I’m a little late with my post but better late and confused, rather than absent! I was planning to read The Dean’s Watch, but after starting it, I appear to have misplaced it. I mean REALLY misplaced it! I can’t find it anywhere! In any case, quelling my frustration at not being able to find a rather large hardcover book, I’ve abandoned my original plan and have picked up Island Magic to read. I sat down to read it today and was immediately immersed in the story. Goudge’s writing is so mesmerizing, beautiful and startlingly insightful. I’m so glad that I decided to participate in this event.
In another week we’ll be starting our Beowulf Read-Along and, as promised, this post contains some helpful background information, including my brief summary of Tolkien’s essay (for those of you who may not get the time to read it), culture, Anglo-Saxon poetry, Kennings and finally a link to Beowulf read in Old English.
Please feel free to add any information in the comments section that I may have missed; I’ve read the poem numerous times but I am by no means an expert and still have questions about some of the scenes and behaviour of the characters (as you’ll see when I start posting my notes weekly). I hope that while this is a read-along, it can also be a “read-together” and we’ll all be able to add to each other’s enjoyment of this wonderful classic!
You can read the essay here.
To give a very simplistic overview of a very complex topic, the pagan culture of Beowulf’s time was basically a blood-feud society; if someone offended you, you would simply try to massacre him and his family, which, of course, would require him and/or his relatives to attempt the same. It was a form of justice that was often cyclical and quite bleak.
‘Wergild’ was money that a man or family could pay in compensation for a killing instead of having himself or one of his relatives killed.
On a more positive side, this society admired the qualities of loyalty, bravery, courage, and perseverence, although these qualities weren’t necessary extolled for the virtue itself but more in the context of allegiances that would preserve the family unit or oneself.
“As the streets that lead from the Strand to the Embankment are very narrow, it is better not to walk down them arm-in-arm.”
O at Behold the Stars is a Virginia Woolf aficionado and when she suggested a read-along of Woolf’s, The Voyage Out, I was immediately on board (excuse the pun!). I’d loved To The Lighthouse, but Mrs. Dalloway had left me in a rather uncertain and confused stupor, while Orlando somehow didn’t resonate with me at all, so I wondered how I would react to this novel. It could have gone either way.
|The Voyage of Life Childhood (1842)
“The voyage had begun, and had begun happily with a soft blue sky, and a calm sea. The sense of untapped resources, things to say as yet unsaid, made the hours significant, so that in future years the entire journey perhaps would be represented by this one scene, with the sound of sirens hooting in the river the night before, somehow mixing in.”
|The Voyage of Life: Youth (1842)
In The Voyage Out, we meet a myriad of characters, but the main focus is on Rachel Vinrace, a young sheltered English girl who departs on a voyage with her uncle and aunt to South America. The only accomplishment in life that she has mastered is playing the piano, which she does with artistic efficiency. During the voyage and at their destination she encounters a number of characters, from Mr. and Mrs. Dalloway (do they sound familiar? Yes, these are the characters from Woolf’s later novel, Mrs. Dalloway) on the ship, to Hirst and Hewet, two young men who capture her interest and stimulate her introspection, as well as various other male and female characters. Through this cast Woolf conducts an examination, from the microscopic world of human nature, giving the reader an insightful tapestry of the faults and dreams of the various personalities, to the macroscopic world of Edwardian England with all its characteristics of pleasure, luxury and hope. Just as the era brought a change in social structure, we can see changes in Rachel, as she is rather abruptly pulled from her sheltered, unadventurous world and introduced into active society and more pointedly, the admiration of men. Still, the alterations in Rachel’s character from her experiences, happen in a rather muted and introspective manner and one must wonder at the end, if any true changes occurred at all.
|The Voyage of Life: Manhood (1842)
The sense of isolation seeps and oozes out of the pages of the novel and its characters appear immersed in it, as if in a fog. The voyage itself isolates the characters from the society with which they are familiar, the country they visit being new and exotic, yet the book also indicates an emotional detachment from each other and even oneself.
“…… To feel anything strongly was to create an abyss between oneself and others who feel strongly perhaps but differently ….”
“….. What solitary icebergs we are, Miss Vinrace! How little we can communicate! ….”
“….. A feeling of emptiness and melancholy came over them; they knew in their hearts that it was over, and that they had parted forever, and the knowledge filled them with far greater depression than the length of their acquaintance seemed to justify. Even as the boat pulled away they could feel other sights and sounds beginning to take the place of the Dalloways, and the feeling was so unpleasant that they tried to resists it. For so, too, would they be forgotten ….”
