effects of landscape and surroundings on his characters is brilliantly evident. Here is Lucy unchaperoned at last and exploring Florence. She is restive and thinking about not wanting to be a "medieval lady". She comes into the Piazza Signora where a dramatic event is about to happen:

" Nothing ever happens to me she reflected,as she entered the Piazza Signora and looked nonchalantly at its marvels, now fairly familiar to her. The great square was in shadow: the sunshine had come too late to strike it. Neptune was already unsubstantial in the twilight, half god, half ghost, and its fountains plashed dreamily to the men and satyrs who idled together on its marge. The Loggia showed as the triple entrance of a cave, wherein dwelt many a deity, shadowy but immortal, looking forth on the arrivals and departures of mankind. It was the hour of unreality............."

The notorious male nude bathing scene is vibrant and full of youthful vigour and Forster describes the lush green sward freshened after rain. "The three gentlemen rotated in the pool breast high after the fashion of nymphs in Gotterdammerung". Homo erotic? maybe, but no more so than D H Lawrence's wrestling scene in Women in Love and this naked bathing scene ends in farce and high spirits.

As in A Passage to India and Howards End a carefully organised social event goes awry and leads to an event that will be life changing for those involved. In Passage to India it was Mrs Quested in the caves of Malabar, here it is an excursion to a wild mountain picnic spot above Florence. The ingredients are all here: The Emersons have been mistakenly included in the outing although by this time they have been more or less ostracised by the rest of the English group. They are not the right sort. The journey up in horse drawn cabs is fraught with difficulties and Mr Emerson argues with the others over the cab driver's dalliance with a girlfriend. They arrive in high dudgeon and wander off on their own. In a scene reminiscent of Mrs Quested in those caves, Lucy slipped down a terrace and lands at the feet of George:

"This terrace was the well-head, the primal source whence beauty gushed out to water the earth.......For a moment he contemplated her as one who had fallen out of heaven. He saw radiant joy in her face, he saw the flowers beat against her dress in blue waves. The bushes above them closed. He stepped quickly forward and kissed her."

Unlike the scene in the Marabar caves there is no mystery here. George comes forward and kisses her, but still the consequences are enormous for both of them.

This is a relatively short novel: just 200 pages and the events take place within a one year time span. There is however so much to enjoy and so much to ponder over that its the sort of book you end up flicking back through almost as soon as you have read it: for the sheer pleasure and joy of reading. 5 stars of course.

56dmsteyn
syyskuu 7, 2011, 12:52 pm

Great review, Barry! I have a lecturer (Prof David Medalie) who has written extensively on Forster, and he always infects me with his enthusiasm for Forster's writings. I still have to read Room, but your own enthusiasm has again convinced me that I need to get into his earlier works.

57dchaikin
syyskuu 7, 2011, 1:37 pm

Terrific review bas. I haven't read Forster, even though he comes up routinely on LT. Perhaps this book is a good place to start?

53 magnifico!

58Poquette
syyskuu 7, 2011, 1:53 pm

Very evocative review, Barry. Another book I need to reread. Your review makes me want to do so sooner rather than later.

59detailmuse
syyskuu 7, 2011, 3:08 pm

I will likely never get to The Romance of the Rose but that is why I enjoy your thread -- to have been exposed to something that interests me, even a bit more than exposed. But E. M. Forster, there's a chance, all the better now having read here.

60kidzdoc
syyskuu 7, 2011, 3:30 pm

Fabulous review of A Room With a View, Barry. I've just downloaded it to my Kindle, and I'll try to read it sometime in the next month or two.

61GCPLreader
syyskuu 7, 2011, 4:07 pm

perfect review! how I love that novel.

62baswood
syyskuu 7, 2011, 6:19 pm

Thanks everybody, For those of you who have not read any E M Forster, then A Room with a view is an excellent place to start. It is a comedy of manners as well as being a thought provoking read; a wry smile though rather than a laugh out loud

63tomcatMurr
Muokkaaja: syyskuu 7, 2011, 9:03 pm

Great review, and I loved reading the excerpts. Forster's prose is glorious, and I think this is probably his most perfect book. Well done Bazzer.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UmZkU9MkPxs

64Poquette
syyskuu 8, 2011, 2:04 pm

Barry, I e-mailed a copy of your review to my brother who loves the movie. I've been trying to get him to read the book because I think it would actually enhance his enjoyment. We'll see whether your review can convince him. The movie will be shown on cable here in the US next week.

65dchaikin
syyskuu 8, 2011, 2:07 pm

#64 I'll look that up. Which first, book or movie?

66baswood
syyskuu 8, 2011, 2:39 pm

#63 Thanks TC and the link was charming.

Dan and Suzanne, Hope you enjoy the film which is lovely, but its not the book. However is does have Denholm Elliot who makes a wonderful Mr Emerson. I just think that Helen Bonham-Carter is so horribly miscast, she is not the Lucy of my imagination, but other people think its her best role.

Here is a clip from the film that has some of the original dialogue http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T8TV9I4sSdI

67edwinbcn
syyskuu 8, 2011, 11:48 pm

I have the fondest memories reading most of Forster's novels, particularly A room with a view and reading your review has rekindled them.

68baswood
syyskuu 9, 2011, 5:04 am

Ah, yes Edwin they are very re-readable.

69edwinbcn
syyskuu 10, 2011, 6:57 am

Indeed. Unfortunately, they're all sitting in boxes in my Mom's attic, half-way across the globe...

70baswood
Muokkaaja: syyskuu 10, 2011, 8:07 pm



Moon dawn - Klaus Schulze

From the cover of this LP it is obvious we are back in the 1970's. Moon Dawn was released in 1976 and would then have been labelled Krautrock. Klaus Shulze is a drummer who played with Tangerine Dream in one of there early incarnations and not surprisingly there is a strong pulse on both of the long tracks that make up this release. Mind Phaser starts out very unpromisingly with an early moog sound that could have featured as background music to a porn film, but after 10 minutes there is an abrupt change of direction as drums and organ are added to the mix and the piece gains some purpose. It builds nicely with a definite rhythmic pulse. Floating Sequence is the other long track and is much more successful. Muted percussion is present from the start of the track and this varies interestingly as a three note sequence from the moog gradually morphs into a four and five note sequence, while other electronic sounds fade in and out. again the music builds effectively. Overall the music hovers dangerously above the morass that is New Age Music without ever quite falling in.

I have enjoyed listening to it this week and it brought back memories of the early Virgin record store in Oxford Street London back in 1973. It was situated over a shoe shop and a coarsely carpeted flight of stairs led up to a large room that I remember as being circular in shape. A raised section had plenty of cushions spread around where people lolled around listening to music through headphones. The record store was famous for its selection of Krautrock and Virgin were heavily promoting an LP by the German group Faust. The big attraction was that it was selling at 49p, which was a third of the price of most other Lp's. It was imaginatively entitled Faust tapes and I thought it was unlistenable, which was a shame because more often than not it was the LP being promoted through the headphones. It was a nice space in the room above the bustle of Oxford street to spend an hour or two, while girlfriends spent their money in the shoe shops below. There was also the attraction of the bootleg LPs in the room at the back.



The Faust Tapes
I have never been tempted to listen again to this seminal work.

71baswood
syyskuu 12, 2011, 11:39 am

Oscar Wilde
(1854-1900)

The preface below was published in Frank Harris's Fortnightly review, some several months before the second edition of the novel The Picture of Dorian Gray was published. The first edition had come in for some scathing criticism and Wide sought to take some of the weapons out of the hands of his critics.

It showed that Wilde could be every bit as pompous as his critics and earned him the title of "Sovereign of Insufferables"

I think its rather fine.



The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890)



Preface
The artist is the creator of beautiful things.

To reveal art and conceal the artist is art's aim.

The critic is he who can translate into another manner or a new material his impression of beautiful things.

The highest as the lowest form of criticism is a mode of autobiography. Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming.

This is a fault.

Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated. For these there is hope.

They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only beauty.

There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written.

That is all.

The nineteenth century dislike of realism is the rage of Caliban seeing his own face in a glass.

The nineteenth century dislike of romanticism is the rage of Caliban not seeing his own face in a glass.

The moral life of man forms part of the subject-matter of the artist, but the morality of art consists in the perfect use of an imperfect medium. No artist desires to prove anything. Even things that are true can be proved.

No artist has ethical sympathies.

An ethical sympathy in an artist is an unpardonable mannerism of style. No artist is ever morbid. The artist can express everything.

Thought and language are to the artist instruments of an art.

Vice and virtue are to the artist materials for an art.

From the point of view of form, the type of all the arts is the art of the musician.

From the point of view of feeling, the actor's craft is the type.

All art is at once surface and symbol.

Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril

It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors.

Diversity of opinion about a work of art shows that the work is new, complex, and vital.

When critics disagree the artist is in accord with himself.

We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely.

All art is quite useless.


Oscar Wilde

72Poquette
syyskuu 12, 2011, 12:47 pm

Barry, that's quite a statement from Wilde. I have not seen that before for some reason. I wonder, did he take the wind out of any of the critics' sails? I find that, in general, people who have their minds made up already are loathe to change, even in the face of logic or contrary evidence.

73baswood
syyskuu 12, 2011, 2:26 pm

Suzanne. The Preface is contained within the Norton Critical Edition of The Picture of Dorian Gray, which I have just finished reading. I have not looked at a Norton Critical edition before, but if they are all as good as the Dorian Gray then I shall always get them if I can.

Review to follow.

74baswood
Muokkaaja: syyskuu 12, 2011, 4:48 pm



The picture of Dorian Gray first published as a novella in the July 198o edition of Lippincott's monthly. The revised and expanded novel length version was printed by Ward, Lock and Company in 1891. Both versions can be found in the Norton Critical Edition.

75Mr.Durick
syyskuu 12, 2011, 5:51 pm

I always try first to get a Norton Critical Edition. The texts are always good. Sometimes the auxiliary apparatus at the back is painful.

Robert

76baswood
Muokkaaja: syyskuu 12, 2011, 7:36 pm



The Picture Of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde, Norton Critical Edition

"The only difference between a caprice and a life long passion is that a caprice lasts longer"

"American girls are as clever at concealing their parents as English women are at concealing their past"

"Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing"

"Nothing can cure the soul but the senses, just as nothing can cure the senses but the soul."

"Young men want to be faithful and are not, old men want to be faithless and cannot."

Epigrams: which are witty often paradoxical remarks, concisely expressed, come thick and fast throughout the first few chapters of The Picture of Dorian Gray. It is as though Wilde cannot help but cram in as much wit as possible during the early stages of this, his only novel. They just stay the right side of tiresome, but there is a method to their usage: they come from the mouth of Lord Henry Wotton one of the three central characters. Oscar Wilde was famous as a raconteur and wit and when pressed about the characters in his novel said. "I am so glad you like that strange coloured book of mine, it contains much of me in it: Basil Hallward is what I think I am, Lord Henry what the world thinks me and Dorian what I would like to be - in other ages perhaps"

The story in which Wilde matches Edgar Alan Poe in the gothic horror stakes is well known. Basil Hallward a celebrated society artist produces a masterpiece when he paints a full length portrait of Dorian Gray: a young man with intense physical beauty who is adored by Basil. When Lord Henry Wooton calls on Basil he meets Dorian Gray and vows to inculcate the young man into the pursuit of hedonism. Dorian is a willing pupil and quickly falls under the influence of Lord Henry, however when he sees the finished portrait he is horrified by the thought that he will age and decay while the portrait will stay young and vital. He prays that he will stay just as he is forever and he gets his wish: the portrait changes in accordance with Dorian's callous and hedonistic lifestyle, while Dorian himself keeps his youthful looks. He becomes obsessed by the portrait; fascinated and horrified by turns, he is pricked by conscience and craves for some sort of redemption, however his excesses finally lead him to commit murder and when he can no longer stand the sight of his moral corruption he destroys the painting.

It is a great horror story with wonderful characterisation, but there is so much more: Wilde explores themes of individualism, hedonism, influence and weakness of character, art and it role in society, and the responsibilities of members of society. It created a sensation at the time because of its thinly veiled portrayal of homosexual love. Wilde's wit and humour is rampant throughout; so much so that it threatens at times to intrude too much into this powerful tale. The reader continues to wonder as to how much irony is being used and of the shades of meaning that can be deduced, but underpinning it all is a rattling good story. Wilde claimed that it was of course a moral tale and said in a letter in defence of his book:

"And the moral is this: all excess as well as all renunciation, brings its own punishment. The painter Basil Hallward worshipping physical beauty far too much, as most painters do, dies by the hand of one in whose soul he has created a monstrous and absurd vanity. Dorian Gray, having led a life of mere sensation and pleasure, tries to kill conscience, and at that moment kills himself. Lord Henry Wotton seeks to be merely the spectator of life. He finds that those who reject the battle are more deeply wounded than those who take part in it. Yes there is a terrible moral in Dorian Gray - a moral which the prurient will not be able to find in it, but which will be revealed to all whose minds are healthy. Is this an artistic error? I fear it is. It is the only error in the book."

See what I mean about the irony

THE NORTON CRITICAL EDITION
How in my view the Norton Critical edition enhances the reading experience.

1) It contains both versions of the story. The original novella published in Lippincotts monthly magazine in 1890 and the revised and expanded novel length book published by Ward, Lock and Company in 1981. The expanded version features a whole new subplot and the footnotes highlight changes that are made in this later version. Notes are also made concerning changes in the MS. Both versions stand on their own, but it is fascinating to read both.

2) backgrounds: Features extracts from sources used by Wilde. There are chapters from Huysman's A Rebours and Walter Pater's The Renaissance: studies in Art and Poetry. There are also extracts from Wilde's own essays, which provide valuable insight into his thoughts and belief systems.

3) Review and Reactions: The war of words between Wilde and his critics are here for all to see in extracts from published articles and Wilde's vehement defence of his book. There are also extracts from the trials: Edgar Carson's cross examination of Wilde at the first trial.

4) Criticism: contains seven essays on aspects of Dorian Gray, which run to some 150 pages. Plenty here for everybody.

In this case the Norton Critical edition provides a complete reading experience. There is a chronology and the selected Bibliography contains much further reading for those who wish to take the subject further.

77Poquette
syyskuu 13, 2011, 2:13 am

Wow, I had never thought of reading this until now, Barry. I'm adding it to my list. Sounds like the Norton Critical Edition is the way to go. I have one or two — I think we discussed this before — and I like them. I sure wish there was one available for Marius the Epicurean! ;-)

78kidzdoc
syyskuu 13, 2011, 3:25 am

Fabulous review of Dorian Gray, Barry. I'm completely unfamiliar with Norton Critical Editions, but I'll seek them out in the future.

79baswood
Muokkaaja: syyskuu 13, 2011, 7:14 pm

Suzanne, from my brief flirtation with Walter Pater in the Norton Critical edition of The picture of Dorian Gray he is not easy to read. Much concentration is needed I fear. I am looking forward to your review of Marius the Epicurean as you know I have the book, but it is nowhere near the top of my TBR pile at the moment. The Allegory of Love by C S Lewis has just arrived and that is my next read.

Of course all of Oscar Wilde's original published works are available free at Project Gutenberg. I have downloaded lots onto my kindle.

Thanks Darryl, I have definitely started looking out for the Norton critical editions.

80baswood
syyskuu 13, 2011, 7:11 pm

A meeting of the book club today and membership continues to leap ahead. There were four of us today. It would appear that we are gaining a new member every time we meet. We will be beating them off with sticks soon.

We discussed The picture of Dorian Gray and The Thousand autumns of Jacob De Zoet on a beautiful summers day here in the Gers. Everybody loved the two books and we found ourselves with plenty to talk about - 2 hours later and we were still at it. Our best meeting yet.

We are going to continue with the "classics" and our next read will be Vanity Fair by Thackery. People are keen to get a copy of the Norton Critical Edition. We will also read a new novel that has not been chosen yet.

Looking forward to meeting our fifth member at the next meeting.

81janeajones
syyskuu 13, 2011, 7:59 pm

Norton anthologies and critical editions are the staples for college literature courses here in the US. And blessedly, Norton keeps their textbook prices almost reasonable and doesn't come out with a new edition every 2 years.

82tomcatMurr
Muokkaaja: syyskuu 13, 2011, 10:53 pm

Bas, great stuff on Saint Oscar. If you haven't done so already, I strongly recommend Oscar's critical writings, where he expands on some of the ideas hinted at in the string of aphorisms and epigrams you quoted in your review.

http://www.librarything.com/work/51022/book/22445714

83bonniebooks
syyskuu 13, 2011, 10:37 pm

Love the descriptions of the books you've read. I agree with you about the books we've read in common, so I'm tempted to try some of that medieval lit, but I'm a little (or maybe a lot) too lazy/distracted to imagine myself concentrating that much on someone's words. Did enjoy yours though. :-)

84Poquette
syyskuu 14, 2011, 1:16 am

>79 baswood: Barry, that has been my experience as well – that Pater is not easy to read. His wandering style requires full attention, as you said. I have taken a detour and am reading some background stuff about Pater and the evolution of Epicurean philosophy to try to figure out where he is coming from – a self-assembled equivalent of what might be a Norton critical edition, perhaps. I'm halfway through Marius the Epicurean, but at this point, it is clear I am going to have to read this twice in order to do anything like a cogent review. Lest this might sound like I'm not enjoying it, au contrere. I love novels of ideas, and this is right up my street. So it is worth it to dig a little deeper.

>80 baswood: Ah, the return of the book club saga! It is sounding better all the time! ;-)

85baswood
syyskuu 14, 2011, 1:49 am

Thanks folks,

TC, I have downloaded Wilde's criticisms and reviews as well as Dei Profundis and The soul of man under socialism onto my kindle. I'm off to the coast for a couple of days so Oscar will keep me company.

Jane, I was so impressed by the Norton Critical edition, so I have ordered one for Vanity Fair my next bookclub read.

bonnie, nice to see you here and welcome back to club read

Suzanne, keep up with the good work on Pater

86detailmuse
syyskuu 14, 2011, 9:36 am

>80 baswood: giggling and then smiling, what a great book-club day.
Have a nice time on the coast.

87Jargoneer
syyskuu 15, 2011, 12:50 pm

>55 baswood: - a late comment. Although I enjoyed A Room with a View (is there another film that follows a classic novel so closely?) there was something about Forster's attitude that left a sour taste, especially in the afterward. He really did have nothing but disdain for his own characters - however being a snob doesn't preclude one from being a good writer of prose.

>70 baswood: - Faust aren't that bad. The couple of albums before The Faust Tapes are probably the best although I haven't heard of the recent material which is allegedly very good. Mention of Tangerine Dream however just makes me think of a succession of bad soundtracks in 1980's films.
Talking about Krautrock - there was a documentary on BBC4 about a year ago on it. Some of it has aged very well - Can, Neu, Harmonia and a favourite of mine, Dusselforf. (I feel I should also mention Kraftwerk but they never really struck me as Krautrock although at same were influential within it). Of course one of the things discussed was the dislike of the term Krautrock....

88baswood
syyskuu 16, 2011, 12:46 pm

detailmuse, We are back from a couple of days on the Atlantic Coast which were great.

jargoneer, I hesitated in using the term Krautrock, but could not think of anything else to call it. I suppose it's not "politically correct" these days. I agree Faust aren't that bad, its just my memories of The Faust tapes which are that bad. I am a big fan of Can much interesting music from them is still available. I loved Krafwerks Tour de France cd and stuff like Radio Activity still sounds good today. I will give Dusselforf a listen as they are new to me.

89bonniebooks
syyskuu 16, 2011, 2:41 pm

Good news about your book club!

90baswood
syyskuu 18, 2011, 8:13 pm



Sonia Wieder-Atherton

Concert at L'Astrada Marciac last night - Sonia Wieder-Atherton solo Cello
How lonely it must be for a solo performer especially of classical music. There was just a rickety looking chair on stage lit by a spotlight. Sonia Weider-Atherton walked out confidently enough and after a few minor adjustments she was ready to play for a respectfully hushed audience. I had noted from my ticket that her programme would consist of some Bach suites and I had grabbed the details as we walked into the concert hall. Unfortunately I was too busy chatting to friends to actually read the thing and the performance started on time.

The first piece was an arrangement of a Jewish song played beautifully. She then launched into her next piece and it took me some moments to realise she was playing a suite by Bach. It was in fact Suite no 1 (BWV 1007). I thoroughly enjoyed the performance but it did not quite sound like Bach and after speaking to some classical music enthusiasts after the concert: the consensus of opinion was that it was a very individual interpretation. She had made Bach sing which had upset the purists who were looking for a more metronomic approach. After a short break Sonia then launched into more modern music by Benjamin Britten and then Giacinto Scelsi. These pieces were played with plenty of verve and attack and were thrilling, bravo I thought. The concert finished with more Bach: Suite no 5 (BWV 1011) and again she produced a very lyrical performance. She got an excellent reception and played a self composed piece for an encore. Another great night at L'Astrada

91Poquette
syyskuu 19, 2011, 4:36 pm

Barry, thanks to your recommendation, I just indulged in a copy of The Picture of Dorian Gray in the Norton Critical Edition, which as I mentioned before, was not particularly on my radar screen, but when I saw that it contained Pater's essay on Wilde, plus all the other interesting critical stuff, I decided it was a must have. That Pater essay is hard to get hold of as it isn't included in some of the readily available Pater collections. At any rate, I'll probably get to the novel itself next year sometime.

