tempestsarekind: (books and flowers)
A brief clip from an upcoming one-hour episode hosted by Dr. Janina Ramirez:

(Aw, Norwich. Seeing the train station gives me all sorts of warm and fuzzy nostalgic feelings about my semester abroad there.)

So those of you who have access to these sorts of things, it airs next Tuesday and looks like it will be available on the website thereafter:

I had to teach selections from Julian of Norwich once in a survey class, and the whole time I was conscious of not doing a very good job. But I did bring my students hazelnut cookies, so at least I gave them thematically appropriate treats?

ETA: Apparently the presenter has an upcoming book on the subject as well - Julian of Norwich: A Very Brief History - but I didn't want to link to Amazon and can't find another listing. Looks like a September release date.
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

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?

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: (bonny kate)
For reasons that don't need exploring at this juncture, I was looking for an online text of Chaucer's House of Fame this morning. But look what I also found:

For ye be lyk the sweynte cat,
That wolde have fish; but wostow what?
He wolde no-thing wete his clowes. (Book III, ll. 1785-7)


I'm sure I didn't think anything of this when I read The House of Fame in grad school, because I didn't know Macbeth nearly as well as I know it now, but here's the same cat:

Wouldst thou have that
Which thou esteem'st the ornament of life,
And live a coward in thine own esteem,
Letting 'I dare not' wait upon 'I would,'
Like the poor cat i' th' adage? (Macbeth, 1.7)

These little things that persist through time make me very happy.
tempestsarekind: (very few dates in this history)

On the one hand, David Dawson - very good.

On the other hand…this trailer is strikingly incoherent about exactly when this show is supposed to take place (beyond the dark, cool-paletted, what-is-color? Middle Ages, of course), or what exactly is going on besides "battles, lots of." Also, somewhat perversely perhaps, I would like someone to decide that just because they have the budget to spend a lot of time on battle scenes, that doesn't mean that they have to. I'd kind of like someone to tell a story like this (whatever story this is; I'll get back to you once I've looked at something other than this information-free trailer) solely through scenes of intrigue and planning, and worried hushed whispers from the women who have just as much at stake even if they aren't the ones wielding the swords - just to show all the stuff you're freed up to spend time on when you aren't choreographing and shooting yet another battle sequence. And I'd like the trailer to suggest that women have some other purpose besides sex and being menaced, but let's not ask for the moon, I guess.
tempestsarekind: (bonny kate)
Top ten historical forensic facial reconstructions

This includes the recent reconstruction of Richard III (the one with blond hair), and the reconstruction of Mary, Queen of Scots done from portraits, as well as a rather nice one of a woman from medieval Edinburgh.

Of particular interest here is the "Beachy Head Lady," described as "a sub-Saharan African living in Eastbourne during Roman times." As the article says, "Beachy Head Lady was assumed to be a third century European Roman until experts took a closer look."

And this is precisely why people who talk about "the historical record" as if it is fixed and objective - usually to complain about the inclusion of people of color in media that take place in the European past, because of that terrible specter, "political correctness" - are so frustrating. (Well, there are many reasons; this is one.) The historical record is determined by what is left out and what is assumed, just as by what is there. How many skeletons might there be like this one, but which are still keeping their secrets because historians and archaeologists never considered the possibility that they might have belonged to people of different races?

(With all the caveats necessary when one talks about "race" in other periods, of course.)

And here's a story on the Beachy Head Lady, from the same site:
tempestsarekind: (pilgrimage)
England's medieval immigrants revealed by universities

(link via Twitter.)

And here's the England's Immigrants project itself (linked in the BBC article), described on its website as "a fully-searchable database containing over 64,000 names of people known to have migrated to England during the period of the Hundred Years’ War and the Black Death, the Wars of the Roses and the Reformation":
tempestsarekind: (freema squee)
I got an email in my inbox about the upcoming National Theatre season, with this delectable tidbit to kick things off:

a new adaptation by Carol Ann Duffy

When Death comes, who will stand by your side?

Chiwetel Ejiofor takes the title role. Rufus Norris directs.

From 22 April in the Olivier Theatre. Travelex £15 Tickets
Broadcast live to cinemas on 16 July via NT Live


Of course, I am especially hopeful because of that last line - if they're planning to do a live broadcast in the UK, then maybe it will migrate across the pond as well...
tempestsarekind: (ofelia reading)
(Is the New Yorker's new stance "no one should like reading anything unless it is approved by us"? Didn't they just publish one of these finger-wagging pieces for adults? Did they feel like they weren't scolding enough readers with that last one? Thought they'd cast their net a little wider, did they?)

"What if the strenuous accessibility of 'Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods' proves so alluring to young readers that it seduces them in the opposite direction from that which Gaiman’s words presuppose—away from an engagement with more immediately difficult incarnations of the classics, Greek and otherwise? What if instead of urging them on to more challenging adventures on other, potentially perilous literary shores, it makes young readers hungry only for more of the palatable same?"

"The Percy Jackson Problem," Rebecca Mead

(link via Neil Gaiman's Tumblr.)

Won't somebody please think of the children??? (What if the books are so enjoyable that children can't help themselves? What if they're like drugs?)

…I sometimes wonder if people would be less odd and panicky about this if we didn't live in a culture that was so concerned with precocity and early development. Let's say children don't pick up difficult incarnations of the classics - let's say they don't read them until high school or even, god forbid, college. (I'm assuming for the sake of this argument that reading the classics is a good thing that we would like people to do at some point, but it is not the only way to build a life.) Is that so bad? And let's say - brazen thought, but humor me for a second - that when they do read those classics in high school or college or even (gasp) when they're not in school at all (because I hear tell that people do still develop interests once they graduate), they feel more comfortable with them because they remember some of the stories from reading Rick Riordan's books: where, exactly, is the problem?

