Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Sherlock Holmes: The Sign of Four - Notes

v     This is Doyle's second novel about Sherlock Holmes.

v     Two characters, Captain Morstan and Major Sholto worked as guards in a prison for the East India Company, which traded with India and China, and controlled half the world's trade in salt, tea, cotton, silk, and opium. Although privately owned, it had its own private armies, and ruled wherever it traded. It started in 1757 and ended in 1858, when the Indian Rebellion of 1857 caused the British government to take over control.

Cast of Characters (Zoznam Postáv):

Sherlock Holmes - a genius private investigator. He's made a science of solving crime.

Doctor Watson - a medical doctor who lives with Holmes, and assists in his adventures. He's also the narrator of each story.

Miss Mary Morstan - a young governess with a mystery.

Captain Morstan - Miss Morstan's father. After working many years in India, he's since disappeared.

Major Sholto - Captain Morstan's close friend, who worked with him in India.

Thaddeus & Bartholomew Sholto: Major Sholto's twin sons. Thaddeus is the good one. Bart is greedy, like his father. Both look ugly, and have funny voices.

Plot (Dej Príbehu) (SPOILER ALERT!!!):

1.      The original story begins at Holme's flat on Baker Street, with Holmes, out of boredom, injecting himself with cocaine. This shows the readers the danger of being too intelligent.

2.      An attractive young woman, Mary Morstan, comes to visit, and she has two different mysteries, that may be connected. First, her father disappeared ten years earlier. No one knows why. The only clue is a treasure map she found in her dad's trunk, titled "The Sign of Four" with four names on it: Dost Akbar, Abdullah Khan, Maomet Singh, and Jonathan Small.

3.      Then, for the last six years she's been receiving pearls in the mail, from a stranger.

4.      Now, this stranger wants to meet, saying Mary's been treated unfairly, but asking that no police come with her. Holmes and Dr. Watson agree to escort her.

5.      The three take a horse-drawn cab to meet this stranger, who turns out to be Thaddeus Sholto. He tells the truth about Mary's father. He had a heart attack while arguing with Major Sholto, and died. Afraid of the police, the Major buried his body in the yard of his large home. :) So sorry!

6.      the Captain and Major were arguing over how to share a buried treasure, which the Major had taken back to England. They'd gotten the map to it from a prisoner - Jonathan Small. He was supposed to be released after giving it to them, but they decided to let Jon rot in prison, and take the money for themselves. :)

7.      Major Sholto revealed all this to his sons, while he was on his death bed. He was weak from malaria, and scared because he'd just gotten a letter that Jon Small had escaped from prison!

8.      Thaddeus and Bart argued over whether to share the treasure with Miss Morstan. Meanwhile, Bart tore the whole house apart, inside and out, looking for it. Their father died just before telling them where it was hidden.

9.      Holmes, Watson, Morstan, and Thaddeus then all go back to this house to talk to Bart. But, when they get there, they find he's been murdered! With a poisoned dart!

10.  They call the police, who arrest Thaddeus. But, Holmes finds a small footprint, and thinks the real killer has escaped. He sends Dr. Watson to get a bloodhound, and they follow the scent to a boat rental on the river Thames. It took off a while ago, and hasn't returned yet.

11.  Holmes then calls for his Baker's Street Irregulars, a gang of young children, who go up and down the river, looking for the boat. They find it, repainted, and Holmes calls the police.

12.  The story ends with a boat chase, where they capture Jonathan Small, killing his small accomplice, named Tonga. Jon threw most of the treasure into the river, so no one would have it.

13.  So, how did Jon Small get this treasure? Well, it turns out he's had a bad life. Jon started as a soldier in India, like the Captain and Major, but he had a leg bitten off by a crocodile. During the Indian Rebellion, he was stationed at Agra Fortress.

14.  One night he saw two Sikh soldiers going out secretly. They saw him and said, either join us or die. They robbed a Rajah (a rich Indian), and buried his treasure in the fortress. Then, they were caught and sent to prison, where Jon Small had hoped his map would help earn his freedom.

