Monday, 31 December 2018

Christian Greats Challenge 2019 Book List

These are the books I'm considering for the Christian Greats Challenge in 2019. Some of them are re-reads that I'd like to re-visit after a long separation. For details of the challenge see my original post here.

1)  A Book on Early Church History: 

On the Incarnation by Athanasius

2)  A Book About a Prominent Christian Who Was Born Between 500 A.D & 1900

Not shown in the picture above as I haven't decided yet :)

3)  A Christian Allegory

Hinds' Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard (a re-read because I just found a beautiful copy with watercolour illustrations) or Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis

4)  A Book on Apologetics 

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

5)  A Philosophical Book by a Christian Author

Tending the Heart of Virtue by Vigen Guroian

6)   A Missionary Biography 

L'Abri by Edith Schaeffer (re-read) or Chasing the Dragon by Jackie Pullinger

7)  A Seasonal Book 

Marian @ Classics Considered linked to some ideas on Lenten reads which sparked my interest so there are a few ideas running through my head which I'll mull over for awhile.

8)  A Novel with a Christian Theme

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

9) A Good Old Detective or Mystery Novel

Unnatural Death by Dorothy Sayers. I would really like to re-read her books that include Harriet Vane who becomes Lord Peter Wimsey's wife but I can't find them & think my older children must have taken them when they left home. Looks like I might have to buy my own copies.

10)  A Substitute

Every Good Endeavor by Timothy Keller

Thursday, 20 December 2018

Announcing the '2019 Christian Greats Challenge: Past & Present'

The Purpose of the Challenge

There are a few reasons I decided to run this challenge:

* I enjoy the community aspect of blogging about books & thought it would be fun to host a challenge with a link-up & get to visit & comment on other blogs.

* I have a number of books by Christian authors on my shelves.  I'd like to read these & a challenge will help to spur me on.

* I've been surprised by the sheer number of classic authors whose writings contain dominant Christian themes. Many of these authors were not professing Christians but they had imbibed a Christian ethos that is evident in their writing.

* As I was reading 'Surprised by Joy' by C.S. Lewis this year he spoke of his 'chronological snobbery' before he became a Christian. He defined this as, ‘the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited.’

Studying/reading history whether it be world history in general or Church history specifically, helps to counter this snobbery. 

* And lastly...

'A child is born in an obscure village. He is brought up in another obscure village. He works in a carpenter shop until he is thirty, and then for three brief years is an itinerant preacher, proclaiming a message and living a life. He never writes a book. He never holds an office. He never raises an army. He never has a family of his own. He never owns a home. He never goes to college. He never travels two hundred miles from the place where he was born. He gathers a little group of friends about him and teaches them his way of life. While still a young man, the tide of popular feeling turns against him. One denies him; another betrays him. He is turned over to his enemies. He goes through the mockery of a trial; he is nailed to a cross between two thieves, and when dead is laid in a borrowed grave by the kindness of a friend.
Those are the facts of his human life. He rises from the dead. Today we look back across nineteen hundred years and ask, What kind of trail has he left across the centuries? When we try to sum up his influence, all the armies that ever marched, all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned are absolutely picayune in their influence on mankind compared with that of this one solitary life…'

Dr James Allan Francis, 1926


1)  A Book on Early Church History
(up to about 500 A.D) or a book written by a key figure who lived during that time, or a biography about that person. Examples:

The New Testament Book of Acts
Augustine of Hippo
Selected chapters from a book on Church History: e.g. 'Christianity Through the Centuries' by Earle E. Cairns.
A well-written children's book is also acceptable e.g. Simonetta Carr's biographies.

2)  A Book About a Prominent Christian Who Was Born Between 500 A.D & 1900 

Francis of Assisi
Joan of Arc
John Wycliffe
Martin Luther
William Wilberforce
Dietrich Bonhoeffer
A good children's adaption may be used.

3)  A Christian Allegory

Pilgrim's Progress or The Holy War by John Bunyan
One (or more!) of The Chronicles of Narnia or The Space Trilogy C.S. Lewis
Books by George MacDonald

4)  A Book on Apologetics 

e.g. Authors such as Ravi Zacharias, Francis Schaeffer, Josh McDowell, G.K. Chesterton

5)  A Philosophical Book by a Christian Author

This could be on Education, Virtue, Morals, Worldview or Ethics. Some ideas: books by Anthony Esolen, Charlotte Mason, Stratford Caldecott, David Hicks, Vigen Guroian.

6)   A Missionary Biography or A Biography of a Prominent Christian who lived any time between 1500 A.D to 1950 A.D

7)  A Seasonal Book 

Pick a time of the year such as Lent, Easter, Christmas, Advent, a Saint's Day, an Anniversary/event  in the Church Calendar, and read a book for yourself or choose a book to read to a child. Paraclete Press have some good selections. 

8)  A Novel with a Christian Theme

E.g. forgiveness, redemption, self-sacrifice, grace. It doesn't have to be written by a Christian but the theme needs to play a prominent part in the story e.g. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, The Scarlet & the Black by J.P. Gallagher, A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy.

9) A Good Old Detective or Mystery Novel...Why??

