Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Lorna Doone: A Romance of Exmoor by R D Blackmore (1869) Illu. C. Clark

Possibly one of the best books I have read.
LD is an outstanding time capsule, plenty of characters and just enough on each of them so we get to have an opinion of and a relationship with them all.

This is of course my style of great book; written by a master, takes place along time ago, and has many life lessons folded into it.

John claims to be stupid or slow but we see is just careful and measured. It is the classic Romeo and Juliet but they both live in the end. There are brothers and sisters who like and dislike each other, cousins and uncles who are good and bad, neighbors with daughters and neighbors who are murderers. There are many historical references which always have me looking up the facts. All in all it is a wonderful story to drop down into and leave our current train-wreck behind.

My copy was as inscribed a gift for Christmas in 1917, I bought it in October of 2016 while in Toronto visiting the Bata Shoe Museum during the HCC convention. I search out an antique book sellers when I travel for souvenirs and found Contact Editions The book I had seen online that they had turned out to be not very interesting and so I asked about my genre and they pointed out this wonderful copy. We had a nice conversation and I was on my way back to the seminar happy as a clam.
Turns out the second inscription was as a gift for Christmas in 1987... and so I wonder who will get it in 2087?

Some excellent passages
- "Least said soonest mended, because less chance of breaking"

- "He who will not when he may, when he will, he shall have nay"

- A classic romantic, pages long description of the beauty of the forest.
"Then the woods arose in folds, like drapery of awakened mountains, stately with a depth of awe, and memory of the tempests. Autumn’s mellow hand was on them, as they owned already, touched with gold, and red, and olive; and their joy towards the sun was less to a bridegroom than a father.
Yet before the floating impress of the woods could clear itself, suddenly the gladsome light leaped over hill and valley, casting amber, blue, and purple, and a tint of rich red rose; according to the scene they lit on, and the curtain flung around; yet all alike dispelling fear and the cloven hoof of darkness, all on the wings of hope advancing, and proclaiming, “God is here.” Then life and joy sprang reassured from every crouching hollow; every flower, and bud, and bird, had a fluttering sense of them; and all the flashing of God’s gaze merged into soft beneficence.
So perhaps shall break upon us that eternal morning, when crag and chasm shall be no more, neither hill and valley, nor great unvintaged ocean; when glory shall not scare happiness, neither happiness envy glory; but all things shall arise and shine in the light of the Father’s countenance, because itself is risen.
Who maketh His sun to rise upon both the just and the unjust. And surely but for the saving clause, Doone Glen had been in darkness. Now, as I stood with scanty breath—for few men could have won that climb—at the top of the long defile, and the bottom of the mountain gorge all of myself, and the pain of it, and the cark of my discontent fell away into wonder and rapture. For I cannot help seeing things now and then, slow-witted as I have a right to be; and perhaps because it comes so rarely, the sight dwells with me like a picture.
The bar of rock, with the water-cleft breaking steeply through it, stood bold and bare, and dark in shadow, grey with red gullies down it. But the sun was beginning to glisten over the comb of the eastern highland, and through an archway of the wood hung with old nests and ivy. The lines of many a leaning tree were thrown, from the cliffs of the foreland, down upon the sparkling grass at the foot of the western crags. And through the dewy meadow’s breast, fringed with shade, but touched on one side with the sun-smile, ran the crystal water, curving in its brightness like diverted hope.
On either bank, the blades of grass, making their last autumn growth, pricked their spears and crisped their tuftings with the pearly purity. The tenderness of their green appeared under the glaucous mantle; while that grey suffusion, which is the blush of green life, spread its damask chastity. Even then my soul was lifted, worried though my mind was: who can see such large kind doings, and not be ashamed of human grief?
Not only unashamed of grief, but much abashed with joy, was I, when I saw my Lorna coming, purer than the morning dew, than the sun more bright and clear. That which made me love her so, that which lifted my heart to her, as the Spring wind lifts the clouds, was the gayness of her nature, and its inborn playfulness. And yet all this with maiden shame, a conscious dream of things unknown, and a sense of fate about them.
Down the valley still she came, not witting that I looked at her, having ceased (through my own misprison) to expect me yet awhile; or at least she told herself so. In the joy of awakened life and brightness of the morning, she had cast all care away, and seemed to float upon the sunrise, like a buoyant silver wave. Suddenly at sight of me, for I leaped forth at once, in fear of seeming to watch her unawares, the bloom upon her cheeks was deepened, and the radiance of her eyes; and she came to meet me gladly."

