Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Lady in London

There is something about London that thrills me every time I visit. I'm not entirely sure I'd like to live there. I get stressed trying to negotiate Oxford on a busy Saturday, London is like that all the time. I'd end up shooting people, I have no doubt.

I'm also quite certain that I'd become impoverished in an astronomically quick time. I'd spend all my time in the National Portrait gallery, in between wandering second hand shops and going to the theatre.

I mentioned the fact that I was going to go to the second hand dept in Foyles - I was expecting to come out with at least one red bag, chock full, and instead what did I come out with?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

No - don't all have heart attacks from the shock - I made up the lack by going into a general secondhand shop and finding four books there - one of them was 'The Yellow wallpaper' by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. I haven't dared read it yet, because I only seem to be at home in the evening, and I'm already trying to deal with the anxiety of having a rocking chair in the house, without worrying that the wallpaper is driving me insane too.

The trip to the theatre was fantastic too. I actually took a picture of the stage before the play started, because it was wonderful, and I'll post it once I've finished the film.* The play was fantastic, and I have become even more of a fan of Eileen Atkins - her comic timing is phenomenal! I waited at the stage door, as is my custom, and got all the cast signatures. Eileen was almost the last, and I ended up holding her beautiful bouquet of flowers so she could sign everyone's programmes. She professed to recognise me from when I saw her in 'The Sea' in April (I was the only one that night, so I suppose it could be true) and was generally very lovely.

Tomorrow I'm off to Abingdon to be profligate again, and am going to have to start thinking about my Friday interview, so I'm not too stressed on Thursday.

* I am now totally convinced of my need for a digital camera. Using Dad's has been totally brilliant over the last months, especially for this blog. It's only taken me about 5 years to convert. I wonder if my feelings over e-readers will ever be changed like this ...

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Thrills and Chills

I read The Woman in Black recently and was glad I read it during the day, as I was considerably chilled by the plot. However, that was nothing compared to the way I felt Friday night when I saw the stage play.

Yes, I had been warned that it would frighten the life out of me, but I didn't pay that much attention, especially at the beginning, which seemed to stop and start a great deal. I wasn't sure if it would work with just two actors ...

My doubts on that score were firmly laid to rest however, when the scream came. I hope never to hear such a scream like that as long as I live. It was truly horrific, and I think the temperature of my blood dropped a few degrees.

It's a fantastic play though - one which everyone should go and see - even if it does scare you out of your wits!

Friday, 26 September 2008

Job prospects

This has absolutely nothing to do with books (at least not as far as I can see), but I just wanted to let you all know that in the next couple of weeks I have three (!) job interviews.

Only one of them falls during my week off, but that can't be helped. I'm very excited and terrified at the same time - they are all things I want to do, and will stop me feeling completely useless, so they can't go wrong - too much depends on them!

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Being wantonly promiscuous

I have just been over to Cornflower's blog, and have been inspired to talk about my TBR pile, because the phrase 'some of us are profligate and wantonly promiscuous where books are concerned' jumped out at me and made me laugh.

I am nothing if not wanton, and I have some extremely profligate plans this coming week.

I really don't know where to start with my pile. I mean, is it just the few that I've earmarked as needing to be read this month, or does it mean all the books on my shelves that are still unread? I did a little calculation recently and discovered that if I read a book a week, I would have at least enough books to keep me going for SEVEN years. I'll leave everyone to do the maths themselves.

It's not that I don't want to read the books that have been languishing on my shelves unread for months and years, I do. I REALLY do. It's just that whenever I think, ooh - that book might be good to read after the current one, I invariably walk into a shop (charity or proper bookshop) and come out laden with absolute MUSTS!

I won't be helping matters this coming week either. My parents are off to Turkey for the week, so I've taken the week off too. On Saturday I'm going to London with a friend, and in between lunching at the National Portrait Gallery and having afternoon tea at Flemings Mayfair, we are hitting the second hand department in Foyles.

Yes, this is dangerous, if not for my bank balance, then for my back!

Also, I've got a trip here planned. Simon has been giving it the big thumbs up for ages now, and I really want a Persephone book. So who knows how big my TBR pile will be then!

