Book Review: Eight Women of Faith

8 Women of FaithEight Women of Faith by Michael A. G. Haykin is a series of essays about different women of faith between 1537 and 1826 and how they ministered to the church in their time. Karen Swallow Prior asserts in her forward to the book that we tend to focus on the one thing that women cannot do* and even use that to suppress them in other ways, instead of celebrating and encouraging the many things they can do, and this book is an attempt to highlight a few of the many ways women can be used by God.

After a brief introduction of an abbreviated history of thought on what women were and were not allowed to do in the church and a bit of background into how the book came about, Haykin proceeds with his essays. The eight women he discusses are:

Lady Jane Grey (1537-1554). The author details how Jane came to saving faith in Christ and the series of events in which Jane became queen for nine days (at her family and others’ direction, not her own ambition) until her disinherited cousin, Mary (of Bloody Mary fame) “marched on London with an army” (p. 26) and almost everyone turned to her, even those who had previously supported Jane. Jane was arrested and imprisoned, and Mary, a “die-hard Catholic,” sent one of her “most able chaplains” seasoned in debate (p. 21) to convert Jane to Catholicism. There are several pages of Jane’s record of the conversation, and it’s amazing that a teenager could be so firm in her faith and so ably answer this man from Scripture. My favorite part from this chapter is from a note Jane wrote shortly before she died to her sister:

I have here sent you, good sister Katherine, a book, which, although it be not outwardly trimmed with gold, yet inwardly it is more worth than precious stones. It is the book, dear sister, of the Law of the Lord. It is his testament and last will, which he bequeathed to us wretches, which shall lead you to the path of eternal joy. And if you with a good mind read it, and with an earnest desire follow it, it shall bring you to an immortal and everlasting life. It will teach you to live and learn you to die (p. 33).

Margaret Baxter (1636-1681) was the wife of esteemed Puritan pastor and writer Richard Baxter. In this chapter the author gives a brief history of opinions on marriage from early Christians through the Puritans. He gives some background information on both Richard and Margaret and how they came to trust in Christ and to marry. They were vastly different, in age, finances, and personality, and she struggled with anxiety after almost having died four times and witnessed a number of atrocities. But they appreciated each other’s gifts. He “freely admitted that Margaret was better than he at solving problems relating to financial and civil affairs” and “practical issues of the Christian life” (p. 48). A couple of favorite quotes of Baxter’s:

My dear wife did look for more good in me than she found, especially lately in my weakness and decay. We are all like pictures that must not be looked at too near. They that come near us find more faults and badness in us than others at a distance know.

When husband and wife take pleasure in each other, it uniteth them in duty, it helpeth them with ease to do their work, and bear their burdens; and it is not the least part of the comfort of the married state (p. 51).

Anne Dutton (1692-1765) was a Calvinistic Baptist writer even though that profession was not encouraged for women at the time. She wrote “tracts and treatises,…sacred correspondence, and poems” and corresponded regularly with George Whitfield and Selina Hastings, the Countess of Huntingdon, and others (p. 57). The Puritans “splintered into three major groups: the Presbyterians, the Congregationalists, and the Particular or Calvinistic Baptists” (p. 57), and Anne spent a lot of writing defending her beliefs, critiquing others’ teaching, and weighing in on controversies of the day.

Sarah Edwards (1710-1758) was the wife of Jonathan Edwards, leading figure in the “Great Awakening.” After very little biographical information, the author spends much of the chapter on Edwards’ writing about his wife “as a model of a Spirit-filled person” as opposed to some of the fanaticism and excesses of the day (p. 68).

Anne Steele (1717-1778) also came from a Calvinistic Baptist family, remained single on purpose, and wrote several hymns, and was known as “the Baptist equivalent of Isaac Watts” (p. 81).

Esther Edwards Burr (1732-1758) was the third daughter of Jonathan and Sarah Edwards, and the author concentrates her chapter on her writings about friendship.

