After all this time?

That title was supposed to be a Harry Potter reference, but I didn’t want to answer my own question in the first sentence.

Thank you very much to everyone who has read this blog in the last few months since my last post. I got a promotion, then life happened. The Actually Currently Reading section of my Currently Reading list is also composed of rather long novels, so it might be a while before I actually get to the last page of anything.

I am still reading War and Peace and giggling because none of the characters are how I would expect after seeing Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812. For one, Anatole is less suave than Natasha thinks he is.

I binged all of the webseries from The Candlewasters sometime during the summer, and I fangirled so much that my current ringtone is now a song from their adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing. I’ll tell you all my thoughts on their storytelling in an upcoming post.

I bought a few French books this week at Half Price Books. One was a book of poetry by Charles Baudelaire, and another was a novel by Gilles Leroy about Zelda Fitzgerald entitled Alabama Song. I know I’m technically already reading four books at the moment, but none of them are in French, so I think I’m clear to add two more.

I started hand sewing a new part of my Regency costume that I once wrote about. Classic literature was my gateway into history and fashion. My other main hobby besides reading is studying the intersection of fashion and society. This might become a section of this blog.

I’m going to try to return to writing, now that I’m not in training at work anymore. The tone might be a bit different from two years ago when I started this thing– but, then again, it was two years ago. What I read for pleasure has changed a little bit.

Thanks for sticking with me. I’ll see you later.

Always,
Bethany

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The return of Peter and Wendy

It’s back it’s back it’s back!

The New Adventures of Peter and Wendy, I mean.

Around this time last year, I wrote about my excitement for the crowdfund for Season 3 of this modern adaptation of Peter Pan. Under the pens and brains of Shawn DeLoache and Kyle Walters, Peter Pan and the Darling children become twentysomethings trying to figure out how to do careers and relationships. They have quarter life crises, and they grow up.

The new season premiered today, and I am so excited for the resolution of the story.

If you’ve never watched the show before, here’s the playlist. Yes, Tinker Bell is an actual fairy, and no, we haven’t seen her yet.

And if you watched the last two seasons, here’s a Season 2 recap.

To recap that recap, Peter used to bully Jas Hook. They don’t like each other. Wendy broke up with Peter because he didn’t want to grow up, so she got a big city job with Jas and started dating him. Now Wendy and Jas are back in Neverland, Jas owns everything (and is super devious), and Peter is going undercover to try to win Wendy back.

Oh, and as for side romances: Michael is dating Lily, which still confuses me; and John Darling and John Smee were a thing, but now they’re not.

For me, the highlights of these two new episodes are Lily’s terrifying trash talk and John’s “societal collapsing word vomit.”

To Season 3!

North and South and flawed lovers

I love a flawed character. I think that started around the same time that I started specifically looking for truth and authenticity in art. I loved Ed Sheeran’s first album because he wrote about the pain of losing a child (“Small Bump”) and a girl with a drug addiction (“A Team”). I love Once Upon a Time partly because classic heroines like Snow White and Belle are complicated and sometimes make bad decisions. I loved Disney’s live-action Maleficent because it reinterpreted the motives and history of a classic villain. Don’t get me wrong, I still believe that goodness always wins, but I like when art reflects life’s messiness. If Snow White is still Snow White when she makes mistakes, then maybe it’s okay to stop pretending to be perfect.

Last year around this time, I wrote about the danger of waiting for a Perfect Mr. Darcy to come along. This year, I want to talk about another classic romance that I like more than Pride and Prejudice.

You might have heard of Elizabeth Gaskell’s 1855 novel North and South. You might not. It was published around 40 years after Pride and Prejudice by a woman who was friends with Charlotte Brontë, Charles Dickens, and Harriet Beecher Stowe.* Like her friends, Gaskell wrote novels about social problems. North and South was a story about industrialization.

The novel follows Margaret Hale as her minister father quits the Church of England and her family flees their comfortable Southern country home for a city in the North. Because he can no longer preach, her father begins to teach rich men in the city. One of these men is John Thornton, the New Money guy who rose to the top and now owns one of the major factories in town. Thornton falls in love with Margaret immediately, but she Does Not Like Him because 1) she sees him beat up a worker, 2) her best friend works in the mill, 3) she’s Old Money, and 4) both of them are proud.

It’s a story about social dynamics. Margaret’s family has always been middle class. She grew up with certain social customs and manners, and she’s disgusted by this man who doesn’t know how to respect her in the way that the other men from her class respect her. She’s used to her old standard of living, and it’s difficult adapting after her father publicly renounces his faith. She’s a sympathetic character, but she’s proud. She believes that she’s better than her father’s new friend Mr. Thornton because she’s educated and respectable and actually likes the working class.

