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Posts Tagged ‘England’

The Uncommon Birds of George Edwards

April 3, 2014 | by

Edwards American Kingfisher

The American Kingfisher

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The Bearded Vulture

Edwards The Toucan or Brazilian Pye

The Toucan or Brazilian Pye

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The Golden Bird of Paradise

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The King Bird of Paradise

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The Whooping Crane

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The Black-Capped Lory

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The Green Parrot of the West Indies

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The Longest-Tailed Hummingbird

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The Ornate Lorikeet

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The Penguin

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The Red African Gray Parrot

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The Hawk-Headed Parrot

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The Dodo and the Guinea Pig

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The Summer Duck of Catesby

George Edwards, born today in 1694, is known as “the father of British ornithology”—as fine a paternal legacy as a guy can hope for. Today, his reputation as a naturalist endures in no small part because of his excellent drawings, which introduced English readers to scores of exotic creatures: first and foremost, birds. His greatest work is the four-volume Natural History of Uncommon Birds, whose full august title deserves to be seen in toto: A Natural History of Uncommon Birds: And of Some Other Rare and Undescribed Animals, Quadrupeds, Fishes, Reptiles, Insects, &c., Exhibited in Two Hundred and Ten Copper-plates, from Designs Copied Immediately from Nature, and Curiously Coloured After Life, with a Full and Accurate Description of Each Figure, to which is Added A Brief and General Idea of Drawing and Painting in Water-colours; with Instructions for Etching on Copper with Aqua Fortis; Likewise Some Thoughts on the Passage of Birds; and Additions to Many Subjects Described in this Work.

These drawings are taken from that work, which you can read here. Of particular note is his illustration of the dodo, which was, even then, extraordinarily rare and facing extinction.

As for the man: According to The Aurelian Legacy: British Butterflies and Their Collectors, a contemporary of Edwards’s “described him as of medium stature, inclined to plumpness and of a cheerful, kindly nature ‘associated with a charming diffidence.’”

 

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We All Have Our Magical Thinking: An Interview with Nicola Griffith

January 14, 2014 | by

St._Hilda_at_Hartlepool_by_James_Clark_(Oil_Painting)

James Clark, St. Hilda at Hartlepool (detail), 1925, oil on canvas.

Late in Nicola Griffith’s 1998 novel The Blue Place, her protagonist, Aud Torvingen, speaks rapturously about a spot on the coast of England. “Have I told you about Whitby Abbey, on the Yorkshire coast? There’s a ruin there that dates from the twelfth century, very haunting, very gothic, but the first abbey there was founded in the seventh century by Hilda. There’s a power there.” Fifteen years later, Griffith’s latest novel, Hild, explores the early life of the woman who would go on to become Hilda of Whitby.

Hild is an intricately plotted historical epic, set in a landscape that seems familiar and a culture that is anything but. Hild, the young protagonist, acts as an adviser to the king, Edwin, and the novel abounds with plotting, misdirection, and the use of mysticism toward decidedly realpolitik ends. Griffith’s ability to evoke a different time and place has manifested itself in very different ways over the years; her first two novels, Ammonite and Slow River, were both science fiction, though of very different types. Ammonite begins as anthropological science fiction and gradually becomes more epic in scale; Slow River involves conspiracies, industry, and a marvelously intricate plot. The series of three novels featuring Aud Torvingen—The Blue Place, Stay, and Always—are set in the modern world, with a fiercely analytical (and sometimes critically violent) protagonist. And in 2007, her memoir, And Now We Are Going to Have a Party: Liner Notes to a Writer’s Early Life, was released.

Reached via phone at her Seattle home, Griffith’s spoken language is as precise as it is on the page.

How long have you known that Hilda of Whitby was a figure you wanted to write about?

Since my early twenties. Actually, I didn’t even know that I was going to write about her—I discovered the abbey in my early twenties, and I was very struck by it. Hilda grew on me. She grew in the back of my mind. At first, I thought I was going to write an alternate history novel, one in which the Synod of Whitby didn’t go the way that it actually went. But the more I discovered about the world itself, about the seventh century, the more I wanted to write how it actually was. Not make it fantastical, just really go there, really live there for a while. And Hild herself became more and more interesting to me.