Ann Judson (1789-1826) and her husband Adoniram were America’s first missionaries. The author tells of her own conversion, Adoniram’s proposal, which not only included marriage but also life as missionaries in Asia, the voyage there, the struggles learning the language, and their first few years.

Jane Austen (1775-1817) is, as I’m sure everyone knows, one of England’s most famous and most beloved novelists. A line in the notes and references at the end of the book says that “Religion to her was a private matter: to discuss it in a novel would have been a breach of good taste” (p. 148). But from her letters and what she does say in her novels, and especially a prayer she wrote, the author brings out strands of her beliefs.

My thoughts:

I was actually fairly frustrated with this book, but the primary reason for that was my own fault. I was expecting it to be more biographical, like When Others Shuddered: Eight Women Who Refused to Give Up, which I read recently. So I was dismayed to find out that the chapters were essays. They did, however, contain a good bit of biographical information.

My secondary frustration had to do with Haykin’s choices of what he put in and left out. Granted, when you’re writing just a few pages of a life about which books have been written, you can’t include everything, and different authors would make different decisions about what to emphasize. Ann Judson and Sarah Edwards were the two with whom I was most familiar, having read a number of biographies of Ann in particular (I wrote about Ann here and Sarah here and here). The great bulk of the most interesting part of Ann’s life was summarized in the last paragraph of the chapter. The author spent a great deal of time on Adoniram and Ann’s study concerning infant baptism (paedobaptism). They came from a tradition of infant baptism, and as they studied, they began to question it, studied some more, and eventually came out on the side of believer’s baptism, being baptized after one has made a profession of faith. This incident is important for a number of reasons. It shows their character and concern for truth and fidelity to Scripture (which was the main theme of the chapter). They had not wanted to make this change: Ann “felt afraid [Adoniram] would become a Baptist, and frequently urged the unhappy consequences if he should. But he said his duty compelled him to satisfy his own mind, and embrace those sentiments which appeared most concordant with Scripture” (p. 108). Once it became clear to both of them, they felt they had no choice but to make it known and deal with the consequences, which included leaving the mission board that had just formed in order to send them out, seeking Baptist support, facing the dismay and even anger of their friends and colleagues. So, yes, for all those reasons this was important. But if you’re writing 14 pages of a person’s life, do you want to spend 5 pages on this? A good page and a half or so was spent on listing the books the Judsons studied on this issue and telling us about the authors: in my mind, these books and authors could have been a footnote or end note with much less detail.

But aside from that, the book does share a lot of good information about these women and does meet its purpose in showing a variety of ways in which women have used their gifts to minister to others. I especially enjoyed the chapter on Lady Jane Grey. I knew her basic story and had read a fictional account of her life, but I appreciated learning more about her. I felt this chapter was the best written in the book, with a good blend of historical and biographical detail. I had read a magazine article on Margaret Baxter which made me want to read more about her, so I as glad to find more here. I had not heard on Anne Steele or Anne Dutton before. One of the main reasons I got this book, besides liking biographies and seeing it recommended by other bloggers I respect, was to find out more about Jane Austen’s faith. I had deduced that she was God-fearing in the sense that most of society in England was in those days, but I had wondered about her personal faith. I was a little disappointed in that there is just not much information available, especially with her feeling it was a private matter, and it’s not entirely certain that the lengthy prayer that was shared was hers. But I enjoyed the author’s tracing the way she dealt with preachers in her books.

So…mixed emotions about this book. There were parts I did enjoy and learned from, but I don’t think I will be seeking out any more books by Haykin any time soon.

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* I know that there are a variety of opinions among my readers concerning what women can and can’t do in the church, but I would ask that you not make this post a place for that debate. I shared my own views here.

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Book Review: Love of the Summerfields

Summerfields

Love of the Summerfields by Nancy Moser takes place in England in the 1880s and touches on lives in the manor house, both family and servants, and in the village as well. Some of the characters and their situations are:

Adelaide Weston, the dowager countess of the manor. A strong-willed, take-charge woman, her life turns upside down when an old love comes back into her life.

