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2017 Book 9: Tess of the D’Ubervilles, by Thomas Hardy

Oh where do I even begin!? This is quite likely the most tragic of novels I’ve read.

***SPOILER ALERT***

tess1.jpgThe story begins with a beautiful, virtuous, innocent girl of 17, and ends with a broken, beaten down spirit of a woman who once was. Tess is a victim from the start. Her misery is sparked by a few regular ever-day actions which lead to a mis-hap, killing the family horse. Since the horse is the means of her family’s income, Tess feels it is her fault/responsibility to make up for the lost income and well-being of her family. Her mother’s idea to marry her off to a supposedly distant family member by sending her to work on his property where he will obviously fall in love with her, is the first phase of her life long misery, the beginning of her detriment.

Alec D’Uberville is a villain if there ever was one. Smooth talking and persistent, he takes advantage of Tess’ sweet and vulnerable nature, quite literally leading her through the forest, manipulating her emotions, and when she is exactly where he wants her, he takes what he wants. Claiming love from the start, Alec persists, during the three months following, that he wants to marry her. Tess is forever pushing him away, verbally, physically, emotionally. But to her he is somewhat of a viper, tranquilizing her into eventually being unable to avoid him any longer. Knowing him to be evil, Tess packs up and leaves when she realizes she is with child. Despite knowing how wretched Alec was from the moment she met him, Tess somehow feels that she is to blame.

Tess goes back to her parents home in shame, but her mother, knowing that she should have been more considerate towards Tess’s innocence, takes her back without qualms. A few months later Tess gives birth to a little boy, and lives the next year in her childhood village as an outcast, where she toils day by day with her child on her back. Her pride as well as her disdain for him keeps her from asking Alec D’Uberville for anything. Tess often has mixed emotions towards her child, though she loves him unconditionally. He is the only beam of sunshine her sad life contains. But after a year, her little joy becomes ill, and despite every effort Tess makes throughout the night, he dies. She had the minister called during the night as her little one fought for his life, and requested a baptism. She didn’t want him to suffer the sins of his father, she wanted him to rest in peace. But the minister refuses to baptize her son, claiming that children born of sin have no place in heaven. By dawn her little one takes his last breath, but not before Tess herself baptizes her son. Again, her son isn’t granted a place in the cemetery, and one night Tess goes out into the dark and buries her little boy alone, leaving a cared for but nameless grave behind her.

Tess leaves her parents home for a job as a milkmaid at Talbothay’s farm, where her story isn’t well known and may only be heard through rumour or speculation. She tries to make a clean start of life. But instead of living a secluded, hidden life, she meets Angel Clare. Angel is an apprentice farmer, having walked away from potentially living the clergy way of life. He and Tess have a certain chemistry between them that the other girls admire and pathetically mourne for. Angel is seemingly exceedingly good and forthright, an honest and hard working man. For as long as she can Tess keeps him at a distance despite her growing attraction and love for him – “for his own sake” she claims, due to her past. She believes herself unfit for such a man, that he would despise her once the truth is known of her (through no fault of her own) impurity. But Angel continues in persuading her, claiming that nothing she could possibly have done would ever warrant the removal of his love for her. Eventually Tess’s heart over-rules her head, and she accepts his proposal.

Tess and Angel marry. The day is pure bliss for both of them. But they each had a secret they didn’t want to divulge to the other. Once Angel has secured her in marriage, he feels the need to come clean. Angel admits to Tess that he was once with another, by his own choice and actions, and begs her forgiveness. Once Tess hears this, she feels compelled to tell Angel about her own past, with sure hope that he will forgive her as readily as she forgives him, and they can continue this new life in openness. But nope. Angel is stunned into silence by her story, and says he needs time to think things over. SAY WHAAT!!!??? He literally just says “hey babe, I slept with this girl one time, but I didn’t love her, and I love you, I was young and foolish, can you forgive me?” And of course Tess’s heart forgives this love of hers, because it was in his past, and isn’t who he is today. Then Tess says “since we’re on the topic, I was raped a few years ago by a horrible man, had a baby, my baby died, and then I came here.” And Angel’s response is “wow, you’re not as pure and good as I thought. I’ll have to think things through, this sort of changes all the vows I just made to you five hours ago.”

