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Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee.

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Cider with Rosie is an almost universally loved memoir by the poet and novelist Laurie Lee, first published in 1959. It's the first part of a trilogy (As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, 1969, and A Moment of War, 1991, follow) and in it Lee describes his childhood and youth in Slad, Gloucestershire.
As I mentioned yesterday, like Gaskell's Cranford, Cider with Rosie does not follow a traditional, chronological line, it's more a series of themes collected into chapters which are then presented chronologically. It begins with the family's arrival in Slad (from Stroud), the first few paragraph's showing the young Laurie Lee's anxiety at being left alone: I was set down from the carrier's cart at the age of three; and there with a sense of bewilderment and terror my life in the village began. The June grass, amongst which I stood, was taller than I was, and I wept. I had never been so close to grass before. It towered above me and all around me, each blade …

Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell.

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Cranford is, partly because of the 2007 TV series, one of Elizabeth Gaskell's most famous novels and was first published in Household Words between 1851 and 1853. It's set in the north of England (Cheshire) and portrays the small village of Cranford, which is largely dominated by women ("whatever does become of the gentlemen," it is observed, "they are not at Cranford").
There is no real traditional plot to this novel, it's more a series of sketches (by coincidence I'm currently reading Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee: Cranford is not unlike that in its structure), but what it portrays is mid-Victorian England in which the old traditions and ways of life is challenged by the Industrial Revolution that swept over Cheshire and the north of England during this period. The narrator of the story is Mary Smith who shares her observations though we know very little about her save that she once lived in Cranford, moved to the city of Drumble (no doubt Manche…

Wordless Wednesday: A chilly start.

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Every Man in his Humour by Ben Jonson.

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Every Man in his Humour is a city comedy by Ben Jonson first performed in 1598. It begins with a prologue, Though need make many poets, and some such
As art and nature have not bettered much;
Yet ours, for want, hath not so loved the stage
As he dare serve th'ill customs of the age,
Or purchase your delight at such a rate,
As, for it, he himself must justly hate.
To make a child, now swaddled, to proceed
Man, and then shoot up, in one beard or weed,
Past threescore years; or, with three rusty swords,
And help of some few foot-and-half-foot words,
Fight over York and Lancaster's long jars,
And in the tiring-house bring wounds to scars.
He rather prays you will be pleased to see
One such, today, as other plays should be.
Where neither Chorus wafts you o'er the seas;
Nor creaking throne comes down, the boys to please;
Nor nimble squib is seen, to make afeared
The gentlewoman; nor rolled bullet heard
To say it thunders; nor tempestuous drum
Rumbles, to tell you when the storm …

Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson.

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Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson, a novel written for boys and first published in 1886, is a book I've read twice now: the first time because it sounded interesting, and the second time to give it another chance after I wearily trudged my way through it the first time. Turns out the reading experience both times was identical, worst luck.
It follows the fortunes, or misfortunes rather, of David Balfour and is set in the mid-18th Century in Scotland after the Jacobite risings of 1745. David is recently orphaned, his mother dying when he was very young and his father just before the novel begins. He decides to leave the lowlands and head to Edinburgh to make his fortune. Before he leaves he is informed that he has an uncle - a rich uncle -  Ebenezer Balfour, so he goes there to claim kinship. Once in the village, Cramond, he learns that Ebenezer is a particularly hated member of the community and with good reason: he's stingy, cruel, and though after David arrives he gives hi…

Of Winter by Thomas Dekker.

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It's a chilly morning here in the north of England: it's about minus one, the sky is a pale pink, and the trees are bare, but the sun looks like it will, perhaps, break through the clouds at some point. The snow, where the sun reaches it, has almost melted but there are great patches of thick ice where the snow from last week froze. It was a different story in winter of 1614-25, perhaps when Dekker wrote Of Winter: when he wrote it and where it was published I have been unable to discover for certain but I would guess it was from The Cold Yeare 1614 (unfortunately I can't find it online) or The Great Frost (1608). Snow fell very heavily that winter with patches left even up until May, and Tobie Matthew, the Archbishop of York (1606 - 1628) noted that there was a solid seven weeks snow and frost "never the like Seen in England". People died, frozen in their homes or outside, crops suffered, and hay and straw became scarce.
Which ever winter it was, it inspired De…

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde.

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The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (1890) is one of my favourite all-time books and I've just finished re-reading it. One (of many!) reasons why I love it so much is the opening two paragraphs, which I do believe are sublime: The studio was filled with the rich odour of roses, and when the light summer wind stirred amidst the trees of the garden, there came through the open door the heavy scent of the lilac, or the more delicate perfume of the pink-flowering thorn. From the corner of the divan of Persian saddle-bags on which he was lying, smoking, as was his custom, innumerable cigarettes, Lord Henry Wotton could just catch the gleam of the honey-sweet and honey-coloured blossoms of a laburnum, whose tremulous branches seemed hardly able to bear the burden of a beauty so flamelike as theirs; and now and then the fantastic shadows of birds in flight flitted across the long tussore-silk curtains that were stretched in front of the huge window, producing a kind of momentary Jap…