Tuesday, February 12, 2019

The Merryland books and other medieval 'obscene' materials have been digitised for archive

Many libraries and such institutions have kept some material from public viewing because their content were considered obscene or too sexual. However many institutions agreed to have these collections digitised for the Archives of Sexuality & Gender, Part III: Sex and Sexuality, Sixteenth to Twentieth Centuries.

The British Library's Dirtiest Books Have Been Digitized | Smart ...

Archives of Sexuality & Gender is a series of old documents pertaining to gender and sexuality which have been collected for further study. According to their website, this "collection brings together approximately 1.5 million pages of primary sources on social, political, health, and legal issues impacting LGBTQ communities around the world. The first part was on LGBTQ history and culture Since 1940; the second part provided insight into underrepresented and often excluded communities; and third part includes materials from 1600-1940 and focuses on "fertility and sexual practice; prostitution, religion and sexuality; the medical and legal construction of sexualities and the rise of sexology." according to their press release. The newly digtised material was published in it's third section.

read more here @ Times of India

SAVAGE FRONTIER: The Pyrenees in History by Matthew Carr

From Geographical:

Second to none in grandeur and great historic episodes, the Pyrenees have nevertheless been relegated to runner-up status behind the Alps and Himalaya. In comparison, little is known or told about the colourful characters and historic events that over the centuries have formed part of the history of this mountain range. Matthew Carr has rectified this injustice in a fascinating narrative revealing the past and present of the Pyrenees, which have seen the passage of great figures, from Charlemagne to Napoleon.

The Pyrenees extend almost 300 miles from the Bay of Biscay to the Mediterranean, separating the Iberian Peninsula from the European mainland. The mountains pass between Spain and France, are high and often difficult, but they were crossed by invading armies as well as innumerable medieval (and contemporary) pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela. On his travels through these mountains, it struck Carr that there had not been a book in English that looked at the mountains’ history and culture as a distinctive subject in their own right.

Carr traces the path of anarchist guerrillas, refugees, crusaders, witches and inquisitors. But this is not a quarrying of romanticism, for the author also exposes the mountains’ unpleasant face: the featureless high-rise ski buildings of Vielha and ski chalets and holiday apartments that blight the picturesque valleys of the Catalan and Aragonese Pyrenees. That aside, the book stands as a celebration of the Pyrenees as a gateway for invasion in wartime and, in times of peace, a haven and inspiration for luminaries such as Victor Hugo and George Sand.

Virgin Whore - Emma Maggie Solberg

Virgin Whore
In Virgin Whore, Emma Maggie Solberg uncovers a surprisingly prevalent theme in late English medieval literature and culture: the celebration of the Virgin Mary’s sexuality. Although history is narrated as a progressive loss of innocence, the Madonna has grown purer with each passing century. Looking to a period before the idea of her purity and virginity had ossified, Solberg uncovers depictions and interpretations of Mary, discernible in jokes and insults, icons and rituals, prayers and revelations, allegories and typologies—and in late medieval vernacular biblical drama.

More unmistakable than any cultural artifact from late medieval England, these biblical plays do not exclusively interpret Mary and her virginity as fragile. In a collection of plays known as the N-Town manuscript, Mary is represented not only as virgin and mother but as virgin and promiscuous adulteress, dallying with the Trinity, the archangel Gabriel, and mortals in kaleidoscopic erotic combinations. Mary’s “virginity” signifies invulnerability rather than fragility, redemption rather than renunciation, and merciful license rather than ascetic discipline. Taking the ancient slander that Mary conceived Jesus in sin as cause for joyful laughter, the N-Town plays make a virtue of those accusations: through bawdy yet divine comedy, she redeems and exalts the crime.

