Sunday, December 21, 2014

Sunday Poetry - Christmas

This week's choice is an early version of Hark! the Herald Angels Sing, called Hark! How All the Welkin Rings. I first heard it on this wonderful CD, While Shepherds Watched, recorded by Psalmody & The Parley of Instruments (now available at a very reasonable price as part of the bargain Helios label). The whole CD is full of 18th century English carols & hymns that would have been sung in parish churches of the time. Often they're carols we still sing today - God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen, While Shepherds Watched & Angels From the Realms of Glory - but with alternate tunes. It always reminds me of the Melstock Choir in Thomas Hardy's Under the Greenwood Tree. The CD is one of my favourites & I listen to it every Christmas.

Hark, how all the welkin rings,
"Glory to the King of kings;
peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!"

Joyful, all ye nations, rise,
join the triumph of the skies;
universal nature say,
"Christ the Lord is born today!"

Christ, by highest Heaven adored,
Christ, the everlasting Lord:
late in time behold him come,
offspring of a Virgin's womb!

Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see,
hail the incarnate Deity!
pleased as man with men to appear,
Jesus, our Emmanuel here!

Hail, the heavenly Prince of Peace,
Hail, the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
risen with healing in his wings.

Mild he lays his glory by,
born that man no more may die;
born to raise the sons of earth;
born to give them second birth.

Come, Desire of nations, come,
fix in us thy humble home;
rise, the woman's conquering Seed,
bruise in us the serpent's head.

Now display thy saving power,
ruined nature now restore;
now in mystic union join
thine to ours, and ours to thine.

Adam's likeness, Lord, efface,
Stamp thy image in its place.
Second Adam from above,
Reinstate us in thy love.

Let us thee, though lost, regain,
Thee, the life, the inner man:
O, to all thyself impart,
Formed in each believing heart.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Christmas at Thompson Hall - Anthony Trollope

Christmas at Thompson Hall is one of a set of five Christmas Classics published by Penguin this year. This is the only one I bought but they all have variations on the same elegant cover with snow & cardinals on a pine tree. The other authors are Charles Dickens, Nikolai Gogol, Louisa May Alcott & E T A Hoffmann. Series like this are one of the reasons that, however much I love my ereaders, I will always want real books as well. I have these Trollope stories in my Delphi Classics ebook edition of Trollope but this little hardback was just irresistible.

The title story is about a couple traveling from the south of France to the woman's home in England. The Thompson family love getting together at Christmas but, since their marriage some years before, Mrs Mary Brown & her husband, Charles (their names have been changed to spare them embarrassment) have stayed in France rather than travel back to England for the holiday. Mrs Brown's family have become more & more upset about their defection & so, this year, even though Mr Brown has a terrible head cold, she convinces him to make the journey. When they arrive in Paris, Charles is so ill & so irritable that he almost refuses to go on. However, his wife proposes to make him a mustard plaster, having seen a jar of mustard in the dining room. So, late at night, & in her nightclothes, she begins wandering the endless corridors of the hotel.

Discovered by a porter, she is too embarrassed to admit her real errand & pretends she has lost a handkerchief. The porter insists on accompanying her to the dining room & back to her room so she then has to retrace her steps once he's gone to find the mustard & make up the plaster. Unfortunately, she gets lost on her way back to her room, enters another man's room & applies the mustard plaster to him instead. Mortified by the impropriety of this, Mary rushes back to her room & prepares to brazen it out next morning when the hotel is in uproar over the assault on a defenceless guest & the very strange behaviour of an English matron. I have to admit that this story, at almost 60pp, was too long & a bit tedious. Mary's wanderings through the hotel were interminable & the identity of the man with the mustard plaster is not difficult to work out. It's a very English story of embarrassment & a level of refinement that prevents poor Mary from just telling the truth.

Christmas Day at Kirkby Cottage is the story of a young girl, in love with a boy but unable to get past her pride & a silly quarrel when he declares that Christmas is a bore. There are many tears & misunderstandings before the happy ending. In The Mistletoe Bough, Elizabeth Garrow has broken off her engagement to Godfrey Holmes & has ever since been miserable. It takes a Christmas visit from Godfrey & his sister, Isabella, to reveal the true story of why Elizabeth broke the engagement.  The Two Generals is set during the American Civil War & concerns two brothers, each a general but one fights for the North & the other for the South. They both love the same woman & their rivalry in every area of their lives leads to the potential for betrayal one Christmas. Not If I Know It concerns a quarrel between brothers-in-law, George & Wilfred, at Christmas time & the efforts of the exasperated woman who loves them both to make them see sense.These are slight but charming stories, all set at Christmas & just right for reading at the end of a busy day.

