Update (27 Jan 2016): The course, as it stands now, only covers Part One of Don Quixote. I failed to make that clear in my post. Regardless, I'm really enjoying the course and learning quite a bit more about the book!
Update (27 Jan 2016): The course, as it stands now, only covers Part One of Don Quixote. I failed to make that clear in my post. Regardless, I'm really enjoying the course and learning quite a bit more about the book!
...and bid them that they shall make them fringes in the borders of their garments throughout their generations, and that they put upon the fringe of the borders a ribband of blue: and it shall be unto you for a fringe, that ye may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the Lord, and do unto them.
The second section of Joice Nankivell Loch's autobiography opens with her determination to travel from her home in Australia to Europe. At this point in her life, she has published some of her writing and wrote a regular column for a newspaper but she wanted to be a more serious writer. She recounts her dangerous voyage to England in 1918: armistice had been declared but ships were still being fired upon. Joice had known Sydney Loch while they were in Australia and she had reviewed a book of his on the Gallipoli campaign. They married in 1919 and move to Dublin as freelance writers during what she called "the final eighteen months of the Sinn Fein war." While in Ireland the couple moved in colorful circles, especially the artistic group around George Russell (AE). In response to concerns of family members about her safety while writing about the fighting, she comments, "[I]n those days newspapers were not ruled so much by political gangsters as now, and journalists occasionally aimed at accuracy."
Despite the "period of madness" she describes, it's clear she loved Ireland, probably even more so because of the eccentricities and quirks of the people she portrays. With the peace, though, Joice notes how everything fell apart as everyone quickly turned on each other. She and her husband decide to go to Russia, so they contact Quakers who ran relief organizations there and in parts of Europe. They are assigned to go to Poland instead and Joice promptly falls in love with it. "I lost my heart to Poland. It was breathtaking in its summer dress, and equally so sheeted with winter snow." (69) Her love of nature, developed in the Australian bush, shines through in her descriptions of the country.
The history of the eastern part of the country, where they were assigned, reads like a horror story. Before, during, and after World War I saw massive population migration, uprooting millions of people. Three to four million people were displaced, many dying in transit to a new home, but the end of the fighting offered no relief:
After the war came the Russian famine, and those who had fled from the easter provinces of Poland began to stream back again to the forests, trenches, and barbed-wire where their homes had been. Again they died as the travelled, of hunger, typhus, and cholera. Those who arrived crawled into underground trenches, dug themselves holes in the ground, and mad bough shelters. ... Eastern Poland was a vast soldiers' grave. I have seen tall forests of silver-birch saplings growing in goodly thickets through the heaped skeletons of Russian soldiers. Hills were covered with skeletons laid one over the other in the manner of their falling, and one could not imagine any left to attend to those idea. Their arms were stretched in front of them, their skulls shot through. They were piled before barbed wire, or heaped on the brink of trenches; or the hundred ways of the Stochod [River] were blocked with them. Boots still clasped their legs, but for the most part the bones were picked clean. (70, 74)
Joice and Sydney work with the Quakers in medical and reconstruction units along the eastern border of the country. Despite the difficulties and dangers, her love of the people and the country shines through in numerous vignettes, whether she's describing how a famous school trained bears to dance or how peasants dealt with sickness and scarcity. The couple took advantage of an opportunity to go to Russia for a few weeks and observe life in Moscow after the revolution, a strange mix of beauty and brutality. They are able to visit a Tolstoy museum and a Tolstoy Colony, each run by daughters of the writer. Even though there was much to enjoy, at least as observers, Joice began to sour on the country. Or at least what she was hearing while there. "[I]t was not the bloodletting and cruelty, the slavery and starvation, that disillusioned us. It was the awful boring platitudes. Nothing new; not one original note. It amazed us to find how much of a pattern all political upheavals are." (89)
They return to Poland, finding beauty in the harshest of places and elements. It was at a party held for the French General Foch that Joice explains where the title of the book originated. She was wearing a black silk taffeta dress with a blue-bordered fringe when a Polish general quoted from the Book of Numbers (above), saying it was an omen that she would serve others all her life. In 1922, with the work of the Mission in Poland winding down, Joice and Sydney attend a meeting detailing the mass movement of people that was about to take place between Greece and Turkey under the direction of the League of Nations. Carl Heath, from the London Committee of European Relief, tells the crowd, "Any of you who do feel a 'concern'...will be preparing to help in the next world war," prophetic words to a shocked gathering who hoped that the war to end all wars had just ended. The chapter closes with the couple deciding to go to Greece.
