Tag Archives: England

Jane Austen’s Persuasion

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I enjoy the version of Pride and Prejudice where Colin Firth plays Mr. Darcy, and there are two versions of Sense and Sensibility which I appreciate. I do not know who plays who in my version of Emma, but I like that one immensely. But the version that Gwyneth Paltrow is in is terrible, just terrible – in my ‘umble opinion.

One of the things these three stories have in common is their lead players’ sharp wit. The ladies in Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Emma all have razor tongues that cut as deeply as swords. Mr. Knightly and Mr. Darcy are not to be outdone by their ladies and have wits as acerbic as the girls’. Whoever suspected that verbal fencing matches could be so much fun? Nothing we have today is this cutting, this incisive, readers. It was truly an art of the time and these women were as adept at it as any samurai with his sword.

So when I saw Persuasion, I expected Anne Elliot to be just as quick-tongued as Jane Austen’s other heroines. But as the film progressed, I became disappointed, then confounded, then content. Why?

Anne is quick-witted, but she does not bite during the course of Persuasion. She hardly even barks. The middle of three daughters, Anne fell in love at a young age with a young officer named Frederic Wentworth (played by Cíaran Hinds). He proposed to her when she was nineteen but, since his financial prospects did not look good, Anne was persuaded not to marry him. She refused his offer despite the fact that she did in fact love him and he loved her.

It has been eight years since this occurred by the time Persuasion starts. Anne has been taking care of her foppish father and bratty older sister, Elizabeth, for these eight years, making her an old maid by the standards of the times. Her younger sister, Mary, is married to a Mr. Charles Musgrove and has two boys, who are unmanaged. Mary is always complaining of aches and pains, mostly so she can get her own way. She is so annoying that her husband takes every opportunity to go outdoors and hunt with his friends. Between the two of them it is not hard to see why the children are so undisciplined.

We learn at the beginning of the film that Anne’s foppish father has all but bankrupted the family, forcing him, Anne, and her older sister to “retrench.” In order to pay their debts they have to move to Bath from their country manor, which they must also rent to raise funds. A friend of Anne’s mother, the widowed Lady Russell, is the one who convinces Sir Walter Elliot that he has to move. Otherwise he would have to be dragged from the place by his heels.

Her father, Elizabeth and her companion, Mrs. Clay, depart for Bath. Poor Anne is left to prepare the house for rent, pack what the family “requires,” and then go see Mary, who says she is sick again. Neither her father nor her sister suggest they want anyone else to help with the work. They certainly do not volunteer their own time. Instead it is always Anne’s job to handle the practical matters. Elizabeth seems to hold Anne in complete contempt and there is little love lost between the sisters. The family estate, Kellynch Hall, is to be rented out to an admiral in the British Navy – whose wife happens to be the sister of Captain Frederic Wentworth.

Staying with her sister and in-laws at Upper Cross as the tenants move in, Anne ends up listening to the family’s vehement complaints about each other. Most of the Musgroves’ complaints about Mary are more than justified. Mary is as self-centered and snobby as Elizabeth, but she has less control and wit, holding Anne more as her personal lady-in-waiting than as a despicable housemaid. She is petty but on a lower level. Anne’s the only white sheep in the whole family since her mother’s death.

The best thing about Anne’s stay in Upper Cross is that it means she will not have to see Wentworth, who is coming to visit his sister.

So when her old flame turns up one day unannounced, Anne is thrilled, but also frightened. Wentworth feels somewhat the same. He still loves her, but he also does not want to get close to her. She turned him down once and he does not expect her to change her mind now. Nor does Anne expect him to propose to her again, given that she turned him down so long ago.

As the film progresses, we see Anne come out of her shell. Slowly, she breaks away from her empty-headed father and his fascination with power and fashion, as well as her bratty big sister’s control. She becomes a woman who can make her own decisions, standing firm when others demand she change her mind or do something they want her to do or believe is best for her. Eventually, she tells the man who still loves her that she does love him in return and that she will marry him.

The best scene in the whole film is also the only time we see Anne and Wentworth kiss. As a circus pulls into town Anne and her future husband clasp hands, with the camera taking special care to hover over their hands before this happens. While the world, represented by the circus, rattles on down the street and turns right, Anne and her beloved walk in the opposite direction. They are arm in arm as they converse quietly together.