This is what J.I. Packer said:

'...these are stories of a kind that would never have existed without the Christian gospel. Culturally, they are Christian fairy tales, with savior heroes and plots that end in what Tolkien called a eucatastrophe—whereby things come right after seeming to go irrevocably wrong. Villains are foiled, people in jeopardy are freed, justice is done, and the ending is happy. The protagonists—detectives, Secret Service agents, noble cowboys and sheriffs, or whatever—are classic Robin Hood figures, champions of the needy, bringers of merited judgment and merciful salvation. The gospel of Christ is the archetype of all such stories. Paganism unleavened by Christianity, on the other hand, was and always will be pessimistic at heart.'

Some worthy authors: Josephine Tey, Dorothy Sayers, Margery Allingham, G.K. Chesterton, Rex Stout, John Buchan.

10)  A Substitute - choose a book by any of the authors below in place of one of the above categories:

Timothy Keller
A.W. Tozer
Patricia St. John
Jan Karon
Wendell Berry
C.S. Lewis
Edith Schaeffer
Elizabeth Goudge


Choose a second book from a category you like


Write a blog post with a list of books you think you might get to read for each category and link it below. (Update: link here)
When you finish a book, write a review and link it here with the name of the book in brackets. Use hashtag #christiangreats if posting on social media.

The aim is to enjoy the books and stretch yourself by reading outside your normal parameters or by introducing yourself to a new author. It's not to make you feel pressured so you're welcome to join in even if you only read from one or two categories.
Feel free to copy the image for your blog.

Monday, 17 December 2018

Back to the Classics Challenge 2019!!

1. 19th Century Classic. Any classic book originally published between 1800 and 1899.

The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy (1878)

2. 20th Century Classic. Any classic book originally published between 1900 and 1969.

In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden (1969)

3. Classic by a Female Author.

A Josephine Tey title...or George Eliot??

4. Classic in Translation.

War & Peace by Leo Tolstoy (1867) or something by Jules Verne or 

5. Classic Comedy. Any comedy or humorous work.

Three Men in a Boat (1889) by Jerome K. Jerome or a book by Gerald Durrell

6. Classic Tragedy.

? The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)

7. Very Long Classic.

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo (1862) or ??

8. Classic Novella. Any work of narrative fiction shorter than 250 pages.

The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy (1886)

9. Classic From the Americas (includes the Caribbean). Includes classic set in either continent or the Caribbean, or by an author originally from one of those countries.

I have no idea...maybe something by Willa Cather, Edith Wharton or Rex Stout

10. Classic From Africa, Asia, or Oceania (includes Australia).

The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki (Japan, 1943) or a Nevil Shute title (Australia);

11. Classic From a Place You've Lived. Read locally! Any classic set in a city, county, state or country in which you've lived.

So for me, this is either Scotland, Australia or New Zealand.

12. Classic Play. Any play written or performed at least 50 years ago.

I'll be going with Shakespeare. Perhaps The Merchant of Venice.

For details of the 2019 Back to the Classics Challenge see Karen's guidelines at Books & Chocolate.

Saturday, 15 December 2018

Back to the Classics 2018 - Final Wrap-up

These  are the books I've read this year for the Back to the Classics Challenge hosted by Karen at  Books & Chocolate. I finished all 12 categories so have 3 entries in the draw.

This is my fourth year to complete this challenge and I plan to sign up again for 2019. If you are planning to do the challenge next year feel free to say hi in the comments and put a link to your post with the books you plan to read.
My original list was a little different to what I actually did but what I like about Karen's challenge is the flexibility she allows.
I don't usually have a rating system but I thought I'd try it out with these books: 

19th Century Classic - The Refugees by A. Conan Doyle (8/10) Good but some of his other historically based books are better

20th Century Classic - Beau Geste by P.C. Wren (8/10) An unusual mystery in an unusual setting

Classic by a Woman Author - The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey (9/10) I've loved everything I've read by this author

Classic in Translation - Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset (9/10) Raw, powerful story

A Children's Classic - Linnets & Valerians by Elizabeth Goudge (7/10) Good writing but I had misgivings about some of the content

Classic Crime Story - And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie (6/10) The awful characters  in this story made it hard for me to feel any connection with it. Christie was clever, but I don't always like her writing.

Classic Travel or Journey - Sick Heart River by John Buchan (8/10) Buchan is one of my favourite authors. This book is more philosophical than some of his others. It's good but I've enjoyed some of his other books more than this one.

Classic With a Single Word Title - Catriona by R.L. Stevenson (7/10) Good story but it rambles somewhat.

Classic With a Colour in the Title - Green Dolphin Country by Elizabeth Goudge (8/10)

Classic by a New-to-You Author - The Rosemary Tree by Elizabeth Goudge (7/10) Both books by Goudge were good reads. her writing is  beautifully reflective.

Classic That Scares You - Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (10/10) What more can I say than that Tolstoy was a marvellous writer?

Re-Read a Favourite Classic - Mr. Standfast by John Buchan (10/10) This was the third time I've read this book and I've appreciated it more each time I've read it.

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Back to the Classics: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (1873-1877)

 One of the problems with classic literature is that we may think we know what the book is about before we even read it. I can think of many classic books that I’ve never read but could tell you their basic plot.


