Wednesday, December 28, 2011

a little Charles Dickens love

So, it seems that I have a Femnista article due on Little Dorrit in a few weeks. I believe January 17th, to be precise. Now comes the issue of what to write! I'm a verbose person who, if you give me a novel to write about, I could probably write an article as long as the book. Well, maybe not Little Dorrit, but some books. I'm wavering between writing about the tragedy of Mr. Dorrit's life or the gentle faith of Amy Dorrit. I could even do something on the nature of Mr. Clennam because I do have some intriguing notions about him. Sometimes the weakness of heroes is that they are too kind and therefore are either trod upon or they are too indulgent of weaknesses in others. Mr. Jarndyce of Bleak House anyone?

I'm extremely fond of Little Dorrit, despite the sorrows and agonies experienced by most of the characters. This is what makes Dickens such a master of prose. His characters are brilliantly imperfect. An event will occur and the audience groans in horror because it could have been easily avoided due to one action or another. But that is life. Oftentimes hindsight lets us see the mistakes that we wish had foreseen before actually making them. Ahh, the beauty of humanity.

Isn't it remarkable how God loves us regardless of our flaws? He knows we're going to make mistakes and loves us anyway. A friend reminded me the other day that we cannot disappoint God. To disappoint him would mean He had high expectations of us, which He does not because He already knows our sin nature. However, that does not give us free rein to just say "Oh, because that's in my nature I shouldn't fight against it." That's absurd. My heart grieves when I see Mr. Skimpole returning again and again to Mr. Jarndyce's home. Why can't he see the man is a snake in the grass?! He's an enabler, thinking he can fix and change everyone. That is his flaw, albeit you wouldn't necessarily see it as a sinful flaw, but it is one that does him no good. Our sinful nature, whatever it might be, is something we spend our entire life fighting against. And we should fight againt it. God is not going to be disappointed in us because He never expected us to exceed expectations in the first place.

Charles Dickens, more than many authors, had the gift of perceiving human character. Why else do we feel frustration at Mr. Jarndyce's inaction? Why else do we despise Mr. Skimpole's snake-in-the-grassing? And why else do we love Mr. Clennam and little Amy Dorrit despite any weakness? Because they remind us of ourselves. We see the best and worst of ourselves in these beloved literary characters. Just writing out some thoughts on Dickens has given me more ideas for my article. I'm reminded once again just how much I love Charles Dickens! A world without him would be a bleak place indeed.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Christmas Books - A Redbird Christmas

I'm taking a break from watching Silence of the Lambs on my Clearplayer. My heartrate was starting to pound a little and I'm all on my own in the house if you don't count the cat. Creeeeeeepy. I'll never look at Stottlemeyer the same in Monk again, that's for sure. *shudders*

Anyone have a clue why my Inkheart post gets hits every week? It's always #1 on my popular posts and I have no idea why. I guess whoever it is is a kindred spirit. :)

A Redbird Christmas by Fannie Flagg

This is one of those books that I would have never picked up if not for it being recommended to me by my library volunteer. Thanks, Margaret!

Turns out the story is rather predictable, but in a good way.

The book follows the life of an elderly man whose doctor demands that he get away from the city and stop drinking if he wants to see another Christmas. So the doctor recommends this little sleepy town by a river in Alabama that has barely 100 inhabitants. Oswald Campbell packs up his life (it fits in one suitcase) and heads out for what he expects to be one last adventure. Raised in an orphanage and named after Campbell soup, Oswald has no earthly ties. Even his marriage fell apart years ago so he literally has nothing to lose.

Yet, there's something about this little town that attracts him. He meets Roy, the man who owns the general store and keeps a redbird (or Cardinal) as a pet. He encounters a little handicapped child named Patsy who was abandoned by her father and taken in by one of the local women. He tries his hardest to avoid romantic entanglements with the widows of the town who've taken a shine to him even though he looks like a "little elf." He learns that life might just be worth living again and the best part is watching his heart soften.

I'm more romantic around Christmas and usually drag out all of my inspirational romances that involve the holidays. While the plot is a little slow around the middle of the book, I just couldn't put it down. Not hard since it's only about 200 pages long. This book is one I wouldn't have chosen for myself but the lack of sexual content and language, plus the gentle and loving natures of the characters, appealed to me. It's cute, it's heartwarming if not original, and it's perfect to read at Christmastime!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Nathaniel Hawthorne strikes again!

I first encountered the estimable Nathaniel Hawthorne in high school. Back then I despised the man for his dim view of those claiming to be Christians. You could even say I angry at him because I was still very young and immature and couldn't imagine anyone having such a low and depressing opinion of Christians. Now I pity how muddled his mind must have been by expecting Christians to be shining examples of perfection only to be disappointed. Have you ever once met a Christian who was perfect? If you have I'd like to meet him/her because I certainly can't make the same claim.

