Great stuff. Tells you a lot you mightn't have known and won't easily find elsewhere. A serious study - of the horrific facts, though not without atteGreat stuff. Tells you a lot you mightn't have known and won't easily find elsewhere. A serious study - of the horrific facts, though not without attention to the 'joys of war' as experienced and written about firsthand. His last chapter, 'Medieval Savagery?' - stress on the question mark - weighs the famous Dark Ages against us savages. ...more
I can't say enough about how influential these were on me. Amazed by the few stars. These were my ideal: you know how when you're young and want to beI can't say enough about how influential these were on me. Amazed by the few stars. These were my ideal: you know how when you're young and want to be a writer, there's one writer you dream of writing like? The Viriconium series was It for me. Not that that turned out... just to express how I felt about them. ...more
Whether this still stacks up as history I can't tell you, but in my eyes it's one of those histories that survive an amount of outdatedness. He has anWhether this still stacks up as history I can't tell you, but in my eyes it's one of those histories that survive an amount of outdatedness. He has an amazing tale to tell and writes it grippingly, for a historian... but then he was a soldier-scholar, spent his service years with Jordan's Arab Legion 1930-56.
For me, he explains the conquests, as near as. At uni we were set an essay on why these great and sudden conquests happened, and after the texts that must have been the fashion I answered with economic and climatic factors. What nonsense -- I'm ashamed now.
Glubb, who fought with and led Arab troops -- around much of this geography -- doesn't tell you there was a drought at the right time. He explains how the tribes might be unified and how important a banner can be. In short, mental factors, and he doesn't squeeze out religious enthusiasm, as I was taught in uni. At the major battles he tells you the advantages nomad troops had and knew they had and used -- such as a night fight. Think of a people who live in tents against a people who live in towns: who's going to win at the dead of night?
This was a heroic age, if ever there was one in historical times, short-lived -- ruined of course by success. He lets you feel the spirit of the times. He picks out anecdotes that convey that spirit, and he uses them as evidence, evidence of behaviour: towards an acknowledgement of how unusual this brief age was, and how driven by human factors. He doesn't, with hindsight, forget that these conquests were impossible (except for the fact they happened) -- he doesn't assume the opposition was ripe and rotten, just because they lost.
Early in life I found this highly romantic; read it again later in life and found it valuable history. It's not that I've read much since on the Arab conquests, and I've no idea what experts think of Glubb; but it's a classic in my library. ...more
A lesson from a great master in how not to write historical fiction. Flaubert is a writer’s writer, as Spenser is called a poet’s poet, so I can say tA lesson from a great master in how not to write historical fiction. Flaubert is a writer’s writer, as Spenser is called a poet’s poet, so I can say that for a review.
It’s as outrageously bloody as Ross Leckie’s Hannibal – of course, with a lot more class. As exotic as... I don’t know what. The past was never this exotic: not exotic to itself. Flaubert believed in the writer being like God, everywhere present but invisible. It isn’t my school (nor his other, that a writer observes the world but has no right to comment), in spite of which I want to tell him that a collection of exotics is no way to airbrush out his hand. These are easy criticisms and have been made a hundred times. What isn’t easy is to assess what he’s doing, in the dodgy public domain translation I read. I swear to look into this again with the Krailsheimer – which I suppose is the only recent option?