Frederick and Ruth Weston are the current earl and countess. Frederick is a decent man, but the manor is coming into hard times with more outgo than income. Ruth has become a recluse, both because of feeling intimidated by her mother-in-law and guilt over some of her actions in the past.

Clarissa Weston is their spoiled daughter who has not made a “match” yet, so her father and grandmother make one for her, partly to relieve the financial affairs of the manor.

Jack and Fidelia Hayward are shopkeepers. Jack is a fine, decent, patient man, but Fidelia is a bitter, controlling, unkind gossip. Lila is their daughter, a sweet girl in love with a man out of her reach. To make matters worse, she is pressed into acting as the go-between with this man and his fiancee. The Hayward’s son, Morgan, is in love with Ruth’s maid, Molly, but they have to keep it quiet because a lady’s maid is not supposed to have suitors. When Jack’s father dies, the family takes in his mother.

When a secret threatens to upend the lives of several in both village and manor, good for some but seemingly bad for others, the first instinct of those who uncover it is to keep it concealed. Will they let truth prevail even though it will cost them, or will hiding it bring greater repercussions?

This book is marketed as “If you like Downton Abbey, you’ll enjoy” this book. I don’t know if that’s the best way to present it. It is from the same era with the same strict class rules, and it even has a feisty dowager countess. But all the other characters and storylines are vastly different. So those who don’t want it to be too much like DA might avoid it, and those who want it to be just like DA will be disappointed. But if you like stories like from this time and place and type of people (which is what I think the slogan is actually going for), then you’d probably like this book. From the author’s notes after the book, the story was inspired by her own reading interests and her family history, not DA.

This book is the first in a series of three, and although I enjoyed it, I wasn’t planning on reading the sequels – until I got to the end and then read an except from the next book. Now I want to find out what happens!

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Book Review: Waiting For Peter

I’m sorry I’ve written about nothing but books so far this week. I’ve been working on another post for some time now but just haven’t had the time and mindset to pull it together this week. I guess book reviews are easier posts, in a way, because I am dealing with definite subject matter, and while I’m sharing my thoughts, it’s different from wrestling through a subject and the Biblical implications and coming to a conclusion. And I just happened to finish several books lately. 🙂

I’m not normally drawn to animal stories. They’re often designed to be heartwarming – and my heart needs warming as much as anyone else’s – but I find myself perversely resistant to stories that I know upfront are going for that effect. Or they’re sad, sometimes while simultaneously being heartwarming. One son shared a quote with me something to the effect that getting a dog is an investment in a small tragedy. Because they live a much shorter time than humans, generally, we’re going to have to deal with their deaths.

Waiting For PeterSo I don’t think I would normally have picked up the novella Waiting for Peter except that I really like Elizabeth Musser. This is a short book: only 90 pages. And it’s heartwarming and sad. But it’s good.

The story is about a boy named Peter who was in an accident that took the life of his friend and left Peter with severe injuries. He survives with nothing worse than a limp physically, but his confidence is shattered. His whole world has been shaken up and nothing is the same. His parents decide to let him choose a dog to try to help him, and Peter finds one who seems a little sickly and neurotic, but responds to him.

Dog and boy grow up together. They have adventures and Peter learns to extend himself (talking to strangers when not naturally prone to, etc.). Mom has to deal with the messes, chewed up household items, etc., but likes how dog and boy are both developing. When she deals with her own midlife issues – physical changes, aloof daughter, emptying nest – the dog becomes her companion, too.

The back of the book says, in addition to the book being about “the healing power of love between a boy and his dog,” it is also an “allegory of how we should view our relationship with God, our Master.” Those parts were a little more…not didactic, exactly, but more direct, more like one would see in a devotional than in fiction. That’s not characteristic of Musser, but maybe because the book was so short, there wasn’t space to develop it like one would in a novel. Or maybe she meant it exactly like she wrote in order to make the points she made. I’m not criticizing it or saying it’s bad – it’s just different from how she usually writes.