Now, don't get me wrong, as a believer myself I'm not knocking my fellow Christians. What I am saying is that I see the sin in my own life and so I can see the sin in the lives of others. I'm very aware of the temptations with which I struggle and it sometimes feels like I'm in a constant battle with myself. I look at every other person who is sanctified by the blood of Jesus as someone who also struggles, just the same as I do. This will be a life-long battle with sin. Our problems and temptations don't just vanish when we accept Christ. Christ never promised we would never be tempted, only that we wouldn't be tempted beyond what we can bear. There's a huge difference between the two. Christ gives us the strength to turn away from temptation just as He is there with loving arms to catch us when we fall.

In the realm of Nathaniel Hawthorne, he pens the stories of depressed and melancholy individuals who lose their faith, either in Christians themselves, or in God's ultimate power to save the lost through Christ's sacrifice. In The Minister's Black Veil, I noticed how the idea of the black veil as a representation of sin had warped both the man and those around him. While it is true that God worked throughout the minister's life and that many, many people found themselves convicted of sin, what good did the black veil do him, personally? It was as if he made a personal statement to himself that he would not allow God to purify him, wash him clean of sin, until he had actually died. As if, through his suffering, the lost could be saved.

There is a book by Francine Rivers called The Last Sin Eater that follows this same hypothesis, where only by the solitude and sacrifice of the sin eater, who took all the sins of the townspeople upon himself, could they be saved. He suffered so that they might find truth. But doesn't that defeat the purpose of Christ dying for humanity on the cross? "I am the way, and the truth, and the life, no man comes to the Father, but by Me" is what Christ said in John 14:6. He doesn't need an interim or a go-between for the message to be spoken. He certainly doesn't desire for a godly minister to veil himself as a symbol of the lurking sins inside each man's heart.

I distinctly recall reading Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter in high school and disliking the man's propensity for wanting the Christian to be either wholly good or wholly evil. In reality the Christian, just like any other person, is a mixture of both. The veil might have served its purpose in urging people out of fear to turn away from sin, but I don't see how living that life of intense loneliness separated from God's love did the minister any good. Once we're saved, we're saved, washed clean. There is no need for a physical veil because Christ offered us the veil of His blood on the cross.

All this was to say that as much as I respect Hawthorne's obvious talent as a writer, I cannot agree with his dim view of Christians. We might have the occasional hidden blemish deep in our hearts but I'm firmly convinced that God roots out evil wherever He might find it. Usually, for those who know Him, He provides a pretty solid wake-up call. And it doesn't come in the shape of a terrifyingly shrouded minister.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Brideshead Revisited

Anthony Andrews & Jeremy Irons in Brideshead Revisited
Have you ever noticed how authors will name their characters something significantly similar to their personality? Dickens was notorious for his use of names. So too it seems was Evelyn Waugh. I'm about 3/4 of the way through Brideshead Revisited (a remarkable feat considering I started it less than a week ago). He couldn't have chosen a better surname for Sebastian than Flyte. He spends nearly the entire book either running away from his troubles (real or imagined) and/or drowning his sorrows in drink.

A more flighty young man I've never met. And yet he doesn't frustrate me for some reason. Rather, I pity him. He has such pathetic misconceptions about life and his place in the world. Sebastian's devoutly Catholic roots seem to haunt him. He learns to despise people once they meet his parents. Take Charles, for instance. For years those two were almost literally joined at the hip. It is possible that their relationship was far less than healthy (in fact, that's most likely the case), and yet the two needed each other, Sebastian most of all. But once he introduced Charles to his family (not really his idea), their relationship faltered. All Sebastian's mother needed to do was draw Charles into the intimate workings of the family and Sebastian started distancing himself from his friend.

Why would Sebastian feel that Charles was tainted somehow by liking his family? I just can't quite grasp his reasoning. Charles is the same man that he was when they first met, even after having encountered the dreaded family members. Why should anything change? I suppose it really had nothing to do with the family and everything to do with Charles' approaching maturity. It's one thing for young men to meet at the age of 19 and behave ridiculously together. It's another thing for one of them to reach the age of 21 and start thinking seriously about life and its goals while the other still prefers deep bouts of drinking ad partying. I do believe Sebastian felt that Charles left him behind.

It's sad really, when friendships start as childhood chums but can't develop into adult relationships too. Charles' fondness and adoration for Sebastian is unsurpassed. Even after their relationship shatters. But Sebastian becomes such a pitiable creature that you can no longer love him, only weep for the life that is being drunk away. Sebastian is one of those charming characters that draw you towards them. There's something magnetic in their personality. You can't help liking them. Poor chap. I just know this book must end in his death. There's no other alternative since he sees no use in changing his lifestyle.

I've only the 3rd section to go and then I'm on to the miniseries with Anthony Andrews and Jeremy Irons. I know, I know, there's a newer version, but I'd rather see two of my favorite actors in these pitiable roles than ones I'm unfamiliar with. It will make me sympathize with them more.

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