Happy Birthday Thomas Hardy!

Posted in Authors Birthdays, Authors I've read with tags , , , , , , , , on June 2, 2013 by echostains


English novelist and poet Thomas Hardy (2nd June 1840 – 11th January 1928) Dorset, England focused his work on the decline of rural society. He was a great fan of Charles Dickens and George Elliot. His romantic poetry was influenced by William Wordsworth. Hardy regarded himself foremost as a poet. His first poetry collection was published in 1898.   ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’  was published in 1874, – his first literary success  through his writing.

His novels, which include ‘Far from the Madding crowd ‘ (1874), The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891) and Jude the Obscure (1895) were set in his semi fictional region of Wessex, based on an old medieval Anglo-Saxon kingdom in the South West of England.

Hardy’s father Thomas was a stonemason and builder. His mother Jemima was a well read woman.  She educated young Thomas at home before he went to school aged eight years old in Bockhampton. He learned Latin and acquired academic potential at Mr Last’s Academy for Young Gentlemen in Dorchester. When his  formal education ended at age 16 when he was then apprenticed to a local architect James Hicks in Dorchester where he trained as an architect before moving to London in 1862 and enrolling as a student in Kings College London.

Hardy, who was aware of class divisions and his own social inferiority, was never comfortable in London society and returned to Dorset five years later.

He met his future wife Emma Lavinia Gifford in 1870 whilst engaged in the restoration of the parish church of St Juliot in Cornwall and he married her in 1874. She died in 1912, and although he became estranged in life, he revisited Cornwall after her death visiting places they went to during their courtship.   Poems 1912-13 reflect upon her death. He married Florence Emily Dugdale (his secretary, nearly 40 years his senior) in 1914.

Hardy died at Max Gate on 11th January 1928 after becoming ill with pleurisy the year before and his funeral was held at Westminster Abbey. This proved to be controversia,l as Hardy and his friends and family wished him to be buried with his first wife Emma in Stinsford Dorset. It was insisted upon by his executor Sir Sydney Carlyle Cockerell that he be buried in the famous Poets Corner in the abbey.  A compromise was reached:  Hardy’s heart was buried with his first wife in Dorset and his ashes in Poet’s Corner Westminster Abbey.

Hardy has many admirers, among them were Virginia Woolf, DH Lawrence, John Cowper Powys and Robert Graves. He was awarded the Order of Merit in 1910.

Although I have not read all Hardy’s novels, I have enjoyed the ones I have read ( Under the Greenwood tree (1872) Far from the Madding Crowd (1874) The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), The Woodlanders (1887), Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891), Jude the Obscure (1895),- I have not enjoyed them equally. The Woodlanders, left me somewhat unsatisfied with the ending which resulted in  the heroine Grace Melbury returning to her unfaithful husband.

But a happy ending does does always result in a good story.  Jude the Obscure, in my consideration – a masterpiece, left me with such an uncomfortable feeling that I have only been able to read the novel once and watch the well acted 196 film.  The story is about humble village stonemason Jude Fawley whose dream is to be educated., He studies Latin and Greek in his spare time whilst dreaming of going to university. Jude_PosterManipulated into a loveless marriage with a coarse and nasty local girl, who soon leaves him, Jude still dreams of entering the local University. He falls in love with his cousin Sue Brideshead. But although she is in love with the married Jude, she marries his former teacher and is very unhappy. Jude and Sue eventually set up house together and have children. Their life together is dire: ostracised by the villagers for not being married and having children out of wedlock, Jude loses his job and the poor family  travel from town to town seeking employment. The end of the story is really disturbing. there are no happy ending here. It is a fantastic novel, but is really emotionally heavy going.

