Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Review: A Secret Well Kept by Constance Kell

I think, the title - "A Secret Well Kept: The Untold Story of Sir Vernon Kell, Founder of MI5"  - is a little misleading. What this is, in fact, is a quite acceptable memoir of a life shared between two people which is told in the first person narrative by Lady Constance Kell. The story, told in a charming and free flowing manner, is interspersed with anecdotes of her husband's military and diplomatic career, and then his work in the creation and establishment of MI5. A juicy spy story this is not (which is sort of what I was looking for - the nuts and bolts).

Having said that, I honestly found the story of Lady Kell more interesting than that of her husband. Here was a young Irish woman who, following her marriage, accompanied her husband to China, survived the Boxer Rebellion, had some adventures of her own in China, traversed the trans-Siberian Railway back to Europe and England; witness the outbreak of WWI, survived the great influenza epidemic of 1918, saw the creation of the Irish Free State in 1921 and the outbreak of WWII! Through her husband, she rubbed shoulders with an array of interesting folk from politician, diplomats and royalty. What a woman!

For the life of Sir Vernon, Stewart Binn's introduction in the bool was really all that was required to sum up his life.

Recommendation: read it for the story of Lady Kell.
See also: Rare family photos - Express Newspaper

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Novels of Irish Insurrection

The Red & the Green - Iris Murdoch
On the eve of the Easter Rising, a divided Irish family is pushed to the brink of destruction  In the dark days of the First World War, tensions between Catholic Pat Dumay and his Protestant cousin Andrew Chase-White threaten to tear their family apart along political and religious lines. As Ireland moves ever closer to the deadly Easter rebellion, the family is engulfed in an epic drama of love, loyalty, and loss that will change their lives forever.  The Red and the Green is in the end a story of tragic freedom, defined by Iris Murdoch as “the concept of freedom which I have related to the concept of love: freedom as an exercise of the imagination in an unreconciled conflict of dissimilar beings”

The Red & the Green was Iris Murdoch's only novel written about historical events in Ireland - and it has, and will, remain one of my all time favourites. Even today, many years after reading, the characters, especially that of Pat Dumay, are still vivid and ever present as they were when I first picked up this book at my local library.  Criticism of this work of Iris Murdoch has been varied - you can read through the various critiques here at Per See.  In depth reviews can be found here at Colby Quarterly, Seeing the World through Books, and Irish Philosophy.

Across the Bitter Sea - Ellis Dillon
Another volume that has remained implanted upon the memory cells.
An Irish family saga spanning nearly 70 years, from the potato famine to the Easter Rebellion in 1916, whose lives are dominated by the politics of the day. Alice MacDonagh is a girl from the Connemara bogs who becomes a lady by marrying Samuel Flaherty, the son of a landlord. She loves Samuel and is devoted to the cause of reform he espouses but she also manages to maintain a steady passion for Morgan Connolly, a Fenian, whose wife she becomes after Samuel is assassinated. In their work for Irish independence they are aided by James Fahy, son of the schoolmaster, who abandons medicine for the British civil service. 

Agony at Easter - Thomas Coffey 
Separated into six separate chapters for each of the days that Dublin was in the hands of the Provisional Government, this work of historical fiction depicts in great detail the events in and directly around the GPO during the 1916 Rising.

Blood Upon the Rose: Easter 1916, The Rebellion that Set Ireland Free - Gerry Hunt 
Depicting twelve days in 1916, from April 23rd to May 3rd, this book details the events of the Easter Rising from perspective of the key Irish organizers and military commanders with all the action taking place in Dublin.

Consumed in Freedom’s Flame - Cathal Liam
The novel begins near the end of the Easter Rising, flashing back and forth between the present and the past events that led up to it. Part of a group led by The O’Rahilly and tasked with capturing a British barricade, Aran Roe O’Neill—one of the Rising’s key snipers—is one of very few who manages to escape with his life. Throughout the War of Independence, British practices become increasingly contradictory to the rules of international humanitarian law, and the Irish people slowly come to support the wishes of the IRA. The novel ends when truce terms come into effect on July 11, 1921

The Men That God Made Mad - WA Ballinger
The novel begins at the start of the 1916 Rising, depicting the frenzy inside the GPO as the building is taken over by rebel forces. The subsequent chapters, however, consist of flashbacks that mostly describe how a group of men from Kilcroom, County Cork, go about gathering arms and money in preparation for the upcoming revolution.

