Charlotte Reads Classics

Slowly, slowly, she sipped a sentence.

Category: History

New To My Bookcase

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I went to a book fair today and here are my spoils: Cousin BetteSelected PoemsLady Chatterley’s Lover and French Life and Ways. I am particularly pleased about the Ted Hughes collection because it has my favourite poem in it.

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A cover shot of Lady Chatterley’s Lover has to be included because it is so iconic – I am really pleased to own a copy. French Life and Ways is a fun purchase: published in 1906 it is a series of conversations written in French and English. Basically it is a phrase book, but not like one I’ve ever seen before. It is very lyrical, very old worldly, very amusing and pretty much a piece of social history. I suppose I don’t technically need to know the proper way to ask for tea in a salon, or which seats in the theatre will have their views blocked by ladies’ hats, but I want to know all the same.

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In the last week – not at the fair – I picked up some more classics: The Diary of Samuel Pepys: A SelectionWar and Peace (I want to re-read this and my other copy fell apart), A Vindication of the Rights of Women and The History of Tom Jones: A Foundling. In conclusion, my Classics Club list has crept up to over a hundred!

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I also got Night Walks, Wigs on the Green, Any Human Heart and Vanished Kingdoms.

What a week! In reading news, I’m still managing to keep to my Clarissa Schedule and have finished the second week’s pages but am holding off on a post about them until I get to the end of the June letters.

Happy December everyone!

Cleopatra (Coming at Ya)

Cleopatra, Stacy Schiff

Overall this book was a chore. Which also makes it disappointing as I’d been eagerly awaiting starting it. I don’t read much non fiction compared to fiction, but even so this was hard going. Stacy Schiff is a good writer, but not a particularly clear one. I do like how honest she was about when there was evidence for things and when there wasn’t, and she was clearly very taken with her subject. I think I learnt a lot about Cleopatra, and a bit about the ancient world which was fascinating. It just didn’t do anything for me.

The War at Home

Any cultivated Greek, Cleopatra included, could recite some part of the Illiad and the Odyssey by heart. The former was more popular in Cleopatra’s Egypt – it may have seemed a more pertinent tale for a turbulent time – but from an early age she would have known literarily what she at twenty-one discovered empirically: there were days you felt like waging war, and days when you just needed to go home.
Stacy Schiff, Cleopatra

Trips to Paris

Parisians, Graham Robb

Louis Chevalier hated people for liking Paris in ignorance of what it had once been. To him, Paris was a composite place built up over the ages, a picture book of superimposed transparencies, over-populated with the dead and haunted by the ghosts of the living.

Want to know about Paris from the people who actually spend their time there? Go for an ‘Adventure history of Paris’ instead of the ordinary travel guide. Graham Robb writes very personally but incredibly readably – he really knows his french history but he isn’t writing for history buffs. There are all kinds of stories in here, from the modern day right back to pre-revolutionary France. Sixteenth century poets to a bit of Proust (hurrah!), student riots in the sixties to the building of the metro. This is the real gritty history of Paris, supplied by Parisians.

The Hare With Amber Eyes

The Hare with Amber Eyes, Edmund de Waal

This book is so good. Edmund de Waal inherits a collection of 264 japanese netsuke from his great uncle in Tokyo. They have been in his family since they were bought in Paris in the 1870s. Since then they have been handed from one family member to another, and have travelled from Paris to Vienna to England to Tokyo.

Edmund de Waal comes from the Ephrussi family, very European, with an amazing history. The story begins with Charles Ephrussi, the original collector of the netsuke. Charles is one of the two men who were the model for Proust’s master creation: Charles Swann. And this is just the beginning.

Joyfully, de Waal is a wonderful story teller, and gives such a personal tinge to these objects. As he travels around Europe and back through history, he uncovers some difficult and sad moments (a jewish family in Vienna during the second world war speaks for itself). This intelligently emotive history becomes a broader exploration of what it means to collect things and pass them on. Do objects hold a memory of where they’ve been and what has happened to the people who held them?

To All Collectors

Even when one is no longer attached to things, it’s still something to have been attached to them; because it was always for reasons which other people didn’t grasp… Well, now that I’m a little too weary to live with other people, these old feelings, so personal and individual, that I had in the past, seem to me – it’s the mania of all collectors – very precious. I open my heart to myself like a sort of vitrine, and examine one by one all those love affairs of which the world can know nothing. And of this collection to which I’m now much more attached than to my others, I say to myself, rather as Mazarin said of his books, but in fact without the least distress, that it will be very tiresome to have to leave it all.
Marcel Proust, Sodom and Gomorrah (Cities of the Plain) via The Hare with Amber Eyes

Love and Louis XIV

Love and Louis XIV, Antonia Fraser

You speak of throwing off a passion as if it was as easy as changing a chemise.” – Angélique de Fontages to Françoise de Maintenon, 1680.

I don’t read a lot of non fiction so this was a nice change of pace. This biography of Louis XIV – the sun king, the one who created Versailles – is told with particular reference to the women in his life. His mother, his nannies, his wives, his mistresses, his daughters… Antonia Fraser is very easy to read but MAN did I get a lot of these people mixed up – theres a lot of the same names going on here. This was also an interesting read to get snippets of court etiquette; most definitely another world.

Photo reblogged from here.

Paris Reading

With two months to go until the big trip I’ve started on my parisian reading list:

  • Love and Louis XIV by Antonia Fraser
  • Marie Antoinette: The Last Queen of France by Evelyne Lever
  • Parisians by Graham Robb
  • Versailles: A Biography of a Palace by Tony Spawforth