Hardy is considered a Victorian Realist writer and his writing reflects the social restraints and limitations which ultimately lead to unhappiness (in his novels). My favorite novel is ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’ which tells the story of shepherd Gabriel Oak and Bethsheba Everdean. Fate and bad choices interweave to construct a story of pride, betrayal and tragedy. Far-From-The-Madding-Crowd-Thomas-HardyLove wins out though and there is a happy ending, but that is not arrived at until Bethsheba herself has changed her attitude and her outlook.  Oak remains as steadfast to the end as from the beginning of the novel. The dastardly character is Sergeant Francis “Frank” Troy who is a flamboyant gambling show off with a cruel streak towards his wife Bethsheba. He loves another – the hapless and sweet Fanny Robin whose death is heartbreaking. In the middle of the storyline stands middle-aged Mr Boldwood, a rich farmer whose obsession with Bethsheba also leads to tragedy. Fate plays a massive part in this novel; throwaway gestures like the sending of a valentine fire up a strait laced bachelor to behave with passion and abandonment of reason. A flattering remark and a wild display of dashing swordsmanship persuade a young vain Bethsheba that she is in love. Situations and accidents all contrive to elevate Gabriel Oak into hero of the hour and prove his quiet devotion and steadfastness.

More information on the Poet/Novelist from here and The Thomas Hardy Society Thomas Hardy portrait from here Far from the Madding Crowd image from here  Jude the Obscure image from here Tess of the d’Urbervilles image here

Poem ‘Orb Worship’

Posted in My Poetry with tags on April 13, 2013 by echostains


Even the shite shines golden,

You can see why the Druids were beholden

And the pyramids were hewn

From those beads of sweat


The swastika shrugged

Lest we forget

The worshipping of this eternal orb

That drenches our natures

And which we absorb.

Zorba the Greek danced on

whilst bright  Helios shone down,

Cruel and relentless

melting the wings of Icarus

and bringing him down to earth

With a bang.

Lynda M Roberts 2005

Normal service shall be resumed -very soon

Posted in Authors I've read, Watched it on September 17, 2012 by echostains

This blog has been rather neglected  for the last couple of months.  I’ve not given it up – and I’ve plenty of material to add.  So watch this space…………..

test card image is from here

Happy Burns night!

Happy Birthday Playwright, columnist and novelist Keith Waterhouse  (1929 – 2009)

Dear Reader I read it book review ‘The Blackhouse by Peter May

Posted in Authors I've read, Dear Reader I read it! Book reviews on May 25, 2012 by echostains

The last detective stories I read were Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes.  I have been known to read the occasional Agatha Christie – oh and there was that Patricia Cornwell book about Walter Sickert being Jack the Ripper (which I didn’t like – and was still a little  bit furious with ), I digress already.  I was drawn to this book by Peter May (a new author to me) as the story is set on the Hebridean isle of Lewis. Having discovered that some of my ancestors came from there and having never visited myself I thought that I may learn something more about the island, its scenery and ‘customs’ by reading The Blackhouse.

The Blackhouse is essentially a murder mystery and features recently bereaved Fin Macleod, a detective who escaped his Hebridean home to work in Edinburgh.  The island murder has similarities with an earlier one which occurred on Macleod’s patch in Edinburgh and it is for this reason that Macleod returns. The story is many stranded and interspersed with Macleod’s childhood flashbacks –  this proves to be a  real page turner.

Central to the story is the ritualistic Guga hunting (an event unique to Lewis) in which men and boys from the island embark on a hazardous journey to cull gannet chicks on a treacherous bleak rock in the North Atlantic sea.  Macleod’s past and present rise up to meet him like the churning waves around the strange rock where his rite of passage began. These chapters are so atmospheric that I felt at times that I was actually out there on that rock.  I was amazed to learn that this ritual is no fiction though.  The uninhabited isle of Sula Sgeir is home to thousands of gannets whose  summer nesting in the guano encrusted cliff face brings the hunters whose quarry are the gannet chicks, which when salted and boiled are considered a delicacy. The men from the Ness area of Lewis are  called ‘Guga Hunters’.   Memories, emotions, childhood friends all converge, flicker. The past and present intertwine, characters shrink and grow and there is senses of unrest as the old traditions start to be challenged by the young.

