Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen.

Sense and Sensibility was Jane Austen's first published novel, written in 1795-97 as Elinor and Marianne, then redrafted in 1809-10, then finally published in 1811. This is my second read: the first time I read a few years ago (I remember it was a December, and I'm guessing it was either '11 or '12) and I really did not like it at all. In fact, I was incredibly bored by it. I'd already read Pride and Prejudice at this point and enjoyed it, but, having gone on to read the rest of Austen's novels, the best feeling I could muster up was one of respectful enjoyment. A re-read of Pride and Prejudice made me see Austen in a different light, however, and with Sense and Sensibility I decided to test my new appreciation of Miss Austen. And I'm pleased to say it was a success - I loved this novel! 

The "sense" of Sense and Sensibility is Elinor, prudent, reasonable, almost dispassionate in some of her judgements; "sensibility" is Marianne, imprudent and emotional. I sympathised with Elinor, but of course Marianne was my favourite. Yet, as Jane Austen wrote, Marianne "was without any power, because she was without any desire of command over herself". Power, of course, relates to attracting the right man, and thus the right marriage, which relates to financial security. And this is the threat in Austen novels, the dark spectre, the fear: an unhappy marriage, an unsuitable marriage, or no marriage. Both sisters suffer from misunderstandings and miscommunication (like Pride and Prejudice), and each suffer their problems in very different ways. In wider context, Sense and Sensibility alludes not only to the differences between the two sisters, their outlook, and the way they cope with romantic disappointment, but the clash in late 18th and early 19th Century between Neoclassicism and Romanticism.

The former, Neoclassicism (a term that would not be used until the mid-19th Century), is represented of course by Elinor, and it was a movement that sat very well with the Age of Enlightenment (which began in the late 17th Century). The emphasis was on reason and on science. It relied, as did Elinor, on calculated judgement. The emphasis was on intellect; the mind, not the heart of Romanticism that Marianne represented, a movement which began around the beginning of the 19th Century. Romanticism rebelled against what the Enlightenment represented, and would also rebel against the Industrial Revolution. It was a liberal movement whereas Neoclassicism was conservative, and it was all beauty and emotion. Marianne's favourite poets, for example, were Romantics. Elinor would retreat into herself when faced with disappointment, whereas Marianne would cry for days and make herself ill. Yet the sisters, on the whole (not always) were in basic harmony with one another. Their happiness was realised not by doggedly pursuing their path but by learning from one another.

Analysing Sense and Sensibility this way suggests that it is a dark and heavy book, but it's not, far from it. Austen is author who seems contemporary: whilst I knew the publication dates for her novels, I was still surprised that she was born in 1775. It is incredible to me that she was born nearly 240 years ago. She writes beautifully, with great warmth and wit, and is, as I say, so accessible. Though I favour Marianne, Elinor is a sympathetic character too. One hopes for the best for both of them. It is truly a thoroughly engaging novel because of this. And I'm so happy I enjoyed this novel. I've spent a long time disliking Jane Austen, and now, finally, I can say that I've changed my mind!

What else is there to say, but to leave a few illustrations by Hugh Thomson in the 1902 edition. There are quite a few, and it's been hard to narrow down my favourites!


'Mr. Dashwood introduced him'
'His son's son, a child of four years old'
"I have found you in spite of all your tricks"
'Came to take a survey of the guest'
'Mischievous tricks'
"I can answer for it," said Mrs. Jennings.
'At that moment she first perceived him'
'How fond he was of it!'
'Offered him one of Folly's puppies'
'A very smart beau'

'Mrs. Jennings assured him directly that she should not stand upon ceremony.'
Mrs. Ferrars.
"You have heard, I suppose."
"Of one thing I may assure you"
'Opened a window shutter'

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Budgies.

Zola
Pepys
We're now a four budgie household! On Monday we bought two baby budgies, Zola and Pepys (no need to explain where the names came from!). Budgies are flock birds, and one of the worries of losing Myshkin was that Oliver and Trotwood may feel a little lonely just being two of them. So now they are four :)

Zola, or Zozo, is very energetic. He is a very bright blue (the picture above doesn't do him justice, but I hope the pictures below do), and his personality is as vibrant as his feathers. He's obsessed with Oliver: he follows him about, stares at him almost constantly, and squeaks whenever I have Oliver sitting on my hand. Pepys on the other hand is very shy. He loves Trotwood, and follows him about. It's amazing how well they've gelled together - there's not been a single argument or any kind of unpleasantness. Zozo, on being let out, flew straight to Oliver, and Pepys straight to Trotwood, and if they're not in pairs then they all sit together. 

