A Latter-day Bluestocking

For the love of reading

Ice Ghosts: The Epic Hunt for the Lost Franklin Expedition by Paul Watson

Paul Watson has given us a page turner of a tale!

Ice Ghosts: The Epic Hunt for the Lost Franklin Expedition begins with the preparations and 1845 departure of the Franklin Expedition to the Arctic in its quest to find the Northern Passage.  The author paints a vivid portrait of the type of men who embarked upon a journey of daring and discovery hoping to return  to a triumphant hero’s welcome.  The expedition had the blessing of the Queen and was enthusiastically followed by the British public but by 1848 it was clear that HMS Erebus and HMS Terror had run into trouble as they had disappeared without a trace.  129 men perished in one of the greatest naval mysteries of all time. Ice Ghosts

For more than 160 years, numerous missions were sent to find evidence of survivors or ascertain what had happened to the two ships and the men aboard.  Lady Franklin, Sir John Franklin’s widow, skirted around madness and nearly bankrupted herself in her single-minded crusade to find out what happened to her husband.  It was nearly a decade before she even acknowledged he was dead.  And for over a century it continued to be an obsession to find the two wrecks.

The story is frustrating not in its telling but because of the arrogance and overconfidence of the white men.  The poor response by the Admiralty, the condescending and stubborn refusal to acknowledge the expertise of the Inuit who had been surviving in those unforgiving conditions for centuries, and the conceit and sole reliance on modern technology of 20th century explorers.

And then the story becomes even more interesting.  Soon after the disappearance of the expedition the Inuit began telling stories of mysterious ships that would appear on the horizon, contact with men crossing the ice with makeshift sleds, of groups of men (and a dog) living on a ship, and burial sites.   It is a fact, that the Inuit have known of the fate of the doomed Franklin Expedition for over a century. And yet no explorer took any of the stories, so important to the oral tradition of the indigenous peoples living above the Arctic Circle, seriously; they were dismissed as the superstitious yarns of a primitive race.  The real hero of this story, in my opinion, is Louie Kamookak, the man who connected the Inuit oral history to the known facts of the Franklin expedition.  Check out his website https://www.louiekamookak.com/.  He tenaciously continues to document the oral histories and Inuit place names so they will not be lost!  (Follow his blog and social media; he’s amazing!)

It wasn’t until the 21st century that explorers, scientists, marine archaeologists, and Inuit historians, and others began to combine their efforts leading to the eventual discovery of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror.

Watson gives vivid descriptions of the extreme cold, hostile, and isolated environment of the far north with its unceasing whiteness and where the atmosphere can play tricks on a person’s senses.  He depicts the lure of overcoming odds and the testing of endurance that mankind has sought in this unforgiving environment.  This is a story that weaves all the nuances of past and present together and brings closer the divide between disparate groups of people to tell a heroic tale of sacrifice, boldness, and persistence.

I Am Back!

reading“Obviously I faced the possibility of not returning when first I considered going. Once faced and settled there really wasn’t any good reason to refer to it.”  Amelia Earhart

Remembrance of 9/11

WorldTradeCenterLookingUpAlthough it has been 14 years since the events of 9/11 the feelings of fear and horror are still there, beneath the surface. It doesn’t take much to set me crying about the lives needlessly lost that day, the heroic efforts of our first responders, the destruction, and those who continue to be impacted by that tragic day.  As a New Yorker I was determined to bounce back, to carry on without fear despite having lost my compass bearing.  In the days and weeks after those iconic buildings fell there was a feeling of loss and confusion, the posters and pictures of the missing contradicting the beautiful sunny and crisp fall weather we experienced that year, the blank spot where those buildings stood was a constant reminder that life was not normal for a lot of people.

I was lucky, I did not have a loved one downtown that day, Edward and I were not on the 4 and 5 train under lower Manhattan at the time the planes hit, my Mother was not on one of the planes although she was flying that day.  A colleague called to tell us of the first plane hitting the North Tower, someone had a radio in the office and we heard the tragedy play out.  I still get goose pimples remembering the shock in the voice of the reporter as she screamed that the South Tower was falling.  After the North Tower collapsed the Museum was evacuated.  Before we left the building we already knew of the plane that slammed into the Pentagon and the one that had crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.

