Most Valentine’s Days, I’ve reviewed a favorite romance. As far as I am concerned, Jane Austen, Rosamunde Pilcher and Georgette Heyer are by far the most reliable authors for a quality, wholesome romance novel.
But I have discovered a new author of great talent, Christina Dudley!
I still haven’t figured out how I even ran across this book. It may have been connected with a yearly binge online search of my local library for clean romance novels. Or it could have been through Amazon’s recommendations based on some wholesome romance novels I bought from the Kindle store.
Anyway, I read great reviews about The Naturalist, which is a Regency novel, and Book 1 of the The Hapgoods of Bramleigh series. So, because the main characters were scientists, I decided to buy it.
Now, I didn’t really expect much, because statistically I only actually like about 1 out of 30 romance novels that I pick up these days. But what a pleasant surprise!
The main characters meet over their mutual fascination with flora and fauna, and their intense devotion to observing and recording data about them.
At first they assume that their strong attraction is professional. But when social conventions force them apart, they realize it’s a strange but wonderful kind of love, and their own unconventional thinking and determination drive them to do what is unthinkable in Regency society.
Their relationship is pleasant, and turns hilarious as some secrets are revealed. Both have a strong, moral character which heightens their inner turmoil throughout the story. The plot twists are realistic and unexpected. And the tension created by all the people trying to keep them apart and by their perplexing feelings for each other kept me glued to my Kindle screen!
What a rare find. I agree with one reader who said that it is a quiet, soothing, yet interesting, read, and I will add “intelligent” to the list as well.
I highly recommend The Naturalist to anyone who is looking for a quality, intelligent romance or is a fan of Jane Austen or Georgette Heyer!
Happy Valentine’s Day, and happy reading!
I hope you’ll let me know what your favorites are!
Imagine a happily married couple–no, a blissfully married couple–sharing and supporting each other through many years’ of challenges and joys.
Now freeze that frame.
A shocking revelation blindsides the man, a fallout from a difficult decision he made during his youth while under the severe pressures of combat duty. He knows how much his wife loves him, but he fears this could destroy his marriage. It almost certainly would ruin his public standing, just as he closes in on the triumph of his political career.
Return to the quiet, thoughtful, intelligent couple. Christopher Winters and his scientist wife, Laura, are best friends, open and honest, calmly discussing problems, genuinely caring for each other.
Although on the other side of the world two people’s lives are in the balance, he would be insane to reveal his secret. Will he?
I highly recommend The New Year, and what a great time to read it, in January!
Spending time with these charactersmade me want to be more like them. I am quite sure that reading this book changed me for the better. It showed me how a crisis can be handled with patience, good judgment, compassion, integrity and faithfulness. It is rare these days to find a fiction book with meaning, but this one is brimming over with it.
The New Year was published in 1968, over thirty years after Pearl S. Buck wrote her Pulitzer-prize winning novel, The Good Earth, about a family living in a Chinese village in the early 20th century. The author’s parents were missionaries in China and she grew up there.
The Good Earth appears on so many must-read lists that, about ten years ago, I put it on my own To Read list. The premise didn’t sound very interesting to me, but I forced myself to read the first few pages. After that, I couldn’t put it down, and it has stayed with me all these years.
In my imagination I can still see the main character, O-lan, struggling stoically through her life. This best-selling novel–only the second novel she’d written!–led to the author’s winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1938. According to Amazon.ca, she is the most widely translated American author to this day.
And I recently discovered something lovely about the effect that Pearl S. Buck’s writing had on one reader.
Author Anchee Min grew up in Shanghai and wrote in her 1994 memoir, Red Azalea, about her youth and the chaos of China’s Cultural Revolution. In an NPR interview, she tells how in her teens students were asked to denounce Pearl Buck as an American cultural imperialist.
Min told her teacher she didn’t know about Pearl Buck, and asked if she could read the book, The Good Earth. Her teacher said that the book was so toxic that it was considered dangerous to even translate it. So she dutifully completed her assignment by copying lines from the newspaper: ‘Pearl Buck insulted Chinese peasants. She hates us, and therefore she is our enemy.’
