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Results 1 - 25 of 363
1. The Belton Estate

The Belton Estate. Anthony Trollope. 1866/1993. Penguin. 432 pages. [Source: Bought]

 To state it simply: it was LOVE. I have loved quite a few Anthony Trollope novels in the past. So it wasn't a big, big surprise that I loved Belton Estate. Perhaps I was surprised by just how MUCH I loved, loved, loved it! It was completely satisfying and practically perfect.

Clara Amedroz is the heroine of The Belton Estate. When her brother dies--he committed suicide--Clara's future becomes uncertain. Her father's property is entailed. She's unable to inherit from her father despite his wishes. There was a slim possibility that an aunt-like figure--a wealthy woman, of course--could leave her something. But she's left out of that will as well.

There are two men who could potentially "save" Clara. Captain Frederic Aylmer is a young (and I'm assuming relatively handsome) relation of Mrs. Winterfield (the aunt-like figure to Clara). He is the one who inherits her estate. She really wanted Clara and Frederic to marry one another. She spoke often about how much she wanted these two to marry. Days after her death, Clara receives a proposal of sorts from Frederic. The other potential "savior" is Will Belton. He is a distant cousin. He is the one who will be inheriting Clara's father's estate. He visits. Unlike Mr. Collins (from Pride and Prejudice) he is charming and likable and within weeks--if not days--Clara and her father LOVE him. He loves, loves, loves Clara. He does. He seeks permission to marry her. Clara's father thinks that would be lovely. What a good son he'd be! He also proposes to Clara.

Which man is right for Clara? Which proposal will she accept? Will she have a happily ever after?

It was oh-so-easy for me to have a favorite! I adore Will Belton. I do. I just LOVE him. I enjoyed the characters in this one so very much. I loved getting to spend so much time with Clara. This is one of Trollope's "simple" novels. Instead of having three or more couples to keep up with, or, three or more stories to follow since not all stories may end up in romance, readers just get treated to one fully developed story. There are more characters, of course. We meet Clara's closest friend and her husband. We meet Frederic's family. His mother is SOMETHING. I thought the characterization was great. I also thought it was a very thoughtful novel.

I would recommend Belton Estate to anyone who loves classic romances or historical romances. It is a GREAT love story.

And what did Will Belton think about his cousin, insured as he was thus supposed to be against the dangers of love? He, also, lay awake for awhile that night, thinking over this new friendship. Or rather he thought of it walking about his room, and looking out at the bright harvest moon;—for with him to be in bed was to be asleep. He sat himself down, and he walked about, and he leaned out of the window into the cool night air; and he made some comparisons in his mind, and certain calculations; and he thought of his present home, and of his sister, and of his future prospects as they were concerned with the old place at which he was now staying; and he portrayed to himself, in his mind, Clara's head and face and figure and feet;—and he resolved that she should be his wife. He had never seen a girl who seemed to suit him so well. Though he had only been with her for a day, he swore to himself that he knew he could love her. Nay;—he swore to himself that he did love her. Then,—when he had quite made up his mind, he tumbled into his bed and was asleep in five minutes.
"But, my dear, why should not he fall in love with you? It would be the most proper, and also the most convenient thing in the world."
"I hate talking of falling in love;—as though a woman has nothing else to think of whenever she sees a man."
"A woman has nothing else to think of."
"I have,—a great deal else. And so has he."
"It's quite out of the question on his part, then?"  "Quite out of the question. I'm sure he likes me. I can see it in his face, and hear it in his voice, and am so happy that it is so. But it isn't in the way that you mean. Heaven knows that I may want a friend some of these days, and I feel that I may trust to him. His feelings to me will be always those of a brother." "Perhaps so. I have seen that fraternal love before under similar circumstances, and it has always ended in the same way."
"I hope it won't end in any way between us."
"But the joke is that this suspicion, as you call it,—which makes you so indignant,—is simply a suggestion that a thing should happen which, of all things in the world, would be the best for both of you."
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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2. Let’s hear it for My Naughty Little Sister! - by Emma Barnes

I’m always surprised when people compare my books to those by other authors. Not because I think I’m so dazzlingly original (in fact, when I go into schools, my answer to that question “But how do you get ideas?” is usually “I get ideas because over the years I’ve read a lot of books!”) but because the comparisons aren’t usually the authors or books I would have thought of. So when somebody mentioned to me that Wild Thing reminded them of Dorothy Hughes’s classic My Naughty Little Sister stories, first I was surprised, then I thought it was time to dig out a copy and see for myself. 

My Naughty Little Sister was first written for BBC Radio’s Children Hour. Perhaps this is why they are such wonderful read-alouds. I’ve heard some adults claim that the strong narrative voice is rather too cosy ("And what do you think My Naughty Little Sister did next...") and therefore annoying. Personally, I think this is what makes the stories so perfect for young children, guiding them through the stories (I’d recommend My Naughty Little Sister as a first read-aloud when moving onto chapter books). But then I do like a strong narrative voice (the Narnia books are another example where some find the narrator intrusive, but I find it confiding, and entertaining). 

There is a lovely nostalgia about My Naughty Little Sister, too. I think this is because not only do the stories now seem very quaint and long-ago, but even when Dorothy Edwards was writing them she was remembering a past time (her own childhood, and her own naughty little sister). So such details as washing day are lovingly portrayed, in a way they maybe wouldn’t be if they were contemporary to the reader, and therefore taken for granted. (In this way they remind me a little of Laura Ingall’s Wilder’s Little House books, in capturing the domestic details of a distant time.) 

I’m also envious, not only of the apparent safety of that long ago time, but also the freedom it gives a writer to give her child character adventures. My Naughty Little Sister is only four, but she can go on a train ride all by herself (with only the guard to keep an occasional eye on her). She can also travel from home under her own steam, and at one point is sent spontaneously to spend a day with her older sister at school. How much harder to construct real-life adventures now that young children always have to be supervised! 

Most all, though, the charm of the stories is in the character of My Naughty Little Sister herself. The stories may feel old fashioned, but they are never preachy or moralistic. My Naughty Little Sister thinks for herself. If the family has to look after a baby for the day, she really doesn’t see why she should pretend to like babies, just because it’s the done thing. And she makes friends with all kinds of unlikely people, grown up or child, because she responds to them honestly and directly. 

Her character, I think, is brilliantly portrayed in the illustrations by Shirley Hughes. 

So, even if I still don’t get the comparison with my own books, I certainly feel the compliment! And if you’re looking to escape into a young child’s world, in a gentler, cosier time, I’d recommend My Naughty Little Sister.

Emma's new series for 8+ Wild Thing about the naughtiest little sister ever (and her bottom-biting ways) is out now from Scholastic. 
"Hilarious and heart-warming" The Scotsman

 Wolfie is published by Strident.   Sometimes a Girl’s Best Friend is…a Wolf. 
"A real cracker of a book" Armadillo 
"Funny, clever and satisfying...thoroughly recommended" Books for Keeps

Emma's Website
Emma’s Facebook Fanpage
Emma on Twitter - @EmmaBarnesWrite

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3. Birth of Britain (1956)

The Birth of Britain (History of the English Speaking People #1). Winston Churchill. 1956. 496 pages. [Source: Bought]

The Birth of Britain is the first of four volumes in Winston Churchill's History of the English Speaking People series. It begins around the time of Julius Caesar and ends on Bosworth Field with the death of Richard III.

 "I write about the things in our past that appear significant to me, and I do so as one not without some experience of historical and violent events in our own time."

He later writes,

Every nation or group of nations has its own tale to tell. Knowledge of the trials and struggles is necessary to all who would comprehend the problems, perils, challenges, and opportunities which confront us to-day."

"Five years is a lot. Twenty years is the horizon to most people. Fifty years is antiquity. To understand how the impact of destiny fell upon any generation of men one must first imagine their position and then apply the time-scale of our own lives. Thus nearly all changes were far less perceptible to those who lived through them from day to day than appears when the salient features of an epoch are extracted by the chronicler."

I enjoyed it. I really did. I love history. I do. And British history, well, it's my favorite and best. It's a subject that more often than not I find fascinating. Not to say that I'm never puzzled as I try to absorb new information. But for a history lover, absorbing new information is part of the fun, part of the appeal. So, yes, this one could prove challenging and complex at times. But it could also prove quite entertaining. I did feel it was more balanced than say Charles Dickens' history! If you remember, I did not think Dickens treated women fairly...at all.

Table of Contents

Book I: The Island Race
  1. Britannia
  2. Subjugation
  3. The Roman Province
  4. The Lost Island
  5. England
  6. The Vikings
  7. Alfred the Great
  8. The Saxon Dusk
Book II: The Making of the Nation
  1. The Norman Invasion
  2. William the Conqueror
  3. Growth and Turmoil
  4. Henry Plantagenet
  5. The English Common Law
  6. Coeur de Lion
  7. Magna Carta
  8. On the Anvil
  9. The Mother of Parliaments
  10. King Edward I
  11. Bannockburn
  12. Scotland and Ireland
  13. The Long-Bow
  14. The Black Death
Book III: The End of the Feudal Age
  1. King Richard and the Social Revolt
  2. The Usurpation of Henry Bolingbroke
  3. The Empire of Henry V
  4. Joan of Arc
  5. York and Lancaster
  6. The Wars of the Roses
  7. The Adventures of Edward IV
  8. Richard III
I share the table of contents because that is what I would be curious about. I share quotes as well because to me how a writer says something is sometimes just as significant as what is being said.

One morning Duke Robert of Normandy, the fourth descendant of Rollo, was riding towards his capital town, Falaise, when he saw Arlette, daughter of a tanner, washing linen in a stream. His love was instantly fired. He carried her to his castle, and, although already married to a lady of quality, lived with her for the rest of his days. To this romantic but irregular union there was born in 1027 a son, William, afterwards famous.
When death drew near his sons William and Henry came to him. William, whose one virtue had been filial fidelity, was named to succeed the Conqueror in England. The graceless Robert would rule in Normandy at last. For the youngest, Henry, there was nothing but five thousand pounds of silver, and the prophecy that he would one day reign over a united Anglo-Norman nation. This proved no empty blessing.
Few mortals have led so full a life as Henry II or have drunk so deeply of the cups of triumph and sorrow. In later life he fell out with Eleanor. When she was over fifty and he but forty-two he is said to have fallen in love with “Fair Rosamond”, a damosel of high degree and transcendent beauty, and generations have enjoyed the romantic tragedy of Queen Eleanor penetrating the protecting maze at Woodstock by the clue of a silken thread and offering her hapless supplanter the hard choice between the dagger and the poisoned cup. Tiresome investigators have undermined this excellent tale, but it certainly should find its place in any history worthy of the name.
It has often been said that Joan of Arc first raised the standard of nationalism in the Western world. But over a century before she appeared an outlaw knight, William Wallace, arising from the recesses of South-West Scotland which had been his refuge, embodied, commanded, and led to victory the Scottish nation. Edward, warring in France with piebald fortune, was forced to listen to tales of ceaseless inroads and forays against his royal peace in Scotland, hitherto deemed so sure. Wallace had behind him the spirit of a race as stern and as resolute as any bred among men. He added military gifts of a high order. Out of an unorganised mass of valiant fighting men he forged, in spite of cruel poverty and primitive administration, a stubborn, indomitable army, ready to fight at any odds and mock defeat. The structure of this army is curious. Every four men had a fifth man as leader; every nine men a tenth; every nineteen men a twentieth, and so on to every thousand; and it was agreed that the penalty for disobedience to the leader of any unit was death. Thus from the ground does freedom raise itself unconquerable.
When Henry V revived the English claims to France he opened the greatest tragedy in our medieval history. Agincourt was a glittering victory, but the wasteful and useless campaigns that followed more than outweighed its military and moral value, and the miserable, destroying century that ensued casts its black shadow upon Henry’s heroic triumph.
Out of her own mouth can she be judged in each generation. She embodied the natural goodness and valour of the human race in unexampled perfection. Unconquerable courage, infinite compassion, the virtue of the simple, the wisdom of the just, shone forth in her. She glorifies as she freed the soil from which she sprang. All soldiers should read her story and ponder on the words and deeds of the true warrior, who in one single year, though untaught in technical arts, reveals in every situation the key of victory.
It was upon this community that the agonies of the Wars of the Roses were now to fall. We must not underrate either the great issues which led to the struggle or the conscious, intense, prolonged efforts made to avert it. The need of all men and their active desire was for a strong and capable Government. Some thought this could only be obtained by aiding the lawful, established régime. Others had been for a long time secretly contending that a usurpation had been imposed upon them which had now become incompetent.
Historians have shrunk from the Wars of the Roses, and most of those who have catalogued their events have left us only a melancholy and disjointed picture. We are however in the presence of the most ferocious and implacable quarrel of which there is factual record. The individual actors were bred by generations of privilege and war, into which the feudal theme had brought its peculiar sense of honour, and to which the Papacy contributed such spiritual sanction as emerged from its rivalries and intrigues. It was a conflict in which personal hatreds reached their maximum, and from which mass effects were happily excluded. There must have been many similar convulsions in the human story. None however has been preserved with characters at once so worldly and so expensively chiselled. 
History has scolded this prince of twenty-two for not possessing immediately the statecraft and addiction to business for which his office called. Edward united contrasting characters. He loved peace; he shone in war. But he loved peace for its indulgences rather than its dignity.
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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4. To Love And Be Wise (1951)

To Love And Be Wise. (Inspector Grant #4) Josephine Tey. 1951. Simon & Schuster. 208 pages. [Source: Bought]

I definitely liked To Love And Be Wise. It is an Inspector Grant mystery. Some of the Grant series I've loved, others, not quite so much.

Inspector Grant is at a party with a friend, Marta Hallard, the event is to celebrate the release of a new Lavinia Fitch novel. While there he happens to see an oh-so-beautiful young man. People's gaze just seems to follow him, he's that beautiful. He talks to Grant and asks him to point out Lavinia Fitch. He claims he wants an introduction to Fitch's nephew, Walter Whitmore. The young man's name is Leslie Searle. Introductions are made, and Leslie is even invited into their country home--indefinitely.

Several weeks later, Mr. Grant is called down to investigate a crime or potential crime. Mr. Searle has gone missing. He was working on a project with Walter Whitmore. (Walter Whitmore is apparently a radio celebrity and Searle is a famous photographer.) He hasn't been seen in a day or two. There is no body, though they have dragged the river repeatedly. Searle had definitely argued with several in town, including Walter. Could he have been murdered?

I liked this one. I did. I liked the community in which it was set. I liked meeting Silas Weekley and Lavinia Fitch, for example, mainly because they're referenced in my favorite, favorite, favorite book Daughter of Time.

By the way, isn't this a horrible cover?!

Favorite quotes:
"Why do you listen to him?" [him = Walter Whitmore]
"Well, there's a dreadful fascination about it, you know. One thinks: Well, that's the absolute sky-limit of awfulness, than which nothing could be worse. And so next week you listen to see if it really can be worse. It's a snare. It's so awful that you can't even switch off. You wait fascinated for the next piece of awfulness, and the next. And you are still there when he signs off." (12)
"Perhaps the old saying is true and it is not possible to love and be wise." (42)
"I suppose you don't read Lavinia Fitch?"
"No, but Nora does."
Nora was Mrs. Williams, and the mother of Angela and Leonard.
"Does she like them?"
"Loves them. She says three things make her feel cosy in advance. A hot-water bottle, a quarter-pound of chocolates, and a new Lavinia Fitch."
"If Miss Fitch did not exist, it seems, it would be necessary to invent her," Grant said. (73)
"You really ought, just for once, to try those pickles, sir," Williams said. "They're wonderful."
"For the five hundred and seventh time, I do not eat pickles. I have a palate, Williams. A precious possession. And I have no intention of prostituting it to pickles." (92)
Silas has his own success, his family, the books he is going to write in the future (even if they are just the same old ones over again in different words). (136)
"I was just thinking how shocked the writers of slick detective stories would be if they could witness two police inspectors sitting on a willow tree swapping poems." (151)
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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5. Reread #30 North and South

North and South. Elizabeth Gaskell. 1854-1855. 452 pages. [Source: Bought]

'Edith!' said Margaret, gently, 'Edith!'
But, as Margaret half suspected, Edith had fallen asleep.

I can't believe it's been two years since I last read North and South! As many of you know, I love, love, love, LOVE North and South! And I have gushed about it plenty since discovering it in May 2010.  There was my initial review, my first impressions of the audio book and movie, my quote-heavy review from 2011, and my review from 2012. The good news? I still LOVE and ADORE it. The not-so-good news? What haven't I said before?! I've given several summaries! I've gushed about the movie and how it's an ABSOLUTE MUST. I've shared lots of quotes!

Journaling of North and South:

Victorian definition of friendship?!
They were the familiar acquaintances of the house; neighbours whom Mrs. Shaw called friends, because she happened to dine with them more frequently than with any other people, and because if she or Edith wanted anything from them, or they from her, they did not scruple to make a call at each other's houses before luncheon. (6)
Margaret on weddings:
'No. I think after this evening we shall feel at rest, which I am sure I have not done for many weeks; at least, that kind of rest when the hands have nothing more to do, and all the arrangements are complete for an event which must occupy one's head and heart. I shall be glad to have time to think, and I am sure Edith will.'
'I am not so sure about her; but I can fancy that you will. Whenever I have seen you lately, you have been carried away by a whirlwind of some other person's making.'
'Yes,' said Margaret, rather sadly, remembering the never-ending commotion about trifles that had been going on for more than a month past: 'I wonder if a marriage must always be preceded by what you call a whirlwind, or whether in some cases there might not rather be a calm and peaceful time just before it.'
<'Cinderella's godmother ordering the trousseau, the wedding-breakfast, writing the notes of invitation, for instance,' said Mr. Lennox, laughing.
'But are all these quite necessary troubles?' asked Margaret, looking up straight at him for an answer. A sense of indescribable weariness of all the arrangements for a pretty effect, in which Edith had been busied as supreme authority for the last six weeks, oppressed her just now; and she really wanted some one to help her to a few pleasant, quiet ideas connected with a marriage.
'Oh, of course,' he replied with a change to gravity in his tone. 'There are forms and ceremonies to be gone through, not so much to satisfy oneself, as to stop the world's mouth, without which stoppage there would be very little satisfaction in life. But how would you have a wedding arranged?'
'Oh, I have never thought much about it; only I should like it to be a very fine summer morning; and I should like to walk to church through the shade of trees; and not to have so many bridesmaids, and to have no wedding-breakfast. I dare say I am resolving against the very things that have given me the most trouble just now.'
'No, I don't think you are. The idea of stately simplicity accords well with your character.' (11)
 From the start, I knew Margaret was my kind of heroine!