Angel decides to go away for a spell, across the ocean, where he had originally been thinking of taking Tess to farm with him. He leaves money at Tess’s disposal so that she might not want for anything while he takes time to think and just be far away from everything he knows. Tess humbly and quietly accepts this, returning to her parents home for the time being, dreadfully unsure of her future, and for some reason still believing that she is completely to blame for Angel’s change of tune towards her.

At this point of the novel, I had to put it down for a while. I picked up some “Anne” books instead because, to be honest, this story was just too tragic and depressing for me to handle. Both men made me nauseous. Tess’s lack of gumption when it came to telling both men off drove me insane. Her humility is admirable, but I also found it too much. There is virtue in humility, no doubt about it. But there is also virtue in strength and will power for justice’s sake. And Tess allowed these two men to take terrible advantage of her. Yes she was done a horrible disservice by her mother, who kept her in the dark when it comes to the world of men. And I don’t necessarily think anything she could have said or done would have changed either of these men’s actions. But had her character responded differently,  I think she could have stirred something in each man that would have made them feel disgust for their behaviour as well as remorse and a proper way of dealing with things afterwards. The tragic circumstances and lack of immoveable goodness in every single character of the book (except Tess) was just too much. I had to put it down for a spell.

The rest of the story continues in just as much tragedy. Now Tess is forced to live a life of toil, since she won’t use any more of the money her husband left for her and is determined to find her own way, while being committed legally and emotionally to a man who has more or less deserted her. It’s horrible. Then Alec comes back on the scene, and he is smooth and disgusting and she is fighting to be rid of him. She FINALLY feels anger towards Angel when she realizes she can’t hold Alec off much longer. The man she loves – who loves her – has left her to be swallowed up by a fiend, without so much as a backward glance.

Eventually she does give in. Alec uses his wealth and her fatherless family’s situation to manipulate her into – quite literally – a life of sin. Fully aware that her strength is weakening, Tess writes a hostile letter to Angel; first accusing him, reproaching him, and finally imploring him. But by the time Angel receives her letter, months have gone by, Tess is trapped, and Angel has already realized his injudiciousness.

Angel hunts Tess down, and after seeing him, it sets something off in her that crazes the mind of one who has been badly used by too many people for far too long. She sends him away in a cold manner. She returns upstairs, and ends up stabbing Alec to death after an argument. She runs after Angel, and they spend the next six days in compete bliss, hiding from the world for as long as they can. Tess doesn’t actually feel remorse for her crime. She feels a sort of freedom, even though she knows she’ll face death once she is found. And yet she is at peace with it. She expects it to come, and simply wants to enjoy the few days she has with her love before she is arrested and sentenced.

The morning before her arrest, Tess convinces Angel to take with her younger sister after she is gone. Liza-Lu – who is most similar to Tess of anyone else – is the only creature in the world “good enough” for him, Tess claims, and Tess couldn’t bare for Angel to be alone once she is dead. Liza will be a consolation to him, she claims. And it would put Tess’ sole ally in the care and protection of the only man Tess ever loved and trusted. Even after everything Angel put her through, Tess is good enough to be considering his welfare after she is gone. Certainly he is undeserving. But Tess is that virtuous.

Angel and Liza-Lu watch Tess’s execution from afar. They turn, hand-in-hand, away from their pure and loving wife & sister.

The only consolation in the ending of this story is that Tess is free from the horrible injustice and abuse she received throughout her life from the hands of all those around her.

I knew I would be reading a depressing story in Tess of the D’Ubervilles. But I didn’t realize it was THIS tragic.

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2017 Book 8: The Blue Castle, by L.M. Montgomery

Image result for the blue castle      The past few weeks have found me absorbed in Anne of Green Gables. Feeling the need to take a break from a rather sad novel, I was propelled towards the happiness of the Anne series. So I re-read a few of them once again, and I’ve been in an entirely Anne mode the past few weeks because of it. Keeping with Montgomery’s style, I picked up a copy of another one of her books, “The Blue Castle”, recommended by my sister, Library.

Valancy Stirling is 29 years old, unmarried, and living under the strict thumb of her mother and aunt. She has never had a beau, she has never traveled, she doesn’t even have friends. She spends her time in obedient dullness, forever holding back her real thoughts, opinions and desires, due to her snobbish, mundane, and difficult family clan. Her only happiness is escaping to her “Blue Castle” in her fantasy world.

