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The Case of the Stuttering Bishop. (Perry Mason #9) Erle Stanley Gardner. 1936. 189 pages. [Source: Bought]
I love watching Perry Mason. I do. It's one of my favorite shows. Do I love reading about Perry Mason as much as watching Perry Mason? Maybe not quite as much. But I certainly enjoy it. I find them easy and satisfying. The Case of the Stuttering Bishop is one of the better ones I've read. It was adapted for the show's second season--which explains why it felt so very familiar while I was reading it.
The book opens with a bishop going to Perry Mason for advice. What Perry and Della find most disturbing about this visit is the fact that this bishop from Australia stutters. His stuttering leads them to believe that he may not be who he claims to be, that the whole case he's presented them with may be filled with lies. Curious they are, no doubt, which is why they get Paul Drake on the case.
Clues come out with each chapter, the story unfolds bit by bit. Perry Mason, Della, and Paul work together to try to find out the real story, to determine who is lying and who is telling the truth. I won't go into any of the details or specifics here. Details in reviews spoil mysteries often.
If you enjoy watching Perry Mason, chances are you'll enjoy reading this one.
The Warden. Anthony Trollope. 1855. Oxford World's Classics. 294 pages. [Source: Bought]
I make no secret of the fact that I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Anthony Trollope. The Warden is the first in his Barchester series. And, I believe, it was the first Trollope novel I read. I first read and reviewed it in the spring of 2009.
I loved rereading it. I loved going back and visiting with these characters particularly the character of Mr. Harding. As much as I enjoy the other characters, I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Mr. Harding. He's such a dear old soul.
Reasons you should read The Warden
As one of Trollope's shorter novels, it's a great introduction to his work.
It is the first book in a series, his Barchester series, which is FANTASTIC.
It is all about the characters and relationships between characters. Sure, there's a plot, but, it's not an action-packed plot. It's all about ethics. Is it right or is it wrong for Mr. Harding to receive the salary he does?!
The writing is delightful.
What is it about?!
It's about one man, Mr. Harding, and his family: two daughters, one married, the other quite single. It's also about Harding's neighborhood and circle of friends. It's about the necessity of having a good reputation and a clean conscience.
Eleanor is the apple of her daddy's eye. Susan is married to an Archdeacon (Grantley). Because of his eldest daughters good fortune in marriage, Mr. Harding, has been named warden of Hiram's Hospital (alms house). The 'enemy' of Mr. Harding (and the suitor of Eleanor) is a young man named John Bold. When we are first introduced to these characters, we are learning that Bold is encouraging a law suit against Mr. Harding. He feels that Mr. Harding is in violation of the will. (Way, way, way back when (several centuries past), a man left his (quite wealthy) estate to the church. The church followed the will for the most part, but as times changed, they changed the way they carried it out. They were following it through in spirit in a way: still seeking to take care of twelve poor men (bedesman) but over time the salary of the warden increased.) Bold has stirred up the twelve bedesmen into signing a petition demanding justice, demanding more money, demanding 'fairer' distribution of funds.
The book presents this case through multiple perspectives: through two Grantleys (father and son), a few lawyers, Mr. Harding and Mr. Bold, of course, and through a handful of the twelve men involved that would profit from the change. There is one man whose voice seems louder than all the rest. And that voice comes from the newspaper, the Jupiter, one journalist writes harsh, condemning words directed at Mr. Harding--he assumes much having never met Harding personally. These words weigh heavy on the heart and soul of Mr. Harding. (And they don't sit easy on Mr. Bold either.)
Can Mr. Harding get his reputation back? What is the right thing to do? Is he in violation of the will? Is the church? What is his moral responsibility in caring for these twelve poor-and-retired men? What is his responsibility to the community?
Hard Times. Charles Dickens. 1854/1992. Everyman's Library. 336 pages. [Source: Library]
'Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, Sir!'
Did I like Hard Times? Did I love Hard Times? I'm not sure which--like or love--at the moment. I can only say that I was surprised that I found this book to be so quick and entertaining. I'm used to spending weeks with Dickens, not a day. Yes, I sped through this one. Not because I had to, but, because I wanted to. I found it easy to follow, but, I'm finding it difficult to summarize.
Readers meet Mr. Gradgrind and two of his children whom he's bringing up on facts: Louisa and Tom. On the surface perhaps, the book is about how this philosophical upbringing works out for them as adults. Or how it doesn't, as the case may be. Louisa marries one of her father's closest associates, Josiah Bounderby, who is several decades (at least) older. Tom goes to work at Bounderby's bank. If you've read Dickens before, you know to expect plenty of characters and side stories. This is also the case in Hard Times. Readers also meet: Sissy Jupe, Mr. Sleary, Stephen Blackpool, Rachael, Mrs. Sparsit, Bitzer, James Harthouse, and Mrs. Pegler. There were characters that I really liked, and there were characters that I really didn't like at all!
I liked this one very much. I liked the writing style. I liked the pacing. I liked the characterization. I liked the dialogue. I'm so glad I've made a friend of Dickens! This definitely was not the case when I was in high school and struggling with Great Expectations!
Rachel Ray by Anthony Trollope. 1863. 403 pages. [Source: Bought]
There are women who cannot grow alone as standard trees;—for whom the support and warmth of some wall, some paling, some post, is absolutely necessary;—who, in their growth, will bend and incline themselves towards some such prop for their life, creeping with their tendrils along the ground till they reach it when the circumstances of life have brought no such prop within their natural and immediate reach. Of most women it may be said that it would be well for them that they should marry,—as indeed of most men also, seeing that man and wife will each lend the other strength, and yet in lending lose none; but to the women of whom I now speak some kind of marriage is quite indispensable, and by them some kind of marriage is always made, though the union is often unnatural. A woman in want of a wall against which to nail herself will swear conjugal obedience sometimes to her cook, sometimes to her grandchild, sometimes to her lawyer. Any standing corner, post, or stump, strong enough to bear her weight will suffice; but to some standing corner, post, or stump, she will find her way and attach herself, and there will she be married.
Mrs. Ray is one of the "weak" women described in the opening chapter. She is a widow with two grown (or nearly grown) daughters. Mrs. Prime (Dorothea) is a widow herself. She tends to take her opinions--in this case, religious or moral opinions--to the extreme. She is severe and critical. (Honestly, I hated her.) Miss Rachel Ray is the other daughter. She is the joy of her mother's life, really. While the daughter is off doing her duty, Rachel and her mother enjoy life's little luxuries and actually relax a bit with each other, relieved to have Dorothea out of the way even if it's just for an hour or two. When the novel opens, Mrs. Prime is on the attack--or close to it. She has ammunition to use against her sister. Her sister was SEEN talking to a man, talking to a man--a stranger--in the churchyard, and at sunset. Mrs. Prime doesn't need to be persuaded to think the worst, to think that Rachel is now somehow a fallen woman. Mrs. Ray (the mother), however, is both weak and loyal. Being weak, she will listen to Mrs. Prime going on and on about how wrong and scandalous it is for Rachel to walk and talk with a young man. Being loyal, she will believe the best about Rachel and hold out hope that there is a way to reconcile things nicely for everyone. Mrs. Ray will talk to Rachel, and, more importantly she will listen to Rachel. (Mrs. Prime LOVES to talk, but rarely listens or takes the time to understand and consider what the other person is saying.)
So who is the young man? Well, he's Luke Rowan. He's due to inherit a brewery, or at least half a brewery. At the time the novel opens, he's staying with the Tappits. Rachel is acquainted with the daughters of the family. Through these young women, she's introduced to Luke. Good news: Luke really takes a liking to Rachel. Bad news: The Tappits see Luke's interest in Rachel, and turn on them both. Plus, Mrs. Tappit and Mr. Tappit both are slanderers in their own way. As silly as it may seem, soon the whole community is forced to take sides and have an opinion about Luke Rowan. It's also election time. It gets plenty messy. To sum it up: Luke proposes to Rachel. She says yes. He leaves town after a big falling out with the Tappits. Everyone takes sides. Everyone starts talking. Will he come back? Is he gone for good? Would it be a good thing for everyone if that was the last of him? Is he worthy of Rachel? Is she worthy of him? Was their attachment sincere? Should she consider herself actually engaged? Or was he using her?
Further complicating matters, Mrs. Ray insists that Rachel should NOT correspond with him, and that she should tell him that she releases him from their engagement. Why should Rachel end things because of hearsay? Mr. Comfort heard something from somebody who heard it from somebody else, etc. And Mr. Comfort passes along "good advice" to Mrs. Ray. What's an obedient girl to do?!
Luke wants two things from life: to brew GOOD beer, to make a success of his brewery, and to marry Rachel and live happily ever after...
