Exploring where life and story meet!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Disturbed Sense and Sensibilities

I still think I was born in the wrong century, at least from a literary sense.  I immensely enjoy Jane Austen, and other such works, but I fear most modern readers really don't 'get' them.  They might enjoy the witty Pride and Prejudice and yet miss the heart of such literature.  Just look at all the 'sequels' that focus almost solely on various forms of carnal pleasure when such is obviously missing from the originals.  I just watched a version of Mansfield Park that really disturbed me.  They completely missed Fanny's upstanding moral character, downplayed the flaws in one of the main characters, implied a bit of girl on girl intimacy, and otherwise completely missed the point of the book.  Who puts a sex scene in Jane Austen?  The poor woman should be turning over in her grave so much she must be dizzy.  According to modern taste, apparently a lack of sex makes for a dull movie/read.  It would be better to have Austen unread than misread.  A pity she is not alive in our day and age, it would be interesting to read what she might have to say on the subject. 

The other problem with Jane et. al. for modern readers, besides for lack of sleaze, is a near complete lack of a traditional moral understanding.  A century ago, it was obvious what was right and wrong, but in this day and age, it depends who you ask.  The most recent Pride and Prejudice rendition featuring Keira Knightley made very little sense if you were not familiar with the story and the mores of the day.  Lydia's 'infamous elopement' seems like just another girl moving in with her boyfriend, what's the big deal?  Why is everyone freaking out about it?  Some were probably wondering why we didn't see them naked.

There are certainly affairs, misdeeds, and the like mentioned in the Austonian cannon, but it is mentioned, the deed itself is not covered in-depth, which sadly, many modern readers would expect.  Maybe there is a good reason why all my favorite authors have been dead for fifty years or more.  They knew the art of story and did not need insipid bedroom scenes to obfuscate their lack of skill.  Or maybe we as a culture have descended to a point where nothing else interests us or we think nothing else does.  But this means we have all the joy before us of learning to really appreciate the intricacies of a good story!  And then, perhaps if a love of good literature can be reignited in our musty, cramped souls, perhaps we will hunger after modern works equally good, thus starting a literary reawakening.  Or maybe we'll just turn on the TV and indulge our banal sensibilities.  In the age of Twitter, who has time for Jane Austen?   

Lost? Just ask the Lion!

It seems that the biggest lesson in life that God is trying to teach us is that we can trust Him, and if I am anything like the so-called average person, then humanity is in trouble in this particular class.  Of course we cannot trust Him to work things out as we want them, but rather in the manner which is best for us and all those affected by a particular circumstance, which usually means spiritual growth rather than striking it rich.  We can be rather peevish on this subject, thinking God does not answer prayers when He answers them in a way we had not anticipated, much like the hungry toddler who wants candy and mommy gives him something healthy.  Thus, we must learn to trust that His ideas are better than our own and that He intends a better outcome, even if we cannot at the moment fathom why things turned out as they did.

There have been many instances in my life where I thought I would do things a certain way, well aware that I should be doing it a different way, and after much vain straining and striving, finally I would give in and say, 'fine, have it your way,' and inevitably it works out beautifully.  Weird.  I have found it can be much less painful to do it His way first.  Just ask Jonah.  Or if you prefer, recall the scene in Prince Caspian where Lucy thinks she saw Aslan and knows she should take a certain path and no one believes her and they end up going on a long, pointless journey when they might have easily solved their navigational errors by believing Lucy in the first place. 

My life is either upside down or backwards at the moment, I suppose it depends on the angle, but I am okay with that.  There are moments when I feel a great sense of loss, actually grieve for what was, or wonder in trepidation at what will come next, but overall, I know, whatever happens, I do not need to panic or worry.  This sounds trite, I know, but after several lessons that may or may not have involved a sound, metaphorical thwack (is not that a lovely word?) to the head, I think I am finally starting to understand that whole 'be still and know' thing.  Definitely not perfect, but sort of (almost, hopefully) making progress, now about that whole patience thing... 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Out of Ur

