Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Series of thoughts on The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe 3

"And poor Misfortune feels the lash of Vice."
Thomson, line in Mysteries of Udolpho, Ann Radcliffe

I have now traveled with Emily from La Vallee in Gascony, France, to Toulouse, France, then from there through the Alps to Venice, Italy, then on to Udolpho in the Apennines, also in Italy. It was a long journey, most of which was melancholy and dubious, but for me as a reader enjoyable. There were moments when my eyes couldn't read fast enough for my mind. I was dying to know what was going to happen next, my eyes would try and speed up to get to the conclusion of a problem and the words would start to blur from the speed, I would have to slow them down so I could soak it in.
      When I last left you Emily had just arrived home after her fathers death and was roaming around the house and grounds lonely and sad. Her aunt wrote to her that she was going to move her to Toulouse to live with her. Emily asked to stay at her home a few weeks to grieve, she didn't hear back from her aunt. She was at the little fishing cabin on her property and ran into Valancourt. He had been hanging around the property hoping to see her. She tells him of her father, he is terribly sorry, then professes his love for her and asks her to allow him to visit her the next day at her house. This makes Emily nervous, she loves him as well but in 1500's France it was inappropriate for them to be meeting without a chaperone and none of her family aware. He visits her the next day and as they sit talking M. Cheron, her aunt, shows up. She is rude to Emily and Valancourt, accuses Emily of only wanting to stay home because of him, and tells her they are leaving in the morning forbidding her from having anything more to do with him.
      Emily is at her aunts disposal, she doesn't want to leave her home, or Valancourt, but has to. Once in Toulouse Valancourt tries to visit but M. Cheron wants nothing to do with him seeing her niece. Then she finds out he is the nephew of a rich widow in Toulouse that she has been trying to win favor with, she suddenly changes her mind. M. Cheron has been spending a lot of time with Monsignor Montoni. Emily doesn't like him very much, but she can see that her aunt does. M. Cheron allows Valancourt to visit with Emily because she wants to be friends with his aunt, then she arranges that they can get married. Although Valancourt and Emily knew nothing of this arrangement they are both happy for it. They start to decorate and prepare for a wedding. Then suddenly M. Cheron completely changes, decides to use all of the preparations for herself and marry M. Montoni. She tells Valancourt and Emily that she changed her mind, they can't marry, and she is taking Emily to Venice with M. Montoni, he will be her uncle now and get to decide what happens with her.
      Valancourt and Emily are devastated. They have a tearful, secret goodbye at midnight in the garden the night before Emily leaves. The next day as she is riding off in the carriage he slips a letter through her window and tells her to think of him every night at sunset. In Venice M. Montoni is sullen, rude, and disinterested in his new wife. He gambles and hangs out with his friends all the time. He introduces Count Morano to Emily, Morano falls in love with her and wants to marry her. She refuses over and over, but it does no good.  Montoni decides he is going to force her to marry him, he wants the noble name connected to himself, and some of the Counts money. Then, inexplicitly, the night before the planned marriage, Montoni arouses her and her aunt, bids them pack quickly, and whisks them off to Udolpho in the Appenines.
"Silent, lonely and sublime, it seemed to stand the sovereign of the scene, and to frown defiance on all, who dared to invade its solitary reign."
      Those are just some of Emily's first thoughts as she sees Udolpho come into view after a treacherous and gloomy trip deep into the Apennine mountains. She is unsure, and apprehensive about what is going to happen once they are in the castle. She doesn't know if she is still to be forced to marry Morano. When they reach Udolpho it does nothing to quall her fears. It is huge, gloomy, in disrepair, lonely and freezing cold. Montoni gives her a room far away from the rest of the inhabitants with a door inside that leads to a staircase. She is alarmed to realize the door locks from the outside, not the inside. Her aunts maid tells her spooky stories she says the servants have been telling, she finds something scary under a veil (but I don't know what it is yet), and Count Morano shows up one night. She sees him arrive in his carriage in the evening, and then that night she is scared into fainting when he sneaks up the staircase and into her chamber. He tries to steal her away with him, as he is forcing her out of the room with his servants Montoni shows up at her room. The Count and Montoni get in a duel and Montoni stabs him. His servants take him to try and find him help.
      The superb descriptions, sentiments, and undulating actions have continued. I have a hard time putting the book down sometimes. The only criticisms I would have at this point are...did people really faint that much in the 16th century? Emily has fainted several times thus far when she gets excited or scared. Also, a dog, Manchun, which was Emily's father's dog, keeps showing up randomly. She talked her aunt into letting her keep him when she left La Vallee, but I forget all about him until he shows up at convenient moments like when he started barking when Count Morano stole into her room. Then she talks about her beloved best friend that I haven't heard about in so long I forgot he existed.
      I am about halfway through this adventure and am enjoying every minute of it. It's back to Italy for me bookworms! Happy Reading!!!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Series of thoughts on The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe 2

