Completed: Titus Andronicus

Titus AndronicusTitus Andronicus
William Shakespeare
(c. 1590-1593, England)
The Pelican Shakespeare, 2000
Russ McDonald, Ed.

I began my reading of Titus Andronicus knowing little about the play or its plot, not even whether it was based on a true story from Roman history or a purely fictional invention (answer: fictional). The only thing I knew was that it has a reputation for violence and gore and even a bit of cannibalism–all of which is true enough, and let’s not forget adultery, rape, and racism. That these are the takeaways from Titus Andronicus –in contrast say to fellow revenge play Hamlet or tragedy King Lear–suggests what is indeed true: Titus is one of the earliest of Shakespeare’s plays, perhaps his earliest tragedy, and he is still feeling his way. There are no grand philosophical monologues and what humor that is here to temper the horror is of such a nature that you are almost afraid to take it as such. That is, other than some clearly humorous lines from the Clown, one cannot be sure if the seemingly purely evil Moor, Aaron, is making twisted jokes and if we should even laugh at them. (For that matter, I am not even sure if the racism is Elizabethan, Roman, both, or somewhere in between.) Although I often find on finishing a play that I want to see a production, here I find that the stark violence of the imagery–even though the worst is off-stage–causes me to hesitate at seeking any version out. It is perhaps too easy to understand why the play fell out of favor, especially with the Victorians.

On the other hand, acknowledging the horrors of our nightly news–beheadings and revenge and mass slaughter did not depart our world simply because we for a time removed them from stage–perhaps there is something to be learned from the play. The entire cycle of violence is put into motion, when at the end of a successful military campaign, the protagonist, Titus, brutally murders the son of Tamora, the conquered queen of the Goths, both his prisoners of war. This war crime–as we would now style it–sets into motion a series of ever increasing horrors, until the reader or audience begins to wonder if anyone will be spared. Revenge begets revenge. Yet, in the same tradition as contemporary horror cinema, you cannot look away, even if watching between your fingers. The cycle of violence is not the only motivation explored, either. Lust–for both power and flesh–is evidenced in several characters, and in the end leads to the the same terrible consequences as the mad revenges of Titus and Tamora.

But perhaps what is most important to take away from Titus Andronicus is this: in the end, the person our hatreds and revenges will ultimately destroy is ourself, leaving our battered loved ones to pick up the pieces.

I read Titus Andronicus as one of my Classics Club titles and for Shakespeare 400.

Week’s End Notes (28) – Of Summer Reading Plans

Geber Daisy

It’s been a while. With the end of April’s Children’s Classics Event, I dove into May with a focus on reading rather than writing, so now I find myself with, yet again, a backlog of posts to write—but at least a number of books are finished. I may, however, in the future have to institute a rule that I must write about one book before moving on to the next.

I have been working on some posts related to my Paul Laurence Dunbar reading, actually, but I’m not quite finished, so those will have to wait. In the meantime, I’m succumbing to temptation yet again, but I don’t think this will harm me. At worst, I will have too many books to finish in the fall; I make no promises of actually finishing anything on time, for that is unnecessary stress, when my job provides plenty of its own deadlines.

It’s only just the first week of “unofficial” summer, those June-July-August months when the school children are out of class and those of us still stuck behind a work desk long for the days of unfettered freedom, of long summers and ample reading time. The nostalgia creeps in every year, and every year I am convinced that I might read more than I do any other time of year. Foolish, of course—often work is even more busy in the summer—but an aim nonetheless.

It does seem that we are likely to have an uncomfortably hot summer—already we’ve hit 90 F (32 C) once—and in those temperatures I really am fit for nothing better than reading. So perhaps this year… Optimism springs eternal! With that thought in mind, and tempted by the sight of so many bloggers laying forth their summer plans, I set out mine, perhaps a week late, but a whole summer still stretches forth.

