You can make Homemade Christmas Cards with Classic Art

A couple of years ago I was having trouble finding the kind of Christmas cards that I wanted in the stores.  I was looking for a Biblical scene and Bible verse, and wanted some extraordinary art.  It was early in December, so I decided I’d try to make my own cards.  For anyone interested in doing the same, it wasn’t really hard, and it was a pleasure looking through all the breathtaking classic art available for free on the internet.

Inside of Card Front of one card

Click HERE to download (pdf file) or just to see how all of them turned out.  The first page shows the inside text used for all cards, followed by 7 different images and corresponding back covers (the first 2 are black and white images, the rest are color).  If you like them, feel free to use them!

I hope this is useful for you and that it brings to mind the true beauty of this season, and of the gift that God gave us for the taking, the gift of abundant life, knowing him, walking humbly with him.

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Here are the steps I took:

IMAGES

First, as much as I wish otherwise, I could not draw a scene myself.  So, I started looking for ideas for images to use on the cover of the card.  Initially, I tried taking photos of two manger scenes that I have, and played around with special effects on the photo editing software.  That was fun, of course, but in the end I didn’t have anything that I liked.  If you are looking for an unusual Nativity scene, you are welcome to these, 10 images in a Word document.  The ones at the bottom were my son’s favorites.

Next I looked on my clipart and Bible DVD’s for various images and photographs, and found 3 that had possibilities.  Then I Googled “copyright free nativity images” and I hit the jackpot:  THANK YOU, reusableart.com! I found exactly what I was looking for, and more.  (They have over 3,000 beautiful public domain images from old books and magazines that go far beyond holidays to birds, animals, children, seascapes, buildings, trees, flowers, patterns–a feast for the eyes!)

CARD STOCK

Then I figured out what card size I needed.  I’d bought a ton of red greeting card envelopes in the summer when the dollar store had them on sale (for 5 cents each!), so I had to make my cards so they fit in the envelopes.  I decided on a card stock size of 6” x 9″, which would fold to 4.5” x 6” to fit in a 5” x 7” envelope.

MAKING THE CARD ON THE COMPUTER

I used Open Office Impress (free presentation software) and started with a blank slide.  On the Format/Page menu, I selected a custom-sized page and set it to 6×9 inches landscape.  Then I inserted the image on the right side, and a text box full of text on the left, which, after folding in the middle, would make the front and back.  One more similar slide with text on the left and right sides made the inside of the card.  (I am sure that that there are easy templates available online, and if you’re smart you’ll avoid the “custom” card size that I did–I won’t do it that way next time!)

TEXT

Customize yours for exactly what is special and meaningful to you and your loved ones!

For the inside left side text, I chose the lyrics from the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah, a piece of music that I have loved ever since we sang it in choir in college.  For the inside right side text, I just wrote a short sentiment from the heart.

In the back cover text, I listed the title of the painting and the artist information, as well as a blurb about Handel and his work.

FINISHING

I saved my final files as pdf’s that would print on 8-1/2 x 11” card stock or paper, with the intention of using a paper cutter to trim the side and bottom to 6 x 9”.

My plan was to print onto my own card stock at the self-serve copy/print department of the office supply store, but I wasn’t allowed to do card stock on self-serve.  They had to do it themselves with their own very high quality expensive card stock, and it would be at least a week before they had time to do mine.

So I printed the black and white inside of the card at home on my laser printer, then printed the color sheets at the office supply store on regular white paper, and trimmed them using their paper cutter.  I attached the color pages to the outside of the cards with double-sided tape.

I hope this gives you some great ideas and the joy of making your own personalized cards!

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This was originally posted December 18, 2012

Review of Looking Backward 2000 – 1887

At a recent used book sale I bought an intriguing book written by Edward Bellamy. It was published in 1887, with the premise of having been written in the year 2000. The author imagines how the country would look in another century if certain idealistic industrial, political and economic changes were made to enable the best possible society for all citizens. Bellamy felt that instead of writing a non-fiction analysis and critique of the country’s economy, it would be more interesting to tell the story of a fictional character who falls asleep and wakes up over one hundred years later to find a changed society.

