Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Deal Me In Challenge 2015

Okay, only one more challenge ....... really ..........!  Jay at Bibliophilica is having his yearly Deal Me In challenge and it looks like such fun, I couldn't resist.  I've been watching Dale @ Mirror With Clouds participate all last year, and Marianne gave me an idea with a twist for it that should work wonderfully!

The rules are:

What is the goal of the project?
To read 52 short stories in 2015 (that’s only one per week)
What do I need?
1) Access to at least fifty-two short stories (don’t own any short story collections or anthologies? See links to online resources below)
2) A deck of cards
3) An average of perhaps just thirty minutes of reading time each week
Where do I post* about my stories?
(*You don’t have to post about every single story, of course, but if you have something to say about the story you read any given week, your fellow participants would love to hear it.)
1) On your own blog or website if you have one (I will link to your post at the bottom of my weekly post. I currently plan to do my weekly post on Sundays)
2) if you don’t have a blog or website you may comment on my weekly post, sharing thoughts on your own story – or start one at WordPress or blogspot – it’s easy and free to create a basic blog.
How do I pick which stories to read?
(The 52 stories themselves are totally up to you.) Before you get start reading, come up with a roster of fifty-two stories (you can use any source) and assign each one to a playing card in a standard deck of cards. It can be fun to use different suits for different types of stories, but that is optional. Each “week,” (if you’re like me, you may occasionally fall a story or two behind) you draw a card at random from your deck and that is the story you will read. There are links to last year’s participants’ rosters here if you want to see some examples.
What if I don’t have time to read a story every single week?
Try one of the challenge variations noted below, the Fortnight (or “payday” if you prefer) version is one story every two weeks or the “Full Moon Fever” version with just thirteen stories read or selected on seeing each full moon…
How do I sign up?
Leave a comment below with your URL and I will link you. My first wrap-up post of the year (I post weekly, usually Sunday night or Monday morning) will include links to any new Deal Me In posts and a list of the participants with links to their roster of stories.
What is the purpose?
To have FUN and to be exposed to new authors and stories and maybe get in the habit of reading a short story a week. Isn’t that enough? :-)

Now I've decided to follow Marianne's lead and adjust the challenge to work for my reading plans for the year.  Part of my plan for 2015 was to try to read more children's classics, essays and poems for the year, so instead of reading all short stories, I'm going to split it into four categories:  Short Stories, Essays, Poems and Children's Classics.  

I'm really looking forward to this challenge.  In the next day or so, I'll post my list of titles corresponding to the playing card deck.  I'm not promising I'll be able to read all 52 of them, but I'll certainly do my best!

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

The End of 2014 ....... Bookish Nostalgia

I saw Jamie's 2014 end of the year book survey on her blog The Perpetual Page-Turner and thought it also covered the 52 Books in 52 Weeks wrap-up survey as well, so I decided to kill two birds with one stone, so to speak.

2014 Reading Stats:

Number Of Books You Read: 70

Number of Re-Reads: 19 

Genre You Read The Most From: Classics

Best in Books

Best book you read in 2014: Paradise Lost.

Book you were excited about & thought you were going to love more but didn't: Once and Future King.  It was just weird.  Until I read Le Morte d'Arthur at the end of the year and kind of understood why it was weird.

Most surprising (in a good or bad way) book you read in 2014: Probably The Life of St. Teresa of Avila by Herself.  I was expecting to like it but it nearly put me to sleep.  I love the lives of saints but not this one.  At least not yet.  I haven't given up on her.

Book you "pushed" the most people to read (and they did) in 2014:   I'm not sure if I have a specific book, put I probably had an influence on more people reading or intending to read Shakespeare. (Nancy and O, is that true?)

Best series you started in 2014? Best Sequel? Best Series Ender:  I re-read The Chronicles of Narnia and loved it.  I'd probably lost a little of the childgood thrill, but I picked up some of the adult references to Plato, Pascal, etc.  Lewis sure packs his works with allusions.  Fun!

Favorite new author you discovered in 2014: Anthony Trollope.  Yay!

Best book from a genre you don't typically read/ out of your comfort zone:  Cicero's Defence Speeches.  I love Romans but, seriously, court cases?!  Yet I loved reading it!  Go figure ....