1916, A Novel Of the Irish Rebellion by Morgan Llywellyn
This epic tale is told through the experiences of the fictional Ned Halloran. Battle scenes are both accurate and compelling; betrayals, slaughters and passions of the day are all splendidly depicted as Llywelyn delivers a blow-by-blow account of the rebellion and its immediate aftermath. ( read review here @ CNN )

The series continues with 1921: The Great Novel of the Irish Civil War
The struggle of the Irish people for independence is one of the epic tales of the 20th century. The two big historical names in 1921 are Eamon de Valera and Michael Collins, both famous, mysterious, and familiar Irish figures.

and with 1949: A Novel of the Irish Free State
The tragedy of Irish civil war gives way in the 1920s to a repressive Catholic state led by Eamon De Valera. Married women cannot hold jobs, divorce is illegal, and the IRA has become a band of outlaws still devoted to and fighting for a Republic that never lived. The Great Depression stalks the world, and war is always on the horizon, whether in Northern Ireland, Spain, or elsewhere on the European continent.

The Informer -Liam O’Flaherty
The haunting story of Gypo Nolan, a former policeman turned revolutionary who divulges the whereabouts of his friend Frankie McPhillip to the police and subsequently finds himself hunted for the betrayal.

Insurrection - Liam O'Flaherty
The novel follows a diverse group of characters who are caught up in the events of the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin. The group are dispatched to defend the main road from Dublin to Dún Laoghaire (Dublin’s main port) from the expected arrival of British reinforcements. The novel explores each man’s motivations, fears and hopes through the battles and violence which ensue. The principal characters are: The uneducated, slow-witted Bartly Madden; Kinsella, the disciplined commander of a small band of insurgents; Stapleton, an anarchist and would-be poet; and Tommy Colgan, a youth consumed by fear and self-doubt

Year of the French -Thomas Flanagan
An advance guard of Irish patriots land in Mayo in 1798, committed to freeing their country from English rule. American author Thomas Flanagan’s novel charts the short-lived insurgency and the vicious counterattack on the Irish people that it provoked.

The House of Splendid Isolation - Edna O'Brien
An IRA soldier is on the lam and flees to Limerick. He takes an old woman hostage and the two battle it out. In O'Brien's view, with Ireland is a tired old woman with a sad story and not a lot of hope. Those who supposedly fight for her freedom just antagonize and torment her. 

Fool of Fortune - William Trevor
An informer’s body is found on the estate of a wealthy Irish family shortly after the First World War, and an appalling cycle of revenge is set in motion. Led by a zealous sergeant, the Black and Tans set fire to the family home, and only young Willie and his mother escape alive. Fatherless, Willie grows into manhood while his alcoholic mother’s bitter resentment festers. And though he finds love, Willie is unable to leave the terrible injuries of the past behind.

Trinity - Leon Uris
A sweeping and powerful epic adventure that captures the “terrible beauty” of Ireland during its long and bloody struggle for freedom. It is the electrifying story of an idealistic young Catholic rebel and the valiant and beautiful Protestant girl who defied her heritage to join his cause. It is a tale of love and danger, of triumph at an unthinkable cost

Gracelin O'Malley - Anne Moore
A vivid chronicle of 19th-century Ireland, the first volume of Ann Moore’s popular trilogy introduces a courageous young heroine and movingly portrays an indomitable people as they struggle to survive the infamous famine and the brutal civil war that arrived in its wake. 

