Like (almost) every year, I spent the last week (and half of this one) with my APs in Southern Tyrolia, aka paradise on earth.

I mean:

Unser Tal photo 20160925_130949_zpsd9vosj0q.jpg

More under the cut )
selenak: (Allison by Spankulert)
( Sep. 19th, 2016 10:05 pm)
Briefly, as I am travelling:

Emmys: I'm thrilled Tatiana Maslany has finally won. She deserves this. I mean, I was rooting for one of the actresses on this particular occasion, but Tatiana Maslany does so amazing things on this show and in all these roles that she can win any time and I'm satisfied.

Otoh "Battle of the Bastards" winning best written episode over ANY episode of The Americans, season 4, is just baffling. (Yes, Sansa's scene at the end is great, and the overall direction is good, but the script otherwise? Ah well. Spectacle over character drama, I suppose.)

Politics: dire dire dire dire everywhere, including my own country. For some reason, the Washington Post coming up with a journalistic first of the most cynical type is my current personal least favourite, though. They published Snowden's original revelations together with the New York Times and won another Pulitzer for it, and now they're asking for him not to be pardoned but to go to prison. Somewhere, Nixon is cackling. And Ben Bradlee is turning in his grave.

Trying to cheer myself up: since it's "talk like a pirate" day, I give you Black Sails' version of Anne Bonny, in the s2 finale:

I can't be your wife, Jack. But you and I are gonna be partners till they put us in the fucking ground. "

(The Anne and Jack relationship: forever great.)

Also, going back a bit in (my) fannish time, here's the pirate king herself, Elizabeth Swann (sidenote: why I've never been tempted to watch any Pirates of the Caribbean movies post the third one - for me, that saga was Elizabeth's story, and the trilogy told it, completely), rallying a fleet: Hoist the Colours!
Considering the current fashion of making everything into a procedural, and one with a male and female lead to boot, and with Restoration England recently in my mind, I've decided there's an obvious tv show opportunity here in the Interregnunm, those eleven years (1649 - 1660) between Charles. I. execution and Charles II. return to England, when England was a republic.

Now, the male detective would be young Charles II. Who had ample time at his hands during his exile, was eternally short of cash and on the move on continental Europe between Holland (where his sister Mary of Orange lived), France (where his mother, being a sister of the late Louis XIII, found shelter with his youngest sister, Henriette Anne aka Minette) and various principalities that would have him for a while. Charles was undoubtedly the smartest of the Stuarts and never short of a bonmot, which is good for a detective, and he really needed money. (For a while, his mother when he was dining with her in the Louvre made him pay for his part of the food.) He also was physically fit and good at escaping dire situations. (See famous escape out of England after the battle of Worcester disguised as a peasant.)

The female lead? A member of a Dutch merchant company who had provided Charles with some cash and then realised there was really not much of a chance to ever see it again, or even getting royal favours out of it. (Remember, no one at the time knew whether this Republic thing would be permanent or not, whether or not it would survive Cromwell, and thus whether or not Charles would ever be in a position to do anything for anyone.) Our heroine's original job is making sure the merchant company gets at least SOMETHING for its money, which is, solving crimes that have a negative impact on the company's trade otherwise. If he has nothing else, Charles has access to Royal circles at the continent where our bourgois heroine would not get to, so there's that.

Big twist before the mid season hiatus: we find out the Dutch merchant company isn't our heroine's only employer: she also works for OLIVER CROMWELL as his secret agent abroad, supposedly to keep an eye on Charles (at least in theory, if he ever got enough cash by, say, marriage to a rich princess, he could try an invasion). She's also half English and her parents have suffered awful fates in the reign of Charles I., which was part of the reason why she works for Cromwell.

Considering the audience knows Charles will make it to the English throne alive post Interregnum, the main suspense has to be in the fictional female lead's fate and decisions. And since there's entire decade to choose from, the show is good for 5 to 7 seasons. The episodes set in France can also be stealthy Musketeers crossovers, given the most recent version was cancelled (free actors) and this era is roughly the one (immediately after) Dumas' first Musketeers sequel, "20 Years Later".
Connie Palmen: Du sagst es. (Original title "Jij zegt het", thank you, [personal profile] ratcreature). This is a new novel about the marriage between Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, written in first person from Hughes' pov, and right there you have a basic problem. Not that it's a fictional take on people who lived and died within many readers' living memory (Hughes as late as 1998); there have been others, and fiction at least doesn't declare itself to be THE TRUTH, but the author's imaginative speculation on same; it's more honest than many a non-fiction in this regard. No, it's that both Plath and Hughes were fantastic writers who wrote about their relationship, and sorry, but that's a very high standard to aim for if you're going for first person.

(First person is tricky in general to believe for me as a reader and to do as a writer. I've done it occasionally, but rarely, and as a reader first person more often breaks the suspension of disbelief for me than not. Especially if the narrator is supposed to be someone whose voice has been preserved in written or audio form.)

Connie Palmen doesn't really manage, but that's not the only problem I have with her book. Another, related: there's a lot of prose paraphrasing of Hughes' Birthday Letters poems, which means something real Ted Hughes expressed in a few concise sentences is expressed by fictional Hughes rambling on for several pages. This isn't helping with the comparisons to the detriment of the novel. Then there's the question as to which type of readers this book is aiming for: can't be people either unfamiliar with the Plath and Hughes saga, or just casually aware of both poets' existence, because the novel rarely bothers with explanations and settings; for example, it starts at their first meeting at the St. Bodolph's Review party in Cambridge but doesn't bother explaining what Hughes was doing there, what Plath was doing there, and expects the readers to know all this already. Otoh, if the book is for readers who know their Lucas Myers (American poet, friend of Hughes) from their Richard Sassoon (on-off boyfriend of Plath's pre Ted), then it feels a bit like the kind of fanfiction that solely describes with a bit more dialogue or inner monologue scenes in broadcast episodes which fans are already familiar with with, you know what I mean? I've read Plath's breathless account of her first meeting with Hughes in her journal, written a day or two after the fact. I've read Hughes' elegic take on it, written decades later in his poem "St. Bodolph's" in "Birthday Letters". Palmen trying to match either writer's command of language by paraphrasing them, and not adding something uniquely hers, just feels - well, second rate, sorry to say.

Then there's the way no one but Plath, and maybe her mother Aurelia, is really fleshed out as a character. His siblings, Olwyn and Gerald, were enormously important to Hughes (see next review), but while that's said in a tell not show way by Palmen's narrator, she doesn't bother with the show not tell, actual scenes (other than Olwyn vs Sylvia arguments) that would show us who they are. Again, I can understand some of the why - both died only this year, which means when this novel was written they were still alive, and one feels more inhibited because of this. But it's still for me a narrative failure.

(Also irritating: Palmen's Hughes repeatedly describing Plath's eyes as "black", when real Hughes described Plath's brown eyes in some of the most memorable passages of Birthday Letters. What is up with that? Maybe a Dutch-German translation error, and the original novel means something like "dark gaze"?)

Lastly: having read a lot of Hughes - poetry, drama, letters, some essays - I don't think he comes across as self-pitying in his published voice. IMO, and that doesn't mean he wasn't, just that his own texts, either due to command of language or editing, don't feel like he was. But Palmen's Hughes feels extremely sorry for himself, as if the author wants to make absolutely sure we do, too, and thus paradoxically prevents it.

Jonathan Bate: Ted Hughes.: Subtitled "The Unauthorized Life", because while the author originally had the cooperation of the Hughes estate and thus access to Hughes' unpublished journals, poem drafts etc., he inevitably (if you know something of the long saga of the Plath biographies and Olwyn Hughes) clashed with them, authorization was withdrawn, and thus the subtitle. This being said, Bate clearly has a lot of respect for the tough as nails Olwyn; when she died in January this year, he wrote her obituary, and if you read it, you'll see what I mean.

As biographies go, this is a good one. Bate takes Hughes seriously as a poet, which doesn't mean he praises all his work, but it means we get a lot of Hughes' development as a writer - this includes some quotes from early drafts, and to me at least, it's fascinating to see how various alternatives of a later classic phrase were considered before the final one happened - , a strong presence of his Yorkshire background and his love of nature, detailed accounts of his threatre work with Peter Brook etc. - instead of just accounts of his love affairs. Which are, of course, present as well. If there's anything to critisize, it's that brief relationships like the one with Emma Tennant get more in terms of quotes from the lady in question than second Mrs. Hughes, Carol, gets about her decades long marriage, but since this is also because Carol Hughes still won't go on the record for journalists or biographers, I see Bate's problem.

