The Warden by Anthony Trollope

Last year I read Doctor Thorne by Anthony Trollope after enjoying a mini-series based on the book. I discovered Doctor Thorne was the third book of a six-part series called The Chronicles of Barsetshire. I liked Doctor Thorne so much, I decided to read the rest of the series.

The first book in the series is The Warden, a position held by a Mr. Septimus Harding. The warden had various functions in the local church. One role unique to this particular church was overseeing a hospital or almshouse for aged men. In previous years, a man named John Hiram had made provision in his will for such a hospital, for twelve men and a warden to care for them.

A young reformer, John Bold, becomes concerned that the set-up for the hospital is unfair to the patients. He thinks the arrangement is not being carried out according to the Hiram’s will and that the warden is getting more money than he should and the pensioners less. John Bold has no personal quarrel with Mr. Harding himself; in fact, he’s in love with Harding’s daughter, Eleanor. But he’s the type of personality that opposes the principle of the thing and can’t let it go. He begins a lawsuit. Newspapers get wind of the situation and cast aspersions at Mr. Harding’s character.

This might not sound like a riveting plot line, but what makes it interesting is the personalities. Mr. Harding is the meekest of men and only wants to do the right thing. He thought he had been doing right, but now he wants to have the will looked into to make sure. His son-in-law, Archdeacon Grantly, is just the opposite: a take-charge person used to running the show and having his own way. Grantly confers with lawyers to oppose the suit on technical grounds. Grantly probably is probably making too much money from his position: he is described several times as rich. He has no compassion for the old pensioners.

He knew well how strongly he would be supported by Dr Grantly, if he could bring himself to put his case into the archdeacon’s hands and to allow him to fight the battle; but he knew also that he would find no sympathy there for his doubts, no friendly feeling, no inward comfort. Dr Grantly would be ready enough to take up his cudgel against all comers on behalf of the church militant, but he would do so on the distasteful ground of the church’s infallibility. Such a contest would give no comfort to Mr Harding’s doubts. He was not so anxious to prove himself right, as to be so.

Trollope lived and wrote during Dickens’ time, and I wonder what they thought of each other. He satirizes a writer in the story who went by the name Mr Popular Sentiment and who sounds a lot like Dickens or one of his characters. Many of Dickens’ novels seem to have been written to raise awareness and inspire reform. Trollope is not against reform, but he seems to caution here that it can be carried out in a way that hurts innocent people, stirs up negative sentiment without the right basis in facts, and doesn’t accomplish anything good. The question could have been looked into without becoming adversarial. That’s a timely message for these days.

In former times great objects were attained by great work. When evils were to be reformed, reformers set about their heavy task with grave decorum and laborious argument. An age was occupied in proving a grievance, and philosophical researches were printed in folio pages, which it took a life to write, and an eternity to read. We get on now with a lighter step, and quicker: ridicule is found to be more convincing than argument, imaginary agonies touch more than true sorrows, and monthly novels convince, when learned quartos fail to do so.

I especially like Trollope’s characterizations of the newspaper, which in this story is called the Jupiter. I wonder what he’d think of news media today.

From here issue the only known infallible bulls for the guidance of British souls and bodies. This little court is the Vatican of England. Here reigns a pope, self-nominated, self-consecrated—ay, and much stranger too,—self-believing!—a pope whom, if you cannot obey him, I would advise you to disobey as silently as possible; a pope hitherto afraid of no Luther; a pope who manages his own inquisition, who punishes unbelievers as no most skilful inquisitor of Spain ever dreamt of doing—one who can excommunicate thoroughly, fearfully, radically; put you beyond the pale of men’s charity; make you odious to your dearest friends, and turn you into a monster to be pointed at by the finger!’

Oh heavens! and this is Mount Olympus!

It is a fact amazing to ordinary mortals that the Jupiter is never wrong.

A man may have the best of causes, the best of talents, and the best of tempers; he may write as well as Addison, or as strongly as Junius; but even with all this he cannot successfully answer, when attacked by The Jupiter. In such matters it is omnipotent. What the Czar is in Russia, or the mob in America, that The Jupiter is in England.

I like that Trollope addresses the reader, not just as the narrator and member of the community, but as the author.

It is indeed a matter of thankfulness that neither the historian nor the novelist hears all that is said by their heroes or heroines, or how would three volumes or twenty suffice! In the present case so little of this sort have I overheard, that I live in hopes of finishing my work within 300 pages, and of completing that pleasant task—a novel in one volume.

Our tale is now done, and it only remains to us to collect the scattered threads of our little story, and to tie them into a seemly knot. This will not be a work of labour, either to the author or to his readers

I also enjoyed the humorous asides:

The bishop did not whistle. We believe that they lose the power of doing so on being consecrated; and that in these days one might as easily meet a corrupt judge as a whistling bishop; but he looked as though he would have done so, but for his apron.

