Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole

I will admit that it’s really difficult to write a realistic, compelling, and heart-warming story about an adulterous affair. Tolstoy (Anna Karenina), Flaubert (Madame Bovary), and other greats nailed the first two adjectives, realistic and compelling, but no book that I can recall has managed to make adultery “heart-warming”.

Ms. Brockmole tries in Letters from Skye, but in doing so she loses the realism and and even makes the whole tawdry story a bit boring by the time this reader figured out that this novel was going to be a “happily ever after” story, after all. Elspeth Dunn, married to Iain, is a poet who lives on the island of Skye off the coast of Scotland. When she receives a fan letter from American student David Graham, Elspeth answers his letter with one of her own. And so the affair begins.

The story begins in 1912, just before World War I. Eventually, the story moves through the Great War and the time between the wars into the beginning years of World War II. These two wars form the background for this novel of a woman who “loves” her husband, a sort of flat character who never really takes shape as a real person in the novel, but loves her grand passion for David Graham even more.

I had little sympathy for any of the characters in this novel, and I found most of them a tad unbelievable. David, the American, is naive and worldly at the same time, if such a combination is possible. He comes to London to have an assignation with a married woman, but he is offended when his war buddies in France make ugly jokes about his affair. Elspeth’s daughter, Margaret, who has never been told much about her background or about her male parent, goes off on a sleuthing spree to find out these details while her mother has disappeared without a trace. Margaret seems more interested in finding out about the letters her mother and David Graham wrote during the war than she is in finding her absent mother. Elspeth herself is “torn between two lovers, feeling like a fool.” I never had any sense of why Elspeth was willing to become involved with another man besides her husband. Nor did I understand why she married Iain in the first place. She seemed to be fond of her husband, but David just wrote such good letters?

I read this book as a part of my May journey through Scotland, but I wish I had skipped it. Not recommended, unless you can believe in a story of romantic adultery.

Christmas in Kobe, Japan, 1912

Lottie Moon was born into a comfortable life on an antebellum plantation in Virginia. She died on Christmas Eve, 1912, on board a ship off the coast of Japan, some say of sickness due to malnutrition, after a life of ministering to and suffering with the Chinese people she loved. Between her birth and death, she met the power and love of Jesus Christ who forgave her, redeemed her, and sent her to teach the people of China about Jesus and the “great tidings of great joy.”

From her letters:

“Here I am working alone in a city of many thousand inhabitants. It is grievous to think of these human souls going down to death without even one opportunity of hearing the name of Jesus. How many can I reach? The needs of these people press upon my soul, and I cannot be silent.”

“Our hearts were made glad last Sabbath by the baptism of an individual who has interested us by his firm stand under the persecutions of his … family. They fastened him in a room without food or water, and endeavored to starve him into submission. Providentially, they did not take away his Christian books. He studied these more closely than ever. The pangs of hunger he satisfied by eating some raw beans he found in the room, and when he wanted water he commenced to dig a well in the room in which he was confined. Chinese houses are built on the ground and do not have plank floors as with us. When the family discovered the well-digging they yielded. They had no wish to ruin their dwelling. The man has shown that he is made of stern stuff, and we hope he will be very useful as a Christian.”

“Recently, on a Sunday which I was spending in a village near Pingtu city, two men came to me with the request that I would conduct the general services. They wished me to read and explain, to a mixed audience of men and women, the parable of the prodigal son. I replied that no one should undertake to speak without preparation, and that I had made none. (I had been busy all the morning teaching the women and girls.) After awhile they came again to know my decision. I said, “It is not the custom of the Ancient church that women preach to men.” I could not, however, hinder their calling upon me to lead in prayer. Need I say that, as I tried to lead their devotions, it was hard to keep back the tears of pity for those sheep not having a shepherd. Men asking to be taught and no one to teach them.” February 9, 1889.

“How many there are … who imagine that because Jesus paid it all, they need pay nothing, forgetting that the prime object of their salvation was that they should follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ in bringing back a lost world to God.” September 15, 1887.