92baswood
syyskuu 19, 2011, 5:08 pm

Hi Suzanne, Hope you enjoy dipping into that edition of Dorian Gray. The Pater extract is not an easy read, but you are probably used to his style now.

The Norton Critical Edition of Vanity Fair arrived in the post this morning. The authoritative text contains all the original illustrations by Thackeray of which there were many. It is going to be a joy to read.

93Mr.Durick
syyskuu 19, 2011, 5:12 pm

I've got that edition of Vanity Fair on my wishlist, and I wonder why there isn't a separate touchstone for it. Does the selection of essays at the back look valuable?

Robert

94baswood
syyskuu 19, 2011, 5:46 pm

Robert,

There are over 150 pages of Background and criticism. There are excepts from Thakeray's selected letters on the composition and the reception of the book.

The contexts section has an interesting essay on vanity Fair and the London Skyline, which examines the illustrations with reference to London's architecture of the time.

The criticism section has essays from 1901 to 1990 and here are the Titles:
A Criticism of Life
On the style of Vanity Fair
Neo classical conventions
Dialogue form
Politics of sexuality
The narrator of vanity Fair
Didacticism
Listening as a rhetorician and a feminist

Hope there is something there to whet your appetite

95Mr.Durick
syyskuu 19, 2011, 7:04 pm

Thank you. That 'Politics of Sexuality' looks like it might be dangerously post-modern. We might see some ugly neologisms in it. But the rest of the topics look useful. I'll keep it on my wishlist.

Robert

96Poquette
syyskuu 19, 2011, 7:44 pm

Vanity Fair . . . . hmm!!!

97baswood
Muokkaaja: syyskuu 20, 2011, 6:20 pm

62) The soul of Man, Oscar Wilde

To the Barricades



Socialism, communism or whatever one chooses to call it, by converting private property into public wealth and substituting co-operation for competition will restore society to its proper condition of a thorough healthy organism......... with the abolition of private property then we will have beautiful healthy individualism

Wilde's essay on the Soul Of Man starts off with a call for no less than a reconstruction of society, however I am not to sure I would want to be following Oscar to the barricades. He wants to see a return to individualism believing that "Private property has crushed individualism" With all this out of the way Oscar can then turn to the subject of art:

Now art should never try to be popular, the public should make itself artistic.....we have been able to have fine poetry in England, because the public do not read it and consequently do not influence it.

He has a jibe at the press:

behind the barricades there may be much that is noble and heroic, but what is there behind the leading article but prejudice, stupidity, cant and twaddle.

I suppose much of this essay is twaddle, but it is written so well and so wittily that it is a joy to read. But come to think of it abolishing private property - that's not twaddle and he is fairly accurate about the press. He wants to get rid of poverty but in the meantime doesn't believe that you can solve the problem by keeping the poor alive - oh dear back to the twaddle. It's just that sort of an essay; tremendous fun.

98dmsteyn
syyskuu 21, 2011, 1:34 pm

Oscar is such an engaging writer and personality, that he seems more like a character from one of his plays or books than a real human being. I remember reading that Yeats was awed by meeting him, as he seemed to talk in perfect sentences that could just as well have been dictated from a book.

Your reading of Wilde is, as always, perceptive. Coincidentally, in Empire Star, a novella by Samuel R. Delany which I just finished, there is an allusion to Oscar and Lord Alfred Douglas, specifically to Wilde's incarceration.

99baswood
Muokkaaja: syyskuu 21, 2011, 2:25 pm

Thanks Dewald,

Poor Oscar: a man of overweening pride who fell in love with one of the most spoilt and perfidious members of the aristocracy

100baswood
syyskuu 21, 2011, 7:02 pm

63) Essays and Lectures, Oscar Wilde
The Rise of Historical criticism
English Renaissance Art
House Decoration
Art and the handicratsman
Lecture to Art Students
London Models
Poems in Prose

We spend our days each one of us in looking for the secret of life. Well the secret of life is in art.

More essays/lectures by Oscar Wilde, some of which were delivered to American audiences and when read today can sound a little patronising. The most interesting essay is English Renaissance Art; where Wilde lectures on the importance of the Pre-Raphaelite movement. There is always something of interest in Wilde's sparkling prose.

101tomcatMurr
syyskuu 21, 2011, 9:43 pm

99 your picture didn't come out, bas. Loving your Oscar reading.

102baswood
syyskuu 22, 2011, 9:19 pm



64) The Allegory of Love: A study in medieval Tradition C S Lewis
C S Lewis traces the development of love poetry from the celebration of adulterous love by the 12th century Troubadours through to Edmond Spenser's utter refutation and then vindication of married love in the Faerie Queene. He takes Courtly Love and allegory as his twin themes for his exploration of medieval French and British poetry. His enthusiastic search for and love of beautiful poetry; some of which he finds in unexpected places, makes this an enthralling read.

Lewis lays plenty of groundwork for the reader to enjoy his romp through the period. He offers a convincing account of Courtly Love, which seems to have suddenly appeared in the 12 century and which would influence vernacular poetry for the next four centuries. Courtly Love was based on four basic premises: humility, courtesy, adultery and the religion of love. Medieval feudal society was based on service of vassals to their Lord and therefore humility and courtesy were significant factors in the success of this relationship. It was no stretch then for an idealised woman to demand these same qualities from her suitors. Marriages were arranged and purely utilitarian and many were not love matches, therefore for those interested in sexual love adultery was the norm. The religion of love celebrated by the troubadours and backed by rules of engagement that protected the honour of those involved led to the ethos of Courtly Love. In an age where passionate and sexual love was deemed to be more or less wicked (even in marriage) by the church: Courtly Love was a natural reaction by those that could afford it and resulted in a dichotomy between church and state. It is vital to understand this situation to appreciate much of the poetry of the period.

Lewis then goes on to explain the use of allegory and how it developed from the pagans personification of their Gods to its usage by medieval poets to express passions and inner thoughts. The function of allegory was not to hide, but to reveal emotions and was taken up by poets to express the feelings of the courtly lover. The Troubadours and Chretien de Troyes were the early exponents of allegory but Lewis traces this back to Boethius and the writers in antiquity. Lewis makes an excellent case for Guilliame de Lorris's Romance of the Rose as being the pinnacle of allegorical poetry. Here it all came together as personification (allegory) was used in some marvellous poetry to express real emotions in a way that could be understood by those reading at the time. Lewis's excellent critique of the poem goes on to explain why Jean de Meun's continuation of the poem was less successful in his usage of allegory: his use of irony and satire produced some fundamental disunity that made it a different poem.

Chaucer has a chapter to himself, but the Canterbury tales are largely ignored because of their lack of allegorical content. Earlier work such as The Parliament of Foules is critiqued: A special case is made for Troilus and Cryseide, despite its lack of allegory, because as Lewis says, it is one of the finest love poems of the English language, based on the tenets of Courtly Love. Lewis finds Gower worth reading for his Confessio Amantis and encourages readers to dip in to Thomas Usk.

The poets that followed the age of Chaucer are only given consideration where they use allegory. It is not therefore a complete survey of the period. Allegory had become an over used convention that was increasingly producing bad and mediocre poetry. Lewis however uncovers some gems from the morass: translations by Thomas Hoccleve are praised as well as some of the poetry by Gavin Douglas. This section of the book highlights Lewis's wide reading and determination to find worthy poetry. He finds examples by Lydgate and Hawes which he shares but does not encourage the reader to explore further.

Spenser's crowning achievement The Fairie Queene is discussed in the long final chapter. A brief analysis of the six books and the Mutabilitie Cantos is cogent and insightful. Lewis links the poem more closely to the Italian epics such as Orlando Furioso, than to the allegorical tradition of Britain and France. Lewis claims that Spenser's use of allegory is not in conjunction with the ethos of Courtly Love. In fact he claims books III and IV refute Courtly love in favour of a celebration of married love. He attempts to resolve the dichotomy between church and state. Britomart who represent chastity is easily misunderstood by the modern reader Chastity stands for married love and its enemy is Courtly Love. These books may account for Spenser's lack of success as a courtier in later life (my view not Lewis's), perhaps he was seen to be biting the hand that fed him.

Lewis writes here in a lucid and clear style. There are a few untranslated Latin phrases sprinkled through the text, but nowhere do they obscure the meaning. The book was published in 1936 and there have been no revisions, it might therefore be considered to be a little outdated. I have no doubts in recommending this to anyone interested in medieval literature. A five star read.

103dchaikin
Muokkaaja: syyskuu 22, 2011, 9:51 pm

I've been curious about The Allegory of Love, and I'm glad to have read your review. It comes up quite often in commentary on The Faerie Queene.

104theaelizabet
syyskuu 22, 2011, 10:08 pm

Well done, Bas. I can't remember if you've read A Distant Mirror. Tuchman, too, writes a bit of courtly love. Very interesting.

105Poquette
syyskuu 23, 2011, 7:15 am

Barry, I've been wanting to get this book for a very long time, and your review just reconfirms my interest.

The function of allegory was not to hide, but to reveal emotions

Other reading I have done in the past few years would corroborate this statement, which actually exemplifies one of the reasons pagan literary references never ceased to appear despite the efforts of the church. That allegory devolved into a sort of parody of itself is unfortunate but perhaps understandable, as with almost anything that becomes overused.

Excellent review!

106baswood
Muokkaaja: syyskuu 23, 2011, 7:22 am

Hi Dan, From your reading around The Faerie Queene you have probably covered all that Lewis has to say about the poem.

Lewis has spurred me on to continue with my reading of Spenser's epic. I had gotten stuck at the start of book III, but will continue now until I start climbing that Magic Mountain.

Teresa, A Distant Mirror arrived by post a couple of weeks ago. Its a battered hard back version from Amazon marketplace, but it looks fine inside. I know it is much maligned by the academic community, but an immediate plus point is some excellent colour plates. The fresco's by Ambrogio Lorenzetti are reasonably well produced. I have seen the originals in Sienna and they are astonishing.

107baswood
syyskuu 23, 2011, 7:32 am

Life in the City by Ambrogio Lorenzetti - 1340's and on display in the Palazzo Publico, Sienna, Italy

108baswood
syyskuu 23, 2011, 7:42 am

Hi Suzanne,

As you know The Allegory of Love is out of print and I got my copy through ABE books.The back of the book tells me it used to reside in the Free Public Library in Patterson, New jersey. It was as expensive as a new book but I just had to read it. I was not disappointed. Lewis is much clearer here than in some of his essays in Medieval and Renaissance Literature that I believe is in your library. I am not sure how much will be new to you Suzanne after all the reading you have done, but what I found interesting was the short extracts from some of the lesser known poets of the period.

109dchaikin
syyskuu 23, 2011, 10:34 am

#106 - Bas, my coverage wasn't that thorough. Glad to see you are continuing on with FQ. Book III is quite different form the previous two. Suddenly Spenser is doing a lot of things at once, and, I imagine, dealing with some problems he may not have initially foreseen.

110baswood
Muokkaaja: syyskuu 25, 2011, 5:45 pm



65) Aspects of the Novel E M Forster

It is a great pity that youtube was not around in 1927, to capture Forster delivering these lectures. We have them now in the book form as a series of essays, but they still sparkle with wit, knowledge, common sense and some fine writing. There are some arresting images: the authors all sitting together in a circular room struggling with their compositions, and the gaping shock headed cavemen listening to the story teller, which Forster uses to have a swipe at the film industry "The movie public: modern day descendants of the gaping cavemen."

For me it all really comes alive in essays/lectures six and seven, when Forster can let himself go and lecture with passion and imagination about the authors he loves. He says:

For the first five lectures of this course we have used more or less the same set of tools. This time and last we have had to lay them down. Next time we shall take them up again, but with no certainty that they are the best equipment for a critic or that there is such a thing as critical equipment.

The lectures he is referring to are Fantasy and Prophecy. He has previously given us the critics tools to discuss aspects of the story, people, the plot and pattern and rhythm, but when he launches into his lecture on fantasy his own writing takes off. He starts with the wonderful image of the ascending bird and its shadow that resemble each other less and less as the bird flies higher, and goes on to say there is more in the novel than time or people and logic, but of course like the birds shadow it is not quite so distinct, not so easy to grasp. There is however a bar of light that can illuminate everything and Forster says "We shall give that bar of light two names fantasy and prophecy.

At last Forster can talk about the books and those things that go beyond the tools of the trade to make them special. He presents us with some surprising selections in his lecture on fantasy: Tristram Shandy, Flecker's Magic and Zuleika Dobson by Max Beerbohm. He cheekily includes Ulysses, before ending with the Magic Flute.

It is his lecture on prophecy where he gets to talk about those great authors who write on universal themes and who have the power to sing. Forster warns us that to appreciate these authors, we the readers must have humility and the suspension of the sense of humour. He names four authors that he believes can illustrate this aspect of the novel: Dostoyevsky, Melville, D H Lawrence and Emily Bronte with D H Lawrence being the only living author (1927) in whom the song predominates and who has the rapt bardic quality and who it is idle to criticise. Enthusiastically Forster gives us examples from The Brothers Karamazov and then turns his attention to Melville and a lively short critique on Moby Dick is followed by his thoughts on Billy Budd. Forster's prose is at its finest here but he saves his best for D H Lawrence:

Humility is not easy with this irritable and irritating author, for the humbler we get the crosser he gets. yet I do not see how else to read him. If we start resenting or mocking, his treasure disappears as surely if we started obeying him. What is valuable about him cannot be put into words; it is colour, gesture and outline in people and things, the usual stock in trade of the novelist, but evolved by such a different process that they belong to a new world.

This series of lectures, that give us the warp and the weft of aspects of a novel and gently chide us as pseudo-intellectuals, come dramatically alive as Forster wrestles with the ineffable. Great stuff.

111janeajones
syyskuu 25, 2011, 5:58 pm

105> Allegory of Love is one of my favorite works of medieval criticism, right up there with Huizinga's Homo Ludens. I'm sure they're both considered old fashioned now, but their readibility, humanism, erudition, and insight into human behavior are marvellous.

112dchaikin
syyskuu 25, 2011, 6:55 pm

That is a lovely review of Aspects of the Novel.

113Poquette
syyskuu 25, 2011, 7:04 pm

Well, Barry, your review of Aspects of the Novel really hits a home run. Having reviewed this novel myself, I know what a challenge it is to try to capture its essence. Your approach is genius, as they say! What you said in the last two paragraphs is particularly apt. I agree wholeheartedly that he was, as you put it, gently – and I would say ironically – chiding us as pseudo-intellectuals. The book is a delight and so is your review – one of your best, I believe! Bravo!

114baswood
syyskuu 26, 2011, 12:02 pm

Suzanne, I think with Forster it is difficult to know just how ironic he means to be and that is part of the fun of reading him, apart from the fact of course that his prose is marvellous. I do not think he is saying we are all shock haired cavemen but definitely:

There are a few scholars actual or potential in the audience today, but only a few, and there is certainly none on the platform. Most of us are pseudo-scholars and I want to consider our characteristics with sympathy and respect, for we are a very large and powerful class, eminent in Church and State, we control the education of the Empire, we lend to the Press such distinction as it consents to receive, and we are a welcome asset at dinner parties.

from Aspects of the Novel E M Forster. whom I think would have been an excellent guest at a dinner party.

115baswood
syyskuu 26, 2011, 12:19 pm

Thanks Dan

116Poquette
syyskuu 26, 2011, 2:56 pm

That quote just makes me smile, Barry. And wouldn't we have a lot to talk to Forster about at a dinner party?

117edwinbcn
lokakuu 1, 2011, 3:08 am

Forster said something about sitting around a table, but did not mention whether that would be a dinner table. Was (leaving things to the reader's )Imagination one of the chapters in Aspects of the Novel?

118baswood
Muokkaaja: lokakuu 1, 2011, 5:57 pm

Edwin, there is no chapter in Forster's book about Imagination.

Had he been French he would certainly have had his authors sitting round a dinner table and would have gone on to describe the food on it

As it is he says

We are to visualize the English novelist not as floating down that stream (time) which bears all its sons away unless they are careful, but as seated together in a room, a circular room, a sort of British Museum reading room - all writing their novels simultaneously.

119baswood
Muokkaaja: lokakuu 6, 2011, 6:16 pm

I have been busy reading Vanity Fair, which has proved to be a long slow read, but a very enjoyable one. I should finish it tomorrow. Thackeray's use of the term Vanity Fair keeps reminding me of Bob Dylan's Desolation Row and George Osborne keeps reminding me of England's Chancellor of the Exchequer.

It was Oscar Wilde in his essay The soul of man who said that Property not merely has duties, but has so many duties that its possession to any large extent is a bore. It involves endless claims upon one, endless attention to business, endless bother. I am thinking he may well have a point. Since buying my house deep in the French countryside six years ago, I have been putting off some tasks; one of which was to find and examine the fosse septique (septic tank). Apparently it was put in 40 years ago, buried and forgotten about. A blockage in the toilet made it essential to find the thing and so for the last week I have been spending an awful lot of time digging in the garden. The good news is that I eventually found it, but the bad news was the concrete inspection hatch(which was a metre below ground) had been cemented in. Fortunately the blockage seems to have cleared, but I am now left with a big hole in the ground and a partially exposed septic tank, which I need to sort before I bury it again. It has become a bit of a tourist attraction as most of my neighbours have been round to have a look and seem endlessly fascinated. I think this is because their septic tanks are buried somewhere near their houses and they will not have seen them since they were installed.

120StevenTX
lokakuu 6, 2011, 9:14 pm

I thought at first your Oscar Wilde quote was in reference to Vanity Fair. Perhaps if Becky Sharp had had to deal with a blocked septic tank she wouldn't have been so acquisitive.

121Poquette
lokakuu 7, 2011, 3:36 am

And here I thought you were off on a junket somewhere enjoying the good life, Barry. My bubble has burst! Let's hope your septic tank does not!

122Jargoneer
lokakuu 7, 2011, 4:57 am

>119 baswood: - it's one of the great mysteries of life why people (mainly men to be honest) like staring into holes and passing judgement.
Still you can look forward to the return of musical genius - William Shatner - Seeking Major Tom

123detailmuse
lokakuu 7, 2011, 9:37 am

>119 baswood: I've so often meant to ask if you've read Peter Mayle -- his memoirs about an Englishman retiring to France, not his novels -- and now your terrific post makes me think of him again. I read A Year in Provence 20+ years ago and loved it.

124baswood
lokakuu 7, 2011, 5:44 pm

jargoneer, I couldn't wait for the release of "Seeking Major Tom" and so I pulled this off the shelf:



Space Oddity - David Bowie
This LP was originally released as "Man of Words/Man of Music" but was repackaged as Space Oddity in 1969. I still have the original gatefold sleeve in the loft somewhere but I played the 1990 re-released CD this afternoon.

It has long been a favourite of mine apart from the marvellous title track there is the wonderful loose rocking "Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed, which features some great harmonica and electric guitar. Bowie was just beginning to stretch out on these tracks and there is a dark feel to some of the stuff: "Letter to Hermione" and "Cygnet Committee". The LP also features a couple of exciting orchestral arrangements by Paul Buckmaster and "Wild Eyed Boy from Freecloud still sounds good through the headphones. It all ends with "Memory of a Free Festival" featuring some very Hippy-Dippy lyrics:

Someone passed some bliss among the crowd
And we walked back to the road, unchained


"The sun machine is coming down and we're gonna have a party" Oh yes indeed David, but like all good parties it ended far too soon. Great stuff.

125baswood
lokakuu 7, 2011, 6:00 pm

#123 detailmuse, I have a lovely copy of A Year in Provence which has some water colour illustrations. This book was responsible for sparking off a whole sub-genre of these travel books, but Peter Mayles original is by far the best that I have read. He captures life in rural France from an in-comer's perspective so accurately.

#120 steven, almost everyone in Vanity Fair is acquisitive. I finished the book today and so I will review it soon. Just a thought but our friend Oscar Wilde would have fitted so well in Thakeray's Vanity Fair don't you think.

127baswood
lokakuu 7, 2011, 7:15 pm

#126 A great impression of Johnny Cash?

128Jargoneer
lokakuu 9, 2011, 7:49 am

>124 baswood: - I pulled that off the shelf recently as well. I always think the title track is the odd song on the album, with a different sound than the rest of it (strangely, I think that's also true on his next album, The Man Who Sold The World). Wouldn't disagree about the tracks you listed, Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed is a favourite of mine as mine. There is something about Memory of a Free Festival that makes it sound like an end of the era celebration/lament.

>126 theaelizabet: - William Shatner has actually topped that by doing something amazing, releasing an album that is great, not in a funny way but as an actual album. If you haven't heard Has Been I recommend you do.

Re Vanity Fair - Becky Sharp is one of the great characters of Victorian literature; she goes against all the conventions and, best of all, gets away with it.

129theaelizabet
lokakuu 9, 2011, 10:16 am

>128 Jargoneer: I looked it up and listened to the samples. How very interesting!

130baswood
lokakuu 11, 2011, 6:38 pm

131baswood
Muokkaaja: lokakuu 11, 2011, 9:12 pm

66) Vanity Fair by W M Thackeray
Thackeray's Victorian novel is above all a satire. A journalist turned author, he cast his eyes around him and did not like what he saw. He has been labelled a realist and a searcher after truth and he uses wit, irony and biting satire to expose the corrupt and stagnant society that appeared all around him.

