rynet_ii: Rapunzel squinting down at Pascal, her chameleon. (brb consultin my lizard)
So much earlier I commented on how the opening introductions of this book had a very distracting theme of "historians other than me don't know shit about how to properly appreciate history." Fortunately after the first chapter, Hugh Ross Williamson lays off on that line of thought and we get a nice look at various conspiracies, murders and scandals throughout the history of (mostly) the United Kingdom, starting with the death of William Rufus in 1100 and ending with the Pains and Penalties Bill of 1820. (a.k.a. King George IV's Desperate Attempt to Divorce Caroline of Brunswick.)

Hugh Ross Williamson offers his own theories to various mysteries involved in the events he describes, which I generally try to take with a grain of salt. Since I am fairly ignorant about a lot of history I was more interested in learning about the various events rather than his specific solutions for them. Alas, I don't think I absorbed a great deal of info, but here's what I've more or less come away from the book with:
  • Wow, the Protestants and the Catholics really fucking hated each other! I mean, I had a vague idea of this already (Hello "The Orange and the Green," song from my childhood) but wow, the Protestants and the Catholics really fucking hated each other!
  • Roundheads, Cavaliers, and Oliver Cromwell! I actually know a bit about that!
  • Why does the name "Sir Robert Cecil" sound familiar? *googles* Oh, okay, he was in Cue for Treason, I remember my mom getting me to read that.
  • *cringes at the Campden Wonder*
  • I do not think I actually learned much about the Man in the Iron Mask (or just The Mask, since it was made of silk) that I didn't already know, but I remember it.
  • So that's what Jacobite is! Okay, that gives a bit more context for those historical romances I read.
  • The Affair of the Diamond Necklace, which is a story I found interesting enough that I could probably remember a lot of the details if you asked me.
  • King George IV was technically married to two women, apparently. Except the first one wasn't technically legal since she was a) Catholic (see my first point) and b) George IV didn't have his father's permission. And probably some other stuff. This lead to a great deal of political awkwardness.

Anyway, it was pretty enjoyable although it took me forever to finish the darn thing. In fact, it is technically due back to the library tomorrow! I still need to finish reading Scott McCloud's Making Comics but it should be easier going since it's a comic itself (and comics are very easy for me to breeze through in comparison to pure prose.)

rynet_ii: VY2 sits at a desk writing while love letters fly around him. (I probably wrote something.)
Aunt Maria ( also published under the title Black Maria in some places) is a story about a girl called Mig, her older brother, Chris, and their mother, who all end up going to stay with their Aunt Maria in the town of Cranbury-on-Sea, shortly after their father dies.

It soon becomes obvious their stay is not going to be pleasant. Aunt Maria looks like a sweet, teddy bearish old woman, but she is a master of using passive-aggression, guilt, peer pressure, verbal domination, and selective deafness in order to manipulate people into doing exactly what she wants. She manipulates Mig and her mother into keeping house for her and tries to force Mig and Chris into the roles of her dear little relations. While presenting herself as a demure and polite little old lady, Aunt Maria serves as the matriarch of Cranbury and little goes on in the small town that she doesn't know about.

As if that wasn't bad enough, it quickly becomes apparent that there's something very strange going on in Cranbury. There's a cat who looks exactly like Lavinia, Aunt Maria's former carer who abruptly left Cranbury, a car that closely resembles the one Mig and Chris's father died in, a ghost that keeps appearing in Chris's bedroom, and all the men and children of Cranbury appear to have no will of their own. And the more Mig and Chris investigate Cranbury, the more it becomes apparent their family is in serious danger.

Although the book is marketed as a children's fantasy novel, most of it reads like a horror novel to me. It's just that the horror this plays off of is a particularly adolescent one- the horror of being trapped in the same boring, narrow-minded community where your parents grew up, trapped under the thumb of emotionally abusive adults who disrespect your personal identity in order to mold you into being what they want you to be. (Aunt Maria, for instance, insists that Mig be called by her disliked birth name, Naomi, since that was the name of Aunt Maria's daughter.)

Around the second half of the book however, a "Battle of the Sexes" theme becomes apparent and you realize that DWJ is trying to make a point about gender equality. Nothing wrong with this theme, but it does read like DWJ is trying to write through her own issues with sexism and gender identity and since this book was published over two decades ago some of the way it's presented can feel a bit awkward. So I personally felt this part of the book was less compelling than the horror aspects.
rynet_ii: VY2 sits at a desk writing while love letters fly around him. (I probably wrote something.)

So I finally went to the library and checked out a random history book called Historical Enigmas, by Hugh Ross Williamson.

I have so far read the “epistle dedicatory,” the foreward, and the first two chapters. Despite the premise of the book being unsolved mysteries from history (mostly Western European history iirc), the majority of what I’ve read so far has been Hugh Ross Williamson’s theories on how history as a subject should be approached.

The gist is that he views history as more of an art than a science, and is contemptuous of his contemporaries (1950s-1970s) who approach it as a science. (”It must be a ‘science’; it must have a ‘method’; it must flourish ‘facts’; it must announce ‘conclusions’.” Hugh Ross Williamson states bitterly.)

Hugh Ross Williamson is also a believer in the Great Man theory, or at least that studying history with a focus on the various Great Men is going to give you a better understanding of history “than by analysing the life of a seaport community in the year 1588.”

I don’t disagree with all of the various points he makes, many of which I haven’t gone into here, but his general phrasing and the way he makes himself out to be this bold, rule-breaking historian detective who’s unfairly treated by the Oxford establishment that disagrees with his methods even though they’re so much better than theirs, makes me think Hugh Ross Williamson is kind of a pompous windbag.

(And because that particular phrase popped into my head I picture him as looking like this guy.) 

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rynet_ii: A deoxys (alien-like pokemon) with a neutral expression. (Default)
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