Min didn’t think about the author again until 25 years later, when she was on a book tour. “I was in Chicago in a bookstore doing a reading, and a reader came to me. She says, ‘Do you know Pearl S. Buck?’ And before I could answer, she gave me a paperback. She says, ‘This is a gift. I just want you to know that Pearl Buck taught me to love Chinese people.’ ”
Min said that when she read the novel, she broke down and sobbed because she had never seen anyone, including her own Chinese authors, who wrote of the Chinese peasants the way Pearl Buck did, with such love, affection and humanity. And it was at that very moment her 2010 book Pearl of China was conceived. Pearl of China, about the life of Pearl S. Buck, offers a perspective of how Chinese people saw this brave American woman who was beloved by the people close to her but denounced by authorities.
You can read an excerpt from Anchee Min’s book at the NPR link, here.
Since reading Buck’s The New Year, I have set a goal to read as many of her books as possible, starting with one of hers that I found recently at a used book store, a hard cover published in 1945, Portrait of a Marriage. She wrote over 100 works of literature, including 46 novels and many children’s books. Many of her books are reviewed on Goodreads.
I hope you’ll treat yourself to a Pearl Buck novel and make it an even Happier New Year!
Lonely Lily or The Shepherd’s Call, a tiny thin book published in the U.K. in 1893, gently tells a sweet but powerful story of faith. It is written for children, but nevertheless fascinated me with its suspenseful telling of the inner journey of hearts, from despair to comfort.
I am struck by how much more serious children’s lives were when this book was written, and how mature the themes in children’s books were, compared to today. It is heart-warming to see the traits of diligence, patience, duty and faith demonstrated in this story.
Grandmother Parfitt, an “old, silent woman” lives a reclusive life in an attic apartment with her granddaughter Lily, “a fair, pale flower, pale from the atmosphere of smoke and heaviness” in their city.
Life had dealt Grandmother much bitterness and regret through the deaths of her husband and children, neglect from those from whom she expected kindness, and the theft of her treasures. She has drawn away from others and wants Lily to do the same.
Lily loves to hear about her grandmother’s happy days living in the beautiful country of Switzerland, and one day wonders if heaven is like the countries where she’d been. Grandmother tells her she shouldn’t worry about such things at her young age and senses that Lily is lonely.
Soon Lily is allowed to spend time with Rose, a girl who lives in the same building, and through her family starts to get some answers to her questions about faith. Yet “the child felt alone and ‘outside’; and still she did not see the hand that would guide her [to heaven], nor hear the voice that was saying ‘Come unto me’.”
It wasn’t until Lily was invited to Annie Spencer’s to hear weekly Bible lessons that Lily finally understood God’s kind invitation. Annie, the daughter of a wealthy merchant, is afflicted with a spine condition that causes her constant pain, yet she welcomes a group of girls to visit every Saturday. After her lesson, she senses that Lily has questions and takes her aside for a quiet talk. Then Lily understands that God forgives, and promises not to send anyone away who comes to Him. Finally, she loves Him for sending Jesus to die for her sins, and is comforted. Lily is no longer lonely.
After a torrential rain, Lily’s granny returns from work cold and drenched, and becomes seriously ill. Lily reads to her from her new Bible, which brings hope to Granny for her feelings of regret. She feels sorry for her hard heart and how she had done cruel wrongs in her life. Grandmother realizes that God can love and forgive even her, knows Jesus is her Savior, and forgives those who had done her wrong. After granny’s peaceful passing, Lily is taken in by Rose’s loving family.
About the book
I must admit that it was a sad book, even though good things happened at the end. Quite a serious book, especially for children, it is nevertheless a beautiful one.
My edition, published in 1893, is called the New Edition. The original was apparently published in the 1860’s. My copy has an interesting inscription: “To Lillian From Rudi”. Did Rudi give this to Lillian because her name was similar to Lily? No inscription date is written, which is unusual.
Judging from all of my online searches, this seems to be a rare book and relatively unknown author. I only found one copy of it at AbeBooks that seems to be an authentic copy of the original printed book.
