Monday, 17 June 2019

Back to the Classics: The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher (1924)

The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher is a unique book; intelligent, thoughtful, and beautifully written. The author is probably better known for her children’s book, Understood Betsy (1916), a story that demonstrates her knowledge and understanding of children, so it’s not surprising that The Home-Maker also explores this aspect, delving even more deeply into the needs of children and the importance of the home atmosphere.

It has been described as a feminist novel as the mother gets the chance to follow a career rather than be confined at home doing work that frustrates her no end, but the author told her publisher that the book ‘should be taken as a whoop not for “women’s rights” but for “children’s rights.”’

Dorothy Canfield Fisher examines the roles of mothers and fathers in a small American town setting with a great deal of sympathy. Eva, the mother in the story, is a vigorous and highly capable woman, a perfectionist, who feels thwarted by the never ending duties of her household. She loves her children but is so caught up in the minutiae of everyday life that she has no time to enjoy or understand them. Lester, her husband, is a poet and a thinker whose workplace is a misery to him. He has no time for the thought life he needs and hates the materialistic focus of his work. They are both frustrated by his inability to advance and bring home a decent wage.

The real strength of this book comes from the author’s perception of the inner worlds of the couple’s three children, Helen, Henry, and Stephen. I think a book from a purely feminist point of view would have made Eva’s predicament the primary focus but everything that happens in the story is filtered through the children and their needs. Even the father and mother grapple with what is best not just for themselves but for their children.

Lester felt that his employer was exploiting the home-maker by hammering the idea that it was all about good furniture, fine table linen, expensive rugs and well-made clothes. This conspiracy to force women into the  slavery of possessions sickened him:

' about keeping alive some intellectual or spiritual passion in the home? How about the children? Did anybody suggest to women that they give to understanding their children a tenth part of the time and real intelligence and real purposefulness they put into getting the right clothes for them?'

When Lester has an accident that almost kills him and is left crippled and confined to a wheelchair, Eva goes out to work while he stays home and they both find great satisfaction and purpose in their new roles.
After a period of time Lester begins to have signs that signal his recovery. He keeps this to himself and considers the future, feeling that Tradition was against him. The Tradition that said:

' are in the world to get possessions, to create material things, to sell them, to buy them, to transport them, above all to stimulate to fever-heat the desire for them. It decreed that men are of worth in so far as they achieve that sort of material success, and worthless if they do not.’

He wonders how they could work around this problem:

'Would it be possible for both of them to work, he and Eva? Other parents did sometimes. The idea was that with the extra money you made you hired somebody to take care of the children. If before us accident anyone had dreamed of Eva’s natural gift for business, he would have thought the plan an excellent one. But it was only since his accident that he had had the faintest conception of what ‘caring for the children’ might mean. Now, that he had lived with the children, now that he had seen how it took all of his attention to make even a beginning of understanding them, how it took all of his intelligence and love to try to give them what they needed spiritually and!

You could perhaps, if you were very lucky - though it was unlikely in the extreme - it was conceivable that by paying a high cash price you might be able to hire a little intelligence, enough intelligence to give them good material care. But you could never hire intelligence sharpened by love. In other words you could not hire a parent. And children without parents were orphans.

'...You can’t ‘hire’ somebody to be a parent for your children!’ he thought again, passionately. They are born into the world asking you for bread. If you give them a stone, it we’re better for you that that stone were hanged about your neck and cast into the sea.'

The more he was immersed in the care of his children and the running of the home, the more aware he became of society’s lack of respect for that unpaid work.

'Why, the frantic feminists were right, after all. Under its greasy camouflage of chivalry, society is really based on a contempt for women’s work in the home. The only women who were paid, either in human respect or in money, were women who gave up their traditional job of creating harmony out of human relationships, and did something really useful, bought or sold or created material objects.'

The Home-Maker is a timeless gem of a book. The issues the author tackled in 1924 are still relevant. We hear so often that we can ‘have it all’ in the context of career and children but this story questions that notion. Rush and hurry, timetables and rigid schedules, can be obstacles to communication and understanding, as is so poignantly shown when Lester discovers the reason for his youngest son’s savage behaviour.

How’s this for a description of the angry little boy?

‘He...sat...dry-eyed, scowling, a magnificent sulphurous conflagration of Prometheus flames blazing in his little heart.’

Dorothy Canfield Fisher wrote from her own experience in this area. Her husband, John Fisher, volunteered in the Ambulance Service in Paris during the First World and afterwards was physically immobilised for some time, losing status and opportunities for advancement. At the same time Dorothy’s writing gained a large audience and invitations to speak around the country. John supported her role as the celebrity and breadwinner while finding ways to express his own interests and skills.
Dorothy believed that whatever the convictions or fashions of society, if a man and woman are able to construct with their children a life in common which keeps them reasonably happy, healthy, good and strong, with a permanent affection for each other, then they have made a successful marriage, no matter what pattern it might take.

Persephone Books is one of my favourite publishers. I have a tendency to judge a book by its cover and the Persephone covers are definitely attractive!

