How precious are Your thoughts to me, O LORD ... how vast is the sum of them!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Persuasion


We come to my last post for December, but I’m not through with the Jane Austen theme yet! I just got on a roll! So, although I’ll be skipping January 1st, I plan to get back to Jane Austen next Friday, or maybe the Tuesday after that if I do a special New Year post. I have a couple more ideas for posts, and even more might come after that ….

And now, to Jane Austen’s last full-length novel. Persuasion was the last thing she ever completed, and there is some question as to whether she meant to edit it one more time. It was published in December 1817 after her death along with Northanger Abbey.
 
                                                      Anne & Captain Wentworth: Persuasion
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The heroine, Anne Elliot, is 27 years old, about 6 years older than any other JA heroine and considered past her bloom, past hope for escaping spinsterhood. Through her Jane Austen was able to present the mind of a woman who is beyond youthful self-absorption and can look back on fancies objectively, as she herself could. I wonder if Jane Austen felt any special affinity for Anne. (It sure seems odd to think of age 27 as past bloom! Nowadays 27 is still quite young.)

But Anne is not like Miss Austen, who, as much as history can tell us (what was in those letters that Cassandra burned??), was never deeply in love with someone. For Anne, there was a man -- his name is Captain Frederick Wentworth -- but eight years have faded away since their romance and engagement ended when Anne was persuaded by several circumstances to break it off.

But through the course of the novel Anne and Captain Wentworth discover, through much pain, that it was only an interruption.

Persuasion features the most touching romance by far of Jane Austen’s bibliography. Unlike her other heroes and heroines, Anne’s and Captain Wentworth’s love has been proven -- it has rekindled, never actually dying, after eight long years. They have been through more than any other couple. Their union has been eight years in coming; this story tells how it at last came about. That makes the happy ending achingly satisfying.

Anne is my second or third favorite JA heroine, and, as I am rereading Persuasion right now, I’m often reminded why. She is self-giving and unassuming, but intelligent, perceptive, and tasteful. Time and time again she proves herself the most superior person of her company, but she certainly doesn’t think of herself that way. She is a role model; I love characters I can truly learn from.

Captain Wentworth is superior, too, once he leaves his grudge against Anne behind, and when I think of the two together, I picture them on a dais of personal exceptionality, steps above the rest. They make an extraordinary couple. “He was, at that time, a remarkably fine young man, with a great deal of intelligence, spirit, and brilliancy; and Anne an extremely pretty girl, with gentleness, modesty, taste, and feeling.” And here is there second engagement: “… how should a Captain Wentworth and an Anne Elliot, with the advantage of maturity of mind, consciousness of right, and one independent fortune between them, fail of bearing down every opposition?” It’s perfect.

Anne’s only fault is that she is too unassuming to withstand her motherly friend Lady Russell’s persuasion to give up her engagement to young Frederick Wentworth. Hurt to the bone, he subsequently regards her as weak, yielding, and indecisive. But he learns again to observe her character, and contrast it with inferior ones. His faults include stubbornness. In the end, however, both their characters prove strong as they overcome opposition to their union -- particularly the opposition found in their own selves.

Persuasion is Jane Austen’s second novel to deal extensively with members of the Navy. In Mansfield Park, Fanny Price’s brother William became a midshipman and their family lived in Portsmouth, a seaport. Jane Austen could write with authority on this occupation because two of her brothers were naval officers, and Persuasion’s cast of naval officers are shown to be decent, upright people, more admirable than the inherited gentry. Persuasion is, I think, Jane Austen’s second best work; contrasting with Emma (which I think is her best), it’s wide in scope, more like Mansfield Park, but better done, because not so many issues are raised that aren’t satisfactorily wrapped up.

I feel like I’m visiting an old friend with a cozy mug of tea and blanket as I’m rereading Persuasion, even if I do my visiting while I take a walk in this cold, crisp weather or sit in the house I’m helping to remodel ….

What do you think of Persuasion? Any preference in movie versions?

Monday, December 24, 2012

Northanger Abbey

This week I am moving up the posts one day, to Monday and Thursday. Tuesday is Christmas, and Friday I will be deep into the visit of my very dear friend (and Wise- and Light-Hearted co-author).

Northanger Abbey was published with Persuasion in December 1817, five months after Jane Austen’s death. In one bound book, readers had the first complete novel of the well-loved author together with the last. Northanger Abbey was actually finished in 1803 under the title of Susan (Jane Austen later renamed the heroine Catherine), but because the publisher who bought it didn’t publish it, it sat until Miss Austen’s brother Henry “redeemed” it in 1817. Jane Austen revised it a bit before her death.                                                                                                        Pinned Image                                                                                                                                pinterest

Northanger Abbey was written for an earlier time than when the public finally got its hands on it: It satires Gothic romances, which were wildly popular in the late 1700s and early 1800s, but declining somewhat by 1817. So long as readers keep the concept of a Gothic romance firmly in place, however, Northanger Abbey loses little of its bite, and even if you’re not entirely aware of its satire, you’ll find it a rich story.

Gothic romances are frightening tales that take place in wild European castles and ruined abbeys. A beautiful, orphaned young woman is often the protagonist; there is a handsome, devoted hero and a dastardly villain. I’ve never read one, but its descendants might be today’s vampire and werewolf books. You get the idea.

Beyond the satirical elements, however, which poke fun at the exaggerative and “horrid” Gothic depictions of life, there is a further layer of irony: some of it turns out to be true! There is villainy in Catherine Morland’s real world, threatening her happiness: Isabella Thorpe, a bad friend who also breaks Catherine’s brother’s heart; John Thorpe, a loutish contender for Catherine’s hand; General Tilney, the heartless father of Henry and Eleanor Tilney (Catherine’s dearest friends) who seeks to separate Catherine from Henry. Jane Austen is parodying and commenting on the way young women were wont to devour Gothic novels, but she also shows that sometimes the novels’ black-and-white good-and-evil situations can help us identify and eschew the evil of our everyday situations.

Catherine is much more than a parody of a Gothic romance heroine; she learns and grows and is a delightful, realistic teenager. She meets a young man, Henry Tilney, at a ball in Bath, and is immediately attracted to him; it grows into love throughout the story. She has much to learn about the world, however, but he has the happy role of teaching her. He has a sister, Eleanor, whom Catherine adores in her own right, and they make a sane, agreeable threesome. As opposed to the not-so-amiable Thorpe siblings, John and Isabella, who take possession of Catherine and her brother James, even going so far as to lie to keep Catherine from the Tilneys’ company.

I don’t find Catherine’s personality as well-defined as Jane Austen’s other heroines, but she’s perfectly realistic because she is sort of an “every-girl.” The large majority of young girls have naivety that needs dispelling and vivid imaginations that need a reality check. Some may be tomboys as little girls but they all grow up to value prettiness and compliments. They get a crush on a young man and every moment they can spend with him is exciting. They have hard-to-get-rid-of friends that are a bad influence and quality friends that they fear losing.

Henry Tilney is probably my favorite character. He’s witty and wise, upright and gentlemanly, and a fitting hero because he takes care of Catherine, watching over both her safety and her growth. Eleanor, his sister, is a bit reserved, mainly because she is afraid of her father, General Tilney, but Catherine’s warmth melts her. She gets a happy ending, too, one that is even more from a storybook than Catherine and Henry’s.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the title character, Northanger Abbey, because, as in Gothic romances, where the setting is often a character in itself, General Tilney’s estate plays a big role in the story. Surely, then, the abbey is wild, dangerous, and decrepit? Surely it is the scene of mystery and horror? Alas, no -- it is a renovated abbey, as modern and respectable-looking as the General himself. But, like the General, it may hide a dark secret … and both those secrets may determine the outcome of Catherine and Henry’s romance.

What do you think of Northanger Abbey?

Friday, December 21, 2012

Emma

“I am going to take a heroine whom no-one but myself will much like.” So said Jane Austen of Emma Woodhouse. True, she isn’t as virtuous as other Austen heroines; in fact, she is rather selfish, the root of all her faults. (And everyone’s faults, for that matter.) But she is so tangible, so human, in a loveable way, that more people than her crafter expected can say that they like her.