Most action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable book of the year: The Man Who was Thursday.  What a romp!

Book you read in 2014 that you are most likley to reread next year: None, but I will probably carry on with Dante's The Divine Comedy.  I read Inferno this year, so Purgatorio and Paradiso are up next.

Favorite cover of a book you read in 2014: Utopia by Thomas More.

Most memorable characters of 2014:  Satan (Paradise Lost), Rev. Septimus Harding (The Warden), Prince Myshkin (The Idiot) Sunday (The Man Who Was Thursday) & Odysseus (The Odyssey)

Most beautifully written book read in 2014: Strange, but Richard II.  I believe this is Shakespeare's only play that is written all in verse and it was beautiful.  Othewise Paradise Lost certainly had its moments.

Most-thought provoking/ life-changing book of 2014: The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis

Book you can't believe you waited UNTIL 2014 to finally read: Paradise Lost

Favorite passage/quote from a book you read in 2014: "The logic of worldly success rests on a fallacy:  the strange error that our perfection depends on the thoughts and opinions and applause of other men!  A weird life it is, indeed, to be living always in someone else's imagination, as if that were the only place in which one could at last become real!"  ~~ Thomas Merton

Shortest/longest book you read in 2014: The Chimes by Charles Dickens (100 p.) & War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (1392 p.) (although Le Morte d'Arthur [950 p.] felt the longest)

Book that shocked you the most: Le Morte d'Arthur.  Those knights were loose cannons, not necessarily consistently honourable.  Phinnea's emblem for them ---- idiots rampant on a blood red field ---- pretty much sums it up.  But thanks to Jean's read-along, I finished it!

OTP of the year: Oh definitely Dante and Beatrice!

Favorite non-romantic relationship: The old man and the fish from The Old Man and the Sea.

Favorite book you read in 2014 from an author you've read previously: The Odyssey by Homer

Best book you read in 2014 that you read based solely on a recommendation from someone else: The Vita Nuova by Dante Alighieri

Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2014:  I never crush ...... or I never tell ..... ;-)

Best 2014 debut you read: Yikes, I don't read debuts.  Perhaps I should start.

Best world-building/most vivid setting you read this year: Richard II by William Shakespeare.  His only play written in verse, and Richard's "little pin" speech was a discovery to label a favourite!

Book that put a smile on your face/was the most fun to read: Idle Thoughts from an Idle Fellow by Jerome K. Jerome took over top spot from The Warden by Anthony Trollope.  Trollope nails human nature and especially human foibles; Jerome does the same but is completely hilarious!  Fun!

Book that made you cry or nearly cry in 2014: Le Morte d'Arthur.  It takes awhile to get attached to the characters and then you do and then they all die.  Waaaa!  :-(

Hidden gem of the year: Vita Nuova by Dante Alighieri.  His love for Beatrice was quite amazing!

Most unique book you read in 2014: War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy.  As Tolstoy said, it was not a novel, less a poem and even less an historical chronicle.  So what was it?  I only know that it was excellent!

Book that made you the most mad: Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë.  I wanted to smack most of the characters.  

Your Blogging/Bookish Life

New favorite book blog you discovered in 2014:  Mockingbirds, Looking Glasses and Prejudices .....

Favorite review that you wrote in 2014: War and Peace ~ it took the most brain-power. 

Best discussion/non-review post you had on your blog: Ooo, I don't know.  Perhaps The Classics Club "50" Survey.

Best event that you participated in: The Paradise Lost Read-Along.

Best moment of bookish/blogging life in 2014:  Meeting new bloggers.

Most popular post this year on your blog: My Oedipus at Colonus post.  I am completely puzzled as to why.  Not that I don't like it, but it has been getting 5 - 10 hits per day lately.  Perhaps some class is doing a study on it ....?????

Post you wished got a little more love:  Hmmmm ...... I'm not sure.  Perhaps any of my posts that are reviewing more intellectual books, or my ones on poems ......??  But people are drawn to what they're interested in, and our interests are always changing, so honestly I don't have a specific answer to this question.  

Best bookish discovery: Easton's Books, and The Tattered Page looks great too.