The Home-Maker is my choice of a book in the Classic From the Americas or Carribean category for the 2019 Back to the Classics Challenge @ Books&Chocolate.

Monday, 3 June 2019

Life Under Compulsion: Ten Ways to Destroy the Humanity of Your Child by Anthony Esolen (2015)

‘How do you raise a child who can sit with a good book and read? Who is moved by beauty? Who doesn’t have to buy the latest this or that vanity? Who is not bound to the instant urge, wherever it may be found?’

Life Under Compulsion is a follow on from Anthony Esolen’s previous title, Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child, which I read a few years ago.
When one of my sons saw these two books in the bookcase he said: “Mum, you read some weird books! What are you trying to do to us?”
My youngest's reaction was, "No wonder some people think homeschooling's a bad idea...trying to destroy our imagination?!"
If you don’t already know, Dr. Esolen played the devil’s advocate with Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child, which is a little reminiscent of C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, minus the humour.
Life Under Compulsion continues the combatative tone of his previous book but focuses on the ideas of freedom versus compulsion.
Freedom is a buzzword of our times but it is a word that has been mis-used.
Dr Esolen argues that our children are anything but free - they are slaves to compulsions that come either from outside of themselves (e.g. government mandates that control what children are taught in schools) or within (the itches that must be scratched, the passions that master them).
He examines modern culture, explains how our idea of freedom is warped and dangerous, and draws on the great thinkers of the past to help us understand what freedom truly means:

‘To be “free” is not to do as you please but rather to realise the fulfilment of your natural created being, without impediments.’

Thomas Aquinas

Esolen is scathing about the education system and their ‘courses in compulsion.’ When he was Professor of English at a Catholic University he wrote an article for Crisis Magazine on the university’s ‘diversity’ stance:

…a vision that pretends to be “multicultural,” but that is actually anti-cultural, and is characterized by all the totalitarian impulses to use the massive power of government to bring to heel those who decline to go along...

His incisive comments and criticism of the politically correct practices of  radical university professors resulted in student protests and faculty members calling for his dismissal in 2016. No wonder he sounds grumpy when he writes.

In Life Under Compulsion, the author examines the school system and its courses in compulsion where children must be segregated by age and must move to the next classroom at the ringing of the bell. Education is based on a utilitarian foundation and is reduced to a tool; students have to adapt themselves to the 'factory' or Teaching Machine, which is not for teaching children but for ‘socialising them.’ It doesn’t impart virtue because virtues set a people free but the system wants a ‘managed’ people.

Freedom is the movement of the heart to embrace what is good, or beautiful, or noble. 
A man who cannot admire is a slave.

Dr Esolen refers to a wide variety of literature in both books I’ve read which I really appreciate: works by Sigrid Undset, Dostoevsky, Shakespeare, Pieper, Bradbury, Kipling, Dickens, Hugo, Orwell, and Chesterton, for example, but he doesn’t always provide references so if you don’t recognize the characters he’s referring to you’ll have to do some Google Searching.

Systems of Compulsion breed the unnatural, just as the unnatural requires systems of compulsion to confirm it. Consider communism, a system so insane that it could survive only by compulsion - through show trials and executions and the Gulag.

We must not think that these acts of compulsion were merely imposed upon a defenceless people, from without. They also rose from within.

Here he references Alexandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago (which I’m in the very slow process of re-reading) where the author cites the Soviet criminal code that dealt with any failure to make a denunciation of certain actions. The powers that be demanded enthusiasm for their revolution and not just a passive acceptance.

Life Under Compulsion is an important book for parents, anyone who is involved in education, those concerned about the outrage trend in society or the attempt to subject curriculum to the demands of a current political aim.
Considering the reaction to Dr. Esolen’s 2016 article, the book is even more relevant now than when it was when it was first published.

‘How do you get people en masse to submit to madness? By compulsion.’

This is a book I've chosen for the Christian Greats 2019 Challenge: No. 5)  A Philosophical Book by a Christian Author

Friday, 10 May 2019

Ruth by Elizabeth Gaskell (1853)

Ruth, Elizabeth Gaskell’s second book, was published in 1853 and is the surprisingly compassionate portrayal of a ‘fallen woman.' It contains elements that remind me of several books I’ve read:
The Scarlet Letter (1850) with its religious hypocrisy; Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891), in that a naïve & vulnerable young woman is pressured into a situation, (I nearly gave up on reading Thomas Hardy after this depressingly fatalistic story) and Jane Eyre (1847), where a family opens its heart to someone completely destitute. But Ruth stands alone with its redemptive and thoroughly Christian themes of suffering, hope, and restoration. It also raises the question of whether promoting a falsehood in order to protect an innocent person is justified.

Ruth Hilton is a strikingly beautiful 16 year old orphan serving an apprenticeship as a seamstress when she meets the well-off young gentleman, Henry Bellingham. Struck by her innocence and beauty, Bellingham befriends Ruth but when she loses her position as seamstress and is turned out of her home, he uses this to his advantage and persuades her to go to London with him. From there they travel to a Welsh inn where they live together.
After a while Bellingham falls ill. The landlady writes to his mother and she comes to take him back home leaving Ruth abandoned.

