Veyne: L´Empire gréco-romain


  • Author: Paul Veyne (1930)
  • Title:  L´Empire gréco-romain
  • CoverLa Nymphe marine, Doto, Musée des Antiques Saint-Raymond, Toulouse France
  • Genre:  History
  • Publisher: Editions du Seuil
  • Published: 2005
  • Table of contents: 13 chapters,  1044 pages and 16 pages of black and white illustrations. A book with so many ‘artistic’ points to be made, I expected at least some color prints!
  • Dedication: Damien Veyne  (1966 – 1995)
  • Trivia: Honorary Professor at the College de France, Paul Veyne was  born in 1930. He is  one of the greatest literary historians of ancient Rome.
  • Trivia:  He lives in  Bédoin in the Vaucluse (SE France) at the foot on Mont Ventoux enjoying his golden years in peace and quiet.
  • Trivia: This book is a collection of Veyne´s  historical writings published in several periodicals. The chapters were  very long ( trop longues). Each one felt like a book in itself!


  • The Empire called “Roman” was in fact Greco-Roman in more ways than one
  • Latin was used  in the  western half of the empire,  but Greek the main language around the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East.
  • The moral and cultural side of Rome was in the process of  absorbing, incorporating and understanding the Greek civilization.
  • One thing remained unaltered:  Greece had the culture but Rome had the power.

Chapters:  ( …just a few thoughts….)

  1. In the first chapter Veyne explains the complicated and unorthodox ways one can become a Roman Emperor.
  2. The second chapter was difficult to follow because of my limited knowledge about Socrates and his importance in history.  Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.
  3. The following two chapters were more inlightening to a student of   “L’Empire gréco-romain”.  The rise of a middel class and it increasing power was no different than what happens in other societies.  I did enjoy the stark contrast Veyne made between the wise, dignified and cultured Greeks submitting themselves ‘reluctantly’ to the hegemony of the Romans. Any people who view slaughtering people and or animals in an arena for amusement  were not cilivized beings according to the Greeks.
  4. I did feel that in chapters five and six  there was too  much emphasis placed on Palmyre and its art. Nice to know….but not essential.
  5. In chapter seven Veyne  explains the  Romans love for… ‘orgies’  of bas-reliefs, columns, coinage and fresco’s!  Art can be a powerful tool to express propaganda, self promotion and charisma. A king uses splendour to exhibit his power  because he IS king.  A rival  uses propaganda because he   WANTS  to be king!  Charm or personal magantism…you have or you don’t ! Whether it is for propaganda or splendour the  ‘ locals’  just  think and sigh:  whoever  our emperor is…….taxes will still be collected and our borders remain threatened.
  6. Chapters 8 -13  zoomed in on specifice subjects: pagan gods, gladiators, Plutarch, St. Augstine, Sacking of Rome and the end of gréco-romain art.


  1. There are  extensive footnotes and acknowledgements ( très solide appareil critique ).
  2. Veyne refers to many other historians from the past and present and their contributions to the study of the Greek-Roman Empire.
  3. I was very interested to read more about the French historian Ernest Renan.  His motto was: ” Je suis un simple chercheur de vérité.”
  4. I ordered his biography by Jean-Pierre van Deth as a cross read.

Art of Palmyre:

  • Palmyre: town in Syrian Desert  between East and West, trading with India and China for luxury goods
  • Tiles: memorial funeral portraits, date, name and genealogy ( fille Yarhai, Louvre)
  • Style: frontal with eyes that are exaggerated in size, globular or stylized.
  • Function: this ‘eye’contact  was a method to attract attention and create a link between the viewer and the represented person.


Literary styles were not easy to find in a history book.


To the Tiber with Tiberius!

  • The cry of the Roman mob upon hearing of the death of the unpopular Emperor Tiberius (42 BC – 37 AD).
  • No light insult, by any means – proper burial was a big deal in Ancient Rome and being  tossed into the River Tiber was a fate usually reserved for criminals.
  • In fact, Tiberius himself had endorsed the practice as a means of disposal for state executions, lending the crowd’s demand a sort of vicious irony.
  • Despite the outcry, Tiberius was given a lavish military funeral by his opportunistic successor  Caligula.


  • Word used to describe another thing  and is  closely linked to that particular thing.
  • I refer to Julius Caesar by Shakespeare  act 3, scene 2:
  • Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears ( metonymy,  ears = concept of attention)Weak point:

Weak point:

  • This book is  a collection of articles by Veyne which expains why  I was immersed in Roman/Greek history one minute and  suddenly whisked off to Palmyre in th Syrian Desert.
  • This was not the place I wanted to visit.  Veyne goes ‘overboard’  with the travel trivia which was  ‘ fastidieux’ = boring.
  • Chapters 5 and 6  (pg 309 – 451) were ‘ judiciously skimmed’.
  • The information about the Palmyrene Empire and Queen Zénobie is summarised via Wikipedia.
  • The characteristics of the funeral tiles of Palmyre (chapter 6) are mentioned in my review.

