Tess’ Book Review: Tess of The D’ubervilles (author Thomas Hardy)

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Being names Tess truly means that I am obliged to have read “Tess of the D’ubervilles” by Thomas Hardy at some point of my life. Whether one is familiar with this classic tale or not some very interesting questions can be considered namely, what was the point of no return for Tess?

Was it when her father became convinced that he was the descendant of a Norman knight? Or when Tess caused the death of her family’s only horse thereby forcing her to work for the Duberville (or Stoke) family?

In modern times many would consider the working conditions that Tess endured with Alec Duberville as sexual harassment. But this young woman not only had to endure giving birth to a child of rape, but also watching him die.

A new life emerges for Tess upon becoming a dairymaid. But can anyone, particularly a woman, ever escape their past? Was Tess wrong not to tell Angel about her past? Should we fault her for trying to be happy and marrying her true love? Or should we place some shame on Angel? Was he the real hypocrite for concealing his past relationship but rejecting Tess for what she endured? Would things have been different if Angel came to his senses earlier?

But as we know in life money can be a serious game changer. Perhaps Tess would have waited for Angel to come around if it were not for her and her family’s severe financial straits. There was only two choices in Tess’ mind. Hold onto your last shred of integrity and starve, or let go of your pride and help you and your family survive.

Is that why she agreed to become Alec’s mistress? Did she truly believe that she had lost Angel forever? If that was the case one could understand why Angel’s sudden arrival would cause her to be so mentally disturbed that she would resort to murdering Alec Durberville.

Was this the point of no return for Tess? That is what makes this classic tale so controversial because there are so many viewpoints and opinions one can form. But for my final thought I have to say that the person who has the most to mourn is Angel. He was the product of his time, his upbringing, and his own weaknesses. And sadly he came out the loser on all accounts!

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“The Female Players of the Wars of the Roses” by Tess O’Gorman

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20170803_190052There is no lack of historical research regarding the male personalities that contributed to England’s notorious “War of the Roses”. And while the female characters are frequently mentioned they are generally never regarded as the main characters that dramatically affected the outcome of the Cousin’s War. Allow me to highlight 4 pivotal women and why I believe that they are all a fair match to their male counterparts.

1). Margaret of Anjou (1430-1482) the controversial wife of Henry the 6th is the only woman on non-English decent featured. And I believe her French ancestry was a real hurdle that she could never truly overcome. She embraced England as her adopted homeland. She gave England a male heir (albeit after nearly a decade) and she tirelessly fought for the birthright of her son Edward Prince of Wales.

There have been queens who have done far less to benefit England and yet were also hated significantly less. The fact was her mentally weak husband and her French decent were factors that would always paint Margaret as the villain and scapegoat irregardless of the course that she took. But when Margaret organized an army that attacked Richard Duke of York (the King’s legal heir) at Sandal Castle she started a series of events that all lead to the famous reign of Edward the 4th.

2). Elizabeth Woodville (1437-1492). The consequences of Edward the 4th’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville has produced a never ending series of hindsight regrets. Many felt that by not marrying a foreign princess Edward missed out on a foreign alliance that would have strengthened war torn England. This was a key element that Elizabeth Woodville could never provide. Furthermore,  marriage to a French Princess such as Bona of Savoy would have prevented a very large family of virtual commoners having access to the royal court. The fact could not be ignored that The Woodville family was highly ambitious, sought many royal favors, and quite simply they were a huge irritant to the existing nobles.

And one noble in particular that was dangerous to provoke was Richard Neville Earl of Warwick also known as the “Kingmaker”. It was he who convinced Edward the 4th’s younger brother George Duke of Clarence to join him on his many treasonous revolts until his own life was taken at the Battle of Barnet. One can only assume that Edward the 4th was willing to take all these risks out of true love. But the consequences of his marrying one of his own subjects clearly explains why this not the pattern set by his kingly predecessors.

3). Margaret Beaufort-Tudor (1443-1509) is the only woman featured who was never crowned Queen of England at any point of her life. But only she and her daughter in law gave birth to men who would actually become the King of England. Margaret’s rise to fame was largely due to her immense wealth, smart marriages, and most of all her indomitable spirit. She believed that she could accomplish the unthinkable and place her half English, quarter Welsh, and quarter French son with barely a trickle of maternal royal blood on the throne.

