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Saturday Poem: ‘Ellen’ by Effie Afton

Sweet star, of seraph brightness,
That for a transient day
Shed o’er our souls such lightness,
And then withdrew the ray!
O, with immortal lustre
Thou ‘rt sparkling brightly now
Amid the gems that cluster
Around Jehovah’s brow!

Yet many hearts are keeping
Lone vigils o’er thy grave,
Where all the hopes are sleeping
Which thy young promise gave.
The sleep which knows no waking
Hath closed thy sweet blue eyes,
And while our hearts are breaking
We glance toward the skies.

Ah! there a hope is given
That bids us dry the tear;
That bright star in the heaven,
With beams so wondrous clear;–
‘Tis Ellen’s “distant Aidenn,”
Far in the realms above,
And those clear rays are laden
With her pure spirit’s love.

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Idea: du Maurier December

As most of you know, I absolutely adore Daphne du Maurier and think her books are, on the whole, wonderful.  There are a lot of them which I’ve not yet read, however, and I was thinking of creating a new little project around her work.

I have decided to do so in the month of December – mainly because most people have the most time off then, but also because ‘du Maurier December’ has a nice ring to it, I think.  I aim to review the rest of her works (or as many as I can get to, anyway).  If any of you in the blogging world would like to join in, then please do so!

I am aiming to procure and read the rest of her books in the next few months and will be scheduling my reviews during the month of December.  If you are interested in the du Maurier books which will feature on my list, they are as follows:

- The Rebecca Notebook
– Mary Anne
– The du Mauriers
– Rule Britannia
– The Glass-Blowers
– The Flight of the Falcon
– The Rendezvous and Other Stories
– The Winding Stair
– The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte
– Golden Lads
– Hungry Hill
– The Doll: Short Stories

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Our Big Summer Readathon: ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ by Truman Capote *****

I first watched the film version of Breakfast at Tiffany’s some years ago, and whilst I liked it, I was not immediately captivated by it.  I was still so keen to read the novella, however, and was so pleased to find a beautiful Penguin edition in a secondhand bookshop in Coventry a couple of years ago.  I read it almost immediately, and was thrilled to learn that the novella is so much better than the book that a comparison in the favour of the original is barely necessary.  (A quick synopsis of the reasons why, for me, the book is far better than the film, however, are as follows: the entirety of the novella is lively and compelling, and to me, the characters are far more realistic on the page than on the screen.  I do not feel that the film characters were made of the same stuff, as it were, as the novella’s protagonists).  I was not planning to re-read Breakfast at Tiffany’s, as the story was still so vivid in my mind, but once I began to look at it once again, I could not help myself but become immersed in Capote’s words and plot.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s, probably Capote’s most famous work, was published in 1958, and has remained popular ever since.  It focuses upon the character Holly Golightly, whom I remembered as being such an intriguing being; feisty and unusual in her characteristics, decisions and mannerisms.  The novella is told from the first person perspective of a male narrator who lives in the same apartment building as her, and is set (as I am sure everyone already knows) in New York City.  A chance likeness of Holly spotted in a photograph is what prompts the narrator to tell her story.

Holly is first introduced when she has forgotten – or lost – the key to her apartment, and consequently wakes the Japanese man, Mr Yunioshi, who lives on the top floor.  I absolutely adore Capote’s initial description of his heroine: ‘… the ragbag colours of her boy’s hair, tawny streaks, strands of albino-blond and yellow, caught the hall light.  It was a warm evening, nearly summer, and she wore a slim cool-black dress, black sandals, a pearl choker.  For all her chic thinness, she had an almost breakfast-cereal air of health, a soap and lemon cleanness, a rough pink darkening in the cheeks’.  She is ‘shy two months of her nineteenth birthday’.  The narrator goes on to say: ‘One might have thought her a photographer’s model, perhaps a young actress, except that it was obvious, judging from her hours, she hadn’t time to be either’.

At first, she seems oblivious to the existence of the narrator, only making him the focus of her frequent entrances into the apartment block without her key.  He, however, learns more and more about her as the story goes on.  They meet each other properly when one evening, Holly climbs up the fire escape to the narrator’s apartment on the floor above hers, in order to escape an odious man who is in her room.

The characterisation in Breakfast at Tiffany’s is incredibly strong; Holly is quirky, vivacious and not afraid to speak her mind, and it is impossible to forget her in a hurry.  One trusts the kindly narrator immediately.  The dialogue between the two, and which encompasses some of the more minor characters in the novella too, is exemplary.  Capote’s prose and the tone which he sets is utterly perfect.  He brilliantly demonstrates the power of friendship in his memorable and stunning novella.

This is the last post of mine and Lizzi’s Big Summer Readathon, and I have had such a fun time working on our little project.  Thanks so much, Lizzi, for co-hosting this, and I hope we can focus on another author soon!

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Our Big Summer Readathon: Short Stories (2) by Truman Capote *****

Our Big Summer Readathon, co-hosted here at The Literary Sisters and at theselittlewords, encompasses the final six of Capote’s short stories: ‘Master Misery’, ‘Children on Their Birthdays’, ‘A Diamond Guitar’, ‘A House of Flowers’, ‘Among the Paths to Eden’ and ‘Mojave’.  These stories were written over a far longer period than those in the first half, and really show how Capote developed as a writer, and how different themes prevalent at the time affected his work.