In a sense, the essence of the story really begins from this point. Ruth is taken in by the Bensons, a Dissenting minister and his unmarried sister, who show true Christian charity, even when they discover that Ruth is expecting Bellingham’s child.

'In the Bensons’ house there was the same unconsciousness of individual merit, the same absence of introspection and analysis of motive, as there had been in her mother; but it seemed that their lives were pure and good, not merely from a lovely and beautiful nature, but from some law, the obedience to which was, of itself, harmonious peace, and which governed them almost implicitly, and with as little questioning on their part, as the glorious stars which haste not, rest not, in their eternal obedience. This household had many failings: they were but human, and, with all their loving desire to bring their lives into harmony with the will of God, they often erred and fell short; but, somehow, the very errors and faults of one individual served to call out higher excellences in another, and so they reacted upon each other, and the result of short discords was exceeding harmony and peace. But they had themselves no idea of the real state of things; they did not trouble themselves with marking their progress by self-examination...'

Ruth gives birth to a son whom she names Leonard and is devoted to him. Aware of her lack of education and general life skills, she takes on some of the household duties and seeks to better herself intellectually. As she invests herself caring for others and nurturing her soul, she finds herself changing:

'But the strange change was in Ruth herself. She was conscious of it though she could not define it, and did not dwell upon it. Life had become significant and full of duty to her. She delighted in the exercise of her intellectual powers, and liked the idea of the infinite amount of which she was ignorant; for it was a grand pleasure to learn - to crave, and be satisfied.'

Mr Benson is shown in sharp contrast to one of his parishioners, the wealthy Mr Bradshaw, a self-righteous, legalistic, domineering man who, believing Ruth to be a widow, employs her as a governess for his children.

‘...every moral error or delinquency came under his unsparing comment. Stained by no vice himself, either in his own eyes or in that of any human being who cared to judge him, having nicely and wisely proportioned and adapted his means to his ends, he could afford to speak and act with a severity which was almost sanctimonious in its ostentation of thankfulness as to himself. Not a misfortune or a sin was brought to light but Mr Bradshaw could trace it to its cause in some former mode of action, which he had long ago foretold would lead to shame. If another’s son turned out wild or bad, Mr Bradshaw had little sympathy; it might have been prevented by a stricter rule, or more religious life at home...’

Mr Bradshaw dreaded all intimacies for his eldest son, Richard. He never allowed him to ask a friend home and taught him to avoid any society beyond his own family. Richard eventually caused grief for his father and Mr Benson made this insightful observation about him:

'He will never be a hero of virtue, for his education has drained him of all moral courage.'

Now that’s something to ponder!

Bellingham enters Ruth’s life again about ten years later. Since becoming a mother, all her love and care had been poured into her son. The Bensons had protected her child from the beginning and kept his illegitimate birth a secret but now Bellingham presented Ruth with an agonising choice. Mr Benson spoke into her situation with these words:

'The world is not everything, Ruth; nor is the want of men’s good opinion and esteem the highest need which man has. Teach Leonard this. You would not wish his life to be one summer’s day. You dared not make it so, if you had the power.'

Elizabeth Gaskell had been overlooked in the early twentieth century but in the past thirty years her work has attracted more attention. It’s interesting that the British educator, Charlotte Mason, herself an overlooked figure of the early twentieth century, included a chapter about Ruth in Book 2 of Ourselves, a volume written for the moral training of young people aged 16 years and over. She calls the story, ‘the history of a seduction,’ and makes this important observation, among others:

‘People say it is one of the crying injustices of society that the woman should suffer and the man go 'scot-free.' But does he?
The confirmed profligate, perhaps, is not capable of further degradation; but the man who falls for the first time loses his future as certainly as the woman, if less obviously. He may escape public disgrace, but he never gets over the loss of power, purpose, and integrity which accompanies the loss of purity. He is handicapped for life, though he may himself have forgotten why; and should he at last marry, his children too often repeat their father's sin.’

And Gaskell does make this handicap obvious in Bellingham’s life. Ruth rises and redeems herself. She grows in character and strength while he is thwarted in everything he does. Self-indulgence from his youth paved the way for his demise.

"...the thwarting resulting from over-anxiety: the indiscreet indulgence arising from a love centred in one object - had been exaggerated in his education." In these few words the author gives us a key to the situation, and we begin to suspect what is to follow.

He is a pathetic figure in the end.

Ruth is available in print here & a free Kindle version of the book may be found here.

Linking to Books & Chocolate for the 2019 Back to the Classics Challenge: 19th Century Classic

Sunday, 28 April 2019

Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis (1956)

Cupid Finding Psyche by Sir Edward- Burne Jones (1865-1867)

Till We Have Faces is a book I’ve been avoiding for a while, mostly because I had the idea that it would be a stiff and ponderous read, but what a strangely captivating story it turned out to be!
Subtitled, A Myth Retold, C.S. Lewis took the story of Cupid and Psyche originally written about 125 AD by Lucius Apuleius Platonicus (which you can read here) and retold, or re-interpreted it, from the point of view of Psyche’s older sister, Orual.
Lewis said of his book that it was, ‘...the straight tale of barbarism, the mind of an ugly woman, dark idolatry and pale enlightenment at war with each other...'

