Saturday, April 16, 2011


Miss Hargreaves -Frank Baker
Two English young men.Norman Huntley and friend Henry, are being shown around a parish church in Ireland when on "the spur of the moment" Norman tells the sexton guiding them that he knew an elderly lady who was friends with the deceased minister of the church. On the way back to the inn, the two men create the character of Miss Hargreaves, and for a joke send her a letter at the English hotel where they decide she would stay. A few days after their return home, Norman receives a telegram announcing Miss Hargreaves' imminent arrival. It turns out when Norman finally confesses to his father that he has inherited an ability to bring people to life from his imagination. The problem is controlling them once on the scene.

Miss Hargreaves is 83, but not a meek old lady. She arrives with a talking bird, a yapping dog, and an unquenchable desire for a social and artistic life with Norman as her helper.  Much chaos ensues.

Reissued as part of the Bloomsbury group series,this is a delightful book for pleasure reading.

Virtual catalogue. Amazon


An Autobiography - Anthony Trollope

Trollope wrote this book six years before his death with instructions for publication after his death. It is not a book that discloses any scandal that he would not have wished published while he was alive, but he did express some opinions that he probably thought would be better kept until after his death.

As a primer for beginning writers, the book is full of good advice. Once Trollope decided to write, he set himself a certain number of pages per day, and even a set number (250) words to the page. He wrote a book and then started on another, sometimes he had two or three in process at once. He did all this while working full time for the post office as a inspector until he was fifty-five, when he had saved enough money to devote his life entirely to writing. He has many other interesting insights on how to write and what to write. One is the idea that the writer must have a "story to tell not tell a story" and another: "Of all needs a book has the chief need is that it be readable."

He allots three short chapters to the miseries of his first 26 years, but with little self-pity, simply as statement of fact, and the chapter devoted to his mother is one of praise for her saving the family by taking up writing in her fifties. His first seven years with the post office were dreary, but once he became a postal inspector, first in Ireland, later in England, he actually liked his work, and became devoted to his mission of establishing a fast postal service. He was responsible for the establishment of post boxes on the streets so people could mail letters at any time of day!

His comments on his books are particularly interesting as he is dismissive of many, some of which were more popular with readers and critics than with him. He praises others, some of which the critics did not appreciate. He clearly lets neither praise nor criticism keep him from his appointed task - to write continually. It is at the end of the book that we understand that his writing was not a task however, but the essence of his life.

He states: "For what remains to me of life I trust for my happiness still chiefly to my working--hoping that when the power of work be over with me, God may be pleased to take me from a world in which, according to my view, there can be no joy; secondly to the love of those who love me; and then to my books. That I can read and be happy while I am reading is a great blessing. Could I remember, as some men do, what I read. I should have been able to call myself an educated man. But that power I have never possessed. Something is always left,--something dim and inaccurate,-but still something sufficient to preserve the taste for more. I am inclined to think that is so with most readers." (I am inclined to agree!)

For readers of Trollope and for writers, this is a gem.

Virtual library, Amazon


Teilhard de Chardin: Scientist and Seer - Charles E. Raven
The Divine Milieu  - Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

I read Raven's book on Teilhard first, and then, curiosity aroused, read Teilhard himself. It was a good order in which to read, as had I gone to Teilihard first I might not have struggled through the entire book. Teilhard is not easy to understand for a "bear of little brain". Yet there were flashes on the page that shone light into my mind and soul. I do have a sense of what he means by "the divine milieu" - that God is ever present in the universe, but not in a pantheistic way. I am still confused but the best explanation, I found on p. 56: "God must, in some way or other, make room for himself, hollowing us out and emptying us, if he is finally to penetrate into us. And in order to assimilate us in him, he must break the molecules of our being so as to re-cast and re-model us. The function of death is to provide the necessary entrance into our in-most selves"  On that page and the next is a beautiful prayer asking for help in facing death.

The word "milieu" was kept from the French, because no acceptable synonym was found in English, and its exact sense in French is impossible to translate, according to the foreword. From page 84 there is this definition which I found I could understand in some measure: "God reveals himself everywhere, beneath our groping efforts, as a universal milieu only because he is the ultimate point upon which all realities converge. Each element of the world,.whatever it may be only subsists, hic et nunc, in the manner of a cone whose generatrices meet in God who draws them together."

