Month: April 2018

3. Woman Author: Anne Bronte’s Agnes Grey

This is the only book by a woman author I have on my list for the Back to the Classics challenge.  About a third of the way in I thought it was going to be a disappointment. It certainly lacked the scope of the first two books I read for the challenge. First person narration almost always results in a narrower perspective.  The narrator-protagonist is from a happy but financially struggling family, scandalized and out of her depth as a very young governess for the children of a rich but deeply unhappy family.
The book picks up interest as Agnes moves into her second governess position.  She grows as a person.  She falls in love and, after losing contact with her beloved, learns emotional independence.  It is a Cinderella story in some ways but completely without any but the most quiet and natural magic and free of the sensational.
Wildflowers, primroses in particular, have a significant part to play in the story.  A primrose might be a good emblem for this book.  I found Agnes at first unsympathetic in her inability to see or show the good in most of the people, even the (deeply damaged) children, she lives and works among.  But, gradually, she comes into her own.
A Biblical Christianity informs the vision of the novel.  It has a delicate, satisfying conclusion.  The love relationships between mother and daughter, between man and maiden, are very finely drawn.  A right understanding of marriage, based on mutual respect and love, and a proper relationship to the goods of this world are contrasted with the disorders previously encountered.  Agnes endures and overcomes.  A somewhat oblique comment on education in the contrast between the impossible position of a governess and the sustainability of a private school strongly favors a culture of ownership.
Maybe it was the back of the book that kept me from reading it so long.  Agnes Grey is not socialist tract or an expose of unremitting grimness.  It’s a story of love, family working together, and a God who is faithful to His promises.
New Calligraphy Scroll Clip Art Fancy Flourish Clipart Best
-Mrs. Aldertree
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1. 19th Century Classic: The Bostonians

The Bostonians

“I wish to write a very American tale, a tale very characteristics of our social conditions, and I asked myself what was the most salient and peculiar point in our social life, The answer was: the situation of women, the decline of the sentiment of sex, the agitation on their behalf.” –  from the Notebooks of Henry James

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“Do you really take the ground that your sex has been without influence? Influence? Why you have led us all by the nose to where we are now! Wherever we are, it’s all you. You are at the bottom of everything . . . She is the universal cause”

“ [Olive] would reform the solar system if she could get a hold of it”

“Oh, the position of women!” Basil Ransom exclaimed [to Olive]. “The position of women, is to make fools of men. I would change my position for yours any day,”

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I finished reading The Bostonians, the first book on my back to the Classics list, and love Henry James all the more for it. This book has been described as a satire and I agree it is funny filled with a good-natured irony, but it is more than a satire. It has a tragic touch and yet at its core it is a love story, the stuff of fairy tales.

It also deals with many themes I have struggled with and have been preoccupied with for years: the postbellum era, feminism, traditionalism, women in the domestic and political spheres, revolutions, reforms, reforms of the reforms, sympathy, true charity, and Mr. James addresses them all with a fierce and comic pen.

I read a few scathing reviews  and a few thoughtful ones that had me wondering if  we even read the same book! It appears that feminism is  controversial and this I think is what made me reread  it (I had abandoned this book once before) – I wanted His take on the movement.

Perhaps we have forgotten, so used to the movement, the advancement, the emancipation of women, that women were powerful and have always been powerful in a feminine way (have we forgotten Helen of Troy?)  Mr. James reminds us of this, that the domestic sphere has a power of its own,  (have we forgotten Penelope?)  There is something “divinely different” from the public life and that is the private life, hidden away for love of the other. The cloistered nun has great power, so does the housewife, both are a Joan of Arc in spirit setting the world on fire in little ways. A flame is just as bright in the home as it is outdoors, perhaps even brighter to those closest to it. What do we have if we sacrifice the private life? If we proclaim equality the absolute?

I found the book strikingly prophetic but not despairing. The characters themselves were believable and I loved reading about them even if I despised their views. I found them all to be well developed and the dialogue brilliant. Mr. James has a genius for it. Its juxtaposition to the characters actions, their surroundings, at moments  reminded me of Flaubert. The last three chapters were my favorite as Mr. James tied up the loose ends and set his fairy tale alive with a quietly dramatic and satisfying ending.

A brilliant novel but not an easy read, and of course, Mr. James leaves room for dispute as I have yet to find a review I completely agree with, which I suppose is part of the intrigue. As, Horace Elisha Scudder points out in his own review, “It is when we stop and take the book as a whole that we forget how fine the web is spun, and remember only the strong conception which underlies the book; the freshness of the material used; the amazing cleverness of separate passages;” We want to pin Mr. James down, and his book but it is too fine drawn for that, you dear reader, must read it for yourself.

