Stikkordarkiv: biography

Henriette Schønberg Erken: En norgeshistorie sett fra kjøkkenbenken – Maria Berg Reinertsen

Når jeg skulle sjekke tilgjengeligheten av Maria Berg Reinertsens bok Reisen til Bretton Woods på biblioteket etter Cappelen Damms høstmøte (tilgjengeligheten var dårlig, siden boka ikke hadde kommet ut ennå, en detalj jeg hadde glemt) oppdaget jeg ikke bare at jeg selvsagt hadde lest Reinertsen før, som nevnt, men at hun i mellomtiden hadde skrevet en biografi om Henriette Schønberg Erken. Og den var tilgjengelig umiddelbart. «Perfekt!» tenkte jeg og trykket på «Reserver», jeg hadde jo mer eller mindre lovet på bokbloggertreffet at jeg skulle hive meg på biografilesesirkelen til Moshonista, og tema for oktober var «Mett (som i smør og fløte)» og hva passer da bedre? Boka var tilgjengelig og ble hentet, men selv var jeg jo stuck på tidlig 1800-tall sammen med Jack og Stephen, så det er først den siste uka jeg har fått satt meg til med Henriette.

Henriette Schønberg Erken er ikke en av damene som har fått plass i Breen og Jordahls 60 damer du skulle ha møtt, men hun er opplagt en god kandidat til oppfølgeren 60 flere damer du skulle ha møtt (eller noe). I alle fall er hun et godt eksempel på at om man nå først skal skrive en biografi finnes det mange interessante damer å ta tak i, der man kan gjøre nybrottsarbeid i stedet for å sparke inn åpne dører med den ørtogførtiende biografien om Herr Sikkertviktigmenhvormangebiografiertrengerviomenmann.

Jeg kjøpte Schønberg Erkens Stor kokebok for større og mindre husholdninger i en faksimileutgave (av 1951-utgaven, utgitt av Aschehoug i 2008) på Mammutsalget for noen år siden, og selv om den ikke er blitt brukt (det tenker jeg jeg må gjøre noe med) har hun derfor vært på radaren min. Og portrettet Reinertsen presenterer er av en dame som utvilsomt hadde ben i nesen.

Boka er ganske finurlig bygd opp, for selv om vi i normal biografisk ånd følger Schønberg Erken kronologisk gjennom livet, er den fortellingen brutt opp ved hjelp av «munnfuller» mellom hvert kapittel, som handler mer om samtiden, om strømninger, politikk og økonomi (både makro og mikro). I tillegg starter hvert kapittel med en oppskrift hentet fra Schønberg Erkens kokebøker, en oppskrift som trekkes inn i temaet i kapittelen den introduserer. Slik blir biografien mer dynamisk enn mange andre jeg har lest, og Reinertsen kommer nærmere et svar på spørsmålet som stilles innledningsvis «Hva slags innflytelse har en bok som selger i 200 000 eksemplarer på livet til innbyggerne i et lite land?» (s. 9). Jeg blir i alle fall overbevist i løpet av boka om at husmoridealet som på sett og vis ble en klisjé på femtitallet, men som fortsatt henger over oss i dag (noe Reinertsen også er inne på) hadde sett annerledes ut om ikke Schønberg Erken hadde trosset faren og blitt hustellslærerinne i 1800-tallets siste tiår.

Det er en slags knapphet ved Reinertsens språk som jeg til å begynne med lurte på om ville gjøre boka for tørr og ensformig, men enten det skyldes den dynamiske strukturen eller at hun på tross av (eller på grunn av?) dette klarer å plassere Schønberg Erken som en faktor i samfunnsutviklingen i Norge, ble de forventningene gjort til skamme.

Henriette Schønberg Erken er et tvetydig feministisk forbilde. Selv om hun altså trosset faren («Far ville nemlig helst at vi bare skulle sitte hjemme så han kunne telle oss» s. 29), fikk seg et yrke og en karriere, og ventet med å gifte seg til hun var etablert som forfatter, kan man jo ikke med hånden på hjertet si at det å argumentere for at kvinnens viktigste rolle er å være en god husmor som (blant annet) skal holde mannen fra å drikke ved å gjøre hjemmet innbydende er noe videre kvinnefrigjørende. Og det er vel nettopp derfor hun blir en såpass fascinerende figur, den godeste Henriette.

Reinertsens framstilling oppleves basert på nitidig research og dessuten som gjennomgående redelig. Der primærkilder finnes presenteres fakta, enten det er tall eller følelser det er snakk om, men der biografen må spekulere gjøres leseren oppmerksom på nettopp at det spekuleres. Ofte fører det til at det stilles flere spørsmål enn det gis svar, men siden en av mine personlige pet-peeves er biografier (eventuelt biografiske romaner) der forfatteren skriver som om hen er tankeleser (retroaktivt, til og med) og kan presentere en forlengst død persons innerste tanker og følelser setter jeg umåtelig pris på Reinertsens framgangsmåte.

 

Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas – Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wicks

primatesPrimates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas  written by Jim Ottaviani and illustrated by Maris Wicks is a book I think I will get hold of a copy of to make sure it’s available for the kids.

It’s a story in three parts, told from the point of view of the three researchers in turn, and is a fascinating look into some of the intense work, and the personal sacrifices, that has gone into gaining the knowledge I, for one, now take for granted about our fellow apes, the chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans.

In fact, I’d pronounce it a pretty much perfect book, except I am so indescribably bothered by the colour choice for (and partly the faces of) the chimpanzees. Really. How do you get two of the three apes so right and the third so wrong?  If it wasn’t for the text insisting they really are meant to be chimps I’d be assuming that I was misunderstanding something fundamental.

