Saturday, June 30, 2012

A Farewell to Arms Readalong IV

The readalong at War Through the Generations is wrapping up, and here are the final discussion questions.  Don't read this if you don't want to know what happens at the end.

1.  In Chapter 31, as Henry is swept down the river, he refers to a “we”.  Who do you think this “we” is?

I just assumed that he was speaking of himself only and using a sort of figure of speech.  I noticed it, but didn't think about it too much.

2.  After Henry’s escape into the river, he talks about not having any obligation to the war effort on either side, though he wishes both sides luck.  Do you think he is no longer brave/courageous or is it something else?  Explain.

I think he's had enough and sees that moment of escape as an irrevocable choice to leave the war.  He's in a bind--he's been trying to do his duty and get the cars and equipment where they're supposed to go, but it's a mess, and now he's been picked up and will be shot as a deserter or a spy no matter what he does.  No one is going to listen to his story, and it's either escape or die.  So I think the way he sees it, the war hasn't given him any choice; they threw him out and now he's on his own.  Since they threw him out, he doesn't owe anyone anything.  He got caught up in the stubborn stupidity of WWI military bureaucracy and he didn't have much choice.

3.  In this last section, it seems that some humor comes into play between Henry and Catherine.  Did this impact your feelings about the characters and/or their relationship?

They seemed to develop a more real relationship during this time.  They did some real things.  They're still hiding out from the rest of the world in their Swiss mountain cabin, but that's what the situation is; at no time are they allowed to have a normal real-world life.  I thought Catherine became more practical at this point; for the first time she's concerned about the future and about what will happen, though they mostly still ignore it.  And she resolutely ignores a lot about the impending birth, even saying in the boat that life would be a lot easier if she lost the baby.  No wonder Henry feels little attachment to it.

4.  What did you think of the ending? Did you think it was too abrupt?

I thought it was pretty good.  There's not much more to say, unless you want to write a different novel about Henry getting through life and recovering from grief, or not; really I wouldn't be surprised if he goes out and drinks himself to death as quickly as possible.

5.  What did you think of Catherine’s death and Henry’s reaction to losing her?

I figured she would die.  I never could see them settling down into a family, that doesn't strike me as Hemingway's style, but it was pretty depressing.  I don't quite understand how gas worked in this era, so Catherine taking big breaths of it with every contraction kind of freaked me out.  (My own first labor looked very much like this one--a long, exhausting labor followed by a c-section and a huge baby, but since I'm lucky enough to live nearly 100 years later, we survived thanks to the wonders of modern medicine.)  That is a huge baby--5 kilos is about 11 pounds.  Even my kid at over 10 pounds wasn't that big--I have to wonder if Hemingway realized just how giant a baby that is.

Anyway.  Henry loses everything.  It's not until the end that you realize how much he loves her.  I thought she was quite brave about it.  Poor Henry, though, I wonder what will happen to him.

6.  What are your overall impressions of A Farewell to Arms?

It wasn't really my kind of a book.  But I've been glad to have others' thoughts about it in this readalong project, and now I can say I've read some Hemingway.

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV

Wednesday, June 27, 2012


Yvain: the Knight of the Lion, by Chretien de Troyes

Chretien de Troyes was one of the key poets in turning some old legends about a King Arthur who fought the Romans and had a really prophetic wizard into the King Arthur whose stories we know so well.  And he wasn't British.  He was French, and he turned the stories into fashionable French romances.  Chretien invented the character of Lancelot and the whole Lancelot/Guinevere storyline.  Yvain was one of his favorite poems (I gather) and works as a sort of proto-novel in its structure.

Yvain is a knight of great prowess, related to Gawain.  He does great deeds and wins a wonderful prize, but he loses it all through his own fault. Poor Yvain goes through many trials to atone for his thoughtlessness.  Along the way, he saves a lion and earns its loyalty, so he is known as the Knight of the Lion.

I'm always interested in the setting for the Arthurian stories.  Knights and maidens go venturing through a trackless forest, hoping to find adventure or help or whatever it is they're looking for, but it's a fairy-tale sort of forest; you get where you're going through magic or fate.  (You always know that Broceliande is a specially magic forest, by the way.  It's the wormhole technology of medieval France.) No one has a map or any idea where to go.  Roads are chancy. Everyone just wanders around and ends up in the right place.  This world is populated by knights and ladies, hermits and nuns, but remarkably few peasants.   Yvain actually had some townspeople, who said a few things, and that was a bit unusual.

It was quite fun to read an Arthurian story for this medieval project.  This happens to be the only Chretien tale that I didn't read in college, and it was a nice break before I tackle something larger, like The Golden Legend or Piers Plowman--both of those are sitting on my nightstand.

Chretien and I go back a long way, and it's a fun coincidence that I read this story just in time for the anniversary of when my husband and I got engaged, since Chretien was involved a little bit.  In the spring of 1995, I was in my last semester of college and auditing a course in medieval literature taught by my favorite professor.  I was therefore carrying my volume of Arthurian Romances one day when I met up with some other people I knew in hopes of a carpool to an event in the next town.  The car never showed up, but a cute new guy who had just come back from two years in South America asked me about my book--he thought I must be reading French, which would have been impressive if true.  As we gave up on the car and started leaving, the new guy offered to walk me home, but his brother asked why that would be necessary (since it was afternoon and not dark), so I quickly went on my way and they walked in the other direction.  Some time later, the brother figured out why someone might want to walk a girl home!   This small setback didn't do any harm, I guess, since the cute new guy walked me home several times after that, and got me to marry him less than a year later.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Madame Bovary, Part III

It's the final post on Madame Bovary, and there are spoilers, so don't keep reading if you haven't read it yet!

This last part was very sad.  Emma's immaturity and greed just catches up with her on all fronts, but I was surprised that it was her debt that finished her off, not her adultery (though they have the same root cause).

Emma reminds me of several literary heroines who have similar flaws, but who conquer them--frequently in moral novels for girls.  Anne Shirley wants romance, but her sense of humor, moral training, and good sense eventually teach her that the real boy next door is better than a fictional brooding hero.  Meg and Amy March both desire luxury, but each receives lessons about the vanity of wanting more than you can have.  Oh, let's not forget Marianne Dashwood, who nearly loses her respectability and her life to her romantic notions, and learns to value solid worth!  (None of these people stop being romantic; they just learn to control themselves, as we all must.)  Emma Bovary never tries to conquer her flaws, and she's able to dodge all consequences until the final smash overwhelms her.  She's what happens to a completely uncontrolled extravagant/romantic personality.  And here I thought realistic novels weren't supposed to be moral cautionary tales...

Some bits caught my eye as illuminating Emma's character:

"It's quite improper, you know."
"In what way?" replied the clerk.  "They do it in Paris!"
And that remark, like an irresistible argument, decided her.

