May 12: I'm not much of a fan of pink (if a book has a pink cover, odds are that I won't buy it; I don't care what its contents are), but I felt like buying some flowers since it was Mother's Day. These azaleas are pink, although they appear orange; I had to take the photo inside as the weather was highly inclement. (It's May, huh?)
Happy Mother's Day, Ma. I love you so much, and I miss you more than I can say.
May 11: Using a focus with a shallow depth of field, I captured these hydrangeas on my balcony today, and I'm quite pleased with the result.
Some books I've been reading lately: Diana Wynne Jones' three-book Howl's Moving Castle fantasy series. They work just as well for adults as young teens. I wish Jones' fiction had been available when I was the "appropriate" age to read them. Alas, it hadn't been written yet. Jones' first book was published in 1977; Howl came out in 1986. ("Howl," the name of the magician who owns the peripatetic castle, is a corruption of Howell; he's Welsh in the "real" world.)
May 4: About a week ago, Spring finally arrived to stay. If last year is anything to go by, a blistering, humid summer will soon be upon us, so, quick: Have some freshly-watered begonias, snapped while sunning on my balcony today.
March 22: I just had a "Well, there it is" moment.
For a number of years, I've owned the slice of Brazilian Agate pictured below left. In the US northwest, these kinds of enclosed agates are called thundereggs (a Native American name), because they originate in volcanoes. The pattern here resembled a rodent, I always thought, albeit one with glowing eyes. But, being an animal- and bird-lover with a notoriously soft heart, I found its pose distressing. Was it injured? Dying? Was it imprisoned?
Almost every day, I drop in on the English Wikipedia site (I've gone to other languages as well; the Turkish one has been helpful with my costume collection). And yesterday's featured picture (reproduced below right, with due credit to Luís Funez) was of Drymoreomys, "a genus of South American rodent represented by a single species, D. albimaculatus. First formally described in 2011, the species prefers dense, moist, montane and premontane forest. Morphological evidence suggests they are tree dwellers." They've been found only in Brazil to date, and are so rare that their discoverers have recommended they be added to the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List as "near threatened."
So: Hi, Dry. Happy to have found you. I promise I'll leave you alone. But hang in there, huh?
March 20: From my costume collection: Here's an antique bride's headdress from the capital city of the province of Aydın, southwestern Anatolia. It consists of a burgundy felt hat, plus variously coloured beads (but heavy on the blue, for good luck), and gold embroidery and sequins. Two scarves would accompany it: one to tie it on the head, and another to lie over the bride's shoulders. A close-up of the tassel is below. You may recall that many Greek headdresses also sport a heavy tassel; the Greek presence in this part of Anatolia was once notable.
This is one of dozens of headdresses from Aydın, which is home to numerous ethnic groups—both "civilized" and nomadic. The first town in the area was founded by the ancient Thracians and was once known as Tralles. As the region is prone to earthquakes, the town was built and rebuilt by Spartans, Phrygians, Ionians, Lydians, Persians and Ancient Romans before being captured by the Turks and renamed Aydın Güzelhisar.
As soon as the posable-mannequin-with-head that I ordered arrives, I'll dress her in the complete ensemble that accompanies this headdress. It's quite spectacular. (As you saw in my posts of 15 and 16 March, I already have a mannequin head.)
I'm planning to arrange all my complete Ottoman/Turkish costumes on a mannequin and photograph them, to be posted on a separate page on this site. It will be a major undertaking, so I can't promise when it will be done.
March 19: Below is an excerpt from the introduction to Jessa Crispin's interview (posted 19 March) with Dana Becker, author of One Nation Under Stress: The Trouble with Stress as an Idea (2013). Although the interview is more relevant to Americans than Canadians, it's important for all women to read.
Are you stressed out? It would be difficult not to be, what with the constant economic despair, the precarious employment status we all live with, the overwork and the declining living conditions and the breaking down of community ties. Also maybe stressing you out is this thing we keep hearing about, that stress, if you don't figure out a way to "manage" it, and cope with it, will give you cancer or heart disease or diabetes or a stroke or any number of other terrifying things. What are you going to do, though, when a hot bath and some scented candles won't cut it?
