Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Beginning the saga

Years ago I first saw the most recent miniseries adaptation of The Forsyte Saga, and years ago I bought the first book of the saga, The Man of Property, by John Galsworthy. I read a couple of chapters and got distracted. Finally, I've gotten back to it. Some combination of a post over at A Work in Progress and some photos at How to be a Retronaut brought it to mind and made reading it seem suddenly necessary.

This is an odd, interesting, satisfying book. It isn't about the grand passions of life, but the lesser, no less driving, emotions--pride, simple pleasure, satisfaction, possession. Mostly possession. The title of the book is constantly relevant, and property takes all forms--things, land, houses, people. Galsworthy's style is unusual and captivating. I hesitate to say this, but he's almost the more masculine form of Virginia Woolf, writing about more material subjects. The style reminds me of Virginia Woolf because the book so often pauses to take a look at things like the sunlight, passing strangers in the street, a background character doing something not very relevant halfway across the city, someone's idle thought even he doesn't acknowledge. This book is a slice of Forsyte life--both the Forsyte family and the generic, upper-middle class Victorian Forsyte.
"A Forsyte," replied young Jolyon, "is not an uncommon animal. There are hundreds among the members of this Club. Hundreds out there in the streets; you meet them wherever you go!"
"And how do you tell them, may I ask?" said Bosinney.
"By their sense of property. A Forsyte takes a practical--one might say a common-sense--view of things, and a practical view of things is based fundamentally on a sense of property. A Forsyte, you will notice, never gives himself away."
... "Ah!" murmured Bosinney. "You should patent the word."
"I should like," said young Jolyon, "to lecture on it: 'Properties and qualties of a Forsyte.'"
But while this book is a slice of life, it also has a powerful plot, which is constantly in the background, sometimes in the foreground, but always barrelling onwards. A Man of Property is in this sense the best of both worlds--little, passingly beautiful moments, and a thoroughly engaging plot. It's a book that doesn't have a remotely happy ending, but leaves you feeling that something has triumphed anyway. Though possibly you just don't care if there's a happy ending now because you know there are lots more book in the saga to read. And I definitely plan to read them soon.

Sunday, March 28, 2010


I bought this ceramic bead the other day purely because it made me think of the pottery in The Children's Book. It has the same colours, the same mood. It's lovely.
"The imposing staircase took an interesting turn as it went up. In an alcove, at the turning, standing on an oak coffin stool was a jar. It was a large earthenware vessel, that bellied out and curved in again, to a tall neck with a fine lip. The glaze was silver-gold, with veilings of aquamarine. The light flowed round the surface, like clouds reflected in water. It was a watery pot. There was a vertical rhythm of rising stems, waterweeds, and a dashing horizontal rhythm of irregular clouds of black-brown wriggling commas, which turned out, inspected closely, to be lifelike tadpoles with translucent tails. The jar had several asymmetric handles which seemed to grow out of it like roots in water, but turned out to have the sly faces and flickering tails of water-snakes, green-spotted gold. It rested on four dark green feet, which were coiled, scaled lizards. Or minor dragons, lying with closed eyes and resting snouts." - The Children's Book, A.S. Byatt, pg. 23

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Photos and baking and making, oh my!

I'm apparently on a photography/baking/crafts kick. I did say this was going to be my spring break of making things. So here are photographs of the baking. None of the crafts, yet, just of crafty tools.Those are cheddar muffins, made from this recipe (only I added garlic powder, because I put garlic in everything). The stuff on top is just leftover chicken, spinach, and garlic (told you) in a frying pan with olive oil. I made ginger cookies, a couple of days ago as well, but they don't photograph prettily.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Friday Ephemera #33

Another lovely Port Townsend building. Port Townsend became a city in 1851, which explains all the lovely Victorian buildings. Its Historic District is a National Historic Landmark.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A slice of LIFE, 1946

I wound up at a lovely old antique shop down under the viaduct in Seattle last Friday, and they had a collection of old LIFE magazines. They were only $5, which seems rather good considering a bit of googling finds me the issue I bought priced around $30. It was 10 cents in 1946. One of the articles is on a manuscript of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland that had recently been auctioned, so I figured I'd post it. (Click on any image to make it full-sized.)And here are some of the pages of the manuscript (not consecutive ones, as I'm sure you can tell).

