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Category Archives: British literature

Poem of the Week

Mercy

by William Shakespeare

The quality of mercy is not strained;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest,—
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The thronèd monarch better than his crown:
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway,—
It is enthronèd in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s,
When mercy seasons justice.

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Jane Austen: An Illustrated Biography

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Zena Alkayat and Nina Cosford collaborated on a cute illustrated biography of Jane Austen. The text consists of the basic information on Jane’s life, but there’s nothing that you probably couldn’t get from Wikipedia.

The water color illustrations are charming and fit with Jane Austen’s tone and era.

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It’s a quick, enjoyable read, but Austen fans won’t learn much that’s new. I realize that not that much is known about Austen, but this book doesn’t do much than offer some highlights. For more details, I suggest Carol Shield’s Jane Austen: A Life. 

I think Alkayat and Cosford’s Jane Austen: An Illustrated Biography is a good book to check out from your library rather than something you need to purchase.

 
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Posted by on March 28, 2018 in book review, British literature

 

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The Code of the Woosters

th-8I’m loving the audio books of P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves series. This week I listened to The Code of the Woosters where Bertie’s aunt Dahlia forces him to track down an ugly cow creamer that his uncle is obsessed with. This leads to an amazingly comic odyssey in the British countryside.

Here are a few of the thousands of great quotations:

“I could see that, if not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled.”

“It was a silver cow. But when I say ‘cow’, don’t go running away with the idea of some decent, self-respecting cudster such as you may observe loading grass into itself in the nearest meadow. This was a sinister, leering, Underworld sort of animal, the kind that would spit out of the side of its mouth for twopence.”

“I mean, imagine how some unfortunate Master Criminal would feel, on coming down to do a murder at the old Grange, if he found that not only was Sherlock Holmes putting in the weekend there, but Hercule Poirot, as well.”

“I suppose even Dictators have their chummy moments, when they put their feet up and relax with the boys, but it was plain from the outset that if Roderick Spode had a sunnier side, he had not come with any idea of exhibiting it now. His manner was curt. One sensed the absence of the bonhomous note.”

“I couldn’t have made a better shot, if I had been one of those detectives who see a chap walking along the street and deduce that he is a retired manufacturer of poppet valves named Robinson with rheumatism in one arm, living at Clapham.

The book’s delightful from start to finish. How does Wodehouse do it?

He’s a comic genius if ever there was one.

 
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Posted by on March 19, 2018 in British Lit, British literature, fiction, humor, postaweek

 

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Inimitable Jeeves

0023a0b3_mediumI’d heard of P.G. Wodehouse and of his famed character the valet, Jeeves, but I’d never read these novels. Last week, I needed an audio book for what I rightly expected would be long drives in L.A. So I checked out the audio book, The Inimitable Jeeves.

I usually don’t listen to audio books, but in the case of The Inimitable Jeeves, the audio book is the way to go. The narrator Jonathon Cecil does a marvelous job reading with terrific voices for each character whether he speaks Etonian English, Cockney, American and all other accents.

The stories themselves delight. Bertie Wooster, Jeeves’ employer, gets himself into amazingly ridiculous situations. The more he tries to lay low, the more old goofy schoolmates, troublesome cousins or his matchmaking aunt get him tangled up into social seaweed, that only the wise Jeeves can get him out of.

I liked the stories so much, that I played it twice. I’m now off to the library to get another Jeeves book on tape.

Just a few wonderful quotations:

“We Woosters do not lightly forget. At least, we do – some things – appointments, and people’s birthdays, and letters to post, and all that – but not an absolutely bally insult like the above.”

“Warm-hearted! I should think he has to wear asbestos vests!”

“How does he look, Jeeves?”
“Sir?”
“What does Mr Bassington-Bassington look like?”
“It is hardly my place, sir, to criticize the facial peculiarities of your friends.”

