Presidents’ Day and Religious Freedom in the United States

“…a Government which to bigotry gives no sanction, to persecution no assistance—but generously affording to All liberty of conscience, and immunities of citizenship: – deeming every one, of whatever nation, tongue or language equal parts of the great Governmental Machine…” Moses Seixas to President George Washington

In 1790, George Washington responded to a letter written to him by a Jewish resident of Newport Rhode Island that has become, for many, the foundational statement on religious freedom in the United States. I believe it is particularly important at this time in our history to remember our heritage, which President Washington stated so well.

You can read the exchange between Moses Seixas and George Washington here.  And the full letter from Washington here.

If you are unfamiliar with this episode and perhaps somewhat rattled by recent events from the new administration, becoming familiar with Washington’s words may give you some optimism, because religious freedom has always been a hallmark of this country, even when we have struggled over it. And on a personal note, both sides of my family sought refuge here during terrible times in their home countries and Washington’s words have always given me trust in the process. Some excerpts:

“It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.”



“May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants—while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.”

Apparitions and Invisible Friends

“…Russia will spread its errors throughout the world, raising up wars and persecutions against the Church. The good will be martyred, the Holy Father will suffer much and various nations will be annihilated.” Our Lady of Fatima to the children at the Cova

fatima

Lucia, Francisco, Jacinta

I watched a film on the Fatima apparitions recently called, the 13th Day. The story is about three young sheep herders in Portugal Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta, who experience a series of visions on a hillside of a beautiful woman they call, The Lady from Heaven, but who later reveals herself to be the Virgin Mary.

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Watching the miracle of the sun.

At the last appearance and with the crowd topping over 70,000 on the hillside the children ask The Lady for a visible sign so all might believe. The Lady gives a miracle: the sun spins and falls to earth, before pulling back at the last minute. You can read eyewitness accounts here.

Visitations of religious figures are part of many religions. Mary, Jesus, Hindu gurus, saints of all religions, angels and ‘higher beings’ have been appearing to people for millennia. In the rationally technological 21st century, we tend to question manifestations like this. Most are the Scully type and want to find a “logical explanation” for what they see, rather than the Mulder kind, who just “want to believe.” *

I admit I am a Mulder type. While I have not experienced a direct visitation by a well-known religious figure or any other figure for that matter, I have had enough puzzling and not quite normal experiences to make me wonder. I usually feel things rather than see them, but they make enough of an impression on me to acknowledge I am not always alone.

I personally think many of us have these experiences, but we’re not comfortable enough to speak of them in public. Even with the rise of psychic stars such as John Edward, James Van Praagh and Sylvia Browne and the proliferation of paranormal investigative cable tv shows, most of us raise our eyebrows at such visitations and would rather laugh it off to manipulation of emotions than admit to our own belief. Getting back to Fatima, critics and skeptics have given various explanations of the unusual event of the sun, including retinal distortion from sun gazing, psychological manipulation, a dust storm from the Sahara desert and a natural phenomenon called a sun dog.

It is interesting to think that most of us had imaginary friends as children, yet as adults, we expect them to be long gone. Visitations from “the other side” are as old as we are. You’d think humankind would have accepted this as normal or at least plausible by now. What holds us back from believing in our own experiences? Why do some of us try and talk ourselves out of them or come up with excuses as to why our meetings with dead people must be something else? Why can’t we just believe?

* The X-Files. Two F.B.I. agents investigate unexplained incidents. Dana Scully, medical doctor, scientist, logical. Fox Mulder, acts on emotions, wants to believe.

The Bronze Bow, Elizabeth George Speare (1961)

My Edition:bronzebow
Title: The Bronze Bow
Author: Elizabeth George Speare
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Company
Device: Trade paperback
Year: 1961
Pages: 254
Plot summary

 

“—He trains my hands for war,
so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.”

 

When I read The Witch of Blackbird Pond last year, Elizabeth George Speare drew me into 17th century colonial Connecticut by her attention to historical detail and engaging writing style. I would say Speare surpassed herself in The Bronze Bow set during the time of Jesus in 1st century Palestine. This is the story of tormented Daniel bar Jamin, a young renegade blacksmith whose hatred for the Roman occupation of his ancestral land fuels his every waking moment. Sold to an abusive blacksmith at age 13 when there wasn’t enough food for the family, he fled to the mountains above his town 5 years later and joined a group of like-minded warriors. He is now 18 and he and the other young men are restless to fight, but the leader of the group, Rosh, keeps putting them off sending them out only to raid the fields of their Jewish neighbors telling the young fighters they need to gather more men before they can take action against the Romans.