Not that she needed much convincing anyway!  But Emma wants to be doing the fashionable, popular thing, and whatever people are doing in Paris, she'll do it too.  (At this point her mother would demand, "And if people in Paris were jumping off cliffs, would you do that too?")

Emma was becoming a little confused by his calculations, and she felt a ringing in her ears as if gold coins were bursting out of their sacks and clinking on the floor all around her...A vista of attainable fantasies then opened out before Emma...

Poor silly Emma, discovering how easy it is to borrow money is her downfall.  She really thinks that she can just keep putting off the day of payment, and have all those little luxuries she wants.   This bit reminded me rather strongly of our recent mortgage bubble!  It's hard to learn that you should only buy what you can afford to pay for--it's all too easy to get into debt just trying to feed your family!

It didn't matter.  She was not happy and never had been.  Why was life so inadequate, why did the things she depended on turn immediately to dust?...Yet if somewhere there existed a strong, handsome being, with a valorous nature, at once exalted and refined, with the heart of a poet in the shape of an angel, a lyre with strings of brass, sounding elegiac epithalamiums to the heavens, they why mightn't she, by chance, find him?  Oh, what an impossibility!  Nothing, anyway, was worth looking for; everything was a lie.  Every smile hid a yawn of boredom, every joy a malediction, every pleasure its own disgust, and the sweetest kisses left on your lips no more than a vain longing for a more sublime pleasure.

I think that just about sums it up; Emma is fundamentally discontented and will never be satisfied.

Unfortunately her discontent ruins everyone else too.  I did hope that at least little Berthe would go on to a better life eventually, but no!

It's an excellent book, so well-written--and so depressing.  I think I need to read a nice cheerful book now.

Madame Bovary Readalong, Part I
Madame Bovary Readalong, Part II
Madame Bovary Readalong, Part III

Little Women

Little Women, by Lousia May Alcott

I'm going to be writing a bit about this book for the Feminist Classics Project, so this is just a quick post to say that I read Little Women over the past few days and enjoyed it thoroughly.  I always refused to read it when I was a kid--I avoided anything with the word 'classic' on it, especially anything American--and I missed out!  When the movie came out in the mid-90s, an old friend of mine found out that I had never read it.  She bought me a copy, and I have just re-read it again.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Warbreaker Readalong: Wrapup

I finished Warbreaker; the last section was very short and action-packed.  I did feel like the conclusion was too hurried!   I still have some questions. 
1. There were a whole bunch of character revelations in this last
section of the book. We now know who Warbreaker is, and what
Blushweaver's motivations are, and who was behind the war, and the
intentions of several characters we suspected. How do you feel, now
that everything's out in the open? 
 The bad guys turn out to be the people no one was paying any attention to.  I'm not sure how I like that.  I think Sanderson was too vague about them throughout the book; I wanted to know more about the Pahn Kahl earlier anyway.  They've got a different religion, but no one ever says what that is.  They're just quiet quiet quiet...and bam!  We're going to kill everyone!
The priests could have avoided a lot of problems by just explaining their perfectly harmless plan in the first place.  That does kind of bug me.  Many adventure novels depend on people keeping secrets, but one hopes the secrets are kept for some actual purpose.

I like Vivenna's decisions about what to do with her life.  I think she can develop into a very interesting person.  Siri too--I suppose that she and Susebron will have to rule Hallandren for at least a while now, rather than giving up the throne to an infant.  Maybe they can raise the infant as an adopted heir, make the system a little more functional.
 2. At the beginning of our group read, I asked if you thought the
Returned actually were divine. We saw Lightsong change his mind on his
own divinity, and learned a bit more about the Returned. Has your
answer about divinity changed, then, since the beginning of the book? 
 That was really interesting , how Lightsong remembered his former life and how he Returned.  I guess I'd call them, not gods, but...angels of some kind?  It's an interesting setup--they really do Return for a reason, but they don't remember what that is, and how does that jibe with having to consume a Breath every week?  And what is Breath anyway??
 3. Now that we've seen Nightblood in action, firsthand, and know more
about its history, what do you think about it as an object? What are
your thoughts about Vasher's relationship with the sword? 
 I thought Vasher saw it as a burden that he has to carry, and I think I was right about that.  Clearly endowing steel with Breath is kind of a bad idea.  Nightblood has personality and purpose, but it has no idea that it's evil or how to fulfil its purpose besides killing everyone in the vicinity.  
I'm pretty impressed that Vasher turned out to be the original Manywar guy, and Denth his former companion.  I liked the very subtle hints that were dropped about Vasher's former occupation!  I never believed that there would actually be a phantom army, and clearly I was letting skepticism get in the way of paying attention to a Chekhov's gun device.
 4. Lastly, what are your final thoughts on Warbreaker? How did it
compare to other books you've read, and to other Sanderson, if you've
read more by him?
I enjoyed it overall, but am a bit frustrated with the lack of answers to some questions and the sudden wrapup.  I've read a good deal of his other non-Jordan-related works and I can tell that this is an earlier work, but it's still pretty good.  In my opinion Sanderson is one of the best authors to show up in the fantasy genre in years, and Warbreaker is a good story despite minor flaws.
Was Sanderson originally planning a sequel to this story?  The end chapter seems to set up that possibility.

And that wraps it up for my first readalong.  It was fun, and though with 3 going at once it got a little ridiculous, I'll do one again sometime.   I'm a bit readalonged out for now, though.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

For Anne Fans

Anne's Anthology: Following the Footnote Trail, ed. Margie Gray

I know you're out there.  You always spell Anne with an 'e,' you look for kindred spirits, Gilbert is your dream boy, and you would happily go to Prince Edward Island on a vacation.  Possibly you even insisted on a dress with puffed sleeves when you were 14, if you are old enough to have lived through the 80's.

In honor of the Victorian Celebration, I thought I'd let you know about a book just for Anne-addicts.  Anne's Anthology is a collection of poetry that was popular in the Victorian era--every piece that was quoted or referenced in Anne of Green Gables, all gathered into one very large book, complete with where the reference is found.  This is not a collection of Victorian poetry that has remained popular for the last century or so or been judged important; it's a collection of what Victorians themselves liked, which I think makes a difference.

It's not a terribly well-known book.  It's one that homeschoolers use, and if you have to own a copy, you'd probably be better off ordering it from a homeschool supplier than from Amazon.  I got it from Rainbow Resource myself, and I've enjoyed having it.  I've read nearly all of it since I bought it a few years ago.

However I did not actually read the entire 700-page book this week.  I was looking through it last night and read some of the poems, like "The Vision of Sir Launfal," "Curfew Shall Not Ring Tonight," and so on.  But I thought I'd share.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Farewell to Arms Readalong III

War Through the Generations is hosting a readalong of Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms.  This week we read chapters 21-30.

