tempestsarekind: (martha at the globe)
Michelle Terry: 'I won't be directing while at Shakespeare's Globe'
http://www.whatsonstage.com/london-theatre/news/michelle-terry-shakespeare-globe-no-directing_44417.html

Instead, she plans to act in productions.

Obligatory comment about Emma Rice / shared lighting:
Terry revealed that it had been written into her job contract that no amplified sound or 'imposed lighting rigs' will be used in theatre productions.

She commented: "I hadn't worked here under Emma [Rice]'s tenure, so what I know is the space: a raw naked space. And for me it's less about what was added on than what was missed when you have that. So what you want to do is reach out and touch the hand of those people."

The article also mentions that one of the plays next year will be about Aemilia (Bassano) Lanyer; I don't know how I feel about that. Given that she is a poet in her own right, it's always irritating that she only gets mentioned (even in novels that purport to be about her) because A.L. Rowse had a theory that she was Shakespeare's "dark lady." What would be awesome if the play just didn't even involve Shakespeare at all - there isn't any actual evidence that they ever even met, as far as I know - because there could be real scope for a play that's actually about her, along the lines of the Globe's recent Nell Gwynn (how forever-sad am I that I couldn't see Gugu Mbatha-Raw in the eponymous role?), or the RSC's current Queen Anne (also forever-sad that I can't see Romola Garai in that play).

But I also just have a deep lack of interest in stories about Shakespearean sexytimes, Shakespeare in Love excepted (I really think of it as a fanciful film about the writing of R&J, and about theater in general, that happens to have romance in it), so...
tempestsarekind: (Default)
Another day, another wish that someone would cast Daveed Diggs as Christopher Marlowe…

*Yes, this is a Massacre at Paris joke. of sorts.

(This is one of the things I don't understand about the continued attempts at making Shakespeare a sexy rebel instead of the guy who kept his head down: Marlowe is RIGHT THERE, being completely extra - as the children say - writing scandalous stuff, actually being the innovator people want Shakespeare to have been.) (I'm thinking of that monstrously stupid moment in Anonymous - which one? you say - where all the other Elizabethan dramatists are gobsmacked that "Shakespeare" wrote AN ENTIRE PLAY in BLANK VERSE, like they hadn't all been doing that. But that's just the most egregious example that sprang to mind - although that moment in the Will trailer where someone gripes at Will, "You can't just make up words!" and he's all, "Well, someone must!" comes pretty close: making up words is what Elizabethan dramatists did; it's not some province exclusive to Shakespeare's genius!)

(yes, yes, I know, Shakespeare has "pre-awareness" or whatever they're calling audience recognition these days. But I find it hard to believe that anyone who's actually thinking about watching something like Will wouldn't watch a similar show about Marlowe instead, if you could just get someone to make it.)
tempestsarekind: (very few dates in this history)
UGH. I hate it when Shakespeare (the person) shows up in historical fiction novels where he was NOT SUPPOSED TO BE and really has no business being. Like, if he is not going to bring anything to this party, let the man stay home, you know?
tempestsarekind: (queen of fairies)
I am mildly upset that no one told me about this book:

Shakespeare's Ghost - Mary Hoffman
http://www.greystonespress.com/books/shakespeares-ghost/

From A Midsummer Night’s Dream onwards, Shakespeare’s plays are often peopled by fairies, witches, ghosts and apparitions. In Shakespeare’s Ghost Mary Hoffman imagines why that might be, by giving the poet a familiar spirit who urges him to include more and more paranormal events and characters in his work.

Meanwhile, Ned Lambert, a boy player in Shakespeare’s own company, The King’s Men, has been having inexplicable experiences of his own, with a beautiful and elusive woman in green, who is not of this world.

It is 1610 and Jacobean London is full of dangers, from the plague to plots and revolutions. And Ned – now a man on and off stage – is caught between fears and temptations. The poet is his friend, as is the popular young Prince of Wales, but is Faelinn friend or foe?


And here's a review:
https://historicalnovelsociety.org/reviews/shakespeares-ghost/
tempestsarekind: (austen snark is the best snark)
Nice to see the Guardian continuing its inability to understand why anyone would write or read historical fiction as anything other than money-grubbing or facile escapism:

There is no great mystery to why authors and publishers currently favour the past, with so many examples before them of both sales success and prize judges rewarding retrospection; and novelists now have an array of possible role models for how to do literary (as opposed to novelettish) historical fiction in the 21st century, from the postmodernist mock-epics of Thomas Pynchon to the versatile era-hopping of Mantel and Sarah Waters. But as to why so many seemingly do so because they find the British, Irish or American present difficult to deal with - well, that’s probably best explained by writers themselves.


2016 Costa award: why the shortlist is making history
https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2016/nov/26/sta-award-why-the-shortlist-is-making-history
tempestsarekind: (don't get clever in latin! [donna])
Pieces like this make me sad(der) that The Toast is going away:

Two Linguists Explain Pseudo Old English in The Wake
http://the-toast.net/2016/06/14/two-linguists-explain-pseudo-old-english-in-the-wake/

I particularly liked the end of the piece, which makes me feel better about the rather arbitrary way in which this book has been raising my hackles ever since I first heard about it, and then again when I picked it up in the bookstore and tried reading a bit before putting it down again:

Kate [Wiles]: Well said. The reduced vocabulary, simplified syntax, and avoided punctuation/capitalization also take readers in a particular direction, making the Anglo-Saxons seem less capable of complex thought. As an artistic decision, I’ll defend to the end of the world an author’s right to muck about with language however they like; but as a decision that’s explicitly meant to put readers into the Anglo-Saxon “worldview”, I need to point out that the world we’re viewing is through glass that’s more cracked and warped than it needed to be.