I liked Rachel Ray. I did. I can't say that I like or respect all the characters. Mrs. Prime is very annoying, for example!!! I hated how judgmental she was, how cruel and selfish. Not to mention proud. I thought it was sad that Mrs. Ray was so dependent on others, how she relied so much upon Mrs. Prime and Mr. Comfort. She loved, loved, loved Rachel. But she was always more concerned with what do other people say is right?! I loved Mrs. Butler Cornbury (Patty Comfort). Her husband was in the election for parliament. She escorts Rachel to a party/dance. She "sides" with Luke and Rachel. She was just a great "minor" character. I almost wish we'd had more of her and less of Mrs. Prime and Mr. Prong.
Is Rachel Ray my new favorite by Anthony Trollope? Probably not. I think Belton Estate is a better fit for me. But I am glad I read it!!! I rarely--if ever--regret spending time with Trollope!!!
“Flattery looks like friendship, just like a wolf looks like a dog.” Remember that line please, for it provides a perfect introduction via this anonymous quote, to another essential classic in our Way Back Wednesday essential canon of picture book not to be missed classics.
Flattery is at the heart of Barbara Cooney’s Caldecott Award winning adaptation of “The Nun’s Priest’s Tale”, taken from Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales.”
Winning the award in 1959, the picture book tells the story of Chanticleer, a beautifully crowing, but proud cock and his nemesis, a wily, but ultimately outfoxed fox. Chanticleer, and his mate Partlet, are a lovey dovey duo, living on the farm of a poor, but hardworking widow with two young daughters.
Chanticleer has a very prophetic dream that his mate pooh poohs. He dreams of a
….beast like a hound which tried to grab my body and would have killed me. His color was between yellow and red, and his tail and both ears were tipped with black different from the rest of the fur
Hmmm. Now what sort of description does THAT fit, eh Partlet? But instead of comforting her partner, she calls him a coward and says, “Do not fear dreams.” Dear Partlet, tell that to Caesar, when his wife, Calpurnia (great name), warned him not to go to the Senate on the Ides of March. And we all know how THAT dream ended.
But this tale is not so much about dreams, but how flattery can get both Chanticleer and the fox in a spot where both use flattery to get what they want. Fortunately, for Chanticleer, they each want different things.
Barbara Cooney won a second Caldecott in 1980 for “Ox-Cart Man” and, who can ever forget the Lupine Lady, “Miss Rumphius?”
In “Chanticleer and the Fox”, Ms. Cooney elegantly employs a combination of color and black and white in her drawings to emphasize the intensity of the action, or a splash of color to set off more pastoral scenes.
Her descriptive passages and narrative draw young readers in, and her use of vocabulary is first rate.
I applaud picture books such as “Chanticleer and the Fox.” They are excellent both in storytelling, art and they believe their audiences to be up to the challenge of this type of book and never water things down too much.
May I say that they, in a way, “flatter” the reader in a good way? They believe young readers are up for it. And they are; if we, as adults, believe it too!
I am a big fan of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith. I thought the literary mash-up of Austen and zombies worked "very well in the context of the original Pride and Prejudice story because in Austen World the hunt for a husband is life and death, much like encounters with zombies." In Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, the Bennet daughters had pledged to fight zombies until they were "dead, lame, or married." Marriage is pretty much the end for the Bennets in whatever universe they're part of. And the book is funny.
I didn't run out to read other classic/horror mash-ups because I thought it was a situation that would get old fast. Little Women and Werewolves by Louisa May Alcott and Porter Grand jumped out at me at a library book sale, though, and now I have, indeed, read it. The situation isn't old in this book. It just doesn't work the way it did with Pride and Prejudice.
Little Women and Werewolves follows the original book very closely, but with werewolves slipped in. Instead of fighting the werewolves, the way the Bennets fight zombies, the Marches are far more passive, being merely sympathetic to the werewolves' plight, seeing as they have to live in hiding or they'll be hunted down by members of the bullyish Brigade. The March girls have learned from their minister father to be tolerant of werewolves.
But here's the thing: The werewolves are cold-blooded killers. When the moon is full, they kill and eat innocents. They feel no remorse. The Marches have no problem with this. They are not horrified. That doesn't seem to make sense logically in the context of this story about these sensitive, gentle, spiritual people. I wondered if some of the gory scenes were supposed to be funny, but if so, I totally missed the humor.
Little Women wasn't my favorite Alcott book when I was young. (I am a Little Men fan.) As I was reading Little Women and Werewolves, I started wondering what the original book's attraction is. There isn't a lot of story here. Even with werewolves. I may try to reread bits and pieces of it to compare them to the werewolf version.
Brave New World. Aldous Huxley. 1932. 268 pages. [Source: Bought]
A squat grey building of only thirty-four stories. Over the main entrance the words, Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre, and, in a shield, the World State's motto, COMMUNITY, IDENTITY, STABILITY.
Did I love Brave New World? Not exactly. Am I glad I read it? Yes. Brave New World is a classic dystopian novel. The first half of the book seems more focused on world-building, on providing the reader with all the little details that make this future world so horrific. Not much happens but world-building. Readers meet a character or two, sure, but mostly description and information. The second half of the book, in my opinion, is where the characters become more developed. The basic premise: children are no longer born. No more mothers and fathers. No parenting. Children are "hatched." Sometimes several thousand at a time--all identical, I believe. Conditioning begins early in an artificial womb of sorts. Every single little thing is planned and accounted for. Nothing really left to chance. The conditioning continues through childhood. Even at night. Different classes are conditioned differently, of course.
In the second half, Bernard and Lenina go on vacation together to a reservation in New Mexico. They'll get a chance to see savages first hand. They meet two savages that interest them very much. For one is a woman who grew up civilized. (Her name is Linda). She was on vacation when something happened--she became separated from the group and was left behind. She's gone native--forced to go native. She's even had to--shudder--become a mother and raise her own child. His name is John. Though, for most of the book he is simply Savage. They tell their story to Lenina and Bernard. Bernard seeks permission to bring the two back with him. All four head back to civilization--back to London. But how well will John cope with civilization?
Brave New World is both strange and thought-provoking. Also depressing. The world-building was nicely done, I believe, but I would probably need to reread it a time or two to "catch" everything and fully appreciate it. There is plenty to 'shock' that's for sure. Some scenes are just disturbing--and are meant to be disturbing or disorienting at the very least.
I did like the second half more than the first half. It's not that the second half was less disturbing--it wasn't--but the fact that the focus was more on the characters. I can't say that I "liked" or "loved" any of the characters. I pitied John the most because he felt so out of place on the reservation and so out of place in civilization. John wasn't the only memorable character either.
I can see how Brave New World inspired other writers through the decades. Anyone who reads modern dystopian novels--there are so many I could list--should consider reading this one.
"I don't understand anything," she said with decision, determined to preserve her incomprehension intact. "Nothing. Least of all," she continued in another tone, "why you don't take soma when you have these dreadful ideas of yours. You'd forget all about them. And instead of feeling miserable, you'd be so jolly. So jolly," she repeated and smiled..."
The world's stable now. People are happy; they get what they want, and they never want what they can't get. They're well off; they're safe; they're never ill; they're not afraid of death; they're blissfully ignorant of passion and old age; they're plagued with no mothers or fathers; they've got no wives or children, or lovers to feel strongly about; they're so conditioned that they practically can't help behaving as they ought to behave. And if anything should go wrong, there's soma.
Welcome to The Midnight Garden discussion of Tuck Everlasting, which is posted to coincide with the 40th Anniversary Blog Tour. This book has been a special favorite of mine since one of my best friends pressed it into my hands in 5th grade. At the tender age of 10 fiction suddenly posed me with the question: “What if you could live forever?” There is such a unique relationship with stories you loved specifically as a child. I’m so glad I read this at the age of 11 when the magic of the book couldn’t escape me. But we certainly hope to hear all of manner of opinions about this book! We’re also so excited to be giving away a beautiful hardcover of the special anniversary edition, which includes a foreward by Gregory Maguire. Did you know that this book has never been out of print in all that time? Let’s discuss why... Read more »
There are thirty-one short stories in this L.M. Montgomery collection. There are some great stories within this collection. There are some not-so-great stories within this collection. The quality definitely varies story to story. But if you already love L.M. Montgomery, it's well worth reading. If you're never read her, however, this may not be the best introduction. True, you'd probably find something to like, to enjoy, maybe even love. But would it persuade you to seek out EVERYTHING she's ever written because she's oh-so-amazing?! Probably not. It's good to keep in mind that these short stories were published several years before her novels. (Anne of Green Gables was published in 1908).