“Is not the festive season when families and friends exchange gifts in memory of The Gift laid on the altar of the world for the redemption of the human race, the most appropriate time to consecrate a portion from abounding riches and scant poverty to send forth the good tidings of great joy into all the earth?” September 15, 1887.

You’ll find these quotes and many more from Lottie Moon’s letters in Send the Light: Lottie Moon’s Letters and Other Writings, edited by Keith Harper, published by Mercer University Press.

“When Moon returned from her second furlough in 1904, she was deeply struck by the suffering of the people who were literally starving to death all around her. She pleaded for more money and more resources, but the mission board was heavily in debt and could send nothing. Mission salaries were voluntarily cut. Unknown to her fellow missionaries, Moon shared her personal finances and food with anyone in need around her, severely affecting both her physical and mental health. In 1912, she only weighed 50 pounds. Alarmed, fellow missionaries arranged for her to be sent back home to the United States with a missionary companion. However, Moon died on route, at the age of 72, on December 24, 1912, in the harbor of Kobe, Japan.” Wikipedia, Lottie Moon

Reading About the Titanic

On April 15, 1912 the luxury liner Titanic hit an iceberg and sank. 1595 passengers and crew died. Only 745 people were saved. For some reason, more than almost any other tragedy or shipwreck, the sinking of the Titanic has inspired dozens, maybe even hundreds, of books, movies, poems, and other media. Here’s a list of a few of the Titanic books for children and young adults:

Children’s fiction:
Tonight on the Titanic (Magic Treehouse Series, No. 17) by Mary Pope Osborne.
Dear America: Voyage on the Great Titanic, The Diary of Margaret Ann Brady, R.M.S. Titanic 1912 by Ellen Emerson White. 13-year old Margaret Ann, a London orphan, is hired as companion to accompany the rich American lady, Mrs. Carstairs, on the Titanic to America. Reviewed at Reading Junky’s Reading Roost.
I Survived the Sinking of the Titanic, 1912 by Lauren Tarshis. Reviewed by Becky at Young Readers.
Titanic by Gordon Korman. A series of three books about four young passengers and their adventures aboard the doomed ship. The titles are Unsinkable, Collision Course, and S.O.S. Reviewed at The Fourth Musketeer.
No Moon by Irene Watts. Louisa, a nursemaid, overcomes her fear of the ocean and sails with her charges to New York aboard the Titanic.
Back to the Titanic (Travelers Through Time) by Beatrice Gormley.

Young adult fiction:
Fateful by Claudia Gray. Paranormal romance with werewolves, danger, and the Titanic. Reviewed by Christa at Hooked on Books.
Amanda/Miranda by Richard Peck. This one has a prophecy/supernatural angle, too. It seems to go with the territory. Mistress Amanda and her maid, Miranda, are almost identical in appearance, and Amanda exploits the resemblance for her own ends. However, when the two young ladies board the Titanic for their journey to America for Amanda’s wedding, they are unaware of how much is about to change for both of them. Reviewed at The Shady Glade.
Titanic Crossing by Barbara Williams.
Distant Waves by Suzanne Weyn. Spiritualism and the Titanic. The Taylor sisters deal with their mom’s profession as a spiritualist, and in the process they meet up with many of the most famous characters of the age: Harry Houdini, Nicola Tesla, John John Astor, George Bernard Shaw, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Benjamin Guggenheim and others. Lots of discussion of supernatural communication with the dead and whether or not spiritualists are truly gifted or fraudulent. I read this one just a couple of weeks ago, and I find it has lodged itself in a place in my mind. I keep wanting to look up more about Tesla in particular.
SOS Titanic by Eve Bunting. Typical teen romance-type novel with good historical detail. There’s a steward who foresees the disaster because of his supernatural “gift.” And there’s an underlying theme of class war and class distinctions just as there was in the movie, Titanic.
Titanic: The Long Night by Diane Hoh. Scholastic, 1998. Two couples face their fates aboard the Titanic.
Remembering the Titanic by Diane Hoh. Sequel to Titanic: The Long Night.