He never had time to talk, he was so taken up with speaking.

In matters of love men do not see clearly in their own affairs. They say that faint heart never won fair lady; and it is amazing to me how fair ladies are won, so faint are often men’s hearts!

[Said of a particular painting] There on her pedestal, framed and glazed, stood the devotional lady looking intently at a lily as no lady ever looked before.

Popularity spoilt him for all further real use, as it has done many another.

I’m thankful I read Doctor Thorne first. It took me a while to get into The Warden, but I came to enjoy it. I especially liked Harding and his youngest daughter, Eleanor. Of Eleanor it was said, “She had no startling brilliancy of beauty, no pearly whiteness, no radiant carnation. She had not the majestic contour that rivets attention, demands instant wonder, and then disappoints by the coldness of its charms. You might pass Eleanor Harding in the street without notice, but you could hardly pass an evening with her and not lose your heart.”

According to a few sources, Trollope had not intended to write a series when he published The Warden. But a few years later, he was inspired by the characters and setting to write another story. When his popularity picked up, publishers asked him for more books from Barsetshire. It wasn’t until after the sixth was published that the books were marketed together and called The Chronicles of Barsetshire.

I listened to the audiobook superbly read by Simon Vance.

I’m counting this book for the 19th century classic in the Back to the Classics Reading Challenge.

(Sharing with Booknificent, Carole’s Books You Loved)

Silas Marner

In Silas Marner by George Elliot (aka Mary Ann Evans), Silas is a weaver active in a small congregation. One morning, after helping take care of a sick deacon through the night, Silas is accused of stealing the congregation’s money that had been stored in the deacon’s house. He is suspect not only because he was there, but also because his pocket knife was where the money should be. But Silas distinctly remembers loaning his knife to his best friend, William Dane. The congregation decides to draw lots to determine Silas’ guilt or innocence, and Silas believes God will show that he’s innocent. However, the lot does just the opposite and finds him guilty.

Feeling betrayed by both God and man, Silas packs up and moves away to a rural area. He finds business weaving again, but he interacts with people as little as possible.

He hated the thought of the past; there was nothing that called out his love and fellowship toward the strangers he had come amongst; and the future was all dark, for there was no Unseen Love that cared for him. Thought was arrested by utter bewilderment, now its old narrow pathway was closed, and affection seemed to have died under the bruise that had fallen on its keenest nerves.

Because he’s such a loner and the folks are quite superstitious, rumors swirl about him. Because he doesn’t go anywhere—not even church—or do anything, the money he makes multiplies to the point of his idolizing it, counting it every night.

And then the unthinkable happens. One foggy night while out on a quick errand, he comes home to find his gold all gone. He’s completely undone, but the situation opens his neighbors’ hearts to him.

Then on another dark and snowy night, a little child wanders into Silas’ home, changing his life.

Intersecting several times with Silas’ story is that of the Cass family. The older Squire Cass, leading citizen of the area, has several sons. The oldest, Godfrey, has a secret that could ruin him and prevent his marriage to the woman he loves. His brother, Dunstan, knows the secret and uses his knowledge to manipulate Godfrey. Dunstan is a selfish cad. Godfrey is weak-willed and indecisive. He keeps turning his problems over in his mind but never doing anything about them, assuming somehow everything will come out all right in the end.

Silas Marner was first published in 1861 but set a few decades earlier. Elliot always delves deeply into the psychology of her characters, so the main action of the story deals with what they are thinking and why. But she also explores other themes: religion, change, class differences and parallels.

This book is much shorter than her others, so it’s a good one to give Elliot’s writing a try.

Hope has mentioned the Literary Life Podcast. When I looked it up, I saw they were discussing Silas Marner, so I decided to give them a try. I was a little put off during the first episode because it was an hour and twenty minutes just to cover the first three chapters, it took fifteen minutes before they started talking about the author, and another sixteen minutes to get to the book. The only other podcast I have listened to regularly is the Christian Publishing Show by Thomas Umstattd, Jr. He dives right in and puts all his “commercials” at the end—which I appreciate. But once the folks at the Literary Life Podcast got into the meat of the book, I enjoyed listening to them. They brought our several things that I missed and added insights from the times and Elliot’s life. The podcast doesn’t advertise itself as Christian, but from the discussions, the participants seem to be believers. I’ve listened to the first two podcasts on Silas and am in the midst of the third.

Some years ago I heard a Focus on the Family Radio Theater production of Silas Marner that was quite well done. From that, I knew the basic story but had forgotten many details. And the book is a richer, deeper experience.

I don’t know if I’ll ever forgive the Little House on the Prairie TV series for making me think this would be a boring book. 🙂 In one episode, Albert mourns having to read it for school instead of doing something else he’s rather do. I had never heard of the book before that.