When word comes to Daniel that his grandmother is dying leaving his sister alone, he puts his warrior plans on hold and moves back into the city to take care of Leah. It has been five years since Daniel saw his sister and grandmother. When he knocks on the door Leah is cowering in a corner and he realizes at 15, she is still traumatized over the unbearable experience of watching their father die by crucifixion at the hands of the Romans. Daniel’s mother stayed with him on the hill and later died of exposure. Five-year old Leah escaped from a neighbor’s house and was found at the crosses for an undetermined length of time. But it was long enough to give her nightmares and a fear of all people.

The town’s blacksmith Simon, called the Zealot, tells Daniel he wants to leave his business and follow a new preacher named Jesus. He is not sure how long he will be gone, but tells Daniel he can use his shop, the tools and materials as his own and move into the house connected to it. After much persuasion and the kindness of neighbors who build her a litter, Leah is carried like a queen to her new home. Daniel attracts a wide clientele with the skills he perfected on the mountain and is able to provide good food and clothing for Leah for the first time in her life. He also begins recruiting a band of youth who are itching to fight the Romans who he hopes will strengthen Rosh’s group.

Meanwhile, Daniel has renewed a friendship with a boy he knew from school. When Joel and his sister Malthace hear about the warrior group they, too, want to fight. Boy, girl it doesn’t matter, they all want the Romans out! However, their family is moving to Capernaum and Joel is supposed to go away for rabbinical studies.

It is against this backdrop of violence and hatred that Daniel first hears Jesus speak. He is confused when Jesus addresses the crowd and talks about building the Kingdom of God, which is what he wants, but Jesus’ kingdom doesn’t seem to come with a war, so how would it get built? And Joel is confused because Jesus says things that don’t sound like a rabbi, “He practically said it was alright to eat without washing our hands. Perhaps it’s dangerous to even listen to him. And yet—.”

And yet, against everything Daniel and Joel have lived for, the righteous actions against the oppressor and the righteousness of the Law, they are at once drawn then repelled over and over by what Jesus says. The first crack in Daniel’s emotional armor comes when his friend Simon the Zealot, the former fighter for Israel has decided to give up his shop and everything else about his past life and follow Jesus. He tries to explain to Daniel what has changed, but Daniel is incensed.

“Supposed they put chains on all of you and drag you off to prison.”

“He [Jesus] says that the only chains that matter are fear and hate, because they chain our souls. If we do not hate anyone and do not fear anyone, then we are free.”

In the end, Daniel’s hate could not be sustained…

This novel is so rich in the details of 1st century daily life and Jewish ritual during the time of the Temple. Food, clothing, commerce and the different ways in which people react to the Roman occupation make this novel very realistic. Speare treats the complexity of feelings that Jesus’ words bring to the various characters with depth and honesty as they struggle to make sense of their long-held beliefs.

Speare won the 1962 Newbery Medal for The Bronze Bow, a young adult novel suitable for adults 🙂

_____________
Classic Club, Back to the Classics, Mount TBR

 

The Wonder, Emma Donoghue (2016)

My Edition:wonder
Title: The Wonder
Author: Emma Donoghue
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Device: Hardcover
Year: 2016
Pages: 293
Plot summary

Anna O’Donnell claims—or rather her parents claim—that she hasn’t taken food since her eleventh birthday…She simply doesn’t eat.

You mean no solids?

No sustenance of any kind…but clear water.

When I first heard about Emma Donoghue’s The Wonder, it reminded me of a book I read in college called, Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women, by Caroline Walker Bynum. In the Middle Ages there occurred a phenomenon among young girls whereby they took their devotion to the Eucharist to the extreme, refusing all food except for the Holy Host as their only sustenance. Most were discovered to be frauds, receiving food by some form and means, however there were instances of the miraculous, the inexplicable.

The wonder of this particular story set in 1859 Ireland, is Anna O’Donnell. She has been refusing food for four months, since her 11th birthday, taking nothing but a few teaspoons of water each day. She has attracted attention from people all over the world, who come to her poor home to commune and be blessed. But there are detractors as well calling the family cheats, only in it for the money left by the visitors or the notoriety. The matter has put the honor of both village and the whole of Ireland up for debate. In order to get to the truth several townsmen form a committee to investigate Anna and the claims of her family. They decide to mount a two week, 24-hour per day watch to see if food is coming to her in any covert way.

