Books I Read in June & July 2015

Felix Holt, by George Eliot — This is the only book I finished reading in June. Unlike all of George Eliot’s other novels, Felix Holt is not divided into “books”. So, for the Eliot Project, “Sophie” and I decided to divide it into the three volumes it was originally published in. Here are my notes on it: Volume 1, Volume 2, and Volume 3.

I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith — I enjoyed this book. It is written in the form of a journal, and so is written in the first person. Generally, I do not like reading diaries because I find the form tedious and annoying. However, in this the narrator, Cassandra Mortmain, doesn’t write a typical diary, but, rather, uses her journal to practice writing, describing people and the interesting things that happen to her family. So, it ends up with a few long entries, rather than many short ones. The book is funny, direct, and engaging.

As a lover of butter, I was amused by this quotation from the first chapter: “Goodness, Topaz is actually putting on eggs to boil! No one told me the hens had yielded to prayer. Oh, excellent hens! I was only expecting bread and margarine for tea, and I don’t get as used to margarine as I could wish. I thank heaven there is no cheaper form of bread than bread.” I learned from the book cover that Dodie Smith is also the author of the children’s book The Hundred and One Dalmatians, which I’ve heard of, though I’ve never read.

The Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton — The story of a conventional man who falls in love with an unconventional woman. (Spoilers ahead.) Newland Archer is in love with and engaged to May Welland. Then he meets her cousin, the intriguing Ellen Olenska who has fled from her husband. They fall in love, but Ellen insists that he marry May. She tells him, “[Y]ou hated happiness bought by disloyalty and cruelty and indifference. That was what I’d never known before — and it’s better than anything I’ve known. … I can’t go back now to that other way of thinking. I can’t love you unless I give you up.” (XVIII). Accordingly, Archer marries May. He continues to love Ellen, however, and eventually contrives to meet with her. In between seeing her, he builds up an inner life for himself “in which she throned among his secret thoughts and longings. Little by little it became the scene of his real life …” (XXVI). It is a pity he did not put that effort into his marriage, instead. Anyway, despite an attempt to be together again, they are driven apart.

At first, convention divides them in the form of Archer recommending Ellen to not get a divorce (while he was still only engaged to May), despite her husband being cruel and unfaithful. Archer was afraid of what might come out about Ellen during divorce proceedings. Their effort to be together would have been fine before Archer’s marriage, if Ellen had gone through with this divorce. May even suspects that he is in love with another woman and offers to release him from his engagement. He insists that he only loves her, however, and persuades her to marry him as soon as possible. After Archer’s marriage, he again attempts to be with Ellen. It is soon noticed that there is something between them, and the family gathers around to remove Ellen and protect May and Archer’s marriage.

The Age of Innocence ?1788 by Sir Joshua Reynolds 1723-1792The actual storyline is only a part of the interest in The Age of Innocence. It is also a satirical look at New York life in the 1870’s. At the end of the book, when his children are grown up, Archer thinks about the ways life has changed. “Looking about him, he honoured his own past, and mourned for it. After all, there was good in the old ways. … There was good in the new order too.” (XXIV) This is the first book I’ve read by Edith Wharton, and I found it very interesting.

Now that I’ve finished reading Felix Holt for the Eliot Project, I’ve begun reading Middlemarch, so it was intriguing to come across this reference to it in The Age of Innocence: “That evening he unpacked his books from London. The box was full of things he had been waiting for impatiently; a new volume of Herbert Spencer, another collection of the prolific Alphonse Daudet’s brilliant tales, and a novel called Middlemarch, as to which there had lately been interesting things said in the reviews.” (Book 1, Ch. XV)

The Iliad, by Homer, translated by Robert Fitzgerald, read by George Guidall — An interesting look at a lot of bloodthirsty and immoral men. Homer was very detailed about how each man in the battle died (exactly where they were hit, and so on). It is also interesting just how long a conversation (exchange of insults, rather) could go on between two opponents, poised to kill each other, in the midst of a raging battle. The story ended at the perfect place.

