Thursday, 16 February 2012

Rest Easy Mr Yeats - The Faeries are Here to Stay

I'll always be grateful to W.B. Yeats for his beautiful faery poems, but there are some who feel they simply resulted in the whole leprechaun-isation of Irish identity and culture.  But I, for one, stand up for small people and take delight in the stories and poems that entice us to dream and imagine another world living alongside our own.

If British culture can celebrate a Tolkien, pint-sized, Hobbit and turn him into a global phenomenon, then why can't we?  It seems that people like' little folk', be they Borrowers, Lilliputians or just regular, garden variety, garden gnomes.
So, while Yeats, Lady Gregory, and the other members of the Irish Literary Revival,  were trying desperately to establish a separate, unique, Irish cultural identity, vastly different and unique from that of the 'British oppressors',' it seems, in the end, that faeries and elves don't just belong to the Irish, but indeed, are beloved the entire world over.

But who are we kidding, Yeats had stylistically  more in common with  Hardy and Wordsworth and the other Major English poets, than ever he had with the old traditional Irish bards who wrote in their native tongue.  Yet, the new, fledgling Irish nation took him to their hearts, faeries and all, and made him an Irish icon.  As any student of poetry can tell you, there is more to Yeats than faeries and none who could so skilfully string a line of poetry together and make the words dance and sing.  Their love of word-smith Willie Yeats goes far deeper than that.
And so, while we await in anticipation for the completion of Peter Jackson's adaptation of Tolkien's classic, 'The Hobbit', we cannot but smile and think with confidence that the 'little people' are here to stay and W.B. Yeats can rest easy in his Sligo bed.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Least We Forget Shakespeare...

It's February 14th and the world has gone mad on cheesy cards, boxed-chocolates and roses, dozens and dozens of red roses.  And while I am quite partial myself to the odd chocolate or two, I have to admit, that nothing says romance to me more than a hardback book of poetry.
For the last number of years, I have forgone the usual St. Valentine's Day gifts in favour of a beautifully presented book of verse and I now possess a whole shelf-full of delights that I dip into throughout the year, when even the last coffee flavoured chocolates have long since been devoured and the reddest of roses have sadly quite faded away.
This year I'll be giving the elegant 'Penguin Clothbound Collection of Shakespeare's Sonnets' to the special person in my life, for there are few poets who have expressed so truthfully and beautifully the act of loving and of being loved, as William Shakespeare has.  There are some moments in life when only the lines of a poem can echo the sentiment in your heart; when only the soul of a poet can express the words that you dare or dare not say.  I, for one, am happy to let Mr Shakespeare help me out on that score.
And so, least Shakeaspeare be forgotten, here is a little reminder as to why the words of the bard are oh so much more preferable as a Valentine's gift, than a box of Cadbury's best.  Happy St Valentine's Day!

Love Sonnet 147 by William Shakespeare.

My love is as a fever, longing still For that which longer nurseth the disease, Feeding on that which doth preserve the ill, Th' uncertain sickly appetite to please. My reason, the physician to my love, Angry that his prescriptions are not kept, Hath left me, and I desperate now approve Desire is death, which physic did except. Past cure I am, now reason is past care, And frantic-mad with evermore unrest; My thoughts and my discourse as mad men's are, At random from the truth vainly expressed. For I have sworn thee fair, and thought thee bright, 
Who art as black as hell, as dark as night. 