My Christmas reading seems to have started later than usual this year. I'm reading several books at the moment & still listening to the sublime Moby-Dick but I do hope to get to these two Christmas mysteries, Envious Casca by Georgette Heyer & Mystery in White by J Jefferson Farjeon, as well as my annual reading of Dickens's A Christmas Carol. I haven't even started watching Christmas movies yet although I have them all lined up - several versions of A Christmas Carol, including the Muppets, The Holly & the Ivy, Miracle on 34th Street & The Bishop's Wife. I have been listening to carols for several weeks though as I cook & wrap presents. Christmas seems to have crept up on me this year although I'm organised, even though I'm working until Christmas Eve, & now don't need to go near a shop until it's all over, thank goodness. Plenty of time for all this Christmas reading, watching & listening.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Sunday Poetry - Christmas

Another of my favourite carols. It was written in the 19th century by James Montgomery. Here's a lovely performance by the Truro Cathedral Choir which was part of Howard Goodall's TV program about the origins of Christmas carols. Apparently the service of Nine Lessons and Carols didn't begin at King's College, Cambridge but in Truro.

Angels from the realms of glory
Wing your flight over all the earth
Ye, who sang creations story
Now proclaim Messiah's birth
Come and worship, come and worship
Worship Christ the newborn King

Shepherds in the fields abiding
Watching over your flocks by night
God with man is now residing
Yonder shines the Infant light
Come and worship, come and worship
Worship Christ the newborn King

Sages leave your contemplations
Brighter visions beam afar
Seek the great Desire of nations
Ye have seen His natal star
Come and worship, come and worship
Worship Christ the newborn King

Saints before the alter bending
Watching long in hope and fear
Suddenly the Lord, descending,
In His temple shall appear
Come and worship, come and worship
Worship Christ the newborn King

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Willa Cather Reading Week

I had plans to join in with Willa Cather Reading Week which is being hosted by Heavenali at her blog here. However, I haven't had a chance to read any Willa this week. I did read two of her novels earlier this year so I'll cheat & just link to my reviews of One Of Ours & Death Comes for the Archbishop. I loved both of them & I do plan to read & reread more Willa Cather over the summer.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Death's Dark Vale - Diney Costeloe

Adelaide Anson-Gravetty wakes up on the morning of her 21st birthday & discovers that she's not who she thought she was. A letter from a firm of solicitors informs her that she is not the daughter of the man she calls her father. Her half-French mother was married before & her first husband, Freddie Hurst, Adelaide's father, was killed during WWI. Richard Anson-Gravetty had married Heather Hurst when Adelaide was only a toddler. He adopted Adelaide but didn't want her to know about her father or his family. Adelaide was only permitted to speak French with her mother when they were alone &, although she's close to her French grandmother, she knows nothing of the Hurst family. Now, however, she discovers that she has come into a considerable fortune from her Hurst grandfather & also receives a letter, written by her late mother, telling her something of Freddie & explaining the reason for the secrecy about Adelaide's birth.

Adelaide also discovers that she has an aunt, Sarah, who is a nun in a French convent. Worried that her grandfather's will makes no mention of Sarah, Adelaide visits her, now Reverend Mother Marie-Pierre, & learns more about her father, Freddie. She also meets her great-aunt Anne, Sister St Bruno, an elderly nun, almost bedridden but with a sharp mind. Sarah explains how she came to enter a French convent (a story told in Diney Costeloe's earlier novel, The Ashgrove, which I read last year) & that Adelaide need not worry about her inheritance. Sarah received her inheritance from her father as a dowry when she entered the convent. After nursing in the convent hospital during the war, Sarah stayed on & now, almost twenty years later, she is Reverend Mother of the Convent of Our Lady of Mercy in St Croix. Adelaide is happy to have made contact & delighted to learn about her birth family. She returns home, goes to university & life goes on.

