What happens when a Downtonian rewatches Downton Abbey

Thursday, November 29, 2018

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For those of you who, as I did, belonged to the inner circle of 2012-Tumblr-Downtonians, it comes as no surprise that series 3-6 are way inferior to the first two installments. It is a fact of life accepted by all of those who got bored when Mary and Matthew got their shit together. Well, we've come a long way from that era of our lives and when I recently found out that the entire show was on Amazon Prime, I naturally bought Prime Video for the sole reason of rewatching Downton Abbey in its entirety in time for the movie coming out next September.

And gosh, do I want to shake up the 'Matthew x Mary 4ever' me from several years ago. I watched the entire thing breathless over the course of two weeks and have thoroughly rediscovered my love for this show, and I can remember now why I poured my heart and soul in gifsets, reading fanfiction while cycling (!), and sitting through the endless ITV commercials and awful sound and image quality because I was so determined to watch it as it came out each Sunday.

Downton, I've realised again, is just simply a beautiful and lovely show. Its host of characters boast about every MBTI type in existence and all (well, most) have great character development and individual storylines over the course of the show.

I was again stunned by the sheer quality of the sets, the clothing designs and the amazing hair (though I did spot some badly-done wigs, but it doesn't even come close to Outlander in its ugly-wig-ness). The props, the tiny details; you can see how much love and care has gone into this show.

(c) www.hayworths.tumblr.com
And yeah, as far as 'objective' quality goes, I would have to agree that the first two series were infinitely superior to the first two, but the later series have as an advantage that we all know the characters through and through and this makes the series much more fun. It almost makes you feel like a part of the show. The writing definitely slackens; but I remember that almost fondly. I have clear recollections of chatting with my Downton friends and making jokes about storylines being 'Fellowesed' - see the meme >>

It made Julian Fellowes' fuckery with certain storylines, or his laziness with character development bearable and I've kept this thought with me as I flew through s3-6. I've made a list of all the good things and the bad things from Downton Abbey between s3 and s6! Here we go.


The Good Things


1. CHARLES BLAKE.
Charles has to be on the top off the list of good things to come from s3-6. For those of you who don't recollect: Charles Blake is introduced in s3 as a friend of Evelyn Napier. The both of them are in Yorkshire to evaluate the big estates and whether they're going the last. Of course, red flags go off for Mary. He is her absolute natural opponent. Mary x Charles is the red cloth, Julian Fellowes is the conquistador and all of us viewers are the bull. You can't NOT ship them. It is inevitable.

Tony, Mabel, Charles
Charles and Mary had amazing chemistry and gradually they started liking each other and fell for each other. They were involved in some weird ass four-way relationship with the awesome Mabel Lane Fox and Tony Gillingham who I wanted to disappear from my screen ASAP. But the dynamic between the four of them was great!





Mary and Charles get up to some amazing stuff together: they save some pigs, they kiss as a scheme to make Tony Not-In-Love-With-Mary. Frankly, it is the stuff of fanfiction.  

Sadly, Fellowes got bored with this GREAT ship, and Charles Blake was conveniently shipped off to Poland, leaving Mary on the market for some more Interesting Young Men. 





2. EDITH

Yes, I will come out in the open with it: I am an Edith Crawley stan. She has always been the underdog; the disliked one; the ugly sister. You name it. But by the time s6 ends, she's been through some amazing character development. From an insecure and overshadowed girl, she has grown into a confident woman who knows what she wants, who has a strong moral compass (telling Mrs Pelham about Marigold despite the chance she could lose her position).



She is a thoroughly modern woman who has affairs because she wants to. She raises her daughter and she owns and runs the magazine left to her by Michael. She is independent and great and - need to mention this - her hair and clothes are amazing. And in the end she finds love after all, even though Mary has done her best to sabotage her chances of happiness. I just really like Edith, people!


3. MOLESLEY & BAXTER & THOMAS BARROW

I'll take all three of them together. All of these characters have a great development. Molesley who helps Daisy with her education and then becomes a teacher himself was possibly the best glow-up from the entire show. Miss Baxter joins us after O'Brien leaves and becomes Cora's lady's maid, but she has a sad past: in a previous household she was gaslighted into thievery and took the blame and three years of prison. Molesley is very gentle and helps her accept how this happened and how she has grown and that she is more than her past. This was some excellent character-character support and also a great minor ship. Miss Baxter and Thomas knew each other from the past and Miss Baxter is extremely persistent in liking Thomas, which is beautiful - she looks through his nasty facade and teaches him that being kind is not a bad thing.  Her care for him when he committed suicide was truly beautiful. I just love it when characters are kind to each other and make each other better. Though this was but a 'minor' storyline, I think it's one of Julian Fellowes' better ones.

4. LADY ROSE MACCLARE

I am pretty sure that my ridiculous crush on Lily James has some influence on how much I like Lady Rose. She is just what's needed in s4 and 5: Rose brings lightness back to Downton after Matthew and Sybil die and additionally, she brings the 20th century along with her. Rose is presented as light and superficial fluff, a cheap Sybil 2.0, but this is sadly Julian Fellowes' work. But Rose, actually, is a great character. She comes from a difficult and secluded childhood with parents who hated each other and a verbally abusive mother. She finds happiness in helping others and tries to never judge people - her father-in-law Daniel Aldridge is a good example. Frankly, she deserved a better writer than Fellowes.



6. FEMALE AGENCY, ALL OF IT

Daisy educating herself and wanting to make more of herself. Mary going on a sex trip with Tony Gillingham because she wants to make sure they work together before committing to getting married. Edith with her magazine and with Marigold. Cora becoming the chairwoman of the hospital and owning it. Isobel remarrying for love. I'm just loving it all.


THE BAD THINGS
1. MARY/CHARLES NOT BEING ENDGAME. This was Fellowes' Julia Robertsian 'BIG MISTAKE' moment.

