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The Book Trail: From Edward Thomas to Russia

I begin this particular Book Trail with a wonderful biography on Edward Thomas which I read last year.  As ever, I have gone through the ‘Readers Also Enjoyed’ tool on Goodreads in order to generate this list.  It soon becomes wonderfully Russian.

 

1. Now All Roads Lead to France: The Last Years of Edward Thomas by Matthew Hollis
12267095‘Edward Thomas was perhaps the most beguiling and influential of First World War poets. Now All Roads Lead to France is an account of his final five years, centred on his extraordinary friendship with Robert Frost and Thomas’s fatal decision to fight in the war.  The book also evokes an astonishingly creative moment in English literature, when London was a battleground for new, ambitious kinds of writing. A generation that included W. B. Yeats, Ezra Pound, Robert Frost and Rupert Brooke were ‘making it new’ – vehemently and pugnaciously.  These larger-than-life characters surround a central figure, tormented by his work and his marriage. But as his friendship with Frost blossomed, Thomas wrote poem after poem, and his emotional affliction began to lift. In 1914 the two friends formed the ideas that would produce some of the most remarkable verse of the twentieth century. But the War put an ocean between them: Frost returned to the safety of New England while Thomas stayed to fight for the Old.   It is these roads taken – and those not taken – that are at the heart of this remarkable book, which culminates in Thomas’s tragic death on Easter Monday 1917.

 

2. Selected Letters by John Keats 269534
‘The letters of John Keats are, T. S. Eliot remarked, “what letters ought to be; the fine things come in unexpectedly, neither introduced nor shown out, but between trifle and trifle.” This new edition, which features four rediscovered letters, three of which are being published here for the first time, affords readers the pleasure of the poet’s “trifles” as well as the surprise of his most famous ideas emerging unpredictably.  Unlike other editions, this selection includes letters to Keats and among his friends, lending greater perspective to an epistolary portrait of the poet. It also offers a revealing look at his “posthumous existence,” the period of Keats’s illness in Italy, painstakingly recorded in a series of moving letters by Keats’s deathbed companion, Joseph Severn. Other letters by Dr. James Clark, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Richard Woodhouse–omitted from other selections of Keats’s letters–offer valuable additional testimony concerning Keats the man.  Edited for greater readability, with annotations reduced and punctuation and spelling judiciously modernized, this selection recreates the spontaneity with which these letters were originally written.’

 

3. The Diaries of Sofia Tolstoy by Sofia Tolstaya
8189924‘After marrying Count Leo Tolstoy, the renowned author of Anna Karenina and War and Peace, Sofia Tolstoy kept a detailed diary until his death in 1910. Her life was not an easy one: she idealized her husband but was tormented by him. She lived against the background of one of the most turbulent periods in her country’s history, as old feudal Russia was transformed by three revolutions and three major international wars.  Yet it is as Sofia Tolstoy’s own life story—the study of one woman’s private experience—that these diaries are most valuable and moving. They reveal a woman of tremendous vital energy and poetic sensibility who, in the face of provocation and suffering, continued to strive for the higher things in life and to remain indomitable.’

 

4. The House by the Dvina: A Russian Childhood by Eugenie Fraser
‘The riveting story of two families separated in culture and geography but bound 1230537together by a Russian-Scottish marriage includes the purchase by the author’s great-grandfather of a peasant girl with whom he had fallen in love, the desperate sledge journey in the depths of winter made by her grandmother to intercede with Tsar Aleksandr II for her husband, the extraordinary courtship of her parents, and her Scottish granny being caught up in the abortive revolution of 1905. Brought up in Russia but taken on visits to Scotland, Eugenie Fraser marvelously evokes a child’s reactions to two totally different environments, sets of customs, and family backgrounds. With the events of 1914 to 1920—the war with Germany, the Revolution, the murder of the Tsar, and the withdrawal of the Allied Intervention in the north—came the disintegration of Russia and of family life. The stark realities of hunger, deprivation, and fear are sharply contrasted with the adventures of childhood. The reader shares the family’s suspense and concern about the fates of its members and relives with Eugenie her final escape to Scotland.’