This was the problem I had with Anna Karenina because my ‘knowledge’ of it was basically:  Woman commits adultery and ends up throwing herself under a train. It was written by a Russian, so of course, it would have a mass of various names, patronyms, and diminutives to confuse the reader. I’d also never read anything by Tolstoy before so had no idea he was such a brilliant writer and that I could trust to his expert skill.

But, oh my! What a book this turned out to be. And what a shame to believe you know the crux of the story and to put off reading it because of this. I’m just very thankful I finally decided to read it.
I’m not going to attempt a ‘review’ but will share some thoughts, impressions, and quotations, and hopefully, if you’ve put off reading A.K. for whatever reason, you might just be persuaded to give it a go.

‘All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.’

Tolstoy jumps into his narrative with the observation above.
Family, community, and society are central to the story as are country life and city life. Tolstoy was a master when it came to characterisation and getting into people’s heads. There are seven main characters in Anna Karenina and he succeeds in allowing the reader a certain intimacy and empathy with each of them.
Prince and Princess Shcherbatsky have three daughters. One is happily married, another unhappily, and the youngest has just refused Levin’s offer of marriage and has had her head turned by the dashing Vronsky. The Prince thought highly of Levin but his wife disliked him in ‘his sharp judgements, his awkwardness in society (caused, as she supposed, by his pride), and his, in her opinion, wild sort of life in the country.’ 
She thought that Vronsky was far superior but the Prince was furious with his wife for her attempts at matchmaking:

‘It’s loathsome, loathsome to look at, and you’ve succeeded, you’ve turned the silly girl’s head. Levin’s a thousand times the better man. And this little fop from Petersburg - they’re made by machine, they’re all the same sort, and all trash...I see a man who has serious intentions, that’s Levin; and I see a popinjay like this whippersnapper, who is only amusing himself.’

Vronsky had never know family life, barely remembered his father, and had no respect for his mother:

‘In his soul he did not respect her and, without being aware of it, he did not love her, though...he could not imagine to himself any other relation to his mother than one obedient and deferential in the highest degree, and the more outwardly obedient and deferential he was, the less he respected and loved her in his soul.’

‘Vronsky...despite the full realisation of what he had desired for so long, was not fully happy. He soon felt that the realisation of his desire had given him only a grain of the mountain of happpiness he had expected. It showed him the eternal error people make in imagining that happiness is the realisation of desires.’

Levin was an interesting person, full of self-doubt, idealistic ideas, and awkwardness. Tolstoy opens the window into his mind and his inner struggles and it was quite comical at times.

‘I need physical movement, otherwise my character definitely deteriorates.’

In Part Seven, Chapter XIV, Levin’s wife is having her first baby and Levin was convinced she was dying. He doesn’t understand how the doctor can sit in another room smoking and chatting...

‘Suddenly there was a scream unlike anything he had ever heard. The scream was so terrible that Levin did not even jump up, but, holding his breath, gave the doctor a frightened, questioning look. The doctor cocked his head to one side, listened, and smiled approvingly.’

When he went into the room his wife seized his hands and said, ‘Don’t leave, don’t leave!’ and then pushed him away.

‘No it’s terrible! I’ll die, I’ll die! Go, go!’ she cried, and again came that scream that was unlike anything in the world.’
‘Doctor! What is it? What is it? My God! he said, seizing the doctor by the arm as he came in.
‘It’s nearly over,’ said the doctor. And the doctor’s face was so serious as he said it that Levin understood this ‘nearly over’ to mean she was dying.

Around the time I was reading this part of the book, our eldest son and his wife had their first baby. My daughter-in-law had a long labour and then delivered a whopping 11 pound boy. When our son rang us he said he had no idea that childbirth was going to be like what they experienced.
‘It was brutal!’ were his words. I immediately thought of Levin.

Levin had rejected his childhood beliefs and tried to reason his way through life. He undergoes some dramatic changes, struggling with his idealistic ideas that fall flat in real life.

...while his wife was giving birth an extraordinary thing had happened to him. He, the unbeliever, had begun to pray, and in the moment of praying he had believed.

Dolly, married to Anna Karenina's philandering brother, Stepan, felt that she had lost herself in the process of being a mother. Alone in a carriage on her way to visit Anna she has time to reflect on her fifteen years of marriage,

'pregnancy, nausea, dullness of mind, indifference to everything,,and, above all, ugliness...Labour, suffering, that last moment...then nursing, the sleepless nights, the terrible pains...'

Released from her everyday cares, she falls into a reverie where she questions the point of it all and considers that she should have left her husband and found happiness somewhere else. 
As she spends time with Anna and her crowd, she has a feeling of unhappiness and that she is poorly playing a part in the theatre with actors better than her.
She decides to go home earlier than intended:

Those painful cares of motherhood that she had hated so on her way there, now, after a day spent without them, presented themselves to her in a different light and drew her to them.

Tolstoy describes Anna Karenina as she follows a course that rapidly changes everything in her life and her exclusion from the society she desperately needed to belong to.

Anna said whatever came to her tongue, and was surprised, listening to herself, at her ability to lie. How simple, how natural her words were...She felt herself clothed in an impenetrable armour of lies. She felt that some invisible force was helping her and supporting her.

Towards the latter part of the book the stream of consciousness narrative that Tolstoy uses with regards to Anna is superb and reminded me of Dostoevsky’s character, Raskolnikov, in Crime and Punishment - psychotic and paranoid.

