strange_complex: (Wicker Man sunset)
Still working my way through 2016 book reviews... I wouldn't even call these reviews, really - more just notes on my personal reading experience. Anyway, here they are.


5. Terry Pratchett (2010), I Shall Wear Midnight

This is the book I was reading when Mum died. I mean, not at that literal moment (I believe I was actually scrolling through Facebook when the phonecall came), but I was gradually working my way through it at the time. It, and The Shepherd's Crown had been lent to me by a local friend who knew about the situation, and thought some nice Terry Pratchett would be just what I needed t take my head out of it, and he was right on the whole. I knew of course that The Shepherd's Crown contained Major Character Death, so remember consciously thinking that that one might be best avoided right while I was experiencing the death of a close loved one for myself. But of course I Shall Wear Midnight also covers the death of the elderly Baron, including scenes of Tiffany providing (magical) palliative care for him beforehand, and pre-empting the decay of his body by pulling all of the heat out of a stone slab so that acts like a refrigerator afterwards. So that was all a little surreal to read while my Mum lay in a hospice and then a funeral parlour, although overall the effect was more comforting than upsetting. Death is a major recurring character in the Discworld stories precisely because he is unavoidable and universal, and it was not the worst thing to be reminded that my experiences were far from unique at that time. As for the rest of the story, it was enjoyable and non-demanding, which is exactly what I wanted from it, and I particularly liked meeting Eskarina Smith again, and seeing how awesome and accomplished she had gone on to become since we last saw her in Equal Rites.


6. Terry Pratchett (2015), The Shepherd's Crown

So yeah, then I went straight on to read this, knowing of course about Granny Weatherwax. Being forewarned meant I didn't find it particularly upsetting, and indeed the way Pratchett has always set up the relationship between witches and death meant that it was very matter-of-fact and unsentimentalised. She knew it was coming, she accepted it, she planned for it, and so it went. I was slighly surprised that it came so early in the story, but again that fitted Pratchett's deliberately unsentimentalising approach – it was never meant to be a dramatic and terrible death which came in the midst of a fight against evil (like, say, Fred Weasley's death in Harry Potter), but an ordinary everyday death, of the kind which is just part of life. Meanwhile, I was pleased for Tiffany that she inherited Granny Weatherwax's patch, which seemed a fitting honour, and liked the storyline about her struggling to cover both that and the Chalk, as well as the eventual resolution where she decides that she needs to concentrate on the Chalk after all. And I loved having the elves back, who are just so beautifully evil – absolutely my kind of malignant magical creatures. Generally a very good read.
strange_complex: (Leeds owl)
3. Mary Shelley (1818), Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus

I read this in preparation for a trip to Geneva with the Dracula Society, organised to mark the bicentenary of the famous wet weekend in the Villa Diodati which gave rise to it (and to Polidori's 'The Vampyre'). I never wrote about the trip here in any detail, because it came half way through my Mum's final illness, and just at the point when we were really starting to realise that it was final. I spent a lot of the time while I was there worrying and checking my phone for updates, and then all the time after I got back just trying to cope while also carrying a pretty heavy load of work commitments. So the trip itself was a rather strained experience; but what I did get out of it was very much enhanced by my pre-holiday reading. I believe in the case of the novel it was my third time reading it, the first and second times being once in my mid-to-late-teens and another in my mid-twenties. Both well pre-date my habit of book-blogging here anyway, so as far as LJ / DW is concerned this is the first time. That makes it a pity that I didn't manage to do so while it was all fresh in my mind, but I did actually make a few notes about this one while reading it at the time, so I can do a slightly better job than with most of these catch-up reviews.

Obviously, it is a great novel. That isn't to say it's perfect. My mental red pen was particularly exercised by the way Justine was introduced: in the middle of a letter from Elizabeth to Victor, where she takes it upon herself to recount the entire story of how Justine came to be part of their household, even though Victor would of course already know all of this. I could see him as he read it turning over the pages in bafflement thinking "Why the hell is she telling me all this? Get onto something I don't know!" But hey, Mary was only 18 when she began writing the thing, and did it all in longhand while on the road through Switzerland and Italy. Let's cut her some slack. What she created here was innovative, genre-defining, gripping and incredibly cleverly put together.

Reading it now, I'm much more aware of its literary and historical context than I think I've been on previous encounters. Previously I think I have just accepted it as a gothic novel because that it how it is usually marketed, and also viewed it through the filters of its many film adaptations. It certainly is in the gothic arena, as you would expect given that Mary started writing the novel as an entry in a ghost story competition. It draws on established gothic tropes like descriptions of wild landscapes and huge, powerful storms; Victor's great moment of inspiration for how to build his creature happens in a charnel-house (what more gothic?); and he later uses a vampire metaphor to describe the effects of the creature on his family, saying that it is as though he himself had risen from the grave to murder them (exactly what Byron's vampire in The Giaour is condemned to do, as Mary must have known). But I think I understand the Romantic movement better now than I did when I first encountered Frankenstein, and I see now that its central themes of man's hubris, the rejection of technology and the nostalgic glorification of nature make it a Romantic novel more than anything else: again, totally unsurprisingly given who Mary was hanging out with while she wrote it. It's also frequently touted as the 'first Sci-Fi' novel, which of course isn't in the least bit incompatible with the other genres: it can be a Romantic novel which draws on gothic tropes while also sowing the seeds of something new. On the SF front, I was struck in particular coming to the book after many years of film adaptations by how very little scientific detail Mary provides about the creation of the creature. All those big set-pieces with sawing-and-stitching montages, lighting storms and of course bubbling equipment are entirely a product of the movie industry; Mary in fact skims very lightly over the creation process and gets on to its consequences instead. But SF-ness doesn't just lie in sciencey-science and techno-babble. I felt that her use of the creature's perspective to consider what our world might look like to an adult intelligence dropped into it without prior knowledge did justify describing it as an SF novel. In any case, certainly speculative fiction.

