Friday, April 25, 2014

Picture Day Friday: Medieval Meat Roasting at Gainsborough Hall

According to social historian of food culture and professional chef Ivan Day, "The roasting range in the kitchen of Gainsborough Hall, probably being used for the first time in four hundred years as it was intended, for roasting a full range of meats and poultry for a high status meal. A goose sawce madame, four rabbits, four mallard, a woodcock and other game birds roast on the hand turned spits.

[Image copyrighted by Ivan Day. Used with permission.]

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Beowulf: overview, summary, translated passages

Image copyrighted by A while back, a Facebook meme was going around about putting up a poem of a poet assigned to you by a friend and tagging others and assigning poets. I was assigned Nobel Prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney. He was considered one of twentieth century's greatest of great poets. In addition to his own œvre, his translation of the Anglo-Saxon prose in verse Beowulf is known to be the definitive transcription.

Image copyrighted by Beowulf is longest epic poem in Old English with more than 3000 lines. It was composed by an unknown Anglo-Saxon poet in ~700 CE from stories that originated in 500 CE. However, the only surviving manuscript (located in the British Library) is from 1000 CE. In the nineteenth century, Beowulf began to gain prominence among scholars of Old English. However, it was only in 1936 that Oxford scholar J. R. R. Tolkien brought recognition to it as a serious work of art. Heaney's translation sealed its reputation by bringing in into the realm of the accessible and thereby making it popular and readable.

Image copyrighted by Many of the characters in the poem are actual historical figures of pre-Anglo-Saxon times. While the characters in the poem definitely follow the old religions, the poet, who wrote it all down, was definitely Christian. So an imposition of Christianity on undoubtedly Pagan rituals, events, and thoughts is obvious.

Image copyrighted by From the British Library: "Beowulf is a classic tale of the triumph of good over evil, and divides neatly into three acts. The poem opens in Denmark, where Grendel is terrorising the kingdom. The Geatish prince Beowulf hears of his neighbours’ plight, and sails to their aid with a band of warriors. Beowulf encounters Grendel in unarmed combat, and deals the monster its death-blow by ripping off its arm. There is much rejoicing among the Danes; but Grendel’s loathsome mother takes her revenge, and makes a brutal attack upon the king’s hall. Beowulf seeks out the hag in her underwater lair, and slays her after an almighty struggle. Once more there is much rejoicing, and Beowulf is rewarded with many gifts. The poem culminates 50 years later, in Beowulf’s old age. Now king of the Geats, his own realm is faced with a rampaging dragon, which had been guarding a treasure-hoard. Beowulf enters the dragon’s mound and kills his foe, but not before he himself has been fatally wounded. The poem closes with the king’s funeral, and a lament for the dead hero."

A few of my favorite passages from Seamus Heaney's translated work:

The beginning...

So. The Spear-Danes in days done by
And the kings who ruled them had courage and greatness.
We have heard of those princes' heroic campaigns.

* *

Prince Hrothgar...

The fortunes of war favored Hrothgar.
Friends and kinsmen flocked to his ranks,
Young followers, a force that grew
To be a mighty army. So his mind turned
To hall-building: he handed down orders
For men to work on a great mead-hall
Meant to be a wonder of the world forever; 70
It would be his throne-room and there he would dispense
His God-given goods to young and old—

* *

Grendel makes his presence known...

Then a powerful demon, a prowler through the dark,
Nursed a hard grievance. It harrowed him
To hear the din of the loud banquet
Every day in the hall, the harp being struck
And the clear song of a skilled poet
Telling with mastery of man’s beginnings,

* *

The arrival of Beowulf...

The leader of the troop unlocked his word-hoard;
The distinguished one delivered this answer:
"We belong by birth to the Geat people
and owe allegiance to Lord Hygelac.
In his day, my father was a famous man,
A noble warrior-lord name Ecgtheow.
He outlasted many a long winter
And went on his way. All over the world
Men wise in counsel continue to remember him.
We come in good faith to find your lord
And nation’s shield, the son of Halfdane.
Give us the right advice and direction.
We have arrived here on a great errand."

* *

The man whose name was known for courage, 340
The Geat leader, resolute in his helmet,
Answered in return: "We are retainers
From Hygelac’s band. Beowulf’s my name.
If your lord and master, the most renowned
Son of Halfdane, will hear me out
And graciously allow me to greet him in person,
I am ready and willing to report my errand."

Friday, April 18, 2014

Picture Day Friday: One of Madagascar's Wacky Animals

What a graceful dancer. Madagascar's Verreaux's sifakas is dancing here in the Berenty Nature Reserve. It is a medium-sized primate in one of the lemur families. The fur is thick and silky and generally white with brown on the sides, top of the head, and on the arms. The face is black and hairless and the long tail is used as a balance when leaping from tree to tree. Its body is so highly adapted to an arboreal existence that on the ground its only means of locomotion is hopping (which is highly unusual).

[Image copyrighted by]

[Image copyrighted by Kevin Schafer of]

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

2014 TBR Reading Challenge: Pride & Prejudice: the movie adaptation

As part of Wendy Crutcher's 2014 TBR Challenge, here are my brief comments on Pride & Prejudice: the movie adaptation by screenwriter Deborah Moggach.

This is a lovely companion to the 2005 movie adaptation of Austen's Pride & Prejudice. It's published as a full-color magazine on thick lustrous paper. One of the reasons Moggach says that the movie was so successful was due to "impeccable attention to detail [paid] to the reality of life in the 18th century." I concur. Would that all historical films did the same. A historical film that is not mere costume drama has to research, research, research, and implement the research on the screen.