Orual is the ugly eldest daughter of Trom, the widowed King of Glome, an ancient barbaric kingdom, and Psyche is her beautiful younger half-sister. Orual is an unreliable narrator and presents everything in the light of her skewed perspective; her outer ugliness a reflection of what’s going inside her. She expresses a love for Psyche that she considers to be akin to maternal love but it is manipulative and devouring.

The Wedding of Psyche by Sir Edward- Burne Jones (1895)

When Psyche submits to leaving her home to be the ransom for all Glome, Orual vents her anger and hatred upon the gods. Becoming more bitter and twisted as she grows old, she covers up her outer ugliness with a veil.
For most of the book, Orual presents a compelling case, but we begin to see her unreliable nature as a narrator or interpreter of events as the book comes to an end. She had written her complaint in a book she authored but at the end of her life as she stands before the judge with her book in her hand, her veil is removed and she stands naked before countless gazers. She is then told to read her complaint aloud.

'I looked at the roll in my hand and saw at once that it was not the book I had written, it couldn’t be; it was far too small. And too old - a little, shabby, crumpled thing, nothing like my great book that I had worked on all day, day after day...
A great terror and loathing came over me. I said to myself, “Whatever they do to me, I will never read out this stuff. Give me back my Book.” But already I heard myself reading it.'

As Orual read aloud, her voice was strange to her but she knew that now she was hearing her real voice.

'I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?'

Orual was being ‘unmade.' She admitted that she had never had one selfless thought of her sister, Psyche. She confessed that she was a craver.
Orual ends her narrative with these beautiful words before she died:

'I ended my first book with the words No answer. I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away...'

The myth of Cupid and Psyche takes on a new meaning with Lewis’s interpretation. How easy it is to be unreliable narrators and only view our lives as we ourselves see it outworking. This struck me so forcibly as someone who sometimes relies on a narrow view of circumstances.
Till We Have Faces has a strangely beautiful twist that echoes a little of the Book of Job in the Old Testament -  to my mind, anyhow.
It is a wonderfully layered, deep book that reverberates in your soul but is surprisingly easy to read.
I have this selection of books in one volume (see below) by the author and it's the copy I read.
For the book on its own see this edition in print.

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Review of The Art of Poetry: Classical Academic Press

My daughter turned 14 years of age earlier this year and as with many students in the high school years, her days are very full. Besides her lessons at home, she is studying the cello at a level which requires about 6 hours of practice per week and she swims in a competition squad for 8 hours a week. From what I've observed, many other home educated children are in similar circumstances with a variety of similar or other commitments.

So why include the study Poetry? What use is it? Isn't it one of those 'enrichment' subjects that aren't really necessary; just a fancy add on and reserved for those kids who are into that type of thing? 

Something to consider:

'…your days are long and crammed with obligation and information and technology. You are at risk for thinking that this is knowledge. Poetic knowledge insists that beauty and truth can’t be separated. It reminds us that the rational alone will not take us to full knowledge and that we should be astonished by what is true.'

The Art of Poetry is a Poetry Curriculum but what it also does admirably is to give a beautifully articulated defence for the need of poetry in our lives, no matter what our age.

‘Poetry acknowledges something deep within our nature...’

This curriculum was written for students in the 7th to 10th Grade and includes an anthology of 39 poems from well-known and lesser known poets.
There are 16 Chapters each having a short anthology of poems with a variety of discussions questions, followed by an activity section and quiz at the end of the chapter. The activity section has a wide scope of options for students. My daughter loves drawing and enjoyed some of the more creative ideas for mixing poetry with art. Students who prefer writing, reciting, or acting, will also find plenty of ideas here.

There are three main sections in the text:

1) Elements of Poetry - eight chapters discussing Images, Metaphor, Symbols, Word, Sound, Rhythm, Shape, and Tone.

2) The Formal History of Poetry - seven chapters covering  the History of Form, Verse Forms, Shaping Forms, A Case Study in Form, Open Verse, A Case Study in Open Verse, and Narrative Poems.

3) Application - a section on growing your interest in poetry with suggestions such as starting a poetry group, finding mentors, and a range of other ideas.

Three Apendices include short biographies of the poets covered in The Art of Poetry; planning ideas, a glossary of terms, bibliography, timeline, and quizzes.

A few timetable options are suggested: an intense month long unit; spreading the curriculum out over the year - two sections per month; or expanding it out over several years.

‘Poetry fundamentally changes our relationship to language - we can no longer see words
 as merely serviceable vehicles.’

The complete curriculum for The Art of Poetry includes a Student Text, a Teacher’s Edition, and a set of 7 DVD’s with over 15 hours of material.
The DVD’s aren’t essential but I found them helpful and Miss 14 enjoyed the discussions between Christine Perrin and her four students. The students were of a similar age to my girl, and the banter between them added a nice dynamic.

