Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Beatles at 50!

How could four lads from Liverpool have created such an awesome legacy? You can bask in it anew—and pick up some nifty items—with our "Celebrate 50 Years of the Beatles" special offers. You'll find documentaries, CDs (with music both vintage and new), biographies, calendars, photography books, and more. (I especially like the groovy "Beatles at the BBC" releases!)

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

"Consider the Fork": an Aladdin's cave of food lore

Head cook Mrs Patmore has the heebie jeebies every time a new labor-saving device is introduced into her post-war kitchen in the fourth series of Downton Abbey. Eventually she gets over the shock of the new and the attendant fear that she'll be made redundant by the march of time — after the younger members of the staff eagerly pounce on the newfangled gadgets and show her how it's done (sound familiar, baby boomers?) As regards the food in the show, which is often a feast for the eyes, it has been revealed that the meals are presented just as they would have been in that period. Food consultant Lisa Heathcote says that she draws on period books such as Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management for inspiration. "Downstairs" one must portray the staff whipping up syllabubs and soufflés, baking cakes, and poaching fish, while "Upstairs" the right "service" is required in both senses of the word, with footmen serving the family and guests while the table settings gleam and glint in perfect order.
I wouldn't be surprised if Heathcote also consulted Bee Wilson's wondrous Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat, which is like stumbling on an Aladdin's cave of food lore. (In a previous blog, I did a quiz challenge with facts cherry picked from the book.) The topics she considers are both broad and deep, spanning human history and myriad cultures. As the New York Times wrote, “Wilson’s supple, sometimes playful style … cleverly disguises her erudition in fields from archaeology and anthropology to food science.” She moves from ancient cooking done above and below ground to huge (and dangerous) medieval / renaissance fireplaces on which myriad types of food preparation were done (and which were often a home's sole source of heat), to the modern evolution of the wood-burning, gas, and electric stoves. In the past, Wilson writes, a fire from an open hearth “served to warm a house, heat water for washing, and cook dinner. For millennia, all cooking was roasting in one form or another.” The British in particular roasted enormous haunches of meat on spits in front of a roaring hearth. Before the invention of gravity jacks, children and even dogs turned the spits (with short legs and a long body, they were specially bred to “trundle around” in a large wheel connected to the spit with a pulley.)
Two of Downton's younger generation of kitchen staff. Daisy (right) is especially keen on new devices like the electric toaster and mixer. Love the molds on the wall!
In a recent episode of Downton Abbey, Mrs Patmore had an anxiety attack when Her Ladyship introduced an electric refrigerator into her subterranean domain. Little does Mrs P know what a boon it will prove to be. “The efficient home refrigerator entirely changed the way food—getting it, cooking it, eating it—fitted into people’s lives,” writes Wilson. “For much of the twentieth century, American visitors to Britain found that everything was the wrong temperature: cold, drafty rooms; warm beer and milk; rancid butter and sweating cheese.” Wilson also observes that designers now organize kitchens around the “hard, chilly lines” of the refrigerator rather than the warmth of the stove, with its associations of home and hearth. “When we can’t think what else to do, we open the fridge door and stare into it long and hard as if it will provide the answer to life’s great questions.” (Who hasn't done that? … as if its contents might have improved since the last time you looked!)
Here are more of Wilson's thoughts re food history, from an NPR interview on Consider the Fork.
Cooking implements: the long view For me, the great beginning of cookery is the invention of the pot …10,000 years ago. And I think pots and pans are one of the many inventions in our kitchen that we don't even recognize as being inventions, because they've been around for so long…. Things like the mortar and pestle, which is very similar in form today to how it would have been in ancient Rome or ancient Mesopotamia even…. Colanders exist in Pompeii and Herculaneum — and beautiful ancient Greek and Roman frying pans. So some things have remained constant. Nothing really does the job of a wooden spoon better … which is why perhaps it hasn't been replaced. On the microwave The microwave oven is a phenomenal invention, but it had the misfortune to be …  marketed at just that point in history when TV dinners and processed food and all of those supermarket meals were also taking off. So it was seen as a device merely for heating food up. Very good home cooks that I know feel really hostile towards the microwave oven in a way that I think they don't towards many other cooking tools. And actually, its true culinary potential is only now really being recognized by the modernist cooks, people like Nathan Myhrvold, who see it as a fantastic tool for melting chocolate, caramelizing sugar, steaming vegetables. On the nature of recipes For most of history, recipes were aide-memoires …. memory devices for people who already know how to cook….. Whereas Fannie Farmer had grown up not knowing how to cook herself: she learned relatively late in life, and she never took it for granted. And so her recipes, for the first time … teach her readers from scratch how you can make something if you've never done it before and how it can be reproducible in the same way that a scientific experiment might be.