1.  “The coward dies a thousand deaths, the brave but one” is a statement made by Henry, and he and Catherine enter into a discourse about bravery.  Do you think either character is brave and do you think Catherine is right when she says the brave die more deaths but just don’t talk about it? Explain.

I have to say, at this point I think Henry's pretty stoic.  He's put up with months of severe pain with barely a whimper (albeit with quite a lot of brandy).  He's not interested in running into battle, but he's reasonably cool under pressure and I think he's brave.

Catherine, at least, is holding herself together at the prospect of having a baby out of wedlock in a foreign country in the middle of a war with no resources and nowhere to go.  I still think Catherine is a ninny, but I'll give her points for courage.  I think she's probably right about brave people just not talking about their fears, but how would I know? :)

2. What do you think about Henry’s reaction to Catherine’s pregnancy announcement?
He doesn't get much of a chance to say much, does he?  I think he's a decent guy for not freaking out, though.  It always aggravates me when people are surprised that biology works, and you would think she and he would have expected this, but at least he didn't freak out.  I was complaining to myself earlier in the book that no one in novels ever gets pregnant, so at least Hemingway allowed nature to happen.

Other than that, I have no idea how Henry reacted, since you never get any kind of window into his thoughts.

3.  Why do you think Catherine suddenly feels like a whore rather than Henry’s wife?  What does that say about her character?

She has never thought that much about what she's doing, or about what her society would think of her.  She says she feels married, but she also knows that she isn't--she and Henry don't have a home together, and I think going to a hotel for a tryst is just too much reminder of that.  If Henry gets killed, she won't be getting a widow's pension; she'll just be stuck with a baby and no way to support herself.  It's hard to imagine them actually getting married and settling down after the war with a family.

4.  When Henry is debating the feeling of defeat with the priest and the possible end to the war, Henry says, “‘They were beaten to start with.  They were beaten when they took them from their farms and put them in the army.  That is why the peasant has wisdom, because he is defeated from the start.’”  How is this statement true or not true?

I suppose he's saying that the peasants didn't want to have a war in the first place, and they know that fighting is not going to improve things any for them or their families.

5. What do you think about the way Hemingway describes the front?

It's very confusing, and I expect that's realistic!  This was one of the parts I liked best.  They could only see a little of what was happening.

6. What do you think about the shift in the story from Henry’s therapy and his relationship with Catherine to the front and the retreat?

I liked it much better.  I got very tired of Catherine.  I don't like thinking so little of her, but she drives me crazy, never thinking about anything but subsuming herself in Henry.  I don't think much of Henry either, but at least something else is happening!

Part I
Part II
Part III

Part IV

Mount TBR Checkpoint

Bev at My Reader's Block is requiring a challenge check-in.  She says:

For those who would like to participate in this checkpoint post, I'd like you to do two things:

1. Tell us how many miles you've made it up your mountain (# of books read).  If you're really ambitious, you can do some intricate math and figure out how the number of books you've read correlates to actual miles up Pike's Peak, Mt. Ararat, etc.

I started off at the basic Pike's Peak level of 12 books, and completed that a little while ago, so I moved up to Mt. Vancouver--25 books.  I've completed 14 books and am almost done with the 15th.  Here they are:
  1. The Story of an African Farm, by Olive Schreiner
  2. The Man in the High Castle, by Philip K. Dick
  3. The Book of Beasts, trans. T. H. White
  4. Mr. Dixon Disappears, by Ian Sansom
  5. Nightmare Abbey, by Thomas Love Peacock
  6. The Haunted Dolls' House and Other Stories, by M. R. James  
  7. The New Road to Serfdom, by Daniel Hannan 
  8.  Doctor Thorne, by Anthony Trollope
  9. Winking at the Brim, by Gladys Mitchell 
  10. Lovely is the Lee, by Robert Gibbings 
  11. A Collection of Essays by George Orwell
  12.  Erewhon, by Samuel Butler
  13. Decameron, by Boccaccio
  14. Warbreaker, by Brandon Sanderson 
  15. Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert

2. Complete ONE (or more if you're ambitious) of the following:

Who has been your favorite character so far? Why?
 This is a tricky one, as half my books don't have characters, really, or they're satire or stock mystery or something.  But I do love Mary Thorne and her slightly undeserving husband Frank Gresham from the Trollope novel.  I like Siri, Susebron, and Vasher in Warbreaker.  No one else is terribly likeable--Emma Bovary is a well-drawn, fully realized character, and I am loving the book, but I would like to bonk her on the head.

Have any of the books you read surprised you--if so, in what way (not as good as anticipated? unexpected ending? Best thing you've read all year? Etc.) 
I was hoping that Boccaccio would be better than it turned out to be, and I did not expect to enjoy Madame Bovary so much.

Here's my TBR pile as it looks right now (not that much changed!): 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Madame Bovary Readalong, Part II

I've finished Part II of Madame Bovary.  Not much more to go, really.  The writing is just wonderful (I think I said that before)--elegant and realistic and just a bit satiric. 

Emma just keeps making things worse.  She has a baby, but refuses to engage with her child, first because she didn't get to have all the fancy baby accessories she would have liked, and second because she had set her heart upon having a boy.  As a result, she leaves her baby girl with a nurse, which was normal at that time, but she visits only once, and seems not to care about the welfare of her child at all.  When little Berthe returns home, Emma pays almost no attention to her.

For a while Emma cultivates virtuous housekeeping, and very much enjoys watching herself do it, but she is putting on a show more than anything else.  Soon enough a neighbor moves in; he is a man of the world and can easily see that Emma longs for romance.  Completely cold-bloodedly, he decides to seduce her.  It's tragic to watch Emma delude herself that she's finally experiencing true romance, as we see that Rudolphe knows just how to play her.

"He treated her casually.  He made her into something pliant and corrupt.  Hers was a sort of idiot attachment filled with admiration for him; sensual delights for her, a bliss that numbed her; and her soul was sinking into this intoxication and drowning in it, shriveled like the Duke of Clarance in his butt of malmsey."

"...his pleasures, like children in a schoolyard, had so trampled his heart that nothing green now grew there, and whatever passed that way, more heedless than the children, left behind not even its name, as they did, carved on the wall."

Flaubert really likes to put ridiculous touches into scenes of high drama, which I enjoy a lot.  Emma herself would just hate that, since she has no sense of humor.  For example, Rodolphe's speech when he first starts to seduce Emma is all romantic declarations--which are constantly interrupted by the award ceremony at the agricultural fair, so that we hear about rams and pigs even as Emma is in transports.  Flaubert constantly reminds us of the fact that Emma is always trying to forget; real life is full of mundane and unexalted details that have to be lived with.  You can't really live on nothing but romance.  If you try, you'll end up--at best--feeling silly, like Anne Shirley trying to be the Lady of Shalott.

