All posts for the month July, 2011

The Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Arnim

Published 22/07/2011 by damselwithadulcimer

The Enchanted April (Virago Modern Classics)The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a find! If a friend hadn’t invited me to join Bright Young Things I would never have come across Elizabeth Von Arnim or The Enchanted April. Such a delightful early twentieth century fairy tale of the change that comes over four women who decide to share a medieval castle on the Mediterranean coast of Italy. New love is discovered, marriages are repaired, the gardens change as the weeks advance and everybody has an enchanted month away from England. Nearly a hundred years ago women didn’t have the independence and autonomy that we take for granted, but they have the capacity to be happy, and that is what is so heartwarming about this clever, witty novel.

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How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran

Published 05/07/2011 by damselwithadulcimer

<a href=”; style=”float: left; padding-right: 20px”><img alt=”How To Be a Woman” border=”0″ src=”; /></a><a href=””>How To Be a Woman</a> by <a href=””>Caitlin Moran</a><br/>
My rating: <a href=”″>4 of 5 stars</a><br /><br />
Every woman I’ve spoken to recently knows about this and is either reading it or has put it on their list.  Caitlin Moran (who makes a point of mis-pronouncing her own first name) runs through a whole list of topics, the sort of things that most women discuss amongst themselves.  She begins as an overweight teenager and works through various rites of passage: pubic hair, and what to do with it, menstruation, masturbation, sex, love, marriage, childbirth and abortion.  On the way she also engages with pornography and striptease, the differences between men and women and our attitude to ‘celebs’.  Her style is lively, intimate and chatty (although the screaming upper case letters do tend to annoy) and she makes many interesting points without writing a polemical novel.  In fact this is not really a novel, more a mixture of memoir and observational comedy.  She would make a very good stand up commedienne (perhaps that should be comedian if I’m writing from a feminist point of view) or after dinner speaker.  I was almost rofling (her style is catching) at her description of waxed female porn stars: ‘it’s all hairless down there: close-ups are like watching one of the Mitchell brothers, with no eyes, eating a very large, fidgety sausage.'<br/><br/>This is a book that every woman, from eight to eighty, should read.  It should also remind you that you don’t need to hate men to be a feminist; you just need to believe in the female sex and that we should have exactly the same opportunities as men.
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The Cherry Orchard at the Olivier

Published 04/07/2011 by damselwithadulcimer

Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard is currently in production at the Oliver Theatre, in a new version by Andrew Upton.

Zoe Wannamaker stars as a very childlike Ranyevskaya, a woman who is unable to stand up to the future and the changes it holds.  Her refusal to leave the past behind is the reason why the cherry orchard of the play’s title will be demolished, and the family will have to leave their country estate and family home.  At times I felt that I could have given her a good shake, so well does she inhabit the girl clinging to the past.  She refuses to heed Lopakhin and continues to represent a time that is passing. Conleth Hill’s merchant, Lopakhin anticipates the oligarchy that arose after the dissolution of the USSR and the rise of the free market.  He never ceases to remind the audience that he was born to a serf and has achieved success and a fortune in his own lifetime.  Mark Bonnar’s Trofimov is the idealist scholar, the philosopher and forerunner of the communists that will later rule Russia.  Howard Davies, the director of this production, brings out the divisions between the three characters, who all have ample time and space to voice their own opinions.

Lower down the social hierarchy, the young manservant, Yasha (Gerald Kyd), entertains illusions of grandeur, whilst the old retainer, Firs (Kenneth Cranham), never forgets his place, although his age and health are against him.  Varya, (Claudie Blakley) Ranyevskaya’s adopted daughter, will have to move down through the social classes, and will never marry Lopakhin, as he moves upwards.  They pass like ships in the night as the social order changes.  Even Gaev, (James Laurenson) Ranevskaya’s brother will have to put his indolent life of playing billiards behind him, and go to work in a bank.  Meanwhile his sister’s rejection of a changed future sees her returning to her lover in Paris.  She is the only one who cannot see the writing on the wall.

The play was written in the early years of the twentieth century and foreshadows the changes of the coming years.  As if to emphasise these changes even further, the current production uses a new version, and one that didn’t entirely work for me as I found some of the language too modern to be uttered by actors in costumes of that era.  However I thought the set design of an old wooden house was perfect and provided a fine elegiac illustration of a class in decline, and an estate on the verge of destruction.