Entries in It has turned her brain (63)


This Blessed Plot


It's official: we are vacationing in England this August. Oh, the rapture!  If it were possible, I am an even bigger Anglophile than I am a Francophile, and I will be in heaven for the two and a half weeks we are in that green and pleasant land.

Building on the success of last summer's trip to France, we are again exchanging houses through the HomeLink service.  I highly recommend the house exchange experience, even though finding an English family was much harder than finding a French family.  Perhaps it's the economy, but we sent out a whopping 35 offers this year before getting an acceptance as opposed to last year's 10 or so. 

We'll be staying in a lovely house in Twickenham, which is right near Windsor and about a half hour from central London.  We'll visit the city often, I'm sure, but we'll also venture to places like Oxford, Cambridge, Stratford, Canterbury, and Down Ampney.  If the kids get their way, we'll also make an overnight pilgrimage to Liverpool, but that is still in negotiation.  And I have a special, secret destination planned for Patrick's birthday, though I can't reveal the details of that yet.  But it's going to be amazing, honey.

As of today, our trip is exactly six months away, which means it's time to prepare.  I love to know as much as possible about a place before I visit it, even if I've been there before (and this will be my fifth trip to England, lucky girl that I am).  As I did last year, in the next 26 weeks I'll be providing as much context as possible for myself and the kids.  Let me count the ways.... 

I am agog at how many fabulous Masterpiece Theater miniseries are available through Netflix, including:

  • The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
    Wives and Daughters
    The Secret Life of Mrs. Beeton
    Bleak House
    The Buccaneers
    Daniel Deronda
    and so many, many others....

At minimum, I want to read or re-read:

  • The Pilgrim's Progress, by John Bunyan (yes, again)
    Albion: The Origins of the English Imagination, by Peter Ackroyd
    London: The Biography, by Peter Ackroyd
    The Life of Thomas More, by Peter Ackroyd
    English Music (a novel), by Peter Ackroyd
    (Can you tell I adore Peter Ackroyd?)
    Eden Renewed (a biography of Milton), by Peter Levi
    Middlemarch, by George Eliot
    The Dead Secret, by Wilkie Collins
    The Faerie Queen, by Edmund Spenser
    The Canterbury Tales, by Geoffrey Chaucer
    Pamela, by Samuel Richardson
    The Weight of Glory, by C.S. Lewis
    Martin Chuzzlewit, by Charles Dickens
    The Tempest, by William Shakespeare
    Henry V, by William Shakespeare
    and we'll see what else I can get through.

I hope we can see some Shakespeare on our trip, but we'll also see Troilus and Cressida and The Taming of the Shrew beforehand, both performed by the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival.

Ah, the glory that is English music.  From Tallis and Gibbons to Britten and most especially my beloved Vaughan Williams, English classical music speaks to my soul in a way that is unparalleled.  And then there's all the pop magic, from The Beatles to Led Zeppelin, and from The Kinks to The Arctic Monkeys.  It will pretty much be playing constantly (not that that's anything different from the norm around here).

And the art!  The Pre-RaphaelitesNashGainsboroughConstable!  Need I say more?

Books for the kids?  Right now, I'm reading the first Harry Potter book to Daniel and Tess, and I'm reading The Hobbit to James and Hope; I expect we'll continue with both series for the foreseeable future.  I hope the bigger kids will re-read The Chronicles of Narnia and The Dark is Rising series on their own.  Anne will get plenty of the Alfie series by Shirley Hughes and repeated readings of all of John Burningham's books.  I'm pretty sure I can convince Christian to read at least C.S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters and Dickens's Oliver Twist, and I know he wants to re-read all of the Sherlock Holmes stories, but he has so much reading to do for his AP English and History classes that I can't be too pushy.

Soon I'll post a list of the places we'll go, but as for preparatory education, there you have it.  I'm sure I haven't listed some of your favorites; there's only so much time, after all.  But if there is something I must include, be it several James Mason films or a detailed review of the Romantic poets (you know who you are, people), then let me know.


Frenchification by Immersion

In a little over a month, we are trading houses for three weeks with a family who lives near Versailles. We found our house exchange through HomeLink, and we are very excited about our long-overdue vacation. Patrick and I took a three-week trip to France and Switzerland sixteen years ago; it remains one of our fondest memories.  I anticipate that this trip will become a highlight of family lore for years to come.

