Tag Archives: literary

Walk to Chatsworth House – Part 1

I’m back home, and I certainly have had a few adventures as well as taken a few photos. I probably have enough for posts for the rest of the year!

When we left off, we had just ventured through snowy Matlock and Bakewell in Derbyshire, but our destination for the day was Chatsworth. It’s the country home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, and has been since Tudor times, but as a 19th Century literature and drama fan, Chatsworth is one of those places that come up regularly. It is mentioned by Jane Austen in Pride and Prejudice, and appears regularly in TV and film as either somewhere very grand, e.g. Mr Darcy’s house, Pemberley, or as itself (as in the film, The Duchess). I particularly visited Derbyshire to see it, and the day was a very big adventure indeed.

After walking to Matlock and catching a local bus to Bakewell, we took yet another bus that dropped us off at Baslow, on the northern edge of the estate – in the middle of a blizzard.

Walk to Chatsworth House

We crossed a bridge and ventured along the country lane to the entrance of the Chatsworth Park.

Walk to Chatsworth House

Walk to Chatsworth House

It really was as cold as it looks, especially with an icy wind blowing. But as we passed through the gates, the sun miraculously appeared, and what did we see? Sheep!

Walk to Chatsworth House

Lovely, black-faced, heritage sheep, grazing in the snow.

Walk to Chatsworth House

They didn’t seem to feel the cold at all. And the parkland with its old trees and pastures were so glittering in the sunlight and beautiful. As far away from dusty Australian paddocks as could be.

The Big Read

I was reading through the Big Read list on Tara’s blog this morning and thought I should do a stock-take of my reading list. The original list of most loved books was compiled by the BBC, and it’s pretty comprehensive.

I think I did pretty well for an IT nerd. Probably because I’ve had a long love for the classics. It’s the fantasy, young adult and modern books that I don’t have a good hit-rate on. Mind you, there were lots of titles which I can’t quite remember the plot and others where I thought I read but wasn’t sure because I saw a TV or film version. They’re marked with ???