15.  Somehow, in all this adventure, Mary and Dr. Watson fall in love, and agree to marry.

Shakespearean Vocabulary 2 - Sonnets 6-10

bossom – your breast, male and female, where you keep your heart, prsia

to breed – to raise pure-blooded animals, like horses or dogs, also (in poetry) to grow emotions, chovať

to chide – to criticize someone

to deface – to vandalize something, skresliť, rozmazať

glad – happy and content, especially related to situations. “I’m glad he’s dead.”

gladly – adverb of glad, to do something happily. “I slept in gladly.”

to grant – to allow, to give permission, usually by kings or judges, udeliť

an homage – any act done in memory of someone or their work, like when pop singers perform someone else’s song.

joy – intense happiness, when everything seems perfect. štastia

majesty – being impressive and great, used as a title for kings. “Your majesty”, vznešenosť, veličenstvo

mortal – human, destined to die, the opposite of immortal, smrteľný

to offend – to upset someone, either accidentally or on purpose, to speak out of place, uraziť

ragged – the same as tattered, used for clothes, possibly a really old dog or person.

to reel – to turn or spin suddenly, usually from shock, possibly falling over, natočiť

sacred – holy, blessed to or by God, svätý

shame – a sad feeling when you know you did something wrong, feeling guilty, stud, hanba

a sire – a father, also used as a title for kings, otec

to treasure – to love or value something or someone as a treasure, ceniť si ako poklad.

a (glass) vial – a little glass bottle, for perfumes and medicine, fľaštička.

vile – a horrible, mean-hearted person, despicable, evil, podlý, nizky, skazený, mrzký

to wail – to cry very loudly, like a group of grandmothers at a funeral. Some ghosts wail, kvíliť, nariekať

to weep – to cry, not so loud, but lots of tears, usually for a long time.

weary – tired, physically exhausted, usually also demotivated.

A Christmas Carol - Notes

v     This book tells the story of Christmas time in England during the industrial revolution in the 19th century, when many children had to work in factories, and many people died from starvation.

v     The original book has five chapters, which Charles Dickens called 'staves' meaning song verses.

v     A big inspiration for this story came from the American writer, Washington Irving, who lived in England for a time, and wrote about the ideal English Christmas. Irving and Dickens met, and were friends, and Irving even had a brother named Ebenezer.

v     A Christmas Carol is the first book to use Christmas as a humanitarian holiday, a time to give to the poor. Dickens's concern for the poor has been called his "Carol Philosophy".

v     Charles Dickens first wanted to write a political pamphlet (an essay) begging people to help the poor, but decided a children's story would move people's hearts more.

v     It took him six weeks to write. He released the book on Dec 19th, and sold over 6,000 copies by Christmas Eve.

v     The book was immediately adapted as a theatrical play, and has since been remade in films, on radio, and on television. Dickens also read the story publicly over 100 times.

v     A Christmas Carol is largely responsible for the Christmas holiday as we experience it today.

Cast of Characters (Zoznam Postáv):

Ebenezer Scrooge - A rich, old man, and a landlord (prenájomca). All he cared about was earning money, and saving it away. His favourite phrase was, "Bah, humbug!" It means, "you're wrong, and I don't care anyway!"

GRAMMAR NOTE: In English, you don't give money "for people", you give it "to people".

Jacob Marley (not Bob!) - Scrooge's business partner, who died seven years ago.

Bob Cratchit & Tiny Tim, by Norman Rockwell

Bob Cratchit - Scrooge's secretary, who helped him keep his account books.

Tiny Tim - Bob Cratchit's youngest son. He was weak and sickly, and walks with a crutch.

Frances - Scrooges sister, now deceased (dead). Charles Dickens also had a sister named Frances, who was a talented singer, and died young.

Fred - Scrooge's nephew, son of Frances.

Belle - Scrooge's ex-fiancee, who married someone else when she saw that Scrooge cared more about money than her.

Plot (Dej Príbehu) (SPOILER ALERT!!!):

1.      This story begins on Christmas Eve, with Scrooge and Bob Cratchit working in their office. Scrooge is visited by his nephew Fred, who invites him to Christmas dinner. Scrooge refuses, and sends him away. Then come two men asking for money for charity. Scrooge sends them away too, empty handed. Bob is polite to all these people, wishing them all a merry Christmas, for which Scrooge threatens to fire him.

2.      Scrooge goes home, and is visited by...

Jacob Marley, original book illustration by John Leech 

1st Ghost of the Night - Jacob Marley
What did he look like? He was an old man, covered in heavy chains that represented the sins keeping him from going up to heaven. He used a handkerchief to keep his jaw in place.

What did he say? He warned Scrooge that when he dies, he will have chains too, if he doesn't change his behaviour. He tells Scrooge that three ghosts will visit him that night.

3.  Scrooge is then visited by three more ghosts:

2nd Ghost - The Ghost of Christmas Past

What did it look like? Good question, it kept changing. It wore a white robe, and a metal cap, like a candle extinguisher, and a bright light shone from its head.