And I thought this was quite a true observation about worrying:
But the cloud never comes in that quarter of the horizon from which we watch for it. (18)
And have you noticed how often heroines in classics are absolutely shocked by marriage proposals? Margaret is no different.
'Margaret, I wish you did not like Helstone so much—did not seem so perfectly calm and happy here. I have been hoping for these three months past to find you regretting London—and London friends, a little—enough to make you listen more kindly' (for she was quietly, but firmly, striving to extricate her hand from his grasp) 'to one who has not much to offer, it is true—nothing but prospects in the future—but who does love you, Margaret, almost in spite of himself. Margaret, have I startled you too much? Speak!' For he saw her lips quivering almost as if she were going to cry. She made a strong effort to be calm; she would not speak till she had succeeded in mastering her voice, and then she said:
'I was startled. I did not know that you cared for me in that way. I have always thought of you as a friend; and, please, I would rather go on thinking of you so. I don't like to be spoken to as you have been doing. I cannot answer you as you want me to do, and yet I should feel so sorry if I vexed you.'
'Margaret,' said he, looking into her eyes, which met his with their open, straight look, expressive of the utmost good faith and reluctance to give pain.
'Do you'—he was going to say—'love any one else?' But it seemed as if this question would be an insult to the pure serenity of those eyes. 'Forgive me I have been too abrupt. I am punished. Only let me hope. Give me the poor comfort of telling me you have never seen any one whom you could—— ' Again a pause. He could not end his sentence. Margaret reproached herself acutely as the cause of his distress.
'Ah! if you had but never got this fancy into your head! It was such a pleasure to think of you as a friend.'
'But I may hope, may I not, Margaret, that some time you will think of me as a lover? Not yet, I see—there is no hurry—but some time—— ' She was silent for a minute or two, trying to discover the truth as it was in her own heart, before replying; then she said:
'I have never thought of—you, but as a friend. I like to think of you so; but I am sure I could never think of you as anything else. Pray, let us both forget that all this' ('disagreeable,' she was going to say, but stopped short) 'conversation has taken place.' (29)
Margaret has to be practical and no-nonsense. It definitely was not fair that she had to be the one to break the BIG BIG news to her mother because her father was too weak to do something so unpleasant. It won't be the last time Margaret has to step up to an unpleasant duty. 
'I shall not be at home till evening. I am going to Bracy Common, and will ask Farmer Dobson to give me something for dinner. I shall be back to tea at seven.' He did not look at either of them, but Margaret knew what he meant. By seven the announcement must be made to her mother. Mr. Hale would have delayed making it till half-past six, but Margaret was of different stuff. She could not bear the impending weight on her mind all the day long: better get the worst over; the day would be too short to comfort her mother. But while she stood by the window, thinking how to begin, and waiting for the servant to have left the room, her mother had gone up-stairs to put on her things to go to the school. She came down ready equipped, in a brisker mood than usual. (43)
I wonder if I'm the only one who imagines fictional characters on House Hunters (or House Hunters International)?! I certainly pay more attention these days.
They set out on their house-hunting. Thirty pounds a-year was all they could afford to give, but in Hampshire they could have met with a roomy house and pleasant garden for the money. Here, even the necessary accommodation of two sitting-rooms and four bed-rooms seemed unattainable. They went through their list, rejecting each as they visited it. Then they looked at each other in dismay.
'We must go back to the second, I think. That one,—in Crampton, don't they call the suburb? There were three sitting-rooms; don't you remember how we laughed at the number compared with the three bed-rooms? But I have planned it all. The front room down-stairs is to be your study and our dining-room (poor papa!), for, you know, we settled mamma is to have as cheerful a sitting-room as we can get; and that front room up-stairs, with the atrocious blue and pink paper and heavy cornice, had really a pretty view over the plain, with a great bend of river, or canal, or whatever it is, down below. Then I could have the little bed-room behind, in that projection at the head of the first flight of stairs—over the kitchen, you know—and you and mamma the room behind the drawing-room, and that closet in the roof will make you a splendid dressing-room.'
'But Dixon, and the girl we are to have to help?'
'Oh, wait a minute. I am overpowered by the discovery of my own genius for management. Dixon is to have—let me see, I had it once—the back sitting-room. I think she will like that. She grumbles so much about the stairs at Heston; and the girl is to have that sloping attic over your room and mamma's. Won't that do?'
'I dare say it will. But the papers. What taste! And the overloading such a house with colour and such heavy cornices!'
'Never mind, papa! Surely, you can charm the landlord into re-papering one or two of the rooms—the drawing-room and your bed-room—for mamma will come most in contact with them; and your book-shelves will hide a great deal of that gaudy pattern in the dining-room.'
'Then you think it the best? If so, I had better go at once and call on this Mr. Donkin, to whom the advertisement refers me. I will take you back to the hotel, where you can order lunch, and rest, and by the time it is ready, I shall be with you. I hope I shall be able to get new papers.'
Margaret hoped so too, though she said nothing. She had never come fairly in contact with the taste that loves ornament, however bad, more than the plainness and simplicity which are of themselves the framework of elegance. Her father took her through the entrance of the hotel, and leaving her at the foot of the staircase, went to the address of the landlord of the house they had fixed upon. (60-1)
And this just makes me giddy: reading of Mr. Thornton changing the horrid wallpaper. Of course, I didn't even think about it the first time I read the book. But now my eyes search for Mr. Thornton's goodness everywhere.
But, oh mamma! speaking of vulgarity and commonness, you must prepare yourself for our drawing-room paper. Pink and blue roses, with yellow leaves! And such a heavy cornice round the room!'
But when they removed to their new house in Milton, the obnoxious papers were gone. The landlord received their thanks very composedly; and let them think, if they liked, that he had relented from his expressed determination not to repaper. There was no particular need to tell them, that what he did not care to do for a Reverend Mr. Hale, unknown in Milton, he was only too glad to do at the one short sharp remonstrance of Mr. Thornton, the wealthy manufacturer. (65)
The Higgins. I am so very, very glad to see Margaret making friends. I really do love, love, love Bess and Nicholas.
'Where do you live? I think we must be neighbours, we meet so often on this road.'
'We put up at nine Frances Street, second turn to th' left at after yo've past th' Goulden Dragon.'
'And your name? I must not forget that.'
'I'm none ashamed o' my name. It's Nicholas Higgins. Hoo's called Bessy Higgins. Whatten yo' asking for?'
Margaret was surprised at this last question, for at Helstone it would have been an understood thing, after the inquiries she had made, that she intended to come and call upon any poor neighbour whose name and habitation she had asked for.
'I thought—I meant to come and see you.' She suddenly felt rather shy of offering the visit, without having any reason to give for her wish to make it, beyond a kindly interest in a stranger. It seemed all at once to take the shape of an impertinence on her part; she read this meaning too in the man's eyes.
'I'm none so fond of having strange folk in my house.' But then relenting, as he saw her heightened colour, he added, 'Yo're a foreigner, as one may say, and maybe don't know many folk here, and yo've given my wench here flowers out of yo'r own hand;—yo may come if yo like.'
Margaret was half-amused, half-nettled at this answer. She was not sure if she would go where permission was given so like a favour conferred. But when they came to the town into Frances Street, the girl stopped a minute, and said,
'Yo'll not forget yo're to come and see us.' (73)
Margaret's early thoughts on Mr. Thornton:
'But, east or west wind, I suppose this man comes.'
'Oh, mamma, that shows you never saw Mr. Thornton. He looks like a person who would enjoy battling with every adverse thing he could meet with—enemies, winds, or circumstances. The more it rains and blows, the more certain we are to have him. But I'll go and help Dixon. I'm getting to be a famous clear-starcher. And he won't want any amusement beyond talking to papa. Papa, I am really longing to see the Pythias to your Damon. You know I never saw him but once, and then we were so puzzled to know what to say to each other that we did not get on particularly well.'
'I don't know that you would ever like him, or think him agreeable, Margaret. He is not a lady's man.'
Margaret wreathed her throat in a scornful curve.
'I don't particularly admire ladies' men, papa. But Mr. Thornton comes here as your friend—as one who has appreciated you'—
'The only person in Milton,' said Mrs. Hale.
'So we will give him a welcome, and some cocoa-nut cakes. Dixon will be flattered if we ask her to make some; and I will undertake to iron your caps, mamma.'
Many a time that morning did Margaret wish Mr. Thornton far enough away. (75)
 And I believe this is the first but definitely not last mention of Mrs. Thornton--John's mother. She's certainly not easy to forget!!!
'John! Is that you?'
Her son opened the door and showed himself.
'What has brought you home so early? I thought you were going to tea with that friend of Mr. Bell's; that Mr. Hale.'
'So I am, mother; I am come home to dress!'
'Dress! humph! When I was a girl, young men were satisfied with dressing once in a day. Why should you dress to go and take a cup of tea with an old parson?'
'Mr. Hale is a gentleman, and his wife and daughter are ladies.'
'Wife and daughter! Do they teach too? What do they do? You have never mentioned them.'
'No! mother, because I have never seen Mrs. Hale; I have only seen Miss Hale for half an hour.'
'Take care you don't get caught by a penniless girl, John.'
'I am not easily caught, mother, as I think you know. But I must not have Miss Hale spoken of in that way, which, you know, is offensive to me. I never was aware of any young lady trying to catch me yet, nor do I believe that any one has ever given themselves that useless trouble.'
Mrs. Thornton did not choose to yield the point to her son; or else she had, in general, pride enough for her sex.
'Well! I only say, take care. Perhaps our Milton girls have too much spirit and good feeling to go angling after husbands; but this Miss Hale comes out of the aristocratic counties, where, if all tales be true, rich husbands are reckoned prizes.'
Mr. Thornton's brow contracted, and he came a step forward into the room.
'Mother' (with a short scornful laugh), 'you will make me confess. The only time I saw Miss Hale, she treated me with a haughty civility which had a strong flavour of contempt in it. She held herself aloof from me as if she had been a queen, and I her humble, unwashed vassal. Be easy, mother.'
'No! I am not easy, nor content either. What business had she, a renegade clergyman's daughter, to turn up her nose at you! I would dress for none of them—a saucy set! if I were you.' As he was leaving the room, he said:—
'Mr. Hale is good, and gentle, and learned. He is not saucy. As for Mrs. Hale, I will tell you what she is like to-night, if you care to hear.' He shut the door and was gone.
'Despise my son! treat him as her vassal, indeed! Humph! I should like to know where she could find such another! Boy and man, he's the noblest, stoutest heart I ever knew. I don't care if I am his mother; I can see what's what, and not be blind. I know what Fanny is; and I know what John is. Despise him! I hate her!' (77)
John noticing Margaret...
She looked as if she was not attending to the conversation, but solely busy with the tea-cups, among which her round ivory hands moved with pretty, noiseless, daintiness. She had a bracelet on one taper arm, which would fall down over her round wrist. Mr. Thornton watched the replacing of this troublesome ornament with far more attention than he listened to her father. It seemed as if it fascinated him to see her push it up impatiently, until it tightened her soft flesh; and then to mark the loosening—the fall. He could almost have exclaimed—'There it goes, again!' There was so little left to be done after he arrived at the preparation for tea, that he was almost sorry the obligation of eating and drinking came so soon to prevent his watching Margaret. She handed him his cup of tea with the proud air of an unwilling slave; but her eye caught the moment when he was ready for another cup; and he almost longed to ask her to do for him what he saw her compelled to do for her father, who took her little finger and thumb in his masculine hand, and made them serve as sugar-tongs. Mr. Thornton saw her beautiful eyes lifted to her father, full of light, half-laughter and half-love, as this bit of pantomime went on between the two, unobserved, as they fancied, by any. (79)
A missed opportunity...it won't be the only missed opportunity either.
When Mr. Thornton rose up to go away, after shaking hands with Mr. and Mrs. Hale, he made an advance to Margaret to wish her good-bye in a similar manner. It was the frank familiar custom of the place; but Margaret was not prepared for it. She simply bowed her farewell; although the instant she saw the hand, half put out, quickly drawn back, she was sorry she had not been aware of the intention. Mr. Thornton, however, knew nothing of her sorrow, and, drawing himself up to his full height, walked off, muttering as he left the house—
'A more proud, disagreeable girl I never saw. Even her great beauty is blotted out of one's memory by her scornful ways.' (86)
Margaret speaks out on Mr. Thornton (again):
'Papa, I do think Mr. Thornton a very remarkable man; but personally I don't like him at all.'
'And I do!' said her father laughing. 'Personally, as you call it, and all. I don't set him up for a hero, or anything of that kind. But good night, child. (88)
And here we have the first of many references to Revelation!
'Do you think such life as this is worth caring for?' gasped Bessy, at last. Margaret did not speak, but held the water to her lips. Bessy took a long and feverish draught, and then fell back and shut her eyes. Margaret heard her murmur to herself: 'They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat.'
Margaret bent over and said, 'Bessy, don't be impatient with your life, whatever it is—or may have been. Remember who gave it you, and made it what it is!' She was startled by hearing Nicholas speak behind her; he had come in without her noticing him. (90)
Not that they only talk about death and dying. They also talk about factory life.