” …… She became a ship passing in the night — an emblem of the loneliness of human life, an occasion for queer confidences and sudden appeals for sympathy…..”
“Although they had talked so freely they were all uncomfortably conscious that they really knew nothing about each other.”
A sense of beginnings and endings also permeate the pages, and while Woolf’s delightful prose and descriptions can bring a lightness to the situations, there is an uncomfortable sense of the unknown that hovers just outside of our sight. It is life, life in an essence that Woolf is a master at capturing.
|The Voyage of Life: Old Age (1842)
The word that jumps out at me when I think of this novel is capricious. Woolf stream-of-consciousness style of writing allow ideas and images to float in and out of the narrative, weaving a tapestry of a story, and like a tapestry, the picture is not always crystal clear. As the character of Rachel does not settle comfortably into her society and her surroundings, neither does this novel sit comfortably with a recognizable label or description. It exemplifies the Woolf I’m beginning to know, and while I’m not yet at ease with her writing, I can certainly say that I’m getting used to it and am developing an enthusiastic appreciation.
“Dear Son, I have ever had a Pleasure in obtaining any little Anecdotes of my Ancestors.”
Known as one of the founding fathers of the United States, Benjamin Franklin grew up in Boston, but after being apprenticed as a printer to his brother, they had a heated disagreement and Franklin ran away to Philadelphia. Single-handedly, he built his own printing business and later became recognized for organizing the first lending library, starting a volunteer fire department and inventing the Franklin stove, along with numerous other sterling accomplishments. His autobiography ends in 1757 with his involvement in the French-Indian Wars but, as most people know, Franklin went on to great feats, being involved in the Revolutionary War, and helping draft the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Treaty of Paris, which ended the war.
|Benjamin Franklin drawing electricity
from the sky (1816)
I particularly enjoyed the first part of this autobiography, as Franklin describes his boyhood, his apprenticeship to an overbearing brother and his flight to Philadelphia where he eventually lands a job as a printer and later runs his own company. His ability to examine a situation thoroughly and quickly and then be able to proceed with aptitude and insight into any challenges, was his trademark, and the reader can understand how he rapidly won the respect of the community and his fellow businessmen. Being self-educated, Franklin had a love of good literature and along with that, good discussion, which led him to found the Junto club where he, along with other like-minded young men, hoped that by improving their minds through reading, they could better their community around them.
The main emphasis of Franklin’s discourse was on “Wealth and Distinction” through accomplishment, employing “Industry and Frugality” to meet his goals. He noticed everything to the minutest detail and had an idea for the betterment of everything, including housekeeping, the communicating of instruction, virtue, personal growth, and even religion. Virtue was a particular focus of Franklin’s, as he was convinced that “vicious Actions are not hurtful because they are forbidden, but forbidden because they are hurtful, the Nature of Man alone consider’d: That it was therefore every one’s Interest to be virtuous, who wish’d to be happy even in this World.” He set up a system to eradicate his faults and instil virtue, by working on one shortcoming at a time and moving to the next, only when the former was perfected. His list read as follows:
Through using this method, Franklin expressed himself surprised at his numerous faults. Though it did not have the success he had expected, at least through application he was able to temper his faults to a greater degree than if he had never attempted the experiment.
|Benjamin Franklin (center) at work on printing press
Reproduction of Charles Mills painting
source Wikimedia Commons
Franklin’s style is rather continuous and so often muddled that it required effort to follow his train of thought. He states that he’s writing the biography for his son, but it was almost as if he was writing for himself, in that he had all the experiences and all the information in his head, and therefore didn’t need to give additional details, which would have been useless for him, but perhaps helpful to the uninformed reader. He sounded like quite a character though, rather impressed with himself and his achievements in spite of the feeble dose of humility that he attempted to add as an ingredient to his narrative.
|The Declaration of Independence (1818)
In fact, from the recent biographies that I’ve read, I’ve been struck by the pride and almost cavalier self-esteem of some of the authors. While there can be a humbleness to their communication, it appears to be a forced diffidence that still smells of a hubris that they can’t quite shake. Perhaps this type of arrogance is needed in all great men, but, as I travel chronologically through these biographies, I certainly sense less of a reliance on external sources (respectable mentors, family and God/religion) and more of a sole reliance on self and philosophical ideas.