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Would you say that she’s the second-most popular JA heroine, after Elizabeth Bennet? Readers like her boldness, her wit, her prosperity. Unlike the other girls Miss Austen has written about, this one need not fear for her future. She’s got everything going for her. Or does she?

Emma has never been crossed, so she’s certain that whatever she thinks is correct is correct. Her opinion matters more to her than any other, except for occasionally Mr. Knightley’s, an old family friend and the brother of her sister’s husband. This means that her acquaintances must be interpreted by how she sees them -- the spinster Miss Bates is silly because Emma thinks her silly; Miss Bates’ niece Jane Fairfax is likewise tiresome; Emma’s friend Harriet Smith is a dear; Harriet’s love interest Robert Martin is a bumpkin; and so forth. Emma sees circumstances the same way, there is no room for her to be mistaken -- until her mistakes flare up in her face. Emma’s slightly flawed character is endearing to readers, because it makes her just like us.

Much of the impact of Emma comes from the intimacy the narrator creates between us and the title character. The narration is most often filtered through Emma’s perspective, and we usually get to see her thoughts taking place as impressions are made: “She then took a longer time for consideration. Should she proceed no farther? Should she let it pass, and seem to suspect nothing? Perhaps Harriet might think her cold or angry if she did; or perhaps if she were totally silent, it might only drive Harriet into asking her to hear too much; and against any thing like such an unreserve as had been, such an open and frequent discussion of hopes and chances, she was perfectly resolved….” (chap 39) This is called free indirect discourse and novels did not always do this; our Miss Austen was one of the first novelists to make such strides in character and reader connectivity.

Emma teaches us the lesson that self-focus will sooner or later rear its ugly head for all to see, including you yourself. Emma thinks she’s being benevolent by arranging matches for Harriet Smith, but she’s really feeding her own ego and not taking Harriet’s true needs into consideration. She thinks she’s civil to poor Miss Bates, but eventually her real, contemptuous feelings come out and wound that lady -- earning a justified rebuke from Mr. Knightley. Emma sees herself for what she really is -- and repents. Her vanity ultimately brings her to the lowest point imaginable: the point where she believes she might lose the man she loves. After all, it was she who encouraged Harriet to think so high as to aspire to Mr. Knightley’s affections.

But Emma gets a happy ending. (And so does everybody else!)

I think Emma, published December 1815, is Jane Austen’s best-written novel. Everything contained in it she does well: comedy, a believable heroine, a well-drawn cast of characters, amusing subplots, an accurate picture of life in a small town, etc. It may be Miss Austen’s exact element: “3 or four Families in a Country Village is the very thing to work on.” (A letter to her niece Anna Austen Lefroy) If I’m not mistaken, despite her rank, Emma is the only heroine who doesn’t travel in the course of her story. The result is a highly concentrated image of the small town of Highbury.

Mr. Knightley is someone Emma looks up to, and as I said before, about the only one whose opinion sometimes matters more to her than her own. He’s the only one who ever crosses her, and the fact that she ends up with him leaves us readers with the satisfaction that she’s in good hands. I think she’s a good match for him, too, because she has a strong, intelligent mind that will oppose him if he ever needs opposing. Their dynamic shows itself throughout the novel.

What is your favorite Emma movie? Who’s your favorite character in Emma, or who do you think the most amusing or well-drawn? I would be hard-pressed to give you my opinion -- every character is so distinct! Do you like or dislike Emma? She’s my least favorite JA heroine, but that’s not saying much, because I like them all so well ….

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Austen-Inspired Snippets

This is my first time to participate in Katie Sabelko’s wonderful Snippets of Story on her blog Whisperings of the Pen. The idea is to post excerpts of any writing you’ve been doing over the past month. So, since my latest writing has been for my co-written, Austen-inspired Regency novel, and all my posts this month are required to pay homage to Jane Austen, everything matches up. For more on the story behind these snippets, you can go to its own special post here.

                                             Snippets from The Wise- and Light-Hearted


“Mrs. Dawson might think it more than odd to receive an invitation to such a sudden event.” [said Mrs. Edwards to her daughter Cassandra.]

Mrs. Edwards and Mrs. Dawson were friends and thought very highly of each other, but they were always endeavoring to keep one another’s good opinion. Mrs. Dawson was of an extremely old and respected family, and Mrs. Edwards never liked to do anything that might cause her to think she or Cassandra lacked in genteelness.



- The Wise- and Light-Hearted

William reached out for Joseph, and so the man took him into his lap. “Very well. I think William wants his animals. One mustn’t deprive a gentleman of his horse.”

Cassandra smiled as she handed him the basket. “Have you seen his rocking horse? It is so darling.”

“Mama gave it to him from the attic not two weeks ago,” Sophia explained. “Cassandra loves it more than William, I think, for the memories.”

“I was surprised Mother kept that old thing. I had quite forgotten it ever existed,” Prescott remarked. “It’s dashed incredible that it still holds together.”

“I shall be pleased to meet your steed, little man,” Joseph said, making a white cow trot in the air just out of William’s reach. “Now, what is the task that we have the honor of doing for you?”

- The Wise- and Light-Hearted

“No, not in the least. Their eyes will be on other things!” responded Lucy gaily. She wondered if Sophia caught on to her jest, but when she saw Sophia rapturously watching a butterfly, she surmised that she hadn’t. It was just as well. Sophia had never been less in the mood for jokes than in the past two days. She had confided to Lucy how greatly heartened she was to learn that the Browns were leaving, but she could not be merry until she was sure they were gone. She did not want herself disappointed, and so she would keep her cheerfulness under guard. Aside from that, she did not want anything at all to appear attractive to Mr. Stephen Brown.

“Indeed they will,” Cassandra echoed, likewise letting her gaze rest upon Sophia.

Sophia then became aware of their gaze and smiled at them. “Did you see that butterfly? I’m certain it was a pearl-bordered fritillary. It was dramatic as a leopard with its spots.”

- The Wise- and Light-Hearted

The week passed quickly. Not a day went by that Sophia was not put into the Browns’ company. Every encouragement was given to Stephen Brown by her family members, each in their own way: Mr. Edwards never lost an opportunity to speak and joke with him or offer him some favor, ensuring he knew how much he approved of him; Mrs. Edwards outdid herself with hospitality and always found something relevant to say to him, something she didn’t exert herself to do for everyone; Cassandra was always gently encouraging conversation between Mr. Brown and Sophia and praising them to each other; Prescott lavished attention on Mr. Brown and even offered a clumsy compliment or two whenever Sophia was around. Sophia bore it because she had no other choice. She was always with her family.

- The Wise- and Light-Hearted

Sophia rose from the stone bench and paced, her mind pacing more erratically. At length she decided: the one thing that was settled was that Mr. Brown was leaving tomorrow. She had only one more day of enduring him. And one more day could be endured, not in skulking and hiding, but in brave determination to behave at her best -- to live -- despite him.

- The Wise- and Light-Hearted

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I do my best to mix my natural writing style with Miss Austen’s, but no one writes quite like Miss Austen, least of all me. I’ve read one spin-off of Pride and Prejudice but thought it very dull indeed compared to her books; I don’t really desire to try any others (unless you, readers, can recommend something to me!).

Here’s a short list of things I find particular to her writing, and how my writing relates:

- A sense of humor and sarcasm beyond comparison; her language is so elegantly formal that the joke catches you off-guard and you’re chuckling before you know what hit you. (I feel my writing reflects my role model best when I’m funny or sarcastic. But I’m not a very sarcastic writer, so I don’t try over-hard.)

- Quick and complete character sketches. A sentence or two and you know what to expect from the person being described. (I love this about her, and I’m trying to get better at it.)

- Lack of minute physical detail. This allows her to focus on characters and their personalities. (I actually prefer detail to no detail, so I’m perhaps a little more descriptive than she is.)