Pericles, Prince of Tyre, by William Shakespeare — This is an adventure story, full of action. It actually reminded me a little of The Odyssey. Like Odysseus, Pericles is shipwrecked, dogged by misfortune, and long prevented from returning home. (Spoilers ahead.) He starts out seeking the hand of the daughter of the King of Antioch. He discovers a dirty secret they’ve been hiding and, fearing the king’s anger, he flees by ship. The king sends an assassin after him, and Pericles is forced to leave his own country, too. He heads his ships to the starving people of the Governor of Tarsus, bringing aid. The assassin comes after him there, too, and Pericles goes to sea again and is shipwrecked. The only survivor, he washes up in Pentapolis where he jousts and wins the love of the king’s daughter. Appraised of the deaths of the king of Antioch and his daughter (who thus are no longer seeking to kill him) and warned of a plot to crown a new king in Tyre, Pericles and his now-pregnant wife, take ship to return there. Unfortunately, during a storm, the queen gives birth and dies. The ship is near Tarsus, so Pericles leaves his daughter, Marina (“for she was born at sea”), there to be nursed and returns to Tyre. His queen was thrown overboard in a watertight coffin and arrives at Ephesus where she is revived and becomes a priestess to Diana. In Tyre, Pericles successfully keeps his crown. In Tarsus, the governor’s wife becomes so jealous for her daughter’s sake of the beauteous Marina, that she tries to have the latter murdered. Before she can be killed, however, Marina is kidnapped by pirates, taken to Mitylene, and sold to a bawd. Pericles sails to Tarsus to see his daughter (she is now about fourteen years old), learns of her supposed death, and sails away again. Driven by winds, he lands at Mitylene where he finds his daughter (who managed to scare any customers away from the brothel and was fortunately found new work teaching sewing and dancing). Also, the governor of Mitylene happens to be in love with her. The goddess Diana appears to Pericles in a dream and tells him to visit her temple in Ephesus. He takes his daughter, promising the governor to return, and goes. Naturally, he finds his wife there. They plan to return to Mitylene so Marina can marry the governor (apparently Juliet isn’t the only Shakespearean heroine to be married at approximately age fourteen) and then all head off to Tyre to live happily ever after.

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride, by Cary Elwes with Joe Layden, read by Cary Elwes and a whole list of other narrators — The fact that this audiobook is read by the author is very cool. Cary Elwes does all kinds of voices and is fun to listen to. Many of the actors and others involved in making the movie read their own commentary, so you also get to hear Billy Crystal, Christopher Guest, Carol Kane, Norman Lear, Rob Reiner, Chris Sarandon, Andy Scheinman, Wallace Shawn, and Robin Wright.

Cary Elwes includes many interesting stories in his book, of course. Among other subjects, he talks a lot about his sword fight with Mandy Patinkin (Inigo Montoya). They learned to fight right-handed and left-handed. Stunt doubles were only used for the flips — all the sword fighting in the scene comes from the two actors. They trained with Bob Anderson and Peter Diamond. Among their other impressive credits, Bob Anderson was a stunt double for Darth Vader’s lightsaber battles and Peter Diamond was the Tusken Raider who attacked Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, Episode IV.

Much of the film was shot in Derbyshire, England, including the Peak District and Haddon Hall. Obviously, Cary Elwes didn’t mention this, but the Peak District is also famous as the place Lizzy Bennet tours with her aunt and uncle and visits Pemberley (Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen). He did include some interesting history about Haddon Hall, however.

Puck - Joshua ReynoldsA Midsummer Night’s Dream, by William Shakespeare, a fully dramatized recording by Arkangel, 2003 — AMND is not my favorite of Shakespeare’s comedies, but I wanted to reread it in preparation for teaching some kids Shakespeare, this year. It isn’t difficult to see why AMND is used so often to introduce children to Shakespeare. It is fairly short, the comedy is easy to understand, and it has beautiful poetry. Also, if you are looking to perform it, it has a substantial number of major roles, male and female.

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Paintings: The Age of Innocence (probably originally called A Little Girl), a painting believed to be the inspiration for the title of Edith Wharton’s novel, and Puck, both by Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792).

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