As of last Friday, school is finally out.  It’s time to begin our preparations. Because I am paranoid and prideful, I find I must add “clean out and organize every closet, cupboard, and drawer” to my already lengthy To Do list. I know, I know; but the French family will be living here for three whole weeks, and what if it rains a lot, and the kids play Hide and Seek, and one of them gets lost not in Narnia, but in some unpleasant little purgatory like our linen closet or the arts and crafts cupboard?

Long time friends and Novembrance readers will remember that I homeschool our kids every summer. This year, except for working on Daniel’s reading and Tess’s math, we are setting aside our usual curriculum and focusing exclusively on France.

We’ll be reading or re-reading:

Linnea in Monet’s Garden
The King in the Window
A Company of Fools
The Red Keep
A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver
Katie Meets the Impressionists
The Annotated Mona Lisa
The Da Vinci Code*
The Eight*
The Count of Monte Cristo
Paris to the Moon

We’ll be watching or re-watching:
The 400 Blows
My Father’s Castle
My Mother's Glory
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Cyrano de Bergerac
An American in Paris
The Scarlet Pimpernel

And listening to:
Charles Trenet
Maurice Chevalier
Edith Piaf
Charles Aznavour
Yves Montand
Les Alchimistes
Saint Privat
Plastic Bertrand

Each of the kids will be using the fantastic Rosetta Stone program every day, and I’ve pulled out my old Champs Elysées CDs. As I mentioned once long ago, I try not to think about how badly my French has eroded since my mission and those years of intensive study in college. I’ll set regret aside and focus on doing my best.

Food, of course, will not be neglected in our study. Croissants, cassoulet, escargots, steak frites, crepes Nutella, and chocolat chaud will all be consumed in anticipation of the culinary delights we will encounter in France.

Places we plan to visit while there:

Within Paris

La Cathédrale Notre Dame
La Sainte-Chapelle
Le Louvre
La Musée d’Orsay
Café Angelina
La Tour Eiffel
L’Arc de Triomphe
La Bastille

Outside Paris
Parc Astérix

* Christian gets a couple of softballs due to his summer reading requirements for AP English. James is determined to finish the unabridged version of The Count of Monte Cristo (866 pages--he's about a third of the way through), and I am re-acquainting myself with my beloved yet long-neglected M. Proust.

We know we are beyond lucky to be having such a grand adventure, and we plan to make the most of it. It won't be a whirlwind tour; three weeks will afford us the luxury of taking our time to enjoy the riches that will surround us.  I can't wait!


Define "great."

"The real Brahms…is nothing more than a sentimental voluptuary…the most wanton of composers…his wantonness is that of a great baby…rather tiresomely addicted to dressing himself up as Handel or Beethoven and making a prolonged and intolerable noise.” —George Bernard Shaw, in The World, 21 June 1893

“The final business of art is not with ‘impressions’….The man who can convey an impression of what he has heard is listened to only until that other man comes who has both the impression and the knowledge. We want not ‘impressionists’ but ‘expressionists,’ men who can say what they mean because they know what they have heard. In art we want the same. We want…still more that the artist should be at pains to give us of his knowledge, and we want not always the scratches and blotches and misty suggestions of the ‘impressionist’ drawings…” —Unsigned Review: “The Impressionists and the ‘Values’ of Nature,” in Artist, 1 May 1883

“[In Moby Dick,] the idea of a connected and collected story has obviously visited and abandoned its writer again and again in the course of composition. The style of his tale is in places disfigured by mad (rather than bad) English; and its catastrophe is hastily, weakly, and obscurely managed. Our author must be henceforth numbered in the company of the incorrigibles who occasionally tantalize us with indications of genius, while they constantly summon us to endure monstrosities, carelessnesses, and other such harassing manifestations of bad taste as daring or disordered ingenuity can devise....” —Henry F. Chorley, in London Athenaeum, October 25 1851

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of conversations about the quest to write the Great Mormon Novel. Will there ever be one? If so, will it be literary fiction? Will it be speculative fiction, which, as I wrote here, is a genre in which LDS writers feel especially at home? Or will it defy categorization, as great art often does until the critics and marketers catch up?