 

5. Michael and Natasha: The Life and Love of Michael II, the Last of the Romanov 97410Tsars by Rosemary and Donald Crawford
Michael and Natasha is both an astonishing love story and an illuminating look at the last glorious days of the Romanovs and the brutal revolution that ended their reign. Based on private diaries, letters, and documents long hidden in the Soviet archives, it sheds light on an extraordinary tale of enduring love and ultimate tragedy that, until now, has never been told. He was the Grand Duke Michael Aleksandrovich, the tall, dashing brother of Tsar Nicholas II. She was Nathalie Wulfert, a beautiful, elegant, intelligent, divorced commoner, and the wife of a Guards officer under Michael’s command. Everything was wrong…yet for Grand Duke Michael, it was love at first sight-an obsession that would lead to disgrace, humiliation, and exile.  Much of Michael and Natasha’s story is told in their own words, through hundreds of hitherto unpublished letters. Here they reveal their passion, their joy, and their despair as they are banished from their own country, bathed in scandal in the courts of Europe, and forced to suffer cruel separation. But more than a love story, Michael and Natasha is a historical drama played out against the elegant background of a bygone age and a world at war. It is a spell-binding account of Michael’s return to Russia, his reputation as a war hero, the downfall of Nicholas II, the strange and short reign of Grand Duke Michael, and the cruel and tragic end of one of the most colorful eras in world history.’

 

6. Elizabeth, Grand Duchess of Russia by Hugo Mager 1154620
‘Had Elizabeth married the future Kaiser of Germany, as her grandmother so shrewdly desired, World War I might well have been deterred, and had she not arranged the marriage of her younger sister, Alexandra, to the man who became Tsar Nicholas II, the Russian Revolution might have been averted. Modern European history was shaped by the choices Elizabeth made. Thoroughly researched and elegantly composed, Hugo Mager’s biography of Elizabeth captures the soul of the Grand Duchess of Russia and the spirit of her times as it follows her journey into the tide of monumental events, from the Franco-Prussian War to the Russian Revolution, that forged the modern world.’

 

948947. St Petersburg: A Cultural History by Solomon Volkov
‘The city of St. Petersburg became the center of liberal opposition to the dominating power of the state, whether czarist or communist. Acclaimed Russian historian and emigre Volkov writes the definitive “cultural biography” of that famed city, sharply detailing the well-known figures of the arts whose works are now part of the permanent fabric of Western high culture.’

 

8. Land of the Firebird: The Beauty of Old Russia by Suzanne Massie
”Land of the Firebird’ is a WONDERFUL and ENGAGING in-depth look of Russian history 775380from 987-1917, spanning the ascension of Vlad and the Orthodox Church to right before the Revolution. With colorful prose Suzanne Massie details the variety of Russian existence–tsars and serfs and merchant-princes and babushkas–no stone is left uncovered as she cross-references nearly a thousands years, writing with equal consideration of art, poetry, country-life, court-life, politics and its myriad games, myths and legends, influence “outside the sphere.”‘

 

Have you read any of these books?  Do any pique your interest?

Purchase from The Book Depository

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The Book Trail: The Biographical Edition

I am beginning this particular instalment of The Book Trail with a fantastic biography of one of my favourite children’s authors.  As ever, I am using the ‘Readers Also Enjoyed’ tool on Goodreads in order to generate this list.

1. Storyteller: The Life of Roald Dahl by Donald Sturrock 8789494
A single-minded adventurer and an eternal child who gave us the iconic Willy Wonka and Matilda Wormwood, Roald Dahl lived a life filled with incident, drama and adventure: from his harrowing experiences as an RAF fighter pilot and his work in British intelligence, to his many romances and turbulent marriage to the actress Patricia Neal, to the mental anguish caused by the death of his young daughter Olivia. In “Storyteller, “the first authorized biography of Dahl, Donald Sturrock–granted unprecedented access to the Dahl estate’s archives–draws on personal correspondence, journals and interviews with family members and famous friends to deliver a masterful, witty and incisive look at one of the greatest authors and eccentric characters of the modern age, whose work still delights millions around the world today.

