Phantastes: A Faerie Romance for Men and Women by George MacDonald

Phantastes George MacDonaldPhantastes: A Faerie Romance: “I awoke one morning with the usual perplexity of mind which accompanies the return of consciousness.”

I read Phantastes for the first time in 2012, and while reading it, I was very confused with the progress of the story.  So many questions swirled around in my head as to the plot, such as why Anodos, the main character, decided to go to a particular place and why he didn’t listen to advice and what was the point of his wanderings?  I approached the book as I would a book like The Lord of the Rings where I was expecting an obvious quest in the culmination of something grand. What I received was a sort of lazy, fanciful wandering by Anodos as he continually encountered faerie princesses and maidens, along with a knight, giants and other evil malefactors.  While there were instances of adventure and situations where he had to employ his strength and good sense, these instances seemed solitary experiences that did not connect to the whole.  I just couldn’t figure out the point of the story.  When I couldn’t find it, I was left somewhat disappointed and unimpressed.  Flash-forward to my second reading this year and an epiphany! ….

Continue reading

Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

Christmas at Cold Comfort FarmFor 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?

Continue reading

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

A Christmas Carol Charles Dickens“Marley was as dead as a doornail.”

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.

Continue reading

The Pickwick Papers or The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club by Charles Dickens

“The first ray of light which illumines the gloom, and converts into a dazzling brillancy that obscurity in which the earlier history of the public career of the immortal Pickwick would appear to be involved, is derived from the perusal of the following entry in the Transactions of the Pickwick Club, which the editor of these papers feels the highest pleasure in laying before his readers, as a proof of the careful attention, indefatigable assiduity, and nice discrimination, with which his search among the multifarious documents confided to him has been conducted.”

It’s hardly believable but O’s 2 year read-along of the Pickwick Papers has finally come to a close and I have her to thank for finally being able to finish this 800-page marvel.  We read it in installments mirroring its original release which was an enlightening experience in itself. Looking back, I enjoyed reading only 2 to 3 chapters at a time, but the space between them, for me, was too long.  It’s not that I necessarily forgot what had happened, but I found that when I picked it up again, I was somewhat disengaged with the characters.  It was almost like starting a book over and over again and never really getting traction.  If I was to do it over, I’d read a chapter per week instead of three at once and that way hopefully remain more present in the story.

Mr. Pickwick slides on the ice
source Wikimedia Commons

And the book itself ….. ?  I quite enjoyed Mr. Pickwick and his marvellous, and at times unbelievable, adventures.  At the beginning of the book, Mr. Pickwick, founder and president of the Pickwick Club, decides that he and fellow members, Nathaniel Winkle, Augustus Snodgrass, and Tracy Tupman, will leave London and travel the countryside to discover the wonderful qualities of life, each reporting to the others what they find. Their adventures lead them to saving ladies in distress, getting embroiled in circumstances they only want to avoid, courting offers of marriage, unwanted offers of marriage, interaction with criminals, jail and even love itself. Dickens imbues this novel with his own brand of humour by having an old confirmed bachelor find himself in all sorts of uncomfortable circumstances.  From finding himself unexpectedly sleeping in a lady’s bed, to being sued for breach of promise of marriage, poor Pickwick finds his dignified sensibilities tried by unexpected challenges yet he always manages to respond in a measured and honourable manner that increased our respect for this lovable character.

Mr. Pickwick’s first interview
with Sergeant Snubbin
source Wikimedia Commons

In Chapter XVI, Pickwick attempts to catch a swindler, Jingle, who is slipperier than an eel.  Jingle plans to run away with an heires and by hiding in the bushes outside the girls’ boarding school, Pickwick attempts to subvert the scheme and expose the criminal.  But through various misadventures and bumbles, he manages to find himself locked in a cupboard by the headmistress and the ladies of the establishment. Rescued by Sam Weller, his valet, and his friend, Mr. Wardle, Pickwick rains imprecations upon the head of the absent Jingle.