In the end, it’s best to be myself, but I still get a thrill whenever I read something and think, That sounds like it came from Jane Austen!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Mansfield Park


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Mansfield Park, published in 1814, is one of Jane Austen’s “mature” novels, one that she wrote entirely as an adult. This shows, because the story is more complex than Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice; symbolism appears, the problems are more intense and far-reaching, and the plot is more entwined with the world at large. Slavery in the West Indies is mentioned; a rather rough family home is visited; deception and rebellion run rampant; matters of faith are discussed; Fanny Price, the heroine, is treated far worse than any other Austen character I can think of. With all this, Mansfield Park can almost be seen on another plane from the other books.

I like it. It is gripping. I remember reading part of the last third late at night, and almost feeling like crying with the pathos of Fanny’s situation. So many things go wrong for her -- but the sun breaks through in the end, and she can at last be happy and get what she deserves. Even a few of the not-so-nice minor characters get a pleasant ending, while the darkest characters receive their comeuppance or disappear into the world, into what I assume is the dismal abyss where they belong. (Okay, okay, I’m getting melodramatic. I really do feel sorry for Henry and Mary Crawford. If only they could have reformed, but still left Edmund and Fanny alone. But that would have been unrealistic.)

Fanny reminds me of Cinderella -- neglected and treated as second-rate, yet basically an angel. I can hardly think of one thing she’s done wrong, but what is more, she doesn’t become embittered by the wrongs done to her. She feels grateful to be where she is, and she should be, because later on we see what she came out of. But then comes the problem of belonging nowhere. The big house doesn’t particularly want her, she doesn’t want the Prices’ Portsmouth house … but finally, finally, her cousin Edmund wants her, and they can go establish their own house.

I wish Jane Austen had fleshed out the turn of Edmund’s mind as it was slowly drawn in the right direction, like a sunflower to the sun. Mary Crawford had blocked out the sun for so long, but when she was removed, it was only a matter of time before Edmund discovered his source of light and warmth. I would have liked some lovers’ exchange between Edmund and Fanny, not just a number of paragraphs on the very last pages of the book, as satisfying as those are: “…what was there now to add, but that he would learn to prefer soft light eyes to sparkling dark ones. -- And being always with her, and always talking confidentially, and his feelings exactly in that favorable state which a recent disappointment gives, those soft light eyes could not be very long in obtaining the pre-eminence.”

I think Fanny and Edmund make a lovely couple. Edmund frustrates me at times by his infatuation with Mary Crawford and blindness to Fanny, but Miss Crawford is more blameworthy than him. Men by their very nature are captivated by what their eyes see, by liveliness that calls out, “Come with me.” It’s very realistic, and shows that Edmund isn’t perfect: he must grow. Meanwhile, Fanny carries on quietly and heroically, knowing deep down just what she wants, just what is right, though everyone else tries to tell her otherwise, even the man she loves. Although we see her often bowing to “stronger” personalities, her core muscles are yet stronger and she triumphs in the end.

Henry and Mary Crawford are masterpieces of villainy. They even deceive readers -- I’ve heard one commentator say something like “Mary Crawford is the real heroine of Mansfield Park,” and people in Jane Austen’s time believed that if Henry Crawford could have reformed just a bit more he could have earned Fanny’s love. But, no -- the Crawfords represent countless people of the world who are basically “good,” very fun and attractive, and yet are rotten in their core. Their childhood accounts for much of it, and, as I said before, I come off feeling a little sorry for them (do you?) but when they are finally revealed for who they are, they reap the consequences of what was there all along. It makes us ponder our motives; are we really as good as we think we are? No, we are not, if the Spirit of God is not in us ….

What do you think of Mansfield Park?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice is about to celebrate its 200th anniversary -- on January 28th of 2013. I hope there’ll be celebrations somewhere for the world’s favorite romance. I’d participate if I knew of any ….

Before we get any farther, I’d like to say a word about Hanukkah, which spans the eight days from the evening of December 8th to the evening of December 16th. “Dedication” is the English word for Hanukkah, and this festival is certainly about that concept in all its forms. The first Hanukkah was about the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem two years after the Greeks had defiled it in 167 BCE. That two-year fight-to-the-death to keep the light of God’s presence on earth took extreme dedication … Christians, too, would do well to realize how vital it is that we are committed to our Lord and to doing whatever it takes to cling to Him. The Maccabees’ story is inspiring and I encourage you to read about it.

Okay, returning to the trail, I, of course, have some things to say about Pride and Prejudice. I think it’s safe to say Elizabeth Bennet is just about everyone’s favorite Austen heroine, or if she isn’t the absolute favorite (for example, of people like me), she’s at least well-loved. Modern readers especially delight in her wit, her spunkiness, and her independence. She’s the epitome of an engaging protagonist. Even her faults are ones that readers readily identify with.

On the other hand, there is Mr. Darcy. I have to confess that praise fails me when it comes to describing Mr. Darcy. The people who delight in Lizzy also seem to think Mr. Darcy the most attractive hero in literature, but I don’t follow suit. He does improve in the end, but not substantially enough to explain why so many female readers are in love with him … maybe you, readers, can help me understand what the draw is in his character? Let’s see if I can reason through some of this on my own … he’s deep, he has a good heart towards those he loves, he’s rich, he’s handsome, he needs Elizabeth, he changes his manner because of her … maybe a second reading will reveal more. What makes him real and fascinating as a character, though, is his growth. Don’t get me wrong, I like him well enough, but I’m just not one of his ardent fans.

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What else can we talk about concerning Pride and Prejudice? I like Jane Bennet and Mr. Bingley as a couple, but, being not so interesting as Lizzy and Mr. Darcy, they’re a good secondary couple.

Which movie version of Pride and Prejudice is your favorite? I like the five-hour BBC miniseries for its actors and its closeness to the original story: I think it holds the book’s spirit, besides containing so many of its beloved scenes.

I hope this post didn’t seem rushed -- I didn’t have a whole lot of time to work on it today. Notice how late I posted …. Pride and Prejudice really deserves more than I was able to give it!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Sense and Sensibility

First of all, I would like to acknowledge today is Pearl Harbor Day. I can’t imagine the horror of that attack, and I hope all of you reading this (even if not on the actual date) will take a moment to reflect on what happened, who experienced it, and what occurred as a result.

In 1811, when Sense and Sensibility was published, Great Britain was also at war, this time with France. Jane Austen penned her book first in the 1790s as an epistolary novel called Elinor and Marianne and later revised it into the narrative we know today. The 1790s date is important to me because, if we accept that the story should then take place at the time it was first written, Elinor and Marianne did not wear Regency dresses. They wore those equally beautiful but not so comfortable Georgian gowns with tight waists and full skirts, though fashion was well on its way to becoming simpler. I was surprised when I learned that -- Jane Austen’s heroines are very hard for me to separate from the Regency era!

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Sense and Sensibility is probably my favorite Austen novel because of a special character named Elinor Dashwood. I firmly believe Elinor was Austen’s picture of an ideal woman. She’s very different from the fainting ladies of earlier novels - like those of Evelina and The Vicar of Wakefield and others that I haven’t read. She’s resolute, resourceful, and reserved, at nineteen the most capable of her mother and sisters. She believes in keeping things hidden that might wreak havoc if revealed. This calls, many times, for extreme strength of character. None of Elinor’s traits are presented to us as faults, though some today find fault with her reserve. But she’s also sensitive and caring, putting others’ needs above her own; she knows how to hold conversation and show genuine interest. An all-around character model if you ask me.

But I also love Marianne like a sister. She’s a lot of fun -- until she reacts so drastically to Willoughby’s betrayal. Then I start to think, Come on, girl, you’ve imbibed too much of those fainting heroine novels. However, I identify with her devotion to beauty and her sensibilities about poetry, music, art, and nature. Both sisters would make great friends for anyone.

