A visit to Chicago not long after the Chicago Fire of October 8, 1871–151 years ago today–touched the heart of the author, Edward Payson Roe, and inspired him to write this novel, published in 1872.
He seems to have asked himself:
How would people respond in a crisis that affected a community regardless of social rank, and how would the tragedy change them and their community, for better or worse?
How important are some of our typical pursuits—pleasure, popularity, recognition, wealth, and entertainment–compared to a day-by-day inner awareness of our value as a human being, our purpose on this earth, a sense of peace, and a realistic, solid basis of hope and security?
This is quite an extraordinary novel, and I LOVED IT. So much so that I now have this and several other E.P. Roe novels on my Kindle. (And I have given my used hardcover copy to a dear friend who loved the last 19th century novel I gave her!)
It is a detailed book about one of the things in our lives that we don’t necessarily focus on, but which is one of the most important: our spiritual life.
In this story a young man, Dennis, needs to leave his struggling family so he can make money to support them. He leaves his quiet rural area and moves to Chicago, one of the largest cities in the U.S. in 1871, when the story takes place.
Dennis and Christine work together at an art gallery, and have similar interests in art, including creating their own paintings. She and her father (the owner) are from a very wealthy European family, and look down on the newly hired young man with the worn-out clothes. Naturally Dennis is frustrated by that, but his value system isn’t based on popularity and people-pleasing, and he can still be relatively content at work while he earns enough to live on.
He has a heart of gold, and if he finds someone in his neighborhood or place of work that he can help, he pours his heart into it. So even in the unfriendly city he is never without genuine friends that support him.
In time, Christine and the others at work are impressed by Dennis’s kindnesses, and the way Dennis respects himself. They notice he doesn’t compromise his values by mistreating them, regardless of how disrespectfully they treat him.
When Christine pretends to be falling in love with him in order to use him for her own purposes, Dennis calls her on it, scolding her for her rudeness and manipulation. It may be the first time in her life that she hears the truth about herself. She is further frustrated by her artistic limitations, seeming to be unable to paint an authentic expression of love on her canvas. She takes to heart Dennis’s words: “The stream cannot rise higher than its fountain.”
Dennis becomes seriously ill and is away from work for a while. During that time Christine realizes how much she cares for him, but her artistic and social ambitions take precedence over a relationship.
Then… the fire rages through Chicago with complete disregard to social status, providing a crucible for burning up the dross in many lives.
Where to find the book
The fact that it is so prevalent online attests to its past and present popularity.
I feel sad to realize that for the first time in my life, this gracious, dignified, warm woman is not on this earth with us. I have so respected her, and felt comforted by her leadership, constancy and dignified reign.
I am thankful for the memorials I’ve witnessed recently, from a British flag at half-mast in my neighborhood, to a beautiful commemorative ceremony held in my province on the grounds of the Alberta legislature in Edmonton to honor her life and legacy. The verses from the Poet Laureate are lovely. One prayer included the words “unwearied devotion to duty,” what a perfect description. Through these I feel I have joined others who mourn her all around the world.
Thank you dear Lord for giving her such a long life, and 70 years’ reign as a gift to the world. Please bless the King of England with great wisdom, power and guidance which are so very necessary to that nation, and to all nations which it touches. Be merciful to all the nations, Lord, we need You so much at this time. Let your truth and peace permeate all peoples on the earth through Jesus your Son. Amen.
Gesta Romanorum is Latin for “Deeds of the Romans”, which makes it sound like this book is a narration of the early culture of Rome, its history and battles.
However, it is actually a Latin compilation of morality stories believed to be written approximately at the end of the 13th century.
There are 181 stories. I have read a number of the tales, which range from half a page to several pages long, and found them interesting and easy to read. The simple plots center around royalty, family, daring exploits, rescues, faith, good morals, courage, and loyalty.
The stories have a pattern: the tale number, title and text of the tale, followed by an explanation for the “beloved” reader of the story’s deeper meaning, from a spiritual perspective.
The book’s main claim to fame is as a source of later works by Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare and others. It was apparently one of the most popular books of the time and some consider these to be some of the first short stories published.