Dana Becker points out the obvious in her new book One Nation Under Stress: The Trouble with Stress as an Idea, that if we are all dying internally from stress-related issues—and that is debatable, as stress as a health problem is a relatively new, and scientifically unsupported, idea—the thing that is going to save us is not yoga classes and mindfulness. It's actual societal change. It's re-stabilizing the middle class. It's changing the economic system so that the wealthy few cannot destroy the lives of everyone else with a few reckless years. It's building supportive communities that are not plagued with gun violence and systemic poverty. It's creating environments where women are not saddled with raising their children without subsidized day care, or partners who leave them to do all of the housework, and where women do not have to choose between family and work. And yet when we talk about stress, we still talk about coping and adjusting and juggling things on a personal level.
Too many of our real societal problems, from obesity to poverty to epidemic depression rates to violence, are blamed on the individual. And all of that pressure to maintain some sort of homeostasis of health and wealth and fulfillment keeps the individual herself from seeing the unfair pressures put upon her. It also prevents real revolution or change, when you spend all of your time trying to manage the stress of living in a crazy-making society.
I spoke with Becker on the phone about why we focus on the individual rather than on society, and how women have shouldered an unfair share of the burden and the policing of their behaviors.
The thing I was most struck by when reading your book was just how much pressure there is on the individual in contemporary society. Whatever happens to you, it is your fault. It’s your fault if you can’t adapt to the absolute insanity around you. Sometimes it can be so difficult to notice that is going on because of the constant pressure, so when was the moment you stepped back and said No, wait, actually this is nonsense?
The first three of Edmund Crispin's dated mystery novels (The Case of the Gilded Fly, 1944; Holy Disorders, 1945; and The Moving Toyshop, 1946), on the recommendation of P.D. James in Talking about Detective Fiction (2010), itself a dull read;
Hilary Mantel's memoir Giving Up the Ghost (2004) and its companion, autobiographical story collection Learning to Talk (2010), both of which I recommend;
Deborah Moggach's 2004 novel These Foolish Things, which was reissued as The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel after the 2012 movie came out; I recommend taking in the movie and the novel, because they're quite different in plot and character;
Terry Pratchett's A Blink of the Screen: Collected Shorter Fiction (2012), which I found not worth the money;
Barbara Tuchman's much-too-long history Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century (1994), which, among other things, cured me of thinking of John of Gaunt as in any way an admirable figure; and
P.G. Wodehouse's Mulliner Nights (1933), in which the eponymous Mr. Mulliner tells pub stories of adventures that befall his host of relations, mostly male. Thirty-seven of the total of 41 Mulliner stories were originally published in magazines between 1926 and 1937; the final four, between 1947 and 1970. The adventures are not only improbable but the narration impossible: Mr. Mulliner is recounting stories supposedly related by someone else who knows, for example, what a woman alone in her room is thinking. Still, they're acceptable light reading. If I wanted all the Mulliner stories, I'd have to get the omnibus volume The World of Mr. Mulliner (1972), but I don't think I will; the faulty narration drives me up a wall. I believe I'll pursue some Jeeves and Wooster volumes that haven't fallen into my hands heretofore.
Back to the subject of what I've been watching lately: I tried to take in the Masterpiece Theatre series Reckless (1997), starring Francesca Annis, Michael Kitchen and Robson Green, but quit after the first episode, as I just wasn't in the mood for sleaze. In introducing the series, Russell Baker had cautioned viewers not to look for high literary entertainment or moral uplift but to expect "sheer fun." (He neglected to warn viewers with a trauma trigger for stalking that there'd be plenty of stalking.) I gave up waiting for the "fun" to kick in, although I enjoyed the wry performance of David Bradley (Walder Frey in Game of Thrones) as Robson Green's father.
What's worse than a prig (which I am)? A bored prig. A friend of mine, also of priglike persuasion, loathed the movie-musical Chicago (2002) because its characters were so sleazy. My reaction? The talent and the energy, in particular of Catherine Zeta-Jones and Queen Latifah, were so sky-high that I didn't care. I had fun.
