Kathryn Harkup: A Is for Arsenic

Should come with several prescriptions / warning labels


The first caveat, obviously, being “don’t ever try this at home.”  Most of the poisons Harkup discusses are much harder to obtain these days than in Agatha Christie’s time, so for most of them the risk of being used as a murder weapon may have been mitigated in the interim, but that’s not true for all of them — belladonna, phosphorus, opiates, ricin, and thallium are still scarily easy to obtain (or distill) if you know how and where, and the story of Graham Young (aka the stepson from hell) is a chilly reminder that (1) it may not actually be a particularly wise idea to present your 11 year old son with a chemistry set for Christmas for being such a diligent student of the subject — particularly if he has taken a dislike to your new spouse — and (2) there are still poisons out there, thallium among them, that are but imperfectly understood and may, therefore, be misdiagnosed even today.

My second caveat would be to either read this book only after you’ve finished all of Agatha Christie’s novels and short stories that are discussed here, or at least, let a significantly enough amount of time go by between reading Harkup’s book and Christie’s fiction. (Obviously, if you’re just reading this one for the chemistry and have no intention of picking up Christie’s works at all, the story is a different one.)

There are exactly two instances where Harkup gives a spoiler warning for her discussion of the books by Agatha Christie that she is using as “anchors” for the poisons under discussion (morphine / Sad Cypress and ricin / Partners in Crime: The House of Lurking Death), and in both instances, my feeling is that she is using the spoiler warning chiefly because she is expressly giving away the identity of the murderer.

In truth, however, several other chapters should come with a massive spoiler warning as well; not because Harkup is explicit about the murderer (she isn’t), but because she gives away both the final twist and virtually every last detail of the path to its discovery.  As Harkup herself acknowledges, a considerable part of Agatha Christie’s craft consists in creating elaborate sleights of hand; in misdirecting the reader’s attention and in creating intricate red herrings that look damnably convincingly like the real thing.  But in several chapters of A Is for Arsenic, Harkup painstakingly unravels these sleights of hand literally down to the very last detail, making the red herrings visible for what they are, and even explaining just how Christie uses these as part of her elaborate window dressing.  The effect is the same as seeing a conjurer’s trick at extreme slow motion (or having it demonstrated to you step by step) — it completely takes away the magic.  Reading Harkup’s book before those by Christie that she discusses in the chapters concerned makes you go into a later read of those mysteries not only knowing exactly what to look for and why, but also what to discard as window dressing — the combined effect of which in more than one instance also puts you on a direct trail to uncovering the murderer.  This applies to the chapters about hemlock (Five Little Pigs, aka Murder in Retrospect — see my corresponding status update), strychnine (The Mysterious Affair at Styles), thallium (The Pale Horse), and Veronal (Lord Edgware Dies); as well as, arguably, though perhaps to a lesser degree, to the chapter about belladonna (The Labours of Hercules: The Cretan Bull).  In fact, in at least one of these chapters (Veronal) she as good as discloses both the murderer and the final twist before she’s ever gotten to a discussion of the drug used in the first place.

As a result, Harkup’s book loses a half star in my rating on this basis alone, and I’m left with one of the odd entries in my library where I’m checking off the “favorite” box for a book that I’m not rating at least four stars or higher.  Because the fact is also that I immensely enjoyed Harkup’s explanations just how the poisons used in Christie’s novels work (and where they occur naturally / what they derive from), which has both increased my already enormous respect for Christie’s chemical knowledge and the painstaking way in which she applied that knowledge in her books, and also served as fascinating background reading and a chemistry lesson that is both fun and instructive.  I just know that this is one of the books I will come back to again and again in the future, not only when revisiting Christie’s catalogue but also when reading other books (mysteries and otherwise) involving poison — from the beginning of this read, I’ve had repeated flashbacks to books by other writers (and I’m gratified that Harkup hat-tips at least one of them, Ngaio Marsh’s Final Curtain, in her discussion of thallium, even if I’d also have liked at least a little word on the effect of the embalming procedure described Marsh); and I’m fairly certain that my future mystery reads involving poisons will prompt some considerable fact-checking at the hands of A Is for Arsenic.

