A Favourite Classic Novel: ‘Dracula’ by Bram Stoker

There are lots of vampire stories being written and read today, but ‘Dracula’ is where they all started. It’s classic Gothic horror in a story told through letters, diary entries, newspaper clippings in addition to the narrative, so it has multiple narrators. None of them have all the information and some are not even first-hand witnesses, so it’s a bit like piecing together a puzzle as you read. It builds up a lot of intrigue and suspense as the story becomes darker and deadlier. 

‘Dracula’ has inspired many films, TV shows, books, comics, cartoons and plays over the years. Other writers and filmmakers have created their own vampire stories, and some of them are really good. Even so, Bram Stoker’s sheer originality, powerful writing and ingenious storytelling style make the original classic really hard to beat. 

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A Favourite Classic Novel: ‘Wuthering Heights’ by Emily Bronte

When this book was published, Victorian audiences didn’t know what to make of it. It wasn’t the light, fluffy romance and romp that they were accustomed to. Instead, it was dark, violent, and stormy, and there was no happy ending for most of the characters. 

‘Wuthering Heights’ is about love, but it’s not romantic. It’s about dysfunction, selfishness, misunderstanding, bullying and manipulation. Much like Heathcliff and the Yorkshire moors on which the novel is set, it’s a bit dismal and morose most of the time, but it has power and substance that are fascinating and somewhat spellbinding. 

I love the power of the writing and the tempest that inhabits the characters and their relationships. I am fascinated by the cleverness of the intrigue and mystery woven into the narrative. I enjoy the fact that the narrators, Nellie Dean and Mr Lockwood, tell the story as though they are objective onlookers, but when you delve into the story, you can see that neither of them is innocent or objective as the story develops. All the characters are flawed and selfish and broken in one way or another, and I remain unconvinced that we’re meant to actually like any of them. It really is a fascinating study of human psychology as much as it is a compelling work of fiction. 

Even so, the story works because it is expertly written. The storytelling and the imagery are profound and beautifully constructed. The story appeals to our human nature, and to those voyeuristic tendencies that make people watch on with interest as things go wrong, take satisfaction in the misery of others, and slow down to get a better look at car accidents or natural disasters.  

I have read ‘Withering Heights’ more times than I can remember, and I know I will read it again. It may have been published in 1847, but it’s a story that, for me at least, will never get old. 

Spamalot! aka The Show That Ends Like This.

This weekend and last I achieved one of my ultimate theatre goals as an actor, singer, and not-quite-a-dancer in Monty Python’s Spamalot! The Musical. 

A lot of people have done an incredible amount of work, both on stage and off, to bring the show to life and make it run smoothly and professionally. 

It’s a really, really funny show. By the time our cast was done with it, it was non-stop hilarity and good times for the duration of each performance. To be honest, that was pretty much the order of every rehearsal, too,

Sure, there have been moments of frustration and, occasionally, despair for some of us. More than anything, though, it has been fun. It’s fair to say that however many tears may have been shed in tiredness or anxiety, a hundred times more have been borne of laughter. 

From our first read-through of the script to taking our bows of the final night, we have laughed together, learned from one another, inspired and encouraged each other. 

From the final week of January to the second week of May, the cast members have grown from acquaintances into friends. Those with whom I have worked most closely have begun to feel like family. It’s fair to say that they understand my love for theatre and performance more than most members of my family, and it seems they have fully accepted my own individual brand of weirdness and subversive humour. I have found my theatre tribe. 

Today, dismantling the absolutely amazing sets and cleaning the theatre felt kind of surreal. Yesterday I had tears because I didn’t want it to be over. Today, tears threatened again as reality set in: the show really is done. 

My heart is heavy, and even though my Fibromyalgia-plagued body and permanently rather dodgy spine are expressing a strong and well-earned sense of relief, I regret nothing. 

At the end of it all, I am blessed to count these amazing people as my friends, and to be able to say “see you next time!” with every confidence that there will be another show and we will be keen to do it all again.

All photos in this post are by Joel Barker aka Sir Bedevere, and have been used with permission.

A Favourite Classic Series: The Narnia Chronicles by C.S. Lewis

I may be cheating by covering a whole series instead of just one of the novels, but how does one choose a single favourite among such an incredible set of books?

Supposedly written for children, The Narnia Chronicles fill me with as much joy and wonder now as they ever did. They are stories that never, ever get old.