Margaret meeting John's mother...she does love to boast!
'To hold and maintain a high, honourable place among the merchants of his country—the men of his town. Such a place my son has earned for himself. Go where you will—I don't say in England only, but in Europe—the name of John Thornton of Milton is known and respected amongst all men of business. Of course, it is unknown in the fashionable circles,' she continued, scornfully.
'Idle gentlemen and ladies are not likely to know much of a Milton manufacturer, unless he gets into parliament, or marries a lord's daughter.' Both Mr. Hale and Margaret had an uneasy, ludicrous consciousness that they had never heard of this great name, until Mr. Bell had written them word that Mr. Thornton would be a good friend to have in Milton. The proud mother's world was not their world of Harley Street gentilities on the one hand, or country clergymen and Hampshire squires on the other. Margaret's face, in spite of all her endeavours to keep it simply listening in its expression told the sensitive Mrs. Thornton this feeling of hers.
'You think you never heard of this wonderful son of mine, Miss Hale. You think I'm an old woman whose ideas are bounded by Milton, and whose own crow is the whitest ever seen.'
'No,' said Margaret, with some spirit. 'It may be true, that I was thinking I had hardly heard Mr. Thornton's name before I came to Milton. But since I have come here, I have heard enough to make me respect and admire him, and to feel how much justice and truth there is in what you have said of him.'
'Who spoke to you of him?' asked Mrs. Thornton, a little mollified, yet jealous lest any one else's words should not have done him full justice. Margaret hesitated before she replied. She did not like this authoritative questioning. Mr. Hale came in, as he thought, to the rescue.
'It was what Mr. Thornton said himself, that made us know the kind of man he was. Was it not, Margaret?'
Mrs. Thornton drew herself up, and said—
'My son is not the one to tell of his own doings. May I again ask you, Miss Hale, from whose account you formed your favourable opinion of him? A mother is curious and greedy of commendation of her children, you know.'
Margaret replied, 'It was as much from what Mr. Thornton withheld of that which we had been told of his previous life by Mr. Bell,—it was more that than what he said, that made us all feel what reason you have to be proud of him.'
'Mr. Bell! What can he know of John? He, living a lazy life in a drowsy college. But I'm obliged to you, Miss Hale. Many a missy young lady would have shrunk from giving an old woman the pleasure of hearing that her son was well spoken of.' (114)
Margaret and John definitely know how to have a tense conversation:
'I shall only be too glad to explain to you all that may seem anomalous or mysterious to a stranger; especially at a time like this, when our doings are sure to be canvassed by every scribbler who can hold a pen.'
'Thank you,' she answered, coldly. 'Of course, I shall apply to my father in the first instance for any information he can give me, if I get puzzled with living here amongst this strange society.'
'You think it strange. Why?'
'I don't know—I suppose because, on the very face of it, I see two classes dependent on each other in every possible way, yet each evidently regarding the interests of the other as opposed to their own; I never lived in a place before where there were two sets of people always running each other down.'
'Who have you heard running the masters down? I don't ask who you have heard abusing the men; for I see you persist in misunderstanding what I said the other day. But who have you heard abusing the masters?'
Margaret reddened; then smiled as she said,
'I am not fond of being catechised. I refuse to answer your question. Besides, it has nothing to do with the fact. You must take my word for it, that I have heard some people, or, it may be, only someone of the workpeople, speak as though it were the interest of the employers to keep them from acquiring money—that it would make them too independent if they had a sum in the savings' bank.' (118)
 One of Margaret's many burdens... Gaskell certainly did a good job on making Margaret so very strong and resilient. Yet she's not hard and unfeeling.
'What is the matter with mamma? You will oblige me by telling the simple truth.' Then, seeing a slight hesitation on the doctor's part, she added—
'I am the only child she has—here, I mean. My father is not sufficiently alarmed, I fear; and, therefore, if there is any serious apprehension, it must be broken to him gently. I can do this. I can nurse my mother. Pray, speak, sir; to see your face, and not be able to read it, gives me a worse dread than I trust any words of yours will justify.'
'My dear young lady, your mother seems to have a most attentive and efficient servant, who is more like her friend—'
'I am her daughter, sir.'
'But when I tell you she expressly desired that you might not be told—'
'I am not good or patient enough to submit to the prohibition. Besides, I am sure you are too wise—too experienced to have promised to keep the secret.'
'Well,' said he, half-smiling, though sadly enough, 'there you are right. I did not promise. In fact, I fear, the secret will be known soon enough without my revealing it.'
He paused. Margaret went very white, and compressed her lips a little more. Otherwise not a feature moved. With the quick insight into character, without which no medical man can rise to the eminence of Dr. Donaldson, he saw that she would exact the full truth; that she would know if one iota was withheld; and that the withholding would be torture more acute than the knowledge of it. He spoke two short sentences in a low voice, watching her all the time; for the pupils of her eyes dilated into a black horror and the whiteness of her complexion became livid. He ceased speaking. He waited for that look to go off,—for her gasping breath to come. Then she said:—
'I thank you most truly, sir, for your confidence. That dread has haunted me for many weeks. It is a true, real agony. My poor, poor mother!' her lips began to quiver, and he let her have the relief of tears, sure of her power of self-control to check them.
A few tears—those were all she shed, before she recollected the many questions she longed to ask. (126)
I share Bessy's love of Revelation. I do. It is one of my favorite, favorite books as well.
'I ask your pardon,' replied Bessy, humbly. 'Sometimes, when I've thought o' my life, and the little pleasure I've had in it, I've believed that, maybe, I was one of those doomed to die by the falling of a star from heaven; "And the name of the star is called Wormwood;" and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and men died of the waters, because they were made bitter." One can bear pain and sorrow better if one thinks it has been prophesied long before for one: somehow, then it seems as if my pain was needed for the fulfilment; otherways it seems all sent for nothing.'
'Nay, Bessy—think!' said Margaret. 'God does not willingly afflict. Don't dwell so much on the prophecies, but read the clearer parts of the Bible.'
'I dare say it would be wiser; but where would I hear such grand words of promise—hear tell o' anything so far different fro' this dreary world, and this town above a', as in Revelations? Many's the time I've repeated the verses in the seventh chapter to myself, just for the sound. It's as good as an organ, and as different from every day, too. No, I cannot give up Revelations. It gives me more comfort than any other book i' the Bible.' (137)
Mr. Thornton tries to be kind to Margaret, but, she's not quite ready!
What business had he to be the only person, except Dr. Donaldson and Dixon, admitted to the awful secret, which she held shut up in the most dark and sacred recess of her heart—not daring to look at it, unless she invoked heavenly strength to bear the sight—that, some day soon, she should cry aloud for her mother, and no answer would come out of the blank, dumb darkness? Yet he knew all. She saw it in his pitying eyes. She heard it in his grave and tremulous voice. How reconcile those eyes, that voice, with the hard-reasoning, dry, merciless way in which he laid down axioms of trade, and serenely followed them out to their full consequences? The discord jarred upon her inexpressibly. (153)
Margaret has another conversation with her Dad about that man!
'Oh, papa!'
'Well! I only want you to do justice to Mr. Thornton, who is, I suspect, of an exactly opposite nature,—a man who is far too proud to show his feelings. Just the character I should have thought beforehand, you would have admired, Margaret.'
'So I do,—so I should; but I don't feel quite so sure as you do of the existence of those feelings. He is a man of great strength of character,—of unusual intellect, considering the few advantages he has had.'
'Not so few. He has led a practical life from a very early age; has been called upon to exercise judgment and self-control. All that develops one part of the intellect. To be sure, he needs some of the knowledge of the past, which gives the truest basis for conjecture as to the future; but he knows this need,—he perceives it, and that is something. You are quite prejudiced against Mr. Thornton, Margaret.' (166)
Tender yet uncomfortable witness:
'Not the disease. We cannot touch the disease, with all our poor vaunted skill. We can only delay its progress—alleviate the pain it causes. Be a man, sir—a Christian. Have faith in the immortality of the soul, which no pain, no mortal disease, can assail or touch!'
But all the reply he got, was in the choked words, 'You have never been married, Dr. Donaldson; you do not know what it is,' and in the deep, manly sobs, which went through the stillness of the night like heavy pulses of agony. Margaret knelt by him, caressing him with tearful caresses. No one, not even Dr. Donaldson, knew how the time went by. Mr. Hale was the first to dare to speak of the necessities of the present moment.
'What must we do?' asked he. 'Tell us both. Margaret is my staff—my right hand.' (169)
The strike or riot gets intense, very intense!
'Mr. Thornton,' said Margaret, shaking all over with her passion, 'go down this instant, if you are not a coward. Go down and face them like a man. Save these poor strangers, whom you have decoyed here. Speak to your workmen as if they were human beings. Speak to them kindly. Don't let the soldiers come in and cut down poor creatures who are driven mad. I see one there who is. If you have any courage or noble quality in you, go out and speak to them, man to man.'
He turned and looked at her while she spoke. A dark cloud came over his face while he listened. He set his teeth as he heard her words.
'I will go. Perhaps I may ask you to accompany me downstairs, and bar the door behind me; my mother and sister will need that protection.'
'Oh! Mr. Thornton! I do not know—I may be wrong—only—' But he was gone; he was downstairs in the hall; he had unbarred the front door; all she could do, was to follow him quickly, and fasten it behind him, and clamber up the stairs again with a sick heart and a dizzy head. Again she took her place by the farthest window. He was on the steps below; she saw that by the direction of a thousand angry eyes; but she could neither see nor hear anything save the savage satisfaction of the rolling angry murmur. She threw the window wide open. Many in the crowd were mere boys; cruel and thoughtless,—cruel because they were thoughtless; some were men, gaunt as wolves, and mad for prey. (177)
She only thought how she could save him. She threw her arms around him; she made her body into a shield from the fierce people beyond. Still, with his arms folded, he shook her off.
'Go away,' said he, in his deep voice. 'This is no place for you.'
'It is!' said she. 'You did not see what I saw.' If she thought her sex would be a protection,—if, with shrinking eyes she had turned away from the terrible anger of these men, in any hope that ere she looked again they would have paused and reflected, and slunk away, and vanished,—she was wrong. Their reckless passion had carried them too far to stop—at least had carried some of them too far; for it is always the savage lads, with their love of cruel excitement, who head the riot—reckless to what bloodshed it may lead. A clog whizzed through the air. Margaret's fascinated eyes watched its progress; it missed its aim, and she turned sick with affright, but changed not her position, only hid her face on Mr. Thornton s arm. Then she turned and spoke again:'
'For God's sake! do not damage your cause by this violence. You do not know what you are doing.' She strove to make her words distinct.
A sharp pebble flew by her, grazing forehead and cheek, and drawing a blinding sheet of light before her eyes. She lay like one dead on Mr. Thornton's shoulder. Then he unfolded his arms, and held her encircled in one for an instant:
'You do well!' said he. 'You come to oust the innocent stranger. You fall—you hundreds—on one man; and when a woman comes before you, to ask you for your own sakes to be reasonable creatures, your cowardly wrath falls upon her! You do well!' They were silent while he spoke. They were watching, open-eyed and open-mouthed, the thread of dark-red blood which wakened them up from their trance of passion. Those nearest the gate stole out ashamed; there was a movement through all the crowd—a retreating movement. Only one voice cried out:
'Th' stone were meant for thee; but thou wert sheltered behind a woman!'
Mr. Thornton quivered with rage. The blood-flowing had made Margaret conscious—dimly, vaguely conscious. He placed her gently on the door-step, her head leaning against the frame.
'Can you rest there?' he asked. But without waiting for her answer, he went slowly down the steps right into the middle of the crowd. 'Now kill me, if it is your brutal will. There is no woman to shield me here. You may beat me to death—you will never move me from what I have determined upon—not you!' He stood amongst them, with his arms folded, in precisely the same attitude as he had been in on the steps. (179)
This moment changes everything...but not as much as Mr. Thornton would like!!!
'Miss Hale, I was very ungrateful yesterday—'
'You had nothing to be grateful for,' said she, raising her eyes, and looking full and straight at him. 'You mean, I suppose, that you believe you ought to thank me for what I did.' In spite of herself—in defiance of her anger—the thick blushes came all over her face, and burnt into her very eyes; which fell not nevertheless from their grave and steady look. 'It was only a natural instinct; any woman would have done just the same. We all feel the sanctity of our sex as a high privilege when we see danger. I ought rather,' said she, hastily, 'to apologise to you, for having said thoughtless words which sent you down into the danger.'
'It was not your words; it was the truth they conveyed, pungently as it was expressed. But you shall not drive me off upon that, and so escape the expression of my deep gratitude, my—' he was on the verge now; he would not speak in the haste of his hot passion; he would weigh each word. He would; and his will was triumphant. He stopped in mid career.
'I do not try to escape from anything,' said she. 'I simply say, that you owe me no gratitude; and I may add, that any expression of it will be painful to me, because I do not feel that I deserve it. Still, if it will relieve you from even a fancied obligation, speak on.'
'I do not want to be relieved from any obligation,' said he, goaded by her calm manner. 'Fancied, or not fancied—I question not myself to know which—I choose to believe that I owe my very life to you—ay—smile, and think it an exaggeration if you will. I believe it, because it adds a value to that life to think—oh, Miss Hale!' continued he, lowering his voice to such a tender intensity of passion that she shivered and trembled before him, 'to think circumstance so wrought, that whenever I exult in existence henceforward, I may say to myself, "All this gladness in life, all honest pride in doing my work in the world, all this keen sense of being, I owe to her!" And it doubles the gladness, it makes the pride glow, it sharpens the sense of existence till I hardly know if it is pain or pleasure, to think that I owe it to one—nay, you must, you shall hear'—said he, stepping forwards with stern determination—'to one whom I love, as I do not believe man ever loved woman before.' He held her hand tight in his. He panted as he listened for what should come. He threw the hand away with indignation, as he heard her icy tone; for icy it was, though the words came faltering out, as if she knew not where to find them.
'Your way of speaking shocks me. It is blasphemous. I cannot help it, if that is my first feeling. It might not be so, I dare say, if I understood the kind of feeling you describe. I do not want to vex you; and besides, we must speak gently, for mamma is asleep; but your whole manner offends me—'
'How!' exclaimed he. 'Offends you! I am indeed most unfortunate.'
'Yes!' said she, with recovered dignity. 'I do feel offended; and, I think, justly. You seem to fancy that my conduct of yesterday'—again the deep carnation blush, but this time with eyes kindling with indignation rather than shame—'was a personal act between you and me; and that you may come and thank me for it, instead of perceiving, as a gentleman would—yes! a gentleman,' she repeated, in allusion to their former conversation about that word, 'that any woman, worthy of the name of woman, would come forward to shield, with her reverenced helplessness, a man in danger from the violence of numbers.'
'And the gentleman thus rescued is forbidden the relief of thanks!' he broke in contemptuously. 'I am a man. I claim the right of expressing my feelings.'
'And I yielded to the right; simply saying that you gave me pain by insisting upon it,' she replied, proudly. 'But you seem to have imagined, that I was not merely guided by womanly instinct, but'—and here the passionate tears (kept down for long—struggled with vehemently) came up into her eyes, and choked her voice—'but that I was prompted by some particular feeling for you—you! Why, there was not a man—not a poor desperate man in all that crowd—for whom I had not more sympathy—for whom I should not have done what little I could more heartily.'
'You may speak on, Miss Hale. I am aware of all these misplaced sympathies of yours. I now believe that it was only your innate sense of oppression—(yes; I, though a master, may be oppressed)—that made you act so nobly as you did. I know you despise me; allow me to say, it is because you do not understand me.'
'I do not care to understand,' she replied, taking hold of the table to steady herself; for she thought him cruel—as, indeed, he was—and she was weak with her indignation.
'No, I see you do not. You are unfair and unjust.'
Margaret compressed her lips. She would not speak in answer to such accusations. But, for all that—for all his savage words, he could have thrown himself at her feet, and kissed the hem of her garment. She did not speak; she did not move. The tears of wounded pride fell hot and fast. He waited awhile, longing for her to say something, even a taunt, to which he might reply. But she was silent. He took up his hat.
'One word more. You look as if you thought it tainted you to be loved by me. You cannot avoid it. Nay, I, if I would, cannot cleanse you from it. But I would not, if I could. I have never loved any woman before: my life has been too busy, my thoughts too much absorbed with other things. Now I love, and will love. But do not be afraid of too much expression on my part.'
'I am not afraid,' she replied, lifting herself straight up. 'No one yet has ever dared to be impertinent to me, and no one ever shall. But, Mr. Thornton, you have been very kind to my father,' said she, changing her whole tone and bearing to a most womanly softness. 'Don't let us go on making each other angry. Pray don't!' He took no notice of her words: he occupied himself in smoothing the nap of his hat with his coat-sleeve, for half a minute or so; and then, rejecting her offered hand, and making as if he did not see her grave look of regret, he turned abruptly away, and left the room. Margaret caught one glance at his face before he went.
When he was gone, she thought she had seen the gleam of unshed tears in his eyes; and that turned her proud dislike into something different and kinder, if nearly as painful—self-reproach for having caused such mortification to any one.
'But how could I help it?' asked she of herself. 'I never liked him. I was civil; but I took no trouble to conceal my indifference. Indeed, I never thought about myself or him, so my manners must have shown the truth. All that yesterday, he might mistake. But that is his fault, not mine. I would do it again, if need were, though it does lead me into all this shame and trouble.' (194-6)
I do love, love, love Mr. Thornton.

Margaret can't forget the proposal as easily as she'd like:
For, although at first it had struck her, that his offer was forced and goaded out of him by sharp compassion for the exposure she had made of herself,—which he, like others, might misunderstand—yet, even before he left the room,—and certainly, not five minutes after, the clear conviction dawned upon her, shined bright upon her, that he did love her; that he had loved her; that he would love her. And she shrank and shuddered as under the fascination of some great power, repugnant to her whole previous life. She crept away, and hid from his idea. (197)
Awkward and emotional scene between two mothers...
'Margaret—you have a daughter—my sister is in Italy. My child will be without a mother;—in a strange place,—if I die—will you'——
And her filmy wandering eyes fixed themselves with an intensity of wistfulness on Mrs. Thornton's face. For a minute, there was no change in its rigidness; it was stern and unmoved;—nay, but that the eyes of the sick woman were growing dim with the slow-gathering tears, she might have seen a dark cloud cross the cold features. And it was no thought of her son, or of her living daughter Fanny, that stirred her heart at last; but a sudden remembrance, suggested by something in the arrangement of the room,—of a little daughter—dead in infancy—long years ago—that, like a sudden sunbeam, melted the icy crust, behind which there was a real tender woman.
'You wish me to be a friend to Miss Hale,' said Mrs. Thornton, in her measured voice, that would not soften with her heart, but came out distinct and clear.
Mrs. Hale, her eyes still fixed on Mrs. Thornton's face, pressed the hand that lay below hers on the coverlet. She could not speak. Mrs. Thornton sighed, 'I will be a true friend, if circumstances require it. Not a tender friend. That I cannot be,'—('to her,' she was on the point of adding, but she relented at the sight of that poor, anxious face.)—'It is not my nature to show affection even where I feel it, nor do I volunteer advice in general. Still, at your request,—if it will be any comfort to you, I will promise you.' Then came a pause. Mrs. Thornton was too conscientious to promise what she did not mean to perform; and to perform any-thing in the way of kindness on behalf of Margaret, more disliked at this moment than ever, was difficult; almost impossible.
'I promise,' said she, with grave severity; which, after all, inspired the dying woman with faith as in something more stable than life itself,—flickering, flitting, wavering life! 'I promise that in any difficulty in which Miss Hale'——
'Call her Margaret!' gasped Mrs. Hale.
'In which she comes to me for help, I will help her with every power I have, as if she were my own daughter. I also promise that if ever I see her doing what I think is wrong'——
'But Margaret never does wrong—not wilfully wrong,' pleaded Mrs. Hale. Mrs. Thornton went on as before; as if she had not heard:
'If ever I see her doing what I believe to be wrong—such wrong not touching me or mine, in which case I might be supposed to have an interested motive—I will tell her of it, faithfully and plainly, as I should wish my own daughter to be told.'
There was a long pause. Mrs. Hale felt that this promise did not include all; and yet it was much. It had reservations in it which she did not understand; but then she was weak, dizzy, and tired. Mrs. Thornton was reviewing all the probable cases in which she had pledged herself to act. She had a fierce pleasure in the idea of telling Margaret unwelcome truths, in the shape of performance of duty. Mrs. Hale began to speak:
'I thank you. I pray God to bless you. I shall never see you again in this world. But my last words are, I thank you for your promise of kindness to my child.'
'Not kindness!' testified Mrs. Thornton, ungraciously truthful to the last. But having eased her conscience by saying these words, she was not sorry that they were not heard. She pressed Mrs. Hale's soft languid hand; and rose up and went her way out of the house without seeing a creature. (241)
Oh, Margaret! And it's just getting started!
'There have been such strange unexpected changes in my life during these last two years, that I feel more than ever that it is not worth while to calculate too closely what I should do if any future event took place. I try to think only upon the present.' (263)
Mr. Thornton and Mr. Hale bond...
Whatever was the reason, he could unburden himself better to Mr. Thornton than to her of all the thoughts and fancies and fears that had been frost-bound in his brain till now. Mr. Thornton said very little; but every sentence he uttered added to Mr. Hale's reliance and regard for him. Was it that he paused in the expression of some remembered agony, Mr. Thornton's two or three words would complete the sentence, and show how deeply its meaning was entered into. Was it a doubt—a fear—a wandering uncertainty seeking rest, but finding none—so tear-blinded were its eyes—Mr. Thornton, instead of being shocked, seemed to have passed through that very stage of thought himself, and could suggest where the exact ray of light was to be found, which should make the dark places plain. Man of action as he was, busy in the world's great battle, there was a deeper religion binding him to God in his heart, in spite of his strong wilfulness, through all his mistakes, than Mr. Hale had ever dreamed. They never spoke of such things again, as it happened; but this one conversation made them peculiar people to each other; knit them together, in a way which no loose indiscriminate talking about sacred things can ever accomplish. (276)
And his love endures as he saves Margaret from scandal or at the very least embarrassment:
'There will be no inquest. Medical evidence not sufficient to justify it. Take no further steps. I have not seen the coroner; but I will take the responsibility.' (280)
Is it this that acts as a catalyst for Margaret's heart? Not his saving her. No, she's embarrassed that he had to save her. She's anxious that she'll never get a chance to explain her side. She fears that he will never look at her the same way again. That she'll always be tainted...

