Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Beowulf: overview, summary, translated passages

Image copyrighted by artsjournal.com A while back, a Facebook meme was going around about putting up a poem of a poet assigned to you by a friend and tagging others and assigning poets. I was assigned Nobel Prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney. He was considered one of twentieth century's greatest of great poets. In addition to his own œvre, his translation of the Anglo-Saxon prose in verse Beowulf is known to be the definitive transcription.

Image copyrighted by www.deadline.com Beowulf is longest epic poem in Old English with more than 3000 lines. It was composed by an unknown Anglo-Saxon poet in ~700 CE from stories that originated in 500 CE. However, the only surviving manuscript (located in the British Library) is from 1000 CE. In the nineteenth century, Beowulf began to gain prominence among scholars of Old English. However, it was only in 1936 that Oxford scholar J. R. R. Tolkien brought recognition to it as a serious work of art. Heaney's translation sealed its reputation by bringing in into the realm of the accessible and thereby making it popular and readable.

Image copyrighted by cs.shadysideacademy.org Many of the characters in the poem are actual historical figures of pre-Anglo-Saxon times. While the characters in the poem definitely follow the old religions, the poet, who wrote it all down, was definitely Christian. So an imposition of Christianity on undoubtedly Pagan rituals, events, and thoughts is obvious.

Image copyrighted by heorot.dk From the British Library: "Beowulf is a classic tale of the triumph of good over evil, and divides neatly into three acts. The poem opens in Denmark, where Grendel is terrorising the kingdom. The Geatish prince Beowulf hears of his neighbours’ plight, and sails to their aid with a band of warriors. Beowulf encounters Grendel in unarmed combat, and deals the monster its death-blow by ripping off its arm. There is much rejoicing among the Danes; but Grendel’s loathsome mother takes her revenge, and makes a brutal attack upon the king’s hall. Beowulf seeks out the hag in her underwater lair, and slays her after an almighty struggle. Once more there is much rejoicing, and Beowulf is rewarded with many gifts. The poem culminates 50 years later, in Beowulf’s old age. Now king of the Geats, his own realm is faced with a rampaging dragon, which had been guarding a treasure-hoard. Beowulf enters the dragon’s mound and kills his foe, but not before he himself has been fatally wounded. The poem closes with the king’s funeral, and a lament for the dead hero."

A few of my favorite passages from Seamus Heaney's translated work:

The beginning...

So. The Spear-Danes in days done by
And the kings who ruled them had courage and greatness.
We have heard of those princes' heroic campaigns.

* *

Prince Hrothgar...

The fortunes of war favored Hrothgar.
Friends and kinsmen flocked to his ranks,
Young followers, a force that grew
To be a mighty army. So his mind turned
To hall-building: he handed down orders
For men to work on a great mead-hall
Meant to be a wonder of the world forever; 70
It would be his throne-room and there he would dispense
His God-given goods to young and old—

* *

Grendel makes his presence known...

Then a powerful demon, a prowler through the dark,
Nursed a hard grievance. It harrowed him
To hear the din of the loud banquet
Every day in the hall, the harp being struck
And the clear song of a skilled poet
Telling with mastery of man’s beginnings,

* *

The arrival of Beowulf...

The leader of the troop unlocked his word-hoard;
The distinguished one delivered this answer:
"We belong by birth to the Geat people
and owe allegiance to Lord Hygelac.
In his day, my father was a famous man,
A noble warrior-lord name Ecgtheow.
He outlasted many a long winter
And went on his way. All over the world
Men wise in counsel continue to remember him.
We come in good faith to find your lord
And nation’s shield, the son of Halfdane.
Give us the right advice and direction.
We have arrived here on a great errand."

* *

The man whose name was known for courage, 340
The Geat leader, resolute in his helmet,
Answered in return: "We are retainers
From Hygelac’s band. Beowulf’s my name.
If your lord and master, the most renowned
Son of Halfdane, will hear me out
And graciously allow me to greet him in person,
I am ready and willing to report my errand."