Death is a theme throughout and interestingly, only one chapter has an actual title and that is Ch XX - ‘Death.’
I could fill this blog with excerpts from this outstanding novel but so much needs to be read in context. It is multilayered, thought-worthy and deeply spiritual. I don’t know how Tolstoy managed to intersperse so much humour amid the pathos and tragedy, but he did. And to my surprise, I was able to keep up with the Russian names quite well, referring to the 'List of Principal Characters' at the front to the book - Crime & Punishment confused me no end with that side of things.
An impressive book in all respects!

Book Depository has 53% off the lovely Penguin HB pictured above at the time of writing. This edition was translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky and it flowed beautifully.
The free Kindle version here is translated by Constance Garnett, which I haven't read so can't comment on, but she is highly regarded as a translator.

Updated to add some articles on translations of Anna Karenina:

Linking to Back to the Classics 2018 - Classic That Scares You

Sunday, 2 December 2018

Surprised by Joy by C.S. Lewis (1955)

C.S. Lewis (1898 - 1963) has been called one of the intellectual giants of the twentieth century as well as the most influential writer of his time. He wrote over thirty books including the beloved children’s classic, The Chronicles of Narnia, which was my first introduction to his writing when I was about twelve years of age. I didn’t know at the time that he was a Christian and had written a whole swag of other books that were going to be influential for me later on in my life.

Surprised by Joy is an autobiography that tells of Lewis’s journey from Atheism to Christianity starting with his childhood in Belfast and the loss of his mother to cancer. He goes on to describe his boarding school years in England, (one school he calls ‘Belsen’!) his childhood faith and how he lost it, his fascination with the occult for a time, and his Atheism during his youth. He touches on his War service during the Great War and his years at Oxford and ends with his reluctant conversion to Theism and then the next step as he embraces Christianity.

Surprised by Joy is so quotable that I found I was familiar with many passages because I’d read them elsewhere but didn’t know where they came from. Lewis’s candidness and humility oozed out of this book. His childhood memories were related without emotionalism but with an inherent poignancy as were his difficulties in his relationship with his father and his experiences at various boarding schools.
He describes the public boy’s school practice of pederasty and admits that while he was not tempted in that area he none-the-less had his own share of being ‘successfully’ tempted in other areas and he was careful not to cast judgement upon those who fell in an area he never had to struggle with.

Some interesting bits:

C.S. Lewis’s parents were very disparate in origin and temperament. Lewis was more like his mother - cheerful, cool and calm, while his father was sentimental, emotional and not inclined to be happy. This contrast between his parent’s temperaments bred in him a dislike and distrust of emotion from an early age.
He describes his childhood and the happy times he had with his brother who was three years his senior, the different influences on his life during that time and of the ‘absence of beauty’ which characterised his childhood:

'No picture on the walls of my father’s house ever attracted - and indeed none deserved - our attention. We never saw a beautiful building or imagined that a building could be beautiful.'

There is a theme throughout the book that is conveyed in the title. Lewis describes this as Sehnsucht - a experience of a sense of longing, yearning, and wonder or ‘an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction.’ He called this experience, Joy.
These experiences came to him in the memory of a memory, or the ‘longing for the longing that had just ceased;’ one being the memory of when his brother brought a toy garden into the nursery.

‘As long as I live, my imagination of Paradise will retain something of my brother’s toy garden.’

It also came to him through Beatrix Potter’s Squirrel Nutkin and then through poetry. The quality common to all three experiences was Joy.
When Lewis was seven years old the family moved to a larger house in the country,

‘I am a product of long corridors, empty sunlit rooms, upstairs indoor silences, attics explored in solitude, distant noises of gurgling cisterns and pipes, and the noise of wind under the tiles. Also, of endless books...’

When Lewis was ten years old his mother was diagnosed with cancer and had surgery, which in those days they performed in the patient’s house! She later died and Lewis’s relationship with his father grew more distant while he grew closer to his brother.

'With my mother’s death all settled happiness, all that was tranquil and reliable, disappeared from my life. There was to be much fun, many pleasures, many stabs of Joy; but no more of the old security. It was sea and islands now; the great continent had sunk like Atlantis.'

Reflecting on his cruel headmaster at Belsen and why those ‘wasted and miserable years’ under him did him little harm in the long run:

‘Hardly any amount of oppression from above takes the heart out of a boy like the oppression from his fellows.’

On his passion for the occult...’It is a spiritual lust; and like the lust of the body it has the fatal power of making everything else in the world seem uninteresting while it lasts.’

Of sexual temptation, he explains that a new element entered his life - Vulgarity - and he underwent a violent and wholly successful assault because of his ‘deliberate withdrawal of myself from Divine protection.’

On School Life:

'Spiritually speaking, the deadly thing was that school life was a life almost wholly dominated by the social struggle; to get on, to arrive, or, having reached the top, to remain there, was the absorbing preoccupation. It is often, of course, the pre-occupation of adult life as well; but I have not yet seen any adult society in which the surrender to this impulse was so total.'