But one day, Valancy receives the fatal doctor’s note, informing her that her recent heart flutters are signs of a bigger problem, which will one day claim her life – most likely within the year. Valancy doesn’t fear death, but rather, she fears missing the life she should have lead. Out with propriety and in with her true self, she allows herself to say exactly what she thinks, and ends up leaving her mothers home to nurse a socially cast-out acquaintance – another young woman, closer to death then Valancy herself.

In her new position of nurse, housekeeper, friend and companion, Valancy finds purpose. She finds joy and meaning in the serving and nurturing of others. She also meets Barney Snaith, maverick of the town, who lives alone on a little island, keeps mostly to himself, and drives around in his old big loud car. A wide range of speculations assumed to be truth by the town say Barney is a criminal, murderer who fled from justice, a cheater, a liar, a psychopath. Valancy defended Barney to her relatives before ever having met him. Somehow she instinctively knew none of this to be true about him. When she does meet him, she discovers she was right. Friends with the old man & his daughter whom Valancy lives with & works for, Barney quickly becomes a regular presence in Valancy’s new life.

We get to know Barney through Valancy’s eyes. He is good, honest, doesn’t speak much about himself besides the tales of his various adventures around the globe. He is thoughtful, always stopping by and asking what she needs from town before heading there himself. And he’s protective, driving the distance to an “up back” party he was told Valancy would be at, but which he knows will be unsafe for her – and gets there just on time to pull her out of a harmful situation. And yet, there is so much mystery surrounding Barney Snaith – we know nothing about his past, why he is the way he is (until you keep reading, that is).

When her companion dies, Valancy finds herself clinging onto this new life she’s made. One day Barney comes upon her in the garden, and Valancy asks if he will marry her, knowing full well that he doesn’t return her love, and assures him it won’t be for long, since her life will be claimed by death, most likely before a year has passed. But Valancy can’t bear the thought of returning to her mother’s house and living once again in the prison of propriety, the childish obedience demanded of her, and spinster-hood. Barney agrees. He acknowledges that he doesn’t love her, but likes her well enough, and would be quite content to bring her along to his island, if that’s what she truly wants.

When Valancy first sees the little house amoung the pines, she sees her Blue Castle, in real form, for the first time.

…there’s more to the story… but I won’t give any more away.

Barney’s character is one I really appreciated in this story. It was evident to me from the start that there was deep hurt in Barney’s heart, that he had somehow been on the receiving end of severe unkindness in his earlier years, hence the living in seclusion. But his naturally kind, gentle, thoughtful character, remains. Despite his past (which we know leaks into his psyche from the occasional cynical remark, and his emotional reservation) his soul thrives on the good, the beautiful, and he never fails in his goodness. In some respects, his character doesn’t change from beginning to end – he is always constant, dependable. But in others, he does. Being on the receiving end of love, being cherished and respected by one he also cares for, allows his character to develop in a way it yearned to in his younger years. It unlocks the natural joy in his heart, he is finally, in a way, set free.

I also appreciated that Valancy finds purpose in a life of service for others. Never being allowed “idle time” in her mother’s house, she spent countless hours sewing, quilting, keeping her hands busy, but all with fairly superficial things that were simply stored away up in the attic for future use. She may have been using her hands and skill, but it was idle in another sense, in that there was no food for the soul coming of her work. But when her hands go to cooking, cleaning, caring for others in need, she begins living with a type of vigour, satisfaction, and joy, that only comes from serving others, where you know you are needed.

This book is another treasure, to be kept on the shelf, and pulled down when some warmth to the heart is needed by a good book.

 

Nota Bene: Although it may seem like this is pretty much the whole story, it isn’t. This is only some of the first half, and there is detail, character development, and over all beauty in this story that can’t be captured through a re-cap. So it’s definitely worth a read!