Which in turn brings us back to caveat No. 1, I suppose … don’t ever try this at home!

 

Comments on Individual Chapters:
Introduction and Chapter 1: Arsenic
Chapter 3: Cyanide
Chapter 4: Digitalis
Chapter 6: Hemlock
Chapters 7-9: Monkshood, Nicotine, Opium
Chapters 10 & 11: Phosphorus & Ricin

 

 

Original post:
ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/1706879/should-come-with-several-prescriptions-warning-labels

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Podcasts: Shedunnit & The Guardian

Harkup on Christie’s training and the way she used her knowledge in her novels:

 

Harkup on Thallium:

 

Harkup on the Guardian’s Science Weekly podcast:

 

Other Podcasts

Kathryn Harkup: A Is for Arsenic — Chapters 10 & 11: Phosphorus & Ricin

Phosphorus and Ricin — two particularly nasty ones.  And the way she’s describing the discovery of phosphorus, it sounds like something straight out of a sorcerer’s lab … byproduct of the search for the philosophers’ stone.  Why stop at gold, anyway?!

 

 

 

Overall Review and Comments on Other Chapters:
Overall Review
Introduction and Chapter 1: Arsenic
Chapter 3: Cyanide
Chapter 4: Digitalis
Chapter 6: Hemlock
Chapters 7-9: Monkshood, Nicotine, Opium

 

 

Original post:
ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/1698843/reading-progress-update-i-ve-read-236-out-of-320-pages

Kathryn Harkup: A Is for Arsenic — Chapters 7-9: Monkshood, Nicotine, Opium

What does it say that I read the opium chapter this night, after having woken up at 4:00AM (against all habit)?

I can see the temptation in using Sad Cypress as the anchor book for this chapter, and I’m glad Harkup gave an unambiguous spoiler warning this time around before proceeding to give away the final twist, in order to be able to address a compound that Christie uses in this novel (and which she only mentions by name in Poirot’s final round-up of the suspects).  Still, it’s not like this is the only book by Christie where morphine plays a prominent role, and Harkup would have been able to do without a spoiler completely by choosing, say, By the Pricking of My Thumbs (which was likely inspired by one of the real life cases Harkup addresses anyway), discuss morphine, heroin / diamorphine and codeine exactly the way she does here, and then, without specifically identifying Sad Cypress, tag on a paragraph beginning with “In another book, the poisoner …” — and then proceed to describing the solution of Sad Cypress.  Ah, well.  But, as I said, at least this time around there’s a clear spoiler warning … which should absolutely be heeded by anybody who hasn’t read Sad Cypress yet.

Notes on the previous chapters:

I’m now wondering whether the murderer in Ellis Peters’s Monk’s Hood would really have made it all the way to being found out by Brother Cadfael, a considerable time after the murder, without suffering the slightest effects of the drug himself.

And while I thought I couldn’t possibly be more scared of both nicotine and opiates than I already am anyway, just reading about the chemistry involved all over again was a not-very-much-needed refresher of just how scary these really are.  And, um, why kicking the habit (smoking) once and for all some 20 years ago was definitely the right thing to do.

 

Overall Review and Comments on Other Chapters:
Overall Review
Introduction and Chapter 1: Arsenic
Chapter 3: Cyanide
Chapter 4: Digitalis
Chapter 6: Hemlock
Chapters 10 & 11: Phosphorus & Ricin

 

 

Original post:
ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/1668883/reading-progress-update-i-ve-read-202-out-of-320-pages

Kathryn Harkup: A Is for Arsenic — Chapter 6: Hemlock

Oh, FIE.  Major spoiler alert.

In the “Hemlock” chapter, Harkup gives away — without any prior warning whatsoever — the identity of not one but two of the key suspects in Five Little Pigs who ultimately turn out to be innocent, and she also reveals the answer to the question that Poirot is chiefly asked to resolve.  This concerns persons whom Christie builds up as particularly “promising” suspects with great skill throughout the novel, with many clues pointing in their direction, and the revelation that they are innocent (and how the clues pointing to them are actually red herrings, and what they really mean) is a key part of Poirot’s eventual summing up.  Even worse, knowing that — and why — these two persons didn’t do it, and what the clues pointing to them actually mean, opens up direct lines of reasoning pointing to the true killer (whom Harkup doesn’t reveal, but who is fairly easy to identify once you start questioning / rethinking those clues — rr at the very least, Harkup’s hints also help eliminate other suspects).

