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  1. The first chapter of Part II of Charles Moore’s presumably definitive biography of Margaret Thatcher is entitled “Liberal imperialist”. The title of the last chapter is “The last victory”. The titles are astutely chosen: this second volume covers the five years between the British victory in the Falklands War (1982) and Mrs Thatcher’s third general election victory (1987). Charles Moore’s biography is to be seen as a labour of love: not necessarily love for its subject, but most emphatically love for the biographer’s art. A work of art it certainly is, with painstaking attention to the slightest detail, abundant notes and an impeccable index (not the easiest of achievements...) Some may prefer to skip over what they may consider the excessive detail of certain (nevertheless) key elements of the years 1982-1987, which include negotiations over the future status of Hong Kong, the UK’s stance on South Africa, monetarism… and may, like me, prefer the chapters focusing on domestic policy. The penultimate chapter, “What they saw in her”, as the 1987 election drew close, paints a devastating picture of the extent to which Mrs Thatcher was detested by many prominent figures in the UK. And it should be pointed out that this biography is no hagiography: Charles Moore never venerates his subject, and sometimes states quite clearly that it can be argued, in such and such an area, that she made the wrong decisions. Her vulnerability and her loneliness are often brought centre-stage. This book can be read by those who adored Mrs Thatcher and by those who loathed her. One way or the other, it is impossible not to continue to respect her single-mindedness… or to continue to criticise her bloody-mindedness. *****
  2. For the second time (following her win with The Blind Assassin in 2000), Margaret Atwood has (jointly) scooped the Booker prize for a novel which will doubtless not be remembered as being among her best. There are those that say the sequel to – or spin-off from (opinions differ…) – The Handmaid’s Tale shouldn’t have been written. The open ending of The Handmaid’s Tale was gaping wide open, and was an essential element in the whole novel. But now that ambiguous ending has been rendered less so, albeit with a lack of details. And it seems abundantly clear that the sequel/spin-off would not have been written were it not for the interest generated by the film adaptation of the earlier work. Of the three alternating narratives comprising The Testaments, that of Aunt Lydia is by far the most interesting and the most intriguing. She is the only narrator to have already featured as a character in The Handmaid’s Tale, and her development in the sequel/spin-off is highly unexpected. Many readers have questioned the plausibility of what she does; however it is Aunt Lydia’s narrative that both opens and closes the novel, and, plausible or not, she is a character with a conscience. In sharp contrast to Aunt Lydia’s, the other two narratives are deliberately naïve and based on a lack of complete understanding of the situations in which the narrators, one inside Gilead and one outside, find themselves. The identities of those narrators (and their link to The Handmaid’s Tale) is gradually revealed, and from then on the novel develops into a will-they-or- won’t they/can-they-or-can’t-they thriller. Which is rather unfortunate, to my mind, and definitely not what Atwood does best. Significantly, I identified with Aunt Lydia until the end, and conversely couldn’t, in the end, care less what happened to Agnes and Daisy (or whoever they are…) I fully agree that the tacked-on epilogue is a serious mistake. If Atwood wanted to satirise academics (as she did in the similar epilogue to The Handmaid’s Tale), fair enough… but she could surely have done it elsewhere. And Aunt Lydia’s final sentence would have made a much more resonant conclusion to the novel as a whole. ****0
  3. MACBETH I am sick at heart, When I behold—Seyton, I say!—This push Will cheer me ever, or disseat me now. I have lived long enough: my way of life Is fall'n into the sear, the yellow leaf; And that which should accompany old age, As honour, love, obedience, troops of friends, I must not look to have; but, in their stead, Curses, not loud but deep, mouth-honour, breath, Which the poor heart would fain deny, and dare not. Shakespeare, Macbeth V/iii (This will be my last post on BGO. In this increasingly uncertain world, I wish you all well.)
