What’s On Your Nightstand: July 2017

What's On Your Nightstand

The folks at 5 Minutes For Books host What’s On Your Nightstand? the last Tuesday of each month in which we can share about the books we have been reading and/or plan to read.

Even though there is still nearly a week left in July, it’s the last Tuesday and therefore time to look over what we have been and will be reading.

Since last time I have completed:


Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, reviewed here. I was glad to conquer this one.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, reviewed here. Loved this – much food for thought.

Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand, reviewed here. This one will always hold a special place in my heart.

The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan, review coming soon. I enjoyed this suspenseful tale, one of the first “man on the run” stories, very much.


Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More  – Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist by Karen Swallow Prior, reviewed here. A remarkable woman: very good book.

Songs of a Housewife: Poems by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (author of the beloved The Yearling), edited by Rodger L. Tarr, reviewed here. I loved much of this.

Finishing Our Course with Joy: Guidance from God for Engaging with Our Aging by J. I. Packer, reviewed here. Great advice.

Christian or Inspirational Fiction:

A Proper Pursuit by Lynn Austin, reviewed here. A young woman in the late 1800s goes in search of the mother who left the family and finds an assortment of various types of femininity in her grandmother and great aunts. Good.

Until We Reach Home by Lynn Austin, reviewed here. Three Swedish sisters immigrate to America in 1897, meet and overcome hardships, and look for a true home. Very good.

All She Ever Wanted by Lynn Austin, reviewed here. A woman in conflict with her teenage daughter takes her on a road trip where she discloses the dysfunctional past she had kept hidden plus learns things she never knew about her own mother and granddaughter. Good.

Now, that’s not as much as it looks like. Two of the books were just short of finished last time, so they belong more to June than July. I’ve been working through an audiobook of Don Quixote for weeks, and the other classics here were very short audiobooks (3-4 hours each).  And Finishing Our Course With Joy was fairly short as well.

You also may have noticed a Lynn Austin trend. 🙂 I have so many books in my Kindle app from various sales that sometimes it’s hard to scroll through and decide what to read next. I decided to choose an author and read all of her book that I had, and chose Lynn because I have enjoyed others of her books. It’s been interesting to read several books from one author in a row like that.

I’m currently reading:

The Death of Ivan Ilych by LeoTolstoy. Very nearly finished with this one. Very moving.

Unlimited by Davis Bunn. Edge of your seat goodness!

All Things New by Lynn Austin

Lessons I Learned From My Grandchildren by Delia Halverson. I am about ready to toss this one, but it’s so short I figure I may as well finish it. Weak theology in places, faulty in others. Disappointing and not recommended.

Up Next:

The Illusionist’s Apprentice by Kristy Cambron

The Story Keeper by Lisa Wingate

Threads of Suspicion by Dee Henderson

Resurrection by Leo Tolstoy

Taking God At His Word: Why the Bible Is Knowable, Necessary, and Enough, and What That Means for You and Me by Kevin DeYoung

Each of the last few years I’ve been reading one book by Dickens that I have not read before. I was planning on The Pickwick Papers, but I am not terribly excited about that one. I may go with Hard Times or The Mystery of Edwin Drood instead. Have you read Pickwick?

Whew! I think that’s the longest Nightstand post I’ve ever done.

I am having a procedure next week – more on that tomorrow – and one thing I am looking forward to, besides getting it over with, is spending the recuperating time reading.

What are you reading?


Book Review: All She Ever Wanted

All She Ever WantedAll She Ever Wanted by Lynn Austin opens with a stressed-out Kathleen Seymour. She’s just lost her job, and her daughter, who has always been given everything she ever wanted, has been caught shoplifting. Advised by a counselor to try to connect better with her daughter, Kathleen decides they should go on a road trip back to where she grew up, where she has not been for thirty-five years.

On the way, Kathleen opens up about her own dysfunctional, poverty-stricken childhood that she had kept carefully hidden, with a thief for a father, a mother with little energy and interest, and a Communist uncle.

Conversations with friends and relatives along the way also reveal to Kathleen much she didn’t know about her own mother and grandmother’s lives. Each woman had left home trying to escape her family or situation, each faced stumblingblocks and sorrows, and each made mistakes with her own children. Will they ever find “all they ever wanted,” or are their sins past forgiveness?