The story is told alternately from the points of view of the mom, Lanie, and the dog…the latter of which could be a little tricky, but it was kind of fun reading Sunny’s “thoughts.”

There is not a forward or afterward, so I don’t know if the story is based on one from the author’s life (although on her author’s page she does mention having a neurotic dog).

Overall, though not my usual cup of tea, I enjoyed it.

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Book Review: When Others Shuddered

When Others ShudderedWhen Others Shuddered: Eight Women Who Refused to Give Up by Jamie Janosz contains eight short biographies of women who lived between 1820 and 1955 who influenced their world for God. They came from different walks of life: some single, some married, some wealthy, some former slaves. They were ordinary women except, as the title indicates, they didn’t “shudder,” they didn’t turn away from circumstances or tasks that many of us would have, and thus they can inspire us.

They are:

Fanny Crosby, who was blinded due a mistreatment to her eyes when she was six weeks old. Yet she later thanked God for this “gift,” feeling that it set the course of her life and made her more attuned to God working in and through her. Fanny determined to be optimistic, and her mother and grandmother tried to give her as normal a childhood as possible and teach her about God. She went to a blind school, taught there, married, was active in Christian work. She had always loved music and reading and composed poems since her girlhood, and that grew into hymn writing, many of her hymns well-known ones that we still sing today. The book shares her manner of hymn-writing and many of the incidences that led to hymns.

Emma Dryer was “a thinker, a dreamer, a girl who wanted more out of life” (p. 37). She loved and excelled at school and eventually became a teacher even though extra schooling was thought to “make women unfit for marriage and motherhood” (p. 37). She loved teaching and the orderliness of her life, but wondered if there was something more. A bout of severe typhoid fever hanged her life and made her want to give herself to Christian work. Visiting the growing city of Chicago, she was burdened with the needs of people, particularly women, there who came to the city to work but were often led astray. She felt “the Bible was the solution to the social problems” she saw there (p. 42). A meeting with D. L. Moody and the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 convinced her that she was needed in Chicago. Eventually Moody talked with her about a training school he wanted to establish, something right up Emma’s alley. Emma worked and planned toward that end, but Moody, distracted with his travels, meetings, and other work, didn’t get around the the school for some time. When Emma, who could be outspoken and confrontational at times, wrote strongly to him about it, he was offended and decided to leave Chicago and start a school in NY. But another letter and the urging of his wife and others led him to Chicago and the founding of the Moody Bible Institute.

Nettie McCormick was the wife of Cyrus McCormick, wealthy from his invention of a reaper. A number of her children died, she suffered several miscarriages, two of her children developed mental illnesses, and Nettie herself went deaf at age 34. She “struggled to see God’s hand” (p. 66) but wrestled in prayer and rested in Him. The McCormicks were always generous, giving to many good causes and works, and after Cyrus died, Nettie continued to give wherever she could, even to missionary schools in other countries. She wasn’t self-promotional and did much behind the scenes, but she didn’t stay behind her four walls: she traveled and even planted trees herself in front of a building she had funded. She was close friends with Emma Dryer and a major supporter of Moody and the Institute.

Sarah Dunn Clark grew up wealthy and privileged, but in her mid-twenties felt God’s urging to work in that which will last for eternity. She moved to Chicago and helped in many ways by visiting needy families and establishing a mission Sunday School. She met her husband there: they moved in the same social circles and had similar burdens. They visited slums and jails and opened a small rescue mission “in the heart of what people called ‘the devil’s territory'” (p. 80), which eventually eventually became the Pacific Garden Mission (which you may know of from the radio program Unshackled). George was called by some “the poorest preacher who ever tried to expound God’s Word,” but he was “deeply convicted and spoke emotionally about the condition of the lost” (p. 81). Sarah became the “mother of the mission,” ministering to people on a personal level. “In her quiet way, she extended respect and dignity to people regardless of their condition. It was this steadfast love that broke through many hardened hearts” (p. 87). The Clarks invested all of their money in the mission and lived simply and frugally.

