Saturday 16 December 2017

Back to the Classics Challenge 2017 Wrap-up Post

Back to the Classics 2017

1.  A 19th Century Classic - any book published between 1800 and 1899.

Home Education by Charlotte Mason (1866)

2.  A 20th Century Classic - any book published between 1900 and 1967.

The Keys of the Kingdom by A.J. Cronin (1941)

3.  A classic by a woman author

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie (1926)

4.  A classic in translation.  Any book originally written published in a language other than your native language. 

Cancer Ward by Alexandr Solzhenitsyn (1966)

5.  A classic published before 1800. Plays and epic poems are acceptable in this category also.

The Tragedy of Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare ( 1599)

A romance classic. I'm pretty flexible here about the definition of romance. It can have a happy ending or a sad ending, as long as there is a strong romantic element to the plot.

My Love Must Wait  by Ernestine Hill (1941)

7.  A Gothic or horror classic. For a good definition of what makes a book Gothic, and an excellent list of possible reads, please see this list on Goodreads

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1818, 1831)

8.  A classic with a number in the title. Examples include A Tale of Two Cities, Three Men in a Boat, The Nine Tailors, Henry V, Fahrenheit 451, etc.

The House of the Four Winds by John Buchan (1935)

9.  A classic about an animal or which includes the name of an animal in the title.  It an actual animal or a metaphor, or just the name. Examples include To Kill a Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men, The Metamorphosis, White Fang, etc. 

 My Family & Other Animals by Gerald Durrell (1956)


10. A classic set in a place you'd like to visit. It can be real or imaginary: The Wizard of Oz, Down and Out in Paris and London, Death on the Nile, etc.

The Small Woman by Alan Burgess (1957) - set in China

11. An award-winning classic. It could be the Newbery award, the Prix Goncourt, the Pulitzer Prize, the James Tait Award, etc. Any award, just mention in your blog post what award your choice received.

The Forgotten Daughter by Caroline Dale Snedeker (1933) Newbery medal

12. A Russian Classic. 2017 will be the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, so read a classic by any Russian author. 

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin (1924)

Linking to Final Wrap-up at Books & Chocolate


Friday 15 December 2017

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1797-1851)

My Initial Impression:

The Preface and the first few chapters of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley seemed quite promising but the story just went pear-shaped after that. What a miserable novel, full of rambling prose, implausible situations and occurrences, but after reading some biographical information on the author, it isn’t surprising. She made some lousy life decisions, went through some serious traumas, and the book is a mirror of her ravaged personality, her own personal nightmare.
A book that deserves pride of place on my list of least-liked books!

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley was first published in 1818 when the author was twenty-one years of age, and was subtitled, The Modern Prometheus. It was revised in 1831 and her husband, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, made some changes so he may be to blame for the rambling, florid writing. It is found on many high school reading lists, is included in a wide range of school curriculum, and is regarded as the classic horror novel. It is an epistolary novel related three different narrators and has sometimes been called the first science fiction novel.

A short synopsis:

The first narrator, R. Walton, is on a voyage of discovery in the Arctic Circle and he writes to his sister telling her about a man he takes onboard his ship after finding him on a sledge with one dog, adrift on a large fragment of ice.
The second narrator is the rescued man, a scientist by the name of Victor Frankenstein, who recounts his story to Walton in an effort to warn him of the dangers of acquiring knowledge at any cost.
Frankenstein relates the process by which he discovers how to animate lifeless matter and his assembling of a patchwork of cadaver parts, of larger than life proportions, that he brings to life - his unnamed Monster.
Then, duh! He is horrified - as if he hadn’t seen how this creature would turn out - and rejects his ‘child.’
The Monster disappears and later we hear his side of the story:
Basically, ‘I was born good, and because I was cruelly rejected, and everyone hated me, I turned out bad.’
Monster begins to take revenge on Frankenstein by knocking off his loved ones over a period of time.
He gives Frankenstein an ultimatum:

'I am alone and miserable; man will not associate with me; but one as deformed and horrible as myself would not deny herself to me. My companion must be of the same species, and have the same defects. This being you must create.'