Aside: Since the book is out of print, I picked up a used copy that had been a gift from Aletheia Pattison to one of her family members. Her obituary was pasted on the inside cover (shown below). It was in this chapter that Joice describes meeting Pattison (spelling her name Alethia) "along the Russian frontier." Despite lavishing praise on Pattison and saying, "She was always most generous in giving help where her interest was roused, and is one of the few friends left with whom I have had constant contact down through the years," there must have been something in Joice's account of their meeting that rubbed Pattison the wrong way. Most of one sentence is inked over and remarks are scribbled in the margin. It's just one of the fun finds from used books.
I'm hoping this marks the end of the blog's hiatus. Things have been... challenging. But I've really missed posting here and being part of the online book community. I thought what better way to start things off than with a couple of out-of-print books? Yeah, that's the spirit. Evidently it's in my blood.
The first book is A Fringe of Blue, the autobiography of Joice Nankivell Loch. While there are several outstanding events in her life, her role in saving hundreds of Polish and Jewish children during World War II and later running a refugee camp for Poles should have kept her from being a forgotten heroine. Hopefully her exploits and the altruism of her and her husband will reach a wider audience.
The first section of her autobiography recounts Joice's memories of growing up, mostly in Australian bush country, to her brother's death near the end of World War I. She describes the hardships of growing up in the bush country, explaining, "Only lion-hearted women could exist on an Australian farm in those days." (52) As she mentions several times, she thinks her mother survived simply to make sure her kids survived. Plus, her mother probably had it rougher than most women since Joice's father repeatedly gambled on buying farms unseen (usually with help from family members), only to find them completely unworkable. Even though describing very difficult circumstances, Joice's love of family, friends, and setting when growing up shines through. When she or her brother get into trouble, the ready-made excuse given is that they are essentially uncontrollable "bush children."
Her family was once the wealthiest in the country with sugar-cane farms, but their wealth ended once "Blackbirding" was stopped with the passage of the White Australian Bill, abolishing the press-ganging of Kanaka laborers. Her early life expresses a fearless love of nature shared with her brother Geoff. The pair seem afraid of nothing and were always getting into scrapes, but she had no illusions regarding the dual powers of nature that she so adored: "Kill, kill, kill. All nature killing and struggling. The very rain running down immense trees drowned while it brought life." (19) Along with her love of animals and nature was a fierce adoration of books, taking advantage of well-stocked libraries whenever she had a chance. Around the age of thirteen, Joice began her relationship with Miss Rowland, a woman who "could have inspired a log of wood to learn, and she had a knowledge of world affairs second to none, so that later when I worked in distant countries I was never much at a loss. She grounded me on a sound basis to be neighborly." (36)
Her willingness to sympathize with and understand others shines through in her writing, as does her wit and charm. Her ability to tell a tale, whether it's of her youthful mischief or stories she heard, such as an aboriginal tale on the origin of the platypus, makes the book a fun read. My favorite story in this section is how Australia's capital got its name:
Mr. Macdonald, the oldest living Australian explorer in my youth, was a friend. The last of the giants. He lived with the blacks [aborigines] for years in order to study them and to compile a dictionary of the various dialects. At that time he was the only authority on the subject. ...
[Discussion about the movement for deciding a federal capital]
The present site was hurriedly chosen in a final glorious weekend. It had been visited many times before. A Royal Decree was drawn up, then came a pause, until someone suggested that the place be given a name. A 'native' name was demanded. Why call the federal capital after a defunct statesman of another country?
"For God's sake," wrote one man in the press, "have a name that is truly Australian."
A long weekend was spent on the site in quest of the name, and the oldest black, chief of a local tribe, was called in.
"What place?" he was asked. He looked puzzled and rubbed one bare foot over the other. There was much pointing to the ground, then, through the help of a local drover who knew the tribe, light dawned on him:
"Canberra," he said.