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One of my reasons for searching out books over a hundred years old is similar to this author’s reasons for writing it. I want to know how the world has changed, and I want to understand how people thought, what their priorities were, what their values were and how they compare to ours today. This book has the added benefit for me of being written as fiction, which I find a much easier form for conveying ideas, perspectives and attitudes. I don’t find the topics of industry and economics interesting, so I wasn’t enthusiastic about that part of it. But I do find it fascinating to read the author’s and main characters’ discussions on those topics, and their comparisons between the two time periods. I’ve probably learned more from Looking Backward about the industrial history of the country than in any social studies class I ever endured.

The book was published by Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston and New York, and The Riverside Press, Cambridge. On the copyright page is the phrase “Four hundred and forty-seventh thousand”. Could this be the number of copies?

Sylvester Baxter, Boston journalist and urban planner at the time, wrote the introduction. The front cover and first blank page were signed “W.J. Wilde, Red Deer”, which I assume refers to Red Deer, Alberta, Canada, a town about 150 kilometers north of Calgary. It is called the Memorial Edition because this particular edition was copyrighted by Emma S. Bellamy in 1915 after the author’s death.

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The book begins with an “Author’s Preface” (which is not the author Edward Bellamy, but the author of the “book within a book”), supposedly written on December 26, 2000, in Boston.

“Living as we do in the closing year of the twentieth century, enjoying the blessings of a social order at once so simple and logical that it seems but the triumph of common sense, it is no doubt difficult…to realize that the present organization of society is…less than one century old.” The ancient industrial system “with all its shocking social consequences” had been expected to last to the end of time. “How strange and wellnigh incredible does it seem that so prodigious a moral and material transformation as has taken place since then could have been accomplished in so brief an interval!” The language is so eloquent, music to my cerebral ears.

To summarize the beginning, when a 19th century man named Julian West awakes to find himself in the 21st century under the care of a family in Boston, he begins to explore, question and discuss the changes he sees with the family members. The first and most obvious change he notices from an upper balcony of a three-story home is that the city is obviously now prosperous, full of fine houses, open squares filled with trees, statues and fountains, and public buildings of colossal size and architectural grandeur.

As he questions his host, he learns that the government now operates many locations of the exact same stores for people to obtain food and other consumables. They do not use money; instead, they use a “credit card”. The funds backing the credit card are provided by the government and are distributed equally to every citizen. Employment, then, is not the source of one’s income and buying power; it is each person’s contribution to the cogs of the wheel running an orderly society.

Some refer to this book as utopian, some call the principles in the book socialist or Marxist, many note that it was one of the most popular, important books of its day. According to SparticusEducational.com,

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The novel was highly successful and sold over 1,000,000 copies. It was the third largest bestseller of its time, after Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Ben-Hur. As Bellamy’s biographer, Franklin Rosemont, has pointed out: “The social transformation described in Looking Backward has in turn transformed, or rather liberated, the human personality. In Bellamy’s vision of the year 2000, selfishness, greed, malice, insanity, hypocrisy, lying, apathy, the lust for power, the struggle for existence, and anxiety as to basic human needs are all things of the past.”

I knew the name Bellamy sounded familiar. The author was apparently the cousin of Francis Bellamy, famous for creation of the Pledge of Allegiance.

You can find printed copies of Looking Backward 2000 – 1887 on Amazon, and free ebooks of Edward Ballamy’s book at Gutenberg.org.

[More to come in Part 2 of my review of Looking Backward 2000 – 1887 by Edward Bellamy!]

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Review of Louisa May Alcott’s A Long Fatal Love Chase

Lately I’ve been reading parts of Louisa May Alcott’s journals and poems and, especially in her younger years, she writes with sweetness and light. After all that I’ve read of hers, I am still astounded at her talent for words and her inviting tone. Yet here is another one of her “blood and thunder tales”, swinging to the opposite end of the pendulum, yet never losing the wholesomeness and decency the author is known for.

 

Interesting things happened to me with this novel, which I will talk about later. Here I will give as thorough a summary of A Long Fatal Love Chase as possible without spoilers. If you are like me, and you don’t want any of the important parts revealed, you might want to skip the next two paragraphs and just trust me that this is a novel you must seek out and read.