Raven in his biography and commentary is much clearer than Teilhard and is also speaking of Teilhard's whole life thought whereas The Divine Milieu although not published until after his death was one of his earlier works. Raven presents Teilhard as both scientist and religious and is particularly impressed by Teilhard's synthesis of the two world views. Raven writes: "It is perhaps Teilhard's greatest service to our time that having accepted the whole cosmic process as one, continuous, complexified and convergent, he can regard it with unfaltering hope." (p,75)

Raven's accounts of the restrictions imposed upon Teilhard by the Catholic authorities, removing him from teaching positions, not allowing his writings to be published, and his quiet submission, left me with the unanswered questions: how did Teilhard manage to remain in a faith that abused him so, what was it about Catholicism that kept him true to his vows? Finally what made him ensure that his writing would be saved and published after his death? That seemed inconsistent with his previous obedience, I need to read another biography for the answer.

Raven  includes this confession of faith from Teilhard, dated July 1933, a few years after the writing of The Divine Milieu.   It helps explain what is sometimes obscure in the book:

"We can be fundamentally happy only in a personal union with something personal (with the personality of everything) in everything. This is the ultimate appeal of what we call 'love'. In consequence the essential quality of the joy of life discloses itself in the knowledge or feeling that in everything that we taste, create, undertake, discover or suffer in ourselves or in others, in every possible line of life or death, organic, social, artistic or scientific, we are increasing gradually and are ourselves gradually incoporated in the growth of the universal soul or spirit." Raven goes on to comment: "For this conviction all that is needed is an impassioned human heart and the acceptance of three points:  (1) That Evolution or the birth of the universe is by nature convergent not divergent, making for a final unity; (2) that this unity, built up gradually by the world's labour, is by nature spiritual -- spirit being understood, not as a withdrawal from but as a transformation or sublimation or culmination of matter; (3) that the centre of this spiritualised matter, of this totality of what is by nature spiritual, must in consequence be supremely conscious and personal; the Ocean which gathers all the spiritual tides of the universe is not only something but someone; he is in himself face and heart. If one accepts these three points the whole of life, including death, becomes for each one of us a discovery and continual conquest of a divine and irresistible Presence. This Presence illuminates the secrecies and inmost depths of everything and every man around us. We can attain a full realisation not a simple enjoyment of everything and every man. And we cannot be deprived of it by anything or anyone. That is Teilhard's creed.

"And if we are to express it theologically we find him convinced that evil is no accident or regrettable mistake. We have no right to suppose that God would have created a world without evil and suffering; they are, however, we explain it, an integral part of the process.  All we can say is that the world is so constructed that evil and death occur in it. 'Suffering', said Teilhard in his La Vie Cosmique of 1916, 'is the consequence and the price of the labor of development.' 'Creation groans and travails until now,' as St. Paul put it. 'Creation, Incarnation, Redemption, each marking a stage in the divine operation, are they not three phases indissolubly joined in the manifestation of the divine?' (Raven, pp. 183-184)

So, not light reading, but I did find that the concepts presented by Teilhard and Raven did lift my heart - the centrality of love, beauty, truth, goodness, in their theology and the sense of God as a mysterious ever presence waiting to welcome us at the time of our death. (Although I may be oversimplifying. Teilhard is so difficult to understand that I couldn't figure out what the Catholic authorities were afraid of in terms of his being published. However, his books sold 300,000 copies in the first year or so of publication, surely unusual for the books of a Jesuit! So perhaps they were right to fear.)

Teilhard's book available Virtual Catalogue and Amazon. Raven on Amazon.

Thursday, April 7, 2011


 A WOMAN NAMED SMITH - Marie Conway Oemler
 DAISY'S AUNT - E. F. Benson
THE WOMAN IN THE ALCOVE - Anna Katharine Green


After I finished reading Miss MacKenzie, other books were recommended on my screen.  All of them free from Kindle. They are all books from the 19th or early 20th century. Kindle states they were transcribed by volunteers! Since then more have appeared and I've added them to my list. Some by authors I've heard of Benson (famous for his Miss Mapp series) and Elizabeth von Armin (Enchanted April), but others I've never heard of but have enjoyed.  What is delightful is finding all these books for free at my fingertips. I've already made back the price of my Kindle by all the free books I've accessed from what I call The Land of Lost Books - now no longer lost!