The Heroine of the Titanic by Joan W. Blos. A picture book about the “unsinkable Molly Brown.” Reviewed by Sally at Whispers of Dawn.
The Titanic: Lost and Found (Step-Into-Reading, Step 4) by Judy Donnelly. We have a copy of this beginning reader, and it’s a good introduction to the subject.
The Titanic Coloring Book by Peter F. Copeland. A Dover Publications coloring book.
The Watch That Ends the Night: Voices from the Titanic by Allan Wolf. Due out October 11, 2011.
Titanic (DK Eyewitness Books) by Simon Adams.

April 15th of next year (2012) will mark the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. It’s quite likely that more books, both for adults and for children, will be making an appearance in commemoration of that tragic event. If you have any suggestions to add to the above list, please leave a comment.

1912: Books and Literature

Gerhart Hauptmann, a German playwright, won the Nobel Prize for Literature. His most famous play was called The Weavers about workers struggling for their rights. I read the play a long time ago for a class in college, and thought it was forgettable. However, it is significant in that the play has no hero or central character. Hauptmann was attempting to dramatize “The Weavers” as a group who are suffering from poverty and oppression. You can read more about the play here.

Riders of the Purple Sage is Zane Grey’s best-known novel, originally published in 1912. The events in the novel take place in 1871; the book itself is an early and influential example of the Western fiction genre.

Tom Swift was the main character in a series of books, mostly popular with boys, that featured an intrepid and adventuresome boy who tires out all the latest gadgets and inventions. The first series of Tom Swift books began being published in 1910, and by 1912 you got exciting titles such as:
Tom Swift and His Air Glider
Tom Swift and His Great Searchlight
Tom Swift and His Wizard Camera
Tom Swift in Captivity
Tom Swift in the City of Gold

The books were published by Grossett and Dunlap, conceived by Edward Stratemeyer, and written by various writers hired to write “Tom Swift science adventures” from 1910 to 1941 (for the first series)–a total of forty volumes in all. Has anyone ever read one of these Tom Swift adventures?

Childrean’s and Young Adult books set in 1912 (but not including books about the Titanic):
Bread and Roses, Too by Katherine Paterson. About a strike in the early 1900′s, the early days of labor organizing. The girl who is the main character is afraid that her mother and older sister will be hurt or even killed as they participate in a strike.
The Tempering by Gloria Skurzynski. The Tempering tells the story of Karl Kerner who must choose between leaving school for a life in the steel mills or continuing with his education.
All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor. Five young Jewish sisters-Ella, Henny, Sarah, Charlotte and Gertie–live with their family in New York’s Lower East side. Follow along as they search for hidden buttons while dusting Mama’s front parlor, or explore the basement warehouse of Papa’s peddler shop on rainy days. The five girls enjoy doing everything together, especially when it involves holidays and surprises.
The Good Master by Kate Seredy. Young Jancsi and his cousin Kate from Budapest race across the Hungarian plains on horseback, attend country fairs and festivals, and experience a dangerous run-in with gypsies. This children’s story is set in Hungary just before World War I.
Surviving Antarctica by Andrea White is actually set in 2083, but it’s the story of how some future young people who live in a media-driven culture take part in a contest to re-create Scott’s doomed 1911-1912 expedition to the South Pole.

Labor, and unions, and the proletariat, and ways of relieving poverty and the oppression of the working class were all big issues in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, as you can see from the literature of and about the time period. But, as evidenced by Tom Swift and his ilk, many people were quite optimistic about science and invention and the natural tendency of mankind toward progress to alleviate these problems and usher man into a golden age of brotherhood and the end of poverty. That was before the Great War.

1912: Events and Inventions

January 1, 1912. The Republic of China is officially established. Emperor Pu Yi abdicates the throne.

March 27, 1912. The first of the famous cherry trees that beautify Washington D.C. were planted on this date in 1912 by First Lady Helen Taft and the Japanese ambassador’s wife, Viscountess Chinda.

April 15, 1912. RMS Titanic,a passenger liner, strikes an iceberg on her maiden voyage from Southampton, England, to New York City, and sank, resulting in the deaths of 1,517 people.
Pictures of the Titanic and of some of its passengers:

May, 1912. Italy and Turkey continue to make war, with Italy bombarding the Dardanelles and occupying the Greek island of Rhodes.

