Monday, November 30, 2009

The Children's Book

The Children's Book is one of those books that you read as an experience. It's not the sort of book that you read simply to have read; you read and it does interesting things to your mind, it gives you certain desires and changes the way you think in that moment. It made me want to create art and gave me the feeling that I had to do it right then, reading that passage, and not go on reading. I couldn't listen to any music with words when reading this. It's the only book (barring poetry), that I've every found this the case with. It just doesn't fit, there's too much nature in the book, it's too wild, for anything but instrumental music. So I went with film soundtracks, particularly Amelie. I should, really, have been listening to Wagner, but I'm not much of a fan.

The book is 675 pages long. It begins in 1895 and ends in 1919. It delves into pottery, the Fabian Society, German puppetry, socialism, the women's suffrage movement, children's fiction, fairy tales, museums, sex, art, war poetry. There are many central characters, but no one really develops into the main character. I kept expecting someone to; the blurb on the front flap makes it sound like Olive Wellwood is the main character, but she isn't. Family, and the intricate inner workings and secrets of families, are central to this book. We have the Wellwoods of Todefright, their rather fitting house--Olive and Humphrey, their children Tom, Dorothy, Phyllis, Hedda, Florian, Robin, and Harry, Olive's sister Violet. The Wellwoods of Portman square, Humphrey's brother Basil, his wife Katharina, their children Charles and Griselda. The family of Purchase House, famous potter Benedict Fludd, his wife Seraphita, his children Geraint, Imogen, and Pomona, his apprentice Phillip Warren and Phillip's sister Elsie. Major Prosper Cain, Special Keepr of Precious Metals in the South Kensington Museum, and his children Julian and Florence. The Stern family in Munich. There are certainly others who flit along the periphery and are sometimes more important to the story than some of these people, but they are far too many to name.

I've been giving some thought to the book's title. This is in no way a book meant for children. It is split into four parts, Beginnings, The Golden Age, The Silver Age, and The Age of Lead, which in some ways I take to mean the growing up of children. The younger generation are all children when the book begins, no one, I think, older than fifteen, but all of them have grown up by the end. What does this say about adulthood? These ages also correspond to the illusions of comfort and perfection and truth some of the characters hold, and how these illusions fade and are broken, but I think the association with growing up is more important. The book says more than once that the best literature of the turn of the century was literature intended for children. J.M. Barrie, Beatrix Potter, E. Nesbit. The book also ends with the (now grown up) children, their parents faded into the background.

Of the 24 years the book covers, some are more in focus than others. The years in between are skated over in a historical context. The wider movements of history are related, events in the lives of historical personages are told. Events in the main, fictional characters lives during these years are mostly told only if they become a part of historical events.

This book is so full of bright ideas, bright both in the sense of intelligence and originality, and in the sense of colour and vividness. Bright images, too, and sometimes darker ones. This is the first (non-school) book I've ever post-it noted to such a degree as I did, for passages I simply liked the sound of, those I thought were clever, and those that made me think or that expressed something I've tried and failed to express for myself.
He sat down on the pebbles, which were warm, and ate the bread and cheese and apple he had brought. He though he must take a stone back with him. It is an ancient instinct to take a stone away from a stony place, to look at it, to give it a form and a life that connect the human being to the mass of inhuman stones. (152)
I've always thought that about stony places, and always liked beaches full of rocks better than sandy ones.
If you knew how somebody's mind worked, did it mean you liked them? (419)
I've thought that, too. Or at least, thought about knowing how people's minds work a lot.

That image, by the way, is the Gloucester Candlestick, which lives in the Victoria and Albert Museum (newly built during the time of The Children's Book). It sort of begins the book.