Friday, April 18, 2014

Picture Day Friday: One of Madagascar's Wacky Animals

What a graceful dancer. Madagascar's Verreaux's sifakas is dancing here in the Berenty Nature Reserve. It is a medium-sized primate in one of the lemur families. The fur is thick and silky and generally white with brown on the sides, top of the head, and on the arms. The face is black and hairless and the long tail is used as a balance when leaping from tree to tree. Its body is so highly adapted to an arboreal existence that on the ground its only means of locomotion is hopping (which is highly unusual).

[Image copyrighted by livescience.com.]

[Image copyrighted by Kevin Schafer of arkive.org.]

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

2014 TBR Reading Challenge: Pride & Prejudice: the movie adaptation

As part of Wendy Crutcher's 2014 TBR Challenge, here are my brief comments on Pride & Prejudice: the movie adaptation by screenwriter Deborah Moggach.

This is a lovely companion to the 2005 movie adaptation of Austen's Pride & Prejudice. It's published as a full-color magazine on thick lustrous paper. One of the reasons Moggach says that the movie was so successful was due to "impeccable attention to detail [paid] to the reality of life in the 18th century." I concur. Would that all historical films did the same. A historical film that is not mere costume drama has to research, research, research, and implement the research on the screen.

The screenwriter, of course, relied heavily on Austen's words, but so did the actors. Keira Knightley said, "It's a different process to do a film based on a book, because the inner dialogue of your character is all written down. So if there was ever a scene where I was having problems, we would go back to the book and in some way or another it was right there."

The clothing of the characters was changed to reflect the character's growth arc, particularly apt in Darcy's case. What a wonderful notion! Novelists don't do this at all. Clothing of a character is appropriate to the setting, but rarely reflects the character's growth arc. Costume Designer Jacqueline Durran writes, "If you look closely, Darcy's costumes in the course of the film change quite radically. In the early scenes, he's wearing a very buttoned-up, very rigid, very stuff style of costume. In the middle state, he's wearing the same style but in a softer fabric and a softer cut, and by the end of the film, he's wearing a much looser cut, an open jacket, a more country style, less upright, less rigid."

I have to say though, her choice of that open long coat as he comes striding across in the early dawn as well as those raggedy capris with bare legs in the last scene was so not period-correct and looked just awful.

Other than the fact that the movie was filmed entirely on location (at seven different manor estates), here's the reason why this movie was period pitch perfect: Director Joe Wright writes, "I think one of the problems is that when people do period films they rely on painting from the period, because there is no photography. But in a painting, everything is formally composed. It's not real life. Then people shoot wide shots to show off the period detail of the sets, whereas I think the detail is in the small things."

A final classy touch is the translucent vellum centerfold where the letter Darcy writes to Elizabeth is printed in Jane Austen's handwriting font. Lovely, lovely!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Conference on Women in Anglo-Saxon England

Starting tomorrow, the University of Manchester is hosting a three-day medieval conference at Hulme Hall in the Victoria Park area of Manchester.

For £90 (£60 for students and state-dependent individuals), you're allowed to attend the lectures and discussions and partake of the refreshments and the wine reception at the Women in Anglo-Saxon England conference. The conference runs April 15–17.

Some of the interesting talks that I'd love to attend are:

The Wife’s Lament: Possibly the Most Perfect Anglo Saxon Riddle Ever Written

Embroidery Workshops

Women's work in Anglo-Saxon food production

Vocabulary for Man, Woman and Person in Old English Prose

Female names in Old English

Women's health

Female Power and Authority in the Seventh Century

Early Anglo-Saxon elite female jewelry

Female Identity and Foster-Relationships in Old English Literature

Scholarly Women of the Later Seventh Century: Learning, Liturgy and Luxury: an insight through the words of Aldhelm of Malmesbury, first Bishop of Sherborn

Friday, April 11, 2014

Picture Day Friday: Real Biblioteca in Madrid

This library in Madrid, Spain is called the Real Biblioteca del Monasterio de San Lorenzo del Escorial.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A Love Story of Oxford

I have much, much love for this travel memoir on the beauties of Oxford, it's history, it's grandeur, it's conveniences. In the summer of 2002, I paid a flying visit to Oxford under the aegis of a tour company. Whatever I saw, charmed me no end. Ever since, I've been dying to do a summer course there. Before then, I had been angling for a semester abroad. But all in all, life happened, and I have not been able to do it thus far. I'm still holding out hope that one day, I'll be able to wrangle a few summer weeks at one of the colleges. Oh, to have that happen!

