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Posts Tagged ‘Elizabeth Gaskell’

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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Where have I been, and why haven’t I been writing?  For one thing, I went to Omaha: 

 
“They’re not from a different planet, Mama.” – North and South, the BBC adaptationThe YLCF retreat was a fellowship of likeminded ladies. We all knew that going in, I think. Our differences struck me, though. Sometimes we had to reassure each other that we were not from different planets. Ranging from Colorado natives to a teacher from New York, and the Midwest towns and cities in between, there was plenty to compare. A few of the ladies attending (including Natalie – remember that, girls?) even lived in Japan for a while. So we enjoyed discovering how the same values applied in different lives, different families, at different places and to different interests. Some of us are writers. Some love to clean houses. Students, teachers, wives, mothers, sisters were there. There were seamstresses and dancers and photographers.

By design YLCF is an ecumenical organization, a place where ladies who share a common Savior can gather to encourage each other without debating theology. We retreated from our own churches and lives, our everyday friends with their spiritual problems, from the pressures of our ministries to engage in a real life version of that unity in diversity. Life at home was not forgotten, for once, but nor was it pressing. We took our families with us, whether by photos or book lists or cell phones or real live sisters. I saw God relating our conversations to what was happening in our lives at home. I know we each came away encouraged and refreshed. God is at work so creatively in so many lives and locations. He is awe-some.

I have to report that the YLCF gathering was most unexpectedly, but actually quite reasonably, quiet. 15 or so ladies variously occupied shared quiet conversations about lives, families, and God’s lessons for the year. For a while it felt like twenty questions or the game where a character’s name is on your back and you run around asking questions of everyone until you figure out who you are. By Friday evening, between some sort of synchronized driving by which we left Natalie’s gracious home in a caravan and arrived at the Christian bookstore independently and from different directions, and the frigid parking lot just outside the base, we hit our stride.

For me it was fascinating to observe the humanity of our online friends. Natalie is a real human being with everyday strengths and weaknesses. She is a transparent writer, and I appreciate when she shares her struggles and triumphs, her reflective journal entries. Seeing her in action was different, though. Her dogs bark at strangers. She looks different moving: laughing, walking, thinking – than in pictures. You’ve heard of the widow’s oil? It didn’t run out until all of her jars and pots, and her neighbors’, were full? We experienced Natalie’s pizza, where every pan in the house was filled before we ran out! All roads may lead to the Christian bookstore near her house, but no maps lead to her home. Every one of us got lost on the way, some worse than others. After reading YLCF, that adventure gave us all a common experience on which to build.

Maybe you had to be there, but we all dissolved into laughter when Natalie was reasoning with the security guard at the gate of the Air Force base to let all of us girls stuffed into three cars onto base. I think he liked us, because he was very cooperative. But each car wasn’t really communicating with the others, so we were trying to guess what would happen next, what was going on – reading lips and hand gestures and then proceeding with trial and error.

Gretchen was mentioned often. We peppered Natalie with questions about the origins of YLCF, and how she and Gretchen met. I was most surprised to hear that they’ve only been in each other’s physical presence five or six times. Yet what friends they are to each other!

The weekend was about ladies fair, traipsing through bitter cold and token snow cover. Our experiment with blooming tea was successful. Our trips to the thrift store were totally girly. And most of us more or less stayed up in one little hotel room watching the four hour miniseries, North and South.

Saturday, my friend and I chased the sun home to Colorado, not ready to surrender the day and its memories. For a while it seemed to be working. We kept it overhead, and the sun didn’t descend very quickly. The weekend’s activity was reviewed aloud. Heat invaded the piercing cold. My friend settled in and slept to the soundtrack of Anastasia while steadily the light dropped beneath the clouds until it regaled us with a prolonged sunset.

Then the moon, rising early, pursued us like a lamp from behind. I caught its beams over my shoulder like a car overtaking us on the highway. Even that night, at midnight finally home in Colorado, the pearly glow reflected off the day-old layer of snow welcoming me from my back yard. It was the after-glow, the still illuminating remnant of the light of a lovely day.

For he satisfieth the longing soul, and filleth the hungry soul with goodness.” ~ Psalms 107:9

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

 

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