Thoughts during  my reading……

  • This will be my  2014 French  challenge!
  • Paul Veyne, French archaeologist and historian, and a specialist on Ancient Rome, has impressed me as a person through his memoires, now I want to read his history books!
  • Progress  was SLOW but remember “Rome was  not built in one day”.
  • How do you become a Roman emperor? It was a tricky business. Livia can help when she poisons or banishes the opposition. You really need a father or uncle who paves your way to greatness.
  • Don’t forget ‘le peuple’. Ils ont besoin du pain et la cirque!
  • I learned that of the 87 official emperors (and many pretenders) very few of them have died in bed!
  • Julius Caesar suffered 23 stab wounds on March 15,  44 BC ( the Ides of March)  His successor Augustus was  18 yr.
  • Caesarism:  rule by cult personality
  • Diarchy:  rule by two equal rulers
  • 5 good caesars: Nerva,Trajan, Hadrian, Antonius Pius and Marcus Aurelius
  • 3 insane caesars – Nero, Caligula and Commodus = ultimate bad boy of the emperors!
  • There were many emperors and even more usurpers, men who wanted to be emperor by force.
  • I needed a list of Roman Emperors  and list of  Roman Ursurpers during my reading.
  • There were 13 GREEK popes between 678 – 752 AD who spoke Greek in  the Lateran Palace….I did not know that!
  • Il m’a fallu beaucoup de courage pour atteindre chapitre 5.
  • It took courage just to get this far.
  • ….. I will finish the book.


  • Veyne has presented  the reader with an enormous amount of information.
  • This was a  huge reading  project.
  • At times I lost my train of thought and needed to concentrate on ‘every sentence’  which was exhausting.
  • If I were reading in English I think it would have been less of a chore.
  • Weak point:  I expected more of a  general history of the Greek-Roman  Empire.
  • What I got was a  collection of articles published at various times during Veyne’s career.
  • Weak point:  The book lacked a logical order which made in more difficult to read and understand.
  • Veyne ventures into some of his ‘favorite subjects’  and the book lacked a feeling of coherence.
  • I probably should have investigated the book more throughly  before selecting it.
  • Strong point: I did learn  about the period called Late Antiquity  (2e – 8e C ). This was the transition from classical antiquity to the Middle Ages.
  • This will help me with my ‘winter reading project 2014 ‘  about Augustus Caesar.

Last thoughts:  There were 2 quotes  that kept me going….

  1. Robert Frost:  ” …the only way out is through.”
  2. Pliny the Elder:  ” …fortune favors the brave.”
Score : 2


Posted by on October 21, 2014 in Uncategorized


Jonathan Swift His Life and His World


  • Author: Leo Damrosch
  • Title:  Jonathan Swift: His Life and His World  (1667-1745)
  • Cover: J. Swift, c. 1718 by Charles Jervas, National Portrait Gallery London
  • Genre: biography
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Published: 2013
  • Table of contents: Prologue, 30 chapters, 94 illustrations, 472 pages. chronology, abbrevations, notes to pages and index! ( Damrosch has done his homework!!)
  • Quotation or dedication:  none
  • Trivia: Jonathan Swift: His Life and His World  was a finalist  for Pulitzer Prize biography 2014
  • Trivia: Jonathan Swift  ranks as the foremost prose satirist in the English language and as one of the greatest satirists in world literature.
  • Trivia: One of Swift’s greatest model for satire was Erasmus’s Praise of Folly ! (pg 134)
  • Trivia: James Joyce  used Swift as the historial figure in Finnegan’s Wake.  As Johnny dann Sweept,  he  can be identified by his deafness, vertigo, moroseness and madness.
  • Trivia: George Orwell named Swift as one of the writers he most admired, despite disagreeing with him on almost every moral and political  issue. (agree to disagree)

Basic facts:

  • Jonathan Swift was born in Dublin, Ireland, on Nov. 30, 1667.
  • His father, Jonathan Swift (1640-1667), an Englishman who had settled in Ireland, died a few months before Swift’s birth.
  • His mother, Abigaile Erick (1630- 1710)  was born in  Leicestershire England..
  • “Swift never knew his father, was abandoned by his mother and felt humiliated by the uncle who grudgingly raised him”.  (pg 15)
  • He wrote satire, fantasy, poems, prayers, essays, pamphlets, periodicals and sermons.
  • Swift managed to remain temperate  in eating and drinking. He did not succomb to gout or alcoholism.  He did say: “I drink to encourage cheerfulness.”  (pg 274) and would have appreciated Oscar Wilde’s remark that he drank to keep body and soul apart.
  • Swift sufferd from  a stroke, deafness,  dementia and some say approaching  insanity. He died on 19th of October 1745.