Even more amusing, was the incident of the mistaken beds.  Late at night at an inn, Pickwick returns downstairs to retrieve his watch and upon returning, enters the wrong room!  He is just settled into bed when a lady enters and begins her own toilette. Horrified, Pickwick reveals his presence and attempts to assure her of his mistake and innocence, but the woman is frightened senseless, and Pickwick makes a quick exit. Not wanting another repeat of the disturbing and undignified experience, Pickwick plans to sleep in the hall, but is once again rescued by Sam.  The novel has so many amusing anecdotes, that is has to be read to enjoy them all.  And I finally managed it!

Mr. Pickwick, picnics
source Wikimedia Commons

At the time of the writing of this first novel, Dickens was working as a roving journalist and a reporter of Parlimentary news.  After his successful Sketches by Boz, Dickens was called in to write copy for certain illustrated sporting plates created by illustrator Robert Seymour.  Dickens soon began to write the instalments before the plates were produced, therefore changing the illustrative focus of the project to storytelling and he never looked back.  We all know of his illustrious writing career following The Pickwick Papers and I still have to read quite a few Dickens’ novels yet, as I’ve only completed The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit, A Tale of Two Cities, Dombey and Son, A Christmas Carol, David Copperfield, and, a long time ago, The Mystery of Edwin Drood.  So many great novels of his still to go.  Perhaps a project for 2018 ……???

 

 

The Small House at Allington by Anthony Trollope

“Of course there was a Great House at Allington.”

Lily (Lilian), Bell (Isabella), and their mother, Mrs. Dale, live in a cottage on the estate of her brother-in-law, Squire Dale.  The squire, their benefactor, is a stern implacable man who feels a responsibility to the family, yet does not exhibit affection or understanding towards them or their plight.  In spite of the strained relations, the Dale women live a contented, happy life.  However, their cousin, Bernard, one day brings his friend, Adolphus Crosbie home to visit and an attachment grows between him and Lily.  Crosbie is a charming young man, without name or fortune, but with a charisma that captures Lily’s heart, despite his flaws of selfishness and worldliness.  Does Crosbie love Lily?  He certainly convinces himself that he does and as he proposes he anticipates a respectable dowry that he assumes will be bestowed upon Lily by Squire Dale.  But assumptions can go awry and when Crosbie learns that Lily will be the benefactress of nothing but goodwill, her charms begin to diminish in his materialistic eyes.  All attempts to convince himself that love will overcome practicalities fail and he is lured away by a daughter of an earl, Alexandrina deCourcy, of whom he once was an admirer.  Weak and irresolute, Crosbie soon finds himself engaged to the girl despite his own misgivings and the threat of censure that he is certain to receive from various aspects of society.

source Wikipedia

Johnny Eames, who is initially introduced to us as a hobbledyhoy, loves Lily with a quiet, unwavering devotion, however her attachment to Crosbie appears insurmountable in spite of his abominable treatment of her. Even Eames’ preferment by the honourable Lord de Guest does not seem to sway Lily’s heart in his favour.  Meanwhile, her sister, Bell, refuses the proposal of her cousin, Bernard, who is influenced by their uncle, Squire Dale.  The Squire’s desire for the union overrides both parties, and he nearly drives his family away, physically and emotionally.  Yet there is another suitor waiting in the wings, Dr. Crofts, and the pair display a long-standing bond that is quiet and endurable.  Love puts on many faces in this book, yet happiness can be elusive in spite of good intentions.

Lily Dale is a character that is both frustrating and pitiful.  Her devotion to a man of questionable character and weak will is truly appalling.  One can understand her love and finally her disappointment, but it is beyond conceivability that she could maintain such an unwavering allegiance to such a scoundrel.  There are few characters I could claim to fully dislike in classic fiction, but I would have to say, Lily Dale is one of them.

source Wikipedia

During the Barset Chronicles series, one gets accustomed to Trollope’s palate of numerous multi-faceted characters, that populate his pages with a kaleidescope of colourful behaviours and a weaving of personal happenings.  However, with this book, I was somewhat disappointed.  The story itself was  more simplified than the other books of the Chronicles, which is not a detriment in itself, but the major focus on the love story of Lily and its many pitfalls left one with a disquieted feeling.  Because there is little commitment, deep feeling, or love on one side, and an excess of it on the other, there is an inequality of sentiment produced that colours the whole book.  Blindness is a factor in many circumstances and, in spite of Trollope’s lighthearted treatment of some of the characters, there is perhaps a more damning conviction against society at large for its inability to see what is in front of its face, for its lack of motivation to change circumstances, and perhaps even for its helplessness at the hands of fate.

