Friday, 28 August 2015

The Clerk's Prologue and Tale from The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer.

Fragment IV of The Canterbury Tales begins with The Clerk, described in the General Prologue as a student of Oxford studying theology and philosophy; very serious, very thin, and very well-read:
For hym was levere have at his beddes heed
Twenty bookes, clad in blak or reed,
Of Aristotle and his philosophie,
Than robes riche, or fithele, or gay sautrie. 
The Prologue of the Clerk is quite short - just 56 lines. It begins with the Host noticing how quiet and serious is, and he asks the Clerk for a cheerful tale: "Tell us some merry tale, by your faith". The Clerk replies he will a tale, one he learned from Petrarch. But merry? No. No, the Clerk tells one of the most miserable stories there is from Boccaccio's Decameron (the tenth tale of the tenth day, which in my mind is the second most depressing tale of the lot). Petrarch claimed he believed he had heard this tale long before reading it in Boccaccio, and then later retold it in Latin, which is no doubt what the Clerk read.

The Tale is in six parts over about 1176 lines. He begins in Part I by describing a marquis, Walter, living on "the west syde of Ytaille [Italy], / Doun at the roote of Vesulus", young, handsome, and strong who loved to hunt and hawk - "As for to hauke and hunte on every syde". He loves too his freedom and lives very much for the moment, and so he is reluctant to marry. One day the lords of the kingdom approach him and beg him to reconsider and to think of the future, saying,
"Boweth youre nekke under that blisful yok
Of soveraynetee, noght of servyse,
Which that men clepe spousaille or wedlok
And later, "And taak a wyf, for hye Goddes sake", lest he dies without an heir. He agrees and says he will choose his wife:
"Lat me allone in chesynge of my wyf --
That charge upon my bak I wole endure.
But I yow preye, and charge upon youre lyf,
What wyf that I take, ye me assure
To worshipe hire, whil that hir lyf may dure,
In word and werk, bothe heere and everywheere,
As she an emperoures doghter weere.
He leaves it to the lords to chose a wedding day, and Part I closes with the wedding preparations. 

Warwick Goble's first illustration for
The Clerk's Tale.
In Part II Griselda is described along with her father Janicula - a poor man:
Amonges thise povre folk ther dwelte a man
Which that was holden povrest of hem alle;
But hye God somtyme senden kan
His grace into a litel oxes stalle;
Janicula men of that throop hym calle.
A doghter hadde he, fair ynogh to sighte,
And Grisildis this yonge mayden highte.
She is beautiful and sensible, and she works hard:
But for to speke of vertuous beautee,
Thanne was she oon the faireste under sonne;
For povreliche yfostred up was she,
No likerous lust was thurgh hire herte yronne.
Wel ofter of the welle than of the tonne
She drank, and for she wolde vertu plese,
She knew wel labour but noon ydel ese.
Walter determines to marry her: "Upon Grisilde, this povre creature, / Ful ofte sithe this markys sette his ye". On the morning of the wedding, Griselda still doesn't know Walter intends to marry her, though he even has her dress prepared. She stands with her friends hoping to catch a glimpse of his wife-to-be. He calls her over, asks to speak to her father, then asks him for his daughter's hand:
"Janicula, I neither may ne kan
Lenger the plesance of myn herte hyde.
If that thou vouche sauf, what so bityde,
Thy doghter wol I take, er that I wende,
As for my wyf, unto hir lyves ende."
Walter then asks her, will she obey in every circumstance?
"I seye this: be ye redy with good herte
To al my lust, and that I frely may,
As me best thynketh, do yow laughe or smerte,
And nevere ye to grucche it, nyght ne day?
And eek whan I sey `ye,' ne sey nat `nay,'
Neither by word ne frownyng contenance?
Swere this, and heere I swere oure alliance."
She agreed, and Walter announces the news to the people - "This is my wyf," quod he, "that standeth heere." Griselda is dressed, and so transformed:
For though that evere vertuous was she,
She was encressed in swich excellence
Of thewes goode, yset in heigh bountee,
And so discreet and fair of eloquence,
So benigne and so digne of reverence,
And koude so the peples herte embrace,
That ech hire lovede that looked on hir face.
Warwick Goble's second illustration for The Clerk's Tale.
They are married, and Griselda proves to be an excellent wife, and the two have a child - a daughter. But this is not a happily ever after - there are still four parts remaining.

