Books I Read in April and May 2016

Girl with a book, by Pietro Rotari (1701-1762)In April I read:

Lady Susan, by Jane Austen, read by Harriet Walter, Kim Hicks, Carole Boyd, Jonathan Keeble, Nigel Anthony, Patience Tomlinson, and Ruth Sillers (Naxos AudioBooks, 2001) — A novella, one of Jane Austen’s early works. Lady Susan is an unscrupulous widow out to arrange things to her advantage. All of Jane Austen’s works have a comic vein, but, as part of her juvenilia, Lady Susan is more of a burlesque than her adult writings. The Naxos audiobook is very enjoyable. The story is written in epistolary form, making it simple to have a dramatic cast without resorting to a dramatic retelling (or abridgment). All of the voice actors are excellent, with Harriet Walter being especially enjoyable as Lady Susan.

The Westing Game, by Ellen Raskin — My foray into detective fiction beyond Sherlock Holmes (just about the only books I’ve read in the genre). The characterization was interesting.

Conceived in Liberty, Volume 2 — “Salutary Neglect”: The American Colonies in the First Half of the Eighteenth Century, by Murray Rothbard, read by Dr. Floy Lilley. — I highly recommend this series. It is a fascinating look at early American history as a narrative, instead of a series of disjointed facts. You can download the audiobook for free on the Mises website.

How Children Learn, Revised Edition, by John Holt (De Capo Press, 1983) — I agree with much that the author has to say, although I don’t think it harmful for children to have some structured (by which I mean not entirely child-led) education — definitely not, however, to the extent that schools (and even many homeschools) enforce. As he did with his earlier book, How Children Fail, the author revised and expanded How Children Learn based on further experience, so if you want to read it, make sure you get an edition from 1983 or later.

Love’s Labour’s Lost, by William Shakespeare, read by a full cast (Arkangel, 2003) — After finishing volume 2, I took a break from listening to Conceived in Liberty to listen to a couple of Shakespeare’s plays.

“Study is like the heaven’s glorious sun, / That will not be deep-search’d with saucy looks” (Berowne, Act 1, Scene 1).

“Adieu, valour; rust, rapier; be still, drum; for your manager is in love; yea, he loveth. Assist me, some extemporal god of rhyme, for I am sure I shall turn sonnet. Devise, wit; write, pen; for I am for whole volumes in folio.” (Armado, Act 1, Scene 2).

“And when Love speaks, the voice of all the gods / Make heaven drowsy with the harmony.” (Berowne, Act 4, Scene 3).

“They have been at a great feast of languages and stol’n the scraps.” (Moth, Act 5, Scene 1).

Measure for Measure, by William Shakespeare, read by a full cast (Arkangel, 2003) — Unlike the bulk of Shakespeare’s plays, Measure for Measure is not comedy, tragedy, or history. The play focuses on Angelo and Isabella, their characters and struggles. In case you weren’t convinced by Romeo and Juliet and Much Ado About Nothing, this play drives home the fact that Shakespeare’s friars (even the ones who are only pretending to be friars) have a habit of coming up with unconventional ideas.

“He who the sword of heaven will bear / Should be as holy as severe” (Duke, Act 3, Scene 2).

Fans of Northanger Abbey will recognize: “Dar’st thou die? / The sense of death is most in apprehension; / And the poor beetle that we tread upon / In corporal sufferance finds a pang as great / As when a giant dies.” (Isabella, Act 3, Scene 1).

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In May I read:

The Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro — This book amazed me. Given the story, or the lack of it, it should have been rather boring than otherwise, but it wasn’t. It helped that the author knew exactly when to stop. As a long novel, it would not have worked, but as it stands, I enjoyed it very much. The story consists of a butler, Mr. Stevens, reflecting on his past life while taking a motoring trip.

“But what is the sense in forever speculating what might have happened had such and such a moment turned out differently? One could presumably drive oneself to distraction in this way. In any case, while it is all very well to talk of ‘turning points’, one can surely only recognize such moments in retrospect. Naturally, when one looks back to such instances today, they may indeed take the appearance of being crucial, precious moments in one’s life; but of course, at the time, this was not the impression one had. Rather, it was as though one had available a never-ending number of days, months, years in which to sort out the vagaries of one’s relationship with Miss Kenton; an infinite number of further opportunities in which to remedy the effect of this or that misunderstanding. There was surely nothing to indicate at the time that such evidently small incidents would render whole dreams forever irredeemable.”

