bunnyjadwiga: (Default)
Last time I was in the public library in Madison, I was looking for a book on CD to listen to in the car. Flipping through the adult non-fiction on CD, the best I could come up with was something that looked like a popularized history (and is).
Thomas Cahill's Mysteries of the Middle Ages: The Rise of Feminism, Science and Art from the Cults of Catholic Europe. This is the Books on Tape Version, read by John Lee. (http://www.booksontape.com/bookdetail.cfm/7098-DL)

I surprised myself. I liked it. I disagreed with most of his conclusions, and felt that the commentaries on modern politics will soon make it dated. But it was fun to read, and I didn't catch him on too many factual errors (though I think I have earlier evidence of toilet facilities). Yes, he's a popularizer (for a sample, see http://www.randomhouse.com/features/cahill/mysteries_excerpt.html ) And I could have done without the digression about the modern Catholic church at the end. And his conclusions are shallow.

Why did I like it? Because it was a story, and it was read by someone with a superb storyteller's voice. I suspect I'd want to listen to John Lee read St. Augustine, or even Calvin.

I admit that I think I listened to it in a very different spirit than I would have read it; had I read it, I would probably been as incensed as the Library Journal reviewer who slammed it, October 15 2006: "It is difficult to conceive of an audience that would benefit from reading this silly and superficial book."

But as a story, read to me, it had a good deal of the character of a lecture, either in the SCA or in school, created by a person with a good command of language and analogy. It was perfectly clear to me that the author was picking out what he saw as the good bits to share with the reader, and making a loose argument of the conversational type. Perhaps that's how I lecture, though I hope I don't "trample history into a muddled paste of great figures and exalting moments, ignoring nuance or exception." (Perhaps I do. Perhaps I am, in my thoughts on herbwives and fantasy. Ah well.)

I disagree with Cahill on nearly every exact conclusion he draws (such as St. Francis' part in the development of the 'plastic arts' of drama etc.); but on the other hand, I revelled in his argument that the Middle Ages weren't as bad as all that (and his condemnation of A World Lit only by Fire, Manchester's ghastly anti-medieval, anti-Catholic text), and generally his enjoyment of his subject and of the play of words.
bunnyjadwiga: (Bartleby)
Last week I finished reading Transcendental Wife: the life of Abigail May Alcott, by Cynthia H. Barton (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1996).

What I was most struck by was the combination of entitlement and almost co-dependence on Abby's part. She left her parents' home on bad terms with her father and stepfather, and eventually married a penniless educator; she stood by him and raised his children and supported him emotionally and sometimes financially for years. And yet-- she comes across as demanding, critical and whiny. Barton points out how hard it must have been for Abby to take charity from family and friends-- but she didn't just ask for it, she demanded it, perhaps because she couldn't bring herself to do it any other way.

She struggled with her husband's principles, and the financial ruin that brought them to repeatedly, but she stood up for him and believed that she and her children should live in poverty rather than ask him to compromise his principles. She seems to have been almost pathologically devoted to her nuclear family as a cohesive unit, and unable to tolerate outsiders, but she forced herself to endure (crankily and probably being very difficult to live with) con-sociate living arrangements and the taking in of boarding students time after time.

It sounds as if she struggled with what we would label depression, but I'm increasingly confused about what we wouldn't label depression any more. Still, the anger management issues combined with her mistrust of herself, and her own voice, seem to have loomed large in internal family life. By Barton's (and by Bronson Alcott's) standards, she seems to have adopted a somewhat attachment-parenting outlook to raising her girls. She said of her oldest as an infant: "I have no rules save one great one-- to do what she indicates to have done- and she is so reasonable that I find no difficulty." Later on, as Louisa suggested in Good Wives, she seems to have had more trouble, especially as Bronson required a serene house; Bronson took over some childcare over her objections.

Eventually Abby did rebell against being destitute, and took various jobs, including that of an early social worker, in order to feed her family. Sometimes her charity endangered her family (as when they contracted illness from a client), but at least there was money coming in and Abby was living according to her principles, while Bronson lived according to his. It doesn't appear that Bronson was lazy, putting a good deal of physical labor into various self-sufficiency exercises; but philosophy tempted him away and left work for Abby. Eventually, Bronson learned that he could make a living at 'giving conversations' (speechwriting?) and things were more comfortable.

But I agree that Abby's troubles do seem to have to do with struggling to find her own voice and come up with a way of life which accomodated her own needs and principles as well as those of her husband and family. I do think that Louisa very much admired her mother, even if she wasn't the kindly Marmee of Little Women, and I was interested to see what (roseified) elements from Abby's life that Louisa used in Good Wives, such as marrying the kind Professor, keeping a school, Fruitlands/Plumfield, and the struggle over childraising.

