Monday, October 31, 2016

The Tuesday Club Murders by Agatha Christie (1932, 1933)

The Tuesday Club Murders is the true first appearance of my favorite Christie detective, Miss Marple. Although the publication of the novel The Murder at the Vicarage predates this novel by a couple of years, many of the short stories that appear in this book actually appeared in print in three magazines --  The Royal Magazine (the Tuesday Night Club stories), The Story-Teller Magazine (the gathering at the Bantry manse, the first appearance of this famous Christie-an couple as well), and the final story, in Nash’s Pall Mall Magazine.  The original UK edition was called The Thirteen Problems, but again the title was changed for American audiences (who knows why).  I like the Thirteen Problems better than the American title to be honest:  not all the stories took place at the Tuesday Club!

This was one of my favorite Agatha Christie novels growing up; I liked it so much that I saved my paperback copy, which is at least 30 years old (and still going strong - see picture!).  Unlike another one of my favorites, The Big Four,  I came away from The Tuesday Club Murders with even more admiration for the good Dame (minus the title and that’s not her fault).  Christie was an underrated writer critically speaking, but anyone who merely bans her to pulp is foolish.  She isn't a literary novelist - Faulkner, Maugham, Dos Passos and Aldous Huxley all had novels published this same year - but she’s not trying to be a literary giant; she’s writing an enjoyable puzzle (or in this case, thirteen puzzles) for the reader to solve.  But in addition to creating memorable characters (although they skate in and out of stock), she writes sharp plots (especially in the case of short stories) and great dialogue.  Specifically in The Tuesday Club Murders, she’s playing around with narrative.  Each short story is a character telling the story of a murder or mystery - and each story takes on the style of the person who is telling it.  Christie becomes best at this in the latter half of the book, as her character storytellers are both more varied and  have more vibrant personalities.  So the famous stage actress Jane Helier, has a style of storytelling that matches her photo-Marilyn Monroe persona; Dolly Bantry tells another another story in her distinct style, that from the background of comfortable gentry (let’s be honest, Christie’s stock and trade).  A doctor tells a story in one way, a attorney another way.  The stories aren’t all equally good; but then again, neither are the storytellers.  But the way in which Christie plays around with narrative is good and quite interesting.  I found this very clever, and I think it is one of the things that makes Christie a master - she took risks in her writing.  This is true thoughout her career

Favorite quote in the entire story - Miss Marple says:  “I’m not fond of staying in other people’s houses.”  I imagine not, considering wherever you stay, someone gets murdered.  

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Tuesday Club Murders is the true first appearance of my favorite Christie detective, Miss Marple. Although the publication of the novel The Murder at the Vicarage predates this novel by a couple of years, many of the short stories that appear in this book actually appeared in print in three magazines -- The Royal Magazine (the Tuesday Night Club stories), The Story-Teller Magazine (the gathering at the Bantry manse, the first appearance of this famous Christie-an couple as well), and the final story, in Nash’s Pall Mall Magazine. The original UK edition was called The Thirteen Problems, but again the title was changed for American audiences (who knows why). I like the Thirteen Problems better than the American title to be honest: not all the stories took place at the Tuesday Club!


This was one of my favorite Agatha Christie novels growing up; I liked it so much that I saved my paperback copy, which is at least 30 years old (and still going strong). Unlike another one of my favorites, The Big Four, I came away from The Tuesday Club Murders with even more admiration for the good Dame (minus the title and that’s not her fault). Christie was an underrated writer critically speaking, but anyone who merely bans her to pulp is foolish. She isn't a literary novelist - Faulkner, Maugham, Dos Passos and Aldous Huxley all had novels published this same year - but she’s not trying to be a literary giant; she’s writing an enjoyable puzzle (or in this case, thirteen puzzles) for the reader to solve. But in addition to creating memorable characters (although they skate in and out of stock), she writes sharp plots (especially in the case of short stories) and great dialogue. Specifically in The Tuesday Club Murders, she’s playing around with narrative. Each short story is a character telling the story of a murder or mystery - and each story takes on the style of the person who is telling it. Christie becomes best at this in the latter half of the book, as her character storytellers are both more varied and have more vibrant personalities. So the famous stage actress Jane Helier, has a style of storytelling that matches her photo-Marilyn Monroe persona; Dolly Bantry tells another another story in her distinct style, that from the background of comfortable gentry (let’s be honest, Christie’s stock and trade). A doctor tells a story in one way, a attorney another way. The stories aren’t all equally good; but then again, neither are the storytellers. But the way in which Christie plays around with narrative is good and quite interesting. I found this very clever, and I think it is one of the things that makes Christie a master - she took risks in her writing. This is true thoughout her career
The first appearance of classic, much emulated and much adored Miss Marple was in these short stories, written in the late 1920s. Although Murder at the Vicarage was published as a novel first, these short stories were written for a magazine and published a few years before that. Christie's character, like Athena, comes from the head of her creator fully formed; the Miss Marple of these stories is remarkably similar to the Miss Marple of the 1950s and 60s. Christie is a master plot; her dialogue is usually crisp and fun. If her characters skate in and out of stock, that's to be expected in a murder mystery. Christie isn't Faulkner, and we don't want her to be. That still doesn't mean she isn't an excellent and often experimental writer. The Tuesday Club Murders plays around with narrative in really clever ways; having various people tell stories of murder and mystery (for Miss Marple to solve, of course) but in their own unique ways - an actress tells a story in one way, a painter in another, an attorney in a third, and so on. That's really clever. So on it's face this is a book of short detective stories, but it's also a book of experimental narrative.

