A Sunset Reflection 

I took this photo on a sunset run and added the words (surprise! They were not actually fabulous skywriting!) as I was doing some reading later. The exercise, combined with the wisdom of St. Hildegard, were a welcome relief to an emotional day. 

Sometimes on overcast days like today, we fail to remember the sun. Yet, by grace, it descends to us each evening, casting its warm glow over the earth and tempering the darkness with the promise of its brilliant return come dawn. 

What a marvelous image this is of the reality we know as Believers. (Plato has me on an image-reality thought trend.) As beautiful as sunsets are, they are a mere flicker of the splendor of the True Son who humbled Himself for us. Likewise, although we run in a darkened world, He has already risen with splendor beyond any sunrise…and, in Him, so shall we! We live in the purgatory between sunset and the sunrise, but our hope is more sure than the dawn. The race is not in vain, for the Lord gives us the wings to overcome; through His comfort, we can rest in the promise that joy comes not only in the morning, but through mourning. 

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Books from Abroad

I’m back from a six week tour and study trip to four different countries and, thanks to jet lag, my brain is wide awake while my body is still confused as to whether it’s time for second breakfast or a mid-morning nap.

So I will take advantage of this forced downtime to go on my regular post-travel blogging rampage. Expect more than one post within the next couple of days! To start, though, I will begin with my “Read across Europe” post.

In every city I visited, I did my best to find a bookshop. In most, I succeeded, and with an overweight suitcase, returned home with many new reads to add to my library. I tried to be thematic with my selections and ended with a nice little collection of books from abroad. They served as a second way of documenting my travels and expanding my understanding of the lands I visited, the homes of their authors.

  1. Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

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Our first stop was Amsterdam, home of beautiful canals, more bikes than in all of America, a certain district we did our best to avoid, and- of course – the Anne Frank House. We toured it, but I felt that I ought to have read her book first, so I picked it up in the gift shop on the way out and was engrossed in it throughout several train rides and an international bus journey.

I ended up being glad to read the book after having been in its setting. However, I was surprised to see just how roomy the secret attic was; I remember elementary school teachers telling me with horrified tones how the hiding space was probably smaller than my bedroom, perhaps even smaller than my closet. This was no the case, as I found out. However, reading the book I was struck by the brutal honesty of its young authoress. Anne Frank was, well, frank about the too-real trials of their situation and yet she also possessed a wisdom and eloquence beyond her years. I was convicted by her ability to write with such clarity and skill in the darkest of times.

2. Poems of the Great War 

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“In Flanders Fields, the poppies blow.”

From the first line, I was stuck by the poignance of these poems; they are full of yearning, mourning, and heartbreak but also hope and loyalty and courage. I picked up this little collection in Ypres after a strenuous bike ride through the surrounding farmlands, where once the poppies grew.

Although few poppies grow among the memorials of Flanders Fields now, the memories of the Great War linger. The museum and the poems in this book keep them alive, reminding, entreating us to never forget and to carry on with wisdom in light of the tragedies of the past.

This book kicked off my love of poetry, which continued to influence my reading choices throughout the rest of this trip.

3. The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory 

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This book caught my eye just as I finished exploring the castle in Edinburgh. In a city so rich in literature and history, it was a no-brainer that I needed to purchase a book. I had been hoping my something by Sir Arthur Conan Dolye or Robert Louis Stevenson or even J.K. Rowling as they all lived in Edinburgh, but this book focuses on a key point in Scottish and English history, so it worked just as well. It turns out the author got her Ph.D. in 18th century literature from Edinburgh University, which is pretty amazing if you ask me.

It was a great book for gaining insight into Mary Queen of Scots and Tudor England. Was it my favorite book? No, but it was interesting and certainly passed the time on another long train ride.

4. Underwoods by Robert Louis Stevenson

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I found this gem in a quirky bookstore in Inverness. Besides a sporting goods shop where I bought amazing running shoes, this bookstore was the only interesting thing in the city. However, Inverness is situated in the Scottish Highlands, which I strongly believe to be the most beautiful place on earth. This collection of R.L. Stevenson’s poetry is not only over one hundred years old, it smells of “ancient Egypt” and is filled with thrilling rhymes and imagery. For instance, “Wine-scented and poetic soul” (from “To a Gardener”) won me over at once.

