My friend Emily Ann (author of It Took a War) is publishing another book with her friend Emily Chapman! The story was originally featured on their blogs as a series of letters between two sisters during the Great Depression. Now, the letters are being released in book format on May 25th!
1935: It was never much of an issue for Bess: living contentedly on her family’s farm, despite the Depression which loomed around them. But when her older sister Georgiana takes off to New York City to make a fortune and help Papa out, feelings of adventure and wanderlust strike Bess at home. Through their lively letter correspondence, the sisters recount to one another their adventures, surprises, and heartaches, leaving little room for depression. For in a world of such wonder, ain’t we got fun?
Emily Ann Putzke and Gi Rowland have two big things in common – their love for God and coffee. Besides writing historical fiction, Emily enjoys being an aunty, photography, Irish dancing, spending time with family, attempting to play the guitar, reenacting, and reading. She loves polka dots, war movies, and all things vintage. Her first novella, It Took a War, was published in December of 2014.
EMILY CHAPMAN, also known as Bess Rowland, is a young hobbit living in the dear old South, and she is entirely bonkers. She’s a dreamer, an optimistic pessimist, and an introverted people person. Blue skies, dancing, Disney, and whipped cream make her happy, and she swears she’s been to Narnia. She’s been a reader all her life, became a writer because of that, and published her first novel, Cry of Hope, in March of 2014. But without her Savior, all of this would mean nothing. It is in Him that she puts her hope. “And hope does not disappoint us, for God has poured out His love into hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.” – Romans 5: 5
“My life is but a weaving Between my God and me. I cannot choose the colors He weaveth steadily.
Oft’ times He weaveth sorrow; And I in foolish pride Forget He sees the upper And I the underside.
Not ’til the loom is silent And the shuttles cease to fly Will God unroll the canvas And reveal the reason why.
The dark threads are as needful In the weaver’s skillful hand As the threads of gold and silver In the pattern He has planned
He knows, He loves, He cares; Nothing this truth can dim. He gives the very best to those Who leave the choice to Him.”
-“Life is but a Weaving” by Corrie ten Boom
Life has dealt Silas Marner harder blows than most would be able to bear. Framed for stealing the church money bag by his best friend (William Dane), Silas is banished from the small congregation at Lantern Yard and forced to leave. Adding even more pain, William convinces Silas’s fiance to break off their engagement and marry William instead. Penniless and rejected, Silas moves to the small village of Raveloe where he becomes a solitary miser. Afraid to trust others, he works ceaselessly at his weaving loom, his only aspiration to increase the stacks of golden guineas he hoards under the floor boards. Marner continues in this way for fifteen years, until one night his unlocked door admits a thief who pilfers the gold. Silas spirals into depression, without his gold he has nothing left to live for. Then, Silas once again leaves his door unlocked, and something far more precious than gold enters his house, and his heart.
Like several of the other books I’ve read for The Classics Club, Silas Marner was already a familiar story to me. However, since the previous version I knew was a dramatized audio version it was nice to read the original book word for word.
I’ll never forget going to a used book sale and finding a set of antique classics. “How much are you asking for the whole set?” I inquired.
“Seven dollars,” was the reply.
“Seven dollars?!” I squealed. “That’s a steal! Look, it even has Silas Marner!”
The attendant raised her eyebrows and looked surprised, “You actually like that book? Most people don’t.”
Well, y’all know I’m definitely not like “most people”, but I’m still unsure why more readers don’t enjoy Silas Marner. I know some are displeased that William Dane and the others who wronged Silas never get what’s coming to them (at least you never hear about it), but to me that’s part of the beauty of the book. Real life doesn’t always have closure; sometimes we don’t get to see the rest of the story or justice enacted, but there can still be forgiveness and healing.
I think my favorite character was probably Dolly Winthrop, a village woman who befriends Silas and teaches him how to care for Eppie. She often offers advice to Silas, but always in a gentle, humble way that never sounds “preachy”. If I had to take a guess I would venture that Dolly experienced some deep sorrow in her life also, and that’s why she’s able to relate so well to Silas. My one complaint with the book is that’s it’s rather short. If it had been longer maybe the other characters could have been more developed and Dolly’s past could have been explored deeper.
Although on the surface the story seems simple, George Eliot (pen name for Mary Ann Evans) entwines deep philosophical points that will cause you to pause, reflect, and sympathize with the characters. Why do bad things happen? Does God really have a plan for our lives? You may finish the book itself quickly, but it will leave you pondering long after you read the last chapter.
