Author Archives: Stephanie Suh

About Stephanie Suh

I write stuff of my interest that does not interest anyone in my blog. No grammarians, no copy editors, no marketers, no cynics are welcomed.

‘The Husband Hunters: American Heiresses Who Married Into the British Aristocracy’, by Anne de Courcy – review

The Husband Hunters: American Heiresses Who Married Into the British AristocracyThe Husband Hunters: American Heiresses Who Married Into the British Aristocracy by Anne de Courcy

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

They were the Beautiful Buccaneers dressed in fine dresses a la Parisian mode, expensively educated in Europe, and exclusively cultivated in the upper echelon of the Classless Class Society. They were American women seeking English aristocratic men who could promise them with prestige of class distinction with a complementary endowment of stately country houses, royal banquets, and a general carte blanche to basically all social occasions, events, and establishments exclusive to a select few. Although it wasn’t exactly akin to the plebeian idea of “Mail-in Bride,” the wealthy American women were vying for the lordly attention of the English bachelors of peerage at the ballrooms of high social clubs. These celebratory high society American women are unveiled in Anne De Courcy’s telling episodic vignettes of The Husband Hunters.

At first, De Courcy’s portrayal of these American Cinderellas is deemed to be cast in rather favorable light despite their manifest materialistic intent on marrying peerage not for love but for necessity. De Courcy eulogizes the idea of “American Beauty” whose circumstances conspired to make her feel that she was mistress of her fate and who always got what she wanted, the remarkable American character that looked so irresistibly attractive and desirable in the eyes of high-class English men. In addition, American women were said to always adonize themselves with fashionably beautiful dresses with a natural air of confidence blurring the boundary of arrogance, which was also oddly very alluring about them. De Courcy is unfailingly sympathetic toward these young beautiful American social arriveste, for theses women fell by the wayside of the highest circle of social class by their birth and ranks, such as whose daughters they were, despite the constitutional credo of freedom to all without hereditary succession of peerage and the entitlement of prestige equal to the inherited ranks. In De Courcy’s humane perspective, these American Cinderellas were in one way or another victims of social discrimination per se of their time.

The book has also nice diversions in contextualizing the cultural and social ambiance of the time, including the introduction of one Charles Frederick Worth, the progenitor of modern-day fashion house designer and trailblazer of hauteur-coutre. Working as a ship assistant at a London tailor shop until the age of 12, Worth went to Paris alone and set up his design studio with exquisite choice of fabrics and gorgeous design that soon caught the eye of Empress Eugene, a tall, slender, beautiful woman who was a great model for Worth’s fabulous dresses, and thus became the most sought-after designer in the Western Hemisphere. Of course, the American young women of the moneyed class were intent on buying the dresses made by Worth in Paris to adorn themselves at social balls to woo their desirable aristocratic suitors from England. For these women firmly believed if they were not worth the wooing, they surely were not worth the winning in consideration of Shakespeare’s fierce observation of beauty as a standard of woman’s merit to escalate social status by marriage: “She’s beautiful, and therefore to be wooed. She’s a woman, therefore to be won.”

The gem of this book is its cleverly nuanced subject matter underlying the hypocrisy of American credo of Independence, Equality, and Freedom, vis-a-vis European, especially their former colonial English, class snobbishness. inherited entitlement of landed peerage, against which Americans claimed to fight and guarded. The American moneyed class needed titles to level themselves with dignitaries to display their flowing hard cash. What it used to be inter-class marriage became intra-class marriage by uniting the well-heeled bourgeoisie with blue-blooded aristocrats. But what good of it if such without end businesslike marriage was loveless, heartless, and soulless? The fear of falling into unwanted spinsterhood might have been deemed miserable, but the repining at the prospect of being an old maid shouldn’t be the main force of being wed at leisure. For marriage is indeed a matter of more worth than to be dealt in by attorneyship as the Bard keenly observed. The Husband Hunters to me is more of a social context of American moneyed class of the time and their economic power that could acquire centuries-old ranks and titles. Such a marriage was regarded as a biblical bond of objectives (money) and prestige (title) in the minds of the American rich families of the time when it was believed that women’s fortune depended upon strength of men. In light of the above, this book is provocatively revealing and cleverly ironic to learn of these American Princesses.

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Academy of Ancient Music: “Baroque Journey” with Lucie Horsch – review

img_0202-1The recorder is a wonderful woodwind musical instrument: light in weight, affordable in price, delightful in timbre, and easy to learn, it has been adopted as a part of music curriculum at many elementary schools, just as ancient Greek schools necessitated students to learn an aulos or a lyre. However, this seemingly insouciant musical instrument was the centerpiece of Baroque music because of its florid and vivacious sound that strikes the chords with busy, sophisticated, delicate melodies of Baroque, the term which originally means irregular shapes of pearls in Portuguese. So much so that Vivaldi, Handel, and Bach had composed music just for the recorder long before the cello, the violin, or even the harpsichord came into the scene and outclassed the lovely recorder.