The next biography is Walden by Henry David Thoreau, an appropriate read for the month of May!
Okay, I know that I protested and said that I wasn’t going to participate in this weeks The Broke and the Bookish Top Ten Tuesday for lack of time, but seeing everyone else’s wonderful quotes, I just couldn’t resist the temptation. Income taxes be hanged; here I go …….
It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it. ~ Aristotle
Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book. ~ Marcus Tullius Cicero
Knowledge is a matter of knowing facts. Wisdom is a matter of understanding and applying principles. A certain amount of knowledge is necessary for wisdom, and without wisdom, knowledge is not only useless, it’s dangerous. ~ Hilda van Stockum (The Winged Watchman)
Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself. ~ Leo Tolstoy
Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. ~ C.S. Lewis
We let our young men and women go out unarmed in a day when armor was never so necessary. By teaching them to read, we have left them at the mercy of the printed word. By the invention of the film and the radio, we have made certain that no aversion to reading shall secure them from the incessant battery of words, words, words. They do not know what the words mean; they do not know how to ward them off or blunt their edge or fling them back; they are a prey to words in their emotions instead of being the masters of them in their intellects… We have lost the tools of learning, and in their absence can only make a botched and piecemeal job of it. ~ Dorothy L. Sayers
True freedom is impossible without a mind made free by discipline.
If you never ask yourself any questions about the meaning of a passage, you cannot expect the book to give you any insight you don’t already possess
To agree without understanding is inane. To disagree without understanding is impudent.
The truly great books are the few books that are over everybody’s head all of the time.
~ Mortimer J. Adler
One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and, if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable words. ~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
I predict future happiness for Americans, if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them. ~ Thomas Jefferson
Perfer et obdura, dolor hic tibi proderit olim.
Be patient and tough; someday this pain will be useful to you. ~ Ovid
Wendell Berry is an American essayist, novelist, poet, fifth-generation farmer, and environmental activist. He has written copious numbers of short stories, essays, novels and poems during his rather interesting life. Berry argues that the breakdown of communities has been aggravated by large corporate farming and that living in harmony with nature is a necessity, as its destruction will lead to our own.
Berry essentially first gained recognition as a poet, but his hard-hitting essays have earned him notoriety and a wider audience. This essay was delivered as a lecture at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Berry hits hard right from the beginning of the essay, immediately punching home his topic:
“I want to begin with a problem: namely, that the culpability of Christianity in the destruction of the natural world and the uselessness of Christianity in any effort to correct that destruction are now established clichés of the conservation movement.”
He establishes on one hand, that the “indictment is just” in that Christian priests, missionaries, organizations, etc. have been “largely indifferent to the rape and plunder of the world and of its traditional cultures” and that Christians are often as complicit as anyone else “to join the military-industrial conspiracy to murder Creation,” yet there is a problem with the conservationists’ indictment; the anti-Christian conservationists dismiss the Bible, without having an understanding of it. In effect, they “have not mastered the first rule of the criticism of books: you have to read them before you criticize them.” The error is not that the Bible has not given Christians a tradition of respect, stewardship and love for the earth, they have simply chosen to ignore it.
Berry then examines Biblical tenants with regard to the earth, stating that the world is not owned by humans, but by God: “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof: the world and they that dwell therein. (Ps. 24:1)” John 3:16 states that God loves the world, not as it might be but as it is, and He “continues to love it and find it worthy, despite its reduction and corruption by us …….. Creation is not in any sense independent of the Creator, the result of a primal creative act long over and done with, but is the continuous, constant participation of all creatures in the being of God ……. Creation is God’s presence in creatures.”
Not only does Berry use the Bible to support his thesis, but he draws from Dante, William Blake, Thoreau, and others to support his views on the importance of nature and our human interaction with it.
“The Bible leaves no doubt at all about the sanctity of the act of world-making, or of the world that was made, or of creaturely or bodily life in this world. We are holy creatures living among other holy creatures in a world that is holy. Some people know this, and some do not. Nobody, of course, knows it all the time. But what keeps it from being far better known than it is? Why is it apparently unknown to millions of professed students of the Bible? How can modern Christianity have so solemnly folded its hands while so much of the work of God was and is being destroyed?”