And but for the controversial reign of Richard the 3rd this would have never been possible. Margaret wisely appealed to the one person who would hate the new king as much as she did. Elizabeth Woodville, the dowager Queen of England, whose two sons were allegedly killed by the order of their uncle and King, Richard the 3rd. Margaret had money, and a small but growing army of disgruntled subjects. But she needed one more thing to place her son Henry Tudor on the throne. A brilliant marriage!

4). Elizabeth of York (1466-1503). Even the biggest Tudor fan has to agree that marriage to Elizabeth of York was one of the single most powerful deeds Henry the 7th could have ever done to secure his throne. Being the eldest daughter and child of Edward the 4th meant that Henry the 7th won loyalty from York supporters and subjects loyal to Edward the 4th. Unlike her dynamic mother in law Elizabeth of York influenced the Wars of the Roses to come to their end not by brilliant political maneuvering. She did this by living up to her role as wife of Henry the 7th, and mother to 4 Tudor children who lived to adulthood.

Nevertheless, Elizabeth was loyal to her roles to a fault when she died an early death at only 37 years old trying to produce another Tudor male heir after the sudden death of her eldest son Arthur. But Elizabeth’s quiet role was so influential that many believe that her 2nd son Henry the 8th loved his 3rd wife Jane Seymour most due to her personality being so reminiscent of his beloved mother Elizabeth of York.

The four women feature in the Wars of the Roses ( 2 named Margaret & 2 named Elizabeth) all played a major part in the outcome of these conflicts. A French female consort, a seductive woman of minor nobility, a feisty heiress, and a royal princess all left a major imprint on history. And while none of them fought a single battle history would have never run the same course without them!

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“Books I Have Read in The Last Few Months” by Tesse O’Gorman

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Reflecting on my book choices over the last few months has been very insightful. I feel that these talented authors have truly expanded my thinking on a variety of subjects. Allow me to explain………

“House Rules” by Jodi Picoult. Not only are readers given a raw honest look into the world of a family with an autistic family member, but we are also inside the head of 18 year old Jacob as he tries to decipher the complicated world around him. The lesson I drew the most from this book is the vital need for a family support group, and the dire consequences that can result when one does not exist.

“Daniel Isn’t Talking” by Marti Leinbach. I would advise readers to read this book first and then “House Rules” as this book takes us into the lives of a family with a newly diagnosed autistic child. Written from a completely different angle this book is a tale of self discovery. Young Daniel’s diagnosis forces the entire family to discover that in reality Daniel wasn’t the only individual who struggled with the art of communication.

“Me Before You” by Jojo Moyes. I would advise readers to read this book with an open mind despite the recent movie adaption. Look for the insight given to the day to day struggles of a quadriplegic medically and emotionally, and how the caregivers can be among the most selfless yet controlling individuals that can exist.

“After You” by Jojo Moyes. Admittedly this book does not have the same impact as the predecessor “Me Before You.” But I would still recommend reading it for closure after the emotional journey of “Me Before You.” This book gives a realistic follow up of each character and will leave you ready to move on and face the future.

“Still Alice” by Lisa Genova. This book also has a movie adaption and yet still shines as a very powerful work of fiction. The book is fast moving as the disease progresses and robs Alice of her fulfilling life. Yet it explains in a powerful way that Alice is definitely still the same dynamic woman she always was despite her growing limitations.

“Fingal O’Reilly Irish Doctor” by Patrick Taylor. This author has a unique way of writing his Irish Country series in such a way that you can read any book in the series and still be thoroughly entertained. But if you have read any of the previous books you will find the author answers many of the questions we may have asked: Why did Fingal and Kitty break up? What motivates Fingal to be so passionate as a GP despite opportunities to specialize? And what kind of people were Fingal’s parents? This book is a treat to read like the rest of the series along with being one of the most insightful.

The Book Thief” by Marcus Zusak. (Please read my full book review on this book in my previous post)

“Brooklyn” by Colm Toibin. I first saw the premiere for this movie when I was in Ireland November of 2015 so naturally I viewed the movie first. But this book is truly a fine read. The author has artfully captured the insecurities, emotions, and triumphs of a young woman growing into womanhood. We also receive  cautionary lessons about being true to yourself and not striving to be a mere people pleaser. This book is a beautiful blend of cultures and truly the definition of a coming of age book.