At the beginning of each chapter, the author reads from sections of the text and then has a group discussion. At the end of this, she chooses one or two of the activities and demonstrates it.
One of our favourites was a free writing exercise. I thought I knew what this meant but as the author talked through it and then went ahead and modelled it, I realised I didn’t! For five minutes we wrote about images from one of the four seasons - no planning, just writing anything that came to our minds during that time, without stopping. I was pleasantly surprised with both of our efforts. This is a great exercise for those who tend to overthink things or get mental blocks when faced with a blank page.

Other activities included:

An exercise in Ekphrasis - a poem written in response to a visual piece of art. Moozle observed Pieter Bruegel's work, The Land of Cockaigne, and wrote this in response to it:

From the section on Metaphors:

‘Draw a picture of the bird of hope as you imagine it from Dickinson’s poem...
Will you ever see a bird now without considering the way in which its miraculous wings defy gravity and lift into the air? This is how poetry begins to live with us each day and in the scenes we encounter.’

Moozle chose to draw a blue wren, a tiny, beautiful, Australian native bird, as a metaphor for hope:

'Poetry remind us that the metaphor is the basic way of knowing the unknown and that we often describe one thing in terms of another. Poetry gives us images to cherish and to invigorate 
our daily experience.'

If you were planning to use the course with a group or needed some guidance in how to teach poetry in general, the DVD's would be a good resource. Or if like me you're using the curriculum with only one student, seeing other kids getting involved in a poetry discussion helps facilitate your own. 
The Teacher’s Edition includes the text from the Student Edition along with suggestions for discussion questions, answers to discussion questions for the poems, and answers to quizzes. It is arranged in such a way that you could use the Teacher’s Edition for the Student as the discussion answer guides are found tucked away at the end of the chapters.
The answers to the quizzes are sometimes on the opposite page so you could either cover them up or give the questions orally.
The Student Edition has the same content as the Teacher’s Edition minus the answer keys.

'Educating the imagination is an important aspect of studying poems.'


* A good variety of poems are studied
* The chapter introductions are just beautifully written (the quotations in this post were taken from the text)
* There is an emphasis on reciting and memorisation
* The activities have a mixture of analytical and creative suggestions
* The course is taught by a poet who obviously loves her subject
* It is very adaptable and could also be used for Mother Culture!


* There is so much content in this curriculum that it could overwhelm at first sight. In fact, the author specifically says in her introduction not to let it do this.

* Depending on the student, they may not be ready for the more analytical aspects of the curriculum.
If a student hasn't had much exposure to poetry before, I'd concentrate more on appreciating the various poems the author presents, reading them aloud, and covering the section 'The Elements of Poetry.'

The author reminds us that poetry can communicate before it is understood. Keeping that in mind takes the pressure off so that we can enjoy studying aspects of poetry and return to a lesson later on to look at it in a more analytical way. 
Appendix C has a simplified plan on Page 252 that summarize some practices to help initiate you into the world of poetry. 

For those following a Charlotte Mason method of education, I'm using this in Year 9 of Ambleside Online.

'…Poetry may make us from time to time a little more aware of the deeper unnamed feelings which form the substratum of our being, to which we rarely penetrate; 
for our lives are mostly a constant evasion of ourselves.'

 T.S. Eliot

Classical Academic Press kindly provided me with a free copy of The Art of Poetry Curriculum for review purposes and what I wrote above is my honest opinion.
They are also offering a 20% discount for the Art of Poetry Program (discount won’t apply to individual texts). Discount code “AOP2019” can be applied at checkout for the 20% off. 
The discount will run through until the 31st May 2019.

For further information:

Art of Poetry samples at Classical Academic Press

Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Sun on the Stubble by Colin Thiele

Sun on the Stubble is an Australian classic first published in 1961 and later adapted for television and was written by a prolific Australian author, Colin Thiele (1920-2006). We've read a number of his books, mainly for the younger set, and I'd heard of this book but didn't get to read it until my eldest was in her teens. I recognised the title when I stumbled upon it at an op shop,and thought I should at least give it a try seeing it was a sort of iconic Aussie book. I was surprised to find that it was so different from his other books, some of which are quite sad, and by the fifth page I started laughing at regular intervals and continued to do so until the end of the book 183 pages later.
I knew I'd just have to read this book aloud, which I did, but with great difficulty. When I'd finished the kids told their dad he had to read it aloud to them also. So he did but he had trouble too and everyone got frustrated because he'd read ahead and start laughing.

Bruno Gunther is the main character in the story, the youngest child of German immigrants, along with three other sons, two daughters, and Grandad, who settled in a farming community in South Australia after fleeing Germany.
The book opens as Bruno is leaving his beloved home to attend school in the city and his thoughts are on all he is leaving behind.

It was the end of a boyhood. The beginning of an exile. After twelve years in the warmth of home he was being thrust out, torn up by the roots, sent off to school in Adelaide. In his anguish the scenes of his boyhood swept through his mind's eye, leapt and swayed and flickered like the changing patterns of sunlight on the stubble...