Update: I read several more poems and am in love with R.L.S.’s ability to marry humor and earnestness within the same stanzas.

5. The Wrong Box by Robert Louis Stevenson

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After his poetry, I was on a Stevenson reading trend. In St. Andrews, a beautiful coastal town in Scotland, I found another darling bookstore, complete with ladders and books old and new. There, I picked up this “black comedy” and laughed my way through it all the way from Cambridge to Glasgow on my final train ride.

It was a pleasant way to pass a 4.5 hour journey, though Stevenson made me painfully aware of my limited vocabulary. I ended up having to scribble a list of words to look up later in my journal. Still need to do that…oops.

But, after this, I purchased a Stevenson collection on my abomination (er, I mean, my Kindle) and enjoyed finally reading The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, shocked that I’d never read it before and astounded at its insights into human nature.

6. Much Ado about Nothing by William Shakespeare. 

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G. David, a bookseller in Cambridge, is one of the most magical places in the world. Unfortunately for me, my wallet did not agree, so all I could afford to buy in the end was this teeny-tiny copy of Much Ado. 

We saw this comedy performed in the King’s College Fellows Garden as part of the 30th annual Cambridge Shakespeare Festival, so it seemed a fitting (and suitcase weight limit-friendly) souvenir. Besides, I think sassy Beatrice might be my literary twin and this is definitely my favorite of the comedies.

 

So there you have it! These are my souvenir books, though I also read a wealth of English and Cambridge authors’ books (on my Kindle…alas, it is so convenient for travel…)

  • Romeo and Juliet – Shakespeare
    • Aside from the traumatic Globe experience, I admit that I love this play, not because I make the painful mistake of thinking it is a romance, but because I am fascinated with the way in which it is simultaneously comic and tragic in its plot. Essay on this later?
  • Sermons on Ephesians – Reverend Charles Simeon of Cambridge
    • Wonderful resource to have on hand as I studied Ephesians during my stay in Cambridge. Simeon is concise and insightful.
  • Silhouettes and Skeletons – various
    • This was a weird one and I’m not sure why it was on my reading list for my Cambridge course. It sought to give a character depiction of Simeon and sort of did, I guess… maybe.
  • An Experiment in Criticism – C.S. Lewis
    • This book was incredible and is reshaping how I approach various works of art. I already want to reread it as I know there is a wealth of ideas that I missed.
  • Letters to Malcolm – C.S. Lewis
    • Also insightful, but I wish I could have read Malcolm’s letters to Lewis…
  • Ariel – Sylvia Plath
    • At first, I was shocked and annoyed, considering Plath’s poetry to be nothing more than long and unnecessary sex and suicide metaphors. However, upon closer reading and applying the openness Lewis advises in Experiment, I found a new depth and beauty to Plath’s writing that inspired my own attempts at poetry.
  • The Art of Prophesying – William Perkins
    • This was a nice, concise guide to preaching which, naturally, my honors institute friends and I overcomplicated.
  • Samson Agonistes – John Milton
    • Do NOT make the mistake of skimming this in your head on an airplane. Instead, read it aloud with some literary friends; I promise you will find new meaning and beauty in it this way.
  • Manual of a Christian Knight – Erasmus
    • Rule No. 5 was about the only part of this book that did not make me want to give it up. Yes, it was helpful in some parts as it described our spiritual battle, but overall it was just. so. long. and. wordy. Still, when we discussed it, I – as usual- appreciated it more than before.
  • The Silver Chair – C.S. Lewis
    • This book seemed so straightforward until we discussed it…But it was a relief to read a children’s novel after so much theology.
  • Very British Problems – Rob Temple
    • This had me laughing aloud, but I think a more apt title would be “Awkward Introvert Problems” because all of the so-called “British Problems” are things I too fear.
  • Misery – Stephen King
    • Well this was equal parts inspiring and traumatizing…it’s writing and construction were brilliant and its story had me captivated for nearly all of my transatlantic flight. But now I wonder if I really want to be a famous writer as the plot centers on the kidnapping and torture of one…Still, it was my first King novel and I certainly enjoyed (is that the right word?) it!

 

Well, there you have it! My Euro-trip 2017 summed up in the books I read and purchased. Hopefully it gave you some new reads to check out in the future and maybe some new literary destinations to visit.

