Kindness

On Reading Well

Karen Swallow Prior

Chapter Eleven

Tenth of December

By George Saunders

 

Anyone who withholds kindness from a friend forsakes the fear of the Almighty. 

~Job 6:14


Chapter Eleven of Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well examines the virtue of Kindness with examples drawn from George Saunders’ Tenth of December.

As Karen wrote

The connection between kindness and kinship helps make sense of the reason for envy being the vice that opposes kindness. Aquinas calls envy “sorrow for another’s good.” Unless the relationship is marred by some dysfunction, it is natural for us to celebrate a family member’s happiness or success. When something good happens to someone in our family, it is like it has happened to us. We share in that good rather than envy it. To seek and celebrate the good for others is then to treat them as family in this way. This is what it means to be kind.

If kindness is so easy and simple, why is it so lacking around us?

On Reading Well

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Patience

On Reading Well

Karen Swallow Prior

Chapter Ten
Persuasion
By Jane Austen

 

The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride.

Ecclesiastes 7:8


Chapter Ten of Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well examines the virtue of Patience with examples drawn from Jane Austen’s Persuasion

As Karen wrote

Like all virtues, patience is the mean between an excess and a deficiency. The excessive vice related to suffering is wrath. Evil and suffering should result in a righteous anger. To fulfill the admonition of Paul to “be angry and do not sin” (Eph. 4:26 ESV) requires patience that is the fruit of the Spirit. Patience is a virtue, not in overlooking wrong, but in refusing to do wrong in overcoming wrong. But untempered by patience, such an impulse becomes wrath. On the deficient side of the scale is a lack of spirit or carelessness or sloth. If in the face of evil or suffering one simply does not care, no patience is required. But such lack of care is, like wrath, a vice. Patience is not inaction. As the Bible says in James 5:11, patience is not passivity but perseverance. When faced with suffering or wrong, the virtuous person responds neither with wrath nor with stoicism but with patience. A person who has true patience is “angrily virtuous,”whether that means giving time for the emotional heat to subside before acting or simply waiting for the slow wheels of justice to turn.

What, beyond waiting, are the necessary components of the virtue of patience?

 

On Reading Well

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Diligence

On Reading Well

Karen Swallow Prior

Chapter Nine
Pilgrim's Progress
By John Bunyan

And we desire that every one of you do shew the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end:
That ye be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises.

Hebrews 6:11-12


Chapter Nine of Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well examines the virtue of Diligence with examples drawn from John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress

As Karen wrote

In the Bible, diligence is often presented in contrast to its opposite, sloth. For example, Proverbs 12:24 says, “The hand of the diligent shall bear rule: but the slothful shall be under tribute” (KJV). Sloth has received considerable examination by moral philosophers, so to understand the virtue of diligence, it’s helpful to examine its opposing vice of deficiency.

Sloth is commonly thought of as laziness, but it’s much more than that. (We saw in chapter 6 that sloth opposes magnanimity, for example.) Sloth involves not only a lack of effort but also a lack of care. In fact, the Greek word for sloth, acedia, literally means “without care” or “careless.” It’s similar to a word we use more commonly today, apathy.

How do diligence and apathy show up in contemporary society?

On Reading Well

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Chastity

On Reading Well

Karen Swallow Prior

Chapter Eight 
Ethan Frome
By Edith Wharton

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

~Matthew 5:27-28


Chapter Eight of Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well examines the virtue of Chastity with examples drawn from Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome.  All virtue is related to one’s deeds, but chastity includes the will of another.  On examination, it can be said to include the will of many.

As Karen wrote

Lauren Winner explains, “The community is not so much cop as it is storyteller, telling and retelling the foundational stories that make sense of the community’s norms.” Marriage is not only about mutual companionship and romantic love, but it is the institution “out of which cultures and societies are formed.” Marriage “is about children, and household economy, and stability. And marriage is also about God.” Marriage forms a little society. And the health of that little society depends to some degree on the health of the larger surrounding society.

Unlike abstention, an act of an individual, chastity is a form of community, and chastity depends on community. We can’t always choose where we place our roots, but when we can, it’s important to choose well. The ancient monastics took their vows of chastity within a community. Whether or not we realize it, we do as well.