Well, that aside, it’s still a cracking book, and if you have any interest in natural history (and you should have) you should read it, and if you want to encourage a similar interest in the kids in your life you should make sure they read it, too.

Shakespeare: The World as a Stage – Bill Bryson

bryson_shakespeareJust before Christmas I headed to Åre by train for a day in order to pick up Box The Messenger and some yule ale. I was about to finish rereading India Knight’s Comfort & Joy, so needed to bring another book in order to have enough reading material for the journey, and so wandered in to look at my TBR shelf (there are TBR volumes all over the house, of course, but I’ve tried to collect a few of them in a bookcase in the bedroom) thinking «it needs to be something fairly light-weight…» I came out with Bill Bryson’s biography of Shakespeare, and for a second felt a bit like Hermione («I took this out of the library ages ago for a little light reading»). However, in some ways it makes sense. Not that «light-weight» is a fair description of the book, it’s a sound piece of scholarship. What it is, though, is an easy read.

In typical Bryson-style we are taken through what is known of Shakespeare from birth to death (and a little of what happens before and after, too). What is known is so little that a bare-bones telling of that would cover perhaps two pages, so in order to reach two hundred Bryson also expounds on how we know what we know, why we don’t know more (hint: We don’t really know much about anyone from the time, in fact we know a suprising amount about Shakespeare) and rather a lot about all the stuff people have guessed, surmised, interpreted or plainly made up over the centuries. He is appropriately dismissive of those who insist Shakespeare could not have been the author of Shakespeare’s works, but takes the trouble to point out the flaws in the various theories for who else could have been, a few of which I had not heard before. And as could be expected manages to cram an impressive number of little anectdotes into the whole.

So: An easy and pleasant read that leaves you feeling like you learned something, too. Like pretty much everything else by Bryson, I can wholeheartedly recommend it. And finishing it in 2016 means I can tick off task 6 of the Book Riot Read Harder challenge, so there is that.

Perdita: The Life of Mary Robinson – Paula Byrne

What? An entry with a single book? Since when is that something I do?

Oh, right, I used to do that all the time. Well. Enjoy it while it lasts…

Perdita: The Life of Mary Robinson by Paula Byrne arrived in my mailbox a while back as a rabck. The previous journallers for this copy suggest that I should probably get around to reading Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman which is hanging around on my shelves somewhere, and I will, I will, but I thought – also from the comments – that I might as well read Perdita first, leaving the better book for desert, so to say.

In fact, I might as well not write much about Perdita, the first journaller says it all:

Mary Robinson was, without doubt, an extremely interesting and colourful figure, but this book fails to do justice to her story. The author flags up forthcoming information, continually repeats herself and includes so many quotes that the reader loses the plot altogether.

Well. I didn’t mind the quotations so much, but I got rather fed up with the incessant «more of that later»s and the endless repetitions. The most jarring repetitions were the tidbits of biography concerning peripheral characters. Whether you should even need to point out that the Duke of York is the Prince of Wales’ brother is a moot point (honestly, would you read a biography like this and not know that?), but when the information is repeated a few pages later – though now also mentioning the younger two – I simply feel condescended to. * As for the «more of that later»s the most annoying manifestation is I’m sure Byrne said she’d be telling us how Mary met Coleridge at some point, but she never did (or did I blink and miss it?). Not majorly important, and I may have dreamed that single foretelling, but still, it vexed me.

What actually really bothers me, though, is the book’s title. Let me quote a passage from Byrne herself:

The book’s [Mary Robinson’s Memoirs] frequent bouts of self-exculpation, together with its overwrought sentimental style and the unfortunate fact that it breaks off long before she began her career as a serious author, have damaged Robinson’s reputation, encouraging romantic novelists of later years to portray her as ‘Perdita’ the royal mistress rather than ‘Mrs Robinson’ the distinguished writer. As late as 1994, the Memoirs was republished under the title Perdita. (p 383)

Uhm. Yeah. Ok. I know. The publishers insisted, and even biographers must make a living somehow. In that case, perhaps a judicious edit or two – or a comment on your own choice of title would have been appropriate?

A flawed book, then. But on the whole, also an enjoyable book. I knew next to nothing about Mary Robinson, despite the abundance of women’s lit. courses I’ve suffered though, and I enjoyed getting to know her. I will certainly make sure I read one of her novels, at the very least. I suspect I have one or other of them, bundled into a Penguin classic with Maria Edgeworth or someone of the kind. I might even read Byrne’s Jane Austen and the Theatre (listed under «Also by Paula Byrne» at the beginning of the book) at some point, just because I tend to read books about Jane Austen (mind you, it’s been a while, too many books, too little time). But I won’t be in a hurry on that last one.

__________
* (A footnote! Don’t you just love footnotes?)
I was going to use John Taylor as another example of the repetition of biographical tidbits, as I’m sure Byrne manages to mention him being an oculist-gone-publisher at least ten times throughout the book. However, being lazy, and not remembering the first name, I thought I’d simply search wikipedia for «Taylor oculist». Ahem. Not that wikipedia is the be-all-and-end-all of knowledge, but there seems to be something fishy going on here and I’m going to have to look into it further (as that’s the kind of getting-totally-stuck-on-pretty-unimportant-details kind of person I am). Anyway. Wikipedia has John Taylor (oculist) listed as dying in 1772, when Mary was 15 (or thereabouts, see postscript in Byrne), and Byrne has John Taylor being one of Mary’s closest friends in 1794. Obviously not the same John Taylor. Wikipedia has another John Taylor who is billed as a British publisher, but he would have been 13 in 1794, a tad too young to be a confidante for a Mary in her late thirties. I will investigate further and get back to you.

None of this changes the tediousness of the repetition, of course.