My thoughts:

Truly each person has hidden sorrows and struggles, and we need to be “quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19). And, truly, God’s forgiveness is available to all who will accept it and believe in His Son, Jesus. And, truly, we all have enough of our own sins and foibles to deal with that should keep us from judging each other. And we all need to seek God’s will for our lives rather than navigating them on our own and making a mess of things. I was thankful for those emphases throughout the book.

Some readers would want to know that one of the women fell into extramarital sex, but nothing is explicit, and that does happen. It’s a believable part of the story, not there just for titillation.

Though it’s a good story, it’s not my favorite from Lynn. I’m having a hard time putting my finger on exactly why. It was a little disjointed with the back-and-forth timelines between the women. The next to last chapter, while good, and resolved in the ways I would have hoped, yet containing some surprises, seemed just a little too…pat, maybe. There were a couple of places I disagreed with the theology a bit. But none of these were big enough that I wouldn’t recommend the book, and I especially liked the last chapter.

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


Laudable Linkage

I don’t usually do these three weeks in a row, but I have come across a lot of good reading lately!

An Army Without Supplies. The people on the “front lines” – of either military or spiritual endeavors – are needed, but so is the support system behind them.

Instant Coffee, Instant Faith. “It is not the massive floods that cause a tree to grow; it’s the steady stream of water day after day, month after month, year after year. The Christian life does not consist only of great breakthroughs; it consists mainly in mundane, steady obedience.”

A Blog on Worship, HT to Proclaim and Defend. “Worship God, not just with your voice, but with your obedience, your devotion, your service, your time, your resources, your priorities, your thoughts, and your actions. Jesus bought all of you, so worship with all of you. Worship: It’s more than you think.

What Does Forgiveness Look Like?

How We Misunderstand Strong Women, HT to True Woman.

When the Words of My Mouth Are Pleasing Mostly to Me, HT to True Woman.

I Had an Abortion, HT to True Woman. Counsel to someone who has lost hope of forgiveness.

If You Like Narnia….suggestions for other books in a similar vein.

And finally, I saw this on Pinterest but couldn’t get to where it originated from. But it hit home – I have a tendency to over think things.


Have a great weekend!

Review: Cyrano de Bergerac

Cyrano de Bergerac is a play written by Edmond Rostand in 1897 but set in 1640 Paris. It became an instant success and has remained so ever since. In one sense it’s a throwback to “France’s golden age—a time when men were musketeers, women were beautiful heiresses, and the wit flashed as brightly as the swordplay” (according to SparkNotes), represented in stories like The Three Musketeers, which was published 50 years before Cyrano. Cyrano even references The Three Musketeers in places. In another sense it’s a parody of such stories. Part comedy, part tragedy, the main focus is its title character, Cyrano.

Cyrano excels in almost every area. He’s witty, an excellent poet, a superb swordsman, and he commands the respect of almost all who know him. The one area where he lacks confidence is romantic relationships, and that’s due primarily to his extremely oversized nose. He thinks no woman would find him attractive or even give him a chance, especially his cousin, Roxanne, whom he confesses to one friend that he loves. When Roxanne sends him a message that she wants to meet with him privately, he begins to hope that perhaps she could love him, and he pours out his heart in a letter to her. But when they meet, he learns that she loves a handsome young man in his regiment, Christian, and she asks him to watch over Christian.

He agrees, and when he tells Christian that he is Roxanne’s cousin, Christian confesses that he loves her but he can’t approach her. Roxanne loves “flowing words,
Bright wit,” and Christian is tongue-tied and inarticulate. The men each lament their deficiencies:

Oh, to express one’s thoughts with facile grace!. . .

. . .To be a musketeer, with handsome face!

Then Cyrano hits on an idea: they can combine their talents. He can teach Christian what to say, and that will give him an outlet for his own heart. He gives Christian the letter he had just written to Roxanne but left unsigned and tells Christian to send it to her in his name.

What could possibly go wrong with that plan?

The rest of the play shows how they each progress and carries them through various scenes, but I don’t want to give away any more details.

