Wednesday, 26 March 2008

I'm Leaving - on a Vaporetto

'Ello. I am off to Italy tomorrow morgen, for just over a week - Florence, Siena (briefly) and Venice. *dances*

And I originally packed EIGHT BOOKS (not including the Lonely Planet). I have now reasserted my sanity, and have cut it down to five- Wuthering Heights (although technically a half, since I'm half-way through), The Grass is Singing (Doris Lessing, and technically work, hurrah, because it ties into my The West and the Third World paper), Northanger Abbey (Austen, and I haven't read it yet, shamefully), Wide Sargasso Sea ("prequel" to Jane Eyre, re. the first Mrs Rochester), and for comfort reading, Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers (Yay for Lord Peter Wimsey!). I think this isn't too excessive - they're all small-ish, 150 pages each, and I have to have too many in case I take a violent dislike to one or other of them. This happened in Cornwall last summer, and I was stuck in Mousehole with only one book which I hated - absolute nightmare. The shop was shut, too, so I couldn't even buy a newspaper. (Thank god for the Sennen Cove shop, which provided me with the surprisingly good The House at Riverton, by Kate Morton). Plus, F is also bringing books, and The Brother too, so all-in-all, I should survive. If that fails, I will have to learn Italian whippety-quick...

So yes. I will attempt to connect to the tinty at some point - our Florence hostel promises free internet, although it is sure to be slow and oversubscribed - but if that fails, feel free to entertain yourself over at the ongoing First Line Quiz, or why not use this post to introduce yourself? Tell me five things about you, perhaps, or your favourite quote/book/film - and why.



PS In case you were wondering, jettisoned were The Prince, by Macchiaveli, because although it is also technically work (Early and Medieval Political Thought) and terribly relevant, it's also my grandma's copy and I don't want to lose it, and Plato (The Republic) and Aristotle (Politics)- both actually work, but heavy, and I know I just won't read them. I've taken a pile of notes from Paper 15 (European History 1250-1500) to read through instead.

Friday, 21 March 2008

Komm, suesses kreuz

So, Jesus died today.

Or not today today, yano, not March the whatever it is, but like, this equivalent day in that year.

If he existed at all.

But nonetheless, worldwide, people are being sad because today is the day when we remember that Jesus died on some day some time possibly even if it was just our imagination, and it Meant Something.

I always liked Good Friday, actually. It was suitably spooky. Whenever I think about it, in fact, it's coloured in black in my head, and I see my junior school gym where we used to have assembly, and I think of the hymn we sang there, Lord of the Dance. I went to a Catholic junior school, you see. And I remember singing this hymn, and being really affected by it, by the darkness of the verse about Easter,

I danced on a Friday
When the sky turned black -
It's hard to dance
With the devil on your back

and then by the joy of the last verse

They cut me down
And I leapt up high;
I am the life
That'll never, never die;
I'll live in you
If you'll live in me -
I am the Lord
Of the Dance, said he.

Both reflected in the music, of course. It seems awfully twee now, but to an awkward, passionate child it was terribly moving. Now, my religious music fix comes from elsewhere - Allegri's Misere, Thomas Tallis, The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King's at Christmas, and of course, Bach. Easter time means St Matthew Passion time. On repeat.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

And then they all went home for tea

Air hair lair!

Double post today, because the first one needs time to percolate, as it were. Because, yes, to celebrate the festival of new starts and rebirths, I present you with the FIRST LINE QUIZ! (cheers, cheers, applause)

Premise is simple. I give you a list of first lines from famous books. You comment with which book it's from. Full points if you get author AND title, half if you get one or the other. Bonus points if you can continue the quotation (preferably without google!) Some are easy, some are middling, some are quite hard. And don't worry, there's no Pride and Prej. What do you take me for, a hack? Then in a few days, whenever I can escape from family and chocolate and crazy men on bits of wood, I'll post the answers, and tell you about my fave first lines and why they're so good.

So here goes.

1. There once was a boy named Eustace Clarence Scrubb and he almost deserved it.

2. It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn't know what I was doing in New York.

3. Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.