One subject Mr. Stevens gives some care to is defining a “great butler” — dignity being a core quality. He deplores, among other things, butlers who spend too much time acquiring “general knowledge on wide-ranging topics such as falconing or newt-mating” and employers who encourage this by displaying their butlers “as a kind of performing monkey”. I don’t think Mr. Stevens would have approved of Jeeves.

Conceived in Liberty, Volume 3 — Advance to Revolution, 1760-1775, by Murray Rothbard, read by Dr. Floy Lilley — From the Preface:

“What! Another American history book? The reader may be pardoned for wondering about the point of another addition to the seemingly inexhaustible flow of books and texts on American history. One problem … is that the survey studies of American history have squeezed out the actual stuff of history, the narrative facts of the important events of the past. … without the narrative facts, the reader is deprived of the data from which he can himself judge the historian’s interpretations and evolve interpretations of his own. A major point of this and the other volumes is to put back the historical narrative into American history.

“Facts, of course, must be selected and ordered in accordance with judgments of importance, and such judgments are necessarily tied into the historian’s basic world outlook. My own basic perspective on the history of man, and a fortiori on the history of the United States, is to place central importance on the great conflict which is eternally waged between Liberty and Power, a conflict, by the way, which was seen with crystal clarity by the American revolutionaries of the eighteenth century. …

“I see history as centrally a race and conflict between “social power”—the productive consequence of voluntary interactions among men—and state power. In those eras of history when liberty—social power—has managed to race ahead of state power and control, the country and even mankind have flourished. In those eras when state power has managed to catch up with or surpass social power, mankind suffers and declines.”

The Winter’s Tale, by William Shakespeare, read by a full cast (Arkangel, 2003) — I recently watched a couple of adaptations of The Winter’s Tale, so, after finishing the third volume of Conceived in Liberty, I took a break before beginning volume four to listen to the play again.

— — —

There won’t be a “Books I Read” post for June. Although I have three books I am in the process of reading, there aren’t enough days left in June for me to finish any of them — at least, not if I want to get anything else done!


Painting: Girl with a book, by Pietro Rotari (1701-1762).

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Books I Read in March 2016

The Trumpet Major, by Thomas Hardy — The author’s only historical novel. Like his earlier and better-known Far from the Madding Crowd, the story revolves around three men pursuing one woman. I did not find the characters in The Trumpet Major as interesting, however. Hardy wrote a preface giving the inspiration and sources for the details of his story. This made it a bit more interesting. The ending was not completely tragic, as is the case with many of Hardy’s novels. Surprisingly, the heroine actually married the man I wanted her to marry. I wasn’t at all sure she would, so the story managed to keep me in some suspense. It is set during the Napoleonic Wars and includes a dramatization of the horrible practice of “pressing” (kidnapping men in order to conscript them into the army or navy).

Julius Cæsar, by William Shakespeare, read by a full cast (Arkangel, 2003) — A play full of splendid speeches. I am “teaching” it to a couple of students, and we are quite enjoying it. Trust Shakespeare to take a bunch of men making speeches and turn it into something so riveting.

Many familiar quotations come from Julius Cæsar: “Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world / Like a Colossus”; “Men at some time are masters of their fates: / The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, / But in ourselves, that we are underlings”; “Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look; / He thinks too much: such men are dangerous”; “but for mine own part, it was Greek to me”; “Et tu, Brute? — Then fall, Caesar!”; “Cry ‘Havoc!’ and let slip the dogs of war”; “Who is here so base that would be a bondman?”; “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears”; “Now let it work. — Mischief, thou art afoot, / Take thou what course thou wilt!”; “There is a tide in the affairs of men / Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune”; and, of course, appropriately given the month, “Beware the Ides of March.”

The Reader:Young Woman Reading a Book - RenoirAlice Adams, by Booth Tarkington — This is an interesting story where, despite feeling sorry for the heroine, I was definitely rooting for her to not succeed. It certainly shows the detriment of not growing up with the assumption that one will have to make one’s own way in the world, and of trying to live beyond one’s means, pushing into a more luxurious, or grand, social sphere. Despite not being able to root for the heroine, or perhaps even because of it, Alice Adams was a fascinating read.

