Monday, July 9, 2018

The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder

The Long Winter
Laura Ingalls Wilder
Published 1940

This was my fourth or fifth read of The Long Winter, of which I have written about a few times, in different ways, including during the longest heatwave summer I have ever experienced in California.
The Long Winter, during the longest heat wave in California. This time, I found myself experiencing this read quite differently than I had in the past.

But first let me recap before I become opinionated.

At the start of the story, the Ingalls family was settled on their own claim when winter crept in; Pa immediately recognized the signs of nature that caused him to suspect a hard winter. But when an elderly Indian man warned the town that seven months of blizzards were coming, the men moved their families to the town buildings, closer to supplies and one another. The Ingalls moved into Pa's store building, which was a better shelter than the claim shanty.

Unfortunately, the blizzards were more than they expected: school was closed, trains could no longer run, and supplies were unable to be delivered for several months. They were buried in their homes, unable to make contact with neighbors. They ran out of common supplies for food, heat, and light, and resorted to unconventional alternatives to survive. Even Laura asked, "Will we starve?" 

In my own petty personal miseries, I was bothered that Pa did not kill his livestock to feed his family, though I understand why: Pa, in his compassion for his family (especially for Laura's big heart), held out as long as he could because it did not get to that point; they always had wheat to grind to make bread; and so long as they had bread, they had food. 

In addition, Ma's optimism was grating on my patience. Maybe because I already knew those supply trains were not coming; but, come on, Ma! The trains were not coming. 
Likely the train will get through in time.
I suppose prices depend on when they can get the train through?
Of course, Pa did not help either, always mentioning that darn train coming through. But finally, he had to tell his family: 
They can't get the trains through. And at Tracy the superintendent ran out of patience.
And Ma lost it.
Patience? Patience! What's his patience got to do with it I'd like to know! He knows we are out here without supplies. How does he think we are going to live till spring? It isn't his business to be patient. It's his business to run the trains.
To calm Ma down, Pa reminded her that they had been getting along all right for more than a month; they can make it another three months. Then he proceeded to tell them a funny story about how the superintendent came to that final dreadful conclusion, to give up trying to get the trains through; and it made them think about the issues of pride, patience, and perseverance. At that moment, Laura understood that she was old enough to stand by her family in hard times. "She must not worry; she must be cheerful and help to keep up all their spirits."

LESSON IN CAPITALISM AND THE FREE MARKET

Toward the end of the winter, Almanzo and Cap risked their lives to find a stranger who supposedly had wheat, which the town hoped he would be willing to sell to them. Their risk paid off, and after the boys brought back the wheat, the storeowner, Loftus, who purchased it, wanted to resell it to the townspeople at a much higher price; but Pa gave him a lesson in capitalism and the free market system. Loftus said,
That wheat's mine and I've got a right to charge any price I want to for it.
That's so, Loftus, you have, Mr. Ingalls agreed. This is a free country and every man's got a right to do as he pleases with his own property. Don't forget every one of us is free and Independent, Loftus. The winter won't last forever and maybe you want to go on doing business after it's over.
Threatening me, are you?
We don't need to, Mr. Ingalls replied. It's a plain fact. If you've got a right to do as you please, we've got a right to do as we please. It works both ways . . . you're business depends on our good will. You maybe don't notice that now, but along next summer you'll likely notice it. 
That's so, Loftus, Gerald Fuller said. You got to treat folks right or you don't last long in business, not in this country. 
We don't object to your making a fair profit, Loftus, Mr. Ingalls said, but Loftus shook his head.
No, I'll let it go for what it cost me.  
MARY, MARY

Oh, let us talk about Mary for a while. She was a show off (and she does admit this in the next book). Laura was understandably burned by Mary's little remarks. Given the difficulty of darkness during the long winter storms, Laura complained because she could not see while tediously making lace. And Mary added,
The dark doesn't bother me. I can see with my fingers.
Well, no one asked you, Mary.

And later, when Ma suggested that they save their "reading" for Christmas Day, Mary shared,
I think it is a good idea. It will help us to learn self-denial.
Laura argued that she did not want to, and Mary reminded her that, "Nobody does, but it [was] good for them." Mary was such a killjoy. (And Laura knew she was always right and wise.)

All sarcasm aside, The Long Winter is abundant in values and life lessons: patience, perseverance, resourcefulness, joyfulness, and trust. In the end, the storms ceased, spring arrived, the trains came through, and they had Christmas dinner in May. Everything worked out in the end.

LITTLE HOUSE WORDS OF WISDOM

Via the Ingalls:
Needs must, when the devil drives.
Work comes before pleasure.
Nothing keeps you from learning.
I hope you don't expect to depend on anybody else . . . a body can't do that. 
Via the Wilder boys:
Be sure you're right, then go ahead.
Better be safe than sorry.
A farmer takes chances. He has to.
WARNING: OFFENSIVE HISTORY

Last month, Laura Ingalls Wilder - unbeknownst to her - was surreptitiously branded a racist, and her ALSC self-named honor was stripped of her name. See my complaint HERE. Our culture is so enlightened that we punish authors who wrote history from the perspective of their own time and culture. So I cannot help myself but point out the obvious offense(s).

CASE IN POINT: Almanzo was arguing with his older brother about taking that risk in between blizzards, to find an unknown individual who lived at an unknown location, to buy seed wheat in order to save the people starving in town. His brother did not want him to do it, but Almanzo declared,
I'm free, white, and twenty-one . . . or as good as. Anyway, this is a free country and I'm free and independent. I do as I please.
So there you have it.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain

Testament of Youth
Vera Brittain
Published 1933
It was a read-along, started on Twitter, by Jillian.

SUMMARY

A young woman's coming of age experience is shattered and transfigured over night by World War I. This is the passionate, true story of Vera Brittain, who fought to further her education at Oxford, only to postpone her attendance to serve as a volunteer nurse during the Great War. In only a few short years, she had experienced traumatic suffering, sacrifice, and loss, which altered her life mission forever. She wrote in order to share her story and the story of her generation.