Again and again, Emma sets up expectations of how things ought to be.  When life fails to live up to her imaginings, she gives in to petulance and resentment.  And Rudolphe uses it to victimize her.  Things are not going to end well.

Part II begins with a description of the country around the Bovarys' new village.  It sounds lovely: "the countryside resembles a great mantle, unfolded, its green velvet collar edged with silver braid."  But the concluding paragraph tells of a different reality beneath the first impression: "Here you are on the borders of Normandy, Picardy, and Ile-de-France, a mongrel region where the language is without expressive emphasis, just as the landscape is without character.  It is here that they make the worst Neufchatel cheeses in the whole district, while farming is costly, because a good deal of manure is needed to enrich this crumbly soil full of sand and stones."  It's easy to see that Flaubert is describing more than the countryside here; he's telling us about Emma's character.

Note to Emma: life is not actually like a Bollywood movie, though it would
certainly be improved by more spontaneous song and dance numbers.
And saris.

Madame Bovary Readalong, Part I
Madame Bovary Readalong, Part II
Madame Bovary Readalong, Part III

A Treat For Students of Greek Lit

Hey there, Greeklings (and everybody else too)!  Guess what I just found?  A guide to free Loeb ebooks: DownLOEBables.  All the books are in the public domain; these are the first editions from 1911 and thereabouts.*  Now you too can have a Loeb library!

As I've mentioned before, I've always coveted the Loeb editions because of their inherent coolness, but they are quite expensive and I really have no excuse for buying books that are half Greek when I can't even hold the whole alphabet in my head. (I've never had any trouble retaining Russian letters--I remember very very little Russian, but can still sound it out just fine.  I don't know why I can't retain the Greek alphabet properly, though I have improved, so maybe there's still hope.)   Then there are the Latin Loeb books--also very cool, but my Latin is pretty much at a kindergarten level.

But now I can have some Loeb books on my tablet, and that is better than not having any at all!  I do not love ebooks more than print copies, and I practically never buy ebooks, but there is one thing that I just think is wonderful, and that's the amazing access to old texts that I cannot get hold of in print. 

If you are even more of a student of Greek, here is a blog post devoted to ebooks for learning the language!

*Since these are the old translations, keep in mind that they are...polite.  Expurgated.  Bowdlerized!  The rude bits are usually dealt with in footnotes, preferably in Greek or Italian or something, to soften the blow and make sure no one can read one unexpectedly.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

One of those fun things to do

Becca at I Read That Once has asked about reading habits.  So, here are my answers to her questions--

Do you snack while you read? If so, favourite reading snack:
Not very much, but when I do, chocolate!

What is your favourite drink while reading?
Ice water.  Diet Dr. Pepper sometimes.

Do you tend to mark your books as you read, or does the idea of writing in books horrify you?
I don't usually.  Also, I read a lot of library books!  But even if I own the book, it mostly doesn't occur to me to mark it up unless something really jumps out at me.  Even then I tend to go for small bits of paper stuck in to mark places instead.

How do you keep your place while reading a book? Bookmark? Dog-ears? Laying the book flat open?
Usually a bookmark--I have a spot for bookmarks and try to keep a decent supply there.  Some of mine have been floating around for years, like the one from Berkeley Book Consortium, which went out of business eons ago (I bought my copy of Spellcoats and most of Andrew Lang's colored fairy books there, it was a good place).  I don't like to do the other two but (shhh) sometimes will.

This used bookstore is still open, so you can visit it and get a bookmark.  

Fiction, non-fiction, or both?
Half and half!

Are you a person who tends to read to the end of a chapter, or can you stop anywhere?
I can stop anywhere.  Since becoming a parent, I've perfected the art of reading a book one paragraph at a time.

Are you the type of person to throw a book across the room or on the floor if the author irritates you?
Gosh, I would never throw a book!  I might throw one in the trash (if it's too decrepit to donate) but I've never thrown one.  I guess I usually shove it on to my library shelf to get rid of.

If you come across an unfamiliar word, do you stop and look it up right away?
Now that I have my tablet, I am much more likely to stop and look it up.

What are you currently reading?
Madame Bovary, Bleak House, A Farewell to Arms, and Warbreaker.  I am supposed to be reading Little Women, so I think I need to put Bleak House down for a while, but I don't want to.  (This list makes me sound far more literary than I usually am.  It's pure coincidence that there isn't a Margery Allingham mystery or something on there too.)

What is the last book you bought?
Er.  I'm not sure.   I don't buy books very often.  Amazon says The Book of the City of Ladies back in January, but I must have bought something at the local bookstore since then, right?  Oh! I bought Earwig and the Witch when it came out.  I haven't read it yet because it's the very last new DWJ book I'll ever get to read, and I've been putting it off.  I gave one copy to a niece and my kids have read our copy three times each.

Are you the type of person that reads one book at a time, or can you read more than one?
I always have several going at once.  It's pretty ridiculous really.

Do you have a favourite time/place to read?
Wherever I can manage it!  I guess my favorite would be on the couch snuggled up with my husband.

Do you prefer series books or stand alones?
I never thought about it!

Is there a specific book or author you find yourself recommending over and over?
Oh sure.  Diana Wynne Jones, always, and then my other favorites too.  Elizabeth Goudge, quite a bit.

How do you organize your books? (by genre, title, author's last name, etc.)
 By genre or subject, and within that according to what makes most sense.  The various fiction sections are all by author, the history is chronological, the religion is sort of by topic.  I have a bunch of sections that are just one or two shelves, like classical literature, mythology, essays, housekeeping, biographies...those are all just stuck on the right shelves in no particular order.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Prince

The Prince, by Niccolo Machiavelli

Niccolo Machiavelli was a court diplomat working for the Borgias, but they got run out of town by the Medicis and Machiavelli was banished.  Living on his tiny little estate in the country, he wrote The Prince as a gift for Lorenzo de Medici in hopes that it would get him a job.  Machiavelli was a born politician, and though his poverty grated on him, it was really the hope that he could get back into politics and help repair the ruined mess that was Italy that spurred him to write the book.

Machiavelli, evidently wearing a lot of padded clothing
The Prince is written in a plain, straightforward style that will surprise anyone used to the flowery, discursive manner of most medieval works.  Apparently Machiavelli had intentions to pretty it up a bit but never got around to it or something.  Nowadays the style makes it easy to read, to the relief of countless high-school students. But Machiavelli's frequent references to historical events that illustrate his political principles require a good deal of footnote-checking.

The first several chapters were very difficult for me to get through.  They are quite abstract and I kept falling asleep!  I'd read less than a page and lose focus (maybe this is a side-effect of being a mom in summer, taking the kids swimming all the time?).  But pretty soon it gets very interesting.  Machiavelli starts talking about how a prince should behave--should he be generous or frugal?  Lenient or cruel?  Should he keep his word?

