Sara Coleridge was the daughter of Samuel Taylor Coleridge & Sarah Fricker. She was very much a part of the group known as the Lake Poets. She knew her father's friends Southey & Wordsworth & was close friends with Wordsworth's daughter, Dora. Sara was also a poet & published several collections. Her daughter, Edith, published a memoir & letters after her death.
Katie Waldegrave has written a biography of Sara & Dora called The Poet's Daughters which I'm looking forward to reading.
The sun may speed or loiter on his way. May veil his face in clouds or brightly glow; Too fast he moved to bring one fatal day, I ask not now if he be swift or slow. I have a region, bathed in joyous beams, Where he hath never gilded fruit or flower, Hath ne'er lit up the glad perennial streams, Nor tinged the foliage of an Autumn bower. Then hail the twilight cave, the silent dell, That boast no beams, no music of their own; Bright pictures of the past around me dwell, Where nothing whispers that the past is flown.
Movie & TV adaptations of favourite books can be infuriating or wonderful, depending on the book & the adaptation. One of the best, most faithful adaptations of a series has been London Weekend Television's adaptation of the Hercule Poirot stories by Agatha Christie. The series began in 1988 & ended in 2013. Every Poirot short story & novel had been adapted & everyone involved in the project could finally rest. The final episode in the final series, Curtain, has just been shown on television here in Australia & I think I've watched every episode over the years. My favourites will always be the early series of one hour episodes based on the short stories with the occasional two hour episode based on a novel. The production values were just superb & the opening titles are so wonderful that I can hear the music in my head right now. If you've never seen those opening titles with their gorgeous Art Deco styling, you can watch them here on YouTube.
Finding the right actor to play Poirot was the biggest challenge for the producers. David Suchet was a well-known but not famous actor when he took on the role. He played Poirot for 25 years & the role has come to define him in the eyes of many. He has now written a memoir about the series & about the way that Poirot has, in a way, taken over his life.
Suchet describes in detail how he prepared to play the role, from reading all the books to writing a long list of characteristics & attributes that he felt described Poirot. He kept the list with him always & referred to it at the beginning of each new series as he prepared to inhabit the little Belgian detective. The list is reproduced in the book along with many photos of the locations, guest stars & crew who often worked on the series for years. Suchet had a terrifying lunch with Agatha Christie's daughter, Rosalind Hicks, when she told him that Poirot must never be laughed at. One of the accolades Suchet cherishes the most is that Rosalind & her son, Mathew Prichard, approved of his portrayal & thought that Agatha Christie would have approved as well.
Suchet says over & over again that, as an actor, all he wants to do is serve the author of the words he's saying. He fought producers, directors & script writers over the years when they wanted him to do or say something that he believed Poirot would not do. Gradually he had the confidence & the clout to get his way & eventually he became an associate producer. The continuation of the series was never assured though & Suchet describes well the uncertainties of an actor's life. After the first two series which were very successful, he heard nothing about a third series so took another role to pay the mortgage. Luckily, when a third series was commissioned, the producers were willing to wait for him to be available. Then, after a gap of several years, the series was resurrected with a new producer & an American company, A & E, producing the programs & then selling them to LWT. New producers wanted a new look so the wonderful Art Deco opening titles & music were gone & the one hour episodes replaced with ninety minute episodes. There was more money spent on the cast & locations but I've never been as fond of these later episodes. I enjoyed the ensemble feel of the first series with Suchet & the regular cast of Hugh Fraser as Captain Hastings, Philip Jackson as Inspector Japp & Pauline Moran as Miss Lemon.
Poirot and Me is definitely a book for fans of the series & David Suchet. I enjoyed it very much because I was fascinated by the details of the filming, the guest stars, anecdotes about the fans & the behind the scenes machinations that went on between series. Suchet also writes about other roles he's played, such as Salieri in a stage production of Amadeus or Robert Maxwell in a TV film. If he seems to quote every glowing review he's ever received, well, he's rightly proud of them. However, if you're looking for gossip or candid comments about his colleagues, you won't find them here. Maybe he just doesn't mention any guest stars that he didn't like but everyone who appears in the book is praised, especially his regular co-stars in the early series & Zoë Wanamaker, who played Ariadne Oliver in the later series. He does admit that some episodes were better than others, because the source material wasn't great or the adaptation lacked something, but, in general, this is an affectionate memoir about a role that could have buried his career but instead, made David Suchet one of the most recognisable actors of his generation - even without the moustache & the spats.