Margaret is not the only one tortured...
It was this that made the misery—that he passionately loved her, and thought her, even with all her faults, more lovely and more excellent than any other woman; yet he deemed her so attached to some other man, so led away by her affection for him as to violate her truthful nature. The very falsehood that stained her, was a proof how blindly she loved another—this dark, slight, elegant, handsome man—while he himself was rough, and stern, and strongly made. He lashed himself into an agony of fierce jealousy. He thought of that look, that attitude!—how he would have laid his life at her feet for such tender glances, such fond detention! He mocked at himself, for having valued the mechanical way in which she had protected him from the fury of the mob; now he had seen how soft and bewitching she looked when with a man she really loved. He remembered, point by point, the sharpness of her words—'There was not a man in all that crowd for whom she would not have done as much, far more readily than for him.' He shared with the mob, in her desire of averting bloodshed from them; but this man, this hidden lover, shared with nobody; he had looks, words, hand-cleavings, lies, concealment, all to himself. Mr. Thornton was conscious that he had never been so irritable as he was now, in all his life long; he felt inclined to give a short abrupt answer, more like a bark than a speech, to every one that asked him a question; and this consciousness hurt his pride: he had always piqued himself on his self-control, and control himself he would. (310)
I love the fact that Mr. Thornton and Nicholas Higgins are brought together, in a way, by Margaret.
He came to tell Higgins he would give him work; and he was more annoyed to find Margaret there than by hearing her last words, for then he understood that she was the woman who had urged Higgins to come to him; and he dreaded the admission of any thought of her, as a motive to what he was doing solely because it was right.
'So that was the lady you spoke of as a woman?' said he indignantly to Higgins. 'You might have told me who she was.
'And then, maybe, yo'd ha' spoken of her more civil than yo' did; yo'd getten a mother who might ha' kept yo'r tongue in check when yo' were talking o' women being at the root o' all the plagues.'
'Of course you told that to Miss Hale?'
'In coorse I did. Leastways, I reckon I did. I telled her she weren't to meddle again in aught that concerned yo'.'
'Whose children are those—yours?' Mr. Thornton had a pretty good notion whose they were, from what he had heard; but he felt awkward in turning the conversation round from this unpromising beginning.
'They're not mine, and they are mine.'
'They are the children you spoke of to me this morning?'
'When yo' said,' replied Higgins, turning round, with ill-smothered fierceness, 'that my story might be true or might not, bur it were a very unlikely one. Measter, I've not forgetten.'
Mr. Thornton was silent for a moment; then he said: 'No more have I. I remember what I said. I spoke to you about those children in a way I had no business to do. I did not believe you. I could not have taken care of another man's children myself, if he had acted towards me as I hear Boucher did towards you. But I know now that you spoke truth. I beg your pardon.'
Higgins did not turn round, or immediately respond to this. But when he did speak, it was in a softened tone, although the words were gruff enough.
'Yo've no business to go prying into what happened between Boucher and me. He's dead, and I'm sorry. That's enough.'
'So it is. Will you take work with me? That's what I came to ask.'
Higgins's obstinacy wavered, recovered strength, and stood firm. He would not speak. Mr. Thornton would not ask again. Higgins's eye fell on the children.
'Yo've called me impudent, and a liar, and a mischief-maker, and yo' might ha' said wi' some truth, as I were now and then given to drink. An' I ha' called you a tyrant, an' an oud bull-dog, and a hard, cruel master; that's where it stands. But for th' childer. Measter, do yo' think we can e'er get on together?'
'Well!' said Mr. Thornton, half-laughing, 'it was not my proposal that we should go together. But there's one comfort, on your own showing. We neither of us can think much worse of the other than we do now.'
'That's true,' said Higgins, reflectively. 'I've been thinking, ever sin' I saw you, what a marcy it were yo' did na take me on, for that I ne'er saw a man whom I could less abide. But that's maybe been a hasty judgment; and work's work to such as me. So, measter, I'll come; and what's more, I thank yo'; and that's a deal fro' me,' said he, more frankly, suddenly turning round and facing Mr. Thornton fully for the first time.
'And this is a deal from me,' said Mr. Thornton, giving Higgins's hand a good grip. 'Now mind you come sharp to your time,' continued he, resuming the master. 'I'll have no laggards at my mill. What fines we have, we keep pretty sharply. And the first time I catch you making mischief, off you go. So now you know where you are.' (325-6)
A scene with potential...
'Higgins did not quite tell you the exact truth.' The word 'truth,' reminded her of her own untruth, and she stopped short, feeling exceedingly uncomfortable.
Mr. Thornton at first was puzzled to account for her silence; and then he remembered the lie she had told, and all that was foregone. 'The exact truth!' said he. 'Very few people do speak the exact truth. I have given up hoping for it. Miss Hale, have you no explanation to give me? You must perceive what I cannot but think.'
Margaret was silent. She was wondering whether an explanation of any kind would be consistent with her loyalty to Frederick.
'Nay,' said he, 'I will ask no farther. I may be putting temptation in your way. At present, believe me, your secret is safe with me. But you run great risks, allow me to say, in being so indiscreet. I am now only speaking as a friend of your father's: if I had any other thought or hope, of course that is at an end. I am quite disinterested.'
'I am aware of that,' said Margaret, forcing herself to speak in an indifferent, careless way. 'I am aware of what I must appear to you, but the secret is another person's, and I cannot explain it without doing him harm.'
'I have not the slightest wish to pry into the gentleman's secrets,' he said, with growing anger. 'My own interest in you is—simply that of a friend. You may not believe me, Miss Hale, but it is—in spite of the persecution I'm afraid I threatened you with at one time—but that is all given up; all passed away. You believe me, Miss Hale?'
'Yes,' said Margaret, quietly and sadly. (327-8)
And Mr. Bell speaks GREAT TRUTH...
'Hale! did it ever strike you that Thornton and your daughter have what the French call a tendresse for each other?'
'Never!' said Mr. Hale, first startled and then flurried by the new idea. 'No, I am sure you are wrong. I am almost certain you are mistaken. If there is anything, it is all on Mr. Thornton's side. Poor fellow! I hope and trust he is not thinking of her, for I am sure she would not have him.'
'Well! I'm a bachelor, and have steered clear of love affairs all my life; so perhaps my opinion is not worth having. Or else I should say there were very pretty symptoms about her!'
'Then I am sure you are wrong,' said Mr. Hale. 'He may care for her, though she really has been almost rude to him at times. But she!—why, Margaret would never think of him, I'm sure! Such a thing has never entered her head.'
'Entering her heart would do. But I merely threw out a suggestion of what might be. I dare say I was wrong. And whether I was wrong or right, I'm very sleepy; so, having disturbed your night's rest (as I can see) with my untimely fancies, I'll betake myself with an easy mind to my own.'
But Mr. Hale resolved that he would not be disturbed by any such nonsensical idea; so he lay awake, determining not to think about it.
Mr. Bell took his leave the next day, bidding Margaret look to him as one who had a right to help and protect her in all her troubles, of whatever nature they might be. To Mr. Hale he said,—
'That Margaret of yours has gone deep into my heart. Take care of her, for she is a very precious creature,—a great deal too good for Milton,—only fit for Oxford, in fact. The town, I mean; not the men. I can't match her yet. When I can, I shall bring my young man to stand side by side with your young woman, just as the genie in the Arabian Nights brought Prince Caralmazan to match with the fairy's Princess Badoura.'
'I beg you'll do no such thing. Remember the misfortunes that ensued; and besides, I can't spare Margaret.' (337)
Of course, it takes Margaret and John a bit more time--the novel is 436 pages--to be honest with each other about their feelings! The closing scenes of the book and movie are quite different from one another!

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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6. Way Back Wednesday Essential Classic: Goldilocks and the Three Bears by James Marshall

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7. Duke's Children (1880)

The Duke's Children. Anthony Trollope. 1880. 560 pages. [Source: Book I Bought]

It is always bittersweet for me as a reader to come to the end of a series. There is always a sense of satisfaction, but, also usually some sadness to say goodbye as well. The Palliser series by Anthony Trollope has been interesting. I've loved some books very much, others not quite as much. But overall, it's just been a joy to spend so much of this year with Trollope. Previous titles include Can You Forgive Her?, Phineas Finn, The Eustace Diamonds, Phineas Redux, and The Prime Minister.

The Duke's Children is essentially a novel about relationships, about falling in and out of love, about accepting loved one's choices.

Plantagenet Palliser, current Duke of Omnium, has three grown--or nearly grown--children. His oldest son (Lord Silverbridge) and his oldest daughter (Lady Mary) are proving to be difficult to handle.

Lady Mary has fallen madly in love with a man whom her father judges to be unworthy or unacceptable. His name is Frank Tregear. He happens, of course, to be good, good friends with Lord Silverbridge.

Lord Silverbridge was courting a cousin of Tregear's, a young woman, Lady Mabel Grex. He told his father that he was planning on proposing to her very soon. She was expecting his proposal, and she was going to say yes. But that was before Lord Silverbridge met the American heiress, Isabel Boncassen, of course, she was oh-so-beautiful. After that, it was Mabel, who? Does the reader pity Mabel? Should the reader pity Mabel? I haven't decided WHAT Trollope really intended us all to think...if anything.

Mabel's heart belongs not to Lord Silverbridge, though, she knows they'd be pleasant enough companions and suit together well. No, Mabel's heart belongs to Frank Tregear. She loved him; he loved her. They both knew that being together was insensible. Both being poor and all. But she NEVER expected him to turn around and fall madly in love with someone else so very, very soon. She was so sure that he felt just as strongly about her. How could he stop loving her and start loving someone else so quickly?! And when Lord Silverbridge seems to do the exact same, well, let's just say that Mabel gets VERY VERY angry.

Will the Duke give his approval to his daughter, Lady Mary? Will he try to make her marry someone more suitable? Who has the stronger will? Will he persuade her that Frank is not the one and that, of course, she should marry someone with a title and lots of money? Or will she persuade him that Frank is the ONLY one who could ever make her happy?

Will the Duke give his approval to his son, Lord Silverbridge? Will he cover all his son's debts and forgive him all his foolish mistakes? Will he accept his son's choice of bride? Or will he argue the case for Mabel?

I definitely loved this one. I never find Trollope boring. Sometimes I find him more interesting than other times. But I care about the characters and always want to know how things will turn out.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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8. Way Back Wednesday Essential Classic Video: When I was Young in the Mountains by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Diane Goode

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9. My Year with Jane: Emma (1815)

Emma. Jane Austen. 1815. 544 pages.
Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her. She was the youngest of the two daughters of a most affectionate, indulgent father; and had, in consequence of her sister’s marriage, been mistress of his house from a very early period. Her mother had died too long ago for her to have more than an indistinct remembrance of her caresses; and her place had been supplied by an excellent woman as governess, who had fallen little short of a mother in affection.
Did I like Emma more the second time around? That would be a definite yes. Is Emma my new favorite Austen? Of course not! Emma is still Emma. She'll never be a heroine that I love and adore. But have I learned to appreciate her? I think so. At least to a certain extent. There must be something about her if Mr. Knightley loves her so much. I trust Mr. Knightley. He's one big reason why I think Emma will always be worth reading and rereading.

The plot: Emma and her father are "mourning" the loss of Miss Taylor who married Mr. Weston. Emma doesn't have anyone exactly her equal in terms of social status, so she bends a bit and befriends Harriet. When the novel opens, Harriet and Mr. Martin are on the way to making a match. Emma sees Harriet as potentially being her equal and staying her equal--if she marries well, marries above her current status. Emma sees Harriet as being desperately in need of saving. Harriet becomes her project. Find a husband for Harriet, she will! Who is in need of a wife? Well, there's Mr. Elton. He's available, of course. Wouldn't it be splendid if those two got together?! The problem, as you might be aware, is that Mr. Elton has a wife in mind, and that wife is so not Harriet...

Meanwhile, Mr. and Mrs. Weston are hoping that Frank Churchill, Mr. Weston's son from his first marriage, will come to visit as he promised. There's always an excuse, a good excuse, or at least a valid excuse. When Frank does come to the community, well, expect trouble.

Oh, how I HATE HATE HATE Frank Churchill. Even if I try to stretch myself and see it from his point of view, I can't find my way to justifying ANYTHING he says and does before he is found out.

It was interesting to be reading Emma while watching the series  Emma Approved. I am a big, big Emma Approved fan, and, I must admit it was fun to go back to the original.

Have you read Emma? Do you have a favorite adaptation? What do you think of Clueless and Emma Approved?

The real evils, indeed, of Emma’s situation were the power of having rather too much her own way, and a disposition to think a little too well of herself; these were the disadvantages which threatened alloy to her many enjoyments. The danger, however, was at present so unperceived, that they did not by any means rank as misfortunes with her.
Mr. Knightley, in fact, was one of the few people who could see faults in Emma Woodhouse, and the only one who ever told her of them: and though this was not particularly agreeable to Emma herself, she knew it would be so much less so to her father, that she would not have him really suspect such a circumstance as her not being thought perfect by every body.
“Emma has been meaning to read more ever since she was twelve years old. I have seen a great many lists of her drawing-up at various times of books that she meant to read regularly through — and very good lists they were — very well chosen, and very neatly arranged — sometimes alphabetically, and sometimes by some other rule. The list she drew up when only fourteen — I remember thinking it did her judgment so much credit, that I preserved it some time; and I dare say she may have made out a very good list now. But I have done with expecting any course of steady reading from Emma. She will never submit to any thing requiring industry and patience, and a subjection of the fancy to the understanding. Where Miss Taylor failed to stimulate, I may safely affirm that Harriet Smith will do nothing. — You never could persuade her to read half so much as you wished. — You know you could not.”
A poet in love must be encouraged in both capacities, or neither.
Were I to fall in love, indeed, it would be a different thing! but I never have been in love; it is not my way, or my nature; and I do not think I ever shall. And, without love, I am sure I should be a fool to change such a situation as mine. Fortune I do not want; employment I do not want; consequence I do not want: I believe few married women are half as much mistress of their husband’s house as I am of Hartfield; and never, never could I expect to be so truly beloved and important; so always first and always right in any man’s eyes as I am in my father’s.
There are people, who the more you do for them, the less they will do for themselves.
It is very unfair to judge of any body’s conduct, without an intimate knowledge of their situation.
Nobody, who has not been in the interior of a family, can say what the difficulties of any individual of that family may be.
Wickedness is always wickedness, but folly is not always folly.
Emma continued to entertain no doubt of her being in love. Her ideas only varied as to the how much.
A vast deal may be done by those who dare to act.
How long had Mr. Knightley been so dear to her, as every feeling declared him now to be? When had his influence, such influence begun? — When had he succeeded to that place in her affection, which Frank Churchill had once, for a short period, occupied? — She looked back; she compared the two — compared them, as they had always stood in her estimation, from the time of the latter’s becoming known to her — and as they must at any time have been compared by her, had it — oh! had it, by any blessed felicity, occurred to her, to institute the comparison. — She saw that there never had been a time when she did not consider Mr. Knightley as infinitely the superior, or when his regard for her had not been infinitely the most dear. She saw, that in persuading herself, in fancying, in acting to the contrary, she had been entirely under a delusion, totally ignorant of her own heart — and, in short, that she had never really cared for Frank Churchill at all!
If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more. But you know what I am. — You hear nothing but truth from me. — I have blamed you, and lectured you, and you have borne it as no other woman in England would have borne it. — Bear with the truths I would tell you now, dearest Emma, as well as you have borne with them. The manner, perhaps, may have as little to recommend them. God knows, I have been a very indifferent lover. — But you understand me. — Yes, you see, you understand my feelings — and will return them if you can. At present, I ask only to hear, once to hear your voice.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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10. Do you know Jenny Linsky?

The School for Cats. Esther Averill. 1947/2005. New York Review Children's Collection. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

The School for Cats was originally published in 1947. It is part of a larger series of books starring the (black) cat Jenny Linsky and her friends. The School of Cats is not the first in the series, but, it is the first in the series that my library actually had. In this "Jenny's Cat Club" book, readers meet Jenny as she leaves her home in Greenwich Village to attend school in the country. She is very, very, very unsure about the whole school thing. But her master, Captain Tinker, wants her "to study cat lore in the country." There is definitely something of an adventure in this one when Jenny runs away from school. But it also contains a lesson on friendship and adapting to new situations.

I enjoyed this one. I look forward to reading others in the series.

Jenny's Moonlight Adventure. Esther Averill. 1949/2005. New York Review Children's Collection. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

Jenny's Moonlight Adventure was originally published in 1949. It is part of a larger series of books starring Jenny and her friends. I did not like this book as well as The School for Cats. It is a Halloween adventure. Jenny must prove how brave she is both for herself and for her friends. She reluctantly accepts a job that only she can do. She is to carry a nose flute to a sick friend (another cat, of course). The job is "dangerous" because it requires her to be brave and clever enough to get past several unfriendly neighborhood dogs.

For readers who celebrate Halloween, this one might prove charming.

Jenny Goes to Sea. Esther Averill. 1957/2005. New York Review Children's Collection. 140 pages. [Source: Library]

Of the Jenny Linsky books I've read so far, Jenny Goes to Sea is probably my favorite. In this chapter book originally published in 1957, Jenny Linsky and her two brothers, Edward and Checkers, travel the world with their owner, Captain Tinker. These three cats become very good friends with Jack Tar, the ship's cat. These three leave the ship in company with Jack Tar at many of the ports including Capetown, Zanzibar, Singapore, and Bangkok. Adventures come oh-so-naturally.

I definitely recommend this series to cat lovers of all ages.

