Daily Trivia : Walt Whitman

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Today is the birthday of Walt Whitman born on Long Island, New York in 1819. Whitman was working as a carpenter and living with his mother in Brooklyn, when he read Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay “The Poet,” which claimed the new United States needed a poet to properly capture its spirit. Whitman decided he was that poet. “I was simmering, simmering, simmering,” Whitman later said. “Emerson brought me to a boil.”

Whitman began work on Leaves of Grass, crafting an American epic that celebrated the common man. He did most of the typesetting for the book himself, and he made sure the edition was small enough to fit in a pocket, later explaining, “I am nearly always successful with the reader in the open air.” He was 37 years old when he paid for the publication of 795 copies out of his own pocket.

Many of Whitman’s poems were criticized for being openly erotic. One of Whitman’s earliest reviews had called the book “a mass of stupid filth,” accusing Whitman of “that horrible sin not to be mentioned among Christians.” But rather than censoring himself, Whitman added 146 poems to his third edition.

He began to grow a literary reputation that swung from genius to moral reprobate, depending on the reader. Thoreau wrote, “It is as if the beasts spoke.” Willa Cather referred to Whitman as “that dirty old man.” Emerson praised Whitman’s collection as “the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom America has yet contributed,” and the critic William Michael Rossetti proclaimed that Whitman was a talent on par with Shakespeare.

Whitman left New York when his brother was wounded in the Civil War, traveling to Virginia and then to Washington, D.C., to serve as a volunteer Army hospital nurse. He had a reputation for unconventional clothing and manners.

With the help of well-placed friends, Whitman eventually found work as a low-level clerk in the Department of the Interior. But when former Iowa Senator James Harlan discovered Whitman worked in his department, he had him dismissed, proclaiming Leaves of Grass was “full of indecent passages,” and that Whitman himself was a “very bad man” and a “free lover.”

Whitman’s friend William Douglas O’Connor immediately came to his defense. He arranged for Whitman to be transferred to the attorney general’s office, and he published a pamphlet refuting Harlan’s charges. Titled The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication, the small book praised Whitman’s “nobleness of character” and went on to quote from positive reviews — and to ridicule Harlan as an under-read philistine.

The pamphlet became more than a vindication: it helped to radically alter the average reader’s perception of Whitman as both a writer and as a man: Out with the image of the bawdy nonconformist and in with the “good gray poet,” the nickname for Whitman that is still popular to this day.

Whitman spent the last 20 years of his life revising and expanding Leaves of Grass, issuing the eighth and final edition in 1891, saying it was “at last complete — after 33 y’rs of hackling at it, all times & moods of my life, fair weather & foul, all parts of the land, and peace & war, young & old.”

Today, most scholars agree that Whitman was likely gay. When he was asked directly, toward the end of his life, Whitman declined to answer. But he did say, shortly before he died, that sex was “the thing in my work which has been most misunderstood — that has excited the roundest opposition, the sharpest venom, the unintermitted slander, of the people who regard themselves as the custodians of the morals of the world.”

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On language : Jeffery Eugenides

“Emotions, in my experience, aren’t covered by single words. I don’t believe in “sadness,” “joy,” or “regret.” Maybe the best proof that the language is patriarchal is that it oversimplifies feeling. I’d like to have at my disposal complicated hybrid emotions, Germanic train-car constructions like, say, “the happiness that attends disaster.” Or: “the disappointment of sleeping with one’s fantasy.” I’d like to show how “intimations of mortality brought on by aging family members” connects with “the hatred of mirrors that begins in middle age.” I’d like to have a word for “the sadness inspired by failing restaurants” as well as for “the excitement of getting a room with a minibar.” I’ve never had the right words to describe my life, and now that I’ve entered my story, I need them more than ever.”
― Jeffrey EugenidesMiddlesex

Flashback Friday : All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot

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Flashback Friday is a meme hosted by Bookshelf fantasies  focusing on showing some love for the older books in our lives and on our shelves. 

My book for this week is one of my favourite books of all time and I suspect, a lot of other people’s as well.

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This is another book that I first read as a teenager and it is one of those rare books that I fell in love with almost instantly. This is the first of James Herriot’s books and it is the best.

This is a memoir of a country vet, James Alfred Wight. James Herriot is his pen name. This book begins in the 1937 when Herriot went from Glasgow to Yorkshire looking for a job and it chronicles all his adventures and experiences as a country vet, tending cows and horses, sheep, pigs and dogs.