Edward Ferrars usually gets a bad score on the hero scale. But I beg to disagree. Part of it may be my tastes -- he’s quiet and unassuming, but warm once the Dashwood ladies get to know him. He’s straightforward, intelligent, and sincere, not flighty, arrogant, or fake. He made a mistake with Lucy Steele, but in the end he’s willing to own up and stand by her like a man -- unlike Willoughby, who’s afraid to stand by Marianne when things get rocky. I’ve marked the passages best describing Edward’s character because he may perhaps be the Austen hero that intrigues me the most. (Well, there is Henry Tilney ….)

Those three are my favorite characters, and I’ve spent a lot of thought contemplating their personalities. They’re an intimate part of why I like Sense and Sensibility, which is ultimately a grand character sketch.

And I’d like to give one more reason for my fondness: Devonshire, the story’s setting. Usually we’re so caught up with the characters in Austen’s novels that we don’t immediately think of their surroundings; Austen tends to minimize physical description. But on my second and third reading of Sense and Sensibility I got a definite picture of the Dashwoods’ abode, and it sounds like the setting of my dreams: “The situation of the house was good. High hills rose immediately behind, and at no great distance on each side; some of which were open downs, the others cultivated and woody. The village of Barton was chiefly on one of these hills, and formed a pleasant view from the cottage windows. The prospect in front was more extensive; it commanded the whole of the valley, and reached into the country beyond. The hills which surrounded the cottage terminated the valley in that direction; under another name, and in another course, it branched out again between two of the steepest of them.” Not an extremely poetic description, but photos of Devonshire (Devon) speak for themselves.

What do you think of Sense and Sensibility?

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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Celebrating Jane Austen

I am a Janeite. I’ll admit it - and proudly, too. Well, mostly proudly. I don’t like to identify with the girls who swoon over Mr. Darcy. And I’m not so sure Jane Austen would put herself in that category, either. She seemed too level-headed, too entirely mistress of everything going on, in her books and otherwise, to do any swooning.
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How did I come to acquire this moniker? It was gradual, and yet sudden: I listened to an audio book of Pride and Prejudice and hardly understood a word, much less the plot. Some time later I tried Sense and Sensibility. I guess it must have clicked, because I soon after read the book, loved it, and read the other five novels in less than a year. That was November 2007 - September 2008. (It coincided with PBS’s airing of the A & E versions of all her novels that winter.) I wasn’t aware of my mania taking over until it was upon me. I read Sanditon, an uncompleted work, during that time as well, and this past year I read Lady Susan, an epistolary novella, and The Watsons, another incomplete work.

December 16th should be a national holiday, or at least a British one that Americans can celebrate if they want to. Do you know why? It’s Jane Austen’s birthday! And for many of us - or at the very least, for me - it’s the whole reason we even heard of the Regency period in England’s history, or love those empire-waist dresses, or have so much interest in British literature.

I’ve always wanted to celebrate Jane Austen’s birthday in some way, so this year (her 237th birthday)I’m going to make December’s blog posts all related to Jane Austen. This is primarily a “literary” blog, so I thought it would be appropriate. I highly encourage you to join in if you’re a fan! We’ll have fun with her books and biography, and I may share some thoughts about her writing style that inspired my friend’s and my Regency novel. I don’t have everything planned out, so I don’t know what each post will hold, but rest assured, they will all have something to do with this favorite author.

Today I’ll talk about why I like her so much, and if you have reasons why you like her that I don’t mention, feel free to comment!

Miss Austen was a brilliant writer - even the greatest scholars, like C. S. Lewis and E. M. Forster, admired her. Her novels were a turning-point in the tradition of British fiction. She was devoted to portraying reality - in plot, in dialogue, in the conscience - and she translated that reality into a work of art. The earlier British novels I’ve read are melodramatic in comparison. Jane Austen sized down her situations and characters so that they were utterly believable and relatable, even to today. Her character portraits are complete, thus producing memorable characters that feel like people you’ve met - and yet they are not so complex that you can’t easily identify their types and traits. Her books are laugh-out-loud funny, pointing out the ridiculous and potentially teaching the reader to evaluate herself for damaging peccadilloes.

Miss Austen wasn’t trained at a school - her novels come from an uncommon intelligence and talent. Countless people could enjoy and study them, recognizing themselves in the pages and being enriched by the sketchbook of a culture that was quickly passing away.

Oh, dear - I know that sound-bite doesn’t do her justice. Hopefully I will be able to expand on it in my following posts. Until then, here’s some trivia about me and her works:

Order Read:

1. Sense and Sensibility

2. Northanger Abbey

3. Persuasion

4. Pride and Prejudice

5. Emma

6. Mansfield Park

In Order of Favorites (though they really overlap):

1. Sense and Sensibility

2. Persuasion

3. Pride and Prejudice

4. Mansfield Park

5. Northanger Abbey

6. Emma

Favorite Heroines:

1. Elinor Dashwood

2. Anne Elliot

3. Elizabeth Bennet

4. Fanny Price

5. Catherine Morland

6. Marianne Dashwood

7. Emma Woodhouse    (Notice that this ordering pretty much coincides with my ordering of the novels above it.)

Number of Times Read:

1. Sensibility - 3

2. Northanger Abbey - 2

3. Persuasion - 1

4. Pride and Prejudice - 1

5. Emma - 1

6. Mansfield Park - 1

What is your favorite novel or heroine? Who are you most like?

 

 

Friday, November 30, 2012

Kindred Keyboard Conversations

Many of you have probably already seen this, but for those of you who haven’t, I have a link for you to check out: Reader Interview: Kelsey Bryant! I’ve had the immense pleasure of being interviewed by Elizabeth Kaiser, a wonderfully sweet young authoress I met online. She has a very fun blog where the discussions run about all things writer-ly; her blog was one of the first that I ever followed. She put out a call for interviews some time ago, both for readers and for writers, so I “volunteered” for both. She’s interviewed others, as well, and each one is so interesting! It’s fascinating to hear from all these different people and their unique perspectives on life and literary matters.

I was absolutely thrilled about these interviews because I’ve never done one before. I like answering questions, but this was my chance to really nail down my (current) philosophy on reading and writing and craft something fun and informative, with the help of Elizabeth’s intriguing questions. I had my mom and an editor-friend read both before I sent off my answers because I wanted them just right.

There are so many great blogs out there. I feel blessed to have found a community of young homeschool or homeschool-graduate writers who have pretty much the same goals as I do: to write the best books we can, to read as many classics as we can, and above all to glorify the Lord in everything we do! I have been so impressed and encouraged by the “blogging lives” of these young people and I wish them every success and happiness. Three cheers for them all!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Lord of the Rings

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For those of you who are Lord of the Rings fans, I hope you’ve had the incomparable pleasure of seeing the extended versions of the movie trilogy. My parents and I watched them over the course of eight nights last week and Monday of this week - this was the second time I’ve seen the extended versions and the umpteenth time I’ve seen the movies as a whole - and I can think of no other film I can watch so often and not get tired of. It never ceases to move me - and inspire me. After a dry period of writing, I am once again convicted of the power of story and my earnest desire to be the best storyteller that I can be.

But its influence over me goes beyond aspects of storytelling. It shows me the comprehensive picture of life in the real world - the epic struggle between good and evil and how vital it is to make a stand for the good - for the Lord. That inspires the way I live my life.

I am thoroughly inflamed now for The Hobbit. December 14th! (I’ll see it a bit later than that.) I am “quite ready for another adventure.” I hope it fulfills our expectations!

Some of you may not like The Lord of the Rings or even fantasy, but it sure speaks powerfully to me!  (And, to tell you the truth, it’s not so much the fantasy element as the quest against all odds that draws me.) What books and/or movies never cease to inspire you?

Friday, November 23, 2012

My Book Character Takes a Personality Test

I hope everyone had a happy Thanksgiving!

When I embark on a new novel idea, about the first thing I make notes on is the main character. I write out a few of her attributes and go from there, trying to make her as round and complete as possible. I want to know her as well as I know myself.

I love making character charts - I’m sure every writer has their own way of doing this, because we all love creating characters, don’t we? But I’ve always wanted to take a personality test as if my character were taking it and so, since I’m developing a brand-new protagonist for a new story, I tried it out over Thanksgiving.

