BBC Historical Drama: Part 2

Part 2 – George Eliot

Lately, I've been reading a lot of historical fiction based in England. With images from those books/novels in mind, I started checking out different historical dramas, the best of which I've seen are from BBC. Step into the 1800s and get involved of the lives of Daniel Deronda, Dr. Tertius Lydgate, Adam Bede, Silas Marner and Maggie Tulliver. The following five programs are based off of works from George Eliot. George Eliot is in fact Mary Anne Evans, who wrote under a male pen name so that her work would be taken seriously.

Daniel Deronda is a film concerned with two strong-willed young people whose self-determination is under attack by legal constraints on their rights to an inheritance, the noble yet illegitimate Daniel and also the fiery vivacious Gwendolyn.

Middlemarch is the widely acclaimed mini-series featuring a talented and engaging cast. When an idealistic gentleman, Dr. Tertius Lydgate moves to Middlemarch with the expectation of running a charity hospital, he is surprised to find that not all of the town supports his modern medical practices.
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By all accounts, Adam Bede is a very headstrong man with a very black and white view of the world, like a fair percentage of men of that period. Once he learns that the beautiful farm girl Hetty is undeniably attached to his wealthy friend Arthur, he believes their relationship is based on falsehood and begins to plot to gain the Hetty’s affections for himself.

Silas Marner is perhaps Eliot’s best known work and is the story of a man who is wrongly accused of theft in a very religious community and is forced to move elsewhere. Marner (played beautifully by Ben Kingsley), closes himself off to society until he takes in a baby girl and starts to raise her as his own.

The Mill on the Floss tells the tale of Maggie Tulliver and her up-tight ambitious brother Tom and their cousin Lucy, who is more often than not, the peacemaker between the two. When she becomes older, Maggie’s interest in her neighbor Phillip Wakem is unwelcome according to her brother, who is enemies with a Phillip’s relative.

If you’ve missed part one of my BBC Historical Drama blog, you can find it here: Part 1.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #208

Winner of the 2008 Man Asian Literary Prize, Miguel Syjuco's impressive debut Ilustrado*** (see definition) is most worthy of the buzz.

The panel of judges proclaimed it "brilliantly conceived and stylishly executed, ...ceaselessly entertaining, frequently raunchy, and effervescent with humor".

It begins with a body. On a clear day in winter, the battered corpse of Crispin Salvador is pulled from the Hudson River. Gone is the controversial lion of Philippine literature as well as is the only manuscript of his final book, a work meant to rescue him from obscurity by exposing the crimes of the Filipino ruling families.

Miguel, his student and only friend, embarks on a literary archeological dig - through Crispin's poetry, interviews, novels, polemics, and memoirs. The result is a rich and dramatic family saga, tracing 150 years of history of The Philippines. To our great surprise, the story bring us full circle to young Miguel.

"Exuberant and wise, wildly funny and deeply moving, Ilustrado explores the hidden truths that haunt every family. It is a daring and inventive debut by a new writer of astonishing talent."

Born in 1976 in Makati, Miguel Syjuco lived in many cities of the world since his undergraduate days at Ateneo de Manila University. With a master’s at Columbia University, PhD at the University of Adelaide (Australia), he currently lives in Montreal. He had worked in many jobs, from editor of a dotcom, bartender, apartment painter to powerseller of ladies’ designer handbags on eBay until February 2009 when he focused full time on his writing.

Readalike: Homecoming* by Bernhard Schlink - another epistolary novel about history, identity, deception, and discovery.

*** = starred reviews

My New Favorite Podcast

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This isn't really about anything specifically related to AADL, but I've been so taken with a new podcast from the BBC: A History of the World in 100 Objects. Each episode is a 15 minute or so contemplation of an object from the British Museum in which they explore a particular moment of world history.

It is oh so British. If you love BBCish things, you'll probably like this series. But what's nice is that the very very British sounding narrator talks to a variety of people like Amartya Sen, Wangari Maathai, and even Michael Palin from Monty Python. The creators of the podcast seem to be striving for a truly global, humanistic approach to these objects... telling a story that includes everyone.

What's even nicer about the series is that its corresponding "explorer" website is quite nifty. The way that they have visualized the timeline of objects is engaging and thoughtful (I can't really describe it), and you can filter your search for the objects by the usual categories of time period and geographical region, but you can also search by color, size, material, and culture. It's a very creative way to think about these objects across time.

If you're already a fan of BBC or PBS style documentaries or know someone who loves history, take a look at this podcast.