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This is a love story between an adventurous young woman, Rosamond, who marries an exciting, brooding, mysterious stranger, Tempest, and sails away with him, leaving behind a restricted life with her grandfather. However, she learns that her beloved has not been honest with her, and kept a very important fact from her. Rosamond runs away from him, and hides in a place she believes he will never look for her. She no longer believes he is an upright man, and knows she should be through with him completely; yet she still loves him. He finds her and she flees; he pursues her obsessively. He wears her down with his ability to track her no matter where she goes and to appear out of thin air.

 

Finally, she seems to have lost him. Her life settles into a routine. She is safe living with a woman who is an unexpected, most improbable friend, and enjoying the protection and affection of her devoted priest, Ignatius. But her feeling of security is short-lived. Tempest pursues her when she flees by ship, separating her from the people who had kept her safe, terrifying her. The nightmare she had dreaded and endured for so many years has come true. I won’t tell the ending, but be assured that it is fascinating, unpredictable, and gripping until the last word.

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I always love “visiting” distant countries of the world that are the settings of characters’ lives. We visit England, France and Italy in this novel, originally titled A Modern Mephistopheles, and have the unique advantage of also experiencing life aboard a ship.

I started reading and thoroughly enjoying this book and then lost it. A year later, I found it in the zipper pocket of a suitcase. After a couple weeks I lost it again (honestly, this carelessness with books is not like me; it has never happened before or since), but found it soon after under my car seat (which gave me an image of sitting in my car while waiting for one of my sons to get changed after a hockey game.) At any rate, I’m glad it kept finding me!

Alcott quote

An extraordinary thing happened with A Long Fatal Love Chase. A co-worker and I had been discussing our favorite books, and we realized that we had the same preference for high quality fiction and classic authors. After this talk, we both felt that we had some books the other would like, and agreed to bring one the next day. Even though I felt she might be disappointed that I brought something rather obscure, outdated and melodramatic (and even had a twinge of fear that she might even lose respect for my reading tastes!), I brought A Long Fatal Love Chase to work the next day for her to read. As we pulled our books out of our bags, I could see that she had brought a thick book with an interesting cover. She handed it to me and I laughed. Although a different cover, she had brought me the same book!

 

I give an A+ to this less well-known but high quality 1866 Gothic romance by Louisa May Alcott. You don’t have to cave in to books with vulgarities, brutal violence or overly sensual relationships if you or your adolescent daughter are looking for excitement, drama, danger and tension in your reading. The latter is the kind of book that I enjoy, and this book of Louisa May Alcott’s, as well as the others I’ve previously reviewed*, fit the bill perfectly.

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Remember that a vast amount of Alcott’s writings are available online for free reading.

 

* My other L.M. Alcott book reviews are here…. here…. and here.

 

Book cover images from www.librarything.com

Free Online Writing Retreat starts tomorrow

I just found out that author Vinita Hampden Wright is offering a free week-long online writing retreat starting tomorrow, September 29, 2014. My first reaction at hearing the news (from a fellow fan of Louisa May Alcott) was that a retreat sounded nice (images of a quiet wooded area and hours of free time to ponder and write). However, in reality, the retreat would have to be tacked on after an 8-hour day at work, and most of my evenings this coming week are not “free”. But I think so highly of this author that I decided to sign up for it and make it a priority. The retreat, part of the Deepening Friendships online community at the website of Loyola Press, also appears to touch on journaling which is of special interest to me right now.

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I first “met” Vinita Wright when I read her excellent novel Velma Still Cooks in Leeway. Looking for another of her novels to read, I ran across her non-fiction book The Soul Tells a Story: Engaging Creativity with Spirituality in the Writing Life. As she described her writing life, I felt like she had read my mind. As a result, I was very much encouraged that my quirks and thoughts weren’t as unusual as I’d thought, and could lead to some valuable writing. And even if they were unusual, to have someone of Vinita Wright’s calibre with the same quirks made them seem completely acceptable! I wrote her an email to thank her, and she responded with a warm reply.

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I trust her wisdom, and highly recommend checking out her online presence as well as her books. Hope to see you at the retreat!

Review of Celebrating Milestones by Adeola Adekugbe

Did you celebrate your 40th birthday by writing a book? Adeola Adekugbe did! She decided to commemorate the occasion by thanking the many people who have impacted her life and helped her along the way to become the woman that she is today. I love that!