  4. OTHELLO Soft you; a word or two before you go. I have done the state some service, and they know't. No more of that. I pray you, in your letters, When you shall these unlucky deeds relate, Speak of me as I am; nothing extenuate, Nor set down aught in malice: then must you speak Of one that loved not wisely but too well; Of one not easily jealous, but being wrought Perplex'd in the extreme; of one whose hand, Like the base Indian, threw a pearl away Richer than all his tribe; of one whose subdued eyes, Albeit unused to the melting mood, Drop tears as fast as the Arabian trees Their medicinal gum. Set you down this; And say besides, that in Aleppo once, Where a malignant and a turban'd Turk Beat a Venetian and traduced the state, I took by the throat the circumcised dog, And smote him, thus. Shakespeare, Othello V/ii
  5. Come into the garden, Maud, For the black bat, night, has flown, Come into the garden, Maud, I am here at the gate alone; And the woodbine spices are wafted abroad, And the musk of the rose is blown. For a breeze of morning moves, And the planet of Love is on high, Beginning to faint in the light that she loves On a bed of daffodil sky, To faint in the light of the sun she loves, To faint in his light, and to die. All night have the roses heard The flute, violin, bassoon; All night has the casement jessamine stirr’d To the dancers dancing in tune; Till silence fell with the waking bird, And a hush with the setting moon. [...] Alfred, Lord Tennyson, "Come into the Garden Maud"
  6. I had a dove and the sweet dove died ; And I have thought it died of grieving : O, what could it grieve for? Its feet were tied, With a silken thread of my own hand's weaving ; Sweet little red feet! why should you die - Shy should you leave me, sweet dove ! why ? You liv'd alone on the forest-tree, Why, pretty thing ! could you not live with me ? I kiss'd you oft and gave you white peas ; Why not live sweetly, as in the green trees ? John KEATS, "Song"
  7. GERTRUDE Sweets to the sweet! Farewell. I hop'd thou shouldst have been my Hamlet's wife; I thought thy bride-bed to have deck'd, sweet maid, And not have strew'd thy grave. LAERTES O, treble woe Fall ten times treble on that cursed head Whose wicked deed thy most ingenious sense Depriv'd thee of! Hold off the earth awhile, Till I have caught her once more in mine arms. [Leaps in the grave.] Now pile your dust upon the quick and dead Till of this flat a mountain you have made T' o'ertop old Pelion or the skyish head Of blue Olympus. Shakespeare, Hamlet V/i
  8. This empty street, this sky to blandness scoured, This air, a little indistinct with autumn Like a reflection, constitute the present - A time traditionally soured, A time unrecommended by event. But equally they make up something else: This is the future furthest childhood saw Between long houses, under travelling skies, Heard in contending bells - An air lambent with adult enterprise, And on another day will be the past, A valley cropped by fat neglected chances That we insensately forbore to fleece. On this we blame our last Threadbare perspectives, seasonal decrease. Philip LARKIN, "Triple time"
  9. My heartfelt advice would be not to read either of them... You're not supposed to say so, of course, given the subject matter, but both books are distinctly overrated, and distinctly boring. (And poorly written... I read them in the original French... )
  10. We were a noisy crew, the sun in heaven Beheld not vales more beautiful than ours, Nor saw a race in happiness and joy More worthy of the ground where they were sown. I would record with no reluctant voice The woods of autumn and their hazel bowers With milk-white clusters hung; the rod and line, True symbol of the foolishness of hope, Which with its strong enchantment led us on By rocks and pools, shut out from every star All the green summer, to forlorn cascades Among the windings of the mountain brooks. From William Wordsworth, The Prelude, Book I
  11. Be innocent of the knowledge, dearest chuck, Till thou applaud the deed. Come, seeling night, Scarf up the tender eye of pitiful day; And with thy bloody and invisible hand Cancel and tear to pieces that great bond Which keeps me pale! Light thickens; and the crow Makes wing to the rooky wood: Good things of day begin to droop and drowse; While night's black agents to their preys do rouse. Thou marvell'st at my words: but hold thee still; Things bad begun make strong themselves by ill. Shakespeare, Macbeth III/ii