- Nothing indeed has changed
"For, according to our old saying, the three learned professions live by roguery on the three parts of a man. The doctor mauls our bodies; the parson starves our souls, but the lawyer must be the adroitest knave, for he has to ensnare our minds. Therefore he takes a careful delight in covering his traps and engines with a spread of dead-leaf words, whereof himself knows little more than half the way to spell them"

 - If this is not the definition of my mother nothing is!
"Then (if you come to think again) lo!—or I will not say lo! for no one can behold it—only feel, or but remember, what a real mother is. Ever loving, ever soft, ever turning sin to goodness, vices into virtues; blind to all nine-tenths of wrong; through a telescope beholding (though herself so nigh to them) faintest decimal of promise, even in her vilest child. Ready to thank God again, as when her babe was born to her; leaping (as at kingdom-come) at a wandering syllable of Gospel for her lost one"

- Why I read
"Pure pleasure it is to any man, to reflect upon all these things. How truly we discern clear justice, and how well we deal it. If any poor man steals a sheep, having ten children starving, and regarding it as mountain game (as a rich man does a hare), to the gallows with him. If a man of rank beats down a door, smites the owner upon the head, and honours the wife with attention, it is a thing to be grateful for, and to slouch smitten head the lower"

Friday, January 20, 2017

Dubliners by James Joyce (1914)

After the Count I needed something short.  The Dubliners seamed good and I had never read any Joyce.

It reminded me how much I like poetic English especially coming from The Count translation where I'm guessing that any lyrical formations in the French version were lost.

However, it also reminded me why I hate short stories. Also reminds me that I do not care for the early 20th delve into realism.

A nice 1926 copy. 

Some Quotes:
"He had neither companions nor friends, church nor creed. He lived his spiritual life without any communion with others, visiting his relatives at Christmas and escorting them to the cemetery when they died. He performed these two social duties for old dignity's sake but conceded nothing further to the conventions which regulate the civic life."

"One of his sentences, written two months after his last interview with Mrs. Sinico, read: Love between man and man is impossible because there must not be sexual intercourse and friendship between man and woman is impossible because there must be sexual intercourse."

Oh how true, how true.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (1844)

Long, complicated, and a little difficult to follow.

It was OK, except for the "death potion" gimmick,.
Where as in Ivanhoe the ghost was used to complete the story and would have been difficult with out it, I don't think Dumas needed it.

I see a common thread between this and the Country Parson; in that story Balzac is very interested in and well versed in finance too. I'm getting the impression that the French may have been the early capitalists? People from low places moving up the ladder, people from high birth falling in disgrace all based on finance.

For some reason I did not feel much for these characters, Dumas is a little dry.

The slow and obscure way that the revenge plot was revealed made for anxious reading.

The number of names was overwhelming so I needed and recommend a character list, to keep track of them.

I am convinced that this requires a second reading to smooth out the stammering story.

We learn about Carnival in 19th cent. Rome that was very interesting and that there is an actual island named Monte Cristo!

A nice 1984 printing with not enough illustrations.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Don Quixote by Cervantes (1605-15) Charles Jervas Translation

Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, are Dumb & Dumber. 

The 1st half of the book is without question the best part, the second half is a little contrived. 

Can't figure out when my copy was printed, early 1900's. It has 3 illustrations; one across from the Title page and two others that must have come from another book that was being printed in the shop that day; they are completely pointless pictures simply tossed into the the book, probably to make it an "illustrated" printing. 

So we are learning about obsession and the self delusion of a "leader," and the blind following of a hopeful believer. Similarities to today's political figures are hard to ignore. 

It could be that this story is / was just an entertaining folly for the diversion of those who could read at the time of publication. 

It's relevance today is to me in Sancho's observations and reactions to the callings, musings, and actions of his Knight. 

Sancho has visions of grandeur... remember when you were told the "you can be anything you want" fable?
That only worked to disappoint those of who dream big. For those who had no dream we have the dutiful follower Sancho. 

Sancho is the real "every man" mostly concerned about his next meal, and where sleep is to be had at the end of the day. 

His endless quotes are excellent; Cervantes clearly had seen and listened allot. 

Our Don on the other hand is like so many of us; looking for relevance by creating a world (in his head) where perfection lives, where rules are defined, and where I am special because I declare it. 

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Country Parson by Balzac (1839)

My 1st attempt at Balzac, very interesting, very surprising.
I had no idea what to expect; it is typical in many ways of the period even references J F Cooper's The Prairie. Balzac makes many references to the great expanses of the French country and as with many of his contemporaries waxes on about the beauty.