Frankenstein feels he has no choice but to comply but then changes his mind, provoking the Monster to more works of revenge. His creator then decides to return the vengeance and goes off in search of the Monster in order to kill him. This brings us back to the beginning of the narrative where Walton finds him.
I don’t know whether Shelley wanted us to sympathise with Victor Frankenstein, but he was a coward in many respects and ultimately a villain. The monster was portrayed in an aspect that stemmed from the teachings of Rousseau and I think we’re meant to feel that he was hard done by.

Harold Bloom said that:

'...all Romantic horrors are diseases of excessive consciousness, of the self unable to bear the self.'

Anyhow, I’ve read it, but unlike some other classics, I don’t know that I’d bother re-reading it.

I did like this reference to Plutarch by the Monster:

'The volume of Plutarch's Lives, which I possessed, contained the histories of the first founders of the ancient republics...I learned from Werter's imaginations despondency and gloom: but Plutarch taught me high thoughts; he elevated meabove the wretched sphere of my own reflections to admire and love the heroes of past ages...I read of men concerned in public affairs, governing or massacring their species. I felt the greatest ardor for virtue rise with me, and abhorrence for vice...'

Linking to Back to the Classics 2017: Gothic or Horror Classic

Tuesday 12 December 2017

December Doings, Domestics, Catch Up, Wrap-Up & Random

* Christmas in a box? He thinks he's a Christmas decoration.

* It's heating up here where we are. It's a very different scene in the Northern Hemisphere and I enjoyed seeing Heather's lovely photography & thoughts on her Canadian scenery at this time of year.

* For the past couple of months we've been listening to 'Walking on Air,' the music written by Howard Blake in 1982 to accompany the animated movie of The Snowman by Raymond Briggs, a wordless storybook. It's an exquisite piece of music that the orchestra Moozle is involved with had  been working on for their end of year concert. The animated movie is on YouTube & Karen Andreola writes about the book here.

* Breaking news this week: Zana (our third child and second daughter) & her young man announced their engagement. The wedding will be in September next year. I hate shopping for clothes & I already have two dresses I bought for her older sister & brother's weddings so I asked if I could wear a dress I already had. Can you tell I'm a Scot?

* Benj has finished his first year of a Liberal Arts degree and had his exam results this week. He did well in everything but his highest score was for Philosophy, where he earned a High Distinction. He says it's logical and similar to mathematics, and that's his bent.
He's taking next year off to work full-time because he's tired of being poor & would like to buy a car. A position opened up for him working with a fantastic not-for-profit organisation that provides programs to adults living with disabilities: Visual Arts, Performing Arts, and Creative Life Skills. His other job is as a swimming instructor and he commented the other day that the two areas are beginning to overlap. When the manager of the pool where he works heard that he was working with adults with disabilites/special needs, she put one of the swimming students, a young boy with Down's Syndrome, into Benj's class.

* Hoggy has finished his Diploma of  Electrical Engineering Technology and is working fulltime in the Fire & Security industry. It's interesting & diverse work, the only negative being the work commute. However, he has jobs all over Sydney and sometimes interstate, so he doesn't alway have to drive the hour and a half to the main office each day. He bought himself a motor bike, a 500cc and is working towards getting his licence. Sydney isn't the greatest place to ride a bike, but he's been sensible & avoids heavy traffic & I pray lots.

* Nougat is in his final year of his plumbing apprenticeship and he and Hoggy have been working on Herbie, the beast below. We're having a family camping trip early next year and they've been setting up solar panels, water tanks, fridge & other bits and pieces. Just hope the old boy can hold himself together - we're relying on all the stuff they're bringing along:

* The Mum Heart Conference audios from June 2017 have been released. The theme for the conference was John 15 - 'Abiding in the Vine.' I spoke on 'fruit that will last,' - being faithful, putting down roots & trusting God in the journey. I so enjoyed the Conference & the other speakers & the unplanned dove-tailing that occurred between us in the content of our individual talks. It was a great weekend!