Lib Wright is an English nurse who trained under Florence Nightengale in the Crimea, having settled at a London hospital after the war. She is sent by her Matron to Ireland for a two week assignment as a private nurse, all expenses paid, but she is not told the nature of the work. We meet her as she travels to the assignment and as she passes rundown and derelict cottages, the poor people on the road who stare at her, it brings up all she thinks is wrong with this country, that the Irish are dirty, inhospitable and superstitious. When she meets Dr, McBrearty the doctor of the town to which she will staying and he describes what she will be doing, which is essentially “just watching” and not nursing she is incensed that her training will be wasted “on a child’s whim.”

Lib is sharing the watch with Sister Michael, a nun at the local convent. Anna O’Donnell is never to be left alone, for fear some family member might stash food somewhere where a quick grab into a pocket or hidden hole in the wall or floor might harbor a bit or two of food. What Lib cannot understand upon meeting the girl for the first time is how healthy and vibrant she is. Her training does not allow for what she is seeing: that after four months of fasting the girl is animated and clear minded and except for a few physical issues, healthy. Anna engages not only with her family and neighbors, but with all the world-wide visitors. To Lib, a lapsed Anglican with a scientific mind, though Anna seems very pious and prayerful and full the fairy superstition of the Irish, she is still of this world.

However, it only takes a few days of the watch before Anna begins to deteriorate rapidly. And this then becomes the mystery Lib tries to solve: not that Anna had been fasting all these months because she was obviously not, but how she was getting food and by whom. Lib comes to understand that the watch is preventing Anna from whatever method she had been able to eat and her rapid decline is frightening. She is torn between her duty of the assignment to “just watch” and her role as a nurse. Against the rules of her placement she begins to talk to Anna about eating trying to get her to see she will die, but it is of no use. Lib takes her concerns to Anna’s parents, Dr. McBrearty and the town priest, but all are enthralled at the sanctity of the situation and believe nature, that is God, should take its course.

William Byrne, a reporter from the Irish Times who has come to the town to do a story on Anna O’Donnell, has finally gotten a glimpse of the girl and is shocked at what he sees. He is furious that Lib is allowing this to happen, but he also understands the nature of the Church’s power and the family’s commitment to it. There is only one recourse to save Anna and that is…..a spoiler.

There is so much to this story and to the people who populate it. Of course, is the utter amazement that a mother and father would allow their child to starve to death and a doctor and priest that would do nothing to prevent it. Lib becomes devoted to Anna, but crosses the nurse/patient relationship when it is revealed she is estranged from her younger sister and the secret she hides about her husband. And then there is Anna herself whose refusal to eat is as much religious as it is product of an innocent heart when Lib discovers the horrible family secret that caused Anna to abstain from food in the first place.

This book reads like a detective novel as Lib investigates, observes and processes the evidence. And the writing style has both odd and beautiful turns of phrase that fascinate me. Although I thought the ending weak, because running away is a feeble way to end a story, I was utterly caught up in the totality of the narrative. So much so that I read The Wonder in one sitting, I could not put it down!

___________
Challenges: Library Love, Reading All Around the World

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith (1943)

My Edition:treebrooklyn
Title: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Author: Betty Smith
Publisher: The Blakiston Company
Device: Hardcover
Year: 1943
Pages: 376
Plot summary: Goodreads

Johnny: Anybody can ride in one of those hansom cabs, provided they got the money. So you can see what a free country we got here…In the old countries, certain people aren’t free to ride in them, even if they have the money.

Francie: Wouldn’t it be more of a free country if we could ride in them for free?

Johnny: No, because that would be Socialism and we don’t want that here.

About a year and a half ago I heard a program on NPR about the publishing industry and World War II; that publishers put out specially formatted books with thin paper and in a particular size to fit easily into the pocket of a soldier’s uniform. They published classics as well as light reading and were passed from soldier to soldier throughout the fields of battle. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was one of the most requested titles, because it reminded the soldiers of the values they were fighting for.