It’s an interesting little book. My little green hardcover copy, which I found at a thrift store, was published in 1877. What fascinates me the most is how arduously these tales were originally recorded eight centuries ago, preserved, and are now readily available for anyone to read today.
…invented by monks as a fireside recreation and commonly applied in their discourses from the pulpit : whence the most celebrated of our own poets and others, from the earliest times, have extracted their plots
from the title page of Gesta Romanorum
“They” (the Monks) might be disposed occasionally to recreate their minds with subjects of a light and amusing nature; and what could be more innocent or delightful than the stories of the GESTA ROMANORUM?”
Douce’s Illustrations of Shakespeare
A tremendous amount of research has been done regarding its origins. The first 68 pages of my copy consist of an 11-page Preface about the origins, translation, revision and printings of the book; the Introduction, including14 pages on the History of Romantic Fabling and 4 pages about the history of the stories in Gesta Romanorum; 30 pages of “Annexed Tales”, and finally, a 10-page table of contents (“Outlines of the Tales”). More notes are included after the tales (which appear to be Swan’s notes).
After Tale number CLXXXI (181) on page 349 is a final note–from the original, not from the editor:
Remarkable Histories, from the Gesta Romanorum, combined with numerous moral and mystical applications, treating of vices and virtues, Printed and diligently revised, at the expense of that provident and circumspect man, John Rynman, of Oringaw; at the workshop of Henry Gran, citizen of the imperial town of Hagenaw, concluded happily, in the year of our safety, one thousand five hundred and eight: March the 20th.
Page after the final tale, Tale CLXXXI
It’s fascinating to touch medieval history through this book! I highly recommend having a look at Gesta Romanorum.
The actual book and plenty of information are easily available online. Wikisource offers an excellent eBook of the 1871 version in two volumes, Volume 1 and Volume 2. Project Gutenberg offers what looks to be only a selection of stories from the original, called Tales from the Gesta Romanorum (which is completely different from my version, but looks interesting and easy to read); the 1845 version of this book for free, here. If you’re interested in getting a hardcopy, as an example, my 1877 hardcover copy sells for about $18.00 USD on Abe Books.
We love stories, and I would guess that most of the time we are reading stories, or watching them unfold visually in a movie.
But yesterday I experienced something new and surprisingly enjoyable, a storytelling performance!
Storytelling, according to one definition, is the social and cultural activity of sharing stories, sometimes with improvisation, theatrics or embellishment. Every culture has its own stories or narratives, which are shared as a means of entertainment, education, cultural preservation or instilling moral values.
I am travelling in the Southeast U.S. and am near Jonesborough, Tennessee, a community established in 1779, where storytelling enthusiasts gather at the International Storytelling Center.
Every October since 1973, thousands of travelers have visited Jonesboro, Tennessee’s oldest town, to hear stories and to tell them at the National Storytelling Festival.
Storytelling Live! also runs in the afternoons every May to October.
I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the performance, because I generally don’t choose activities that focus on listening, as I tend to be a visual person and am easily distracted by images and movement.
But what made Sam Payne’s performance especially enjoyable was hearing simple stories of his life and family, the varying lilt and volume of his rich voice, his excellent guitar skills, and his intermittent songs (all of which he had written), which were folksy, winsome and comforting.
Sam also shared several stories of creating his art just before the deadline. That inspired me, because his “last-minute” creations were excellent!
I’m sure he has polished them as he presents them, but the fact that he finished them just before performing them, gives this last-minute-deadline writer hope that I, too, can continue to create and finish some worthy pieces!
Here is a photo of me near the Storytelling Center, at the Washington County Courthouse in Jonesboro.
I love the sign on the bench! It says, “Love one another and always be kind! In loving memory of Alfred Greenlee. Never forgotten.” (Alfred Greenlee was a Deacon at Bethel Christian Church in Jonesborough, TN.)
If you haven’t yet had the pleasure of listening to a storyteller, I recommend it!
I can’t say enough about the riches found in Project Gutenberg! I have found, downloaded and happily read loads of their books in Kindle format, online, or in pdf form–ALL for FREE.
