Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Review: ‘The Paris Mysteries, Deluxe Edition’ by Edgar Allan Poe


I’ve known of Edgar Allan Poe for years, even before I had ever read any of his tales. His presence looms over the Gothic genre and not many are able to reach the same level of beauty and darkness. I had read once that Poe was the originator of the detective genre but had never thought to read these stories for myself until Pushkin Press’ new edition came across my computer. Thanks to Pushkin Press and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 3/20/2020
Publisher: Pushkin Press; Pushkin Vertigo
Three macabre and confounding mysteries for the first and greatest of detectives, Auguste Dupin
An apartment on the rue Morgue turned into a charnel house; the corpse of a shopgirl dragged from the Seine; a high-stakes game of political blackmail - three mysteries that have enthralled the whole of Paris, and baffled the city's police. The brilliant Chevalier Auguste Dupin investigates - can he find the solution where so many others before him have failed?
These three stories from the pen of Edgar Allan Poe are some of the most influential ever written, widely praised and credited with inventing the detective genre. This edition contains: 'The Murders in the Rue Morgue', 'The Mystery of Marie Rogêt' and 'The Purloined Letter'.

In The Paris Mysteries are collected the three stories that created the detective genre. You will recognize it immediately. The reclusive genius, his best friend who is just a tad slower, the mumbling detective who tries his best, the outlandish crimes. It feels like coming home, in a way. Since we have been spoiled by countless Sherlock Holmes adaptations over the past few years, I hopefully can’t be blamed for occasionally mistaking Auguste Dupin for Holmes himself. The ease with which these stories flow is amazing when you consider that they are the first. Many authors aim for this, but they also have many examples to follow and imitate. Poe was the first and his talent shines through each of the three stories.

First is ‘The Murders of the Rue Morgue’, in which we are first introduced to Dupon and his companion. They live in joint repose, walking the streets at night and meeting no one. Until, that is, a gruesome and unexplainable murder is committed. I can’t lie, when we got to the resolution I had to put the book down for a second. It was outrageous in the most hilarious, apt way. ‘The Mystery of Marie Roget’, the second story, is fascinating in a completely different way. It is based on the real case of Mary Rogers which took place in the USA, and is moved to Paris in the story. Poe used writing the story to try and understand the mystery of Mary Rogers’ disappearance and death himself. The real crime itself still goes unsolved to this day. The third story is ‘The Purloined Letter’ in which, as the title suggests, a letter is stolen from a high-ranked royal. Elements of it will appear very familiar to Sherlockians, and there was even a film adaptation in which Holmes solves this case.

Poe’s writing in these stories is brilliant, in the way Arthur Conan Doyle’s is, in that he manages to not make it boring when someone rambles on for page after page about minute details. It is still gripping, still interesting to see just where Poe and Dupin will take us. The setting of Paris is also lovely, as it feels appropriately melancholy and beautiful for a Poe story. Furthermore, these stories don’t cut down on the gore of the detective genre. There are slashed throats, blood stains and drownings. Something interesting I read is that the three stories allow Poe to explore three different settings; the streets in the first story, the outdoors in the second, and the private sphere in the third. It’s fascinating to think of the stories from this perspective, as each leads to a different kind of deduction and a different kind of answer. The only potential downside to reading The Paris Mysteries is that the stories were so central to the genre that their elements are now almost too familiar. Thankfully, the first story has an enormous twist that will carry you through all the other elements.

I give this collection…
 
4 Universes.

Fans of Poe will need little convincing to give this collection a try. They are great stories and beautifully presented by Pushkin Press in this edition. If the detective genre is your thing, you have to read the one who started it all!