Did you complete any reading challenges or goals that you had set for yourself at the beginning of this year: I completed Back to the Classics Challenge, The Pre-Printing Press Challenge, The Shakespeare Challenge, Mount TBR Challenge, 52 Books in 52 Weeks, Arthurian Literature Challenge, Russian Literature Challenge, History Challenge, Chunkster Challenge, Books on France Challenge and Around the World Challenge.  I failed at TBR Pile Challenge, reading only 10 of the 12 books I should have and was one book short for the European Reading Challenge.

Looking Ahead

One book you didn't get to in 2014 but will be your number 1 priority in 2015: Bleak House by Charles Dickens

Book you are most anticipating for 2015 (non-debut): The Cantebury Tales by Chaucer

2015 debut you are most anticipating: I don't do debuts.  I'm so uneducated when it comes to modern books that I have to be the recommendeé, not the recommender.  But perhaps something by Edna Ferrante.  Given that I haven't read anything by her yet, that's a BIG "perhaps".

Series ending/a sequel you are most anticipating in 2015: The Last Chronicles of Barset by Anthony Trollope

One thing you hope to accomplish or do in your reading/blogging life in 2015: Keep up with my books!  Keep up with my posts!  It's not as easy as it sounds.

A 2015 release you've already read and recommend to everyone: None. 

Wishing everyone happy reading days and lots of them in 2015!!

2014 Russian Literature Challenge Wrap Up

This was one of my favourite challenges this year.  It pushed me to focus on all things Russian and helped me finish that epic Russian novel, War and Peace. It also introduced me to my first Dostoyevsky and my first Turgenev. Dostoyevsky is going to take more getting to know, but Turgenev was a delight ....... very different from what I expected of a usual Russian novel.

I had aimed at finishing 1 - 3 books but I ended up reading 5, so I'm pleased with myself. Here are the books I read:

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin

Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak

The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev

Thanks to O at Behold the Stars for hosting this challenge!  I am now firmly entrench in a love of Russian Literature!

TBR Pile Challenge Wrap-up 2014

Okay, this was quite possibly my worst challenge of the year.  But expected it to be my worst challenge, so that's alright .........  I think ............

Of the twelve books, I managed to finish ten.

 1.  Defense Speeches by Cicero  August 20, 2014

  2.  Le Morte d'Arthur by Thomas Mallory  December 6, 2014

  3.  Frankenstein by Mary Shelley   April 4, 2014

  4.  The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis   June 15, 2014

  5.  The Epic of Gilgamesh  August 14, 2014

  6.  Stories from the East from Herodotus by Alfred J. Church

  7.  The Sayings of the Desert Fathers  August 25, 2014

  8.  Tom Brown's School Days by Thomas Hughes

  9.  Socrates by Paul Johnson

10.  Daniel Deronda by George Eliot  February 24, 2014

11.  Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow by Jerome K. Jerome  December 29, 2014

12.  The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton  August 20, 2014

And my alternates:

1.  Allegory of Love by C.S. Lewis

2.  Oedipus Rex/Oepidus at Colonus/Antigone by Sophocles  December 28, 2014

If I really wanted to, I could try to power through Socrates and Stories from the East in the next few days, but I don't.  I'm done.

My 2015 TBR Pile list is much more focused so I'm hoping for more success then.  Wish me luck!

Monday, 29 December 2014

2014 Challenge Wrap-Ups

While I've done some individual wrap-ups for certain challenges (and have some more to go), because I had so many challenges this year, I thought I'd encapsulate them in one big main post.

Chunkster Challenge:                   Goal:  5-6 books    Completed: 11 books
Arthurian Lit Challenge:              Goal:  3-4 books    Completed: 3 books
Back to the Classics:                     Goal:  10 books       Completed: 10 books 
History Challenge:                         Goal:  1-3 books     Completed:  5 books
Russian Lit Challenge:                  Goal:  1-3 books     Completed:  5 books
Books on France Challenge:    Goal:  3 books       Completed:  5 books
TBR Pile Challenge:                       Goal:  12 books      Completed:  10 books
Pre-Printing Press Challenge:    Goal:  4-6 books     Completed:  13 books
Shakespeare Challenge:              Goal:  1-4 books      Completed:  9 books
Around the World Challenge:    Goal:  6 books       Completed:  7 books
C.S. Lewis Challenge:                   Goal:  12 books      Completed:  14 books
British Books Challenge:             Goal: none            Completed:  40 books
Mount TBR Challenge:                 Goal:  24 books     Completed:  55 books
European Challenge:                    Goal:  5 books       Completed:  4 books
52 Books in 52 weeks:                  Goal:  52 books      Completed:  75 books

 So, all in all, and considering the number of challenges I participated in, it wasn't a bad year.  My fails were the TBR Pile Challenge and the European Reading Challenge.  Yet in other challenges I far exceeded my goals, so I'm pleased.  I made it to Mt. Ararat in the Mount TBR challenge, read a good number of Shakespeare's plays and did well on my Chunkster and Pre-Printing Press challenges.