I've not had budgies this young before. They still have their huge black eyes, and they're a fair bit smaller than the grown-ups. They're highly excitable, particularly Zola, so taming them is quite a challenge (let alone actually training them!). So far, at night when they're tired, I've managed to get them to sit on my finger but they don't stay too long. But it takes time. Trotwood was very easy to train because he's generally quite a serious chap, but I remember Myshkin took a very long time. Trot, Mysh and Oliver were a little older, but I think Zozo and Pepys (who are brothers from the same "batch") are about six weeks. 

I think I mentioned somewhere (possibly Twitter) that I'd got them a tree (it's actually a fallen branch), so that sits by my desk now. It's very big (floor to ceiling and stretching right across the window), so all of them seem to be in state of high excitements from morning until it gets dark. They're very happy with it, and I'm very happy with them :)

Here are a few more pictures!


Pepys
Pepys and Trotwood
Zola and Trotwood
Oliver and Pepys
Oliver and Zola
Oliver and Zola again.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope (with illustrations by John Everett Millais).

Framley Parsonage is Anthony Trollope's fourth novel in his Chronicles of Barsetshire series, which I'm reading as part of Melissa and Amanda's read-along. It was published in 1861 and follows The Warden (1855), Barchester Towers (1857), and Doctor Thorne (1858).

In his autobiography, Trollope wrote of Framley Parsonage,
On my journey back to Ireland, in the railway carriage, I wrote the first few pages of that story. I had got into my head an idea of what I meant to write,—a morsel of the biography of an English clergyman who should not be a bad man, but one led into temptation by his own youth and by the unclerical accidents of the life of those around him. The love of his sister for the young lord was an adjunct necessary, because there must be love in a novel. And then by placing Framley Parsonage near Barchester, I was able to fall back upon my old friends Mrs. Proudie and the archdeacon. Out of these slight elements I fabricated a hodge-podge in which the real plot consisted at last simply of a girl refusing to marry the man she loved till the man's friends agreed to accept her lovingly. Nothing could be less efficient or artistic. But the characters were so well handled, that the work from the first to the last was popular,—and was received as it went on with still increasing favour by both editor and proprietor of the magazine. The story was thoroughly English. There was a little fox-hunting and a little tuft-hunting, some Christian virtue and some Christian cant. There was no heroism and no villainy. There was much Church, but more love-making. And it was downright honest love,—in which there was no pretence on the part of the lady that she was too ethereal to be fond of a man, no half-and-half inclination on the part of the man to pay a certain price and no more for a pretty toy. Each of them longed for the other, and they were not ashamed to say so. Consequently they in England who were living, or had lived, the same sort of life, liked Framley Parsonage. I think myself that Lucy Robarts is perhaps the most natural English girl that I ever drew,—the most natural, at any rate, of those who have been good girls. She was not as dear to me as Kate Woodward in The Three Clerks, but I think she is more like real human life. Indeed I doubt whether such a character could be made more lifelike than Lucy Robarts.
Though I loved Lucy Robarts, Framley Parsonage isn't, in my opinion, the finest of the series (so far), and yet it was his first big seller, and a book that would secure his fame. To be fair to it, though, I should point out it was unlikely I would get into anything last weekend, and I am still excited to move on to The Small House at Allington.

Framley Parsonage has two main plots to it, one I was interested in, one not so much. Firstly, there is Mark Robarts, a young vicar who, whilst on the whole a decent sort, finds himself seduced by high society life which he is unable to afford without a loan from the unscrupulous money-lender Mr. Sowerby (a Member of Parliament). As with all the very best of Trollope's characters we see a well-rounded portrayal of Mark - it's too easy to present a clergyman as all good, as one author may, or all bad, as another one would. Trollope's characters are human, which is what I love about him.

The second plot concerns Mark's sister Lucy and his friend Lord Lufton. The pair fall in love, however Lucy prudently refuses until they have Ludovic, Lord Lufton's, blessing. Lady Lufton however is set upon her only son marrying Griselda Grantly (the Grantlys we will remember from The Warden and Barchester Towers). Social class is key to her decision, and for that Framley Parsonage is rather reminiscent of a Jane Austen novel (I believe I said something similar of Doctor Thorne).