“Traditional histories of technology do not pay much attention to food. They tend to focus on hefty industrial and military developments: wheels and ships, gunpowder and telegraphs, airships and radio. When food is mentioned, it is usually in the context of agriculture—systems of tillage and irrigation—rather than the domestic work of the kitchen. But there is just as much invention in a nutcracker as in a bullet.”

Or a vegetable peeler, I might add!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Pete Seeger: "So long, it's been good to know you"

Well, we always knew this day would come, but that doesn't make it any easier to say goodbye to Pete Seeger. What an example of a man who lived true to himself and never wavered from his determination to leave the world a better place, whether it be through social activism or spearheading environmental issues. And he always did everything with such good humor and joie de vivre.
We try to keep CDs with Seeger in stock; right now we have The Weavers: Reunion at Carnegie Hall, 1963 and The History of American Music.
 “Once called ‘America’s tuning fork,’ Pete Seeger believed deeply in the power of song,” President Obama said in a statement. (Seeger sang at his inauguration and was a National Medal of Arts and Kennedy Center Honors. recipient.) “But more importantly, he believed in the power of community — to stand up for what’s right, speak out against what’s wrong, and move this country closer to the  America he knew we could be. “Over the years, Pete used his voice — and his hammer — to strike blows for worker’s rights and civil rights; world peace and environmental conservation. And he always invited us to sing along. For reminding us where we come from and showing us where we need to go, we will always be grateful to Pete Seeger.”
The Weavers — from left, Seeger, Lee Hayes, Ronnie Gilbert and Fred Hellerman — brought folk music to the hit parade in the late 1940s but were banned from radio and tv during the McCarthy era. This photo is from a reunion concert at Carnegie Hall. —Richard Drew, AP
I have a "Sing Out!" model guitar with the motifs for the "hammer of justice, bell of freedom, and song about the love between my brothers and my sisters" inlaid on the fretboard. Time to go play that classic and a boatload of other tunes in memory of Pete and all he gave us.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Downton Abbey Season 4, Episode 4 recap: "Wars have been waged with less fervour"