1. The Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien
2. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
3. His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman (read the first book)
4. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
5. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, JK Rowling
6. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
7. Winnie the Pooh, AA Milne
8. Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell
9. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, CS Lewis ???
10. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë
11. Catch-22, Joseph Heller
12. Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë
13. Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks
14. Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier
15. The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger
16. The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame
17. Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
18. Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
19. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Louis de Bernieres
20. War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy
21. Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
22. Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone, JK Rowling
23. Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets, JK Rowling
24. Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban, JK Rowling
25. The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien
26. Tess Of The D’Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy
27. Middlemarch, George Eliot
28. A Prayer For Owen Meany, John Irving
29. The Grapes Of Wrath, John Steinbeck ???
30. Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
31. The Story Of Tracy Beaker, Jacqueline Wilson
32. One Hundred Years Of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez
33. The Pillars Of The Earth, Ken Follett
34. David Copperfield, Charles Dickens
35. Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl
36. Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson
37. A Town Like Alice, Nevil Shute ???
38. Persuasion, Jane Austen
39. Dune, Frank Herbert
40. Emma, Jane Austen
41. Anne Of Green Gables, LM Montgomery
42. Watership Down, Richard Adams
43. The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald
44. The Count Of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas
45. Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
46. Animal Farm, George Orwell
47. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
48. Far From The Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy
49. Goodnight Mister Tom, Michelle Magorian
50. The Shell Seekers, Rosamunde Pilcher
51. The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett
52. Of Mice And Men, John Steinbeck ???
53. The Stand, Stephen King
54. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
55. A Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth
56. The BFG, Roald Dahl
57. Swallows And Amazons, Arthur Ransome
58. Black Beauty, Anna Sewell
59. Artemis Fowl, Eoin Colfer
60. Crime And Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
61. Noughts And Crosses, Malorie Blackman
62. Memoirs Of A Geisha, Arthur Golden ???
63. A Tale Of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
64. The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCollough
65. Mort, Terry Pratchett
66. The Magic Faraway Tree, Enid Blyton
67. The Magus, John Fowles
68. Good Omens, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
69. Guards! Guards!, Terry Pratchett
70. Lord Of The Flies, William Golding
71. Perfume, Patrick Süskind
72. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, Robert Tressell
73. Night Watch, Terry Pratchett
74. Matilda, Roald Dahl
75. Bridget Jones’s Diary, Helen Fielding
76. The Secret History, Donna Tartt
77. The Woman In White, Wilkie Collins
78. Ulysses, James Joyce
79. Bleak House, Charles Dickens ???
80. Double Act, Jacqueline Wilson
81. The Twits, Roald Dahl
82. I Capture The Castle, Dodie Smith
83. Holes, Louis Sachar
84. Gormenghast, Mervyn Peake
85. The God Of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
86. Vicky Angel, Jacqueline Wilson
87. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
88. Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons
89. Magician, Raymond E Feist
90. On The Road, Jack Kerouac
91. The Godfather, Mario Puzo
92. The Clan Of The Cave Bear, Jean M Auel
93. The Colour Of Magic, Terry Pratchett
94. The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho ???
95. Katherine, Anya Seton
96. Kane And Abel, Jeffrey Archer
97. Love In The Time Of Cholera, Gabriel García Márquez
98. Girls In Love, Jacqueline Wilson
99. The Princess Diaries, Meg Cabot
100. Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie
101. Three Men In A Boat, Jerome K. Jerome
102. Small Gods, Terry Pratchett
103. The Beach, Alex Garland ???
104. Dracula, Bram Stoker
105. Point Blanc, Anthony Horowitz
106. The Pickwick Papers, Charles Dickens
107. Stormbreaker, Anthony Horowitz
108. The Wasp Factory, Iain Banks
109. The Day Of The Jackal, Frederick Forsyth
110. The Illustrated Mum, Jacqueline Wilson
111. Jude The Obscure, Thomas Hardy
112. The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13¾, Sue Townsend
113. The Cruel Sea, Nicholas Monsarrat
114. Les Misérables, Victor Hugo ???
115. The Mayor Of Casterbridge, Thomas Hardy
116. The Dare Game, Jacqueline Wilson
117. Bad Girls, Jacqueline Wilson
118. The Picture Of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde
119. Shogun, James Clavell
120. The Day Of The Triffids, John Wyndham
121. Lola Rose, Jacqueline Wilson
122. Vanity Fair, William Makepeace Thackeray
123. The Forsyte Saga, John Galsworthy
124. House Of Leaves, Mark Z. Danielewski
125. The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver
126. Reaper Man, Terry Pratchett
127. Angus, Thongs And Full-Frontal Snogging, Louise Rennison
128. The Hound Of The Baskervilles, Arthur Conan Doyle
129. Possession, A. S. Byatt
130. The Master And Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov
131. The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood
132. Danny The Champion Of The World, Roald Dahl
133. East Of Eden, John Steinbeck ???
134. George’s Marvellous Medicine, Roald Dahl
135. Wyrd Sisters, Terry Pratchett
136. The Color Purple, Alice Walker
137. Hogfather, Terry Pratchett
138. The Thirty-Nine Steps, John Buchan
139. Girls In Tears, Jacqueline Wilson
140. Sleepovers, Jacqueline Wilson
141. All Quiet On The Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque ???
142. Behind The Scenes At The Museum, Kate Atkinson
143. High Fidelity, Nick Hornby
144. It, Stephen King
145. James And The Giant Peach, Roald Dahl
146. The Green Mile, Stephen King
147. Papillon, Henri Charriere
148. Men At Arms, Terry Pratchett
149. Master And Commander, Patrick O’Brian
150. Skeleton Key, Anthony Horowitz
151. Soul Music, Terry Pratchett
152. Thief Of Time, Terry Pratchett
153. The Fifth Elephant, Terry Pratchett
154. Atonement, Ian McEwan
155. Secrets, Jacqueline Wilson
156. The Silver Sword, Ian Serraillier
157. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, Ken Kesey
158. Heart Of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
159. Kim, Rudyard Kipling
160. Cross Stitch, Diana Gabaldon
161. Moby Dick, Herman Melville
162. River God, Wilbur Smith
163. Sunset Song, Lewis Grassic Gibbon
164. The Shipping News, Annie Proulx
165. The World According To Garp, John Irving
166. Lorna Doone, R. D. Blackmore
167. Girls Out Late, Jacqueline Wilson
168. The Far Pavilions, M. M. Kaye
169. The Witches, Roald Dahl
170. Charlotte’s Web, E. B. White
171. Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
172. They Used To Play On Grass, Terry Venables and Gordon Williams
173. The Old Man And The Sea, Ernest Hemingway
174. The Name Of The Rose, Umberto Eco
175. Sophie’s World, Jostein Gaarder
176. Dustbin Baby, Jacqueline Wilson
177. Fantastic Mr Fox, Roald Dahl
178. Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
179. Jonathan Livingstone Seagull, Richard Bach
180. The Little Prince, Antoine De Saint-Exupery
181. The Suitcase Kid, Jacqueline Wilson
182. Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens
183. The Power Of One, Bryce Courtenay
184. Silas Marner, George Eliot
185. American Psycho, Bret Easton Ellis
186. The Diary Of A Nobody, George and Weedon Grossmith
187. Trainspotting, Irvine Welsh
188. Goosebumps, R. L. Stine
189. Heidi, Johanna Spyri
190. Sons And Lovers, D. H. Lawrence
191. The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera
192. Man And Boy, Tony Parsons
193. The Truth, Terry Pratchett
194. The War Of The Worlds, H. G. Wells
195. The Horse Whisperer, Nicholas Evans
196. A Fine Balance, Rohinton Mistry
197. Witches Abroad, Terry Pratchett
198. The Once And Future King, T. H. White
199. The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Eric Carle
200. Flowers In The Attic, Virginia Andrews