Amanda Smith grew up the child of parents who were slaves at two different farms. Her father purchased his freedom, and the rest of the family was set free as the dying wish of the family’s daughter they tended. Her parents “believed in God,” “demonstrated a calm and steady faith” (p. 92) and were active helpers for the Underground Railroad. Amanda was only able to attend a short time of school and then began domestic work. Lonely one day, she decided to attend church, where the preaching and singing reminded her of home, and she felt God “wanted her, a poor, simple black girl, to serve Him” (p. 93). She wanted to be a “consistent, downright, outright Christian” (p. 99). Her first husband was a drunkard and died; only one of her children lived to adulthood; her second husband deceived her as to what kind of a man he was so she would marry him, deserted his family, and later died. She was invited to camp meetings, began to sing and testify at them, and soon people were paying her expenses to do so at other camp meetings. She had opportunity to travel to England, India, and Africa. She never asked for money, but prayed, and God sent her money that she then used to meet needs she saw in other places. She became active in the Christian temperance union, established an orphanage, and wrote a book about her life.

Virginia Asher became active in Christian work after her salvation, in time particularly drawn to “‘fallen women’ and the madams who ran houses of prostitution. She was often called in to read and pray with the sick, write letters to parents, dress wounds, and whisper words of peace to the dying” (p. 119). She helped care for their children: though she was unable to have her own, she “took in the world of lost souls and mothered them with divine love” (p. 122). She and her husband sometimes entered saloons and ask if they could put on a brief service for their customers – and they were allowed to. She established Business Women’s Councils.

Evangeline Booth was the daughter of William and Catherine Booth, founders of the Salvation Army in London, who “believed in the three ‘S’s while reaching those the rest of society rejected: soup, soap, and salvation” (p. 148). Evangeline remained single and eventually became the head of the Salvation Army in the US, and eventually led it internationally.

Mary Mcleod Bethune was born after the Emancipation Proclamation to parents who had been slaves. She thirsted for education and prayed earnestly for it. God answered through a local mission school and later through scholarships to other schools, eventually to Moody Bible Institute. She had a beautiful singing voice and toured with the choir. She wanted to be a  missionary in Africa, but God closed the door. She eventually established a school in Florida with the meagerest of supplies, in opposition to the white community and the KKK, which eventually joined with another college to become Bethune Cookman. She became an advisor to presidents, eventually taking the newly created position of administration of the Office of Minority Affairs for FDR and then other government posts, and established the National Council of Negro Women. She realized her dream of going to Africa when as a US representative she went to Liberia for the inauguration of their new president when she was in her seventies.

Along with more detail about the life and faith of these women, there are three chapters on “Woman and Education,” “Women in Missions,” and “Women in Politics,” detailing a bit of the history of the times in each of those areas. A final chapter wraps up “Being That Kind of Woman,” discussing some of the key features they had in common. None had a trouble-free life: some dealt with poverty, health issues, marital problems, deaths of children, opposition. None were faultless or flawless. But each sought to follow God in the way that He led them and relied on Him for what they needed to do so.

You may have noticed that most of them had some connection with D. L. Moody and/or the Moody Bible Institute. That’s because the author is a professor at Moody and her initial research into Emma Dryer’s life led her to a study of all these women.

If you like biographies, you will probably like this book. If you don’t like biographies but feel you might be able to take them in smaller doses, this book is worth a try. If you like hearing how God has worked in people’s lives and get inspired by them in your own – which is why I like biographies – you will glean a lot from this book.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books and Literary Musing Monday)

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Book Review: A Portrait of Emily Price

Emily PriceIn  A Portrait of Emily Price by Katherine Reay, the title character is a “fixer.” She works for an insurance company in restoration, particularly of art pieces, but she also tackles wall damage, toys, even appliances. In the rest of her life, her dysfunctional broken family developed the “fixer” in her as well. When her sister can’t keep a job, Emily has to find a new one for her. When her clients reveal issues beyond the fire damage in their home, she tries to help the visible as well as invisible family problems. She would like to be an artist as well and has a degree of talent, but something is missing.