Romeo and Juliet at the Globe 2017: A Review

 

Last night I had the opportunity to attend Romeo and Juliet at the Globe Theatre in London. Having read it not long ago, I arrived expecting heartrending professions of love, stately background characters, comic relief now and then, and period costumes. I also half expected to fall asleep as it has been a long week of traveling and I have seen various similar versions of RJ since my birth (the daughter of an English teacher, I likely was hearing it read aloud before I was even born.)

Well, I certainly was in no danger of falling asleep and was in fact on the edge of my seat for the entire production, from its disturbing opening in which two clownish figures representing Ladies Montague and Capulet gave birth to coffins to its sexually-charged dance scene (also featuring the Shakespearean equivalent of the Village People singing YMCA) to its gruesome ending in which, rather than uniting the two households, Romeo shouts “bang” as he pantomimes killing everyone.

Shocking is perhaps the most mild word to describe this production. Others had called it “rubbish” or, less gently, “poop.” But although it ruffled my moral feathers and baffled my literary mind, I cannot dismiss it so easily as a piece of mere modern, avant garde trash. Was it likely crafted with the intent of upsetting Shakespearean purists? Yes. But was there no value at all in seeing it? That stands to be decided.

When it comes to anything that even vaguely might be considered art, I am of the firm opinion that it must be evaluated according to the triangular concept of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. I say “triangular” to indicate that these three abstracts cannot be separated from each other without severely degrading themselves as individuals and thus the work of art in question. (i.e., a beautiful painting that does not inspire contemplation of truth or practical goodness, is beautiful in itself but lacking in ultimate and lasting impact, thus making it a lesser work of art. But that is another blog post- or perhaps thesis- in itself.)

In discussing the play afterwards with the brave souls who stuck it out, we thoroughly examined its every aspect according to these three ideals, which happen to comprise the motto of our honors institute.

The Beautiful: 

First and perhaps easiest, was this production beautiful? Regardless of personal taste, was this a well-crafted show? Were the costumes done with excellence? Was the staging effective? How were other art forms incorporated? Was the acting convincing? Did it authentically communicate the original text?

Overall, yes, I would say there was a great deal of beauty within this production. Was I a fan of the male stripper character who showed up just in time for an odd dance party scene? Not particularly. Not at all, actually. Did I understand why ballistic missiles were hung above the stage without any explanation? No.

However, the costumes (besides Speedo-pasty guy) were done with a great attention to detail. While the entire cast besides Romeo and Juliet were dressed in harlequin attire to match their ribald and careless personalities, the young couple were dressed in an elegant and simple suit and dress, complete with foreboding and fitting Mexican death masks. This was a beautiful choice for it highlighted that amidst a chaotic and pointless world, serious love might might still bloom, albeit for a short time.

Similarly, the staging was magnificent. Scenes such as the death of Tybalt and the anticipation of the newlywed Juliet upon her bed were layered to show the intricate weaving of death and life which characterize this play, no matter the version. I grant that the staging of nearly every scene (I can never forget the YMCA dance party disaster) was stunning.

Other arts such as music were also incorporated, featuring the stellar vocals of the Mercutio. The song itself was cheesy, but it did serve well to enhance the drama of the ending and tug at the audience’s heartstrings. Well done. Still, I have to take some points off for the other main song being YMCA sung by a rowdy Lord Capulet dressed in a dinosaur costume.

The acting was convincing. That much was clear to everyone. While I do not necessarily like the way certain characters were portrayed, such as Friar Laurence who seemed crafted specifically to mock all religion, they did well in their assigned roles. The stand-outs were certainly Juliet, whose intentionality shown in every phrase, Romeo, who was simply adorable, and Mercutio, who was disturbingly impactful.

As far as communicating the original text…I could rant forever about how the ending was cut so that no reconciliation was truly reached and thus the near-comedy ending of the original was tossed carelessly away. But I will restrain myself…for now. The original was most clearly expressed in the scenes between Romeo and Juliet themselves; these sweet, intimate moments were a refreshing contrast from the raunchy update of the rest of the play. I would like to believe that this tension between the loud pursuits of the majority and the confused love of young people is true to what Shakespeare must have intended.

Oh, and let’s not forget the double entendres. Every single one (and then some) that Shakespeare wrote was emphasized as a crude joke. So there’s that.

Beautiful? In many ways, if surprising in light of my initial shock and disgust, yes.

