Uncategorized

Jane Austen: Queen of the Romance Tropes

jane austen

Recently, an earnest 18-year-old young woman asked me a question in the wake of a spirited discussion in her literature class. They read and were discussing Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. It was a question I dislike and tend to circumvent for myriad reasons, one of which is that I am conflicted on the subject. There is a “right” answer, an answer based on my own experience and marriage, and the truth, which is somewhere in between the two. By now, you may be wondering what the question was, so here it is:

“Mrs. T, do you think people should marry for more pragmatic reasons or only when they find ‘true love’?”

It was the end of the day, so I asked her to let me think about it in the hopes that she would forget to come back to me and follow up. Thankfully, it seems she forgot, but I didn’t forget and her question made me consider the various romance tropes to be found in classical literature.

More specifically, I noted that Jane Austen’s novels touch on almost every conceivable route to the altar to be found in life and literature. When you get past the familiar underlying theme of women on the cusp on spinsterhood, the story arcs offer a fair amount of variety. As I said, Jane Austen hits all the romance tropes (and some not so romantic tropes). Here are just a few, in no particular order:

Friends to Lovers:

  • Emma (1815). The titular character and heroine Emma meddles in everyone else’s affairs, offering bungling them while remaining clueless to the chaos she’s left in her wake. Mr. Knightley, the only sane man in the room and Emma’s eventual husband, is always there to set her straight and bring her back down to earth. I have a particular fondness for Mr. Knightley.
  • Sense and Sensibility (1811). This is one isn’t readily included in this trope because Elinor and Edward clearly forge an emotional bond early in the novel. However, it is clear that they are also good friends, and Edward was engaged to another woman initially before eventually being freed to marry Elinor.
  • Mansfield Park (1814): In the midst of a story replete with broken hearts, infidelities, and all around awfulness, Fanny Price and Edmund Bertram, her cousin by marriage, eventually recognize how important they are to each other and get married.

Enemies to Lovers:

  • Pride and Prejudice (1813): Lizzy initially finds Mr. Darcy pompous, then evil, and eventually realizes that the tallest, handsomest, and richest man around is the perfect man for her.

Soul Mates:

  • Persuasion (1817): Having -under family duress- broken her engagement to Frederick Wentworth seven years earlier, the novel opens 7 year later with Anne Elliot still unmarried at 27, and the much wealthier and more established Captain Wentworth is also still unmarried. His love for Anne is as fervent as it was when they were young. After the customary dramatic twists and turns, they end up together.

If you can’t be with one you love, love the one you’re with:

  • Pride and Prejudice: I suspect the marriage of Charlotte Lucas to the obnoxious and offensive Mr. Collins was the impetus of the question posed to me by the young student.
  • Sense and Sensibility: Marianne Dashwood landed quite a catch in Colonel Brandon, but should the story have continued, it would have been a few years before she fully appreciated it.

May-December Romance:

  • Sense and Sensibility: Colonel Brandon and Marianne Dashwood are ages 37 and 19 respectively when they eventually marry. Mr. Knightley and Emma are ages 37 and 21 when they are wed.

Fools Rush In:

  • Pride and Prejudice (1813): The foolish and rebellious Lydia Bennett runs off with the caddish and opportunistic Mr. Wickham, leaving Mr. Darcy to try and save her honor by paying Wickham a large dowry to marry Lydia.
  • Sense and Sensibility: Before coming to her senses and marrying Colonel Brandon, Marianne Dashwood foolishly gives her heart to Mr. Willoughby, and spend the lion’s share of the novel pining a man who is never going to marry her.

Those are just a few of the major tropes that spring to mind as I consider all that is encompassed in Jane Austen’s magnificent body of work. There are of course, many more; unrequited love, redemption, and whatever it is called when a man thinks a woman can save him as Henry Crawford seems to think that Fanny Price will do for him in Mansfield Park.

Can you think of any other Austen tropes which I might have missed?

 

coming from where I'm from, creative miscellany, Digital reading, Els' Rabbit Trails, joys of reading

Sharing Books with Friends (and random updates)

Digital respites are almost always excellent opportunities for more reading. Of course, that’s not the only thing a digital respite frees up time for. The list is endless. There’s increased cleaning time, increased exercise time, and increased home improvement time. The latter also includes increased spending, but more about that later.

One of the most notable changes that come with reduced mental noise is the ability to think unfettered. When reading great ideas and grand classic fiction, the abiity to step away in quietness and analyze what was read helped me to better flesh out the nuances in the books I was reading. I wanted to chat with others about what I was reading, and having deliberately closed the door to being able to do that here, those conversations took on a larger role during times with friends.