Ergo, the wanting of its significant contribution to the history of music and of its tainted beauty of the timbre has recently been brought to light, especially in Europe. The heroine of this jubilant revival of the Baroque recorder music is Lucie Horsch, a young Dutch recorder player whose musical finesse characterized by her vivaciousness of technicality and instinctive understanding of baroque music makes her exquisite musicianship look effortless and seamless. That classical music is not for the old conservative snobs but for anyone who has an ear for beautiful music is a tenet of the Arts on the grounds that the standard of taste and reason is universal in all humans as regards the principle of sentiment and judgment is common in humankind.  As illustrated in this music video, Horsch and her musician friends represent the democratizing of classical music in general, making it accessible to enjoy for all, not a prerogative of a few fortunate in a stuffy concert hall.

If you are a novice in Baroque music, then Lucie Horsch’s Baroque Journey is a choice introduction to the world of Bach, Handel, and Vivaldi. She will be your Beatrice who will guide you to Paradise of the music, as she did for Dante in the Divine Comedy. In my opinion, the best number is The Arrival of the Queen of Shiba by Handel, for it best shows Horsch’s dexterity of playing the recorder flawlessly, delivering the best of her musicality with a burst of pep like a vivacious sprite.

Author’s Note: You can download Lucie Horsch’s Baroque Journey from your iTune on your iPhone to enjoy the delightfully whimsical world of a Baroque Recorder. The music will cast out from you a momentary vertigo of worries and anxieties and elevate your mood to an instant jolly caprice 🙂

‘Joan of Arc: A Life from beginning to end’ by Hourly History – review

Joan of Arc: A Life From Beginning to EndJoan of Arc: A Life From Beginning to End by Hourly History

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

They condemned her as an irreparable heretic, apostate, idolater, and witch and then burned her at stake even though she saved them from their enemy. And yet, in spite of such egregious treachery of her own countrymen, she knew no surrender to fear with stalwart faith in the Cause she intransigently believed to be her divine mission from the greatest man above as the flame rose to her nose, and then engulfed her therein, turning her to ashes. She was no less a figure than Joan of Arc, the Maid of Orleans, the Virgin of Lorraine, whose bravery and belief – be it ever spiritual or psychological- epitomizes existential will to meaningfulness to live a purposeful life, as is vividly and elegantly related in this book.

Each chapter draws up on the substantial aspects of Joan’s purposes, acts, and achievements rather than illustrates religious or spiritual overtones in anecdotes or legends to glow her in a halo. The narrative takes us to where Joan of Arc witnessed the English occupiers’ hectoring of her village folks, including little children by beating, and we feel her indignation at the perpetrators of such violence on her soil. We also come to know that the divine messages she received were not directly from God but through St. Michael, the archangel, St. Margaret, and St. Catherine as the messengers of God with the three divine missions. That Joan of Arc had three cardinal missions of (1) taking up arms; (2) rallying the French to defeat the English occupying army; and (3) putting the Dauphine Charles on the French throne betokens her guiding lights of her life, her purpose of life that constantly reminded her of a “why” to live for. So we follow Joan, a tall and lean girl with her raven hair cut in bob attired in shining armor that weighted about twenty pounds to the frontlines of hand-to-hand combats fighting against the English army without her helmet on to boost morale of the French soldiers and got her neck pierced by an arrow. Then the narrative puts us forward to the dark cell of Joan harassed by five lewd English guards and to the heaps of stake where her body was consumed to ashes.

The lucidly vivid descriptions of each chapter in cogently casual narrative are the elemental force of this book that brings the grist to the mill for the visualization of the whole story as though it were played on a screen. In fact, while I was reading toward the end of the book, a song called “Bigmouth Strikes Again” by the Smiths, in which Morrissey sings, “Now I know how Joan of Arc felt” was starting to being played in my mental stereo set with heightened emotions. It also illustrates the canonical facts that many of us may be unaware of: (1) that it was the French, including the dauphin who later became Charles VI wholly thanks to Joan, who sold her to the English; (2) that Joan, for none other reason than being only human, attempted at several escapes which ended in foils; and that (3) it was twenty-two years after her death on fraudulent grounds of treachery and heresy that the Trial of Rehabilitation exonerated her from such preposterously erroneous charges, thanks to the troubling conscience of Charles VI who belatedly endeavored to make it happen.