Bruno's father is big, tough and blundering; his mother tiny and timid but fierce when it came to protecting her youngest child in particular; his older brothers are approaching manhood and are full of bravado and fun; his sisters are feminine, and the older girl is desperate to have bathroom amenities added to the home; his Grandad clever, devious at times, humorous and a beloved member of the family.

Dad was a big man - six feet tall and an axe handle across the shoulders. Each of his hands was like a leg of mutton. In an emergency, Dad was always reliable. He was strong and quick, even if no one could possibly describe him as cool.

A big tear started suddenly in Bruno's eye and he dabbed it hastily with the towel. Dear old Mum! He knew she was near tears herself, but she had a great love in her small body - more than Dad would ever know - and Bruno felt it suddenly like a warm and living thing.

Sun on the Stubble is a hilarious, loving, and often poignant portrayal of a young man growing up in post World War II rural Australia. Colin Thiele managed to write a very humorous story interspersed with gems showing facets of the love between a mother and her child.

Most of my children would say it was the best book we'd ever read aloud to them. It's definitely the funniest. It's suitable for family reading although I'd suggest a quick preview as I skipped a few sections when I first read it aloud as some of my children were quite young at the time. It's easy to do this without ruining the story.

The book pictured above is an Omnibus Edition and includes three other stories set in rural South Australia written by the author.
This is an updated post of my original from about six years ago. This book is too good to miss!

Sunday, 7 April 2019

A Charlotte Mason Education; Our Week #2

This is one of my intermittent posts giving a summary of some of what we've covered in a week. Here are some selections from last week, which was our third week of Ambleside Online Year 9.
My first post is here and details a few other areas plus some books that we're using. Last week we started Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice using the Naxos audio CD pictured below. We've used a few different audio productions for Shakespeare's plays including Arkangel, New Cambridge, and Folio, in addition to Naxos and we've probably enjoyed the Naxos versions best. Their narrators/actors are excellent!

The Oxford School Shakespeare guides are great for high school and often have ideas that can be used for narration. A couple from The Merchant of Venice are:
'The trial of Antonio is a very important event in Venice. Give it full 'media coverage' - newspaper, radio etc. Describe three of Portia's suitors and her attitudes towards them.'

I use these guides myself as we listen to the audio and my children have followed along using the free versions found here. They are often re-published and easy to find secondhand. I usually buy them for a dollar or two from op shops or Lifeline book sales.

Portia by John Everett Millais (1886)

'The quality of mercy is not strained;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
‘T is mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown...'

Portia's speech from The Merchant of Venice: Act IV, Scene 1

Weekly Readings for Year 9

Cold Case Christianity - We've been watching some videos by J. Warner Wallace, a cold-case homicide detective via RightNow Media but I found some online that are free. I haven't watched the free videos but the ones we've viewed at RightNow are very good. He's also written a number of books for both adults and children.

I've been using some of the Key to Algebra books for Moozle just for a diversion from her regular maths text. We've previously used Key to Percents & Fractions; Decimals, and will probably also use Key to Geometry. They are very good for cementing understanding and filling in gaps when you have a student who doesn't love maths.
Unfortunately, I've had to order them from the USA. is the cheapest place I've found. RainbowResource also has them but postage (to Australia) is expensive.

Free Reading

Saint Ronan's Well by Sir Walter Scott

The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff (re-read)

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen - this is the second time Moozle's  read this book and she's appreciated it a lot more this time around.

Working on some art skills:

Out comes the picture book! Moozle & her brother collaborated yet again to make a smashing apple pie using the recipe from this well-loved book: How to Make an Apple Pie & See the World by Marjorie Priceman.

Sourcing Books & Supplies in Australia

Sometimes I use World of Books for secondhand items. They're a bit limited regarding homeschool material but good for classics, Shakespeare guides, and better known titles. They also have free postage.
On occasion, eBay has had what I was after. I've bought Windsor & Newton watercolours from The Art Shop Skipton. It's a UK supplier but I had no problems with orders and when I looked they were cheaper than buying the paints here in Australia. That may not always be the case though. is a good place to compare book prices.

Friday, 22 March 2019

The Growth of a Soul: Daniel Deronda by George Eliot (1876)

Daniel Deronda was George Eliot’s final novel and her most controversial work.
The book contains a double plot, which was quite common with Victorian novelists such as Charles Dickens and William Thackeray, but Eliot took an unusual direction in this novel by introducing a Jewish theme. Between 1860 and 1874, the idea of re-establishing a Jewish homeland in the Land of Israel was the focus of a group of men who came to be known as the Proto-Zionists, or the fore-runners of Zionism and Eliot's story revolves around this.

Daniel Deronda is a comfortably off young man who has no knowledge of his origins and thinks he is the illegitimate son of his benefactor. By dint of circumstance he becomes involved with Mordecai, a young Jewish man dying of consumption, who believes that Deronda has been sent to him so that he may pass on to him his knowledge and vision.