Gretchen [McCullough]: Yeah, and instead, he’s actively choosing to perpetuate a certain mindset associated with Anglo-Saxons, that they had the same taboos as a modern reader, which is just so many kinds of false. But it’s the type of false that most people aren’t going to catch, and therefore highly misleading. Throwing around Ren Faire thees and thous might not be completely accurate either, but adding an extra letter to a pronoun isn’t wholesale cultural revisionism the way altering their entire taboo system is.

Kate: Exactly. All of this feels like cherry-picking the best olde bits that most match his preconceptions of Anglo-Saxon England, rather than building the world from the roots up. Which is fine, but by using the language in this way it gives such a message of ‘authenticity’ that everything that’s expressed in his shadow tongue is represented as ‘historical truth’.

And this is one of the dilemmas of creating historical fiction; what do you sacrifice because it would be misunderstood by modern audiences? What do you alter because it’s important to the story? Are these little extras like bonus Easter Eggs, or are they just a shortcut to history?
tempestsarekind: (ophelia has so few options)
I started reading this article expecting it to be one of those finger-wagging pieces about how the sheeple just like escapism and fancy dresses, and was pleasantly surprised. It has a little bit of that ("At this moment, what we want from our relationship with a national past is this: to draw the curtains, shut out the noise of the world, and put on a box set. Thinking about Tudor history is, at least in its laziest manifestations, an excellent way of not thinking about history"), but by and large it remains an exploration of why the Tudor story resonates with people:

Tudormania: Why Can't We Get Over It?
http://www.theguardian.com/news/2016/may/04/tudormania-why-can-we-not-get-over-it

Tee hee:

Jessie Childs, a popular historian who has written about the period, said: “The Tudors are very clearly defined for children: you have Henry VII, the battlefield king; then Henry VIII, the tyrant who marries six times; then Edward VI, the boy king; then Lady Jane Grey, the nine days’ queen; then [the Catholic] Mary I who burns 300 people; and then Elizabeth I, the virgin queen. They are like a boyband: each has an identity. If you look at the Plantagenets, on the other hand – people don’t know which is which.”


I bought Jessie Childs' book God's Traitors ages ago - when it first came out in the States, in fact - but haven't yet found the time to read it…alas. Anyway, the author also speaks to Hilary Mantel, as well as to other historians who want to widen the scope of what we talk about when we talk about the Tudors.

[Edited to add: …huh. I got this link via Twitter, so I went back and clicked on the Twitter handle of the author of the article. It turns out that she wrote Under Another Sky, a book about Roman Britain that I…appear to have misplaced, actually, but I found a copy of it on sale in a bookstore in York when I was there, which is good because I don't think it was published in the US. But it also turns out that she wrote This New Noise, a book about the BBC that I read about a little while ago and wanted to look up. I did not know that these two books were even by the same person!]

Then there's an article on how aspiring actors from farther down the social ladder are increasingly being shut out of the profession in the UK. These have been bubbling up for a few years now; this one takes its starting point from the show The Night Manager. (I haven't seen it; it will probably go into the bin of "stuff about machinations that I really don't want to watch," along with House of Cards.) The article also takes a tiny swipe at costume drama, so these two articles wind up being a tiny bit related:

Why working-class actors are a disappearing breed
http://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/may/08/working-class-actors-disappearing-britain-class-privilege-access-posh

And what, you can’t help wondering, is our obsession with period drama all about? Downton, suggests Josie Long, comedian and co-founder of the charity Arts Emergency, “speaks to that certain weird thing that is going on in the UK. Something very repressive that is reflected in our art.”

It’s what happens, she thinks, “when you don’t have different voices coming through”. And “posh fetishisation… posh as aspiration” becomes a defining feature of our culture.

Posh is at the very heart of mainstream viewing, a cornerstone of all TV schedules and a guaranteed seller abroad. The Night Manager is currently being broadcast in America on the cable channel AMC, which contributed a large part of its £18m budget. It’s a vision of Britain that sells.


The piece itself is a more interesting look at this phenomenon than simply "Downton make drama all posh now." But I'm sure there is some sort of "Downton effect," even if it is more about making money than having it: just as it's harder to sell comedies internationally because they tend to rely more on specific cultural contexts than action and superhero films, it is probably easier to sell costume dramas and literary adaptations abroad - if only because costume drama tends to assume that you have to explain the historical setting at least a little bit, and that explanation works just as well overseas. It is frustrating, though, to be a fan of costume drama and have it assumed that you must just want to watch posh people lounging about in frocks, as opposed to being interested in fictional explorations of what life was like in the past. I would love to have a wider range of costume drama available - even just getting a show set in the Tudor period that didn't take place at court would feel like Christmas!

