Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE
Jane Austen

“How despicably I have acted!” she cried. “I, who have prided myself on my discernment! . . . How humiliating is this discovery! . . . I have courted prepossession and ignorance, and driven reason away. . . . Till this moment I never knew myself.”


Rick WilcoxWhen I visited the picturesque town of Winchester where Jane Austen is buried, my first impression was “how charming!”  Jane would have smiled at that, but would also have discounted my compliment.  Her faith was quiet, but her depth of character, which is evident in her writing, was based on what she called “constancy.”  That’s a far cry from charm.

As Terry Glaspey explains in 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know :

To be constant is to be grounded and rooted in values that persist beyond the present moment—lasting values. To constancy Austen contrasts that highly valued trait, charm. Charm is the ability to attract the attention of others without necessarily having the qualities one appears to possess. The charming person can simulate the virtues of good character by mere outward polish. Being charming is all about social acceptance rather than actually possessing admirable traits. It is concerned with how things look on the outside—how they seem, rather than what they truly are.

So often in Austen’s novels we discover that the person who has great charm is a person we later learn has poor or deficient character. And sometimes the person who may win few “style points” is eventually revealed to be a person of strong personality and depth of character, as is Darcy in Pride and Prejudice. But you would never mistake one of Austen’s books for a moral tract, for she never preaches. She observes, and she lets us draw our own conclusions. Along the way to making such discoveries, we are treated to a novel that is amusing, insightful, and well stocked with fascinating and flawed characters. She entertains us with her close observation of the human personality and she leaves us with greater wisdom about our own selves.

When were your first impressions wrong about someone?


John 1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

D I G  D E E P E R


PRIDE AND PREJUDICE

Jane Austen

Jane Austen by Cassandra Austen, pencil and watercolor, circa 1810

(1775–1817). Through her portrayals of ordinary people in everyday life Jane Austen gave the genre of the novel its modern character. She began writing at an early age. At 15 she was writing plays and sketches for the amusement of her family, and by the time she was 21 she had begun to write novels that are among the finest in English literature.

Jane Austen was born on Dec. 16, 1775, in the parsonage of Steventon, a village in Hampshire, England. She had six brothers and one sister. Her father, the Reverend George Austen, was a rector of the village. Although she and her sister briefly attended several different schools, Jane was educated mainly by her father, who taught his own children and several pupils who boarded with the family.

Her father retired when Jane was 25. By that time her brothers, two of whom later became admirals, had careers and families of their own. Jane, her sister Cassandra, and their parents went to live in Bath. After the father’s death in 1805, the family lived temporarily in Southampton before finally settling in Chawton.

All of Jane Austen’s novels are love stories. However, neither Jane nor her sister ever married. There are hints of two or three romances in Jane’s life, but little is known about them, for Cassandra destroyed all letters of a personal nature after Jane’s death. The brothers had large families, and Jane was a favorite with her nephews and nieces.

Jane Austen wrote two novels before she was 22. These she later revised and published as Sense and Sensibility (1811) and Pride and Prejudice (1813). She completed her third novel, Northanger Abbey, when she was 27 or 28, but it did not appear in print until after her death. She wrote three more novels in her late 30s: Mansfield Park (1814), Emma (1816), and Persuasion (published together with Northanger Abbey in 1818).

She wrote of the world she knew. Her novels portray the lives of the gentry and clergy of rural England, and they take place in the country villages and neighborhoods, with an occasional visit to Bath and London. Her world was small, but she saw it clearly and portrayed it with wit and detachment. She described her writing as “the little bit (two inches wide) of ivory on which I work with so fine a brush, as produces little effect after much labor.”

She died on July 18, 1817, after a long illness. She spent the last weeks of her life in Winchester, near her physician, and is buried in the cathedral there.

I Learned Everything I Needed to Know About Marriage From Pride and Prejudice

Karen Swallow Prior

When I teach Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, I take great pains to un-sully it from students’ film-adaptation-induced misconceptions that it’s a “romantic” novel. As a satirist, even if a gentle one, Austen offers rather unromantic corrections to vices and foibles, many of which range far beyond the surface themes of love and marriage. Indeed, like most early novels, Austen’s contend with the seismic social shifts birthed by modernity, particularly the rise of the individual. In Pride and Prejudice, as in Austen’s other works, the private angst surrounding the choice of a marriage partner really reflects the larger, public anxieties swirling around a disintegrating class structure, a new social mobility, and increasing personal autonomy.

Nevertheless, the truth is that I still learned everything I needed to know about marriage from Pride and Prejudice.

Marriages are foremost in Austen’s world, and, its place in literary theory and history aside, Pride and Prejudice enchants me again and again with its hairpin sharp insights into matrimonial matters. Here are nine lessons Pride and Prejudice taught me about marriage—and surely, there are many more.

Mutual Respect Is Essential to a Happy Marriage

The first marriage we encounter in Pride and Prejudice is Mr. and Mrs. Bennet’s. These two illustrate magnificently by negative example just how crucial respect for one another is to marital bliss. Mr. Bennet treats Mrs. Bennet like the fool she assuredly is, and Mrs. Bennet, in return, exerts the only authority she has: nagging. As readers, we may laugh with Mr. Bennet (and the narrator) at Mrs. Bennet, but we don’t side with him entirely. Even Elizabeth, as much as she loves her father and as much as he respects her, admits she “could not have formed a very pleasing opinion of conjugal felicity or domestic comfort” based on her parents’ marriage.

We can’t help but wonder along with Elizabeth, who “had never been blind to the impropriety of her father’s behaviour as a husband,” if Mrs. Bennet might have grown into a better partner and woman with more active loving-kindness from him. Instead, Mrs. Bennet fits the description of what one marriage expert—Pat Ennis of the marriage-enrichment program The Third Option—calls the “Critical Nag,” one who is never happy with how others do things. Mr. Bennet, meanwhile, is the “Ridiculer-Name Caller,” the person who constantly puts others down. Ennis says that respect is the bedrock of lasting love, wisdom the never-married Austen recognized long before psychology, life coaches, and marriage retreats were invented.

First Impressions Can Be Misleading

As fans of Pride and Prejudice know, “First Impressions” was Austen’s original title for the work. The first half of the novel is an accumulation of false impressions, particularly Elizabeth’s misperceptions (leading to the titular prejudice) about the seemingly, titularly, proud Darcy. Ironically, Elizabeth’s confident assessment of Mr. Darcy as proud stems greatly from her own pride in her keen, but not infallible, perceptiveness. The rest of the story consists of the correction of those misreadings—and of the prejudice and pride that foster such misunderstandings.

Like Elizabeth, but for different reasons, I’m fortunate that my first impressions of the man who would become my husband were wrong, too. When as a Lydia Bennet-esque college freshman, I first spotted the man, marriage was far from my mind—and he appeared to be someone who might regard it the same way. He didn’t. Then I didn’t. We never looked back (as I have written about here).

You Can Judge a Man by the Size of His Library

In Austen’s world, size matters. The size of one’s book collection, that is.

While stuck at Netherfield because her sister has fallen ill there, the hospitable Mr. Bingley offers Elizabeth access to his books, to “all that his library afforded.” Elizabeth assures him she is content with what she has. He admits, “I wish my collection were larger for your benefit and my own credit; but I am an idle fellow, and though I have not many, I have more than I ever looked into.”

Then coy Miss Bingley attempts to converse with Darcy while he is engaged in reading. “When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library,” Miss Bingley proclaims. “I am astonished that my father should have left so small a collection of books. What a delightful library you have at Pemberley, Mr. Darcy!”

“It ought to be good,” he replies. “It has been the work of many generations.”

“And then you have added so much to it yourself, you are always buying books,” Miss Bingley says flirtatiously.

Later, after Elizabeth has shed her initial false impressions about Darcy, she recollects the evolution of her feelings toward him. She explains that her love for Darcy “has been coming on so gradually, that I hardly know when it began. But I believe I must date it from my first seeing his beautiful grounds at Pemberley.” Indeed.

In the provincial world of Austen’s novels, small-mindedness is among the greatest of personal and social follies, for which an expansive library serves as a counterbalance. Darcy’s fetching library serves as metaphor for a variety of qualities in a marriage partner today which might counteract contemporary excesses and limitations: broad-mindedness in an age of identity politics and narrow partisanship, integrity in an era of brutal pragmatism, strong work ethic in a culture of shortcuts, steadiness in a swirl of passing fancies. While countless other qualities might substitute for those represented by Darcy’s library, these attracted me to my husband and have deepened my love for him more over the years. Not to mention the fact that he built me my own library, and its shelves are overflowing.

Romance Is Not Enough

Mr. and Mrs. Bennet married, we learn later, out of youthful imprudence and passion. This same error is repeated by their daughter Lydia (who is all romance, no prudence) when she elopes with the conniving Wickham (who is all prudence with no romance). It doesn’t take long for the honeymoon luster to fade, and upon hearing of her sister Elizabeth’s impending marriage to Darcy, Lydia is reduced to begging the couple for a court appointment for her husband, confessing, “I do not think we shall have quite money enough to live upon without some help.” Such dire straits are not in keeping with Lydia’s former romanticism.

Austen would not likely be surprised at recent findings reported here at The Atlantic that for the middle class today (which is approximately the class of the Bennets in Pride and Prejudice) the difference between a happy marriage and a miserable one is something decidedly unromantic: chores.

You Really Do Marry a Family, Not Just a Person

A survey in the November issue of Glamour found that the majority of men polled by the magazine said that they judge a woman by her family. This truth universally acknowledged forms one of the great obstacles between Elizabeth and Darcy, a point revealed in the explanatory letter Darcy writes to Elizabeth following her refusal of one of the most infamous marriage proposals in all of literature. Darcy’s objections to the marriage between his friend Bingley and Elizabeth’s sister Jane, he explains in the letter, owed “to that total want of propriety so frequently, so almost uniformly betrayed by [Mrs. Bennet], by your three younger sisters, and occasionally even by your father. Pardon me. It pains me to offend you.” It does offend Elizabeth—at first. But once her pride subsides, she recognizes the truth and the validity of Darcy’s concerns.

These familial objections are, of course, overcome in time for the happily ever after. But Darcy has recognized, wisely, that he is marrying into a family and he does so with open eyes and readiness—as much as that is possible—to accept that fact of life.  Indeed, my own “happily ever after” has, after many years, come to mean a household that includes my aging parents. Anyone who doesn’t believe that you marry a family should talk to a man in my husband’s situation.

Missed Communication Is Miscommunication 

In other words, silence is the voice of complacency. The lovely match between Elizabeth Bennet’s eldest sister Jane and Mr. Bingley nearly doesn’t happen, in large part because neither makes their feelings clearly known to the other. Natural reserve isn’t a character flaw (see: Darcy), but it’s a trait that must be overcome when reticence means letting something—or someone—important slip away.

Experts even have a name for this tendency we have to think our communication is stronger and clearer than it actually is: signal amplification bias. Motivational psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson writes that this general assumption that we have said more than we actually have is the “most common source of miscommunication in any relationship” because “people routinely fail to realize how little they are actually communicating.” I don’t think my marriage is unusual in consisting of one overcommunicative partner (guess who that is!) and one partner whose signal amplification bias is, shall we say, strong. Jane and Bingley’s relationship and the misunderstandings that surround it offer a textbook’s worth of insight for navigating real-life communication problems.

In Marriage, One Size Doesn’t Fit All

This is one of the more nuanced and difficult—but no less important—lessons from Pride and Prejudice, as Noah Berlatsky argued earlier this year. When Elizabeth’s best friend Charlotte Lucas marries Mr. Collins, that fawning prig whom Elizabeth had easily turned down earlier, Elizabeth is understandably disappointed in her friend’s choice. But of course, “choice” plays little part in the matter since the primary social problem in the world of the novel is that its women have so few choices. Marriage is, the novel explains, “the only provision for well-educated young women of small fortune, and however uncertain of giving happiness, must be their pleasantest preservative from want.” This “preservative,” Elizabeth comes to realize, Charlotte obtains in her marriage to Mr. Collins. “And at the age of twenty-seven, without having ever been handsome, she [Charlotte] felt all the good luck of it.” When Elizabeth visits the newlywed pair later, she observes that Charlotte has made peace with her choice. Charlotte’s new home has “really an air of great comfort throughout,” and Elizabeth can see Charlotte’s “contentment” and her “evident enjoyment of it.”

Jane and Bingley’s relationship and the misunderstandings that surround it offer a textbook’s worth of insight for navigating real-life communication problems.

Elizabeth would not—and did not—settle for the same choice. (She’d not have been our heroine if she had!) But despite their being the best of friends, Charlotte and Elizabeth are not the same. Likewise, no two marriages are the same. Nor need they be: Trying to force a one-size-fits-all formula on individual marriages invites disaster. A couple I know who are part of a conservative religious community, for example, tried for the first decade of their marriage to conform to roles they thought were expected by their community and failed miserably. Finally, she went to work full-time and he stayed home with the children—and they’ve never been happier or more stable.

The Best Marriages Balance Prudence and Passion

Have you ever known a couple whose love is rooted in pure passion, defying all reason (or any need for a good résumé or health insurance)? Or a couple on the opposite end of the spectrum, for whom love means never saying the mortgage is late? I think we’ve all seen, or even experienced, relationships in which either passion or reason reigns like a tyrant over the other.

In Pride and Prejudice,  Lydia marries out of pure passion and Charlotte marries out of sheer prudence: “Marriage had always been her object,” despite not “thinking highly either of men or of matrimony.” But the novel extols the best marriages as those that balance prudence and passion, sense and sensibility. Jane and Bingley’s marriage fits this description, even though both their wit and passion are more subdued than those of Elizabeth and Darcy.

It is, of course, Elizabeth and Darcy’s marriage which the novel holds up as exemplary. Theirs is a match crowned by the twin laurels of romance and reason. Both the heart and the head assent that this is a match made in Austen’s heaven—and that of many readers as well.

A Good Marriage Challenges Both Partners to Grow

Despite being well-matched in both intellect and passion for each other, Elizabeth and Darcy have to undergo painful chastening, admit their errors, enlarge their perspectives, and see matters through the eyes of the other before they can love each other. And although the novel ends, as all classical comedies do, with their felicitous union, we know enough of their strong minds and robust personalities to perceive that challenges will lie ahead. But we are certain that Elizabeth and Darcy are, like iron that sharpens iron, equally matched. Their marriage provides the best marriage lesson of all: Marry someone whose love will develop you into a better person.

And to borrow a line from another novel, “Reader, I married him.”

This article originally appeared in The Atlantic

Sources and Resources

“Austen, Jane,” Compton’s Encyclopedia (Chicago, IL: Compton’s Encyclopedia, 2015).

Collins, Irene. Jane Austen: The Parson’s Daughter. London: Continuum, 1998.

Giffin, Michael. Jane Austen’s Religious Imagination: A Balance of Reason and Feeling. Kindle edition. Amazon Digital Services, 2013.

Glaspey, Terry, ed. The Prayers of Jane Austen. Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2015.

Leithart, Peter J. Jane Austen. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009.

Stovel, Bruce. “A Nation Improving in Religion.” Persuasions no. 16. Jane Austen Society of North America, 1994. http://www.jasna.org/persuasions/printed/number16/stovel.htm.

Terry Glaspey, 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know: The Fascinating Stories behind Great Works of Art, Literature, Music, and Film (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2015).

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

Terry Glaspey

Terry Glaspey

Terry Glaspey is a writer, an editor, a creative mentor, and someone who finds various forms of art—painting, films, novels, poetry, and music—to be some of the places where he most deeply connects with God.

He has a master’s degree in history from the University of Oregon (Go Ducks!), as well as undergraduate degrees emphasizing counseling and pastoral studies.

He has written over a dozen books, including 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know:  Fascinating Stories Behind Great Art, Music, Literature, and Film, Not a Tame Lion: The Spiritual Legacy of C.S. Lewis, The Prayers of Jane Austen, 25 Keys to Life-Changing Prayer, Bible Basics for Everyone, and others.

Terry enjoys writing and speaking about a variety of topics including creativity and spirituality, the artistic heritage of the Christian faith, the writing of C.S. Lewis, and creative approaches to apologetics.

He serves on the board of directors of the Society to Explore and Record Church History and is listed in Who’s Who in America Terry has been the recipient of a number of awards, including a distinguished alumni award and the Advanced Speakers and Writers Editor of the Year award.

Terry has two daughters and lives in Eugene, Oregon.

Dig Deeper at TerryGlaspey.com

Some of the greatest painters, musicians, architects, writers, filmmakers, and poets have taken their inspiration from their faith and impacted millions of people with their stunning creations. Now readers can discover the stories behind seventy-five of these masterpieces and the artists who created them. From the art of the Roman catacombs to Rembrandt to Makoto Fujimura; from Gregorian Chant to Bach to U2; from John Bunyan and John Donne to Flannery O’Connor and Frederick Buechner; this book unveils the rich and varied artistic heritage left by believers who were masters at their craft.

Terry Glaspey, 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know: The Fascinating Stories behind Great Works of Art, Literature, Music, and Film (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2015).

Order it HERE today.

The Scholar-Gipsy by Matthew Arnold

Go, for they call you, shepherd, from the hill;
Go, shepherd, and untie the wattled cotes!
No longer leave thy wistful flock unfed,
Nor let thy bawling fellows rack their throats,
Nor the cropp’d herbage shoot another head.
But when the fields are still,
And the tired men and dogs all gone to rest,
And only the white sheep are sometimes seen
Cross and recross the strips of moon-blanch’d green.
Come, shepherd, and again begin the quest!*


Today we revisit Matthew Arnold and his brilliant take on a familiar tale.  The Scholar-Gipsy is certainly a weary commentary on the mendacity of empty platitudes, but more so it speaks to a longing for real transcendence.  It is the imago Dei pushing against the veneer of modernity’s false assurances in the sufficiency of man’s wisdom to address his world.

In Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me, Karen Swallow Prior writes:

Such yearning for the integrated life of faith permeates another of Matthew Arnold’s poems, “The Scholar Gypsy.” The speaker of the poem is a modern day man who contemplates the scholar-gypsy of old, a figure made legendary for rejecting the disciplined rigors of Oxford in order to wander the land freely with a group of gypsies. To the poem’s speaker—who imagines an encounter centuries later with the still-living scholar-gypsy—this wanderer represents an earlier age, a time “before this strange disease of modern life / With its sick hurry, its divided aims / Its head o’ertaxed, its palsied hearts, was rife.” Addressing the scholar-gypsy, the narrator says longingly, “Thou hadst what we [modern men], alas! have not”: “Thou hadst one aim, one business, one desire.” It was religious faith that gave the scholar-gypsy one aim, one business, one desire, and as the poem’s narrator (not to mention its author) sees it, such faith is no longer possible. The scholar-gypsy, on the other hand, being from that previous age, is “free from the languid doubt” that haunts the modern man and waits hopefully “for the spark from heaven!” But we modern men, the speaker continues,

Light half-believers of our casual creeds,
Who never deeply felt, nor clearly willed,
Whose insight never has borne fruit in deeds,
Whose vague resolves never have been fulfilled;
For whom each year we see
Breeds new beginnings, disappointments new;
Who hesitate and falter life away,
And lose tomorrow the ground won to-day—
Ah! Do not we wanderer, await it, too?

Both the man of old and the man of today await this spark, but only the ancient scholar-gypsy harbors any hope that the spark will come. Yet, even when people of our contemporary age do have belief, the poem shows, they cannot but be tainted by this “strange disease” of modernism.

 

How does the image of God in man push him toward transcendence?

John 1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

 

 

D I G  D E E P E R


 

Matthew Arnold

(1822–88), poet and literary critic. He was the eldest son of T. *Arnold (q.v.). Born at Laleham, Surrey, he was educated at *Winchester, Rugby, and Balliol College, *Oxford, where he won the Newdigate Prize with his poem Cromwell (1843). In 1845 he was elected a Fellow of Oriel College; from 1847 to 1851 he was private secretary to Lord Lansdowne; and from 1851 to 1883 a Government Inspector of Schools. From 1857 to 1867 he was also Professor of Poetry at Oxford. In 1853 he published his Poems (including ‘Sohrab and Rustum’ and ‘The Scholar Gipsy’); in 1855 his Poems (Second Series). ‘Thyrsis’ and ‘Rugby Chapel’ both first appeared in New Poems (1867). His prose writings include On Translating Homer (1861), Essays in Criticism (1865; 2nd ser., 1888), and Culture and Anarchy (1869). For his religious views, St Paul and Protestantism (1870), Literature and Dogma (1873), God and the Bible (1875), and Last Essays on Church and Religion (1877) are of particular interest.

Matthew Arnold made it his mission to condemn the boorishness of the English, finding in ‘culture’ the cure for contemporary ills and a potent help towards the formation of human character. Religion, he held, was to be concerned with conduct and not with speculation about the nature of things. The power behind the universe is a moral one, and with it a moral tendency which resides in man is in sympathy. These truths Arnold held to be manifested in the OT belief that righteousness, which God approves, exalts a nation; but he deplored the superstitious *bibliolatry, alien from the scientific spirit of the age, which interpreted with literalness such poetic images as the hope of the *Messiah. The religion of Jesus had shown advance by laying stress on personal rather than national conduct, and had suffused morality with emotion and, therefore, with happiness.

F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 111–112.

 

*The Scholar-Gipsy by Matthew Arnold

Go, for they call you, shepherd, from the hill;
Go, shepherd, and untie the wattled cotes!
No longer leave thy wistful flock unfed,
Nor let thy bawling fellows rack their throats,
Nor the cropp’d herbage shoot another head.
But when the fields are still,
And the tired men and dogs all gone to rest,
And only the white sheep are sometimes seen
Cross and recross the strips of moon-blanch’d green.
Come, shepherd, and again begin the quest!

Here, where the reaper was at work of late—
In this high field’s dark corner, where he leaves
His coat, his basket, and his earthen cruse,
And in the sun all morning binds the sheaves,
Then here, at noon, comes back his stores to use—
Here will I sit and wait,
While to my ear from uplands far away
The bleating of the folded flocks is borne,
With distant cries of reapers in the corn—
All the live murmur of a summer’s day.

Screen’d is this nook o’er the high, half-reap’d field,
And here till sun-down, shepherd! will I be.
Through the thick corn the scarlet poppies peep,
And round green roots and yellowing stalks I see
Pale pink convolvulus in tendrils creep;
And air-swept lindens yield
Their scent, and rustle down their perfumed showers
Of bloom on the bent grass where I am laid,
And bower me from the August sun with shade;
And the eye travels down to Oxford’s towers.

And near me on the grass lies Glanvil’s book—
Come, let me read the oft-read tale again!
The story of the Oxford scholar poor,
Of pregnant parts and quick inventive brain,
Who, tired of knocking at preferment’s door,
One summer-morn forsook
His friends, and went to learn the gipsy-lore,
And roam’d the world with that wild brotherhood,
And came, as most men deem’d, to little good,
But came to Oxford and his friends no more.

But once, years after, in the country-lanes,
Two scholars, whom at college erst he knew,
Met him, and of his way of life enquired;
Whereat he answer’d, that the gipsy-crew,
His mates, had arts to rule as they desired
The workings of men’s brains,
And they can bind them to what thoughts they will.
“And I,” he said, “the secret of their art,
When fully learn’d, will to the world impart;
But it needs heaven-sent moments for this skill.”

This said, he left them, and return’d no more.—
But rumours hung about the country-side,
That the lost Scholar long was seen to stray,
Seen by rare glimpses, pensive and tongue-tied,
In hat of antique shape, and cloak of grey,
The same the gipsies wore.
Shepherds had met him on the Hurst in spring;
At some lone alehouse in the Berkshire moors,
On the warm ingle-bench, the smock-frock’d boors
Had found him seated at their entering,

But, ‘mid their drink and clatter, he would fly.
And I myself seem half to know thy looks,
And put the shepherds, wanderer! on thy trace;
And boys who in lone wheatfields scare the rooks
I ask if thou hast pass’d their quiet place;
Or in my boat I lie
Moor’d to the cool bank in the summer-heats,
‘Mid wide grass meadows which the sunshine fills,
And watch the warm, green-muffled Cumner hills,
And wonder if thou haunt’st their shy retreats.

For most, I know, thou lov’st retired ground!
Thee at the ferry Oxford riders blithe,
Returning home on summer-nights, have met
Crossing the stripling Thames at Bab-lock-hithe,
Trailing in the cool stream thy fingers wet,
As the punt’s rope chops round;
And leaning backward in a pensive dream,
And fostering in thy lap a heap of flowers
Pluck’d in shy fields and distant Wychwood bowers,
And thine eyes resting on the moonlit stream.

And then they land, and thou art seen no more!—
Maidens, who from the distant hamlets come
To dance around the Fyfield elm in May,
Oft through the darkening fields have seen thee roam,
Or cross a stile into the public way.
Oft thou hast given them store
Of flowers—the frail-leaf’d, white anemony,
Dark bluebells drench’d with dews of summer eves,
And purple orchises with spotted leaves—
But none hath words she can report of thee.

And, above Godstow Bridge, when hay-time’s here
In June, and many a scythe in sunshine flames,
Men who through those wide fields of breezy grass
Where black-wing’d swallows haunt the glittering Thames,
To bathe in the abandon’d lasher pass,
Have often pass’d thee near
Sitting upon the river bank o’ergrown;
Mark’d thine outlandish garb, thy figure spare,
Thy dark vague eyes, and soft abstracted air—
But, when they came from bathing, thou wast gone!

At some lone homestead in the Cumner hills,
Where at her open door the housewife darns,
Thou hast been seen, or hanging on a gate
To watch the threshers in the mossy barns.
Children, who early range these slopes and late
For cresses from the rills,
Have known thee eyeing, all an April-day,
The springing pasture and the feeding kine;
And mark’d thee, when the stars come out and shine,
Through the long dewy grass move slow away.

In autumn, on the skirts of Bagley Wood—
Where most the gipsies by the turf-edged way
Pitch their smoked tents, and every bush you see
With scarlet patches tagg’d and shreds of grey,
Above the forest-ground called Thessaly—
The blackbird, picking food,
Sees thee, nor stops his meal, nor fears at all;
So often has he known thee past him stray,
Rapt, twirling in thy hand a wither’d spray,
And waiting for the spark from heaven to fall.

And once, in winter, on the causeway chill
Where home through flooded fields foot-travellers go,
Have I not pass’d thee on the wooden bridge,
Wrapt in thy cloak and battling with the snow,
Thy face tow’rd Hinksey and its wintry ridge?
And thou has climb’d the hill,
And gain’d the white brow of the Cumner range;
Turn’d once to watch, while thick the snowflakes fall,
The line of festal light in Christ-Church hall—
Then sought thy straw in some sequester’d grange.

But what—I dream! Two hundred years are flown
Since first thy story ran through Oxford halls,
And the grave Glanvil did the tale inscribe
That thou wert wander’d from the studious walls
To learn strange arts, and join a gipsy-tribe;
And thou from earth art gone
Long since, and in some quiet churchyard laid—
Some country-nook, where o’er thy unknown grave
Tall grasses and white flowering nettles wave,
Under a dark, red-fruited yew-tree’s shade.

—No, no, thou hast not felt the lapse of hours!
For what wears out the life of mortal men?
‘Tis that from change to change their being rolls;
‘Tis that repeated shocks, again, again,
Exhaust the energy of strongest souls
And numb the elastic powers.
Till having used our nerves with bliss and teen,
And tired upon a thousand schemes our wit,
To the just-pausing Genius we remit
Our worn-out life, and are—what we have been.

Thou hast not lived, why should’st thou perish, so?
Thou hadst one aim, one business, one desire;
Else wert thou long since number’d with the dead!
Else hadst thou spent, like other men, thy fire!
The generations of thy peers are fled,
And we ourselves shall go;
But thou possessest an immortal lot,
And we imagine thee exempt from age
And living as thou liv’st on Glanvil’s page,
Because thou hadst—what we, alas! have not.

For early didst thou leave the world, with powers
Fresh, undiverted to the world without,
Firm to their mark, not spent on other things;
Free from the sick fatigue, the languid doubt,
Which much to have tried, in much been baffled, brings.
O life unlike to ours!
Who fluctuate idly without term or scope,
Of whom each strives, nor knows for what he strives,
And each half lives a hundred different lives;
Who wait like thee, but not, like thee, in hope.

Thou waitest for the spark from heaven! and we,
Light half-believers of our casual creeds,
Who never deeply felt, nor clearly will’d,
Whose insight never has borne fruit in deeds,
Whose vague resolves never have been fulfill’d;
For whom each year we see
Breeds new beginnings, disappointments new;
Who hesitate and falter life away,
And lose to-morrow the ground won to-day—
Ah! do not we, wanderer! await it too?

Yes, we await it!—but it still delays,
And then we suffer! and amongst us one,
Who most has suffer’d, takes dejectedly
His seat upon the intellectual throne;
And all his store of sad experience he
Lays bare of wretched days;
Tells us his misery’s birth and growth and signs,
And how the dying spark of hope was fed,
And how the breast was soothed, and how the head,
And all his hourly varied anodynes.

This for our wisest! and we others pine,
And wish the long unhappy dream would end,
And waive all claim to bliss, and try to bear;
With close-lipp’d patience for our only friend,
Sad patience, too near neighbour to despair—
But none has hope like thine!
Thou through the fields and through the woods dost stray,
Roaming the country-side, a truant boy,
Nursing thy project in unclouded joy,
And every doubt long blown by time away.

O born in days when wits were fresh and clear,
And life ran gaily as the sparkling Thames;
Before this strange disease of modern life,
With its sick hurry, its divided aims,
Its heads o’ertax’d, its palsied hearts, was rife—
Fly hence, our contact fear!
Still fly, plunge deeper in the bowering wood!
Averse, as Dido did with gesture stern
From her false friend’s approach in Hades turn,
Wave us away, and keep thy solitude!

Still nursing the unconquerable hope,
Still clutching the inviolable shade,
With a free, onward impulse brushing through,
By night, the silver’d branches of the glade—
Far on the forest-skirts, where none pursue,
On some mild pastoral slope
Emerge, and resting on the moonlit pales
Freshen thy flowers as in former years
With dew, or listen with enchanted ears,
From the dark tingles, to the nightingales!

But fly our paths, our feverish contact fly!
For strong the infection of our mental strife,
Which, though it gives no bliss, yet spoils for rest;
And we should win thee from thy own fair life,
Like us distracted, and like us unblest.
Soon, soon thy cheer would die,
Thy hopes grow timorous, and unfix’d thy powers,
And thy clear aims be cross and shifting made;
And then thy glad perennial youth would fade,
Fade and grow old at last, and die like ours.

Then fly our greetings, fly our speech and smiles!
—As some grave Tyrian trader, from the sea,
Descried at sunrise an emerging prow
Lifting the cool-hair’d creepers stealthily,
The fringes of a southward-facing brow
Among the Ægæan Isles;
And saw the merry Grecian coaster come,
Freighted with amber grapes, and Chian wine,
Green, bursting figs, and tunnies steep’d in brine—
And knew the intruders on his ancient home,

The young light-hearted masters of the waves—
And snatch’d his rudder, and shook out more sail;
And day and night held on indignantly
O’er the blue Midland waters with the gale,
Betwixt the Syrtes and soft Sicily,
To where the Atlantic raves
Outside the western straits; and unbent sails
There, where down cloudy cliffs, through sheets of foam,
Shy traffickers, the dark Iberians come;
And on the beach undid his corded bales.

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.

 

 

Dover Beach by Matthew Arnold

The sea is calm tonight.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Ægean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.


Karen Swallow Prior

Matthew Arnold’s poem “Dover Beach” laments the loss of that hope. Arnold was the epitome of the modern man who publicly professed optimism for the social progress he saw around him was at odds with his personal sense of melancholy and mournfulness at the passing of a simpler age. In studying the body of literature of this time, one can see clearly that this loss of faith was met first with confusion but then with despair. Arnold bespeaks such anguish starkly in “Dover Beach.” The famous Cliffs of Dover that guard that beach have for millennia served both literally and figuratively as a source of strength for England, a buttress against even the closest and most menacing of enemies.

But the cliffs were unable to provide harbor for an attack greater than that conveyed by even the fiercest weapons of war—the erosion of the faith that had defined the nation’s identity since the years of the Roman Empire.

Like the cliffs, religion, too, before the age of doubt, was a source of strength not only to England but to all of civilization. “Dover Beach” depicts a view of this encompassing “sea of faith” after it has receded as a result of the skepticism of the modern age. The dramatic situation of the poem places the speaker at the window of a room at Dover Beach from which he looks out at the night sea. As he watches the gleaming lights on the French coast, the poem opens on a note of futility as he listens to…

. . . the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
at their return, up the high strand
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

The speaker eventually contemplates the ebbing sea before him, which reminds him of the “Sea of Faith.” Like the literal sea in front of him, this metaphorical sea “was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore / Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.” Like the sea, the age of faith, too, is withdrawing with a “melancholy, long withdrawing roar.”

In the absence of faith, the speaker turns to the nearest solace he can find: love.

If they can but “be true to one another,” then together they can face a world that seems “so various, so beautiful, so new.” But here the tone of the poem shifts from mere melancholy to near-despair. The fact is, the speaker admits in concluding the poem, that this world, from which faith has retreated,

Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

 

How can doubt help faith to grow from the heart to the mind?

John 1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

 

 Karen Swallow Prior, from Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.

Hap by Thomas Hardy

If but some vengeful god would call to me
From up the sky, and laugh: “Thou suffering thing,
Know that thy sorrow is my ecstasy,
That thy love’s loss is my hate’s profiting!”

Then would I bear it, clench myself, and die,
Steeled by the sense of ire unmerited;
Half-eased in that a Powerfuller than I
Had willed and meted me the tears I shed.

But not so.   How arrives it joy lies slain,
And why unblooms the best hope ever sown?
—Crass Casualty obstructs the sun and rain,
And dicing Time for gladness casts a moan. . . .
These purblind Doomsters had as readily strown
Blisses about my pilgrimage as pain.


This week as we consider the place of doubt in the Christian worldview, we turn our attention to the poets.  Years before Nietzsche told us God was dead, Thomas Hardy gave voice to a mindset already pervasive in the culture of the mid 19th century.  Today’s poem Hap was written in 1866, but its sentiment still reverberates.

In Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me, Karen Swallow Prior writes:

Hardy’s poems, like his novels, are riddled—in a truly bitter irony—with anger at God for not existing. In his poem “Hap,” Hardy asserts the mournful wish that human suffering were caused by the cruelty of God rather than, as he avows, mere chance. The poem expresses the poignant notion that even a malevolent God would be better than no God. For, despite his agnosticism, Hardy recognizes that it is God who provides meaning to human existence, even when that existence is consumed by suffering. The poem opens with the first half of a wistful hypothetical:

If but some vengeful god would call to me
From up the sky, and laugh: “Thou suffering thing,
Know that thy sorrow is my ecstasy,
That thy love’s loss is my hate’s profiting!”

Knowing that there was a reason for suffering—even if that reason were the mere vengefulness of a cruel deity—would provide a source of strength with which to endure the pain of human suffering even to the point of a defiant death:

Then would I bear it, clench myself, and die,
Steeled by the sense of ire unmated;
Half-eased in that a Powerfuller than I
Had willed and meted me the tears I shed.

“But not so,” says the poem. Rather it is “Crass Casualty’’—chance, happenstance, “hap”—that “obstructs sun and rain.”

Indeed chance and “dicing Time,” the poet says, “had as readily strown blisses about my pilgrimage as pain.” In other words, suffering and happiness are the simple products of random chance—as random as are the impersonal forces that set into motion an evolutionary process that is as likely to make one a man as a mollusk. Hardy yearns for even a wicked God in the same way that a battered child ferociously loves even a cruel parent.

