Great little resource, easy to access and use. Sure you might have to go to a larger lexicon for some words, but this covers the basics and more. Easy...moreGreat little resource, easy to access and use. Sure you might have to go to a larger lexicon for some words, but this covers the basics and more. Easy to carry around a museum or archaeological site. Very happy with this purchase from the Getty Villa Bookstore!(less)
**spoiler alert** A Jolly Good Show! “Habits of the House” by Fay Weldon Review:
February 24, 2013
Please note: This review is of an “Advanced Readers’...more**spoiler alert** A Jolly Good Show! “Habits of the House” by Fay Weldon Review:
February 24, 2013
Please note: This review is of an “Advanced Readers’ Edition” won through a Goodreads Giveaway offer.
Spoiler Alert! Do not read if you do not want to know some scandalous tidbits…
I found “Habits of the House” by Fay Weldon a quick and enjoyable read, and definitely reminiscent of “Downton Abbey”. In artistic terms, if “Downton Abbey” is a Holbein – lush, sumptuous, formal, and almost photorealistic, then “Habits of the House” is a Beardsley – fun, light, quick, satirical, and pointedly apt. It is full of deft and quick character sketches, a form of character shorthand. Admittedly, the novel got off to a bit of a slow start out of the gate, but the characters began to interest me, and I realized that albeit is mostly an ensemble piece, the characters of Arthur and Minnie are the real central foci. I found them the most interesting among the ensemble.
It was an overall pretty apt portrait of what I have come to understand of London circa 1899, and its prevailing mores. However, I do feel that Arthur would have been far more disgusted, shocked, and horrified to find that he had been plowing fields that his father had plowed in before him. He also forgives his sister a bit too easily, as well. I just think that Arthur took that bit of information with too much equanimity, even for a Toff.
The most problematic character for me was Rosina; I really did not like her as a person/character. Her personality conversion at the end is far too rapid and easy – she was the weak point in the novel for me. However, that can be forgiven because Minnie is a pearl beyond price. I look forward to reading the other volumes in this series.
Please note: This review is of an “Advanced Readers’ Edition” and I did not noticed any glaring errors that bothered me enough to interrupt my reading. (less)
**spoiler alert** Okay, this is a small interesting little book, more interesting to me for the reasons that will be listed below, than for the book i...more**spoiler alert** Okay, this is a small interesting little book, more interesting to me for the reasons that will be listed below, than for the book itself. I totally agree with what most people have said, the translation leaves a lot to be desired, but one can get past that, and laugh at some of the goofs. That said, I have to preface my review with the following: I am a trained Historian, so my criteria for what is essentially considered a history book, is not what a normal reader's would be.
A lot of folks have said that this book is a good starting point to learn about Sisi… I cannot agree. It you want to be in the position of learning information that you will later have to unlearn [rather like the American History we learn in the US in elementary school, that we then have to UNLEARN at University], then I say go for it. A first book tends to influence how you will see a subject forever, and I do not think that this book is the one you want flavouring your view of Sisi. However, I have seen a trend in books about Sisi ever since the advent of Princess Diana that I feel is unfortunate. People are seeing Sisi through a Diana filter, and that really does not wash – there is truly no comparison except for a superficial one. Anyway, I could go on about that, but I do not want this review to be longer than then the actual book.
I will say that this book suffers from what appears to be multiple authors’ personality disorder. To my way of thinking, in the same way it describes Sisi’s personality. I am not, yet, what I would consider an expert on the subject of Sisi, but from the primary and secondary sources that I have seen regarding her, this book does not match up. It seems on the one hand to strive for historical accuracy, but on the other hand I see either the heavy hand of a Censor/Editor/Committee or a specific governmental agenda at work.
As an Historian, to my way of thinking one should always strive for two things: to try and be as objective as possible with the evidence in a subjective world [remember History is written by the winners/survivors]; and one must always ‘look at the messenger’ – i.e. look to see what agenda or possible motive that a person writing about the history you studying might have had. So, on the one hand there are some pretty interesting things to be found in this little book, but on the other hand the evidence used and how it is interpreted is problematic for this reader.