Though she lives in Chicago, she’s been sent to Atlanta for her most recent assignment, and her company rented space in a conservator’s studio for her work. The proprietor, Joseph, takes her to his aunt and uncle’s Italian restaurant her first night in town, where she meets his brother, Benito, or Ben. Ben is visiting from Italy, where he works in his family’s restaurant, and is helping his aunt and uncle revitalize their place. Immediately attracted to Ben, Emily agrees to help him restore the restaurant in her spare time. They fall in love (no spoiler, as this happens early in the book and is mentioned in the summary on the back), marry, and she accompanies him back to Italy.

But it’s no fairy tale honeymoon. Ben’s mother doesn’t approve and feels hurt that she was left out of her son’s wedding. Much of the family lets her know in covert ways that she doesn’t fit in. She feels constantly in the way, and efforts to help usually end up making things worse. Ben’s time away has left the family restaurant in a mess, so he’s working all hours to get things back in shape. Only Lucio, Ben’s father, shows Emily any kind of warmth or welcome, and later, Ben’s sister Francesca does as well.

Emily’s fixer mode kicks in, but without understanding the background of the issues, the family, and the culture, her advice and actions backfire. She has to learn that everything can’t be fixed, and furthermore, it’s not always her job to try. But somehow amidst all the pain, she finds a new freedom in her own art.

Yet when she unwittingly stumbles across a long-hidden family secret, it seems to be the last straw, for her as well as Ben’s mother. Will all the relationships shatter, or can they find the grace to heal?

One of Reay’s hallmarks is the wealth of literary allusions in her books. There didn’t seem to me to be quite as many this time, and they mainly came in Lucio’s book recommendations to Emily. Sadly, I wasn’t familiar with most of them, but one I did know was Jane Austen’s Emma. One review at Amazon mentioned this book was a nod to Emma. I hadn’t really caught that – the plots aren’t similar, but Emma and Emily do share “fixer” tendencies (and name similarities I just noticed.) I wished I had thought of that in the passages where Emily discussed her thoughts on Emma.

Reay also usually writes Christian fiction, and around 3/4 of the way into the book, I realized that aspect was absent, and Emily herself seemed woefully ignorant about the Bible or spiritual things. But it does come through in the end. Since it’s in Italy, it’s heavily Catholic-flavored, but the need and provision for grace do come through.

Reay infuses the book with a lot of detail about art restoration, Italy, and Italian cooking, but it flows naturally and nothing sounds overly technical. I almost felt like I could see the sunflowers out the window and smell some rich sauce simmering in the kitchen.

I loved her characters here, especially Emily, Ben, and Lucio, but all of them are well fleshed-out.

This was a book that pulled me in and made me want to spend all day curled up with it.

Update: Here is an interview with the author about this book, her blog, and the C. S. Lewis roots to her stories. It’s an excerpt from a longer interview here.

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Book Review: Lavender and Old Lace

Lavender_and_Old_LaceLavender and Old Lace by Myrtle Reed, written in 1902, opens with 34-year-old Ruth Thorne coming to occupy her aunt’s cottage while her aunt is away. She’s never met her aunt, Miss Jane Hathaway. Miss Jane has never forgiven her sister for running away to elope, but for whatever reason, she decides to establish relationships with her niece. However, she ends up having to leave before her niece arrives, so Ruth finds only Hepsey, the farm-girl working as the maid, at the house. Her aunt left a letter with various instructions, the most mysterious and inexplicable of which was to leave a light burning in the attic window every night.

Ruth worked for a newspaper in the city, but has six months off to house-sit for her aunt. Bored and restless, she explores her aunt’s attic, the first “real attic” she’s ever been in, until she comes across her aunt’s unused wedding dress and some newspaper clippings about a couple’s wedding and the wife’s death. At first Ruth thinks the couple had been friends of her aunt’s, but then surmises that the man was Aunt Jane’s lost love who married someone else. Feeling she’s intruding into her aunt’s privacy, she leaves the attic and vows to stifle her growing curiosity.