Charlotte Higgins has written a fascinating book combining history, travel, archaeology & literature in a survey of Roman Britain. I've become more interested in Roman Britain over the years as my historical reading has moved further & further back in time. From the Tudors & the Victorians who fascinated me in my teenage years, I've gradually become interested in other periods of English history. Richard III took me to the medieval period, then I jumped forward to the Civil War & the 18th century & then right back to the Anglo Saxons. Finally I became interested in the Roman period, from the invasion by Claudius in AD43 to the withdrawal of the Romans in around 410.
Under Another Sky is structured as a journey around Britain undertaken by Higgins & her boyfriend, Matthew, in a dilapidated van. Their aim is to visit all the Roman sites still visible in Britain, from the Antonine Wall in Scotland to Hadrian's Wall & the sites of the magnificent villas in the south & the remains of Londinium, buried usually deep underneath the modern city. It's also a book about how the British have thought & written about the Romans through the centuries. From Geoffrey of Monmouth in the 12th century to Camden's Britannia in the 16th century, Thorneycroft's monumental statue of Boudica & her daughters to Auden's Roman Wall Blues in the 20th century.
In London, Higgins discovers traces of Roman Londinium in the most unlikely places. In the basement car park of the Museum of London there is a segment of the Roman wall, exposed during the Blitz & preserved near Bay 52. It stands two and a half metres tall. There's a photo of it in the book with motorcycles parked right next to it. Walking along Hadrian's Wall, she discovers that the perception of the Wall among the farmers who live close by has changed even in recent times. Where once they resented ramblers wanting to walk over their fields to look at bits of broken wall, it's now become a tourist attraction & a welcome source of income for those who offer accommodation.
Theories about why the Wall was built have also changed. Once historians thought it was a barrier to keep the Pictish tribes of Scotland out. Now, it seems to be seen as more of a trade barrier, regulating & taxing the traders as they passed through. Discoveries such as the Vindolanda tablets have excited interest in the Wall & the soldiers who were stationed there. The tablets, discovered in the 1970s, are slivers of wood which were used to send messages along the Wall & further afield. The most famous is an invitation from Claudia Severa to Lepidina, inviting her to a birthday party. Suddenly the soldiers, traders & their families living in the forts along the Wall became real people who wrote shopping lists & party invitations just like we do.
Higgins also meets some interesting people on her journeys. I loved the Woodward brothers, builders who decided to recreate the Orpheus mosaic, known as the Great Pavement, at Woodchester near Stroud in Gloucestershire. The mosaic was last uncovered in 1973 & Woodward was so mesmerised by it that he decided to create a replica as the original was too fragile to be exposed any longer. They learned, through trial & error, how to create the tesserae, researched the missing parts of the picture using 18th century drawings & working in libraries, reading about ancient mythology. The finished mosaic used 1.6 million tesserae & is as big as a ballroom.
As well as the stories of the remains of Roman buildings, villas & forts, we also meet the people. The Britons who resisted or accepted the Romans - Boudica, Cartimandua, Caractacus & the Romans who invaded & then sought to control Britain - Julius Caesar, Claudius, Agricola as well as the many nameless soldiers, traders & farmers. Higgins tells their stories & examines the ways in which historians, artists & writers through the centuries have depicted them. She also tells the stories of some of the antiquarians & archaeologists who have uncovered Britain's Roman past.
Under Another Sky is a fascinating book. I loved the mix of history, travel, art & literature. It's immensely readable & full of great stories. I only wish there had been more pictures. There are some black & white pictures in the text but I would have loved some colour plates of the locations & some of the art & treasures Higgins describes. Under Another Sky was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize & Higgins writes here about the experience of not winning. It's an interesting discussion about literary prizes & the expectations that come with them.