That's separate from the main point of the piece, though, which focuses on how hard it is to pay for a place at drama school, and then to find work in the industry if you do. (And as always, don't read the comments: Guardian articles about the arts are always overrun by people who fling about the word "luvvies" and seem to think no one should ever expect to be paid for art, because it's not a real job like plumbing. One wonders whether these people watch TV or movies, or listen to music, and what they think would happen to their own lives if we made it impossible for people to make a living while making art.)
tempestsarekind: (no party like a tudor party)
Tor.com is hosting a reread of Kage Baker's Company series; they're partway through In the Garden of Iden:

http://www.tor.com/tag/the-company-reread/

I often want to recommend the Company series to people but can't because of the…ah, developments at the end of the series. But In the Garden of Iden manages to do a lot of what I want Tudor-set historical fiction to do, in the way that it sits with the characters for a long time, showing us the squabbles and daily interactions of the people under one roof. I'd want to write historical fiction like that, if I could.

Kage Baker also writes a very nice version of Tudor English. :)

on Hild

Dec. 13th, 2015 01:26 pm
tempestsarekind: (branches and fairy lights)
I finally finished reading Hild by Nicola Griffith (which I started in September, but then had to put it down until Thanksgiving; since then I've been reading it on Saturdays when I really ought to be doing work). I enjoyed it - although the pause in the middle wasn't great; it was hard to keep the politics straight and I kept getting my Eadfriths and Osfriths and Osrics confused. I especially liked that this was a story set in the seventh century that didn't just shrug and go, "well, ladies had no rights or power then, am I right; who'd want to hear about that? Bring on the dudes!" which is the kind of thing that drove me crazy (along with, it is true, everything else) in The Tudors. As a seer, Hild is extraordinary, and she does have a lot more access to the World of Men (™) than most women - but the novel nevertheless recognizes the power and importance - or, for those women who are not influential, even just the real and rounded existence - that other women have, rather than doing that obnoxious thing where the historical heroine does nothing but chafe against the restrictions of the female world, and want to spend all of her time with men. It is true that there are restrictions, and those aren't downplayed - Hild's sister, Hereswith, for example, is married off as "peaceweaver" without so much as a by-your-leave, even though her husband-to-be has a woman and children that he refuses to set aside even after the marriage. But Hild also learns much of her political savvy from her mother, Breguswith, who has been grooming her since she was a child. She forms relationships and alliances with queens as well as kings, and recognizes that perfume - when it's a recognizable scent given by the queen, as a mark of her favor - can be just as important as carrying the king's token. She thinks about "soft power," about winning over people with food and gifts, as well as carrying a weapon into battle. (As seer, Hild winds up at a lot of battles and does have to protect herself and even kill, although she is not a Warrior Maiden (™) as such.) The novel is full of daily, "domestic" life just as much as war: the rhythms of weaving and herb gathering, cheese making and child minding, are all important in this book. And there is even a character of color, a deacon named James who comes to the king's court as part of the retinue of the king's new, Christian, wife Aethelburh; he doesn't have a huge role, but he becomes one of the people Hild turns to for advice and comfort, and he adds some welcome lightness to the book as the choir director who cares passionately about something that isn't battle and power.

The book is the first of a trilogy, according to the author, although nothing about the book itself makes that explicit before you start reading it, and then realize that you are definitely going to run out of pages before Hild - who is the woman who eventually is known as Saint Hilda of Whitby - runs out of life. The book does not at all get you to the point where Hild goes from being "pagan" seer to Christian future saint (although she does get baptized late in the book, this is largely a political maneuver and much of King Edwin's court does the same thing when he does). But I am certainly intrigued enough to read the next book, once it exists. And yet, I still don't feel like I've wrapped my mind around this novel yet…Did I enjoy it for itself, or because it does so many worthy things that I always want, but rarely get, in so much historical media? Does it even make sense to ask that question, as though those elements can be sifted out to get at the "objective" quality of my enjoyment, or of the book itself?

It did make me want to know more about this period, though: beyond a few flashes of delighted recognition at some cameos - the cowherd Caedmon who seems to have a knack for rewriting the prayers that Hild recites to him; someone mentioning how the scop sang a story about "the Geats and the dragon" - it's not a period I know at all well, so I could definitely stand to read some more things about it.
tempestsarekind: (too wise to woo peaceably)
What should I find on the new books display at the bookstore yesterday, after my recent rant about historical fiction as written about in the Guardian, but Viper Wine by Hermione Eyre? So I…bought it, obviously. (Like this story was going to have another ending?) It will probably be a little while before I get around to reading it, because that is what usually happens when I buy a book without the intention of starting it that evening, but it's there to look forward to.

In not related news, I am not very good at filling tacos properly. But if you put together black beans, chopped cilantro, queso fresco, kale, and avocado, it will be tasty even if you have to eat half of it with a fork because it fell out of your tortilla. I think it would make a good lunch salad with quinoa, as well. (I want to start packing my lunch more, once school starts up again, so I've been looking at everything with "would it make a lunch salad?" glasses.)




-
tempestsarekind: (peddlers of bombast)
I feel like the Guardian is just trolling me at this point. Does the paper actually employ anyone who likes historical fiction?