 

 

 

 

2017 Book 7: Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh

 

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Evelyn Waugh

Brideshead Revisited is a narrative story told from the perspective of one Charles Ryder, an agnostic young man who becomes friends with Sebastian Flyte, a cradle Catholic who struggles with his faith. Charles is quite taken with the members and dynamics of the Flyte Family, (a family of Catholic’s living in 1920s Protestant England) and each of them have their own particular relationship with him. A family torn between a pious mother and a rogue father, each of the four siblings has his/her own struggles. Two are committed Catholics. Two are confused, lost, and somewhat repelled by their faith. Charles witnesses the lives of these different characters as they live out the consequences of their decisions, some outwardly suffering but inwardly excelling in virtue and holiness, others materially excelling but inwardly suffering as they ignore and have anger towards their faith.

Charles himself develops an animosity towards the Catholic faith through the years of knowing the Flyte family. But during WWII, he is brought back to the family estate and as he reflects on his life’s entwinement with this family, he slowly realizes the purpose, the point, the whole mystery of the Catholic faith.

This whole story was a very real example of family circumstances regarding the faith. The mother, a cradle catholic, is a pious soul, whose intuition and ability to communicate do her service in managing and dealing with those she loves. The father, a lapsed convert, is living abroad with his mistress and holds hostile resentment towards his wife. The eldest son is a committed catholic, and goes about his staunch but slightly odd way, never outwardly reprimanding his lapsed siblings but calling things as they are, and not pretending they are otherwise. The elder sister defies her mother and religion by marrying a protestant for his social position, leading her down a path of hardship and saddness. Sebastian feels he can never quite aspire to be the good man he should be, always having an under-lying suspicion that he is too much like his father, and falls into a habit of drunkenness at a young age. The youngest daughter is a pious thing, and although she does not live the life she thought she would, she grows in piety and holiness the older she gets.

Waugh writes about living the catholic faith with such reality. The temptations and struggles each character deals with are very apparent in our day-and-age. The father’s decisions and life choices also affect the children and the struggles they have later in life. This is something I often ponder – generational sin and how our spiritual lives will affect the spiritual lives of those who come after us, just as our spiritual lives are affected by our ancestors. (Generational sin – there are excellent sermon’s online about it). Just as the mother’s piety affects those of her children who are inclined towards that, so the father’s various sins affect those of his children also inclined to those particular sins. It’s a complex thing, but at the same time, simple. The father’s virtue and vice affects his children. The mother’s virtue and vice affects her children. And each child will be affected by it differently, therefore living very different lives, each with his own struggles and successes.

Charles doesn’t quite understand many things within the household, of the dynamics and relationships between various members of the family. But, despite the unsettling feeling the wayward children have towards their mother and more pious siblings, there is still an under-lying understanding of their family and faith. Sebastian comments to Charles a few times that he “just can’t understand” because Charles is not a catholic. Speaking as a cradle catholic, this is more often then not, quite true. Sometimes I find myself in conversations with others who simply can’t grasp what I mean. And it comes down to faith. It’s not something you can explain to another person, particularly if they aren’t wanting or willing to understand. Faith is also a gift, and not everyone has been given it – although all they need do is ask for it.

The “wayward” children know the choices they should make, even if they can’t put a concrete reason as to exactly why. Also what struck me was the emotional outrage stirred up in one character during a particular scene, when her older brother spoke simply and openly about her choice to live in mortal sin. The brother wasn’t unkind or accusatory at all in his speech, but speaking openly and truthfully about her actions ultimately brought her guilt to the forefront. This is too true a scenario. When one runs one’s life catering to the passions, it is naturally the emotions which take over whenever an opposition comes about. It usually ends in an ugly scene where said outraged person is illogical, full of self-pity, and contempt for the opposition (and, I might add, all in the name of “being judged”).

We also see the compassion within the catholic characters, the forgiveness which is such a core part of the faith, and the mercy shown it’s most bitter and ornery children, even if it’s merely moments before death. Because ultimately the catholic faith is about Love and making sure we spend eternity with our one True Love.

I really found this story intriguing. It’s written in a captivating style, keeping every moment interesting. And because it is written in first person, there is a vast chance to ponder the reasons behind different characters actions, which adds so much to the story, if you’re one who likes ruminating on various aspects of life and the soul.

 

2017 Book 6: Bella Poldark, by Winston Graham

Last of this twelve book series! It took a day or two to mourn the loss, but fond remembrances of this series will forever allow me to willingly lend these books out to friends or acquaintances.