4. It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

5. If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.

6. All children, except one, grow up.

7. Roger, aged seven, and no longer the youngest of the family, ran in wide zigzags, to and fro, across the steep field that sloped up from the lake to Holly Howe, the farm where they were staying for part of the summer holidays.

8. Call me Ishmael.

9. μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος
οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί' Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε' ἔθηκεν



Oh, go on then:

Sing, goddess, the rage of Achilles the son of Peleus,
the destructive rage that sent countless pains on the Achaeans...

10. It was a nice day. All the days had been nice. There had been rather more than seven of them so far, and rain hadn't been invented yet. But clouds massing east of Eden suggested that the first thunderstorm was on its way, and it was going to be a big one.

11. "Yes," said Tom bluntly, on opening the front door. "What do you want?"

12. To the red country and part of the gray country of Oklahoma, the last rains came gently, and they did not cut the scarred earth.

13. In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since.

14. The Nellie, a cruising yawl, swung to her anchor without a flutter of the sails, and was at rest. The flood had made, the wind was nearly calm, and being bound down the river, the only thing for it was to come to and wait for the turn of the tide.

15. It was 7 minutes after midnight. The dog was lying on the grass in the middle of the lawn in front of Mrs. Shears's house. Its eyes were closed. It looked as if it was running on its side, the way dogs run when they think they are chasing a cat in a dream. But the dog was not running or asleep. The dog was dead.

Well, I think that's enough to be getting on with, eh?

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Cliches can be quite fun. That's how they got to be cliches

Back home again today, this time for good - or til April, at least. There is absolutely nothing as dreary as driving through suburban London on a rainy day. Except perhaps Siberia. Or Hull. But nice to be back, and we now have wireless, huzzah (although slow, chiz chiz).

And so to peotry*. I thought I'd give my tuppen'orth (that was a case of stick the apostrophe somewhere and hope it's right - can anyone enlighten me on where it should actually go?) on the matter of the Graun's Seven Great Poets of the 20th Century series. This is, after all, a literary blog, and this is a genuine literary news story, so there ya go, I'm writing about it.

Speaking generally, I was soothed by the absence of any particular ranking - a pointless exercise, in my opinion, since good art is very subjective and poetry especially - which has made the series an exploration rather than a competition. But nonetheless there was a value judgement made to get to this seven, and I can't help but feel that the selection could have been more ... adventurous, perhaps? Rather than choosing these seven - all as famous as famous can be - perhaps they could have collated seven underrated 20th century poets? It all seems a little Classic FM-y - no one denies the quality of the work, but the choice is obvious and sometimes you'd like to hear something other than Pachelbel's Canon or the theme to Spartacus**. But then I suppose that this lot are all famous for a reason, so maybe I'm being unfair.

To the selection itself, I wouldn't really change it much, if I'm honest. And to be even honester, those I would change are those I just don't know very well, which only reinforces my belief in the inherent silliness of listing art by "quality" rather than by "favourite". I don't doubt that Seamus Heaney is a vg poet. But personally (pronounced "poyysonlly" of course), I wouldn't have him on my list because it'd be dishonest. I think I've only read one of his poems, and that was for GCSE English. It was a bit self-consciously earthy, I thought, but also quite haunting and nostalgic, and nostalgia is, as we all know, my hobby, so I'd probably like him if I read him but I haven't. Similarly, Plath is loved for a reason, but I've only read Mirror. However, I have a feeling that even if I had read lots of her work, I still wouldn't put her in. Peversity, perhaps? A faux-originality? The only poet I genuinely think doesn't deserve to be in there is Sassoon. He's good, but even if they'd said "Right, and we have to have a war poet, let's have Sassoon", surely they should have chosen Owen? Or maybe he's too obvious even for the selectors (sounds like cricket, doesn't it?), and that shows me up to be an awful hypocrite. I've had good things about Isaac Rosenberg (my grandpa's fave), but again, he fails the Yorick Test ("Ah, I knew him well" - har har har).

