Sunday, December 12, 2010
I was drawn in slowly. Carefully. Meticulously. Surely.
Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese was a book that kept me on a short leash. I wasn’t the best company during this read, but found I preferred to curl up with book in hand and lose myself. Battling a sinus infection, I wrapped myself in a blanket and, sipping tea and popping cough drops one after another, found I could forget my discomfort in the hairpin turns of plot and the deciphering of life through the eyes of young Marion Stone.
“Because, Marion, you are an instrument of God. Don’t leave the instrument sitting in its case, my son. Play! Leave no part of your instrument unexplored. Why settle for ‘Three Blind Mice’ when you can play the ‘Gloria’?”
How unfair of Matron to evoke that soaring chorale which always made me feel that I stood with every mortal creature looking up to the heavens in dumb wonder. She understood my unformed character.
“But, Matron, I can’t dream of playing Bach, the ‘Gloria’…,” I said under my breath. I’d never played a string or wind instrument. I couldn’t read music.
“No, Marion,” she said, her gaze soft, reaching for me, her gnarled hands rough on my cheeks. “No, not Bach’s ‘Gloria.’ Yours! Your ‘Gloria’ lives within you. The greatest sin is not finding it, ignoring what God made possible in you.”
And as I read through this book, I realized as I have at other times, that my American mind cannot thoroughly understand the hunger, the instability of peace and the sickness that lace the storyline of this book. We are not able to completely digest the violence that many African countries have weathered as their homelands pass from one capricious set of hands to another, the seeming unimportance of a human life or children taken from their families and married to older men before their time and against their will, ruining their health and future.
But when we read a deeply sensitive work such as Cutting For Stone, we stare through an open window and catch a glimpse into someone else’s world. And hopefully, we don’t easily forget.
Saturday, November 27, 2010
William Wordsworth from the poem, Michael
Mary Anne Evans was born November 22, 1819 at South Farm on the estate, Arbury Hall, in Warwickshire where her father worked as manager. An avid reader and an intelligent young girl, “Marian” was offered an education that - in combination with her access to the Arbury Hall library – laid a foundation of classical education that found its way into her writing, both in strength and theme.
The pen name, George Eliot, was adopted as a protection for her privacy. During the time that she began publishing, women had begun to write under their own names, but Marian wanted her private life separate and removed from her public life. And there were various personal reasons for that.
George Eliot - a novelist, journalist and translator - published seven novels, all set it provincial England and all deeply concerned with social issues, known for their realism and displaying acute psychological insight. A good example of all of these facets was her third work, Silas Marner.
Published in 1861, the dramatic novel Silas Marner: The Weaver of Raveloe was published under the name of George Eliot and tells the story of a reclusive weaver. In its stark realism, it is thought to strongly represent Eliot’s attitude to religion of the day.
But the truth is, Silas Marner contains all of the makings of a Hollywood thriller – love lost, accusations of murder, robbery, treachery & lies… Or … maybe that is the makings of a film ABOUT Hollywood… Nonetheless, there are no time machines to go back and live life – basic and day-to-day - in a simple English village. But we have novels like Silas Marner to give us a glimpse into the way lives were lived before us.
Jane Austen Tea Society Members – dig up your own English Lit copy of Silas Marner or find a good readable edition in your local bookstore!
Saturday, November 20, 2010
I have always trusted librarians when it came to book recommendations… Well, maybe that has been revised in recent years due to some sad experiences with disgruntled library staff persons at my local branch, but there is a part of me that still holds fast to the belief that these people are working where they do because they simply love books. I really want to believe that the lucky people - whose days are filled with shelving every sort of book - peep occasionally into their leaves as they place them in their proper place. That as they pull new copies from boxes straight from the publisher, they must savor each volume and long to suggest some of the editions that they’ve handled. It just has to heighten one’s sense of fine literature in a way that lends itself to conversation…. Doesn’t it?
I ‘m not sure. Really.
But I do know that when I was in Junior High School I walked into our school library, went straight up to the librarian ensconced within her tall checkout desk and asked “what she would recommend for a good read”. There are some tightly wound school librarians that might have snapped back; “Well, what are you supposed to be reading for your classes?!?” Or I might have received a huff and a “I don’t have time for this.”
What I did receive was a recommendation for a pure pleasure read. Victoria Holt.
You don’t hear that name very much now in the JK Rowling and Stephenie Meyer age of younger readers. As a matter of fact, I don’t even find her books in many bookstores these days. But she had her day. Definitely. Often erroneously placed in the “Romance Section” of a bookstore, Victoria Holt was a true weaver of stories, of mysteries, of determined heroines struggling to find their place in this world. Her heroines stood on windblown Cornish cliffs, gazed off a crenellated castle walls, crossed wind-tossed seas and galloped their horses across heather-strewn moors. They went all of the places where I longed to be.