I found only one of the author’s books, Left at Home , on Gutenberg.com. The OCAC/WorldCat lists several copies of all of her books in Canada, the U.S. and the U.K.
I found no information on the author, which is surprising because my copy lists four other books she had written.
Do you have any similar gems to share?
Here are three of my previous posts about other vintage children’s books if you’d like to check them out:
I regularly recommend this novel as one of the most hilarious books I’ve ever read. Do yourself a favor and treat yourself to the pleasure of this story!
Actually, the full title of the novel is El Ingenioso Hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha (The Ingenious Low-Born Noble Don Quixote of La Mancha). And, apparently, this was William Faulkner’s favorite book; he read it once a year, and Don Quixote was his favorite character.
I didn’t know all this, however, when I sat down unenthusiastically to read it. Because the description made it seem so dry, irrelevant and archaic, I had to “make” myself read Don Quixote, because I wanted to read more of the classics of English literature, and this one makes it to the top of many lists.
Don Quixote did not start out with a bang, as many novels do today. In fact, I felt that throughout the book there was no clear main plot or building suspense. Rather, there were little vignettes of humorous adventures as Don Quixote and Sancho Panza travel, believing they are knights, trying each others’ patience, and trying the patience of those they meet, giving and receiving blows in some cases!
Once I got used to the pace of the story, I sat back and enjoyed every minute of it. What is so endearing is how their ridiculous antics are taken very seriously, and our pair are given respect and honor, even by the royal family who ultimately has the power to bring them success or leave them a failure. I found myself rooting for them, hoping beyond hope for their success, although their quest seemed destined for defeat. By the end, I was sad to leave these two “companions” of mine, Don Quixote, knight errant, and Sancho Pansa, most loyal friend, for whom I’d grown so much affection!
Don Quixote is one of the books you can find in most any library or bookseller, and I hope you give it a try!
What literary works have had an effect on you? Who are your favorite writers, and how have they influenced your perspectives or improved your life?
Have you ever wondered what literary works influenced your favorite writers?
I recently read The Complete Journals of L.M. Montgomery: The PEI Years, 1889-1899, about the woman considered Canada’s most widely read author, who wrote the Anne of Green Gables series and many other books.
I picked it up because I love to read journals in general, and also because I know that the author took great enjoyment from spending time outdoors, enjoying the natural environment on Prince Edward Island, Canada.
This photo of L.M. Montgomery’s Cavendish National Historic Site
of Canada is courtesy of TripAdvisor
I wanted to read about her experiences there, and was curious to know what influences and lifestyle produced such a successful author. Was it the solitude of living in a remote area? Did she have siblings, or did she enjoy a quiet household? (Yes, no, and yes.)
This large book seemed daunting, and I didn’t think I’d read the whole thing, but I couldn’t put it down until I’d read the last page. Her style of writing is so engaging —even in her journals.
Throughout her journal entries, she mentions books that she is reading. I was excited to find that I have read a few of the books she read! Here is a partial list of the most well-known titles, about a third of the complete list. (And by the way, as she was born in 1874, she would have read these books between the ages of 14 and 24!)
The Ascent of Man
The Diary of Virginia Woolf
(Ralph Waldo) Emerson’s Essays,
George Eliot’s Life as Related in Her Letters and Journals
King Solomon’s Mines
Last Days of Pompeii
The Last of the Mohicans
More Tramps Abroad (also called “Following the Equator”)
Rip Van Winkle
The Scarlet Letter
To Have and To Hold
With classics such as these under her belt as such a young age, it’s no wonder she produced such quality writing of her own.
Which ones have you read? If you are interested in reading some of these books on the list for free, electronically or online, you very well might find them at Gutenberg.org or Archives.org.
And if you like reading journals and diaries, here are some of my previous posts about some interesting ones:
When I was in elementary school in Denver, Colorado, there was a book high on the top shelf of the school library that kept catching my eye. The book’s title was my name. How intriguing! I saw it year after year, but I couldn’t reach it, and anyway it looked too thick and grown-up to me. After I left elementary school, from time to time, I would run across the book. I got the impression that it was an overly historical book and very dull. Nevertheless, I’d often think, “One day I’m going to read that.”