Is a cruel God better than no God?

John 1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

 

 

D I G  D E E P E R


Thomas Hardy

(1840–1928) Essentially a tragic novelist, Thomas Hardy wrote books that strike many readers as overly gloomy and pessimistic. A great novelist of the Victorian era, Hardy was also an accomplished poet (see English literature).

Hardy was born on June 2, 1840, in Upper Bockhampton, near Dorchester in Dorsetshire, England. He passed most of his long life in this region of woodland, heath, and moor. It forms the setting of most of his writings, under its old name of Wessex. He attended local schools until he was 16, when he became an apprentice in an architect’s office in Dorchester. In 1862 Hardy went to London to work as assistant to an architect. He had already begun to write verse and essays.

Hardy returned to Dorchester in 1867 because of ill health and soon began writing prose fiction for a living. His first really successful novel, published serially in 1874, was Far from the Madding Crowd. Others are Under the Greenwood Tree (1872); The Return of the Native (1878); Tess of the D’Urbervilles (1891); and Jude the Obscure (1895). His poetry includes Wessex Poems (1898) and Time’s Laughing-stocks (1909). The Dynasts (1903–08) is an epic drama in three parts.

Hardy viewed nature as a real power affecting the lives of his characters. His novels are realistic, but they resemble Greek tragedies in the way they show their characters as helpless victims of an unfeeling fate. Hardy’s sympathy for his characters, even when they had done wrong, caused some of his works to be condemned as immoral.

In 1874 Hardy married Emma Lavinia Gifford, who died in 1912. In 1914 he married his secretary, Florence Emily Dugdale. He died in Dorchester on Jan. 11, 1928. His ashes were placed in Westminster Abbey, but his heart, at his request, was buried in Stinsford, near his birthplace.

Compton’s Encyclopedia (Chicago, IL: Compton’s Encyclopedia, 2015).

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.

A Noiseless, Patient Spider by Walt Whitman

A noiseless, patient spider, I mark’d, where, on a little promontory, it stood, isolated; Mark’d how,
to explore the vacant, vast surrounding,
It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament,
out of itself;
Ever unreeling them—ever tirelessly speeding
them.

And you, O my Soul, where you stand,
Surrounded, surrounded, in measureless oceans
of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing,—
seeking the spheres, to connect them;
Till the bridge you will need, be form’d—till the ductile anchor hold;
Till the gossamer thread you fling, catch
somewhere, O my Soul.


A wise man once said “Truth is never threatened by investigation.  Lean hard on her for she will not topple.”  This week we conclude our study with an unblinking consideration of doubt.  If the just are saved by faith, what shall become of the doubters, and more so, can doubt ever be fully reconciled with the Christian life?

In Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me, Karen Swallow Prior writes:

I struggled against God. Not as many do. But still I did, in my own way. I didn’t doubt his being. I doubted his ways. I doubted that his ways were better than my ways. I doubted the ways of his people, too. Even so, I wonder more that an airplane can fly than that the God of the universe exists. Granted, my doubt in airplanes is rooted in my ignorance of physics. But might the same apply to our understanding of God? My struggle against God’s ways only reinforced my belief in him. After all, one doesn’t struggle against something one doesn’t believe in. One doesn’t rail against someone one thinks does not exist.

Promiscuous reading has humbled me in showing me that “there is nothing new under the sun.” As real and as important as any questions I have might be, I’ve seen that they are not unique to me. There is comfort in this, and chastening, too. Somewhere between universal truth and utter solipsism is a unique self, but the preponderance of that self, like all other selves, is the image of God that all selves share. There’s more of him in us—in me—than anything else. Even the ability to doubt him, to struggle against him, to wonder at his ways is rooted in him. Certainty seems bigger than me, skepticism smaller. Wonder is just right.

How is wonder an answer to doubt?

John 1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

 

 

D I G  D E E P E R


Walt Whitman

 

Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman, was unique. His Leaves of Grass (1855) was new in form and in content. Whitman wrote about his country in a way never done before. At first the little book of strange verse seemed a failure. Emerson, however, recognized its greatness, and now most people agree that it was the first book of truly American poetry.

Here, at last, was the fresh, distinguished bard destined to create an art wholly American. Through Whitman’s poetry the new nation is caught in its largeness, its variety, and its great energy. One’s-Self I Sing and his major poem, Song of Myself, are brilliant and complex utterances of the human spirit freed in the New World.

Walt Whitman’s poems are a love letter to his country. To accomplish his purpose of singing the praise of the untrammeled American spirit, Whitman forsook the confining poetic forms of his day. His poems are melodic chants, suited to the ear.

Readers around the world have turned to Whitman as the spokesman for the new democratic society. No poet has celebrated that society with more enthusiasm or more poetic genius than Walt Whitman. His verses are a striking contrast to the neat meters and rhymes of conventional poetry previously written. Since Whitman’s death, his writing has influenced many other American poets.

“American Literature,” Compton’s Encyclopedia (Chicago, IL: Compton’s Encyclopedia, 2015).

 

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.

A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning by John Donne

As virtuous men pass mildly away,
And whisper to their souls to go,
Whilst some of their sad friends do say
The breath goes now, and some say, No:

So let us melt, and make no noise,
No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move;
‘Twere profanation of our joys
To tell the laity our love.*


Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that deals with the nature of reality.  We in the West tend to compartmentalize everything, including the world and ourselves.  It’s a logical outcome of modernity and the industrial age, but we miss a lot if we allow reductionism to force us to an either/or mindset.  We think of ourselves as body and spirit, but the two are intricately integrated.

In Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me Karen Swallow Prior writes:

Like the two parts of a compass, Donne and his wife are separate, yet unified, in both their physical movements and in their “hearkening.” The poem then continues in a vein anticipatory of his eventual return home at the end of his journey and closes with a final stanza that elaborates and consummates this unexpected comparison of their holy union to that of the compass:

Such wilt thou be to me, who must,

Like the other foot, obliquely run;

Thy firmness makes my circle just,

And makes me end where I begun.

Here the work of a simple mechanical object, a compass, and the profound, abstract notion of justness (or perfection) allows us to witness the infinity and perfection represented in the figure of the circle. It’s a picture of the kind of love the poet shares with his wife, but it’s also a picture of a metaphysical truth: the physical ushers us into the spiritual.

Marriage is, in this way, metaphysical.

How do the everyday aspects of marriage contribute to, as the Bible says, two becoming one?

John 1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

 

 

D I G  D E E P E R


John Donne

 

John Donne

(1571/2–1631), *Metaphysical poet and Dean of *St Paul’s. He was a member of a RC family, his mother being the sister of the *Jesuit missionary priest Jasper Heywood, and a granddaughter of a sister of Sir Thomas *More. He entered Hart Hall, Oxford, in 1584 and possibly studied after this at Cambridge, or perhaps abroad. He entered Thavies Inn in 1591 and transferred to Lincoln’s Inn in 1592. During this period he was much exercised over the problem of his religious allegiance and for a time, according to I. *Walton, ‘betrothed himself to no Religion that might give him any other denomination than a Christian’. By 1598 he had certainly conformed to the Church of England. In 1596 he accompanied Essex and Raleigh to Cadiz and in 1597 to the Azores; and in 1598 became private secretary to the Lord Keeper, Sir Thomas Egerton, a post from which he was dismissed four years later owing to his secret marriage to Ann More, his master’s wife’s niece, in 1601. During the next years he and his growing family lived in poverty and dependence on the charity of friends. Around this period he composed but did not publish Biathanatos, a casuistic discussion and defence of suicide. He found employment in controversial writing and in 1610 wrote the Pseudo-Martyr to persuade Catholics that they might take the Oath of Allegiance. In the next year he wrote a witty satire on the Jesuits, Ignatius his Conclave. After repeated failures to find secular employment he at last complied with the wish of the King and was ordained in 1615. The reason he himself gave for delay was scruple at accepting orders as a means of making a living. In 1621 he became Dean of St Paul’s, where he preached on all great festivals. He was also a regular preacher at court and a favourite with both James and Charles. During a serious illness in 1623 he wrote his Devotions upon Emergent Occasions (1624), and the famous ‘Hymn to God the Father’. He died in 1631 and was buried in St Paul’s. His monument, showing him standing in his shroud, survived the Great Fire. In the American BCP (1979), and CW, feast day, 31 Mar.

Donne’s secular poetry was mainly written in his youth: satires, love-elegies, and lyrics, though the date of these last is questionable. His religious poetry belongs mostly to his troubled and unhappy middle years of poverty and discouragement. After his ordination his genius found expression in preaching. His fame as a poet suffered eclipse after the Restoration but had a striking revival in the 20th century. His vigorous, dramatic style, his capacity for introspection, and the subtle blend of argument and passion in his love poems and religious poems attracted poets in revolt against the Romantic tradition, most notably T. S. *Eliot. His sermons are masterpieces of the old formal style of preaching, packed with patristic learning and adorned with brilliant images and striking rhetorical effects, but his great strength is as a moral theologian, preaching as a sinner who has found mercy to other sinners. Although the contrast between Jack Donne, the youthful rake, and Dr John Donne, the divine, has been overdrawn, there is no doubt that he was haunted by an intense consciousness of the gravity of sin as he was by the thought of physical death. His great theme as a love-poet was the bliss of union; his great theme as a preacher was God’s mercy. Both themes are given singular force coming from one who wrote so often of a love that was ‘rage’ and not ‘peace’; and knew in experience the meaning of working out one’s salvation with fear and trembling.

F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 503–504.

*A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning

As virtuous men pass mildly away,
And whisper to their souls to go,
Whilst some of their sad friends do say
The breath goes now, and some say, No:

So let us melt, and make no noise,
No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move;
‘Twere profanation of our joys
To tell the laity our love.

Moving of th’ earth brings harms and fears,
Men reckon what it did, and meant;
But trepidation of the spheres,
Though greater far, is innocent.

Dull sublunary lovers’ love
(Whose soul is sense) cannot admit
Absence, because it doth remove
Those things which elemented it.

But we by a love so much refined,
That our selves know not what it is,
Inter-assured of the mind,
Care less, eyes, lips, and hands to miss.

Our two souls therefore, which are one,
Though I must go, endure not yet
A breach, but an expansion,
Like gold to airy thinness beat.

If they be two, they are two so
As stiff twin compasses are two;
Thy soul, the fixed foot, makes no show
To move, but doth, if the other do.

And though it in the center sit,
Yet when the other far doth roam,
It leans and hearkens after it,
And grows erect, as that comes home.

Such wilt thou be to me, who must,
Like th’ other foot, obliquely run;
Thy firmness makes my circle just,
And makes me end where I begun.

 

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.

A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning by John Donne

a
Columns in Temple of Cybele, Sardis

As virtuous men pass mildly away,
And whisper to their souls to go,
Whilst some of their sad friends do say
The breath goes now, and some say, No:

So let us melt, and make no noise,
No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move;
‘Twere profanation of our joys
To tell the laity our love.*

Revelation 3:1–6

1 “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write, ‘These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars: “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. 2 Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God. 3 Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you. 4 You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. 5 He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels. 6 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” ’


RickIf you are fit as a fiddle and life is a bowl of cherries, you’re going to love today’s post.  Great literature is filled with metaphor, and John Donne was the master. He used a literary device called a metaphysical conceit (not to be confused with the sappy Petrarchan variety, mind you).

Confused?  Hang in there because there’s rich discovery if you’re willing to think.  Let’s dig in with our Professor…

In Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me Karen Swallow Prior writes:

John Donne is nothing if not an unusual poet. The small group of seventeenth century English poets with whom he is associated is called the Metaphysical Poets. They were named such because they wedded matters of eternal and spiritual transcendence to the earthly and temporal. In contrast to the Romantics, who preferred the ideal over the real and the spiritual over the physical, the metaphysical school of poets—among whom John Donne was foremost—recognized these realms as distinct but inseparable. Since such a view is more nuanced than the more black-and-white thinking of romanticism, metaphysical poetry is, not surprisingly, rich and complex—and full of wit.

No wonder that the signature literary device of these poets is called a conceit. The conceit is an elaborate metaphor that compares two very unlike things (like love and a compass or, as in another of Donne’s poems, sex and a flea bite) in order to draw out an unseen truth by drawing a surprising similarity. The metaphysical conceit does even more than that; its unlikely metaphors link the physical and temporal realm with the spiritual and eternal realm. Thus the metaphysical conceit embodies the notion of the inseparability of the seemingly antithetical realms of the earthly and the transcendent.

How does the author distinguish between romantic love and transcendent love?

Is there an overlap between the two?

Join the discussion on Facebook HERE 

Logo

John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

 

 

D I G  D E E P E R


John Donne

 

John Donne

(1571/2–1631), *Metaphysical poet and Dean of *St Paul’s. He was a member of a RC family, his mother being the sister of the *Jesuit missionary priest Jasper Heywood, and a granddaughter of a sister of Sir Thomas *More. He entered Hart Hall, Oxford, in 1584 and possibly studied after this at Cambridge, or perhaps abroad. He entered Thavies Inn in 1591 and transferred to Lincoln’s Inn in 1592. During this period he was much exercised over the problem of his religious allegiance and for a time, according to I. *Walton, ‘betrothed himself to no Religion that might give him any other denomination than a Christian’. By 1598 he had certainly conformed to the Church of England. In 1596 he accompanied Essex and Raleigh to Cadiz and in 1597 to the Azores; and in 1598 became private secretary to the Lord Keeper, Sir Thomas Egerton, a post from which he was dismissed four years later owing to his secret marriage to Ann More, his master’s wife’s niece, in 1601. During the next years he and his growing family lived in poverty and dependence on the charity of friends. Around this period he composed but did not publish Biathanatos, a casuistic discussion and defence of suicide. He found employment in controversial writing and in 1610 wrote the Pseudo-Martyr to persuade Catholics that they might take the Oath of Allegiance. In the next year he wrote a witty satire on the Jesuits, Ignatius his Conclave. After repeated failures to find secular employment he at last complied with the wish of the King and was ordained in 1615. The reason he himself gave for delay was scruple at accepting orders as a means of making a living. In 1621 he became Dean of St Paul’s, where he preached on all great festivals. He was also a regular preacher at court and a favourite with both James and Charles. During a serious illness in 1623 he wrote his Devotions upon Emergent Occasions (1624), and the famous ‘Hymn to God the Father’. He died in 1631 and was buried in St Paul’s. His monument, showing him standing in his shroud, survived the Great Fire. In the American BCP (1979), and CW, feast day, 31 Mar.

Donne’s secular poetry was mainly written in his youth: satires, love-elegies, and lyrics, though the date of these last is questionable. His religious poetry belongs mostly to his troubled and unhappy middle years of poverty and discouragement. After his ordination his genius found expression in preaching. His fame as a poet suffered eclipse after the Restoration but had a striking revival in the 20th century. His vigorous, dramatic style, his capacity for introspection, and the subtle blend of argument and passion in his love poems and religious poems attracted poets in revolt against the Romantic tradition, most notably T. S. *Eliot. His sermons are masterpieces of the old formal style of preaching, packed with patristic learning and adorned with brilliant images and striking rhetorical effects, but his great strength is as a moral theologian, preaching as a sinner who has found mercy to other sinners. Although the contrast between Jack Donne, the youthful rake, and Dr John Donne, the divine, has been overdrawn, there is no doubt that he was haunted by an intense consciousness of the gravity of sin as he was by the thought of physical death. His great theme as a love-poet was the bliss of union; his great theme as a preacher was God’s mercy. Both themes are given singular force coming from one who wrote so often of a love that was ‘rage’ and not ‘peace’; and knew in experience the meaning of working out one’s salvation with fear and trembling.

F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 503–504.

*A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning

As virtuous men pass mildly away,
And whisper to their souls to go,
Whilst some of their sad friends do say
The breath goes now, and some say, No:

So let us melt, and make no noise,
No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move;
‘Twere profanation of our joys
To tell the laity our love.

Moving of th’ earth brings harms and fears,
Men reckon what it did, and meant;
But trepidation of the spheres,
Though greater far, is innocent.

Dull sublunary lovers’ love
(Whose soul is sense) cannot admit
Absence, because it doth remove
Those things which elemented it.

But we by a love so much refined,
That our selves know not what it is,
Inter-assured of the mind,
Care less, eyes, lips, and hands to miss.

Our two souls therefore, which are one,
Though I must go, endure not yet
A breach, but an expansion,
Like gold to airy thinness beat.

If they be two, they are two so
As stiff twin compasses are two;
Thy soul, the fixed foot, makes no show
To move, but doth, if the other do.

And though it in the center sit,
Yet when the other far doth roam,
It leans and hearkens after it,
And grows erect, as that comes home.

Such wilt thou be to me, who must,
Like th’ other foot, obliquely run;
Thy firmness makes my circle just,
And makes me end where I begun.

‎HEADER ART

The above picture presents two marble columns, with the acropolis of Sardis as a background. The columns rise about thirty-five feet above the surface and reach about twenty feet under ground. And these are all that is left standing of the temple of Cybele, the mother of Jupiter. The columns are seven feet in diameter, and are fine specimens of Ionic architecture. Sardis was the capital of the ancient Lydian Government, and here resided the rich old Lydian kings. The river Pactolus was famous in old times because, as was said, after heavy rain-storms an abundance of gold was to be found mixed with its sand. But this gold-sand story of the Pactolus may be, after all, little more than a metaphor due to the great wealth of the city. Here, it is said, gold coins were first minted, and it is known that the Greeks came to Sardis for their supplies of gold as early as the sixth century before Christ. It was one of the Lydian kings, Crœsus, who was famed for his great wealth. Sardis was taken by Cyrus, and in the reign of Darius the Ionians, aided by the Athenians, captured Sardis and destroyed most of the city by fire. Christianity was probably introduced here about the time of Paul’s success in Ephesus. The only inhabitants now to be found in Sardis are a few poor Turkish families, who dwell in summer in tents and in stone houses in the winter. See the message of Jesus to the angel of the church at Sardis in Revelation 3:1–6.

 

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.

Real Love Is Like A Compass: Day 3

A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning
John Donne

As virtuous men pass mildly away,
And whisper to their souls to go,
Whilst some of their sad friends do say
The breath goes now, and some say, No:

So let us melt, and make no noise,
No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move;
‘Twere profanation of our joys
To tell the laity our love.*


John Donne was not an easy man to summarize.  His writing was frequently erotic, yet he was a principled clergyman whose heart for God resonated in his work.  Rather than suppressing human sexuality, he brought it front and center.

In Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me Karen Swallow Prior writes:

Seldom does one find reason and passion in as perfect balance as one finds in John Donne—in both his poetry and his life. Donne wrote some of the most honest and powerful devotional works ever written. “Batter my heart, three-person’d God …. and bend your force to break, blow, burn and make me new,” he implores in one of his most famous poems. In another, he chastens Death itself: “Death, be not proud though some have called thee /Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so …” Yet, this same man penned highly erotic poetry, too. At first glance, it seems contradictory, this pious priest writing deeply devotional works, on the one hand, and sly, sexual poems, on the other. But Donne rejects the boundaries wrought by human systems. Donne recognizes that the sexual is spiritual, the religious is physical, and the transcendent is as much a part of reality as the material realm. After all, he was a man whose physical body was placed in prison for his passionate love and his religious faith. For him, being encompasses the immaterial as much as the material.

Do you struggle to think of sex as spiritual?

John 1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

 

 

D I G  D E E P E R


John Donne

 

John Donne

(1571/2–1631), *Metaphysical poet and Dean of *St Paul’s. He was a member of a RC family, his mother being the sister of the *Jesuit missionary priest Jasper Heywood, and a granddaughter of a sister of Sir Thomas *More. He entered Hart Hall, Oxford, in 1584 and possibly studied after this at Cambridge, or perhaps abroad. He entered Thavies Inn in 1591 and transferred to Lincoln’s Inn in 1592. During this period he was much exercised over the problem of his religious allegiance and for a time, according to I. *Walton, ‘betrothed himself to no Religion that might give him any other denomination than a Christian’. By 1598 he had certainly conformed to the Church of England. In 1596 he accompanied Essex and Raleigh to Cadiz and in 1597 to the Azores; and in 1598 became private secretary to the Lord Keeper, Sir Thomas Egerton, a post from which he was dismissed four years later owing to his secret marriage to Ann More, his master’s wife’s niece, in 1601. During the next years he and his growing family lived in poverty and dependence on the charity of friends. Around this period he composed but did not publish Biathanatos, a casuistic discussion and defence of suicide. He found employment in controversial writing and in 1610 wrote the Pseudo-Martyr to persuade Catholics that they might take the Oath of Allegiance. In the next year he wrote a witty satire on the Jesuits, Ignatius his Conclave. After repeated failures to find secular employment he at last complied with the wish of the King and was ordained in 1615. The reason he himself gave for delay was scruple at accepting orders as a means of making a living. In 1621 he became Dean of St Paul’s, where he preached on all great festivals. He was also a regular preacher at court and a favourite with both James and Charles. During a serious illness in 1623 he wrote his Devotions upon Emergent Occasions (1624), and the famous ‘Hymn to God the Father’. He died in 1631 and was buried in St Paul’s. His monument, showing him standing in his shroud, survived the Great Fire. In the American BCP (1979), and CW, feast day, 31 Mar.

Donne’s secular poetry was mainly written in his youth: satires, love-elegies, and lyrics, though the date of these last is questionable. His religious poetry belongs mostly to his troubled and unhappy middle years of poverty and discouragement. After his ordination his genius found expression in preaching. His fame as a poet suffered eclipse after the Restoration but had a striking revival in the 20th century. His vigorous, dramatic style, his capacity for introspection, and the subtle blend of argument and passion in his love poems and religious poems attracted poets in revolt against the Romantic tradition, most notably T. S. *Eliot. His sermons are masterpieces of the old formal style of preaching, packed with patristic learning and adorned with brilliant images and striking rhetorical effects, but his great strength is as a moral theologian, preaching as a sinner who has found mercy to other sinners. Although the contrast between Jack Donne, the youthful rake, and Dr John Donne, the divine, has been overdrawn, there is no doubt that he was haunted by an intense consciousness of the gravity of sin as he was by the thought of physical death. His great theme as a love-poet was the bliss of union; his great theme as a preacher was God’s mercy. Both themes are given singular force coming from one who wrote so often of a love that was ‘rage’ and not ‘peace’; and knew in experience the meaning of working out one’s salvation with fear and trembling.

F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 503–504.

*A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning

As virtuous men pass mildly away,
And whisper to their souls to go,
Whilst some of their sad friends do say
The breath goes now, and some say, No:

So let us melt, and make no noise,
No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move;
‘Twere profanation of our joys
To tell the laity our love.

Moving of th’ earth brings harms and fears,
Men reckon what it did, and meant;
But trepidation of the spheres,
Though greater far, is innocent.

Dull sublunary lovers’ love
(Whose soul is sense) cannot admit
Absence, because it doth remove
Those things which elemented it.

But we by a love so much refined,
That our selves know not what it is,
Inter-assured of the mind,
Care less, eyes, lips, and hands to miss.

Our two souls therefore, which are one,
Though I must go, endure not yet
A breach, but an expansion,
Like gold to airy thinness beat.

If they be two, they are two so
As stiff twin compasses are two;
Thy soul, the fixed foot, makes no show
To move, but doth, if the other do.

And though it in the center sit,
Yet when the other far doth roam,
It leans and hearkens after it,
And grows erect, as that comes home.

Such wilt thou be to me, who must,
Like th’ other foot, obliquely run;
Thy firmness makes my circle just,
And makes me end where I begun.

 

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.

Real Love Is Like A Compass: Day 2

A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning
John Donne

As virtuous men pass mildly away,
And whisper to their souls to go,
Whilst some of their sad friends do say
The breath goes now, and some say, No:

So let us melt, and make no noise,
No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move;
‘Twere profanation of our joys
To tell the laity our love.*


Passion and Reason are often contrasted as enemies.  This is a propositional fallacy, but it’s common to argue “A, therefore not B.”  Sometimes theologians are the worst perpetrators.   Truth isn’t always tidy and rarely lends itself to generalization, but thankfully, great literature comes to the rescue to spur us out of bumper-sticker ideology.

In Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me Karen Swallow Prior writes:

Passion wedded to reason—a rare marriage indeed—makes the love described in “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning” transcendent. Donne’s view of love, as expressed in this poem and throughout his works, exceeds the formulaic boundaries of romanticism, in which love exists only in the ideal and dissipates upon its manifestation in the real. In contrast, for Donne, love does not founder in the ground of the real, but rather takes root, opens up and flourishes into infinite possibilities that defy the old formulas.

How does Passion and Reason coexist in flourishing relationships ?

John 1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

 

 

D I G  D E E P E R


John Donne

 

John Donne

(1571/2–1631), *Metaphysical poet and Dean of *St Paul’s. He was a member of a RC family, his mother being the sister of the *Jesuit missionary priest Jasper Heywood, and a granddaughter of a sister of Sir Thomas *More. He entered Hart Hall, Oxford, in 1584 and possibly studied after this at Cambridge, or perhaps abroad. He entered Thavies Inn in 1591 and transferred to Lincoln’s Inn in 1592. During this period he was much exercised over the problem of his religious allegiance and for a time, according to I. *Walton, ‘betrothed himself to no Religion that might give him any other denomination than a Christian’. By 1598 he had certainly conformed to the Church of England. In 1596 he accompanied Essex and Raleigh to Cadiz and in 1597 to the Azores; and in 1598 became private secretary to the Lord Keeper, Sir Thomas Egerton, a post from which he was dismissed four years later owing to his secret marriage to Ann More, his master’s wife’s niece, in 1601. During the next years he and his growing family lived in poverty and dependence on the charity of friends. Around this period he composed but did not publish Biathanatos, a casuistic discussion and defence of suicide. He found employment in controversial writing and in 1610 wrote the Pseudo-Martyr to persuade Catholics that they might take the Oath of Allegiance. In the next year he wrote a witty satire on the Jesuits, Ignatius his Conclave. After repeated failures to find secular employment he at last complied with the wish of the King and was ordained in 1615. The reason he himself gave for delay was scruple at accepting orders as a means of making a living. In 1621 he became Dean of St Paul’s, where he preached on all great festivals. He was also a regular preacher at court and a favourite with both James and Charles. During a serious illness in 1623 he wrote his Devotions upon Emergent Occasions (1624), and the famous ‘Hymn to God the Father’. He died in 1631 and was buried in St Paul’s. His monument, showing him standing in his shroud, survived the Great Fire. In the American BCP (1979), and CW, feast day, 31 Mar.

Donne’s secular poetry was mainly written in his youth: satires, love-elegies, and lyrics, though the date of these last is questionable. His religious poetry belongs mostly to his troubled and unhappy middle years of poverty and discouragement. After his ordination his genius found expression in preaching. His fame as a poet suffered eclipse after the Restoration but had a striking revival in the 20th century. His vigorous, dramatic style, his capacity for introspection, and the subtle blend of argument and passion in his love poems and religious poems attracted poets in revolt against the Romantic tradition, most notably T. S. *Eliot. His sermons are masterpieces of the old formal style of preaching, packed with patristic learning and adorned with brilliant images and striking rhetorical effects, but his great strength is as a moral theologian, preaching as a sinner who has found mercy to other sinners. Although the contrast between Jack Donne, the youthful rake, and Dr John Donne, the divine, has been overdrawn, there is no doubt that he was haunted by an intense consciousness of the gravity of sin as he was by the thought of physical death. His great theme as a love-poet was the bliss of union; his great theme as a preacher was God’s mercy. Both themes are given singular force coming from one who wrote so often of a love that was ‘rage’ and not ‘peace’; and knew in experience the meaning of working out one’s salvation with fear and trembling.

F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 503–504.

*A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning

As virtuous men pass mildly away,
And whisper to their souls to go,
Whilst some of their sad friends do say
The breath goes now, and some say, No:

So let us melt, and make no noise,
No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move;
‘Twere profanation of our joys
To tell the laity our love.

Moving of th’ earth brings harms and fears,
Men reckon what it did, and meant;
But trepidation of the spheres,
Though greater far, is innocent.

Dull sublunary lovers’ love
(Whose soul is sense) cannot admit
Absence, because it doth remove
Those things which elemented it.

But we by a love so much refined,
That our selves know not what it is,
Inter-assured of the mind,
Care less, eyes, lips, and hands to miss.

Our two souls therefore, which are one,
Though I must go, endure not yet
A breach, but an expansion,
Like gold to airy thinness beat.

If they be two, they are two so
As stiff twin compasses are two;
Thy soul, the fixed foot, makes no show
To move, but doth, if the other do.

And though it in the center sit,
Yet when the other far doth roam,
It leans and hearkens after it,
And grows erect, as that comes home.

Such wilt thou be to me, who must,
Like th’ other foot, obliquely run;
Thy firmness makes my circle just,
And makes me end where I begun.

 

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.

Real Love Is Like A Compass: Day 1

A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning
John Donne

As virtuous men pass mildly away,
And whisper to their souls to go,
Whilst some of their sad friends do say
The breath goes now, and some say, No:

So let us melt, and make no noise,
No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move;
‘Twere profanation of our joys
To tell the laity our love.*


RickThis week we shift our attention to John Donne and his metaphysical poetry.  We’ll spend some time discussing metaphysics later this week, but let’s begin with how his view of love differs from the one we saw in Madame Bovary.  If there we saw the fragility of romanticism, here we find the durability of passion.

In Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me Karen Swallow Prior writes:

Yes, Madame Bovary warned me of the dangers of romanticism. But romanticism and passion are not the same. The idealism of romanticism certainly includes strong passion. But passion is much more than romance. Passion has two meanings: suffering and enduring. The first meaning is the one associated with romantic love. It’s the passion emanating from desire, a desire whose source lies in the pursuit itself and wanes once the object of desire is obtained. This is why romances, comedies, and novels traditionally end with the wedding: the object of love has been conquered and whatever follows is insignificant to the story.

But the other aspect of passion, one that is all but forgotten is endurance. The word endure has come to have primarily negative connotations, but this should not be. Something that is durable is of high quality. It continues to exist through the passage of time. It is good and to be valued. A love that cannot endure is no love at all. Real love—and true passion—endures. And it endures much. It is based on more than fleeting feelings or a desire that is subject to passing moods, fancies, and appetites. It is guided by reason because reason knows what feelings often do not.

This chapter presents a version of real love that is markedly different from the romanticized view of love in the previous chapter.  What are some of the differences?

John 1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

 

 

D I G  D E E P E R


John Donne

 

John Donne

(1571/2–1631), *Metaphysical poet and Dean of *St Paul’s. He was a member of a RC family, his mother being the sister of the *Jesuit missionary priest Jasper Heywood, and a granddaughter of a sister of Sir Thomas *More. He entered Hart Hall, Oxford, in 1584 and possibly studied after this at Cambridge, or perhaps abroad. He entered Thavies Inn in 1591 and transferred to Lincoln’s Inn in 1592. During this period he was much exercised over the problem of his religious allegiance and for a time, according to I. *Walton, ‘betrothed himself to no Religion that might give him any other denomination than a Christian’. By 1598 he had certainly conformed to the Church of England. In 1596 he accompanied Essex and Raleigh to Cadiz and in 1597 to the Azores; and in 1598 became private secretary to the Lord Keeper, Sir Thomas Egerton, a post from which he was dismissed four years later owing to his secret marriage to Ann More, his master’s wife’s niece, in 1601. During the next years he and his growing family lived in poverty and dependence on the charity of friends. Around this period he composed but did not publish Biathanatos, a casuistic discussion and defence of suicide. He found employment in controversial writing and in 1610 wrote the Pseudo-Martyr to persuade Catholics that they might take the Oath of Allegiance. In the next year he wrote a witty satire on the Jesuits, Ignatius his Conclave. After repeated failures to find secular employment he at last complied with the wish of the King and was ordained in 1615. The reason he himself gave for delay was scruple at accepting orders as a means of making a living. In 1621 he became Dean of St Paul’s, where he preached on all great festivals. He was also a regular preacher at court and a favourite with both James and Charles. During a serious illness in 1623 he wrote his Devotions upon Emergent Occasions (1624), and the famous ‘Hymn to God the Father’. He died in 1631 and was buried in St Paul’s. His monument, showing him standing in his shroud, survived the Great Fire. In the American BCP (1979), and CW, feast day, 31 Mar.

Donne’s secular poetry was mainly written in his youth: satires, love-elegies, and lyrics, though the date of these last is questionable. His religious poetry belongs mostly to his troubled and unhappy middle years of poverty and discouragement. After his ordination his genius found expression in preaching. His fame as a poet suffered eclipse after the Restoration but had a striking revival in the 20th century. His vigorous, dramatic style, his capacity for introspection, and the subtle blend of argument and passion in his love poems and religious poems attracted poets in revolt against the Romantic tradition, most notably T. S. *Eliot. His sermons are masterpieces of the old formal style of preaching, packed with patristic learning and adorned with brilliant images and striking rhetorical effects, but his great strength is as a moral theologian, preaching as a sinner who has found mercy to other sinners. Although the contrast between Jack Donne, the youthful rake, and Dr John Donne, the divine, has been overdrawn, there is no doubt that he was haunted by an intense consciousness of the gravity of sin as he was by the thought of physical death. His great theme as a love-poet was the bliss of union; his great theme as a preacher was God’s mercy. Both themes are given singular force coming from one who wrote so often of a love that was ‘rage’ and not ‘peace’; and knew in experience the meaning of working out one’s salvation with fear and trembling.

F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 503–504.

*A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning

As virtuous men pass mildly away,
And whisper to their souls to go,
Whilst some of their sad friends do say
The breath goes now, and some say, No:

So let us melt, and make no noise,
No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move;
‘Twere profanation of our joys
To tell the laity our love.

Moving of th’ earth brings harms and fears,
Men reckon what it did, and meant;
But trepidation of the spheres,
Though greater far, is innocent.

Dull sublunary lovers’ love
(Whose soul is sense) cannot admit
Absence, because it doth remove
Those things which elemented it.

But we by a love so much refined,
That our selves know not what it is,
Inter-assured of the mind,
Care less, eyes, lips, and hands to miss.

Our two souls therefore, which are one,
Though I must go, endure not yet
A breach, but an expansion,
Like gold to airy thinness beat.

If they be two, they are two so
As stiff twin compasses are two;
Thy soul, the fixed foot, makes no show
To move, but doth, if the other do.

And though it in the center sit,
Yet when the other far doth roam,
It leans and hearkens after it,
And grows erect, as that comes home.

Such wilt thou be to me, who must,
Like th’ other foot, obliquely run;
Thy firmness makes my circle just,
And makes me end where I begun.

 

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.

The Fate Of The Romantic: Day 5

Madame Bovary
Gustave Flaubert

“At the bottom of her heart, however, she was waiting for something to happen. Like shipwrecked sailors, she turned despairing eyes upon the solitude of her life, seeking afar off some white sail in the mists of the horizon. She did not know what this chance would be, what wind would bring it her, towards what shore it would drive her, if it would be a shallop or a three-decker, laden with anguish or full of bliss to the portholes. But each morning, as she awoke, she hoped it would come that day; she listened to every sound, sprang up with a start, wondered that it did not come; then at sunset, always more saddened, she longed for the morrow.”


Great literature brings many benefits to attentive readers. One of them is vicarious learning. Masterful works of fiction like Madame Bovary transport us to a sphere of imagination that not only allows but enhances our self-awareness. As we identify with richly drawn characters, we likewise see our lives more clearly.

In Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me Karen Swallow Prior writes:

Emma Bovary’s story is about what happens to a woman who builds a life around false images and undergoes the inevitable disappointments for doing so. My story about Madame Bovary is about what didn’t happen. Madame Bovary prevented me from cheating. I don’t mean I would have taken a lover if I’d not been warned by her story in time. Although, who knows? Maybe I would have…

Is there any book you’ve read that has transformed your thinking and life as Madame Bovary did for the author?

John 1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

 

 

D I G  D E E P E R


Gustave Flaubert

Writing was not easy for the French novelist Gustave Flaubert. Because of his concern for form and precise detail, he often struggled for days searching for le seul mot juste (“the exactly right word”). He took five years to write Madame Bovary, his best-known work.

Gustave Flaubert was born on Dec. 12, 1821, in Rouen, France, where his father, Achille, was chief surgeon at the Hôtel-Dieu (hospital).  His mother, Caroline Fleuriot, was the daughter of a doctor. Gustave was one of six children, only three of whom survived.

While a student in Rouen, Gustave showed an early interest in literature. He and his friends acted in plays he had written when he was only 11. His first published work, Song of Death, appeared in the review Le Colibri in 1837.

At the insistence of his father, Flaubert went to Paris in 1841 to study law. In 1843, having failed his examinations and suffering from the onset of a nervous disorder, he decided to devote all his time to literature. After the deaths of his father and sister, in 1846, a sizable inheritance enabled him to retire to the family estate at Croisset to write.

Flaubert sought to make literature a pure art. His aim was to write faultless, meticulously chiseled prose. “My head reels and throat aches with chasing after, slogging over, delving into, turning around, groping after, and bellowing, in a hundred thousand different ways, a sentence that I’ve at last finished,” he said while working on Madame Bovary.

Published in serial form in 1856, it tells the story of Emma Bovary, an irresponsible, selfish, extravagant young woman who, involved in debt and intrigue, poisons herself. The novel caused such a sensation in France that its author was put on trial for the alleged immorality of the book.

For Madame Bovary, Flaubert took a commonplace story of adultery and made of it a book that continues to be read because of its profound humanity. The story is that of Emma, a girl in provincial France who eagerly marries her father’s physician, country doctor Charles Bovary, to escape life on the farm. Emma soon comes to discover, though, that Charles is far from the prince that she had hoped for and that married life is quite unbearable. Disgusted and frustrated, Emma begins to act out her romantic fantasies and embarks on an ultimately disastrous love affair.

Madame Bovary cost the author five years of hard work. Believing that there was “no such thing as a synonym,” Flaubert worked and reworked the book, searching for exactly the right word to describe every situation. The novel, with the subtitle Moeurs de province (Provincial Customs), eventually appeared in installments in his friend Maxime du Camp’s journal Revue de Parisfrom Oct. 1 to Dec. 15, 1856. The French government then brought the author to trial on the ground of his novel’s alleged immorality, and he narrowly escaped conviction. With its unrelenting objectivity the novel marked the beginning of a new age of realism in literature.

Compton’s Encyclopedia (Chicago, IL: Compton’s Encyclopedia, 2015).

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.

The Fate Of The Romantic: Day 4

Madame Bovary
Gustave Flaubert

“At the bottom of her heart, however, she was waiting for something to happen. Like shipwrecked sailors, she turned despairing eyes upon the solitude of her life, seeking afar off some white sail in the mists of the horizon. She did not know what this chance would be, what wind would bring it her, towards what shore it would drive her, if it would be a shallop or a three-decker, laden with anguish or full of bliss to the portholes. But each morning, as she awoke, she hoped it would come that day; she listened to every sound, sprang up with a start, wondered that it did not come; then at sunset, always more saddened, she longed for the morrow.”


I was a lucky boy.  My parents had been married for 20 years when I was born and were well settled into a happy life.  That’s not to say their life was problem free, but time had seasoned their relationship into something durable, something that could take a punch.  As remarkable as that was, it was nothing compared to what I witnessed at the end when their devotion of 63 years was stronger than the magic of any fairytale.

In Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me Karen Swallow Prior writes:

A longtime friend who has been married almost as long as I have and who had a lot of tough things to work out in her marriage relationship once told me that the thing she admires most about my marriage is that we accept one another for who we are; we don’t try to change each other. I think that’s owing, at least in part, to Madame Bovary.

How can we do a better job of advancing the idea that real life, even with its disappointments, is better than fantasy?

John 1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

 

 

D I G  D E E P E R


Gustave Flaubert

Writing was not easy for the French novelist Gustave Flaubert. Because of his concern for form and precise detail, he often struggled for days searching for le seul mot juste (“the exactly right word”). He took five years to write Madame Bovary, his best-known work.

Gustave Flaubert was born on Dec. 12, 1821, in Rouen, France, where his father, Achille, was chief surgeon at the Hôtel-Dieu (hospital).  His mother, Caroline Fleuriot, was the daughter of a doctor. Gustave was one of six children, only three of whom survived.

While a student in Rouen, Gustave showed an early interest in literature. He and his friends acted in plays he had written when he was only 11. His first published work, Song of Death, appeared in the review Le Colibri in 1837.

At the insistence of his father, Flaubert went to Paris in 1841 to study law. In 1843, having failed his examinations and suffering from the onset of a nervous disorder, he decided to devote all his time to literature. After the deaths of his father and sister, in 1846, a sizable inheritance enabled him to retire to the family estate at Croisset to write.

Flaubert sought to make literature a pure art. His aim was to write faultless, meticulously chiseled prose. “My head reels and throat aches with chasing after, slogging over, delving into, turning around, groping after, and bellowing, in a hundred thousand different ways, a sentence that I’ve at last finished,” he said while working on Madame Bovary.

Published in serial form in 1856, it tells the story of Emma Bovary, an irresponsible, selfish, extravagant young woman who, involved in debt and intrigue, poisons herself. The novel caused such a sensation in France that its author was put on trial for the alleged immorality of the book.

For Madame Bovary, Flaubert took a commonplace story of adultery and made of it a book that continues to be read because of its profound humanity. The story is that of Emma, a girl in provincial France who eagerly marries her father’s physician, country doctor Charles Bovary, to escape life on the farm. Emma soon comes to discover, though, that Charles is far from the prince that she had hoped for and that married life is quite unbearable. Disgusted and frustrated, Emma begins to act out her romantic fantasies and embarks on an ultimately disastrous love affair.

Madame Bovary cost the author five years of hard work. Believing that there was “no such thing as a synonym,” Flaubert worked and reworked the book, searching for exactly the right word to describe every situation. The novel, with the subtitle Moeurs de province (Provincial Customs), eventually appeared in installments in his friend Maxime du Camp’s journal Revue de Parisfrom Oct. 1 to Dec. 15, 1856. The French government then brought the author to trial on the ground of his novel’s alleged immorality, and he narrowly escaped conviction. With its unrelenting objectivity the novel marked the beginning of a new age of realism in literature.

Compton’s Encyclopedia (Chicago, IL: Compton’s Encyclopedia, 2015).

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.

The Fate Of The Romantic: Day 3

Madame Bovary
Gustave Flaubert

“At the bottom of her heart, however, she was waiting for something to happen. Like shipwrecked sailors, she turned despairing eyes upon the solitude of her life, seeking afar off some white sail in the mists of the horizon. She did not know what this chance would be, what wind would bring it her, towards what shore it would drive her, if it would be a shallop or a three-decker, laden with anguish or full of bliss to the portholes. But each morning, as she awoke, she hoped it would come that day; she listened to every sound, sprang up with a start, wondered that it did not come; then at sunset, always more saddened, she longed for the morrow.”


The honeymoon is over.  Ever said that?  The cliché means the glow of idealized infatuation has been rudely tarnished by some aspect of harsh reality.  It happens in all relationships that begin with expectations that are humanly unsustainable.  Sooner or later our flaws emerge and reckoning must be done.

In Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me Karen Swallow Prior writes:

If she were able to express her discontentment perhaps she might have overcome it. Indeed she thinks that if Charles could only understand her, even if only in part, her heart might yield “a sudden bounty.” But she does not have the words to express her yearnings and disappointments. Unreleased, they simmer. As the intimacy of married life with her husband deepens, “the greater became the gulf that kept them apart.” For intimacy with Charles reveals that the doctor who successfully treated her father’s bone fracture—the occasion of Emma and Charles’ meeting—is, in fact, a man, and a rather ordinary, dull, and flawed one at that.

The fact that no man is able to satisfy Emma reveals that even if Charles had been a bit less, or even a lot less, dull, it would not have been enough. Emma’s discovery that her husband is a real person, not just an image, is a discovery most of us must undertake. And it’s a discovery that is made not just once and for all, but—particularly within the context of marriage—over and over, sometimes on a daily basis, as I had to learn for myself.

How have “fairy tale” versions of life you might have once believed been challenged and changed by real life?

John 1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

 

 

D I G  D E E P E R


Gustave Flaubert

Writing was not easy for the French novelist Gustave Flaubert. Because of his concern for form and precise detail, he often struggled for days searching for le seul mot juste (“the exactly right word”). He took five years to write Madame Bovary, his best-known work.

Gustave Flaubert was born on Dec. 12, 1821, in Rouen, France, where his father, Achille, was chief surgeon at the Hôtel-Dieu (hospital).  His mother, Caroline Fleuriot, was the daughter of a doctor. Gustave was one of six children, only three of whom survived.

While a student in Rouen, Gustave showed an early interest in literature. He and his friends acted in plays he had written when he was only 11. His first published work, Song of Death, appeared in the review Le Colibri in 1837.

At the insistence of his father, Flaubert went to Paris in 1841 to study law. In 1843, having failed his examinations and suffering from the onset of a nervous disorder, he decided to devote all his time to literature. After the deaths of his father and sister, in 1846, a sizable inheritance enabled him to retire to the family estate at Croisset to write.

Flaubert sought to make literature a pure art. His aim was to write faultless, meticulously chiseled prose. “My head reels and throat aches with chasing after, slogging over, delving into, turning around, groping after, and bellowing, in a hundred thousand different ways, a sentence that I’ve at last finished,” he said while working on Madame Bovary.

Published in serial form in 1856, it tells the story of Emma Bovary, an irresponsible, selfish, extravagant young woman who, involved in debt and intrigue, poisons herself. The novel caused such a sensation in France that its author was put on trial for the alleged immorality of the book.

For Madame Bovary, Flaubert took a commonplace story of adultery and made of it a book that continues to be read because of its profound humanity. The story is that of Emma, a girl in provincial France who eagerly marries her father’s physician, country doctor Charles Bovary, to escape life on the farm. Emma soon comes to discover, though, that Charles is far from the prince that she had hoped for and that married life is quite unbearable. Disgusted and frustrated, Emma begins to act out her romantic fantasies and embarks on an ultimately disastrous love affair.

Madame Bovary cost the author five years of hard work. Believing that there was “no such thing as a synonym,” Flaubert worked and reworked the book, searching for exactly the right word to describe every situation. The novel, with the subtitle Moeurs de province (Provincial Customs), eventually appeared in installments in his friend Maxime du Camp’s journal Revue de Parisfrom Oct. 1 to Dec. 15, 1856. The French government then brought the author to trial on the ground of his novel’s alleged immorality, and he narrowly escaped conviction. With its unrelenting objectivity the novel marked the beginning of a new age of realism in literature.

Compton’s Encyclopedia (Chicago, IL: Compton’s Encyclopedia, 2015).

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.

The Fate Of The Romantic

Madame Bovary
Gustave Flaubert

“At the bottom of her heart, however, she was waiting for something to happen. Like shipwrecked sailors, she turned despairing eyes upon the solitude of her life, seeking afar off some white sail in the mists of the horizon. She did not know what this chance would be, what wind would bring it her, towards what shore it would drive her, if it would be a shallop or a three-decker, laden with anguish or full of bliss to the portholes. But each morning, as she awoke, she hoped it would come that day; she listened to every sound, sprang up with a start, wondered that it did not come; then at sunset, always more saddened, she longed for the morrow.”


Rick WilcoxGustave Flaubert once said he was “addicted to the disease of Romanticism” in his youth and that he wrote Madame Bovary as a form of “self-exorcism.”

In Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me Karen Swallow Prior writes:

Such romanticism isn’t limited to silly teenage girls. Romanticism is a form of idealism. Real relationships are grounded in life. Not the kind of idealism that hopes for the best, but rather one that refuses to see and accept reality. Idealism sees the world in terms of extremes: good/bad, black/white, ugly/beautiful. The old cowboy Westerns, a genre of romance, don’t have any cowboys in gray; they all don either black hats or white. The same for that more modern romance, Star Wars. And, of course, in the original romances, centered on the Arthurian legends of the Knights of the Round Table, the men were either gallants or giants, and the women either damsels in distress or crones. Some women were both—not at the same time, but one or the other until some magic revealed their true identity, like the beast in Beauty and the Beast. The most common modern romances are the Harlequin kind. And even more recent versions of these stories—those that add vampires or eroticism of other twists—are simply variations of the same old formula in which a man rescues a woman (if only from herself), and she transforms him in return. A sure recipe for disaster when such expectations are carried over into real life.

What are some other examples of romantic thinking today?  What are the sources of these idealized images?

John 1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

D I G  D E E P E R


Gustave Flaubert and Madame Bovary

Gustave Flaubert

Writing was not easy for the French novelist Gustave Flaubert. Because of his concern for form and precise detail, he often struggled for days searching for le seul mot juste (“the exactly right word”). He took five years to write Madame Bovary, his best-known work.

Gustave Flaubert was born on Dec. 12, 1821, in Rouen, France, where his father, Achille, was chief surgeon at the Hôtel-Dieu (hospital).  His mother, Caroline Fleuriot, was the daughter of a doctor. Gustave was one of six children, only three of whom survived.

While a student in Rouen, Gustave showed an early interest in literature. He and his friends acted in plays he had written when he was only 11. His first published work, Song of Death, appeared in the review Le Colibri in 1837.

At the insistence of his father, Flaubert went to Paris in 1841 to study law. In 1843, having failed his examinations and suffering from the onset of a nervous disorder, he decided to devote all his time to literature. After the deaths of his father and sister, in 1846, a sizable inheritance enabled him to retire to the family estate at Croisset to write.

Flaubert sought to make literature a pure art. His aim was to write faultless, meticulously chiseled prose. “My head reels and throat aches with chasing after, slogging over, delving into, turning around, groping after, and bellowing, in a hundred thousand different ways, a sentence that I’ve at last finished,” he said while working on Madame Bovary.

Published in serial form in 1856, it tells the story of Emma Bovary, an irresponsible, selfish, extravagant young woman who, involved in debt and intrigue, poisons herself. The novel caused such a sensation in France that its author was put on trial for the alleged immorality of the book.

For Madame Bovary, Flaubert took a commonplace story of adultery and made of it a book that continues to be read because of its profound humanity. The story is that of Emma, a girl in provincial France who eagerly marries her father’s physician, country doctor Charles Bovary, to escape life on the farm. Emma soon comes to discover, though, that Charles is far from the prince that she had hoped for and that married life is quite unbearable. Disgusted and frustrated, Emma begins to act out her romantic fantasies and embarks on an ultimately disastrous love affair.

Madame Bovary cost the author five years of hard work. Believing that there was “no such thing as a synonym,” Flaubert worked and reworked the book, searching for exactly the right word to describe every situation. The novel, with the subtitle Moeurs de province (Provincial Customs), eventually appeared in installments in his friend Maxime du Camp’s journal Revue de Parisfrom Oct. 1 to Dec. 15, 1856. The French government then brought the author to trial on the ground of his novel’s alleged immorality, and he narrowly escaped conviction. With its unrelenting objectivity the novel marked the beginning of a new age of realism in literature.

Compton’s Encyclopedia (Chicago, IL: Compton’s Encyclopedia, 2015).

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.

The Fate Of The Romantic: Day 1

Madame Bovary
Gustave Flaubert

“At the bottom of her heart, however, she was waiting for something to happen. Like shipwrecked sailors, she turned despairing eyes upon the solitude of her life, seeking afar off some white sail in the mists of the horizon. She did not know what this chance would be, what wind would bring it her, towards what shore it would drive her, if it would be a shallop or a three-decker, laden with anguish or full of bliss to the portholes. But each morning, as she awoke, she hoped it would come that day; she listened to every sound, sprang up with a start, wondered that it did not come; then at sunset, always more saddened, she longed for the morrow.”


This week we turn to Gustave Flaubert and his masterpiece Madame Bovary.  Have you read it?  Though it was written almost 200 years ago, the story is fresh and current.  It tells of a young girl whose romantic dreams entice her to a life that ultimately fails her.  Relationships are built on the hard work of everyday life, and while matches can still seem to be “made in heaven,” they are nonetheless comprised of imperfect people.

In Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me Karen Swallow Prior writes:

For a long time, that’s how I thought it was to be: feelings as the measure of love. Excitement. Pleasure. Approval. Smoothness, not awkwardness. I was no different from other girls in this respect. Conditioned by popular culture, movies, television, and even many lesser books, I had come, like most young girls, to expect love to be something more like balloons in the air than daisies in the ground.

The author’s view of the romantic worldview is negative.  Do you agree or disagree with this assessment?  Does a romantic worldview have positive aspects that are overlooked here?

John 1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

 

 

D I G  D E E P E R


Gustave Flaubert and Madame Bovary

Gustave Flaubert

Writing was not easy for the French novelist Gustave Flaubert. Because of his concern for form and precise detail, he often struggled for days searching for le seul mot juste (“the exactly right word”). He took five years to write Madame Bovary, his best-known work.

Gustave Flaubert was born on Dec. 12, 1821, in Rouen, France, where his father, Achille, was chief surgeon at the Hôtel-Dieu (hospital).  His mother, Caroline Fleuriot, was the daughter of a doctor. Gustave was one of six children, only three of whom survived.

While a student in Rouen, Gustave showed an early interest in literature. He and his friends acted in plays he had written when he was only 11. His first published work, Song of Death, appeared in the review Le Colibri in 1837.

At the insistence of his father, Flaubert went to Paris in 1841 to study law. In 1843, having failed his examinations and suffering from the onset of a nervous disorder, he decided to devote all his time to literature. After the deaths of his father and sister, in 1846, a sizable inheritance enabled him to retire to the family estate at Croisset to write.

Flaubert sought to make literature a pure art. His aim was to write faultless, meticulously chiseled prose. “My head reels and throat aches with chasing after, slogging over, delving into, turning around, groping after, and bellowing, in a hundred thousand different ways, a sentence that I’ve at last finished,” he said while working on Madame Bovary.

Published in serial form in 1856, it tells the story of Emma Bovary, an irresponsible, selfish, extravagant young woman who, involved in debt and intrigue, poisons herself. The novel caused such a sensation in France that its author was put on trial for the alleged immorality of the book.

For Madame Bovary, Flaubert took a commonplace story of adultery and made of it a book that continues to be read because of its profound humanity. The story is that of Emma, a girl in provincial France who eagerly marries her father’s physician, country doctor Charles Bovary, to escape life on the farm. Emma soon comes to discover, though, that Charles is far from the prince that she had hoped for and that married life is quite unbearable. Disgusted and frustrated, Emma begins to act out her romantic fantasies and embarks on an ultimately disastrous love affair.

Madame Bovary cost the author five years of hard work. Believing that there was “no such thing as a synonym,” Flaubert worked and reworked the book, searching for exactly the right word to describe every situation. The novel, with the subtitle Moeurs de province (Provincial Customs), eventually appeared in installments in his friend Maxime du Camp’s journal Revue de Parisfrom Oct. 1 to Dec. 15, 1856. The French government then brought the author to trial on the ground of his novel’s alleged immorality, and he narrowly escaped conviction. With its unrelenting objectivity the novel marked the beginning of a new age of realism in literature.

Compton’s Encyclopedia (Chicago, IL: Compton’s Encyclopedia, 2015).

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.

Sleep Well My Friend

“Why am I trying to become what I don’t want to be when all I want is out there, waiting for me the minute I say I know who I am.” 

~Arthur Miller, from Death of a Salesman


RickHave you ever gone to bed after a long hard day at work and were just so mentally fatigued that you just could not sleep? Then perhaps when you did it was fitful and absent of rest. There might have been other times when you worked hard at something you love, like gardening for instance, and then when to bed completely physically spent. That night you went to sleep quickly and slept like a baby.

What’s the difference?

In the first circumstance, you were fighting someone else’s battle for someone else’s dream.

In Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me Karen Swallow Prior writes:

Despite this realization, Willy still doesn’t quite get it. But Biff does. He says to his brother Happy about their father, “The man don’t know who we are!” Then Biff confronts Willy while Willy is outside, madly planting seeds. Biff says to Willy, “We never told the truth for ten minutes in this house!” Biff goes on to tell Willy that Willy had so blown Biff full of “hot air” while he was growing up—the hot air of unrealistic expectations and false illusions—that Biff never understood what was required in order to achieve real success. But now, at last, Biff realizes who he is—and who he is not—and that “all I want is out there, waiting for me the minute I say I know who I am!”

Biff’s enlightenment is a good argument that it is he—not Willy—who is the play’s tragic hero. Biff has suffered loss—his father, for one—but he has, in accordance with the classical definition of the tragic hero, experienced illumination, too. He recognizes his father’s fatal error: following someone else’s calling instead of his own.

What kind of life do you dream for?

John 1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

 

 

D I G  D E E P E R


Arthur Miller

Arthur Miller

Arthur Asher Miller, (born October 17, 1915, New York, New York, U.S.—died February 10, 2005, Roxbury, Connecticut) American playwright, who combined social awareness with a searching concern for his characters’ inner lives. He is best known for Death of a Salesman (1949).

Miller was shaped by the Great Depression, which spelled financial ruin for his father, a small manufacturer, and demonstrated to the young Miller the insecurity of modern existence. After graduation from high school he worked in a warehouse. With the money he earned he attended the University of Michigan (B.A., 1938), where he began to write plays. His first public success was with Focus (1945; filmed 1962 [made-for-television]), a novel about anti-Semitism. All My Sons (1947; filmed 1948), a drama about a manufacturer of faulty war materials that strongly reflects the influence of Henrik Ibsen, was his first important play. Death of a Salesman became one of the most famous American plays of its period. It is the tragedy of Willy Loman, a small man destroyed by false values that are in large part the values of his society. Miller received a Pulitzer Prize for the play, which was later adapted for the screen (1951 and several made-for-television versions).

Encyclopedia Britannica (Chicago, IL: 2016).

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.

Man Adrift

“Why am I trying to become what I don’t want to be when all I want is out there, waiting for me the minute I say I know who I am.”

~Arthur Miller from Death of a Salesman 


RickArthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman is the story of Willy Loman – the slow deterioration of a man obsessed with success who eventually loses his job. Desiring to be supportive, his son takes Willy out for an evening. As they prepare to leave, Willy’s wife requests, “Be kind to your father, son; he is only a little boat looking for a harbor.” In one masterful sentence, we understand man adrift.

In Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me Karen Swallow Prior writes:

Knowing oneself has tremendous importance for all of the major life decisions one might make. Making life choices that are in line with who one is—who one was created to be—leads to a more fulfilling life. I know that “self-fulfillment” has become a dirty word for those who rightly understand that life is not “all about me,” but about a greater purpose. This is true. At the same time, each of us is created as a unique individual with unique gifts, talents, and callings that were designed for a purpose. Self-fulfillment doesn’t necessarily mean selfish fulfillment. It can mean fulfillment of all that one was created to be. The satisfaction one feels at having achieved one’s rightful desires is no more selfish or wrong a thing than the satisfaction of the apple tree in bringing forth the fruit it was designed to bear.

How did you learn what your true calling in life was?  Is there only one calling?  Can one’s calling change through the course of one’s life?

John 1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

 

 

D I G  D E E P E R


Arthur Miller

Arthur Miller

Arthur Asher Miller, (born October 17, 1915, New York, New York, U.S.—died February 10, 2005, Roxbury, Connecticut) American playwright, who combined social awareness with a searching concern for his characters’ inner lives. He is best known for Death of a Salesman (1949).

Miller was shaped by the Great Depression, which spelled financial ruin for his father, a small manufacturer, and demonstrated to the young Miller the insecurity of modern existence. After graduation from high school he worked in a warehouse. With the money he earned he attended the University of Michigan (B.A., 1938), where he began to write plays. His first public success was with Focus (1945; filmed 1962 [made-for-television]), a novel about anti-Semitism. All My Sons (1947; filmed 1948), a drama about a manufacturer of faulty war materials that strongly reflects the influence of Henrik Ibsen, was his first important play. Death of a Salesman became one of the most famous American plays of its period. It is the tragedy of Willy Loman, a small man destroyed by false values that are in large part the values of his society. Miller received a Pulitzer Prize for the play, which was later adapted for the screen (1951 and several made-for-television versions).

Encyclopedia Britannica (Chicago, IL: 2016).

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.

Finding Yourself

“Why am I trying to become what I don’t want to be when all I want is out there, waiting for me the minute I say I know who I am.” 

~Arthur Miller, from Death of a Salesman


RickIn Chapter 8 of Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me, Karen Swallow Prior tells the story of the breakup with a boyfriend that was a pivot point in her life.  The circumstance was important on its own merit but in context it was a defining moment in self-understanding that contributed to other significant directional decisions.

Dr. Prior writes:

I had spent eighteen years trying to become myself, but I was just now learning who it was that I was becoming. And who I was becoming was not necessarily the person I had in mind. Perhaps that person was born the night I drove away from that restaurant parking lot and refused to be either a doormat or a fool.

What are some of the most important things one should know about oneself?  Is it the same thing as “finding oneself”? Why or why not?

Proverbs 1:20-33

20Wisdom calls aloud outside; She raises her voice in the open squares.

21She cries out in the chief concourses, At the openings of the gates in the city She speaks her words:

22“How long, you simple ones, will you love simplicity? For scorners delight in their scorning, And fools hate knowledge.

23Turn at my rebuke; Surely I will pour out my spirit on you; I will make my words known to you.

24Because I have called and you refused, I have stretched out my hand and no one regarded,

25Because you disdained all my counsel, And would have none of my rebuke,

26I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your terror comes,

27When your terror comes like a storm, And your destruction comes like a whirlwind, When distress and anguish come upon you.

28“Then they will call on me, but I will not answer; They will seek me diligently, but they will not find me.

29Because they hated knowledge And did not choose the fear of the Lord,

30They would have none of my counsel And despised my every rebuke.

31Therefore they shall eat the fruit of their own way, And be filled to the full with their own fancies.

32For the turning away of the simple will slay them, And the complacency of fools will destroy them;

33But whoever listens to me will dwell safely, And will be secure, without fear of evil.”

 


Dig Deeper


Arthur Miller

Arthur Miller

Arthur Asher Miller, (born October 17, 1915, New York, New York, U.S.—died February 10, 2005, Roxbury, Connecticut) American playwright, who combined social awareness with a searching concern for his characters’ inner lives. He is best known for Death of a Salesman (1949).

Miller was shaped by the Great Depression, which spelled financial ruin for his father, a small manufacturer, and demonstrated to the young Miller the insecurity of modern existence. After graduation from high school he worked in a warehouse. With the money he earned he attended the University of Michigan (B.A., 1938), where he began to write plays. His first public success was with Focus (1945; filmed 1962 [made-for-television]), a novel about anti-Semitism. All My Sons (1947; filmed 1948), a drama about a manufacturer of faulty war materials that strongly reflects the influence of Henrik Ibsen, was his first important play. Death of a Salesman became one of the most famous American plays of its period. It is the tragedy of Willy Loman, a small man destroyed by false values that are in large part the values of his society. Miller received a Pulitzer Prize for the play, which was later adapted for the screen (1951 and several made-for-television versions).

Encyclopedia Britannica (Chicago, IL: 2016).

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.

Know Thyself: Day 2

Death Of A Salesman
Arthur Miller

““Why am I trying to become what I don’t want to be when all I want is out there, waiting for me the minute I say I know who I am.” 


Self-idolatry takes many forms, including (surprisingly) depression.  When a person’s focus and purpose is based on themselves, it’s hubris regardless of its pain.  That’s not to say it is sinful to experience inner turmoil, but it becomes so when the solace sought is in anything other than the glory of God.  The bottom-line is this: Suffering has no value if it doesn’t take you closer to God.

In Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me Karen Swallow Prior writes:

This social context that Willy finds himself in—the consumer-driven, appearance-obsessed culture of modern America, takes the place fate holds in ancient tragedies. However, in the classical model, the tragic end is not brought about by fate alone, but in combination with the tragic hero’s actions, actions rooted in some tragic flaw. For many a tragic hero, that tragic flaw is pride. Willy’s pride is revealed in various ways in his downward spiral. Willy is too proud to ask his grown sons for financial help when he desperately needs it (though they are pretty much worthless anyway), and too proud to resist buying for his wife and home things he can’t afford, and too proud to be honest with his wife—or even to be honest with himself—about his failings. This lack of honesty with himself is what gets us closer to the real tragic flaw in this tragic hero: Willy’s failure to know.

An ancient saying is that “adversity introduces a man to himself.”

How do painful life experiences help you discover who you are?

Proverbs 1:20-33

20Wisdom calls aloud outside; She raises her voice in the open squares.

21She cries out in the chief concourses, At the openings of the gates in the city She speaks her words:

22“How long, you simple ones, will you love simplicity? For scorners delight in their scorning, And fools hate knowledge.

23Turn at my rebuke; Surely I will pour out my spirit on you; I will make my words known to you.

24Because I have called and you refused, I have stretched out my hand and no one regarded,

25Because you disdained all my counsel, And would have none of my rebuke,

26I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your terror comes,

27When your terror comes like a storm, And your destruction comes like a whirlwind, When distress and anguish come upon you.

28“Then they will call on me, but I will not answer; They will seek me diligently, but they will not find me.

29Because they hated knowledge And did not choose the fear of the Lord,

30They would have none of my counsel And despised my every rebuke.

31Therefore they shall eat the fruit of their own way, And be filled to the full with their own fancies.

32For the turning away of the simple will slay them, And the complacency of fools will destroy them;

33But whoever listens to me will dwell safely, And will be secure, without fear of evil.”

 


Dig Deeper


Arthur Miller

Arthur Miller

Arthur Asher Miller, (born October 17, 1915, New York, New York, U.S.—died February 10, 2005, Roxbury, Connecticut) American playwright, who combined social awareness with a searching concern for his characters’ inner lives. He is best known for Death of a Salesman (1949).

Miller was shaped by the Great Depression, which spelled financial ruin for his father, a small manufacturer, and demonstrated to the young Miller the insecurity of modern existence. After graduation from high school he worked in a warehouse. With the money he earned he attended the University of Michigan (B.A., 1938), where he began to write plays. His first public success was with Focus (1945; filmed 1962 [made-for-television]), a novel about anti-Semitism. All My Sons (1947; filmed 1948), a drama about a manufacturer of faulty war materials that strongly reflects the influence of Henrik Ibsen, was his first important play. Death of a Salesman became one of the most famous American plays of its period. It is the tragedy of Willy Loman, a small man destroyed by false values that are in large part the values of his society. Miller received a Pulitzer Prize for the play, which was later adapted for the screen (1951 and several made-for-television versions).

Encyclopedia Britannica (Chicago, IL: 2016).

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.

Know Thyself

“Why am I trying to become what I don’t want to be when all I want is out there, waiting for me the minute I say I know who I am.” 

~Arthur Miller, from Death of a Salesman


RickArthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman is the tragic story of Willy Loman, a man destroyed by false values that are not his own.  The hardest question to answer is this: What do I want?  The answer is rarely evident.  You must first know who you are before you can understand the desires of your heart, and that is always a painful process.  The fortunate learn quickly, but they are the exception.

In Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me Karen Swallow Prior writes:

In many areas of life, self-knowledge is crucially important to making wise choices, the sort of choices that lead to a fulfilling life. For what would be the wise choice for you, might not be the wise choice for your neighbor. Of course, in making choices between right and wrong, right is always the wise choice, but many, if not most, of our daily choices deal not with right or wrong, but with shades of right. Probably the most significant area in which this is true is in our choice of daily work, and it is in the area of work that Willy in Arthur Miller’s 1949 Death of a Salesman experiences the tragic consequences of failing to know who he is.

Another spoiler alert: the salesman dies. But what makes this death tragic—in the classical sense—is that death could have been avoided. Arthur Miller purposely emulated the classical tragedy model in writing his modern tragedy of the “common man.” In this case, the fatal error of the tragic hero, the salesman Willy Loman, is combined with the force of fate manifest in the social context of the hyper-capitalist, consumer culture of mid-1950s America. As in classical tragedy, all is not entirely lost, for illumination is gained, arguably, for Willy, and even more clearly for his son, Biff.

What are some of the ways a person comes to know him or herself?

Proverbs 1:20-33

20Wisdom calls aloud outside; She raises her voice in the open squares.

21She cries out in the chief concourses, At the openings of the gates in the city She speaks her words:

22“How long, you simple ones, will you love simplicity? For scorners delight in their scorning, And fools hate knowledge.

23Turn at my rebuke; Surely I will pour out my spirit on you; I will make my words known to you.

24Because I have called and you refused, I have stretched out my hand and no one regarded,

25Because you disdained all my counsel, And would have none of my rebuke,

26I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your terror comes,

27When your terror comes like a storm, And your destruction comes like a whirlwind, When distress and anguish come upon you.

28“Then they will call on me, but I will not answer; They will seek me diligently, but they will not find me.

29Because they hated knowledge And did not choose the fear of the Lord,

30They would have none of my counsel And despised my every rebuke.

31Therefore they shall eat the fruit of their own way, And be filled to the full with their own fancies.

32For the turning away of the simple will slay them, And the complacency of fools will destroy them;

33But whoever listens to me will dwell safely, And will be secure, without fear of evil.”

 


Dig Deeper


Arthur Miller

Arthur Miller

Arthur Asher Miller, (born October 17, 1915, New York, New York, U.S.—died February 10, 2005, Roxbury, Connecticut) American playwright, who combined social awareness with a searching concern for his characters’ inner lives. He is best known for Death of a Salesman (1949).

Miller was shaped by the Great Depression, which spelled financial ruin for his father, a small manufacturer, and demonstrated to the young Miller the insecurity of modern existence. After graduation from high school he worked in a warehouse. With the money he earned he attended the University of Michigan (B.A., 1938), where he began to write plays. His first public success was with Focus (1945; filmed 1962 [made-for-television]), a novel about anti-Semitism. All My Sons (1947; filmed 1948), a drama about a manufacturer of faulty war materials that strongly reflects the influence of Henrik Ibsen, was his first important play. Death of a Salesman became one of the most famous American plays of its period. It is the tragedy of Willy Loman, a small man destroyed by false values that are in large part the values of his society. Miller received a Pulitzer Prize for the play, which was later adapted for the screen (1951 and several made-for-television versions).

Encyclopedia Britannica (Chicago, IL: 2016).

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.

Sex, Symbol, and Satire: Day 5

Gulliver’s Travels
Jonathan Swift

Undoubtedly, philosophers are in the right when they tell us that nothing is great or little otherwise than by comparison.”


Satire is at once funny and uncomfortable.  G.K. Chesterton said “A man is angry at a libel because it is false, but at a satire because it is true.”

As Karen Swallow Prior writes in Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me:

While I saw fit to devise an individual moral code suited to me, Swift recognized that real wisdom comes not from the voice within, but from the collective wisdom of the community of humankind over the ages. Yes, from God ultimately, but in our imperfect human understanding and application, strength of heart and mind—wisdom—is built in community, not individually.

