Anniversary the Third!

Today is the third anniversary of Mirror with Clouds!  It’s been an interesting, informative and all around great three years and I’m looking forward to year #4.  It’s become my anniversary tradition to post some of my favorite quotations from the past year – so here they are!

These mystic creatures, suddenly translated by night from unutterable solitudes to our peopled deck, affected me in a manner not easy to unfold.  They seemed newly crawled forth from beneath the foundations of the world.  Yea, they seemed the identical tortoises whereon the Hindu plants this total sphere.  With a lantern I inspected them more closely.  Such worshipful venerableness of aspect!  Such furry greenness mantling the rude peelings and healing the fissures of their shattered shells.  I no more saw three tortoises.  They expanded – became transfigured.  I seemed to see three Roman Coliseums in magnificent decay.

– From Herman Melville’s “The Encantadas” (a reference to the tortoises found on the Encantadas, also known as the Galapagos Islands)

 

In the morning there was a big wind blowing and the waves were running high up on the beach and he was awake a long time before he remembered that his heart was broken.

-From Ernest Hemingway’s “Ten Indians”

 

Something quite remote from anything the builders intended has come out of their work, and out of the fierce little human tragedy in which I played; something none of us thought about at the time: a small red flame – a beaten-copper lamp of deplorable design, relit before the beaten-copper doors of a tabernacle; the flame which the old knights saw from their tombs, which they saw put out; that flame burns again for other soldiers, far from home, farther, in heart, than Acre or Jerusalem.  It could not have been lit but for the builders and the tragedians, and there I found it this morning, burning anew among the old stones.

-From Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited

 

He did not believe that he himself was formed in the image of God but that Bishop was he had no doubt.  The little boy was part of a simple equation that required no further solution, except at the moments when with little or no warning he would feel himself overwhelmed by the horrifying love.  Anything he looked at too long could bring it on.  Bishop did not have to be around.  It could be a stick or a stone, the line of a shadow, the absurd old man’s walk of a starling crossing the sidewalk.  If, without thinking, he lent himself to it, he would feel suddenly a morbid surge of the love that terrified him – powerful enough to throw him to the ground in an act of idiot praise.  It was completely irrational and abnormal.

-From Flannery O’Connor’s The Violent Bear It Away

 

“It’s terrible sometimes, inside,” he said, “that’s what’s the trouble.  You walk these streets, black and funky and cold, and there’s not really a living ass to talk to, and there’s nothing shaking, and there’s no way of getting it out – that storm inside.  You can’t talk it and you can’t make love with it, and when you finally try to get with it and play it, you realize nobody’s listening.  So you’ve got to listen.  You got to find a way to listen.”

-From James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues”

 

And then Trout, with his wound dressed, would walk out into the unfamiliar city.  He would meet his Creator, who would explain everything.

-From Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions

 

 

Brideshead Revisited

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Something quite remote from anything the builders intended has come out of their work, and out of the fierce little human tragedy in which I played; something none of us thought about at the time: a small red flame – a beaten-copper lamp of deplorable design, relit before the beaten-copper doors of a tabernacle; the flame which the old knights saw from their tombs, which they saw put out; that flame burns again for other soldiers, far from home, farther, in heart, than Acre or Jerusalem.  It could not have been lit but for the builders and the tragedians, and there I found it this morning, burning anew among the old stones.

Evelyn Waugh’s novel Brideshead Revisited has everything that fascinates me in a story.  It takes place in post-World War I England (one of my favorite time periods in history and literature) and tells the story of Charles Ryder’s spiritual journey as he encounters the wealthy Flyte family.  Waugh’s writing, which is both beautiful and hilarious, makes this one of the more memorable novels I’ve read.

At Oxford, Charles becomes infatuated with Sebastian Flyte, the eccentric and quirky black sheep son of the Lord and Lady of Marchmain.  When Charles visits Sebastian’s family at their mansion, Brideshead, he begins relationships that will continue to affect and change him for decades to come.  Lady Marchmain is devoutly Catholic and struggles to instill her faith in her four children.  Of the four, Sebastian and Julia prove to be the less compliant to their mother’s hopes but have the biggest impact on Charles’ agnosticism.

