This new Blackstone recording of "Canterbury Tales" is wonderful and at times enthralling -- and also at times laugh-out-loud funny. Like the Charlton Griffin recording (also available here), it's the whole ball of wax: every tale, including the often-omitted Tale of Melibee and the Parson's Tale (which is really a three-hour sermon rather than a tale. Listen to it. It's good for the digestion, and quite a bit more interesting than it sounds). This translation, by J.U. Nicholson, uses a more old-fashioned vocabulary in places than the Coghill translation used by Griffin; but at the same time, it's also saltier. There are few crude names for parts or functions of the human body that Chaucer fails to use at one point or another, and most of them find their way into this recording. (For me, that's a GOOD thing!) One notable feature is that this is a multi-voice recording. Martin Jarvis is Chaucer, Ralph Cosham the Lawyer, Simon Vance the Squire; and that's only a few examples. Both this version and Griffin's version are five-star recordings in my book. Griffin's has occasional music, which this one lacks; on the other hand, this one has greater variety of tone and voice.
This is yet another excellent reading of "Frankenstein." There are actually several really good performances of this book on Audible. Simon Vance tends to emphasize the lyrical Romanticism of the prose. Others have other strengths: George Guidall emphasizes the brooding tragedy; the three-reader version from Blackstone highlights the unusual structure of the narrative; and Flo Gibson gives what I think is the only available recording of the shorter 1818 version of the text. (Most use the 1831 revision.) I seem to be collecting versions of this book without realizing it. Vance's reading is lively and clearly differentiates the three major voices in the book (Walton, Frankenstein, and the Creature).
Burton Raffel is the crown prince of Old and Middle English translators in my book, and his Chaucer is another masterpiece. The rhyming is more subtle than in other translations of Chaucer, but it's there; and the tales unfold with seemingly effortless clarity. This is a high-quality, multiple-reader production, and it includes all the tales (including the Tale of Melibee and the Parson's Tale). The only thing marring the production are the chapter breaks: they are geared to the CDs rather than the individual tales. If you're planning to listen straight through, that's not a problem, but I would have preferred the ability to be more selective.
It's amazing that in only a few months, Audible has gone from a skimpy selection of Chaucer to three outstanding recordings of the complete set of Tales: one from Charlton Griffin, one from Blackstone, and this one from the BBC. Any one of them provides a wonderful listening experience. This one is my favorite because of Raffel; others may suit your taste better. But for heaven's sake get ONE of them.
I have read this book many times since the seventies but this was my first time with the audio version. I knew the story or thought I knew the story but Anna Bentinck's performance allowed me to understand things which I had missed entirely. She is wonderful. Her voice reveals the subtle humor and touches of playfulness of the story. The oppressive sense of loneliness or despair which figure in the Bronte sisters' works, Agnes Grey, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights or Villette is somehow replaced with optimism and hope.
Charlotte Bronte had a dust-up with her publisher over his praise of Jane Austen. Charlotte had some negative thoughts about Austen and was not shy in expressing them. After listening to this story, I now wonder if she wasn't influenced a bit after all. The Charlotte who wrote Jane Eyre and the one who wrote Shirley seem to be different writers. This story has dirt under the fingernails. Not to overstate the case, the sprinkle of comic characters would suggest an Austen influence. Now I have done it! The Bronte sisters will rise from their graves to pummel me as I sleep.
My title quotes the author describing her story I think with accuracy. If she were a portrait artist, her paintings would be in the fashion of Vincent van Gogh's "The Potato Eaters" or in the harsh interplay of shadow and light on the canvas of Edgar Degas. Charlotte Bronte paints with fine brush strokes one color, one image after another, piling them on the canvas until the ungainly rough features of her story takes form. Yet, there are even flashes of Johannes Vermeer's delicate brush strokes, brilliant colors and of love shinning in the eyes of the "Girl with the Pearl Earring". Sometimes she paints the delicate beauty of flower gardens in moonlight evenings but also of harsh, glaring Monday mornings, the gritty, sometimes mean realities and human flaws.