Before he encounters Mordecai, Deronda meets Gwendolen Harleth, a beautiful but self-centred and vain young woman who ends up ‘marrying money.’
Her husband, Henleigh Grandcourt, is decadent, controlling, callous, and extremely wealthy.
Throughout the novel the lives of Deronda and Gwendolen criss-cross and Gwendolen sees him as her saviour in some ways, turning to him for guidance as her husband’s domination and control begins to crush her.

This is a large-scale novel with many twisted strands and each of the chapters tend to alternately focus on specific characters which makes for dense reading at times.

I found the relationship between Gwendolen and her husband compelling reading and when the narrative changed to focus on what was going on in Deronda's life, I felt irritated me at times because I was anxious to see how the couple’s relationship would work out.

Reading about Gwendolen was like watching the slow growth of a soul and it was one of my favourite parts of the book.

Eliot was well-read and intellectual - you don’t have to read for too long to realise that the themes she explores in this novel were assiduously researched. Excerpts, quotations or mentions of art, economics, literature, history, and music plus 683 explanatory notes in my copy of the book (!! and of course, I had to read them all) attest to that. This book is quite different to her other books, especially Adam Bede (which was delightful) and Silas Marner (which I also enjoyed).
Daniel Deronda requires a real commitment to get through, but it’s worth it.

I’ll get back to Gwendolen’s soul journey shortly, but first I have to say that there were some minor characters that were just delightful.

Mrs Meyrick was one of them. She and her daughters lived in a house that looked very shabby from the outside but was, in reality, a place of beauty and culture...

‘...their minds being like mediaeval houses with unexpected recesses and openings from this into that, flights of steps and sudden outlooks.’

She was a kind, motherly woman with much wisdom:

'Don’t be forecasting evil, dear child, unless it is what you can guard against. Anxiety is good for nothing if we can’t turn it into a defence. But there’s no defence against all the things that might be.'

Herr Klesmer was another gem. A first-rate Jewish musician engaged by the wealthy Arrowpoint family to teach Catherine, their only daughter and heiress to the family fortune, a handsome catch for anyone after a fortune, but Klesmer was a proud and honourable man. It was inconceivable that Catherine would consider an attachment to Klesmer...

But along came Mr Bult, a political man of a good family, a ‘new pretender to her hand,’ and Herr Klesmer spoke up...

' are to me the chief woman in the world - the throned lady whose colours I carry between my heart and my once said it was your doom to suspect every man who courted you of being an adventurer, and what made you angriest was men’s imputing to you the folly of not believing that they courted you for your own sake...

It was a bitter word. Well, at least one man who has seen women as plenty as flowers in May has lingered about you for your own sake. And since he is one whom you can never marry, you will believe him...don’t give yourself for a meal to a Minotaur like Bult...'

'Why should I not marry the man who loves me, if I love him?' said Catherine. To her the effort was something like the leap of a woman from the deck into the lifeboat.

'It would be too hard - impossible- you could not carry it through. I am not worth what you would have to encounter. I will not accept the sacrifice. It would be thought a mésalliance for you, and I should be liable o the worst accusations.'

'Is it the accusations you are afraid of? I am afraid of nothing but that we should miss the passing of our lives together.'

This was one of my favourite scenes. They both had to face her parents who were totally astonished and absolutely furious but Catherine had a will of her own and Klesmer didn't care about the fortune.

Now back to Gwendolen.

Gwendolen was self-absorbed. ‘Always she was the princess in exile,’ and was a person who had a ‘strong determination to have what was pleasant, with a total fearlessness in making themselves disagreeable or dangerous when they did not get it.’

But she had one redeeming quality. She loved her mother, although she didn’t really express that very well at times. In fact it was mostly out of fear of her mother being forced to live in poverty that she married Grandcourt.
Grandcourt did provide for her mother after they were married but he shunned any contact with both  the mother and uncle, whose family had been so good to her and this was very painful to Gwendolen.

Eliot’s characterisation of Grandcourt is chilling:

‘...his negative mind was as diffusive as fog, clinging to all objects, and spoiling all contact.

...quarrelling with Grancourt was impossible: she might as well have made angry remarks to a dangerous serpent coiled in her cabin without invitation.

Grandcourt had an intense satisfaction in leading his wife captive after this fashion: it gave their life on a small scale a royal representation and publicity in which everything familiar was got rid of and everybody must do what was expected of them whatever might be their private protest - the protest (kept strictly private) adding to the piquancy of despotism.

The beings closest to us, whether in love or hate, are often virtually our interpreters of the world...may be acting as a melancholy theory of life in the minds of those who live with them...'

The neutral loftiness of her husband chilled Gwendolen but unconsciously she began to appreciate people she had previously held in contempt. In her talks with Deronda he had encouraged her to find some mental enlargement by reading difficult authors so she took to reading Descartes, Bacon, Locke, and others. However, they didn’t blend with her daily agitations and instead she discovered this ‘mental enlargement’ when she reflected upon her family and especially the kindness shown to her and them by her uncle in the past.
She began to see others through a different lens.

'She, whose unquestioning habitat had been to take the best that came to her for less than her own claim, had now to see the position which tempted her in a new light, as a hard, unfair exclusion of others.'