Thackeray's society is Vanity Fair. It is a place where individuals are driven by the worship of wealth, rank, power and class and are corrupted by it. Greed and lust predominate. The satire is at times savage and grotesque, but like much great fiction it resonates with modern readers. Today the Wall Street Occupation immediately springs to mind as well as earlier protest movements in the late 1960's. Thackeray's many allusions to Vanity Fair reminded me of Bob Dylan's Desolation Row, however it was some snatches of lyrics from "Its alright Ma, I'm only Bleeding" that seemed particularly relevant:

"gargles in the rat race choir
bent out of shape by society's pliers

Old lady judges watch people in pairs
Limited in sex they dare
To push fake morals, insult and stare
While money doesn't talk it swears......"


The novel was published in monthly installments from January 1847 to July 1848 and had an immediate impact. Charlotte Bronte (writing under her pseudonym Currer Bell) in her preface to the second edition of Jane Eyre said:

"I regard him (Thackeray) as the first social regenerator of this day - as the very master of that working corps who would restore to rectitude the warped system of things...... His wit is bright, his humour attractive, but both bear the same relation to his serious genius, that the mere lambent sheet-lightning playing under the edge of the summer cloud, does to the electric death spark hid in its womb. Finally, I have alluded to Mr Thackeray, because to him - if he will accept the tribute of a total stranger I have dedicated the second edition of Jane Eyre

Currer Bell
Dec 21st 1847 "


Why did this mocking misanthropic book that has overtones of misogyny create such an impact at the time and has been regarded as a classic of English Literature ever since? Apart from the social commentary it has a story to tell. Two young women emerge from Mrs Pinkerton's academy for young ladies to take their place in society in the early years of the 19th century. Amelia Sedley was a paying border and coming from a rich merchant family her marriage prospects are good. Her friend Becky Sharpe was kept on at the Academy because of her teaching abilities and the best that she can look forward to is a place as a governess. The two girls could not be more different. Becky is clever and resourceful and an adroit manipulator of other people, she realises she must use her wits and her sex to get ahead. Amelia on the other hand while possessing both beauty and excellent manners is a weak character, unworldly, easily moved to tears and selfishly insular in her outlook. Their stories are told in parallel in the first part of the book, but intersect in the city of Brussels on the eve of the battles of Quatre Bras and Waterloo. This is the midpoint and backbone of the book. Following these climactic events the story moves back to London where Amelia and Becky suffer different fortunes. Amelia having lost her husband at Waterloo sinks into poverty as a result of her fathers failed business ventures. Becky builds on her success in Brussells and reaches for the highest echelons of society. Her marriage to Rawdon Crawley the brother of a barronet and a gambler and swindler to boot does not hold her back. Fortunes change again as the women who both now have a son meet towards the end of the book and enact a rather dispiriting denouement.

If this all sounds like a Bildungsroman where the characters moral and psychological development is the focus, then you would be mistaken for thinking so. Few of the characters develop in this way, they remain static and perhaps this is the point of the novel. Society or Vanity Fair allows for no character development. They keep on doing what they do as the all consuming rush for money power and position is the real focus for Thackeray's novel. Amelia remains the childish women she always was. Becky continues to live by her cleverness, her wit and her sex, until she is no longer able to do so. The male characters are too busy making money or seeking glory or like the faithful Dobbin: following a false dream, which when this fades there is nothing left but to do his duty.

Thackeray prefaces his novel with the idea of the Manager of the performance. It is this manager who will constantly interrupt the story to speak directly to the reader, telling him his views on the characters and their actions. At one point towards the end of the novel the manager tells his readers that he sat down with some of the characters outside a cafe and the story they told him is the one he is now relating to us. The question that is difficult to answer then is; who is this manager/narrator, is it the author Thackeray himself speaking to us. Are there two voices here. The book is written in a omniscient narrative style with these authorial interludes directed straight at the reader. This allows Thackeray to interpret events, give hints to future events, to recap on previous events, to fill in details and play with the time line. Sometimes it feels as though he is just playing with his readers. A typical example is when Amelia is praying for the safe return of her husband George Osborne:

"Have we the right to repeat or overhear her prayers? These brother are secrets, and out of the domain of vanity Fair in which our story lies."

This is fascinating because Thackeray is both a satirist/social analyst and a moralist and these points of view do not always sit together comfortably. There is some confusion as to which hat the author is wearing or what voice he is speaking with. This results however in the characters having a sort of life of their own as we are constantly seeing them from different sides. Becky is subject to many of these authorial reviews, which culminate in this wonderful passage towards the end of the novel:

"I defy anyone to say that our Becky, who has certainly some vices, has not been presented to the public in a perfectly genteel and inoffensive manner. In describing this syren, singing and smiling, coaxing and cajoling, the author with modest pride, asks his readers all around, has he once forgotten the laws of politeness, and showed the monster's hideous tail above water? No! Those who like may peep down under waves that are pretty transparent, and see it writhing and twirling, diabolically hideous and slimy, flapping amongst bones, or curling round corpses; but above the water line, I ask, has not everything been proper, agreeable and decorous, and has any the most squeamish immoralist in Vanity Fair right to cry fie? When however the syren disappears and dives below, down among the dead men, the water of course grows turbid over her, and it is labour lost to look into it ever so curiously. They look pretty enough when they sit upon a rock, twanging their harps and combing their hair, and sing, and beckon to you to come and hold the looking glass; but when they sink into their native element depend on it those mermaids are about no good, and we had best not examine the fiendish marine cannibals, revelling and feasting on their wretched pickled victims. And so, when Becky is out of the way, be sure she is not particularly well employed, and that the less said about her doings the better"

This passage highlights Thackeray's ambivalence towards his heroine. Thackeray's masterstroke is to compare her with the saintly but inept Amelia as their lives run parallel. Becky has battled against the odds to become a player in vanity Fair and has had fun doing it. Nobody has as much fun in this novel as Becky Sharpe. (apart from her admiring husband Rawdon Crawley perhaps)

This is a must read for lovers of the Victorian novel and for those who wish to chart the development of the novel in the English language. There are some issues for the modern reader. Thackeray was a journalist with a wide knowledge of current events. His text is sprinkled with personalities, politicians, artists who were well known at the time, but have since faded into obscurity. A thoroughly annotated text is recommended for the reader who wished to pick up on all the references. It is not essential though to enjoy the book, although it will be easier for readers native to England. It is a long novel nearly 700 pages and there is some obvious padding. Thackeray had to produce 32 pages of script for his monthly deadlines and some passages feel like add ons in order to fulfill his contract. Having said that I found the book fairly well structured and some of the recaps were helpful.

This is a book to be savoured and enjoyed and for those people unfamiliar with the genre, may find it quite astonishing. A well written biting satire of a corrupt and moribund society is enough to hold my interest. This together with some wonderful characters (who can forget Jos "Waterloo" Sedley or Sir Pitt Crawley) and some purple patches of prose make this a classic in every sense of the word. And don't forget Thackeray's marvellous illustrations; well over a hundred of them.

A five star read.

132katiekrug
lokakuu 11, 2011, 9:10 pm

Excellent, excellent review, Barry. I will admit to being intimidated by Vanity Fair for unknown reasons and have never attempted it. You make me think I need to make the effort.

133Poquette
lokakuu 12, 2011, 2:12 am

Terrific review, Barry. Brings back memories. Been a long time since I read it. Makes me want to reread.

134dmsteyn
lokakuu 12, 2011, 4:36 am

Thank you for another great review, Barry. I'm going to read this sooner rather than later.

135rebeccanyc
lokakuu 12, 2011, 8:23 am

I confess I have never read Vanity Fair either, and your review certainly makes it seem more fun than I imagined. I have too many tomes already on the TBR, but I can see myself adding this one to the pile.

136kidzdoc
lokakuu 12, 2011, 11:22 am

Barry, this is one of the best book reviews I've read on LT. You have absolutely sold me on Vanity Fair, and I'll add it to the list of books I plan to read next year. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with us.

137baswood
lokakuu 12, 2011, 4:57 pm

Thanks everybody. I read Vanity Fair for my next book club meeting. It is a bit of a Tome and I am wondering how many other people will have got through it. Once I got into it I was sorry to have finished it. I plan to read other books by Thackeray, because I found myself tuned into his wit and humour. I loved his asides directed at the reader.

138dmsteyn
lokakuu 13, 2011, 11:13 am

Nowadays, people seem to consider Thackeray a one-trick pony - I know about his other books, like Pendennis, but I've never seen them in the shops. Hopefully, you can do some more reading, Barry, and tell us if the other books are also worthwhile.

139baswood
lokakuu 16, 2011, 5:16 pm

140janeajones
lokakuu 16, 2011, 7:37 pm

Ah,Chretien -- inventor of Lancelot and Perceval.

141baswood
lokakuu 16, 2011, 8:22 pm

67) Arthurian Romances by Chretien de Troyes
It is hard to believe that these Arthurian Romances were written in the latter part of the 12th century. They have been translated from the medieval French octosyllabic couplets into English prose and are alive with wonderful story telling, humour wit and some thought provoking views on love and honour. There are five tales presented in chronological order and Chretien's development of his major themes and his maturation as a writer can be tracked as one reads through them

Courtly love which started to flourish in the 12th century was based on four basic premise: humility, courtesy, adultery, and the religion of love. It went hand in glove with the concept of chivalry. Knights with their codes of honour were expected to follow the ideals of Courtly love in the romances at least and possibly in real courtly life. Chretien de Troyes was the earliest poet to use the King Arthur tales/histories as source material for his romances

1) Erec and Enide
A tale told in simple narrative style with a loose connection to King Arthur and the knights of the round table. Erec a knight of some worth and valour falls in love and marries Enide. He is so enchanted with married bliss that he neglects his duties to bear arms and his reputation as a knight. Enide must persuade him to get back on his horse and restore his flagging reputation. They ride out together seeking adventure and the story ends with Erec's triumph in the magic garden. This is a celebration of marital love with the underlying message that a knight must not neglect his duty and his honour. Enide says:

"The earth should truly swallow me up, since the very best of knights - the boldest and bravest, the most loyal, the most courteous that was ever count or king - has completely abandoned all chivalry because of me. Now I have truly shamed him; I should not have wished it for anything"

2) Cliges
There are two back to back stories here that celebrate love and fidelity. The first story features Alexandre's courtship and love of the marvellously named Soredamours. Chretien switches easily to a 1st person narrative as Soredamours explains:

"I have not been given the name of Soredamours for nothing.....I consider my name the best, since it begins with the colour with which gold is most in harmony. And the end of my name reminds me of Love for whoever calls me by my right name evokes loves tint within me. One half of my name guilds the other with the bright yellow hue of gold for Soredamours means "gilded over with love" Love has done me great honour in gilding this name upon me"

The second story is Soredamours son's (Cliges) love for the faithful Fernice. Chretien does not hesitate to step in to address the reader directly:

"So I wish to challenge the opinion that love can be found where there is no fear. Whoever wished to love must feel fear; if he does not he cannot love. But he must fear only the one he loves and be emboldened for her sake in all else"

I do not see any irony here as this is strictly in the tenets of courtly love. The story goes on to tell of Fernice' fidelity and constancy in her love for Cliges. Even under the most extreme torture she will not deny her love. Variations on this story have appeared frequently down the ages, but this gruesome tale is told particularly well by Chretien.

3) The Knight of the Cart (Lancelot)
Chretien now takes us into more familiar Arthurian legend territory. Gawain, Kay, and King Arthur himself all feature. It is the story of Lancelot's adulterous love for Arthur's queen Guinivere and as such is a complete break from the tales of fidelty that precede it. Chretien's introduction to the tale is deeply ironical; He says that he is writing it under the instructions of his sponsor; My Lady of Champagne:

"Certainly I am not one intent on flattering his lady. Will I say, 'As the polished gem eclipses the pearl and the sard, the countess eclipses queens'? Indeed not; I'll say nothing of the sort, though it is true in spite of me. I will say however that her command has more importance in this work than any thought or effort that I might put into it."

Lancelot is above all the Knight who gains his power and inspiration from the love of his Lady. He is at his fighting best, when he can see the object of his love (Guinevere). Chretien uses this tale to demonstrate the need for total subservience in courtly love. Guinevere tests Lancelot's love at a tournament by secretly ordering him to do his worst. Lancelot of course complies and takes a beating to prove his love. Chretien handles this part of the story superbly by introducing just the right amount of pathos and humour.

4) The Knight with the Lion (Yvain)
This is Chretien at the height of his powers; it is a well told story with a beginning a middle and a successful conclusion. It would appear that Chretien himself was happy with his effort, because he says at the end:

Thus Chretien brings to a close his romance of the knight with the lion. I've not heard any more about it, and you'll not here any more unless one adds lies to it"

Chretien starts the tale by telling us that the courtly love of by gone ages which was valiant, generous and honourable has been abandoned. He therefore immediately sets a tension to his story of Yvain, who wins the love of Laudine by defeating her champion in combat. He pledges himself to Laudine but is anxious to prove himself further as a knight. She gives him a year to satisfy his need for adventures, but he overstays his time and when he eventually returns she casts him out. Yvain suffers a breakdown and goes native in the forest, during this period he is befriended by a lion who assists him when his reason returns and he once again sets off to prove himself as a knight. New feats of his power are soon becoming apparent and when he saves Laudine's lands from a usurper she finally welcomes him back. The story has everything you could want from a romance; love lost and then regained, help from a faithful ally, plenty of magic, and some lively combat scenes. For the first time in Chretien's tales worship of God plays some part in Yvain's success. Yvain himself explains:

"And if the truth be told, God himself takes on this cause of the righteous, and God and righteousness are as one and since they are on my side therefore, I have better companions than you and better supporters."

5) The story of the Grail (Perceval)
This is Chretien's most ambitious tale. He keeps two stories running in parallel that threaten to intersect. First there is Pereceval quest to become a knight. He has natural talent and his love of God enables him to become almost the perfect knight. Christianity features strongly in Perceval's development and Chretien slips in a paragraph explaining the story of Jesus. It is Perceval who sees both the holy grail and the lance that drips blood when he is in the castle of the Fisher King. However Perceval's failure to ask who the grail serves results in him being denied the opportunity to know what the grail is and its secrets remain closed to him. The second story features Gawain; a very different character. He never misses an opportunity to bed a damsel and he is tasked with a quest to find the blood tipped lance. Chretien moves between the two tales which will seemingly converge at some point, however it all ends suddenly in mid sentence. Chretien never got to finish this tale which may well have been his masterpiece. There is some fine writing here especially when Perceval's story is told. A sense of wonder proliferates not only with the sighting of the grail but also in passages such as this when Perceval spends a morning fascinated by some blood in the snow:

When Perceval saw the disturbed snow where the goose had lain, with the blood still visible, he leaned against his lance to gaze at this sight for the blood mingled with the snow resembled the blush of his lady's face. He became lost in contemplation: the red tone of his Lady's cheeks in her white face were like the three drops of blood against the whiteness of the snow. As he gazed upon the sight, it pleased him so much it felt as though he were seeing the fresh colour of his fair Lady's face. Perceval mused upon the drops throughout the hours of dawn and spent so much time there that when the squires came out of their tents and saw him, they thought he was sleeping

I love the translations of these romances. William W Kibler and Carleton W Carroll have avoided modern usage of the English Language to produce translations that have a timeless quality to them. These tales are some of the earliest stories written in the vernacular and to have the pleasure of enjoying them today seems like a special treat and in addition the authorial interventions by Chretien himself give this reader the feeling that he is speaking to us down the ages. A five star read.

142StevenTX
lokakuu 16, 2011, 8:58 pm

Barry, the Arthurian Romances are already on my reading list for the coming months. I have an older translation (Owen). I hope it is as good as the one you read. Thanks for your thorough and enthusiastic review.

143Poquette
lokakuu 16, 2011, 9:21 pm

Barry, your comments here and on my thread about the Arthurian Romances have vaulted this book right onto my buy list. I am reminded here of Malory's Morte Darthur, which I have been itching to reread but since these tales come first, perhaps I'll go for these first. I take it yours is the Penguin Classics version with the alternative endings to the Grail story. In looking over the editions available at Amazon, this looks like the one to buy. Nice illustrations, by the way.

144tomcatMurr
lokakuu 16, 2011, 11:16 pm

fabulous stuff Bas. Any thoughts on the relationship between Chretien de Troyes and Porius?

145baswood
lokakuu 17, 2011, 7:16 am

steven your welcome and I hope you enjoy the Arthurian Romances.

Suzanne, yes my version is The penguin classic edition, which also has a pretty good introduction.

TC, I now have the Norton Critical Edition of Le Morte D'Arthur to read and I am also tempted to read Parzival by Wolfram Von Eschenbach and The Mabinogion. I had Porius in mind when I was reading the Arthurian Romances, but could not see much relationship between the two apart from the obvious subject matter. I have decided to re-read Porius in its entirety, but it will be after I am finished with the Arthur books. I think I will be well primed then to consider relationships.

146tomcatMurr
lokakuu 17, 2011, 7:36 am

I have decided to re-read Porius in its entirety

My God

147rebeccanyc
lokakuu 17, 2011, 8:44 am

Fascinating. I haven't read anything Arthurian since reading Le Morte D'Arthur in high school, but have recently become interested through reading Matterhorn which has a Perceval/Parsifal theme running through it, and bought a copy of Eschenbach's Parzival and Titurel based on an LT recommendation. I can see a little mini-theme coming on.

148StevenTX
lokakuu 17, 2011, 10:24 am

Several of us seem to be on similar tracks here. Reading the reviews on LT of Matterhorn and how it used the Parzival theme led me to realize that I hadn't read any of the famous medieval epics and romances. Taking them chronologically I started with Beowulf. My tentative list includes The Song of Roland (next), Parzival, Arthurian Romances, Le Morte D'Arthur, and The Nibelungenlied.

149baswood
lokakuu 17, 2011, 12:21 pm

Steven, I had forgotten about The song of Roland I will be very interested in what you say about that.

Rebecca, I hope to read Parzival next month.

150rebeccanyc
lokakuu 17, 2011, 12:30 pm

Steven and Barry, do you think I could start with Parzival or should I read something else first?

151baswood
Muokkaaja: lokakuu 17, 2011, 12:38 pm

I would recommend the Chretien de Troyes, because it was the first, and if you are just interested in the grail stories then the one here is just over 100 pages. Its easy and fun reading. I have not read the Parzival, but I should think there is no reason why you shouldn't start with it if you wanted to.

Perhaps a three person joint read at the end of next month?

152StevenTX
lokakuu 17, 2011, 3:01 pm

Perhaps a three person joint read at the end of next month?

That sounds like fun. I was planning on reading the works in approximate chronological order just so I had the chain of influences straight. From what you say, I definitely think I should read Chrétien before Parzival, but that shouldn't be a problem. So we start Parzival about a month from now?

153baswood
lokakuu 17, 2011, 5:42 pm

Sounds good to me Steven, I will order the book tomorrow and when it arrives we can confirm the date (17th November)

154edwinbcn
lokakuu 17, 2011, 6:06 pm

155baswood
lokakuu 17, 2011, 6:21 pm

Interesting Edwin, I didn't know of the existence of this book. let us know what you think of it when you read it.

156janeajones
lokakuu 17, 2011, 6:27 pm

Parzival is gorgeous -- probably the best of the Arthurian romances rivalled only by Sir Gawain and the Green Knight -- but read Chretien first.

157rebeccanyc
lokakuu 17, 2011, 8:01 pm

OK! I'm in! On iPhone so will comment in more depth later, but off to order some books.

158tomcatMurr
Muokkaaja: lokakuu 17, 2011, 8:31 pm

don't forget The Mabinogion!

oh, and I also note that Peter Ackroyd's new book is about Arthur. That should be worth checking out.

159baswood
lokakuu 18, 2011, 5:23 am

I have not forgotten The Mabinogion it will be on this months book orders.

Hmm Peter Ackroyd..... I have not liked anything of his that I have read so far.

160baswood
Muokkaaja: lokakuu 19, 2011, 6:23 pm

Aphorisms or words of wisdom from the 12th century; courtesy of Chretien de Troyes:

"Valour burdens a coward, while cowardice weighs down the brave, thus they are contrary and opposed"

"Love has heated her a bath that greatly burns and scalds her. One moment she likes it and the next it hurts; one moment she wants it and the next she refuses"

"I prefer to live and suffer life's blows than to die and be at rest"

On sexual pleasure - "The most delightful and choicest pleasure is that which is hinted at but never told"

"So she is right to call him a prisoner, for anyone who loves is a prisoner"

I particularly like the following aphorism, which made me think there might not be so many death penalty decisions in America if it held true today:
"because it is right and just that those who wrongfully condemn another should die by the same death which they have condemned others"

"Even during a snail hunt in Lombardy they don't make that much racket"
(A mocking allusion to the Lombards for their proverbial cowardice)

161Poquette
lokakuu 19, 2011, 2:57 pm

Barry, any chance of horning in on your group read of Parzival? I am going to order it today.