(I hope you have enjoyed my brief summary of my recent reads and for similar posts in the future please follow Countess Chronicles!)

“3 Life Lessons the Book Thief Provides” (by Marcus Zusak)

20170525_144333There are countless lessons that can be drawn from the pages of 2006 bestseller novel “the Book Thief.” I feel that anyone who merely dismisses the book as the story of a hungry, illiterate girl who has such a desire to read that she steals books has truly missed the defining principles of this book. Allow me to share 3 of them.

How To Be Loyal…..

Imagine that someone has just saved your life. Naturally we would say to that person “If there is anything that you need just ask”. If you were Hans Hubermann you would not have to make good on that promise until 20 years later. However, this would involve hiding a Jewish young man in your basement during the height of Nazi Germany. Your loyalty would put your family at risk, your reputation, and of course your own life. Hans was a man loyal to a fault. And the depth of his loyalty not only defines this book, but defines what humanity is supposed to represent.

How To Fight….

The best part of Max Vandenburg’s fighting career is the fact that he loses most of his fights. In hindsight this was his strength because he never fell into complacency. Max bravely fought every person and every obstacle he faced. This included childhood bullies, Antisemitism,  and his fight for self respect.

One of the most powerful fights that Max engages in is his fight against Adolph Hitler in his dreams. Being in his comfort zone he used the boxing ring of his dreams not only to fight Hitler but the entire racist system that lead him to seek refuge in the Hubermann’s basement. As the book progresses Max finds himself being forced to a Nazi concentration camp. But his feisty combative desire to live is no doubt why he is still standing in his corner of the ring at the end of the war.

How To Steal….

Liesel Meminger’s character reveals powerful lessons regarding when and what one can rightfully steal. While she spent a fair amount of time stealing literal food during the war, her true character is defined by stealing books, words, and experiences. The first book stolen forever captures the last time she was together with her mother and brother. Books stolen from the mayor’s house provide comfort and support during air raids. But the theft of a book banned by the Nazi’s is when Liesel stole the right to think for herself and not let wartime propaganda define her.

Together with Max she truly steals words directly from Hitler by painting over the hate and intolerance of “Mein Kampf” and writing their own stories. Writing her own story is literally what saved Liesel’s life and made her discover that the ability to tell your own story is something beautiful that can be created despite any ugliness life can present. I can not call Liesel a thief the the true sense of the word because no such word defines what it means to steal something that is already yours!

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“Real Life Review: Katherine Howard -Those Who Undermine”

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20170503_163629Katherine Howard is a very familiar name to anyone knowledgeable about the 6 wives of Henry the 8th. Katherine is best known for being the 5th wife, the teenager, and the 2nd of Henry’s wives beheaded for allegedly being unfaithful to the King (the first being her 1st cousin Anne Boleyn). While many would agree that her numerous romantic relationships was her downfall, I would have to disagree. Because having multiple lovers, while not recommended, is not a crime even in Tudor times.

Katherine Howard’s true error in judgement lies in the events prior to her hasty marriage to Henry the 8th. 1540 was an eventful year for the Tudor court when King Henry married the German Anne of Cleves. As Henry’s 4th wife it has to be said that Anne was the most ill prepared of all his wives combined. To Anne’s utter disadvantage she was completely ignorant regarding English culture and customs. In fact, she could not even speak the English language fluently. And having no family and no true connections in England meant that Anne’s only assistance would come from her ladies in waiting. And that is exactly the position that Katherine Howard held.

I believe the most costly mistake of Katherine’s life was to undermine Anne of Cleves. The literal definition of undermining is: to dig a hole underneath something making it likely to collapse. This was actually done in the past by invaders to fortified castles walls to expose weaknesses and allow them to conquer their enemies. This aptly describes Katherine’s actions toward Anne of Cleves in a figurative manner. By taking advantage of Anne’s ignorance, alleged lack of beauty, and inability to communicate Katherine set herself up as King Henry’s 5th wife without remorse.