It is, as with all the Trollope novels I've read, very well drawn. Lucy Robarts is the perfect Trollope heroine (in fact Trollope was very proud of her) - like Mary Thorne of Doctor Thorne, Eleanor Bold of The Warden, and, leaving for a moment the Chronicles of Barsetshire, Mary Lovelace of Is He Popenjoy?, she is strong, very moral, and above all good, yet she is no insipid, dull 'angel'. She holds her ground against Lady Lufton in one of the strongest scenes of all Trollope's Barchester novels. For that scene alone Framley Parsonage is worth reading!

So yes, whilst I wasn't in Trollope's grip reading this novel, it is very good. Read at another time, I do believe I would have loved it. And I must say I enjoyed the return of the Grantlys and the Proudies!

Finally, one more thing: I learned that one of my favourite artists John Everett Millais illustrated Framley Parsonage, which appeared in the Cornhill magazine (1860), and in the first edition (published by Smith, Elder & co in 1861). Here are the six illustrations, each of them are named however it would give away the plot so I'll refrain (the names can be found here):

Monday, 11 August 2014

Last weekend, and the week ahead.

This has been a terrible weekend. I can't believe I'm writing this, but Myshkin died on Saturday. She wasn't well last week, but she went to the vets, got some medicine, and got better, but very suddenly in the evening I noticed something was seriously wrong. I took her out of the room for some peace, and she lay snuggled into my hand. Within an hour she had died. I have no idea what caused it: Trotwood and Oliver are both well, and neither of them have been picking on her. She's not been anywhere odd, eaten anything strange, and she was young - Sunday should have been her second birthday (a fact that did not escape me as I buried her that morning). I just don't know what happened. It was all very shocking, and so sudden, so I'm rather on edge at present with the other birds. Trot and Oliver, as I say, are healthy. They've lost their pal, so I wouldn't go so far as to say they're "fine" (very bad tempered, had to break up some fights yesterday and this morning), but as of now both are sitting next to me on top of their cage. Myshkin was, as you all know, an outstanding budgie. She had more energy and vigour than probably any of us in the house (which is partly why this is so sad and confusing). I miss her very much, and Trotwood (who was her mate) does too. I'm sure Oliver does as well, but she did boss him around quite a lot. I really can't believe I'm writing this...

And, life being life, there's something else demanding my attention (and I do heartily wish it wouldn't), and I must admit I would like to not be hassled right now and, well, just focus on being sad about my bird. I know it doesn't do to dwell on things, but it does do to have the time to acknowledge such things so I am glad to have somewhere to write about this and forget those other things for the present.

I'm thinking about the week ahead. What with everything that's happening (I make it sound like a lot, it's not, it's just all a bit too consuming), I would value as peaceful a week as I can make it. I haven't been reading as much as usual this month: after giving myself a rather brutal reading schedule in July, I've dropped off a little. I planned on finishing Framley Parsonage last night with a view to reviewing it today, but I ended up watching, I think, maybe four or five episodes of Keeping Up With the Kardashians (Khloé is my favourite). I think it did me some good, and allowed me to delete some of the many episodes clogging up the Sky box. Always helpful. I've not slept well this weekend, so I'm not exactly refreshed and ready for the week (I could easily sleep all afternoon, to be honest), but I'm hoping an early night will sort me out. I would like to finish Framley Parsonage later. It says on Goodreads I have twenty pages (or so) to go: I've actually got about 140 - although I'm reading, as Goodreads says, an Oxford World Classic edition, this one is from the 1950s, it's a very small but very thick book. I can't say I'm enjoying it especially, but I doubt I'd have enjoyed any book this weekend. 

After that I'll have six books left on my 20 Books of Summer (which will take me through to equinox: 21st September). I'm planning on leaving The Small House at Allington until next month (though I might change my mind - I'm looking forward to that one). I'd like to read one of the stories from George Eliot's Scenes of Clerical Life, and then start on Sense and Sensibility. It would be good to make some time for a little blogging this week as well: ideally I'd love to review Framley Parsonage tomorrow, but it may be Wednesday or Thursday. I've also been (very slowly) reading Keats, and I'm just about to start Endymion. I would like to write about one of these longer poems (I'll have to work up the nerve to do so - I've no confidence with poetry). And speaking of blogging: last week I deleted my old Tumblr. It was odd to do, I'd had it for nearly five years, but it started getting a bit stale. I don't believe I've really combined this blog with Tumblr, so I don't think any one reading this would have been following me. But just in case: this is my new Tumblr

It helps to think about my reading and blogging, I like the plans and the focus. I'm pleased that I've read and reviewed four of my books from my new Classics Club, and the Classic Club spin number has just been put up: 17, which, for me, is Dostoyevsky's The Adolescent

So, I'm going to do some work and then I'm going to go and read. The budgies are now asleep on the curtain pole, and the hens are bravely out in the wind (I feel very sorry for them, the weather isn't much fun at all for them). I know, aside from writing about Myshkin, this is basically a repeat of my 'first of the month' post, but it always seems to help to try and focus on plans. I'll be happy to finish Framley Parsonage because it is dragging on a little bit (though there is one plot that I'm enjoying).

