Category Archives: fiction

Baroness Orczy’s “Scarlet Pimpernel”

 

unnamed-1

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.

My Antonia

On my drive from Savannah to New Hampshire I listened to an audio book of Willa Cather’s, My Antonia.  I brought it home last year from Mom and Dad’s library.  Somehow I got through school, and seventy years without reading anything by Cather, in spite of my fondness of the mid-western United States and early American history.  I found the story fascinating and  was reminded of many places and people in my own life.  Dad once showed me wagon tracks still visible in the Kansas ground, and I well remember the countless prairie dogs the first time I visited Nebraska.  The book is narrated by a man, who as a young orphan from Virginia, goes to Nebraska to live with his grandparents.  It is also the story of Nebraska pioneers who moved to the plains from other countries and cultures, and how they enriched each other’s lives. Antonia Shimerda and her family took the same train into Black Hawk, Nebraska as the boy, Jimmy.  And so began a special friendship.

Cather’s descriptions of the land make it come alive:

I used to love to drift along the pale-yellow cornfields, looking for the damp spots one sometimes found at their edges, where the smartweed soon turned a rich copper colour and the narrow brown leaves hung curled like cocoons about the swollen joints of the stem. Sometimes I went south to visit our German neighbours and to admire their catalpa grove, or to see the big elm tree that grew up out of a deep crack in the earth and had a hawk’s nest in its branches. Trees were so rare in that country, and they had to make such a hard fight to grow, that we used to feel anxious about them, and visit them as if they were persons. It must have been the scarcity of detail in that tawny landscape that made detail so precious.

Sometimes I rode north to the big prairie-dog town to watch the brown earth-owls fly home in the late afternoon and go down to their nests underground with the dogs. Antonia Shimerda liked to go with me, and we used to wonder a great deal about these birds of subterranean habit. We had to be on our guard there, for rattlesnakes were always lurking about. They came to pick up an easy living among the dogs and owls, which were quite defenceless against them; took possession of their comfortable houses and ate the eggs and puppies. We felt sorry for the owls. It was always mournful to see them come flying home at sunset and disappear under the earth. But, after all, we felt, winged things who would live like that must be rather degraded creatures. The dog-town was a long way from any pond or creek. Otto Fuchs said he had seen populous dog-towns in the desert where there was no surface water for fifty miles; he insisted that some of the holes must go down to water—nearly two hundred feet, hereabouts. Antonia said she didn’t believe it; that the dogs probably lapped up the dew in the early morning, like the rabbits.

Here is another beautiful portrayal, this time of a prairie sunset:

We sat looking off across the country, watching the sun go down. The curly grass about us was on fire now. The bark of the oaks turned red as copper. There was a shimmer of gold on the brown river. Out in the stream the sandbars glittered like glass, and the light trembled in the willow thickets as if little flames were leaping among them. The breeze sank to stillness. In the ravine a ringdove mourned plaintively, and somewhere off in the bushes an owl hooted. The girls sat listless, leaning against each other. The long fingers of the sun touched their foreheads.

Presently we saw a curious thing: There were no clouds, the sun was going down in a limpid, gold-washed sky. Just as the lower edge of the red disk rested on the high fields against the horizon, a great black figure suddenly appeared on the face of the sun. We sprang to our feet, straining our eyes toward it. In a moment we realized what it was. On some upland farm, a plough had been left standing in the field. The sun was sinking just behind it. Magnified across the distance by the horizontal light, it stood out against the sun, was exactly contained within the circle of the disk; the handles, the tongue, the share—black against the molten red. There it was, heroic in size, a picture writing on the sun.

Even while we whispered about it, our vision disappeared; the ball dropped and dropped until the red tip went beneath the earth. The fields below us were dark, the sky was growing pale, and that forgotten plough had sunk back to its own littleness somewhere on the prairie.

And my favorite sentence in the book:

“Some memories are realities, and are better than anything that can ever happen to one again.”
The book can be downloaded free here.

