Monday, December 26, 2011

Lessons from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

If your memories of Little Women have been muddied by watching the movie version, I highly recommend a re-read! Far from the feminist and transcendentalist overtones of the movie, this well-loved classic by Louisa May Alcott extols the virtues of home and homemaking and a simple faith in and dependence on God that is quite refreshing. I also found several gems of wisdom for mothers both in Marmee's gentle dealings with her girls and advice to her grown daughters. While some might find the moralistic tone of this novel a bit overbearing, I, for one, don't mind a bit being reminded of the ideals and virtues of a distant generation.

After re-reading Little Women, I also read Little Men and Jo's Boys recently, both of which were new to me. I enjoyed getting an expanded knowledge of the March family, although the main characters of Little Women take a secondary role to the boys at Jo & Mr. Bhaer's school. There is more emphasis on women's rights in the younger generation, but it is well-balanced with the wisdom and training of older women in home duties, as a picture of Titus 2 in action. My only complaint is that Jo and Laurie's relationship seems a bit unusual as they get older and raise families side by side. I thought some of their interchanges a bit odd, or at least a bit too chummy for sister-in-law and brother-in-law, even if they had been the best of friends as children. Let's just say that Amy was very gracious - much more so than I could ever be in a similar situation!

Here are some of my favorite passages from Little Women:

"The patience and the humility of the face she loved so well was a better lesson to Jo than the wisest lecture, the sharpest reproof. She felt comforted at once by the sympathy and confidence given her; the knowledge that her mother had a fault like hers, and tried to mend it, made her own easier to bear and strengthened her resolution to cure it; though forty years seemed rather a long time to watch and pray, to a girl of fifteen." (83, such wisdom about confessing and battling sin, in this case anger, over a lifetime.)

"'I want my daughters to be beautiful, accomplished, and good; to be admired, loved, and respected; to have a happy youth, to be well and wisely married, and to lead useful, pleasant lives, with as little care and sorrow to try them as God sees fit to send. To be loved and chosen by a good man is the best and sweetest thing which can happen to a woman; and I sincerely hope my girls may know this beautiful experience...My dear girls, I am ambitious for you, but not to have you make a dash in the world, -- marry rich men merely because they are rich, or have splendid houses, which are not homes because love is wanting.'" (101)

"'I am quite satisfied with the experiment, and fancy that we shall not have to repeat it; only don't go to the other extreme, and delve like slaves. Have regular hours for work and play; make each day both useful and pleasant, and prove that you understand the worth of time by employing it well.'" (121)

"To outsiders, the five energetic women seemed to rule the house, and so they did in many things; but the quiet scholar, sitting among his books, was still the head of the family, the household conscience, anchor, and comforter; for to him the busy, anxious women always turned in troublous times, finding him, in the truest sense of those sacred words, husband and father." (244, nary a bit of feminism there!)

"I also doubt if any young matron ever began life with so rich a supply of dusters, holders, and piece-bags...People who hire all these things done for them never know what they lose; for the homeliest tasks get beautified if loving hands do them..." (247-248, a good reminder for one not so fond of dusting!)

"'Laurie, my lad, if you ever want to indulge in this sort of thing, get one of those little girls to help you, and I shall be perfectly satisfied,' said Mr. Laurence,settling himself in his easy chair to rest, after the excitement of [Meg's wedding in] the morning.'
   'I'll do my best to gratify you, sir,' was Laurie's unusually dutiful reply, as he carefully unpinned the posy Jo had put in his button-hole." (260-261, see, it's not all moral instruction!)

"Mrs. March knew that experience was an excellent teacher, and when it was possible she left her children to learn alone the lessons which she would gladly have made easier, if they had not objected to taking advice as much as they did salts and senna." (266)

"'Never deceive him by look or word, Meg, and he will give you the confidence you deserve, the support you need. He has a temper, not like ours, -- one flash, and then all over, -- but the white, still anger, that is seldom stirred, but once kindled, is hard to quench. Be careful, very careful, not to wake this anger against yourself, for peace and happiness depend on keeping his respect. Watch yourself, be the first to ask pardon if you both err, and guard against the little piques, misunderstandings, and hasty words that often pave the way for bitter sorrow and regret.'" (287)

"'Because they are mean is no reason why I should be. I hate such things, and though I think I've a right to be hurt, I don't intend to show it. They will feel that more than angry speeches or huffy actions, won't they, Marmee?'
   'That's the right spirit, my dear; a kiss for a blow is always best, though it's not very easy to give it sometimes,' said her mother, with the air of one who had learned the difference between preaching and practising (sic)." (310)

