Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Edward Robert Hughes, R.A. (1851-1914) Current Exhibition

Edward Robert Hughes, Painter, albumen carte-de-viste, 1870s, by Maull & Co., NPG

One of my favorite painters whose paintings are instantly recognizable and seen worldwide!  You may not know the name but you definitely love his paintings...Trust me...we all do!  Edward Robert Hughes was a nineteenth-century painter living at St. Albans, Hertfordshire, England. He was the nephew of another brilliant painter, also elusive, named Arthur Hughes. Edward for a brief time worked as studio assistant to Pre-Raphaelite painter, William Holman-Hunt. 

Night with her Train of Stars and her Great Gift of Sleep by Edward Robert Hughes, 1912

Twilight Fantasies by Edward Robert Hughes, 1911

Midsummer Eve by Edward Robert Hughes, 1908

Betruccio's Bride by Edward Robert Hughes, 1895

Everyone loves his paintings and have seen them on book covers, greeting cards, etc.  So, on to the current exhibit now running through 6th of May, 2014. TWO WEEKS ONLY go visit this exhibit and see such beauty up-close. I only wish I could. At St. Albans Cathedral in Hertfordshire, England you will find The Last Pre-Raphaelite: Edward Robert Hughes Exhibition.  

Monday, April 21, 2014

Charlotte Brontë (April 21,1816-March 31,1855) Poems on her birthday!

 One of the most important nineteenth-century women, Charlotte Bronte, one of the Bronte Sisters, was born in West Yorkshire, England, on this day in 1816. Today her novel, Jane Eyre, is still loved, analyzed, discussed, and made into several movie versions. I also loved her novel, Villette, which really needs more recognition as it deals with more of her personal life.

I thought it would be fun to share some of her poetry as a remembrance of such an incredible woman instead of discussing her life and or novels. So, here are some of my favorites...
ARRANGING long-locked drawers and shelves
Of cabinets, shut up for years,
What a strange task we've set ourselves !
How still the lonely room appears !
How strange this mass of ancient treasures,
Mementos of past pains and pleasures;
These volumes, clasped with costly stone,
With print all faded, gilding gone;

These fans of leaves, from Indian trees­
These crimson shells, from Indian seas­
These tiny portraits, set in rings­
Once, doubtless, deemed such precious things;
Keepsakes bestowed by Love on Faith,
And worn till the receiver's death,
Now stored with cameos, china, shells,
In this old closet's dusty cells.

I scarcely think, for ten long years,
A hand has touched these relics old;
And, coating each, slow-formed, appears,
The growth of green and antique mould.

All in this house is mossing over;
All is unused, and dim, and damp;
Nor light, nor warmth, the rooms discover­
Bereft for years of fire and lamp.

The sun, sometimes in summer, enters
The casements, with reviving ray;
But the long rains of many winters
Moulder the very walls away.

And outside all is ivy, clinging
To chimney, lattice, gable grey;
Scarcely one little red rose springing
Through the green moss can force its way.

Unscared, the daw, and starling nestle,
Where the tall turret rises high,
And winds alone come near to rustle
The thick leaves where their cradles lie.

I sometimes think, when late at even
I climb the stair reluctantly,
Some shape that should be well in heaven,
Or ill elsewhere, will pass by me.

I fear to see the very faces,
Familiar thirty years ago,
Even in the old accustomed places
Which look so cold and gloomy now.

I've come, to close the window, hither,
At twilight, when the sun was down,
And Fear, my very soul would wither,
Lest something should be dimly shown.

Too much the buried form resembling,
Of her who once was mistress here;
Lest doubtful shade, or moonbeam trembling,
Might take her aspect, once so dear.

Hers was this chamber; in her time
It seemed to me a pleasant room,
For then no cloud of grief or crime
Had cursed it with a settled gloom;

I had not seen death's image laid
In shroud and sheet, on yonder bed.
Before she married, she was blest­
Blest in her youth, blest in her worth;
Her mind was calm, its sunny rest
Shone in her eyes more clear than mirth.

And when attired in rich array,
Light, lustrous hair about her brow,
She yonder sat­a kind of day
Lit up­ what seems so gloomy now.
These grim oak walls, even then were grim;
That old carved chair, was then antique;
But what around looked dusk and dim
Served as a foil to her fresh cheek;
Her neck, and arms, of hue so fair,
Eyes of unclouded, smiling, light;
Her soft, and curled, and floating hair,
Gems and attire, as rainbow bright.

