Category Archives: Books

Baroness Orczy’s “Scarlet Pimpernel”

 

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A few years ago my friend enticed me to see the 1934 movie, The Scarlet Pimpernel.  I loved it and have seen it at least twice since.  This week I found a used copy of Baroness Orczy’s book of the same title, from which the movie was adapted.  This particular edition includes an introduction and notes by Sarah Juliette Sasson, which, alone was worth buying the book.  From the jacket:

Sarah Juliette Sasson earned a PhD in French and comparative literature from Columbia University, and is a lecturer there in the Department of French and Romance Philology.  She is the managing editor of the Romantic Review, a journal dedicated to Romance literatures.
Prior to Sasson’s introduction is a three page section titled “The World of Baroness Orczy and The Scarlet Pimpernel.”  It begins:
1865  Baroness Emmuska Magdalena Rosalia Maria Josefa Barbara Orczy is born in Tarna-Ors, Hungary, on September 23 to a noble family.  Her father, Baron Felix Orczy, is an accomplished conductor and composer.  Rudyard Kipling is born.  U.S. president Abraham Lincoln is assassinated.
1867  Francis Joseph I is crowned king of Hungary in Budapest, following the creation of the Austro-Hungarian dual monarchy.  Romeo et Juliette, an opera by Charles Gounod, debuts in Paris.
1868  During a party celebrating the fifth birthday of Emma’s sister, Madeleine, peasants set fire to the family estate, protesting the introduction of mechanized farming equipment.  The family moves to Budapest, where Baron Orczy, at the urging and recommendation of the Hungarian composer Franz Liszt, accepts a post as administrator of the National Theater.  Das Rheingold, an opera by family friend Richard Wagner, debuts in Munich.
1871  Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass is published.
Among other notable people mentioned in this timetable are: Thomas Edison, Franz Kafka, Robert Louis Stevenson, Mark Twain, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Jack the Ripper, Vincent Van Gogh, Oscar Wilde, Henry James, T.S. Eliot, and the Wright brothers.
Baronness Orczy wrote The Scarlet Pimpernel in five weeks in 1901.  Two years later she and her husband collaborated on a stage version which was produced at the Theatre Royal in Nottingham, England.  She went on to write several stories and books that featured the Scarlet Pimpernel.  She also wrote a couple of series of detective stories.  One, Lady Molly of Scotland Yard featured the first female crime solver.
The timeline ends:
1947  Baroness Orczy publishes her autobiography, Links in the Chain of Life. She dies on November 12 in London.
I’d like to read that book too.
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Toward a World Welfare State

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This is the book that transformed my prejudice against science fiction.  I only read it because it was written by one of my favorite writers, C. S. Lewis, who I’ve been reading and re-reading for 45 years.  I doubt I would have been insightful enough to have understood That Hideous Strength back in the 1970’s, but it stunned me when I finally read it, in the last 10 years.  It still does.  My blog name, “Into the Liquid Light” came from a passage in the book.

Benjamin Hutchison has written about the book in a recent article titled C. S. Lewis: Critic of Progressivism.

[W]hile most of us associate Lewis with theological literature, the man who gave us Narnia also mounted firm opposition to the progressive-leftist ideals that swept swiftly across the world stage in his time. Lewis’s resistance to European progressivism was, first and foremost, a reflection on the reality of man’s nature, and the failings of progressivism to account accurately for man’s fallen state. He rejected progressivism’s assumption of man’s inherent goodness, of the state as an idol. Lewis succinctly described progressivism as “state worship,” predicated on the assumption of man’s inevitable rise to god-hood.

Entering onto the stage of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries’ fixation on progress and the industrial revolution, a notable Lewis work on contemporary issues of his day (moral, spiritual, and practical) was his collection of essays called Present Concerns. This work, largely unknown to anyone but Lewis devotees, was recently discussed in this journal by scholar Gary Gregg. But perhaps the best insight into Lewis on progressivism and politics was a work of fiction—namely, his 1945 science-fiction novel, That Hideous Strength, the third and final book of his “Space Trilogy.” Covering a wide range of themes from marriage to human pride, the book’s plotline is centered on a progressivist organization called the National Institute for Co-ordinated Experiments (NICE), and its determination to use science to mend all of man’s ailments.

The story begins with the ordinary and quiet lives of the recently married Jane and Mark Studdock, but quickly expands to a provocative narrative. Mark, a new senior fellow and sociologist at Bracton College, soon finds himself in the “inner-circle” of the “Progressivist Element” at the college. In opposition to the “outsiders” and “obstructionists” (read: conservatives), the Progressivist Element soon starts formalizing a deal with the larger, nation-wide progressive organization, NICE, which intends to buy land from Bracton for its new facilities.
“The NICE was the first-fruits of that constructive fusion between the state and the laboratory on which so many thoughtful people base their hopes of a better world,” Lewis satirically noted, underscoring the progressive tendencies of state-controlled science, common to so many European (and American) governments of Lewis’s day. After being duped and flattered by Progressivist Element leader Lord Feverstone, Mark soon finds himself in a bittersweet relationship with NICE. Desperate for recognition and acceptance by the leadership at NICE, Mark becomes dependent on its employment, yet he remains unaware of his ambiguous job description.
………Lewis later warns of this dangerous scientism in government, cautioning that if we accept scientism in full, “we must give full weight to the claim that nothing but science, and science globally applied, and therefore unprecedented Government controls, can produce full bellies and medical care for the whole human race: nothing, in short, but a world Welfare State.”
And all of this, of course, is done in the name of “niceness.”