In praising one of his teachers he said:

'...even if he had taught us nothing else, to be in Smewgy’s form was to be in a measure ennobled. Amidst all the banal ambition and flashy splendours of school life he stood as a permanent reminder of things more gracious, more humane, larger and cooler.'

About games (sport) in school Lewis likened them to a toothache or pebbles in your shoes and didn’t give them the 'moral and almost mystical virtues’ schoolmasters claim for them. He thought they led to ambition and jealousy but he felt it was a misfortune that he had no affinity for them because it can cut you off from companionship with some excellent people you wouldn’t associate with any other way.

On reading newspapers:

'Nearly all that a boy reads (in newspapers) in his teens will be known before he is twenty to have been false in emphasis and interpretation, if not in fact as well, and most of it will have lost all importance. Most of what he remembers he will therefore have to unlearn; and he will probably have acquired an incurable taste for vulgarity and sensationalism and the fatal habit of fluttering from paragraph to paragraph to learn how an actress has been divorced in California, a train derailed in France, and quadruplets born in New Zealand.'

Ha! Nothing much has changed.

'A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere...God is, if I may say it, very unscrupulous.'

During his time at Oxford after the Great War, Lewis’s chronological snobbery began to be overthrown. He describes chronological snobbery as ‘the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited.’
The more he read...Plato, John Donne, George Herbert, George MacDonald, Chesterton, the more alarmed he became. ‘All my books were beginning to turn against me.’

He was shocked when he found that the most intelligent and best-informed man in his English class at Oxford was a Christian and others began to pop up on every side.
He had always wanted to call his soul his own and not be interfered with. Now he felt the demand of ‘All.’

'In the Trinity Term if 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England...
The Prodigal Son at least walked home on his own feet. But who can duly adore that Love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape?'

Lewis knew that God was to be obeyed simply because He was God and he found that as he moved  from Theism to Christianity, his search for Joy lost its importance. If we are lost in the woods and we suddenly see a signpost we make a big deal out of it but once we find the road we don’t stop and stare at every passing signpost as we travel along because we want to get to our destination and we know we’re on the right road.
Joy, ‘the old stab, the old bitter-sweet’ was a valuable pointer to something other and outer.

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

On Being an Initiator

The other month I wrote about bringing our children into ‘a large room’ where the doors are open to a wide and generous curriculum. In School Education, Pg 170, Charlotte Mason points out that we have a responsibility to our children to ‘...initiate an immense number of interests.’

The idea of being an initiator was sparked in me years ago during a time of disappointment. A wise friend who knew my situation said some words to me at the time that I’ve never forgotten: 'Not many people are initiators.' I’ve found that to be generally true, unfortunately, so it made sense to me that Charlotte Mason addressed this in the context of education.
I decided to check out what the word ‘initiate’ implies.

The dictionary says that to initiate means to:

To do the first act
Break the ice
Get the ball rolling
Set in motion

So when Charlotte Mason states that we owe it to our children to initiate an immense number of interests, she means that we are responsible for the initial action. We get the ball rolling and do some investing. We don’t leave it to the child to do the initiating. Not that we shouldn't allow them their own interests, but when it comes to educational philosophy and direction, the responsibility is ours. Unless, of course, you believe in child-led education, which Charlotte Mason didn't espouse and neither do I.

A Practical Example

We’ve been doing Picture Study in our home for twenty-odd years - that is, we pick an artist and study about six of his/her paintings a term. It’s very simple. We just look at the picture and later we might describe it or draw a sketch of what we remember of its composition, the emphasis being on observing and appreciating the artist’s work.
If I know something of the artist’s life or have a short biography (the boys really liked the Mike Venezia books when they were younger) they might read that.

Charlotte Mason made this observation:

...I know that you may bring a horse to the water but you can't make him drink. What I complain of is that we do not bring our horse to the water. 

I initiated the introduction to the world of art, led them to the water, and they gained an appreciation of great art. That was important to me and I love how the Charlotte Mason method doesn’t consider the study of great works of art an optional extra.
Along comes my seventh child and from an early age she was drawn to art and loved to draw. I did the same as I’d done with the others but she wanted to draw all the time and especially liked to draw people. I had piles of sketchbooks that she’d filled but as time went on she started getting frustrated with how her drawings looked.

There's another version of the proverb above:

You may bring a horse to water but you can't make him drink, however, you can put salt in his oats!

Creating a thirst is something else we can do as initiators.
I had a few home education art resources but they didn’t inspire my daughter much so I started looking for an art teacher to give her lessons. She had about five or six lessons from a couple of different people but they weren’t able to continue for different reasons. She enjoyed the lessons and they did teach her techniques which helped her. I bought her some good quality paints and pencils and continued to look for ways to develop her interest in this area.
An area I had to encourage her in was perseverance. A piece of work could be spread over time, just like we spread a book out, a chapter per week, or in her case with art, a bit of time each day on piece of art that required a fair bit of work. This helped her with her observation and drawing skills, as well as the practice of perseverance. This is one of her works in progress:

Earlier this year we signed up for a free six week Natural History Illustration course with the University of Newcastle. This was so timely and helpful and there’s been a noticeable difference and improvement in her art. (See some examples of the type of work she did here & here.)
Recently we found some art tutorials in YouTube which have been great, also.