Anyway, Carol aside, Bate is great with bringing the supporting cast of his biography to life. Definitely the siblings, Gerald and Olwyn, and other long lasting relationships, part ally, part adversary Al Alvarez, but also people hardly noticed even by all the Plath biographers before, like Shirley, Hughes' pre-Sylvia girlfriend who was with him during that fateful first encounter, or Susan Alliston, whose affair and breakup with Hughes turned into a long term friendship and who died of cancer the same year Assia Wevill committed murder-suicide with their daughter and Hughes' mother died (supporting Bate's argument that 1969 beat out 1963, the year of Plath's death, as Worst Year Ever for Hughes). His narrative voice is generally non-judgmental, literary judgments aside (I'm with him on "Shakespeare and the Great Goddess" as Hughes at his prose worst, btw, and also that the Ovid translations work as something of a poetical rebirth), and he comes across as trying to be fair to everyone in the big dramas of Hughes' life: case in point, the last but one of the stormy Olwyn versus Sylvia encounters, where they both thought the other was rude, Bate points out Olwyn smoked non-stop despite Sylvia asking her not to and yours truly entirely sympathizes with Sylvia until Bate also points out that Sylvia's other complaint, that Olwyn stayed so long on this particular visit, overlooks that Olwyn lived in Paris at this time and hadn't seen Ted in more than a year, so had a lot of catching up to do.

Bate declares right at the start he wants to write a complete life, not just another take on the Plath and Hughes relationship, and points the reader to Diane Middlebrook's "Her Husband" for one of the most recent and thorough, but inevitably, though her suicide happens on page 216 of 556, Sylvia Plath is the strongest non-Hughes presence in the book. There's a good argument to be made that dead Sylvia had a stronger grip on Hughes - both as a poet and as a woman - than any of the other living women he became subsequently entangled with, and certainly more than poor doomed Assia. (Another plausible argument can be made that if Sylvia had lived, so would Assia have; both Assia and Ted Hughes despite their affair were anything but sure they wanted to have a permanent relationship before Sylvia died, they both still had other relationships - Assia with her husband David plus a brief fling with, of all the people, Al Alvarez, Ted with the aforementioned Susan, and if Sylvia had lived, the Ted/Assia affair probably would have burned itself out quickly, and they'd have moved on, whether or not they would have re-committed to their respective spouses. But being known as The Other Woman after Sylvia Plath had killed herself trapped Assia in a competition she could no longer win, and in a relationship she and Hughes thought they HAD to make work now which went on to ensure it didn't.)

Bate shows that the poems addressed to Plath collected in Birthday Letters were indeed written (and redrafted a lot) during decades, not a last outburst before Hughes' death (the decades long process had been mentioned at the time Birthday Letters was published, but was met with scepticism), and again, the early drafts are interesting to me both in terms of how a poem is written and as an endlessly attempted dialogue with a woman who is gone. (Ditto for Hughes' comments on her poetry and prose, be it in private letters or, rarely, in public.) His version of Euripides' Alcestis, the last complete Hughes work to be published within his life time, wasn't something comissioned or otherwise inspired by an outside source, he chose to write about a woman dying and then returning to her husband as he felt himself dying, and since I thought there were repeated Sylvia echoes in ALCESTIS, I was gratified that so does Bate. (He found a Wuthering Heights allusion Hughes has smuggled into Alcestis which I missed, though, and which has no equivalent in the original Greek text. In Hughes' Alcestis, Admetos after Alcestis death imagines his own death:

"I think of cool soil
A mask over my face,
A weight of stillness over my body,
A darkness
In which she lies next to me - her lips
Maybe only an inch from my lips,

This, Bates speculates, is Hughescliff, imagining himself in the moorland graveyard at Heptonstall, and goes to quote the relevant Wuthering Heights passage:

"You were very wicked, Mr. Heathcliff!" I exclaimed, "were you not ashamed to disturb the dead?"
"I disturbed nobody, Nelly," he replied, and "I gave some ease to myself. I shall be a great deal more comfortable now, and you'll have a better chance of keeping me underground when I get there. Disturbed her? No! She has disturbed me, night and day, through eighteen years - incessantly - remorselessly - till yesternight, and yesternight I was tranquil. I dreamt I was sleeping the last sleep by that sleeper, with my heart stopped and my cheek frozen against hers."

Wuthering Heights was of great significance to both Plath and Hughes (who grew up almost next door, well next village, in Yorkshire), and there are poems about it and Emily Bronte by both of them, but that parallel had still eluded me before.

After describing Hughes' death and giving a brief overview of the lives (and in one tragic case death) of his surviving family in the subsequent years, Bate returns once more to the tale of Ted and Sylvia, and after 500 pages of trying to keep up a matter-of-fact, occasionally ironic tone, at last throws caution into the wind and goes for the bloody passion, and does it better in half a page than Palmen does in an entire novel:

Sylvia Plath's death was the central fact of Ted Hughes's life. However he tried to get away from it, he could not; however the biographer broadens the picture, it is her image that returns. In the letters of his final months, even after the expiation that came with Birthday Letters, Plath remains the most vivid presence in his mental world. So, for example in a simple sentence of luminous poetic prose in a long letter to his German translators who had sought advice on the meaning of various phrases in such poems as 'The Bee God', Ted explains how the image ' Your page a dark swarm':

"brings together SP bending over the bees (pending over the beehive with its roof off), SP bending over her page (where the letters as she composed writhed and twisted, superimposed on each other, displacing each other), her page, as a seething mass and depth and compound of living ideas - carrying, somewhere in the heart of it, in the heart of the words, of the phrases, of the poetic whole struggling to form itself, the vital nuclei of her poetic operation - her 'self' and her 'Daddy' - and finally, her poem (in process of composition there on her page as she bends over it) as a warm of bees clinging under a blossoming bough."

"The lit blossom", he writes, "is also Sp's face." It is as if Sylvia instead of the thought-fox has entered the room and is bending over Ted as he writes. Her face is radiant. Her ghost has returned in recognition of the knowledge that he loved her until the day he died. Before him stands yesterday.
selenak: (Black Sails by Violateraindrop)
( Sep. 15th, 2016 12:11 pm)
Writing about Pitcairn made me refresh my Bligh & Bounty knowledge by browsing in the books I already knew, and check outs some I didn't, which is why you get some more ramblings on the subject.

Top Pop Culture Misunderstandings About William Bligh:

"Captain Bligh": when in command of the Bounty, he wasn't. He was Lieutenant Bligh, which isn't unimportant. After the end of seven years war, he'd switched from navy to merchant vessels as Lieutenant; there, he'd made Captain (of the ship Britannia), but when returning to the navy for the Bounty mission had to accept being a Lieutenant again, with the pay of a Lieutenant (far less than a Captain's) while being an acting Captain (and adressed as Captain on board the ship). The Bounty was rated as a Cutter, which meant it didn't rate a navy degree Captain. It also didn't rate soldiers, as, for example, Bligh's mentor James Cook had had with him. And it meant Bligh had a very limited possibility to choose his own appointments among the other officers. He had to put up with a drunken surgeon (though he managed to at least get permission to hire an assistant surgeon) whom everyone one expected to die (he was THAT obviously an incompetent drunk), which he did eventually on Tahiti, but not before doing some damage), a Master whom he couldn't stand from the get go and vice versa, John Fryer, and no purser, instead having to do the job himself (this is important because if financial incorrectness and losses were found after the journey, the purser had to pay them out of his personal fortune; the fuss Bligh made about the stealing of items and food wasn't because he needed an excuse to rant).

Bligh was within his rights to promote people during the course of the journey, which he did with Fletcher Christian, who was hired as a Master's Mate and was made an Acting Lieutenant by Bligh. If the Bounty mission had gone as planed, the navy would probably have promoted not only Bligh from Acting to genuine Captain but also Fletcher Christian to real Lieutenant, with the time spent as Acting Lieutenant on the Bounty counting as years of service. Again, in terms of pay and career, this was all important, but the most significant thing about it is that because Christian's temporary promotion was solely due to Bligh, any failure of his would reflect back on Bligh and Bligh's judgment as well.