But then we get to Larkin - tick! - Auden - tick! - and Eliot - ticktickticktickTICK! I'm still only just discovering Larkin, but what I've read is just right up my strasse, especially the beautiful Mother, Summer, I with its iambs and feeling of blank verse (although, granted, it rhymes) and eminent speakableness, just rolling off the tongue. Auden ditto - he hasn't appeared in the Oxfam Bookshop yet and we don't have a copy at home - but again, what I do know I adore. Lullaby, for instance. And Eliot too - I know more of his work than the others, but I'm still far from knowledgeable, let alone an expert. At times I barely understand what I'm reading. But there's a rhythm to the poems, an odd sort of correctness in his word choice. Some poetry, equally impenetrable, feels permanently so, and I get a headache and give up. With Eliot, I feel like it's just a question of reading it again - a series of barriers that fall easily. It is majestic, haunting, elegeic, grounded - far-sighted and yet fiercely focused at the same time. It's not just Prufrock that is full of repressed passion - it runs throughout.

But why in God's name did they not include The Hollow Men?

So who would make my list, since I've only approved three of seven? Dylan Thomas, probably, simply on the back of Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night, one of my all-time favourite poems. Roger McGough, almost certainly, for his wit and his empathy and his clear-sightedness, and his brilliant use of rhythm and metre, and because he is rooted firmly in an oral tradition - I saw him perform at last year's Latitude Festival and he was brilliant. I can't resist mentioning Cole Porter - few would call him a poet but his wit and grasp of language is masterful. And my seventh? Edna St Vincent Millay, without a shadow of a doubt.

She is my favourite poet by a mile, and I consider her to be criminally underrated. She has a knack for identifying an emotion and describing it clearly and with pin-point accuracy; her tone is conversational, her language simple, her sentiments universal. She prefers to tell stories in her poems, rather than the abstract descriptive poems which are so popular nowadays but which I loathe. Her sonnets are passionate but witty and sharp, unconventional as her life was; her descriptions of grief in Interim and Time Does Not Bring Relief are unparalled. And the last words of one sonnet are "biologically speaking". What's not to love?

But now this post is hideously long, so I will finish. Expect soon the ever-promised, ever-postponed Captain Wentworth post, and a better introduction to Edna.

* Sissy stuff that rhymes.

** Which is a name I'll never be able to say now without thinking of Hank Azaria in The Birdcage...

Saturday, 15 March 2008

My therapist says...

Hmph. Bad day. Exodus weekend at Cambridge, everyone packing up to leave, very melancholy.

Strongly resisting the temptation to go on a therapeutic book-buying trip. Although it would probably help.



Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Where the Streets are Paved with Gold

Blimey, having the fabby Patroclus mention this place means I've got to actually post interesting stuff, right? Right. So no more inane ramblings about my inability to judge tea quantities (incidentally, while I'm on the subject, it's probably inherited from my mother, who despite being a culinary whizz in other departments, has a complete mental block when it comes to judging how much pasta to make. Strange but true.)

On that note, back to Lahndahn Tahn yesterday evening for the annual Flamenco Festival at Sadler's Wells with Mamaphore, Aunt C and Cousin F - specifically, the show Mujeres, or "Women". Three different female dancers, all accompanied by live flamenco musicians. In a word, FAB. In two: VISCERALLY EXCITING. Three? ENTRANCING, HYPNOTISING, ASTOUNDING. (As will I'm sure become clear, my other passion beside books is dance. But I'm not very good at writing about it.) Very clever showmanship, too, with excellent use of staging and lighting, but not clever-clever so as to become distracting, and the costumes were fantastic, not just beautiful but part of the dance. And lots of audience involvement, lots of Ole's and "Guapa!" and "brava!" Good old cosmopolitan London. As per usual, just wanted to leap up and join in. Needless to say, didn't.

I still owe you a Captain Wentworth post, don't I? Hmm. And yesterday, while procrastinating on work for the fifth day running, I wrote a few other ideas down. Very excited indeed!

Sunday, 9 March 2008

"Tea is a cup of life"

A whole teapot of tea when the teapot is the size of this one is too much tea for me. Why this didn't occur to me in the making of it given that yesterday I filled it half-full and it gave two full cups for me and A is a very good question.

I stood up just now and my stomach did that bloop-bloop thing it does when you've drunk too much liquid very quickly. Or is that just me? Huh.


What's that you say? Do some work? Oh, if you insist.

(Incidentally, when I was looking for a suitable picture to illustrate this post, I came across this. All together now - awwwwwwwwwwwwww!)