In Part III, Walter has an urge, a "merveillous desir" [strange desire] to test his wife and to frighten her: "Nedelees, God woot, he thoghte hire for t'affraye." He reminds her of her lowly beginnings, and then soon after arranges for her child to be taken away by an officer of the law. The man arrives and rather apologetically tells her he must obey the marquis. Then,
"This child I am comanded for to take" -
And spak namoore, but out the child he hente
Despitously, and gan a cheere make
As though he wolde han slayn it er he wente.
Grisildis moot al suffre and al consente,
And as a lamb she sitteth meke and stille,
And leet this crueel sergeant doon his wille.
Poor Griselda has already promised to obey her husband, and remarkably "she neither weep ne syked [sighed]" but simply bends to his will though she believes the child will be killed. Walter then privately gives orders that the child must be looked after, but no one must know she, the daughter, is alive.

W. Heath Robinson's illustration for
Janet Harvey Kelman’s Stories from Chaucer.
Part IV begins four years later, and Griselda gives birth to a son. Walter is struck once more with a need to test her:
This markys caughte yet another lest
To tempte his wyf yet ofter, if he may.
O nedelees was she tempted in assay!
But wedded men ne knowe no mesure,
Whan that they fynde a pacient creature.
So he tells her she must give up her son, and the same sergeant comes to take him. Walter however is not satisfied at this and the Clerk observes,
What koude a sturdy housbonde moore devyse
To preeve hir wyfhod and hir stedefastnesse,
And he continuynge evere in sturdinesse?
He goes on to talk of Walter's obsession, that he is compelled to keep testing her:
But ther been folk of swich condicion
That whan they have a certein purpos take,
They kan nat stynte of hire entencion,
But, right as they were bounden to that stake,
They wol nat of that firste purpos slake.
Right so this markys fulliche hath purposed
To tempte his wyf as he was first disposed.
So Walter forges a decree that he might leave Griselda and remarry (we are now twelve years from the start of this tale), and he plans a sham marriage whilst ordering that his son and daughter (living with his sister) be returned. In Part V he cruelly tells her of his plans to remarry - "My newe wyf is comynge by the weye." He then tells her to return to her father: "Retourneth to youre fadres hous". She of course obeys, "Unto my fader gladly wol I wende, / And with hym dwelle unto my lyves ende." And she wishes him every happiness (at which point I could not help but think of the Wife of Bath and what she would have to say at such treatment - she is a complete opposite recommending wives have sovereignty over their husbands, not the other way around as in this story). She prepares to leave, asking only to return with her dress, not to be forced to leave naked. He consents - 
"The smok," quod he, "that thou hast on thy bak,
Lat it be stille, and bere it forth with thee."
Part V concludes with the Clerk recalling the sufferings of Job:
Men speke of Job, and moost for his humblesse,
As clerkes, whan hem list, konne wel endite,
Namely of men, but as in soothfastnesse,
Though clerkes preise wommen but a lite,
Ther kan no man in humblesse hym acquite
As womman kan, ne kan been half so trewe
As wommen been, but it be falle of newe.
In Part VI, the final part, the latest humiliation of Griselda is that she must help the marquis' new wife-to-be prepare for the wedding, not realising that the girl is actually her daughter (now twelve years of age). Walter asks Griselda what she thinks of his new wife:
"Grisilde," quod he, as it were in his pley,
"How liketh thee my wyf and hire beautee?"
"Right wel," quod she, "my lord; for, in good fey,
A fairer saugh I nevere noon than she.
I prey to God yeve hire prosperitee;
And so hope I that he wol to yow sende
Plesance ynogh unto youre lyves ende.
But, she is not finished - she adds a warning not to treat his new wife as he treated her:
"O thyng biseke I yow, and warne also,
That ye ne prikke with no tormentynge
This tendre mayden, as ye han doon mo;
For she is fostred in hire norissynge
Moore tendrely, and, to my supposynge,
She koude nat adversitee endure
As koude a povre fostred creature." 
Walter, at last, sees her patience, her loyalty and steadfastness and he reveals that this was but another test:
"This is ynogh, Grisilde myn," quod he;
"Be now namoore agast ne yvele apayed.
I have thy feith and thy benyngnytee,
As wel as evere womman was, assayed,
In greet estaat and povreliche arrayed.
Now knowe I, dere wyf, thy stedfastnesse"
And hire in armes took and gan hire kesse.
He tells her the girl he was to marry is his daughter, and her son too is still alive. Griselda is overjoyed, and once more she is the wife of the marquis - "And ther she was honured as hire oghte." They live out the rest of their days happily and peacefully. The Clerk concludes that this tale was not told to recommend that wives should be tested by their husbands, but that everyone should be constant and steadfast as Griselda was in times of adversity:
This storie is seyd nat for that wyves sholde
Folwen Grisilde as in humylitee,
For it were inportable, though they wolde,
But for that every wight, in his degree,
Sholde be constant in adversitee
As was Grisilde; therfore Petrak writeth
This storie, which with heigh stile he enditeth.
Chaucer (the author rather than the pilgrim) speaks and warns that no man should test their wife as Walter did:
No wedded man so hardy be t'assaille
His wyves pacience in trust to fynde
Grisildis, for in certein he shal faille. 
And there ends The Clerk's Tale: horrible, but compelling and excellently told.