The Ordinary Princess, written and illustrated by M. M. Kaye — An entertaining children’s story. It is the tale of a princess who is given the “gift” of being ordinary. The king was the favorite character of my youngest siblings, to whom I read the story. He was certainly the most comic.

Conceived in Liberty, Volume 1 — A New Land, A New People: The American Colonies in the Seventeenth Century, by Murray Rothbard, read by Dr. Floy Lilley — Listening to this on audiobook, I was not able to keep track of the numerous persons mentioned. It was, nonetheless, an extremely interesting book about the early settlement of the American colonies. Murray Rothbard focuses on both the suppression and the growth of liberty in the colonies, and its effects. A major subject is religious persecution, especially that of Quakers.


Painting: The Reader (also known as Young Woman Reading a Book), by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919).

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Books I Read in January & February 2016

Auguste Toulmouche - Dans la BibliothèqueAs you can see, I’m posting this barely in time to not have to add “March” to the title.

In January I read:

The Prince and the Pauper, by Mark Twain — I read this aloud to some of my younger siblings. They enjoyed it, as did I. The whole book was an interesting combination of humor, pungent observations, and pathos. It contained, perhaps, too many descriptive passages, and was surprisingly gruesome on occasion. It is historical fiction about the young King Edward VI, son of Henry VIII.

Learning from the Atheists, by Michael Pearl — This is actually a 30-page pamphlet, not an entire book. According to the blurb about it on the author’s website, “Mike tackles the arguments for the faith by taking the atheists’ own logic to prove Jesus Christ is God.” I thought it was interesting and well-reasoned.

Sam the Sudden, by P.G. Wodehouse — I bought this and Hot Water by the same author over the internet and, so, when they arrived, I had to read one of them. It is one of my favorite Wodehouse books. It is also one of Wodehouse’s favorites of his books:

… But I am thinking more of the male codfish after his union has been blessed and he has become the father of three million little codfish, for when this happens he conscientiously resolves to love them all alike and have no favourites. And this ought to be the spirit in which an author regards his books.

It is, however, a counsel of perfection. There are few purveyors of wholesome fiction who have written as much as I have who can claim to have no special pet among their progeny. Much as I have tried not to, I find myself beaming on Sam the Sudden with a sunny approval lacking when I re-read some of the others. It was published first in 1925, and when nearly fifty years have elapsed since the publication of a book I maintain that it is not unallowable for its author to evaluate it … without false modesty or any of that rot. And evaluating it in this manner I give it as my considered opinion that Sam the Sudden is darned good.

— from the author’s Preface to Sam the Sudden

Piccadilly Jim, by P.G. Wodehouse — Apparently purchasing Wodehouse books is catching. This is one that my brother bought soon after I bought mine. The adults of the family read it aloud together in the evenings. The main character impersonates himself. What more needs to be said

— — —

In February I read:

Summer Lightning, by P.G. Wodehouse — My sister was up for a week, so we read this one aloud with her, as well. It is one of Wodehouse’s Blandings novels. As the author explained:

A certain critic — for such men, I regret to say, do exist — made the nasty remark about my last novel that it contained ‘all the old Wodehouse characters under different names’. He has probably by now been eaten by bears, like the children who made mock of the prophet Elisha: but if he still survives he will not be able to make a similar charge against Summer Lightning. With my superior intelligence, I have outgeneralled the man this time by putting in all the old Wodehouse characters under the same names. Pretty silly it will make him feel, I rather fancy.

— from the author’s Preface to Summer Lightning

You have to admire an author who can write such a great preface.

How Children Fail, by John Holt — The first book written by this influential homeschooling (specifically, unschooling) advocate. If you plan on reading this book, make sure to find the revised edition. It was first published in 1964, but John Holt revised and expanded it in 1982, making corrections and additions from further experience. He writes of the effects of fear, stress, and boredom in school on children. His observations were gathered from his time spent in classrooms, but are, unfortunately, applicable to many homeschools, as well.