(The picture is of Duke of Humfrey's reading room at the Bodelian Library in Oxford.)

Monday, April 7, 2014

Jane Austen Summer Program at Chapel Hill

The University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill offers a Jane Austen Summer Program every June, focusing on one book every summer. In 2013, they started off the program with Pride & Prejudice; this year it's Sense & Sensibility.

Students to the program will hear guest speakers lecture about the book, Austen's body of work, the time period, and other details in the context of the book. In addition, visits to special exhibits and lively group discussions will be enjoined with all encouraged to participate. Registrants will also be able to dance at a Regency ball and sit down to a formal English tea.

According to the program notes: "The Austen Summer Program is designed to appeal to established scholars, high school teachers, graduate students, and undergraduate students—anyone with a passion for all things Austen is welcome to attend!"

The JASP residential symposium runs from June 12–15 this year and registration is now open.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Picture Day Friday: Book Cake

Isn't this the most gorgeous cake ever? I could never eat it. I'd want this preserved in a glass cabinet.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Seattle Edible Book Festival

Image copyrighted by Frybooks Image copyrighted by ShorelineArts.net Every year, we visit the Seattle Edible Book Festival to admire all the wonderful bookish puns recreated in food form. This festival is held in conjunction with the International Edible Book Festival around April 1 in celebration of the birthday of French gastronome Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826).

Your ticket gets you into the viewing part of the festival, the voting part of the festival, and also the eating part of the festival. That's right. After the judging is over, you get to walk around and put a piece of whatever tickles your fancy onto your plate or in a takeaway box they provide.

Image copyrighted by Seattle Edible Book Festival Some of the "books" the festival has seen are: 100 Bears of Solitude crafted from 100 individual Gummi bears, Le Petit(four) Prince, LePieAthan, Of Mice and Pen, and The Girl with the Dragon Fondue with a dragon-shaped bread and a whole lot of melted cheese. Here's a link to photos of entries from previous book festivals. The picture on the right is our favorite from 2012: Satanic Purses (in lieu of Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses).

This year's festival was on Saturday, March 29 from 11 o'clock to 2 o'clock at the Third Place Commons in Lake Forest Park, WA. If you're in Seattle next spring, you don't want to miss this. It's a surefire treat, I promise you.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Jaipur Literary Festival

Image copyrighted by the Jaipur Literary Festival Every January, the glittering literati from the world over gather in the fabled Indian city of Jaipur to exchange ideas, present their thoughts, engage in heated debates, and discuss everything under the sun from fiction to biography, from history to music, and much, much more. Music concerts, art displays, and a wide variety of food forms the esthetic nourishment for the literary discussions.

And best of all, the Jaipur Literary Festival is completely free to the general public. As you scroll through the 2014 program by venue or by date (January 17–21), you can watch videos of most of the sessions. The organizers and sponsors of the festival have really gone out of their way to support the idea that knowledge is meant to be shared widely and freely.

The main themes for 2014 were: Crime and Punishment, Democracy Dialogues, Women Uninterrupted, and Endangered Languages.

For a festival that is still in its infancy, started in 2006, it still featured over 240 authors, some of them very big names. Consider these: British celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Mauritian Francophone writer Ananda Devi, Indian historian Urvashi Butalia, Iranian-American religion scholar Reza Aslan, British historian William Dalrymple, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jhumpa Lahiri, British Roman scholar Mary Beard, Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen, British author Geoff Dyer, Harvard professor Homi Bhabha, American novelist Jonathan Franzen, Olympic gold medalist boxer Mary Kom, and on and on.