The Marquis of Saluce Marries Griselda by Charles West Cope (1852).
← Previously: The Friar's Prologue and Tale & The Summoner's Prologue and Tale

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Money by Émile Zola.

I've been reading a lot of Zola this month - Money is the fourth since the end of July, and I think for me it's one of the hardest Zolas to get through. It's not that I didn't think it a good novel, but it was a struggle. 

Money (L'Argent) was first published in 1891 and is the eighteenth of the Rougon Macquart series: only La Débâcle (1892), and Doctor Pascal (1893) follow, but though two books remain it does feel as though Zola is beginning to wrap the series up with the hints of the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871) that signified fall of the Second Empire that Zola had studied in his Rougon Macquart novels (hints of the war to come are also found in La Bête Humaine, 1890). In it, we see the return of Aristide Saccard, a Rougon, and central to Zola's The Kill (1872). He is the brother of the government minister Eugène (His Excellency Eugène Rougon, 1876) and the doctor Pascal Rougon (Doctor Pascal, 1893), the son of Pierre and Félicité Rougon (The Fortune of the Rougons, 1871), and the grandson of the neurotic, obsessive compulsive Adélaïde Rougon (also featured in The Fortune of the Rougons and later Doctor Pascal). Adélaïde is the root of the Rougon Macquart dynasty and as Zola was aiming partly to write of heredity it is always important to keep her in mind when considering each character of the Rougon Macquart family. From her, Astride inherits his obsessive behaviour which, within the Second Empire, manifests in the obsession with accumulating money. 

In The Kill (set ten years earlier), Astride invested in property, but we see in the beginning of Money that his enterprises have failed and he is bankrupt. But, like any 'good' Rougon he doesn't let that stop him! In this novel he seeks to establish the Banque Universelle (Universal Bank) which, he envisages, will help fund roads and railways and make him an absolute fortune. However, as he is bankrupt and his brother Eugène refuses to help him unless he leaves France he struggles to find financiers. he must scheme, manipulate, and even succumb to illegal practices to achieve his goals. And in this lies one of my major problems with Money - this world of finance and bankers and their practices is a mystery to me. There is in Money the use of a "straw man" and I simply cannot explain it. It is illegal, that I know, and suggests that his bank is doomed to fail despite best efforts - despite investors, and despite even buying newspaper companies to give the illusion of success and attack his brother (the latter of which struck a chord: we all know newspapers have their own political agenda, but I can never forget the shock of The Independent, a supposedly 'unbiased' newspaper that very clearly has always had left-wing biases endorsing a Conservative-Liberal Democrat government; shortly after one of their very despondent journalists tweeted "oh god did we just endorse the coalition? fml"). So for this reason, Money is interesting but more complicated for me perhaps than others: it was very hard for me to get really involved with it. But these methods of accumulation that I don't understand are not the only part of Money thankfully. We know Astride is corrupt, and he's even doomed by his own genes, but he is still loved by his mistress Caroline Hamelin. She is no fool, and she knows of all of Saccard's flaws, even his illegitimate child Victor (who shares many similarities with Jacques Macquart of La Bête Humaine as well as Adélaïde Rougon). So she too invests in the bank, but for her money is a means to an end - she sees potential for good, not for growth as Saccard does, nor simply just to have as his son Maxime does. 