 

2. Eudora Welty by Suzanne Marrs
Eudora Welty’s works are treasures of American literature. When her first short-story collection was published in 1941, it heralded the arrival of a genuinely original writer who over the decades wrote hugely popular novels, novellas, essays, and a memoir, One Writer’s Beginnings, that became a national bestseller. By the end of her life, Welty (who died in 2001) had been given nearly every literary award there was and was all but shrouded in admiration.  In this definitive and authoritative account, Suzanne Marrs restores Welty’s story to human proportions, tracing Welty’s life from her roots in Jackson, Mississippi, to her rise to international stature. Making generous use of Welty’s correspondence-particularly with contemporaries and admirers, including Katherine Anne Porter, E. M. Forster, and Elizabeth Bowen-Marrs has provided a fitting and fascinating tribute to one of the finest writers of the twentieth century.

 

53505433. Flannery: A Life of Flannery O’Connor by Brad Gooch
The landscape of American literature was fundamentally changed when Flannery O’Connor stepped onto the scene with her first published book, Wise Blood, in 1952. Her fierce, sometimes comic novels and stories reflected the darkly funny, vibrant, and theologically sophisticated woman who wrote them. Brad Gooch brings to life O’Connor’s significant friendships–with Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Hardwick, Walker Percy, and James Dickey among others–and her deeply felt convictions, as expressed in her communications with Thomas Merton, Elizabeth Bishop, and Betty Hester. Hester was famously known as “A” in O’Connor’s collected letters, The Habit of Being, and a large cache of correspondence to her from O’Connor was made available to scholars, including Brad Gooch, in 2006. O’Connor’s capacity to live fully–despite the chronic disease that eventually confined her to her mother’s farm in Georgia–is illuminated in this engaging and authoritative biography.

 

4. Passionate Minds: Women Rewriting the World by Claudia Roth Pierpont
With a masterful ability to connect their social contexts to well-chosen and telling details of their personal lives, Claudia Roth Pierpont gives us portraits of twelve amazingly diverse and influential literary women of the twentieth century, women who remade themselves and the world through their art.  Gertrude Stein, Mae West, Margaret Mitchell, Eudora Welty, Ayn Rand, Doris Lessing, Anais Nin, Zora Neale Hurston, Marina Tsvetaeva, Hannah Arendt and Mary Mccarthy, and Olive Schreiner: Pierpont is clear-eyed in her examination of each member of this varied group, connectng her subjects firmly to the issues of sexual freedom, race, and politics that bound them to their times, even as she exposes the roots of their uniqueness.

 

5. Muriel Spark: The Biography by Martin Stannard 7905899
Born in 1918 into a working-class Edinburgh family, Muriel Spark became the epitome of literary chic and one of the great writers of the twentieth century. Her autobiography, Curriculum Vitae, recorded her early years but politely blurred her darker moments: troubled relations with her family, a terrifying period of hallucinations, and disastrous affairs with the men she loved. At the age of nineteen, Spark left Scotland to get married in southern Rhodesia, only to divorce and escape back to Britain in 1944. Her son returned in 1945 and was brought up by Spark’s parents while she established herself as a poet and critic in London. After converting to Catholicism in 1954, she began writing novels that propelled her into the literary stratosphere. These came to include Memento Mori, The Girls of Slender Means, and A Far Cry from Kensington.  With The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961), later adapted into a successful play and film, Spark became an international celebrity and began to live half her life in New York City. John Updike, Tennessee Williams, Evelyn Waugh, and Graham Greene applauded her work. She had an office at The New Yorker and became friends with Shirley Hazzard and W. H. Auden. Spark ultimately settled in Italy, where for more than thirty years—until her death in 2006—she shared a house with the artist Penelope Jardine.  Spark gave Martin Stannard full access to her papers. He interviewed her many times as well as her colleagues, friends, and family members. The result is an indelible portrait of one of the most significant and emotionally complicated writers of the twentieth century. Stannard presents Spark as a woman of strong feeling, sharp wit, and unabashed ambition, determined to devote her life to her art. Muriel Spark promises to become the definitive biography of a literary icon. 16 pages of b/w photographs.