On the other hand, I’ve heard others say that they didn’t like it when they first read it, either. Maybe it’s one that doesn’t go over so well in high school? I don’t know. But I am glad I read it when I did, because I enjoyed it quite a lot. I listened to the audiobook very nicely read by Andrew Sachs but also looked up parts in the Kindle edition, which, at the time of this writing, is 60 cents.

I’m counting this book for the classic by a woman author for the Back to the Classics Reading Challenge.

Have you read Silas Marner? What did you think?

(Sharing with Booknificent, Carole’s Books You Loved)

Nicholas Nickleby

When Nicholas Nickelby’s father died, Nicholas, his mother, and his sister, Kate, had to cast themselves on the mercies of their uncle, Ralph Nickleby.

Ralph had become a rich but hardened and unprincipled man. He only wanted to do the minimum for his poor relations. He got Nicholas an assistant’s position with Wackford Squeers, the one-eyed superintendent of the Dotheboys School in Yorkshire. As Nicholas prepares to leave, he is given a letter by Ralph’s odd assistant, Newman Noggs. Noggs offers Nicholas help if it is ever needed.

Nicholas finds that the Dotheboys school is a place of cruelty and injustice. Squeers and his wife take money for the boys’ education and use it for themselves, giving the boys very little to eat. They take the boys’ clothes and adapt them for their own son, Wackford, Jr. Squeers mistreats all the boys, especially a young man named Smike who has been abandoned at the school and become an unpaid servant to the family. Nicholas “hoped that by remaining where he was, he might do some good, even there; at all events, others depended too much on his uncle’s favour, to admit of his awakening his wrath just then.” But Nicholas fights Squeers while intervening to keep Smike from being beaten, and he and Smike leave the school.

Nicholas has little money and has not been trained for any work. After meeting up with Newman Noggs, Nicholas and Smike attempt to find work on a ship, but are disappointed. Nicholas meets up with an acting troupe, and he and Smike are taken on.

Meanwhile, back in London, Ralph puts Kate and her mother in an old slum that he owns. He sets Kate up in a dressmaker’s shop. He invites her to a dinner with other businessmen, hoping to use her to draw in the young Lord Verisopht further into his debt. All the men are lewd and crude, and Kate flees the scene. But she has attracted the notice of an older man, Mulberry Hawk, who sets his sights on her.

When Newman Noggs alerts Nicholas that Kate is in danger, Nicholas speeds back to London, removes his mother and Kate from their uncle’s house, and tells Ralph they want nothing more from him.

But now with the weight of his family’s support, Nicholas needs to find respectable work. At his lowest point, Nicholas runs into a benevolent businessman named Charles Cheeryble. Charles is so kind and forthcoming that Nicholas can’t help but spill his story. Charles hires him on the spot.

But the Nickleby trials aren’t over yet.

Nicholas Nickleby is Charles Dickens’ third novel. It was published in serialized form 1838-1839. Dickens is a master of creating chapter endings that stir up anticipation for the next chapter. I was glad I didn’t have to wait a month between installments like the original readers.

As usual, Dickens employs a plethora of memorable characters, some quite eccentric. I love how the names fit many of them so well.

Though Nicholas is honest, noble, devoted to his family, and well-intentioned, he’s also immature. According to Wikipedia, Dickens said of him, “If Nicholas be not always found to be blameless or agreeable, he is not always intended to appear so. He is a young man of an impetuous temper and of little or no experience; and I saw no reason why such a hero should be lifted out of nature.”

As much as I love Dickens, I had never read this book. I thought I knew the story from a film, but I only remembered the evil schoolmaster and the dressmaker. So I must have seen the beginning of a miniseries.

Some of my favorite lines:

“Good-night—a—a—God bless you.” The blessing seemed to stick in Mr. Ralph Nickleby’s throat, as if it were not used to the thoroughfare, and didn’t know the way out.

The day wore on, and all these bright colours subsided, and assumed a quieter tint, like young hopes softened down by time, or youthful features by degrees resolving into the calm and serenity of age. But they were scarcely less beautiful in their slow decline, than they had been in their prime; for nature gives to every time and season some beauties of its own; and from morning to night, as from the cradle to the grave, is but a succession of changes so gentle and easy, that we can scarcely mark their progress.

She began to think, too, that Sir Mulberry was not quite so agreeable a creature as she had at first supposed him; for, although a skilful flatterer is a most delightful companion if you can keep him all to yourself, his taste becomes very doubtful when he takes to complimenting other people.

Among men who have any sound and sterling qualities, there is nothing so contagious as pure openness of heart.

In unequal marriages, the rich party is always supposed to make a great sacrifice, and the other to get a good bargain!