I have stars in my eyes just reading that program. What would it have been like to have been there. So listen to these talks amidst the splendor of the Diggi Palace, attending "The Greatest Literary Show on Earth!," according to Tina Brown.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Picture Day Friday: Oldest Public Library

Established in 1803, the Scoville Memorial Library in Connecticut is the oldest publicly funded library in the U.S.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Romance Writers' of America Has Announced their RITA and Golden Heart Award Finalists

Today generated a lot of excitement in the romance industry, among writers and editors. The Romance Writers' of America announced their RITA and Golden Heart Award Finalists.

According to the RWA, the RITA award is the highest award of distinction in romance fiction, and it recognizes excellence in published romance novels and novellas. The Golden Heart award recognizes excellence in unpublished romance manuscripts.

The winners will be announced at a fancy Oscars-style black-tie ceremony at the conclusion of the RWA annual conference in San Antonio, Texas. I attended this ceremony for the three years that I went to the conference. It's such a glam affair, with women in long gowns, up-dos and makeup courtesy of salons, fancy-schmancy shoes, a witty host for the ceremony, thank you speeches by the winners, and so on and so forth. It's a night to remember, whether or not you're a nominee, a winner, a big-name writer, or an aspiring writer. The atmosphere in that ballroom is as fizzy and euphoric as champagne.

This year, for the first time, a writer whose book I edited has been nominated. She's none other than the really fabulous historical author Courtney Milan. She's nominated for her book The Countess Conspiracy.

Below please see the RITA and GH nominees in the Historical Romance category. Note that two of the RITA nominees are self-published. This is a big step forward for self-published books.

RITA Awards

Any Duchess Will Do by Tessa Dare
HarperCollins Publishers, Avon Books
Tessa Woodward

The Autumn Bride by Anne Gracie
Berkley Publishing Group, Berkley Sensation
Wendy McCurdy, editor

The Chieftain’s Curse by Frances Housden
Harlequin, MIRA
Kate Cuthbert, editor

The Countess Conspiracy by Courtney Milan
Robin Harders and Keira Soleore, editors

Darius by Grace Burrowes
Sourcebooks, Casablanca
Deb Werksman, editor

Dark Angel: A Gothic Fairy Tale by T J Bennett
Entangled Publishing, Edge
Liz Pelletier and Shannon Godwin, editors

Duke of Midnight by Elizabeth Hoyt
Grand Central Publishing
Amy Pierpont, editor

The Lady and the Laird by Nicola Cornick
Harlequin, HQN
Ann Leslie Tuttle, editor

Love and Other Scandals by Caroline Linden
HarperCollins Publishers, Avon Books
Lyssa Keusch, editor

The Luckiest Lady in London by Sherry Thomas
Berkley Publishing Group
Wendy McCurdy, editor

Never Desire a Duke by Lily Dalton
Grand Central Publishing, Forever
Michele Bidelspach, editor

No Good Duke Goes Unpunished by Sarah MacLean
HarperCollins Publishers, Avon Books
Carrie Feron, editor

Plaid Tidings by Mia Marlowe
Kensington Publishing Corp., Zebra
Alicia Condon, editor

A Rake’s Midnight Kiss by Anna Campbell
Grand Central Publishing, Forever
Amy Pierpont, editor

The Rogue’s Proposal by Jennifer Haymore
Grand Central Publishing, Forever
Selina McLemore, editor

Sins of a Ruthless Rogue by Anna Randol
HarperCollins Publishers, Avon Books
Tessa Woodward, editor

Sonata for a Scoundrel by Anthea Lawson

Golden Heart Awards

Charlene and the Duchess Factory by Lenora Bell

The Earl Next Door by Charis Calhoon

A Haunting Desire by Julie Mulhern

Much Ado about Scandal by Jillian Lark

The Seer by Gwynlyn MacKenzie

A Soldier’s Serenade by Ellen Lindseth

The Unseducible Earl by Sheri Humphreys

Wicked Things by Laura Trentham

A Wild and Wicked Wind by Laura Trentham

Medieval Movies

The esteemed blog Medievalists have compiled an extensive list of medieval-themed movies released in recent years. I've been scrolling through the list and adding them to my Netflix (already overly long) queue. I thought you readers of my blog might be similarly interested. So I'm the link up here.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Nalanda University of India

In its heyday, the ancient University of Nalanda was the premier education institution of higher learning in the world, long before the universities of Oxford, Heidelberg, or Bologna even came into existence.