Author: George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans)
Publish date: 1861
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Finish date: November 2014
Book list number: 7 out of 205
The sense of security more frequently springs from habit than from conviction.
‘But there’s this to be thought on Eppie: things will change, whether we like it or no; things won’t go on for a long while just as they are and no difference.’
‘Everything comes to light, Nancy, sooner or later. When God Almighty wills it, our secrets are found out.’
‘eh, there’s trouble i’ this world, and there’s things as we can niver make out the rights on. And all as we’ve got to do is to trusten, Master Marner – to do the right things as fur as we know, and to trusten.’
‘Ah, but that ‘ud ha’ been hard,’ said Silas, in an under-tone; ‘it ‘ud ha’ been hard to trusten then.’
‘And so it would,’ said Dolly, almost with compunction; ‘them things are easier said nor done…’
‘When a man turns a blessing from his door, it falls to them as take it in.’
‘I shall never know whether they got at the truth o’ the robbery…It’s dark to me, Mrs. Winthrop, that is; I doubt it’ll be dark to the last.’
‘Well, yes, Master Marner,’ said Dolly…’I doubt it may. It’s the will o’ Them above as a many things should be dark to us; but there’s some things as I’ve never felt i’ the dark about…You were hard done by that once, Master Marner, and it seems as you’ll never know the rights of it; but that doesn’t hinder there being a rights…’
In old days there were angels who came and took men my the hand and led them away from the city of destruction. We see no white-winged angels now. But yet men are led away from threatening destruction: a hand is put into theirs, which leads them forth gently towards a calm and bright land, so that they look no more backward; and the hand may be a little child’s.
Tis a sigh that is wafted across the troubled wave, Tis a wail that is heard upon the shore Tis a dirge that is murmured around the lowly grave Oh hard times come again no more.
Tis the song, the sigh of the weary, Hard Times, hard times, come again no more Many days have you lingered around my cabin door; Oh hard times come again no more.
-Hard Times Come Again No More by Stephen Foster (1854)
Imagine a world completely ruled by facts, where lives are governed by cold, stark practicality. Dreams, fancy, and any other contradiction of fact are rooted out and squelched. In this place the fundamental principle taught is that everything must be paid for. “Nobody was ever on any account to give anybody anything, or render anybody help without purchase. Gratitude was to be abolished, and the virtues springing from it were not to be.” Such is Coketown, the fictitious English mill town created by Charles Dickens in in his book Hard Times.
In my last review I said that although Dickens writes on depressing themes, his books are still punctuated with humor. This is not true for Hard Times. First written in 1854 as a serial story to help increase his paper’s sales, the book is much shorter than Dickens’ other works and seems devoid of his usual humor and character development.
The story follows 3 different classes of people. First, Thomas Gradgrind, a wealthy, retired merchant who has completely adopted a philosophy of rationalism and Facts. Gradgrind drills his two oldest children, Louisa and Tom, in every rule of Fact: geography, economics, algebra, geometry, without ever allowing the barest hint of imagination or fancy. Stripped of childish dreams, Louisa and Tom are reduced to little better than automatons.
“When she was half a dozen years younger, Louisa had been overheard to begin a conversation with her brother one day, by saying ‘Tom, I wonder’—upon which Mr. Gradgrind, who was the person overhearing, stepped forth into the light and said, ‘Louisa, never wonder!’
Herein lay the spring of the mechanical art and mystery of educating the reason without stooping to the cultivation of the sentiments and affections. Never wonder. By means of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, settle everything somehow, and never wonder. Bring to me…yonder baby just able to walk, and I will engage that it shall never wonder.”
The second group are the poor mill workers, who people like Josiah Bounderby, the Coketown factory owner, treat as little more than flesh and muscle. Subsisting in the hardship, for it can not truly be said that they are living, the mill workers grind on day after day in the monotony and oppression of their existence.
“Surely, none of us in our sober senses and acquainted with figures, are to be told at this time of day, that one of the foremost elements in the existence of the Coketown working-people had been for scores of years, deliberately set at nought? That there was any Fancy in them demanding to be brought into healthy existence instead of struggling on in convulsions? That exactly in the ratio as they worked long and monotonously, the craving grew within them for some physical relief—some relaxation, encouraging good humour and good spirits, and giving them a vent—some recognized holiday, though it were but for an honest dance to a stirring band of music—some occasional light pie in which even M’Choakumchild had no finger—which craving must and would be satisfied aright, or must and would inevitably go wrong, until the laws of the Creation were repealed?”
Lastly are people like Sissy Jupe, a girl who once belonged to the circus and is taken in by Mr. Gradgrind. Sissy is compassionate and still possesses her imaginative skills, but is also somewhat ignorant.