North and South is a romance novel about social classes and a union strike at cotton mill. Actually, I don’t know that “romance novel” is the best description, but since I’m comparing it to Pride and Prejudice, I’ll use it anyway.

Pride and Prejudice and North and South are both novels about people disliking each other before falling in love. Both feature flawed characters. Elizabeth Bennet and Margaret Hale are both women who are, well, prejudiced against their respective love interests. Mr. Darcy and Mr. Thornton are both men who are proud of their circumstances. Everyone has to learn to look past their own noses and learn from each other.

I think it’s easy to forget that Elizabeth Bennet is indeed proud. We forget that she decided to hate someone because he said that she wasn’t pretty enough at a party. She only thought nice things and fell in love with him after he 1) revealed that her favorite flirt friend Mr. Wickham was a scoundrel, 2) said he was shy, and 3) paid off the scoundrel to stop shaming the family.

I love how North and South is so clearly a story about two flawed people. It’s hard to read it and not think, “Oh, they’re both wrong here.” I love how both characters have to grow. Much like reality, no one person gets to stay stagnant. They argue, they accuse each other of murder, it’s great. And they both get over themselves.

This Galentine’s/Valentine’s Day, instead of marathoning the six hour BBC Pride and Prejudice, marathon the four hour BBC North and South.

Here’s a fan trailer for the miniseries starring Richard Armitage and Daniela Denby-Ashe. It’s fan-made because the BBC hasn’t put an official trailer on Youtube, but it’s worth posting anyway just so no one gets this miniseries confused with the American show with the same name about the Civil War.

*Casual. I can only imagine their dinner parties.

Charmed: Tolstoy edition

Last week I celebrated my birthday by finishing one of my 2016 books (The Warrior’s Life – take that, New Year’s Resolution!) and seeing a couple of shows in New York.

Hamilton was amazing, of course. I was online at the right time eight months ago when Ticketmaster released a block of tickets previously held by scalpers, and I somehow got a single ticket before other bots could buy it. The social commentary of the multiracial cast seemed to have special meaning the evening of the Inauguration.

The next night, a friend and I celebrated our shared birthday week with Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812, a folk/electropop musical adaptation of War and Peace‘s Volume 2, Part 5. This was the show that introduced Phillipa Soo to the creative team of Hamilton.

Before listening to the cast album, all I knew of War and Peace was that it was recommended reading for the French Revolution class I took in college, and that there was a miniseries adaptation in 2016 starring Lily James as Natasha.

I watched the first episode and bought the series on DVD because it was so beautiful, but all I remembered was that Pierre was the awkward illegitimate child of a wealthy man and that Natasha got “engaged” by kissing a guy in a garden.

In The Great Comet, Pierre is going through an existential crisis that requires two big epiphanies in one show, while (engaged) Natasha falls in love with the “hot” Anatole.*

Listening to the cast album was one thing, but nothing compares to sitting in the back row in the rear mezzanine and watching the clarinet player dance five feet away in the aisle. Nothing compares to eating pierogies in a theatre filled with chandeliers and anachronistic Soviet posters. Out of all the musicals I have seen in a theatre, The Great Comet was definitely the most immersive, magical experience.

“No One Else,” the song written after Phillipa Soo’s favorite passages about Natasha’s innocence, has been my favorite since I first heard it. The cast recording and Youtube video of her Barnes and Noble performance have been on a loop in my car and on my computer. Pippa’s voice made me love the show, but Denée Benton’s performance reminded me of the sweetness, innocence, and pain of adolescence.

Innocent Natasha, too good for this world and too pure, meets an unbelievably attractive man who kisses her then professes his love. Her confused logic, “We kissed, therefore I must love him,” and, “I have his love letters, therefore I must love him,” makes absolutely no sense, but I remember what it was to be a teenager. She’s young and easily caught up in the moment. He loves her, so she loves him. They’re going to run away to Poland and live happily ever after. It’s the perfect love story.

Then reality catches up with them and they have to face the consequences of their 19th century Russian letters.

Judging by the Wikipedia plot summary, darling Natasha has some of the biggest character development in War and Peace. She should, considering that she ages 15 years in the 1000+ page novel. She goes from being the girl who kisses a boy as a way to get “engaged” to becoming a responsible adult/wife/mother. She grows up. She is the reason why Tolstoy has moved back to the top of my To Read list.

