Saturday, February 21, 2009

I Believe I've Seen Hell and It's White, It's Snow White


At least we know whom I'm rooting for tomorrow!

The vacuity of this journal astounds me sometimes. I've just spent hours reading a blog (in French so I won't link it here) which is so complete, the articles are huge. The blogger goes at the bottom of things. She's obsessed (and I mean obsessed, when you post a video of yourself taking earth from the grave of a dead author to put in a bag and give to nearest and dearest when back home, you are clearly obsessed) with James Matthew Barrie, Peter Pan's father. She takes trips to Scotland to visit anything related to him, posts videos of her trips with extremely detailed accounts of each piece of paper or plaque she found there, posts pictures of rare letters she was offered, others she collected, writes pages and pages of reviews of movies and books in a poetic style, buys tons of books, etc. I wish I could do more than just report what everybody else is reporting. At the same time, I don't have an obsession like she does (I would love to, although it does sound insane at times), and I didn't create this journal to share anything rare or substantial. I created it so I would know, a few months from now, what was in my life at any given time. What inspired me, what made me feel alive.
I don't feel good. I have papers to write and little time for myself. These days, I wake up, have breakfast, do research for various papers, have lunch, do research for various papers, have a snack, do research for various papers, have dinner, do research for various papers and go to bed. I feel life's being drained out of me.

I haven't read or seen anything good in a while. I finished Consuming Passions by Judith Flanders, a history book that focuses on the development of leisure in victorian Britain. It sounds better than it is, really. It felt like the draft of a book more than a published one : it's fact, after fact, after fact, with lots of numbers and no explanation that stuck. I was very disappointed, especially since the author has written some other books I wanted to check out, most notably one about the victorian home. Now I'm not sure her other works are worth buying.
I also read The Blue Sword, a fantasy book written by Robin McKinley which won numerous awards and is highly praised in the fantasy fandom. Unfortunately, I didn't think it was earth-shattering. I understand why some people would consider it a comfort read but it had trouble keeping my attention. Little happens. The only positive aspect of this reading was that it made me think about the "chosen one" leitmotiv in fantasy books. It's almost a cliché, really. I kept thinking about it when it occurred to me that every book ever written seems to focus on somebody special. The very fact that this character was chosen, out of thousands, to be focused on, is also a leitmotiv, really. A Room With a View is the story of Lucy Honeychurch who is transformed, changed and eventually finds a passion in herself, a fire, she never knew existed. She is special. Nan in Tipping the Velvet, leads a very singular life, meets plenty of different people who change her for the best. She is special. I could go on and on. It's not just in fantasy.

My only source of happiness these past few days was the rediscovery of the 2005 miniseries North and South. I remember my exact feelings when I finished watching the 4 episodes for the first time three years ago. I envy every person (I don't know if there's any left) who has yet to discover this magnificent production. It's an adaptation from a book by Elizabeth Gaskell. In 1851, Margaret Hale (played absolutely brilliantly by Daniela Denby-Ashe, who doesn't get enough praise), whose father has decided to leave his church and go teach in the North of England, finds herself thrown into busy Milton, where cotton mills flourish and where everything is so different from her native South. That's where she meets John Thornton (played by Richard Armitage, who's got a cult following similar to the one Colin Firth has since the 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice), a master in a mill. At first, they don't understand each other. Margaret is clearly, despite her upper-middle class upbringing, on the side of the workers whom she befriends, and can't justify Thornton's apparent harshness towards them.
I think everybody who's ever seen this miniseries agrees that it is one of the best. The script is flawless, the social commentary wonderful, the actors spectacular and the score composed by Martin Phipps (which has never been released on CD, what is wrong with the BBC?) gorgeous. I never saw a train station the same way again after watching this. It's a comfort miniseries for me. I read the novel not long after being blown away by the adaptation and I couldn't experience the same emotions: it's very very religious, something the adaptation toned down and even rebelled against. Margaret Hale is a strong heroine in the adaptation, way stronger than in the book. I suggest seeing the adaptation first - and I almost never do that.
It's been often compared to Pride and Prejudice. I can't see how that could be. One is a book, the other a miniseries, first of all. North and South is not a comedy of manners and does not mock sentimental clichés, it's got a social conscience and shows an evolving working class during a turning point for the whole of Britain. Both works deal with prejudice, of course, in more ways than one, and there's love in both, but that's about it for the similarities.
You can find a very good, detailed review here. An excellent website entirely dedicated to the miniseries (yes, it is popular and justly so) can be found here. It's got clips and goodies. I don't think any miniseries ever got quite a similar following and legion of fans. C19, of which I am a member, is a forum created after the BBC board for North and South crashed because of too many connections. Today, it's got 6,500 members.

I've got so much great music to share. Let's begin with Rachel Portman's score for The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2. It's always summer somewhere.