Other books in the series:

Doodles in the Dictionary by Aldous Huxley

Henri Toulouse-Lautrec
source Wikimedia Commons

Ah, my first essay by Aldous Huxley and I didn’t know what style to expect.  He first begins by lamenting the insufferable boredom experienced by having to learn Greek and Latin in school.  Even the mention of these subjects he still finds tedious and can only find one benefit of having been forced through hours of searching for words in his Lexicon:

“I hate to think of all that wasted time.  And yet, in view of the fact that most human beings are destined to pass most of their lives at jobs in which it is impossible for them to take the slightest interest, this old-fashioned training with the dictionary may have been extremely salutary.  At least it taught one to know and expect the worst of life.  Whereas the pupil in a progressive school, where everything is made to seem entertaining and significant, lives in a fool’s paradise.” 

When his bookseller friend requested his presence to view an item that he was extremely thrilled to purchase, Huxley was dismayed to find that it was a Latin dictionary. However, when he found it wasn’t just any Latin dictionary, but the one owned by the famous painter, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, his interest was piqued.

source Wikipedia

Toulouse-Lautrec created these “doodles in the dictionary” when he was sixteen years old, a mere two years after two accidents which would change his life forever.  First, he broke one leg, and then the other, and neither leg grew again, therefore upon adulthood, he had the legs of a fourteen year old and the body of a man.  Having to live as a “dwarfish monster”, Lautrec immersed himself in his drawing and painting.

Aristide Bruant on His Bicycle (1892)
Henri Toulouse-Lautrec
source Wikiart

Huxley muses that up to the age of ten, the muse of genius is within every child, but with instruction that muse disintegrates until only one in four thousand people have any talent for art.  He calls this fact an “unsolved riddle” and hopes one day to learn the answer, whereupon education will be able to be transformed into a “social and individual reconstruction”.  Hmmm …….  who would decide what needed to be reconstructed and why?  Who would be doing the reconstructing and under what premise?  It’s all very vague and rather disturbing.

Artilleryman Saddling His Horse (1879)
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
source Wikiart

In any case, early on it was evident that Toulouse-Lautrec had rare talent for drawing and he was also proficient in Latin, earning prizes for translation and composition.  While his drawings at sixteen showed a maturity and flair that was unsurpassed for his age, his first master Bonnat was lukewarm with his praise.  In a letter to his Uncle Charles, Toulouse-Lautrec communicated his teacher’s comments:  “Your painting isn’t bad; it’s clever, but still it isn’t bad.  But your drawing is simply atrocious.”  Judging from a comment from another student, Huxley believes Toulouse-Lautrec had a propensity to exaggerate his subjects, to “prettify” them in a way that was perhaps not pleasing.  Yet Huxley believes that facts are perhaps not so immutable as we perceive them, and that everyone can view each reality differently.  And facts can also cover a variety of disciplines: for example, he says, the H-bomb can at once be involved in physics, chemistry, physiology, medicine, genetics, psychology, politics, economics, ethics and even be an aesthetic fact, as the cloud it makes is quite beautiful.  Toulouse-Lautrec simply chose to communicate in his art the aspects that preoccupied him and “found no incompatibility between truth to nature and distortion.” His exaggeration perhaps brought life to his art, which would align with Hsieh Ho, the fourth dynasty Chinese artist who stated that the First Principle of Chinese Painting “…. is that, through a vitalizing spirit, a painting should possess the movement of life,” and the sinologist, Osvald Siren agreed, “that the First Principle refers to something beyond the material form, call it character, soul, or expression. It depends on the operation of the spirit, or the myserious breath of life, by which the figures may become as though they were moving or breathing.”