Reclined in yonder deep recess,
Ofttimes she would, at evening, lie
Watching the sun; she seemed to bless
With happy glance the glorious sky.
She loved such scenes, and as she gazed,
Her face evinced her spirit's mood;
Beauty or grandeur ever raised
In her, a deep-felt gratitude.

But of all lovely things, she loved
A cloudless moon, on summer night;
Full oft have I impatience proved
To see how long, her still delight
Would find a theme in reverie.
Out on the lawn, or where the trees
Let in the lustre fitfully,
As their boughs parted momently,
To the soft, languid, summer breeze.
Alas ! that she should e'er have flung
Those pure, though lonely joys away­
Deceived by false and guileful tongue,
She gave her hand, then suffered wrong;
Oppressed, ill-used, she faded young,
And died of grief by slow decay.

Open that casket ­look how bright
Those jewels flash upon the sight;
The brilliants have not lost a ray
Of lustre, since her wedding day.
But see­ upon that pearly chain­
How dim lies time's discolouring stain !
I've seen that by her daughter worn:
For, e'er she died, a child was born;
A child that ne'er its mother knew,
That lone, and almost friendless grew;
For, ever, when its step drew nigh,
Averted was the father's eye;
And then, a life impure and wild
Made him a stranger to his child;
Absorbed in vice, he little cared
On what she did, or how she fared.
The love withheld, she never sought,
She grew uncherished­ learnt untaught;
To her the inward life of thought
Full soon was open laid.
I know not if her friendlessness
Did sometimes on her spirit press,
But plaint she never made.

The book-shelves were her darling treasure,
She rarely seemed the time to measure
While she could read alone.
And she too loved the twilight wood,
And often, in her mother's mood,
Away to yonder hill would hie,
Like her, to watch the setting sun,
Or see the stars born, one by one,
Out of the darkening sky.
Nor would she leave that hill till night
Trembled from pole to pole with light;
Even then, upon her homeward way,
Long­ long her wandering steps delayed
To quit the sombre forest shade,
Through which her eerie pathway lay.

You ask if she had beauty's grace ?
I know not­ but a nobler face
My eyes have seldom seen;
A keen and fine intelligence,
And, better still, the truest sense
Were in her speaking mien.
But bloom or lustre was there none,
Only at moments, fitful shone
An ardour in her eye,
That kindled on her cheek a flush,
Warm as a red sky's passing blush
And quick with energy.
Her speech, too, was not common speech,
No wish to shine, or aim to teach,
Was in her words displayed:
She still began with quiet sense,
But oft the force of eloquence
Came to her lips in aid;
Language and voice unconscious changed,
And thoughts, in other words arranged,
Her fervid soul transfused
Into the hearts of those who heard,
And transient strength and ardour stirred,
In minds to strength unused.
Yet in gay crowd or festal glare,
Grave and retiring was her air;
'Twas seldom, save with me alone,
That fire of feeling freely shone;
She loved not awe's nor wonder's gaze,
Nor even exaggerated praise,
Nor even notice, if too keen
The curious gazer searched her mien.
Nature's own green expanse revealed
The world, the pleasures, she could prize;
On free hill-side, in sunny field,
In quiet spots by woods concealed,
Grew wild and fresh her chosen joys,
Yet Nature's feelings deeply lay
In that endowed and youthful frame;
Shrined in her heart and hid from day,
They burned unseen with silent flame;
In youth's first search for mental light,
She lived but to reflect and learn,
But soon her mind's maturer might
For stronger task did pant and yearn;
And stronger task did fate assign,
Task that a giant's strength might strain;
To suffer long and ne'er repine,
Be calm in frenzy, smile at pain.

Pale with the secret war of feeling,
Sustained with courage, mute, yet high;
The wounds at which she bled, revealing
Only by altered cheek and eye;

She bore in silence ­but when passion
Surged in her soul with ceaseless foam,
The storm at last brought desolation,
And drove her exiled from her home.

And silent still, she straight assembled
The wrecks of strength her soul retained;
For though the wasted body trembled,
The unconquered mind, to quail, disdained.

She crossed the sea ­now lone she wanders
By Seine's, or Rhine's, or Arno's flow;
Fain would I know if distance renders
Relief or comfort to her woe.