2. HENRY TALBOT

I don't even know what Fellowes was thinking all the while. Henry Talbot is such an undeveloped boring character whose only Pro is that he is played by Matthew Goode and that thus his face will appeal to the larger public. Lady Mary and Henry meet through Bertie Pelham and sort of hit it off in a forced flirty way because unfortunately there's little chemistry between these two actors. The crux of the thing between them is that Henry Talbot is a racing car driver (shock! and Mary a crash widow!) and comes from a mediocre background (nephew to a Lady Something but not being heir to a title is as good as being a pauper! Shock!). This naturally leads to Mary falling head over heels in love with him and they play a tug of war for only a couple of episodes before it's all resolved neatly in the final episode of s6. Everyone, mainly Branson, keeps shouting at both Mary and Henry that they're so well-suited, except

3. PRISON BREAK 2.0
I really disliked the constant cycle of Bates in prison and then out of prison and then Anna in prison and then out of prison. Like did Fellowes just throw a plot device-dice and it fell on 'prison story' and he just sort of resignedly sighed and decided to go with another period behind bars for the Bateses? It was just too tiring and didn't particularly do anything to their story. And also, I still believe that Bates did kill his ex-wife. But sadly, Fellowes didn't go there, which would have made Anna/Bates MUCH more interesting because suddenly here this angelic woman is married to a psychopath killer. How do they cope. Oh, to think of all the things that could have been.

4. ISOBEL & LORD MERTON
I had a love/hate relationship with this plot. I loved Isobel (though I love her less than I did years ago) and I always thought she would end up with Dr Clarkson with whom she would be extremely well suited. I disliked the storyline with Lord Merton's children and the fiancé of the eldest. That sort of behaviour would have worked much better if Lord Merton's children were boys of fifteen instead of thirty. So after a lot of to and froing, they did get together through some badass Isobel Crawley action and now she outranks Violet which is quite badass in itself and a daunting task which only Isobel could ever be up to! But my main point is I'm fine with their ending up together except I'm not because in the ideal world Clarkson and Isobel become the know-it-all medical superteam that reigns supreme in Yorkshire.

5. REPETITIVENESS
I'm going to give you two dialogues, and you're going to have to tell me which episode it's from.



1.
Robert: "Have they found Michael Gregson yet?"
Edith: "No, they know he's in Germany but nothing else."
Robert: "Should I send a private detective over?"
Edith: "No, the office has already done so."
Robert: "Golly gosh, he was such a nice chap."
Edith: "Yes... yes he was..."




2.
Tom: "I'm thinking of going away."
Somebody else: "WHY?!?!"
Tom: "Sybbie and I don't belong here."
Somebody else: "But you do!!! They love you! They couldn't do without you!"
Tom: "But I don't belong here and I need to start over with Sybbie somewhere else."
Somebody else: "But. They. Love. You."
Tom: "I'm going!!!!"




Guess what: the Edith dialogue could be from literally ANY episode in series 4 as it seems to be the only thing happening in her life that Fellowes can think of writing about, until of course she turns out to be carrying his baby out of wedlock. And the Tom dialogue could be from any episode in series 4 and with literally anybody ranging from Lady Rosamund to Carson to a random person coming over for a fancy dinner at Downton. And then Tom DOES go after an entire season of doubting and then he's back within a few episodes! Did you really get that bored, Fellowes?! This really is the weak point of the later series. There is such a host of characters and some clearly get preferential treatment over others, resulting often in boring, repetitive storylines such as these that you know haven't been well thought out.


Well. That, I think, should conclude my Downtonian rant for today. I am pleased to announce that once I finished the final episode of the series, I turned around and started over with s1 e1. Need to make good use of my Amazon Prime account, after all.

Let me know if you've ever watched Downton Abbey and what you thought of it.

Love,
honeychurches


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Book Review: Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

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Wait, what? A book that is NOT a historical fiction novel? How on earth has this slipped through my normally impenetrable six foot wall of protection against anything after 1965? Well, it happened nonetheless, and I loved it.

I picked up Crazy Rich Asians on a spending spree in a bookstore. I had seen and loved the trailer for the movie so when I saw those three words on an aesthetically pleasing pink book cover, I just sighed and put it top of the pile of other books I was taking to the register. While I was reading, I found out that this book might not be such a far stretch from my usual reading habits. It's been said before, of course, but Kevin Kwan's Crazy Rich Asians has more than a good splash of Austenian wit and social commentary. Unnecessary to say: I loved it.

In Crazy Rich Asians we follow several different characters, the main one being Rachel Chu. Raised by her single, middle class Chinese mother, she has gone on to become a professor of Economics in New York. Here she meets Nick Young, who is, unbeknownst to her, the Prince Harry of South-East Asia. Thus, when he invites her to his best friend's wedding - the society wedding of the century- , Rachel has no idea what Singapore has in store for her.

Eleanor Young, Nick's controlling mother, already knows that Rachel Chu is not suitable to become Mrs Nick Young, no doubt the most sought after title in all of Singapore. In an immensely comic opening scene we are given an insight in the gossip network of the extended Young-Leong-Cheng family. Within minutes of Nick's asking Rachel to come to Singapore, through an elaborate worldwide network of vigorous gossipers, the news has reached Eleanor, who decided that instant on a course of sabotaging Rachel's relationship with her son.

The book hosts an immense cast of characters - besides Eleanor and Rachel, we also follow Eddie, the rich one with the trophy wife, and serial shopper Astrid whose marriage to 'outsider' Michael seems to be slowly unraveling. Following Astrid on a shopping trip where she casually spends a couple of millions on a piece of jewelry makes you feel quite luxurious yourself.