We continue with Picture Study and sometimes an artist inspires her in a particular way. This week I showed her this Mannerist painting by El Greco. It’s one I was drawn to many years ago and she had a similar response to it:

View of Toledo by El Greco (1600)

We've had to work through some difficulties in different area of our children's education. From music teachers to foreign language resources, we've had bumps in the road. One of the most important resources is prayer but it's often something I forget about until everything else fails! We've had some pretty awesome answers when we've focussed on praying for a specific educational need.
I've learned that nothing is too insignificant to put before the Lord.

These are some of the YouTube videos that my daughter's been using recently to help with her art work.

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

My Place by Sally Morgan (1987)

My Place by Sally Morgan is an autobiographical account of three generations of Aboriginal women: Sally, her mother Gladys, and Sally’s grandmother, Daisy. Sally writes of her experiences growing up in suburban Perth during the 1950’s and 1960’s and her search for truth and identity after she discovers her Aboriginal heritage.
Although her mother and grandmother were Aboriginal, Sally and her siblings had a white father and they grew up ignorant of their Aboriginal background. Their mother told them they were Indian and didn't speak about the past.
Bill, their father had been a prisoner of war in Germany during WWII before he married Gladys and was a troubled man who sought relief in alcohol and frequently required hospitalisation. He didn't want anything to do with his wife's relatives and died when Sally was nine years of age.
My Place is written in a simple, vernacular style and although Sally is the main author, Gladys, her mother, Nan, and Nan’s brother, Arthur Corunna all tell their individual stories in the book. As I was reading Arthur’s Story, it reminded me of Albert Fahey’s account in A Fortunate Life of growing up in the Australian bush in the early 1900’s. There are some close similarities in the way they were both treated as young impoverished boys working in the outback during the Depression years.
Sally was fifteen before she realised she was Aboriginal and tells of her shock at discovering that her Grandmother, Nan, was black and therefore she must be also. Things began to make sense now she had this knowledge but it also raised more questions than answers:

What did it really mean to be Aboriginal? I’d never lived off the land and been a hunter and a gatherer. I’d never participated in corroborees or heard stories of the Dreamtime. I hardly knew any Aboriginal people. What did it mean for someone like me?

I was often puzzled by the way Mum and Nan approached anyone in authority, it was as if they were frightened...why on earth would anyone be frightened of the government?

In 1982, Sally travelled to her grandmother’s birthplace in the Pilbara and began to piece together the past. As she unearthed her roots, her questions and probing helped to draw out her mother and grandmother’s memories that up until this time had been kept to themselves. Her Uncle Arthur was the first person to talk to Sally about the past. When he was about eleven or twelve years old he was taken from Corunna Downs in the Pilbara to the Swan Native and Half-Caste Mission near Perth:

One day I'd like to go back to Corunna Downs...
Aah, I wish I'd never left there. It was my home. Sometimes I wish I'd been born black as the ace of spades, then they'd never have took me. They only took half-castes.

...They told my mother and the others we'd be back soon. We wouldn't be gone for long, they said...They didn't realise they wouldn't be seein' us no more. I thought they wanted us educated so we could help run the station some day, I was wrong.

Gladys’ words:

Bill had only been dead a short time when a Welfare lady came out to visit us. I was really frightened because I thought if she realised we were Aboriginal, she might have the children taken away. We only had two bedrooms and a sleepout and there were five children, as well as Mum and me.
This woman turned out to be a real bitch. She asked me all sorts of questions and walked through our house with her nose in the air like a real snob. She asked where we all slept, and when I told her Helen slept with me, she was absolutely furious. She said, 'You are to get that child out of your bed, we will not stand for that. You work out something else, the children aren't to be in the same room as you. I'll come back and check to make sure you've got another bed.'

...I just agreed with everything she said. I didn't want her to have any excuse to take the children off me.
It was after the visit from the Welfare lady that Mum and I decided we would definitely never tell the children they were Aboriginal.
I suppose, looking back now, it seems awful that we deprived them of that heritage, but we thought we were doing the right thing at the time.

Daisy's words:

In those days it was considered a privilege for a white man to want you, but if you had children, your weren’t allowed to keep them. You was only allowed to keep the black ones. They took the white ones off you ‘cause you weren’t considered fit to raise a child with white blood.
I tell you it made a edge between the people. Some of the black men felt real low, and some of the native girls with a bit of white in them wouldn’t look at a black man. There I was stuck in the middle. Too black for the whites and too white for the blacks.

Something to be aware of and that stood out to me was the different spiritual beliefs of the three women. Gladys and Sally had some Christian influence in their lives but it became blended with what they had imbibed of their Aboriginal beliefs from their grandmother so that their spiritual lives were a mix of ideas and they explained some of their experiences using this admixture. Daisy, on the other hand had a greater respect for the dangers of meddling in the spiritual dimension:

Gladdie was silly in those days. always wantin' to know her future. She didn't know what she was meddlin' with. You leave the spirits alone. You mess with them, you get burnt. She had her palm read, her tea-leaves read, I don't know what she didn't get read. I never went with her to any of these fortune-tellers. They give you a funny feeling inside. Blackfella know all 'bout spirits. We brought up with them. That's where the white man's stupid. He only believes what he can see. He needs to get educated. He's only livin' half a life.