Another subject addressed is the purpose of school. Of what use is it to force children to “learn” something, if they aren’t really learning it. They must be able to use, or at least remember, the knowledge they gain, or it is of no value to them. What is the point of “cramming for an exam” when most of that information will be forgotten soon afterwards? Supposedly schools try to teach what they consider basic and necessary knowledge. The problem with that is what is useful knowledge to one person is completely superfluous to another. Besides which, there is wide disagreement on just what that basic and necessary body of knowledge consists of. John Holt concludes, “Since we can’t know what knowledge will be most needed in the future, it is senseless to try to teach it in advance. Instead, we should try to turn out people who love learning so much and learn so well that they will be able to learn whatever needs to be learned.” (page 291; New York: A Merloyd Lawrence Book, 1982). He reminds us to ask, What is the goal? and are the tactics being used really accomplishing it? Or, in his own words, “Where are we trying to get, and is this thing we are doing helping us to get there?” (p. 230).

You Vote in Your Own Election, by Ronald W. Fisher — Another pamphlet, which I read because it was lying around and had an intriguing title. It is not about politics, but the faults in Calvinistic doctrine. It puts some points against Calvinism clearly and quite bluntly. For example, when discussing “Total Depravity” (one of the five main doctrines of Calvinism, which states that man is so depraved that he cannot even choose to turn to God), the author observes, “Listeners of the gospel message are told to repent obediently (Acts 2:38; 3:19). Non-Jewish listeners are informed that during the gospel age God expects all men to repent (Acts 17:30). Redemption becomes a remarkable charade, indeed, with God sending out messengers to tell sinners to repent when all the while He knows they cannot. This would be a cruel hoax.” (Chapter 2, page 11).

Mr. Fisher is, however, mistaken about the gospel message (how to be born again), considering repenting from one’s sins as a condition to salvation (and, thus, continuing in willful sin as a way to lose one’s salvation). Because of this, the author’s arguments against “Perseverance of the Saints” (another of the five main doctrines of Calvinism) are faulty. Besides this more serious issue, the entire pamphlet is riddled with typos. It does get points, though, for a great title. In closing, here is an interesting reflection from the pamphlet:

“It is significant to note here that the basis of Augustinian predestinationism [sic] did not begin with apostolic Christianity as recorded in Acts or in any of the New Testament epistles. Nor did it spring forth as a delinquent doctrine in the latter part of the first century. It began historically more than three and one-half centuries after the birth of the Lord’s church and the inception of the proclamation of the pure gospel.” (Chapter 2, pages 8-9).


Painting: Dans la Bibliothèque by Auguste Toulmouche (1829-1890).

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Where Are You Trying to Get?

In his book How Children Fail (New York: A Merloyd Lawrence Book, 1982), John Holt recounted an incident from his time as a teacher. He was making a child recopy a page until it had three mistakes or fewer, but the mistakes were getting more numerous and the handwriting worse each time the child had to recopy it. They were both becoming increasingly frustrated. He wrote:

At that point Bill Hull asked me a question, one I should have asked myself, one we ought all to keep asking ourselves: “Where are you trying to get, and are you getting there?”

The question sticks like a burr. In schools—but where isn’t it so?—we so easily fall into the same trap: the means to an end becomes an end in itself. I had on my hands this three-mistake rule meant to serve the ends of careful work and neat compositions. By applying it rigidly was I getting more careful work and neater compositions? No; I was getting a child who was so worried about having to recopy her paper that she could not concentrate on doing it, and hence did it worse and worse, and would probably do the next papers badly as well.

We need to ask more often of everything we do in school, “Where are we trying to get, and is this thing we are doing helping us to get there?” Do we do something because we want to help the children and can see that what we are doing is helping them? Or do we do it because it is inexpensive or convenient for school, teachers, administrators? Or because everyone else does it? We must beware of making a virtue of necessity, and cooking up high-sounding educational reasons for doing what is done really for reasons of administrative economy or convenience. The still greater danger is that, having started to do something for good enough reasons, we may go on doing it stubbornly and blindly, as I did that day, unable or unwilling to see that we are doing more harm than good.

