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For the Men: Appreciate Austen in your Quest for Fair Lady

The other evening I was conversing with ConvertKat at a social event. Topics naturally changing, it turned to literature, and – to my somewhat surprise – switching from his own conversation to ours was SearchingGuy. SearchingGuy and I are not friends, in fact I barely know him, except from a couple conversations during Sunday Coffee hour. SearchingGuy somewhat interjected and asked abruptly what literature I read. When I replied “classics, mostly”, CatechumanGuy joined the conversation as well. We talked on for a few minutes, and in a natural conversation pause, they both turned to me and pointedly asked “but really, what do you read?” I replied again, “mostly classics, Thomas Hardy at the moment.” SearchingGuy responded with an “ugh, that means you read Jane Austen” and CatechumanGuy chuckled with an affirmative comment I don’t remember. “Whoa! Do I hear tones of condescension?” I asked, in a somewhat louder and probably unintentionally disgusted sounding tone.

I have zero to no respect for men (particularly catholic men) who condescend and belittle females who read Jane Austen novels, and here’s why:

Austen’s work is such a clever and vibrant study of human nature & interpersonal relationships. Not only is her writing witty, but her ability to understand such a variety of characters and personalities is vastly under-rated. Unfortunately her work is painted as the romantic’s fantasy, which is such an injustice. Condescender’s (who have evidently not read her) often think Austen’s work is filled with “ideal men”, and if you read her, your head becomes filled with a type of perfect man that doesn’t exist (which, I gather, frustrates these catholic men because they feel this now excludes them from achieving respect and admiration in catholic women’s eyes).

But upon actually reading Austen’s books, one learns how imperfect her male characters (all her characters for that matter) are. Here is a brief outline of “perfect” male characters our Condescender’s hate on:

  1. Edward Ferrars: unintentionally plays with Elinor’s heart when he falls in love with her but is committed to another. After fostering a friendship which is obviously a bit more, he withdraws and isn’t heard from for quite some time. If it was a modern tale, he’d be a jerk-face at first glance. But then we learn the reasoning behind his behaviour, and suddenly there is an outpouring of respect for him. Do men not identify with this? For whatever reason, their actions are misunderstood, but when it comes to light, they are suddenly admired for those same actions?
  2. Captain Wentworth: after the heroine breaks his heart (eight years before the story begins) he does all he can to move on. Yet he comes back once circumstances change, and, despite still being deeply in love with her, he flirts away with her cousins, trying to both forget her, and pain her in the process. So he’s definitely not perfect, since if he were, his un-dying love would have brought him straight to her feet and begged for her love. But no, he doesn’t do that, because he has pride. Contrary to popular belief, we female readers admire men with healthy pride and self-respect. It’s the vengeance on Anne’s emotions that brings Wentworth lower.
  3. Fitzwilliam Darcy: could there be a more pompous character? Ok, granted, he wasn’t actually that pompous, it was partly a misinterpretation on Lizzie’s part and some mis-communications on both ends. Doesn’t this also happen to modern men? A girl they like perceives them incorrectly and so the story goes… Darcy & Lizzie knowing each other changes both of their characters for the better. But not without some major misunderstandings and verbal disagreements which included both parties expressing their dislikes of the other. This is  pretty standard mis-understanding etc. between men and women that Austen deals with in these two characters. Darcy is a pretty normal guy , striving for virtue, excelling in some, but falling short in others, just like every other catholic guy. Darcy & Lizzie’s relationship is an excellent example of working through mis-understandings & communications, bringing both parties closer & strengthening the bond between them. Contrary to the popular belief of this being a “perfect love story”, what we catholic females actually like about this story is the work put into this relationship on both ends, which blooms into a beautiful romance.
  4. Frank Churchill: Oh Frank. Such a fun, charming guy, who likes to hangout with friends and socialize. But on the flip-side, he gets jealous, and harsh flirts with another girl all the time, just to..what exactly..prove a point? I’m not even sure. He was just being an emotional fool. Something men and women alike fall into.
  5. George Knightly: We’ll just move on from here, since there’s literally nothing wrong with Mr.Knightly. At all. Ever. He is definitely Austen’s perfect man – albeit in a very human way. He reprimands Emma (in all charity) for her mistakes, expects more of her then her laziness sometimes allows, goes the extra length for other’s, not just those he is closest to. He gets irritated, even angry. He strives for self-discipline, and never takes advantage of others, or assumes anything. He’s imperfect in a perfect way. He is forever encouraging Emma in virtue, through friendship and fraternal love, which eventually becomes romantic love. She gets haughty with him at times, but because of his genuine care, character, and the belief that he only ever tries to do that which is good, she always accepts her mistakes, and tries harder the next time. And in turn, her feminine – though imperfect – nature encourages Knightly to be a better example, to be the best man in every situation, and always in genuine humility.