She visits her aunt’s best friend and neighbor, Mary Ainslie, who is thought a little odd by the community because she never leaves her home. But Miss Ainslie has a reputation for being kind and sending things to people who need help. Ruth finds her gracious and beautiful, and they soon become friends. Miss Ainslie also leaves a lamp burning in her window at night for unknown reasons.

Soon Ruth has unexpected company: a young man named Carl Winfield looks her up at the recommendation of his editor. Carl works for the same newspaper as Ruth but has developed a problem with his eyes and is ordered not to read or write for several months. He’s staying in town, and their excursions eventually blossom into romance.

In fact, there’s a lot of romance happening in the book:

  • Ruth and Carl
  • Hepsey and a young man, Joe
  • a long lost love recovered
  • a long lost love forever gone

Ruth comes across as somewhat prickly at first, easily offended and angered. Carl is laid-back and merry-hearted, and once they got to the point where they expressed their feelings for each other, I enjoyed their banter and their relationship.

There is a bit of a mystery with one of the characters having an unknown connection with another that, to me, was pretty easy to put together, but no one in the book did until they came across evidence of it. The one person who did know of it, for some reason, never tells anyone else. There’s also the mystery of the lights in the windows and why Miss Ainslie never leaves her home. There’s one odd section where two people have the same dream of an old man saying the same thing to them.

The title comes from Miss Ainslie, who has dark violet eyes, always wears some shade of purple or lavender, and scents all her things with lavender. She often, if not always, wears lace as well. Various types of lace are mentioned often in the book: “Ruth was gathering up great quantities of lace—Brussels, Point d’Alencon, Cluny, Mechlin, Valenciennes, Duchesse and Venetian point.” I think in those days it was a precious commodity, possibly made by hand.

The emotions in the book seem a bit overwrought sometimes:

Ruth was cold from head to foot, and her senses reeled. Every word that Winfield had said in the morning sounded again in her ears. What was it that went on around her, of which she had no ken? It seemed as though she stood absolutely alone, in endless space, while planets swept past, out of their orbits, with all the laws of force set suddenly aside.

The earth trembled beneath Ruth’s feet for a moment, then, all at once, she understood.

That may be due to the author’s being twenty when she wrote the book, or it may be due to the times.

But quite a lot of the writing reminded me of Lucy Maud Montgomery, though her first book, Anne of Green Gables, was published six years after this book. The relationships and romances and quarrels are similar to hers, as are some of the descriptive passages:

Have not our houses, mute as they are, their own way of conveying an impression? One may go into a house which has been empty for a long time, and yet feel, instinctively, what sort of people were last sheltered there. The silent walls breathe a message to each visitor, and as the footfalls echo in the bare cheerless rooms, one discovers where Sorrow and Trouble had their abode, and where the light, careless laughter of gay Bohemia lingered until dawn. At night, who has not heard ghostly steps upon the stairs, the soft closing of unseen doors, the tapping on a window, and, perchance, a sigh or the sound of tears? Timid souls may shudder and be afraid, but wiser folk smile, with reminiscent tenderness, when the old house dreams.

The rain had ceased, and two or three stars, like timid children, were peeping at the world from behind the threatening cloud. It was that mystical moment which no one may place—the turning of night to day. Far down the hill, ghostly, but not forbidding, was Miss Ainslie’s house, the garden around it lying whitely beneath the dews of dawn, and up in the attic window the light still shone, like unfounded hope in a woman’s soul, harking across distant seas of misunderstanding and gloom, with its pitiful “All Hail!”

That night, the gates of Youth turned on their silent hinges for Miss Ainslie. Forgetting the hoary frost that the years had laid upon her hair, she walked, hand in hand with them, through the clover fields which lay fair before them and by the silvered reaches of the River of Dreams. Into their love came something sweet that they had not found before—the absolute need of sharing life together, whether it should be joy or pain. Unknowingly, they rose to that height which makes sacrifice the soul’s dearest offering, as the chrysalis, brown and unbeautiful, gives the radiant creature within to the light and freedom of day.