"Northern Rocky" by Andy Davies (2009).
And, unsurprisingly, the Universal Bank fails and sends shock waves through the whole of France and the rest of the world, and in 2015 this will no doubt remind people of the collapse of Northern Rock in September 2007 and the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers (2008) which marked the early days of the Global Financial Crisis. In Money Zola explores the corruption and subsequent failure, and its effects. Another element is the anti-Semitism of Saccard, whose rivals are the Jewish banks (Zola notes, "Ah, the Jews! Saccard had that ancient racial resentment of the Jews that is found especially in the south of France"). This makes for an uncomfortable read but we know from Zola's involvement in the Dreyfuss Affair that in Money he is drawing attention to anti-Semitism, not agreeing or identifying with it.

It is, as I say, a difficult book and I was interested to read that Zola had not enjoyed writing it. He told a friend (Cérad), "Money is decidedly a thankless subject, stock market business I mean" and he too found the subject matter "difficult to grasp" (as he told Jacques van Santen Kolff) and was rather "exhausted" by it. Nevertheless it is another excellent novel. About half way through Caroline Hamelin thinks, 
Ah! Money! Money to corrupter, the poisoner, shrivelling souls, driving out all goodness, affection and love for others. Money alone was the great culprit, the promoter of all human cruelty and filth.
Yet through her Zola provides another perspective: I think it's a mistake to assume Money is anti-money. Money is about greed and corruption, but money can bring good to the world if used properly. 

And there another chapter of the Rougon Macquart series is closed. I was surprised to see that this is my tenth review, which means I'm half-way through re-reading. I am very tempted to pick another one up - perhaps His Excellency (I'm put off by the translation, though), or the new translation of The Conquest of Plassans (1874). I haven't read this new translation yet (another Oxford University Press, 2014), and whilst I am still in my Zola-phase it would be good to read another... Normally I need a break between Zola novels, but I seem to be on a bit of a Zola-roll. 

Further Reading

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Authors in Context: Geoffrey Chaucer by Peter Brown.

'Authors in Context' is a series by Oxford University Press which examines the works of various writers related to their own time and society, and also to the present day. Earlier in the year I read Virginia Woolf by Michael Whitworth (2005) from this series and enjoyed it so much I decided to read the Geoffrey Chaucer book. This one is by Peter Brown and was first published in 2011.

Like Virginia Woolf, this book is divided into seven chapters:
  1. The Life of Geoffrey Chaucer
  2. The Social Body
  3. The Literary Scene
  4. Society and Politics
  5. Intellectual Ideas
  6. Science and Technology
  7. New Contexts
I'll start by saying this was an excellent read, but there was much to take in: this is only the second biography of Chaucer's I've read (the first was Chaucer by Peter Ackroyd, 2004) so there was a lot of new information!

It begins with the task of writing Geoffrey Chaucer's life: Brown suggests he was born around 1340 (some others think it was nearer to 1343), and he was probably born in London around the north side of the Thames. We know he came from a family of wine merchants, his father was John Chaucer, a freeman of London and "sometime deputy to the king's chief butler", and his mother was Agnes Copton, a property owner in her own right. He perhaps attended the charity school at St. Paul's, and some believed he went on to attend the Law Courts, which was an unofficial university. This, Brown notes, is unproven. In fact, the first record of Chaucer appears in 1357 where he is identified as a page in the household of Elizabeth, Countess of Ulster. He then entered the service of Lionel, Earl of Ulster, the second son of King Edward III and brother of Edward of Woodstock - the Black Prince, and Chaucer accompanied Lionel to France during the Hundred Years' War (1337 - 1453) where he was captured and ransomed for £16. In his early twenties he married Philippa Roet, sister of Katherine Swynford, the third wife of John of Gaunt, and in 1374 Chaucer was granted a life annuity from Gaunt. 

