Monday 1 October 2012

Reading for Mother Culture

I've been making an effort to stretch myself in my own reading for a while now and I was very encouraged lately to read Lindafay's  article on Mother Culture and decided to write about some books and authors I've been coming into contact with in the past year in particular.

Charlotte Mason (1842-1923)

Although I would have said that I was using a Charlotte Mason approach to home education all along, there were aspects of Charlotte Mason's educational philosophy that I didn't agree with at first, one of them being the slow reading over a period of time of many different books.

I'd gleaned most of my Charlotte Mason ideas second hand over the years but earlier this year I began to read her Original Home Schooling Series, beginning with Volume 6,  A Philosphy of Education, and then Volume 1, Home Education.
Reading her own words has helped me understand the how and why of her methods and has given me the confidence to adjust my thinking and practice. I've seen the benefits in both my children and myself.

 One of the beauties of a CM education is that it is not elitist. I love this quote from volume 6:

'Let me add that that the appeal of these principles and this method is not to the clever child only but to the average and even to the 'backward' child........Just as we all partake of that banquet which is 'Shakespeare' according to our needs and desires, so do the children behave at the ample board set before them; there is enough to satisfy the keenest intelligence while the dullest child is sustained through his own willing effort.'

A CM education is not sissy and only for girls who like tea parties and fairies. At one time I was veering away from CM - before I started reading her own words - because I have 4 boys and the idea of a gentle art of learning just didn't mesh; however I've found that her idea of education was actually rigorous and rather mind boggling.

These words from volume 6 struck me especially when I think of the number of mothers I've heard say that they find it hard to motivate and direct their teenage sons' education and think that maybe school would be the better option:

'Now a fact not generally recognised is that offences of the kind which most distress parents and teachers are bred in the mind and in an empty mind at that..........the abundant leisure afforded by home teaching offers that empty chamber swept and garnished which invites sins that can be committed in thought and in solitude. Our schools err, too, in not giving anything like enough work of the kind that from its absorbing interest compels reflection and tends to secure a mind continually and wholesomely occupied.'

I've always found that boys, especially as they get into their teenage growing stages, really need regular physical activity (ie.enough to make them feel tired!) and we've always made provision for that in different ways but the words above motivate me to make sure their minds are also getting a good work out.

This is what she has to say about Kindergarten and young children - how different to the voices we hear today declaring the benefits of early social interaction in the form of pre-schools and kindergartens:

'The clash and sparkle of our equals now and then stirs us up to health; but for everyday life, the mixed society of elders, juniors and equals which we get in a family, gives at the same time the most repose and the most room for individual development. We have all wondered at the good sense, reasonableness, fun and resourcefulness shown by a child in his own home as compared with the same child in school life.'

Dorothy L. Sayers (1893-1957)

Sayers was one of the first women to be awarded a degree from Oxford University, Christian apologist, and one of the greatest mystery writers of the 20th Century. Lord Peter Wimsey is the detective hero in her books and I have to say he annoyed me at first but after reading Strong Poison & Gaudy Night, I had a greater empathy for the character, and have grown to like him. In the novel, Strong Poison, Lord Peter defends Harriet Vane after she is accused of murder. He loves her but she is emotionally detached as he pursues her through both books.
In Gaudy Night Harriet reluctantly returns to Oxford for a reunion (the Gaudy) and becomes embroiled in finding out the perpetrator of a rash of scurrilous pranks upon the the university, including poison-pen letters addressed to herself. 
Harriet eventually asks Lord Peter for his assistance and in the process comes to know and understand him, eventually agreeing to marry him. I love how Sayers deals with their complicated love story and the unfolding of the various characters in the novel. There was no actual murder but the intensity and psychological nature of the story was enough to keep me on my toes.
Sayers novels are an education in themselves as she includes so much detail and inside knowledge about the lives and work of her characters.

Daphne duMaurier (1907-89)

DuMaurier was educated at home in London and then Paris. Rebecca was the first of her books that I read. This is an unusual book - written in the first person but nowhere in the story are we told the narrator's name. By writing exclusively in the first person, we are only given one perspective on the events occurring during the story. This means that while it engages the reader in the story, it also denies closure to a certain extent. Because the narrator herself does not know the truth of events, neither do we as the readers. So you get an engaging book that has a slightly frustrating ending. Rebecca is an incredibly well-written and clever book. It's particularly interesting for the fact that when you think about the story line and content, you are left wondering why exactly it was so engaging. That in itself is testament to how good a writer she was.

'I am glad it cannot happen twice, the fever of first love. For it is a fever, and a burden, too, whatever the poets may say. They are not brave, the days when we are twenty-one. They are full of little cowardices, little fears without foundation, and one is so easily bruised, so swiftly wounded, one falls to the first barbed word. Today, wrapped in the complacent armour of approaching middle age, the infinitesimal pricks of day by day brush one lightly and are soon forgotten, but then - how a careless word would linger, becoming a fiery stigma, and how a look, a glance over the shoulder, branded themselves as things eternal.'