Characteristics of Jonathan Swift:

  • powerful emotions – loved secrecy and disguise
  • extrovert –  always wore a ‘mask’ removing it only with his most intimate friends
  • magnetic personality and  infectiously playful
  • resolute with a “corrosive intelligence” ( pg 148) that was spitefully sarcastic
  • biting wit – fiercely ambitious

Revealing hypothesis:

  • “Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive”. [Sir Walter Scott]. Famliy secrets and puzzling parentage enshroud Jonathan Swift!
  • Chapter two is an eye-opener!


  • Failed clergyman: no vocation just needs the money.  Later as a mature clergyman Swift became Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral Dublin (1713).
  • Frustrated secretary: William Temple (1628 – 1699)  treats Swift like a servant.
  • Not a great career move but Temple has a superb library. Swift stays just to study!
  • Remember: “deep-learned and shallow read” is not an education. (pg 23)
  • Swift was able to receive a degree in Divinity from Trinity College Dublin without opening a book. He just paid 44 pounds to a school official!

Politics:  Irish national hero

  • Failed poet: Swift’s verse falls flat. He is infuriated by the cool superiorty of John Dryden‘s success.
  • Prolific pamphleteer:  reacting to current politics, Swift’s ideas spread quickly and influenced the political landscape.

Gulliver’s Travels: ( his masterpiece)

  • Travel in the case of Gulliver’s Travels gives Swift the opportunity to compare the ways of óthers’ more specifically those of the English, with several other ways of living.
  • Travel also keeps the story entertaining
  • Swift has Gulliver tell the story of  English History to the king of Brobdingnag.
  • Much of the story describes  political experiences Swift was involved in.
  • Gulliver puts out the fire of the Lilliputian palace by urinating on it – Swift’s way of expressing a good thing  done in an unfortunate manner. (Can’t forget that image!)

What is satire?

  • According to Swift:  “Satire is a sort of glass, wherein the beholders do generally discover everybody’s face……but their own”!   (pg 89)
  • Swift’s most difficult and masterly satire was Tale of a Tub.
  • A  father (God) has three sons, (triplets:   Peter (St. Peter), Jack (John Calvin) and  Martin  Martin Luther).
  • He gives each a coat (tradition)  and his will (the Bible), which the sons are supposed to interpret correctly and follow,
  • The Tale of the Tub. is very complex and  it was to bring  him  fame and fortune.
  • Yet due to the irrevent glee that Swift radiated while satirizing ‘politics and religion’, it backfired and seriously damaged his  career.

Why do the books by Jonathan Swift still matter?

  • I have not read  ANY of Swift’s books therefore I am unable to answer this question.
  • Politics vs. Literature: An Examination of Gulliver’s Travels is a critical essay published in 1946 that was mentioned in the Notes to pages.
  • George Orwell attempts to give us an answer as to why Jonathan Swift is still relevant:
  • “Swift did not possess ordinary wisdom, but he did possess a terrible intensity of vision, capable of picking out a single hidden truth and then magnifying it and distorting it.”

Strong points:

  • Alice in Wonderland said: “What is the use of a book without pictures or conversations?” Damrosch wants to bring the ‘world’ of Swift  back to life and uses 94 illustrations to do so.
  • These black and white reproductions appear wherever the narrative benefits from them. This makes the reading engaging and  pleasing to the eye!
  • Strong point: Damrosch was not hesitant to be critical of the ‘de facto’ Swift biographer Irvin Ehrenpreis. Damrosch felt that this eminent historian’s  full length biography of Swift based on primary sources in 1962 was lacking. Often Damrosch mentions that Ehrenpreis, ‘assumed’, ‘guessed’ and ‘dismissed as incredible’ important information.
  • Strong point:  Damrosch has left no stone unturned to find something or someone  that can improve on the established information about Jonathan Swift.
  • Strong point:  The Notes to pages reveal that Damrosch has not ‘rehashed’ old material but has included some recent scholarship. ( see chapter 2: investigation of Swift’s parentage)

Weak point:   (   … just some time consuming extra reading  was needed to grasp this biography fully)

  • Jonathan Swift  His Life and His World is rich in historical details.
  • At times I felt obliged to consult  Wikipedia.
  • finally had to figure out  the difference is  between the Tory’s and the Whigs, what was the Spanish War of Sucession about and  who was William Temple (1628 – 1699)  anyway?


  • It took me some time to adjust after reading the classic Nostromo  and now  moving on  to a biography.
  • It was a bit daunting and I found myself opening this  book, closing it again and again.
  • I was not sure  what to look for or how to review the book.
  • Last thoughts:  This  book was well balanced.
  • It focused on Swift’s personal relationships, his public career and the people and places that played an important part in the historical backround of Swift’s lifetime.
  • Damrosch writing style was  breezy, animated, lively.
  • Biographies do not have to be dull or matter-of-fact.
  • The author  was not  ‘intrusively’  present  but let  the facts speak for themselves.
  • I would recommend reading this biography before venturing out into ‘Swiftiana”.