Fain would I know if, henceforth, ever,
These eyes shall read in hers again,
That light of love which faded never,
Though dimmed so long with secret pain.

She will return, but cold and altered,
Like all whose hopes too soon depart;
Like all on whom have beat, unsheltered,
The bitter blasts that blight the heart.

No more shall I behold her lying
Calm on a pillow, smoothed by me;
No more that spirit, worn with sighing,
Will know the rest of infancy.

If still the paths of lore she follow,
'Twill be with tired and goaded will;
She'll only toil, the aching hollow,
The joyless blank of life to fill.

And oh ! full oft, quite spent and weary,
Her hand will pause, her head decline;
That labour seems so hard and dreary,
On which no ray of hope may shine.

Thus the pale blight of time and sorrow
Will shade with grey her soft, dark hair
Then comes the day that knows no morrow,
And death succeeds to long despair.

So speaks experience, sage and hoary;
I see it plainly, know it well,
Like one who, having read a story,
Each incident therein can tell.

Touch not that ring, 'twas his, the sire
Of that forsaken child;
And nought his relics can inspire
Save memories, sin-defiled.

I, who sat by his wife's death-bed,
I, who his daughter loved,
Could almost curse the guilty dead,
For woes, the guiltless proved.

And heaven did curse­ they found him laid,
When crime for wrath was rife,
Cold­ with the suicidal blade
Clutched in his desperate gripe.

'Twas near that long deserted hut,
Which in the wood decays,
Death's axe, self-wielded, struck his root,
And lopped his desperate days.

You know the spot, where three black trees,
Lift up their branches fell,
And moaning, ceaseless as the seas,
Still seem, in every passing breeze,
The deed of blood to tell.

They named him mad, and laid his bones
Where holier ashes lie;
Yet doubt not that his spirit groans,
In hell's eternity.

But, lo ! night, closing o'er the earth,
Infects our thoughts with gloom;
Come, let us strive to rally mirth,
Where glows a clear and tranquil hearth
In some more cheerful room.
Charlotte Brontë

 Evening Solace
THE human heart has hidden treasures,
In secret kept, in silence sealed;­
The thoughts, the hopes, the dreams, the pleasures,
Whose charms were broken if revealed.
And days may pass in gay confusion,
And nights in rosy riot fly,
While, lost in Fame's or Wealth's illusion,
The memory of the Past may die.

But, there are hours of lonely musing,
Such as in evening silence come,
When, soft as birds their pinions closing,
The heart's best feelings gather home.
Then in our souls there seems to languish
A tender grief that is not woe;
And thoughts that once wrung groans of anguish,
Now cause but some mild tears to flow.

And feelings, once as strong as passions,
Float softly back­a faded dream;
Our own sharp griefs and wild sensations,
The tale of others' sufferings seem.
Oh ! when the heart is freshly bleeding,
How longs it for that time to be,
When, through the mist of years receding,
Its woes but live in reverie !

And it can dwell on moonlight glimmer,
On evening shade and loneliness;
And, while the sky grows dim and dimmer,
Feel no untold and strange distress­
Only a deeper impulse given
By lonely hour and darkened room,
To solemn thoughts that soar to heaven,
Seeking a life and world to come.
Charlotte Brontë

LIFE, believe, is not a dream
So dark as sages say;
Oft a little morning rain
Foretells a pleasant day.
Sometimes there are clouds of gloom,
But these are transient all;
If the shower will make the roses bloom,
O why lament its fall ?

Rapidly, merrily,
Life's sunny hours flit by,
Gratefully, cheerily,
Enjoy them as they fly !

What though Death at times steps in
And calls our Best away ?
What though sorrow seems to win,
O'er hope, a heavy sway ?
Yet hope again elastic springs,
Unconquered, though she fell;
Still buoyant are her golden wings,
Still strong to bear us well.
Manfully, fearlessly,
The day of trial bear,
For gloriously, victoriously,
Can courage quell despair !
Charlotte Brontë

A Short Poem or Else Not Say I
True pleasure breathes not city air,
Nor in Art's temples dwells,
In palaces and towers where
The voice of Grandeur dwells.

No! Seek it where high Nature holds
Her court 'mid stately groves,
Where she her majesty unfolds,
And in fresh beauty moves;

Where thousand birds of sweetest song,
The wildly rushing storm
And hundred streams which glide along,
Her mighty concert form!