Ravi Zacharias (1946 - Chennai, India)

Walking from East to West  - I initially read this book as an introduction to the author, who usually writes on philosophical themes, with a view to eventually tackling his more challenging apologetic  works - I haven't got to those yet.....
He was asked to tell his life story in simple terms 'wearing his heart on his sleeves' which I think he has done in a very engaging manner.
I especially enjoyed reading about his intellectual awakening when he became a Christian in his teens after years of being unmotivated and dull-minded. He credits authors such as G.K Chesterton with furnishing him with the ability to think radially 'like the spokes of a wheel.'

`Apologetics is not just giving answers to questions – it is questioning people's answers, and even questioning their questions…..If you are predictable in your approach – if your listeners know where you are going – they will turn you off…..The task is to find the means to stretch their thinking in unpredictable ways, to take them in directions they are not expecting to go……you've got to take them in a radius of directions, like the spokes of a wheel. That is an Easterner's natural way of thinking, while the typical Westerner's way is more linear.'

 G.K. Chesterton (1894-1936)

This was my first introduction to Chesterton and writing about the book a day before his death he stated:

'It was not intended to describe the real world as it was, or as I thought it was, even when my thoughts were considerably less settled than they are now. It was intended to describe the world of wild doubt and despair which the pessimists were generally describing at that date; with just a gleam of hope in some double meaning of the doubt, which even the pessimists felt in some fitful fashion.'

I had no idea where this book was going and even after finishing it, I'm still not sure! It was the sort of book that you read and end up admitting that you didn't necessarily understand it but it was definitely a good read and worth the time.

John Buchan (1875-1940)

Buchan is one of my favourite authors. The Richard Hannay series are his most well known books: The 39 Steps, Mr. Standfast, Greenmantle, The Three Hostages & The Island of Sheep are suspenseful and centred around espionage.
Witch Wood is different from his other fiction books. This book is set in Scotland in the mid 1600's and portrays an idealistic young minister struggling to live and work in a community exemplified by intolerant and harsh religious extremism.

'He told two pillars of the Kirk and a congregation of the devout that they had all failed utterly to interpret God's Word; that they were Pharisees faithful to an ill-understood letter and heedless of the spirit; that they were fools bemused with Jewish rites which they did not comprehend and Jewish names which they could not properly pronounce. "It's nothing but a bairn's ploy," he cried, "but it's a cruel ploy, for it has spilt muckle good blood in Scotland. If yet take the bloodthirstiness and the hewing in pieces and the thrawness of the auld Jews and entitle to shape yourselves on their pattern, what for do ye no gang further?.......Ye canna pick and choose in the Word. If one thing is to be zealously copied, wherefore not all?......Ye muckle weans that play at being ancient Israelites!"

This book made me really think about legalism and its outward show that can be assumed to represent true Christianity, and our ability to be deceived. It's not particularly easy to read as he uses a good amount of old Scots in the dialogues but there is a glossary which is very helpful.

Charles Dickens (1812-1870)

Our Mutual Friend is Dickens' last novel and one of his best.  The book revolves around a presumed death and an inheritance that link together multiple people from all types of backgrounds in a sweeping epic that is at once both a murder mystery, a romance and a social commentary. I thought it had a different feel from many of his other books and I'd say it is probably my favourite Dickens' book.

Bleak House and Hard Times are two others that I've read more recently.
The BBC version of Bleak House on dvd is very good and follows the story line well.
The BBC also has an unabridged audio of Hard Times narrated by Martin Jarvis who really does credit to Dickens, and I used this with a couple of my Dickens-reluctant boys when we were driving. They didn't admit as much, but I think they did actually enjoy it.


lindafay said...


I enjoyed reading your thoughts about the books you read. I love your choices. Will have to add this post to my delicious links.

amy in peru said...

wow. i think you read a LOT :)
i'm storing up your recommendations, but as my list is long, it might be awhile before i could intelligently discuss them with you! ;)

thanks so much for sharing.
i think the idea of reading to develop Mother Culture, so very important.

Lani said...

I wasn't even aware of the Dickens' novel you read. Thank you for the recommendation. It is now on the list! Mother Culture is very important and a vital piece for my personal connection to the greater world.

Carol said...

I did have a week's holiday earlier this year - helped get through that lot. The CM books have been strung out over 10 months & I've still got a bit of vol 1 to finish.

Carol said...

Hope you enjoy this one, Lani. My next Dickens' book will probably be Nicholas Nickelby or maybe Little Dorritt....
Like what you said about connection above.