Chaucer's tomb, now in Poet's Corner in
Westminster Abbey.
Brown goes on to write known and probable details of Chaucer's life - that he lived in Aldgate (London) in his thirties and worked as a customs controller, then in 1385 he was Justice of Peace in Kent, and by 1386 he was knight of the shire of Kent. He had three children - Thomas, Lewis, and Alice, and it is believed he died on 25th October 1400. He was buried in Westminster Abbey for his work as a royal official. A body believed to be Chaucer's was exhumed in 1889: Chaucer, it was found, was 5' 6''. 

There, then, is the 'official' Chaucer. But there are no letters or diaries,and we don't know how or why Chaucer became interested in writing. So Brown turns to Chaucer's works in which there are a few portraits of the author, perhaps most notably in The Canterbury Tales (Chaucer writes that the Host, a large man, describes Chaucer "in the waast is shape as wel as I" (The Prologue of Sir Thopas). We know from his works that he was also well read, with Ovid, Boccaccio, Jerome, Titus, and a great many others serving as inspiration. Probably his first work was his translation of The Romaunt of the Rose (1361-67) by Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun (who added to the poem thirty or so years later), showing that Chaucer was fluent not only in Latin but French too. But, as Brown notes, building a biography from works of fiction is very problematic. Nonetheless, however difficult it is to answer the question "what was Chaucer really like?", Brown provides a brief and fascinating biography of Chaucer in the first chapter of this book. 

In the second chapter Brown goes on to write about 14th Century society, beginning with a particularly interesting analogy:
Today, the phrase 'fabric of society' is commonly used to describe the complexity of social relations. it is a turn of phrase that calls attention to the notion of fabrication, and suggests that society is an artificial concept, man-made. 'Fabric' in the sense of 'building' evokes a capacious structure of interdependent parts (in need of maintenance, prone to ruin) of which each section of society is a component. Alternatively, we might think of society as a woven fabric, each thread or social group contributing its sense and distinctive colour to the over-all product, which is both ornamental and useful (though vulnerable to wear and tear). However, 'fabric of society' is not a figure of speech found in fourteenth century England. Instead, a metaphor often used is that of the human body - and the difference is telling. Its implication is that human society is a natural state of affairs, something given by God, over which human agency has little control. The metaphor of the body also suggests society is living, organic, a whole comprising of interdependent parts which have no choice in their respective functions and no opportunity for change. It is also an explicitly hierarchical notion of social organisation, with the 'head' controlling its 'members'.
From here Brown goes on to write about the tumultuous 14th Century - the war with France, the mid-century plague, and the criticisms of the church by John Wyclif. I was particularly struck by the rules of fashion and food in social groups:
'Those who work' are regarded as being of the 'estate of a groom', a category also covering carters, ploughmen, and herders of sheep, oxen, cows, and swine and others whose goods and chattels do not exceed forty shillings in value. They must not wear anything but coarse cloth ('blanket' and russet) and secure their clothing with girdles made of linen. Grooms are also classed with servants, whether of lords at one end of the social spectrum, or craftsmen at the other, for the statute intends to prevent the insubordination of servants as a group by setting limits to what they can east or wear. They must not eat fish or flesh more than once a day, or wear anything of gold or silk, embroidered or enamelled. Yeoman and craftsmen are given a little more latitude. The material from which their clothes are made can be worth up to forty shillings, but they are forbidden accessories made of precious materials and fur except that of lamb, rabbit, cat, or fox (furs themselves having their own hierarchy). The restrictions ease further as the social level advances. 
This outline of food and fashion Brown further expands, and it makes for a very interesting read and sheds new light on the General Prologue of The Canterbury Tales which includes descriptions of the clothes many of the pilgrims wore.

I could go on and on with this post, but because there's so much to write about I think what I'll be doing is referring to it an awful lot with subsequent Chaucer posts rather than attempt to summarise a book I haven't firmly got a grip on. But it is a fascinating book and, as with Whitworth's Virginia Woolf, I love reading about Chaucer in these various contexts - learning about his literary contemporaries, 14th Century history (which I knew virtually nothing about until I began with Chaucer, and the scientific and technological advancements of the time as well as the dominant intellectual ideas. It is an excellent book, and one, as I say, to be re-read. When I come to the end of reading Chaucer's works I'll be re-reading this for sure. It's an absolute must-read, I think!