 
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Posted by on February 28, 2018 in book review, British Lit, British literature, classic, fiction, postaweek

 

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Red Velvet

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Dion Johnstone as Ira Aldridge, CST

Chicago Shakespeare Theater presented an excellent production of Red Velvet by Lolita Chakrabarti. The story of the first African American to play Othello on the London state in 1833, the story explores racism. As we know, abolition was a hot issue in the mid-1800s. In England there were protests against the slave trade.

When Ian Keen, who starred as Othello, fell ill the manager of the Covent Garden Theater chose Ira Aldridge, a black actor from America to play Othello. Some in the cast were excited and supportive, but Ian’s son and another actor were strongly opposed.

Aldridge was a fine, thoughtful actor, whose goal was to work in London. He takes his art seriously and gives a passionate performance the first night. However, the critics were shocked to see an actor of African heritage on stage and their reviews were venomous. The manager, Pierre LaPorte is a good friend of Aldridge and he counsels the actor to tone down his performance. Yet we can see that Aldridge can’t rein in his perfectionism. His desire to bring Othello to life as he reads the play leads to disaster. A consummate professional, Aldridge pushes the edges of his performance.

The performances were all pitch perfect and the play was compelling as it showed a chapter of theater history, I wasn’t aware of. The play has been produced in London and New York. If it comes to your hometown, I highly recommend you check it out.

 
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Posted by on January 22, 2018 in 19th Century, British Lit, British literature, drama, historical drama

 

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2018 Reading Challenge

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I’ve made up a reading challenge for myself. I have done Goodreads.com‘s challenges where I read a certain number of books per month. This time I’m adding some themes and other specifics to spice things up.

Susan’s 2018 Reading Challenge

January – read a memoir and another book that’ll help me change my outlook (i.e. achieve a resolution)

February – read a 19th century novel and a religious book

March – read a book written by a Russian author

April – read a play by Shakespeare and commentary in a Norton Classic edition

May – read a detective story

June – read a book of historical fiction

July – read a travel book

August – read a humorous book

September – read a book by a Japanese author

October – read something scary

November – read a book a friend has recommended

December – read a children’s book and a story or book with a Christmas theme

 
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Posted by on January 1, 2018 in book lovers, British Lit, British literature, Children's Lit, fiction, French Lit, humor, non-fiction, play, Travel Writing

 

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Poem of the Week

New Year’s Eve

A.E. Houseman

The end of the year fell chilly
    Between a moon and a moon;
Thorough the twilight shrilly
    The bells rang, ringing no tune.
The windows stained with story,
    The walls with miracle scored,
Were hidden for gloom and glory
    Filling the house of the Lord.
Arch and aisle and rafter
    And roof-tree dizzily high
Were full of weeping and laughter
    And song and saying good-bye.
There stood in the holy places
    A multitude none could name,
Ranks of dreadful faces
    Flaming, transfigured in flame.
Crown and tiar and mitre
    Were starry with gold and gem;
Christmas never was whiter
    Than fear on the face of them.
In aisles that emperors vaulted
    For a faith the world confessed,
Abasing the Host exalted,
    They worshipped towards the west.
They brought with laughter oblation;
    They prayed, not bowing the head;
They made without tear lamentation,
    And rendered me answer and said:
“0 thou that seest our sorrow,
    It fares with us even thus:
To-day we are gods, to-morrow
    Hell have mercy on us.
“Lo, morning over our border
    From out of the west comes cold;
Down ruins the ancient order
    And empire builded of old.
“Our house at even is queenly
    With psalm and censers alight:
Look thou never so keenly
    Thou shalt not find us to-night.
“We are come to the end appointed
    With sands not many to run:
Divinities disanointed
    And kings whose kingdom is done.
“The peoples knelt down at our portal,
    All kindreds under the sky;
We were gods and implored and immortal
    Once; and to-day we die.“
They turned them again to their praying,
    They worshipped and took no rest
Singing old tunes and saying
    “We have seen his star in the west,“
Old tunes of the sacred psalters,
    Set to wild farewells;
And I left them there at their altars
    Ringing their own dead knells.
 
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Posted by on December 28, 2017 in British Lit, British literature, fiction, poetry

 

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