-Mrs. Karl T. Cooper, Jr.

 

 

 

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2. 20th Century Classic: The Leopard

It had been around ten years since I last read this.  I remembered it was good but remembered hardly anything about it.  I’d been craving a re-read for awhile.

Like Henry Esmond, The Leopard is historical fiction, set well before the time it was written.  Giuseppe di Lampedusa based this, his only novel, on the life of his great-grandfather.  The author’s biography at the end of the book says that he contemplated writing such a book for twenty-five years and only started writing when he was sixty.  He did not live to see it published.  His novel is the fruit of a lifetime lived with books and in conversation about books: a single fruit — round, mellow, perfect, exquisite, and complex.  And, in the end, surprisingly bitter.  It is at once a first novel, charged with beginner’s energy and luck, and the work of a mature talent writing at the height of his powers.
It was as good as, and better than, I remembered.  It evoked Italy so powerfully, and even Sicily, which I’ve never visited, with its glaring sun and slow-moving but dangerous people.  It exposes a heart of darkness in a fiercely traditional society, in which true religion has been eaten away, leaving only its vulnerable outer forms.  It reveals the mean and cowardly spirit that animates the flashy revolution.  In the end, it is full of unbearable regret for something ineffable that might have been.
It is lyrical, sumptuous, and subtle, with a persistent edge of humor and bathos.  I defy anyone to read the chapter where lovers play hide and seek in the labyrinth of a decaying summer palace without at least a moment’s shiver of delight.
– Mrs. Aldertree
Mrs. Aldertree’s full “back to the Classics” challenge list can be found here 

How I Read 50+ Books in a Year

 

I am not a speed reader, and I’m busy  if I can read over 50 books in a year, so can you!

  1. I Use A Reading Log.
    I keep track of the books I read on a Pinterest Board, this motivates me to fill up the pinterest board. At the end of the year I like seeing all the different books I’ve read in one place.
  2.  I Have a Reading List.
     I  have a pinterest board where I pin interesting books I might want to read.
  3. I Always Bring a Book.  I always have a book (or two or three) in my purse, don’t you?
  4. I Set attainable goals: I set specific goals. Instead of saying “I’ll read more this year” Say “I’ll read a chapter a day” or “I’ll read ten minutes daily.”
  5. I Work it into my schedule:  If you have time to browse facebook, pinterest, netflixs, Then you have time to read! Simply commit to reading 10 minutes before screentime. You’ll find that reading is more relaxing.
  6.  I Keep a Commonplace Book: A commonplace book is a journal where you write down poems, passages, quotes you like. Keeping a book where you write down these passages can be motivating. You begin to want to find more things for your commonplace book, you also remember more of what you read.
  7. I Read With my Family: Reading with my family builds up our home culture, strengthens our bonds and let’s us discuss all sorts of topics (more) organically. When I see these good fruits I want to read more.
  8. I Read More than one Book at a time : I read a book of poetry, fiction, children’s fiction and a spiritual book. This keeps me interested as I begin to connect all sorts of ideas from the different genres.
  9. I Don’t always finish books:  It’s okay to stop reading a book. If I dislike a book I give it a few chapters then move on to another one. Maybe it will speak to me in a year, maybe in ten years, maybe never.
  10. I Joined a Book Club: It’s good to have accountability and discussions. It doesn’t have to be a formal book club maybe just a few friends. The book club I’m in is just me and my sister-in-laws but it keeps me reading.
  11. I listen to Books on Audio: We always have a audiobook in the car, my kids love it and I get to revisit so many classics!
  12. I have a library card: This gives me freedom to read books I’m not sure I want to invest in. I also get all the audiobooks from the library.
  13. I Buy books cheap: I buy books used from all over locally and online.
  14. I read Book reviews: Reading reviews from goodreads or other book blogs  can be helpful when I don’t know what to read next.
  15. I’m not try not to be a Book Snob: It doesn’t always have to be a Classic. I read fun pseudoscience books, personality books, interior design coffee table books, children books  . . .
  16. I “Unplug” for 2 hours: For two hours straight everyday I turn off my laptop and put away my phone. Scheduling in no screentime is just easier to manage than scheduling in limited screentime.  I usually end up staying offline for more than 2 hours and I usually end up reading a book to avoid the housework.
  17. I READ.  I Commit to reading at least 10 mins a day just like I commit to praying or exercising.

-Mrs. Karl T. Cooper, Jr.