At the end of March, after weeks of sharing different ideas from Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism, I handed my copy to a friend who was interested in reading it. When she gave it back to me last week, I immediately took it from her and handed it to another friend of ours who’d been wanting to read it as well. It was such a satisfying moment, the ability to bond and share ideas which emerged from the things we read.

This is, without question, the best part about increased reading time: the opportunity to talk about books with friends. Even better than that is when we have the opportunity to share not only what we have read with friends, but share the books themselves.

As I have handed friends -and taken from the hands of friends- books of every era and genre, my commitment has steadily increased to physical books over digital. I thoroughly appreciate the ease and convenience of both digital and audio books. I have a loaded Kindle and am currently listening -albeit very slowly- to The Brothers Karamazov. The wealth of digital book option is a boon to the bibliophile.

However, they can’t compare with the joy of passing tomes between friends and dissecting the ideas over cups of coffee. I’m considering the idea of a summer book club because spending time chatting with girlfriends and fellow mothers about books is infinitely more edifying than complaining or gossip. I am blessed to be in community with women who don’t engage in the latter anyway.

In addition to more time with books over the past several weeks has been more time celebrating with family and friends, entertaining, spring cleaning, and probably my most favorite thing, helping my husband re-do our master bedroom closet. Remember that increased spending? Here is the before (well actually after he took out the boring original white wire hanging apparatus):

 

before

After spending a small fortune on good wood (birch I believe it is), lots of measuring, cutting, and sanding, the wood was handed to me and the kids for staining and ironing veneer on the edges. This was the midway point:

midway

Several drawers need to be finished, as we had to return some of the drawer hardware that arrived damaged to the manufacturer for replacements, which we are still waiting for, and currently my husband is working on some molding near the floor. He’s still not quite done, but we’re about 75% of the way there:

 

We went ahead and started hanging some of the garments because nearly 3 months of clothes stacked across the desk in our bedroom was more than long enough. Public service announcement: Never start a major home project at nearly the exact same time as you’re beginnng a new, relatively demanding job.

Respite, feasts, worship, family, (and extra closet space!) are the stuff of life. But what is any of it without great books?

 

 

 

Christian, Uncategorized

Bread and Wine

bread and wine

Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter. Various authors. Published in 2003. Hardcover, 430 pages.

In addition to some Scriptural passages, I decided this year to add this devotional to my Lenten readings. In many ways, it was a great blessing to me. Many of the writings challenged and stretched my faith in unexpected ways.

Conversely, there were other readings that felt needlessly preachy and even social justice-y, for want of better phrasing at present. One reading which was staunchly anti-gun rendered me particularly confused. Thankfully, the readings of this sort were a minority, but when they came up, it was a distraction which I had to pray to overcome.

If the book was dominated with such writings, I would have abandoned it. However, the reminders of the importance of self-denial, as expressed by the poetic and convicting pens of such writers as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, C.S. Lewis and St. Augustine kept me returning to this book to be challenged further.

Because it is so theologically inclusive, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who isn’t well versed in the Scripture with a strong grasp of their Christian faith. There are also times when the new Christian might read and find a bar so high she fears she will never reach it. I welcome the opportunity for honest examination of the motives of my heart, but I am also mature enough to understand that the expressions of faithfulness as described in many of the readings can leave the impression that our efforts must always manifest a perfection of spirit and self-denial (as in denial of our humanity not denial of our will) that is nigh impossible to achieve this side of heaven.

I am grateful for what I read, and look forward to reading many of these writings again, while knowing that many of them are less than stellar.

3 out 5 stars.

 

 

Christian, Culture, philosophy

Leisure: The Basis of Culture

leisure culture

Leisure: The Basis of Culture, by Josef Pieper. Originally published in 1952. 145 pages.

This book had been on my reading list for several years, but kept getting pushed down the queue. Thankfully, a friend of mine was reading it recently, and as she referenced what she gleaned, my interest in it was piqued enough that it moved to the top of my reading list. Before I offer my thoughts on this thoughtful book of essays, I’ll share the Goodreads promotional description of the book:

One of the most important philosophy titles published in the twentieth century, Josef Pieper’s Leisure: the Basis of Culture is more significant, even more crucial, today than it was when it first appeared fifty years ago. Pieper shows that the Greeks understood and valued leisure, as did the medieval Europeans. He points out that religion can be born only in leisure – a leisure that allows time for the contemplation of the nature of God. Leisure has been, and always will be, the first foundation of any culture.

