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Jane Eyre–a classic
by Charlotte Brontë
with a Guide to Reading and Reflecting
by Karen Swallow Prior
Occasionally I will read a sentence plugging a newly released book that describes it as a “classic.” For me, a book has to not only be of high quality or a good example of a type of literature, but most importantly has to have stood the test of time to be considered a classic. Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre is one of these books. Karen Swallow Prior, a professor of English literature, is editing a series of classical books and has chosen Jane Eyre as one of her subjects. In her introduction, she discusses the author and provides background of the work and its publication. She also addresses the themes found in the book and how to read Jane Eyre through a current Christian perspective. Prior includes footnotes on archaic or unfamiliar terms and references to other works both secular and religious at the bottom of the pages where they occur. The novel is divided into three volumes; each is followed by insightful discussion questions. Also there are questions for reflection at the end which are appropriate for addressing overarching themes and issues.
Jane Eyre is a long and complex book; straight summarizing would not do it justice and would certainly contain spoilers. The volumes progress chronologically through Jane’s life, and she is the narrator. She includes the struggles she as endured that have formed her into an intellectual woman of strong moral character. She frequently quotes people as referring to her as “plain” in her physical attributes.
The novel includes social themes regarding the treatment of the poor and of women. Neither of these groups had great expectations of rising above their current status. At its heart, Jane Eyre is a romance, but it has aspects of mystery, adventure, and theology. Brontë’s treatment and development of the various characters are excellent, and there is liberal use of foreshadowing and symbolism. This is truly a classic that can be read for pure enjoyment or studied as a work of art.
Category: Fiction, Christian, Classic, Romance
Notes: Manuscript used by editor was published in 1848
Publication: 2021—B & H Publishing
I regained my couch, but never thought of sleep. Till morning dawned I was tossed on a buoyant but unquiet sea, where billows of trouble rolled under surges of joy. I thought sometimes I saw beyond its wild waters a shore, sweet as the hills of Beulah; and now and then a freshening gale, wakened by hope, bore my spirit triumphantly towards the bourne: but I could not reach it, even in fancy—a counteracting breeze blew off land, and continually drove me back. Sense would resist delirium; judgment would warn passion. Too feverish to rest, I rose as soon as day dawned.
This was very pleasant; there is no happiness like that of being loved by your fellow-creatures, and feeling that your presence is an addition to their comfort.
Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation: they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigor; stringent are they; inviolate they shall be. If at my individual convenience I might break them, what would be their worth?
The Snow Goose–a story to be treasured
The Snow Goose
by Paul Gallico
Occasionally a story is written that is like a rare and exquisite jewel meant to be held with reverence and examined over and over to absorb the depths of its beauty. For me, that story is Paul Gallico’s novella, The Snow Goose. It was originally written as a short story for The Saturday Evening Post, but Gallico expanded it into a novella that can be cherished for its beautiful language and its emotional impact. It combines the tale of a hunchback with the love of a young girl who brings an injured Canadian snow goose to Rhayader, a recluse who lives in a deserted lighthouse near the village of Chelmbury on the Essex coast. He is an artist and a gentle soul, not at all fitting the image conjured up by the townspeople. When the call comes to rescue the stranded soldiers at Dunkirk, Rhayader has an opportunity to fulfill his potential as a man.
I read this book for my book club. It is only a thirty minute read. Before the meeting I read it again just to immerse myself once more in the beauty of the words, in a tale of love, friendship, and heroism that is such a treasure that you will wish, from deep down in your soul, that it were true. This book is moving, heart-wrenching, and full of magnificent word images. It is a story that will stay with you long after you gently close its pages.
Notes: 1. novella
2. I owe a debt of gratitude to the lovely ladies of my book club who contributed to this review through our conversations about The Snow Goose. I think you will find your insights woven into my review.
Publication: First published in 1940—Caramna Corp.
My copy was published in 2018 by Project Gutenberg
Grays and blues and soft greens are the colors, for when the skies are dark in the long winters, the many waters of the beaches and marshes reflect the cold and somber color. But sometimes, with sunrise and sunset, sky and land are aflame with red and golden fire.
Lately it served again as a human habitation. In it there lived a lonely man. His body was warped, but his heart was filled with love for the wild and hunted things. He was ugly to look upon, but he created great beauty. It is about him, and a child who came to know him and see beyond the grotesque form that housed him to what lay within, that this story is told.