I collected a mismatched set of the books over several years as a child, and then as a teenager I indulged my slightly OCD book-neediness and bought a boxed set with matching covers. I can’t find any of the first lot, and only one of the boxed set remains on my shelf. I’ve lost a few in different classrooms over the years and others courtesy of unreturned loans, so several years ago I bought the complete set in one volume so I could read them all again.

While each book in the series is a unique and brilliant story in its own right, as a collection they are remarkably cohesive and unified.

The Narnia Chronicles really are the works of a master storyteller. 

A Favourite Classic Novel: ‘Anne of Green Gables’ by L.M. Montgomery

Among its feisty, quirky main character Anne Shirley and the entire delightful cast of characters, the wonderful story and animated storytelling, and the magnificent Prince Edward Island settings which I have visited in person, there is nothing about this book that I do not adore. 

Anne taught me that it was a wonderful thing to love books and poetry more than anyone else I knew, and that it was better to be myself than to try to be someone else. She showed me how to embrace my quirks and to disregard the criticism of those made uncomfortable by them. 
This is a wonderful story, beautifully told, which I have loved since I first read it when I was seven years old. Yes, I was a prodigious reader even then, having started reading for myself at the age of three! Like Anne, I started out in the way I was destined to continue.

My vintage copy of ‘Anne of Green Gables’ and the postcards I bought at Green Gables on Prince Edward Island.

This vintage copy came to me courtesy of my favourite book rescue shelter, Spectrum Books in Warrnambool. It is the same vintage as the set I inherited from my mother although, sadly, her copy of ‘Anne of Green Gables’ has been lost.

I remember that her book had an original bookplate inside the front cover which she had drawn and painted before adding her name and the date. For me, that is the saddest part of losing her book: her art is lost, too. This is her work inside the cover of the sequel, ‘Anne of Avonlea’, which she received along with the first book for Christmas when she was thirteen years old. 
Her full name was named Shirley Anne – named after both Shirley Temple and Anne Shirley of ‘Green Gables’ fame. 

Poem: ‘Sonnet of the Moon’ by Charles Best

A sonnet is a poem of fourteen lines with  strict patterns of rhythm and rhyme that give it both formality and musicality. 

I have read and studied many sonnets, and have written two that I love and one very poor one that shall never see the light of day, let alone be published. Let’s call that third one an important exercise in keeping the poet humble! 

This sonnet by Charles Best, a contemporary of Shakespeare, is beautifully evocative, bringing to mind images of moonlight on the water and the movement of the tides before transforming, as sonnets often do, into a declaration of love and devotion. 

Sonnet of the Moon

Look how the pale queen of the silent night
Doth cause the ocean to attend upon her,
And he, as long as she is in his sight,
With her full tide is ready her to honor.
But when the silver waggon of the moon
Is mounted up so high he cannot follow,
The sea calls home his crystal waves to moan,
And with low ebb doth manifest his sorrow.
So you that are the sovereign of my heart
Have all my joys attending on your will;
My joys low-ebbing when you do depart,
When you return their tide my heart doth fill.
So as you come and as you do depart, 
Joys ebb and flow within my tender heart.

Poem: ‘Going to School’ by C.J. Dennis

I learned this poem when I was in 5th grade. My teacher loved poetry sand set us all a poem to memorise and recite. ‘Going to School’ was mine. 

Published in ‘A Book for Kids’ in 1938 with a collection of similarly excellent poems, this is a fun poem with a very musical rhythm and rhyme pattern that are instantly engaging. It conjures images of a time when kids in Australian country schools might ride a horse to school if they loved too far away to walk and didn’t own a bicycle or three. 

Dennis was a man of many talents: in addition to working as a journalist and poet, he also illustrated his own books with delightful pictures that were almost as much fun as the poetry. 

Image: C.J. Dennis working at his desk c.1938 . Public Domain via The State Library of Victoria 

Going to School

Did you see them pass to-day, Billy, Kate and Robin,
All astride upon the back of old grey Dobbin?
Jigging, jogging off to school, down the dusty track-
What must Dobbin think of it – three upon his back?
Robin at the bridle-rein, in the middle Kate,
Billy holding on behind, his legs out straight.


Now they’re coming back from school, jig, jog, jig.
See them at the corner where the gums grow big;
Dobbin flicking off the flies and blinking at the sun-
Having three upon his back he thinks is splendid fun:
Robin at the bridle-rein, in the middle Kate,
Little Billy up behind, his legs out straight.