I did not panic but I was terrified.  All I knew was that I had to pick up my 9 month old son from daycare and walk 9 miles home to Brooklyn.  A walk taken trying to avoid seeing the large plume of smoke and debris emanating from downtown, trying to ignore the ominous lack of triage whenever we passed a hospital, making the concerted decision to skirt around large landmarks such as the United Nations, and always with one eye on the sky.  You see, we did not know if it was over    I know I say this every year but I will be forever grateful for my colleagues Fred Caruso and Ted Hunter who walked with me to Brooklyn and selflessly stayed with a scared new mother when I had to stop to breastfeed my baby.  It was this, and perhaps, beautifully innocent Edward, oblivious to the horror all around him, who kept me going.

Life has gone on, the city has re-built on the site of devastation, the daily fear is largely forgotten, and Edward is now 14 without recollection of the day, but memory is long.

Quote of the Day: C.S. Lewis

CS Lewis“You can’t get a cup of tea big enough or a book long enough to suit me.”  C. S. Lewis, 1898-1963

Got to be Me

outdoor reading

My Bookish Year in Review: 2013

Marilyn Monroe, 1954, by Eve Arnold (reading series)I keep track of my reading on Goodreads, a social-cataloging website for readers. I can scan my books; the books I am reading, want to read, and have read. I can keep track of my reading progress [currently I am at page 74 of 199 (37%) of The Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith]. I rate and review the books. I share with my friends, via social media, what I am reading because there is nothing better to make feel super-smart.  At the end of the year one can appraise the year’s reading.  I admit this makes feel somewhat smug.

This year, so far, I have finished 89 books, a total of 29,566 pages. Back in January I set the goal of reading 90 books in 2013. I will most likely surpass that number by midnight on December 31. The longest book I read this year was the tome-like The Bröntes: Wild Genius on the Moors: The Story of Three Sisters by Juliet Barker at a whopping 1,159 pages. Only 12 books were rated with 5 stars. I highly recommend these books. They are:

1776 by David McCullough
Any Human Heart by William Boyd
Shakespeare by Michael Wood
Agincourt: Henry V and the Battle That Made England by Juliet Barker
Crispin’s Day: The Glory of Agincourt by Rosemary Hawley Jarman
John Adams by David McCullough
The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (illustrated by Dave McKean)
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
11/22/63 by Stephen King
The Dog Stars by Peter Heller
The Chronicles of Downton Abbey: A New Era by Jessica Fellowes and Matthew Sturgis

In 2012 I read 84 books (a total of 31,456 pages). I hope to read 100 books in 2014. If Santa brings me the books on my list I could make a very good start.

I wonder if I could start a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for my reading. Hmmm?  If only I wasn’t so busy reading.

My Christmas Wish List 2013

fezziwig-all-night-raveDear Santa,

I’ve been very good this year. Especially when it comes to reading, I’ve been reading voraciously all year. And I’ve been especially good because I have tried very hard to save my pennies by borrowing from the library as well as from family and friends rather than buying the books.

So all I want for Christmas this year are the following titles:

Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China by Jung Chang

The Heir Apparent: A Life of Edward VII, the Playboy Prince by Jane Ridley

Queen Anne: The Politics of Passion by Anne Somerset

Servants: A Downstairs History of Britain from the Nineteenth-Century to Modern Times by Lucy Lethbridge

A History of Britain in Thirty-six Postage Stamps by Chris West

Reprobates: The Cavaliers of the English Civil War by John Stubbs

Thanks for considering my list.


A Latter-day Bluestocking

PS. Cookies and milk will be left on the table as always. As well as carrots for the reindeer.


Jane's quill

Wherein I ponder Saint Crispin’s Day, the Battle of Agincourt, Henry V, and Tom Hiddleston


Upon Saint Crispin’s Day
Fought was this noble fray
Which fame did not relay
To England to carry.
O when shall English men
With such acts fill a pen?
Or England breed again
Such a King Harry?

hollowcrownSometimes my passions for history and literature feed one another and ultimately leads to obsession.  This is the predicament I find myself in now.  It all started with the PBS airing of The Hollow Crown, the three Shakespearian history plays of Richard II; Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2; and Henry V.  These BBC produced productions have all that one has come to expect from British history/costume drama:  spectacular scenery, lavish costumes, and superb acting.  This production has the latter in spades with a cast that includes Jeremy Irons, Ben Whishaw, Simon Russell Beale, Julie Walters, Patrick Stewart, and Tom Hiddleston to name a few.  But Tom Hiddleston who plays Prince Hal/Henry V is the one responsible for my current fascination with the Lancasters and their usurpation of the Plantagenet throne, the re-launching of the Hundreds Years’ War with France, and the eventual overthrow of this dynasty by the House of York which would lead to the War of the Roses, a tumultuous period that would only come to an end with the accession of the Tudors in 1485.