Trifles. A Play in One Act. Susan Glaspell. 1916. 20 pages. [Source: Read online]
Who killed John Wright? Was it his wife? If it was, what was her motive? If it wasn't, how could she have possibly slept through her husband's murder? Wouldn't someone entering their bedroom and slipping a rope around his neck and killing have woken her up? It doesn't help that there was no signs of forced entry. Mrs. Wright is in custody when the play opens. A handful of people are at the crime scene: three men and two women. (County Attorney, Sheriff, Mrs. Peters (the sheriff's wife, Mr. Hale (who reported the murder), and Mrs. Hale. The men, of course, are looking for evidence and facts and something to make a story of. The women, on the other hand, are "merely" looking at "trifles." They've come to pick up a few things to take Mrs. Wright. She's asked for her apron, among other things. She's also most concerned about her preserves--with good reason.
At the start of the play, the focus is on the crime. Plenty of facts uncovered by Hale and the Sheriff and the County Attorney. But the women don't follow the men upstairs to the bedroom to the scene of the actual crime. They remain below, and that is where the focus remains. Let the men do the hard work of crime-solving, right?
Much is revealed in Trifles. There is a good reason why the short story adaptation was titled "Jury of Her Peers."
The play is great--very interesting and quite memorable. I am not going to share the details in my review because this one is best read unspoiled.
It may seem strange perhaps to post a book on Rosa Parks’ act of defiance on December 1, 1955, to honor Martin Luther King on his national holiday, but as so many other events in history, they are interlinked. When Rosa Parks defied the Montgomery, Alabama city code that required them to not only sit in a separate section of the city buses, but to give up their seats if white passengers boarding, could not find seating in the all white section! Young readers need to be reminded how life was for many of our citizens in the not too distant past. And that is what “Back of the Bus” helps to achieve in telling the Rosa Parks event through the eyes of a fictional black child and his mother seated on the bus that day.
Aaron Reynolds fills his book with small events to portray the small boy as just a child riding the bus with his mom as an everyday event in his life; a day just like any other except it turned out to be a defining moment in history he chances upon. He takes out his bright, shiny marble, a tiger’s eye, and rolls it. As the bus slows, it follows the law of gravity away from him and rolls right into the hand of Rosa Parks who rolls it back with a grin. More passengers get on.
Then it happens. Mr. Blake, the driver growls out, “Y’all gotta move, now.” Some people do get up and move, but the bus is at a dead standstill. Somebody is speaking up. But the words of the bus driver carry to the back of the bus, “I’m gonna call the police, now.”
Whispers fill the halted bus and the boy can see from his perch at the back of the bus that the speaker was Rosa Parks.
She doesn’t belong up front like that,
and them folks know it.
But she’s sittin’ right there,
her eyes all fiercelike a lightnin’ storm,
likemaybe she does belong up there.
And I startthinkin’ maybe she does too.
Words may be instructive as we parents know, but I still think example is the strongest teacher. And in Ms. Parks her subsequent arrest and fine because of the violation of Montgomery’s city code was a watershed event.
The boy’s mother placates him with the words, “Tomorrow all this’ll be forgot.” Though his mother says the words, he too takes note of the new “lightning” storm” in her eyes. And instead of feeling afraid, he feels a new strength.
Taking out his tiger’s eye marble from the tightly closed fist, instead he holds it up to the light with a new pride. I love the illustrations that seem a bit out of focus and muted until Rosa Parks takes her stand. The defining lines and shapes seem dim with everything hazy and unclear, including the people on the bus. Mr. Cooper’s artistic technique changes with Ms. Parks’ refusal. Images are sharp and clear. People, including the young boy’s mother are drawn with clear and delineated thoughtful feelings of emotion at what has happened. Art and narrative blend beautifully to display the change that is afoot.
Where does Martin Luther King’s life intersect with Rosa Parks? Following this event, the Mt. Zion Church of Montgomery spurs the formation of the Montgomery Improvement Association, lead by Martin Luther King. Their initial goal is to effect change starting with the very segregation bus code effecting Ms. Parks. The MIA organizes a very successful boycott of the buses for 382 days with some 40,000 black riders cobbling together alternate means of transportation to get to work. They included walking, carpooling, riding in African-American operated cabs. Martin Luther King’s home was attacked in the ensuing violence the boycott began.
Rosa Parks single act of defiance with the words, “I don’t think I should have to stand up,” was the catalyst for change. Books and the ideas they foster have done the same thing for people with each turn of the page. And for your young readers, “Back of the Bus” may not only provide a look back in history at a single and seminal act of defiance that changed an unjust law, but a model for a way to stand up for something they believe in when the still, small voice in each of us tells us to do so.
In the matter of Jezebel's Daughter, my recollections begin with the deaths of two foreign gentlemen, in two different countries, on the same day of the same year. They were both men of some importance in their way, and both strangers to each other. Mr. Ephraim Wagner, merchant (formerly of Frankfort-on-the-Main), died in London on the third day of September, 1828. Doctor Fontaine—famous in his time for discoveries in experimental chemistry—died at Wurzburg on the third day of September, 1828. Both the merchant and the doctor left widows. The merchant's widow (an Englishwoman) was childless. The doctor's widow (of a South German family) had a daughter to console her. At that distant time—I am writing these lines in the year 1878, and looking back through half a century—I was a lad employed in Mr. Wagner's office. Being his wife's nephew, he most kindly received me as a member of his household. What I am now about to relate I saw with my own eyes and heard with my own ears. My memory is to be depended on. Like other old men, I recollect events which happened at the beginning of my career far more clearly than events which happened only two or three years since.
Did I enjoy reading Jezebel's Daughter? Yes!!! I enjoyed it very much! David Glenney, is the nephew of Mrs. Wagner. He is also a clerk in [the family] business. The Wagner family welcomes Fritz Keller, the son of a business partner, into their home. He's been sent away from home because his father doesn't like the woman his son has fallen in love with. Fritz tells David all about his one true love: Minna Fontaine. She's perfect in every way imaginable, at least Fritz thinks so, but, Minna's mother, Madame Fontaine, rubs some people the wrong way. There are some who love and defend her, but, more often than not, most tend to think she's really 'a Jezebel.' Fritz receives a letter from someone sharing good and valid reasons why the mother may be pure evil. Fritz dismisses it, of course, and David doesn't know why it's any of his business when all is said and done! (Soon David will meet Minna and Madame Fontaine and form his own opinions. As will his aunt, Mrs. Wagner).
So. After Mr. Wagner died, he left his wife his business. And she's determined to do a few things. One to employ good and honest women in the business. And. To help rehabilitate a man from bedlam. His name is Jack Straw. And he plays a very big role in the book! Eventually all the characters will come together under one household...and then there's DRAMA and excitement. Jezebel's Daughter could definitely be classified as a sensation novel.
Is Madame Fontaine 'a Jezebel'? Is she evil? Is she a murderess? Is she a schemer? Or has she been falsely accused?
Will Fritz and Minna's romance prove true? Will they be allowed to marry?
Can Jack Straw be rehabilitated and cured of his madness?
Their Eyes Were Watching God. Zora Neale Hurston. 1937. Harper Perennial Modern Classics. 256 pages. [Source: Bought]
Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men. Now women forget all those things they don’t want to remember, and remember everything they don’t want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly. (1)
I've read Their Eyes Were Watching God a handful of times now. (I first read it in college.) This book by Zora Neale Hurston is just beautiful and compelling. Every time I reread it I'm reminded just how beautiful and how compelling. I never quite forget, mind you. But every time I pick the book up, I'm swept into the story and experience it all over again. (The best kind of book to reread!)
Janie is the heroine of Their Eyes Were Watching God. There is a framework to the story that allows the reader to come full circle with Janie. Readers first see Janie through an outsider perspective, a gossiping group.
So the beginning of this was a woman and she had come back from burying the dead... The people all saw her come because it was sundown. The sun was gone, but he had left his footprints in the sky. It was the time for sitting on porches beside the road. It was time to hear things and talk. These sitters had been tongueless, earless, eyeless conveniences all day long. Mules and other brutes had occupied their skins. But now, the sun and the bossman were gone, so the skins felt powerful and human. They became lords of sounds and lesser things. They passed nations through their mouths. They sat in judgment. (1)
One from the group is Janie's best friend, Pheoby, she leaves the group after a few pages, and goes to her friend bringing a much welcomed plate of food. Then, together, they talk. Janie tells her friend her story--her whole story--framing things just so, explaining and justifying as need arises. It's honest and emotional.
Janie saw her life like a great tree in leaf with the things suffered, things enjoyed, things done and undone. Dawn and doom was in the branches. (8)
To keep it short: Janie was raised by her grandmother; when she came of age (16 or so), her grandma arranged a marriage for Janie to an older man; when that marriage failed to bloom in love and happiness, Janie is swept off her feet by a traveler passing by; she leaves her first husband and is married to a second; the two settle in Florida and are influential founders of the black community; after the third husband dies, Janie finally, finally, finally falls in love, but, is Tea Cake the love of her life perfectly perfect?! Of course not! Pheoby knew her when she was married to the second husband, when she was Janie Stark. Now, she's come back to that community without Tea Cake, and everyone wants to know EVERYTHING that has happened in the past two years.
