Henry VI Part 2 by William Shakespeare

Coming off the heels of 1 Henry VI, the next play, 2 Henry VI, struck me as wonderfully written. I hadn’t found much to stand out in 1 Henry VI. But from the beginning, the analogies, the rhythm of the poetry, and the play on words impressed me in the second play. As the action progressed, I could picture the actors and their reactions. I really enjoyed 2 Henry VI, and in fact I read it twice this month just so I’d feel I understood it fully.

1 Henry VI provided the backdrop for the War of the Roses, capturing the 20 years or so after Henry V’s death and the establishment of the Duke of Gloucester (Lord Humphrey) as the Lord Protector of England, since Henry VI was only an infant at his father’s death. At the end of the play, Lord Suffolk in France has arranged for Margaret of Anjou to marry the now-grown King Henry VI.

Then, 2 Henry VI begins right where the first play left off, with Suffolk arriving in England to deliver Princess Margaret to the King. From the first scene, there is tension as the Lord Protector reads the treaty arrangement that gives Margaret (who is French) to England: two of the recently conquered territories in France have been returned to French rule as a result of the marriage arrangements.

2 Henry VI is about conflicting interests, about secrets among leaders, and especially about what it means to be a leader as chaos begins to erupt around King Henry’s throne. It’s obvious that King Henry VI depends on his Lord Protector (who is his uncle) and others to guide him as king. Although he is technically of age, he is a weak and inefficient leader, although he trusts all his close counselors. This blind trust leads to the beginning of his downfall as friends are executed and his supposed friends instigate uprisings against him. I have not yet read 3 Henry VI, but I can see where it will go.Continue Reading

Bleak House by Charles Dickens, Thoughts at the Middle

Note: this post contains “spoilers” for the first 60% of Bleak House.

I have a book club discussion on this book next Wednesday night, so I have been pushing myself to read quickly: this has been my main reading material this week (after I finished 2 Henry VI, that is — more on that tomorrow, maybe).  At any rate, reading Bleak House in long one-hour stretches in the evening has been very helpful to get me accustomed to the confusion that is Chancery (I’m not worrying about it, as many of suggested I shouldn’t) and the multitude of characters. I’m now about 60% finished.

There are two things that are making Bleak House one of the great novels I’ve read. One is the writing: I love the frequent metaphors that bring the setting to life. The second aspect is the characters. There are so many of them, but they are rather memorable in their own ways, and I enjoy disliking the villains, like Mr Smallwood and Mrs Jellyby (what an awful lady!), and cheering for the wonderful “heros” of the book: John Jarndyce who is so very good, Esther who likewise deserves a great end, and even poor Caddy Jellyby (now Turveydrop) who seems so sincere in her desire to have a happy life despite her mother. These characters that I love have really let me sink in to the story.

I must admit: I did reference a character list in the past week. As some cautioned, this provided very detailed spoilers, so I knew the Lady Dedlock connection to Esther before it was revealed. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I don’t “believe” in spoilers, but I do somewhat wish it could have mysteriously unfolded to me, much as the secrets in The Woman in White were enjoyed on my first read. Nevertheless, I liked seeing how it was going to come: the discussions between that man named Guppy (great name) and Lady Dedlock made complete sense to me, while if I hadn’t known what the underlying secret was I may have been confused as I’d felt in the beginning. So it was a nice experience to read it, knowing the secret, but it may been nice the other way too. I still stand by the “no such thing as a spoiler” philosophy. The story is great regardless.

And yet, last night, Mr Dickens just about lost me. In the last chapters I read of the novel, Mr Krook’s death by spontaneous combustion just about did me in. It was so ridiculous and “out there” that I wondered if Dickens was trying to turn this novel into science fiction. I referred to the footnotes in my Penguin copy of the book (I’ve been reading on my nook) and found a explanation in an appendix that explains the inclusion of the phenomenon in this novel.

For the purposes of the novel, however, perhaps the signal point is in the narrator’s observation: “The less the court understands of all this, the more the court likes it’ (Chapter 33). Not only does Krook’s grisly end give a narrative and symbolic parallel to the theme of self-destruction also played out by Jarndyce and Jarndyce in Chancery, but it is equally surrounded by enticing mystery.

I can really appreciate the symbolic irony of the mysterious death. I must also admit that this portion of the novel sent me on a hunt for more information about spontaneous human combustion. See the Wikipedia page about it, as well as a post about a 2010 and a 2011 possible death.

Personally, I think there must be an alternative explanation for these deaths (as well as those throughout history). I hope Bones does an episode about it (I’m currently watching season 4 with my husband; will it come up at some point?)

At any rate, despite the supernatural science in the novel, I’m enjoying watching the scenes unfold. I’m looking forward to a resolution! And I suspect already that this may be a novel to revisit.

What do you think about spontaneous human combustion? I’m very curious about it, although I’m kind of with one of the scientists quoted in Wikipedia: if it’s so reasonable an explanation, how come it doesn’t happen more often than 200 times in 300 years?

The Shakespeare Thefts by Eric Rasmussen (Brief Thoughts)

I am not personally attached to any physical volume or edition of literature, but I certainly appreciate a nicely bound book, and the history (or marginalia) of old works can be quite interesting.

The Shakespeare Thefts: In Search of the First Folios by Eric Rasmussen (Palgrave Macmillian 2011) is a personal account of Mr Rasmussen’s work with a committee to track down and record the condition of the less-than-300 remaining first portfolios of Shakespeare (originally printed 1623)  in the world. The book is part general history of the creation and issue of Shakespeare’s folio (including a history of the thefts of this most expensive book), part detective work in trying to determine which copies are genuine and where they are (including the personal histories of the owners over the past four centuries), and part bibliophilic adoration of 400 years of marginalia on one of the world’s greatest writer’s first edition (this discussion of the marginalia was the most interesting to me).

It sounds like a lot to cover, but the author’s personal tone (he regularly refers to himself and the things he loves about searching and examining these Shakespeare volumes) gives it a memoir-ish feel, all the while imparting a general appreciation for 400 years of history as found in a particular first edition (or, rather, in the many different first editions that still are in existence). It’s a rather brief work (less than 200 widely spaced pages), but not much more is needed to infuse the reader with a greater appreciation of Shakespeare and where we’ve come since he first was writing. If anything, I wish some of the stories were a bit more drawn out. Most of the chapters were just a few pages long so the stories tended to run together in retrospect. But in general, it was fascinating to learn a bit more about the first readers of the author who would become legendary.

I received a complimentary review copy The Shakespeare Thefts from LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

A post for Allie’s Shakespeare Month.

2011 in Review

I  love charts and graphs, and I’ve loved seeing the rest of yours, so here it’s time to review my reading history for 2011 and look at where Rebecca Reads has been. First, we’ll go graphs and charts! Click on an image to see it larger.

Compare these stats with 2008 (mostly favorite books read lists), 2009, and 2010.

Also, I sincerely apologize that I haven’t linked to my review posts for the favorites books mentioned below. I have not even updated the archives for months either! I’ll try to get caught up one of these days. If you want to know my thoughts about a book, do a search in the search bar on the right…

Continue Reading