Machiavelli's principles throughout are severely practical.  He is aiming at the stability of the state, the general good of the many, and the advancement of 'the prince'--whoever is running the state.  As far as he is concerned, it would be wonderful if everyone was virtuous, but they absolutely are not, and therefore a prince must cultivate an image of virtue while practicing it only when expedient.  At bottom, his philosophical outlook is that "men will always prove bad unless necessity forces them to be good." (ch. 23)

Therefore, a prince should be severe, especially at first, for leniency just makes people think they can take advantage of you, and it leads to trouble (his example here is an incident where a prince was lenient to a couple of troublemakers when Machiavelli wanted them exiled or executed--they went on to foment riots and unrest, leading to many deaths and destruction in the city).  A prince should be frugal, even though it earns him a reputation as a miser, for if a prince is generous enough to get a reputation for it, he will bankrupt himself.  Then he would have to tax his people too much and would be unable to finance his own wars, all to keep a few noblemen happy.  Better to be able to pay for your war yourself and leave your people alone.

A few general principles: Never rely on mercenaries or troops borrowed from other countries.  All you have to do to keep your people happy is to not tax them too much and let them get on with their lives in peace; leave them their property and their honor, and they'll like you fine.  Plan for disaster, and it won't be too bad in reality.  Only keep promises when it's expedient; others won't keep their word to you, so don't worry overmuch about breaking yours when it's politically advantageous.

Certainly Machiavelli is on the amoral side and he believes that the means (pain for a few) justify good ends (peace for the many).  On the other hand he does not advocate harming innocent bystanders; he's much more likely to say that trouble-makers should be visibly punished in order to keep the peace.  He thinks in the long-term.  Machiavelli is unhappy about all the disasters and wars that have ruined the country, and he figures that decent governance, however amoral, would really improve things a lot over the current immoral mess.

I'm glad to have finally read this influential treatise.  And now I've read six medieval works!  I'm halfway! Woohoo!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Warbreaker Readalong IV

This week we read chapters 35-49.  I did not want to stop reading!  There is not much left to go and I can't wait to get to the rest of the story.  I do not see how all my questions can be answered by the end.

1) So, pretty much everything has been flipped up on its head in this section. Which particular revelation was the greatest shock to you and how has it impacted your view of the book as a whole?
 I was really surprised.  Even though I said at the beginning that the two mercenaries reminded me of the horrible Mr Croup and Mr Vandemar (who doesn't say much but tortures small animals a lot), I had gotten to like them and was taken by surprise.  And they were using Vivenna to start the war!  Last week I noticed that she was being counterproductive but I didn't think through the implications enough.

I thought from the start that Vasher didn't seem like a bad guy, and I'm glad to have that confirmed.  And I'm not at all sure that Siri is making smart moves at the moment.
2) Vasher is perhaps one of those things who we’ve had flipped over on us. Turns out he may have once been a scholar, even! Vasher and Viveena have quite the conversation about Awakening and Returned and skate across the topic of ‘Type 4’ Awakened Objects, which the story implies to be objects like Nightblood. Vasher is completely unwilling to discuss it any further – any guesses as to why?
Vasher didn't make Nightblood, but he clearly doesn't want to explain the sword to anyone.  It's quite a burden to him, I think.  I think he probably fears (rightly) that if people get to know much about type 4 objects they will want to make more of them, and it doesn't look like Nightblood can be used for good.  It's a tool with a personality, and all that personality wants is to fulfill its purpose.
3) Siri’s conversation with Treledees perhaps indicated that for all the disregard he shows for Siri, that he may in fact still care for the God King. If true, does this clash with their idea of simply holding onto the Divine Breath until the return of another, or how could you see it being reconciled?
Oh, I think Treledees can care for the vessel and wish for its good, while still putting the vessel completely subordinate to its purpose of passing on the Breath.
4) We’re so far through the book now, and the War has yet to come. Do you (still?) see it as inevitable, or do you think that it may yet be headed off?
 If it is headed off, which I do hope, we will get right to the very brink of war.  Maybe someone will come up with a way to turn off the whole Lifeless army?

Boccaccio's Decameron

What?  A post that isn't about a readalong?  How can it be?

It has taken me months to work my way through the Decameron.  I did not like it about 89% of the time, which is about how many of the 100 stories are repetitively scurrilous.  But now I have done it, and I never need to do it again!

The background for this collection of tales is kind of odd.  The plague is ravaging the city of Florence, so ten Bright Young Things (7 young women and 3 young men) flee the city and lodge in a lovely house in the country, where they sing and dance and generally have a good time while everyone else dies horribly.  Each day, each person must tell a story, and there is generally a theme they have to stick to.  As everyone knows, this book served as a model for Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, in which he uses the same device--but Chaucer spent a lot more time on his characters.  Boccaccio's young beauties are pretty well interchangeable, as far as I can tell, though apparently some critics can tell the difference.

Some of the stories are familiar from other collections; Christine de Pizan used a few (often in a different form) in The City of Ladies, and Chaucer of course lifted some too.  A few are vaguely historical.  Most of them must have been popular anecdotes among the Italians.

I liked the Tenth Day stories best; the theme there was about great and noble deeds, and for once not adultery, so most of them were reasonably good..  But naturally, Boccaccio ends his book with that favorite medieval story, Patient Griselda.  Is there any story that more dramatically shows the difference in mental outlook between medieval people and ourselves?  (On the other hand, maybe only the scholarly men types ever liked that story!  I bet a lot of people rolled their eyes at it.)

I've also been reading The Prince for the past week or so, so I'm all about Italy on the verge of the Renaissance these days.  It's quite an interesting little treatise, but the first few chapters were a bit abstract.  I'd get a couple of paragraphs in and fall asleep!  Now that I'm in the chapters about how to behave, I'm really interested.

I'm way behind on this medieval challenge.  All of the books on my list seem to be incredibly long.  (OK, not The Prince.)  I bet I'll like Piers Plowman better though!  And I did read the first couple of stories in The Golden Legend, hoping that they would be an antidote to Boccaccio, but they were kind of awful in their very own way.  I hope they get better. 

Saturday, June 16, 2012

A Farewell to Arms Readalong II

The Farewell to Arms readalong is hosted at the War Through the Generations blog.

For this week, we read chapters 11-20.  Here are this week’s questions, feel free to join the discussion.

1. There is a lot of talk about being tired or the priest looking tired in this section.  What do you think Hemingway is trying to get at?

War exhausts everyone in the vicinity whether they're actually fighting or not.  The priest isn't fighting, but if he's working near the front or in a hospital (I can't quite tell from the story what he does, but he's working with ambulance drivers, right?), it's his job to comfort the dying, wounded, and distressed.  A priest in WWI had a lot of tough questions to answer!   And then he spends a lot of his time being needled by everyone else, too, which seems to be the main preoccupation, as though he never does any actual priesting.  Anyway, I'm not surprised he's tired.

