Category Archives: Old & Beautiful

On Beauty

These days, welcoming the Spring and celebrating Women’s Day, we are looking through the shelves of the library reflecting on the subject of beauty. “Beauty is but skindeep”, “beauty will save the world”, “apperances are deceptive”, “beauty is in the eyes of the beholder”… Are there any books to help us?

Homer, “Iliad” 6c28dfcb4d790bb4a29f2ea627008cdb

Of course! The most famous legend about how a war started. Beauty! Is it the root of the evil? The Trojan war originated from a quarrel between the goddesses Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite, after Eris, the goddess of strife and discord, gave them a golden apple, sometimes known as the Apple of Discord, marked “for the fairest”. Set during the Trojan War, the ten-year siege of the city of Troy (Ilium) by a coalition of Greek states, “The Iliad” tells of the battles and events during the weeks of a quarrel between King Agamemnon and the warrior Achilles.

Oscar Wilde, “The Picture Of Dorian Gray”2325167

The question of selling your soul for the eternal beauty. But who are you inside, are you still a human being? What’s the good looks worth? In this celebrated work, his only novel, Wilde forged a devastating portrait of the effects of evil and debauchery on a young aesthete in late-19th-century England. For over a century, this mesmerizing tale of horror and suspense has enjoyed wide popularity. It ranks as one of Wilde’s most important creations and among the classic achievements of its kind.

OnBeautybookcover.jpgZadie Smith, “On Beauty”

A 2005 novel by British author Zadie Smith takes its title from an essay by Elaine Scarry (On Beauty and Being Just). The story follows the lives of a mixed-race British/American family living in the United States. On Beauty addresses ethnic and cultural differences, the nature of beauty, and the clash between liberal and conservative academic values. Not only does Zadie Smith’s work focus on physical beauty but it also looks at the concept of beauty itself and its value. Throughout the work many of the characters look at beauty in different ways or some, like Monty and Howard, fail to look at the beauty in anything,  even in the materials that they teach in their art history classes.

“In Search Of Paradise: Great Gardens Of The World” 61Y+0VaaqyL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

For many of us, beauty is associated with nature, something, that was not created by humans, something that existed forever and is still a mystery for us. This book is a survey of the great gardens of the world, presented through photographic images and the descriptions of the garden designer and writer Penelope Hobhouse. Here you will find the oases of the Middle East, the gardens of Chinese scholars, Japanese sages and Renaissance humanists, French baroque gardens, the English landscape garden of Capability Brown and his followers.

William Shakespeare, Sonnets

9780099518860-us.jpgO how much more doth beauty beauteous seem,
By that sweet ornament which truth doth give!
The rose looks fair, but fairer we it deem
For that sweet odour which doth in it live.
The canker-blooms have full as deep a dye
As the perfumed tincture of the roses,
Hang on such thorns and play as wantonly
When summer’s breath their masked buds discloses:
But, for their virtue only is their show,
They live unwoo’d and unrespected fade,
Die to themselves. Sweet roses do not so;
Of their sweet deaths are sweetest odours made:
And so of you, beauteous and lovely youth,
When that shall fade, my verse distills your truth.

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5 books, cocoa & marshmellows

Winter is coming to Saint-Petersburg and we are thinking where to hide from it. Books and hot drinks are always a wonderful idea. So, pick…

  1. Cathy Kelly, “Christmas Magic” (short stories) – for warm story-telling, stories about relationships and marriage, depression and loss, but always with an uplifting message and strong female characters at the heart.
  2. Douglas Adams, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy” – for the journey with no limits, universal wisdom and ingenious humour and wit.
  3. John Green, Maureen Johnson, Lauren Myracle, “Let It Snow” (short stories) – for sparkling white snowdrifts, beautiful presents wrapped in ribbons, and multicolored lights glittering in the night through the falling snow and the way back to true love that begins at Starbucks.
  4. J.R.R.Tolkien, “The Hobbit” – for the journey there and back again, dwarves, adventures, courage and cakes of course.
  5. “The Adventures Of Robin Hood” – for the spirit of good old England and inspiration for great deeds!

“Perfect Wives In Ideal Homes”: British women in the 1950s

images“Perfect Wives in Ideal Homes: The Story of Women in the 1950s” by Virginia Nicholson, Viking, 2015

Virginia Nicholson tells the story of women in the 1950s: a time, when divorce spelled scandal, two-piece swimsuits caused mass alarm and the only thing women were expected to do after finishing school, was to get married.

The book reconstructs the real 1950s, through the eyes of the women who lived it. Step back in time to where a shining doorstep was one of the signs of a good housewife leaving in this house, where young smart women just couldn’t imagine they actually had the possibility to enter a college or university and where having a TV set at home was yet a  luxury.

Perfectly structured book with lots of examples of first-person experience and from literature and popular culture.

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Leila Williams, one of the many heroines of the book,  won the 1957 Miss Great Britain title.

Eric Morley, the founder of Miss Great Britain contest, stated very definite parameters for the ideal British beauty:

“…would have to be at least five feet five inches tall (ideally 5 feet 7 1/5 inches), weigh between eight stone ten pounds and nine stone six…”.