She had married Grandcourt with the idea that she could conquer him as she had done with others but she had not considered that 'the desire to conquer is itself a sort of subjection.' Grandcourt proved to be unconquerable and Gwendolen's humiliation gave her eyes to see others more kindly.

'She was experiencing some of that peaceful melancholy which comes from the renunciation of demands for self, and from taking the ordinary good of existence, and especially kindness, even from a dog, as a gift above expectation.'

Daniel Deronda is really a story of redemption. I haven’t said very much at all about the eponymous hero because Gwendolen’s journey of the soul was the most interesting part of the book for me. He,  too, had a journey of the soul, but I'll leave it at that.

I read this with my book club and it was interesting to hear how differently we engaged with this novel. If you enjoy History there are some very interesting aspects Eliot covers and perhaps if I read the book again I’d concentrate on those more but I found the author’s exploration of character, choice, and growth through suffering full of depth and insight.

Linking to - Back to the Classics 2019: Very Long Novel and The Classics Club

Free Kindle version here.

Sunday, 17 March 2019

A Charlotte Mason Education: Our Week #1

Last week we finished our first week of Year 9 using mostly the Ambleside Online suggestions for this year but with some Australian substitutes and a couple of science additions. Each time we've gone through this AO year we've done things a bit differently.
This time around I have a few other commitments, including having a day with my two grandchildren when Moozle practices her Aunty skills and not a lot of our regular work gets done.
We also have a lot more outside commitments than we've ever had before because I'm only teaching one. This has been a stretch for my less than stellar organization abilities and that is reflected in my plans for the year...I haven't fully decided what we will be using in a couple of subjects at this point.
Anyhow, I thought I'd do a little post on our first week, so here we go:


Captain Cook by Alistair Maclean. This is a substitute for one of the American biographies AO schedule and I've scheduled it for Term 1.

Two more books I'll be including are My Love Must Wait by Ernestine Hill, which sounds like something from Mills & Boon, but is a superb account of the life of Matthew Flinders, and Currency Lass by Margaret Reason, which is set in the early days of Sydney Town - lots of local history in this, especially of the Parramatta area.

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

Age of Revolution by Winston Churchill

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson - I'm reading this aloud as part of Science this year and editing where necessary. We're only one chapter in but it generated some great discussion!

The study of Architecture continues and this week Moozle read about Michelangelo in a chapter from 50 Architects You Should Know.

Men, Microscopes & Living Things by Katherine B. Shippen is a Newbery Honor book I've added in for science as we skipped a couple of books from Year 8. I bought the guide to this book from Sabbath Mood Homeschool. It's well done and would be suitable to use with a range of ages. The author includes 'Special Studies' and gives guidelines on how to go about them, which I find helpful as I tend to neglect this after a while.
We only did half of Napoleon's Buttons last year so it continues this year. I'm surprised she likes this book as much as she does because of all the organic chemistry details it includes. We had a home ed high school chemistry workshop a few weeks ago (which she loved) and that was a great way to boost her understanding.
<">Phineas Gageis another book we didn't get to last year so we're doing it now.

The Arts by Van Loon - one of the AO options for this year. We've previously used the Janson book of Painting which is a bit dry whereas Van Loon's book is more engaging, I think.

I bought this Art School Watercolour course during the Black Friday sales last year & Moozle started it this week. So far it looks good & I'll post some more details after she's used it for a while.

John Everett Millais is our current artist. I get Moozle to observe the painting for a week or two and then she writes a description from memory into her notebook.

* Did some hand quilting on her patchwork quilt project while I read aloud - it's getting there bit by bit.

* Orchestra Rehearsal - once a week; preparation for a Musicianship exam and cello practice.

* Commonplace Book - chose a quote from her reading & wrote in in her book

Free Reading

Emma by Jane Austen (re-read)

The Sea Hawk by Rafael Sabatini (re-read) Free for Kindle here. Sabatini is one of her favourite authors.

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin (re-read)


We started using The Art of Poetry from Classical Academic Press about a month ago. I'll be writing a review shortly.


I'm taking advantage of these free edX courses: Beginner, Intermediate & Advanced Italian. They each run for 12 weeks and may be accessed until 2020.
I'm really thrilled about these being available because Italian would have been my first choice as a foreign language as my Dad's mother was from Molise in Southern Italy although she spent most of her life in Scotland and we were surrounded by Italian speakers when I was growing up.
Due to the lack of resources, especially for younger children, when we first started home educating, we opted for French instead.
The plan was that we'd work through the lessons together but my daughter has left me for dead...I can get the accent easily enough but trying to learn vocabulary when your brain appears to have the dimensions of a pea is very difficult. I have progressed very slightly. She said to me, "I think because I'm young it's easier for me." Never a truer word was spoken.


I read a few of Elizabeth George's books some years ago & liked them and this one, Life Management for Busy Women called out to me from the bookshelf so I thought it was probably time that I read it again.

I've been working on my Christian Greats Challenge. If you have a blog or a Goodreads account feel free to link up with us. Details here.