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Poldark, Book Review

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After enjoying the Masterpiece 2015 version of Winston Graham’s Poldark, I read the book. Set in the late 18th century, Poldark is the first novel in the series about the Poldark family. It’s a family with some interesting facets. The side headed by Charles Poldark is quite refined and wealthy. The side headed by Joshua Poldark, Charles brother was less fortunate. Joshua had two sons and one died as a child. His wife died young. His son Ross, who’s the central character in this novel, got into gambling trouble and was urged to fight in the American colonies to let matters at home cool. Joshua didn’t have great success with his mining or farming interests and dies before he can see his son Ross return from the war.

Ross’ death becomes a rumor that takes hold in Cornwall. His true love believes it and winds up engaged to his cousin. His family’s drunk and disorderly servants believe it and they let the property fall to almost ruin. This book covers about half the events that you see in season one of the 2015 television series.

I read historical fiction for the details and surprises. Winston Graham’s clearly done his homework on life in Cornwall in 1873 and following. The dialect sounds accurate and every event and encounter, whether it’s a day at the market or a fishing trip rings true. It’s an era where people had a lot of spirit and vitality. (I’m starting to think the human race lost a lot by not riding horses. I think horseback riding made people stronger, physically and emotionally.)

Ross intrigues as he’s a bridge between classes. He understands his periwigged relatives as well as the villagers who scrape by and have no standing in a court of law where the scales are tilted in favor of the gentry. Even though Ross has little money, his rank puts him far above the villagers, yet as Demelza, the urchin girl he saves from her drunken abusive father, points out Ross can fit in either social circle.

In the book, readers get more of Graham’s well drawn characters, like Demelza who becomes the spirit of Ross’ home, Prudie and Jud, who curse and complain at every turn, Elizabeth, Ross’ former love and Francis, his cousin. At the start of the book Demelza’s 14 and then the story jumps ahead to when she’s 17, which I’d have liked to see.

This gap between the rich and the really rich intrigues and I’m trying to figure out how these families trained their servants so that in a few generations they no longer spit, cursed and drank way too much.

The story moves along quickly and includes some events I wish the 2015 series had. I’m ready to start on the second novel Demelza once I finish my other books.

*In the 1970s the BBC produced the first Poldark series.

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Sepia Saturday

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Tunnels are perfect devices for storytelling, seemingly neutral spaces that can lead someone from one world to another. They can also look rather cool and evoke mystery and adventure. The ones I’ve found for Sepia Saturday, though older, have a sci fi vibe to them. I can envision them in Doctor Who or a retro sci fi movie along the lines of Things to Come. To see more Sepia Saturday posts, click here.

Source: Tyne & Wear, Flickr Commons

Source: Tyne & Wear, Flickr Commons

Swiss Guard Tunnel, 1910 Source: Flickr Commons, Library of Congress

Swiss Guard Tunnel, 1910
Source: Flickr Commons, Library of Congress

Source: Tyne & Wear Archives

Source: Tyne & Wear Archives

Grantchester

grantchester-series-itv

When it first was broadcast, I didn’t bother with Grantchester. I’m not a fan on the Father Brown series and I thought it might be of the same ilk. (Also, I’ve been watching Downton Abbey at my aunt’s rehab center. Visitors must leave at 9pm.)

I’ve seen the lead actor in Happy Valley, where he plays a rapist, kidnapper, drug user and murderer. So seeing James Norton as a vicar, even a vicar who drinks and is quite a stretch.

But I’ve seen 4 episodes so far and I like this show. It’s not a top of the line must-see series, but it’s better than most and watching the young vicar grapple with war memories and pine for his true love, while trying to do the right thing by Hildegard, a lovely widow whom he’s dating does capture my interest.

The big problem with a detective series set in the country, and not the drug infested modern country town we see in Happy Valley, is how many murders do you expect occur in such a place? In the town I grew up in there was one. One murder in 30 years. In the town I’m in now I don’t think there’s been even that. Still so far the show has managed to be convincing and one of the cases took place in London and was plausible in why the vicar would have to solve it.

After getting hooked on Downton Abbey, The Paradise and Mr. Selfridge, I’ve gotten to a point where I think post-WWII is quite modern. Almost too modern for my liking, still Grantchester has been well worth watching.

I wonder if Amanda will call off her wedding or if Sidney will declare his love for her. I think Sunday’s episode is the finale.

To Marry an English Lord

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If you like Downton Abbey, you really should read Gail MacColl and Carol McD. Wallace’s  To Marry an English Lord. I got the audio book from the library. The narrator had the perfect voice, elegant and slightly aristocratic.

To Marry an English Lord presents all sorts of facts and vignettes about the American heiresses, and there were dozens if not hundreds, who crossed the ocean to marry well. The focus is on New York socialites, whose fathers had fortunes, but couldn’t break into the elite circle of the Kickerbockers. Kickerbockers were the descendants of the first New York settlers from Holland, these people wore knickerbockers, i.e. pants that stopped at the knees. No amount of money could get you into their social circle so those with new money headed for England where they were welcomed not just for their money (though that was key) but also because American girls were so open, confident and free. British girls were sheltered and shy. They were chaperoned everywhere, but the American parents gave their girls a lot more freedom. And they had much larger clothing allowances. A British girl would make do with 3 new gowns a season, but the American would get 18 or so spending about $500.000 in todays money (plus a 50% tariff). The British men noticed, in droves apparently.