I found the relationship state of the main hero & heroine as the book comes to an end somewhat odd, considering. But Winston Graham is not a “sunshine and rainbows” type of author. One character finally does get her happy ending, which was a relief. Another suffers an illness that forever changes the course of her life. That was interesting and unexpected, and she still lives the life she wanted, in the end. More deaths, which was not surprising, but I was also quite shocked, due to events in the previous book.

Maybe one day in years to come I’ll read the whole series over again… for now it’ll sit contently on my bookshelf and continue being lent out to various relations and friends.

2017 Book 4: The Loving Cup, by Winston Graham

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Not shown in chronological order

Last week I completed book #10 of Winston Graham’s 12 part “Poldark” series. I really enjoyed this one. I won’t say much about it, since that would give away too much of the entire series.

I watched the first season of BBC’s “Poldark”, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Reading the credits one day I realized the show is based on a series of novels. I happened to find all twelve novels brand new on amazon for a ridiculously low cost, and semi-impluse bought them, knowing I was committing to an entire series I hadn’t yet read one book of, and therefore wasn’t even sure if I would enjoy it. But the series was so enjoyable, surely the books must be even more so (which they generally are). Anyways, having happily avoided the dreaded movie-poster book covers that always come out on novels when they’ve been adapted into television, in the mail came a big box of lovely new paperback novels, to henceforth occupy an entire shelf on one of my bookshelves.

Really, I can’t say much about the novels at all without giving too much away. So instead I will give the situation the story begins on: The year is 1783 and after a few years in the American war, a young squire comes home to Cornwall, England, to find his father dead, his estate in ruins, and the women he loves engaged to marry his best cousin. It’s brilliant, filled with a wide variety of characters, internal struggles, love, rivalries, rebellions, redemption, revenge, history, political workings and more.

I also have to acknowledge how well BBC is doing with the television series in comparison to the novels. They haven’t simply taken the idea and turned it into something new – they are taking the story Winston Graham wrote, and literally putting it to screen. It’s fantastic!

 

N.B. In no way do a I discount movie adaptations in general. In fact, as a generalization I look upon them as separate entities, as the art form is so vastly different one cannot compare.

2017 Book 3: The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne

 

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I wish I had read this book with my book club, or in a class setting, because the different themes expressed throughout this entire book I found fascinating, and would have been fantastic to discuss throughout reading it.

The following passages give plenty of info about the story, so if you haven’t read the book and don’t like spoilers, you should probably stop reading now.

A quick plot guide:    In an early American Puritan society, Hester Prynne is held for public scorn with her new baby in her arms. She refuses to release the name of her accomplice in sin, but he stands in front of her and the public as a revered minister, Arthur Dimmesdale. Her older husband appears back on the scene, and, though he holds no ill against her (he realizes he never should have convinced a pretty, passionate, able bodied, young thing such as her to marry an older secluded man like himself), he swears to discover her accomplice and seek revenge on him. Unknown to the community, he takes on the persona of a one Roger Chillingworth, and settles there as an apothecary. Pearl, Hester’s little girl, is a perplexing creature. Hester puts the child’s oddities and wayward behaviour to the result of being born from an erroneous sinful passion. Seven years go by, and we see the effects of this one mortal sin on all four parties involved.

Hester’s punishment is to forever wear a scarlet letter “A” on her breast. She becomes an outcast, and settles just outside of town with her daughter, Pearl (aptly named for being of great price, purchased with all Hester had). Hester has a skill for sewing, and makes her living with it. But the years of her circumstances as a result of her sin wear an effect on Hester that she otherwise would not have known.