The True: 

Did this production effectively communicate a message of truth? Was this message what Shakespeare would have intended? Did the audience leave with new ideas and questions worth pursuing? Did it lend itself to discussion and a greater understanding of any concept? Did it speak to any realities that need addressing?

These questions were the most troubling. While my mind has come up with multiple messages that could have been communicated by this production, I cannot settle on any one in particular. To me, this is a fault of the direction. With Shakespeare, there are so many themes worth highlighting that choosing one to focus on should not be a difficult feat. However, this production was so scattered that it was impossible to truly know what it was attempting to convey.

I hypothesized that it was highlighting the idea that genuine love between a young man and woman is doomed to die in light of a sexually-charged, consequence-free society. Others speculated that it meant that this love was worth dying for in the light of cheap physical pleasure. One friend brought up nihilism. Another thought it was a statement in favor LGBT living while still another thought it was an argument against this. Some thought perhaps it was to promote feminism or unveil abusive parental relationships. Theories were wide-ranging to say the least.

While I value ambiguity in art for the purpose of leading to discussion, I still find it immensely troubling when a piece has so many messages that it ultimately has none. This version of RJ was so varied in its potential messages that I fear it ended up saying nothing. Any truth discovered by viewing this was only achieved after hours of speculative conversation rather than simply individual contemplation of the work itself. Thus, in touching on so many different potential messages, I believe it failed in communicating fully a single truth of any kind.

In its defense, it lent itself well to discussion, but I am afraid this is more because it was a scandalous spectacle than a work of true philosophy. Any truth discovered was achieved through our own mental efforts to understand something, anything of what we just watched rather than through the production itself.

True? Nada. Discussion and thought-provoking due to utter confusion? Yes. I suppose that is a small point in its favor.

The Good: 

Did this production highlight good, even if doing so by portraying darkness? Did this play have the effect of catharsis, portraying wrong and death so that we might purge our inclinations/emotions and live rightly instead? Or, rather, did it draw us into its moral degeneracy? How did our consciouses react during and after? Was it edifying?

Romeo and Juliet is certainly not an example of how we should live; it is full of contention, deception, murder, offense, etc. However, the same could be said of a tragedy such as Macbeth. Plays such as this seek to direct audiences toward better things by demonstrating graphically the consequences of vice. However, this production fell short, for the characters who lived most wrongfully ended with the fewest consequences, perhaps deceiving less-discerning viewers into believing this makes these poor choices acceptable.

In Macbeth, the characters who commit sins end up devising their own downfalls. However, in this production, the characters who are most clearly shown to be abusive, lustful, and prideful survive while the two characters who pledge fidelity end in death. This does not redirect our hearts toward good by demonstrating evil, but rather excuses evil at the expense of good.

At first, I was disgusted by some of the things I saw on stage, as I would be in any production that features characters filled with such lust, pride, and hate. This was no different than I would likely feel watching Lady Macbeth declare that she will “unsex” herself and commit murder to achieve power. However, while I would have continued to be repelled by Lady Macbeth’s degeneracy, I become slowly more drawn in by what I was consuming in this version of RJ. This is dangerous, for rather than highlighting light by darkness, which may well have been the original intention, this production more and more pulled me into its darkness.

That said, while my mind enjoyed the challenge of analyzing and seeking some excuse for this production so that I might exalt it as art, my conscious warned during and after that it was simply not edifying.

Was this production good in the sense that it promoted contemplation of and practice of right morality? Not really. I concede that I adored the contrast between what was portrayed as real and gentle love between the married Romeo and Juliet and the unrestrained and rough lust of the other characters. However, this is the only edifying facet of the production as a whole.

Conclusion: The Good, the True, and the Beautiful…

This production was good in that it emphasized (contrary to many versions) the sanctity of the marriage of Romeo and Juliet amidst the callous affections of the other characters. However, overall it left me reeling as I sought after any other thread of morality and was, in my thoughts, instead dragged downwards into its degeneracy.

This production was true only in our own analysis and conclusions, not in its own effective communication of a reality or even an opinion. We arrived at many interesting ideas and interpretations, but it failed to convey any one clear message.

This production was beautiful in that, though stylistically opposite what I would have chosen and purposely offensive to conservative Shakespeareans, it was crafted with exceptional intentionality and detail. As an artist, I appreciated this immense care and attention to all facets of presentation.