And speaking of Chaucer's works - I'm not so far off finishing. So far I've read:
Of The Canterbury Tales, which I'm re-reading, I've read 
This leaves the rest of it - Fragments IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, and X - and Chaucer's shorter poems. So it looks like I'll be finishing probably by the end of the year.

It's a challenge I've probably enjoyed the most out of all challenges I've done! And this book by Peter Brown is an essential companion - I do wish I had have read it sooner, but to be fair, I may complete Chaucer's works in December, but I'll never truly finish, and nor will I wish to!

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Lamia by John Keats.

Illustrated by Robert Anning Bell (1897).

Lamia was written by John Keats in 1819 and published in 1820 along with Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes, Hyperion, To Autumn (one of my absolute favourites) and other poems. It's about 708 lines and is divided into two parts, and it is based on the Greek myth of Lamia, the mistress of Zeus who his wife Hera detests, and she kills all of Lamia's children and turns her into a monster that hunts and kills the children of others. In the 19th Century this myth was changed somewhat and Lamia was essentially a monster who would hunt and devour men.

1888 edition.
Part I begins,
Upon a time, before the faery broods
Drove Nymph and Satyr from the prosperous woods,
Before King Oberon’s bright diadem,
Sceptre, and mantle, clasp’d with dewy gem,
Frighted away the Dryads and the Fauns
From rushes green, and brakes, and cowslip’d lawns,
The ever-smitten Hermes empty left
His golden throne, bent warm on amorous theft:
From high Olympus had he stolen light,
On this side of Jove’s clouds, to escape the sight
Of his great summoner, and made retreat
Into a forest on the shores of Crete.
In Crete there is a nymph - 
A nymph, to whom all hoofed Satyrs knelt;
At whose white feet the languid Tritons poured  
Pearls, while on land they wither’d and adored.
Fast by the springs where she to bathe was wont,
And in those meads where sometime she might haunt,
Were strewn rich gifts, unknown to any Muse,
Though Fancy’s casket were unlock’d to choose.    
Ah, what a world of love was at her feet!
So Hermes thought...
So Hermes tries to find this nymph but cannot, but soon he comes across a serpent:
She was a gordian shape of dazzling hue,
Vermilion-spotted, golden, green, and blue;
Striped like a zebra, freckled like a pard,
Eyed like a peacock, and all crimson barr’d;         
And full of silver moons, that, as she breathed,
Dissolv’d, or brighter shone, or interwreathed
Their lustres with the gloomier tapestries—
So rainbow-sided, touch’d with miseries,
She seem’d, at once, some penanced lady elf,        
Some demon’s mistress, or the demon’s self.
Upon her crest she wore a wannish fire
Sprinkled with stars, like Ariadne’s tiar:
Her head was serpent, but ah, bitter-sweet!
She had a woman’s mouth with all its pearls complete:      
And for her eyes: what could such eyes do there
But weep, and weep, that they were born so fair?
As Proserpine still weeps for her Sicilian air.
Her throat was serpent, but the words she spake
Came, as through bubbling honey, for Love’s sake,        
And thus; while Hermes on his pinions lay,
Like a stoop’d falcon ere he takes his prey.
First illustration of Lamia
by Robert Anning Bell (1897)
This serpent is a woman changed into a snake, and she tells Hermes she will reveal the invisible nymph if he will change her back into a woman. He agrees, and the serpent is changed: it is Lamia, and she quickly flees in search of Lycius, a young man from Corinth.  When she finds him he falls in love,
And soon his eyes had drunk her beauty up, Leaving no drop in the bewildering cup, And still the cup was full,—while he afraid Lest she should vanish ere his lip had paid Due adoration, thus began to adore...
He takes her to Corinth where they live together, "Shut from the busy world of more incredulous".

