Archive for Big Readers A place for discussing books and all things bookish.
 


       Big Readers Forum Index -> Individual reading blogs
Mikeharvey

Radio Four's 'Today' programme does its best to keep us abreast of what's happening in the arts. This morning we had a piece about playwright Terence Rattigan whose Centenary is this year.  And all this week we've had readings from poets shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize. Today was Simon Armitage reading his delightful poem about a man who's given the chance to be young again.  Sort of related to what I put on here the other day about being 17 once more.  In the poem the man is visited by a spirit(?) who says that the man is exactly halfway through his alloted span and has the same number of days left.  What if we all knew the precise moment when we reached the tipping point?  Over the course of my life I remember thinking that it was all right if I could double my age and it still made a reasonable number of years left. It was OK when I was 25 which meant I could probably live to fifty.  30(60), 40(80), I stopped doing it when I reached 50.  

Started reading 'The Lost Books of the Odyssey' by Zachary Mason, a fascinating fictional gloss on Homer, apprently using scraps of Homeric tales found in the rubbish dumps of Oxyrynchus in Eygpt.  Subject of a fascinating play 'The Trackers of Oxyrynchus' by Tony Harrison at the National Theatre 

Revisted the film of Philp King's classic farce 'Sailor Beware!' (1956) yesterday which enshrines the glorious performance of Peggy Mount as the terrifying Mother-in-Law-From-Hell, Emma Hornet.  This was the play that literally made PM a star overnight. Full of wonderful lines and a cast to die for including Thora Hird, Cyril Smith, Gordon Jackson, Shirley Eaton and Esma Cannon. A beautifully simple idea for a play in which all the various elements fit together magnificently. I saw the original hilarious stage production of this in 1955 and well recall the gales of laughter. I later saw Peggy Mount as an excellent Nurse to Judi Dench's Juliet at the Old Vic, and as a formidable Miss Whitchurch in the RSC production of John Dighton's 'The Happiest Days of Your Life' (another classic farce with gorgeous lines) in which Maria Aitken played Miss Gossage.
Sandraseahorse

Mike, I've got a soft spot for "Sailor, Beware!" as I remember seeing an amateur production of it when I was ten years old and it was the first occasion I was allowed out in the evening with some friends without an adult present.  

Over the next few years I saw lots of amateur productions including  "The Winslow Boy" and various Agatha Christie thrillers.  At that time - apart from an annual trip to the pantomime - professional theatre tickets were too expensive for my family so amateur dramatics provided some theatrical hinterland for me.

Talking of  "The Winslow Boy" and Terrence Rattigan, I see that according to the Terrence Rattigan website, Chichester Theatre is going to do a Rattigan festival this summer.  I wonder which plays they will choose as they have done "The Winslow Boy", "Separate Tables" and "In Praise of Love" all fairly recently.
Mikeharvey

Hello Sandra, The Old Vic will shortly do Terence Rattigan's last play 'Cause Celebre' based on the famous 1930s Rattenbury murder case. The original cast included Glynis Johns.  I directed a production of this play a few years ago.  I suppose I've seen most of TR's plays over the years many in their first productions. And derived a lot of pleasure from them.  Especially 'The Sleeping Prince' (with Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, Martita Hunt, Jeremy Spenser), 'Separate Tables (with Margaret Leighton, Eric Portman), 'Variation on a Theme' (Margaret Leighton), 'Man and Boy' (Charles Boyer),  'Ross' (about Lawrence of Arabia with Alec Guinness), 'A Bequest to the Nation' (about Nelson with Ian Holm and Glenda Jackson). 'In Praise of Love' (on Broadway with Julie Harris and Rex Harrison). And many revivals of plays such as 'While the Sun Shines', 'Flare Path', 'French Without Tears', 'The Winslow Boy', 'The Deep Blue Sea'. Rattigan has been undervalued over the last forty years or so in the wake of writers like John Osborne, Joe Orton, Arnold Wesker and others, but I feel sure that he will be recalled to life.  I understand that there is a new film of 'The Deep Blue Sea' in the pipeline to be directed by Terence Davies with Rachel Weisz in the part created by Peggy Ashcroft.  There was an earlier film with Vivien Leigh and Emlyn Williams which seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth.  Rattigan also wrote some original screenplays, my favourite being the delightful 'The Final Test', a cricket comedy starring Robert Morley, Jack Warner and Adrienne Allen (Anna Massey's mother).

How could I have forgotten 'The Browning Version'?  With Michael Redgrave's marvellous performance in the film.  And Alec McOwen and Dorothy Tutin at the National Theatre.
Green Jay

Evie wrote:
...beat me on the bottom with a Woman's Weekly...


That's the one that was at the back of my mind - thank you! Heavenly.

Was there something about a hostess trolley too?
Green Jay

Mikeharvey wrote:
In one short sitting I read Michael Morpurgo's new children's book 'Not Bad For A Bad Lad'. It's a charming story, told by a grandad, about his teenage years when he was a delinquent and ended up in Borstal. There he discovers horses which become his salvation. A thoughtful and unsentimental story with lovely water-colours by Michael Foreman.  


Michael Foreman - I've been trying to think of the name of this illustrator for ages. We had a beautiful book of his in translucent blues and greens and pinks when my children were small. I only hope it is somewhere in the loft. Thank you so much, Mike, amazing how you can stumble across a useful bit of info where you least expect it.
Green Jay

Just going back to Victria Wood's lyrics, I wonder if she compiles lists of names of things that will work perfectly ? - Woman's Weekly, hostess trolley, balaclava - so British, so specific, so so funny.
Evie

Green Jay wrote:


Was there something about a hostess trolley too?


Bend me over backwards on me hostess trolley...

No matter how many times I watch/listen to it, it has me in stitches!
Mikeharvey

I sat down rather dubiously to watch BBC4's play 'Hattie' about the love-life of Hattie Jacques.  I was still a bit dubious at the end wondering whether it should have been made at all.  Why not let the woman rest in peace?  However, it was in the event, beautifully done, sensitive and careful. I had tears in my eyes at the end.  
I had been vaguely aware that Hattie Jacques was married to John Le Mesurier, but not aware that she had in the early 1960s fallen in love with a much younger man.  Eventually the lover moved in and there was an uneasy menage a trois until the inevitable divorce.
Ruth Jones made a brave and almost totally succesful attempt to play Hattie. She caught her charm and sweetness but I think missed the mischievous gaiety that underlies HJ's performances in films.  Robert Bathurst gave an exquisitely understated performance as John Le Mesurier.  And Aidan Turner was very sexy and desirable as the boyfriend. Famous characters like Eric Sykes and Eamonn Andrews popped up played by look-alikes.  I especially liked Marcia Warren as the tiny distraught Esma Cannon.  
There has been a number of biographical plays lately about well-known performers and writers casting the spotlight on their secret lives - Gracie Fields, Margot Fonteyn, Enid Blyton, Kenneth Williams.  I wonder who's next for the disecting table.  

Quite by chance shortly after seeing 'Hattie' I saw the Norman Wisdom film 'The Square Peg' in which Hattie Jacques plays a Wagnerian soprano having a liaison with Norman Wisdom's German Nazi officer.  Himdari, I think, referred to this recently when we were lamenting NW's death. The very funny scene where they sing a Schubert duet.  I have remembered a line from this film over many years.
Hattie Jacques to German Officer:  'A Pfennig for your thoughts, Otto.'
TheRejectAmidHair

Mikeharvey wrote:
Quite by chance shortly after seeing 'Hattie' I saw the Norman Wisdom film 'The Square Peg' in which Hattie Jacques plays a Wagnerian soprano having a liaison with Norman Wisdom's German Nazi officer.  Himdari, I think, referred to this recently when we were lamenting NW's death. The very funny scene where they sing a Schubert duet.  


The song they ... er ... "sing" ... is from Die Schoene Muellerin. It's actually a lovely song if sung properly, but ever since I first saw this film, aged about 10, and was rolling on the floor in helpless laughter at this scene, i haven't been able to take that song eriously.
Mikeharvey

Been chuckling over 'The Oxford Book of Parodies' (2010) edited by John Gross. I particularly enjoyed Henry Reed's parody of Thomas Hardy's 'Midnight on the Great Western'.  It seems to me to capture beautifully Hardy's characteristic tone and rhythm. And the coinage 'unbe' might very well be a word Hardy had invented or dug up.  This is the first stanza:

    What are you doing, oh high-souled lad,
        Writing a book about me?
        And peering so closely at good and bad,
        That one thing that you do not see:
        A shadow which falls on your writing-pad;
        It is not of a sort to make men glad.
        It were better should such unbe.  


There's also a very good parody of John Buchan from Alan Bennett's 'Forty Years On'.  The most parodied author is Wordsworth.  I suppose the success of a parody almost entirely depends on the reader recognising what's being parodied.  A non-reader would find the whole book incomprehensible.