I think I was also alert to issues around social class this time in a way I haven't been on previous readings. For all Mary's radical family background, she certainly believes in a strong overlap between high social status and inherent worth. It's noticeable that her idealised family in the cottage turn out to be from a fallen 'good' family, rather than just being normal working people, and her account of how the Frankenstein family 'rescue' blonde aristocratic Elizabeth from the dark Italian peasant family who have taken her in practically slides into eugenics. More interestingly, though, there is a lot of anxiety detectable here. The narratives of the cottage family, Elizabeth and Victor's mother are all about people of once-high status who have fallen on hard times; a theme which must have felt potent for Mary after having thrown in her lot with Shelley at the cost of her father's disapproval and constant financial instability.

As for the characters, have I realised on previous readings what self-absorbed whiny little fuck Victor is? I'm not sure, but I found him almost unbearable this time around. He actually claims his suffering is worse than Justine's when she is about to be executed for a murder she didn't commit, on the grounds that at least she knows she's innocent. Fuck off! I've always known the novel was written to explore both sides of the creator / created relationship, inviting our sympathy for the creature as much as Victor, but on this read I massively preferred the creature, in spite of his cottage-burning anger management issues. I'm sure Mary intended us to find them both flawed, but at least the creature seems to start off with basically decent instincts, only to be drive to murderous extremes by the way other people treat him. Victor has no such excuse that I can see, creating his own woes, exacerbating them by behaving like an absolute wanker to everyone who tries to help him, and crying about how hard-done-by he is all the while. No to that, thank you very much.


4. Andrew McConnell Stott (2014), The Poet and the Vampyre: the curse of Byron and the birth of literature's greatest monsters / 4.5. parts of Daisy Hay (2010), Young Romantics: the Shelleys, Byron and other tangled lives

This was the other side of my pre-holiday reading: historical background about the famous Diodati weekend and the authoring of Frankenstein and 'The Vampyre'. The book by McConnell Stott I bought myself after Googling for something to help me understand the context for our holiday, and I definitely chose well. It is very much focused on the Diodati weekend and what came out of it, but includes plenty on the run-up and aftermath as well. The one by Hay was lent to me by the lovely [personal profile] lady_lugosi1313 and offers a broader general take on the Byron / Shelley phenomenon, so I just read one chapter and a few other snippets which dealt with the relevant material.

I hadn't realised before starting on either just how well-documented the movements of the people concerned actually were. More or less everyone involved was busy writing diaries or letters about what they did, which is why such detailed accounts of the events of the Geneva trip are possible. Stott made really good use of these, quoting from them at length and providing proper scholarly notes at the back of the book which I appreciated. His style is far from dry and academic, though – often his book reads almost like a novel in its own right, and I felt very engrossed and involved with all the characters. I won't try to recount everything I learnt from it, but I will note down the one thing which struck me most powerfully: viz. that Claire Clairmont is an absolute bad-ass! She is so often either left out of accounts of the Villa Diodati weekend altogether, or portrayed as the ditzy one who was just there to fuck Byron and wasn't on the same intellectual level as the others. But her surviving letters and memoirs make it very clear indeed that this was far from the case. Yes, she did want to fuck Byron, but for a girl of her age in the early 19th century to conceive of that goal and travel half-way across Europe to make good on it frankly isn't to be sniffed at. As for her intellect, she was brought up alongside Mary in the same radical intellectual household, and she clearly benefitted from it. Just because she didn't become a published poet or novelist doesn't mean she was thick.

Anyway, Mary and Claire got the last laugh in the end, outliving all the ridiculous, self-obsessed men in their lives by several decades each. Claire even wrote a set of memoirs in her old age hauling both Byron and Shelley over the coals, and not without cause. She was absolutely part of it all, and I'll never stand by and let her be erased from the Diodati story again.


That trip to Geneva

As already mentioned above, I never did write this trip up at the time and I can't now in detail, but I may as well include a few notes about it while I am looking back over the relevant reading material. We were there from the 3rd to 5th of June, c. ten days before the 1816 night of the ghost story competition (16th June), and at a time when the full party had all already arrived in the Geneva area. On the first day we went to the Villa Diodati itself, of course, followed by a bicentennial exhibition about its occupants at the nearby Bibliotheca Bodmeriana which was absolutely amazing: they had portraits of all five of the Diodati contingent, practically the whole of Mary Shelley's manuscript for Frankenstein, absolutely loads of other personal documents and effect of those concerned, and tons of fascinating material about the later impact of Frankenstein - e.g. play-bills for early theatrical versions of it. Then on the following days we went to Chillon Castle at the other end of Lake Geneva, which Byron visited and wrote a poem about, and which had its own bicentennial exhibition focused primarily on him, and then to Gruyères, of cheese fame, which also had a very nice castle as well as a festival going on in the medieval village and cows lounging about on the hillside just outside. These are a few pictures, showing all of us at the Villa Diodati, the boat arriving to take us home from Chillon, and me in the castle at Gruyères with a huge downpour bucketing down behind me.

Diodati full gang crop.jpg

SAM_3466.JPG

2016-06-05 12.29.46.jpg

Thailand

Wednesday, 9 August 2017 17:48
strange_complex: (One walking)
As explained in an earlier post, I am trying to capture my recent trip to Forn Parts here on DW / LJ by replicating and linking to the FB posts I made at the time, but also adding supplementary photos and text for anything I feel deserves better documentation. BTW, if you are reading this on DW / LJ and we're not already FB friends, I'm very happy for that to change. Here's my profile; please leave a note saying who you are on DW / LJ if you think I'm unlikely to recognise the name you go by on FB. Stuff about Thailand follows below, with material already posted on FB under the cu-tags, and additional DW / LJ-only material at the bottom.