Nalanda was started in the 5th century, and it took 200 years for the original Nalanda to flourish into a leading center of learning. It was primarily a religious institution and taught Buddhism, medicine, philosophy, and mathematics. Thousands of students and scholars came from all over the world to study and to teach there. Extensive dormitories and kitchen facilities served to keep up with the influx of people. Big lecture halls as well as small ones served to meet the needs of the various courses taught there. The university was destroyed by invaders in 1193, leaving behind only ruins as testimonial to its glorious past.

An international effort by modern-day scholars is working towards achieving their vision to rebuild Nalanda into a world-class university once again. The Nalanda Mentor Group is chaired by Nobel Laureate, Professor Amartya Sen, who is also the university's chancellor. They draw inspiration from the essence of the old Nalanda: A place where cutting-edge knowledge was produced.

The first students arrive this year. Modern Nalanda will be teaching the modern subjects of humanities, economics, management, sustainable development, Asian integration, and oriental languages. As before, professors and students from all over the world have been attracted to Nalanda's storied past and ambitious present. They want to participate in the forefront of history in the making.

Friday, March 21, 2014

'Before You Hit Send' Editing Workshop

Before You Hit Send is a three-week self-editing workshop for authors to learn the basics ins and outs of looking critically at their manuscript in order to polish it up before either self-publishing it or submitting it to an agent and/or an editor at a publishing house.

Angela James is the editorial director of Carina Press, an imprint of Harlequin. She has years of copy, line, and developmental editing experience under her belt. And most importantly, she shares her expertise unstintingly in the Q & A in the comment sections of the various lessons.

I took this workshop two years ago, and I loved it. I learned so much from it that I kept all my notes. Since then, I have noticed the workshop has only improved.

Angela says here's what you’ll learn: Concrete ideas, tips, tricks and lessons for polishing and self-editing your manuscript. Tips are delivered in 1-3 daily individual lessons along with examples and assignments to help you get the most out of your workshop experience.

Who should attend? Angela says...
•Aspiring authors
•Authors interested in polishing their craft
•Self-publishing authors
•Multi-published authors–you may be surprised by what there still is to learn!
•Freelance editors and copy editors looking to enhance their curriculum vitae
•Anyone interested in learning to edit and copy edit

Much more information is available here.

If you're a writer or editor or interested in writing or editing, I highly urge you to take this class. The cost is $75 and the class starts on Monday, March 24, 2014. I apologize for the short notice; I just found out about it. If you can't make it to this class, the next class will be offered in August 2014.

Picture Day Friday: Cavalia

Two years ago, I had the privilege of watching the Cavalia horsemen perform live. They're pure poetry in motion.

Here's information about the new show by Cavalia called Odysseo.

"Odysseo by Cavalia is a theatrical experience, an ode to horse and man that marries the equestrian arts, awe inspiring acrobatics and high-tech theatrical effects. Set under a 38-meter tall White Big Top, audiences will be transported around the world as more than 60 horses and an international cast play and demonstrate their intimate bond. The 1,393 square meter stage features a real carousel and a magically appearing 302,000-litre lake in front of a stunning video backdrop the size of three IMAX screens."

Image copyrighted by Reuters

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

2014 TBR Reading Challenge: Weathering Winter

As part of Wendy Crutcher's 2014 TBR Challenge, here are my brief comments on Weathering Winter: A Gardener's Daybook by Carl H. Klaus.

This is a memoir about the reflections on the weather and gardening written in an epistolary style, daily from January 1 to March 15. The thrust of the musings are about the effect of wintry weather on the author and on the anticipation of and preparation for spring gardening. So if repetitive flights of fancy over snow and gardening catalogs are not your thing, I'd recommend skipping this small hardcover.