My favorite quote in the entire story is when Miss Marple says: “I’m not fond of staying in other people’s houses.” I imagine not, considering wherever you stay, someone gets murdered.









Wednesday, October 26, 2016

"Topography" by Sharon Olds (1987)

After we flew across the country we
got in bed, laid our bodies
delicately together, like maps laid
face to face, East to West, my
San Francisco against your New York, your
Fire Island against my Sonoma, my
New Orleans deep in your Texas, your Idaho
bright on my Great Lakes, my Kansas
burning against your Kansas your Kansas
burning against my Kansas, your Eastern
Standard Time pressing into my
Pacific Time, my Mountain Time
beating against your Central Time, your
sun rising swiftly from the right my
sun rising swiftly from the left your
moon rising slowly from the left my
moon rising slowly from the right until
all four bodies of the sky
burn above us, sealing us together,
all our cities twin cities,
all our states united, one

nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.


In the past, I kept scraps of quotes, and passages that I thought were beautiful, and poems in notebooks.  I typed out the poem above, cut it out, and pasted it into a notebook.    I'm not so sure I shouldn't still be doing this.  Going through these notebooks every so often is a lovely experience.

I do not know when or how I came across this poem.  I think I probably heard Garrison Keillor read this poem aloud on The Writer's Almanac but I'm not sure.  

I still like the poem all these years later.  I'm a fan of maps, and used to pore over them as a child, and even create my own maps of imaginary worlds.  The geographical images in this poem make me smile, particularly those about Kansas.  

Monday, October 24, 2016

Sherri Tepper (1929-2016)

Sherri Tepper has died.  She wrote several books I dearly loved, which I read many years ago, most of them while in my 20s.   If those same books aren't so laser sharp in my memory now, a bit fuzzier after 15 or 20 years, I still would consider myself a fan.  Grass is still a book I think is perfectly written; The Family Tree still has the best plot twist ever.

Here is something profound she said, taken from this obituary.

“What do I have to say to the universe? A soul ought to have something to say to the universe if it’s going to be immortal. But the world has something to say to the universe, all of these systems have things to say to the universe, and we’re part of that. You go in the ground, and the grass grows over your bones, and that’s good too! I take a lot more comfort out of that than I would out of some notion of the feathery form rising up, strumming a harp. Harp music can get dreadfully dull!”

Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary by Pamela Dean (1998)

I love Pamela Dean.

I remember really liking this book when I first read it in 1998 or so.

Not so much this time.  I guess some books don't need to re-read.  At least at this point in my life.  Maybe someday I will return to it.

Russka: The Novel of Russia by Edward Rutherfurd (1991)

I checked out a streaming audio version of this from a local library (I have four cards, and I don't know which library I used).  The reader is Wanda McCaddon, who also reads under the name Nadia May (and also under Donada Peters - I wonder why all the names?).

I knew when I started listening that finishing the entire thing would be tough - the damn thing is 40 hours long (it's 760 pages long).  I also knew that my book club was reading Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials series, and I wanted to listen to that rather than read it for the club (I'd read them all before but not listened).  But The Golden Compass was checked out, so I moved on to Russka.

I didn't make it through.