I read 71 out of 200, that’s 35% which isn’t bad at all. I did really well with the top 20 but then my success rate dropped dramatically. It’s good to see that almost all of the Roald Dahl books are on the list. I’m another who loved Roald Dahl as a child. Hopefully his books will still be loved among the current crop of little ones too.

Harvey – Part 1

Two hours south west of Perth is the little town of Harvey. It is a pastural centre, particularly known for its dairy. But its other claim to fame is that May Gibbs, the creator of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, lived there briefly as a child, along with her family, in Stirling Cottage. It was this experience that she later drew on to create her vivid characters.

Stirling Cottage

The original cottage no longer stands, but in the 1990’s, the locals built a replica, which currently houses a lovely cafe.

Tess of the D’urbervilles – Part 4

So we come to the final post, and the earliest version of Tess, made by Roman Polanski back in 1979. It’s actually a beautiful version with Tess played by a 17 year old Natasha Kinski, and Angel played ironically, by a very young Peter Firth. Natasha is really astonishing, considering that it’s one of her first roles, she’s acting in a second language with a difficult accent. I think she’s my favourite Tess. And Peter, well it was just interesting to see him as a very young man.

I do like the classic style of this film, with its gorgeous music and cinematography, but I think the ending’s a bit rushed here.

Tess’s attempted confession:

The final moments:

So there you go. Given I’ve actually only seen this version in full, I’m going to track down the 1998 version because it looks fantastic.

Tess of the D’urbervilles – Part 3

The second adaptation was made back in 1998. From these two clips, I think they took a more realistic approach in terms of both style and acting, which I think works. Tess seems a lot more tougher here, and Angel’s definitely better played by this actor.

Here’s the proposal scene in the dairy:

And this is really great, when Angel returns and finds Tess, well, taken:

Tess of the D’urbervilles – Part 2

I know the English have an obsession with adapting Jane Austen, and to a lesser extent, Charles Dickens. However Thomas Hardy’s work generates its fair share of adaptations, especially Tess which seems to get a revival every 10 years or so. It’s then interesting to do a comparison between the last 3 of them, made in 2008, 1998 and 1979.

It’s interesting to see how drama has changed, and how each generation deals with showing the lyrical side of the novel and the challenging storyline. Character-wise, I’m particularly interested in how they cast Tess and Angel Clare, since their story I think produces the most poignant moments.

The last adaptation was only made last year. It’s got the best cinematography of the three that I’m going to cover, but I’m not sure about the casting. The girl who plays Tess is ok, but this Angel seems a bit too foppish for me!