Go where the woods in beauty sleep
Bathed in pale Luna's light,
Or where among their branches sweep
The hollow sounds of night.

Go where the warbling nightingale
In gushes rich doth sing,
Till all the lonely, quiet vale
With melody doth ring.

Go, sit upon a mountain steep,
And view the prospect round;
The hills and vales, the valley's sweep,
The far horizon bound.

Then view the wide sky overhead,
The still, deep vault of blue,
The sun which golden light doth shed,
The clouds of pearly hue.

And as you gaze on this vast scene
Your thoughts will journey far,
Though hundred years should roll between
On Time's swift-passing car.

To ages when the earth was yound,
When patriarchs, grey and old,
The praises of their god oft sung,
And oft his mercies told.

You see them with their beards of snow,
Their robes of ample form,
Their lives whose peaceful, gentle flow,
Felt seldom passion's storm.

Then a calm, solemn pleasure steals
Into your inmost mind;
A quiet aura your spirit feels,
A softened stillness kind.
Charlotte Brontë

Saturday, April 19, 2014

My review of Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth

An utterly captivating reinvention of the Rapunzel fairytale weaved together with the scandalous life of one of the tale’s first tellers, Charlotte-Rose de la Force.

Charlotte-Rose de la Force has been banished from the court of Versailles by the Sun King, Louis XIV, after a series of scandalous love affairs. She is comforted by an old nun, Sœur Seraphina, who tells her the tale of a young girl who, a hundred years earlier, is sold by her parents for a handful of bitter greens…

Selena is the famous red-haired muse of the artist Tiziano, first painted by him in 1512 and still inspiring him at the time of his death, sixty-four years later. Called La Strega Bella, Selena is at the centre of Renaissance life in Venice, a world of beauty and danger, seduction and betrayal, love and superstition, retaining her youth and beauty by the blood of young red-haired girls.

After Margherita’s father steals a handful of parsley, winter cress and rapunzel from the walled garden of the courtesan Selena Leonelli, he is threatened with having both hands cut off unless he and his wife give away their little red-haired girl. And so, when she turns seven, Margherita is locked away in a tower, her hair woven together with the locks of all the girls before her, growing to womanhood under the shadow of La Strega Bella, and dreaming of being rescued…

Three women, three lives, three stories, braided together to create a compelling story of desire, obsession, black magic and the redemptive power of love. 
Title: Bitter Greens
Author: Kate Forsyth
Genre: Historical, Fantasy, Fairytale retelling
Publisher: Allison & Busby UK
Publication date: February 2013
Hardcover: 491 pages
 Rapunzel by Frank Cadogan Cowper, R.A. (1877-1958)

Rapunzel sings from the Tower '.... 

in the fire Of sunset, 

I behold a face, 

Which sometime, if God give me grace, 

May kiss me in this very place'

(Rapunzel - William Morris) 

 portrait of Charlotte-Rose de la Force (supposedly her)

Bitter Greens is filled with tales of love, passion, sex, life and death, during the tempestuous times of sixteenth century Italy and seventeenth century France. Although, theses fairy tales are fictitious as far as we know, the storytellers seem to have been real people. It seems, Charlotte-Rose de la Force was indeed a real woman whose story in itself makes for a suspenseful romance filled with violence and revenge. Imprison me in a tower and see how I rebel…I know, I’ll write it all down and use the written word to avenge their blackened souls!

As the case with the character of Selena, I can only guess that she was based upon the woman who turned out to be Tiziano’s real life wife and lover. Her stories of meeting and working with Tiziano are filled with desire and forbidden passion evoking such tenderness and trust between them, I found myself really engaging in their stories.  I have travelled extensively throughout Italy and even took two classes while I was there, so reading about Tiziano’s so-called life and love brought back wonderful memories of walking through incense filled churches gazing upon his gorgeous paintings for the first time! The character of Margherita is really found in most of these tales within Bitter Greens more so than the others. I enjoyed reading the tales but couldn’t really connect with her for some reason as much as Charlotte and Selena.  She also was locked away in a tower where a Italian witch called, ‘La Strega’ would come to her telling tales. Now if you’re attempting to make the stories more realistic and you are talking about sixteenth century Italy where the belief in the ‘La Strega’ was very real, then her presence is necessary. However, being Italian myself, I do get a bit sensitive to how they are depicted. Culturally, La Strega’s were not witches or old hags, they were peasants and families of travelling gypsies selling wares trying to survive so their families could eat. If you think of the Irish Tinkers than you’ve got the idea!