Dennis’ images for ‘Going to School’ from ‘A Book for Kids’
Public Domain via Project Gutenberg

If you’d like a copy of A Book for Kids, Project Gutenberg has it available in a variety of formats, including for Kindle and other eReaders, free of charge. This is a legal download as the copyright on both the work and the illustrations included has expired. 

Poem: ‘Clancy of the Overflow’ by A.B. Paterson

Last year during Poetry Month, I shared Paterson’s magnificent poem ‘The Man From Snowy River’. This year, I thought it would be good to share a city-dweller’s perspective of the Australian stockman’s life in the 19th century through another of Paterson’s much-loved works.

 The Stockman by S.T. Gill (1818-1880) Public Domain.

Clancy Of The Overflow

I had written him a letter which I had, for want of better
   Knowledge, sent to where I met him down the Lachlan, years ago,
He was shearing when I knew him, so I sent the letter to him,
   Just “on spec”, addressed as follows: “Clancy, of The Overflow”.
 
And an answer came directed in a writing unexpected,
   (And I think the same was written in a thumbnail dipped in tar)
‘Twas his shearing mate who wrote it, and verbatim I will quote it:
   “Clancy’s gone to Queensland droving, and we don’t know where he are.”
 
In my wild erratic fancy visions come to me of Clancy
   Gone a-droving “down the Cooper” where the western drovers go;
As the stock are slowly stringing, Clancy rides behind them singing,
   For the drover’s life has pleasures that the townsfolk never know.
 
And the bush hath friends to meet him, and their kindly voices greet him
   In the murmur of the breezes and the river on its bars,
And he sees the vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended,
  And at night the wondrous glory of the everlasting stars.
 
I am sitting in my dingy little office, where a stingy
    Ray of sunlight struggles feebly down between the houses tall,
And the foetid air and gritty of the dusty, dirty city
   Through the open window floating, spreads its foulness over all.
 
And in place of lowing cattle, I can hear the fiendish rattle
   Of the tramways and the buses making hurry down the street,
And the language uninviting of the gutter children fighting,
   Comes fitfully and faintly through the ceaseless tramp of feet.
 
And the hurrying people daunt me, and their pallid faces haunt me
  As they shoulder one another in their rush and nervous haste,
With their eager eyes and greedy, and their stunted forms and weedy,
   For townsfolk have no time to grow, they have no time to waste.
 
And I somehow fancy that I’d like to change with Clancy,
   Like to take a turn at droving where the seasons come and go,
While he faced the round eternal of the cashbook and the journal —
   But I doubt he’d suit the office, Clancy, of “The Overflow”.

Shakespeare’s Birthday

Every year on April 23rd, my family celebrates Shakespeare’s birthday with cake. I always do some reading from a play or sonnet, but my husband isn’t so fond of that as he is of the cake, so it’s usually either a solitary activity or one I share with my dog. It’s a well-established fact that Abbey the Labby loves the Bard… and cake.

This year, though, my homage will take the form of several hours of rehearsal for a different comedy – Monty Python’s Spamalot – before I am able to indulge in birthday cake. It does seem fitting that the show is a little bawdy, somewhat irreverent, and absolutely hilarious. 

While the precise date of Shakespeare’s birth was not recorded, the date of his baptism was registered as April 26th, 1564. Because it was traditional for babies to be christened three days after they were born, it is generally accepted that William Shakespeare was born on April 23rd. 

In an ironic twist, Shakespeare died on the same date in 1616. Some people think that is awkward, but I think it’s a pretty cool achievement. I’m not sure how common it is for people to die on their birthday, but one of my grandfathers  did, so it’s a feat that has always been a point of interest for me. 

So, here’s to The Bard, his works, and his legacy.

Happy Easter!

However you celebrate, whatever you believe, I wish each of you a happy and blessed Easter Sunday, safety on the roads, and the very best in chocolate eggs and bunnies.

I’m away this weekend, enjoying time with my family and getting some much needed rest and relaxation.

We’ve taken off to Port Macdonnell, a little spot on the South Australian coast, for the long weekend. Hopefully, we’ll be making the most of some beautiful mild Autumn weather and seeing some new places and scenery.

As it is Easter Sunday, I thought I would share with you one of my favourite Easter songs. I grew up listening to the music of Keith Green, an enormously popular Christian singer and songwriter of the 1970s and 80s.

For your enjoyment, this is his Easter Song.