  12. Return we to Don Juan. He begun To hear new words, and to repeat them; but Some feelings, universal as the sun, Were such as could not in his breast be shut More than within the bosom of a nun. He was in love, as you would be no doubt, With a young benefactress; so was she, Just in the way we very often see. And every day by daybreak, rather early For Juan, who was somewhat fond of rest, She came into the cave, but it was merely To see her bird reposing in his nest. And she would softly stir his locks so curly, Without disturbing her yet slumbering guest, Breathing all gently o'er his cheek and mouth, As o'er a bed of roses the sweet south. And every morn his colour freshlier came, And every day help'd on his convalescence. 'Twas well, because health in the human frame Is pleasant, besides being true love's essence, For health and idleness to passion's flame Are oil and gunpowder; and some good lessons Are also learnt from Ceres and from Bacchus, Without whom Venus will not long attack us. Lord BYRON, Don Juan, canto II, stanzas 167 - 169
  13. In the old age black was not counted fair, Or if it were, it bore not beauty's name; But now is black beauty's successive heir, And beauty slandered with a bastard shame: For since each hand hath put on nature's power, Fairing the foul with art's false borrowed face, Sweet beauty hath no name, no holy bower, But is profaned, if not lives in disgrace. Therefore my mistress' brows are raven black, Her eyes so suited, and they mourners seem At such who, not born fair, no beauty lack, Sland'ring creation with a false esteem; Yet so they mourn, becoming of their woe, That every tongue says beauty should look so. Shakespeare, Sonnet 127
  14. Spot of my youth! whose hoary branches sigh, Swept by the breeze that fans thy cloudless sky; Where now alone I muse, who oft have trod, With those I lov'd, thy soft and verdant sod; With those who, scatter'd far, perchance deplore, Like me, the happy scenes they knew before: Oh! as I trace again thy winding hill, Mine eyes admire, my heart adores thee still, Thou drooping Elm! beneath whose bows I lay, And frequent mus'd the twilight hours away; Where, as they once were wont, my limbs recline, But, ah! without the thoughts which then were mine: How do thy branches, moaning to the blast, Invite the bosom to recall the past, And seem to whisper, as they gently swell, "Take, while thou canst, a lingering last farewell!" Lord BYRON, "Lines Written Beneath an Elm in the Churchyard of Harrow", stanza I
  15. That Whitsun, I was late getting away: Not till about One-twenty on the sunlit Saturday Did my three-quarters-empty train pull out, All windows down, all cushions hot, all sense Of being in a hurry gone. We ran Behind the backs of houses, crossed a street Of blinding windscreens, smelt the fish-dock; thence The river’s level drifting breadth began, Where sky and Lincolnshire and water meet. All afternoon, through the tall heat that slept For miles inland, A slow and stopping curve southwards we kept. Wide farms went by, short-shadowed cattle, and Canals with floatings of industrial froth; A hothouse flashed uniquely: hedges dipped And rose: and now and then a smell of grass Displaced the reek of buttoned carriage-cloth Until the next town, new and nondescript, Approached with acres of dismantled cars. At first, I didn’t notice what a noise The weddings made Each station that we stopped at: sun destroys The interest of what’s happening in the shade, And down the long cool platforms whoops and skirls I took for porters larking with the mails, And went on reading. Once we started, though, We passed them, grinning and pomaded, girls In parodies of fashion, heels and veils, All posed irresolutely, watching us go, As if out on the end of an event Waving goodbye To something that survived it. Struck, I leant More promptly out next time, more curiously, And saw it all again in different terms: The fathers with broad belts under their suits And seamy foreheads; mothers loud and fat; An uncle shouting smut; and then the perms, The nylon gloves and jewellery-substitutes, The lemons, mauves, and olive-ochres that Marked off the girls unreally from the rest. Yes, from cafés And banquet-halls up yards, and bunting-dressed Coach-party annexes, the wedding-days Were coming to an end. All down the line Fresh couples climbed aboard: the rest stood round; The last confetti and advice were thrown, And, as we moved, each face seemed to define Just what it saw departing: children frowned At something dull; fathers had never known Success so huge and wholly farcical; The