Some wonderful surprises found within Bitter Greens was the mention of how Charlotte-Rose and Marguerite de Valois both lived at Chateau de Cazeneuve at one time in their lives. Marguerite de Valois life is discussed because Charlotte is enraptured by her life and sees parallels between the two. I particularly enjoyed this chapter very much having read Alexander Dumas’ novel, ‘La Reine Margot’ and of course the film of the same name which has become one of my all time favorites. Come on who doesn’t want the gorgeous Vincent Perez as a lover?

Henry Navarre and Margaret Valois                                                                                                 Vincent Perez (La Mole) and Isabelle Adjani as Margot


 movie still of Henry Navarre and Margot Valois from La Reine Margot

Lastly, as Bitter Greens progresses and alternates between two centuries in Italy and France, you will meet another incredibly fascinating man by the name, ‘Moliere.’  His death and a bit of his life is described in one of the later chapters and I haven’t thought about his plays in several years. I used to read Tartuffe all the time twenty years ago or probably in my late teens when my mother took me to a surprise matinee of Cyrano de Bergerac starring Gerard Depardieu and Anne Brochet. I was sixteen and can still remember it as if it were yesterday. Sitting in a wooden upper balcony watching my very first foreign film and thinking I was so very grown up! The sumptuous soundtrack by Rappeneau washed over my entire body. I couldn’t believe how beautiful this music was until I saw the most beautiful man. I gasped out loud making my mom turn to me and smile while I looked at Vincent Perez as Christian de neuvillette. I leaned over to her and whispered, ’Who is that man?’ She replied, ‘We’ll see during the credits at the end.’  Oh, where was I? Sorry, went off on a tangent didn’t I…Oh yes, the connection between Moliere and Cyrano de Bergerac?  Well, he is mentioned throughout the film and in the play by Edmund Rostand.  I may go have to watch Cyrano again and of course Queen Margot…
 I still have this movie poster...

Vincent Perez as Christian de neuvillette in Cyrano de Bergerac

As with The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth, I was again transported back in time to meet these incredible historical figures to see what possibly might have inspired them to write down these tales and stories. I am so glad we have fairy tales like Rapunzel, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, etc., to read about whether it be a means of escapism from our technologically filled world of wanting all things now or whether we are reading to quench our thirst for knowledge and beauty. Please, consider Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth and enjoy the story.

The U.S. publication of Bitter Greens comes out on September 23, 2014 and will be available via Amazon and all sellers. Here is the gorgeous cover
  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books (September 23, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1250047536
  • ISBN-13: 978-1250047533

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier: From yesterday to today!

BBC's Jamaica Inn coming to BBC One

With the upcoming BBC production of Jamaica Inn to be aired over three consecutive nights beginning 21 April - 23 April, 2014 on BBC One, I thought it best to shed some light on what inspired Daphne du Maurier to write Jamaica Inn in the first place. 

my copy of Jamaica Inn 1936 first edition usa

The very first book of Daphne's that I ever read was Jamaica Inn. During a 15 minute study break in grammar school, I walked straight into the library room, went to the nearest shelf and my eyes began searching. There it was in full cover glory, 'Jamaica Inn' by Daphne du maurier. I picked it up, sat down at the desk and started reading. Immediately, I met Mary Yellan and a place called Helford River where the word 'cornish' changed my world. I was ten years old. When I went home, I asked my mom to buy me a copy of Jamaica Inn and she did. Thus, began my journey into the dark, Gothic, romantic world of Daphne du Maurier.

I was never that fantasy reader of romance novels as a teenager. I did not read Wuthering Heights at 16 years old and sit and dream about Heathcliff and I standing on the moors waxing on about living in our own castle. Instead,I longed to go to Cornwall and find a white cottage by the wild roaring sea of my own!  I longed to fall asleep to the sound of the crashing waves below me just like Rebecca De Winter in Daphne du Maurier's novel, 'Rebecca.' To hear Mrs. Danvers saying to her still, 'Listen to the sea. Even with the windows closed and the shutters fastened I could hear it; a low sullen murmur as the waves broke on the white shingle in the cove.'