Knowing no love from others, she sees the life before her as her penance for her sin. She gives to others, receiving nothing in return. She becomes a help, a servant to those who persecute her. Over time, her persecutors view turns to a kind of appreciation for her abilities. The Scarlet Letter “A” becomes a symbol of her calling, a beacon of comfort to those who require assistance. “…With nothing now to lose, in the sight of mankind, and with no hope, and seemingly no wish, of gaining anything, it could only be a genuine regard for virtue that had brought back the poor wanderer to its paths. …None so ready as her to give of her little substance to every demand of poverty…She came not as a guest, but as a rightful inmate, into the household that was darkened by trouble; as if its gloomy twilight were a medium in which she was entitled to hold intercourse with her fellow-creatures…There glimmered the embroidered letter, with comfort in it’s unearthly ray. Elsewhere the token of sin, it was the taper of the sick-chamber…In such emergencies, Hester’s nature showed itself warm and rich; a well-spring of human tenderness, unfailing to every real demand, and inexhaustible by the largest. Her breast, with its badge of shame, was but the softer pillow for the head that needed one. She was self-ordained a Sister of Mercy; or, we may rather say, the world’s heavy hand had so ordained her…The letter was the symbol of her calling. Such helpfulness was found in her – so much powder to do, and powder to sympathize – that many people refused to interpret the scarlet A by its original signification. They said that it meant Able; so strong was Hester Prynne, with a woman’s strength…the scarlet letter had the effect of the cross on a nun’s bosom. It imparted to the wearer a kind of sacredness, which enables her to walk securely amid all peril…”

Hester’s knowledge of her sin and the affects it has on herself, her daughter, and the man, humbles her somewhat choleric nature, giving her an understanding and sympathy for fellow creatures. But at the same time, it strips her of her natural beauty. She does not care for others out of love, but rather out of penance. Her outward beauty disappears beneath a cold, harsh front. “The effect of the symbol […] on the mind of Hester Prynne herself, was powerful and peculiar. All the light and graceful foliage of her character had been withered up by this red-hot brand, and had long ago fallen away, leaving a bare and harsh outline… Even the attractiveness of her person had undergone a similar change…austerity of her dress…lack of demonstration in her manners…her rich and luxuriant hair had either been cut off, or was so completely hidden by a cap, that not a single lock of it ever once gushed into the sunshine.

Her natural femininity evaporates as the reality of her sin releases itself. With the disappearance of her outward beauty, so too her inward beauty is lost. She no longer possesses the tender feminine affection looked for in a woman by child and man to love and comfort them. In a sense, she ceases to be woman. She becomes a creature of ash, numbingly plodding along in her tasks, unaffected by others, unable and undesirous of loving others as a woman is meant to. “…there seemed to be no longer anything in Hester’s face for Love to dwell upon; nothing in Hester’s form, though majestic and statue-like, that Passion would ever dream of clasping in its embrace; nothing in Hester’s bosom, to make it ever again the pillow of Affection. Some attribute had departed from her, the permanence of which had been essential to keep her a woman…”

Having committed a grievous sin against purity, arguably a woman’s most valiant virtue,  Hester slowly ceases to be woman in the soulful sense of the name. All the beauty and other virtues of woman are “crushed so deeply into her heart that it can never show itself more”. Woman are meant for love in tenderness and affection, to nurture others, self-sacrifice. In return we are to be cared for, cherished, and loved. When woman goes through a trial of such harsh elements of scorn and lack-of-love, her feminine heart is crushed within her, leaving not a woman at the surface, but a shadow of what once was a woman. It only takes a touch, a true whisper of Love to draw her femininity back out, so she may once again be woman as she is called to be.“…Such is frequently the fate, and such the stern development, of the feminine character and person, when the woman has encountered, and lived through, and experience of peculiar severity. If she be all tenderness, she will die. If she survive, the tenderness will either be crushed out of her, or […] crushed so deeply into her heart that it can never show itself more. The latter is perhaps the truest theory. She who has once been a woman, and ceased to be so, might at any moment become a woman again, if there were only the magic touch to effect the transfiguration.”             – ch. XIII

