Monday, July 30, 2012

Happy Birthday Emily Brontë!

Emily Brontë, 
as depicted by her brother Branwell

Today is my beloved Emily's 194th birthday! May she be just as loved and venerated for the next 194. On this occasion, the final stanza of her poem 'No Coward Soul Is Mine' comes to mind...

There is not room for Death,
Nor atom that his might could render void:
Since thou art Being and Breath,
And what Thou art may never be destroyed.

According to Charlotte, Emily wrote these words shortly before she died of tuberculosis at the age of thirty. Although Wuthering Heights caused quite the uproar in Victorian society during her lifetime, I wonder if she had any idea that so many years later her words would continue to inspire readers the world over. For through her words, she is immortal.

Today I will be perusing some of my favourite Emily passages, dipping into the iconic biography on this literary family and fancying that Emily's spirit is wandering the moors where she felt most at home.  

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Victorian Artists: Sir Edwin Landseer

Dignity and Impudence 1839

I wrote my MA dissertation on dogs in nineteenth-century literature, and since then animals seem to pop up everywhere in my reading. Actually, they were most likely always there, but now I take notice of them. 

Throughout the Victorian Celebration, this trend has continued. Animals act as symbols that signify the wider themes in Lady Audley's Secret and The Professor. A labrador is an important character in the Sarah Waters novel I just finished earlier this evening (not Victorian, but still), while Sonnets from the Portuguese brings to mind the affectionate relationship Elizabeth Barrett Browning had with her spaniel Flush and how that's mirrored in her poetry.

So, I obeyed the sudden inclination to look through some Landseer artwork.

Sir Edwin Henry Landseer (1802-1873) produced an incredible array of paintings featuring domestic animals and wildlife during the Victorian period -- in fact, he was commissioned to paint several portraits of Queen Victoria and the rest of the royal family, pets included. Although he is best remembered today for his lion sculptures that adorn Trafalgar Square, it's his portraits of animal that are, to me, the most poignant. 

Some of his representations are rather fanciful and anthropomorphic by twenty-first century standards (and some are disturbingly violent), but I feel he truly captured the spirit and individuality of animals. Landseer's work transcends the portrayal of animals as mere accessories to their aristocratic masters. I'm looking forward to finding out more about him and other nineteenth-century artists as I continue my fascinating research on the Victorians.

Here's a small sample of his paintings...

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert 
at Home at Windsor Castle in Berkshire, England 1843

The Old Shepherd's Chief Mourner 1837

The Arab Tent 1866

 Laying Down the Law 1840

 The Monkey Who Had Seen the World 1827

And this last one makes me smile. It reminds me of my own terrier who is always begging for food with a similar pleading expression. It's as if he's saying, 'Please, sir, I want some more.' 

Macaw, Love Birds, Terrier, and Spaniel Puppies
Belonging to Her Majesty 1839

P.S. Just scouted out this book containing Landseer's private drawings. I want it!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Library Loot, Vol. II

Wow, this blog has really fallen by the wayside. In recent posts I've complained (ad nauseum, I'm sure) about a dreaded reading rut that was plaguing my literary pursuits. I'm pleased as punch to report that I am back to my usual reading habits. I'm devouring fiction and non-fiction, classics and contemporary texts alike.

Reading fever is in full swing, to the point that any distraction from my books -- blogging included -- is not particularly welcome. Meanwhile, a stack of finished titles about which I'd like to share some thoughts and insights is quickly growing like Jack's fabled beanstalk.

This summer's resolution: keep up with my blog! Right, moving on...

On Saturday I meandered over to my tiny local library in search of the selection for next month's book club meeting. The library doesn't carry what I went looking for, but that didn't stop me from coming away with a few new titles tucked under my arm.

I Remember Nothing by Nora Ephron

As my mother is settling into middle age, she constantly occasionally complains that she can't remember anything these days. So when I came across Nora Ephron's last book (still so sad that she's passed on), I couldn't resist picking this up for her. She didn't find the joke to be very funny, but I think she'd agree with me when I say that Ephron is indisputably hilarious. Having already begun this short, breezy memoir, I can confidently recommend I Remember Nothing to fellow Ephron fans.

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

I've never read Sarah Waters before; in fact, it's only relatively recently that she's been brought to my attention. Hearing some fellow students discuss their research on her work piqued my interest, and The Little Stranger promises to be both literary and terrifyingly Gothic.

Any Sarah Waters fans out there? Is this a good place to start, or should I begin with Fingersmith or Tipping the Velvet?

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

This novel is the first in the Flavia de Luce mystery series, which centers on an eleven-year-old detective with a proclivity for the sciences. I've read some great reviews by fellow bloggers, and the publisher's description reminds me greatly of a young, female Sherlock Holmes (can I call her Sherlockina?). My hopes are high that this is as entertaining as I think it will be.

Hopefully, I'll find the time for these texts as I continue to consume nineteenth-century literature for the Victorian Celebration. What have you picked up from your local library? Anything you'd recommend?