"Becoming Jane Austen" by Jon Spence is the biography upon which the 2007 film was based. I must admit that while I disliked the film at first, I have"Becoming Jane Austen" by Jon Spence is the biography upon which the 2007 film was based. I must admit that while I disliked the film at first, I have since come to appreciate it after viewing it on cable television innumerable times. The movie Becoming Jane captures the poignancy of the great author's first and only love which would haunt her life and novels until her death at the age of forty-one. The book, however, fleshes out the depth of the influence which the clever, charming Irishman Tom Lefroy had upon Jane's psyche. Taken from upon an exhaustive study of the letters and writings of Jane Austen and her family and friends, much of what the author concludes about Jane's emotions and her relationship with Tom is speculation, but intelligent speculation.
I am impressed by how the constant theme of money arises throughout the book. How vital it was for a young lady to have some kind of a fortune or dowry in order to marry well, unless a wealthy man chose to marry her for love alone. Without a fortune and an offer of marriage, a young woman would have to earn her own living, either as a governess or a teacher or by learning a trade. Jane chose to earn an income by her writings. While earlier portrayals of Jane present her as a lady of leisure writing for pleasure and the good of humanity, Jon Spence meticulously shows that Jane took on writing not just for love of her craft but as a business venture. While she never enjoyed the full pecuniary reward of her labors during her lifetime, the legacy Jane left to the body of English literature is surely beyond price. ...more
In Motherhood Matters, Canadian author Dorothy Pilarski writes with profundity and wit about matters practical and divine. Full of anecdotes and humorIn Motherhood Matters, Canadian author Dorothy Pilarski writes with profundity and wit about matters practical and divine. Full of anecdotes and humor, this book makes us take an honest look at the lives of women today, and helps us to focus on what matters most. Has "liberation" truly led to greater happiness for women? Are children to be viewed as commodities, to be acquired just as we acquire a house or car? Or should children be seen as the gifts from God that they are, given to our stewardship? Dorothy makes it clear that until we rectify our confusion about such basic questions then peace of heart will elude us. To quote:
"We will find happiness in living out God's purpose for our lives, not our own. The culture of the early twenty-first century makes it easy to follow mistaken paths. The media bombards us with the temptation to fulfill ourselves, to find ourselves, to meet our own needs. It is a message of selfishness. And it is spread constantly. Magazines, television, radio, films, books, and the internet promote images of the 'ideal' career, body, fashion, home, car, vacation, husband, and parenting. These 'ideals"' are often reinforced by friends and family. Influenced by these 'ideals,' many of us make important life decisions without first considering our relationship with Jesus Christ and our Catholic faith...As Catholic mothers, we are called to dig deep into our hearts and pray that we are actually co-operating with God's grace...Our children are gifts from our Creator who has entrusted the souls of our children to us." (pp18-19)
Motherhood Matters is broken into many small sections which makes it easy for busy people to read, yet it is never disjointed; one paragraph flows seamlessly into another. Dorothy substantiates her claims about women and motherhood, about divorce, illegitimacy, diseases, and all the trials of modern life, with statistics of several recent studies, not only with pious beliefs. Yet the statistics uphold the piety, showing that when we depart from God and his law we pay, our children pay, and all society pays. (pp.31-32) We see that many women are often forced to set aside their childbearing years in order to make money. Even after the children are born, women must often forgo being with their children and creating a home in order to be part of the work force.
It is obvious that our culture no longer values motherhood or sees it as a goal. Instead, it is a sideline, to be pursued only when convenient. Is this fair to women? No, and it is definitely not fair to children. Women are repeatedly told that they must be breadwinners like men in order to be of value. Other than the ability to make money, women are reduced to their sexuality and have come to see themselves as worthwhile only as far as physical pleasure goes.