The Story

It is a Saturday during the summer of 1912 when we meet 11 year-old Francie Nolan. She lives with her brother Neeley and her parents, Katie and Johnny, both born in the United States, from Austrian and Irish backgrounds respectively. They live in a third-story walk up on a street with other immigrant Irish. Johnny is a singing waiter beloved by his friends and family, but alcohol has taken over him so his work is sporadic. Katie has become the breadwinner of the family and works as a ‘janitress’ cleaning homes and offices.

Francie and Neeley are always hungry, their clothes are not thick enough to protect them from the biting cold of winter and their home is not always heated. But they themselves are breadwinners as collectors of bits and bobs that they sell to the junkmen for pennies which will buy stale bread. Saturday afternoon being the most important day of the week, the kids scheme against each other for the best deals at the storefronts where they trade their stashes of rags and bits of metal and anything they can find to sell. With that money they buy food for the family, saving a penny for a sweet or two.

The book is told through budding writer Francie as she watches and observes the people and conditions around her. The narrative is a simple one as Francie grows from an 11 year-old to 17: her father dies of alcoholism, her mother takes on more work, she reads voraciously and realizes there is more to the world than Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York; she falls in love, is jilted, she fears her brother, who likes to sing, will end up like her father; she must give up her education so her work can support her mother and brother, but the desire for education burns so hard she takes college classes at night and during the summer and is able to skip high school altogether and is accepted to a college in Michigan. Her mother remarries and the family moves out of poverty.

Through Francie, Smith writes with such detail about early 20th century Williamsburg and the crushing and demeaning poverty of its inhabitants. She writes with a meticulous hand the strategies the children employ that will get them the most for the items they have collected throughout the week: which stores will pay them the most, whether this shop owner likes girls better than their brothers or that shop owner will give more to the boys, and the pride the children feel contributing to the family bank (a can nailed to the closet floor). When Katie asks Francie to shop for food she is given instructions on what to say and how to approach the butcher, the breadmaker and so on, in order to get the best deal.

My Thoughts

Yet, the story is not just the narrative, but the characters that people Francie’s life: the teacher who at first encouraged her writing until she started writing the truth about her hard life, who then told her writing is supposed to be full of beauty; her aunt Sissy, the ‘floozie’ who married three times, had 10 children that died at birth, yet is the family member everyone turns to in times of crisis; the Jewish and German shop keepers with whom Francie deals, who can be gruff and mean to the poor children one minute only to give them something extra the next; her father Johnny who she is so close to, yet for all his patriotism about freedom, is never able free himself from his addiction; Katie, who wanted to make a different world for her children, took her mother’s advice to read from the Bible and Shakespeare,

“…every day you must read a page of each to your child—even though you yourself do not understand what is written down and cannot sound the words properly. You must do this that the child will grow up knowing of what is great—knowing that these tenements of Williamsburg are not the whole world.

And the titular tree that grows tall throughout Williamsburg like an umbrella, because “it likes poor people” has the tenacity to succeed like the human inhabitants because when it is cut down, will find a break in the cement, push through it and grow again.

The book was published in 1943 when, although the soldiers didn’t know it, was right in the middle of the war. They were not that far removed from their own immigrant past, the tales of the ‘old country’ that were still real for their parents and grandparents. So, it is fair to say that this novel is really a story of immigrant America, how each generation built it up from the succeeding one.

And which may be why the book was so heavily traded among soldiers who saw in the pages their own mother and sister who kept the family together, whose fathers worked any job they could get, a little brother they missed; the same immigrant neighbors, who regardless of their poverty, knew America could give their children freedom, the ability to determine their own destiny which set America a part from the enemies they were fighting.

_____________

Classics Club, Mount TBR

Heroines of Mercy Street: The Real Nurses of the Civil War (2016)

 

My Edition:mercyst
Title: Heroines of Mercy Street: The Real Nurses of the Civil War
Author: Pamela D. Toler
Publisher: Little Brown and Company
Device: Hardcover
Year: 2016
Pages: 287
Summary

I immediately wrote to all the people of influence I knew, begging them to procure me some place in the war as nurse, or whatever I could do, Mary Phinney von Olnhausen[1]

I shall not come home, unless I get sick, while this hospital lasts,  Cornelia Hancock[ii]

 

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The Union took over Confederate private homes and hotels for use as hospitals

The second season of Mercy Street on PBS starts this Sunday. I was hooked from the first episode last year. The program tells another part of the American Civil War from the perspective of the doctors and nurses and the wounded of both sides. The script is based on the biographies, diaries and other writings of real women who volunteered to serve their country as hospital nurse, a profession that was ill-defined for women up to this point and whose presence in war-time hospitals often met with condescension at best and suspicion at worst. Their presence in military hospitals challenged the medical establishment’s concept of female sensibility to the horrors of war, until the women proved not only their worth in the hospital setting, but that their work was vital to the overall war effort.