March 17: Some things I've been watching lately (besides The Wire, whose first season I've just inhaled on a loaner DVD and the rest of which I'll be buying):
Stephen Fry in America, a six-hour TV series he did for the Beeb in 2008. His ambition was to visit all 50 states, and he did, but some states (such as Delaware and Idaho) were "covered" in less than two minutes, and others received a stereotypical treatment (Maine = lobsters; New Jersey = gambling). With this kind of superficiality, I didn't learn much I didn't already know. However, I appreciated Fry's lack of vanity: He was willing to make a fool of himself on camera drinking bourbon in Kentucky, riding a horse in Georgia, and firing a gun in California. And his conversations with Morgan Freeman in the latter's Blues club in Clarksville, Mississippi and with a native of Hawaii were genuinely interesting. Such moments of entertainment and illumination were rare, though, and it was apparent to me that the sole audience for this series was a British one, although I do wonder how their ears coped with unaccustomed accents, such as that of the prison warden in Louisiana. (If I were a Beeb producer, I'd have suggested subtitles for quite a bit of the series dialogue.) Bottom line: If you're a Canadian or an American, give this series a miss, even if you're a fan of Stephen Fry.
A couple of animated features from Disney/Pixar: Wreck-It Ralph (2012) was strictly for kids, as was Brave (2012), which was given a review by Abigail Nussbaum that I agree with. I'm trying to be loyal to Pixar because of its past greatness (Toy Story and its sequels, Finding Nemo, Wall-E, Up), but my expectations have been unmet for years now. The previews for Monsters University, coming in June this year, make it clear that this will be a juvenile movie. Monsters, Inc. (2001), for which University is a prequel, had some excellent moments and I enjoy rewatching it. But I suspect that one viewing of University will be enough. The buying of Pixar by Disney in 2006 has proven to be bad news for adults looking for intelligence and originality in their animated fare.
March 16: As promised yesterday, here is a man's Pomak hat from Çanakkale, western Anatolia. It's made of black wool felt, with sewn-on chicken feathers dyed pink, green and purple; a modern elastic strip (now worn out) keeps the hat on the head and at its correct jaunty angle.
Photos of complete men's Pomak costumes in Turkey are hard to come by; in one of my costume books, the sole photo purporting to show a man's ensemble from Çanakkale displayed a Turkish Zeybek costume to my disbelieving eyes. See the Wikipedia page I linked to yesterday under the word "Pomaks" for a photo of one variety of Pomak costume; the man's hat isn't the same as mine, but it gets the idea across of what the overall ensemble may have looked like.
I bought this hat from a very knowledgeable man in Istanbul (a schoolteacher by day; a collector in the field on weekends and holidays) who possesses a very large costume collection and isn't averse to letting some of it go, especially to a fellow enthusiast.
The reason I said in yesterday's post that these hats were as rare as hen's teeth is that men in particular were discouraged (outright banned, I understand) from wearing traditional costumes everyday after the founding of the Turkish Republic in 1923, and so the items weren't preserved but replaced with factory-produced "Western" clothing. (And often, if the clothing was preserved, moths seized the chance for a glorious chow-down amid the non-synthetic materials: wool, silk, feathers, etc.) Women in cities were also subject to clothing diktats, but women in rural areas continued to wear what they'd always worn, so their traditional clothing is mostly still available for museums and collectors to, er, deprive them of. And brides everywhere held onto their outfits, handed down from female relatives or made new for trousseaux; however, white Western dresses have made huge inroads into even this preserve of traditionalism. (Need I say that I do not possess a modern white Turkish bride's dress?)
I'll eventually have a complete man's Pomak ensemble, with mostly-original components, although the jacket and trousers will be reproductions. The Bulgarian element will be evident once I include a "real" Bulgarian men's costume photo for comparison. (An over-simplification: The Pomaks in Turkey immigrated from Bulgaria in order to remain among their fellow Sunni Muslims.)
March 15: On display from my costume collection are this Pomak headdress and "choker" coin necklace from the province of Çanakkale, western Anatolia. The Pomaks are Slavic Muslims who speak Bulgarian as their native language and live all over the Balkans, but the majority (about 300,000) are in Turkey, primarily in Trakya (Turkish Thrace) and Çanakkale.