Can things ever be made right? Motherhood Matters explores many simple and practical ways that women can reclaim their feminine vocation. How easily we ignore the most obvious truths, which Dorothy illustrates with short stories from her personal experience. It is a book which entertains and yet it is impossible to read it without taking a good hard look at oneself. Throughout the book we are enjoined to turn to prayer as the key to finding the path we are called to take as women and as mothers. We are encouraged to watch and pray, especially when we have teenagers. As Dorothy says:
"Remaining grounded in a fervent prayer life and being aware of the dangerous messages that exist in the media can better equip parents to understand the challenges that vulnerable teenage girls wrestle with. Awareness leads to conversations we might have never had. But be prepared. I guarantee that those conversations will challenge you, yet I cannot imagine a life without them." (p.99)
The choice that lies before each of us is between a life of authentic love and one of fleeting material gratifications. No one can make the choice for us. Reading a book like Dorothy's makes it easier to choose a life of love, a life which foreshadows the eternity of endless happiness and fulfillment....more
I bought this book several years ago and it is one purchase that I do not regret. Wonderful for grabbing a thought, it often ends up in the pile of myI bought this book several years ago and it is one purchase that I do not regret. Wonderful for grabbing a thought, it often ends up in the pile of my inspirational books. There is nothing like a word from Joan before facing the day. As history, it is an excellent tool from which to derive direct quotations from one of the greatest enigmas of all time. JOAN OF ARC: IN HER OWN WORDS puts the reader in contact with the mind of the saint and the events which she faced so courageously. Her boldness, her femininity, her abandonment and her triumph are all there....more
The Divorce of Henry VIII (UK title: Our Man in Rome) by Professor Catherine Fletcher of Durham University is an indispensable addition to the libraryThe Divorce of Henry VIII (UK title: Our Man in Rome) by Professor Catherine Fletcher of Durham University is an indispensable addition to the library of any serious scholar of Tudor history. I say "serious" scholar because, while the book is not overlong, it is not light reading. It might be challenging for some to keep track of all the various players and intertwining events unless one is already deeply immersed in the politics of the King's Great Matter. However, after glancing at the author's extensive bibliography, I must commend her for being able to concentrate so much detailed research into one volume. It includes material rarely covered by other works about Henry VIII, shedding light on the fascinating world of sixteenth century ambassadors.
The narrative centers on the adventures of the Casali family of Rome whose sons made a living by working as diplomats for various princes, both local and foreign. The complicated inner workings of Renaissance Italian politics are beyond modern imagination; compared to those Renaissance rascals most Americans do not know the meaning of intrigue. Growing up in a diplomatic and political scenario was helpful for those who wished to have a career in statecraft; it all depended on whom you knew and how well. Gregorio Casali was employed by Henry VIII to represent his case before the Pope. Now getting in to see the Pope, even for the ambassador of a king, was not always an easy matter. Bribes were usually necessary and what made the difference between a good ambassador and a sloppy one was knowing whom to bribe.
Furthermore, it was necessary for an ambassador to be dressed in a manner worthy of the ruler he was representing. For an ambassador of Henry VIII, this meant having an extremely elaborate wardrobe. The duties also involved having to travel long distances as quickly as possible, risking storms, natural disasters, wars, robbers, and enemy agents. An ambassador also had to be able to entertain in style and purchase the appropriate gifts to gain support for his master's cause. This all sounds extremely cynical but it is how business was transacted and deals were made. It makes the courageous stands of martyrs such as of Saints Thomas More and John Fisher, who could not be won over by any human persuasions, all the more admirable.
The stipend from one's patron was often not sufficient to cover all the expenses which being an ambassador entailed so diplomats such as Gregorio Casali had to make certain they had some kind of additional income. Signor Gregorio tries to make ends meet by marrying an heiress. Family connections, which were strengthened or weakened by making the right or wrong alliance, had everything to do with one's success in life. When a person rose or fell, their family went with them.