It talks of all the interesting, funny, crazy, wonderful people he encountered and all the joys and quirks of a country life.There have been other books like this, I’m sure, but this book and this writer are both exceptional.

Herriot writes with a lot of warmth and there is a certain joy in his writing that is hard to find. His writing is funny and engaging, it is gripping, it charms you, it touches you, it makes you laugh and it makes you cry.

When this book first came out, the publishers dubbed it “a miracle” and a lot of the reviewers agreed. The review in the Chicago Tribune said,

“...a book that offers something for everyone…gusto, humour, pathos, information, romance, insight, style. It is vicarious living with one of the happiest and most admirable of people…Many more famous authors could work for a lifetime and not achieve more flawless literary control than this unknown country vet has in his first book…

But if living well is even mote difficult than writing well, his character and his temperament are more miraculous than his style…The whole book, in both it’s funniest and most tragic episodes, expresses a joyous and affectionate acceptance of life, animal and human.”

Daily Trivia : Charles Lamb

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Charles Lamb, one of the great English essayists, was a child of London, the city that would inspire his best work. Born on Crown Office Row in 1775, he grew up in and around the Inner Temple and was educated at Christ’s Hospital in Newgate Street where he met Coleridge who became a lifelong friend.

He spent thirty-three years working as a clerk in the East India House on Leadenhall Street, writing poems, plays, and essays in his precious spare time. Renowned for his warm sense of humour and legendary social gatherings, he lived at the very heart of the literary scene of his day.

His life, however, was often troubled by drink, depression, and tragedy. In 1796 his sister, Mary, stabbed their mother to death in a bout of insanity. Charles spent the rest of his life caring for his sister, foregoing marriage to ensure that she would not have to be confined indefinitely to an asylum.

His relationship with his sister (who was ten years older than him) was remarkably fruitful; they worked together on numerous literary projects and, in 1807, they published Tales from Shakespeare, a work that has never been out of print.

Lamb’s early literary career was promising. He became known for his poetry, much of it inspired by the Unitarian theology that underpins Coleridge’s Religious Musings. In 1798 he published Blank Verse with Coleridge’s pupil and acolyte Charles Lloyd, which contained his best-known poem, ‘The Old Familiar Faces’.

It is an inspired example of confessional verse in unrhymed stanzas derived from the Elizabethan dramatist Philip Massinger. Using this unexpected vehicle, Lamb manages to universalize his experience of the ‘day of horrors’ when he arrived home to find his mother dead and his sister holding a carving-knife in her hand.

Beginning with that, he reviews other losses he has sustained through his life, before concluding with the elegant refrain, ‘All, all are gone, the old familiar faces.’ Not only does it transcend the particular context out of which it comes, but it sets the tone for much of Lamb’s later prose writing, which also concerns the riches taken from us by time and circumstance.

In the second decade of the nineteenth century he began to write for journals including Leigh Hunt’s Reflector, Examiner and Indicator. At the same time he cultivated his skills as the author of some of the most entertaining letters of the period, which also contain much critical disquisition.

Then, in 1820, came the turning-point in his career; he was asked to contribute to John Scott’s London Magazine. Under the pseudonym ‘Elia’, Lamb began to publish what are now regarded as some of the finest essays in the history of English letters.

In due course these were collected as Elia (1823) and Last Essays of Elia (1833). It was the glory of those essays to seek to retrieve, in fine romantic fashion, that instinct from which the adult has long been cut adrift – a sense of the numinous and magical.

They are a distinctive and inimitable combination of romantic yearning for the intensity of childhood vision, combined with an underlying fear that the world may turn out to be no more than the materialist nightmare – matter in motion.

Elia’s art lay to some extent in his manner; as Lamb told his publisher, John Taylor, ‘The Essays want no Preface: they are all Preface. A Preface is nothing but a talk with the reader; and they do nothing else.’ (Lucas, Letters, II, 350)

Doubtless it was the persona of Elia that enabled Lamb to indulge his prejudices and whims with a freedom he would not have enjoyed otherwise. Such was his success that he was soon the highest-paid contributor to the London Magazine.