'Dat's you, Alphabet, don't you know yo' ownself?' (9)
Oh to be a pear tree--any tree in bloom! With kissing bees singing of the beginning of the world! She was sixteen. She had glossy leaves and bursting buds and she wanted to struggle with life but it seemed to elude her. Where were the singing bees for her? Nothing on the place nor in her grandma's house answered her. She searched as much of the world as she could from the top of the front steps and then went on down to the front gate and leaned over to gaze up and down the road. Looking, waiting, breathing short with impatience. Waiting for the world to be made. (11)
Janie's first dream was dead, so she became a woman. (25)
Her old thoughts were going to come in handy now, but new words would have to be made and said to fit them. (32)
It must have been the way Joe spoke out without giving her a chance to say anything one way or another that took the bloom off of things. (43)
Every morning the world flung itself over and exposed the twon to the sun. (51)
Janie stood where he left her for unmeasured time and thought. She stood there until something fell off the shelf inside her. Then she went inside there to see what it was. It was her image of Jody tumbled down and shattered. But looking at it she saw that it never was the flesh and blood figure of her dreams. Just something she had grabbed up to drape her dreams over. In a way she turned her back upon the image where it lay and looked further. She had no more blossomy openings dusting pollen over her man, neither any glistening young fruit where the petals used to be. She found that she had a host of thoughts she had never expressed to him, and numerous emotions she had never let Jody know about. Things packed up and put away in parts of her heart where he could never fidn them. She was saving up feelings for some man she had never seen. She had an inside and an outside now and suddenly she knew how not to mix them. (72)
All next day in the house and store she thought resisting thoughts about Tea Cake. She even ridiculed him in her mind and was a little ashamed of the association. But every hour or two the battle had to be fought all over again. She couldn't make him look just like any other man to her. He looked like the love thoughts of women. He could be a bee to a blossom--a pear tree blossom in the spring. He seemed to be crushing scent out of the world with his footsteps. Crushing aromatic herbs with every step he took. Spices hung about him. He was a glance from God. (106)
The wind came back with triple fury, and put out the light for the last time. They sat in company with the other in other shanties, their eyes straining against crude walls and their souls asking if He meant to measure their puny might against His. They seemed to be staring at the dark, but their eyes were watching God. (160)
No hour is ever eternity, but it has its right to weep. (184)
Have you read Their Eyes Were Watching God? What did you think?
As I pack away my Christmas tree for another year, I took stock today of my Christmas haul of books. I’m planning on reading more classics in 2015 and was fortunate enough to receive a few beautiful clothbound editions for Christmas. I hope you too were lucky enough to receive a book or two at Christmas time, […]
Jane Eyre. Charlotte Bronte. 1847. 300 pages. [Source: Own]
There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.
Can a plain, orphan governess find true love and a happily ever after? Yes, if she's willing to speak her own mind, stay true to herself, and fight for the one she loves. Jane's journey to her happily ever after certainly wasn't easy or typical.
I have many, many posts about Jane Eyre. But surprisingly, only two book reviews! I first reviewed it--for the blog--in September 2008. My second review is from December 2011.In 2012, I reviewed ten film adaptations of Jane Eyre. Each film got its own review, but I then wrote up a post analyzing them all.
It had been a few years since I'd last read Jane Eyre. After watching it so many times, I needed to take a break. But I knew that I would want to include the book in my year of rereading. It is just wonderful to revisit Jane Eyre again and again and again.
Do you love Jane Eyre too? Do you have a favorite scene? a least favorite scene? What is your favorite adaptation? What scenes do you find essential in an adaptation?
Some of my favorite quotes:
He had been looking two minutes at the fire, and I had been looking the same length of time at him, when, turning suddenly, he caught my gaze fastened on his physiognomy. “You examine me, Miss Eyre,” said he: “do you think me handsome?” I should, if I had deliberated, have replied to this question by something conventionally vague and polite; but the answer somehow slipped from my tongue before I was aware—“No, sir.” “Ah! By my word! there is something singular about you,” said he: “you have the air of a little nonnette; quaint, quiet, grave, and simple, as you sit with your hands before you, and your eyes generally bent on the carpet (except, by-the-bye, when they are directed piercingly to my face; as just now, for instance); and when one asks you a question, or makes a remark to which you are obliged to reply, you rap out a round rejoinder, which, if not blunt, is at least brusque. What do you mean by it?” “Sir, I was too plain; I beg your pardon. I ought to have replied that it was not easy to give an impromptu answer to a question about appearances; that tastes mostly differ; and that beauty is of little consequence, or something of that sort.” “You ought to have replied no such thing. Beauty of little consequence, indeed! And so, under pretence of softening the previous outrage, of stroking and soothing me into placidity, you stick a sly penknife under my ear! Go on: what fault do you find with me, pray? I suppose I have all my limbs and all my features like any other man?” “Mr. Rochester, allow me to disown my first answer: I intended no pointed repartee: it was only a blunder.” “Just so: I think so: and you shall be answerable for it. Criticise me: does my forehead not please you?” He lifted up the sable waves of hair which lay horizontally over his brow, and showed a solid enough mass of intellectual organs, but an abrupt deficiency where the suave sign of benevolence should have risen. “Now, ma’am, am I a fool?” “Far from it, sir. You would, perhaps, think me rude if I inquired in return whether you are a philanthropist?”
“You looked very much puzzled, Miss Eyre; and though you are not pretty any more than I am handsome, yet a puzzled air becomes you; besides, it is convenient, for it keeps those searching eyes of yours away from my physiognomy, and busies them with the worsted flowers of the rug; so puzzle on. Young lady, I am disposed to be gregarious and communicative to-night.” With this announcement he rose from his chair, and stood, leaning his arm on the marble mantelpiece: in that attitude his shape was seen plainly as well as his face; his unusual breadth of chest, disproportionate almost to his length of limb. I am sure most people would have thought him an ugly man; yet there was so much unconscious pride in his port; so much ease in his demeanour; such a look of complete indifference to his own external appearance; so haughty a reliance on the power of other qualities, intrinsic or adventitious, to atone for the lack of mere personal attractiveness, that, in looking at him, one inevitably shared the indifference, and, even in a blind, imperfect sense, put faith in the confidence. “I am disposed to be gregarious and communicative to-night,” he repeated, “and that is why I sent for you: the fire and the chandelier were not sufficient company for me; nor would Pilot have been, for none of these can talk. Adèle is a degree better, but still far below the mark; Mrs. Fairfax ditto; you, I am persuaded, can suit me if you will: you puzzled me the first evening I invited you down here. I have almost forgotten you since: other ideas have driven yours from my head; but to-night I am resolved to be at ease; to dismiss what importunes, and recall what pleases. It would please me now to draw you out—to learn more of you—therefore speak.” Instead of speaking, I smiled; and not a very complacent or submissive smile either. “Speak,” he urged. “What about, sir?” “Whatever you like. I leave both the choice of subject and the manner of treating it entirely to yourself.” Accordingly I sat and said nothing: “If he expects me to talk for the mere sake of talking and showing off, he will find he has addressed himself to the wrong person,” I thought. “You are dumb, Miss Eyre.” I was dumb still. He bent his head a little towards me, and with a single hasty glance seemed to dive into my eyes. “Stubborn?” he said, “and annoyed. Ah! it is consistent. I put my request in an absurd, almost insolent form. Miss Eyre, I beg your pardon. The fact is, once for all, I don’t wish to treat you like an inferior: that is” (correcting himself), “I claim only such superiority as must result from twenty years’ difference in age and a century’s advance in experience. This is legitimate, et j’y tiens, as Adèle would say; and it is by virtue of this superiority, and this alone, that I desire you to have the goodness to talk to me a little now, and divert my thoughts, which are galled with dwelling on one point—cankering as a rusty nail.” He had deigned an explanation, almost an apology, and I did not feel insensible to his condescension, and would not seem so. “I am willing to amuse you, if I can, sir—quite willing; but I cannot introduce a topic, because how do I know what will interest you? Ask me questions, and I will do my best to answer them.”
Besides, I know what sort of a mind I have placed in communication with my own: I know it is one not liable to take infection: it is a peculiar mind: it is a unique one. Happily I do not mean to harm it: but, if I did, it would not take harm from me. The more you and I converse, the better; for while I cannot blight you, you may refresh me.”