I don’t remember now which Victoria Holt book my school librarian recommended to me, but it made a loyal reader out of me and I remember eagerly awaiting each book that she released until she passed away at 86 years.
I recently had a chance to pick up a good deal at one of my favorite sites to order books - www.betterworldbooks.com and I made the decision to pick a Victoria Holt book to reread after these many years. So ordered The Landower Legacy, published in 1984.
There are few books that I choose to reread. Any Jane Austen book is worth repeat action and that goes for Thomas Hardy and my old trusted copy of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. But for contemporary novels, this has made an enjoyable second experience and I am once again caught up in the suspense, hope and atmospheric charm that lace each storyline that Ms. Holt produced.
Do you have a porch swing, a hammock under a tree or a comfy armchair beside a fire along with a little good book time on your hands? Reread - or maybe try for the first time - a Victoria Holt novel. And make sure you have a cup of Earl Grey nearby.
Sunday, October 24, 2010
“My hand shook as I set down the receiver. The room was silent, the air livid, and the telephone sat chuckling on the bed until in my rage I lobbed it across the room; but it didn’t even come apart, and for long seconds I lay there listening to the dial tone in the dark. And that was even worse than before…”
This short, dense & richly worded translation of a mini-memoire by Grégoire Bouillier is a pleasure to read. Not a bad choice for between longer reads. Also not at all a bad choice if you enjoy a complex inner dialogue pulling together a multi-faceted mix of emotion, humor, references to literature and the pathos of mystery that often surrounds the breakup of a relationship & subsequent healing.
“I have no memory of what we said, none at all, since in that moment all I could listen to was her face.”
Monday, October 18, 2010
by John Keats
(written in Winchester on 19 September 1819)
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.
Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep,
Drows'd with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.
Where are the songs of spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too, -
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.
Saturday, October 9, 2010
Friday, October 8, 2010
Love is like the wild rose-briar,
Friendship like the holly-tree --
The holly is dark when the rose-briar blooms
But which will bloom most constantly?
The wild-rose briar is sweet in the spring,
Its summer blossoms scent the air;
Yet wait till winter comes again
And who will call the wild-briar fair?
Then scorn the silly rose-wreath now
And deck thee with the holly's sheen,
That when December blights thy brow
He may still leave thy garland green.
EMILY BRONTE (1818-1848)
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
Heaven did not seem to be my home; and I broke my heart with weeping to come back to earth; and the angels were so angry that they flung me out into the middle of the heath on the top of Wuthering Heights; where I woke sobbing for joy. That will do to explain my secret, as well as the other. I've no more business to marry Edgar Linton than I have to be in heaven; and if the wicked man in there, had not brought Heathcliff so low I shouldn't have thought of it. It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now; so he shall never know how I love him; and that, not because he's handsome, Nelly, but because he's more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same, and Linton's is as different as a moonbeam from lightning, or frost from fire.
Catherine Earnshaw Linton
Monday, October 4, 2010
...who was a well-made, athletic youth, good-looking in features, and stout and healthy, but attired in garments befitting his daily occupations of working on the farm, and lounging among the moors after rabbits and game. Still, I thought I could detect in his physiognomy a mind owning better qualities than his father ever possessed. Good things lost amid a wilderness of weeds, to be sure, whose rankness far over-topped their neglected growth; yet, notwithstanding, evidence of a wealthy soil that might yield luxuriant crops under other and favourable circumstances.
Thursday, September 30, 2010
"...My great miseries in this world have been Heathcliff's miseries, and I watched and felt each from the beginning; my great thought in living is himself. If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and, if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the Universe would turn to a mighty stranger. I should not seem a part of it. My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods. Time will change it, I'm well aware, as winter changes the trees—my love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath—a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I am Heathcliff—he's always, always in my mind—not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself—but, as my own being—so, don't talk of our separation again—it is impracticable...."
Catherine Earnshaw Linton to Nelly Dean
Saturday, September 25, 2010
With this reading of Wuthering Heights, so many, many years after my first, and with numerous film productions clouding my memory from the true events written long ago by Emily Brontë, I have found myself mentally chewing on the question – what made this book into a classic that has won untold hearts for almost 163 years.
It is undoubtedly well crafted and the characters are memorable… however I find that there are few of them to like. And Heathcliff – often painted by films & devoted readers, as some Romantic sort of tragic, Byronic figure - is the worst – the absolute worst.