He was asked again, and with much more confidence, for he saw everyone was delighted. He repeated: "Canberra."
They broke a bottle of champagne over the thirsty earth and the black and they drank a lot more, shouting:
The name was added to the Royal Decree and in due course received the royal signature, and everyone was satisfied, until Mr. MacDonald pointed out that there was no such word.
A final picnic was called, and Mr. MacDonald was at it.
The oldest black with his drover friend was produced. They stood on the same hill, and pointed to the same ground:
"Canberra!" said the black.
Mr. Macdonald chuckled, the chuckle became a guffaw.
"He know no other English!" he gasped, "he means a 'can of beer'! And really when you see the litter of bottles you can't blame him!" If there was consternation before, there was a rout now. The name of the federal capital, proclaimed before the whole world, literally meant a can of beer. They looked bitterly at the ground which was littered with the empties of many a picnic, and went home licking their wounds. None had the courage to admit what had happened or to suggest a change of name. They felt they would be the laughing-stock of Australia. The press dropped the subject, and the incident closed—after all it is a good enough name. (46-7)
Not quite the story you normally read about the origin of the capital's name. Joice began publishing her poetry and writing a column for a paper. She moved to Melbourne and immersed herself in the literary societies and the theater. World War One started, "[W]ith the heedless slaughter of the young of my generation. We were drenched with blood from which we were never to be clean again." (53) The section ends with her recounting the death of her brother near the end of the war, an event where she and her mother experienced presentiments. While she doesn't say much about Geoff's death, she made it clear in the previous pages how close they were and how much they meant to each other. The next section, "A Fringe of Blue," follows Joice to (among other places) England, Ireland, and Poland.
Yesterday selections from the Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature at the Library of Congress became available to stream online for the first time — the launch of a project digitizing some of their 2,000 recordings from the past 75 years of literature. “I think that reading poetry and prose on the page is important, but there’s nothing that can replace listening to literature read aloud, especially when it is read by the creator of the work,” Catalina Gomez, project manager for the process of putting the archive online, told Hyperallergic.
Written up at midnight after seeing the Stratford Festival's screening of King John, while a few thoughts I actually had during the viewing are with me. Forgive the hasty nature of this post.
Philip Faulconbridge, the Bastard, is a marvelous character, and not just in the sense he's a "type" that Shakespeare will later develop into even greater characters. This was the first time I saw his strength and resolve in the face of adversity as a foil to the waffling nature of his uncle, John. Graham Abbey did a great job in the role, bringing out the playful nature of the character but also accounting for the bitter residue in feeling cheated at what is due. He is every bit as mercurial as King John since he is willing to forsake his claim to his father's lands and income for the potential that lies with Eleanor. Most things I have read about the role laughs at his playfulness without recognizing the darkness underlying many of his lines. To me, this darkness shows up immediately, leaving a bitter taste in his joking from the start. The "commodity speech" isn't an outlier. Abbey's performance was definitely one of the strong points of the play.
King John...what do we do with a character like King John? Tom McCamus did a lot with the role, demonstrating strength, weakness, resolve, expediency, not to mention his flawed calculations, all of which lies in Shakespeare's creation. It's not exactly how I would have portrayed John, but then again you have to live within the constraints of the role. Despite the advertised mercurial and narcissistic nature of John, I'm not sure I fully got that from the performance. There are touches of that nature here and there. But John seems a bit of an enigma outside of the text. Don't get me wrong. I think Tom McCamus did a wonderful job in a difficult role. I think it boils down to how a director wants to portray John, and it's not an easy decision to make. A too-strong John (consistently) goes outside of character, while a too-weak portrayal lends no credibility to his rule and the battle scenes. Shakespeare shows John as willingly handing away major holdings based on an alliance based on calculation instead of the actual losses that occured. In that calculating sense, in figuring out what everyone's price is, McCamus did a great job. He emphasizes a desire for peace and harmony at a calculated cost (albeit frivolously at times), which runs through the text.