My favorite character was Louisa, probably because she was the most developed character. I was able to sympathize with her, but I was often repulsed by the robot her father had turned her into. I think that her unfeeling obedience was a little overdone, and realistically she would have eventually broken free and acted for herself.
I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand the story piqued my interest and I was eager to continue reading. On the other, I felt that after I finished reading I was still grasping for something more. Some characters once introduced seemed tossed to the side as if Dickens became bored with them. When I started the book I thought it was going to follow Cecelia “Sissy” Jupe, but after the first few chapters we barely hear from her until the end of the book. Although Sissy enacts dramatic change we here nothing of it until after the fact. As one blogger noted:
“As a writer Dickens needs space. He needs a lot of pages. We can’t put a tree in the living room and hope that it will grow well. It doesn’t. It needs fertile land. If not forest land, at least the land in one’s garden. The suppressed size of this book definitely seems to have inhibited Dickens.” –Vishy’s Blog
I tend to agree with this statement, and believe if the story hadn’t been hashed out quickly as a serialized story it would have contained more of the depth and richness characteristic of Dickens. The book does convey the meaninglessness, drudgery, and emptiness of a life barren of dreams, but if it does so while itself being barren and empty what good is it?
Book: Hard Times, For These Times
Author: Charles Dickens
Publish Date: 1854
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Finish date: December 2013
Book list number: 6 of 205
” ‘Bitzer,’ said Mr. Gradgrind, broken down, and miserably submissive to him, ‘have you a heart?’
‘The circulation, sir,’ returned Bitzer, smiling at the oddity of the question, ‘couldn’t be carried on without one. No man, sir, acquainted with the facts established by Harvey relating to the circulation of the blood, can doubt that I have a heart.’ “
“When the Devil goeth about like a roaring lion, he goeth about in a shape by which few but savages and hunters are attracted. But, when he is trimmed, smoothed, and varnished, according to the mode: when he is aweary of vice, and aweary of virtue, used up as to brimstone, and used up as to bliss; then, whether he take to the serving out of red tape, or to the kindling of red fire, he is the very Devil.”
“Besides which, ma’am,” returned Bitzer, while he was polishing table, “it looks to me as if he gamed.”
“It’s immoral to game,” said Mrs. Sparsit.
“It’s ridiculous, ma’am,” said Bitzer, “because the chances are always against the players.”
“For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?”
For many years, I was actually averse to A Christmas Carol for a reason that I’m rather embarrassed to admit now. You see, when I was younger I never read the book, only watched the movie, and the only movie version we had was A Muppet’s Christmas Carol. Let’s just say I found the Muppet’s, well, disturbing.
Thankfully Mom took me to see Charles Dickens Presents: A Christmas Carol, a live performance by Mike Randall. He was phenomenal, dramatically reciting the entire book solo! Seriously, he slipped so easily from Fred to Fezziwig, from Christmas Past to Ebenezer, you would have thought that 40 actors were performing.
After being cured of my Christmas Carol fear, I eagerly listened to Focus on the Family’s excellent Christmas Carol radio drama, and went to the live performance twice more, but never got around to reading the actual book. This year unforeseen circumstances prevented me from attending, so I decided to read the story for myself.
Written in 1843 by Charles Dickens, the book was designed to serve several purposes:
1. To boost his waning popularity: Dickens’ most recent novel, Martin Chuzzlewit, wasn’t selling well and Dickens was afraid his popularity was on a decline.
2. To support his wife, 4 children, and rather lax budget: Dickens didn’t succeed with this goal as well as the first. Although the book sales were extremely high (it sold 6,000 copies within the first few days), Dickens had financed the book’s publishing himself and ordered costly gilt edging, hand-colored illustrations, and fancy binding. He then set the price at only 5 shillings so everyone could afford it.
3. Speak out about Dickens’ concern for England’s poor, especially children
The plot was already familiar to me. Set amidst the squalor and filth of 19th century England, a misery character named Ebenezer Scrooge edges “his way along the crowded paths of life, warning all human sympathy to keep its distance“. Blinded by his own greed and selfishness Scrooge ignores the suffering and poverty of his fellow men. One Christmas Eve he is visited by the ghost of his deceased business partner, Jacob Marley. Marley comes to warn Scrooge of the conseques of his apathy and that he will be haunted by three spirits. These three spirits, the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future, come to open Ebenezer’s eyes to the people around him, and teach him how to “keep Christmas well“.
