Monday, 27 February 2017

Poetry Revisited: With a Bunch of Spring Flowers by Kate Seymour MacLean

With a Bunch of Spring Flowers

(from The Coming of the Princess and Other Poems: 1881)

In the spring-time, out of the dew,
     From my garden, sweet friend, I gather,
     A garland of verses, or rather
A poem of blossoms for you.

There are pansies, purple and white,
     That hold in their velvet splendour,
     Sweet thoughts as fragrant and tender,
And rarer than poets can write.

The Iris her pennon unfurls,
     My unspoken message to carry,
     A flower-poem writ by a fairy,
And Buttercups rounder than pearls.

And Snowdrops starry and sweet,
     Turn toward thee their pale pure faces
     And Crocus, and Cowslips, and Daisies
The song of the spring-time repeat.

So merry and full of cheer,
     With the warble of birds overflowing,
     The wind through the fresh grass blowing
And the blackbirds whistle so dear.

These songs without words are true,
     All sung in the April weather—
     Music and blossoms together—
I gather and weave them for you.

Kate Seymour MacLean (1829-1916)
Canadian poet and teacher

Friday, 24 February 2017

Book Review: A Meeting by the River by Christopher Isherwood isn’t always easy to understand and even less to wholeheartedly accept and support the choices of others. Of course, we all want family, friends, everybody in the whole world to be happy and contented, but our definition of what is good and right is largely determined by personal as well as society’s standards. It’s true that in our modern western world social conventions are no longer as narrow as they used to be, and yet, there are still limits that we sometimes protect fiercely as if the future of men depended on it. In Christopher Isherwood’s novel from 1967 titled A Meeting by the River, the Englishman Patrick visits his younger brother Oliver in a monastery near Calcutta to dissuade him from becoming a Hindu monk because he thinks that it’s only a whim and ends up confessing a side of himself to which he doesn’t dare to stand publicly.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

What's In A Name 2017: My List of Twice Six Books
click on the image to go to the
challenge on The Worm Hole

A List of Twice Six Books

- completed reviews -
+ suggested Nobel reads that didn’t fit into my 2017 planning

  • A number in numbers:
    Paul Auster: 4 3 2 1 (2017)
    + Nobel Prize in Literature 1938 – Pearl S. Buck: 14 Stories (1961) in the Pocket Books edition of 1963, but if you have a better suggestion...
  • A building:
    Shirley Jackson: We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962)
    + Nobel Prize in Literature 1949 – William Faulkner: The Mansion (1959)
  • A title which has an ‘X’ somewhere in it:
    Alfred Döblin: Berlin Alexanderplatz (1929), original German title: Berlin Alexanderplatz
    + Nobel Prize in Literature 1991 – Nadine Gordimer: Beethoven Was One-Sixteenth Black (2007)
  • A compass direction:
    Ana María Matute: Celebration in the Northwest (1952), original Spanish title: Fiesta al noroeste
    + Nobel Prize in Literature 1962 – John Steinbeck: East of Eden (1952)
  • An item/items of cutlery:
    Katie Flynn: No Silver Spoon (1999)
    + Nobel Prize in Literature 1932 – John Galsworthy: The Silver Spoon (1926), second book of A Modern Comedy, the sequel of The Forsyte Saga
  • A title in which at least two words share the same first letter – alliteration!
    Amos Oz: Black Box (1986), original Hebrew title: קופסה שחורה
    + Nobel Prize in Literature 1993 – Toni Morrison: Song of Solomon (1977)

Monday, 20 February 2017

Poetry Revisited: Venice. The Carnival by Lord Byron

The Carnival

(from Beppo: A Venetian Story: 1818)

Of all the places where the Carnival
   Was most facetious in the days of yore,
For dance, and song, and serenade, and ball,
   And masque, and mime, and mystery, and more
Than I have time to tell now, or at all,
   Venice the bell from every city bore;
And at the moment when I fix my story
That sea-born city was in all her glory.