My husband has been getting tired of me commenting that I feel much like Abraham, displaced from home and going forth into the great unknown that is the wide world, but knowing that there is a plan and purpose in it all, so I might as well blog about it.  Job, home, family, church, even my health insurance, are all up in the air at the moment.  I feel like a recent college graduate, looking on the broad horizon of the future that lies before me and not quite sure what to do with it.  Sometimes I wish God answered e-mail, it would make life much more straightforward, but I am finding that it is in the wandering that we often grow and learn and are fitted for whatever comes next.  I want a horizon to look towards, a goal to aim for, but sometimes all I am allowed is a glimpse of a curving road in the fog and with this I must be content, content in knowing that there is a 'plan and a purpose to everything under heaven.'   To 'be still and know that I am God.'  To know that 'even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil for You are with me.'  I don't know the future but neither did Joseph or David or Abraham or Mary, but they trusted God in all their strange and scary circumstances and He led them faithfully through paths they could not even imagine when first they set out.  I think then that I should be able to handle a minor interruption in my life as a career woman, but part of me is still anxious and uneasy, desperate to know the future as any child wondering what the packages beneath the tree actually hold in the weeks before Christmas.  What a great chance to exercise that wondrous virtue known as patience.  What is a little mortal discomfort when it is used to train up a soul for eternity!  Let me see, how does this 'being still' thing work...

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Of Nightingales and Theology

I enjoyed the Importance of Being Earnest, but had not read much else by Oscar Wilde, save one of his fairy tales called 'The Happy Prince'.  It was a nice little tale, but slipped out of living memory until I read an article dealing with another tale in the collection called 'The Nightingale and the Rose'.  The hints of the tale in the article intrigued me, so of course I had to go read the whole story and now I will likely read the whole collection, happily supplied at Project Gutenberg.  As I know little of the author, save he has a great wit, I thought to review G. K. Chesterton's take on the man.

The lyrical quality of the story minds me much of the Song of Songs in its descriptions of Love and the underlying theme of ultimate and sacrificial love that surpasses even the power of death are certainly at the heart of Christianity.  From what little I know of Wilde, I had a hard time seeing him as a believer, but as Chesterton states, "he had, in his own strange way, a much deeper and more spiritual nature than they. Queerly enough, it was the very multitude of his falsities that prevented him from being entirely false. Like a many-coloured humming top, he was at once a bewilderment and a balance. He was so fond of being many-sided that among his sides he even admitted the right side. He loved so much to multiply his souls that he had among them one soul at least that was saved. He desired all beautiful things – even God."

It is a lovely little story, most of all in its portrayal of Love and how it is so often missed or misunderstood by we oft abstracted mortals.  One can pour out one's heart's blood for some beautiful cause and the whole world will overlook or laugh at your sacrifice.  It is an excellent reminder of He who did that very thing for each of us, and that He does not miss our own meager attempts to fulfill such Love, no matter what the world thinks of our efforts.

Though in keeping with Wilde's many sided philosophy, he does throw in this little bit at the last:
"What a silly thing Love is,” said the Student as he walked away.  “It is not half as useful as Logic, for it does not prove anything, and it is always telling one of things that are not going to happen, and making one believe things that are not true.  In fact, it is quite unpractical, and, as in this age to be practical is everything, I shall go back to Philosophy and study Metaphysics.”

I am not sure how one can study Metaphysics, at least the Christian variant, and misunderstand love, but oh, well...

Here is a little snippet to tempt you, it is not a long or difficult read, but certainly is not lacking in beauty: "The white Moon heard it, and she forgot the dawn, and lingered on in the sky.  The red rose heard it, and it trembled all over with ecstasy, and opened its petals to the cold morning air.  Echo bore it to her purple cavern in the hills, and woke the sleeping shepherds from their dreams.  It floated through the reeds of the river, and they carried its message to the sea." 'The Nightingale and the Rose,' Oscar Wilde.

Update: the rest of these stories seem to be well worth reading too!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The end of an epic

Well, I have finally finished Middlemarch and I am not sure what to think.  It was not so much a book as an epic, something you can't exactly sit down and write a brief review of.  It was an interesting enough story to make me slog through all eighty some chapters, but it will never be one of my favorite books.  It had some interesting insight into various human foibles, social institutions, and long forgotten English political upheavals but nothing you can really sum up in very few words; I am sure many have written a doctoral thesis on some minor content thereof.  So if you are an Anglo-bibliophile, I would recommend it, but to the vast majority of modern humanity, it shall sadly only act as a cure for insomnia.  This is probably a sad commentary on our modern attention span and waning interests in things considered classical. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

If I had ever learned...

The title of this selection is based on a statement made by Lady Catherine De Bourgh in Pride and Prejudice, as this venerable matron is instructing others on the finer points of music, of which she is avowedly a connoisseur though she has never bothered to learn much about it, but certainly has much natural taste and is thus qualified in her critique of others.  This is an amusing scene in the book, but strangely not an uncommon one in our modern society where, thanks to Google, etc., everyone is a natural expert on just about anything and everything.  We have replaced logic, reason, and rational thought with the search engine and social trending (if my 'friends' like it, it must be good).  Like the esteemed Lady, there is very little depth to our so-called knowledge yet we are too vain to admit, even to ourselves, how little we actually know about said topic.