I hold to the idea that to be a genuinely valuable work of art, something must be good, true, and beautiful in some sense. It is a performance that toes the line not only between shock-factor and authenticity but between that of good art and bad. It is up to the individual viewer to decide his or her stance on this. My own opinion? It has its virtues but its vices detract from it so much that it becomes a lesser work of art than it ought to have been had it more firmly founded upon goodness, truth, and beauty.

For more info, here is the link to the Globe Theatre’s synopsis: http://www.shakespearesglobe.com/theatre/whats-on/globe-theatre/romeo-and-juliet-2017

Miss Darcy

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single woman having read or seen Pride and Prejudice, must be in want of a Mr. Darcy.” – Jane Austen and Ryanne McLaren*

*Note: The above quote does not actually represent the entirety of this post, but I did think it rather apt in capturing the feelings of Austenites everywhere.

Rereading Pride and Prejudice is probably the most fun summer homework I have ever had. I find myself procrastinating my other work as I continue to become absorbed into Jane Austen’s Regency world of country lanes, stuffy dinner parties, heartfelt letters, and- of course- the universally-beloved romance between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy.

In beginning to read this book for the second (or is it third?) time, I was determined to figure out which leading lady I am the most like. My mother used to tell me to “put on my Jane face” whenever I needed to act sweet and politely charming. But, others have mentioned that my sass is more in line with Elizabeth. I hope that I have never been a Lydia or Kitty, though I fear I may occasionally be Mary.

But…the more I read, the more I come to realize that I am not completely like any of these characters. And, while most girls will argue that Elizabeth is their spirit animal, I am afraid that I am, instead, Mr. Darcy.

Granted, I am obviously not a “young man in possession of a good fortune,” but I cannot avoid acknowledging the incredible similarities I have discovered between Darcy’s character and my own.

First of all, according to internet searches, which we all know are always accurate, both Darcy and I are INTJ personalities, commonly considered to be the “architects” archetype. INTJs are characterized by planning, introversion, and analysis. Of course, the Meyers-Briggs indicator does not capture the whole of our natures, so I will continue to delve deeper, using Darcy’s pursuit of Elizabeth as my primary evidence.

  1. Rudeness and cluelessness:

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“I am in no humor at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men” (Austen 7-8).

I do not think that Darcy meant any overt meanness here, but was simply being blunt with his thoughts. If I had a nickel for every time I said something insensitive simply because I thought it obvious, I would be able to buy Pemberley. He was also clueless that the woman he slighted at first will become attractive to him within the next few chapters. I’ll admit this has happened to me too; upon meeting someone, I might not give him a second thought at first, even if he becomes important to me later.

2. Eye love intelligence: 

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“No sooner had he made it clear to himself and his friends that she had hardly a good feature in her face, than he began to find it rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes” (16).

Pardon the terrible pun, but Darcy comes to admire Elizabeth’s whole figure upon finding he admires the witty sparkle in her eyes. This is usually the first thing I see in a person too; a good-humored and intelligent expression in someone’s eyes is the most attractive thing to me and gives that entire person a handsomeness that cannot be matched.

3. Knowledge is power, but also love: 

 

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“He began to wish to know more of her” (16).

It might sound horrible, but people like Darcy and myself don’t care that much about learning about others unless we have a genuine affection for them. It goes right along with our detest of small talk. We don’t give two pence about someone’s thoughts on the weather,his/her favorite dinner course, or where he/she buys tea biscuits. Unless we care for this person deeply. In that case, we will not only want to know everything about him/her, but we will make a clear effort to ask and observe in order to gather information.

4. Falseness if futile: 

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“‘Nothing is more deceitful,’ said Darcy, ‘than the appearance of humility. It is often only carelessness of opinion, and sometimes an indirect boast'” (35).

When Miss Bingley copies and compliments everything Darcy does, he does not hide his annoyance, but expresses it in wise sayings she is sure to misinterpret but still allow him to speak his mind. He is aware of and despises all ploys of manipulation. Similarly, nothing bothers me more than falseness or deception and when I am aware of these manipulations, I speak my mind. And, though I usually believe I am correct, I also generally regret it.

5. Slow to form opinions, slow to discard them: 

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“My good opinion, once lost is lost forever” (43).