With the departure of the snow goose ended the visits of Frith to the lighthouse. Rhayader learned all over again the meaning of the word “loneliness.”
The Princess and the Goblin–multi-layered fairy tale for all ages
The Princess and the Goblin
by George MacDonald
Ready for another, good-for-all-ages fairy tale? My book club read The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald, a Scottish minister, poet, and novelist, who inspired and influenced many authors through the ages including C.S. Lewis, Lewis Carroll, J.R.R. Tolkien, G.K. Chesterton, and Madeleine L’Engle. Like The Chronicles of Narnia, The Princess and the Goblin is first and foremost a fun fantasy tale, beautifully written. As it progresses, layers of symbolism are added with themes of courage, honor, belief, trust, virtue, and faith. As any good fairy tale does, The Princess and the Goblin differentiates between good and evil. Children and adults are living in a rather messy world today where ethics often are blurred, but there are still truths that need to be valued. There are morals that hold us to a standard that forms a good society.
With the author’s great descriptive powers, all of the characters are detailed both physically and morally. The goblins are all evil with designs on the full destruction of the human race. The humans in the story are not perfect, but demonstrate character development based on their experiences.
Irene is a little princess who lives in a country castle. Her noble king-papa visits her regularly as he tours his kingdom staying in touch with his people. Irene discovers her great-great-grandmother living in a section of the castle. No one else has seen her or her rooms. She acts as a God figure in the story, guiding Irene to safety and to belief. A very wise woman, she helps Irene understand that not everyone is ready to believe at the same time. This is apparent in Lootie, Irene’s nurse, who has responsibility for the child’s safety and in Curdie, a clever and brave young miner who befriends and helps Princess Irene. The goblins desire the little princess as a mate for their prince.
There is a lot of adventure in this tale as Curdie works underground (literally) to discover the goblin plots and thwart them. The Princess and Curdie are at odds as he does not initially see what Irene sees because the great-great-grandmother does not actually disclose herself to him.
The settings include a castle with lots of hallways, some beautiful mountains, a small miner’s cottage, pitch black caves where miners toil away picking out ore, and goblin caverns and tunnels. These are the backdrops for the dramatic action of the goblins’ convocation, the Princess’ wanderings, and Irene and Curdie’s courageous rescues of each other. The battle scenes are well played out as Curdie defeats them with poetry and foot stomping.
This is a book that I am sorry I missed earlier in my life. I would love to have shared it with my children and grandchildren when they were younger, but I am happy to pass on the word now to new generations looking for well-written books with substance and value. I look forward to reading The Princess and Curdie, which was written eleven years later, as well as some of MacDonald’s other works (numbering over 50) which encompass a variety of genres. I believe that even reading a biography of this author’s life and influence would be quite interesting as his work did not take a straight forward path. He and his family were plagued with health issues, and despite his success and the admiration of his colleagues, he was not always financially solvent.
Category: Fairy Tale, Fantasy
Publication: November 16, 2010—Project Gutenberg (which includes beautiful illustrations by Jessie Willcox Smith from the 1920 version.
First published by Strahan & Co. 1872
Also published by David McKay Co. 1920
Her fear vanished: once more she was certain her grandmother’s thread could not have brought her there just to leave her there…
“But it wasn’t very good of him not to believe me when I was telling him the truth.” “People must believe what they can, and those who believe more must not be hard upon those who believe less. I doubt if you would have believed it all yourself if you hadn’t seen some of it.”
…Lootie had very foolish notions concerning the dignity of a princess, not understanding that the truest princess is just the one who loves all her brothers and sisters best, and who is most able to do them good by being humble toward them.
The Enchanted April–looking for happiness
The Enchanted April
by Elizabeth Von Arnim
In an exceptionally rainy and dreary March in England, four strangers decide to get away by sharing the rent on a medieval castle in sunny Italy for the month of April. Lotty Wilkins, who can “see” or visualize people at their best and happiest initiates the effort, recruiting Rose Arbuthnot. Both in their early thirties, they do not have happy marriages. Lady Caroline is a little younger and extremely attractive, but is tired of the superficial cloying of people bewitched by her good looks. The very authoritative Mrs. Fisher in her sixties is still wearing mourning blacks years after her husband’s death and focuses her thoughts and conversations on childhood memories of encounters with famous people, particularly authors. This fictional account relies strongly on character development as these ladies’ situations are examined and they react to each other and to their temporary environment for the month. As I reread the many lines I had highlighted, I found that the writing is indeed exquisite.