Score: 5

Leo Damrosch

Jonathan Swift


Posted by on October 10, 2014 in Uncategorized


Winter reading project 2014

winter reading projectWinter project 2014 – 2015:

  • Project: select one subject and read 3 different  books about it
  • My choice is Augustus Caesar, the first emperor of  Rome. He fascinates me!
  • I cannot change anything about the  narrative….it is history.
  • I would like to compare the different  approaches to Augustus Caesar and explore the ways these authors brought him to life.
  • There is a  difference in style and scholarly backround  among the writers  J. Williams, A. Goldsworthy and P. Cosme
  • I hope to reveal in my conclusions what I learned about Augustus and if the book resonated a clear message.
  • Does it….?

    • Connect with me and hold my interest even though it is well-known history story
    • Offer me a story structure that  I could follow (foreshadowing, flashbacks, chronological order)
    • Create captivating content –  tell me  ‘something I don’t know’!
    • Leave me inspired and with the feeling that I have not wasted my time reading these books.
  • This will be a reading  project  that will probaby take all winter.
  • I always say:  If it doesn’t  challenge you… won’t change you!


  1. This is the story of Julius Caesar’s great nephew and heir who was only eighteen on the Ides of March 44 BC.
  2. Then called Caius Octavius, he took the name Caesar, fought his way to power through massacre and civil war and by 30 BC was left unchallenged as the most powerful man in the Roman Republic.
  3. He created a new political system, a monarchy in all but name, and was awarded the name Augustus as one of many honours granted to him by the Senate.
  4. For the next forty-four years his rule was never seriously challenged and when he died in AD 14 his position passed to his adopted son Tiberius.
  5. Augustus lived a long and extremely full life, rising from teenage warlord to revered elder statesman and father of his country – another of the honours bestowed by a fawning Senate.
  6. His greatest achievement was to give Rome and the empire internal peace and stability after decades of political violence and civil wars.
  7. Poetry and art all celebrated Augustan peace and at the same time revelled in the last intensive period of Roman expansion.

John Williams:  (1922 – 1994)  – self made author American novelist

  • Williams was raised in northeast Texas. His grandparents were farmers; his stepfather was a janitor in a post office
  • Despite a talent for writing and acting, Williams flunked out of a local junior college after his first year.
  • He worked with newspapers and radio stations in the Southwest for a year, then reluctantly joined the  WW II effort by enlisting in 1942.
  • In the fall of 1955 Williams was hired by the University of Denver as Assistant Professor, becoming director of the creative writing program.


Adrian Goldsworthy:  ( 1969) –  eminent British  historian

  • He  was born  in 1969 and is a leading British historian of the ancient world and author of acclaimed biographies of Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra among many other books.
  • He lectures widely and consults on historical documentaries produced by the History Channel, National Geographic, and the BBC. He lives in the Vale of Glamorgan, UK.


Pierre Cosme  (1965) –  eminent  French  historian )

  • Pierre Cosme studied at the École Normale Supérieure  de Fontenay-Saint-Cloud in Paris. He was a member of the École française de Rome.
  • He is a teacher/lecturer at  University of Poitiers and Paris, Pathéon-Sorbonne.



Posted by on October 6, 2014 in Uncategorized


Erasmus: Dutch national treasure CC spin #7


Author: Erasmus, Desiderius (1466 – 1536 )

  • Cover: Typical brightly coloured  pattern as jesters wore in medieval times. I choose another image that really brings a smile to my face!
  • Genre: satire
  • Publisher: Athenaeum Amsterdam
  • Published: 1511 
  • Language: Dutch
  • Table of contents: letter to Sir Thomas More as preface, 68,  107 pages, footnotes and register of important Greek and Roman names.
  • Theme: satire of hypocrisy; the claim of holding beliefs, standards, opinions or virtues that one does not really have.
  • Time:  written in 1509
  • Trivia (personal): The book arrived just as I was to travel on the train. I took the book with me and read it in one sitting. Wonderful!


You cannot live in or visit The Netherlands without bumping into Desiderius Erasmus. Be it a bridge in Rotterdam, Erasmus University or Erasmus Medical Center. He is everywhere! But why has it taken me so long to discover his writings?  Thanks to the Classics Club List I have found Praise of Folly and it is a joy to read!

Strong point: While reading I felt the Dutch philosopher sitting right next to me. He was smiling at his own jokes,  blurting out  mid-sentence  something that he just had to say. Erasmus knew who his reading public  was,  a select few of his intellictual circle.  The author played with language making up new words like ‘ idiotosofen’ .  People who are complete idiots but want to seem as clever as Thales one of the seven sages of Greece! Erasmus and his friends probably knew their fare share of these people!

Strong point:  Erasmus writes about situations the reader can easily  relate  to without letting his text become blurred or fuzzy with difficult philosophical ideas.  I think we all know or have known people who want to show how brilliant they are. Erasmus explained it this way:  people who insert Greek words as mosaic stones in their Latin speeches. (pg 14)

Strong point: Erasmus’s writing style is direct and expressive. Several times I had to muffle my laughter while reading the book on the train! The Dutch humanist knows so much about human nature!  Who has not listened to someone talking and as Erasmus describes it:  we laugh, applaud and move our ears as donkeys do so that the speaker will think you understand what he is saying!  (pg 14)  Believe me, I’ve been to one too many meetings at work where my ears were flapping back and forth!


