Review: The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady (Holden)

The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady.

The year is 1906, halfway through the reign of Edward VII. Although Edward died in 1910, the “Edwardian period” is often stretched to include the early years of the reign of George V: up to the end of summer in 1914. This makes fairly good sense, because nothing much had changed during that interval, making this personal journal an illustration of a tiny slice of life as it was at the opening of the First World War.

It’s a tiny slice because the early years of the 20th Century were really quite tempestuous: the Second Boer War got the century off on the wrong foot, followed by the Russo-Japanese War and an attempted revolution in Russia, a couple of Balkan Wars, the initiation of “gunboat diplomacy” by the Germans in North Africa, various labor agitations and other forms of social unrest, and, of course, the perennial incarnations of The Irish Question. But for people of the time who could afford to live in quiet seclusion from such events, there was not only time to smell the roses, but to draw pictures of them and the birds that fed on the rose hips.

Environmentalists may be interested in comparing author/artist Edith Holden’s inventories of wildflowers and birds (which include their common and Latin names) to the survival status of those creatures today. Students of art will learn about technique from studying her drawings and watercolor paintings.

On page 176 this drawing of a home-made bird feeder is of amazing simplicity and inventiveness, and would make a good naturalist project for a homeschool. Those who try it should be aware that some kinds of birds are not comfortable feeding close to the ground, so find out what the feeding height preferences are for the birds that frequent your area, and choose branches of a length that will permit the coconut half (or suet ball, seed ball or fruit) to be suspended at the appropriate height to encourage bird patronage.

The 4-year extension of “Edwardian” time reinforced the childhood memories of the nostalgia-mongering writers of the 1920s, who had a hard time coming to terms with the violent interruption of their Utopian hindsight by the Great War, and the consequent world-changing caused by it. Edith Holden’s diary evokes some of that longing for a more tranquil existence, even though the times were not particularly peaceful (much like the nostalgic effect of artwork by the American illustrator Norman Rockwell). Recommended.



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Review: 37 Days (film)

37 Days.

The Kaiser is portrayed reasonably well, so far as his erratic and manipulative personality is concerned. General Moltke is given much more strength of character than he really had. A few minor male and female characters were inserted to help move the plot along, and perhaps to help female viewers feel more interested in the story, although there were no important roles for women during the actual crisis (which doesn’t bother me in the least).

This film suffers from the fact that on a great many of those 37 days before the war broke out, absolutely nothing happened. And because most of what did happen occurred during conversations – interpersonal or around a conference table – there’s not much action: it’s pretty much a talking-head history recitation, in costume. We do get a good approximation of the intricacies of politics and diplomacy. Predictably, we are treated to the “lights going out” speech, at the end.

Not bad, for a fairly lightweight retelling of history.

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Review: World War I in Color (video)

World War I in Color.

Color still photography existed at the time of the Great War, enabled by a process that used potato starch and it yielded spectacular results. You can see some fine examples in Hew Strachan‘s book (as well as at the site I linked to in that blog post).

But there was no color technology available then for motion pictures. The producers of this series of video programs felt that was a handicap to the latest generations (whom they characterized as “color literate”), who may not fully appreciate learning history that is taught exclusively in monochrome grey-scale or sepia tones. This was their justification for undertaking to colorize what they determined by their research in the archives to be the best Great War footage available.

At the time this project was produced, many of the film clips that were used may have been rarely seen, but since then other documentaries have accessed the same footage, so what you’re going to see is not necessarily going to be unusual. Some sequences took colorizing better than others, and as a whole, like other documentaries, there is a tendency to repeat scenes a little too frequently. Also as with other documentaries, the filmmakers felt it was necessary to add sound effects that would not have existed in the originals, for there was no soundtrack technology back then. (“Movies” did become “talkies” not long after the war was over, which encouraged some silent-film actors to retire, because they did not like how their voices sounded in recordings, and they feared adding speech to their performances would destroy the image their careers had built.)

The narration is professionally voiced, and the history being read is generally sound, but the writers seriously erred in attributing a “von” to Ludendorf’s name (his family was not of the nobility), and in suggesting that the Belgian people resisted the German invasion when they most emphatically did not: only the Belgian military took up arms, and the Belgian government warned civilians to turn in their own weapons to local government officials, and to avoid provoking the invading troops; nevertheless, the German army, afflicted with paranoid delusions at all levels, took out its fears and guilt complexes in fatal atrocities committed against some 6,500 innocents.

The episodes on the three discs are arranged chronologically, with a few topically-treated digressions. The “bonus features” disc is nothing to write home about: a short talking-head segment with the filmmakers; a partly computer-animated special feature about tactics and strategy (the graphics look somewhat primitive, in comparison to that which is seen in “virtual reality” video games); and a slide show of biographical information, war facts, and a timeline. (The set that I acquired was second-hand, so it was missing the printed viewer’s guide.)

Apart from the two errors noted above, this documentary set would make a decent enhancement to a homeschool history curriculum.

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