The Yellow House - Patricia Falvey
Eileen O’Neill’s family is torn apart by religious intolerance and secrets from the past. She is soon torn between two men, each drawing her to one extreme. One is a charismatic and passionate political activist determined to win Irish independence from Great Britain at any cost, who appeals to her warrior’s soul. The other is the wealthy and handsome black sheep of the pacifist family 

The Girl in the Castle by Santa Montefiore
When the Irish revolt to throw over British rule in Southern Ireland, Jack enlists to fight. Worried for her safety, Jack warns Kitty to keep her distance, but she refuses and throws herself into the cause for Irish liberty, running messages and ammunition between the rebels. But as Kitty soon discovers, her allegiance to her family and her friends will be tested — and when Castle Deverill comes under attack, the only home and life she’s ever known are threatened.

The Shadow of a Gunman - Sean O'Casey
Donal Davoren is a poet who has come to room with Seumus Shields in a poor, Dublin tenement slum. Many of the residents of the tenement mistake Donal for an IRA volunteer. Donal does not refute this notoriety, especially when it wins him the affection of Minnie Powell, an attractive young woman in the tenement. Meanwhile, Seumus' business partner, Mr Maguire hides a bag full of Mills bombs in Seumus' apartment before participating in an ambush in which he is killed. The city is put under curfew as a result of the ambush, and Donal and Seumus do not discover the grenades until the Auxiliaries are raiding the tenement. Minnie Powell takes the bag and hides it in her own room. The Auxiliaries find nothing of note in Seumus' room, but take off Minnie Powell, who is later killed trying to escape.

Rebel Sisters - Marita Conlon-McKenna
Two sisters find themselves caught up in their country’s struggle for freedom. Muriel falls deeply in love with writer Thomas MacDonagh, artist Grace meets the enigmatic Joe Plunkett – both leaders of 'The Rising' – while Nellie joins the Citizen Army and bravely takes up arms, fighting alongside Countess Constance Markievicz in the rebellion.  On Easter Monday, 1916, the biggest uprising in Ireland for two centuries begins. The world of the Gifford sisters and everyone they hold dear will be torn apart in a fight that is destined for tragedy. 

A Star Called Henry - Roddy Doyle
Born in the Dublin slums of 1901, Henry Smart has to grow up fast. By the time he can walk he's out robbing and begging, often cold and always hungry, but a prince of the streets. By Easter Monday, 1916, he's fourteen years old and already six-foot-two, a soldier in the Irish Citizen Army.   A year later he's ready to die for Ireland again, a rebel, a Fenian and a killer. Henry becomes a Republican legend - one of Michael Collins' boys, a cop killer, an assassin on a stolen bike.

1798: Tomorrow the Barrow We'll Cross - Joe Murphy
The summer of 1798. Against all odds, against all hope, a tiny county fights the British Empire to a standstill. Two brothers, Dan and Tom Banville, find their comfortable rural existence ravaged as Ireland tips inevitably towards war. As the whispers and nods in the pubs and fields explode into all-out Rebellion, the Banville brothers find themselves thrust to the forefront of the revolution.

The Croppy: A Tale of 1798 - Michael Banim
Set during the Irish Rebellion of 1798, the "Croppies" (with their rebellious short hair) were men automatically suspected of sympathies with the pro-French underground organisation the Society of United Irishmen, and were seized by the British administration and its allies for interrogation and often subjected to torture by flogging, picketing and half-hanging. 

The Boyne Water - John Banim 
Set in Ulster during the Jacobite war of 1688–91 and the Siege of Derry. Can personal relationships survive the political and sectarian polarisation of the times.

An Excess of Love - Cathy Cash Spellman
Dublin is a hotbed of Republican fervor, and the FitzGibbon sisters find themselves at the center of it. This story brings to vivid life the Irish struggle for independence and tells the story of one impassioned family who lives the dream of freedom, and heroically pay the terrible price it exacts.

After the Lockout - Darren McCann
Set in Ireland in 1917, Victor Lennon returns home to the village of his birth. He has made a name for himself as a hero of the Easter Rising during his time in Dublin's slums, but he is not welcomed by all on his return home. He clashes with the local bishop and he is confronted by the problem of his drunkard father and not sure if he will be welcomed back by his long-lost love. He will have to choose between past loyalties and his own dreams for a future life.