2.  The relationship between Henry and Catherine is heating up.  At one point she talks about how there is no separate her and that she is Henry.  Please explain what you think she means.

I think that, insofar as she is a character and not a cardboard cutout labeled "The Girl!" (I'm not sure understanding and writing women characters was really Hemingway's strong point), she is kind of a ninny. She wants to sacrifice her self for a great love or something, but really they're in a closed environment having an affair.  She's throwing herself into it, and I don't think Henry really is, and if they leave the hospital they might both find they haven't got much in common and don't know what to do with each other.

3.  What are your impressions of Henry so far given his reaction to the war, being wounded, falling in love, and his relationships to others?

I still feel like I don't particularly know him at all, except that he drinks a lot and he really likes Catherine, because she's pretty and cooperative and there.  He's a reasonably intelligent guy, I think, and willing to be stubborn about what he thinks.  But that distance Hemingway uses so much just bugs me.  (I'm also reading Flaubert, and I know Emma Bovary far better now, though I've read much less of the book.  I don't like her, but I know her!)

4. What do you think of Hemingway’s writing style and the story itself so far? Are you enjoying it?

I'm liking it better now, but still not much.  There are high spots here and there, but they mostly don't involve Catherine, or Henry for that matter--I like reading about the priest or Rinaldi or the doctors.  Interesting that in a novel about World War I the war practically never comes into it.  (Those Charles Todd mysteries that use WWI as a backdrop have more of the war even though they take place almost entirely in England.)  Maybe we'll get to the front at some point?

Here is Hemingway in 1918.  I bet he was much too handsome for his own good, and drank too much.  He really did drive an ambulance and get wounded by a rocket and get a medal.

Part I
Part II
Part III

Part IV

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Madame Bovary Readalong, Part I

I'm not quite sure how everyone is doing this, so I thought I'd do a post each for parts I, II, and III.  I just finished Part I.

The story starts off with Charles Bovary's early life story; his youth, training as a 'public health officer' (not quite a doctor but close-ish), unenthusiastic marriage to an older woman, and then her death and his remarriage to Emma, a farmer's daughter with a convent training.  Only then does the narrative change to Emma's perspective.  Her husband is unthinkingly happy.  He's got a pretty, pleasant wife and his life is comfortable and he doesn't wish for more, but Emma is discontented.

For one thing, she doesn't love her husband.  The excitement of an engagement gave her the illusion of love, but she neither knows nor cares about this actual, real-life, kind of boring husband she's got.  Emma has read lots of novels, and she thinks that real love would involve poetry in the moonlight, whirlwind passion, and preferably a castle with a dashing highwayman or something.

"Before her marriage, she had believed that what she was experiencing was love; but since the happiness that should have resulted from that love had not come, she thought she must have been mistaken.  And Emma tried to find out just what was meant, in life, by the words bliss, passion, and intoxication, which had seemed so beautiful to her in books."

" ...she was too familiar with the country; she knew the bleating flocks, the milking, the plowing.  Accustomed to the calm aspects of things, she turned, instead, toward the more tumultuous.  She loved the sea only for its storms, and greenery only when it grew up here and there among ruins.  She needed to derive from things a sort of personal gain; and she rejected as useless everything that did not contribute to the immediate gratification of her heart,--being by temperament more sentimental than artistic, in search of emotions and not landscapes."

Then, she also wants notoriety and glamour.  Why can't she go to balls in Paris and meet nobility and ravish everyone with her delightful musical talents?  Without the prospect of an admiring audience, she gives up all her interests and putters around the house with nothing to do.  So she goes into a 'decline,' manipulates her husband into moving to a different town, and gets pregnant--strategies that are sure to solve her problems (or not).

To my mind, Emma lacks gumption.  She's reasonably well-off and there are lots of things she could do, but they aren't glamorous things, so she does nothing and feels cheated.  Which is horribly aggravating.  I want to sympathize with the part about not loving her husband, but she did choose to marry him and she makes it difficult!

The writing is beautiful.  It's very physical; things and people are meticulously described.  I don't think Flaubert is constructing a plot in the same way that we would expect in a Victorian novel, it's more modern in structure, with characters sort of aimlessly wandering around the way people do in real life.  I am loving the writing, and enjoying the book, but Emma herself ...oy.

Madame Bovary Readalong, Part I
Madame Bovary Readalong, Part II
Madame Bovary Readalong, Part III

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Warbreaker Readalong III

We're now more than halfway through Warbreaker and I'm really liking it; I don't want to put it down for a week!  Join the discussion at Naithin's blog, Once Upon A Time.

1. Lightsong is beginning to remember his past, or at least, what he thinks is his past. Why do you think this knowledge is coming to him now, after five years as a Returned?

Well, for one thing he's actually putting some effort into it.  He could have tried doing all that stuff at any time, but it was triggered by a mystery landing in his lap--and now for the first time, he's realized that he might still have his talents.  For a minute there I wondered if he wasn't Arsteel in his former life, but I guess probably not, since it's been five years since he Returned.  (Surely Denth wouldn't be so sensitive about it after that long?)

Later on, it mentions that Lifeless retain their talents too, so it makes sense that a Returned would too.  I bet we'll see more parallels between Returned and Lifeless.

(Speaking of Denth--he has a different name!  One just like the Godking's head priest!  Oooooo...)

2. In this section, Vivienna has learned a lot about herself, and not necessarily to her liking. How do you think the new knowledge will change her going forward?

Vivienna is a very proud woman, and I don't mean that in a good way.  She thought she knew everything and she is being forced to realize that she doesn't have a clue about an awful lot.  Other people have points of view that never occurred to her, and she is not as strong and virtuous as she thought.  I think that as she learns more and grows, she will become a very important character; watch out for her!

At the moment she may be making a big mistake.  She's trying to delay or weaken a war with Idris, and one result is that rumors are flying around about her activities, which are interpreted (obvs.) as official attack.  Hallendren appears to fear the Idrians despite their relative weakness, and now there's a faction pushing to start a war and using the sabotage as a reason to do it.  Does this mean that the mercenaries have an ulterior motive?

3. From the beginning of the book, both the Idrians and Lightsong have been telling us that the Returned aren't Gods, and that the Hallendren religion is untrue. Now, though, we've had a few other different perspectives: Jewels' vehement faith in the God King, the God King's own belief in his divinity, and finally, Hoid's collection of historical stories. Given the new information, have your ideas about religion in this book changed? How do you view it now?

I'm more inclined to think that Breath isn't as much of a soul thing as I had assumed, but I still think it's really important--whatever it is.  I still don't think the Returned are gods, but I sure don't know what the heck they are.  And what do the Pahn Kahl believe?