I have been a ‘female nurse’ since a year ago last October…I went with many misgivings—but now I know what women are worth in the hospitals. It is no light thing to hear a man say he owes you his life and then to know that mother, wife, sister or child bless you in their prayers, Ella Wolcott[iii]

The Heroines of Mercy Street, by Pamela D. Toler, a companion to the PBS series, tells the stories of many of these women and about what it meant for nursing to grow from something done by women at home for family members as the knowledge was passed from mother to daughter, to a skilled profession in hospital and other outside-the-home settings. Toler explains that during the early days of the Civil War it was recovering soldiers who aided the doctors in caring for newly injured and sick, as female nurses were not well-accepted or were considered unable to perform the physical and medical duties as required. It was also thought the sights of the wounded and their care was not a respectable job for the mothers, daughters, wives and sisters of middle and upper class families.

…and in the late war we saw the most delicate women, who could not at home endure the sight of blood, become so used to scenes of carnage, that they walked the hospitals and the margins of battlefield, amid the poor remnants of torn humanity, with as perfect self-possession as if they were strolling in a flower garden,  Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner [iv]

Florence Nightingale changed this perception with her work in the Crimean War after which she published Notes on Nursing to high acclaim. Her school in London drew women from all classes of society, including American women, giving skills to  thousands of women willing to nurse the wounded and ill on the front and in hospitals.

Toler profiles many well-known women, including Dorothea Dix, Louisa May Alcott and her experiences at Union Hospital and the work of Clara Barton. Mary Phinney von Olnhausen, a major character in the series, features prominently in the book as well.  The comprehensive endnote section includes many others through their letters and journals, their conversations and documents that describe their back-breaking and emotionally-wrenching work.

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Scenes like this are portrayed in the series

All these women, the famous and the unknown, were pioneers, who felt called to a profession in its infancy. They stood up for themselves and their vulnerable soldiers for whom they fought to get the best medical treatment, food and the cleanest environment possible. Their dedication proved their necessity to the war effort. As a result of the War, these skills also paved the way for women to work after the war ended, which according to Dorothea Dix advanced women “at least fifty years beyond the position they would have held had the country remained at peace.”[v]

I wonder what I shall do with myself when the war is over. I never can sit down and do nothing…I never expect to live at home again, I shall always be working somewhere or other, I hope. Work is my life. I cannot be happy doing nothing, Emily Parsons[vi]

_________________
[i] 51.
[ii] 175.
[iii] 143.
[iv] 121.
[v] 221.
[vi] Ibid.

Library Love Challenge

A Question for my Readers: Multiple Blogs, Multiple Platforms?

I see that many of the book bloggers I follow have more than one blog; that they like to keep their book blog separate from personal writings or other types of content.

I adore wordpress for its ease of posting and receiving comments, but if I use this platform for another blog, I have to log out of Relevant Obscurity and log into the new one. It is a pain and sometimes I forget and comment on someone’s book blog only to find I am still logged into my personal blog.

So, I am looking to set up another nonbookblog and need some advice on platforms.

For those of you who have more than one blog, how do you maneuver from one to the other? If you have two wordpress sites do you have the problem I do and how do you overcome it? (Or do you have different problems with more than one wordpress blog)?

If you have a blog on other than wordpress or blogger platforms what is it and do you recommend it? Or do you have any other type of suggestion or advice that might help me?

You can also email me privately,
therelevantobscurity@gmail.com
Thanks so much!

~Laurie

Ruth Hall: A Domestic Tale of the Present Time, Fanny Fern (1855)

My Edition:ruthhall
Title: Ruth Hall
Author: Fanny Fern
Publisher: Penguin Classics
Device: Paperback
Year: 1855
Pages: 281
Plot summary

 

All the world knew it was quite unnecessary for a pretty woman to be smart

 

Fanny Fern (1811-1872 ) was one of the most well-known women writers in America. As a journalist she had the distinction of being the first woman to write a signed weekly column at a major publication and one of the most highly paid writers, male or female, in America. Although her family was literary and well-to-do her success came in spite of them.

fannyfern

Fanny Fern


Ruth Hall
is a loosely based autobiographical account of Fern’s struggles as a widow and single woman with children trying to find her way in a society that has no place for women on their own. Though she remarried, her husband was violent and she left him, scandalizing her family. Through the trials and hardships of Ruth, who is similarly widowed with two children and left helpless by in-laws and family alike we understand the helplessness of women who have no male relatives for protection, financial help and shelter.