 

6. John Keats: A New Life by Nicholas Roe
This landmark biography of celebrated Romantic poet John Keats explodes entrenched conceptions of him as a delicate, overly sensitive, tragic figure. Instead, Nicholas Roe reveals the real flesh-and-blood poet: a passionate man driven by ambition but prey to doubt, suspicion, and jealousy; sure of his vocation while bitterly resentful of the obstacles that blighted his career; devoured by sexual desire and frustration; and in thrall to alcohol and opium. Through unparalleled original research, Roe arrives at a fascinating reassessment of Keats’s entire life, from his early years at Keats’s Livery Stables through his harrowing battle with tuberculosis and death at age 25. Zeroing in on crucial turning points, Roe finds in the locations of Keats’s poems new keys to the nature of his imaginative quest.  Roe is the first biographer to provide a full and fresh account of Keats’s childhood in the City of London and how it shaped the would-be poet. The mysterious early death of Keats’s father, his mother’s too-swift remarriage, living in the shadow of the notorious madhouse Bedlam—all these affected Keats far more than has been previously understood. The author also sheds light on Keats’s doomed passion for Fanny Brawne, his circle of brilliant friends, hitherto unknown City relatives, and much more. Filled with revelations and daring to ask new questions, this book now stands as the definitive volume on one of the most beloved poets of the English language.

 

37541007. George Eliot by Jenny Uglow
Best known for her masterpieces Middlemarch and Silas Marner, George Eliot (1819–1880) was both one of the most brilliant writers of her day, and one of the most talked about. Intellectual and independent, she had the strength to defy polite society with her highly unorthodox private life which included various romances and regular encounters with the primarily male intelligentsia. This insightful and provocative biography investigates Eliot’s life, from her rural and religious upbringing through her tumultuous relationship with the philosopher George Henry Lewes to her quiet death from kidney failure. As each of her major works are also investigated, Jenny Uglow attempts to explain why her characters were never able to escape the bounds of social expectation as readily as Eliot did herself.

 

8. A Great Unrecorded History: A New Life of E.M. Forster by Wendy Moffat
With the posthumous publication of his long-suppressed novel Maurice in 1970, E. M. Forster came out as a homosexual— though that revelation made barely a ripple in his literary reputation. As Wendy Moffat persuasively argues in A Great Unrecorded History, Forster’s homosexuality was the central fact of his life. Between Wilde’s imprisonment and the Stonewall riots, Forster led a long, strange, and imaginative life as a gay man. He preserved a vast archive of his private life—a history of gay experience he believed would find its audience in a happier time.  A Great Unrecorded History is a biography of the heart. Moffat’s decade of detective work—including first-time interviews with Forster’s friends—has resulted in the first book to integrate Forster’s public and private lives. Seeing his life through the lens of his sexuality offers us a radically new view—revealing his astuteness as a social critic, his political bravery, and his prophetic vision of gay intimacy. A Great Unrecorded History invites us to see Forster— and modern gay history—from a completely new angle.

 

Have you read any of these?  Which, if any, will you be adding to your to-read list?

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Penguin Little Black Classics

I tend not to read many Penguin publications – not due to poor quality, but because I find the spelling rules which they adhere to a little irritating (both -our and -ize endings are utilised, which does not make a great deal of sense to this former proofreader).  I do, however, find myself growing increasingly fond of their Little Black Classics list.  I had read several from the list before they were published, and have since acquired rather a few, either as gifts, to make up the money so that I could get a stamp on my Waterstone’s card (shameless behaviour, I know), or just to try something a little different.

little-black-classics-960

Blackwell

If you are not familiar with them – which I am sure the majority of you will be – the Little Black Classics are a range of eighty short books (each of around sixty pages), published to coincide with the eightieth anniversary of Penguin.  They are inexpensive; their corresponding price of eighty pence means that the entire collection is relatively cheap to amass, and will certainly provide some food for thought.

Rather than write reviews of each of the books which I have read from the list to date, I thought it might be a nice idea to focus upon several of the books, along with an enlightening Guardian article about them.  The list which follows is as diverse as Penguin’s publishing list, and I feel as though each and every one of them would serve as a great introduction to the series.