Here I want to whet your appetite by pointing you to some lists of books. But before you delve into the lists below, keep in mind that you can subscribe to their monthly newsletter here, and learn some of the historyof their beginnings starting in 1971.
Go ahead and dive into one of these books that you’ve heard of and always meant to read. Challenge yourself to read straight through to at least the end of the first chapter before you decide whether to keep reading or not.
I have done that challenge many, many times with classic books that I was convinced would be dry and dense, and repeatedly been pleasantly surprised by how quickly I became engaged in the story, and what an uplifting experience it was through to the end!
Whether you need a certain classic, or are just looking for your next quality read, here are the top books as of today in their “Best Books Ever” category, sorted by popularity. (Check out my recommendations after the lists!)
I concur with the recommendations of …
Pride and Prejudice (believe me, the book is far better than any of the movie adaptations!),
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (my sons laughed throughout the book as I read it out loud for bedtime),
Great Expectations (had to read it for high school and assumed it would be awful, but it turned out I just couldn’t put it down, loved it),
Treasure Island (not just for boys! this middle-aged woman loved it)
[However, I did not enjoy reading Heart of Darkness. It was miserable and depressing and I didn’t find any redeeming qualities to make the misery worthwhile.]
Looking for a top quality author? Or more to read by a favorite author?
Check out their Top 100 Authors listing below. Here’s the listingfor the past 30 days (showing how many downloads in parentheses).
I have taken the liberty of highlighting authors I am familiar with, who–in MY opinion–are well worth checking out! Dickens, Charles (81172) Austen, Jane (80746) Doyle, Arthur Conan (61764) Rizal, José (53999) Twain, Mark (53385) Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft (52126) Wilde, Oscar (52108) Carroll, Lewis (42389) Shakespeare, William (39548) Stevenson, Robert Louis (36602) Dostoyevsky, Fyodor (32567) Tolstoy, Leo, graf (31347) Wells, H. G. (Herbert George) (31254) Garnett, Constance (30801) Fitzgerald, F. Scott (Francis Scott) (26219) Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm (25917) Stoker, Bram (25517) Melville, Herman (25289) Homer (24437) Swift, Jonathan (24071) Joyce, James (23551) Ibsen, Henrik (23352) Dumas, Alexandre (22586) Verne, Jules (21986) Baum, L. Frank (Lyman Frank) (21911) Derbyshire, Charles E. (20733) Hawthorne, Nathaniel (20472) Poe, Edgar Allan (20391) Plato (20198) Conrad, Joseph (20073) Montgomery, L. M. (Lucy Maud) (20052) Kipling, Rudyard (19601) Jowett, Benjamin (18832) Poblete, Pascual Hicaro (18331) Doré, Gustave (17892) Maude, Aylmer (17481) Gilman, Charlotte Perkins (17243) London, Jack (17154) Dante Alighieri (17126) Kafka, Franz (16810) Maude, Louise (16807) Hugo, Victor (16457) Russell, Bertrand (16273) James, Henry (15588) Chesterton, G. K. (Gilbert Keith) (15522) Brontë, Charlotte (15493) Lang, Andrew (15453) Alcott, Louisa May (15174) Christie, Agatha (15079) Grimm, Jacob (14913) Grimm, Wilhelm (14913) Wyllie, David (Translator) (14731) Pope, Alexander (14606) Widger, David (14370) Shaw, Bernard (14218) Smith, George O. (George Oliver) (13910) Cervantes Saavedra, Miguel de (13495) Chekhov, Anton Pavlovich (13465) Townsend, F. H. (Frederick Henry) (13061) Wodehouse, P. G. (Pelham Grenville) (12939) Defoe, Daniel (12384) Kemble, E. W. (Edward Windsor) (12317) Barrie, J. M. (James Matthew) (12303) Thoreau, Henry David (12279) Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von (12162) Butler, Samuel (12038) Balzac, Honoré de (12009) Morley, Henry (11852) Machiavelli, Niccolò (11814) Burnett, Frances Hodgson (11444) Leech, John (11381) Thompson, Max C. (11273) Craig, Austin (11177) Hapgood, Isabel Florence (10761) Hardy, Thomas (10757) Emshwiller, Ed (10504) Foote, Mary Hallock (10472) Maupassant, Guy de (10459) Marriott, W. K. (William Kenaz) (10443) Scott, Walter (10377) Burton, Richard Francis, Sir (10361) Ipsen, Ludvig Sandöe (10344) Anthony, A. V. S. (Andrew Varick Stout) (10344) Mariano, Patricio (10191) Bacon, Alice Mabel (10092) Du Bois, W. E. B. (William Edward Burghardt) (10064) Irving, Washington (10058) Wharton, Edith (9947) Buckley, Theodore Alois (9908) Cary, Henry Francis (9638) Robertson, James Alexander (9558) Ormsby, John (9378) Milne, A. A. (Alan Alexander) (9168) Burgess, Thornton W. (Thornton Waldo) (9006) Eliot, George (8998) Ogden, C. K. (Charles Kay) (8808) Wittgenstein, Ludwig (8770) Blair, Emma Helen (8735) Burroughs, Edgar Rice (8671) Bourne, Edward Gaylord (8592)
Both are now looking for volunteers and donations.
