Saturday, June 12, 2010

G.K. Chesterton and Jane Austen's Secret

"These pages betray her secret; which is that she was naturally exuberant. And her power came, as all power comes, from the control and direction of that exuberance. . . . her original passion was a sort of joyous scorn and a fighting spirit against all that she regarded as morbid and lax and poisonously silly."--G.K. Chesterton, introduction to Love and Friendship.

I have been reading Jane Austen's Juvenilia recently. It has really made me reflect on the truth of Chesterton's idea. Jane Austen as naturally exuberant, and ridicules with more pointed silliness in the Juvenilia than in any of her novels. We can see some of this less restrained tone in Northanger Abbey, which makes sense since it was one of Jane's earlier novels, and one she did not revise after she wrote it. First Impressions and Elinor and Marianne were revised before their appearances as Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, but NA was not.

As a reflection of Jane's exuberance, consider this passage from Lesley Castle:

She play'd, yet not even a pidgeon-pye of my making could obtain from her a single word of approbation. This was certainly enough to put any one in a Passion; however, I was as cool as a Cream-cheese and having formed my plan & concerted a scheme of Revenge; I was determined to let her have her own way & not even to make her a single reproach. My Scheme was to treat her as she treated me, and tho' she might even draw my own Picture or play Malbrook (which is the only tune I ever really like) not to say so much as "Thank you Eloisa"; tho' I had for many years constantly hollowed whenever she played, Bravo, Bravissimo, Encora, Da Capo, allegretto, con expressione, and Poco presto with many other such outlandish words, all of them, as Eloisa told me, expressive of my Admiration; and so indeed I suppose they are, as I see some of them in every Page of every Music book, being the Sentiments, I imagine, of the Composer.

I executed my Plan with great Punctuality; I can not say success, for Alas! my silence while she played seemed not in the least to displease her; on the contrary, she actually said to me one day "Well Charlotte, I am very glad to find that you have at last left off that ridiculous custom of applauding my Execution on the Harpsichord till you made my head ake, & yourself hoarse. I feel very much obliged to you for keeping your Admiration to yourself."

Friday, June 11, 2010

"We Hymn the Father"

To put this post in perspective, I (briefly) looked up the origin of the word worship. It is from the Old English weorthscipe, or, worthiness. It can also me used a noun as in "your worship". More recently the word has been used to describe the part of church where one sings and a band plays on the stage.

The fundamental idea of worship then, is that glory and praise are being given to God. Secondarily, worship deepens the worshipper's faith.

Hymns are more decidedly "old church" than contemporary worship songs. Often hymns contain more complicated lyrics than modern worship songs. On the way home from church several months ago, one of my siblings complained that these songs were hard to understand. But that is part of why I love hymns so much. They make me pause and consider God in a new way--new to me, anyway. That said, from a missional viewpoint, they may not be easy for outsiders to understand.

An interesting part of the debate over worship music is what hymns less liturgical churches choose to adopt. For example "Jesus Paid It All" is played occasionally at my church, while a hymn called, maybe, "Who Is On the Lord's Side" would be played less often. Also hymns more specific in focus, such as "A Christian Home" are left behind.

One pastor I know asks that there be two hymns at ever church service. I like this policy. There are certainly some gems among hymns. My favorite hymn is probably the Doxology, but I'm not certain. There are always more out there to find.

So, gentle reader, what are your thoughts on this subject and which is your favorite hymn?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Two Apologies and a Review

The Apologies

First off, I would like to say I am sorry for my lack of blogging the past few weeks. I've been sick and busy, but now I will attempt to shrug off this laziness (some person I am to be blogging about it!) and get back to work.

My second apology is that I did not read my novel for this month. This is the direct result of a mistake I made. I thought I had the book, but when I went to the shelf where I'm sure I've seen it before, it wasn't there. So I remedied this by picking up Northanger Abbey. I am now within ten or fifteen pages of finishing it. I had tried to read Northanger before, but it was the only Austen I found difficult to read and I tossed it aside last fall. On a second perusal, I am really enjoying it. Funny how time changes those things. I am also reading The Professor by Charlotte Bronte. It is not as Gothic as Jane Eyre, for which I am thankful. You can really examine the characters so much better when you don't have to worry about madwomen the whole way through. It also bucks the trend of the hero marrying his first love, and admits that his second choice was better. The book is written from a man's point of view, which is an intriguing way to write a romance.

The Review

A few weekends ago, I got to see the new Masterpiece Theater mini-series of Emma. Jane Austen's novel always had a difficult heroine for me to come to grips with, but by the end of my reading, I was on her side. And I think that's the way she intended it. Not all heroines can be unprivileged and poor waifs, and not all of them should be in an uncomfortable place during the course of the novel. Jane clearly states this in the first chapter:

"The real evils indeed of Emma's situation were the power of having rather too much her own way, and a disposition to think a little too well of herself; these were the disadvantages which threatened alloy to her many enjoyments."

Several adaptations of Austen's work stress the man's role in the story (1995 P&P, I'm looking at you). This adaptation is one of these, and the audience is given several scenes of Mr. Knightley walking places--to Hartfield mostly. Emma is right, he never does seem to use his carriage!

Ah, Emma. The very core of the novel. A great part of this adaptation's reception by Janeites depends on how the main character is portrayed. This Emma was prone to greatly exaggerated expressions. It seemed like Emma, under a magnifying glass. Every little emotion was shown in a large form, either a boisterous laugh, or an impatient popping eye-roll. Or so it seemed in the first and second episodes. By the third, Emma seemed to have relaxed, and her emotions were shown more subtly. Whether this change is meant to reflect the change in Emma after the Box Hill picnic or not, I do not know, but I enjoyed the third episode especially. Physically, Emma is matched perfectly to what I always expected when I read the novel: taller than Harriet, blond, and youthful-looking.