"Let those deplore their doom,
Whose hope still grovels in this dark sojourn.
But lofty souls can look beyond the tomb,
Can smile at fate, and wonder how they mourn.
Shall Spring to these sad scenes no more return?
Is yonder wave the sun's eternal bed? -
Soon shall the orient with new lustre burn,
And Spring shall soon her vital influence shed,
Again attune the grove, again adorn the mead!"
Beattie, lines in Mysteries of Udolpho, Ann Radcliffe

As my adventure has continued in 'Udolpho' much has happened. Emily and M. St. Aubert have continued to travel through France, Valancourt deciding to travel with them most of the way. He is showing tender interest in Emily, although she doesn't see it, her father sees it and is glad. M. St Aubert continues to have bad health, and once Valancourt decides to take leave of them and wander on his way alone, St. Aubert starts to decline even further.
      One night before Emily and her father can reach the town they are traveling to he gets so bad that he tells her they must find some where for him to rest, his health is too bad to go any further. Emily has to walk in the dark to a festival of peasants that she can see at a distance in the woods and ask for help. It is a creepy walk past a foreboding chateau she can see in bits and snatches through the woods. She enquires with a couple of peasants she meets on her way about asking for help in the chateau, and they warn her against it but won't tell her why.
      She does meet with a helpful elderly man at the festival who allows her father, their muleteer, and her to stay at his family cottage. La Voisin, the elderly man, treats them very well and has much sympathy for Emily who is so young to be left alone if her father should die. They sit with La Voisin that night and hear mysterious music playing through the woods. He tells them it happens often but no one knows where it comes from, or who plays it. The town talk is that it comes to warn of an impending death. This worries Emily because of her fathers health. They enquire about the chateau Emily passed when looking for help, but La Voisin will barely speak of it, only telling them it is uninhabited.
      The next evening M. St. Aubert passes away leaving Emily an orphan. He gives her instructions on how to proceed before he dies, he tells her of hidden papers in a floorboard at their chateau he wants her to find and destroy without looking at them. Makes her promise to never sell La Valle (their house), and leaves her under the guardianship of his selfish and materialistic sister, as it is the only family they have. Emily writes to her aunt, and stays in the village with the peasant family they met, and also in a convent for many days. When her aunt learns of her brothers death she sends one of her servants to get Emily and take her home, writing to Emily that she doesn't have time to travel with her herself. Poor Emily is left despondant and lonely to travel home alone. When she gets there she is met by their housekeeper and becomes even more sad as she roams the house she used to share with her parents.
      This part of my adventure has been a sad one. Poor Emily! She is left all alone, and her fathers death was a long and sad one. He had to be buried in the little hamlet they happened to be in when he became so ill so she doesn't even have the comfort of thinking she can visit his resting place, or that he is buried beside her mother. The bits of poetry and descriptions of setting and emotion continue to make the story tangible, and the beauty, and/or foreboding mystery spring to life for me. I am dreading Emily's future for her.

