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Monday, October 31, 2016

Charlotte Bronte revealed

From the New York Review of Books

What the Brontës Made

George Richmond: Charlotte Brontë, 1850
National Portrait Gallery, London/Photography by Graham S. Haber
 George Richmond: Charlotte Brontë, 1850
Even those who think they know all there is to know about the Brontë family will likely be surprised by many of the documents and artifacts included in “Charlotte Brontë: An Independent Will,” currently on view at New York’s Morgan Library. Many of these revelations have to do with size and scale, with the contrast between the breadth and depth of Charlotte Brontë’s imagination and her physical delicacy, between the forcefulness of her and her siblings’ prose and the neat, astonishingly miniscule handwriting (not unlike Robert Walser’s microscript) in which she, Emily, and their brother Branwell penned their early work.

The first thing we see, on entering the gallery, is a glass case containing one of Charlotte Brontë’s dresses and a pair of her shoes, objects that make us acutely aware—more effectively than any description or photograph of these items could—of how diminutive (by modern standards) this strong and resilient woman was. Tiny books and magazines, including a copy of a satirical play about the art of writing, The Poetaster, that Charlotte wrote when she was fourteen, offer a view of the way in which the Brontë children saw writing as an imaginative game; to them, these miniature, handmade volumes—meticulously printed, and in some cases illustrated with watercolors—were, essentially, toys. Included also is the manuscript of a poem that Emily Brontë wrote when she was nineteen, a work of three hundred words, divided in forty-six lines, on a page that is only ten centimeters tall.

Anne Brontë’s Bible and a group of family prayer books provide a sense of the intensely religious atmosphere in which the siblings were raised by their clergyman father. Other volumes—a world atlas that Charlotte decorated with doodled portraits of women, Thomas Bewick’s History of British Birds—increase our understanding of what the family read, and of the ways in which they supplemented the sparse and punitive education that Charlotte and Emily received at the nightmarish boarding school that appears, thinly disguised as Lowood, in Jane Eyre. Among the most affecting documents are letters and journal entries in which Charlotte expresses the unhappiness and loneliness she experienced as a teacher (“neither is my heart in the task, the theme or the exercise”), as a governess (“I am miserable when I allow myself to dwell on the necessity of spending my life as Governess”), and as a student in Brussels (“I am tired of being amongst foreigners it is a dreary life”).

Curated by Christine Nelson, the exhibition reinforces our notions of Charlotte Brontë’s daring, ambition, and courage, and of the tragic circumstances over which she prevailed. In one letter, Charlotte describes the 1848 visit to London during which she and her sisters Emily and Anne revealed to her publishers that the novels they had submitted under male pseudonyms (Currer, Acton and Ellis Bell) had in fact been written by women (“Mystery is irksome, and I was glad to shake it off”). The publisher was initially surprised, but nevertheless decided to show the sisters around London, introducing them not as authors but as his “country cousins” the Misses Brown. In another, bordered in black, Charlotte mourns her brother’s death.

Taken from the frontispiece Elizabeth Gaskell’s The Life of Charlotte Brontë, a brooding, romantic engraving of Haworth Parsonage, where the Brontës grew up, positions the family home between a cemetery in the foreground and the dark moors in the distance. A famous group portrait by Branwell Brontë, done when he was fourteen, portrays his three rather pretty sisters looking fully as serious—and as haunted—as we imagine them to be. The painting is all the more haunted when one realizes that Branwell painted himself out of it. Early editions of the novels that the three sisters wrote, Charlotte’s marriage certificate (at the age of thirty-seven, she wed Arthur Bell Nicholls, her father’s curate) and her last will and testament provide an illuminating overview and a moving visual mini-biography of this extraordinary artist.

“Charlotte Brontë: An Independent Will” is on view at New York’s Morgan Library through January 2, 2017.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Unusual ship visit to Wellington

To my surprise, yesterday morning when I looked out the window, there was a navy ship arriving.  But what was it?  And from where?  There is a celebration on the water this weekend, it being the 75th anniversary of the creation of the Royal New Zealand Navy, but this was no New Zealander, and there was no kind of welcome.  Just a lot of infuriated siren hooting from the container ship at the end of the wharf, the skipper trying to summon his tardy crew on board, so he could get going.