Harriet was one of my favorite of the supporting characters. She seemed very human, and not quite so ignorant as in the 1996 Miramax version. Frank Churchill seemed too respectable to be the semi-rogue that he is in the novel, and Jane Fairfax was prim and prober, though I still enjoy Olivia Williams' portrayal of the character more. Mr. Woodhouse was played as a big, lovable teddy bear rather than the more controlling and less foggy one in the book. I was pleased with Mr. and Mrs. Elton. Mr. Elton looks like vampire (making his "carriage" scene alone with Emma more intense!) Mrs. Elton was the self-obsessed social climber we all love to hate; I enjoyed the scene where she came to the Donwell picnic on a donkey.

The costuming was excellent: beautiful if a bit bold florals and bonnets galore. The sets were also nice, I enjoyed Hartfield and Donwell Abbey to my Janeite heart's delight.

The defining part in every Austen adaptaion is the script. This one failed to stay as close to the book as I would like, which was sad, but it stayed fairly true to the spirit of the book. There were some lines, such as the one where Emma tells Harriet "There are plenty of more suitable suitors around," which annoyed me as being too obvious and feeling pasted in.

All in all, I thought this version was admirable. The leads were good, the production values were brilliant, and the script was adequate. As a finishing note, what is it with new JA adaptations and wedding scenes? Neither this Emma nor the 2008 Sense and Sensibility nor the 2007 Persuasion had one? Come on, just show us the wedding! It's what the whole plot builds towards. Oh well. I guess it's just a secret of the screenwriters.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

To Ponder

More men died of dysentery during the Civil War than died in battle.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Book of the (Next) Month

I have been thinking over my book of the month for February for quite some time. Then, when I woke up and realized it was the 26th, I thought I had better announce my book of February: The Last of the Mohicans. I'm going to have to get pretty good at typing 'Mohicans' fast. Hard job. I have never read this book, but I looked it up on the invaluable Google and found out it has thirty-three chapters. Thus, a chapter a day and double up on weekends. With this book I will provide a guide and post more about what I think of it, perhaps even devoting multiple blog posts to it. So, here is a guide:

February 1: Chapter 1
February 2: Chapter 2
February 3: Chapter 3
February 4: Chapter 4
February 5: Chapter 5
February 6: Chapters 6 and 7
February 7: Chapters 8 and 9
February 8: Chapter 10
February 9: Chapter 11
February 10: Chapter 12
February 11: Chapter 13
February 12: Chapter 14
February 13: Chapters 15 and 16
February 14: Chapters 17 and 18
February 15: Chapter 19
February 16: Chapter 20
February 17: Chapter 21
February 18: Chapter 22
February 19: Chapter 23
February 20: Chapters 24 and 25
February 21: Chapters 26 and 27
February 22: Chapters 28
February 23: Chapter 29
February 24: Chapter 30
February 25: Chapter 31
February 26: Chapter 32
February 27: Chapter 33

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Influence of Redemption In Literature

One of the largest influences of the Gospel on Western culture is the theme of redemption. It pops up in the most unexpected places in literature. Last week I read the poem Lady Clare by Alfred Lord Tennyson. In it, a heiress of high birth discovers she is actually the daughter of the Nurse, Alice, and was exchanged for the true heiress when the true heiress died as a baby. She then dresses in beggar's clothes and goes to tell her fiance (who also happens to be her cousin and now the closest heir to the inheritance) that she is not who everyone thinks she is. At the end of the poem, her cousin says that he will marry her anyway and she "will still be Lady Clare".

The obvious theme in this piece is redemption; that is, the act of being brought back. We can see similar themes nearly everywhere we look. In A Tale of Two Cities, Sydney Carton redeems Charles Darnay by dying in his place, while at the same time being redeemed in the reader's eye by giving up his life. In Pride and Prejudice, Lydia is "redeemed" by Darcy by being getting to marry Wickham, thus, raising herself from apparent doom.

There are two perspectives stories like to follow: the perspective of the redeemer and the perspective of the redeemed. We like to read the perspective of the redeemer because they seem noble. We like to read the perspective of the redeemed because they remind us of ourselves.

It's interesting to note that in nearly all redemption stories there is a Christ-figure. If someone is going to be redeemed, there has to be redeemer. Salvation is perfectly free, but only to us; it cost God incomprehensibly. I believe this influence is a good thing. It urges us to think about the Gospel and God. My mom always said "Every good story has a Christ figure." I think she was right.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Why You Should Read the Old Testament

Some parts of the Bible are easier to read than others. It's easy to get bogged down on the law and the books of Old Testament history. "This wasn't written for me," I can think, "It's written for the Israelites. I'm not an Israelite." A simple answer to the question "Why should I read the Old Testament?" is that the Old Testament helps us know who God is. But like most simple answers, this does not explain everything.

For one thing, if you have just read something encouraging (Philippians, for example) reading the O.T. may seem a bit depressing. Israel is caught in a seemingly endless cycle of sin, oppression, and deliverance. Sure Hezekiah saves Judah from Assyria, but the king after him is a jerk. Also, many of the books in the O.T. were not written like the "letters" books--as a pieces of practical advice.

One practical reason to read the Old Testament is that it's just plain interesting. I always feel a sort of poetic justice when Jezebel gets eaten by dogs.
There is a lot we can learn from the Old Testament history. By studying the righteous figures we can learn what God likes. By seeing the serious consequences when the people turn from the Lord, we can more fully understand how amazing not having to pay the price for our sin really is. Lastly, the O.T. shows us just how much Israel needed God. The continual downfall-repentance cycle would have gone on is He had not mercifully intervened for Israel and for us.

Hamlet Update:
I finished a week ago and liked it! Time to choose a February novel.