First, the next Classics Club spin. I’ve finished the reading (Pedro Páramo), but still need to write up a post for the last one—only a month or so overdue. Oops. It always gets me to read a book I might otherwise postpone, though, even if at times I finish months late. For this round I’ve only included books I already have on hand, as I’m currently trying to read off my shelves. A few I intend to read this summer, regardless of the spin outcome.

  1. Taming of the Shrew – William Shakespeare
  2. A Midsummer Night’s Dream – William Shakespeare
  3. His Last Bow – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  4. The Bluest Eye – Toni Morrison
  5. The Iliad – Homer
  6. An Oresteia – as translated by Anne Carson
  7. Fables – Aesop
  8. Aeneid – Virgil
  9. The Italian – Anne Radcliff
  10. Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
  11. Cranford – Elizabeth Gaskell
  12. Mary Barton – Elizabeth Gaskell
  13. The Lusiad – Luís Vaz de Camões
  14. Three Exemplary Tales – Miguel de Cervantes
  15. The President – Miguel Ángel Asturias
  16. The Warden – Anthony Trollope
  17. The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins
  18. Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
  19. Suttree – Cormac McCarthy
  20. Gulliver’s Travels – Jonathan Swift

Then there’s the next Spanish Lit Month coming up in July, hosted by Stu of Winstonsdad’s Books and Richard of Caravana de recuerdos. I’m not sure yet what I will read, but I’d really like to actually finish something this year, as last year I failed abominably and nor did I manage to finish anything on time for Richard’s winter/spring Mexicanos perdidos en México event (Pedro Páramo was supposed to double for that as well…maybe I should save my post on it for July! Hmm…actually, that probably is what will happen…)

15 Books of Summer Button

Finally, I see many bloggers signing up for the 20 Books of Summer hosted by Cathy of 746 Books. I initially dismissed the idea—I’ve not read 20 books in 3 months since I was in school—but there are options for 10 or 15 books as well. Surely I can read ten! My list is subject to change—I don’t wish to be strictly limited in my reading, if something catches else my eye. But these are the books I most want to read this summer, so it is likely I won’t deviate too much. Also, I’ve included an extra title in case my Classics Spin title is one I’m going to read anyway.

  1. Taming of the Shrew – William Shakespeare
  2. A Midsummer Night’s Dream – William Shakespeare
  3. The Raven Boys – Maggie Stiefvater [reread]
  4. The Dream Thieves – Maggie Stiefvater [reread]
  5. Blue Lily, Lily Blue – Maggie Stiefvater [reread]
  6. The Raven King – Maggie Stiefvater
  7. His Last Bow – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  8. The Bluest Eye – Toni Morrison
  9. Chronicles of Avonlea – L.M. Montgomery
  10. The Sound and the Fury – William Faulkner
  11. The Grey King – Susan Cooper
  12. The Farm – Louis Bromfield
  13. Enter Jeeves – P.G. Wodehouse
  14. TBD – Spanish Lit Month Book (if not Classics Spin title)
  15. TBD – Classics Spin Book (if not already listed above)
  16. Silver on the Tree – Susan Cooper (if Classics Spin Title is 1, 2, 7, 8, or 14)

I was going to stick with 10, but I realized that quite a few of my books are either YA or plays, so if I actually wanted to challenge myself I needed to bump it up to 15.

Well, I think that should  be quite enough to go on! And what are your bookish plans for the summer?

A Farewell to April

Classic Children's Literature Event April 2016 - original

April has come and gone, and with it the Fourth Children’s Classic Literature Event. As usual, it was a fun–if fast!–month of revisiting old favorites and meeting new ones. Although I didn’t quite make it through all the Beatrix Potter tales (I will! I’ll just take some time in May for them…), I was introduced to a number of books that were completely new to me thanks to the posts by other participants. So many new possibilities to explore!

As far as I am aware, the following lists all of the posts from the second half of the month – please let me know if I missed you! (It’s very possible, as I switch between tablet and laptop, e-mail notification and feed reader.)