Adeola prefaces her book by referring to the poem titled “Reason, Season, and a Lifetime”, which had a big effect on her as it helped her to understand her relationships. She also notes, “The Bible says we should ‘give to everyone what you owe them…if honor, then honor.’” Here in this book is her tribute to them.

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We begin by meeting her large family. She defines family as people who are not necessarily related to her by blood, but by heart and spirit. Adeola, born in Lagos, Nigeria, gives an especially loving tribute to both of her parents. As she does for the many people throughout the book, she writes a sentence or two summarizing what she admires most about her father and mother, and how they blessed her. We then go with her to a boarding school in Manchester, England, one of the most difficult times in her young life, and through her teen years. Adeola relates how she first came to trust Jesus as her Savior, and tells about the people who most influenced her life at that time, including her pastor and husband. Coming to Calgary was a new chapter in her and her family’s lives, and it brought many new relationships to appreciate. It is a joy to read her loving words about her children.

This woman has now become a wife, mother, leader, philanthropist, and life coach. She closes her memoir with gestures typical of her generous heart: a list of suggested organizations that people may want to donate to in honor of their own 40th birthday, and songs about God’s faithfulness. Her hope is that Celebrating Milestones blesses her readers, and encourages them to look around and appreciate those who have impacted and molded them.

Pastor Ben Adekugbe, Senior Pastor of Calgary World Harvest Christian Centre, Alberta, Canada, wrote the forward to the book, and says these words about it:

 Often times, great acts of courage, love and compassion by ordinary people come across as being ignored until after the person has passed on. It is far more rewarding to appreciate them while they are alive…It goes beyond appreciation; it is a book that inspires hope and courage in the individual, it helps us understand that there are no “chance meetings” in life but opportunities to contribute to history…I pray this book will bring healing to those hurting and give them the courage to be whatever God has called them to be or achieve, to the glory of His name.

 I found this book to be a kind and creative approach to celebrating the beginning of a life, and an inspiration to look at my own life with appreciation for the many people who God placed in it, at the just the right times and places.

You can find Celebrating Milestones: 40 Years of Great Influence on Amazon, and you can visit Adeola’s websites at:

Adeola Coaching Services – www.adeola.org

All Woman Ministry – www.allwoman.ca

 

What to Read Next?

How do you decide what to read? Do you scan the latest bestseller lists? Do you have a library of unread books where you just close your eyes and reach for one? Does a friend inspire you to read the great book they just finished?

I had a lot of time to ponder this question when I was supervising a test at school. I realized, after having moved among the students with nothing to occupy my mind for several hours, that I don’t have a very good way of choosing my next book.

I love to browse physical shelves of books, touch the books, open the covers and flip through them. So, sitting on my book shelves I have a load of random books that are a result of “impulse buying”: they caught my eye and ignited my curiosity (and were too good of a deal to pass up!). I also love to browse online bookstores and making wish lists. It’s exciting to me how many different kinds of texts exist, and I want to read so many of them.  And that’s how I’ve been choosing what to read next.

But I just ran across my very old list of books that includes classics, award-winners and recommendations by friends, the media, the church, the library or websites I visit. I forgot about my Books to Read List because I stopped carrying it in my wallet. It got too long (to get all the titles typed on both sides of a single sheet of paper, which could fold to fit in my wallet, it had to be a 9-point font), and I didn’t seem to have much time to read anyway.  Even though the books I look at every day at home look like excellent books, I resolved that I was going to return to my list, as it is far less impulsive.

Image by Eder Capobianco, Flickr

Classic Novels – Image by Eder Capobianco, Flickr

I generally try to read books that will have eternal value, and change me for the better.  I think fiction affects me more than non-fiction, but it has to be well-written fiction. Classic novels seem trustworthy choices for quality fiction, and when I run across references to classic novels that I haven’t read, it bothers me to be missing so many stories that have stood the test of time for hundreds of years. So a section of my Books to Read List developed by browsing lists of the best books, such as the ones I found in the Appendix of James Wood’s book How Fiction Works, or an online list, such as Open Culture’s list of “The 10 Greatest Books Ever, According to 125 Top Authors”. I take great pleasure in the rare times I can tick off another one from this list of distinguished, admired books from authors around the world.