In judging the vice and folly of individuals, Swift used the scales of collective wisdom. And since the purpose of satire is to correct human folly and wickedness, it seems that Swift both sought and expected improvements, the very definition of optimism, not the pessimism with which some of his critics charge him because of his biting satire. Swift’s frankness, his realism, his high view of God and humanity, and his belief in the essential nature of community all shed light on one of the funniest and most poignant spins he puts on sex in Gulliver’s Travels, a point he slips in so subtly it’s easy to miss. But once recognized, it is powerful.

Satire is the ridicule of folly for the purpose of correction.  Name some examples of satire in film, art, TV, and literature.

Psalm 119:105

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.


Dig Deeper

Literature, Liturgy & The Arts


Jonathan Swift

Jonathan Swift

When Gulliver’s Travels was published in 1726, the author’s name did not appear on the book. The title page read “Travels into several remote Nations of the World, by Lemuel Gulliver …” Many people accepted this as fact. Travel books of the time told many tales that were no more strange than the imaginary adventures of Gulliver. One sea captain even claimed that he knew Captain Gulliver well.

Other readers condemned the book as full of exaggerations.Although it became one of the most famous books for children, it was not written for children. It was savage satire aimed at the human race. The tiny Lilliputians are vain, malicious, and bloodthirsty. The king and the court of Lilliput are a parody of the English king and court. The giants of Brobdingnag are amiable, but commonplace and insensitive. Laputa is full of the foolish philosophers and scientists whom Swift despised. The Houyhnhnms are horses who use degraded men, Yahoos, as men use horses elsewhere. Looking at mankind through the eyes of horses, Swift sees people as vicious, greedy, and ignorant.

From its first appearance Gulliver’s Travels delighted its readers instead of shocking them. In spite of his bitterness, Swift took a dry delight in making his narrative sound real even when it was fantastic. Children could enjoy the marvelous adventures of a traveler among pygmies and giants, on a flying island, and in a country where horses talk. Gulliver’s Travels soon became a children’s classic.

A large part of what Swift wrote is made up of pamphlets on political or ecclesiastical affairs and must be read in the light of history. But A Tale of a Tub, a satire on false religion, and The Battle of the Books, a burlesque of literary controversy (both published in 1704), are still read for their comic ridicule of human folly. Drapier’s Letters (1724), written to expose a minor scandal in the government of Ireland by the English, lifts the issue to something universal—the human rights of men against tyrants. The Journal to Stella is a brilliant picture of a brilliant age.

“Swift, Jonathan,” Compton’s Encyclopedia (Chicago, IL: Compton’s Encyclopedia, 2015).

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.

Sex, Symbol, and Satire: Day 4

Gulliver’s Travels
Jonathan Swift

Undoubtedly, philosophers are in the right when they tell us that nothing is great or little otherwise than by comparison.”


Mother Teresa said “Some people come into your life as blessings, some come as lessons.” We smile at that because we have all had to deal with difficult people and many lessons have been learned, as they say ‘the hard way.’  The lessons that lead to wisdom frequently come to us from unexpected sources and our ability to be teachable requires deep humility.

In Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me Karen Swallow Prior writes:

Perspective is one of the central themes in Gulliver’s Travels, more specifically, the unreliability of human perspective in isolation. Reliable perspective comes not from merely an individual vantage point, but from a view that is both high and broad, one that considers the view from eternity and the view from history, the view of Providence and the view of the community. Gulliver’s essential failure, from the start of his travels to their end, is his failure to recognize the fallibility of his own perspective.

In learning who I was as an individual, I needed to remember the community I came from. After all, I had wound my way along the serpentine path toward becoming my self through the guidance of that community: a father and mother who taught me about God, a mother who read books to me and told me how I was different from others, a brother who believed in me, and the community of people I came from who were fiercely independent, who talked a little funny, and whose faces bore the lines of the rugged land. I carried my family’s history within me, the name of my grandmother, the lessons of my mother, and the affirmation of my father. I needed more than my own perspective, although, like Gulliver, I didn’t quite see that.

How have other people helped you understand your true identity?

Psalm 119:105

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.


Dig Deeper

Literature, Liturgy & The Arts


Jonathan Swift

Jonathan Swift

When Gulliver’s Travels was published in 1726, the author’s name did not appear on the book. The title page read “Travels into several remote Nations of the World, by Lemuel Gulliver …” Many people accepted this as fact. Travel books of the time told many tales that were no more strange than the imaginary adventures of Gulliver. One sea captain even claimed that he knew Captain Gulliver well.

Other readers condemned the book as full of exaggerations.Although it became one of the most famous books for children, it was not written for children. It was savage satire aimed at the human race. The tiny Lilliputians are vain, malicious, and bloodthirsty. The king and the court of Lilliput are a parody of the English king and court. The giants of Brobdingnag are amiable, but commonplace and insensitive. Laputa is full of the foolish philosophers and scientists whom Swift despised. The Houyhnhnms are horses who use degraded men, Yahoos, as men use horses elsewhere. Looking at mankind through the eyes of horses, Swift sees people as vicious, greedy, and ignorant.

From its first appearance Gulliver’s Travels delighted its readers instead of shocking them. In spite of his bitterness, Swift took a dry delight in making his narrative sound real even when it was fantastic. Children could enjoy the marvelous adventures of a traveler among pygmies and giants, on a flying island, and in a country where horses talk. Gulliver’s Travels soon became a children’s classic.

A large part of what Swift wrote is made up of pamphlets on political or ecclesiastical affairs and must be read in the light of history. But A Tale of a Tub, a satire on false religion, and The Battle of the Books, a burlesque of literary controversy (both published in 1704), are still read for their comic ridicule of human folly. Drapier’s Letters (1724), written to expose a minor scandal in the government of Ireland by the English, lifts the issue to something universal—the human rights of men against tyrants. The Journal to Stella is a brilliant picture of a brilliant age.

“Swift, Jonathan,” Compton’s Encyclopedia (Chicago, IL: Compton’s Encyclopedia, 2015).

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.

Sex, Symbol, and Satire: Day 3

Gulliver’s Travels
Jonathan Swift

Undoubtedly, philosophers are in the right when they tell us that nothing is great or little otherwise than by comparison.”


Maya Angelou said “When someone shows you who they are believe them; the first time.”  This sounds like common sense but many relationships fail because they were founded on the basis of a diamond in the rough.  Unfortunately, it is not unusual for someone to witness terrible behavior (or lack of virtue) during courtship only to dismiss it with “well, she will grow out of that” or worse “I can change him.”

As Karen Swallow Prior writes in Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me:

Not that there hadn’t been nagging hints from time to time. Randy once told a writer for the school newspaper that what he wanted most for Christmas was a centerfold model, and reassured me after I objected that he was just kidding. When his friend said he’d never date a virgin, everyone standing around laughed approvingly. When another friend said he’d dig having two women at once, all the other guys agreed. I must have been listening because I still remember these things now, but I was foolish enough, naïve enough, to push away my concerns and tell myself boys will be boys. Besides, I actually believed Randy when he declared that it was different—he was different—with me. I didn’t know that history is rife with women and girls who naively believe in the inverse of the fairy tales in which the knight in shining armor saves the damsel in distress—the myth that we can rescue a boy or man from his own wretchedness, foolishly—and pridefuly—thinking  with me it will be different.

What is something important about which your views, values, and beliefs have changed or matured over time?

Psalm 119:105

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.


Dig Deeper

Literature, Liturgy & The Arts


Jonathan Swift

Jonathan Swift

When Gulliver’s Travels was published in 1726, the author’s name did not appear on the book. The title page read “Travels into several remote Nations of the World, by Lemuel Gulliver …” Many people accepted this as fact. Travel books of the time told many tales that were no more strange than the imaginary adventures of Gulliver. One sea captain even claimed that he knew Captain Gulliver well.

Other readers condemned the book as full of exaggerations.Although it became one of the most famous books for children, it was not written for children. It was savage satire aimed at the human race. The tiny Lilliputians are vain, malicious, and bloodthirsty. The king and the court of Lilliput are a parody of the English king and court. The giants of Brobdingnag are amiable, but commonplace and insensitive. Laputa is full of the foolish philosophers and scientists whom Swift despised. The Houyhnhnms are horses who use degraded men, Yahoos, as men use horses elsewhere. Looking at mankind through the eyes of horses, Swift sees people as vicious, greedy, and ignorant.

From its first appearance Gulliver’s Travels delighted its readers instead of shocking them. In spite of his bitterness, Swift took a dry delight in making his narrative sound real even when it was fantastic. Children could enjoy the marvelous adventures of a traveler among pygmies and giants, on a flying island, and in a country where horses talk. Gulliver’s Travels soon became a children’s classic.

A large part of what Swift wrote is made up of pamphlets on political or ecclesiastical affairs and must be read in the light of history. But A Tale of a Tub, a satire on false religion, and The Battle of the Books, a burlesque of literary controversy (both published in 1704), are still read for their comic ridicule of human folly. Drapier’s Letters (1724), written to expose a minor scandal in the government of Ireland by the English, lifts the issue to something universal—the human rights of men against tyrants. The Journal to Stella is a brilliant picture of a brilliant age.

“Swift, Jonathan,” Compton’s Encyclopedia (Chicago, IL: Compton’s Encyclopedia, 2015).

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.

Sex, Symbol, and Satire: Day 2

Gulliver’s Travels
Jonathan Swift

Undoubtedly, philosophers are in the right when they tell us that nothing is great or little otherwise than by comparison.”


Chapter 7 of Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me deals with symbols, including specifically their relation to sex.  Here we find the dangerous divide between imagined and real freedom.  The stakes could not be higher because the consequences of wrong choices can affect our lives in profound ways with eternal consequences.

As Karen Swallow Prior writes:

Both knowledge and honesty are essential to true freedom, even (or especially) sexual freedom. I certainly do not wish for a return to the kind of Pollyanna approach to sex so characteristic of previous generations; I harbor no desire to return to the tragic ignorance of my mother’s youth or that of Tess in Tess of the D’Urbervilles. Yet at the same time, none of the scenes I described above, common versions of sexual freedom the world offers, reflect true freedom. They symbolize sexual freedom, but disconnected as they are from the real purpose and meaning of sex, they are false symbols. Imagine two substances that look the same, say, white flour and rat poison. Imagine the symbol for each, a cluster of wheat and a skull and cross bones, placed on the wrong package. This is what happens when a symbol is separated from the reality it is supposed to reflect. It signifies the wrong thing. And it can lead to death rather than life, to a cage rather than freedom.

 

What symbols of promised sexual freedom are actually paths of imprisonment?

Psalm 119:105

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.


Dig Deeper

Literature, Liturgy & The Arts


Jonathan Swift

Jonathan Swift

When Gulliver’s Travels was published in 1726, the author’s name did not appear on the book. The title page read “Travels into several remote Nations of the World, by Lemuel Gulliver …” Many people accepted this as fact. Travel books of the time told many tales that were no more strange than the imaginary adventures of Gulliver. One sea captain even claimed that he knew Captain Gulliver well.

Other readers condemned the book as full of exaggerations.Although it became one of the most famous books for children, it was not written for children. It was savage satire aimed at the human race. The tiny Lilliputians are vain, malicious, and bloodthirsty. The king and the court of Lilliput are a parody of the English king and court. The giants of Brobdingnag are amiable, but commonplace and insensitive. Laputa is full of the foolish philosophers and scientists whom Swift despised. The Houyhnhnms are horses who use degraded men, Yahoos, as men use horses elsewhere. Looking at mankind through the eyes of horses, Swift sees people as vicious, greedy, and ignorant.

From its first appearance Gulliver’s Travels delighted its readers instead of shocking them. In spite of his bitterness, Swift took a dry delight in making his narrative sound real even when it was fantastic. Children could enjoy the marvelous adventures of a traveler among pygmies and giants, on a flying island, and in a country where horses talk. Gulliver’s Travels soon became a children’s classic.

A large part of what Swift wrote is made up of pamphlets on political or ecclesiastical affairs and must be read in the light of history. But A Tale of a Tub, a satire on false religion, and The Battle of the Books, a burlesque of literary controversy (both published in 1704), are still read for their comic ridicule of human folly. Drapier’s Letters (1724), written to expose a minor scandal in the government of Ireland by the English, lifts the issue to something universal—the human rights of men against tyrants. The Journal to Stella is a brilliant picture of a brilliant age.

“Swift, Jonathan,” Compton’s Encyclopedia (Chicago, IL: Compton’s Encyclopedia, 2015).

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.

Sex, Symbol, and Satire: Day 1

Gulliver’s Travels
Jonathan Swift

“Undoubtedly, philosophers are in the right when they tell us that nothing is great or little otherwise than by comparison.”


This week we look to Jonathan Swift and his masterwork Gulliver’s Travels.  The story is familiar, but widely misunderstood.  Like Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, the sanitized and highly abridged version consumed by contemporary audiences omits the bits that scandalize some surprised readers.  Swift was a master of satire and his use of symbols was filled with power and nuance.

As Karen Swallow Prior writes in Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me:

Symbols are powerful. And we live in a symbol-saturated society. The power of symbols comes from the reality they represent. Very few of our experiences are unmediated by the symbols of an experience that enter our consciousness long before the actual experience. We see ads touting the smiles toothpaste will bring us before we have all our teeth. We watch commercials showing how much fun we’ll have if we drink a certain brand of beer before we’ve lost the joy of blowing bubbles. We hear songs about romantic love before we have our first crush. Before we’ve even reached puberty, we watch sex as it is portrayed in the movies and television, imagine it as it is described in books, and laugh about it from jokes whispered by schoolmates. It’s hard to imagine things otherwise.

A symbol is something that represents something else. This chapter discusses symbols of sex and the power of those symbols.

What are other kinds of powerful symbols in our society?

Psalm 119:105

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.


Dig Deeper

Literature, Liturgy & The Arts


Jonathan Swift

 

Jonathan Swift

When Gulliver’s Travels was published in 1726, the author’s name did not appear on the book. The title page read “Travels into several remote Nations of the World, by Lemuel Gulliver …” Many people accepted this as fact. Travel books of the time told many tales that were no more strange than the imaginary adventures of Gulliver. One sea captain even claimed that he knew Captain Gulliver well.

Other readers condemned the book as full of exaggerations.Although it became one of the most famous books for children, it was not written for children. It was savage satire aimed at the human race. The tiny Lilliputians are vain, malicious, and bloodthirsty. The king and the court of Lilliput are a parody of the English king and court. The giants of Brobdingnag are amiable, but commonplace and insensitive. Laputa is full of the foolish philosophers and scientists whom Swift despised. The Houyhnhnms are horses who use degraded men, Yahoos, as men use horses elsewhere. Looking at mankind through the eyes of horses, Swift sees people as vicious, greedy, and ignorant.

From its first appearance Gulliver’s Travels delighted its readers instead of shocking them. In spite of his bitterness, Swift took a dry delight in making his narrative sound real even when it was fantastic. Children could enjoy the marvelous adventures of a traveler among pygmies and giants, on a flying island, and in a country where horses talk. Gulliver’s Travels soon became a children’s classic.

A large part of what Swift wrote is made up of pamphlets on political or ecclesiastical affairs and must be read in the light of history. But A Tale of a Tub, a satire on false religion, and The Battle of the Books, a burlesque of literary controversy (both published in 1704), are still read for their comic ridicule of human folly. Drapier’s Letters (1724), written to expose a minor scandal in the government of Ireland by the English, lifts the issue to something universal—the human rights of men against tyrants. The Journal to Stella is a brilliant picture of a brilliant age.

“Swift, Jonathan,” Compton’s Encyclopedia (Chicago, IL: Compton’s Encyclopedia, 2015).

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.

The Only Thing Between Me and Tragedy: Day 5

Tess of the D’Urbervilles
Thomas Hardy

‘Forgive me as you are forgiven! I forgive YOU, Angel.’                             

‘You—yes, you do.’

‘But you do not forgive me?’                                                                              

    ‘O Tess, forgiveness does not apply to the case! You were one person;  now you are another. My God—how can forgiveness meet such a grotesque-prestidigitation as that!’                                                                                                    
    He paused, contemplating this definition; then suddenly broke into horrible laughter—as unnatural and ghastly as a laugh in hell.                     
    ‘Don’t—don’t! It kills me quite, that!’ she shrieked. ‘O have mercy upon me—have mercy!’  
    He did not answer . . .

At the end of his life, a bitter old man said “When I meet God I just want what’s coming to me” to which a wise friend replied “No sir, that would be justice.  What you want is mercy.”

As Karen Swallow Prior writes in Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me:

Angel’s refusal to forgive Tess—at least not until it is too late—sets their lives on the inevitable path to destruction. But for grace—forgiveness—how different it could have been! Of course, the fact that it is not is what makes the novel the perfect tragedy that it is.

Yet, while grace is absent from the world within the novel, the novel’s very existence comes through grace: that is, the grace offered by the author himself. In his depiction of a world without grace Hardy is demonstrating the very need for that grace. Even more, in his insistence on presenting Tess “faithfully” as a “pure woman,” Hardy embodies the very grace he sees missing in his own society. In showing the tragic results of blindness and the failure to forgive, Hardy illustrates the power forgiveness has to avert tragedy. Furthermore, as in the classical tragedies, Hardy elicits for his character great pity, another form of grace, from the reader and thus creates from his story an attitude of grace, not in his fictional characters, but in us—real people in the real world in need of real grace.

Have you ever received grace from another person?

What effect did it have on your life?

John 4: 1-26

Therefore, when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John (though Jesus Himself did not baptize, but His disciples), He left Judea and departed again to Galilee. But He needed to go through Samaria. So He came to a city of Samaria which is called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Now Jacob’s well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied from His journey, sat thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour. A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give Me a drink.” For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. Then the woman of Samaria said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” The woman said to Him, “Sir, You have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. Where then do You get that living water? Are You greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, as well as his sons and his livestock?” Jesus answered and said to her, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” The woman said to Him, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.” Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered and said, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You have well said, ‘I have no husband,’ for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly.” The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When He comes, He will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He.”


Dig Deeper

Literature, Liturgy & The Arts


Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy

The eldest of four children growing up in Dorset in the 1840s, Thomas Hardy apprenticed to a local architect in 1856 and worked as a draftsman in London in 1862. While visiting a church in Cornwall in 1870, he met and fell in love with his future wife, immortalized in his novel A Pair of Blue Eyes as well as in the poem “Beeny Cliff”: “O the opal and the sapphire of that wandering western sea, / And the woman riding high above with bright hair flapping free.” Hardy published Jude the Obscure in 1895.

Tess of the D’Urbervilles

First published serially in bowdlerized form in the Graphic (July–December 1891) and in its entirety in book form (three volumes) the same year. It was subtitled A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented because Hardy felt that its heroine was a virtuous victim of a rigid Victorian moral code. Now considered Hardy’s masterwork, it departed from conventional Victorian fiction in its focus on the rural lower class and in its open treatment of sexuality and religion.

After her impoverished family learns of its noble lineage, naive Tess Durbeyfield is sent by her slothful father and ignorant mother to make an appeal to a nearby wealthy family who bear the ancestral name d’Urberville. Tess, attractive and innocent, is seduced by dissolute Alec d’Urberville and secretly bears a child, Sorrow, who dies in infancy. Later working as a dairymaid, she meets and marries Angel Clare, an idealistic gentleman who rejects Tess after learning of her past on their wedding night. Emotionally bereft and financially impoverished, Tess is trapped by necessity into giving in once again to d’Urberville, but she murders him when Angel returns.

Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica (Chicago, IL: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2016).

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.

The Only Thing Between Me and Tragedy: Day 4

Tess of the D’Urbervilles
Thomas Hardy

‘I cannot help associating your decline as a family with this other fact—of your want of firmness. Decrepit families imply decrepit wills, decrepit conduct. Heaven, why did you give me a handle for despising you more by informing me of your descent! Here was I thinking you a new-sprung child of nature; there were you, the belated seedling of an effete aristocracy!


In his book Look Homeward, Angel Thomas Wolfe wrote “Which of us has known his brother? Which of us has looked into his father’s heart? Which of us has not remained forever prison-pent? Which of us is not forever a stranger and alone?”  If self-understanding is difficult, truly knowing another person is almost impossible.  We interpret the inner character of our neighbors through our own subjective filters.

As Karen Swallow Prior writes in Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me:

It is this trait in particular that is Tess’s tragic flaw: her passivity, her sole inheritance from her ancient familial lineage. For under the old aristocratic system, wealth and privilege were the results of a literal passivity, being “passed on” though inheritance, rather than acquired through work or individual effort, the qualities that brought about modernity’s rise of the individual. This is why the ambiguous circumstances surrounding that night in The Chase are not important to her status as rape victim: whether she was taken by Alec through force or through seduction, equipped by neither nature nor circumstances to do otherwise, she passively succumbs to this fate. This passivity is both literal and symbolic: literal within the story’s plot and symbolic of her role as an archetypal tragic heroine victimized by a combination of her own choices and forces beyond her control. This is how Hardy could deem Tess as “pure” despite her “ruined” physical state: she does not will such a thing even as she does not know how to exert her will against it.

Have you ever experienced illumination or insight about a person that transformed you or the relationship?

 John 4: 1-26

Therefore, when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John (though Jesus Himself did not baptize, but His disciples), He left Judea and departed again to Galilee. But He needed to go through Samaria. So He came to a city of Samaria which is called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Now Jacob’s well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied from His journey, sat thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour. A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give Me a drink.” For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. Then the woman of Samaria said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” The woman said to Him, “Sir, You have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. Where then do You get that living water? Are You greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, as well as his sons and his livestock?” Jesus answered and said to her, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” The woman said to Him, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.” Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered and said, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You have well said, ‘I have no husband,’ for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly.” The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When He comes, He will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He.”


Dig Deeper

Literature, Liturgy & The Arts


Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy

The eldest of four children growing up in Dorset in the 1840s, Thomas Hardy apprenticed to a local architect in 1856 and worked as a draftsman in London in 1862. While visiting a church in Cornwall in 1870, he met and fell in love with his future wife, immortalized in his novel A Pair of Blue Eyes as well as in the poem “Beeny Cliff”: “O the opal and the sapphire of that wandering western sea, / And the woman riding high above with bright hair flapping free.” Hardy published Jude the Obscure in 1895.

Tess of the D’Urbervilles

First published serially in bowdlerized form in the Graphic (July–December 1891) and in its entirety in book form (three volumes) the same year. It was subtitled A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented because Hardy felt that its heroine was a virtuous victim of a rigid Victorian moral code. Now considered Hardy’s masterwork, it departed from conventional Victorian fiction in its focus on the rural lower class and in its open treatment of sexuality and religion.

After her impoverished family learns of its noble lineage, naive Tess Durbeyfield is sent by her slothful father and ignorant mother to make an appeal to a nearby wealthy family who bear the ancestral name d’Urberville. Tess, attractive and innocent, is seduced by dissolute Alec d’Urberville and secretly bears a child, Sorrow, who dies in infancy. Later working as a dairymaid, she meets and marries Angel Clare, an idealistic gentleman who rejects Tess after learning of her past on their wedding night. Emotionally bereft and financially impoverished, Tess is trapped by necessity into giving in once again to d’Urberville, but she murders him when Angel returns.

Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica (Chicago, IL: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2016).

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.

The Only Thing Between Me and Tragedy: Day 3

Tess of the D’Urbervilles
Thomas Hardy

    ‘I thought, Angel, that you loved me—me, my very self! If it is I you do love, O how can it be that you look and speak so? It frightens me! Having begun to love you, I love you for ever—in all changes, in all disgraces, because you are yourself. I ask no more. Then how can you, O my own husband, stop loving me?’
    ‘I repeat, the woman I have been loving is not you.’
    ‘But who?’
    ‘Another woman in your shape.’

John Lennon sang “Living is easy with eyes closed” and indeed, blindness is as often chosen as imposed.  Light and sight are readily equated with truth because they resonate universally.  But while conventional wisdom would lead us to believe that everyone is a seeker of truth, denial, blame-shifting and avoidance is man’s default mindset.  Why?  Knowledge comes with insight, but it is joined by accountability.

As Karen Swallow Prior writes in Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me:

Thus blindness—whether physical of metaphysical, literal or metaphorical—is a recurring theme throughout literature across the ages and genres. From Oedipus Rex, that archetypal tragic hero, who exchanges his intellectual blindness to his true identity as his father’s murderer and his mother’s husband for a self-induced physical blindness, to the enfeebled and blinded Edward Rochester at the end of Jane Eyre, to the absurd Hamm in Samuel Beckett’s play Endgame, the pages of great literature are filled with figures who exemplify this quality that defines the human condition. Paul describes this blindness in the New Testament as “see[ing] through a glass, darkly.” No wonder so many of the physical healings performed by Jesus were those that restored sight: such miracles serve as metaphors for the greater miracle that transforms us from ignorance to illumination. Jesus gave sight to the blind, and in a much smaller way great books do, too.

How can the blindness that prevents us from seeing others as they really are be tragic?

Can you think of examples of this from other works of literature or from real life?

John 4: 1-26

Therefore, when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John (though Jesus Himself did not baptize, but His disciples), He left Judea and departed again to Galilee. But He needed to go through Samaria. So He came to a city of Samaria which is called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Now Jacob’s well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied from His journey, sat thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour. A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give Me a drink.” For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. Then the woman of Samaria said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” The woman said to Him, “Sir, You have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. Where then do You get that living water? Are You greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, as well as his sons and his livestock?” Jesus answered and said to her, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” The woman said to Him, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.” Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered and said, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You have well said, ‘I have no husband,’ for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly.” The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When He comes, He will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He.”


Dig Deeper

Literature, Liturgy & The Arts


Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy

The eldest of four children growing up in Dorset in the 1840s, Thomas Hardy apprenticed to a local architect in 1856 and worked as a draftsman in London in 1862. While visiting a church in Cornwall in 1870, he met and fell in love with his future wife, immortalized in his novel A Pair of Blue Eyes as well as in the poem “Beeny Cliff”: “O the opal and the sapphire of that wandering western sea, / And the woman riding high above with bright hair flapping free.” Hardy published Jude the Obscure in 1895.

Tess of the D’Urbervilles

First published serially in bowdlerized form in the Graphic (July–December 1891) and in its entirety in book form (three volumes) the same year. It was subtitled A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented because Hardy felt that its heroine was a virtuous victim of a rigid Victorian moral code. Now considered Hardy’s masterwork, it departed from conventional Victorian fiction in its focus on the rural lower class and in its open treatment of sexuality and religion.

After her impoverished family learns of its noble lineage, naive Tess Durbeyfield is sent by her slothful father and ignorant mother to make an appeal to a nearby wealthy family who bear the ancestral name d’Urberville. Tess, attractive and innocent, is seduced by dissolute Alec d’Urberville and secretly bears a child, Sorrow, who dies in infancy. Later working as a dairymaid, she meets and marries Angel Clare, an idealistic gentleman who rejects Tess after learning of her past on their wedding night. Emotionally bereft and financially impoverished, Tess is trapped by necessity into giving in once again to d’Urberville, but she murders him when Angel returns.

Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica (Chicago, IL: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2016).

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.

The Only Thing Between Me and Tragedy: Day 2

Tess of the D’Urbervilles
Thomas Hardy

If an offense come out of the truth, better is it that the offense come than that the truth be concealed.


College years have always been a challenge to young people.  The newness of independent living combined with an environment designed to stretch their understanding and awareness is often emotionally overwhelming.  When their learning experience causes them to revisit and examine their lives, painful memories can be difficult to resurface – much less discuss.

As Karen Swallow Prior writes in Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me:

I asked her why she’d stopped reading, and she blurted out that she had been raped at her last school, which is why she had transferred here, and she didn’t like students debating about whether or not Tess had been raped or seduced.

None of this was shocking to me, but, of course, I wanted not only to comfort the young woman but also to get her to see that talking about such an event in a book was a safe, constructive way of dealing with these issues. As she talked more, sharing few specifics but many hints, I could see that the ambiguity surrounding her rape was not entirely unlike Tess’s. Like Tess, she had become pregnant but, she said, she “lost” the baby. I didn’t dare ask what she meant by that. The way she said “lost” sounded like someone else’s word, not hers, like a word someone else might have told her to use. She had transferred to this new school in hopes of a fresh start. Hearing her classmates carelessly bandy the word “rape” about during our passionate discussions of the book was unbearable for her.

 

Have you ever hesitated to read a book, like the college student who found reading Tess of the D’Urbervilles too painful because of her own similar experience?

Can reading about similar experiences be helpful or hurtful in our attempts to overcome them? Why or why not?

John 4: 1-26

Therefore, when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John (though Jesus Himself did not baptize, but His disciples), He left Judea and departed again to Galilee. But He needed to go through Samaria. So He came to a city of Samaria which is called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Now Jacob’s well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied from His journey, sat thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour. A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give Me a drink.” For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. Then the woman of Samaria said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” The woman said to Him, “Sir, You have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. Where then do You get that living water? Are You greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, as well as his sons and his livestock?” Jesus answered and said to her, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” The woman said to Him, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.” Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered and said, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You have well said, ‘I have no husband,’ for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly.” The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When He comes, He will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He.”


Dig Deeper

Literature, Liturgy & The Arts


Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy

The eldest of four children growing up in Dorset in the 1840s, Thomas Hardy apprenticed to a local architect in 1856 and worked as a draftsman in London in 1862. While visiting a church in Cornwall in 1870, he met and fell in love with his future wife, immortalized in his novel A Pair of Blue Eyes as well as in the poem “Beeny Cliff”: “O the opal and the sapphire of that wandering western sea, / And the woman riding high above with bright hair flapping free.” Hardy published Jude the Obscure in 1895.

Tess of the D’Urbervilles

First published serially in bowdlerized form in the Graphic (July–December 1891) and in its entirety in book form (three volumes) the same year. It was subtitled A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented because Hardy felt that its heroine was a virtuous victim of a rigid Victorian moral code. Now considered Hardy’s masterwork, it departed from conventional Victorian fiction in its focus on the rural lower class and in its open treatment of sexuality and religion.

After her impoverished family learns of its noble lineage, naive Tess Durbeyfield is sent by her slothful father and ignorant mother to make an appeal to a nearby wealthy family who bear the ancestral name d’Urberville. Tess, attractive and innocent, is seduced by dissolute Alec d’Urberville and secretly bears a child, Sorrow, who dies in infancy. Later working as a dairymaid, she meets and marries Angel Clare, an idealistic gentleman who rejects Tess after learning of her past on their wedding night. Emotionally bereft and financially impoverished, Tess is trapped by necessity into giving in once again to d’Urberville, but she murders him when Angel returns.

Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica (Chicago, IL: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2016).

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.

The Only Thing Between Me and Tragedy: Day 1

Tess of the D’Urbervilles
Thomas Hardy

. . . he now began to discredit the old appraisements of morality. He thought they wanted readjusting. Who was the moral man? Still more pertinently, who was the moral woman? The beauty or ugliness of a character lay not only in its achievements, but in its aims and impulses; its true history lay, not among things done, but among things willed.


This week we turn our attention to Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles.  It is difficult for us to fully appreciate the jolting impact of this novel on its Victorian readers.  Little shocks us today.  Its open treatment of sexuality was brazen itself, but more so was the central premise that its protagonist Tess was a chaste woman beyond (and in spite of) the loss of her virginity.

As Karen Swallow Prior writes in Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me:

That perspective was rooted in a world in which the sexual double standard was as alive and well as ever it has been. For the Victorians, virtue and virginity were synonymous: a woman who lost her virginity outside of marriage—regardless of the circumstances surrounding that loss—was ruined. For all intents and purposes, a woman’s virtue resided in her hymen. Will—a woman’s will at least—played little or no part in the business. The Victorians, certainly not the first or the last to do so, had confused virginity, a physical state, with virtue, a metaphysical condition.

Unlike virginity, virtue is located not in the hymen but in the soul: in one’s spirit, one’s desires, in one’s thoughts, one’s will.

The virtue of the soul is expressed through the willful acts of the body. It involves one’s whole being and thus is not surrendered by means of brute force or by singular acts. This understanding is the basis for Hardy’s insistence upon Tess’s purity.

Writing at the end of the 19th century, Thomas Hardy explored the double standard of sexual morality that prevailed during that time.

How much has that double standard changed today?

John 4: 1-26

Therefore, when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John (though Jesus Himself did not baptize, but His disciples), He left Judea and departed again to Galilee. But He needed to go through Samaria. So He came to a city of Samaria which is called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Now Jacob’s well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied from His journey, sat thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour. A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give Me a drink.” For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. Then the woman of Samaria said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” The woman said to Him, “Sir, You have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. Where then do You get that living water? Are You greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, as well as his sons and his livestock?” Jesus answered and said to her, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” The woman said to Him, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.” Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered and said, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You have well said, ‘I have no husband,’ for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly.” The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When He comes, He will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He.”


Dig Deeper

Literature, Liturgy & The Arts


Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy

The eldest of four children growing up in Dorset in the 1840s, Thomas Hardy apprenticed to a local architect in 1856 and worked as a draftsman in London in 1862. While visiting a church in Cornwall in 1870, he met and fell in love with his future wife, immortalized in his novel A Pair of Blue Eyes as well as in the poem “Beeny Cliff”: “O the opal and the sapphire of that wandering western sea, / And the woman riding high above with bright hair flapping free.” Hardy published Jude the Obscure in 1895.

Tess of the D’Urbervilles

First published serially in bowdlerized form in the Graphic (July–December 1891) and in its entirety in book form (three volumes) the same year. It was subtitled A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented because Hardy felt that its heroine was a virtuous victim of a rigid Victorian moral code. Now considered Hardy’s masterwork, it departed from conventional Victorian fiction in its focus on the rural lower class and in its open treatment of sexuality and religion.

After her impoverished family learns of its noble lineage, naive Tess Durbeyfield is sent by her slothful father and ignorant mother to make an appeal to a nearby wealthy family who bear the ancestral name d’Urberville. Tess, attractive and innocent, is seduced by dissolute Alec d’Urberville and secretly bears a child, Sorrow, who dies in infancy. Later working as a dairymaid, she meets and marries Angel Clare, an idealistic gentleman who rejects Tess after learning of her past on their wedding night. Emotionally bereft and financially impoverished, Tess is trapped by necessity into giving in once again to d’Urberville, but she murders him when Angel returns.

Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica (Chicago, IL: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2016).

 

Karen Swallow Prior

 

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.

 

How to Love Your Ideological Enemy by Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior

I often receive messages from people who hold to historic church teachings but are increasingly uncertain about how to share these beliefs openly in a cultural climate that’s increasingly hostile to them. One woman, for example, wrote that she wants to “maintain the message of Christ’s love and grace mingled with the truth that is so important not to withhold” but finds it hard to do so among diverse friends. Another shared that she hesitates more and more to speak out for fear of being seen as “negative and hateful.”

Truth be told, I feel these struggles myself on most days. It is not easy, for example, to tell someone I love dearly that I cannot attend his wedding because my love for him compels me not to pretend marriage is something other than what God created it to be. Nor is it easy in a world so defined by a gnostic dichotomy between spiritual and physical to insist that the Incarnation and the Resurrection—God becoming man and dwelling among us, dying on the cross and rising from the dead—are facts as true as the law of gravity.

Yet, the Bible exhorts Christians to speak “the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). We are obligated to emulate the example of Jesus, who balanced in beautiful harmony the demands of both love and truth. Those of us concerned with not abandoning truth as we speak in love find the cultural waters today increasingly difficult to navigate.