Lamb was at the centre of the literary life of his day. He and Mary used to entertain groups of friends at home on Thursday evenings. These were riotous occasions that were mythologized by Hazlitt in one of his finest essays, ‘On the Conversation of Authors’:

There was Lamb himself, the most delightful in the course of the evening. His serious conversation, like his serious writing, is his best. No one ever stammered out such fine, piquant, deep, eloquent things in half a dozen half-sentences as he does. His jests scald like tears: and he probes a question with a play upon words.”

“What a keen, laughing, hare-brained vein of home-felt truth! What choice venom! How often did we cut into the haunch of letters, while we discussed the haunch of mutton on the table! He always made the best pun, and the best How we skimmed the cream of criticism! How we got into the heart of controversy! How we picked out the marrow of authors!”

Daily Trivia : Neil Gaiman

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Neil Gaiman began his writing career in England as a journalist.  His first book was a Duran Duran biography that took him three months to write, and his second was a biography of Douglas Adams, Don’t Panic: The Official Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Companion.

Violent Cases was the first of many collaborations with artist Dave McKean. This early graphic novel led to their series Black Orchid, published by DC Comics.  

The groundbreaking series Sandman followed, collecting a large number of US awards in its 75 issue run, including nine Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards and three Harvey Awards.  In 1991, Sandman became the first comic ever to receive a literary award, the 1991 World Fantasy Award for Best Short Story.

Neil Gaiman is credited with being one of the creators of modern comics, as well as an author whose work crosses genres and reaches audiences of all ages.  He is listed in the Dictionary of Literary Biography as one of the top ten living post-modern writers and is a prolific creator of works of prose, poetry, film, journalism, comics, song lyrics, and drama.  

Audiences for science fiction and fantasy form a substantial part of Gaiman’s fan base. But Gaiman’s books are genre works that refuse to remain true to their genres.

Gothic horror was out of fashion in the early 1990s when Gaiman started work on ‘Coraline’ (2002).  Originally considered too frightening for children, ‘Coraline’ went on to win the British Science Fiction Award, the Hugo, the Nebula, the Bram Stoker, and the American Elizabeth Burr/Worzalla award.

Gaiman is the New York Times bestselling author of the novels Neverwhere (1995), Stardust (1999), the Hugo and Nebula Award-winning American Gods.(2001), Anansi Boys (2005), and Good Omens (with Terry Pratchett, 1990), as well as the short story collections Smoke and Mirrors (1998) and Fragile Things (2006).

Daily Trivia : The New Yorker

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The first issue of The New Yorker was published on February 21st in 1925. The magazine was founded by Harold Ross and his wife, Jane Grant, who was a reporter for The New York Times; Ross remained editor-in-chief until his death in 1951.

The magazine was styled as a showcase for wit, gossip, and culture; its target readership was the New York sophisticate. As Ross famously said, “[I]t is not edited for the old lady in Dubuque.”

The problem was that the magazine lacked a clear vision at first. In the second issue, editors published an apology for the first: “There didn’t seem to be much indication of purpose and we felt sort of naked in our apparent aimlessness,” they said.

Circulation had dropped to 12,000 by fall, but then it started to turn around; its recovery was helped along when Ross hired E.B. White as a staff writer in 1926, and brought James Thurber on board the following year.

Gradually, the magazine stopped dropping names and began building a reputation as the home of outstanding contemporary poetry, short fiction, and essays.

The first cover featured a top-hatted Victorian dandy peering down his long, patrician nose at a pink butterfly. Based on an illustration in theEncyclopedia Britannica, he was drawn by Rea Irvin, the magazine’s first art director and the designer of its distinctive typeface.

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The dandy eventually came to be known as Eustace Tilley. It’s since become a New Yorker tradition that Tilley appears on the cover of every anniversary edition. He’s appeared as a punk rocker, a woman, an African-American, a dog, and a butterfly scrutinizing a man.

Connecting with the Author

Back when I was a child, I used to read books with no real awareness of who the author might be. As I grew into a teen I began to wonder who was writing these books that I enjoyed so much. What sort of people were they? What was it that made them want to write books? What had been the starting point of this particular book and so on.

I was very curious, but there was no real way to answer to these questions. Authors in those days were not the celebrities that they are now. The author biographies that came with the books were no more than a paragraph long and author interviews were nowhere near as common as they are now.

All I knew about Agatha Christie, for example, was that she had written 76 books of detective fiction, her most famous characters are Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, she was married to an archeologist and she was made a Dame in 1971.

There was no way to find out anything more. So the books pretty much had to stand on their own, which is, of course, a good thing. I don’t think the author’s personality or their life experience should have a bearing on a book.