I still loved reading the book, even though I knew what was going to happen. Dickens tells a tale smothered with suffering, hardship, misery and darkness, but doesn’t forget to sprinkle it with biting humor and the bright light of hope and redemption.
I enjoyed discovering small parts of the book that I had forgotten. For example, I never realized that when young Ebenezer is reading his story books at school the characters actually come to life for old Ebenezer and the Ghost of Christmas Past.
“The Spirit touched him on the arm, and pointed to his younger self, intent upon his reading. Suddenly a man, in foreign garments: wonderfully real and distinct to look at: stood outside the window, with an axe stuck in his belt, and leading by the bridle an ass laden with wood. “Why, it’s Ali Baba!” Scrooge exclaimed in ecstasy. “It’s dear old honest Ali Baba!”
My two favorite scenes are probably Fezziwig’s Ball and Joe’s Pawn Shop, although I love the Cratchit’s dinner also.
I like the first because it’s a beautiful picture of gaiety, joy, and how someone can create such happiness just by doing a small thing. I also love it since I’ve attended 19th century dances before and can perfectly imagine myself in the scene. I practically squealed when reading about dancing the Sir Roger de Coverley (also known as the Virginia Reel) because I’ve danced it myself!
Joe’s Pawn Shop is full of caustic humor and feels perfectly filthy and base. My sister and I can practically quote all of it, complete with weasel-y voices and shrieking laughs.
I’m very glad I didn’t pass over this book simply because the story was well known to me. It was the perfect Christmas read!
Book: A Christmas Carol, A Ghost Story of Christmas
Author: Charles Dickens
Publish date: 1843
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Finish date: December 15, 2013
Book number: 7 of 205
“His body was transparent: so that Scrooge, observing him, and looking through his waistcoat, could see the two buttons on his coat behind.
Scrooge had often heard it said that Marley had no bowels, but he had never believed it until now.”
” ‘Your lip is trembling,’ said the Ghost. ‘And what is that upon your cheek?’ Scrooge muttered, with an unusual catching in his voice, that it was a pimple.”
“When this result was brought about, old Fezziwig, clapping his hands to stop the dance, cried out, ‘Well done!’ and the fiddler plunged his hot face into a pot of porter, especially provided for that purpose. But, scorning rest upon his reappearance, he instantly began again, though there were no dancers yet, as if the other fiddler had been carried home, exhausted, on a shutter, and he were a bran-new man resolved to beat him out of sight, or perish.”
“the two young Cratchits set chairs for everybody, not forgetting themselves, and, mounting guard upon their posts, crammed spoons into their mouths, lest they should shriek for goose before their turn came to be helped”
“Hallo! A great deal of steam! The pudding was out of the copper. A smell like a washing-day! That was the cloth. A smell like an eating-house and a pastry-cook’s next door to each other, with a laundress’s next door to that! That was the pudding!”
” ‘If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future none other of my race,’ returned the Ghost, ‘will find him here. What then? If he be like to die, he had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.’
Scrooge hung his head to hear his own words quoted by the Spirit, and was overcome with penitence and grief.
‘Man,’ said the Ghost, ‘if man you be in heart, not adamant, forbear that wicked cant until you have discovered what the surplus is, and where it is. Will you decide what men shall live, what men shall die? It may be that, in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man’s child. O God! to hear the insect on the leaf pronouncing on the too much life among his hungry brothers in the dust!’ “
“for it is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child himself”
“In reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself…I see with a myriad of eyes,but it is still I who see.”
―C.S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism
You may have noticed my new blog page called The Classics Club. Pretty much it’s a page for my Classics Club book list. I discovered this club from the wonderful blogs of Miss Dashwood and Petie (lovely blogs written by two very sweet girls! Check them out if you haven’t already!). Basically the idea is to make a list of at least 50 classic books, read them within 5 years and write a review on your blog after you finish each book. Of course once I got started I couldn’t stop, so here is my list of 205 classic books (unless I cave and add more ) that I hope to have read by 5 years from now. When I read a book I’ll cross it off the list and link to my review.
Let me know what you think or if there’s a book that needs to be on there!
“Emma has been meaning to read more ever since she was twelve years old. I have seen a great many lists of her drawing up at various times of books that she meant to read regularly through—and very good lists they were—very well chosen, and very neatly arranged—sometimes alphabetically, and sometimes by some other rule. The list she drew up when only fourteen—I remember thinking it did her judgment so much credit, that I preserved it some time; and I dare say she may have made out a very good list now. But I have done with expecting any course of steady reading from Emma. She will never submit to any thing requiring industry and patience, and a subjection of the fancy to the understanding.”
― Jane Austen, Emma