If You’re Thirsty You May Drink

unnamed.jpg

 

 

And Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.  The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”  John 4:13-14

 

 

Here is another, better artistic representation of that kind of thirst from C.S Lewis’ The Silver Chair:

But although the sight of water made her feel ten times thirstier than before, she didn’t rush forward and drink. She stood as still as if she had been turned into stone, with her mouth wide open. And she had a very good reason: just on this side of the stream lay the lion.
…“If I run away, it’ll be after me in a moment,” thought Jill. “And if I go on, I shall run straight into its mouth.” Anyway, she couldn’t have moved if she had tried, and she couldn’t take her eyes off it. How long this lasted, she could not be sure; it seemed like hours. And the thirst became so bad that she almost felt she would not mind being eaten by the lion if only she could be sure of getting a mouthful of water first.
“If you’re thirsty, you may drink.”
…For a second she stared here and there, wondering who had spoken. Then the voice said again, “If you are thirsty, come and drink.”…It was deeper, wilder, and stronger; a sort of heavy, golden voice. It did not make her any less frightened than she had been before, but it made her frightened in rather a different way.
“Are you not thirsty?” said the Lion.
“I’m dying of thirst,” said Jill.
“Then drink,” said the Lion.
“May I — could I — would you mind going away while I do?” said Jill.
The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl.
…The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.
“Will you promise not to – do anything to me, if I do come?” said Jill.
“I make no promise,” said the Lion.
…“I daren’t come and drink,” said Jill.
“Then you will die of thirst,” said the Lion.
“Oh dear!” said Jill, coming another step nearer. “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.”
“There is no other stream,” said the Lion.
It never occurred to Jill to disbelieve the Lion – no one who had seen his stern face could do that – and her mind suddenly made itself up. It was the worst thing she had ever had to do, but she went forward to the stream, knelt down, and began scooping up water in her hand. It was the coldest, most refreshing water she had ever tasted. You didn’t need to drink much of it, for it quenched your thirst at once.

The Gospel in George MacDonald

screen-shot-2016-09-21-at-10-36-01-am

I first heard of George MacDonald about the same time I was introduced to C.S. Lewis, as a young adult.  Most of MacDonald’s writing that I’ve read is non-fiction but I have read, and enjoyed, a couple of his fantasies.

Plough Publishing House is soon publishing a collection of some of his work.  In their words:

These selections from MacDonald’s novels, fairy tales, and sermons reveal the profound and hopeful Christian vision that infuses his fantasy worlds and other fiction.

Here is an excerpt from the book supplied in an article by the publisher:

                    Who Invented Thirst and Water?

What, I ask, is the truth of water? Is it that it is formed of hydrogen and oxygen?…There is no water in oxygen, no water in hydrogen: it comes bubbling fresh from the imagination of the living God, rushing from under the great white throne of the glacier. The very thought of it makes one gasp with an elemental joy no metaphysician can analyze.
The water itself, that dances, and sings, and slakes the wonderful thirst – symbol and picture of that draught for which the woman of Samaria made her prayer to Jesus – this lovely thing itself, whose very wetness is a delight to every inch of the human body in its embrace – this live thing which, if I might, I would have running through my room, yea, babbling along my table – this water is its own self, its own truth, and is therein a truth of God.
Let him who would know the love of the maker, become sorely athirst and drink of the brook by the way – then lift up his heart – not at that moment to the maker of oxygen and hydrogen, but to the inventor and mediator of thirst and water, that man might foresee a little of what his soul may find in God. If he become not then as a hart panting for the water-brooks, let him go back to his science and its husks.…As well may a man think to describe the joy of drinking by giving thirst and water for its analysis, as imagine he has revealed anything about water by resolving it into its scientific elements.
Let a man go to the hillside and let the brook sing to him till he loves it, and he will find himself far nearer the fountain of truth than the triumphal car of the chemist will ever lead the shouting crew of his half-comprehending followers. He will draw from the brook the water of joyous tears, “and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountain of waters.”