Floggings: his pop culture image being that he basically had sea men flogged if they as much as sneezed wrong. The two "Mutiny on the Bounty" movies even have him order corpses flogged. (A movie innovation which even the anti-Bligh writings at the time did not charge.) It therefore surprises most newbies to the Bounty saga to learn that Bligh started out the journey determined not to order any floggings at all. This was one of his main goals, stated not post facto as a defense but in letters written to his patron from the Royal Society, Sir Joseph Banks, before the launch and during the first part of the journey. He's backed up in this by letters sent back (from South Africa and via passing whalers) during said first part of the journey by other crew members, such as the assistant surgeon Ledward and the future mutineer Peter Heywood. The first time Bligh did order a flogging was when the ship's Master Mr. Fryer logged a formal complaint against future mutineer Matthew Quintal. Bligh downgraded Fryer's complaint from an accusation of mutiny to an accusation of insolence towards on officer, but the later still warranted flogging as a punishment (the former actually warranted, if taken seriously, a death sentence, or at least captivity for the rest of the journey). Until the arrival on Tahiti, there was just one other occasion when flogging was ordered. On Tahiti and after, until Mutiny, he did order floggings for various misdemeanours as part of the ultilmately vain attempt to restore discipline, but still significantly less than avarage compared with other Captains at the time (we have everyone's logs to prove it): as a historian said, he scolded where others flogged, and flogged where others handed out death sentences. (Not that being scolded by Bligh was fun. Something that pop culture doesn't get wrong is his capacity for verbal eviscaration; I'll get to this.) Whatever caused the Mutiny of the Bounty, fears of the the seamen of being flogged to death by Bligh wasn't it.

Not unrelated: Pressganged Seamen: press ganging was a vice of the time, but the crew of the Bounty actually consisted of volunteers. Not least due to its destination: the women of Tahiti were already a famous incentive. Again, we do have the written records (and yes, if men were press ganged it was written down).

Bligh and Christian couldn't stand each other from the start: this is a legacy of the 1930s "Mutiny on the Bounty" novel and the two film versions based on it. In fact, Fletcher Christian was a protegé of Bligh's who'd already sailed twice with him, on the Britannia when they had both been in merchant trade. He owed his job on the Bounty, both the original one and the promotion to Acting Lieutenant, to Bligh, was familiar with Bligh's family ("you danced my children on your knees" said an outraged Bligh on the day of the mutiny), and according to his brother had said pre: Bounty that Bligh was "passionate" but that he, Fletcher Christian, prided himself on knowing how to handle him. He also was literally in debt to Bligh in that Bligh had lend him money in Cape Town (a rarity for the tight fisted Bligh, who had a wife and four children to support on a Lieutenant's salary, see above). Quite what turned the two against each other on this third journey together is still under debate, Bligh's harsh language and Christian's falling not just in lust but in love on Tahiti being the most often named culprits. The third movie on the Bounty Mutiny, The Bounty, not, as the first two, based on the 1930s novel but on a 1970s biography called "Lieutenant Bligh and Mr. Christian", script by Robert Bolt, was the first one who went for homoerotic subtext, nowhere more obvious than its version of the mutiny scene, which is the first one to use actual memoir dialogue including Christians "I am in hell!" yelling at Bligh (which Clark Gable and Marlon Brando could not have said to Charles Laughton and Trevor Howard respectively, since they were the hero confronting the evil villain and bringing him to judgment for his misdeeds). Here it is, with Anthony Hopkins as William Bligh and Mel Gibson as Fletcher Christian:

Bligh, as opposed to his crew, looked down on the Tahitans, was British imperialism personified and had no interaction with the Tahitans: he certainly was the only one not getting laid on Tahiti, but far from not interacting with the people of Tahiti, there's the interesting fact that the sole account of the whole Bounty saga which absolutely focuses most of the narrative on the Tahitans, their customs, their personalities, not on the Europeans, is William Bligh's A Voyage to the South Seas, which you can read here. Until the play Pitcairn, I hadn't yet come across a fictional version that bothered to flesh out any of the Polynesians at all; they usually show up in female form to sexually liberate the poor British seamen, are pretty and willing, and that's it. The narratives grant them no personalities or agenda beyond having sex with the Brits. Now don't get me wrong: Bligh wasn't a modern man, and he certainly shows in his account no doubt in British superiority etc. But he was truly interested in the Tahitans, describing them both as people and as individuals, their customs, their hierarchy, even the games their children play (which interested Bligh, father of three young daughters and his wife pregnant when he had left England, not just on an explorer level). He gives us their names and those of their stories he learned, and tells about his conversations, such as the one with the Queen, Iddia, who asked him how British women managed childbirth and when hearing it was unimpressed and told him how it was done in Tahiti (with the woman squatted in the arms of a male attendant who massaged and rubbed her), or the fact that Iddia learned how to load and shoot a gun far better than her husband Tainu. (Iddia being, like her husband, very heavy and middle aged, you won't spot her in any of the Bounty movies as anything but a background figure, whereas Bligh has quite a lot to tell about her and Tainu, including the death and funeral of one of their children - again, of personal resonance to Bligh, some of whose children had died as infants as well, or the fact Iddia had a young lover with Tainu's approval.)

Which brings me to:

Top Unknown To Pop Culture Yet Interesting Facts about William Bligh

Curious Mind: he truly had one. He had started out his career under James Cook, and never ceased to feel as an explorer. Leave it to William Bligh to note down looks and behavior of birds and fish when being on the open see for an incredible 41 days in a small boat with 18 other men, navigating by memory and with a compass over roughly 3600 sea miles. And like I said, his account of the whole Bounty saga remains the only one that focuses not on himself and the men, and conflicts with same, but on the Tahitans (and before that on various animals and natural phenomenons on the journey).

Bligh the Reformer: serving as Captain Cook's Master had led him to adopt several key Cook innovations, such as ordering three shifts instead of two, giving the men accordingly more time to sleep, having sauerkraut on board to prevent the most dreaded of seamen's diseases, and to insist on one hour of dancing per day (this was the sole reason why the Bounty had a fiddler on board) to keep the men fit. (Unfortunately, the one hour per day obligatory dancing wasn't seen as fun or as a preventing illness measure, but as part of Bligh's being a perfectionist irritant among the men.) He also was a fiend for hygiene, insisting on the men washing themselves and keeping the decks clean. (All of which worked in the intended way - there was just one man of the Bounty crew who died during the journey on board, and he died due to the drunken surgeon's incompetence - the surgeon fumbled a blood letting which led to blood infection which led to gruesome death.)

Dedicated husband and father: To his wife Elizabeth "Betsy", and their surviving daughters. This included one who was an epileptic and also otherwise handicapped, Anne. Anne never learned to speak and could only communicate via movements. In an age where, depending on your income, you dealt with handicapped family members by storing them in country hospitals or city madhouses or the proverbial attics, Bligh raised his along with his other daughters and proudly pushed her wheel chair through the park when at land. His wife sharing an interest in natural history with him and having a shell collection, he collected shells for her (now there's an image you don't see in the movies), and if he ever cheated on her with anyone, even his direct enemies (of which he had many in the end), who told all types of stories about him, didn't bring it up. He also (as opposed to Fletcher Christian, Peter Heywood and a great many other sea men, mutineers and loyalist alike) was never diagnosed with a veneral disease. The first account of the mutiny he ever gave was in a letter to his wife once he'd made it safely on shore in Timor, starting: "My Dear, Dear Betsy, I am now, for the most part, in a part of the world I never expected, it is however a place that has afforded me relief and saved my life, and I have the happiness to assure you that I am now in perfect health....Know then my own Dear Betsy, that I have lost the Bounty ..." and closing "Give my blessings to my Dear Harriet, my Dear Mary, my Dear Betsy & to my Dear little stranger & tell them I shall soon be home...To You my Love I give all that an affectionate Husband can give – Love, Respect & all that is or ever will be in the power of your ever affectionate Friend and Husband Wm Bligh".

(The "dear little stranger" was the child Betsy had been pregnant with when he left - he didn't know yet, of course, whether it had been a boy or a girl.)