"The old man she found sitting on a bench at his door, between his daughter, and his son-in-law, who was just returned from his daily labour, and who was playing upon a pipe, that, in tone, resembled an oboe. A flask of wine stood beside the old man, and, before him, a small table with fruit and bread, round which stood several of his grandsons, fine rosy children, who were taking their supper, as their mother distributed it. On the edge of the little green, that spread before the cottage, were cattle and a few sheep reposing under the trees. The landscape was touched with the mellow light of the evening sun, whose long slanting beams played through a vista of the woods, and lighted up the distant turrets of the chateau. She paused a moment, before she emerged from the shade, to gaze upon the happy group before her - on the complacency and ease of healthy age, depictured on the countenance of La Voisin; the maternal tenderness of Agnes, as she looked upon her children, and the innocency of infantine pleasures, reflected in their smiles."

      This is a perfect example of Radcliffe painting a picture with her words and description. Emily walks to the cottage of La Voisin, the elderly man and his family that helped her and M. St. Aubert, to tell them goodbye. As she sees them from afar she stops to admire them, and through her description as she pauses you can see the scene as if it were a painting in a museum. Even the lighting is set for you with the evening sun. Such a beautiful, and even interactive element of Radcliffe's writing. One's mind can set up the scene and imagine a frame around it, becoming Emily standing to the side and gazing at it.
      Until next time my fellow reading creatures I must bid you adieu! Time to head back to France, and Emily's impending doom. Happy Reading!

Friday, January 15, 2016

Series of thoughts on The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe 1

"Fate sits on these dark battlements, and frowns,
And, as the portals open to receive me,
Her voice, in sullen echoes through the courts,
Tells of a nameless deed."

The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe published in 1794 is my latest adventure. Radcliffe is one of the earliest writers of Gothic literature. She influenced later writers such as Poe, Stoker, and many others. Jane Austen wrote Northanger Abbey with Udolpho in mind, and her main character, Catherine Morland, is reading the novel throughout her book. Some say Austen's was a spoof, others say a tribute, but at any rate the book did influence Austen's writing. It is a beast with 672 pages of tiny font and old English writing...I love it! I am not very far in, but am engrossed already. I read through the large introduction by Terry Castle which gave me very interesting insight into Radcliffe, the times in which she lived, and her writing style, but also spoiled a bit of the mystery in the story. I wish I had waited until after reading the book to read the intro, but as it was called the intro and put before the text I wasn't expecting spoilers.

"I could a tale unfold, whose lightest word
Would harrow up thy soul."
Shakespeare, lines in Mysteries of Udolpho, Ann Radcliffe

     One of the more clever and unique points of style that Radcliffe used was to intersperse bits of poetry, some her own and some from other poets, throughout the novel. The beginning of each chapter starts with a few lines or a stanza, and while reading through, at seemingly random moments, she throws in a line from a poem that flows with whatever is being talked about. That was a new idea when she used it, it is very effective at bringing out the emotion of the moment, and an interesting break from the norm. It also strikes me as a very difficult practice, one would have to be well versed in poetry and comb through their story painstakingly to find just the right lines to put in just the right  moments. Especially when using poetry from other poets and not just using ones own.
       I have so far met Mr. and Mrs. St. Aubert and their young teen daughter Emily. They live in the countryside of France in 1584, and enjoy nature, books, and the togetherness of family. They are content and happy in their quiet lives and want for nothing, least of all what they see as the shallowness of the city. They are simple, humble, unmaterialistic, academic minded people. They pursue their interests with fervor and relish in nostalgia. Mrs. St Aubert dies of illness very early on, and Mr. St. Aubert becomes ill. His physician orders him to travel, he is suffering from sadness over his wife's death and needs to get away for awhile. He and Emily set out to take a leisurely vacation across France. As they are traveling they meet a Mr. Valancourt that helps them secure a place to stay at the end of a long day. Valancourt is a wanderer that loves nature and simplicity just as much as Mr. St. Aubert and they become instant friends.