In Part II, Keats begins by writing their love is "a doubtful tale from faery land". Lycius wishes to marry her, and she eventually consents on the condition that his friend Apollonius, the philosopher, is not invited to the wedding. However Apollonius does come, uninvited, and Lycius lets him join the wedding party:
Lycius blush’d, and led The old man through the inner doors broad-spread;
With reconciling words and courteous mien Turning into sweet milk the sophist’s spleen.
This philosopher is not taken in by Lamia's charms - " Do not all charms fly / At the mere touch of cold philosophy?". Keats writes,
... The bald-head philosopher    
Had fix'd his eye, without a twinkle or stir Full on the alarmed beauty of the bride, Brow-beating her fair form, and troubling her sweet pride. Lycius then press’d her hand, with devout touch, As pale it lay upon the rosy couch:    
'Twas icy, and the cold ran through his veins; Then sudden it grew hot, and all the pains Of an unnatural heat shot to his heart. "Lamia, what means this? Wherefore dost thou start? Know’st thou that man?" Poor Lamia answer’d not.
Second illustration of Lamia by Robert Anning Bell (1897).
He continues to stare at her, and Lamia is increasingly nervous. Lycius panics and tells Apollonius to stop staring - "Shut, shut those juggling eyes, thou ruthless man!". He answers, "Fool", and
"Fool! Fool!" repeated he, while his eyes still  
Relented not, nor mov'd; "from every ill
Of life have I preserv’d thee to this day, And shall I see thee made a serpent’s prey?"
Then Lamia breath’d death breath; the sophist's eye, Like a sharp spear, went through her utterly,      
Keen, cruel, perceant, stinging: she, as well
As her weak hand could any meaning tell,
Motion’d him to be silent; vainly so, He look’d and look’d again a level—No!
"A Serpent!" echoed he; no sooner said,
Than with a frightful scream she vanished:
And Lycius' arms were empty of delight...
Lycius, on the very moment she vanishes dies, "no pulse, or breath they found", and there the poem ends.

Lamia is throughout manipulative, deceptive, and at times callous - a perfect snake, in short, but she is not completely hateful, not completely a 'belle dame sans merci', another poem by Keats that reminded me of Lamia. It seems to be a poem (I write cautiously because I'm not so good on the Romantics) about the destructiveness on love based on image; a passionate but ultimately superficial love. As ever, I'm enthralled by Keats' language and descriptions, but still it is not an easy read however enjoyable. I think I'm the superficial reader that Keats would hate - I love the beauty of it but struggle with the deeper meanings! Something to work on.

To finish, two beautiful paintings by John William Waterhouse inspired by Keats' poem.

Lamia by John William Waterhouse (1905).

Lamia by John William Waterhouse (1909).

Saturday, 22 August 2015

The Classics Club Spin.

I am rejoicing - there's a Classics Club Spin and I love the spin! Last time I got The Life and Letters of Leslie Stephen [Virginia Woolf's father] by Frederic W. Maitland and I enjoyed that even though I thought it would be rather dull (and it was a little dull, but oddly enough I didn't mind so much). 

For this I've picked twenty books that I'm not so much dreading (though there are a few there that I am) but these just aren't on my radar at present and I might need a little encouragement to read them! So I picked them, randomized them, and now I await my number... 
  1. Sterne, Laurence - A Sentimental Journey
  2. Hugo, Victor - The Toilers of the Sea
  3. Eliot, George - Romola
  4. Tolstoy, Leo - Tales of Army Life
  5. Boswell, James - The Life of Samuel Johnson
  6. Bazán, Emilia Pardo - The House of Ulloa
  7. Bruyère, Jean de la - Characters
  8. Lafayette, Madame de - The Princess de Cleves
  9. Sand, George - Indiana
  10. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
  11. Moore, George - Esther Waters
  12. Collins, Wilkie - No Name
  13. Škvorecký, Josef - The Cowards
  14. Burke, Edmund - Reflections on the Revolution in France
  15. Lewis, Wyndham - Tarr
  16. Steinbeck, John - A Russian Journal
  17. Stendhal - The Red and the Black
  18. Steinbeck, John - The Winter of Our Discontent
  19. Sévigné, Madame de - Selected Letters
  20. Tolstoy, Leo - Resurrection
I think I may be a little intimidated by Burke and Boswell, but aside from that....
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