Contemporary Christian discipleship, in particular, poses new challenges. A few months ago, one of my former students contacted me to express her concern about the state of women’s discipleship, specifically, and her desire to practice more discernment about the women leaders she follows. Some, she said, “are about ‘all the feels’ rather than rooted in truth.” She continued, “As a woman, I feel that we are particularly vulnerable right now because our culture is targeting us—politically and spiritually. Our votes, support, and opinions are being battled for.”

Now we are witnessing some of these battles over truth and orthodoxy being lost. While there is some debate about the precise definition, orthodox Christian belief consists of sound doctrine derived from a faithful reading of Scripture and informed by the millennia-long history of biblical interpretation, the witness of the early church, and the creeds. As I survey the lines demarcating Christian belief, I wonder if some of those who have drifted over to heterodoxy—both men and women—might have stayed with us if the contemporary church were better at a particularly powerful form of discipleship: hospitable orthodoxy.

Hospitality comes from the same Latin root word from which we get both guest and host. Host refers not only to one who receives a guest but also to an army or multitude—which is why the word hostile comes from the same root word as host and the Latin word for host also meant enemy. The hinge that joins all of these words—guest, host, enemy, hostile, hospitality and even hospital—is stranger. A stranger could be a guest or a host and either could be an enemy. In this way, hospitality—given or received—always entails risk and exposure.

Anyone who has been a guest or a host understands the vulnerability involved. My husband and I are blessed to host many visitors on our old, rural homestead. Like most places, ours has a few eccentric house rules particular to our lifestyle, including, “If you don’t want the dogs near you, then stay off the furniture.” Another is that guests are welcome to bring as many friends as they want and stay as long as they like, but I can’t cook for them. And yet, despite my lack of culinary skills and the awkward proximity of dog paws and snouts, our friends and family (and even few strangers) seem to feel welcomed and refreshed by our peaceful little plot nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Thinking about hospitality in this more literal sense is helpful in considering how we, as members of the house of God, bear some responsibility for protecting the doctrinal boundaries of faith and also inviting others into that well-defined place.

1. People who practice hospitable orthodoxy welcome the seeker and stranger. They do not read, follow, or speak to only the like-minded. They do not operate in an echo chamber.

For many years, I have intentionally pursued conversations with those with whom I deeply disagree, both believers and unbelievers. Some—afraid, perhaps, of their own temptation to compromise—question and criticize this, but the practice merely follows the example of Christ. As Natasha Sistrunk Robinson said in her recent interview, “It’s a sacred act to learn to see, honor, and love our neighbors.”

Furthermore, the Bible cautions in Proverbs 18:1 that those who isolate themselves seek only their own desires, breaking out “against all sound judgment.” Any so-called orthodoxy that avoids the cornucopia of God’s image bearers isn’t orthodoxy—it’s a cult.

2. Those who practice hospitable orthodoxy are rooted in relationships because right doctrine is not disembodied from the love of actual people.

While the truth of God is unchanging, the application of that truth always involves real and imperfect people. As evangelicals are fond of saying, Christianity isn’t a religion; it’s a relationship. And yet, because God’s Word and his ways already account for human nature and fallenness, our beliefs and doctrines should not change based on our relationships. To the contrary, our understanding of ourselves and others needs to be rooted in God’s eternal truths. As Tim Keller points out, if people change their views, for example, about homosexuality once they come to know and love homosexual persons, “those earlier views were likely defective,” perhaps even “rooted in bigotry” rather than right doctrine. Right doctrine must, by its very definition, already take into account both the imperfection and the redeemable nature of our humanity—along with the command to love.

This balance between right doctrine and relationship is particularly pertinent to discipleship. In a recent article on women and the blogosphere, Hannah Anderson unpacks research indicating that women’s sources and expressions of power tend to be more relational than those of men. That means practicing hospitable orthodoxy requires recognizing and adjusting for one’s own natural tendencies, whatever they are, in order to balance truth and love.

3. People who practice hospitable orthodoxy are not afraid to use the words right and wrong, although they use them judiciously and lovingly.

I accidentally discovered my own practice of this principle when students and colleagues observed a teaching quirk of mine: If a student offers a wrong answer in classroom discussion, rather than responding with something gently corrective or even affirming (as, apparently, most teachers do), I simply say “no” and move on to the next raised hand. And yet because of the hospitable environment I create in my classroom, this “no” seems only to motivate students to participate more and strive to improve. Realizing something is wrong whets the appetite for what is right.

In the same way, people who hold to orthodoxy believe in objective and eternal truths and are eager to examine arguments and positions based not on persons, affections, or feelings but rather on truth and reason. Where disagreement is found, they engage the actual arguments, rather than dismissing uncomfortable ideas with superficial judgments. “When Christian writers or speakers make theological statements,” writes Tish Harrison Warren, “we have a responsibility to give a specific argument, show our rigorous theological work, elevate the conversation, welcome strong criticism and debate, and in so doing, help others think and worship better.”

When we teach Christian doctrine in the space of the church, there, too, we have an obligation to say what is “right” and what is “wrong.” Hospitality always entails house rules and never means handing over ownership of the house to the guests.

4. People who practice hospitable orthodoxy defend but are not defensive.

Those who are rooted in a foundation of objective truth outside of themselves—planted in soil deeper than a particular political or cultural moment—have little reason to be defensive. As Henri Nouwen writes in Reaching Out, while “society seems to be increasingly full of fearful, defensive, aggressive people anxiously clinging to their property and inclined to look at their surrounding world with suspicion,” we who are rooted in the historical teachings of the church are not so.

Rather, Nouwen says, we are free to fulfill our call “to convert … the enemy into a guest and to create the free and fearless space where brotherhood and sisterhood can be formed and fully experienced.” People often ask me how I am able to respond as graciously as I do when attacked, maligned, or trolled on social media or blogs. The answer is in the freedom orthodoxy offers—for things to be not about me.

5. People who practice hospitable orthodoxy are confident enough to engage hard questions.

This foundation of eternal and lasting truths offers both the freedom and the pleasure of entertaining hard questions—whether our own or those of others. For believers who care about orthodoxy, hard questions are an opportunity to increase in the maturity and understanding of one’s faith. As we see in the gospels, Jesus is an example of someone who not only welcomed honest, hard questions (as opposed to dishonest, trick questions) but asked many of them himself.

As an academic, I am encouraged to love hard questions, especially questions about topics that matter even more than schoolbooks. If we as believers weren’t expected to struggle with hard questions beyond the knowledge that saves us, Paul would not have warned us to work out our salvation in fear and trembling.

6. People who practice hospitable orthodoxy embrace both openness and exclusivity.

As Nouwen writes in Reaching Out, “receptivity is only one side of hospitality. The other side, equally important, is confrontation.” He further explains:

Space can only be welcoming space when there are clear boundaries, and boundaries are limits between which we define our own position. …We are not hospitable when we leave our house to strangers and let them use it anyway they want. An empty house is not a hospitable house. …When we want to be really hospitable we not only have to receive strangers but also to confront them by an unambiguous presence, not hiding ourselves behind neutrality but showing our ideas, opinions, and life style clearly and distinctly. … Receptivity and confrontation are the two inseparable sides of Christian witness.

According to Nouwen, the ultimate purpose of hospitable orthodoxy is “not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place.”

Classroom teaching has provided me with a model for this idea. Although change (in the form of learning) is up to each student, I have a responsibility to create an environment for teaching, leading, and encouraging. In the sphere of social media—where so much discipleship, whether good or bad, intentional or not, takes place—I also seek to create a space for teaching, leading, and encouraging. There, too, I serve the Lord and “must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting opponents with gentleness” (2 Tim. 2:24-25). This is the responsibility of all believers, since we are both hosts and guests within the house of orthodoxy.

As I look around the campus where I teach and the country I live in, I see many standing on the precipice of orthodoxy who could tip either way. In the sphere of women’s discipleship, in particular, we need clear, strong, women’s voices to win them back from the edge. Such women—whose voices the church should hear, support, and amplify—are practicing the hospitable orthodoxy that’s essential to Christian discipleship. They kindly offer the truth that love requires. They understand that to be orthodox means not changing doctrine but being changed by it. And they earnestly hope and desire for the guest to become, once and for all, family within the house of God.


Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

This article originally appeared in Christianity Today and may be accessed in its entirety at the following link

http://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2017/may/how-to-love-your-ideological-enemy.html

Beholding is Becoming: Day 5

Jane Eyre
Charlotte Brontë

He was the first to recognize me, and to love what he saw.


What does it mean to find your voice?  Among other things, the phrase has come to mean to expression of one’s true self.  It is no simple task.  For many, the path to discovery is through expressive writing.  Perhaps it is the diary of a child or the poetry of a teenager, but almost everyone who puts pen to paper eventually experiences a catharsis of discovery in the process.

As Karen Swallow Prior says in Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me:

Language, throughout Jane’s life, is the tool through which she creates and defends herself. This is why it is essential to the story of Jane Eyre, even though it is a fictional work, that it takes the form of an autobiography. Indeed one of the most distinguishing aspects of Jane Eyre is the “voice” of Jane. It is no coincidence that the term “voice” has come to mean in modern usage much more than just the sound made by the vocal organs, but also the means by which we make our individual selves known, not only to others but to ourselves. For the connection between the self and language is inseparable: it is through language that the self becomes.

Have you ever used journaling or writing to overcome life challenges?

Matthew 11:28-30

Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.


Dig Deeper

Literature, Liturgy & The Arts


Charlotte Brontë

Charlotte Brontë

Raised in a parsonage amid the moors of Haworth, Charlotte Brontë in 1839 refused marriage proposals from two reverends, later stating that “there is no more respectable character on this earth than an unmarried woman who makes her own way through life quietly, perseveringly.” She published Jane Eyre in 1847. Over the next two years, her brother Branwell and her sisters Emily and Anne all died, most likely from tuberculosis; two other siblings had died in 1825. Brontë eventually married in 1854, but died, while pregnant, in 1855, two years after publishing Villette.

The Folio Society’s Edition of Jane Eyre

‘Do you think I am an automaton? – a machine without feelings? … Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! – I have as much soul as you – and full as much heart!’ As compelling in character as she is ordinary in looks, Jane Eyre is one of literature’s greatest heroines. Hers is a captivating love story that encompasses, among other things, loss, deception, devotion and obsession. With themes of madness and forbidden knowledge, and a Byronic male lead – the glowering Rochester – Jane Eyre is also a suspenseful gothic mystery. Its sparse settings resemble those of Wuthering Heights; places which not only lend themselves to the novel’s psychological drama, but in which the air crackles and whispers with forces beyond human control. However, the narrative belongs to Jane, and it is her singularity and the vivid portrayal of her inner life that make this novel exceptional. Brontë’s intimate first-person narrative formed a template for later authors including Joyce and Proust. As a female character, Jane was far ahead of her time. In her fierce meditations on spiritual and emotional dilemmas, and her determination to remain inwardly free when the cruelties and desires of others threaten her integrity, she was a proto-feminist figure quite unlike her pliant predecessors.

Artist Santiago Caruso’s dedication to the fantastique made him sensitive to the novel’s otherworldliness. His illustrations evoke its eerie scenery and the intensity of Jane’s experiences. In most she is central: a small but wilful figure whose ‘obscure’ life is as profoundly engaging as that of the most dazzling heroine. As author Emma Donoghue writes in her introduction, Jane ‘survives all sorts of abuses and humiliations because she is driven on by a sense that she matters, because everybody matters’.

Details here http://www.foliosociety.com/book/JYR/jane-eyre-bronte

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.

Beholding is Becoming: Day 4

Jane Eyre
Charlotte Brontë

I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself.” 


Rejection is tough at any age but it is especially painful in adolescence.  At a time when peer pressure is an overwhelming force, young people will often do things outside of their values to fit in and be accepted.  Sometimes even these measures fall short.

As Karen Swallow Prior says in Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me:

Before long, I was kicked out of The Group. The funny thing was that nearly everyone else had been kicked out of The Group before this at one point or another, even Stepdaughter and she was one of the leaders. What usually happened with a Kick Out was that the outcast would just kind of hang around on the outskirts, striking some sort of balance between looking adequately repentant—but still cool—until enough time and punishment had passed as penance for whatever crime had been committed, or until someone else was more deserving of disgrace, and the offending member was unceremoniously permitted re-entrance.

Have you ever ben rejected from a group you longed to be a part of?

How did you cope with such an experience?

Matthew 11:28-30

Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.


Dig Deeper

Literature, Liturgy & The Arts


Charlotte Brontë

Charlotte Brontë

Raised in a parsonage amid the moors of Haworth, Charlotte Brontë in 1839 refused marriage proposals from two reverends, later stating that “there is no more respectable character on this earth than an unmarried woman who makes her own way through life quietly, perseveringly.” She published Jane Eyre in 1847. Over the next two years, her brother Branwell and her sisters Emily and Anne all died, most likely from tuberculosis; two other siblings had died in 1825. Brontë eventually married in 1854, but died, while pregnant, in 1855, two years after publishing Villette.

The Folio Society’s Edition of Jane Eyre

‘Do you think I am an automaton? – a machine without feelings? … Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! – I have as much soul as you – and full as much heart!’ As compelling in character as she is ordinary in looks, Jane Eyre is one of literature’s greatest heroines. Hers is a captivating love story that encompasses, among other things, loss, deception, devotion and obsession. With themes of madness and forbidden knowledge, and a Byronic male lead – the glowering Rochester – Jane Eyre is also a suspenseful gothic mystery. Its sparse settings resemble those of Wuthering Heights; places which not only lend themselves to the novel’s psychological drama, but in which the air crackles and whispers with forces beyond human control. However, the narrative belongs to Jane, and it is her singularity and the vivid portrayal of her inner life that make this novel exceptional. Brontë’s intimate first-person narrative formed a template for later authors including Joyce and Proust. As a female character, Jane was far ahead of her time. In her fierce meditations on spiritual and emotional dilemmas, and her determination to remain inwardly free when the cruelties and desires of others threaten her integrity, she was a proto-feminist figure quite unlike her pliant predecessors.

Artist Santiago Caruso’s dedication to the fantastique made him sensitive to the novel’s otherworldliness. His illustrations evoke its eerie scenery and the intensity of Jane’s experiences. In most she is central: a small but wilful figure whose ‘obscure’ life is as profoundly engaging as that of the most dazzling heroine. As author Emma Donoghue writes in her introduction, Jane ‘survives all sorts of abuses and humiliations because she is driven on by a sense that she matters, because everybody matters’.

Details here http://www.foliosociety.com/book/JYR/jane-eyre-bronte

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.

Beholding is Becoming: Day 3

Jane Eyre
Charlotte Brontë

I do not think, sir, you have any right to command me, merely because you are older than I, or because you have seen more of the world than I have; your claim to superiority depends on the use you have made of your time and experience.


The word “docile” has gotten a bad rap.  These days it’s usually equated with timidity – and therein lies the problem.  Western culture prizes arrogance.  It’s the bluster of prize fighters, political candidates and football stars.  The irony runs deep here because it usually means the self-promoter is no longer teachable.  Docile means pliable, or more specifically – teachable.  It’s etymology is connected to “doctor” and “doctrine.”  The doctor (teacher) instructs the docile in doctrine.  Learning happens. Growth results.

In life, people are not usually truly docile until they are desperate.  If you have ever been lost in a foreign county you know what it means to humbly seek someone who can communicate meaningful directions.  The great problem with docility, however, is that people are often unaware of their own desperation. That is, they do not know they are lost.

As Karen Swallow Prior says in Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me:

The words my brother had voiced became part of my voice, a voice that narrated the search for my self much as Jane’s voice did in her search. Although the journal I kept during those chaotic days has long vanished into the past, Jane’s story and her voice remain. It wasn’t so much that I really thought, as my brother said in order to encourage me, that I thought I was “better” than those girls. What I came to understand is that in ceasing the futile attempt to be something I was not able or meant to be, and in striving to discover and be the person I was created to be, I would be a better self. The real disgrace was not in being kicked out of The Group, but in failing to fully embrace the grace that had made me who I was by trying to be something I was not.

 

Is becoming yourself more about discovering who you are or who you aren’t?  Or both?

Matthew 11:28-30

Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.


Dig Deeper

Literature, Liturgy & The Arts


Charlotte Brontë

Charlotte Brontë

Raised in a parsonage amid the moors of Haworth, Charlotte Brontë in 1839 refused marriage proposals from two reverends, later stating that “there is no more respectable character on this earth than an unmarried woman who makes her own way through life quietly, perseveringly.” She published Jane Eyre in 1847. Over the next two years, her brother Branwell and her sisters Emily and Anne all died, most likely from tuberculosis; two other siblings had died in 1825. Brontë eventually married in 1854, but died, while pregnant, in 1855, two years after publishing Villette.

The Folio Society’s Edition of Jane Eyre

‘Do you think I am an automaton? – a machine without feelings? … Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! – I have as much soul as you – and full as much heart!’ As compelling in character as she is ordinary in looks, Jane Eyre is one of literature’s greatest heroines. Hers is a captivating love story that encompasses, among other things, loss, deception, devotion and obsession. With themes of madness and forbidden knowledge, and a Byronic male lead – the glowering Rochester – Jane Eyre is also a suspenseful gothic mystery. Its sparse settings resemble those of Wuthering Heights; places which not only lend themselves to the novel’s psychological drama, but in which the air crackles and whispers with forces beyond human control. However, the narrative belongs to Jane, and it is her singularity and the vivid portrayal of her inner life that make this novel exceptional. Brontë’s intimate first-person narrative formed a template for later authors including Joyce and Proust. As a female character, Jane was far ahead of her time. In her fierce meditations on spiritual and emotional dilemmas, and her determination to remain inwardly free when the cruelties and desires of others threaten her integrity, she was a proto-feminist figure quite unlike her pliant predecessors.

Artist Santiago Caruso’s dedication to the fantastique made him sensitive to the novel’s otherworldliness. His illustrations evoke its eerie scenery and the intensity of Jane’s experiences. In most she is central: a small but wilful figure whose ‘obscure’ life is as profoundly engaging as that of the most dazzling heroine. As author Emma Donoghue writes in her introduction, Jane ‘survives all sorts of abuses and humiliations because she is driven on by a sense that she matters, because everybody matters’.

Details here http://www.foliosociety.com/book/JYR/jane-eyre-bronte

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.

Beholding is Becoming: Day 2

Jane Eyre
Charlotte Brontë

“Mr. Rochester, I no more assign this fate to you than I grasp at it for myself. We were born to strive and endure – you as well as I: do so. You will forget me before I forget you.”


Centuries ago, children were considered grown whenever they could reproduce.  There weren’t many choices about who or what you would become because you typically took up whatever business your father and mother occupied.  Only a rare few could extend adolescence with advanced education.  Today is seems that adolescence goes on and on, and many years may pass before life’s direction is set.  Choices are many and temptations more so.

As Karen Swallow Prior says in Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me:

Jane Eyre seemed in so many ways to be someone like me. In reading and studying the book many more times later in life, I came to realize that this was because she really was. And, truth be told, a lot like the other girls, too, because Jane Eyre is really about every adolescent. For adolescence, more than any other age, is a time of becoming, when we all must navigate through endless possibilities of being and overcome countless temptations to become any person but one that reflects both the givenness of our being and the possibilities of our becoming.

What temptations have you had to overcome in your journey to becoming yourself?

Isaiah 30:21

And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.


Dig Deeper

Literature, Liturgy & The Arts


Charlotte Brontë

Charlotte Brontë

Raised in a parsonage amid the moors of Haworth, Charlotte Brontë in 1839 refused marriage proposals from two reverends, later stating that “there is no more respectable character on this earth than an unmarried woman who makes her own way through life quietly, perseveringly.” She published Jane Eyre in 1847. Over the next two years, her brother Branwell and her sisters Emily and Anne all died, most likely from tuberculosis; two other siblings had died in 1825. Brontë eventually married in 1854, but died, while pregnant, in 1855, two years after publishing Villette.

The Folio Society’s Edition of Jane Eyre

‘Do you think I am an automaton? – a machine without feelings? … Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! – I have as much soul as you – and full as much heart!’ As compelling in character as she is ordinary in looks, Jane Eyre is one of literature’s greatest heroines. Hers is a captivating love story that encompasses, among other things, loss, deception, devotion and obsession. With themes of madness and forbidden knowledge, and a Byronic male lead – the glowering Rochester – Jane Eyre is also a suspenseful gothic mystery. Its sparse settings resemble those of Wuthering Heights; places which not only lend themselves to the novel’s psychological drama, but in which the air crackles and whispers with forces beyond human control. However, the narrative belongs to Jane, and it is her singularity and the vivid portrayal of her inner life that make this novel exceptional. Brontë’s intimate first-person narrative formed a template for later authors including Joyce and Proust. As a female character, Jane was far ahead of her time. In her fierce meditations on spiritual and emotional dilemmas, and her determination to remain inwardly free when the cruelties and desires of others threaten her integrity, she was a proto-feminist figure quite unlike her pliant predecessors.

Artist Santiago Caruso’s dedication to the fantastique made him sensitive to the novel’s otherworldliness. His illustrations evoke its eerie scenery and the intensity of Jane’s experiences. In most she is central: a small but wilful figure whose ‘obscure’ life is as profoundly engaging as that of the most dazzling heroine. As author Emma Donoghue writes in her introduction, Jane ‘survives all sorts of abuses and humiliations because she is driven on by a sense that she matters, because everybody matters’.

Details here http://www.foliosociety.com/book/JYR/jane-eyre-bronte

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.

Beholding is Becoming: Day 1

Jane Eyre
Charlotte Brontë

I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.


This week we turn our attention to Charlotte Brontë’s classic nineteenth century novel Jane Eyre. First published in 1847, the book follows the life of an orphan who learns the value of forgiveness and mercy. It has long resonated with young readers who easily relate to its grand, sweeping romantic turns which have become the fodder of soap operas. Underneath the drama however, is the flesh and blood realism of a young girl, learning as she goes.

As Karen Swallow Prior says in Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me:

While most of my literary-minded peers of that time were charmed by the higher Romanticism of Charlotte’s sister Emily in Wuthering Heights, I much preferred the greater realism of Jane Eyre. That’s not to say that Eyre’s Romantic elements—the detainment of a young girl in the frightening bedroom of a long dead inhabitant; an omen-laden lightning strike down the middle of a great tree; the inexplicable, audible voice of a lover calling from miles away; and the mysterious mad woman in the attic—didn’t enchant me. I could certainly be as dreamy as the next teenage girl. Jane Eyre has a little bit of everything in it, enough to appeal to bookish girls of nearly all tastes since its publication a century and a half ago.

 

What character from literature do you most identify with? Why?

Matthew 6:14

For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.

 


Dig Deeper

Literature, Liturgy & The Arts


Charlotte Brontë

 

Charlotte Brontë

Raised in a parsonage amid the moors of Haworth, Charlotte Brontë in 1839 refused marriage proposals from two reverends, later stating that “there is no more respectable character on this earth than an unmarried woman who makes her own way through life quietly, perseveringly.” She published Jane Eyre in 1847. Over the next two years, her brother Branwell and her sisters Emily and Anne all died, most likely from tuberculosis; two other siblings had died in 1825. Brontë eventually married in 1854, but died, while pregnant, in 1855, two years after publishing Villette.

 

The Folio Society’s Edition of Jane Eyre

 

‘Do you think I am an automaton? – a machine without feelings? … Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! – I have as much soul as you – and full as much heart!’ As compelling in character as she is ordinary in looks, Jane Eyre is one of literature’s greatest heroines. Hers is a captivating love story that encompasses, among other things, loss, deception, devotion and obsession. With themes of madness and forbidden knowledge, and a Byronic male lead – the glowering Rochester – Jane Eyre is also a suspenseful gothic mystery. Its sparse settings resemble those of Wuthering Heights; places which not only lend themselves to the novel’s psychological drama, but in which the air crackles and whispers with forces beyond human control. However, the narrative belongs to Jane, and it is her singularity and the vivid portrayal of her inner life that make this novel exceptional. Brontë’s intimate first-person narrative formed a template for later authors including Joyce and Proust. As a female character, Jane was far ahead of her time. In her fierce meditations on spiritual and emotional dilemmas, and her determination to remain inwardly free when the cruelties and desires of others threaten her integrity, she was a proto-feminist figure quite unlike her pliant predecessors.

Artist Santiago Caruso’s dedication to the fantastique made him sensitive to the novel’s otherworldliness. His illustrations evoke its eerie scenery and the intensity of Jane’s experiences. In most she is central: a small but wilful figure whose ‘obscure’ life is as profoundly engaging as that of the most dazzling heroine. As author Emma Donoghue writes in her introduction, Jane ‘survives all sorts of abuses and humiliations because she is driven on by a sense that she matters, because everybody matters’.

Details here http://www.foliosociety.com/book/JYR/jane-eyre-bronte

 

 

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.

 

 

The Magic Of Story: Day 5

Great Expectations
Charles Dickens

After I had turned the worse point of my illness, I began to notice that while all its other features changed, this one consistent feature did not change. Whoever came about me, still settled down into Joe. I opened my eyes in the day, and, sitting on the window-seat, smoking his pipe in the shaded open window, still I saw Joe. I asked for a cooling drink, and the face that looked so hopefully and tenderly upon me was the face of Joe.

    At last, one day, I took courage, and said, “Is it Joe?”
 
    And the dear old home-voice answered, “Which it air, old chap.”
 
    “Oh, Joe, you break my heart! Look angry at me, Joe. Strike me, Joe. Tell me of my ingratitude. Don’t be so good to me!” For Joe had actually laid his head down on the pillow at my side, and put his arm round my neck, in his joy that I knew him.

Eternal things are difficult for the rational mind to grasp.  To help us, God has provided echoes of eternity in the everyday aspects of our lives.  He says “call me Father” because we know what it means to be a parent and we thereby better understand both Him and ourselves.  Every parent who has ever borne the rebellion of a child (which is to say every parent) has a little piece of God in their fabric.

In Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me, Karen Swallow Prior says this:

Joe reflects Christ on a level deeper than mere characterization and actions. Even more profoundly, the very rhythm of Joe’s presence in Pip’s life echoes the rhythm of my own recognition of God’s presence in my life. As a child, Pip took Joe’s constant, loving presence for granted, much as I, growing up in the church, took God’s constant, loving presence for granted. This is what helped me to compartmentalize my life with such ease, to be a good church kid on Sunday and something else the rest of the week. Pip takes Joe’s love for granted, too. Upon bestowal of his “expectations,” Pip embarks on a journey of becoming a gentleman and, in the process, grows ashamed of Joe and eventually abandons him, not just physically but, more poignantly, emotionally.

Yet, later, when Pip becomes sick and desperately in need, it is Joe who rescues him. While Pip spends weeks in bed, in and out of a delirious fever, he recalls the faces of the friends who have surrounded him during his illness.

Surely, this is a picture God, who is said to be longsuffering, stretching out his hand for us to grasp the very moment we will. This passage touches me more deeply each time I read it.

 

Who in your life has been as steadfast and loyal as Joe was to Pip, even when you have not deserved it?

Jeremiah 31:3

The Lord has appeared of old to me, saying: “Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you.


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Literature, Liturgy & The Arts


The Faith behind the Famous: Charles Dickens

Stephen Rost

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens has been called “perhaps the greatest of English novelists.” Some may consider such a tribute an exaggeration, but no one can deny his genius and tremendous contribution to literature.

Throughout his life, Dickens was a champion of the poor and oppressed, as well as a critic of aristocratic and High-Church elitism. Popular works such as David Copperfiel, A Christmas Carol, and Pickwick Papers reveal his contempt for the corruption and folly in Victorian England’s business, law, religion, and education.

Taste of Poverty

Dickens’s life follows a classic rags-to-riches story. He was born at Landport, in Portsea, on February 7, 1812. His father, John Dickens, was a clerk in the navy—a job that enabled the family to live at a comfortable, but not overly indulgent, middle-class level. Unfortunately, careless money management and difficult times contributed to John Dickens’s financial decline in the 1820s.

Household items had to be sold, and Charles was given the unsavory task of taking treasured family books to the local pawn shop. At the tender age of 12, Charles was sent to work in a dingy blacking house. This dashed all hope of his getting a proper education. To make matters worse, his father ended up in debtors’ prison.

Work in the blacking house lasted from 8 to 8, with one hour for dinner and 30 minutes for tea. He made the best of his situation, and in time it became apparent to the foreman that Charles was different. He not only carried himself in a manner unlike the other boys’, he also outworked them.

Upon his father’s release from prison, Charles went back to school. He developed shorthand and landed a job as a parliamentary reporter—first for The True Sun, then the Morning Chronicle. And he contributed articles to the Monthly Magazine and Evening Chronicle.

Disenchantment with Religion

The influence of religion was ever present in Dickens’s life, even though he didn’t engage in religious activity to any noticeable degree. Biographer Edgar Johnson writes that Dickens’s parents “were Church of England, though not at all devout, or interested in matters of doctrine.… They did not even attend church very regularly.” Young Charles was also subjected to the boring messages of Baptist minister William Giles. With these experiences to reflect upon, Dickens developed a dislike for the church. G. K. Chesterton wrote that “the tone of Dickens towards religion, though like that of most of his contemporaries, philosophically disturbed and rather historically ignorant, had an element that was very characteristic of himself. He had all the prejudices of his time. He had, for instance, that dislike of defined dogmas, which really means a preference for unexamined dogmas.”

This attitude did not come by accident; it was neatly cultivated by a life of unpleasant experiences with formal religion. Dickens’s contempt should not be construed, however, as a hostility toward God or Jesus Christ. He merely observed that the church, for all its dogma and ceremony, failed to realize, at least in practice, the need for social action.

In 1834, for example, Sir Andrew Agnew attempted to pass a bill prohibiting recreation and work on Sunday. This infuriated Dickens, for it reflected the fanatical side of religion he had grown to hate. The wealthy enjoyed leisure throughout the week because their money enabled them to hire others to do their work, but the poor worker had to labor six days, leaving only Sunday for recreation and other needed activities. Now the religious zealots wanted to take that brief source of pleasure from those who needed it most.

Dickens attacked the bill with a pamphlet titled Sunday Under Three Heads: As it is; As Sabbath Bills would make it; As it might be made. The bill was never enacted, but the issue did entrench his disdain for rabid religiosity.

Dickens became involved with a system that attracted many fellow intellectuals: Unitarianism. It enabled him to live without the dogmatic creeds of historic Christianity, yet affirm the existence of God and the humanity and divine mission of Jesus Christ. And Unitarianism promoted social awareness. Writer Robert Browning remarked that “Mr. Dickens is an enlightened Unitarian.” After 1847, however, he did attend the Anglican church near his home. And he prayed each morning and night.

Settling Down to Success

The year 1836 was pivotal for Dickens. He married Catherine Hogarth on April 2 and began a family that eventually expanded to 10 children. Also, his writing career was launched in earnest. Chapman and Hall hired him to write the brief text for a series of sporting plates by illustrator Robert Seymour. Dickens initiated an alternate plan that gave birth to the Pickwick Papers. At the same fume, Oliver Twist was coming out in the periodical Bentley’s Miscellany. Dickens was now an established writer with a growing reputation. His popularity crossed the Atlantic, and soon he was on his way to America, where he was received with enthusiasm.

Dickens conveyed his social concerns to a vast number of people via his novels. He made it a point to expose injustice. A case in point is the anti-Catholic riots of that era. By no means was Dickens sympathetic toward Catholicism, but he hated bigotry. In 1841 he wrote Barnaby Rudge, which exposed the foolishness of the anti-Catholic period and those who encouraged it.

“God Bless Us, Every One”

Even though Dickens hated established religion, he maintained a sensitivity toward the social principles of Christianity, principles he made quite clear in one of his most popular and endearing novels, A Christmas Carol.

Written when Dickens was 31, this tale of ghosts and greed so thrilled him that he literally wept and laughed over it. The protagonist, Scrooge, is an oppressing, greedy, lover of money—a cold, wretched shell of a man who has lost all sense of kindness. Of all the characters in the Dickens gallery, the old miser is the most memorable representation of that which Dickens hated in individuals and society.

The moral and spiritual values sprinkled throughout the story are priceless. For example, Scrooge equates happiness with wealth; ironically, he is the most unhappy character. Scrooge remarks that those who are unable to care for themselves would do society a favor by dying, thereby helping decrease the surplus population. Later, however, Scrooge is taken by the second Spirit to visit the home of his impoverished employee Bob Cratchit. Scrooge develops a personal interest in Tiny Tim, the lovable boy who suffers from a potentially fatal ailment. Scrooge inquires about Tim’s health, and the Spirit states that the boy will die unless the old miser changes his ways. But who cares, for “If he be like to die,” says the Spirit, “he had better do it, and decrease the population.” Scrooge hangs his head in shame.

Eventually, Scrooge sees the folly of his way and exclaims, “I am not the man I was. I will not be the man I must have been but for this intercourse.” A religious conversion? The “salvation” of Scrooge comes not from an encounter with Christ, but an encounter with self. He displays the Dickensian view that salvation is achieved by loving your neighbor, giving a cup of water to those in need. The New Testament teaches that such acts are the result of spiritual conversion; for Dickens, they were the means.

A Secret Work Revealed

In 1849, Dickens wrote an important manuscript that would not be printed until 1934. This work was so personal to him that he requested it not be made public for 85 years. The work was a retelling of the Gospel narratives, titled The Life of Our Lord. Marie Dickens, Charles Dickens’s daughter-in-law, offered this fitting description of Dickens’s secret work:

“This book, the last work of Charles Dickens to be published, has an individual interest and purpose that separate it completely from everything else that Dickens wrote. Quite apart from its Divine Subject, the manuscript is peculiarly personal to the novelist, and is not so much a revelation of his mind as a tribute to his heart and humanity, and also, his deep devotion to Our Lord.”

Dickens wrote The Life of Our Lord so that his children would become familiar with Jesus Christ, and he often read the story to them. When his children left home, he gave each a New Testament (though not an entire Bible). To one, he wrote, “I put a New Testament among your books, for the very same reasons, and with the very same hopes that made me write an easy account of it for you, when you were a little child; because it is the best book that ever was or will be known in the world.…” Unitarianism The Life of Our Lord most clearly expresses Dickens’s religious disposition. He respected Christianity’s founder, Jesus Christ, who practiced what Dickens so desperately wanted to find in humanity. Jesus loved all people. He rubbed shoulders with social castaways, rebuked wealthy elitists, and severely condemned hypocrisy. If ever a man could gain Dickens’s utmost respect and favor, Christ could, and did.

While certain statements about Christ appear orthodox, the overall picture that Dickens paints cannot be considered orthodox when measured by Scripture or the historic creeds of Christianity. Dickens portrays Jesus as a good man who is loved by God like a son. He writes of the Resurrection, yet glosses over the Virgin Birth and Communion, and he states that one becomes acceptable for heaven by doing good.

One thing is certain, however: Dickens respected the Bible and Christ and sought to instill in his children the same reverence. Near the end of his life he wrote to a reader: “I have always striven in my writings to express veneration for the life and lessons of Our Saviour; because I feel it; and because I re-wrote that history for my children—every one of whom knew it from having it repeated to them—long before they could read, and almost as soon as they could speak. But I have never made proclamation of this from the house tops.”

Unfinished Business

In 1858, Dickens separated from his wife. Some speculate that a chief cause of the marriage’s breakup was his tendency to put himself and his writing first. Dickens then devoted himself increasingly to traveling and public readings of his works. He also developed a relationship with a young actress.

Dickens pushed himself to the limit for so long that his health began to break down. Eventually, he was forced to cease most of his public speaking and resign himself to writing. In 1869 he began work on The Mystery of Edwin Drood, which was interrupted by his untimely death from a seizure on June 9, 1870. He was 58. He was buried in Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey.