The editor John Gross, died last week. He also edited 'New Oxford Book of English Prose', 'Oxford Book of Essays', 'Oxford Book of Aphorisms', 'After Shakespeare' and 'The Rise and Fall of the Man of Letters'.
Mikeharvey

I found Friday's BBC2 Review Show embarrassing.  The four guests embarked on a discussion of Peter Hall's National Theatre production of 'Twelfth Night' and three of them showed such appalling ignorance of the play and Shakespeare that I wondered what criteria had been used to invite them on the programme.  Rhona Cameron announced that she hadn't understood a word of it.  What is the point of having reviewers who appear to have no terms of reference?  Perhaps that was the point?  To discover the effect of a Shakespeare play on a Shakespeare innocent? Many people have no experience of Shakespeare but they really oughtn't to be on TV to talk about him. The fourth member of the panel was amiable Prof. John Carey who seemed bemused by the other three and whose views and opinions were some compensation for the inadequacies of the others.

I learned a new word yesterday - NOCEBO.  Which is the opposite of PLACEBO.
TheRejectAmidHair

Mikeharvey wrote:
I found Friday's BBC2 Review Show embarrassing.  The four guests embarked on a discussion of Peter Hall's National Theatre production of 'Twelfth Night' and three of them showed such appalling ignorance of the play and Shakespeare that I wondered what criteria had been used to invite them on the programme.  Rhona Cameron announced that she hadn't understood a word of it.  What is the point of having reviewers who appear to have no terms of reference?  


The point is they were "celebs" - "slebs" - and anything a "sleb" says (even Grade Z slebs) is fascinating.

Also, having people on television who know more about the subject than the audience may be seen as "talking down" or "elitist" or whatever.

The Late Review (or whatever title it gous under) has always been like this. The idea is that everyone is qualified to talk about everyting, and even an unsupported and unknowledgeable opinion can pass for analysis. Even when they did have knowledgeable people on, they weren't given time to talk knowledgeably. I remember Tom Paulin (who, as poet & academic, does know his stuff) beginning to talk about a few textual matters in Othello,  and they all shut him up quickly.
Chibiabos83

Going back a few posts...

I watched Hattie over the weekend and was entertained, though felt your apprehensions, Mike, about its having been made. I ended up thinking that if it weren't for the fact that we know and love the people these actors are portraying we might feel a lot less involved. Still enjoyable, though, and some very nice performances, particularly from Robert Bathurst as the lovely John Le Mesurier. I'm not sure Graham Fellows was quite right for Sykes, but it's just lovely to see him when he occasionally pops up on TV. And Marcia Warren was a fabulous Esma Cannon.

I've watched a couple of musicals recently that I think you're a fan of - Call Me Madam and The Band Wagon - both fun, and The Band Wagon particularly good. I'm not sure I'm an Ethel Merman person, but she does have some nice dialogue in Call Me Madam:

August Tantinnin (Walter Slezak): I want you to call me August.
Sally Adams (Ethel Merman): Well, that'll be soon enough.
Mikeharvey

Spent half this morning on the phone trying to organise a trip to Stratford on Avon in September.  I had difficulty at first getting through to the RSC ticket office and a voice warned there would be a long wait, fortunately I managed to nip in and booked good seats for 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' in the new theatre, and for the rare 'Cardenio', Massinger's 'The City Madam' and 'Pinter's 'The Homecoming' all in the Swan.  The lady who dealt with me was extraordinarily helpful when I requested aisle seats.  That done, I rang around to book a hotel. Phew! Now I just have to steel myself for the trip.   Haven't been to Stratford since I scattered Eric's ashes there.  

Saw Orson Welles' 1965 film 'Chimes at Midnight' his patchwork version/conflation of Henry 4 Parts 1 and 2, with bits of Henry V and Richard 2.  I enjoyed it and thought it was remarkably successful.  Welles has re-arranged the scenes to make Falstaff the chief character, beginning with the orchard scenes. I know these plays very well, so could follow what was happening, but it might be a bit confusing if one didn't.  But a good deal of the plays' glories come shining through.   It was filmed in Spain, and looks very un-English.  The Boars Head in Eastcheap seems to be somewhere on one of those rainy plains.  Welles is a superb Falstaff.  Almost definitive. Trevor Baxter is a splendid Prince Hal, tracing the complexities of his character in spite of the cuts.  John Gielgud is outstanding and marvellously spoken as Henry 4. Margaret Rutherford is a surprising Mistress Quickly, Norman Rodway is Hotspur, Alan Webb is Justice Shallow, and Jeanne Moreau an unlikely Doll Tearsheet. The battle scenes are very well handled indeed.  Welles appears to give Gielgud his head, allowing him long speeches in one shot.  The same with Margaret Rutherford who does the death of Falstaff beautifully in one take.  
What wonders these plays are!
And Falstaff's 'Who hath honour? - he that died o' Wednesday'. Is the most succinct comment on the idiocy of war and its alleged reasons that I know of.
Mikeharvey

Two short stories: 'The Brooch' by William Faulkner, an intense, tragic and claustrophobic tale about a young man and his new wife dominated by the man's bedridden mother.   And 'How's That, Umpire? (1950) a story with a cricket background by P.J. Wodehouse.  Maybe not one of Plum's most hilarious, but an amusing read nevertheless.  

Still reading 'The Song of Roland' and am up to stanza 170 (of 300). The style and idiom took some getting used to.  The stanzas are of varying length and instead of rhyme the poem uses assonance at the end of each line.  And sometimes the sound relationships can be a bit distant as shown in the stanza below.  The poem takes you into a strange world of chivalry and honour.  It can also be somewhat grim.

      Common the fight is now and marvellous,
      The count Rollanz no way himself secures,
      Strikes with his spear, long as the shaft endures,
      By fifteen blows it is clean broken through;
      Then Durrendal he bares, his sabre good
      Spurs on his horse, is gone to strike Chernuble,
      The helmet breaks, where bright carbuncles grew,
      Slices the cap and shears the locks in two,
      Slices also the eyes and the features,
      The hauberk white, whose mail was close of woof,
      Down to the groin cuts all his body through
      To the saddle; with beaten gold 'twas tooled.
      Upon the horse that sword a moment stood,
      Then sliced its spine, no join there any knew,
      Dead in the field among thick grass them threw.
      After he said, 'Culvert, false step you moved,
      From Mahomet your help will not come soon.
      No victory for gluttons such as you.'      

                                          (translated by C.K. Scott Moncrieff)
Mikeharvey

My Stratford tickets arrived this morning. I tried not to look at the total price.  I remember when I first went to Stratford I saw Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh in 'Macbeth', 'Twelfth Night' and Peter Brook's production of 'Titus Andronicus'. I sat in the front stalls for each, and each ticket cost 14/- (fourteen shillings) 70p. I also saw 'All's Well That Ends Well' and 'The Merry Wives of Windsor' with Anthony Quayle as Falstaff. Five plays for less than £5.00.  A Golden Age!  

Talking of 'Titus Andronicus' I just read the first interview in 'Playing Shakespeare' in which Brian Cox talks most interestingly about playing Titus.  This play has been restored to the repertoire in my lifetime, and in my experience always comes up better than one imagines it will.  One of W's earliest plays it seems to contain the seeds of 'Macbeth', 'King Lear','Coriolanus' and 'Richard III within it.

I was pleased to hear actor Greg Hicks interviewed on Radio4 today.  Hicks is not known to a very wide public, having largely shunned appearing on TV and films, but he has been playing good parts superbly at Stratford for the last twenty years. He's progressed through the company and is now a veteran playing leading parts.  A fine actor.  It's good that there are still actors around who are not seduced by the alleged glamour of other media.  William Houston is just such another Stratford stalwart, a fine Prince Hal and Coriolanus.
TheRejectAmidHair

Mikeharvey wrote:
My Stratford tickets arrived this morning. I tried not to look at the total price.  I remember when I first went to Stratford I saw Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh in 'Macbeth', 'Twelfth Night' and Peter Brook's production of 'Titus Andronicus'. I sat in the front stalls for each, and each ticket cost 14/- (fourteen shillings) 70p. I also saw 'All's Well That Ends Well' and 'The Merry Wives of Windsor' with Anthony Quayle as Falstaff. Five plays for less than £5.00.  A Golden Age!  


Don't tell me .. and you still had change out of a fiver for 'Tis Pity She's a Whore!  Very Happy

I remember well my first trip to Stratford. It was in 78, and I saw a wonderful production of Love’s Labour’s Lost directed by John Barton, with Michael Hordern as Don Armado, Jane Lapotaire & Michael Pennington as Rosaline and Berowne, and the supporting cast including the then relatively unknown actors Juliet Stevenson, Richard Griffiths, and Alan Rickman. And a few days later, I saw Measure for Measure, with Paola Dionisotti, Michael Pennington and Jonathan Pryce a respectively, Isabella, the Duke and Angelo, and John (“Bergerac”) Nettles almost stealing the show as Lucio.
Green Jay

Mikeharvey wrote:

I was pleased to hear actor Greg Hicks interviewed on Radio4 today.  Hicks is not known to a very wide public, having largely shunned appearing on TV and films, but he has been playing good parts superbly at Stratford for the last twenty years. He's progressed through the company and is now a veteran playing leading parts.  A fine actor.  It's good that there are still actors around who are not seduced by the alleged glamour of other media.  William Houston is just such another Stratford stalwart, a fine Prince Hal and Coriolanus.