This book was so compelling, an utter immersion into a world of wealth and luxury to the extreme. I loved the satirical tone of it - hence the comparison to Austen, which is quite in the right place here! - and the over the topness. The book is like: what would happen if Elizabeth Bennet were thrown into Darcy's glamorous set all by herself. Survival of the fittest. The characters were engaging - especially Astrid who it seems is getting an encore in the next book, which I look forward to reading.

I highly recommend this great, funny, character-driven story about Singapore's equivalent to Meghan and Harry's wedding, which is ultimately about who we are when all are riches are stripped off and our personalities are laid bare.

Love,
Honeychurches

p.s. film is highly recommended too!

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Book Review: The Lake House by Kate Morton

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

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It is Midsummer's Eve 1933, and the Edevane family is throwing a party at their beautiful house in Cornwall. But the next morning, the youngest Edevane child, baby Theo, has been taken from his bed - the unsolved mystery becomes a loss that will shake up the family's ways completely. 

In 2003, Detective Sadie Sparrow is on enforced leave after revealing she is dissatisfied with the way a missing person's case is handled. Staying with her grandfather in Cornwall, Sadie uncovers Loeanneth, the beautiful, abandoned house that once belonged to the Edevane family.  Enlisting the help of an archivist and a retired ex-police officer present during the inquest into Theo Edevane's disappearance, Sadie is determined to uncover the mystery of Theo's disappearance. 


Several years ago I first discovered Kate Morton's novels and fell in love with them. The Lake House was the only one that I had not read yet, so when I found out that Morton's next novel is set to be published in September, I decided it was high time. 

Kate Morton holds a particularly magical appeal to readers - the romantic mysteries spanning decades , with complicated characters and intricate plots, are a delicious form of escapism. Because Kate Morton is able to completely transport her readers into the story, making them forget their outer, real life, surroundings. This book, too, had that element of magic. But sadly I felt this booked lacked in something. 

We follow three characters through three different time periods. Firstly, Sadie Sparrow. She is an eager detective, but has overstepped the mark when her personal demons spike up to influence her objectivity in a case where a mother leaves her child, and taken herself off-duty to Cornwall. Sadie is determined, clever, closed-off and on guard - sometimes so much that I was wondering if Sadie needed a therapist.

   Secondly, we follow Alice Edevane in two different time periods. In 1933, Alice is 16 and a budding writer who has just finished her first novel about a missing child. But when her manuscript seems to fold out in real life, she is eaten up by guilt. In 2003, A. C. Edevane is a hugely successful crime writer, living comfortably in London with her assistant Peter, until a certain former detective starts digging up her past. I disliked Alice, who is self-absorbed and closed-off and thinks she has the world figured out. 

Last but certainly not least, we follow Eleanor Edevane from 1911 until 1945. Eleanor is mother to the Edevane children and we follow her from the moment she meets her husband Anthony, right through to the end of the Second World War. Eleanor is by far the most compelling character in this book. She is strong and determined and goes out of her way to help her husband Anthony, who has come back from the First World War with a bad case of shell shock and depression. Where at heart she is still the Eleanor the Adventuress she was in her childhood, she feels stifled by adulthood and motherhood and meeting its demands.

This book hosts a lot of characters and all of them have their own story and their own thoughts and feelings and this is one of Kate Morton's strongest points in writing. Other than that, her prose is beautiful and flowing and very atmospheric. The plot is intricate and ever so slowly folded out across the book.

So a lot of praise about this book.... then why only three stars? Why did I not like this book as much as I did for example The Distant Hours? Perhaps it is because I have already read so many of her books and that the magic is wearing off a little. Perhaps the book is too formulaic - all of Kate Morton's books follow the formula of: 1) a secret in the past; 2) a secret in the present; 3) the person in the present tries to solve the secret of the past; 4) a background to the secret in the past slowly unfolds and the reader makes his/her own theory; 5) the secrets in past AND present are resolved - the reader was wrong on both accounts. Perhaps me being able to sum it up off the top of my head says enough; perhaps it's too formulaic and the layers are too obvious.

I also thought that the plot was too contrived and I especially found the ending unbelievable. I can't write it down here obviously but the conclusion to the mystery of Theo's disappearance was highly, highly unsatisfying and something I was already saying at the very beginning of the book. In that sense, Kate Morton failed in the art of giving tiny little clues that make you slap yourself in the face because how could you have been so stupid? -  this book basically has the clues written down with the word "CLUE" in big fat red letters next to it.

Overall, I did like the book. Although I disliked both Sadie and Alice, I felt a great admiration and sympathy for Eleanor (perhaps because we got to see her grow over a period of 35 years?) and her life story. Parts of the plot were very contrived and hardly believable but the story overall was good and very enjoyable. Kate Morton's prose is stunning as ever, as is her characterization.

Would I recommend this book? Yes, for the above points. It's a lovely quick historical read that will leave you in a little bit of a dreamy state in the early 1930s. It has mystery, history and romance. But don't expect a mastermind mystery and be prepared to roll your eyes. If you go in prepared, you can only enjoy this book.

Lots of love,

Honeychurches


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Family and Marriage in Pride and Prejudice - Part Two

Friday, August 17, 2018

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For a course I followed in March I was required to write an essay on anything to do with culture and gender in European society. Me being me, I immediately jumped at the chance of this carte blanche and decided to write about Pride and Prejudice. 
Since I was really proud of my research and essay, I have decided to post a (shortened) chunk of it on my blog. I have divided these posts into two because of the length of the piece. In this part I will be discussing the views that several female characters in Pride and Prejudice have on marriage and how they reflect the changes that I described in my previous post. 

Pride and Prejudice
In Austen's 1813 novel Pride and Prejudice marriage and family are central themes. In the course of the novel we come across several different types of marriages, and many different reasons to enter into married life. In this section I will be looking at female character’s situation in life and motive to marry, or views on the institution of family and marriage.