Where did he take Scrooge?
1.He took Scrooge back to his lonely childhood, on Christmas Eve, when he had to sit alone at school, with no home to go to. Then his sister comes to take him home.
            2. To his First boss, Mr. Fezziwig, a good man who treated Scrooge like a son.
            3. To Belle, his ex-fiancee, who left him because of his greed.
            4. To Belle's family, later on, as they laughed about Scrooge, sitting alone.

Scrooge pulls down the ghost's hat, causing it to disappear

3rd Ghost - The Ghost of Christmas Present

illustration by John Leech

What did he look like? He looked like Father Christmas, a jolly giant with dark brown hair. He wore a green robe, and a wreath (venec) on his head, with icicles (cencúle) hanging on it. He holds a torch, and has a scabbard with no sword in it. As the night progresses, he gets older and older, until he disappears at midnight on the final 12th day.

Where did he take Scrooge?
            1. To Fred's house, as they celebrate Christmas, and make fun of Scrooge.
            2. To Bob Cratchit's house, where they all say a prayer to Scrooge, even though he's hardly done anything for them. The ghost tells Scrooge that Tiny Tim will die if he isn't helped.
            3. To Christmas celebrations around England, in mines, on ships, and in light houses, etc.

4th Ghost - The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come

illustration by John Leech

What did he look like? He looked like Death, wearing a long black robe that covered his face. He never spoke, always pointing.

Where did he take Scrooge?
            1. To a stock exchange, where three businessmen joke about attending a funeral. They'll only go if the food is free.
            2. To his house, where his maid steals his things.
            3. To a pawn shop, where his maid, laundress, and undertaker all sell his things.
            4. To a young couple - the only ones emotional about his death, but they're happy because now they have more time to pay off their debts.
            5. To Bob Cratchit, as he and his family mourn the death of Tiny Tim.
            6. Finally, to Scrooge's grave, in an old churchyard.

4.  Scrooge wakes up on Christmas morning, and is a changed man. He sends a turkey to the Cratchit house, and then goes to Fred's house for dinner. The next day, he raises Bob Cratchit's salary, and becomes like a second father to Tiny Tim. From then on, Scrooge is kind to everyone, who are often puzzled at why and how quickly he changed his ways.

Friday, January 2, 2015

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow - Notes

Cast of Characters:

Ichabod Crane, by Norman Rockwell

v     Ichabod Crane - a local school teacher. He's tall, thin, and ugly - trollish. As a teacher he's strict, but outside the classroom he is flawed. He eats too much, testing every host that invites him to dinner, and he's very scared of ghosts. Ichabod wants to marry Katrina, who's almost half his age.

v     Brom Bones Von Brunt - a big, strong, and handsome young man who also likes Katrina. He has a short temper and likes to bully Ichabod.

v     Katrina Van Tassel - a young lady, with a wealthy father.

v     Baltus Van Tassel - Katrina's wealthy father.

The Plot (SPOILER ALERT!!!):

1. This story takes place in the fictional village of Sleepy Hollow, near the real town of Tarrytown, NY. Ichabod is a fairly new arrival, one of the few educated men in town, but poor. He runs the local school, and people take turns housing him. In exchange, Ichabod does various household chores. He's kind and charming, despite his bad looks.

The Headless Horseman Pursuing Ichabod Crane, by John Quidor

2. Ichabod is scared of ghosts, and the scariest story in town tells of a headless horseman, the ghost of a soldier who lost his head to a cannonball during the Revolutionary War. He travels at night looking for it.

3. Ichabod and Brom both like the same girl. Ichabod could never win in a fight - which Brom tries to start at various times. Ichabod trusts that Katrina's kind nature would mean she cares more about brains than brawn (brute strength).

4. Brom plays a series of practical jokes (Kanadské žartíky) on Ichabod. He stuffed the church's chimney to fill it with smoke during choir practice - Ichabod was the choir master. Brom and his friends broke into the school at night and ransacked it (tearing it apart). Ichabod thought witches had done it. Then, Brom taught a dog to sing, saying it'd make a better choir master than Ichabod.

5. Finally, one summer evening, the Von Tassels have a party and both Brom and Ichabod are invited. Ichabod feels certain he will win her hand, but... she breaks his heart. Turns out she likes Brom.

6. On the way home from this party, Ichabod is chased by the headless horseman, all the way to a bridge where the horseman throws his own head at the poor teacher, hitting him in the head.

Ichabod Crane, by William J. Wilgus

7. The next morning, townspeople find Ichabod's horse and a smashed pumpkin lying near the bridge. But Ichabod is gone. Everyone wonders what ever happened to him, and if he wasn't taken by a ghost. Brom is the only one who thinks the story is funny (because he was actually the "headless horseman").