Some of the comedic sections are priceless, such as a lengthy exchange with Cyrano and another man who is trying not to look at or comment on Cyrano’s nose and then is questioned by Cyrano (“Is there anything extraordinary about it?…Is it soft and swinging like an elephant’s trunk? Is there a wart on the end of it? Or a fly?…Is it a phenomenon?”) When Christian, hoping for a kiss, wants to speak to Roxanne himself and can’t seem to come up with anything except, “I love thee,” Roxanne responds, “‘Tis the theme: embroider it,” and later “Gather up your scattered eloquence.” Here are just a few more samples:

Tradesman: You are not Samson!
Cyrano: I will be, my dear sir, if you’ll lend me your jaw.

Cyrano: Whom I love? Come now, reflect. The dream of being loved, even by a homely girl, is one forbidden me. Forbidden by this nose of mine that precedes me everywhere by fifteen minutes.

I enjoyed the comedy and the swashbuckling, but most of all I enjoyed the more earnest parts, such as when Cyrano is trying to coach Christian when they’re half hidden in the darkness under Roxanne’s balcony (reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet‘s balcony scene). Getting frustrated with the process, Cyrano pushes Christian out of the way and then speaks from his heart. The last few scenes, when Cyrano goes to visit Roxanne some fourteen years after the action in the previous scenes, is masterfully written. The time of day, the season, the double meaning to Cyrano’s words, and the development of the conversation all come together to form once of my favorite sections of literature with one of my favorite lines (which I can’t tell, or else you’d know the ending!)

I looked at SparkNotes and Shmoop‘s analysis a bit, and disagreed with Shmoop’s especially. They seemed to think the main theme was Cyrano’s lack of self-esteem, that if he had not been hung up on his one defect, he could have had a life of love (see the Shmoop heading “Why Should I Care?” for more on this).

But I think the theme has to do with the self-sacrificial nature of real love. A couple of times Cyrano had an opening to confess his love, but he abstained, for the happiness and then the honor of another. All the characters grow in their understanding of love, finding that it goes beyond handsome faces, stolen kisses, and “embroidered” words, but Cyrano embodies it the most.

I did not investigate translations like I did before reading Don Quixote, and I wish I had. I looked around a bit afterward and learned that one by Brian Hooker is considered the best. I was primarily looking for an audiobook version that read the actual play rather than an audio performance of it, and found that here, translated by Howard Thayer Kingsbury, and enjoyed it very much. It says it is narrated by Flo Gibson, but it is actually narrated by Grover Gardner, who did an excellent job. I also got this Kindle version translated by Charles Renauld and looked around it and the Gutenberg version, and didn’t like either of them as much, at least, as far as I compared them, which wasn’t much. For instance, where in the audiobook Roxanne tells Christian to “embroider” his words, the Gutenberg version says to “vary” them, and the Renauld version just says, “Amplify!” I don’t know which is closest to the original, but “embroider” sounds a lot better to me. But I do appreciate Renauld’s introduction and preface detailing some of the difficulties of translation, not only from a different language, but from the poetry in which the play was originally written, and his reasons for making the choices he did, ending with the admonition that those who would be critical should “Try the task!” While looking up information on translations, I came across this fascinating discussion with some examples of how different translations handle one of Cyrano’s speeches and this great article.

One place where translations differ greatly is near the end when Cyrano speaks of the one thing he can take with him when he dies that no one can take away from him. Some translations say “plume,” others say “panache.” The audiobook said “plume,” and I admit it didn’t make sense to me at first. Renauld says in his introduction:

Now, what is this panache upon which “Cyrano” sets such a high value? To understand it is to appreciate, to miss it is to miss the meaning of the play. An explanation of it is, therefore, not out of place in this introduction.

The panache is an external quality which adds colour and brilliancy to internal things already worth having for their own intrinsic value. Its main justification is personal bravery…The panache is literally a high plume, or bunch of plumes, that waves high above a commander’s head-gear…There is magnetism in the panache…Henry the Fourth said to his soldiers; “you will find it always on the path of honour and duty.” The panache, too, is essentially joyful. “Cyrano” is joyful, in spite of a life that would breed discouragement and bitterness in almost any heart but his.