I have many hats from Çanakkale (though not all Pomak; one is Alevi Turkoman), and I adore them immeasurably. I talked about the Alevi headdress in May 2011.
Above left is a front view; below right is a back view. All of the coins are Ottoman (pre-1920); most are low-grade silver, but the one in the centre of the forehead is gold. The necklace is hand-woven of wool.
I bought both of these items on eBay, from a Bulgarian in Varna (on the Black Sea). Since there are Pomaks who still live in Bulgaria, it's possible that these items are from there and not from Turkey, but I was informed by a Turkish expert from whom I've bought many, many items and whose judgment I trust that Çanakkale was the correct origin in this case.
Tomorrow: a man's Pomak hat, an item as rare as hen's teeth.
I've edited my post of 31 January, about a bride's costume from Eskişehir (also in western Anatolia; it's east of Çanakkale), to add newly-discovered information.
March 14: Pictured are some Asiatic lilies—a hybrid variety. However, much as they brighten up my place during this time of endless God-awful weather (another blizzard this morning, replaced by a very strong, cold wind), I'll have to pitch them, as one of my cats can't resist munching on the leaves, and they make her frow up. (She's fine now, and was just temporarily nauseous, but as she's an elderly feline, I don't want to strain her heart, so the lilies have to go. And here I thought I'd found a variety of spring flowers that lasted a reasonable time—unlike tulips; and didn't make me sneeze—unlike narcissus. Oh, well.)
Scheduled for tomorrow and the day after: costume posts on Pomak items from Turkey.
March 13: Having become addicted to the excellent crime drama series The Wire (2002-08), the first season of which a colleague lent me on DVD, I've also become attached to the series' theme: the gospel/blues song "Way Down in the Hole." (The full line is, "You gotta keep the devil way down in the hole.") In the first season, the song was done by The Blind Boys of Alabama (from their 2001 album Spirit of the Century, which won a Grammy Award in 2002). Here's the full-length version on YouTube, to which I find myself dancing a mix of Cajun/rhumba/East Coast Swing when it comes on. The same song was rendered by other artists in subsequent seasons; I've listened to them all, but much prefer the Blind Boys' version.
February 12: I've been watching the British TV series Kingdom on DVD. Its 18 episodes ran in three series from 2007–09 and star Stephen Fry as solicitor Peter Kingdom practising in a small town in Norfolk, England (in which county Fry grew up, as a matter of fact). He and the gorgeously-filmed Norfolk landscape are the principal reasons to watch, in addition to the presence of actors Celia Imrie, Phillida Law and Karl Davies (who went on to play Alton Lannister in season 2  of Game of Thrones). I discovered the series while searching for work by Fry (of whom I'm a fan) to entertain me. The episode plots are weak and Peter Kingdom's siblings Beatrice and Simon are irritating, but I'm finding the series charming and the theme music, which serves as a paean to Norfolk, especially feel-good. (I'm currently resisting the urge to move to Norfolk.) I understand from some research that Kingdom was cancelled unexpectedly (there was a decline in the show's popularity in the UK, perhaps because of the "Peter's no-good brother Simon" plotline in series 2) before all the plot points were wound up. So I won't be surprised, when I reach the final episode, to find that it ends with a cliffhanger.
Speaking of Game of Thrones, I have season 2 waiting for me on DVD. I don't expect to be charmed at all, but then, nobody is watching the show for charm.
February 10: Happy Chinese New Year, and welcome to the Year of the Snake.
Quite coincidentally, I spent the weekend re-watching the 13-part classic BBC series I, Claudius from 1976, the opening credits of which feature a snake (which appears to be a viper) undulating across a mosaic containing the series title (pictured left). The DVD extras, which date from various years, are first-rate.
I've also been watching Derek Jacobi (who starred as Claudius) in the Cadfael mystery series, set in 1100s England. It's pretty thin stuff (and much changed from the books by Ellis Peters). I've read two of the omnibus print collections, and they're much richer.
