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review 2017-10-04 11:00
The Longing for Love: Marie Grubbe by Jens Peter Jacobsen
Marie Grubbe: Seventeenth Century Interi... Marie Grubbe: Seventeenth Century Interiors (Dedalus European Classics) - Jens Peter Jacobsen,Mikka Haugaard

In the nineteenth century the discoveries of Charles Darwin not only revolutionised science and introduced the idea of evolution into human thinking, they also changed literature inspiring authors to a new approach to fiction writing. One of the first in Northern Europe to break with Romantic narrative tradition and to begin telling stories in a naturalistic style that showed man as a beast driven by instincts and urges was Danish botanist and writer Jens Peter Jacobsen (»»» read my author’s portrait). After his successful literary debut with a short story, he published in 1876 the historical novel Marie Grubbe. A Lady of the Seventeenth Century (Fru Marie Grubbe. Interieurer fra det syttende Aarhundrede). It is loosely based on the true story of a Danish noblewoman who died in 1718.

 

Jens Peter Jacobsen introduces Marie Grubbe as a slim and delicate girl with luxuriant hair of dull gold strolling in the gardens of her father’s estate in Tjele in Jutland. She is fourteen years old, motherless and according to the housekeeper, who is also the mother of her illegitmate baby half-sister, she is stubborn and bad. When war with Sweden breaks out, her father takes Marie with him to Copenhagen wishing her to stay with her wealthy aunt there. In fact, the widowed aunt is well-connected with the Royal Court and men like Ulrik Frederik, the favourite illegitimate son of the King, frenquent her house. Marie, however, is a romanitc child and has a crush on the King’s brave half-brother who successfully defended the city against Swedish attack. By the age of seventeen Marie has turned into a pretty young woman with many courtiers and Ulrik Frederik is one of them. Since he is a handsome and very promising young man, Marie agrees to marry him although she loves him only “after a fashion”. After a quiet wedding they pass passably happy months together until the King calls Ulrik Frederik to arms against Spain and he gladly departs to prove himself in combat. Upon his return he is a different man. His violent behaviour, his heavy drinking and philandering repulse her, so she refuses herself to him. What follows are nearly ten years of constant fight that after many tribulations and interference of their families end in divorce after all. And Marie sets out on a journey to Paris with her brother-in-law and lover who leaves her as soon as he realises that she has used up all her money. Grudgingly she returns to live with her father on his estate in Tjele in 1773. After six years her father persuades her through different threats to marry Palle Dyre, a counsellor of justice to the King whom she despises. For ten years their lives are eventless except for “endless quarrelling and bickering, mutual sullenness and fault-finding”. Then the coachman Soren Sorensen Moller commonly known as Soren Overseer enters into her life. She is forty-six and he twenty-two years old…

 

The wild and headstrong Marie Grubbe who isn’t willing to content herself with being well provided for by just any suitable husband higher or equal in social status as her surroundings expect is sometimes called the Danish Madame Bovary, but having read both novels, I can make out only one similarity, namely the fact that the protagonists are women who driven by their longing for romantic love and happiness break social conventions. The plot isn’t particularly complex, the psychological depth, on the other hand, that Jens Peter Jacobsen lends his leading character is remarkable and outdoes even Gustave Flaubert in my opinion. In fact, much of the book’s charm lies in the skilful and meticulous depiction of the thoughts, emotions and unconscious urges of Marie Grubbe. Together with the precise and detailed illustration of scene, society and history it makes a gorgeous novel. To my great relief, Jens Peter Jacobsen’s writing style isn’t longwinded and flowery as that of many of his precursors and contemporaries which made the read very pleasant for me and amazingly modern too considering that the novel first appeared in 1876.

 

It goes without saying that the works of Jens Peter Jacobsen are all in the public domain by now although there may be newer translations that aren’t. Nonetheless, an English edition of Marie Grubbe can be downloaded for free from Project Gutenberg for instance.