Friday, March 19, 2010

Friday Ephemera #32

This is the courthouse in Port Townsend, WA. I'm going on a mini-holiday this weekend, and Port Townsend is one of my ports of call. And believe it or not, it really is that sunny today. It's supposed to be 68 degrees tomorrow! Who'd have thought, nice weather for the first day of spring.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Shakespeare again

I've just finished Bill Bryson's biography of Shakespeare, which I only started Tuesday morning and didn't read at all yesterday. It's been lovely to spend most of the afternoon and evening just reading.

I read Bill Bryson's book The Mother Tongue last summer, and found it vastly entertaining. Shakespeare is similarly entertaining and full of facts I feel compelled to relate to people. For example, considering this astounding statistic: in the year of William Shakespeare's birth (1564), the infant mortality rate was at nearly two-thirds. We're lucky Shakespeare wasn't one of them.

The main theme of the book is to keep it relentlessly factual. Bryson constantly points out how little evidence there is related to Shakespeare, and uses the length of the book as illustration to this--he is only able to fill 196 pages. And that's with relating the various myths and conjecture about Shakespeare's life, and then showing how unprovable they are. The book also spends time relating circumstances of Shakespeare's England, all of which adds greatly to appreciation of Shakespeare's life and achievements. There is a chapter devoted to discussion of the "real" Shakespeare, and the history behind the odd but persistent assertion that somebody else wrote Shakespeare's plays.

So if you feel you ought to know more about Shakespeare, this is an excellent book to read, as it is short, interesting, and usefully skeptical.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

It's always been one of my favourite holidays, just because it's so easy to be festive for. We have shamrocks growing along the side of our house, and when I was little I used to eat the flowers.

Have an irrelevant but interesting link for the occasion: Hyper-Realistic Acrylic Body Painting, which reminds me of something out of a story. Like The Witches, maybe.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Glorious Nonfiction

Once again, being reminded how much I love reading nonfiction. I've seen a couple of reviews of Bluestockings: The Remarkable Story of the First Women to Fight for an Education, by Jane Robinson, but the one that made me immediately order it from the library was Cornflower's post about it. In the course of reading the book, she realized she had known one of its subjects, which really drives home the point of the book--that the women whose stories are told made a very real and tangible difference to the next generations of women.

Actually, my very ability to read this book says something for its story. It's not published in the US, so of course my public library didn't have it. My university library didn't even have it, but they managed to interlibrary loan it from a college in Oregon, which incidentally is the other college I might have gone to. So it was my being a college student which enabled my reading about women's fight for college education.

The first women's colleges in England were established at Cambridge in 1869. Incidentally, Cambridge was also the last university in England to grant women real degrees--in 1948. This book doesn't even stretch that far; its scope pretty much ends with the late 1930s. It's not the numbers in the book that make it wonderful reading, though. Bluestockings is stuffed full of lovely anecdotes, and that's really the best way to tell the story. The personal stories and many quotes from diaries and letters make the woman who brought education to their daughters very real.

Having applied to college in recent memory, a favourite anecdote of mine is this one. Elizabeth Smedley applied to St. Hilda's College, Oxford, in 1928. At her admissions interview, the interviewer
"sat in a dim light, by the fireside, making the shadows of different animals appear on the wall by manipulation of her hands. I was full of carefully prepared brilliant thoughts on Shakespeare etc. and was utterly taken aback on being urged to try and make a rabbit or an elephant appear beside hers."(pg. 105)
Miss Smedley got in.

It's not the funny stories, of course that make this book so valuable. One Oxford student, Trixie Pearson, was forced to contemplate leaving her studies because she was unable to afford them. But "discreetly, with infinite sensitivity, the college invented grants and bursaries to help, some of which - Trixie discovered later - came straight from the pockets of her tutors" (pg. 3). Many of its stories are inspiring, some infuriating, all thoroughly worthwhile reading. Bluestockings gives me a profound desire to make the most of my college education. I also rather want to buy a pair of blue stockings.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Friday Ephemera #31

In lieu of keeping calm and carrying on. And this is exactly what I plan to do over my spring break, which officially begins next Wednesday (St. Patrick's Day!). I'm going to prettify shoes and sew something or other, and it is going to be lovely.

This poster seems to have come from here, originally. And here is a Guardian article about the original poster.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Look, a real live book review!

It's so thoroughly satisfying to finish a book you've spent ages reading for no particular reason. I've had Dorothy Sayers' Unnatural Death on the go for weeks, though it's hardly difficult and all things considered I have had time. Just haven't quite gotten around to reading. Not for lack of wanting to, even.