Jenny and the Cat Club: A Collection of Favorite Stories About Jenny Linsky. Esther Averill. 1973/2003. New York Review Children's Collection. 176 pages. [Source: Library]

Jenny and the Cat Club features five stories by Esther Averill. These were originally published in 1944, 1948, 1951, 1952, and 1953. The stories are: "The Cat Club," "Jenny's First Party," "When Jenny Lost Her Scarf," "Jenny's Adopted Brothers," and "How the Brothers Joined the Cat Club."

The Cat Club introduces readers to Jenny Linsky, a "shy little black cat" from New York City. Readers meet Jenny and her owner Captain Tinker. In this adventure, Jenny receives her signature red scarf, a present from her owner who happens to knit. This red scarf helps Jenny gain enough confidence to talk to other cats in the neighborhood. In this one, readers learn about the neighborhood cat club, they are briefly introduced to the other cats, and they learn that members of the cat club must be special.

Jenny's First Party is a story focusing on Jenny and her friend Pickles (the fire cat) teaming up and strolling the neighborhood. Both are looking for fun, fun, fun. But neither have money. (What cat has money?!) They stumble upon a groovy party and a great time is had by all. Readers learn that Jenny can dance a happy little sailor's hornpipe dance.

"When Jenny Loses Her Scarf" is about when Jenny's beloved red scarf was stolen by a dog. The dog, Rob the Robber, refuses to give it back. Jenny seeks help from Pickles the fire cat. Pickles is just the one to help her, it turns out, for justice is dealt out after all. The dog's hangout catches on fire! Pickles retrieves the scarf as he's putting out the fire.

"Jenny's Adopted Brothers" is about when Jenny meets two stray cats: Checkers and Edward. Checkers, readers learn, retrieves things. Edward, we learn, is a poet. Jenny meets these two, feels sorry for them, and introduces them to Captain Tinker. When these two are adopted by the Captain, Jenny feels very jealous! Will having two other cats in the house prove too much?!

"How The Brothers Joined the Cat Club" is obviously about when Edward and Checkers join the club. Jenny is hesitant to include her two new brothers at first. After all, she likes the idea that the club could remain her own little secret and her way to get away from them. But. Being the good little cat that she is, Jenny soon realizes that she could never really keep her brothers from missing out on the awesomeness of the cat club. She helps them discover their talents and introduces them to all her friends.

I liked this one. I did. I like meeting Jenny and the other cats.

The Hotel Cat. Esther Averill. 1969/2005. New York Review Children's Collection. 180 pages. [Source: Library]

The Hotel Cat is an enjoyable children's novel by Esther Averill. It was originally published in 1969.

The Hotel Cat stars a cat named Tom. He lives at the Royal Hotel, an eight-story building in New York. It is on the older side. And the hotel isn't doing the best business. But all that happens to change during the novel. Tom who is used to having the place to himself, for the most part, at least in terms of CATS ON THE PLACE discovers that there are cats there with their owners. The first few cats he meets he is rude, very rude. But after Tom's owner, Mrs. Wilkins, talks to him, he decides to be more gracious and welcoming. It isn't long before he meets three cats: Jenny, Edward, and Checkers. And those aren't the only cats from the cat club he happens to meet. A difficult winter has resulted in a lot of broken boilers and frustrated cat-owning homeowners are staying at the Royal Hotel. How convenient!

Tom learns a lot about making and keeping friends in The Hotel Cat.

I liked this one.

Captains of the City Streets. Esther Averill. 1972/2005. New York Review Children's Collection. 164 pages. [Source: Library]

Captains of the City Streets is a children's novel by Esther Averill originally published in 1972. Two cats star in Captains of the City Street. In this one, the author provides the back story for two cats who have been a part of essentially the whole series. Sinbad and The Duke. These two stray cats are best buddies. They haven't been "owned" by a human in what seems like a very long time by cat reckoning. They are street cats, traveling cats, going from city to city to city, seeing all there is to see, always seeking handouts, but never becoming dependent on any one human. The two travel to "old New York." They are looking for a place of their own, a safe place to stay. They find it. They also find one old man who dependably gives them food day after day on their own terms. He comes and goes leaving the food, never trying to approach the cats, never pushing a relationship. The two cats slowly but surely decide that maybe just maybe humans aren't all that bad. That is when they stumble upon the Cat Club. They learn that the kind human is Captain Tinker. The first cat they befriend is Macaroni. The two are invited to join the Cat Club, but, are hesitant. Do they want to stick around that long? Do they want the responsibility?

I liked meeting Sinbad and Duke. The stories that focus on Jenny certainly mention these two quite a bit, but, this is the first time that readers really learn about these two in detail. It is a fun book.

Jenny's Birthday Book. Esther Averill. 1954/2005. New York Review Children's Collection. 44 pages. [Source: Library]

Jenny's Birthday Book by Esther Averill was originally published in 1954. In this cat club book, Jenny Linsky, our star cat, our shy little black cat with the red scarf, has a special birthday with all of her friends whom we've met through the series. Pickles. Sinbad and The Duke. Florio. To name just a few. It is a lovely birthday. The book itself is sweet, simple, and charming. Especially if you like cats and vintage picture books. I think my favorite illustration is of all the cats dancing the Sailor's Hornpipe in the park.

The Fire Cat. Esther Averill. 1960/1983. HarperCollins. 64 pages. [Source: Own]

I enjoyed revisiting The Fire Cat by Esther Averill. I read this one many times as a child. But I had no idea it was part of a larger series of books, the Cat Club series by Esther Averill. The Fire Cat does not star Jenny Linsky. It stars Pickles. Pickles has been a delightful character in almost all of the other books in the series. He is probably one of Jenny's best best friends. In the Fire Cat, readers learn more about Pickles. Was he always a fire cat? Of course not! There was a time he was a hopeless cat that was a little bit bad and a little bit good. One of the firemen takes an interest in him and takes him to the fire station. He is hoping that the chief will allow Pickles to stay. Pickles most definitely wants to stay. He wants to prove himself worthy, so he decides to learn by example. He learns to slide down the pole, for example, he learns how to work a hose. The fire chief is definitely charmed, I imagine cat-loving readers are just as charmed. I certainly was! The Fire Cat is a feel-good read. Readers see Pickles transform from a slightly-naughty homeless cat to a brave and dutiful fire cat. He learns responsibility and compassion. Overall, it's just a good story.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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11. Way Back Wednesday Essential Classic: Bambino the Clown

Bambino the Clown

by George Schreiber


There is a very fine dividing line that I have discovered on opinions surrounding the subject of CLOWNS. And the line is crystal clear, as it seems there IS no middle ground. You either love them or fear them. So imagine my surprise when I found a Caldecott Honor book from 1948 that will let YOU make up your mind from a SAFE distance. I must recuse myself from this debate as I fell in love with Bambino! And whether after reading it, you too fall in love, in LIKE or still run screaming into the night, you will have shared with your young reader a beautiful narrative on what it takes to be understood in this world – a listening ear, time and compassion. Bambino has all three virtues in equal amounts. And it does help if you also have as a pet a black Sea Lion called Flapper and a sense of humor!

When I read these wonderful vintage Caldecott classics, I often wonder to myself, “Where are these authors now?” “Are they still living?” Do they realize the effect their picture book are STILL having on readers, as in the case of Bambino, some 66 years after its printing? Sometimes I DO look them up online to see where they are and the specifics of their careers as writers. And in the case of George Schreiber, it started me down an offshoot of my original intent on a review of his book.

What sidetracked me was the discovery of something George Schreiber and many other artists were part of in the years of the Great Depression and even into World War II. Have you ever heard of the Federal Arts Project? Well, neither had I. It was an arm of the WPA or Works Progress Administration, begun by Franklin Roosevelt in his New Deal effort to get the country moving again economically. Started in 1935 and ending in 1943, it gave artists such as Jackson Pollock, Thomas Hart Benton, George Schreiber and hundreds of other artists an opportunity to do posters, murals and paintings that wound up hanging in schools, hospitals and libraries. The Federal Arts Project provided artists with income and an opportunity to display their work. And the public had a chance to see great art at a time when the soul-feeding jolt that the arts provide was sorely needed. George Schreiber enrolled in the WPA Arts Project in 1936 and over the next three years he traveled all 48 states (yes, only 48 at that time!), creating lithographs of American Regionalist imagery. A link to a sample of that imagery is provided below.

Museum collections representing Mr. Schreiber’s work include The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Brooklyn Museum, The Whitney Museum of American Art and The Museum of the City of New York. I always am excited to see young picture book readers experience great art ALONG with a great story. It lets them see and remember at a young age what “great” is, as opposed to “mediocre!”

At his death in 1977, George Schreiber who was not ONLY an artist but also a war correspondent in World War II AND poster designer was part of a NYC WPA Artists exhibit at Parsons School of Design. He was also a noted lithographer, teacher and writer. And so, we come full circle back to his book on the little clown, Bambino.

Take a look with your young reader at some great art by George Schreiber and the charming story of his invention, Bambino the Clown, a Caldecott Honor book of 1948. This clown and the art that brings him alive is a story in itself that shows young readers what “good” art really looks like! Thank you Mr. Schreiber!! You made me smile! For as Bambino reminds his young friend, Peter, as he confides to him what it means to be a clown, “Now you know how to be a clown; you must remember it means just one thing: “To laugh and make everybody happy!”




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12. Organized Religion and Picture Books

Religion As a Theme in Picture Books


I read a blog recently that set me wondering and I may be touching a very sensitive “third rail” topic, but here goes. The article mentioned the scarcity of recently published great children’s picture books that have religion as a theme. At the same time I’m reflecting on this, I also read an Op-Ed piece in a New York newspaper written by Naomi Schaefer Riley giving reasons why 20-30 year olds are NOT interested in organized religion. Seems they are marrying later and thus are delaying having children, which for some, is the portal to return to religion, coupled with their mistrust of institutions and a societal stigma that no longer exists, of a lack of affiliation with an organized religion.

Ms. Riley cited in her piece a Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released in 2012 that found that fully one-third of young people under 30 had no religious affiliation as compared with 9% of those over 65. What changed in thinking between the Greatest Generation, Baby Boomers and the Gen X and Millennial generations? Maybe it’s a question worth asking.

How does ALL of this relate to the picture book? I started going back in time to take a glance at the Caldecott Award and Honor Books given to the best picture books of a given year. I started from 1938 when the Caldecott began to see if religion popped up in these awards with any frequency and, going forward, if a pattern emerged. And I think it did. Maybe it has to do with the age old question: Does art merely reflect what is going on in society or does it, in fact, in some ways shape it? Here are but a few of the titles of winners I found and the years they won. Interestingly enough the list sort of gave my curious question a nod, as the very FIRST Caldecott winner in 1938 was called Animals of the Bible, A Picture Book, illustrated by Dorothy P. Lathrop; text: selected by Helen Dean Fish. And here are some others I noted along the way:


1941 Honor Book

The Ageless Story. By Lauren Ford


1944 Honor Book

Small Rain: Verses from the Bible. Illustrations by Elizabeth Orton Jones; text selected by Jessie Orton Jones


1945 Caldecott Winner

Prayers for a Child. Illustrated by Elizabeth Orton Jones; text: Rachel Field

Honor Book

The Christmas Anna Angel. Illustrated by Kate Seredy; text: Ruth Sawyer


1947 Honor Book

Sing in Praise: A Collection of the Best Loved Hymns; illustrated by Marjorie Torrey; text selected by Opal Wheeler


1960 Caldecott Winner

Nine Days to Christmas; illustrated by Marie Hall Ets; text: Marie Hall Ets and Aurora Labastida


1961 Caldecott Winner

Baboushka and the Three Kings, illustrated by Nicholas Sidjakov; text: Ruth Robbins


1977 Honor Book

The Golem: A Jewish Legend by Beverly Brodsky McDermott


1978 Caldecott Winner

Noah’s Ark by Peter Spier


1985 Caldecott Winner

St. George and the Dragon, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman; text: retold by Margaret


1990 Honor Book

Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman; Text by Eric Kimmel


1997 Caldecott Winner

Golem by David Wisniewski


2003 Honor Book

Noah’s Ark by Jerry Pinkney

Introducing the concept of religion has always been a very sensitive topic for parents, and I fully realize and respect that fact. But I also want to emphasize that children’s literature has historically been used as a vehicle and subject area to introduce religion to those children whose parents do find it helpful. Its use has always, and should be, solely at the discretion of their parents.

But what if parents have difficulty finding wonderful picture books to help them in the area of introducing religion to their child? What then? And why should it be so? As I mentioned before, I think it’s a question worth asking.

I’ve found an article for parents as they wrestle with this question and have provided a reference to it. It can be used as a jumping off spot for those of you out there who are interested in picture books where religion and related topics such as God, prayer, heaven, angels etc. are a theme.

I think it may prove helpful to have a little aid, divine or not, when the topic of religion arises in your picture book age child’s life:  Wicks, Don A., Darin Freeburg, and Doug Goldsmith. “Depictions of Religion in Children’s Picture Books.” Journal of Childhood and Religion Volume 4.3 (2013).



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13. A Tree Grows In Brooklyn (1943)

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Betty Smith. 1943/2006. HarperCollins. 496 pages. [Source: Bought]

Oh how I loved Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Readers get the chance to get to know Francie, the heroine, her brother, Neeley, her mother, Katie, her father, Johnny, her aunts, Sissy and Evy, and her grandmother, Mary Rommely. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is set circa 1910-1918 in Brooklyn, New York; it is very much a coming-of-age novel focusing on Francie, yet expanding to include several generations of her family. The book has a good number of flashbacks letting readers get to know all the members of the family before getting good and settled in Francie's life. It is a book that embraces ALL of life: the big things, the little things: no matter how ugly or beautiful. Truth does not equal beauty as Francie learns. I loved Francie's passion for living. I loved her observations.

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn is rich in detail AND rich in characterization. It is not a fast-paced action, adventure novel. It is a character-driven, family-focused historical novel. It doesn't try to make people better than they are. It is realistic and honest. The characters are very human, very fallible. One of the themes is in fact being true and honest. Francie has a confrontation with an English teacher. The teacher is trying to shame Francie into writing only about the beautiful, precious things of life. Sunsets. Stars. Flowers. She has been writing about her life, about her father, about her childhood. Her teacher tells her to go home and burn these writings and say "this is ugliness, this is ugliness, this is ugliness." Francie finally submits enough to be able to end the conversation and leave the room, but she's holding strong to who she is and where she comes from.