A WOMAN NAMED SMITH is a very surprising book. Set in the turn of the century in South Carolina, it is the story of a woman who inherits a house in a small Carolina town. Up to that point in her life, she had been an executive secretary for fifteen years and she brings along her friend, "the worst file clerk in the world". Again I was intrigued to find two such independent women in a novel of this period. They proceed to face a hostile town but two friendly neighbor men and what may be ghosts. The author's handling of the black characters in the book is racist in the sense they are servants, speak in a special dialect, and are stereotypical of an uneducated, superstitious characterization of black people, in patronizing terms, although with a tone of affection. It is not unlike the representation of servants and the lower class in English novels. There is one very racist scene of a vagabond black man who is about to attack the heroine before he is scared away.The "n" word is used by both blacks and whites more as a common way of speaking than as a perjorative, an interesting comment on the time of the writing. There is also a Jewish character and two Moslems treated respectfully. The turnings of plot are those of a Gothic novel, involving secret Masonic chambers, and of a romance novel - in this case with the twist of the supposedly plain heroine receiving three proposals while her beautiful companion pines away for the man of her choice.  A happy ending ensues.

DAISY'S AUNT is romance and a comedy of manners set in England again at the turn of the 19th century. The aunt in question has just returned from a year abroad in which she was healing from the death of her husband of eight years, a drug addict and alcoholic. She returns happily in love with a new man to discover that her young niece is in danger of marrying a roue who unbeknown to the niece had been the illicit lover of her now dead sister in Paris. Having promised the dying woman not to tell her sister of her dissolute life, the aunt decides to win the man away from her and thus show her his shallowness. She has faith her own lover will understand and not desert her, but she soon faces another problem, the roue is actually a good man at heart.  All resolves happily.The book is enlivened by the witty dialogue of some of the minor characters.

THE WOMAN IN THE GREEN ALCOVE is a mystery set in turn of the century New York. A woman is murdered at a fancy ball and her diamond stolen. The immediate suspect has just proposed to the young heroine. She must find a way to convince the police she is innocent. Although her guardian is rich, she has just completed her three year nurses training because she wanted to be independent. Again I was intrigued by such enterprise (although since my own grandmother became a nurse at that same period of time I shouldn't have been). Her nurses' training proves helpful in the solving of the crime.

THE HOUSE WITH GREEN SHUTTERS is a serious novel set in Scotland and written with much Scottish dialect, only some of which is footnoted, but the rest is understandable through context. It is the opposite of a cozy village novel in the Highlands story. The village is full of backbiters and greedy merchants out to do each other in or at least use each other to advantage. The family at the center of the book is the most hated in the village, not without good reason. The father, John Gorlay, is at the height of his power as the novel opens, and has no generosity or kindness to his neighbors. His wife is a slattern, weak-willed although good at heart. His daughter is dying of consumption and his son is a waster. There are only one or two characters in this book I could like, but nevertheless, Douglas opens up the minds of younger and older Gorlay in such a way that I kept hoping there would be redemption for them. The depiction of alcoholism taking control of the younger Gorlay gave me understanding into his addiction. It is a sad but gripping book.



The Last Chronicles a weighty book, just under 900 pages in the copy I read, and took about a week to read, whereas Miss MacKenzie, which I read on my Kindle (more on that later) was a day's reading.  The former is the last book in the Barsetshire series, focusing on a stubborn, absent-minded minister who is threatened with loss of his priesthood and jail because he cannot account for his cashing a check made out to a local aristocrat. His stubbornness is manifested by his unwillingness to accept any of the help that might have quickly resolved the case in his favor. He is a curate to an impoverished parish, devout in worship and in pastoral attentions to his people. However, his pride makes him feel his poverty acutely. Of course, there is also an endangered engagement of pure young lovers and a variety of parsons and higher up clerics and wives of same, in particular, the wife of the bishop,who range from generous-hearted to the extreme of maliciousness.
Sometimes Trollope does go on too long or gets repetitive (he was writing it in installments for a magazine which may explain this), but nevertheless, I read on anxious to find out how he would resolve all the dilemmas. A footnote in my edition included a quote from Trollope's autobiography in which he tells of overhearing two men in his club criticizing the novel and especially exacerbated by the bishop's wife's power. Trollope decided to give the wife a fatal heart attack in the next installment, thus pleasing his readers and giving himself an easier path to a happy ending. (Library. Amazon)

Miss MacKenzie is a short novel of a woman in her thirties, who having spent her youth housekeeping for and then nursing her brother, inherits his fortune to the horror of her remaining brother and his wife. She pacifies them slightly by taking on the care of one of her nieces. In the course of her first year as a woman of substance, she is proposed to my three men and then the discovery is made that her fortune by rights never belonged to her brother but to her cousin, one of her suitors, whom she had turned down.  How all this is resolved for the good is an interesting tale of love and integrity against the forces of greed. One point interesting to me was that faced with a return of poverty, she decides she will look for work as a nurse.It seems that women were more resourceful in finding occupations in the mid-19th century than I had been aware.

You can download this on a Kindle for free. For more on Kindle see next blog.