Arthur Dimmesdale’s punishment is to suffer through the silence of his sin. No one knows of his sin but Hester and Roger Chillingworth (who discovers his victim through observing Arthur’s interior turmoil). His sin causes interior anguish, a depressing loss of hope, as well as a deeper passion for truth, which is brought out in his sermons. As he gains esteem in his ministers position through the eyes of his parishioners, he is also tormented by his falseness towards them because his sin with Hester goes unknown by those who hold him in such high regard. He is disgusted with himself, not because of his sin, but because of his lack of owning his sin to others. He sees Hester suffering alone and longs to suffer with her, but he believes himself too much a coward to own his grave sin, and instead suffers the more for his pride in position. Being a thoughtful and faith filled man, he becomes pathetic for his lack of hope and courage. “…To the high mountain-peaks of faith and sanctity he would have climbed, had not the tendency been thwarted by the burden […] of crime or anguish, beneath which it was his doom to totter. It kept him down, on a level with the lowest; him, the man of ethereal attributes, whose voice the angels might else have listened to and answered! But this very burden it was, that gave him sympathies so intimate with the sinful brotherhood of mankind, so that his heart vibrated in unison with theirs…when poor Mr.Dimmesdale was thinking of his grave, he questioned with himself whether the grass would ever grow on it, because an accursed thing must there be buried! It is inconceivable, the agony with which public veneration tortured him! It was his genuine impulse to adore the truth, and to reckon all things shadow-like, and utterly devoid of weight or value, that had not its divine essence as the life within their life. Then, what was he? – a substance? – or the dimmest of all shadows? He longed to speak out, from his own pulpit, at the full height of his voice, and tell the people what he was…a pollution and a lie!” 

Arthur tortures himself interiorly, and clasps as at the scarlet letter “A” burned into his own heart. He lives with a constant weight of sin upon him, unable to release himself of it. He takes to physical penance, flagellates himself until bloody, and fasts until his body weakens under starvation. His sleep is tremulous, he suffers diabolic influence, haunted by vision of demons and his loved ones turning away from him and his sin. “His inward trouble drove him to practises…In Mr.Dimmesdale’s secret closet, under lock and key, there was a bloody scourge. Oftentimes, this Protestant and Puritan divine had plied it on his own shoulders; laughing bitterly at himself the while, and smiting so much the more pitilessly, because of that bitter laugh. It was his custom […] to fast […] rigorously, and until his knees trembled beneath him, as an act of penance…He kept vigils […] night after night […] with a glimmering lamp […] viewing his own face in a looking-glass…he tortured, but could not purify himself. […] his brain often reeled, and visions flit before him […] now a herd of diabolic shapes, that grinned and mocked at the pale minister and beckoned him away with him […] now a group of shining angels, who flew upward heavily, as sorrow-laden, but grew more ethereal as they rose… now came the dead friends of his youth…his white-bearded father with a saint-like frown, and his mother turning her face away as she passed by…and now […] glided Hester Prynne, leading along little Pearl, in her scarlet garb, and pointing her forefinger, first at the scarlet letter on her bosom, and then at the clergyman’s own breast. 

Arthur’s falsehood takes away his truth of being. Presenting himself to the world falsely, (or so he believes), his tangibility disappears. He is reduced to merely a creature of pain and turmoil, having no reality but the knowledge of his sin and the effects of it. His physical health diminishes with his mental health. He struggles to hope, thinking himself merely the shadow of the man he used to be, incapable of growing back into a man of integrity. […] at any moment, by an effort of his will, he could discern substances through their misty lack of substance, and convince himself that they were not solid in their nature…But, for all that, they were, in one sense, the truest and most substantial things which the poor minister now dealt with. It is the unspeakable misery of a life so false as his, that it steals the pith and substance out of whatever realities there are around us, and which were meant by Heaven to be the spirit’s joy and nutriment. To the untrue man, the whole universe is false – […] – it shrinks to nothing within his grasp. And he himself, in so far as he shows himself in a false light, becomes a shadow, or, indeed, ceases to exist. The only truth that continued to give Mr.Dimmesdale a real existence on this earth, was the anguish in his inmost soul, and the undissembled expression of it in his aspect. Had he once found powder to smile, and wear a face of gayety, there would have been no such man!                            – ch. XI

Roger Chillingworth, a man of thought and study, befriends Arthur Dimmesdale and devotes his time to manipulating and careening Dimmesdale’s soul to deeper and deeper levels of turmoil. In his quest for revenge, hatred’s grasp grows tighter and tighter on his own soul, until his fiend-like being is consumed entirely by it.