In his last will and testament, written on May 12, 1869, Dickens wrote, “I commit my soul to the mercy of God through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and I exhort my dear children humbly to try to guide themselves by the teaching of the New Testament in its broad spirit, and to put no faith in any man’s narrow construction of its letter here or there.”

Dickens despised, and in his books eloquently portrayed, the gross injustices and shoddy lifestyle of many who laid claim to the teachings of Christianity. Yet a fair examination of his life and work shows that he was not a hater of Christ or of Christianity. His friend John Forster concluded that Dickens’s will demonstrates his “unswerving faith in Christianity itself, apart from sects and schisms.”

How Dickens Viewed Jesus Christ

Selected quotations from The Life of Our Lord
My dear children, I am very anxious that you should know something about the history of Jesus Christ. For everybody ought to know about Him.

And when people seek ill of the Poor and Miserable, think how Jesus Christ went among them and taught them, and thought them worthy of his care.

And because he did such Good, and taught people how to love God and how to hope to go to Heaven after death, he was called Our Savior.

Remember!—It is christianity to do good always—even to those who do evil to us. It is christianity to love our neighbor as ourself, and to do to all men as we would have them Do to us. It is christianity to be gentle, merciful, and forgiving, and to keep those qualities quiet in our own hearts, and never make a boast of them, or of our prayers or of our love of God, but always to shew that we love him by humbly trying to do right in everything.

Stephen Rost, “How Dickens Viewed Jesus Christ,” Christian History Magazine-Issue 27: Persecution in the Early Church (Carol Stream, IL: Christianity Today, 1990).

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.

The Magic Of Story: Day 4

Great Expectations
Charles Dickens

You are part of my existence, part of myself. You have been in every line I have ever read, since I first came here, the rough common boy whose poor heart you wounded even then. You have been in every prospect I have ever seen since-on the river, on the sails of the ships, on the marshes, in the clouds, in the light, in the darkness, in the wind, in the woods, in the sea, in the streets. You have been the embodiment of every graceful fancy that my mind has ever become acquainted with.


I have seen people come to Christ in many different ways.  I have seen young people in tears as they knelt at an alter and I have seen clear-eyed  businessmen who shook my hand and said “I accept Jesus as my Lord.”  Did one mean it more than another?

In Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me, Karen Swallow Prior says this:

I admit that my relationship with God has been more intellectual than emotional. I used to think this lack of emotional fervor was a mark of sin or, at the very least, some great flaw in my spiritual life. I thought that it must be a great lack in my faith that I am more emotionally moved in reading literary works like Great Expectations than in reading dramatic passages in the Bible or in hearing a moving testimony from the pulpit. But I’ve come to realize that my emotional responses to moving works of literature, like the passage above, are the only way I can bear to respond emotionally to God and his love: indirectly.

Is your spiritual life more connected to your emotions or your intellect or both?

Matthew 22:37-40

Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’

This is the first and great commandment.

And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’

On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”


Dig Deeper

Literature, Liturgy & The Arts


The Faith behind the Famous: Charles Dickens

Stephen Rost

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens has been called “perhaps the greatest of English novelists.” Some may consider such a tribute an exaggeration, but no one can deny his genius and tremendous contribution to literature.

Throughout his life, Dickens was a champion of the poor and oppressed, as well as a critic of aristocratic and High-Church elitism. Popular works such as David Copperfiel, A Christmas Carol, and Pickwick Papers reveal his contempt for the corruption and folly in Victorian England’s business, law, religion, and education.

Taste of Poverty

Dickens’s life follows a classic rags-to-riches story. He was born at Landport, in Portsea, on February 7, 1812. His father, John Dickens, was a clerk in the navy—a job that enabled the family to live at a comfortable, but not overly indulgent, middle-class level. Unfortunately, careless money management and difficult times contributed to John Dickens’s financial decline in the 1820s.

Household items had to be sold, and Charles was given the unsavory task of taking treasured family books to the local pawn shop. At the tender age of 12, Charles was sent to work in a dingy blacking house. This dashed all hope of his getting a proper education. To make matters worse, his father ended up in debtors’ prison.

Work in the blacking house lasted from 8 to 8, with one hour for dinner and 30 minutes for tea. He made the best of his situation, and in time it became apparent to the foreman that Charles was different. He not only carried himself in a manner unlike the other boys’, he also outworked them.

Upon his father’s release from prison, Charles went back to school. He developed shorthand and landed a job as a parliamentary reporter—first for The True Sun, then the Morning Chronicle. And he contributed articles to the Monthly Magazine and Evening Chronicle.

Disenchantment with Religion

The influence of religion was ever present in Dickens’s life, even though he didn’t engage in religious activity to any noticeable degree. Biographer Edgar Johnson writes that Dickens’s parents “were Church of England, though not at all devout, or interested in matters of doctrine.… They did not even attend church very regularly.” Young Charles was also subjected to the boring messages of Baptist minister William Giles. With these experiences to reflect upon, Dickens developed a dislike for the church. G. K. Chesterton wrote that “the tone of Dickens towards religion, though like that of most of his contemporaries, philosophically disturbed and rather historically ignorant, had an element that was very characteristic of himself. He had all the prejudices of his time. He had, for instance, that dislike of defined dogmas, which really means a preference for unexamined dogmas.”

This attitude did not come by accident; it was neatly cultivated by a life of unpleasant experiences with formal religion. Dickens’s contempt should not be construed, however, as a hostility toward God or Jesus Christ. He merely observed that the church, for all its dogma and ceremony, failed to realize, at least in practice, the need for social action.

In 1834, for example, Sir Andrew Agnew attempted to pass a bill prohibiting recreation and work on Sunday. This infuriated Dickens, for it reflected the fanatical side of religion he had grown to hate. The wealthy enjoyed leisure throughout the week because their money enabled them to hire others to do their work, but the poor worker had to labor six days, leaving only Sunday for recreation and other needed activities. Now the religious zealots wanted to take that brief source of pleasure from those who needed it most.

Dickens attacked the bill with a pamphlet titled Sunday Under Three Heads: As it is; As Sabbath Bills would make it; As it might be made. The bill was never enacted, but the issue did entrench his disdain for rabid religiosity.

Dickens became involved with a system that attracted many fellow intellectuals: Unitarianism. It enabled him to live without the dogmatic creeds of historic Christianity, yet affirm the existence of God and the humanity and divine mission of Jesus Christ. And Unitarianism promoted social awareness. Writer Robert Browning remarked that “Mr. Dickens is an enlightened Unitarian.” After 1847, however, he did attend the Anglican church near his home. And he prayed each morning and night.

Settling Down to Success

The year 1836 was pivotal for Dickens. He married Catherine Hogarth on April 2 and began a family that eventually expanded to 10 children. Also, his writing career was launched in earnest. Chapman and Hall hired him to write the brief text for a series of sporting plates by illustrator Robert Seymour. Dickens initiated an alternate plan that gave birth to the Pickwick Papers. At the same fume, Oliver Twist was coming out in the periodical Bentley’s Miscellany. Dickens was now an established writer with a growing reputation. His popularity crossed the Atlantic, and soon he was on his way to America, where he was received with enthusiasm.

Dickens conveyed his social concerns to a vast number of people via his novels. He made it a point to expose injustice. A case in point is the anti-Catholic riots of that era. By no means was Dickens sympathetic toward Catholicism, but he hated bigotry. In 1841 he wrote Barnaby Rudge, which exposed the foolishness of the anti-Catholic period and those who encouraged it.

“God Bless Us, Every One”

Even though Dickens hated established religion, he maintained a sensitivity toward the social principles of Christianity, principles he made quite clear in one of his most popular and endearing novels, A Christmas Carol.

Written when Dickens was 31, this tale of ghosts and greed so thrilled him that he literally wept and laughed over it. The protagonist, Scrooge, is an oppressing, greedy, lover of money—a cold, wretched shell of a man who has lost all sense of kindness. Of all the characters in the Dickens gallery, the old miser is the most memorable representation of that which Dickens hated in individuals and society.

The moral and spiritual values sprinkled throughout the story are priceless. For example, Scrooge equates happiness with wealth; ironically, he is the most unhappy character. Scrooge remarks that those who are unable to care for themselves would do society a favor by dying, thereby helping decrease the surplus population. Later, however, Scrooge is taken by the second Spirit to visit the home of his impoverished employee Bob Cratchit. Scrooge develops a personal interest in Tiny Tim, the lovable boy who suffers from a potentially fatal ailment. Scrooge inquires about Tim’s health, and the Spirit states that the boy will die unless the old miser changes his ways. But who cares, for “If he be like to die,” says the Spirit, “he had better do it, and decrease the population.” Scrooge hangs his head in shame.

Eventually, Scrooge sees the folly of his way and exclaims, “I am not the man I was. I will not be the man I must have been but for this intercourse.” A religious conversion? The “salvation” of Scrooge comes not from an encounter with Christ, but an encounter with self. He displays the Dickensian view that salvation is achieved by loving your neighbor, giving a cup of water to those in need. The New Testament teaches that such acts are the result of spiritual conversion; for Dickens, they were the means.

A Secret Work Revealed

In 1849, Dickens wrote an important manuscript that would not be printed until 1934. This work was so personal to him that he requested it not be made public for 85 years. The work was a retelling of the Gospel narratives, titled The Life of Our Lord. Marie Dickens, Charles Dickens’s daughter-in-law, offered this fitting description of Dickens’s secret work:

“This book, the last work of Charles Dickens to be published, has an individual interest and purpose that separate it completely from everything else that Dickens wrote. Quite apart from its Divine Subject, the manuscript is peculiarly personal to the novelist, and is not so much a revelation of his mind as a tribute to his heart and humanity, and also, his deep devotion to Our Lord.”

Dickens wrote The Life of Our Lord so that his children would become familiar with Jesus Christ, and he often read the story to them. When his children left home, he gave each a New Testament (though not an entire Bible). To one, he wrote, “I put a New Testament among your books, for the very same reasons, and with the very same hopes that made me write an easy account of it for you, when you were a little child; because it is the best book that ever was or will be known in the world.…” Unitarianism The Life of Our Lord most clearly expresses Dickens’s religious disposition. He respected Christianity’s founder, Jesus Christ, who practiced what Dickens so desperately wanted to find in humanity. Jesus loved all people. He rubbed shoulders with social castaways, rebuked wealthy elitists, and severely condemned hypocrisy. If ever a man could gain Dickens’s utmost respect and favor, Christ could, and did.

While certain statements about Christ appear orthodox, the overall picture that Dickens paints cannot be considered orthodox when measured by Scripture or the historic creeds of Christianity. Dickens portrays Jesus as a good man who is loved by God like a son. He writes of the Resurrection, yet glosses over the Virgin Birth and Communion, and he states that one becomes acceptable for heaven by doing good.

One thing is certain, however: Dickens respected the Bible and Christ and sought to instill in his children the same reverence. Near the end of his life he wrote to a reader: “I have always striven in my writings to express veneration for the life and lessons of Our Saviour; because I feel it; and because I re-wrote that history for my children—every one of whom knew it from having it repeated to them—long before they could read, and almost as soon as they could speak. But I have never made proclamation of this from the house tops.”

Unfinished Business

In 1858, Dickens separated from his wife. Some speculate that a chief cause of the marriage’s breakup was his tendency to put himself and his writing first. Dickens then devoted himself increasingly to traveling and public readings of his works. He also developed a relationship with a young actress.

Dickens pushed himself to the limit for so long that his health began to break down. Eventually, he was forced to cease most of his public speaking and resign himself to writing. In 1869 he began work on The Mystery of Edwin Drood, which was interrupted by his untimely death from a seizure on June 9, 1870. He was 58. He was buried in Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey.

In his last will and testament, written on May 12, 1869, Dickens wrote, “I commit my soul to the mercy of God through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and I exhort my dear children humbly to try to guide themselves by the teaching of the New Testament in its broad spirit, and to put no faith in any man’s narrow construction of its letter here or there.”

Dickens despised, and in his books eloquently portrayed, the gross injustices and shoddy lifestyle of many who laid claim to the teachings of Christianity. Yet a fair examination of his life and work shows that he was not a hater of Christ or of Christianity. His friend John Forster concluded that Dickens’s will demonstrates his “unswerving faith in Christianity itself, apart from sects and schisms.”

How Dickens Viewed Jesus Christ

Selected quotations from The Life of Our Lord
My dear children, I am very anxious that you should know something about the history of Jesus Christ. For everybody ought to know about Him.

And when people seek ill of the Poor and Miserable, think how Jesus Christ went among them and taught them, and thought them worthy of his care.

And because he did such Good, and taught people how to love God and how to hope to go to Heaven after death, he was called Our Savior.

Remember!—It is christianity to do good always—even to those who do evil to us. It is christianity to love our neighbor as ourself, and to do to all men as we would have them Do to us. It is christianity to be gentle, merciful, and forgiving, and to keep those qualities quiet in our own hearts, and never make a boast of them, or of our prayers or of our love of God, but always to shew that we love him by humbly trying to do right in everything.

Stephen Rost, “How Dickens Viewed Jesus Christ,” Christian History Magazine-Issue 27: Persecution in the Early Church (Carol Stream, IL: Christianity Today, 1990).

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.

The Magic Of Story: Day 3

Great Expectations
Charles Dickens

Is it a very wicked place?” I asked, more for the sake of saying something than for information.

“You may get cheated, robbed, and murdered in London. But there are plenty of people anywhere, who’ll do that for you.”

“If there is bad blood between you and them,” said I, to soften it off a little.

“O! I don’t know about bad blood,” returned Mr. Wemmick; “there’s not much bad blood about. They’ll do it, if there’s anything to be got by it.”

“That makes it worse.”

“You think so?” returned Mr. Wemmick. “Much about the same, I should say.”


Double standards are the mother of compartmentalization and they are a fearful thing. Here you may hold diametrically aligned but contrasting views in the cradle of your mind with no spiritual angst whatsoever. It takes children a while to get the hang of it, but not long. The problem, of course, is that we all are guilty and remedy requires a hard lonesome fight against the resolute crowd.  You also must be willing to swim against the rushing murky waters of moral relativity that are fed by convenience.

In Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me, Karen Swallow Prior says this:

There is also a visceral sort of compartmentalization, one that Dickens shows us more subtly through the character of Wemmick. This one not only divides our public self from our private self but also divides us into various selves, often in ways we don’t even recognize. I think, for example, of how by high school I had become one person when I was partying with my friends and another when I was going to church with my parents. That’s natural of teenage rebellion—it’s not like I could light up a joint in church so as to live a de-compartmentalized life. But there are more insidious manifestations to this compartmentalized life. When my youth group leader told all of the kids in youth group that he had burned all of his rock albums, and I happened to listen to rock music, I saw two choices before me: either to burn all my albums, too, or to keep listening but not talk about it in church on Sunday or with any of my Sunday friends. I chose the latter, not seeing a third option of voicing disagreement or engaging in further discussion. My choice made it more difficult to share my Sunday life with my non-Sunday friends and therefore only fortified the partitions that chopped my life into bits.

What are some examples of the modern day tendency to divide our lives and ourselves into compartments?

How can this be overcome? Should it be?

Matthew 5:37

But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.


Dig Deeper

Literature, Liturgy & The Arts


The Faith behind the Famous: Charles Dickens

Stephen Rost

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens has been called “perhaps the greatest of English novelists.” Some may consider such a tribute an exaggeration, but no one can deny his genius and tremendous contribution to literature.

Throughout his life, Dickens was a champion of the poor and oppressed, as well as a critic of aristocratic and High-Church elitism. Popular works such as David Copperfiel, A Christmas Carol, and Pickwick Papers reveal his contempt for the corruption and folly in Victorian England’s business, law, religion, and education.

Taste of Poverty

Dickens’s life follows a classic rags-to-riches story. He was born at Landport, in Portsea, on February 7, 1812. His father, John Dickens, was a clerk in the navy—a job that enabled the family to live at a comfortable, but not overly indulgent, middle-class level. Unfortunately, careless money management and difficult times contributed to John Dickens’s financial decline in the 1820s.

Household items had to be sold, and Charles was given the unsavory task of taking treasured family books to the local pawn shop. At the tender age of 12, Charles was sent to work in a dingy blacking house. This dashed all hope of his getting a proper education. To make matters worse, his father ended up in debtors’ prison.

Work in the blacking house lasted from 8 to 8, with one hour for dinner and 30 minutes for tea. He made the best of his situation, and in time it became apparent to the foreman that Charles was different. He not only carried himself in a manner unlike the other boys’, he also outworked them.

Upon his father’s release from prison, Charles went back to school. He developed shorthand and landed a job as a parliamentary reporter—first for The True Sun, then the Morning Chronicle. And he contributed articles to the Monthly Magazine and Evening Chronicle.

Disenchantment with Religion

The influence of religion was ever present in Dickens’s life, even though he didn’t engage in religious activity to any noticeable degree. Biographer Edgar Johnson writes that Dickens’s parents “were Church of England, though not at all devout, or interested in matters of doctrine.… They did not even attend church very regularly.” Young Charles was also subjected to the boring messages of Baptist minister William Giles. With these experiences to reflect upon, Dickens developed a dislike for the church. G. K. Chesterton wrote that “the tone of Dickens towards religion, though like that of most of his contemporaries, philosophically disturbed and rather historically ignorant, had an element that was very characteristic of himself. He had all the prejudices of his time. He had, for instance, that dislike of defined dogmas, which really means a preference for unexamined dogmas.”

This attitude did not come by accident; it was neatly cultivated by a life of unpleasant experiences with formal religion. Dickens’s contempt should not be construed, however, as a hostility toward God or Jesus Christ. He merely observed that the church, for all its dogma and ceremony, failed to realize, at least in practice, the need for social action.

In 1834, for example, Sir Andrew Agnew attempted to pass a bill prohibiting recreation and work on Sunday. This infuriated Dickens, for it reflected the fanatical side of religion he had grown to hate. The wealthy enjoyed leisure throughout the week because their money enabled them to hire others to do their work, but the poor worker had to labor six days, leaving only Sunday for recreation and other needed activities. Now the religious zealots wanted to take that brief source of pleasure from those who needed it most.

Dickens attacked the bill with a pamphlet titled Sunday Under Three Heads: As it is; As Sabbath Bills would make it; As it might be made. The bill was never enacted, but the issue did entrench his disdain for rabid religiosity.

Dickens became involved with a system that attracted many fellow intellectuals: Unitarianism. It enabled him to live without the dogmatic creeds of historic Christianity, yet affirm the existence of God and the humanity and divine mission of Jesus Christ. And Unitarianism promoted social awareness. Writer Robert Browning remarked that “Mr. Dickens is an enlightened Unitarian.” After 1847, however, he did attend the Anglican church near his home. And he prayed each morning and night.

Settling Down to Success

The year 1836 was pivotal for Dickens. He married Catherine Hogarth on April 2 and began a family that eventually expanded to 10 children. Also, his writing career was launched in earnest. Chapman and Hall hired him to write the brief text for a series of sporting plates by illustrator Robert Seymour. Dickens initiated an alternate plan that gave birth to the Pickwick Papers. At the same fume, Oliver Twist was coming out in the periodical Bentley’s Miscellany. Dickens was now an established writer with a growing reputation. His popularity crossed the Atlantic, and soon he was on his way to America, where he was received with enthusiasm.

Dickens conveyed his social concerns to a vast number of people via his novels. He made it a point to expose injustice. A case in point is the anti-Catholic riots of that era. By no means was Dickens sympathetic toward Catholicism, but he hated bigotry. In 1841 he wrote Barnaby Rudge, which exposed the foolishness of the anti-Catholic period and those who encouraged it.

“God Bless Us, Every One”

Even though Dickens hated established religion, he maintained a sensitivity toward the social principles of Christianity, principles he made quite clear in one of his most popular and endearing novels, A Christmas Carol.

Written when Dickens was 31, this tale of ghosts and greed so thrilled him that he literally wept and laughed over it. The protagonist, Scrooge, is an oppressing, greedy, lover of money—a cold, wretched shell of a man who has lost all sense of kindness. Of all the characters in the Dickens gallery, the old miser is the most memorable representation of that which Dickens hated in individuals and society.

The moral and spiritual values sprinkled throughout the story are priceless. For example, Scrooge equates happiness with wealth; ironically, he is the most unhappy character. Scrooge remarks that those who are unable to care for themselves would do society a favor by dying, thereby helping decrease the surplus population. Later, however, Scrooge is taken by the second Spirit to visit the home of his impoverished employee Bob Cratchit. Scrooge develops a personal interest in Tiny Tim, the lovable boy who suffers from a potentially fatal ailment. Scrooge inquires about Tim’s health, and the Spirit states that the boy will die unless the old miser changes his ways. But who cares, for “If he be like to die,” says the Spirit, “he had better do it, and decrease the population.” Scrooge hangs his head in shame.

Eventually, Scrooge sees the folly of his way and exclaims, “I am not the man I was. I will not be the man I must have been but for this intercourse.” A religious conversion? The “salvation” of Scrooge comes not from an encounter with Christ, but an encounter with self. He displays the Dickensian view that salvation is achieved by loving your neighbor, giving a cup of water to those in need. The New Testament teaches that such acts are the result of spiritual conversion; for Dickens, they were the means.

A Secret Work Revealed

In 1849, Dickens wrote an important manuscript that would not be printed until 1934. This work was so personal to him that he requested it not be made public for 85 years. The work was a retelling of the Gospel narratives, titled The Life of Our Lord. Marie Dickens, Charles Dickens’s daughter-in-law, offered this fitting description of Dickens’s secret work:

“This book, the last work of Charles Dickens to be published, has an individual interest and purpose that separate it completely from everything else that Dickens wrote. Quite apart from its Divine Subject, the manuscript is peculiarly personal to the novelist, and is not so much a revelation of his mind as a tribute to his heart and humanity, and also, his deep devotion to Our Lord.”

Dickens wrote The Life of Our Lord so that his children would become familiar with Jesus Christ, and he often read the story to them. When his children left home, he gave each a New Testament (though not an entire Bible). To one, he wrote, “I put a New Testament among your books, for the very same reasons, and with the very same hopes that made me write an easy account of it for you, when you were a little child; because it is the best book that ever was or will be known in the world.…” Unitarianism The Life of Our Lord most clearly expresses Dickens’s religious disposition. He respected Christianity’s founder, Jesus Christ, who practiced what Dickens so desperately wanted to find in humanity. Jesus loved all people. He rubbed shoulders with social castaways, rebuked wealthy elitists, and severely condemned hypocrisy. If ever a man could gain Dickens’s utmost respect and favor, Christ could, and did.

While certain statements about Christ appear orthodox, the overall picture that Dickens paints cannot be considered orthodox when measured by Scripture or the historic creeds of Christianity. Dickens portrays Jesus as a good man who is loved by God like a son. He writes of the Resurrection, yet glosses over the Virgin Birth and Communion, and he states that one becomes acceptable for heaven by doing good.

One thing is certain, however: Dickens respected the Bible and Christ and sought to instill in his children the same reverence. Near the end of his life he wrote to a reader: “I have always striven in my writings to express veneration for the life and lessons of Our Saviour; because I feel it; and because I re-wrote that history for my children—every one of whom knew it from having it repeated to them—long before they could read, and almost as soon as they could speak. But I have never made proclamation of this from the house tops.”

Unfinished Business

In 1858, Dickens separated from his wife. Some speculate that a chief cause of the marriage’s breakup was his tendency to put himself and his writing first. Dickens then devoted himself increasingly to traveling and public readings of his works. He also developed a relationship with a young actress.

Dickens pushed himself to the limit for so long that his health began to break down. Eventually, he was forced to cease most of his public speaking and resign himself to writing. In 1869 he began work on The Mystery of Edwin Drood, which was interrupted by his untimely death from a seizure on June 9, 1870. He was 58. He was buried in Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey.

In his last will and testament, written on May 12, 1869, Dickens wrote, “I commit my soul to the mercy of God through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and I exhort my dear children humbly to try to guide themselves by the teaching of the New Testament in its broad spirit, and to put no faith in any man’s narrow construction of its letter here or there.”

Dickens despised, and in his books eloquently portrayed, the gross injustices and shoddy lifestyle of many who laid claim to the teachings of Christianity. Yet a fair examination of his life and work shows that he was not a hater of Christ or of Christianity. His friend John Forster concluded that Dickens’s will demonstrates his “unswerving faith in Christianity itself, apart from sects and schisms.”

How Dickens Viewed Jesus Christ

Selected quotations from The Life of Our Lord
My dear children, I am very anxious that you should know something about the history of Jesus Christ. For everybody ought to know about Him.

And when people seek ill of the Poor and Miserable, think how Jesus Christ went among them and taught them, and thought them worthy of his care.

And because he did such Good, and taught people how to love God and how to hope to go to Heaven after death, he was called Our Savior.

Remember!—It is christianity to do good always—even to those who do evil to us. It is christianity to love our neighbor as ourself, and to do to all men as we would have them Do to us. It is christianity to be gentle, merciful, and forgiving, and to keep those qualities quiet in our own hearts, and never make a boast of them, or of our prayers or of our love of God, but always to shew that we love him by humbly trying to do right in everything.

Stephen Rost, “How Dickens Viewed Jesus Christ,” Christian History Magazine-Issue 27: Persecution in the Early Church (Carol Stream, IL: Christianity Today, 1990).

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.

The Magic Of Story: Day 2

Great Expectations
Charles Dickens

This was a case of metaphysics, at least as difficult for Joe to deal with as for me. But Joe took the case altogether out of the region of metaphysics, and by that means vanquished it. . . .
“And as to being common [said Joe], I don’t make it out at all clear. You are oncommon in some things [Pip]. You’re oncommon small. Likewise you’re a oncommon scholar.”
“No, I am ignorant and backward, Joe.”
“Why, see what a letter you wrote last night! Wrote in print even! I’ve seen letters—Ah! and from gentlefolks!—that I’ll swear weren’t wrote in print,” said Joe.
“I have learnt next to nothing, Joe. You think much of me. It’s only that.”
“Well, Pip,” said Joe, “be it so or be it son’t, you must be a common scholar afore you can be a oncommon one, I should hope! The king upon his throne, with his crown upon his ed, can’t sit and write his acts of Parliament in print, without having begun, when he were a unpromoted Prince, with the alphabet.—Ah!” added Joe, with a shake of the head that was full of meaning, “and begun at A. too, and worked his way to Z. And I know what that is to do, though I can’t say I’ve exactly done it.”
There was some hope in this piece of wisdom, and it rather encouraged me.


Readers are evangelists.  Everyone who truly enjoys digging into a book thinks all of their friends should read it too.  Immediately.  Stop everything and read this classic work of literature – or trashy pulp fiction!

In Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me, Karen Swallow Prior says this:

Not everyone loves English or reading literature or their eight-grade English teacher or their college professors. Not everyone loves Great Expectations. My cousin will not let me forget the summer she “wasted” trying to get through Great Expectations because I had so strongly recommended it. She is a voracious reader of popular fiction—I count as one the best accomplishments of my youth that I introduced her to the joys of reading one summer when we were about 10, a couple of summers before she and her older sister introduced me to the joys of sneaking puffs of cigarettes out in our Grampa’s woods—and, seeking to give her reading a more literary turn, she asked me for suggestions. I don’t think she’ll ever do so again. But I suspect that the pleasure she takes in reminding me of her lost summer just might make up for the lack of pleasure she found in actually reading the book. Other friends, too, have picked up the book at my bidding, only to put it quietly down again after torturously slow starts.

Is there a book you have loved that others around you just didn’t understand or love as much?

Romans 15:4

FOR WHATEVER THINGS WERE WRITTEN BEFORE WERE WRITTEN FOR OUR LEARNING, THAT WE THROUGH THE PATIENCE AND COMFORT OF THE SCRIPTURES MIGHT HAVE HOPE.


Dig Deeper

Literature, Liturgy & The Arts


The Faith behind the Famous: Charles Dickens

Stephen Rost

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens has been called “perhaps the greatest of English novelists.” Some may consider such a tribute an exaggeration, but no one can deny his genius and tremendous contribution to literature.

Throughout his life, Dickens was a champion of the poor and oppressed, as well as a critic of aristocratic and High-Church elitism. Popular works such as David Copperfiel, A Christmas Carol, and Pickwick Papers reveal his contempt for the corruption and folly in Victorian England’s business, law, religion, and education.

Taste of Poverty

Dickens’s life follows a classic rags-to-riches story. He was born at Landport, in Portsea, on February 7, 1812. His father, John Dickens, was a clerk in the navy—a job that enabled the family to live at a comfortable, but not overly indulgent, middle-class level. Unfortunately, careless money management and difficult times contributed to John Dickens’s financial decline in the 1820s.

Household items had to be sold, and Charles was given the unsavory task of taking treasured family books to the local pawn shop. At the tender age of 12, Charles was sent to work in a dingy blacking house. This dashed all hope of his getting a proper education. To make matters worse, his father ended up in debtors’ prison.

Work in the blacking house lasted from 8 to 8, with one hour for dinner and 30 minutes for tea. He made the best of his situation, and in time it became apparent to the foreman that Charles was different. He not only carried himself in a manner unlike the other boys’, he also outworked them.

Upon his father’s release from prison, Charles went back to school. He developed shorthand and landed a job as a parliamentary reporter—first for The True Sun, then the Morning Chronicle. And he contributed articles to the Monthly Magazine and Evening Chronicle.

Disenchantment with Religion

The influence of religion was ever present in Dickens’s life, even though he didn’t engage in religious activity to any noticeable degree. Biographer Edgar Johnson writes that Dickens’s parents “were Church of England, though not at all devout, or interested in matters of doctrine.… They did not even attend church very regularly.” Young Charles was also subjected to the boring messages of Baptist minister William Giles. With these experiences to reflect upon, Dickens developed a dislike for the church. G. K. Chesterton wrote that “the tone of Dickens towards religion, though like that of most of his contemporaries, philosophically disturbed and rather historically ignorant, had an element that was very characteristic of himself. He had all the prejudices of his time. He had, for instance, that dislike of defined dogmas, which really means a preference for unexamined dogmas.”

This attitude did not come by accident; it was neatly cultivated by a life of unpleasant experiences with formal religion. Dickens’s contempt should not be construed, however, as a hostility toward God or Jesus Christ. He merely observed that the church, for all its dogma and ceremony, failed to realize, at least in practice, the need for social action.

In 1834, for example, Sir Andrew Agnew attempted to pass a bill prohibiting recreation and work on Sunday. This infuriated Dickens, for it reflected the fanatical side of religion he had grown to hate. The wealthy enjoyed leisure throughout the week because their money enabled them to hire others to do their work, but the poor worker had to labor six days, leaving only Sunday for recreation and other needed activities. Now the religious zealots wanted to take that brief source of pleasure from those who needed it most.

Dickens attacked the bill with a pamphlet titled Sunday Under Three Heads: As it is; As Sabbath Bills would make it; As it might be made. The bill was never enacted, but the issue did entrench his disdain for rabid religiosity.

Dickens became involved with a system that attracted many fellow intellectuals: Unitarianism. It enabled him to live without the dogmatic creeds of historic Christianity, yet affirm the existence of God and the humanity and divine mission of Jesus Christ. And Unitarianism promoted social awareness. Writer Robert Browning remarked that “Mr. Dickens is an enlightened Unitarian.” After 1847, however, he did attend the Anglican church near his home. And he prayed each morning and night.

Settling Down to Success

The year 1836 was pivotal for Dickens. He married Catherine Hogarth on April 2 and began a family that eventually expanded to 10 children. Also, his writing career was launched in earnest. Chapman and Hall hired him to write the brief text for a series of sporting plates by illustrator Robert Seymour. Dickens initiated an alternate plan that gave birth to the Pickwick Papers. At the same fume, Oliver Twist was coming out in the periodical Bentley’s Miscellany. Dickens was now an established writer with a growing reputation. His popularity crossed the Atlantic, and soon he was on his way to America, where he was received with enthusiasm.

Dickens conveyed his social concerns to a vast number of people via his novels. He made it a point to expose injustice. A case in point is the anti-Catholic riots of that era. By no means was Dickens sympathetic toward Catholicism, but he hated bigotry. In 1841 he wrote Barnaby Rudge, which exposed the foolishness of the anti-Catholic period and those who encouraged it.

“God Bless Us, Every One”

Even though Dickens hated established religion, he maintained a sensitivity toward the social principles of Christianity, principles he made quite clear in one of his most popular and endearing novels, A Christmas Carol.

Written when Dickens was 31, this tale of ghosts and greed so thrilled him that he literally wept and laughed over it. The protagonist, Scrooge, is an oppressing, greedy, lover of money—a cold, wretched shell of a man who has lost all sense of kindness. Of all the characters in the Dickens gallery, the old miser is the most memorable representation of that which Dickens hated in individuals and society.

The moral and spiritual values sprinkled throughout the story are priceless. For example, Scrooge equates happiness with wealth; ironically, he is the most unhappy character. Scrooge remarks that those who are unable to care for themselves would do society a favor by dying, thereby helping decrease the surplus population. Later, however, Scrooge is taken by the second Spirit to visit the home of his impoverished employee Bob Cratchit. Scrooge develops a personal interest in Tiny Tim, the lovable boy who suffers from a potentially fatal ailment. Scrooge inquires about Tim’s health, and the Spirit states that the boy will die unless the old miser changes his ways. But who cares, for “If he be like to die,” says the Spirit, “he had better do it, and decrease the population.” Scrooge hangs his head in shame.

Eventually, Scrooge sees the folly of his way and exclaims, “I am not the man I was. I will not be the man I must have been but for this intercourse.” A religious conversion? The “salvation” of Scrooge comes not from an encounter with Christ, but an encounter with self. He displays the Dickensian view that salvation is achieved by loving your neighbor, giving a cup of water to those in need. The New Testament teaches that such acts are the result of spiritual conversion; for Dickens, they were the means.

A Secret Work Revealed

In 1849, Dickens wrote an important manuscript that would not be printed until 1934. This work was so personal to him that he requested it not be made public for 85 years. The work was a retelling of the Gospel narratives, titled The Life of Our Lord. Marie Dickens, Charles Dickens’s daughter-in-law, offered this fitting description of Dickens’s secret work:

“This book, the last work of Charles Dickens to be published, has an individual interest and purpose that separate it completely from everything else that Dickens wrote. Quite apart from its Divine Subject, the manuscript is peculiarly personal to the novelist, and is not so much a revelation of his mind as a tribute to his heart and humanity, and also, his deep devotion to Our Lord.”

Dickens wrote The Life of Our Lord so that his children would become familiar with Jesus Christ, and he often read the story to them. When his children left home, he gave each a New Testament (though not an entire Bible). To one, he wrote, “I put a New Testament among your books, for the very same reasons, and with the very same hopes that made me write an easy account of it for you, when you were a little child; because it is the best book that ever was or will be known in the world.…” Unitarianism The Life of Our Lord most clearly expresses Dickens’s religious disposition. He respected Christianity’s founder, Jesus Christ, who practiced what Dickens so desperately wanted to find in humanity. Jesus loved all people. He rubbed shoulders with social castaways, rebuked wealthy elitists, and severely condemned hypocrisy. If ever a man could gain Dickens’s utmost respect and favor, Christ could, and did.

While certain statements about Christ appear orthodox, the overall picture that Dickens paints cannot be considered orthodox when measured by Scripture or the historic creeds of Christianity. Dickens portrays Jesus as a good man who is loved by God like a son. He writes of the Resurrection, yet glosses over the Virgin Birth and Communion, and he states that one becomes acceptable for heaven by doing good.