I can't wait to see what 2015 will bring.  Will I be able to finally complete the TBR Pile Challenge 2015?  Will I be able to handle the scope of my challenges:  from English literature to Pre-Printing Press literature to books in translation .....?  I'm going to try for a bit more focus for the coming year and see what I can accomplish!

The Life of Saint Teresa of Avila by Herself

"As I have been commanded and left at liberty to describe at length my way of prayer, and the workings f the grace of our Lord within me, I could wish that I had been allowed at the same time to speak distinctly and in detail of my grievous sins and wicked life."

Teresa was a Spanish mystic born in 1515 in Avila, Spain.  Early on, she showed a zealously pious nature but in her teens she began to be pulled in by worldly temptations and could not find peace, considering herself a miserable sinner.  When her father sent her to a convent school to be educated, she began her contemplative life.  Sickly throughout her life, Teresa used her discomfort as a means of shedding worldly cares and drawing closer to God.

This autobiography delves into Teresa's prayer life (the four stages of prayer), union and trance, visions, temptations, the founding of the convent of St. Jospeh and the mercies of God.

I honestly have very little to say about this book.  Uncharacteristically I found my attention wandering numerous times while reading.  Was it because I dislike mystics?  Not at all.  Was it because the vocation of a nun is tedious.  No.  Was it Teresa's writing?  Well .... perhaps .......  When reading a book, I usually look for an author to connect with the reader.  Some author's are more successful than others in this area, but there has to be some connection to bring the writing to life.  In this case, Teresa's prose remained lifeless on the page and while I could read about her experiences, it was very difficult for me to enter into them with her.  Because of her rather solitary life, she appeared no only to have little contact with outside cares and people, she also actively renounced both.  It was very challenging to understand someone who often stood in judgement of others.  I've never felt this attitude from other religious figures whom I've read about and I found it off-putting.  I also found Teresa seemed to write for herself rather than anyone else, so again, it was problematic establishing contact and therefore, any interest.

In spite of this rather lackluster read, I would still like to read her Interior Castle, which I've had on my list for awhile.  I can only hope that I'll enjoy it more than this one.

translated by J. Cohen (I've heard that E. Alison Peers is a better translation)

2015 Books In Translation Challenge

Okay, she's done it again.  Just like last year, Jean @ Howling Frog Books has tempted me into another challenge.  And I love books in translation, so how could I resist?

Jen @ The Introverted Reader is hosting the challenge and the rules are as follows:

Read translations of books from any language into the language that you're comfortable reading.  You can read any genre and age range.  Crossovers with other challenges are fine.  Any format that you chose is acceptable.  The challenge will run from January 1 through December 31, 2015.  

Beginner:  1 - 3 books
Conversationalist:  4 - 6 books
Bilingual:  7 - 9 books
Linguist:  10 - 12 books

Since my challenges are more concentrated on English literature, I have no idea how I'll do with this challenge.  Time will tell!  And please pop over to The Introverted Reader if you're interested in joining us!

My List

  1. Meditations - René Descartes
  2. The Adventures of Pinocchio - Carlo Collodi
  3. The Plague - Albert Camus
  4. Erewhon - Samuel Butler (original in Latin)
  5. Confessions - Jean-Jacques Rousseau
  6. Beowulf 
  7. Ecce Homo - Friedrich Nietzsche
  8. What Is To Be Done? - Nikolai Chernyshevsky
  9. Money - Émile Zola
  10. Mein Kamp - Adolf Hitler
  11. The Story of My Experiments with Truth - Mohandas Gandhi
  12. The Canterbury Tales - Geoffrey Chaucer
  13. Notes from the Underground - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  14. Selected Essays - Michel de Montaigne
  15. Rule of Saint Benedict 

Sunday, 28 December 2014

A Bookish Christmas

Most years I receive a good number of books, but this year was slightly unusual, not because of the number of books I received, but because of the eclectic variety.  I can't wait to start reading them.