The Enchanted April is the kind of book that holds beauty and introspection and gently insists that readers immerse themselves in the deliciousness of a sunny month of flowering plants and enticing foods. There are humorous situations thrown in as Lotty and Rose speak no Italian and the other two ladies don’t want to undertake the bother of dealing with the servants or managing the finances. There are also some surprising plot twists at the end of the tale. If you join the ladies in their Italian castle, your only regret will be saying “Arrivederci” at the end of the stay.
Notes: Originally published in 1922.
Publication: July 19, 2005—Project Gutenberg
She wanted to be alone, but not lonely. That was very different; that was something that ached and hurt dreadfully right inside one. It was what one dreaded most…Was it possible that loneliness had nothing to do with circumstances, but only with the way one met them?
“Oh, but in a bitter wind to have nothing on and know there never will be anything on and you going to get colder and colder till at last you die of it—that’s what it was like, living with somebody who didn’t love one.”
In heaven nobody minded any of those done-with things, one didn’t even trouble to forgive and forget, one was much too happy.
Sense and Sensibility–guided reading of a classic
Sense and Sensibility
by Jane Austen
with A Guide to Reading and Reflecting by Karen Swallow Prior
Sense and Sensibility was first published anonymously in 1811; it was Austen’s first book. She was thirty-five. She published three more in her lifetime and two more were published after her death in 1817. Although the focus of this novel is love and marriage, it is not a romance in the modern sense. It is a satire finding humor in the manners and customs at the turn of the century.
The main characters are the pragmatic, self-controlled Elinor Dashwood and her sister Marianne who feels everything deeply and openly. Their financial situation is based on the inheritance system in place at that time in which the eldest son receives the lion’s share of the patriarch’s property and wealth. Thus the young ladies and their mother and younger sister are left with little to live on and are somewhat dependent on an ungenerous half-brother. As the older girls are at marrying ages (19 and 17), the main part of the novel tells of the ins and outs of various suitors and relationships. We watch the characters change and grow as their circumstances alter. The events work to balance out the extremes of character found in Elinor and Marianne.
Karen Swallow Prior takes this classic and becomes a guide for the modern reader. As an English professor, she begins with a thorough introduction befitting her profession. She provides information about the time period, Austen’s background, and the form of the satirical novel. She explains situational and verbal irony as well as free indirect discourse. She also discusses Austen’s Christian background and how a Christian today might view this work. Prior includes footnotes for words, terms, and concepts that harken from the last part of the eighteenth century and might cause confusion or difficulty for a reader in the twenty-first century. As Sense and Sensibility is divided into three “volumes,” Prior follows each section with discussion questions and then ends the book with more general “Questions for Further Reflection.” All of these features improve the reading experience and yield opportunities for a deeper understanding.
Category: General Fiction (Adult), Historical Fiction, Classic
Notes: I found the introduction useful before I began reading Sense and Sensibility, but when I referred back to it in preparation for writing this review, I found it helpful to reread the information as I was able to apply some of it better having completed the novel.
Publication: The novel was originally published in 1811. This edition was published in 2020 by B&H Publishing Group.
From Prior’s Introduction:
Some of its satire is directed at significant human flaws and social structures such as romanticism, greed, falsity, and the prevailing view of marriage as a business transaction. Other objects of satire in the novel are less serious but incur no less delight in being skewered incisively by Austen’s sharp eye and even sharper wit: silly women, idle men, and gossiping tongues.
From the novel:
This specimen of the Miss Steeles was enough. The vulgar freedom and folly of the eldest left her no recommendation, as Elinor was not blinded by the beauty, or the shrewd look of the youngest, to her want of real elegance and artlessness, she left the house without any wish of knowing them better.
Marianne, with excellent abilities and an excellent disposition, was neither reasonable nor candid. She expected from other people the same opinions and feelings as her own, and she judged of their motives by the immediate effect of their actions on herself.