Fast forward almost twenty years and I was now living in San Diego, California. One of the places a co-worker had taken me was called Old Town, a historical part of San Diego that included an area called “Ramona’s Marriage Place”. (Here is a photo of me there in 1981.) One day I was browsing around at the public library…and there it was! Helen Hunt Jackson’s book, Ramona. Well within reach now, and no time like the present, I checked it out. I was surprised to find out that it was considered a classic American novel. And to my amazement, this historical novel was set right THERE…in the San Diego area!
This novel tells the story of Ramona, a half-native woman from a wealthy Spanish family, who meets Alessandro, one of the Native American shepherds near her home. They develop a friendship which turns into love, marriage, devotion and tragedy because of discrimination against her husband.
Helen Hunt Jackson delves into some politically incorrect territory for that time in history. In October of 1879, she learned about the plight of the Native Americans and the mistreatment they received from the government. Sympathizing with their cause, she toured many of their impoverished communities, and wrote articles and a book to publicize their struggles. In 1883 the plot of a novel came to her suddenly one morning, and she began writing.
Of course I highly recommend this classic novel. The inside flap of my 1912 edition says
For over a half century Helen Jackson’s romantic story of Spanish and Indian life in California has been widely read until it has become an American classic. Originally published in 1884, “Ramona” has been issued in various editions, with a total of 135 printings. The Atlantic Monthly has termed the story “one of the most artistic creations of American literature,” while the late Charles Dudley Warner [an American essayist, novelist, and friend of Mark Twain] called it “one of the most charming creations of modern fiction.” Born in 1831, Mrs. Jackson was an ardent champion of the Indians to the end of her useful life, in 1885. “Ramona” has been three times produced as a motion picture, been played on the stage, adapted for a pageant and may eventually be utilized for a grand opera.”
More of my personal connection
I have always had an interest and a special place in my heart for the Native Americans, so of course I loved this book with its focus on these people. That, along with the fact that it was a romance based on actual history, including characters living out their faith, made it nearly the perfect book. I won’t give away the ending, but I will say that the tragedy in the story was softened by an unexpected ending of kindness.
The book inspired the Ramona Pageant, which is still performed in the hills of Hemet, California. It is said to be California’s Official Outdoor Play and the longest continuously running outdoor drama in the United States. The original “Ramona” movie came out in 1928, and was remade in 1936, starring Don Ameche and Loretta Young. I’d always known that my grandmother named me after the song, but when I found out that the song was created for the movie based on the book that I loved, I was beyond excited!
While I was growing up, many teachers and other adults sang the first few lines of the song to me, and I finally found a copy of the entire song online. It just so happens that I love it; it is a very sweet, flowing love song. I love the references to nature–hills, mountains, babbing brook, kissing the sky, meeting by the waterfall–and hearing the church “mission bells above”.
One year our family toured southern California and we stayed overnight in the town of Ramona, northeast of San Diego. The town was named to capitalize on the popularity of the fictional character from the best selling novel. I made sure we stopped in Temecula, one of the towns mentioned in the novel (much to my family’s disappointment!), where I purchased a book called The Annotated Ramona and a little Spanish maiden figurine as a memento. The book opened up the whole historical side of the book to me, as well as a biography of the author. I learned that later in her life she moved to Colorado, my home state. Magical!
Here is a postcard a friend in California recently sent me. Notice in the far lower right corner it says, “The Real Ramona”. I’m not sure what that means, exactly, but it is clearly quite an old photograph. Very intriguing.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this little bit of my history, and will check out this wonderful book. It’s a gem!
While listening to a radio program which mentioned Santa’s reindeer in the song “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”, something occurred to my mom about Donner and Blitzen. In her native German language, donner means thunder, and blitzen means lightning. We were both curious to know if the creator of the song chose these names because of these meanings.
Well! What fun we had on the phone, her asking questions and me surfing the Internet to find the answers. The first link I landed on said that the song came from the book.
Book? Rudolph was a book before it was a song? Now I’m really interested! Who wrote the book, and when?