Thursday, 5 March 2020

Review: 'Too Much: How Victorian Constraints Still Bind Women Today' by Rachel Vorona Cote

It's hard to walk a fine line between having a personality and being "too much", especially if you're a woman. You're supposed to laugh at jokes, but if those laughs turn into snorts you're out. You should definitely enjoy cooking and baking and fine cuisine, but don't stuff your mouth. And please only let an elegant tear drop down your cheek, not the torrents of tears and snot that might show actual emotion. Since I feel this balance I knew Too Much would be the book for me. Also, how gorgeous is this cover! Thanks to Grand Central Publishing and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 2/25/2020
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Lacing cultural criticism, Victorian literature, and storytelling together, "TOO MUCH spills over: with intellect, with sparkling prose, and with the brainy arguments of Vorona Cote, who posits that women are all, in some way or another, still susceptible to being called too much." (Esmé Weijun Wang)
A weeping woman is a monster. So too is a fat woman, a horny woman, a woman shrieking with laughter. Women who are one or more of these things have heard, or perhaps simply intuited, that we are repugnantly excessive, that we have taken illicit liberties to feel or fuck or eat with abandon. After bellowing like a barn animal in orgasm, hoovering a plate of mashed potatoes, or spraying out spit in the heat of expostulation, we've flinched-ugh, that was so gross. I am so gross. On rare occasions, we might revel in our excess--belting out anthems with our friends over karaoke, perhaps--but in the company of less sympathetic souls, our uncertainty always returns. A woman who is Too Much is a woman who reacts to the world with ardent intensity is a woman familiar to lashes of shame and disapproval, from within as well as without.
Written in the tradition of Shrill, Dead Girls, Sex Object and other frank books about the female gaze, TOO MUCH encourages women to reconsider the beauty of their excesses-emotional, physical, and spiritual. Rachel Vorona Cote braids cultural criticism, theory, and storytelling together in her exploration of how culture grinds away our bodies, souls, and sexualities, forcing us into smaller lives than we desire. An erstwhile Victorian scholar, she sees many parallels between that era's fixation on women's "hysterical" behavior and our modern policing of the same; in the space of her writing, you're as likely to encounter Jane Eyre and Lizzie Bennet as you are Britney Spears and Lana Del Rey.This book will tell the story of how women, from then and now, have learned to draw power from their reservoirs of feeling, all that makes us "Too Much."
In many ways this book is a bit of an inspiration for someone like myself. I like to consider myself a bit of a pseudo-academic, especially since I'm currently nowhere near a university or academia in general. I love reading into texts, analyzing them, figuring out what role they play in our lives today and how they reflect our lives then. Too Much does a lot of that, looking into various Victorian texts, both literary and non-literary, to find out why we still seem to hold true to certain ideas and ideals that were popular then. Aside from this, it is also a blend of research and memoir/autobiography. Carmen Maria Machado released her masterful autobiography, In the Dream House, earlier this year, laying bare how we look at ourselves dependent on the stories we tell and have access to. Vorona Cote does this to a certain extent as well and although her story is perhaps more familiar to many than Machado's, Too Much only occasionally hits similar high notes.

Unfortunately, Too Much left me a little confused at times. The subtitle as well as the introduction heavily prioritize the book's link to Victorian constraints and literature specifically and yet much of the book focuses on different eras and sources, whether it is Jane Austen, pop idols from the 2000s or the movie Heavenly Creatures. Vorona Cote's idea of 'too muchness' never quite crystallized enough for me to take it beyond a hashtag. It's something all women will be able to identify with, but aside from celebrating it there doesn't seem to be a lot we can do with it. Similarly, a lot of the analysis in Too Much is recognizable because it is no longer outrageous. Britney Spears' breakdown in 2008 is no longer a punchline, Angel Clare is hated by everyone and Ramona beloved. Somehow I wish Too Much went further than it does, either dedicating completely to what its subtitle suggests or to being an autobiography.

Rachel Vorona Cote is very passionate and almost uncomfortably honest throughout Too Much. She shares ruthlessly from her past, whether it is her own infidelity or the horrors of being a teenager at a preppy school. Because of this honesty, a trigger warning does also need to accompany this book as one of the chapters, entitled 'Cut', deals with self-harming. It is one of the most autobiographical chapters in Too Much and at times I found myself cringing at what almost felt like the glorification of self-harming. Too Much can be read in such a way that it gives women the go-ahead to be as selfish and self-destructive as they desire. I do not believe this is what Vorona Cote intended. Rather she means to point out that the restrictions we face leave us constantly wondering who we are, second-guessing and repressing ourselves. This is a good message and something to be aware of, but it is also not new. On top of that, books like Too Much sometimes walk a fine line between celebrating women who stand out and are Othered and shaming women who are seen as more compliant. It is a difficult balance and I don't know whether it has been successfully struck by an author yet. At times Vorona Cote veers rather too much towards the latter.