* A couple of months ago I started leading a small Bible study for young women who are fairly new Christians. Most of them are Chinese whose first language is Mandarin and they have only been in Australia a couple of years so although they speak and understand English to get by, I have a friend most weeks to interpret & explain idioms, figures of speech etc. I've been so touched by these women. Mostly atheists by background, they are so keen to learn how to live in a way that honours the Lord and to teach their children this also. We started with the book of Philippians and are now going through James.
They have some unique difficulties. Their children are picking up the language so much faster and are reluctant to speak Mandarin at home and the parents are frustrated because they don't have the same grasp of English that their children have. The parents also struggle to know what their children are being taught at school and the recent conlict in Australia over so-called Safe Schools has added to their concerns. I gave them some easy children's Bibles in English (The Beginner's Bible was one) for them to read to their children but there doesn't seem to be much else available. There's a business/ministry opportunity here for someone who would print some easy books with Mandarin on one page and English on the opposite page.

* My husband's Grandma is 97 years of age and up until recently she was an avid knitter. I've been going through all the clothes she knitted for our children when they were babies and washing them for my new Granddaughter. They were knitted with pure wool and I was so disappointed to find some had rust-like marks on them so I got out my 1948 Home Science manuals I found at an op shop ages ago to see what I could do:

I first used Napisan (not mentioned in the above book but I've used it for delicates in the past) in fairly hot water, soaking them with the timer on & making sure the water didn't get cold. After rinsing, I used a solution of Hydrogen peroxide & did basically the same thing. I don't have any before & after photos but the marks are all but gone.

This is one of the articles, part of a set knitted about 25 years ago which includes a dress and a matching coat. I had the knitted garment in a pillow case with some mothballs in an outer bag and then I put them in another bag but I think some moisture got in and that, I think, was the cause of the rust stains. I gave the other articles to my daughter before I thought of taking a photo:

* Reading: I'm on to my last book in the Back to the Classics Challenge 2017 & I'll be posting about that and other challenges and books read later, but this week I picked up a book I forgot I had, The True Woman by Susan Hunt and it's been a refreshing read. I've read another book by the author, Spiritual Mothering, and can highly recommend both. Life Under Compulsion by Antony Esolen and Norms & Nobility are my slow reads - there's so much to chew on and digest and I'll be continuing with them well into 2018.

* Current Events - I usually post these on my FB page but here's one I thought would be good to share again:

Is it Really the Christian Way? Yes, Actually, it is.
That’s no longer the case.

 * Look what I found on one of our local streets when I was out for a walk - a Street Library.
Have you seen one in your neighbourhood?

Sunday 10 December 2017

The Tragedy of Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare (1599)

Shakespeare’s play, Julius Caesar, is basically a tragedy, although, like many of his other plays, the distinctions are often blurred, and so this play is partly a history and involves civil war and the politics of Ancient Rome.
Shakespeare used Plutarch’s Lives as his source for Julius Caesar but he altered some of the historical account as he was wont to do.
I read Plutarch’s Life of Julius Caesar before I read this play which helped fill in some background not present in Shakespeare’s account. Plutarch began his Life of Caesar in 75 BC with Caesar’s capture by pirates and he shows some facets of Julius Caesar’s personality that Shakespeare omits.  Shakespeare focussed on the conspiracy and the subsequent assassination of Caesar in 44 BC and then the repercussions of his death. Brutus is actually more prominent than Caesar in the play.
The Tragedy of Julius Caesar opens with Caesar’s triumph over Pompey in Act 1, Scene 1 and by Scene 2 Cassius’s feelings towards Caesar are out in the open as he confides in Brutus.

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars 
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.
Brutus and Caesar: what should be in that ‘Caesar’?
Why should that name be sounded more than yours?

I am glad that my weak words
Have struck but thus much show of fire from Brutus.