My copy of The Divorce is an uncorrected proof. There are a few errors I noticed which hopefully have been corrected in the final edition. For instance, Charles VIII of France was the cousin of Louis XII, not his brother. Also, Fra Filippo Lippi was a Carmelite, not a Dominican. As for the title, although the word "divorce" is used for the benefit of the general public, we must remember that Henry VIII did not believe in divorce. He was seeking from the Pope not a divorce as we understand it but a decree of nullity, meaning that he wanted to prove that he and Queen Katherine had never been truly married in the eyes of God. With all the bribes that passed from hand to hand, and with the help of such a character as Gregorio Casali, working his magic in the courts and universities of Europe, it was hoped to be an easy annulment. However, there were other factors, such as Queen Katherine's contestation of the King's claim, a contestation which she had every right to make, according to canon law. Then Henry VIII, in his impatience, saw fit to take matters into his own hands. Even the most clever diplomacy can fail in the face of human passions.
(*NOTE: This book was sent to me by the author's representative in exchange for my honest opinion.)...more
"Most versed in nautical charts, he knew better than any other the true art of navigation, of which it is certain proof that he by his genius, and hi "Most versed in nautical charts, he knew better than any other the true art of navigation, of which it is certain proof that he by his genius, and his intrepidity, without anyone having given him the example, how to attempt the circuit of the globe which he had almost completed... The glory of Magellan will survive him." ~Antonio Pigafetta on Ferdinand Magellan
Laurence Bergreen's "Over the Edge of the World: Magellan's Circumnavigation of the Globe" brings to life the greatest adventure of the Age of Discovery. Not in any myth or legend or chronicle told by Homer or Scheherazade or Irish monks of extraordinary voyages is there anything which compares with the true odyssey of Ferdinand Magellan and his companions. No storyteller or dramatist could invent such a tale of peril and woe, of grandeur and tragedy, in which men must confront not only the fierceness of the elements, but the darkness of their own souls and their helplessness before God. I do not understand why a movie has not yet been made about the first recorded European circumnavigation of the globe. At least there is this book which I found spellbinding to say the least.
Bergreen explores not only the mysterious lands that Magellan and his men came across but the character of Magellan himself. Devoutly Catholic and faithful to his wife (by all accounts), Magellan struggled with his pride and his temper, both of which ultimately led to his downfall. One can hardly blame him for occasionally losing his composure, given what he had to deal with from the captains and crew of the armada granted him by King Charles I of Spain, who later became Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Although Magellan was Portuguese, he had a bitter falling out with the King of Portugal, which made him turn over his allegiance to Charles of Spain. When Magellan set out on his expedition for Charles to seek the "Spice Islands" of the East Indies by sailing west, the Portuguese heard of it and began to pursue him.
While being chased across the Atlantic by the Portuguese, Magellan endured constant complaints from his mostly Spanish companions who not only deeply resented having to serve under a Portuguese Captain General but were convinced that Magellan was secretly working for the King of Portugal. So along with storms and rotting supplies, Magellan had to face mutiny and desertion. It was through the sheer force of his personality and use of his intelligence that he was able to keep the voyage on course. His personal discipline and organizational skills were remarkable; he not only maintained the ships in top form but kept the crew in line. Whenever possible he insisted on morning and evening prayers and participation in the sacraments.
Through the determination and navigational brilliance of Magellan, the armada traversed the perilous strait at the base of South America which was to ever after bear his name. Then came the journey across the Pacific in which scurvy and starvation picked off so many of the seamen. It was a shame that they did not know about Vitamin C; if so, Magellan could have given the quince preserves reserved for the officers to everyone and it would have saved many lives. By the end of their adventures in South East Asia, where Magellan was hacked to pieces in the Philippines by an irate chieftain, there was only one ship left out of the original five. The caravel Victoria was sailed back to Spain by the Basque captain Juan Sebastian Elcano, amid many hardships. When Elcano and the seventeen other survivors made it home to Seville at last, the first thing they did was walk to the Cathedral in their ragged clothes with lighted candles in their hands. There they knelt before the statue of the Virgin and Child to give thanks that they, out of the original 237 men, had miraculously survived the voyage around the world.