… still I couldn’t dote on Heathcliff, and I wondered often what my master saw to admire so much in the sullen boy who never, to my recollection, repaid his indulgence by any sign of gratitude. He was not insolent to his benefactor; he was simply insensible, though knowing perfectly the hold he had on his heart, and conscious he had only to speak and all the house would be obliged to bend to his wishes.
By Ellen Dean
“Nelly, help me to convince her of her madness. Tell her what Heathcliff is – an unreclaimed creature, without refinement, without cultivation; an arid wilderness of furze and whinstone. I’d as soon put that little canary into the park on a winter’s day as recommend you to bestow your heart on him! It is deplorable ignorance of his character, child, and nothing else, which makes that dream enter your head. Pray don’t imagine that he conceals depths of benevolence and affection beneath a stern exterior! He’s not a rough diamond – a pearl-containing oyster of a rustic; he’s a fierce, pitiless, wolfish man…
By Catherine Earnshaw Linton
“I have been so far forbearing with you, sir,” he said, quietly; “not that I was ignorant of your miserable, degraded character, but I felt you were only partly responsible for that; and Catherine wishing to keep up your acquaintance, I acquiesced – foolishly. Your presence is a moral poison that would contaminate the most virtuous…”
By Edgar Linton
Is Heathcliff a man? If so, is he mad? And if not, is he a devil? I shan’t tell my reasons for making this inquiry; but I beseech you to explain, if you can, what I have married –
Isabella Linton Heathcliff in a letter to Ellen
And is there any way that the strange fixation that Heathcliff held for Cathy or the blind, mindless attraction that ignited so many selfish acts, brutal speeches or plans of revenge in any way be described as actual, heartfelt love?
I challenge our Jane Austen Tea Society members to ponder this question along with my earlier one regarding this novel’s “staying power”.
Can you prove – by persuasive argument – that Cathy was truly loved by Heathcliff?
Can you sum up – in a sentence – why this novel is such a lasting and proven classic?
Jot down thoughts and bring them with you to our High Tea discussion on October 9th!
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
I love a good story.
I really love a good story set in a small village in England.
And when I find both of these elements combined in a novel well-written and sprinkled throughout with quotes that I want to repeat and characters that I want to remember…. Well, I want to recommend it to everyone. And I will make sure that I tell all of the dedicated readers that I know about this excellent and satisfying book.
“I don’t believe the greatest views in the world are great because they are vast or exotic,” she said. “I think their power comes from the knowledge that they do not change. You look at them and you know they have been the same for a thousand years.”
It may not prove me a deep and critical scholar, but it is very important to me to like the characters in whatever I am reading. And in this case it was accomplished to the point that I began to pine for the sixty-eight year old Major Ernest Pettigrew to be my neighbor, close friend… ok I began to wonder if someone can be adopted as a niece. I relished his fine gentleman’s character - old fashioned yet timeless in its love of place & family, actions rooted in codes of conduct yet bright with impulsive ideals, and manner shy, cautious, thoughtful, yet quick to step forward in defense of the underdog.
I might also mention that I have daydreamed about staying under the seventeenth-century beams of Rose Lodge in Edgecombe St. Mary and to have tea with the Major within its traditional Sussex brick-and-tile-hung exterior. Maybe we wouldn’t discuss Kipling… I’m not actually sure if I’ve ever read Kipling…. But we would discuss the Keats and Wordsworth books in his library – definitely Keats.
“It’s just a small view,” he said, “but for some reason I never tire of coming out in the evening to watch the sun leaving the fields.”
This book was replete with second chances and pivotal moments not wasted. Some characters had a second chance at love and turned away, some a second chance and the moment was grasped. I didn’t always like the decisions that characters made but for the most part I understood or at least respected them.
“The world is full of small ignorances,” said a quiet voice. Mrs. Ali appeared at his elbow and gave the young woman a stern look. “We must all do our best to ignore them and thereby keep them small, don’t you think?”
Characters skillfully and lovingly drawn became people I closed this novel on with great regret. I really want to walk into a village shop and hear Jasmina Ali’s laugh and find a way to talk about books as I pay for my purchases. A love of literature has been the fuel for many a friendship and an author mutually loved by two people is fertile ground for generous conversation and hours spent over tea & muffins. I enjoyed meeting characters that I both liked and liked to dislike. For instance, we want to choke Roger but is there a part of us that understands him? We feel frustrated with some of the small-minded village women but applaud Grace for her instances of kindness to our Major and her need to settle for no less that the most sold-out passion in committing to marriage.