The episode opens gloomily, with chiaroscuro shots of Bates and Anna going about their business. That and the something-up-her-sleeve demeanor of Cora's new maid put me in mind of Balzac, which does not bode well! "My life is perfect and then in the space of a day it is nothing?" Bates says to Anna, but she continues to shut him out. Mrs Hughes tells Anna she wishes Anna could emerge from her "veil of shadows." But Anna is still terrified that telling Bates about Mr Green would incite him to murder.
Amidst some very nice Vaughn Williams–type music, one of the tenants is buried in the churchyard. When his son asks Robert if he can take over ("My family have been farming Yew Tree since the Napoleonic Wars"), Robert regretfully declines because Mary has said his dad was too far behind on the rent. Back at the Abbey, the afternoon post comes (yes, folks, it was delivered twice a day then), but there's nothing for Edith from her wandering swain. Do we see a tear in Mary's eye as she writes to congratulate Tony on his upcoming nuptials? Doubtless that's why she's snippy to poor Edith (who is dressed becomingly in rust, as she was in last week's midnight assignation with her beau, who has supposedly arrived in Germany).
Isobel Crawley is very patient with Violet, who puts her through the mill before grudgingly agreeing to take on Isabel's protege Mr Pegg as under-gardener. I imagine Violet's life would be much poorer without Isobel as a sparring partner. I think she vastly enjoys harrumphing at Isobel and thinking up put downs. ("I wonder your halo doesn't grow heavy. It must be like wearing a tiara round the clock.") Isobel is so used to it she doesn't even react, just carries on with her agenda. Violet suspects Mr Pegg of lifting her swanky paper opener, a gift from the King of Sweden. Please! Would he be that stupid? I do believe Violet's prune face is going to have egg on it when it turns up.
"Nothing like a glass of o.j. supplied by my thoughtful new maid to start the day off right. What's that you say, the other two were hellions? Third time's the charm, my dear!"
Butter wouldn't melt in the mouth of the new ladies' maid, Baxter, who is obviously under some sort of obligation to Thomas because of something in her past. ("I"m grateful for this job, and we both know why.") "She'll be eating out of your hand soon" Thomas tells her regarding Cora. "That's the intention," she replies. She asks him why he can't rely on Anna for intel from upstairs; "Mrs Bates is incorruptible. So we have nothing in common" is his reply. Thomas cautions her not to make enemies downstairs, because that was “Miss O’Brien’s mistake.” When she mentions that the staff don’t seem to like him very much, he tells her that it’s her job to change that. Wouldn't it be refreshing (and reflect better on Julian Fellowes' writing) if Baxter turned out to be a rather nice person?
Mrs Patmore and her kitchen minions. Would she ever like to off that corset!
Meanwhile, Mrs Patmore has a predictable conniption about this newfangled thing called a fridge that Cora tries to foist on her. “Is there any aspect of the present day that you can accept without resistance?” asks Cora. "Oh milady, I wouldn't mind getting rid of my corset!" Mrs P replies. Snap!
Bates finds Anna alone in the boot room, and tries to get her to open up. “It’s strange, standing here next to you in silence. Because I love you, and I want to find out why you don’t love me any more. You’d think we could talk about it, but apparently not.” But she just says she's going to Rippon and splits. Bates solicits a tête–à–tête with Mrs Hughes (a.k.a., Everybody's Confidante) and pressures her into saying what happened to Anna. She finally caves, but even though he suspects Mr Green, she invents an unknown assailant who lurked downstairs. Poor Mrs H—he really puts her on the spot, making her swear on her mother's grave and all. He leaves her office and stands in a corner, sobbing.
Bates then helps Anna unburden herself of her secret (sort of) by saying Mrs Hughes told him what happened. To her protestations that she is "soiled," he replies, "You are made higher to me, and holier because of the suffering you've been put through. You are my wife, and I have never been prouder, nor loved you more than I do now at this moment.” Just seeing her lower lip madly tremble as he told her he knew, and his big hands as he held her little face in hers, was a major catharsis! So she's moving back into the cottage, but unbeknownst to her, he intends to search for and punish the man that did it. Uh oh. Just what she wanted to prevent.
Upstairs, Mr Pamuk’s friend Evelyn Napier (from Season 1) surprises Mary in the library and announces that he will be in the neighborhood to assess the damage of the war years on various landed estates. She seems quite thrilled at the prospect and insists that he and his boss, Charles Blake, stay with them at Downton. She obviously digs Napier, acting rather googly (for her).
"Do you think she's having a good childhood?" Mary asks Tom in her typically detached way as they spend some time in the nursery with Sybbie and George. Tom shows signs of being tired of his role as the "uppity chauffeur" and makes some noises about heading out to America. Mary's not keen, saying she doesn't want to lose him (or her niece, one would presume!)

Favorite lines from the episode:

Thomas: "Mrs Patmore is not what you'd call a futurist."

"There's naught so queer as folk" Anna quips when she and Bates wonder why a pleasant person like Baxter could be friends with Thomas. (You can sure say that again!)

Countess Violet (to Isobel): "Wars have been waged with less fervour." 

"Nobody cares as much about anything as you do." 

"Hold still, dear, while I zing you. This will only hurt a little bit." (OK, I made that one up.)

Don't miss the Daedalus Books "Roaring Downton" Forum—a nexus of books, DVDs, news videos, quizzes, fan chats, and other fascinating items relating to the series.