Boycott - Colin Murphy
Two brothers, Owen and Thomas Joyce, barely survived the horror of the great famine that devastated Ireland in the 1840s. Three decades later they are thrown together during the Land War, when evictions and landlord cruelty reach an intolerable level.

Cathleen Ni Houlihan = William Butler Yeats
Set in 1798, the year of the Irish Rebellion, an old woman persuades a young man to forgo marriage and fight for his country instead.

A Nest of Simple Folk - Sean O'Faolin
A novel set in the period between the Easter Rising (1916) and the establishment of the Irish Free State (1921), 

The 13th Apostle - A Novel Of Michael Collins And The Irish Uprising - Dermot McEvoy
The 13th Apostle is the reimagined story of how Michael Collins, along with his young acolyte Eoin, transformed Ireland from a colony into a nation. Collins’s secret weapon was his intelligence system and his assassination squad, nicknamed “The Twelve Apostles.” On November 21, 1920, the squad—with its thirteenth member, young Eoin—assassinated the entire British Secret Service in Dublin. Twelve months and sixteen days later, Collins signed the Treaty at 10 Downing Street, which brought into being what is, today, the Republic of Ireland.

Book Reveals Lost Inca Treasure

Has an historian from Ecuador found resting place of last Inca king? That is the question still being asked today.

The historian carefully leafs through pages of a 400-year-old, leather-bound book until she finds the shaky signature. It’s a faint scrawl that has consumed Tamara Estupiñan for more than 30 years, led her to find forgotten Inca ruins and sparked an academic firestorm.
The signature, she says, is the key to unlocking two of archaeology’s greatest mysteries: What happened to the body of Atahualpa, the last king of the Incas? And what became of his fabled treasure?
Estupiñan thinks she has the answer to both questions. And while she hasn’t found gold, she may have uncovered something considered even more precious.
read more here @ Miami Herald

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/article135826498.html#storylink=cpy

The Flower of Chivalry

Having just purchased a second book with this byline and contemplating a third title, my curiosity was piqued - how many other medieval warriors bore this title - who were these knights who were the epitome of the chivalric code.

William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke (1146 or 1147 – 14 May 1219), also called William the Marshal, was an Anglo-Norman soldier and statesman. He served five English kings – Henry II, his sons The "Young King" Henry, Richard I, John, and John's son Henry III.

Further reading:
William Marshal, the Flower of Chivalry by Georges Duby
The Greatest Knight: The Remarkable Life of William Marshal, Power Behind Five English Thrones by Thomas Asbridge
William Marshal: Court, Career and Chivalry in the Angevin Empire 1147–1219 by David Crouch
William Marshal, Knight-Errant, Baron, and Regent of England by Sidney Painter

Bertrand du Guesclin (c. 1320 – 13 July 1380), nicknamed "The Eagle of Brittany" or "The Black Dog of Brocéliande", was a Breton knight and French military commander during the Hundred Years' War. He was Constable of France from 1370 to his death. Well known for his Fabian strategy, he took part in six pitched battles and won the four in which he held command.

Further reading:
The Flower of Chivalry: Bertrand Du Guesclin and the Hundred Years War by Richard Vernier 

Pierre Terrail, seigneur de Bayard (1473 – 30 April 1524) was a French soldier, generally known as the Chevalier de Bayard. Throughout the centuries since his death, he has been known as "the knight without fear and beyond reproach" (le chevalier sans peur et sans reproche). He himself however, preferred the name given him by his contemporaries for his gaiety and kindness, "le bon chevalier", or "the good knight". 

Further reading: 
The Chevalier Bayard by Samuel Shellabarger
The Story of the Chevalier Bayard by E Walford 

Sir William Douglas, Lord of Liddesdale (circa. 1300-k.1353) was also known as the Knight of Liddesdale and the Flower of Chivalry. He was a Scottish nobleman and soldier active during the Second War of Scottish Independence. 

Further reading: 
Border Fury: England and Scotland at War 1296-1568. by John Sadler 
The Black Douglases by Michael Brown 
Chronica Gentis Scotorum, by John of Fordun 

Sir Philip Sidney (30 November 1554 – 17 October 1586) was an English poet, courtier, scholar, and soldier, who is remembered as one of the most prominent figures of the Elizabethan age. 