29th June: first evening's impressions )

30th June: a day in Bangkok )

1st July: summer palace, Ayutthaya, river cruise )

1st July: anniversary of Mum's death )

That covers the main outlines pretty well, but I tended to use my Proper Camera when going round the temples and palaces, and photos from that aren't so easy to upload instantly to FB. Now that I've downloaded and sorted them all, here are a few for the record, under headings naming the locations:

Grand Palace, Bangkok )

Wat Pho temple, Bangkok )

Bang Pa-In Summer Palace, near Ayutthaya )

Temples of Ayutthaya )

Tributes to the deceased king )
strange_complex: (Me Mithraeum)
Another little blast of these, this time spanning the dark middle part of the year when my mother died - probably a reason in itself why I haven't exactly rushed to revisit all this and catch up on the reviews before now.

9. The Innocents (1961), dir. Jack Clayton
Another one watched with [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan, I think at her house on DVD. It's probably the best-known screen adaptation of Henry James' The Turn of the Screw, with Deborah Kerr as the governess, and is very effective indeed. The cinematography is the work of Freddie Francis, who went on to direct Dracula Has Risen From the Grave for Hammer - one of my favourites in that series, and in no small part because of how stylish and innovative its camerawork is. Certainly, this film makes the most of its locations and employs clever lighting in a similar style, so I think his touch is identifiable in both.

10. Curse of the Crimson Altar (1968), dir. Vernon Sewell
Taped off the telly, and watched chez moi. This one constitutes another tick on my list of Christopher Lee films I have seen, and also features Boris Karloff, Michael Gough and Barbara Steele for good measure. It is not actually that great, but it does have what would now be described as a 'Folk Horror'ish feel to it, by dint of a story-line involving three-hundred-year-old witches, Satanic sacrificial rituals and people wearing animal masks. Lee is fine in it as ever, and it's nice to see him interacting with chum and neighbour Boris Karloff, who is nearing the end of both his career and his life, but does a nice turn in twinkly naughtiness.

11. Sing Street (2016), dir. John Carney
Seen with [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan and [livejournal.com profile] planet_andy at the Hyde Park Picture House. It's a very good film, featuring a teenaged boy in 1980s Ireland who is sent to a rough local school so that his parents can save money, and finds meaning, identity and romance in setting up a band with some of the other kids he meets there. It was compellingly characterised, with a lot of really good stuff about adolescent struggles, and I particularly liked the older brother who has already more or less given up on his own dreams, but helps the younger one to sharpen up his musical sound and take the risks he needs to take to make it all work out. But by the time we saw this my own mother was in hospital and I knew she was probably dying, and I found one moment of it very hard watching: the teenaged central character sneaking into his parents' bedroom at night to steal the money he needs to get away to London and make his fortune, looking down at his sleeping mother and saying (something like) "So long, Mom. I'll be seeing you." Different circumstances, but the motif of saying goodbye like that seriously choked me up, leaving me wanting to sob helplessly in a way that's not really acceptable in the cinema. So. Not nice to be trapped with that kind of feeling in public when you can't do anything about it.

12. Carry on Behind (1975), dir. Gerald Thomas
And this one I watched the day after Mum had died. It was a Saturday, and we had already done everything we needed to or could do for the time being regarding funeral directors etc the previous day, so I told my Dad I wasn't going to do anything at all that day, and made myself a nest on the sofa in the lounge of the family home. This is what was on TV that afternoon, and as it was a Carry On film I hadn't seen, and set in the 1970s, it seemed like a very good choice - and indeed it was. It's absolutely rubbish as actual Carry On films go, coming not long before they called it a day, and featuring hilarious jokes along the lines of people sitting down on chairs which have just been painted and not being able to get off again without ripping the seats of their trousers. But it was cheerful and nostalgic and undemanding, had some vague plot-line about archaeologists finding a Roman encampment just next to a caravan park, and included some lovely flares. So it was actually just what I needed on that day, and in fact really helped me to just calm down, concentrate on something else, and escape from everything that had just happened. I am eternally grateful to the television scheduling gods for serving it up just when I needed it.

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strange_complex: (Barbara Susan planning)
As an adult I'm pretty good at waiting, because I know how nice it is to have a lovely big pile of presents to open on Christmas day. That said, nowadays I often know what is in half of them anyway, because we tend to share present suggestions and requests around within the family in order to ensure that we're all buying things that the recipients will want. The only presents I really have to exercise self-control over are ones given to me by friends, students or colleagues, which are a) a genuine mystery and b) often presented to me quite a few days before Christmas itself.

Like most kids, though, I often peeked as a child. I seem to have known from quite an early age that birthday and Christmas presents were always stashed in the cupboards above the (fitted) wardrobes in my parents' bedroom, and would regularly take advantage of any opportunities which arose to climb up on a wooden stool and find out what I could expect on the day itself.

Most of the time, that didn't really cause any problems. I managed to keep my secret knowledge to myself, and it wasn't usually a problem to look suitably surprised and pleased when I got the gifts themselves, because I was a child and all gifts were exciting anyway, whether I knew what they were in advance or not. But I guess over the years I learned that a genuine surprise was more fun for me.

One year, though, I did get myself into trouble for it. Not by being found out in a straightforward way, but because I gave the game away myself while basically trying to do my Mum an emotional favour. I already knew that she was 'Santa', so when I found what were obviously destined to be our stocking presents one year a week or so before Christmas, I decided to write a letter to Santa asking for exactly those same things. In my childish mind, this was intended to be lovely for my Mum, as it would reveal to her that she had managed to buy exactly what we really wanted, and she would feel a glow of warm satisfaction. And I'm pretty sure I did throw in a few random other items in an attempt to make my letter look 'realistic'.