I've been reading the November 2012 edition of Brontë Studies which is a special edition with the papers from a conference held in 2011 on the Brontës & the influence of the Bible on their work. So far the most interesting paper has been by Patsy Stoneman on Charlotte's use of biblical cadences & sentence structure in Jane Eyre. The translators of the Bible often used phrases connected by punctuation rather than a word such as "and". Compare this from the King James Bible, "the Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want" to "My pulse stopped: my heart stood still; my stretched arm was paralyzed." from the scene in Jane Eyre when Bertha cries out in the middle of the night. This way of constructing sentences is called asyndetic & Charlotte uses it much more than other Victorian authors. I feel as though I need to reread Jane Eyre especially to look out for this & the other examples that Stoneman describes, especially Charlotte's habit of inverting words for emphasis. For example on the very first page, "dreadful to me was the coming home" instead of the more usual, "To me it was dreadful to be coming home". This led me on to wanting to read something by one of the sisters so I've chosen Emily's poem, Sympathy, this week as I've always loved Emily's poetry.
There should be no despair for you While nightly stars are burning; While evening pours its silent dew, And sunshine gilds the morning. There should be no despair—though tears May flow down like a river: Are not the best beloved of years Around your heart for ever?
They weep, you weep, it must be so; Winds sigh as you are sighing, And winter sheds its grief in snow Where Autumn’s leaves are lying: Yet, these revive, and from their fate Your fate cannot be parted: Then, journey on, if not elate, Still, never broken-hearted!
Reading serendipity is a wonderful thing. I was halfway through reading The Setons by O Douglas (photo from here) when, into my inbox, popped a review of the book by heavenali. I hadn't realised that The Setons was one of the titles selected for the Librarything Great War theme read so there are probably quite a few bloggers reading it at the moment. Ali has written a lovely review which really says everything I wanted to say myself so I feel a little redundant. So, I'll just give a brief description of the plot & a few thoughts on the attractions of O Douglas's books for me.
The Setons are a manse family, living in Glasgow in 1913. James Seton is a well-loved minister to his congregation, a little remote but always practical & kind when help is needed. He's a widower & his daughter, Elizabeth, keeps house for him & his youngest son, David, known as Buff. Elizabeth has largely taken the place of her mother in the house & in the parish. She is attractive, kind, opinionated, funny & devoted to her father. There are two older brothers in India, Alan & Walter. The eldest son, Sandy, died while at Oxford & his mother followed him soon after. We meet Elizabeth's friends, the Thomsons & Kirsty Christie, also a daughter of the manse but less attractive than Elizabeth in looks or manners & less satisfied with her lot in life.
When Aunt Alice proposes that her husband's nephew, Arthur Townshend, should visit Glasgow, Elizabeth is dismayed by the prospect. She has missed meeting Arthur on the visits she made to her aunt & the picture she has of him is not an appealing one. She imagines him as very English, stuffy, self-important, used to the best of everything & likely to look down his nose at Glasgow & their family. Luckily, Arthur turns out to be a delightful man, interested in everything & everyone. He makes an immediate friend of Buff & is fascinated by manse life. He quickly becomes a close friend to Elizabeth &, by the time he leaves, their relationship has deepened into love, although unacknowledged.
The story takes a serious turn in the final chapters as we reach 1914 & the outbreak of WWI. The Setons was published in 1917 so the outcome of the war was still unknown & this is evident in the apprehensive tone of the narrator. James Seton develops heart trouble & has to leave the ministry. The family moves to Etterick, their house in the country & they all adjust to a very different life. The book is very much of its time in the descriptions of young men going joyously to war in defence of their country. The constant fear & worry felt by those at home about loved ones serving in the war is beautifully described. These final chapters are very poignant & there is hope as well as sorrow as the book ends.
O Douglas was the sister of John Buchan. Her novels are all on similar themes - domestic stories about family & relationships with a lot of humour & always some gentle romance. Buff is another of the young boys who feature in all her novels & are based on a young brother who was killed in the war. Her books are comforting but not saccharine, always alive to the realities of life. O Douglas had very strong views on right & wrong, duty & responsibility & this is reflected in all her books as well as a melancholy that I find attractive. I love reading about a time & a place that seems so far away from our busy modern world yet is still recognisable, with characters who face the problems that everyone has to deal with, no matter where they live or at what time.