The main characters:

Julius Caesar - powerful, skilful, arrogant. Physically, he suffered from epilepsy; Shakespeare exposes some of his more undesirable characteristics in the lead-up to his death.

Brutus - idealistic and honourable, he appears to act for the common good but is also manipulated by Cassius. Antony was later to declare that Brutus was the only conspirator who acted honourably:

This was the noblest Roman of them all:
All the conspirators, save only he,
Did that they did in envy of great Caesar.

Cassius - intense, choleric; lean and hungry. I’ll let Caesar describe him:

Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look, He thinks too much: such men are dangerous.
Fear him not, Caesar, he’s not dangerous, He is a noble Roman and well given.

Would that he were fatter!

Antony - loyal to Caesar, ruthless. He manipulates the mob during his funeral speech for Caesar and unleashes his anger and revenge over the assassination.
When he captured Lucillius who had posed as Brutus, he treats him with respect, saying:

This is not Brutus, Friend, but, I assure you, A prize no less in worth. Keep this man safe, Give him all kindness. I had rather have Such men my friends than enemies...

Octavius - a cool character who first appears in Act 4. He didn’t come across as very likeable except where he defends Lepidus against Antony’s scorn:

This is a slight, unmeritable man,
Meet to be sent on errands...

You may do your will,
But he is a tried and valiant soldier.

Antony:So is my horse, Octavius, and for that
I do appoint him store of provender.

Calpurnia - Caesar’s wife who has a dream about his death and tries to persuade him not to go to the Senate. She and Caesar were unable to have children.

Portia - the wife of Brutus. They are portrayed as having a loving relationship. She discerned changes in her husband and was concerned about him.

This play ends tragically, with suicide one of the main causes of death:
Portia, Brutus, Cassius, Titinius, all end their own lives at various points in the play.

Favourite scenes:

Act 4, Scene 3 - this almost reads like a comedy. Cassius and Brutus have a heated argument in Brutus’s tent when he was camped near Sardis in Asia. Brutus basically tells Cassius he’s acting like a madman and asks why he should give way to ‘rash choler.’
Cassius becomes melodramatic and offers his dagger to Brutus telling him to strike but the situation is defused by Brutus admitting blame:

When I spoke that, I was ill-tempered too.

Do you confess so much? Give me your hand.

And my heart too.

O Brutus!

What’s the matter?

Have you not love enough to bear with me 

When that rash humour which my mother gave me 
Makes me forgetful?

Yes, Cassius, and from henceforth
When you are over-Ernest with your Brutus, 

He’ll think your mother chides, and leave you so.

And of course, the funeral speech by Antony.


Julius Caesar by F. A. Purcell & L.M. Somers (1916)

Linking to Back to the Classics 2107: Classic Published Before 1800

Sunday 3 December 2017

Finding Plutarch in Unexpected Places: The Forgotten Daughter by Caroline Dale Snedeker - Newbery Honor Book, 1934

The Forgotten Daughter is an outstanding book by an author who was well-known for her dedication to historical accuracy. Caroline Dale Snedeker (1871-1956) wrote numerous books for children and this book is a fine example of the research she undertook to produce an historically authentic work of fiction.

The Forgotten Daughter is a captivating story, an adventure, and a powerful tale of love, loss and forgiveness. It plunges the reader into the Ancient World; into the second century before Christ when Tiberius Gracchus was Tribune in Rome.
As I was reading this book, I felt a certain familiarity with the background historical narrative but I couldn’t remember where I’d heard it before. And then the author mentioned Plutarch. Yes! We’d read about the Gracchi and Cornelia, their mother, who devoted herself to her sons’ education:

Those she so carefully brought up, that they [became] more civil, and better conditioned, than any other Romans in their time; every man judged, that education prevailed more in them than nature.

