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.

Sunday, 3 March 2019

In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden (1969)

In This House of Brede is a quiet sort of book; reflective and introspective but lively and interesting at the same time.

Philippa Talbot is a successful career woman who joins an order of contemplative Benedictine nuns at the age of forty-two.
Self-possessed, capable, used to giving orders and making decisions, she enters her new life as a postulant with women half her age and finds that it is not a place where she can hide and shut herself off. In this closed community she embarks on a new beginning, comes face to face with the pain of her past, and discovers that others, too, have their frailties and struggles, from the Abbess to the novices.
Phillipa's initial struggles come from unexpected quarters:

'Thank God I shall never gave to give orders again...’ None of the things she had anticipated as being hard, were hard; not the cold, nor the long hours of prayer. It was the little things that were Philippa’s danger; things so little they made her ashamed...the habits of success were fast in Philippa; indulgences that had become habits. Other postulants and novices were not old enough to have them as embedded but for Philippa, in those first months at Brede, they were like hooks being torn out of her flesh.

The daily rubbing of different personalities draws out the little annoyances and personality quirks. One of the Benedictine vows was that of 'conversion of manners,' which involves 'an entirely different way of thinking from the world’s...self-effacement instead of self-aggrandizement: listening instead of talking...being willing to empty yourself...'

'If there is any instability, religious life will make it worse.'

The Benedictine postulants needed to know that there were no compensations to this chosen way of life. A young nun renounces love, marriage, and the gift of children, knowing that ‘the lack of these things will gnaw at her all her life, leave holes in her, yet she must be just as warm, as self-denying and hard working as any wife or mother, and just as loving, without anyone to hold to.’

Somehow most of them did it, as did Sister Cecily whose young man turned up at the Abbey to beg her to leave and marry him.
Oh my! That was difficult to read. I really thought she should leave, marry, and have kids, but maybe that just reflects what I would have done in those circumstances.

An order whose purpose it is to care for the sick or to engage in teaching is understandable to those on the outside, but Brede, being a contemplative order whose main work is prayer, is less inclined to be understood:

'Nowadays there’s a tendency to make everything utilitarian - even the things of the spirit,' said Dame Clare. ‘Beware of this,’ and ‘That wasn’t the way of the saints,’ said Dame Ursula. ‘They didn’t set out to be of use.'

Rumer Godden set her book in the mid 1950’s and mentions the death of Pope Pius XII. the election of his successor, Cardinal Roncalli (later Pope John XXIII) and subsequent changes in church structure. New recommendations for the nuns’ habit were adopted by some of the Abbeys, which was applauded by some but others said that it was casting away tradition.

There is a sense throughout the story of the anticipation of some major event or great drama about to occur but then it passes and life goes on. Not a great deal happens outside of the internal crises of the various characters in the 500 plus pages of this book, but Godden’s writing is compelling. I just wanted to keep reading and was surprised it was so hard to put down.

Philippa stays the course and learns that, ‘Nothing less than the whole is good enough for God.’

In This House of Brede is like a tapestry showing the complexities and flaws behind a work in progress, but it also displays the grace that brings about true transformation and growth that makes for something beautiful and whole. It is a great choice if you're looking for a literary book with a Lenten theme.

‘We have chosen a stillness more powerful than all activity.’

Linking to Christian Greats Challenge, No 7 Seasonal Book and Back to the Classics 2019: 20th Century Novel

Friday, 15 February 2019

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell (1855)

After watching the BBC version of North & South multiple times and enjoying it so much, I decided it was time to read the novel.
What the movie doesn’t portray, due to obvious time constraints, is the depth of thought and exploration of character that Gaskell put into her work. Nuances, pertinent quotations at the beginning of each chapter, descriptions of landscape and people, the thought processes of the various characters etc. went by the wayside in the translation from book to movie. In some ways the movie and book were totally different experiences; almost two different stories, but in other ways they complemented each other.

If you’ve read Mary Barton, Elizabeth Gaskell’s first book, it’s almost a foreshadowing of North & South as it takes place in an industrial town for the most part and deals with the social problems that surfaced in that setting.

Margaret Hale and her parents leave their beloved village in the south of England to live in the industrial north when her father gives up his role of vicar after struggling with a matter of conscience.
Their new life in Milton (a fictional town akin to Manchester) brings them into contact with mill owners and workers and they are caught up in the tension between the two.
The movie focuses on the relationship between Margaret and Mr. John Thornton, an abrasive, driven,  mill owner who had worked hard to rise from impoverished circumstances to his current position.
They meet when the Hales rent a house from him and over time Thornton comes to love her and declares himself. Margaret scorns him at first but over a period of time she begins to appreciate and understand him and see him differently.

The book shows a much better development of this relationship than the movie. I enjoyed this conversation between the two of them early on in their relationship after Margaret asked Thornton if he thought a certain man, Mr. Morison, was a gentleman:

‘I am not quite the person to decide on another’s gentlemanliness, Miss Hale. I mean, I don’t quite understand your application of the word. But I should say that this Morison is no true man. I don’t know who he is; I merely judge him from Mr. Horsfall’s account.’

‘I suspect my “gentleman” includes your “true man.”’

‘And a great deal more, you would imply. I differ from you. A man is to me a higher and a completer being than a gentleman.’

‘What do you mean?’ asked Margaret. ‘We must understand the words differently.’

‘I take it that “gentleman” is a term that only describes a person in his relation to others; but when we speak of him as “a man,” we consider him not merely with regard to his fellow-men, but in relation to himself - to life - to time - to eternity. A cast-away lonely as Robinson Crusoe - a prisoner immured in a dungeon for life - nay, even a saint in Patmos, has his endurance, his strength, his faith, best described by being spoken of as “a man.” I am rather weary of this word “gentlemanly,” which seems to me to be often inappropriately used, and often, too, with such exaggerated distortion of meaning, while the full simplicity of the noun “man,” and the adjective “manly” are unacknowledged - that I am induced to class it with the cant of the day.’

Mr. Hale tutored John, who not having had opportunity for a proper education in his youth, now sought to study the Classics. The two men became good friends and Mr. Hale thought highly of his student but realised that his daughter didn’t. In a conversation regarding this Margaret said:

‘He is a man of great strength of character — of unusual intellect, considering the few advantages he has had.’

And Mr. Hales very astute answer, which I think is a wonderful observation about intellect generally:

‘Not so few. He has led a practical life from a very early age; has been called upon to exercise judgment and self-control. All that develops one part of the intellect. To be sure, he needs some of the knowledge of the past, which gives the truest basis for conjecture as to the future; but he knows this need - he perceives it, and that is something. You are quite prejudiced against Mr. Thornton, Margaret.’

Hard times come upon John Thornton and he is tempted to speculate. His father had done so and when his attempts failed he had committed suicide leaving his wife to bring up John and his younger sister on her own. This had left a profound mark on John. His success as a self-made man and his moral character as to how he conducted his business dealings was something he was rightly proud of.
One night he was very low as he contemplated his future. I loved this conversation he had with his mother who was not very endearing in the movie but redeemed herself here:

‘I have so worked and planned. I have discovered new powers in my situation too late — and now all is over. I am too old to begin again with the same heart. It is hard, mother.’

He turned away from her, and covered his face with his hands.

‘I can’t think,’ said she, with gloomy defiance in her tone, ‘how it comes about. Here is my boy - good son, just man, tender heart - and he fails in all he sets his mind upon: he finds a woman to love, and she cares no more for his affection than if he had been any common man; he labours, and his labour comes to nought...
‘I sometimes have wondered where justice was gone to, and now I don’t believe there is such a thing in the world...’

‘Mother!’ said he, holding her gently in his arms, ‘who has sent me my lot in life, both of good and of evil?’

She shook her head. She would have nothing to do with religion just then.

‘Mother,’ he went on, seeing that she would not speak, ‘I, too, have been rebellious; but I am striving to be so no longer. Help me, as you helped me when I was a child. Then you said many good words - when my father died, and we were sometimes sorely short of comforts - which we shall never be now; you said brave, noble, trustful words then, mother, which I have never forgotten, though they may have lain dormant. Speak to me again in the old way, mother. Do not let us have to think that the world has too much hardened our hearts. If you would say the old good words, it would make me feel something of the pious simplicity of my childhood. I say them to myself, but they would come differently from you, remembering all the cares and trials you have had to bear.’

‘I have had a many,’ said she, sobbing, ‘but none so sore as this. To see you cast down from your rightful place! I could say it for myself, John, but not for you. Not for you! God has seen fit to be very hard on you, very.’
She shook with the sobs that come so convulsively when an old person weeps. The silence around her struck her at last; and she quieted herself to listen. No sound. She looked. Her son sat by the table, his arms thrown half across it, his head bent face downwards.

‘Oh, John!’ she said, and she lifted his face up. Such a strange, pallid look of gloom was on it, that for a moment it struck her that this look was the forerunner of death; but, as the rigidity melted out of the countenance and the natural colour returned, and she saw that he was himself once again, all worldly mortification sank to nothing before the consciousness of the great blessing that he himself by his simple existence was to her. She thanked God for this, and this alone, with a fervour that swept away all rebellious feelings from her mind.

It was passages like the one above that gave an entirely different aspect on the character of both mother and son, aspects that the movie didn't portray in any depth. In fact, John Thornton seemed to be quite an irreligious man.

Another character that the movie didn’t really show to advantage was that of Henry Lennox, Margaret’s other suitor. He is shown to be jealous and full of rivalry towards Thornton but he actually helped Margaret and John in the end by bowing out and allowing them to meet on their own. He realised that he would never win Margaret and had the decency not to begrudge another who could. I thought he got a bit of a raw deal in the film.

The more I read Gaskell’s work, the more I appreciate her literary skill and her ability to craft a rich & satisfying story, as may be seen if you compare even two of her books, say Cranford and North & South.
In North and South Elizabeth Gaskell’s Christian beliefs were woven into the story very naturally along with some very thoughtful themes on the nature of man and character traits: rich and poor, masters and workers, men and women, social problems, class structure, trade unions, family life, pride and humility, prejudice and understanding...this is an excellent read and the movie is lovely even if it only deals with a small portion of the whole. I totally recommend both!

Ebooks Adelaide has a free, well done Kindle version.

North & South is my choice for no. 8) A Novel with a Christian Theme in the 2019 Christian Greats Challenge.