Two years later, in 1939, war breaks out. In France, Reverend Mother Marie-Pierre finds herself & her convent involved in this war as they had been in the last. The convent hospital cares for the local people but soon, refugees fleeing from the advancing German army are also in need of help. Sarah takes in the children of a Jewish woman killed when a group of refugees are bombed & hides them among a small group of orphans that the convent cares for. She has no illusions as to their fate if the Germans should find them & eventually she takes them to the Mother House of the Order in Paris where their story will not be known.

An English airman is shot down & finds his way to the convent. Sarah & Sister Marie-Marc hide him in the cellars & get him away by disguising him as a nun & taking him to Albert, where a sympathetic priest, Father Bernard, helps him get home. Sarah is reluctant to get involved in any more illegal activities, conscious that she has the responsibility of the welfare of all the nuns. She is also well aware that not all the nuns are willing to disobey the German regulations & there are informers among the villagers who would profit from informing on Sarah if they discovered what was happening. She may have lived in France for over 20 years but many remember that she is English & there is also some resentment that she has been promoted to Reverend Mother at such a young age. The German commander, Major Thielen, is suspicious of Sarah's activities but finds nothing on searching the convent. He is also Catholic & has a certain reverence for the convent & the sisters. That cannot be said of Colonel Hoch, a Gestapo officer who arrives in St Croix soon after, determined to find any traitors, as he calls them, who may be assisting the Resistance or harbouring Jews.

Adelaide, meanwhile, has been recruited to the SOE. Determined to do some war work, she joined up as a driver with the WAAF but, with her fluent French, was soon sounded out about her willingness to be dropped into France to help a Resistance network helping Allied soldiers escape. When Terry, the airman helped by Sarah, returns to England, & Adelaide's connection to the convent are discovered, she is sent to St Croix to make contact with Sarah & see if the convent is a suitable place to use in the escape route.

Death's Dark Vale is an exciting story full of suspense & danger. Adelaide & Sarah are both wonderful heroines, incredibly brave & resourceful. Their stories reflect those of many people during WWII who risked their own lives to help others. However, there are just as many characters determined to thwart their plans, whether from cowardice or greed. There's a real sense of the terror of the times as the Germans settled in to occupation, stealing the convent's chickens & appearing at any time to conduct a search, respecting no one & questioning everything they're told. The anguish of not knowing who to trust was ever-present & Adelaide experiences this just as much as Sarah. They are always aware that their actions have consequences, not only for themselves but for the people who help them & the people they're trying to help & not all their plans are successful. I also loved the impressive level of detail in the descriptions of Adelaide's training & then her mission in France as well as the many contrivances of Sarah & Sister Marie-Marc as they try to outwit the Germans.

As I mentioned when I reviewed The Ashgrove, Diney is a friend from my online reading group & she kindly sent me a copy of Death's Dark Vale to review.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Sunday Poetry - Christmas

My favourite Christmas songs are carols but this song, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, is an exception. I was listening to Bryn Terfel singing this on his Christmas CD during the week & it made me think of the most famous version of the song, this one by Judy Garland in the movie, Meet Me In St Louis. The Judy Garland version is very melancholy, it's not a cheery, happy song in the context of the movie. Judy Garland's character is comforting her little sister, played by Margaret O'Brien, as they contemplate leaving St Louis. It always brings tears to my eyes.

The music was by Hugh Martin & the lyrics by Ralph Blane.

Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Let your heart be light
From now on,
our troubles will be out of sight

Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Make the Yule-tide gay,
From now on,
our troubles will be miles away.

Here we are as in olden days,
Happy golden days of yore.
Faithful friends who are dear to us
Gather near to us once more.

Through the years
We all will be together,
If the Fates allow
Hang a shining star upon the highest bough.
And have yourself a merry little Christmas now.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Together and Apart - Margaret Kennedy

The Christmas edition of Shiny New Books is now available. There are lots of new reviews & I'm very pleased that my review of Together and Apart by Margaret Kennedy is among them. You can read it here.

The reprints section of Shiny New Books is my favourite (& not just because I have a review there). Edited by Simon of Stuck in a Book fame, there are also reviews of Gogol's A Night Before Christmas, R A Dick's The Ghost and Mrs Muir & another of the British Library Crime Classics, Mystery in White : a Christmas crime story by J Jefferson Farjeon.