162rebeccanyc
lokakuu 19, 2011, 4:18 pm

So I ordered the Chretien de Troyes, as well as a couple of other related and peripherally related books (Beowulf and The Song of Roland) (because I always wait until I have at least $25 in an order to get free shipping from Amazon) and will try to read that before we all start Parzifal. If I really get into this, I have Le Morte D'Arthur and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight from high school.

163avaland
lokakuu 19, 2011, 4:26 pm

>131 baswood: A bit late to the party, but that's a fab review of Vanity Fair and it was wonderful to revisit the book through it!

164StevenTX
lokakuu 19, 2011, 4:33 pm

I'm well into Chrétien's Arthurian Romances already and really enjoying it.

Should we start a Group Read topic for this discussion so Barry can have his thread back?

165rebeccanyc
lokakuu 19, 2011, 5:04 pm

Good idea about the Group Read topic, and also Poquette joining, and I'd like to invite the person who pointed out the Parzifal connection in Matterhorn to me.

166baswood
lokakuu 19, 2011, 6:22 pm

Welcome aboard Suzanne, it seems that a new thread is going to be started for our group read, which will be great.

I am currently reading The reign of Chivalry by Richard W Barber. It is a bit of a curiosity, because it is a coffee table book with lots of pictures and illustrations, but the text has been written by a historian and it is very good indeed. It has excellent chapter on Chivalry and literature which gives a good overview of the Arthurian legend stories.

For the last three nights Peter Jackson's trilogy of the Lord of the Ring films has been shown on French satellite TV. The battle scenes have put me in the mood for our Arthur reads.

167baswood
lokakuu 19, 2011, 6:35 pm

My monthly book orders are:

Parzival by Wolfram Von Escenbach
The Mabinogion
The Art of Courtly Love by Andreas Capellanus
The selected writings of Christine de Pisan
The Book of Margery Kempe

And for my book club reads I am getting:
The Bridge of the San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder
The City & The City by China Mieville

168baswood
Muokkaaja: lokakuu 20, 2011, 5:33 pm

68) Never let me go by Kazuo Ishiguro
(My thoughts on this book will contain spoilers)

Here's the scenario: In 1970's England a group of children are brought up in a special school. It soon becomes apparent that they are not allowed contact with anyone outside the school which has extensive grounds. They are supervised by guardians who are tight lipped about the world outside. By about a quarter of the way through the book it is revealed to the teenagers (and us the readers) that they are clones who have been bred for the explicit purpose of providing vital organs (donations) to ordinary humans. They will spend their lives caring for each other until it is their turn to provide their organs in stages. They cannot themselves reproduce but apart from this they are normal humans. In their late teens they move to holding camps where they have free access to the outside world until they begin work as carers. There are no protests, no demonstrations, no attempts to escape their lot and no help sought or offered by other humans.

Does this all sound plausible? It certainly didn't to me.

The story is told in the first person by Kathy H; one of the clones and we follow her progress through school and her relationships with the other clones. We then follow her life outside of the school and her continuing relationships with her friends. She becomes the lover of one of her friends; Tommy whom she cares for while he recovers from the operations to harvest his organs. No one survives the fourth donation.

I think the novel at 280 pages is far too long. This is because Ishiguro has chosen to limit his narrative to the relationships and feelings of the clones. There are plenty of directions his book could have gone in, but in choosing to keep his narrative to such a narrow framework it outstays its welcome. There is a good novella here struggling to get out. It is well written and the author martials his focus on the story very well to create an alternative dystopia, but its one that feels hollow.

We discussed this novel at our recent book club meeting and everybody was disappointed by it. A fine writer seems to have wasted his talents here. A big debate arose as to how realistic it was that the children would have meekly accepted their fate. One of our members launched into a bit of a rant about how people can become institutionalised to such an extent that they do not challenge authority and any way they could not move into society because they had no identity. Another rant started about how difficult it was to get papers, documents, bank cards if you were a non person. While this was going on someone else said well that's not true in this case because at least they had their donor cards. It took us all a long time to stop laughing.

169Poquette
Muokkaaja: lokakuu 19, 2011, 9:30 pm

Thanks, Barry! And Rebecca! I'll look for the new thread.

As for Never let me go, you raise the question of plausibility. Such a scenario could not arise in a free society, I don't believe. (How long we continue to have the pretense of free societies is another subject.) Sounds like your reconstituted book group is quite lively! Nobody sleeping through the discussion, I dare say.

170baswood
lokakuu 20, 2011, 5:17 am

Suzanne, the new book club is going from strength to strength. We now have five enthusiastic members.

171dmsteyn
lokakuu 20, 2011, 3:27 pm

Hi, Barry! My friend and I watched the movie based on Never Let Me Go, and we had the same issues with plausibility. My friend, who is a mathematician, found the whole concept of rearing enough children in this way to satisfy humanity especially ridiculous. Perhaps this is better explained in the book, but after your review, I doubt I'll be reading it.

172labfs39
lokakuu 23, 2011, 3:54 pm

Hi Barry,

Sorry I haven't been around in a while. Interesting discussion of Never Let Me Go, a novel I found more compelling than you. I would like to offer a different perspective. For me, plausibility is not a quality I expect to find in sci-fi/dystopian literature. It always takes a big leap of faith to get me into the mindset of such a book. Once there, however, sometimes it does seem worth the effort, for example, in The Handmaid's Tale or The Sparrow. I guess I can like a book without seeing it as a likely scenario to happen in RL. I was interested in thinking about the philosophical aspects of cloning, which are carried to one extreme in this book, and by the nature of love as expressed by these warped, yet human, individuals. However, I can see how a reader might be thrown off if they began reading NLMG expecting another Howard's End.

I haven't read NLMG since it first came out, but to me, the idea that people who are born into an authoritarian system (like the school) being submissive does not seem that strange. I think of the terrible hopeless submissiveness that effected whole generations under Stalin. If the children of NLMG never knew any differently, wouldn't that become their normal? When they do learn of their fate, some begin planning a way to escape it. Isn't that a form of rebellion?

BTW, I intentionally did not watch the movie, but I heard it was not as good as the book, so I wouldn't necessarily judge the book by the movie.

Anyway, that's my two cents! Not a classic, but intriguing.

173baswood
lokakuu 23, 2011, 8:19 pm

Hi Lisa always nice to see you here. Interesting views on Never Let Me Go I will go as far as agreeing with you that it is intriguing. I have got Ishiguro's An artist of the Floating world on my TBR pile, which I think I might enjoy.

174baswood
lokakuu 27, 2011, 10:16 am



69) The Reign of Chivalry by Richard Barber
A coffee table book published in 1980 that proved to be an excellent introduction to Knighthood and Chivalry. There are many illustrations; the majority in black and white, but they do provide some amusement for an idle flicking through of its pages. There is an index but no notes.

The first section Knights and Warfare gives a brief history of the emergence of the knight on the battlefield and then its importance as a fighting machine in the 11th - 14th centuries, finally the knight becomes more a symbolic figure restricted to tournaments that became evermore formulaic. The following section on Chivalry and Literature; the longest of the sections is very fine indeed. It gives plenty of information about the literature associated with knighthood, with pointers for further reading. The Troubadours, continental literature, Arthurian Romances and the Grail legends are all covered. The Chivalry and Religion section gives an overview of the crusades and the military orders that followed. This includes a well written account of the Knights Templers and Hospitallers. The final section shows the demise of chivalry and the rise of the Gentlemen Courtiers. There are plenty of quotes from literary sources and the battleground scenes are exciting to read. This does provide a little of something for everybody interested in Knights and chivalry.

Rating 3.5 stars.

My book purchased through Amazon marketplace was originally a library book in South Bend Indiana.

175Poquette
lokakuu 27, 2011, 3:04 pm

The Barber book sounds like it is right in tune with your reading interests, Barry – and mine as well. It is difficult to fathom the decisions libraries make about whether to keep or discard books. This strikes me as a foolish decision from which you have benefited.

In other news, the mail today has presented me with my copies of Arthurian Romances and Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival. Both of these are Penguin Classics. I will try to read the former before we get going with our little group read of the latter.

176baswood
lokakuu 27, 2011, 5:14 pm

Suzanne, my copy of Parzival penguin classics arrived yesterday along with The Mabinogion. I will read The Mabinogion first and if there is any relevance to Parzival I will make some notes on the Parzival thread.

177detailmuse
lokakuu 28, 2011, 9:38 am

The Reign of Chivalry seems a good entry point into some Middle Ages topics I want to explore. My library's online system says it's on the shelf right now (which is not a good place for a library book to be) so I think I'll go check it out.

178baswood
Muokkaaja: lokakuu 29, 2011, 8:29 pm



70) In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick
The true story of the whaleship Essex was the inspiration for the climatic end to Herman Melville's Moby Dick. Philbrick writes in the epilogue to his book that "The Essex disaster is not a tale of adventure, it is a tragedy that happens to be one of the greatest true stories ever told". Philbrick a leading authority on the history of Nantucket tells his story very well. He is a journalist and has produced a fast paced narrative that is both gripping and absorbing.

The Essex was sunk after an attack by a huge sperm whale in the mid Pacific ocean in 1820. One of the survivors: Owen Chase the first mate, recorded his story in a "Narrative of the most extraordinary and distressing shipwreck of the whaleship Essex". This was read by Melville some twenty years later and he wrote in his copy that Owen Chase's account had probably been ghost written. Philbrick set himself the task of writing the true story. He had Owen Chase's account along with fragments from other survivors, however it was the discovery of Thomas Nickerson's (cabin boy on the Essex) account that provided the opportunity to paint a fuller picture. Nickerson had been 14 years old when he served on the Essex and he did not write his account of the tragedy until he was 71. His notebook was lost and only reappeared when published in a limited edition by the Nantucket Historical Association in 1984. Not surprisingly Nickerson's account differed in some respects from Chase's, who had been keen to talk up his role in the affair. Philbrick has used all this new material to produce a well rounded and exciting narrative that propelled its way into the bestseller lists.

Philbrick starts by centering his story on the Island of Nantucket. In 1819 when the Essex set sail for the whaling grounds the island was experiencing boom times. Whale oil was fetching very high prices and some Nantucketers were getting very rich. Philbrick paints a convincing picture of the Quaker dominated community that owned the majority of whaleships They were a tight knit group of ruthless business people that looked after its own. People from outside the community were treated with suspicion. By 1819 stocks of sperm whales had been nearly hunted to extinction in the Atlantic and so the whaleships had to go round the dangerous Cape Horn to hunt their prey in the mid Pacific. The Essex was quite an old boat, but had been refurbished, however its old timbers were showing signs of wear. The crew were a mixture of Nantucketers, Cape Codders and blacks from mainland America. It was captain Pollards first command and he had the hard ambitious but able Owen Chase as first mate. they did not always see eye to eye. The Essex rounded the horn at the start of the new year and was behind schedule in filling its vats with the whale oil. Pollard decided to venture into the barely charted mid Pacific in his search for whales. All the ingredients were in place for the Essex to get into difficulties; an old boat, an inexperienced captain pushing his resources to the limit, a tired crew and difficulties with the command structure. It was no surprise that a tragedy occurred, but it was a surprise in how it occured. A malevolent and very large bull whale attacked the whaleship. It took the crew by surprise and stunned them into inaction as the whale rammed the boat on two separate occasions. As the Essex sunk the crew took to the three whaleboats.

The sinking of the Essex comes at the halfway point in Philbrick's narrative. The second part is a harrowing tale of attempts to survive against the odds. The whale boats were nearly three thousand miles from the mainland, with only very limited supplies of food (ships biscuit) and water. They battled starvation dehydration and resorted to cannibalism as crew members died. This part of the narrative is a real page turner as Philbrick captures the feeling of desperation as the men battle to stay alive. For the few survivors it was a heroic ordeal and Philbrick goes on to relate their deprivations after their rescue and return to Nantucket. His story does not end there as he sketches in their lives after their return, most of them went back to sea, there was nothing else to do.

Owen Chase's narrative did not fare well. The Nantucketers did not want to hear stories of malevolent whales and cannibalism, they were still in business. Chase went back to sea as a first mate, but not on a ship out of Nantucket. He did get to captain a whaleship later in his career and Herman Melville was convinced he saw him while working on another whaler, however he was mistaken. Melville did get to meet captain Pollard when he visited Nantucket for the first time the year after the publication of Moby Dick. By this time Pollard was working as a night watchman and Melville said of him "To the islanders he was a nobody - to me the most impressive man, tho' wholly unassuming even humble, that I ever encountered." Philbrick is always conscious of links with Melville's classic Moby Dick and pays due hommage to that "unconventional and challenging novel."

Philbrick's book appears to be very well researched; there are over 40 pages of notes an extensive select bibliography and a decent index. He provides some details of much related research, such as scientific research into extreme starvation and dehydration, survival psychology and the effects of cannibalism. Some of this information does intrude a little into the narrative and I would have preferred it to remain as notes. This is just a minor quibble. Philbrick's knowledge of Nantucket helps him to provide a lively picture of the community and his descriptions of life aboard a whaleship when processing the oil is necessarily gruesome. The book also raises some pertinent questions, for example why did the three whaleboats not seek landfall on one of the Pacific islands and more importantly why were all the survivors men from Nantucket. This book would make excellent background reading for those readers wanting to tackle Moby Dick.

179tomcatMurr
lokakuu 30, 2011, 5:57 am

Fabulous! Can't wait to read this one!

180Poquette
lokakuu 30, 2011, 3:27 pm

Barry, I remember when this came out thinking that it would be a great read but then never followed up. Thanks for the reminder. Great review. I have thumbed it.

181baswood
lokakuu 31, 2011, 1:58 pm

Thanks Suzanne. Hi TC.

182baswood
Muokkaaja: marraskuu 1, 2011, 3:31 pm

I am still reading poems from Michael Ondaatje's selection in The Cinnamon Peeler

Here is one from that collection:

Dates
It becomes apparent that I miss great occasions.
My birth was heralded by nothing
but the anniversary of Winston Churchill's marriage.
No monuments bled, no instruments
agreed on a specific weather.
It was a seasonal insignificance.

I console myself with my mothers eighth month.
While she sweated out her pregnancy in Ceylon
a servant ambling over the lawn
with a tray of iced drinks,
a few friends visiting her
to placate her shape, and I
drinking the life lines,
Wallace Stevens sat down in Connecticut
a glass of orange juice at his table
so hot he wore only shorts
and on the back of a letter
began to write "The Well Dresses Man With a Beard"

That night while my mother slept
her significant belly cooled
by the bedroom fan
Stevens put words together
that grew to sentences
and shaved them clean and
shaped them, the page suddenly
becoming thought where nothing had been,
his head making his hand
move where he wanted
and he saw his hand was saying
the mind is never finished, no, never
and I in my mother's stomach was growing
as were the flowers outside the Connecticut windows

Michael Ondaatje

This poem then talks about the insignificant speaker in the poem in his mother's womb. Probably Ondaatje himself. He compares this to Wallace Stevens composing one of his poems. Interestingly he names the poem and even quotes the famous last line.

Wallace Stevens was not an easy poet, but Ondaatje refers to his style with the lines "and shaved them clean and/ shaped them"

So what is Ondaatje saying by linking his poem to the Steven's poem. here is the Steven's poem

The Well Dressed Man With a Beard

After the final no there comes a yes
And on that yes the future world depends.
No was the night. Yes is this present sun.
If the rejected things, the things denied,
Slid over the western cataract, yet one,
One only, one thing that was firm, even
No greater than a cricket's horn, no more
Than a thought to be rehearsed all day, a speech
Of the self that must sustain itself on speech,
One thing remaining, infallible, would be
Enough. Ah! douce campagna of that thing!
Ah! douce campagna, honey in the heart,
Green in the body, out of a petty phrase,
Out of a thing believed, a thing affirmed:
The form on the pillow humming while one sleeps,
The aureole above the humming house . . .

It can never be satisfied, the mind, never

Wallace Stevens

183dmsteyn
marraskuu 1, 2011, 3:50 pm

Very interesting, Barry. Both poems seem to be saying something about poetic inspiration, about how thought centers around significant (or insignificant - how do you tell the two apart?) events, and how these are captured in words and images. Not that that is the last word on the poems - like Keats's 'Grecian Urn', they 'tease us out of thought', as it were.

184baswood
marraskuu 1, 2011, 5:44 pm

Dewald, yes indeed, the poets favourite subject writing about writing poems. There is much in the Wallace Steven's poem: starting with all those negatives and then the curious line "Slid over the western cataract....."

What interested me was that Ondaatje referred so directly to the Steven's poem and so he must have wanted the reader to search it out and read it in conjunction with his.

185baswood
Muokkaaja: marraskuu 4, 2011, 7:12 am



71) Richard II and the Revolution of 1399 by Michael Bennet
New histories that are about notorious personalities or well known political events need to have something new to say or be able to interpret the facts in a different light, otherwise they might as well not be published. The life of Richard II was first dramatised by William Shakespeare in 1607 and since then there have been many other studies. Diligent research into primary resources, new discoveries or extensive reading around the subject can provide enough materiel for a new approach, however the author must still decide on his target audience and how best to present his findings.

Ian Mortimer who wrote a book on Richard II's grandfather The Perfect king, the Life of Edward III chose to present a new interpretation of existing materiel right at the start of his book. His retelling of the facts were shaped and coloured by this new information and the reader was then nudged along into thinking of the events in Edward's life in a new way. Michael Bennet has chosen a quite different approach. His introduction concentrates on the source material provided by the chroniclers, available to him and he discusses their relevance, their use and their bias. He stresses the importance of checking these against public records to give as full a picture as possible and then proceeds with his narrative having thoroughly absorbed all the information. He saves much of his analysis until the final two chapters: a thoughtful summary of key events is followed by a sustained piece of writing that interprets their relevance to the portrait of the king that Bennet has built through the book. This is followed by a chapter on how Richard's deposition subsequently effected the reign of Henry Bolingbroke (Henry IV). This is masterly stuff.

Richard II came to the throne in 1377 when he was ten years old. He had to fight to gain contriol of his crown from those Lords who had been assigned as his protectors. He had largely achieved this by the time he was 18 and then surrounded himself with his own favourites. The powerful Lord protectors staged a palace coup in 1388 and swept away Richards new favourites and once again had the king in their power. Richard had to manoeuvre and fight again to win back his authority and by 1393 he had regained full control of his kingdom. He soon became one of the most powerful kings in all Europe and saw himself as the leader of the christian communities fight against the infidel. In 1397 he took his revenge against those Lords who had crossed him in 1388: there were banishment's, murders and executions. However when the exiled Henry Bolingbroke returned to England to claim his inheritance the most powerful Lords flocked to his standard resulting in Richard's deposition and death.

Richard II might have said in his defence that throughout his reign there were plots to seize his crown and he was obliged to take all necessary action. He could point out that under his stewardship the monarchy's power had been restored along with his authority to rule. He was a devout christian and he had the ability to lead Christians in Europe against the infidel. He brought peace to England and was keen to seal a lasting peace with France. He patronised both the clergy and the arts and was responsible for some fine building works. His enemies would have said that he surrounded himself with inappropriate court favourites and would not listen to advice from wise and experienced men. He became increasingly arrogant taking the power of the monarchy to unprecedented heights, believing himself to be above the law. He was totally untrustworthy and almost a pathological liar. He taxed his subjects and fined his enemies to excess in order to build up his treasury and personal wealth.

Bennet gives both sides of the argument, but on balance it appears that Richard had to be stopped. His reign had become tyrannical. He was a king out of kilter with the times in which he lived. A man of peace when all the powerful land owning Lords were intent on proving themselves through feats of arms. A move towards a more absolute monarchy when parliament had started to gain some influence. A king without issue, who was not able to name a successor.

Michael Bennet's study is extremely well written and very accessible to the general reader, It would appear to be meticulously researched with good notes and an excellent index. His marshaling of the facts at his disposal is most impressive and allows him to provide some thought provoking analysis. A five star read.

186Jargoneer
marraskuu 4, 2011, 5:32 am

He taxed his subjects and fined his enemies to excess in order to build up his treasury and personal wealth. With that kind of attitude he's probably been reborn as a modern banker.

1993? That was one heck of a struggle.

187baswood
marraskuu 4, 2011, 7:12 am

oops, corrected

188Jargoneer
marraskuu 4, 2011, 7:49 am

>185 baswood: - on a serious note I meant to mention how similar the issues were prior to the more well-known Civil War - perhaps both reflect the inherent tensions that arise between a power-wielding monarch and parliament that represents the 'people'.

189baswood
marraskuu 4, 2011, 8:14 am

jargoneer, Not quite the same issues. In 1399 it was not really a struggle between parliament (the people) and the monarchy. It was more of a struggle between the most powerful landowners for the control of the king and all the patronage that went with it. Now that does sound like modern bankers.

190Poquette
marraskuu 5, 2011, 2:32 am

Very interesting review, Barry. It reminds me that since I read the Clerkenwell Tales I promised myself I would bone up on Richard II. This sounds like a good read, indeed!

191baswood
marraskuu 6, 2011, 5:47 pm

192baswood
marraskuu 6, 2011, 7:50 pm

72) The Art of Courtly Love by Andreas Capellanus

The Art of Courtly Love(or The Treatise of Love) was written between 1184- 86 and takes the form of an instructional manual to a young courtier. According to C S Lewis courtly love was based on four basic premise: humility, courtesy, adultery and the religion of love. It went hand in hand with the concept of chivalry. Knights with their codes of honour were expected to follow the tenets of courtly love in the Romances at least and probably in some societies in real courtly life if this manual is anything to go by.