This is the third Lord Peter Wimsey novel I've read, and I can see they get increasingly clever and complicated. In the first book, Whose Body?, I knew who the murderer was about 20 pages before Lord Peter did. Unnatural Death is interesting because we know who the murderer is, but not how the murder was committed, (for a while) what the motive was, or whether there were any accomplices. It's a book interestingly connected to its time, as the law which provides the motive took effect in 1926, and the book was written in 1927. One must wonder if Dorothy Sayers hadn't just happened to read about the change in the law, and thought it would make a good motive for murder.

The book is interestingly full of what appear to amount to lesbian relationships. The victim of the original murder lived with another woman for most of her life, and seems to have completely rejected men as stupid and tiresome. Later, another woman is pretty clearly shown to be in love with a woman. What's less obvious is the view taken on such things. One man says, "The Lord makes a few on 'em that way to suit 'Is own purposes, I suppose." (pg. 122) Later, a woman says, "I cannot help feeling that it is more natural--more proper, in a sense--for a man and a woman to be all in all to one another than for two persons of the same sex." But the reply to this idea is that, "Surely, we have got beyond that point of view in these days." (pg. 158-9) So I can't really make any conclusions about the book's or author's ultimate opinion on these two relationships, but it's interesting that the discussion is there and definitely provides material for my own general musing.

I thought the book ended rather abruptly, like the author had reached her word limit and had to cut it off a bit short. But that's my only real issue with it, apart from some occasional excessive intricacy about family trees and whatnot. My fondness for Lord Peter only increases.

Monday, March 8, 2010


Had an unexpected day of Shakespeare yesterday. I had a DVD of the BBC miniseries Shakespeare Retold floating around, so over lunch I figured I'd sit down and watch it. There are four stories on two discs--Much Ado About Nothing, Macbeth, Taming of the Shrew, and A Midsummer Night's Dream. Predictably, they all have hordes of very recognizable, very good British actors in them. I watched Much Ado About Nothing, because it was the only one of the four I'd never read or seen.

These really are adaptations--they use the story, not the language. Much Ado is set in a fictional local television studio. Beatrice and Benedick are rival news broadcasters. Sarah Parish and Damian Lewis play the pair. I found Sarah Parish extremely familiar, and I know what movies I've seen that she was in, but I don't actually remember her in those movies with any clarity at all, so I don't know why she's so familiar. Damian Lewis, of course, memorable as Soames in The Forsyte Saga. Billie Piper, of Dr Who fame, plays Hero, and everybody else is familiar as well. This was a lovely, lovely adaptation. I couldn't believe I'd never encountered Much Ado before, as it's completely my kind of romantic comedy. And all the actors were perfect in their roles. The tv studio setting worked very well to bring the cast together believably, and it was perfect for people overhearing each other, which is crucial to the story, as microphones and headsets could be left on "accidentally." Anyway, I loved the whole thing.

Later in the day I sat down and read the play. Seemed like the thing to do. It strikes me as rather a simpler story than some of the comedies (Twelfth Night springs to mind as the obvious Comedy With Issues). Much Ado is more black and white, with a clear villain and nothing left particularly unresolved at the end. I'd love to see it performed. I also noticed that Jane Austen borrowed the sentiment in Emma that "if I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more" from Claudio in Much Ado. He says, "Silence is the perfectest herald of joy: I were but little happy, if I could say how much."

I watched Taming of the Shrew, too. I was less impressed with it, but then that play has some unavoidable issues anyway. It did, though, make it much more palatable to a 21st century woman than the original play is. It's not just Kate that must be tamed, it's Petruchio, too. Kate is an MP, played by Shirley Henderson (familiar from all sorts of movies and tv, though I always sort of think of her as Moaning Myrtle in Harry Potter). She's completely terrifying, actually. I never thought of Kate as a shrew in quite that way. She screams at everybody, flips over a table in a restaurant, and generally goes around in a rage. Petruchio played by Rufus Sewell, which I thought was a good choice. Ultimately the whole thing was kind of ridiculous--Petruchio shows up to their wedding in heels, a skirt, and eyeliner, and Kate spends a lot of time running around in her gorgeous wedding dress, getting it really dirty. But it was fun, which I guess is sometimes just the way you have to go with Shakespeare.

Now I'll have to find time to watch the other two stories. Macbeth not my favourite, but it's got Keeley Hawes and Richard Armitage in it, so I'll watch it anyway.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Friday Ephemera #30

Read the text at the bottom. It's the original LOLcat! Sorry, don't remember where I found this.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Not Dead Yet

Yes, I'm still kicking around, but it's getting down to the end of the quarter and I haven't done much reading lately. Here's a quick link for you!

How to Make an Invisible Bookshelf.


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