“And yet how suddenly they can become new again when you see them through someone else’s eyes,” he said. “The eyes of a new friend, for example.” She turned to look at him, her face in shadow; the moment hung between them.
(a moment between Major Pettigrew and Mrs. Ali)
If you read this review and haven’t picked up a copy of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson – turn off your computer and head to the bookstore… unless you normally order on-line.
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Wuthering Heights was written by Emily Brontë and published under the pseudonym, Ellis Bell, in 1847. It was Emily’s only novel. She along with her sisters Charlotte and Anne wrote poetry but it was her story of thwarted obsession that has become an English language classic.
“Wuthering” is a Yorkshire word referring to “turbulent weather” and it is appropriate when applied to the violent passions & deeply troubled emotions taking place under the roof of the manor on the moors, Wuthering Heights – the primary setting for this gothic novel.
As anyone who has read Wuthering Heights might imagine, this novel met with very mixed reviews when it was published. Its depths of despair & depictions of human cruelty, both mental and physical, were stark and disturbing. While the critics praised the obvious talent it took to execute this complicated work, they questioned the theme, the character development and the tragic moral choices exhibited therein.
Born July 30, 1818 in Thornton, Yorkshire, the heart of Emily’s world was the small grey stone house on the lonely moors with its front door opening almost directly onto a cemetery. Studies of Emily – the 5th of the Brontë children - have distilled the portrait of a person who was herself reclusive, reserved, iron-willed and painfully tied by emotion to her home and its environs … How did this young clergyman’s daughter produce this dark masterpiece? What violent dreams brought Heathcliff to life and set his steps to written page to intertwine with those of the equally misguided Catherine Earnshaw?
The inescapable strength of the novel is the intricately told storyline and enduring fascination that readers have held for Cathy and her romantic hero / brutal alter ego, Heathcliff. Why are we also attracted to him and yet innately detest his blackly drawn nature? Do our hearts turn more steadily against him with each reading? Was there a time in our lives as young readers that we found sympathy for the little foundling thrust into a family that received him with such mixed emotions?
This next read may enlighten us… ever so slightly into a better understanding…. or… it may not.
So – the next read for The Jane Austen Tea Society in our current reading plan of British Victorian authors is Wuthering Heights. You might want to start reading in time to meet and discuss over High Tea in October.
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
It's not a novel written by a Victorian era author, but... before we start on Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë - our book group read for October - I thought I would explore other realms... possibly newer lands populated by contemporary people.
Sunday, July 25, 2010
Ten of Jane Austen Tea Society numbers met last Saturday at one o’clock to discuss Charlotte Brontë’s deeply satisfying novel, Jane Eyre. Written in 1847 it still makes us think and compare ourselves – as women of the twenty-first century – with the bleak lot in life that fell to Jane – that fell to the women of her time. It seems that those of us who have reread this novel find differing thoughts surfacing depending on where we ourselves are in our lives. Whether single... married…. a career woman… a student... a mother… we all see this literary heroine differently… depending on where our own footsteps and our choices have led us.
Several members of our Tea Society experienced this novel for the first time with this month’s selection and one of them admitted that she had no idea of the plot - never even having seen one of the many film productions. I felt somewhat envious of this new experience for them - just as I have when I hear about someone reading Pride and Prejudice for the first time. How I would love to experience again the tingling first-time anticipation as to whether Elizabeth and Darcy would finally discover each other’s deepest hearts and true natures… of whether Jane would ever again see Rochester after having escaped into a world beyond his reach.
The night before our tea this past weekend, I wrestled with what I felt was the integral central theme of this book. Its densely rich layers have leant countless discussions for one hundred and sixty-three years… but what did I think about this current reading for myself. What did Charlotte intend for us to see… to feel…
I realize that as a present day woman with freedoms and choices of a wide almost limitless spectrum, I have to labor to stretch my comprehension backwards to understand Charlotte’s view…to walk in her slight slippers – to understand her points of difference.
Overwhelmed by the multitude of impressions drifting through my mind after this read I found myself falling back on two brief mentions that Charlotte left for me in the text… and they were about Guy Fawkes, the perpetrator of the unsuccessful Gunpowder Plot to destroy Parliament in 1605. The November dated holiday – Guy Fawkes Day – was the day of Jane’s first real resistance of injustice at Gateshead. It was also the date that St. John Rivers stared down at a paper of Jane’s and discovered her true identity for the first time. Why was Guy Fawkes Day purposefully tied to these significant events for Jane?