That is all I am revealing about the film, readers. It is a masterpiece in every sense of the word, especially the scene I described above. Persuasion was written, I believe, when Jane Austen was at the top of her craft. Her first stories are marvelous tales, full of action, intrigue, and wit with teeth. But Persuasion is the cream of the crop. And I do not say that lightly!

If you can, readers, find Persuasion and view it. It is a chick flick, but it is a chick flick with style. Not many can claim that and get away with it.

See ya around!

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Book Review: That Fine Summer by Ella Manuel

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That Fine Summer, by Ella Manuel, is a short children’s book set in Fox Cove, Newfoundland. Never heard of Newfoundland? I am not terribly surprised; The Rock, as her people call her, is not the most popular tourist destination in the world.

Newfoundland was discovered by Norsemen and colonized by them at the turn of the Dark Ages, if my memory serves me correctly. But it was not until after Christopher Columbus discovered America that a more permanent colony was set up. Over time English, Scottish, and Irish settlers came to Newfoundland to make their living on the bountiful cod, as well as the natural wealth of the rugged island itself. By the twentieth century, Newfoundland was its own island nation. I do not know the year, but Canada eventually annexed the island through Confederation.

I believe That Fine Summer is set before Confederation, back when Newfoundland was an independent country. In this short novel, Mahala “Malie” Jacobs marches out to her Grandfather’s house in a right fury. When asked what the matter is, she tells him that her mother has made her wear a new dress and a new set of shoes first thing in the morning.

Mahala is a tomboy who likes to go fishing and sailing, things she can only really do with her Grandfather. Her mother, her grandfather’s only child, wants Mahala to act and dress like a proper lady. The only things the two agree on are that they love each other, they love Grandfather, and they are ardent piano players.

That evening, Mahala’s mother springs another unwelcome surprise on her daughter. She tells Malie that they are going to St. John’s, the capitol city of Newfoundland, for the summer.

Malie is thunderstruck. She does not want to go to the city. She wants to stay in Fox Cove with her grandfather, fishing, exploring the beaches, and just having fun in her own native place. She has had it all planned out for the last few months.

This leads to an explosive family argument, and Malie goes to the person who understands her best to solve the dilemma: Grandfather. Grandfather talks to Mahala’s mother and convinces her to let Malie stay with him throughout the summer… That fine summer.

I’ll not spoil the rest of the book for you, readers. It is a sweet little story, with lots of local color and language. If you do not understand the Newfoundland slang, the BREAKWATER edition has a short glossary of Newfoundland expressions included in it. But between the jigs and the reels, the story should be easy for children to read and understand.

Have fun fishing for this book and learning about The Rock, readers!

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Horatio Hornblower, the TV Series

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Generally, when I find a film based on a book, I try to read the book as well as watch the film.  This is what I did when I learned that Howl’s Moving Castle began life as a novel; I read the book.

Sometimes I enjoy the book and film equally, while at other times I enjoy the book more than the film.  This is the case with the Hunger Games trilogy.  The cinematographers for the films did not do the books true justice on a number of levels – and there was no need to make Mockingjay into two films.  No need at all.

There are times, however, when I prefer what I see to what can be read.  In the case of the Horatio Hornblower television series, this is what happened.  Though I may someday read the books, I think that I will probably always enjoy the TV series over the novels.

I first saw the Hornblower series when it aired on PBS’ Masterpiece Theater.  I do not remember how old I was.  I know I was young enough not to understand some of what was said or implied in certain cases.  There is nothing wrong with that, of course; I enjoyed the adventure and got the gist of the important dialogue.  For a child, it is enough.

The novels starring Horatio Hornblower were written by C. S. Forester in the 1930s and possibly into perhaps the 1950s.  They star the fictional hero Horatio Hornblower, a young captain in His Majesty’s navy.  Forester eventually worked back from Hornblower’s position as captain to show how he rose through the ranks, and this is where the television series starts.

In the late 1700s, after America has won her independence from Great Britain, Horatio Hornblower becomes a midshipman aboard His Majesty’s ship, the Justinian, in order to pay a debt that his father owes.  The captain of the Justinian is a friend of Dr. Hornblower, and so he accepts Horatio as a midshipman with facility.

The day he gets aboard the Justinian is a wet, grey day.  Having never been aboard a ship before, Horatio has a little trouble holding down his dinner and throws up when he is introduced to the other midshipmen aboard the vessel.  Two of these – an older man named Clayton and a man about his own age, Midshipman Archie Kennedy (Jamie Bamber) – soon become fast friends with the seventeen year old Hornblower.