The ease of his manner freed me from painful restraint: the friendly frankness, as correct as cordial, with which he treated me, drew me to him. I felt at times as if he were my relation rather than my master: yet he was imperious sometimes still; but I did not mind that; I saw it was his way. So happy, so gratified did I become with this new interest added to life, that I ceased to pine after kindred: my thin crescent-destiny seemed to enlarge; the blanks of existence were filled up; my bodily health improved; I gathered flesh and strength. And was Mr. Rochester now ugly in my eyes? No, reader: gratitude, and many associations, all pleasurable and genial, made his face the object I best liked to see; his presence in a room was more cheering than the brightest fire. Yet I had not forgotten his faults; indeed, I could not, for he brought them frequently before me. He was proud, sardonic, harsh to inferiority of every description: in my secret soul I knew that his great kindness to me was balanced by unjust severity to many others. He was moody, too; unaccountably so; I more than once, when sent for to read to him, found him sitting in his library alone, with his head bent on his folded arms; and, when he looked up, a morose, almost a malignant, scowl blackened his features. But I believed that his moodiness, his harshness, and his former faults of morality (I say former, for now he seemed corrected of them) had their source in some cruel cross of fate. I believed he was naturally a man of better tendencies, higher principles, and purer tastes than such as circumstances had developed, education instilled, or destiny encouraged. I thought there were excellent materials in him; though for the present they hung together somewhat spoiled and tangled. I cannot deny that I grieved for his grief, whatever that was, and would have given much to assuage it. Though I had now extinguished my candle and was laid down in bed, I could not sleep for thinking of his look when he paused in the avenue, and told how his destiny had risen up before him, and dared him to be happy at Thornfield.
I had not intended to love him; the reader knows I had wrought hard to extirpate from my soul the germs of love there detected; and now, at the first renewed view of him, they spontaneously arrived, green and strong! He made me love him without looking at me.
“He is not to them what he is to me,” I thought: “he is not of their kind. I believe he is of mine;—I am sure he is—I feel akin to him—I understand the language of his countenance and movements: though rank and wealth sever us widely, I have something in my brain and heart, in my blood and nerves, that assimilates me mentally to him. Did I say, a few days since, that I had nothing to do with him but to receive my salary at his hands? Did I forbid myself to think of him in any other light than as a paymaster? Blasphemy against nature! Every good, true, vigorous feeling I have gathers impulsively round him. I know I must conceal my sentiments: I must smother hope; I must remember that he cannot care much for me. For when I say that I am of his kind, I do not mean that I have his force to influence, and his spell to attract; I mean only that I have certain tastes and feelings in common with him.
Did I enjoy reading Flora Thompson's Lark Rise to Candleford? Yes. Did I enjoy all three books equally? Probably not. Did I enjoy any one book as much as I loved the TV adaptation? Probably not. Lark Rise to Candleford is an omnibus edition of a trilogy: Lark Rise, Over to Candleford, and Candleford Green.
The first book in the series is Lark Rise. What I liked about Lark Rise was the fact that it had a cozy yet realistic feel to it. The chapters capture what life was like in a specific time and place, a particular part of the country in the 1880s. Rural vignettes. The book is rich in detail and description. Nothing happens but description. A sampling of chapter titles: "A Hamlet Childhood," "Men Afield," "At the 'Wagon and Horses'," "Callers," "Country Playtime," "School," "May Day," "To Church on Sunday."
The second book in the series is Over to Candleford. This book is definitely more personal in nature. For the most part, it focuses on one young girl, Laura. Readers see Laura at home, at school, at play, at church, visiting cousins, aunts, and uncles, etc. It is still rich in description and detail. Even though it is a more personal look at life in the country in the 1880s and 90s, it is still heavier on the descriptions than the action. This isn't a book that focuses on stories and storytelling. The book ends with a young Laura--perhaps twelve or thirteen--getting an apprentice job in Candleford Green with the postmistress Miss Dorcas Lane.
The third book in the series is Candleford Green. The book opens with Laura leaving home. She's excited and timid. The book will see her established in this new life. She'll be meeting new people, living in a new place, experiencing new things, growing up into a young woman. I was disappointed with this book. I haven't decided if I'm disappointed because it lacks characterization and plot in general OR if I'm disappointed because it lacks the characterization and plot that the television adaptation brought to it. The book's strength is in description and vignettes. The book's weakness is that there are not really any connecting stories or plot sequences. People are mentioned by name, perhaps, but in a very superficial just a few paragraphs way. The characters lack depth. A sentence or two here and there does not make good characterization. If the heroine, Laura, was fully developed and the chapters worked as a personal narrative capturing her experiences, thoughts, and struggles, then I think it might have worked better for me. But there was no person to connect to, no connecting-story to follow. It was just one description after another. There were passages I enjoyed reading. Laura does like to read! But nothing about it that made me LOVE it. I liked it well enough.
It’s nearing Christmas in a winter white forest and the animals, like their human counterparts, are awaiting the arrival of St. Nick. In conversation, Big Snowshoe, the white hare, imparts to his brother, Little Snow, the tradition that all animals of the wintry wood know – the animals’ Santa comes on Christmas Eve!
But just Whooo IS this Santa? Just dropped a big clue, readers.
No one has EVER seen the jolly old elf, if elf he be, but one thing is surely known, the animals find plenty of evidence that he exists in the presents found on Christmas Day.
Each of the forest friends tell Little Snow the proof of the Animals’ Santa’s appearance in descriptions of the gifts found in years past. From the prickly porcupine’s hearing of a ding-dong, ding-dong accompanying the delivery of HIS Christmas bell, to the raven twins seeing a puzzle toy for this duo suspended from their tree branch, to the arctic fox’s gift of a brush to “fluff my beautiful tail, to the squirrels finding a sack of tasty nuts, evidence of the animals’ Santa presence via presents fills the forest!
Jan Brett has a tremendous talent to draw young readers into her picture books through delightful narratives year after year, but most especially in her artistry lovingly detailing each character in this winter wonderland of animals awaiting the arrival of this most famous giver of gifts.
Jan Brett’s bordered book artistic renderings are iconic. Here, they span the sides of each page with backgrounds formed of almost pale birch-like wood, festooned with small drawings of woodland family members. Amazing! Each of her books has a sense of its own identity and freshness that is distinctly Brett and NEVER boring.
Guesses abound as to exactly WHO in the forest may be the secret Santa! My favorite guess, though wrong, is the bedecked badger in snow shoes and trimmed Scandinavian coat, covering his fur.
Jan, how did you know that I’ve been looking for exactly this coat for years!
Other guesses include a Norwegian sweater clad polar bear, a gaily Christmas harnessed moose and an arctic fox complete with a cap and stitched leather and woven cloth saddle bags.
Little Snow is quite an ingenious hare and decides on a plan to discover the identity of the animals‘ Santa. Tying delicate sheets of ice with strands of hedge grass, he attaches them to tree branches. Why? In the stillness of a quiet winter night, they do not move, but when stirred by the wind of someone’s arrival, the ice chimes ring out and will herald the arrival of you know who!
It’s finally Christmas Eve.They ring and Little Snow dashes to find a neatly tied bundle of clover left for him and piles of other gifts have fallen from the sky from…. No, I can’t spoil the ending of this Christmas picture book’s bright, white and shiny ending by unmasking Santa. To find out his identity, do read Jan Brett’s “The Animals’ Santa” with your little ones. I can promise the revelation is amazing and this Santa DOES fly too!!
With the arrival of the celebration of Hanukkah, I wanted to revisit a special book I have spoken about before; Hanukkah at Valley Forge. In 2007 this book received The Sydney Taylor Award from the Association of Jewish Libraries given in recognition of picture books and also those for teens that authentically reflect the Jewish experience. Here, the book’s vivid watercolor illustrations coupled with Mr. Krensky’s fictionalized retelling of a historically researched anecdote come together for what I think is a powerful picture book.
Stephen Krensky’s book, Hanukkah at Valley Forge, combines history and holiday in an interesting way. The parallels of American and Jewish history intertwine on a bitterly cold winter evening at Valley Forge. Faced with increasing uncertainty and mounting odds, General George Washington meets a Polish immigrant observing the first night of Hanukkah with the lighting of the candles there amidst the fading hope of Washington’s ragtag colonial army.
Common themes of man’s need to hope in the face of increasing despair and the price of liberty’s cause, echo in the meeting of these two men at a pivotal point in our nation’s early history. Some historical accuracy was apparently discovered in the research of the book, and it is left to the reader to wonder if chance meetings sometimes turn the tides of men and war.
Is He Popenjoy? Anthony Trollope. 1878/1993. Penguin. 632 pages. [Source: Bought]
Like so many of Anthony Trollope's novels, Is He Popenjoy? is a novel essentially about marriage and relationships. Just because it's about marriage and relationships doesn't mean it is about love and romance and happily ever after.