Rebellion seems to be the only answer to me. Rebellion against injustice. Rebellion against cruelty. Rebellion against subservience. And a gently determined resistance against accepting a degrading or loveless existence. Jane seems the least likely of anyone to rebel but her moves are desperate and life changing. They initiate reactions in those who wield control over her life and her directions shift, veer and send her toward the havens of hope that wait for Jane – Diana and Mary – the cousins who love her as a sister and Rochester – the man whom she saves so that he can then offer the love that she craves.
Brilliant writing. And the tender rebel continues to capture us all.
Sunday, July 18, 2010
Thursday, July 15, 2010
There are no such things as marble kisses, or ice kisses, or I should say my ecclesiastical cousin's salute belonged to one of these classes; but there may be experiment kisses, and his was an experiment kiss. When given, he viewed me to learn the result; it was not striking: I am sure I did not blush; perhaps I might have turned a little pale, for I felt as if this kiss were a seal affixed to my fetters.
Saturday, July 10, 2010
They clung to the bloom — found a charm both potent and permanent. They clung to the purple moors behind and around their dwelling — to the hollow vale into which the pebbly bridle-path leading from their gate descended; and which wound between fern-banks first, and then amongst a few of the wildest little pasture-fields that ever bordered a wilderness of heath, or gave sustenance to a flock of grey moorland sheep, with their little mossy-faced lambs: — they clung to this scene, I say, with a perfect enthusiasm of attachment. I could comprehend the feeling, and share both its strength and truth. I saw the fascination of the locality. I felt the consecration of its loneliness: my eye feasted on the outline of swell and sweep — on the wild colouring communicated to ridge and dell by moss, by heath-bell, by flower-sprinkled turf, by brilliant bracken and mellow granite crag. These details were just to me what they were to them – so many pure and sweet sources of pleasure. The strong blast and the soft breeze; the rough and the halcyon day; the hours of sunrise and sunset; the moonlight and the clouded night, developed for me in these regions, the same attraction as for them — wound round my faculties the same spell that entranced theirs.
Thursday, July 8, 2010
We know that God is everywhere; but certainly we feel His presence most when His works are on the grandest scale spread before us: and it is in the unclouded night-sky, where His worlds wheel their silent course, that we read clearest His infinitude. His omnipotence. His omnipresence. I had risen to my knees to pray for Mr. Rochester. Looking up, I, with tear-dimmed eyes, saw the mighty Milky Way. Remembering what it was – what countless systems there swept space like a soft trace of light – I felt the might and strength of God. Sure was I of His efficiency to save what He had made: convinced I grew that neither earth should perish nor one of the souls it treasured. I turned my prayer to thanksgiving: the Source of Life was also the Saviour of spirits. Mr. Rochester was safe: he was God’s, and by God would he be guarded. I again nestled to the breast of the hill; and ere long, in sleep, forgot sorrow.
Monday, July 5, 2010
Our current read for The Jane Austen Tea Society is Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (1816 - 1855).
I have read this celebrated novel many times in my lifetime. Just as with Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice, I find that different stages & situations in my life have caused me to interpret this book in different ways. Do I empathize with Jane's choices? Do I agree with her points of resistance against what she has been dealt in her young life? And Edward Fairfax Rochester... do I understand her attraction to her employer and verbal jouster? I find that I have varied in these stances depending on my age, my marital status, and even my current emotional outlook.
Big questions surface this read... What did Rochester's employees really think of the woman locked up in the attic rooms? Which of them knew about it? Did they truly draw from the "village gossip" that Rochester referred to during the wedding confrontation in the church? Did they honestly believe the hidden Thornfield Hall occupant a "cast-off mistress" or “bastard half-sister”... And Mrs. Fairfax.... could she in her mild demeanor have known the truth?
This novel's heroine is so different from Elizabeth Gaskell's Ruth. I greatly enjoyed the book, Ruth, but found Ruth as a character to be... well, OK.... sappy. Other characters in Gaskell's novel seemed drawn in somewhat realistic ways, but after her initial fall with Henry Bellingham, Ruth grew into a character very difficult to identify with... too perfect... too sweet...
Jane Eyre has more than one dimension as a heroine. She is reasonable but filled with emotional responses. She is patient and long suffering yet valiantly endeavors to confront injustice where she meets it. She is flawed yet understandable.
I am strolling slowly through Jane Eyre this read – savoring the vivid glimpse into the time period and bright, sharp landscapes drawn of the English countryside – “The hay was all got in; the fields round Thornfield were green and shorn; the roads white and baked; the trees were in their dark prime; hedge and wood, full-leaved and deeply tinted, contrasted well with the sunny hue of the cleared meadows between.”
And so I happily read on…