According to my friend’s boyfriend, Pierre has a new epiphany every 25 pages, so unless he’s singing about falling in love like Josh Groban, I assume his existential crisis is going to get old very quickly. To be fair, however, his epiphanies are good song material.

And a performance of his last epiphany and the title song.

I don’t know if War and Peace will end with a great epiphany. Anna Karenina, the other Tolstoy novel that I have read, did end with an epiphany. Levin has his big religious conversion, then resolves to keep it secret from his wife because, “It is a secret, necessary and important for me alone, and inexpressible in words.”

I almost hope that Pierre’s final epiphany is so awesome that he can’t bear to tell anyone. I don’t think I understand now why he lives so aimlessly, but I hope his existential crisis is worth all his worries.

Four books remain on my reading list. That means I only need to finish two or three more books before I can start a new 1000 page one.

I can do this.

*You might remember my annoyance with hot characters. I didn’t like Vronsky in Tolstoy’s other famous work either. Seriously, Natalie, if you’re leaving your fiancé for this guy, he should write his own love letters. And ring the doorbell. You need higher standards.

Unfinished reads: A New Year’s Resolution

It’s funny thinking about everything that did and did not happen in 2016. To be completely honest, I don’t actually remember what my 2016 Resolution was, besides “Learn all the lyrics to ‘Alexander Hamilton’ from Hamilton.” I completed that one in about two weeks, and then named that as one of my best qualities in a job interview.

I’m a great goal-setter.

Looking at the last year and the Goodreads account that taunts me with “See how many books you read in 2016!” and “You finished five books and averaged 200 pages!” and “Your goal was 12 books!” – something does not add up.

I have a really bad habit of starting books, telling people about a fascinating story…. and then never finishing the very subject of a 700 word blog post. I like jumping from story to story in an instant.

It’s a little embarrassing, though, when you’re a fast reader who takes months to finish a novel.

So here’s my list of the books I started in 2016 that I WILL finish in 2017.

  • Richard III  by William Shakespeare
  • Henry IV, Part 3 by William Shakespeare
  • Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev
  • Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
  • The Warrior’s Life by Alfred de Vigny

If that seems like a short list, that’s because I’m all about achievable goals.

I’ll finish those five books for sure. Let’s also add five more to my resolution list for good measure.

Part of the problem is that when I finish one book in a certain genre, I feel like I need to replace it in my list. I read Harry Potter et la chambre des secrets recently and now I feel like I need to start another French language book before I can finish anything vaguely Romantic.

The other problem comes when two or three of your books are too close to the same writing style or genre (remind me why I’m reading two Shakespearean histories at the same time?). Too many sad war stories in one book, and then you’re stuck in a sad war scene in another. Or your poet is getting a little too melodramatic.

I have a book in my car, one by my bed, one by my desk, another by my table, and another in the hall. The sixth read, the new French one, would probably also live in my car for the days when I don’t want to read English on my lunch break.

I’m going to actually finish these plays, novels, and memoirs before opening that really interesting French Sherlock Holmes book I picked up this week or the George Eliot novel that Poe Party inspired me to read.

My second resolution is to update my blog more. That takes scheduling and reading. Too little of either, and I find myself on Friday evening, too tired from work to put words into sentences.

2017 will be the year that I read more books and compose more words.

Dickens’ festive bedtime stories

My original post for this week was an update on what I’m reading, but it didn’t seem quite appropriate for Christmas week.

As far as literature goes, Charles Dickens is nearly synonymous with Christmas. He wrote a ghost story that was adapted into roughly twenty different Hallmark movies. That ghost story was referenced in two Doctor Who episodes in the last 11 years.

Dickens wrote another seasonally appropriate work.

 

Actually, it’s not just appropriate for the Christmas season. You can read it any time of the year. But it begins with Jesus in a manger.

The Life of Our Lord is a short book written for Dickens’s children. It’s definitely not like his novels about poor kids and cruel Scottish boarding schools. It’s not a comment on the inefficiency of government. That’s what some reviewers on Goodreads and Amazon seem to have expected. It’s a children’s story that was never intended to be published.

The Life of Our Lord is basically an illustrated version of the Gospels, but without the pictures. Dickens uses simple language to tell the big stories: the shepherds and the wise men at Christmas, John the Baptist baptizing Jesus, the wine at the wedding, the calling of the apostles, healing of disease and demon possession, feeding the crowds, and the crucifixion.

Reading this warm fuzzies children’s book made so much of Charles Dickens’ novels make sense. It reveals something of his faith, and while it’s not quite theologically sound, it explains the motivations of the characters he enjoyed writing.