Further reading
Life of the Renowned Sir Philip Sidney by Fulke Grevile
Sir Philip Sidney: Courtier Poet by Katherine Duncan-Jones

Henry V (9 August 1386 – 31 August 1422) was King of England from 1413 until his death at the age of 36 in 1422. He was the second English monarch who came from the House of Lancaster.

Further reading:
Henry V, Flower of Chivalry by Craig David Taylor
The Life and times of Henry V by P Earle
Agincourt: Henry V and the Battle That Made England by Juliet Barker

Edward of Woodstock KG (15 June 1330 – 8 June 1376), called the Black Prince, was the eldest son of King Edward III and Philippa of Hainault, and the father of King Richard II of England. He was the first Duke of Cornwall (from 1337), the Prince of Wales (from 1343) and the Prince of Aquitaine (1362–72). Edward has been referred to as the Flower of English Chivalry

Further reading:
Edward the Black Prince: Power in Medieval Europe. by David Green

Roland (died 15 August 778) was a Frankish military leader under Charlemagne who became one of the principal figures in the literary cycle known as the Matter of France. The historical Roland was military governor of the Breton March, responsible for defending Francia's frontier against the Bretons. 

Further reading:
Wikipedia - The Song of Roland
The Song of Roland by Dorothy Leigh Sayers

The story follows the adventures of a hidalgo named Mr. Alonso Quixano who reads so many chivalric romances that he loses his sanity and decides to set out to revive chivalry, undo wrongs, and bring justice to the world, under the name Don Quixote de la Mancha. 
Fearing he is dead, Sancho Panza laments Don Quixote: "Oh flower of chivalry, that with one blow of a stick hast ended the course of thy well-spent life! Oh pride of thy race, honour and glory of all La Mancha, nay, of all the world, that for want of thee will be full of evil-doers, no longer in fear of punishment for their misdeeds!

Further reading
Don Quixote by Miguel Cervantes

And finally we come to: 
Jean II Le Maingre, called Boucicaut (August 28, 1366 — June 21, 1421) was Marshal of France and a knight renowned for his military skill - the very flower of chivalry.  From his earliest years at the royal court in Paris, he distinguished himself in knightly pursuits: sorties against seditious French nobles, ceremonial jousts against the English enemy, crusading in Tunisia and Prussia, the composition of courtly verses, and the establishment of a chivalric order for the defence of ladies, the Order of the Enterprise of the White Lady of the Green Shield. 

Further reading
The Chivalric Biography of Boucicaut, Jean II Le Meingre by Craig David Taylor

Thursday, May 18, 2017

A Corresponding Renaissance

Author Lisa Kaborycha talks about her book "A Corresponding Renaissance: Letters Written by Italian Women, 1375-1650" at Oxford University Press Blog.

Writing letters was a quintessential part of everyday life in the Renaissance. The ability to write elegant, expressive, persuasive letters was a highly-prized skill. Beyond a practical necessity, letter writing was considered a high art. The Renaissance art of epistolarity, specifically the humanist penchant for modeling personal letters after those of Cicero, has been well documented. Less examined is what it meant for Renaissance individuals to publish their personal letters for all to read.  Renaissance women participated in this publishing phenomenon, demonstrating a willingness to share their innermost thoughts and to expose intimate details of their lives to the broader reading public. 

read rest of article her @ OUP Blog - Italian Women & 16th Century Social Media

The Fellowship of the Book: Manutius & Bembo

The figure of Aldus Manutius, the “Michelangelo of the Book,” is inseparable from the city where he produced his most important innovations: Venice, the principal printing centre of the Renaissance. 

Aldus’ most notable relationship with Venice, though, emerges through his fellowship with the intellectual and polygraph Pietro Bembo. Whereas Manutius revolutionized printing and reading, Bembo revolutionized the Italian literary language and canon. 