Of course these are all rather watered-down accounts of the various male characters shown such contemption by our jolly Condescender’s. It seems fitting to explain characters in simple ways to people whose simplistic attitude leads them to believe they know what they’re talking about despite never having read a single page of Austen. This sums it up rather quickly. There isn’t a single character in all of Austen’s work who is literally perfect. Her works aren’t about the “perfect romance” like some harlequin romance dubbed a “New York Times Bestseller”, or the latest of Nicholas Spark’s line of cookie-cutter “love” stories. Au contraire, Austen is a true love author. Her works deal with the true and good meaning of love and relationships, be they friends, family, or lovers. None of her heroine’s are perfect, they all have their strengths and weaknesses alike. The same goes for her heroes. Each story is an intricate web of characters, class, life styles, emotions, practicalities, attraction, virtue, vice, and everything else innately human.

(As a side note, I will also point out that Austen’s heroine’s have definitive characters. They have looks, a style of dress, natural virtues & vice, emotions, thoughts, sweet tongues or sassy tongues, every aspect of personality that makes a person individual and unique. Unlike many modern “heroines” who are intentionally written in a vague way, so as to allow any and every woman who reads said book insert herself into said character’s position, and “identify” with the character. I would think this would be appreciated by men, since they complain of this trait in modern stories.)

Appreciating such an authoress and the works she has written that provide momentous opportunity for contemplation, understanding and enlightenment on the subject of human relationships, shows a side of character that women find attractive. A man who shows the ability – or even the attempt – to understand and appreciate (and perhaps even learn to communicate a bit better) through a means that contains such insight into a vital part of the inherent nature of woman, shows himself to be a man who strives to go beyond himself, one who reaches past his own nature so as to form better bonds with one who is the opposite of his own, i.e. woman. I don’t believe men feel the same need to be understood by women, which is simply just a difference in our nature. But I know, personally, I have appreciated Austen’s insight into the male species as well. We won’t understand everything about each other, but the point is to understand what you can, so as to strengthen your relationships and grow in love.

By nature, women are more emotional creatures then men. We form bonds by sharing emotionally with one another, by conversation and a glimpse into one another’s hearts. This is what encourages and forms friendships and love between two people, be they men or women. Yes it comes more naturally to women (it’s a woman’s natural tendency towards nurturing & community, after all). And I’m not of the belief that men must always be in tune with women on a level contrary to their natural instincts. We are different creatures, God made us thus. But are men and women not called to form solid, healthy relationships, where both parties strive to understand and communicate effectively, with empathy and love? My point is that in the attempt at getting to know, appreciate, and have good relationships with women, catholic men would do well to give Austen a chance, and find out what it really is about her books that catholic women enjoy so much. Particularly if said men hope to find the right catholic woman someday. And maybe – just maybe – you’ll end up enjoying Austen’s books, and appreciating her insightful logic and reflections of the opposite sex.

 

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And now for a meme that I hope makes you laugh as much as it made me laugh…note to men: avoid being a Mr.Collins at all possible costs. 