Children’s literature, and much of classic literature, aims to teach lessons about morality and the benefits of being kind. That’s a good thing. We want to raise our children to love others. It benefits society to raise children to obey the law and not to hurt other people. It is good and right to teach and preach that.

This is when I think we start getting into the Victorian culture and morality that shaped Charles Dickens’s works.

At least in my experience, 19th century literature is a celebration of Being a Good Person. If you are nice and kind to people, your soul is nice and kind and good. If you are unkind, your soul is bad. Pip is a kind orphan, and Miss Havisham is a misandrist villain. Nicholas Nickelby is a giving teacher, and Ralph Nickelby is a wicked banker. To jump forward by a few decades, Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray is about an evil man who pretends to be good.

It’s a view that the purpose of Christianity is to be kind to people.

There is a child born to-day in the city of Bethlehem near here, who will grow up to be so good that God will love Him as his own Son; and He will teach men to love one another, and not to quarrel and hurt one another; and His name will be Jesus Christ; and people will put that name in their prayers, because they will know God loves it, and will know that they should love it too.

In The Life of Our Lord, this is the speech given by the angels to the shepherds in the field. It’s quite lovely.

I find myself throughout this book saying, “Yes, but…”

This children’s version of the Gospel is easy to understand, and it teaches lessons about loving your neighbor, but it doesn’t talk about the salvation that the angels announced to the shepherds. Sin is something a bit too heavy for Dickens’ “Jesus for Children.”

It’s a happy story to read, and if you’re looking for a nice little book to read before Christmas, I definitely recommend it. I think I understand a little bit more of the mentality of the Dickensian hero.

It’s a nice story.

And that’s all I’ll say.

Merry Christmas, friends.

ca-like-dickens

(I’ve been waiting to use this gif from Classic Alice. It doesn’t really go here, but I wanted to use it, so here we go.)

Lunch break Romanticism

It’s been quite a month, hasn’t it?

I’ve started reading a new book by Alfred de Vigny, a French poet and soldier. The original title is Servitude et grandeur militaires; I’m reading the 2013 translation entitled The Warrior’s Life (different translators have translated the title as Lights and Shades of Military Life, The Military Necessity, The Military Condition, and The Servitude and Grandeur of Arms). It seems hard to translate the entire meaning of the French title into English.*

de Vigny was a poet who was born just after the French Revolution ended and grew up in Napoléon’s empire. He was an aristocrat who went to military school so he could fight for his king… and then he didn’t actually get to fight. He belonged to a generation of men who dreamed of finding glory through valiant military acts, but didn’t get it because they were serving a king who didn’t want to expand territory.

It’s interesting reading a Romantic work of literature that’s not fiction. The Warrior’s Life reads like a novel. For comparison, it was published around the same time as Victor Hugo’s Notre-Dame de Paris (The Hunchback of Notre Dame). The stories talk about love and beauty and honor and duty. They read like some of my friends’ post-election Facebook posts: “What’s the point? Here’s a story about someone else. What makes us human?”

I’m mainly reading this on my lunch breaks, so I’m only about halfway through the book, but there was one story that I haven’t stopped thinking about. A bride goes crazy after witnessing her husband’s execution. She isn’t supposed to see it. She isn’t supposed to see the gunshots. But she does. And then the executioner adopts her because she has no family and no way to get food.

It sounds like a scene from Les Misérables. It sounds like a sad story written in beautiful language that never happened. But it did. This woman, and many other women, watched their husbands die during the French Revolution. He died, and so did she.

Writing that summary makes it seem less powerful. I read that recollection, and then I returned to work grieving for this woman who died 200 years ago.

I realize now that the books I love are all Romantic works of literature. The writers muse upon the roles of governments, human kindness, love, fear, and fame. They look for beauty in nature. They search for the sublime.

This encounter revealed to me a side of man’s nature which I had not known – of which the country knows little and which it treats so badly. From that moment I placed it high in my esteem. Since then I have often searched round me for some man comparable to him, capable of such complete and heedless abnegation of the self. And, during the fourteen years I have lived in the army, it was in it alone, and above all in the ranks of the poor and despised infantry, that I found men of this antique character, men pushing the sentiment of duty to its final consequences, having no compunction about their obedience nor shame for their poverty, simple of manners and language, proud of the glory of their country and careless of their own, happily shut up in their obscurity, and sharing with the unfortunate the black bread they purchase with their blood.

One moment I’m reading a tragic story that sounds like fiction, and then I remember that it’s true. It’s beautiful and sad and maybe too philosophical for a Black Friday lunch break, but it’s too good to let go.

*Biographical information and edition titles come from Wikipedia, the source of all knowledge and facts on the internet.