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthe ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears,
I hid from Him, and under the running laughter.
Up vistaed slopes I sped
And shot, precipitated
A down Titanic glooms of chasmed fears,
From those strong feet that followed,
followed after. 
 (The poem is The Hound of Heaven by Francis Thompson (1859-1907)
Included in chapter four of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

The Creation of Jamaica Inn
In February 1935, Daphne signed a contract to write a novel for her new publisher, Victor Gollancz, and she had begun to make notes about the inn that utterly captured her imagination. She and her husband Tommy went to Bodmin Moor staying 'miles from the nearest town, and not a sound except curlews and skylarks: it was so lovely.' (Vanishing Cornwall, Daphne du Maurier)

 In November 1930 is when Daphne first visited Jamaica inn on a riding expedition with Foy Quiller-Couch to Bodmin Moor. She said, 'A place that would grip my imagination almost as much as Menabilly.' They arrived at Jamaica Inn at lunchtime, after spending the night at the Royal Hotel in Bodmin. She writes in her diary, 'I want to spend days here.' Daphne and Foy rode horseback across the moor to visit 'old Lady Rodd' at Trebartha Hall and then got lost. In a sudden change of weather, they found shelter in a nearby cottage until the rain let up. Her friend Foy was an experienced horsewoman and suggested once the fog came in that the horses could walk them back to their hotel. Across wet Launceston-Bodmin Road they went until they saw the chimney of Jamaica Inn. Daphne wrote in her diary, 'We sat wearily to our supper and I was immeasurably happy. In an instant fear was forgotten, danger had never been.' She knew at that moment she must write her novel, 'Jamaica Inn.'

 The book description of Jamaica Inn reads, 'The coachman tried to warn her away from the ruined, forbidding place on the rainswept Cornish coast. But young Mary Yellan chose instead to honor her mother's dying request that she join her frightened Aunt Patience and huge, hulking Uncle Joss Merlyn at Jamaica Inn. From her first glimpse on that raw November eve, she could sense the inn's dark power. But never did Mary dream that she would become hopelessly ensnared in the vile, villainous schemes being hatched within its crumbling walls -- or that a handsome, mysterious stranger would so incite her passions ... tempting her to love a man whom she dares not trust.'

When Daphne du Maurier finished Jamaica Inn which was her breakthrough novel, she was staying in her beloved Fowey in Cornwall at her home named, 'Ferryside.' Her next novel, however, would be the one to forever associate herself with her beloved Cornwall. Even though, it was written somewhere else very far away...This novel was Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier.
Daphne du Maurier's home Ferryside in Cornwall. Now owned and lived in by her grandson

Here is the trailer for BBC One's production of Daphne Du Maurier's Jamaica Inn

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth - A Review!

One of the great untold love stories - how the Grimm brothers discovered their famous fairy tales - filled with drama and passion, and taking place during the Napoleonic Wars.Growing up next door to the Grimm brothers in Hesse-Cassel, a small German kingdom, Dortchen Wild told Wilhelm some of the most powerful and compelling stories in the famous fairy tale collection. Dortchen first met the Grimm brothers in 1805, when she was twelve. One of six sisters, Dortchen lived in the medieval quarter of Cassel, a town famous for its grand royal palace, its colossal statue of Herkules, and a fairytale castle of turrets and spires built as a love nest for the Prince-Elector's mistress. Dortchen was the same age as Lotte Grimm and the two became best friends.In 1806, Hesse-Cassel was invaded by the French. Napoleon created a new Kingdom of Westphalia, under the rule of his dissolute young brother Jérôme. The Grimm brothers began collecting fairy tales that year, wanting to save the old stories told in spinning-circles and by the fire from the domination of French culture. Dortchen's father was cruel and autocratic, and he beat and abused her. He frowned on the friendship between his daughters and the poverty-stricken Grimm Brothers. Dortchen had to meet Wilhelm in secret to tell him her stories. All the other sisters married and moved away, but Dortchen had to stay home and care for her sick parents. Even after the death of her father, Dortchen and Wilhelm could not marry - the Grimm brothers were so poor they were surviving on a single meal a day. After the overthrow of Napoleon and the eventual success of the fairy tale collection, Dortchen and Wilhelm were at last able to marry. They lived happily ever after with Wilhelm's elder brother Jakob for the rest of their lives.