Caroline Bingley
In Caroline Bingley, we can observe somebody who is purely in it for the societal side of making a good match. For her, love is not a consideration. Her admiration for Mr Darcy stems mostly form his position in society as one of the richest men in the country with an ancient name to boot. Throughout the novel we can see that Miss Bingley is concerned with climbing the social ladder. We can observe this in the way she brings Elizabeth Bennet down, a young woman without connections or money and with a family that she considers very much below her station in life. The irony of it is that quite early on in the novel we are told that the Bingley fortune was accrued through the unfortunate trade business. It is clear: Caroline wants to leave her early life behind and move up in society. She encourages her brother to quit Netherfield, as a connection between her family and the Bennets would be harmful to her prospects of marrying well (to Darcy of course).
And at the ending of the novel, when Mr Darcy and Elizabeth marry, Caroline is once again directed by her desire for social connections: 


“Miss Bingley was very deeply mortified by Darcy’s marriage; but as she thought it advisable to retain the right of visiting at Pemberley, she dropped all her resentment.” (PP 324) 

Thus, we can see in Caroline Bingley a figure that is preoccupied with social mobility. She is determined to attain a higher status through marriage. Her views, I believe, are in perfect accordance with those of the upper class gentry and nobility she so much aspires to belong to. 


Mrs Bennet

Austen tells us in the first chapter that Mrs  Bennet is “a woman of mean understanding, little information, and uncertain temper”, and that “the business of her life was to get her daughters married; its solace was visiting and news.” (PP 4). Mrs Bennet is clearly an example of Austen’s excellent skill at observing small-town, middle class society. To contemporary readers, Mrs Bennet would have been a caricature of people they knew personally: the marriage-obsessed mother, throwing her children in the path of eligible gentleman, and talking of little else. In the early years of Mr and Mrs Bennet's marriage, there was no thought for economising or saving money. Because of this and the fact that the estate is entailed away, marrying well has become a necessity for the girls. Mrs Bennet tells Elizabeth so sharply, right after she has refused Mr Collins’ offer of marriage.

But I tell you what, Miss Lizzy, if you take it into your head to go on refusing every offer of marriage in this way, you wil never get a husband at all – and I am sure I do not know who is to maintain you when your father is dead. – shall not be able to keep you – and so I warn you.” (PP 98)

So in Mrs Bennet we can observe perhaps an overdrawn caricature of a marriage-obsessed mother, but her reality is a stark one. Mrs Bennet does have to marry her daughters off well, because there is simply no other option. Her sole object is to promote the financial security of her daughters for the future and she does not particularly care how it happens or to whom. 

Charlotte Lucas
Quite early on in the novel we find Charlotte and Elizabeth discussing the subject of matrimony. Charlotte says:

“ Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance. If the dispositions of the parties are ever so well known to each other, or ever so similar beforehand, it does not advance their felicity in the least. They always continue to grow sufficiently unlike afterwards to have their share of vexation; and it is better to know as little as possible of the defects of the person with whom you are to pass your life.” (PP 21)

Charlotte Lucas is practical in her outlook on marriage. In her view it is better to be married make the best of it; even though she dislikes Mr Collins, she “accepted him solely from the pure and disinterested desire of an establishment”. Because when Austen tells us later about Charlotte’s thoughts, we are told that:

Without thinking highly either of men or of matrimony, marriage had always been her object; it was the only honourable provision for well-educated women of small fortune, and however uncertain of giving happiness, must be their pleasantest preservative from want.” (PP 105)

We can see in Charlotte a deeply practical person who marries in order to get away from her large family and form her own establishment. There is no love involved. 

Elizabeth Bennet
Elizabeth’s views on marriage contrast strongly with many of those around her – especially her mother and Charlotte Lucas. She has seen a bad example of conjugal felicity in her parents’ match and is resolved to marry for love. We see it in her reason for rejecting Mr Collins, for whom she has a great dislike:

“I am perfectly serious in my refusal. – You could not make me happy, and I  am convinced that I am the last woman in the world who could make you so.” (PP 92)

When Darcy proposed to her, she declines: she neither likes nor respects him, and feels that they should be incompatible on the basis of their characters, especially his.  This move is not often seen for what it is, namely extremely courageous. Elizabeth’s prospects, whatever her hopes of marrying well are, are not good. She has no name, no money and nothing material particular to recommend her to a wealthy man such as Darcy. An offer as advantageous as this would, for a girl in her situation, have been the chance of a lifetime - especially after the scandal involving Lydia and Wickham. But she rejects the match because she would feel she would never experience happiness and mutual respect with him. 

At Pemberley, she starts to understand and grow fond of his character, beginning to:

“comprehend that he was exactly the man, who, in disposition and talents, would most suit her. His understanding and temper, unlike her own, would have answered all her wishes. It was an union that must have been to the advantage of both; by her ease and liveliness, his mind might have been softened, his manners improved; and from his judgment, information, and knowledge of the world, she must have received benefit of greater importance.” (PP 259-260)

In this quotation we can see exactly what it is that Elizabeth Bennet wishes for in a marriage. Mutual respect, a great liking for and understanding of one another, and complementary characters so that each would benefit from the other. Elizabeth represents the romantic ideal, the modern notion of marrying for love. 

Lady Catherine de Bourgh

Lady Catherine's views on marriage are unique in the novel, which is why I have included them. When she comes to tell Elizabeth off for her connection to Mr Darcy, she tells her that her nephew and her daughter have been engaged since they were in their cradle. To Lady Catherine de Bourgh, family connections as well as social standing come first. She wishes to tie the De Bourgh and Darcy named, both ancient and respectable, by marrying her daughter off to her nephew, thereby keeping wealth concentrated. And besides this, Elizabeth doesn't have a high enough status, being a “young woman without family, connections, or fortune.” (PP 298), and advises Elizabeth that she should not “quit the sphere, in which you have been brought up.” ( PP 298) She is evidently of the opinion that social classes should remain separated. Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who is another of Austen’s caricatures, is clearly portrayed as a staple of the past. Of both ancient and noble descent, she is a symbol of the conservative nobility and their patriarchal (or in this case, perhaps rather tellingly, matriarchal) system of alliancing two families to keep fortunes, land and status tied together.
This exactly is what makes the clash between Elizabeth and Lady Catherine such a turning point, as Elizabeth symbolises the future of marrying for love, and Lady Catherine is from a past where different considerations had the upper hand. 


