12 April 2017

larryhammer: topless woman lying prone with Sappho painted on her back, label: "Greek poetry is sexy" (greek poetry is sexy)
For Reading Wednesday, there's … actually quite a lot to mention. Huh. Part of it is that narrative poems, even longer ones, are rather shorter than novels, so I can do more of them.

Finished:

A Castaway by Augusta Webster, in which a kept woman anatomizes the hypocrisy of the Victorian social system that cuts women off from all but a few respectable life options then punishes them for that. Now here is rage in pentameters. Ouch. I find it especially telling that the speaker's cutting sarcasm abruptly ceases when talking about her brother -- that's the one relationship that still matters to her, for all he unbrothered himself, and the sister relationship was an important anchor for that system. Despite being a dramatic monologue, this is not very Browningesque: the writer's focus is societal rather than psychological.

Beppo and Mazeppa by George the Byron, rereads. Still love the former, not the least for how he makes every digression, no matter how superficially irrelevant to the story, solidly on point. The latter is both a ripping yarn and interestingly knotty -- 'specially around what, ultimately, we are to make of title character. (Note that the historical Ivan Mazepa (so usually spelled) remains a politically charged figure, with Ukraine and Russia taking different sides.) If you want to try Byron but have limited stomach for Byronism, these are good ones to try.

The Loves of the Angels by Thomas Moore, which is an odd duck. For a controversial work, I was expecting something a little more spicy, what with the whole angels of God looking on the daughters of Man and finding them beautiful thing (thank you, Genesis 6:1-4). And it's not like Moore never wrote racy (see some of his songs). Possibly my standards for the genre was set too high by Byron's Heaven and Earth, from around the same time. Regardless, the ruffling of doctrinal feathers was enough to force him revise the Christian angels (with a thin layer of Rabbinic tradition varnished on) into Muhammadian ones in revised edition. (FWIW, I read the pre-orientalized, or rather less orientalized, version linked above.) The plot, such as it is, is three angels recounting to each other his own story of falling in love with a mortal woman (all three angels are male and heterosexual -- a whole 'nother layer of problems on top of the orientalizing)(yes, I know, following the pronouns of Genesis -- but still) and so falling from blessed communion with God. It's not clear how aware the angels are at how self-deceptive they are being, or even whether the writer is. The verse is smooth and the speakers' emotions are surprisingly well-handled, but overall not really successful. Or as I said: odd duck. Head over to Moore's Lalla Rookh instead (which wears its orientalizing on its sleeves of BLAZING NEON PAISLEY PRINT).

The Two Broken Hearts by Catherine Gore, being her first publication, before she turned from verse to highly successful novelist (one of the best "silver fork" novelists, writing about high society of the 1830s). It was instructive to read this soon after Jacqueline, as it has another paterfamilias protagonist whose child has married against his wishes. The tale itself is inventing a backstory for a historical incident tossed off by Montaigne (the fanfic impulse, as we all know, is as old as storytelling), but this is mostly an excuse for melodrama in a medieval Black Forest setting -- with, let it be said, surprisingly little Gothic given said setting and time of writing. The verse is serviceable but rarely exciting, and the tale starts with a double-flashback rendered with too much tell instead of show, so it takes a while to establish good tension. Meh, especially compared to Jacqueline -- but Sherwood, you might be interested anyway.

* False Colors by Georgette Heyer, which is not the best Heyer ever but good enough I should probably move it into the pile of books to reach for when I want a dose of Heyer. (This was only my second reading.) After all, Twin Impersonation is a fun trope, especially when combined with Courtship While Impersonating.

In progress:

* The Poetry Bug edited by John Tennent, a British entomologist who happens to love poetry and has unearthed a hella lot of poems about insects (with spiders given honorary insect status for anthology purposes). Not only am I enjoying it, but TBD is interested -- though I have to pick and chose what to read aloud, as many have a lot of big words for an almost-four-year-old, or are longer than attention span. Will report more when I get further along.

And other verse, both anthology and narrative. Scattered. As one does.

---L.

Subject quote from "What is life?" Henrik Ibson (tr. Fydell Garrett).

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