But what bothered me was that there was no way of connecting or engaging with an author and learning about their inspiration or their writing process…unless you could make it to a book signing somewhere, which wasn’t even a possibility for a lot of us.

Things are, of course, very different now. Most popular writers are celebrities and a simple internet search will tell you a good deal about any writer. Most writers have their own websites, they are on facebook and twitter and connecting with an author is easy enough.

I hear a lot of author interviews and author talks on the radio these days and I find that hearing an author talk about a book enhances my experience of reading it. An author will not make me like a book that I would dislike otherwise, but hearing an author speak about a book that I love, makes my experience of the book even better than it would have been otherwise.

And sometimes, hearing an author speak is enough to make me curious about their books at least. I heard Niall Williams on the BBC the other day. I had heard of him before, but I had only a vague impression of the kind of books he wrote and I had never really bothered to find out more.

What I heard was an interview about his latest book, History of the Rain. He talked about his book with so much charm and such engaging honesty (there is a personal story that inspired the book) that it made me want to go get the book right away…

This isn’t the first time that I have felt like this. There have also been instances where the author has turned out to be more charming than the book. Nonetheless, I think connecting with the author adds to the entire experience of reading.

Daily Trivia : Ian Fleming

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Ian Fleming was born in London, England on 28th May,1908. He had originally wanted to be a diplomat, but he failed the Foreign Office examination and decided to go into journalism. He worked for the Reuters News Service in London, Moscow, and Berlin, and then during World War II, he served as the assistant to the British director of naval intelligence.

After the war, he bought a house in Jamaica, where he spent his time fishing and gambling and bird watching. He started to get bored, so he decided to try writing a novel about a secret agent. He named the agent James Bond after the author of a bird-watching book.

Fleming said, “James Bond is … the feverish dreams of the author of what he might have been — bang, bang, bang, kiss, kiss, that sort of stuff. It’s what you would expect of an adolescent mind — which I happen to possess.”

Fleming’s first novel, Casino Royale, was published in 1953. The book had been written the previous year while he was on vacation at his home, which he named Goldeneye after a military mission, in Jamaica.

While this first Bond novel came and went with little notice, Fleming’s stories of a super spy with a license to kill soon began to catch on. Live and Let Die came out in England in 1954 quickly followed by Moonraker and Diamonds Are Forever. Readers began to eagerly scoop up these tales of fast cars, beautiful women and deadly intrigue. American president John F. Kennedy and England’s Prince Philip were reportedly among Fleming’s many fans.

During his writing career, Fleming produced twelve Bond novels and several short stories featuring his super spy. He saw his famed character brought to life on the big screen in 1962 in Dr. No with Sean Connery as James Bond, a character who went on to become one of the longest run film franchises in movie history.

The Classics Club : Booklist

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Following from my previous post about The Classics Club here is the list of books that I have chosen to read over the next few years. I like the five year time-line. Considering all the other stuff that I want to read, I don’t think I can manage to read more than ten of these books in a year. And then again, I may just race through them. I really don’t know. So I’m not going to set a specific deadline, but I will read all of them and I will blog about them.

These are all books that I have wanted to read at one time or the other. Some of them are books that I read in abridged versions as a kid:

1)       H Rider Haggard: King Solomon’s Mines

2)      Robert Louis Stevenson: Kidnapped

3)      Robert Louis Stevenson: The Black Arrow

4)      Robert Louis Stevenson: The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

5)      Robert Louis Stevenson: Treasure Island

6)      H G Wells: War of the Worlds

7)      H G Wells: Invisible man

8)      Jules Verne: Around the World in Eighty Days

9)      Jules Verne: Mysterious Island

10)   Alexandre Dumas: The Three Musketeers

11)    Alexandre Dumas: The Man in the Iron Mask

12)   Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: Hound of the Baskervilles

13)   Anthony Hope: The Prisoner of Zenda

14)   Johann David Wyss: The Swiss Family Robinson

 

And then there are others that I met as a teen and want to re-read

15)   H D Thoreau: Walden

16)   Jane Austen: Sanditon

17)   Aldous Huxley: Island

18)   Agatha Christie: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

19)   Agatha Christie: The Mysterious Affair at Styles

20)  John Buchan : The thirty nine steps

21)   P G Wodehouse : Bill the Conqueror

22)   P G Wodehouse : Aunts aren’t Gentlemen

 

The rest are books that I have heard about and wanted to read, but never really got around to.

