Happy Chinese New Year, and welcome to the Year of the Snake.

Quite coincidentally, I spent the weekendre-watching the 13-part classic BBC series I, Claudius from 1976, the opening credits of which feature a snake (which appears to be a viper) undulating across a mosaic containing the series title (pictured left). The DVD extras, which date from various years, are first-rate.

I’ve also been watching Derek Jacobi (who starred as Claudius) in the Cadfael mystery series, set in 1100s England. It’s pretty thin stuff (and much changed from the books by Ellis Peters). I’ve read two of the omnibus print collections, and they’re much richer.


On 1 February, Abigail Nussbaum had some new Pride and Prejudice thoughts

Among them that Darcy is “an introvert desperately trying to tamp down [his] anxiety at being forced into company with so many strangers” when he brusquely declines to dance with Lizzie at their first meeting, not “a depressive who needs Lizzie to be his Prozac,” as a Guardian post I referred to on 30 January would have it.

Jessa Crispin, editor of the Bookslut site, has written a number of posts lately about depression and anxiety and about their being, in part, caused by our culture and, oops, our social media are rapidly making things worse. On 5 February, Ms. Crispin interviewed Ann Cvetkovich, author of Depression: A Public Feeling (Duke University Press, 2012). At one point in the interview, Dr. Cvetkovich said, “I do have a hunch that as someone whose experience of ‘clinical depression’ (although I resist that diagnosis) emerges from anxiety, I may belong to that class of people who don’t need the stimulant qualities of Prozac and is made more agitated by it.” So for her as for Darcy, Prozac would be exactly the wrong treatment. On 6 February, Ms.… continue reading


Remains dug up in Leicester were those of Richard III

I’d known via The History Blog that coming out today was an announcement on whether the remains dug up in Leicester were those of Richard III, and I wasn’t surprised that the skeleton did turn out to be his. I wasn’t happy, however, that the remains will be reinterred in Leicester Cathedral rather than in the cathedral of York Minster. After Richard was killed on Bosworth Field in 1485, the city of York wrote in its records, according to Josephine Tey, “This day was our good King Richard piteously slain and murdered; to the great heaviness of this city” (p. 186, 1982 Penguin reprinting of The Daughter of Time). The King had been well thought of in the North of England.

It was Tey’s novel, published in 1951 and never out of print since, that made me think well of Richard III, many decades ago. I’ve scanned the cover of my edition because I’ve never found a cover I liked so well (and the portrait is referred to in the book, so the image is essential). The book’s title is derived from a saying of Francis Bacon (1561–1626): “Truth is the daughter of time—not of authority.”… continue reading


Set back the cause of feminism and female suffrage

I was dismayed to learn from the 24 January 2013 issue of The London Review of Books that the Titanic sinking of 15 April 1912 set back the cause of feminism and female suffrage. In an essay and seven-book review entitled “Why Name a Ship After a Defeated Race?”, Thomas Lacqueur said, in part:

“When the collision happened there was no evacuation plan…. Contingency, chaos and prejudice had as much to do with who was saved as class. The highest mortality rate was not in steerage but among the men in Second Class, who died at twice the rate of men in steerage and five times the rate of women there….

“In fact, this still misses the big story: gender. First-class passengers were indeed 37 per cent more likely to survive than third-class. But men in all classes were 58 per cent more likely to die than women. Since there were three times as many women as men in Third Class and more or less even numbers in First, sexual selection took its greatest toll there…. The reason for gender disparities is clear.

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From my costume collection is this detail from the Atlas silk ÅŸalwar

From my costume collection is this detail from the Atlas silk ÅŸalwar (very wide trousers) for a bride from the city of EskiÅŸehir, Turkey. It’s called Atlas silk because it comes from the Atlas moth (Attacus atlas) rather than the much more commonly farmed Silkworm moth (Bombyx mori).
On 8 January 2012 I posted a photo of an EskiÅŸehir bride with the model wearing ÅŸalwar of red velvet embroidered in gold.
[Edited to add on 15 March: I’ve learned that my white/gold costume is from the town of Kırka, south of the capital city, EskiÅŸehir, whose name is the same as the province’s. Only in the capital is the red-velvet bride’s ensemble worn. I’ve also discovered that I’m missing a number of pieces of my white/gold set (I have only the jacket and trousers), and that the same costume design was also produced in purple silk brocade. I’ll do another post on the subject anon.]


200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the publication (not the writing) of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, so it’s appropriate that I say a few words and provide some links. (Fear not, any non-Austen fans [who are you people?]: I’ll be talking about other stuff too.)