But it obviously didn't convince, because she sussed what I had been up to straight away. I don't remember being told off hugely for it - perhaps she realised that my intentions were generous, even if they were based on me looking in places where I knew I wasn't supposed to look. But I did feel pretty ashamed of myself afterwards, and I think I pretty much figured out for myself after that that I really shouldn't look in the top of the wardrobe any more.

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strange_complex: (Me Art Deco)
A couple of weeks ago, [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan and I spent a day in Saltaire, with the particular aim of checking out an antiques dealer with a bit of a line in Art Deco furniture on the top floor of Salt's Mill. I was looking in particular for a largish sideboard / cabinet to go in an alcove next to my fireplace, and I'd hardly got inside the shop when I saw an absolutely wonderful example, in a golden maple-wood finish with a bowed front and lots of lovely storage capacity. The price was high enough that I had to spend quite a bit of time thinking it over and psyching myself up before I took the plunge - but eventually I did, and it was delivered today.

This is what was previously in the alcove which it now occupies )

Perfectly all right, but not really making the best use of the space. What I needed was something that would look good and allow me to stash lots of crap inside it!

So this is what I have now )

Meanwhile, the old low-level beechwood sideboard which used to stand in its place is now surplus to my requirements, and therefore for sale to anyone who might be interested. It's good solid wood furniture, with a lovely spicy smell when you open the drawers, and there are a couple of pictures here if you want a closer look )

In other news, I spent this last weekend in Birmingham visiting the parents. Mum is still doing pretty well - enough to go to a jazz concert on Friday, have my sister and fiancé (!) round on Saturday, and then go and visit some local gardens which were having an open afternoon on Sunday. While there, I also stocked up on floaty purple skirts at The Oasis, because (despite the rain today) there is clearly no way I am going to make it through the summer without a good selection of light-weight medieval princess skirts that ripple around my ankles when I walk. I also spent Saturday afternoon reading in dappled shade on a deck-chair in my parents' gloriously beautiful garden while my sister and fiancé (!) planned wedding stuff, my Dad made random observations about the state of the world and my Mum sat in the summer-house. It was a perfect slice of English summer, and I hope there will be more in the same vein over the next couple of months.

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Christmas '08

Thursday, 25 December 2008 22:11
strange_complex: (Saturnalian Santa)
So - we did it. In spite of everything, we had an absolutely lovely Christmas. There were presents, and dinner, and the Doctor Who Christmas special. And there were not tears, or arguments, or even too much gloominess about the future. Obviously it wasn't the same as most years. Mum had to take a back seat while the rest of us handled all the food preparation and so on, and even then the day clearly tired her out quite a lot. But she enjoyed it, and so did we, and that's what counts.

And as for Doctor Who? )

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strange_complex: (Doctor Caecilius hands)
I'm up in Birmingham for the weekend, making sure that Mum's OK while Dad spends a weekend in Cambridge at his annual college reunion event. Mum continues to make good progress, but she's very tired out all the time. So, while she's sleeping, I hope you'll forgive me if I take the chance to catch up on a bit of Who blogging. There may be some spam - but I'm sure you're all very adept with the scroll function!

First up, Midnight (yes, you remember - from nearly two weeks ago...)

The cabin fever genre )

How it's used here )

The power of speech )

The Doctor as enabler )

The power of silence )

The power of trust )

strange_complex: (TT Baby Helios)
Seen last night with Mum.

I saw a trailer for this when it came out, and from that managed to get the impression that a) it was a fairly light-weight cheesy feel-good movie and b) the major driving event behind the plot was a family accidentally leaving their daughter behind in a service station when on a road-trip.

Wrong on both counts! Yes, it's life-affirming and frequently very funny - but this was definitely a lot more profound and well-observed than the term 'feel-good movie' usually implies. And yes, they do leave their daughter behind in a service station - but they realise pretty quickly and pick her up again, and it's by no means the central event of the film.

Anyway, we both really enjoyed it. I was reminded quite strongly of American Beauty in terms of how the characters and their interactions are revealed, although the plot is pretty different. And I absolutely loved the yellowy, faded and quite flat palette of colours they'd used for it. I wish I had the faintest idea how they'd achieved that 'look'.

Mum, meanwhile was reminded by the scenes with the grandfather's corpse of a 'second feature' she'd seen some time in the late '60s or early '70s, which revolves around two guys trying to get a dead body from the top floor of a tall building, down the stairs, over the garden fence and away in a car. Along the way, inevitably, they meet people coming up the stairs, and have to pretend the dead guy is drunk, or quickly shove him in a cupboard and so on. Apparently, in the end, he slips out of the back of the boot of their car, and they drive on off up the road oblivious to the fact. And if anyone has any idea at all what this might have been called, do speak up!

strange_complex: (Lee as M.R. James)
This is a rather odd review to be writing, because the subject of this book is my step-great-great-grandfather, and its author is my mother. But, then again, I did finish reading it two nights ago, and I am blogging all my leisure reading again this year. So I guess I kind of have to, really!

Of course, the book itself, now that it has finally emerged into the world, is only the culmination of a project which I've been intimately aware of for many years. Origins )

My own reading experience )

A man of his time )

Naturally, I'm bound to conclude by saying that this book was brilliant, and that everyone should rush out and buy a copy. ;-) But I really did get a lot out of it, and not solely because it concerned a (step-)ancestor, or allowed me to get closer to the subject my mother has been working on for so many years. West's life gives us a genuine window into the world of a typical Victorian medic - and in this book I think my mother has done a great job of helping us to see through it. I'm deeply, fiercely proud of her achievement.