Why historical fiction needs daring and anachronism
http://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2015/jun/22/historical-fiction-needs-daring-anachronism

I have nothing against anachronism per se - although what Mantel does in Wolf Hall, the thing that kept me from being able to read it, is to use modern attitudes as a reason for us to side with Cromwell and not the backward-looking More. (I ranted about this a while ago, so I won't do it again here.) I mean, one of my favorite movies is Shakespeare in Love, which is pretty much wall-to-wall anachronisms. And one of the novels the author of the piece mentions, Viper Wine by Hermione Eyre, was just coming out as I was in the UK last summer; I saw it for sale in several bookstores, and it looked like a fascinating experiment. (It was also a hardcover book, and I had no room in my suitcase.) But this whole piece is basically like, "people often try to faithfully recreate the past in historical novels, and that's boring" - as opposed to being a valid choice for a novel, even if it isn't the only possible choice. The article is not really making a neutral statement - "Here are some historical novels that involve anachronism, isn't that a cool choice?" Instead, it's claiming that historical fiction that doesn't include anachronism is lazy and formulaic. As the author ends the piece, "But, too often, unfortunately, the genre seems to be in stays as constricting and uncomfortable as those worn by its heroines."

…As a person who did a decent amount of reading about Renaissance clothing, back in the day, I think this attitude is itself evidence of why trying to faithfully recreate the past isn't just lazy and formulaic - because the idea that stays were "constricting and uncomfortable" is a modern assumption, not a fact. There is nothing natural about clothing - or rather, a corset would have seemed just as "natural" to the average, say, Elizabethan woman as the lack of one seems to the average modern woman. Today, we make all sorts of assumptions about the ridiculousness and uncomfortableness of the clothing of the past, but those assumptions would not have been shared by the people who actually wore those clothes. Philip Stubbes (writer of The Anatomy of Abuses) despised ruffs for many reasons - one of which was the accusation that all the starch necessary to stiffen the linen was a huge waste of food resources - but not just because they were inherently dumb. (Stubbes referred to starch as "the devil's liquor"; there's a huge moral and religious dimension to the denunciation of clothing in this period. It has very little to do with mere comfort.) And thinking yourself into the possibilities of that mindset (I'm under no misapprehensions that we can actually get the past 100% right) is really, really hard. Engaging in the process of trying to create a vivid and believable version of the past is a serious, deliberate, thoughtful undertaking. It doesn't deserve to be thrown aside and demeaned because it isn't "daring."
tempestsarekind: (very few dates in this history)
Guess who's still struggling to read Wolf Hall? (I think I'm going to set it aside soon, if I keep having this problem, because right now I'm hypersensitive to this issue.) It's just that it feels demeaning, to keep taking ideas and beliefs that would have been normal to quite a few people if not everyone, and only holding them up as silly things that our urbane, clever characters like Cromwell and Wolsey could never believe. Wolsey tells Cromwell that Henry VIII can't actually believe that God has cursed his marriage to Katherine of Aragon - not because Wolsey thinks the king is self-serving enough to use such an idea for his own benefit, but because the king is too "rational" - that's the word Mantel has Wolsey use, "rational" - to believe in such a vengeful God. (And Cromwell's narrative voice backs this up, in case we were in doubt about what we should think: "It's not the hand of God kills our children. It's disease and hunger and war, rat bites and bad air and the miasma from plague pits" [75]). Never mind that the idea that it was a sin to marry your brother's wife was an accepted idea for many people - as was the idea that Wolsey disclaims a few pages later, when he says that "They say" that the sweating sickness is a visitation from God, only to continue airily that he "can't pretend to know his purposes" (83). Only the undifferentiated, dismissible masses of "They" could seriously entertain such an idea. Meanwhile, Cromwell mocks Thomas More for - so far; he hasn't actually shown up as a character yet - basically praying in the mornings. It's true that More gets in a swipe about how usury is bad - again, not an uncommon belief for a religious man to hold - but listen to the language Mantel uses to contrast these two men:
These are good days for him: every day a fight he can win. "Still serving your Hebrew God, I see," remarks Sir Thomas More. "I mean, your idol Usury." But when More, a scholar revered through Europe, wakes up in Chelsea to the prospect of morning prayers in Latin, he wakes up to a creator who speaks the swift patois of the markets; when More is settling in for a session of self-scourging, he and Rafe are sprinting to Lombard Street to get the day's exchange rates. (83-4)

Mantel undercuts this very, very slightly by remarking in the next sentence that Cromwell can't actually sprint, because of an old injury - but just look at the way she contrasts them here! That needling use of "Sir" before More's name, the way More "settles in" ponderously for his old-fashioned Latin and his old-fashioned scourging (and "session" suggests nastily that this is just measurable routine for More, rather than actual belief) - and Cromwell, by contrast, is a man of the future, whose God speaks in a "swift" tongue (so unlike that cumbersome Latin!) and who can 'sprint' off to where the real power and importance lie: not with the old, backward-looking scholarship of Europe (after all, if the scholars "revere" a man like More, they must be behind the times, right? It's More who is the "revered" false idol here, not usury), but with the fleet changing of every day's exchange rates.

But these aren't separate ideas, or at least they don't have to be; it's not actually the case that you can only be a good businessman by ridding yourself of the antiquated belief in morning prayer. It's not actually the case that just because you yourself don't pray in Latin, it's a given that you mock and belittle those who do. What keeps bothering me about the beginning of this book - and I've only made it eighty-five pages in, so things could change, I suppose - is that the world of the book is being set up so that the only people we are supposed to take seriously are the ones who hold only "modern" views, like Cromwell and Wolsey. Look, here's the thing: I already know that self-scourging is an extreme thing to do. I already recoil from imagining the pain of it. What I want to know, from historical fiction, is why someone like More would have seen this as an important part of his life, and yet as much a part of his day as putting on a shirt. I don't need some modern mouthpiece like Cromwell to feed back to me the prejudices that I already probably have, to praise the ideas of the present at the expense of mocking the past.
tempestsarekind: (don't get clever in latin! [donna])
I'm going to go ahead and post the last couple of things I've written about trying to read Wolf Hall recently (I figure I should try to read it before I see the miniseries? I have until April - which is when PBS is airing it), even though I am kind of embarrassed by them (why can I not appreciate this book that everyone else in the world loves? What is wrong with me?), but for the sake of honesty, here we go.

