Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Term of Life

"Three studies of a donkey" by Gerard ter Borch the Elder (ca. 1612)
Watercolour and ink on paper?, in Museum het Rembrandthuis (Amsterdam)
From Wikimedia Commons

"Die Lebenszeit" from the fairy tales of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm:


Monday, July 18, 2011

Bluebeard the Horrid

"Bluebeard" by Charles Perrault is one of the tales that is the embodiment of an archetype, and besides eminently "horrid." I have never thought that reading lurid things is particularly bad for children, since I think that they enjoy a strong plot before they learn to appreciate other things, and because they can divorce it from reality. But though in that sense I liked reading "Bluebeard" a little, it was never entirely my favourite since there was no friendly romance for the heroine to counterbalance the rather harsh remainder of the tale. When I was much older I read it in Perrault's delightfully lucid 17th century, original French prose. Retelling all of it is unnecessary since it is so well known, so the following is a self-indulgence, and of course I must warn that my understanding of French is not perfect in every detail.


THE story begins a little unsympathetically, when a young woman grudgingly agrees to marry a wealthy man whose matrimonial prospects had been hampered by his azure facial hair and his shady history of disappearing wives. After a month the husband goes off into the countryside for some six weeks, inviting her to ask her friends to the castle and enjoy herself, and leaving her with a bunch of keys to the luxurious furniture and money-trunks, a master key for the splendid apartments, and a tiny key to a little room which she is not to enter. He could have left the tiny key under a flowerpot or something, so as not to endanger his privacy or endanger her integrity; but he is likely either something of a sadist, or a misogynist who likes to reinforce his views of the flightiness of women corresponding to the old chestnut "varium et mutabile semper," or he badly wanted to test his wife on her own merits.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Tennyson's Ulysses

Written in 1833
by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

In English Literature 12 I encountered this poem of Tennyson's, a monologue from the perspective of Odysseus, written long after the sharpwitted Greek had sailed for the Trojan shore to preside over war strategy with Menelaus and Achilles, and returned to the island of Ithaca after interminable obstacles to find peace with his wife Penelope and their son Telemachus. Homer's Odysseus (I use the Greek instead of the Latin Ulysses since in terms of antiquity I am a Graecophile and Rome-skeptic) had a various and heroic life, and one would expect him to live out his old age with wisdom, a sense of having surfeited on travel, and intelligent reflection — perhaps even with an eager correspondence and traffic with voyagers through his territories.

In Tennyson's poem, however, he comes across ingloriously lesser. This perception and the following, however, may be coloured by the fact that I hate the guts of "Ulysses"'s mentality.

Photo: Odysseus from a marble sculpture group (Greek, c. 2nd century BC)
by Jastrow, via Wikimedia Commons