After their wedding, Tess and Angel confess to each other:

Their final moments:

Tess of the D’urbervilles – Part 1

Getting all literary now. I read Tess of the D’urbervilles years ago and found it one of the most frustrating novels ever. Probably because I hadn’t read any other Thomas Hardy novels! Anyway, frustration was the impression I took away from it, but lately I’ve revisited the novel by listening to an audiobook version. The story is still as frustrating as ever, but I never realised how beautiful the prose is. I’m a huge fan of lyrical novels and Hardy’s descriptions of the landscapes and lifestyle of rural 19th Century Dorset, like this passage from Chapter 24:

Amid the oozing fatness and warm ferments of the Froom Vale, at a season when the rush of juices could almost be heard below the hiss of fertilization, it was impossible that the most fanciful love should not grow passionate. The ready bosoms existing there were impregnated by their surroundings.

July passed over their heads, and the Thermidorean weather which came in its wake seemed an effort on the part of Nature to match the state of hearts at Talbothays Dairy. The air of the place, so fresh in the spring and early summer, was stagnant and enervating now. Its heavy scents weighed upon them, and at mid-day the landscape seemed lying in a swoon. Ethiopic scorchings browned the upper slopes of the pastures, but there was still bright green herbage here where the watercourses purled. And as Clare was oppressed by the outward heats, so was he burdened inwardly by waxing fervour of passion for the soft and silent Tess.

Actually, I think I’ve appreciated the novel more by listening to the audiobook. The narrator Peter Firth is very good, bringing to life not just the lyrical parts but also the varied accents of its characters.

Puddles, Puddles Everywhere

Oh dear, I’m a puddle this week because I have fallen in love… with Mr. Rochester! Or is it with Toby Stephens? I’m not exactly sure, but Toby as Rochester is a very, very lethal combination.

I’ve been anticipating the arrival of the Jane Eyre DVD for weeks now, and last Friday it came. Squeeeee…

Of course I had to view it in one sitting, and never had 4 hours gone so fast. I was entranced by Jane, could wholly empathise why she fell in love with Mr. Rochester because – bloody obvious really – because he’s HOT. Irresistibly hot (not just mildly so). I’ve never had the hots for a screen Mr. Rochester before, and it’s a beautiful, beautiful thing.

The Rochester StareReally, the whole series was beautiful. What made this version by far the best version of JE I’ve ever seen? Well, aside from Mr. R being hotter than a thousand suns, it was also because Jane was portrayed as being much more his equal. Sure, that’s how it was in the book and what the majority of versions probably attempted to portray, but strangely enough only this version succeeded. In the versions I’ve seen, Jane was too annoying or too insipid to the point where I couldn’t see how Rochester could ever fall for her the way he did. And since this is Jane’s story, if I didn’t like her then the whole story didn’t ring true.

That’s why Ruth Wilson was an absolute genius. Being just out of drama school and then pulling off a performance like that was incredible. She had a knack of being able to communicate what Jane was feeling just by her expression, and with great subtlety. She gave Jane real strength, so that I could definitely see what attracts Rochester to her.

As for ‘Tobes’, did I see anything beyond the hotness? Of course I did, I’m not so shallow! His Rochester seemed more real to me too, perhaps due to the starker, pared-down dialogue, perhaps because he truly showed Rochester in all his complexity – strong, damaged, humorous, stern, and passionate. You can see him gradually opening up to Jane, see how he really grew to love her. My favourite scenes of course involved the two of them – their first two interviews when Rochester was so stern and cynical, and yet you could see his vulnerability, and how he empathised with Jane when she told him of her childhood. They empathised with each other even then and it was great introduction for things to come. I was so inspired by these early scenes that I’m writing a little vignette about it.

Then of course there’s the fire scene that I wrote about before, but the most touching for me was the reunion, when Jane returned to find Rochester wasn’t, well, the man he used to be. That scene never failed to make me cry when I read it, and its effect on screen was exactly the same.

Making me a virtual puddle…

Reader, I want that DVD!

It’s amazing the influence that one excellent teacher can have on a person’s life. I think I have mentioned in passing Sister DOS and her wonderful Classics class that I took in Year 9. Through that class I discovered the world of classical literature, a love that hasn’t yet faded.

Mind you, as with all long relationships, that love was periodically rekindled each time a marvellous adaptation came along. In recent years there has been a vibrant film version Pride and Prejudice (a very different but still enjoyable beast to the 1995 TV version), the page-turner of a series in Bleak House where Scully was reincarnated as a dame (the book unfortunately is not the easiest of reads), and of course the wonderful North and South which needs no introduction.