18 January 2015

Somewhat perversely, I would like to read some criticism of Wolf Hall by someone smart and thoughtful who didn't like it; maybe it would help me like it better, knowing that someone out there hadn't praised this book to the skies when I am not enjoying it. Admittedly I have only managed to struggle through the first three chapters - this is only partly the book's fault; I haven't been reading it consistently - so maybe I haven't adjusted to the prose yet and I will enjoy it more as I get used to it, but right now the book's very syntax is grating on my inward ear. Stop cramming all the paragraphs with so much syntactically unconnected detail, Hilary Mantel! Stop changing point of view in the middle of paragraphs! (You can't just throw "We hope he'll grow up tall" in the middle of a paragraph about Cromwell's son when the whole rest of the paragraph is being narrated in the third person, what are you even doing!) Also, I know this book is all dudes*, but if you could be a little bit clearer who you're talking about - so that every sentence isn't "He said to him that he was a great scholar" or whatever, although this would be less difficult to figure out if every paragraph weren't crammed with so much detail, because each one of those three pronouns could refer to a different man mentioned in the last two sentences, for all I know - that would be nice. (Yes, yes, I'm sure this is on purpose. That doesn't mean it doesn't grate.)

Also, the dialogue is also irking me, but this is more personal; it just sounds so terse and modern that it actually feels at odds with the way that Tudor people seem to me to think. Even their personal letters are more playful and elaborate with language than we are today - they like playing with words and coining new ones; they weren't like, "ah yes, in the halls of power we get right to the point, none of this fancy-dancy speechifying." And their speech could still be muscular and vivid - but they were not exactly a terse people. I know historical fiction doesn't have to represent the speech patterns of its historical period exactly, even in stories about speakers of whatever language one is writing in (a book set in ancient Rome but written in English is never going to sound like Latin), but still.


*This bit actually sounds more sarcastic about Mantel than I meant it to; it's not her fault that every important person in this period is a guy named Thomas!



21 January 2015

Still trying to read a chapter or so of Wolf Hall before bed; right now I am only managing three or four pages every couple of nights, but hey ho. I hit one of those bits last night where Mantel apparently uses what reviewers actually called "ye olde speech," because why not, in order to make a humorous contrast or whatever:
Above all, Mantel avoids ye olde-style diction, preferring more contemporary phrasing. Small rises in the level of language are frequently used for comic effect, as in: "Well, I tell you, Lady Shelton, if she had had an axe to hand, she would have essayed to cut off my head." The effortless-seeming management of contrasting registers plays a big part in the novel's success, as does Mantel's decision to let Cromwell have a sense of humour."
http://www.theguardian.com/books/2009/may/02/wolf-hall-hilary-mantel

And this is even more grating than the lack of clarity regarding third-person singular masculine pronouns, because it's indicative of a thing that feels to me like a failure in the world being imagined. It's the same problem I had with Desperate Romantics, a not particularly good miniseries about the PRB, in which all the painters spoke in relatively modern speech, except for Millais (played by an adorably hapless Samuel Barnett), who was supposed to sound so quaint and prim and prudish...except that all he really sounded was Victorian. You know, like all of the other characters in the miniseries are as well. Or "The Shakespeare Code," which is supposedly set in 1599, but has an exchange between two of "Shakespeare's" actors in which they complain that they never know what old Will is going on about (yeah, Early Modern English must be really hard for you sixteenth-century guys to understand), and the only characters in the episode who ever sound remotely Elizabethan are the Carrionite "witches," who are supposed to be from the dawn of time. I mean, I get it: modern readers and viewers hear that language as old-fashioned and ridiculous, but that doesn't stop me from wanting to yell "do better!" at people when they pull this nonsense. It never stops bothering me when historical fiction or historical drama takes the language that people actually spoke and turns it into nothing more than a ridiculous joke. Surely historical fiction is supposed to be about imagining what the past was like, to the degree that we ever can, and trying to conjure up an actually different world, in which people thought - and yes, spoke - very differently from the way we do? And wouldn't it make more sense for critics to - let's get crazy here - respect that endeavor, instead of demeaning the so-called trappings of historical fiction as nothing more than "ye olde-style diction," and only praising those books of historical fiction that "make the past seem just like today" or "make the sixteenth-century court seem just like the modern halls of power," as though the erasure of difference and such easy parallelism between then and now are things to strive for?