It has been accredited to Andreas Capellanus; a chaplain at the court of the Countess Marie de Champagne. This was the same Countess who had instructed Chretien de Troyes to write his "Knight of the Cart (Lancelot)" one of the earliest of the Arthurian Romances. Chretien and Andreas were contemporaries and friends at court, but it would appear that Chretien might not have been wholly comfortable with the idea of adulterous love, as he did not complete his tale of Lancelot; that most famous of adulterers. Andreas treatise was written in Latin as would be appropriate for educated men and women at court, Chretien's Romances were in the vernacular and so would have been aimed at a wider audience. Andreas Treatise did become extremely popular; there are many surviving manuscripts and it was soon translated into the vernacular. Subsequent authors of the Arthurian Romances would have been familiar with the Treatise and there is evidence of this from their use of its basic concepts.

Andreas Capellanus was not the inventor of courtly love, he was more of a chronicler. The ideas of adulterous love was taken from the poems of Ovid, which were very popular in the 12th century. These ideas were enhanced by lyrics from the troubadours and further influenced by Arabic manuscripts coming from Moslem Spain. Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine condoned these new ideas in her court at Poitiers and her descendants Countess Marie at Troyes and Thibault the great king of Navarre enthusiastically carried the torch. It was Countess Marie who instructed her chaplain Andreas to write these rules of engagement. Little is known of Andreas but it is evident that spiritual concerns were not his first consideration: look at what he says in a short chapter on "The Love of Nuns"

"And although we consider ourselves very expert in the art of love and well instructed in its cure, we were barely able to avoid her (a nun) pestilential snares and escape without contamination of the flesh"

The manual was written only for the courtly circle of nobles, knights, their ladies and those of the middle class who had access to the court. In the short section on "Love of the Peasants" the advice is to leave the farmers alone so that they can get on with the important work of cultivating the land, and so:

"And if you should by some chance fall in love with some of their women, be careful to pump them up with lots of praise and when you find a convenient place, do not hesitate to take what you need and embrace them by force"

Andreas imagines that he is writing his manual for a certain Walter, who is an apprentice in the art of courtly love. Book 1 is an introduction to the treatise of love and is by far the longest of the books. It takes the form of dialogues between men and women of the same and different ranks. There are eight dialogues in all between representatives of the middle class, the nobility and higher nobility. Each dialogue is introduced by advice on how the potential lover should address the object of his affection; how he should insist that he deserves the love of his chosen woman. In each case the woman answers back resisting the approach and the dialogue continues as a sort of instruction manual as to how to overcome likely resistance. Throughout theses dialogues the main threads of Andreas arguments emerge: a man should be obedient in all things to the commands of the lady, good qualities are the prerequisite of the nobility, good deeds performed by men should be rewarded by the woman's love, a woman's love will assist a man to do good works, love can only exist outside of marriage and lovers should expect to suffer with jealousy. These dialogues can be repetitive and can outstay their welcome.They can also be pretty puerile, take this as an example and guess which sex is doing the talking:

"..... since everybody knows that love can have no place between husband and wife. They may be bound to each other by a great and moderate affection, but their feelings cannot take the place of love, because it cannot fit under the true definition of love. For what is love but an inordinate desire to receive passionate a furtive and hidden embrace. But what embrace between husband and wife can be furtive"

Book one says almost as much about people's rank in society as it does about courtly love and so is fascinating reading.

Book 2 is entitled "How love might be retained" and reads like a more advanced course in love for the apprentice Walter. There are sections headed "If one of the lovers is unfaithful", How love may come to an end", "How love once consummated can be increased" There then follows a series of lovers questions on the more tricky aspects of courtly love and these are answered by experts such as Queen Eleanore or the Countess Marie. The book ends with a short tale about King Arthur and the knights of the round table in which the centre piece is a parchment containing the 31 rules for courtly lovers.

Book 3 the shortest of the books; "The Rejection of Love" is a typical medieval retraction on all that has gone before. It can of course be read ironically but its main purpose would have been for Andreas to appease his ecclesiastical superiors. It serves as a warning to Young Walter not to be tempted by courtly love and soon turns into a prolonged attack on the evils of women. The misogyny of book 3 is unpleasant reading, but modern readers should be aware that this is a medieval text and would have been perfectly acceptable to its audience.

John Jay Parry points out in his introduction (written in 1941) that Andreas is not a great literary figure like his friend Chretien de Troyes, but for that very reason he brings us closer to the actual life of the times, especially at court. It is not a Romance but more of a manual of behaviour and so there is less opportunity for scintillating prose, however it does have its high spots and the short tale of Arthur's round table is one of them. I found this a fascinating document and well worth the time for anyone interested in courtly love or Arthurian Romances. A four star book.

193wrmjr66
marraskuu 7, 2011, 12:50 pm

Great review! Thumbed.

194Rebeki
marraskuu 7, 2011, 12:51 pm

Hi Barry, I just wanted to thank you for talking about the film Midnight in Paris on one of your earlier threads. I finally got to see it a couple of weeks ago and really enjoyed it. I might not have bothered had it not been for your comments, so thanks!

195baswood
marraskuu 7, 2011, 1:56 pm

Thanks wrmjr66

Glad you enjoyed the movie Rebeki

196StevenTX
marraskuu 7, 2011, 4:12 pm

That's a great review on The Art of Courtly Love, Barry, especially noting how Chrétien didn't seem to buy in on the adultery part.

Did the author have anything to say about the inevitable offspring of adulterous affairs? That would seem to be an explosive issue where the wives of the nobility are involved and inherited titles and estates are at stake.

Likewise, what about virginity? Is the courtly lover supposed to confine his attentions to married women so as to leave the maidens unspoiled for their potential husbands?

197baswood
Muokkaaja: marraskuu 8, 2011, 4:57 am

Thanks steven, I think the courtly lover would have been hard pressed to find a virgin in courtly circles. Marriages were arranged and girls were considered to be eligible for marriage at 12 years old. Richard II of England took a 7 year old child bride in 1396 for example.

We are talking about adulterous love here and so the expectations were that love affairs would be between married people. The point you raise about the inevitable off spring of adulterous affairs is interesting and I am only conjecturing here, but because the affairs were strictly secret then it is possible in most cases the wife would be able to fool the husband if she became pregnant by her lover. It would be in everybody's interest to keep affairs a secret. The wife's good name would be ruined, it would bring shame on her family and all her connections. One of the rules of courtly love was that the good name of the people involved should be protected at all costs. The husband also would not want to appear cuckolded.

Andreas also talks about two kinds of love/affairs: Pure love and mixed love. This is how Andreas describes pure love and then mixed love:

This kind consists in the contemplation of the mind and the affection of the heart; it goes as far as the kiss and the embrace and the modest contact with the nude lover, omitting the final solace. This love is distinguished by being of such virtue that from it arises all excellence of character, and no injury comes from it and God sees very little offense in it. No maiden can ever be corrupted by such love, nor can a widow or a wife receive any harm or suffer any injury to her reputation.......
Mixed love gets its effect from every delight of the flesh and culminates in the final act of Venus


So I suppose the expectant lover might be asking if their love should be pure or mixed.

198baswood
marraskuu 13, 2011, 5:54 pm



73) Blind Voices Tom Reamy
Published in 1978 this novel has the feel of good old time fantasy writing. It is the sort of story that would have appeared in those wonderful Marvel comic publications such as "Strange Tales" or "Journey into Mystery" back in the 1960's. I used to lap those up as a young teenager and Reamy's book took me right back there.

The freak show comes to town: so typical of a story from "Strange Tales" and Reamy sets his story in 1930's America. A small town in the middle of farming country gets geared up for the show that rolls into town, but these are no ordinary freaks some of them really do have supernatural powers. Three young women of marriageable age caught up in the business of looking for a husband are drawn to the show along with most of the townspeople. Like the three friends and their dates there is an air of expectancy built up before the first show and when it comes Reamy's writing doesn't let him down. Amazing things happen under the canvas big top that will change the lives of the three young women for ever.

Reamy is particularly good at describing life in a small farming town and the very different world of the freak show. He builds his story nicely and manages to convey an aura of creepiness along with the fantastic. All is not well in the world of the freak circus and there is murder and rape as events spiral out of control of the sinister Haverstock the ringmaster. There is both tragedy and pathos and the story held my interest right to the end.

A hoary old tale is handled with panache and although it is a little dated, the fantasy elements are imaginative enough to hold it all together. I enjoyed it even if part of this was nostalgia for those old Marvel comics. I would rate this as a 3 star read

My copy is an ex library book from High Point North Carolina

199Jargoneer
Muokkaaja: marraskuu 14, 2011, 5:26 am

>73 baswood: - I have had that novel for years and never got round to reading it. Sounds a fun read - something to slip in between the more serious stuff. Premise sounds a little like Something Wicked This Way Comes and The Circus of Dr Lao. From an essay I read years ago I understand that the novel was published from a first draft as Reamy had died suddenly.
I know some of his short fiction also links to the same small Kansas town - it was collected in San Diego, Lightfoot Sue, also unfortunately long OOP.

200baswood
marraskuu 14, 2011, 2:11 pm

Jargoneer, Thanks for the link to San Diego, Lightfoot sue. I should imagine that he was a very good short story writer. It was a fun read and I needed it as I am reading Thomas Mann's Magic Mountain which has got to be one of the saddest, melancholic novels I have ever read.

201baswood
marraskuu 16, 2011, 7:56 pm



Arkhangelsk - Erik Truffaz

Let It Bleed - Rolling Stones


This week I have been listening to Arkhangelsk by EriK Truffaz a jazz trumpeter who leads a bunch of talented musicians through a number of songs that range from soft jazz through rap to pop. It is hard to classify the album, but it has some superb playing on it and some great songs. Truffaz's group is helped out by singers Ed Harcourt, Nya and Christophe, who are all featured; in fact Ed Harcourt takes three of the best songs and is brilliantly recorded here with Truffaz's breathy trumpet playing doing wonderful things in the background. The very best song features the French singer Christophe on"L'un dans L'autre" who strains for notes deliciously over a slightly choppy electric piano and trumpet backing. Many of the songs feature great intro's spurred on by some brilliant themes on bass and baby bass guitars played by Marcello Giulliani. An excellent disc with the jazz players cutting loose on the final two tracks.

I do love a good intro and Arkhanglesk got me thinking about some of my favourite intro's and three of them are on The Rolling Stones's "Let it Bleed" The first track Gimme Shelter sets the scene with that delicate theme picked out on guitar some percussion and then that weird vocal backing before the piano comes in just ahead of Keith Richard's marvellous chugging riff on electric guitar, Jagger's vocals then enter the mix and we are off to one of the most sensational records ever made. The intro to "Monkey Man" is almost as good with the theme picked out on tinkling piano and bass and then then the guitar riffs come in. The intro could almost be from another song but it fits right in. The final track "You can't always get what you want" starts with a choir of female dominated vocals, almost a heavenly choir, this gives way to acoustic guitar and a horn before Jagger's vocals come in to dispel any illusions of heavenly choirs.

I had previously thought that Beggars Banquet was the Rolling Stones best disc, but I have changed my mind Let it Bleed is better. It is almost a remake of Beggars Banquet with better production and more original arrangements. It certainly does not lack Keith Richards incisive guitar; just listen to Midnight Rambler with its changing rhythms imitating the sounds of locomotive trains, particularly the whump as the train starts up again - unforgettable. Ok Let it Bleed does not have a Sympathy for the Devil, but it does have nine excellent songs, played with verve and imagination.

202Jargoneer
marraskuu 18, 2011, 5:15 am

>201 baswood: - my favourite Stones album bounces between Let It Bleed and Exile on Main Street, although Sticky Fingers and Beggar's Banquet aren't far behind. (1967-1972 was a great half decade for them). Let It Bleed is interesting because it stands at a crossroads for them - Brian Jones was finished and a new guitarist was required. The choice was between Mick Taylor and Ry Cooder - Cooder only appears on one song playing mandolin but he taught Richards to play slide - Richards later stated he took Cooder for everything he had which is nonsense of course, Cooder could play rings round Richards (and only one of them is still making decent music now). For what I read Jagger wanted Cooder but Richards wanted Taylor. It's intriguing to speculate what direction they would have taken with Cooder - probably down a more rootsy path.

203baswood
marraskuu 18, 2011, 12:27 pm

jargoneer, I didn't know that about Ry Cooder, but then I have not read Keith Richard's book. fascinating to think on what might have been.

204baswood
marraskuu 19, 2011, 6:41 pm



74 The Mabinogion translated by Lady Charlotte E Guest.

"And they took counsel and cut out the tongues of the women lest they should corrupt their speech. And because of the silence of the women from their own speech, the men of Amorica are called Britons. From that time their came frequently, and still comes, that language from the island of Briton"

"And he (Lludd) dwelt therein most part of the year, and therefore was it called Caer Lludd, and at last Caer London. And after the stranger-race came there it was called London or Lwndrys"


The above must be true as I read them in Lady Guest's 1849 translation of the Mabinogion. These tales were collated from medieval Welsh manuscripts and draw on pre-Christian Celtic mythology. The first four stories in the collection are the oldest and are known as the four branches of the Mabinogi. Pryderi fab Pwyll from Welsh mythology occurs in all of them and they have a very medieval feel to them and are not always easy to follow. Magic features prominently in all of them and there is much going "to meat" and "taking counsel", however these feel more like crude devices to keep the story moving or to depict time passing. There is no character development: merely a relating of events, but these get a bit bogged down by the need to list the names of characters that might be relevant to the narrative.

The five following tales are more recognisable because they are based around the figure of king Arthur and his knights. There are still difficulties however as in Kilhwch and Olwen there is a four page list of Arthur's knights, which are largely unrecognisable in their Welsh spellings. However all the tales have some interest especially the dream vision of Rhonabwy, which features Arthur, Gawain and flocks of ravens.

The next three tales are all recognisable from Chretien de Troyes Arthurian Romances. The Lady of the Fountain has the same source material as "The knight with the lion (Yvain)" and "Peredur the son of Evrawc" and "Geraint the son of Erbin use material from "The story of the Grail". They do not however have the same Christian message as Chretien's tales for example we find this in Peredur:

"Then said Peredur, to heaven I render thanks that I have not broken my vow to the Lady that best I love, which was that I would not speak one word unto any Christian"

As these three tales in particular have not been dated, it is still not known whether they came from an original source or are adapted from Chretien de Troyes Arthurian Romances. The final story in the collection is Taliesin; the story of the Welsh bard and features some of the poems accredited to him. Apparently this is from a later manuscript and there is a direct reference to Christianity in the first poem that Taliesin wrote which ends like so:

There lies a virtue in my tongue.
While I continue thy protector
Thou hast not much to fear;
Remembering the name of the Trinity,
None shall be able to harm thee.


The Mabinogion is certainly of interest for those who wish to delve into the history of the Arthurian legends and to medievalists in general. The Lady Charlotte E Guest's translation has been criticised for a bowdlerisation of the original text and at times it feels a bit clunky. There are more recent translations available but these may not include the Taliesin poems. I would rate this a three star read.

205baswood
marraskuu 21, 2011, 7:13 pm



75) An Artist of the Floating World Kazuo Ishiguro
At a previous meeting of our bookclub B. had suggested we read Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro; one of her favourite authors. When we came to talk about the book, it soon became apparent that no-one had liked it, but B had come prepared, recognising it was a clunker she had brought with her most of Ishiguro's previous novels and I found "An Artist of the Floating World being thrust into my hands with the assurance that it would be much better..... Well it was better.

Ishiguro explores the generation gap in post second world war Japan. The older generation who supported the war effort are being vilified by a younger generation determined to put the past behind them as they build a new Japan. Ono a retired former artist lives in a large house with his remaining daughter Noriko and is involved in some delicate wedding negotiations with the Saito family.

Ishiguro tells the story through Ono in the first person and we see the world through his eyes. We first see him with his family trying to establish a relationship with his grandson; there are difficulties, but it soon becomes apparent that there are greater difficulties with his kinship with his two daughters. Ono had been an artist of some repute, when he was seduced by the Japanese war machine into producing paintings for propaganda purposes. He was proud of his achievements and proud of the esteem in which he was held by his students and supporters. Over the course of the year long wedding negotiations Ono comes to realise that the new generation are at worst hostile and at least embarrassed by the work he did during the war. He is desperate to marry off Noriko and so he must come to terms with the decisions he took during the war years.

Ishiguro creates for the Western reader an unfamiliar world where honour and family are of primary importance. He portrays a rapidly changing economy where old structures and communities are fast disappearing, but society is still based on traditional values. Ono's changing world is very well described and he takes us back to previous times when he was a student and then a teacher and established artist. We are enchanted by his love of art and his generous support to his peers, but at the same time we are discomfited by his naivety and unworldliness. Now he not only has to come to terms with his declining reputation, but must also be prepared to refute his role during the war years in order to come to some sort of terms with the younger generation. Our sympathies are with Ono who has not understood the ramifications of the actions he has taken, but now must reconcile them in order to achieve closure for past actions.

Ishiguro's spare style suits the discreet manners of the Japanese society that he portrays, where few words are needed to inflict dishonour and opprobrium, however it also holds back Ono from expressing his thoughts to us readers in a way that would be more emotionally involving. I enjoyed the book but I will need to be careful what I say to B. when I give it back. I do not want to be too fulsome in my praise or I will be given another Ishiguro novel to read and I feel there are more rewarding reads waiting for me out there. A 3.5 star read

206Jargoneer
marraskuu 22, 2011, 5:14 am

>205 baswood: - I always feel that Ishiguro is a stylist in search of a subject. When he hits upon the right subject, i.e. The Remains of the Day, the results can be fantastic but at other times when the subject and style don't mesh the results can be frustrating.

207Rise
marraskuu 22, 2011, 7:04 am

> 205

My favorite by Ishiguro is The Unconsoled, his most Kafkaesque work.

208StevenTX
marraskuu 22, 2011, 11:13 pm

#204 - A very good description of the Mabinogion, Barry. I agree it is chiefly of interest to those who want to explore the origins of the Arthurian myths. It is a curious hodgepodge of traditions and sources, both pagan and Christian.

#205 - Interesting review of Ishiguro. I've read only Never Let Me Go, which I thought perhaps slightly more of than you did. People rave about The Remains of the Day, but I think I would rather first read An Artist of the Floating World because of its Japanese setting.

209baswood
marraskuu 23, 2011, 7:32 pm

#206 I will get around to reading The Remains of the Day at some point, but not just yet. The film version I like very much.

#207 Rise, that looks like an interesting choice

#208 Steven having looked at the books you read on your thread I think you would enjoy An Artist of the Floating World. Thinking back to my reading of it I was disappointed that the actual paintings that the artist produced were not described in any detail. I know that was not the point of the story, but my curiosity about the paintings was never satisfied.

210edwinbcn
Muokkaaja: marraskuu 25, 2011, 11:07 am

Ishiguro creates for the Western reader an unfamiliar world (...)

Kazuo Ishiguro is not really a Japanese writer. Although he was born in Nagasaki, Japan, he and his parents moved to the UK when he was six years old. His parents raised him to be fully fluent in Japanese culture, as they expected to go back to Japan, but that never happened and in 1982 Ishiguro became a British citizen.

I recently finished reading Making an Elephant: Writing from Within by Graham Swift, which contains an interview with Kazuo Ishiguro. In this interview Ishiguro says he mainly thinks of himself as British. He set his early novels in Japan to escape all-too-close scrutiny of facts and details, as he was still developing his skill as a writer.

I particularly like his early work. In my opinion, An artist of the floating world and A pale view of hills have a meditative stillness to them, that makes it very pleasant to read. However, the Japanese background is quasi-authentic, an world nearly as unfamiliar to Ishiguro as to us.

I did not like The remains of the day very much, and was very disappointed by When we were orphans. Reading your review above, I now dread reading Never let me go. In the aforementioned interview, Ishiguro also speaks of his love for music, so I am looking forward to reading The unconsoled, and his most recent Nocturnes. Five stories of music and nightfall which I all have here with me.

The same interview touches on other British authors, contemporaries of "Ish" and Swift, such as Timothy Mo and Caryl Philips, authors I have also been reading recently. Basically, none of them are "top authors", but still at times very readable, although I was very disappointed by Graham Swift's Making an Elephant: Writing from Within.

Unfortunately, my work is very busy at the moment, so, while the reading goes on, I now have a backlog of about 20 books to review. But, will do so later.

211baswood
marraskuu 25, 2011, 11:35 am

Edwin, thanks for that post on Ishiguro, especially his cultural background. "Rise", in her post above said how much she liked The Unconsoled so I think I will be tempted to read that at some point. I understand what you mean when you say that An artist of the floating world has a meditative stillness about it.

I am looking forward to your back log of reviews.

212rebeccanyc
marraskuu 25, 2011, 12:21 pm

Thanks for the review (204) of the Mabinogion. Now that I'm a medieval kick (inspired in large part by you), I've bought another edition (different translator) of it, as well as several other medieval works. I'm planning (hoping?) to read them bit by bit over the course of next year.

213baswood
marraskuu 25, 2011, 5:30 pm

Rebecca, tell us what other medieval works you have bought.