23)   Jane Austen: Lady Susan

24)   James Baldwin: Giovanni’s Room

25)   Ray Bradbury: The Martian Chronicles

26)   Wilkie Collins: The Moonstone

27)   Daniel Defoe: Robinson Crusoe

28)  Charles Dickens: Tale of two Cities

29)   Charles Dickens: The Old Curiosity Shop

30)  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: Lost World

31)   F Scott Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby

32)   John Irving: A Prayer for Owen Meany

33)   John Irving: The World According to Garp

34)   Marcel Proust: Swann’s Way

35)   Yates, Richard: Revolutionary Road

36)   Elizabeth Gaskell: North and South

37)   Edgar Allan Poe: The Murders at Rue Morgue

38)  William Shakespeare: Two gentlemen of Verona

39)   William Shakespeare: Julius Caesar

40)  Wallace Stegner: Crossing to Safety

41)   Thornton Wilder: Our Town

42)   Virginia Woolf: To the Lighthouse

43)   Virginia Woolf : Mrs Dolloway

 

The thing about any list of classics (one that irks me a little bit) is that it is nearly always filled with works of fiction. So to remedy that, the rest of my choices are all essays, memoirs and other forms of non-fiction. I have read bits and pieces of these books over the years, but I have never experienced them as complete books.

44)   William Hazlitt: Table Talk

45)   Charles Lamb: Essays of Elia

46)   Joseph Addison and Richard Steele: The Coverly Papers

47)   Allen Bennett: The Uncommon Reader

48)  Ernest Hemingway: A Moveable Feast

49)   Michael de Montaigne: Essays

50)  John Steinbeck: America and Americans

51)   Mark Twain: A Tramp Abroad

52)   Virginia Woolf: The Common Reader

This is by no means a final list. It will change; there will be additions and subtractions. I may find a couple of writers that I like so much that I end up reading all or most of their books. I may thoroughly dislike a couple of books that I am now intrigued by and I may abandon them altogether….

For now this is the list of classic books that I want to read over the next few years.

The Classics Club

As I mentioned in an earlier post (Revisiting the Classics) I have been reading King Solomon’s Mines by H Rider Haggard. I’m only a few chapters into it, but I’m enjoying it thoroughly. And I can’t help thinking that I want to read more of these books.

A few years ago, I bought a whole bunch of classics, thinking that these are books I want to read again and get to know properly. They have sat on my bookshelves since then, untouched, sharing space with the Children’s Classics versions of themselves.

I wanted to read them, I still do, but I simply haven’t picked them up. There are just too many other books to read. I hear about something new every day and I am always adding to my collection of books…

It has become obvious that I will not read any of the classics that I want to read, unless I make a conscious decision to do so. And when I say classics, I’m not talking only about the books that I read as a child.

There are others that I have long been curious about, books that I have heard a lot about, but never read, like The Common Reader by Virginia Woolf, The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury, Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin, A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving and many, many others.

These are all books that I want to read, but I just don’t seem to think about them when I’m trying to decide what to read next and I can’t help feeling as though I’m missing out…

A fellow blogger recently told me about The Classics Club,

This is a online community intended to inspire people to read and blog about classic books. You can join the community any time you want. All you have to do is commit to reading at least 50 classics over the next five years. Which books you choose is entirely up to you. The idea is to make a list of 50 books (or more if it suits your fancy) and read them alongside whatever else you normally read.

Now I have never been one to force myself to read a book. I read books because I enjoy them, not because I want to learn something or because I want to prove something. I am not fond of reading challenges and lists of “must read” books. They make reading feel too much like work.

But this is a list I want to make and read my way through. There is a long list of books on the classics club website that you can choose from, but there is no need to select titles only from that list. You can add and subtract as you wish so long as you keep to the fundamental goal of reading classic literature.

Fifty books over a five year period is just ten classics a year in addition to everything else I want to read. That is perfectly doable. And it is nice to be part of a community that values good writing. It is, after all, the quality of writing and the universality of a story, an idea or a character that makes a book a classic. 

I have been working on my list since yesterday and I will put it up here as soon as I’m done. If any of you want to join in, please let me know.

Daily Trivia : Anne Fadiman

“The most important thing when starting out with essay writing is to find a voice with which you’re comfortable. You need to find a persona that is very much like you, but slightly caricatured. Think of it as your own voice turned up slightly in volume…Once you’ve found that voice, you’ll discover that the essay is something you can be serious or funny with, or both.”