Manutius and Bembo’s partnership was particularly successful mainly because it benefited both sides equally. Bembo owed Manutius his first steps in the literary arena, since Aldus published his first texts – the scientific treatise De Aetna and the dialogue Gli Asolani– and entrusted Bembo with the critical edition of Dante’s and Petrarch’s immortal masterpieces. For the De Aetna, Manutius decided to use a new italic typeface, and commissioned it to his trusted punchcutter Francesco Griffo: in 1495-96, thus, the Bembo typeface was born. 

read entire article - The Fellowship of the Book by Elisa Mondolo here @ SFU Library Special Collections & Rare Books

Books: Holocaust History

From History News Network, comes two books tackling controversial characters from modern history.

The Devil's Diary
New York Times bestselling author Robert K. Wittman is the author of The Devil’s Diary: Alfred Rosenberg and the Stolen Secrets of the Third Reich. As an FBI agent and then a private consultant specialized in recovering artifacts of historic significance, he first learned of the diary his new book is about in 2001, when the chief archivist for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum contacted him to say that someone was trying to sell it for upwards of a million dollars. 
The diary is as significant an artifact as any that Henry or I had found in our careers. It is a priceless historical artifact, and at a time when fewer and fewer witnesses to the Holocaust survive to tell their stories, it is a powerful reminder of the cataclysmic perils of a hateful and misguided ideology like Alfred Rosenberg’s.
read more here @ History News Network

The Pharmacist of Auschwitz?
Interview with author Patricia Posner whose book The Pharmacist of Auschwitz? details the life of Victor Capesius, the Nazi who was the chief pharmacist and co-worker of Dr Josef Mengele at Auschwitz.
Capesius, on the other hand, is typical of many SS officers who were involved in terrible crimes at Auschwitz but sailed under the radar for a long time. He was one of the small cogs that allowed the Nazi killing machinery to work so efficiently.  Capesius is the quintessential ordinary man who becomes capable of extraordinary crimes, the concept that historian Hannah Arendt coined as the “banality of evil.”
read interview here @ History News Network

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Tsundoku - Book Hoarding

Book hoarding is a well-documented habit.  In fact, most literary types are pretty proud of the practice, steadfast in their desire to stuff shelves to maximum capacity. They’re not looking to stop hoarding, because parting with pieces of carefully curated piles is hard and stopping yourself from buying the next Strand staff pick is even harder. 

The desire to buy more books than you can physically read in one human lifetime is actually so universal, there’s a specific word for it: tsundoku. Defined as the stockpiling of books that will never be consumed, the term is a Japanese portmanteau of sorts, combining the words “tsunde” (meaning “to stack things”), “oku” (meaning “to leave for a while”) and “doku” (meaning “to read”).

Speaking of addictions ― the term “bibliomania” emerged in England around the same time as “tsundoku.” Thomas Frognall Dibdin, an English cleric and bibliographer, wrote Bibliomania, or Book Madness: A Bibliographical Romance in the 1800s, outlining a fictional “neurosis” that prompted those suffering from it to obsessively collect books of all sorts. 

Bibliomania has a dark past, documented more as a pseudo-illness that inspired real fear than a harmless knack for acquiring books we won’t have time to read. “Some collectors spent their entire fortunes to build their personal libraries,” Lauren Young wrote for Atlas Obscura. “While it was never medically classified, people in the 1800s truly feared bibliomania.” 

Read entire article here @ Huffington Post

Movie: The Last Duel

One of my favourite books is set to become a movie - Eric Jager's The Last Duel.

Shaun Grant has been set to adapt the Eric Jager novel The Last Duel for Jeff Robinov’s Studio 8Francis Lawrence (Hunger Games: Mockingjayis to direct with Erwin Stoff producing. Set in France,The Last Duel is the true story of a duel in 1386 between knights Jean de Carrouges and Jacques Le Gris. It was the final duel sanctioned by the French government, ruled at the time by King Charles VI.  Grant scripted the Justin Kurzel-directed Australian film Snowtown, a chronicle of the fact-based Snowtown murders. He also wrote Berlin Syndrome, an adaptation of the psychological thriller novel by Melanie Joosten that Cate Shortland will direct this summer.  

Read more @ Hroarr - What Really Happened at the Last Duel - Part 1 & Part 2 by Ariella Elema