This is an excellent primer on further study on Joan of Arc with a comprehensive overview of the time as regards the relationship between the Church and the politics, the role of the Church, and its dominance over society, let alone people. It will induce you to look at Joan of Arc not as mythological French virgin whose legacy exclusively appertains to the French as their patron saint only, but as a human who tried to do what she believed was right despite any biological or social inhibitions that she had to rise above. In this regard, Joan is an emblematic figure of courage, hope, and self will to achieve her existential values as someone with purposes in life, someone whom we can identify with in one way or another in our daily struggles of contemporary life. Upon reading this book, you will come to understand what made the American humorist Mark Twain offer such approbation: “Whatever thing men call great, look for it in Joan of Arc, and there you will find it.” Indeed, her steadfast attitude toward her firm belief is something we can deem truly inspiring and remedial to apply to our own way of fulfilling demands placed upon our daily tasks in life.

The Haunting of Nan Tuck

Xmas 2012 011

from google

A poor young girl’s on the run for her life
From a dungeon in chains in tears in fright,
Hounds on her heels, horses spurred with might
Chasing after the witch on the run for her life.

Then she stopped at a village miles away
And sought a refuge in the name of charity
To save her poor soul in calumny of foul play
By which she would be burn at stake and die away.

Thereafter on a hill atop the village for ever,
The girl is seen – but not heard in daylight,
The girl is heard – but not seen at night
On a hill atop the village that had a murder
On its conscience, for no one goes there – Never.

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‘The Secret History of Poltergeists and Haunted Houses: From Pagan Folklore to Modern Manifestations’ by Claude Lecouteux – review

The Secret History of Poltergeists and Haunted Houses: From Pagan Folklore to Modern ManifestationsThe Secret History of Poltergeists and Haunted Houses: From Pagan Folklore to Modern Manifestations by Claude Lecouteux

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As someone who is keen on the stories of supernatural phenomena based on true events devoid of media-generated sensationalism, testimonies of mediums (or psychics), or narratives of parapsychologists, I was immediately hooked on this interesting book by Claude Lecouteux, a former professor of medieval literature and civilization at the Sorbonne. What distinguishes this book from other books of similar subject matters is its etymological, historical, and sociological explanations on poltergeist and other supernatural incidents as recorded in annals, newspapers, or folktales.

The word “Poltergeist” meaning a noisy spirit in German, first appeared in the dictionary by Erasmus Alberus in 1540, an era marked by turbulent religious conflicts between the Catholics and the Protestants, including Reformation. In fact, Martin Luther, the father of Protestantism, was an avid believer in devils’ manifestations in the form of poltergeist and availed it of a potent means of proselytism of his new religious founding. Also, from 1550 to around 1700, many books on spirits were written mainly by scholars, men of letters, and theologians, including King James I of England (1566-1625), who wrote Demonology in form of a Dialogue, a treaty on spirits of devilish nature.

As aforesaid, etymologically, the word “poltergeist” denotes a primarily acoustic phenomenon that has also been termed as “knocking spirits,” which Lecourteux uses as a neutral term without academic snobbery. He categorizes the activities of poltergeists as follows: (1) Casting stones/filth; (2) Vague noises; (3) Banging of windows; (4) Mischievous/Malicious acts; (5) Broken dishes; (6) Destruction of houses by fire; and/or (7) Attacks on specific individuals. He further illustrates the historical accounts of poltergeist incidents in the cases of a certain Greek philosopher named Athenodorous as narrated by Pliny the Younger (62-113) in his letter to his friend Sura in which a story of a specter of an old man who appeared to the philosopher to show him where he had been buried and a man named Gilles Bolacre who rented a haunted house in Tours that disturbed him every night with knocking sounds and went to court to have the lease successfully rescinded on the ground of the landowner’s violation of caveat emptor.

Lecourteux also proffers a reasonably plausible connection between some of the supernatural phenomena and human synchronicity, which includes telesthetic power. He provides the reader with the concept of “Place Memories,” a telesthetic phenomenon in which the cries of the victims and various noises accompanying the violent scenes are imprinted on the walls or at the places where acts of violence were committed as if upon a magnetic tape recording. He elucidates that inanimate objects could be endowed with human properties by means of the telestehtic faculties of the subconscious that have the ability to find and interpret such uncommon vibrations and emanations, just as mnemonic faculties have the ability to discern the latent vibrations of thought.

In light of the above, Lecourteux addresses our human nature that has hardly evolved at all in the domain of supernatural despite the dominant influence of Enlightenment rationality in the recent historical and social landscapes. That is, science has failed to deprecate ancient beliefs in spiritual entities variable in accordance with religious and cultural climates throughout our human civilizations. Also, the veritable records of supernatural incidents betoken different mental attitudes of the times. After all, our ancient predilection for anything supernatural have survived and will survive change of time and political, social ethos because it is linked to man’s fundamental questions about a realm inhibited by the dead and spirits.

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