Consulting my favourite classics list, we come to Jane Eyre. Now that is a firm, firm favourite of mine. I was moved to tears reading it as a 14 year-old and the effect hasn’t lessened with each re-reading. As a teenager I identified strongly with with the fierce spirit of Jane, the orphan who sought to belong. Re-reading it a few weeks ago, I found that I could identify with Mr. Rochester more. He didn’t seem so manipulative when you consider that he was terribly, terribly insecure. If you were deceived into a literal hell of a marriage by own family (that you can never ever get out of), was mistreated by everyone you cared for, and only regarded in a good light for your money, then you would be bitter too! His vulnerability was rather attractive actually. But being a total sop of a romantic, I most loved the emotional and spiritual connection these two had, and the beautiful way in which they completed one another.

Yes, I am very attached to that book, but I know I’m not the only one! So it was then inevitable that the BBC finally got around to adapting Jane Eyre. Not for the first time (more like the 4th), but the last was the very literal Timothy Dalton version in 1983, that apart from a very sexy Rochester had nothing else going for it. I also recalled not being very impressed with the Francis Zeffrelli version – William Hurt as Mr. Rochester? Too handsome by far (I still had Orson Welles’ Rochester on my mind). Plus Jane Eyre in that version seemed mute, which is ridiculous considering they were supposed to be intellectual equals.

So what did I think when I found out that Toby Stephens was taking on the role? Not very much, though I don’t have anything against Toby. He was very fetching as the young Gilbert Markham in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, and I’ve seen him pop up on TV or film occassionally since. But from the few pictures from the new series I’d seen he looked not very desirable at all. Which, I suppose, was the point about Mr. Rochester, since he’s not supposed to be very handsome – but how can you go all gooey about someone who didn’t look good?

Then one (not so very busy) day (at work of course), I found the fire scene. Oh… my… god… How (pardon the pun) hot is that? Wonderfully beautiful and sexy and all that the scene could be. I had never seen a version of Jane Eyre so intimate and erotic. Actually, I’ve hardly seen a period drama scene so erotic. Repressed passion, of course, but this was exciting. By the following day I’d viewed all the YouTube clips of the series I could find – all of them excellent! Then I found out that the screenplay was written by the same person that adapted North and South, and it was directed by the same person as Bleak House – so it was definitely quality.

There was nothing else to do but preorder the DVD from the UK, since who knows when the ABC will get around to showing it – I can’t wait until mid or even late in the year for this! Still, I will have to wait until mid-February when the UK DVD is released, and until then I will be re-reading the book – just one more time.

By Gad!

A grey day, a rainy day, a very English day, the kind I’d like to spend on the couch nursing a pot of Earl Grey tea and a good English classic. Perhaps by Austen or Brontë but more recently I’ve discovered the works of Georgette Heyer.

Yes, she may appear to have written stuff your grandmother reads (your grandmother might well have a few old copies lurking about the place) and the covers of the old prints might give you the impression that it’s in line with the works of such ‘esteemed’ authors as Danielle Steele and Barbara Cartland, but as I’ve discovered that that is very far from the truth! I think she has far more in common with Austen than with those two or with any soppy/bodice-ripping romance author.

Again, the folks at C19 put me on her trail, when a few of them started writing stories in her style and starting off a mammoth thread praising her extensive body of work. She does write mainly about the Regency world, but she certainly wasn’t JA’s contemporary because she died quite recently in the early 1970’s! Her stories apparently very accurately portrayed the period and the best of them are a study of manners that are as substantial as any of JA’s works, but that’s where all resemblences end! Almost all of her stories are set among the upper classes (that you rarely get a glimpse of in Austen), written in a style that’s easy to get into and full of humour! Witness dear Frederica and her lovable little brothers, or the fun-filled banter between Venetia and Damerel. And I doubt that JA would be able to write something like Devil’s Cub, which would make a brilliant Sunday matinée-like adventure – as long as it doesn’t star Leonardo di Caprio.

As I mentioned before, GH was very prolific, writing over 50 books. I’ve bought a dozen of them already so I’ll be spending many an agreeable afternoon lounging. Bring on those rainy days!