Admittedly it is highly unlikely King Henry would have fallen in love with Anne of Cleves despite any efforts on Katherine’s part. But this calculated act of sabotage on Katherine’s part truly did undermine Anne’s brief marriage. And while we must take into consideration the influence of Katherine’s power hungry family Katherine still should have known that her dubious reputation alone should rule her out as a future queen.

Tragically she inevitably set herself on a collision course with disaster. And it Tudor times that could only mean one thing: a date with the Executioner’s Block!

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Spotlight on an Author: George Eliot’s “Nom de Plume”.

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20170426_113527Using a “Nom de Plume” or a pen name is still a common practice in modern times. There are some writers who simply prefer another name to their own, while others may choose to do so for privacy reasons.  However, it is important to note that in the past a female writer would have found that using a male pen name would have been vital in order to achieve literary success.

Mary Ann Evans (Cross) despite her immense talent failed to publish any novels but George Eliot is the well known author of seven novels. While it was a fact that by the late 1850’s some female authors were being published under their own names Mary Ann Evans still chose to use a pen name. This was mainly because she was determined to avoid the stereotype that women were primarily interested in writing lighthearted romance novels.

It make one consider that if her novels which bear male names such as Adam Bede, Silas Marner, or Daniel Deronda would be diminished in any way if they were published using her female birth name? Possibly, but the point is Mary Ann Evans was convinced that by becoming George Eliot she could be taken seriously as a writer.

Another notable detail about the writing career of Mary Ann Evans was the fact that she was born in 1819, but did not pursue her literary inclinations until 1849 after the death of her father. Considering that her own father did not support her writing career in his lifetime, should we be surprised that she felt no other man would do so without the aid of a pen name?

Nevertheless, whether today’s modern writers choose to use a pen name or not all can emulate the legacy of of Mary Ann Evans by letting their writing skills do the talking. Because strong, sincere writing transcends all obstacles real or imagined.  Hopefully going forward future writers can use a “Nom de Plume” not as a shield but as yet another means of expression for a talented creative soul!

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# 5 Benefits to Being an Ongoing History Student

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I am a firm believer that history should be a subject we are all passionate about beyond our school years. Here are 5 reasons why:

#1 You can understand people’s attitudes towards certain locations. For example why is the New England state of Massachusetts so expensive? Short answer: Because Massachusetts is more or less the birthplace of the Revolutionary War, in which American colonists gained independence from the British Empire. Therefore since the state of Massachusetts is loaded with historical sites the price tag of property goes up accordingly.

#2 Learn The Meaning Behind Certain Expressions. For example when someone says “you have gone beyond the pale!” what does that really mean? This dates back to the 14th century when part of Ireland was under English rule, and the boundary separating English from the Irish was made of stakes or fences, which was known as the English Pale. To go beyond the Pale was to leave behind the rules of English society which was considered synonymous with the very idea of civilization itself.

#3 Helps Explain Current Conditions of a Particular Country.  Take the poverty of Haiti for an example. While there are arguably many factors that have contributed to the financial state of this island nation the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804) plays a major part. Years of war, agricultural devastation, and costly reparations to French slaveholders have done nothing to boost the nation’s early economy.

#4 It is Plain Good Storytelling. If you don’t believe me do a research project of the “War of the Roses”. There are so many characters, scenarios, twists and turns that will thoroughly entertain you at every point. Quite frankly, it has to be true, you can’t make all of that up!

#5 Gives Insight Into What is Popular & Why. Take the decision of what to name a child. Would the average parent name their child Robert or Hreodbeorht? Both are versions of the same name but the name of Robert is much more popular since the Norman conquest of England in 1066. Hreodbeorht, a once popular Anglo-Saxon name, now seems hopelessly foreign. Admittedly 1066 represents a change of culture that is still relevant today.

Ca you think of more benefits to being an ongoing history student? Do you agree with any in this post?

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Tess’ Character Review: The Many Roles of Mrs. Gibson (from Elizabeth Gaskell’s Wives & Daughters”)

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20170410_175741For anyone who has had the courage to read all 644 pages of the novel “Wives & Daughters” by Elizabeth Gaskell you may be surprised by two things. First that a novel published in 1866 would have such modern appeal. And second that I chose to do a character review on Mrs. Gibson and not the two younger heroines Molly Gibson and Cynthia Kirkpatrick. But in my modest estimation I feel that Mrs. Gibson has the most cross over appeal, let me explain why.