First of all they [and I am saying ‘they’ because I am pretty sure there was some influence made on the writer to make this an official biography, and hence a form of propaganda], try to show by using excerpts from the Emperor’s mother Sophie, that she really liked Sisi, and had compassion for her. Well, I cannot buy that. First of all, Sophie was the woman behind the Imperial Throne; she cut her husband out of the mix and ran the Austrian Empire like her own private farm. A woman like that knows that her ‘diary’ will be there for posterity, and most probably it was written in light of such a consideration. So, what she says in said ‘diary’, for me, has to be taken with a heavy grain of salt. Maybe at the start she wanted to be kind to Sisi, but I tend to doubt it. Sisi took the place of her own sister Helene on the Imperial Throne, and that place had been intended by Sophie for Helene. She is not a woman who would have accepted that kindly. Thus, I would not take her diary at face value. Especially in light of the fact that contemporaries believed that Sophie was the one, who wanting to get rid of Sisi’s growing influence on Franz Joseph, influenced him in taking mistresses, some of his old mistresses that were approved by her, a move that not only spelled the end of trust between Sisi and Franz Joseph, may have spread STD’s from Franz Joseph to Sisi, and eventually precipitated the illnesses and very travel mania that is decried in this book.
On the one hand, they take Sisi to task for not being bonded to her first three children, but on the other hand how could she bond with them when they were taken away from her by her Mother-In-Law Sophie? The initial bonding after birth through breast-feeding and contact were denied to her, but this is not fully examined. What is examined is that she finally put her foot down and demanded control of her children, but then they blame her for both her daughter Sophie’s death, and what they said was Rudolph’s unstable character. A rational person knows that infant mortality was rife at the time, even in wealthy and royal families. Perhaps more so because of the practice of using wet- nurses and their own mother’s not transferring their natural immunities and antibodies to the children. Children died of things then that they STILL die of today in Third World countries where there is no modern Western medicine. Little Sophie’s death may also be part and parcel a result of the fact that Sisi’s first three children were immediately removed from her control, and I would bet they did not let her breast-feed them. By her not being allowed to breast feed them right after having given birth, she was not able to transfer her antibodies and immunities to them. Thus Sisi’s first three children were sickly from the start. They did not get the benefit given to us by Nature in their mother’s breast milk, because their paternal Grandmother forcibly removed them from their mother’s arms and care. Rudolph’s personality problems can also be laid primarily at the door of his paternal grandmother, Sophie and also on his father for his harshness. Her influences, her choices of who breast-fed him, took care of him, and what men schooled him were the ones that influenced his early personality development. Sisi got there pretty late, and albeit was partially her fault for not developing a backbone until later, at least she finally developed one. They also lay the ‘unstable’ coin at her door for Rudolph’s later suicide. Unfair I think, because everyone – especially the ‘official’ everyone’s – are ignoring the fact that the NEXT Empress of Austria Zita, stated that it was someone in the Chuch who was behind Rudolph’s death and that it was staged as a murder/suicide to discredit him. Now, really, who should know the truth better? I think Zita’s story needs looking into. The Church would have had a lot to lose if the progressive and free-thinking Rudolph had succeeded his father.
They take Sisi to task for her extravagance and travelling, the reasons for which have already been hastily mentioned above, but I have seen a breakdown of the time she was in the Austrian/Hungarian lands and travelling abroad and they are roughly 50/50 from what I remember. Back then, as today, for a Royal figure to travel, she is working for the country, she may not be receiving the daughter’s of the local Austrian Aristocracy to Tea, but she is showing Austria to the World through herself. Sisi in her travels, looking good, was pretty much doing a form of public relations work for the Austrian Empire to my way of thinking.
Also, let us get back to this ‘daughter’s of the Aristocracy’ to tea concept. Sisi was pretty screwed on that point from the start. Think about it, we all know about ‘Mean Girls’ and their mother’s – the ‘Queen Bee’ syndrome. Well, you have all of these entitled girls and their mother’s who were in the great contest to be Franz Joseph’s wife… and here comes a Bavarian girl barely in her teens who takes the prize. They were not programmed to like her, and probably made her life hellish – and from what I have read from contemporary accounts this is what happened. Add to this that Franz Joseph was taking mistresses pretty soon after the marriage, official and otherwise, and frankly Sisi showed great restraint. If she had been as unstable as they tried to make her out to be [I think a definite disinformation campaign started by Sophie and her agents] she would have poisoned Sophie and Franz Joseph, or committed suicide. As it was, Sisi took the only out she had available to her at that time – divorce was not an option, so she absented herself from what caused her pain. Does a rational person run towards pain or away from it…? I think away.
Another piece of interesting info to ponder in light of the charges of ‘extravagance’, one that is not in this little ‘official’ biography, early in the marriage Sisi tried to put an end to the waste and graft in the Imperial Household. Vast amounts of food, drink, and goods were purchased at inflated prices to keep the Court fed, etc. It was then either taken home by staff, or removed from the palaces and resold on the streets. Merchants gave kickbacks to the Imperial staff who bought from them. They often purchased inferior goods, food, and drink from these merchants because of the kickbacks. It was a situation comparable to the corruption of the Chinese Imperial Court by the Imperial Eunuchs at the same time period. Now, whereas the Chinese Eunuchs set fire to the palace to cover their graft, the Austrian Imperial servants started a subtle war on Sisi. They started telling tales to make her look bad, and the remnants of this seem to survive to this day. As I have said, always look at the messengers and their motives.