We’ve been reading two to three selections from Plutarch’s Lives each year for the past six years, although at first I wasn’t convinced he was worth it. I wrote a post for Afterthoughts: 31 Days of Charlotte Mason relating to this and we have continued with studying the Lives because Plutarch really is worth it. Reading Snedeker's book, which was published in 1933, just made me all the more aware of how highly regarded Plutarch has been in the past.
Plutarch’s Life of Tiberius and Gaius (Caius) Gracchi is the basic material out of which The Forgotten Daughter is fashioned, and Snedeker intertwines Plutarch’s observations into her narrative to flesh out her story. This makes for a high interest story with a sense of authenticity.

The Forgotten Daughter tells a beautiful story that concerns a young girl named Chloe, the daughter of a noble Roman. Chloe’s mother and her companion, Melissa, both Greeks, had been captured by Laevinus, a Roman centurion, when their town was raided. Laevinus was so taken by Chloe’s mother that he was willing to marry her, and afterwards took her to live on a farm in the country as his wife.
Everything went well for a time, but one day Laevinus left for Rome to take some produce to market, and he didn’t return. Chloe’s mother was certain he would return and worried that he had become ill or had been involved in an accident. She was later informed that her husband had married another woman in Rome, and before long she was reduced to servitude and banished to a hovel with Melissa as her only company.

Inside the hut all the hill beauty was quenched like a candle - windowless, dim...

There, unknown to Laevinus, she gave birth to his daughter, Chloe, and not long afterwards she died, leaving Melissa to take care of the child.
Melissa and Chloe were mistreated by the supervisor of the farm and suffered a great deal.
As Chloe grew, Melissa passed on in song their Greek origins, the meeting of her mother and father, his desertion and her mother’s anguish. Chloe imbibed the atmosphere of her mother's homeland and a rich cultural heritage through these songs. This was to serve her well in time to come.

For these two there were no books or the knowledge to read them. So the sweet source of song was open to them. That source from which all books are taken, but from which no book is able to gather all the living sweetness. Melissa’s song was rude and simple, but it had that power.

Chloe grew up with a seething hatred of the father she never knew. She was beaten by the farm supervisor and lived a life of misery, and all the while Melissa strove to comfort and protect her for the sake of the friend she had loved.

In such a life there was no hope; no use to save or build up. Why they lived at all is strange. They simply awoke, worked, ate, slept, and awoke again. They were indeed the machines which the Romans thought them.
Forever besetting mankind is this temptation - to make other men into machines. Always in a new form it comes to every generation, and always as disastrous to master as to slave...

The life of a slave in the Roman Republic was keenly portrayed and Snedeker had some very insightful observations to make on Rome and Roman philosophy. Roman days, after every victory, thousands of slaves were sold on the battlefield to speculators for the equivalent of eighteen cents each. They were cheap because so many of them died on the long march to Rome. So many committed suicide. So it was with slaves. But in the end Rome died itself because of them - rotted to the heart.

And this gem:

Despair in the old is a grievous thing, but not so bad as despair in the young. The young have no weapons, no remembrance of evils overcome, nor of evils endured. They have no muscle-hardness from old battles. They see only what is present, and they believe it to be forever. And they are very sure.

The Forgotten Daughter is recommended for ages 12 years to adult. I’d add, a mature 12 year old, not so much for content but Snedeker’s style is so lyrical and her comments on human frailties and philosophy are likely better suited to a young person who is thoughtful about this type of thing. But then again, the story also has action, danger, suspense and romance, which would appeal to a wide audience.

It is strange how people will try to mend their lives when the garment is torn to shreds. It is strange, too, how life’s garment, unlike human weaving, grows whole with the mending. It is as if some invisible kindness out of the air had set to work with you - here a little and there a little.

If your child has been studying Plutarch’s Lives, this is a wonderful book to further expand their pleasure in looking at the lives of the Gracchi, Crassus, Scipio, Marcus Octavius and also Ancient Rome.