In Salammbo herself he tried to portray an ancient type of woman without internal workings. I mean, he seemed to believe people of antiquity needn’t have our inner lives. It’s interesting, as is what he wants to say about religion. Because I feel I can’t get near this in a quick read of the free ebook, I’m going to give him five stars for effort and abstain on the achievement. I’ll return... since Flaubert is the original Slow Writer, who broke his back over a comma. I respect that. ...more
My cousins got me the CDs. Go cousins. Aside from the inconvenience of no play list in the packaging -- you have to look at the CDs themselves, and thMy cousins got me the CDs. Go cousins. Aside from the inconvenience of no play list in the packaging -- you have to look at the CDs themselves, and there the titles are severely truncated -- aside from that, half the time with no idea who I'm listening to, I am riveted. Writers read their own: way to go. ...more
I’m attracted by the idea of creative pastiche, and I guess that’s what this novel is. I feel vaguely inadequate because I don’t know my Henry James oI’m attracted by the idea of creative pastiche, and I guess that’s what this novel is. I feel vaguely inadequate because I don’t know my Henry James or my Edith Wharton. Not that I felt I needed to, I hasten to say. I enjoyed this for its painters’ lives – if you like 19thC art – and for its story of a woman disguised as a man and the emotional and sexual misadventures this leads to. Her inclinations are to other women, while she herself has an uncanny resemblance to Donatello's David, that androgynous icon. Marcia/Mark isn’t an identity-figure for me – I imagine she isn’t meant to be – she starts off too cynical and street-wise for that, a girl without means, determined to survive and thrive, who happens to have a major talent, and might be at the forefront of the century’s artists. She does change through the story, though I mustn’t tell you how. She visits Italian cities, Paris and London – with her painterly eye - and the novel is in part a Grand Tour. It’s a gallery of artists and art-lovers and patrons, too; and a large aspect of the novel is about the intersection of art and finance. This challenges me (I’d be the art-for-art’s-sake type, exactly what Marcia doesn't intend to be) but it’s certainly a rich subject to pursue, and indeed a lesson to me.
The writing, I’d say, suits the subjects: at times lush and painterly, at times more in the key of the disenchanted social scenery. ...more
This was one of my key books as a teenager. Later, much much later, I read a biography of Flaubert (Flaubert) which told me I had misunderstood everythThis was one of my key books as a teenager. Later, much much later, I read a biography of Flaubert (Flaubert) which told me I had misunderstood everything. It's quite likely I did. I haven't dared go back. ...more
He specializes in world sexualities (the plural is important) and this is a sort of anthology of his work over times and places. It travels everywhereHe specializes in world sexualities (the plural is important) and this is a sort of anthology of his work over times and places. It travels everywhere. See his specific-area books. It's big and there's a lot here. Get outside the European mold - though he covers the old ancient Greece and Rome too. ...more
Another book that changed my life and thoughts. It's fairly skimpy, and old, and I almost didn't bother, when I set out to research early war. Now it'Another book that changed my life and thoughts. It's fairly skimpy, and old, and I almost didn't bother, when I set out to research early war. Now it's my bible on the topic: the book I most trust, learnt most from. The answer (how violent were we in the past?) isn't simple: oh we were bloody, but not because we enjoyed to be. He uses much evidence from early-style societies that have survived into the modern age, with people who can tell us firsthand their attitudes to war and combat. And what they say opens or often pops your eyes.
In spite of the subtitle and blurb (sensational, and cynical, for the public) you learn the most bloodthirsty natives want peace, which is almost impossible to organise, and have nightmares about combat. It gives you heart, in fact, although no lies. ...more
As the lost white feverish limbs Of the Lesbian Sappho, adrift In foam where the sea-weed swims, Swam loose for the seas to lift...
This is typical: it haAs the lost white feverish limbs Of the Lesbian Sappho, adrift In foam where the sea-weed swims, Swam loose for the seas to lift...
This is typical: it has Sappho, it has death, it has the sea. He was as much fixated on Sappho because she threw herself into the sea, as because in her he has a spokeswoman for himself and his explorations. Sappho's perfect for him, it's not just that he's a perv.
Swinburne writes endlessly about the sea. I tried his novels and remember a few pages on a drowning man, than which, I thought at the time, I never expect to find a more lifelike experience written down. But the sea's everywhere, and I bet he set himself the task to be like the sea: similar, yes, to itself, yesterday, but infinitely different, and who's bored by the sea? I don't know better sea descriptions.
Poems & Ballads was his first splash and highly notorious. He's more attached to French Decadents than the English Pre-Raphaelites – he was Baudelaire's champion in England. In brief he explores cruelty; first the cruel instincts in love, then outward to the cruelty of the world. His pagans attack Christianity as too optimistic a religion, and in that untrue – as well as being life-negative and anti-sensual.
'Faustine' is about a decadent Roman, a female Faust, a queen given over to evil and evil lusts, but magnificent. One of his gaudy poems, that can be quite funny:
You seem a thing that hinges hold, A love-machine With clockwork joints of supple gold – No more, Faustine.
Is that steampunk? More gaudy is 'Dolores', a tribute to Our Lady of Pain...
What tortures undreamt of, unheard of, Unwritten, unknown?