It is a beautifully written novel. It is very quotable.
The one tree in Francie’s yard was neither a pine nor a hemlock. It had pointed leaves which grew along green switches which radiated from the bough and made a tree which looked like a lot of opened green umbrellas. Some people called it the Tree of Heaven. No matter where its seed fell, it made a tree which struggled to reach the sky. It grew in boarded-up lots and out of neglected rubbish heaps and it was the only tree that grew out of cement. It grew lushly, but only in the tenements districts.
An eleven-year-old girl sitting on this fire escape could imagine that she was living in a tree. That’s what Francie imagined every Saturday afternoon in summer.
THE LIBRARY WAS A LITTLE OLD SHABBY PLACE. FRANCIE THOUGHT it was beautiful. The feeling she had about it was as good as the feeling she had about church. She pushed open the door and went in. She liked the combined smell of worn leather bindings, library paste and freshly inked stamping pads better than she liked the smell of burning incense at high mass.
Francie thought that all the books in the world were in that library and she had a plan about reading all the books in the world. She was reading a book a day in alphabetical order and not skipping the dry ones.
“Mother, I am young. Mother, I am just eighteen. I am strong. I will work hard, Mother. But I do not want this child to grow up just to work hard. What must I do, Mother, what must I do to make a different world for her? How do I start?” “The secret lies in the reading and the writing. You are able to read. Every day you must read one page from some good book to your child. Every day this must be until the child learns to read. Then she must read every day, I know this is the secret.”
“I will read,” promised Katie. “What is a good book?” “There are two great books. Shakespeare is a great book. I have heard tell that all the wonder of life is in that book; all that man has learned of beauty, all that he may know of wisdom and living are on those pages. It is said that these stories are plays to be acted out on the stage. I have never spoken to anyone who has seen this great thing. But I heard the lord of our land back in Austria say that some of the pages sing themselves like songs.”
“And what is the other great book?” “It is the Bible that the Protestant people read.” “We have our own Bible, the Catholic one.” Mary looked around the room furtively. “It is not fitting for a good Catholic to say so but I believe that the Protestant Bible contains more of the loveliness of the greatest story on this earth and beyond it. A much-loved Protestant friend once read some of her Bible to me and I found it as I have said.
“That is the book, then, and the book of Shakespeare. And every day you must read a page of each to your child—even though you yourself do not understand what is written down and cannot sound the words properly. You must do this that the child will grow up knowing of what is great—knowing that these tenements of Williamsburg are not the whole world.”
Everything struggles to live. Look at that tree growing up there out of that grating. It gets no sun, and water only when it rains. It’s growing out of sour earth. And it’s strong because its hard struggle to live is making it strong. My children will be strong that way.”
Well, everybody’s something. We all got a tag of some kind.
She found to her agony, that the doctor was still there, poised needle and all. He was staring at her arm in distaste. Francie looked too. She saw a small white area on a dirty dark-brown arm. She heard the doctor talking to the nurse. “Filth, filth, filth, from morning to night. I know they’re poor but they could wash. Water is free and soap is cheap. Just look at that arm, nurse.” The nurse looked and clucked in horror. Francie stood there with the hot flamepoints of shame burning her face.
After the doctor’s outburst, Francie stood hanging her head. She was a dirty girl. That’s what the doctor meant. He was talking more quietly now asking the nurse how that kind of people could survive; that it would be a better world if they were all sterilized and couldn’t breed anymore. Did that mean he wanted her to die? Would he do something to make her die because her hands and arms were dirty from the mud pies?
“My brother is next. His arm is just as dirty as mine so don’t be surprised. And you don’t have to tell him. You told me.” They stared at this bit of humanity who had become so strangely articulate. Francie’s voice went ragged with a sob. “You don’t have to tell him. Besides it won’t do no good. He’s a boy and he don’t care if he is dirty.”
She put her arm around her and held her close to her own life warmth. “Francie, baby, you’re trembling like a leaf.” Francie had never heard that expression and it made her thoughtful. She looked at the little tree growing out of the concrete at the side of the house. There were still a few dried leaves clinging to it. One of them rustled dryly in the wind. Trembling like a leaf. She stored the phrase away in her mind.
“Forgiveness,” said Mary Rommely, “is a gift of high value. Yet its cost is nothing.”
For quite a while, Francie had been spelling out letters, sounding them and then putting the sounds together to mean a word. But one day, she looked at a page and the word “mouse” had instantaneous meaning. She looked at the word, and the picture of a gray mouse scampered through her mind. She looked further and when she saw “horse,” she heard him pawing the ground and saw the sun glint on his glossy coat. The word “running” hit her suddenly and she breathed hard as though running herself. The barrier between the individual sound of each letter and the whole meaning of the word was removed and the printed word meant a thing at one quick glance. She read a few pages rapidly and almost became ill with excitement. She wanted to shout it out. She could read! She could read! From that time on, the world was hers for the reading. She would never be lonely again, never miss the lack of intimate friends. Books became her friends and there was one for every mood. There was poetry for quiet companionship. There was adventure when she tired of quiet hours. There would be love stories when she came into adolescence and when she wanted to feel a closeness to someone she could read a biography. On that day when she first knew she could read, she made a vow to read one book a day as long as she lived.
She liked numbers and sums. She devised a game in which each number was a family member and the “answer” made a family grouping with a story to it. Naught was a babe in arms. He gave no trouble. Whenever he appeared you just “carried” him. The figure 1 was a pretty baby girl just learning to walk, and easy to handle; 2 was a baby boy who could walk and talk a little. He went into family life (into sums, etc.) with very little trouble. And 3 was an older boy in kindergarten, who had to be watched a little. Then there was 4, a girl of Francie’s age. She was almost as easy to “mind” as 2. The mother was 5, gentle and kind. In large sums, she came along and made everything easy the way a mother should. The father, 6, was harder than the others but very just. But 7 was mean. He was a crotchety old grandfather and not at all accountable for how he came out. The grandmother, 8, was hard too, but easier to understand than 7. Hardest of all was 9. He was company and what a hard time fitting him into family life! When Francie added a sum, she would fix a little story to go with the result. If the answer was 924, it meant that the little boy and girl were being minded by company while the rest of the family went out. When a number such as 1024 appeared, it meant that all the little children were playing together in the yard. The number 62 meant that papa was taking the little boy for a walk; 50 meant that mama had the baby out in the buggy for an airing and 78 meant grandfather and grandmother sitting home by the fire of a winter’s evening. Each single combination of numbers was a new set-up for the family and no two stories were ever the same.
Francie was ten years old when she first found an outlet in writing. What she wrote was of little consequence. What was important was that the attempt to write stories kept her straight on the dividing line between truth and fiction.
“TODAY, I AM A WOMAN,” WROTE FRANCIE IN HER DIARY IN THE summer when she was thirteen. She looked at the sentence and absently scratched a mosquito bite on her bare leg. She looked down on her long thin and as yet formless legs. She crossed out the sentence and started over. “Soon, I shall become a woman.” She looked down on her chest which was as flat as a washboard and ripped the page out of the book. She started fresh on a new page.
“But poverty, starvation and drunkenness are ugly subjects to choose. We all admit these things exist. But one doesn’t write about them.” “What does one write about?” Unconsciously, Francie picked up the teacher’s phraseology. “One delves into the imagination and finds beauty there. The writer, like the artist, must strive for beauty always.” “What is beauty?” asked the child. “I can think of no better definition than Keats’: ‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty.’”
Francie took her courage into her two hands and said, “Those stories are the truth.”
“Nonsense!” exploded Miss Garnder. Then, softening her tone, she continued: “By truth, we mean things like the stars always being there and the sun always rising and the true nobility of man and mother-love and love for one’s country,” she ended anti-climactically. “I see,” said Francie. As Miss Garnder continued talking, Francie answered her bitterly in her mind. “Drunkenness is neither truth nor beauty. It’s a vice. Drunkards belong in jail, not in stories. And poverty. There is no excuse for that. There’s work enough for all who want it. People are poor because they’re too lazy to work. There’s nothing beautiful about laziness. (Imagine Mama lazy!) “Hunger is not beautiful. It is also unnecessary. We have well-organized charities. No one need go hungry.” Francie ground her teeth. Her mother hated the word “charity” above any word in the language and she had brought up her children to hate it too. “Now, I’m not a snob,” stated Miss Garnder. “I do not come from a wealthy family. My father was a minister with a very small salary.” (But it was a salary, Miss Garnder.)
“And the only help my mother had was a succession of untrained maids, mostly girls from the country.” (I see. You were poor, Miss Garnder, poor with a maid.) “Many times we were without a maid and my mother had to do all the housework herself.” (And my mother, Miss Garnder, has to do all her own housework, and yes, ten times more cleaning than that.) “I wanted to go to the state university but we couldn’t afford it. My father had to send me to a small denominational college.” (But admit you had no trouble going to college.) “And believe me, you’re poor when you go to such a college. I know what hunger is, too. Time and time again my father’s salary was held up and there was no money for food. Once we had to live on tea and toast for three days.” (So you know what it is to be hungry, too.) “But I’d be a dull person if I wrote about nothing but being poor and hungry, wouldn’t I?” Francie didn’t answer. “Wouldn’t I?” repeated Miss Garnder emphatically. “Yes ma’am.”
“I’ve taken all this time with you because I honestly believe that you have promise. Now that we’ve talked things out, I’m sure you’ll stop writing those sordid little stories.” Sordid. Francie turned the word over. It was not in her vocabulary. “What does that mean—sordid?”
Sordid: Filthy. Filthy? She thought of her father wearing a fresh dicky and collar every day of his life and shining his worn shoes as often as twice a day. Dirty. Papa had his own mug at the barber shop. Base. Francie passed that up not knowing exactly what it meant. Gross. Never! Papa was a dancer. He was slender and quick. His body wasn’t gross. Also mean and low. She remembered a hundred and one little tendernesses and acts of thoughtfulness on the part of her father. She remembered how everyone had loved him so. Her face got hot. She couldn’t see the next words because the page turned red under her eyes. She turned on Miss Garnder, her face twisted with fury. “Don’t you ever dare use that word about us!” “Us?” asked Miss Garnder blankly. “We were talking about your compositions. Why, Frances!” Her voice was shocked. “I’m surprised! A well-behaved girl like you. What would your mother say if she knew you had been impertinent to your teacher?” Francie was frightened. Impertinence to a teacher was almost a reformatory offense in Brooklyn. “Please excuse me. Please excuse me,” she repeated abjectly. “I didn’t mean it.” “I understand,” said Miss Garnder gently. She put her arm around Francie and led her to the door. “Our little talk has made an impression on you, I see. Sordid is an ugly word and I’m glad you resented my using it. It shows that you understand. Probably you don’t like me any more, but please believe that I spoke for your own good.
 Yes, the world was changing rapidly and this time she knew it was the world and not herself.
“Dear God,” she prayed, “let me be something every minute of every hour of my life. Let me be gay; let me be sad. Let me be cold; let me be warm. Let me be hungry…have too much to eat. Let me be ragged or well dressed. Let me be sincere—be deceitful. Let me be truthful; let me be a liar. Let me be honorable and let me sin. Only let me be something every blessed minute. And when I sleep, let me dream all the time so that not one little piece of living is ever lost.”
The last time of anything has the poignancy of death itself. This that I see now, she thought, to see no more this way. Oh, the last time how clearly you see everything; as though a magnifying light had been turned on it. And you grieve because you hadn’t held it tighter when you had it every day. What had Granma Mary Rommely said? “To look at everything always as though you were seeing it either for the first or last time: Thus is your time on earth filled with glory.”

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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14. My Year With Jane: History of England

History of England. Jane Austen. 1977. 64 pages. [Source: Book I Bought]

Jane Austen's The History of England is a short and worthy read for any lover of Austen OR for any lover of British history. Austen does not seek to cover every single king or queen in her "history." She begins with Henry IV and ends with Charles I. Some monarchs get only one or two paragraphs. Others get much more attention. But more attention does not equal favorable attention. After all, this isn't a history book by a historian. No, never forget that this history is "by a partial, prejudiced, and ignorant" historian.

I would definitely recommend this one! Have you read this one? Do you have a favorite "history of England" book to recommend?
Henry VI: "I cannot say much for this Monarch's sense. Nor would I if I could, for he was a Lancastrian. I suppose you know all about the Wars between him and the Duke of York who was of the right side; if you do not, you had better read some other History, for I shall not be very diffuse in this, meaning by it only to vent my spleen against, and shew my Hatred to all those people whose parties or principles do not suit with mine, and not to give information. This King married Margaret of Anjou, a Woman whose distresses and misfortunes were so great as almost to make me who hate her, pity her. It was in this reign that Joan of Arc lived and made such a row among the English. They should not have burnt her —but they did. There were several Battles between the Yorkists and Lancastrians, in which the former (as they ought) usually conquered. At length they were entirely overcome; The King was murdered—The Queen was sent home—and Edward the 4th ascended the Throne."
Edward IV: "One of Edward's Mistresses was Jane Shore, who has had a play written about her, but it is a tragedy and therefore not worth reading."
Henry VIII: "It would be an affront to my Readers were I to suppose that they were not as well acquainted with the particulars of this King's reign as I am myself. It will therefore be saving them the task of reading again what they have read before, and myself the trouble of writing what I do not perfectly recollect, by giving only a slight sketch of the principal Events which marked his reign." 
 Bloody Mary: "This woman had the good luck of being advanced to the throne of England, in spite of the superior pretensions, Merit, and Beauty of her Cousins Mary Queen of Scotland and Jane Grey. Nor can I pity the Kingdom for the misfortunes they experienced during her Reign, since they fully deserved them, for having allowed her to succeed her Brother—which was a double peice of folly, since they might have foreseen that as she died without children, she would be succeeded by that disgrace to humanity, that pest of society, Elizabeth. Many were the people who fell martyrs to the protestant Religion during her reign; I suppose not fewer than a dozen. She married Philip King of Spain who in her sister's reign was famous for building Armadas. She died without issue, and then the dreadful moment came in which the destroyer of all comfort, the deceitful Betrayer of trust reposed in her, and the Murderess of her Cousin succeeded to the Throne.——" 
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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15. The fall of Rome to the rise of the Catholic Church, in pictures

By Peter Heather

After the collapse of the Roman Empire, the Western world went through a turbulent and dramatic period during which a succession of kingdoms rose, grew, and crumbled in spans of only a few generations. The wars and personalities of the dark ages are the stuff of legend, and all led toward the eventual reunification of Europe under a different kind of Roman rule — this time, that of the Church. Below, historian Peter Heather selects ten moments from the period upon which the fate of Europe hinged.

Peter Heather is Professor of Medieval History at King’s College London. He is the bestselling author of The Restoration of Rome: Barbarian Popes and Imperial Pretenders, The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History of Rome and the Barbarians, Empires and Barbarians: The Fall of Rome and the Birth of Europe, and numerous other works on late antiquity and the early Middle Ages.

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Image credits: 1. Coin with profile of Odoacer. Permission via Creative Commons by Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. Via Wikimedia Commons. 2. 16th century statue of Theoderic. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons. 3. The Hippodrome of Constantinople today. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons. 4. Mosaic depicting Justinian. Permission via GNU license. Via Wikimedia Commons. 5. 18th century Turkish depiction of Muhammad ascending to Heaven. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons. 6. “Coronation of Charlemagne” by Jean Fouquet, c. 1460. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons. 7. “Battle of Fontenoy” by Pierre Lenfant, c. 1747. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons. 8. Statue of Pope Leo IX in Altorf, France. Permission via GNU license. Via Wikimedia Commons. 9. Pope Innocent III, whose decretals comprised the Compilatio Tertia, depicted in a fresco c. 1219. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons. 10. “Lateran Palace” by Giuseppe Vasi, c. 1752. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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16. Virgil in Russia

By Zara Martirosova Torlone

In 1979 one of the most prominent Russian classical scholars of the later part of the twentienth century, Mikhail Gasparov stated: “Virgil did not have much luck in Russia: they neither knew nor loved him . . .”.   This lack of interest in Virgil on Russian soil Gasparov mostly blamed on the absence of canonical Russian translations of Virgil, especially the Aeneid.  There have been several attempts at translating the Roman epic into Russian, four of them most notable and significant. In the 18th century Vasilii Petrov (1730-1778), the court poet of Catherine the Great was the first poet to undertake this monumental task. His translation, however, although highly praised by Catherine and the newly established Russian Academy, was ridiculed by the educated elite as a feeble shadow of the great Roman poem. Another attempt at translating the whole epic did not happen until late nineteenth century and was undertaken by a prominent Russian poet Afanasii Fet (1820-1892) who together with a Russian philosopher Vladimir Solov’ev (1853-1900) attempted to finally bring the Aeneid to the Russian reading public. While this translation was received much more favorably, it still did not acquire the desired canonical status. Valerii Briusov (1873-1924), one of the founders of Russian Symbolism and an accomplished translator, devoted most of his life to yet another translation of the Aeneid, but also fell short of the mark because the final version of his translation exhibited many ‘foreignizing’ tendencies replete with incomprehensible Latinisms, which rendered the text almost unreadable. Sergei Osherov (1931-1983), a Russian classical scholar, who undertook another translation during the era of ‘socialist  realism’ took a more liberal approach to the Virgilian text, one that rendered it significanltly more readable by a wider audience but steered away from the poetic intricacies and complexity of the Latin text.

This is the situation Gasparov was referrring to when alluding the failure of Virgil to provoke interest in Russian reading public. And yet the importance of Virgil for the formation of Russian literary identity remained consistent as Russian writers partcipated in building their national literary canon.


Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Russian consciousness formed its connection to Rome and thus to Virgil through two venues: one was through the great but pagan Roman empire – that was the political claim that entailed imperial power and expansion. Another was via Byzantine Rome and the piety associated with its Orthodoxy. Even Catherine the Great who prided herself on her secularism and association with Voltaire and Montesquieu, had in mind the leadership of Russia as the religious and political ideal of a unified ecumenical Orthodoxy under which all the Orthodox East would be politically united.

Virgil came to be seen as the answer to both discourses and to encompass both the imperial rhetoric and the spiritual quest for a Russian Christian soul.

The eighteenth century Virgilian reception was mainly concerned with the imperial aspirations as the initial reaction to the text of the Aeneid in Russian literature. Antiokh Kantemir’s (1708-1744), Mikhailo Lomonosov’s (1711-1765), and Nikolai Kheraskov’s (1733-1807) failed attempts at a national heroic epic were encouraged by the Russian ruling family but failed to elicit any interest in the reading public. In the same way Vasilii Petrov’s first unfortunate translation of the Aeneid reflected the tendency to glorify and idealize the ruling monarch as a way to promote national pride but was found lacking in adequately reflecting the poetic genius of Virgil in Russian.

As Russian literary figures of the eighteenth century were experimenting with different approaches to a national epic, there emerged a quite influential and popular genre of travesitied epics.  In opposition to the courtly attempts to glorify the house of the Romanovs through Virgilian reception, Nikolai Osipov wrote his burlesque Aeneid Turned Upside Down (1791-6) where following the European examples of French Paul Scarron and German Aloys Blumauer he made Aeneas speak the base language of the Russian everyday man and cast his adventures in a less than heroic light.

Epic, however, was not the only genre through which Russian literati tried to bringVirgil to Russia. As with the most European receptions of the Aeneid, the tragic pathos of Dido’s love and suicide attracted attention already in the eighteenth century at the same time with the epics. Iakov Kniazhnin’s ((1758-1815) play Dido (1769), which stands at the very beginnings of Russian mythological tragedy, offered his readers an unusual and politicized interpretation of Book 4 of the Aeneid combined with French and Italian influences on his Virgilian reception.

With Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837) Russian literature entered yet another stage of Virgilian reception. The courtly literature was long forgotten and so were the monumental attempts at epic grandeur. Pushkin refrained from any open allusion to or evocation of Virgil limiting them usually to a few passing jokes. Instead he penned his own diminutive epic of national pride, the Bronze Horseman in which he conteplated the same issues pondered by Virgil two thousand years earlier. At the center of his poem is the confrontation between the man and a state, individual happiness and  civic duty, which Pushkin approaches in ways  familiar to the readers of Virgil.

While the connection of Virgilian reception with Russia’s ‘messianic’ Orthodox mission manifested itself intermittently in secular court literature and even in Petrov’s translation, the specific and pointedly deliberate articulation of that mission occured in the literature at the beginning of the twentieth century and is represented by such formative thinkers as Vladimir Solov’ev (1853-1900), Viacheslav Ivanov (1866-1949), and Georgii Fedotov (1886-1951), who saw Virgil in messianic and prophetic light and as the source of answers for Russian spiritual quest both at home and abroad.

With Joseph Brodsky (1940-1996) the Russian Virgil entered the stage of post-modernism. Brodsky’s Virgilian allusions are numerous and persist in Brodsky’s poetics through its entire evolution. However, the monumental themes of either imperial pride or messianic mission become replaced in Brodsky by simpler, mundane, and even base themes. Brodsky reshaped Virgil’s Arcadia into a snow covered terrain and his Aeneas is a man tormented by the brutalizing price of his heroic destiny. As Brodsky reconfigured different episodes from the Virgilian texts through the lyric prism of human emotion, Virgil remained a constant presence both in his poetry and his essays as the poet moved with ease between ancient and modern, between emotion and detachment, between Russian and English, providing a remarkable closure to the Russian Virgil in the twentieth century.

Zara Martirosova Torlone is an Associate Professor of Classics and on the Core Faculty at the Havighurst Center for Russian and Post-Soviet Studies at Miami University (Ohio, USA). She received her B.A. from Moscow State University, Russia and her Ph.D. from Columbia University in New York. Her publications include Russia and the Classics: Poetry’s Foreign Muse (2009) and Vergil in Russia: National Identity and Classical Reception (2014). She has edited a special issue of Classical Receptions Journal, entitled ‘Classical Reception in Eastern and Central Europe’ to which she also contributed an essay on Joseph Brodsky’s reception of Virgil’s Eclogues.

