Friday, August 10, 2012

Marmion by Sir Walter Scott (1808)

                After my deep dive into the Icelandic tales of Sigurd I went thru several of the classic tales such as The Green Knight and Beowulf. Thumbing thru the books at one estate sale the title Marmion took my eye, I picked it up and instantly decided to give it a try; the title alone seems to leap out. It is great, I love it. I subsequently bought a couple of copies including the one pictured printed in 1818; it’s in pretty good shape but should not be toyed with, the 1st one I read was in delicate shape and can’t stand much more use. The 1818 copy printed while Scott was still alive, is for collecting but a third version a 1911 copy published by the American Book Company is great because it footnotes and glossaries all of the odd terms; very helpful. 

Scott’s prose are fantastic and it is so easy to imagine reading to friends and family around the fire back before the curse of television. I will admit that prose like this is hard to read. You have to really want it and at the same time be willing to move thru it slowly and deliberately. To get thru it sometimes you simply take the gist of it, that’s easy enough but making sure you are following the story line is harder. I’m afraid that I always use Wikipedia and other such summary to help in understanding anything so foreign as this.
The writing starts like this:
 Day set on Norman’s castled steep,
And Tweed’s fair river, broad and deep,
And Cheviot’s mountains lone:
The battled towers, the donjon keep,
The loophole grates, where captives weep,
The flanking walls that round it sweep,
In yellow luster shown.
The warriors on the turrets high,
moving athwart the evening sky,
Seemed forms of giant height:
Their armor, as it caught the rays,
Flashed back again the western blaze,
In lines of dazzling light.
The story is a fictional account of the actual battle of Flodden Field, (September 1513) Scott tells of the battle and intertwines stories of love, deceit, fortunes lost and regained. The outcome of this obscure but ultimately significant battle was another turning point in English history. Again as one might say happened in the American civil war we have an extremely arrogant leadership that enlists the whole of the aristocracy only to have it destroyed. Arrogance is a blinding force in human nature.

I was so taken with the story that I subsequently read a complete 2003 publication: Flodden: A Scottish Tragedy by Peter Reese describing the battle and the actual intrigue surrounding it. This is the period of Henry VIII. 
King James (King of the Scotts) was implored by the Queen of France to distract Henry from his war with her. A chivalrous womanizer James assembled the aristocracy as best he could but was horribly demolished by his poor tactics and the latest warfare technology of the English (sound familiar?) The fathers and sons of all of the greatest Scotch families of the day were killed during this ill-fated campaign and so with it crumbled there society.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe (1852) Illu.

Yes I am reading it; I don't think anyone reads this anymore and after a few chapters it's not hard to understand why. By the end of the 1st chapter you know which side the bread is buttered on. I love the segmented or scene like writing; neat little packages as a result of the original releases in periodical installments.

It's such and old topic I suppose that it is tiring for most people in the States to get into, however, after finishing Gone with the Wind and re-reading The Red Badge,  I felt it was a must to round out the period.

Now I understand that these two books are polar opposites and that GwtW was probably written to give "the other side of the story." So we claim to be in a "polarized" period now, HA, imagine how polarized things have to be to lead to civil war! I hear lots of people say it's coming again but that's bullshit; you can't make overfed people on cell phones get out of there house let alone go to uprising.

I love this 1938 printing with lots of etchings in it. It has possibly the heaviest paper weight I have ever seen in a book; it feels great in your hands.In near perfect condition my copy is a pleasure to hold.

My new book collecting philosophy is to get illustrated copies whenever possible.

Stowe is a master at making a situation have all sides and emotions represented simultaneously. Occasionally Stowe speaks directly to the reader challenging all comers to reflect on the issue. In other instances it literally hurts to read some of it; Harriet knows how string you along in a most painful way at times.

Both of these books have helped me understand and come to piece with the "cards that we are dealt" theory of life. The deck of cards that we are playing from are forged in our time and place. The earlier one sees and (if possible) can separate themselves from becoming the time and place, I think, the better off. 

The amazing raw truthfulness of what was most likely unsaid back in the day is in chapter 16; like a slap in the face. As spoken by Mr. St Clair "you loathe them like a snake or a toad, you are indignant at their wrongs. You would not have them abused; but you don't want to have anything to do with them yourselves. " So Mrs. Stowe lays out it plainly, holding no punches aimed at the North.
Mr. St Clair also states: "We're in for it; we've got 'em and we mean to keep 'em - it's for convenience and our interest."

Mr. St Clair is Stowe's Rett Buttler; that is a mouth piece for trowing punches both at the North and the South. "Now as an aristocrat, you know, the world over, has no human sympathies, beyond a certain line in society. In England the line is in one place, in Burma another, in American another; but the aristocrat in all these countries never goes over it. What would be hardship and distress in his own class, is a cool matter of course in another.
From Miss Ophelia comes one of the most powerful lines in the book. In the context of Eva's dying: "Augustine!has not God a right to do what he will with his own?" I guess I have never heard this line before and as an anti religious believer in God I think it is a most universal question.