Not any more. And published in Victorian England. But onto more serious poetry. 'Hymn to Proserpine' has a note 'After the proclamation in Rome of the Christian faith'. It's a pagan's lament for things past and lost, and uses the sea again, with ocean-rhythms:
Will ye bridle the deep sea with reins, will ye chasten the high sea with rods? Will ye take her to chain her with chains, who is older than all ye Gods? All ye as a wind shall go by, as a fire ye shall pass and be past; Ye are Gods, and behold, ye shall die, and the waves be upon you at last.
I've spent most time with 'Anactoria', which is Sappho in first person to her absconded lover. She too moves from cruelty towards Anactoria, in her abandonment, to a metaphysical statement. I think 'Anactoria' is a great poem. And once you get past the lesbian sadism, it culminates in Sappho's triumph as a poet. That may be an old claim – I shall not die. I'm a poet – but where is the claim made better?
Sappho is not the weary sort, weary of life and sensation like Faustine; she's healthy, she has far too much self for that. Yes, she swings between moods, and has her exhausted death-moods:
I would the sea had hidden us, the fire (Wilt thou fear that, and fear not my desire?) Severed the bones that bleach, the flesh that cleaves, And let our sifted ashes drop like leaves.
But she's a presence, a personality, as the other women in this book aren't. She has a voice. Though at her lover's feet in one sentence, in the next she is above her, above her love. In her throes she can say, Last year when I loved Atthis, and this year/ When I love thee. You can see why Anactoria ran away. She has Aphrodite under thumb: Mine is she, very mine. Aphrodite offers her redress:
...and she bowed, With all her subtle face laughing aloud, Bowed down upon me, saying, 'Who doth thee wrong, Sappho?'
She's nothing if not possessive:
That I could drink thy veins as wine, and eat Thy breasts like honey! that from face to feet Thy body were abolished and consumed And in my flesh thy very flesh entombed!
Her own cruelty morphs into that of God (singular):
For who shall change with prayers or thanksgivings The mystery of the cruelty of things?
And she goes on with a vision of the universe's cruelty. With a God behind it:
Is not his incense bitterness, his meat Murder? his hidden face and iron feet Hath not man known, and felt them on their way Threaten and trample all things and every day?
On behalf of the suffering she declares,
Him would I reach, him smite, him desecrate; Pierce the cold lips of God with human breath And mix his immortality with death.
The last third shifts to her victory over Anactoria, and over death, and over God in fact.
Yea, thou shalt be forgotten like spilt wine, Except these kisses of my lips on thine Brand them with immortality; but me – Men shall not see bright fire nor hear the sea...
and so on and so on, without they think of Sappho, or know her, for I Sappho shall be one with all these things. This is her conquest of God:
But, having made me, me he shall not slay... Of me the high God hath not all his will. ...more
Great little book, “essentially a collection of highly illustrative case studies” around the subtitle themes: war, borders, identity. How these interaGreat little book, “essentially a collection of highly illustrative case studies” around the subtitle themes: war, borders, identity. How these interact or “interlock”, to continue that quote from the introduction.
For example, from several 11th century essays, those on the Khitan Liao’s and the Tangut Xia’s wars with Song China make plain that “political recognition” was the main war aim of these independent states. ‘The Great Ditch of China’ by Peter Lorge looks in detail at how a century’s peace was achieved between the Khitan/Liao and Song China. It’s real peace & conflict studies as applied to 1005.
There’s also a fascinating study on ‘Crossing Borders with Occult Ritual in the Song Military’ – cosmographies of time and space (so Doctor Who).
From the 10th to the 13th centuries: perhaps a concentration on 11th and 12th. If you’re into frontier relations in this era, it’s a rich, close-focus book. I’ve run into a few of these New Middle Ages titles now, they’ve been creative and exciting… makes me wish I'd done my Medieval Studies since they came out. From the title list in here, this may be the only (or the first) East Asian one. ...more
Although what was new in 1990 has percolated into every other book by now, this is splendidly written and conceived.
In very short: walls were a matteAlthough what was new in 1990 has percolated into every other book by now, this is splendidly written and conceived.
In very short: walls were a matter of politics. He examines the politics. Ming in the main, but Ming make a typical story and similar debates went on in other eras. In fact the old debates - offence/defence, treaty or hostility - cycled and cycled... He tells you that.
Certainly where to go for an introduction to walls. ...more