So in Pride and Prejudice, we can really see the shifting attitudes in marriage; we can see the old style with Lady Catherine and Miss Bingley (who of course aspires to belong to her class), we can see marriage as a way of establishing financial security in Mrs Bennet, as a way of forming a family & establishment of choice for practicality's sake in Charlotte Lucas and the same in Elizabeth who forms her own establishment for love. 

I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I loved researching and writing this. It gave my love for Austen a tremendous boost and the research allowed me to get deep into the era's Zeitgeist. I understand the book better now and I'm able to have more sympathy for characters like Caroline Bingley and Mrs Bennet now that I've seen 'their side' of the story. Please let me know if you like this kind of posts, because I would really like to research other novels with a similar premise. 

Love, Vera

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Movie Review: The Bookshop (2017)

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

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A couple of weeks ago my cinema showed a screening of The Bookshop. The title, the setting, the trailer and the poster had me all excited because a movie!! about!! people!! liking!! books!!. Yeah. Got me hooked right! And what's more, the movie did not disappoint!

In The Bookshop we follow Florence Green, played by Emily Mortimer. She is a woman in her forties who decides to follow her dream and open a bookshop in a derelict 16th century house in a small English coastal village. It is a tight-knit and slightly conservative community, so the arrival of a bookshop goes down about as well as you expect it to.

One of the people to raise their eyebrows at Florence's new bookshop is Violet Gamart (Patricia Clarkson); a rich woman who is to the village's society what an alpha-male is to a pack of wolfs. In her opinion the Old House, where Florence has opened her bookshop, would be better suited for an arts center - and throughout the book she wields her power left and right in order to prevent Florence from achieving true success.




The movie hosts a great cast of characters that show that morality is everything but black-and-white - Mrs Gamart, as I mentioned; Christine, the young girl who helps Florence out in the shop and does something unspeakable near the end; Mr Brundish (Bill Nighy), the hermited squire drawn out from his seclusion by Florence's good heart and courage, who in turn becomes courageous himself; Milo who is handsome, has it all, but in the end is that kind of person that can't help but be contrary.

Throughout the movie we follow Florence as she build up her new life, her bookshop, new friendships - and then slowly we start to see how things fall apart and how all Florence's dreams unravel...



What I loved most about this was Florence Green, an amazingly written character and very well played by Emily Mortimer. Florence is kind, perhaps to a fault, insisting on seeing the best in everyone and not letting pettiness (like Mrs Gamart's) influence her life and her enjoyment of it. Her courage, her resilience and insistence on her own worth are so beautiful to see in a character who is kind and quiet and perhaps a little shy - these days we see only superheroes as courageous, so it is so refreshing to see some 'real' courage in a 'normal' woman.

The dynamics between the characters are also beautifully done. Florence and Mr Brundish develop an awkward but deep bond over books and Florence is really able to draw him out and we see two people who care deeply for one another and go out of their way for each other. The relationship between Florence and shopgirl Christine was beautifully done as well; we can see that Christine feels at home with Florence and Florence with her - Florence slightly wistful because she never had any children of her own, so she imagines Christine perhaps as her daughter. You can really see how the two of them are a huge support for each other.



The end will leave you in quite a state. It happened to me at least, but perhaps that was because I was expecting the movie to have a happy ending, which it didn't. The ending was sad and wistful and had a little bit of a shocker. It will leave you wondering about how the characters got on after the curtains closing.

This is a story about a love of books transcending class, status, age, etc. It is a story about human connection. A story about courage and resilience and going on when everything is going wrong. A beautiful ode to the power of literature.

Love, Vera

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Books & Bygone Eras 1: The Georgians

Monday, July 23, 2018

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As you know, I'm something of a historical fiction addict. In this series I want to take a look at these eras and the books that were written during and about them, and select some of my favourites from among them. I mostly read books from/about anywhere between 1750 to 1950, which is why I have decided to make this a seven-part series. First up: The Georgians! This list is sorely lacking in 18th century contemporary literature because I just can't myself to read books like The Mysteries of Udolpho...

The Georgian Era is a time that strictly speaking denotes the time period in which the infamous four king Georges of England sat upon the throne, lasting through the first two decades of the 19th century. More often though, 'Georgian' is used to describe the lushness and decadence of the 18th  century: a time period that brought great changes to the world. Industrialization, the War of Independence, The French Revolution, constant wars and roaring successes for the Royal Navy. The 18th Century is a period of contrast: while we visualize a period filled with poofy hair, enormous dresses and beautiful country mansions being stamped up from the ground, poverty in the big cities and in the country were rife; food shortages, wages that barely covered the cost of living. For those of you who would like to learn more about The Georgian Era, I would recommend the first book on my list:

1. Jane Austen's England: Daily Life in the Georgian and Regency Periods - Roy & Lesley Adkins

As the title already gives away, this book is about the day-to-day dealings of ordinary people during roughly the period of Jane Austen's life - so we're already sneaking into the Regency a little. What this book does well is that it does not shy away from the depth of social inequality and it does so especially well when talking about the mundane. I remember a section about access to water; something that the rich had without any difficulties. The poor, on the other hand, especially outside the big cities, sometimes had to walk for miles on end to get to a well.
The book is well written, divided into themes which are all illustrated with contemporary texts from diaries and letters. This is a highly instructive and entertaining book precisely because it covers topics that were considered ordinary by our 18th century great-great-great-great-grandparents.