Monday, 13 February 2012

The Shuttle ~ by Frances Hodgson Burnett

 If there was ever a period drama adaptation waiting to happen, it is this book by 'Secret Garden' author, Frances Hodgson Burnett.  It has everything you would want in a period drama: the fiery female heroine, the brooding hero, the despicable villain and the benevolent father.  Indeed, this novel is a mixture of all the best parts of my favourite novels: the undying sisterly love of 'Pride and Prejudice', the palpable, simmering violence of 'Wuthering Heights', and the impossible love of 'Jane Eyre'.  
     So, why had I never heard of this book before?  Published in 1907, this text has been forgotten, just like the garden in the author's more well-known tome.   Indeed there are moments in this novel when it feels as if we have returned to the secret garden, as adults, and are allowed to step amongst the ruins of a wonderfully, dilapidated landscape that is crying out for a make over.  
     Into this air-less, lost landscape, comes the beautiful Bettina Vanderpoel, a wealthy American heiress, who is searching for her older sister Roaslie, who a dozen years before married Sir Nigel Anstruthers.  He is a tyrannous English aristocrat who only wed Rosalie for the great wealth that she would bring to his English estate. Of course he was a cad and ruthlessly crushed and brutalised her spirit, leaving her a mere shadow of her former self.  He spent her money and left her to rot in his decaying mansion, with only their young, ailing, son for company.  
     Bettina is like a magical princess whose beauty awakens the tired and sleeping land and with her energy brings it and it's lethargic inhabitants back to life. She rescues her sister and begins to salvage what is left of her crumbling home.  The results are breath-taking. She uses her endless supply of money to employ the local tradesmen and modernise and rejuvenate wherever she goes. Not only do we find a garden that needs a make-over, but there is an entire English village and its inmates that have been completely neglected, along with its local artistocracy,Lord  Mount Dunstan and Lady Anstruthers, who are veritible Miss Havishams, creeking and web-draped in their various forgotten mansions, decaying and stagnant in a gothic nightmare-reality. 
      Miss Vanderpoel  is a wonderfully strong female character, clever and entertaining and full of sense.  Considering that the novel was written when women had not yet won the right to vote, she seems to be way ahead of her time.  This comment is a case in point:  'Eve has always struck me as being the kind of woman who, if she lived today, would run up stupid bills at her dressmakers and be afraid to tell her husband'.  The novel is full of such witty observations and as such reminds me a little of Austen at times..  
     But while Bettina seems to have everything that money can buy, she cannot have the one thing she wants - the love of Mount Dunstan, the owner of the adjoining estate.  Like Elizabeth Bennent, she begins to fall in love with this dark-red-haired, brooding man,  as soon as she sees his enormous house and grounds:  'It was beautiful. As she walked on she saw it rolled into the woods and deeps filled with bracken;... she caught the gleam of a lake with swans sailing slowly upon it with curved necksthere were wonderful lights and wonderful shadows, and brooding stillness, which made her footfall upon the road a too material thing...'.  
     She longs to bring the sleeping medieval manor-house back to life, but Dunstan is a proud man and does not believe in marrying for money.  If he is to save his land, he is to do it by himself.  Yet, he is not immune to the allure of Miss Bettina Vanderpoel.  We are told,  'On his part, he... found himself newly moved by the dower nature had bestowed on her.  Had the world ever held before a woman creature so much longed for?'  So, a conundrum.  
     Running alongside this deliciously understated love affair, is the battle of wills between Bettina and her evil brother-in-law, Sir Nigel Anstruthers.  The two are evenly matched but on the opposite spectrum of good and evil.  And he is evil,a fiend of the worst order.  The unfolding power-play makes for excellent drama and produces a novel that you will not be able to put down.  The last 50 pages flashed by at break-neck pace; leading to a thrilling ending that did not disappoint.  
      As someone who spent many years to-ing and fro-ing between America and England, Hodgson Burnett excellently captures the differences between the two nations, focusing on the good and bad of each.  Ultimately, she seems to be suggesting that, where there is love, there is everything to be gained by the alliance of the wealth from the new world, and the beauty and culture of the old one.  There is no denying how fresh, new money, and new blood, can only benefit the English aristocracy and their beleaguered estates, but inevitably, there is more than just money involved:  the energy of the New World is what is also lacking in old England, and ultimately the idea of 'working for a living' is a necessity for everyone regardless of class. 
     The characters in this book would not have been out of place in a Hardy novel and many of my favourite scenes took place within the tiny parlours of the village houses, where little kindnesses engendered so much warmth and humanity.  Mr Doby with his adoring dewy eyes and his clay pipe, being my very favourite. 
      I ask again, why has this book, all 500 hundred pages of it, been so forgotten by the masses?  Is it simply because of the poor title?  Where is its sumptuous BBC dramatisation?  I call on scriptwriter, Andrew Davies and television producer Sue Birtwistle to get their skates on... you might just get this in the can in time for next Christmas, if you start on it right away.  I look forward to seeing it.  In the meantime - make sure you get a copy (it's free on Kindle due to lapsed copywright) and start reading right away. 
       If you have ever read any of Kate Morton's books and enjoyed them, well this reads like the original archetype. I think she must be a huge fan of Hodgson Burnett, so similar are the writing styles.  It is 'The Secret Garden', for  grown-ups, with a hint of gothic-thriller thrown in. I see Liv Tyler as Bettina and Benedict Cumberbatch as Mount Dunstan...?  It is going to happen any day now.  One doesn't mind waiting when such delights lie in store. 
didn't like it it was ok liked it really liked it (my current rating) it was amazing  clear