I give this book...

3 Universes!

Overall, I was fascinated by Too Much until I ended up questioning it. I wish that it had gone further in truly assessing what lies behind the restricted behavior and the way it affects different women. Instead it left me with many questions that I'm sure I will be finding answers for over the years.

Tuesday, 3 March 2020

Review: 'Warriors, Witches, Women' by Kate Hodges

In my life as a woman so far I have frequently strove to be both warrior and witch, to varying success. In my quest to be thus, I have frequently been in need of a role model, of inspiration. A book like Warrior, Witches, Women would have gone a long way to help me out. Thanks to Quarto Publishing Group, White Lion Publishing and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 3/3/2020
Publisher: Quarto Publishing Group; White Lion Publishing
Meet mythology’s fifty fiercest females in this modern retelling of the world’s greatest legends. 
From feminist fairies to bloodsucking temptresses, half-human harpies and protective Vodou goddesses, these are women who go beyond long-haired, smiling stereotypes. Their stories are so powerful, so entrancing, that they have survived for millennia. Lovingly retold and updated, Kate Hodges places each heroine, rebel and provocateur fimly at the centre of their own narrative. Players include: 
Bewitching, banished Circe, an introvert famed and feared for her transfigurative powers. 
The righteous Furies, defiantly unrepentant about their dedication to justice. 
Fun-loving Ame-no-Uzume who makes quarrelling friends laugh and terrifies monsters by flashing at them. 
The fateful Morai sisters who spin a complex web of birth, life and death. 
Find your tribe, fire your imagination and be empowered by this essential anthology of notorious, demonised and overlooked women.
Hodges displays a wide variety of women, warriors, goddesses and witches in her book. Some of them, lke Circe, I knew, some, like Ame-no-Uzume, were completely new to me. The mythology that comes down to us can be very whitewashed the way that the Grim fairytales were in later editions. No more hacked off toes, no more dancing in hot-iron shoes. Hodges gives us the tales straight up with relish, not hiding away the odder or more unusual parts of mythology. Whether it's the double-edged sword that is Kali or the life-giving gifts of the White Buffalo Calf Woman, each of the women mentioned in Warrior, Witches, Women has left an imprint on a culture or a society. Hodges tracks how their stories have changed and evolved, both for the better and the worse, and what impact they have today.

Warriors, Witches, Women covers 50 different women, goddesses, spirits, messengers, from all over the world who each receive a page or two in which their tale is told. Alongside this are stunning illustrations by Harriet Lee-Merrion. There is a timeless simplicity to them which I found very affecting. I would love to frame these and hang them up in my house. The cover is, clearly, Medusa, and the colourful calm that Lee-Merrion brought to play is beautiful. WWW would make a perfect coffee table book, to be picked up by a little girl or boy, bored of the conversation happening around them. To me, it felt a little bit like a gateway, a first step into reconnecting with some of the mythology we have forgotten or never been told. Here is a whole range of stories, ready to be explored. I took notes, I Googled, and I listened to the songs recommended at the end. By the end of Warriors, Witches, Women I felt enriched and surely there is nothing more you could ask for?

I give this book...

4 Universes!

Warriors, Witches, Women is a beautiful introduction to the sheer volume of amazing myths and legends around women. Let it inspire you to look further and to discover some fo that rebellion and rule-breaking within yourself.