There were two of these gray strangers, or so I found when I turned the telescope to the wharf.  But what? And why?

This morning's newspaper solved the mystery.  The one I watched arrive is a guided missile destroyer from South Korea.  It's name is ROKS Chungmu-gong Ye Shi-sun. And the one that was already moored is its support ship, ROKS Cheonji.

They came here from Papeete, French Polynesia, where the wharf is nothing like this:

They, and their crews of about 600 in total (including trainees) will be here until Sunday.  This means that they will be able to fraternise with Kiwi navymen, as HMNZS Canterbury (another support ship) will be moored at Queen's Wharf, downtown where all the pubs are.

A spokesperson for the Republic of Korea Navy Cruise Training Task Group said during its visit, the group hoped to "promote friendship through various military diplomatic activities such as courtesy visits to distinguished guests, appreciation ceremony for Korean War veterans, on-board receptions, public ship tours and cultural tours."

The commander of the little group is Rear Admiral Sang-Hoon Lee.  On October 30 they will head off for Australia.

I wish they had had the nice reception we had earlier this year when our ship arrived at Busan .... 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Rest in Peace - KEN SCADDEN

I arrived back from the Nelson Arts Festival to find a message on my phone with the very sad news of the passing of Ken Scadden -- Ken, maritime historian, Captain Cook expert, a major source for the history of the Port of Wellington, writer and speaker, and friend to hundreds of historians, archivists, and maritime enthusiasts.  A quick look at the catalogue of the National Library of New Zealand is all that is needed to guess at his huge contribution in the way of papers and books.

I remember my first encounter with Ken.  It was about forty years ago. The phone rang and when I picked it up this booming voice, fairly vibrating with enthusiasm, introduced the caller as the director of the Wellington Maritime Museum (as it was back then), and went on to confide that he had heard that I was researching women in whaling.  He wanted me to come down and talk.  He was putting on a conference on women at sea, and had all kinds of speakers, including Jo Stanley on female pirates, and others on immigrant women.  But whaling?  That was new!  And he couldn't wait to meet me.

And I couldn't wait to meet him.  It was the beginning of forty years of picking each other's brains, of swapping yarns, and telling jokes.  I remember the cheap and cheerful fish and chip dinners at the Ferryman's before the evening talks at the Museum; I remember the phone call that came regularly every year, with a "Happy Birthday" whistle at the other end.  The last time I saw Ken was just three weeks ago, when he came to the launch of The Notorious Captain Hayes, and enlivened us all with his presence, though worn down greatly by his long and gallant struggle with cancer.

I will miss him.  And so will many, many other people.  My deep commiserations to Wendy, Ken's family, and the great circle of friends he built up during his vibrant life.

Ken's funeral service will be held in the Anzac Hall in Featherston, Wairarapa, on Thursday 20 October.  Messages can be left on Ken's tribute page at

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Yet another joke ....

The teacher said, "Good Morning, Class, let's begin by reviewing some History.  

Who said: 'Give me Liberty, or give me Death'?"
She saw a sea of blank faces, except for Little Akio, a bright foreign exchange student from  Japan, who had his hand up:
"Patrick Henry, 1775,"  he said. "Very good!
Who said:  'Government of the People, by the People, for the People, shall not perish from the Earth'?"
Again, no response except from Little Akio: "Abraham Lincoln, 1863."
"Excellent!" said the teacher continuing. "Let's try one a bit more difficult.
Who said, 'Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country?"
Once again, Akio's was the only hand in the air and he said: "John F. Kennedy, 1961."
The teacher snapped at the class, "Class, you should be ashamed of yourselves.
Little Akio isn't from this country and he knows more about our history than you do."
She heard a loud whisper: "F*** the Japs."
"Who said that? I want to know right now !" ...she angrily  demanded.
Little Akio put his hand up, "General MacArthur, 1945."
At that point, a student in the back said, "I'm gonna puke."
The teacher glared at the class and asked, "All right! Now who said that?"
Again, Little Akio says, "George Bush to the Japanese Prime Minister, 1991."
Now with almost mob hysteria reigning in the class, someone said, "You little shit! If you say anything else, I'll kill you!"
Little Akio frantically yelled at the top of his voice, "Michael Jackson to the children testifying against him, 2004."
The teacher fainted.
As the class gathered around the teacher on the floor, someone said, "Oh Crap, we are finished."
Little Akio said quietly, "Americans, if Trump gets elected.”

