Flash Reviews (4th March 2014)

A beautiful William Morris print

Pre-Raphaelite Poetry: An Anthology by Paul Negri ****
I adore the Pre-Raphaelites, and have wanted an anthology like this for such a long time.  The introductory note, which one presumes is written by the book’s editor, Paul Negri, is insightful.  The book’s blurb states that it ‘contains a rich selection of works by the major Pre-Raphaelite poets’.  These ‘major’ poets are comprised of five in total – Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Christina Rossetti, Algernon Charles Swinburne, William Morris and George Meredith.  I would not personally call it an anthology in this respect, but each to their own.  I liked the little biographies which appeared at the start of each poet’s work, and it is true to say that this is such a lovely collection and, indeed, selection of work.

To talk about the poetry, then.  I very much adored all of Christina Rossetti’s work, as I knew I would, and I loved much of her brother’s too.  Swinburne and Meredith were both poets whom I had not read before, and I very much enjoyed their style.  The imagery which their poems created in my mind was stunning.  I was so pleased to see William Morris here, and think it quite sad that his poetry is so neglected.  For me, it is as beautiful as his prints:

He did not die in the night,
He did not die in the day,
But in the morning twilight
His spirit pass’d away,
When neither sun nor moon was bright,
And the trees were merely grey.
(From ‘Shameful Death’)

‘Silas Marner’ by George Eliot (Penguin)

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Silas Marner by George Eliot ***

Having not read any of Eliot’s work for some time, I had the sudden urge to plunge headfirst into Silas Marner, a far shorter work than the likes of Middlemarch and The Mill on the Floss. Silas Marner is a linen weaver living in the ‘early years of this century’.  He has moved to the Midlands after being falsely accused of a crime in the northeast.  A cruel and miserly young man named Dunstan Cass creeps into Marner’s deserted cottage one day and steals all of the money which has been secreted beneath the floor.

Whilst the social history was well exemplified, some of the details which Eliot wove in seemed a little superfluous at times – for example, the constant talk of horses and making profits on them.  I did not grow to like any of the characters, but I found them all interesting.  Overall, Silas Marner was not as enjoyable as Middlemarch or The Mill on the Floss, for me – the lack of a powerful and feisty female, perhaps?  It must be said however that Eppie, the baby found in Marner’s home after her mother perishes in the snow outside, was wonderfully built up to the point that she felt real.

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Listening to Whales: What the Orcas Have Taught Us by Alexandra Morton ***

A killer whale (BBC)

My dear friend Caroline sent me this after writing such an insightful review of it.  It took such a long time to come out of my choice jar, but I was so glad when I pulled out the little slip of paper with its title on.  Morton has studied whales for twenty five years, and even has a hydrophone installed in her home in Western Canada.  She often wakes to the calls of whales, which sounds like a beautiful way in which to live.  ‘I am their shadow’, Morton says, describing the way in which she follows every whale sighting in her boat.

Listening to Whales is part nature book and part memoir.  At the start of the volume, Morton sets out her childhood love for animals and her life before she decided to devote it to tracking and trying to learn as much as possible from whales.  She began to work with dolphins, studying them with the help of a small time, and was captivated by the behaviour of two whales whilst working at an aquarium in California.

For me, the most interesting part of the book was to see how science had progressed since the late 1970s, with regard to such things as gestational periods, the preferred diets of sea creatures, and their habitats.  A drawback was the way in which the illustrations throughout had been put in rather haphazardly.  During a chapter which focuses upon killer whales and those who study them, a drawing of a sperm whale has randomly been included.  Overall, Listening to Whales is really interesting, and I certainly learnt a few things from it.

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