Monday, 2 March 2020

Review: 'The Silent House' by Nell Pattison

I've worn glasses since I was six and being ever so slightly blind has let to plenty of scary moments where I didn't see a bike rushing at me, misjudged the distance between two steps in the dark, or couldn't quite figure out if that shape was my coat or a man standing in the corner of my room. Because of these experiences I was immediately drawn in by the blurb of The Silent House. Thanks to Avon Books UK and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 3/1/2020
Publisher: Avon Books UK
If someone was in your house, you’d know . . . Wouldn’t you?
But the Hunter family are deaf, and don’t hear a thing when a shocking crime takes place in the middle of the night. Instead, they wake up to their worst nightmare: the murder of their daughter. 
The police call Paige Northwood to the scene to interpret for the witnesses. They’re in shock, but Paige senses the Hunters are hiding something. 
One by one, people from Paige’s community start to fall under suspicion. But who would kill a little girl? 
Was it an intruder? 
Or was the murderer closer to home? 
This mystery will keep you up all night – perfect for fans of The Silent Patient and Cara Hunter
What is best about The Silent House is that it took a different approach to the usual crime procedural. Our protagonist, Paige, isn't a police detective or a brother/sister/mother/uncle of the victim. Rather, she is a part of their community, the Deaf community. Paige is called in to interpret for the witnesses at a shocking murder scene. She keeps her ties to the witnesses through the Deaf community a secret for as long as she can, needing to know the details, wanting to be involved. But of course danger lurks around every corner for those that try to get involved. In some ways, The Silent House reminded me of the film Hush, in which a murdered tries to break into a deaf woman's house to kill her. Hush is a brilliant movie because it uses its premise to surprise and shock the viewer in new ways. Similarly, The Silent House allows for a different look at the usual set-up of a thriller while also bringing some diversity to the usual cast of a thriller.

What carries The Silent House for most of it is the intriguing set-up and the freshness of its premise. Pattison chooses a tight-knit community that keeps largely to itself. As such, all the possible suspects and witnesses of The Last House know each other, including our protagonist Paige. This means that with her keen eye she can pick up a lot more than the police may be able to. After threats to her own and her sister's safety, Paige and Anna decide to try and solve the mystery themselves. Some of the choices made by characters in this novel feel at odds with common sense, but it is undeniably a fascinating read. The Silent House is structured in such a way that we follow Paige day to day, but get chapters interspersed that count down to the murder. On the day it all gets we resolved we also reach the chapter that explains exactly what happens. It is a nice way of building up the suspense, even if it did become a bit much that every throwback chapter tried to set up a new potential murderer.

Overall The Silent House is very enjoyable. The pace picks up considerable in the last third of the book, but Pattison builds up her world convincingly. There were a few occasions on which we were told rather than shown, which led to some of the characterization feeling rather weak. I don't want to veer into spoiler territory, but Paige's history is rife with loss and difficulty which affects her in her present as well. All of these things seem to combine to an overwhelming backstory and yet they're only occasionally addressed to explain some of Paige's choices. There's also a very sudden almost-romance which I found very hard to believe in or care about, which was a shame since it was clearly there to heighten the personal drama for Paige. This meant that I wasn't always as engaged with Paige herself, but still found myself intrigued with the resolution of it all. Towards the end I started seeing the twist coming, but it was still mostly satisfying, even if it felt like Pattison tried to tie together every single loose story thread in a single scene.

Although it may sound like I'm nit-picking The Silent House, I read it in a single reading and was engrossed by it. It was a great way to spend a Saturday and it made me see the inventiveness that trademarks thrillers and mystery novels.

I give this novel...

3 Universes!

The Silent House is a gripping, quick thriller that introduces its audience to a whole new community. Pattison brings some interesting twists and turns to the story, even if some of it doesn't hold up to closer scrutiny.