Erasmus subtly uses irony . He prefers to remain silent fading behind his speaker ” Folly” (Dwaasheid). In this way he can freely state his thoughts and opinions without it being directly attributed to the author.


1 – 9      ‘Folly’ introduces himself.

10 – 22  ‘Folly’  explains all that is good in the world is due to ‘Folly’

23 – 68  In the longest part ‘ Folly’ s  tone is less jovial and more critical.  ‘Folly’  (Erasmus)  does not just give the reader a very entertaining summation of ‘ what is folly’  but  ridicules  with his  razor sharp satire the intellectuals who ” stand in the whiff of intelligence”  he explains:  ‘ mensen die staan in een geur van wijshed”  (pg 64) . Teachers, poets, judges, fellow philosophers, theologians none are spared his biting original wit!

  • Erasmus wrote this satire for a few learned friends in 1509 . He was not going to publish it but some of his friends had the book printed in 1511 in Paris.
  • Erasmus is such an interesting person and I would like to find a good biography about him and add it to my Classic List!
  • This is a great book if you are looking for a a classic book in the Middle Ages – Renaissance period. (400 – 1600 AD)
  • I would highly recommend  this book and give it my first score  higher than a 5!
  • Last thoughts: Philosophy  tastes like straw….but not this book!

Score: 5 +




Posted by on October 6, 2014 in Uncategorized




  • Author:  Joseph Conrad:  was born Jozef Teodor Konrad  Korzeniowski in Russian part of Poland in 1857. In 1874 he left Poland for France and when he was 21 yrs he began joined the British merchant navy.
  • Genre:   novel
  • Title:  Nostromo  (The title refers to the main character, “our man”, the eternal henchman  who  under the lure of money, does dangerous favors for the aristocracy of the area.)
  • Table of Contents:    3 Parts  (divided into 8 – 8  – 13  chapters)   498 pages, glossary of foreign words and phrases, literary criticism (1954)  by Walter Allen.
  • Publisher:  Penguin Classics
  • Published: 1904
  • Dedication : to John Galsworthy   (close friends with J. Conrad)
  • Epigraph:  “So foul a sky clears not without a storm”  Wm.Sh: King John, act 4, scene 2
  • Cover: Penquin Classic cover was a DISASTER. (see last image in reviewI wanted  an  ‘eyecatcher’. Ordered $ 1,50  1960 Signet Classic from  USA, collectors item!
  • Timeline: turn-of-the-20th-century South America
  • Setting: Republic of Costaguana ( fictional country but resembles Columbia)
  • Themes:  greed,  dreams/ideals that are necessary to exist  (pg 190) ,  imperialistic conquest,  good character is one’s true treasure…more than  silver (pg 226, pg 319).
  • Trivia: Nostromo is considered one of Conrad´s  `political novels´.
  • Trivia: The Modern Library ranked Nostromo 47th on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th C.
  • Trivia: F. Scott  Fitzgerald  said, “I’d rather have written Nostromo than any other novel.”


Nostromo is a whirlwind of frantic action: coup, countercoup, fighting, running, swimming,racing across mountains, an escape and a superhuman endeavour.

  1. In the imaginary republic of Costaguana, rebel forces are rising against foreign interests for control of the enormously rich San Tome silver mine.
  2. The mine is the  heart of the country’s economy.
  3. The course of the revolution turns upon the daring of one man, NOSTROMO,  to whom a cache of silver is entrusted,
  4. Fulfilling his commission with the reward of fame alone, Nostromo retires.
  5. In the years that follow he grows rich, slowly, the most respected man in Sulaco.
  6. But when he dies, it is with the knowledge of moral ruin in his heart….deathbed confession! (suspense)
  7. The great mystery in the book starts on page 198. In part 2 and 3 the reader will  start to see the gap between Nostromo’s private life and his public reputation. ( NO SPOILERS)

Main characters: ( just to mention a few….)

  • Nostromo -
  • represents the working class, man of the people, fearless, incorruptible.  “…he looks upon his prestige as a sort of investment.”( pg 195)
  • Charles Gould -
  • unmoved by flattery of Don José Avellanos when he affirms  GC’s English ‘rock-like quality of character’.(pg 76). Character action here  is CG’s determination.
  • Emilia Gould -    
  • the moral voice “rides ‘in the center’ of a little cavalcade’.(pg 76) “Her intelligence led her to achieve the conquest of Sulaco by lighting the way for her unselfishness and sympathy.” (pg 60)
  • Dr. Monygham -
  • cynic who distrusts people’s motives “..Only Mrs Gould could keep his unbelief in men’s motives within due bounds”(pg 40)  Emilia G  – Dr. M are opposites!
  • Captain Joseph Mitchell -
  • pompous, pretentious official who prides himself in the knowledge of men and things (cosas de Costaguana) ( see irony)
  • Giogrio Viola -
  • fanatically devoted to Garibaldi and the cause of Liberty
  • Giselle Viola -
  • represents a world without ambition,  oblivious to concepts of property,  When Nostromo admits to her that he is a thief, her response is simply, “I love you!”
  • Linda Viola -
  • is a political animal, like her father,  A “true daughter of the austere republican,” When  she goes to work: “Si, si — to your duty.” She is the embodiment of conflict and politics.
  • Mr Holroyd -
  • exploitative and unscruplous American investor in the San Tomé  silver mine (see best chapter part 1,  6)