He maintains that our bourgeois world of total labor has vanquished leisure, and issues a startling warning: Unless we regain the art of silence and insight, the ability for nonactivity, unless we substitute true leisure for our hectic amusements, we will destroy our culture – and ourselves.

These astonishing essays contradict all our pragmatic and puritanical conceptions about labor and leisure; Josef Pieper demolishes the twentieth-century cult of “work” as he predicts its destructive consequences.

This is book is a collection of essays exploring the meaning, significance, and implications of leisure on the soul of a culture. As I read it, I needed to keep that in the forefront of my mind. Rather than each chapter building upon the one prior, many of the ideas in the various essays overlapped. Once I was able to adjust to that, it was much more engaging and enjoyable to me. I was inspired on many levels as I read it.

In a culture as results oriented and productivity obsessed as ours, where the idea of the “Protestant work ethic” is etched into all of our DNA (even the most irreligious), Pieper offers a revolutionary thought:

The original meaning of the concept of “leisure” has practically been forgotten in today’s leisure-less culture of “total work”: in order to win our way to a real understanding of leisure, we must confront the contradiction that rises from our overemphasis on that world of work.

[…]

The very fact of this difference, of our inability to recover the original meaning of “leisure,” will strike us all the more when we realize how extensively the opposing idea of “work” has invaded and taken over the whole realm of human action and of human existence as a whole.

At first glance I questioned whether or not our culture, which seems thoroughly obsessed with being entertained, could ever be described as “leisure-less”. However, as I continued to read Pieper’s understanding and definition of leisure based on historical writings and philosophies, the situation became clearer. More than culture on a constant search for leisure, we are most accurately described as one in the grip of a sort of acedia; chiefly characterized by spiritual apathy and mental sloth.

The opposite of acedia is not the industrious spirit of the daily effort to make a living, but rather the cheerful affirmation by man of his own existence, of the world as a whole, and of God — of Love, that is, from which arises that special freshness of action, which would never be confused by anyone [who has] any experience with the narrow activity of the “workaholic.”

[…]

Leisure, then, is a condition of the soul — (and we must firmly keep this assumption, since leisure is not necessarily present in all the external things like “breaks,” “time off,” “weekend,” “vacation,” and so on — it is a condition of the soul) — leisure is precisely the counterpoise to the image for the “worker.”

The most fascinating bit of information that remained with me from this little book was the realization that the word leisure itself has its etymological roots in the word we translate today as learning, or more accurately, school. Whether one learns in most modern schools is a topic for another day, but it becomes abundantly clear that leisure, rather than an opportunity to engage in idle disconnection from work, was originally an opportunity to refresh our souls and expand our minds. Pieper put it this way:

Leisure is a form of that stillness that is necessary preparation for accepting reality; only the person who is still can hear, and whoever is not still, cannot hear. Such stillness is not mere soundlessness or a dead muteness; it means, rather, that the soul’s power, as real, of responding to the real — a co-respondence, eternally established in nature — has not yet descended into words. Leisure is the disposition of perceptive understanding, of contemplative beholding, and immersion — in the real.

Given our recent discussion here on the reality of leisure as something other than idleness or physical rest, having the added building block of Josef Pieper’s insights about the effects of leisure on the soul was an welcome addition.

I would give it 5 stars but there were moments when it took me longer than usually to piece together the direction in which Pieper was headed. Whether this was a result of my stunted post modern ability to focus or his writing style I do not know. Nevertheless, because of it I am giving this book

4 out of 5 stars.

Note: Beginning tomorrow (3/6/2019), I will be logged out of WordPress until at least 4/22/2019. It is my sincere prayer and desire that those of you who commemorate the Lenten and Easter seasons have blessed, worshipful celebrations.

 

American history, Digital reading, economics, nonfiction, politics

Discrimination and Disparities

discrimination and disparities

Discrimination and Disparities, by Dr. Thomas Sowell, Kindle edition. Originally published March, 2018. 143 print pages.

Thomas Sowell, among the most brilliant economist and political commentators of our time, was the first voice that resonated with me as I began to formulate my own thoughts about how the world works. His work helped me to intelligently process which policy ideas were worthwhile  and which are actually destructive to society. For the first few years of my adult life, I had accepted a lot of things at face value which turned out, under closer scrutiny in the light of facts, to be fallacious at best, but mostly just ridiculous and dangerous.

This book is particularly exciting for me to share because it is exactly the book I would recommend to anyone who is unfamiliar with Dr. Sowell’s work. Having read many of his books, I can attest that his work is not light reading. You must approach it attentively and prepared to be confronted with boatloads of facts. Dr. Sowell bombards his readers with so much documented research that thinking is required to read his books.