8. Ichabod isn't dead, he left town, to work in New York City. He won't return to Sleepy Hollow because he's embarrassed, and because he's still afraid of ghosts.

Rip Van Winkle Notes

Rip Van Winkle, by John Howe

Cast of Characters:

v     Rip Van Winkle: a kind, but lazy farmer. He tells great stories and makes toys for children, but his wife always complains that their farm is a ruin.

v     Dame Van Winkle: Rip's angry wife.

v     Rip Van Winkle, Jr.: Rip's lazy son.

v     Judith Gardenier: Rip's daughter. She takes the name Gardenier when she marries.

v     Hendrick Hudson: The first explorer of the lands of New York and founder of New York City, once called New Amsterdam. His ghost along with the ghosts of his crew have a party way up in the Catskill Mountains, which Rip Van Winkle discovers.

v     Peter Vanderdonk: The oldest man in town, who still remembers and identifies Rip Van Winkle

The Plot (SPOILER ALERT!!!):

1. This story begins with Rip Van Winkle going into the woods with his dog, Wolf, to go hunting. It's a great way to get away from his nagging wife.

2. While in the woods, Rip sees a strange little man carrying a large keg (sud) of alcohol uphill. The man doesn't speak, but motions for Rip to help him. Rip carries the keg up to the top of a mountain.

3. At the top of the mountain, Rip hears loud thunder, but it's actually a group of strange, little old men playing ninepins (bowling). They cheer when they see the alcohol, but warn Rip not to drink any.

4. While they're having their party, Rip sneaks a cup of this strange amber alcohol, and quickly falls asleep.

5. He wakes up twenty years later, all alone, with a long white beard, his rifle rusted to ruin, and his dog long gone. He doesn't understand what has happened, and walks back down to town.

6. Everything's changed. His wife has died, and his house is a ruin, and his friends have either died or moved away. He goes to the town center where people question his strange beard and old fashioned clothes.

7. Rip gets into trouble claiming to be loyal to the King, not knowing that America won a revolution while he was asleep.

8. Eventually Peter Vanderdonk recognizes him, and his daughter Judith comes to take him to her home and take care of him. Rip spends the rest of his life relaxing at the local inn, and telling everyone his story.

The Scarlet Letter - Notes

The Scarlet Letter, by Hugues Merle
v     Written in 1850, this story takes place two centuries earlier, around 1640.

v     This story takes place in Boston, Massachusetts, at the time a small town of Puritans.

v     Puritans were Christians who believed in living a pure life, free from sin, and free from control of the Church of England. They believed in the importance of attending mass (omša), and that music, dancing, and drinking were all terrible sins.

v     The Puritans also believed in witches, and killed twenty people during the Salem Witch Trials, in which children accused people of being witches, and adults believed them. This is how kids used to spend their free time before videogames, TV, and the internet. It's an embarrassing chapter in US history, and we use the phrase "witch trial" every time someone is accused or punished unfairly.

Cast of Characters:

Hester Prynne - a young woman, living in town, and the main character of the story.

Pearl -  Hester Prynne's daughter. She's a bit of a rebel, doing and saying strange things, that worry the other villagers.

Arthur Dimmesdale - a kind, young minister of the local church.

Roger Chillingworth - a doctor (of sorts) and Hester Prynne's husband, although he doesn't want anyone in Salem to know.

Reverend John Wilson - an older minister, with more authority than Dimmesdale.

Governor Bellingham - the Governor of Massachusetts.

Ann Hibbins - a witch who tries to tempt (pokušať) Hester into becoming a witch too. She's later executed (killed by the state, and it's a true story!). In the story she's Gov Bellingham's sister. In real life she wasn't.

The Plot (SPOILER ALERT!!!):

1. The story begins with Hester Prynne in jail, with her baby, Pearl (at this time, if a mother went to prison and was still nursing a baby, the baby went with her, and some died).

2. Hester is in jail because of the baby. She is a married woman who voyaged alone from Europe to Boston, expecting her husband to arrive soon after. He didn't. Two years later, Hester gave birth - far too long for it to have been her husband's child.

3. Normally, the punishment for adultery (cudzoložstvo) was death, but Hester's case is special because, first of all, where's her husband? Everyone figures his ship must have wrecked at sea. And second, hey, she's young and pretty.

4. So, Hester gets a different punishment. She must stand on a scaffold for three hours while people taunt her and throw things at her. Then, she must wear a scarlet 'A' on her chest for the rest of her life.