One of my favorite parts was near the end when one older, unlikely character proposes to another by saying, “Let’s be a comfortable couple, and take care of each other! And if we should get deaf, or lame, or blind, or bed-ridden, how glad we shall be that we have somebody we are fond of, always to talk to and sit with! Let’s be a comfortable couple. Now, do, my dear!”

One bothersome feature of this book is a couple of characters’ overuse of various forms of the word “damned”

I don’t think Nicholas will rank with David Copperfield and A Tale of Two Cities as my favorite Dickens novels. But I am glad to be acquainted with the story now, and some of the characters are especially touching. I listened to the audiobook superbly read by Simon Vance. I enjoyed reading parts online here and looking at the illustrations.

I’m counting this book as a new-to-me classic written by a favorite author for the Back to the Classics Reading Challenge.

Have you read Nicholas Nickleby? What did you think?

(Sharing with Carol’s Books You Loved, Booknificent)

Book Review: Daddy Long Legs

I’ve read a couple of books based on the 1912 Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster (Dear Mr. Knightly by Katherine Reay and Sincerely, Jem by Kate Willis in A Very Bookish Christmas). But I had never read the original story. I figured it was time to remedy that.

Jerusha Abbott,, who calls herself Judy, has grown up in the John Grier Home orphanage. She has just about aged out of the system. She’s finished high school and is working at the home.

Then she receives word that one of the trustees has offered to pay her way through college. One of Judy’s teachers had told him she could be an excellent writer. The trustee will pay all of Judy’s expenses and give her an allowance. The donor does not want Judy to know who he is. He’ll communicate through his secretary. His only requirement is that she write him a letter once a month about what she’s learning.

The rest of the book is made up of Judy’s letters. She was told to address her letters to Mr. John Smith. She had caught a glimpse of him from behind during one of the trustees’ monthly meetings to the orphanage. She could only make out that he was very tall, so she nicknames him Daddy Long Legs.

Although thoroughly excited by her opportunity, Judy faces challenges as well. An East Coast girl’s college is a different environment from an orphanage. Judy faces a social learning curve as well as an academic one.

But for the most part she faces life optimistically. Her letters are usually lively and cheerful. But sometimes she’s downhearted or angry—sometimes with Daddy Long Legs.

Since I’d read other books based on this story, I knew the surprise twist near the end of who “Daddy” was. But it was still satisfying to see how it came about and to see little clues appear.

The original books contained some drawings by the author (Judy refers to them in her letters). But, unfortunately, the free Kindle version didn’t have them.

One thing that irked me, though, was that Judy seemed to feel obligated to make several “digs” at religion. Yes, this is a secular book, and so I don’t expect it to portray Christian values. But I don’t expect it to poke at them, either. What religious instruction Judy had at the orphanage seemed institutional and cheerless (she says of one dinner with new friends, ““We don’t have to say grace beforehand. It’s a relief not having to thank Somebody for every mouthful you eat. [I dare say I’m blasphemous; but you’d be, too, if you’d offered as much obligatory thanks as I have.”]) Maybe that’s what she’s rebelling against. But I couldn’t help wonder if some of these thoughts were the author’s and this was her way to get them out into the world. One thing Judy shares from her vast amounts of reading in college was that “I didn’t know that people used to be monkeys and that the Garden of Eden was a beautiful myth.” Maybe that’s what starts her on a negative religious path; maybe it was there before and this new “learning” brought it to the forefront. Elsewhere she says, “Thank heaven I don’t inherit God from anybody! I am free to make mine up as I wish Him. He’s kind and sympathetic and imaginative and forgiving and understanding—and He has a sense of humour.”

A couple of quotes I enjoyed:

It isn’t the big troubles in life that require character. Anybody can rise to a crisis and face a crushing tragedy with courage, but to meet the petty hazards of the day with a laugh—I really think that requires SPIRIT.

Most people don’t live; they just race. They are trying to reach some goal far away on the horizon, and in the heat of the going they get so breathless and panting that they lose all sight of the beautiful, tranquil country they are passing through; and then the first thing they know, they are old and worn out, and it doesn’t make any difference whether they’ve reached the goal or not.

Normally epistolary novels aren’t my favorite, but this was a pleasant read. The author has a nice style. Someday soon I hope to get to the sequel, Dear Enemy, focusing on one of Judy’s roommates.

I am counting this book as my classic by a new-to-me author for the Back to the Classics Challenge.