The screenwriter, of course, relied heavily on Austen's words, but so did the actors. Keira Knightley said, "It's a different process to do a film based on a book, because the inner dialogue of your character is all written down. So if there was ever a scene where I was having problems, we would go back to the book and in some way or another it was right there."

The clothing of the characters was changed to reflect the character's growth arc, particularly apt in Darcy's case. What a wonderful notion! Novelists don't do this at all. Clothing of a character is appropriate to the setting, but rarely reflects the character's growth arc. Costume Designer Jacqueline Durran writes, "If you look closely, Darcy's costumes in the course of the film change quite radically. In the early scenes, he's wearing a very buttoned-up, very rigid, very stuff style of costume. In the middle state, he's wearing the same style but in a softer fabric and a softer cut, and by the end of the film, he's wearing a much looser cut, an open jacket, a more country style, less upright, less rigid."

I have to say though, her choice of that open long coat as he comes striding across in the early dawn as well as those raggedy capris with bare legs in the last scene was so not period-correct and looked just awful.

Other than the fact that the movie was filmed entirely on location (at seven different manor estates), here's the reason why this movie was period pitch perfect: Director Joe Wright writes, "I think one of the problems is that when people do period films they rely on painting from the period, because there is no photography. But in a painting, everything is formally composed. It's not real life. Then people shoot wide shots to show off the period detail of the sets, whereas I think the detail is in the small things."

A final classy touch is the translucent vellum centerfold where the letter Darcy writes to Elizabeth is printed in Jane Austen's handwriting font. Lovely, lovely!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Conference on Women in Anglo-Saxon England

Starting tomorrow, the University of Manchester is hosting a three-day medieval conference at Hulme Hall in the Victoria Park area of Manchester.

For £90 (£60 for students and state-dependent individuals), you're allowed to attend the lectures and discussions and partake of the refreshments and the wine reception at the Women in Anglo-Saxon England conference. The conference runs April 15–17.

Some of the interesting talks that I'd love to attend are:

The Wife’s Lament: Possibly the Most Perfect Anglo Saxon Riddle Ever Written

Embroidery Workshops

Women's work in Anglo-Saxon food production

Vocabulary for Man, Woman and Person in Old English Prose

Female names in Old English

Women's health

Female Power and Authority in the Seventh Century

Early Anglo-Saxon elite female jewelry

Female Identity and Foster-Relationships in Old English Literature

Scholarly Women of the Later Seventh Century: Learning, Liturgy and Luxury: an insight through the words of Aldhelm of Malmesbury, first Bishop of Sherborn

Friday, April 11, 2014

Picture Day Friday: Real Biblioteca in Madrid

This library in Madrid, Spain is called the Real Biblioteca del Monasterio de San Lorenzo del Escorial.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A Love Story of Oxford

I have much, much love for this travel memoir on the beauties of Oxford, it's history, it's grandeur, it's conveniences. In the summer of 2002, I paid a flying visit to Oxford under the aegis of a tour company. Whatever I saw, charmed me no end. Ever since, I've been dying to do a summer course there. Before then, I had been angling for a semester abroad. But all in all, life happened, and I have not been able to do it thus far. I'm still holding out hope that one day, I'll be able to wrangle a few summer weeks at one of the colleges. Oh, to have that happen!

(The picture is of Duke of Humfrey's reading room at the Bodelian Library in Oxford.)

Monday, April 7, 2014

Jane Austen Summer Program at Chapel Hill

The University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill offers a Jane Austen Summer Program every June, focusing on one book every summer. In 2013, they started off the program with Pride & Prejudice; this year it's Sense & Sensibility.

Students to the program will hear guest speakers lecture about the book, Austen's body of work, the time period, and other details in the context of the book. In addition, visits to special exhibits and lively group discussions will be enjoined with all encouraged to participate. Registrants will also be able to dance at a Regency ball and sit down to a formal English tea.

According to the program notes: "The Austen Summer Program is designed to appeal to established scholars, high school teachers, graduate students, and undergraduate students—anyone with a passion for all things Austen is welcome to attend!"

The JASP residential symposium runs from June 12–15 this year and registration is now open.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Picture Day Friday: Book Cake

Isn't this the most gorgeous cake ever? I could never eat it. I'd want this preserved in a glass cabinet.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Seattle Edible Book Festival

Image copyrighted by Frybooks Image copyrighted by Every year, we visit the Seattle Edible Book Festival to admire all the wonderful bookish puns recreated in food form. This festival is held in conjunction with the International Edible Book Festival around April 1 in celebration of the birthday of French gastronome Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826).

Your ticket gets you into the viewing part of the festival, the voting part of the festival, and also the eating part of the festival. That's right. After the judging is over, you get to walk around and put a piece of whatever tickles your fancy onto your plate or in a takeaway box they provide.

Image copyrighted by Seattle Edible Book Festival Some of the "books" the festival has seen are: 100 Bears of Solitude crafted from 100 individual Gummi bears, Le Petit(four) Prince, LePieAthan, Of Mice and Pen, and The Girl with the Dragon Fondue with a dragon-shaped bread and a whole lot of melted cheese. Here's a link to photos of entries from previous book festivals. The picture on the right is our favorite from 2012: Satanic Purses (in lieu of Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses).

This year's festival was on Saturday, March 29 from 11 o'clock to 2 o'clock at the Third Place Commons in Lake Forest Park, WA. If you're in Seattle next spring, you don't want to miss this. It's a surefire treat, I promise you.