It’s a Girl!

Popping onto the blog today to introduce you to the newest member of our family: Alice Genevieve!

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She’s our third child and they say ‘all bets are off’ when it comes to your third child . . . that is, don’t expect things to go like they did with your first two. James and June were both a little late (one day and five days, respectively), but Alice decided to wait till she was thirteen days overdue before making her way into the world! With both my parents visiting from BC, their hearts desiring to meet this dear little pumpkin, the pressure was on.

At 6:00AM the morning after my dad returned to BC I had my first contraction. Alice was born one hour later. Let’s just say I was incredibly glad that my mom was staying with us, so that my husband and I could simply zip out the door to the hospital without the fuss of dropping our kids off at a friend’s house – had that been the case, I’m convinced she would have been born in the van. As it was, we woke up my mom, briskly drove the three minutes to the hospital, were shown into an assessment room, then were quickly diverted to a delivery room where my water broke and the nearest available doctor popped into the room to catch Alice because the midwives were still en route.

In the words of my dear husband: “That was my kind of birth!”

James and June are completely enamoured with her:

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I haven’t been blogging much the last few months, aside from monthly Quick Lit posts. That’s because I’ve been dissatisfied with the purpose of this blog. I’m not actually all that interested in reading The Top 100 Novels of All Time. I do love classic novels, and I intend to keep reading them – George Eliot’s Silas Marner and Daniel Deronda are two I’m looking forward to reading in the next while – but instead of being bound to The Guardian’s list, I’d like to pursue older classics and the occasional newer novel that spark joy. For me, that’s books that are both well written and that strengthen the moral imagination.

So from now on I’ll be using this blog more as a commonplace journal, steering away from really reviewing books (how does one review a classic anyways?) and using this space to share my personal thoughts on books I’ve read and little snippets that have spoken to me or captured my imagination.

I hope you’ll continue to enjoy the thoughts shared here!

On Friendship, or Peculiar People

north-and-south-vintage-coverI re-read North and South recently for book club, and while I’d previously concentrated on the tumultuous relationship between Margaret Hale and Mr. Thornton, this time I found myself thinking a lot about the power of conversation and curious connection of friendship.

Especially those wonderful friendships built on meaningful conversations.

Consider this powerful passage in which Elizabeth Gaskell writes about the special bond between Margaret’s dad and Mr. Thornton. The last few sentences pierce my heart:

It was curious how the presence of Mr. Thornton had power over Mr. Hale to make him unlock the secret thoughts which he kept shut up even from Margaret . . . Whatever was the reason, he could unburden himself better to Mr. Thornton than to her of all the thoughts and fancies and fears that had been frost-bound in his brain till now. Mr. Thornton said very little, but every sentence he uttered added to Mr. Hale’s reliance and regard for him. Was it that he paused in the expression of some remembered agony, Mr. Thornton’s two or three words would complete the sentence, and show how deeply its meaning was entered into. Was it a doubt – a fear – a wandering uncertainty seeking rest, but finding none – so tear-blinded were its eyes – Mr. Thornton, instead of being shocked, seemed to have passed through that very stage of thought himself, and could suggest where the exact ray of light was to be found, which should make the dark places plain. Man of action as he was, busy in the world’s great battle, there was a deeper religion binding him to God in his heart, in spite of his strong wilfulness, through all his mistakes, than Mr. Hale had ever dreamed. They never spoke of such things again, as it happened; but this one conversation made them peculiar people to each other; knit them together, in a way which no loose indiscriminate talking about sacred things can ever accomplish. When all are admitted, how can there be a Holy of Holies?

If You Loved Jane Eyre, Try These Seven Books

If I had to choose a favourite novel, I’d pick Jane Eyre.  There’s so much to love about it!  Charlotte Bronte’s writing is vibrant, the dialogue between Jane and Mr. Rochester sparks with energy, and the spooky gothic elements make the book a little darker and a little richer.  And Jane herself is a marvellously complex and venerable character, full of passion and moral fortitude.  In China Mieville’s words, “Charlotte Brontë’s heroine towers over those around her, morally, intellectually and aesthetically; she’s completely admirable and compelling . . .  She takes a scalpel to the skin of the every day.”