      'St. Aubert returned home through the woods,'
at fall of eve the fairy-people throng,
In various games and revelry to pass
The summer night, as village stories tell."
Thomson, lines in Mysteries of Udolpho, Ann Radcliffe

      Radcliffe's imagery is superb. As I am reading I can see the Pyrenees mountains, the woods and natural surroundings come alive and the characters fondness for the trees is palpable. Some of her descriptions remind me of a painting, picturesque moments frozen in time, and indeed this is another style point that she is known for.
      Her sentiments on differences in character are also spot on. When Mrs. St Aubert's uppity brother and sister-n-law come to visit them, the way they feel afterwards is exactly the way I have felt so many times when forced to spend time with the same types of people.
      "Emily returned, with delight, to the liberty which their presence had restrained, to her books, her walks, and the rational conversation of M. and Madame St. Aubert, who seemed to rejoice, no less, that they were delivered from the shackles, which arrogance and frivolity had imposed."
      Those familiar feelings and happenings in stories two hundred years old are such pleasures to me. People are people, have always been people, and even though the St. Aubert's are fictional they are kindred spirits to me, imagined by a woman two hundred years ago. Wow! Do we ever really evolve as a species? When I can pick up a book from that long ago and relate exactly to the sentiments inside, I'm not so sure that we do.
Onward dear readers, until next time......Happy Reading!

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Nature's Stupendous Works

"they wandered away among the most romantic and magnificent scenes, nor suffered the charms of Nature's lowly children to abstract them from the observance of her stupendous works."  The Mysteries of Udolpho, Ann Radcliffe
Over the Thanksgiving holidays our family took a vacation to Colorado to go skiing. It was the first time my kids had ever really been to the mountains to ski, we took them to New Mexico one year, but it wasn't quite the same. I grew up in the mountains of Utah, but it had been eighteen years since I had gone back that direction after moving to Texas. While I remember and appreciated the beauty of the mountains and snow even when I lived there, I was still awe struck and in love when I arrived in Denver and drove into the Rockies. I will always be a tank top, flip flops, sunshine on my shoulders gal at heart, but man am I glad I can visit the mountains and snow!

The raw beauty of Nature alive in the mountains is enough to make my heart hurt. The stately trees standing guard at every turn with snow clinging to their arms, the clear crisp air that feels and smells so clean and fresh, and the bright white snow that twinkles at your eye as you glance across it's surface transports me to the land of snow from 'The Nutcracker'. I could be Clara watching all the beautiful dancing and scenery with the wondrous expression that plays on my face and the childlike appreciation that crowds my mind. I think my eyes turn into hearts like the emoji the whole time I am there.
The first day we were there it snowed, and snowed, and snowed. The kids were SO excited, they had tons of questions and all agreed they would love to live in the winter wonderland. We couldn't stop taking pics and talking about all the new things they were seeing. They had no idea so much snow could exist in one place. It made them laugh to think about the snowmen they have built in Texas with pebbles, sticks, and dirt stuck to their bodies. Colorado was such a different experience!!
We skied/snow boarded for three days while we were there. While I am not one who loves the act of skiing, I do love the atmosphere and ambience of it. It strikes me how fortunate we are to have the ability to go up and into the snow covered mountains, as well as have a way to get ourselves down and out! My favorite part is feeling like I am on the inside of a snow globe, a picturesque scene that I am actually inide of. Like God took out his winter globe, shook it up, and is watching me and all the others enjoy what He created.
Hats, gloves, scarves, boots, bibs, and coats. Tired bodies, shallow worn breath, red faces, and aching muscles. Hungry bellies, thirsty throats, dazzled eyes, and cracked smiles. A long sigh as one finally collapses on an indoor seat, a crackling fire, warmth seeping into cold crevices and heads resting on tables, jackets, chairs, and laps...anywhere that will hold them. Tired people all around refueling on various wares and filling up on the camaraderie of a shared experience. These are all things that come to mind when I think of a ski lodge full of skiers. It will wear you out, and every part of ones body tingles with the charm of it.