A friend told me about this personality test which is called The Keirsey Temperament Sorter-II. But let me give you this website: http://typelogic.com/. You can find the test by clicking on the question “Is there a test?” and then, on the new page, clicking on the link that says Keirsey’s Temperament Sorter II. However, I took that test before as myself and came up with a personality assessment that wasn’t exactly right-on (it said I was an ISFP, which I’m not). The website I directed you to, typelogic.com, also has an explanation for each of the types (which is where you’ll discover what in the world those letters mean - no, they do not describe a droid). If you don’t want to take the test, it’s worthwhile and interesting just reading those. That’s how I found my true personality type, INFP. Each explanation includes a list of famous people and literary characters with that personality and even the personality types that contrast or complement it (helpful for developing secondary characters, don’t you think?).

I enjoyed taking the Keirsey test for my new character yesterday. There were a lot of questions, and sometimes they seemed to be asking the same thing, but I wrote them all down in my notebook to reference again and again because they forced me to think about what my character would do in sundry situations - many of which might find place in her story. However, I did not feel like giving the website my name and email address, so I didn’t get her droid name - code - initial - whatever you call those letter groups. But I certainly got a better understanding of her personality.

Next, I perused the personality codes on typelogic.com and narrowed down her type myself: INFJ or INTJ. She’s introverted and perceptive, practical yet idealistic, and a hardworking perfectionist.

If you decide to take this test or find your personality type (or your characters’!), please let me know your results or how it worked for you!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Book Review: In the Company of Others, Or, A Reflection on Modern Fiction

                                           In the Company of Others (Father Tim, #2)

I read a book recently that is different from my normal fare. This book, In the Company of Others, is by Jan Karon and is the second of her Father Tim novels. She wrote another popular series called Mitford with the same main character. This is the first book by Karon that I’ve read and I can see why she’s a bestseller. My dad, a voracious reader, read most of her books and enjoyed them; this one caught my attention because it was about a trip Father Tim Kavanagh, a newly retired Episcopalian priest, and his wife Cynthia took to Ireland.

Now first of all, I love Ireland - although I’ve never been there, I think it must be the prettiest country of all and certainly one of the most fascinating. And secondly, I’m on the lookout for books about contemporary England (if you know of any, please share them!) but this was close enough to be a profitable read. I was mainly interested in how Karon wrote about a trip abroad: what traveling details she included, like jetlag and travelers’ perceptions of Ireland, and how she put a story about people in a book about a faraway place, where readers would be interested in cultural information as well as what happens to the characters.

I would have loved more description of scenery and culture, but it would probably have had to have been included at the expense of the full and touching story of Father Tim and Cynthia’s involvement with their Irish friends. It was a story not dissimilar to my Adventure in England: a broken family, complete with a rebellious daughter, whom God uses the Kavanaghs to put back together. The characters were surprisingly well-drawn with the few brush strokes of description Karon used; even though she didn’t use clear character descriptions, she “showed” her characters through dialogue, action, and the casual inner observations of Father Tim. I got an impression of what they were like while I was reading, but I would have a hard time describing their personalities to you now.

Jan Karon is what I would call a minimalist, very sparing of unnecessary words. Often her sentences would have only one brilliant word, if any at all, while the rest faded into the background. It moved the story along, but I missed the beautiful prose of my favorite novels. However, I think it was a good lesson for me to see how few words are needed to tell a story; her prose felt free and uncluttered because she frequently used incomplete sentences and left out dialogue tags, the word “and,” (“She wiped her eyes, looked at her watch.”) and action that could be implied from the scene. She never refers to Father Tim by his name unless someone calls him that; he is always “he” in the narrative, as Cynthia is usually “she.” It creates an extreme intimacy with the main characters.

I wouldn’t like the informality of writing Jan Karon’s way, but it was interesting to see how it works for her. The story was wonderful and impacting and if you read modern authors I would recommend In the Company of Others. Father Tim and Cynthia are delightful and an intriguing subplot was their reading of the 1860s journal of a country doctor.

I don’t need to observe that the majority of modern authors are out for a “minimalist” style, at least as compared to the classics, and that reflects modern society; but I love words and find a wordy novel a work of art. I’ve found that the more wordy and descriptive a modern author is, the more I like him or her. The more words, the more information the book conveys and the more encompassing it is. Of course there are more reasons than that why I love classic literature, but that is a big one for me.

What about you? What do you like or not like about modern fiction as opposed to the classics?

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Transylvanian Sabbath-Keepers


This novel has undergone many, many changes, and it faces more in the future. But it stands strong, because it knows I can’t abandon it. Its characters call to me, begging me to save them from the impossible and deadly situation I left them in and see them safely to the end. Its setting likewise lures me to further explore its very real beauty and glory.

The idea came to me when I was about fourteen: four young people, two young men and two young women, are called to go on a journey to save their country. They are basically peasants, powerless by themselves, but used by God for this great task. Their goal: to collect three richly beautiful objects to present to the barbarian nation that threatens their country.

Originally the setting was an imaginary land. I wrote faithfully for a long time, began to lose interest, and decided to turn it into two books so that I could wrap it up to my satisfaction for a while: I hung the ending of the first book off a cliff, never wrote the second, and left to work on Six Cousins.

I had never been overly excited at developing the imaginary land, so it was easy for me to leave that behind, but I couldn’t forget about the characters - Jadine, her brother McAllister, and their friends Celestia and Galen. I loved them like they were my own brothers and sisters.

Then I discovered a piece of largely unknown history: the existence of Christians who kept the Sabbath and other Biblical festivals and laws, like me. I had thought this was a new thing that we were doing, that the last time believers in the Messiah had celebrated the Biblical festivals was in the first century C.E. But no - there were several small sects of Christianity throughout history that cut themselves off from the Catholic Church and returned to their Hebrew roots. The first one I heard about is called the Transylvanian Sabbath-Keepers, or Sabbatarians. It arose in the 16th and 17th centuries mainly among the Szekely ethnic group of Transylvania. Transylvanians had always been independent, the Szekely especially so, and the Reformation got to them early on, so they were ripe for something as radical as “Jewish” roots.

I was captivated. I learned all I could and then rewrote my story in this new context: A Sabbath-keeping community in Transylvania is persecuted by the local count, and in order to determine whether they are of God or not, the evil man forces four unlikely representatives to go on a journey to collect three items that he’s purchased - if they fail, which is what he’s counting on, he will proceed with the persecution. If they succeed, he will take it as a sign that God is with this people.

Much of the storyline remains from the original story; mainly I had to change the characters’ names into Hungarian names (i.e., Jadine = Yudit, McAllister = Matyas, Celestia = Bianka, and Galen = Gaspar) and the setting to the beautiful Transylvanian mountains, and put in delightful bits about the Sabbath-keepers’ beliefs and traditions.

But, I confess that I got stuck again, discouraged by the lack of historical information. This apparently wasn’t a very well-documented time or place. As a result, I am not sure what I’m going to do with this story - change the setting, dismiss historicity, or what-have-you - but one thing I know - Yudit, Matyas, Bianka, and Gaspar’s story will be told.

 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Wise- and Light-Hearted

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This is a very special story because it’s a collaboration between one of my best friends and me. We both love the Regency period of England, particularly because of Jane Austen, and after spending so much time discussing writing and things Austen and Regency, we hit upon the idea that we should write a Regency novel together. We don’t live in the same state, so our collaboration takes place over the phone and over the internet. Our writing styles are very similar and we are enthusiastic about each other’s ideas, so it works beautifully. I’ve never had this much fun writing - we’re living this story together! We discuss plans, share research tidbits, and take turns writing sections. It’s an energizing way to write because we write furiously, take a break, and all the while keep each other motivated.

There are two heroines - Lucia Beacham (my friend’s character) and Sophia Edwards (my character), best friends who live in Hampshire, a southern county of England. (It’s also Jane Austen’s home county.) Throughout their very opposite-running love stories and other complicated affairs, they are there for one another. Always. Sophia feels plagued by her brother-in-law’s visiting friend Stephen Brown, who’s the opposite of what she’d hoped for in a husband, while Lucy becomes dear friends with Sophia’s cousin Joseph Chapman but falls in love with a mysterious suitor named Richard Adams. Will either young woman make the right choice for herself?