The Present Age: On The Death of Rebellion by Søren Kierkegaard
I’m somewhat of a rebel myself, so this should be interesting …

War in Heaven by Charles Williams
Williams was a friend and contemporary of C.S. Lewis.  His novels were supposed to be peculiar, so this one will be an adventure.

Selections from the Canzoniere and Other Works by Petrarch
Suggested by Tom at Wuthering Expectations, this one just turned up under the tree!

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
I’ve been reading so many books titled Meditations lately.  I’m looking forward to Aurelius.  I think he’ll have some interesting tidbits to share

The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton
I was so enthralled, yet puzzled by my read of this book that, of course, I needed the annotated edition

Buddist Scriptures
I need to read more eastern classics.  Well, at least, now and then.

Letters to Children by C.S. Lewis
Surprisingly I didn’t own this small, yet enchanting,  book.  Well, I do now.

Pastors in the Classics by Ryken, Ryken & Wilson
A book that explores the clergy in various classic novels such as The Warden,  The Canterbury Tales, The Scarlet Letter, Diary of a Country Priest, The Power and the Glory, etc.

The Intellectual Devotional by Kidder & Oppenheim
Okay this is a neat book!  Seven fields of knowledge correspond with the seven days of the week and each imparts a little information on that field.  For example, Thursday, which focuses on science, could talk about Albert Einstein, The Milgram Studies: Lesson in Obedience, Friction, etc. or Tuesday, which is literature, could talk about Moby-Dick, Postcolonialism, William Faulkner, etc.  It is sooooo interesting. 

Books not in photo:

And There Was Light by Jacques Lusseyran
Lusseyran was blinded as a young boy, but he did not let this handicap stop him and instead, at 16, organized a resistance group in France during World War II

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne
It’s not on my recent TBR list, but I’ll get to it one day

On the Nature of Things by Lucretius
I’d kind of like to read Plato and Aristotle before tackle this one.

The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy
What can I say?  I can’t wait to read this one!

So now I have even more reading material to keep me busy.  Luckily December has been a month for catching up, with good success, and I'll be able to start January with almost a clean slate.

So what wonderful books did you receive this Christmas?

Friday, 26 December 2014

Utopia by Thomas More

"The moste vyctoryous and tryumphante Kynge of Englande, Henry theight of that name, in all royal vertues Prince moste peerlesse, hadde of late in contrauersie with the right hyghe and myghtie king of Castell weightye matters, and of greate importaunce; for the debatement and final determination wherof the kinges Maieste sent me Ambassadour into flaunders, ioined in commission, and whom the kinges maiestie of late, to the greate reioysyng of all men, did preferre to the office of maister of the Rolles."

I certainly promise not to write this review in Middle English but I thought I'd give you a taste of it.  And, no, I didn't read the complete book in ME, I was able to get through about 1/5 of it and then changed to a modern English version.  And most happily, I might add.  The original Utopia was written in Latin in a fine emulation of Ciceronian Latin, yet More took it a step further in humour and playfulness.

Sir Thomas More, Lord Chancellor
Hans Holbein the Younger
source Wikipedia
Born in London in 1478, Thomas More was a very learned man and, if he had been able to follow his inclinations, would have been destined for the church.  His father, however, had other aspirations for him and, being a dutiful son, he conceded to his wishes and chose the law as his profession.  Unexpectedly, he was a marvellous success as a lawyer.  He soon had a thriving business and his extraordinary aptitude quickly brought him under scrutiny of the "higher-ups". The political positions he was eventually offered were always accepted reluctantly, and More had a life-long dilemma with reconciling his loyalty to his sovereign and his loyalty as a Christian to his conscience.

As a Catholic, More opposed the Protestant Reformation.  Serving as Lord Chancellor under King Henry VIII, he was accused of inflicting harsh treatment on heretics, but he denied the accusations.  What is interesting is that his son-in-law at the time, was enticed by "Lutheran heresies", and More's reaction when speaking with his daughter, was surprisingly temperate: "Meg, I have borne a long time with thy husband.  I have reasoned and argued a long time with him and still given him my poor fatherly counsel; but I perceive none of all this can call him home again.  And, therefore, Meg, I will no longer dispute with him, not yet will I give him over; but I will go another way to work, and get me to God and pray for him."