In conclusion, I find I cannot give you a list of things about to be read. It's totally impossible. I should read some more non fiction, because it's been a bit lacking these past few months, but at the moment I have Les Miserables, Daniel Deronda, Cold Comfort Farm, and Murder in the Vicarage on the go ... what is a promiscuous bookworm to do?

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

End of Austen

After tonight's final episode I have come to the conclusion that I don't think I'll ever be able to read Pride and Prejudice again.
Of course it was all fairly silly, and evidently the writers had tremendous fun messing with the story line, but I have to say that I adored Alex Kingston and Hugh Bonneville as Mr and Mrs Bennett, and think tv Baftas are in order for at least some part of this creation.

Best line of the series? That honour goes to Mr Bingley 'Damn you Darcy, and damn any man that doesn't stay up all night with a candle in his window damning you' ... special mention for his loved up words in this episode: (and I paraphrase) 'We'll go to America, have 25 children and name them all Amanda. Even the boys.'

Fantastic fun. Why don't I have a door in my bathroom?

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Hither and Thither

If my posts seem a bit sporadic and lacking real substance, it is because I have a lot on my mind - here's a brief overview.

- I am searching for a new job, because the one I have at the moment is driving me crazy.

- I am completely stuck as to what to read next. It's September, therefore I feel I should be getting lost in large classics, although all I seem to be reading is Agatha Christie.

- Although I do have lots to talk about, everyone else seems to be saying it so much more eloquently!

However, next week I have taken the week off, and apart from making a pilgrimage to Abingdon to visit 'Mostly Books', all I intend to do is sit and read and write my novel. If only someone would pay me to do this ....

Poem of the Week

I Do Not Love You Except Because I Love You by Pablo Neruda
I do not love you except because I love you;
I go from loving to not loving you,
From waiting to not waiting for you
My heart moves from cold to fire.

I love you only because it's you the one I love;
I hate you deeply, and hating you
Bend to you, and the measure of my changing love for you
Is that I do not see you but love you blindly.

Maybe January light will consume
My heart with its cruel
Ray, stealing my key to true calm.

In this part of the story I am the one who
Dies, the only one, and I will die of love because I love you,
Because I love you, Love, in fire and blood.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Dogs and such ...

Justine's latest article on what to read has put me in mind of my own canine friend, and although it's been a few years since he died, I still come home expecting a bounding mound of brown fir to greet me. So, here's a picture of the dear old thing:

The upside down Tiger is Fearful - one of six animals my father bought from Hamleys when my two sisters had the last of their children nine years ago ... I think it says a lot for Morgan that he's not attempting to chew the head off, many of my stuffed animals bear the marks of his love ...

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Continuing to be ....

... lost in Austen.

Tonight's episode was to say the least surprising. I am thoroughly despondent though, for without Lizzy everyone seems to be having a nervous breakdown.

Enough - I spent seven hours searching for invoices today (which I found) and am utterly exhausted!

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Poem of the week

In honour of the Creative Writing MA, I am posting a poem by Jane Yeh as the poem of the week. It's one she read out at the launch.


I've gotten nothing for weeks. You might think of me

As dated in a blue housecoat, buttoning & unbuttoning,
Waiting you out: I have my ways

Of keeping time. When your letter comes, dogs will bark
Up & down the street. The tomatoes in the garden

Will explode like fireworks. Each day the mailman passes
In a reverie, illiterate, another cobweb

Grows across the door. Picture me
Going bald one hair at a time, combing & curling, burning

My hand on the iron once every hour: I like to
Keep myself busy. When I hear from you, aurora

Borealiswill sweep across the sky. Every lottery ticket in my drawer
Will win. Even the mailman will know the letters

Of your name. If you bothered to notice, you would see me
Turning to gold rather slowly, bone

By bone, the way teeth come
Loose from the gums, the way animals go

Extinct, in geological time.

Oxford Brookes is going to take over the world ...

... Well you heard it here first, although the woman I was talking to fervently hoped it happened well after she'd stopped being the acting head of English. No doubt taking over the world is a very time consuming task.