Strong point:   Sense of place opening:

  • If you take the time to ‘really’  read the first chapter you will discover so many  clues that Conrad has incorporated into the description of  the setting.
  • Town of Sulaco, cape of Punta Mala,  Golfo Placido, Islets ‘The Isabels’  harbor of Sulaco, the steep walls of Corilllera and the majestic white mountain top  of  Higuerota.
  • Yet there is one place that is mentioned four times: peninsula of Azuera.
  • Conrad describes the land as a  “chaos of rocks, blighted by a curse“.   It is deadly because of  ‘its forbidden treasure, heaps of shining gold’. Gringo gold seekers mysteriously have disappeared and never seen again,  The natives believe they are ‘spectral and live, under a fatal spell of their success‘. They are the ‘legendary inhabitants of  Azuera guarding  its forbidden wealth, tenacious gringo ghosts suffering…”
  • Now the scene is set, Conrad has left me on the edge of my seat and it is only the first chapter!

Strong point:   use of literary devices:


  • The book begins (pg 9) when Conrad reveals the motto of the O.S.N ( Oceanic Steam Navigation Company). “WE NEVER MAKE MISTAKES”
  • These words were spoken by the company’s superintendent: Sir John Mitchell.
  • IRONY: (pg 37) we are told taht  Mitchell continues to mispronounce ‘Nostro uomo’ = Nostromo and  every character who who attempts to quote something gets it slightly wrong !
  • Teresa Viola call Nostromo by his nickname Gian ‘Battista ( should be  Giovanni Baptista)
  • John Mitchell call Nostromo by his wrong name ( should be nostro uomo)
  • President Ribiera is passionate about music especially Luciam Lucia de Lammeermoor by Mozart (pg 80)  ( The Excellentissiomo is wrong….composer is Gaetano Donizetti!)


  • Captain Joseph Mitchell  pompous, pretentious official of O.S.N  who prides himself in the knowledge of men and things (cosas de Costaguana)
  • On (pg 40) states that Nostromo “The fellow is devoted to me, body and soul !”
  • IRONY: ( pg 370): “As to Captain Mitchell, Nostromo,  [...]considered him a person fitted by education perhaps to sign papers in an office an to give orders,
  • but otherwise of no use whatever, and something of a fool.”
  • IRONY: (pg 99)   Mitchell “..utterly in the dark, and imagining himself to be in the thick of thing.”

Oxymoron (pg 77) – adjective proceeded by a noun with contrasting meanings  “mute eyes”

Colors:  What does the color grey mean  in view of the characters of Decoud, Dr. Monygham and Nostromo?  ,..a real puzzle!

Alliteration  – creates a musical effect in the text that enhances the pleasure of reading a text

  • Pg 7: a small strip of sandy shore
  • Pg 10: revolutionary rabble
  • Pg 13: tireless taskmaster
  • Pg 17: stealthy sounds
  • Pg 34: equal to every emergency
  • pg 100: silver-bitted black brute with a hammer head ( Don Pepé’s horse)

Idiom: – purpose behind this vast use of idioms is to ornate their language – (pg 11) – desperate dash, neck or nothing –  (pg 72) lock, stock and barrel

Adjectives with hidden meaning:

  • Conrad uses the most extraordinary adjectives which the reader should not overlook. This is part of the reading ‘puzzle’ of Conrads’s books. There is often a hidden meaning. Here are a few examples:
  • Pg 94: Emilia ‘ had seen the first spungy lump of silver yielded to the hazards of the world..’
  • She feels the silver ‘absorb’ all her ideals of helping others ( the means to achieve her dream)
  • Pg 94: Emilia ‘..laid it in her unmercenary hands..’
  • She feels herself to be concerned about ‘human misery’ and wants to help others, yet she is just as enslaved by the silver as Nostromo or her husband Charles……but for altruistic purposes.

Best chapters:

Part 1, chapter 6:       There is a lot of CHARACTER  information in this chapter. 