'Map Of Ireland' photo (c) 2009, Michael 1952 - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/May, 1912. In the House of Commons, the British government passes a bill to grant Home Rule (semi-independence) to Ireland. Northern Ireland, also called Ulster, which is mostly Protestant doesn’t want to be a part of a mostly Catholic independent Ireland. The Home Rule bill will be put into effect in 1914, then suspended for the duration of the war (WW I), then reinstated in 1918 as a part of the British plan to draft more soldiers into the war from Ireland.

May, 1912. The first issue of the Bolshevik (Communist) newspaper Pravda is published in St. Petersburg, Russia. Pravda means “truth”.

June-September, 1912. Amateur scientist Charles Dawson and Arthur Smith Woodward of the British Museum gather fragments of a skull and jawbone from a gravel pit at Piltdown, East Sussex, England. A reconstruction of the fragments comes to be known as The Piltdown Man believed to be the skeleton of a primitive man 50,000 years old. In 1953 the Piltdown Man was finally exposed as a forgery consisting of the lower jawbone of an orangutan combined with the skull of a modern human.

September-December, 1912. The Balkan League—Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Montenegro–goes to war against Turkey (Ottoman Empire). This conflict is known as The First Balkan War.

October, 1912. Turkey, busy in the Balkans, signs a treaty to end its war with Italy.

November 5, 1919. Woodrow Wilson is elected the first Democratic president of the United States in more than twenty years. His rivals Taft, the Republican, and Teddy Roosevelt, running for his own Progressive (Bull Moose) party, split the Republican vote. Labor Union leader Eugene V. Debs is the nominee of the Socialist Party of America.

Soundtrack for Carney’s House Party by Maud Hart Lovelace

I’ve just been reading the newly published edition of Maud Hart Lovlace’s Deep Valley, Minnesota novel, Carney’s House Party in which a group of college girlfriends, old and new, come together in the midwestern epitome of style and fashion for a house party, a month long sleepover with lots of picnics and teas and parties and dances and sight-seeing and good wholesome fun. Of course there’s romance, and lots of singing.

The house party sing and dance to this lovely tribute to the “flying machine.”

And these are two more songs that the orchestra plays at the “dance party” that the Crowd enjoys.

Sam, one of Carney’s two love interests, plays this song on his saxophone.

More information on the Music of Deep Valley can be found in this presentation put together by Barbara Carter, co-president of the Maud Hart Lovelace Society.

Besides the music, the other things I noticed while reading this book:

Carney is appalled and embarrassed that a boy that likes her dares to kiss her BEFORE they have an understanding or an engagement:

When they reached an elm tree so large and thickly leaved that its shadows defeated even Japanese lanterns, he stopped and kissed her.
Carney broke away from him. She was really angry now. It was possible to forgive what had happened the night before . . . they had both been wrought up. But this was different. It was inexcusable.

Wow! We’ve come a long way, baby, since 1912, and not in the right direction. Nowadays if the guy doesn’t make a pass at a girl, she might have a suspicion that he’s gay, or at last uninterested.

Carney’s House Party ends with Carney engaged to be married to the love of her life, but also returning to Vassar to finish her college degree before getting married. Back then, it seemed as if women definitely could “have it all.” And why not? Education, career (?), family, marriage. Just because it’s difficult to juggle everything doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying.

I am so fond of these new editions of Maud Hart Lovelace’s Deep Valley books that I’m planning to save them to give to a special daughter as Christmas presents. I may even buy some more copies so that I can give each of my lovely daughters their own set. (It’s OK. I don’t think they read the blog very thoroughly, if at all.)

Hymn #24: In the Garden

Lyrics: C. Austin Miles, 1912.

Music: C. Austin Miles, 1912.

Theme: When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus.
Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (which means, Teacher).
John 20:14-16.

The story of the writing of this hymn.

Jennifer, Snapshot: “I help with our church’s nursing home service and the oldtimers love this one, so it’s become one of my favorites too.”