So what to read this summer? One fiction book from my Books to Read List is Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. I have planned to read it ever since my son read and discussed it with me when he was in junior high school (about fifteen years ago). Not only that, the movie is out, and I don’t want to watch the movie until I’ve read the book, so the pressure’s on. Les Miserables is on the top of my fiction list.  I have recently started reading it on my Kindle, and with my larger font preference, I seem to be making slow progress! I get a bit overwhelmed when reading a huge book, but am staying interested.

For my next non-fiction book, I’m reading a book recommended to me by a friend, What are You Afraid Of? by David Jeremiah, with the hope of taking a frank look at my fears, and my faith. I’ve checked it out of the library and am about a fifth the way through it. So far, it is practical and straightforward yet empathetic.

What are at the top of your lists? What is the best book you’ve ever read? I’d love to read your comments.

Louisa May Alcott’s First Novel, The Inheritance

Written in 1849, first discovered in 1988 and published in 1997, The Inheritance, as expected, is a breath of fresh air. This is no surprise, considering the era in which it was written, when writers consistently wrote with dignity, delicacy, insight, and restraint. It is considered Alcott’s first novel, written when she was only seventeen years old.

 

My first reaction, as the plot unfolded, was that this story reminded me of MansfieldPark, by Jane Austin. In both stories, the heroine, a poor girl of low status with the highest of character, is indebted to the unkind head of the household, but is befriended and defended by the hero, a rich, honorable authority in the household. The ending was a bit common and predictable, but the details, reactions and the uprightness of her characters were not.

 

It’s a lovely book, but not perfect. I wouldn’t usually be excited about reading a novel that began with a detailed description of a house and its landscape, yet the opening sentences show that this type of flowery description must have been popular in that time:

 

“In a green park, where troops of bright-eyed deer lay sleeping under drooping trees and a clear lake mirrored in its bosom the flowers that grew upon its edge, there stood Lord Hamilton’s stately home, half castle and half mansion. Here and there rose a gray old tower or ivy-covered arch, while the blooming gardens that lay around it and the light balconies added grace and beauty to the old, decaying castle, making it a fair and pleasant home. The setting sun shone warmly…”

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During the first third of the book I was actually impatient, because we were seeing scene after scene which demonstrated with exaggeration just how good and sweet and self-sacrificing Edith Adelon is, how much the same is Lord Percy, and how much he loves Edith from the start. It’s a little too much for me, when a man reacts so decidedly, so quickly, toward a woman. And it is always hard to get into one of these eighteenth or nineteenth century stories about people who sit around all day, looking for ways to amuse themselves, because none of them has any kind of job or responsibilities to speak of. (Even if they are rich, don’t they have some contribution to make to the household or society?)

 

Again, the author shows her mastery of suspense. As soon as the conversations start, and we find out something tragic happened to the awaited Lord Percy, and we start to see the envy and evil in Ida, it is impossible to put down. The good and evil are sharpened, and go to extremes as the story goes on, and the reader can hardly believe (in a good sense!) how rotten some characters can be and how angelic and suffering Edith can be.

 

A little mystery is added with the arrival of an unidentified elderly man, and soon after Edith burns all chances of ever having any financial security or standing in life. We are in awe of her complete lack of selfishness, and frightened at such a level of undeserved trust.

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I enjoyed every page of this high quality book. But what makes it so extraordinary?

 

First, the focus of the heroine is different from that of a typical contemporary book: instead of seeking love, security, power, respect, revenge, or any other “worthy” goal (by some standards), Edith seeks the good of others. She seeks to serve and to sacrifice, and she is grateful, humble, gentle, truthful, and disciplined. How uplifting.

 

Second, she admires a man with the same qualities as her. Most contemporary heroines admire a man who has wealth, power, prestige, and good looks, but rarely does the heroine know much about his moral character and inner strength and convictions. Edith respects a man who respects her. The concept of “love” in this period of books is also different. Love in The Inheritance is based on what is inside, instead of what is on the outside.

 

Third, the expression of love is in good deeds and kindnesses in this novel, whereas contemporary fiction usually shows love expressed in sensual physical contact.