Vera Brittain

DETAILS (POSSIBLE SPOILERS)

This story is well-written, though at times slightly wordy; nonetheless, Brittain tells a captivating story, 600+ pages long. The reader will sense her bitterness towards the stifling expectations of her time, especially the traditions of her parents and their generation. Brittain was never meant to fit or follow those customs. She was born before her time and blazing her own trail.

It may seem obviously outlandish to 21st-century readers, but for Brittain's generation, and more specifically for provincial young ladies, such as herself, marriage and motherhood were supposed to be her only options for the future. But she fought the status quo and won her chance to enter Oxford, though many doubted her success.

Then WWI began. Brittain referenced her journal to retell the events of the War as they occurred in her time. Her brother and his friends, including one young man whom she developed a romantic relationship, patriotically went off to fight for England. Determined to sacrifice herself for her country, Brittain also left Oxford and volunteered as a nurse.

She was stationed in England, Malta, and France (even close to the front line - as per her request), and experienced the ravages of war. She lost her fiancé, two other male friends, and finally, her brother. It devastated her conscience and transformed her life course.

After the War, Brittain was understandably discouraged and bitter about life and the world. She reluctantly completed her education at Oxford, focusing on history, and soon after, worked as a journalist and became a speaker for the newly formed League of Nations. She also struggled as a frustrated novelist. She secured a best friend, who lovingly reminded her of her brother and fiancé; and she also gained a romantic admirer, attracted to her intellect, whom she committed herself to marriage.

For the remainder of the story (which ends in 1925), Brittain wrote about her fervent development of socialist ideals and the ambitious quest to end war for good and maintain peace in the world.

The men Vera loved (L to R: her brother, fiancé, and friend)

OF A PERSONAL NOTE

Brittain's story resonated with me because I like to know people on a personal level where I can better understand why they think the way that they do, whether I agree with them or not.

Her story reminded me of my mother's story (who was a young girl during World War II). She, too, desired to attend college; yet even in 1960s America, her parents never heard of such an idea. Instead, she was sent to work . . . to help pay for her brother's college tuition. This unjust decision burns my mother even today.

It was not until her marriage that she put herself through community college, to at least obtain an associate's degree. And my grandparents still thought her behavior outrageous, especially as a wife and young mother. But they were of a different time, and lived with different life experiences, just as Brittain's parents and their peers did. Future generations often look back on previous generations as primitive and benighted.

One looming question Brittain often asked was this (in my words): How are women to find satisfaction in education and fulfilling careers, yet, still make room for marriage and motherhood? In her words:
Could marriage and motherhood be combined with real success in an art or profession? If it couldn't, which was to suffer -- the profession or the human race?
This is an essential question for women even today because, yes, finding time for a successful career is time-consuming. But more women are doing this today, completing college and developing a career; yet, the truth is, adding a husband and children complicates everything. Or dare I say . . . pursing education and a career complicate marriage and family? I guess it depends on your priorities.

Not all women want to pursue education or career, as some are just as desirous to focus solely on family; hence, the human race will go on regardless; but, in truth, I think more are doing it all, though something is suffering -- if not the career, then the family, and if not those, then the woman is burdening herself beyond her control, which is the frustrating struggle of a woman's life, as Brittain identified.

Brittain also understood that marriage was an emotional risk, something she was not willing to experience, given the pain she had endured during the years of the War. She admitted that women do desire male companionship, including intellectual and romantic, but marriage is certainly a risk. I cannot repeat that enough. Even Scripture says (again, my words): singleness is good, but if you cannot remain single, get married (though this is in reference to spreading the gospel).

Now, other hot topics included nationalism, patriotism, heroism, and pacifism. Brittain believed that a world organization of leaders would solve the war problem by reigning in man's desire for control, conquest, and possession. That is why she adopted the socialist ideology because they claimed to have the answer to ending war, poverty, and inequality -- issues closest to her heart.

But she soon learned that the League of Nations was full of hot air. Sadly, I am not sure (yet) she discovered that Socialists have their own desires for control and power because, in all of human history, small groups of men always gain power over and control the masses. It does not matter what label is given their ideology; they always make similar promises, and the end result is always misery for everyone else. She quotes Ecclesiastes:
So I returned, and considered all the oppressions that are done under the sun: and behold the tears of such as were oppressed, and they had no comforter; and on the side of their oppressors there was power; but they had no comforter. 
Furthermore, I disagree that patriotism is what causes war, although Brittain may have switched patriotism and nationalism. She may have clarified that patriotism was used to fuel men to rise up and fight for their country. Patriotism -- a love of one's own country -- is good and healthy for citizens; but nationalism, in which greedy, power-hungry men, who seek to dominate because they have a higher view of their place in the world over others, is dangerous and does cause war. I believe Brittain did discuss that her generation was duped into patriotism when it had nothing to do with the War.

As for heroism, Brittain found it unnecessary and reckless; but I disagree. Heroes conquer fear and confront evil; heroes stand for righteousness. Heroes risk their lives for the weak. And this is even more prevalent in men because they are designed by God to be protectors of their homes and families.

However, the fact that saddened me the most is the author's spiritual hopelessness in the future. Unfortunately, Brittain's parents did not train up Vera and her brother in the knowledge of Christ. She had zero hope in the resurrection and everlasting life. She did not know the Lord.
And then I remembered, with a startling sense of relief, that there was no resurrection to complicate the changing relationships forced upon men and women by the sheer passage of earthly time. There was only a brief interval between darkness and darkness in which to fulfill obligations, both to individuals and society, which could not be postponed to the comfortable futurity of a compensating heaven. 
Why do I bring this up? Because she talked about this a lot. It was a source of bitterness for her, as if she knew there was a God, but she was really angry with Him. Everyone suffers to some degree in this life because there is a purpose and point to suffering. Brittain begrudged her parents generation because they enjoyed a seemingly peaceful world; but her own coming of age was shattered with war and political upheaval.
The middle-aged and the old had known their period of joy, whereas upon us catastrophe had descended just in time to deprive us of that youthful happiness to which we had believed ourselves entitled.
No, it was not fair; but if she had any understanding of the way of the world, she may have better understood that it really was not about her or her generation, that much of it was out of her control, and that war was and is always to be because of sin and wickedness that abounds on earth, which began at the very beginning of time, in the Garden.
. . . but at least I can begin by trying to understand where humanity failed and civilisation went wrong.
Her hope was in man-made solutions, which also makes me sad because man is utterly corruptible. Man will never have peace on this earth, so long as he is at war with God in his heart.
We should never be at the mercy of Providence if only we understood that we ourselves are Providence; our lives, and our children's lives, will be rational, balanced, well-proportioned, to exactly the extent that we recognise this fundamental truth. 
So when you combine a group of godless men and call them the League of Nations, or the U.N., or have leaders sign peace treaties, they are only temporary fixes to the world's problems. But Brittain could not known this because her hope was solely in man.