What role does the community have in cultivating chastity in its members?  How can communities do a better job at this?

On Reading Well

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Chastity

On Reading Well

Karen Swallow Prior

Ethan Frome 
Chapter Eight
By Edith Wharton

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

~Matthew 5:27-28


What is lust?  Is that a silly question? It might not be as simple as you think.  Chapter Eight of Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well examines the virtue of Chastity with examples drawn from Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome.  

As Karen wrote

Ethan Frome’s lust embodies each of the kinds of lust the Bible warns against: “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16). David L. Allen explains that the Greek term for lust that is used in this passage carries the sense of being “hot after something,” and it denotes things sought apart from God. “Lust of the flesh” refers to the worldly desires of our corrupted human nature as opposed to the will of God. The phrase “describes what it means to live life dominated by the senses” and neglectful of spiritual things. “Lust of the eyes” refers to desires for the things we can see—whether material possessions, beautiful persons, or successful status—again, pursued apart from God’s will. It describes the condition of being consumed by outward appearances. Finally, “the pride of life,” Allen explains, “describes the arrogant spirit of self-sufficiency.”

In sum, lust of the flesh centers on temptations that originate within the body, with our inner appetites (sexual or otherwise), and lust of the eyes on temptations originating externally, with things we perceive and then desire to possess. The pride of life combines the two, appealing to the internal desire to be like God and seeking fulfillment of this through external shows of power. Each of these lusts is at work in Ethan. His story depicts how chastity involves the whole person and, within the context of a marriage, every aspect of the marriage: physical, emotional, and spiritual.

How do the various kinds of lusts work against chastity, both in Ethan Frome and in real life?

On Reading Well

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Chastity

On Reading Well

Karen Swallow Prior

Chapter Eight
Ethan Frome
By Edith Wharton

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

~Matthew 5:27-28


Chapter Eight of Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well examines the virtue of Chastity with examples drawn from Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome.  In this the first of the Heavenly Virtues, we encounter the least popular if not the most revered. Purity comes with a price.

Continue reading “Chastity”

Love

On Reading Well
Karen Swallow Prior

Chapter Seven
The Death of Ivan Ilych
By Leo Tolstoy

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

~1 Corinthians 13:13


How exactly do we love our neighbor as ourselves?  Chapter Seven of Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well examines the virtue of love with examples drawn from Leo Tolstoy’s Ivan Ilych.  The discussion today distinguishes attributes that are frequently either misunderstood or confused.  Continue reading “Love”

Hope

On Reading Well
Karen Swallow Prior

Chapter Six
The Road
By Cormac McCarthy

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.

~Romans 5:3–4


In Chapter Six of Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well, the relationship between the man and the boy in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road illuminates the relationship between watchfulness and hope. Here we see the essential element of expectation in its fullest range.
Continue reading “Hope”

Hope

On Reading Well
Karen Swallow Prior

Chapter Six
The Road
By Cormac McCarthy

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.

~Romans 5:3–4


We speak of hope frequently in daily talk.  Its range extends from wishful thinking to profound spirituality.  Chapter Six of Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well examines the virtue of hope with examples drawn from Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.  Today we consider the difference between the passion of hope from theological hope.    Continue reading “Hope”

Hope

On Reading Well
Karen Swallow Prior

Chapter Six
The Road
By Cormac McCarthy

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.

~Romans 5:3–4


Chapter Six of Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well examines the virtue of hope with examples drawn from Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.  In this continuance of the theological virtues, we consider our future. In many ways, our world seems to be teetering on the edge of apocalypse.    Continue reading “Hope”

Faith

On Reading Well
Karen Swallow Prior

Chapter Five
Silence
By Shusaku Endo

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

Hebrews 11:1


Robert Louis Stevenson wrote “Not every man is so great a coward as he thinks he is — nor yet so good a Christian.” Is the essence of a man that which he holds in his heart, or more akin to his actions?  Chapter Five of Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well examines the virtue of faith with examples drawn from Shusaku Endo’s Silence, a novel that raises questions about faith that is hidden.    Continue reading “Faith”

Faith

On Reading Well
Karen Swallow Prior

Chapter Five
Silence
By Shusaku Endo

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

Hebrews 11:1


The Bible has much to say about faith, but what exactly is it?  Chapter Five of Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well examines the virtue through a discussion of Shusaku Endo’s Silence.     Continue reading “Faith”