One more picture of Myshkin, this one with Trot and Oliver. I keep saying it, but it is surreal to writing about her in the past tense. Absolutely surreal. I'm so damn sad about this.


Thursday, 7 August 2014

Jean Santeuil by Marcel Proust.

"Shall I call this book a novel? It is something less, perhaps, and yet much more, the very essence of my life, with nothing extraneous added, as it developed through a long period of wretchedness. This book of mine has not been manufactured: it has been garnered."
~ Jean Santeuil by Marcel Proust.
Jean Santeuil is one of Marcel Proust's earliest works. It was written between 1895 - 1900, but not published until 1952. It's unfinished, a draft essentially; a precursor to In Search of Lost Time. Lost Time was not a book I loved, but Jean Santeuil was an absolute wonder to read. I had a feeling I would: I found it in Barter Books around about the time I was reading Lost Time, the description on the back promised a great deal: "In Jean Santeuil, his first novel, Proust explores the interweaving of art and memory which he was to crystallize so dazzling in A la recherche du temps perdu". I said at the time I wanted to love Lost Time and it had, or seemed to have, all the ingredients that would make me love it, but perhaps it was that it was too crystallized. Jean Santeuil is, in a way, In Search of Lost Time: it shares common themes, motifs, even characters (the obvious example is that Jean is Marcel). But, first and foremost, Jean Santeuil is its own novel, unfinished or not, and I loved it's raggy edges. If you read it (and I urge you to, right now!), you'll see passages with words and similes repeated within the same paragraph, and at times the novel jumps about (that makes it sound difficult but it's not), but it doesn't matter, it's just beautiful. It has the haunting quality I wished Lost Time would have had. It's about the feeling: it inspires and excites and contains some of the most beautiful descriptions in literature. 

It tells the story of Jean Santeuil from his boyhood (like Marcel he is a nervous, anxious boy who is deeply attached to his mother), to adulthood. We see his love of poetry and literature grow more intense, and learn of his loves, loves lost and forgotten (as in In Search of Lost Time), and those that remain with him. In a way, it is what Portrait of an Artist is to Ulysses. But, whereas Lost Time has a very definite summertime feel to it, Jean Santeuil is your autumn read. This passage, for example:
An hour later, blowing on the darkened woodlands’ marshy verge, where the last of the daylight touches the rusty colour of burned bracken and dead thistles with a red streak at the entrance to the trees, filling the air with a strong smell of wet leaves, the sea-wind, with its chill fingers and salty tang, awakens in him a longing for the home where he will find a bright fire burning, a lamp shining, and fish served for his meal, tasting as the very salt which though shadowed now still gleams blue-grey as a mullet, mackerel, or skate.
The darkness and chill is palatable. And, more simply, "…because it is so lovely to say, “It’s cold,” when one has a good fire and the warmth is beginning to spread through one’s body." That is the beauty of autumn and winter - this cosiness, the cherished warmth.

Apple blossom inspires more than hawthorn in this novel, and the colours are golds and reds, as opposed to the blues and greens of Lost Time. The Dreyfuss Affair is mentioned, and too the Zola trial (interesting for Zola fans, though, I have to admit, not an must-read for this topic alone), but, as George D. Painter wrote Proust "could not regain Time because he had not yet lost it". It is different. It's a different novel, despite shared elements. It would be interesting for Proust fans and scholars to compare these novels, and I'd be most interested in reading their findings, but given my problems with In Search of Lost Time, I couldn't do it justice. 

But, yes, I loved it. And for those who dread the Proustian chapters: this is around 700 pages with ten chapters, which are then subdivided into between ten and twenty sections per chapter. A relief! Chapter length shouldn't matter, but it does sometimes.

It is, in short, a beautiful book. I can't think of anything intelligent to say on it, but it is astonishingly under-read and undervalued. Everyone should read it, especially those who, like me, struggled with Lost Time. And for it's vivid descriptions of all things autumnal, this is about the right time to pick it up. I'm in absolute awe of it. Such a book, some it (particularly the earlier chapters) are enough to send anyone into raptures.