By the way, while I hate war, I also strongly believe that God does permit men to go to war, especially to restrain evil, even if it means a loss of life. Hence, I am curious what Brittain's opinion was of World War II and if she ever wrote about it.



There is much more to this story, so many struggles and conflicts on this personal journey. Brittain is very raw and truthful about her youthful ignorance and emotional disappointments. I know I had a lot of disagreements with the author, but I absolutely appreciated this momentous work of insight and discovery. No one can discount her experiences; this is her unique story.
The demonstration would not . . . be easy; for me and my contemporaries our old enemies -- the Victorian tradition of womanhood, a carefully trained conscience, a sheltered youth, an imperfect education, loss of time, blasted years -- were still there and always would be; we seemed to be forever slaying them, and they to be forever rising again.
IS THIS BOOK FOR YOU?

If you enjoy biographies, stories about World War I, especially in a woman's voice, and particularly prefer works on early feminism and pacifism, this is an essential story for you. There is also an intellectual feel about the work, and a sweet romance that blossoms in the early part of the story. But beware because it is heart-wrenchingly devastating, though there is a sense of recuperation at its end.
In one sense, I was my war, my war was I; without it I should do nothing and be nothing. If marriage made the whole fight harder, so much the better; it would become part of my war and as this I would face it, and show that, however stubborn any domestic problem, a lasting solution could be found if only men and women would seek it together. 

Monday, July 2, 2018

Utopia, by Sir Thomas More

Utopia
Sir Thomas More
Published 1516

I did look forward to reading this book, but I ended up disliking it, as it bored me terribly. I admit: I also found the writing tricky. But overall, the historical story - about More - behind the fictional one was more interesting to me.

Utopia is a conversation involving several fictitious characters, including: More, himself, who works for King Henry VIII (which he did in reality); his friend, Giles; and another man, Hythloday, who traveled, with Amerigo Vespucci, to the New World and came to the island of Utopia. Hythloday spends an evening describing Utopia to More and Giles, and they discuss its ideals, comparing them to 16th century Europe.

In short, Hythloday says that the Utopians lived in perfect harmony because there was no poverty, no greed, no love of wealth, no class structure, no private property, very little crime or moral corruption, and no war (except in self-defense or to help neighbors). Everyone was educated and worked joyfully and willingly hard. And there was also religious tolerance for all religions (except for those who rejected God altogether). Utopia was a society based wholly on reasonable thought or common sense. The End.

I would like to know where Utopia found its inhabitants because they do not sound human. More and Giles are skeptical, too; but mostly they are reluctant to agree on certain notions, like community property and war, because they know those principles would never be implemented in Europe. This was probably true, too.

I was more curious about why More wrote on this topic at all, given that he worked for King Henry VIII. More wrote Utopia on the Eve of the Protestant Reformation. He was an ardent defender of the Catholic Church throughout the Counter Reformation. And when he would not support the King's break from the Church, to divorce his first wife, More was imprisoned as a traitor of the King, and later beheaded.

It is challenging to pin point why More wrote Utopia. Was it to provoke thought, which he knew would be impossible to reach about the perfect human society? Was it to promote his own humanistic thought, as a humanist Catholic, in which one uses Christian principles and rational thought, as opposed to traditional dogma? Or did he only want to critique what he thought was incorrect about 16th century Europe, the feudal system, and the unfair English justice system? Maybe it was a little of all three.

Whatever the answer, I found the idea of Utopia totally dull, and I would never want to live there because no one was different; everyone was equal --- equally boring. Even their clothing was very similar. It was totally unrealistic. 

IS THIS BOOK FOR YOU?

Again, if you like old texts, classics, and the like, this is one you should read. At least once. But if you are looking for a riveting story about people in the perfect society *yawn* you may want to find different "utopian" literature. Personally, I found Gulliver's Travels much more intriguing than this. 

Sunday, July 1, 2018

July Reading Stack


There were six books in my reading stack for June, and three were not completed. City of God, by Augustine, will not be done until the end of the year, and  I only started The Long Winter a few days ago, which should be done in a few more days. The one book I did not start at all was Beak House, by Dickens. It just did not happen.

Of the books I completed: Utopia was dull, Tess of D'Urbervilles was haunting; but my most engrossing read, which took up most of my reading time, was Testament of Youth, by Vera Brittain.

Now it is July, and here is the plan:

Continue reading City of God. This is amazing ancient literature.

"The True End of Civil Government," by John Locke, for TWEM Histories project.

A Woman's Educationby Jill Ker Conway. This is the continuation of the author's life, after she left Australia and came to America. *NOTE: I totally messed up my book stack image. Swap out The Road From Coorain, by the same author, for this book. I truly am so tired from lack of sleep in the month of June; therefore, I am not surprised I did this. 

The Republic of Imagination, by Azar Nafisi. Also a continuation of the author's life, in America, after leaving Iran. It's bookish-related, too.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. It is time to begin reading Austen all over again.

Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder, the next book in the Little House-athon read-along.

I should finish most of these books, particularly because my schedule is freed up for July. I also need to learn how to read in the middle of the night when my brain refuses to sleep. I have not been myself the entire month of June, but instead of taking advantage of sleepless nights, I tried to fight it -- and lost every time (meaning, I tossed and turned and woke up late and exhausted every morning).

So maybe July will be better, I hope. At least, I am definitely excited to get started on several of these.

Monday, June 25, 2018

My Literary-related Response Rant to the ALSC Removing Laura Ingalls Wilder's Name From Award

This morning I learned of the Association for Library Service to Children's decision to remove Laura Ingalls Wilder's name from an award for writers and illustrators of children's books.