  1. We learn more of Mrs. Emilia Gould’s biography ( orphaned in childhood, no personal wealth), her altruristic nature,  to help the needs of others.
  2. Charles Gould and Emilia meet and marry.  Their attraction is based on her altruism and his  equating the mines with ‘human misery’.   ( see symbols)
  3. Important symbols of silver and iron are introduced ( see symbols)
  4. Charles is determined to re-open the silver mine after his father’s death.The obsession that killed his father will be Charles’ downfall, `A man haunted by a fixed idea is insane.`(pg 334)
  5. An American investor, Holroyd, takes a strong personal interest in the silver mine.   ( Holroyd =  imperialism)
  6. Conrad masterly reveals Holroyd’s real motives through his words and actions:
  • “…the Holroyd connection meant to get hold of the Republic of Costaguana, lock, stock and barrel. “
  • “He ( Holroyd)  was not running a great enterprise there, no mere railway board or industrial corporation. He was running a man! ( Gould)
  • “…at the first sign of failure…a man may be thrown off.….” (pg 72)

Part  2, chapter 7:  The  attempt to save the silver from the attacking Montero army.  Nostromo confronts his dying foster mother, Teresa. She puts a curse on him. Why?. (pg 227)

Symbol:  Silver and Iron

  • Silver  = the dream, the wealth  which tempts, corrupts and destroys people.
  • Silver feels different depending on who touches it!
  • Emilia feels it as ‘spongy'( pg 94)  ready to absorb her ideals of helping others!
  • Iron =   conquest as in the conquest of the land through mechanical equipment for mining.
  • “He’s ( Holroyd) at the head of immense silver and iron interests.”
  • Ah, yes! The religion of silver and iron” (pg 64)
  • This is an important line in the book because it equates RELIGION = PROGRESS, both activity pursued with zeal and  devotion.


  • Gould’s fascination with mines  (pg 53) . He visited them as one goes with curiosity to call upon remarkable persons.
  • Abandonded workings had for him strong fascination.
  • Their desolation appealed to him like the sight of human misery, whose causes are varied and profound.
  • They might have been worthless, but also they might have been misunderstood.

Weak point:

  • I have followed my own advice  remembering Conrad’s  love of confusion! 
  • The author  describes the present  in part 1 chapters 1-5 (setting and descriptions of a few local characters).
  • Then we board  the  SS Juno to celebrate the completion of the railroad in chapter 5.
  • Without warning on page 36 of chapter five we are thrown into a ‘FLASHBACK’  (18 months earlier)  when the construction of the railroad was just beginning!.
  • Confused I had to read and re-read some  parts just to get my bearings.
  • On page  104 chapter 8  we are back in the present on board the  SS Juno listening to speeches  about the railway’s success!
  • Again…when reading Conrad’s books you  CANNOT  expect a  clear cut  narrative.
  • Part 1 is confusing, Part 2 and 3 settle down and progress chronologically.
  • I said it in Lord Jim‘s review and I will say it again…..reader beware!


  1. I was convinced that Lord Jim was Conrad’s best work….until I read Nostromo!
  2. Strongest points  were the development of the characters and the rich symbolism. I’ve only mentioned  silver, iron and the mines but there are many more to discover!
  3. If you compare I. Némirovsky’s  descriptions of the  the social classes in Suite française  or even N. Hawthorne’s characterization in The Scarlet Letter
  4. I find that Conrad soars above them all in his writing talents!
  5. Just to give you an idea what you can expect in this book…just look at these ‘love triangles’ !
  • Charles Gould –  (materialist, values the wealth of silver above all else),
  • Mrs Emilia Gould  – (moral voice)
  • Dr. Monygham –  (cynic)
  • Martin Decoud  – (sceptic, doubting  values/plans)
  • Antonia Avellanos  - (idealist, Antonia and Martin clash and are complete opposites!)
  • Don José Avellanos  – (idealist so father so daughter)
  • Giorgio Viola  – (drifting relic for the cause of independance (pg 54).
  • Teresa Viola  – ( Nostromo’s foster mother and mother-in-law if she gets her way!)
  • Nostromo  –  (orphan who rises to be a leader)
  • Nostromo (cares only for his reputation in the community)
  • Linda Viola  – (political, Nonstromo’s  finacée)
  • Giselle Viola  –  (Nostromo’s secret affair, she is the forbidden treasure…just like the silver !)

Last thoughts:

  • If there is one writer who deserves more attention it is surely  Joseph Conrad.
  • Now I know WHY....The Modern Library ranked Nostromo 47th on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th C.
  • This book is magnificent.

Score: 5 +


 The disastrous  Penguin Classic  book cover !



Posted by on October 4, 2014 in Uncategorized


AusReading Month 2014


What  a wonderful  Australian reading  month 2014 in November  at Brons’s Books!


  • Last year I discovered Nevil Shute
  • He is often forgotten and that is a shame.
  • If you are looking for a book I could suggest A Town like Alice ( 1950), On the Beach (1957) or Trustee from the Toolroom ( 1960).


  • This year I am happy that Brona kindkly suggested reading a book I can add to my Classic Book List 2014: The Harp of the South by Ruth Park.
  • The book has been translated in to 37 languages and has never gone out of print,.
  • It sounds like a great book about post WW II growing up in a gritty Irish slum in Sydney Australia.
  • Controversial with some members of the public at the time due to its candour, it won the best novel award in a writer’s competition sponsored by the Sydney Morning Herald in 1946.
  • It was later published in 1948.