I also noticed how reading this volume brought to the forefront of my mind my struggles to live my life without asking other people to compromise their principles, especially when it affects my homelife and workload. Hopefully I am not quite as snippy as Abby was; but I have less to do than she did, and more individual voice.
bunnyjadwiga: (Default)
Tattycat asked me about this book, but of course I can't find the actual book (I need to get to my boxes of books stored in the attic).
Olga Sronkova, Fashions through the centuries: Renaissance, baroque, and rococo.. (London, Spring Books 1959) (Originally published in German by Artia Press; I believe it is the same title as La mode du XVème au XVIIIème siècle.)

Sronkova is the same woman who wrote Gothic Women's Fashion, the book that pointed out the similarities between the dress of "Bohemian Bathhouse Girls" and the undergarment possibly shown in some pictures of the period.

In the Fashions through the centuries book, though, she is really concentrating on Bohemian fashion, which seems to have been heavily dependent on the Spanish Renaissance styles during that time period. This is only obvious when you start looking at the sources/provenances of the illustrations.
bunnyjadwiga: (Default)
Was looking up information for a patron today and realized I had no handy reference to websites and reference books on Saints. So here are my notes:

Catholic Online Saints & Angels: http://www.catholic.org/saints/
Patron Saints Index: http://www.catholic-forum.com/saints/indexsnt.htm
New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/ [out of date-- pre-vatican II]

From Internet Public Library listings:

For Medieval Saints, there's the Internet Medieval Sourcebook section on Saint's Lives:

Oxford Dictionary of Saints [at Drew, 270.0922 F233o 2003, Cornell Room]

EDIT: My boss points out that Butler's Lives of the Saints is the best resource we have in print to start with. [At Drew, in the Cornell Room, 235.2 B985ℓ 1995]

Fox's Book of Martyrs

Dumberton Oaks Hagiography database (8th to 10th century, Byzantine) http://www.doaks.org/hagio.html

I'm very fond of:
Saints Preserve Us! : Everything You Need to Know About Every Saint You'll Ever Need by Sean Kelly
Heaven Help Us : The Worrier's Guide to the Patron Saints by Clare La Plante
but both of these are more about folklore than hagiography.
bunnyjadwiga: (Default)
Stearns, Peter N., ed. Encyclopedia of European social history from 1350 to 2000. (New York : Scribner, 2001) 6 vol.
Read more... )
bunnyjadwiga: (Default)
Filippo Pizzoni, The Garden: A History in Landscape and Art. (NY: Rizzoli, 1999)

At first glance, this book seems similar to most of the more well-known treatises (Hobhouse, Plants in Garden History; Crisp, Medieval Gardens, Harvey, Mediaeval Gardens; Landsberg, Medieval Garden) but there is a crucial difference. The perspective here is that of a continental author, specificially an Italian, rather than an English gardener. As a result, the author concentrates much more on the Hispano-Arabic styles, and Italian Renaissance styles in gardening. Detailed descriptions of the garden layouts of the Alhambra, Generalife, and others are given. The growth and development of the Mannerist style in the 16th century in Italy, France and Germany is covered in more detail. Emphasis is mostly on the landscape/architectural style of gardening, so most attention is focused on the layouts and statuary of the gardens. The photographs are drool-worthy in most cases. The book covers from the 13th century onward, so only the first 80 or so pages cover the pre-1601 period of study. The author's envisioned layout of the garden described in Pietro de Crescenzi's De Ruralium Commodorum is a unique contribution. The photos of extant gardens and reproductions of illuminations are droolworthy and appear on every page.
bunnyjadwiga: (Default)
Tom Carter, The Victorian Garden. (Salem, NH: Salem House, 1985)

For lovers of Victoriana and keen garden-book browsers, The Victorian Garden is a feast. Not only does it include a wide variety of Victorian images-- depictions of gardens, seed catalog pictures, advertisements, and diagrams decorate each page, and are supplemented with extensive sidebars of text taken from Victorian-period publications. Carter addresses in turn the Kitchen Garden, garden Artifices, Glass use in gardening, Science in the Garden, the Pleasure Ground, Floramania, and the Garden Indoors. Extensive diagrams of 19th century inventions and their use, including such favorites as the cucumber glass and the Wardian case, and sidelights such as the introduction of Garden Gnomes, the history of the Crystal Palance, and the deplorable death of collector David Douglas in a bull-trap, liven a serious history. However, for the serious working gardener the book is less helpful; no plant lists or even simplified explanations of Victorian trends meet the spade-weary browser's eye. Nor are modern photographs or modern reconstructions included. However, it's a fascinating book, and a fit companion to Susan Campbell's Charleston Kedding : a history of kitchen gardening (London : Ebury Press, 1996) with which it should be paired on the shelf.


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