Greg Hicks, is wonderful, isn't he? I'm afraid I've mainly followed him through his few and far between TV parts but he does stand out.
Mikeharvey

I spent a very pleasant hour watching the DVD of BBC's 'Three Men In A Boat' from 1975.  Tom Stoppard adapted the original Jerome K. Jerome beautifully, capturing its charm, its Englishness, and the humour. It was also a sort of historical trip with many of the interesting places on the journey pointed out. It looks lovely too, I wanted to be lazily sailing up the Thames in the sunshine with those three in the 1880s. Many favourite scenes survive, like the one where the men try to open a tin of pineapple without a tin-opener. And their obsession with ill-health. It's directed by Stephen Frears, and the three men are Stephen Moore, Michael Palin and Tim Curry.  I thought the dog playing Montmorency gave a good performance - but was really miscast.
Green Jay

What was wrong with the dog, Mike?
Mikeharvey

It was the wrong breed I think.  The film had a sort of woolly dog, if I remember correctly it should be a fox-terrier. But I could be wrong.
Mikeharvey

Saw the film 'Scandal' (1989) based on about five separate memoirs, about the early sixties furore concerning John Profumo, Christine Keeler, Stephen Ward, a Russian and others leading to the fall of the Conservative Government.  What a sordid and ultimately tragic tale.  I remember it well.  And of course that remark in court of call-girl Mandy Rice-Davies has entered the language.  In reply to a statement from a lawyer in court that Lord Astor denied having had sex with her she replied, 'Well, he would wouldn't he?' It's in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations.

Completed my reading of the eleventh century poem 'The Song of Roland', all 291 stanzas, and I've had my fill of battles and honour and violence.  The poem which was originally sung by minstrels, honours the memory of Roland, a Christian knight, fighting in Charlemagne's army against the Saracens in Spain in AD 778. Roland was defeated and died in battle.  The poem took me into a world far removed in values from 2011.  Although the particpants are very ready to slaughter and dismember, they are also much given to weeping copiously and lamenting at length over the deaths of comrades.  The poem is also relentlessly Christian and its attitude towards Islam would cause outrage today.  I learned the word OLIFANT which is a battle-horn fashioned from elephant ivory.

Passes the day, the darkness is grown deep,
But all the stars burn, and the moon shines clear.
And Sarraguce is in the Emperour's keep.
A thousand Franks he bids seek through the streets,
The synagogues and the mahumeries;
With iron malls and axes which they wield
They break the idols and the imageries;
So there remain no fraud or falsity.
That King fears God, and would do his service;
On water then Bishops their blessings speak,
And pagans bring into the baptistry.
If any Charles with contradiction meet
Then hanged or burned or slaughtered shall he be.
Five score thousand and more are thus redeemed,
Very Christians; save that alone the queen
To France the Douce goes in captivity:
By love the King will her conversion seek.  
Marita

Mikeharvey wrote:

 I learned the word OLIFANT which is a battle-horn fashioned from elephant ivory.


Olifant is also the Dutch word for elephant.


Marita
Ann

... and it is used in Tolkein for an elephant, or an elephant like creature, in The Lord of the Rings. In the LotR it is spelt oliphant,
Mikeharvey

Read a very interesting sort of ghost story by May Sinclair called 'The Finding of the Absolute'.  In it a philosopher dies, enters another world, meets Immanuel Kant, and has his ideas about what constitutes reality severely challenged.  

And the first essay in Simon Schama's new collection 'Scribble, Scribble, Scribble' about the maiden voyage of Queen Mary 2.

My new start-of-day reading is Byron's 'Childe Harold's Pilgrimage' (1813)  written in four cantos of many hundreds of Spenserian stanzas.  Byron had an amazing talent for rhyme and scansion. Is B. writing about himself here?  Berlioz was inspired by it.

Whilome in Albion's isle there dwelt a youth,
Who ne in virtue's ways did take delight;
But spent his days in riot most uncouth,
And vex'd with mirth the drowsy ear of night.
Ah me! in sooth he was a shamless wight,
Sore given to revel and ungodly glee;
Few earthly things found favour in his sight
Save concubines and carnal companie,
And flaunting wassailers of high and low degree.  
TheRejectAmidHair

Byron was always writing about himself! He never found anyone else who interested him quite so much!
Mikeharvey

'Childe Harold's Pilgrimage' is very, very readable. The first canto is mostly about Spain which is suffering from the ravages of the Napoleonic wars.  There is much about the beauty and desirability of Iberian women and a brilliant description of a bull-fight.  Over the last few years I've read several of these long poems which lie forsaken in Collected Editions, for the most part read only for examinations and then abandoned forever.  This is strange. I think you get a false impression of a poet's work if you read only the famous lyrics.  My appreciation of Keats has widened since reading 'Hyperion' and 'Endymion', and Shelley's 'The Revolt of Islam', and all of Tennyson's 'In Memoriam' and 'The Princess'. and can one really say one knows Wordsworth if one hasn't read 'The Prelude'?  And do you know Shakespeare if you haven't read 'Venus and Adonis' and 'The Rape of Lucrece'. How many of us have read ALL 'The Canterbury Tales'. But I've only found time to read these since I retired.  There remains much still un-tackled, like Tennyson's 'Idylls of the King' and Pope's 'Dunciad' and Elizabeth Barrett Browning's 'Aurora Leigh' and 'Spenser's wonderful ' Faerie Queen'. I have tried TWICE to read Browning's 'The Ring and the Book' and been defeated in spite of having a lovely two-volume illustrated edition.   But I have actually read one of the most famous best-selling long poems of the 19thC - Lalla Rookh' (1817) a romantic oriental farrago by Thomas Moore.

BBC Radio4 yesterday broadcast a complete reading of TS Eliot's 'The Waste Land'. They had very cleverly spliced together three readers - TS Eliot himself, Ted Hughes and actress Lia Williams.  I lay on the sofa and listened with eyes closed.  Marvellous.
TheRejectAmidHair

That’s quite challenging, Mike, and I agree: one can’t know a poet merely from reading a few lyrics, and this is an area where I can’t claim too much expertise.

I have read all of Milton’s longer poems – Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes. I’ve read both the 1805 text (twice) and the 1850 text of The Prelude, which, I think, contains some of my favourite pieces of English poetry outside Shakespeare. And I have read Keats’ Endymion and The Eve of St Agnes, and Shelley’s Adonais and Prometheus Unbound. But that’s about it as far as long poems go, I think, (And I nearly forgot – I’ve read The Four Quartets as well.)

I have read all of The Canterbury Tales, but only in Neville Coghill’s modern English version: I’ve no more than dipped into Chaucer’s original version. The Faerie Queene is one of the many unread masterpieces, and I confess to feeling rather intimidated by it. Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucece I read so long ago, that I really remember nothing about them: it’s a bit like not having read them at all.

I’ve read Pope’s Dunciad but not Essay on Man. And although I love Dryden, I have only read excerpts from Absalom and Achitophel.

With the Romantics, despite my love of Wordsworth, I have yet to tackle The Excursion or The Recluse. Shelley’s The Revolt of Islam, Keats’ Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion I have yet to read. Even Byron’s Don Juan I have yet to read in its entirety.

The Brownings – both of them – are so far a closed book to me. Tennyson’s Maud I read only on your recommendation: I have yet to read Idylls of the King or [iIn Memoriam[/i].

And, on top of all this, I haven’t even touched Pound’s Cantos.

And what about contemporary poets? Derek Walcott’s Omeros seems worth a look, at least!
Mikeharvey

That's a very impressive list, Himadri, and I suspect can't easily be matched.  I have to admit that Dryden is rather a virgin area for me, although I have read some of his versions of Chaucer. In my list I forgot to include Arthur Hugh Clough's epistolary novel in verse 'Amour de Voyages' which I read recently in a reprint by Persephone Books not so long ago. I have a sort of warm pleasurable feeling when I realise that I shall never run out of poets to read.  But there are many that I don't suppose I will ever get round to. People like Michael Drayton and his monumental poetic tour of England 'Poly-Olbion, and what about the indefatigable Southey with his seemingly never-ending romances? And we haven't even mentioned Dante (I've read Inferno), 'Orlando Furioso' or the poets of antiquity like Virgil (I've read the Georgics and the Aeneid) and Horace.  I have the Odes unread.  And I have at least three editions of varying sumptuousness of Golding's translation of Ovid's 'Metamorphoses' (one illustrated by Picasso) which I have many times read sections of.
In my case, I was turned onto poetry by my English teacher who was a lover of Keats and a Shakespeare enthusiast, and my desire to read poetry has persisted all my life.  If Eng. Lit at school does not turn pupils into readers and lovers of literature what on earth is the point of it?  Or indeed, dare I say it, eleven or twelve years of schooling at all?  I'm often reminded of Lady Bracknell's remark 'Fortunately in England education produces no effect whatsoever, if it did it would prove a serious danger to the Upper Classes and probably lead to acts of violence in Grosvenor Square.'
Mikeharvey

Is Byron writing about the Elgin Marbles here?  