If you haven’t read Five Little Pigs yet, I strongly suggest you don’t read the Hemlock chapter of Harkup’s book until after you’ve read the novel.  For all I can see so far, there are no cross-references to this chapter with other parts of A Is For Arsenic, so it’s not like you’re missing anything that you need to know to be able to follow the rest.

 

Overall Review and Comments on Other Chapters:
Overall Review
Introduction and Chapter 1: Arsenic
Chapter 3: Cyanide
Chapter 4: Digitalis
Chapters 7-9: Monkshood, Nicotine, Opium
Chapters 10 & 11: Phosphorus & Ricin

 

 

Original post:
ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/1667363/reading-progress-update-i-ve-read-140-out-of-320-pages

Kathryn Harkup: A Is for Arsenic — Chapter 4: Digitalis

I just finished the digitalis chapter — a fairly fast read, since for once this was one dealing with stuff of which I had at least a working knowledge going in. Christie herself discusses some of the basics re: digitalis in Appointment with Death and some of her short stories (most notably, The Herb of Death), and more importantly, one of the key characters in Dorothy L. Sayers’s The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club is a doctor — the very same doctor who prescribed digitalis to his fellow club member, the victim, for his heart condition, in fact — and he discusses the workings of digitalis with Lord Peter Wimsey in some detail after they’ve both “viewed” the body. Sayers was as obsessed as Christie about getting the chemistry of her novels involving poison right (she even co-wrote The Documents in the Case with a chemist, Robert Eustace, and they performed lab tests together to make sure the murder could really have been carried out the way they were, um, plotting it). It’s obvious that she’d read up on digitalis as well.

Hmm, The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club was published in 1928, and the RL case that Harkup thinks may have inspired Christie — the Marie Becker murders — happened in 1932. Mme. Becker, for her part, wouldn’t happen to have been inspired by Sayers, would she?! At any rate, I’m fairly certain that Sayers was aware of the other case that Harkup mentions (Pommerais / Pauw); though the facts are not identical, there are certain elements of that case that also show up in The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club.

 

Overall Review and Comments on Other Chapters:
Overall Review
Introduction and Chapter 1: Arsenic
Chapter 3: Cyanide
Chapter 6: Hemlock
Chapters 7-9: Monkshood, Nicotine, Opium
Chapters 10 & 11: Phosphorus & Ricin

 

 

Original post:
ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/1665540/reading-progress-update-i-ve-read-108-out-of-320-pages

Kathryn Harkup: A Is for Arsenic — Chapter 3: Cyanide

Harkup recounts the story how Rasputin’s enemies allegedly lured him to a lunch featuring

“cake and [Madeira] wine … said to be laced with enough cynide to kill ‘a monastery’ of monks, but it left Rasputin unaffected.  He was then shot, at least twice, but was still alive and fighting back against his would-be assassins.  At this point he was beaten into submission, tied up in a carpet and dropped into the frozen Neva river.  His body was recovered two days later, and a post-mortem revealed that he had died from drowning.

There are a number of theories that might explain what happened that day:

1. His assassins were terrible poisoners and did not put enough cyanide in the food to kill him, or mistook an innocuous substance for cyanide salts.

2. Rasputin suffered from alcoholic gastritis.

3. Suspecting someone might try and poison him, Rasputin dosed himself regularly with small amounts of poison to build up an immunity to a larger, normally letha. dose.

4. The sugary cakes and wine acted as an antidote to the cyanide.

5. The story is made up and rasputin was killed by a single shot to the head fired by a British secret service agent.”

 

The she analyzes options 1 – 4, concluding that

* As no samples were preserved and the story changed several times (gee, where have I seen that happen lately?), option 1 is impossible to either prove or disprove in hindsight;

* Option 2 is “reasonable and based on good science” in theory, but equally impossible to confirm because there is no conclusive proof that Rasputin did suffer from alcoholic gastritis;

* Option 3 — the so-called Mithridatism, named for the king of Pontus (135–63 BC), who is alleged to have done this very thing — would have worked for animal venom, but not for cyanide; and

* Option 4, while needing more research, at least sounds “promising” on the basis of the comparatively limited amount of knowledge available to date

… only to end her analysis with:

“The fifth Rasputin theory is, of course, the most likely explanation.”