In 1939, Robert L. May, an ad man for Montgomery Ward retail store, was asked by his boss to write a little story that could be made into one of the booklets that the department store gave away to their customers at Christmas time. He created Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in a rhyming story poem.
May’s brother-in-law, songwriter Johnny Marks, wrote the lyrics and melody for a song based on the character in the book. He borrowed most of the reindeer names from the classic 1823 poem “A Visit from Saint Nicholas” (more commonly known as “Twas the Night before Christmas”) written by Major Henry Livingston, Jr. or Clement Moore.
And now we come to the answer to our original question. According to ThoughtCo.com,
The 1823 poem “A Visit from Saint Nicholas” refers to “Dunder” and “Blixem”…Dutch names written into the poem by Livingston.
Only in later versions, modified by Moore in 1844, were the two names changed to German: Donder (close to Donner, thunder) and Blitzen (lightning), to better rhyme with “Vixen.”
Finally, for some reason, in the song “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” Johnny Marks turned “Donder” into “Donner.” Whether he made the change because he knew German or because it just sounded better is uncertain. In any event, there is certainly some logic in using German Donner and Blitzen (thunder and lightning) for the names.
Since 1950 or so, the two reindeer names have been Donner and Blitzen in both “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and the “A Visit from Saint Nicholas.”
So, Mom, now we know! Here are some other fun links to check out:
The touching story from the December 22, 1975 Gettysburg Times newspaper, “Robert May Tells How Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Came Into Being” (Part 2)
An NPR webpage with audio of their interview with Robert L. May’s granddaughter in which she reads the poem. The webpage includes images of the original color sketches for the book drawn by Robert May’s friend in the art department, Denver Gillen.
If you had offered me a book with a rather off-putting cover drawing about a family who endured the hardships of trying to make a living on a farm in the late 1800’s, I’d have probably declined. That’s been done in various scenarios, and sounds depressing. I’d have preferred something with more pizzazz and originality.
But when I found this book on the shelf of a thrift store, I discovered some key information to change my mind. It was published in 1953, the author’s name was familiar, she had won a Pulitzer Prize, and it was $2.50 that would go toward a good cause. Seemed like a good bet, and a good book to bring home. And was it ever.
The story centers around Ase, whose brother Ben is the apple of his mother’s eye. After his father dies, Ben leaves the farm to seek fortune and adventure. Their mother grieves his loss, and will not believe that he went on his own volition. She never pretends to have any affection for Ase, but he nevertheless devotes himself to her care and making a success of their farm. He marries energetic trickster Nellie and they start a family. He is a thoughtful philosophical dreamer, yet too responsible to let his own longings interfere with his duties.
Ase is wise, yet timid and unable to articulate what is in his huge heart and his keen mind, so others find him an easy target, including his own children. He opens his home to those down on their luck, and finds true friendship in unlikely places. Through hopeful and sad events, despite all the years that go by without any word of him, Ase never stops hoping for the return of his brother.
From page one The Sojourner was too gripping to put down, and I didn’t want to miss one single word. Each character in turn was introduced in a few pages to make you feel as if you had known them for a lifetime. Each had their own strengths and weaknesses, triumphs and failures. The intense commitment of the farming community to their livelihood and to one another show the stoicism and dedication that built the powerful American society of the early twentieth century.
Reading it was a quiet experience. I don’t just mean that I read it in silence; it also calmed my mind. The longer I read, the more I joined this family miles away from the nearest neighbor, and enjoyed the restful evenings without electricity, as though I could hear the silent breeze rustling the grass in their distant field. All of these combined to make a quality story of depth, common yet uncommon humanity, spiritual truth, and a satisfying outcome.
Following the motivations, decisions and outcomes in each of their journeys was illuminating. It makes me feel like I understand those in my little circle, and people all around the world, even more. It is the kind of book I keep hoping to discover in contemporary fiction and rarely seem to find. (Please enlighten me if you have found otherwise, I’d love to find some great contemporary fiction!) And the wonderful thing is that in learning more about her, I have discovered nine more novels of hers to read.