    Cold is the heart, fair Greece! that looks on thee,
    Nor feels as lovers o'er the dust they loved;
    Dull is the eye that will not weep to see
    Thy walls defaced, thy mouldering shrines removed
    By British hands, which it had best behoved
    To guard those relics ne'er to be restored.
    Curst be the hour when from their isle they roved,
    And once again thy hapless bosom gored,
    And snatch'd thy shrinking Gods to northern climes abhorr'd!
Mikeharvey

I finally completed my reading of George Eliot’s MIDDLEMARCH by George Eliot which I began in early January, so it’s taken me about a month. My late partner was always pestering me to read this book because he liked it so much, and my reading of it was, in  a way, doing what he wished.  I had already had two attempts to read it and gave up after about fifty pages, but this time I persevered and enjoyed it.  I think the problem with reading George Eliot is that, with her being a mid-Victorian, one expects her to be like Dickens or Thackeray with all their exuberance and panache, full of animation and larger-than-life characters, and it takes a little while to accept that Mary Anne Evans is of quite a different order. ‘Middlemarch’ is a very leisurely, serious book, though not without humour. I often found myself balking at yet another chapter which, I could see in advance, was heavy with long paragraphs in a rather didactic style.  Eliot often lets us know, through her characters, her views on a variety of subjects.  However, I got used to this, and it’s an essential part of the novel’s character.  Tiny reservations aside, it’s an absorbing, realistic study of provincial English life in a Midland town in the 1830s. There’s a large cast of marvellously drawn characters: Dorothea Brooke and her marriage with dry-as-dust Casaubon - entered into for the wrong reasons -, the doctor Lydgate and his marriage to the rather shallow Rosamund Vincy – the feckless Fred Vincy, the attractive Will Ladislaw whose eventual union with Dorothea takes 800 pages to arrive at, and the unfortunate Mr Bulstrode whose dubious past catches up with him in the last quarter of the novel.  I rather felt that the Bulstrode story, which links several other characters with him, had the air of melodramatic complications brought in by Eliot to liven up the final pages of a book which was in danger of wandering on forever.  Although ‘Middlemarch’ never leaves the confines of the town we are often, through the conversations and preoccupations of the characters, reminded of a world outside. We hear about the Reform Bill, railway development, the royal family, medical practice and religion.  There is a host of minor characters, like a chorus, commenting on the actions and behaviour of the chief protagonists.   The book ends with one of those satisfying chapters in which the author ties up all the loose ends.  Well, I finally read it Eric, and you’ll be pleased to know I enjoyed it.  Martin Amis called it the greatest novel in English.  I'll now watch the BBC dramatisation.
TheRejectAmidHair

Middlemarch is, as you say, very far from those big, flamboyant Dickensian novels. It speaks in a quiet voice, and tells of apparently unremarkable lives of apparently unremarkable people. I’d be tempted to refer to it as “Chekhovian”, were it not that it predates Chekhov. And, like Chekhov, Eliot too is interested in the waste of
unfulfilled aspirations, of life passing one by unnoticed. And also, I think, in the possibility of snatching some measure of happiness out of it all. Despite its great length, the themes of Middlemarch aren’t epic: they are everyday. I think Uncle Vanya the three Pozorov sisters and their brother Andrei, would all have felt very much at home in Middlemarch. Indeed, Andrei and Lydgate could exchange stories on how their youthful aspirations had come to nothing after making a bad marriage. Lydgate had once dreamt of being a pioneering scientist, but finally settles for being a fashionable society doctor, a success in everyone’s eyes but his own. Could he not have come out of a Chekhov short story?

Like Lydgate, Dorothea Brooke also makes a bad marriage, and all her lofty aspirations, too, are wrecked. But she is luckier than Lydgate. In accepting the everyday, the ordinary, she finds a measure of happiness from it.  Perhaps she is not too far removed from Yulia in “Three Years”.

Of course, Eliot was in many ways a very different writer from Chekhov, but for all that, I can’t help but see at least a few parallels.
Evie

I love the way Eliot ties those main threads together in Middlemarch - making something epic out of the everyday, to reuse Himadri's words.  She centres these threads around characters of depth and substance - all of them flawed, even Dorothea, who seems at first so self-possessed and mature, but only when she has made her disastrous marriage does she realise that she *does* need the things a young woman wants from a marriage - love and warmth and companionship.  

Lydgate, of course, needs someone like Dorothea, who would have sorted him out, but his fatal flaw is his weakness for a pretty face.

Bulstrode tries to cover up his past failings with religious fervour, and ends up a hypocrite as well as virtually a murderer.

The biggest flaw in the novel for me is that Will Ladislaw is not as well drawn a character as some of the others, and the union with Dorothea therefore seems unequal and a little unsatisfactory.  But it's a relatively minor flaw, in that we do want the right thing for both of them, and want them to be happy.

But it's all so well constructed, and she sustains such wonderful control over her characters and the intertwining of their lives, and explores so much of what it means to be human - in a way that is not bound in its own time, the same foibles, aspirations, disappointments, causes of happiness, etc, are just the same today.

I love the ultimate message - encapsulated in that last wonderful line, about how those who affect the world the most lie in unvisited tombs - a championing of those who simply live their lives for the good of those around them, and don't seek what is beyond their reach - a message much needed in our celebrity-driven world, peopled by those whose claim to fame is so superficial that it is in any case meaningless!

Mike, the TV adaptation is excellent - one of those wonderfully cast dramas, where I can't think of anyone to fault - and Andrew Davies did a wonderful job with the script and condensing the novel without losing any of the threads.  Patrick Malahide is particularly noteworthy as Casaubon, and Peter Jeffrey as Bulstrode, but they are all wonderful - and of course Rufus Sewell is an utterly gorgeous Will Ladislaw!
Mikeharvey

Thank you Himadri and Evie for those illuminating comments about 'Middlemarch'.  And I can see that there are parallels to be made between Eliot and Chekhov, I hadn't thought of that.  And thanks, Evie, for reminding me about those beautiful and moving last lines which I had intended to quote but forgot as I was interrupted by a person from Porlock - well, the next street.  
So -  I've now read 'Middlemarch' and 'Silas Marner'. What next of Eliot's? I find it strange that I haven't read 'The Mill on the Floss'. I have never met anyone who has read 'Romola' and had a good word to say about it. I have a volume of Eliot's Essays somewhere. I must look for it, I seem to remember a good one about Silly Novels.  Eliot is not one of those writers one would like to meet is she?  I can imagine sitting on a sofa in her parlour, balancing a cup of tea, and not knowing how to answer her searching questions.....
TheRejectAmidHair

Adam Bede is the next Eliot novel on my To-Be-Read list. It was apparently a great favourite of Dickens.

(Dickens died just  a few years before the publication of Middlemarch: one wonders what he'd have made of that!)

The Mill on the Floss is superb as well.
Castorboy

Mikeharvey wrote:
Is Byron writing about the Elgin Marbles here?  

    Cold is the heart, fair Greece! that looks on thee,
    Nor feels as lovers o'er the dust they loved;
    Dull is the eye that will not weep to see
    Thy walls defaced, thy mouldering shrines removed
    By British hands, which it had best behoved
    To guard those relics ne'er to be restored.
    Curst be the hour when from their isle they roved,
    And once again thy hapless bosom gored,
    And snatch'd thy shrinking Gods to northern climes abhorr'd!

I have a feeling that the taking of Greek artefacts was quite the thing before Elgin nicked the Marbles in 1816!
Yasmin

I've lost count of how many times I've started reading Middlemarch; one day I WILL finish it. I'm not sure why it gets abandoned so often; I like the style, find it entertaining, I do want to know how they all get on...yet it's still to be read completely.

I'm currently re-reading A Fine Balance, as this is the book I'm to give away for World Book Night so thought I ought to refresh my memory of it; and Passion - Jude Morgan, which is about the Romantic poets' women-ish!

This was the January read from another book group so I'm a little late. It's not a book I would have chosen from its cover, nor the blurb on that cover but I am enjoying it. There's a great deal of conjecture and poetic licence in it; but I am enjoying the style in which it's written.

I have put Middlemarch on my TBR pile...again.
Marita

Yasmin, perhaps what you need to succeed with Middlemarch is a Big Readers Group Read. Books like The Brothers Karamazov, A Suitable Boy, The Tin Drum and others have been tackled successfully that way.