Meanwhile, in a brilliant stroke of timing, this seems like the perfect opportunity to plug once more the serialisation of West's last diary which I am undertaking to celebrate the publication of this book over at [livejournal.com profile] jamesfraserwest. The first entry will in fact appear on Friday, since West for some reason did not start writing in his 1883 diary until January 11th (more details here). I know a lot of you have friended the diary already - but if you kind of meant to take a look last time I mentioned it and never quite got round to it, or thought you'd wait until it started up properly, now is the time to get over there and hit that add button! It's very much worth reading, and since it runs out in April when West enters his final illness, it really is a case of add now or miss out. Hope to see you there! :-)

strange_complex: (Cicero history)
Right. It is time for me to introduce you all to a Great Project. It's the culmination of something which I have been working on since the summer, and which my mother has been working on for over five years now.

See, in 1991, my step-grandmother died, and left to my mother an archive of family documents. Amongst them was the last diary of her grandfather - James Fitzjames Fraser West, a Victorian surgeon who worked at Queen's Hospital, Birmingham from 1854-83, and had an extensive private practice of his own. We quickly realised the incredible interest of both diary and archive, and, around the year 2000, my mother started work on a full-scale biography of West. In September of this year, that biography was published, under the title A Victorian Surgeon. A Biography of James Fitzjames Fraser West 1833-83, Birmingham Surgeon.

The diary itself is published in full as an appendix at the end of the biography. But, as a regular reader of [livejournal.com profile] pepysdiary, I knew that it had far greater potential than that. And so I have set up [livejournal.com profile] jamesfraserwest - West's own home in cyberspace, where his final diary will be serialised, complete with pictures and annotations for the people and places mentioned in it, starting from January 2008.

And this is where you come in.

I firmly believe that this diary will be of enormous interest to huge numbers of people. Those who like reading [livejournal.com profile] pepysdiary, for a start. Those who enjoy Victorian history, medical history, or simply like reading other people's journals, to boot. And there are special treats in store, too, for those who like travel writing, since West undertook a month-long excursion around France and Italy with his wife during March and April 1883, visiting historical sites, churches and local hospitals as he did so. (That's my personal favourite bit, and I had a lot of fun helping Mum make sense of West's visits to archaeological sites in Rome and Pompeii while we were transcribing the diary). Just check out the 'taster entries' I have put on the journal's profile page if you want a sense of why this is great reading material.

But, unlike Samuel Pepys, only four months' worth of West's final diary survive. So people really need to know about it now if they're going to get in on the action before it's all over. The boon which I crave from you, then, is this - help me spread the word.

Friend the diary yourself. If you already read [livejournal.com profile] pepysdiary (and if you don't, you should!), I guarantee you will love it. And of course you'll also be ensuring that it gets on a lot of friendsfriends pages in the process! ;-)

Tell your friends. And tell them to tell their friends. Don't hold back - let's get a snowball rolling here. Basically, it would be hard for anyone who is already into blogs and blogging not to enjoy this. So tell them - and point them either here or directly at [livejournal.com profile] jamesfraserwest if you want to tell them why.

And let me know if you think there are any communities besides [livejournal.com profile] history, [livejournal.com profile] 19th_century and [livejournal.com profile] medical_geeks where I could be plugging this.

For any or all of the above, my heartiest thanks and gratitude. I'm really excited about this project, and I think you'll see why when you take a look at what we've put online so far. Help me give it the kick off the ground it deserves, and I'll look forward to sharing the diary entries with you when they start in January!

strange_complex: (Nennig musicians)
Crumbs, but today was busy. Two lectures, two seminars, barely time to sit down and remind myself what I was actually supposed to be teaching in the next session before it hit me, and I spent the last seminar being systematically and relentlessly coughed all over by a student no more than a metre away from me. After the fun and games last week, I do not want another cold, thank you!

Anyway, thankfully now it is all over, and I only have a Latin class to teach tomorrow. So I can get on with blogging my extremely exciting and splendiferous weekend...

The pivotal hinge of the whole 48-hour period was Opera North's production of Reinhard Keiser's The Fortunes of Kings Croesus, which I'd been busy organising an outing to since May. It was lucky I'd successfully bought a three-bedroomed house in the intervening period, as I had four house-guests for the weekend (a fifth, [livejournal.com profile] redkitty23, sadly couldn't make it in the end due to illness) - my Mum, [livejournal.com profile] rosamicula, the artist formerly known as [livejournal.com profile] kharin and [livejournal.com profile] megamole. And it was just so fabulous to see everyone anyway! To think that the added bonus was not only baroque opera, but a composer I'd never heard performed before and a chance to hear Michael Maniaci sing live at last was more than enough to have me in a state of fizzing excitement by early Saturday evening.

You can see as much from the grin on my face )

And so off we set in our finery through a crisp, autumnal-smelling evening, to rendezvous with [livejournal.com profile] big_daz and take our seats in the auditorium. I have a recording of the opera directed by René Jacobs in 2000, but had only listened to it in a fairly haphazard and perfunctory manner, so I knew some of the tunes beforehand, but had absolutely no clue as to the plot )

Keiser )

The production )

Maniaci )

And friends )

Fangirling )

We did do the Wrens, too, and then home again under a bloated half-moon. And the next day was all communal breakfasts, and chatting, and guests slipping away one by one, until I was left alone once again. Except that I didn't have time to get sad or mopey about it, because it was off for my own humble brand of singing at choir practice, followed by chat and dinner with [livejournal.com profile] glitzfrau to round off the weekend.