A man of honour and high standards, he would not even compromise for his family.  When one of his sons-in-law expected preferential treatment  because of More's office, More stated, "If my father whom I dearly love were on one side and the devil, whom I sincerely hate, were on the other, the devil should have his rights."

With King Henry VIII's decision to divorce his queen, Catherine, More's power began to unravel.  While remaining quiet publicly, he continued to support the Pope over the King, and when he was required to sign a letter asking the Pope to annul the marriage, More refused.  Henry soon began to isolate him. Eventually when More openly refused to acknowledge the annulment, Henry took action, arresting More for treason.  He was decapitated on July 6, 1535. When the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, heard of his death, he said, "Well, this we will say, if we had been the master of such a servant, we would rather have lost the best city of our dominions than have lost such a counsellor."

Map: This picture was taken from
 one of the first editions of the book,
which is published online at the 
Bibliotheca Augustana

Probably inspired by his close friend, Desiderius Erasmus, Thomas More wrote Utopia in 1516 during an embassy to the Netherlands.  A very brief book, yet with a complex structure, More used himself and a character called Raphael Hythloday to present political philosophies that range from the insightful and wise, to the curiously peculiar.  In Book I, More crafts the setting for Utopia and then, through his character and Hythloday's, offers a discourse on the evils and ills prevalent in European society.  While having a parallel set-up to Plato's Republic (Morton = Cephalus; Hythlodaye = Socrates; lawyer = Thrasymachus), More adopts occurrences from his own day to structure the framework of Utopia and construct a more politically and socially organized text.   More uses this venue to chastize the actions of kings who use the country's money for unproductive warmongering, and especially vilifies the practice of hanging thieves on the gallows, often for very petty infractions.  In Book II, More offers a detailed description of Utopia, its inhabitants and its societal structure. The Utopian community supports common property, slavery and religious tolerance.  Agriculture is the most treasured occupation but each Utopian is required to learn some other trade as well.  Finery is frowned upon, pre-marital sex and adultery punishable, and while atheists are allowed in Utopia, they are shunned because their views are counter-productive to the Utopian community.

More & Hythloday discuss Utopia

Scholars are still in disagreement as to More's purpose when writing this book. On one hand, some purport that More's intent was to write and endorse a treatise on communism and its implementation.   Others scholars differ in opinion; while the book had a basis in the condition of European politics, it was nevertheless written tongue-in-cheek.  Brewer in his Reign of Henry VIII, appears to support this view:

"Though the Utopia was not to be literally followed ---- was no more than an abstraction at which no one would have laughed more heartily than More himself, if interpreted too strictly.  Utopia might serve to show a corrupt Christendom what good could be effected by the natural instincts of men, when following the dictates of natural prudence and justice.  If kings could never be elective in Europe, Utopia might show the advantage to a nation where kings were responsible to some other will than their own.  If property could never be common, Utopia might teach men how great was the benefit to society, when the state regarded itself as created for the wellbeing of all, and not of a class of a favoured few ......."

C.S. Lewis, a medieval and renaissance scholar, takes More's book as a light holiday work, and this summation rings true, as More make some comments himself that were obscure, but appeared to poke fun at his work.  Lewis states:

 "..... it appears confused only so long as we are trying to get out of it what it never intended to give.  It becomes intelligible and delightful as soon as we take it for what it is ---- a holiday work, a spontaneous overflow of intellectual high spirits, a revel of debate, paradox, comedy and (above all) of invention, which starts many hare and kills none .....  There is a thread of serious thought funning through it, an abundance of daring suggestions, several back-handed blows at European institutions .......  But he does not keep our noses to the grindstone.  He says many things for the fun of them, surrendering himself to the sheer pleasure of imagined geography, imagined language, and imagined institutions.  That is what readers whose interests are rigidly political do not understand: but everyone who has ever made an imaginary map responds at once."