Anastacia from Rambling Reviews:
Jack and Jill by Louisa May Alcott
The Cricket on the Hearth by Charles Dickens
The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain
By the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Bellezza from Dolce Bellezza:
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

Carol from Jouney and Destination:
A Little Bush Maid by Mary Grant Bruce
Golden Fiddles by Mary Grant Bruce

Cleo from Classical Carousel
Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kästner

Denise from News from Hobbiton:
Some of her favorite children’s stories

Lynn from Smoke and Mirrors:
Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kästner
On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder
The Famous Five by Enid Blyton

Plethora from Plethora of Books:
Gone-Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright

Amanda from Simpler Pastimes:
The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling
Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kästner
Beatrix Potter Stories (group 2)

Not bad! Without actually going back to check, this year’s event may have had the most books read of any to date. (And I know I’m not the only one who didn’t get everything read they had hoped.)

Thanks to everyone who participated and Happy Reading!

Beatrix Potter Tales, Part 2

Ah, April is flying from me! I’m only just now getting my post for the second group of Beatrix Potter tales written up. Unlike the first group, which contained two I remembered well, these were mostly unrecollected, even those I’ve had the longest.

The Tale of Mr Jeremy Fisher - Beatrix PotterThe Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher (1906)

This tale of a frog and his fishing misadventures was completely adorable! I’m really growing to love Potter’s writing – while her illustrations are wonderful, in their detail and accuracy, the way she tells the tales is equally delightful. Here, I loved the turn in the story – the suspense and surprise when the trout catches Jeremy. Her use of onomatopoeia, again, is lovely.

A GREAT big enormous trout cam up–ker-pflop-p-p-p! with a splash–and it seized Mr. Jeremy with a snap, “Ow! Ow! Ow!”–and then it turned and dived down to the bottom of the pond!

The Tale of Tom Kitten - Beatrix PotterThe Tale of Tom Kitten (1907)

An amusing little story that I didn’t recall at all. Mrs. Tabitha Twitchet is having friends to dinner, so she cleans and dresses her kittens then, foolishly, sends them out into the garden while she finishes preparations. Of course, being kittens unused to clothes, they soon manage to burst their buttons and lose their clothes to the Puddleducks (first mention!). Banishment to the bedroom ensues. I am not sure why the title only names Tom–although he is the one that is too fat and bursts his buttons, they all lose their clothes.


The Tale of Jemima Puddle-duck - Beatrix PotterThe Tale of Jemima Puddle-duck (1908)

Potter, in this charming little tale, illustrates the phrase “bird-brained” very well! Jemima, understandably, wants to sit on her eggs rather than letting the farmer give them to the hen for setting. So she seeks out a good location for a nest, and finds one in the “summer house” of a very well-dressed, whiskered gentleman. Poor Jemima is so naïve – or dense! – that she doesn’t recognize him for a fox or that the many feathers in his house must surely have come from some other unfortunate birds… Rather than mischievous or disobedient, this protagonist is simply foolish.


The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies - Beatrix PotterThe Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies (1909)

Another return to the world of Peter and Benjamin. Apparently Peter Rabbit manages to grow up responsibly – his lesson learned – but Benjamin Bunny does not. Both hinted at, of course, in Benjamin’s tale. Interestingly, it would seem that Flopsy doesn’t do much better than Benjamin, despite the fact that she was one of the obedient little rabbits in the first tale. Obedient, but not wise, perhaps, as it seems she is as poor a household manager as Benjamin.

It would seem the feud between the McGregors and the rabbits is long-standing. Of course. In this tale, though, they are NOT in his garden, just his rubbish bin. But it is an interesting image, that of a large family reduced to depending on help from in-laws and rubbish piles. An image of poverty in these otherwise gentle books. And an apt illustration of “improvident.” I think these rabbits could fit into Dickens… And how lovely, that it is Mrs. Tittlemouse that is the resourceful, problem solving one!

I noticed the effectiveness of Potter’s introduction of some new vocabulary in this one–not only does she do a great job of introducing “soporific,” but it is reinforced later in the story.


