Saturday, May 26, 2018

My Victorian Year #21

This week I read from two Victorian novels: Louisa May Alcott's Little Women and Anthony Trollope's Rachel Ray. I also finished watching the newest adaptation of Little Women that aired on PBS. It was good--very good.

Rachel Ray is a reread for me. In the first chapters we meet Mrs. Ray and her two daughters. The youngest, Rachel, is unmarried. The oldest daughter is a widow, Mrs. Prime. Mrs. Ray is the woman who 'cannot grow alone' and whose 'words and thoughts are genuine...but mistaken.' Mrs. Prime is trying to convince her mother that Rachel is misbehaving and up to no good with a local lad named Luke Rowan. He is a clerk hoping to be made partner in a local brewery.

From Rachel Ray:
There are women who cannot grow alone as standard trees; — for whom the support and warmth of some wall, some paling, some post, is absolutely necessary; who, in their growth, will bend and incline themselves towards some such prop for their life, creeping with their tendrils along the ground till they reach it when the circumstances of life have brought no such prop within their natural and immediate reach.
There was nothing hypocritical about Mrs. Prime, nor did she make any attempt to appear before men to be weighted with a deeper sorrow than that which she truly bore; hypocrisy was by no means her fault. Her fault was this; that she had taught herself to believe that cheerfulness was a sin, and that the more she became morose, the nearer would she be to the fruition of those hopes of future happiness on which her heart was set.
In all her words and thoughts she was genuine; but, then, in so very many of them she was mistaken!
It was all gospel to her. The parson in the church, and the parson out of the church, were alike gospels to her sweet, white, credulous mind; but these differing gospels troubled her and tormented her.
Such a one as Mrs. Prime is often necessary. But we all have our own pet temptations, and I think that Mrs. Prime’s temptation was a love of power.
Her sister was, in truth, only seven years her senior, but in all the facts and ways of life, she seemed to be the elder by at least half a century.
Obedience in this world depends as frequently on the weakness of him who is governed as on the strength of him who governs.
There is something in the very name of beer that makes money.
“All eyes will see a loaf of bread alike, or a churchyard stile, but all eyes will not see the clouds alike. Do you not often find worlds among the clouds? I do.”
“Do you never feel that you look into other worlds beyond this one in which you eat, and drink, and sleep? Have you no other worlds in your dreams?”
From Little Women:
It takes people a long time to learn the difference between talent and genius, especially ambitious young men and women.
If “genius is eternal patience,” as Michelangelo affirms, Amy had some claim to the divine attribute, for she persevered in spite of all obstacles, failures, and discouragements, firmly believing that in time she should do something worthy to be called “high art.”
Though after her father had told her that the language was good, the romance fresh and hearty, and the tragedy quite thrilling, he shook his head, and said in his unworldly way . . . “You can do better than this, Jo. Aim at the highest, and never mind the money.”
 Little notice was taken of her stories, but they found a market, and encouraged by this fact, she resolved to make a bold stroke for fame and fortune.
“Don’t spoil your book, my girl, for there is more in it than you know, and the idea is well worked out. Let it wait and ripen,” was her father’s advice, and he practiced what he preached, having waited patiently thirty years for fruit of his own to ripen, and being in no haste to gather it even now when it was sweet and mellow.
“It seems to me that Jo will profit more by taking the trial than by waiting,” said Mrs. March. “Criticism is the best test of such work, for it will show her both unsuspected merits and faults, and help her to do better next time. We are too partial, but the praise and blame of outsiders will prove useful, even if she gets but little money.”
“Do as he tells you. He knows what will sell, and we don’t. Make a good, popular book, and get as much money as you can. By-and-by, when you’ve got a name, you can afford to digress, and have philosophical and metaphysical people in your novels,” said Amy, who took a strictly practical view of the subject.
“You said, Mother, that criticism would help me. But how can it, when it’s so contradictory that I don’t know whether I’ve written a promising book or broken all the ten commandments?” cried poor Jo, turning over a heap of notices, the perusal of which filled her with pride and joy one minute, wrath and dismay the next.
“Come, Jo, it’s time.” “For what?” “You don’t mean to say you have forgotten that you promised to make half a dozen calls with me today?” “I’ve done a good many rash and foolish things in my life, but I don’t think I ever was mad enough to say I’d make six calls in one day, when a single one upsets me for a week.”
