Friday, 22 October 2010

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

I have always loved so many of the traditional classics - Jane Austen, the Brontes, D.H. Lawrence, George Eliot, Aldous Huxley, Emile Zola, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy etc. etc. I could go on and on.

Elizabeth Gaskell, though, tends not to be rated in quite the same league; but probably somewhat unfairly.

And so, I came to re-read 'North and South' by Elizabeth Gaskell (Vintage Books, 2008) recently. What a truly wonderful book it is; a kind of 'Pride and Prejudice', with a political and social conscience. Although, the last part of the book is not quite so powerful (in terms of a piece of writing), it has to be said. Therefore, despite the fact that, on one level, the plot can be seen to be somewhat more poignant and relevant to many people, perhaps, than 'Pride and Prejudice' does, as a piece of writing it does not really fall into quite the same league.

Never-the-less it is a wonderful book (and anyway, for me, it would be very hard for any book to be able to come up to 'Pride and Prejudice').

Furthermore, the BBC did a wonderful dramatisation of 'North and South', in 2005, starring Richard Armitage and Daniela Denby-Ashe. The book illustrates the differences between the north and the south, with the heroine Margaret Hale (played by Daniela Denby-Ashe) having to move from the south to the north with her parents. And in the north she witnesses dirt and poverty and then meets up with the dashing John Thornton (played by Richard Armitage), the local mill owner. First of all, Margaret thinks John is ruthless and cruel to his workers. She battles with herself.

"She disliked him the more for having mastered her inner will. How dared he say that he would love her still, even though she shook him off with contempt? She wished she had spoken more - stronger." (p. 245)

But in the end, she realises that she has been mistaken and she falls in love with him.

One thing that really impressed me was when I found out that Richard Armitage read the whole of 'North and South' before he started acting the part of John Thornton. That shows real dedication, I think; he holds the book in very high regard. Colin Firth did not do the same before playing the part of Darcy, I understand. But on the other hand, 'who cares'. He was truly wonderful in it! Well, both of the actors are wonderful. I say no more.

Although, I must try to get along to see 'The King's Speech'; the new film that Colin Firth is in. That looks very good.

'Shadows in the Watchgate' by Mike Jefferies

I read this book, 'Shadows in the Watchgate' (Grafton, London, 1991) by Mike Jefferies a few years ago, and decided to re-read it. The first time I read it I just could not put it down. It is a really unusual read. And for me it had a special appeal because it is set in Norwich, Norfolk and refers to places like Castle Meadow and Elm Hill. It is a fantasy revolving around the Norwich taxidermist Ludo Strewth who manages to conjure up evil through the Hand of Glory.

Ludo then also becomes obsessed by the lovely American model Tuppence Trilby, and decides that he wants to preserve her - i.e. kill her and stuff her. She could then sit along all the other stuffed animals in his shop and he could admire her as and when he wanted to. He is able to bring the stuffed animals to life through the magical evil powers that he has been able to conjure up through the Hand of Glory and he uses them to help him with his mission.

Meanwhile, Tuppence buys the Watchgate House, but that can't protect her. Dec Winner the volunteer fireman saves her life, falls in love with her, and tries to help her escape from the taxidermist's dangerous, 'live', stuffed animals. Finally, Dec is able to destroy the Hand of Glory and they are then safe.

Certainly a worthwhile and gripping read. I shall, perhaps, try reading some other books by Mike Jefferies at some point.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

'To Be the Best' by Barbara Taylor Bradford

Finally, on the Barbara Taylor Bradford trail, I read 'To Be the Best' - and now that's enough of Barbara Taylor Bradford for a while! 'To Be the Best' continues with the 'A Woman of Substance' story.
Again, Emma Harte's grand-daughter, Paula, continues to protect and build the Harte empire.
"Harte's of Knightsbridge was the best. The only one of its kind. A legend." (p. 512 - in Omnibus edition, which includes both 'Hold the Dream' and 'To Be the Best', published by Diamond Books in 1993).
Emma Harte opened Harte's of Knightsbridge in 1921. Paula marries Shane O'Neill (descended from Blackie O'Neill, who loved Emma but they never married - somehow their paths never crossed together at the right time). Towards the end the Harte empire is under serious threat, but Paula O'Neill uses her brains and determination and comes out winning.
And on the final page, we learn that Paula and Shane are to have another baby, so all ends happily.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

10 Fascinating Sub-Movements within Feminism

I received an email from a Jena Ellis, informing me about a website entitled 'Online Certificate Programs' -

Also, about a short article that has just been posted on this website, about different types of Feminism. It is entitled '10 Fascinating Sub-Movements Within Feminism' and it briefly describes 10 different types of feminism; namely, Liberal Feminism, Socialist Feminism, Radical Feminism, Anti-Pornography Movement, Sex-Positive Feminism, Cultural Feminism, Separatist Feminism, Conservative Feminism, Postmodern Feminism and Ecofeminism. I did note though, that there was not a section on 'Marxist Feminism'.