Fishing Boat (1880)
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
source Wikiart

Huxley brings the subject of the horse into his essay, lamenting its passing into the history of transport and surmising that it was heading towards extinction.  It embodied the expression of life from its splendid grace, from the thoroughbred down to the old hack; in modern times we are only left with man who is a graceless uninteresting creature.  The advent of the automobile, and in fact all technology, detracts from life and therefore from our enjoyment of it.  Lautrec’s father had advocated for the health of the outdoors but sadly, Lautrec was not destined for such a life because of his accident and became, instead, fascinated by the race-track, Montmartre known for its public dancing and cabarets, alcohol and prostitutes.

“The drunks and tarts, the lecherous gentlemen in top hats, the sensation-hunting ladies in feather boas, the stable boys, the lesbians, the bearded surgeons performing operations with a horrifying disregard of the first principles of asepsis ……. these became the subject matter of most of Lautrec’s pictures, the environment in which he liked to live.  He portrayed them simply as curiosities, passing no moral judgment, but simply rendering the intrinsic oddity of what he saw around him.”

His interest in the theatre grew, of which sketches can be seen in the dictionary of jesters, actors and actresses.  He did not portray women in a sexual way nor with any discrimination, only executing them as he would any other subject, “from memory and with appropriate distortions, rendered their life-movement, now graceful, now grotesque, and the underlying rhythm of the mysterious spirit that manifests itself within that movement.”

And so concludes an essay that I thought would be an educational treatise and ended up being about the creation of art, and secondary the sad demise of a creative talent. Huxley did not reveal that Lautrec died from the effects of alcoholism and syphilis at the age of 36 years old.

Next up is classic children’s book, The Finn Family Moomintroll.  I absolutely love this book; it is tied for my all-time favourite children’s classic.  I can’t wait to read it again and share some unique Moomintroll adventures!

Week 9 – Deal Me In Challenge – Two of Spades

Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope

“When young Mark Robarts was leaving college, his father might well declare that all men began to say all good things to him, and to extol his fortune in that he had a son blessed with so excellent a disposition.”

In Framley Parsonage, the fourth book in the Chronicles of Barsetshire, Trollope gives us a lively romp through the lives of the inhabitants of East Barsetshire, introducing us not only to their whims and follies, but through their actions, the culture and society of a 19th century English town. 

Mark Robarts, a parson of the village of Framley, and a beneficiary of Lady Lufton whose son was his schoolmate, is married to Fanny, a genteel lady of respectable birth.  Yet his patroness is at times difficult to please, and Robarts must navigate the storms of friendship, duty, and financial matters, often muddying the waters that he is trying desperately to clear.  When his father dies and his sister, Lucy, comes to live at the parsonage, an unexpected complication develops that was unforeseen by all and upsets the carefully calibrated balance of societal acceptance.  Robarts encounters further obstacles when he embroils himself with a member of parliament, Nathaniel Sowerby, and his financial dealings.  His trusting, artless, clerical nature is in sharp contrast to the Machiavellian intrigue of men of enterprise, and it appears nothing good will come of the connection.

The Parsonage Farm, Rickmansworth (c. 1840)
John White
source ArtUK

In Mark Roberts financial dealings with Sowerby, one wonders if Trollope was offering a subtle indictment as to the interactions and associations of church and state.  The innocent perceptions of one is unable to account for the devious machinations of the other and, because of Robarts’ influence on those around him, they are affected by the imprudent alliance as well.  Add to that Lady Lufton’s displeasure at the Duke of Omnium’s vulgar societal group and a possible marriage between a peer and a commoner, and you have class conflict at its finest, a subject of which Trollope is most adept at exploring with a light-heartedness that often belies the deeper implications.

Trollope reintroduces characters from the previous Barsetshire books: The Warden, Barchester Towers and Dr. Thorne.  Miss Dunstable displays her wily financial prowess, Dr. Thorne his ability to be influenced, the Grantley’s are in top form with not one, but two suitors in their daughter’s wake, and even gentle old Septimus Harding makes a brief appearance.

The Houses of Parliament (c. 1844?)
George Chambers II
source ArtUK

Two years it took me to complete this novel.  Isn’t that ridiculous?  For some reason, the first part of it just dragged, but as soon as I hit the half-way point, I was completely hooked and drawn in to the characters and their stories.  Next in line is A Small House at Allington, which I’ve heard is excellent.  It won’t take me two years to read through this one, I promise!

