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.

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2017 Book 5: The Twisted Sword, by Winston Graham

The next book of the ‘Poldark’ series. It includes an under-cover mission to Paris following Napoleon’s initial defeat, a marriage, a major tragedy, pain, loss, beginnings of healing. Can’t possibly give any more info then this without giving away the 10 books before this one.

Winston Graham writes with such understanding of human emotion. Since the very first book of the series, I can identify quite a bit with one of the heroines of the story – temperament, outlook on life, different emotions that come and go, and her ability to sort things out in a logical way, despite the emotional charge surging through her. In this book she goes through such trails (as in past books, but these are of a different type of suffering), it was fascinating to read in Graham’s words exactly what was going through my head as I read the reactions and processing steps going on in one of the heroine’s minds. Every single character (and there are ever so many throughout this 12 book series, multiple side stories of different inhabitants of the Poldark’s area of Cornwall), is entirely unique. Despite it being fiction, Graham writes with such truth of human reality.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

RIP Stuart McLean, and may The Vinyl Cafe live on

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Yesterday news shot across the country that a beloved and famous writer, radio show host and story-teller, Stuart McLean, passed away from cancer at age 68.

Not only was “The Vinyl Cafe” (his story-telling radio show on air for 22 years) a Canadian-wide loved show, but he also published multiple books. There’s never been anything like his radio show, nor ever will there be, I’ve no doubt. His captivating stories were somewhat tranquilizing in his soothing tone of voice. He had a way with humour and tugging at one’s heart strings. Listing to Vinyl Cafe, I often found myself laughing one minute, and the next my eyes brimming with tears.

Here is a link to his podcasts. If you’re not Canadian and have never heard of Stuart McLean, or if you are Canadian and for some reason have missed out entirely on his work, take some time tonight and choose a story from The Vinyl Cafe, sit back with a cup of coffee or tea, and enjoy!

Requiem æternam dona ei Domine; et lux perpetua luceat ei. Requiescat in pace. Amen.

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.