As with my previous experience of A.S. Byatt, in Possession, The Children's Book does not end as you expect it to, but this does not mean it ends unsatisfyingly. You don't have any expectation of its ending, so there's really no way to be disappointed. I felt there were some ends left loose, but that this was intentional, that it was lifelike, that the characters who were not touched on had simply faded into the background, had had their time and been left behind by the movement of the world. That's what you get from this book. It is infused with a sense of the movement of the world. Sometimes it reads like a (good) history book, and I'm sure it must have needed as much research as one, but like the best history books it also tells a story. And maybe that's what is wonderful about A.S. Byatt. She is writing the history book about characters and events that never happened--it is not a novel, though it lurks (looms, really) on the fiction shelves. It was, for sheer depth and breadth, and extremely satisfying experience.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Adventures in German

Without quite realizing it was happening, I seem to have acquired a preoccupation with the German language, German (and Austrian) literature, and German culture. This isn't something I quite expected to happen, but it's certainly interesting. I'm about a third German heritage-wise, but in my childhood of going through various periods of being obsessed with various cultures, it was the other two-thirds I was obsessed with (Irish and Swedish).

I'm learning the language, first of all. That was a mild accident. I couldn't get into French 201, so I picked another language. I happened to be dating a boy who spoke German, so I'd heard him speak it enough to know I'd find it an interesting language, and was predisposed to learn it anyway (remember when I discovered the word "fremdsprachenfeinheitseifersucht"?), so that was the language I picked.

And then in my comparative literature class, three of the plays we've read (or are reading) were originally written in German (by Bertolt Brecht, Peter Handke, and Max Frisch). So we've talked a lot about 20th century German and Austrian theatre, Brecht's tradition of epic theatre, and so on. I really liked Peter Handke's play-that-isn't-a-play, Offending the Audience (or better translated Public Insult, I'm told); I liked the rhythm of it. I neither really liked nor disliked the Brecht (The Good Person of Sichuan), but found it interesting. I read some essays of his on theatre, also. And the Max Frisch play, Biography: A Game, I haven't finished yet. I need to have it read by tomorrow, though. The little bit I've read is looking pretty fascinating; I think I'm going to enjoy reading it.

And now reading The Children's Book (I finally finished it last night! Will talk about it very soon), German fairytales and puppet theatre come into play. There are so many fascinating things explored in that book, and this is definitely one of the things that most stands out to me. Some of the characters visit turn-of-the-century Munich (München, if you like), which is a pretty interesting episode in the book.

Seeing Lebensraum (six times, all told) and working on it was another encounter with German history.

I don't know that I have any particular conclusions about this turn in my studies, but it's definitely adding a certain flavour to everything, to my reading and thinking. I feel a realm of study open up which I hadn't quite touched before, and it feels a bit like beginning on the path into the maze. I find it so fascinating how one's reading flows in patterns like this. One thing leads to another and you realize you're suddenly an expert (not that I am) on a particular topic or kind of literature.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

On the Table: Books

Still plodding along in The Children's Book. Not that it's at all an unpleasant sort of plodding, but it is a book one has to read deliberately, and it is very long. But I do have a lot of other exciting books I'm looking forwards to.

First up is Past Imperfect, by Julian Fellowes. I know the fellow, of course, because he's an actor, notably in Monarch of the Glen. I can see him being a good writer, though, and the subject of the book sounds intriguing. The narrator is contacted by his old friend Damian, from whom he has been estranged for 40 years, asking for help. The narrator then revisits the summer of 1968, when the friends became estranged, in order to help Damian, and the book sounds particularly interesting to me because it takes place in the side-by-side and occasionally meeting worlds of the upper class, debutantes and such, and the "Swinging Sixties."

Also tempting is The Lodger Shakespeare, by Charles Nicholl. I originally talked about it here, so you might remember it.

I also have Selected Letters of Charlotte Brontë (the Oxford University Press edition). I love reading letters, but I don't tend to get through them all at once so I'll probably read this bit by bit. The Brontës are always fascinating, and I'm sure Charlotte's letters will offer an interesting look into her life.

Ages and ages ago, I read Jo Walton's Farthing, and started Ha'penny, and then school started and I got distracted by all sorts of other things. I'd love to get back to Ha'penny.