The specifics of Charles’ and Sebastian’s relationship seem to be left purposefully vague and while it serves as the catalyst for Charles’ journey, it’s only one aspect of the story.  As a result of his own journey, Sebastian slowly and eventually fades into the background of the novel.  Charles’ point of conversion also has very little detail and occurs mysteriously at the end of the novel; however, it is completely realistic and gives me the impression that Charles’ journey (as opposed to his conversion) is what Waugh found most intriguing and most important and what he really wanted to write about.

I can now include Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited with Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead and Chaim Potok’s The Chosen as novels that effectively weave faith into stories that remain profoundly human.  I don’t consider any of these novels to be “religious” novels in the sense that their purpose is not to promote a specific religious belief or to provide entertainment only to those within that belief set.  Instead, they happen to beautifully and realistically illustrate the human condition with characters that happen to have varying degrees of faith.

While this may seem like a very serious novel, Waugh’s wit shines through to make this story just about perfect for me.  I found one scene, in which a very long debate occurs as to whether to give last rites to a lapsed Catholic, both incredibly serious and irreverently funny. Julia’s politician suitor gives her a birthday present in the form of a live tortoise with diamonds etched into it’s shell.  Waugh’s description of the gift and the family’s reaction is priceless.  And finally, I found it hysterical when Charles attempts to assign a degree of excitement to an aristocratic get-together by counting the number of water droplets falling off the beak of the ice sculptured swan.

This novel became a groundbreaking PBS mini-series in the early 1980’s starring Jeremy Irons.  It was also made into a film a few years ago with Emma Thompson.  I haven’t seen either of them, but it would just be my hunch that the mini-series would be the better option.

G. K. Chesterton: The Ghost of Gideon Wise

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As I chose the Five of Clubs for Week 47 of my Deal Me In 2014 short story project, allow me to use the “priest walks into a bar” tie-in one last time.  The Five of Clubs corresponds to my final Father Brown mystery by G. K. Chesterton, “The Ghost of Gideon Wise”.  My Deal Me In 2014 list can be seen here.  DMI is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

In this case, a priest, three Capitalists, three Socialists, a detective and a journalist walk into a bar.  Actually, it’s two bars as Capitalists and Socialists don’t socialize with each other.  I’m guessing they don’t capitalize with each other, either.  And Father Brown happens to be socializing with the Socialists.  He has a rather interesting reason for doing this, too.

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With this type of mystery, I usually have a problem with the resolution as many authors tend to throw logic to the wind and pull an answer out of thin air – or an answer that is somewhat contrived.  In the case of “Gideon Wise”, though, the premise may be a little contrived, but the mystery’s resolution is not too difficult to figure out and the logic behind the mystery’s revelation made the story that much more enjoyable.

Gideon Wise is one of the three Capitalists and, of the three, he might be considered an extreme capitalist.  He is a rugged pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps individualist and it goes without saying that he doesn’t like to share.  The title of the story might give away some of the story’s plot but the reader needs to remember that it’s a mystery – not everything is as it appears.  As usual, Father Brown remains both humble and confident as he brings the story to an end which gives an interesting Chesterton take on the conflict between the two political and economic systems.

At some point in the future, I’d like to give Chesterton’s longer works of fiction a try.  I’ve heard great things about his novel The Man Who Was Thursday.  I also have Chesterton’s biographies of Charles Dickens and Thomas Aquinas unread on my shelf.  And I happen to be reading Evelyn Waugh’s novel Brideshead Revisited and came upon a Father Brown quotation.  As I’ve said before, Chesterton has a great mind and a great imagination.

Banned Book Awareness Week 2014

This week is Banned Book Awareness Week and typically during this week each year, I read a banned book in celebration of my freedom to discern for myself what I will read or not read.  I actually have two books that I plan to read; however, due to an extra busy work schedule, I’m fairly certain that neither will get read completely this week.  So look for future posts about these books that have been found on banned book lists during the last few decades:

Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man

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Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited

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I also have two more wild cards in my Deal Me In 2014 Short Story Project and whenever one of those pops up, I plan to read a short story by Salman Rushdie, one of the more extreme victims of book banning that I can think of in my lifetime.  I would also recommend Rushdie’s literary thriller of a memoir Joseph Anton,  an entertaining thriller if it wasn’t for the fact that it was true.  I posted about it here.

So maybe October will be Banned Book Month for me.  In the meantime, celebrate your freedom to read!