The first quote at the top of this post comes from the book The Lexicon of Musical Invective, by Nicholas Slonimsky, which presents scathing reviews of every significant classical music composer from Beethoven onward—all written by prominent reviewers who were the composers’ contemporaries. Chopin, Debussy, Gershwin, and many others whom we now revere as geniuses were often held in utter contempt by arbiters of taste of their day (note: this makes for highly entertaining reading).

As all three quotes above show (and the emphases are mine), this critical short-sightedness is not limited to reviews of music. Often the consuming public needs the perspective that the passage of time affords to recognize artistic genius, whatever the medium.

When Orson Whitney called upon the shades of Milton and Shakespeare to spur his people on to greatness, those worthies had already been dead for 200 years. He wielded their names with authority.  History had already given them the stamp of ultimate approval: greatness.

Today, more writers than ever are creating the best stories they possibly can and getting published in one form or another. Is it possible to identify true artistic genius when a work is comparatively new, or do we need to let it age for a while? What are we to do in the meantime? How do you define “great” when it comes to art that is being produced in our lifetime?

Personally, I’m not sure I’m worried about “great” right now. As far as books go, what I want is a thumping good read with characters who feel true and complex, plots that that arc in satisfying fashion, and stories that are imbued with what I call “surprising inevitability.” By this I mean that I can’t necessarily predict what will happen (or, more importantly, how it will happen). But when I reach the last page, I’ll know that the story had to turn out in just this way and no other. (As it happens, this is precisely the kind of books I’m trying to write.)

I’ve read two books recently that exactly fit these criteria. Bound on Earth, by Angela Hallstrom, caught my attention when it won the Whitney Award for Best Novel by a New Author this year. Judges, I concur. Bound on Earth is a series of interconnected narratives told by characters who feel real and familiar. Hallstrom’s writing is graceful and spare, and her expositional judgment is keen.  Highly recommended.

I gather as I scan the reviews that the press has not been kind to Shannon Hale’s The Actor and the Housewife. I, however, liked this book very much. Pregnant LDS mother Becky Jack meets her favorite movie star under highly unlikely circumstances. Said star finds himself drawn to Becky and her quirky charm, and the two become best friends. Yes, the premise is a fantastic one, but story feels true and believable.  I easily identified and sympathized with the main character and her family. The book's chatty, confessional style served as a skillful counterpoint to what is ultimately a tale of heartbreak.  I literally laughed (many, many times) and cried (at least twice, with more wellings here and there) while reading it—and Ms. Hale, that doesn’t happen very often.

Another plug for both Hallstrom and Hale: they have written mainstream books with well-drawn and three-dimensional LDS protagonists. It’s one of my dearest dreams to see interesting and complex Mormon characters become as familiar to the general public as those of other faiths and cultures. These writers have made a great beginning toward realizing this dream; I hope to follow in their footsteps someday very soon.


Technical Difficulties

I am frustrated to report that there seems to be a problem with the recipe titles in some copies of Comfortably Yum. The proof copy that I initially received was fine, but when I ordered a big box full of copies for Leonora to sell at The Country Goose, one copy out of the twenty had illegible titles. Since then, I've gotten reports from five friends whose copies have similar problems.

I am so sorry about this. If you have received an imperfect copy, please let me know so that I can complain (further and even more vociferously than I already have). If you ordered it through CreateSpace, here's a link that will let you order a replacement copy. If you ordered it through Amazon, click here to get a new copy sent to you.


Joyous Easter!

He Is Not Here, by Walter Rane


by George Herbert

Awake, sad heart, whom sorrow ever drowns;

Take up thine eyes, which feed on earth;

Unfold thy forehead gathered into frowns:

Thy Savior comes, and with him mirth:

Awake, awake:

And with a thankful heart his comforts take.

But thou dost still lament, and pine and cry;

And feel his death, but not his victory.
Arise sad heart, if thou dost not withstand,

Christ’s resurrection thine may be:

Do not by hanging down break from the hand

Which as it riseth, raiseth thee:

Arise, arise: 
And with his burial-linen dry thine eyes:

Christ left his grave-clothes, that we might, when grief

Draws tears, or blood, not want an handkerchief.

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