Cranford is based on three of Elizabeth Gaskell’s works, Cranford, My Lady Ludlow and Mr Harrison’s Confessions and I see from Amazon that The Cranford Chronicles is to be published on 4 October to tie-in with the TV series.
Nan gave me the Nice Matters Award back in August. I’™m sorry it’™s taken so long to write about it, Nan, but I’™ve been thinking about posting about it since then. Nice Matters can be thought of in different ways ‘“ ‘œnice’ things, or the significance and importance of being ‘œnice’.
The dictionary definition of ‘œnice’ includes ‘œagreeable, delightful, respectable, good in any way, something done with great care and exactness, accurate, and good-natured.’ So I’™ll disregard and indeed ignore one of my English teachers at school who told us not to use the word ‘œnice’ as she thought it was a neutral word and didn’™t signify much at all. The concept of ‘œNiceness’ is good and it does indeed matter.
I am honoured, Nan ‘“ thank you. I don’™t know Nan personally but judging from her blog I think that she is a thoroughly nice person.
I’ve never read Scott before and didn’t really know what to expect. So far Ivanhoe has had me chuckling. I’m delighted to find it so entertaining and thinking I wish I’d read this before. My copy was published by the Odhams Press Ltd in the 1930s and has this line drawing of Sir Walter Scott as a frontispiece. From the Foreword:
“Certainly there have been few more lovable, more unselfish figures than the lame Laird of Abbotsfield.”
It continues promising a enthralling tale of the “triangular love drama of Ivanhoe, Rowena and Rebecca, the pomp and chivalry of the Lists and the adventures of Robin Hood, Friar Tuck, and the merry gangsters of Sherwood Forest.”
So, a complete change of mood from Poe and modern fantasy novels.
Ivanhoe is set in the time of Richard I, also known as Richard the Lionheart (1157 – 1199), over 100 years after the Norman Conquest of England, when there was still opposition between the conquering Normans and the native Anglo-Saxons. Scott’s introduction(dated 1830) to the novel (written in 1819) follows the foreword in which he explains why he has decided to write a novel based on English history instead of Scottish – he felt he was “likely to weary out the indulgence of his readers, but also greatly to limit his own power of affording them pleasure”, as, “when men and horses, cattle, camels and dromedaries, have poached the spring into mud, it becomes loathsome to those who first drank of it with rapture.” In other words he didn’t want to bore his readers with more of the same and he fancied a change himself.
The novel eventually starts on page 29, where follows long and detailed descriptions of the location of the story; of the continuing hostility between the Normans and the Anglo-Saxons; and of the first two characters that we meet.
To some extent this reminded me of the rustic characters in Shakespeare’s plays, provided for comic relief, but as I’ve only just got on to Chapter Two perhaps I shouldn’t be too hasty in my views. Anyway, so far I’m finding this book refreshingly very different from the books I’ve read recently, although that’s not to say that I haven’t enjoyed those, because I have enormously. But it’s a relief to find that I’m enjoying Ivanhoe, as I had thought it might be a bit dry. If I start to write in long, complicated sentences, with detailed descriptions I can blame it all on Scott.
What do you read?
(Any bets on how quickly somebody says the Bible or some other religious text? A good choice, to be sure, but to be honest, I was thinking more along the lines of fiction’¦. Unless I laid it on a little strong in the string of catastrophes? Maybe I should have just stuck to catching a cold on a rainy day’¦.)
If I’m feeling really miserable there is nothing that I could read that would make me feel better. I just wouldn’t be able to concentrate on reading; if it was a cheerful or funny book that would make me feel worse and if it was a sad, tragic book that would just pile on the agony.
If it was just a rainy day and I feel a cold coming on that would be different. But I wouldn’t go for “comfort reading”. I’d want a book to interest me and take me out of myself, something I hadn’t read before. There aren’t many books that I actually do re-read as there are so many other books and life is too short to read all the books that catch my eye. I looked through the lists of books I’ve read in the last few years and there are some that I’ve marked “re-read” but only a few that have made it and those were ones that I hadn’t read for some years and it was like reading new books, although I knew where they were going and it was the details of getting there that I’d forgotten. This means that I could more slowly and actually enjoy the writing.
The first one I read, William Wilson, just wasn’t scary at all. I didn’t find it mysterious, or very imaginative either. I read this a few days ago and on reflection it wasn’t as bad as I first thought. It’s about the nature of personality and how we can’t see or come to terms with our own nature.
If you don’t want to know the story then you’d better not read any further, but I did find it predictable and so there was no suspense or shivery feelings for me in this tale.