There is a point to this rather odd opening. I have just arrived home from the launch of the Creative Writing MA at Brookes which is to be chaired by Philip Pullman. The course is to be taught by novelist James Hawes and poet Jane Yeh and will also involve a lot of other writers too. Here's what Brookes website says about it: '
Creative Writing Visiting Fellows will be contributing to the new and exciting postgraduate course with periodic guest lectures and readings. They include Pullman and authors Patience Agbabi, Kate Clanchy, Bernardine Evaristo, James Meek, Roma Tearne and Benjamin Zephaniah.'

It was exciting to be in a room where a new course was being born, and one that I'm particularly attached to, having spent a year at UEA doing a Life Writing MA alongside all those incredibly talented creative writers.

It was an interesting evening, combining readings from James Hawes and Jane Yeh with a discussion between Janet Beer (Brookes' Vice Chancellor) and Philip Pullman. Janet focused on the adaptations of Philip's works (which are numerous and involve more than just the His Dark Materials series.

That was though, inevitably, the main topic of conversation. The differences between stage and film adaptations were noted, Philip saying that the theatre was a better medium because performances could develop over a longer period of time, which couldn't happen in a film process.
The film was spoken about in quite some detail too. Philip had always wanted Nicole Kidman to play Mrs Coulter as he felt she was able to be both sexy and repellent at the same time. He wanted Laurence Olivier to play Lord Asriel, but was a little constricted on that choice for some reason.
The subject of sequels and the ending of the first film came up too. The ending was in the end restricted by what audiences would make of the film as a whole. The producers wanted an ending that would be a cliffhanger and a resolution at the same time, because they were unsure of the reception it would get in America. They were right to worry, as there was a religious boycott of the film in the states. (Incidentally, Pullman gave an impression of these religious boycotters, by doing a rather good American accent and declaiming 'You'll go to hell! You'll go to hell if you see this film!' to which Janet Beer replied 'Oh, Sarah Palin was there was she?' - which got the biggest laugh of the evening. I love it when things like that happen!)

Anyway, other topics were covered, like Philip's latest project which is the story for a comic in the DFC comic, produced by his publisher and also touched briefly on the subject of age banding, a topic that is obviously close to Philip's heart.

All in all, it was a highly interesting event, and I'm looking forward to seeing the progress of it, and whether it becomes part of the undergraduate course in due time. Apologies for not having any pictures to share, but I neglected to take my camera to work this morning. I shall steal some off the Brookes website when they appear!

Steeped in Blood and Mystery

I think there really must be something in the water … It’s not cholera (although as I seem to be stuck in a Victorian universe quite a bit of the time this could always be a possibility) but it is certainly something as equally dangerous – at least to the characters.

Murder, mystery, mayhem and intrigue have been my themes over the past few weeks, and I’ve really got stuck into a world where death, and violent death at that, is the order of the day.

I’ve been having a bit of a Christie-athon recently, as they are great to read, and also, if I put my mind to it, I can read two in a day – always helpful for getting nearer to my 100 books in a year target. But I’ve also been browsing the shelves of bookshops, and have been picking up a lot of new things, all of which have at least one thing in common – there is a mystery to be solved.

It started with The Ingenious Edgar Jones, set in Oxford at the time the museum of natural history and Pitt Rivers were being built. Into the calm Victorian world, Edgar Jones is thrust, who seems intent on creating as much mischief as he can, for the pure reason that he feels he has been born to do great things with iron. What is more, he does, but he has been born before his time, and his greatness does not fit with the structure that the University brings. His greatness causes his family to fall, and in the end he soars away to begin a new life, who knows where.

From there, I went back in history a little in my bookish time machine, and found myself in the company of Alexander Pope in The Scandal of the Season. In the world of Queen Anne, I found myself in the company of flirtatious women, a rather human poet and some men in the middle of plots and intrigue. I quite like this period of history, where one would assume that everyone was on their best behaviour, but in actual fact were indulging in affairs left, right and centre and the monarchy was in danger of being overthrown in favour of the return of the Catholic James II – all highly interesting, and the plot was kept firmly driven forward by the character of Alexander Pope, who although you would expect him to have a firm central role, seemed to be more of an onlooker. His poem ‘The Rape of the Lock’ is what comes out of the scandal, and it’s an interesting take on where a poet gets his inspiration.

