Friday, July 17, 2015

Death Be Not Proud by John Donne + updates, including writing

So I've reviewed my backlog of vintage novels, I'm still savouring reading the next, and I thought now might be a good time for a bit of gossip, which I'll round off with a new favourite John Donne poem.


Goodreads tells me I'm still 2 books ahead on my 2015 challenge, which is 90 books. So, yay! 
At the moment I'm reading The Small House at Allington, my annual Trollope. So far it is subtle and bittersweet and a bit sad, and as usual, I'm loving it, but not at high speed.

I picked up The Oxford Book of English Verse, edited by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, in Oamaru, New Zealand. I'll have to tell you all about it sometime, but I am working through the whole thing in a leisurely manner and am in the middle of the Elizabethan poets right now. I had heard paeans of praise to this book, but it actually is that good. Like an endless box of chocolates, and you can never just stop at one.

When I was in New Zealand I got the idea from Rachel Gray to set aside an evening each week for read-aloud time with my siblings. So on Wednesday nights, I've been reading Rolf Boldrewood's Robbery Under Arms aloud to my sisters. It's the classic Australian novel of bushranging and all my brothers loved it growing up--but somehow I never got more than a few chapters in.

I have a couple of non-fiction books I aim to pick up and demolish in the next couple of days as well. Beyond Stateliest Marble: The Passionate Femininity of Anne Bradstreet by Douglas Wilson is one. Captive in Iran by Maryam Rostampour and Marziyeh Amirizadeh is another.


Last night I treated myself to Kenneth Branagh's Cinderella, having heard wonderful things about it from The Rabbit Room. I have mixed feelings about the result. With CGI butterflies, bluebirds and mice, with very Disneyfied set design, with magic that consists mostly of sparkles, and with a fairy godmother (Helena Bonham-Carter, who I didn't recognise at all until thinking, "I can't believe they wrote a character this nutty and didn't get HBC to play her") calling out "Bippedy-boppedy-boop", I couldn't help feeling that something about the story was being trivialised--I say this as one who has never seen the original Disney film. Also the message of kindness and courage was subtly linked to one about trusting your heart, following your heart, etc, and that never goes down well with Scots Presbyterians like yours truly.

That said, I was amazed by how good the movie was. In with all the endless sparkle-ballgown-twirling and handsome-prince-prancing and CGI-bluebirding (oh, aren't I hard to please), the original message of the fairy tale itself shone out unmistakeable and triumphant: HUMILES EXULTAVIT. Branagh's Cinderella is a humble heroine; she is also a decidedly unfeminist brand of heroine who rarely ever appears these days, in that she is a meek, servant-hearted, and forgiving heroine who is tried and tested, but not broken, by a long ordeal. Fanny from Mansfield Park is one such heroine, and I could name others. 

Along with that, this Cinderella also features a Prince who loves, respects, and honours his father even when they disagree; a King who graciously respects his son's marital preferences even though they don't line up with his own, and forgiveness

Though occasionally too cutesy for words, this film is built around a solid core of goodness. I don't know how it happened, but with this and the first Thor movie, Branagh is gaining steady ground in my regard as one of the few directors working today who cares about humility and respects family relationships.


With Pendragon's Heir all safely released, I'm up to my eyebrows in two new projects.

The first is a series of novella-length fairy tale retellings. I got the idea when I had so much fun writing The Rakshasa's Bride last November--my retelling of Beauty and the Beast (see Pinterest board). I have a number of others in various stages of completion:

The Prince of Fishes (Pinterest board) - a retelling of The Fisherman and His Wife, in clockpunk 700s Byzantium. Awaiting final critiques and tweaks.

The Bells of Paradise (Pinterest board) - a retelling of Jorinda and Joringel, in Tudor England and Spenserian Faerie. Awaiting a little characterisation surgery and finalisation.

Never Send to Know (Pinterest board) - a retelling of SPOILERS!, in Jazz Age New Zealand in the style of a Mary Stewart romantic suspense novel (I hope). Two-thirds of the way through a rough first draft.

The second project, I'm not saying too much about at this stage. It's been bubbling very quietly on the back burner of my mind for three and a half years now. It's another major novel, which might end up dwarfing Pendragon's Heir. I've been quietly researching it for several months, and just last week I sat down in fear and trembling to outline the plot, characters, and setting. I hope to have a solid working outline by the end of this month, at which stage, DV, I will plunge into work on the first draft.


A Poem!

One hallmark of Mary Stewart's novels is reference to classic literature. She and her heroines are always exquisitely erudite. Sometimes, as in This Rough Magic, she uses one specific author or work to add thematic resonance throughout the story. I've been trying to do something similar in Never Send to Know, using John Donne's poetry. Here's a favourite sonnet.

Holy Sonnet X
Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so,
For those, whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,
Much pleasure, then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and souls deliverie.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,
And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better than thy stroake; why swell'st thou then;
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.


Jamie W. said...

Oh, hurrah! Besides one of my favorite poems, we get some very exciting writing updates. I particularly can't wait for "The Bells of Paradise" -- Spenser-inspired fantasy? Yes please! Actually, yes please to *all* of them. I've just bought "The Rakshasa's Bride" and can't wait to read it.

And of course I'm desperately curious about the Other Major Novel.

Elisabeth Grace Foley said...

Isn't the Quiller-Couch anthology the one that Helene Hanff mentioned frequently in 84 Charing Cross Road? I'm very interested in that now! And I'd like to read more John Donne too—I finally read the whole "No man is an island" passage" for the first time last year, after coming across references to it in multiple places (I think it was 84 Charing Cross Road and an episode of The Twilight Zone!), and was captivated by the beauty of it, though it's a style of writing I'd never really experienced before.

I can't wait for those novellas, especially the third one!

Alina said...

Super excited to read Never Send to Know! Mary Stewart, Jazz Age, fairy tale retelling — this is my jam!

Suzannah said...

Jamie, I hope you enjoy the fairytale novellas, cause I fully intend to spend as long as I need to on the Other Major Novel. That said, you'll probably enjoy The Rakshasa's Bride, and The Bells of Paradise is a particular pet of mine.

Elisabeth: YES. It's been a while since I read the Hanff book but I'm fairly certain that's the one. Q also compiled an anthology of ballads which I also have. Reading it is an oddly surreal experience, rather like reading Paradise Lost--oh look, all these famous quotes I didn't know were from this poem or that poem! Seems like half of Bertie Wooster's quotations must have been mined from Q.

Alina, I hope it lives up to expectations! Mary Stewart is a tough writer to imitate :P.

St. Reeves said...


I just found your blog while on a quest for good literary blogs and, frankly, it must have been kismet because this is positively perfect. I recently started my own very, very humble blog (mostly to force myself to keep writing and cooking regularly - hence, the name and I was beginning to worry that I was being too wordy. It's not an unfounded fear in an era of Tumblr posts and 140 character limits. I'm very glad to see others out there writing, at length, on interesting topics.

Per the kismet comment, I was only yesterday reliving my childhood by watching Excalibur (1981) and considering whether I should reread "The Once and Future King" or crack open some Tennyson. Instead, I'm going to read "Pendragon's Heir" because it sounds delightful.

Further, "The Bells of Paradise" sounds awesome - not just because the world needs more Jorinda and Joringel, but because Spenserian Faerie is underutilized and Tudor England needs to be wrested from the hands of Philippa Gregory, immediately. Coincidentally, this thought also occurred to me while watching "Orlando" yesterday and skimming the novel.

Happy coincidences all around!

I very, very much look forward to perusing your blog. What a wonderful find! =)


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