What begins as a simple murder mystery soon becomes a journey of memories – some very dark, set against a dramatic landscape whose beauty is stark. The author spent four years researching, filming and producing a TV series about the Gaelic language so knows the area well and this really comes across.  The book is wonderfully written and I have read many reviewers praise the authenticity of the islands description having been residents themselves. I am delighted that this book is the first of a trilogy and I look forward to reading the next books.

Book image from here

Guga image Guga hunters information from here

Dear Reader I read it ‘Pure’ by Andrew Miller

Posted in Dear Reader I read it! Book reviews with tags , , , , on March 30, 2012 by echostains

The backdrop of the story is a Paris graveyard called Les Innocents. The time period is 1785, just before the French Revolution. Young engineer Jean-Baptiste Baratte has been commissioned by the French government to clear the ancient burial ground of its church and mouldering graveyard in the Les Halles area of Paris. The miners Baratte employs  to excavate the bones are strange almost faceless creatures and tend to act collectively. But there is one who steps forward and stands out – he is the catalytic Lacoeur whom Baratte has employed as overseer. His relationship with the engineer both previously and consequentially ends in strange tragedy.

Miller‘s writing style is convincingly sensuous and whilst the narrative has enough historical detail to lend authenticity, is never dry and dull. Throughout the book, the smell of the cemetery permeates. The people stink of it. It lingers on their breath, clothes and even their food as Miller’s masterly writing conveys. The author paints his words from shades of grey to blackness, his characters though realistically sketched, still manage to retain an air of mystery. A feeling of change underpins the novel, though I feel that this is somewhat underplayed and the setting itself seems more of a small village – isolated from the real world rather than a throbbing pulsating city, vital angry and aggressive.

The clearing of the ancient bones, the demolition of the church and the political unrest which rumbles underneath the shifting stones all conspire to add intrigue to a rather simple story. Whilst the book holds the reader’s attention in atmosphere and authenticity, there are a lot of blind alleyways which the writer leads the reader up – and then abandons. For example, the graffiti on the wall is never properly explained, nor is the reason for Zigette’s sudden madness. Also the relationship with Heloise I feel, seems to work better when she is a creature of the night (and day) – before she becomes his mistress.

Though the prose is skilful, the characters wonderfully sketched, I had a slight feeling of disappointment upon finishing the novel, – a vague sense of being a bit let down by ‘Pure’. I suppose that I was looking for a conclusion, and there is a sense of the unfinished which frustrated me. However, this book is a good book though, beautifully written, with lots of atmosphere. I would certainly read another of this authors books and I think the book would translate wonderfully to the screen. All in all – an intriguing and interesting read.

Image from here

Tyger, Tyger still burning bright

Posted in Inspiring poetry with tags , , , , , , on February 18, 2012 by echostains

What I know about tigers could be written on one hand (and I certainly wouldn’t be putting that hand out to one, calling ‘here kitty kitty” )  I’ve had a few tigers by the tail in my time, but here’s a list about what I know about tigers;- they are big cats, they are striped, they live in the jungle, they hunt, kill and they eat their prey.  I’ve always found tigers fascinating creatures.  I  think that this probably stems back to being read a story of the tigers chasing each other around a tree so fast until all that was left of them was butter!  Then there was some unfortunate platform shoes I covered in tiger print in the 70s because I wanted to have ‘Tiger Feet’…but I digress.  The inspiration for this post came from a  painting I saw on the art blog Leslie White which features a wonderful painting of a white tiger – please check it out, – the tiger is just one of many great paintings painted by Leslie.