Back into the time machine once again, and I travel back to the Victorian era, and this time find myself in a house where the most shocking events have taken place, and where the notion that ‘an English man’s home is his castle’ have been utterly destroyed. The Suspicions of Mr Whicher is the history of a murder of a small boy at Road Hill House, and the surrounding case, led by London detective Jonathon Whicher. The book is an interesting case history of a murder of one of the younger children in what seems to be a typically conventional household, coupled with various parallels in fiction of the day. The Woman in White was being serialised at the time of the murder and is used to show how detectives were portrayed at the time, and needless to state, I have now bought my own copy. It’s in this book that the mystery and intrigue make big appearances, for that careful Victorian world is very carefully destroyed by the solution of the murder, which isn’t solved for years after and indeed makes one wonder about the sanctity of the family.

Another book that makes one wonder is The Resurectionist. For anyone with a particularly weak stomach, I make this warning – this book goes into great detail. You could hardly expect it to do less, seeing as it’s all about body snatching and anatomy, but the first person narrative is perhaps a little too close for comfort. It’s also got a really confusing twist, and out of the books I’ve read, it’s not one that I particularly recommend.

From grisly death to ghost stories, and I am proud to say I have finally read The Woman in Black. It’s coming to Oxford shortly and I wanted to have read it before seeing it. I love it. I’ve not read any of Susan Hill’s before and I loved this. I read it in one sitting, in a suitably dark pub and felt the goose pimples prickle at certain times. It’s so well written and atmospheric!

Of course, Agatha has been dropping in now and then to make her mark, and I think I’ve found my second favourite Marple in Nemesis (my favourite is A Murder is Announced), and Poirot has made his presence known both on and off the page (three new David Suchet Poirot’s make me doubly sure that everyone has taken a big drink of water laced with murder recently).

I’ve got more to keep me going too! I shall return anon and let you know my thoughts of The Widow’s Secret, Oscar Wilde and the Candlelight Murders and The Girl in the Blue Dress. In the meantime, be careful what you drink!

Friday, 12 September 2008

Get the flags out!

I cannot believe that it slipped my mind!

Yes, as the picture would suggest, the last night of the proms is upon us once again, and tomorrow night there will be flags waved, songs sung and a lot of bobbing up and down.

I can't begin to describe why I love this great event. Of course some may say it is completely dated, and no one thinks England is that great anymore; but to those naysayers, I would point them to the front row - there you will find the most dedicated prommers, who have been in that spot for decades, and still haven't managed to pop a lung, even though they have sung 'Land of Hope and Glory' at the top of them for years on end.

So, break out the bubbly, unfurl the flags, dust off those song sheets, and sing the roof off!

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Getting lost in Austen

I decided to reserve my judgement on Lost in Austen until the second episode, and am rather glad I did, because whereas last week I would have written it off as a piece of frippery, this week it has grown on me and I have to say it's quite fun - if not entirely serious.

The idea of putting a very modern girl into that world is clever. Putting someone like myself in the situation, who would know every nuance, speak the right way and try not to stick out too much, would be too easy. With Amanda's modernism, you have a refreshing change, and also become certain that everything is going to go tits up (to use her language).

Changing the plot is also interesting ... real life doesn't happen like a novel say the cynics, and so it would seem in Pride and Prejudice. I'm waiting for Darcy to soften, but I don't think it's likely in the near future .... Oh dear!

Meanwhile in the real real world, I'm getting a little worried about Barack Obama ... he's starting to look a little frazzled!

Poem of the week

The autumn is upon us and I have been in a 'classics' mood, wanting nothing more than to sit before a fire reading Eliot, James, Hardy and Dickens, and therefore here are some words from Thomas Hardy and George Eliot

Without Ceremony

It was your way, my dear,
To be gone without a word
When callers, friends, or kin
Had left, and I hastened in
To rejoin you, as I inferred.

And when you'd a mind to career
Off anywhere -- say to town --
You were all on a sudden gone
Before I had thought thereon,
Or noticed your trunks were down.

