Sunday, February 27, 2011
Thursday, February 24, 2011
“I tell you I cannot bear it! I shall do something desperate if this life is not changed soon. It gets worse and worse, and I often feel as if I'd gladly sell my soul to Satan for a year of freedom.”
Sunday, February 20, 2011
PG Wodehouse, the greatest comic writer in the English language bar none, is always very funny. But some of his books soar above the others--comic masterpieces which never grow old.
One of these is Leave it to Psmith, which I think is his best book; but the admitted pinnacle of his whole career is the series of books kicked off with Right Ho Jeeves, which tells of Bertram Wilberforce Wooster's frantic attempts to make sure Miss Madeleine Bassett, that droopy, goopy female, remains safely affianced to Gussie Fink-Nottle, the celebrated newt-studier.
The Code of the Woosters comes second in this epic. It has been some time since the events narrated in Right Ho, Jeeves. And like in Right Ho, Jeeves, the looming trouble on Bertie's horizon is first signified by a telegram.
Serious rift Madeleine and self. Come at once Totleigh Towers. Gussie.
Bertie's first impulse is to run for the Himalayas. Totleigh Towers is the very lair of the beast. It is the home of Sir Watkyn Bassett, a hanging judge who once fined Bertie for ten pounds for stealing a policeman's helmet on Boat Race Night—and stealing a policeman's helmet on Boat Race Night is positively de rigeur. It is moreover the home of Madeleine Bassett, who has the wholly mistaken notion that Bertie is madly in love with her, and who has vowed to marry him “and make him happy” should her engagement with Gussie ever fall through; of Roderick Spode, an amateur dictator (his organisation is known as the Black Shorts), who has loved Madeleine since she was so high and is determined to crush any man who makes her unhappy into a fine paste; of the rising young curate, a beefy old school-fellow of Bertie's known as the Rev Harold “Stinker” Pinker; and last but oh-so-very-much-not-least, young Stephanie “Stiffy” Byng, whose mad schemes to revenge herself on a local policeman may well prevent her fiance Stinker from ever becoming a vicar.
With all this in mind, Bertie is inclined to oil off and let the rift in Love's lute fix itself. But then his Aunt Dahlia takes charge. Her husband Tom and Sir Watkyn Bassett are rival collectors of old silver, and Sir Watkyn has just nipped in and bought an antique silver cow-creamer (it's a cream-jug that looks like a cow) which Tom was in the final stages of negotiations to buy. Aunt Dahlia regards Sir Watkyn as little better than a thief, and now she orders the hapless Bertie to go to Totleigh Towers and pinch it back...
With Sir Watkyn and the formidable Spode already under the impression that Bertie is a criminal of the blackest dye, Madeleine and Gussie on the rocks with the threat of an engagement to the former hanging over his head like the sword of Damocles, Stiffy's insistence that Bertie be the stooge in a variety of halfwit operations, and with the cow-creamer changing hands between the different players in this mind-boggling game of wits, you could forgive even Bertie's peerless valet Jeeves for not quite knowing what to do next.
The Code of the Woosters is Wodehouse at the very peak of his abilities. I laughed till I cried the first time I read it, and despite having read it a dozen times since, it has never ceased to amuse. From Stiffy's Aberdeen terrier Angus, who “looks like a Scottish elder rebuking sin from the pulpit”, to the cryptic pronunciation, “I know all about Eulalie” which reduces Spode from a ravening beast to gentle, cooing compliance, this book is unforgettable. Read it, enjoy it, and marvel at Wodehouse's skill.
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
I slept ill when at last I sought my bed, and through the night I nursed my bitter grief, huddling to me the corpse of the love she had borne me as a mother may the corpse of her first-born.
Monday, February 14, 2011
Friday, February 11, 2011
In the liner notes for her CD, Christina introduces the song briefly:
6. Highland Hymn
Traditional Scottish melody/ Dùghall Buchanan (1716-176-?)