Hoid's story was very informative and highlights how much historical information has been lost; both Hallandren and Idris are missing solid historical knowledge, it looks like.  It's only been a few hundred years, but they're operating from legends, not history.  They are sibling cultures that have both been taught to resent and fear the other for ancient injustices they don't really understand (which sounds really familiar to Sanderson's co-religionists).

4. Denth says, "Every man is a hero in his own story." What do you make of this, especially given Denth and Vasher's apparent rivalry, and Vivenna and Siri's different perspectives of life in Hallendren and the Gods' court?

 It's a true enough statement; we're all the stars of our own stories and the center of our universe.  The inevitable result, which Sanderson brings out in every character in this story, is that we can never really know where everyone else is coming from.  The more we understand other people's stories, the better we can understand their motives and goals and beliefs, but it's never going to be complete.  Vivienna is learning this the hard way because she has always been so encased in her own belief system, but every character illustrates it somehow or other.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

A Farewell to Arms Readalong

So far I've read the first 10 chapters of A Farewell to Arms.  And so far I'm not enthralled, but hey, we can hope.  I didn't really expect to love Hemingway's famous style.   Here are the questions from the War Through the Generations blog:

For this week, we read chapters 1-10.  Here are this week’s questions, feel free to join the discussion.

So far, how do you feel about Hemingway’s writing style? Are you enjoying it?

Not really.  He does make you work by plopping you into the story with no introduction; you just have to figure out where you are, and that's not a bad thing in my opinion (SF generally works best that way).  He likes run-on sentences without commas, which was probably quite new and original back then, but now makes me think of Cormac McCarthy.  Hemingway's words have not really grabbed me.  Everything is too surface or something.  I don't care about Henry or Catherine much at all, though I feel bad for the poor priest.

Rinaldi and Henry seem to have a brotherly relationship.  Do you think that this friendship will survive throughout the novel or will something come between them?  Speculate.

I absolutely thought that they were being set up for a mutual rivalry over Catherine, and it's nice that that didn't happen.  Rinaldi seems to be a remarkably easy-going guy, and Henry is quite hard to get to know.  He seems a blank to me, like he doesn't have feelings.  I think something--the war itself perhaps--will come between the two men.

They never really seem to do anything besides drink and visit brothels and make fun of people--they don't seem real to me, or else they're behind a wall.

What kind of relationship do Lieutenant Henry and Nurse Catherine Barkley seem to have? Are they in love or is it something else?

I wouldn't call it love; I'm not sure they know each other at all anyway.  It seems to me to be one of those relationships that happen because two people are thrown into an environment they don't understand, and they cling to each other.  Catherine seems to be looking for someone she can use to make things up to her dead sweetheart rather than starting something new.  I'm not even sure Henry likes her at this point; she's a girl, so he visits her.  It might become love, but I'm only guessing that because the movie posters say it's a great love story.  Maybe that's only the movie version!

Part I
Part II
Part III

Part IV

The Pharaoh's Secret

The Pharaoh's Secret, by Marissa Moss

This is a great story for older kids or YA.  I know there are lots and lots of kids' adventures in Egypt (though this one pre-dates Riordan's Kane Chronicles), but this is a worthy read.

Talibah and her brother Adom are visiting Egypt for the first time, even though both their parents are native Egyptians and scholars of Egyptology too.  They had always looked forward to taking the kids to Egypt, but then Talibah's mother died, about 5 years before the story begins.

Talibah keeps running into references to the Pharaoh Hatshepsut, and feels a strong pull to find out more.  Pretty soon she's having weird dreams and meeting people who give her mysterious artifacts--she and her brother have a job to do that is connected with Hatshepsut and the rest of her family.  At the same time, memories of their mother are surfacing; this all has something to do with her, too.  It's all very mysterious, but together Talibah and Adom plan to solve the puzzle and help the spirits of ancient Egyptians who still have opinions about things.

Moss' story combines Indiana-Jones-esque adventures with more realistic elements of dealing with a parent's death, a theme that clearly has a lot of meaning for her (as she explains in the notes).  Another minor point is that the story centers on a Muslim family; it's not brought out and made obvious, but that is part of their character.  So those of you looking for stories featuring strong heroines who aren't WASPs, this one is a good addition to your list.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Social Q's

Social Q's: How to Survive the Quirks, Quandaries, and Quagmires of Today, by Philip Galanes

This was a fun quick read I picked up at the library.  I love advice columns--who doesn't?--and Miss Manners is my all-time favorite.  Philip Galanes started an advice column in the New York Times, and here's his book.  It's very New Yorky, full of tips on social dilemmas common in New York.  It's also a fun read and has some good advice for people who don't live in New York, so if you like advice columns, it's perfectly fine.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Madame Bovary Readalong

The good folks over at A Classic Case of Madness are hosting a Madame Bovary readalong, and I've been saving my copy in order to join them.  This is a less scheduled project than the other readalongs I'm doing right now, and I think I'm just supposed to post my thoughts every so often, or at least respond to their posts.

Madame Bovary appears to be having a little revival at the moment, in the wake of the publication of a new translation by Lydia Davis.  Emma Bovary is being advertised as "the original desperate housewife" on book copy and in advertisements, which I suppose she is, even though I tend to bristle at the phrase myself.  (Seriously, I can't stand it.)

It took Flaubert years to write this novel; he worked at it constantly and produced only a few pages a month, as he wrote reams, revised, and then cut most of the material.  It caused something of a sensation for its subject matter and for the realistic style, which refused any sentimentality or romanticizing--an attitude that is routine now but was quite new then. 

This is a wonderful cover, isn't it?  Not that my old copy looks like this, but I'd be happy if it did, even though it looks more 1937 than 1857.

So, here we go then.

Mystery of a Hansom Cab

The Mystery of a Hansom Cab, by Fergus Hume

The other night I was wondering what to read, since nothing looked right, and then I saw Mystery of a Hansom Cab sitting on the shelf.  It's on my list, it's Victorian, and it's a mystery--perfect!  It turned out to be an even better choice the next morning, when I spent a couple of hours sitting around a prompt care clinic, whee.

This was apparently the best-selling mystery of the 19th century, beating out Sherlock Holmes--and it isn't a British book.  It's an Australian story, set in Melbourne, which must have made it pleasantly familiar for Australians and nicely exotic for everyone else.  There are many descriptive passages that give you a good feeling for Victorian Melbourne; to me, it came off as if someone had plunked some Victorian Londoners down in California a generation after the Gold Rush.  The weather and setting is very familiar, since much of Australia is similar in climate to my own California, but people are wearing evening dress and practicing British manners.  Australia is still very much a British colony in this story, which was published in 1889.

The mystery seems obvious at first.  Late one night, a gentleman in evening dress is put into a hansom cab, falling-down drunk.  His acquaintance goes with him for most of the way, and then leaves the cab to walk home.  When the cab driver calls the passenger, he is dead--murdered.  It doesn't take long to track down the fellow who must have done it--but did he?  It all gets very complicated, with secrets from the past, true lovers, blackmail, a gin-soaked crone, and a couple of bouts of brain fever just to make things interesting.  Everyone is very earnest, and there is quite a lot about woman's purity (and her natural love for shopping and talking).