The beauty of this book is that it is perfect for the stunted attention spans of 2019. In fact, if I had to describe it in a concise manner, I would characterize it as a comprehensive Cliff Notes version of Dr. Sowell’s accumulated research on the whys and wherefores of group and individual outcomes. If I had to pick one quote from this book that encapsulates its spirit, it would be this one from page 17:

What can we conclude from all these examples of highly skewed distributions of outcomes around the world? Neither in nature nor among human beings are either equal or randomly distributed outcomes automatic. On the contrary, grossly unequal distributions of outcomes are common, both in nature and among people, in circumstances where neither genes nor discrimination are involved.

What seems a tenable conclusion is that, as economic historian David S. Landes put it, “The world has never been a level playing field.” The idea that it would be a level playing field, if it were not for either genes or discrimination, is a preconception in defiance of both logic and facts.

You really need to read the entire book to fully appreciate the wealth of insight in that  quote. This is especially true in our world where people are so highly invested in their personal narratives of why the world is the way it is. Whether it is those who insist we can legislate our way to equal distribution of outcomes which are mostly a result of overt, hostile discrimination, or those whose haughty belief in their own superiority cause them to genuinely believe that entire races of people are inferior to other entire races of people, Sowell puts both assertions on the chopping block. Using solid facts and evidence as the ax, both erroneous assumptions lose their heads.

The cool thing about this book, besides its detached and factual approach to a sensitive subject, is that the notes section is extensive. In fact, a full 1/4 of the book is encompassed with notes and research references. In other words, Dr. Sowell doesn’t simply offer up  his clear belief that most inequality of outcomes can be easily directed to causes other than racial, sexual, or class discrimination. He backs it up with facts, then backs up those facts with even more facts.

If you’ve never read Sowell, or tried and gave up under the weight of his intellectual style and overwhelming factual record, this short book is an excellent read to get the gist of why this man is so well respected as a giant in the intersection of economics and political policy. Or why he is so hated by those who prefer that we just make decisions based on whatever makes us feel as if we’re good people.

5 out of 5 stars

 

Culture, philosophy, politics, videos

Thomas Sowell Invites Us to Think.

I am currently reading Thomas Sowell’s latest release, Discrimination and Disparities. I feel completely comfortable saying that Dr. Sowell is one of the greatest economic and political commentators of the 21st century. He has an unrelenting commitment to the truth and his insistence on looking at the logical conclusion of ideas makes him a rare breed among commentators of the day.

The fact that a thing sounds good, compassionate, or helpful must -according to Sowell, and I agree- be held up against empirical, factual information to determine if it is indeed going to produce the results promised. Usually, utopian intentions turn out to be little more than a Super Highway to Hell (I ripped that from Sowell).

He recently sat down with Dave Rubin of The Rubin Report to do an interview discussing his life, life’s work, and this new book.  Below is the 46 minute interview in its entirety. He mentions the propensity of so many people to spout off with very little idea of what they are talking about. Good stuff, worth the 3/4 of an hour:

Have a great weekend!

Culture, educational, Els' Rabbit Trails

Edifying and Educational Meditations

As is my custom, I am currently reading two books of vastly different genres and topics. Despite knowing that it makes for a much longer reading time on both, I continue to to do it anyway.Thankfully, that is not all I am currently reading.

It is commonly known by regular readers here that I am great admirer of both Joshua Gibbs of Circe Institute and Cal Newport’s blog, Study Hacks. Both have offered mentally stimulating food for thought in recent posts, so I thought I would share portions of them here in the optimistic belief that you will be intrigued enough to click over and read the articles in their entirety.

Joshua Gibbs discusses the question of whether Rousseau and St. Augustine should be taught in the classroom alongside, or perhaps replaced by, the works of contemporary theologians such as John Piper. In this partial dialogue, he explains why such a move is not appropriate in a classical educational setting:

Parent: I wanted to tell you that I read this really amazing book by John Piper recently and it blessed me so much that I thought I should tell you about it. I think it would be a great fit in the school’s theology curriculum.

Dean: I am sure the book is quite good, but given that John Piper is still alive, the book does not meet the basic criteria which this school uses for admitting new titles into the curriculum.

Parent: What criteria would that be?

Dean: For starters, curriculum books ought to be old.

Parent: How old?

Dean: It is best if the author has been dead for a hundred years.

Parent: Why a hundred years?