214rebeccanyc
marraskuu 25, 2011, 6:40 pm

I've gone all out, because of my compulsion to order enough books from Amazon each time I order to get free shipping! Here's what I've bought:

The Lais of Marie de France -- multiple LT recommendations
The Romance of Tristan
The Romance of the Rose
The Mabinogion
The Song of Roland
Beowulf

I also own, from high school days:

Le Morte d'Arthur
King Arthur and His Knights
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
The Canterbury Tales

So this is just one more reading project on top of all the other books I'd like to read. It's the age-old tale of "So many books, so little time."

215StevenTX
marraskuu 25, 2011, 9:05 pm

Rebecca, that looks almost exactly like my reading list! I put The Lais of Marie de France on my reading shelf in Parzival's place.

216baswood
marraskuu 26, 2011, 3:55 am

Excellent list Rebecca. I need to get a copy of The Lais of Marie de France

I have on my Book shelf to read two more female Medieval writers:

The Selected writings of Christine de Pizan
The Book of Margery Kemp

I hope rebecca and steven you enjoy The Romance of the Rose as much as I did.

217StevenTX
marraskuu 26, 2011, 10:06 am

Lest I neglect the ladies I'll add Christine and Margery to my list as well.

218baswood
marraskuu 27, 2011, 5:17 am

Melancholy

219baswood
Muokkaaja: marraskuu 27, 2011, 8:40 am

76) The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann
Melancholic Hans; a melancholic Mann

The Magic Mountain is shot through with melancholy. It is the feeling I had when I first read the book some years ago and it hit me again when I re-read it recently.

Melancholy today can be defined as a constitutional tendency to be gloomy or depressed or as feeling of thoughtful sadness. The link with depression gives a sense of demotivating or of a person locked into a syndrome where it is difficult to get out from beneath it and who sinks into despair. Thomas Mann was writing his Magic Mountain before, during and after the first world war, when the idea of melancholy had positive as well as negative aspects. It was not just sadness, sorrow and despair (although there is plenty of that in The Magic Mountain); it was tinged with sweetness, it involved the pleasure of reflection and the contemplation of what one loves or longs for. It provided an opportunity for indulgent self-reflection. Earlier during the Romantic Period melancholy was thought to be an aesthetic emotion, which could be induced by a sense of place, a desolate moor, a vast ocean or the grandeur of the mountains. These places would provide the solitude necessary for melancholy thoughts. Earlier still melancholy was seen in an even more positive light; Albrecht Durer at the dawn of the Renaissance saw it as an attitude of study by a seeker of knowledge and linked it all with alchemy.

"And every herb that sips the dew
Till old experience do attain
To something like prophetic strain
There pleasures melancholy give
And I with thee will choose to live"

(John Milton from Il Penseroso)

Hans Castorp chooses to live with his melancholy for seven years at the Berghof sanatorium and indulges himself in this most bitter-sweet emotion, like many of his fellow residents. Robert Burton in An Anatomy of Melancholy says:

"a most incomparable delight is to melancholize and build castles in the air, to go smiling to themselves acting an infinite variety of parts, which they suppose and strongly imagine they represent."

Our hero Hans Castorp an only child of a merchant family travels to the Berghof sanatorium high in the mountains and a refuge for tuberculosis sufferers. He is visiting his sick cousin Joachim, but his intended stay of three weeks lasts for seven years as the institutional life at the Berghof suits his temperament and his feelings of being unwell are diagnosed as a possible "moist spot" on his lungs. At first he is company for Joachim, but soon meets and comes under the spell of some more long term sufferers; the humanist Settembrini, the totalitarian Jesuit Leo Naphta, the god-like personality who is Mynheer Peeperkorn and last but not least the seductive Clavdia Chauchat. They along with the Director Behrens all act as pedagogues for young Hans, who develops from being a callow youth into a man of reason.

Mann creates a hothouse atmosphere in the Sanatorium and its surroundings to explore themes of illness and death, the passage of time, the nature of love and the shaping of society. There are lively debates centering on humanism, radicalism and religion. There are sexual scandals, intense nationalism leading to fistfights, horrible deaths through illness and finally the frightening summoning of a spirit from the other side. Mann is able to weave all his themes throughout this massive book and where dramatic events occur they do not interrupt the flow of his elegiac prose.

Denis Diderot in his Encyclopeadia published in 1765 has this to say about melancholics:

"Melancholics are usually sad pensive dreamers, anxious, steady in study and meditation, tolerant of cold and hunger, they have an austere face wrinkled eyebrow and a tanned complexion....they can behave like kings and emperors"

I am not to sure about the wrinkled eyebrow but this strikes me as a fair description of Hans. His life in the sanitarium is conducive to those who are prone to melancholy. The rest cures that take up huge chunks of their day provide the perfect opportunity for solitude and reflection. The proscribed walks in the magnificent mountain scenery are the perfect backdrop for sublime thoughts.

Melancholy is a recurring theme throughout the novel. Settembrini is keen to engage Hans in purposeful activity he fears that Hans will all too easily slip into a state where nothing is achieved. Director Behrens himself is prone to melancholy; after showing Hans and Joachim his paintings he gets involved in an intense dialogue with Hans about medical issues leading him to think about corruption and death, he says "I'm beginning to feel melancholy, it just comes over me you see". At the Midsummer night celebrations Hans asks himself why people are so boisterous and merry and he says to Joachim:

" Is it melancholy mirth at the high point? I'm just describing it as I see it, in the words that come to mind. Melancholy mirth and mirthful melancholy-that's the reason why theses primitives are cheering and dancing around the flames. They do it out of constructive despair....."

Hans fears being left alone on the mountain when Joachim goes, he fears he will never find his way back to the flatlands and he has these thoughts as the cousins are going down to Behrens examination room, Behrens says "Greetings boys, in a dull voice, that was a further indication of a languid mood-melancholy general resignation. Hans before his epic walk in the snow expresses his wish to be alone "Two great wishes the first and stronger was to be alone with his thoughts to 'play king' and his balcony permitted him to do that." Hans when caught in the snowstorm and in danger of being lost becomes almost delirious and Mann says "All this came from those ambiguous attacks which he fought off feebly now. The familiar blend of languor and excitement which was the constant condition of a Berghof guest" Joachim finds illness and death shrouded in melancholy and his mother Frau Ziemessen feels it too when she comes upon Hans unexpectedly during her stay at the Berghof and Mann says " she pretended to be pleasantly surprised to find him there although her surprise betrayed a certain melancholy muffled by strain and worry about Joachim.

Music was thought to be a cure for melancholy, but when the gramophone device is commandeered by Hans it only serves to enhance his moods. A certain song can stir in him deep thoughts and Mann says:

"his fate might have been different if his disposition had not been so susceptible to the charm of the emotional sphere to the universal state of mind that the song epitomised, so intensely, so mysteriously. But that same fate had brought with it enhanced adventures and insights had stirred up inside him the problem of 'playing king'"

Music cannot set Hans free from his melancholy. Towards the end of the novel we find him increasingly 'playing king'. His melancholy, his experiences on the mountain and his role of pupil to some influential pedagogues have made him into the person that he has become. Even Joachim's ghastly apparition cannot shock him out of his demeanor. He is no longer physically sick if he ever was; Behrens as good as said so when Joachim made his wild departure and so all that is keeping Hans there is Hans himself and a feature of the melancholic is the enjoyment of their melancholy. External events play an increasing part in the novel, it is set in the period leading up to the first world war. preparations for the war finally have an impact on the relatively closed world of the Berghof and people start to leave in droves, there is frantic activity and Mann says of Hans:

"He saw that the enchantment was broken, that he was released set free - not by his own actions as he had to admit to his shame, but set free by elementary external forces, for whom his liberation was a very irrelevant matter."

Thomas Mann was writing the novel before and during the aftermath of the 1914-18 war. Writing is a lonely occupation and some writers are prone to melancholy. it is interesting to surmise whether Mann's emotional state seeped into The Magic Mountain. Whatever did seep into this book has made it one of the most unique and rewarding reading experiences. It is incomparable and indeed magic and I hope to be able to read it again some time in the future, when I feel in need of that bitter-sweet melancholy experience and a resolution to grapple with issues of life and death explored so majestically. A five star read.

220GCPLreader
marraskuu 27, 2011, 8:41 am

gorgeous write-up, Barry. I'm really looking forward to reading it. Did you love it? Did you find that it affected your mood when you put it down?

221rebeccanyc
marraskuu 27, 2011, 9:24 am

Great review, Barry, and very interesting to think about it through the lens of melancholy.

222janeajones
marraskuu 27, 2011, 10:45 am

Thoughtful and literate, Barry -- I've up-thumbed it. ;-

223StevenTX
marraskuu 27, 2011, 11:06 am

Wow, Barry, what an interesting and perceptive take on The Magic Mountain. It is one of my favorite novels of all time, yet I saw it in a completely different, more social and political, dimension. Great novels are like that--they carry meaning in different levels, each as valid as the other.

224baswood
marraskuu 27, 2011, 11:19 am

steven, yes it is a great novel and it has a complex social and political dimension, that one could write about for hours, not to mention its other major themes. How right you are to say that great novels can be enjoyed on different levels. It is one of my all time favourites as well. A unique reading experience.

Jenny, yes I loved it, it has its own special atmosphere and yes it does have an effect on the reader when you put it down, as you must because it is over 850 pages long and there are some longueurs. If you want to read it have a look at the threads over at the salon where Mac has done some excellent guidance notes.

Thanks jane and rebecca.

225kidzdoc
marraskuu 27, 2011, 4:14 pm

Outstanding review, Barry!

226wrmjr66
marraskuu 28, 2011, 5:45 pm

Getting back to the pre-Mann discussion, I heartily recommend Marie de France, Christine de Pizan and Margery Kempe (different though they are). Margery mentions her visit to Julian of Norwich. Julian is interesting in her own right, and the two are useful foils to one another.

227baswood
marraskuu 28, 2011, 7:37 pm

#226 I am going to try and get to them all soon.

228baswood
joulukuu 3, 2011, 5:47 am

229baswood
Muokkaaja: joulukuu 3, 2011, 8:46 am

77) Parzival by Wolfram von Eschenbach
The search for the holy grail - "the stuff of legend" - King Arthur'e knights of the round table ride out in pursuit of the mysterious object that will provide beneficence to all who are able to see it. This 13th century version by Wolfram von Eschenbach is one of the earliest and some familiar figures are missing; there is no Lancelot, no Galahad, no Merlin and even the grail (gral here) is nothing like a chalice or cup that is usual in these tales.

Wolfram, however much he tries to deny it has based his story on the original version by Chretien de Troyes, which was written some 20 years earlier in about 1190 and was unfinished. Wolframs version completes the story in such a way that it remains fairly true to the original, he also greatly expands Chretien's story and adds a sort of a prequel that gives the whole thing some context. In Wolfram's retelling however the focus of the story has subtly changed. The main theme of Chretien's tale was the search for the gral by a knight who was worthy in the eyes of God. This is still an essential part of Wolfram's tale, but he is more interested in centering Parzival as a knight who is destined to take his place in the dynasty of the community of the grail. We are therefore told of his ancestry his progeny and his relationship to Ansfortas (The Fisher King). To reinforce this interpretation Wolfram says on the final page of his story "If master Chretien has done wrong by this story...... I have names Parzival's sons and his high lineage correctly, and have brought him to the gaol with a happy dispensation intended for him, despite his setbacks."

In Wolfram's story Parzival is one of the essential guardians of the grail, but this has been denied him by his mother's attempts to keep him safe from the rigours of knighthood. He is first denied his lineage and then himself denies his service to God. He achieves redemption through chivalry, feats of arms and a long period of celibacy. Wolfram's point here is that noble lineage cannot be denied; it will always come to the fore and be recognised in the face (good looks) and the stance of the individual. The religious content of the story is still in evidence, but Wolfram's treatment of it is peculiarly secularised. The clergy are not in evidence and Trevizent whose role is to tell Parzival of his true lineage and restore his faith in God is described as a hermit and holy man. Trevizent tells Parzival "no man can win the gral other than one who who is acknowledged in heaven as destined for it" Gawan{Gawain) in a parallel story is also searching for the gral, but his task has come to him second hand as his chivalric code has indebted him to take over the task from another knight. It is clear that Gawan who is "under the tyranny of love" will never see the gral, but his adventures are a useful counterpoint to Parzival's and Wolfram shows his skill in bringing the two strands of his story together, which is something Chretien had neglected to do.

I have previously read and enjoyed Chretien de Troyes Arthurian Romances for the high poetic style in which they were written and for their sense of magic and mystery. Wolfram's style is more prosaic, there is more detail and his love of pageantry, rank and order is evident in almost everything he writes. He is more successful in binding all of the parts of the story together and tidying up the loose ends, he also brings a certain authenticity to his story telling; he was a German knight in service, and his experience shows in how he describes the elaborate procedures in removing armour. He also seems more knowledgeable in the art of jousting, telling us through one of his characters that there are essentially five lance strokes and then goes on to describe what they are. Much of his expansion of Chretien's tale is due to to the heraldic aspects of the story; his description of the first sighting of the grail contains the names of many of the ladies who tale part in this pageant like procession, his portrayal of King Arthur's camp is careful to place in order and rank all of the important knights that are present. This was so important to Wolfram and his audience and at one stage it degenerates into Parzival and his brother Firefiz, trying to outdo each other by listing the names of the important knights in their service. This is an aspect of the story that can be of little interest to today's readers and results in confusion at times as there is a need to keep the important characters in mind to make sense of the story. In A T Hatto's good translation he has thoughtfully included a glossary of names.

Although we know very little about Wolfram von Escenbach from other sources, his habit of authorial intervention into his Parzival provides an intriguing glimpse of the man and his times. Wolfram comes across as mischievous, playful and probably totally disingenuous. It is only three chapters into the book before he launches into his "Apology". Typically in medieval literature an "apology" would appear near the end of a piece of writing and would be an attempt by the author to absolve himself of any sins in telling his story, he would be at pains to square himself with the clergy and religious convention. Not so with Wolfram; the subject of his apology is his perceived treatment of women:

"From one alone would I withold my love service - having found her unfaithful my anger towards her does not change .........I have not lost my ability to judge shrewdly of their ways and behaviour, yet I will champion any women of modest character, touching her good name - any pain she suffered I should take very much to heart........ a man who aims at love through chivalric exploits gambles for high stakes."

Later in the story Wolfram expounds the views through his characters that fidelity in marriage is the true path to salvation, however I am never sure where the irony stops and he comes across to me as someone well used to the conventions of courtly(adulterous) love. Many of his female characters have "hot lips" and he is not above giving us some salacious details for example this is Gahmuret Percival's father:

"Over his hauberk he wore a small white silken shift of the Queen's (the one who was now his wife) as it came from her naked body. - They saw no less than eighteen pierced by lances and hacked through by swords, before he left the lady. She used to slip them on again when her darling returned from jousting...... The love of these two expressed a deep attachment"

Later in the apology Wolfram says he has "not a letter to his name" trying to intimate that he cannot write. He also tries to obfuscate his debt to Chretien by inventing a Provencal knight "Kyot" who supposedly is responsible for the original story. Apart from being disingenuous his interventions can also be humorous and irreverent. After describing the meagre food that Parzival manages to forage while doing his penance with the hermit Trevrizent, Wolfram says this fare would not do for him and says to the reader "But why do I mock these good people, I am misbehaving again". I particularly like his little aside about King Arthur: "Arthur was generous in giving ladies away - he never wearied of bestowing such gifts! but this was all discussed and agreed beforehand".

Wolfram is a true story teller in every sense of the words. but he 'nails' his story of Parzival. There are some longueurs and his expanded tale runs aground sometimes when he gets lost in the pageantry. It is however endlessly fascinating and a must read for anyone interested in medieval literature or the King Arthur legends.

230janeajones
joulukuu 3, 2011, 3:32 pm

Great review, Barry, with some wonderful quotes.

231baswood
joulukuu 4, 2011, 4:26 am

Thanks jane and thank you for your postings on the Parzival Group read thread. It must feel to you like you are back at work reading our scribblings on these medieval books.

232dchaikin
joulukuu 4, 2011, 6:45 pm

Bas - a wonderful essay, more than a review. Enjoyed reading.

233baswood
joulukuu 4, 2011, 7:54 pm

Thanks Dan

234rebeccanyc
joulukuu 5, 2011, 12:33 pm

Enjoyed your review and your comments during the read, too.

235baswood
joulukuu 5, 2011, 1:46 pm

Thanks rebecca it has been a good trip.

236baswood
joulukuu 7, 2011, 5:35 pm

78) Parzival and the Stone from Heaven: A Grail Romance Retold for Our Time by Lindsay Ckarke

I could not resist reading this when I realised that it was a retelling of Wolfram's Parzival. Lindsay says that it is a form and language which may make it more accessible to a wider audience in our time; and there's the rub. Making it more accessible has also meant investing his characters with emotions and feelings that belong more to our time than medieval times. He has not gone too far down this path, but it may read a little hollow to those people who are familiar with medieval literature.

He also apologises to people who have read Wolfram's story for streamlining and changing the order of some of the events. He actually gives some characters greater prominence and others are missing altogether.

On the whole I enjoyed it. It has enough of Wolfram's story to make it an authentic re-telling and it moves at a fairly fast pace and his writing style flows without any modern idioms jumping off the page. His interpretations of some of the events had me scurrying back to the original to check if I had missed something. His afterword where he relates the story to the modern world has some interest, especially his ideas on the meaning of "wholeness" in Wolframs tale.

What next then? Listening to Wagner's opera Parzival (its playing now in the background)

I got this book second hand and I am always fascinated by what previous owners have written in them. This one has a little message on the inside cover:

Dear Rachel, I thought of you immediately when I saw this book! Happy birthday to my favourite fairy tale fan friend, much love, Sush

237baswood
joulukuu 10, 2011, 7:30 pm



79) The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

"But soon we shall die and all memory of those five will have left the earth, and we ourselves will be loved for a while and forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning."

Tony Blair used these final three sentences of Wilder's novel in a speech at a memorial service for those who died as a result of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Appropriate enough for the victims but not appropriate that they should be used by Tony Blair (who in my opinion should be appearing at the International Criminal Court accused of war crimes). The word love appears six times in these three sentences underlining the central tenet of Wilder's splendid novel. Weighing in at a mere 104 pages the book looks like a novella, but the writing is so economical it feels like a novel. It can be read in an afternoon, but I would recommend you start in the morning because it begs to be re-read almost immediately and you can do that in the afternoon.

The novel begins with the collapse of the bridge on the royal road between Lima and Cuzco in Peru in 1714. Five people crossing the bridge at the time are plunged to their deaths. The event is witnessed by brother Juniper a monk, who cannot stop himself from asking the question; why were "those" five people on the bridge when it collapsed, was it by divine intervention or was it by chance? He has to know more and undertakes a detailed research of the lives of the five victims to ascertain if there was a reason for them being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He thinks:

"If there were any plan in the universe at all, if there were any pattern in a human life, surely it could be discovered mysteriously latent in those five lives so suddenly cut off. Either we live by accident and die by accident, or we live by plan and die by plan"

Brother Juniper's investigations result in a large book and Wilder uses this as source material for his novel, which is divided into five parts. Part 1 briefly tells of the collapse of the bridge witnessed by brother Juniper. Part 2: "The Marquesa de Montemayor" tells of the Marquesa's overwheening love for her daughter Clara, a love that drives Clara away. Pepita the maid to the Marquesa is on the bridge with her mistress when it collapses. Part 3: "Esteban" another of the victims is one of identical twins, who has recently attempted suicide after the death of his brother. Part 5: "Uncle Pio" tells the story of his love for his protegee; the actress Camila Perichole. Uncle Pio and the actresse's daughter are the two remaining victims on the bridge. Part 5:"Perhaps an Intention"sketches in the results of brother Juniper's research, which results in him being burnt as a heretic. This part concludes with the coming together of the loved ones left behind after the tragedy.

It became clear as I read through the novel that the stories were interconnected. The lives of the victims had revolved around the city of Lima and many of them knew or were acquainted with each other. Characters who had minor roles in one of the stories became major players in another. The interlocking of people and places is handled masterfully by the author, so much so that an instant re-reading is called for so that the whole pattern of the novel can be grasped.

Brother Juniper does not find evidence of a master plan, but there are similarities of themes within the lives of the five victims that give plenty of scope for speculation. Wilder says of brother Juniper:

"He thought he saw in the same accident the wicked visited by destruction and the good called early to Heaven. He thought he saw pride and wealth confounded as an object lesson to the world, and he thought he saw humility crowned and rewarded for the edification of the city. But brother Juniper was not satisfied with his reasons."

Like brother Juniper the reader is tempted to search for a meaning for the deaths of the five.

Thornton Wilder was a noted playwright winning the Pulitzer prize for two of his plays and the beauty of this novel is his ability to say so much within such a short space. His prose is both elegant and economical as he picks away at the human condition. Originally published in 1927 this novel still has much to say to the modern reader. A very fine novel and a five star read.

238katiekrug
joulukuu 10, 2011, 8:57 pm

Excellent review, Barry. This one is on my shelves, and your comments have bumped it up several notches on the Must Read Soon list.

239kidzdoc
joulukuu 10, 2011, 9:15 pm

Superb review, Barry; I'll certainly add this to my wish list.