February 6: On 1 February, Abigail Nussbaum had some new Pride and Prejudice thoughts, among them that Darcy is "an introvert desperately trying to tamp down [his] anxiety at being forced into company with so many strangers" when he brusquely declines to dance with Lizzie at their first meeting, not "a depressive who needs Lizzie to be his Prozac," as a Guardian post I referred to on 30 January would have it.
Jessa Crispin, editor of the Bookslut site, has written a number of posts lately about depression and anxiety and about their being, in part, caused by our culture and, oops, our social media are rapidly making things worse. On 5 February, Ms. Crispin interviewed Ann Cvetkovich, author of Depression: A Public Feeling (Duke University Press, 2012). At one point in the interview, Dr. Cvetkovich said, "I do have a hunch that as someone whose experience of 'clinical depression' (although I resist that diagnosis) emerges from anxiety, I may belong to that class of people who don't need the stimulant qualities of Prozac and is made more agitated by it." So for her as for Darcy, Prozac would be exactly the wrong treatment. On 6 February, Ms. Crispin posted an excerpt from Depression. It has some thought-provoking things to say about writer's block and about creative people in general. I'm slowly working through an e-version (which features headings at the bottom of pages and similar e-book idiocies) of the book—"slowly" because I find the verbosity and the obscure academic-ese (for example, thus-and-so being "essentialist") less than an aid to rapid comprehension, but I am finding the publication valuable.
On 4 February, I talked briefly about Josephine Tey's novel The Daughter of Time and Richard III. Dalhousie University English Professor Rohan Maitzen was more expansive than I here. (By dint of searching for Dr. Maitzen's name on the Open Letters Monthly site, I discovered that her undated essay was posted on May 1, 2012.) Among her comments, she talks about "the reality of women's marginalization in historical scholarship (as both writers and as historical agents) until well into the twentieth century—something that, again, I studied as an academic long after being exposed to its effects." On 1 February 2013, Dr. Maitzen had a conversation about Pride and Prejudice with Steve Donoghue entitled "We've Been with Lizzie All Along" on Open Letters Monthly. If you have time [or patience] to read only one P&P article of the two I've cited today, go with the Nussbaum at the top of the post.
On 18 January, Toronto SF writer Peter Watts posted a moving eulogy for his father, who'd died recently at the age of 94 having spent most of his long, decent life hiding being gay. Maybe one day I'll get around to writing about my dad, who died in 2006 aged 79. In the latter part of his life, he was not happy at all (and for all of it, he was very insecure), but being secretly gay was not among the burdens he bore.
I followed writer John Scalzi's lead and installed Stardock Start8 on my Windows 8 PC to make it easier to use, and it is, although still somewhat infuriating.
February 4: I'd known via The History Blog that coming out today was an announcement on whether the remains dug up in Leicester were those of Richard III, and I wasn't surprised that the skeleton did turn out to be his. I wasn't happy, however, that the remains will be reinterred in Leicester Cathedral rather than in the cathedral of York Minster. After Richard was killed on Bosworth Field in 1485, the city of York wrote in its records, according to Josephine Tey, "This day was our good King Richard piteously slain and murdered; to the great heaviness of this city" (p. 186, 1982 Penguin reprinting of The Daughter of Time). The King had been well thought of in the North of England.
It was Tey's novel, published in 1951 and never out of print since, that made me think well of Richard III, many decades ago. I've scanned the cover of my edition because I've never found a cover I liked so well (and the portrait is referred to in the book, so the image is essential). The book's title is derived from a saying of Francis Bacon (1561–1626): "Truth is the daughter of time—not of authority."
The University of Leicester's page on the archeological dig in which Richard's remains were found (under the floor of a monastery destroyed by order of Richard's great-nephew, Henry VIII) is
All the same, Richard's undeservedly villainous reputation is unlikely to be rehabilitated. I can't see David Starkey redoing his Monarchy series (2004–07), for example, to recant his assertion that Richard "probably" murdered his nephews, the Princes in the Tower. (I almost threw something at the TV when Starkey came out with that, and had to content myself with some robust Anglo-Saxon language.)
Other lost causes I espouse include Harold II (c. 1022–66), last Saxon King of England; Constantine XI Palaiologos (1404–53), last Byzantine Emperor; and Oliver Cromwell (1599–1658), Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland. It might be observed that all four were brave in battle and that three of them, indeed, died there. (Lord Protector Cromwell died in his bed; the cause seems to have been septicemia.)