I know I have ranted this rant before, about RTD-era Doctor Who historical episodes (oddly enough, Moffat managed to ameliorate this not by having a companion from the past - which I still want, and I'm still wistful about Victorian Clara - but by changing the Doctor so that he no longer says things like "This lot have still got one foot in the Dark Ages," but instead remarks offhandedly that he's on Virginia Woolf's bowling team, and has longstanding relationships with figures like Churchill, and takes Vincent van Gogh seriously and befriends him instead of making jokes about him like Ten does to Shakespeare), but still. This attitude is like nails on a chalkboard to me; I can't help it. And it's such a waste. (As much as I find myself yelling "what are you even doing right now" at Sleepy Hollow on a regular basis this season, one thing that they got right is that Ichabod's old-fashioned language doesn't mean that he's a joke - even though he is often funny, and Abbie rightly laughs at him when he takes refuge in an even greater level of formality because he doesn't want to deal with something. He speaks the way he speaks not because he's some kind of prudish fussbudget, but because he's, you know, from 1781. They spoke like that then. And he can still be curious and tender and exasperated and everything else in that language, because it is an actual language to him, not just an affectation a writer has him put on when he wants to make fun of someone else. I can't wrap my head around Mantel's decision, after reading what must have been tons of Tudor documents and history, to look at the way they spoke and then decide to use it only in mockery. Why not just choose not to use it at all?)

uh what

Oct. 29th, 2014 11:12 pm
tempestsarekind: (all the world's a stage)
(I had to use this icon. I mean, Shakespeare and witches, on TV?)

My best friend sent me a screencap of this article the other day, but I didn't have a chance to go looking for it until now:

Mark Harmon Developing Young William Shakespeare Drama for CW
http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/live-feed/mark-harmon-developing-young-william-743826

"Described as a tale of black magic, romance and revenge, the drama is set in 1590s London and chronicles a young Will Shakespeare's rise to prominence as he finds himself caught in a deadly conflict among three witches and the most powerful woman in the world, Queen Elizabeth. The project is described as having the grit of HBO's hit fantasy drama Game of Thrones with the wit and heart of Shakespeare in Love."

I don't…particularly see those two things going together? At all? And presumably - this being the CW - we can expect all the historical accuracy and coherence of Reign. I'm mildly terrified.

(This is probably the wrong place for this gripe, but I really wish that costume drama in general - and historical fiction, especially set in the Tudor period - weren't so tied to real historical people. I get that it's an easy pitch - it's a movie about Jane Austen in a love story of her own! or whatever - but it's lazy and often not particularly useful, since they don't generally manage to dramatize any of the actual interesting things in that historical figure's life, and make up confusing, nonsensical plots instead. [Seriously, why would you make an Elizabeth I movie and then not use the Tilbury speech when it's right there? Why is the film The Duchess so DULL when Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire's life was so interesting? Why is Becoming Jane, at all?] I feel like I would be seventeen times more interested in this show if it weren't about a young William Shakespeare.)

(There are at least two books out at the moment that I have just put down at the library/bookstore, or preemptively put down - one of them isn't out yet - because I can't be bothered with Will Shakespeare Sexytimes: Dark Aemilia by Sally O'Reilly - even though I would actually be interested in a novel about Aemilia Lanyer (though I'd prefer a biography) - and The Tutor by Andrea Chapin. It's not even because I've already read tons of these, because I haven't. [Is the only novel I've read that's predominantly about Shakespeare - as opposed to containing a Shakespeare cameo - The Players by Stephanie Cowell? That can't be right, can it? … Maybe it is. I read Grace Tiffany's My Father Had a Daughter - how could I not, it played right to my Judith-as-Viola feelings - but I never got around to reading Will...] My brain just ughs off of these books, for some reason. And yet Shakespeare in Love is one of my favorite movies...)

Also contained within this article:

This development season, The CW also is exploring the 20-something years of Charles Darwin and his journey through the Amazon with Unnatural Selection.

…whaaaaat.

hmmm...

May. 12th, 2014 04:34 pm
tempestsarekind: (little dorrit)
There are several actors announced in this article on the upcoming BBC miniseries of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, but the one I'm most interested in is Claire Foy as Anne Boleyn:
http://www.theguardian.com/media/2014/may/08/damian-lewis-henry-viii-bbc-mantel-wolf-hall-bring-up-bodies

(Maybe this summer I will actually get around to reading Wolf Hall? I mean, I'm not holding my breath, but maybe.)
tempestsarekind: (regency house party [s&s])
So, before I get started, here's a review of Belle that I don't like or agree with much:
"In 'Belle,' a complex life tangled in class and commerce"
http://www.npr.org/2014/05/02/308733902/in-belle-a-complex-life-tangled-in-class-and-commerce

If you like Jane Austen film adaptations and/or period drama more generally, I think you should go out and see Belle if it's playing near you. And obviously I can't tell anyone what to do, but if this is the kind of thing that interests you, then I think it's worth going out to see it in the theater if that is within your means - voting with your wallet and all that - rather than waiting to catch it on DVD or Netflix. Personally, having done it yesterday*, I think it was very much worth the money, and also, Gugu Mbatha-Raw has the kind of vividly expressive face that is just made for closeups. I thought the whole thing was moving and immersive, with a script that was spare but still containing a real sense of eighteenth-century cadence, and Gugu did a fabulous job.

*I got home yesterday at about ten minutes to six, took my shoes off, ate a spoonful of peanut butter and two dried apricots while I tried to figure out what I was going to make for dinner - and then abruptly remembered that Belle was opening at my local cinema that day. It turned out that there was a 7:05 screening, so I ran back out to catch it. Happily, the theater was mostly full by the time the movie started.