That is Anne Fadiman, author, essayist, editor and teacher. She has many achievements to her name, including a National Book Critics Circle award, but she is best known for her essays.

Her best-selling essay collection Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader is a book entirely about books — from purchasing them, to reading them, to handling them, loving them and finding more room for them.

The London Observer called Ex Libris “witty, enchanting, and supremely well-written.” It has been or will be translated into fifteen languages, including Korean and Catalan.

The book is full of insightful observations and interesting asides and it contains essays with charming titles such as, ‘Marrying Libraries’, ‘The Joy of Sesquipedalians’, ‘Never do that to a book’, ‘The PM’s Empire of Books’ and so on.

Fadiman’s most recent essay collection is At Large and At Small: Familiar Essays, in which she discloses her passions for (among other things) staying up late, reading Coleridge, drinking coffee, and ingesting large quantities of ice cream. The Christian Science Monitor called it “as close to a perfect book as you will ever hope to read.”

Flashback Friday : Island by Aldous Huxley

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Flashback Friday is a meme hosted by Bookshelf fantasies  focusing on showing some love for the older books in our lives and on our shelves. 

My pick for this week is Aldous Huxley’s Island. The synopsis goes somewhat like this:

In Island, his last novel, Huxley transports us to a Pacific island where, for 120 years, an ideal society has flourished. Inevitably, this island of bliss attracts the envy and enmity of the surrounding world.

A conspiracy is underway to take over Pala and events begin to move when an agent of the conspirators, a newspaperman named Will Faranby, is shipwrecked there. What Faranby doesn’t expect is how his time with the people of Pala will revolutionize all his values and — to his amazement — give him hope.

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I must have been eighteen when I read this book. It got under my skin the way all good books do. It stayed with me long after I read it and I drew me back to it again and again. Island is a novel, but it is so much more than that. It is a book of ideas… about living and it grabs you and makes you think.

The story is set on a fictitious island called Pala. This is a place that is largely cut off from the rest of the world. The remarkable thing about this island, is that it is, quite literally, a happy place.
Pala is a country whose government, economy and society are all organised in way that promotes maximum human happiness. This was Huxley’s vision of a Utopia and unlike other such visions, it isn’t filled with irritatingly idealistic folks, but with real people with real problems.

It is not a utopia because it is a place without problems. It is a place where people have learnt to deal with their vices and their unhappiness in a rational manner. The basis of their lives is Buddhist, but they are not steeped in religion, nor do they follow it slavishly.

They believe in paying attention to life and living it moment to moment, accepting both the good and the bad and and not  yearning for something they cannot have. Given the circumstances of their lives, they try to be as happy as possible.

Will Farnanby, the protagonist, is a journalist, hardened by his experience of life. He finds himself shipwrecked on Pala after an accident. He’s injured and he has to stay on the island for a couple of weeks as he slowly gets better. He meets a few people and talks to them and begins to get to know their way of life which is unlike anything he has ever seen before.

He begins by being skeptical, but he’s open minded enough to observe and listen to what the people of the Pala tell him about their way of life and their beliefs and much to his surprise, he finds himself thinking that this way of life could actually work and that human beings are maybe, not so bad after all.

This is a book that is a bit heavy on ideas and philosophy and there are times when you have one character talking for nearly three pages. But the ideas are so unique and interesting that I didn’t mind at all.

I’ve read this book many times over and it continues to amaze me. It has a wisdom and a breadth of vision that is incomparable.

On Reading : Alan Bennett

“The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours”

Daily Trivia : Tennyson

The Victorian poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson was born in Lincolnshire, England on 6th August 1809. He was the fourth of twelve children and grew up in an isolated rectory in Lincolnshire. He was unhappy at school and his father was an alcoholic, so young Alfred took refuge from his unhappiness in writing.

He went on to Cambridge, where he began to make a name for himself as a poet. While he was there, he published his first book of poetry, Poems, Chiefly Lyrical (1830). His closest friend was a young man named Arthur Hallam.

Hallam’s sudden death in 1832 sent Tennyson into a depression, out of which came some of his most famous works, including Morte d’Arthur and In Memoriam (1850). 

In Memoriam became hugely popular, and led Queen Victoria to appoint Tennyson the Poet Laureate. His later works include The Idylls of the King (1859), The Holy Grail and Other Poems (1870) and Tiresias and Other Poems. (1885).