Without an in depth knowledge of French History it is a little hard to get the whole intent of the Author. I have never read of such things (in the last 1/4 of the book) regarding the politics of family and State economics. The issue of land divided equally between all siblings bringing about the ultimate result of  a "land rich, income poor" populace.
It was very difficult for me to determine which side of the politics he is on. In one moment he praises modern developments, the next he yearns for a return to the Church as central to daily life. Disdain for the ruling bureaucracy is clear but the hope of fixing it with the new young people is clear as well.

In general a very optimistic look at how and and what makes a comfortable society. He was influenced by the great outlook that was at this point of time in history, one of Science and Engineering. It was only at the very end that he gets almost as sappy as does Burnett in the The Secret Garden.

One of those books that intrigues and echos thru your head over and again.

Found this 100 year old copy; I think that the translation is excellent.

Hard to see the lining but nice Art Nouveau decoration.
No print date, beautiful floral decor.

A I love to read "books that are referenced in books" Balzac has Madame G reading and being transformed by the Paul et Virginie, I wonder if there is a good English trans?

Many insightful comments:
Ever since that event the profound politicians who exercise the censorship of sentiments, and settle other people's business in the intervals of whist. 

He made it clear that great things would be the result of the presence of a rich and charitable resident in the parish, by pointing out that the duties of the poor towards the beneficent rich were as extensive as the rich towards the poor.

In Gerard's letter to Grossetete he is disappointed with his life:
Again and again in fact we have admitted to each other in confidence that we are victims of a long mystification which we only discover when it is too late too draw, back when the mill- horse is used to the round, and the sick man accustomed to his disease

Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1910)

What an outstanding book.
I didn't know what to expect but it is such a pleasing story. A children's book yes, it has that feel but it covers many of life's major problems much of them with fine Yorkshire honesty.

This is an excellent book for children to read and discuss; so many spot-on life lessons are laid out clearly and plainly. 

Found this when I ran out of reading material up north.
It has a beautiful cover made of some faux leather like material.
The characters are great, and the 1st half is with out flaw, the second half brings in the power of positive thinking; a new concept in the early 1900s and it gets just a little thick at times.

Ben gives a little insight into his opinion on authority:
“Th’ best thing about lecturin’,” said Ben, “is that a chap can get up an’ say aught he pleases an’ no other chap can answer him back. I wouldn’t be agen’ lecturin’ a bit mysel’ sometimes.”

Mrs Sowerby steels the show at times with her wisdom.
“Two worst things as can happen to a child is never to have his own way - or always to have it.”

“The robin flew from his swinging spray of ivy on to the top of the wall and he opened his beak and sang a loud, lovely trill, merely to show off. Nothing in the world is quite as adorably lovely as a robin when he shows off - and they are nearly always doing it.”  
I have noticed this year especially that the Robins are some of the most friendly and least fearful of the birds in the neighborhood.

“Listen to th' wind wutherin' round the house," she said. "You could bare stand up on the moor if you was out on it tonight."
Mary did not know what "wutherin'" meant until she listened, and then she understood. 

  Martha may be the most fun to read of all.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Overland to Cariboo: an eventful journey of Canadian pioneers in 1862 By Margaret McNaughton (1896)

Found this old gem recently, payed $2 for it, can't find any better on the net for under a $100.

It is an "account" of what happened in second hand by the wife of one of the adventurers.

An astonishing account of perseverance, blind stupidity, and luck (by most) in trying to get to the Gold rush site in Cariboo.Once again greed is a substantial motivator. The Great Expectations of many are met in spades but only after substantial hardships.

And as in Great Expectations these men have forged life long alliances with their fellow travelers that served them well through out their remaining years.

The book has many pictures (some useless) but all intended to capture the moment which they do.

Really nice condition copy.
The stout looking Margarete.
Let's go!
Are you kidding me? Wooden wheels NO metal parts, what a nightmare.

The Canadian Indians of the day were much friendlier than our Western Indians; Canadian Eh?
Without their help at critical points some of the travelers would not have made it.

A 50hr trip by car!

The Panama Canal was under construction at the time of the writing but the only other way to get there in 1862 was around the Horn.

I didn't count how many times "the boat overturned and they lost every thing" came up but it was a lot.

The book ends with a one page Bio for some of the key players and illustrates how hardship can make the man. And how hardship endured together can forge a future

Kudos to all the Canadians and the Immigrants that accomplished this dream.