2. The Hornblower Saga - C.S. Forester


It's been several years since I first came across the Hornblower series. I found the movies on YouTube, devoured them, then devoured the books (there are 11 books..go figure!), then dived into the movies again only to come up to the surface smothered in fanfiction. Truth be told, Hornblower has been a huge huge part of my late teens and I am grateful that I had stern, awkward, duty-driven Horatio as my friend when I functioned just like that for a time.
Anyway. Hornblower is a saga that is set in what we call the Age of Sail. A period in which the Navy was absolutely excelling. The Napoleonic Wars saw Britain establish their superiority out on the sea. In this saga, we start a little before the start of the war, with our young Hornblower, the eponymous hero, as a midshipman on his first ship and as the saga continues well into the 19th century, we follow him on his path to becoming an admiral. 
The bookseries conveys much of the spirit of the British Empire during the late 18th century. The saga is an ode to perseverance, duty, hard work, and leadership. Though seriously flawed and with, on occasion, a terribly technical style in describing battles, the books are a gem. Also famous on tumblr for #ficorforester; there being, on occasion, homoerotic subtext that is SO out there that it could've come straight from AO3. 
I give you these examples:

“You’ll take your barge, sir, won’t you?” persisted Bush. “Take Brown.”
Bush was like a fussy parent with a venturesome child – like a hen with one chick. He was always nervous about entrusting his precious Hornblower to these unpredictable Russians; Hornblower grinned at Bush’s solicitude.
“Anything to keep you happy,” he said.
From: Commodore Hornblower


He knew his face was one big smile, and he put his head on one side and his shoulder on the table so that Hornblower should get the ful benefit of it.
From: Lieutenant Hornblower


3. The Poldark Saga - Winston Graham

Another day, another saga. This time one I am sure everyone with eyes is familiar with by now, as it's primarily known from its BBC show. I can tell you this for real, the books are SO much better.
This saga does not shy away from the grittiness and the ugliness of everyday life during the Georgian period. We follow Ross Poldark, mine owner, and see the terrible circumstances of the mining industry - even though Ross is in some ways an enlightened employer things are still Not Good.
Throughout this saga we follow multiple people from multiple layers of society. Demelza, street urchin-turned-gentleman's-wife who has to deal with prejudice because of her origins. George Warleggan, son of a blacksmith and a self-made man, a wealthy banker who is intent on climbing as far up through society as he possibly can. This series, too, goes well into the 19th century but the first seven books are still in the 18th century and are far superior to the second half of the saga. 
Please don't be seduced by Aidan Turner's constant nudity into watching the show. Read the books instead, they're delicious.

4. The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock - Imogen Hermes Gowar

I wrote a review about this a few weeks ago, which you can read here. The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock is a beautiful story that actually combines those elements of lushness in the 18th century with social inequality. The story is about women - courtesans - having to make their own way in a world that is rapidly evolving. In this book we truly get to see the good, the bad and the ugly sides of the 18th century. 



5. An Almond for a Parrot - Wray Delaney

In many ways An Almond for a Parrot is similar to The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock. Both feature the rich, elaborate settings of high class London brothels. Both have an element of magical realism. As a young girl, Tully Truegood is married off to an anonymous husband by her father so he can get rid off his debts. Years later, Tully ends up at a brothel where she becomes famous for her magical touch. And not only that is magical about her, but Tully also develops the ability to talk to spirits (and make them appear in real life!) and practice other sorts of magic. This is a sensual, elegant, and well-written novel about the glamour and ugliness of the life of an 18th century prostitute. The magical realism fits beautifully with the feeling of decadence of the period. 

6. The Outlander Series - Diana Gabaldon

I am sure that all of you are familiar with the Outlander series. Years and years ago I gave the first book a try and finished it (even though I hated it) and then left the rest of the series well alone. Then after a couple of tries to get into the Starz TV adaptation, I finally jumped on the bandwagon and have devoured the books the past year or so. Though I will say that these books have some MAJOR flaws and issues, their excessive length being one of them, the books and characters have wormed a way into my heart. For those unfamiliar: in the books we follow Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser, a woman from 1946 who falls through a stone circle and ends up in Schotland, 1743. We follow her and her family through the decades. The books are good at showing the struggles of a modern-thinking woman in the 18th century. Claire is a skilled doctor but is mistrusted because of her gender. Her lovestory with Jamie is one for the ages, but my personal favourite character is Young Ian.
Diana Gabaldon has sumptuous and poetic prose, impeccably researched material and a great gift for bringing the voices of many different people to paper, and really capturing the 'essences' of a time period.


This concludes the first part of this series; the next part will be... yes.... The Regency Era! And whereas this part is sorely lacking in contemporary literature, next episode certainly shall not! I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I have enjoyed researching and writing it. The 18th century is truly one of the most gripping eras of history and perfect for novels!

Lots of love,
Vera
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Family & Marriage in Pride and Prejudice - Part One

Saturday, July 7, 2018

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For a course I followed in March I was required to write an essay on anything to do with culture and gender in European society. Me being me, I immediately jumped at the chance of this carte blanche and decided to write about Pride and Prejudice. 
Since I was really proud of my research and essay, I have decided to post a (shortened) chunk of it on my blog. I have divided these posts into two because of the length of the piece. In this part I will be talking about the historical backdrop of the novel and the changes that took place in the century leading up to the time when Jane Austen wrote her novel. Happy reading! :)


Historical Backdrop
The 18th century was a period of great economic and social change in Great Britain.  The process of Industrialization was drastically increasing economic welfare, standards of living and life expectancy. These changes also found their way into perceptions of family life. Before this period, families were founded on kinship relations, that is: blood ties. These were typically patriarchal in nature, which among other things meant that marriages would be devised 
by the head of the family on basis of practical considerations; for example a match would be made between two families to keep wealth or status concentrated. Thus, women were rarely active agents, instead functioning as objects of economic exchange. 