Friday, 14 February 2020

Poetry Review: 'The Gates of Never' by Deborah L. Davitt

I don't read poetry often. I had to study it at university and it was my first true introduction to its potential beauty. Unlike many other bibliophiles and wannabe-writers, I have never written poetry myself because I always had a secret inkling that I would be horrible at it. So poetry became something I never explored independently. But now I've decided I should do something about that and I couldn't have chosen better than Davitt's The Gates of Never. Thanks to Finishing Line Press and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this collection in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 10/11/2019
Publisher: Finishing Line Press
The Gates of Never presents speculative poetry by one of the field's rising voices. Erudite without pretension, Deborah L. Davitt's debut collection fuses history, mythology, and magic seamlessly with futurism, science, and science fiction.
“With the Gates of Never Deborah Davitt offers us a sumptuous exploration of the cosmic and the mythic, the historic and the familiar. Her lines hum with memory and imagination, forging a distinctive landscape of voice and omen, whether it’s taking on sea wolves or ancient empires, the mysteries of the human heart or a single leaf. This is a finely-tuned collection for those who dare to dream deeply in a vast cosmos.”
–Bryan Thao Worra, NEA Fellow in Literature.
In The Gates of Never Davitt brings together mythology and poetry, magic and astronomy. There is mystery, there is beauty, there is also some real tragedy in these poems. The collection is split into different "Gates": 'The Gate of Sandstone', 'The Gate of Marble', 'The Gate of Wood', 'The Gate of Steel' and 'The Gate of Stars'. Some of these gates link very directly to the poems contained within them. 'The Gate of Stars', for example, is full of poems dedicated to and inspired by the stars and planets in our solar system. The other 'Gates' aren't always as straightforward, but together they work up to something celestial, as if the poems carry us higher and higher.

One of my favourite poems was 'The Sea-Wolf of Brittany', about a Breton warlord called the 'sea-wolf'. They attempt to tame him through marriage, but betrayed by two brides he abandons human form forever. I think it is a brilliant exmaple of how Davitt brings together history, mythology and, surprisingly, some suspense. The same can be said for poems like 'The Pyre', which is probably my actual favourite poem from The Gates of Never, 'Russalka', 'Jade Mask' and 'Dragon Teeth'.

Another example of how Davitt plays with different themes is 'Storms of the King' from 'The Gate of Stars'. As far as I can tell, it is about Jupiter. Davitt uses the science of the planet to tell a beautiful story in only two stanzas. NASA is full of beautiful nerds who love mythology as much as I do and Davitt has used this to her advantage to combine astronomy and mythology into poems that strike a perfect balance between the two.

As I said above, poetry doesn't often strike a nerve with me. In the case of The Gates of Never, Davitt brought together all my favourite things in order to ensnare me. Of course not every poem will equally strike a chord, but in general this poetry collection has really struck me. The poems aren't traditional, in that they follow a clear rhyme scheme. I don't know enough about poetry to say what it is that it is doing, but it works very well. The Gates of Never feels both ancient and modern, which is a great combination.

I give this collection...

5 Universes!

I loved The Gates of Never which surprised me very much. Each poem draws a beautiful image and Davitt has definitely found a new fan in me. Anyone with an interest in mythology and legend will adore The Gates of Never as much as I did.

Monday, 10 February 2020

The Decameron XI: Thoughts

Final Thoughts - Reading Boccaccio During Corona


It's been ten very interesting days as I saw the narrative around the Coronavirus change day by day, while hiding away in my own apartment with Shanghai's winter sun shining in through the windows. As I wrote atop each post over the last ten days, The Decameron has become oddly relevant to me as I found myself on extended leave because of the Coronavirus. Although nowhere near as deadly as the Black Plague of the 14th century, the fear and suspicion around the Coronavirus was and is very real. I myself have had a relatively good time, thanks to a good employer and a solid internet connection, but I was definitely in need of the diversion Boccaccio could provide.

The set-up of The Decameron is timeless in its simplicity. On the 'First Day' of its story we are introduced to ten youths who hide away in an empty villa while the Black Plague ravages Italy. They decide to tell each other tales to keep them diverted. From the 'Second Day' onward they set themselves a daily theme: gaining fortune after hardship; re-gaining what was lost; unhappy lovelove won; quick wit; cuckolded husbands; general trickery and tomfoolery; a day of free choice; and deeds of great munificence. As the days progress, tales begin to respond to each other, to work up towards a general theme or to rebut a previously made statement. What this adds up to is that it does begin to feel like you're listening to ten friends engage in a back-and-forth. Boccaccio's frame narrative comes alive by the little touches of personality he brings to his characters, whether it is Filostrato's moroseness over his frustrated love life or Filomena's rumored about love life.