I agree with Elizabeth that this tendency is “a failing indeed,” but it is a failing I share with Darcy. Wickham wronged Mr. Darcy and deserved to lose his favor, but was it wrong of Darcy to renounce forgiveness? This is a fault of mine as well, for I am guilty of remaining cold toward people who have “lost my good opinion” for unreasonably long periods of time. But, I will add, the trust and friendship of such characters as Darcy and myself are not easily won, so it is understandable that breaks in these bonds are also not easily forgotten.

6. Desire is danger: 

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“He began to feel the danger of paying Elizabeth too much attention” (44).

This is an exaggeration, but I am right when I say that Darcy feared his attachment to Elizabeth. Feelings of any kind are discomfiting to natures such as his, for they not only contradict reason but are at risk of being found out by others. The fear of a person discovering where Darcy’s (or my own…) affections lie is all too real for him (and me.) We know from experience that secrets relating to the heart are best kept in complete privacy because it allows for protection of our own egos as well as make the likelihood of getting over such affections greater.

7. Reason > Romance: 

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“Steady to his purpose, he scarcely spoke ten words to her…and though they were at one time left by themselves for half an hour, he adhered most conscientiously to his book, and would not even look at her” (43).

As I said before, if Darcy could forget his admiration of Elizabeth, he would likely congratulate himself on avoiding ridiculousness. It is the first instinct of people such as him and me to try and adhere to reason rather than romance, especially when there is a risk of the romantic feelings not being returned.

8. A matter of company: 

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“We neither of us perform to strangers” (135).

Although this scene centered around a piano, Darcy is not talking about musical performance, but rather social interaction. He makes it clear that he does not do well in many common social situations. This is crazy relatable for me. Dentist appointments, customer service lines, and ice breaker activities are torture because they require me to chat lightly with people I don’t generally connect with. (And, in the case of the dentist, I have to chat with sharp objects prodding my gums, which I think must literally be a punishment from hell.) However, when we find a place or group in which we meet people with shared interests or natures, we perform our social duties admirably enough to be mistaken for extroverts!

9. The gift of time: 

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“More than once did Elizabeth in her ramble…unexpectedly meet Mr. Darcy…on these occasions it was not merely a few formal enquiries and an awkward pause and then away, but he actually thought it necessary to turn back and walk with her” (140).

Darcy has made it clear up until this point in the novel that he does not enjoy spending much time chatting or idling. However, this is exactly what he keeps doing! In talking and walking with Elizabeth, he is showing that he cares for her enough to make time with her a priority. This is perhaps the greatest gift he can give her at this moment and, in the same way, I express my love by making time for people I love greatly.

10. When all else fails, GET TO THE POINT! 

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“In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you” (145).

Here is where Darcy and I differ; when Elizabeth fails to catch all of his hints, he straight up tells her “Hey, I like like you. Do you like me? Check yes or no.” I wish I were this bold. It would probably save me lots of overthinking. Maybe someday I’ll give it a shot… I do, however, share Darcy’s appreciation of straightforwardness and wish more people were like him in this way.

11. Service speaks: 

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“He had done all this for a girl whom he could neither regard nor esteem. Her heart did whisper, that he had done it for her” (248).

When his profession of love was not returned, Darcy continued to show determined care in his actions, taking on the shame of the Bennets and doing all he could to restore their propriety. It is such selfless service that speaks Darcy’s love the loudest. I only hope I serve those I care about, even if they do not always share my feelings, in the same quiet and generous manner. Let’s also take a moment to celebrate that his determination and patience prove totally worth it in the end! 🙂

So there you have it. Again, I am not the tragically romantic figure that Darcy is, nor am I so reserved and skeptical as he is. Still, while I may not be as much like our dear Mrs. Darcy as I had hoped, there is nothing wrong with being a sort of Miss Darcy, as long as I don’t go about earning a reputation of being “proud…above [my] company…and above being pleased” (6).

 

Works Cited
Austen, Jane, James Kinsley, and Fiona J. Stafford. Pride and Prejudice. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2008. Print.