As I sat there waiting for the movie to start, I amused myself by trying to imagine the kinds of ways that people might discount this movie. It was going to be "too much like other period pieces," I imagined, too much like Jane Austen, not big or significant enough to be a worthy film. And sure enough, check out the end of this review:
While the basic outline of Belle's story is real, the filmmakers have invented freely within that outline, and most of what they've invented has the themes and tone of vintage Jane Austen — dowries, deceptions, suitors only some of whom are suitable. This has the effect of making the film feel elegant but a little weightless despite the weighty matters at its center.

Still, it's smartly acted, handsome and well-crafted in a way that'll make it irresistible to the Merchant-Ivory/Masterpiece Theater set — think pride, with a whole lot of prejudice.


Got it in one, guys. (This is literally the first review of the film that I pulled up.) Because you can't tell a story about slavery without showing whips and chains and suffering black bodies; because a film set in drawing rooms can't ever matter as much as one out on the open seas; because apparently the fact that women of color rarely if ever get to be the heroine of Austen-style period dramas has totally escaped this reviewer's notice. (This was in fact the director's point, but whatever.) Because everyone knows there's only one way to talk about race in the movies, and race is always the only thing that could matter to characters of color: how could Dido (the way "Belle" is referred to in the film) be concerned with…finding a husband? That paltry subject? How could she want to find the personal happiness that everyone else might want when there is slavery on the line???

[Here is an interview with the director, Amma Asante, that is *not* tone-deaf and infuriating:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/express/wp/2014/05/09/amma-asante-tells-the-story-of-a-biracial-woman-finding-her-place-in-the-world-in-belle/
“I wanted to ask the question, ‘Who defines us — society or ourselves?’ ” Asante says. “If society simply sees her as the child of a slave but she feels like the child of an aristocrat, what is the most important predictor of her success?”
]

I also probably shouldn't be as annoyed as I am about the fact that this review calls Dido a "slave girl" raised in an aristocratic family when the movie tells us in, like, minute two that Dido was born on British soil - and hence not a slave, ever - but I AM, anyway. It's like the desire to fit this movie into the particular expected boxes turned the reviewer selectively deaf. This movie is *so* much about class and status as well, not just about race - it's almost like intersectionality is an actual thing, you guys! One of the major points of the movie - I don't think this was true in actual fact - is that Dido is able to inherit 2000 pounds a year from her father after his death, because he acknowledged her while he was alive, whereas her white cousin was penniless - and that meant that in that ruthless marriage market of the eighteenth century, there were people who would see Dido as the catch, even if they felt they had to "overlook" her color; this is a plot point as well. Dido's great-uncle/adopted father (Lord Mansfield, played by that period-drama stalwart Tom Wilkinson) is terribly angry when his new law student tells Dido about the slavery-ship case that he's struggling with, because as far as he is concerned, slavery should never have to matter to her: she is a Murray, and you are the son of a vicar, how dare you even speak to her! (This is, of course, naive and infantilizing; but the point is that for Lord Mansfield, Dido's color is really not the salient fact in some ways, though of course not all. And the Black servant Mabel highlights this point: she's a servant (not a slave; Dido asks pointed questions about this when they go to the house in London), not because of her color, but because in the 18th-century English aristocratic mind, some people are servants and some people are lords - they have plenty of white servants as well. But it's like there's so little frame of reference for this reviewer to imagine a Black character in a pre-1900 period film who is *not* a slave that this just passed him by.

And I do think that this attitude has ramifications beyond this one film - because there are certain kinds of Black experiences that are considered "authentic," and some that are not, regardless of whether there are actual people who live them (someone on TV - et tu, PBS! - called The Cosby Show less "authentic" than Good Times in a documentary just the other day); because people still think there were basically no Black people in the UK before the 1950s (guess who's still mad at Downton Abbey for importing a Black character from the US instead of challenging that view and finding a character from right there at home? Go on, guess). Et cetera, et cetera, ad infinitum. (To say nothing of the continued stupidity of claiming that the concerns that governed women's lives in the past are weightless. How dare you.)

Anyway, you should go see Belle, because Gugu Mbatha-Raw is a delight, and it's got lovely costumes, and it's romantic (because yes, figuring out whom you are going to spend the rest of your life with is a pretty big deal when you can't get a divorce and can't own your own money because you're a gentlewoman and so can't have a job; and even if that weren't the case, people have relationships and therefore stories about those relationships are important), and I cried a bunch of times, and maybe if enough people go see this movie, maybe someday I will get my Benjamin Banneker biopic, or - no disrespect to 12 Years a Slave or the real lives that inspired it - at least some other pre-1900 period drama that isn't about a slave, because I still think it's totally fishy that Hollywood overlooks the many people of color, even in slave-holding societies, who lived in the past and weren't slaves.

meh.

Oct. 16th, 2013 03:36 pm
tempestsarekind: (elizabeth)
Longbourn, by Jo Baker:

http://www.randomhouse.com/book/231492/longbourn-by-jo-baker#aboutthebook

Here's the website copy:

Pride and Prejudice was only half the story

If Elizabeth Bennet had the washing of her own petticoats, Sarah often thought, she’d most likely be a sight more careful with them.

In this irresistibly imagined belowstairs answer to Pride and Prejudice, the servants take center stage. Sarah, the orphaned housemaid, spends her days scrubbing the laundry, polishing the floors, and emptying the chamber pots for the Bennet household. But there is just as much romance, heartbreak, and intrigue downstairs at Longbourn as there is upstairs. When a mysterious new footman arrives, the orderly realm of the servants’ hall threatens to be completely, perhaps irrevocably, upended.