Here are seven more books to try if you, like me, loved Jane Eyre:

northanger abbey 1. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen – Jane Eyre has an element of the gothic about it (secret wife hidden up in the attic, the mysterious communication across the miles that occurs between Jane and Mr. Rochester, etc.). For an entertaining read that pokes fun of the genre of gothic novels, try Northanger Abbey. It’s the story of Catherine Morland, a young woman whose vibrant imagination gets her into all sorts of trouble while she visits Northanger Abbey, the home of a young man she admires.


adam bede 2. Adam Bede or The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot – Charlotte Bronte is an expert in exploring the mental landscape of her characters, and George Eliot is equally gifted in this regard. I read Adam Bede earlier this year and found her insights into the hearts of Adam, Hetty and Dinah very moving, and though I’m just in the early stages of reading The Mill on the Floss, George Eliot seems equally up to the task in that novel.

 


gone 3. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell – I love the lively, witty dialogue between Jane and Mr. Rochester, and, for me, the only other book whose dialogue has come close is Gone with the Wind.  Rhett Butler’s words are snappy and passionate and make you appreciate every moment of his presence.

 


144852 4. Emma Brown by Clare Boylan – at her death, Charlotte Bronte left behind the first twenty pages of a novel titled Emma which Clare Boylan uses as the first two chapters of her novel that centres on the mysterious identity of a young girl deposited at a small boarding school. The book is a little melodramatic, and a fair bit of 21st century sensibilities seep through, but it’s still fun to read and to wonder where Charlotte Bronte would have taken the story.


a6da9cc604de267b7da60f4965ac8fb1 5. The Blue Castle by LM Montgomery – the feel of Jane Eyre and The Blue Castle are totally different, but there are a few similarities between the novels, namely the oppressive households in which orphans Jane and Valancy are raised, and the unorthodox road to love they each take. Plus the happy endings in both novels are sweetly satisfying.

 


Daughter-of-the-forest6. Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier – there’s a small element of the fairytale in Jane Eyre: she’s thinking of the Gytrash (a North-of-England spirit) when she meets Mr. Rochester, and afterwards he frequently refers to her appearance as unearthly and elf-like, even suggesting that she bewitched his horse. If you’d like to dive straight into a fairytale, try Daughter of the Forest, a loose retelling of The Six Swans in which a young woman must maintain complete silence while weaving shirts from nettles in order to return her brothers to human form.


51yC01qKOWL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ 7. The Brontes by Juliet Barker – a comprehensive and compelling biography of Branwell, Charlotte, Anne and Emily Bronte. Well over 1000 pages, it’s a daunting book, but it’s fascinating reading for anyone interested in learning more about Charlotte Bronte’s life. Particularly intriguing are the passages about the elaborate imaginary worlds the siblings created and the unexpected and tender romance near the end of Charlotte’s life.


I’m linking up with the Broke and the Bookish again today.  See more “Ten Books for Readers Who Liked . . . ” posts there!

Do You Know a Mrs. Gummidge?

David Copperfield

My plan when I started my blog was to write a review of each of the classic novels I completed. Last December I finished reading David Copperfield by Charles Dickens and felt stumped; I really didn’t know what to write about it. Looking back I can say that the problem is that I’m drawn to novels that explore character and Charles Dickens does this in a unique and unsettling way. That is, his characters are, on first impression, exaggerated.

Consider Dora Spenlow. David Copperfield meets his boss’s daughter and immediately falls in love with her. They enter into a secret engagement and eventually marry. But Dora’s defining characteristic is her childishness. She spends her days as a single woman lavishing attention on her pet dog, Jip, and being coddled by her aunts and therefore is an incompetent manager of her and David’s household once they marry.