Marita
Mikeharvey

I forgot that I read George Eliot's 'Daniel Deronda' years ago.

Having recently seen the 1989 film 'Scandal' about the Christine Keeler/John Profumo/ Stephen Ward news sensation of the early sixties I was curious enough to start reading 'The Trial of Stephen Ward' by Ludovic Kennedy.  Fascinating and most interesting.   I also tracked down the marvellous Pet Shop Boys song about the scandal called 'Nothing Has Been Proved' sung by Dusty Springfield.  You can see the brilliant video of this on YouTube. It has Dusty singing it interspersed with shots from the film and newsreel of the original people involved. Superb.

Why doesn't Mark Twain make me laugh more?  I know he's supposed to. I just read his short story 'The Facts Concerning the Recent Carnival of Crime in Connecticut' about a man visited by his Conscience and could barely raise a smile.  But I think 'Huckleberry Finn' is marvellous.
TheRejectAmidHair

Many of Mark Twain’s shorter works are really transcriptions from his speeches & lectures – or, as we’d call the now, his “stand-up routines”. And of course, shorn of the comic timing of the speaker, scripts of stand-up routines aren’t always that funny.

I believe that back in the 70s, the American actor Hal Holbrook used to do very successful one-man shows playing Mark Twain, with the material based on Twain’s shorter stories and sketches. It's a bit similar, I suppose, to Simon Callow's one-man shows playing Dickens.
Green Jay

Mikeharvey wrote:

So -  I've now read 'Middlemarch' and 'Silas Marner'. What next of Eliot's? I find it strange that I haven't read 'The Mill on the Floss'. I have never met anyone who has read 'Romola' and had a good word to say about it. I have a volume of Eliot's Essays somewhere. I must look for it, I seem to remember a good one about Silly Novels.  Eliot is not one of those writers one would like to meet is she?  I can imagine sitting on a sofa in her parlour, balancing a cup of tea, and not knowing how to answer her searching questions.....


Mike, I do recommend you look for George Eliot's Collected Letters. They bring out such a human character and show she could also, surprisingly, be a bit more of a larf than in the novels. Her circumstances with George Lewes were very difficult for her socially, as any woman who still wanted even to take tea with her would sacrifice their own reputation - and therefore their family's - to do so. Men it seems, were not so sullied. How times have changed.
Evie

Marita - Middlemarch was the first of our group reads, way back in the days of the BBC board.  I got frustrated when so many people said they were put off because it was so long, so we read it in chunks, and a number of people joined in.  Maybe it's time to do it again!
Mikeharvey

Byron's 'Childe Harold' surprised me with some very Wordsworthian moments like this:  

                    I live not in myself, but I become
                    Portion of that around me; and to me
                    High mountains are a feeling, but the hum
                    Of human cities torture;  I can see
                    Nothing to loathe in nature, save to be
                    A link reluctant in a fleshly chain,
                    Class’d among creatures, when the soul can flee,
                    And with the sky, the peak, the heaving plain
                    Of ocean, or the stars, mingle, and not in vain.

Ludovic Kennedy's 'The Trial Of Stephen Ward' (1964) is a very sparkling piece of writing.  I remember the whole scandalous business in 1963 well with the bizarre connections between society osteopath Ward, prostitutes Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies, a Russian, Lord Astor, slum landlord Rachmann, and Cabinet Minister, John Profumo who had to resign as MP. Events eventually led to the collapse of the Conservative government.  It ended in tragedy with Ward, on dubious trial for living off immoral earnings, committing suicide while the trial was still proceeding.  Kennedy attended every day of the trial and observes it in great detail. His book brings all these people vividly to life, especially the prosecutor Mr Griffith-Jones, who is like something out of Dickens. Griffith-Jones had asked the famous question in the Lady Chatterley trial; 'Is this the kind of book you would like your servants to read?'  
Ludovic Kennedy also reminded me that at the time of the trial there were lots of scurrilous jokes going around, like: Q. 'What newspapers does Christine Keeler take?'   A. 'One Mail, two Mirrors, a New Statesman every week, and any number of Times.'  
Another one asked: 'How did Christine Keeler escape from Holloway?'  Big Readers might be rather shocked if I post the answer.
TheRejectAmidHair

Mikeharvey wrote:
Ludovic Kennedy also reminded me that at the time of the trial there were lots of scurrilous jokes going around, like: Q. 'What newspapers does Christine Keeler take?'   A. 'One Mail, two Mirrors, a New Statesman every week, and any number of Times.'


Very Happy
 
Mikeharvey wrote:
Another one asked: 'How did Christine Keeler escape from Holloway?'  Big Readers might be rather shocked if I post the answer.


Go on - you can't leave it there!  Very Happy

Those lines of Byron do convey a Wordsworthian emotion, but for some reason I think I  need to think about, I didn't get from it the authentic Wordworthian voice: the voice is still recognisably Byronic.
Mikeharvey

Q: How did Christine Keeler escape from Holloway?
A:  Stephen Ward stuffed her through the bars.

Sorry....
TheRejectAmidHair

Very Happy
iwishiwas

Embarassed
Marita

Evie wrote:
Marita - Middlemarch was the first of our group reads, way back in the days of the BBC board.  I got frustrated when so many people said they were put off because it was so long, so we read it in chunks, and a number of people joined in.  Maybe it's time to do it again!

I don’t think I joined that group read, Evie. Either I was still a lurker back then or I didn’t have a copy of Midddlemarch yet. I’ve read it twice since then but I would join a group read if there was one.

Marita
Mikeharvey

I discovered that George Eliot wrote a sequence of sonnets about her relationship with her brother Isaac from who she became estranged.     This is the first of the sequence.          

                   I cannot chose but think upon the time
                   When our two lives grew like two buds that kiss
                   At lightest thrill from the bee’s swinging chime,
                   Because the one so near the other is.

                   He was the elder and a little man
                   Of forty inches, bound to show no dread,
                   And I the girl that puppy-like now ran,
                   Now lagged behind my brother’s larger tread.

                   I held him wise, and when he talked to me
                   Of snakes and birds, and which God loved the best,
                   I thought his knowledge marked the boundary
                   Where men grew blind, though angels knew the rest.

                   If he said ‘hush!’  I tried to hold my breath
                   Wherever he said ‘Come!’ I stepped in faith.

Started to re-read J.B.Priestley's picaresque novel 'The Good Companions' which I last read fifty years ago.  It's mostly about Jess Oakroyd, an unhappily married Yorkshireman, who leaves home; and Miss Trant, a discontented spinster, who leaves home too. They both join an itinerant theatre company called 'The Good Companions', and have all sorts of adventures.  There have been at least two fim versions, a TV series and a memorable stage musical which starred John Mills and Judi Dench. In re-reading this I'm re-visiting an old friend.
Green Jay

Mikeharvey wrote:

Started to re-read J.B.Priestley's picaresque novel 'The Good Companions' which I last read fifty years ago.  It's mostly about Jess Oakroyd, an unhappily married Yorkshireman, who leaves home; and Miss Trant, a discontented spinster, who leaves home too. They both join an itinerant theatre company called 'The Good Companions', and have all sorts of adventures.  ... In re-reading this I'm re-visiting an old friend.


That was one of my father's favourite novels. I read it with pleasure, but a very long time ago. How lovely to be reminded of it.
Mikeharvey

This stanza in Byron's 'Childe Harold' reminded me of Shelley's 'Ozymandias'.  I wonder which came first.  But it IS a universal thought I suppose.    

                     Cypress and ivy, weed and wallflower grown
                     Matted and mass’d together, hillocks heap’d
                     On what were chambers, arch crush’d, column strown
                     In fragments, choked up vaults, and frescos steep’d
                     In subterranean damps, where the owl peep’d,
                     Deeming it midnight: - Temples, baths, or halls?
                     Pronounce who can; for all that learning reap’d
                     From her research hath been, that these are walls –
                     Behold the Imperial Mount! ‘tis thus the mighty falls.

I just tried to change my accompanying photo, but failed.  The new one, which I thought had smaller dimensions, just wouldn't upload.  My PC can sometimes be a mystery. Incidentally, I think Himadri and I are the only two Big Readers who have revealed what we actually look like.  So I find myself trying to imagine contributors' appearances from the tone of their postings and their nom-de-computer. Absurd, I know, and certainly completely wrong. Come on boys and girls, don't be shy!
TheRejectAmidHair

Mikeharvey wrote:
Incidentally, I think Himadri and I are the only two Big Readers who have revealed what we actually look like.  


I don't look like Christopher Lee - honest!  Very Happy
Chibiabos83

<------------ and this is a photograph.
Evie

Mike Alexander also uses a photo of himself.  I genuinely don't have any recent photos of myself (thank goodness!), and the beauty of the internet is that I can look how I want.  I prefer to look like a 15C version of Mary Magdalen!  :0)
Gul Darr

Apart from wearing glasses, albeit in a completely different style, I look very different from my avatar. I think I prefer to remain incognito; it's nice not to be judged by appearances Smile
Marita

My avatar is my middle name. Rosa was also the name of my great-grandmother who died when my grandmother was still a little girl.