Hester sees this once respectable intellect transformed into a creature of darkness. She encourages him to forgive, and withdraw from the evil that has so consumed him. But Roger Chillingworth has grasped the talons of evil so willingly and so tightly, that he no longer believes he is a free soul, to forgive and ask forgiveness, to live with peace and contentment as he once did. Do not many souls so far down the path of sin do the same thing? When someone says they’re “going to hell anyways” with a chuckle, I shudder. Does the reality of hell not scare you? Do you look forward to eternal torture with beings so evil that God Himself cast them out of heaven? Despair is what opens hell’s gate to you. As long as we have hope, there is a chance to turn from evil. Roger Chillingworth allows himself to be consumed by evil, and in return, consumes evil himself. It is a vicious cycle, only to be broken by a ray of hope, shining a thread of good into the soul.

“…for the hatred that has transformed a wise and just man to a fiend! Wilt thou yet purge it out of thee, and be once more human? If not for his sake, then doubly for thine own! Forgive, and leave his further retribution to the Power that claimed it! I said, but now, that there could be no good event for him, or thee, or me, who are here wandering together in this gloomy maze of evil, and stumbling, at every step, over the guilt wherewith we have strewn our path. It is not so! There might be good for thee, and thee alone, since thou hast been deeply wronged, and hast it at thy will to pardon. Wilt thou give up that only privilege? Wilt thou reject that priceless benefit?”  

“Peace, Hester, peace!” replied the old man, with gloomy sternness. “It is not granted me to pardon. I have no such power as thou tallest me of. My old faith, long forgotten ,comes back to me, and explains all that we do, and all we suffer. By thy first step awry thou didn’t plant the germ of evil; but since that moment, it has all been a dark necessity. Ye that have wronged me are not sinful, save in a kind of typical illusion; neither am I fiend-like, who have snatched a fiend’s office from his hands. It is our fate. Let the black flower blossom as it may! Now go thy ways, and deal as thou wilt with yonder man.”                   – ch. XIV

There are so many themes in this book, I should have kept notes as I read. It is a very interesting look into sin, it’s affects on the sinner, it’s victims, and over-all repercussions. Male vs. female reactions to the same sin, different personally types reaction to the same sin, how sins against purity affect the child, how human interaction, genuine affection and care, can encourage atonement and hope. Finally, how sin, whether visible to the world or not, is indeed on each one of us. No one is free of it – save the Blessed Mother. How you respond to your sinful nature affects your life, and afterlife.

 

2017 book 2 complete: Rose in Bloom, by Louisa May Alcott

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Much like it’s prequel, ‘Rose in Bloom’ is delightful and heart-warming. It is filled with good and true ideals, presenting a delicious view of life through a crystal clear lens which allows the beauty of things both large and small to be fully absorbed.

Rose returns from two years abroad with Uncle Alec & Pheobe (her best friend & former kitchen maid) to find her seven boy cousins quite grown up, or at least altered in their current climb to manhood. Being an heiress, she is tried by having lines of suitors, all whom she rejects due to their lack of integrity; people she thought were friends, who prove not to be; and a particular cousin whom she loves dearly, insists on wooing her despite her openness in being averse to his wayward behaviour.

Rose has chosen philanthropy as her “profession”, since she has money at her disposal and need not work for it. She tackles many projects including settling up low-rent homes for women in need, and an orphanage. She does good by her fellow man, receiving little to no credit or gratitude but for that from her Uncle Alec, yet musters on with the satisfaction and contentment of knowing she is loving and caring for others as best she can. This care still includes that of great-aunt Plenty, Uncle Alec, and eventually Rose adopts a toddler orphan girl whose mother was promised her daughter would be cared for. She goes about doing all she can for those she loves, including sacrifices to encourage the “Prince” to drop his prominent vice and become the man she believes him capable of being.

Mac, the “bookworm”, continues to be a considerable character along with “Prince” Charlie in this sequel. Charlie is dear to her due to his charm and unfailing ability to seek back her favour whenever it goes amiss due to his actions, just as he did as a boy. Mac is admired due to his trustworthiness, uncanny, blunt and philosophical nature, which continues to marvel Rose as she urges him to round his character somewhat by putting his books down on the occasional evening and go into society, learn to dance, etc. As his cousins around him fall in love, Mac takes interest in studying the subject and sets out to “keep good company, read good books, love good things, and cultivate soul and body as faithfully as [he] can.”

Tragedy strikes, young lovers persevere through obstacles, each cousin growing and learning along their various paths. I won’t give away the ending, for you should read it yourself and take in the various virtues and qualities Alcott promotes in her writings.