The Tyger was published in one of Blake‘s collections ‘Songs of Experience in 1794 and is probably one of his best known poems.  The original archaic spelling that Blake uses for ‘tiger’ has been kept usually when the poem appears in anthologies, Though it appears as ‘tyger’ in the title, elsewhere the usual spelling applies.  ‘Tyger’ endows  the animal with more mystique and enhances its exotic qualities.  The tyger is also used a s a metaphor for many things and there have been many interpretations that seem to change with the years.  Here’s some analysis of this deep and powerful poem, some of them stemming from William Blakes’s own life experience.

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright

In the forests of the night,

What immortal hand or eye Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies Burnt the fire of thine eyes?

On what wings dare he aspire?

What the hand dare sieze the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art.

Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,

What dread hand? & what dread feet?………….      (The rest of the poem can be found here with thanks)

Image from here thanks

The poem, beautifully read by Samuel West, video by Justaudio2008 with thanks

The Bronte, Pooh, Poe, Briggs birthday party!

Posted in Authors Birthdays, BRONTE, Inspiring poetry, period drama with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 20, 2012 by echostains

No sooner do I begin writing about one author whose birthday it is, –  another pops up!   Over the past three days Anne Bronte, A.A. Milne, Raymond Briggs and Edgar Allen Poe have all celebrated  birthdays, or to be exact, they have had their birthdays celebrated for them – apart from Raymond Briggs who at 78, is still with us.

Anne Bronte

January 17th was  the birthday of writer and poet Anne Bronte (1820 –  1849 Thornton Yorkshire)   Anne, was the youngest of 6 children born to the Reverend Patrick Bronte and Maria Branwell. She was barely one year old when her mother died. Anne wrote 2 books in her short lifetime (Agnes Grey which was published in 1847 and The Tenent of Wildfell Hall published 1848) and a  lot of poetry.  Much has been written about the Bronte family, their story is well-known.  This website is dedicated to Anne and includes all her poems and a biography.  But this beautiful poem, a tribute to the simple flower, the bluebell  could almost be a metaphor for the author’s life,  made poignant by her sad death at the age of 29.  She is buried in Scarborough – Anne’s favorite place.

Read my review about The Tenant of Wildfell Hall here

18th January saw the birthday of British children’s author Alan Alexander Milne  (1882 –  1956) the author best known for his books about Winnie the Pooh and children’s poems.

A.A. Milne

Born in Kilburn,  London, Milne  grew up at Henley House school,  a small public school ran by his father.  One of his teachers was H. G. Wells (who taught there 1889 – 1890).  The young Milne attended Westminsterschool and Trinity College Cambridge, where he studied mathematics.  Whilst at Cambridge, he edited and wrote for the student magazine Granta.  His collaborated on articles with his brother Kenneth  and caught the attention of Punch magazine.  Milne went on to be a contributor and later, assistant editor.

He married Dorothy “Daphne” de Sélincourt in 1913 and in 1920 Christopher Robin Milne was born.  Milne bought Cotchford farm in East Sussex in 1925. He joined the army in World War 1, serving as an officer in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment and later, after a debilitating illness, the Royal Corps of Signals. He was discharged on February 14, 1919 .  During World War 11 Milne was Captain of the Home Guard in Hartfield Forest Row.  In 1952 he had a stroke and had to undergo brain surgery.  He retired to his farm an invalid.

Milne published 18 plays and 3 novels and in 1924 produced a collection of children’s poetry called When We Were Very Young, this was illustrated by Punch illustrator E. H. Shepherd.  Milne was also a screen writer for the British film industry (founded in 1920).  But it is the two Pooh books which Milne is most famous for.

The books feature a boy named Christopher Robin (after Milnes’ son).  The characters in the book were inspired by Christopher Robin’s stuffed toys – the most noteworthy being the bear named ‘Winnie the Pooh’.  The bear was originally called ‘Edward’ but was renamed ‘Winnie the Pooh’ after a Canadian black bear called ‘Winnie’ (after Winnipeg) used as a military mascot in World War 1 and was left to London Zoo during the war.  The ‘Pooh’ comes from a swan of the same name.’