Anyway, it is worth having a quick look at (and I told Jena that I would create a short blog entry about it). So, here is the link:

Elton John supporting talented Musicians

Elton John is another musician that I have always very much liked and admired; he has a lot of natural musical talent, I think, and I enjoy a lot of his music.

So, it is wonderful that he is now trying to help young up and coming talented musicians. He seems to be disillusioned with the music industry today, in many ways, with programmes such as 'Pop Idol' and the 'X-Factor', which does not provide very much opportunity for real musical talent to be able to shine through in.

The Sunday Times of 10th October 2010 included an article about the help he is giving to some of these musicians (p.3). The article, by Dalya Alberge is entitled 'I'm still spending - on complete unknowns'. The article reports that Elton John has spent over £1million financing dozens of students at the Royal Academy of Music, London personally financing 42 students to train there. Elton John enrolled himself at the Royal Academy as a classical music scholar over 50 years ago, when he was just 11 years old. He won a scholarship to the academy in its scheme for talented musicians and studied Bach and Chopin there for 6 years, although he dropped out before his final exams. Elton John received a doctorate from the college in 2002. He says that the training that he received at the Academy was 'vitally important' to his career. I think he is very thankful for it, and wants to try to pay something back in some way.

Elton John told the Sunday Times:

"I am so proud to be able to support the academy in any way I can and will always be grateful to them for opening the doors for me and so many other young musicians to develop our talents and live our lives in music."

Next, he is planning a second concert; this time at the Royal Opera House, in order to raise a further £600,000 for the Academy.

Elton John has also helped various other people in the past. Michael Jackson thanked him for helping him to stop taking prescription morphine, for example, and he helped Princess Diana to deal with her bulimia.

I read the newspapers these days, and my heart sinks. The government is 'putting the boot in' here, there and everywhere, and young people are suffering really hard, I think, with the huge proposed increases in tuition fees, along with debt, the recession and a lack of jobs, and unaffordable housing. But anyway, amidst reading all this gloom I suddenly read this wonderful, uplifting article. I think that we should start putting more of our faith in musicians and less in politicians.

Our son Victor Rikowski is doing very well on the music front; his musical talent is really starting to shine through in Bangor in a significant way. Quite a lot of new, good things have already been happening to him on this front, following on from the local Bangor radio programme that he was on a couple of weeks ago, with his band, 'Cold Hands & Quarter Moon'. The person that interviewed them, James McAllister, really rates them, I think, and is doing his best to try to promote them more.

How wonderful it would be if 'Cold Hands & Quarter Moon' could somehow or other be brought to the attention of Elton John!

Friday, 15 October 2010

'Hold the Dream' by Barbara Taylor Bradford

Well, I decided to carry on with the Barbara Taylor Bradford reading, and so next read the sequel to 'A Woman of Substance'. This book is entitled 'Hold the Dream', first published in 1985 by Grafton Books. Emma Harte's grand-daughter Paula McGill Fairley (Paul McGill being the real love of Emma's life) is given the challenge of 'Holding the Dream' - the dream that Emma created, with the huge successful empire that she built up. Towards the end of the book Emma dies. But Paula is very successful; she is very much like her grandmother in many ways; very determined and she certainly manages to 'Hold the Dream'. A good read, although really not nearly as good as 'A Woman of Substance' in my view. The plot and ideas were very similar to those in 'A Woman of Substance' and it did not really have enough new things to say.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

20 Essential Works of Feminist Fiction

I received a surprise email from one Anna Miller alerting me to an interesting short piece, entitled '20 Essential Works of Feminist Fiction'. I said that I would include a link to it on my blog, so here it is:

The list includes one of my all-time favourites - Jane Austen's 'Pride and Prejudice', as well as two other favourites of mine - 'Jane Eyre' by Charlotte Bronte and 'The Colour Purple' by Alice Walker.

Perhaps, I will read some of the other suggestions myself at some point; who knows - have to see.

As it says in the piece: 'The real heroes in our society are those who overcome obstacles to achieve their goals. Women in particular have risen above much of the inequality that previously hindered them from participating in a male dominated world."