February 3: From my collection of jaspers and agates, a cabochon I've had for many years: Willow Creek Jasper, from Idaho. I very much like the delicacy of the colours that paint something like a landscape.
February 2: A recent addition to my costume collection is pictured below: a handmade ensemble from Bihor and Arad counties in the region of Crisana, western Romania—part of Transylvania. ("Bihor" is the Romanian name for the county; Hungarians call it "Bihar.") It was collected in Romania in the summer of 2012 and dates from the early to mid-20th century. This style rarely features in Romanian costume books, and I was very happy to discover it.
The ensemble consists of a blouse and skirt of heavy homespun linen and a pleated blue apron that is not linen; more of a brocade. The blouse is embroidered with blue motifs, and it and the skirt feature a design made by pulling threads during the weaving process.
The costumes of this area are characterized by white linen blouses/skirts for women and shirts/pants for men. The linen is often decorated with white or colour embroidery and unique openwork and crochet lace. The result is frequently, as here, of understated elegance. Pictured below left is a sleeve detail. (I adore the "bubbles"; I'm almost as fond of bubbles as of tassels.) A variety of apron styles exist in the region, and vests and outerwear also differ depending on the village.
Since the model lacks a head, let me hasten to state what she would have been wearing on it: a white floral kerchief. An alternative is something I already owned: a blue/green/black/white floral kerchief with a black fringe that came with a Croatian costume from Hrvatsko Zagorje, a hilly region north of Zagreb. It was of commercial manufacture, like the aforementioned kerchief, which has blue/red flowers on a white background but no fringe.
February 1: I was dismayed to learn from the 24 January 2013 issue of The London Review of Books that the Titanic sinking of 15 April 1912 set back the cause of feminism and female suffrage. In an essay and seven-book review entitled "Why Name a Ship After a Defeated Race?", Thomas Lacqueur said, in part:
"When the collision happened there was no evacuation plan.... Contingency, chaos and prejudice had as much to do with who was saved as class. The highest mortality rate was not in steerage but among the men in Second Class, who died at twice the rate of men in steerage and five times the rate of women there....
"In fact, this still misses the big story: gender. First-class passengers were indeed 37 per cent more likely to survive than third-class. But men in all classes were 58 per cent more likely to die than women. Since there were three times as many women as men in Third Class and more or less even numbers in First, sexual selection took its greatest toll there.... The reason for gender disparities is clear. Broadly speaking, men died in disproportionate numbers as the price of patriarchy. Their chivalry, their adherence to a masculine code of honour, demonstrated to the establishment on both sides of the Atlantic how deeply in error feminism and particularly the women's suffrage movement really was.
"[Richard] Davenport-Hines [author of 'Titanic' Lives: Migrants and Millionaires, Conmen and Crew (2012)] quotes [Winston] Churchill's letter to his wife: 'The strict observance of the great traditions of the sea towards women and children reflects nothing but honour upon our civilisation.' And he hoped it would set right 'some of the young unmarried lady teachers'—a.k.a. suffragettes—'who are so bitter in their sex antagonism and think men so base and vile'. That view was widespread. 'When a woman talks women's rights, she should be answered with the word Titanic, nothing more—just Titanic,' a correspondent in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch observed. Emma Goldman thought suffrage had been dealt a blow by the Titanic: woman 'continues to be as weak and dependent, as ready to accept man's tribute in time of safety and his sacrifice in time of danger, as if she were still in her baby age'." (pp. 7–8)
I don't recall anyone mentioning this particular backlash before. I added emphasis to the line that shocked the hell out of me—although it shouldn't have been a surprise. Just yesterday I was a witness to how misogyny continues to thrive, almost 101 years after the Titanic sank. And it will be noticed that in the review quoted above, the last sentence of the second paragraph, a highly risible "statement," was put without apparent irony.
January 31: From my costume collection is this detail from the Atlas silk şalwar (very wide trousers) for a bride from the city of Eskişehir, Turkey. It's called Atlas silk because it comes from the Atlas moth (Attacus atlas) rather than the much more commonly farmed Silkworm moth (Bombyx mori).