Hah!

 

Overall Review and Comments on Other Chapters:
Overall Review
Introduction and Chapter 1: Arsenic
Chapter 4: Digitalis
Chapter 6: Hemlock
Chapters 7-9: Monkshood, Nicotine, Opium
Chapters 10 & 11: Phosphorus & Ricin

 

 

Original post:
ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/1665145/reading-progress-update-i-ve-read-82-out-of-320-pages

Kathryn Harkup: A Is for Arsenic — Introduction and Chapter 1: Arsenic

Oh man. I’m only a chapter (plus introduction) in, and I’m having all sorts of “mysteries read” flashbacks already — not only for Christie’s writings but also for those of other writers.

E.g., those Styrian peasants get a really major nod towards the end of Dorothy L. Sayers’s Strong Poison, and the initial setup of that book (the murder charge brought against Harriet Vane) is almost certainly largely inspired by the Madeleine Smith case.

Plus, poison books of course are also central to Christie’s own Mysterious Affair at Styles, even though the poison used there isn’t arsenic.

And dissolving arsenical flypaper in water as a beauty treatment (the hindsight-mind boggles!) plays a crucial role in P.D. James’s short story The Boxdale Inheritance, which features a very young Sergeant Dalgliesh …

Anyway — I like Harkup’s approach, tying each poison chiefly to one specific book by Christie; even if I’m already wishing now that she’d provided diagrams of the molecular structures of all the poisons discussed at the end of the book (instead of making me look up half of them online).  But it’s clear there’s a chemist writing about her own subject here, so … no fashion commentary, at least so far — let’s hope things stay that way!  And that table charting every single Christie novel and short story and the murder methods listed there is great beyond belief.

I have a feeling this will be another one of those books I’ll be referring to again and again in the future!

 

Overall Review and Comments on Other Chapters:
Overall Review
Chapter 3: Cyanide
Chapter 4: Digitalis
Chapter 6: Hemlock
Chapters 7-9: Monkshood, Nicotine, Opium
Chapters 10 & 11: Phosphorus & Ricin

 

 

Original post:
ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/1663783/reading-progress-update-i-ve-read-45-out-of-320-pages

Ethel Lina White: The Lady Vanishes (aka The Wheel Spins) & The Spiral Staircase (aka Some Must Watch)

Well, I can see the appeal to movie directors …

… but in written form, this isn’t really my cup of tea.  Which isn’t necessarily the fault of White’s writing is such — she has a fine eye (and ear) for characterization and language — but rather, of her chosen topic.  I’ve never been much of a fan of “women in peril” stories; they tend to be replete with fevered agitation and hyperbole, and however understandable the protagonists’ fear and excitement may be in a given situation, the situation as such is almost invariably so unrealistic as to be the literary equivalent of “B movie” material.


That being said, Hitchcock definitely milked The Lady Vanishes (which was originally published as The Wheel Spins) for all it was worth and then some — in fact, this is one of the rare examples where I decidedly prefer the movie over the book: not only because Hitch gave the story a spin that isn’t present in the literary original at all (even if that doesn’t make the story one iota more realistic — it’s just plainly more fun), but chiefly, because Michael Redgrave’s version of Iris’s (the heroine’s) knight in shining armour is decidedly more likeable than the character from the book, who — even though he’s meant to be likeable — to me just comes across as one hugely condescending a$$hole, hardly any better than the professor in whose company he travels.  Similarly, Iris herself is more likeable as portrayed by Margaret Lockwood in the movie: whereas there, I am genuinely sympathetic to her strange plight, the book mostly elicited my rage at her fellow passengers’ reactions — however not on Iris’s behalf specifically but on behalf of womanhood generally, against a society that automatically disbelieved and put down as hallucinations and figments of an overactive imagination any woman’s assertions that weren’t supported — or that were even directly contradicted — by other witnesses, especially men and / or figures of authority.  (In fact, if I hadn’t read Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper, biographical background information included, I’d have dismissed the whole premise of The Lady Vanishes as wildly improbable.  Sadly, at the time of its writing, it wasn’t.)