Jo Baker dares to take us beyond the drawing rooms of Jane Austen’s classic — into the often overlooked domain of the stern housekeeper and the starry-eyed kitchen maid, into the gritty daily particulars faced by the lower classes in Regency England during the Napoleonic Wars — and, in doing so, creates a vivid, fascinating, fully realized world that is wholly her own.



I've often wondered why, Austen fangirl that I am, I am so spectacularly uninterested in spin-offs and continuations of Austen's novels. I'm not against them, I don't think they're a desecration or anything; I've just never had the slightest desire to read one. (The whole "just add zombies" thing I am against. Really, really against.) Even "inspired by" fiction doesn't interest me all that much: I only read Bridget Jones because I had some idea that I was going to write a paper about intertextuality for an Austen class I took in college...but then I didn't like the novel enough to spend any more time thinking about it. (Oddly, I quite like the film. I blame Colin Firth.)

Anyway, the point is that I would be far more interested in this novel if it were simply about the lives of Regency servants, without the P&P tie-in. Something about the way that first proper line of copy - the bit about the petticoats - only has meaning because Elizabeth's muddy petticoats are so famous, and not as a sentence in its own right, rubs me the wrong way, a little: surely the stories of servants can be worth telling as more than ancillaries to the already completed narrative of Austen's novel? And if so - if those stories are genuinely separate from the upstairs events, not just a different lens through which to view them - then what is the point of the connection, except to get Austen fans to pick up the book?

This sort of thing doesn't bother me when it comes to fanfic, which seems terribly inconsistent of me. But there we are.

I suppose you could use such a book to take Austen to task for not writing about servants in the first place - and maybe that's what is setting my teeth on edge just that tiny amount: because so many people, from Charlotte Bronte to Joe Wright to all of those people who claim that Austen isn't an "important" novelist because she didn't write about the Napoleonic Wars, are already so quick to declare that there is something missing from Austen's style or from her works, that her carefully made decisions about what kinds of stories she wanted to tell are lacking and wrong. Maybe I'm just getting my ire at those people all over this author's book idea and web copy.
tempestsarekind: (a sort of fairytale)
Okay, so this is going to be a "stating the obvious about Amy Pond" update, but one of the things I really like about her story, broadly speaking, is how much it's about memory. And no matter how many times the universe gets rewritten or paralleled, Amy keeps those memories, and *fights* for them - because she's Amy, because she's a time traveler, because on her first day she looks at the things she was told not to see, and remembering them saves her *and* the whole planet. She's stubborn enough to remember everyone she loves back into the world. And what we *don't* get, with Amy, is the sense that she's not *allowed* to remember - that knowledge that is learned in the Doctor's world is too dangerous for her to keep. This is what happens with Rose and Donna: if they remember, they will die. All Amy needs to do is make a bit more room in her head for a couple of extra lives.

Which is - again with the obvious - the opposite of how the Silence operate. Madame Kovarian tells River not to even bother remembering, because they've done too good a job of making her forget. I think this gives extra meaning to her blue journal: it's not just about keeping tabs on when and where she meets up with the Doctor, but about writing things down, keeping memories. So much of her life has been taken from her; small wonder that she holds on so fiercely to the memories she goes on to create. (And it's why River-as-archaeologist makes so much thematic sense, because that work is all about recovering what has been forgotten.)

It'll be interesting to see what (if anything) happens with Clara in this regard, because there does seem to be the suggestion of "knowledge = danger" in "Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS," that Clara learns something in the library that she isn't allowed to keep...but the episode ends with the suggestion that memory is still possible if you look, if you feel it - that memory ripples out, even backwards into time, even when you don't know that it has.

...in other TV news, I've spent a lot of time over the last week or so re-watching S1 Joan of Arcadia and weeping. I always felt like this show had a bad reputation with people who had never actually bothered to watch it, but what I was thinking this time was that I wanted more books like this show: not the "girl talks to God" part, but the part where we're looking at a loving family trying to do their best for one another (instead of the estrangement and coldness that fills so many novels), and people rise to the occasion of being the good parts of humanity even though they make mistakes and hurt others, and people are earnest and trying and gloriously messy instead of disaffected and cynical and closed-off. This is the stuff that makes books like The Bean Trees and I Capture the Castle (and yes, Tamsin) my favorites, and one of the reasons that I have a hard time finding historical fiction not written by Gillian Bradshaw (so much of the stuff that isn't about famous people - my kingdom for a Tudor-era book that doesn't involve solving a mystery and is *not* about the Henrician or Elizabethan court! - seems to be of the "life in the past was terrible and nothing ever went well for anyone" school, which is probably why I tend to read YA historical fiction instead).

(I mean, Code Name Verity was easily the best new book I read in 2012, and it's not like it was all rainbows and kittens, but it was about love, you know? Not romance - not that there's anything wrong with romance - or the kind of passion that takes you away from yourself, which is what stands in for love in so much fiction, but the kind of love that lets you and *helps* you be who you are. I feel like my childhood devotion to Madeleine L'Engle is showing through here - "she could stand there and she could love Charles Wallace" is probably the only-recently-realized secret anthem to nearly every story I've tried to write - but that's what I want more of.)

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