Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Teaser Tuesday - Vanity Fair (again)

is hosted by Should be Reading.

TEASER TUESDAYS asks you to:

  1. Grab your current read. Let the book fall open to a random page.
  2. Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
  3. Also share the title of the book that the “teaser” comes from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given! Please avoid spoilers!

I'm still reading Vanity Fair, finding it enjoyable though long and sometimes tedious.

'That little devil brings mischief wherever she goes.' the major said, disrespectfully. 'Who knows what sort of life she has been leading; and what business has she here abroad and alone?'

~ p. 649, Vanity Fair, by William Makepeace Thackery.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Teaser Tuesdays - Vanity Fair

is hosted by Should be Reading.

TEASER TUESDAYS asks you to:
  1. Grab your current read. Let the book fall open to a random page.
  2. Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
  3. Also share the title of the book that the “teaser” comes from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given! Please avoid spoilers!

The idea of sharing poverty and privation in company with the beloved object, is, as we have before said, far from being disagreeable to a warm-hearted woman. The notion was actually pleasant to little Amelia.

~ p. 238, Vanity Fair, by William Makepeace Thackery.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden

Someone once asked me if I'd ever considered converting to Roman Catholicism. It seems another friend of hers had converted, and she wondered if my studies of theology and church history drew me toward the long established traditions of the Roman Catholic Church. Doctrinally, the answer is a definite no, but if it were simply a matter of prayer and piety, monasticism has appealed to me since my first seminary class in Medieval Theology.

In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden revived that fascination for me, but it also put a more realistic face on monasticism (in its modern form) than what I learned from the instructional and theological writings of Medieval monks. Don't think that I'm minimizing historical theology - may it never be! The Medieval authors are definitely worth reading! Anselm of Canterbury is my personal favorite, and St. Anselm: A Portrait in a Landscape is a thorough biography, while Anselm of Canterbury: The Major Works would be an excellent introduction to his primary writings. The Rule of Saint Benedict would also provide a short introduction to the life of prayer which the nuns of Brede followed.

The story of Philippa Talbot provides the linear framework of the novel, tracing her entrance to Brede Abbey as a successful, 40-something, career woman, through her years as a postulant, novice, junior, and fully professed Benedictine nun. I would hesitate, however, to say that it is only Philippa's story. The Abbey is above all a community of prayer, but in that community there is such a variety of women, all with unique gifts and personalities, that it is a framework for both piety and personal growth as iron sharpens iron (read Carrie's post and note the picture for a visual image of this illustration). As various crises affect one or another of the nuns and often the whole Abbey, strengths and weaknesses of character are exposed. I have read few novels in which the author's character development reveals true growth of character in such a wide and varied number of individuals. It is rich indeed.

The beauty of this novel - what makes it a lasting masterpiece - is that its lessons transcend the walls of the abbey, rising above categories of gender and religion, to meet every reader in his or her own unique situation. True community is messy, whether that community is a monastery, a church (Protestant or Catholic), a workplace, or a family. Godden forsakes idealism and shows us the weaknesses of human nature and of human relationships, but not without a hope of redemption.

So am I ready to convert now? No, but with the nuns of Brede Abbey, I will remind my Protestant friends, "We were all Catholics once..." (347). May we not forget that in the history of the Church universal the Roman Catholic Church preserved and extended the Gospel (however imperfectly, as we still do today) for the vast majority of those years. With that Church universal let us boldly proclaim the lines of the Nicene Creed: "And I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church."

Favorite quotations:
“Tomorrow I shall not be among you any more; not of you but mysteriously still with you, thought Philippa. As Lady Abbess of Brede had said, ‘People think we renounce the world. We don’t. We renounce its ways but we are still very much in it and it is very much in us.’” (15)

“‘Don’t you see, it’s like a pageant. Our Cardinal has said the liturgy entertains as well as feeds us…Yes, we’re not angels but humans,’ said Dame Clare, ‘and human nature is made so that it needs variety. The Church is like a wise mother and has given us this great cycle of the liturgical year with its different words and colours. You’ll see how you will learn to welcome the feast days and the saints’ days as they come round, each with a different story and, as it were, a different aspect; they grow very dear, though still exacting.’” (59-60)

"'I think,' said Dame Maura, lifting her hands, 'that Thomas Aquinas and Johann Sebastian Bach must occupy thrones side by side in heaven.'" (119)