Here is their response to that decision:
ALA, ALSC respond to Wilder Medal name change

I get it. I really do.

The past is shocking to twenty-first century minds, and if we as a society are determined to wipe out every evidence of racism, prejudices, hatred, intolerance, sexism, and the billions of other defects of intolerable human conflicts throughout history, then we have much work to do. It will be a tireless work because there is no end to the offenses or offenders of the past.

Again, this situation does not involve censorship of actual literature, for now; it is only the removal of a writer's name whose works portray unacceptable attitudes, by today's standards.

SIDEBAR: The culture that has given us TWITTER, a forum where everyone is unaccountably nasty and horrid to one another, is the same culture in which Laura Ingalls Wilder is not worthy to have an award named after her.

I still say it is a form of censorship.

Believe me! I do not have a problem with censorship . . . as long as it is SELF-imposed. We all should have the distinct personal capacity to judge what is valuable and what is crap. What is good literature, and what is a waste of my time? What is beautiful art, and what is insultingly called art? What is delightful music, and what is offensive noise? On and on. 

So when I read that the ALSC claims to be an inclusive organization, then I understood why they made the decision: because Wilder writes about history, and history is never inclusive. 

By the way, I notice that the more we move away from people and events in history, the more angry, offended, intolerant, and destructive we become about the past. (See Christopher Columbus.) In this case, Wilder is being punished for telling her story about her life in 1800 America, even if her own attitudes were reflective of those conditions, which is only natural. Nonetheless, I think this decision says a lot more about "us" than it does about the past.

Fortunately, Wilder's stories are insight into the past. They expose the plight of the Native American people. When 21st century readers read Little House on the Prairie, they get two views: they experience the terror of living isolated in the middle of Indian Territory; and at the same time they experience the misery of hundreds of Native Americans forced from their homes. 

Her stories provide a sample of contributions of pioneer women. Caroline Ingalls was a pillar of endurance, physical strength, wisdom, and courage, as well as a godly mother and wife. She and Charles demonstrated sacrifice, balance, and support in marriage and parenting. Caroline demanded her girls get an education, and encouraged Laura to teach school.

They also give a picture of life, progress, and attitudes, extremely different than our own, including very difficult truths. These are topics of discussion, which help us gain better understanding of other people who came before us. We discover why people thought what they did, and we learn from them.

The important thing to remember is that it is not our story! We must not always force everything through our personal filters of expectations and try to make those attitudes fit into ours. We should taste what others have lived through and use comprehension and empathy to understand why they lived the way they did. It makes us better people, well-rounded, more compassionate, calmer, and tolerant. 

Overall, the ALSC Board overlooked Wilder's contributions to the world of American literature, especially by important female writers, and succumbed to the pathetic pressure from groups pushing today's narrow-minded, selfish, faint-hearted, standards for all of the rest of us.

So they removed Wilder's name. But then what? Should we advocate the removal of her memorials and museums? What about her books? If she is not worthy to hold honor because of her books, then why preserve them?

People who are perpetually offended will never be satisfied. They make it so difficult for themselves, so that they will never be able to keep up with the demands or live up to the standards of cleaning up the injustices of the broken human condition.

What is to be done? I do not know anymore. I only know the ALSC did a petty thing, and they were all so very proud of themselves. A sad day for progress.


Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Tess of D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

Tess of The D'Urbervilles
Thomas Hardy
Published 1891
The Classics Club II

I am still shaking from this tragic story. My reading experience was a cross between Doctor Zhivago and Grapes of Wrath

But unlike Grapes of Wrath, I did not hate it.  Instead, I was emotionally invested. (Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath angrily provoked me.) But I think I know why people dislike Tess of the D'Urbervilles.

Now, I am going to share the plot, including some spoilers, but not the ending. 

BEGIN SPOILERS: 

Tess is a beautiful, poetic young lady, unlucky to be the poor daughter of a drunk, unemployed father and an anxious mother. When her parents learned that they were descendants of an honorable ancestor of a similar name, whose well-off relations lived some miles from them, her mother sent Tess to make an introduction, in hopes of getting a job -- or a husband, which ever was more convenient.

Instead, Tess met an arrogant male relative, Alec, who gave her a lowly job on the farm, and then took advantage of her innocence. He certainly was attracted to her beautiful physical image, but her feelings for him were never mutual. 

By the next chapter, Tess had returned home with her new baby and was an embarrassment to the community. Unfortunately, her baby died. In shame, she decided to leave home again, to make a fresh start where no one knew her story. 

She found enjoyable work as a dairymaid and made companions. But a new man, Angel, a well-to-do son of an uppity preacher, moved to the farm. He wanted to take up farming, as opposed to college or seminary. He fell for Tess's credible pure and modest image and aggressively pursued her until she could not reject his advances. He proposed.

She expected to expose her past before they married, but each opportunity failed; even the letter she wrote explaining the truth, which contradicted her image, did not reach him in time before the wedding. 

She wanted to tell him on the day of the wedding, but he prevented her. 

Then on the night of their honeymoon, they revealed their secret sins, and Tess finally was able to tell Angel that she was not as pure as he believed. (Neither was he, but his hypocrisy was not as blinding as her impurity.) His image of her was shattered. Basically, he decided he must leave for a while. Being distraught, he left the continent! 

For at least a year he was absent from his wife, while she lived in abandonment and shame for what someone else had done to her life; she bore this heavy burden, as if it was entirely her own. 

During that long separation, she reconnected with friends and found farm work elsewhere, hiding the truth as much as she could, hating and blaming herself for her cowardly husband's behavior.

One day the farm workers were listening to a new "preacher." It was Alec, her relative, preaching repentance and obedience. He recognized Tess and was suddenly bewitched.

For several pages he begged Tess to give him a chance. He never asked forgiveness; but he wanted to make "reparations," marry her, and take care of her and her family. He never knew about the pregnancy and he expressed regret for having ruined her. Nonetheless, she rejected him and never believed his conversion. (Even I believed his conversion and thought she was being too pride-filled.)

After a few more pages, Alec revealed his true self. He was wicked, and the reader could see what Tess already knew. He was a fraud. He admitted that his religion was only a phase, and since he found Tess again, his religion was over. He resorted to stalking her.