My Place has been used in High Schools in Australia in Years 9 /10. It's definitely a book for older students and I'd recommend it as a read aloud and discuss otherwise preview for language and mature themes.

How deprived we would have been
if we had been willing
to let things stay as they were.
We would have survived,
but not as a whole people.
We would never have known 
our place.

Be aware that there is another book with the same name by Nadia Wheatley but it's a children's picture book that looks at the history of one particular piece of land in Sydney from 1788 to 1988 through the stories of the various children who have lived there.

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Green Dolphin Country by Elizabeth Goudge (1944)

Earlier this year I was introduced to Elizabeth Goudge through her book The Rosemary Tree and after reading that I knew that I’d read more by her. I ordered Green Dolphin Country because a good friend recommended it but I was surprised when it arrived that it contained 743 pages. I don’t usually commit to a book of that length unless it’s a Russian classic or a Norwegian saga because I don’t think there are many authors who have the skill to weave a story over that many pages without losing the plot and the reader.

However, once I’d bought the book I decided to read it and ended up enjoying it very much. Goudge certainly doesn’t write like a Russian novelist or a Norwegian saga writer but she is an expert delineator of character.

Green Dolphin Country is a work of fiction but it was based on an actual event. The story begins on the island of Guernsey in the English Channel where we meet the three main characters. It continues in New Zealand with details of the lives of two of those characters, alternating with scenes from the life of the one left behind. It ends with the meeting of all three again back in Guernsey in their latter years.
The personalities who populate this story are rendered in such a way that they become real. We see how the three main characters develop and change over the course of their lives. Goudge's insights into humanity with its weaknesses and strengths, fears and hopes, is skilful and infused with humour.
To me, this story was in essence a tale of love and disappointment; of choosing to love and acting on that choice when there was no corresponding feeling of love; of kindness and humility, of finding a way to make things work when there seems to be no way.

Some highlights

On the one who always wanted to be in control:

It was no good waiting on fortune. Her favour was inscrutable and uncertain. What one wanted one must get for oneself. A man could use his will like a sword but a woman had mostly to use hers like a shuttle.

...for the first time in her life she had taken her hand off the tiller and was waiting patiently for something beyond herself to take her in charge.

The worst thing about sin was that its punishment could not be borne by the sinner alone. Why did one not realise that before it was too late?

Goudge has a knack of illuminating ordinary things and highlighting hope. One of my favourite passages is this one about the unseen aspects of prayer:

There were days when the impossibility of seeing the result of one’s prayer was disheartening almost to the point of faithlessness. One prayed for those in peril, but though one might seem to hear the beating of wings in the wind the eyes of the body could not see the angel who took the prayer from one’s outstretched hands, held it as a shield between some human creature and the death that it was not yet the will of God should come upon them. One prayed for courage for those who had turned back upon the path, that they might turn again, but one’s own body did not experience the shock of realisation, the reversal, the gathering of strength. One prayed for the faithless but it was not granted to one’s ears to hear the crumbling of the walls and the shouting of the trumpet and the ‘I believe...’

There might be utter humiliation but that’s not the end of the story.

The sort of love he had given her, deliberately created, not drawn irresistibly forth by the loveliness of the beloved, implies no merit in the object of it and was not worth having. No, she had nothing - nothing.

She was too humiliated just at present to dare think that the virtue of humility might one day be her own.

How desperately hard it must have been for him. What a price he must have paid for her salvation! That was what love was - a paying of the price.

This is a very redemptive type of story and I love it for that fact alone.

Linking to Back to the Classics 2018: Classic with a Color in the Title

Saturday, 13 October 2018

Catriona by Robert Louis Stevenson (1893)

Catriona continues the story of David Balfour who was introduced in Stevenson’s well-known book, Kidnapped. Kidnapped was published in 1886 but Stevenson’s ill health at the time prevented him from bringing the story to the conclusion he originally intended so he left the door open for a sequel. Catriona didn’t appear until 1893 and it is quite a different story compared with most of Stevenson’s other works, being more of an historical romance with a convoluted plot and strong female characters as opposed to high adventure and daring exploits.
Catriona starts just at the point where Stevenson left David Balfour at the end of Kidnapped - at the doors of the British Linen Company’s bank - only this time he was coming out instead of going in.

The Gist of the Story

The book is set in the mid 1750’s after the Battle of Culloden in which the Jacobites were defeated. In 1752, Colin Roy Campbell, a government official also known as The Red Fox, was shot and killed, and members of the Jacobite Stewart clan were blamed. David sets out to clear his old friend, Alan Breck Stewart and his relative James Stewart (James of the Glens) of what became known as the Appin murder.
David visits his cousin, Mr Balfour, who provides him with a letter of introduction to the Lord Advocate Prestongrange and David presents himself before him as a witness for the accused.
Prestongrange is in a difficult situation as the Campbell clan are determined that James Stewart should be hanged for the murder but he tells David that he will arrange for him to be a witness at the trial.
In the meantime, David meets Catriona Drummond, the beautiful young daughter of James More Drummond, a son of the notorious Rob Roy.
David is unimpressed with More and thinks he is an unworthy man to be the Catriona’s father. His dislike is warranted as More is working behind the scenes to get him out of the way until after the trial, which he does by getting his Highland followers to kidnap David and keep him on the Bass, an island off the east coast of Scotland.
More is a selfish, conniving man, but Catriona is devoted to him. Gradually, his treachery comes to light but not before David and Catriona are separated and she realises that her father has been a manipulator and helped to send an innocent man to the gallows.
I enjoyed the latter part of the book most of all as it describes David’s poor attempts at courting Catriona, their misunderstandings of one another, and Alan Breck’s advice to his friend on the subject.