The Tale of Mrs Tittlemouse - Beatrix Potter

The Tale of Mrs. Tittlemouse (1910)

Ah, a story of frustration if ever there was one! I do feel for Mrs. Tittlemouse–all those uninvited guests!–, although I do wonder if perhaps she isn’t maybe just a bit too fastidious. Cleaning while the guests are there can be rude…even if they invited themselves in! (Come to think of it, a lot of impoliteness in this one.)

Another one with lots of great sounds in this one – the buzzing from the bees, the “tiddly, widdly” of Mr. Jackson.


The Tale of Timmy Tiptoes - Beatrix Potter

The Tale of Timmy Tiptoes (1911)

A tale of a good little squirrel – and prudent. But sometimes bad things happen to good people, as when less prudent and more foolish squirrels become jealous and turn on the wiser one. But there is also a bit of an unexpected turn, in that this story turns to domestic matters. Mrs. Chippy Hackee has been abandoned by her husband–as Mrs. Goody Tiptoes believes has happened to her (though Timmy is just stuck down the hole in the tree). And Mrs. Hackee daren’t go down the tree after the pair for her husband bites. Sure enough, it will rain, the tree will fall, and Chippy will learn his lesson, but it suggests yet another portrait of a human character, the neglectful, selfish spouse, in animal form.

It is interesting how Potter is able to through these stories give a sense of human stories that might seem too grown up for young children were they not in the form of animal characters.

Despite the rapidly dwindling month (and available free-time), I do hope to finish reading these charming tales before the end of April. They have all been such a delight to read–and look at.

Completed: Emil and the Detectives

Emil and the DetectivesEmil and the Detectives [Emil und die Detektive]
Erich Kästner
(1929, Germany)
Eileen Hall, translator
Walter Trier, illustrations

’Oh he’ll like Berlin, I’m sure of that,’ declared Mrs. Wirth from the depths of the wash-basin. ‘It’s just made of children. We went there the year before last for the skittle club outing. My word, but it’s a noisy place! Do you know—some of the streets were as light at night as during the day. And the traffic! My, what a lot of cars!’ (Chapter 1)

Emil and the Detectives starts out deceptively, Emil carrying the water jug and his mother washing her client’s hair—a scene of domestic tranquility, nothing of adventures in sight. Yet this opening chapter, slow by current standards, is our introduction to Emil and his character: he is obedient and polite, determined to do right by his mother. Which is why it is so important to Emil, when the one thing she warns him against happens, losing the money she gives him for his grandmother, that he make it right. Especially since he feels particularly wronged; he didn’t lose the money, it was stolen from him after he fell asleep on the train, despite all his precautions, both to protect the money and stay awake. It is from this point that the story takes off; Emil soon meets up with a group of boys who upon learning his story are only too happy to help him chase down and trap the thief. His cousin, Pony, the only girl in the story, makes occasional appearances with her new bike—which she is only too eager to show off—functioning as messenger or go-between with Emil’s adult relatives. We also see other aspects of Emil’s character–his determination to right a wrong, a bit of temper (he nearly fights the first boy he meets), and a hint of mischief: he believes he can’t go to the police, because he chalked a statue at home and believes the Berlin police will surely learn of it and accuse him of stealing the money!

I’m really not quite sure what I expected from this classic from 1920s Germany. Perhaps more of a mystery, but the detective work in this story is tailing a known suspect, not discovering “whodunit.” Of course, this makes for an exciting adventure, and the reader never really cares that we know the thief already or that we feel fairly assured of a positive outcome. After all, there are still plenty of twists and turns and we can’t be sure, exactly, how the boys will manager to confront the thief and reclaim Emil’s money.

A German writer, Kästner would some years after writing this children’s tale watch the Nazis burn many of his books, including the sequel Emil and the Three Twins. But they didn’t include Emil and the Detectives, in part because of of its popularity. It’s been adapted for several film versions, including multiple German versions and the 1964 Disney adaptation, as well as a UK stage production.

Emil and the Detectives Readalong April 2016 - 300px wide

As well as reading this for the readalong, it also counts as one of my titles for the Books in Translation Challenge 2016.


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