The book covers every aspect of the women’s lives from dress, parents, education, hobbies and such to marriage, infidelity and socializing. I found it quite interesting that these girls had the best of all worlds because as was typical in the U.S. at the time they were encouraged to be spirited and confident as debutantes and unlike the women who married in America after they wed they could follow the custom of getting involved in politics or writing, which was normal in England.

The book is a solid and entertaining social history that makes me think a real life Cora had more meaningful work to do, more extravagant parties to give, more friendships and probably more infidelity than we see on Downton Abbey. (Mind you I’m happy Cora did not hop into bed with Bricker, the bounder.) The authors’ style is full of wit and energy.

While I enjoyed being able to listen as I drove, I think I’ll get the actual book, because I can envision wanting to fact check the history and that’s hard to do with a CD.

Sepia Saturday

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Dublin, harbor 1890

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Torquay, Waldon Hill and Harbour, From the New Pier, 1880

Clacton-on-the-Sea, England (1880-1900?)

Clacton-on-the-Sea, England (1880-1900?)

This week’s prompt is of harbors, ships, boats and harbors. They remind me of a wonderful book I read last year. Ernest Poole’s The Harbor  begins in the days like these when ships with white sails bringing people from the world over into New York with treasures to trade. Times then change and not for the better. Find the book.

If you want to see more nostalgic harbor photos, go to Sepia Saturday .

Broadchurch

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I finally saw the last episodes of Broadchurch, the detective mystery about the murder of a young teenaged boy Danny in a small coastal town in England. Alec (David Tennant Doctor Who #10) is a brooding detective, with a secret past, who arrives in Broadchurch when Danny’s body is discovered. Ellie (Olivia Colman of Rev) is the local detective who expected to get the job Alec got. For the most part they get along well, it’s not oil and water. Colman’s a patient positive woman so she handles her disappointment with grace and tries to draw out and educate Alec to the ways of this closed, small town.

It takes 8 episodes to discover the murderer. At times the story drags. A lot of time is devoted to the emotions of Danny’s family and the intrigues and secrets of the town. Most are dead ends, but pursuing them destroys some lives and relationships. While I did feel the characters seemed like real small town folk, the dialog at times seemed written, rather than real.

I saw the first episodes on a flight a year ago. It’s not on Netflix and I wasn’t so wrapped up in the story that I wanted to buy it. I liked the actors especially Tennant and Colman, but the program doesn’t have the writing of Luther or Spiral. While it was better than a CBS detective program, it wasn’t worth buying. Finally, the library got the DVDs. The ending was a surprise but the last episode was padded big time. I’d have to rematch the series to determine whether I feel it was well plotted. As it is, I just don’t care enough to invest the time.

Broadchurch is getting translated to “American” on Fox and will be called Gracepoint. The story seems the same, too similar and will be 10 episodes. I guess viewers are in for more padding unless the extra episodes will just make up for the commercials. Tennant will play the American version of Alec, by donning a bad haircut and speaking with an American accent. Colman’s been replaced by a tall blond woman. What would you expect from an American network? If they’re bold and smart, they’d make the murderer someone different. I wouldn’t invest 10 hours to see the same result.

From the Writer’s Almanac

It’s the birthday of lexicographer Henry Watson Fowler (books by this author), born in Tonbridge, Kent, England (1858). He studied at Oxford and taught Latin, Greek, and English at a boys’ school in northwest England for 17 years, then resigned and moved to the island of Guernsey in the English Channel, built himself a one-room cottage, and began living like a hermit. Though he spent all his time writing essays and produced enough to fill two book-length manuscripts, he could not succeed in getting them published. He then came up with the idea to write “a sort of English composition manual, from the negative point of view, for journalists & amateur writers.” Collaborating with his brother on the work for Oxford University Press, he wrote The King’s English (1906), which begins:

“Anyone who wishes to become a good writer should endeavour, before he allows himself to be tempted by the more showy qualities, to be direct, simple, brief, vigorous, and lucid.”

The first chapter, titled “Vocabulary,” lays out the following principles:

“Prefer the familiar word to the far-fetched. Prefer the concrete word to the abstract. Prefer the single word to the circumlocution. Prefer the short word to the long. Prefer the Saxon word to the Romance.”

The book was a success and he was commissioned to produce The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English, which appeared in 1911. His biggest success, however, was A Dictionary of Modern English Usage (1926), a collection of common mistakes in English that Fowler organized into categories, such as “Battered Ornaments,” “Love of the Long Word,” “Sturdy Indefensibles,” “Swapping Horses,” and “Unequal Yokefellows.”

T.S. Eliot said, “Every person who wishes to write ought to read A Dictionary of Modern English Usage … for a quarter of an hour every night before going to bed.”