 

The fourth extraordinary quality relates to my pet peeve with fiction, a lack of believability. Although it is certainly made up of idealistic, romantic characters, I found the dialogue, plot and events realistic and natural.

 

This widely available book is a treasure, ideal for a young girl. An A+.

 

An interesting note: according to the scholars who found the manuscript in Harvard’s Houghton Library in 1988, The Inheritance is the novel Jo March writes in Little Women. To read an interesting article about the discovery of this manuscript, click here.

5 Hours in the Library and No Reading Allowed

Our grade 12 students did their final exams last week and I helped supervise the tests. I was with students in the library, and as supervisors, our job is to move among the students to ensure security, so we are not allowed to sit, catch up on our work, or check emails. Or read!

 

After several hours, most students had finished and left, and there were only a handful remaining which were well spaced apart. As I cruised in circles around the library, I began to scan the sets of books stacked on the counters and in the returns carts as I walked by. MacBeth, To Kill a Mockingbird, Life of Pi, Tuesdays with Morrie, War Child, A Long Way Gone, The Kite Runner, Of Mice and Men, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. How many of these had I read?

 

I mentally ticked off A Long Way Gone, as this was our school-wide reading project this year, a first hand account of the horrors of life as a child soldier in Africa. I’d read MacBeth when I was in high school, and more recently read Life of Pi, Tuesdays with Morrie, and Of Mice and Men, so I ticked those off, too. It was tempting to try to read one of the others on the sly during the next hour or so.

 

Soon there was one student left, and I found myself scanning all the shelves. Did they have any 808.02 books (writing books)? (To my disappointment, they did not.) What could a book called Guns, Germs and Steel be about? There were many intriguing titles. I found a sticky note and jotted down some of them to add to my reading list.

 

On the counter I also saw a sign that said “Summer Reading”, and nabbed one of the sheets of paper in the box. I was happy to see that I’d read a few of the ones on the list (but not many), and now have more recommendations of new works to balance out my many old books that I’ve recently acquired.

 

Here are the books that one teacher is recommending to our students. See how many you’ve read. Should they be on a list of top-notch books? Did you enjoy them, or not? Do any of the others strike your interest?

 

1984 – Orwell

The AshGarden – Bock

The Bean Trees – Kingsolver

The Chosen – Potok

Crime and Punishment – Dostoevsky

CrowLake – Lawson

Davita’s Harp – Potok

Fifth Business – Davies

The Grapes of Wrath – Steinbeck

Great Expectations – Dickens

The Great Gatsby – Fitzgerald

Heart of Darkness – Conrad

The Hero’s Walk – Badami

The Kite Runner – Hosseini

House of the Spirits – Allende

The Lovely Bones – Sebold

Life of Pi – Martel

The Metamorphosis – Kafta

Monsignor Quixote – Greene

The Mosquito Coast – Theroux

My Name is Asher Lev – Potok

Frankenstein – Shelley

No Great Mischief – MacLeod

Obasan – Kogawa

The Outsider – Camus

The Poisonwood Bible – Kingsolver

Pride and Prejudice – Austen

A Separate Peace – Knowles

Snow Falling on Cedars – Guterson

The Stone Angel – Laurence

Things Fall Apart – Achebe

Under the Ribs of Death – Marlyn

The Wars – Findley

Wild Geese – Ostenso

Windflower – Roy

WutheringHeights – Bronte

Hamlet, King Lear, Othello, MacBeth, The Tempest – Shakespeare

 

Happy Summer Reading!

Louisa May Alcott’s Pauline’s Passion and Punishment

“To and fro, like a wild creature in its cage, paced that handsome woman, with bent head, locked hands, and restless steps.”

 

We know Louisa May Alcott by her most popular books showing life in the late 1800’s that give us a safe, warm feeling. Most are stories of the March family: Jo’s Boys, Eight Cousins, Good Wives, and the best-known Little Women and Little Men. In my Books Read binder, however, are some lesser-known tales by Alcott.

 

In addition to Behind a Mask, originally entitled A Woman’s Power, which I wrote about previously, Alcott wrote another captivating story with a nasty, tragic “heroine” called Pauline’s Passion and Punishment. It is a story of bitter revenge, intensely focused and planned. What morally deprived women the author contrives! However, the redeeming quality of these books is that each story shows clearly the natural consequences of such evil.