Friday, November 9, 2012

Adventure in England


This post was scheduled for exactly the right time, right down to the day! For - I have finished the first draft. I can now write this synopsis while knowing the full story, from its first to last line, because I just typed that decisive, hopefully powerful ending line late last night.

Adventure in England (working title), like all sequels, was born out of Six Cousins. It’s June, 2008, three months after the family reunion. The six cousins return, with cameo appearances by some of their family; but the bulk of the story takes place in England on a private tour with their grandparents’ friends the Endicotts, who live in Madgwick, England, a village in Berkshire not far from London.

Gregory and Yvonne Endicott have a granddaughter named Paris, who is thoroughly American. She visits every summer, and so is there when the six cousins arrive. Each family, the Endicotts and the cousins, is thoroughly delighted with the other, though it soon becomes obvious there could be more harmony within either family.

A trip to England is Marielle’s dream, so she’s determined to let nothing ruin it for her, even her own insecurities at being away from home. Some of her England adventures are more wonderful than she’s imagined, while others are downright disturbing, especially when Paris is involved. Paris is a special person, but then Marielle learns something about her that makes her wonder if Paris’s future is at stake. Can Marielle overcome her own difficulties and actually make a difference in her new friend’s life?

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Six Cousins

Okay - my first promised post about my novels!



Six Cousins -This is the first novel I ever finished. I started it in March 2008 out of a desperation to write an easier story than I’d attempted before. It would be about what I knew (advice I recommend at least for your first novel) and so would require little research; I could pour my very self into it and it would come out real and deep and personal. Female authors like Louisa May Alcott, Jane Austen, and L. M. Montgomery were my inspiration - they wrote about what they knew and few books have succeeded as well as theirs.

I finished it in 2011 and have been editing it, letting it sit, editing it, having others read it, and now the process is finally drawing to a close. I hope to self-publish it next year!

The protagonist, Marielle Austin, is 14 years old, small, blond, and blue-eyed. She’s home schooled and is passionate about the Lord, the past, and literature. She’s dreamy and poetic, perhaps too much so; but she’s also endearingly sweet, quiet, shy, with just enough pluckiness to surprise acquaintances if they knew of it. She lives with her parents and two younger brothers, Garrison and Benjamin, way out in the beautiful Texas hill country.

It’s spring, 2008, and her family and her dad’s parents, who live two miles away, are hosting a week-long family reunion. All of Dad’s siblings and their families will be there, including Marielle’s two best friends and cousins, Emma and Caroline Yardley, and her three other girl cousins, Abby, Kailey, and Reanna, who hale all the way from Wisconsin. Marielle doesn’t know them so well so she’s worried about how they’ll connect.

The first day, Sunday, their grandfather, Will Austin, presents them with an exciting plan: he has three projects for them to complete by the end of the week, and if they succeed, he and their parents will have a prize for them, more wonderful than they can imagine. But not only do they need to get the projects done: they need to accomplish them with love and teamwork.

Each project is unique and calls for all of the girls’ input, but Abby, Kailey, and Reanna are not willing workers. Problems surface right away because of their bad attitudes and bad work ethics. Marielle, Emma, and Caroline are at a loss - what can they do to push the projects through? And more importantly, what can they do about their cousins who won’t welcome their friendship? How can they show their love when it’s hard even to feel it? Will the mysterious prize slip away, and with it any chance of relationship?

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Library Sale!


Well, my next post was going to be about my novels, but then came Friday - and our local library's fundraising sale. I just had to write about that. Throughout the year, donated used books are collected and over the course of four days in November area booklovers comb the tables for treasures that had been other people's cast-offs. It's a highlight of my year because I'm sure to find something wonderful. Not only are the books cheap, there are some there that one can't find anywhere else.
Here is a list of the books that are now safely within my book-loving home:
  • I Spy - Super Challenger! - I'll never grow out of these beautiful, fascinating books. I have a whole collection of them but this was one that I was missing!
  • Tirzah - by Lucille Travis. "Tirzah and her family are slaves in Egypt. ... If only Tirzah's people could escape. If only Moses could persuade Pharaoh to let them go. ..." (from the back cover) This is a story of the Exodus from Egypt. I saw it years ago in a children's book catalog and had always wanted to read it!
  • Tristan and Iseult - by Rosemary Sutcliff. I've been intrigued by this Celtic legend for quite some time, and what better storyteller to retell it than Rosemary Sutcliff?  
  • The Story of the Jewish People - by Gilbert and Libby Klaperman. This is an old, three-volume set for children about the course of worldwide Jewish history from Bible times on.
  • Sand and Stars - The Jewish Journey Through Time - by Yaffa Ganz. Another history book on God's chosen people beyond Bible times. (I find my knowledge of Jewish history sadly lacking, so these books will remedy that!)
  • The Kings and Queens of England - A Tourist Guide - by Jane Murray. I've always wanted a fun-to-read yet detailed book that can help me memorize the whole line of British monarchs.
  • European Civilization - by Ferguson and Bruun. This is a two-volume set on the entire span of European history. We already had the first one, and I'd read that, but I was pleased to find a matching set and am anticipating reading volume two.
My mom picked up some treasures of her own, and so in total we bought 15 books for $23. A bill only a library sale could allow!
I brought home only two fiction books, which is very unusual for me. I'm actually relieved about that, because I already own a ton that need reading. :-)
Does anyone want to take a guess at what book I'll read cover-to-cover first? (I admit I don't know myself, yet!)
Do you have any neat stories about buying second-hand books? I think it's more fun than buying new!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

What NaNo Will Get from Me

                            

I first heard about National Novel Writing Month in November 2009. I was incredulous that anyone who didn’t write for a living would be able to write 50,000 words in one month. That’s about 1,666 or 1,667 words a day! At that point I felt accomplished and stretched if I typed in 550 words a day, about the length of a computer document page. I would have to essentially triple my output if I ever wanted to participate - say, the next year. That year it was blissfully too late, so I had a great excuse not to worry about whether or not I should try it. 2010 and 2011 went by with me giving NaNo nary a thought; no one I knew ever talked about it and I wasn’t “plugged in” to any writing community.

This year, however, I almost considered participating. My commitment to writing, which I had always believed strong, burgeoned, particularly over August and September; I was becoming more disciplined and focused on my daily output; and I had discovered an inspiring online community of young authors like me who were talking about it. Many had participated and even accomplished their goals!

Just think, 50,000 words will, if not give you a complete novel, at least give you a substantial manuscript that should be no trouble to finish soon afterwards. As long as you win NaNo you’ll have something to work with that you can more than likely finish. No doubt NaNo is the best thing for many people. I thought it might actually work some wonders for me, too, this year - I had a novel that needed completing; I’ve been working on it since June 2011. It didn’t need 50,000 more words, but I thought that there was still a large chunk left out in space that called for an application of NaNo.

But then I received one of those fabulous story epiphanies that come when one is not actively writing (I think this one visited me in bed): I finally recognized the ending that my novel Adventure in England needed. And I was much closer than I thought.

And so I realized I didn’t need NaNo after all. That was a wonderful feeling of accomplishment in itself. I even had hopes of finishing before that, but now I see I’ll finish it during. I won’t need 50,000 words, but I will reach a worthy goal during this ingenious annual event. I’ll be there celebrating with other writers at the end of November.

What will 2013 look like?
 
Since we’re on the subject of writing, which I hope we’ll return to more often, I’d like to tell you that I plan to make my next blog post or two about my four major novels.

