Monday, November 25, 2013

frozen smoke

so here i am in what i've been calling the mental aberration. i can't focus on anything. the world is full of hypnotic white noise and i just want to go away, not here, be anywhere, and not have to think about surviving. i flip through the screens of the internet and my gaze settles on an item from science porn on twitter. it's frozen smoke. really seriously, there's my mental aberration pictured before me, and i've never felt so covetous. maybe if i could just own it, i reasoned, as a physical thing. if i could focus all that not focussing on that block of frozen smoke? two minutes of research and i discover i can buy a block of frozen smoke for 89.50 GBP or 150 dollars canadian. i certainly can't afford to spend 150 dollars on a non-essential object. and now i live with the wanting of a thing along with the lack of focus and desiring to be somewhere else. ain't life grand?

the socially responsible part of me wants to reject the whole notion of owning things but here i am, trusting them more than people.

review of frenchman's creek by daphne du maurier

a few months of staring blankly into space means that finishing this book was a major accomplishment for me. it would have normally be a quick read but for this cursed lack of focus.. it is a simple little romance, and i do like enigmatic, artistic pirates very much, so i found some fun in frenchman's creek. i wasn't crazy about it, though, beyond the eponymous pirate.

the heroine, lady dona st. columb starts off very precious, driving the thirsty and exhausted horses of her carriage on despite the admonitions of the servant she commands. there is nobody chasing her, except perhaps an image of herself wearing boy's breeches. she had lately done so, alleviating the boredom she feels by scaring an old lady while sneaking around in the middle of the night with her husband's cousin and best friend, rockingham. as a result of the shame she feels about this incident, she has commanded that her husband, sir harry, stay behind in london while she exiles herself to his country seat, navron in cornwall, with just the children for company.

lady dona, or lady lady, if you will (dona is used as the honorific "lady" in latin countries) has come to realize that she doesn't much like the woman she's become (she will repeatedly tell everyone within hearing that she is "near thirty" in the novel) and that she worries that the dignity her title affords is all she feels she has retained. she does not love her husband (she married him because she liked his eyes but apparently that is no longer enough) and she tries to love her children (she has two) but there's really only evidence of some affection or perhaps more properly, a compulsive maternal connection to her son, james. her daughter henrietta is only casually mentioned and most often she doesn't distinguish between them, only mentioning how much she enjoys picking flowers with the children. of course, that's when she's not leaving them in care of their nurse, and sneaking off the estate for a few days to go fishing in the creek with our titular frenchman, the pirate. the pirate does has a name but in dialogue he is always the frenchman, so i'm not going to bother telling you what his name. sometimes he draws pictures of dona when he is not sketching birds or teaching her about fishing or the natural world. and of course he used to have a title and be fancy but he gave up all that for adventures on the high seas (and the high creeks, of course). so hurray for the pirate.

the thing that bugged me most about the novel was du maurier's handling of the period, the historical part of the romance. it never feels planted in the seventeenth century even though the bulk of the action takes place then. though she had already shown so much command in the previously-published rebecca and had already written the bodice-ripper jamaica inn, from the beginning, du maurier seems unsure of the time period. in fact, the first chapter has a contemporary unnamed yachtsman sail past the part of cornwall where dona's story unfolded two centuries before. she even provides a full precis of the action of the novel here, called forth by the land of cornwall as he floats by: it is as if the birds, the creek and the country is haunted by this lady and her lover. perhaps she meant this "foreshadowing" as an effect to heighten the power of her romance, that the love herein described still echoes through the ages. i didn't find it did so.

and then there's lady dona herself. du maurier wants you to knows she is an inevitably devastatingly beautiful, fiery and strong-willed woman who is used to getting her way, born in the wrong era. the problem in terms of the novel is that everybody else, ostensibly supposed to be part of the norm in society, accepts her behaviour and conveniently accedes to it at every point and frankly, i didn't buy it.. really? lord godolphin would allow her to do *that*? du maurier doesn't make the remotest effort to have dona's movements or actions impeded by her time or position.

