Monday, 25 March 2013

The Woman in White continued...

Harper's Weekly, 31 December 1859, Vol.III, No.157, p.841.
Illustrations by John McLenan
Weekly Part 6.
The woman in white took me so long to read that I thought it deserved two posts (it's a substantial book). 

I really enjoyed the story. I thought that the story progression in the first epoch was rather slow so it took me a while to get into the book. It sets out lots of unanswered questions. You see the questions mounting and foresee the numerous permutations of possible distasters without clue to which one will really happen, and you start to think that you might not get any answers. However, in the second epoch there is a lot more action and the final epoch does satisfy your questions (whether the outcome is to your liking is another matter).

My favourite bit is Miss Halcombe’s diary. Marian is my favourite character in the book. She’s a wonderfully strong female character, especially for the period. Here are a few of my favourite lines relating to Marian:

The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins

Harper's Weekly, 26 November 1859, Vol.III, No.152, p.753.
Illustrations by John McLenan
Weekly Part 1.
"[The Woman in White is] often singled out as the foundation text of "sensation fiction" – a genre distinguished by its electrifying, suspenseful, and sometimes horrific plots, as well as its unsavoury themes of intrigue, jealousy, murder, adultery, and the like..." The Guardian
The Woman in White was first serialised in Charles Dickens' weekly literary magazine, All the Year Round, between 1859–1860. Therefore celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2009. The story was later published as a book in 1860, first in three books, and then in one volume. The three book divisions serve as chapters (or epochs) in the single book version.

The initial format of small weekly articles can be seen to result in a long book. It is also the reason for the multitude of 'cliff-hangers' dotted throughout the narrative (carefully positioned at the end of each weekly publication), which give rise to the reputation for suspense the novel has accrued. To experience it as it's first Victorian audience did, the story can be read in its original weekly parts thanks to the 150th anniversary project. The story was published simultaneously in New York in Harper's Weekly, you can see the accompanying illustrations by John McLenan on the project site too.

The story is told in an epistolary format with testaments given by various characters, letters and other relevant text is also shared. The character narratives are given in the following order:

Epoch 1

  • Walter Hartright - Drawing Master
  • Vincent Gilmore - Solicitor
  • Marian Halcombe - Sister to Laura Fairlie 

Epoch 2

  • Continued by Marian Halcombe (Postscript by Count Fosco - Uncle by marriage to Laura Fairlie - see full title below)
  • Eliza Michelson - Housekeeper at Blackwater Park
  • Hester Pinhorn - Cook in the service of Count Fosco
  • Alfred Goodricke - Doctor
  • Jane Gould - Assistant to Mr Goodricke
  • Walter Hartright 

Epoch 3

  • Continued by Walter Hartright 
  • Mrs Catherick
  • Walter Hartright
  • Isidor, Ottavio, Baldassare Fosco - Count of the Holy Roman Empire, Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Brazen Crown, Perpetual Arch-Master of the Rosicrucian Masons of Mesopotamia; Attached (in Honorary Capacities) to Societies Musical, Societies Medical, Societies Philosophical, and Societies General Benevolent, throughout Europe; etc. etc. etc. 
  • Concluded by Walter Hartright 

Thursday, 14 March 2013

New Books

I am excited because I have just ordered some new mystery books from my wish list. I am looking forward to their arrival.

I am interested in reading more of the early detective fiction so I have been trying to find recommendations for books to read. These are but a few from that list.

I wanted to read The Rector of Veilbye (first published 1829) by Steen Steensen Blicher but I could not find it easily available in an English translation. Instead I have got:
  • The Diary of a Parish Clerk and other short stories, (DPC first published 1824), S Steensen Blicher
- One of  the short stories included is the Rector of Veilbye, and I will get to sample some of the author's other works too.

I have also acquired:
  • L'Affaire Lerouge (first published 1866),  Émile Gaboriau (published in English as The Widow Lerouge)
-  I noticed the author mentioned in Dickson Carr's 'The Locked-Room Lecture' in The Hollow Man. He referenced Initials Only but I decided to get The Leavenworth Case as this is an earlier work of Green.