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So David tries to delicately correct her domestic deficiencies:

“You know, my love, it is not exactly comfortable to have to go out without one’s dinner. Now is it?”
“N-n-no!” replied Dora, faintly.
“My love, how you tremble!”
“Because I KNOW you’re going to scold me,” exclaimed Dora in a piteous voice.
“My sweet, I am only going to reason.”
“Oh, but reasoning is worse than scolding!” exclaimed Dora in despair. “I didn’t marry to be reasoned with. If you meant to reason with such a poor little thing as I am, you ought to have told me so, you cruel boy!”
I tried to pacify Dora, but she turned away her face, and shook her curls from side to side and said, “You cruel, cruel boy!” so many times, that I really did not exactly know what to do: so I took a few turns up and down the room in my uncertainty, and came back again.
“Dora, my darling!”
“No, I am not your darling. Because you must be sorry that you married me, or else you wouldn’t reason with me!”

Dora is ridiculously childish and irrational, the sort of character I want to roll my eyes at and dismiss. What really helped me understand and appreciate Dickens’ characters was a chapter on Great Expectations in Karen Swallow Prior’s memoir Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me. She writes:

“This magical quality is seen first and most obviously in the characters of the novel. They are, paradoxically, realistic caricatures. Dickens’ characters are fanciful and at the same time just like someone you probably know or might see on the streets of any town. GK Chesterton answered the charge of some critics that the idiosyncrasies of Dickens’ characters are too exaggerated by predicting, ‘It will be proved that he is hardly even a caricaturist; that is something very like a realist. Those comic monstrosities which the critics found incredible will be found to be the majority of citizens of this country.'”

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I found GK Chesterton’s quote accurate and immensely illuminating. I tend to think of Dora as a “comic monstrosity” who is too hyperbolic to have much to do with real life, but really, we can all think of friends and neighbours with a habit of paying more attention to the trivial things of life than is warranted, or an inability to handle even the gentlest of criticism.

And this is true of other ‘exaggerated’ characters in David Copperfield, too, like the gloomy Mrs. Gummidge who is forever moaning about being a “lone, lorn creetur” with whom everything “goes contrary.” (My favourite of her lines is, “If I felt less, I could do more.”) Most of us can quickly number a few acquaintances who let their own sorrows eclipse that of others, whose own suffering is always foremost in their minds.

So, what do you think of Dickens’ characters? Do you find them real or incredible? Do you find the words of GK Chesterton persuasive?

Favourite Heroines in Books

I’m linking up with the Broke and the Bookish again, this time for a list of my favourite literary heroines. Here we go:

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1. Jane Eyre (Jane Eyre) – Jane has a spirit that won’t be squashed, despite being orphaned, oppressed by her relatives and deprived of the basic comforts of food and warmth at school. She’s resilient, capable and passionate, and she has the courage of her convictions.

2. Anne Elliot (Persuasion) – both Charlotte Bronte and Jane Austen created characters outside the convention for heroines: Jane Eyre is plain, and Anne Elliot has lost the bloom of her youth. Like Jane, Anne triumphs as a character (though she’s not as sprightly as Jane). She’s loyal and kind, patient and passionate. And I admire Anne for looking back on her life and not regretting being guided by principle, even though it cost her a great deal.

3. Lucy (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) – Lucy’s sweet, true and awfully brave for such a young lass.

4. Pat Gardiner (Pat of Silver Bush, Mistress Pat) – Pat’s an unusual heroine in that she’s quite fearful of change in her life. But her heart gradually opens up to new experiences and to love, and it’s beautiful to see the change in her.

5. Jo March (Little Women) – Jo has a passionate zest for life, she’s driven and she’s such a good friend and sister.

6. Elizabeth Bennett (Pride and Prejudice) – witty, lively and possessing a set of fine eyes, I’m sure Elizabeth is on many a Top Ten Heroine list. What I like best about her: she holds her own with the formidable Mr. Darcy and she’s not afraid to admit her faults.

7. Eowyn (Lord of the Rings) – it’s been a while since I read LOTR, but I recall being drawn to Eowyn for her unrequited love of a good man, her lack of self-pity and the way in which she chose healing over the sword.

How about you? Who are you favourite literary heroines?