"'Ah, Jo, mothers may differ in their management, but the hope is the same in all, -- the desire to see their children happy. Meg is so, and I am content with her success. You I leave to enjoy your liberty till you tire of it; for only then will you find that there is something sweeter. Amy is my chief care now, but her good sense will help her. For Beth, I indulge no hopes except that she may be well.'" (339)

"The conversation was miles beyond Jo's comprehension, but she enjoyed it, though Kant and Hegel were unknown gods, the Subjective and Objective unintelligible terms; and the only thing 'evolved from here inner consciousness,' was a bad headache after it was all over. It dawned upon her gradually that the world was being picked to pieces, and put together on new, and, according to the talkers, on infinitely better principles than before; that religion was in a fair way to be reasoned into nothingness, and intellect was to be the only God...[Mr. Bhaer] bore it as long as he could; but wen he was appealed to for an opinion, he blazed up wit honest indignation, and defended religion with all the eloquence of truth...He had a hard fight, for the wise men argued well; but he didn't know when he was beaten, and stood to his colors like a man. Somehow, as he talked, the world got right again to Jo; the old beliefs, that had lasted so long, seemed better than the new; God was not a blind force, and immortality was not a pretty fable, but a blessed fact. She felt as if she had solid ground under her feet again..." (361-362)

"[Beth] did not rebuke Jo with saintly speeches, only loved her better for her passionate affection, and clung more closely to the dear human love, from which our Father never means us to be weaned, but through which He draws us closer to Himself. She could not say, 'I'm glad to go,' for life was very sweet to her; she could only sob out, 'I try to be willing,' while she held fast to Jo, as the first bitter wave of this great sorrow broke over them together." (382-383)

"[Meg] was nervous and worn out with watching and worry, and in that unreasonable frame of mind which the best of mothers occasionally experience when domestic cares oppress them." (398)

[Marmee's advice to Meg as a young mother] "'I  nearly spoilt [Jo] by indulgence. You were poorly, and I worried about you till I fell sick myself. Then father came to the rescue, quietly managed everything, and made himself so helpful that I saw my mistake, and never have been able to get on without him since. That is the secret of our home happiness: he does not let business wean him from the little cares and duties that affect us all, and I try not to let domestic worries destroy my interest in his pursuits. We each do our part alone in many things, but at home we work together, always.'" (400-401)

"She had often said she wanted to do something splendid, no matter how hard; and now she had her wish, for what could be more beautiful than to devote her life to father and mother, trying to make home as happy to them as they had to her? And, if difficulties were necessary to increase the splendor of the effort, what could be harder for a restless, ambitious girl than to give up her own hopes, plans, and desires, and cheerfully live for others?" (445)

Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry

I read Jayber Crow earlier in 2011 and recorded my favorite passages, but nothing more. So in an effort to tie up loose ends, I'll just leave it as it stands and publish it.

"Sometimes I might take off a whole day to go fishing...always taking care to get back before six-thirty. Of course, if I didn't leave until after six-thirty in the evening, I had all night to get back. And since nobody was apt to want a haircut at six-thirty in the morning, I could stay away until the next evening. My clock said I would be back at six-thirty, but it didn't say what day. And sooner or later, until the last time, I always got back." (5)

"My relation to that place, my being in it and my absences from it, is the story of my life. That story has surprised me almost every day--but now, in the year 1986, so near the end, it seems not surprising at all but only a little strange, as if it all has happened to somebody younger." (12)

"There really was nobody else to do it [adopt him after the death of his parents], but she treated me like a prize she had won...I suppose Aunt Cordie and Uncle Othy had a store of affection laid away that they now brought out and applied to me. Later I would know how blessed I had been." (15)

"Back there at the beginning, as I see now, my life was all time and almost no memory. Though I knew early of death, it still seemed to be something that happened only to other people, and I stood in an unending river of time that would go on making the same changes and the same returns forever." (24)

"I'd had the idea, once, that if I could get the chance before I died I would read all the good books there were. Now I began to see that I wasn't apt to make it. This disappointed me, for I really wanted to read them all." (47)

"In most of them I saw the old division of body and soul that I had known at The Good Shepherd [Orphanage]. The same rift ran through everything at Pigeonville College; the only difference was that I was able to see it more clearly, and to wonder at it. Everything bad was laid on the body, and everything good was credited to the soul. It scared me a little when I realized that I saw it the other way around. If the soul and body really were divided, then it seemed to me that all the worst sins--hatred and anger and self-rightousness and even greed and lust--came from the soul. But these preachers...all though that the soul could do no wrong...and yet these same people believed in the resurrection of the body." (49)