— pages 229-230

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Winter Book Sale

This month, I went to a book sale at the library. I got several books of art, a few children’s books, a dictionary, and some novels. My library’s book sales are almost certain to offer a few Webster’s dictionaries, which is good because the binding of the one I already had gave way. So I was able to pick up a replacement.

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Besides enjoying reading and collecting books, I also do a little quilt-making. I found an enormous, beautiful book of American quilts. The end papers show two quilts made from the same pattern, to entirely different effects — one of the things I love about quilts.

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I found a little, hardback copy of Laurence Sterne’s A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy. I learned of this book because it was quoted in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park — my favorite novel (I even have a blog dedicated to it). Maria Bertram was familiar enough with A Sentimental Journey to quote from it with great feeling.DSCF1173

“[T]here are situations in which very high spirits would denote insensibility. Your prospects, however, are too fair to justify want of spirits. You have a very smiling scene before you.”

“Do you mean literally or figuratively? Literally, I conclude. Yes, certainly, the sun shines, and the park looks very cheerful. But unluckily that iron gate, that ha-ha, give me a feeling of restraint and hardship. ‘I cannot get out,’ as the starling said.” As she spoke, and it was with expression, she walked to the gate: he followed her. “Mr. Rushworth is so long fetching this key!”

— Henry Crawford and Maria Bertram in chapter 10 of Mansfield Park by Jane Austen.

DSCF1174And then there is my most exciting find. Strictly speaking, actually, it was my brother who found it, but, as he already has some of the books included, he graciously handed it over to me. It is a beautiful set of six Thomas Hardy novels.

I have read Under the Greenwood Tree, Far from the Madding Crowd, and The Mayor of Casterbridge. I prefer novels with happy endings, which Thomas Hardy is not known for, so I have avoided the more depressing of his stories. However, Under the Greenwood Tree, in particular, is a delightful story which I’d been hoping to find a copy of for some time. I had not heard of The Trumpet Major before, but it sounds interesting. It is Thomas Hardy’s only historical novel and has been noted for its historical accuracy. Like Far from the Madding Crowd, it has a heroine pursued by three suitors and, in the words of the Wikipedia article, “the ending is not entirely tragic”.

The set is beautiful. It was published by The Folio Society (London, 1991). Each book is a different color, hardbound, and with wood engravings by Peter Reddick. The tops of the pages even match the colors of the covers. It will look very handsome on a shelf — just as such a set ought to. And, as a final advantage, because it was a set, I got it for half price.

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For the rest, I got a book of Leonardo da Vinci’s sketches, one of Queen Victoria’s sketches, and a book of paintings by Norman Rockwell. In the children’s section, I picked up prettily illustrated copies of Rumpelstiltskin, Further Adventures of Brer Rabbit, and The Story of Noah and the Ark, from the King James Bible. Finally, I managed to purchase a duplicate of The Age of Innocence, forgetting that I already had a copy. I remembered as soon as I got home. My new copy, however, is handsomely bound and a hardcover.

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Daniel Deronda: Revelations

This book starts out with some much needed explanation of why Daniel was willing to listen to Mordecai. Daniel is “dissatisfied with his neutral life” and wants a special duty or purpose. Into this vacuum comes Mordecai’s ardour and certainty. And then, there must be many people with ideas, “on the look-out for the man who must hear him”, immovable in the face of indifference or incredulity — “like Copernicus and Galileo”. In order to avoid rejecting good, “nothing will do but a capacity to understand the subject-matter on which the immovable man is convinced”. “[W]e are the beginning of the ages” which shall “try the spirits, and see what they are worth”. This line of thinking keeps Daniel from a “contemptuous prejudgment of Mordecai”, in addition to his natural sympathy with suffering and readiness to acknowledge any claim on himself. His contempt for “those who were deaf to Columbus” compels him “to see that I don’t adopt their mistake on a small scale”. On the other hand, Daniel does not want “his course determined by mere contagion, without consent of reason” (ch. 41).