 

Solemn Facts

Yesterday Jennifer found a printout of an excerpt from Pink’s book, Satan and His Gospel,  in my brother’s office.  From it:

“The gospel of Satan is not a system of revolutionary principles, nor yet a program of anarchy. It does not promote strife and war, but aims at peace and unity. It seeks not to set the mother against her daughter nor the father against his son, but fosters the fraternal spirit whereby the human race is regarded as one great ‘brotherhood.’  It does not seek to drag down the natural man, but to improve and uplift him. It advocates education and cultivation and appeals to ‘the best that is within us.’  It aims to make this world such a comfortable and congenial habitat that Christ’s absence from it will not be felt and God will not be needed. It endeavors to occupy man so much with this world that he has no time or inclination to think of the world to come. It propagates the principles of self-sacrifice, charity and benevolence, and teaches us to live for the good of others, and to be kind to all. It appeals strongly to the carnal mind and is popular with the masses, because it ignores the solemn facts that by nature man is a fallen creature, alienated from the life of God, and dead in trespasses and sins, and that his only hope lies in being born again.”

Arthur W. Pink’s book, Satan and His Gospel, is available for Kindle, at a nominal cost, here.

Books and Memories

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Maura Roan McKeegan, a reading educator, thinks there are important reasons to read actual books instead of screen versions of them.  This is one of them:

A few months ago, I suddenly had a memory of a character from a book I had read many times when I was a girl, though I had forgotten all about it as an adult. As I tried to remember more about it, bits and pieces of the story came back to me. I was overcome with the desire to read the book again, to find it as I might want to find an old friend I hadn’t seen in decades.

I ordered a used copy, and within a week held it in my hands once again. The details came rushing back as I looked at the cover and flipped through the pages, remembering how I would read the book in my bedroom in the house where I grew up. It truly felt like I was reunited with an old, dear friend—reunited with the book, and reunited with my childhood, too.

I wonder: If I had first read this book on a screen, would I have felt the same physical connection to my youth as I held it in my hands decades later?

No doubt, a computer might contain a story worth reading. When a father or mother or beloved teacher reads that story aloud to a child, it can forge memories for a lifetime. In our house, we use computers to listen to audio books by authors like Hans Christian Anderson and Thornton W. Burgess, and everyone enjoys it.

Still, it isn’t the same. Listening to the book on the laptop can be nice, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the bond that is built when my husband or I cuddle up with the children and turn the worn pages of our favorite books as we read aloud together.

Isn’t there something precious about the book itself? Isn’t there something in its weight, in its feel, in its illustrations, in its pages, that, when a grown-up child holds it in his hands and reads it to his own children, will awaken a reverence for the story that a computer screen would not?

Read it all here.

Homecoming

I have a small collection of first hand remembrances of survivors of the Holocaust related to World War II and the Nazi Regime.  I want to know as many of them as I can, even though it is only through reading their accounts.  I just finished reading the most recent addition to my collection, All But My Life.  I love this book, partly because the author is not just telling her own story, but is impelled to give witness to the lives of those she knew who didn’t survive, also including those Germans who were kind.

It was written by a woman who was a pre-teen when she and her family were “relocated” by the Nazis.  It is one of the best such books I’ve read and I think ranks up there with The Diary of Anne Frank.  It was a devastating, and yet hopeful read.  I recommend it.

From the book:

Once as I passed the shredder I thought I saw Mama’s coat.  I turned away, praying, then forced myself to look again.  It was just a black coat.  It could have been anybody’s–hundreds of people word black coats.

And as always when in despair, I started to think of my homecoming.  I placed and replaced details upon details, playing with the fragments of my dreams.  Who would come home first?  I always wished that I should come last– walk into the house to find them all there.  At times, I thought I would reach home late at night.  The house would be dark.  I would not wake them.  I would go to the garden and wait.  I would watch the sun rise.  Then I would approach the house. Mama would be wearing her flowered housecoat.  No, she wouldn’t–we had given it away for a pound of margarine and a loaf of bread.  Well, anyway, breakfast would be on the table.  Arthur wouldn’t be there and Mama would say to me, “Go wake up Arthur, you know he never gets down in time.”