Theatre producer Charlie Maitland is dead, poisoned with tartar emetic, or antimony. The poison is invisible when dissolved in water but did Charlie commit suicide or was he murdered? He suffered in hospital for several days after the poisoning & refused to accuse anyone or admit he took the poison himself & the police investigation has stalled. Charlie's marriage to actress Georgia Foxley is volatile & their frequent arguments about her drinking & extravagant habits have dominated their marriage. Georgia's personal assistant, Jane Edouard, may have had a motive for killing Charlie as he resented her closeness to Georgia. Charlie's new production, a musical version of The Picture of Dorian Gray, is in financial trouble before it even gets off the ground & his strict stepfather is determined that Charlie will stand on his own feet. The Maitlands' maid, Zofia, also knows something & is driven to attempt suicide from guilt & remorse. The initial investigation got nowhere & now, DI Jack Ravenshaw has been seconded from Bristol because of his special knowledge of the London theatre scene.
Jack is one of the Ravenshaw theatrical dynasty, as famous as the Redgraves or the Oliviers. He hasn't acted since a horrific bout of stage fright during a performance of Hamlet just after his father's murder. He's estranged from his mother, Vivien Ashton, who is still involved with the family theatre, The Curtain, although it's now owned by another company. Vivien was horrified when Jack joined the police & they've barely communicated since. Now, however, Jack is forced to use all his theatrical connections to get to the bottom of Charlie Maitland's mysterious death. Jack's investigation is also being obstructed by elements inside the police force. The senior officer on the original investigation, DCI Wade, is openly hostile & seems to be willing Jack to fail. DS Emily Hart is assigned to help Jack with the investigation but she has secrets of her own. Where do her loyalties really lie? Jack's investigations open up several new leads but not everyone is happy with his progress & there will be more deaths before he can discover the truth.
I enjoyed this book very much. The West End setting was very effective, which probably isn't surprising as M G Scarsbrook is a screenwriter as well as a novelist. Jack is a sympathetic character. His life is shambolic & he seems to have no personal life at all. He joined the police force after leaving the stage as a way of gaining the skills to solve his father's murder which has haunted him. He seems to be procrastinating in every area of his life & being forced to return to London & the West End tests him in many ways. Emily Hart is also an intriguing character, not entirely sympathetic as her loyalties are confused but definitely a woman with ambition & good at her job. The supporting characters are well-drawn, especially Zofia & Darlington Bell, a family friend of the Ravenshaws & an influential critic. The only aspect of the novel that seemed unnecessarily far-fetched were the absinthe-induced hallucinations that Jack experiences. However, that's a minor quibble about a novel with an intriguing, multi-layered plot & a pair of detectives who will hopefully appear in another novel.
M G Scarsbrook kindly sent me a copy of Dream of the Dead for review.
I'm afraid I have no other excuse for choosing this week's poem other than that I love the title. It's so completely Gothic & wacky. As Charlotte Smith was a novelist as well as a poet & said to be an influence on the Gothic novels of Ann Radcliffe, it's probably not so odd after all. The title of the poem is almost as long as the sonnet itself - On Being Cautioned against Walking on an Headland Overlooking the Sea, because It Was Frequented by a Lunatic is one of Smith's Elegiac Sonnets, published in 1797.
Is there a solitary wretch who hies To the tall cliff, with starting pace or flow, And, measuring, views with wild and hollow eyes Its distance from the waves that chide below; Who, as the sea-born gale with frequent sighs Chills his cold bed upon the mountain turf, With hoarse half-utter'd lamentation, lies Murmuring responses to the dashing surf? In moody sadness, on the giddy brink, I see him m ore with envy than with fear;
He has no nice felicities that shrink From giant horrors; wildly wandering here, He seems (uncursed with reason) not to know The depth or the duration of his woe.
I'm an avid reader who loves middlebrow fiction, 19th century novels, WWI & WWII literature, Golden Age mysteries & history. Other interests include listening to classical music, drinking tea, baking cakes, planning my rose garden & enjoying the antics of my cats, Lucky & Phoebe. Contact me at lynabby16AThotmailDOTcom