Put the Foster’s beer on ice, fire up the barbie because  I’m  ready to join the

AusReading Month 2014 at Brona’s Books!

Top 50 Australian Books To Read Before You Die !





Posted by on September 29, 2014 in Uncategorized


Five Women Who Loved Love


  • Author: Saikaku,  Ihara (1641 – 93), novelist and poet
  • Cover: Japanese Gallery, London. It was impossible to discover who painted this image.
  • Genre:  books of the floating world :  type of popular fiction written between the 1680s and the 1770s (ukiyo-zoshi)
  • Publisher: Tuttle Publishing
  • Published: original  1685  (paperback 1989)
  • Table of contents: 5 stories covering 188 pages. The book  contains a 2 pg forward, 13 pg introduction, critical essay by Richard Lane of Colombia University 17 pg and 31 pg of illustrations.
  • Illustrated by: Yoshida Hambei ( 17th C)
  • Translated by: Wm Theodore de Bary in 1956
  • Dedication: to Fanny
  • Theme:    Obligation to the wishes of the family,  all consuming desire (…as a lifestyle), sin never goes unpunished
  • Setting: Japan
  • Trivia: Saikaku was one of the most popular writers of the entire  Tokugawa period ( 1603 – 1868) . At the time his work was never considered “high” literature.
  • Trivia: Once  considered as vulgar, Saikaku is acclaimed as a  great realist, largely because of his minute and accurate descriptions of characters, customs, abnormal passions of his day.

 Tokugawa period:  (1603 – 1868)  

  • Social order, based on inherited position rather than personal merits, was rigid and highly formalized
  • Individual had no legal rights in Tokugawa Japan
  • Family was the smallest legal entity
  • Maintenance of family status and privileges was of great importance


  • In Five Women Who Loved Love  Saikaku’s characters often fall in love in ways that violate social law and custom.
  • They meet “justice” ultimately on the execution ground.
  • What interested me was that time and time again, the women in his stories had complete control over the men.
  • Men seem to have their  souls drawn out of them by their women.
  • Domination is not achieved just by the fact that they are women, but also by their intense beauty.
  • I have chosen to look deeper into the first story….and will let you discover the other 4 during your own reading!.

Number 7 : 

  • First story refers to  7 entertainers (pg 57) , 7 people in a boat ( pg 62) , Onatu did not eat for 7 days (pg 67)
  • Second story begins on the 7th day of autumn ( pg 76) – silk clothes piled 7 high ( pg 76) – There are 7 mysterious things in the Temma section of Osaka (pg 82) – in 7 days these women are out looking for other husbands (pg 106 )

The Story of Seijuro in Himeji  (pg 41 – 72)

Strong points:

Theme: obligation

  • pg 68  An oracle reveals the basic theme to Onatsu in a dream:
  • “..if you had taken a husband in accordance with the wishes of your parents, you would not have had anything to worry you…


  • pg 69 Saikaku used the literary  device ‘pathos’ to bring the narrative and character of Seijuro  closer to real life.
  • 700 gold pieces believed to have been stolen by Seijuro were found.
  • Unfortunately Seijuro was already executed for the crime.

Color to express emotions:

  • pg 45  Minikawa wears garments of white  ….as she is ready to die
  • pg 56  young ladies wear garments of red….as they are about to enjoy a picnic in the woods
  • pg 71  Onatsu  wears garments of black….as she is ready to  “die emotionally” yet remain living  in piety in  a convent

Images: ( often used in Haiku poetry)

  • pg 42  Seijuro puts a sign on his door “Treasure of the Floating World’ ( urban lifestyle, especially the pleasure-seeking aspects)
  • pg 69  People witnessing Seijuro’s execution  think ” …that is the way of the Fleeting World’ ( life passing quickly)
  • Saikaku  illustrates  that Seijuro has passed from the sensuous, erotic world to the world of reality and death.


  • pg 45: Seijuro is speechless with delight  to find his lover is fatihful after all
  • Irony:  Minakawa has to  threaten to kill herself to prove her fidelity to him


  • Sensual is the best word I can think of.
  • These aren’t racy, graphically sexually oriented stories where the men are simply out to sleep with the women, but stories that emphasize and highlight the amazing beauty of women.
  • We also read about the  the cruelty and pain that often accompanies that beauty.
  • Saikaku appears to approve of the harsh penalties of the Tokugawa code.
  • Yet at the same time he describes the illicit love affair with such gusto that no reader can believe he is absolutely condemning his lovers.
  • Saikaku examines his society while at the same time amusing it.
  • Last thoughts: If you read the stories without researching  Saikaku, his backround and life….then you will miss so many facets of his writing. Be prepared to do some work!

Score: 3






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Posted by on September 28, 2014 in Uncategorized


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