Finally, I got:
- It is taking me so long to read The Woman in White, that I think it will be a little while before I get around to reading this.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Cabin Pressure

L to R: Arthur Knapp-Shappey, Douglas Richardson (First Officer), Caroline Knapp-Shappey (Owner of MJN air and Flight Attendant), Martin Crieff (Captain - of course ;))
I cannot believe that I missed the last episode of the last series of Cabin Pressure! I intend to get Series 4 on CD as soon as it is available; It has been hilarious. :)

I've just been reading through some of the episode reviews and I came across this wonderful interview with John Finnemore. I love the fact that they have managed to keep the original cast, despite the actors becoming more and more famous. I also found it interesting to learn that Finnemore is part of the Cambridge Footlights comedy alumni. I'd really love to go to a Radio 4 recording of Cabin Pressure, although I doubt I'd get a ticket now, what with the "17,000 people applying for 200 tickets [and] People [flying in] from Japan and Thailand."

Douglas Richardson is my favourite character; his one-liners are superb.

Once you have listened to Cabin Pressure and fallen in love with it too, then consider reading John Finnemore's blog for some 'behind the scenes' details. Watch out though, it is addictive. ;)

Up at the Villa - Somerset Maugham

Vintage Classics: Up at the Villa
I had not read any other of Maugham's works before I decided to read Up at the Villa. I didn't even know what the story was really about. I had heard that it contained elements of crime and suspense but was not strictly a mystery novel.

The novella is gripping and, as it is an easy-read and quite short, I finished it quickly. It is definitely worth reading.

It follows a beautiful widow, Mary Panton, and her experiences staying in a sixteenth century villa in Florence. Mary's time of tranquil reflection and sight-seeing is brought to an end violently by a mistaken act of (com)passion. Suddenly, to avoid scandal, Mary is carrying out acts she thought she would never contemplate.

The main characters are:
  • Mary Panton ~ 30 year old widow recovering from her unhappy marriage
[Rowley to Mary] "You're a brown and gold girl, aren't you?" he said.
Her hair was of a dark rich gold, her large eyes deep brown, and her skin pale gold. It was her colouring which took away the coldness which her regular features may have given her face and gave her a warmth and a richness which were infinitely alluring.
"I think you're the most beautiful woman I've ever seen."
  • Sir Edgar Swift ~ Mary's admirer, friend of her father's, and important Indian Government Official
[Edgar] had had a distinguished career. He had been for five years Governor of the North West Provinces and during a period of great unrest had conducted himself with conspicuous ability. He had finished the term with the reputation of being the most capable man in India.
  • Rowley Flint ~ lovable rogue
It was true that Rowley was not much to look at... He had not a single feature that you would call good... He was in short a young man with a shocking reputation which he thoroughly deserved.
 ...he's not the sort of feller... that a decent woman ought to be asked to sit in the same room with.
  • The Princess San Ferdinando ~ an elderly American woman who had married a Roman Prince and had two grown-up children in the Italian army
She had little money, but a caustic tongue and a great good nature... she knew everybody she wished to know and everybody was pleased to know her.
  • Karl Richter ~ Austrian art student residing in Italy after he escaped from a concentration camp
His suit was shabby, his shoes patched and his shirt, open at the neck, frayed... By the light of the tall candles on the table his eyes were dark and cavernous. He had a strange head with... high cheek bones, hollow cheeks, a pallid skin and a look of strain which was somewhat moving. It occurred to Mary that in costume, dressed, say, like one of those young princes in a picture by Bronzino at the Uffizi, he would have been very nearly beautiful.
 My favourite lines include:

Rawley on risk

"My dear, I'd have done it for any pal. I'm not quite sure if I wouldn't have done it for a total stranger. You know, I like risk. I'm not really a law-abiding person and I got a great thrill out if it. Once at Monte Carlo I had a thousand pounds on the turn of a card, that was a thrill too; but nothing to this"
"Don't be afraid. The devil's a sportsman and he looks after his own."

Mary accepting reality
And now she realised that there was something particularly shocking [in what had been done]. She still didn't know what else could have been done to avoid a fearful scandal and Heaven only knew what difficulties with the police. But it was so fantastic that anything like that should happen to people like her that it didn't seem to belong in real life; it was the kind of thing that happened to one in a nightmare.

 Mary's lawyer on marriage
"But don't marry for love next time; it's a mistake; marry for position and companionship."