Last, Mythago Wood, by Robert Holdstock. I read some of this years and years ago, but I'm sure I was too young for it. The Children's Book brought it back to mind, and it's been on the to-read pile for a while, so hopefully I can get around to it soon.

So all that ought to last me at least until Christmas, at which point I will probably acquire more books that need to be read. Something from Persephone will have to be read at some point fairly soon, and I'm feeling a Jane Austen reread coming on.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Friday Ephemera #17

I've been talking about theatre a lot lately, so I figured I'd go for an image of a theatre this week. This is the St. George Theatre in Staten Island, New York. It first opened in 1929.

Image found here.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope you're all enjoying your turkey, cranberries, and pumpkin pie! Or, if you're poor souls in other countries who don't get two days off, I hope you're enjoying your Thursday. I know I'm going to try and spend the day reading.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

On the Table: Plays

There are three plays I want to see in the month of December. I don't know if I'll make it to all of them, but I would like to. Theater Schmeater is doing At Home at the Zoo, by Edward Albee. This play began as The Zoo Story, a one act, but Albee later wrote a sort of prequel to it, and then mandated that they always be performed together as a full-length play. I read The Zoo Story for my comparative literature class, and it was one of my favourites, so I'd be pretty interested in seeing it performed.

The Bathhouse Theatre is putting on its yearly production of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. I've never seen it though it seems they've been doing it for nine years, so it might be fun to finally see it. And I know some of the actors from Lebensraum.

The one I'm most excited for, however, is Seattle Repertory Theatre's production of Equivocation. I say it's the Rep's, but actually it's traveled from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. I don't know if much has changed in the production since it was performed there, but I was told (by someone whose opinion on theatre I trust a great deal) that I absolutely had to see it. So I shall see it. It's about Shakespeare, apparently, and contains overtones of King Lear and Macbeth, and you know how I love picking out references like that.

So expect to hear more about these. And also expect to hear about what's next in terms of reading, too, since the quarter's coming to its end and I'll have more time to read soon.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Two Plays in Retrospect

Oh, I do love good theatre.

I wasn't terribly impressed by Emma. It was staged very well (kinda sorta in the round), impressive tech-wise, and had an extremely satisfactory ending (in a romantic way), but it was just much too silly. It became well apparent how that happened when I read the director's note in the program, in which he said Emma is basically a soap opera. Harriet Smith was horrible (screechy, giggly, and made up far more unattractive than the actress actually is or than Harriet should be), which I felt was the director's fault and not the actress's. Mr. Weston was goofy, Mr. Elton was far too Mr. Collins-ish. Jane Fairfax just wasn't quite right, Miss Bates wasn't talkative enough, Mr. Woodhouse wasn't feeble enough (he danced at the ball), though he was pretty good at being worried about things. Emma didn't come across as being as intelligent as she ought to be (and I thought she was too short, but that's not her fault), and I didn't really see her falling in love, but she didn't bother me except when I looked deeper. Mr. Knightley I liked. All the women had lovely costumes; most of the men's coats were just bad but the rest of their costumes were all right. So it wasn't a satisfactory Emma at all, but it was very satisfactory theatre and terribly romantic. I left the theatre wanting to go home and reread Emma, but I don't have time to start another book so I watched the last episode of the latest Emma miniseries instead.

I didn't really mean to say so much about Emma, but then I was possessed by a need to be thorough, so there you are. It was Durang7 I came to talk about. Seven one-act plays by Christopher Durang, all absolutely hilarious, all full of references to other plays, theatre history, and general history. Six actors, all of them really fabulous actors. It was great. I spent the majority of the play laughing uproariously, partly because of all the references to plays I've read for school this quarter (Happy Days, The Balcony, Medea), mostly because it was just so good and so funny.