By the 18th century, families had evolved into smaller, nuclear family units in which children started playing an important role. The risk of children dying before they reached adulthood had drastically decreased, and because of this they were starting to be seen as individuals from an early age on. This gave rise to a growing sense of individualism and in turn made people turn away from traditional reasons for marrying; marrying for love became a valid alternative. 


During this period, the importance of kinship ties decreased and gave way to families of an individual's choice: the family became the construction of an individual who chose to form a family with a partner of his or her choice, and this made marriage a way to escape the confinements of a non-chosen family. 


For women this created tensions as well as opportunities.
The change that I think primarily occurred here, was that a woman changed  from an object of economic exchange between two families to a person who played an active part in her own life, becoming someone responsible for her own future happiness and financial security: a woman could no longer rely on her family arranging a right match for her; instead, the responsibility to 'get herself a husband' became a burden she had to bear herself. We can observer this in the way that conduct books promoted a way to increase your marriage-marketability by adhering to social gendered standards. 


Women had few choices; they either had to marry well, remain single and dependent on relations, or become governesses to a good family (if she had the luck to be well educated). But besides these pressures, the example for love matches rather than the patriarchal economic matches had been set, and this complicated matters as there was now the pressure to marry for love, largely promoted through precisely such novels as Pride and Prejudice. 


To summarise, we can see several major shifts occurring. First of all, the family of choice grew more important than the blood-related family. The patriarchal system in which marriage was an economical contract between two families, the woman serving as object of exchange, gave way to a system in which the individual had more say about their own choice of partner. This goes hand in hand with the rising consciousness of individualism and self-worth. Marriage could be the means of escaping one’s family of origin in order to establish a family of choice.

Works cited
Austen, J. 1813. Pride and Prejudice. Wordsworth edition, introduction by I. Littlewood.

Chapman, T. 2004. Gender and domestic life: changing practices in families and households. London.

Galperin, W. 2009.  ‘Lady Susan, individualism, and the (dys)functional family.’ Persuasions: The Jane Austen Journal 31, 47-58.

Harrison, M. 2014. ‘Reading the Marriage Plot’ Journal of Family Theory & Review 6, 112-131.

Perry, R. 2004. Novel Relations: the transformation of kinship in English literature and culture 1748-1818. Cambridge.

Tadmor, N. 1996. ‘The concept of the household-family in eighteenth-century England’ Past & Present 151, 111-140.


Sigalat Vaya, B. 2006.  Pater Familias in Pride and Prejudice: dysfunctionality in the Bennet Family and in the British Monarchy. Dissertation Universitat Autònoma De Barcelona. 
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Change Diary: Episode 1

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

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As a little girl in primary school, my parents knew better than to schedule our family holiday trip in the first week of my school vacation; why? They knew that my being struck down with a serious bout of flu the minute I got home from my last schoolday was as inevitable as night turning into day. I was a high-strung, hardworking little girl and these days I still am, except I'm slightly bigger.

With the prospect of graduation looming quite near me as I'm putting the finishing touches on my thesis (I am mighty scared to hand it in, by the way), I am worried that after this I will just hit a big nothing-ness.. Previous years I obviously had the new school year/academic year to look forward to, but after graduation and not knowing exactly what's up next for me, I wonder if maybe times are going to be hard mentally.

So, me being me, I am setting up a game plan to prevent or battle the post-university dip. I know that the most important thing for me is not to sink into the couch and become one with it, that it is better to keep working and doing things as I head into the summer. Now I'm trying to get as many shifts at work for my much needed stability, but seeing as I am unsure if I'll actually be able to get those shifts, I need to get myself a back-up plan.

Here are the things I plan to incorporate or improve on in my life.

1. Doing groceries once a week. This involves mealplanning. It helps me ground myself at the beginning of the week because I get a clear view of all my to do's. It ensures that I eat healthily and throw less stuff away. It's also sort of a fresh start each week, and besides this it is GREAT for money saving. I have been doing this on and off (or getting groceries twice a week) but I plan on going the full mile.

2. Positivity is KEY. I have a tendency to spiral into negative thinking and sticking there, but this is something I want to and need to improve on, as it influences not only me but also the people around me. I want to ask myself; is it necessary to dwell on this? I need to shrug things off and move on quicker than I do now. The negative thinking includes the way I think about myself as well. I also want to challenge that by trying, whenever I have a negative thought in my head, to counter this with something positive.

3. Become healthier. I am not UNhealthy, mind! But I want to improve my health because for the past two years or so I've been having UTI's pretty frequently and I'm thinking if my body in general becomes healthier and stronger, the UTI's may have a harder time settling. I don't know if that's medically true but I don't think it can do any harm. Becoming healthier is something I propose to do by working out. Oh yeah, non-sporty Vera is finally going to put away her fear of excercise. I have already bought a workout mat and I'm planning to occassionally follow youtube workout/pilates/yoga videos. I did one yesterday, actually, and now I am sooo sore but it was great fun actually!

4. Intellectual stimulation. Any intellectual stimulation, really. Whether it's a fiction or non-fiction book, an intense and engaging TV show, watching youtube sewing tutorials or spending time every day on duolingo. I just propose to myself to spend at least an hour each day doing something that stimulates my mind.

5. Last but not least: be proud of myself and give myself time to process the fact that I'm now no longer a University student and that I've graduated and that that's something to be proud of and that I deserve some time off as well. Just not so much that the couch and I become best buds.

This was my list. I am going to try and implement these things in my day to day life, and I will get back to you in a little while to check up on my progress.

