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Posts Tagged ‘classics’

I must say, much as I am a fan of literature, that I never liked Shakespeare.  My taste, whatever else may be said about it, does not like to be dictated.  Which men chose the classics and left better books behind?  Must Dickens be praised and Burnett read everywhere while every little author with soaring words is neglected?  What is to be praised in Dickens?  And above all, why do we give to children what is supposed to be fine and profound literature? 

 

Shakespeare’s poetry does not rhyme, and its meaning is not always evident.  To me sometimes it sounds forced.  And his plays do not interest me.  Literature class forced Romeo and Juliet upon me, and in respect for a friend I read Tweflth Night.  So I don’t have a lot of exposure to his plays, and I have never seen them acted.  If I had, their interpretation might have more hold on my heart.  Most of all I find that Shakespeare is overrated. 

 

Perhaps, however, he is under-read.  The one thing that tempts me to scorn my own opinion of Shakespeare is that whenever a true fan of his work, someone who has invested the thought to understand his themes, has described to me a play or a couplet, I have enjoyed the metaphor.  The Danish prince on Prince and Me aids the American farmgirl in her literature class by directing her penetration of Shakespeare’s sonnets.  My immediate reaction is that any poetry that requires so much thinking is not romantic, though it masquerades as such.  Maybe the metaphors were more common, or the objects of comparison an everyday thought.  But I must praise the ability to say more with words than the words themselves, to do something with choice of words and order, rhythm and association, pattern and emphasis that has, even to those unaware, layers of influence and meaning.  My friend who convinced me to read Twelfth Night explained the statement Merchant of Venice is on Jewish philosophy.  I greatly enjoyed that.  When Chesterton critiques A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I feel let in on the secret.  And occasionally when I catch radio host Hugh Hewitt interviewing David Allen White, a literature lecturer, about a piece of Shakespeare, I am delighted by the events and ideas Shakespeare addressed.  How he did it from a cottage in the country I’ll never know. 

 

Dickens always ought to be musical.  Because Jo March and her sisters liked him, I always felt guilty for despising his work.  I wanted story, and Dickens talked about issues, the dark, depressing issues of London which one hopes have been reformed since his creative efforts to address them.  I feel very much as though I was being told what to do, a list of morals told in story form.  Again, whoever makes the selections for literature books is sadly out of touch with students.  I read a shadowy scene of Pip visits Miss Havisham from Great Expectations, and found myself very bored.  If Oliver had not been set to music, I would have been turned off by the immorality and violence of the tale.  But don’t you see that to make it musical, someone had to understand the story and love it enough to adorn it for the world to enjoy?  A radio interview and Chesterton again are responsible for the majority of the interest I have in Charles Dickens.  The former described the magic of the words the classic author used, how each word added to the tone of the novel. 

 

Elizabeth Gaskell wrote to Dickens, and shared his concern for their country’s social issues.  Through her stories I feel as though I receive commentary on Dickens, both a defense and a rebuttal of his work.  Her novels are more realistic, more on the border of the issues to enable her readers, themselves well outside the slums, to look in at a window, gently led like Mr. Scrooge by the ghost to look at the needs of others.  Her heroes have compassion held as an example to the readers.  They learn and love just like the rest of us.  Even her villains are not completely bad.  Each has a story that, while it cannot justify their rebellion, is a justification for kindness shown to them. 

 

To move my heart a story must be near enough my own experience.  Few people today have family feuds preventing childhood romance.  No one I know was beaten in an orphanage.  Maybe in some parts of the world or my city these things are the case, but my life is without them.  Jane Austen appeals to me because she writes about families with normal problems and interests.  Tolkien intrigues me because, though he sets it in a fantastic world of elves, goblins, and dragons, his epic deals with the basic cases of right and wrong, sacrifice and friendship, and the choices everyday to turn back.  More grown up than when I took literature class, I appreciate biographies for mapping the way individuals of the past navigated the questions of life.  New genres are opening to me; maybe soon I will love the classics on my own. 

 

Last summer I hosted a literature party in which each girl or lady was invited to bring a passage from her favorite children’s book.  There was Winnie the Pooh, Peter Pan, Little House on the Prairie, Where the Sidewalk Ends, Alexander, and more.  I liked best loving those books through the eyes of my friends, to have them share with me what is so relevant or poetic or sentimental about the stories. 