(Sharing with Carole’s Books You Loved)

Back to the Classics Challenge 2020 Wrap-up

I enjoy participating in the the Back to the Classics challenge hosted by Karen at Books and Chocolate. I wasn’t exposed to many classics growing up, and I’ve determined to educate myself with several of them. The categories help me expand my reading horizons. The titles link back to my reviews. I included the publication dates to verify that the books are 50 years old, as required:

1. 19th Century Classic: Hard Times by Charles Dickens (1854)
2. 20th Century Classic: My Antonia by Willa Cather (1918)
3.Classic by a Woman Author: Eight Cousins by Louisa My Alcott (1875)
4. Classic in Translation (originally written in something other than your native language): Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux (1910)
5. Classic by a Person of Color: Wynema: A Child of the Forest (1891)
6. A Genre Classic:
1984 by George Orwell (1949)
7. Classic with a Person’s Name in the Title: The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle (1883)
8. Classic with a Place in the Title: Lark Rise (1939), Candleford Green (1943), and Over to Candleford (1941), the Lark Rise to Candleford trilogy by Flora Thompson
9. Classic with Nature in the Title: Rose in Bloom by Louisa May Alcott (1876)
10. Classic About a Family (multiple members of the same family as principal characters): Amberwell  (1955) and Summerhills by D. E. Stevenson (1956)
11. Abandoned Classic (one you started but never finished). Billy Budd by Herman Melville (1924)
12: Classic Adaptation (Any classic that’s been adapted as a movie or TV series): Doctor Thorne by Anthony Trollope (1858)

Anthony Trollope, D. E. Stevenson, and Willa Cather were all new-to-me authors whose other works I look forward to exploring.

We’re allowed up to three children’s books: mine were Eight Cousins, Rose in Bloom, and Robin Hood.

Karen has a points system where the number of categories we complete gives us a corresponding number of entries in a prize drawing she holds. I don’t get extra points for reading more than one book in a couple of the categories—I did so just because I wanted to keep reading a series. Karen likes for us to calculate our number of entries. For completing all twelve categories, I get three entries.

If you are interested in participating next year, the rules, categories, and sign up post are here at the Back to the Classics 2021 post. Thanks to Karen for hosting! I enjoyed it very much.

Book Review: 1984

George Orwell’s 1984 depicts a futuristic totalitarian state. An oligarchy known as “the Party,” headed by an unseen Big Brother, rules Oceania, one of three superpowers. Telescreens broadcast only what the Party allows, but they also observe people at work and home. Thought Police come for anyone whose words, actions, or even expressions step outside of party policy. Those who do not comply become nonpersons and are “vaporized”: all trace of them disappears and they are never referred to again.

Winston Smith is a member of the party, but he hates it. He remembers fragments of what life was like before the revolution, when the Party took over. He also works for the Ministry of Truth, which, ironically, rewrites and “corrects” news to line up with current Party position. He wonders that no one else seems to see the absurdity in the contradictory reports coming from the party. But he doesn’t dare try to talk to anyone about it.

In an atmosphere like this, everyone is suspect. When one woman seems to have her eye on Winston, he fears she is looking for some reason to report him. But, to his surprise, she gets a secret message to him that she loves him. Through much subterfuge, they arrange to meet, and then embark on an illicit relationship.

Sadly, however, another relationship turns out to be false.

1984 is based on the totalitarianism of Stalinist Russia but also warns against the dangers of totalitarianism in any context. Wikipedia points out many of the corresponding details.

The novel brought many new terms into the mainstream: Big Brother and the phrase “Big Brother is Watching You,” Thought Police, Doublespeak.

I thought I had read this back in high school. Maybe I did. But some of the frank sexual content makes me surprised that the book would have been required reading by teenagers, especially that many years ago. Yet the sexuality is not titillating. It’s not exactly clinical, either. It’s there to show that the Party control reached even into bedrooms: sexual relations were illegal even between married people except for purposes of bringing forth children as their duty to the Party. The novel reveals later the purpose for suppression of sexual desire was to channel all passion to the Party.

What drew me to 1984 at this time was coming across a quote from the book: “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” That struck a chord with me because we see traces of it even now in revisionist history and “fake news.”

1984 has one of the most interesting opening lines: “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” A few other quotes:

If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—for ever.

Being in a minority, even in a minority of one, did not make you mad. There was truth and there was untruth, and if you clung to the truth even against the whole world, you were not mad.

For, after all, how do we know that two and two make four? Or that the force of gravity works? Or that the past is unchangeable? If both the past and the external world exist only in the mind, and if the mind itself is controllable – what then?

Nothing was your own except the few cubic centimetres inside your skull.

Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.

One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship.

We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it.

In the past the Middle had made revolutions under the banner of equality, and
then had established a fresh tyranny as soon as the old one was overthrown.

Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it.

The heresy of heresies was common sense.

If you can feel that staying human is worth while, even when it can’t have any result whatever, you’ve beaten them.

1984 is not a pleasant read. It’s depressing in places. It’s deeply disturbing, but in a way that provokes thought. Hopefully it’s a warning to every generation who reads it.

I listened to the audiobook nicely read by Simon Prebble.This book will fulfill the genre classic requirement for the Back to the Classics Reading Challenge.