John MacArthur: “Those lyrics say nothing of any real substance, and what they do say is not particularly Christian. It’s a mawkish little rhyme about someone’s personal experience and feelings. Whereas the classic hymns sought to glorify God, gospel songs like “In the Garden” were glorifying raw sentimentality.”

Brenda: “I love the vision this hymn brings to my mind, a little glimpse of Heaven as well as bringing peace to troubled souls.”

Joseph Holbrook, Jr.: “America’s all-time religious favorite, ‘In the Garden,’ has done the worst in fostering the I-me-myself version of Protestantism in our country.”

Cecelia: “This was one of my beloved Grammy’s favorite hyms and I love knowing that God will walk and talk with me, calling me His own!”

Nothing like a little controversy to liven up this hymn countdown. I won’t say which side I lean toward, but I will say that a little sentimentality never hurt anyone.

I come to the garden alone,
While the dew is still on the roses,
And the voice I hear,
Falling on my ear,
The Son of God discloses.

And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

He speaks, and the sound of His voice
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing,
And the melody
That He gave to me,
Within my heart is ringing.

I’d stay in the garden with Him,
Tho’ night around me be falling,
But He bids me go;
Thro’ the voice of woe
His voice to me is calling.

Favorite Poets: Walter de la Mare

“A poet dares to be just so clear and no clearer; he approaches lucid ground warily, like a mariner who is determined not to scrape bottom on anything solid. A poet’s pleasure is to withhold a little of his meaning, to intensify it by mystification. He unzips the veil from beauty, but does not remove it.”
~E.B. White

The Listeners (1912)

“Is there anybody there?” said the Traveller,
Knocking on the moonlit door;
And his horse in the silence champed the grass
Of the forest’s ferny floor;
And a bird flew up out of the turret,
Above the Traveller’s head:
And he smote upon the door again a second time;
“Is there anybody there?” he said.
But no one descended to the Traveller;
No head from the leaf-fringed sill
Leaned over and looked into his grey eyes,
Where he stood perplexed and still.
But only a host of phantom listeners
That dwelt in the lone house then
Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight
To that voice from the world of men:
Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair,
That goes down to the empty hall,
Hearkening in an air stirred and shaken
By the lonely Traveller’s call.
And he felt in his heart their strangeness,
Their stillness answering his cry,
While his horse moved, cropping the dark turf,
‘Neath the starred and leafy sky;
For he suddenly smote on the door, even
Louder, and lifted his head:—
“Tell them I came, and no one answered,
That I kept my word,” he said.
Never the least stir made the listeners,
Though every word he spake
Fell echoing through the shadowiness of the still house
From the one man left awake:
Ay, they heard his foot upon the stirrup,
And the sound of iron on stone,
And how the silence surged softly backward,
When the plunging hoofs were gone.

So, tell me, who is The Traveller? And who are the listeners? And whom are they to tell that the traveller kept his word? Why won’t the listeners answer? A very mysterious poem indeed.

The Poetry Friday round-up for today is at Becky’s Book Reviews.

Unsinkable Courage

Thursday 18 April 1912
(A poem said to have been written on board the RMS Olympic, April 18, 1912, following the disaster to her sister ship)

He slams his door in the face of the world
If he thinks the world too bold:
He will even curse; but he opens his purse
To the poor, and the sick, and the old.

He is slow in giving to woman the vote
And slow to pick up her fan;
But he gives her room in an hour of doom
And dies – like an Englishman!

Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1855-1919)

On this day in 1912 the luxury liner Titanic sank at 2:27 AM after hitting an iceberg just before midnight the night before (the 14th). 2227 persons were on board the Titanic; only 705 were rescued from the icy waters near the site of the sunken vessel. Most of the survivors were women and children.

Some fiction books featuring the Titanic:
Tonight on the Titanic (Magic Treehouse Series, No. 17) by Mary Pope Osborne
Titanic Crossing by Barbara Williams
SOS Titanic by Eve Bunting I read this one while I was sick a few days ago. It’s OK, typical teen romance-type novel with good historical detail. There’s a steward who foresees the disaster because of his supernatural “gift.” And there’s an underlying theme of class war and class distinctions just as there was in the movie, Titanic.