Aside from this incident, Hornblower finds the world of the navy to be pretty decent.  At least until the most senior midshipman, a bully named Jack Simpson, returns to the Justinian.  Simpson is about thirty and still a midshipman; at the time, a midshipman could start out as young as eleven.  The senior officers tutored the midshipmen in the arts of seamanship, tactics, and navigation until they could earn the rank of lieutenant.  Unfortunately, Simpson is as dumb as a stump when it comes to mathematics.  He could not navigate a bathtub, let alone the oceans.  Worse, he is a bully and a coward, and he takes out his frustration at being forever a midshipman on the other, younger midshipmen, who are all terrified of him.

All except for the new midshipman.  Hornblower is not afraid to stand up to Simpson, which is bad enough.  But when he also proves to be far and away the best at mathematics aboard the Justinian, Simpson turns up the heat on him.  Life aboard ship becomes almost intolerable, and when Simpson insults Hornblower during a card game, the young midshipman decides to try and rid both the ship and the navy of this scourge by challenging him to a duel.

His challenge shames Clayton who, knowing Hornblower will lose the match, knocks him out and takes his place.  Though he wings Simpson, Clayton himself is badly injured and dies of his wounds not long after.  The day he dies is also the day King Louis XVI is beheaded in France, leading England into war with the French Republic.

This leads Hornblower, Archie, and the other Midshipmen to be transferred to His Majesty’s ship, Indefatigable.  The Indefatigable was a real ship, commanded by the real Sir Edmund Pellew, the captain of the frigate within the film series and the books (played by Robert Lindsey to perfection in the TV series).  Pellew tells Hornblower in no uncertain terms that he does not think much of a man who lets others fight his battles for him, before ordering him to take part in no more duels while he is aboard the Indefatigable, or “the Indy,” as the crew calls her.

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In the meantime Hornblower is given command of Simpson’s division from the Justinian.  This division crew consists of Styles (Sean Gilder), a brawler who tends to leap into fights at the first opportunity; Matthews (Paul Copley), an experienced seaman and the senior member of the group; Finch, a small man who is at least as old and seasoned as Matthews, and young Oldroyd.

Hornblower finds the crew chasing down rats in the hold and betting on Styles’ ability to kill them.  Styles doesn’t do this with his hands but with his teeth; his hands are tied behind him and he has to catch and kill the rats with his mouth.

This sort of sport is not allowed aboard ship, of course, and Hornblower makes it clear that while he commands their division, Matthews, Styles, and the rest will not play these games anymore.  Not long after this the Indy captures her first French prize, but Hornblower is not above deck for the engagement because a member of his division is injured in the fight and he helps take the man down to sickbay.  He later distinguishes himself in battle, after a fashion, earning Pellew’s interest.  But Hornblower’s happiness aboard the Indy is dimmed when, coming to the rescue of a sinking British ship, he himself ends up helping a bedraggled Simpson to safety.

The episode reaches its climax in another duel between Hornblower and Simpson, which Simpson does not walk away from.  For this reason, in the U.S. the first episode of the Hornblower series is called “The Duel.”  In England it is known as “The Even Chance.”

There are eight episodes in the Hornblower series.  Starring Ioan Gruffudd as Horatio Hornblower, this was my first introduction to the actor.  Later, when he was tapped to play Mr. Fantastic in the Fantastic Four films, the first words out of my mouth on seeing him were, “That’s Hornblower!”  And so it has remained.  Whether he appears in 102 Dalmatians or the latest remake of The Jungle Book, the first words I say on seeing him are, “There’s Hornblower!”  It is lucky for me that he loves the character so much!

I enjoy the first four episodes of the Hornblower series more than the last four.  There is a joi de vive they have which the following four lack.  For this reason I prefer them to the sequels.  Still, whichever half of the set you enjoy more, you ought to try the series if you have never seen it before.  It is well worth your time and, no matter the cost, it is a great investment if you purchase it. 😉

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Book Review: The Reb and the Redcoats by Constance Savery

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If there is one thing I love more than a good story, it is history. Notice, readers, what that word is made of: his and story. His story – the story of man.