women shared The secret like a happy funeral; While girls, gripping their handbags tighter, stared At a religious wounding. Free at last, And loaded with the sum of all they saw, We hurried towards London, shuffling gouts of steam. Now fields were building-plots, and poplars cast Long shadows over major roads, and for Some fifty minutes, that in time would seem Just long enough to settle hats and say I nearly died, A dozen marriages got under way. They watched the landscape, sitting side by side —An Odeon went past, a cooling tower, And someone running up to bowl—and none Thought of the others they would never meet Or how their lives would all contain this hour. I thought of London spread out in the sun, Its postal districts packed like squares of wheat: There we were aimed. And as we raced across Bright knots of rail Past standing Pullmans, walls of blackened moss Came close, and it was nearly done, this frail Travelling coincidence; and what it held Stood ready to be loosed with all the power That being changed can give. We slowed again, And as the tightened brakes took hold, there swelled A sense of falling, like an arrow-shower Sent out of sight, somewhere becoming rain. Philip LARKIN, "The Whitsun Weddings"
  16. LXII She woke at length, but not as sleepers wake, Rather the dead, for life seemed something new, A strange sensation which she must partake Perforce, since whatsoever met her view Struck not on memory, though a heavy ache Lay at her heart, whose earliest beat still true Brought back the sense of pain without the cause, For, for a while, the furies made a pause. LXIII She look'd on many a face with vacant eye, On many a token without knowing what; She saw them watch her without asking why, And reck'd not who around her pillow sat. Not speechless, though she spoke not; not a sigh Relieved her thoughts. Dull silence and quick chat Were tried in vain by those who served; she gave No sign, save breath, of having left the grave. Lord BYRON, Don Juan, canto IV
  17. OTHELLO Soft you; a word or two before you go. I have done the state some service, and they know't. No more of that. I pray you, in your letters, When you shall these unlucky deeds relate, Speak of me as I am; nothing extenuate, Nor set down aught in malice: then must you speak Of one that loved not wisely but too well; Of one not easily jealous, but being wrought Perplex'd in the extreme; of one whose hand, Like the base Indian, threw a pearl away Richer than all his tribe; of one whose subdued eyes, Albeit unused to the melting mood, Drop tears as fast as the Arabian trees Their medicinal gum. Set you down this; And say besides, that in Aleppo once, Where a malignant and a turban'd Turk Beat a Venetian and traduced the state, I took by the throat the circumcised dog, And smote him, thus. Shakespeare, Othello V/ii
  18. The Shepherd, looking eastward, softly said, "Bright is thy veil, O Moon, as thou art bright!" Forthwith, that little cloud, in ether spread And penetrated all with tender light, She cast away, and showed her fulgent head Uncovered; dazzling the Beholder's sight As if to vindicate her beauty's right Her beauty thoughtlessly disparaged. Meanwhile that veil, removed or thrown aside, Went floating from her, darkening as it went; And a huge mass, to bury or to hide, Approached this glory of the firmament; Who meekly yields, and is obscured--content With one calm triumph of a modest pride. William Wordsworth
  19. [...] Into the chamber wickedly he stalks, And gazeth on her yet unstained bed. The curtains being close, about he walks, Rolling his greedy eyeballs in his head: By their high treason is his heart misled; Which gives the watch-word to his hand full soon To draw the cloud that hides the silver moon. Look, as the fair and fiery-pointed sun, Rushing from forth a cloud, bereaves our sight; Even so, the curtain drawn, his eyes begun To wink, being blinded with a greater light: Whether it is that she reflects so bright, That dazzleth them, or else some shame supposed; But blind they are, and keep themselves enclosed. O, had they in that darksome prison died! Then had they seen the period of their ill; Then Collatine again, by Lucrece' side, In his clear bed might have reposed still: But they must ope, this blessed league to kill; And holy-thoughted Lucrece to their sight Must sell her joy, her life, her world's delight. [...] Shakespeare, The Rape of Lucrece