If we take into account some of the regional names in this work, the purpose may become clearer still.  "Utopia" literally means, "no place"; "Achoria" means "Nolandia"; "Polyleritae" means "Muchnonsense"; "Macarenses" means "Happiland"; and the river "Anydrus" means "Nowater".  Even Raphael's last name, Hythlodaeus, translates as "dispenser of nonense".  Was More being ironic or serious?  I doubt we can ever know for sure.

In spite of the obscurity of the book and some of the controversies surrounding More, I loved both the author and this work.  He appeared to treat both his wives well, quite clearly loved his children, was well thought of and respected, and in spite of his position, chose to write a story that not only amused his readers, but allowed them to explore human nature and come to their own conclusions with regard to universal issues.  Thomas More is a man to be admired and Utopia is certainly a book to be read!

  • translated by Clarence H. Miller (English translation)
  • also Oxford Press "student" edition edited by J. Churton Collins (Middle English translation)

Further reading:  

Sunday, 21 December 2014

The Winter's Tale by William Shakespeare

"What's gone and what's past help, should be past grief."

Leontes, King of Sicilia and Polixenes, King of Bohemia, grew up together in a type of idyllic paradise, becoming as close as brothers.  At the opening of the play, Polixenes has been visiting Leontes and his queen, Hermoine, and is ready to return home after his nine-month stay.  Leontes begs his friend to remain longer, yet when he refuses, the king employs the queen's pleading to try to change his mind.  And change his mind, Polixenes, does, unwittingly sparking a torrential storm of jealously within Leontes, as he, with Gollum-like psychosis, convinces himself that Hermoine has been unfaithful to him with his friend, and that the child she is about to give birth to does, in fact, belong to Polixenes.    Attempting to gain the sympathy of a Sicilian nobleman, Camillus, Leontes reveals his plot to poison the Bohemia king, but Camillus' sensible and gentle nature will not allow him to commit such an atrocity and instead, he warns Polixenes and they both escape to the kingdom of Bohemia. Yet their escape leaves Hermoine at the mercy of her husband's wrath and, against all the protests of his noblemen and, in particular, the wife of Antigonus, Paulina, Leontes tries Hermoine with the intent to condemn her to death.  While imprisoned she bears the child, a girl, who Leontes entrusts to Antigonus to abandon it in the wild, whereupon Antigonus leaves the child in the kingdom of Bohemia.  But tragedy strikes when part way through the hearing, Leontes learns of the death of his only son, Maxmillus.  Hermoine faints, then dies and Leontes suddenly realizes his foolish behaviour and repents.

Act II, Scene III
John Opie/Jean Pierre Simon
source Wikipedia

The child of Hermoine, Perdita, grows up in Bohemia as the daughter of a shepherd and we meet her again when she is sixteen and the love of Florizel, the son of Polixenes.  Through a quarrel with his father, Florizel and Perdita seek sanctuary in Sicilia, where Leontes has been spending the last 16 years doing penance for his harsh actions.  Paulina, in control of the situation as ever, makes Leontes promise not to marry unless a women in the likeness of Hermoine is approved by her, and he consents.  She then takes him to see a statue of his dead wife but lo!  This statue moves and Hermoine is alive again! There is much rejoicing and more when the identity of Perdita is discovered.  Winter has melted away from Sicilia and spring has come once again!

Anthony Frederick Augustus Sandys
source Wikipedia

I really felt that this was certainly a weaker play of Shakespeare's.  The audience was asked to immediately accept Leontes intemperate jealousy without any back-story or obvious proof of unwise behaviour on either the part of Hermoine or Polixenes.  What would cause a person who has always trusted and had the best relation with this friend, to suddenly question his character and honesty?  No other character believed in Hermoine's guilt, yet Leontes persists in his delusion.

I also was taken aback by some of the staging of the play.  One senses that much of the important action takes place off stage:  the reason or backstory for Leontes' jealousy; a reason for his immediate contrition; and shockingly, the climax with the reunion and reconciliations is not shown to us but told to us through a third party medium.  I'm still trying to grasp Shakespeare's purpose in this structure.  The lack of all these critical ingredients cries lack of development and therefore, a lack of impact.  It's not sensible, it's not plausible and it's certainly far from Shakespeare's usually masterly grasp of his material and his audience.  I remain, puzzled.

I read this play for my Shakespeare: From the Page to the Stage course.