Oscar Wilde, b.October 16, 1854, d.November 30, 1900

Facts about Oscar Wilde that you may not have known:
Oscar’s father, Sir William Wilde, was an ear and eye doctor, and his mother, Lady Jane Francesca Agnes Elgee Wilde, was a writer, poet, and translator.

Oscar was profoundly affected by the death of his younger sister when she was ten years old, and for his lifetime he carried a lock of her hair sealed in a decorated envelope.

Wilde had two older half-sisters who died in an accident when their gowns caught fire after a ball.

In 1876 Oscar had a brief romantic affair with a girl named Florence Balcome, who later married Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula.

He and his wife Constance had two sons, Cyril and Vyvyan. (Really, Vyvyan?) Vyvyan later changed the spelling of his name to Vivian. (Who wouldn’t?) Except for the unfortunate name choice, Oscar was an attentive and loving father who spent lots of time with his sons.

When Wilde was arrested, convicted and sentenced to prison for “gross indecency”, Constance attempted to protect her sons from the scandal. She took the children to Switzerland and took the old family name of Holland for herself and the boys.

Oscar mostly spent the last three years of his life (after prison) wandering Europe, staying with friends and living in cheap hotels. Sad but true.

Oscar Wilde quotes:
“The public have an insatiable curiosity to know everything, except what is worth knowing.”

“The world is a stage, but the play is badly cast.”

“A thing is not necessarily true because a man dies for it.”

“A simile committing suicide is always a depressing spectacle.”

“An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all.”

“Everything popular is wrong.”

“There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written.”

“Children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older they judge them; sometimes they forgive them.”

“Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

What have you read of Oscar Wilde’s work? His plays are delightfully funny and witty, and The Picture of Dorian Gray is quite insightful in its own way, as long as one takes almost anything the characters say or do and turns it upside down to do or believe the opposite.

Jane Austen and the Longing for Fidelity and Honor

51IDqyyYbhL._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_Happy Birthday, Jane Austen!

We discussed the novels of Jane Austen recently in Sunday School class at my church (studying this book by Jerome Barrs), and we particularly focused on the reason for Austen’s burst in popularity in the past 20 years or so. Of course, movie and TV mini-series versions of Austen’s novels fueled the resurgence in her popularity, and Jane Austen never has really gone out of fashion. However, why do these novels, and their screen adaptations, resonate with so many readers and watchers?

Mr Barrs writes:

“Why this popularity? Is it simply the beautiful dresses that the women wear? Is it a bizarre nostalgia for romanticism? (Austen was certainly not a romantic in the technical sense of this term; in fact she attacks romanticism with great passion in Sense and Sensibility.) Is it simply an escape from the cynicism of our post-modern age? Is it a longing for manners and courtesy, for a kinder, gentler way of relating to one another in an age of culture wars? Is it a secret interest in genuine romance to replace the cultural norm of instant coupling and gratification? I mention these various options because each of them has been expressed in movie reviews and in articles about the Jane Austen ‘craze.'”

Mr. Barrs goes to suggest that the humor and character development in the books serves to make us tolerate, if not embrace, the profound moral lessons that they contain. All of these things are at least part of the truth. Some people watch the 1995 TV mini-series version of Pride and Prejudice for the costumes and the courtly manners. Others love the idea of romance in the novels, ignoring the common sense and decidedly unromantic way Austen looks at courtship and marriage in general. However, I think there’s something deeper going on in our cultural embrace of the pre-Romantic, eighteenth century norms embodied in the novels of Jane Austen.

It’s similar to what is going on in our love for The Lord of the Rings. We’ve lost the concept of “honor” in our society, yet we long for it because God made us to be honorable men and women and to attribute honor to goodness and faithfulness in both men and women. When we watch or read LOTR, we are confronted with men, elves, dwarfs, and hobbits who are above all, honorable, or at least trying to be virtuous, and we recognize the dearth of honor and virtue in our own culture.

C.S. Lewis famously wrote in his book The Abolition of Man, ““We make men without chests and expect from them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.” He could have added that we devalue and distort the institution of marriage and the relations between men and women, and we are surprised that many young people no longer see any reason to get married or any value in the marriage relationship. However, we were made, male and female, to give ourselves in a faithful, monogamous marriage relationship, and when we see or read about a society (eighteenth century England) in which that is the norm, even if the marriages themselves and the courtship preceding them are flawed and imperfect, the word picture touches something deep within us. Women want to find an honorable man like Mr. Darcy or Mr. Knightley, who also honors and cherishes his Elizabeth Bennet or Emma Wodehouse. Men, although not as likely to read and re-read the works of Jane Austen, can also appreciate the characters of sensible, intelligent women in Austen’s novels who are nevertheless willing and even eager to enter into a lifelong commitment to one imperfect but honorable man.

