I finished reading Vol. 2 of The Complete Folktales of Afanas’ev yesterday morning and plan to begin reading Vol. 3 next week on Monday. This 3 Volume-set is a collection of Russian folktales collected around the time of the Brothers Grimm. Or at least, they recommended it in a letter to another folklorist. However, as I said yesterday, I decided that until this coming Sunday I am going to read only recreational reading, or at least materials that are not directly related to Tales of the Land of the Firebird. Last night I read up to page 41 of The Hawk’s Way: Encounters with Fierce Beauty by Sy Montgomery (the book is 92 pages long). I finished it today and moved on to The Soul of the Octopus by the same author. So far I am 93 pages in to the book. It is a little over 210 pages and I hope to finish it tomorrow. On Saturday and Sunday, I hope to finish Aurora Leigh and Other Poems by Elizabeth Barret Browning (I have read most of it but have a little over 100 pages left) and the Latin Longus’ Chloe and Daphnis (which is over 110 pages). After reading The Complete Folktales of Afanas’ev Vol. 3, I will read Robert Browning’s The Ring and the Book.
This is perhaps more about my schedule than anyone cares about (and a rehash of yesterday when I told some of this information to readers of my blog). Yet I do have this much to add: I find reading about the natural world exciting, and it harmonizes well with my interests in History and Literature. Why? Because History and Literature tend to celebrate or attempt to understand the human, whereas Science focusses on the world in which we live. I’ll make the casual admittance here that I have no talent in the sciences. When I was in High School I thought it would be so cool to understand physics and astronomy. It would be like looking into the face of God. Yet I did not get high marks in either class–well, the “B” I got in astronomy was not all bad. Even in childhood I looked upwards and wondered questions like, “How are stars made? Where do the different galaxies come from?” Yet the math comes between my desire and the reality of outer space.
Now, I had a physics teacher who insisted that biology was no easier than physics. I do not know if I believe him. However, in one form I am able to understand biology: books on animals, whether bobcats or octopi (The Soul of the Octopus swears the real word is “octopuses” but spellcheck recognizes either word and I prefer octopi). I now have a whole slew of books like Soul of the White Ant; Way of the Wolverine; and The Secret Lives of Lobster. All of this is because I have often wanted to study nature, and studying animals is easier to digest than studying galaxies. Or at least, I can read the books and retain knowledge.
I now know that octopi’s sense of touch and taste are the same; that their brain exists between their bodies and their legs; and that they have nerves on their legs which do much of their “thinking” for them. They are considered invertebrates (animals without spines) but I guess that is obvious. They also have “slime” that covers their body; it is like human mucus or saliva. And they are not very social: although some live in pairs and one variety lives in groups of twenties or forties (I forget which), for the most part octopi only get together to mate, and then the female eats the male. After the female lays her eggs, she dies. Sy Montgomery does a great job of bringing this asocial species to life in The Soul of the Octopus.
Yet if I am reading for purely selfish reason, I would be remiss not to pick up a Latin book (Chloe and Daphnis) and a book of poetry (Aurora Leigh and Other Poems). I have not read Chloe and Daphnis, but Debussy and Ravel both produced music using that name. As for Aurora Leigh… I have finished that poem in the larger book, and it is interesting because it is a feminist poem. Aurora Leigh portrays a character who foregoes marriage to her cousin Romney Leigh to write poetry and strike out on her own. I am ambivalent about the poem; in the end Aurora marries the detestable Romney, and it is a hard blow to forgive. However, that is the poem’s only flaw. I hate Romney’s mother even more than him, and feel sorry for Marian Erle and find a flawed wife worthy of Romney in Lady Waldemar. The irony is that Elizabeth Barret Browning wrote her greater poem Sonnets from the Portuguese for her husband Robert.
Still, I hope to finish the book because I am fond not only of Elizabeth’s poetry but the love story that Robert and she make. So often famous people (think: Dickens) are not as great in their personal lives than as social or political figures. I don’t blame them: is it possible to be as good as Dickens writes? Yet where love was concerned, Robert and Elizabeth Browning were the real McCoy. Robert lived outside of England when he read his wife’s first poetry. Struck by its beauty, he travelled all the way back to the land of his birth. He and she corresponded behind her father’s back. Her father, to be fair, had made it possible for Elizabeth, seen by the family as an invalid, able to write, and she had just written a best seller. When Elizabeth declared her love for Robert and married him, her father cut her off and never spoke to her again. Yet for the rest of their lives, they were true to each other. According to a book of poems the Brownings wrote each other, once after Elizabeth’s death Edward Fitzgerald (translator of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam) spoke disrespectfully of Aurora Leigh in print. Robert Browning shot back with a poem… Nobody insulted the woman he loved, even twenty years after her death!