But for Leila this was a way of escaping from the environment she didn’t like, working at the pub in Birmingham.

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Donkey stone was a type of scouring block, used mostly in the mill towns of the North of England to clean stone steps. The ‘donkey brand’ was originally the trade mark of a Manchester company called Edward Read & Son, who were one of several makers of the stones. Other companies used other animal designs or simple lettering, but the name ‘donkey stone’ stuck. Donkey stones were first used in textile mills to clean greasy steps, and give them a non-slip finish. However the stones also became popular with housewives who would use them to give doorsteps a decorative finish. Quite often the stones would be given out in exchange for old clothes or scrap metal, by rag totters, or rag and bone men as they were sometimes called.

Learn about other interesting 1950s realities and remarkable women in this captivating book.

Available for borrowing at the British Book Centre.

Also in the library: “Best Of British” vintage magazine about Britain’s past and culture.

Charlotte Brontё 200

With two notable works, the third of six children, Charlotte (21 April 1816 – 31 March 1855), is widely known for just one of them – “Jane Eyre”. This became one of the first books with strong female character. The book which tells a story of an independent woman with high moral standards. A woman who is ready to sacrifice her happiness, but to stay “pure”. But this is the story of two loving people who finally find each other. There’s another book – “Villette” (1853) – that tells another story, the story of unrequited love.

Portrait of Charlotte BronteBased on the author’s experiences as a governess in Brussles, the novel tells the story of lonely Lucy Snowe, who finds employment at a girls’ boarding school in the town of Villette. she encounters a culture and religion different from her own, and falls in love with a man (Paul Emanuel) whom she cannot marry.

“Villette, Brontë’s last and – to my mind – greatest novel, is less popular, perhaps because it is so uncompromising and so original. It is high time it was recognised as the blazing work it is. Reading it you enter an area of experience – of passion and disappointment and the violent return of the repressed – that has seldom been so lucidly articulated.

It is also an astonishing piece of writing, a book in which phantasmagorical set pieces alternate with passages of minute psychological exploration, and in which Brontë’s marvellously flexible prose veers between sardonic wit and stream-of-consciousness, in which the syntax bends and flows and threatens to dissolve completely in the heat of madness, drug-induced hallucination and desperate desire” (Lucy Hughes-Hallett, The Telegraph).

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Pensionnat Heger in Brussels, where Charlotte Bronte fell in love with the master, Constantin Heger.

  “No mockery in this world ever sounds to me so hollow as that of being told to cultivate happiness. What does such advice mean? Happiness is not a potato, to be planted in mould, and tilled with manure. Happiness is a glory shining far down upon us out of Heaven. She is a divine dew which the soul, on certain of its summer mornings, feels dropping upon it from the amaranth bloom and golden fruitage of Paradise.”

― Charlotte Brontë, Villette

Spirit Of Spring – “The Secret Garden”

Spring has finally come to St. Petersburg and there are wonderful smells in the air! It’s fresh and promising, the air of Spring. The end of March is the time when we feel the nature waking up and we, city citizens, feel the urge to be a bit closer to it. Here’s a wonderful good old classics for all ages, that helps to create the necessary atmosphere.

“The Secret Garden” by Frances

Hodgson Burnett

 

Frances Hodgson Burnett (1849 – 1924) was born in Cheetham, England. After her father died in 1852, the family immigrated to the United States, settling near Knoxville, Tennessee. There Frances began writing to help earn money for the family.

In 1872 she married Swan Burnett. The Burnetts lived for two years in Paris, where their two sons were born, before returning to the United States to live in Washington, D.C.

Burnett enjoyed socializing and traveling. Beginning in the 1880s, she began to travel to England frequently and in the 1890s bought a home there where she wrote “The Secret Garden”.

This lady didn’t have an easy life: the death of her elder son from tuberculosis, frequent depressions, two divorces. But this strong woman with wonderful fantasy and writing gift has left us her books to read and enjoy.

At the end of her life she settled in Nassau County, Long Island, where she died in 1924 and is buried in Roslyn Cemetery. In 1936 a memorial sculpture by Bessie Potter Vonnoh was erected in her honour in Central Park’s Conservatory Garden. The statue depicts her two famous “Secret Garden” characters, Mary and Dickon.

secretgarden

Mary Lennox is a troubled, sickly, and unloved 10-year-old girl born in India to selfish, wealthy British parents. She is primarily cared for by servants, who pacify her as much as possible to keep her out of her parents’ way. She grows into a spoiled and selfish girl. Eventually, there is a cholera epidemic in India which kills Mary’s parents and all the servants. Mary is discovered alive but alone in the empty house. She briefly lives with an English clergyman and his family and is then sent to Yorkshire to live with her uncle she has never met, at his home called Misselthwaite Manor…

“Is the spring coming?” he said. “What is it like?”…
“It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine…”

Also in the library:

Susan Hill, “Through the Garden Gate”; Penelope Hobhouse, “In Search Of Paradise: Great Gardens Of the World”; Terence Reeves-Smyth, “The Garden Lover’s Guide to Ireland”.

Based on Wikipedia articles.