Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Duchess of Milan - A novel of the renaissance by Michael Ennis

You know what it is like when you find such a good book that you never want it to end. When it does, it is like parting with a good friend. This is such a book. As you saw from my last blog I am into history (again) for the time being. Therefore I grabbed this book from my TBR shelves. And it sure was a good choice?

I love books set in a historic perspective and especially when following history as well as this one. It's almost like reading a biography about a historic person. To sideline a bit I would just like to mention a couple of my favourite historic biographies:  'Potemkin' by Simon Sebag Montefiore (absolutely excellent). Luckily I have two other of his books on my TBR shelves ('Stalin' and 'Jerusalem') so something to look forward to. Another favourite writer of biographies is Mary S Lovell ('A Scandalous Life' (Lady Jane Digby), 'A Rage to Live' (Sir Richard Burton the explorer, absolutely fantastic) and 'The Mitford Girls'. There are still books from her to explore.

Back to this wonderful book which is from 1992 and I bought it on a sale years ago. Michael Ennis says in the foreword that this is as work of fiction but very true to historical facts. The persons he writes about have all lived and the events that take place are all real events. He has recreated their world as exact as possible with the help of letters, paintings, archive material and research in the actual places. The rest is in the imagination of the writer and is imagination is very good.

He argues that the last decade of the 15th century is a time when a lot of things happened in the world (Columbus discovery and other seafarers and travellers) but for most people the amazing place was renaissance Italy where trade and culture were blooming and it was an era that also saw geniuses like Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci.

Duke of Bari - Il Moro
The main characters are Beatrice d'Este and Isabella of Aragonia. They are cousins and married to the duke of Bari  and duke of Milan. The duke of Milan is not interested or capable of governing Milan so the duke of Bari is the regent. The book covers the period from 1490-1498 which indeed was turbulent times in Italy with the powerful city states of Milan, Venice, Florence, Rom and Naples among others. The problem was that they were all independent and too small to be able to defend themselves from an external threat. This threat existed in the French king who wanted to conquer the kingdom of Naples. To come there he had to pass almost all of Italy.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Summertime - Sweden time and this year historic time

Summertime is the time I go to Sweden. This year I was very lucky with the weather; sunshine but not too hot. I spent the time in Karlskrona which is situated in the south east corner of Sweden by the sea. It is built on islands so wherever you go you see the water. It is possible to walk around the whole city on the water front. Karlskrona was founded in 1680 by Carl XI who needed an ice free harbour for his war ships. The province of Blekinge where Karlskrona is situated was perfect. This area as well as Skåne and Halland was given back to Sweden from Denmark in the peace of Roskilde in 1658. However, the Danes were still trying to take it back so a harbour in this area seemed perfect.

This year I decided to go historic in my reading (as you see from the reading list) and discover more about this city where I lived between 1968 and 1980.

 The city has many houses still from the 18th and 19th century. Unfortunately there was a big fire in 1790 which destroyed most of the houses in the city centre. However, wherever you turn you still see something historic. Since it was founded as a military city it has been more or less ruled (for good and for worse) by the military until the end of the last century. During the last years Karlskrona has gone from a closed military city to a prosperous IT centre with an influx of new people as well as using its historical context in the tourist promotion.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Tess of the d'Ubervilles by Thomas Hardy

Tess, Tess, Tess...! What can I say. What a miserable story this is. I recently read the wonderful 'The Mayor of Casterbridge' and earlier I re-read 'Far from the Madding Crowd'. I loved the two books and started with Tess with a very positive mind. What a gruesome story! Misery, misery, misery. Here we have poor Tess who is the daughter of a poor farmer. Their name is Durbeyfield and someone put in the head of the father that they are descendants from the noble family of d'Urberville. Since there is a family with such a name nearby the mother arrange for Tess to go there to work for the widow of the d'Uberville. It turns out that the son  Alec arranged everything and did not tell his mother of the possible relationship. So Tess come to work for the mother and all is well until Alec one evening takes advantage of Tess. She immediately quits her job and goes back to her family. It is soon discovered that she is pregnant and she gives birth to a son who soon dies. She does not inform Alec of the events.

After the death of her son she seeks another job as a dairy maid. Here she has a comparatively wonderful time and she meets the love of her life, the righteous Angel Clare. He is a character too good to be true and of course she falls in love. He wants to marry her and she refuses since she thinks she is not good enough for him considering her past (as if that was that unusual in those days). However, he is the son of a priest and to her he is above everything. In the end she agrees to marry him. She wants to tell him her story before the wedding but he reveals that he has also something to tell her and that they should wait until the wedding. Her wise mother tells her not to tell anything at all and she should have followed this advice.

Once back from church they have rented a house to spend their honeymoon in. They start with the revelations although it would have been good if they had consummated the marriage before! Angel tells her of a woman he met in London and that he was intimate with. She is very happy because she thinks than that he will understand her mistake. However, when she tells of her same mistake as his he has no understanding what so ever! Just figures...!