It’s WWW Wednesday. This meme is from shouldbereading.
• What did you recently finish reading?
I am still deep in the throes of reading for research. To this end I have plowed through the two Dover volumes of Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan, (1841) by John L. Stephens with illustrations by Frederick Catherwood. Stephens was actually the American ambassador to Central America, but although he was conscientious in trying to present his diplomatic credentials (and unsuccessful, since the region was convulsed by civil war and he never could find anybody in authority) his main interest seems to have been finding and exploring Mayan ruins. To this end he did some truly loony things, including buying the entire site of Copal from a local landowner, and living in another ruin until insect bites nearly took his leg off. Catherwood had to dig the larvae out for him with a pen knife. He recounts these hair-raising activities in a tone of wry calm — very Victorian.
It was this account, and more importantly Catherwood’s highly detailed drawings of the Mayan bas-reliefs, that made it plain to Western archaeologists that the Maya were not renegade Egyptians, nor some of the twelve tribes of Israel, or anything Western, in fact. So this is an important historical account. All the Mayan sections are thrilling, but there are large dull travelogue sections where he travels to towns in Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico suffering privations, eying local maidens, and getting threatened by revolutionaries. These sections are all skippable, so much so that editions of the original volumes have been published with only the fun bits. However, the Mayan sections are so exciting that, in an excess of enthusiasm, I found someone on Ebay selling Catherwood engraving copies for a mere $3, and instantly bid on them. And I won, so now what am I going to do? I will have six engravings of Mayan ruins!
• What are you reading now?
A Voyage in the Sunbeam, by Lady Annie Brassey. I picked this volume up at the used-book stall under Victoria Bridge in London. More almost-incredible Victorian travel accounts. Lady Brassey did this in style: none of this sleeping in buggy ruins until insects start laying eggs in your flesh for her. She and her husband had a yacht built, big enough for them, their three kids, their many pets, and forty servants. They all piled in and sailed around the world. Again the things that she is calm about are remarkable, including nearly losing the kids over the side to a large wave and losing a tank of drinking water on the way from South America to Tahiti. There are lots and lots of things you could do then that you could not do now!
I also read How to Be a Victorian by Ruth Goodman. She did one of those live-in-the-past TV shows, and has garnered enormous hands-on experience with things like reaping wheat while wearing a corset (doable!) or living for months washing in nothing but a basin. Better her than me! I would love to know how accurate some of her material is. Is this another What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew, a less-than-accurate compendium of factoids?
• What do you think you’ll read next?
I need to get my head out of history, and read something completely different. I am thinking of Anne McCaffrey. It has been years since I have reread Dragonflight. Will the suck fairy have got to it?
The ebook version of my novel How Like a God is now available from Book View Cafe.
My newest novel Speak to Our Desires is out from Book View Café.