So, now that you disappear
For ever in that swift style,
Your meaning seems to me
Just as it used to be:
'Good-bye is not worth while!'

Thomas Hardy

The Choir Invisible by George Eliot

Oh, may I join the choir invisible
Of those immortal dead who live again
In minds made better by their presence; live
In pulses stirred to generosity,
In deeds of daring rectitude, in scorn
For miserable aims that end with self,
In thoughts sublime that pierce the night like stars,
And with their mild persistence urge men's search
To vaster issues. So to live is heaven:
To make undying music in the world,
Breathing a beauteous order that controls
With growing sway the growing life of man.
So we inherit that sweet purity
For which we struggled, failed, and agonized
With widening retrospect that bred despair.
Rebellious flesh that would not be subdued,
A vicious parent shaming still its child,
Poor anxious penitence, is quick dissolved;
Its discords, quenched by meeting harmonies,
Die in the large and charitable air,
And all our rarer, better, truer self
That sobbed religiously in yearning song,
That watched to ease the burden of the world,
Laboriously tracing what must be,
And what may yet be better, -- saw within
A worthier image for the sanctuary,
And shaped it forth before the multitude,
Divinely human, raising worship so
To higher reverence more mixed with love, --
That better self shall live till human Time
Shall fold its eyelids, and the human sky
Be gathered like a scroll within the tomb
Unread forever. This is life to come, --
Which martyred men have made more glorious
For us who strive to follow. May I reach
That purest heaven, -- be to other souls
The cup of strength in some great agony,
Enkindle generous ardor, feed pure love,
Beget the smiles that have no cruelty,
Be the sweet presence of a good diffused,
And in diffusion ever more intense!
So shall I join the choir invisible
Whose music is the gladness of the world.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Booker shortlist announced

The date had completely escaped my notice, and it was only when I got an email telling me so that I remembered that the shortlist was to be announced today.

Here it is:

Aravind Adiga The White Tiger (Atlantic)
Sebastian Barry The Secret Scripture(Faber and Faber)
Amitav Ghosh Sea of Poppies (John Murray)
Linda Grant The Clothes on Their Back (Virago)
Philip Hensher The Northern Clemency (Fourth Estate)
Steve Toltz A Fraction of the Whole (Hamish Hamilton)

I have to say that I'm surprised - the fact Rushdie is not on the list just goes to prove my theory that his books are an automatic selection, and not to do with merit, but it is interesting to see what has made it. Looking forward to seeing who wins, and I know this will give renewed fervour to DGR's campaign for Philip Hensher!

Monday, 8 September 2008

To be that free ...

She doesn't look that free, the Duchess of Devonshire, does she? To be so imprisoned in her stays and laces, petticoats and fripperies. To be so weighed down by the weight of her clothes and even her hair, as though fashionable society had decreed that a woman's position must be mirrored in the manner in which she dressed.

I have just returned from watching The Duchess. Anyone who has chanced to read this blog before, will no doubt have come across a vitriolic post against Keira Knightley and the dismal hopes I had of her making even a passable attempt in the film. I find, now, that I am in a different frame of mind.

A few years ago, I wrote an article for my then university newspaper, completely ripping to shreds a certain adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. It was not just Keira Knightley who annoyed me, I think only Judi Dench and Brenda Blethyn escaped unscathed. However, it was Keira who bore the brunt of my anger, because I felt she had been unable to remove her own presence from the role she played. The smirky, pouting, stick thin young girl of the red carpet was the person we saw, not Elizabeth Bennett.

In The Duchess, Keira Knightly has, at least for the most part, managed to become someone else.

It's an outstanding film. The script is a gem - multi-faceted and not weighed down with other adornments. The romantic elements of the plot intermingle well with the political and social elements, and neither feel overdone. There are some costume dramas that attempt to make too much of the political setting in which characters find themselves, and end up simply dull. The costumes too were wonderful. In an age when what one wore mattered a great deal, it was clear that the wardrobe department had gone to a great deal of expense. If someone would drop a hint to Keira Knightley that curls suit her extraordinarily well, I'd be grateful!