Friday, October 26, 2012

How Precious Are Your Thoughts, Pt. 2

Here’s the continuation of Tuesday’s post:

Word number six in Psalm 139:17 is another mah, meaning how, only pronounced a little differently: meh. Remember, this refers to something that is unknown, something that might have an unlimited volume. This time it goes with ats’mu. The root atsam means abundance, so the translation of “vast” really hits the mark! The Hebrew words for bone and strength come from that same root, by the way, so obviously the type of abundance we’re thinking about is one that brings strength. There’s strength in numbers. So, since it’s Yahweh’s thoughts that are being described, we see through this word that they’re numerous and empowering. If we would just embrace all of them, there would be no room in our lives for sin - and just think how strong we would be with our hearts and actions completely taken up with His ways! The very last word completes the second phrase of the verse, showing the parallelism that defines Hebrew poetry. Rasheyhem is translated “the sum of them,” referring, of course, to Yahweh’s thoughts. The root is rosh and means “head.” I asked myself, “How do you get head to mean sum here?” and the answer, I think, is in the wording of the command in Exodus to take a census of the Israelites. Exodus 30:12 - “When you take a census of the sons of Israel” is literally “when you lift up the head,” a Hebrew idiom. So now that makes sense! David, the Psalmist of 139, “took a census” of Yahweh’s precious thoughts and found them beyond number.

My mom, when she’s done studying a verse, likes to translate it as an Amplified Bible might, so I’ll try my hand at it: “To me, how desirable and costly are Your profoundest thoughts, God! How abundant and strong is their sum total!” And how hard it is to fathom them, Lord, for You are more than we can fathom.

“How great You are, how small I am.

How awesome is Your mighty hand,

And I am captured by the wonder of it all.

And I will offer all my praise

With all my heart, for all my days.

How great You are, how great You are, how great You are!”

- chorus toHow Great You Are" by Phillips, Craig, and Dean


Even though God’s ways are unsearchable - our deepest digging only scratches the surface - we should still be occupied with trying. We should be so in love with Yahweh that we never cease striving to know Him more and more. And with true knowledge comes changed lives.

Writing is one of the best ways for me to seek after Yahweh. It’s how I process things. When I sit down to write, the responsibility is before me to convey the world how Yahweh sees it. I doubt I would ponder it as much as I should if I didn’t write.

I believe that is one of the deepest reasons why I write.

And that is why Psalm 139:17 is at the top of my blog.

 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

How Precious Are Your Thoughts, Pt. 1

Psalm 139 is one of my favorite psalms - I just realized that when I read it once again while preparing this post! The verse at the top of the page is Psalm 139:17, “And how precious are Your thoughts to me, O God! How great has been the sum of them!”

You know how it is sometimes - no matter how often you read a passage, some things never jump out at you. Until a propitious day. One of my best friends gave me a beautiful magnet with this verse on it. At first I didn’t realize it was a Bible verse, since there was no reference. But then, later on, I came across the phrase in my Bible reading. I know I had to have read it before - but only now did it leap off the page, into my heart. (Just like God’s Word should, huh?) When I was planning my blog, I knew this was the perfect verse for the top.





One of my favorite ways to study the Bible is to analyze the words in Hebrew. (Even Hebrew translations of the New Testament have been made, and I like checking out the Hebrew concepts behind the Greek words.) So I thought, why not do that here with my “theme verse”? So here it is, word by word.

First of all, the main idea of Psalm 139, written by David, seems to be amazement and praise for the infiniteness of Yahweh’s knowledge. He is everywhere. He knows everything. He knows me more than I do. “O Yahweh, You have searched me and know me. You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought from afar.” (Verses 1-2)

In verse 17, our verse, the first word is v’li, which means “and to me.” In Hebrew, many times the first word of a sentence is placed there for special emphasis. The second word is mah, which implies something is an unknown. It can mean what, how, why, etc. - so it may not have a limit, or its limit is incalculable. The third word completes the thought - yaq’ru. It means “they are precious.” Precious, as in costly and desirable, like a prized precious stone. Re’eykha is next, informing us what is so much of a prize: “Your thoughts.” El, which means God, is the next word and says who is being addressed. To me, re’eykha, re’a at its base, is the most intriguing word of this verse. Strong’s Concordance shows how it is related to re’a, the word for associate and friend. A thought is an association of ideas. But I also looked at etymological dictionaries* and found a stronger interweaving of meanings: The root of re’a is ra or ra’ah, and its most basic meanings are: feed, shepherd, desire, tend, satisfy needs. Feeding satisfies needs. A shepherd satisfies the needs of his sheep. A desire needs to be satisfied. Friendship satisfies. The thoughts we’re looking at in re’a are the deepest ones, the ones that are seeking spiritual sustenance. Yahweh understands our thoughts from afar (Ps. 139:2) and so we seek out His thoughts, which are so profound, so wide and deep and beautiful, that we can lose ourselves in them. We don’t want to emerge from thinking His thoughts, because they are utterly satisfying. Putting it together with the previous words of the verse, we exclaim that our desire for His thoughts is limitless!

This velcros to so many other verses of Scripture, including:

Proverbs 3:15 - “[Wisdom] is more precious than rubies, And all your delights are not comparable to her.”

Matthew 13:44-46 - “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man, having found it, hid, and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a man, a merchant, seeking fine pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”

Next time we’ll look at the second half of Psalm 139:17.

Questions? Comments? Found more associations that we can make?

 
*Footnote:
Ancient Hebrew Lexicon of the Bible, by Jeff A. Benner, and Etymological Dictionary of Biblical Hebrew, by Matityahu Clark
 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Book Review: Emily of New Moon

I posted a pretty thorough review on Goodreads. But I still had more to say and discuss about random things in this wonderful book that wouldn’t exactly fit in a regular review. So that’s what a blog is for!

I’ve often sensed that Montgomery’s books are part fantasy - the breathtaking descriptions are other-worldly, the children usually have some belief in fairies, a few character traits are enlarged (usually due to the children’s perspectives), and conversations about lofty subjects frequently pop up. This was true in Emily of New Moon. But, in other aspects of the books, Montgomery has strictly reality-tied themes. The children grow up and things aren’t so fairy-like or menacing as they once were. Very real personal conflicts are a major feature. In Emily of New Moon, for example, Emily’s friends are the gifted set, those who are usually misunderstood by other schoolchildren and relegated to the outside - I was struck with the realness of that situation.

Then there is “the flash” - surely something fantastical, but then again, maybe not. “It had always seemed to Emily … that she was very, very near to a world of wonderful beauty. Between it and herself hung only a thin curtain; she could never draw the curtain aside - but sometimes, just for a moment, a wind fluttered it and then it was as if she had caught a glimpse of the enchanting realm beyond - only a glimpse - and heard a note of unearthly music. … And always, when the flash came to her Emily felt that life was a wonderful, mysterious thing of persistent beauty.” It always inspires her to write something. Later authors have testified said that this type of thing happened to them as well. As a writer, I have experienced something similar, though not so powerful. I see an object or hear a word, and a whole beautiful scene or story bubbles up around it; I love getting to commit to writing what comes to me, but it seldom satisfies me, and those sensations surrounding the thing stay in midair, always to be returned to and longed after but never fully captured.

L. M. Montgomery has the ability to weave together spiritual or ethereal things and physical, everyday things and to show how they all make up a true picture of life. That’s what I love about her.

Here are a couple of quotations that stood out to me:

“‘I hope I’ll have a history,’ cried Emily. ‘I want a thrilling career.’

[Dean Priest said,] “‘We all do, foolish one. Do you know what makes history? Pain - and shame - and rebellion - and bloodshed and heartache. Star, ask yourself how many hearts ached - and broke - to make those crimson and purple pages in history that you find so enthralling. I told you the story of Leonidas and his Spartans the other day. They all had mothers, sisters, and sweethearts. If they could have fought a bloodless battle at the polls wouldn’t it have been - if not so dramatic.’

“‘I - can’t - feel - that way,’ said Emily confusedly. She was not old enough to think or say, as she would ten years later, ‘The heroes of Thermopylae have been an inspiration to humanity for centuries. What squabble around a ballot-box will ever be that?’”

I love it when an author can explain exactly how I feel about a given subject! I know the dramatic, even sad or terrible events of history have immeasurable significance, but I had a hard time pinpointing exactly why until I read this.