"Over the Edge of the World" is enjoyable to read for the clear and descriptive narrative based upon the detailed research and travels of the author. One is introduced to quite a cast of characters not only among the European seamen but among the various tribes, peoples and nations they encounter. The world was, and is, a much bigger place than any of them thought. I learned, and was inspired....more
Enid Shomer's debut novel The Twelve Rooms of the Nile imagines what would have happened if Florence Nightingale and Gustave Flaubert had encounteredEnid Shomer's debut novel The Twelve Rooms of the Nile imagines what would have happened if Florence Nightingale and Gustave Flaubert had encountered each other while traveling in Egypt in 1850. While the future nurse and the future author of Madame Bovary never actually met, they did have similar itineraries and were indeed in Egypt at the same time. Well-researched with flawless prose, the book is steeped in detailed descriptions of everything from the pyramids to the details of a lady's toilette. One can smell the smells and breathe the air and watch the sunsets, so rich in atmosphere is the novel.
However, the chapters which are from the point of view of Flaubert are like wading through sewage. The mind of the great French author is completely taken up with thoughts of prostitutes and pornography to the point of morbidity. I understand that Flaubert's sex addiction was how he dealt with the loss of his beloved sister as well as the onset of epilepsy, but there are some minds that it is better not to delve into too deeply. I now better appreciate why Madame Bovary is such a dark story with no hint of redemption, if Flaubert was truly a man without hope as he is depicted in Twelve Rooms. The colorful descriptions of various body parts gave me more information than I needed for my enjoyment of the book.
I wish that the novel had left out Flaubert completely and concentrated solely on Florence. The chapters about her are a joy to read, as she sees her voyage to Egypt as an opportunity for spiritual transformation; it is an interior journey as well as an exterior one. Florence is a phenomenal lady who takes every opportunity to enrich her mind and soul as she comes closer to discovering her vocation in life. The book explores her troubled relationship with her mother and her difficulties with feelings of inadequacy. The struggles of the solitary nature of the single Christian life are faced. It is fascinating to watch those struggles give way to happiness and contentment as Florence discovers at last what she is meant to do.
My only criticism with the portrayal of Florence is that at times it falls into the stereotype many people have of virginal women. She is too often shown as being silly, hysterical and overly naive. Nurses, virginal or not, usually have nerves of steel. I am thinking particularly of the nursing sisters such as the Daughters of Charity. Those were some tough women, who cared for the sick in the slums of Paris. Florence had to have similar qualities in order to face the horrors of the Crimean War. Also, she had studied medical books and she spent a good deal of her childhood and youth in the country where she nursed peasants and farm animals. I wonder if she would really have been so prudish about the human body at age 29 as she is in the novel. At any rate, the book is a brave and imaginative attempt to shed light on the psyche of the great pioneer of modern nursing....more
In the years since Colleen Hammond's Dressing with Dignity first came out, it has inspired no end of criticism and controversy. Why? It challenges womIn the years since Colleen Hammond's Dressing with Dignity first came out, it has inspired no end of criticism and controversy. Why? It challenges women to examine their feminine vocation in the light of Church doctrine, inviting them to follow in the path of Our Lady and the great women saints. It challenges the deceptions of the feminist movement which have subtly crept into the psyches of so many Catholic women. It is no easy matter to be drawn out of one's comfort zone, and takes a courageous author to do so. In spite of its critics, this book continues to be a steady best seller. Many women have responded positively over the years; not only have they been helped towards a more feminine manner of dress and behavior but also have found a restoration of their self-respect. This book empowers women who want to be women rather than lame imitations of men....more
Lost Abbey gives a balanced picture of the religious conflicts in the England of James I from the point of view of two young girls. It shows the partiLost Abbey gives a balanced picture of the religious conflicts in the England of James I from the point of view of two young girls. It shows the particular hardship visited upon those Catholics who could not afford to pay the recusant fines levied by the government. In many cases, they were faced with homelessness, beggary and imprisonment. Since families were indeed faced with utter destruction, it made it easy for people to give in and join the state-sanctioned church. The fact that choices have far-reaching consequences is a strong message of the book. With vivid descriptions and multidimensional characters, it is book that shows that God's mercy never leaves us, even in the darkest moments....more