In this frame of mind, Daniel fulfills his promise to visit Mordecai. Together they go to a club of which Mordecai is a member. These people assume that Daniel is familiar with “Mordecai’s way of thinking” and Daniel is “all ear” for any “hints of Mordecai’s opinion”. And it is here that Mordecai finally gives an idea of just what his “vision” is, giving Daniel a clearer picture of what he could be getting into. Mordecai is a Zionist. He has grand ideas of the good having a Jewish nation will do, not only the Jews, but the whole world. He says, “[T]he world will gain as Israel gains. For there will be a community in the van of the East which carries the culture and the sympathies of every great nation in its bosom: there will be a land set for a halting-place of enmities, a neutral ground for the East as Belgium is for the West.” (ch. 42). Obviously, Mordecai’s vision has not been wholly fulfilled. While the State of Israel was established in 1948 (about 70 years after the publication of Daniel Deronda), the idea of it as “a halting-place of enmities” or “a neutral ground for the East” is almost ludicrous nowadays. Daniel is moved by Mordecai’s passion and promises him, “Everything I can in conscience do to make your life effective I will do” (ch. 43).


Mordecai’s vision was the first major revelation of book six. It leads to the second. From Mordecai’s story, Daniel learns that Mordecai is Mirah’s brother. After telling Mordecai about Mirah, Daniel persuades him to accept a new home closer to the Meyricks, with the view that Mirah will eventually wish to live with him. He leaves Mrs. Meyrick to tell Mirah of the discovery, as he wishes to avoid seeming to make himself important or giving himself the character of a benefactor. Mirah and Mordecai meet and, of course, love and properly appreciate each other.

Another revelation is Gwendolen’s discovery, which comes as a shock to her, that her husband knew that she had met Lydia and heard her story before they were engaged. Grandcourt makes no similar discovery about Gwendolen. He understands only part of her dread of him. He understands her pride, but not her remorse. He thinks she is only jealous of Lydia and cannot imagine her actual feelings.

Unlike Gwendolen, Grandcourt does not repent of his marriage. It has given him an aim in life and “new objects to exert his will upon” (ch. 48). He takes satisfaction in mastering her inward resistance. When he breaks his first promise to her by bringing Lush back, she dares not quarrel. He goes further, and requires her to hear from Lush the details of his will. “‘She is in a desperate rage,’ thought [Grandcourt]. But the rage was silent, and therefore not disagreeable to him. It followed that he turned her chin and kissed her” (ch. 48).

As Gwendolen grows more desperate, she turns again to Daniel and expresses to him her fears of becoming more wicked with hatred. Grandcourt interrupts them before Daniel, feeling helpless to save her, can speak his thought: “Confess everything to your husband; have nothing concealed” (ch. 48). Grandcourt decides to take Gwendolen away yachting in the Mediterranean. He would have denied that he was jealous of Gwendolen’s relation to Daniel, but he is determined not to be fooled.

ExxonMobil Masterpiece Theatre - Daniel Deronda

The book ends with one final revelation. Daniel receives a letter from his mother who now wishes to see him and he finally learns that Sir Hugo is not his father.


This is part of the Eliot Project which “Sophie” of A Reasonable Quantity of Butter and I are doing. Read “Sophie’s” notes on the sixth book of Daniel Deronda here: “Revelations”.

Screencaps from the 2002 adaptation of Daniel Deronda with Hugh Dancy as Daniel Deronda, Daniel Evans as Mordecai, and Romola Garai as Gwendolen Harleth.

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Books I Read in November & December 2015

In November I read:

Perdita - Frederick SandysThe Winter’s Tale, by William Shakespeare, read by a full cast including Ciaran Hinds as Leontes and Eileen Atkins as Paulina, directed by Clive Brill (Arkangel, 2003) — “A sad tale’s best for winter.” But this one has a happy ending and, of course, lots of lovely poetry.

“When you do dance, I wish you
A wave o’ th’ sea, that you might ever do
Nothing but that; move still, still so,
And own no other function.” (Act 4, Scene 4)

Much Ado About Nothing, by William Shakespeare — I listened to an audio recording of this in October, but read it in November, as well, as part of a Shakespeare class I am supervising. I had the pleasure of introducing two of my siblings (both in their teens) to this delightful play. They loved it! Benedick was a favorite character and the interactions between him and Beatrice thoroughly enjoyed.