The Spiral Staircase (originally published as Some Must Watch) combines a remote country house setting on the Welsh border with a serial killer story; and if the isolation of the house and the prowling maniac weren’t enough in and of themselves, the whole action takes place over the course of somewhat less than 12 hours, mostly after nightfall.  I haven’t seen any of the several movie adaptations of this story, but I can see how a skilled director would be able to ratchet up the tension quite skillfully here, what with the dwindling down of effective defenses against the maniac and a cast of fairly outlandish (and unlikeable) characters inside the house — if you buy into the premonition that this house is where the serial killer is headed next, and that he is after the book’s heroine, to begin with.

I liked The Spiral Staircase a bit better than The Lady Vanishes — 3 1/2 vs. 2 1/2 stars, respectively, which averages out to 3 stars for both together.

The Spiral Staircase (under its original title Some Must Watch) is mentioned as an example of a country house mystery in Martin Edwards’s The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books, so I’ll be counting that towards the corresponding square of my Detection Club bingo card, and both books, in addition, also towards the Women Writers Bingo.

 

 

Original post:
ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/1632345/well-i-can-see-the-appeal-to-movie-directors

Robin Whiteman & Rob Talbot: Brother Cadfael’s Herb Garden / Robin Whiteman: The Cadfael Companion


Shared five-star honors for two simply gorgeously illustrated coffee table books full of facts and knowledge about medieval monastery life (Benedictine and otherwise), the healing arts of the medieval monks, and the plants they used.  Must-reads not only for fans of Ellis Peters’s Brother Cadfael series but for anyone interested in the Middle Ages, monastic history, social history in general, botany, medicine, and pharmacy.

 

Incidentally, a third book by this pair of authors — Cadfael Country: Shropshire & the Welsh Borders — provided, together with Ellis Peters’s own Strongholds and Sanctuaries: The Borderland of England and Wales, important information and stimuli for the “Welsh borderland” part of my trip to Britain in late July 2017, and will certainly be consulted again should I make good on my plan to spend some time in Wales proper some day.

Stratford-upon-Avon — Oxford — London: Shakespeare, Hogwarts and Shopping

Stratford

A Scene at the RSC Book and Gift Shop
The date: June 17, 2017. The time: Approximately 10:00AM.

TA and friend enter; TA asks for a shopping basket and makes straight for the shelves and display cases. An indeterminate amount of time is then spent browsing. Whenever her friend points out something and asks “Did you see this?”, TA silently points to the steadily growing contents of her basket.  Finally, with a sigh, TA makes for the cashier.

Shop assistant: I can see why you asked for a basket when you came in … So, do you come here often?
TA: I try to make it every 2 or 3 years.  [With a sheepish grin:]  And yes, my shopping basket does look like that pretty much every single time, I’m afraid.
TA’s friend: I can confirm that …
TA: Yeah, she’s seen my library at home.
TA’s friend: Err, I can confirm the shopping sprees as well.
Shop assistant (ringing up and bagging one item after another): Well, enjoy your, um, reading …!

Similar scenes, albeit minus the above dialogue were repeated at two of the book & gift stores of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Henley Street (WS birthplace) and Hall’s Croft (home of his daughter Judith and her husband, Dr. John Hall, a physician) — where we actually did spend a fair amount of time talking to the museum assistants, too, though, about everything from visiting Shakekspearean sites to Wimbledon tennis.

That being said, we “of course” paid our (well, my) hommage to the Bard, from Trinity Church to the two above-mentioned Shakespeare family houses (return visits all to me, though Hall’s Croft was new to my friend), and just as importantly, we had tickets for two of the current “Roman plays” season productions:

(1) Antony & Cleopatra, starring Josette Simon and Anthony Byrne in the title roles, with Andrew Woodall as Enobarbus:  One of the best productions of this particular play that I’ve ever seen.  Josette Simon alone was worth the price of admission ten times over, plus she and Byrne played off each other magnificently, and Andrew Woodall was unlike any Enobarbus I’d seen before, wonderfully highlighting the ironic subtext of his character’s lines and giving him more than a hint of a laconic note.  If you’re in England and anywhere near Stratford, run and get a ticket for this production … or if you don’t make it all the way to Warwickshire, try to catch it in London when they move the production there.