RESET Society of Calgary
I have found a larger selection of vintage books here, and there is the added bonus of the sale being held beside a huge farmer’s market!
About these great organizations…
RESET Society of Calgary (formerly Servants Anonymous Society), through one-on-one intensive case management in its EXIT (EXploitation, Intervention and Transition) Program, supports women as young as 16, with or without children, as they exit from sexual exploitation.
RESET provides immediate and safe supportive housing allowing women to stabilize and begin the process of healing, and supports each woman’s progress through transitional housing to independent living as the women graduate through the program. You can learn more about their impact here.
Calgary READS’ impact on Calgary’s children is enormous, as it provides help for increasing literacy through proceeds raised by selling huge quantities of joy: the joy of reading books!
The organization is committed to working with parents, educators, corporate partners, and the community at large to foster a joyful relationship with reading in all children, in Calgary and beyond. In a previous year, through the generosity of Calgarians and their amazing volunteers, they received, sorted and sold over 100,000 gently used books and raised over $300,000 for Calgary READS.
As I was enjoying a short story by Louisa May Alcott, I found spirited conversations among the characters about reading and writing. I seriously doubt that it was the author’s intention to pass along writing tips in her story, but I got a kick out of the subtle wisdom and commentaries on the writing life included in the dialogue!
No doubt many fiction writers have received responses similar to the ones below, even from well-meaning non-authors. And maybe there’s some truth in them! You decide…
A little background to the story: Sophie’s aunt had invited her to visit for several weeks in “the wilds of Vermont”, and Sophie in turn invites some of her city friends to join her during the holiday. The friends arrive and meet Saul, who works on the farm. They invite him to share his war experiences with Randal, one of their friends from the city…
* * * *
It took you how long to write your novel?!
Saul responds politely to their request. “When I’ve foddered the cattle and done my chores I’d be pleased to. What regiment were you in?” asked Saul.
Randal replied, “In none. I was abroad at the time.”
“No, busy with a novel.”
“Took four years to write it?”
“I was obliged to travel and study before I could finish it. These things take more time to work up than outsiders would believe.”
“Seems to me our war was a finer story than any you could find in Europe, and the best way to study it would be to fight it out. If you want heroes and heroines you’d have found plenty of ’em there.”
A pleasant surprise, and appreciation for novels
“Tell us about your book, we have been reading it as it comes out in the magazine, and are much exercised about how it’s going to end,” began Saul.
“Do you really read my poor serial up here, and do me the honor to like it?” asked the novelist, both flattered and amused, for his work was of the aesthetic sort, microscopic studies of character, and careful pictures of modern life.
“Sakes alive, why shouldn’t we?” cried Aunt Plumy. [For Aunt Plumy I translate from the colloquial] “We have some education…a town library…magazines…Our winter is long and evenings would be kind of lonesome if we didn’t have novels and newspapers to cheer ’em up.”
Randal replies, “I am very glad I can help to beguile them for you. Now tell me what you honestly think of my work? Criticism is always valuable, and I should really like yours, Mrs. Basset,” said Randal, wondering what the good woman would make of the delicate analysis and worldly wisdom on which he prided himself.