And oh, what a palette history is! Great heroes, megalomaniacal villains, comedy, tragedy – history has it all. Every fictional story draws something from history. Star Wars draws a great deal from the Japanese style of swordsmanship. It is hard not to see how the Nazis inspired the Galactic Empire, or how the gunfighters and gamblers of the Old West inspired Han Solo and Lando Calrissian. Without history, we would never have fiction.

This brings us to the topic for today, one of my favorite novels of all time. I have been meaning to write about it for some time, and at last I shall do what I have wished. The historical novel I present to you today, readers, was written by Constance Savery. The Reb and the Redcoats is set during the American War for Independence. But it comes with a twist – the entire story takes place in England!

Charlotte Darrington and her siblings – Joseph, George, and Kitty – are met one day with an old friend come back from the war in America. An injury has laid him up, and he will not be fighting in any more battles. The man has brought along a box of gifts from the children’s father, as well as letters written by him for their mother, since Mr. Darrington is an officer in the British army fighting for his country against the American rebels.

But Old Harry, the soldier returned home with an injury, has a special present for Charlotte. According to George, she was always his favorite among the Darrington children. He has brought along a child’s doll he discovered when he and the British contingent with him raided an American plantation in Virginia. The doll has a little American flag pinned to her chest with a poem on the back. The poem names the doll and her former owner as Patty, and so Patty is what Charlotte calls the doll.

Later on word comes that the children’s uncle, Laurence Templeton, needs their mother’s help to nurse their ill grandparents at the White Priory. For a while it seems the children will have to be left in the care of the girls’ governess. The boys quickly blame the rebel doll for the trouble. They claim that she is full of black magic and set a trap for her so that she will not be able to cast spells on them in the middle of the night.

Unfortunately, the trap catches the governess – who quits in an absolute fury after having a bucket of water land on her head!

With no one else available to mind the four, Mrs. Darrington must take her children with her to the White Priory. This decision is cemented that night by the appearance of a young prisoner of war looking in the window. Charlotte only catches a glimpse of the man’s countenance before telling her mother to run. With rebel prisoners on the loose in the area, Mrs. Darrington decides emphatically that she will not leave her precious young alone with a few servants to guard them.

All five depart for the White Priory the next day, where they meet their Uncle Laurence. Laurence, an officer in the British army, has been sent home on leave to convalesce after an injury to the leg during the war overseas. The children once got on famously with him, as he was always cheerful and fun-loving. But since his return from America, Uncle Laurence has been grim, stern, and temperamental. None of the children know why; one day he was their friendly uncle, the next he was an old ogre.

Anyway, as they settle in to the White Priory, someone mentions the escaped prisoners in the vicinity of the Darrington home. Laurence happens to know something of the affair. It seems there is a prison near the White Priory full of American POWs. There have been several escape attempts from the place led by a young soldier, one Randal Everard Baltimore.

This young man has helped his fellows to escape the prison camp time and again. The only reason he has not escaped himself is because of one of his friends, Timothy Wingate. A complete klutz, Wingate is always messing up the plan somehow. Oh, he does not do it on purpose – the poor young fellow simply cannot help himself. He trips and breaks his leg, makes a noise when all are supposed to be quiet, and before you can say Jack Robinson, the entire crew is running for their lives and leaving him to face the British alone. Randal is the only one who ever stays behind to take care of him after these blunders, since the two have been friends from boyhood and are accustomed to taking care of each other.

The children learn that because Randal has been such a nuisance to the camp, the commander of said camp has given him to Laurence to guard. Laurence seems to take a fiendish delight in tormenting the young Reb, as the children call him, offering a half crown to whichever one of the little ones can guess his name. When George tries, he insults the young officer so badly that Charlotte and Joseph, the oldest of the Darrington children, try to make amends for the slight their brother has given.

But in trying to do this, they accidentally help the Reb to escape again. He is eventually recaptured, along with Wingate, and locked in the penance cell beneath the White Priory. (The White Priory, in centuries past, was a monastery or an abbey; now it is a manor house.) Though the servants have been ordered to treat him well, Charlotte and Laurence discover that they have not done what they were ordered to do at all. His escape in the midst of winter and his confinement in the cold cell have made the Reb terribly sick…

And now, readers, it is your turn to read the novel! I will say nothing more about this touching, sweet story. Find yourself a copy and read the book in your own time!