That leads me to another ‘source’ used in the book, Marie Wallersee-Larisch, now Marie is really problematic. She is, indeed, an insider and a member of the family, but she also has a huge agenda, as she was ostracized by Sisi after the death of Rudolph because she had a primary part in helping him meet up with his young mistress Maria Vetsera. Sisi, who had favoured Marie Wallersee-Larisch up until this point, turned her back on her for this perceived betrayal that was involved in her son’s death. So, we have to take what Marie says with another huge grain of salt, because she was the survivor and wanted her version story to be the only one that survived.
I do LIKE that they have translated bits of Sisi’s poetry into English. However, sometimes they try to use them to show her as a spoiled brat. I do not see that, knowing a slight bit more of the time and subject. To my way of thinking they show a native perspicuity and sharpness of wit. After all, Sisi had the intellect to learn multiple foreign languages after age 30. It must have counted for something to have her be able to speak to people in their own languages. They try to show her as a tool of others – the Hungarian nobility that she surrounded herself with. However, the very diary entries and letters of her ladies in waiting and butler used in the book show that she was no one’s tool. In fact, Sisi engendered such a deep respect and love in her ladies in waiting that I have found it still survives in their grand-children to this day. When you look at Royals and Celebrities of our time, where the staff cannot wait to write a tell all and tend to usually have a jaded eye toward their former employers, and then you look at Sisi’s confidantes there is a huge difference in how Sisi’s companions felt about her. Instead of familiarity breeding contempt, they only seem to have respected and loved her more, and to care and worry about her more deeply, as the familiarity continued. This is something that many of us might desire, but never achieve. Yet, as they are diaries and letters from people who loved her, we have to take them with a grain of salt, as well. Although, because these diaries and letters were never meant for public consumption, I suppose we might look at them with a slightly less jaded eye than the one's written with a possible self-serving agenda in mind.
Okay, so I am going to wrap this up, because I can really go on and on regarding this subject, so I will not go into the whole Beauty Cult thing. I will just say one quick thing regarding that subject, in light of what we know regarding modern anorexics and cutters, when one feels one has no control over their life, one might take control over the one thing they can control, their bodies. Just saying…
PROS: Some great pictures [and the info that most pictures of Sisi were doctored]; Sisi’s poetry translated into English, exemplars of her handwriting, excerpts of diaries and letters from her contemporaries, oh and they busted the myth that she did not eat – glad they did that, I was aware of it, but I knew that most people were not.
CONS: Definitely there was an official agenda going on here, perhaps a response to the Sissi Movies of the 1960’s, but still not a fully objective examination of the subject. They try to say that she was not well loved by the Austrians, but in certain quarters there exists a kind folklore regarding her, so she was not totally unknown to her own adopted nation. The dueling voices in the narrative are a bit annoying and disjointed. I can kind of see the original author writing one version off of the evidence she found, and then some committee coming in and making changes or ‘suggestions’. Maybe this is not the case, but it seems that way to me. Again, I might not recommend it for someone who has no knowledge of the subject – frankly the audience they are looking for if it is a propaganda work – spread their version to people who have no knowledge or limited knowledge of the subject. Unless, of course, you do not mind becoming interested in the subject and later having to unlearn about 50% of what you learned from the book.
It rather of angers me, that while they somewhat vilify Sisi, in very subtle ways, mind you – Sisi might have said in one of her poems – very Austrian ways. That they are actually using her notoriety they decry to make money off of her corpse. Kind of like saying, we Austrians really did not like Sisi, she was nothing to us. She was extravagant and did not do her duty as an Empress, but we will show you her stuff, and make money off of her memory via the Sisi Museum. I am not disrespecting Austrians, I have Austrian ancestors and am fond of Austria -- the Austrian people, their art and especially Austrian pastries -- but this is kind of the flavor I got off of the book. Sure, don’t whitewash the history, but really, it seems somewhat slanted towards rehabilitating the character and memory of Sophie and the Royal Court machine and government, while at the same time giving you a hint of the troubles that Sisi lived through – although they seem to blame Sisi herself for most of them. I suppose I will now have to get the companion book on Franz Joseph and see how they address him. If its tone is primarily laudatory, I will know for sure that they are both tools of official propaganda more than anything else.
Just as in Rashomon, the truth of a matter, exists between many versions of a story, it is our job if we want to find a shadow of the Truth, to try and put the puzzle together as objectively as possible.