This was the last weekend for both these plays, so I'm just teasing you here talking about them. Keep an eye out for Christopher Durang, though. He's another one that makes you want to read everything he references, which for me is always exciting.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Two plays

I'm having a weekend of theatre, it seems. Which I suppose I did last week too, but I was just seeing the same play three times and running the lights twice, so it was a weekend of theatre in a very different way. I'm not sure I really saw the play at all, since Friday night I could only see about half the stage from where I was squished on a stool, half under a really low ceiling with a vent blowing down my neck, and Saturday I was too busy trying not to screw anything up too badly, turn on lights when they weren't supposed to be on and turn them off when they were.

This weekend, however, I get to actually see the plays. Today I'm going to see Emma, put on by Book-It Repertory Theatre, adapted from Jane Austen by Rachel Atkins. I'm going with my best friend who is just back from college in Oregon, because Emma is our Thing, and we get to have crumpets and tea for lunch first, so it's all very exciting.

Tomorrow I'm seeing Durang7 at Stone Soup Theatre, seven one-act plays by Christopher Durang, which is directed by Maureen Hawkins, who I am extremely fond of as she directed all the plays I did in high school. According to the website the plays lampoon Euripides, Shakespeare, Noel Coward, Beckett, Williams and O’Neill, of which I have read all but one (Noel Coward), so in the way that recognizing references always makes me a bit gleeful, this ought to be lots of fun.

So that's what I've got in the works for my weekend, apart from writing a very short essay on Happy Days by Samuel Beckett and hopefully reading more of The Children's Book.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Great Britain Postage Paid

Getting mail is always exciting (unless it's just ads, of course). Getting mail all the way from London is even more exciting.I bet that little logo looks rather familiar to some people. A while back I filled out the form on the Persephone Books website to receive their catalogue and biannually. I'd rather forgotten about it, but I came home on Friday to find it waiting for me. Already open. Silly father, opening my mail (I suppose he wanted to know what I'd ordered all the way from London).

And inside this nice white package (my address all written out, looks like a fountain pen, first name semi-illegible, the 8 in my zip code all smudgey, and with "Printed Papers" stamped on it from somewhere in the maze of the post) we have several exciting things. First, a bookmark, for The Casino by Margaret Bonham, the excerpt of which sounds extremely intriguing. Then there's a "We are very pleased to be sending you..." letter, which talks about their latest books and how to buy them. (You're reading this, by the way, in the order I came to each item. Just so's you know.) Then the The Persephone Catalogue, No. 10. It's the most lovely catalogue I've ever seen. Information about all 86 books (oh dear, and I've only read one and a half), pictures of and blurbs about all the endpapers (which, if you didn't know, are images of fabric from the era of the book), some of them have images of manuscript pages or other relevant illustrations. I'm looking so looking forward to reading through this, though I'm sure it's going to make me want all these books desperately.

Lastly I uncovered the biannually, but first let me mention the order form. The paragraph about the cost is the most convoluted thing I've ever read, but it's also sort of whimsical. It's certainly far from buying books on Amazon. "Please send books No:___ at a cost of £10 for each of the 86 grey Originals or £9 for each Classic or £27 for three, + £2 p&p per book within the UK eg one book including UK postage is £12 (but £11 for one Classic), two books are £24 (but £22 for two Classics or £23 for one Classic and one Original, or any three books are £33."

The biannually talks about their three newest books, has some blurbs from various readers, reviewers, and bloggers (many of whom I read, so it's funny to see them in here) about some of their books, very short summaries about all 86 books, a short story by Dorothy Whipple, and a lot of nice illustrations.

So this was definitely much more exciting than the sorts of catalogues you usually get in the mail, and I can't wait to have time to read it (not looking likely in the very near future, it's nearly the end of the quarter and work is building up). Not to mention, time to read all these books. And of course now I've foolishly started looking through the UW library website to see which they have or could interlibrary loan, having realized that now I have access to it it's the perfect way to get British books I couldn't get otherwise. Oh, it's all so tempting.