Book Review: A Very Bookish Thanksgiving

Three factors intrigued me when I saw A Very Bookish Thanksgiving mentioned at Tarissa’s. First, I can generally trust what Tarissa recommends. Second, I don’t think I have ever seen a series of stories based on Thanksgiving before. Third, each of the five stories ties in with a classic book. I was unfamiliar with all of the authors but interested enough to give the book a try.

A Promise of Acorns by Kelsey Bryant is inspired by Jane Eyre. Erin Moore is hired as a nanny to two children cared for by a reserved grandfather. Dr. Manchester has an unusual request: he has not celebrated Thanksgiving in years because it was his deceased wife’s favorite holiday, and it’s too much for him. He wonders if Erin would take on the responsibility of teaching the children about Thanksgiving. He doesn’t know that Erin has her own difficulties with the day, but she agrees to his request.

As Long as I Belong by Sarah Holman is inspired by Mansfield Park by Jane Austen. Annalise Marshell comes from a bickering family headed by a father who can’t keep a job. They’ve been offered a place at a Christian retreat center, headed by the Clark family. Mrs. Clark helps Annalise feel welcome and a part of the team, but Annalise feels like she’s in-between her family and the Clarks, belonging fully to neither.

The Windles and the Lost Boy by Rebekah Jones is inspired by Peter Pan. Patrick Quill takes in stray boys in a secret location. Some are running from abusive situations, and he gives them a safe place until they are ready to launch on their own. Arabella Windle and her brothers unexpectedly discover one such boy needing help. They’ve heard stories about Patrick. Is he real, and can they find him?

Grand Intentions by J. Grace Pennington is based on Dickens’ Great Expectations. Pippa Charles’ dream is to write a novel, but helping her mother take care of her brothers doesn’t leave much time. Then she receives a grand opportunity: her grandmother is going away for a few months and asks Pippa to stay at her house and take care of her dog. Pippa relishes the time alone, but then she gets distracted by the new friends she makes. Will this experience bring out the best or worst in her?

A Fine Day Tomorrow by Amanda Tero is based on Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Essie March suffered from serious illness during her childhood. But she survived and now wants to be a nurse. She feels the need all the more as the Spanish flu rages through the country. But a series of misfortunes stop her in her tracks and make her wonder if she’ll ever be good for anything again.

The stories aren’t a point-for-point retelling of their respective books, but the main characters and some of the details mirror them. The books themselves are almost characters in the stories as they are referred to during the plot.

Each of the stories has a strong and well-woven faith element as well.

Some of my favorite quotes from the book:

Bookshelves told you more about a person or a family than anything else in a house.

Celebrating Thanksgiving was not just about blood family but about creating family among those you celebrated with. I couldn’t be with my parents on this earth anymore, but there were other people for me to love and to love me back.

My favorite thing about any Dickens book was how you could always get something new out of it at each reading, no matter how many times you revisited it.
 
I enjoyed each of these stories—so much so, that I ordered A Very Bookish Christmas based on the same premise by some of the same authors.
 

Book Review: Candleford Green

Candelford Green is the third installment of the Lark Rise to Candleford series, Flora Thompson’s semi-autobiographical account of growing up in a small English village.The books take place in the 1880s and 1890s, and Flora writes as an adult looking back at simpler times and the changes that happened since.

In the first book, Lark Rise, Flora’s alter-ego, Laura, is the oldest daughter in her family, living in the small village of Lark Rise. In the next book, Over to Candleford, Laura spends a lot of time with her relatives in Candleford Green, a slightly bigger village some eight miles away.

In this third book, Candleford Green, Laura works as an assistant in the post office. Young girls often went into service as maids or mother’s helpers at this time. Laura’s mother didn’t feel she was suited for either of those jobs. But when a friend of the Candleford relatives invites Laura to help her out in the Post Office, her family agrees to let her go.

Like the first two books, there’s no real plot. The book is mostly Laura’s observations of how the people lived, worked, celebrated, decorated their homes, etc. Along the way are little vignettes of some of the individuals who make up the village.

Some of the quotes that caught my eye:

Few would care to take that trouble for the sake of a few spoonfuls of jelly in these days. . . it was thought a waste of time in many households. On the face of it, it does seem absurd to spend the inside of a week making a small jelly, and women were soon to have other uses for their time and energy, but those who did such cookery in those days looked upon it as an art, and no time or trouble was thought wasted if the result were perfection. We may call the Victorian woman ignorant, weak, clinging and vapourish—she is not here to answer such charges—but at least we must admit that she knew how to cook.

At fourteen it is intolerable to resign every claim to distinction. Her hair was soft and thick and brown and she had rather nice brown eyes and the fresh complexion of country youth, but those were her only assets in the way of good looks. ‘You’ll never be annoyed by people turning round in the street to have another look at you,’ her mother had often told her, and sometimes, if Laura looked dashed, she would add: ‘But that cuts both ways: if you’re no beauty, be thankful you’re not a freak.’

