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Category Archives: British literature

Review: The Winter’s Tale

1981 BCC Production

I didn’t think I’d like Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. I chose it for my online Great Books Book Club because I thought we should read Shakespeare; it’s winter and I’d never read this. Before beginning the play, I looked at some summaries on YouTube. Both summaries showed the main character, King Leontes.

When I started the play, I was put off by King Leontes’ unhinged ravings. He wrongly assumes that his wife Queen Hermione and his best friend since childhood, Polixenes, the King of Bohemia, have had an affair and that Hermione is pregnant with Polixenes’ child. It’s clear that the saintly Hermione and Polixenes have done nothing wrong. Yet Leontes raves and raves. His courtiers try to persuade him to cool down, to see that he’s wrong, but he ignores all reason. Camillo, the King’s confidante, tips off Polixenes telling him that the King is out for his head. They both escape to Bohemia.

Soon Hermione gives birth to a daughter. Paulina, my favorite character, takes the baby to Leontes, hoping that will make him change heart. The plan fails. Leontes decides that Paulina’s husband must take the baby to a desolate land and abandon her. 

Obstinate and indignant, Leontes holds a trial for Hermione. Couriers sent to an oracle return and present the trusted the oracle’s pronouncement, which exonerates Hermione. Still Leontes digs in, ignores the “testimony” and sentences Hermione to prison. As a result of his mother’s imprisonment, Leontes beloved son falls ill and dies.

The first three acts of The Winter’s Tale are full of bullheadedness and tragedy. The second acts offers hope and romance.

Leontes is a vexing character surrounded by reasonable and admirable ones. It was hard to believe he never considered that he might have been wrong and it that he remained in power for a generation. The play’s tone changes so much in the last two acts that The Winter’s Tale feels like two plays.

I wound up enjoying the play and understanding or putting up with Leontes since his senseless wrath put all the events in action and showed the goodness of those around him in stark contrast. 

I started by reading the first two acts and then watching the 1981 BBC Production. Later I changed to watching while reading. Although this production is old, I enjoyed the performances and got used to the older style sets and lighting.

The end has some far-fetched elements, the word “Tale” in the title serves to let the audience know that it’s not a realistic work. 

 
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Posted by on February 3, 2021 in British literature, drama

 

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Hamlet

Now I want to reread Hamlet.

 
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Posted by on February 18, 2020 in British Lit, British literature, fiction

 

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Arcadia

Clever, but sterile, Tom Stoppard’s play Arcadia didn’t grab me. I could appreciate the weaving together of characters from the 19th and 20th century, but the play never grabbed me or carried me away. One part of the play focuses on a precocious young lady who exasperates both her lascivious tutor and her mother; the other looks at a small group of annoyed and annoying modern intellectuals who bicker about Lord Byron and their professions. While the play won awards, I wouldn’t run to a theater to see it. In fact I’ve never seen it advertised so I assume it’s not going to be a classic.

 
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Posted by on January 16, 2020 in British Lit, British literature

 

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A Poem for Veterans’ Day

In Flanders Fields

 
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Posted by on November 10, 2019 in British literature, poetry

 

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Leave it to Psmith

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I just finished another hilarious audio book narrated by Jonathon Cecil. Wodehouse’s Leave it to Psmith is a complicated frolic involving Freddie, a rich foolish young man, who tries to get his uncle out of a fix and to get a hefty sum so he can get enough money to buy into a booking scheme. If he only could become a bookie, he can marry his dream girl. All he needs is 1000 pounds. His uncle would help but his parsimonious aunt keeps a careful eye on all the family finances.

Eureka!

Freddie will get someone to steal his aunt’s insured necklace, hand it off to the uncle who’ll in turn submit a claim for the necklace, sell off the real one and give some money to Freddie, some to his needy niece and have some freedom for himself.

Who will take on this ridiculous endeavor?

Enter Psmith. A gentleman who’s fled a dull job for his uncle and has advertised to take on any work. Soon Psmith is posing as an erudite poet and entering the uncle’s country home to figure out how to get the necklace.

The story is great fun and wonderfully read by Cecil.

 
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Posted by on July 8, 2019 in book review, British Lit, British literature, fiction, humor

 

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Brideshead Revisited

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Brideshead Revisited is one of my all time favorite novels. Great characters, plot and style. Evelyn Waugh is a masterful writer. If you’re not familiar with the story, Brideshead Revisited consists of Charles Ryder’s tranquil recollections of his college friendship with Lord Sebastian Flyte and his later romance with Julia Flyte. Every line and image is perfection.

When I saw the audio book, I had to get it. I was delighted to see that Jeremy Irons narrated it and even more surprised to hear how well he does all the characters’ voices, even the women’s. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

 
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Posted by on May 25, 2019 in British Lit, British literature, classic, fiction

 

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Happy Birthday, Will!

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In honor of Shakespeare, some actor’s sharing of taste of his genius.

 
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Posted by on April 23, 2019 in British Lit, British literature, classic, drama

 

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The Old Wives’ Tale

a3fba127a3076a6465b57e6895a575ef“. . . humanity walks ever on a thin crust over terrific abysses.”

I’d never heard of Arnold Bennett or his novel The Old Wives’ Tale till my friend chose it for us to read and discuss. The Old Wives’ Tale focuses on two sisters in Northern England in the fictional “Five Towns” area. The oldest Constance is a practical, predictable yet strong woman, while Sophia is a vivacious beauty who pushes all the boundaries.

Their mother is much like Constance and faithful to conventions. Their father is bedridden, which means the family’s welfare depends on the mother running the business, a drapery store.