Casting is always a tricky thing to get right. Charlotte Rampling was well chosen as Georgiana's mother - strict and loving by turns, with the iron edge of desiring social respectability dominating her dealings with her daughter's feelings. Hayley Atwell was good as 'the other woman', and Ralph Fiennes as the Duke was inspired.

We all know him best for his 'evil' roles, for the manipulative games he plays with many of his counterparts. From what you can glean from the trailer, if the actual story is unknown, you could be forgiven for thinking that he would be playing to type and I was thusly prepared for evil personified.
The Duke is nothing of the sort. In point of fact, I would say he was essentially a dull man who requires an heir and will do everything within his power to get it. With little screen time, and with even less script to work with, Fiennes makes the role his own, and even perhaps allows a touch of sympathy into the viewers perception of him.

Dominic Cooper as Charles Grey I did not care for. I understand the need for a complete opposite to the Duke, but in my humble opinion, Dominic Cooper is simply a bit wet. You cannot believe that one day, this man will become Prime Minister. I have been wracking my brains for another young actor that could have filled this role with a bit more grit - it's all very well to be in love, but not to look like a puppy whilst doing it - but I confess I am unable to. Are we so lacking in young British actors as all that?

Keira Knightley as the Duchess is an interesting role to watch. She still has the occasional tendency to pout, but only when not entirely sure what sort of emotion she should portray. She is by turns enchanting, devastated, in love and heartbroken, and portrays them all with great ability. One could wish that she had a fuller figure, there were times that I felt, like the reviewer of The Telegraph, a great desire to feed her chips, and she is hampered by her walk - altogether too bouncy for a woman of the eighteenth century - but these are trifles (something I never thought to write!) in comparison to the vitality and emotion of her performance. There is an innocence to her portrayal - a young woman who cannot understand why she has to suffer the slight of her husband's mistress and not be allowed to behave the same way herself. She grows up fast in the wake of her affair with Grey, and there is a scene where the sheer force of Keira's emotion caused tears to spring up, but still the innocence and knowledge of the unjust set of double standards are there to the end.

As you can probably tell, I was greatly impressed by this film. It really makes you think about the severe differences between relationships in that era and this. For once, Keira Knightly turns in a performance that manages to capture the essence of the person she is portraying, rather than who she is personally.

It deserves awards. I won't go so far as to suggest a best actress, but if the costumes don't win things, then I shall be shocked. It's a film that should be seen, no matter what your opinion of Keira Knightley - who knows, she may even surprise you!

Thoughts for the day

It's a rare thing for this particular blogger to be asked a question that has posting relevance and which requires an actual response from her readers; but today is such a day, and I hope you all (to steal an Americanism) step up to the plate and deliver your answers boldly.

This weekend I met up with eminent Oxford professor Kathryn Sutherland, whom I had first met some months ago. Amongst the many topics of conversation, the subject of the blog came up. Kathryn has recently co-authored a book on new forms of media, a chapter of which was devoted to blogs. She confessed herself disappointed, seeing in them only lazy writing and a group of readers who all indulged in the 'group hug' form of commenting. There was, she felt, no room for improvement in this style of writing. If no one was using the commenting tool for constructive criticism, then the writing would just stay dull and bad.

She had, I said, evidently been looking in the wrong place (which is, of course, not hard to do considering there are over one hundred million blogs out there, 15 million of which are active, and no guarantee of quality).

So, readers of my blog, here are some questions to contemplate and comment on:

- Can there be too much of a good thing in commenting in a supportive way on the blogs you read?
- Do you only comment if you have something positive to say?
- Does writing a blog allow you to be actively hard on yourself and your writing style?

I'd be really pleased if I got some feedback from this. I've realised that I have far more readers than commentators, and I wonder if this is because the readers don't have anything good to say about my posts, or simply that I've not written anything that they can use as a connector to a comment.

This is the time to make your views known!

Thursday, 4 September 2008

A love once had now lost forever

I have always been intruiged by Elizabeth I's relationship with Robert Dudley, and the way they used each other's strength and still managed to fight like cats and dogs. Robert died today in 1588, and here is a poem, by Elizabeth which I think fits the moment quite well (even if it was probably written about the Duke of Alencon.)