Marita
Mikeharvey

I wonder if my posting a picture of the Real Me is because the actor in me is still very much in evidence. The desire to be noticed dies hard.  (No, I wasn't neglected as a child). My album on Facebook has dozens of pictures of me from babyhood to 'the lean and slippered pantaloon' - it's a kind of pictorial autobiography.

Saw an interesting programme about the history of the book on BBC4 yesterday, followed by a survey of the 18thC novel.  Things are looking up. I really must have a go at 'Clarissa' of which a huge two-volume edition stands unread on my shelves.  Margaret Drabble, giving her opinion on 'Clarissa', condemned it severely for reasons I can't remember. I think she said that she couldn't bear even to pick it up.

Learned a new word this morning - SEXTING.  Which, if you don't know it already, means - the practice, current among schoolchildren and teenagers, of taking 'indecent' pictures of themselves or others and then distributing them by 'phone or email to all and sundry.  It's causing much distress it seems.

Lovely day today. Springlike. Hundreds of green spikes thrusting up through the soil.   Even the rose-tree and the buddleia, which my gardners committed serious mayhem upon last autumn, are showing faint signs of life.  The primula was out ages ago.
TheRejectAmidHair

Mikeharvey wrote:
Saw an interesting programme about the history of the book on BBC4 yesterday, followed by a survey of the 18thC novel.  Things are looking up. I really must have a go at 'Clarissa' of which a huge two-volume edition stands unread on my shelves.  Margaret Drabble, giving her opinion on 'Clarissa', condemned it severely for reasons I can't remember. I think she said that she couldn't bear even to pick it up.


On this occasion, it's best to ignore what Margaret Drabble says. Clarissa is magnificent.
Ann

I saw that programme too, Mike. I think Maragaret Drabble was dismayed by the 'just' punishment of a fallen woman. I liked the biographies and pictures of all the early novelists and found it more interesting than the Sebastian Faulkes programme.
Yasmin

I found the Faulks programme too centred on TV and film clips. I did enjoy The Birth of the British Novel though and will be watching again.
Mikeharvey

I thought the BBC4 programme on the 18thC novel was very good.  The presenter (whose name I've forgotten)  talked succinctly and interestingly within an hour on Defoe, Richardson, Fielding, Swift, Sterne, Horace Walpole and Fanny Burney.  He was very enthusiastic about 'Tristram Shandy' which he said was the first, and still the best, experimental novel in English Literature.  He also liked Fanny Burney's 'Evelina' which I must seek out. He said it was a mistake to regard FB as a subsitute Jane Austen.  He also talked about William Godwin's 'Caleb Williams'.  I read this book a year or two ago and share his enthusiasm for this strange novel about persecution and imprisonment.  The programme also included a tour of Horace Walpole's gothic fantasy house, Strawberry Hill, near Twickenham. Apparently it was the setting for his 'The Castle of Otranto'.  I'd love to see this.  BUT -   the programme entirely ignored Tobias Smollett, who must surely be included among the giants of the 18thC novel.

Yesterday I picked up my copy of The Apocrypha and read The Book of Tobit.  It seemed to me more fairy-tale than what I think of as a typical Bible story. Tobit is an old man who becomes blind after being infected with sparrow droppings.  His son, Tobias, goes on a journey to collect a long-standing debt accompanied by his dog and the archangel Rafael in disguise.  The story also includes a young woman accused of killing her husband on each of her seven wedding nights - actually it's a Demon - and there's a magic fish whose innards can cure blindness.  It seemed to me a Jewish folk-tale that had been appropriated by the writers of the Scriptures who sprinkled the tale with references to Jehovah. There's also a character called Edna. I didn't know this was a Biblical name. I wonder if Barrie Humphries knows.....
Caro

I must seek out these couple of television programmes that people are talking about.  Have a feeling the Faulks one might clash with the birth programme my kids watch!

Michael,  I thought I would pick your brains. In the Guardian (who knows which day - as my husband said, it's a wonder anyone does any work in Britain as it takes three days to read the paper) there was a review of Goodnight Mister Tom at the Chichester Theatre.  The reviewer, Lyn Gardner, said there were lovely things about the production, but she (he?) wished it had taken more artistic risks.  The last sentence said, "It's a decent, warm-hearted play, but theatre has moved on, and children's theatre shouldn't be left behind.'

How exactly has theatre moved on?    We only go to two or three plays a year so I don't know quite what that means.

Cheers, Caro.
Castorboy

Mikeharvey wrote:
Learned a new word this morning - SEXTING.  Which, if you don't know it already, means - the practice, current among schoolchildren and teenagers, of taking 'indecent' pictures of themselves or others and then distributing them by 'phone or email to all and sundry.  It's causing much distress it seems.

An hour after I saw your post it was on the news that some schools have banned cell-phones from showers and changing rooms so that pictures can't be taken. Some people have been questioning why children need 'phones these days. Do parents really need to speak to their children during the day? When we were at school we were quite pleased to be away from contact with our parents for a few hours – and probably vice versa!

A lawyer who was asked his opinion on the privacy issue of taking explicit pictures suggested that a simple notice on the walls of changing rooms etc, saying that anyone caught with unauhorised pictures would be liable for a breach of privacy charge could be a sufficient deterrent. But would that really deter anyone under 20 these days?
Mikeharvey

Hello Caro,
I haven't seen that production of 'Goodnight Mister Tom' and I haven't seen the review in the Guardian.  From what I know of that play it is a somewhat quiet and touching story told in a traditional manner through dialogue scenes. I suspect that the reviewer is talking about innovation and experiment in the theatre such as the use of puppets in 'War Horse', the use of film, the use of specific locations like the recent production of 'The Railway Children' at Waterloo station.  The National Theatre has built a solid reputation with its children's plays using full theatrical resources like 'War Horse', 'Coram Boy' and 'His Dark Materials'.  I am all for innovation, and children's theatre should be out there in the avant garde, but there is still a place for theatre that tells its stories in a more traditional manner.  The Royal Shakespeare Co is currently playing to full houses at Stratford with its musical version of Roald Dahl's 'Matilda'. It would be a sorry day if all plays were presented in the same manner.
Mikeharvey

Been reading the story of Samson from the Book of Judges in the Old Testament.  I thought I knew this, but it was (apart from Delilah and the hair), unfamiliar.  I was interested to discover the source of the picture and quotation 'Out of the strong came forth sweetness' on the side of a Lyle's Golden Syrup tin, showing a dead lion and bees.  It seems that Samson had killed a lion and, when he returned to its body, discovered that bees had nested in the carcass and produced honey.  Hence the quotation.  Samson was somewhat cavalier in his attitude towards animals.  To revenge himself on the Philistines he ties the tails of pairs of jackals and foxes together with fire-brands, sets fire to them, and looses the crazed animals into the Philistines' fields and burns their crops.  And  he uses the jawbone of an ass to smite his enemies.  Of course it was dead already.  

Signed up for exercise classes designed for 'older' people at a nearby gym yesterday.  A very fit (in all senses of the word) young man interviewed me, and took my blood-pressure and weight, height, waist measurement etc.  And I had to fill in a questionnaire - with several boxes to tick on a scale of one to five. One of the questions was 'Do you feel unloved?'  Well, the woman in Sainsbury's is always very friendly.
Mikeharvey

Just started to read Annie Proulx's latest book 'Bird Cloud' (2011). It's principally a memoir about how she builds her house in Wyoming. But it also ranges widely over her life and ancestry, and has much about the landscape, history and wild-life of the area where she lives.  I think I;m going to enjoy this.

Just found the 1911 census on-line, and at my first attempt hit on my grandfather, William Harvey, and his family, living in Stone, Staffordshire.  It was a curious feeling to see my dad's name there, among seven siblings.  Ellis Harvey - age 10 - at school.  And the names of all my aunts and uncles as children.
Gul Darr

Mike, I love the story of Samson. I remember being in a drama workshop where we had to put together a five minute drama in a given style and our group had to perform it as a melodrama; we really hammed it up!
Mikeharvey

Annie Proulx's 'Bird Cloud' is most absorbing.  It's a very discursive book, and there is much about wild-life and landscape and ecology.  If you like Roger Deakin and Richard Mabey you'll probably like this.
Freyda

Mikeharvey wrote:
Annie Proulx's 'Bird Cloud' is most absorbing.  It's a very discursive book, and there is much about wild-life and landscape and ecology.  If you like Roger Deakin and Richard Mabey you'll probably like this.


This does sound like a book I would enjoy.