(2) Julius Caesar, starring Andrew Woodall as Caesar and James Corrigan as Marc Antony.  I liked this one, too — how can any RSC production ever be bad?! — but by far not as much as Antony and Cleopatra on the night before.  Woodall was a fine Caesar, even if actually a bit too like his Enobarbus (which I might not have found quite as obvious if I hadn’t seen both plays practically back to back, on two consecutive nights), and the cast generally did a good job, but this was clearly a “look at all our up-and-coming-talent” sort of production, with almost all of the play’s lead roles given to actors who were easily 5, if not 10 or more years younger than the parts they played, which didn’t quite work for me — these people are Roman senators and generals, for crying out loud, and for the most part the requisite gravitas simply wasn’t there (yet); even if the talent clearly was.  What a contrast to the very age-appropriate and, as I said, just all around magnificent production of Antony and Cleopatra … Still, I’m by no means sorry we went to see this, and it’s obvious even now that we’ll be seeing a lot more of these actors in years to come.

We also managed to snag last-minute tickets for a “behind the scenes” tour — I’d done one in 2014 already, but was more than happy to repeat the experience!  Now I only wish our own opera and theatre company had half the resources that the RSC has at its disposal …


  

 

       

Photos, from top left:

1. Shakespeare’s bust, above his grave in Trinity Church
2. Shakespeare’s epitaph, on his gravestone (photo from 2014, since I didn’t get a really good one this time around. N.B., the photo is actually upside down, for somewhat greater ease of reading the inscription.)
3. Trinity Church — the graves of Shakespeare and his family are located in the part to the left of the tower.
4. River Avon, with RSC Theatre and, in the background, the spire of Trinity Church
5. RSC Theatre
6. Shakespeare’s Birthplace (Henley Street)
7.Shakespeare Birthplace Trust centre, next to the actual Henley Street Birthplace building
8. Hall’s Croft, garden view
9.New Place and Guild Chapel (photo from 2014)
10. New Place gardens, looking towards RSC and Swan Theatres (also a photo from 2014 — we didn’t make it inside New Place this time around, though we did pass by there on our way from our B&B to the RSC theatre and to Henley Street and back).

Now, since Manuel Antao insisted on “the full list” — the grand total result of the above-mentioned shopping sprees, plus a brief supplementary foray into an airport W.H. Smith, was the following:

CDs:

* William Shakespeare: Antony & Cleopatra: Music and Speeches from the 2017 Royal Shakespeare Company Production


* William Shakespeare: Julius Caesar: Music and Speeches from the 2017 Royal Shakespeare Company Production


* William Shakespeare: King Lear: Music and Speeches from the 2016 Royal Shakespeare Company Production — which alas I had to miss, but it starred Antony Sher as Lear, whom I saw as Falstaff in 2014 … which in turn was just about all the reason I needed to get the audio version of his Lear, too.


*  William Shakespeare: The Tempest: Music and Speeches from the 2016 Royal Shakespeare Company Production — which I also had to miss, but I figured even if I was a year late … (plus, Simon Russell Beale as Prospero and directed — like the 2016 Lear — by Gregory Doran …?!)


*  William Shakespeare: King Richard III, full cast audio recording starring Kenneth Branagh — a long-time must-have from my TBR or, err, “to-be-listened-to” list.


The British Library, with Ben and David Crystal: Shakespeare’s original pronunciation: Speeches and scenes performed as Shakespeare would have heard them — there’s a video version of this on Youtube (I think Lora posted about it here a while back), and if you haven’t already seen it, I highly recommend remedying that sooner rather than later.  It gives you a whole new insight into Shakespeare’s use of language … down to lingusitic puns, allusions and images that you really only pick up on once you’ve heard what the Bard and his original audiences would have heard in the delivery of the respective lines.