 

 

#WriterGoals by Homer, Odysseus, and Ryanne

Yes, my title is a hashtag. Sometimes I like to break the trend of ordinary prose. Sorry not sorry. Ironically, however, this post is based on writing standards set waaaaaaaay back in the days of Homer. In reading through The Odyssey for my university’s honors institute, I realized two things: First, listening to Chopin’s nocturnes whilst reading makes even the most boring of passages intensely moving. For real, I felt tears coming when Odysseus’ men were turned into pigs. Thanks, Chopin. Secondly, although Homer (whether of not you believe in him or think he was a group of poets or whatever new conspiracy is floating around in the literary community) does tend to be a bit- well- wordy in his accounts of first the Trojan War and then the homecoming journey of Odysseus, he is a master at his craft and the fact that philosophers and students alike have been studying his epics for thousands of years ought to be proof of that. Further evidence for this mastery is in his recognition of the key components of good writing/story-telling: truth, reason, and beauty.

He says in Book XI lines 363-369:

“‘Odysseus, we as we look upon you do not imagine

that you are a deceptive or thievish man, the sort that the black earth

breeds in great numbers, people who wander widely, making up

lying stories, from which no one could learn anything. You have

a grace upon your words, and there is sound sense within them,

and expertly, as a singer would do, you have told the story

of the dismal sorrows befallen yourself and all of the Argives.'”

In this instance, a king is praising the eloquence and clarity of Odysseus’ account of his journey, but more significantly, Homer is, through this character, identifying the essential components of writing worthy of enduring esteem. Such writing, first of all, must feature truth. When Odysseus concludes his tale, the first remark that the king makes is regarding the verity of Odysseus’ words; they are not fantasy, at least in the context of this epic, and thus deserving of serious consideration. But does all writing need to be true then in order to be great? The Harry Potter geek within me screams “NO!” in answer to this and, actually, the fangirl part of me is correct. C.S. Lewis believed strongly in fiction because of its seemingly paradoxical ability to convey truth. Take his most famous series, The Chronicles of Narnia, for instance. In any given library, these would be shelved with other works of fiction and probably even among children’s fiction. However, it is impossible to read these wonderful books without coming away having learned from them lessons of sacrifice, morality, family, forgiveness, and, consequently, truth. Good fiction always centers on truth.  Whether this truth is found in the form of a universal theme such as what it means to be a man or even a real event such as the an ancient war, if you dig deep enough as a reader or write well enough as an author, some aspect of truth will always be found at the core of a truly great piece of literature.

Continuing on, the king praises the sensible nature of Odysseus’ words; he does not use more than necessary. Bored readers might argue that Homer is not exactly concise, but when one considers the vast amount of mythology, culture, character descriptions, interactions, geographical courses, and rituals that are woven together to create the intricate tapestry of this epic, it becomes a wonder that such a magnificent story could be consolidated into a mere twenty-four book poem. This often unappreciated conciseness is vital to truly great writing. Of course, as the saying goes, “even Homer nods”, and some passages, such as the listings of over 600 Achaian ships in The Iliad are arguably a bit much, but considering the wealth of information and the overall complexity, this is certainly excusable.

Finally, Odysseus’ (and Homer’s) words are revered as beautiful. Being originally poetry sung by roaming bards, it is probably a no-brainer that The Iliad and The Odyssey are considered among the most beautiful pieces of literature. In this passage, great writing is described as having “a grace” and being crafted “expertly, as a singer would do.” Both poetry and prose must have a flow, a grace like the one here described. In music performed by a singer, every note, every inflection of the voice, every tiny breathe and consonant must be purposefully employed in order to convey the message of the song. In the same manner, a great writer must choose his or her words with purpose; not a “jot or tittle” is thrown in carelessly in attempt to meet a word count or appear more intelligent to the ignorant reader, but rather, each phrase is composed like a line of music, thus appealing to the reader’s deepest sense of beauty. Of course, one might debate that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” but regardless of personal opinions of individual readers, by combining intentionality with artistry, a level of universal beauty, such as that achieved by the enduring works of literature, can be achieved.

To summarize: Many truths. Very clear. Much beauty. (Sorry, breaking the flow of my prose again. At least it was not a hashtag this time.) This passage in The Odyssey was one of those passages that make me gasp “Ah-ha!” aloud in the middle of the library. It made me race to the nearest computer to jot down my thoughts and publish them to my blog in the unlikely case that one of my readers may find inspiration in them as I did. This passage made me take a step back and reevaluate myself as a writer, but it also gave me a renewed passion as it guided me toward the path of truly great writing, that which is truth-centered, focused, and beautiful.