A Highland poet and a self-educated preacher (known as "the John Bunyan of the Highlands"), Buchanan assisted in translating the New Testament into Scottish Gaelic. The unique beauty of Buchanan's poetry is considered to be untranslatable into English. This may be the first recording of this hymn, originally Earbs' a Chriosduidh (Christian Confidence). In 1888 the hymn was set to 'an ancient Gaelic air' in Songs and Hymns of the Scottish Highlands.
by Dùghall Buchanan
Lord, if Thou plantest me in Christ,
In bloom shall burst my withered tree.
Weighed down to earth its boughs shall be
With graces as with fruits unpriced.
Oh, grant an earnest of Thy love,
Which shall me from life's terrors save,
And all the horrors of the grave.
And raise my thoughts to heaven above.
Then let the billows rise in pride.
Let thunders through the heavens roar,
Come earthquakes, plagues, and famines sore.
Dispensing death on every side ;
Be Thou the God of my poor soul,
Their friendship I shall then enjoy ;
No sea can drown, nor plague destroy.
Nor fire burn, but with Thy control.
While Thou hast power in Thine arm,
From every ill I am secure,
And as my God can ne'er be poor,
Want cannot cause my soul alarm.
My hope, desire, and fear for aye
Shall in my God concentred dwell,
For heaven and earth and lowest hell
Shall my Almighty King obey.
Monday, February 7, 2011
Saturday, February 5, 2011
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Wednesday, February 2, 2011
Beau Sabreur, the sequel to Beau Geste, is the Major's story. How he travelled to join the Legion; how he lived a life of adventure and danger and excitement; how he travelled in disguise as a spy; how he dueled and battled in the pursuit of his stern Duty to France. This is a melodramatic romance, I might as well let you know at once, and so (naturally) this love of Duty calls forth a corresponding scorn of the wiles of women in the gallant Major's heart. Only a fool would give his heart to a woman; the wise man stands free, and is not enslaved by a glance or led about by feminine whims.
You can already see where this story is going, can't you? The Major meets--and is captivated by--Miss Mary Hankinson Vanbrugh, an American lady travelling, somewhat unwisely, in the desert as the guest of the commandant of the French-held town of Zaguig. All too soon Zaguig becomes a formerly French-held town; in a bloody uprising, its inhabitants rid themselves of their shackles. De Beaujolais is torn three ways--between his Duty, which calls him away at once bearing important news to his superiors; his brother-soldiers, who are left to perish defending the citadel; and his natural inclination to rescue Miss Vanbrugh, fling Duty to the winds, and whirl her away to the Saharan equivalent of Gretna Green.
Meanwhile, there have among the Arab tribes risen to prominence two mysterious men who have welded those splintered tribes into a force to be reckoned with. Though he has saved life, love, and honour intact from the ruin of Zaguig, the trial of Major Henri de Beaujolais's love and honour has only just begun...
This is a really hard book to classify. Oh, it's not a good book; it lacks all the brilliance of Beau Geste and most of that book's good points, while capitalising heavily on its weak points. In fact I found it slightly infuriating.
From the summary so far, you will be forgiven for supposing that it's complete bosh from beginning to end--silly romantic stuff, over which young ladies like myself might be supposed to drop silent tears. It might as well, you say, have been written by Rosie M Banks.
Well, not quite.
Halfway through this gelatinous plot, the book abruptly changes gears and commences to laugh at itself. We hear a different side of the story. We are thrown to the care of different characters. Instead of slush, we are treated to comedy that is nearly as tiresome. It wraps up with a plot twist--or maybe more of a slight hiccup--that does not amaze, since we guessed it on page 37 when it was first foreshadowed.
This mid-story change of gear is not entirely unfortunate. There's quite a lot in the second half that is a good deal funnier and more interesting than the first. And it's nice to know that PC Wren could laugh at his own melodrama. But the problem with deflating that romantic bubble, so carefully overblown in part 1, is that the book then explodes with a faint pop, leaving only a quickly-dispersed mist behind. An anticlimax, in fact. It is as though you were watching a play, and halfway through, found yourself looking into the green-room and the wings.
Beau Sabreur is memorable, but for all the wrong reasons. Read it only if you really, really want to know what happened to the characters from Beau Geste...
Gutenberg Australia etext