 If people care more for my clothes than they do for me, I don’t wish to see them.
 “I’m a crotchety old thing, and always shall be, but I’m willing to own that you are right, only it’s easier for me to risk my life for a person than to be pleasant to him when I don’t feel like it. It’s a great misfortune to have such strong likes and dislikes, isn’t it?”
“You asked me the other day what my wishes were. I’ll tell you one of them, Marmee,” she began, as they sat along together. “I want to go away somewhere this winter for a change.” “Why, Jo?” and her mother looked up quickly, as if the words suggested a double meaning.
“Where will you hop?” “To New York. I had a bright idea yesterday, and this is it. You know Mrs. Kirke wrote to you for some respectable young person to teach her children and sew. It’s rather hard to find just the thing, but I think I should suit if I tried.”
P.S. On reading over my letter, it strikes me as rather Bhaery, but I am always interested in odd people, and I really had nothing else to write about. Bless you!
I’m glad Laurie seems so happy and busy, that he has given up smoking and lets his hair grow. You see Beth manages him better than I did. I’m not jealous, dear, do your best, only don’t make a saint of him. I’m afraid I couldn’t like him without a spice of human naughtiness.
Speaking of books reminds me that I’m getting rich in that line, for on New Year’s Day Mr. Bhaer gave me a fine Shakespeare. It is one he values much, and I’ve often admired it, set up in the place of honor with his German Bible, Plato, Homer, and Milton, so you may imagine how I felt when he brought it down, without its cover, and showed me my own name in it, “from my friend Friedrich Bhaer.”
“You say often you wish a library. Here I gif you one, for between these lids (he meant covers) is many books in one. Read him well, and he will help you much, for the study of character in this book will help you to read it in the world and paint it with your pen.” I never knew how much there was in Shakespeare before, but then I never had a Bhaer to explain it to me. Now don’t laugh at his horrid name. It isn’t pronounced either Bear or Beer, as people will say it, but something between the two, as only Germans can give it.
She took to writing sensation stories, for in those dark ages, even all-perfect America read rubbish.
“People want to be amused, not preached at, you know. Morals don’t sell nowadays.” Which was not quite a correct statement, by the way.
Mr. Bhaer, in one of their conversations, had advised her to study simple, true, and lovely characters, wherever she found them, as good training for a writer. Jo took him at his word, for she coolly turned round and studied him—a proceeding which would have much surprised him, had he known it, for the worthy Professor was very humble in his own conceit.
“I almost wish I hadn’t any conscience, it’s so inconvenient. If I didn’t care about doing right, and didn’t feel uncomfortable when doing wrong, I should get on capitally. I can’t help wishing sometimes, that Mother and Father hadn’t been so particular about such things.”
But much as she liked to write for children, Jo could not consent to depict all her naughty boys as being eaten by bears or tossed by mad bulls because they did not go to a particular Sabbath school, nor all the good infants who did go as rewarded by every kind of bliss, from gilded gingerbread to escorts of angels when they departed this life with psalms or sermons on their lisping tongues. So nothing came of these trials, and Jo corked up her inkstand, and said in a fit of very wholesome humility.
“Well, the winter’s gone, and I’ve written no books, earned no fortune, but I’ve made a friend worth having and I’ll try to keep him all my life.”

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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I am interested in reviewing books and audio books. This blog focuses on books written for middle grade on up (essentially 10 to a 110). I review middle grade fiction and young adult fiction (aka tween and teen).

I also review adult books.

I read in a variety of genres including realistic fiction, historical fiction, mystery, romance, science fiction, fantasy, literary fiction, and chick lit. (I've read one western to date.)

I read a few poetry books, a few short story collections, a few graphic novels, a few nonfiction books.

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I am more interested in strong characters, well-written, fleshed-out, human characters. Plot is secondary to me in a way. I have to care about the characters in order to care about the plot. That being said, compelling storytelling is something that I love. I love to become absorbed in what I'm reading.

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