Be Happy in Hope, and Let the Sun Shine Through You

“And as each and all of them were warmed without by the sun, so each had a private little sun for her soul to bask in; some dream, some affection, some hobby, at least some remote and distant hope which, though perhaps starving to nothing, still lived on, as hopes will. Thus they were all cheerful, and many of them merry.” – Phase the First – The Maiden, Tess of the d’Ubervilles, by Thomas Hardy

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Let the sun shine through you (photo taken while out for a walk at a near by Canadian Lake)

To put this treasure of a snippet into context, the narrator is speaking about village country girls, sometime in the later half of nineteenth century England, as they dance in a May Day celebration. But as I read this, I thought how fitting it is for young Catholic women. We should all be warmed by some hope, rooted deep within us, that sprouts itself so high it’s peeping out through our faces, where everyone will see it. The specifics need not be known by others. But a dream, a hope, a love should be so firmly rooted in us that it’s as constant and immovable as the sun itself, and warms our whole being so that those whose paths we cross are warmed by the sun within us.

Sometimes it can be tough to hold on to hope in a dream we’ve been holding onto for a long time. But hoping when everything seems hopeless, is what it’s all about. That’s what hope really is. Hope doesn’t die when the road ahead seems too vast or treacherous. On the contrary, this should invigorate us to hold on and persevere with renewed strength, knowing that at some point the road eases, or we’ll finally hit the luscious valley. The key to hope is seeing the end in your mind’s eye, and keep walking to it no matter the ruts, dips and hills that we have to trudge through to get to it.

Sometimes it feels like it’s time to let go of one dream, and find a new one. And sometimes this is the right thing to do, depending on the dream or hope – and there’s nothing wrong with that. Sometimes our lives take a turn we didn’t see coming, and it changes the course of our path entirely, perhaps even away from the initial dream we had. It’s okay to let go of one dream, and pick up another. If a dream really has no chance of coming true, is it a good dream to have? Probably not. Real hope means there is a legitimate chance your dream can come true. To hold onto something that has no probable, possible chance of coming true, is not a dream that will foster healthy hope. If a dream will not foster true hope, it will be detrimental to the soul, since hope is a fundamental piece of the soul. If you’re not going up the hill, you’re rolling backwards. If there is no reasonable hope that a dream can come true if you persevere in prayer and action, it should probably be let go of, because it’s unhealthy to live in an irrational dreamland. But don’t mistake this with persevering in your hope or dream that seems like it won’t ever come true. Use the seemingly endless times, the strenuous times, the times when no matter how much you give it feels like you’ll never see your dream fulfilled, to strengthen your spirit, strengthen your resolve, and grow in love for Our Lord.

That hope or dream within you is the warmth carried through your being, that will draw others to you. Let it bring a smile to your face, let it keep you a merry and happy woman, even during the vast and treacherous times. As Catholic young women striving to be valiant, we should always be striving to bring others closer to Our Lord through our lives. And how better to bring others to him then through our own love, hope, dream, secret sunshine that we can use to show others His Love. Let the joy you find within your own hopes, dreams and desires, be magnified by His Love and shine right through you for others to see, always reflecting Our Lord’s Love.

 

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.

 

Sorry Blondie, not much changes as you grow up…

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The other day I was at a favourite restaurant, where they have a kiddie corner with some toys (kiddie corner being unrelated to it being a favourite restaurant). A beautiful little curly haired blondie quietly came and tapped Calvin (little nephew #1, who was sitting beside me) on the shoulder, and asked “do you want to come play with me?” Calvin, who is easily embarrassed, stared downwards at his plate and quietly said “No I don’t”. Blondie looked up at me in puzzlement, I encouraged Calvin to go play, but he was resolute in staring down at his plate and repeated “I don’t want to play with you”. Blondie quietly walked back to her table and buried her face in her mothers body with hurt and dramatics. I over-heard her sympathetic yet rational mother relay “just because he doesn’t want to play, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t like you”.

Feeling dreadfully sorry for the wee blondie who had enough gumption to make such an inquiry of a strange boy, I urged Calvin to go play with her, she was so nice to come ask him to play. He gazed up at me with his big deep blue sea eyes and replied “but Auntie, I just don’t want to”. I left it at that, knowing his strong will (which he comes by honestly) and calculating ability. I’m sure it wasn’t a full minute later when he casually said while colouring his page, “and I will go play with her, if Fairy (his older sister) will come”. He happily hopped down from his chair, and accompanied by his slightly older sister, went over to Blondie’s table. The three of them scurried over to kiddie corner and played until food arrived.