BBC Historical Drama: Part 1

Part 1 – Anthony Trollope and Elizabeth Gaskell

Lately, I've been reading a lot of historical fiction based in England. With images from those books/novels in mind, I started checking out different historical dramas, the best of which I've seen are from BBC. Step into the 1800s and get involved of the lives of Louis and his wife, Emily Trevelyan, Augustus Melmotte and Margaret Hale.

He Knew He was Right is an adaptation of an Anthony Trollope novel that follows the breakdown of a marriage of a newly married young couple, due to the husband’s jealousy and insecurity.

The Way We Live Now is a Trollope narrative that centers on Augustus Melmotte, an Austrian Jewish financier and his attempts to become a proper English Gentleman, among various subplots and subterfuge.

The library also has a copy of Anthony Trollope’s The Barchester Chronicles. A lawsuit aimed at church reform forces a decent clergyman into a moral crisis. Alan Rickman co-stars in this seven episode series.

The miniseries Wives & Daughters boasts misguided stepmothers, romantic betrayals, and secret marriages to keep you entertained and is based off of written works by Elizabeth Gaskell.

Cranford, which was adapted from a Gaskell novel, stars two of Britain’s paramount actresses, Judi Dench, and Imelda Staunton. In this film, the women of Cranford deal with the changing events that come with “progression.”

Elizabeth Gaskell’s North & South is by far my favorite BBC Miniseries. It follows the life of Margaret Hale, a middle class woman who is forced to move to a working class city when her father leaves his post at the church for lack of religious conviction. Having grown up in the country and also living in high society London with her wealthier aunt and cousin, “the North” represents a new challenge for Margaret. Around them are class struggles between the workers and mill owners and ideological struggles between the industrial North and the agrarian South. In Milton, Margaret clashes with her father’s new friend Mr. Thornton, when she sees him treat one of his mill workers harshly. Romantic entanglement follows.

Treasures of MLibrary

Three extremely cool reasons to visit the Treasures of the Library Exhibit in the Audubon Room of U-M Harlan Hatcher Library: a 2250-year-old papyrus document from ancient Philadelphia, reporting the loss of a donkey; a 400-year-old manuscript by Galileo, in which he explains the usefulness of the telescope; and the first book purchased by the U-M Board of Regents, "The Birds of America," published in 1838, with original drawings by John James Audubon. Awesome! The exhibit is free and open to the public through May 23, Mon-Fri 8:30am-7pm, Sat 10am-6pm, and Sun 1-7pm. Use the Diag entrance.

Take Part in Art -- Petroglyphs and Cave Painting

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Humanity has been engaged in making art for a long, long time. Some of the oldest surviving art in the world can be found carved or painted onto the rocks near where our ancestors once lived. This month's Art Center display focuses on this ancient and long-lived art form.

Of course, you can come to the downtown library and enjoy our display in person, but there are lots of ways to join in at home:

1. Read all about it -- The library has some great books about rock art. For children, we have Painters of the Caves by Patricia Lauber, describing the Chauvet Cave paintings; Native American Rock Art: Messages From the Past by Yvette LaPierre; and Stories in Stone: Rock Art Pictures by Early Americans by Caroline Arnold. Adults can read up on rock art in African Rock Art: Paintings and Engravings on Stone by David Coulson and World Rock Art by Jean Clottes.

2. Take a hike -- Michigan has its own Native American rock art -- the Sanilac Petroglyphs. This site will be open to the public starting May 20th, but you can get in early by purchasing a Use Permit, if you desire. Sanilac Petroglyphs Historic State Park also includes a one-mile hiking trail, open year round.

3. Make your own -- These days, not many people live next to dramatic cliffs and caves they can paint and carve on, but there are ways for the modern, urban human to get that cave art experience. Scholastic, Incredible Art, HotChalk, Education World and Education.com all provide wonderful mini-lessons and activities that you can do at home with some paper, crayons, chalk, sandpaper and -- the most affordable time machine on the market -- imagination.

Take a sip of this trivia

On this day in 1886, John Pemberton, an Atlanta druggist, came up with a headache remedy he concocted over a fire in his backyard. It contained coca leaves and kola nut extract. He had been making something he called "Pemberton's French Wine Coca" but Atlanta had just passed a prohibition law that made his drink illegal. So he had to come up with an alcohol free alternative in which he used sugar instead of wine. His bookkeeper suggested that he name the new drink, "Coca-Cola" and a new era of soft drinks was born. Unfortunately, Pemberton sold off his interest in the company he had formed, so never made the fortune that would have been his due. So when you next drink the sweet bubbly, give a heads up to John.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #203

"Even as the Vietnam War recedes into the past, the despair, confusion, and mythology it generated retains a grip on our culture" writes the Library Journal reviewer. This spring publishing season, two big, bold and marvelous debut novels about the war deserve a spot on everyone's reading list and they couldn't be more different or more compelling.