5. The ministers want to know who the father is, but Hester won't tell.

6. While Hester is standing on this scaffold, she looks down and sees, to her horror, her husband! He's chosen a false name for himself, Roger Chillingworth, and he gets permission to see Hester back in her jail cell––he tells the guard that, since he's a doctor, he can calm down the baby.

7. Hester is afraid he'll poison the girl, but he doesn't. He's angry, and he wants to know who the father is. Hester again refuses to tell.

8. Eventually, Hester is released from jail, and lives on her own, at the edge of town. Everyone thinks she's going to hell because of her sin. She makes money from sewing.

9. Several years later, Pearl is a child, and she misbehaves, and people think her hell-bound mom is a bad influence. They want to take the child from her.

10. Hester takes Pearl to Gov. Bellingham, begging for mercy. John Wilson and Arthur Dimmesdale are also present. Arthur convinces the others that Hester is the best guardian for Pearl. On the way out, the witch Ann Hibbins talks to Hester, and tries to tempt her to evil, but Hester ignores her.

11. Arthur Dimmesdale becomes sick, and no one knows why. Roger Chillingworth, being a "doctor" moves in with him. Roger notices Arthur seems to be hiding some secret guilt. One night, he checks on Arthur while he's sleeping, and sees a strange, shocking mark on Dimmesdale's chest.

12. Dimmesdale gets sicker and sicker, and Hester, fearing Roger is poisoning him, admits to him that Arthur is the father, and warns Roger that his own soul is in danger if he kills Dimmesdale.

13. Hester then goes to Dimmesdale, whom she still loves, and convinces him to join her and Pearl on a boat for Europe, where they can marry and live together normally. He agrees, but Pearl is angry, especially that her mother has taken off her scarlet A.

14. Hester waits by the boat, but is horrified to learn that Roger is also coming on the same boat - he won't leave Hester and Dimmesdale alone.

15. Dimmesdale gives one last mass before they are to depart, but falls ill and collapses outside of church. Facing death, he admits his sin, shouting that he's Pearl's father, and then rips off his vestment, showing a large A, cut into his chest. He then dies.

16. Roger is never accused of killing Dimmesdale, but seems very sorry for what's happened, seeing Hester's grief. He dies soon after, and leaves all his money to Pearl, who grows up and moves to England - the rest of her life is a mystery.

17. Hester lives alone, slowly gaining the respect of the town for her wisdom and advice, always wearing her scarlet 'A'. When she dies, she's buried next to Dimmesdale, with a single 'A' on her tombstone.

Modern British Poets

W.B Yeats (detail), by his father, John Butler Yeats
William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) - The Artist's Son

Poet and playwright, Yeats's father was a portraitist living in London and Dublin. William began writing poetry at a young age, inspired by older generations such as Shelly and Spencer, and by Irish folklore. Yeats co-founded the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, the Emer Press (a publisher) and the Rhymer's Club of poets in London. He also joined the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, which studied magic and the occult. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923, claiming it more as a reward for the newly free Irish state. He then served as an Irish senator, supporting the right to divorce and re-marry.

Hugh MacDiarmid, by Leonard Penrice

Hugh MacDiarmid (1892-1978) - The Scottish Extremist

A communist and Scottish nationalist, his real name was Christopher Murray Grieve. Hugh MacDiarmid was his pen name. He was a leading modernist poet in Scotland. He served in WWI, and was a career journalist. His major fear was the concentration of power in England and France, to the point where he even supported Nazi Germany. His daughter-in-law once said, "I think he entertained almost every ideal it was possible to entertain at one point or another."


Robert Graves (1895-1985) - The War Poet

Robert von Ranke Graves suffered a difficult childhood, despite his wealthy family, due to his German name, which came from his mother. Bullying about his name and homosexuality led him to become his school's boxing champion. At 21 he entered WWI and became popular as a war poet, something he later rejected and despised. Graves managed to survive double pneumonia as a child, lung damage in the war, and the Spanish Flu of 1918. He suffered "shell shock" fearing gas and loud noises after the war. He began writing historical novels about ancient Rome, and translated many Greek and Roman texts. He taught at Oxford, and is now memorialised in the Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey.

Dylan Thomas (1914-1953) - the "roistering, drunken and doomed poet"

Dylan Thomas was a great poet from Wales, who drank too much, and died from alcohol poisoning. His most famous poem is "Do not go gentle into that good night." He recorded over a hundred readings for the BBC, reciting his poetry and critiquing other literary figures. He died in New York City - despite a respiratory illness, he couldn't stop drinking day and night, while trying to work full time, giving poetry readings. Two days before he died he exclaimed, "I've had 18 straight whiskies. I think that's the record!"