The Decameron is set in an idyllic world in which the horrors of the plague exist but can also be escaped by traveling a few hours away. It's a world in which servants are at your beck and call and gardens are luscious and fragrant and evergreen. There are valleys, fountains, daily songs and games. It is a beautiful world, despite its horrors, and this is reflected in the tales as well. They are a riot, full of affairs, pirates, betrayal, conciliation and friendship. Some are erotic, while others are tragic or hilarious. Over the days, I found myself mainly focusing on the gender balance within the tales and within the frame narrative. Seven women and three men, ten tales a day, each covering the actions of men and women alike. Boccaccio addresses the whole Decameron to the "ladies", stating that he wrote it for their amusement and elucidation, as they do not have the same opportunities to divert themselves as men.

The Decameron is a double-edged sword. On the one hand it can be read as a proto-feminist work, highlighting the inequality between men and women. On the other hand it is full of micro-, and macro-, aggression against women. Although they have minds of their own, they still end up the property of men and are still subject to their whims. By focusing on the first, I was always negatively surprised by the latter, for which I am mostly to blame. The Decameron is a medieval work, written in a time when women were treated nowhere near equal to men, legally or socially. The freedom they possess within the tales was not a reality, and yet the tongue-in-cheek tone of the whole book betrays an awareness that this state of affairs is unjust.

At the heart of The Decameron, or so Boccaccio states in his prologue, is the idea of providing comfort and companionship in times of hardship. I get to see the need for and effectiveness of this myself on a daily basis now as everyone here rallies around each other, providing as much support as possible, whether it is a shoulder to cry on or a laugh to distract from the worries. For me, The Decameron has also been a great source of distraction, despite, or perhaps because of, its timeliness. Books, or collections, such as this are a great way to take the mind of other worries and it is no wonder that they remain as popular. Boccaccio took his inspiration from all kinds of French or Italian fables, Greek stories, The Golden Ass, and, of course, Dante's Divine Comedy. What this also emphasized for me was the interconnectedness of Europe's literary history. Many of our stories come from a shared origin. They have been retold, reshaped to fit new times, new places, and in this way they tie different lands and cultures together. Stories are set across Italy, in Greece and in Saladin's court; they cover mostly the aristocracy but also give space to the working classes. Without sounding too cliche, The Decameron is a great reminder of what we all have in common: namely our desire to connect, to share stories and find common ground. The Decameron, written in vernacular prose, became an inspiration and a template for many works that followed it, perhaps most famously Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.

I purposefully stayed away from reading too much about the Decameron, whether it was other blog posts or academic papers. I wanted to go into the book without any expectations because I wanted to experience the stories on their own merit. The lovely thing about that was that it did feel as if each day I spent a few hours in the company of others, being amused and perhaps annoyed by them, despite staying mostly in my own apartment. Reading a book such as this in a similar circumstance in which it was created provides a unique window into the work and as such The Decameron will hold a special place in my heart from now on.

Sunday, 9 February 2020

The Decameron X: 'The Tenth Day' & 'Author's Epilogue'

As some of you may know, I currently live in Shanghai, which means that the setting of The Decameron has become beautifully relevant to me all of a sudden. In Boccaccio's collection of tales, seven young women and three young men have hidden themselves away behind a deserted villa's walls to sit out the Black Plague as it ravishes 14th century Italy. While the Corona virus isn't quite as horrifying as the Black Plague (at the moment at least), it has been enough for all of us to be put on extended leave. Hence, I will be spending the next ten days hidden away in my own apartment, desperate to amuse myself and to forget what's happening outside. My tiny apartment may not be a villa and I may be there on my own (+ cat), but it is the place where I will be joining Boccaccio's hideaways.
The Tenth Day & Author's Epilogue

Our cast:

Ladies:                            Men:
Pampinea                        Panfilo
Fiammetta                      Filostrato
Filomena                         Dioneo
Emilia
Lauretta
Neifile
Elissa


We have reached the last day of The Decameron and we end it on a high note with tales of munificent deeds.