Tess wrote a desperate letter to Angel, begging him to come home and save her from the evil that was going to ruin her (again). The letter awaited his return. And unbeknownst to Tess, Angel finally admitted he should have never left his wife. Duh.

Then, Tess's father died. Tess's mother and her siblings were forced to leave their home, and Tess with them. They tried to find a new place, but it was complicated. Really complicated.

Meanwhile, Alec relentlessly made all attempts to rescue Tess and her family; with his money and connections, his proposals to make life easier for them all were very attractive and generous. 

Because of her desperate situation - somewhere between a rock and a hard place - Tess rebelled and wrote a scathing note to Angel telling him she was done with him. Aside from the time she rightly rejected Alec's conversion as truth, this is the only other time I remember her showing any sign of strength and conviction. It almost seemed out of character. She promised to never forgive him.

Again, the note was waiting for his arrival at his parent's home.

Angel did eventually return home and immediately went on a quest to find his wife.

The reader was left to believe that Tess took Alec up on his offer to comfortably house her mother and siblings. Angel found them, but Tess did not live there with them, and Tess's mother did not tell Angel where she presently lived, but only told him not to search for her.

Nonetheless, he continued looking, and when he found her, "It was too late."

END of SPOILERS




It gets worse, but I cannot finish revealing the spoilers. I personally concluded that Thomas Hardy, while alive, had zero hope in humanity. He only understood torture of the heart and soul and mind. He absolutely detested religion, twisting Scripture and mocking Christianity. He saw life as utterly hopeless.

Sharon @ Gently Mad wrote several reviews of biographies on Thomas Hardy, and they helped me understand the madness behind the tragedies. At least with Return of the Native and Far From the Madding Crowd there were somewhat happy endings after the tragic story smacked you across the face. But this one must have been written during an exceptionally bad week for Hardy. He chose not to give anyone a chance.

So am I complaining about Tess or not? No. There is deep symbolism throughout, which is always intriguing to discover and decode its meanings. Hardy likes to use natural symbols to express his ideas about human nature. In addition, it is not very difficult to draw conclusions, and I found myself writing down the next thing that would happen before I read it because it is so easily drawn out.

I also enjoyed the reading experience.  The journey is absolutely worthwhile because of Hardy's talent. Nonetheless, this ending was dreadfully insane, and the characters were dubious, hypocritical, and false -- obviously, not very likable. But I still cannot forget the reading journey, and so I will always remember this story.

Is this book for you?

Are you already a Hardy fan because you have read his other works? Then I would encourage you to read this, too, just to have the experience and knowledge of having read it. You may not like the story overall, and that is ok; but you may get something better out of it anyway.

I would not recommend this one as my first Hardy, or you may never read another. He is full of shocking revelations, and if you are unfamiliar with his ways, you may not appreciate those unhappy surprises.

Also, Hardy loves to use unique vocabulary, and that may be too cumbersome for those still becoming acclimated to his style. Some people call it "flowery" language, though it is beautiful and interesting. It only adds to the complication, though, when the author is at the same time smacking you in the face with insulting and offensive character traits and dreadful plot twists.

So tread carefully with this one.

Tess flung herself down upon the undergrowth of rustling speargrass as upon a bed. 1891

Friday, June 1, 2018

My Reading Stack for June is Crazy




What mischief I have gotten myself into 

If I can keep my eyes open tonight (May 31st), I may finish Tess of the D'Urbervilles, by Thomas Hardy, before the official start of the new month (as I write, there are four hours left of May); otherwise, it will be added to the rest of my stack for the month of June.

I am still perusing my way through City of God, by Augustine. I read about five chapters a night, unless I fall asleep in the middle of reading. Then I fall behind.

Continuing with The Little House-athon at The Vince Review, I begin The Long Winter, by Laura Ingalls Wilder. This will be my easiest read, obviously.

But then I joined Jillian and a group on Twitter for Testament of Youth, by Vera Brittain, which spans the entire month of June. There is no way I can finish 600+ pages in a month. Even if it was my only book, there are not enough minutes in my days to read.  

For the Well-Educated Mind Reading Challenge (Histories), I am moving on to Utopia, by Sir Thomas More. I want to finish this one in the month of June because I prefer to move quickly through the WEM books, though these things are not in my control.

And finally, a friend of mine encouraged me to join her book club. They are reading Bleak House, by Charles Dickens, in June. Again, I know I will never finish this book by the end of June, but if I like it, I will continue on until I finish it. Dickens sometimes exhausts me, and this book is a tome. The sight of it intimidates me.

There are so many other books I want to read for summer, too, and maybe I will get to them come July. But these are my main focus for June, and I am not adding any more

There, I said it.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli

The Prince
Niccolò Machiavelli
Translated by George Bull
Published 1532
The Well-Educated Mind Histories, The Classic Club II
The Manly Reading List

Readers, this book is amazing. 

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed reading it. It is under 100 pages, but that is not why I enjoyed it. I enjoyed it because it was clear, concise, relevant, as well as intriguing and fascinating.

Elsewhere I read that Machiavelli wrote The Prince (and dedicated it to Giuliano de' Medici of Florence) in hopes of gaining political favor and getting a job in Medici's government. Apparently, he had served under a previous ruling official, but when that official was removed from office, Machiavelli was arrested on suspicion of conspiracy and exiled to his little hometown. While secluded, he wrote down what he believed to be the perfect mandate for a most successful political leader, to maintain the fragile political order in Italy. Hence, The Prince. 

The ironic thing is that he was not very believable, and his plan to get his government job back failed.

Machiavelli wrote difficult truths about political leaders. He deviated from the traditional, moralistic approach to leadership and government, and he presented historical examples from the Bible, Greece, the Roman Empire, and the Italian states, to support his claims.

People were shocked by these ideas. But let us be honest: not every leader, even ecclesiastical leaders of Machiavelli's time, were righteous or morally upright. They only wanted to appear as such. But that is besides the point.