Classical Receptions Journal covers all aspects of the reception of the texts and material culture of ancient Greece and Rome from antiquity to the present day. It aims to explore the relationships between transmission, interpretation, translation, transplantation, rewriting, redesigning and rethinking of Greek and Roman material in other contexts and cultures. It addresses the implications both for the receiving contexts and for the ancient, and compares different types of linguistic, textual and ideological interactions.

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17. The Franchise Affair (1948)

The Franchise Affair. Josephine Tey. 1948. 304 pages. [Source: Book I bought]

Robert Blair is a lawyer. He lives a boring life; nothing terribly exciting or thrilling ever happens. And. He doesn't seem to mind that his life is mostly predictable. But then one day he receives a call from Marion Sharpe. She is in need of a lawyer; she needs one as soon as possible. Yes, she knows that his firm doesn't specialize in criminal law; yes, she knows he's never handled any case quite like hers before. Yes, she'd be willing to find another lawyer if necessary--if charges are brought against her and if the case were to go to trial. But can he come NOW! He agrees. He rushes to The Francise. He meets Marion and her mother. He meets Inspector Grant. He hears what these two ladies are being accused of. He meets the young woman, Betty Kane, accusing them. He's left a bit speechless. Kane's story: I was waiting for the bus, these two "old" ladies offered me a ride, I accepted, they took me to their home, wouldn't let me leave, locked me in the attic, denied me food unless I worked for them doing some mending, they beat me too! After four weeks I managed to escape! Grant and Blair are speechless as are the women. The story seems weird and unrealistic. Grant's instincts are telling him that the Kane girl is a crazy attention-seeker who is a liar through and through. Blair also thinks the Kane girl is a liar. He also thinks she's immoral. There HAS to be a man involved. Kane had to have met a guy over vacation and run off with him and made up this horrible story when that love affair fell apart. Both Blair and Grant are relying on instincts and making quick judgments. Grant, at the start of the novel, does not want to make a case of this. He does not believe there has been an actual crime.

But. The story will not go away. Kane will tell her story, keep her story alive in the papers. The community will turn against the Sharpe women at the Francise. Things will get uncomfortable and dangerous.

Blair is determined that the best defense is to prove that Betty Kane is a terrible, horrible mess of a girl. She's far from good and honest and respectable. He wants to expose this girl, show her that she can't go around accusing good, honest women like the Sharpes of horrible crimes. She shouldn't be allowed to get away with it.

Grant, Tey's detective, is barely in this one. He is in a few scenes, but, for the most part this is Robert Blair's story, his chance to have an exciting life, to play hero.

The Franchise Affair is not my favorite Tey novel, but, it was a pleasant read.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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18. Peter Pan (1911)

Peter Pan. J.M. Barrie. 1911/2008. Penguin. 207 pages. [Source: Review copy]

All children except one, grow up. They soon know that they will grow up, and the way Wendy knew was this. One day when she was two years old she was playing in a garden, and she plucked another flower and ran with it to her mother. I suppose she must have looked rather delightful, for Mrs. Darling put her hand to her heart and cried, 'Oh, why can't you remain like this for ever!' This was all that passed between them on the subject, but henceforth Wendy knew that she must grow up. You always know after you are two. Two is the beginning of the end. 

Peter Pan may be far from perfect when all things are considered, but, it certainly can prove a delightful reread now and then. Though I haven't seen the musical in years, I first became familiar with this story through the musical: the dialogue and the songs. So when I first read it fifteen years ago (or so), it felt familiar from the start. Tinker Bell was fierce, a very jealous and very stubborn fairy. Peter Pan was oh-so-arrogant and a bit obnoxious, quite thoughtless. Wendy and her brothers, well, I had to admit they were a bit thoughtless as well. But there was something touching about Wendy. And then there are all the other inhabitants of Never Never Land: the Lost Boys, the Indians, and the pirates led by Captain Hook, to name just a few.
The book is dated, very dated, and to modern readers it may not hold up well. The place is sculpted, in a way, by the dreams and fantasies of children. Wendy and her two brothers, for example, imagine a lot of things: playing Indians, playing pirates, visiting with mermaids, playing with wolves, etc. It is an island, a land, like no other. All fancy--make believe, if you will. I find it delightful, very delightful at times. It is not my favorite, favorite children's book by ANY stretch of the imagination. But I think it's a fun one to know.

Mrs. Darling loved to have everything just so, and Mr. Darling had a passion for being exactly like his neighbors; so, of course, they had a nurse. As they were poor, owing to the amount of milk the children drank, this nurse was a prim Newfoundland dog, called Nana, who had belonged to no one in particular until the Darlings engaged her. (4)
Mrs. Darling first heard of Pepter when she was tidying up her children's minds. It is the nightly custom of every good mother after her children are asleep to rummage in their minds and put things straight for next morning, repacking into their proper places the many articles that have wandered during the day. (6)
Of all delectable islands the Neverland is the snuggest and most compact; not large and sprawly, you know, with tedious distances between one adventure and another, but nicely crammed. When you play at it by day with the chairs and table-cloth, it is not in the least alarming but in the two minutes before you go to sleep it becomes very nearly real. That is why there are night lights. (8)
"Why, what is the matter, father, dear?"
"Matter!" he yelled; he really yelled. "This tie, it will not tie." He became dangerously sarcastic. "Not round my neck! Round the bedpost! Oh yes, twenty times have I made it up round the bedpost, but round my neck, no! Oh dear no! begs to be excused!'
He thought Mrs. Darling was not sufficiently impressed, and he went on sternly, "I warn you of this, mother, that unless this tie is round my neck we don't go out to dinner tonight, and if I don't go out to dinner tonight, I never go to the office again, and if I don't go to the office again, you and I starve, and our children will be flung into the streets."
Even then Mrs. Darling was placid. (17-8)
"That is not Nana's unhappy bark," she said, little guessing what was about to happen; "that is her bark when she smells danger." (24)
It was a girl called Tinker Bell, exquistely gowned in a skeleton leaf, cut low and square, through which her figure could be seen to the best advantage. She was slightly inclined to embonpoint. (26)
"You see, Wendy, when the first baby laughed for the first time, its laugh broke into a thousand pieces, and they all went skipping about, and that was the beginning of fairies. And so," he went on good naturedly, "there ought to be one fairy for every boy and girl."
"Ought to be? Isn't there?"
"No. You see, children know such a lot now, they soon don't believe in fairies, and every time a child says, "I don't believe in fairies," there is a fairy somewhere that falls down dead." (33)
"Second to the right, and straight on till morning." That, Peter had told Wendy, was the way to the Neverland; but even birds, carrying maps and consulting them at windy corners, could not have sighted it with these instructions. Peter, you see, just said anything that came into his head. (45)
Tink was not all bad: or, rather, she was all bad just now, but, on the other hand, sometimes she was all good. Fairies have to be one thing or the other, because being so small they unfortunately have room for one feeling only at a time. They are, however, allowed to change, only it must be a complete change. At present she was full of jealousy of Wendy. (57)
The lost boys were out looking for Peter, the pirates were out looking for the lost boys, the redskins were out looking for the pirates, and the beasts were out looking for the redskins. They were going round and round the island, but they did not meet because all were going at the same rate. (58)
One could mention many lovable traits in Smee. For instance, after killing, it was his spectacles he wiped instead of his weapon. (67)
"Aye," the captain answered, "If I was a mother I would pray to have my children born with this instead of that," and he cast a look of pride upon his iron hand and one of scorn upon the other. Then again he frowned.
"Peter flung my arm," he said, wincing, "to a crocodile that happened to be passing by."
"I have often," said Smee, "noticed your strange dread of crocodiles."
"Not of crocodiles," Hook corrected him, "but of that one crocodile." He lowered his voice, "It liked my arm so much, Smee, that it has followed me ever since, from sea to sea and from land to land, licking its lips for the rest of me."
"In a way," said Smee, "It's a sort of compliment."
"I want no such compliments," Hook barked petulantly. (68)
There was not a child on board the brig that night who did not already love him. He had said horrid things to them and hit them with the palm of his hand, because he could not hit with his fist; but they had only clung to him the more. Michael had tried on his spectacles. To tell poor Smee that they thought him lovable! Hook itched to do it, but it seemed too brutal. (159)
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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19. Miss Pym Disposes

Miss Pym Disposes. Josephine Tey. 1946. 238 pages. [Source: Book I Bought]

Miss Lucy Pym is visiting an 'old friend' who is now a principal at a physical training college. The occasion for her visit is her successful bestselling status as an author of a popular psychology book. Her book is the new "it" book of the moment, Miss Pym gives guest lectures. The students of this college, particularly the juniors and seniors, take a real liking to her. They beg and plead and urge her to stay. So she postpones leaving. (I'm not sure her old college friend is as enthusiastic about keeping her around for the last few weeks of the semester until graduation or not. I'm sure by the end she's thinking: why oh why did I think it would be a good idea to ask her to visit!) It's a super busy time for all. One class is preparing to graduate; there is stress and distress as they prepare for finals and critiques. Some students will be placed in a new job before graduation, others will have to make their own applications after graduation. A really ideal job opportunity arises, and, for some reason this causes great rumbles on the staff and among students. One student is chosen over another. Almost everyone disagrees with the decision. Even Miss Pym is argumentative and opinionated. As graduation approaches the inevitable happens. Inevitable ONLY because it's a mystery book and there is the expectation that at some point a crime, probably murder, but at the very least attempted murder, will occur. This happens extraordinarily late in the novel. One of the graduating seniors has an "accident" that ultimately leads to her death. Miss Pym knows the accident was no accident, and she has proof. But will her proof ever be turned over to the authorities?! Will Miss Pym play god and decided that she has no ethical obligation to turn in the murderer--the girl she's convinced is guilty?!

Miss Pym Disposes is a strange little mystery. I found the academic setting interesting, at least in the beginning. But overall, I was not impressed with this one.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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20. The 9/11 memorial and the Aeneid: misappropriation or sincere sentiment?

By J. C. McKeown

The National September 11 Memorial Museum will be opened in a few weeks. On the otherwise starkly bare wall at the entrance is a 60-foot-long inscription in 15-inch letters made from steel salvaged from the twin towers: NO DAY SHALL ERASE YOU FROM THE MEMORY OF TIME. This noble sentiment is a quotation from Virgil’s Aeneid, one of mankind’s highest literary achievements, but its appropriateness has been questioned. In the context of the Aeneid, Virgil is commemorating a homosexual pair of warriors killed while making a bloody surprise attack on their sleeping enemies’ camp. Three years ago, an article in the New York Times suggested that “anyone troubling to take even a cursory glance at the quotation’s context will find the choice offers neither instruction nor solace.” But the museum was unmoved by such objections, and its director has recently defended the choice, asserting, perhaps rather cryptically, that the quotation characterizes the “museum’s overall commemorative context.”

It is unfortunate that this controversy has arisen, especially since so few people nowadays know about the context of the quote in the Aeneid. Those who lost family members or friends in the attacks should not have their thoughts and feelings distracted in this way. The sentiments expressed on national monuments aim to be strongly and unambiguously assertive of a view held by the whole community, but perhaps they are inherently vulnerable to controversial interpretations. Ideally, of course, such quotations should resonate more deeply than the meaning of the actual words, but would it not be best to accept the obviously sincere intentions of the museum’s committee and let the matter drop?

It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country” in classical Greek  on a memorial honoring the dead in the First Balkan War. Credit: J.C. McKeown

“It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country” in classical Greek on a memorial honoring the dead in the First Balkan War. Credit: J.C. McKeown

Otherwise, where will it end? Should we hesitate about using dulce et decorum est pro patria mori (“It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country”), a line by Horace, Virgil’s contemporary, found so often on war memorials? In the 1910s, it was inscribed at Arlington and at Sandhurst, the British military academy, and was even translated into classical Greek (mirabile dictu!) on a memorial honoring the dead in the First Balkan War.

Before the decade was out, however, in the most celebrated of all World War I poems, Wilfred Owen had described Horace’s line as “the old lie.” Horace’s own authority to voice such ideals may be questioned. He was writing a poem of national significance–it is one of his “Roman Odes”–but the very next line, “death pursues even the man who runs away,” might make us recall a different poem in which Horace rather flippantly admits that he had thrown away his shield and fled at the Battle of Philippi. These considerations may give us pause for thought, but the validity of dulce et decorum in a national context is not diminished.

Carpe diem is perhaps the most ubiquitous of all Latin tags, but few people are aware of its original use: Horace is trying to persuade a girl to sleep with him. In another quote from the same book of Odes, Horace assures us that a person who is integer vitae scelerisque purus (“He who lives an unblemished life and is not tainted with crime”) is under divine protection, but the poem is essentially trivial, for Horace’s guardian deity turns out to be Cupid, who keeps wolves at bay while he sings in the woods about his mistress; even so, the poem was sung for centuries at Swedish funerals.

The fundamental democratic principles of equality and unity encapsulated so precisely in e pluribus unum are surely not diminished by the possibility that it was inspired by a phrase from an inconsequential poem attributed to Virgil: color est e pluribus unus (“from being several, the color is one”), in a description of an old peasant grinding the various ingredients together to make a vegetable pâté for his breakfast.

We have difficulties enough with the nuances of our own language. How many of those who wear T-shirts emblazoned with The Road Not Taken regard Frost’s best known poem not so much as a declaration of their free spirit, but rather as “that cunning nugget of nihilism disguised as an anthem for nonconformity” (New Yorker, 10 February 2014)?

Even Virgil himself has been charged with quoting inappropriately. When Aeneas stammers to Dido’s ghost in the Underworld, invitus, regina, tuo de litore cessi (“unwillingly, O queen, I left your shore”), it is an undoubted echo of Catullus’s translation of an elegant Hellenistic court poem, in which a lock of Queen Berenice’s hair laments that it is now a constellation, no longer with the queen: invita, o regina, tuo de vertice cessi (“unwillingly, O queen, I left your head”). To quote the standard commentary on Virgil’s line: “modern susceptibilities are pained by Virgil’s presumed indifference to the incongruity so produced.”


Aeneas tells Dido the misfortunes of the Trojan city. Oil on canvas, 1815. Pierre-Narcisse Guérin, The Louvre. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

There is classical precedent for changing a memorial inscription. After the Greek victory over the Persians at Plataea in 479 BC, the Greek commander set up an inscription at Delphi: “Pausanias, leader of the Greeks, when he destroyed the army of the Persians, dedicated this memorial to Apollo.” He was ordered to remove it, and told he could put it up again when he had defeated the Persians single-handedly. Might that be the best solution to all this controversy? The task of re-writing the inscription might be given to Billy Collins, who was Poet Laureate at the time of the attacks. He would be sure to resist those who want to:

“tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.
They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.”

J. C. McKeown is Professor of Classics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, co-editor of the Oxford Anthology of Roman Literature, and author of A Cabinet of Greek Curiosities, A Cabinet of Roman Curiosities, and Classical Latin: An Introductory Course.

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21. The Illyrian bid for legitimacy

The following is extracted from Taken at the Flood: The Roman Conquest of Greece, by Robin Waterfield. This is the story of the Roman conquest of classical Greece – a tale of brutality, determination, and the birth of an empire.

The region known as Illyris (Albania and Dalmatia, in today’s terms) was regarded at the time as a barbarian place, only semi-civilized by contact with its Greek and Macedonian neighbours. It was occupied by a number of different tribes, linked by a common culture and language (a cousin of Thracian). From time to time, one of these tribes gained a degree of dominance over some or most of the rest, but never over all of them at once. Contact with the Greek world had led to a degree of urbanization, especially in the south and along the coast, but the region still essentially consisted of many minor tribal dynasts with networks of loyalty. At the time in question, the Ardiaei were the leading tribe, and in the 230s their king, Agron, had forged a kind of union, the chief plank of which was alliances with other local magnates from central Illyris, such as Demetrius, Greek lord of the wealthy island of Pharos, and Scerdilaidas, chief of the Illyrian Labeatae.

In the late 230s, the Illyrians’ Greek neighbors to the south, the confederacy of Epirote tribes and communities, descended into chaos following the republican overthrow of a by-then hated monarchy. Agron seized the opportunity. Following a significant victory over the Aetolians in 231—they had been hired by Demetrius II of Macedon to relieve the siege of Medion, a town belonging to his allies, the Acarnanians—the Illyrians, confi dent that they could stand up to any of their neighbors, expanded their operations. The next year, they raided as far south as the Peloponnesian coastline, but, more importantly, they seized the northern Epirote town of Phoenice.

The capture of Phoenice, the strongest and wealthiest city in Epirus, and then its successful defense against a determined Epirote attempt at recovery, were morale-boosting victories, but the practical consequences were uppermost in Agron’s mind. Phoenice was not just an excellent lookout point; it was also close to the main north–south route from Illyris into Epirus. More immediately, the town commanded its own fertile (though rather boggy) alluvial valleys, and access to the sea at Onchesmus. There was another harbor not far south, at Buthrotum (modern Butrint, one of the best archaeological sites in Europe), but for a ship traveling north up the coast, Onchesmus was the last good harbor until Oricum, eighty kilometers (fifty miles) further on, a day’s sailing or possibly two. And, even apart from the necessity of havens in bad weather, ancient ships had to be beached frequently, to forage for food and water (warships, especially, had room for little in the way of supplies), to dry out the insides of the ships (no pumps in those days), and to kill the teredo “worm” (a kind of boring mollusk). Phoenice was a valuable prize.

By Ptolemaic maps by Girolamo Porro, Venice, 1598. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

By Ptolemaic maps by Girolamo Porro, Venice, 1598. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Agron died a short while later, reputedly from pleurisy contracted after the over-enthusiastic celebration of his victories. He was succeeded by his son Pinnes—or rather, by his wife Teuta, who became regent for the boy. Teuta inherited a critical situation. Following the loss of Phoenice, the Epirotes had joined the Aetolian–Achaean alliance, and their new allies dispatched an army north as soon as they could. Th e Illyrian army under Scerdilaidas moved south to confront them, numbering perhaps ten thousand men. The two armies met not far north of Passaron (modern Ioannina).