Another aspect I enjoyed was the description of the Lowland Scots’ attitude to the ‘Heiland’ folk. My Grannie was a Lowlander and she had a typical reaction if someone did something stupid or very clumsy. She’d say, “Och, dae'n be sae Heilan’!” I only found out many years later that it was a put down of the Highlanders. I don’t know it’s like that now but the same attitude has come up in Josephine Tey’s books only she takes the side of the Highlanders and makes references to 'vile Glasgow speech.'.

Catriona contains many of the characters found in Kidnapped so it’s best to have read that book beforehand or else you’ll miss connections. Kidnapped also helps to introduce some of the Scot dialect - and be warned, it’s all through Catriona. 

Some highlights:

Upon our reaching the park I was launched on a bevy of eight or ten young gentlemen (some of them cockaded officers, the rest chiefly advocates) who crowded to attend upon these beauties; and though I was presented to all of them in very good words, it seemed I was by all immediately forgotten. Young folk in a company are like to savage animals: they fall upon or scorn a stranger without civility, or I may say, humanity; and I am sure, if I had been among baboons, they would have shown me quite as much of both...

From these I was recalled by one of the officers, Lieutenant Hector Duncansby, a gawky, leering Highland boy, asking if my name was not “Palfour.”
I told him it was, not very kindly, for his manner was scant civil.
“Ha, Palfour,” says he, and then, repeating it, “Palfour, Palfour!”
“I am afraid you do not like my name, sir,” says I, annoyed with myself to be annoyed with such a rustical fellow.
“No,” says he, “but I wass thinking.”
“I would not advise you to make a practice of that, sir,” says I. “I feel sure you would not find it to agree with you.”
“Tit you effer hear where Alan Grigor fand the tangs?” said he.
I asked him what he could possibly mean, and he answered, with a heckling laugh, that he thought I must have found the poker in the same place and swallowed it.
There could be no mistake about this, and my cheek burned.
“Before I went about to put affronts on gentlemen,” said I, “I think I would learn the English language first.”

A sample of the Scot's tongue:

“Mony’s the time I’ve thocht upon you and your freen, and blythe am I to see in your braws,” she cried. “Though I kent ye were come to your ain folk by the grand present that ye sent me and that I thank ye for with a’ my heart.”

This conversation between David and his gaoler while he was captive on The Bass is found in Chapters XIV and XV contains the largest section of Scottish dialect:

“Well, Andie, I see I’ll have to be speak out plain with you,” I replied. And told him so much as I thought needful of the facts.
He heard me out with some serious interest, and when I had done, seemed to consider a little with himself.
“Shaws,” said he at last, “I’ll deal with the naked hand. It’s a queer tale, and no very creditable, the way you tell it; and I’m far frae minting that is other than the way that ye believe it. As for yoursel’, ye seem to me rather a dacent-like young man. But me, that’s aulder and mair judeecious, see perhaps a wee bit further forrit in the job than what ye can dae. And here the maitter clear and plain to ye. There’ll be nae skaith to yoursel’ if I keep ye here; far free that, I think ye’ll be a hantle better by it. There’ll be nae skaith to the kintry — just ae mair Hielantman hangit — Gude kens, a guid riddance! On the ither hand, it would be considerable skaith to me if I would let you free. Sae, speakin’ as a guid Whig, an honest freen’ to you, and an anxious freen’ to my ainsel’, the plain fact is that I think ye’ll just have to bide here wi’ Andie an’ the solans.”
“Andie,” said I, laying my hand upon his knee, “this Hielantman’s innocent.”
“Ay, it’s a peety about that,” said he. “But ye see, in this warld, the way God made it, we cannae just get a’thing that we want.”

And Alan’s opinion of David’s attempts at wooing:

“I cannae make heed nor tail of it,” he would say, “but it sticks in my mind ye’ve made a gowk of yourself. There’s few people that has had more experience than Alan Breck: and I can never call to mind to have heard tell of a lassie like this one of yours. The way that you tell it, the thing’s fair impossible. Ye must have made a terrible hash of the business, David.
...It’s this way about a man and a woman, ye see, Davie: The weemenfolk have got no kind of reason to them. Either they like the man, and then a’ goes fine; or else they just detest him, and ye may spare your breath — ye can do naething. There’s just the two sets of them — them that would sell their coats for ye, and them that never look the road ye’re on. That’s a’ that there is to women; and you seem to be such a gomeril that ye cannae tell the tane frae the tither.”
“Well, and I’m afraid that’s true for me,” said I.
“And yet there’s naething easier!” cried Alan. “I could easy learn ye the science of the thing; but ye seem to me to be born blind, and there’s where the deefficulty comes in.”

Catriona is free for Kindle here.
The book was published under the title David Balfour in the USA.

Linking to Back to the Classics Challenge 2018: Classic with Single-Word Title