Constance Savery wrote something on the order of fifty books and died at the age of one hundred one years old in 1997. I have read only one other book by this magnificent author, but you will have to stay tuned to learn which one that is. I hope someday to read more of her books – she wrote very well.

Until next time!

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Give Me a Land of Boughs in Leaf

Give Me a Land of Boughs in Leaf by A. E. Housman

 

Give me a land of boughs in leaf,

A land of trees that stand;

Where trees are fallen, there is grief;

I love no leafless land.

Alas, the country whence I fare,

It is where I would stay;

And where I would not, it is there

That I shall be for aye.

And one remembers and forgets,

But ’tis not found again,

Not though they hale in crimsoned nets

The sunset from the main.

Book Review: The Ballad of the White Horse

Here again I speak of a favorite author just lately mentioned, readers. G. K. Chesterton’s Ballad of the White Horse was recommended to me a long time ago, but only recently did I download a copy of the Ballad to read it.

I enjoyed it immensely but found that my Gutenberg.org edition lacked footnotes to clarify some of Chesterton’s poetry. So I hunted up a hard copy of the book (I usually prefer hardcopies of books or papers anyway) and bought it, determined to better understand what I found to be such joyful reading.

The Ballad of the White Horse, by G. K. Chesterton, tells the story of King Alfred’s battle against the Danes who had invaded England. Alfred was a king dispossessed and in hiding; should the Danes find him, England’s only hope of driving the enemy from her soil would vanish.

It is unimportant how historically accurate The Ballad is to both the author and to me; suffice it to say that Alfred was a king of England and he did drive the Danes from his kingdom – quite heroically, too. Chesterton shows us Alfred hiding from the Danes on the island of Athelney, feeling despair creep over him. His people are scattered or under the yoke of the Danes, his armies destroyed, and his remaining chieftains hold their own territory free of the Danes – but that is all they can do. His situation is looking grimmer by the day.

Then he sees a vision of the Virgin Mary who tells him, “I tell you naught for your comfort/Yea, naught for your desire/Save that the sky grows darker yet/ And the sea rises higher.” Mary adds to her warning: “Do you have faith without a cause/ Yea, faith without a hope?” In other words, Alfred is not told whether he will fail or win, only that he must try to defeat the Danes.

Thus inspired, Alfred heads out to find and rally his chieftains: Mark the Roman, Eldred the Franklin, and Colan the Gael.

On a personal note, of the three chieftains I like Colan best – primarily for the reason Chesterton states here:

“For the great Gaels of Ireland

Are the men that God made mad,

For all their wars are merry,

And all their songs are sad.”

I myself have Irish lineage, though I will say no more of that. But I will take this verse – and others in The Ballad – as compliments high and fair to that race of which I claim a small part.

The final battle against the Danes goes hard; all three chieftains are lost but Alfred does gain the day, and becomes king of England once again. I would recommend to anyone who desires to read the poem to buy a book with footnotes – reliable footnotes – so that they can better understand the Ballad. Apart from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, the Ballad is one of the few works of fiction I will not part with.

A last word, readers. The white horse geoglyph, which does exist and lies carved into a mound in England, is mentioned throughout the Ballad as a recurring theme for the story. During the course of the Ballad, the white horse is used to suggest the transcendent.

As Alfred points out to the king of the invading Danes, Guthrum, destruction is not as wonderful as the Danes make it out to be. Things naturally rot away or crumble back into the earth. Even the White Horse geoglyph disappears under weeds and thorns every year. And it would stay there, lost to history, if it were not scoured annually. Therefore, which is the greater power? he asks. Destruction or preservation?

The answer is pretty obvious; with decay a part of nature, the fact that anything can be preserved through millennia is astounding.

But preservation is no easy task. As Alfred says near the end of the poem:

“Will ye part with the weeds for ever?

Or show daisies to the door?

Or will you bid the bold grass

Go, and return no more?

“And though the skies alter and empires melt,

This word shall still be true:

If we would have the horse of old,

Scour ye the horse anew.”

So, readers, if we would have the good of old, the good we know and love today, in order to keep it tomorrow and into ever after – “If we would have the horse of old” – then we must “scour the White Horse anew.” Time after weary time, battle after exhausting battle, we must fight the “Long Defeat” as Tolkien named it, if we wish to see the victory.

I have a scouring brush. Feel free to join me and the others fighting the “Long Defeat” whenever you wish. 😉

Later,

The Mithril Guardian