And she had her own personal experiences: her moments of ecstasy in the contemplation of beauty; her periods of religious doubt and hours of religious faith; her bitter disillusionments on finding some people were not what she had thought them, and her stings of conscience over her own shortcomings. She grieved often for the sorrows of others and sometimes for her own.

‘You’ve got to summer and winter a man before you can pretend to know him’ was an old country maxim much quoted at that time.

This about two single women taking care of elderly parents while trying to run a shop:

No wonder the Pratt girls looked, as some people said, as if they had the weight of the world on their shoulders. They must in reality have carried a biggish burden of trouble, and if they tried to hide it with a show of high spirits and simpering smiles, plus a little harmless pretension, that should have been put down to their credit. Human nature being what it is, their shifts and pretences only served to provoke a little mild amusement.

The new vicar, according to Laura, didn’t mention heaven or hell or sin or repentance, but his sermons made “you feel two inches taller.” The people were what I’d call God-fearing in a general sense, but it doesn’t sound like the gospel was proclaimed except for one or two of the townspeople.

I found the first book sometimes hard to wade through. I didn’t have any problems with the last two: maybe I grew more used to Thompson’s style.

Nowadays, the books are usually packaged together under one title, Lark Rise to Candleford. My copy looks like the one here.

I hope to be able to watch the series, Lark Rise to Candleford. I know some things will be different. Laura is just a teenager in this last book and younger than that in the first two books. Dorcas, the postmistress, doesn’t appear until halfway through the second book, but I understand she’s there at the beginning of the series.

Overall, these were pleasant reads. I’m glad to finally be acquainted with Laura and the villagers.

(Sharing with Booknificent Thursday Carole’s Books You Loved)

Book Review: The Phantom of the Opera

Born in 1868, Gaston Leroux was a French court reporter and newspaper drama critic who liked Edgar Allan Poe and Arthur Conan Doyle. He started writing detective stories which were serialized in the newspaper. He became intrigued with the Palais Garnier opera house in Paris, which had an underground lake and suffered a famous chandelier crash. Leroux wove these details into Le Fantôme de l’Opéra, or The Phantom of the Opera.

Leroux lays the plot out as a detective sharing the details of his investigation into rumors of an “opera ghost.”

Two new managers have taken over the opera house, and the old managers showed them a memorandum book with the ghost’s requirements of a certain sum of money each month and Box 5 to be always available for his use. The new managers think the old ones are pulling their leg, so they ignore the instructions despite increasing threats.

During one performance, the lead singer, Carlotta, is too ill too sing. Her understudy, Christine Daaé, performs the role beautifully. The Vicomte Raoul de Chagny was in the audience and recognizes Christine as his old playmate from childhood. Raoul tries to see Christine after the performance, but goes into a jealous rage when he hears another man talking in her dressing room.

However, Christine and Raoul do meet later. She tries to keep aloof from Raoul, but falls in love with him. She tells him that the man he heard is her teacher, the Angel of Music that her father promised to send her when he died. But the Angel of Music—also known as the Opera Ghost or O. G. or Erik—is very jealous and dangerous.

The O. G. continues leaving instructions for the new managers. He wants Christine to sing the lead in Faust. When Carlotta sings instead, she starts croaking during her aria. Then the great chandelier falls, killing one person.

Now the new managers are angry, believing that someone is trying to extort them.

Christine begins to seek a way to be with Raoul. She plans to sing one last time for Erik and then escape with Raoul. But at the height of her aria, everything goes dark for an instant. When the light comes back on, Christine is gone.

Raoul, of course, goes to search for her and learns more about O. G. in the process.

So, though the format is a crime story, the novel also has several elements of a gothic romance. Parts of it reminded me of Beauty and the Beast and Frankenstein.

As you’re probably aware, there was a famous 1925 movie based on the book with Lon Chaney as the Phantom. Andrew Lloyd Weber wrote a successful musical based on the story in the 1980s which is still being performed today and which was turned into a movie in 2004.

I had read this book several years ago, but forgotten much of it. Though gothic romances aren’t my favorite genre, and parts of this one are a little overwrought, overall I enjoyed getting reacquainted with the story.

I read, or rather listened to this for the Classics in Translation category of the Back to the Classics Reading Challenge.

Have you read Phantom? What did you think?

(Sharing with Books You Loved, Booknificent Thursday)

Rose in Bloom Review and LMA Challenge Wrap-Up

Rose in Bloom in Louisa May Alcott’s sequel to Eight Cousins. In the first book, Rose was orphaned as a young girl and sent to live with her uncle Alec. She was also surrounded by several other great aunts, aunts, uncles, and seven boy cousins.

