strange_complex: (Pompeii sundial)
It's taken me a fair old while to finish this book: in fact, I interrupted it for The Merlin Conspiracy for a while, as it seemed a bit much back in late February, and I was in need of something lighter. Bulwer-Lytton's prose style is so famously overblown that there is an annual bad fiction contest named in his honour; and as for the florid Victorian poetry which he inserted at every available opportunity - well, reader, I skipped it.

This is not to say he's actually a bad writer. Once you attune to his rhythms and get into the highly mannered spirit of his prose, it can be marvellous fun. Check out this fantastic description of the Witch of Vesuvius, for example:
"With stony eyes turned upon them — with a look that met and fascinated theirs — they beheld in that fearful countenance the very image of a corpse! — the same, the glazed and lustreless regard, the blue and shrunken lips, the drawn and hollow jaw — the dead, lank hair, of a pale grey — the livid, green, ghastly skin, which seemed all surely tinged and tainted by the grave!" (Book 3 chapter 9)
Now that's a proper witch, all right. But an endless succession of passages like that can get a bit tedious, especially when the subject turns to long-winded musing or moralising.

Nonetheless, it was worth persevering - not least, of course, because I have now finished it just in time to see whether or not it's conveyed a legacy to the forth-coming Who episode, The Fires of Pompeii. Judging from the trailers so far available, it looks like the influence isn't going to be that direct. But then again, this novel is really the ur-text as far as fictional representations of Pompeii go, and I can certainly see traces of it in the Who audio adventure, The Fires of Vulcan now I've finished it. More on that, later...

Historical realism )

Ancient religion )

Romantic idealism )

Bulwer-Lytton and the visual arts )

Finally, because I can, and because I want to know what's come from where when reading or watching further fictional representations of Pompeii, I finish with a table summarising key story elements in the three main examples I've encountered so far:

A very big table )

Just a few more hours now till I can see how The Fires of Pompeii fits in with all that!

strange_complex: (Bettie Page shoes)
Yesterday evening, I ventured along with [ profile] nalsa, [ profile] big_daz, [ profile] myfirstkitchen and two other folk (who are probably on LJ but I don't know their usernames) into the remarkably friendly and agenda-free territory of the University Chaplaincy, for the sake of an audience with Doctor Who writer, Paul Cornell. We got there a bit early, so had time to settle down with free cups of coffee amongst the bean-bags, and chat to Paul (whom [ profile] myfirstkitchen already knew) while we waited for the talk proper to begin.

And an excellent session it was, too )

Finally, while I'm writing, I also want to rave about my fantastic new shoes! )

strange_complex: (Tease me)
Aww, it is Valentine's Day! Le cute. :)

I hope that you have all been checking out the messages on [ profile] 021407. Some of you have reason to, y'know! ;)

Edit: now with bonus discussion of the 'relationship' between Valentine's Day and the Lupercalia in the comments!
strange_complex: (Default)
My favourite painting is 'A Converted British Family Sheltering a Christian Missionary / Priest [1] from the Persecution of the Druids', by William Holman Hunt (1850).

I can't put it in this post because I don't have suitable web-space to host it, but you can see dodgy internet-quality images of it:
  • here (yellow and blurry),
  • here (very gloomy) or
  • here (better, but you'll need to scroll down the page to find the right painting and then click on the small image to see a larger one).
I love it, because it is a fine example of romanticism and contemporary issues being far more important than historical accuracy in a work of art (as, indeed, they should be). Anyone with half a clue will know that Druidism was completely wiped out in Britain long before any Christians got there, and indeed that the British had pretty much grown out of wearing furs by the time they did. Really, it is about 18th / 19th century imperialism and the contact / conflict it caused between monotheistic Brits and the polytheistic 'savages' they were trying to rule. In order to create the right scenario for exploring this in the past, Holman Hunt had to turn the imperialistic Romans into Christians some 3 centuries before their time... There's also lots of symbolism relating to the story of Christ in there for anyone who wants to read it.

It is a very special painting.

[Edit - by the way, everyone please feel free to pick this up and post your favourite painting in your journal, explaining why you like it and inviting others to follow suit.]

[1] He changed the title after a few years (by which time the painting was already in its present home, the Ashmolean Museum), because he had had some unimpressive experiences with missionaries in Jerusalem.
strange_complex: (Default)
... that's according to The Passion of The Christ at least, which I have just seen with James, Hugh and Zahra.

I've heard stories about churches buying tickets for this en masse in the belief that it will convert people, but having seen it I really can't see why. As a committed non-believer (nay, heathen), it just came across to me as a story about stupid people getting whipped up into stupid actions by religious extremism, with stupid and contemptible results. Not understandably misguided and tragic: just stupid. And I'm afraid I include Jesus in the category of 'stupid people' there.

The Passion is definitely capable of being put across in a more compelling way than this. Bach's Passions (the St. John and the St. Matthew), and the relevant parts of Handel's 'Messiah' (which I'm listening to right now because a biblical quotation at the start of the film brought it instantly to mind[1]) make this very clear. OK, so they could never convert me either - but at least they have an emotional impact on me. Bach and Handel make the story seem like an regrettable human tragedy, but somehow Gibson's failed to engage me emotionally in any way.

I think the problem could be phrased as being that the film was 'plot-driven' rather than 'character-driven': in other words, we just got a sequence of canonical events from the gospels, rather than any recognisably human scenes which might help us to relate to the characters or make sense of the transitions from one event to another. There was one scene which almost managed this, which was when Jesus fell down while carrying his cross to Golgotha, and Mary ran towards him to comfort him, which was interspersed with a flash-back of her running to pick him up when he fell and grazed his knees as a child. That gave us a chance to feel human pity for the motif of a mother losing a son she had raised. But other than that it left me cold (except for the occasional 'yuck' at the abundant violence).

I asked James, who is training to be a priest, whether it engaged him on an emotional level. He basically said that it had stirred the same sorts of emotions in him as a regular meditation on the stations of the cross would have done, but that these were emotions which he'd brought with him into the film from his church experience, rather than emotions which the film had stirred in itself. Yet obviously it has stirred great emotional responses in some viewers, because there are stories in the recent edition of The Cherwell about people confessing to long-undetected crimes after having seen it. I wish I could understand how it managed to do this: possibly those people also had to bring pre-existing emotions into the film, which were then sparked off onto a new level by it?

I wasn't too happy with the Latin either. I'd need to see it all written down to decide what I thought of it properly, but many of the sentence structures sounded very English, I spotted at least one example of someone not using the vocative when they should have done, the soldiers who are scourging Jesus inexpicably start counting from eight after they have turned him over to start whipping his front[2], and all the Romans used pronunciation which was a cross between medieval Latin and modern Italian. Plus, why were the Romans speaking to people like the Jewish high priest in Hebrew? At least, I presume it was Hebrew, although I can't distinguish Hebrew from Aramaic: but it certainly wasn't Latin or the actually-more-likely Greek. That doesn't fit with my knowledge of Roman provincial administration, although I'll admit that Judaea wasn't entirely a typical province, and I don't know much about its specifics.

And on top of all that, they also rather gave the game away for the sequel by showing him sitting up in his tomb at the end! So much for Passion II: The Resurrection.

Ah well, at least I've seen it now... I expect to enjoy 'Troy' a lot more when it comes out next month.

[1] Isiah 53.5: 'He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement
for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed'.

[2] And no, they're not carrying on from where they'd got to on the previous side, because they'd reached about twenty-something on his back.


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