Friday, January 24, 2014

The many sides of Sherlock Holmes

Pertinent to the groundswell of interest in all things Sherlock (viz PBS's Sherlock and CBS's Elementary, both hit series) is the mystery novel The Sherlockian, which takes as its jumping off point the famous hiatus in the Holmes saga when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (above) killed off his burdensome creation at the Reichenbach Falls—and a collective wail of woe went up over the English-speaking world.  The original story ("The Final Problem") can be found in the collection The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, which also recounts "The Musgrave Ritual" and other famed puzzlers. (Right: Holmes and Moriarty fighting over the Reichenbach Falls, by Sidney Paget.)
Apropos of Sherlock having a female partner in crime solving (i.e., Lucy Liu's stellar role as an upgraded Watson in Elementary), I quite enjoyed Laurie R. King's Justice Hall, in which Holmes's wife/partner, Mary Russell, exhibits a gratifying resourcefulness in danger-ridden undercover sleuthing.
Of the 40-some actors who have portrayed Sherlock, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jonny Lee Miller, and Robert Downney Jr are certainly arrestingly watchable with their tricked-out bells and whistles, but I do preserve a soft spot for the non-postmodern portrayals by Basil Rathbone and Jeremy Brett. How about you?
If you're a diehard mystery fan, you'll want to investigate Otto Penzler's The Lineup: The World's Greatest Crime Writers Tell the Inside Story of their Greatest Detectives and The Vicious Circle: Mystery and Crime Stories by Members of The Algonquin Round Table.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Fay Weldon on "frivolous fiction"

These days I divide novels into four convenient groups — the good good novels, the bad good ones, the good bad novels, and the bad bad novels. The good good books are the ones that have stood the test of time: the mills of literature grind slowly, as they say, but extremely sure: they're the classics. It's no penance to read them. Madame Bovary or Vanity Fair or Tom Jones: as with a Shakespeare play, you may resist going, you may fidget while you're there, but you're glad you've been. If only because you join in the communion of your common heritage: by some kind of osmosis, absorb the resonance of the past, make the present seem the richer.
It is the bad good books that are unendurable; that, posing as literature, can put a reader off forever. A novel? Oh, I once read one of those. The ones that aspire to literature, that defy you to read on: these are the writer-centered not the reader-centered ones, which say to the reader, "Look at me the writer, what a clever writer I am, how sensitive, how perspicacious, how much better than you the reader." Or the ones, written by a good writer—such as Walter Scott— who seems to have somehow lost his knack and be writing on, and on, and on —
That's from "The Reading of Frivolous Fiction," the essay by Fay Weldon that caps off Fay Weldon's Wicked Fictions, Regina Barreca's 1994 anthology of essays on this zingy British satirist. Below is an excerpt from an essay by Barreca on Weldon in the academy that appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education last summer. For ten years I was the steward of a literary book review called Belles Lettres, and I can attest that in that time we reviewed many a novel by Weldon, with relish. Thank you, Fay Weldon, for bringing me and the world so much reading pleasure! Do you treasure any authors whom you believe are slighted because they write "frivolous" fiction? Please share in the Comments.
I've been justifying a couple of my own reading-list choices for almost the whole time I've been teaching. From 1984 onward, some colleague or another has asked me, "Fay Weldon? Why on earth do you teach her?" As the reputation of this author has changed over the years, so has my answer.
In the early 1980s, when I discovered her, Weldon was stigmatized in academic circles as "too commercial" to be taken seriously. Her frequent appearances on television and radio, in print magazines and even tabloids, were apparently at odds with her increasingly respected literary work. A laudatory review by James Wilcox of her 1988 novel, The Hearts and Lives of Men, taking up the entire front page of The New York Times Book Review, would still leave her defending herself against critics who saw her as someone "who writes as if she is skateboarding—in a whirling rush and clatter, always, it seems, in imminent danger of coming adrift from the narrative that is her unstable vehicle, sustained only by her own speed." (The Times of London, 2004)….. The academy prefers writers who are perversely obscure and aggressively contemptuous toward their readers. We often value authors who write wisely but, in fact, not terribly well. Authors who write well and achieve popularity are therefore not as consistently rewarded by the faint praise of scholarly focus…. Weldon's writing lingers and lasts, and remains open to interpretation and debate, but never at the cost of obscurity or ostentation. That's why she's great; and it's because she's great that I teach her.
More of Weldon's "Frivolous Fiction"