The Forgotten Daughter by Caroline Dale Snedeker is my choice in Back to the Classics Challenge 2017 for an Award-winning Classic

Friday 1 December 2017

Mother Culture: Advent & Christmas Reading

Short on time for including some Mother Culture in your life at this time of year? How about some short stories with Advent & Christmas themes:

The Story of the Other Wise Man by Henry van Dyke

The Story of the Other Wise Man is by far the best of the two stories in this book but The First Christmas Tree is a worthwhile read also so I’ll quickly mention a bit about that first. Set in Germany in the eighth century, The First Christmas Tree tells of the encounter between Winfried (known mostly by his Roman name, Boniface) and a group of pagans celebrating a festival in the woods. Boniface intervenes and saves the Chief’s young son from being sacrificed to appease Thor.

"...out yonder in the wide forest, who knows what storms are raving to-night in the hearts of men, though all the woods are still? who knows what haunts of wrath and cruelty are closed tonight against the advent of the Prince of Peace? And shall I tell you what religion means to those who are called and chosen to dare, and to fight, and to conquer the world for Christ? It means to go against the strongholds of the adversary. It means to struggle to win an entrance for the Master everywhere. What helmet is strong enough for this strife save the helmet of salvation? What breastplate can guard a man against these fiery darts but the breastplate of righteousness? What shoes can stand the wear of these journeys but the preparation of the gospel of peace?"

The First Christmas Tree is free to read here.

Henry van Dyke tells the tale of  'the fourth wise man,' one of the Magi from the East who was to go with the other three to seek the Saviour of the world:

'You know the story of the Three Wise Men of the East, and how they traveled from far away to offer their gifts at the manger-cradle in Bethlehem. But have you ever heard the story of the Other Wise Man, who also saw the star in its rising, and set out to follow it, yet did not arrive with his brethren in the presence of the young child Jesus? Of the great desire of this fourth pilgrim, and how it was denied, yet accomplished in the denial; of his many wanderings and the probations of his soul; of the long way of his seeking, and the strange way of his finding, the One whom he sought—I would tell the tale as I have heard fragments of it in the Hall of Dreams, in the palace of the Heart of Man.'

Highly, highly recommended!! I read it aloud last Christmas, and that was probably a mistake. I could barely read it towards the end as I was so emotionally affected by it. It is available to read online here and here. The book I linked to above is an unabridged Dover Publication HB and contains traditional simple, woodcut-type illustrations. Be aware that some copies of The Story of the Other Wise Man are revised or abridged. 
Henry van Dyck also wrote the lyrics to the hymn, 'Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee' in 1907. Some background to the hymn is here.

The Gift of the Magi  by O. Henry is a beautifully illustrated & unabridged hardback book. The story is also free online (click on text below) and is quite short so it lends itself well to a picture book format although it's of more interest to adults, I think.
Classical Academic Press have a free audio of this story you may download.

The Birth by Gene Edwards

An unusual look at the Christmas story. I wrote about it here.

Christmas at Thompson Hall by Anthony Trollope (1815 - 1882)

This is a collection of five short stories in a lovely HB presentation & set during the Christmas season. Christmas at Thompson Hall is the longest of the stories and is an enjoyable, light-hearted read that relates a sort of comedy of errors on the part of a Mrs Brown. Mrs Brown is a very proper British woman who commits a blunder in a night-time encounter in a French hotel. By a series of ‘fibs’ to cover up her embarassment, her innocent mistake develops into a serious situation.
Trollope's description of Mrs Brown:

‘She was a large woman, with a commanding bust, thought by some to be handsome, after the manner of Juno. But with strangers there was a certain severity of manner about her, - a fortification, as it were, of her virtue against all possible attacks, - a declared determination to maintain at all points, the beautiful character of a British matron, which, much as it had been appreciated at Thompson Hall, had met with some ill-natured criticism among French men and women.'

The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding by Agatha Christie (1960)

Agatha Christie described this collection of short stories as a book of Christmas fare with two main courses: The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding and The Mystery of the Spanish Chest. It also includes a selection of three entrees, and a sorbet!
I’ve had this book for awhile and plan to read it over December. Fun!