I love Nadia May / Wanda McCaddon but I'm so tired of Russka. The characters are confusing, and the narrative thread is weak.  I don't feel that Rutherfurd crafts his characters as well as he has in other books.  They seem more like props and less like real people.  Rutherfurd is Michener-esque, but in this book, unlike Michener, or even Rutherfurd's other books, there is a real lack of continuity in Russka.  It just doesn't flow between generations.  Granted, there is a lot of time to cover, but that is probably part of the problem.  Still, I'm sure this continues to sell regardless of its problems, because people are still taking cruises and trips to Russia, and need something light and fiction to read before their trip.

I'm giving up.

Dreams Offer Solace by Tara Wohlberg (2011)


Dreams offer solace, as the stars shimmer in the night.
Dreams offer fantasy, as reality disappears.
Dreams offer courage, determination, strength, and power.
Dreams offer comfort, as protection from all who try to harm.
Dreams offer hope and freedom, as the spirit transcends our world.
Dreams offer refuge, safely warm in the night’s embrace.
Dreams become my benediction, gently sifting time away.
You are my solace, standing tall in the fiercest storm.
You are my silence, golden, my heart open wide.
You are my solace, are my solace, my courage freedom, benediction, refuse, fantasy
You are my solace, fantasy, comfort, courage.  You are my solace, silence.

I attended a choral concert on Sunday, and the Saddleback Chamber Singers under the direction of my husband Scott Farthing.  It was a lovely, moving, beautifully sung concert with the theme of "Freedom."  You can hear someone else singing it here.  

I've been writing poetry lately, for the first time in at least twenty years, almost a poem a day, and I've been paying more and more attention to poetry and lyrics because of that.    The above poem, by Tara Wohlberg  really struck and resonated with me.  I don't consider myself a "dreamer" of any sort, although if I dig deep enough, I probably have dreamed and am dreaming and will dream again.  I just do not bring my dreams to the surface, but let them bubble underneath, like an undersea volcano.

This is something I've always been sort of ashamed about.

I long to be more of a dreamer, like that old idea that is misattributed to Robert Kennedy, the one that is in everyone's high school graduation speech:  "There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?"

I want to be that kind of person.  

This  makes it sound like hearing Wohlberg's poem set to music by Stephen Chatman put me off in some way, when it did exactly the opposite.  Even if I'm not a dreamer, someone out there is, dreaming  solace, fantasy, courage into being.  And god bless them.  

Friday, October 21, 2016

"When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer" by Walt Whitman (1863)


Before blogging, I kept poems and scraps of passages and quotes written or pasted in various notebooks.  I like to go back through those notebooks every so often, to see what I can see.  Some time in the last 25 years, I thought this Walt Whitman poem was important enough to save.

I've always been like this, this feeling that magic and spirituality need to exist above and beyond science.  Wordsworth's "The World Is Too Much With Us" has this same sort of feeling, and that's one of my favorite poems (I've been quoting that and thinking of it often as of late, what wit the world being what it is).

Looking up in perfect silence at the stars is a fine activity.  Although to be honest, listening to someone quite intelligent speak well on a subject of interesting, including the stars, is just as interesting to me.  So I am only Whitman-esque up to a point.

The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman (1996)

The problem with listening to a book rather than reading it is that marking interesting passages is difficult.   Compound that with the fact almost all of my audio listening is done via an Overdrive app on my phone, and I check everything out from one of four local libraries.  There is a bookmark function on this app, which I use frequently, although that does require going back and re-listening to bits and pieces, not so easy to do.  Added to this mix:  checked out items from the library via the Overdrive app are have a shelf life; when they are due, there is no overdue - they are just returned.  And with that return, all the bookmarked passages.

That just happened to me with The Subtle Knife.

And I can't renew it.  All four copies from four libraries are checked out.

I know I marked at least one great passage that distilled the some kind of wonderful that is The Subtle Knife into one pithy, interesting blog post.  Alas and alack, it's gone, and I'm stuck ransacking my own wee little brain to find something interesting and new to say about this fascinating book.

When I first read The Subtle Knife, I know at the time I wasn't as moved by it as I had been by The Golden Compass.  I don't remember when I read them, or if I read them as they were being published.  I doubt it, actually; based on the publishing date, this was prior to me working in a library.  I probably was already working in a library when I read them, and I probably read one and then the other in a row.  The Golden Compass was such a WOW of a book and so unique that I can see not being quite as enamored by The Subtle Knife.  Some of TSK is a re-hash of TGC.  Plus, no Iorek Byrnison.

Listening to TSK though, I realize what a terrific, strong book this is.  Just as well written as TGC, full of interesting ideas and concepts, strong, strong characters and a fascinating plot.  Now if I only had those bookmarked passages to back that up.