Lord George and Mary Germain are newly married. Mary Lovelace was not exactly his first choice for a bride. (His first choice was in fact a woman named Adelaide. She too is recently married. She is Mrs. Houghton now.) The two are in the getting-to-know each other stage. Yes, they are married. But they weren't madly in love with each other before they married. Only time will tell if they will fall in love with each other afterwards. She is thoughtfully examining herself for signs of love, and she's looking closely at her husband as well. Do I love him yet? How about now?
The couple lives with his family, with his mother, with two of his older sisters. George is content with the arrangement. After all, most of the adjustment falls to Mary as it now stands. Mary is the one who has to come into a house with three older, opinionated, slightly critical women. Mary is the one under examination, under trial, not George.
But. One of the conditions for marrying Mary was arranged by her father. George must be willing to get a house in London and they must reside there several months each year. This puts George very much out of his comfort zone. It thrills Mary, of course, as her father knew it would. In London, Mary has the freedom to relax and be herself.
Complications. Mary is introduced to Adelaide Houghton's cousin, Jack de Baron. Adelaide is hoping that Jack will flirt with Mary. That Mary will flirt right back. Mary and Jack do become friends, good friends. But it is friendship, nothing more, nothing less. Adelaide. What can I really say about her?! She infuriated me. She throws herself at Lord George time and time and time and time again. She is desperately in love with him now and not a bit discreet about it. She must tell him explicitly how much she NEEDS him and how he was always, always the one she wanted most of all. It's a pitiful sight when all is said and done. George. Well. George listens again and again and again and again. He's always open to hearing her declarations. Even if he's embarrassed and ashamed afterwards. As he walks away from and her and heads back to his wife, he's left feeling icky. Yet. For some reason, he sees it as his job as a gentlemen to remain friends with Mrs. Houghton, that he is being kind when he visits her at her request. He doesn't want to be RUDE to her after all.
More complications. George's family is completely dysfunctional. His older brother is a twisted mess. He's got no manners, no heart, no conscience. He's spent almost all his adult life living abroad in Italy. After learning of his younger brother's marriage, he writes to let his family know that they have to leave HIS house, and that under no terms are they to remain in the neighborhood or community because he doesn't want to see them. He has decided to come back. He is bringing a wife. A wife and a son, an heir. Never mind that he never communicated to his family or his lawyers that he married or had a son. True, he is the heir and the house is technically his to do with as he sees fit. But who throws their own family out without at least making some assistance towards finding them another place? The family manage to stay in the neighborhood against his wishes. And their brief encounters together are super awkward and humiliating. He wants nothing to do with anybody. Not his family. Not his former friends. Not his neighbors. Not the clergy in the area. NO person is welcome in his house. Mary's father advocates that something is obviously wrong here. Perhaps his brother has some secrets he wants to keep hidden. Perhaps his brother's son is not legitimate? Perhaps his wife is not really his wife?
Taking sides. Relationships get ugly and messy and twisted in this one. Accusations for just about everything abound. Ultimatums are given. All relationships will be tested. Can love bloom between two stressed individuals in these horrible conditions?
I didn't love this one. I didn't hate it, mind you. I didn't even dislike it exactly. It's just that there were more characters that I hated than characters that I liked in this one.
In AD 14, two thousand years ago this summer, the emperor Augustus, having dominated Rome for over forty years, finally breathed his last. The new emperor was his step-son Tiberius. While Augustus’ achievement in ending civil war and discreetly transforming a republic into one-man rule provokes grudging admiration even from those who aren’t keen on autocracy, Tiberius has very few fans. Suetonius’ biography, the third in his twelve Lives of the Caesars, offers some intriguing insights into why this might be.
Descended from one of Rome’s most noble families, Tiberius, in his mid-50s when he came to power, had led a series of enormously successful, if unshowy, military campaigns, securing Pannonia (roughly modern Hungary) in the east and doing much to stabilize the troublesome area around the Rhine in the north. He loved literature, philosophy, and art. He was just the kind of man who had dominated the senior echelons of the senate under the republic – a very traditional kind of Roman leader, it might seem.
But among ancient commentators only Velleius Paterculus, who wrote during his reign, has much good to say. Suetonius, in his biography, and Tacitus, in his Annals, offer a litany of damning criticisms. Tiberius, himself a great respecter of tradition, a stickler for proper procedure, seems to have found his position – as not quite fully acknowledged autocrat, expected to exercise personal dominance through what purported to be the old republican framework – deeply uncomfortable. Unlike Augustus, he had no desire whatsoever to develop a warm relationship with the common people of Rome. (Suetonius makes clear his total lack of interest in the games – a telling indicator.) No money was spent on public works. He veered between insisting the Senate behave independently and dropping cryptic hints as to how he wanted it to vote. Yet his chief crime, in the eyes of some ancient critics, was deserting Rome.
In 26 AD, twelve years into his reign, Tiberius withdrew to the island of Capri, never to return to the city. Was this meant to look like a return to senatorial government? For the next eleven years, imperial control was exercised remotely, for the most part through Sejanus, prefect of the praetorian guard. Among the many prominent Romans convicted of treason in those years were members of Tiberius’ own family, including the widow and two elder sons of his nephew Germanicus. Eventually Sejanus, too, ended up a corpse in the Tiber, taking with him as he fell many who had hoped to profit by associating with the emperor’s henchman. This bloodbath reflects Tiberius’ innate cruelty, as well as his insecurity – but Suetonius highlights other vices, too.
His biography begins with some family history – a mixed bag of earlier Claudians, male and female, some famous for their virtue, others notorious for their arrogance and depravity. Suetonius then charts Tiberius’ early life, his distinguished military career, his accession and the largely positive measures he undertook in the early years of his reign. But chapter 33 hints darkly at the character assassination, which is to follow: ‘He showed only gradually what kind of emperor he was’. This move prefigures the comments Suetonius makes in his Lives of Caligula (ch.22: ‘The story so far has been of Caligula the emperor, the rest must be of Caligula the monster’) and Nero (the end of ch.19 prepares the reader for ‘the shameful deeds and crimes with which I shall henceforth be concerned’). For Suetonius, character, though it may be temporarily masked, is not subject to change or development.
Suetonius does note that Tiberius’ withdrawal meant provincial government was neglected but stories of the emperor’s depravity get much more attention. Once on Capri, Tiberius ‘finally gave in to all the vices he had struggled so long to conceal’. His drinking was legendary, his sex life exceeded the worst imaginings. Surrounded by sexually explicit art-works, Tiberius was addicted to every kind of perversion, with boys, girls – even tiny children. The accusations relating to oral sex would have aroused particular loathing on the part of Roman readers. Tiberius’ appetites were hardly human; ‘people talked of the old goat’s den – making a play on the name of the island’. What did Tiberius really get up to? Stories of this kind were part of the common currency of Roman political discourse. Suetonius devotes similar space to the sexual transgressions of Caligula, Nero, and Domitian – such behaviour is to be expected of a tyrant. The remoteness of the emperor’s residence itself must have fuelled the most lurid imaginations back in Rome. Emblematic of Tiberius’ impossible position is his relationship with his mother Livia. Had she not been Augustus’ wife of many decades, Tiberius would never have succeeded to power. Suetonius repeatedly underlines Livia’s key role in promoting her son. She persuaded Augustus to adopt him, following the deaths of his two adult grandsons. She helped to ensure a rival candidate was eliminated. Even after Tiberius succeeded to Augustus, Livia remained a force to be reckoned with: ‘he was angered by his mother Livia on the grounds that she claimed an equal share in his power’. Yet we should perhaps be just as wary with regard to these stories as with those about Tiberius’ sexual tastes. What better way for Tiberius’ critics to undermine him than to allege this experienced military man in late middle age needed advice from his mother? Such claims would perhaps have been especially offensive to someone of Tiberius’ ultra-traditional outlook. The senators who proposed to honour him with the title ‘Son of Livia’ knew how to torment the emperor. Indeed Suetonius reports stories that the main reason Tiberius left Rome for Capri was to get away from his mother.
Image credits: (1) Siemiradzki Orgy on Capri by Henryk Siemiradzki, 1881. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons (2) Tiberius Claudius Nero Caesar (42 BCE – 37 CE). From: H.F. Helmolt (ed.): History of the World. New York, 1901. University of Texas Portrait Gallery. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Fade in on the Mission Dolores, the fictional gravesite of Carlotta Valdes in Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo. One block away, two writers with their first jobs teaching creative writing (okay, it was us!) decide to collaborate on a book of short stories that respond to classic and cult movies. We try — and fail — to [...]