The book would've done better as a long narrative nonfiction piece with a few days as an illustrative sample, rather than the long-winded 189 pages covering two and a half months. Having said that, the writing is gorgeous in a few places: expansive, imaginative, nuanced, and detailed.

"'Can you believe it? Wednesday I was freezing in Ames and today I'm watching a kite in the park.' Watching that kite, I could almost feel the tug of it in my hand, jumping and soaring high on the updrafts, swooping on the shifts of wind, as alive as a bluegill or bass, diving and turning on the end of a line."

You can see that kite. You can feel the wind winging the kite away. Lovely writing.

Here's another one:

"What they also didn't tell us was that during the [solar] eclipse everything around us, including ourselves, would seem to be risk, especially at noon, when the light turned brassy, then dark, like gray glass, like black light, like darkness visible, and the breeze went dead, and the air turned chill, and all the birds fell silent."

Can you see that eclipse shading in and everything going still? Lovely!

Overall, the prose is spare and yet is able to convey the author's rollercoaster of glee and despair over too much or not enough snow, too cold or too warm temperatures, those unending garden planting catalogs thudding down on his doorstep, whether he's seeded his pots too early or too late and when are they going to be ready to be transplanted outdoors, and why certain birds are showing up and others aren't at his bird feeders.

In a memoir, I look for daily musings that act as jumping off points to writing about specific benchmark moments in the author's life and/or important external events that inform on the author's life. There was almost none of that in book. It truly was a day-to-day reporting on the weather and the state of his gardening plans.

There was only one significant external event that was brought in from to time to time and that was the mention of the two named people (and others) from the Kobe earthquake disaster of 1995. However, the way the references to the event and the people were randomly sprinkled into sporadic entries, a propos nothing, it felt more like a "introduce leitmotif here" manipulation.

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Great Dickens Christmas Fair

Image copyrighted by sarnia.8m.comThree months too late, but this just came to my notice. Every holiday season, the Bay Area near San Francisco comes alive with the Victorian era cheer of England with their Great Dickens Christmas fair.

This fair has been in existence for the past 35 years, and it's part crafts fair, part live theater, part reenactment, part environmental theater production, and all parts fun and good Christmas spirit.

The Cow Palace in Daly City is turned into a "120,000-square-foot recreation of London circa 1840. Over the course of five weekends (Nov. 23­–Dec. 22), upwards of 50,000 people" visit to partake of the festivities.

Image courtesy of the British Library"The environment is a clever conglomeration of constructed 'streets' and 'alleyways' with names like Pickwick Place and Petticoat Lane. Shops staffed by vendors in period attire sell everything from antique books to velvet gowns while more than a dozen restaurants and bars serve up a variety of traditional dishes and adult beverages."

All the vendors and costumed actors roaming the 'streets' remain in full character all throughout the day. This adds to the complete immersive experience of Victorian England.

Isn't this just such a cool festival? I hope this year I have the opportunity to go participate.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Picture Day Friday: Historical Author at Work

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Edward Rutherfurd's Rules for Writing Historical Novels

While reading through M.K. Tod's blog, an entry about the Rules for Writing Historical Novels by Edward Rutherfurd caught my eye.

Here are Rutherfurd's seven rules. I've summarized them here, but visit his post for the full explanation of each rule.

1. Don't invent history. You can add people to a scene; and of course you are free to invent incidents of the kind that might have occurred, so long as they slot into the overall pattern of known events.

2. Try to be fair. The people on both sides of every conflict are still human.

3. You can leave doubt about what happened. Usually it's best if the storyline itself is clear, but there well may be doubt about the nature of historical events. These can remain. Occasionally, you may even want to put a brief note in the Preface.

4. Keep the chronology as accurate as possible and avoid distorting history.

5. You can leave things out. You cannot recreate every detail of the past.

6. Complete historical truth is unknowable. At the end of the day, the novel is a construct. All you can do is use the best modern scholarship available.

7. How to test if you've done a decent job? Take the manuscript to a good historian of the period. Ask: "If one of your students wants to read this, would you say, "All right, it won't mislead you.' " If the answer is yes, then it's OK. If not, then it isn't.