as other reviewers have noted, lady dona seems to be du maurier's tragic mary sue, a woman who can bend anyone to her will, whose portrait can make a man lose her heart but whose face is conveniently forgettable when it counts. she cannot have everything she wants because she is constrained by her sex. i do actually feel that if du maurier didn't think Society would judge her for it, she would've given this novel the ending that some romantics yearn for. had she not had children herself, i don't imagine the novel would have unfolded the way it did at all.

so generally i found it hard to buy, but the worst parts of the novel for me were two scenes where dona and her frenchman were together, at their first late-night supper, and later on when fishing. dona is at her most annoying here as she petulantly mewls about the limitations of being a woman, about how much less a woman is than a man. thankfully the pirate argues with her in defense of the sex she disparages but it seemed to me her limitations were of class not sex: she could not fish or cook was because she was wealthy, because she was a lady lady. stop saying women aren't creative, stupid dona.

anyway. i liked the servant william and her dynamic with him, though i grew tired of dona's describing him as a man with a "button mouth". what does that even mean? (i keep imagining sylvester stallone's mouth.) also, i know i already mentioned it, but i thought i should end on a high note: the frenchman pirate is really attractive. come tell me about birds and share your cheese with me, monsieur. still, i couldn't help but think of how much more i had enjoyed sabatini's captain blood. now there's a pirate romance!

probably closer to 2.5 stars but given that i am happy to have finished something, i'm shining up three.

Creative Commons License
This work by Maureen de Sousa is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

reviewing my copy of thomas malory's morte d'arthur (edited by eugène vinaver)

cross-posted at goodreads and at booklikes:

my copy of le morte d'arthur is the vinaver edit. i haven't read it in years but picking it up now, i assure you this copy is well-thumbed and annotated from my first reading in university. in the first fifty pages, i have written in a very small hand above words to explain their meanings, as i did when reading other, older middle english works much more difficult to ken. still, i smile when i see that i have copied from the glossary "provoked" over "syke" which rings so closely to our modern "psych!". eventually the notations taper off, as i began to get the rhythm and word structures set in my head but there is pencil-underlining throughout the texts, and bright-pink pen underlining some of the notes at the back. i see here that i argued with some of the notes in the margins. i read the hell out of this book, twice. there is a major crack in the spine at page 519, in book 8 of "the quest for the holy grail" or more properly the "Sankgreall". i find i even made the time to draw a two-tone flower on the page thickness, and more faintly, a pencil one-eyed monster eye, and a triton.

i had always had a soft spot for Arthurian legend and i was thrilled to read Malory's translation of the French tales in English. despite the lengthy and repetitive lists of who slaughtered whom in battle after battle, i loved reading it. i have always been interested in questions of honour and what is right, for the individual, and what he must forsake for the right to honour in his community as a whole. there is both blame and beauty in this book, and notes i scribbled in its blank pages at the end show i was preoccupied with these ideas, of camelot as a dream, and arthur's inability to ignore the slights to his own personal honour in order to protect it.

the last lines i underlined are these:

"And therefore, seyde the king, wyte you well, my harte was never so hevy as hyte ys now. And much more I am soryar for my good knytes losse than for the losse of my fayre queen; for quenys I myghte have inow, but such a felyship of good knytes shall never be togydirs in no company. And now i dare sey, seyde the kynge Arthur, there was never Crystyn kynge that ever hylde such a felyship togydyrs. And alas, that ever sir Launcelot and I shulde be at debate! A, Aggravayne, Aggravayne,! seyd the kynge, Jesu forgyff hit thy soule, for thyne evyll wyll that thou haddist and sir Mordred, thy brother, unto sir Launcelot hath caused all this sorow.
And ever among thes complayntes the kynge wept and sowned."

Creative Commons License
This work by Maureen de Sousa is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.