 

Books:

Jackie Bennett, with photographs by Andrew Lawson: Shakespeare’s Gardens — a lavishly illustrated coffee table book-sized guide to the gardens Shakespeare knew (or might have known) both in Stratford / Warwickshire and in London, as well as on the gardens of the five Shakespeare-related houses in and around Stratford, with an introductory chapter on Tudor gardening in general.  THE find of several great finds of this trip.  (And it’s even an autographed copy … as I only discovered when I unpacked the book back home!)


Roy Strong: The Quest for Shakespeare’s Garden — similar to the above (though smaller in format) and a great complementary book, with plenty of historical illustrations and leading up to a focus on the New Place garden, which has painstakingly been restored in period style in recent years.


Delia Garratt and Tara Hamling (eds.): Shakespeare and the Stuff of Life: Treasures from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust — an illustrated guide to Shakespeare’s life and times in the style of the recently-popular “so-and-so [insert topic] in 100 objects” books, with 50 representative objects covering the key aspects of Shakespeare’s life from cradle to grave.


Peter Sillitoe & Maurice Hindle (ed.): Shakespearean London Theatres — what the title says, but with a handy walking map allowing the aficionado to trace not merely the locations of the various theatres but also get a sense of the areas where they were located … or at least, their respective modern incarnations.


Paul Edmondson and Stanley Wells (eds.), with contributions by, inter alia and in addition to the editors, Graham Holderness, Charles Nicholl, Andrew Hadfield and John Jowett, and an afterword by James Shapiro: Shakespeare Beyond Doubt — a scholarly refutation of the various “alternate authorship” theories.


Paul Edmondson and Stanley Wells (eds.), with contributions by, inter alia and in addition to the editors, Michael Wood, Graham Holderness, Germaine Greer and Andrew Hadfield, and an afterword by Margaret Drabble: The Shakespeare Circle — a collective biography of Shakespeare’s family, friends, business associates and patrons; a bit like Stanley Wells’s earlier Shakespeare & Co., but not merely focusing on the other key figures of Elizabethan theatre, and with individual chapters / essays designated to individual persons (or families), instead of the continuous narrative contained in Shakespeare & Co.


James Shapiro: 1606: Shakespeare and the Year of Lear — pretty much what the title implies; a follow-up to Shapiro’s earlier focus on Shakespeare’s life in 1599.


Frank Kermode: Shakespeare’s Language — also pretty much what the title says, with a joint examination of the pre-Globe plays’ poetic and linguistic characteristics and a play-by-play examination of the last 16 plays, beginning with Julius Caesar.


Dominic Dromgoole: Hamlet: Globe to Globe — the Globe Theatre Artistic Director’s account of their recent, 2-year-long venture of taking a production of Hamlet to (literally) every single country in the world.


Antony Sher: Year of the Fat Knight: The Falstaff Diaries — a must-read for anyone who’s been fortunate enough to see the RSC’s 2014 productions of Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2, and still a rioting good read if you haven’t.  Plus, the most amazing sketches by Sher himself … the man is an artist several times over!


Antony Sher & Gregory Doran: Woza Shakespeare! Titus Andronicus in South Africa — not new, but it’s been on my TBR for a while and I figured while I was at it …


Sheridan Morley: John Gielgud: The Authorized Biography — comment unnecessary.


Jonathan Croall, with a prologue by Simon Callow: Gielgoodies! The Wit and Wisdom [& Gaffes] of John Gielgud — a frequently hilarious complementary read to the above bio.


Harriet Walter: Brutus and Other Heroines: Playing Shakespeare’s Roles for Womenplus, I might add, plenty of insight into Shakespearean theatre in particular and acting in general.


Harriet Walter: Other People’s Shoes: Thoughts on Acting — as the title implies, more of the above, though minus the near-exclusive focus on Shakespeare. (Instead, however, also a professional autobiography of sorts.)


Judi Dench: And Furthermore — her memoirs.  Very much looking forward to this one.


Jeanette Winterson: The Gap of Time — Hogarth Shakespeare adaptation series, The Winter’s Tale.


Anne Tyler: Vinegar Girl — Hogarth Shakespeare adaptation series, The Taming of the Shrew.