“Criticism is always valuable to an author”… unless…
Aunt Plumy…rather enjoyed freeing her mind at all times, and decidedly resented the insinuation that country folk could not appreciate light literature as well as city people. “I’m not a great judge…but it really does seem as if some of your men and women are dreadfully uncomfortable creatures.
It seems to me it isn’t wise to be always picking ourselves to pieces and prying into things that ought to come gradually by way of experience and the visitations of Providence. Flowers won’t bloom…if you pull them open. It’s better to wait and see what they can do alone.”
Aunt Plumy continued. “I do feel as if books would be more sustaining if they were full of every-day people and things, like good bread and butter. The books that go to the heart and aren’t soon forgotten are the kind I like. Miss Terry’s books*, now, and Miss Stowe’s, and Dickens’s Christmas pieces, they are real sweet and cheering, to my mind.”
Randal… was quite composed and laughed good-naturedly, though secretly feeling as if a pail of cold water had been poured over him.
[* Just a short note, Miss [Harriet Beecher] Stowe and Dickens we’ve heard of, but I was curious about who “Miss Terry” could be. I believe she could have been the author Rose Terry Cook (1827-1892) who lived in Connecticut, the next-door state to where Alcott lived. And Cook was related to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who Alcott’s parents knew.]
Differing opinions about making a living
Randal responds, “Many thanks, madam; you have discovered my weak point with surprising accuracy. But you see I cannot help ‘picking folks to pieces,’ as you have expressed it; that is my gift, and it has its attractions, as the sale of my books will testify. People like the ‘spice-bread,’ and as that is the only sort my oven will bake, I must keep on in order to make my living.”
Aunt Plumy adds, “So rum-sellers say, but it ain’t a good trade to follow, and I’d chop wood before I’d earn my living harming my fellow man.
I’d let my oven cool a spell, and hunt up some homely, happy folks to write about; folks that don’t borrow trouble and go looking for holes in their neighbors’ coats, but take their lives brave and cheerful; and remembering we are all human, have pity on the weak, and try to be as full of mercy, patience and loving kindness as Him who made us.
That sort of a book would do a heap of good; be real warming and strengthening and make them that read it love the man that wrote it, and remember him when he was dead and gone.”
A frustrated author, realizes he’s not writing what he wants to write
“I wish I could!” and Randal meant what he said, for he was as tired of his own style as a watch-maker might be of the magnifying glass through which he strains his eyes all day. He knew that the heart was left out of his work, and that both mind and soul were growing morbid with dwelling on the faulty, absurd and metaphysical phases of life and character.
He often threw down his pen and vowed he would write no more; but he loved ease and the books brought money readily; he was accustomed to the stimulant of praise and missed it as the toper [drinker] misses his wine, so that which had once been a pleasure to himself and others was fast becoming a burden and a disappointment.
The joy of unexpected support
The brief pause which followed his involuntary betrayal of discontent was broken by Ruth, who exclaimed, with a girlish enthusiasm that overpowered girlish bashfulness, “I think all the novels are splendid! I hope you will write hundreds more, and I shall live to read ’em.”
“Bravo, my gentle champion! I promise that I will write one more at least, and have a heroine in it whom your mother will both admire and love,” answered Randal, surprised to find how grateful he was for the girl’s approval, and how rapidly his trained fancy began to paint the background on which he hoped to copy this fresh, human daisy.
Saul brought the conversation back to its starting point by saying in a tone of the most sincere interest, “Speaking of the serial, I am very anxious to know how your hero comes out. He is a fine fellow, and I can’t decide whether he is going to spoil his life marrying that silly woman, or do something grand and generous, and not be made a fool of.”
How does an author know how to end the story?
“Upon my soul,” Randal said, “I don’t know myself. It is very hard to find new finales. Can’t you suggest something, Major? Then I shall not be obliged to leave my story without an end, as people complain I am rather fond of doing.”