Marjorie Rawlings’ classic novel is a great example of why I comb the vintage book sections and why I trust the classic authors of fifty or more years ago. Tell me: where else can you get a heartwarming, inspiring experience every evening for three weeks…all for the grand total of two-and-a-half dollars?
A while back I was browsing the shelves of antiquarian books at Fair’s Fair on 9th Avenue, and ran across a beautiful set of books, The Works of Eugene Field. Two volumes particularly caught my eye, A Little Book of Profitable Tales and A Little Book of Western Verse, and I perused wonderful pieces such as “The First Christmas Tree”, “Winken Blinken and Nod” and “Little Boy Blue”.
These were only being sold as a set, and I wasn’t interested in paying the asking price of one hundred dollars, so I went home to see if I could find them in electronic form.
Sure enough, I could read some of A Little Book of Western Verse on the Internet Archive BookReader, and download many of Eugene Field’s beautiful works for free from Gutenberg.org. I have been reading Western Verse today on my Kindle.
How have I missed this author up until now? Eugene Field started publishing poetry in 1789. He wrote imaginative, gentle rhyming verses for children and adults, perfect for a peaceful bedtime read. “Mother and Child” is about a rose, falling in love with the dewdrop that lands on its petals. “The Divine Lullaby” is about hearing God’s voice in the ocean, the wind, snow and bells, saying “Sleep well, my child.”
This world needs these beautiful words, and I hope many rediscover Eugene Field’s remarkable talent. Here are a few lines from several more.
From “Winken, Blinken and Nod”, one of his most well-known works:
Wynken, Blynken, and Nod one night
Sailed off in a wooden shoe —
Sailed on a river of crystal light,
Into a sea of dew.
From the peaceful poem “In the Firelight”:
The firelight shadows fluttering go.
And as the shadows round me creep,
A childish treble breaks the gloom,
And softly from a further room
Comes, “Now I lay me down to sleep.”
One of Field’s most well-known poems is “Little Boy Blue”, but it’s not the one that I learned as a child. Here is the first verse:
The little toy dog is covered with dust,
But sturdy and stanch he stands;
And the little toy soldier is red with rust,
And his musket molds in his hands.
Time was when the little toy dog was new
And the soldier was passing fair,
And that was the time when our Little Boy Blue
Kissed them and put them there.
In “Christmas Treasure” a father asks his beloved little son what he would like from Santa Claus:
And then he named this little toy,
while in his round and mournful eyes
there came a look of sweet surprise,
that spake his quiet, trustful joy…
he lisped his evening prayer
…with childish grace;
Then, toddling to the chimney-place,
he hung this little stocking there.
From “Norse Lullaby”:
The sky is dark and the hills are white
As the storm-king speeds from the north to-night,
And this is the song the storm-king sings,
As over the world his cloak he flings:
“Sleep, sleep, little one, sleep;”
From “The Twenty-Third Psalm”:
My Shepherd is the Lord my God,—
There is no want I know;
His flock He leads in verdant meads,
Where tranquil waters flow.
This next one shares memories of a carefree childhood wandering among nature’s tranquil creatures and greenery, from “Long Ago”:
I once knew all the birds that came
And nested in our orchard trees;
For every flower I had a name—
My friends were woodchucks, toads, and bees;
I knew where thrived in yonder glen
What plants would soothe a stone-bruised toe—
Oh, I was very learned then;
But that was very long ago!
The love of a parent, from “Some Time”:
Last night, my darling, as you slept,
I thought I heard you sigh,
And to your little crib I crept,
And watched a space thereby;
And then I stooped and kissed your brow,
For oh! I love you so—
You are too young to know it now,
But some time you shall know!
Here is the sweetest little story poem of a father, finally resting with a book after a long day, from “At The Door”:
I thought myself indeed secure,
So fast the door, so firm the lock;
But, lo! he toddling comes to lure
My parent ear with timorous knock.
…then as the father takes his laughing darling in his arms, he ponders the end of his own life, when he is knocking on heaven’s gate. He hopes his heavenly father will unlock that door in the same way, and welcome him with the same joy!