    I would run up the stairs.  My brother’s hair would be tousled, as it always was in the morning.  “Arthur,” I would whisper.  He would mutter something and turn over and pretend to go back to sleep.  Then, realizing I had come back, he would sit up with wide-open  eyes, stretching out his arms.  It would be as it had always been, from the time when I had brought him my book of fairy tales to read.  He had read them to me for years before I learned to read.  And we would come downstairs together, holding hands as we had done when we were small, so I should not stumble.  We would come down, and Papa and Mama would be holding hands too.  We would approach Papa for benediction, as we had done as children.  We both would have to bow, for we had gotten so tall.  And Papa would kiss the Bible even as his father had before him when he returned from Siberia.  And Papa would speak the words of Jacob: “I had not thought to see your face again, but God….”

 

 

Obliquely, Hesitantly, Ambiguously

Over the years I have read a number of Buechner’s books, have enjoyed them, learned from them, and not agreed with everything the author said. My reaction to his latest,  A Crazy, Holy Grace: The Healing Power of Pain and Memory is no different.  Buechner (pronounced Beekner), is easy to read, and good at conveying ideas using unexpected examples or language.  He is gentle and encouraging.  However, to me, he often seems to be dancing around the point, but never really hitting it. He mentioned that in this book:

I have never risked much in disclosing the little I have of the worst that I see in my mirror, and I have not been much more doing in disclosing the best. I have seen with the eye of my heart the great hope to which he has called us, but out of some shyness or diffidence I rarely speak of it, and in my books I have tended to write about it for the most part only obliquely, hesitantly, ambiguously, for fear of losing the ear and straining the credulity of the readers to whom such hope seems just wishful thinking. For fear of overstating, I have tended especially in my nonfiction books to understate, because that seemed a more strategic way of reaching the people I would most like to reach who are the ones who more or less don’t give religion the time of day. But maybe beneath that lies the fear that if I say too much about how again and again over the years I have experienced holiness—even here I find myself drawing back from saying God or Jesus—as a living, healing, saving presence in my life, then I risk being written off as some sort of embarrassment by most of the people I know and like.
For the most part it is only in my novels that I have allowed myself to speak unreservedly of what with the eyes of my heart I have seen.

Perhaps I would prefer his novels.

One passage in this book that I did like was in a section titled Depression, in which he referred to Psalm 131.  Although I have always understood the first verse to be more a statement of humility and faith rather than a result or expression of depression I appreciate his interpretation.

                       Psalm 131

O lord, my heart is not lifted up;
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.

But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me.

O Israel, hope in the Lord
from this time forth and forevermore.

Buechner on the first verse:
       To be in a state of depression is like that.  It is to be unable to occupy yourself
with anything much except your….depression….You do not raise either your
heart or your eyes to the heights, because to do so only reminds you that you are yourself in the depths…
        “But I have calmed and quieted my soul,” he continues, and you can’t help thinking that, although maybe that’s better than nothing, it’s not much better.  Depression is itself a kind of calm, as in becalmed, and a kind of quiet, as in a quiet despair.
        Only then do you discover that he is speaking of something entirely different.  He says it twice to make sure everybody understands.  “Like a child quieted at its mother’s breast,” he says, and then again “like a child that is quieted is my soul.”
And his description of that phrase I especially liked:
   A kind of blessed languor that comes with being filled and somehow also fulfilled; the sense that no dark time that has ever been and no dark time that will ever be can touch this true and only time; shalom—something like that is the calm and quiet he has found.

 

Communication and Communion

“Even to imagine such words brings us into a new relation of wonder with the realities, wonder that has very little to do with communication, to use Allen Tate’s distinction, and everything to do with communion.”

This delightful sentence, found in an essay, sent me looking for Allen Tate, and I was not disappointed.  A southern American poet and writer of the 20th century, he was Poet Laureate from 1943-1944.  One of his more famous poems is “Ode to the Confederate Dead,”  here read by the author:

I found more about him in an archived “First Things” essay.

Early on [Tate] certainly showed signs of having been habituated to a racist culture, but the mature Tate repented, and confessed that as original sin was to humanity so was slavery for the South.

And especially this which endeared him to me:

In one of his most important essays, Tate argued that it was the task of “the man of letters in the modern world” to hold up to his own age “an image of man” that can be judged by a standard, that can “distinguish the false from the true.” Here his literary concern is with the power of words and “the vitality of language” to communicate, but the questions of true religion continue to percolate beneath the surface, for by mid-century his literary criticism had become Catholic.

The man of letters in the modern world “must discriminate and defend the difference between mass communication, for the control of men, and the knowledge of man which literature offers us for human participation.” Yet such discrimination requires a standard which in a secularized, egalitarian culture is constantly being refused. This he said stems from an “internal crisis” in the West, a crisis in “a society that multiples means without end.” Tate argues that secularized societies proliferate communication, but every act of communication, indeed every action, is orchestrated along the lines of a “plotless drama of withdrawal.”

…..What he fears is dehumanization through mechanized power, through a social machinery that substitutes means for ends, and thus multiplies communication (he could have predicted the Internet) in such a way as to deprive people of communion. As Tate put it, “Communication that is not also communion is incomplete.” In his view, communication is a means, not an end. And the problem with a secularized society is that it refuses “the end of social man” which is, as he puts it “communion in time through love, which is beyond time.” (emphasis added).
I plan to read his book on Stonewall Jackson soon.
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