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Libraries and Wilkie

Third Floor JB Morrell
Working at the York University Library (JB Morrell library) again today. There are a range of different work zones here:
  • Silent zone
    • Amongst the book cases where no noise is allowed
  • Quiet zone
    • Nearby some of the book cases but not deep amongst them (as the silent zones), where noise must be kept to a minimum. I am in a quiet work area for I fear the tap-tap-tap of me writing on my laptop would perhaps be a distraction.
  • Studious Buzz Zone
    • Meeting rooms that are apparently for groups of students work together. The rooms have flat screen TVs and points for you to connect your laptop to them so you can share it. They remind me of the types of meeting rooms that I have seen in modern business offices.
I noticed that you are able to bring hot and cold drinks in lidded containers and cold food into the library quiet zones. This was not a luxury that we were allowed when I was at University. I find it a great improvement.

Quiet Zone
I am really impressed with how modern the library is. It appears to incorporate the advances in technology with computer rooms available and power points at desks to allow for laptops to be used. It seems an easy step into the world of office working. In fact, some may be disappointed if they end up working in a more 'basic' office as it would be a step down from what they are used to here!

I have started Wilkie Collins', The Woman in White. It is a long book with notes to keep referring to so I imagine it will be a little while before I can post my review here. It has been quite engaging so far though so I am sure it will be worth the wait.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013


This week I have been working in York's central library, Explore York, because it is a wonderfully central location near to the Minster at the appropriately named Library Square, York. The building is lovely to look at, with a fine red brick frontage, beautiful windows, and sweeping staircases.

Today the library is closed. I am told this is to enable all library staff to take part in an important meeting to plan the future of the service. In the difficult economic times council's have to decide how to spend taxpayer money and libraries are not high on that list. York's libraries webpage says:
"...[as] a result of the Council's overall financial pressures... we are currently looking at the possibility of setting up the library service as a social enterprise. We believe this would better enable us to direct our resources into maintaining front line library services."

It will be interesting to see how this works. I hope it will be a successful way to help us retain our library service. Explore York is the main library in York and as a result it is very busy. It has a fairly modern library layout with the inclusion of a cafe and rather a lot of computers. There is also free wifi available. However, many local libraries are not so advanced with respect to IT provisions and have suffered falling visitor and borrower numbers. Books are also a lot cheaper and more widely available than they used to be, which has perhaps driven the fall in library users. Given this context it seems unsurprising that councils may look to cut back spending and provisions for library services. 

Having said this, I hope there can be a successful way to retain a library as a local meeting place, an area for study, learning and reflection. With the incorporation of new technology, the cafe culture, and additional learning services (for both children and adults), libraries may be able to survive.

 More immediately the closure has meant that today I am working from one of York University libraries. These are freely open to the public for reference use. I think this is a wonderful resource. Not as beautiful a building outside, but the resources and facilities inside are great. 

I had York down as my reserve place when I applied for university. I now get to experience what working in the library here would have been like. Thank you York! :)

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

When is a puzzle not a puzzle?

Tea Break

I shared the Christie article with my friends for fun, thinking that my voice and love of mysteries would be recognised in the opening sentence:
"Sometimes, I try to read novels in which solving a mystery is not the driving force propelling the reader forward. This can occasionally be OK – if there's enough relationship intrigue of the betrayal-and-adultery ilk – but generally I prefer novels that make me desperate to find out who did what and why."
However, being a philosopher, one read the article and decided that he did not agree with the argument presented. Apparently the writer has deployed the fallacy of the undistributed middle to conflate two distinct types of puzzles. To begin she appears to propose that puzzles are better than psychological insight, but then seems self-contradictory when she attempts to equate them in her other two paragraphs.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Mystery books in York

I love books and places that books are kept. As a result of this I love libraries. They are my favourite place to work. I like the peace and quite that they afford. I also like bookshops, second-hand bookshops in particular. I enjoy ferreting around a second-hand bookshop just in case they have a book I am after or even just an interesting book that I never even thought or known about before.

I have been looking for mystery books in York today. I found this useful website listing second-hand bookshops in York. I had a wonderful time rummaging amongst the shelves. I went into two bookshops: Lucius Books and Minster Gate Bookshop, both of which were delightful.