  20. I. Moonbeam, leave the shadowy vale, To bathe this burning brow. Moonbeam, why art thou so pale, As thou walkest o'er the dewy dale, Where humble wild-flowers grow? Is it to mimic me? But that can never be; For thine orb is bright, And the clouds are light, That at intervals shadow the star-studded night. II. Now all is deathy still on earth; Nature’s tired frame reposes; And, ere the golden morning’s birth Its radiant hues discloses, Flies forth its balmy breath. But mine is the midnight of Death, And Nature's morn To my bosom forlorn Brings but a gloomier night, implants a deadlier thorn. III. Wretch! Suppress the glare of madness Struggling in thine haggard eye, For the keenest throb of sadness, Pale Despair's most sickening sigh, Is but to mimic me; And this must ever be, When the twilight of care, And the night of despair, Seem in my breast but joys to the pangs that rankle there. Shelley, "To the Moonbeam"
  21. [...] And when the spring Looks out, and all the pastures dance with lambs, And when the flock, with warmer weather, climbs Higher and higher, him his office leads To watch their goings, whatsoever track The wanderers choose. For this he quits his home At day-spring, and no sooner doth the sun Begin to strike him with a fire-like heat, Than he lies down upon some shining rock, And breakfasts with his dog. When they have stolen, As is their wont, a pittance from strict time, For rest not needed or exchange of love, Then from his couch he starts; and now his feet Crush out a livelier fragrance from the flowers Of lowly thyme, by Nature's skill enwrought In the wild turf: the lingering dews of morn Smoke round him, as from hill to hill he hies, His staff protending like a hunter's spear, Or by its aid leaping from crag to crag, And o'er the brawling beds of unbridged streams. [...] William Wordsworth, The Prelude (1850), Book VIII
  22. When I do count the clock that tells the time, And see the brave day sunk in hideous night; When I behold the violet past prime, And sable curls all silver'd o'er with white: When lofty trees I see barren of leaves Which erst from heat did canopy the herd, And summer's green all girded up in sheaves Borne on the bier with white and bristly beard: Then of thy beauty do I question make, That thou among the wastes of time must go, Since sweets and beauties do themselves forsake, And die as fast as they see others grow, And nothing 'gainst time's scythe can make defence Save breed to brave him, when he takes thee hence. Shakespeare, Sonnet XII
  23. Dogs, or men (for I flatter you in saying That ye are dogs - your betters far), ye may Read, or read not, what I am now essaying To show ye what ye are in every way. As little as the moon stops for the baying Of wolves, will the bright Muse withdraw one ray From out her skies. Then howl your idle wrath, While she still silvers o'er your gloomy path! 'Fierce loves and faithless wars' - I am not sure If this be the right reading - 'tis no matter. The fact's about the same, I am secure. I sing them both and am about to batter A town which did a famous siege endure, And was beleaguered both by land and water By Suvaroff or anglice Suwarrow, Who loved blood as an alderman loves marrow. Lord Byron, Don Juan, canto VII, stanzas 7 & 8
  24. And did those feet in ancient time Walk upon Englands mountains green: And was the holy Lamb of God, On Englands pleasant pastures seen! And did the Countenance Divine, Shine forth upon our clouded hills? And was Jerusalem builded here, Among these dark Satanic Mills? Bring me my Bow of burning gold: Bring me my arrows of desire: Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold! Bring me my Chariot of fire! I will not cease from Mental Fight, Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand: Till we have built Jerusalem, In Englands green & pleasant Land. William BLAKE, "Jerusalem"
  25. HAMLET ‘A took my father grossly, full of bread, With all his crimes broad blown, as flush as May, And how his audit stands who knows save heaven? But in our circumstance and course of thought ’Tis heavy with him. And am I then revenged, To take him in the purging of his soul, When he is fit and season’d for his passage? No! Up, sword, and know thou a more horrid hent: When he is drunk asleep, or in his rage, Or in th’ incestuous pleasure of his bed, At game a-swearing, or about some act That has no relish of salvation in’t — Then trip him, that his heels may kick at heaven, And that his soul may be as damn’d and black As hell, whereto it goes. My mother stays, This physic but prolongs thy sickly days. Shakespeare, Hamlet III/iii
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