240dchaikin
joulukuu 10, 2011, 11:04 pm

Echoing above, your review makes me want to readable the book.

241Mr.Durick
Muokkaaja: joulukuu 10, 2011, 11:21 pm

It is not so long since I got the Library of America volume of Wilder's novels including The Bridge of San Luis Rey, but already I don't know where it is. I would like to read it.

Robert

CURSE THE TOUCHSTONES

(I click on Thornton Wilder in the touchstone list and it gives me someone else.)

242edwinbcn
Muokkaaja: joulukuu 10, 2011, 11:22 pm

I started reading The Bridge of San Luis Rey many years ago, but abandoned it. Thornton Wilder seems to be one of those authors for whom the message is more important than the story. I don't like this obvious Christian imagery. I stopped very early in the novel, probably right where you quoted the monk, viz. "if there were any plan in the universe, etc". One day that book will resurface, I then I will read it all through.

243baswood
joulukuu 11, 2011, 5:45 am

Thanks katie, Darryl and Dan, nice to know you are all around.

edwin, I understand that you were put off by the Christian imagery. I must be becoming immured to it, probably through all the medieval literature that I have been reading, where christianity features so prominently. It did not get in the way of my enjoyment of the book especially as the events in the book took place in 1714 and at this time religion would have played a key part in most peoples lives.

Strangely enough this book was suggested to us to read by a member of our book club. Now he used to be a monk and so I feared the worst. Oh no I thought it is one of his God books, but it did not turn out to be so.

244rebeccanyc
joulukuu 11, 2011, 9:52 am

Strangely, I have never read The Bridge of San Luis Rey although I've heard about it for years. Your review inspires me to look at it.

245janeajones
joulukuu 11, 2011, 10:06 am

I read it in HS -- but remember nothing about it. Probably time for a reread. I did one of Wilder's plays in college -- it was a sweet, gentle piece.

246Jargoneer
joulukuu 12, 2011, 5:12 am

I'm with you - I thought it was a five-star read. At first it seems so simple but as it progresses it gains layers and layers. Another review I read put it nicely - you end up thinking about it for longer than it takes to read because there is so much in it.

247baswood
Muokkaaja: joulukuu 12, 2011, 8:02 pm



80) The City & The City by China Mieville
The fusing of different genre's; in this case fantasy and crime could in the right hands prove to be an exciting and heady mixture. China Mieville is an award winning fantasy writer and I have previously been thrilled by his two earlier steampunk novels: Perdido Street Station and The Scar. I know he can write well and with tremendous imagination and so I had no qualms in recommending The City & The City to my book club friends. They were happy to try a read in a different genre and the book had garnered a number of favourable reviews and so I thought this would be a win-win situation; the book will knock their socks off.

I was anxious to read it as soon as it arrived but Lynn my wife got to it first. As soon as she had finished I asked her what she thought of it. "I enjoyed it" she said, "but it was not the best book I have read recently". Oh" I said, "You had better read it for yourself" she said.

It starts brilliantly with a murder to be solved in a city that seems familiar, but also a little disquieting. Mieville is very good at creating a fantasy world and here he creates a situation slightly off kilter that sheds its secrets as the murder mystery unfolds. There are in fact two cities Beszel and Ul Qoma, which exist in the same geographical location, but the citizens of each city are indoctrinated from childhood to "unsee" the people and buildings of the other city. There are areas of each city that are totally within that city, but there are other areas that are shared. In these shared or crosshatched areas the citizens of Beszel must unsee the people and buildings of Ul Qoma. If they do not unsee or interact with people from the other city in any way then they are "in breach": a crime that usually results in their instant removal from the cities.

The murder takes place in one city, but the body is dumped in the other. A cross city murder will test the resolve and ingenuity of inspector Tyador Borlu of Beszel who has been given the case. This should provide great scope for Mieville to use his imaginative powers to build on the scenario he has created. The solving of the crime takes centre stage and Mieville sharpens his writing style to move the plot forward and here I think he runs into problems. The story gets bogged down in the detective procedural elements, which are used with little imagination or originality. It becomes just another detective novel and not a particularly good one at that. The need to solve the crime seems to have stifled Mieville's imagination and so it all becomes a little...... dull. I never thought I would use the word dull for a Mieville novel, but this one is, for far too long. It all picks up towards the end with a lively finish, but it does not lift the book much above the ordinary.

Most of my friends in the book club managed to read it, but nobody really liked it. We all joked about living in a cross hatched area and the ability to unsee people and so the scenario had fired our imaginations. A disappointing read for me, which I would rate at 3.5 stars.

248dchaikin
joulukuu 12, 2011, 11:04 pm

Interesting. Haven't read Mieville, but was under the impression that this was a good one to try.

249StevenTX
joulukuu 12, 2011, 11:37 pm

Having also read Perdido Street Station and The Scar, I would have gone into this with the same enthusiasm you did. The City & the City won a bucketfull of awards. I think the next work of Miéville's I read will be Iron Council which completes the Bas-Lag trilogy.

250baswood
joulukuu 13, 2011, 4:30 am

steven, I still have the Iron Council to read. The City & The City has not put me off Mieville, I still think he is an exciting author.

Dan, I don't think The City & The City is a good place to start with Mieville. It's the sort of book you might read and then wonder why so many people rave about the author. It's not a bad book, but does not show off his talents so well. I would advise anyone to start with Perdido Street Station

251Jargoneer
joulukuu 13, 2011, 6:04 am

>247 baswood: - that was my take on it as well. The basic idea, about the two cities, was really interesting but the detective story was decidedly mundane. I don't have a problem with using a detective story, writers like Borges and Auster have used it imaginatively enough. When the novel started it was those writers and others like Kafka I thought I would be referencing but too often it felt more like P.D. James or Ian Rankin (but not as good).
The ending was a little too predictable as well, not to mention the fact that it seemed to set up the possibility of the dreaded sequel. (Although in this case I may read it to see if Mieville has got right second time round)

252dmsteyn
joulukuu 13, 2011, 8:06 am

Hi, Barry. Interesting reviews - I remember reading San Luis Rey a few years ago, and it remains one of my favourite short novels (novellas?). I also read the Mieville, and agree with your criticisms wholeheartedly. I will look into Perdido sometime.

253baswood
Muokkaaja: joulukuu 14, 2011, 8:29 pm

Hi Dewald, I have just finished a novel based in South Africa during the apartheid years. Unfortunately it was not very good.

81) Frieda and Min by Pamela Jooste.
A book that started very promisingly, but about two thirds of the way through it veered into romantic fiction of the worst kind.

The book opens in Johannesburgh South Africa 1964 and Frieda is 14 years old. her family are Jewish and they live in a poor part of town, but are still like many white people able to employ black maids. Min also 14 years old comes to stay for a period and she has a very different background as the daughter of a doctor who treats black people deep in bush country. Despite their differences the girls become good friends.

The relationship between the two girls and the influences of their families are very well portrayed. Frieda's family are intent that she marries well and their focus is on Aunt Sadie, who is about to marry one of the richest Jewish men in the district and so a real success story for the family. Frieda is urged to follow suit and she complies despite the reservations of her friend Min. The two girls back stories are sketched in and Jooste is very good and bringing out the desperate need of the Jewish family to make their way in the white society. The problem however is Frieda's friend Min who insists on treating black people as human beings and soon starts getting into trouble with the authorities.

The story moves on to 1975 and Min's first arrest. Frieda is able to bail her out but from then on the whole novel seems to loose its footing. Min is soon in trouble again first being placed under house arrest and then jailed. Perhaps Jooste has moved out of the world that she knows or perhaps she is aiming at a different audience for her novel. Frieda again becomes the knight in shinning armour, but her naivety in dealing with the authorities seems overdone. The apartheid regime also seems to be a little soft focus and I didn't believe a word of the last third of this novel. I would rate this as 2.5 stars.

254dchaikin
joulukuu 15, 2011, 12:28 am

blech. I read one like that this year, couldn't finish it.

255dmsteyn
joulukuu 15, 2011, 10:39 am

Hi, Barry. I am vaguely familiar with Pamela Jooste's writing, but I haven't read anything by her. I do remember that my English teacher in my final year of high school liked her - we had several questions in the end exam based on reviews of Dance with a Poor Man's Daughter. She is considered a bit of a light read, as far as I recall, not chick-lit, but tending at times in that direction.

Concerning Apartheid literature (or post-Apartheid literature based on Apartheid themes) I tend to avoid it unless I have heard very good things about the specific book. I have great respect for J.M. Coetzee, who neither sentimentalises Apartheid (regardless of the races in his novel) nor hectors one with continuous jeremiads. Gordimer, although good, especially in her early short stories, has become a bit shrill with age.

I think writers still have a problem coming to terms with Apartheid (as does the rest of society). In a strained way, it is analogous to the problem American authors seem to be experiencing in writing about 9/11. They aren't quite comparable (one was a single event, the other went on for years), but both are complex things to write about. You could easily affront people who still feel sensitive about these issues if you aren't very, very careful.

What made you choose this book, Barry?

256baswood
joulukuu 15, 2011, 6:17 pm

Dewald, I came upon the book by chance, my wife had picked it up at a bookswop and recommended it to me.

I take your point about Jooste being a light read, strangely enough the book got lighter as the novel progressed and the Apartheid regime became more and more of a presence in the novel. Perhaps that was because of difficulties in finding a voice with which to write about Apartheid as you have suggested. However the novel started out well enough and the change in the novel's voice became perceptible, becoming not quite a chick-lit read but fairly close I should imagine.

I can understand how difficult it must be for white South African's to write about the Apartheid years.

I am not an expert on chick-lit.

257dmsteyn
joulukuu 16, 2011, 3:05 am

Neither am 1. ;-)

What strikes me about the SA literary scene is how even black authors seem to shy away from fictional representations of Apartheid. I don't know whether that is because SA writers find writing about Apartheid intimidating, or whether the painful memories have led to a defensive form of amnesia.

I don't read a lot of SA fiction because it is often accusatory, with an unfortunate fixation on race. This is of course understandable, given our history. If a book has some kind of political or polemical dimension, I would, however, prefer it to remain in the background, rather than take centre stage. This may be another reason SA writers shy away from Apartheid - in my SA literature classes, my fellow students (both black and white) complained vehemently about the course work, because they felt sick and tired of hearing and reading about Apartheid and other racial topics. This was especially true of the protest poetry we had to read. Most of it was very bad - as poetry at least. Maybe it was more successful as resistance material. I (and my fellow students, apparently) prefer poems with literary value. These poems came close to the quality of - shudder - the dreaded poetry slam.

I would like to read more African fiction, but I always seem to put the desire on the back burner.

258baswood
joulukuu 16, 2011, 6:54 am

Interesting thoughts Dewald, thanks for sharing.

259baswood
Muokkaaja: joulukuu 17, 2011, 7:00 am



82) The Book of Margery Kempe (Norton Critical Editions): translated and edited by Lynn Staley
A female author from the early 15th century who steps outside of the usual hagiographical texts to provide us with an original view of late medieval society; one that is far removed from knights, chivalry and courtly love.

From our vantage point of the 21st century we might view her book as:

1) An attempt by Margery or her followers to make a case for canonisation

2) The extraordinary life of a brave woman who made her way in a world dominated by the all male clergy.

3 The ravings of a religious fanatic who was intensely preoccupied with herself and whose hysteria borders on insanity.

4) A mystic who was a witness to divine mercy and revelation and who wished to provide comfort and solas to those that followed her.

Margery's book may be all of these things and Lynn Staley who has edited the Norton Critical Edition describes it as an electrifying text. The manuscript was discovered in 1934 and recognised as an invaluable find. It is a unique document from the late middle ages because it was never sanitised or polished by cult followers and remains as it was originally produced. It shines a light on gender issues, culture and society of early 15th century Europe.

Reading the book of Margery Kempe with a modern perspective will only reveal half of the story. C S Lewis in his Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature, likens it to a tourist abroad who is only satisfied when he finds things in a foreign country that he values back home; similarly the highlights of a medieval text for the modern reader are those bits that reflect the viewpoints of the modern age. To dig a little deeper it is necessary to read around the subject, for example other medieval texts, social history or critical essays. The Norton Critical edition helps the reader to do this by including extracts from relevant texts in context as well as critical essays from noted medievalists and a bibliography for further reading. All this helps us to see Margery more clearly with the eyes of a reader or compatriot of her times.

Margery Kempe was the daughter of a powerful Burgess living in an important provincial town in England. She married within her mercantile class and had 14 children and had found the time to try her hand as a business woman. before she became convinced that she had been chosen by God to lead an exemplary life of chastity, fasting and penance in praise of Him. Her first task was to persuade her husband to become celibate and to provide her with the freedom to embark on pilgrimages to Jerusalem and Rome. She was soon talking directly to Jesus and experiencing extreme reactions to holy relics, sites and to preachers. Here is what happens to her when she arrives with a group of pilgrims at Calvary:

" She fell down so that she might not stand or kneel, but wallowed and twisted with her body, spreading her arms abroad, and cried out with a loud voice as though her heart should have burst asunder.........the crying was so loud and so wonderful that it made the people astonished, unless they had heard it before or else they knew the cause of the crying. And she had them so often that they made her right weak in her bodily mights, and namely, if she heard of our Lords passion."

Her crying and sobbing soon made her unpopular with those groups of pilgrims that she happened to be travelling with and she frequently found herself ostracized. This only strengthened her resolve because she believed that she must suffer all trials and tribulations to prove herself to God. She comes to believe she is married to the Godhead:

"And then the Father took her by the hand in her soul, before the Son and the Holy Ghost and the Mother of Jesus and all the twelve apostles and Saint Katherine and Saint Margeret and many other saints and holy virgins and a great multitude of angels saying to her soul. "I take you Margery for my wedded wife for fairer or fouler for richer or poorer so that you be buxom and obedient to do what I bid you to do..........Therefore must I needs be homely with you and lie in your bed with you. Daughter you desire greatly to see me, and you may boldly when you are in your bed, take me to you as your wedded husband."

Margery always speaks of herself in the third person and we are never allowed to forget she is a sexual being in her thoughts and desires. She is now filled with the holy fire and is convinced that her prayers can achieve miracles. Back in England and she experiences problems with the church authorities. She is almost run out of town in Bristol and soon after arriving in York she faces an inquisition in the Charter House in York Minster. She is accused of Lollardry and heresy, but her orthodox answers to the questions put to her and her standing with powerful friends within the church see her through. She is detained again in Hull and in Leicester and faces further inquisitions, but again with the help of friends inside the church she is allowed to go free. She roams the country visiting various pilgrim sites and visits the famous anchoress Julian of Norwich. She takes time out to nurse her terminally ill husband, but her visions become more intense and she sees herself present at Christ's Passion comforting the Virgin Mary. Now in her old age she believes she must undertake further pilgrimages abroad and as usual her weeping and crying continue to divides opinion wherever she goes.

Margery Kempe led an extraordinary life as a religious mystic, all the more extraordinary because she was a married woman all alone in a world dominated by the all male clergy, many of whom resented her piety and her passion. She had to fight many battles to lead her chosen life, including finding someone to write her book for her. She claimed not to be able to write herself which served her purpose in refuting charges of heresy. She was in physical danger for much of her time on the road; in constant dread of being defiled and at one point was threatened with rape by the steward of Leicestershire before she faced an inquisition. As a business woman however she saw the advantages in pilgrimages and the collection of indulgences and always found someone to help her when in dire need.

There was no way into the official church for a woman and Margery's assertion of her right to speak out brought her in continual opposition to men of the cloth. There were prescriptions against women speaking out on religious matters and Margery always ran the risk of being accused of Lollardry (heresy). Lollard's believed that lay people had the right to spread the word of God. The prescriptions were there to protect the power of the clergy and so were usually enforced. Margery was by no means the first women mystic of the middle ages and while it could not be said to be a well trodden path there were certainly others around. St Bridget of Sweden (1303-1373) was well renowned and Margery was familiar with her life and teachings. There is no doubt that Margery had an obsessive personality that both attracted and repelled others. Her continual breaking down into sobbing and weeping and her need to confess at almost every opportunity must have placed a considerable burden on friends and followers alike. Much of this was in keeping with her chosen profession and how much of her behaviour was due to her business head, her faith, or mental disorder we will never know. What is beyond doubt is her courage, her resourcefulness and her love of God.

Margery Kempe's book is brought to life by Lynn Staley's excellent translation, which in its phrasing and intonation has a medieval feel to it. I think this book provides ua with a window into at least one aspect of medieval life: that of the itinerant mystics who trod a dangerous path between orthodoxy and heresy. I am sure the book will not appeal to everybody, as being inside the head of a fanatically religious women will not be to every body's taste, but it thrilled me. Let Margery have the last word about her book (she continually refers to herself as "the creature"):

"Also while the aforesaid creature was occupied about the writing of this treatise, she had many holy tears and weepings and often times there came a flame of fire about her breast, full hot and delectable, and also he who was the write could not sometimes keep himself from weeping. And often in the meantime, when the creature was in church, our Lord Jesus Christ with his glorious Mother and many saints also came into her soul and thanked her saying that they were well pleased with the writing of the book."



260rebeccanyc
joulukuu 17, 2011, 7:36 am

Wow!

I don't think I'll read this, but what a story and what a review!

261StevenTX
joulukuu 17, 2011, 9:37 am

ditto to what Rebecca said. I'm not eager to read this at the moment, but it's great to know what Margery's life and work were about and how her contemporaries viewed her.

What about her 14 children? Did she just go off and leave them, or did she attempt to make them her disciples?

262Mr.Durick
joulukuu 17, 2011, 2:20 pm

Is the text bilingual or only in translation?

Robert

263dchaikin
joulukuu 17, 2011, 2:35 pm

Fascinating stuff, and another terrific review.

264Poquette
joulukuu 17, 2011, 2:40 pm

Hi Barry,

I have fallen so far behind. Just caught up with your reviews beginning with The Magic Mountain, which I am close to finishing and loving every minute of it.

Was hoping to get to Arthurian Romances and Parzival before now but really got bogged down with life. Reading has suffered irreparably. At any rate, glad to have caught back up with you.

Margery Kempe is an intriguing figure. I first became aware of her in a book I read a few years ago called The English Church in the Fourteenth Century by W.A. Pantin. This book caught my attention because about a third of it is devoted to so-called religious literature of the period – memorable works such as the Oculus Sacerdotis, Speculum Vitae and other titles that kept popping up in my readings. So I dropped everything and got myself somewhat educated on this entire area of which I was completely ignorant. Your review of Kempe's autobiography, if one can call it that, reminded me of all this and it is excellent.

265baswood
joulukuu 17, 2011, 7:56 pm

Thanks rebecca and dan.

steven, She did not say that much about her children apart from one of her sons, who led a dissolute life. He went away to sea, but he eventually came back to England and to his mother, having contracted some awful disease. She was able to show him the error of his ways and after prayers she was able to cure his disease. The son lived for many years afterwards fully repentant of his sins and married a woman in Prussia and went on a pilgrimage to Rome to purchase the necessary indulgences. Later he brought his family back to England but fell sick again. This time Margery was with him when he died. None of her other children were mentioned. She does not say how many of her 14 children survived infancy.

Robert, the text is only in translation.

Suzanne, Glad you are enjoying The Magic Mountain and thanks for the recommendation for the Pantin book. I will probably not follow through with it now as I am anxious to get started on my next years reading list which will be renaissance literature.

266GCPLreader
joulukuu 24, 2011, 10:00 am

hi Barry, wishing you a merry christmas!



267baswood
Muokkaaja: joulukuu 24, 2011, 7:00 pm



83) Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature by C S Lewis

These studies have been taken from lecture notes or books begun and abandoned by Lewis and were probably never meant for publication. They have been collected and edited by Walter Hooper and were published as a book of essays in 1966 three years after Lewis's death.

The essays are certainly more than just scrapings from the bottom of a barrel, they are mostly well written, stand up well enough on their own and provide plenty of thoughtful material. The first three provide an excellent introduction on how to approach a medieval text and how to view the medieval world. The next three will be of interest for those reading, or familiar with Dante's Divine Comedy and the final bunch covers Edmund Spenser and his Faerie Queene. There are also short essays on Malory's Morte d'Arthur and Tasso.

I found some gems in the first three essays on medieval text and was hooked on reading the very first paragraph of the first essay: De Audiendis Poetis (How to study Poetry):

"There are more ways than one of reading old books. A choice between two of them is well expressed by Mr Spiers when he denounces as 'discouraging' that before the modern reader can properly appreciate a medieval poem he must first have somehow put himself back into the age when it was composed. For thus he will be seeking not 'what the poem means', but 'what it once meant' and will become concerned less with reading and responding to a poem than with reading outside it

That anything that takes us outside the poem and leaves us there is regrettable, I fully agree. But we may have to go outside it in order that we may come inside it again, better equipped."


In the essay Genesis of a Medieval Book Lewis discusses authorship and points to the differences of the medieval approach to our own today. Lewis says Medieval writers were engaged in a sort of 'touching up' exercise; why invent new stories when there were plenty of excellent old stories available. He was concerned with presenting the story to a medieval audience and if this involved embellishment or emasculation then so be it. He was not concerned with accuracy or in many instances with the modern idea of authorship. Lewis's essay on Imagination and Thought in the Middle Ages attempts to present to us a medieval persons view of the world. In the excellent The Discarded Image he explains this at some length but here the shorter version is no less effective.

In Morte d'Arthur Lewis is concerned with exploring Malory's view of the world especially his ideas on nobility which is a key theme in the work. The essays on Dante's The Divine Comedy follows some close reading of the text and will be of interest to those people reading or familiar with the poem. The essays on Spenser are a 'mixed bag' There are good essays on Tasso's influence, the life of Spenser and how to approach The Faerie Queene, however essays on Neo-Platonism and the role of Genius in Spenser's allegory are dense and scholarly.

Not an essential book and it would be only of limited interest to the casual reader. However with my interest in medieval literature and Edmund Spenser there was more than enough to keep me interested. I would rate this a three star read.

268dchaikin
joulukuu 26, 2011, 4:01 pm

Interesting stuff, Barry. While I would certainly read this if it fell in my lap, it's not something I'm likely to search out. However, it's nice to know someone is reading it and it's nice to get a sense of what's in there.

269baswood
joulukuu 26, 2011, 4:34 pm

Nice to see you here Dan and good luck with the bible read.

270dchaikin
joulukuu 26, 2011, 4:45 pm

Thanks, honestly have no idea how that will turn out for me. Happy holidays.

271baswood
Muokkaaja: joulukuu 26, 2011, 6:42 pm



84) The Honorary Consul by Graham Greene
There is much to admire here as Greene explores similar themes to those that he probed in the excellent The Power and the Glory. The episodic feel of that previous novel is replaced here by a tighter scenario, however on this occasion Greene fails to sustain the impetus in his story telling and loses his grip on the issues that interest him.

The story takes place in typical Greene land. This is Argentina, but not the busy cosmopolitan city of Buenos Aires, but a provincial town where everybody knows everybody else and nothing much ever happens. The people that make up the tight knit community of the upper echelons of this society know that they are languishing in a backwater, most of them are deeply flawed and although they might have moments of insight and even bravery they are more likely to take the easy way out or succumb to the entropy surrounding them in any difficult situation.

Doctor Plarr finds plenty of patients within his community, but also works with the poor in the barrios. He is a philanderer who finds plenty of opportunities among his more wealthy patients, he lacks belief in himself and Greene hints there is something missing in his moral core. His father was a Paraguayan revolutionary who has been missing for some time and this is enough to place Dr Plarr within the radar of the Chief of Police. A group of Paraguayans badly bungle an attempted kidnap of the American Ambassador making off instead with Charley Fortnum the Honorary British Consul. Dr Plarr becomes involved when the Paraguayans ask him for medical help and this is further complicated by his affair with Charley's new young wife which puts him in a moral dilemma.

The kidnapping takes place in the first part of the novel and from then on the back story is told in a series of flashbacks. Greene introduces all the main players with some masterful characterisation filling in the locations and backdrops to his story. Greene is at his best here creating an all too believable world where his characters must paddle furiously at times to keep their heads above water and to maintain their contacts with the people who matter. Charley Fortnum is an alcoholic who runs a plantation when not on his rare official duty as Honorary Consul, he is newly married to Clara an ex whore, Doctor Saavedra is a successful novelist writing for the more popular end of the market, Humphries the poor Englishman struggling on a pension and Perez the chief of Police, these are all in orbit around Dr Plarr and will be caught up in the kidnapping. It transpires that The British and the Americans have little interest in securing Charley's release, to them he is a nobody, an embarassment and so it is left to Plarr and his disparate band of acquaintances to take action.

Dr Plarr finds himself holed up with the kidnappers and the emphasis of the story changes to the revolutionary group. They are led by Father Rivas a catholic and an ex-priest, they are not the most skilled of freedom fighters and it soon becomes apparent that they are way out of their depth, and so is Greene himself. he builds a suitable claustrophobic atmosphere around the group, but any tension within the situation is dispersed by a seemingly interminable debate about faith and Catholicism. Other themes that have been explored so well up to this point such as, love, statehood, morality, politics and machismo are all suddenly on the back burner and unfortunately so is the story.

In The Power and the Glory whiskey drinking featured strongly and it does again here, but it is not the priest who borders on alcoholism but his victim Charlie Fortnum, it would appear that Greene is looking over his shoulder and asking us to compare The Honorary Consul with his previous novel. Greene has Doctor Saavedra the successful novelist defending his non political stance saying:

"That is exactly my point, doctor of course I sympathise with you, but how can I make art out of a man shut up in a police station"

In The Power and the Glory one of the most powerful scenes was Greene's description of the whiskey priest's ordeal in a crowded police jail, and so it seems to me he is saying that he (Greene) can create art out of such a situation and is deliberately referring the reader back to his earlier novel. It is as though he wants to go back over the old ground, he wants to carry on his debate about Catholicism. He does this at the expense of his new novel.

There is plenty of excellent writing here and some sharply drawn characters, however it does not have the same impact as The Power and the Glory and Greene's attempts to bring that book back to our attention is to the detriment of this novel. I would rate this as 3.5 star read.

272StevenTX
joulukuu 26, 2011, 11:17 pm

A great review as usual, Barry. This is not high on my list of Graham Greene novels to read, but I may get around to it eventually. Brighton Rock also shifts in mid-stream from thriller to theological dialogue, but it's still a fine novel. Of the four Greene novels I've read (including The Power and the Glory and The Third Man), my favorite is The Heart of the Matter.

273rebeccanyc
joulukuu 27, 2011, 8:05 am

It's a long time since I read any Graham Greene but I have several of his books (largely unread) on my shelves so I might try one again at some point. Strangely enough, I didn't know he wrote The Third Man, which is one of my favorite movies.

274dchaikin
joulukuu 27, 2011, 10:16 am

Enjoyed your review. Haven't read GG, but your are keeping him on my mind as someone to read.

275Poquette
joulukuu 27, 2011, 1:45 pm

Hi Barry, enjoyed your review of Studies in Medieval & Renaissance Literature. I have my copy right here and have read parts but not all. I agree with your rating. However, Lewis is somehow easier to absorb here than in The Discarded Image.

Very enticing review of the Graham Greene. Makes me want to dive right in.

276baswood
joulukuu 27, 2011, 7:01 pm

Thanks steven, I read The Heart of the Matter, Graham Greene some time ago and enjoyed it very much. I have read six novels by Greene this year and I might just read his Doctor Fischer of Geneva or the Bomb Party which is novella length before the end of the year. I would have liked to have read Brighton Rock but I didn't have a copy to hand.

In 2012 I will be concentrating on Patrick White and trying to read as many of his novels as I can next year

rebecca, quite possibly the movie of The Third Man is better than the book.

Dan, I don't think Graham Greene is an essential read, but he is always entertaining in a slightly seedy sort of way.

Susan, Studies in Medieval & Renaissance Literature is a mixed bag, good for dipping in to.

277rebeccanyc
joulukuu 28, 2011, 1:12 pm

he is always entertaining in a slightly seedy sort of way

That's why, in addition to the realistic NYC settings, I enjoy Lawrence Block's Matthew Scudder mystery series. Have to get my seediness quota in somehow!

278baswood
joulukuu 29, 2011, 5:59 pm

279baswood
joulukuu 29, 2011, 7:36 pm

85) A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century by Barbara W Tuchman
Tuchman's narrative history of 14th century Western Europe, focuses on the period 1340-1400 and attempts to be more than just a straight re-telling of events. She aims to get behind the known facts to present the reader with a rounded picture of these turbulent times. Tuchman explains that for us to make sense of why people acted as they did, the author must be able to explain how their society worked, she must be able to get inside the medieval mindset, which is so different to ours. Tuchman says in her forward note that the main barrier is the Christian religion as it was then; the matrix and law of medieval life, omnipresent , indeed compulsory. The idea that the life of the spirit and of the after world are superior to the here and now does not hold much creedence today and she says:

"The gap between medieval Christianity's ruling principles and every day life is the great pitfall of the middle ages

The book is subtitled "The Calamitous 14th Century" and its not difficult to see why this is so. It saw the start of the 100 years war that came close at times to wrecking both England and France; the two most powerful monarchies in the world. It was the century of the Black Death; a plague that drastically reduced the population of Europe and for which there was no medical cure or understanding of containment. It was also the century of the great schism in the catholic church with two popes reigning and attempting to sell religion to the highest bidder to gain supremacy.

Tuchman emphasises the desolation of the period by centering her history in France, which suffered the most devastation from the 100 years war, as most of the battles were on French soil with both kings using scorched earth policies. To provide a peg on which to hang her narrative Tuchman uses the life of Enguerrand de Coucy VII one of the most influential noblemen of his times and a respected warrior/knight. He seems to have been there or there abouts at most of the events and was well documented by the chroniclers. Tuchman provides the background to the society that shaped such a man as Enguerrand and describes his duties and his obligations both to the king and his followers. As Enguerrand weaves his way through the narrative Tuchman is able to show how the events and circumstances affected him and his actions. Of course he was not present at all the events that occurred; such as the peasant revolt of 1381 in England, but Tuchman digresses easily enough to keep the narrative flowing.

By presenting a broad picture of the period Tuchman is able to discuss some issues in more detail such as; the seeming antipathy the period had for children, the status of women in society, the effects of the plague and the persecution of the Jews, the importance of pageantry in expressing the power of the monarchs, the decline of chivalry and the descent into chaos over some of the regions.

Tuchman has been accused of relying far too much on the chroniclers, particularly Froissart and she says in her forward

"I realise it is unfashionable among medievalists today to rely on the chroniclers, but for the sense of the period and its attitudes I find them indispensable. Furthermore there form is narrative and so is mine"

Tuchman as a historian is well aware of the dangers of distortion through following the chroniclers too closely. It is evident that they were biased, prone to exaggeration, relied on second/third hand information sometimes a long time after the event and when they didn't know something they were quite happy to make it up. However I think she is right to use them as she does, as nothing gets us closer to the period than their writings. Whether Tuchman over uses the chroniclers is up to each individual reader to decide.

Tuchman summarises the period brilliantly towards the end of her book:

It was a time of default. Rules crumbled, institutions failed in their functions. Knighthood did not protect; the Church, more worldly than spiritual did not guide the way to God; the towns once agents of progress and the commonweal, were absorbed in mutual hostilities and divided by class war; the population depleted by the Black Death did not recover. The war of England and France and the brigandage it spawned revealed the emptiness of chivalry's military pretensions and the falsity of its moral ones. The schism shook the foundations of the central institution, spreading a deep and pervasive uneasiness. People felt subject to events beyond their control.......

She makes the point that doom and gloom was not universal over all the region, but generally it was not one of the best times to be alive.

Tuchman has provided here an excellent narrative history and she has succeeded in fleshing this out to provide plenty of talking points. She does bring the period to life and her writing is lively and infectious. I would not hesitate to recommend this to anybody interested in the period. I would rate this at 4.5 stars.

280japaul22
joulukuu 29, 2011, 8:02 pm

What a fantastic review! A Distant Mirror is definitely going on the TBR list, and hopefully I'll get to it this coming year. I've never read Tuchman but have been meaning to, so maybe I'll start here. Thanks!

281Poquette
joulukuu 29, 2011, 8:55 pm

Hey Barry, great review as usual. And a great cap to your medieval reading. I too enjoyed reading it some years ago.

282dchaikin
joulukuu 29, 2011, 9:35 pm

Terrific review.

283rebeccanyc
joulukuu 30, 2011, 10:27 am

I am really going to have to reread A Distant Mirror. It must be 30 years since I read it.

284janeajones
joulukuu 30, 2011, 10:49 am

I think 30 years ago is about when I read it too! Good review, Barry. It is somewhat of a controversial book among medieval historians, but I think it's a great introduction to the times.

285baswood
joulukuu 30, 2011, 4:14 pm

Thanks everyone.

286baswood
Muokkaaja: joulukuu 31, 2011, 4:42 am

My summary of 2011 starts with a list of all my five star reads last year

Medieval Literature
Froissart Chronicles, Jean Froissart
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight both transaltions by Simon Armitage and Maria Boroff
The Romance of the Rose by Jean de Meung and Guillaume de Lorris
Arthurian Romances Chretien de Troyes
The Consolation of Philosophy Boethius

Fiction
The God of Small things, Arundhati Roy
The Finkler Question Howard Jacobson
The Comedians, Graham Greene
The Vagabond, Colette
A Room with a View E M Forster
The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde
Vanity Fair W M Thackeray
The Magic Mountain, Thomas Mann
The Bridge of San Luis Rey, Thornton Wilder
Porius, John Cowper Powys

Non Fiction
The Autumn of the Middle ages Johan Huizinga
The Story of Art E H Gombrich
The Allegory of Love C S Lewis
Richard II, Michael J Bennet
La France, Photographs by Raymond Depardon

Play
Translations, Brian Friel

And the list of 4.5 star reads:

Medieval Literature
The Book of Margery Kempe

Fiction
2666, Roberto Bolano
The Power and the Glory, Graham Greene
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet David Mitchell

Non Fiction
The Perfect King, The life of Edward III, Ian Mortimer
The Greatest Traitor, The life of Sir Roger Mortimer, Ian Mortimer
Secrets of the Flesh, A Life of Colette, Judith Thurman
The Discovery of France, Graham Robb
A Distant Mirror Barbara W Tuchman
Suspended Judgements John Cowper Powys

Some stats.

Fiction = 55
Non Fiction = 37

The fiction reads I have broken down into the following genres
Novels = 35
Science Fiction = 8
Medieval Texts = 11
Historical novels = 1
Crime = 1
Poetry = 2
Plays = 1
Essays = 2

Non fiction genres
History = 11
Literary Criticism = 10
Biography = 2
Philosophy = 2
Documentary = 1
Food = 1
Photography = 1
Travel = 2
Art = 1

Male Authors = 75
Female Authors = 17

59 authors were new to me this year
I read 7 books by Graham Greene, 3 by C S Lewis, 3 by Oscar Wilde, and 3 by John Cowper Powys.

Breakdown of starred reads
5 stars = 22
4.5 stars = 11
4 stars = 21
3.5 Stars = 18
3 stars = 13
2.5 stars = 3
2 stars = 2
1 star - 1

Years books first published:
Before 11th century = 1
12th century = 2
13th cebtury = 2
14th century = 6
15th century = 1

1800- 1849 = 1
1850 - 1849 = 3

1900's = 1
1910's = 1
1920's = 7
1930's = 4
1940's = 1
1950's = 3
1960's = 5
1970's = 11
1980's = 6
1990,s = 8

21st century = 30

The Worst Reads

The Junior Officers Reading Club, Patrick Hennessey
Tiger Hills Sarita Mandanna
Edit | More

287labfs39
joulukuu 31, 2011, 1:52 am

A big thumb for The Distant Mirror, a book I enjoyed as well. I was a big Tuchman fan in school and was excited at the prospect of meeting her at a department event. Unfortunately she passed away shortly before she was scheduled to come.

I also found In the Heart of the Sea to be great narrative nonfiction. I have picked up a couple more of Philbrick's books that I'm hoping to get too soon.

Reminder to self to reread The Bridge of San Luis Rey. It's been, eek, 30 years!

Sorry Ishiguru doesn't work for you. Thankfully there are more authors in the sea.

Happy New Year!

288baswood
joulukuu 31, 2011, 4:55 am

Thanks for the thumb Lisa

One way or another I have read quite a lot of the History of the 14th century this year and I approached The Distant Mirror with some trepidation, as she has received some bad press from the medievalists. In the end I thought it was a very good book, sure she has her opinions and she takes a gloomy view of the period, but what she does capture so well is a feel for the mindset of the 'players' of the period. She does cover a lot of ground and so cannot examine issues in the greatest of detail. A very good introduction to the period and a good summary of events.

Nathaniel Philbrick is an author new to me, but I will certainly look to read more of his stuff.

Happy new Year to all club read readers.

289detailmuse
joulukuu 31, 2011, 4:02 pm

How fortuitous. I'm reading The Thorn and the Blossom and finding references to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. (I suspect it will be an homage or a modern retelling.) Anyway, that rang familiar and I decided it had to be from you so I came over to look and found it at the top of your 2011 summary! It helped to read your review and go back to your first thread and read the conversation. Probably I ought to read the poem…

P.S. I have to push lately to read outside of this century ... love how many lines your middle-ages publication dates take :)

290baswood
joulukuu 31, 2011, 6:38 pm

I really enjoyed the poem detailmuse. Looking forward to catching up with you again on club read 2012. I have nearly finished with the middle ages and so I am moving on to the renaissance.

291baswood
joulukuu 31, 2011, 7:19 pm

Just to complete my reviews this year

86) The Lais of Marie de France



The lais were short story poems written in old French, probably around 1170. They have been translated in this penguin edition by Glynn S Burgess and keith Busby into modern English prose.

There are twelve short tales here based on chivalry and courtly love and they are utterly charming. Bisclavret was my favourite story and possibly one of the earliest tales featuring a werewolf

Little is known about the author other than Marie was probably female and she wrote these stories for the English Court, which were all based on Breton (North West France) tales or troubadour songs.

A 4 star read

292baswood
joulukuu 31, 2011, 7:40 pm

87) Norstrilia by Cordwainer Smith



Cordwainer Smith (not his real name is an interesting author writing in the sci-fi genre. He wrote a series of short stories and Norstrilia his only novel. When he was not writing sci-fi he was a member of the Foreign Policy association and professor of Asiatic Politics at John Hopkins University. he is well thought of in the sci- fi fraternity with his short stories and Nostrilia both considered as classics in the field.

He had a fantastic imagination and his stories mostly written in the late 1950's and early 1960's are a delight. No hard science here just pure 50's sci-fi, mostly well written and featuring a cast of brilliant characters. For those that are familiar with the short stories then this novel which is set in the distant future will provide another good read. The Lords of the Instrumentality, C'mell the girlygirl catwoman. the go-captains, Mother Hittons Littul Kittons (a defence system) and the underpeople all feature. What more do you want?

A four star read

293StevenTX
joulukuu 31, 2011, 8:05 pm

Quite a change of pace, Barry! I read Norstrilia about 30 years ago. The name "C'mell" rings a bell, but otherwise I don't remember the book. It's probably something I'd enjoy now more than I did then when I was more into the "hard" (i.e. science-oriented) SF. I think I read a collection of his short stories as well.

It's 2012 already where you live. Happy New Year!

294baswood
joulukuu 31, 2011, 8:08 pm

88) Into Thin Air, Jon Krakauer



Perhaps the ultimate travel experience, guided tours that would give the participants the chance to climb to the top of Mount Everest; the highest mountain in the world. Jon Krakauer a journalist and experienced mountaineer was invited to join one of the guided groups in order to write an article for a well renowned magazine.

He got more than he bargained for, finding himself and his climbing companions in desperate trouble on the slopes above 26000 feet which are known as the death zone. The air is very thin here and there are no rescue facilities if people get into trouble. On 9th May 1996 there were five expeditions on the mountain trying to reach the summit. A storm arose and people died. Krakauer one of the survivors on that day has written a gripping and intelligent account of the disaster. He has the writing skill to place the reader right there with them all on that mountain as they fight for survival. It is a real page turner.

A tragic real life adventure story it certainly is, yet once I had put the book down I could not feel much sympathy for the people involved. A bunch of very rich people trying to buy one of the ultimate thrills of climbing Everest led by largely irresponsible guides. You make your own tragedy's sometimes.

A four star read nevertheless

295baswood
joulukuu 31, 2011, 8:25 pm

89) Doctor Fischer of Geneva or the bomb Party by Graham Greene



This novella of 140 well spaced pages was written in 1980. An afternoon's read then and a great way to spend the afternoon in Mr Greene's company. He has a good story to tell and does so with an economy of writing that flows deliciously from beginning to end. A black comedy and a satire of the rich and greedy with enough suspense to keep the book firmly in your hands until the very end.

If you have not read any Greene then this short novel might be a good place to start.

296baswood
joulukuu 31, 2011, 8:29 pm

That's a wrap then and what a great way to finish the year with four, four star reads.

297baswood
joulukuu 31, 2011, 8:34 pm

Thanks for the new year wishes steven, I feel a bit of a party pooper this evening as I have got a cold and didn't want to go out tonight and infect a whole load of other people, hence I am here now in front of the computer at 2am on new years morning.

At this moment in time The New year has not reached you yet, but when it does have a great 2012.

298labfs39
joulukuu 31, 2011, 9:37 pm

Enjoyed your perspective on Into Thin Air. Happy New Year!

299tomcatMurr
joulukuu 31, 2011, 11:12 pm

I simply can't keep up with your reading bas. great suff on Tuchman: to hell with the medievalists: Tuchman spins a jolly ripping yarn, and the period was deeply vile.

I love that poster for the honorary consul! steamy! all the best for 2012.

300edwinbcn
tammikuu 1, 2012, 10:53 am

Now I will probably pick up Norstrilia if I see it; thanks for your review.

It seems you quite liked Doctor Fischer of Geneva or the bomb Party; I was a bit disappointed by it last year.

See you on Club Read 2012.

Happy New Year!

301Poquette
tammikuu 1, 2012, 1:56 pm

Finishing the year with a bang, I see, Barry! Good show! Looking forward to more on Club Read 2012!

302baswood
tammikuu 1, 2012, 6:40 pm

New thread on club read 2012 http://www.librarything.com/topic/129911