That sheds light on this earlier speech of Cyrano’s when someone criticizes his clothes:

It is my character that I adorn.
I do not deck me like a popinjay ;
But though less foppish, I am better dressed :
I would not sally forth, through carelessness.
With an insult ill wiped out, or with my conscience
Sallow with sleep still lingering in its eyes.
Honor in rags, or scruples dressed in mourning.
But I go out with all upon me shining,
With liberty and freedom for my plume,
Not a mere upright figure ; — ’tis my soul
That I thus hold erect as if with stays,
And decked with daring deeds instead of ribbons.
Twirling my wit as it were my moustache,
The while I pass among the crowd, I make
Bold truths ring out like spurs.

And it also sheds light on one place where they are battling Spain, and a cadet comes in with “a collection of shabby hats spitted on his sword, their plumes bedraggled and holes through the brims,” “spoils of war” he gathered from the enemy’s camp.

So it does look like the theme has to do with panache, brave, magnetic, joyful flair. But I still think it has to do with love as well.

There are multiple film versions of the play – I’d love to check out Jose Ferrer’s, one of the most famous ones, if I can find it. I did find this scene of it:

I had seen this play at least once, maybe a couple of times, years ago, and remembered the basic story line, but I am so glad I read (or listened to) it now. There was so much to enjoy about it, and I feel sure I’ll read it again in the future.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books, Literary Musing Monday, Carole’s Books You Loved)


Book Review: Fierce Convictions

I really didn’t know anything about Hannah More when I first saw Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More – Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist by Karen Swallow Prior making the rounds a couple of years ago, but so many bloggers spoke positively of it that I requested it for the next gift-giving occasion. It turns out I am in good company: in his preface to this book, Eric Metaxas said he hadn’t know much about her, either, until doing research for his book on William Wilberforce, and then he got so excited, he tried to include as much about her as he could. When he met Prior and found out her doctoral dissertation was on More, he urged her to write a book.

Hannah was born to a family of five daughters in 1745. Her father being a teacher and her own thirst for learning led to her receiving an education beyond the norm for girls in that era. She and her sisters established a school together as they got older. Hannah wrote some plays for the students that were well-received. She was engaged for a long period of time, but the marriage never went forward. In a transaction common for the day, her former fiance offered her an annuity “sufficient to allow More to pursue a literary vocation as compensation for the time she devoted to him” (p. 37).

An influential friend sent a copy of one of her plays to David Garrick, a famous actor of the day; thus “the door to the literary capital of England was opened” (p. 49). Hannah became friends with a number of Londoners, including Garrick and his wife, Horace Walpole, Samuel Johnson, William Wilberforce, and a host of others. She was so close to Wilberforce that one of her anonymous publications was thought to be his. She was included in the Bluestocking Circle begun by “one of the wealthiest and most influential women of the day” (p. 76), Elizabeth Montagu. More’s influence and literary career grew.

But for various reasons, More became disenchanted with life in London and moved to Cowslip Green in between two villages.

More had always been bemused–and sometimes amused–by the excesses and superficialities she witnessed [in London]. So while the glistening of the fashionable life grew ever duller over several years, hints of More’s doubts about this fool’s gold can be found even from her earliest seasons there. It is clear that she was undergoing a greater sense of calling to more serious work, to more devotion in her faith, and with it to ministry in serving others (p. 95).

She was given a book of John Newton’s letters which she described as “full of vital, experimental religion” – vital meaning, according to Prior, “‘full of life,’ so opposite the stale, dead religion found in many Church of England members” (p. 105).

The word experimental alluded to the growing emphasis during the eighteenth century on the importance of individual experience in religious practice, the need of each person to have an authentic and personal faith rather than simply to adhere to rote tradition (p. 105).

Wilberforce had originally “thought that being a sincere Christian required withdrawing from the corrupt corners of human business” and was inclined to “retreat from public life in favor of a course devoted to piety.” John Newton encouraged him to “stay at his post, and neither give up work, nor throw away wealth; wait and watch occasions, sure that He, who put him at his post, would find him work to do” (p. 113). Later Wilberforce’s “influence dissuaded [Hannah] from her growing inclination to shrink from the world” (p. 117). Thank God that both of these people “stayed at their post.” “Even John Wesley sent Hannah a message through her sister: ‘Tell her to live in the world; there is the sphere of her usefulness; they will not let us come nigh them” (p. 203). The bishop of London asked her, “Where can we find any but yourself that can make the ‘fashionable world’ read books of morality and religion, and find improvement when they are only looking for amusement?” (p. 202).