Friday Ephemera #16

Oh right, it's Friday. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, then...Having clicked through several pages of pumpkin pies on Google images, I'm now really looking forward to next week and the prospect of pumpkin pie. Or maybe pumpkin cheesecake. I did have pumpkin pancakes for breakfast this morning (breakfast on occasion turns out to be one of the few perks of dorm food), but they didn't taste all that pumpkiny. Have I said the word "pumpkin" enough times yet?

It seems I've been pretty busy this week, though I'm not sure what with exactly. I can only tell because I've done hardly any reading that wasn't for class and I'm way behind on my blog-reading. I did come home today to find something exciting in the mail, but you'll have to wait to hear about that until Monday. Have a good weekend!

Turkeyish pumpkin pie found here.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Apart from Victorian poetry, The Children's Book is also making me want to draw. I was sitting in a study/lounge room downstairs reading the book, and I kept having visions of giant (probably too ambitious for my abilities) pencil drawings, and being completely distracted from the book by the compulsive urge to go start drawing them.

Combine this with the urges I'm having to sew, make jewellery, make Ukrainian eggs, decorate for Christmas, and bake things, none of which I'm really able to do in a dorm room, I'm getting very distracted both from schoolwork and from my other reading.

I'm still quite wrapped up in The Children's Book, despite this. It's a book that needs to be savoured, and I am duly savouring it, but this is a problem given that it's due back at the library next Tuesday, and can't be renewed. I may have to just let it go overdue (sorry, waiting people), and hope I have time to finish it over the Thanksgiving break.

There's something special about a book that inspires you to other things. This book both to read poetry and to create things, for me. Tam Lin, of course, is my classic poetry and Shakespeare inspiration. I love reading poetry, so it's always nice to have this boost, and I never have the urge to draw unless something in particular inspires me to it. There's also an element wherein this allows you to draw out the experience of reading the inspiration book. You have to pause and indulge your inspiration, even if you want to keep reading.

I don't know if I can think of any other books I've read that particularly inspire me to things (though I'm sure there are some that make me want to write). What books have this effect on you?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Maids heard the goblins cry:

Congratulations those who guessed! The illustration was from "Goblin Market," by Christina Rossetti.

A.S. Byatt's books always seems to inspire me to read Victorian poetry. The Children's Book is no different, and this time the poetry in question is "Goblin Market." I'm fairly sure the book mentions it and that's why I thought of it, but I might have done anyway. It's one I always meant to read. And it fits very nicely with themes in The Children's Book, with much of the mood.
Backwards up the mossy glen
Turned and trooped the goblin men,
With their shrill repeated cry,
"Come buy, come buy."
When they reached where Laura was
They stood stock still upon the moss,
Leering at each other,
Brother with queer brother;
Signalling each other,
Brother with sly brother.
One set his basket down,
One reared his plate;
One began to weave a crown
Of tendrils, leaves, and rough nuts brown
(Men sell not such in any town);
One heaved the golden weight
Of dish and fruit to offer her:
"Come buy, come buy," was still their cry.
I've always loved depictions of a sinister kind of Fairyland, or Elfland. They're so thoroughly rooted in mythology and history, and like the fruits of Elfland, "Plump unpecked cherries-- Melons and raspberries, Bloom-down-cheeked peaches," colourful and enticing and thoroughly dangerous.

You can read the entire poem here.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday Ephemera #15

I've cut off the part of this image that says what it's an illustration of. Any guesses? The drawing is by Margaret Tarrant.

In any case, you'll find out tomorrow.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Greek love

The latest of my reading for my Greek and Roman literature class is Daphnis and Chloe. It is an example of the less well-known genre in Greek literature of the novel, and it is also a member of the pastoral genre. It is a romance. It has a happy ending.

The novel is in four parts, written by a fellow who may or may not have been called Longus, about whom nothing else is known. For some reason it impressed me particularly. It is so very very close to being completely saccharine, as the idea of the pastoral genre might suggest to you. Daphnis and Chloe, our hero and heroine, are very much innocents, essentially children, who fall in love while herding their goats and sheep. Daphnis is found as a baby by a goatherd, being suckled by a goat, and Chloe is found by a shepherd being suckled by a sheep. They are of course of noble birth, and so the story goes. It's really a very unoriginal plot, but it remains appealing. It is also so close to being sappy--yet it isn't, somehow.

