It’s amazing how completely The Guns of August can suck you in spite of knowing how World War 1 ends.
A letter that demands Belgium not oppose Germany’s armies as they march through her territories is read aloud, setting the scene in Brussels.
An “unequivocal answer” was demanded within twelve hours.
“A long, tragic silence of several minutes” followed the reading, Bassompierre recalled, as each man in the room thought of the choice that faced his country. Small in size and young in independence, Belgium clung more fiercely to independence for that reason. But no one in the room needed to be told what the consequences of a decision to defend it would be. Their country would be subjected to attack, their homes to destruction, their people to reprisals by a force ten times their size with no doubt of the outcome to themselves, who were in the immediate pathway of the Germans, whatever the ultimate outcome of the war. If, on the contrary, they were to yield to the German demand, they would be making Belgium an accessory to the attack on France as well as a violator of her own neutrality, besides opening her to German occupation with small likelihood that a victorious Germany would remember to withdraw.They would be occupied either way; to yield would be to lose honor too.
“If we are to be crushed,” Bassompierre recorded their sentiment, “let us be crushed gloriously.”
Later that night, the German ambassador visits his Belgian counterpart, in hopes of convincing the Belgians to let the Germans pass on through.
He informed van der Elst who received him that French dirigibles had dropped bombs and that French patrols had crossed the border.
“Where did these events take place?” van der Elst asked.
” In Germany” was the reply.
“In that case I fail to see the relevance of the information.”
On the eve of war, many of the belligerents are seen maneuvering for advantage. Germany seeks to avoid a two-front war, France seeks to do everything in her power to bring in Great Britain on her side, while in Great Britain the PM tries to hold his government together for a united front. In Belgium, with their backs to the wall, the defiance rings out loud and clear.
Jane Austen is really sharp:
Within a short walk of Longbourn lived a family with whom the Bennets were particularly intimate. Sir William Lucas had been formerly in trade in Meryton, where he had made a tolerable fortune, and risen to the honour of knighthood by an address to the King, during his mayoralty. The distinction had perhaps been felt too strongly.
It had given him a disgust to his business, and to his residence in a small market town; and, quitting them both, he had removed with his family to an house about a mile from Meryton, denominated from that period Lucas Lodge, where he could think with pleasure of his own importance, and, unshackled by business, occupy himself solely in being civil to all the world. For, though elated by his rank, it did not render him supercilious; on the contrary, he was all attention to everybody. By nature inoffensive, friendly, and obliging, his presentation at St. James’s had made him courteous.
“The distinction had perhaps been felt too strongly” is such a fun sentence, and the profile of Sir Lucas turns so well on it. Austen has no hesitation cutting into her characters and serving them to the reader, and she does it with such great understatement. And then she can go and write Mr. Darcy in love:
I cannot fix on the hour, or the spot, or the look, or the words, which laid the foundation. It is too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun.
Austen’s style takes a little bit of getting used to, but it is so fun to read. I’ve only actually read Pride and Prejudice, and I really need to read more Austen. But, I’m starting on a different track for now.
So gorgeous was the spectacle on the May morning of 1910 when nine kings rode in the funeral of Edward VII of England that the crowd, waiting in hushed and black-clad awe, could not keep back gasps of admiration. In scarlet and blue and green and purple, three by three the sovereigns rode through the palace gates, with plumed helmets, gold braid, crimson sashes, and jeweled orders flashing in the sun. After them came five heirs apparent, forty more imperial or royal highnesses, seven queens – four dowager and three regnant – and a scattering of special ambassadors from uncrowned countries. Together they represented seventy nations in the greatest assemblage of royalty and rank ever gather in one place and, of its kind, the last. The muffled tongue of Big Ben tolled nine by the clock as the cortege left the palace, but on history’s clock it was a sunset, and the sun of the old world was setting in a dying blaze of splendor never to be seen again.
The first paragraph of The Guns of August. I’m spoiled with good books right now.