Top Ten Books I Want To Read

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1. At the Back of the North Wind by George MacDonald – a Victorian fairy tale about a young boy and a beautiful woman who personifies the North Wind. I really enjoyed The Princess and the Goblin last year and would like to read more by GM.

2. Burial Rites by Hannah Kent – a fellow book-clubber highly recommended this debut novel about an Icelandic woman charged with murder.

3. Clarissa by Samuel Richardson – an epistolary love story written in the 18th century; it has the dubious distinction of being one of the longest novels ever written . . . but if the writing is excellent, perhaps that’ll be a delight?

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4. Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons – any time a review notes the writing has the “comic aplomb of Evelyn Waugh” I take notice. This is a story of a young woman going to live with relatives at Cold Comfort Farm, where cows are named Feckless, Aimless, Pointless and Graceless. Sounds rather droll!

5. Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset – a long character-driven story set in medieval Norway. Sounds delicious!

6. Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell – I enjoyed North & South, and so have been contemplating reading another novel by Elizabeth Gaskell. This one looks interesting.

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7. The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot – George Eliot creates beautiful and believable characters, and there’s nothing I love more than a well-crafted character-driven novel. I read Adam Bede in January and loved it, so I’m looking forward to reading more GE novels.

8. Peace Like a River by Leif Enger – I’ve been thinking about reading this book for about a year as it’s listed as many book bloggers favourite novel, and a recent post by Anne in which she said, “I don’t know if I’ve found a more lovable girl than Swede since Anne Shirley” made me want to read it all the more!

9. The Sea of Tranquility by Katya MillayModern Mrs. Darcy describes this YA novel as unputdownable and one of her favourite books of 2014.

10. The Story Girl by L.M. Montgomery – I read most of L.M. Montgomery’s novels last year but missed this one. I love her bubbly, tender stories of love and friendship.

I’m linking up with The Broke and the Bookish again for Top Ten Tuesdays.

Quick Lit // December 2014 & January 2015

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Here are a few mini book reviews of novels I’ve read over the last two months . . . Enjoy!

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte – still my favourite novel. Brilliant dialogue, passionate emotion + moral fortitude = perfection.

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens – the story of a young boy becoming a man. Full of exaggerated characters, I found David Copperfield a little slow in places, but there were parts of the story that resonated deeply. For instance, near the end of the story David describes his first love as, “The first mistaken impulse of an undisciplined heart” – and I can’t get that line out of my head. When was the last time the hero of a novel was admired for discipline and prudence? Our culture is all about ‘following your heart’ no matter where it leads . . .

Adam Bede by George Eliot – the story of a young man maturing – learning forgiveness, falling in love, experiencing sorrow. Eliot is so insightful about the way people act and think, plus her writing is really beautiful. I found myself frequently underlining thoughtful observations like this: “There are few prophets in the world; few sublimely beautiful women; few heroes. I can’t afford to give all my love and reverence to such rarities: I want a great deal of those feelings for my everyday fellow-men, especially for those few in the foreground of the great multitude, whose faces I know, whose hands I touch, for whom I have to make way with kindly courtesy.” Quite simply one of the best books I’ve ever read.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler – this novel rests on a startling reveal about 70 pages in, and I certainly did not see it coming. So – points for surprise. But I found the jumpy narrative irritating, all the characters unsympathetic, and the persistent psychological trauma unconvincing.

Cinder by Marissa Meyer – a dystopian retelling of the Cinderella fairytale – except not really, as many of the plot points do not align. This YA novel is pretty engaging, but far too fluffy and unrealistic to be satisfying (Prince, why are falling in love with this cyborg for no discernible reason? And why are you telling her state secrets on your second or third meeting?).

Anne’s House of Dreams by L.M. Montgomery – another lovely instalment in the Anne of Green Gables series.

The Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde – quite a fascinating story of a young man’s obsession with beauty and the growing corruption of his soul. The asides on art and philosophy were way over my head, as were many of the British witticisms, but I enjoyed the story nonetheless.

I’m linking up with Anne of Modern Mrs. Darcy today; head on over for more brief book reviews!