(Role # 1: Being a 2nd Wife) Close your eyes and imagine that your husband likes you but does not love you. Imagine that he has only married you to provide a mature female influence for his own daughter Molly. Open your eyes because that is reality if you are Mrs. Gibson.

(Role # 2: Being a Stepmother) Immediately upon her marriage Mrs. Gibson becomes both a stepmother and a Dr.’s wife. Meaning she has taken on the responsibility of a 17 year old girl who hardly knows her, and she is married to a man who will be consistently absent and preoccupied with the vast medical needs of the community. This would be challenging enough but one must consider that Mrs. Gibson has a daughter of her own.

(Role # 3: Working Mom) Mrs. Gibson’s life took an unexpected turn when her first husband died leaving her with the financial burden of supporting both herself and her daughter. No time for grieving allowed. And what is more she could only assume one of the only respectable trades available for women at that time, being a governess. This required her to dote and care for the children of the wealthy while placing her own child at a boarding school. What single working mother can not relate to the feelings of guilt that would plague her at times?

Regardless of our age and position most women naturally want to enjoy the honeymoon phase of our marriage. But if you are Mrs. Gibson you would have to face the realization that your husband views you as a mere companion. Your stepdaughter tolerates you only for the sake of her beloved father, and you have a daughter who bears the scars of abandonment. You try to mother your stepdaughter and she resents it. You try to reconnect with your daughter and she is a stranger. And to make things worse the entire village views you as a modern day equivalent of a gold digger!

Nevertheless, despite her many foibles I have so much respect for the way Mrs. Gibson navigates life’s many challenges. Mrs. Gibson is the epitome of ambition and resilience and that is why I have chosen to do a character review featuring Mrs. Gibson and all her modern day counterparts!

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Tess’ Book Review: Rival to the Queen (author Carolly Erickson)

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In our modern age of reality t.v. it is not uncommon (in fact it is encouraged) for women to be seen fighting. In Carolly Erickson’s novel “Rival to the Queen” we can see that rivalry between women is a centuries long affliction.

At the core of this rivalry is, not surprisingly, a man Robert Dudley. Very simply Robert Dudley can be summarized as the handsome, charming, son of a traitor. Nevertheless, this man manages to win the love of Queen Elizabeth the first, and her 2nd cousin Lettice Knollys, both of whom are decidedly out of his league. Yet, these two women draw out the battle lines of this rivalry essentially over Robert’s love.

I understand that historical fiction is just that. However the fact is Robert was the favorite of Queen Elizabeth despite being married to another woman Amy Dudley. Robert eventually made his way back to the Queen’s good graces despite the scandalous death of his wife. And history confirms that he did incur Queen Elizabeth’s wrath when he secretly married her 2nd cousin Lettice upon her own husband’s death.

Naively Lettice really thinks she has conquered her 2nd cousin the Queen when she and Robert are wed, and yet that seems to be the beginning of the downfall of her life. Realistically Lettice was always at a disadvantage when compared to the Queen. Her only advantages were being younger, more attractive, and the knowledge that Robert does not love her for her crown.

Yet, Lettice virtually loses all ground when she marries Robert. The reality is both she and Robert are older and their youthful passionate love was now a more loving mutual respect. Robert is now fighting age, illness, and losing the good looks that originally gained him favor.

However, one can not ignore the inescapable fact that men fare better in scandals than women. Despite her rage regarding his marriage Robert still maintains a place at Queen Elizabeth’s inner circle. While Lettice must reside at their home and watch their only child together fail to thrive and eventually die. Robert’s weaknesses are impossible to ignore when he fails at his duties as a military commander. Sadly, when he dies it is almost a relief that the humiliation is at an end.

My summary is this: was it all really worth it? What did Elizabeth and Lettice have to gain for their rivalry? A man who was not worthy of either of them! Lettice would have done better if she relied less on her fleeting good looks and spent more time supporting her family. Elizabeth would have fared better if she stopped viewing other women as a threat. The fact was she was only the 2nd female sovereign to rule in her own right and thereby she could have benefited from the support of both men and women.

The lesson is he same today: Women need to stop fighting one another but empower themselves by being supportive. Because as history bears witness rivalry can be lethal despite money, rank, or beauty.

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