UK Hardcover and Australia available for purchase now. Not for sale in U.S. yet except for the kindle download. As always Book Depository ships to the U.S. 

I was not one of those little girls who fell in love with fairy tales as a child. I did not read them although, some were read to me. The only fairy tale I have a clear memory of really loving as a very small child was Sleeping Beauty. I remember asking my grandmother to read it to me all the time which she did. I loved it partly because everyone slept in the castle which made me burst into fits of giggles and because I had the same white nightgown as sleeping beauty wore in the story!  I swear I did!
Heroic Songs, Ballads, and Tales, translated by Wilhelm Carl Grimm, Heidelberg, 1811
The first volume appeared in 1816 and the second volume in 1818.

Kate Forsyth is an Australian author of thirty books mostly children's books, some poetry books, and books for adults as well. The Wild Girl is the first of her books I've read. I will follow it up with another fairy tale themed novel of hers, 'Bitter Greens.'  I chose The Wild Girl because I loved the idea of not simply a re-telling of fairy tales marketed to sell to adults but the fact that the author researched The Grimm Brothers including every aspect of their lives.  The Wild Girl explores how these two young brothers Wilhelm and Jakob Grimm lived in poverty with their parents and siblings in Hesse-Cassell in Germany during the 18th and 19th centuries. The incorporation of the political climate in 18th Century France including the invasion of Napoleon of the Kingdom of Westphalia in 1806 made the Grimm Brothers lives more palpable. Suddenly, you weren't just reading silly fairy tales for the romanticism and escapism of the stories but you were engrossed in the actual socio-economic climate of Germany. I greatly admire how Kate Forsyth made medieval Germany interesting as aspects of war were juxtaposed against the writing down of German myth and folklore by peasants who didn't want to be published or have their names in a fancy book but wanted to write down their histories for future generations.  I was engrossed in the nuances of the writing style, the Germanic themed dialogues were not only authentic in verbage and history but realistically presented in a gripping fashion. 

Engraving of Wilhelm Grimm and Dortchen Wild

There is the love story between young Wilhelm Grimm and the Grimm family next door neighbor Dortchen Wild of the Wild family consisting of five other sisters and both parents. They are as poor as the Grimm's but both families seem to live near each other in harmony except for the glowering , strict and angry father of the Wild family who keeps Dortchen very close to home always.  Kate Forsyth did her research into both families and discovered the give and take father/daughter relationship making the romance take a lot longer than you would imagine.

The WIld Girl covers the years (1805-1824) broken down into seven parts chronologically, monthly, and yearly.  There is a very telling Forward and Epilogue as well which again highlights the research Kate Forsyth has done.  Some favorite well-known and loved fairy tales are told here explained by a fantastic 'old hag' woman character named, 'Old Marie.' You will recognize aspects of 'Rapunzel', 'Little Snow White' who does not originally wake up by the kiss of a prince, Sleeping Beauty as it connects to Briar Rose and even Hansel and Gretel amongst so much more!

 The Grimm Brothers

I would highly recommend The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth to anyone who wants an engrossing and enchanting read of some fairy tales of which you may not already know!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent: A Review!

 A brilliant literary debut, inspired by a true story: the final days of a young woman accused of murder in Iceland in 1829.
Set against Iceland's stark landscape, Hannah Kent brings to vivid life the story of Agnes, who, charged with the brutal murder of her former master, is sent to an isolated farm to await execution.

Horrified at the prospect of housing a convicted murderer, the family at first avoids Agnes. Only Tóti, a priest Agnes has mysteriously chosen to be her spiritual guardian, seeks to understand her. But as Agnes's death looms, the farmer's wife and their daughters learn there is another side to the sensational story they've heard.

Riveting and rich with lyricism, BURIAL RITES evokes a dramatic existence in a distant time and place, and asks the question, how can one woman hope to endure when her life depends upon the stories told by others?