The story starts with the girls in their teens. Despite their different personalities, they get along for the most part. Sophia yearns for romance and excitement, while Constance is satisfied with working in the family store and living a standard middle class life. When their father dies and Sophia runs off with a dapper traveling salesman, the story takes off.

A keen observer, Bennett fills the novel with insights that make readers think, “Yes, people are like that, even today.” Although there are many stories of bourgeois life or of the prodigal who runs off, Bennett’s characters experience surprises till the bitter end. His characters, even minor ones, are alive and worthy of respect and sympathy. I’m happy to say I’ve found another author I’ll read more of.

 
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Posted by on March 22, 2019 in 19th Century, British Lit, British literature, chick lit, classic, fiction

 

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Perelandra

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The second book in C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy, Perelandra chronicles Edwin Ransom’s journey to Venus, a.k.a. Perelandra. Ransom settled back into life in Cambridge after his trip to Mars. Suddenly, Oyarsa (God) calls on Ransom to go to Perelandra. Excited for more space travel, Ransom accepts the mission.

After his trip in a ship that’s like a frozen coffin. Ransom’s told to travel in the nude and that clothes aren’t needed on Perelandra, a planet with land that moves like waves and the flora is a wide range of vivid colors. I can’t do Lewis’ descriptions justice.

Ransom soon meets the green-skinned Queen, one of the planets two inhabitants. The Queen has the innocence of a child because on the new planet she is one. Perelandra is like Eden with its sole pair of inhabitants, its sole prohibition, i.e. “Don’t sleep on the ‘Fixed Lands'” and its serpent, i.e Weston, Ransom’s nemesis who plays the serpent in this tale.

Maelidil is the creator who teaches the Queen all about life, but he disappears once Ransom arrives. The Queen also never sees the King and the story’s almost over by the time Ransom finds him.

Most stories feature a young, strong hero who lacks wisdom, which he acquires by the end. Here our hero is educated and wise, but lacks the usual brawn. Ransom battles Weston with wits trying to prevent Perelandra’s Fall, but he realizes that one day Weston will wear the Queen down. He figures out that he must beat Weston physically. Thus Lewis takes gives us a middle aged scholar as a hero who must win by a great physical test. How original!

I found the story compelling and clever. Lewis gives us a setting similar to Eden, but not quite. We may expect a certain outcome, but Lewis shows us that things could have been different. Perelandra was a fun read that made me think.

 

 
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Posted by on October 23, 2018 in book review, British Lit, British literature, Christianity, classic, fiction

 

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Out of the Silent Planet

In fact, I’ve Out-of-the-Silent-Planet-9780684833644I’m not a big science-fi fan. I rarely read the genre, but I loved C.S. Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet. I’ve already ordered book two in this tragedy.

In Out of the Silent Planet, average Joe, Dr. Ransom, happens upon and old schoolmate Devine and Devine’s new evil scientist buddy Weston. Ransom had been tramping around the countryside and, as a favor to a woman he met, went to this house to see why her son, a servant there was late and her mother was apprehensive. It turns out that she had good cause. When Ransom arrived, the two men were fighting, physically, with the boy. In the end Weston and Devine were in the process of abducting the boy. In the end the boy is freed and Ransom, when he comes to after being knocked unconscious. Ransom realizes he’s hurtling through space kidnapped by Weston and Devine.

Ransom overhears Weston and Devine. They’ve been to Malacandria, the planet they’re heading to, before and were returning to offer up Ransom to the aliens there. They’re hoping to load up on valuable resources and hand over Ransom to the sorns, a species of aliens on Malacandria.

Ransom’s forewarned and planned to escape. He manages to run off though a bizarre environment with pink sticky earth, odd food, three homo sapien species that can see angels and that get along with each other. As a philologist, Ransom is quickly able to learn the aliens’ language. (Well, one of them, as it turns out each species has its own language and one shared language.)

As Ransom evades and eventually is captured by the aliens, he learns to look at life in a completely different and wise way.

This is a book I relished. Lewis has such a gift for language and made me want to improve the book I’m working on currently. The themes are related to Christianity, but even if that’s not your faith, it makes you think about human life and our foibles.

I read that C.S. Lewis once criticized sci-fi because in most stories the writer takes you to the end of the universe, but everything is basically the same with the substitutions being basically the same as what we now have. For example, here we have guns while in outer space in most stories they just use lasers and use them in the same instances we  would. In Out of the Silent Planet, the aliens’ philosophy and approach to life is just about completely different from humans. They’re quite impressive on the whole.

Good Quotations

“And how could we endure to live and let time pass if we were always crying for one day or one year to come back–if we did not know that every day in a life fills the whole life with expectation and memory and that these are that day?”

“A pleasure is full grown only when it is remembered. You are speaking, Hmán, as if pleasure were one thing and the memory another. It is all one thing.”

“But Ransom, as time wore on, became aware of another and more spiritual cause for his progressive lightening and exultation of heart. A nightmare, long engendered in the modern mind by the mythology that follows in the wake of science, was falling off him. He had read of ‘Space’: at the back of his thinking for years had lurked the dismal fancy of the black, cold vacuity, the utter deadness, which was supposed to separate the worlds. He had not known how much it affected him till now-now that the very name ‘Space’ seemed a blasphemous libel for this empyrean ocean of radiance in which they swam. He could not call it ‘dead’; he felt life pouring into him from it every moment. How indeed should it be otherwise, since out of this ocean all the worlds and all their life had come? He had thought it barren: he now saw that it was the womb of worlds, whose blazing and innumerable offspring looked down nightly even upon the earth with so many eyes-and here, with how many more! No: Space was the wrong name.”

 

 
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Posted by on September 15, 2018 in book review, British Lit, British literature, Christianity, classic, contemporary, fiction, novel, postaweek

 

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