“Well, no, I don’t think I’ve anything to offer. Seems to me it isn’t the sensational exploits that show the hero best, but some great sacrifice quietly made by a common sort of man who is noble without knowing it. I saw a good many such during the war, and often wish I could write them down, for it is surprising how much courage, goodness and real piety is stowed away in common folks ready to show when the right time comes.”
“Tell us one of them, and I’ll bless you for a hint. No one knows the anguish of an author’s spirit when he can’t ring down the curtain on an effective tableau,” said Randal.
* * * *
Thank you, Miss Alcott, for sharing your wisdom in such an entertaining way!
Was that helpful or inspiring? I hope if nothing else, you got a chuckle!
My favorite lines:
Now tell me honestly what you think of my work.
…Flowers won’t bloom if you pull them open.
…That sort of a book would do a heap of good; be real warming and strengthening.
People like the ‘spice-bread,’ and …that is the only sort my oven will bake…
He often threw down his pen and vowed he would write no more.
Louisa May Alcott’s characters
If you care to read the whole short story, you can find the pdf online by going here to find Alcott’s short stories, then search for “A Country Christmas”.
I was also interested to find a letter that Louisa May Alcott wrote to a fan who asked for her advice on achieving success.
And here, a blogger gleans writing lessons from Louisa May Alcott’s journal, along with secrets to her success.
It’s February, the month we celebrate love, and here is a most fitting book to celebrate.
Celia Bassingdale was about to take a long journey—the longest on earth—from the unreal to the real.
Celia’s romantic interest in a young man (whom her grandfather was convinced was only after the fortune she would inherit when he died) prompted a bitter argument between her mother and grandfather. Attempting to right his wrongs, and help build some strong, admirable character in his granddaughter–even at the risk of losing the affection of this beloved girl forever–Grandfather decides to tear Celia away from her sweetheart. He sends her to live with his poor relatives, the Wallerby’s, who are hardworking, respectable people. Furious, she vows never to speak to her Grandfather again.
Celia struggles to meet the challenge of being forced to leave her comfy life to live with strangers. Yet she comes to admire the devotion this family and community have for each other, and their joy in spite of the hard sacrifices they must make. The women of the town’s wealthy society spread ugly, hurtful rumors about her, and twist her good intentions into appearing to be something shameful. Celia’s heart is captured by good-hearted Robert Wayne who works with Mr.Wallerby, and the feelings are mutual. But, although he loves her, he is not wealthy enough to marry anyone, especially a woman who comes from a wealthy family. In the midst of this time, Celia grieves severing her relationship with the one dearest to her, Grandfather.
The author has a deep understanding of human motivation, weakness and strength. Her story inspires readers to focus on what matters the most in life. This beautifully written book is full of warmth, humor, suspense, determination, struggles, honor, family bonds and the most genuine kind of love.
The previous owner wrote their own response in pencil: “Nice quiet book.” That, plus the title of the novel, made me decide to buy it. And it was nice, and quiet, and did not disappoint! Thank you, fellow book lover, for the tip!
I raved about Love in a Little Town to a close friend, and she–shockingly–wanted to read it for her Christmas holiday book. Even though it is a plain-looking hardcover book written in 1911, and she doesn’t usually read novels like this, she couldn’t put it down. She read it in half the time I did, and loved it, and is ready for more vintage fiction!
I get the feeling this is not a very well-known book. Mine is the only review for it on Goodreads , and if you’re interested, you can find a few of my other reviews there. You can get the eBook for free at Google Books , and on Amazon ($41 and up).
If you haven’t delved into the increasingly popular vintage fiction, this would be a great one to start with! Happy reading, friends!
A clear, simple, straightforward template for Terms of Service has been on my wish list for years. Google has just granted my wish! Their new format for January 2022 is a pleasure to read. And I see other tech companies switching their wording as well.
Kudos to all of you Technical Writers that worked tirelessly to provide the weary public with this gift. I, along with many, applaud you! The technology user’s relationship with technology companies has vastly improved.
Please, all of you organizations out there with heavy legalese filling your terms, have a look at this new concept. Jump on the bandwagon and give us something easy on the eyes and the brain, something that says we’re partners instead of on opposite sides of the desk of a looming, powerful group of attorneys.