The museum Glumbær, in a cold January. Glumbær was once a wealthy farm in the Skagafjörður area. - See more at: http://www.picador.com/blog/august-2013/burial-rites-a-photo-essay-from-iceland#sthash.paoqUG7e.dpuf
 The museum Glumbær, in a cold January. Glumbær was once a wealthy farm in the Skagafjörður area.(Photo from Amazon, The Guardian, and Picador. Taken by Hannah Kent)

This is a debut novel written by a 28 year old Australian woman based on her time spent in Iceland. Burial Rites has won awards, it has received much notoriety and recognition, so where  to begin…

Let’s begin with what is known and told to us with a writing style that is so evocatively humanizing in its magnificence and strength of tale that I can’t wait to see how Hannah Kent follows this one up. 

The cast of characters were real people: Agnes Magnusdottir  (1795-1830), a meager housekeeper, Natan Ketilsson (1792-1828), a herbalist and farmer who happens to be Agnes’s lover and employer; Rosa Gudmundsdottir (1795-1855), another of Natan’s lovers and Iceland’s famous poets of the early nineteenth century.  

A multi-layered love triangle seems to be the catalyst behind this double murder in rural Iceland. Here is what is known: 

On a spring night in 1828, Agnes woke the household next door to tell them the Illugastadir farmhouse was on fire. Natan and his friend Petur Jonsson, she said, were trapped inside. The fire was  eventually put out but not before it became clear that the two men had been stabbed before the fire. She was arrested, along with a farmhand named Fridrik and his sixteen year old girlfriend, Siggi, later sent to prison in Copenhagen. Agnes and Fridrik were beheaded by Natan’s brother on a small hill in Hunavatnssysla on the 12th of January 1830. 

One of many standout points of Burial Rights is the skill in which Hannah Kent cleverly lets Agnes’s true story unfold in a series of flashback scenes as we get to know her written in twin narratives of the murders and the ghastly executions.  What a refreshing writing style and perspective to what could be a story of an isolated woman imprisoned in a home because there were no prisons in rural nineteenth century Iceland. Not exactly the subject to a page turning novel but in Hannah Kent’s hands, her astute research and passion for her subjects, comes through brilliantly warming up the location and the cast of characters. You do not immediately hate Agnes; you might pity her and Natan but you must continue reading as the story unfolds even though you know it will end in execution and bloodshed. 

I really enjoyed the way Hannah Kent began various chapter points by introducing  images of Supreme Court trial transcript pages of 1829 quoting Agnes’s testimony as well as one of Rosa’s poems written in June 1828 address to Agnes:

Don’t be surprised by the sorrow in

my eyes

not at the bitter pangs of pain that I feel:

For you have stolen with your scheming

he who gave my life meaning

and thrown your life to the Devil to deal

Agnes, an educated woman, responded with a verse of her own:

 This is my only wish to you,

Bound in anger and grief:

Do not scratch my bleeding wounds,

I’m full of disbelief.

 Photo by Hannah Kent, from The Guardian newspaper article.

Now we are riding across Iceland's north, across this black island washing in its water, sulking in its ocean. Chasing our shadows across the mountains.
  They have strapped me to the saddle like a corpse being taken to the burial ground. In their eyes I am already a dead woman, destined for the grave. My arms are tethered in front of me. As we ride the awful parade, the irons pinch my flesh until it bloodies in front of my eyes. I have come to expect harm now. Some of the watchmen at Stora-Borg compassed my body with small violences, chronicled their hatred towards me, a mark here, bruises, blossoming like star clusters under the skin, black and yellow smoke trapped under the membrane. I suppose some of them had known Natan. 
 But now they take me east, and although I am tied like a lamb for slaughter, I'm grateful that I am returning to the valleys where rocks give way to grass, even if I will die there.
As the horses struggle through the tussocks, I wonder when they will kill me. I wonder where they will store me, cellar me like butter, like smoked meat. Like a corpse, waiting for the ground to unfreeze before they can  pocket me in the earth like a stone.
 They do not tell me these things. Instead, they set me in iron cuffs and lead me round, and like a cow I go where I am led, and there's no kicking or it's the knife. It's the rope and a grim end. I put my head down, go where they take me and hope it's not to the grave, not yet.

The museum Glumbær, in a cold January. Glumbær was once a wealthy farm in the Skagafjörður area. - See more at: http://www.picador.com/blog/august-2013/burial-rites-a-photo-essay-from-iceland#sthash.paoqUG7e.dpuf

A book review of The Ghost Ship by Kate Mosse

New York Times  bestselling author Kate Mosse returns with  The Ghost Ship , a sweeping historical epic of adventure on the high seas. The B...