Among his most famous individual poems are ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ (1854) and ‘Crossing the Bar’ (1889), which Tennyson requested be placed at the end of all editions of his poems.

Crossing the Bar

Sunset and evening star,
          And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
          When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
          Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
          Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,
          And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
          When I embark;

For though from out our bourne of Time and Place
          The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
          When I have crost the bar.

Review: Mr Darcy’s Diary by Amanda Grange

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This is yet another reworking of Pride and Prejudice and it is the best that I have come across so far. It is,  as the title says, Mr Darcy’s diary. It is his side of the story and because it is told in the first person, we get to see and hear his thoughts as well as his words and actions. The original tells you nothing at all about Darcy’s thoughts, so this required quite a bit of imagination and I think Amanda Grange pulled off very convincingly.

There is a lot of the story in Pride and Prejudice that happens off screen, as it were…Wickham’s attempt to elope with Georgiana, Darcy’s attempts to find Wickham and Lydia, Lady Catherine trying to convince Darcy to give up Elizabeth and most importantly, Darcy’s change of heart as he begins to realise just how badly he had behaved while proposing to Elizabeth…all of these scenes are fleshed out here. And done well, at that.

Unlike Austen, Amanda Grange does not stop at the point when Darcy and Elizabeth get married. She gives us a look at their life in Premberley, their life as a couple which I liked quite a bit. There is also a surprising and an entirely satisfying new pairing.

But I found myself wondering as I read this if it could be a stand alone novel, if someone who hadn’t read Pride and Prejudice could read this and understand all of the goings on and get a flavor of the original. Honestly, I don’t think so. It works well as a companion volume, it is complimentary to the original, but it cannot stand alone.

Amanda Grange has been very faithful to Austen and she has not deviated from the original except to make a couple of small additions. The characters are much the same, though I think she softened Darcy a little. Both the language and the tone of the narrative recall the original…

I have one complaint, though. One of the things that made Pride and Prejudice so special was the character of Elizabeth Bennett. She is so vividly written. She gets a bit lost in this book. We hear a lot about Darcy’s admiration for her, but we only hear her in the dialogue which she has with him or someone around him and that is just not enough to paint the vivacious picture of her that Austen did.

Nonetheless, it was a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Revisiting the Classics

I read a lot of classics when I was a kid…all in abridged children’s editions and I loved them. I knew they were abridged and I had a vague notion that I would read them, properly, the way they had been written, once I grew up.

I never did. My kids are reading those books now. I was sitting with them yesterday as we went through a stack of books, both new and old as I helped them pick their next read…My son was looking through King Solomon’s Mines and Robin Hood while my daughter picked 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, all books that I have read and loved and largely forgotten.

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King Solomon’s Mines is the only one I remember with any clarity. Not surprising, considering how many times I read it as a kid. It is a marvelous story and one that I am keen to revisit. Thanks to Project Gutenberg, I got myself a copy of the book in less than ten seconds (I will never cease to marvel at this).

So it is time to see if the story still holds the same magic for me that it did back when I was a wide eyed ten year old reading breathlessly wondering what on earth was going to happen next.

Daily Trivia : The Earliest Surviving Opera

Euridice, the earliest surviving opera, received its premiere at the Palazzo Pitti in Florence on October 6th, 1600. Euridice was performed for the wedding celebrations of Henry IV of France and Maria de’ Medici.

It was written by Jacopo Peri, a beloved composer and singer. He had already written Dafne a few years earlier, which is considered to be the first opera, but that music has been lost.

Euridice is a retelling of the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, in which the gifted musician Orpheus falls in love with the beautiful Eurydice, but just after their wedding, she is bitten by a snake and dies.

Orpheus is heartbroken, and he journeys to the underworld to try to bring her back. He charms Hades, the king of the underworld, and his wife, Persephone, and they agree to return Eurydice to Orpheus on one condition: he must get all the way back to the upper world without looking back to see if Eurydice is following.

He almost makes it, but right as he is walking out into the sunlight, he turns back, and Eurydice is still in the underworld, so he loses her forever. Peri not only wrote the opera, he also sang the role of Orpheus.

Peri wrote a long preface to Euridice, in which he explained the new musical form he was working in, which we now call opera. He said that he was trying to write the way he imagined the Greeks would have, combing music and speech into the ultimate form of drama.