“Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita mi ritrovai per una selva oscura, ché la diritta via era smarrita.” (Midway in life’s journey I strayed from the path and became lost in a dark wood.)
And so begins Dante Alighieri’s 14th century magnum opus, The Divine Comedy, which includes the books Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso, telling of his travels through the depths of Hell and the mountain of Purgatory to discover the bliss of the Heavenly realms.
I attempted to review Inferno after my second read of it, yet never was able to put my thoughts together. This time I was determined but without much more inspiration, however I believe I discovered why this poem is so difficult to review. In essence, it is not only a poem; it is a story, it is history; it’s a science; it is a theological treatise, it is a creation. As in the other two books, there are so many allusions and so many connections that Dante interweaves into them that, as modern readers, we become a little lost in a dark wood. It’s like looking at a puzzle and having to see all the pieces individually before you can see the whole. Without a knowledge of Italian, we can struggle; without a knowledge of medieval scientific theory, we can struggle, without a knowledge of Catholicism we can struggle. But in spite of some of these challenges in this magnificent work, we can still see some of the pictures that Dante painted for us with bold strokes of artistic creativity.
“Whan that April with his shoures soote The droughte of March hath perced to the roote, And bathed every veyne in swich licour Of which vertu engendred is the flour;….”
Twenty-nine pilgrims and the narrator meet in Southwark, in Harry Bailey’s Tabard Inn, before setting off on a pilgrimage to Canterbury, where they will behold Thomas Becket’s shrine. On the journey each pilgrim will tell four tales, two on the way there and two on the way back. A free dinner will be awarded to the one with the best story. And so begins Geoffrey Chaucer’s famous poem, a medley of lively stories that gives the reader a captivating window into 14th century England.
The Gateway at Canterbury (1889)
Which means that I get to read A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland and A Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides written in 1775 by Samuel Johnson and James Boswell. I never thought I’d draw this one from my list, but I’m quite happy with it.
That said, I’m going to check around other blogs and see if anyone has drawn another book from my list. Then I might add it and we could read along together. If I find anything I’ll edit this post with the details but in the meantime, enjoy your spin reading everyone!
April usually brings lots of showers in my part of the country but let’s hope this year the flowers appear early. It’s been a pretty exciting March and also heading into April. The keyword is “renovations” and there are many of them. As you know from my January, February and March update, my new kitchen is under construction and is progressing nicely thanks to the dedicated direction of my colleague. I’ve been Insulating and drywalling up a storm (well, actually only one wall) and I laid the floor myself. Otherwise, I’ve had an excellent cabinet installer help with the cabinets and today my new Wolf range went in. Still to go are countertops and tile, along with various other little tasks. I’ll be so glad to finally get my kitchen back. I’ve been living in a house that looks like it’s been hit by a hurricane and so many times I’ve wanted to leave for cleaner pastures, but soon I’ll be able to put everything back in order. I can’t wait!
My, my, I’ve been remiss in posting my monthly updates. My only excuse could be that I’ve been very busy (no surprise there) but also that I’ve really been trying to concentrate on using any spare time I have this year for reading, so these posts have gone by the wayside. Time to tidy up!
Murder on the Links: “It was 2 p.m. on the afternoon of May 7th, 1915.”
Detective: Hercule Poirot
Published: 1923 (Christie’s 3rd published book)
Length: 272 pages
Setting: Merlinville-sur-Mer, France (fictional)
This is Agatha Christie’s third published novel after The Mysterious Affair at Styles and The Secret Adversary, and her second one featuring the astute Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. Quite honestly, this novel falls far short of her initial two attempts, her adept plotting of a mystery surprisingly lacking as the murder and motive is revealed in a rather bumbling fashion. But for now, let’s look at the plot.
Published in 1920, The Mysterious Affair at Styles is not only Agatha Christie’s first published novel but the first to introduce the reader to Hercule Poirot, her fastidious yet likeable Belgian detective whose mind nimbly gathers clues, deftly processes information and cunningly solves murders with style and aplomb.
The Age of Innocence: “On a January evening of the early seventies, Christine Nilsson was singing in Faust at the Academy of Music in New York.”
It’s 1870s New York, the Gilded Age of America, where substantial economic growth has bred a culture of wealth, class and entitlement. There are certain ways you behave and certain ways you don’t. The approval of the masses govern your actions and if you fall out of step, the resulting repercussions could be fatal to your social standing. However as opulent as the “gild” may appear, gilding is often used to mask flaws, and Wharton, in this Pulitzer Prize novel, examines the cracks and blemishes of New York society underneath the glamour.
The Age of Innocence (1785 or 1788) Joshua Reynolds source Wikipedia
Newland Archer is a young man who is firmly entrenched in the Gilded Age, the dictums of New York society inscribed in his soul with the expectations of the generation preceding his firmly entrenched in his behaviour. Then enters Madame Olenska. Ellen Olenska is the cousin of his betrothed, May Welland. While May is simple and uncomplicated, sort of a clear mirror of the society in which they move, Ellen is foreign and complex and holds an attraction for Newland that draws him outside of his societal shell, allowing him a new perspective on life. Suddenly the world he saw as sensible and practical now receives a critical appraisal from him as it appears small-minded, predictable and stifling. As his attraction for Ellen grows, so does his dissatisfaction. There is a possible turning point, but the break never materializes as Newland and May wed, beginning their married life. Yet Ellen appears in their lives yet again and the uncomfortable unknown is always whispering around us: will Archer satisfy his longing and run away with Ellen or will old society New York curb his emotions and steer him on a more dutiful course?
For someone who has read Cold Comfort Farm, I was so excited to find this book, however I was disappointed to discover the title is misleading. Instead of being further adventures from Cold Comfort Farm, it is actually a compilation of short stories by Stella Gibbons and Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm is only one of them. And to add further disappointment, only one or two of them even remotely mentions Christmas. Fool me once, and all that ……
In any case, for a book of short stories they were quite interesting, even if they were mostly missing the Christmas theme.
The Little Christmas Tree
Thirty-three year old Miss Rhoda Harting is a single spinster who makes her living as a writer. Retiring to a cottage in Buckinghamshire one Christmas season she finds herself lonely, a stark contrast to her usually reclusive yet positive character. On Christmas Day she encounters three children at her door who are attracted by her tiny Christmas tree in the window of her cottage. After lunch and a wild story, the arrival of their father sets up a question: is Rhoda destined to live life as a spinster or will love rearrange her carefully ordered life?
We all know this treasured Christmas story. Scrooge, a cantankerous old bachelor who lives a solitary life and whose sole purpose is to increase his wealth, initially has a vision of his dead partner, Jacob Marley, on his doorknocker. Not one for fancy, Scrooge humbugs his daydream, but when he is visited by Marley’s ghost, which is then succeeded by three other spirits – the spirits of Christmas past, present, and future, Scrooge learns many lessons of what he has lost, what he has become, and his fate if he continues on his selfish and merciless path.