King John, by William Shakespeare, read by a full cast including Michael Feast as King John and Eileen Atkins as Constance, directed by Clive Brill (Arkangel, 2003) — This play has lots of rousing war speeches. One interesting passage, not a war speech, occurs when King John wants to be crowned a second time. Pembroke argues that it is superfluous and Salisbury adds,

“Therefore, to be possess’d with double pomp,
To guard a title that was rich before,
To gild refined gold, to paint the lily,
To throw a perfume on the violet,
To smooth the ice, or add another hue
Unto the rainbow, or with taper-light
To seek the beauteous eye of heaven to garnish,
Is wasteful and ridiculous excess.” (Act 4, Scene2)

This speech is quoted in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. After Mr. Rochester and Jane Eyre become engaged, Jane protests against him pouring jewels into her lap and crowning her with roses. She tells him, “[Y]ou might as well put a border of gold lace round that plain pocket handkerchief you have there.” He counters, “I might as well ‘gild refined gold.’  I know it” (chapter 24).

— — —

In December I read:

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, by William Shakespeare, read by a full cast including Amanda Root as Hermia, David Harewood as Oberon, and Roy Hudd as Bottom, directed by Clive Brill (Arkangel, 2003) — I listened to this with a group of my youngest siblings. They just finished memorizing four speeches from the play as part of our Shakespeare Class. Not surprisingly, Puck and Bottom were favorite characters.

Jessica - Luke FildesThe Merchant of Venice, by William Shakespeare, read by a full cast including Trevor Peacock as Shylock, Bill Nighy as Antonio, and Hadyn Gwynne as Portia, directed by Clive Brill (Arkangel, 2003) — My favorite scene is the one where Lorenzo and his new wife Jessica sit and talk together in the moonlight. It’s funny and romantic. It also contains the speech where Lorenzo declares that “The man that hath no music in himself, Nor is not mov’d with concord of sweet sounds, Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils … Let no such man be trusted” (Act 5, Scene 1). Wooster, with the help of Jeeves, quotes this (in an episode of the TV series ‘Jeeves and Wooster’ based on P.G. Wodehouse’s stories) when his neighbours raise objections to the “infernal din” that is his trombone playing.

Earlier in the play (in the first scene, in fact), Lorenzo teasingly complains that Gratiano is such a talker, he never lets him speak. Gratiano agrees: “Well, keep me company but two years more, Thou shalt not know the sound of thine own tongue.” The Merchant of Venice is a mixture of humor, romance, and near-tragedy. It’s ambiguous portrayal of anti-Semitism and its serious story (despite its categorization as a romantic comedy) make The Merchant a bit of a “problem play” — but, of course, only make it more interesting.

Daniel Deronda, by George Eliot, read by Becky Miller — I started reading this to myself, but ended up listening to most of it via a LibriVox recording. Daniel Deronda is the last novel George Eliot wrote. It is thus the last book on my list to read for the Eliot Project!

Cymbeline, by William Shakespeare, read by a full cast including Sophie Thompson as Imogen, Ben Porter as Posthumus, and Jack Shepherd as Cymbeline, directed by Clive Brill (Arkangel, 2003) — Recently, I tried to list all of Shakespeare’s plays from memory. I failed because I forgot Cymbeline. The Arkangel recording is solid, as usual, but it turned Posthumus’s dream sequence (where he is visited by the ghosts of his father, mother, and two brothers and then by Jupiter) into a song. The singing made it take quite a long time and, as the tune wasn’t very interesting, I found it wearisome.

Emma, by Jane Austen — It has been a long time since I have read Emma, but I read it this month in celebration of the bicentennial of its publication. Emma turned 200 on the 23rd of December 2015!

Emma is a wonderful book. It never ceases to delight me. There are so many things I like about it, I will just note one amusing part I don’t think I had particularly noticed before. One day, Mr. Knightley comes to Hartfield on business with Mr. Woodehouse and begins to talk to Emma about the evening before: “‘A very pleasant evening,’ he began, as soon as Mr. Woodhouse had been talked into what was necessary, told that he understood, and the papers swept away …” (chapter 21). And that, I suppose, is how Mr. Woodhouse’s business is generally discharged!

— — —

Looking over my reading list, I realize that, for the past three months, I have read nothing which I have not read before. It was all worth rereading, however.


Paintings: Perdita by Frederick Sandys (circa 1866) and Jessica by Luke Fildes (1896).

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