More joined with Newton, Wilberforce, and others involved in fighting the slave trade.

As a goldfish swimming in a bowl doesn’t know what water is, so a person living in eighteenth-century Great Britain–immersed in an economic and social structure built on the slave trade–could not easily, if at all, see slavery for what it was. To do so required, it seemed, a certain kind of perceptiveness of mind and spirit. Hannah More was one of the few who possessed it (p. 108).

Even Wilberforce acknowledged that the fight against slavery could not by won in Parliament alone, that “more is to be done out of the House than in it,” that “changing the minds in Parliament would require changing the heart of the nation first” (p. 128).

The battle against slavery was, in many ways, led by the poets–and other writers and artists–who expanded their country’s moral imagination so it might at last see horrors too grave for the rational mind to grasp (p. 128).

Hannah used her influence and her pen to fight against slavery, a fight which took over forty years. She also used it to encourage education, especially for girls and for the poor, and to provide edifying reading material. Prior explained that tracts or pamphlets at that time were like blog posts today, and Hannah used them for educational, religious, and sometimes political causes, eventually leading to the establishment of Cheap Repository Tracts.

But she did more than write. She and her sisters started a number of schools for the poor, financed by Wilberforce, fighting against the opinion of the time that the poor should not be educated or taught to read (some thought the poor would have no use for it: others thought it might disturb the order of things). She became one of the few female members of what was called the Clapham Sect – not a sect as we think of it today, but a group of influential “like-minded believers, ‘bound together by shared moral and spiritual values, by religious mission and social activism, by love for each other, and by marriage,’ [who] changed history as they sought to serve God in every area of their lives, personal and public, at home and abroad” (p. 167). “The efforts of the Clapham community were three-pronged: they aimed at alleviating the suffering and oppression of the lower classes, reforming the excessive and negligent behaviors of the upper classes, and advancing Christianity at home and throughout the world” (pp. 173-174).

She was not flawless. Some of her views would have modern readers scratching their heads, and Prior does an excellent job explaining them in the context of Hannah’s times. But she yielded herself, her influence, her energy, her finances, and her pen to God and was used mightily by Him. One quoted source said, “What Wilberforce was among men, Hannah More was among women” (p. 240).

Somewhere between Birrell’s hatred and Roberts’s hagiography is a woman who was at once ordinary and remarkable. She was a woman with virtues and flaws, faith and fears, vision and blind spots. But she was also one whose unique gifts and fierce convictions transformed first her life and subsequently her world and ours (p. 253).

To Walpole, More was testimony, in the words of one of her early biographers, that “the most implicit faith and the most devoted zeal in Christianity could consist with the highest mental attainments; and that the most devoted piety was no obstacle to cheerfulness and humor” (p. 170).

In the epilogue Prior also shares some reasons why More is not more well-known today, among them the modernist movement, which “rejected the values that most defined the Victorian age: duty, family, piety” (p. 252). In addition, her one novel “is practically unreadable for most readers today. tastes have changed, and the art of the novel has progressed toward more nuance and complexity than the plain didacticism of More’s novel” (p. 235). But I am glad that Prior brought her to our attention and shared her life with us.

It took me just a little while to truly get into the book. I am not sure if it took that long to get into the rhythm of Prior’s style or if it just got more interesting to me around the time that Hannah went to London, and more so when she decided to leave. I especially appreciated Prior’s couching everything into its historical setting so that we weren’t getting just the facts, but truly understanding how historical events and beliefs affected Hannah and how she in turn affected them.

And on a completely separate note, one of Prior’s explanations helped me better understand Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility:

During the so-called long eighteenth century (1660-1830), a “cult of sensibility” arose that exalted the outward manifestations of emotional sensitivity–weeping, fainting, and the like–as the marks of morality and refined character, to the point that sensibility became more important than benevolent or moral actions (p. 185).

In context, Prior said this about More’s writing concerning animal cruelty. She sought to raise awareness of some of the brutal practices of the day in order to stop them yet did not devolve into “emotional indulgence” and “inordinate affection” the “cult of sensibility” employed towards animals (p. 197).