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Charles Dickens at 200

Hardly can I let the day go by without some reference to the great novelist Charles Dickens, whose 200th birthday it would have been today.   I first read Dickens as a college student, and instantly fell in love with the numerous colourful characters that litter his books.  I was dazzled by his gift for language, dialogue in particular, and his ability to spin a good yarn with multiple twists and turns that could lead you miles from where the story first began.  Who could not fall in love with the tender young Pip, who was such a gentleman to begin with, although he didn’t know it, or the pillar box that was Wemmick, with his portable property, flag-pole and aged parent.  I was bowled over by the warmth of human kindness that flows throughout his stories;  the selfless deeds of ‘A tale of Two Cities; the brooding darkness and grime of ‘Our Mutual Friend’; and the warning against unsuitable marriage that was ‘David Copperfield’. 
But it was the sweet humour of ‘The Pickwick Papers’ that kept coming to my mind today when I thought of Dickens. Often his vast array of colourful characters are what he is most remembered for, the Scrooges, Steerforths and Little Nells of Dickensia, but let us not forget the slapstick, the witty retorts and the situation comedy that makes Dickens live on in his books, and leaves a lingering smile on our faces when we think on him.  
Happy Birthday Mr Dickens.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

'A Study in Scarlet' ~ by Arthur Conan Doyle Versus 'A Study in Pink', ~by Steven Moffat

I can't really explain why it has taken me so long to read Arthur Conan Doyle, but I must admit to have been much inspired by my recent obsession with the BBC series, 'Sherlock'.  And where better to start than with the very first Holmes mystery; 'A Study in Scarlet'.
This little book is narrated by Dr John Watson, who, recently having returned from the Afghanistan war, with 'neither kith nor kin in England', happens to come into contact with Sherlock Holmes who, likewise, is alone and seeking a house-mate to share the expense of living in London in the 1880s.
I was expecting violin-playing, carriage-rides and plenty of fog, but I must say that the deserts of Utah came right out of the blue.  I had no idea that a Holmes novel ever ventured across the Atlantic, but it does so twice in this novel alone. One minute I was lounging around the rooms of 221B Baker street, sipping tea with Mrs Hudson, and the next I was in the American midwest, dying with thirst and planning to meet my maker, or Clint Eastwood at least.
Conan Doyle could have had a very successful career writing Victorian Westerns, but instead he conjured up the daring duo of Holmes and Watson, whose clever deductions and uncanny observations out-wit the wicked and out-manoeuvre the malevolent. And aren't we glad that he did, with some 56 books in the series in total for us to enjoy, not to mention the countless spin-offs and sequels, featuring the consulting detective in the deerstalker hat with a passion for puzzles.