Hello, friends! Welcome to this month’s classics readalong discussion, where we’ll be gleefully chatting about Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder. For those new to the series, this is a standalone historical fiction novel based on true people and events, written by the author about her husband’s boyhood on his family’s farm in the late 1800s. A reminder: You have ONE MONTH left to finish your classics readalong challenge for this year! Have you read and reviewed 8 books yet? Are you going to be able to? A little more on that below, plus info on the December/January books. We have so much pie to eat talk about, though, that we should just get started on our discussion! Wendy: I wanted to do this one for our readalong because it’s a nice standalone–plus it’s my favorite of the series! (Followed by The Long Winter, but for very different reasons–this one’s... Read more »
A Christmas Carol. Charles Dickens. 1843. 96 pages. [Source: Bought]
MARLEY WAS DEAD, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.
I have watched A Christmas Carol more times than I've read it, and I've read it two or three times at least. The story is oh-so-familiar; the phrasing is oh-so-familiar. It's a book that has an old-friend feel even if you haven't read it dozens of times. There are scenes and descriptions that just feel incredibly right and familiar. For example,
Oh! but he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire, secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shriveled his cheek, stiffened his gait, made his eyes red, his thin lips blue, and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog-days; and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas.
“A merry Christmas, uncle! God save you!” cried a cheerful voice. It was the voice of Scrooge’s nephew, who came upon him so quickly that this was the first intimation he had of his approach. “Bah!” said Scrooge. “Humbug!” He had so heated himself with rapid walking in the fog and frost, this nephew of Scrooge’s, that he was all in a glow; his face was ruddy handsome; his eyes sparkled, and his breath smoked again. “Christmas a humbug, uncle!” said Scrooge’s nephew. “You don’t mean that, I am sure?” “I do,” said Scrooge. “Merry Christmas! What right have you to be merry? What reason have you to be merry? You’re poor enough.” “Come, then,” returned the nephew gaily. “What right have you to be dismal? What reason have you to be morose? You’re rich enough.” Scrooge, having no better answer ready on the spur of the moment, said “Bah!” again; and followed it up with “Humbug!” “Nephew!” returned the uncle sternly, “keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine.” “Keep it!” repeated Scrooge’s nephew. “But you don’t keep it.” “Let me leave it alone, then,” said Scrooge. “Much good may it do you! Much good it has ever done you!” “There are many things from which I might have derived good by which I have not profited, I dare say,” returned the nephew, “Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas-time, when it has come round—apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that—as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!”
Other details, I've found, are less memorable perhaps.
“Forgive me if I am not justified in what I ask,” said Scrooge, looking intently at the Spirit’s robe, “but I see something strange, and not belonging to yourself, protruding from your skirts. Is it a foot or a claw?” “It might be a claw, for the flesh there is upon it,” was the Spirit’s sorrowful reply. “Look here.” From the foldings of its robe, it brought two children, wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable. They knelt down at its feet, and clung upon the outside of its garment. “O Man! look here! Look, look, down here!” exclaimed the Ghost. They were a boy and girl. Yellow, meager, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, and touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shriveled hand, like that of age, had pinched and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing. No change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has monsters half so horrible and dread. Scrooge started back, appalled. Having them shown to him in this way, he tried to say they were fine children, but the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie of such enormous magnitude. “Spirit! are they yours?” Scrooge could say no more. “They are Man’s,” said the Spirit, looking down upon them. “And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware of them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!” cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand toward the City. “Slander those who tell it ye! Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse! And bide the end!” “Have they no refuge or resource?” cried Scrooge. “Are there no prisons?” said the Spirit, turning on him for the last time with his own words. “Are there no workhouses?” The bell struck Twelve.
I don't recall thinking much of the two children Ignorance and Want, of thinking about what message Dickens was sending. But when I was reading The Man Who Invented Christmas, Standiford stressed their significance. (Standiford called A Christmas Carol, "a bald-faced parable that underscores Dickens's enduring themes: the deleterious effects of ignorance and want.") Why had I not noticed them before? I can only suppose that I've been rushing through the text looking for what was familiar and beloved, not really considering the book as a whole.
I like A Christmas Carol. I don't love, love, love it. I have found it to be a Christ-less Christmas story. A book that doesn't really focus on the Savior--newborn babe or risen Savior--so much as it focuses on humanity improving and changing and saving themselves. The message to Scrooge isn't, you're a bad man; you need a Savior; consider your eternal soul. The message is whether that even Scrooge, as horrible as he was, can change; he can change the way he lives; he can become a good man, a great man. He can avoid after-life horrors by changing his behavior. That isn't a Christian message.
Miracle on 34th Street. Valentine Davies. Illustrated by Tomie de Paola. 1947/2001. HMH. 136 pages. [Source: Library]
I have almost always loved the movie. I can now say that I love the book. If you love the movie, and, if you love to read, then, you should consider reading Miracle on 34th Street. True, it is not substantially different from the movie. But there are subtle differences, I found. I liked these differences small as they may be. The book is sweet and charming in all the right ways. I liked spending time with Kris Kringle, Doris and Susan Walker, and Fred Gayley. The book moves quickly, from scene to scene to scene. The book may not be as detailed and descriptive as a typical novel; it still has a movie-feel to it: going from scene to scene without pausing to ponder or describe. If I read the book first, would I get a sense, true sense, of the characters? I'm not sure. I'd like to think so. But it's hard to come to this story new. I know this story. I love this story.
Les Miserables. Victor Hugo. Translated by Isabel Florence Hapgood. 1862/1887. 1232 pages.
This book is a drama, whose leading personage is the Infinite. Man is the second.
I have now read Les Miserables three times. This will be my second review of Les Miserables on my blog. My first review was in April 2013. I love Les Miserables. I do. I think I love it more each time I read it. The book has depth. The story it tells is memorable and emotional. It is a book you EXPERIENCE. I love so many things about it: the depth and quality of the writing, the characterization, the narration, the themes.
There are many words that could be used to describe Les Miserables: compelling, political, spiritual, philosophical, dramatic, romantic. It is just as concerned about politics and social justice as it is romance and family. It touches on the subjects of education, crime, poverty, and injustice. It's a novel where ideas matter just as much as characters.
It's also a novel heavy on details. When it's good, it's REALLY good. But at times some of the details are too taste-specific. In other words, some of the details weigh the story down. At times Les Miserables is boring. It's worth reading. It is. It's worth pushing through to the end. It's okay to skim certain sections, in my opinion, because it is one of the most satisfying reading experiences overall. Not that I LOVE the ending, though I think I may have made peace with it this time around.
Who are some of the characters? Bishop Myriel, Jean Valjean, Fantine, Inspector Javert, Cosette, Marius, Eponine, Enjolras, Monsieur and Madame Thenardier, Mabeuf, Monsieur Gillenormand, and Gavroche--just to name a few. I don't know if I can say I have a favorite. I know which characters I don't like. But I really just like all of them--no matter their strengths and weaknesses.
Do you have a favorite character? a favorite scene?
One of my favorite scenes is early in the novel when Jean Valjean meets Bishop Myriel (Bienvenu). He is an ex-convict who has just been released. He's seeking a place to stay for the night. It is not going well.
"I have knocked at all doors." "Well?" "I have been driven away everywhere." The "good woman" touched the man's arm, and pointed out to him on the other side of the street a small, low house, which stood beside the Bishop's palace. "You have knocked at all doors?" "Yes." "Have you knocked at that one?" "No." "Knock there."