There are two more performances of Croesus in Leeds, on the 7th and 10th of November, and you know what? I think I might go again. Because I can, and because I still bitterly regret not going to see David Cordier sing Bertarido in Rodelinda for a second time in Oxford when I felt much the same about his performance and I could have done. It doesn't even have to be that expensive, either - judging from the Grand Opera House website, there are some quite cheap last-minute tickets available, and neither performance is likely to sell out completely. June, after all, is an awfully long time to wait for that CD...

Holiday snaps

Wednesday, 5 September 2007 15:19
strange_complex: (Hastings camera)
Right - it's time we had this canal holiday in pictures, then.

Warning - there are 86 of them )

strange_complex: (Me Half Age party)
Well, that was an absolutely lovely birthday.

I spent the morning loafing around in my dressing gown, opening presents, responding to LJ comments and setting up a Scrabble game on Facebook. My sister had sent me a Porpora CD from my Amazon wish-list that I'd wanted for ages, so I'm really happy about that although I haven't listened to it yet, as well as a brilliant book on Art Deco houses, which wasn't on my wish-list, but was a really excellent choice. I spent ages sitting on the sofa, poring over it wonder and awe, and occasionally getting to say things like, "Ooh, my window catches are like that!" It's great, and will be a very handy guide to choosing the right sorts of rugs, light-shades and so on.

Mum and Dad had also sent me a couple of CDs, but they weren't my 'real' present - just copies they'd made, in fact. No, my real present is this lamp:

Pic under here )

It's stood for years in a pub in the centre of Birmingham, where my Dad likes to go on a Saturday afternoon to mark people's PhD theses, and whose landlady he has become good chums with over the years. So of course he told her about my new house, and she'd already said that if he ever wanted any of the nick-nacks in the pub, he just had to make an offer. And he did! It's not here yet, but it looks like Dad will be making another visit late next week to help me sort my curtains out, so he will probably bring it with him then.

After lunch, I finally got dressed, and headed into town for some Serious Shopping. Two pairs of shoes, innumerable hair accessories and biscuits and a large roll of fabric later, I arrived in the Swan so laden down with packages I was having trouble getting through doors, to be joined by no less than six lovely friends. And since I'd only decided to do anything on my actual birthday at 1pm that day, I was touched beyond belief that so many people were willing to come out and join me with only 4 hours' notice. I think that's a real sign of being properly settled in here now, if I have friends who'll do that.

Finally headed home at about 7pm, and then just whiled away the rest of the evening eating my dinner, watching House and working out how to use the staple-gun I've bought in order to re-cover my dining chairs. Just perfect, really.

strange_complex: (Jooster tie binds)
IMDb page here. Watched in Brum with Mum on DVD.

Oscar Wilde and I have a History. Like many teenagers, around the age of 15 I thought he was LIEK OMG SO COOL AND CONTRAVERSHUL. I worshipped his witty aphorisms, cultured decadence and jibes at the establishment, spent hours reading Ellman's biography of him in the school library, and set myself to devouring every word he'd ever written. Well, actually in the event I think I skipped quite a lot of the lit crit and the poetry. But, by any reasonable standards, I did my homework.

Moving into my twenties, the passion began to fade, as excessive adulation always does. I realised that Wilde had only been a human being like the rest of us, and that plenty of other people were just as clever, perceptive and eloquent as him. In fact, I began to find him pretentious and tedious. This is probably more the fault of people who think that quoting him liberally makes them seem funny and intelligent than it ever was his, but the effect was the same. "Get over yourself!", I wanted to scream down the century. When this film came out, I went to see it in the cinema at Oxford - but by then as much for old times' sake and because Stephen Fry was in it as anything else. Clearly, it didn't have that much impact on me at the time, because on this rewatch I found that there were vast swathes of it I had completely forgotten. I remembered touching scenes with his children, arguments with Bosie, performances of his plays and the period in jail - but that was about it, really. Very little about Robbie Ross, for instance, or about his direct interactions with the Marquess of Queensberry.

Since then, my opinion has settled and balanced a little. I still find some of the one-liners rather trite - but recognise that they weren't when he first came up with them, and that he probably would have cringed himself at the way they're used now. As for his stance as a self-proclaimed aesthete and general artiste (dahling!), I can appreciate better now that it was something which the Zeitgeist of the times demanded someone play about with, and that it was in a way as much a part of his professional life as his plays or poems were. I've started going to performances of some of his plays again, and discovered rather deeper themes in them than I'd remembered previously. And I've even had his Complete Letters on my Amazon wish-list for a couple of years now.

So when Mum and I had settled down the other evening, intending to watch Ladri di Biciclette, but finding ourselves let down by a dodgy tape, the DVD of Wilde which my sister had left with my parents so I could watch it some time seemed an obvious choice. Time to give my former hero another outing.

I must say that the film itself seems rather a Wildean whitewash. It's basically set as a classic tragedy, with Wilde's Tragic Flaw being his blind love for Bosie, itself exacerbated by society's Tragic Flaw of failing to accommodate homosexuality. This makes for a neat and quite moving morality tale, and both Stephen Fry and Jude Law carry it off very nicely. But while it is all certainly extractable from Ellman's biography (after all, the screenplay is based on it), I don't seem to remember Wilde coming across in the book as quite such a constant model of perfect empathy, humanity and compassion, and I'm certain that he was already entirely capable of neglecting his wife, spending extravagantly and behaving foolishly and dismissively well before Bosie came on the scene: all things which the film quite explicitly blames on his influence.

Nonetheless, it's enjoyable enough, and certainly reminded me that I really do want to read those letters. Seeing it from this stage in my life, I also couldn't help but view his story in terms of Classical parallels. It wouldn't surprise me if he himself saw his accusation and trial as a retreading of Socrates' for corrupting the youth, and certainly now that the original trial transcripts have been uncovered, his 'defence' (essentially, "You're the ones with the problem, not me, and I relish being a martyr to my cause") bears a remarkable similarity to the one Socrates presented, as recorded in Plato's Apology.