Here are some of his outrageous ideas:
Well-organized states and wise princes have always taken great pains not to make the nobles despair, and to satisfy the people and keep them content; this is one of the most important tasks a prince must undertake.
How about this:
. . . that princes should delegate to others the enactment of unpopular measures and keep in their own hands the means of winning favors. Again, I conclude that a prince should value the nobles, but not make himself hated by the people.  
Look at this little tip:
. . . he should know how to do evil, if that is necessary. A prince, then must be very careful not to say a word which does not seem inspired by the five qualities I mentioned earlier. To those seeing and hearing, he should appear a man of compassion, a man of good faith, a man of integrity, a kind and religious man. And there is nothing so important to seem to have this last quality. Men in general judge by their eyes rather than by their hands; because everyone is in a position to watch, few are in a position to come in close touch with you. Everyone sees what you appear to be, few experience what you really are. 
How true is that?

Another obvious suggestion Machiavelli made is that a prince must read history, "studying the actions of eminent men to see how they conducted themselves during war and to discover the reasons for their victories or their defeats, so that he can avoid the latter and imitate the former."

He also explained that the art of war should be a prince's primary focus: "The art of war is all that is expected of a ruler . . ." and "The first way to lose your state is to neglect the art of war; the first way to win a state is to be skilled in the art of war."

Maybe these ideas are not shocking to the 21st century because we have seen it all. And Machiavelli demonstrates that this was commonplace even then.

The shock, though, was that he exposed these practices and went (sort of) public with it, though not intentionally (maybe). Whether he was mocking or sticking a finger in their eyes, I am not sure if we will ever know.

But I think it is good enough to look at it as a political leader's handbook on how to run a successful government, if you have the nerve, because Machiavelli made it clear that if you do not have the nerve, the people will violently reject you.

A personal example of how much fun I had reading this.


Is this book for you?

If you appreciate history, political science, and the like, yes, of course you should read this. It is super short, but teeming with critical ideas. I found myself relating modern leaders, like Hitler, to some of his political examples. It really is like a behind-the-scenes exposé on political leadership and governance. "Ah-ha! Now we know how it is."

But really, we already knew this. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

By the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder

By the Shores of Silver Lake
Laura Ingalls Wilder
Published 1939

This is the fourth book of the Little House series, in which Laura and her family move west again, to South Dakota. Things did not fare well for the Ingalls family at Plum Creek, in Minnesota, so this story opens up a little melancholy.

But hope was on the western horizon because Pa had a new job, working for the railroad, near by what would soon be a brand new town. Everyone was moving west, and the Ingalls family was getting a head start.

Laura recognized that she was maturing quickly and more was expected of her. She considered:
. . . she was not a little girl anymore. Now she was alone; she must take care of herself. When you must do that, then you do it and you are grown up. Laura was not very big, but she was almost thirteen years old, and no one was there to depend on. Pa and Jack had gone, and Ma needed help to take care of Mary and the little girls, and somehow to get them all safely to the west on a train. 
That train ride was a first for Laura and her sisters, and they were terrified; however, it was the start of good things to come.

Since Mary had lost her eyesight, after contracting scarlet fever in Minnesota, Pa asked Laura to "see out loud for Mary." Laura did this very well, which is how (I think) she developed her wonderful storytelling. But sometimes it was too much for the realist, Mary. When Pa picked them up from the hotel, after the train ride, Laura was describing the road that would lead to their destination. She said,
The road pushes against the grassy land and breaks off short. And that's the end of it.
It can't be (Mary objected). The road goes all the way to Silver Lake.
I know it does.
Well, then I don't think you ought to say things like that (Mary told her gently). We should always be careful to say exactly what we mean.
I was saying what I meant (Laura protested). 
(But she could not explain. There were so many ways of seeing things and so many ways of saying them.)
Later, Mary did it again, spoiling Laura's beautiful and free description of a horse and its rider. She said:
Oh, Mary! The snow-white horse and the tall, brown man, with such a black head and a bright red shirt! The brown prairie all around -- and they rode right into the sun as it was going down. They'll go on in the sun around the world. 
 (Mary thought a moment. Then she said) Laura, you know he couldn't ride into the sun. He's just riding along on the ground like anybody.
(But Laura did not feel that she had told a lie. What she had said was true too. Somehow that moment when the beautiful, free pony and the wild man rode into the sun would last forever.) 
Laura loved the West, just as Pa did. They both felt the same about it. Laura narrated,
. . . there was something else here that was not anywhere else. It was an enormous stillness that made you feel still. And when you were still, you could feel great stillness coming closer. 
All the little sounds of the blowing grasses and of the horses munching and whooshing in their feed-box at the back of the wagon, and even the sounds of eating and talking could not touch the enormous silence of this prairie.  
Living near the railroad grade was a rough place, especially for women and girls. Pa warned them not to go down to the railroad grade, but Laura had an insatiable curiosity to watch the men work on the railroad. Finally, Pa relented and promised to take her there to have a look; but not before Ma gave her a good, stern lecture about being a lady:
She said that she wanted her girls to know how to behave, to speak nicely in low voices and have gentle manners and always be ladies. They had always lived in wild, rough places, except for a little while on Plum Creek, and now they were in a rough railroad camp, and it would be some time before this country was civilized. Until then, Ma thought it best that they keep themselves to themselves. It would be all right for her to go quietly with Pa to see the work, but she must be well-behaved and lady-like, and remember that a lady never did anything that could attract attention. 
Personally, I think this is beautiful advice for a mother to give to her daughter, particularly that last point. We have lost the art of being discreet. But I digress.

During a heated family discussion about the challenges of being the paymaster in the railroad camp, Ma even said that "discretion [was] the better part of valor."

After the camp closed up and moved on for the winter, and Pa had still not filed on a claim, the Ingalls family considered returning east because they could not stay in the meager claim shanty on Silver Lake. But as Providence would have it, the surveyor would not need his well-built and well-stocked house for the winter, and he invited the Ingalls family to stay there until spring; so they did,  and it was a joyous time for them. They had all the food and supplies they needed for winter. They often shared their time and meals with Mr. and Mrs. Boast, their closest neighbors. In the evening there was singing and contentment.