One feature of the story is that Daphnis and Chloe fall in love and don't realize what it is because no one has ever spoken of love to them; they don't know what it is. This got me wondering about romantic love as an instinct. It is something that's so written of, such a societal institution to us now, that it seems so odd never to have heard of the concept, and how do all these love stories we've all grown up hearing and reading and seeing affect our ideas and feelings of love? So that's interesting to contemplate.

Perhaps in my reading of this I was just in the perfect mental and emotional state to accept and contemplate this story. I can see how others wouldn't be, but if you read it at the right time I think it's a lovely read.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


I mentioned a few days ago the play, Lebensraum, that I was going to see. Normally I wouldn't review a production I'm involved with, but I'm only peripherally involved in this one--I'm running the lights for the two shows next Saturday, so having not been through the rehearsal process with it I'm not too attached to it to be objective. But I have seen it three times, so you can be sure I know what I'm talking about.

You've missed the first weekend if you live in Seattle and want to see it, but it's showing next Friday and Saturday at 7:00, and Saturday at 2:00, at the Bathhouse (it's on Greenlake, look up Seattle Public Theater if you don't know it). And it is free! (Though of course accepting donations.) You cannot beat free theatre.

The premise of the play, by Israel Horovitz, is that the chancellor of Germany suddenly has a brainwave and invites 6 million Jews to relocate to Germany. This is of course not well thought out, Germany doesn't have enough jobs as it is, where are they all going to live, and so on. This premise of course brings up the Holocaust and the German relationship to the Holocaust. And it manages to do this extremely well. It is very funny, which I always think is the best way to handle everything. George Bernard Shaw said, "Life does not cease to be funny when people die any more than it ceases to be serious when people laugh." As one character says, if you don't laugh, you cry. It is not, of course, making fun of any of this awful history, it is simply handling it gently and with humour.

The play was written for three actors, but this production is performed by seventeen. Still, many of the actors play multiple characters. It is a very theatrical play, often with actors narrating the action, and this works very well for it. I was extremely impressed by the acting. This is part of Seattle Public Theater's education program, so all the actors are high school students. Many of them have been acting for years, and are vastly talented. There's also a question and answer/discussion session after the play (which runs about an hour and 40 minutes including intermission), which I think adds to the experience very much.

If you do live in Seattle, go see this. If you don't, look out for someone in your area producing it, and go see it when they do.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Clouds of Witness

I have hereby finished my first non-class required book since school started. Not that I haven't read others somewhat, just that I haven't finished any of them.

It was Dorothy L. Sayers's Clouds of Witness, the second Lord Peter Wimsey book. Where the last book featured a mysterious naked dead fellow in a bathtub and a disappeared businessman, this one hits closer to home for Lord Peter. His sister's fiancé, Denis Cathcart, is found dead of a bullet in the chest, and his brother Gerald, Duke of Denver, is accused of the murder. This book seems to me to be leaps and bounds ahead of its predecessor, Whose Body?. I'd solved the mystery in that one twenty pages before Lord Peter did, but this time I was quite stumped until the end. Clouds of Witness is an enormous collection of clues and red herrings and loose ends.

It's a very good mystery, but as with many mystery novels it's the detective who makes it great. He has the most wonderful expressions, amusing divergences from the point that make him rather fascinating.
"I say, I don't think the human frame is very thoughtfully constructed for this sleuth-hound business. If one could go on all-fours, or had eyes in one's knees, it would be a lot more practical."

"There are many difficulties inherent in a teleological view of creation," said Parker placidly.
Just picture having eyes in your knees. Parker, Lord Peter's police detective cohort, is quite an excellent companion for him, believable as someone Peter would be fond of, but also sensible and average enough to balance him out.