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Pauline is jilted by her beloved Gilbert and plans revenge by taking a kind young man, Manuel, as her husband. Manuel is deeply in love with her and agrees to marry her even after she explains honestly that her primary motive for marrying is to use him to make her former beau insanely jealous and remorseful. She even warns him that the prospects of her ever being a happy, loving wife for him are slim and empty. Both characters lost a lot of credibility for me at this point, and made me wonder if it also affected the nineteenth century readers the same way, but also reminded me that it is holding true to the intended story form of melodrama.

 

Pauline’s plan works perfectly and Gilbert desperately wants her back, even planning to leave his wife. In the meantime, Manuel meets and grows close to Gilbert’s wife. This part made it nearly impossible for me to finish reading, as it gets worse and worse, more horrible and tragic with each page. That is where I’ll leave off in relating the plot, but be assured that Alcott provides some literary “satisfaction” in the end, a good transformation, which was a great relief to this reader.

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As in Alcott’s other books, we are still safe in knowing that we won’t have the unpleasant shock of reading offensive material, just a suspenseful and truly well-written story. As I did for Behind a Mask, I give this novelette an A for entertainment value and for a realistic moral message, but a D if you’re looking for wholesome, commendable characters.

 

Published in 1863, I believe this was also written using the pseudonym A. M. Barnard. Pauline’s Passion and Punishment is contained in the anthology Behind a Mask: The Unknown Thrillers of Louisa May Alcott, as well as other anthologies. It can be found on Amazon, and for free through several websites offering classic literature, such as www.gutenberg.org.

The Versatility of Louisa May Alcott: Behind a Mask

Little Women, Little Men, Jo’s Boys, Eight Cousins, Good Wives. We know Louisa May Alcott by her most popular books, stories of the March family, depicting life in the late 1800’s that give us a safe, warm feeling. In my Books Read binder, however, are some lesser-known tales by Alcott.

 

One of these stories is Behind a Mask, originally entitled A Woman’s Power. It was apparently written using the pseudonym A. M. Barnard in 1866 during a time of economic trouble for the Alcott family. The author entered the manuscript into a contest and won one hundred dollars for it, which would be worth about $2,500 today.

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I actually skimmed this novelette first, and my first impression was that it looked boring. Nevertheless, I was intrigued by the idea of an author with such a sweet reputation writing what the cover claimed were “blood and thunder tales” created by the “gruesome, gory, passionate, darker side of the writer…” So as happens often, when I actually started reading it word for word, it captured my attention and it was a discipline to put down.

 

All during the first chapters I felt like something was strange and a bit disjointed. Alcott drops little hints, and I became increasingly nervous and couldn’t wait to find out what was really taking place. In this mysterious tale, many relationships develop that build the suspense—some you didn’t want and you wished you could warn the characters away from them. With her typical talent for drawing us into her fictional world with men and women we want to spend time with, in this book we also enter into a dangerous adventure with the antagonist. We hold our breath for most of the story, and yet are still not plunged into a sordid playing out of base immorality, foul language or complete abandonment of propriety, as too many contemporary novels unnecessarily subject us to. It takes genuine talent to accomplish that, and I admire Alcott for this work.

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To give an idea of the premise, young, shy Jean Muir comes from Scotland to the Coventry household and joins the family as governess for Bella, yet no one can be comfortable or entirely sure about her. She was recommended by Lady Sydney, but the reasons why she left the Sydney family are a mystery. As she flirts with the men and the women become jealous, some love her, some hate her, the rest are tentative and wary. I’d spoil it if I told much more, but I’ll add that I’ve never been so gripped by a book that was filled with so much secrecy, manipulation and malevolence. I give it an A for entertainment value, but lest you consider buying it for your daughter, I give it a D for the lack of wholesome, admirable characters that you’d like your child to emulate!

 

Have you read this book, or Louisa May Alcott’s other thrillers?

 

Behind a Mask is available on Amazon as part of a set of Alcott’s novelettes, and for free through several websites offering classic literature, such as www.gutenberg.org .

Alcott Behind a M bk cvr

[Next review of Louisa May Alcott: Pauline’s Passion and Punishment]

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