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

"Downtrodden" Abbey and Downton's Highclere

Yes, it is bloody humongous!
The preternaturally popular British series Downton Abbey has spawned its fair share of satires, including Downton Tabby and the novella Downtrodden Abbey: The Interminable Saga of an Insufferable Family by "Gillian Fetlocks."
Harking back to the beginning of the series, this parody written as a novel commences with "Cousin Isabich" and her son, "Atchew," arriving at the castle after the legitimate heir to the estate goes down with the Gigantic. The aristocratic Crawfishes (Lady Flora and Lord Roderick) and their three daughters—Marry, Enid, and Supple—are duly perturbed (not enough to affect their naughty charades and 22-course dinners, however). Downton lovers will revel in the arrival from America of Flora's "annoying mother," Surly McPain; in the below-stairs stratagems of Tomaine "the first footmasseur" (and his partner in malignity, "Potatoes" O'Grotten); in the valet/maid lovebirds Brace and Nana; and in the diary of poor benighted Laizy, the scullery maid.
As all Downton Abbey fans worth their salt know, the setting of the series is Highclere Castle, home of the current Earl and Countess of Canarvon. "We always sit down at 9 o’clock for Downton," says Lady Fiona Carnarvon. "It’s very odd seeing them on the television in a particular part of the castle when you’re sitting ten yards away." Lady Fiona has written two excellent books on the life and times of the estate and its fascinating owners in the early 20th century: Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle and Lady Catherine, the Earl, and the Real Downton Abbey. Above and below are images of  several public rooms at Highclere as they appear when they are not being used by the series.
The dining room is decorated in the “Stuart Revival” style. Prominent in many of the family's mealtime scenes in Downtown Abbey is a painting by Anthony Van Dyck of King Charles I on horseback, accompanied by Chevalier le Sieur de St. Antoine.Van Dyck painted a portrait of the first Lady Carnarvon as well, which also hangs in the dining room. (The portrait there of Henry, First Earl of Carnarvon, is by Gainsborough.) Below are images of the library and the music room.
In 1895, Alfred de Rothschild gave his daughter Almina bolts of green French silk from which to decorate the Drawing Room, seen in the stills below from Downton Abbey. Narrow cupboards between the double doors from the Drawing Room to the Smoking Room hid the 5th Earl of Carnarvon's valuable collection of Egyptian antiquities, which were discovered by accident by the current Earl. Behind the Dowager one can see the children of the First Earl of Canarvon as painted by Sir William Beechey.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Downton Abbey Season 4, Episode 3: Pregnancy scares & snares; marriage plots; Anna/Bates in limbo