The fate of the northwest coastline of Greece hung in the balance. But before battle was joined, the Illyrian forces were recalled by Teuta to deal with a rebellion by one of the tribes of her confederacy (we do not know which), who had called in help from the Dardanians. Th e Dardanian tribes occupied the region north of Macedon and northeast of Illyris (modern Kosovo, mainly), and not infrequently carried out cross-border raids in considerable force, with several tribes uniting for a profi table campaign. Scerdilaidas withdrew back north, plundering as he went, and made a deal with the Epirote authorities whereby he kept all the booty from Phoenice and received a handsome ransom for returning the city, relatively undamaged, to the league.

The Dardanian threat evaporated, and in 230 Teuta turned to the island of Issa, a neighbor of Pharos. Th is was a natural extension for her: Issa (modern Vis), along with Corcyra (Corfu) and Pharos (Hvar), was one of the great commercial islands of this coastline, wealthy from its own products, and as a result of convenience of its harbors for the Adriatic trade in timber and other commodities; in fact, at ten hectares, Issa town was the largest Greek settlement in Dalmatia. Teuta already had Pharos and its dependency, Black Corcyra (Korč ula); if she could take Issa and Corcyra, her revenue would be greatly increased and she would become a major player in the region. Teuta put Issa town under siege; in those days, each island generally had only one large town, the main port, and so to take the town was to take the island.

When the campaigning season of 229 arrived, Tueta (who still had Issa under siege) launched a major expedition. Her forces first attacked Epidamnus, a Greek trading city on the Illyrian coast, with an excellent harbor and command of the most important eastward route towards Macedon, the road the Romans began to develop a century later as the Via Egnatia. Th e attack was thwarted by the desperate bravery of the Epidamnians, but the Illyrians sailed off and joined up with the rest of  their fleet, which had Corcyra town under siege. The people of Corcyra, Epidamnus, and Apollonia (another Greek colony, eighty kilometers [fifty miles] down the coast from Epidamnus, and certain to be the next target) naturally sought help from the Aetolians and Achaeans, who had already demonstrated their hostility toward the Illyrians, and the Greek allies raised a small fl eet and sent it to relieve Corcyra. But the Illyrians had supplemented their usual fleet of small, fast lemboi with some larger warships loaned by the Acarnanians, who were pleased to thank them for raising the siege of Medion. Battle was joined off Paxoi, and it was another victory for the Illyrians.

In addition to having translated numerous Greek classics, including works by Plato, Aristotle, Herodotus, Xenophon, Polybius, and Plutarch, Robin Waterfield is the author of Why Socrates Died: Dispelling the MythsXenophon’s Retreat: Greece, Persia and the End of the Golden AgeAthens: A HistoryDividing the Spoils: the War for Alexander the Great’s Empire and Taken at the Flood: The Roman Conquest of Greece. He lives in the far south of Greece on a small olive farm.

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22. Way Back Wednesday Essential Classic: Lentil by Robert McCloskey


By Robert McCloskey


Yes, it’s the same author of Make Way for Ducklings, One Morning in Maine, Time of Wonder, and Blueberries for Sal, many of which take place in Maine. But just maybe your young reader missed not only these, but another peek at a slower pace of childhood in Lentil!

Mr. McCloskey grew up in Ohio, so it’s not unusual that this picture book is set in a place called Alto, Ohio wherein lives a lad named Lentil.

It’s a happy life in Alto, save one glitch: Lentil wants to sing and can’t. Can’t sing and can’t even whistle, so what do? Why buy a harmonica of course!

Pennies saved buys the longed for harmonica and Lentil plays early and often with the best sound reverb coming from playing in his bathtub! Most everyone enjoys the sounds emanating from Lentil’s harmonica, save for OLD SNEEP. Don’t you just love the oily sound of that name? You don’t even have to LOOK at Mr. McCloskey’s perfect black and white drawings to figure out what kind of character ole Sneep will turn out to be. Why, he’s a veritable grump of course, and a wood whittling, park bench-sitting grump at that.

News spreads fast in small towns and the famous Colonel Carter, one of Alto’s most favored citizens, is descending after two years away. He owns the finest house in Alto and the library was a gift from the Colonel. Everyone is excited except Old Sneep:


Humph! We wuz boys together. He ain’t

A mite better’n you or me and he needs

Takin’ down a peg or two.”


(Good time for an introduction by the reader on the whys and wherefore of dialect allowances.)    

So Alto plans a big celebration for the Colonel with crowds, flags flying, speeches AND the Alto band set to play as he exits the train. BUT ole Sneep, jealous of the Colonel’s celebrity, is the fly in the ointment, and commences slurping a LEMON from the roof of the train station as the band puts lips to instruments. Talk about being unable to wet your whistle, all the band mates can do is pucker rather than play because of the slurping sound of ole Sneep!

But guess who knows a nifty version of “Comin’ Round the Mountain When She Comes?” Soon the Colonel is finger snapping and singing. And he even joins in on a chorus or two with Lentil’s harmonica, as it seems the Colonel played one as a child! In fact the Colonel is so happy about the bang up welcome he received, he’s going to build a HOSPITAL for ALTO. Even ole Sneep is so happy he can be seen indulging in an ice cream cone to celebrate the occasion.

Mr. McCloskey has a gift for portraying the large heart within a small town like Alto or a big city like Boston in “Make Way for Ducklings.” His art and words make people and places VERY ACCESSIBLE to your child whether they’ve been there or not. Don’t let the sounds of Lentil’s harmonica, the Colonel, Sneep and the good people of Alto elude your young reader’s ears. It is childhood at its simplest, community with all the shadings of gray and a great heart at the center!!

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23. Why literary genres matter


By William Allan

One of the most striking aspects of classical literature is its highly developed sense of genre. Of course, a literary work’s genre remains an important factor today. We too distinguish broad categories of poetry, prose, and drama, but also sub-genres (especially within the novel, now the most popular literary form) such as crime, romantic or historical fiction. We do the same in other creative media, such as film, with thrillers, horrors, westerns, and so on. But classical authors were arguably even more aware than writers of genre fiction are today what forms and conventions applied to the genre they were writing in. All ancient literary texts are written in a particular genre, such as epic, tragedy, or pastoral. This doesn’t mean that one genre can’t interact with another, and they often do, as in ‘tragic history’, that is, history written in the style of tragedy, as when Thucydides presents the Athenian empire’s disastrous attempt to conquer Sicily as a typically tragic story of hybris and ruin. Some modern theorists would argue that every text belongs to a genre and that it is impossible not to write in one: thus even those nifty writers who try to break free of convention and write the wackiest stuff are still caught up in ‘experimental’ literature. The invention of the major literary genres and their norms is the most significant effect of classical literature’s influence.

But what is a genre? The first thing to observe is that a genre is not a rigid mould which works must fit into, but a group of texts that share certain similarities – whether of form, performance context, or subject matter. For example, all the texts that make up the ancient genre of tragedy share certain ‘family resemblances’ (they are theatrical texts written in a particular poetic language, they reflect on human suffering, they show gods interacting with humans, and so on) that allow us to perceive them as a recognizable group. But although certain ‘core’ features characterize any given genre, the boundaries of each genre are fluid and are often breached for literary effect.

As can still be seen in modern literature and film, a genre comes with certain in-built codes, values, and expectations. It creates its own world, helping the author to communicate with the audience, as she deploys or disrupts generic expectations and so creates a variety of effects. Genres appeal to writers because they give a structure and something to build on, while they offer audiences the pleasure of the familiar and ingenious diversion from it. The best writers take what they need from the traditional form and then innovate, leaving their own imprint on the genre and changing it for future writers and audiences. In other words, genre is a source of dynamism and creativity, not a straitjacket, unless the writer is rubbish, i.e. unimaginative and unoriginal.

Tragic Comic Masks Hadrians Villamosaic

All ancient writers had an idea of who the top figures in their chosen genre were (Homer and Virgil in epic; Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides in tragedy, and so on), and their aim was to rival and outdo their predecessors. The key ancient terms for this process of interaction with the literary past are imitatio (‘imitation’) and aemulatio (‘competition’). ‘Imitation’ doesn’t mean slavish copying, but creative adaptation of the tradition; creative writing today still involves the reworking of previous literature, since writers are usually enthusiastic readers too. Of course, competing with the great writers of the past is a risky business – as Horace puts it, ‘Whoever strives to rival Pindar exposes himself to a flight as risky as that of Icarus’ (Odes 4.2.1-4, paraphrased) – but what characterizes the best writers of antiquity is their response to the great works of the past in the light of the present.

The central role of ‘imitation’ in classical literature also helps explain why ancient authors allude so frequently to other texts. With ‘the death of the author’ in postmodern thought, the wider term ‘intertextuality’ is now trendier than ‘allusion’, referring to the interconnections between texts, deliberate or not. Be that as it may, deliberate allusion is an important part of the writer’s meaning in classical literature, and the ideal reader of Virgil’s Aeneid, for example, an epic that draws on a variety of other genres (including tragedy, history, and love poetry, among others), will be able to appreciate how Virgil alludes to, and reworks, earlier texts in order to create his own meaning.

Mention of epic reminds us that classical literature is characterized by a hierarchy of genres, ranging from ‘high’ forms such as epic, tragedy, and history at one end through to ‘low’ forms such as comedy, satire, mime, and epigram at the other. ‘High’ and ‘low’ relate to how serious the subject matter is, how lofty the language, how dignified the tone, and so on. Many of the genres lower down on the hierarchy define themselves polemically in opposition to a higher form: thus writers of comedy, for example, poke fun at tragedy, presenting it as unrealistic and bombastic, in order to assert the value of their own work, while satire mocks the claims of epic and philosophy (among other genres) to offer meaningful guides to life. Finally, it is striking that some genres endure longer than others: Roman love elegy flourished for only half a century, while epic was always there, and always changing.

In conclusion, then, we can understand an ancient literary text properly only if we take into account where it comes in the evolution of its genre, and how it engages with and transforms the conventions it inherits. The same is true of our literature too, of course, not least because classical works, with their highly developed sense of genre, form the foundation of the Western literary tradition.

William Allan is McConnell Laing Fellow and Tutor in Classics at University College, Oxford. His publications include Classical Literature: A Very Short Introduction (OUP, 2014).

The Very Short Introductions (VSI) series combines a small format with authoritative analysis and big ideas for hundreds of topic areas. Written by our expert authors, these books can change the way you think about the things that interest you and are the perfect introduction to subjects you previously knew nothing about. Grow your knowledge with OUPblog and the VSI series every Friday, subscribe to Very Short Introductions articles on the OUPblog via email or RSS, and like Very Short Introductions on Facebook.

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Image credit: Theatrical masks of Tragedy and Comedy. Mosaic, Roman artwork, 2nd century CE. From the Baths of Decius on the Aventine Hill, Rome. Capitoline Museums. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

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24. Blog Posts Come in 2s for Noah’s Ark!

Noah’s Ark

Illustrated by Peter Spier

Peter Spier’s 1977 Caldecott Award winning take on the story of The Flood is more kid relatable, at least for those of picture book age, than Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connolly as Noah and wife in the PG-13 spectacular and darker movie variation called Noah. Even Anthony Hopkins gets into the act as Noah’s grandfather, Methuselah. Spier’s version was named an ALA Notable Book, New York Times Best Illustrated Book of 1977 and winner of The Christopher Award.

Peter Spier’s does know a thing or two about the tale, for his telling in picture form has all of the essentials of the movie and is way less scary The two by twos are there in all their jammed packed glory. His ark is very “arky” and true to the image one has of the famous boat that sailed forty days, and as comedian Eddie Izzard observes in his routine, “C’mon, the nights are implicit!” They travel on one of the most famous of sea voyages along with Noah’s family and a boatload of snakes, insects, lions and tigers (caged of course), otherwise it would have been a munch fest! Russell Crowe’s boat in the movie is more rectangular and made from the Tree found in the Garden of Eden!

Two of everything else you and your child can imagine is living together in very close quarters! The sense of claustrophobia in the movie version, I’ve heard, is a bit unnerving, but then Spier’s Mr. and Mrs. Noah do not have an easy time of it either. His illustrations convey in beautiful watercolors, the preparations for the journey, the day in day out passage of time as man, bird, beast and every living thing get along, or try to, for the 40-day sojourn. Even Mrs. Noah grabs her husband in a big hug as the rain stops and the dove returns with a leafy branch from the appearance of land. It is a very human moment.

As the ark initially departs, I felt really sad, and your child may too, as there are animals left behind standing in knee-deep water as the rain pours down and the doors of the ark close. I can imagine those animals nudging each other and saying, “Hey, where do we fit in this scenario?” Scene shifts to the ark sailing hundreds of feet above cities and the land they once sat upon. Very powerful!

But Spier’s telling is by no means grim. It is realistic, closely detailed and invites a child to pore over the drawings and ask a ton of questions. Suggestion: Reread Genesis in the Old Testament if possible beforehand. Listen to this review from The Horn Book Magazine that is a tribute to an ancient tale that is timeless and told specifically for the picture book reader:


Peter Spier’s characteristic panoramas are marvels of minute

detail, activity, vitality and humor; a few of the scenes are

quiescent and serenely beautiful.


Peter Spier spares no detail of the scene inside the ark after the animals offload with the elephant first off! They have to call in Merry Maids, no question!

Since we have a vineyard, I was quite moved when the FIRST thing Noah plants in the new land is a VINEYARD. The scene is simply lovely with a rainbow arcing overhead!


 noah jan

On Noah’s Ark

By Jan Brett

May I also suggest another wonderful retelling of this story called On Noah’s Ark by that wonderfully talented and much touted picture book author, Jan Brett? It is seen through the eyes of Noah’s granddaughter who helps everyone settle in for the journey. Jan’s great love for animal life is evident on every page as she lovingly recreates the passengers on the big boat. Ever one for realistic research and detail in her books, Jan and her husband traveled to Botswana, Africa to see many of these animals in their own habitats. As Jan says, “To be physically close to Africa’s creatures was a primal, rapturous experience.” The panels surrounding the illustrations are taken from the papyrus plants they saw as they paddled in the Okavango Delta.

My favorite illustration is the granddaughter of Noah cuddled up and asleep on a soft furry lion’s mane as the long voyage continues.

I think it helps readers to see the same story told in two very different styles by two picture book artist’s that have the technique to detail the minute moments and the great ones of a story that continues to recreate itself in children’s lives in many forms as art, books, and toys.

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25. The Prime Minister (1876)

The Prime Minister. Anthony Trollope. 1876. 864 pages. [Source: Book I Bought]

The Prime Minister is the fifth book in the Palliser series by Anthony Trollope. Previous titles include Can You Forgive Her?, Phineas Finn, The Eustace Diamonds, and Phineas Redux.

I liked this one. I definitely liked it. The Prime Minister shares some themes with other Trollope novels which I've enjoyed. Trollope often wrote about marriages: happy marriages AND unhappy marriages. While some of Trollope's heroines have had their happily ever after endings, just as many have not.

The Prime Minister introduces the Wharton family into the series. Readers meet Everett and Emily and their father, Mr. Wharton. Everett is chummy with a Mr. Ferdinand Lopez. Emily's aunt also welcomes Mr. Lopez into her home. Emily and Ferdinand have had some meetings which lead him to hope that he has a good chance of marrying her. When he goes to her father, he is rejected. Mr. Wharton is quite upset at the very idea of it. He can't imagine ever saying yes and blessing that union. Emily is a dutiful daughter, but, stubborn and ultimately persuasive. She will not disobey her father, but, she will not move on and forget Mr. Lopez either. Her heart has decided that he is the one. Eventually Mr. Wharton softens his resolve and allows the marriage to take place. He is still not happy about it. He still would have preferred Arthur Fletcher, a man who has been in love with Emily for half his life. But he accepts that his daughter has a right to make her own decisions and be with the man she loves.

Plantagenet Palliser, now the Duke of Omnium, becomes Prime Minister. He sets up his coalition government. His wife, formerly Lady Glencora--now officially a Duchess, is so enthusiastic that she goes above and beyond her duty. She's determined that her husband will be a SUCCESS and that everyone will LOVE and ADORE him. Her hostessing plans are almost endless. She plans and spends, plans and spends. Her husband who has always been more than a little reserved is not happy exactly. He loves, loves, loves his wife. And he doesn't want to hurt her feelings and offend her. But her tastes aren't his. What she thinks is best for him, isn't what is truly best for him. She may be very social and thrive on society, he doesn't. The more she pushes him to be social, the less civil he becomes about it! One of the young men that the Duchess takes an interest in is Mr. Lopez. She'd like to see him elected to parliament. She says she'll help him win a seat in an election. At the very time she's promising him a seat, her husband is emphatically declaring that he will not support or endorse ANY candidate. He does not want there to be even a slight hint that he has an interest in the district. Such things might have been done in the past, might still be done by others in the present, but to him, the election would be tainted if he got involved and told everyone I want you to vote for him.

By this point, readers know and Emily knows that Mr. Lopez is a great disappointment. He is far from the husband of her dreams. It's not that she loses love and respect for him, though she does, she comes to despise him because of the way he treats her, the way he talks to her, the way he manipulates her, the way he controls her and tells her not only what to do but what to think. She realizes too late that Arthur Fletcher is the better man. One of the first things Mr. Lozez does after the wedding is making the attempt to train her. Part of this training involves manipulating money out of her father. She is NOT happy now that she sees Mr. Lopez only wants money, money, and more money.

In terms of plot:
  • Will Palliser's coalition government be a success?
  • Will his wife ever stop throwing parties and spending money?
  • Will Lozez win his election? Or will his rival Arthur Fletcher win?
  • Will Emily find a way to escape her horrid husband?
  • Will Mr. Wharton and Everett reconcile?

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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