One thing is certain, however: Dickens respected the Bible and Christ and sought to instill in his children the same reverence. Near the end of his life he wrote to a reader: “I have always striven in my writings to express veneration for the life and lessons of Our Saviour; because I feel it; and because I re-wrote that history for my children—every one of whom knew it from having it repeated to them—long before they could read, and almost as soon as they could speak. But I have never made proclamation of this from the house tops.”

Unfinished Business

In 1858, Dickens separated from his wife. Some speculate that a chief cause of the marriage’s breakup was his tendency to put himself and his writing first. Dickens then devoted himself increasingly to traveling and public readings of his works. He also developed a relationship with a young actress.

Dickens pushed himself to the limit for so long that his health began to break down. Eventually, he was forced to cease most of his public speaking and resign himself to writing. In 1869 he began work on The Mystery of Edwin Drood, which was interrupted by his untimely death from a seizure on June 9, 1870. He was 58. He was buried in Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey.

In his last will and testament, written on May 12, 1869, Dickens wrote, “I commit my soul to the mercy of God through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and I exhort my dear children humbly to try to guide themselves by the teaching of the New Testament in its broad spirit, and to put no faith in any man’s narrow construction of its letter here or there.”

Dickens despised, and in his books eloquently portrayed, the gross injustices and shoddy lifestyle of many who laid claim to the teachings of Christianity. Yet a fair examination of his life and work shows that he was not a hater of Christ or of Christianity. His friend John Forster concluded that Dickens’s will demonstrates his “unswerving faith in Christianity itself, apart from sects and schisms.”

How Dickens Viewed Jesus Christ

Selected quotations from The Life of Our Lord
My dear children, I am very anxious that you should know something about the history of Jesus Christ. For everybody ought to know about Him.

And when people seek ill of the Poor and Miserable, think how Jesus Christ went among them and taught them, and thought them worthy of his care.

And because he did such Good, and taught people how to love God and how to hope to go to Heaven after death, he was called Our Savior.

Remember!—It is christianity to do good always—even to those who do evil to us. It is christianity to love our neighbor as ourself, and to do to all men as we would have them Do to us. It is christianity to be gentle, merciful, and forgiving, and to keep those qualities quiet in our own hearts, and never make a boast of them, or of our prayers or of our love of God, but always to shew that we love him by humbly trying to do right in everything.

Stephen Rost, “How Dickens Viewed Jesus Christ,” Christian History Magazine-Issue 27: Persecution in the Early Church (Carol Stream, IL: Christianity Today, 1990).

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.

The Magic Of Story: Day 1

Great Expectations
Charles Dickens

“My name,” he said, “is Jaggers, and I am a lawyer in London. . . . I have unusual business to transact with you, and I commence by explaining that it is not of my originating. . . .”
Finding that he could not see us very well from where he sat, he got up, and threw one leg over the back of a chair and leaned upon it; thus having one foot on the seat of the chair, and one foot on the ground.
“Now, Joseph Gargery, I am the bearer of an offer to relieve you of this young fellow your apprentice. You would not object to cancel his indentures at his request and for his good? You would want nothing for so doing?”
“Lord forbid that I should want anything for not standing in Pip’s way,” said Joe, staring.
“Lord forbidding is pious, but not to the purpose,” returned Mr. Jaggers. “The question is, Would you want anything? Do you want anything?”
“The answer is,” returned Joe, sternly, “No.”
I thought Mr. Jaggers glanced at Joe, as if he considered him a fool for his disinterestedness. But I was too much bewildered between breathless curiosity and surprise, to be sure of it.
“Very well,” said Mr. Jaggers. “Recollect the admission you have made, and don’t try to go from it presently.”
“Who’s a going to try?” retorted Joe. . . .
“Now, I return to this young fellow. And the communication I have got to make is, that he has Great Expectations.”.


This week we turn to Great Expectations by Mr. Charles Dickens.  The book is said to be his masterpiece and that’s quite a statement, for he was prolific in the production of timeless literature.  Great writers like Dickens most certainly create words of lasting impact, but many others – more everyday people –  do as well.  In the impressionable early years of our lives, these words frequently came from our teachers.  Most of us can remember, as we say, ‘that one special teacher.’

In Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me, Karen Swallow Prior says this:

Because I loved her, I believed in Mrs. Lovejoy, too. And because I believed in her, I believed in everything Mrs. Lovejoy taught my seventh and eighth grade English classes. I believed in grammar and parts of speech and sentence diagramming and punctuation and spelling quizzes and vocabulary lists and stories. Especially the stories.

Mrs. Lovejoy was like an interesting character in a good story. She was as thin and tall as a birch tree, and just as silver and smooth. She was older than dirt, too. Peering down from the top of her spectacles at all of us in the throes of awkward adolescence, she commanded both fear and respect. Mrs. Lovejoy was passionate about not just what she taught but also about those whom she taught.

Did you have a teacher who influenced your life more than any other?  How so?

James 3:1

My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.


Dig Deeper

Literature, Liturgy & The Arts


The Faith behind the Famous: Charles Dickens

Stephen Rost

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens has been called “perhaps the greatest of English novelists.” Some may consider such a tribute an exaggeration, but no one can deny his genius and tremendous contribution to literature.

Throughout his life, Dickens was a champion of the poor and oppressed, as well as a critic of aristocratic and High-Church elitism. Popular works such as David Copperfiel, A Christmas Carol, and Pickwick Papers reveal his contempt for the corruption and folly in Victorian England’s business, law, religion, and education.

Taste of Poverty

Dickens’s life follows a classic rags-to-riches story. He was born at Landport, in Portsea, on February 7, 1812. His father, John Dickens, was a clerk in the navy—a job that enabled the family to live at a comfortable, but not overly indulgent, middle-class level. Unfortunately, careless money management and difficult times contributed to John Dickens’s financial decline in the 1820s.

Household items had to be sold, and Charles was given the unsavory task of taking treasured family books to the local pawn shop. At the tender age of 12, Charles was sent to work in a dingy blacking house. This dashed all hope of his getting a proper education. To make matters worse, his father ended up in debtors’ prison.

Work in the blacking house lasted from 8 to 8, with one hour for dinner and 30 minutes for tea. He made the best of his situation, and in time it became apparent to the foreman that Charles was different. He not only carried himself in a manner unlike the other boys’, he also outworked them.

Upon his father’s release from prison, Charles went back to school. He developed shorthand and landed a job as a parliamentary reporter—first for The True Sun, then the Morning Chronicle. And he contributed articles to the Monthly Magazine and Evening Chronicle.

Disenchantment with Religion

The influence of religion was ever present in Dickens’s life, even though he didn’t engage in religious activity to any noticeable degree. Biographer Edgar Johnson writes that Dickens’s parents “were Church of England, though not at all devout, or interested in matters of doctrine.… They did not even attend church very regularly.” Young Charles was also subjected to the boring messages of Baptist minister William Giles. With these experiences to reflect upon, Dickens developed a dislike for the church. G. K. Chesterton wrote that “the tone of Dickens towards religion, though like that of most of his contemporaries, philosophically disturbed and rather historically ignorant, had an element that was very characteristic of himself. He had all the prejudices of his time. He had, for instance, that dislike of defined dogmas, which really means a preference for unexamined dogmas.”

This attitude did not come by accident; it was neatly cultivated by a life of unpleasant experiences with formal religion. Dickens’s contempt should not be construed, however, as a hostility toward God or Jesus Christ. He merely observed that the church, for all its dogma and ceremony, failed to realize, at least in practice, the need for social action.

In 1834, for example, Sir Andrew Agnew attempted to pass a bill prohibiting recreation and work on Sunday. This infuriated Dickens, for it reflected the fanatical side of religion he had grown to hate. The wealthy enjoyed leisure throughout the week because their money enabled them to hire others to do their work, but the poor worker had to labor six days, leaving only Sunday for recreation and other needed activities. Now the religious zealots wanted to take that brief source of pleasure from those who needed it most.

Dickens attacked the bill with a pamphlet titled Sunday Under Three Heads: As it is; As Sabbath Bills would make it; As it might be made. The bill was never enacted, but the issue did entrench his disdain for rabid religiosity.

Dickens became involved with a system that attracted many fellow intellectuals: Unitarianism. It enabled him to live without the dogmatic creeds of historic Christianity, yet affirm the existence of God and the humanity and divine mission of Jesus Christ. And Unitarianism promoted social awareness. Writer Robert Browning remarked that “Mr. Dickens is an enlightened Unitarian.” After 1847, however, he did attend the Anglican church near his home. And he prayed each morning and night.

Settling Down to Success

The year 1836 was pivotal for Dickens. He married Catherine Hogarth on April 2 and began a family that eventually expanded to 10 children. Also, his writing career was launched in earnest. Chapman and Hall hired him to write the brief text for a series of sporting plates by illustrator Robert Seymour. Dickens initiated an alternate plan that gave birth to the Pickwick Papers. At the same fume, Oliver Twist was coming out in the periodical Bentley’s Miscellany. Dickens was now an established writer with a growing reputation. His popularity crossed the Atlantic, and soon he was on his way to America, where he was received with enthusiasm.

Dickens conveyed his social concerns to a vast number of people via his novels. He made it a point to expose injustice. A case in point is the anti-Catholic riots of that era. By no means was Dickens sympathetic toward Catholicism, but he hated bigotry. In 1841 he wrote Barnaby Rudge, which exposed the foolishness of the anti-Catholic period and those who encouraged it.

“God Bless Us, Every One”

Even though Dickens hated established religion, he maintained a sensitivity toward the social principles of Christianity, principles he made quite clear in one of his most popular and endearing novels, A Christmas Carol.

Written when Dickens was 31, this tale of ghosts and greed so thrilled him that he literally wept and laughed over it. The protagonist, Scrooge, is an oppressing, greedy, lover of money—a cold, wretched shell of a man who has lost all sense of kindness. Of all the characters in the Dickens gallery, the old miser is the most memorable representation of that which Dickens hated in individuals and society.

The moral and spiritual values sprinkled throughout the story are priceless. For example, Scrooge equates happiness with wealth; ironically, he is the most unhappy character. Scrooge remarks that those who are unable to care for themselves would do society a favor by dying, thereby helping decrease the surplus population. Later, however, Scrooge is taken by the second Spirit to visit the home of his impoverished employee Bob Cratchit. Scrooge develops a personal interest in Tiny Tim, the lovable boy who suffers from a potentially fatal ailment. Scrooge inquires about Tim’s health, and the Spirit states that the boy will die unless the old miser changes his ways. But who cares, for “If he be like to die,” says the Spirit, “he had better do it, and decrease the population.” Scrooge hangs his head in shame.

Eventually, Scrooge sees the folly of his way and exclaims, “I am not the man I was. I will not be the man I must have been but for this intercourse.” A religious conversion? The “salvation” of Scrooge comes not from an encounter with Christ, but an encounter with self. He displays the Dickensian view that salvation is achieved by loving your neighbor, giving a cup of water to those in need. The New Testament teaches that such acts are the result of spiritual conversion; for Dickens, they were the means.

A Secret Work Revealed

In 1849, Dickens wrote an important manuscript that would not be printed until 1934. This work was so personal to him that he requested it not be made public for 85 years. The work was a retelling of the Gospel narratives, titled The Life of Our Lord. Marie Dickens, Charles Dickens’s daughter-in-law, offered this fitting description of Dickens’s secret work:

“This book, the last work of Charles Dickens to be published, has an individual interest and purpose that separate it completely from everything else that Dickens wrote. Quite apart from its Divine Subject, the manuscript is peculiarly personal to the novelist, and is not so much a revelation of his mind as a tribute to his heart and humanity, and also, his deep devotion to Our Lord.”

Dickens wrote The Life of Our Lord so that his children would become familiar with Jesus Christ, and he often read the story to them. When his children left home, he gave each a New Testament (though not an entire Bible). To one, he wrote, “I put a New Testament among your books, for the very same reasons, and with the very same hopes that made me write an easy account of it for you, when you were a little child; because it is the best book that ever was or will be known in the world.…” Unitarianism The Life of Our Lord most clearly expresses Dickens’s religious disposition. He respected Christianity’s founder, Jesus Christ, who practiced what Dickens so desperately wanted to find in humanity. Jesus loved all people. He rubbed shoulders with social castaways, rebuked wealthy elitists, and severely condemned hypocrisy. If ever a man could gain Dickens’s utmost respect and favor, Christ could, and did.

While certain statements about Christ appear orthodox, the overall picture that Dickens paints cannot be considered orthodox when measured by Scripture or the historic creeds of Christianity. Dickens portrays Jesus as a good man who is loved by God like a son. He writes of the Resurrection, yet glosses over the Virgin Birth and Communion, and he states that one becomes acceptable for heaven by doing good.

One thing is certain, however: Dickens respected the Bible and Christ and sought to instill in his children the same reverence. Near the end of his life he wrote to a reader: “I have always striven in my writings to express veneration for the life and lessons of Our Saviour; because I feel it; and because I re-wrote that history for my children—every one of whom knew it from having it repeated to them—long before they could read, and almost as soon as they could speak. But I have never made proclamation of this from the house tops.”

Unfinished Business

In 1858, Dickens separated from his wife. Some speculate that a chief cause of the marriage’s breakup was his tendency to put himself and his writing first. Dickens then devoted himself increasingly to traveling and public readings of his works. He also developed a relationship with a young actress.

Dickens pushed himself to the limit for so long that his health began to break down. Eventually, he was forced to cease most of his public speaking and resign himself to writing. In 1869 he began work on The Mystery of Edwin Drood, which was interrupted by his untimely death from a seizure on June 9, 1870. He was 58. He was buried in Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey.

In his last will and testament, written on May 12, 1869, Dickens wrote, “I commit my soul to the mercy of God through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and I exhort my dear children humbly to try to guide themselves by the teaching of the New Testament in its broad spirit, and to put no faith in any man’s narrow construction of its letter here or there.”

Dickens despised, and in his books eloquently portrayed, the gross injustices and shoddy lifestyle of many who laid claim to the teachings of Christianity. Yet a fair examination of his life and work shows that he was not a hater of Christ or of Christianity. His friend John Forster concluded that Dickens’s will demonstrates his “unswerving faith in Christianity itself, apart from sects and schisms.”

 

How Dickens Viewed Jesus Christ

Selected quotations from The Life of Our Lord
My dear children, I am very anxious that you should know something about the history of Jesus Christ. For everybody ought to know about Him.

And when people seek ill of the Poor and Miserable, think how Jesus Christ went among them and taught them, and thought them worthy of his care.

And because he did such Good, and taught people how to love God and how to hope to go to Heaven after death, he was called Our Savior.

Remember!—It is christianity to do good always—even to those who do evil to us. It is christianity to love our neighbor as ourself, and to do to all men as we would have them Do to us. It is christianity to be gentle, merciful, and forgiving, and to keep those qualities quiet in our own hearts, and never make a boast of them, or of our prayers or of our love of God, but always to shew that we love him by humbly trying to do right in everything.

Stephen Rost, “How Dickens Viewed Jesus Christ,” Christian History Magazine-Issue 27: Persecution in the Early Church (Carol Stream, IL: Christianity Today, 1990).

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.

God of the Awkward, the Freckled, and the Strange

Pied Beauty
Gerard Manley Hopkins

Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spáre, strange;
Whatever is fickle, frecklèd (who knows how?)
With swíft, slów; sweet, sóur; adázzle, dím;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is pást change:
Práise hím.

Michael Graves recites Pied Beauty


RickThe poet William Butler Yeats referred to himself as “the last romantic”, and while I know he meant that in the broader sense of his company with Keats, I also know he must have winked as he said it.  Romance is a popular topic, but it’s a cheap drink these days.  The beating heart of romance is beauty, and like Yeats wrote elsewhere in his poem Adam’s Curse, we “must labor to be beautiful.” 

When God made the world it was “very good” but sin’s scar runs deep.  We scratch and claw at the earth  to make it yield fruit and every effort of man to reclaim paradise is an imperfect, losing battle.  We all share the poet’s agony of at once answering the call of God’s image wherein we were created, yet struggle to see true beauty through the darkened glass behind which we are imprisoned.

In Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me, Karen Swallow Prior says this:

This is what Hopkins’ poem “Pied Beauty” is about. And what it is, too. Not only does its content celebrate the beauty of “all things counter” and “strange,” but the form of the poem itself is irregular, from the new words Hopkins creates out of strange combinations (“fathers-forth”) to his invented pattern of sound using “sprung rhythm,” to the very structure of the poem. The structure mimics a sonnet, but then breaks all the rules of the form, none more dramatically than the abrupt, foreshortened end of the poem with the two sudden words of finality, “Praise him.” Praise him, the poems asks—no, commands—for the awkward things: the fickle, the freckled, the big teeth, the three-legged dogs, the girls that act like boys, and those that are “Pretty Plus.”  There is, the poem reminds us, a certain kind of beauty that arises only from imperfection—or pain.

By the time I read Hopkins’ poem for the first time, I had long outgrown writing horse poems, I’d grown into my barrel belly and big teeth, and witnessed the fading of my freckles. I had become a teacher and become surer of myself. I could celebrate knowingly with the poet all things spare and strange because I had overcome feeling so myself, mostly. I had come to see that poetry was not a means of escape, but rather an art of reconciliation. For poetry is made in the discovery of resemblances. It seeks likenesses, even amidst the strangeness of differences. Perhaps this is what Hopkins knew, and feared enough to burn.

How is the power of the strange different from the power of beauty? How is it the same?

Ecclesiastes 3:11

He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end.


Dig Deeper

Literature, Liturgy & The Arts


Gerard Manley Hopkins
by Terry Glaspey

Preview of Literary Life’s Summer Book

Who would ever have guessed that a quiet, bookish priest who never saw his poems published during his lifetime would be lauded today as one of the great innovators in the history of poetry? At his death in 1889, Gerard Manley Hopkins left behind a collection of poems that celebrate the glory of God in nature, ponder the darkness and confusion of life, and wrestle with his relationship to God. These faith-filled poems were so ahead of their time, their meter so odd and eccentric, that it took many years before his accomplishments were fully appreciated and embraced.

On first reading, many of Hopkins’s poems might strike the reader as obscure and obtuse, just a little too erudite for their own good. But when revisited, they reveal profound and universal spiritual insights communicated in a unique off-kilter style, which necessitate a bit of patience and contemplation for their fullness to be grasped. Hopkins unfailingly finds fresh and startling ways of expressing himself as, for example, in this hyphen-laden description of Jesus from one of his poems: “The heaven-flung, heart-fleshed, maiden-furled / Miracle-in-Mary-of-flame, / Mid-numbered He in three of the thunder-throne!”1 Each rhythmic phrase reveals an important truth about Jesus, as they gather and rise in a trinitarian crescendo of praise.

Hopkins’s poems need to be read aloud to be fully appreciated, for he wrote with his ear, concerned with the way the words rhyme and chime in their breathless building upon each other, and using hyphens to join neighboring thoughts together. Syntax is ruptured, words are inverted and invented, and distinct patterns of sound are created. He called his rhythmic patterns “sprung rhythm.”

Hopkins’s theological conviction that each and every thing has its own particular qualities that make it unique led him to his conception of “inscape.” To understand the “inscape” of an object is to understand the purposes for which God created that particular object, to see the grandeur and splendor within it. So, in many of his poems, he sought to disclose the inscape he perceived in the created world. In “Pied Beauty,” for example, he writes with ecstatic joy and urgency:

Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

Gerard Manley Hopkins

Gerard Manley Hopkins was born in England in 1844 into an Anglican family that valued music, poetry, and painting. His father was an amateur poet, and Hopkins wrote his first poem at age ten. An excellent student, he won a scholarship to Oxford, where he distinguished himself as an outstanding scholar in the classics. At age twenty-one he underwent a moral and spiritual crisis from which he emerged as a confirmed Catholic, received into the church by the famous theologian John Henry Newman. Two years later he decided to join the Jesuit order, and in a fit of pious self-denial burned all of the poetry he had written up until that point. (He later referred to this impulsive act as “the slaughter of the innocents.”) At this point in time he believed that writing poetry would be a distraction from his spiritual focus, and so he determined that he would not write any more poetry unless requested to do so by his superiors in the Jesuit order.

For the next seven years Hopkins did not compose a single poem, surely a painful sacrifice for one who so loved words. Then a tragedy that made news all over the world provided an unexpected opportunity. An ocean liner carrying a group of nuns fleeing religious persecution went down in a storm, and all aboard drowned. The rector of the college where Hopkins was studying asked him to write something about the tragic incident, and the result was a long poem called “The Wreck of the Deutschland.” The verse that came spilling out from him perhaps shows the effect of bottling up his talent for so long. The poem was as turbulent as the event he was commemorating—a passionate meditation on the mystery of God’s ways, written in a rhythmic style that plunges forward with an unexpected meter that ignores standard grammatical rules while revealing his intense emotional reaction to the event. With this poem, Hopkins had found a poetic voice that was uniquely his own. When submitted for publication it was accepted, though never published. But now that the poetic door had been reopened, he began to compose verse again, and would for the remainder of his life.

After his ordination in 1877, Hopkins served in pastoral and teaching positions for the remainder of his short life in London, Liverpool, Glasgow, Oxford, Lancashire, and finally Dublin. He was never much of a success either as a priest or as a teacher, as his style of communication was too erudite and elliptical for popular consumption, but he was loved and admired for his gentle spirit, his humor, and his holiness. Throughout these assignments, he struggled with persistent health issues and was prone to periods of deep depression, so he used his poems as a way to explore his own spiritual and emotional battles. These poems have been labeled as his “Terrible Sonnets,” filled as they are with questions, fears, and an awareness of his own fragility and failure.

When he was assigned to move to Dublin and teach classics, Hopkins again wrestled with the feeling that he was a failure and that no one really understood him. His health was in fragile state, and the cold, damp climate took its toll; when he contracted typhoid fever it made short work of him. As he lay on his deathbed, though, after receiving the sacraments, he spoke his last words as a final testimony to his life, murmuring, “I am happy, so happy.” It was not until twenty-nine years after his death that his poems finally saw the light of day when they were prepared for publication in 1918 by his friend and fellow poet Robert Bridges in a volume titled simply Poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Hopkins saw the sacred presence all about him, and in many of his poems he celebrated the ways that nature itself gushed about God’s glory. In his poem “God’s Grandeur,” he wrote of a world that remains fresh and infused with the Spirit despite its neglect and abuse by generations of human beings:

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell; the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent world broods
With warm breast and ah! bright wings.

In other poems, however, it is his honesty about the seeming absence of God that fuels the verse, especially in his later “Terrible Sonnets.” When, in fits of discouragement and depression, Hopkins could not sense God’s presence, he explored the terror of being left to his own devices and ached over his failures—including the fact that his poetry largely went unread. “All my undertakings miscarry,” he wrote in his journal.4 In such a state he felt the strong temptation toward despair, but would not ultimately surrender to it, declaring in one poem, “Not, I’ll not, carrion comfort, / Despair, not feast on thee.”5 But sometimes, feeling alone and abandoned, and smarting from the perception he had been neglected by God, he wrote poems that reflected the intense lover’s quarrel he had with the Lord. Such wrestling brought great pain—agony—but it also earned a hard-won comfort that God loved him enough to purge him of his sin and make him new.

Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote his poems for a small audience—himself and his God. He could never have imagined that he would be so widely read, or that his poetic innovations would influence so many later poets. In his own eyes, he was a failure—as a priest, as a teacher, as a poet, even as a human being. But perhaps he would have agreed that it doesn’t really matter how one appears in one’s own eyes but only how one appears in the eyes of God. Though we might lose faith in him, he does not lose faith in us. He will not leave us alone in the deadness of our sin, for as Hopkins reminds us, God is always ready to “easter in us.”

Terry Glaspey, 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know: The Fascinating Stories behind Great Works of Art, Literature, Music, and Film (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2015).

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.

Terry and Karen

God of the Awkward, the Freckled, and the Strange: Day 4

Pied Beauty
Gerard Manley Hopkins

Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spáre, strange;
Whatever is fickle, frecklèd (who knows how?)
With swíft, slów; sweet, sóur; adázzle, dím;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is pást change:
Práise hím.

Michael Graves recites Pied Beauty


What is beauty?  Certainly if we are to understand anything about a creation we must look to its creator for meaning.  Our Trinitarian God is both unified and diverse in essence and creation reflects Him accordingly. As Jeremy Begbie wrote in The Beauty of God: Theology and the Arts “Creation sings laus Deo in and through its ineffaceable diversity of particularities.”

In Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me, Karen Swallow Prior says this:

It wasn’t until many years later—years after reading nursery rhymes, followed by silly limericks, then poems by Robert Frost and Edgar Allan Poe, and then Shakespeare—that I first encountered the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins. Hopkins’ poetry is odd and beautiful; its beauty, in fact, comes from its strange words, sounds, and images. I think it’s fair to say that if it weren’t for Hopkins’ own sense of not quite fitting in, his poetry would not be so powerful. Like mine, it might never have even been written if not for his pain.

What are some unexpected sources of beauty that you have encountered?

Ecclesiastes 3:11

He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end.


Dig Deeper

Literature, Liturgy & The Arts


The 2006 Wheaton Theology Conference set out to gauge the current status of Christian thinking and practice in the arts, as well as seeking to suggest fresh theological and artistic possibilities for the future. The conference brought together scholars from several disciplines and artists from a wide range of media and styles. Several others presented fine papers that we cannot include here for reasons of space, but we owe them our gratitude all the same. The essays included in this book give evidence of the guiding concern of the conference, which was to balance theological sensitivity to the vibrant worlds of art with aesthetic alertness to the centrality of the Scriptures and the primacy of the cross.

Daniel J. Treier, Mark Husbands, and Roger Lundin, The Beauty of God: Theology and the Arts (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2007)

Gerard Manley Hopkins
by Terry Glaspey

Preview of Literary Life’s Summer Book

Who would ever have guessed that a quiet, bookish priest who never saw his poems published during his lifetime would be lauded today as one of the great innovators in the history of poetry? At his death in 1889, Gerard Manley Hopkins left behind a collection of poems that celebrate the glory of God in nature, ponder the darkness and confusion of life, and wrestle with his relationship to God. These faith-filled poems were so ahead of their time, their meter so odd and eccentric, that it took many years before his accomplishments were fully appreciated and embraced.

On first reading, many of Hopkins’s poems might strike the reader as obscure and obtuse, just a little too erudite for their own good. But when revisited, they reveal profound and universal spiritual insights communicated in a unique off-kilter style, which necessitate a bit of patience and contemplation for their fullness to be grasped. Hopkins unfailingly finds fresh and startling ways of expressing himself as, for example, in this hyphen-laden description of Jesus from one of his poems: “The heaven-flung, heart-fleshed, maiden-furled / Miracle-in-Mary-of-flame, / Mid-numbered He in three of the thunder-throne!”1 Each rhythmic phrase reveals an important truth about Jesus, as they gather and rise in a trinitarian crescendo of praise.

Hopkins’s poems need to be read aloud to be fully appreciated, for he wrote with his ear, concerned with the way the words rhyme and chime in their breathless building upon each other, and using hyphens to join neighboring thoughts together. Syntax is ruptured, words are inverted and invented, and distinct patterns of sound are created. He called his rhythmic patterns “sprung rhythm.”

Hopkins’s theological conviction that each and every thing has its own particular qualities that make it unique led him to his conception of “inscape.” To understand the “inscape” of an object is to understand the purposes for which God created that particular object, to see the grandeur and splendor within it. So, in many of his poems, he sought to disclose the inscape he perceived in the created world. In “Pied Beauty,” for example, he writes with ecstatic joy and urgency:

Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

Gerard Manley Hopkins

Gerard Manley Hopkins was born in England in 1844 into an Anglican family that valued music, poetry, and painting. His father was an amateur poet, and Hopkins wrote his first poem at age ten. An excellent student, he won a scholarship to Oxford, where he distinguished himself as an outstanding scholar in the classics. At age twenty-one he underwent a moral and spiritual crisis from which he emerged as a confirmed Catholic, received into the church by the famous theologian John Henry Newman. Two years later he decided to join the Jesuit order, and in a fit of pious self-denial burned all of the poetry he had written up until that point. (He later referred to this impulsive act as “the slaughter of the innocents.”) At this point in time he believed that writing poetry would be a distraction from his spiritual focus, and so he determined that he would not write any more poetry unless requested to do so by his superiors in the Jesuit order.

For the next seven years Hopkins did not compose a single poem, surely a painful sacrifice for one who so loved words. Then a tragedy that made news all over the world provided an unexpected opportunity. An ocean liner carrying a group of nuns fleeing religious persecution went down in a storm, and all aboard drowned. The rector of the college where Hopkins was studying asked him to write something about the tragic incident, and the result was a long poem called “The Wreck of the Deutschland.” The verse that came spilling out from him perhaps shows the effect of bottling up his talent for so long. The poem was as turbulent as the event he was commemorating—a passionate meditation on the mystery of God’s ways, written in a rhythmic style that plunges forward with an unexpected meter that ignores standard grammatical rules while revealing his intense emotional reaction to the event. With this poem, Hopkins had found a poetic voice that was uniquely his own. When submitted for publication it was accepted, though never published. But now that the poetic door had been reopened, he began to compose verse again, and would for the remainder of his life.

After his ordination in 1877, Hopkins served in pastoral and teaching positions for the remainder of his short life in London, Liverpool, Glasgow, Oxford, Lancashire, and finally Dublin. He was never much of a success either as a priest or as a teacher, as his style of communication was too erudite and elliptical for popular consumption, but he was loved and admired for his gentle spirit, his humor, and his holiness. Throughout these assignments, he struggled with persistent health issues and was prone to periods of deep depression, so he used his poems as a way to explore his own spiritual and emotional battles. These poems have been labeled as his “Terrible Sonnets,” filled as they are with questions, fears, and an awareness of his own fragility and failure.

When he was assigned to move to Dublin and teach classics, Hopkins again wrestled with the feeling that he was a failure and that no one really understood him. His health was in fragile state, and the cold, damp climate took its toll; when he contracted typhoid fever it made short work of him. As he lay on his deathbed, though, after receiving the sacraments, he spoke his last words as a final testimony to his life, murmuring, “I am happy, so happy.” It was not until twenty-nine years after his death that his poems finally saw the light of day when they were prepared for publication in 1918 by his friend and fellow poet Robert Bridges in a volume titled simply Poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Hopkins saw the sacred presence all about him, and in many of his poems he celebrated the ways that nature itself gushed about God’s glory. In his poem “God’s Grandeur,” he wrote of a world that remains fresh and infused with the Spirit despite its neglect and abuse by generations of human beings:

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell; the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent world broods
With warm breast and ah! bright wings.

In other poems, however, it is his honesty about the seeming absence of God that fuels the verse, especially in his later “Terrible Sonnets.” When, in fits of discouragement and depression, Hopkins could not sense God’s presence, he explored the terror of being left to his own devices and ached over his failures—including the fact that his poetry largely went unread. “All my undertakings miscarry,” he wrote in his journal.4 In such a state he felt the strong temptation toward despair, but would not ultimately surrender to it, declaring in one poem, “Not, I’ll not, carrion comfort, / Despair, not feast on thee.”5 But sometimes, feeling alone and abandoned, and smarting from the perception he had been neglected by God, he wrote poems that reflected the intense lover’s quarrel he had with the Lord. Such wrestling brought great pain—agony—but it also earned a hard-won comfort that God loved him enough to purge him of his sin and make him new.

Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote his poems for a small audience—himself and his God. He could never have imagined that he would be so widely read, or that his poetic innovations would influence so many later poets. In his own eyes, he was a failure—as a priest, as a teacher, as a poet, even as a human being. But perhaps he would have agreed that it doesn’t really matter how one appears in one’s own eyes but only how one appears in the eyes of God. Though we might lose faith in him, he does not lose faith in us. He will not leave us alone in the deadness of our sin, for as Hopkins reminds us, God is always ready to “easter in us.”

Terry Glaspey, 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know: The Fascinating Stories behind Great Works of Art, Literature, Music, and Film (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2015).

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.

Terry and Karen

God of the Awkward, the Freckled, and the Strange: Day 3

Pied Beauty
Gerard Manley Hopkins

Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spáre, strange;
Whatever is fickle, frecklèd (who knows how?)
With swíft, slów; sweet, sóur; adázzle, dím;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is pást change:
Práise hím.

Michael Graves recites Pied Beauty


The Bible says the church is the body of Christ, and as such has many parts.  It is the collective group of us, not the individual members who comprise that body.  It takes us all.  Like our physical bodies, each part is essential but some parts receive more attention.

We are born with God-given traits and talents that are unique to our person and it is those attributes that contribute to our purpose and calling.  Many people recognize and embrace their unique manifestation of God’s image but many more struggle to find it.  The loneliest person in the world is the one trying to be something he isn’t.

In Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me, Karen Swallow Prior says this:

It was the church that helped correct Hopkins’ errant view that his pursuit of poetry and a religious vocation were incompatible. After burning his poems, he didn’t write any more poetry for many years, but sometime after he had taken his vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience as a Jesuit priest, his religious superior asked him to write a poem to commemorate the sinking of a ship which had claimed many lives, including those of several nuns. After doing so, Hopkins began writing poetry again. Yet, the world was not permitted to see these works of beauty and would not until after his death from typhoid fever at age 48. His embrace of poetry was, sadly, awkward still. He fought his poetic desires like he fought his bodily ones. But these are not battles that are always easily won. Sometimes, perhaps, they are not battles that can be won.

How can communities be more accommodating to “the awkward” and “the strange”?

1 Corinthians 12:12-16

For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. For in fact the body is not one member but many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. And if they were all one member, where would the body be? But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty, but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.


Dig Deeper

Literature, Liturgy & The Arts


Gerard Manley Hopkins
by Terry Glaspey

Preview of Literary Life’s Summer Book

Who would ever have guessed that a quiet, bookish priest who never saw his poems published during his lifetime would be lauded today as one of the great innovators in the history of poetry? At his death in 1889, Gerard Manley Hopkins left behind a collection of poems that celebrate the glory of God in nature, ponder the darkness and confusion of life, and wrestle with his relationship to God. These faith-filled poems were so ahead of their time, their meter so odd and eccentric, that it took many years before his accomplishments were fully appreciated and embraced.

On first reading, many of Hopkins’s poems might strike the reader as obscure and obtuse, just a little too erudite for their own good. But when revisited, they reveal profound and universal spiritual insights communicated in a unique off-kilter style, which necessitate a bit of patience and contemplation for their fullness to be grasped. Hopkins unfailingly finds fresh and startling ways of expressing himself as, for example, in this hyphen-laden description of Jesus from one of his poems: “The heaven-flung, heart-fleshed, maiden-furled / Miracle-in-Mary-of-flame, / Mid-numbered He in three of the thunder-throne!”1 Each rhythmic phrase reveals an important truth about Jesus, as they gather and rise in a trinitarian crescendo of praise.

Hopkins’s poems need to be read aloud to be fully appreciated, for he wrote with his ear, concerned with the way the words rhyme and chime in their breathless building upon each other, and using hyphens to join neighboring thoughts together. Syntax is ruptured, words are inverted and invented, and distinct patterns of sound are created. He called his rhythmic patterns “sprung rhythm.”