Ruth’s husband Harry adored her and their marriage was happy, except for the dislike his parents had toward her. Strict and stern in their religious beliefs, they lived their lives by denying themselves any pleasure. To them Ruth was blasphemous in her openly loving behavior toward her husband and daughter. She was full of flights of fancy and far too emotional and definitely not good enough for their son, which they had no trouble saying to her face, to Harry and to any friend or neighbor. Even Ruth’s grief at the deaths of her daughter and Harry was disregarded as an exaggerated display in order to elicit sympathy.

What characterizes this novel is the unbelievable behavior of Ruth’s in-laws, her father and Hyacinth, her brother toward her situation as a widow. Though they are all able to help financially, they refuse. By the time Harry dies they have had two more children leaving Ruth with three options: remarry, give up her children or go away. Even her brother rebuffs financial help in her name when a friend of Harry’s approaches him at the funeral with a financial offer for Ruth put together by Harry’s friends. Knowing the code of ethics puts the responsibility for Ruth on him and his father he refuses; not because they are going to help her, but to preserve the family’s reputation.

Harry’s parents do not believe Ruth can care for the girls and are anxious to get their hands on them. Ruth lives in squalor in an attic room where there is not enough food for the three of them. As heartbreaking as it is she relents and allows Katy, the oldest, to stay with her grandparents until she can find the money to get her back. Poor Katy suffers abuse and continual denigrating of her mother.

An attempt to teach is a failure. The last option is writing, which Ruth had some success at as a school girl. She sends a few samples to Hyacinth, who has become an editor at a magazine, certain he will help her. After all she is not asking for money, but to work. His reaction is to once again stand in her way with a response that will haunt him later: “I have looked over the pieces you sent me, Ruth. It is very evident that writing never can be your forte; you have no talent that way…I would advise you to seek some unobtrusive employment.” Like so many with a dream that is demeaned and thwarted, the response emboldens her and sets her on fire!

If this sounds like a melodrama, it is. From one small magazine to another she goes with her youngest daughter in tow, only to be rejected again and again until finally she finds two editors who will pay paltry sums for 8 articles a week between them. Mind-numbing and backbreaking work yet this is for experience, because the amount is too small to get Katy back. She keeps writing; sometimes because there is no money for a candle, she writes by the light of the moon.

But finally, the public begins to recognize the words of “Floy,” her pseudonym and her reputation soars. She takes all of the articles she wrote for the two magazines and publishes them in book form to enormous success. She is noticed by the publisher of one of the most popular magazines in the country and offered an exclusive deal. This publisher, Mr. Walter, comes to the rescue like an angel at a train wreck who miraculously saves passengers from certain death, but in this case he is an angel with a contract to write not 8 articles a week, but only one, with a payment so large she can quit the other magazines, get back her daughter and move into the home of her dreams.

While it is easy to see this novel as overly exaggerated and melodramatic it does underscore the vulnerable position women, who through no fault of their own, are alone. Even women with means, like Ruth, have no guarantee they will be cared for/can care for themselves. Throughout the book her family is unfeeling to her pain and dire straits as if she is at fault her for her situation. Her in-laws, her father and her brother all want to protect their assets, instead of helping her. They expect, with complete lack of emotion, that she should give her children away, that it would be better for them and easier for her to find her way.

That she defied tradition and convention and made a success of herself without their help comes back to humiliate them. At the very end of the story Fern writes scathing scenes of confrontations they each have from friends and business acquaintances calling them out over turning their back on their daughter, their sister, their daughter-in-law. I only wish Ruth could have known this!


Back to the Classics, Mount TBR, Classics Club

The Last and the First

img_4045

The Lone Crow

This is one of my favorite times of the year. I really get into the ‘letting go of the old and making plans for the new.’ And there is so much to let go of this year personally, professionally and from what I take in from the larger world.