I cannot finish without referring somewhat to the exceptionally good BBC series 'Sherlock'.  (Stop reading now if you have not yet seen the episode in question.)  Series creators Moffat and Gatiss, have adapted this text, calling it instead, 'A Study in Pink', which relates more to the case in question and just sounds more modern than 'scarlet'.  Indeed, everything about the new Sherlock is modern: the architecture, the décor and even the gadgets. Gone is Holmes's large spying glass, and in its stead is a tiny pocket one, (available from Amazon for £19) and everything from mobile phones, flat screen portable TVs and computer lap-tops all feature prominently in the cases.
Watson no longer painstakingly transcribes his journal using nib and ink, but recounts the details of their various adventures on his blog.  The lovely folks at the BBC have actually created John's blog and avid fans can read all about the additional cases on-line.  Here's the link:
In terms of the basic plot line, there are clear similarities between the original and the new adaptation.  The victims are dispatched in a similar manner, the murderers have the same occupation and affliction, and the stories both begin with the introduction of Holmes to Watson through a mutual acquaintance, Stamford.  However, the original text differs in that it explains in full detail the motivation behind the killings.  Indeed, in Conan Doyle's text, the word 'rache' scrawled in blood on the wall, does in fact, mean revenge in German, unlike the new adaptation, which opts to lengthen the word to 'rache..l'.

But, regardless of the modern glitz and soft-focus dazzle of this production, the heart of the story remains the same: a couple of lonely obsessives find friendship and mutual relevance while solving puzzles and combating crime.  Indeed, the archaic monikers of 'Holmes' and 'Watson' have been replaced by the altogether more socially acceptable 'Sherlock' and 'John', finally allowing the fans to be on first name terms with the Baker Street boys, played so brilliantly in this BBC series by Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman.
I highly recommend both the novel and the series.  Both lead naturally to the other, for according to Moffat, everything goes back to the Conan Doyle novels and already I see various references and nods to the original texts when I watch the dramatisations; the case of the speckled blond, a pun on the text, 'the speckled band', to name but one,which makes the viewing all the more pleasurable.
So, if, like me, you are still puzzling over the mystery left us at the end of series two, the answer should, if Messers Moffat and Gatiss are to be believed, be found in the original novels.  For consider how both Moriarty and Holmes jumped from the waterfall in the original 'Reichenbach Falls', but only Holmes survived... surely that tells us something about the identity of the broken body found on the ground outside Bart's Hospital?
And the various hospital workers who descend on the bleeding Sherlock, don't they all look a little bohemian to you, long haired with flared suits?  Perhaps members of Holmes's homeless network, who have thankfully replaced the non-p.c. 'Arab boys' street children of the novels, have once again come to his aid?  Of course it is Molly who is the ultimate friend here, with Sherlock so uncharacteristically asking her for help, and luckily she is at hand in the morgue, to supply Holmes with dead body-doubles and to fake official reports.
One cannot ignore the importance of John's position in the scene, given that Sherlock insists not once but twice that he stay where he is and not move.  'Do it for me', he begs.  That is one thing that Sherlock never does and perhaps this is the very thing that Moffat was referring to when he said that the solution to the mystery lies in Holmes's doing something that he never usually does.  As Sherlock tells us in 'A Study in Pink', 'I've never begged ... in my life!'.
But let us not forget the role played in this scenario by Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock Holmes's smarter brother, who has been so badly used my Moriarty as a source and must suffer considerable guilt at the role he has played in his brother's demise.  One cannot imagine that he would stand idly by and let Sherlock take the fall all by himself. (No pun intended!).  I would not be surprised if he were somehow behind his brother's disappearance, being so total and complete as it is, thus allowing the dust to settle but only until his brother makes a valiant return, clearing his name when the time is right.  With the help of a well placed laundry truck, a beautifully timed road accident and the angular geography of London, the mighty Sherlock seems to defy death and logic all at the same time.  Well, that's my theory anyhow.
So...only 55 more stories to go... I might just have them finished by the time the next Sherlock series is due for release in about 2014..a somewhat elementary deduction.

Come Like me on Facebook: