Group Read, June 2017: Memoirs of Hadrian

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Group Read, June 2017: Memoirs of Hadrian

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kesäkuu 1, 2017, 3:22 pm

Our June group read is Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar. Please join in and add any thoughts and comments to this thread.

kesäkuu 2, 2017, 9:00 am

I am joining, but reading several books simultaneously so it may take a while.

kesäkuu 2, 2017, 11:29 am

I read it a few years ago and it took me three tries before really getting into it but once I got started, I couldn't stop. I'll be following this conversation.

kesäkuu 2, 2017, 12:02 pm

I'll be reading too. I'm starting it now, but I have a couple other books going as well. We'll see if it sucks me in or if I focus on the other books first.

I'm a little apprehensive as I know next to nothing about Roman history.

kesäkuu 3, 2017, 12:43 pm

"Now, this book won’t appeal to everyone. If you have no interest in classical history and how life was lived in that period of time, you’ll probably find a lot of it tedious. And you’ll need something of an interest in military or political history of some kind really because Hadrian, as emperors are wont to do, spent quite a bit of his time and energy focussing on those issues.

But if you’re open-minded enough to read through that, you’ll discover that even in the driest descriptions of military strategy or political plotting, there’s cutting insight into one of Europe’s premier historical figures, and this is insight that helps us understand humanity more. It’s the kind of writing that has you come away with a deeper realisation of what we’re all about."

from my review back in 2010.

I thought this novel was excellent.

kesäkuu 7, 2017, 2:50 am

I am sorry, but I quit reading the book, I don't feel in the mood at all for it at the moment. So many books are more appealing that I decided to give it another try some time in the future. I'll be following your thought on it though.

kesäkuu 8, 2017, 1:53 pm

Finally a group read that I kind of have time to follow along with! Except I picked up this book from my university library a week ago, read three whopping pages, and haven't opened it since. >5 arukiyomi: this isn't helping my motivation as my interest in military history is nil and my knowledge of Roman political history is nearly nil. But I have three weeks to keep trying and I'm hoping for an outcome like paruline's!

kesäkuu 8, 2017, 4:09 pm

>7 aliciamay: I'm 9 pages in now and actually finding it lovely! But it's clearly going to be a very slow read. Fortunately I have no other plans for this month ///

kesäkuu 8, 2017, 5:13 pm

I'm about 100 pages in. It bothers me that I don't have more background in Roman history, but for the most part I'm able to let that go. It's a very interesting portrait of a leader.

kesäkuu 9, 2017, 2:14 am

Well I have a degree in it so I guess I had better get started! Stop reading all my Brother Cadfael mysteries.

kesäkuu 9, 2017, 12:03 pm

>8 annamorphic: & >9 japaul22: Thanks for the encouragement! I have some time to read this weekend so I will get back to it.

kesäkuu 10, 2017, 5:01 pm

At 50 pages in and I am thinking that Memoirs of Hadrian is a SLOW book but fascinating. It needs to be read carefully and savored. The section on sleep in the first chapter was extraordinary. The book as a whole (so far) feels less like fiction and more like an essay in historical philosophy. In that sense it reminds me of Elizabeth Costello, a book that I disliked a lot, so perhaps Yourcenar is a better writer than Coetzee.

I came across one thing that I'm sure is wrong and that just bothers me. Hadrian goes off to some army post with nothing except a "recently published volume of Plutarch." It's the perfect thing for him to read but I am certain that books were not "published" per se before the invention of moveable type. So how were new writings distributed? Something I never thought about before. I wonder what the word is in the original French, although the translator worked with Yourcenar so this shouldn't just be a matter of translation.

kesäkuu 11, 2017, 7:44 pm

I'm plugging along but having sort of a hard time with it. I think it's interesting but it isn't captivating me. My lack of background in this era is really holding me back. As someone said on another thread, I wish it was annotated, and I also really want a map in the book.

kesäkuu 12, 2017, 5:13 am

I've started but am also finding it hard going; to start with anyway. It might pick up once he gets into actually retelling, at the moment he's dwelling rather tediously on the aging of the body and various schools of philosophical thought. Not really topics which interest me.

kesäkuu 12, 2017, 2:22 pm

>12 annamorphic: Yes, I would agree that so far it is more philosophy than 'memoir'. I also enjoyed the ponderings over food and am enjoying Yourcenar's writing. It will be slow going!