I think it is because marriage is so endangered and devalued in our culture that we embrace the stories Jane Austen told. When I read The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides a couple of years ago, I wrote of that novel’s themes, “Perhaps the idea is that we’ve reduced marriage to sexual attraction and sexual athletics, and we’ve reduced knowing God to going through the forms and expressions of religion and being good.” I wasn’t really sure what I thought about Eugenides’ novel when I read it, but his central premise that we’ve lost, or nearly lost, something valuable in our approach to love and marriage has stuck with me. Jane Austen’s novels give a glimpse of what we’ve lost, and it’s attractive and soul-satisfying, even if we don’t know exactly how to recapture the reality of the “marriage plot” we’ve lost.

The 8th Gift of Christmas on Prince Edward Island, c.1877

Christmas morning broke on a beautiful white world. It had been a very mild December and people had looked forward to a green Christmas; but just enough snow fell softly in the night to transfigure Avonlea. Anne peeped out from her frosted gable window with delighted eyes. The firs in the Haunted Wood were all feathery and wonderful; the birches and wild cherry trees were outlined in pearl; the plowed fields were stretches of snowy dimples; and there was a crisp tang in the air that was glorious. Anne ran downstairs singing until her voice reechoed through Green Gables.
“Merry Christmas, Marilla! Merry Christmas, Matthew! Isn’t it a lovely Christmas? I’m so glad it’s white. Any other kind of Christmas doesn’t seem real, does it? I don’t like green Christmases. They’re not green– they’re just nasty faded browns and grays. What makes people call them green? Why–why–Matthew, is that for me? Oh, Matthew!”
Matthew had sheepishly unfolded the dress from its paper swathings and held it out with a deprecatory glance at Marilla, who feigned to be contemptuously filling the teapot, but nevertheless watched the scene out of the corner of her eye with a rather interested air.
Anne took the dress and looked at it in reverent silence. Oh, how pretty it was–a lovely soft brown gloria with all the gloss of silk; a skirt with dainty frills and shirrings; a waist elaborately pintucked in the most fashionable way, with a little ruffle of filmy lace at the neck. But the sleeves–they were the crowning glory! Long elbow cuffs, and above them two beautiful puffs divided by rows of shirring and bows of brown-silk ribbon.
“That’s a Christmas present for you, Anne,” said Matthew shyly. “Why–why–Anne, don’t you like it? Well now–well now.”
For Anne’s eyes had suddenly filled with tears.
~Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

Today’s Gifts from Semicolon:
A song: Be Still My Soul, music by Jean Sibelius.

A booklist: Feels Like Home: 101 Chapter Books to Read Before You Grow Up.

A birthday: Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, b.1865.

A poem: Jest ‘Fore Christmas by Eugene Field.

The 2nd Gift of Christmas at Lake Truckee, California, 1846

Margret [Reed] did her best to revive a few hours of Christmas joy for her hungry children. She’d saved a meager hoard for the occasion–a few dried apples, a few beans, a little tripe, and a small piece of bacon. The children watched as the treats simmered in the kettle, and when they sat down to this Christmas feast, Margret told them, ‘Children, eat slowly, for this one day you can have all you wish.’ For the rest of her life, not matter how grand a Christmas dinner spread on her table, Virginia never forgot what her mother did for them. ‘So bitter was the memory relieved by that one bright day, that I have never since sat down to a Christmas dinner without my thoughts going back to Donner Lake.'” ~Women of the Frontier by Brandon Marie Miller

The Reed family was a part of the famous, or infamous, Donner Party, a group of families headed for Oregon/California who attempted to cross the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the fall of 1846. Many of the settlers in the party perished of cold or starvation when the winter snows trapped the group at Lake Truckee, now called Donner Lake to commemorate the unfortunate Donner Party. Margret Reed, her husband, James, and their four children—Virginia, Patty, James, Jr. and Thomas—survived the ordeal to settle in California.

Today’s gifts from Semicolon:
A song: One of my favorite songs by one of my favorite singers, Karen Carpenter singing I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.

A movie: I’ve become fond of The Ultimate Gift with a really aged James Garner as the grandfather/gift-giver. It made me feel old to watch and remember The Rockford Files when James Garner was young(ish) and played one of the great TV detectives. The movie has a great message, and if the plot gets a little thin at times, the characters and the heart make up for a creaky plot.
A booklist: Gift books for what they want to be when they grow up.
A birthday: David Macaulay, b.1946.
A verse: Christmas Bells by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The entire poem has seven stanzas or verses.