The Tales

Image result for The Enchanted Garden of Messer Ansaldo
The Enchanted Garden of Messer Ansaldo by Marie Spartali Stillman

Our first tale is courtesy of Neifile and she tells of a knight who feels he is ill-treated by the King of Spain. The King takes it in good stead and shows it is his Fortune, not the King, who's to blame. In Elissa's second tale, Ghino di Tacco shows himself to be better than an outlaw, even goading an Abbot into being virtuous. Filostrato's third tale extols the virtues of charity and generosity. Next is Lauretta in which love reawakens a woman, after which her lover kindly returns her to her husband. Fifth is Emilia, whose tale includes a magic garden and unrequited love. The sixth tale is by Fiammetta and shows how a king overcame his love for two 15-year olds. Next is Pampinea with another King, who kindly lets down a girl in love with him. Filomena's tale has two friends switching at the altar before telling off the family and meeting years later again in Rome. Panfilo brings back Saladin who makes a good friend in Italy who he kindly repays after the Crusade. And Dioneo's tenth tale is an exercise in wifely patience in the face of emotional abuse.

Boccaccio ends The Decameron on a high note with these tales of magnanimity. The tales are longer than they have been in other days and each is full of details and, to some extent, filled to the brim with morality. In the first tale a man is kindly rewarded despite being ill favoured by Fortune. The second tale shows that nobility is in the soul, not the job title, and that even priests can be kind. Filostrato's third tale is perhaps the clearest, as a young man named Mithridanes finds himself competing with an elderly rich man, named Nathan, for the title of 'most generous'. When he realizes he will never beat him, he sets out to kill Nathan. Without being aware of it, he meets Nathan on the road and is kindly received and welcomed by him. Upon realizing that what Mithridanes craves most is his life, Nathan instructs him on how to gain it. When they meet on the agreed spot the next morning and Mithridanes realizes what has happened, he repents and they become friends. Although a little overblown, it is a lovely story that may or may not be inspired by Marco Polo's account of Kublai Khan's generosity.

Less lovely is the frequent references to wives and women as objects that a man has ownership over. In Lauretta's fourth tale, a pregnant woman is thought dead and buried. Her unrequited lover sneaks in to steal a postmortem kiss. Upon fondling her he realizes she is alive and takes her home. She is tended to and gives birth. Only after giving a whole speech about how when one finds a discarded servant surely one should be allowed to keep them, does the lover return the wife to her husband. It is considered magnanimous of him that he is not just willing to part with something (read: someone) he loved, but also with something that should technically be his now. It's another one of those tales that reads oddly.


The Story of Patient Griselda
No day can go by without discussion of Dioneo's tenth tale. Apparently this is one of the most frequently retold stories of The Decameron and tells teh story of  a patient wife, Griselda, and a horrid husband, Gualtieri. The latter, upon consenting to being married, chooses a random village girl, Griselda. Although greatly pleased with her, he feels a need to test her patience. First, he makes her believe he has killed their two children. Then, he tells her he has tired of her and will get hismelf a new wife. She returns to her father in nothing but a shift. Finally, he calls her in to clean the palace for his new bride, only to reveal that he has brought home their children from the aunt they were staying with and restores her to her former glory and titles. Surely this is the female version of the Bible's Job. Thankfully it is, of course, told tongue-in-cheek and everyone, in the tale and among the storytellers, agrees that Gualtieri is a horrible person.

The day ends after Dioneo's tale, but not before today's king, Panfilo, suggest that now that they have passed two weeks (10 days of storytelling and 4 days of rest) in the countryside, they should return home. If they don't, it will either raise suspicions about their virtue or, horror above horrors, they may be joined by others. Everyone agrees and then, just like that, they have all gone home and the party is over.
Ghino di Tacco

Fun Fact:

Ghino di Tacco, a main character in the second tale, was Italy's answer to Robin Hood, except that we're definitely sure he actually existed.


The Author's Epilogue

Just as he did on the 'Fourth Day', Boccaccio raises a few responses to any potential criticism he may receive about The Decameron. Some of them are very funny:
'I suppose it will also be said that some of the tales are too long, to which i can only reply that if you have better things to do, it would be foolish to read these tales, even if they were short.'
He also writes a defense of language, saying that a good work will turn bad in a corrupt mind and that surely, despite all the frequent puns, no one could accuse The Decameron or Boccaccio of any illicit or blasphemous thoughts.

Tomorrow I will post my general assessment of The Decameron. Thank you to those who have checked in with me during these ten days. It has really been a great way to both fill my extended Coronavirus leave and fill my mind with beautiful and funny things.