Chronologically, Karl Marlantes' Matterhorn : a novel of the Vietnam War** comes first. The narrative unfolds on the front line in 1969 Vietnam as Waino Mella, a young lieutenant leads his squad to take out an enemy gun nest. New orders send the squad on jungle missions murderous for the deprivation, incessant monsoons, treacherous terrain, endless ambushes and the deadly exposure to Agent Orange.

This "realistic, in-the-trenches look at war", by a decorated veteran (30 years in the making) is dense and vivid - especially the excellent battle scenes. But what is memorable are the characters - their personal struggles and divisions. magnified by their environment while trying to stay true to their purpose. A grand addition to the genre.

Debut novelist Tatjana Soli's The Lotus Eaters** captures the wrenching chaos of war as an American combat photographer finds herself torn between the love of two men.

In 1975, as the North Vietnamese army advances on to Saigon, Helen Adams must take leave of a war she is addicted to and a devastated country she has come to love. In a drama of devotion and betrayal, Helen is caught between her lover Linh, a Vietnamese who must grapple with his own conflicted loyalties, and Sam, her fiercest competitor and true friend. " A stunning novel of passion, duty and ambition among the ruins of war".

** = Starred reviews

The Rivalry: Lincoln vs. Douglas

The Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858 for the U.S. Senate seat in Illinois are among the most famous in U.S. history. In listening to Norman Corwin’s The Rivalry take a front row seat as challenger Abraham Lincoln and incumbent Senator Stephen A. Douglas debate some of the time’s most controversial topics including slavery and the American concept of freedom. Douglas’ young wife, Adele will be your guide from debate to debate providing a sense of who is gaining the upper hand in this fierce rivalry.

L.A. Theatre Works offers this recording directed by Academy Award-winner Eric Simonson. It stars David Strathairn as Abraham Lincoln and Paul Giamatti as Stephen A. Douglas.

Haiti: Learning Beyond the Tragedy

On January 12 Haiti was struck by a powerful and devastating earthquake. It is the latest blow to a country that has long struggled, and its aftershocks will continue reach far across space and time. Newspapers, magazines, radio and television news have been vigilant in keeping us updated on this tragedy. By now most of us know that basic story, but how much do you know about Haitian culture and society?

Did you know that Haiti's ancestors were the first slave society to emancipate themselves? As a result of their revolution, Haiti was established: the first republic in the New World ruled by people of African descent. If you're interested in brushing up on Haiti's harrowing but inspiring history, I would recommend checking out Avengers of the New World: the Story of the Haitian Revolution by Laurent Dubois and The Black Jacobins : Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution by C.L.R. James. In these excellent books, you will find the historical roots of Haitian society and politics of today.

Haitian Vodou, often misrepresented, is a well-known thread in our cultural fabric. Popular culture has teased out an arguably perverse caricature from the Afro-Caribbean tradition, convenient for children's cartoons and hundreds of zombie movies. (That's not to say Zombie movies aren't totally entertaining; check out the classic I Walked With a Zombie. If nothing else, it is a revealing peek at American culture, circa 1943.) But what is the true nature of Vodou, or Voodoo, as it is more commonly called? Zora Neale Hurston's good research in this field is enhanced by her beautiful writing; see "Tell My Horse," which is in Folklore, Memoirs and Other Writings by Hurston. Mama Lola: A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn by Karen McCarthy Brown is not owned by AADL, but it is warm, enlightening and one of my favorites. You can get it through MEL. If you're feeling a little less ambitious, you can take a look at a cool DVD that we do have, Divine Horsemen, a ground-breaking (at the time) documentary about Vodou ritual.

On the lighter side, I would recommend Putomayo Presents: French Caribbean, which features music from the French-speaking islands of Guadeloupe, Haiti and Martinique. Putomayo can be counted on to put out a good mix, and this album holds true.

I am amazed by the extent to which people are getting involved in the Crisis in Haiti. Americans have broken records by contributing over $500 million to the relief effort in Haiti. Incredible, right? This is a practical, tangible way to get involved. Another important way to honor Haiti is by learning more about its rich culture and history. You can find the tools to do so here at the AADL.

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