Faith

On Reading Well
Karen Swallow Prior

Chapter Five
Silence
By Shusaku Endo

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

Hebrews 11:1


Chapter Five of Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well examines the virtue of faith with examples drawn from Shusaku Endo’s Silence.  In this section, we move to the theological virtues. The novel examines the struggle of Christians who are physically persecuted for their beliefs and the degree to which the virtue of faith is tied to faithfulness and fidelity in lifestyle.    Continue reading “Faith”

Courage

On Reading Well
Karen Swallow Prior

Chapter Four
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
By Mark Twain

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; be not frightened, neither be dismayed; for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.

Joshua 1:9


In Chapter Four of On Reading Well, Karen Swallow Prior quotes Dietrich Bonhoeffer who in his book Ethics wrote “When a man takes guilt upon himself in responsibility, he imputes his guilt to himself and no one else. He answers for it. . . . Before other men he is justified by dire necessity; before himself he is acquitted by his conscience, but before God he hopes only for grace.”  It is a matter of obtaining clarity in understanding and then acting accordingly.

Continue reading “Courage”

Courage

On Reading Well
Karen Swallow Prior

Chapter Four
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
By Mark Twain

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; be not frightened, neither be dismayed; for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.

Joshua 1:9


In one of the most famous scenes of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus faces down a lynch mob whose collective (as Karen says) “false bravery” is only undone by the innocence of Scout.  Chapter Four of Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well examines a similar scene from Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.   Continue reading “Courage”

Courage

On Reading Well
Karen Swallow Prior

Chapter Four
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
By Mark Twain

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; be not frightened, neither be dismayed; for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.

Joshua 1:9


Chapter Four of Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well, examines the virtue of courage with examples drawn from Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  The book is often criticized as the crude snapshot of a bygone era, but others find timeless truths in the tales of a growing young boy.  Hemingway said “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called ‘Huckleberry Finn.” Continue reading “Courage”

Justice, Order, and Mob Rule: A Tale of Two Cities

Bride Miss Pross A Tale of Two Cities

This past week, Literary Life has been featuring chapter three of On Reading Well by Karen Swallow Prior. It’s the chapter entitled “Justice,” and the book featured by Prior to illustrate the idea is A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.

After A Christmas Carol, A Tale of Two Cities is likely Dickens’ most popular work. We like and remember it for is opening statement of contrasts, for the horrific mob scenes in the Paris of the revolutionary Terror, and for the sacrifice of the ne’er-do-well lawyer Sydney Carton, substituting his life for that Charles Darnay might be saved from the guillotine. And it was a sacrifice for love; Carton loved Darnay’s wife, Lucie, and he knew it would always be an unrequited love. Continue reading “Justice, Order, and Mob Rule: A Tale of Two Cities”

Justice

On Reading Well
Karen Swallow Prior

Chapter Three
A Tale of Two Cities
By Charles Dickens

Do horses run on the rocky crags? Does one plow the sea with oxen? But you have turned justice into poison and the fruit of righteousness into bitterness—

Amos 6:12


In Chapter Three of Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well, the virtue of justice is described as the equilibrium of self-regard and a love for one’s neighbor.  In many ways, that runs counter to the popular perspective of today’s civil and criminal judicial system. It is not a dynamic that occurs naturally in human nature, and its progress forward must be intentional.

Continue reading “Justice”

Justice

On Reading Well
Karen Swallow Prior

Chapter Three
A Tale of Two Cities
By Charles Dickens

Do horses run on the rocky crags? Does one plow the sea with oxen? But you have turned justice into poison and the fruit of righteousness into bitterness—

Amos 6:12


Chapter Three of Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well, examines the virtue of justice with examples drawn from Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.  In many ways, the world described by Dickens seems dark, distant and far removed from our own, but is it?

Continue reading “Justice”

Justice

On Reading Well
Karen Swallow Prior

Chapter Three
A Tale of Two Cities
By Charles Dickens

Do horses run on the rocky crags? Does one plow the sea with oxen? But you have turned justice into poison and the fruit of righteousness into bitterness—

Amos 6:12


Benjamin Franklin said “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” Today we begin Chapter Three of Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well, and we will examine the virtue of justice with examples drawn from Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.