I think a mystery was exactly what I needed to get me through a book, and I'm very glad to have read it.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Anniversary and some links

Today is the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. I know this because by virtue of taking a German class I acquired a luridly pink t-shirt that says so. I had yet to be born in 1989, but the fact that it was twenty years ago is a bit odd nonetheless.

Irrelevant to this anniversary, I have some links for you.

Libraries of C.E.O.s, a 2007 article just alerted to me by Cornflower's book blog.

Apparently, babies start learning language in the womb.

Colonial Williamsburg has started putting their collection of historic artefacts online. This is mainly interesting to me as a resource for costume research, but it'd be fun to browse through all of it.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Cosy reading

The last two nights we've had thunder and lightning, ridiculous amounts of hail, torrents of rain. We have also had brilliant sunshine, mind you, but the stormy weather has put me in quite the reading mood. Fortunately I've already done most of my homework for the weekend, so I will even have time! What do I have on the table?

Clouds of Witness, by Dorothy L. Sayers. This is my second Lord Peter Wimsey novel, and it is definitely upholding the interest sparked by the first one. I would go so far to say that it is better than the first one. Unsurprising, as that one was just introducing the characters; with the second novel it's really got into the swing of things, Lord Peter can be further explored, we meet more of his family, and so on. I'll have more to say on the book when I finish it; at the moment I'm a little less than halfway through. But maybe I can finish it this weekend! Crossing fingers.

I have not started, but am eagerly looking forward to The Children's Book, by A.S. Byatt. It is sitting, a noticeable presence, on a chair in the living room, waiting for me. I gather it is about all sorts of things, children's books, a family, pottery, changing times, and lots else besides. I read A.S. Byatt's Possession a few years ago and loved it entirely (and thus hated most of the movie), and her writing in general is wonderful. I started The Biographer's Tale a while ago and didn't finish it, but it's still on one of my shelves so maybe I'll get back to it eventually. I do hope so.

So that's what's on the table. I may also finish Daphnis and Chloe. I've read three quarters of it, and half to read the last for next Wednesday for class, so maybe I'll get ahead and finish it. I'm definitely going to talk about that one when I do, since I find it fascinating and lovely.

So that's what's on the table for my weekend, besides drinking lots of tea, seeing the same play twice (Lebensraum by Israel Horowitz, and maybe I'll review it), and buying non-holey jeans.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Friday Ephemera #14

So it's another pumpkiny thing this week. I know Halloween's over, but November is still an acceptable month for pumpkins, and this one is special.It's a gourd carved for Day of the Dead. Sorry, haven't got the source, my mother sent it to me. Wouldn't want to meet this fellow in a dark alley, would you?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A look at Shakespeare

I got a package from my father the other day. This does not sound particularly entertaining, until you learn that it came in a University Bookstore box and was no doubt sent from there, since my father works in the shipping department, and that I live five blocks away from the University Bookstore. Oh, my parents. It was fun to get mail, though.

Anyway, in the box I found a Halloween card, a bar of chocolate, and two books. One of them was the play Dancing at Lughnasa, by Brian Friel, which does look interesting, but the other book is the one that particularly caught my eye.

This is The Lodger Shakespeare: His Life on Silver Street, by Charles Nicholl. Apparently there is a record of the testimony Shakespeare gave in a court case over an unpaid dowry in 1612, the only spoken words of his that are recorded. His testimony relates to his time as a lodger in the house of a French immigrant family called the Mountjoys, and the biography focuses on this period in his life and his circumstances when he lived there. I've never read a biography of Shakespeare, and while I assume the book will go into some discussion of the rest of his life, I think it will be fascinating to read something about him so closely focused. And something which sounds surprisingly original for a book about Shakespeare.