If I had to pick one performance that made me love this screening, though, it would be Wayne Best as Hubert, the Angers citizen tasked to kill young Arthur. That task comes with a contrived dose of deniability from King John, and Best wears the troubles of this irrevocable job on his face and in his voice. The dungeon scene was without a doubt the highlight for me.
Cardinal Pandulph's role in the carnage from the battles definitely stood out, too. Eager to call religious might on his side when it comes to enlisting soldiers against heresy, he also shows his impotence at stopping the forces he has called forth. Like most everything else, it's a double-edged sword that Shakespeare calls into play in making parallels between Plantagenet and Elizabethan events.
Other, minor issues:
I guess I'm going to have to get used to the screenings I see having crappy sound, coming out in simple stereo from behind the screen. Despite touting there would be "128 tracks of sound to create a lush, surround-sound experience," I got none of that. You know you sound like a weary snob when one of the dozen other patrons in the theater asks if you can tell someone in charge that the previews have no audio, and your reply is, "Yeah, Lear was like that, too."
Forget what you do with a character like John. What do you do with a character like Constance? Sean McKenna's performance as Constance was strong, yet leaving me disliking her character even more. When is too much too much?
The staging was simple, which I found to be a strong point of the play. Almost everything is left to the imagination, which is fine by me, not to mention it comes closer to the original Elizabethan/Jacobean staging. I liked the simplicity of the scenery, which causes the staging of certain scenes to be well planned and thought out. I thought the choreography of the scenes to be extremely well done.
The casting of Arthur poses a difficult question: how old do you want to portray and cast this character? Fortunately, they seemed to have gone with a slightly older actor, or at least a more experienced one, Noah Jalava. Jalava demonstrates the innocence of a young boy but is also able to express the deeper issues he raises, especially in his scenes with Hubert.
All in all, I though it was an admirable performance. I'm obviously upset with a theater that can take advantage of high definition video (and trust me, it looked great on a huge screen), but isn't able to do the same with the sound.
Coming back to what the Stratford Festival is trying to do with these films, though, I'm a huge fan after only two of them. I'm looking forward to more.
An English sovereign, said to be a usurper, and perhaps a bastard, defies the pope, becomes "supreme head," is excommunicated, imprisons his rival, who was barred from the crown by a will; the pope promises his murderer canonization, invites another king to invade England, the English sovereign darkly urges the murder of the rival "pretender," then needs a scapegoat, a foreign invasion is attempted, the invaders intending to kill the Englishmen who help them, their navy is providentially wrecked off the English coast, English unity being finally achieved through the failure of the invasion:—frequent "Armada idiom" hammering home the topicality of the play. (xxix, line references corresponding to the events/incidents omitted)
Some of John's history had to be "adapted" to fit into this framework, leading to an often-made claim that King John is Shakespeare's most unhistorical play." By adding ahistorical events and rearranging things that did happen to fashion a coherent, compressed play, Shakespeare highlights Elizabethan experiences. There's an interesting question Shakespeare seems to address when writing the play: should he attempt to make King John appealing?
For a few short moments here and there, Shakespeare succeeds in making a likable (but definitely not a lovable) King John. Sure, he's self-absorbed and mercurial. (When I get around to posting on the 13th-century work Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal, as promised here, these features of the monarch shine through quite well.) And the John that appears in Holinshed's Chronicles, one of Shakespeare's sources and clearly echoed here, has a king of impetuous desires and unceasing lies. In the play John attempts to buy off everyone, providing a backdrop for the "commodity" speech. His schemes may succeed in the short term but bankrupt him, and nearly the country, in the long run. He attempts to hide from the results of his disastrous commands. But there are flashes, brief though they may be, where it's fun to watch John work. His judging of the family matter at the beginning of the play and the brief moment when things are looking up for him at the center of the play (in III. ii where the French have been stopped, he escapes from his mother's smothering care, and he has Arthur in his control) provide shining moments for the king. But only moments. Immediately after his apparent successes he attempts to talk Hubert into killing Arthur. Then Randolph, in a "prophetic spirit," lays out the destruction that awaits John.
The only time I've seen this play is the 1984 performance from the BBC series of Shakespeare's plays. Leonard Rossiter, in one of his last performances, does a good turn at King John while George Costigan brings out the playfulness of The Bastard/Philip. My major complaint about this version is the shortening of the dungeon scene, one of the best parts of the play.