I won’t beat around the bush on that last one. The election of Donald Trump has driven me into a frenzy of panic and lashing out at times. I have used Twitter to bash and malign, using turns of phrase I didn’t know I had in me. I have mimicked and mocked liked the best of them. Then I got up from my laptop feeling sick, icky and like I needed a really hot germ-banishing shower. Just because I CAN say those things, doesn’t mean I have to. While I am not stepping out of the Trumpian fray altogether, I am not going to use Twitter like that anymore.

I don’t make specific resolutions. Each year I look at what worked and what didn’t, what needs to be let go of or maybe just needs a tweak. In these last few months I have been creating a business that has had its ups and downs, so I am working hard on those tweaks. I have found myself rather isolated because of that, which has put my ‘work to socializing’ indicator out of whack, so I want to balance that out.

I also need to hike and trail walk more and get out on my bike regularly. I will continue to buy my bread from my favorite bakery (so I take that back, I did make this resolution in 2014 and I am still doing it!) and take more day trips.

 

busbook

Have more adventures in 2017!

 

In regards to Relevant Obscurity, I am so happy with the connections I have made with other bloggers, the conversations we’ve had and the posts that taught me something new. I enjoyed the challenges I participated in that expanded my knowledge of authors and their work, which in turn has helped to shape what I want to read next year. I plan to expand my posts a bit to include some of the nonfiction history, biography and religion I read. I’ve entered several new challenges, which will all necessitate a more regular posting schedule…thinking positive about that!

 

house7

I will read more books at the beach in 2017!

I am sitting here as the rain falls in San Diego, one of my favorite places to visit. I am surrounded by my dog and her doggie cousin, two cats, some fish and Daisy the Russian tortoise is upstairs. I am about to get a bagel from the best bagel shop anywhere and will spend the day cozied up with books, and a movie or two. Tomorrow, even if it rains, will find me on a trail somewhere in Mission Trails on my annual New Year’s Day walk. It’s my birthday and there is no better way to spend that day and the first day of any year than out in Nature.

 

southfortuna

Rain or shine I am here tomorrow!

I wish all my book blogging friends a Happy, Prosperous, Life-Loving 2017!

Reading New England Challenge Wrap-Up

One of the highlights of my 2016 blogging year was participating in the Reading New England Challenge hosted by Lory of Emerald City Book Review. I read 12 books from specified categories, including one from each New England state.

I only started book blogging the previous September and was still getting the lay of book-blogging land when I saw the announcement for the challenge. I thought it would be a good way to read some classics I’d missed along the way.

I could not have chosen a better first challenge. Not only did I finally read Little Women and The House of the Seven Gables, I forced myself to read a horror novel and a book by someone I’d never heard about. I even bought a map of New England to track where the books were set!

One of the benefits of doing a challenge like this is being introduced to writers with whom you are unfamiliar.  If you were to tell me when I started one of my favorite experiences would be reading the aforementioned horror story, I would have called you daft. Or, that The Country of the Pointed Firs, a book by an author I’d never heard of would end up my favorite book of the challenge, I’d have been stunned. But both are true. I will be reading more of H.P. Lovecraft next year (during daylight hours, of course 🙂 ) and I have already read a short story by Sarah Orne Jewett (“A White Heron”) that was beautiful.

Other highlights for me: “Our Town,” Little Women, getting to know Nathaniel Hawthorne through The House of the Seven Gables and The Blithedale Romance, discovering one of my favorite films “The Haunting” was based on a book, The Haunting of Hill House and enjoying it as much as the film, and while I had mixed feelings about A Separate Peace I now know why a close co-worker finds it to be his favorite book.

 

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Thank you, Lory, for all the work you put into this. It was a great experience with lasting effects!

Here is what I read:

January: New Hampshire
A Separate Peace John Knowles

February: Fiction
The Blithedale Romance Nathaniel Hawthorne

March: Maine
The Country of the Pointed Firs Sarah Orne Jewett

April: Poetry and Drama
Our Town Thornton Wilder Thornton Wilder

May: Vermont
The Haunting of Hill House Shirley Jackson

June: Nonfiction
Hawthorne Henry James

July: Massachusetts
Little Women Louisa May Alcott

August: Children’s Books
The Witch of Blackbird Pond Elizabeth George Speare

September: Rhode Island
The Case of Charles Dexter Ward HP Lovecraft

October: Speculative Fiction and Mystery
Looking Backward Edward Bellamy

November: Connecticut
The Three Weissmanns of Westport Cathleen Schine

December: Readalong or free choice
Summer Edith Wharton