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Trumpish view of women

From the Dominion Post of Wellington, NZ.  Cartoonist, the inestimable Tom Scott.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Cruisers have a more exciting holiday than expected

From the Sydney Morning Herald

Crew members on board a multimillion-dollar yacht bobbing around the South Pacific Ocean with no power are being rescued after making a distress call two days ago.

The 37-metre Masteka 2 was on its way from Fiji to Sydney when it lost steering and began taking on water about 260 kilometres east of Port Macquarie on Tuesday.
The Carnival Spirit responds to a distress call from Masteka 2 and rescues two female crew members.
The Carnival Spirit responds to a distress call from Masteka 2 and rescues two female crew members. Photo: AMSA
Carnival Spirit, a cruise ship that responded to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority's call for assistance, reached the superyacht first.

It rescued two female crew members using its fast boat and continued on its cruise to The Isle of Pines in New Caledonia.
The crew on board the Masteka 2 had to be rescued.
The crew on board the Masteka 2 had to be rescued.  Photo: AMSA
The four remaining crew members opted to stay with the yacht to keep it afloat until further help arrived.

They were dropped supplies including satellite phones and monitored the boat's pumps for two days.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Kiwi poet killed in Seattle

Dog refuses to leave side of dying Kiwi poet

NZ poet Max Richards, pictured a week before he died crossing the road.
NZ poet Max Richards, pictured a week before he died crossing the road.

A New Zealand-born poet and academic has died after being hit by a car while crossing the road in his new hometown of Seattle, Washington.

Max Richards, 79, was walking his labrador Pink near his home in the city's Capitol Hill district when he was hit on a crossing by a car driven by woman in her 40s, and died that evening of his head injuries, according to local media.

The accident happened on September 21. Two days later Richards' wife Marilyn Black wrote a public Facebook post about how "in a space of a second, I lost my whole world. And the world lost a special human being".
Pink, the labrador who stayed by Max Richards' side after he was struck by the car.

Pink, the labrador who stayed by Max Richards' side after he was struck by the car.
Black wrote that when police returned Pink to their house, the officer told her the dog had refused to leave his master as he lay dying in the middle of the road, surrounded by a ring of cars and emergency services.

Richards, who was born in Auckland in 1937, was the son of schoolteachers and the grandson of AS Richards, a cabinet minister in the first Labour government. He studied English at Auckland University, and his poetry was widely published in New Zealand journals including Landfall and Islands, but in 1963 he left New Zealand, taking academic posts first in Edinburgh and then Melbourne, where he lectured in English until his retirement in 2005. His poetry was also widely published in Australia.

Two years ago he and Black, his second wife, moved to Seattle where she was pursuing post-graduate studies.

On Saturday Alan Roddick, fellow poet and Richards' friend for 60 years, said Richards often composed while walking the couple's two dogs, and his poetry was filled with observations of the life and the natural world of the streets and parks, as well as reflections on life and death.

"He was a very accomplished and prolific writer," said Roddick, "with a relaxed style which could also be sharp, witty, and touching."

In her Facebook post, Black said Richards' face had been serene as he died, which she linked to his "final vital experiences: a stunning Fall morning; a devoted family Labrador sharing fully in all his pleasures, and pains; and a circle of communion, holding his hand throughout the ordeal".

She thanked him for "two decades of purest joy", but asked: "How is it that he's not lying beside me on our bed tonight? The dogs and I can't fathom it. R.I.P. dearest beloved."
 - Sunday Star Times