Politics and the English Language by George Orwell

I haven’t yet read enough of Orwell’s works to decide whether I like him or not, but one thing I have learned in our short acquaintance is that he’s not one to prevaricate or candy-coat his ideas.  If you don’t want his opinions, don’t read him, and if you do, get ready to duck!

Orwell begins his essay, Politics and the English Language, by speculating on the impending collapse of the English Language. Is its demise a mirroring of society’s cultural suicide, simply an innocuous descent that is only natural given the state of our world?  Yet Orwell believes that there is not just a natural cause, but more pointedly, political and economic ones, and even the effects themselves can become causes that reinforce the original cause.  For example:

“A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks.  It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language.  It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier to us to have foolish thoughts.”

There is a remedy though: if we clean up our bad habits when applying language to thoughts, our thoughts will become clearer.

A Song Without Words (1919)
John William Godward
source Wikiart

Orwell now gives five writing examples exemplifying problems with how people use language:

  1. an essay by Professor Harold Laski (who uses 5 negatives in 53 words)
  2. a paragraph from Interglossa by Professor Lancelot Hogben (mixed metaphors)
  3. an essay on psychology in Politics (meaninglessness)
  4. a Communist pamphlet (stale phrases)
  5. a letter in the Tribune (words and meaning part company)

The two main problems in all these examples are a “staleness of imagery” and a “lack of precision”.  Modern English prose is ripe with these issues, but they crop up continuously in political writing.   Instead of sticking with concrete thoughts, the abstract creepy in, melting away the valuable meaning of ideas, instead consisting of a stringing together of hackneyed phrases.  He then lists examples of the ways that the adequate construction of prose is habitually avoided.

Dying Metaphors:  These are metaphors between the good and bad, a garbage dump of metaphors that have lost all expressive power and are used only to avoid the trouble of creating new evocative phrases.  Whenever inconsistent phrases are mixed or the original meaning is convoluted, it is evidence that the person is not particularly interested in what they are saying.

Operators of Verbal False Limbs:  Used to avoid choosing correct verbs and nouns but give the appearance of a harmony by expanding the sentence with the use of extra syllables.  Examples of such are: make itself felt, exhibit a tendency to, etc.  In addition, the passive voice is preferred instead of the active, noun constructions are employed instead of gerunds (by examination instead of by examining), verbs are cut down by -ize and de- formations, clichéd statements are presented as intelligent by the not un- formation, clean conjunctions and prepositions are replaced by phrases such as, with respect to, the fact that, etc, and sentence completions are made to sound mundane by such phrases as deserving serious consideration, etc.

Pretentious Diction:  Catch words are used to adorn simple statements to give biased judgements an appearance of scientific authority.  He goes on to describe specific words used in political writings, claiming the result is slovenliness and vagueness, to obscure the real issues.

Meaningless Words:  Passages with a complete dearth of meaning abound in many areas of writing, but principally in art and literary criticism.  Orwell gives a few examples, such as:

“The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far it signifies ‘something not desirable.’  The words democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice, have each of them several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another.  In the case of democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides.  It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of régime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using the word if it were tied down to any one meaning.  Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way.  That is, the person who uses them has his own private definition but allows his hearer to think he means something quite different.”

In an attempt to show that modern writing does not choose words for meaning nor does it evoke powerful images for clarity, Orwell gives first an example from Ecclesiastes, and then his own modern translation.  His experiment is quite fascinating:

Ecclesiastes:

I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, or yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

Modern English:

Objective consideration of contemporary phenomena compels the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.

He then analyzes them to show the weakness of the translation and claims modern writing is lazy, borrowing ideas and phrases and “gumming” them together in order to use minimal mental effort; also there is often an attempt to convey emotional meaning without attention to detail nor the actual point.

Language is Not Transparent
Mel Bochner
source Wikiart

A responsible writer will ask himself the following questions when writing:

What am I trying to say?
What words will express it?
What image or idiom will make it clearer?
Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?
Could I put it more shortly?
Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?