On 8 January 2012 I posted a photo of an Eskişehir bride with the model wearing şalwar of red velvet embroidered in gold.
[Edited to add on 15 March: I've learned that my white/gold costume is from the town of Kırka, south of the capital city, Eskişehir, whose name is the same as the province's. Only in the capital is the red-velvet bride's
ensemble worn. I've also discovered that I'm missing a number of pieces of my white/gold set (I have only the jacket and trousers), and that the same costume design was also produced in purple silk brocade. I'll do another post on the subject anon.]
January 30, 2013: This year marks the 200th anniversary of the publication (not the writing) of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, so it's appropriate that I say a few words and provide some links. (Fear not, any non-Austen fans [who are you people?]: I'll be talking about other stuff too.)
First up is "Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice at 200: Looking Afresh at a Classic" in The Guardian, 26 January 2013, by Bharat Tandon (writing about Mrs. Bennet sympathetically), John Mullan (about Mr. Bennet, damningly), Zoe Williams (Lizzie Bennet, unsympathetically), Sebastian Faulks (Mr. Darcy is a depressive who needs Lizzie to be his Prozac), P.D. James (who writes an unpersuasive alternate history wherein George Wickham succeeds in life and Mr. Darcy fails), Paula Byrne (Lydia Bennet), Janet Todd (Mary Bennet) and Lucy Mangan (Charlotte Lucas). The reassessments of Mr. Bennet, Lizzie, Mr. Darcy and Charlotte rearranged my thinking a trifle.
Not as "fresh" because it's from October 2005 but no less valuable for that is critic Abigail Nussbaum's post "4 Popular Misconceptions About Pride and Prejudice." The four are "Jane Austen wrote chick-lit," "Elizabeth Bennet is a 'modern' woman," "Mr. Darcy is a reformed rake," and "Elizabeth Bennet is a twit/Elizabeth Bennet is perfection incarnate."
Ms. Nussbaum is a very perceptive critic, as I've mentioned before, and she has written 14 posts on Austen to date. In a March 2010 post on Persuasion, she wrote,
"I think that Persuasion wants us to think of Anne as saintly, someone who can put up with her father's vanity, her sisters' pride or dependence, her in-laws' silliness, without losing her patience or composure, but the superiority with which Anne views almost everyone she encounters in the novel belies this approach. There is something off-putting about being the sort of person who spends their life believing themselves to be superior to everyone else and detaching themselves from their surroundings because of that belief, even if it is entirely justified. It smacks of not trying hard enough to find one's own level. Anne seems to enjoy being the smartest person in the room, the one who sees and silently laughs at everyone else's foibles and weaknesses, a little too much, and the novel lets her get away with this.
“We are enjoined, of course, from mistaking characters for their author, and lord knows that Jane Austen has suffered from this fallacious tendency far more than most, but it's impossible to know more than a little of her life and not wonder just how much of Austen, or of her idealized image of herself, there is in Anne."
"In all of Austen's novels, there's a tension between the romantic text and the decidedly unromantic subtext, but in Sense and Sensibility the two seem to be almost at war. This is probably in keeping with Austen's own character, which was likely much closer to the cynical, money-obsessed spinster from the miniseries Miss Austen Regrets than the starry-eyed romantic she was made out to be in Becoming Jane, but also makes for an uncomfortable read in the early 21st century. Though I certainly wouldn't say that money no longer plays any factor in courtship, or that games of control and manipulation have disappeared in the wake of feminism and the sexual revolution (the very existence of The Rules, and more recently of seduction manuals, gives the lie to that claim), Sense and Sensibility's moral feels more of its own time than any of Austen's other novels. It's hard not to feel that when Marianne says to Elinor that she compares her behavior 'with what it ought to have been; I compare it with yours' that what she's saying is that she should have played hard to get and waited for an engagement ring."