"'You have been given questions to which you cannot be given answers. You will have to live them out--perhaps a little at a time.'" (54)

"Now I have had most of the life I am going to have, and I can see what it has been. I can remember those early years when it seemed to me I was cut completely adrift, and times when, looking back at earlier time, it seemed I had been wandering in the dark woods of error. But now it looks to me as though I was following a path that was laid out for me, unbroken, and maybe even as straight as possible, from one end to the other, and I have this feeling, which never leaves me anymore, that I have been led." (66)

"The Good Shepherd and Pigeonville Collee were trying to be the world of the past. The university was trying to be the world of the future, and maybe it has had a good deal to do with the world as it has turned out to be, but this has not been as big an improvement as the university expected. The university thought of itself as a a place of freedom for thought and study and experimentation, and maybe it was, in a way. But it was an island too, a floating or a flying island. It was preparing people from the world of the past for the world of the future, and what was missing was the world of the present, where every body was living its small, short, surprising, miserable, wonderful, blessed, damaged, only life." (70-71)

"Often I have not known where I was going until I was already there...Often I have received better than I have deserved. Often my fairest hopes have rested on bad mistakes. I am an ignorant pilgrim, crossing a dark valley. And yet for a long time, looking back, I have been unable to shake off the feeling that I have been led--make of that what you will." (133)

"And so the farm came under the influence of a new pattern, and this was the pattern of a fundamental disagreement such as it had never seen before. It was a disagreement about time and money and the use of the world." (186)

"She had come into her beauty. This was not the beauty of her youth and freshness, of which she had had a plenty. The beauty that I am speaking of now was that of a woman who has come into knowledge and into strength and who, knowing her hardships, trusts her strength and goes about her work even with a kind of happiness, serene somehow, and secure." (191)

"But thinking of Mattie's marriage, I saw too how a marriage, in bringing two people into each other's presence, must include loneliness and error. I imagined a moment when the husband and wife realize that their marriage includes their faults, that they do not perfect each other, and that in making their marriage they also fail it and must carry to the grave things they cannot give away." (194)

"But she loved him, however at odds with him she may have been, for however long. She remembered and kept treasured up her old feeling for him. She treasured up the knowledge that, though she was not happy, happiness existed. And so as Troy's character wore lower and more awry, her own grew straighter and brighter." (342)

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Books Read in 2011

Edited 12/10/11 ~ Since life takes precedence over blogging, I've moved this list of my year to date reading to the top of the page. Maybe sometime I'll get back to recording my favorite quotations, but for now this is it.

This is my master list of books read in 2011. It will include not only those books that I read myself, but also the chapter books that I read aloud to my kids. If I tried to include all the picture books we read the list would be much too long, but I figure that children's chapter books, especially the classics that I like to read, can count for my reading list as well. Links will be to my reviews when applicable, though I've become quite the negligent book blogger of late.

  1. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo (1463 pages)
  2. Emily of New Moon by L. M. Montgomery (339 pages)
  3. Emily Climbs by L. M. Montgomery (325 pages)
  4. Emily's Quest by L. M. Montgomery (228 pages)
  5. Inkheart by Cornelia Funke (534 pages)
  6. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins (494 pages)
  7. A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley (391 pages)
  8. The Railway Children by Edith Nesbit (188 pages)
  9. The Reluctant Dragon by Kenneth Grahame
  10. My Life in France by Julia Child with Alex Prud'Homme (304 pages)
  11. The Scent of Water by Elizabeth Goudge (349 pages)
  12. The Monuments Men:Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History by Robert M. Edsel with Bret Witter (450 pages)
  13. Black Narcissus by Rumer Godden
  14. Puck of Pook's Hill by Rudyard Kipling
  15. Clouds of Witness by Dorothy Sayers
  16. Peter Pan and Wendy by J. M. Barrie
  17. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
  18. Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry
  19. Dreams of Joy by Lisa See
  20. That Hideous Strength by C. S. Lewis
  21. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
  22. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J. K. Rowling
  23. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J. K. Rowling
  24. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling
  25. Looking for God in Harry Potter by John Granger
  26. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling
  27. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling
  28. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  29. St. Peter's Fair by Ellis Peters
  30. The Mystery of the Sea by Bram Stoker
  31. 84, Charing Cross Rd by Helene Hanff
  32. The Leper of Saint Giles by Ellis Peters
  33. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
  34. Little Men by Louisa May Alcott
  35. Jo's Boys by Louisa May Alcott