In this book, Rose and a few of her cousins are in their early twenties and about to embark on adulthood. They wrestle with possibly occupations, projects, and potential love interests. Evidently it was considered acceptable to marry first cousins in that era, because there’s a lot of speculation about whether Rose will marry one of hers.

Rose is set to come into a large inheritance, and her uncle has tried to train her well to be responsible and philanthropic rather that frivolous, self-important, and wasteful. She faces some temptations in these areas and wants to try the lifestyle of her friends for a while. This seems to involve a lot of parties and dancing at friends’ houses until the wee hours of the morning. She learns that some people are only interested in her because of her wealth. She has to decide between the “fast” life and a sedate but more useful one.

One of her cousins, Charlie, also known as Prince, has been indulged all his life and is in danger of going the wrong direction, especially in regard to one particular bad habit. Rose tries to help him overcome his wayward tendencies.

Louisa says in her preface that “there is no moral to this story. Rose is not designed for a model girl, and the Sequel was simply written in fulfillment of a promise, hoping to afford some amusement, and perhaps here and there a helpful hint, to other roses getting ready to bloom.”

When I was growing up, I warmed to stories like this that encouraged being good, or becoming better. Modern readers might feel it goes a little overboard. But I still find it a sweet story, and I think others would if they gave it a chance.

I was surprised that young people this age were still considered boys and girls at the time of this writing, and not read to marry or launch out on their own yet.

Much is said about Rose being a strong-minded girl. Evidently this was pushing the envelope even in Alcott’s day. A few sentences from the last paragraph of this exchange were included in the newest Little Women movie:

Rose’s voice was heard saying very earnestly, “Now, you have all told your plans for the future, why don’t you ask us ours?”

“Because we know that there is only one thing for a pretty girl to do: break a dozen or so hearts before she finds one to suit, then marry and settle,” answered Charlie, as if no other reply was possible.

“That may be the case with many, but not with us, for Phebe and I believe that it is as much a right and a duty for women to do something with their lives as for men, and we are not going to be satisfied with such frivolous parts as you give us,” cried Rose with kindling eyes. “I mean what I say, and you cannot laugh me down. Would you be contented to be told to enjoy yourself for a little while, then marry and do nothing more till you die?” she added, turning to Archie.

“Of course not; that is only a part of a man’s life,” he answered decidedly.

“A very precious and lovely part, but not all,” continued Rose. “Neither should it be for a woman, for we’ve got minds and souls as well as hearts; ambition and talents as well as beauty and accomplishments; and we want to live and learn as well as love and be loved. I’m sick of being told that is all a woman is fit for! I won’t have anything to do with love till I prove that I am something besides a housekeeper and baby-tender!”

That’s not quite as anti-domestic as it sounds, because Rose values both housekeeping and baby-tending. But she wants to accomplish something else before that stage of her life.

I enjoyed this exchange about novels with Rose and her friend, Kitty:

“I’m sure I’ve read a great deal more than some girls do. I suppose novels don’t count, though, and are of no use, for, goodness knows, the people and things they describe aren’t a bit like the real ones.”

“Some novels are very useful and do as much good as sermons, I’ve heard Uncle say, because they not only describe truly, but teach so pleasantly that people like to learn in that way,” said Rose, who knew the sort of books Kitty had read and did not wonder that she felt rather astray when she tried to guide herself by their teaching.

In Eight Cousins there was also much discussion of books one aunt felt were harmful to the younger cousins. I wondered how these compared to the “blood and thunder” books Louisa enjoyed writing.

I also smiled at a section where Rose and cousin Mac discuss the benefits of reading Thoreau and Emerson, knowing that both men were friends of Louisa’s family.

Although the Alcotts were ahead of their time in many ways, Louisa still seemed to hold to the idea that different classes ought not to marry: either that, or she was illustrating problems with that idea by her characters. Phebe started out as a maid from the orphan house in the last book, but was so sweet and industrious and bright that Rose and her uncle sought to give her a good education. Now grown up, everyone loves Phebe—until one of the cousins falls in love with her. Since she’s an orphan of unknown origin, her family tree could contain anybody, and what would it do to the good Campbell name if it should be joined with someone that could be unsavory? That seemed to be the thinking of the aunts, but Rose and Alec and a couple of others had no problem with Phebe becoming part of the family. But Louisa had Phebe prove herself worthy in other ways.

Overall, this was a sweet story of the choices and trials of growing into maturity.

Louisa May Alcott Reading Challenge

I’m going to wrap up my reading for Tarissa’s Louisa May Alcott Reading Challenge here instead of in a separate post. I read:

I also watched the newest movie version of Little Women that was in theaters last year.

I always love spending time with Louisa and appreciate Tarissa’s challenge every June.

(Sharing with Books You Loved, Booknificent Thursday)