A nice mystery to read if you're looking for one of the original classics.  Easily available for free as an ebook, but I have an old Dover facsimile.

This is for the Victorian Celebration and the Classic Bribe!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Frogs

The Frogs, by Aristophanes

This comedy was performed just a few months after the deaths of Euripides and Sophocles, which inspired the plot.  It won first place at the festival, and it even got a unique distinction--it was performed a second time (remember, plays were only performed once), and at the performance Aristophanes was crowned with olive leaves.  A sacred olive leaf wreath was only for citizens who had rendered great service to Athens.  This great honor was not for the parts of the play that moderns will find interesting.  It was for the chorus' long patriotic songs, exhorting Athenians to require nobility in their leaders, just like in the glorious days of old.

The plot of the play seems rather audacious to me, but apparently anything went with the Athenians at this festival.  Dionysus, the very god honored by the plays, is the star of the show and the butt of nearly all the jokes.  Disguised as Heracles, he and his servant Xanthias are looking for a road down to Hades, for all the good poets are dead and he wants to bring Euripides back.   Xanthias is stronger, braver, and more clever than his divine master, and he makes a lot of mischief.  Dionysus crosses the lake Acheron, and here is where the chorus of frogs comes in--they sing and make fun of the god until he finally silences them with a loud toot (which was edited out of my rather polite Loeb edition).  The frogs are never seen more; from now on the chorus is of mystics who chant hymns and exhortations in Hades.

Dionysus and Xanthias now meet the citizens of Hades.  Most of them want to beat Heracles up, so the cowardly god makes his servant change clothes with him a few times.  They're even tortured for a little while.  Finally they find the dead Euripides along with Aeschylus--the two poets are bitter enemies, for Euripides is challenging Aeschylus' right to the seat of honor at Hades' dinner table.  Dionysus offers to act as mediator, and the playwrights criticize and make fun of each others' plays.  Some of it is pretty obscure because it depends on understanding the meter of Ancient Greek poetry, but some of it is funny.  Dionysus can't decide, so he has them speak sample lines of poetry into scales.  Aeschylus comes up with lines about heavier subjects like rivers, Death, and a couple of dead charioteers, so he wins that round, but Dionysus still waffles and says he'll pick the poet who can give the best advice to Athens.  Euripides sounds good but doesn't mean much, while Aeschylus comes up with solid advice, so Hades gives permission for Aeschylus to return to life on earth so he can give good advice to needy Athens.  Aeschylus delivers a parting shot on his way out, ordering that Sophocles be given the seat of honor rather than his enemy Euripides.

What a weird play.  Interesting, but weird.  That's it for Aristophanes for the time being; I'm thinking of reading either Euripides or some poetry next.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

June Classics Discussion: Framley Parsonage

Katherine over at November's Autumn's Classics Challenge  has been hosting a new discussion every month.  This month she says: "Select a quote from the Classic you're currently reading and create what I call a visual tour."  That is, collect images that evoke the mood of the book you're reading.

All of these photos are from Flickr and you can see the source by clicking on the image.

Framley Parsonage contains several passages that give a picture:

Framley itself was a pleasant country place, having about it nothing of seignorial dignity or grandeur, but possessing everything necessary for the comfort of country life. The house was a low building of two stories, built at different periods, and devoid of all pretensions to any style of architecture; but the rooms, though not lofty, were warm and comfortable, and the gardens were trim and neat beyond all others in the county. Indeed, it was for its gardens only that Framley Court was celebrated.

Edmondsham House near Wimborne in Dorset

[I'm assuming that the 'trim and neat' gardens were formal set-outs like this one, such as were the fashion at the time.]

Formal garden, Wrest Park, Silsoe, Bedfordshire

Framley church was distant from this just a quarter of a mile, and stood immediately opposite to the chief entrance to Framley Court. It was but a mean, ugly building, having been erected about a hundred years since, when all churches then built were made to be mean and ugly...  [This means that the church was Georgian and not to the Victorian taste.]

St Mary's Church, St Mary's Row, Moseley

St Mary's Church, St Mary's Row, Moseley

Beyond the church, but close to it, were the boys' school and girls' school, two distinct buildings, which owed their erection to Lady Lufton's energy...

Victorian Schoolhouse, just outside Mawdesley village, Lancashire.

And here the road took a sudden turn to the left, turning, as it were, away from Framley Court; and just beyond the turn was the vicarage, so that there was a little garden path running from the back of the vicarage grounds into the churchyard,...nothing in the parsonage way could be more perfect than his parsonage. It had all the details requisite for the house of a moderate gentleman with moderate means, and none of those expensive superfluities which immoderate gentlemen demand, or which themselves demand immoderate means. And then the gardens and paddocks were exactly suited to it; and everything was in good order;—not exactly new, so as to be raw and uncovered, and redolent of workmen; but just at that era of their existence in which newness gives way to comfortable homeliness.

[This is actually Bronte Parsonage--it's hard to find pictures of parsonages! But this is about the right size anyway, though one hopes that the Robarts home was happier and less alcoholic and lonely.]

Bronte Parsonage

Barsetshire, taken altogether, is a pleasant green tree-becrowded county, with large bosky hedges, pretty damp deep lanes, and roads with broad grass margins running along them. Such is the general nature of the county...

South Downs Way West of Alfriston

English country lane

Shady Lane

Sleepy Afternoon in Hambrook

English country lane

English Country Lane

[Sadly I could not find any images that looked properly like this room, so you will just have to imagine.] The house of business of Messrs. Gumption & Gazebee was in South Audley Street; and it may be said that there was no spot on the whole earth which Mr. Sowerby so hated as he did the gloomy, dingy back sitting-room upstairs in that house. He had been there very often, but had never been there without annoyance. It was a horrid torture-chamber, kept for such dread purposes as these, and no doubt had been furnished, and papered, and curtained with the express object of finally breaking down the spirits of such poor country gentlemen as chanced to be involved. Everything was of a brown crimson,—of a crimson that had become brown. Sunlight, real genial light of the sun, never made its way there, and no amount of candles could illumine the gloom of that brownness. The windows were never washed; the ceiling was of a dark brown; the old Turkey carpet was thick with dust, and brown withal. The ungainly office-table, in the middle of the room, had been covered with black leather, but that was now brown. There was a bookcase full of dingy brown law books in a recess on one side of the fireplace, but no one had touched them for years, and over the chimney-piece hung some old legal pedigree table, black with soot. Such was the room which Mr. Fothergill always used in the business house of Messrs. Gumption & Gazebee, in South Audley Street, near to Park Lane.