They ’ve pretty faces yet, those same Venetians,
   Black eyes, arched brows, and sweet expressions still;
Such as of old were copied from the Grecians,
   In ancient arts by moderns mimicked ill;
And like so many Venuses of Titian’s
   (The best ’s at Florence,—see it, if ye will),
They look when leaning over the balcony,
Or stepped from out a picture by Giorgione,

Whose tints are truth and beauty at their best;
   And when you to Manfrini’s palace go,
That picture (howsoever fine the rest)
   Is loveliest to my mind of all the show:
It may perhaps be also to your zest,
   And that ’s the cause I rhyme upon it so:
’T is but a portrait of his son, and wife,
And self; but such a woman! love in life!

Lord Byron (1788-1824)
British poet, politician, and a leading figure in the Romantic movement

Friday, 17 February 2017

Book Review: Letters to Felician by Ingeborg Bachmann is a reason why love letters have never entirely gone out of fashion. For some they are the epitome of romance because unlike the spoken word they are lasting and can be re-read at any time. Moreover, it’s often easier to express feelings in a letter. Everybody knows that to write one takes more time than to burst out some clumsy words, time to think about the right expression and tone. And then it has the advantage that the recipient doesn’t need to be at hand. The lyrical Letters to Felician by the late Austrian writer Ingeborg Bachmann show a passionate young woman in love who is full of longing for her absent beloved. But she also strives to find her way in life without knowing where it can lead her and if she will ever be able to achieve anything with the ghosts of the Nazi past haunting her.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Back Reviews Reel: February 2014

Three years ago my bookish travels took me to four most enchanting and enjoyable reading destinations in Europe, East Asia and the Carribean. My first stop was in Paris, France, where I visited The Cat whom the famous writer Colette made part of an unexpected love triangle and the wedge between a young couple. Then I moved on to Lisbon, Portugal, with the en-NOBEL-ed author José Saramago to see what the proofreader Raimundo Benvindo Silva makes of The History of the Siege of Lisbon and the entry of the supervisor Maria Sara into his life. Right from Lisbon I embarked for Tōkyo, Japan, to plunge into the fascinating world of numbers that The Housekeeper and the Professor and her little son discover under the deft guidance of author Ogawa Yōko. And finally I made my way from Japan across the Pacific Ocean through the Panama Canal to pre-Castro Havana, Cuba, to meet Our Man in Havana and to be drawn into Graham Greene’s satirical representation of spying in the early years of the Cold War.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Poetry Revisited: Valentines by Virna Sheard


(from Candle Flame: 1926)

Now little maid—with a Valentine;
     Most blythesome be and gay;
For Valentines come not—come not—
     On every working day;
And though they may, perchance on some
     Like cherry-blossoms fall.
Believe me, Sweet—there oft are those
     Who don't get one at all!

So if you got a lacy one
     With a swinging paper door,
And a precious verse behind it—
     (That's what Valentines are for),
If a darling little cupid
     With roses on his head,
Was aiming at a lonely heart,
     Most violently red—

Burn joss sticks! Oh, burn joss sticks—
     To the god of Happy Fate,
For the postman does not enter
     At everybody's gate;
And though on some, the Valentines
     Like cherry-blossoms fall—
Believe me, there are often those
     Who don't get one at all!

Virna Sheard (1865-1943)
Canadian poet and novelist

Friday, 10 February 2017

Book Review: Black Box by Amos Oz
How often does it happen that the love that united a man and a woman turns into hatred as time advances and they drift apart. Some couples still manage to part in a civilised manner if not in peace, but often the end of a relationship is a violent and spiteful mess that leaves everybody concerned hurt, angry and bitter. Even worse if a child is involved who is too young to understand the reasons for the fighting as is the case in Black Box by Amos Oz, an epistolary novel about a couple whose marriage ended in a vicious divorce and left not only themselves but also their son filled with hatred and resentment for years on end. Only when the woman in her despair about the son who has grown into an uncontrollable teenager writes a letter to her ex-husband to ask for help, they finally get a chance to sort things out and make peace.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

New on Lagraziana's Kalliopeion: Vita Brevis by Jostein Gaarder Augustine and His Abandoned Concubine:
Vita Brevis by Jostein Gaarder