Continue reading “Justice”

Temperance

On Reading Well
Karen Swallow Prior

Chapter Two
The Great Gatsby
By F. Scott Fitzgerald

And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge;
And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness;

2 Peter 1:5-6


Chapter Two of On Reading Well by Karen Swallow Prior is a study of Temperance drawn from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Much has been written about the excesses of the Roaring Twenties and the Great Depression that followed. Our current culture bears many similarities in hedonistic excess, so should we expect a similar collapse?  Continue reading “Temperance”

Temperance

On Reading Well
Karen Swallow Prior

Chapter Two
The Great Gatsby
By F. Scott Fitzgerald

And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge;
And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness;

2 Peter 1:5-6


Chapter Two of On Reading Well by Karen Swallow Prior is a study of Temperance drawn from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. The topic is older than that novel of course and much has been written about its attributes. One of the leading ancient voices was that of Aristotle. Continue reading “Temperance”

Temperance

On Reading Well
Karen Swallow Prior

Chapter Two
The Great Gatsby
By F. Scott Fitzgerald

And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge;
And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness;

2 Peter 1:5-6


Today we begin Chapter Two of On Reading Well by Karen Swallow Prior. This week’s study of Temperance is drawn from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.  Temperance is a word rarely used today and its practice even rarer in our world of extravagance and excess. Continue reading “Temperance”

Prudence

On Reading Well
Karen Swallow Prior

Chapter One
The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling
By Henry Fielding

I, wisdom, dwell together with prudence;
I possess knowledge and discretion.

Proverbs 8:12


In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin wrote:

We are not to reflect on the wickedness of men but to look to the image of God in them, an image which, covering and obliterating their faults, an image which, by its beauty and dignity, should allure us to love and embrace them.

So are people good or evil?  Is it possible to be totally depraved, yet a bearer of God’s image?  In her book On Reading Well, Karen Swallow Prior explores this quandary in Chapter One.

Continue reading “Prudence”

Prudence

On Reading Well
Karen Swallow Prior

Chapter One
The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling
By Henry Fielding

I, wisdom, dwell together with prudence;
I possess knowledge and discretion.

Proverbs 8:12


An essential aspect of parenting is the responsibility to instill good judgment into the minds of children.  This hard-fought battle requires a measure of pain because, alas, most people have to learn things the hard way. Life’s lessons become the foundation of prudence.  In Chapter One of On Reading Well, Karen Swallow Prior calls on Henry Fielding’s The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling to portray this virtue. Continue reading “Prudence”

On Reading Well by Karen Swallow Prior

KSP 2018

I’m so excited to be able to walk with the readers of Literary Life through On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life through Great Books! I have always loved books (as you know if you participated here in our earlier discussion about my first book, Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me).

When I set out to write another book about books, I wasn’t sure what framework or theme I would use to hold it all together. When I thought about centering the books around the classical virtues, I realized that I actually didn’t know that much about the virtues. They’ve always intrigued me, but I had never studied them. So study them I did! I found in my research that we need the virtues as much today as ever! But first we need to know what they are. So, I tried to glean the best definitions and teachings of the virtues and then show how some of the best books in the world illustrate what they consist of as well as how we can fall short of them.

You don’t have to have read the books I write about before reading On Reading Well. I tried to write about them in a way that would reveal a little but not too much for anyone new to them. And if you have read the books, then I hope my analysis offers just a little bit more light on them, the kind of works that yield new insights with every re-reading.

Of course, there are lots and lots of good books in the world, and settling on just a dozen or so was hard. I hope, though, that the way I write about these books will encourage and assist you in other great books that you choose to read.

Most of all, I hope this book helps you to read better and to read more! Thanks for reading with me!

You can join our book club on Facebook by clicking here.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Karen Swallow Prior (PhD, SUNY Buffalo) is an award-winning professor of English at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. She is the author of Booked: Literature in the Soul of Meand Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More–Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist. Prior has written for Christianity Today, the Atlantic, the Washington PostFirst Things, VoxThink Christian, and The Gospel Coalition. She is a research fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a senior fellow with Liberty University’s Center for Apologetics and Cultural Engagement, a senior fellow with the Trinity Forum, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

 

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.