However, Orwell says, most writers are contend to string together cliches, obscuring their meaning even to themselves.

In politics, the writing is particularly dreadful, all the literary mistakes converging and causing the viewers to feel that “one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy,” who is being transformed into a machine by the very words he speaks.  By the constant bombardment of meaningless jargon, people’s consciousness becomes sleepy and allows atrocities to be labelled as pacification, or transfer of population, or elimination of unreliable elements.  This particular phraseology has no metaphor content and therefore images are lacking, allowing the reader/listener to easily dismiss the human connection and thus controlling our emotional response to it.  Inflated euphemisms are used to justify cruelty.

The Treachery of Images (1948)
Rene Magritte
source Wikiart

Yet while thoughts are able to corrupt language, the reverse is also true.  You can catch this impoverished writing, like a disease, and have your mind affected by it.  Orwell admits that in his essay he has committed some of the literary crimes he is attempting to reveal.  The only way to avoid these faults is to continually be on guard against them. We can start by eradicating worn-out phrases and metaphors, but the change must go deeper.  He goes on to explain what these changes do not imply, then gives the reader rules to follow when intuition fails:

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

By applying these rules, one could still write badly, but one could not write the drivel of which he has been speaking or using as examples.  His goal with his essay is not to consider “the literary use of language, but merely language as an instrument for expressing and not for concealing or preventing thought.”

For:

“Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

Young Girl Learning to Write
Camille Corot
source Wikiart

A very powerful essay by Orwell and one that requires time and deep thought to digest. On most points, I agree with him wholeheartedly, but there are a few minor claims that poke at my passion for words.  To use less words that have Greek or Latin roots, seems overly particular.  These words have been in use for centuries and add to the language instead of detracting from it.  And while Orwell didn’t directly say that he takes offence at larger more complex words, the appearance in his examples was to severely diminish them (sorry, if I misread you, George, but that was my impression).  While I certainly do not advocate using complex words to diminish meaning or cloak intent, I do think that they are valuable for enjoyment in reading.  Would one rather have a French seven course dinner, or MacDonald’s?  If one is discerning in the culinary arts, certainly the former.  However, just as the ingredients for the seven course dinner would have to be used with style and attention, so must complex words be, when writing.

My next choice for my Deal Me In Challenge is suppposed to be a children’s classic, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aitken, but I’m having some trouble finding it (yes, those of you who know of my “issue” of losing my DMI choices can laugh at me), so next week might find a different post appearing.  Time shall reveal!

Week 5 – Deal Me In Challenge – Eight of Spades

The Comedy of Errors by William Shakespeare

“A wretched soul, bruised with adversity,
We bid be quiet when we heart it cry.
But were we burdened with like weight of pain,
As much or more we should ourselves complain.”

In a quest to focus on my Shakespeare Project for 2017, I’m reading through some of the plays following the schedule of the A Bard a Month group on Goodreads.  They have The Comedy of Errors listed as the first play of Williams Shakespeare yet my The Life and Works of William Shakespeare has it listed as the 5th.  From the evidence, the only thing that’s certain is that no one knows for sure, right?  In any case, it definitely shows in its structure and method a rather simple presentation of a budding farce that nevertheless manages to capture the audience’s interest and tickle their humour.

The play appears to be dated somewhere between 1589-1591.  It did not appear in Quarto form but made its first appearance in the Folio of 1623 and the first documented performance in the Gesta Grayorum was at Gray’s Inn on December 28, 1594.  In dating this play, the rhyme scheme is also of assistance, and classical allusions, fantastic imagery, wire-drawn wit, conceits and puns abound as in earlier plays.  The action occurs within a single day, and the buttressing of dual improbabilities in the duplication of the twin masters and servants, the romantic tension of the parties, and the blending of tragedy and comedy bring some complexity to this unseasoned work.  Resembling Plautus’ play, Menæchmi, portraying whimsical confusion and mistakes involving twins of Syracuse, The Comedy of Errors may also have the basis in another drama, The Historie of Error, performed in 1577-78, although the parallels are certainly less apparent.

