Tuesday 16 June 2020

The Scent of Honeysuckle

I have collapsed in my chair, all tuckered out after our plague-era walk. We walked along the rough side of the river and then past the golf course and the ponies. We crossed the bridge and the field, going upwards to the 1920s houses. The air was perfumed with the scent of honeysuckle and then some other blossom. The wood pigeons cooed, and the blackbirds sang. We squeezed past an old fence and passed by the golden duck forever stopped in mid-flight on its weathervane. I felt surprisingly hungry. We went down the hill to the supermarket and bought a few groceries. Suddenly I felt very tired and then sleepy.

I've been up since six-thirty. I worked on Polish before work, and at lunchtime on my lesson plan for writing class. I wrote two articles and sent some emails. It's been a long day.

When I went out for our walk, I hoped to find myself back in the world of Marcus, Esca and The Eagle of the Ninth. We are, after all, between the Antonine Wall and Hadrian's. I know where the nearest Roman fort is; indeed, I know where its baths are, half-uncovered in the grounds of a grand mansion. Most importantly, most of their world was out-of-doors among the blackbirds, the honeysuckle and the ivy.

Every chapter--there are 21--has something exciting in it, some conflict or life-determining decision. The first chapter sets the central problem--the disappearance of the Ninth Legion north of Hadrian's Wall---and its life-altering significance for the young hero's childhood back in Etruria (Tuscany). It also introduces the tension between Marcus and his despised uncle-by-marriage. Marcus hopes his uncle-by-blood, who lives in Britain, will be like his father.

As Uncle Aquila is much more sympathetic than Uncle-by-Marriage Tullus Lepidus, but not much like Marcus' twenty-years-younger father in look or manner, he will serve as a double contrast. There is quite a lot of compare-and-contrast in The Eagle of the Ninth, as my pupils will learn to appreciate.   Naturally there is a strong contrast between Roman and British, between light and dark, and between authenticity and pretence.

The themes are filial piety and loyalty, of course. Not only do they come up over and over again--and indeed are the common language to all the characters in the book--a character is given a bracelet with "Pia fidelis" carved into it.  Another theme is friendship.

There is also character development for all the younger characters, including Cottia, the Iceni girl-next-door. (I was going to accuse Cottia changing only in regard to her grown-up lady clothes, but I realised that as she got older she became a little more reserved and a little less free-spirited.)

It's really a splendid book. I wrapped up my students' copies in brown paper, and B.A. took the parcel to the post office. I am sure they will like it.

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