Winnie the Pooh was published in 1926. A second collection of nursery rhymes Now we are Six was published in 1927 and was followed by The House at Pooh Corner in 1928 and were all illustrated by E. H. Shepherd.  For a more in-depth look at this author please look here and this website and there are lots of Pooh related information to be found here

The author Raymond Briggs also shares his birthday with A.A. Milne.  Briggs was born in 1934 Wimbledon London.  He is a graphic artist, novelist and illustrator.  though he is best known for his story The Snowman, shown every Christmas in cartoon form on television, he has illustrated many children’s books.

Briggs liked to cartoon at an early age, even though his father tried to dissuade him from what he saw as an unprofitable pursuit.  He attended the Wimbledon School of Art from 1949 – 1953 studying painting, then the Central School of Art to study typography.

In 1953 he became a conscript in the Royal Corps of Signals, based at Catterick, where he was made a draughtsman.  He returned to study painting at Slade School fo Fine Art after 2 years of National Service where he graduated in 1957.

He briefly painted before becoming a professional illustrator, and soon began working on children’s books.  He taught illustration part-time at Brighton College of Art between 1961 and 1986

His famous works include Father Christmas (1973), Father Christmas goes on Holiday (1975) which both featured a rather grumpy Father Christmas and Fungus the Bogeyman (1977).  These were in the form of comics, rather than the typical children’s book format where the text is separate to the illustrations.

Briggs has said that The Snowman (1978) was inspired by Fungus the Bogeyman;-

For two years I worked on Fungus, buried amongst muck, slime and words, so… I wanted to do something which was clean, pleasant, fresh and wordless and quick.

This work was entirely wordless and illustrated only with pencil crayons, which I feel lends it charm and spontaneity. In 1982 The Snowman was made into a Oscar nominated animated cartoon, becoming Briggs best known work and much-loved by all who see it.  It is shown every year on British television  and Christmas would not be the same without it!  For a more in-depth look at the author and his life try this and the charming Snowman website here

19th January saw the birthday of celebrated Amercian author, editor, poet and literary critic  Edgar Allan Poe (b. Boston Massachusetts) USA 1809 – 1849)  Poe is famous for his tales of the macabre and mystery.  He is considered an early pioneer of the short story and  the inventor of the detective fiction genre and a contributor to the emerging genre Science fiction.

Orphaned young, Poe was taken in by John and Frances Allan, of Richmond Virginia.  He attended the University of Virgina for only one semester as he was short of money.  He enlisted in the army but failed as an officers cadet at West Point.  He started his literary career with a collection of poems in 1827 (Tamerlane and Other Poems).  The poems were credited anonymously to ‘A Bostonian’

Poe spent worked for literary journals and periodicals for the next several years, becoming known for his literary criticism.  He lived in several cities including Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York City and it was in Baltimore 1835  he married his 13-year-old cousin Virginia Clemm.

In 1945, his poem The Raven was published too much acclaim and was an instant success.  Poe died in  1849 at the age of only 40, the cause is still unknown.

Edgar Allan Poe’s short life is a very interesting one, full of adventures, triumphs and some sadness.  His fiction work is considered Gothic and of dark Romanticism.  His particular theme include death, decomposition and premature burial.  But he also wrote humourous tales, satire and hoaxes, using themes that catered to the public taste of the time.  Much more can be read about Poe’s life here and short stories and poems can be read on this excellent site.

Read my post about his poem Annabel Lee

Anne Bronte portrait from here

Read about  Anne here

Thanks to JustAudio2008 for The Bluebell video

A.A. Milne image from here  Pooh illustration  from here

Raymond Briggs image from here and Father Christmas illustration here

Edgar Allan Poe image from here

Thanks to KajiCarson for the video

Original birthday invite image from here

UPDATE:  There’s a video featuring Scottish Artists over on Echostains to celebrate Burns Night