But, I hear you ask, if Bligh was such a capital fellow, how did he end up with not one but several mutinies and all those enemies? Well:

Top Facts Pop Culture History Gets Right about Bligh:

Thin Skinned Verbal Eviscarator: when he ranted he RANTED. His was the temper that if you like someone you describe as "doesn't suffer fools gladly" and if you don't you call verbal bullying. Unfortunately, this was coupled with a complete lack of insight on how this affected people. For Bligh, there was no contradiction in chewing Christian out in front of the entire crew over the disappearance of some coconuts and cursing him, and then, when he'd cooled down, inviting him for dinner (Christian declined; this was immediately before the mutiny). It's no wonder one of the books on Bligh is called "Mr. Bligh's Bad Language": the same man who was infinitely patient with his handicapped daughter flew off in a rant when feeling himself offended quite easily, and he often did. Also, tact? Never heard of it. When Heywood's family wrote to him to ask whether their boy truly had mutineered, whether this wasn't a horrible misunderstanding, Bligh wrote back that they should resign themselves to their son's fate because Peter Heywood was traitorous scum. The Heywood family was later instrumental in turning public opinion on Bligh from heroic Captain to sadistic brute. (However, since verbal humiliation isn't seen as a horrible slight on one's honor anymore, it's not surprising the 20th century didn't leave Bligh's sins at that but added good old physical sadism and non stop flogging.)

Brilliant navigator: even his enemies conceded this. The first Bounty movie, with Charles Laughton being a sadistic flogger, still concedes him his moment of heroism post mutiny, the other thing he's famous for: the seemingly impossible 3,618-nautical-mile (6,701 km; 4,164 mi) voyage in an open small boat to Timor, the nearest European settlement. Bligh succeeded in reaching Timor after a 47-day voyage, despite having no maps and food only for five days. The only man lost during the journey was one killed during the initial stop on an island (the murderous result of that stop was why they didn't try the Fijiis or another landing point but went for Timor). The third movie, with Hopkins as Bligh, which is largely sympathetic to him but has him lose it between Tahiti and the mutiny, uses this navigational and disciplinary miracle as Bligh's redemption, as in this scene:

(The second movie, with Trevor Howard as evil Bligh, doesn't bother with Bligh's fate post mutiny.)

In the play Pitcairn, which is solely about the mutineers on the title island, Bligh is only occasionally referenced, with most of the mutineers believing he surely died and only Fletcher Christian convinced he died, precisely because Christian, due to his having sailed with Bligh before, knowing what a brilliant navigator he is so that he actually had a shot at survival. Whether or not this is true or whether Christian as well as the other mutineers thought Bligh and his loyalists would all die when they exposed them is anyone's guess, of course. I'll leave you with the end of the 1983 movie, which depicts its two main characters on Pitcairn and in London at a court martial respectively:

If your day, like mine, needs brightening up, why not watch this fantastic Unexpected Dance Sequence from the movie Pride, which I reviewed here? Short version: fabulous movie about the irresistable union of London based gay activists and striking Welsh miners in the early 1980s. Stars a great many well known and not so well known British actors. Here's Dominic West as Jonathan shaking things up:

If you're wondering, the song is Shame, Shame, Shame" By Shirley & Company.

And while you're in a musical mood, have another Ron Howard interview about his new Beatles documentary. In this one, he compares their touring days to Das Boot, which cracks me up not least because it's...not wrong, in a way. Also the article promises Sigourney Weaver, her teenage self identified in one of the concert clips. I knew Meryl Streep had been at Shea Stadium, but didn't know about Ms Weaver screaming her heart out, too. Just goes to show: they always had great taste! :)
Not only are Yuletide nominations now a go, but here is the Yuletide Confirmation Post, where you can see what everyone else (who comments) has nominated - handy, to avoid doubling, etc. (As I expected, for example, in Black Sails Flint, Silver, Billy and Vane were nominated immediately, and for The Americans Elizabeth and Philip - this is why I knew I wouldn't have to bother and could nominate someone else.)

Meanwhile, fanfic recs:

The Hunger Games:

From such great heights: Caesar Flickerman, the Tributes and Snow. Just how Caesar related to the people whose deaths (and occasional survival) he helped to sell, and where he came from is up for speculation, and this is a great reply.


Snuff: Peggy finds a certain surveillance video. As someone who wrote a story in which Peggy also almost finds out the truth about the Starks' deaths, I'm always intrigued of how others do it if they don't go the AU route and keep it within canon. This version of the conclusions Peggy draws feels plausible.
selenak: (James Boswell)
( Sep. 10th, 2016 04:36 pm)
Two biographies of people on the different ends of the social scale, a century apart.

The Fortunes of Francis Barber by Michael Bundock deals with one of the few black inhabitants of Georgian London we know something about: Francis Barber. The reason why we know about Francis is in the subtitle: "The true story of the Jamaican slave who became Samuel Johnson's heir". Francis Barber started life on a Jamaica plantation as the property of his maybe biological father, Colonel Bathurst, who took him with him when the plantation ran into financial trouble and Bathurst returned (or came, he was actually born on Jamaica) to England to die. (Which he did a few years later, Francis was officially freed in his will.) The child Francis, who in Jamaica wasn't called Francis yet but had the generic slave name Quashey, was then baptized and, at the instigation of Colonel Bathurst's son Dr. Bathurst, who was anti slavery, given to Dr. Samuel Johnson (recently widowed, in the throws of very deep depression and in need of cheering up) as a servant. And thus began an association that lasted for the rest of Johnson's life; Johnson being one of the most famous men in England, it meant that Francis Barber shows up in a lot of people's memoirs and letters as well. Becoming Johnson's main heir also meant he was involved in a very nasty inheritance struggle, since several white friends thought they'd have been far more deserving. He did get his inheritance, and a novelist would end the story here, with Francis, his wife and children moving to Johnson's hometown Lichfield to start a new life, with Francis becoming England's first black school master. But real life unfortunately allowed for no happy ending. The school wasn't a success, the money was gone, and Francis was dependent on help from old time friends like my guy Boswell when he died in poverty.

Michael Bundock has the problem familiar to biographers of servants, that very few first hand source material is available; a very few letters of Francis survive, and he also told Boswell about his life when Boswell was researching his biography of Johnson; Boswell's notes are the best we have on Francis' own view of his life, which was a bit different from how Johnson saw it, and much different from the view anti-Francis folk from Johnson's circle like John Hawkins or Hester Thrale took. (Hawkins, who published the very first Johnson biography two years before Boswell finished his, concludes it with a five page rant on how much he hates Francis Barber, and that includes some racist stuff on how Francis' white wife was a) disgusting for having married him in the first place, and b) how she surely cheats on him, since their kids are light skinned.) With these obstacles in mind, it's not surprising that the book at times is less of a classic biography and more an analysis of the story of slavery in Britain during Francis' life time, the general situation of free black people there, etc. I don't mean this as a criticism: all of it is tremendously interesting to read. (And often both chilling and infuriating, as in the opening chapters describing the situation in Jamaica during Francis' early childhood; Bundock quotes from the diary of Thomas Thistlewood, who started out as the overseer of a large sugar estate and then became the owner of a smallholding, noting down the floggings of both male and female slaves and the constant sexual abuse of female ones just as matter of factly as the details of the weather or the books he read.) Just that Francis himself, as a person, remains more a sketch than a portrait. He and Dr. Johnson developed what was very much a father-son relationship, but that doesn't mean Francis always agreed with what Johnson (who was very much anti slavery, but also very much the type To Know Best What's Good For You) had in mind for him, not to mention that if you're a teenager in a house where all the other residents are over 50 and prone to be either depressed or argumentative, you could be forgiven for wanting to leave, which is what Francis did for a while, first working for an apothecary and then joining the navy, before returning to Johnson. He also was social and independently minded enough to find his own circle of friends (there's a letter excerpt from a visitor's at Johnson's who describes Francis sitting with some "of his fellow Africans", "their sooty faces all looking up" when the man entered, for example), not just relying on Johnson's, and, as Hester Thrale, who diidn't like him, grudgingly admitted "not bad looking for a blackamoor". But all too often, there's a limit on what a biographer can speculate if there is no first hand testimony. How did Francis and his later wife Elizabeth Ball meet, for example? What was their relationship really like? Thrale and Hawkins accuse him simultanously of being jealous (Mrs. Thrale makes the obvious allusion when calling his wife "his Desdemona") and of being stupid for thinking his wife's children were his; otoh, Dr. Johnson fully accepted Elizabeth as a sort of daughter in law, gave her his dead wife's Common Prayer book (it survives, and has inscriptions by both), and the couple remained with each other through thick and thin, so you can make educated guesses, but you can't know for sure because there are no letters surviving to each other.