I don't remember thinking much of Will the first time I read the book, being infatuated with Lyra (and her other world) but hearing him speak aloud completely changed my mind. I thought reading TGC that Lyra was a believably written character; Will is just as strong, likable and believable as Lyra.

Mrs. Coulter remains on the most evil characters in all of literature .  She's so fun!

I know Pullman went on to write a couple of one offs from this series; it seems like to go to all of this world building for three novels and some novellas is - I don't know - such a waste. I really am not a fan of sequels or massive trilogies that go on and on for ever; but Pullman created such a deep, rich world here, and then skimmed only the surface, told us only one story.



The Subtle KnifeThe Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Pullman has created such a deep, rich, almost baroque world (or set of worlds, rather). Will is another feisty, difficult character, a perfect counter (and sometimes foil) for clever, stubborn, tenacious Lyra. Both are written with so much care and skill (you can really tell Pullman loves his two main characters, as if they are his own children, the thought that went into their creation; three if you count Pan). His plot is not just a carryover from The Golden Compass, but a resonant story in its own right (although you will need to read the first book, although why you haven't already is a mystery to me, it's slightly better, if only because everything in it is so new and unique). Pullman writes cerebral, thought-provoking fantasy, and you have to stop and pinch yourself occasionally as a reminder that this was a series written for children. The audio version is a true delight; Pullman is narrator, and the full cast is amazing. If the book is a treat in itself, the audio is the icing on the cake.


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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Tam Lin by Pamela Dean (1991)

Tam Lin has been in the back of my mind, like a half-remembered dream, for about twenty years.  I know I've read it at least one other time, either back in college or just out of college; as it was published in 1991, I probably read it somewhere in the early to mid-90s.  Perhaps while I was still in college, but very likely just out of college, that first awful year or so, when your life as an undergraduate ends and your life as an adult hasn't quite started.  I imagine reading Tam Lin that first time was an experience in nostalgia and jealousy and longing for missed opportunities, and the pining in my heart I had to for my lost friends, spread throughout the country, and their changing and growing up and my changing and growing up.    During the last five years of college, I had just gone through the most amazing and transformative time of my life up to that point, perhaps outside of puberty.  I made a giant group of friends, amorphous friendships that shifted and changed depending on where I was on the journey and where they were on the journey.  But also I made a few friends that I know, to this day, I could call on the phone in the middle of the night and they would be there for me, what Janet, Tina and Molly called "the pink curtain" moment.    I came out of the closet as gay during this time too; had sex for the first time with a boy, a cute theater boy who went to a college four hours away (we broke up but I still think of him very fondly).  I dragged my girl friends to gay bars two hours away from our small liberal arts school, a school that shared some similarities with Dean's Blackstock.  I had various  crushes on boys I thought were gay, one of whom I saw in a gay bar later that year but he never liked me back in the same way.  


Then the mountain you climb that is college, that is educational, and sociological, cultural, and sexual - suddenly your climb is over and you are back at the bottom again, only of some other mountain this time.  Your life goes from being really quite interesting to dull, and the friends you saw on an hourly basis are gone.  You are alone for the first time in your life, and it sucks.  I most likely read Tam Lin when I was at the bottom of that new mountain.

Tam Lin is not about the bottom of the new mountain.  It's about that other mountain.  But reading it again made me think of both times; the time of college, and that time of longing.  And another time, the time of now, when you still long for those college days. Now I know I would hate college as a 47 year old.  I hate being told what to do; I'm even more anti-authoritarian than I was in college. I only want to learn and read what I want to learn and read - that hasn't really changed much from college either.  But to go back to college at Blackstock, now what a college!  It's not a real place, it's obviously no one speaks and acts in such creative and elegant and imaginative and intellectual ways.  No one goes around quoting Shakespeare and Alice, and quite frankly, if they did I'd probably think them pretentious as hell and avoid them.  But everyone wants to visit fairyland - Narnia, or Middle Earth, or Neverland.  It's why Disneyland is full of adults; trying to capture the magic of childhood - and often succeeding!  Blackstock is a different kind of fairyland.  I think I was a smart and creative kid, more well read than any kid I went to high school with for sure, and probably more than anyone I know in person (some Goodreads folks give me a run for my money).  As amazing as my college experience was, looking back, I missed out on a lot.  I wasn't a joiner; I knew people but only formed a few close friendships. Reading about Blackstock is the same as wanting to go to Narnia.  Just for a bit.  Take a few classes.  Be a part of something like that again.  Only even more so, more wonderfully perfect.  