Downton Abbey: Debutant Balls

On Sunday’s Downton Abbey finale, Rose finally was presented to society in a majestic ceremony with much elegance. I didn’t realize these women were presented to the King and Queen. I expected something like the presentation balls in the States (not that I’d been to one). I’ve read plenty of books and seen many BBC dramas, where this is mentioned, but I’m glad Downton showed us the real spectacle. Both Cora and Lord Grantham were stunning, as was Rose.

Thanks to my friendly, public library reference services, I’ve found out a bit about all this Presentation business:

From ABC-CLIO’s Daily Life through History website
http://dailylife.abc-clio.com/

debutante balls

The word debutante comes from the French, debut, which means, “beginning.” The young woman is said to be “coming out” when she is introduced, implying that she is leaving the sheltered world of family life to join a wider society. The tradition of formal presentation of a young woman is rooted in an old English practice where daughters of the aristocracy, who married within a very small circle of elite families, were presented to those of similar social standing when they reached a marriageable age. The practice continues to be associated generally with wealthy and socially prominent families.

In England, presentations took place during “The London Season,” which usually coincided with the sitting of Parliament. Generally, it began after Easter and continued until August when the grouse-hunting season started. Families of wealth and position made a mass migration from their country estates to London for “The Season,” to exchange their quiet life of limited entertainment for days of shopping, riding, and visiting; and evenings of theater, dances, and balls. It was regarded as the chance for young men and women of position to mingle and find a marriageable partner. Marriages were more likely to be made on the basis of social connections, eligibility, and finances than on common interests, compatibility, and love.

Before a young woman could join in the social activities of “The Season,” she had to be presented at court to the queen. This typically took place when she reached 18. Prior to that time the activities of a young woman of social position would be restricted to attendance at school and limited participation in any social functions. While the actual presentation would only take a few minutes, preparations for the event were extensive. There were rigidly prescribed rules for presentation that extended to dress and accessories. Unmarried women were expected to wear a white gown, although soft color over a white background was permitted. The gown had to have a train. The headdress had to have feathers and a tulle veil long enough to reach the train. The number and size of the feathers on a headdress varied with the whim of the monarch. Queen Victoria favored three large feathers.
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Downton Abbey, Season 4 Week 3

Highclere Castle

Highclere Castle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I see Julian Fellows as still finding the story. I suppose it’s harder because history in 1922 isn’t providing a definite event to build a plot on. I still enjoy Downton, the acting is just superb, but last night we just saw life carrying on.

Anna was the main figure for me as she soldiers on after being raped by a servant from a visiting Lord. Though I’m sure it would entail great hardship, I do wish she heeded Mrs. Hughes’ advice and contacted the police. It’s a false dichotomy to assume that if she speaks up Mr. Bates will kill the rapist and get imprisoned again. I know that in this era women didn’t speak up, but some might have and I’d like to see how that process was conducted – even if it was patently unjust. How would the Crawley‘s and the servants respond? By keeping silent, Anna also cuts herself off from the support of those around her. For now she’s keeping Mr. Bates away because she feels “dirty.” Understandable, but to move back to the main house without allowing time to heal seems hasty.

I’m glad Mary rejected Lord Whoever’s proposal. It’s just too soon. There’s no urgency in getting married for her. Though the pool of available men is smaller due to the war, I’m sure Mary can find love in time.

I’m concerned about Edith signing whatever paper the editor Mr. Gregson gave her. Yes, he showed his worth by beating the card sharp and getting all the aristocrats’ debts cleared, but he seems to be up to something. The convoluted marriage problems with his wife who we’re told is mentally ill are so dubious.

Looks like Alfred may take a big test at the Ritz to get into their prestigious training program. Good for him. It did take his seeing Ivy kissing Jimmy to spur him to action.

Poor Tom has been ruminating on Edna’s assertion that she expects him to marry her if she’s pregnant. What a nightmare that would be! Good thing Tom was smart enough to turn to Mrs. Hughes who put Edna in her place and convinced her to leave. Mrs. Hughes is wonderful! Downton would not survive without her.

Looks like Rose will eventually get herself into romantic trouble. She was bound to from the start. Still we only have some hints. In London she was deserted on the dance floor when the black singer sprang into action and took his place. Rose was very impressed, while her chaperone Aunt Rosamund warned her to be careful. It would be good to see more of Lady Rosamund.

So a lot did happen, but for some reason the plot doesn’t have the same momentum.

Buccaneers

BBC-TheBuccaneers

Adapted from Edith Wharton‘s last, unfinished novel, Buccaneers follows the lives of four rich young women from  New World families (three from the U.S. and one from South America). None of the girls can penetrate New York’s staunch, established society so they head for England to find husbands.

While not on par with Downton Abbey, this five part BBC miniseries, takes place when Cora would have been looking for a husband in England. The story does not feature the servants’ lives and the wit doesn’t compare to Julian Fellows’ dialog. Still it’s an enjoyable period piece that helps Downton fans make through till season 4 begins in January, 2014.

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