Pondering this little episode, I realized how little men and women change as we grow older. I greatly sympathize with Blondie. Extroverted and enthusiastic, she worked up the courage to come ask a little boy she thought she would like to come and play with her. He quickly and emphatically shut her down without so much as a “how d’ ye do?” Poor girl. But then, not much changes as you reach adulthood. Extroverted and enthusiastic, I often approach new guys in group situations or after mass, am sociable and easy-going, just wanting to socialize, chat and make the newcomer comfortable, or at least put him at ease. More often then not, I find myself doing this with introverts. Maybe that’s because introverts and I are like magnets… they always seem to be in my vicinity. And then I feel bad for them, usually because they seem so awkward, uncomfortable, not sure what to do. So I gaily approach, introduce myself, and fly wherever conversation chooses to go. There are typically two outcomes: 1) introvert is dreadfully awkward the entire time, and the next time I see them they are still awkward, but perhaps very slightly less so; or 2) it starts of slightly awkward and then they fall into ease and we enjoy conversation, laughs, and general amiability…but who knows what on earth will happen the next time I see them.

I’m speaking primarily of introverted men, of course, as the story above is about a little boy & girl. As a generalization, I quite like introverted men. And as another generalization, they are a confusing lot, sometimes avoiding eye contact, other times smiling as they catch my eye. I’m never quite sure what to make of them, and have often times (no doubt to continue throughout life) gone home thoroughly confused by their conflicting social cues. So Blondie going back to her mom and wailing “he doesn’t like me!” when Calvin rejected her offer to play is pretty accurate for us extroverts, no matter what the age, or the social situation. Of course as time goes by, it becomes less dramatic-flinging-onto-bed-in-tears, and more insight into introverted ways: he doesn’t know you enough to reject you; rather, his inability to make a quick decision (and preference to avoid doing so) regarding any social situation or commitment is what made him freeze, avoid eye contact, and firmly ignore. But upon consideration, mustering the strength to conquer his shyness, and further observance of you, he might just decide to come play with you after all.

 

 

 

 

 

Successfully avoiding commercialized Valentine’s Day

I am a big fan of St.Valentine. The commercialized sappiness his feast day as been covered with by secular society…not so much. Even as a young thing I cringed past the aisle’s of pink and red chocolate hearts at the grocery store, the obnoxiously large stuffed animals, the painfully sappy cards. This isn’t out of bitterness, au contraire, for I love the legend that an early church bishop secretly married young people in the catacombs when Christians were under persecution. Not much of his life has concrete evidence, most of it comes from myths and legends. But, as they say, myths and legends come from somewhere. He is recognized as an early Roman Martyr, and is the patron of young love, newlyweds, happy marriages, etc.

Image result for cogsworth flowers chocolatesUnfortunately, this man of faith and courage has been badly exploited by society. Gone is the respect we should be paying his courage, strength and conviction. It has been replaced with “love” based trivial consumerism. St.Valentine’s Day should be used to honour the man who risked in order to do God’s will for the spiritual benefit of Christianity, the young in particular. It should be to celebrate and give thanks for the True & Everlasting Love you have, the Love you have to give. Our loved ones are included in this, of course. But, to quote Cogsworth, “Flowers, chocolates, promises you don’t intend to keep” don’t have a real place on this valorous man’s feast. (Well, flowers and chocolate always have a place, but you get my meaning).

Unintentionally I haven’t entered a grocery store of late, and Valentine’s Day was a Tuesday this year, which is one of the longest & busiest of my work week. Ergo, I barely remembered it was Valentine’s Day, which was rather pleasant. I commemorated the Saint in my own way, and successfully avoided the nauseating consumerism attached to this day.

On an interesting note, a parish lady sent me this article yesterday. How accurate it is, who knows, I’m not a scientific brain. But it’s still an enjoyable concept, to think that perhaps we can now put a face to the name of Valentine.

St. Valentine, pray for us!

 

 

 

 

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.