I'm really looking forward to reading this. Let's hope I can find some time for it.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Miss Woodhouse

I've finally got around to watching all of the new BBC production of Emma. I have to say I loved it. I hear some people were less than thrilled, though I don't know their reasons, but I thought it was lovely. It's the only one of the three Emma films I've seen where I liked the actors for both Emma and Mr. Knightley (I absolutely can't stand Gwyneth Paltrow for no particular reason, and the Knightley in the Kate Beckinsale version was boring). I thought they did a good job both in translating the mood of the book and in making it romantic enough to appeal to modern viewers (which of course they can't help doing, so at least they did it reasonably well).

Emma was not a book I expected to like before I started it. This, of course, was back in the day where I still thought my chances of liking a Jane Austen novel weren't assured. With that reaction, it's funny that it's become one of my favourites. I love Pride and Prejudice for being my first Jane Austen, Persuasion for the story, Mansfield Park for Fanny Price and because it was the first one where I really and truly appreciated Jane Austen's writing, and Emma because it's so very very good. I think it's possibly the most rounded out of the six novels.

Emma is also a very sentimental story for me because somehow it's become a book that is part of the definition of my relationship with my best friend. In a lot of ways we use it to help articulate what we mean in conversations, as a reference point for rather a lot of different topics (which I suppose further points out the roundedness of the book).

With all this in mind, it is absolutely lovely to finally see a film version of Emma that I really feel does it justice.

Monday, November 2, 2009


Having read Medea for class, I can now say I have read three of Euripides' plays (the other two being Helen and The Bacchae). I think this is really pretty good. I even, this time around, read most of the (quite long) introduction to the book, and all of the introduction to Medea.

Euripides, it turns out, is of particular interest because no one can decide if he was a feminist (or the Greek variant thereof) or the opposite. He featured women as main characters more often than either of the other two 5th century Athenian tragedians (Aristophanes and Sophocles) whose plays remain to us. These were often very powerful women, who in all kinds of ways defy ancient Greek assumptions of what a woman is supposed to be. Medea is this extremely powerful woman, yet she is also terrible woman. We have to ask whether Euripides was saying that only the bad women can have power, or whether the only acceptable way to show that women could be powerful was to make them bad.

Medea is of particular interest in this question. You know the story, right? She helps Jason steal the Golden Fleece and then runs away to Corinth with him, they have two sons, and then he leaves her to marry the daughter of King Kreon. She is (justifiably) angry, and decides (justifiably?) to kill Jason's new wife, Jason's new father-in-law, and both of her sons. Medea is in many ways very masculine, often uses masculine language for things (yes, I even read the forty billion endnotes that told me this), kills her children using a sword, a stereotypically masculine means of death. She is also very feminine, represented as loving her children enormously, and she kills Kreon and his daughter by poison, a stereotypically feminine method. In Greek terms, of course, appearing on stage at all is masculine. Women were supposed to stay inside the house, and the way the Greek theatre was set up there was a house at the back of the stage; to be on stage you had to come out of the house.

Medea is the driving force of the play. By contrast, all the men are rather ineffective. Kreon knows something bad will happen if he doesn't exile Medea immediately, but this doesn't help him. Jason, too, appears a little wishy-washy. So gender in this play is complicated.

I'm sad the experience of real Greek theatre can't be totally recreated. Greek theatre was much more like a baseball game than a modern play, and there's really no way to change the expectations of modern theatregoers enough to achieve that.

So I liked the play a lot, insofar as it raises interesting questions and musings. I'd like to see a production of it, even if it won't be much like Euripides intended.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Happy Noveling!

National Novel Writing Month began today at midnight. In case you don't already know, the goal is to write 50,000 words of a novel between 12:00 AM November 1st and 11:59 PM November 31st. I've participated for the last two years and also did a novel in July. I won the first year and the July novel, but not last year. Too busy, not enough oomph in my story.

I don't know if I'm going to win this year. My story is extremely vague (but then, so was the July novel when I started it). I might just go to write-ins (meetings, usually in coffee shops, of fellow NaNo participants) and try and write some short stories; we'll see. Maybe I'll come out of the month with a novel. That's the beauty of the thing--you never really know.

Happy writing, novelists, and if you're not participating have fun watching and laughing at those who are!


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