Lots of love,
Vera

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Book Review: The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock

Monday, June 11, 2018

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I can't even tell you how excited I was to read The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar. I had been drooling over the book in my local Waterstones - how can you not? - and when I had hit some minor milestone in my thesis I decided to treat myself by ordering a couple of books, and the first that arrived was this beautiful book.

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock is set in 1785, when Jonah Hancock, a merchant, finally hears back from one of his ships' captains. The shock of a lifetime awaits him: the captain has returned without his ship, because he has sold it for a fossilized mermaid. Mr Hancock, a deeply pragmatic man, decides to make the best out of it and decides to showcase it and its disconcerting ugliness in London. Here, it catches the eye of Mrs Chappell, the owner of a "nunnery", one of the most prestigious brothels in London, because she knows that this will bring  Mr Hancock, who is a little blown away by Mrs Chappell and the world she represents, agrees to rent out the mermaid to her for a week. During this week Mrs Chappell organises a raucuous nautical-themed orgy in Mr Hancock's honour, and this is where his path is crossed with that of Angelica Neal. After being left out of her previous keeper's testament, courtesan Angelica Neal is free and determined to find her way for herself. Once their paths have crossed, their lives stay intertwined.

What is it about the mermaid that seems to have destructive powers? Who is Mrs Hancock? The fact that you don't know what the title means keeps you reading.... ten more pages... and then another ten!

This book was Stellar with a capital. A truly wonderful immersive piece of historical fiction with influences from magical realism. The writing is lyrical, lush and true to the period and the subject. It feels a little as if you stepped through a magical door and entered into the lives of Jonah Hancock and Angelica Neal. The writing almost has something Austenesque about it, with a gentle mocking cynicism to its tone.


The characters are well-formed and are especially clear to the eye. I can perfectly well imagine Angelica in one of her lush outfits. The minor characters are fleshed out too and clearly have rich interior lives. I wish we could have spinoffs about Sukie, Hancock's niece, or Polly, Mrs Chappell's young black courtesan. But the minor characters are sadly one of the books' flaws as well. Because while in the first part of the novel, these characters are given plenty of screentime, they do seem to dwindle into the background near to the end when the focus is on the main storyline. This was a shame!


The book was also especially strong at presenting Georgian London as a modern society, which made it resonate with and similar to ours. All the stars to the author for making a historical period feel like the present! Gender, class and race are portrayed well throughout the book and I suppose that the captured mermaid is symbolism for the restrictions of those categories.


In short, I absolutely loved this book. I highly recommend it to those interested in Women's history, the eighteenth century, and magical realism. It is a delightful and immersive read that will pull you into another world entirely.

But how will I get back to normal books now? I don't know?!


Lots of love, Vera
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I donated my hair

Thursday, May 24, 2018

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Just over a month ago I donated a 31 cm plait of my hair to Little Princess Trust. It was exciting and scary to do it. Red hair has always been an enormous part of my identity. My red hair is who I am. That made me so keen to donate my hair. Donating hair is a good idea no matter your hair colour. But for redheads, their haircolour is especially important. If I were to lose my hair for some reason, I would like to be able to get a red wig. And since red hair is relatively rare, I thought I'd do my bit.

I've been growing out my hair actively for two years now, but finally I couldn't stand it anymore last April. It was hot and heavy, it took me thirty minutes to brush it all out after showering, and I could only wear it up in a pony tail because otherwise it got tangled. So ignoring everybody who told me to not cut my hair because "it's such a shame!", I finally took the plunge.

I said to myself: I'm doing this. I'm going to cut it all off. Well, not all. But for someone with hair below their waist cutting it to shoulder length feels like all. I made an appointment with an expensive hair dresser and my sister traveled two hours to support me through my low-key
panic attack beforehand.

I sat down with my hairdresser who was thankfully too engaged in gossiping with her coworkers to ask me the dreaded question "What do you study?" (I hate small talk & the topic of my degree in Latin usually evokes comments in the line of "Oh.......okay...."), so I could just hang back and breathe through my anxieties. Because trust me, the moment before I did it I got SO scared. I was so convinced it was a bad idea. Too bad that that day was the first Good Hairday in ages. I'm sure that contributed to the anxiety too.

Things got underway pretty quickly from there. My hairdresser braided my hair and before I knew it my sister was filming the actual cut. The first snip - you know the sound when your hair is being cut - was killing me. There was no going back! But then she started going on. As I have a lot of hair it took a bit for her to get through the massive chunk of my ponytail, and the longer it took the more excited I got.


As soon as it was done I was SO happy. Even chopped off chunkily it looked so much better than my long hair. She then set to the massive task of making it look nice. It took at least 45 minutes. She did a thorough job and I am really really happy. My hair is now hitting my collarbone.. and whereas I was afraid to cut it even to this length before, now I'd say that maybe I'll be cutting it a little shorter even.

I decided to donate my hair - a 31 cm plait - to Little Princess Trust. It's a UK-based organization that makes wigs for children and young adults up to 24 free of charge. I chose Little Princess because I had heard good things about it before and because they are open to receiving hair as short as 17 cm. As I did have some layering in my hair, I was afraid not all of it could be used by organizations that have a much higher minimum length. Little Princess was it for me then!

After showing it to everyone who was willing to see it, I put my braid in a sealable plastic bag, put that in a huge padded envelope, taped it shut all around. Then I considered it OK to send it off. About two weeks later I received from them a lovely certificate to thank me for my donation.

I am extremely happy to have donated my hair. It has been a wonderful experience and my short hair feels fun and liberating. I can get away with not brushing my air at all instead of that 30 minute arm workout to untangle my hair. My experience with Little Princess has been good as well.

I think it's horrific that people have to go through illnesses that make them lose their hair. Perhaps I can help them feel a bit better through this. I sincerely hope that I will make someone very happy with my hair. I know I am! :)

Lots of love,
Vera




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What I've been reading and watching in 2018

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