Similarly, we can make educated guesses what Francis thought of the big trials involving slaves seeking their freedom that took place in London while he was there, like the Somerset case, but we simply don't know (as opposed to knowing what Johnson thought). And so forth. One wishes for a novel, because a novelist, not bound to what can be proven, could fill in Francis' thoughts and feelings.

Like many a biography, this one also works a an analysis of biographies and how narrative bias works. To quote from a passage dealing with quotes.

In her "Anecdotes of the Late Samuel Johnson" (1786), (Hester Thrale) recounted that when Johnson's cat Hodge had grown old,

Mr. Johnson always went out himself to buy Hodge's dinner, that Francis the Black's delicacy might not be hurt, as seeing himself employed for the convencience of a quadruped.

The story is intended to be comical in its use of the pseudo-Johnsonian vocabulary "The convenience of a quadruped." It is also intended to show Johnson in a good light, willing to stoop to menial tasks rather than give offence to his employee. On both these accounts, it succeeds. But is is impossible to miss the sneer at Barber in the phrase "that Francis the black's delicacy might not be hurt" - there is clearly an implication that he is getting above himself. There were other servants in the household (as (Hester Thrale) knew), so Barber was not the only one to benefit from Johnson's action, but he alone is the object of Mrs. Thrale's jibe. It is not just any servant who is giving himself airs; it is a particular black servant. Boswell's version of the same story, published in his "Life of Johnson", provides a revealing contrast:

I shall never forget the indulgence with which he treated Hodge, his cat: for whom he himself used to go out and buy oysters, lest the servants having the trouble should take a dislike to the poor creature.

In this account the dig at Barber does not appear, and Johnson's actions are for the benefit of all the servants, not just Barber.

(Boswell in general fares well in this book, which you wouldn't think given that Boswell, as opposed to Johnson, was pro slavery and the subject is a former slave. But Boswell truly liked Francis Barber, and Michael Bundock makes a good case that he did so in a non-patronising manner, writing to and about Barber not different than to his white friends, and was there for him when Barber fell on hard times.)

All in all, I found the book very much worth reading, and the frustrations I have are not the author's fault, but that of the source material availability.

The Last Royal Rebel by Anna Keay, subtitle, "The Life and Death of James, Duke of Monmouth", has no such source material difficulties. Her main character has had a lot of bad press in his time (unsuccessfully rebelling with the victor writing your story will do that), but not only is he prominent in a lot of people's letters, memoirs, etc., but we have his own letters as well, and plenty accounts from both friends and enemies to provide a three dimensional picture. Our hero is the oldest and favourite illegitimate son of Charles II., and while I've read a novel about him which I've reviewed here and of course came across numerous references in biographies of other people, notably his father, but this is the first non-fictional biography about Monmouth himself I've read.

First of all, I was surprised that some of what I had assumed novelist Jude Morgan to have invented in his novel was actually historical fact, such as Monmouth's closeness to his aunt (though only five years older than him), Charles II.' favourite sister Henriette Anne (Minette), and how much her husband, Philippe d'Orleans (Monsieur, famously homosexual but no less petty and authoritarian with his wife for that) resented it. Also, the central father-son relationship between Charles and Monmouth comes across as very similar in both novel and biography, with biographer Anna Keay making a good case against the depiction of Monmouth as an empty headed greedy idiot prone to be used by every opposition politician, or, alternatively, wanting the crown from the start (both of which his enemies said about him), and for the disastrous fallout between father and son being as much Charles' fault as Monmouth's. Even the unofficial reconciliation between them near the end of Charles' life, and Charles' intentions of calling his son back from exile, is actually backed up with chapter and verse, and I thought Morgan the novelist had made that one up for sure so the central relationship doesn't end on a bad note.

Otoh Keay the biographer is harsher on the younger Monmouth than Morgan the novelist while being more admiring of the older. Mind you, she's not condemning; but she does provide the numbers of how much money young James spends on clothing alone, and that's just part of the inevitable result of giving a teenager after a somewhat poor childhood unrestricted access to every worldly indulgence at a court that made all the preceding ones seem tame by comparision in licenteousness. For Keay, the key shift that turned Monmouth from young Restoration rake to responsible human being happens at age 22 when he's part of the French-Dutch war and experiences the realities of battle after knowing just the fun of dressing up as a soldier. What's remarkable then isn't that he turns out to be capable of physical bravery but that ever subsequently, he shows caring about his men (keeping pushing for them to get paid, the lack of paying of soldiers being all too common vice of the era, and lobbying with his father for hospitals for veterans being built), and also distaste for needless death (when he had the job of crushing a Scottish rebellion and found part of the army continued killing even after the battle had ended, he put an end to it and when word came from London that there shouldn't have been any prisoners, he wrote back that killing prisoners was what butchers did, not soldiers, and he wouldn't).

She also makes a good case for Monmouth not seeking the crown for himself until late in the game (i.e. after his father had died), arguing his support from and friendship with his cousins William of Orange and Mary depended on that, as they were in fact the legitimate Protestant claimants (and would turn out to claim the throne from Mary's father, James II., contender for the "most disastrous Stuart king ever" title despite such rivals as Mary Queen of Scots and Charles I., after Monmouth's death). What's truly appalling to read is the account of Monmouth's death and the aftermath. His followers were butchered in the "Bloody Assisses" (meaning they got the full hanged, drawn and quartered treatment), and while Monmouth himself was beheaded, the executioner bungled the job badly, resorting after five ineffective strokes with the axe and a still twitching Monmouth to hacking off the head with a knife, and when he finally held it up, no one cheered but many cried.

Charles II. was generally fond of his illegitimate children (and provided for them, which wasn't self evident), and Keay's speculation as to why the relationship with Monmouth was extra intense rings plausible: she points out all the others had living mothers who fought and sometimes schemed for them, but Monmouth didn't, and even when his mother HAD been alive, Charles, who'd been 18 when this first child was born, had tried to kidnap him from her, not once but three times (the last time successful), meaning Charles really was everything to this particular son, and the jealousy this inspired would contribute to dooming him in the end. It's a compelling and tragic story to read, and it's hard to disagree with the physician James Welwood, who wrote to Mary of Orange about her cousin:

"Monmouth seem'd to be born for a better Fate; for the first part of his life was all Sunshine, though the rest was clouded. He was Brave, Generous, Affable, and extremely Handsome: Constant in his Friendships, just to His Word, and an utter enemy to all sorts of Cruelty. He was easy in his Nature, and fond of popular Applause which led him insensibly into all his Misfortunes; But wherever might be the hidden Designs of some working Heads he embark'd with, his own were noble, and chiefly aim'd at the Good of his Country."
selenak: (Skyisthelimit by Craterdweller)
( Sep. 9th, 2016 10:36 am)
Yesterday my Urfandom of them all, Star Trek, turned 50. I've written a great many posts on its various incarnations, and as a more recent example, I point to the 29 Days of Star Trek, which covers all the favorites and unfavorites of yours truly. Bring on Star Trek: Discovery, I say!

[personal profile] misbegotten has started to create Black Sails icons: the first bunch are here (credits and flags) and here (Anne Bonny).
ETA: it has been pointed out to me that the other condition, "more than a 1000 words per story", filters out a great deal, which means Black Sails is still below the 1000 works limit and thus still eligible. Yay!

The rules for this year's Yuletide: alas, with 1020 stories at the AO3 Black Sails is now over the magical 1000 fanworks limit to be eligible. Season 3 really inspired a lot more writing, which on the one hand, yay, but on the other, it robs me of a Yuletide fandom I meant to be request and offer. Ah well. It means I can nominate characters for The Americans after all, and hope someone will write either the Martha or the Gabriel story of my dreams for me.