I'm always very impressed by how much you read, Mike, and how wide the subject matter is. I'm sure you will say it is easier because you are retired, but your comments on your reading are trenchant. I find my mind is getting fuzzier the older I get, not sharper. Oh dear.
Evie

I will try the Annie Proulx too - I have stopped reading her books, having been disappointed by everything of hers I have tried since the fabulous Shipping News, but this does sound appealing.
Mikeharvey

I very much like Annie Proulx's short stories. Rather more than her novels none of which I've been able to finish.  Her last collection 'Fine just the Way It Is' I thought splendid. Especially 'Them Old Cowboy Songs' which is heartbtreakingly sad.  

Having an indulgent time re-watching the BBC series from 1987 'My Family and Other Animals' based on Gerald Durrell's book.  It's enchanting, and looks beautiful. I just want to BE THERE in Corfu in that gorgeous landscape with that rather crazy family. Stars Hannah Gordon and Brian Blessed.  Oh, how lovely to be almost anywhere today on the Mediterranean coast!   I think maybe Sicily?  Yes, Taormina with that view of Etna through the ruins of the Greek theatre........

Hoped to start an excercise regime at the gym today with other Senior Citizens, but I woke up with a bad cold this morning, so I've put it off this week. However, yesterday I went on an organised walk for olduns which I coped with OK. Not just a healthy thing to do but I met some new people and had a good conversation as we walked.
Evie

I love that adaptation of My Family and Other Animals - crazy but idyllic.
Mikeharvey

Read a story from Hanif Kureishi's Collected Stories which I chose at random.   'The Flies' is a sinister tale about an unhapily married couple whose house is infested by flies which cause decay and all sorts of problems. And their neighbours too. They call in pest control who try various methods but......
I suspect it's all a metaphor.

Having read about Samson in the Bible I've tracked down Milton's 'Samson Agonistes' and read about a quarter.  Not an easy read by any means. But who reads Milton for light relief?  Just acquired a fine set of The Oxford Illustrated Old Testament in five volumes published in 1969. Beautifully produced with illustrations by, among others, Edward Ardizzone, John Bratby, Peter Blake, David Hockney, Lynton Lamb.  

Over two-hundred pages into J.B. Priestley's 'The Good Companions' which is fun, and as entertaining as I remembered.  

Saw the BBC4 programme about the history of British Sculptors. Most informative.  Is it possible for the public to walk into London University buildings and look at the John Flaxman sculptures which have a special display there?
TheRejectAmidHair

Hello Mike, I’ve taken the liberty of moving the post you inadvertently made in the other thread to this one, and deleting it from the other thread. Hope that’s OK!

And when I get a bit fof time later today, I’d love to have a chat about Samson Agonistes.

Cheers, Himadri
Mikeharvey

Thanks for moving my post, Himadri.
I remember that years ago Michael Redgrave starred in a stage production of 'Samson Agonistes' at Chichester. From reports it was not remarkably entertaining.  
Michael
MikeAlx

I bought a second-hand copy of Samson Agonistes some years back, but I'm afraid it loiters on my shelves unread. Maybe when I'm retired I'll get round to all these books...  Wink What seduced me into buying it was the quotations that Patrick Hamilton used so effectively in Hangover Square.
Mikeharvey

I seem to remember a line from Alan Bennett - someone recalling an amateur dramatic society - 'Who can forget their trailblazing stab at 'Samson Agonistes''?
Chibiabos83

Mikeharvey wrote:
I seem to remember a line from Alan Bennett - someone recalling an amateur dramatic society - 'Who can forget their trailblazing stab at 'Samson Agonistes''?

That's wonderful, Mike! A line like that shouldn't be funny out of context, but for some reason I find it hilarious. Perhaps it's being able to hear it in Alan Bennett's voice.
MikeAlx

Did you guys catch the Alan Bennett interview on the Guardian Books podcast back in December? Very interesting, I thought.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/a.../03/alan-bennett-first-book-award
Chibiabos83

I did hear it, but I'm afraid I thought Simon Hattenstone was a very poor interviewer with not enough knowledge of Bennett's work. Perhaps my memory is deceiving me and I'm doing him an injustice. Not a patch on Mark Lawson's recent TV interview with him, though.

(Actually, Hattenstone's write-up here is a lot better than I remember the interview being: http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/2010/nov/23/alan-bennett-interview)
TheRejectAmidHair

Sorry, Mike, i never did get round to that chat on Samson Agonistes. I haven't forgotten though - I'll get bck to it! In the mantime, if you really want to experience this as drama, your first port of call should be Handel's magnificent oratorio Samson - which is based on Milton's poem, but is far more dramatic. It's a mighty work that really does put the fear of God into you!
Castorboy

I have a copy of Samson Agonistes on my shelves - unread of course - published by Cambridge University Press in 1904. Methinks I need a classical TBR list.
Mikeharvey

I have to admit that 'Samson Agonistes' is a bit of a plod.  I'm really only reading it because it's by Milton, and felt I should.  For completeness.
Himadri, I saw a stage production of Handel's 'Samson' at Covent Garden with Jon Vickers in the title-role. Excellent.
Mikeharvey

Browsing through a film mag I noticed several new films with a literary connection, filming or finished.

'Anonymous' is about Shakespeare, and the Earl of Oxford, and who wrote the plays. Directed by Roland (Independence Day) Emmerich. With Rhys Ifans as Oxford, Vanessa Redgrave as Queen Elizabeth.

'The Woman in Black' from Susan Hill by way of Hammer, with Daniel Ratcliffe. Looks good fom the pictures, but who can tell? Also has Ciaran Hinds and Janet McTeer.

A new version of James M. Cain's 'Mildred Pierce' the old Joan Crawford vehicle. Starring Kate Winslet.  Directed by Todd Haynes who directed the gorgeous Douglas Sirk homage 'Far From Heaven'. This sounds promising.

'A Dangerous Method' about the rivalry between Freud and Jung. Based on Christopher Hampton's play 'The Talking Cure'.  Directed by David Cronenberg.

And yet another 'Wuthering Heights'.  And 'Jane Eyre'.  And 'Red Riding Hood' with a very mature-looking piece of wolf-bait.
Mikeharvey

Stil reading Annie Proulx's 'Bird Cloud'.  She makes you absolutely interested in the details and never-ending problems of building a house from scratch.  

I saw the new film 'The Social Network' about the formation of Facebook. I thought it was brilliant, and lived up to all the superlatives. A superb piece of modern film-making about the recent past with a great script. Directed by David Fincher ('Seven', 'Fight Club'). But what a cautionary tale of jealousy, snobbery, ambition and broken loyalties.  If you see it on DVD I recommend using the subtitles. But see it. Especially if you're on Facebook yourself.
Mikeharvey

After breakfast today, and before my walk, I read Edith Wharton's short story 'Autre Temps...' published in 1916.  What an exquisite piece of work.  It's about Mrs Lidcote who was divorced scandalously and went to live in Italy to avoid social ostracism. As the story opens she is returning to New York after 18 years to visit her daughter who also has been married and divorced and then re-married.  Will Mrs Lidcote still be persona non grata? She finds that in some ways social mores have softened. But not entirely.  A beautifully nuanced story which Wharton handles with her usual elegance and style.  Wharton's characters are so exquisitely sensitive that one wonders how they manage to get through a quite ordinary day without serious trauma.

Saw the first episode of the BBC's new Andrrew Davies' adaptation of Winifred Holtby's 'South Riding'. I enjoyed it and thought it was beautifully filmed and finely acted, but, at only three episodes, I felt that the story was somewhat rushed and over-compressed.  Good to see my old friend John Henshaw as the libidinous councillor.
Mikeharvey

Late to my PC today having attended my first exercise class this morning, and am sitting here looking rosy-cheeked and with aching legs.  I keep telling myself it's doing me good....

'Yesterday's 'A Good Read' recommended three book I had already read.  Sellars and Yeatman's ''1066 and all that', 'Roger Deakins' 'Waterlog' and Patrick Dennis's 'Auntie Mame'.  I found myself laughing all over again at the 1066 extracts. If there happens to be anyone who hasn't read this they're in for a treat.   I was slightly irritated by Kate Saunders referring to the 'dreadful Broadway musical version' of 'Auntie Mame'. 'Mame' by Jerry Herman is a smashing, tuneful show which I saw at Drury Lane starring Ginger Rogers, Margaret Courtney and Ann Beach and fondly remember.  Especially Rogers and Courtney singing 'Bosom Buddies'.

Saw 'From Time To Time' a lovely film version of Lucy Boston's 'The Chimneys of Green Knowe' written and directed by Julian Fellowes. An intriguing story musing on Time and Death. Starring Maggie Smith, Hugh Bonneville, Timothy Spall, Pauline Collins, Dominic West.  The chief character of Tolly, a 13 year-old boy, is played by solemn-faced Alex Etel who was the boy in BBC's 'Cranford'. If you don't shed a tear at the end you have a heart of stone.

A voice from the past on Radio4 this morning. An interview with Luise Rainer, aged 101 and living in London.  She won best actress Oscars in 1936 and 1937 for 'The Great Ziegfeld' and 'The Good Earth' based on the novel by Pearl Buck. She was married to playwright Clifford Odets.
Mikeharvey

Received new National Theatre programme today. Highly interesting new productions one of which I know Himadri will be most eager to see.