I feel like these articles all seem to operate under the impression that if you're not reading it (whatever it is) by the time you're ten, it's all over for you, and you're intellectually stunted forever. But I can never take these handwringing pieces seriously, because my own experience was so different. I was a pretty precocious reader as a child, in some ways: I started reading when I was two, I read well above my grade level, and I had a pretty well-stocked vocabulary. And Rebecca Mead would probably have approved of me, because for some odd reason I was obsessed with Bullfinch's Mythology (I…appropriated my mother's copy without actually thinking about it, to the extent that she found it on one of my bookshelves a couple of years ago and commented, "I used to have this book…"), and my first encounters with a lot of Greek and Roman myths happened in that book (although I have a very strong memory of first reading the story of Pandora's box in Virginia Hamilton's collection In the Beginning). (I didn't really latch on to the D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths - mentioned in Mead's piece - but oh, how I loved their version of East of the Sun and West of the Moon. I wish it would come back into print.)

But I didn't "graduate" to reading "serious" adult fiction when I was a child, or even very much when I was a teen. I was quite happy in the children's section, for a long time. I read and loved Matilda, and thought wistfully about how nice it would be to have been a prodigy, to impress somebody like Miss Honey because I loved Dickens - but I never went out and tried to read any Dickens. Even in high school, I liked most of what we read in school, and I understood it pretty easily - but even after reading and loving Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion for class, I didn't run to seek out any other Austen novels. I was far too busy at the time reading Robin McKinley and Patricia McKillip and Josepha Sherman, and trying to find all the Gillian Bradshaw novels I could get my hands on. I knew Fortinbras as the Murry family's dog in A Wrinkle in Time well before I knew he was a character in Hamlet.

And you know, I think I turned out okay. I read the rest of Austen's novels in college, and fell as ardently in love as anyone could wish. It turns out that I really liked Bleak House, once I got around to reading it. Shakespeare pretty much knocked me over the head and dragged me off to grad school, where I don't seem to have done any worse because I didn't read all the plays when I was twelve. And if I still haven't read Tolstoy or a bunch of other things yet - well, I've still got time. Because I haven't stopped reading, and changing, and learning that things I heard about when I was younger actually come from other sources that I can choose to explore even though I didn't then. (Baby Me would not have been ready for Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, even though she had read a retelling of it. Baby Me was not ready for Twelfth Night, even though she could understand it perfectly well in her seventh-grade English class, because she hit backspace, appalled and embarrassed, at the first joke about venereal disease. Who knows what other riches Baby Me has left for Grownup Me to explore?)

The books that made me love reading - that turned me into the kind of person who could love Austen and Shakespeare as entirely as I do - were unabashedly children's books, populated with Moomins and dragons and children who ran away to hide in museums, and girls who traveled through time. The books that kept me in love with reading were the sorts of genre books that critics often sneer at (books that still have a purchase on my heart). Certainly the books that made me want to be a writer when I was younger, that made me think about how words worked together, were those kinds of books. (I literally started writing about writing because I wanted to figure out how McKillip's Riddlemaster books worked.) My reading abilities didn't atrophy and desiccate just because it took me a little longer to get around to the kinds of books that Rebecca Mead would consider important. So I bet those kids reading the Percy Jackson series are going to be fine.
tempestsarekind: (it is margaret you mourn for)
I find this story weirdly fascinating and a bit sad, somehow:

Thousands of bodies under Bath Abbey threaten its stability

tempestsarekind: (your strange behavior puzzles martha)
...looking for novels I might want to read, and found this:

When Three British Boys Traveled to Medieval England (Or Did They?)


Yeah. Apparently "retrocognition" studies are a thing.

Mostly I'm amused by the fact that as I was reading along, I thought, "yeah, no, there wouldn't have been glass windows to peer through!" and the author says more or less the same thing. (Because, of course, *that's* what proves that this didn't happen.)
tempestsarekind: (mind the gap)
I saw this on a TV news crawl a few days ago, but forgot to look into it until now:

"Black Death pit" unearthed by Crossrail project

I'm not sure quite why, but the suggestion that these skeletons, due to their neat placement, are from the early days of the Black Death is making me very sad... (I mean, even sadder than the presence of Black Death skeletons would normally make me.)
tempestsarekind: (very few dates in this history)
I went to look in the local bookstore (unsuccessfully, as it happens) for textbooks for this semester's courses, and discovered a stack of copies of Shakespeare's Richard III in a prominent location near the register.


This will probably be my only post about the whole Richard III discovery, because honestly, my flist has it covered, and I don't want to shame myself in front of them with my Ricardian ignorance, but I am also fascinated by the findings.


Jan. 17th, 2011 08:19 pm
tempestsarekind: (manuscript [little women])
I did watch The Secret of Kells today, finally, so that is one good thing. It was beautiful, and I thought it was really interesting how the animation was built around shape and color rather than perspective and line--most of the movie is flat, "like a medieval manuscript," according to the director.


Jan. 17th, 2011 08:19 pm
tempestsarekind: (manuscript [little women])
I did watch The Secret of Kells today, finally, so that is one good thing. It was beautiful, and I thought it was really interesting how the animation was built around shape and color rather than perspective and line--most of the movie is flat, "like a medieval manuscript," according to the director.


tempestsarekind: (Default)

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