Howard Jacobson: Shylock Is My Name — Hogarth Shakespeare adaptation series, The Merchant of Venice. (I could have gone on and gotten more of those, but I figured I’d limit myself to three to begin with … 🙂 )


Ian Doescher: William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, a New Hope — I know, I know.  Everybody but me has already read it at this point.


Elizabeth Norton: The Lives of Tudor Women — a(nother) proximate choice, since I’ve spent so much time in their world (and that of their Plantagenet sisters / ancestors) recently, thanks in no small part to Samantha [Carpe Librum]!


Robert Harris: Imperium — Cicero trilogy, book 1.  And yes, there is a Shakespeare connection even here … think ” ’twas all Greek to me.”  (Also, as was to be expected, the RSC bookstore had Harris’s complete Roman series on their shelves as companion reads (of sorts) to their current Roman  plays season.)


Yuval Noah Harari: Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind — no Shakespeare connection here; unless Harari should be (justly) citing to Shakespeare as an exponent of human genius, that is.  Anyway, this is where the airport W.H. Smith came in handy.


Michael Connelly: The Wrong Side of Goodbye — see Harari above! 🙂


Plus a blue RSC silk scarf, a Macbeth quote T-shirt (can’t have too much of the Scottish play, ever), a First Folio canvas bag (had to get something to carry all my new treasures home in, after all), a couple of Shakespeare- and Tudor-related postcards, and of course a few more Shakespeare quote mugs and refrigerator magnets for my respective collections.

 

Oxford

On the way from London to Stratford, we’d stopped by in Oxford: This being merely an extended weekend trip, we didn’t have a lot of time, but since our last attempt to visit this half of Oxbridge had literally been drowned by floods of torrential rain (so we ended up spending virtually all the time in the Museum of Natural History), I’d promised my friend a short visit at least — all the more since I myself had actually spent a few days in Oxford in the interim with my mom. Well, with the weather cooperating this time around, we at least managed a stroll along Broad Street and down Catte Street to Radcliffe Square, then past St. Mary’s Church to “the High,” a brief climb up Carfax Tower, and finally a visit to Hogwarts, err, Christchurch College (Tom Quad, Chapel, Great Hall and all).

  

Photos, from top left:

1. View from Radcliffe Square down Catte St.: Radcliffe Camera and Bodleian Library to the left; Hereford College to the right.
2. View from Carfax Tower towards St. Mary’s Church, Radcliffe Camera, Hereford College, Magdalen College, and New College.
3. / 4.: Christchurch College: Tom Quad with Tom Tower (left photo) and Chapel and Great Hall (right photo).
5.: Christchurch College, Chapel.
6.: Christchurch College, Great Hall.

(We had, incidentally, also been planning for a stop in Cambridge on the return trip from Stratford, but that had to be cancelled … which is a story for another day.  Also, this will now obviously necessitate yet another joint trip to England at some point or other!)

 

London

London, where we actually started our trip, was the first scheduled “shopping spree” stop: Since we’ve both visited London repeatedly before, no mad bouts of “mandatory” sightseeing were included; rather, merely being there tends to make both of us pretty happy campers in and of itself.  Since we’ve also more or less worked out a route covering the stores that we tend to hit on a routine basis whenever we’re visiting, it took us all but five hours to complete our program, from Neal’s Yard Remedies (at the original Neal’s Yard location in Seven Dials) all the way to Fortnum & Mason’s, with various other stops thrown in on the way, chiefly among those, Whittard of Chelsea and, this time around, Crabtree & Evelyn (which we actually do have in Germany, too, but the London branches had those irresistible sales … (sigh)).  Since I knew I was going to spend a lot of money buying books in Stratford, I decided — with a somewhat heavy heart — to forego my usual Charing Cross Road stops on this occasion; though towards the end of the aforementioned five hours (1) my left knee started to give me serious trouble, and (2) we were already laden with our other purchases to such an extent that even I had to admit there would have been no way we’d be able to carry back books to our hotel on top, so I was grudgingly reconciled … though only for the moment, and with the effect of instantly resolving to return to England sooner rather than later; a resolution that has since blossomed into fully-blown plans for a longer (and solo) follow-up trip, from the England / Wales border all the way to the Norfolk coast — and in addition to plenty of sightseeing, I’ve also promised myself plenty of book store stops along the way.

 

 

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