And then of course there is Ovid - exiled to the Black Sea by Augustus, partly for writing scandalous poetry, but also for a mysterious error which may well have had a political aspect. And this was brought home to me particularly by a rather loose translation in the film. Wilde explains to Robbie Ross that the title of his letter to Bosie from Reading Gaol, De Profundis, means 'From the Depths'. Really, it doesn't - conventionally 'De' in a Latin title means 'about' or 'concerning', as in Cato's De Agri Cultura, Cicero's De Re Publica or Vitruvius' De Architectura. They all mean 'About' + exactly what it looks like they mean from their modern derivations - so similarly, 'De Profundis' means 'About the Depths'. But if Wilde's letter had been called 'From the Depths', that would have translated as Ex Profundis - and thus of course inexorably have recalled Ovid's poetic collection of exile letters, Ex Ponto (Pontus being the particular area he was sent to). What I don't know is how similar they are in content, since I've only read an abridged version of De Profundis, and snippets of the Ex Ponto. But it would be interesting to know how much, despite avoiding the more obvious potential tribute in the title, Wilde was aiming to cast himself as a modern-day Ovid as much as a modern-day Socrates.

ETA: and browsing idly through Ellman's biography, I now find a) that De Profundis wasn't Wilde's title anyway, but a suggestion from a friend, possibly E.V. Lucas, and b) that it is the opening line of a psalm, so was presumably intended by whoever did suggest it to have Biblical, rather than Classical resonances. Wilde apparently suggested In Carcere et Vinculis ('In Prison and in Chains') instead, which to me recalls the names of martyr churches in Rome such as San Nicola in Carcere and San Pietro in Vinculis, and thus masterfully incorporates both the Biblical and the Classical traditions, while also stressing the idea of his own tragic martyrdom. Still doesn't mean he wasn't thinking of Ovid, though, either when he wrote the letter or later as he wandered Europe in exile.

strange_complex: (Lee as M.R. James)
Read partly because I love Clueless, of course, but also because I very much enjoyed reading Pride and Prejudice at school, and have enjoyed the odd film or TV adaptation of her books here and there since.

Like Pride and Prejudice, what I liked most about it is the range of character types depicted, and the way their interactions allow Austen to demonstrate and explore her themes of character and society. I guess you could argue that some of them are a bit one-dimensional in both novels - like the flirty Lydia in Pride and Prejudice or the aunt who can't shut up (Miss Bates) in Emma. But they're also very comically drawn, which makes up for it, and in any case the principal characters (again in both novels) are much more complex, and really do change and grow over the course of the stories.

My Mum was pretty surprised when, as a teenager, I expressed enjoyment over reading P&P (by contrast, I hated Jane Eyre). She'd had to read it at school too, and couldn't believe how vapid the concerns and conversations of all the characters in it were. She's forgiven Jane Austen more recently, and started reading some of her other books (I forget which), but reading Emma with that perspective in mind gave me a wry smile every now and then.

There's one chapter, for instance (ch. 34), almost entirely devoted to a conversation between several of the female characters about how Jane Fairfax should not risk her health by walking to the post office in the rain. (You would be amazed by how much conversational mileage they manage to get out of this topic.) Now, obviously, from a modern point of view that sounds ridiculous. A typical woman (or indeed man) today might very well walk to the post office in the rain, give a lecture, chair a meeting, write a report, deal with a friend's personal crisis and go out to a party in the evening, all on the very same day. But I think it was supposed to seem just a little absurd to Austen's contemporary female readers as well. It's a comic parody of gossipy socialite conversation, it reveals quite a lot about the characters of the people having it, and it also actually does have quite important plot resonances later on, when you discover the 'twist' about Jane Fairfax.

Talking of the plot, it was of course also interesting to read in the light of Clueless. The plots of the two aren't exactly the same, and nor is the cast of characters, so knowing the one gives you a rather bizarre half-knowledge of the other. I could tell as I read that Frank Churchill in Emma had been the inspiration for Christian in Clueless, for example - but I was pretty sure he wasn't going to turn out to be gay! On the other hand, I was instantly struck by how much the light, breezy narrative voice-overs from Alicia Silverstone in Clueless actually do match the tone of the authorial voice in Emma. OK, so what they're talking about is a little different, and Jane Austen is remarkably free of Californian high-school lingo. But sometimes, it really was as though I could hear Alicia Silverstone reading the words to me in my head.

In short, an excellent read, which has also made me appreciate Clueless all the more. I've got Sense and Sensibility waiting on my bookshelf, so I think it won't be too long before I'm pursuing my Jane Austen trail a little further.

Weekending

Sunday, 18 March 2007 18:54
strange_complex: (Claudia Cardinale car)
Well, I had a very lovely weekend with my Mum.

The focus of her visit was really Opera North's performance of Monteverdi's Orfeo: one of the first true examples of the opera genre, which enjoys its fourth centenary this year. It was on at Leeds' Grand Theatre - a triumph of Victorian opulence which makes you crane and peer around the auditorium in a mixture of horror and wonder while you are waiting for the show. Nonetheless, it still didn't quite make it into the same league as Belfast's Grand Opera House, by the simple dint of failing to have ornamental elephants.