Thomas: "What's the matter with everyone this merry morn?"
Carson: "I always think there's something rather foreign about high spirits at breakfast."
This opening scene at the servants' table is suitably low-keyed, because Anna must endure sitting there with the man who raped her in the last episode, Lord Gillingam's valet. At the front door, the hosts bid farewell to the remnants of their house party, and the sweet Duchess of Yeovil says some consoling things to Tom about the loss of a loved one. Dig that splendid hood ornament on the Rolls as it pulls away!
Wearing a gorgeous purple velvet dress, Mary tells Papa that she and Tom are going to London to discuss tax matters. He is predictably blustery, but she deftly handles him. (Later, he looks positively dumbfounded as Mary and Tom set off to look at a sawmill.) Mama says she hopes Mary will see Lord Gillingham again in town, but Mary nips that in the bud: "Don't be transparent Mama, it doesn't suit you."
Anna's torment
Nearly suicidal, Anna confers with Mrs Hughes, the only person who knows the anguish she is suffering about the rape and about needing to keep it from Bates.
Anna: “I think that somehow, I must’ve made it happen.”
Mrs. Hughes: “Stuff and nonsense! You were attacked by an evil, violent man. There is no sin in that.”
Anna: “But I feel dirty. I can’t let him touch me because I’m soiled.”
Once again she rejects the idea of going to the police because she fears Bates will kill the perp ("Better a broken heart than a broken neck.") On top of that is the terror of being pregnant. Joanna Froggart's acting here is superlative, making her character's range of emotions so completely palpable that it's heartbreaking to watch. (Scuttlebutt is that she is called "Jo-Fro" on the set. So adorable.)
Meanwhile, in London
Cora and her sister-in-law Lady Rosamund have cooked up a dinner/dancing evening for their daughters with Lord Gillingham and Sir John Bullock. When Tony tells a surprised Mary that he hopes she doesn't feel "ambushed," she replies  "I'm glad you came. When I'm at Downton I feel like I'm stuck at school for the rest of my life." Tony declares himself "almost engaged" to Miss Lane Fox but ready to break it off if Mary is open to him as a suitor. "The truth is I'm not ready and won't be for several years" she tells him, admitting that being with him has been "lovely … I feel quite refreshed."
Her cousin Rose has an all-too-short interlude with dreamy jazz singer Jack Ross when he steps in to partner her after she's abandoned on the dance floor of the Lotus Club by an exceedingly drunk Sir John. Rosamund quickly hustles Rose out and later remonstrates:  “things have to come to a pretty pass when you have to be rescued by a black bandleader!” Boo!
Over at Gregson's digs, the camera lingers on the beautiful gold bracelet encircling Edith's upper arm as they sink into a lingering kiss … fade to black (and to hussy status when her auntie finds out)! Rosamond reads Edith the riot act when she learns that she came in at 6 in the morning. (“You’re trusting this man with your name and your reputation"—unwanted pregnancy discussion #2!)
Edna's Brathwaite's delusions of grandeur
As you may recall from the last episode, smarmy maid Edna caught Tom at a low moment and got him drunk and into bed. Now she implies she might be pregnant and pressures him into marrying her, saying she'll make him a good wife. You can just see the glint of the Grantham silver in her eyes. Bleah!!
Edna: “Because I must be sure that you’ll marry me if I’m carrying your child. I need to know that you won’t cast me off, that you’ll be a man of honor if it comes to it. And don’t say I’m not good enough. If you were good enough for Lady Sybil Crawley, then I’m good enough for you.”
Luckily, Tom takes an observant Mary's advice to find someone to unburden himself to, and he does—to the indispensable Mrs Hughes. (The Dear Abby of Downton Abbey, she counsels Tom, Anna, and Mr Carson in this episode!!) Mrs H tells Tom that Edna would never risk getting pregnant before she was sure that Tom would marry her. She assures him that if he had agreed to marry Edna, then there would’ve been a pregnancy after the fact, but not before.
With Tom there, Mrs H calls Edna on the carpet, saying she found an “instruction book” in Edna’s things and knows that Edna took precautions.  And she tells Edna that she's good and sacked, and if she makes any trouble she can forget about a reference.
On her way upstairs after getting her comeuppance, Edna encounters her onetime partner in connivance, Thomas Barrow. (Cue Thomas's patented combo of smirk/pursed mouth.) But now he's the object of her spleen:
Edna: “Do you ever wonder why people dislike you so much? It’s because you are sly, and oily, and smug. And I’m really pleased I got the chance to tell you before I go.”
Thomas: “Well if we’re playing the truth game, then you’re a manipulative little witch, and if your schemes have come to nothing, I’m delighted.”
Star-crossed lovers
Bates is happy to see Anna when she and Mary return from London, and begs her to either kiss him or tell him what’s going on.
Anna: “Don’t bully me!”
Bates: “Anna, you’re upset. You’re unhappy, and I don’t know why. You say it’s not me. Well I hope that’s true, but there is a reason and I need to find out what it is. I won’t press you now if it makes things worse, but in the end I will find out.”
Anna asks Mrs. Hughes if she can move back into the main house, saying they can explain the situation by her having to be ladies' maid to both Mary and her mother. Bates confides in Lord Grantham, saying he doesn’t know what is wrong with Anna or what to do. (“It must be my fault, because she's incapable of fault.”) Robert tells him to wait until “things become clear,” and to trust that when a marriage is based on the kind of love that Anna and Bates share, everything will work out.
“A long journey to ask a short question.
Lord Gillingham pops up at Downton, having ridden from London on the same train as Mary but in the third class carriage so as not to discomfit her. Making some pretext of business to her parents, he asks to spend the night. (“And so another brick is pulled from the wall” sighs the Dowager when the men of the house are forced to wear black tie at dinner because Lord Gillingham did not pack evening dress.) When they're alone, he proclaims his ardor and begs her to marry him: "I love you Mary, and there must be a way to convince you."
Gillingham: “We’re good together, Mary. And we could be so very happy if you’d let us.”
Mary: “And Miss Lane Fox?”
Gillingham: “I like Mabel, a lot. And I think I can come to love her, but I’m not in love with her, as I am with you. You fill my brain. I see you when I close my eyes. I … I can’t stop thinking about you, where you are, what you’re doing … “
Mary: “You’re very persuasive.”
Gillingham: “Then be persuaded.”
Mary: “I only wish I could.”
He offers her years before they marry; even a promise will suffice. But regretfully, she can't bring herself to let go of Matthew's memory enough to say yes. Out on the vast grounds of the Abbey, she allows him a farewell kiss.
Next week: Bates pushes to discover what’s bothering Anna, and Mary stands her ground with a tenant in arrears on the rent. There’s also speculation about the disposition of the new ladies’ maid, Miss Baxter, handily recommended by Barrow. (Please Cora, go to an employment agency!!)
Don't miss the Daedalus Books "Roaring Downton" Forum—a nexus of books, DVDs, news videos, quizzes, fan chats, and other fascinating items relating to the series.