Wild Thing 1
Wild Thing 2
Wild Thing 3
Nature's art is the best art!! We don't have to create it, it is already there, all around us. It does not have to be just looked at, listened to, read, or watched...it is interactive. We are a part of it and it is a part of us. Reach out, take a handful, two handfuls if you wish. Breath deep, taste it, roll around in it, jump up and down, lean your head back, close your eyes and smile. It is waiting on you, so enjoy it!!
Until next time Colorado! I will never forget that last run I made all alone. I stopped, I looked around, I took lots of photos, and said a few prayers. I took time to appreciate your peace, your beauty, your gifts...Nature's Stupendous Works that you shared with us so graciously...thank you, I can't wait to do it again!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson...Review

The Haunting of Hill House

By Shirley Jackson

Copyright 1959

In ‘The Haunting of Hill House’ unseen fears, creepy feelings, and warped reality are Shirley Jackson’s specialty. The uneasy and foreboding mood of the story is set from the very beginning. From the characters backgrounds and reasons for being at the house, to the main characters’ drive in, the town of Hillsdale where the house resides, the house itself and the surrounding grounds, the people the travelers meet on arrival, and the backstory of the property all lend themselves to a spooky tone before ever starting the story. “Somehow a maniac juxtaposition, a badly turned angle, some chance meeting of roof and sky, turned Hill House into a place of despair, more frightening because the face of Hill House seemed awake, with a watchfulness from the blank windows and a touch of glee from an eyebrow of a cornice.” That is the description of the house that awaits Eleanor when she first arrives at Hill House, she wonders if she should turn back, go back the way she came. The story begins immediately and one can’t help but feel anxious about what is going to happen in this “place of despair.”

                Dr. Montague is an occult scholar wanting to study supernatural manifestations in a haunted house with people he chooses in various ways because they have been involved at some time in their lives in “abnormal events”. In the end he is able to get two to participate; Eleanor, and Theodora. The three of them, plus a young heir to Hill House named Luke meet at the house and plan to stay three months over the summer. Eleanor is the main character, she is lonely, vulnerable, and timid. She has been caring for her recently deceased mother for twelve years, staying with her unpleasant sister since her mother’s death, and is just now striking out on her own. “The journey itself was her positive action, her destination vague, perhaps nonexistent.” In that simple quote Jackson is already foreshadowing an impending unclear adventure, Eleanor is excited to start off on her own but only has a vague idea of what she is doing, or what is going to be waiting on her when she arrives. Once the four meet and get to know each other, the caretakers of the house, and the house itself the story really gets going. “Certainly there are spots which inevitably attach to themselves an atmosphere of holiness and goodness; it might not then be too fanciful to say that some houses are born bad.” With that being said, I am sure one can imagine the things that are seen…or are they seen? and heard…or are they heard? within the walls of Hill House.

                Jacksons writing style was simple and direct, I liked it. This was an easy read without a lot of poetry, long descriptions to muck through, or twisted ways of telling things. An easy, clean, not-too-dark story that gives you a little chill. There is a sense of madness at times that is well placed and leaves the reader unsure of events, and uneasy in trusting any of the characters. In this type of story it works very well. She used repetition in some of her words and phrases to highlight certain aspects of the story. “Journeys end in lovers meeting” Eleanor repeats throughout the story. She even repeats the beginning of the story at the end, and leaves you with an ending that plays a little at the imagination.

                I thoroughly enjoyed this book, I wouldn’t call it a grimoire for me, but I plan to read another by the same author. I would recommend it for teens on up that like a good, simple story that goes bump in the night.