Details of the upcoming screening of last year's Stratford Festival can be found here. Folks outside the U.S. may want to go to the Stratford Festival's website, too. According to this write-up, the sound should be just as good as the picture, one of my complaints about the screening of King Lear I saw, which did not take advantage of the theater's sound system. I'm hoping that's fixed...I'm going to the same theater as Lear, so we'll see. Anyway, I hope you're able to see it!
Caesar was dead but Caesarism lived on. That was the secret of Roman politics that was revealed in the third week of March 44 B.C. The Senate still met and issued decrees. The people still commanded enough respect that the magistrates courted them in public speeches. Yet, in the final analysis, it was Caesar's veterans converging on Rome with their weapons who had the last say. They might have forgotten their loyalty to Caesar if the assassins had paid them a bonus or increased their land allotments, but the assassins offered too little to win their trust.Killing Caesar would have only been the first step in defeating Caesarism. But in order to defend the Republic an army was needed, a paradox that may have doomed the conspirators' stated goals from the start. The conspirators started a revolution, whether they realized it or not, and (as Strauss puts it) moderation has no practical place in such a situation. Caesar had his finger on the pulse of Rome, understanding its violent nature and harnessed it for a while. The winner of the fallout from Caesar's murder, as Strauss shows so well, would be those that could likewise harness or tame that violent nature as needed.
who sometimes offers Augusts's version of event. As [Mark] Toher argues, Nicolaus was a student of the writings of Aristotle and Thucydides, two of the ancient world's finest minds when it comes to political analysis. I am convinced that Nicolaus offers information essential to making sense of the assassination.The story of Caesar's assassination turns out to be a fantastical epic, and Strauss removes much of the fog from later presentations (including Shakespeare's play) to try and understand what exactly happened and why things happened as they did. He provides a short section musing on whether or not the Republic could have been saved. Strauss believes it could have, but what would have had to happen seems like a long, improbable list contradicting much of what he presented earlier. But then these were monumental, improbable times with events unfolding on a grand scale. Who could put a limit on what was and wasn't possible during these events? Extremely well done and thoroughly enjoyable. Very highly recommended.
Writing centuries later, Dio offers an identification of the two military daggers, making this one of the few coins mentioned by an ancient writer:
In addition to these activities, Brutus stamped upon the coins which were being minted in his own likeness with a cap and two daggers, indicating by this and by the inscription that he and Cassius had liberated the fatherland."In short, the two military daggers are meant to represent the weapons used by the two leaders of the anti-Caesar movement on the Ides of March. Even for a gathering of soldiers, this was blunt.
... [T]hrough imagery this coin argues that the Ides of March was an honorable act carried out by the tools of Roman soldiers, as the military daggers show. It was an act not of murder but of liberation, as the freed-slave's cap shows.
If this is so, if to read a book as it should be read calls for the rarest qualities of imagination, insight, and judgment, you may perhaps conclude that literature is a very complex art and that it is unlikely that we shall be able, even after a lifetime of reading, to make any valuable contribution to its criticism. We must remain readers; we shall not put on the further glory that belongs to those rare beings who are also critics. But still we have our responsibilities as readers and even our importance. The standards we raise and the judgments we pass steal into the air and become part of the atmosphere which writers breathe as they work. An influence is created which tells upon them even if it never finds its way into print. And that influence, if it were well instructed, vigorous and individual and sincere, might be of great value now when criticism is necessarily in abeyance; when books pass in review like the procession of animals in a shooting gallery, and the critic has only one second in which to load and aim and shoot and may well be pardoned if he mistakes rabbits for tigers, eagles for barndoor fowls, or misses altogether and wastes his shot upon some peaceful cow grazing in a further field. If behind the erratic gunfire of the press the author felt that there was another kind of criticism, the opinion of people reading for the love of reading, slowly and unprofessionally, and judging with great sympathy and yet with great severity, might this not improve the quality of his work? And if by our means books were to become stronger, richer, and more varied, that would be an end worth reaching.
Virginia Woolf, A Common Reader, Second Series, How Should One Read a Book?