I’ll close with a few favorite quotes from More herself:

It should be held as an eternal truth, that what is morally wrong can never be politically right (p. 136).

I am at this moment as quiet as my heart can wish. Quietness is my definition of happiness (p. 69).

Atrocious deeds should never be called by gentle names (p. 205).

God can carry on his own work, though all such poor tools as I were broken (p. 247).

The more I see of the ‘hounoured, famed, and great,’ the more I see of the littleness, the unsatisfactoriness of all created good; and that no earthly pleasure can fill up the wants of the immortal principle within.

Bible Christianity is what I love…a Christianity practical and pure, which teaches holiness, humility, repentance and faith in Christ; and which after summing up all the Evangelical graces, declares that the greatest of these is charity (p. 155).

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books, Literary Musing Monday, Carole’s Books You Loved)



Book Review: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Jeckyll and HydeIn a way it’s too bad that most modern readers know the premise behind The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. We miss a lot of the build-up of the mystery the other characters are trying to solve. But it’s still an enjoyable story.

It begins in Victorian-era London when a lawyer, Mr. Utterson, is taking a walk with his cousin when they pass a door that stirs a memory for the cousin, Mr. Enfield. Once Enfield was walking in the same area when he witnessed a young girl being trampled by a man. He and the crowd around them insisted that the man pay the girl immediately for damages, and the man went into the particular door they’re now passing to obtain a check written on the account of a reputable man in the city. Enfield describes the man negatively, saying he seemed deformed, though Enfield couldn’t put his finger on exactly what was wrong with him. When he mentions that the man’s name is Hyde, Utterson stops him, for he knows who Hyde is and wishes to avoid gossip.

But the incident increases Utterson’s concern. His friend and client, Dr. Jekyll, has just changed his will to leave everything to Hyde, and Utterson feels sure that the account Hyde drew on was Jekyll’s. He fears Hyde may be blackmailing Jekyll, but Jekyll says Hyde is no one to worry about.

Some time later, a maid witnesses Hyde killing a man in the street who turns out to be a member of Parliament and another of Utterson’s clients. Hyde seems to disappear after that, and Jekyll says he has cut off ties with him. But then all of a sudden Jekyll stops going out and receiving visitors. One day when Utterson happens to see him through a window and stops to talk for a while, Jekyll seems glad to see him at first, and then suddenly with a look of horror slams down the window. Then one night Jekyll’s butler, Poole, come to Mr. Utterson to say that something is terribly wrong: his master has been locked in his laboratory for days and now doesn’t sound like himself. Utterson comes with Poole, and they decide to break down the door. What they find I will leave you to discover, but a couple of letters left for Utterson explain what has been going on.

As most readers know (and if you don’t know and don’t want to, skip this paragraph!), Hyde and Jekyll are the same man. What’s perhaps the most interesting aspect of the book to me is Jeckyll’s reasons for his experimentations. He had struggled with the conflicting parts of himself wanting to do good or evil, and decided to see if he could separate them – not in order to filter out the bad and therefore conquer it, but so the bad side could do what it wanted without restraint and without consequences such as marring the good name of Jekyll.

I had learned to dwell with pleasure as a beloved daydream on the
thought of the separation of these elements. If each, I told myself, could be housed in separate identities life would be relieved of all that was unbearable: the unjust might go his way delivered from the aspirations and remorse of his more upright twin and the just could walk steadfastly and securely on his upward path doing the good things in which he found his pleasure and no longer exposed to disgrace and penitence by the hands of this extraneous evil.

When Jekyll becomes alarmed at how far Hyde has gone and resolves not to let him out any more, Stevenson masterfully describes incomplete repentance which isn’t true repentance.

It was Hyde, after all, and Hyde alone, that was guilty. Jekyll was no worse; he woke again to his good qualities seemingly unimpaired; he would even make haste, where it was possible, to undo the evil done by Hyde. And thus his conscience slumbered.

Yes, I preferred the elderly and discontented doctor, surrounded by friends and cherishing honest hopes; and bade a resolute farewell to the liberty, the comparative youth, the light step, leaping impulses and secret pleasures, that I had enjoyed in the disguise of Hyde. I made this choice perhaps with some unconscious reservation, for I neither gave up the house in Soho, nor destroyed the clothes of Edward Hyde, which still lay ready in my cabinet.