On monsieur's departure

I grieve and dare not show my discontent,
I love and yet am forced to seem to hate,
I do, yet dare not say I ever meant,
I seem stark mute but inwardly do prate.
I am and not, I freeze and yet am burned,
Since from myself another self I turned.

My care is like my shadow in the sun,
Follows me flying, flies when I pursue it,
Stands and lies by me, doth what I have done.
His too familiar care doth make me rue it.
No means I find to rid him from my breast,
Till by the end of things it be supprest.
Some gentler passion slide into my mind,
For I am soft and made of melting snow;
Or be more cruel, love, and so be kind.
Let me or float or sink, be high or low.
Or let me live with some more sweet content,
Or die and so forget what love ere meant.

I'm planning a post about historical novels soon (probably tomorrow), so I can carry on the theme of Elizabeth then!

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Poem of the week

Today is the anniversary of the death of E.E. Cummings (in 1962). Here's one of his poems.


Humanity i love you
because you would rather black the boots of
sucess than enquire whose soul dangles from his
watch-chain which would be embarassing for both
parties and because you
unflinchingly applaud all
songs containing the words country home and
mother when sung at the old howard
Humanity i love you because
when you're hard up you pawn your
intelligence to buy a drink and when
you're flush your pride keeps
you from the pawn shop and
because you are continually commitings
nuisances but more
especially in your own house

Humanity i love you because you
are perpetually putting the secret of
lifer in your pants and forgetting
it's there and sitting down
on it
and because you are
always making poems in the lap
of death Humanity
i hate you

Monday, 1 September 2008

Prize winner

I've been so busy the last few weeks that I completely forgot to announce who had won the two books I had put into the draw.

Only two people actually entered, so it was very easy to make the award.

I have pleasure in announcing that Stacey won The Flight of the Falcon, so if she'd email me, I can have it out to her by the end of the week.

Simon won the other one ... er, what was it, I can't remember. I've already given it to him anyway, so it doesn't matter!

More talk of books read recently coming up ... I have read 58 books out of 100, and have currently got at least three on the go. Onwards my friends!

I am Madame X

There are certain paintings that one is drawn to, almost without knowing why, and the one above has long since been a firm favourite of mine. Perhaps it is the swan like grace of the turn of her neck, perhaps it is the simplicity of dress, or maybe it has something to do with the scandal that surrounded the painting when it was first exhibited, for allowing a shoulder strap to hang down provocatively - a touch Sargent felt forced to rectify in the face of severe criticism.

Whatever the reason for it's pull over me, I have known this picture simply by its title 'Portrait of Madame X', and never once felt compelled to find out anything more about the beauty standing seemingly aloof. That is until I happened upon a novel entitled I am Madame X, complete with portrait on the cover.

The novel starts off by claiming the following story is the memoir of Virginie Gautreau, sitter of the famous portrait, given to the curator of the Metropolitan museum for safe keeping until her death. The conceit works well, for as we delve into the colourful world of a New Orleans born beauty, forced to move to Paris at the time of the American civil war, we are thrust back into that other world, where women were looked on as prizes and paint was the means by which to catch them.

It is a beautifully told story - of a woman trapped by her situation. Wanting more than she can have, hoping to push the stays of the corset of society, she ends up in a marriage she doesn't want. But in that seeming awfulness lies the key to her salvation - or at least her fame. Her husband, wanting a portrait of his extraordinarily beautiful wife (who was said to take arsenic to achieve the translucent whiteness of her skin) commissions John Singer Sargent and the rest - as is often said - is history.

Written by first time novelist Gioia Diliberto, the colour of New Orleans and then Paris jumps off the page, as does the process of trying to find the perfect pose to capture the essence of this strong willed and passionate young woman (the book is littered with small sketches of Sargent's early attempts). Diliberto is first and foremost a biographer (her other works all fit into this genre), and this is clear with the detail she puts into the work, but it never cloys the drama, and you are left with a superb double portrait, one in paint and the other in pen.

It is a novel that brings the reader into another world, and one I can't recommend highly enough.