One day, they had a visit from Rev. Alden, from Plum Creek, and young Rev. Stuart, on their way out west to plant a new church. They only stopped for shelter for the night, and were surprised to find the Ingalls family. During their stay, they had prayer, and Laura narrated:
Reverend Alden asked God, Who knew their hearts and their secret thoughts, to look down on them there, and to forgive their sins and help them to do right. A quietness was in the room while he spoke. Laura felt as if she were hot, dry, dusty grass parching in a drought, and the quietness was a cool and gentle rain falling on her. It truly was a refreshment. 
Soon after this, there was a mad rush for the West. Settlers were coming every day and night, stopping at the surveyor's house for shelter and meals. Pa realized he needed to go file a claim on his parcel of land in De Smet, before it was gone. He had to leave Ma and the girls to feed and board these strangers without him, although Mr. and Mrs. Boast did stay with them and helped do the chores.

Pa returned, after having filed on their homestead, and, in spring, quickly put up a storefront in town and moved his family into that building. He also had to find time to build a small shanty on the homestead before someone else moved in on it, even if it were illegally. But with all of this building going on around them, Ma said she felt sorry for Mrs. Beardsley who was keeping a hotel in town, while it was still being built around her. But Pa replied,
That's what it takes to build up a country. Building over your head and under your feet, but building. We'd never get anything fixed to suit us if we waited for things to suit us before we started. 
Laura watched the birds of Silver Lake and she noticed that they did not stay around. She considered, "wild birds did not like the town full of people, and neither did [she]."

Finally, the Ingalls family moved to their shanty on the homestead. On moving day,
Ma and Mary were glad because this was the end of traveling; they were going to settle on the homestead and never move again. Carrie was glad because she was eager to see the homestead, Laura was glad because they were leaving town, Pa was glad because he always liked moving, and Grace sang and shouted in gladness because all the others were glad. 
By the end of the story, they were settled on the claim and beginning their new, hopeful life in the West, although Laura always wished to keep going West.

Pa playing his fiddle.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Emma Orczy

The Scarlet Pimpernel
Baroness Emma Orczy
Published 1905

This is not a title I see on many TBR lists. Ok, I never see this on TBR lists. It was not on the top of mine, but I remembered that I had planned to read it to my kids when we came to the French Revolution in our history studies. 

The story of the Scarlet Pimpernel is no stranger to our family. Five years ago, we met Sir Percy and Lady Blakeney, the hero and heroine of The Scarlet Pimpernel. They were guests at our closing school year ball, back in 2013.

Sir Percy & Lady Blakeney

Our family w/ Sir Percy and Lady Blakeney

Sir Percy was a big hit with the ladies.

Sir Percy Blakeney, pretending to be asleep

But in all seriousness, I knew about the plot (though instead of reading the book, I watched the 1982 film, staring Jane Seymour and Anthony Andrews), and it is a very charming story. Since it took place during the Reign of Terror (and the Scarlet Pimpernel is rather like a super hero - and what kid doesn't like super heroes?), I had to read it to my kids.

Overall, it is more about the love story between the seemingly dull, but fashionable Englishman, Sir Percy, and his admirably intelligent French wife, Lady Blakeney, than it is about the historical details of the French Revolution. There are no gory reveals of the deadly guillotine and its murderous results. It is more about cunning characters, tricky adventures, and of course, a lot of misunderstanding.

The underlying focus is the courageous band of men, led by the elusive Scarlet Pimpernel who leaves his identifying mark behind when he has done his deed, which is to rescue French aristocrats from the grip of the bloodthirsty revolutionaries during the Reign of Terror.

There are some twists and turns in the plot, which keep you guessing and wondering, until the very end when the true identity of the Scarlet Pimpernel is revealed. And of course, there is a happy ending.

Frankly, as I have already said, the story is charming and sweet, but what I miss from the book is the strong emotion between Percy and his wife. There is a terrible misunderstanding that causes a rift between them for much of the story, and the film does a better job expressing and revealing those feelings. Or maybe I was just focusing too much time on trying to pronounce all the French words properly that I missed the emotion. Ah, well.

In addition, the film changed some of the details of the action, including the way the story ended (with a sword fight, because sword fights are cool), but without compromising the plot. The book ending was a little dubious, but maybe because I am partial to sword fights.

Jane Seymour and Anthony Andrews, 1982

Is this book for you?

Simply, if you love sweet love stories, with a bit of adventure and lightheartedness, this is a short, but sweet (haha) love story, with a happy ending. But do watch the 1982 film version (for free on Youtube) because the movie bridges some gaps in the story, and the emotion and chemistry between Seymour and Andrews is just perfect. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Disliked/Hated but Am Really Glad I Read


The Autobiography of Malcolm X
This book is full of racist-filled vitriol,
until the final chapters.
Glad I persevered.


Mein Kampf
Hitler
I almost skipped this,
but I am content to admit that I read this
interminable, tedious, self-serving, autobiography. Yuck.


Grapes of Wrath
John Steinbeck
What a train wreck! Totally overrated.
But at least I know that now.


The Portrait of a Lady
Henry James
One of the most frustrating stories I have ever read.
I'm still seething at Henry James.
(Update: Right now, I am reading Tess of D'Urbervilles,
and Hardy may have taken James' place.)


The Histories
Herodotus
The Ancients are like spinach;
healthy for you, but . . .


The Life of Saint Teresa of Ávila by Herself
This autobiography was about one woman's exhausting quest
to be worthy enough, except, we never will be worthy.
Hence, I took the opportunity to explain why.


The Stranger
Albert Camus
The absurd story about the absurd philosophy of Absurdism;
yet it was another perfect opportunity to discuss truth.


Wuthering Heights
Emily Brontë
The only thing I can say is,
"I read it, and now I know why almost everyone hates it."



The Book of Margery Kempe
Margery Kempe
This poor woman was not the only one tormented and tortured.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

The Ecclesiastical History of the English People by Bede

The Ecclesiastical History of the English People
Bede
Written AD 731

This book is from my Well-Educated Mind Reading Challenge. It started off well, as Bede described the makeup of the early people of Britain, then mentioned Gaius, Diocletian, Valentinian, Augustine of Canterbury, the Arians, and other names from history I am familiar; but when "the river ran dry in its bed and left [Alban] a way to cross," I became a little skeptical. I noted in the margin: not sure I believe this. When Germanus used relics of saints to restore a young girl's eyesight, I added: I really cannot believe this. 