By revealing the presence of this promiscuous Virgin in early English drama and late medieval literature and culture—in dirty jokes told by Boccaccio and Chaucer, Malory’s Arthurian romances, and the double entendres of the allegorical Mystic Hunt of the Unicorn—Solberg provides a new understanding of Marian traditions.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Review: Twisted Fate by Frank Harrrelson

Synopsis: Twisted Fate tells the saga of families in France caught up in the Protestant Reformation begun in the sixteenth century by Martin Luther in Germany and John Calvin in Switzerland. The Reformation caused great conflict between the Catholic Church in France and the Huguenots, who desired religious toleration from the church and from the government. The reader gets involved in the lives of these families filled with political intrigue, murder, suspense, persecution, survival, and ultimately enduring love.

I am going to be reviewing this twice over as I stopped reading this part way through then came back to it.

Review 1: January 22nd 2019:
To say I was finding this challenging would be misleading - though I have come to a complete stop - such a promising start .. such an interesting topic to tackle ... thinking maybe this could have been tightened up a little or serialised earlier ... on the backburner for now.

Review 2: February 3rd, 2019:
History is my forte - I love it, and have a huge personal library covering off a number of topics, including French History. So whilst the struggles of the Huguenots attracted me to this work, the final "presentation" detracted form my reading pleasure.

Whilst this is essentially a (fictional) history of the beginnings of the author's family and the events that led to their arrival in America, it is also a history of the Huguenot town of La Rochelle. And this is where the conflict begins (no pun intended) - it is part historical fiction and part factual history, with the author attempting to give us the reader, as much information as possible on this period in French history. And, personally, this does not work for me. 

I will preface this second review with a sentence from the synopsis:
The reader gets involved in the lives of these families filled with political intrigue, murder, suspense, persecution, survival, and ultimately enduring love.

The lives of the characters (of which there are so many you don't know who to focus on) are drawn out, day by day to the point of tedium, and often scenes are repetitive as characters re-tell what has happened to them to other characters - in detail - after we, the readers, have already read all of this - in detail. The historical facts are detailed, at times, whole chapters dedicated to bringing us up to speed on our French History - it felt like a school lesson. Did I mention the detail? Thus for me, it got to the point that I just had to set this aside, unfinished. 

But my curiosity finally got the better of me, and I ploughed on - I wanted to find out how this story ended and just which of the characters made it to America and in what circumstances (hint: its in the final chapters).

I think, with hindsight, the author should have stuck with either a fictional account OR a factual account; and the editor / publisher should have stepped in here. For an historical novel, it is heavily annotated. Just reading a note I had written down " reads like a genealogy lesson" - and maybe a family tree might have been a more welcome addition or even a list of characters. No, on second thoughts, this should have been a "family history" type book rather than a fictional / factual account, with the historical facts then interspersed, which would have made much more sense.

This, for me, became a case where reading became a chore rather than a pleasure.

Further Reading:
City on the Ocean Sea: La Rochelle, 1530-1650 : Urban Society, Religion, and Politics on the French Atlantic Frontier by Kevin C Robbins
Protestant exiles from France in the reign of Louis XIV; or, the Huguenot refugees & their descendants in Great Britain & Ireland by David C Agnew (3 Vols) - read online HERE

Review: The Tragic Daughters of Charles I by Sarah-Beth Watkins

The period of the English Civil War has not historically been an area of reading interest to me; however, a number of fiction and non-fiction books have crossed my path over the last couple of years and my interest has been piqued. I will preface that statement by saying I was not at all unfamiliar with the historical aspects and the main players.

40828182In short, for those who are unfamiliar with this period, the English Civil War, fought between 1642-1651, saw King Charles I battle Parliament for control of the English government. The war began as a result of a conflict over the power of the monarchy and the rights of Parliament. During the early phases of the war, the Parliamentarians expected to retain Charles as king, but with expanded powers for Parliament. Though the Royalists won early victories, the Parliamentarians ultimately triumphed. As the conflict progressed, Charles was executed and a republic formed. Known as the  Commonwealth of England, this state later became the Protectorate under the leadership of Oliver Cromwell. Though Charles II was invited to take the throne in 1660, Parliament's victory established the precedent that the monarch could not rule without the consent of Parliament and placed the nation on the path towards a formal parliamentary monarchy.