Friday, January 17, 2014

I wish I'd said that: Geary's awesome aphorisms

“One can hardly imagine the riches contained in this anthology.”— Jay Parini, The Chronicle of Higher Education


James Geary, the compiler of Geary's Guide to the World's Great Aphorists, told NPR that he has five laws in defining the oldest and the shortest literary art form on earth: "It must be brief. It must be definitive. It must be personal — that's the difference between an aphorism and a proverb. It must be philosophical — that's the difference between an aphorism and a platitude, which is not philosophical. And the fifth law is it must have a twist. And that can be either a linguistic twist or a psychological twist or even a twist in logic that somehow flips the reader into a totally unexpected place."
I have the greatest admiration for the labor and perspicacity that went into this collection. It's the best of its type that I've ever seen. I'm about one-third of the way through, and I look forward to lots more delving. There are so many fascinating people I've never heard of, particularly Eastern bloc dissidents. Their inspiring stories and their brilliant use of language to subvert oppression deserve a pride of place in a collection that honors the best minds from every continent and century. Particularly delicious are the pages and pages of bon mots and maxims produced by the literary relationship between Mme de Sablé and La Rochfoucauld, both of whom are pictured above! Below are a few sample entries from the book.
Brudzinski, Wieslaw (Poland, 1920- ) Brudzinski's first satirical broadsides appeared in 1936, in the Polish weekly Kultura. Since then, he has continued to publish his jocular jabs at politics, society, and human nature in the satirical magazine Szpilki ("Needles"), where he is also an editor.
The lesser evil usually lasts longer.
In life one has to go to the funerals of the people we like and the birthdays of those we don't.

Tutu, Desmond (South Africa, 1931- ) Tutu, the Anglican Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town, was one of South Africa's most prominent opponents of apartheid. ... Tutu is also credited with coining the phrase "rainbow nation" to describe South Africa's ethnic and racial mix.
To be impartial is to have taken sides already with the status quo.
History, like beauty, depends largely on the beholder.
When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said, "Let us pray." We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land.
Under certain circumstances a wanted poster is a letter of recommendation.

Bunsch, Karol (Poland, 1898-1987) Bunsch is one of Poland's greatest aphorists. Outside of his own country, he is primarily known as the author of a series of historical novels about the Piast dynasty, the first kings of Poland. Piast, the legendary founder of the Polish state, was said to have lived in the ninth century. The rule of the last Piast monarch came to an end in 1370.
Honest conceit is better than false modesty.
The root of materialism is poverty; the well-fed remain idealists.
Borders are established so there is something to fight about.

Sato, Issai (Japan, 1772-1859) One of Japan's most important nineteenth century Confucian scholars, Issai was born in Tokyo and held a series of distinguished academic posts until his death.
There are always people who make big declarations. These are always people of little consequence.
Historical works all may communicate traces, but they do not communicate truth. One who reads history ought to take these traces and nudge out the truths concealed within.
Treat others like the spring breeze; guard yourself like the autumn frost.