Dean: After a hundred years, it is safe to assume no living person ever met the author. If the author is still considered worth reading after he has been dead for a hundred years, it means he speaks from the grave. It means there is something immortal about his wisdom, something divine.

Parent: I know the book I am recommending was written recently, but it is good and true. Don’t classicists care about truth, beauty, and goodness? If so, does it really matter how old a good thing is?

Dean: Yes. Classicists do not simply care about the truth, beauty, and goodness of a book, they also care about who is claiming the book is true, beautiful, and good. Classicists are not content to trust their own judgments, but act in harmony with the judgments of their ancestors. We might judge a recently published work of theology to be good, but that judgment could not be made in harmony with our ancestors, because our ancestors never read the book.

You can see how the conversation unfolds by reading the entire post here.

In Must We Treat Every Bad Idea With Respect and Patience?, a discussion of whether a general consensus on modern art is enough to consider said art worthy of being taught in a classical setting:

McLaren: Some students told me that you were not covering Jackson Pollock, de Kooning, Franz Kline, or any of the great 20th century abstract expressionists in your art history class. Why is this?

Gibbs: This is a classical school, and I don’t take that kind of art seriously.

McLaren: The larger art world takes them seriously, though.

Gibbs: I don’t really take the “larger art world” seriously, either.

McLaren: You style yourself a conservative, though. Is it not strange for a self-professed conservative to reject the majority opinion on significant, well-respected artists?

Gibbs: Respect for Pollock and Kline is not really a majority opinion, though it is certainly a fashionable opinion over the last several decades. I can’t imagine someone like Caravaggio or Rembrandt having any respect for Pollock, and I try to align my tastes in art with the tastes of artists like Caravaggio and Rembrandt.

McLaren: Have you ever read an essay which unpacked Pollock’s art?

Gibbs: Yes, and I thought it far more brilliant than Pollock’s art.

McLaren: But you did not ultimately trust the essay?

Gibbs: No. One does not need a PhD to recognize that Pollock’s art is no good. I have showed Pollock’s art to my little daughters, who are 7 and 9 years old respectively, and they simply laughed at it.

McLaren: You’re not suggesting that little children are competent to judge art?

Gibbs: Children have common sense and knowing that Jackson Pollock’s art is no good is simply a matter of common sense. It’s just a lot of painted scribbles. The same kind of common sense informs little children that two women cannot marry each other and that eating an entire birthday cake will lead to a stomach ache. On the other hand, children have terrible taste, which means they think Thomas Kinkade and Bratz dolls are interesting. You have got to train them out of that kind of delusion by showing them things of real beauty, and a thing of real beauty can be appreciated by bishop and child alike. If I want to tell my children that Bratz dolls are ugly, I cannot, in good faith, tell them that Jackson Pollock is good.

Lastly, in Sam Harris and Stephen Fry’s Meditation Debate, Cal Newport discusses the supposed benefits of meditation, and why our unnatural way of life makes it a necessity for so many people:

What sparked the diversion in the first place is when, early in the conversation, Fry expressed skepticism about meditation. Roughly speaking, his argument was the following:

  • Typically when we find ourselves in a chronic state of ill health it’s because we’ve moved away from something natural that our bodies have evolved to expect.
  • Paleolithic man didn’t need gyms and diets because he naturally exercised and didn’t have access to an overabundance of bad food.
  • Mindfulness mediation, by contrast, doesn’t seem to be replicating something natural that we’ve lost, but is instead itself a relatively contrived and complicated activity.

Harris’s response was to compare meditation to reading. They’re both complicated (read: unnatural) activities, to be sure, but they’re both really important in helping our species thrive.

Fry, who is currently using and enjoying Harris’s meditation app, conceded, and the discussion shifted toward a new direction.

I wonder, however, whether Fry should have persisted. Rousseauian romanticism aside, there’s an important application of evolutionary psychology undergirding his instinctual concern.

He rounds out this article with some interesting insights:

Fry was instead correctly noting that meditation is an unnatural solution to a modern problem. Meditation helps, but it doesn’t solve the underlying issues .

What, Fry seems to be asking, is the cognitive equivalent of the natural behaviors like exercising and healthy eating that our species used to enjoy but are now missing in modern life?

I’m not the first to ask this question, and many people have proposed compelling answers (see, for example, Mark Sisson and John J. Ratey).

But something that became increasingly clear to me as I was researching Digital Minimalismand the reason why I’m bringing up this topic in the first place, is that in recent years, our relationship with our screens has almost certainly exasperated this modern separation from a more natural way of living .

I hope you all find these as intellectually provoking as I did.

More book reviews are coming soon!