Berry urges us on to a re-thinking of our ideals. We think we can contain God within what we create, but God is much bigger. “He is not to be fenced in, under human control, like some domestic creature; He is the wildest being in existence. The presence of His spirit is us in our wildness, our oneness with the wilderness of Creation. That is why subduing the things of nature to human purposes is so dangerous and why it so often results in evil, in separation and desecration. It is why the poets of our tradition so often have given nature the role, not only of mother or grandmother, but of the highest early teacher and judge, a figure of mystery and great power.”
Outdoors we encounter the miraculous, indoors we meet the common.
Berry continues the thread of his argument through religious issues, through economy, or the ways humans live in relation to nature, then finally reaches the question of art in the context of what we, as humans, create.
“If we think of ourselves as livings souls, immortal creatures, living in the midst of a Creation that is mostly mysterious, and if we see that everything we make or do cannot help but have an everlasting significance for ourselves, for others, and for the world, then we see why some religious teachers have understood work as a form of prayer”
Berry offers some astute observations as to the traditions of art: “Traditionally, the arts have been ways of making that have placed a just value on their materials or subjects, on the uses and the users of the things made by art, and on the artists themselves. They have, that is, been ways of giving honor to the works of God. The great artistic traditions have had nothing to do with what we call ‘self-expression.’ They have not been destructive of privacy or exploitive of private life. Though they have certainly originated things and employed genius, they have no affinity with the modern cults of originality and genius.”
The end of the essay is comparatively weak, contrasting the villainies of modern Christianity with the (probably more traditional), truly biblical focussed Christianity, where man is encouraged to root out and work on his weaknesses in the scope of a broader community base, and for the good of, not just oneself, but for all.
What I love about Berry is that he is not wholly on the side of any one group. He has developed his own personal thoughts and ideals through reading, discussion, experience, and observation and is quite adept at targeting strengths and weaknesses accordingly. Though I’ve been meaning to read Berry for ages, this is my first taste of his writing and it was quite delicious. I can’t wait to jump in for another bite!
The complete essay can be found here.
Deal Me In Challenge #13 – Four of Spades
Father Brown has plans to meet his niece in a picture gallery, but before he finds her, he encounters lawyer Granby who wants his opinion. Should he trust a certain Captain Musgrove enough to advance him money on his father’s estate? The estate is not entitled and it is not conclusive that Musgrove Jr. will be the heir. Upon the arrival of his niece, Father Brown learns that she is planning to marry the same Musgrove and meets the young man himself. Musgrove invites both Father Brown and Granby to his father’s castle, but then bows out of the trip at the last moment due to an arrival of a couple of shady characters in the background, but encourages the men to make the trip without him.
After they arrive at the castle (having to leap the moat due to a rusty, disabled drawbridge), they meet Old Musgrove, who assures them that his son will inherit, yet he will never speak to him again, due to the fact that he perpetrated the worst crime in the world. Granby returns to town, secure in his knowledge, but Father Brown remains in the village, determined to discover the details of this dastardly crime. Will he be able to discover the truth in time to save his niece from the clutches of a villain, or is the old man merely playing with him and there is nothing sinister about his son? You will only find out, if you read the full story which can be found here: The Worst Crime in the World – G.K. Chesterton
|source Wikimedia Commons|
I love Chesterton’s Father Brown mysteries and this one does not disappoint.
Deal Me In Challenge #12 – Seven of Clubs
Born in Toledo in 1501, de la Vega was one of the first Spanish poets to introduce Italian verse forms and techniques to Spain. Mastering five languages as well as having a good aptitude for music, de la Vega eventually joined the Spanish military and died at 35 years old from a wound sustained in battle in Nice, France. His poetry has been fortunate to be consistently popular during his life and up until present times.
In Sonnet XXIX, de la Vega explores the Greek myth of Hero (Ὴρὠ) and Leander (Λὲανδρος). Each night Leander swam the Hellespont (the modern Dardanelles) to be with his lovely Hero, who lived in a tower in Sestos by the sea. She would hang a lamp for him in her high tower to guide his path, however, on a particularly stormy night, the waves buffeted Leander, the wind blew out Hero’s lamp, and brave Leander tragically drowned in the raging waters. Bereft, Hero threw herself from her tower into the pitiless sea, which joined them in death, as it had kept them apart in life.
|Hero and Leander (1828)
source Wikimedia Commons
|Hero and Leander (1621/22)
source Wikimedia Commons
|Hero finding Leander (c. 1932)
source Wikimedia Commons
Deal Me In Challenge #11 – Four of Diamonds