"McTurk surprised her. 'A Solemn Profession isn't touching in the way a Clothing is,' she said when she saw him three days later. . . 'Certainly not,' said McTurk. 'It was awe-ful, full of awe. I know now,' he said, 'at least, have an inkling of what it means to love God with your whole heart and mind and strength.' 'Having seen Him, I love and trust Him. He is the love of my choice,' Philippa had sung, 'until death.' Awe-ful and full of joy - happiness was too light a word - joy that was in the whole monastery that day. . .
"'And now what?' asked McTurk.
"'As far as anyone in the world will know, nothing,' said Philippa. 'No one will hear any more of me; six hours a day in my stall in choir; two perhaps, of manual labor in the house or garden: some time for study; silence: singing prayer: living: room to live. I shall disappear, be almost anonymous. Yes, I have learnt now. No more Philippa Talbot,' she said, glorying. 'Arranging, deciding, settling - that arrogant creature!'
"'Then what will she do?' asked McTurk.
"'Simply grow,' but McTurk's wise monkey-eyes grew quizzical again. 'Difficult to grow without yourself,' said McTurk." (228-229)

Also reviewed by:
The Anchoress
Canticle of Chiara
Happy Catholic (don't be mislead by the quotation from fellow blogger Exultet, who thought Brede was about Anglican nuns instead of Catholics.)
The View from the Foothills

(If you have reviewed In This House of Brede, leave a comment with a link, and I'll add it above.)

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte

Even though I've moved six hours away from Captive Thoughts Book Club, I hope to keep up with their reading selections and return for the discussions as much as possible. April has been declared Bronte month - everyone will choose at least one of the seven novels written by the Bronte sisters, authors and novels that could be considered the epitome of our focus on women this year. Discussing such a number and variety of novels will be a new experience!

As for my choice of novels, I have previously read Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, by Charlotte and Emily, respectively. So I wanted to read something by Anne, the youngest Bronte sister. Agnes Grey was the only available choice, since The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, which was highly recommended by another book club member, wasn't available at my library. Though not my first choice, Agnes Grey offers a very realistic (from what I can tell) portrait of a 19th century governess, and it reminded me of the many things I love about classic literature! The quaint descriptions and old-fashioned sense of propriety are charming, the lack of innuendos is refreshing, and it is amazing to return to a time when Biblical references were a part of the very fabric of society and conversation.

Agnes Grey tells her own story in a first person narrative that is neither too introspective nor overly detailed. She begins with a comment that "All true histories contain instruction..." but in this case the instruction is very subtly conveyed through a simple and engaging personal history. Most obviously, Anne might have intended Agnes to provide a social commentary on the cultural stigmas imposed upon governesses, who were usually well-educated women from middle-class families. Unfortunate circumstances often forced these young ladies to earn a living, placing them in something of a social limbo between the servant class and their more wealthy employers. Agnes' story reveals the lonely and thankless task of attempting to educate and train spoiled children when the parents refuse to establish either their own or the governess' authority. Thus, instruction on child training is implicit within the anecdotes about her charges. Morality is also a prominent theme throughout the novel. Since Agnes was raised with high moral standards by her clergyman father and well-bred mother, she is shocked at the cruelty, duplicity, and shallowness of the upper-class. In contrast, her own standards of conduct are misunderstood and criticized by her superiors, but they do not go unnoticed by at least one observer, who serves as a redemptive figure among the predominately petty characters of Agnes' world. Agnes is not so tragic a figure as Jane Eyre, and the romantic ending concludes things neatly, even if it is a slight stretch of the realism that characterizes the rest of the novel.

I read the Modern Library Classics edition, which had a well-written introduction by Barbara A Suess and enough textual notes to explain unfamiliar terms but not so many as to be tedious. The introduction explains the ambiguous social standing of a governess in the mid-19th century, and notes the somewhat autobiographical nature of the novel, as several elements of the story mirror Anne's own life. Although it has been many years since I read Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, Anne seems to be a much more straightforward writer than her sisters. Agnes Grey is less than 200 pages, but it still delivers sympathetic and despicable characters, sound moral instruction, a moving story, and a satisfying ending. There will be much to discuss at book club: the place of women as portrayed by the Bronte's, the personal elements each author imposed upon her novels, the contrast between ideals and reality. . .

For a review of Charlotte Bronte's The Professor, check out Captive Thoughts Book Club blog. If you have reviewed Agnes Grey or other Bronte novels, leave a comment and I'll put links here.

Teaser Tuesdays - In This House of Brede

is hosted by Should be Reading.

TEASER TUESDAYS asks you to:
  1. Grab your current read. Let the book fall open to a random page.
  2. Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
  3. Also share the title of the book that the “teaser” comes from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given! Please avoid spoilers!
Dame Veronica often wanted to cry, "After all, I wasn't brought up to this." At first the importance of being cellarer had buoyed Dame Veronica up and carried her through the work, and in those first days she had not been too proud to seek help from Mother Pioress, but the prioress perhaps understood too well what Dame Veronica's limitations were, and more and more, Dame Veronica's pride had taken over...

~ p. 47, In This House of Brede, by Rumer Godden.

Reviewed here on 4/15/09.