It opened wide with a rapid movement, as though some one had given it an energetic and resolute push. A man entered. We already know the man. It was the wayfarer whom we have seen wandering about in search of shelter. He entered, advanced a step, and halted, leaving the door open behind him. He had his knapsack on his shoulders, his cudgel in his hand, a rough, audacious, weary, and violent expression in his eyes. The fire on the hearth lighted him up. He was hideous. It was a sinister apparition. Madame Magloire had not even the strength to utter a cry. She trembled, and stood with her mouth wide open. Mademoiselle Baptistine turned round, beheld the man entering, and half started up in terror; then, turning her head by degrees towards the fireplace again, she began to observe her brother, and her face became once more profoundly calm and serene. The Bishop fixed a tranquil eye on the man. As he opened his mouth, doubtless to ask the new-comer what he desired, the man rested both hands on his staff, directed his gaze at the old man and the two women, and without waiting for the Bishop to speak, he said, in a loud voice:— "See here. My name is Jean Valjean. I am a convict from the galleys. I have passed nineteen years in the galleys. I was liberated four days ago, and am on my way to Pontarlier, which is my destination. I have been walking for four days since I left Toulon. I have travelled a dozen leagues to-day on foot. This evening, when I arrived in these parts, I went to an inn, and they turned me out, because of my yellow passport, which I had shown at the town-hall. I had to do it. I went to an inn. They said to me, 'Be off,' at both places. No one would take me. I went to the prison; the jailer would not admit me. I went into a dog's kennel; the dog bit me and chased me off, as though he had been a man. One would have said that he knew who I was. I went into the fields, intending to sleep in the open air, beneath the stars. There were no stars. I thought it was going to rain, and I re-entered the town, to seek the recess of a doorway. Yonder, in the square, I meant to sleep on a stone bench. A good woman pointed out your house to me, and said to me, 'Knock there!' I have knocked. What is this place? Do you keep an inn? I have money—savings. One hundred and nine francs fifteen sous, which I earned in the galleys by my labor, in the course of nineteen years. I will pay. What is that to me? I have money. I am very weary; twelve leagues on foot; I am very hungry. Are you willing that I should remain?" "Madame Magloire," said the Bishop, "you will set another place." The man advanced three paces, and approached the lamp which was on the table. "Stop," he resumed, as though he had not quite understood; "that's not it. Did you hear? I am a galley-slave; a convict. I come from the galleys." He drew from his pocket a large sheet of yellow paper, which he unfolded. "Here's my passport. Yellow, as you see. This serves to expel me from every place where I go. Will you read it? I know how to read. I learned in the galleys. There is a school there for those who choose to learn. Hold, this is what they put on this passport: 'Jean Valjean, discharged convict, native of'—that is nothing to you—'has been nineteen years in the galleys: five years for house-breaking and burglary; fourteen years for having attempted to escape on four occasions. He is a very dangerous man.' There! Every one has cast me out. Are you willing to receive me? Is this an inn? Will you give me something to eat and a bed? Have you a stable?" "Madame Magloire," said the Bishop, "you will put white sheets on the bed in the alcove." We have already explained the character of the two women's obedience. Madame Magloire retired to execute these orders. The Bishop turned to the man. "Sit down, sir, and warm yourself. We are going to sup in a few moments, and your bed will be prepared while you are supping." At this point the man suddenly comprehended. The expression of his face, up to that time sombre and harsh, bore the imprint of stupefaction, of doubt, of joy, and became extraordinary. He began stammering like a crazy man:— "Really? What! You will keep me? You do not drive me forth? A convict! You call me sir! You do not address me as thou? 'Get out of here, you dog!' is what people always say to me. I felt sure that you would expel me, so I told you at once who I am. Oh, what a good woman that was who directed me hither! I am going to sup! A bed with a mattress and sheets, like the rest of the world! a bed! It is nineteen years since I have slept in a bed! You actually do not want me to go! You are good people. Besides, I have money. I will pay well. Pardon me, monsieur the inn-keeper, but what is your name? I will pay anything you ask. You are a fine man. You are an inn-keeper, are you not?" "I am," replied the Bishop, "a priest who lives here." "A priest!" said the man. "Oh, what a fine priest! Then you are not going to demand any money of me? You are the cure, are you not? the cure of this big church? Well! I am a fool, truly! I had not perceived your skull-cap." As he spoke, he deposited his knapsack and his cudgel in a corner, replaced his passport in his pocket, and seated himself. Mademoiselle Baptistine gazed mildly at him. He continued: "You are humane, Monsieur le Curé; you have not scorned me. A good priest is a very good thing. Then you do not require me to pay?" "No," said the Bishop; "keep your money. How much have you? Did you not tell me one hundred and nine francs?" "And fifteen sous," added the man. "One hundred and nine francs fifteen sous. And how long did it take you to earn that?" "Nineteen years." "Nineteen years!" The Bishop sighed deeply. The man continued: "I have still the whole of my money. In four days I have spent only twenty-five sous, which I earned by helping unload some wagons at Grasse. Since you are an abbe, I will tell you that we had a chaplain in the galleys. And one day I saw a bishop there. Monseigneur is what they call him. He was the Bishop of Majore at Marseilles. He is the cure who rules over the other cures, you understand. Pardon me, I say that very badly; but it is such a far-off thing to me! You understand what we are! He said mass in the middle of the galleys, on an altar. He had a pointed thing, made of gold, on his head; it glittered in the bright light of midday. We were all ranged in lines on the three sides, with cannons with lighted matches facing us. We could not see very well. He spoke; but he was too far off, and we did not hear. That is what a bishop is like." While he was speaking, the Bishop had gone and shut the door, which had remained wide open. Madame Magloire returned. She brought a silver fork and spoon, which she placed on the table. "Madame Magloire," said the Bishop, "place those things as near the fire as possible." And turning to his guest: "The night wind is harsh on the Alps. You must be cold, sir." Each time that he uttered the word sir, in his voice which was so gently grave and polished, the man's face lighted up. Monsieur to a convict is like a glass of water to one of the shipwrecked of the Medusa. Ignominy thirsts for consideration. "This lamp gives a very bad light," said the Bishop. Madame Magloire understood him, and went to get the two silver candlesticks from the chimney-piece in Monseigneur's bed-chamber, and placed them, lighted, on the table. "Monsieur le Curé," said the man, "you are good; you do not despise me. You receive me into your house. You light your candles for me. Yet I have not concealed from you whence I come and that I am an unfortunate man." The Bishop, who was sitting close to him, gently touched his hand. "You could not help telling me who you were. This is not my house; it is the house of Jesus Christ. This door does not demand of him who enters whether he has a name, but whether he has a grief. You suffer, you are hungry and thirsty; you are welcome. And do not thank me; do not say that I receive you in my house. No one is at home here, except the man who needs a refuge. I say to you, who are passing by, that you are much more at home here than I am myself. Everything here is yours. What need have I to know your name? Besides, before you told me you had one which I knew." The man opened his eyes in astonishment. "Really? You knew what I was called?" "Yes," replied the Bishop, "you are called my brother." "Stop, Monsieur le Curé," exclaimed the man. "I was very hungry when I entered here; but you are so good, that I no longer know what has happened to me." The Bishop looked at him, and said,— "You have suffered much?" "Oh, the red coat, the ball on the ankle, a plank to sleep on, heat, cold, toil, the convicts, the thrashings, the double chain for nothing, the cell for one word; even sick and in bed, still the chain! Dogs, dogs are happier! Nineteen years! I am forty-six. Now there is the yellow passport. That is what it is like." "Yes," resumed the Bishop, "you have come from a very sad place. Listen. There will be more joy in heaven over the tear-bathed face of a repentant sinner than over the white robes of a hundred just men. If you emerge from that sad place with thoughts of hatred and of wrath against mankind, you are deserving of pity; if you emerge with thoughts of good-will and of peace, you are more worthy than any one of us."
This meeting will change his life. The impact of the Bishop on Jean Valjean is huge. And this scene is just the beginning.
In writing this review, I discovered two books releasing in 2015, that I really, really WANT to review--NEED to review. Both are February releases. Candlewick Press is releasing Marcia Williams' retelling of Les Miserables. Penguin is releasing a NEW translation of Les Miserables by Christine Donougher.
I could not possibly share every quote I loved from the book. There are hundreds. But I will share some with you.
True or false, that which is said of men often occupies as important a place in their lives, and above all in their destinies, as that which they do.
"Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I buy from you; I withdraw it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God."
Teach those who are ignorant as many things as possible; society is culpable, in that it does not afford instruction gratis; it is responsible for the night which it produces. This soul is full of shadow; sin is therein committed. The guilty one is not the person who has committed the sin, but the person who has created the shadow.
The supreme happiness of life consists in the conviction that one is loved; loved for one's own sake—let us say rather, loved in spite of one's self.
To make the poem of the human conscience, were it only with reference to a single man, were it only in connection with the basest of men, would be to blend all epics into one superior and definitive epic.
Diamonds are found only in the dark places of the earth; truths are found only in the depths of thought. It seemed to him, that, after having descended into these depths, after having long groped among the darkest of these shadows, he had at last found one of these diamonds, one of these truths, and that he now held it in his hand, and he was dazzled as he gazed upon it.
If you wish to gain an idea of what revolution is, call it Progress; and if you wish to acquire an idea of the nature of progress, call it To-morrow. To-morrow fulfils its work irresistibly, and it is already fulfilling it to-day. It always reaches its goal strangely.
Man lives by affirmation even more than by bread.
Peace is happiness digesting.
The bourgeoisie is simply the contented portion of the people. The bourgeois is the man who now has time to sit down. A chair is not a caste.
True history being a mixture of all things, the true historian mingles in everything.
Of all the things that God has made, the human heart is the one which sheds the most light, alas! and the most darkness.
A compliment is something like a kiss through a veil.
Civil war—what does that mean? Is there a foreign war? Is not all war between men, war between brothers? War is qualified only by its object. There is no such thing as foreign or civil war; there is only just and unjust war.
The right to the alphabet, that is where the beginning must be made. The primary school imposed on all, the secondary school offered to all, that is the law. From an identical school, an identical society will spring. Yes, instruction! light! light! everything comes from light, and to it everything returns. Citizens, the nineteenth century is great, but the twentieth century will be happy.
Everything can be parodied, even parody.
He sleeps. Although his fate was very strange, he lived. He died when he had no longer his angel. The thing came to pass simply, of itself, as the night comes when day is gone.