First up is “Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice at 200: Looking Afresh at a Classic” in The Guardian, 26 January 2013, by Bharat Tandon (writing about Mrs. Bennet sympathetically), John Mullan (about Mr. Bennet, damningly), Zoe Williams (Lizzie Bennet, unsympathetically), Sebastian Faulks (Mr. Darcy is a depressive who needs Lizzie to be his Prozac), P.D. James (who writes an unpersuasive alternate history wherein George Wickham succeeds in life and Mr. Darcy fails), Paula Byrne (Lydia Bennet), Janet Todd (Mary Bennet) and Lucy Mangan (Charlotte Lucas). The reassessments of Mr. Bennet, Lizzie, Mr. Darcy and Charlotte rearranged my thinking a trifle.

Not as “fresh” because it’s from October 2005 but no less valuable for that is critic Abigail Nussbaum’s post “4 Popular Misconceptions About Pride and Prejudice.” The four are “Jane Austen wrote chick-lit,” “Elizabeth Bennet is a ‘modern’ woman,” “Mr.… continue reading


Among the things I’m learning from Foyle’s War

Among the things I’m learning from Foyle’s War is what “barrage balloons” were (to damage/redirect enemy planes, especially bombers). I’d seen them mentioned in novels but their use wasn’t explained. I’d assumed they had the same function as dirigibles in World War I (as observation balloons and, believe it or not, bombers).

I’m greatly enjoying the performance of Honeysuckle Weeks (her real name!) as Sam Stewart, Foyle’s driver, whose insouciance is a much-needed foil to the reserved mien of Detective Chief-Inspector Christopher (never “Chris”) Foyle. And I’m keeping my ear in training by listening to the multiplicity of British (and Irish) accents on offer; usually I can understand people on first hearing, but sometimes I have to “wind back” the DVD and re-listen. And it’s great to see so many familiar faces as guest-stars, even though they may have aged so much they’re unrecognizable except by their distinctive voices—for example, Adrian Lukis, who played George Wickham in the 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice, or Roy Marsden, who played detective Adam Dalgliesh in many dramatizations of P.D. James novels but first came to my attention in the Cold War spy series The Sandbaggers (1978–80).… continue reading


Some fiction I’ve been reading lately include Hilary Mantel’s 1992 historical novel A Place of Greater Safety

Set mostly in Paris during the French Revolution. A review had recommended it, so I read it on my Kindle, purchased in order to cut down on the weight of luggage I toted to Stockton camp in the summer. (Aside: A Stockton article will be along soon.) As I knew that two of Safety’s primary characters (Robespierre and Danton) would be guillotined during the Terror, there was little suspense, but rather a sense of doom that made the novel difficult to finish. I did grow to like Danton, however, and his friend Camille Desmoulins (a historical character of whom I’d never heard), so their fates were saddening. Still, I would not recommend this work of Mantel’s but rather the two (soon to be three) Thomas Cromwell novels of recent vintage, which I’ve praised in this blog before.

   Although I don’t make a habit of reading mystery novels as I can rarely find an author whose prose style matches what I need from a writer, I’ve been enjoying Anne Zouroudi’s series, set in modern Greece, that began with The Messenger from Athens (2007).… continue reading


After too long a hiatus, I’m back

With loads of stuff to add to the blog. For now, I’ve updated the Links page and added thereto a humorous site that’s updated weekly: “Sign Language,” run by the travel section of The Telegraph site in the UK. Among the oddball signs that I didn’t include in my Links write-up was one whose origin seemed to be a drugstore window in the US or Canada: “Attention shoppers: Due to manufacturing issues, we are currently out of good sense. We are sorry for any inconvenience,” posted 31 July 2012, and this notice in an Australian washroom: “Dear Patrons: Please remember female sanity products should be placed in the Sanity bins of the toilet cubicles,” posted the week of 10 July.

Near the end of July, a reader asked me how the petunias, pictured in the entry below, were doing, and I had to report that the petunias were no more. (As were the Sweet William.) However, the pink geranium that shared the planter is clinging to life (though finished flowering). I transplanted it to its own, smaller, pot in order that it may continue its work of enriching our atmosphere with oxygen, and because I couldn’t bear to pitch it.… continue reading


Seems that I’m not the only fan of actor Sean Bean

Seems that I’m not the only fan of actor Sean Bean who’s rebelling against the habitually unhappy fates of the characters he plays. Yesterday on the blog was news of a tongue-in-cheek campaign by the RockPaperCynic comics site whose wording I’ve retyped here, since I can’t find the page on the comics site: “Since 1986 Sean Bean has died in over 20 film and TV productions. [Next on the page: a photo of him looking doomed in season 1 of Game of Thrones.] He has been BRUTALLY KILLED by bow and arrows, handgun, revolver, shotgun, machine gun, bayonet, satellite crushing, freezing, slashing, cow stampede, hanging, live burial, impaling, beheading, drowning, exploding, stabbing, dismemberment, cloning and other dangers. One Sean Bean dies every 1.24 years. But you have the power to stop it. Support the Save Sean Bean Campaign. Let’s try to make it through 2012 without killing Sean Bean.”

    But, wouldn’t you know it, second in the comment thread at Tor was this: “Sean Bean has already been killed once this year: The new show Missing opens with his death.”… continue reading