But let’s get back to Tom Hiddleston for a moment.  This man who has acting talent to match his wonderful aristocratic good looks was able to move me to laughter and then to tears in this version of the plays.  He lifted my spirit and made me feel I would do my all for King and country.  He truly encapsulated the character of Prince Hal/Henry V.  the-hollow-crown-bbc-henry-vHis portrayal of the rapscallion Prince of Wales who hangs out with miscreants and purposefully antagonizes his father is nonetheless charming and fun and sexy but upon the death of his father, Henry IV, leaves his wayward conduct behind him to become one of English history’s greatest warrior kings and the one who, had he not died at the age of 32, would have returned most of France to English dominion.  His Henry V is a man with the common touch and an excellent commander and tactician who can rally his men, high and low, to his cause.  But, of course, the history plays are not true history and Shakespeare takes artistic license where it suits him in his need to honor the Tudor monarchs who were his patrons.

So even as I sat fantasizing about Tom/Henry going once more unto the breach at Harfleur and rousing his men with the “band of brothers/St. Crispin’s Day” speech at the Battle of Agincourt I began to consider the real history.  And so, I began to read about this fascinating man and king.  I work in a place that has a terrific library at my disposal so I began with Rosemary Hawley Jarman’s short and straightforward Crispin’s Day:  The Glory of AgincourtCrispinsDayI finished it in two days and it left me thirsty for more.  I had read years ago The Hollow Crown: A History of Britain in the Late Middle Ages by Miri Rubin which chronicles the undeniably extraordinary thehollowcrownbookand brutal period in British history.  Set amongst the backdrop of the Black Death, The Peasants Revolt, the Battle of Agincourt, and the Wars of the Roses were the reigns of exceptional kings, from Edward I to Richard III.  It was a time of great turmoil, brutality, as well as great artistic achievements.  During this latest obsession I found myself going back to this book again and again.

Henry V

Henry V

I knew that Henry V believed his conquest of France was virtuous by divine right but also discovered that he was also opportunistic.  He exploited the divisions of the French and used diplomacy to make sure France’s  usual allies stayed away.  The French believed they would win.  They can be excused for such presumptuous feelings for on the morning of October 25, 1415 they outnumbered the English by 4 to 1 (although some historians say 6 to 1), they were healthy, well-fed, and positioned upon their own turf were a majority of France’s great military commanders and royal nobility.  In extreme contrast the English army were far from home, exhausted, malnourished, and sick, many still feeling the effects of the dysentery that had killed more men than any actual battle had.  Some of the men were barely clothed.  A mere four hours later after the battle’s start the field was strewn with the dead, the majority being French with almost all of their nobility wiped out.

Agincourt bookIt is fascinating stuff and I have several other titles in my reading queue because once the preoccupation grabs me it has to be sustained to the end.  So I have borrowed from my public library, Agincourt:  Henry V and the Battle that Made England by Juliet Barker (she of the tome-licious The Brontes), History of the Battle of Agincourt, and the expedition of Henry the Fifth into France, to which is added the roll of men at arms, in the English army published in 1832 by Sir Nicholas Harris and An historical account of the reign of Henry the  Fifth, intended as a companion to the great historical picture of the memorable battle of Agincourt painted by Robert Ker Porter, Esq. now exhibiting at the Lyceum, Strand published in 1805.

And because I like to share my passions I have suggested to my book club the historical novel, Good King Harry by Denise Giardina.  It is a story told as an autobiography with the great man himself describing his tumultuous youth, difficult relationship with his father, his victory at Agincourt, hopes for his own son, and eventual death from dysentery on the battle fields of France in 1422.  Hopefully it is a good read but we’ll see.  I suspect that I will have to follow-up with Bernard Cornwell’s treatment of this particular episode in history.  That guy does his research!!

Tom HIddleston as Henry V

Tom Hiddleston as Henry V

On this Saint Crispin’s Day, I would personally like to thank Tom Hiddleston for his brilliant performance which inspired me to read up on the real history and learn about the real man who was Henry V.

Quote of the Day: Ray Bradbury

ray-bradbury“There are worse crimes than burning books.  One of them is not reading them.”  Ray Bradbury, 1920-2012

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