This especially occurred to me the other day whilst standing in line to fill a prescription and the eight elderly people ahead of me each had 57 different medications, half of which were prescribed to control the side effects of some other medication.  There seems to be a pill for everything, yet in truth we know so little about the human body and its microscopic workings that putting so many different substances into our body at once without knowing their interactions with each other and with each unique individuals body makes me nervous.  Modern medicine is a wonderful thing, saving countless lives and extending nearly all others, yet we approach it with the attitude of 'my doctor can fix anything' rather than with the fear and trembling which should accompany all such activity which involves the life and well-being of a human soul.  I begin to see why God demands the same treatment of Himself.

We should not be in terror of God, yet we should approach Him with all the respect and awe that our rather miniscule and precarious mortal state demands when in the presence of the One who wrought us.  Yet we stand like the Pharisee in the temple (Luke 18), congratulating ourselves on how wonderful we are because we are not as bad as some other people when we should be like the tax collector, humble and honest, and therefore forgiven and justified before God.  Pride goes back to the Garden when the serpent asked, 'did God really say?'  God has really said, we should really listen and obey, if we want to have any standing whatsoever in the Kingdom of Heaven!  Then maybe we can turn our eyes to the practice of medicine or advising others on the quality of their musical ability, but only after we have correctly assessed our own skills and knowledge in a certain area and actually discover that we have something meaningful to say..  Just because you can 'google' tuberculosis, does not mean you are qualified either to treat or diagnose it.  Even more so are we unqualified to contradict what God has spoken.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

But it's a musical!

This is a topic of great import that I have completely forgotten to write on for some time but have finally remembered whilst luckily in front of a computer with a moment to spare (a rare and dangerous combination).  As the faithful and unfortunate readers of this blog well know (if any of you there are), I am quite fond of Les Miserables in all its formats, most especially the musical, which was so recently released as a major motion picture.  My main complaint with the cinematic presentation of the stage musical was that nearly every line was sung (often badly) when they could have easily had a little dialogue instead of the inane singing of a few random lines like, "we must leave now," or "we should do such and such."  It was a minor sin, but rather annoying.  And it struck me that another tremendous theatrical production had addressed this very topic.  That great hero of many an animated tale, Larry the Cucumber, found himself in just such straits in the much lauded classic Lyle the Kindly Viking.  If I have completely confounded you, dear reader, please forgive me, for I assume that every classicist must be well versed in all things Veggie Tales, but if you are unfamiliar with this charming vegetative production, it may well be worth your time and energy to explore further.  But let us just say, it involves singing vegetables (and no few fruits) reenacting many a classic story and is thus a very healthy experience.  Anywho, Larry has this strange propensity to sing every single line and when called upon it by his friendly tomato companion, the cucumber sings out, "but it's a musical."  To which is replied, "but that doesn't mean you have to sing every line."  Obviously the makers of Les Mis are not as well versed in the classics as one would think!

Judge not lest ye miss a good book

I have avoided Northanger Abbey thinking it something it was not, and having read what I would of Austen's other works, have finally decided to peruse this before undeservedly despised volume and have come away very happy with this change of heart as it is now my favorite work in the cannon barring only Pride and Prejudice, which is not to be displaced from its place at the peak of my preference.  I am not sure I will ever read Persuasion and have only made it through a third of Emma, otherwise I have devoured the rest of Jane Austen's works and come to a much better understanding of this esteemed lady and her writings.  There is a wit and vivacity there that is easily glossed over by an overeager reader who just wants to get to the end of the story and misses all its merits thereby.  One cannot speed read either Austen or Shakespeare but must savor each morsel to come to a full appreciation of its contents.  Which is why I shall never finish Emma, as it would take the rest of my natural life to finish a volume so extensive and Persuasion, I am afraid would truly put me to sleep, if the movie is at all faithful to the book!

As for the original topic of my current nonsensical essay, it is a rather charming and comparatively quick read.  I am no fan of Gothic novels and have until now avoided it thinking it of the same genre, little realizing it to be a satire of such dismal works, not a member of their clan.  I love how Austen builds up anticipation as to the plight or anticipated plight of our heroine and then laughs at us when we realize there is no surreal suspense or horror in the story, only the flights of fancy of a young and ill-read imagination of the main character and the reader's own expectations, which are still quite real over a century after it was written.  She explains how unlikely a heroine is our heroine as she is not an orphan of unknown lineage, comes from a rather happy and comfortable family, and whose mother has not yet died in childbirth.  Overall, I really enjoyed it, though with the shortcomings of all satirical fiction, I wish there were more depth of character and a tad more plot, but such is the genre!