One of my favorite lines occurred after Ruth and Carl profess their love, but he has to return to the city for a doctor’s visit: “She had little time to miss him, however, for, at the end of the week, and in accordance with immemorial custom, the Unexpected happened.”

The ending was bittersweet – in fact, one character’s whole story was mostly shaded that way – but overall the book was a sweet, clean read.

I listened to the free audiobook at Librivox, which was, unfortunately, read with almost no expression. I enjoyed going over some passages at Project Gutenberg, where one can read the whole book online. I had thought that a movie was made of this in the 40s, but the only movie of it I found mention of was made in the 20s. I may have been confusing it with Arsenic and Old Lace, another classic film and book I’ve not yet read or seen.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books and Literary Musing Monday)

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Book Review: Old Yeller

I loved the movie version of Old Yeller when my kids were little. I don’t know if I knew then that it came from a book, but I’ve been wanting to read the book by Fred Gipson for years. When I was searching for a classic about an animal for the Back to the Classics Reading Challenge, plus a shorter classic after finishing a very long one, this fit the bill on both counts.

Old YellerThe story is told from the point of view of Travis, the fourteen-year-old oldest son of a family in Texas in the 1860s. Though the family lived off the land easily, they didn’t have much in the way of “cash money.” Some of the settlers were joining a cattle drive to a town some 600 miles away, and Travis’s dad decided to go. He left Travis as the “man of the house,” with the responsibility of a man: shooting game for food, keeping critters out of the corn, protecting the family from Indians and wildlife, milking the cows, looking after his Mama and little brother, Arliss, marking the new pigs, and not waiting for his mom to tell him to do things.

Travis felt “pretty near a grown man” and welcomed the opportunity to prove himself. With the exception of being able to reign in Little Arliss, he put in full days of work and did a good job. He was especially gratified when his mother waited supper for him, just like she did for his dad when his work ran late.

But then one day a scruffy, yellow ugly dog showed up on the property and stole some of the family’s meat. Little Arliss claimed the dog immediately, and their mom was willing for him to have him. But Travis hated him especially because of his thieving but also because he was ugly and seemed worthless.

But it wasn’t long before the dog proved it could learn and be a big help to the family, herding hogs, chasing off bears and wolves, etc. And it wasn’t long before Travis loved the dog even more than Little Arliss.

That made it all the harder when tragedy struck, which the author speaks of on the first page.

I love “coming of age” stories, especially the character has to stretch him- or herself farther than they think they can go (Keep the Lights Burning, Abbie, is another favorite along these lines.) I also enjoyed the peek into this era. It used to be a regular thing for a teenager to be trained to do an adult’s work, though they weren’t often left with it all on their shoulders like Travis was. Sometimes I wonder if that would be a better thing than not expecting young people to take on adult responsibilities until they’re out of college or later. Then again, it was a hard life, and I enjoy the fact that young people now have avenues to explore in their teens that young people didn’t have then. I also can’t imagine being nearly alone on the edges of a settlement while a husband is away for months with no means of communication for all that time, and having to patch up serious injuries of both boys and animals and take on the extra work that they can’t do while injured.

Probably my favorite part of the book is the advice Travis’s dad gave him when he returned and heard all that had gone on in his absence:

That was as rough a thing as I ever heard tell of happening to a boy. And I’m mighty proud to learn how my boy stood up to it. You couldn’t ask any more of a grown man… It’s not a thing you can forget. I don’t guess it’s a thing you ought to forget. What I mean is, things like that happen. They may seem mighty cruel and unfair, but that’s how life is part of the time. But that isn’t the only way life is. A part of the time, it’s mighty good. And a man can’t afford to waste all the good part, worrying about the bad parts. That makes it all bad.

I listens to the audiobook very nicely read by Peter Francis James. he did a good job with the expression as well as the accents. It’s been a long while since I’ve seen the movie version, but it seems to have followed closely to the book except for drawing out the climax more.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books and Carole’s Books You Loved)

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