Saturday, 8 March 2008

He is the lord of truth

A sign seen in the window of a Christian bookshop in Cambridge (no, not the one advertising a "Politically Incorrect Take on the World of Islam!"):

Statues 50% off!

I laughed, anyway.

Friday, 7 March 2008

I Revisit the Castle

Incidentally, for those of you who were wondering, the actual first lines of I Capture The Castle are:

"I write this sitting in the kitchen sink. That is, my feet are in it; the rest of me is on the draining-board, which I have padded with our dog's blanket and a tea-cosy. I can't say that I am really comfortable, and there is a depressing smell of carbolic soap, but this is the only part of the kitchen where there is any daylight left."


"My mother was a difficult and unfathomable woman, and I started trying to understand women at an early age."

So, my friend Z and I have a tradition. A tradition of three weeks, granted, but nonetheless a tradition. On Thursday nights, we curl up in jim-jams and armed with spoons and a tub of Haagen-Dazs, and we watch literary adaptations. So far so conventional, eh? WE DON'T CARE WE LOVE IT.

It all started on Valentine's Day; I am a bitter, twisted singleton, and she has a boyf who lives far away in another town and another university (but he does exist, I met him on Sunday). So we thought we should have a defiant girly night, and what better than the recent BBC adaptation of Jane Eyre starring the lovely Toby Stephens and the fabulous Ruth Wilson. We watched up until the proposal that night, then finished it the following week; then last week we watched North and South.

Needless to say, both sent us into paroxysms of delight (and lust). Jane Eyre is one of my favourite books of all time, having read it at the obnoxiously early age of nine (don't worry, I made up for it - it was the only classic I read by choice until I read Vanity Fair aged 17), and North and South is one of Z's. And the adaptations entirely lived up to the originals (or so Z assured me, since I shamefully have only read the first few chapters of North and South), which is what we've come to expect from the BBC.

None of this condensing the story into two hours rubbish like WhyTV (although props to them for casting the utterly delectable Rupert Penry-Jones as Captain Wentworth). Both ran to a respectable four hours, condensing in the right places and expanding ditto - and although our anachronism alarms went mental at Jane and Rochester's parting (oh the heaving bosoms! The bizarre rolling on the bed!) we weren't really complaining that much. The characters were multifaceted and full of subtlety, especially Jane; the period details were lovely. Occasionally the screenplay lapsed into modern speak - I swear that in N&S someone said "Get together" but surely I misheard. And it all goes right in the end.

There are people who despair at literary adaptations, say that it makes people lazy, that it's a sign of dumbing down. Bollocks to that, I say. I worked in the library for my last two years of school, and whenever a book was adapted for film or for TV, people would come looking for the original. If it helps people get through their prejudices about the classics, and through the unfamiliar language and sentence structure, then that's all to the good, surely?

The best thing about both JE and N&S - and we're talking here about the books as well - is that they are so much more than chicklit (oooh, I hate that term with a passion). While lauded as classics, one can't help but feel that they are always dismissed a little, inferior always to doorstops like Crime and Punishment and Anna Karenina. But why? JE is gothic, precociously agnostic, a complex treatise on the shifting bounds of morality and loyalty and love. N&S is almost a political manifesto, an investigation of class and capital and a picture of England in the throes of the Industrial Revolution, like JE showing the fluidity of morality and religion and the different ways someone may be master of another. And I love both for reaffirming my belief in - and love for - homegrown moral codes. All four protagonists, while not conforming to traditional morality, as judged by the standards of the day, are nonetheless fiercely moral and honourable - a quality that is no longer respected as it should be. Even Mr Rochester, by far the least moral of the lot, won't pack off his wife to die, and resigns himself to being her keeper.

And on a much more shallow note, even sexed-up as the BBC is wont to do, the restraint of these adaptations is vair naice - much more erotic than anything else on TV. Oooh yeah. Although they would never kiss in public, people. Ever.

On Sunday: Persuasion, and at some point, a post about heroes and why Captain Wentworth is far sexier and lovelier than Darcy.

The quote in the title is by Andrew Davies, by the way, him of the Pride, Prej and the Wet Shirt.