And although not a lullaby, I had to include this humorous little ditty, from his poem “The Bibliomaniac’s Prayer”:
Keep me, I pray, in wisdom’s way
That I may truths eternal seek;
I need protecting care to-day,—
My purse is light, my flesh is weak…
Let my temptation be a book,
Which I shall purchase, hold, and keep,
Whereon when other men shall look,
They’ll wail to know I got it cheap.
(I guess that means I’m a bibliomaniac! Any others out there? You?)
Spending an hour reading his poetry was such a calming experience because Field’s word pictures take you into the sweet, quiet experiences he writes about. I will keep these handy for the end of a hectic day!
“It was May-time in England. The last breath of a long winter had blown its final farewell across the hills,—the last frost had melted from the broad, low-lying fields, relaxing its iron grip from the clods of rich, red-brown earth which, now, soft and broken, were sprouting thick with the young corn’s tender green.”
I finally found it! This is exactly the kind of a gem I always hope to find, as I browse and browse and browse in the vintage section at used book stores and book sales.
A novel—at least a hundred years old—with some wonderful characters, a can’t-put-it-down plot, a spiritual element, a bit of romance, the joy of nature, an educational element, all put together with excellent writing. 523 pages with not a single picture, and I couldn’t bear for it to end. I am still amazed that a 1904 novel can do that.
The story is set in England. Pastor John Walden, the forty-something ‘man of worship’, is introduced as having a cheerful, sanguine disposition, athletic looking, strong of character. He is the owner of one of the smallest ‘livings’ in England, an old relic of a church of medieval days, which he’d bought and renovated to the point where it was a tourist interest in the woodland village of St. Rest. A thirteenth-century sarcophagus was discovered during the renovations, which apparently houses a great saint. One window remains incomplete, for which Walden continues to slowly gather pieces of genuine, authentic stained glass, bit by bit, to fill a circular rose carving.
“He was a great lover of books and, to a moderate extent, a collector of rare editions; …He loved antiquarian research and all such scientific problems as involved abstruse study and complex calculations, but equally he loved the simplest flower and the most ordinary village tale of sorrow or mirth recounted to him by any one of his parishioners. He gave himself such change of air and scene as he thought he required, by taking long swinging walks around the country, and found sufficient relaxation in gardening, a science in which he displayed considerable skill…For the rest, he was physically sound and morally healthy and moved as it were on the straight line from Earth to Heaven beginning each day as if it were his first life opportunity and ending it soberly and with prayer as though it were his last.”
The story begins during the May-time celebration. The children parade through town singing, and arrive at Parson John’s place with the Maypole. He’d planned to give an appropriately spiritual message for the day. But with the little two-year-old Ipsy calling to her beloved friend, “Passon! Tum ‘ere! Passon! Tum ‘ere!”, he puts the child on his shoulders and joins their parade and songs.
We meet various townspeople, including old Josie who seems to be the only one left with common sense and convictions. Sinister, conscious-less Mr. Leach has his own agenda to further his interests at others’ expense, which includes chopping down the Five Sisters, a four-hundred-year old grove of trees that are the town’s pride and joy. Wealthy Sir Martin Pippett unofficially runs the town and its main businesses, but resents the reality that soft spoken Parson John Walden actually stands quietly over him in authority and influence.
One day Mrs. Spruce, his housekeeper, shows the parson a letter from Miss Maryllia Vancourt, the property owner, about her upcoming arrival. Mrs. Spruce is in a tizzy because she has a lot of cleaning to do in this house that has been abandoned for 10 years. This also disturbs John because for years he has been walking on Miss Vancourt’s forested property with his dog Nebbie (short for Nebuchadnezzar) and has even been using the library inside her house. He dreads the return of this modern Squiress, expecting that she most likely will bring modern ways with her, and will hunt, shoot, smoke, and perhaps swear.
Maryllia does in a sense bring modern ways to the village in the form of her friends and acquaintances, who exude wealth and privilege, living lives of bored gossip, fashions, food and obsessed with status. She, however, has little interest in such a lifestyle, nor is she interested in the wealthy male version of the same, