Our Mutual Friend, by Charles Dickens

Hello, dear readers! Apologies for the extended absence… Sheila and I have been busy at university, getting into the swing of our classes and familiarizing ourselves with heavy workloads and sleepless nights. Alas! Tis a stressful life, this life of a student.

That being said, the stress has been redeemed through good classes and good conversations. I’m taking a course on the nineteenth century British novel, and it has been just fantastic. We just finished discussing Our Mutual Friend, by Charles Dickens, and it has become one of my favorite novels, by far.

I can’t believe that this is the first Dickens novel I’ve read. The time I’ve wasted on the likes of Jane Austen and Ernest Hemingway… lamentable, indeed! No prose can compare to the prose of Dickens in Our Mutual Friend. The style, the sophistication, the wit — the wit, the wit, the wit! How often I found myself laughing aloud and texting bits of dialogue and description to my family and friends, all for the wit! — nothing, nothing could be so superior. Darling Twemlow, rubbing his forehead and wistfully envying the advantages of horse life, was as endearing as he was amusing. Mrs Wilfer and Lavinia, awful and ridiculous creatures that they were, still sent me into bursts of giggles with their ridiculous theatrics and staged martyrdoms. The sarcasm and cool indifference of Eugene Wrayburn earned many a smirk from me… whether or not that reflects poorly on my character, who can say? I can only be certain that this novel’s humor could not have been more enthusiastically received on my part. Let it be known that although dark at times, Our Mutual Friend is not without fantastic humor!

Besides being a comedic delight, Our Mutual Friend beautifully weaves themes of redemption, death, and self sacrifice into one grand and glorious plot, filled with the most intriguing and morally upright characters I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing through the pages of a novel. Jenny Wren, the doll’s dressmaker, tells us how she was carried by children who made her light, and stands on top of rooftops shouting “come up and be dead, come up and be dead!” Lizzie Hexam, daughter of Gaffer Hexam, is a beautiful thing in an ugly place; she is an almost Christ-like figure, the incarnation of self-sacrifice. Mr and Mrs Boffin, unselfish, lovely, and simple people use their sudden wealth to help others and do good, in the face of all the temptation and corruption of English society. They, and many more in this novel, will always be near and dear to my heart. Such characters are unforgettable.

That being said, it is impossible to say anything about this novel without pointing out that almost every major character has to undergo a kind of almost death, either literally or figuratively, and they are resurrected as either better characters, or worse. John Harmon and Eugene Wrayburn come the closest to actually dying at their lowest points in life; they are saved, and redeem themselves by becoming men worth saving… which they had not been before. Roger Riderhood, on the other hand, almost drowns, is brought back to life resting on the knee of his daughter Pleasant, and immediately proves himself to be unworthy of rescue. His character quickly sinks to even lower levels than the reader would have imagined possible, and we immediately see the parallels between him and John Harmon.

I loved this idea in the novel; that we have to kill the parts of ourselves that cause us to stray from the light before we can ever belong to any kind of goodness. One is reminded of the words of C. S. Lewis: “Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favorite wishes … submit with every fibre of your being and you will find eternal life. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead.” We cannot be lifted up unless we raise our anchors first; we cannot run the race if we have not untied the rope around our feet. Our Mutual Friend, though not specifically a religious novel, raises these questions and demonstrates their importance through each character with grace and mastery. It was one of the best novels I have ever read in my life, and I do not say that lightly. I am a better person for reading it.

Love always,
Anne

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The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, by Victor Hugo

I began this novel expecting the story to vaguely resemble the Disney film. Although I anticipated some changes (a 19th century novel could never be so simple), nothing could have prepared me for this novel.

A fully fleshed out fairy tale, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame is dark, heart wrenching, mysterious, suspenseful and filled with heartbreak. The passion behind each character defines them, whether it be Esmeralda’s irrational unrequited love for Phoebus or Don Frollo’s perverted obsession with the gypsy girl. Between midnight meetings, lost identities, superstitious legends and a hideous hunchback, I truly felt like I was immersed in the world of Brother’s Grimm.

I think the greatest triumph of this novel were the characters themselves. Hugo dedicates chapters to each character, ensuring the reader fully understands each one’s loves, hatreds, virtues and failings. Don Frollo is introduced as brilliant beyond his time – no one can compare to his great mind. The reader then sees the demise of Don Frollo as his obsession with Esmeralda grows, and therefore cannot see him as a one dimensional evil character. This lack of a true enemy is a brilliant move on Hugo’s part, and leaves the reader to form opinion’s of their own.

Throughout the book, Hugo takes breaks from his complicated story to insert his own essays of his own musings. These essays, often adding 50 pages to the already enormous novel, I found tedious and unnecessary. When reading, be wary: they appear more often than anyone would like.

All that being said, The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a truly beautiful story, and very much worth reading. As fanciful as Hugo makes 15th century Paris, this story has something timeless and resounding in it, earning its place as a classic.

Love always,
Sheila

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The Day I Fell In Love With My Pocket — Creative Poetry

Hello, lovely ones! Today I’m going to share with a poem I wrote for my summer creative writing class. I’m very fond of it.

 

The Day I Fell In Love With My Pocket

He fluffs and sometimes ruffles, softly swaying when I sway.
Crinkling, sometimes tinkling, with my nickels for the day.
He jingles and he jangles, sounding cheerful and quite merry.
My quiet friend, my loyal friend, filled with all that he can carry.

One day I didn’t give him any change or stuff to hold,
I was walking down the street when all at once, lo and behold!
My friend, he started talking! There I heard him say, “Hello!”
Twas a whisper, just a whisper, but it set my heart aglow.

His voice was raw, but soft and gentle; kinda friendly, rough and tough,
I giggled and I wriggled and found my brain was full of fluff!
But I went ahead and asked him, “Should I have left my purse at home?
Perhaps you’re feeling empty, would you like my keys, my phone?”

“No! I’m just here for conversation,” he huskily replied.
So huskily, so muskily, his voice touched me deep inside.
“My pocket’s talking! This is shocking!” I was thinking at this time.
His handsome ‘hello’ was heavenly – a taste of the sublime!

So I find myself at ease and I begin to chat nonstop,
Blabbering ‘bout my books and sister and my favorite coffee shop.
“How ‘bout you? What’s your life like? What’s your real name?” I ask at last.
He had only laughed and listened while I was spilling out my past.

He chortles and I blush. He says, “I don’t remember much;
I only know for certain I came alive at your first touch.”
I get so swoony and so moony and heaven knows I’m so in love.
His voice is deep, I’m swept off my feet, but there’s a problem here… sort of.

He’s so gentle, and sentimental, but he’s the stitching on my hip!
How’s a girl supposed to kiss a guy with threads instead of lips?
Pondering this loathsome problem, I stopped and listened to a sound:
The pocket on my hip began to beat; began to pound.

Steady, strong, I heard it pumping; starry eyed, I looked to see
My own true love and pocket had a heart, undoubtedly!
“Oh love of mine!” I cried aloud, “Let’s ride away together,
Into this summer sunset, and we’ll stay attached forever.”

Let me know what you think! I’ll admit, I am especially fond of it, which is why I’m choosing to share it with you fine people on WordPress.

Love always,
Anne

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A List of Wishes

1.) I wish I was taller. Really, it’s a world of hurt to be short. Reaching things on top of the refrigerator suddenly becomes a huge struggle. And walking through the hallways. When you’re short, you can’t force your way through people – you’re constantly forced to walk behind these ridiculously slow guys with their swag or ditzy girls gossiping. It’s infuriating, and you could worm through them, granted. But wouldn’t it be so much easier for people to move out of your way? And tall people – their jeans look good on them. Whenever I go shopping for jeans, they’re all too long. The stores have some jeans actually labeled ‘short,’ but, let me tell you, designers do not have us in mind, because they’re still too long. I’m forced to cuff every pair of jeans I own. All I’m asking for is two inches. What would go so wrong if I were 5’3’’ instead of 5’1’’? Two inches. That’s it.

2.) I wish I didn’t have to take exams. That sounds stupid, but really, they stress me out more than anything in the world. Before my Euro exam in tenth grade, I thought crazy stuff. I remember thinking that if I broke both my legs and fractured my wrist, they couldn’t possibly make me take that exam. It’s not that I don’t enjoy learning things, because I do, I just don’t like the enormous pressure that’s put on you in three hours. And in the past, I’ve performed well under pressure, but there’s always that voice inside of me saying ‘this could be the time you really screw it up.’ I wish I could just take the class and be done with it. What did the college board ever mean to me, anyway?

3.) I wish to know things. I remember when Anne first went off to college, and she learned all this cool stuff about Descartes and Tennyson and I was really, really jealous. I constantly thirst for knowledge. I want to be able to speak intelligently with my Grandpa about Napoleon’s conquest of Russia and the Egyptian empire. I want to read Plato and Aristotle and understand the basis of the Western Heritage. I want to travel, to see the Mona Lisa, the Fertile Crescent, St. Petersburg and the pyramids. One of the reasons I’ve never desired to experiment with alcohol or drugs is because, even if only temporarily, they blind you from the world. I want always to have my eyes open. I’m not ready to die. There is too much in this world that I am aching to know and dying to see: I’m not ready to leave it behind. I think the more you know about the world, the more you can participate in it, and the more you can participate, the better your chances for true happiness become.

4.) I wish for a place in the lives of the people I love. Not necessarily a big place, but a place big enough that I can see them flourish. As my friendships grow, I’m constantly floored at how truly good and admirable other people are. I don’t want to miss out landmarks of their lives. Take our little sister, Fiona. She is the most beautiful and talented girl to ever walk the face of the planet, and I cannot wait to see her blossom as she grows. I want to be there when she gets a lead in a play, or becomes a great scientist. I want to be there when Anne gets married and becomes the happiest girl on earth. I want to see our little brother write a philosophy book and see our mom receive her master’s degree. I want to see Priscilla get swept off her feet and Noah get his ego taken down three notches by some girl no one’s ever heard of, or when Brandon finds his cure for cancer. I want to be there when these things happen because I love these people, and, frankly, I can’t bear the thought of forgetting them. And I selfishly wish that they don’t forget about me. All reason tells me in fifteen years I won’t even remember their names, but I wish whole heartedly I won’t forget them because I firmly believe they’re too good to be forgotten.

5.) I wish for a guarantee in myself. One of my high school English teachers once told me about ‘The Geek,’ and how he would kill a chicken with his bare hands just for a beer. And how this, in some sickening way, entertained people, appealing to the worst in human nature. My dad told me a similar anecdote from this movie called ‘The Elephant Man.’ To paraphrase, this guy is walking through the circus with a girl on each arm, and you can tell, sooner or later that night, that he’s going to be “getting some”. As they walk through the circus, they see this stark naked, tragically deformed man. He has some disease that cause his bones to stick out of his face in all sorts of different directions; he’s the freak show of the circus. And as the guy and the two girls stand there and laugh at him, you can tell they’re somehow getting some kind of warped sexual pleasure from the situation, like looking at this man is a twisted kind of foreplay for them all. And I think inside every one of us, there’s the potential to get the same kind of pleasure from the same kind of source. I think we all have a dark, crooked desire inside ourselves. I wish to conquer that desire; I wish to never be that man; I wish to never be The Geek. I wish for a guarantee that I won’t ever slip into that part of myself, that I won’t ever succumb to the dark desires with which we are all doomed to struggle. I wish for that guarantee.

Love always,
Sheila

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The Tale of Despereaux, by Kate DiCamillo

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Hello, dearest readers! Today, I will be sharing my thoughts on The Tale of Despereaux, by Kate DiCamillo, with you.

As an English major, an aspiring author, and a constant reader, it’s no surprise that I am enchanted with books that celebrate the beauty of stories. But no one needs to be any of these things to fall in love with The Tale of Despereaux. Kate DiCamillo writes of hope in dark places, of light conquering darkness, of courage and love and forgiveness. She writes, and she reminds us of our souls.

Despereaux, an undersized mouse and a hopeless romantic, reads the story of a knight in shining armor, and delights in the bravery and goodness that the character radiates from the pages. In identifying with the knight, Despereaux becomes the knight. An unexceptional little mouse becomes heroic and bold and good, simply because he has read a story about someone who is all those things. And even though Despereaux’s knight is totally fictional, he comes alive through the little mouse who admires and molds himself after his favorite fairytale hero.

This is what stories offer us. When our worlds are dark and small, they give us the gift of hope. We hear of unheard bravery, of divine goodness and impossible heroism that all serve to awaken some long lost truth within ourselves. We are called to the light. And through this hope, this desire to become better and more beautiful, we achieve that which was once impossible. We forgive, we love, we grow, because we believe we can. We believe we can be like the heroes that we heard of when we were small. And as we believe, we become.

I firmly believe that stories save people. They give us hope, they mold us, shape us into better people. We all become tender creatures at the touch of the beauty, we all become stronger creatures when we learn to follow the light within us. This book perfectly demonstrated the power of literature. It made me remember why I loved reading in the first place.

Love always, 
Anne

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