November 29th–A Very Good Day

Three wonderful authors, for whose work I am very thankful, were born on this date. Any of their books would make lovely Christmas presents.

1. C.S. Lewis
Lewis is the best writer and the most profound thinker of the three, the one whose work will stand the test of time. I predict that Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, and Till We Have Faces, in particular, will be read and appreciated a hundred years from now. Because he died fifty years ago on November 22, 1963, he has been remembered with many, many articles and blog posts this month. Here are links to just a few from this year and from other years.
50 Years Ago Today, RIP Jack
Jared at Thinklings: Remembering Jack (2005)
Lars Walker at Brandywine Books: The Feast of St. Jack and The Great Man’s Headgear
Hope at Worthwhile Books reviews Out of the Silent Planet, the first book in Lewis’s space trilogy.
Heidi at Mt. Hope Chronicles writes about her appreciation for the works of C.S. Lewis.
Jollyblogger reviews Lewis’s The Great Divorce.

2. Madeleine L’Engle
Ms. L’Engle is the most likely of the three to have her work become dated. However, the science fiction quartet that begins with A Wrinkle in Time may very well last because it deals with themes that transcend time and localized concerns. And I still like The Love Letters the best of all her books, a wonderful book on the meaning of marriage and of maturity.
Madeleine L’Engle favorites.
In which I invite Madeleine L’Engle to tea in June, 2006, before her death last year.
A Madeleine L’Engle Annotated bibliography.
Semicolon Review of The Small Rain and A Severed Wasp by Madeleine L’Engle.
Semicolon Review of Camilla by Madeleine L’Engle.
My Madeleine L’Engle project, which has languished this year, but I hope to get back to it in 2009.
Mindy Withrow writes about A Circle of Quiet.
Remembering Madeleine: Obituaries and Remembrances from September, 2007.

3. Louisa May Alcott.
I love reading about Ms. Alcott’s girls and boys even though many people are too jaded and feminist to enjoy books that celebrate the joys of domesticity and home education.
Circle of Quiet quotes An Old-Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott on the wearing of blue gloves.
Carrie reviews Little Women, after three attempts to get though it.
Claire, The Captive Reader re-reads my favorite Louisa May Alcott novel, Eight Cousins.
Claire, The Captive Reader revisits Rose in Bloom, the sequel to Eight Cousins.
Sam at Book Chase reviews Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women by Harriet Reisen.
Joyfuly Retired sponsored an “All Things Alcott” Challenge in 2010 where you can find links to many posts about Louisa May and her family and her novels.

November 29, 2007: To This Great Stage of Fools.

Poetry Friday: David McCord

Children’s poet David McCord was born on November 15 (or December 15 or 17), 1897 in New York City. (Most internet sources say December 15th or just 1897.) He grew up in New Jersey and Oregon, and went to school at Harvard, where he later worked as a fundraiser for the Harvard College Fund.

He once said about writing poetry for children:

“Whatever may be said about this small but graceful art, three things should be remembered: good poems for children are never trivial; they are never written without the characteristic chills and fever of a dedicated man at work; they must never bear the stigma of I am adult, you are a child.”

“McCord said he developed a love of words and a fine sense of rhythm from reading aloud the Bible to his elderly grandmother.” (Obituary, Harvard Gazette, April 17, 1997)

This poem is the one by Mr. McCord I remember reading over and over again until I practically had it memorized. I used to read my library books while perched in the mulberry tree next to my house, so I suppose this poem was something close to my own experience.

51VY32VQ2hL._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_Every time I climb a tree
Every time I climb a tree
Every time I climb a tree
I scrape a leg
Or skin a knee
And every time I climb a tree
I find some ants
Or dodge a bee
And get the ants
All over me.

And every time I climb a tree
Where have you been?
They say to me
But don’t they know that I am free
Every time I climb a tree?

I like it best
To spot a nest
That has an egg
Or maybe three.

And then I skin
The other leg
But every time I climb a tree
I see a lot of things to see
Swallows rooftops and TV
And all the fields and farms there be
Every time I climb a tree
Though climbing may be good for ants
It isn’t awfully good for pants
But still it’s pretty good for me
Every time I climb a tree

Lee Bennett Hopkins discusses David McCord and his poetry.

Poetry Friday Roundup this week is at Jama’s Alphabet Soup. I can’t think of a more poetical place to visit on a crisp November day.