During much of European history men shaped the world of things and thought as they believed right and passed over women in silence, if they didn’t hold them in contempt. Highly revered Fathers of the Christian Church like Saint Augustine of Hippo Regius further institutionalised this contempt of women… and of earthly pleasures altogether as shows his autobiography titled Confessiones. In this theological key text he admits that before his conversion to Christianity in 385 he was a man who tasted life to the full. For over ten years he lived with a concubine (probably law forbade a formal marriage) and had a son with her, but in retrospect he regrets this sinful and immoral relationship because it kept him from true love of God. In Vita Brevis. A Letter to Saint Augustine (also translated into English as The Same Flower) the Norwegian writer, philosopher and theologian Jostein Gaarder gave this abandoned woman a voice.

Read more » (external link to Lagraziana's Kalliopeion)

Monday, 6 February 2017

Poeetry Revisited: Cui Bono by Thomas Carlyle

Cui Bono

(from Critical and Miscellaneous Essays, Volume I: 1838)

What is Hope? A smiling rainbow
Children follow through the wet;
’Tis not here, still yonder, yonder:
Never urchin found it yet.

What is Life? A thawing iceboard
On a sea with sunny shore;—
Gay we sail; it melts beneath us;
We are sunk, and seen no more.

What is Man? A foolish baby,
Vainly strives, and fights, and frets;
Demanding all, deserving nothing;—
One small grave is what he gets.

Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881)
Scottish philosopher, satirical writer, essayist, historian and teacher

Friday, 3 February 2017

Book Review: So Long A Letter by Mariama Bâ can be no doubt that relations between men and women are a favourite topic of writers. Literature offers everything from the vicissitudes of romantic love over the turmoils of an unstable marriage to the wars ending an unfortunate relationship. Love triangles are a rather common ingredient in many novels, but since we all tend to prefer books from our own culture – which is clearly Judeo-Christian in Europe – we seldom read about polygamous marriages except maybe in a historical novel set somewhere in the Orient. So we know little about how a woman feels who is one wife among others. The epistolary novel So Long a Letter by Mariama Bâ from Senegal surrounds a Muslim widow mourning her husband to whom she has been happily married for twenty-five years until desire had the better of him and he took a teenage second wife. In a letter to a friend abroad she tells her story.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

100 Novels In Letters
Click on the image to go to the
challenge on Whatever I Think Of

My Long Longlist of Epistolary Fiction

As I found out a year ago, February is the Month of Letters and I gladly seize the opportunity to present four epistolary novels here on Edith’s Miscellany on the coming four Fridays plus another letter-based book on Lagraziana’s Kalliopeion. Of course, these five reviews won’t remain my only ones this year with a focus on this old literary genre because I signed up for Jamie Ghione’s Epistolary Reading Challenge 2017 on Whatever I Think Of (»»» see my common sign-up post for all this year's reading challenges) and I’m determined to treat myself to a few more fictional or fictionalised correspondences for it.

Being a great enthusiast of the old-fashioned (snail mail) letter, I confine myself to books written entirely or at least substantially in this form rather than modern emails, instant messages, memos, blogs, or diaries although it’s not always easy to draw a sharp line or even to find out before reading. Luckily, writers have been penning heaps of fictional letters to produce full-length novels since the late seventeenth century, many of them forgotten today or considered antiquated, and to my great joy they continue to do so adapting the genre to the realities of modern life.

There is an interesting and detailed list of contemporary epistolary novels on Wikipedia, but I preferred to make my own list largely based on my 29 Book Suggestions for the Month of Letters 2016. Admittedly, my selection of 100 is a bit arbitrary and includes several books about which I know nothing except that they are epistolary. Moreover, one fifth of the novels dates from before 1900 and isn’t eligible for review on Edith’s Miscellany according to my own rules. I include them nonetheless for the sake of “completeness” along with the novels in letters that I already wrote about in the past. My reviews for the Epistolary Reading Challenge 2017 will be from the remaining.

And here’s my chronological Longlist of 100 Novels in Letters
(to be completed with links to my reviews):