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a blog from Eli the Bearded
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Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World

My eight year old took out some "survival" books from the library (all are choose-your-own-adventure style books from the You Choose: Survival series[1]). It prompted me to pull out Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World by Jennifer Armstrong. I tried to get him interested in it, but he resisted. I ended up reading it myself.

Shipwreck is a juvenile book, but it is not written for the elementary school set. The difficulty is on-par with a typical magazine feature. The length and the detail are far below a more scholarly work. Length is a lot longer than a typical magazine feature.

The shipwreck is Shackleton's Endurance, used for his failed attempt to be the first to cross Antartica in 1914. That was the second Antartic expedition he lead, after his first (1907-9 Nimrod expedition) failed attempt to be the first to reach the South Pole. (Amundsen was first to the pole in 1911, Scott was second and died before returning.)

The story of the Endurance is remarkable, moreso by Shackleton bringing back all of his crew alive more than a year after becoming stuck in the pack ice, and more than six months after the pack ice had crushed and sunk the Endurance. Plus he returned with loads of photos, many of which were beautifully detailed glass plates, but some smaller and less detailed.[2]

For an adult, a brief read, but always interesting. Three of four rescue attempts for the crew stranded on Elephant Island.[3]

[1] I found this list of books in the series: at Barnes and Nobel

[2] A few of the photos: wikimedia page

[3] For some reason, Google offers to provide "directions" to and from Elephant Island, but can't seem to make good on that offer. Google maps page

Bovril ad with Shackleton

Returning to fabliaux

Several years later I've gotten around to reading Liaisons Dangereuses, and like the fabliaux mentioned elsewhere in this thread, it doesn't meet modern definitions of "erotic" but it was not a waste of time. It seems a lot of the erotic reputation it has comes from the illustrations that were in many versions. There's a collection of them on Wikimedia's Commons, six of eight from a 1796 edition of the book:

Les Liaisons Dangereuses at wikimedia

A typical description of a night's intrigues is summarized as "And then she yielded everything to me." One of the subplots in Liaisons reminds me strongly of the fabliaux format.

Since my post three years ago, I've read some more fabliaux, and come up with a list of non-fabliaux titles for further reading:

  • Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles (1462 or earlier)
    An English translation at Gutenberg that I've looked at, but not read fully:
    One Hundred Merrie And Delightsome Stories, an 1899 English translation: at Gutenberg
    Like fabliaux, and like the inspiration for the original request, it seems to have stories of monks, etc, behaving badly.
  • Heptaméron (published 1558, ~20ish years after author's death)
  • Satyricon (Latin novel)
    A link, for which I have not read anything: at Gutenberg
  • The Golden Ass (Latin novel)
  • The Country Wife by Wycherley (1675 play)
  • Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (aka Fanny Hill, 1748)

(I found Satyricon today looking for Norman Lindsay books.)

Two by Oscar Wilde

For some reason this week I've been wanting Oscar Wilde stories.

First I watched An Ideal Husband (1999) on Netflix.

While I generally enjoyed it, for some reason the Sir Robert (Jeremy Northam) and Lady Gertrude (Cate Blanchett) kept reminding me of Benedict (Kenneth Branagh) and Beatrice (Emma Thompson) from Much Ado About Nothing.

The story concerns one man who is a husband with a secret from his wife, and another man who is unmarried but being pressured to settle down. There is everything you'd expect from a Wilde story: a commentary on the then contemporary society's values, a plot that has us root for morally flawed characters, and witty dialog. It also incorporates a few overt and subtle references to Wilde himself. I'm not sure if the original play has the characters attend a showing of The Importance of Being Earnest, but they do here, and the author makes a curtain call.

Four boutonnières out of five.

Second I watched Salomé (1923) which is perhaps the polar opposite. A silent film with frequent intertitles, some wordy, but no wordplay, and a story about absolutes. I watched got it (youtube-dl) from here: on Youtube

The costume design in this production is described as after the Aubrey Beardsley illustrations for the play: Aubrey Beardsley at wikimedia And while it is certainly not exactly like those, it is supremely stylized like Beardsley's work. Look to The 5000 Fingers of Dr T or Priscilla for similar extremes in costume design. Is that a wig of light bulbs? Were those women supposed to look like they were run over by a steamroller? Regardless, they are evocative and images to remember.

The visuals are the thing here, again with a mix of detailed and plain that goes with Beardsley. Besides the outré costumes, the makeup is extreme, although not out of bounds for the silent era. The setting is spare, clearly a soundstage, but with the minimum needed and nothing to distract. I understand there is a distinction made between props and set decoration in that props are things the actors handle. By that rule, this film has props but no set decoration. It also has exaggerated acting to match the outfits, and movement that is more dancing than acting.

The story is brief, the characters unlikeable, the ending well known, the soundtrack unnecessary. But, even at 72 minutes, it feels longer than needed.

Four to five out of seven veils.

An Ideal Husband at IMDB

Salomé at IMDB

Much Ado About Nothing at IMDB

The 5000 Fingers of Dr T at IMDB

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert at IMDB

Final thought: thinking of Lady Windermere's Fan next

Dreams of a Rarebit Fiend: The Pet

Cartoon drawn by Windsor McCay (famous for "Little Nemo in Slumberland") about a pet that won't stop eating and growing. Considered to be the first example of a giant creature terrorizing a city in film.

1921, silent, black and white, 707 seconds.

The Pet at wikimedia

Final thought: better than the other Rarebit Fiend film on Wikipedia's page for the comic