In the meantime, here's a new Black Sails story I spotted this morning: a Miranda pov set during season 1, with spoilers for s2, though, so season 1 watchers who don't want to be spoiled beware:

Vain Empires
Department fannish brattishness, aka, why doesn't the internet cater to me more, Better Call Saul subdepartment: most of the fanfiction can be divided into:

a) Post Breaking Bad stories which are really about Jesse, or at best Jesse and Jimmy/Saul. Of these, a third feels like the "Better Call Saul" tag isn't needed at all, because it doesn't use BCS canon, and Saul's characterisation is that of Breaking Bad. The stories which do warrant the BCS crossoverdom, use BCS characterisation and sometimes even BCS characters other than Jimmy/Saul himself, still are Jesse/Saul, and my problem here is that I don't buy it. Oh, I buy Jimmy as bisexual, no problem. I buy Jesse as repressedly bisexual. Saul appreciating the pretty in Jesse? Okay. Saul having some affection for the kid? Absolutely, he does try to help him out between the first and second half of season 5. But when the stories are trying to sell me on is Saul as actually in love with Jesse, and having been for some time. And that's where the mental "err, no, not sold" comes in. Because Spoilers for season 5 of Breaking Bad ensue. ) And that's before we get to the Jesse part of the equation. (On the one hand, somewhat easier, due to Jesse's tendency to attach himself to middle aged males, otoh, s5 Jesse after finding out Saul helped Walt to do the Spoilery Thing from the s4 finale doesn't react in a way that makes me think he'd have positive feelings towards Saul thereafter.)

b) Jimmy/Saul & Original Female Character: I don't begrudge anyone their Odenkirk crush. Enjoy. I'm not interested in the stories, though.

c) Jimmy/Hamlin: the show certainly offers both foe yay set up and post Pimento reveal reconciliation scenarios, so I totally see where this is coming from, but alas, Hamlin isn't doing anything for me. I mean, in this capacity - the character certainly is a good element of the show. So, no reading interest.

d) Jimmy/Nacho: um. They haven't interacted since mid s1? I don't see either of them being remotely interested? Moving on.

e) Jimmy/Kim: my BCS OTP, and I've read all the four or five stories in existence, alas.

What I'd like to see/want more of: screwed up McGill family dynamic, naturally; crossover case fic in which Kim and/or Jimmy represent someone from another fictional 'verse; Kim origin and early HHM years speculation; what Kim was up to during Breaking Bad speculation. In conclusion, more Kim. Oh, and the one crossover scenario where younger Jimmy (with or without Marco in tow) meets Mr. Wednesday and his partner Lie Smith and adopts a role model. Obviously.
Having read and written about Catherine de' Medici and her daughters in recent months, I was left with a craving for other recent fictional takes on the Valois, who easily can compete with the their contemporaries the Tudors in sheer soap opera-ness, and seeing that Netflix put up the first two seasons of Reign (meaning I could watch without paying), I finally got around to it. And, well, good lord.

On one level it's exactly as you'd expected a teen aimed CW production to be. The cocktail gowns! The hair! The pop songs in the soundtrack! The utter disconnect from anything resembling historical plausibility! Seriously, the sheer crackiness is awesome. S1, apparantly having decided that Catholics versus Protestants is boring, has this entire subplot about secret pagans, and Mary Stuart, of all the people, spouting such lines as "We're not judging you for your religion". S2 does go for the actual big religious conflict of the era, but doesn't bother with such minor things as actually explaining what the differences are, beyond "no Pope". Young Mary Stuart is still a champion of interfaith tolerance, pleading the Protestants' cause (this is hysterical; also, she'd have been incredibly insulted if anyone had told her back in the day she'd ever been depicted as such), and the only Guise relation of hers to show up, other than her mother, is of course not the leader of the hardcore Catholic party more popular than the Royals but Some Guy Easily Disposed Of. (Don't I wish, says the shade of Catherine de' Medici.) Philip II. of Spain gets married to Elisabeth de Valois in the pilot while Mary Tudor is still alive throughout most of the first season. (Philip was a bad husband to poor Mary, but bigamy he'd have drawn a line at.) The Bourbon brothers, Louis, Prince Condé, and Antoine finally make an appearance in s2, where Louis gets to be Mary's temporary love interest and a possible candidate for Elizabeth I. to marry.) (Imagining how both their historical counterparts would have reacted to that suggestion is hysterical again. Good old Condé's historical wives whom he got, all in all, eleven children are of course non existent.) Reign is one of the few historical fictions to actually use Claude, Catherine's second oldest daughter, as a character, but whereas historically she was the only one of Catherine's kids not to have scandalous rumors attached to her and being her mother's favourite, here she's a a teen version of her sister Margot's popular image as a rebellious good time girl and her mother's unfavourite. (Margot has yet to be mentioned as existing, btw; of the younger kids, we've only seen Charles though the future Henri III. was mentioned in dialogue as well.)

Then there's the part where the French court keeps residing in "the castle", which isn't in Paris but isn't one of the gorgeous Loire chateaus like Chambord, either, instead being near the sea coast and looking grey and gloomy. The English, independent of monarch, are Up To No Good throughout but strangely never use this golden opportunity. In s2 inquisitors and their thuggish helpers, directly employed by the Vatican, roam the countryside to round up the helpless, hailing directly from Hammer Horror movies, but the French court itself, other than the occasional Cardinal visiting from Rome, is strangely cleric-free And so forth and so on. When, in s1, Henry II. in a rare reflective moment mentions having been a hostage as a boy it was an utter shock to this viewer because unlike most of Reign's other events, that actually happened.

If you utterly disconnect the goings on on screen from any historical knowledge of this world and see it as pure fantasy, a la The Enchanted Forest in Once upon a Time, though, it definitely delivers in the "entertaining soap" category, and it offers not one or two but five regular female characters (Mary Stuart, Catherine de' Medici and Mary's ladies, with the sublimely historical names of Lola, Kenna and Greer), whose developments and exploits we're following. Plus recurring female guest stars. The Catherine-Mary relationship starts in classic villainess-heroine manner but turns into something surprisingly complex, and Catherine herself is a great character, giving me fond flashbacks to 80s soap operas where the female antagonists if they stuck around long enough were developing layers and also nearly always got the best lines. As for the girls, their stories are actually quite good variations of "how to survive in a system that's stacked against you" even if they do so in cocktail gowns and blithely unburdened by anything resembling period attitudes. It's not every show, crack history or not, which is a female character turn down her True Love's marriage proposal because she's found she likes being financially independent and on her own better. (As opposed to turning it down because of misunderstandings, because of a rival, because she's pressured etc.)

Also, there's a lot of black humor in the dialogue. Have an example:

Mary and Catherine are in their annual "antagonists teaming up because of shared danger" episode; Catherine draws a stiletto, Mary perks up:

Mary: Poison?
Catherine: You say that so hopefully now.

In conclusion, it's pure crack, but if you have nothing else to do and it's available, go for it. Just don't play any drinking games counting anachronisms and the like, or you're passed out before the first episode is even finished.

Meanwhile, in another fandom:

Penny Dreadful

Apples: Joan and Evelyn backstory, sensual and poetical. Headcanon accepted.
selenak: (Beatles by Alexis3)
( Sep. 3rd, 2016 02:24 pm)
Excerpts of John Le Carré's memoirs, The Pigeon Tunnel, containing striking descriptions of his con man father, Rupert Murdoch, Alec Guinness et al. That book's now definitely on my "to be read" list.

Ron Howard on making the latest Beatles documentary, "Eight Days A Week", about their touring days, and also why he felt the need for yet another one. He's endearingly fannish, and I'll try to catch this one in the cinemas.

Harry Potter and the Conscience of a Liberal: Laurie Penny entertainingly sums up the current JKR versus hardcore Corbynites battle on twitter.
Still the result from my London expedition at the beginning of August. I didn't watch any of these plays, I just bought them in bookstores.

Pitcairn: play by Richard Bean. Flippantly described, it's an Age of Sails Lord of the Flies, featuring the most prominent mutineers of them all. More precisely: after the famous mutiny on the Bounty, some of the mutineers risked staying in Tahiti, and nine went on with Fletcher Christian, and 20 Polynesians, 14 of whom were women (and only three of these women were on board voluntarily, Christian and the other mutineers had simply kidnapped the rest) and ended up on Pitcairn. If you're read Caroline Alexander's The Bounty, for my money by far the best book both on the mutiny and its aftermath, you knew the Pitcairn story ended rather bloodily, with the question as to who killed whom and why depending on the various changing accounts the one European survivor, John Adams, gave when Pitcairn was finally found by the navy decades later. (For years after that, it never seems to have occurrred to any of the curious and Bounty-romantisizing people to interview any of the surviving Polynesian women, until one, nicknamed Jenny, who took the first chance she got to finally leave Pitcairn told her story, and it was anything but complimentary to the European mutineers.)