 

Marie Grubbe: Seventeenth Century Interiors (Dedalus European Classics) - Jens Peter Jacobsen,Mikka Haugaard 

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text 2017-09-04 05:04
My Kindle First choice for September
The Naturalist (The Naturalist Series Book 1) - Andrew Mayne
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review 2017-06-10 00:00
The Naturalist: Theodore Roosevelt and His Adventures in the Wilderness
The Naturalist: Theodore Roosevelt and His Adventures in the Wilderness - Darrin Lunde https://msarki.tumblr.com/post/161653555123/the-naturalist-theodore-roosevelt-and-his

Perceived as a swash-buckling president, a rough rider, hunter, and preservationist dressed in a buckskin suit, Teddy Roosevelt has, in my lifetime, maintained his larger-than-life persona and for good reason. This book is the first study I have been subjected to regarding the man, and I could not have been more surprised over how much I did like him early on in my reading as I learned of his exploits, trials, and personal loss. Roosevelt like many others did not escape a lifetime of personal tragedy. He endured more than his share. And his evolvement as hunter to protector is of course as unsettling as it is amazing. Roosevelt lived in a vastly different time than we can comprehend fairly today. Financial and societal privilege afforded him many opportunities that most of us have only read about. But unlike others born into this privilege Roosevelt used his to further an agenda for good and to mark his time in history as significant and admirable. Theodore Roosevelt overcame poor health, a weak body, a childhood of city privilege and elitist pressures, to become a naturalist of the first rank. Focussing on the naturalist and human side of his subject Darrin Lunde provides his reader with a most-rewarding portrait of one of our country’s larger-than-life individuals who ever walked the earth.

After his evolvement as a naturalist and his two terms as president of the United States, Roosevelt seemed to change. And the last quarter of the book disturbs me to no small degree. What had previously come in the opening three quarters was a fascinating study of a man engaged with principal and courage. But beginning with the eagerly anticipated and extravagant African safari at the end of his presidency this endearing portrait of Roosevelt became a bit disgusting as he seemed to posture and demonstrate a pretentiousness absent in his early years. Cloaked behind a Smithsonian facade of scientific collection marched a loud and obnoxious cavalcade of pomp and bulge. For example, his sanctioned and personal killing of so many lions appeared to be wasteful, cruel, and extreme. Each subsequent page to follow felt uncomfortable. My disgusting reading about this particular safari was growing by the page and it became more difficult to remain enamored with the man who did so much to protect our lands. Though he did preserve a mass of wilderness for us, he failed in many respects to save the creatures inhabiting these spaces. Roosevelt was a hunter first who protected his sport through conservation. But, in fact, he was a killer of trophy wild animals who, with bad eyesight and poor skills, maimed and made suffer the most beautiful ones roaming the wild among us.

…Scouting around the first day, they saw seventy or eighty buffalo grazing in the open about a hundred yards from the edge of the swamp. It was too dark to shoot, but, heading out again early the next morning, Roosevelt and his party let fly a hail of ammunition to bring down three of the massive bulls.…It was a real chore for him to write in the field, and he joked that it was his way of paying for his fun.

What confounds me is the thinking that must go on in the head of any blood sport hunter. These men must have ignored the fact they were killing a creature that belonged on the planet just as much, or more, than they did. A wild creature of feeling, free to roam the plains being massacred by a privileged as well as massive and pretentious army hiding behind a cover of science, their rabid blood lust and joy celebrated on these killing fields. Conservation’s legacy handed down by Mr. Roosevelt is sadly tarnished by this horrid and destructive behavior not only by him but also by the hand of his son, Kermit.

…his Scribner’s accounts almost gave the impression that he was trying to provoke a reaction from the anti-hunting factions, as he documented his kills—botched shots and all—in unashamed detail…”I felt proud indeed as I stood by the immense bulk of the slain monster and put my hand on the ivory,” said Roosevelt, and then everyone began the work of skinning …

During this African safari Roosevelt and his companions killed or trapped approximately 11,400 animals, from insects and moles to hippopotamuses and elephants. In this biography Darrin Lunde has provided facts and story enough to honor Theodore Roosevelt as one of the most important naturalists who ever lived. And due to countless excesses he did help our evolving natural history museums to thrive. But at the cost of so many innocent and free lives, it saddens me.
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review 2016-05-05 11:00
A Woman’s Misery in a Male World: The House of Ulloa by Emilia Pardo Bazán
The House of Ulloa (Penguin Classics) - Emilia Pardo Bazán,Paul O'Prey
Los Pazos De Ulloa - Emilia Pardo Bazán