I just left off with the parts about his grandfather and parents...I suspect that is all of his family we will see. I find it pretty remarkable that Hadrian is basically flung into the world on his own, at such a young age, and accomplishes so much. But then again, being a teenager on your own at that time probably wasn't uncommon.

kesäkuu 18, 2017, 10:14 pm

This is one of the oddest books I have ever read. I am constantly asking myself what possessed a French/Belgian woman in the mid 20th century to write it, and to write it in this voice or style -- not a narrative, more ruminations and reflections. Even if you don't know the story, it barely matters, although I think Yourcenar assumes that you do. The book is brilliant, mind you, but extremely challenging to read as I'm sure it was to write. As if the author tried to channel a historical figure rather than to write about him. I've just gone through the Antinous section which was a mixture of creepy and convincing. Very unsettling.

There are moments of great insight, where I wish I had a pen to mark my text; I return to those pages, and think more about them.

kesäkuu 19, 2017, 6:34 am

>16 annamorphic: The voice is so unique. And even though it's deeply personal, I also felt kept at arm's length and I couldn't decide if this was intentional, to represent the way a leader (who often lead solitary, isolating lives) would write or if I just felt that way because I wasn't familiar enough with the background of the Roman era.

I finished a few days ago and here is part of my review. I don't think it's really possible to have spoilers for this book!

I know very little about Roman history and I was hoping this would enlighten me a bit, but I felt the history mainly provided a backdrop for the man. There wasn't much in depth exploration of culture or even historical events. I should say this wasn't present in an obvious enough manner to work for me. For those who have a strong background in the era, I think they would find that Yourcenar weaves these elements in to her portrait and probably really appreciate the details. There were a couple things that jumped out at me - one was how the next ruler was picked not through genealogical heredity, but through the preference of the current ruler who then "adopted" this next ruler. I also thought the discussion of the fighting in Palestine with the Jews there seemed to have many of the same issues present today, almost 2000 years later.

Most people should approach this book as the self-portrait of a leader at the end of his life, preoccupied with death and legacy. His thoughts on death are poignant and relevant and his preoccupation with the legacy he'll leave behind is also interesting and well thought out. Actually, though, possibly my favorite part of the book was the end section where the author lays out the personal journey that led her to completing this book.

kesäkuu 19, 2017, 4:56 pm

>16 annamorphic: From acertain perspective I think this makes perfect sense as a subject for midtwentieth century writers in Europe. The Roman Empire from Trajan to Marcus Aurelius was arguably the longest period of relative peace in European history and non-ideologic and mostly moral leaders were in short supply - so why not study one of them? (I'm 40 pages into it, so i can't really comment on style yet.)

Yourcenar kept a notebook about the book which is reprinted in my edition. Apparantly she came up with the idea around 1920 and actually wrote a first draft/version before 1925.

kesäkuu 21, 2017, 7:01 pm

I've started the book now, and agree with much of what is said above - so far a reflective philosophical monologue that requires slow reading to get the most out of it. I'm enjoying it though.

kesäkuu 23, 2017, 7:45 am

Continuing with my read - about half way through now. As others comment above, it is a fascinating exercise - a modern French woman managing to inhabit the mind of an aging Roman emperor so convincingly that you forget this is a work of fiction. The only thing that nags at me a bit is Hadrian's ability to predict the future/future discoveries. We know that his views proved correct, but so obviously did the author when she wrote this so for me it detracts from the credibility of the man she is creating.

Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 23, 2017, 12:41 pm

I'm a bit under a third, now that we've moved into some actual history it's more enjoyable. There is still a lot of thinking but at least it's over actual events and political manoeuverings.

I'm a little dubious at the virtue of the man portrayed - not that I don't think he was a good guy all things considered (and he was a good ruler for his time) but his professed inocence and reliance on the support of others to keep him out of trouble and then being fairly much put on the throne is a little dubious. Roman politics was a pool of sharks - I don't think any man could possibly become emperor without being as hard nosed and savy as it's possible to be.

kesäkuu 26, 2017, 3:55 pm

I finished the book yesterday and overall it was a good experience. It was just fascinating to see the world through the eyes of such an influential person. (I know, it's a novel, not science, and much is made up, but I still found the voice of Hadrian believable and interesting.)

Hadrian was obviously one the good emperors of Rome, but his handling of the Jewish rebellion, his acts of war and his admitted willingness to start a civil war to become ruler makes it clear that he was also a ruthless politician with few moral boundaries in questions of power.

And perhaps also in questions of love? Antonous' suicide raises a lot of questions for me. We know Hadrian was passionate about the young boy, but were the feelings mutual? It would obviously be hard to deny the emperor anything, especially for a poor boy from Bithynia. Did he sacrifice himself as Hadrian fancies, or was his suicide the only way out of the relationship?