If you Google Pamela Dean and Tam Lin, you will find a few articles (Jo Walton, for one; who can write about books better than her, I do not know) that do a far better job than I of describing in an intellectual way how Dean is using Blackstock as a magical garden or fairyland facsimile; that simple going away to college, 18 and 19 an 20 and 21 year olds are, like Thomas the Rhymer, in a fairyland for a period of a time, a magical world of words and thoughts and ideas that doesn't exist anywhere else.  Like firefly hunting, Dean catches all of that and more in her marvelous book, and then puts these ideas in the jar and lets the blink on and off all night, enchanting the reader.  The agony and the ecstasy of college life, the kind of college at least writers and lovers of literature want to attend and get lost in for seven years.  Lovers of the humanities, and those of us who attended a small midwestern liberal arts school, probably dig this book far more than big city big uni purveyors  of that bane of our modern society S.T.E.M.  There is Shakespeare dropped like bombs throughout - but for me, ice cream bombs (is there such a thing?  I may need to change this metaphor), sweet and intriguing (they are also important, for reasons that become clear later on).  The Alice quotations I was much more tuned to though.
I think Jo Walton wrote that this book wasn't for everyone, and it's most definitely a LOVE it or HATE it book.  Walton says you should read it multiple times, as you start to realize how what appears to be a big unexpected reveal at the end is actually hinted at throughout; and that everything falls in place more and more as you read it again and again.  I love books like this.
Who on earth would I share this book with?  I don't think I have a single friend who would appreciate it.


Funny aside: Because of the time period,  the characters in the book looked like Scooby Doo characters in my head - Molly is Velma, Nick is Shaggy, Tina is Daphne, and Thomas Lane is Fred.  Janet stands alone though, as does Medeous.  Melinda Wolfe looks like a librarian named Melinda with whom I used to work.



Tam LinTam Lin by Pamela Dean
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Tam Lin really isn't for everyone. It's very, very dense, with many, many quotes from Shakespeare. As well as quotes from Alice in Wonderland, and other books, very varied. Until the last chapter - I think even the last few pages, this doesn't even feel like a fantasy at all. Although then you go all Homer Simpson and say DOH, because everything makes sense, or at least as much sense as a Pamela Dean book is going to ever make; Jo Walton writes that you should read this at least twice and I agree. If you like fantasy with half naked blonde dragon ladies and incestuous siblings - this really isn't for you. If you like your fantasy Harry Pottered up, with wizards and magical spells, you aren't going to get that either; except the setting and some of the flavor is like Harry Potter turned inside out and then dipped in Hamlet. Speaking of the setting; I loved it. The college Blackstock is like the perfect college for people who love books and literature and also being around other people who love books and literature; it's a fairy land all itself. If you have been out of college for an extended period of time, you might enjoy this just as a trip down both memory lane and a sad wistfulness for the college that might have been.


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Dead Wake by Erik Larson (2015)

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the LusitaniaDead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson


I didn't finish this book. I had been vaguely enjoying it, in the kind of way you do when you don't have anything else gripping or interesting to read. But I had to fly in an airplane in the middle of reading the book; I am not a fan of flying, and having consumed too much Titanic literature as a teen and twentysomething, I am always on the look out for my own personal disaster story in the making. I've been on two cruise ships iceberg free so far in my life, but hey -- you never know. I thought reading about a disaster while flying would actually court disaster. I gave the book up, and now I just don't want to return to it. And - this is Titanic lite. That's all the Lusitania is, isn't it - a shipwreck that won't ever be as romantic or interesting as the Titanic.


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The German Empire: A Short History by Michael Sturmer (2002)

I've read a few of these Modern Library chronicles, and I can't say I don't like them - but (I imagine because of the length) there just isn't any personality to them.  Bismarck, rightly so, gets his own chapter, but the Kaiser is pretty much relegated to the background.  Sturmer does bathe the origins of Weimar in an idealistic light; he gives you a good idea of what the Germans of the time were both trying to achieve, and what they were up against (France, et al).  I thought this was the best chapter in the book; otherwise, although not a slog, not particularly remarkable either.  I suppose these short histories are simply to give you a taste and encourage you read even more; but thats's short shrift.  Excellent history is often quite short (read: some of the Schlessinger American Presidents series). This fell short of excellent by quite a ways.