Szasz, Thomas (United States, 1920- ) Szasz is best known for his book The Myth of Mental Illness, in which he argues that psychological disorders such as schizophrenia are not really illnesses at all but labels through which governments and the medical profession try to exercise social control.
Boredom is the feeling that everything is a waste of time; serenity, that nothing is.
When a person can no longer laugh at himself, it is time for others to laugh at him.
Two wrongs don't make a right, but they make a good excuse.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Writers and their pets: test your knowledge

I recently went into The Guardian's “authors and their pets” quiz with a lot of hubris but came out with a woefully poor score. My “educated guesses” often came down to two choices, and I picked the wrong one. (I did get the Colette answer, thankfully, due to the two shelves of tomes by and about her that occupy one of my bookshelves.) “The cat is the animal to whom the Creator gave the biggest eye, the softest fur, the most supremely delicate nostrils, a mobile ear, an paw and a curved claw borrowed from the rose-tree.” So wrote one of the biggest cat fanatics who ever lived. I think Colette would have been honored to have people believe she was a cat in a past life. She certainly had the requisite lion's mane of hair! Let us know how you do. And in the meanwhile, here are a few more lovely images of authors with their cats.
“One cat just leads to another.” (Check out the Unabridged Ernest Hemingway Audiobook Library!)
“If a fish is the movement of water embodied, given shape, then a cat is a diagram and pattern of subtle air.”—Doris Lessing

“If animals could speak, the dog would be a blundering outspoken fellow; but the cat would have the rare grace of never saying a word too much.”—Mark Twain

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

There is nothing like a Dame: Kiri Te Kanawa as Nellie Melba in Downton Abbey

In the second episode of Downton Abbey's fourth season, Cora engages a famous opera singer to give a private recital at her house party. New Zealand's Dame Kiri Te Kanawa (pictured above and at right with Dame Maggie Smith) portrays Australia's Dame Nellie Melba, the first character on the show who was a real-life person. At Downton she sings a program of art songs and opera arias (to the gratification of the Dowager Duchess, she eschews German lieder!) One of the most ravishing snippets we hear are strains of Puccini's "O mio babbino caro," which I once had the great fortune of hearing Te Kanawa perform live. (You can enjoy the entire aria on her classic recording Kiri Te Kanawa Sings Verdi & Puccini Arias.)
Mary Evans Picture Library
Melba would have been relatively long in the tooth in the early '20s (she was born in 1861), but no matter. She was still a catch who had spent decades in the international limelight! The following highlights from an article by Sophia Lambton on the vocal legend in Musical Opinion will give you an idea of why Helen Porter née Mitchell Armstrong became an opera immortal, as well as a "professional celebrity."
If Callas was a goddess, and Colbran was a siren three hundred years before; and Malibran an angel, and Viardot an enigma, then Melba was a home diva; a household name…. If America's sweetheart was Judy Garland, or Shirley Temple, or any of the 'girl next door' types that Hollywood wanted to portray, then Australia had Nellie Melba — and like the cinema stars after her, she conquered the world…. [She was] one of the last bel canto advocates in prima donna history before the Callas revival of the late 1940s…. One critic described her trill as being "like a string of pearls."….She didn't become a great artist, and it didn't appear that at any point of her life she intended to be. She assumes two roles in one: an adored and world-renowned prima donna and a professional celebrity…. In Paris in 1889, she received three curtain calls after the mad scene of Lucia. On June 28th of that year, she was commanded to sing a concert for Queen Victoria…. Reviewers wrote of her being "unsurpassed in the purity and sweetness of her tones". She undertook studies in acting with Sarah Bernhardt, the great tragédienne, and continued to learn Gounod's heroines with the composer himself…..
Not only was Melba a rare prima donna who enjoyed the limelight of scandal and her papers gracing the pages for all the wrong reasons, she made a cult of being celebrated. In 1890 she took on a lover, Louis Philippe Robert, Duc d'Orléans, but not because she ceded to an irresistible temptation, rather than because it was a 'thing to do' among aristocracy, and he was after all, a prince - the great-grandson of Louis Philippe I, one-time king of France…. She sang La Bohème with Caruso and earned the praise of Mary Garden, known by some to be one of the first genuine singing actresses. Garden wrote of her Mimi: 'The note came floating over the auditorium of Covent Garden: it left Melba's throat, it left Melba's body, it left everything, and came over like a star and passed us in our box, and went out into the infinite."….In 1926 she became a Dame Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire; the highest ranking kind of honour for a dame.