I kept putting off writing about her, because I really didn’t want to write a book about women as chattels, and women as baby-making machines. But as I discovered more about the seventh century, I realized that my preconceptions were wrong, and in fact, Hild could have been a really powerful woman in her own right. A really powerful person—not just a powerful woman. And then, one day, I just thought, This is enough. I have to really go there. It’s time to step up. The day before my forty-seventh birthday, I sat down and wrote the first paragraph. So it took more than twenty years. Read More »

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Persuasion

November 7, 2013 | by

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It is a truth universally acknowledged that Jane Austen will never be allowed to rest in peace but will instead, in perpetuity, act as a vague and grotesque figurehead who is required to comment on every social issue of the day, speak dialogue she never uttered, chase zombies, star in movies, breakdance, leap around Etsy, dabble in molecular gastronomy, inspire jewelry feuds, headline summer camps,  appear on banknotes, and, occasionally, be sexy. Because WHAT IF JANE AUSTEN REWROTE ALL THE HOUSEMARTINS B-SIDES AND THEN THEY WERE ALL ILLUSTRATED LIKE VARGAS GIRLS AND THEN WE MADE THEM INTO TAROT CARDS AND THEN IT WAS A MUSIC VIDEO AND IT WENT VIRAL? WHAT IF THAT HAPPENED?

Rant over.

All that said, this new video game, Ever, Jane, looks fun. As the creators explain it on the Kickstarter page,

Ever, Jane is a virtual world that allows people to role-play in Regency Period England. Similar to traditional role playing games, we advance our character through experience, but that is where the similarities end. Ever, Jane is about playing the actual character in the game, building stories. Our quests are derived from player's actions and stories. And we gossip rather than swords and magic to demolish our enemies and aid our friends.

I thoroughly enjoyed playing the prototype. I won’t pretend to have deepened my understanding of Regency England, but it certainly furthered my knowledge of role-play games. And everyone walks really fast.

 

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Essex Girl

February 21, 2013 | by

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We traveled from East London in a Zipcar, beating the traffic bound for Lakeside, the out-of-town shopping center. The pier car park was sparsely filled with cars. Abandoned in a corner was a statue of the Virgin Mary the size of an umbrella stand. Out of season, the Essex archipelago lures only the most hardened. By October, the weather is spitting and icy, and its landscape is too bleak and monotonous to qualify as ruggedly beautiful. A Wikipedia entry had told us there are nineteen islands off the coast of Essex, most of them owned by the British Ministry of Defence and contracted to private companies testing ammunitions. The individual entries were nearly all stubs, waiting to be filled in. An archipelago struck a curious exotic note in a place associated mostly with commuting, military test sites, and, most recently, “constructed reality” television.

American import Jersey Shore inspired The Only Way is Essex, a show similarly centered on the intricate love lives of pneumatic people living in an area derided for being culturally bankrupt, despite its proximity to one of the most exciting cities in the world. Jersey’s Essex County was even named after the UK’s own historical Essex, in 1683. Maybe there’s no need to make analogies between the UK’s Essex and anywhere else because its reputation is internationally bad, and we don’t defend it. The county town Chelmsford, where I was born, was voted eighth best place to live in the UK on the prerecession property-porn show Location Location Location. Residents promptly rang in to call it soulless; flashy on one hand and tedious on the other, like a nouveau riche neighbor with dull preoccupations. Read More »

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If You See Wordsworth at the Side of the Road

September 26, 2012 | by

I once enjoyed a gamboling lamb as much as the next pastoralist, and hiking, too—through forests, over peaks—but Wordsworth, laureate of the Lakes, has maddened me. In life and verse, he set an irresistible but inaccessible standard of contact: of enlivening intimacy with wind, water, earth, and sun—a marriage of mind and matter in which mind never feels abandoned.

Depressed and isolated, I have craved this union. I have studied Wordsworth assiduously. I have become an expert in the Romantic school of which he is the prime exemplar. For twenty years, I have taught his poetry. I have memorized the daffodil poem, “I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud.” This flower I have pressed into a book of his poems. I’ve already undertaken two pilgrimages to the Lakes.

But poet’s abundance has mocked my poverty. When I glimpse the blooms he immortalized, and so gorgeously described—buttery, frilly, dancing in the breeze—they hiss to me: loser. They make the hurt worse, my self-loathing sharper. I’d kill Wordsworth if I saw him on the road.

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Watch: Kipling on Truth in Writing, 1933

July 26, 2012 | by

We are grateful to Open Culture for drawing our attention to this rare film of Rudyard Kipling. From 1933, it shows the sixty-seven-year-old author giving a speech to the Royal Society of Literature (and guests from the Canadian Authors’ Association) at Claridge’s. “We who use words enjoy a peculiar privilege over our fellows,” observes the voice of the (already-fading) British Empire.

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