As the first edge of my penitence wore off, the lower side of me, so long indulged, so recently chained down, began to growl for licence.

I sat in the sun on a bench; the animal within me licking the chops of memory; the spiritual side a little drowsed, promising subsequent penitence, but not yet moved to begin.

Elisabeth Elliot once wrote that she was dealing with guilt over something she had done and was astounded by it, thinking, “That’s just not me.” She was brought up short by the realization that it was indeed her fault, that she couldn’t blame it on provocation or circumstances. Even if she had been provoked, she could have looked to God for help to respond rightly. That jarred me, because I was too prone to blame my bad reactions on the circumstances that caused them rather than my innate sinfulness. It’s telling that Jekyll blamed Hyde’s wrongdoings on Hyde alone as if he were a separate being rather than actually himself. The first step in gaining any kind of victory over the Hyde in each of us is to recognize and own the fact that he is us.

I don’t know much about Stevenson himself. A quick perusal of the Wikipedia article about him says he grew up in a religious home but declared himself an atheist in his twenties. He recognized just how horrible what the Bible calls our “old man” or “flesh” could become, and seemed to realize that it couldn’t be reigned in just with conscience. I don’t know if he ever knew that we could be completely liberated from its penalty and power only through Christ: “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7:24-8:1a).

This is a short book: paperback copies are less than 100 pages, and the audiobook I listened to was only 2 hours and 19 minutes. So for those who might like to read classics but are intimidated by their length, this one might be good to try. Even though I knew the basic story, I gained much by reading the book. I started out listening to an audiobook, but though the narrator was fine in the narrative, he was terrible with the character’s voices, so I switched to the 99 cent Kindle version. I chose it for the horror/Gothic category of the Back to the Classics challenge. I’m not into horror at all and thought I might skip this category until I read Rebekah’s review of this book. I am thankful for both of those influences leading me to read a book that I would have been unlikely to pick up otherwise.

(Sharing with Literary Musing Monday, Inspire Me Monday, Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books, Carole’s Books You Loved)




Book Review: Until We Reach Home

Until We Reach Home by Lynn Austin is the story of three sisters from Sweden in 1897. Their mother died, then their father committed suicide, which in that time and culture went beyond its own tragedy to be considered a disgrace to the family. An aunt and uncle move in to “help” but ended up taking over the farm. To protect her sisters from a danger which only she knows about, oldest sister Elin accepts another uncle’s invitation to come to America.

Elin is the take-charge mother hen of the group. The danger she wants to keep them from has made her wary, nervous, and sad, which irritates her sisters because they don’t know what’s behind it.

Kirsten is the free-spirited, adventurous, independent middle child. She doesn’t want to move to America at first, but when she learns that her relationship with a young man will never advance because of her father’s disgrace, she breaks up with him and wants to leave.

Sophia is the shy youngest, attached to the farm and thoroughly unwilling to go to America. She often visits her mother’s grave and wants to stay near it. But she doesn’t want to be separated from her sisters, either.

The trip via trains, ferries, and finally a ship, is harrowing, especially in the crowded conditions of steerage. Seasickness hits them all, and then a mysterious disease breaks out. Then their arrival is not what they had anticipated when two of them are detained at Ellis Island and even when they finally get to their aunt and uncle’s home. Almost entirely on their own, they have to scramble to find work and a place to live.

Elin and Kirsten both carry weighty secrets from their past. When Sophia is faced with the one thing she fears most, she rediscovers the faith of her mother.

Will they all find release from their burdens? Will life always be a hardscrabble struggle, or will they ever find their new start in this new land? Will they ever find a true home?

My thoughts:

New beginnings are almost never easy, even when they’re excitedly anticipated. But starting over under the conditions that they did and at the time they did made it all the harder. So many immigrants came from hard conditions to make a better life and faced so many hardships both in travel and then supporting themselves once they got here. Like the pioneers, persevering through hardships made hardy stock of them – or maybe they were to begin with. This book was quite enlightening, and I enjoyed it very much. As one character says, “Life with God is often very difficult. But life without Him is unendurable.”

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books, Literary Musing Monday, Carole’s Books You Loved)