1. ‘Master Misery’ (1949)
‘Master Misery’ follows a character named Sylvia, a typist at a New York underwear company.  She lives with her friends Henry and Estelle, who are ‘so excrutiatingly married… [that] everything had a name; the telephone was Tinkling Tillie, the sofas Our Nelle, the bed, Big Bear; yes, and what about those His-Her towels, those He-She pillows?  Enough to drive you loony!’.  Sylvia has taken the job merely to escape their apartment during the day.  The main thread of the story comes when Sylvia discovers that there is a man in the city whom it is possible to sell dreams to, and how this affects her in consequence.

The storyline is quite lovely, I think, despite the chilling aspects of it which begin to creep in as it goes on.  The tale is incredibly character focused, and the thing which I first noticed about it was that characterisation is most interesting, particularly from a psychological standpoint.  Mr Revercomb, the buyer of dreams, for example, is described as follows: ‘All mothers tell their kids about him: he lives in hollows of trees, he comes down chimneys late at night, he lurks in graveyards and you can hear his step in the attic.  The sonofabitch, he is a thief and a threat.  He will take everything you have, and end by leaving you nothing, not even a dream’.

2. ‘Children on Their Birthdays’ (1949)
The tale takes place in a small town, and its beginning is both strong and intriguing: ‘Yesterday afternoon the six o’clock bus ran over Miss Bobbit.  I’m not sure what there is to be said about it; after all, she was only ten years old, still I know no one of us in this town would ever forget her’.  The story focuses upon Miss Bobbit and those who make up the town, particularly with regard to the way in which she and her accident affect Capote’s younger creations.

I had read this before, but it was marvellous to immerse myself into the story once again.  The entirety is incredibly vivid.  I was struck once again by how beautifully Capote described both places and characters.  His protagonists are so lifelike in this story that they almost leap from the page.

3. ‘A Diamond Guitar’ (1950)
‘A Diamond Guitar’ takes place within a prison, and encompasses characters from many different races and backgrounds.  A guitar encrusted with diamonds is what ties them all together, so to speak.

This is another story which I had already read, but I found Capote’s initial description of the prison just as vivid and oppressive as I previously had.  He brings his scenes to life immediately, and has such a wonderful imagination.  His characters meld together so well, and the entire cast is memorable.  The ending of the story is sublime.

4. ‘A House of Flowers’ (1952)
‘A House of Flowers’ takes place in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.  One of the cornerstones of the plot is friendship, telling as it does of the protagonist Ottilie and her two friends, Baby and Rosita, both of whom hail from the Dominican Republic.  They consider their origins ‘reason enough to feel themselves a little above the natives of this darker country’.  Ottilie has had to grow up before her time: ‘Her mother was dead, her father was a planter who had gone back to France, and she had been brought up in the mountains by a rough peasant family, the sons of whom had each at a young age lain with her in some green and shadowy place’.

Again, I had read this before, but it was another fabulous story to re-encounter.  Although Ottilie is a cunning and selfish creation who heavily focuses upon vanity, one cannot help but feel some shreds of sympathy for her.  In ‘A House of Flowers’, I particularly love the way in which Capote captures emotion; joy particularly is marvellously evoked.

5. ‘Among the Paths to Eden’ (1960)
Mr Ivor Belli, at the beginning of ‘Among the Paths to Eden’, is going to visit his wife’s grave: ‘One Saturday in March, an occasion of pleasant winds and sailing clouds, Mr. Ivor Belli bought from a Brooklyn florist a fine mass of jonquils and conveyed them, first by subway, then foot, to an immense cemetery in Queens, a site unvisited by him since he hd seen his wife buried there the previous autumn’.  He has decided to visit her, in part, to appease his eldest daughter, who ‘seemed resentful of Mr. Belli’s too comfortable acceptance of life as lived alone’.  Throughout, Capote demonstrates the relationship which Ivor had with his wife, Sarah: ‘Lord, what a relief to know the woman’s tongue was finally stilled’.  Through a chance encounter with a woman named Mary O’Meaghan by his wife’s gravestone, Ivor reflects upon her life, and the way in which they lived together.

The way in which Capote describes the cemetery fits perfectly with the story, sets the tone, and evokes the scene from the very first: ‘acres of fog-coloured stone spilled across a sparsely grassed and shadeless plateau’.  The story is surprising; one does not expect, with the opening of the story, for a plot of this sort to unfold.  The real strength of this story is the conversation which ensues between Ivor and Mary O’Meaghan.

6. ‘Mojave’ (1975)
‘Mojave’ tells of an affair which the protagonist is having with her former psychoanalyst: ‘He had not been of much help as an analyst, and as a lover – well, once she had watched him running to catch a bus, two hundred and twenty pounds of shortish, fiftyish, frizzly-haired, hip-heavy, myopic Manhattan Intellectual, and she had laughed: how was it possible that she could love a man so ill-humored, so ill-favored as Ezra Bentsen?  The answer was she didn’t: in fact, she disliked him.  But at least she didn’t associate him with resignation and despair.  She feared her husband; she was not afraid of Dr. Bentsen.  Still, it was her husband she loved’.

There are so many themes at work in ‘Mojave’, and an incredible amount of sympathy is built for the protagonist as she tells her story.

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