 

So many people talk about classic authors.  I wonder if they do not derive some of their potency and meaning from being a matter of commentary and interpretation.  Is Shakespeare truly better when discussed?  Dickens wrote for the very purpose of stirring thought and inspiring movement in his society.  And what writer does not write to be read and to matter? 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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Apparently one of my favorite pet hobbies is worse than unpopular.  It’s irrelevant to the world around me.  I love to study words.  Their roots and history, and how they got from start to present, are fascinating to me.  When I find the etymology of a word, I feel like that word is full of color and life and intense meaning that before was cloudy and uncertain.  When I write I want the best word not only to say exactly what I mean, but with the tone and connotations I intend.  Etymology helps me do that (I hope). 

In any case, being a linguist helped JRR Tolkien.  Jane Austen and Charles Dickens also employed word selection to aid their plots and descriptions.  The more I improve my vocabulary, the more I appreciate classic authors and their works.  I marvel at the subconscious effect their word choice had on me before I understood.  Their literature comes alive when I really know what their language indicates. 

But today, in an increasingly post-modern, non-absolutist, highly individual world, adhering to one definition for a word is less feasible than adhering to one faith in one truth about one reality.  And this makes debate completely useless.  This makes computerized discernment and classification impossible.  In other words, we can no longer test someone’s words to see what they believe.  Either they sound heretical, but were really just trying to use hip lingo and got sloppy, or they sound orthodox and mean something mystical.  In both cases knowledge of what the words inherently mean, and are supposed to still mean, is no help at all.  In fact, it’s confusing. 

So what we need instead of the computerized classification or test such as evangelicals gave to presidential candidates last century (asking them whether they were born-again; how long do you think it took for the candidates to catch on and learn to say the right thing?  They’re politicians!), is real discernment.  People who have studied truth need to test all things, but not with clichés.  They need to pray for God to guide them with His eyes.  They need to be Samuel, who so leaned on God’s insight, who yielded to God’s vision of man’s heart instead of human sight of the outward appearance. 

There is a spiritual gift, like teaching, like giving, like service, and like compassion.  Through the supernatural empowering of the Holy Spirit, those who have called on the name of the Lord and are therefore indwelt by the Holy Spirit and led by Him into all truth need to examine the words of men and discern spirits.  After studying the gift of discernment, I think there are several reasons Paul calls it “discerning of spirits.”  This analysis provides another reason: in a postmodern culture that defies definitions, discerning words is basically useless.  We need to discern (discover, classify, penetrate, understand, identify as true or false) where a speaker is coming from, and what they really mean. 

The other reasons I have considered are: 1.  Discernment is spiritual.  It has to do with the spirit-world, and can often involve identifying demonic activity or influence.  2.  Discernment of a spirit can be of a message, due to the Greek word (pneuma)’s double meaning of breath and spirit.  3.  Discernment might have to do with insight into the spiritual needs of an individual.  Beyond whether an individual is right or wrong, where are they weak and where are they strong?  What is the spiritual reality going on in their life, behind the service and the teaching or the sin and the doubt? 

I believe God gifts members of His body as needed to see all these things, and I believe there is an incredible need in the Church today for those who can identify the spiritual truth of a situation, message, or person.  These people, using their gifts, are an incredible contribution to the community and cooperation of believers.  They are indispensable in edification.  And in a world where there are many books, many teachers, and much mesmerizing media, the Church needs to seek God’s direction and discretion as they choose their courses of ministry and belief. 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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In lieu of Jane Austen Season (PBS decided to interrupt it in order to raise funds), I watched an episode of Masterpiece’s Kidnapped last night.  Kidnapped is the classic by Robert Louis Stevenson, author of the more popular Treasure Island.  Set in Scotland, the movie features some nice music and wonderful scenery.  Acting is touch and go, but the dialogue, which I assume is mostly taken straight from Stevenson, is excellent. 

 

I caught a touch of an exploration of pacifism in the story.  I don’t know about you, but if you’re like me (I should preface all of my opinions like that; I’m so constantly being told that not everyone is like me) you think better in the context of a story.  So if you are interested, see the DVD, or tune in for subsequent episodes in future weeks. 

 

By the way, the movie stars at least one recurring actors from other Masterpiece (BBC) movies, the actor who played Mr. Preston in Wives and Daughters, Iain Glen.  His role in Kidnapped as the bold Alan Beck sets him in a stronger, more favorable light than the “terrible flirt” Mr. Preston.  The beard helps too. 

 

My only other exposure to Kidnapped is the black and white 1960 version with James MacArthur.  I was delighted to hear the actor from Swiss Family Robinson and Hawaii 5-0 (Book ‘im, Danno) use a Scottish accent.  The book, however, is on my list of must-reads, being set in a romantic Scottish period.  With any luck Robert Louis Stevenson will have written in the Scottish pronunciation like JM Barrie did in The Little Minister. 

To God be all glory, 

Lisa of Longbourn 

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