Hopkins’s theological conviction that each and every thing has its own particular qualities that make it unique led him to his conception of “inscape.” To understand the “inscape” of an object is to understand the purposes for which God created that particular object, to see the grandeur and splendor within it. So, in many of his poems, he sought to disclose the inscape he perceived in the created world. In “Pied Beauty,” for example, he writes with ecstatic joy and urgency:

Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

Gerard Manley Hopkins

Gerard Manley Hopkins was born in England in 1844 into an Anglican family that valued music, poetry, and painting. His father was an amateur poet, and Hopkins wrote his first poem at age ten. An excellent student, he won a scholarship to Oxford, where he distinguished himself as an outstanding scholar in the classics. At age twenty-one he underwent a moral and spiritual crisis from which he emerged as a confirmed Catholic, received into the church by the famous theologian John Henry Newman. Two years later he decided to join the Jesuit order, and in a fit of pious self-denial burned all of the poetry he had written up until that point. (He later referred to this impulsive act as “the slaughter of the innocents.”) At this point in time he believed that writing poetry would be a distraction from his spiritual focus, and so he determined that he would not write any more poetry unless requested to do so by his superiors in the Jesuit order.

For the next seven years Hopkins did not compose a single poem, surely a painful sacrifice for one who so loved words. Then a tragedy that made news all over the world provided an unexpected opportunity. An ocean liner carrying a group of nuns fleeing religious persecution went down in a storm, and all aboard drowned. The rector of the college where Hopkins was studying asked him to write something about the tragic incident, and the result was a long poem called “The Wreck of the Deutschland.” The verse that came spilling out from him perhaps shows the effect of bottling up his talent for so long. The poem was as turbulent as the event he was commemorating—a passionate meditation on the mystery of God’s ways, written in a rhythmic style that plunges forward with an unexpected meter that ignores standard grammatical rules while revealing his intense emotional reaction to the event. With this poem, Hopkins had found a poetic voice that was uniquely his own. When submitted for publication it was accepted, though never published. But now that the poetic door had been reopened, he began to compose verse again, and would for the remainder of his life.

After his ordination in 1877, Hopkins served in pastoral and teaching positions for the remainder of his short life in London, Liverpool, Glasgow, Oxford, Lancashire, and finally Dublin. He was never much of a success either as a priest or as a teacher, as his style of communication was too erudite and elliptical for popular consumption, but he was loved and admired for his gentle spirit, his humor, and his holiness. Throughout these assignments, he struggled with persistent health issues and was prone to periods of deep depression, so he used his poems as a way to explore his own spiritual and emotional battles. These poems have been labeled as his “Terrible Sonnets,” filled as they are with questions, fears, and an awareness of his own fragility and failure.

When he was assigned to move to Dublin and teach classics, Hopkins again wrestled with the feeling that he was a failure and that no one really understood him. His health was in fragile state, and the cold, damp climate took its toll; when he contracted typhoid fever it made short work of him. As he lay on his deathbed, though, after receiving the sacraments, he spoke his last words as a final testimony to his life, murmuring, “I am happy, so happy.” It was not until twenty-nine years after his death that his poems finally saw the light of day when they were prepared for publication in 1918 by his friend and fellow poet Robert Bridges in a volume titled simply Poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Hopkins saw the sacred presence all about him, and in many of his poems he celebrated the ways that nature itself gushed about God’s glory. In his poem “God’s Grandeur,” he wrote of a world that remains fresh and infused with the Spirit despite its neglect and abuse by generations of human beings:

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell; the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent world broods
With warm breast and ah! bright wings.

In other poems, however, it is his honesty about the seeming absence of God that fuels the verse, especially in his later “Terrible Sonnets.” When, in fits of discouragement and depression, Hopkins could not sense God’s presence, he explored the terror of being left to his own devices and ached over his failures—including the fact that his poetry largely went unread. “All my undertakings miscarry,” he wrote in his journal.4 In such a state he felt the strong temptation toward despair, but would not ultimately surrender to it, declaring in one poem, “Not, I’ll not, carrion comfort, / Despair, not feast on thee.”5 But sometimes, feeling alone and abandoned, and smarting from the perception he had been neglected by God, he wrote poems that reflected the intense lover’s quarrel he had with the Lord. Such wrestling brought great pain—agony—but it also earned a hard-won comfort that God loved him enough to purge him of his sin and make him new.

Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote his poems for a small audience—himself and his God. He could never have imagined that he would be so widely read, or that his poetic innovations would influence so many later poets. In his own eyes, he was a failure—as a priest, as a teacher, as a poet, even as a human being. But perhaps he would have agreed that it doesn’t really matter how one appears in one’s own eyes but only how one appears in the eyes of God. Though we might lose faith in him, he does not lose faith in us. He will not leave us alone in the deadness of our sin, for as Hopkins reminds us, God is always ready to “easter in us.”

Terry Glaspey, 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know: The Fascinating Stories behind Great Works of Art, Literature, Music, and Film (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2015).

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.

Terry and Karen

God of the Awkward, the Freckled, and the Strange: Day 2

Pied Beauty
Gerard Manley Hopkins

Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spáre, strange;
Whatever is fickle, frecklèd (who knows how?)
With swíft, slów; sweet, sóur; adázzle, dím;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is pást change:
Práise hím.

Michael Graves recites Pied Beauty


The caste system has been around for centuries and it can be merciless.  Whether it is formal or informal, humans are sophisticated at keeping people ‘in their place.’  If that isn’t bad enough, it’s possible for your own caste to reject you as well, and then you are an outcast.  That designation never means that you have been promoted upward!  You are officially one of society’s strays.

In Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me, Karen Swallow Prior says this:

My mom picked up stray kids like some people pick up stray puppies. She was always finding some kid or two, or a whole flock of them, whose parents didn’t go to church but who agreed to letting us pick their kids up on Sundays, or every day during the week of Vacation Bible School, to go to church with us. There were Maggie and Billy, who lived in a big old house that had gone completely gray for lack of paint, and had two big brothers who were all grown and gone, and whose parents looked older than my grandparents; there was the youngest Chamberlain boy, whom we picked up way down a dirt road at a house sitting in a yard strewn with rusted farm equipment, old cars, empty paint buckets, ratty-looking cats, and a stray chicken or two; and, then of course, there were the Cotters.

Does every community have outcasts?

Why is this so?

Leviticus 13:45-46

Now the leper on whom the sore is, his clothes shall be torn and his head bare; and he shall cover his mustache, and cry, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ He shall be unclean. All the days he has the sore he shall be unclean. He is unclean, and he shall dwell alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp.


Dig Deeper

Literature, Liturgy & The Arts


Gerard Manley Hopkins
by Terry Glaspey

Preview of Literary Life’s Summer Book

Who would ever have guessed that a quiet, bookish priest who never saw his poems published during his lifetime would be lauded today as one of the great innovators in the history of poetry? At his death in 1889, Gerard Manley Hopkins left behind a collection of poems that celebrate the glory of God in nature, ponder the darkness and confusion of life, and wrestle with his relationship to God. These faith-filled poems were so ahead of their time, their meter so odd and eccentric, that it took many years before his accomplishments were fully appreciated and embraced.

On first reading, many of Hopkins’s poems might strike the reader as obscure and obtuse, just a little too erudite for their own good. But when revisited, they reveal profound and universal spiritual insights communicated in a unique off-kilter style, which necessitate a bit of patience and contemplation for their fullness to be grasped. Hopkins unfailingly finds fresh and startling ways of expressing himself as, for example, in this hyphen-laden description of Jesus from one of his poems: “The heaven-flung, heart-fleshed, maiden-furled / Miracle-in-Mary-of-flame, / Mid-numbered He in three of the thunder-throne!”1 Each rhythmic phrase reveals an important truth about Jesus, as they gather and rise in a trinitarian crescendo of praise.

Hopkins’s poems need to be read aloud to be fully appreciated, for he wrote with his ear, concerned with the way the words rhyme and chime in their breathless building upon each other, and using hyphens to join neighboring thoughts together. Syntax is ruptured, words are inverted and invented, and distinct patterns of sound are created. He called his rhythmic patterns “sprung rhythm.”

Hopkins’s theological conviction that each and every thing has its own particular qualities that make it unique led him to his conception of “inscape.” To understand the “inscape” of an object is to understand the purposes for which God created that particular object, to see the grandeur and splendor within it. So, in many of his poems, he sought to disclose the inscape he perceived in the created world. In “Pied Beauty,” for example, he writes with ecstatic joy and urgency:

Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

Gerard Manley Hopkins

Gerard Manley Hopkins was born in England in 1844 into an Anglican family that valued music, poetry, and painting. His father was an amateur poet, and Hopkins wrote his first poem at age ten. An excellent student, he won a scholarship to Oxford, where he distinguished himself as an outstanding scholar in the classics. At age twenty-one he underwent a moral and spiritual crisis from which he emerged as a confirmed Catholic, received into the church by the famous theologian John Henry Newman. Two years later he decided to join the Jesuit order, and in a fit of pious self-denial burned all of the poetry he had written up until that point. (He later referred to this impulsive act as “the slaughter of the innocents.”) At this point in time he believed that writing poetry would be a distraction from his spiritual focus, and so he determined that he would not write any more poetry unless requested to do so by his superiors in the Jesuit order.

For the next seven years Hopkins did not compose a single poem, surely a painful sacrifice for one who so loved words. Then a tragedy that made news all over the world provided an unexpected opportunity. An ocean liner carrying a group of nuns fleeing religious persecution went down in a storm, and all aboard drowned. The rector of the college where Hopkins was studying asked him to write something about the tragic incident, and the result was a long poem called “The Wreck of the Deutschland.” The verse that came spilling out from him perhaps shows the effect of bottling up his talent for so long. The poem was as turbulent as the event he was commemorating—a passionate meditation on the mystery of God’s ways, written in a rhythmic style that plunges forward with an unexpected meter that ignores standard grammatical rules while revealing his intense emotional reaction to the event. With this poem, Hopkins had found a poetic voice that was uniquely his own. When submitted for publication it was accepted, though never published. But now that the poetic door had been reopened, he began to compose verse again, and would for the remainder of his life.

After his ordination in 1877, Hopkins served in pastoral and teaching positions for the remainder of his short life in London, Liverpool, Glasgow, Oxford, Lancashire, and finally Dublin. He was never much of a success either as a priest or as a teacher, as his style of communication was too erudite and elliptical for popular consumption, but he was loved and admired for his gentle spirit, his humor, and his holiness. Throughout these assignments, he struggled with persistent health issues and was prone to periods of deep depression, so he used his poems as a way to explore his own spiritual and emotional battles. These poems have been labeled as his “Terrible Sonnets,” filled as they are with questions, fears, and an awareness of his own fragility and failure.

When he was assigned to move to Dublin and teach classics, Hopkins again wrestled with the feeling that he was a failure and that no one really understood him. His health was in fragile state, and the cold, damp climate took its toll; when he contracted typhoid fever it made short work of him. As he lay on his deathbed, though, after receiving the sacraments, he spoke his last words as a final testimony to his life, murmuring, “I am happy, so happy.” It was not until twenty-nine years after his death that his poems finally saw the light of day when they were prepared for publication in 1918 by his friend and fellow poet Robert Bridges in a volume titled simply Poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Hopkins saw the sacred presence all about him, and in many of his poems he celebrated the ways that nature itself gushed about God’s glory. In his poem “God’s Grandeur,” he wrote of a world that remains fresh and infused with the Spirit despite its neglect and abuse by generations of human beings:

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell; the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent world broods
With warm breast and ah! bright wings.

In other poems, however, it is his honesty about the seeming absence of God that fuels the verse, especially in his later “Terrible Sonnets.” When, in fits of discouragement and depression, Hopkins could not sense God’s presence, he explored the terror of being left to his own devices and ached over his failures—including the fact that his poetry largely went unread. “All my undertakings miscarry,” he wrote in his journal.4 In such a state he felt the strong temptation toward despair, but would not ultimately surrender to it, declaring in one poem, “Not, I’ll not, carrion comfort, / Despair, not feast on thee.”5 But sometimes, feeling alone and abandoned, and smarting from the perception he had been neglected by God, he wrote poems that reflected the intense lover’s quarrel he had with the Lord. Such wrestling brought great pain—agony—but it also earned a hard-won comfort that God loved him enough to purge him of his sin and make him new.

Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote his poems for a small audience—himself and his God. He could never have imagined that he would be so widely read, or that his poetic innovations would influence so many later poets. In his own eyes, he was a failure—as a priest, as a teacher, as a poet, even as a human being. But perhaps he would have agreed that it doesn’t really matter how one appears in one’s own eyes but only how one appears in the eyes of God. Though we might lose faith in him, he does not lose faith in us. He will not leave us alone in the deadness of our sin, for as Hopkins reminds us, God is always ready to “easter in us.”

Terry Glaspey, 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know: The Fascinating Stories behind Great Works of Art, Literature, Music, and Film (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2015).

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.

Terry and Karen

God of the Awkward, the Freckled, and the Strange: Day 1

Pied Beauty
Gerard Manley Hopkins

Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spáre, strange;
Whatever is fickle, frecklèd (who knows how?)
With swíft, slów; sweet, sóur; adázzle, dím;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is pást change:
Práise hím.

Michael Graves recites Pied Beauty


This week’s chapter of Booked is based on the poem Pied Beauty by Gerard Manley Hopkins.  As a bonus, we are previewing a selection of our summer book by Terry Glaspey entitled 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know by including his fine chapter on Hopkins in our Dig Deeper section.  Don’t miss it!

Chapter three discusses the outcasts in our lives.  This role is no respecter of persons and we each have played the part at one time or another.  It can be crippling.

In Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me, Karen Swallow Prior says this:

I loved summer, but I loved going back to school, too. I especially loved getting new school clothes each fall. So I flipped through the new catalog gazing lovingly at each page in the Junior Miss section, playing my regular game of picking out the one thing—just one!—on each page that I liked best. This summer, when I got to the end of the Junior Miss section, I saw another section that I’d never seen before. It was called “Pretty Plus.” I wasn’t sure what this was, but the clothes looked similar to those I’d seen on the previous pages, if plainer, so I continued looking. The section had only three or four pages, but by the time I got to the end of it, my heart had dropped into my belly. These were clothes for girls my age—but girls of a bigger size. And the more I looked at the models, the more I could not deny what I had recognized right away but didn’t want to see: they looked like me. Yes, I was “Pretty Plus,” and I was overwhelmed with a sense of shame I’d never felt before.

 

What roles have the outcasts in your life played? Have you ever been an outcast?

Isaiah 53:3

He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.


Dig Deeper

Literature, Liturgy & The Arts


Gerard Manley Hopkins
by Terry Glaspey

Preview of Literary Life’s Summer Book

 

Who would ever have guessed that a quiet, bookish priest who never saw his poems published during his lifetime would be lauded today as one of the great innovators in the history of poetry? At his death in 1889, Gerard Manley Hopkins left behind a collection of poems that celebrate the glory of God in nature, ponder the darkness and confusion of life, and wrestle with his relationship to God. These faith-filled poems were so ahead of their time, their meter so odd and eccentric, that it took many years before his accomplishments were fully appreciated and embraced.

On first reading, many of Hopkins’s poems might strike the reader as obscure and obtuse, just a little too erudite for their own good. But when revisited, they reveal profound and universal spiritual insights communicated in a unique off-kilter style, which necessitate a bit of patience and contemplation for their fullness to be grasped. Hopkins unfailingly finds fresh and startling ways of expressing himself as, for example, in this hyphen-laden description of Jesus from one of his poems: “The heaven-flung, heart-fleshed, maiden-furled / Miracle-in-Mary-of-flame, / Mid-numbered He in three of the thunder-throne!”1 Each rhythmic phrase reveals an important truth about Jesus, as they gather and rise in a trinitarian crescendo of praise.

Hopkins’s poems need to be read aloud to be fully appreciated, for he wrote with his ear, concerned with the way the words rhyme and chime in their breathless building upon each other, and using hyphens to join neighboring thoughts together. Syntax is ruptured, words are inverted and invented, and distinct patterns of sound are created. He called his rhythmic patterns “sprung rhythm.”

Hopkins’s theological conviction that each and every thing has its own particular qualities that make it unique led him to his conception of “inscape.” To understand the “inscape” of an object is to understand the purposes for which God created that particular object, to see the grandeur and splendor within it. So, in many of his poems, he sought to disclose the inscape he perceived in the created world. In “Pied Beauty,” for example, he writes with ecstatic joy and urgency:

Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

Gerard Manley Hopkins

Gerard Manley Hopkins was born in England in 1844 into an Anglican family that valued music, poetry, and painting. His father was an amateur poet, and Hopkins wrote his first poem at age ten. An excellent student, he won a scholarship to Oxford, where he distinguished himself as an outstanding scholar in the classics. At age twenty-one he underwent a moral and spiritual crisis from which he emerged as a confirmed Catholic, received into the church by the famous theologian John Henry Newman. Two years later he decided to join the Jesuit order, and in a fit of pious self-denial burned all of the poetry he had written up until that point. (He later referred to this impulsive act as “the slaughter of the innocents.”) At this point in time he believed that writing poetry would be a distraction from his spiritual focus, and so he determined that he would not write any more poetry unless requested to do so by his superiors in the Jesuit order.

For the next seven years Hopkins did not compose a single poem, surely a painful sacrifice for one who so loved words. Then a tragedy that made news all over the world provided an unexpected opportunity. An ocean liner carrying a group of nuns fleeing religious persecution went down in a storm, and all aboard drowned. The rector of the college where Hopkins was studying asked him to write something about the tragic incident, and the result was a long poem called “The Wreck of the Deutschland.” The verse that came spilling out from him perhaps shows the effect of bottling up his talent for so long. The poem was as turbulent as the event he was commemorating—a passionate meditation on the mystery of God’s ways, written in a rhythmic style that plunges forward with an unexpected meter that ignores standard grammatical rules while revealing his intense emotional reaction to the event. With this poem, Hopkins had found a poetic voice that was uniquely his own. When submitted for publication it was accepted, though never published. But now that the poetic door had been reopened, he began to compose verse again, and would for the remainder of his life.

After his ordination in 1877, Hopkins served in pastoral and teaching positions for the remainder of his short life in London, Liverpool, Glasgow, Oxford, Lancashire, and finally Dublin. He was never much of a success either as a priest or as a teacher, as his style of communication was too erudite and elliptical for popular consumption, but he was loved and admired for his gentle spirit, his humor, and his holiness. Throughout these assignments, he struggled with persistent health issues and was prone to periods of deep depression, so he used his poems as a way to explore his own spiritual and emotional battles. These poems have been labeled as his “Terrible Sonnets,” filled as they are with questions, fears, and an awareness of his own fragility and failure.

When he was assigned to move to Dublin and teach classics, Hopkins again wrestled with the feeling that he was a failure and that no one really understood him. His health was in fragile state, and the cold, damp climate took its toll; when he contracted typhoid fever it made short work of him. As he lay on his deathbed, though, after receiving the sacraments, he spoke his last words as a final testimony to his life, murmuring, “I am happy, so happy.” It was not until twenty-nine years after his death that his poems finally saw the light of day when they were prepared for publication in 1918 by his friend and fellow poet Robert Bridges in a volume titled simply Poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Hopkins saw the sacred presence all about him, and in many of his poems he celebrated the ways that nature itself gushed about God’s glory. In his poem “God’s Grandeur,” he wrote of a world that remains fresh and infused with the Spirit despite its neglect and abuse by generations of human beings:

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell; the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent world broods
With warm breast and ah! bright wings.

In other poems, however, it is his honesty about the seeming absence of God that fuels the verse, especially in his later “Terrible Sonnets.” When, in fits of discouragement and depression, Hopkins could not sense God’s presence, he explored the terror of being left to his own devices and ached over his failures—including the fact that his poetry largely went unread. “All my undertakings miscarry,” he wrote in his journal.4 In such a state he felt the strong temptation toward despair, but would not ultimately surrender to it, declaring in one poem, “Not, I’ll not, carrion comfort, / Despair, not feast on thee.”5 But sometimes, feeling alone and abandoned, and smarting from the perception he had been neglected by God, he wrote poems that reflected the intense lover’s quarrel he had with the Lord. Such wrestling brought great pain—agony—but it also earned a hard-won comfort that God loved him enough to purge him of his sin and make him new.

Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote his poems for a small audience—himself and his God. He could never have imagined that he would be so widely read, or that his poetic innovations would influence so many later poets. In his own eyes, he was a failure—as a priest, as a teacher, as a poet, even as a human being. But perhaps he would have agreed that it doesn’t really matter how one appears in one’s own eyes but only how one appears in the eyes of God. Though we might lose faith in him, he does not lose faith in us. He will not leave us alone in the deadness of our sin, for as Hopkins reminds us, God is always ready to “easter in us.”

Terry Glaspey, 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know: The Fascinating Stories behind Great Works of Art, Literature, Music, and Film (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2015).

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.

 

 

 

 

 

Terry and Karen

What is Beauty?

Bs-PietaPIED BEAUTY
Gerard Manley Hopkins

Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spáre, strange;
Whatever is fickle, frecklèd (who knows how?)
With swíft, slów; sweet, sóur; adázzle, dím;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is pást change:
Práise hím.

Michael Graves recites Pied Beauty

 

Isaiah 33:17

Your eyes will see the King in His beauty; They will behold a far-distant land.

 


RickBeauty is the splendour of truth,” observes Stephen Dedalus in James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and to explain his passion for beauty, Stephen draws upon the thoughts of Plato, Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas, among others.  Metaphysics asks the question – “What is real?” and philosophy and literature have long since tried to answer.  What we call love at first sight is that mysterious moment when our eyes tell us we are gazing at something (usually someone) so beautiful it at once fulfills a longing in our hearts and answers questions we have no words to ask.

We think it is sexual, but there is a fine line between the longing beauty of art and the filth of pornography, but as Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said of obscenity “we know it when we see it.”  Our understanding of beauty always goes directly to our values.  Today we worry about the Unesco world heritage sites as ISIS destroys one after another.  I’m reminded of the day in 1972 that Michelangelo’s Pietà in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome was damaged by a vandal.  I thought of that event as I stood before the masterpiece for the first time and wondered how anyone could want to destroy something so beautiful, so magnificent, so obviously from the heart of God.

That was it – my moment of epiphany.  I looked past the marble and saw Mary holding her dead Son and I knew: She was thinking the same thing.

Join the discussion on Facebook HERE 

Logo

John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

 

 

 

The Life Giving Power Of Words

Charlotte’s Web
E.B. White

You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing. I wove my webs for you because I liked you. After all, what’s a life, anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die. A spider’s life can’t help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that. 


Rick WilcoxWhat does it mean to be made in God’s image? Among other things, it means we are moral agents whose actions bear eternal consequence. For better or worse, our decisions resonate in eternity.  We certainly find this true in our role as stewards over the rest of creation, but like Cain we also are our brother’s keeper.

In Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me, Karen Swallow Prior says this:

A few days later, the horse trader told me, in his gentle, gruff way, that there was nothing to be done; the damage was too great. “His legs were just too bad. He couldn’t stand anymore.” Mercifully, he had put Sonny down.

I knew that ultimately this was my doing. I had brought this horse into the world, and I had failed him in the worst possible way that a living creature can be failed. I wore—and still wear—the weight of this responsibility. I never again brought an animal into the world.

Have you ever felt responsible for the suffering of another?

How did you cope with that burden?

Genesis 4:9-13

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” And He said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground. So now you are cursed from the earth, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you till the ground, it shall no longer yield its strength to you. A fugitive and a vagabond you shall be on the earth.” And Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear!” 


Dig Deeper

Literature, Liturgy & The Arts


E.B. White and Charlotte’s Web

E.B. White

(1899–1985). Although his publications range from three well-known children’s books to numerous essays, books, and poems for adults, E.B. White’s works consistently display eloquent craftsmanship and a keen sense of observation.

Elwyn Brooks White was born on July 11, 1899, in Mount Vernon, New York. He attended Cornell University on a scholarship and served as editor in chief of its daily newspaper. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in English in 1921, he worked for the United Press, the American Legion News Service, and the Seattle Times. He took a job as a mess boy aboard an Alaskan ship in 1923 but returned to Mount Vernon later in the year to work in an advertising agency.

The founding of The New Yorker magazine in 1925 proved pivotal to White’s career. After having several submissions accepted, he joined the staff full-time in 1927. He married one of the editors, Katharine Sergeant Angell, in 1929 and became stepfather to her two children; a son was born to them the following year. Although the couple later left New York for a Maine farm, White remained a lifelong contributor to the magazine. He also wrote a monthly column entitled “One Man’s Meat” for Harper’s magazine from 1938 to 1943.

White’s publications for adults included The Lady Is Cold (1929), Is Sex Necessary? (1929, with James Thurber), Farewell to Model T (1936), The Fox of Peapack and Other Poems (1938), The Wild Flag (1946), The Second Tree from the Corner (1954), and The Points of My Compass (1962). Letters of E.B. White was published in 1976, and a collection of his essays appeared a year later. White also contributed to and revised several editions of William Strunk Jr.’s classic writer’s manual, The Elements of Style.

White’s first children’s book was Stuart Little (1945), an adventure story about a two-inch-(5-centimeter-)tall, mouselike son born to average human parents. White followed the success of that book with Charlotte’s Web (1952), winner of the 1958 Lewis Carroll Shelf Award and runner-up for the 1953 Newbery Medal. The book tells of a small pig whose life is spared twice, first by a farmer’s daughter and later by the ingenuity of a friendly spider. White drew inspiration for the tale from observing his own farm animals. The book was adapted into an animated film in 1972. White’s final children’s book, The Trumpet of the Swan (1970), chronicles the life of a mute trumpeter swan who learns to communicate by writing on a slate and by playing a trumpet. It was nominated for the National Book Award in 1971 and was included on the 1972 International Board on Books for Young People Honor List.

White received a multitude of honors, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1963), the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award (1970), and the National Medal for Literature (1971). In 1978 he was awarded a Pulitzer Prize special citation for his body of work. White died in Maine on October 1, 1985.

Compton’s Encyclopedia (Chicago, IL: Compton’s Encyclopedia, 2015).

Charlotte’s Web

A children’s novel by E.B. White, published in 1952, with illustrations by Garth Williams. This widely read tale, which is one of the classics of children’s literature, takes place on a farm in Maine and concerns a pig named Wilbur and his devoted friend Charlotte, the spider who manages to save his life by writing words in her web. White’s own life on a farm contributed to the tranquil, pastoral setting of the book and the careful observations of animal behaviour. The novel explores, among other things, the nature of friendship, a theme many adults as well as children have appreciated.

Encyclopedia Britannica (Chicago, IL: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2016).

 

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.

The Life Giving Power Of Words: Day 4

Charlotte’s Web
E.B. White

Ever since the spider had befriended him, he had done his best to live up to his reputation. When Charlotte’s web said SOME PIG, Wilbur had tried hard to look like some pig. When Charlotte’s web said TERRIFIC, Wilbur had tried to look terrific. And now that the web said RADIANT, he did everything possible to make himself glow.


Regardless of our attempted objectivity, every time we place a label on someone, we also impart a fierce load of baggage.  Labels spare no one and they are readily administered by parents, teachers and other children in the schoolyard.  Every child knows the pain from being teased or called a bad name, and unfortunately, some of them stick.  People tend to live up to that which they’ve been called.  Fortunately, this power can be used for good as well.

In Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me, Karen Swallow Prior says this:

When I was a child, I overheard my mother talking to some other adults. I was only half-attentive until I heard my mother speak my name. “Karen’s very perceptive,” my mother was telling them.

I piped up: “What does that mean? Perceptive?”

My mother hesitated, searching for another word. “Deep,” she finally explained. I wasn’t entirely sure what she meant by that either, but I do remember understanding that somehow, in some way, my mother noticed something that distinguished me, something she could name even if I could not. From that moment and for the rest of my life, my mother’s words—perceptive and many others—have helped me to be the thing she saw and named in me.

 

How have the words spoken about you by others influenced your life, whether positively or negatively?

Genesis 2:19

Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them. And whatever Adam called each living creature, that was its name.


Dig Deeper

Literature, Liturgy & The Arts


E.B. White and Charlotte’s Web

E.B. White

(1899–1985). Although his publications range from three well-known children’s books to numerous essays, books, and poems for adults, E.B. White’s works consistently display eloquent craftsmanship and a keen sense of observation.

Elwyn Brooks White was born on July 11, 1899, in Mount Vernon, New York. He attended Cornell University on a scholarship and served as editor in chief of its daily newspaper. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in English in 1921, he worked for the United Press, the American Legion News Service, and the Seattle Times. He took a job as a mess boy aboard an Alaskan ship in 1923 but returned to Mount Vernon later in the year to work in an advertising agency.

The founding of The New Yorker magazine in 1925 proved pivotal to White’s career. After having several submissions accepted, he joined the staff full-time in 1927. He married one of the editors, Katharine Sergeant Angell, in 1929 and became stepfather to her two children; a son was born to them the following year. Although the couple later left New York for a Maine farm, White remained a lifelong contributor to the magazine. He also wrote a monthly column entitled “One Man’s Meat” for Harper’s magazine from 1938 to 1943.

White’s publications for adults included The Lady Is Cold (1929), Is Sex Necessary? (1929, with James Thurber), Farewell to Model T (1936), The Fox of Peapack and Other Poems (1938), The Wild Flag (1946), The Second Tree from the Corner (1954), and The Points of My Compass (1962). Letters of E.B. White was published in 1976, and a collection of his essays appeared a year later. White also contributed to and revised several editions of William Strunk Jr.’s classic writer’s manual, The Elements of Style.

White’s first children’s book was Stuart Little (1945), an adventure story about a two-inch-(5-centimeter-)tall, mouselike son born to average human parents. White followed the success of that book with Charlotte’s Web (1952), winner of the 1958 Lewis Carroll Shelf Award and runner-up for the 1953 Newbery Medal. The book tells of a small pig whose life is spared twice, first by a farmer’s daughter and later by the ingenuity of a friendly spider. White drew inspiration for the tale from observing his own farm animals. The book was adapted into an animated film in 1972. White’s final children’s book, The Trumpet of the Swan (1970), chronicles the life of a mute trumpeter swan who learns to communicate by writing on a slate and by playing a trumpet. It was nominated for the National Book Award in 1971 and was included on the 1972 International Board on Books for Young People Honor List.

White received a multitude of honors, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1963), the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award (1970), and the National Medal for Literature (1971). In 1978 he was awarded a Pulitzer Prize special citation for his body of work. White died in Maine on October 1, 1985.

Compton’s Encyclopedia (Chicago, IL: Compton’s Encyclopedia, 2015).

Charlotte’s Web

A children’s novel by E.B. White, published in 1952, with illustrations by Garth Williams. This widely read tale, which is one of the classics of children’s literature, takes place on a farm in Maine and concerns a pig named Wilbur and his devoted friend Charlotte, the spider who manages to save his life by writing words in her web. White’s own life on a farm contributed to the tranquil, pastoral setting of the book and the careful observations of animal behaviour. The novel explores, among other things, the nature of friendship, a theme many adults as well as children have appreciated.

Encyclopedia Britannica (Chicago, IL: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2016).

 

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.

The Life Giving Power Of Words: Day 3

Charlotte’s Web
E.B. White

How’s this?” he asked, showing the ad to Charlotte.
It says ‘Crunchy.’ ‘Crunchy’ would be a good word to write in your web.”
Just the wrong idea,” replied Charlotte. “Couldn’t be worse. We don’t want Zuckerman to think Wilbur is crunchy. He might start thinking about crisp, crunchy bacon and tasty ham. That would put ideas into his head. We must advertise Wilbur’s noble qualities, not his tastiness.


When counseling people about to be married, I stress one point in particular:  Mind your words. People may forgive spoken cruelties, but they will never forget the sound of your voice saying them.  Neither will they forget the sound of you praying for them by name.  How profound it is that Jesus Christ, the very Son of God is known as the Word.

In Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me, Karen Swallow Prior says this:

Charlotte’s Web is a metaphor for the power words have to shape us into who others see us as well as how we see ourselves. For it is through words that Charlotte saves Wilbur’s life—not temporarily, as Fern has, but forever, at least the sort of forever that’s contained within the pages of a book. By knitting those words into her web which stretches above Wilbur’s pigpen, Charlotte makes the pig the talk of the town. No one, not even a farmer like Homer Zuckerman whose livelihood depends upon the fruit of his toiling, does away with a pig as special as Wilbur, one who gains widespread fame and visitors from near and far. Even when Wilbur loses first place at the County Fair to a much bigger pig, Wilbur’s life is no less secure than was my rabbit’s for his award of the red ribbon each year at the Monmouth Fair. Yet, Charlotte’s words not only save Wilbur’s life, they shape his life.

What are some examples of the power of words or names?

James 3:1-12

My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body. Indeed, we put bits in horses’ mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body. Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires. Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening? Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh.” 


Dig Deeper

Literature, Liturgy & The Arts


E.B. White and Charlotte’s Web

E.B. White

(1899–1985). Although his publications range from three well-known children’s books to numerous essays, books, and poems for adults, E.B. White’s works consistently display eloquent craftsmanship and a keen sense of observation.

Elwyn Brooks White was born on July 11, 1899, in Mount Vernon, New York. He attended Cornell University on a scholarship and served as editor in chief of its daily newspaper. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in English in 1921, he worked for the United Press, the American Legion News Service, and the Seattle Times. He took a job as a mess boy aboard an Alaskan ship in 1923 but returned to Mount Vernon later in the year to work in an advertising agency.

The founding of The New Yorker magazine in 1925 proved pivotal to White’s career. After having several submissions accepted, he joined the staff full-time in 1927. He married one of the editors, Katharine Sergeant Angell, in 1929 and became stepfather to her two children; a son was born to them the following year. Although the couple later left New York for a Maine farm, White remained a lifelong contributor to the magazine. He also wrote a monthly column entitled “One Man’s Meat” for Harper’s magazine from 1938 to 1943.

White’s publications for adults included The Lady Is Cold (1929), Is Sex Necessary? (1929, with James Thurber), Farewell to Model T (1936), The Fox of Peapack and Other Poems (1938), The Wild Flag (1946), The Second Tree from the Corner (1954), and The Points of My Compass (1962). Letters of E.B. White was published in 1976, and a collection of his essays appeared a year later. White also contributed to and revised several editions of William Strunk Jr.’s classic writer’s manual, The Elements of Style.

White’s first children’s book was Stuart Little (1945), an adventure story about a two-inch-(5-centimeter-)tall, mouselike son born to average human parents. White followed the success of that book with Charlotte’s Web (1952), winner of the 1958 Lewis Carroll Shelf Award and runner-up for the 1953 Newbery Medal. The book tells of a small pig whose life is spared twice, first by a farmer’s daughter and later by the ingenuity of a friendly spider. White drew inspiration for the tale from observing his own farm animals. The book was adapted into an animated film in 1972. White’s final children’s book, The Trumpet of the Swan (1970), chronicles the life of a mute trumpeter swan who learns to communicate by writing on a slate and by playing a trumpet. It was nominated for the National Book Award in 1971 and was included on the 1972 International Board on Books for Young People Honor List.

White received a multitude of honors, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1963), the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award (1970), and the National Medal for Literature (1971). In 1978 he was awarded a Pulitzer Prize special citation for his body of work. White died in Maine on October 1, 1985.

Compton’s Encyclopedia (Chicago, IL: Compton’s Encyclopedia, 2015).

Charlotte’s Web

A children’s novel by E.B. White, published in 1952, with illustrations by Garth Williams. This widely read tale, which is one of the classics of children’s literature, takes place on a farm in Maine and concerns a pig named Wilbur and his devoted friend Charlotte, the spider who manages to save his life by writing words in her web. White’s own life on a farm contributed to the tranquil, pastoral setting of the book and the careful observations of animal behaviour. The novel explores, among other things, the nature of friendship, a theme many adults as well as children have appreciated.

Encyclopedia Britannica (Chicago, IL: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2016).

 

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.