Now I've watched the three most famous movies on the Bounty mutiny (Laughton/Gable, Howard/Brando and Hopkins/Gibson as Bligh and Christian respectively, with the last movie the only one reflecting newer research and taking a pro Bligh approach, with the earlier two being all evil Captain versus heroic mutineers), and I've read some novels, but Bean's play is the first depiction focusing exclusively on the mutineers and Polynesians who ended up on Pitcairn, and my Lord of the Flies comparison is no hyperbole. Bean is also the first author who makes the Polynesians, both female and male, into characters, instead of presenting him as pretty, available and mostly silent and catalysts for the mutiny. He's also trying very hard to avoid the "noble savage" stereotype, not least by presenting them in their own context, where the Polynesians have their own social hierarchy (which the Europeans utterly ignore) and prejudices. Even though, they come across far more sympathetically than the Europeans, whose first idea on how to live their new Utopia is to enslave the Polynesian males, and whose falling out over the women never bothers with their choices. Bean's solution to what to make of the various contradictory accounts (Adams at various points said Christian had committed suicide, that he was killed by another Polynesian, or by another mutineer, that he became quickly hated or that he remained beloved till the end (the last story being told after Adams had gotten back into contact with people in England and had found out that the story of the mutiny was now firmly pro Christian, anti Bligh in the public consciousness; "Jenny" said all the Polynesians turned against the mutineers and that the women tried to escape Pitcairn by attempting to build a boat, which failed, something that's confirmed in the surviving writings of mutineer Edward Young who also mentions the women were punished for this) is to come up with a twist that I thought was unique to him until rereading Caroline Alexander's book, which mentioned that the very first dramatization of the discovery of Pitcairn had the very same twist. The twist in question, and more. )

The question of what exactly happened to cause the mutiny is never addressed, as it's not the point of the play. It's a story where everyone gets a fresh new start but due to the baggage they bring with them - the Europeans ideas of racial superiority, and the confusion of the fact that the women are sexually liberated with the idea that they don't care whom they have sex with, the Polynesians their own hierarchy which divides them from each other and stops them banding together until it is too late - it ends in a far worse state than the one they ran away from. One third into the play, when the Bounty is burned, both mutineers and Polynesians realise they are now in prison, locked together with each other when half of them wants to kill the other half, worse than a prison sentence in England would have been. As Utopia turns Dystopia stories go, this one is told viciously and efficiently. In a can't-turn-my-eyes-away manner; if it's ever staged where I can see it, I will.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: first of all, let me address something that annoys me in plenty of both negative and positive reviews of this play: said reviews treating JKR as the author. She's not. I repeat: she did not write this play, and never claimed she had. The credit on the cover is pretty clear: a two part stage play written by Jack Thorne based on an original new story by Thorne, J.K. Rowling and John Tiffany. Which makes Thorne the author, with input by JKR as well as John Tiffany as far as the storyline is concerned.

Maybe a comparison: The Empire Strikes Back. Script by Lawrence Kasdan and Leigh Brackett. George Lucas did not write it. Of course he had imput in the storyline, and he approved of the final result. But I can't count the number of criticisms of Lucas as a scriptwriter which sooner or later bring up the fact the ESB script was written by two solid veterans as an explanation why that movie is the favourite of most fans, who point to Leigh Brackett's Bogart-Bacall-Hawks past as having influenced the Han and Leia scenes, etc. By the same measure, it might be more useful to compare HP and the Cursed Child to earlier work by Thorne for the tv series Skins or his plays than it is to compare it to JKR's novels.

All of this being said, here we go: I enjoyed reading this two part play tremendously. I haven't read much Next Generation fanfiction to compare it too, but it should surprise me if previous takes on Scorpius Malfoy resemble this one, who is an adorable geek and very much his own character, not Draco or Sirius revisited. Now the last two HP novels had made me have some pity and sympathy for Draco and the Malfoys in general (with the caveat that joining a genocidal bastard voluntarily not being a good idea should have been kind of obvious), but this play finally made me like Draco, without negating or prettifying his previous history in the slightest. The adult interaction between him, Harry, Hermione and Ginny feels both plausible and satisfying to me. Harry with the best of intentions struggling with fatherhood and this textually explicitly being tied back to his being raised by the Dursleys on the one hand and having Albus Dumbledore for a mentor on the other also makes character sense to me. And while "son of famous man struggles with expectations, developes massive issues" is anything but new as a concept, I thought Albus Potter was a good variation of the theme. I also liked the Albus-Ginny parallels; they have a scene together that brings up Ginny's Tom Riddle experience just rightly.

Being a genre fan, I'm of course familiar with the central plot device - which is spoilery ) - with Star Trek, Farscape and Buffy all having done memorable episodes using it. Cursed Child offers Spoilers. ) It also fits with the fact that all ensemble characters, past and present, dead and alive, contribute to saving the world: hooray for team work!

Complaints: not really. I mean, Spoilery New Character is more of a plot device than a character, but otoh New Character triggers both the aforementioned Ginny and Albus scene, and has one with Harry which is totally my kind of messed up: in spoilery ways. ) I'm really looking forward to seeing this scene acted out on stage in a year or so when tickets become reasonably available.
selenak: (Branagh by Dear_Prudence)


( Aug. 30th, 2016 07:11 pm)
The internet tells me that J.K. Rowling's novels written as Robert Galbraith are getting filmed, which I knew already.... and that they've cast Tom "Athos" Burke as Cormoran Strike, which I hadn't known.

Um. Err. Can't see it? I mean, yes, he can brood, but he's too thin and too good looking by far, and can he do matter of actly no nonsense? From the descriptions, I was imagining a slightly younger Phil Glenister. He'd have been perfect both physically and in terms of acting force and charisma. No news about who's going to play Robin that I've heard.

Secret hope for character who hasn't actually appeared in the novels yet but gets referenced lots: if Mick Jagger Strike's notorious glam rock star father with multiple offspring ever should show up in the tv series, can he be played by Bill Nighy? Alternatively, Dennis Waterman. And for the literary agent from the second novel, Lesley Sharpe.

Above all: dear scriptwriters, don't make the mistake Sarah Phelps did with The Casual Vacancy and take away any bite the novels have. It's not that I think JKR's writing is perfect, absolutely not, but the tv adaption of The Casual Vacancy threw away so much of what made the novel interesting in favor of bland jollinesss; do not want. still trying to get my head around the idea of Burke as Cormoran Strike. Ah well. Maybe he'll surprise me: it has happened before, with several actors.
Penny Dreadful, of course. There's at least one idea I really want to write, and more than one I'll request. We should coordinate our efforts, oh flist/circle, to get in more characters. I don't think any of us need to nominate Vanessa, or Ethan, they are a given. Sir Malcolm is not, so he'll be one of my four. I also want Lily, Caliban/John Clare/The Creature, Catriona Hartdegen and Dr. Seward, so if anyone would take one of them among their PDs? Pretty please? I also hope urgently someone will nominate Lyle, but more due to sympathy than to a concrete story idea.

The Americans: I love the show as much as ever, but I won't volunteer to write it this year, because I've ended up as the sole person writing The Americans stories for two years in a row, and I want to try something else. Depending on the prompts and whether I have time enough, I might write a The Americans treat, but for my main assignment, I want another fandom.

Black Sails: Pirates! Someone else will undoubtedly nominate Flint and Silver, and Billy is also popular enough to end up nominated on his own. Ditto Charles Vane, Jack Rackham and Anne Bonny. I'll nominate Madi, Max, Eleanor and Miranda, who aren't shoe-ins. Would be grateful for Mr. Scott, the Queen and Woode Rogers.

Books: I'll nominate the Shardlake mysteries again, not leaving it to accident. Last year someone wrote a beautiful aftermath of Lamentation story; maybe they can be seduced into writing more? Characters: am still hankering after a Guy past or present tale, but other than that, I have only vague ideas. I'd ask for Matthew being Elizabeth's lawyer in the upcoming Thomas Seymor fiasco were it not for the fact that I'm pretty sure Sansom will write that novel if he writes another book, given how Lamentation ends.
Starring Cecilia Bartoli as Maria; I saw it on Thursday and with one important caveat loved it. If you've read/heard about the production, you'll probably be familiar with the central gimmick; the critic of the Süddeutsche Zeitung suspected it's the result of the director anticipating cruel remarks re: the age difference between Cecilia Bartoli and the rest of the youthful cast, and preventing it by using that very age difference: the production is Maria, decades after Tony's death, remembering the events of her youth.