William Wilson, not his real name, meets another William Wilson, not his real name either, at school and becomes convinced that his namesake is making himself into a perfect imitation, which he detests and he left school to get away from him. Three years of ‘folly’ follow and then at Eton during an evening of ‘debaucheries’ when the wine flowed freely at a ‘party of the most dissolute students’ he re-encounters his double. He continues in this vein whilst at Oxford University descending to yet greater depths of depravity, and then flees to Paris, Vienna, Berlin and Moscow in attempts to shake off the presence of his tormentor, all the time demanding, ‘Who is he? – whence came he? – and what are his objects?’
Finally in Rome, having ‘indulged more freely than usual in the excesses of the wine-table’ he determines to confront him ‘Scoundrel! Impostor! Accursed villain! You shall not – you shall not dog me unto death! Follow me, or I will stab you where you stand!’ They struggle – he stabs him. Then, and this is where I think the tale is so predictable and I had seen it coming from way back, he sees a large mirror and the reflection of his antagonist who whispers ‘In me didst thou exist – and in my death, see by this image, which is thine own, how utterly thou hast murdered thyself.’
So I thought I’d try one I’d heard of and read The Fall of the House of Usher, having a vague memory of seeing an old black and white movie with Boris Karloff opening a huge, ancient door, covered in cobwebs and creaking loudly on its hinges, at the dead of night. I’ll write about what I made of this in another post.
I enjoy reading Angela Young’™s blog Writing, Life and the Universe and so of course I just had to read her book, Speaking of Love. I found it a moving book, but never sentimental and as stated on the book cover it is:
‘œ ‘¦ a novel about what happens when people who love each other don’™t say so. It deals passionately and honestly with human breakdown. And it tells of our need for stories and how stories can help make sense of the random nature of life.’
This is a story told by three people ‘“ Iris, her daughter Vivie, and Matthew. It takes place over three days leading up to the story-telling festival where Iris is performing. Iris and Vivie are estranged and gradually the reason is revealed as all three characters tell their stories. As the book starts Matthew and his dad Dick are about to travel to the festival, Iris is already there and Vivie, living in London is having a crisis in her life, unbeknown to the others. Matthew and Vivie had been childhood friends, living next door to each other at the time when Iris first suffered a breakdown, which is later revealed to be schizophrenia.
This is also a book about story-telling, indeed the book is structured into separate tales which interlink and finally unite. Along with the stories of the three characters’™ lives there are also the stories that Iris tells. These are reminiscent of folk and fairy tales. Appropriately, Iris treasures the book of fairy tales that had belonged to her mother. I must have read all the books of fairy tales in the junior library as a child – I loved them. So it was with nostalgia that I read Iris’™s stories such as ‘œEarth and Sea’, the story of the fisherman, his wife and Murmurina their daughter, ‘œborn with a fat fishtail that glistened where she should have had legs’ and who ‘œmade ‘˜O’™ shapes with her mouth when she should have had a voice’.
The story-telling motif also runs through Dick and Matthew’™s journey to the festival. Dick has planned it to take place over three days, stopping over night at various places and using only the minor roads. I liked the comparison of travelling in this way as ‘œdarning’ by going under and over the motorways and A roads.
The main theme is the effects that not communicating has on the people we love. Iris’™s father is locked in his grief after the death of his wife and Iris believes he blames her for her mother’™s death; Iris isolated by her illness can’™t communicate her love to her daughter; Matthew, who learnt at the age of twelve that ‘œif you say how you feel you lose control over what happens next’ couldn’™t tell Vivie he loves her; and Vivie knew that ‘œyou had to be on guard because you never knew when your own insides ‘“ or anyone else’™s insides ‘“ might spill out.’
The book explores the difficulties and effects of living with someone with schizophrenia, burying frightening experiences and the way we lose control over events. Dick sums it up in his advice to Matthew:
‘œThe real risk, it seems to me, lies in not talking about the things that matter the most. That’™s what made Iris ill. What we don’™t say doesn’™t go away. It stays inside and after a while of not being spoken about it turns against us. ‘¦ The things we don’™t talk about fester and then they infect us. They eat away at us like a cancer.’
The book is full of beautiful descriptions ‘“ of trees, particularly the laburnum (the “story-telling tree”) and gardens in East Anglia, of the mediaeval castle over looking the Bristol Channel and the festival performers and the landscape of England as Dick and Matthew travel across country, which brings the story alive.
The opening sentence sums up Iris’s story “I have come home, after a long and difficult journey.” Everything after that is the story of how she got there. A book worth reading.