“And that fat, black jar of pot-pourri on the mantel - her mother must have compounded it. When Emily lifted the lid a faint spicy odour floated out. The souls of all the roses that had bloomed through many olden summers at New Moon seemed to be prisoned there in a sort of flower purgatory. Something in the haunting, mystical, elusive odour gave Emily the flash - and her room had received its consecration.”

Only L. M. Montgomery!

Now, tell me - what do you think of Emily of New Moon or L. M. Montgomery’s writings in general? If you write, have you ever experienced anything like “the flash”? What are some of your favorite scenes, characters, descriptions, etc., in the Montgomery books?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Book Review: Magic Island

                                                                 Magic Island: The Fictions of L.M. Montgomery    
Magic Island took me on my first journey into the life of one of my favorite authors, L. M. Montgomery. I’d known a little about her, probably gained from Wikipedia perusals and short biographical notes, but this book really helped me make her acquaintance. And in the best possible way, too, to someone mainly interested in her books.

Each section covered one of her novels or short story collections in chronological order, starting, of course, with Anne of Green Gables in 1908 and ending with Anne of Ingleside in 1939. The connections between Montgomery’s life and her fiction are numerous and intriguing. I discovered, for example, how she dealt with experiences, emotions, and people (!) in her life by translating them into fiction, how writing her stories lifted her out of gloom, what her beliefs were behind all the themes in her books, and just how vivid, even to psychic proportions, her imagination was. Mostly through Montgomery’s journals and letters, I was shown how her fiction was inextricably tied to what was going on in her real life.

As an aspiring writer, I found it instructional to see how this iconic author wove the writing of fiction into her busy life, not just dreaming up stories but relentlessly working at chapter after chapter and keeping up with the changing times to make each book a success.

As a Christian, I was interested in the path Montgomery’s beliefs took. She was not a paragon of virtue in personality or orthodox theology, but she reflected her times, on what I would call the tail end of a liberal mind. Her depression, and her husband’s, didn’t help. But I admire how she conscientiously tried to keep bleakness out of her novels. “I would not darken any other life. I want instead to be a messenger of optimism and sunshine.” (quote from page 93) That is a storyteller who takes her gift to humankind seriously.

Of course I gained a deeper insight into her books, but not so deep an insight that I’d be caught up in picking them apart instead of enjoying each story as a whole. One of the things I most appreciated was the opportunity of a vicarious enjoyment of all her works, reliving some stories and learning about the unread others. This is highly valuable to me because, as much as I would like to, there is no guarantee I’ll be able to read all 22 of them.

If you enjoy L. M. Montgomery and can take the respectful and moderate literary criticism of a devoted Montgomery scholar, this book may very well be just the thing to thrill you - and spur your own creative talent. Because that is Montgomery’s legacy - a joy-filled run into the beauty of life and imagination.

Friday, October 12, 2012

A Time Called Narnia

After a wonderful vacation it’s hard to return to daily life! Do you know what I mean? What do you do to cope with getting back into the routine of existence after a momentous getaway? I try to keep the experience with me and let it elevate the rest of my life - after all, even daily things are grand when you look at them as stepping stones and building blocks.

I have a friend who first lit upon the idea of the extraordinary summer camp we both attended being comparable to Narnia. And the more I think about it, the more any special vacation is like that in a way. When I was little and first understood the time warp that occurred whenever the children went to Narnia, I thought it was such a unique notion. How did C. S. Lewis ever imagine stopping time in this world, putting his characters through an epic adventure in another world, and bringing them back to this world, still in the same instant as when they left it? But more and more I’m realizing that it mirrors the real-life sensation of going away and coming back. Time moves at a different speed (usually lightning-fast) in the “away” place; when you come back (if it hasn’t been too long) you feel like nothing in the “back” place has changed. I wonder if C. S. Lewis ever thought of it that way. Have you ever had the sensation that you left the world as you know it for a place that could be called your Narnia?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Sukkot and Our Love Story

I just returned from celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles. Even if you aren’t very familiar with it, I hope you enjoy an excerpt from my many thoughts on it.



Sukkot is the Hebrew name for the Feast of Tabernacles (Lev. 23:34-43). This is perhaps my favorite biblical festival of all … though all of them have different focuses so it’s hard to compare them! Sukkot often involves leaving your house, your comfort zone, and dwelling in a temporary shelter for seven days. It’s a bit of an adventure! In Israel, when the Temple was standing, all men (their families could come, too) were required to journey to Jerusalem to celebrate Sukkot there. Imagine meeting the Lord at the Temple! This was the culminating festival, the final ingathering of the harvest, and the peak of the year. It’s a foreshadowing of the time when all God’s people, His bride, will at last be reunited with Him. When we celebrate it today, it gives us a taste of dwelling in His Kingdom, making us thirst to be with our Husband.

How romantic is this? Jeremiah 2:2 - “Thus said Yahweh, ‘I remember you, the kindness of your youth, the love of your bride hood, when you went after Me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown.” And Hosea 2:14 and 19-20 - “Therefore, see, I am alluring her, and shall lead her into the wilderness, and shall speak to her heart …. And I shall take you as a bride unto Me forever, and take you as a bride unto Me in righteousness, and in justice, and kindness and compassion. And I shall take you as a bride unto Me in trustworthiness, and you shall know Yahweh.”

Our love story is with God. I see it as the basis of all the love stories that have been told throughout the millennia. That’s why we find so much satisfaction in the happily-ever-after ending, when the hero and heroine have at last been united - it reflects and reaffirms our longing for our Hero! Sukkot, too, reflects and reaffirms the coming reality.

Revelation 21:3 - “See, the Booth of God is with men, and He shall dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be with them and be their God.”

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Purpose

I thought this picture and its quote went quite well with my previous blog post; I almost used it then but the other one's mysteriousness was just so expressive!
 
 
                                                                                  Pinterest
I think this quote speaks powerfully for itself. But I'd like to write one thing that it specifically says to me.
I'm a person who likes to stay safe in a harbor ... I'm not a risk-taker or an adventurer. I like everything, "down to the weather," to be charted out beforehand. But the best things that have happened to me in life have come about because I took a step of faith toward something I was uncomfortable with, but obviously made for, on some path whose end was dark, but where I was supposed to go. The Lord wants His people to serve Him in any way He designates, and like Yeshua (Jesus) says, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it." (Matthew 16:24-25) Yeshua certainly sailed into tumultuous seas; why should we do any less when it comes to our callings?
What do you think of this quote? Do you find any special application to your life?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Embarking

 
I've always wanted to set sail on a ship bound for … somewhere. Not on a steel ocean liner; a real wooden ship with masts, riggings, and sails, dependent on the sea and wind. Lately I haven’t dwelt on what it would be like to live long ago when that was the norm, but time travel would definitely be on my wish list of impossibilities.

That’s one reason I love to write. It makes time travel almost possible. Even more so than reading, I’ve found.

Still, we are always embarking on voyages of some kind, oftentimes into the unknown. This brand-new blog is one of mine. So, let me introduce myself, and then maybe I won’t feel so much in the unknown.

I’m a twenty-one-year-old home school graduate. I love the Lord. I love to study His Word and try to always be seeking ways to serve Him.

I love to write, and I’ve been writing stories almost as long as I could print. I remember printing big capital letters in random order on a notebook page, spelling words that were anything but English. But I think I was imagining things about those letters, that they represented something creative within me. I graduated to stories you could actually read, complete with illustrations. Sometimes the illustrations were the most important part.

My family has always loved books. Even my grandparents were mostly “book people.” Stories have always been a part of my life, and now, with a completed novel, I’m excitedly seeking to become a published author. All in good time!

One thing that I always have to remind myself is that God has a perfect plan for everything. He knows when it’s the best time to do anything and everything.

To those of you who read this, thank you so much for doing so. A writer, to be the most fulfilled, must have readers. I seek to serve you as I embark on this exciting venture of writing for others. I don’t know for sure all the subjects I’ll cover in this blog, but they’ll probably have mostly to do with writing, books, and the Bible. I’d love for these to be conversations, too, so I welcome comments! God bless you!