After that, they were such a distraction -- miracles, spirits, visions, raising people from the dead, healing people by drinking water that touched the relics of dead saints, and incorruptible bodies after death. I could give examples, but why spoil the story?

Look! Here are some samples of my margin notes or exclamations:

I'm not sure what to think about this.
OK, I'm not sure I believe this.
Jesus performed a miracle through Augustine?
What the...?
Peter appears to Laurence! (That's Peter, the Apostle.)
Mellitus put out a fire through faith. (Who needs water?)
Huh, what? Peter isn't her protector. I'm sure of it.
Oh, great. Now he's seeing visions.
But Jesus already saved him when He died on the cross. Why did [King Edwin] have to do more?
Again, I have a hard time believing this stuff.
Incorruptible body?
No, come on!
This is ridiculous!
This is hog wash. 
Healed by fairy dust. This does not glorify Jesus.
No, no, no! So ridiculous.
This is total blasphemy.
This is such a lie.
Not possible. Wrong.
Baptism does not save you.
Oh, this is crazy.
Another weird occurrence.
Another weird idea.
Really, this is lame.
A 3-year old boy has prophetic vision? Seriously?
Why would she need to do this since Jesus paid it all?
The Apostles meet with a boy. They're dead! 
Having a hard time with this.
Again, not believing this.
This doesn't give life; Jesus' death does.
What is going on with this foretelling?
Return from the dead?

Hmmm . . . grunt.


Bede 672-735

I struggle with what more to say about this. I gave it 3 stars on Goodreads, though 2.5 would have been more accurate. The fact that it was written in the 8th century carries some weight, especially because Bede recollects emperors, popes, kings, as well as political and historical conflicts.

The obstacle is my lack of sympathies over early or medieval Catholic Church history and my struggle believing mystical and supernatural ideas committed by men. Bede's Ecclesiastical History is full of these wonders, which he claims to have collected from previous ancient sources and by those who declared to have witnessed these events. 

As I understand, these wonders began to slow down or cease by the end of the Apostolic Age, with the end of the Apostles -- men who walked with Jesus and saw Him at his Resurrection -- and shortly after the arrival of the Holy Spirit. In other words, by the 2nd century the abundance of miracles or supernatural occurrences decreased or were unnecessary because the Holy Spirit took its place in the hearts of believers. And frankly, the idea that relics (objects touched by dead saints) have any saving power is just a reckless manmade idea. 


So . . . is this book for you?

If you are interested in early history (through 8th century), particularly early English history, and even more especially the spread of Christianity throughout England, and you are not bothered by mystical ideas, then this is for you. It is not a long book, and it is fairly easy reading. Knock yourself out. I am ready to move on to the next book in TWEM Histories: The Prince, by Machiavelli.

Friday, April 20, 2018

On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder

On the Banks of Plum Creek
Laura Ingalls Wilder
Published 1937

Laura was a big girl, seven years old. She was too big to cry. But she could not help asking, "Pa did you have to give him Pet and Patty? Did you, Pa?"
Pet and Patty were the ponies from Indian Territory that Pa traded for two strong oxen, necessary to break up the earth for a crop of wheat. Pa envisioned a "great big field" of wheat, but all Laura could think of was Pet and Patty.

(Notice how God is preparing Laura for a horse-loving husband?)

Well, since Indian Territory was off limits, Pa took his family to the banks of Plum Creek, in Minnesota. For awhile they lived in a dug out, which was a hole dug under the ground. Gratefully, I cannot miss the lovely descriptions of the morning glories, which surround the dug out entrance and  brighted any dwelling:
All around the door green vines were growing out of the grassy bank, and they were full of flowers. Red and blue and purple and rosy pink and white and stripped flowers all had their throats wide open as if they were singing to the morning. They were morning glory flowers.
Moving into the dug out

After settling into the dug out, Ma observed how "peaceful and tame" it all was and said she "felt so safe and at rest." Pa answered,
We're safe enough, all right. Nothing can happen here."
You know, I appreciate Pa's optimism and cheery outlook, but I guess he did not know about Murphy's Law.

Pa went to town, literally and figuratively, building a wood frame house with glass windows and a stove. He paid for it all with that wheat field that was yet to be harvested.
When that crop was harvested, Pa [continued saying], they'd be out of debt and have more money than they knew what to do with. He'd have a buggy, Ma would have a silk dress, they'd all have new shoes and eat beef every Sunday.
That was before the grasshoppers came.

Millions of grasshoppers. They settled on the land and ate up that wheat crop and everything else green in sight. In addition, there was no rain, and Plum Creek ran dry.

Pa, who did not know that after donating his last $3 for the bell in the new church belfry instead of replacing his hole-y boots, would end up needing to walk several hundred miles in those hole-y boots to find work, back east, to pay for that new house after the grasshoppers took his wheat field.

It was a miserable, hot summer, but Ma, being a tenacious woman, an excellent example of leadership in forbearance and fortitude, managed the several weeks without Pa.

When Pa was ready to sow another crop, he realized that the grasshoppers had laid millions of eggs, which he knew, once hatched, would begin eating everything green in sight; therefore, it would foolish for him to bother. He would lose another year of harvest.

Hence, it was off to the East again.

The grasshoppers finally left, in grand array, and Pa brought back enough income to pay most of their debt and still buy shoes for Mary, material to make dresses, and even some food supplies.

While the grasshoppers were the most horrific and creepy event in the story, Pa was also lost in a blizzard for three days. He survived on oyster crackers and Christmas candy.

Meanwhile, the more entertaining events of the story involved Nellie Olsen. Laura met Nellie at school in town, and Nellie was the quintessential spoiled snob. Once inviting Laura, Mary, and several other school girls to her house for a town party, she badly mistreated and shamed Laura.

Nellie Olsen, in true fashion, at her party

Ma suggested they return the favor and invite Nellie and the town girls for a party at their home in the country, and Laura sought an opportunity of retribution. She tricked Nellie into the muddy creek waters, where the blood suckers lurked. You can guess what happened.

Come on. You know you would be cheering Laura, and holding your side from laughter, too.

I admit it: I was.

Laura recalled many other personal childhood memories in this story, which remains one of my favorites of the series, but there are many more to come. I anxiously look forward to my next read: By the Shores of Silver Lake.