The production was - interesting... The story, of course, is the straightforward tale of Orpheus and Eurydice, covering in this version their wedding, his journey into hell, his fatal look back, his despair at losing her a second time, and finally his transportation into the heavens by his father, Apollo. So a simple production could have cast the singers as alternately Arcadian nymphs and shepherds and demonic residents of the underworld, or perhaps gone for a 17th century courtly Italian look, in keeping with the anniversary and the work's original context. No-one can do a simple production of an opera in this post-modern age, though, can they? Instead, the cast were mainly dandies and bohemians, from a mix of different ages and cultures, looking on and laughing with ironic detachment at the somewhat crazed antics of Orpheus and his (decidedly unwilling) bride. A personification of La Musica, who introduced the performance, was a deliberately ungainly cabaret dancer with smudged make-up, while Apollo at the end was revealed to have been a stooped, greasy-haired, balding old man, who'd been sitting on the side of the stage all evening, ostentatiously recording Orpheus' every aria with a portable tape machine.

I'm sure it said a lot of profound things about the artificiality of spectacle, the cruelty of the human condition and the haziness of the lines between life and death, sanity and madness, spectacle and spectators, etc. etc. But, basically, it was overly-contrived showiness for the sake of it, and I wish they'd just let the music speak instead. Especially because it was so good - as a score and as a performance! It was rich, lively, varied, engaging, and really brought the story and the characters to life. In this case, of course, the effect was that two narratives were going on in parallel - aurally, Monteverdi's sincere love story, but visually, the director's crazy weirdness. Musically, my only quibble was that I wasn't very fond of the voice of the singer who played Orpheus, Paul Nilon. The rest of the audience obviously disagreed with me, as he got thunderous applause at the end, but I just found his voice too strident, and lacking in warmth or sweetness of tone. I guess Orpheus is always going to be a hard role to cast, though, if he's to be a convincing musical genius for everyone.

The rest of the weekend we spent mainly taking advantage of the fact that Mum had come up in the car, so we could get around and about the place more easily than I usually can on my own. We did a good batch of house-hunting on Saturday, seeing four properties around the Headingley area. In the end, I didn't fall for any of them, but we nipped round to a couple of others today to have a look at them from the outside, and they did look promising. So I've got a couple of leads, and will phone tomorrow to get appointments to see them properly.

Another little car job that needed doing was taking my old stereo to the tip - it's been sitting in my hallway ever since my new one arrived back in November! Unfortunately, I didn't bank on Mum deciding to make her trip up to Leeds into a jaunt for the parental second car (which doesn't get out very often), so we must have looked a right pair of prats turning up at the tip in a red Mazda MX-5 to throw away a stereo!

Anyway, from there, we progressed out from Leeds in a north-westerly direction in search of pub lunchy goodness, and ended up at the Red Lion in Burley on Wharfedale, whose Sunday carvery I can thoroughly recommend! Succulent honey-roast ham, soft, plump Yorkshire puddings, delicious gravy and very generous portions - we ate around 12:30, and even now at ten to eight I'm only just starting to think I ought to make myself some dinner.

Yes, definitely nice to have a weekend together - especially since it was (coincidentally) Mothering Sunday today. And I'm looking forward to early April, when I'll be spending about ten days with both parents in Brum - besides also attending the St. Matthew Passion and a conference.

Between now and then, I have the luxury of term having finished on Friday to enjoy - but a helluvalot of other things to catch up on!

strange_complex: (Prisoner information)
Julius Caesar answers are on hold until Monday, I'm afraid. I've half-written them, but was too snowed under to post them on Thursday, and then Mum arrived for the weekend so I'm busy doing stuff with her now - shopping, house-hunting and the opera this evening.

Just time to post a quick question relating to her visit, though. She's come up in the car, so we thought it would be nice to drive out to a local village tomorrow for a pub lunch. Does anyone from this part of the world have any recommendations? For example, which direction out of Leeds would we be best advised to drive in if we want nice scenery and pretty villages-with-pubs? And does anyone know of any particularly good places for a nice pub lunch?

Thanks in advance for any tips!

Bemused

Sunday, 24 December 2006 16:21
strange_complex: (Chrestomanci slacking in style)
Hmm - OK. I just Googled "bournville + carols + green" to find the starting time for the Christmas Eve lantern-lit carol event we've been going to for the last couple of years, only to find that my own journal is Google's number three hit for that query - above the parish church's official page which actually answered the question. Doesn't anyone else who goes blog the event?

Well, for anyone who finds themselves here as the result of a Google search: it starts at 6pm.

Today's been a pretty quiet day in the Goodman household, after last night's excitement. My Mum was apparently so hyped-up by it all when she went to bed, that she couldn't get to sleep for hours, but instead kept having the giggles over things which had happened at the party: one recorder player stopping and asking what on earth was going on when she found herself playing an unexpected (but perfectly correct) solo in the 'Amen' chorus; the piano-player making a swift and judicious change of key during at least two of the carols, and all the singers heaving a sigh of relief, as it had been far too low before; banter about whether the cracker-whistles were at 414 or 440 pitch (to which one joker replied, 'Both'); and the look on a whistle-player's face when she suddenly realised she was meant to have played her note in the Can-Can about 10 seconds ago.

We've been eating up left-overs, and watching a Channel 4 documentary (on Telewest's 'Teleport' service) about the Noble Whale of London Town - which basically concluded that the whale's death had probably been encouraged, if not actually caused as such, by a combination of changing climate and confusing man-made sound-signals. :-(

And now, I shall share pictures of domestic winter greenery which I also took yesterday with my digital camera:

Winter greenery )

strange_complex: (Penelope Keith)
This post is mainly an aide memoire for myself, and a convenient way of showing my Mum what kinds of designs I do and don't like. So the post is really addressed to her: others feel free to ignore if you wish, or comment if you want to! The context is that I'm going for an Art Nouveau look in my new flat, since it's in a building originally constructed in 1903, and this is what I've established so far by browsing online for suitable curtain materials.

Likes and dislikes )

Examples )

Realistic possibilities )

And finally... )

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