As I already remarked two years ago, when I wrote a biography of Emilia Pardo Bazán (1851-1921) on my main book blog Edith’s Miscellany (»»» read her author’s portrait there), the important Spanish author unlike her male counterparts from English-speaking countries and France began to fall into oblivion rather soon after she gained considerable fame for her work. Several of her books have been translated into English. Two of them are her most famous novel The House of Ulloa from 1886, which has been reissued in English translation only in 2013, and its often overlooked sequel Mother Nature from 1887. As an example of Spanish Naturalist writing above all the first deserves a closer look.

 

The House of Ulloa is set towards the end of the reign of Spanish Queen Isabel II, more precisely just before the liberal revolution of 1868. Father Julián Alvarez enters into service with Don Pedro Moscoso who has a remote country estate in Galicia and is generally known as marquis of Ulloa although in reality the title belongs to a cousin living in Santiago. The young priest is supposed to take care of the marquis’ affairs sorting papers in the library that are in a complete mess, but to his great dismay he finds that his private life is in disorder too and the estate threatened by ruin. In fact, his employer turns out to be a man of loose morals who openly consorts with his mistress Sabel working in the kitchen and treats his illegitimate four-year-old no better than his hounds. Moreover, his daily life is filled with little more than hunting and drinking. When pious and naïve Father Julián asks Don Pedro to change his ways, he admits that he can’t because his steward Primitivo, the father of Sabel, would never allow it and has the power to turn all peasants of the region against him. Nonetheless, the priest hopes to lead his employer back on the path of virtue and suggests that he passes some time in Santiago to choose a wife from his Cousin Manuel’s daughters. Thus he marries Marcelina, called Nucha, and brings her to the house of Ulloa as his wife and new mistress of the estate, but the discreet young woman soon realises that she isn’t accepted and that her husband goes on with his life as if she weren’t there. She suffers and makes Father Julián her confidant. The priest, though, is powerless and can only watch what is going on. Meanwhile, Don Pedro gets involved into politics which at the time is inseparably linked with corruption and risks his estate…

 

In this naturalist masterpiece the nineteenth-century author Emilia Pardo Bazán skilfully interweaves the main story of predominantly male decadence and corruption in politics as well as society with a feminist critique of a patriarchal world that submits women of all classes to a sexual double standard, violence and abuse in the name of Catholic religion and often with the help of clerics. Although the novel touches very serious topics and has a not less serious plot, its tone is not only gloomy like the wintry landscape of Galicia but also full of wit and clever irony. Moreover, it’s a timeless work of literature that has lost none of its power and meaning in this modern world. In other words, The House of Ulloa is one of those almost forgotten classics that deserve being read more widely outside its country of origin Spain.

 

Nota bene:

The original Spanish versions of Emilia Pardo Bazán’s work have long entered into the public domain and many of them as well as some older translations are available for free via the Virtual Library Miguel de Cervantes, on Feedbooks, on Project Gutenberg, on Wikisource, and several other sites of the kind.

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review 2013-08-29 00:00
Review: Death of a Naturalist by Seamus Heaney
Death of a Naturalist - Seamus Heaney

Some books are so thin and light, yet they carry so much weight, like Heaney's 'Death of a Naturalist'. Each poem in this collection is a work of art, a masterpiece. There is neither pretentiousness nor symbolism here. Each poem is a story in itself and in this, Heaney has mesmerized me. I just imagined someone who had written an entire collection of short stories and then thought: "Let's see how we can strip away all the unnecessary words and images to just capture the essence of the tale in as few words as possible".

The autobiographical nature of these poems adds further weight, and exhibits the emotional investment that Heaney imparts on his reader, like in 'Digging' where we see the Heaney descended from a lineage of famers who takes the path of the writer (an excerpt):

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