Today I bought Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White, and Graham Greene, Brighton Rock. They are on my list of books to read this year. The rest of the books on my list are harder to get as a number of them were first published in the early to mid-nineteenth century. They are not all still in print, so I am hoping to be able to do some fortuitous web searching for them. :)

Sometimes, I try to read novels in which solving a mystery is not the driving force propelling the reader forward

One, Two, Buckle My Shoe, Agatha Christie
Okay, I admit that I do tend towards agreeing with this statement. If there was a 0 - 5 scale where I had to rate how much 'I agreed', I'd probably be far more on the agreeing side. ;)

"Sometimes, I try to read novels in which solving a mystery is not the driving force propelling the reader forward. This can occasionally be OK – if there's enough relationship intrigue of the betrayal-and-adultery ilk – but generally I prefer novels that make me desperate to find out who did what and why."

As Sophie Hannah states in her Guardian author review, my love of mystery books probably does stem from Agatha Christie too. Her and Enid Blyton's Famous Five and Secret Seven.

Watson's Choice - Gladys Mitchell

Even though I only recently finished reading the Sherlock Holmes books at the end of last year, I still found it hard to identify all of the stories or characters referred to in Watson's Choice.

 Some of the stories I definitely remembered:
  • The Five Orange Pips
  • The Hound of the Baskervilles  (who couldn't?) 
  • The Adventure of the Speckled Band
  • The Silver Blaze (although I would not have realised the curry reference!)
  • The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle
I did not remember the Mrs Farintosh reference. I will have to go back to the canon to check up on that.

I thought this book was wonderful and crammed with plenty of winks towards Sherlock Holmes. At first you expect a typical 'whodunnit' as a Sherlock Holmes themed dinner party is arranged. You eagerly await the moment one of the guests is found murdered... and then it doesn't happen. You get a completely different kind of murder mystery instead. Definitely keeps you guessing.

The part where Sir Bohun Chantrey admits that he was to arrange for a gaggle of geese to be let loose amongst his guests as a reference to the Aventure of the Blue Carbuncle actually made me think of the Series 4 Uskerty episode of Cabin Pressure. A series about a ramshackle crew of a small charter air line (or 'air dot' - you cannot put one plane in a line). Quoted from Cabin Pressure Live Journal. As background, Douglas has just told Arthur that Martin is 'the best at being made fun of' because he always goes that extra mile to provide material for you to make fun of. Also, they are at a small airfield where the hyperactive airport manager has been showing them all of the new equipment he has got. It's too complicated to explain the sheep...

My favourite section of the episode:

(Martin bursts through the door of the bar as Carolyn hurries away.)
ARTHUR: Hey, Skip!
MARTIN (urgently): Douglas, quick. I need your help.
DOUGLAS: Martin ... Good Lord, you’re soaking wet.
MARTIN: Yes, well, it’s raining outside. Look ...
DOUGLAS: What happened to your uniform?
MARTIN: I tore it falling out of a tree ...
DOUGLAS: Yes, but what’s that all over it?
MARTIN: Oh, er, goose droppings, but ...
DOUGLAS: Is your hand okay?
MARTIN (increasingly rapidly): No, a bee stung me ...
DOUGLAS: What are you carrying?
MARTIN (frantically): What does it look like?! A stuffed sheep!
DOUGLAS: You see, Arthur? The master.
MARTIN: Douglas, listen. There’s a truck full of geese outside and one of them ate my Dad’s ring and I don’t know which one and I know there’s nothing you can do but is there anything you can do?
DOUGLAS: Gosh. Well, it’s a-a bit of a tall order, Martin, even for me.
MARTIN (more quietly): You can’t do anything?
DOUGLAS: I didn’t say that. Gerry.
MARTIN: Douglas ...
DOUGLAS: This is Martin. Martin is a man who would like to discover which of a truckload of geese has swallowed a valuable ring. Martin, this is Gerry. Gerry is a man who wishes he could get more use out of his metal-detecting gate. Perhaps you two could have a profitable discussion.
GERRY: Oh, grand!
CAROLYN (urgently as she hurries over): Come on, come on. Where are you all? Twelve minutes.
MARTIN: Er, yes, Carolyn. But, er, b-before that, though, I-I just want to very quickly X-ray all the geese.
CAROLYN: You what?! No, I’m sorry, Martin, I’m very sorry, but there is no time! Now come on!
MARTIN (firmly): No. I’m sorry, Carolyn. I carried the sheep for you. I climbed the tree. I rode the back of the truck. But now I have to X-ray these geese.
DOUGLAS: Always the extra mile. 

Whilst trying to find the transcript I found this on John Finnemore's blog; it seems others had noticed the reference too.