The German Empire: A Short HistoryThe German Empire: A Short History by Michael Stürmer
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Some kind of wunderbar this ain't. And while I didn't hate this enough to put it down in disgust, I also came away underwhelmed. The best chapter is about the founding and almost immediate foundering of the Weimar Republic, which Sturmer bathes in an idealistic and quite interesting light. Bismarck is (of course) a main character; Hitler makes his expected cameo appearance at the end. But the personality was in short shrift - the Kaiser (a fascinating figure) gets barely any mention relatively speaking. I suppose the very nature of this type of book, named right from the beginning as "short history" means that many, many things of interest and importance, both major and minor, must needs be left out. But even short histories can be fascinating little studies (see Ronald Reagan). This fell short of fascinating by several notches.


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Thursday, October 6, 2016

"Porphyria's Lover" by Robert Browning (1836, 1842)


I've been writing poetry again.  I was encouraged to do so by my husband (with who I know I am blessed, and bless him).  This comes on the heels of a spate of poetry reading over the last few months, after a dearth of poetry for many years. I had decided I hated poetry.  What on earth was I thinking though?  Poetry is wonderful.  I'm so literarily fickle.

 Reading Browning is like trying to see the bottom of a very clear, beautiful pool of water after someone - probably you, but let's blame Browning - has thrown a stone into it right in front of you.  You see beautiful ripples, but you can't see the bottom again until it clears up.  Not all Browning works that way.  Some seem pretty straightforward - "OH, to be in England / Now that April’s there" seems to be exactly what it is, beautiful and famous paean to England from a man who no longer calls her his home.  Perhaps.  Or perhaps not.  With Browning, you never know.

All Browning  poems must be read at least twice.  Sometimes more than that.    And slowly. With minimal interruption.  The first time never, ever makes sense.  Sometimes you have to Google stuff.  I'm not sure how people read poetry in the Victorian times without Google.  They were either smarter (probably) or skimmed over the stuff they didn't understand (probably; I do this too).  

These factors of uninterrupted-ness make Browning difficult for modern life.  I also doubt he would have fit in well with society today.

Some Browning I do not like. "Rudel to the Lady of Tripoli" for example; I still have no idea what this was even about.  Or "Nationality in Drinks" (bleah).    A few of them, I struggled with and finally gave up. "Pictor Ignotus" comes to mind.   "Sordello" which was the first in my book, I just plain skipped right off the bat.

But quite a few, at least so far (I have hundreds of poems to go, I think, in this monster edition).    "Porphyria's Lover" for example. I loved this, because it is some CRAZY SHIT.  Why didn't we read THIS in college instead of "My Last Duchess"?  I love the mind that came up with this horror story masquerading as a poem.  Here it is at the Poetry Foundation.  And here is Tom O'Bedlam reading it on YouTube.  I don't know who Tom O'Bedlam even is, but he has hundreds of poems he reads aloud in this rich English accent on YouTube, and I love each and every one of them.



Maybe there is some real story of Porphyria; I did some research on some of the other persons in Browning's dramatic monologues (google:  "who was the duchess in my last duchess" or "who is  Sibrandus Schafnaburgensis" - a cute poem, incidentally, if anything Browning writes can be called cute) buy not about Porphyria.  I let the poem fester and ferment in my brain, because I liked the story I made up about it better than anything scholars could have come up with.  If I'm wrong, so be it.  But I like my interpretation.

So Porphyria is an aristocratic lady with a much richer, older husband.  She's in a passionless marriage.  Maybe she married him for his money; but I think it's far more likely that he married her for her money, a Consuelo Vanderbilt kind of character if you will.  And she has this long time lover, but she hasn't fully given her heart to him, because of her pride (he says as much) - he's poorer than her (he lives in a cottage, after all).  And then in a sudden flash of love and intuition, he realizes that she does love him after all, and to preserve that moment he - SPOILER ALERT, TRIGGER ALERT, and BAT SHIT CRAZY ALERT - strangles her to death with HER OWN GOD DAMNED HAIR.  Is this even possible?  Who the hell knows.  But it's deliciously gothic, and I ate it up with a spoon.  They then sit, with her dead head on his shoulder, all night long, "and yet God has not said a word."  What does that EVEN MEAN?  There is that rock in the clear pool again.

The great Browning poems least so far (I haven't yet read them all) have a neat twist like this the strangulation above.   He liked his gothic horror, "Oh to be in England" aside.

"My Last Duchess" (which I read and enjoyed in college) and "The Laboratory" both have this same feel; the latter is not quite as creepy as "Porphyria's Lover" but still crazy creepy. It's all a guy preparing poison to kill his wife or former lover and her current lover.




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