This I knew in advance, but what I hadn't known was that there's also a young Maria on stage, which works out surprisingly well. Young Maria does all the speaking and interacting, and the fact that older Maria (I can't write "old" Maria, because La Bartoli is a youthful looking 50 something) can't touch any of the characters (until the very end) contributes to the poignancy, though she sometimes acts as a mirror/contrast to her younger self in movements. Young Maria wears the traditional white dress until the last scene, older Maria the black dress from the last scene throughout. This concepts also changes the context/subtext of several songs: "I feel pretty", for example, is now older Maria looking back with amusement and a mixture of joy and longing to her young self, and "Tonight", in addition to being young Tony and Maria being passionately in love, is also older Maria with Cecilia Bartoli's mature mezzo soprano voice longing for what she's lost. The arrangement for "Somewhere" in this production isn't a duet between Tony and Maria, it's older Maria, having just relived the deaths of her brother and Riff and knowing what's to come for Tony, grieving and protesting fate. And so forth.

Unfortunately, where this is all working towards is my one big nitpick/caveat/complaint/what have you, the very end of the production: Which is spoilery even if you're familiar with West Side Story. )

Other thoughts: the production was firmly set in the late 50s (as indicated by the boys' hair cuts and girls' dresses), with no attempt to update, but the blatant racism shown towards the Puerto Ricans and all the "who asked you to come here?" had very present day resonance for the audience; you could tell. Which is why I regret the production uses the original arrangement for "America" (i.e. Anita and her friends), not the revised arrangement and lyrics from the movie version (all the Sharks), because I heretically happen to consider the later one better, especially in the current day situation, see also this old entry as to the reasons, complete with quotes. Otoh the production swayed me a bit on my other movie-caused perference, i.e. the switch of places between "Cool" and "Gee, Officer Kruppke". In its original place, as in this production, "Cool" contributes to working up the tension among the Jets that's about to become lethal none too much later.

About that, though: seeing how skillfully Tony shames/manipulates the Jets and Sharks earlier into a one on one fist fight instead of the big rumble, it's frustrating to see him go about stopping the fight incredibly clumsily and with apparantly no plan beyond "I'll just say stop". Here, good old Shakespeare made the relevant plot point more plausible (i.e. Tybalt challenges Romeo, Romeo, newly wed to Juliet, has no intention of accepting, Mercutio is angry on his behalf and starts to fight Tybalt instead, Romeo tries to stop it, Mercutio's death happens, etc. On the other hand, I agreed, once again, with Arthur Laurents' boast that he bettered Shakespeare on the final tragic twist; Romeo simply not getting Friar Laurents' letter because the plague hits Mantua is an accident, the Jets assaulting Anita, thereby causing her not to deliver Maria's message to Tony, is directly related to the hatred and feuding that's been going on through the play. And that assault scene remains shoking and yet one of those instances where I consider it dramatically necessary and justified to have been written. (BTW, it's always interesting to see what the individual productions do with Anybodys during that scene. Most I've seen let her back off - but not intervene - when she realises where this is going; this one, taking its cue from the fact she's taunting Anita verbally early on, lets her be one of the pack assaulting Anita, the ultimate consequence of her desire to be one of the boys, and then caught up the shame when Doc puts an end to it.)

Bernstein's music remains glorious no matter how often I listen to it, and it occured to me that the lyrics for "Officer Kruppke" with their wordplay and sarcasm are classic Sondheim already. I wish these two would have collaborated more often. Then again, who's to say that more masterpieces would have resulted - maybe the uniqueness of the situation contributed to it.

In conclusion: despite my objection to the ending, a great experience in the theatre. Definitely worth a trip to Salzburg for.
selenak: (Servalan by Snowgrouse)
( Aug. 26th, 2016 05:03 pm)

The BBC is currently broadcasting a radio version of Night Watch, available on iplayer for us non-British folks, and I'm listening, enthralled, to the first episode.

Blake's 7:

If you're a B7 fan, chances are you've already read this, but if you have not: a great new essay, on B7, Blake, Gareth Thomas and Chris Boucher. It's passionate and highly enjoyable to read. (Minus a few unneccessary swipes at non-B7 topics such as John Crichton, Clara Oswald and David Tennant's performance as Richard II. But it would be a boring internet life if we agreed on everything with the people we agree on some things. :)

Stephen King:

Handy and amusing flowchart showing how all the novels and characters are connected.


The Lingering Reminders: hands down one of the best, most even handed post-Civil War stories, in which Tony Stark runs across one of Peggy Carter's old mates. No, not that one. The author's take on old Jack Thompson feels extremely plausible, and there's a hilarious inside gag if you're familiar with the Spider-man mythology. (If you're not, you'll still be amused.) Great mixture of humor and angst all around.


Sons of York: Great take on Shakespeare's version of the York family, specifically the two Richards, father and son.
Aka Big Finish using the fact they finally got license for the New Who characters, big time. This audio series consists of four episodes, about an hour long, each written by a different writer and with an overreaching story arc, though each adventure is more or less self contained as well. Continuity-wise, this seems to be post-Demon's Run, pre-Library (obviously) in River's time line. It also was conceived and produced before The Husbands of River Song was broadcast, I'd wager, because this River on her own while still capable of ruthlessness has a much stronger commitment to ethics than the one from the most recent Christmas Special.

Overall impression: enjoyable, Alex Kingston is great, of course, the guest voice actors are good, and so far it navigates around the inherent prequel problem of us knowing River's ending and the way she can't come face to face with any pre-Ten Doctor in a memorable way pretty well. When I heard that the Eighth Doctor guest stars in one of the episodes, I assumed he'll get yet another case of amnesia (because this keeps happening to Eight), but no, the writer of the episode in question solves the continuity problem another way. Go him! The season also, like Doctor Who itself, uses the opportunity to try different types of tropes.

Individual episodes:

The Boundless Sea, written by Jenny T. Colgan: allows River to start out depressed and shaken, instead of being the unflappable-no-matter-the-trauma guest star she usually is on DW. This not being season 6 of Buffy, she gets over it in the course of the episode's adventure, which is essentially a classical Universal horror story with walking mummies in Egypt (if you've read my Penny Dreadful reviews, you know this part satisfied an urge), complete with clueless (OR ARE THEY?) archaelogists and civil servants. The episode's "monster" is more like a tragic antagonist and also an obvious reflection/counterpart of River herself (originally entombed for the sake of her husband), though I'm not sure I buy what the script seems to be getting at. Introduces Alexander "Mordred from Merlin" Vlahos' character Bertie Potts.

I went to a marvellous party, written by Justin Richards: introduces the season's true antagonists, the self-styled "Rulers", who are the classic type of rich privileged callous bastards you love to boo-hiss at. Also a Christie-homage paying murder mystery and a con story. Alexander Siddig's character is a bit of a let down in that he's not around for long and doesn't interact with River much, but River solving the mystery while also tricking the "Rulers" and screwing them over was very satisfying to listen to.

Signs by James Goss: co-starring Samuel West, and essentially Gaslight in space. Very creepy for what is clear to the audience though not River (for plot reasons) from the start. Also inadvertendly supplying an additional explanation as to why River has trouble realising Twelve is the Doctor in The Husbands of River Song. West is good in a role that's spoilery, sweetie ). Not one to re-listen to, I don't think, though not because it's not good.

The Rulers of the Universe, written by Matt Fitton: in which the various plot threads from previous episodes come together, there's a showdown with two antagonists at once, both the "Rulers" and the ones introduced in "Signs", and River manages to work with the Eighth Doctor to save the day without actually meeting him, and yet they interact, sort of. (It's great team work, btw.) Both how River foils the Rulers and how the Doctor foils Those Other Guys are classic for the characters, and it's a good conclusion to this audio-season.

Wishes for season 2: has Big Finish the rights for Amy and Rory, too? Because I really truly want an episode long interaction between River and her parents post-reveal.


selenak: (Default)


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