source Wikimedia Commons

A trader from Syracuse, Egeon, is apprehended in the port city of Ephesus.  As the law forbids either inhabitant from entering the other’s city, Egeon is sentenced to death unless someone is found to provide the fine of one thousand marks.  In despair, he reveals to the Duke of Ephesus that thirty-three years ago in a storm at sea, he was separated from his wife, one of his twin sons, and one of his two twin servants; he and one son were picked up by a Corinthian ship and his wife, his other son and the other servant by an Epidaurian ship.  The years pass as Egeus grieves the loss, renaming his remaining son Antipholus after his lost son and the servant, Dromio, after the lost servant.  Now, against all statues, he is here in Ephesus to discover the fate of the missing part of his family.

Without a friend in the city, Egeon’s fate seems certain, but his son, Antipholus of Syracuse and his servant, Dromio, turn up in Ephesus unbeknownst to him, also looking for his missing brother as he has been searching for seven years.  And lo, the missing Antipholus of Ephesus indeed resides in the city with his servant, Dromio, and thence the “errors” begin, causing a rollicking adventure of humour and suspense. Adriana chastizes her husband, but why does he not appear to know her?  Lady Luciana, her sister, is horrified by the advances of her brother-in-law.  A gold chain ordered by Antipholus of Epheus, mistakenly ends up in the hands of his brother and accusations, threats and recriminations follow.  An abbey becomes a refuge, yet who exactly is the regal abbess, and will Egeon eventually be saved and the family reunited?

A Scene from The Comedy of Errors
Thomas Stothard
source ArtUK

In spite of all my questions, there wasn’t much mystery to the play, but while hilarity is perceived by the audience who can regularly guess at the outcomes of situations, the characters themselves are often in states of anguish, irritation, despair, and confusion, not at all comedic from their point of view.  The well-crafted tension between these two aspects of the play gives us a glimmer of promise for Shakespeare’s later works and taste of his genius to come …..

Further reading:

Vulgarity by G.K. Chesterton

Interior of a Tavern, Peasants Carousing (1635)
Master of the Large Jars
source ArtUK

I’ve been keen to read a Chesterton essay for awhile now, but have not drawn him for the Deal Me In challenge yet.  Luckily, this time, he’s my first draw of the year!

Wearing many hats, Chesterton is known for his poetry, philosophy, theology, orating, journalism, biographies, and literary and art criticism.  I haven’t read many of his essays, but of those I have, I’ve found his style entirely unique, a sort of meandering while at the same time being very pointed.  Reading this essay was similar to my previous experience.

Although more practical inventions such as telephones and aeroplanes have foreshadowings of their later inventions, vulgarity itself is so new that even its name is somewhat misleading.  The Latin word “vulgus” was generally used to describe “something that was not particularly common among the common people.”  In fact, the vulgar is not very common if one searches for evidence of it.  Farmers, peasants, the poor, and even savages are rarely vulgar.  This new “thing” requires a new name and definition and although Chesterton questions his ability to give it, because he has just been reading a book about love, he has a few ideas.  Curious ….. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with.

Vulgarity consists of two elements: facility and familiarity.  The first means that a man may “gush”, that his words flow without any thought or self-control; they “stream from him like perspiration”.  He appears confident and admired but he “never need stop explaining himself, for he understands neither himself nor the limits of explanation.”  The second element can be defined as profanity, a “loss of holy fear and a sin against the mystical side of man.”  This man can “handle things confidently and contemptuously, without the sense that all things in their way are sacred things.”

“The point is that the fool is so subjective that it never occurs to him to be afraid of the subject.”  He can be both a Pagan fool and a Puritan fool, because each is so familiar with his subject that he becomes blind to the depths of it and loses his objectivity.  On the other hand, a man writing to the woman he loves or the saint writing of his sin, is able to view each with a clear perspective because he has a healthy respect for each and the complexities are clear to him.

Phew!  I certainly understood the gist of Chesterton’s points but following his train of thought can be challenging.  I suspect that I need more practice!

Next week for my Deal Me In Challenge, I’ll be reading the short story, A Little Woman by Franz Kafka, my first reading of Kafka ever.

Week 1 – Deal Me In Challenge – King of Spades