It is against this backdrop that Sarah-Beth Watkins, rather than focusing on the more famous sons, introduces us to Charles I's three eldest surviving daughters - Mary (1631 - 1660), Elizabeth (1635 - 1650), and Henrietta Anne (1644 - 1670). There were two other daughters, Anne (1637 - 1640), though she did not survive childhood (toddlerhood), and baby Catherine (b&d. 1639).

Watkins presents the lives of these young women in accordance with the chronology of Charles I. We are treated to a family history before we start with the elder of the daughters, Mary Stuart, and then each successive daughter, their lives intertwining, not only with each other, but also with their brothers and mother.

Five eldest children of Charles I: Mary, James, Charles, Elizabeth (holding baby Anne)

Watkins tells the story of a separated family - Charles I off fighting or in custody; the children either fled abroad or in the hands of the Parliamentarians; their marriages; their tragic deaths. Each chapter is allocated a time frame from which to place the girls - for example, under the heading of 1634 - 1637, we look at the Queen's last pregnancy; the Queen's flight to France; the escape and smuggling of the baby Henrietta Anne to France to join her mother. These women lived short lives.

Poor Elizabeth who from age six until her death at age 14, was a prisoner of the English Parliament during the English Civil War. Unlike her other siblings, she and her younger brother Henry, were the only ones to see their father before his execution - she left a tragic account of this last meeting. Only after Elizabeth's death would Henry himself be released from his imprisonment.  Elizabeth herself would never know freedom.

Her hands in prayer enfolded, her Bible open spread, 
Her pale cheek on her pillow, the Stuart Rose lay dead. 
Thus nursed in tears and early pangs of sorrow's bitter rod, 
The daughter of the Martyr King went to the martyrs' God.
(Lays of the English Cavaliers by John Jeremiah Daniell, 1866)

Mary Stuart, the eldest daughter, was a fascinating woman. Married off early to William Prince of Orange, she spent most of life in Holland, fighting for her brother Charles' cause and providing what refuge and support she could. Yet ".... Mary had done so much for her brother ... but Charles was still unhappy with her ..." - he comes off as rather a rather ungrateful sod. Not only fighting for his cause but also acting as regent for her infant son!

Lastly, there is Henrietta Anne. Smuggled out of England and into France as a baby, she would grow to find herself at odds with the rest of her siblings, especially over the issue of religion. From this point onwards (about the halfway mark in the book) the focus is on Henrietta Anne. Her short yet eventful life was marked by scandal, political intrigues, an unhappy marriage (she said of her husband "... his hatred is unreasonable ..."), illness and pregnancies.  In fact, Henriette Anne could quite easily have had her own book so remarkable was her life!

" ...Stuart princesses lived complicated lives in turbulent times ... all of them suffered from great unhappiness as well as moments of joy ... their lives ended way too soon .."

This could quite easily have been applied to any number of women of this and earlier time periods. Women were expected to marry and provide heirs; princesses were expected to support their family's interests abroad as well as their husbands  - many times, these interests were conflicting; their efforts to procreate often ended their lives all too soon.

I have not in the past actively sought out books on any of the offspring of Charles I, though Watkins' book does collate the biographical information of the surviving daughters into one.  Whilst I would have preferred each daughter to have her own dedicated chapter or chapters, combining them does cut down on the repetition of information, and the use of time markers as chapter headings does given us an idea of where they are placed in the chronology of both their father Charles I and their brother Charles II's reigns.

What I enjoyed, and what readers will enjoy, are the final chapters which sums up the genealogical legacy of Mary and Henriette Anne.

Further reading:
Epistolary Power: the Correspondence of the Dutch and Frisian Stadtholders’ Wives, 1605–1725 (Mary Stuart has over 300 letters on file here that you can read either in their original format or translated).
Descedants of Charles I of England
Royal Renegades: The Children of Charles I by Linda Porter