3. The Saga of Gunnlaug Serpent-tongue
Anonymous Icelandic sagas are wonderful.  I first read this in a collection some years ago, and revisited it last year thanks to the wonderful Poetic Edda.  Written towards the end of the 13th century, the saga is comprised of 25 verses, and is of great importance in both Icelandic and Norwegian history.  It tells of two Icelandic poets, who duel over their shared love for Helga the Fair.

eve_of_st_agnes

‘Madeleine undressing’ by John Everett Millais; inspired by Keats’ The Eve of St Agnes

13. The Eve of St Agnes by John Keats
One cannot go wrong with Keats.  He is one of my absolute favourite poets, and sitting down with his work is about the most relaxing thing which one can do.  He wrote beautifully, and The Eve of St Agnes is no exception.  His depiction of nature and the countryside, and his evocation of the cold, is utterly sublime.

23. The Tinder Box by Hans Christian Andersen
I am sure that most are familiar with Andersen’s fairytales, and this one is one of the more  well-known.  It perhaps needs no introduction, but the very idea of it is inventive.  A soldier acquires a magical tinder box which is capable of summoning three dogs to do his bidding.  It sounds strange, but the story is sure to delight (and possibly frighten!) children and adults alike.

42. The Yellow Wall-Paper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
First published in 1892, Gilman presents an incredibly important early feminist tract, revolving around the female protagonist’s rest cure.  I won’t say too much about this before you embark; just know that it is both wonderful and semi-autobiographical.

50. Anthem for Doomed Youth by Wilfred Owen
I absolutely adore war poetry, and Wilfred Owen is another of my favourite poets.  He wrote so strikingly about his own experience during the First World War, in which he was killed just a week before Armistice.  I am unsure as to which poems this collection includes, but I imagine his most well-known works will be included.

katherine-mansfield-007

Katherine Mansfield

72. Miss Brill by Katherine Mansfield
I would be doing myself an injustice if I didn’t include Katherine Mansfield here.  I absolutely adore her work; I find her so inspiring, and really admire the way in which she can present such a vivid slice of life in just a few pages.  A wonderful short story author, and this is one of my absolute favourites.

 

 

 

Which of the Little Black Classics have you read, and which are you coveting?  Do you like the format of the books?

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Saturday Poem: ‘Bright Star’ by John Keats

Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art–
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature’s patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth’s human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors–
No–yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow’d upon my fair love’s ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever–or else swoon to death.

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‘The Poetry of Cats’ – edited by Samuel Carr

The black cat yawns,
Opens her jaws,
Stretches her legs
And shows her claws.
Then she gets up
And stands on four
Long still legs,
And yawns some more.
She shows her sharp teeth,
She stretches her lip,
Her slice of a tongue
Turns up at the tip.
Lifting herself
On her delicate toes,
She arches her back
As high as it goes.
She lets herself down
With particular care,
And pads away
With her tail in the air.
– ‘Cat’ by Mary Britton Miller

sleeping-cat-1862

Sleeping Cat by Renoir (1862)

We adore cats here at The Literary Sisters, and when I spotted a book entitled The Poetry of Cats on the book stall in Cambridge market, I knew I just had to buy it.  In the book, a marvellous scope of poets has been included, from Edward Lear and John Keats to Ted Hughes and Francis Scarfe.

The edition has been beautifully produced, and whilst my edition’s dustjacket is faded with age, it is still a lovely collection to add to my bookshelf.  The artwork included, from an equally wide range of sources, complemented the poetry perfectly.  Carr’s introduction too, whilst rather short, was informative and wonderfully written, and his love of felines shines through from the outset.

My favourite poems in the collection were ‘The Song of the Jellicoes’ by T.S. Eliot, ‘Esther’s Tomcat’ by Ted Hughes, ‘Five eyes’ by Walter de la Mare, ‘Cats’ by Eleanor Farjeon, ‘Last words to a dumb friend’ by Thomas Hardy, ‘The Cat and the Moon’ by W.B. Yeats, ‘Cat’ by Lytton Strachey, ‘The Cat’ by Richard Church, ‘The Singing Cat’ by Stevie Smith, ‘Choosing Their Names’ by Thomas Hood, ‘To a Cat’ by A.C. Swinburne, ‘On the death of a cat’ by Christina Rossetti, ‘Cat’ by Mary Britton Miller (shown above), ‘Cat’s Eyes’ by Francis Scarfe and ‘Marigold’ by Richard Garnett.

The Poetry of Cats is an absolutely lovely book, and one which is sure to be treasured by every cat fan.