I've been reading some novels by Georgette Heyer (touted as Ms. Austen's successor) that I've missed heretofore, and was especially pleased (delighted, actually) with Sylvester, or the Wicked Uncle (1957), which puts quite a bit of Austen's real character into that of Phoebe Marlowe—but makes her a romantic. However, I was decidedly displeased with a biography of Heyer by Jennifer Kloester, Georgette Heyer (2004), because it was written by someone not only devoid of literary talent but deficient in basic writing skills. When a biographer tackles a talented, brilliant or genius writer, she or he has to have some of the goods too.
Some of Heyer's other novels that I've read recently: Devil's Cub (1932), which was very good; The Talisman Ring (1936), which was so much fun (I tried to ignore the cover illustration, which owed a lot to the William Powell Frith painting The Railway Station [1860–62] and was about seven decades out of period, as it portrayed a bride and groom in 1850s garb, although Talisman is set in the Georgian period); The Corinthian (1940), which was OK but nothing exceptional; The Unknown Ajax (1959), an astonishing bore; and Cousin Kate (1968), which was unmemorable. So, three winners I'll be happy to re-open when I'm in need of comfort reading: Sylvester, Devil and Talisman. I also re-read Heyer's detective novel Envious Casca (1941), which I've always thought her best in the genre—it counts as literature, in my opinion—although nowhere near as full of wit as Death in the Stocks (1935).
Thanks to a rave review of 28 January in The Guardian, I'm now aware of the existence of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, which began in April 2012. In part, the review said, "As Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy celebrate their 200th anniversary of appearing in print, the best Austen adaptation around at the moment isn't an Oscar-tipped film or a lush BBC dramatisation—it's a series of 10-minute YouTube videos, with accompanying in-character tweets.... Darcy is a hipster, Lizzie is a beleaguered grad student and her mother is just as desperate to get her married off as in the original. It's Clueless for the web generation as viewers experience the story in real time and Lizzie's videos get interrupted by her sisters, friends—and a certain brooding hero. The Lizzie Bennet Diaries started last April and, 80 episodes later, she's finally at Pemberley Digital ... only to find out that the CEO of her new internship is none other than the man she loves to hate."
I don't know how much of the Diaries I'll be able to watch before I get another notice from my ISP, Bell, about how much of the pathetically small limit on my monthly data allowance I've used up. (The size of the Internet allowance allowed to Canadians by their ISPs is an ongoing grievance, as this CBC story notes.) A few weeks ago, I got a notice from Bell after I watched on YouTube most of the ludicrously ahistorical The Tudors series and then, as a much-needed palate-cleansing, rewatched most of the classic Keith Michell version (a 1970 six-part TV series entitled The Six Wives of Henry VIII). In 1972, Michell reprised his role (but nobody else did) in the movie Henry VIII and His Six Wives, which I haven’t seen. Perhaps, like Abigail Nussbaum plans to do, I'll wait till the Diaries series is done, several months from now, and view it all at once.
Neurologist Oliver Sacks, whose Hallucinations I just finished (I make a point of reading his books), gave an entertaining interview in the Los Angeles Review of Books. It opened thusly:
"Jon Wiener: In your book Hallucinations you mention what you call your 'long virginity' in experience with hallucinogenic drugs.
"Oliver Sacks: I was afraid you'd get onto this...."
The weekly downloading via Kindle of John Scalzi's serialized SF novel The Human Division is giving me something to look forward to. The third episode was "We Only Need the Heads," as great a hook of a title as I've ever read. (A griping aside on a matter Mr. Scalzi has no responsibility for: The cover art of these episodes has nothing to do with the contents.) Out next, on 5 February, is "A Voice in the Wilderness." I intend to buy the book when it's published on 14 May.
Part I of Peter Jackson's The Hobbit trilogy (!), An Unexpected Journey, was released in December, but I'm not having a problem waiting till it comes out on DVD in March. Here's an interview by Christopher Tolkien done in July 2012 but not available online in English till December 5: "My Father's 'Eviscerated' Work—Son of Hobbit Scribe J.R.R. Tolkien Finally Speaks Out." The subtitle is, "Christopher Tolkien gave his first-ever press interview with Le Monde, shedding light on his father's vision and sharing his own deep dismay with Hobbit director Peter Jackson." (He was dismayed even before the movie came out.)
(The 2012 blog is here; the 2007–11 blog is here.)