Ibsen's EMPEROR AND GALILEAN with Ian McDiarmid. Whoever expected a production of this very rare and unperformed play? Probably very long. Matinees start at 12.45.  Directed by Jonathan Kent. Opening in June.

Chekhov's THE CHERRY ORCHARD with Zoe Wanamaker as Ranevsky. and Kenneth Cranham (as Gaev? or Lophakin?) Opening in May. Directed by Howard Davies.

Thomas Heywood's A WOMAN KILLED WITH KINDNESS.  I'm a little concerned that this Elizabethan play is to be directed by Katie Mitchell who has a tendency to overload her productions with modern bits and pieces. I remember a splendid production of this at the National years ago.  Opening July.

ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS is Richard Bean's modernised version of Goldoni's 'Servant of Two Masters'. Directed by Nicholas Hytner. I'm a fan of Richard Bean's plays, so I'd be interested in this.  This stars James Corden (oh dear!)

ROCKET TO THE MOON (1938) by Clifford Odets.  Rare American play. With Keeley Hawes. Opening in March.

FRANKENSTEIN by Nick Dear based on Mary Shelley, directed by Danny Boyle starring Johnny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch who alternate the roles of Monster and Frankenstein is already sold out.
TheRejectAmidHair

Thanks for that, Mike. I'll certainly be going to see Emperor and Galilean. I guess, though, that they'll be telescoping Parts One and Two (both full length plays) into one. Going to the theatre is a special event for most people, after all, and it's asking too much to ask the audience to come back another night to watch the rest of it. You can ge away with that with Shakespeare's Henry IV plays, but not with much else.

The question still remains: why did Ibsen spend so many years of his life on this play? It seems so very uinlike what he had written earlier, and also what he went on to write. It seems to me to occupy the same position amongst his works as the novel Salammbô does amongst Flaubert's: Flaubert, to allow his mind to settle on the Emma Bovarys and the Frédéric Moreaus of this world, needed some outlet for all that exoticism and all the gaudy colours that so dominated hismind; and Ibsen, too, I think, needed to get all that exoticism out of his system before he could settle on writing about the pillars of soiety and doll's houses.

It'll be fascinating to see this play performed.
Mikeharvey

Some people appear to have enough money to attend two performances of 'Frankenstein' at the National in order to compare Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch who are alternating Creature and Scientist.  Prof John Carey said on Newsnight Review that Nick Dear's play was an improvement on Mary Shelley. She had the brilliant idea but was an indifferent writer.  

Finished Annie Proulx's 'Bird Cloud' which I was very enthusiastic about to start with, but found somewhat unsatisfactory as I continued. It's rather a rag-bag of a book and didn't eventually, for me, hang together.  It seemed like a series of magazine articles cobbled together.  The chapters about the frustrating business of building her new house in Wyoming are very interesting, but the sections about her family history I skipped. As I did those about the history of Wyoming which are probably absorbing for an American or a visitor there.  However the sections about the wild life surrounding her house are excellent and beautiful. Stories of elks and mountain lions and a multitude of birds.

Begun reading 'Five Days in London, May 1940' by John Lukacs (2001)This shortish book is history under the microscope, and deals with Winston Churchill and the political events of just a few days from Friday 24th May to Tuesday 28th May 1940.  It's absorbingly interesting and jaw-dropping.  Hitler's armies were striding through Western Europe and British forces were in retreat.  It was touch and go for us.  It comes as something of a shock to realise that had Lord Halifax become Prime Minister instead of Churchill Britain might very well have made a pact with Hitler making Britain a satellite of Nazi Germany for God knows how many years.  Even at a distance of 70 years it makes one sweat.
Green Jay

Mikeharvey wrote:

Saw 'From Time To Time' a lovely film version of Lucy Boston's 'The Chimneys of Green Knowe' written and directed by Julian Fellowes. An intriguing story musing on Time and Death. Starring Maggie Smith, Hugh Bonneville, Timothy Spall, Pauline Collins, Dominic West.  The chief character of Tolly, a 13 year-old boy, is played by solemn-faced Alex Etel who was the boy in BBC's 'Cranford'. If you don't shed a tear at the end you have a heart of stone.



Mike, was this a fim at the cinema, on DVD, or on television? I love the Lucy Boston books, as did my children, specially given that they were based on the house she actually lived in.

Like you I enjoyed the references to 1066 and All That on A Good Read and thought that people must be rushing out to get a copy (or rushing online, rather). So glad that Ian Hislop reminded us of it - which was A Good Thing.
Evie

Was Alex Etel the boy from the rough background who learned to read?  Wonderful...  Must look out for this film.
Castorboy

Mikeharvey wrote:
Begun reading 'Five Days in London, May 1940' by John Lukacs (2001)This shortish book is history under the microscope, and deals with Winston Churchill and the political events of just a few days from Friday 24th May to Tuesday 28th May 1940.  It's absorbingly interesting and jaw-dropping.  Hitler's armies were striding through Western Europe and British forces were in retreat.  It was touch and go for us.  It comes as something of a shock to realise that had Lord Halifax become Prime Minister instead of Churchill Britain might very well have made a pact with Hitler making Britain a satellite of Nazi Germany for God knows how many years.  Even at a distance of 70 years it makes one sweat.

I read his Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat. The Dire Warning this time last year. It’s possibly everything you need to know about Churchill’s first speech to the House of Commons as Prime Minister in May 1940. Lukacs believes those five famous words are a paraphrase of part of Giuseppe Garibaldi's speech to his defeated followers in Rome when he said I offer not pay, not lodging, no provisions. I offer hunger, forced marches, battles and death.

These books are part of a series of short history books covering major events in the 20th century from an American viewpoint. They could be useful for anyone studying history and wanting an introduction to major events.
Mikeharvey

The Lucy Boston adaptation 'From Time to Time' is a cinema film that has just come out on DVD.  Yes, Alex Etel is the boy who learned to read from 'Cranford'.  

Enjoyed Sebastian Faulks on Villains.  An enterprising choice I thought.  Especially Jack Merridew from 'Lord of the Flies' and Barbara from Zoe Heller's 'Notes on a Scandal'.  And he couldn't possibly have left out Count Fosco could he?  
I can still remember being horrified by 'Lord of the Flies' when I first read it shortly after it was first published. And I can recall lying on my bed one Sunday afternoon at R.A.F. Binbrook in 1955 and listening to a Third Programme adaptation.  The memory is still vivid after all these years.    

Been reading stories from an intriguing anthology called 'The New Uncanny' (ed. Sarah Eyre & Ra Page - Comma Press - 2008 - P/B £7.99)
In 1919 Sigmund Freud listed eight definitions of The Uncanny as portrayed in Literature, and the editors asked 14 contemporary writers including AS Byatt, Christopher Priest, Sarah Maitland and others to write new stories based on the list.  A great idea has produced some good stories.  Interestingly there is a preponderance of tales about doppelgangers.
Green Jay

I think Lord of the Flies was the only set text at school that I ever read to the end, and enjoyed, if that is the right word. Terrifying. I suppose I was not far from the age of Jack and Ralph and Piggy when I read it. And having always loved those wrecked on an island and making the best of it stories, this was a real turn-about for me!
Green Jay

Mikeharvey wrote:
   

Been reading stories from an intriguing anthology called 'The New Uncanny' (ed. Sarah Eyre & Ra Page - Comma Press - 2008 - P/B £7.99)
In 1919 Sigmund Freud listed eight definitions of The Uncanny as portrayed in Literature, and the editors asked 14 contemporary writers including AS Byatt, Christopher Priest, Sarah Maitland and others to write new stories based on the list.  A great idea has produced some good stories.  Interestingly there is a preponderance of tales about doppelgangers.


Have you read Hallucinating Foucault by Patrician Duncker? That is a deliberate exercise in, and I think fairly successful novel about, the uncanny in a post-modern world.
Mikeharvey

Have been off-line for a couple of days buying a new PC and trying to get used to it.   I'm painfully groping my way round.  Today's blogge is therefore brief.
Green Jay

Good luck with the technology, Mike, know how you feel.

NB I meant to type Patricia not Patrician, above.
Castorboy

I agree it can be frustrating. I had a new operating system put in two months ago and I am still navigating my way around.
Mikeharvey

Just read that the BBC have completed a film of Sarah Waters' 'The Night Watch'.  I hope that it's easier to watch than the novel was to read, whose backward narrative I found hard to follow.

Just read a superb and chilling tale by Flannery O'Connor called 'The River' in which a small boy is child-minded by a woman who takes him to a river baptism.  With disastrous results.  What a good writer FOC is!

       Big Readers Forum Index -> Individual reading blogs Page Previous  1, 2, 3 ... 8, 9, 10 ... 18, 19, 20  Next
Page 9 of 20
Create your own free forum | Buy a domain to use with your forum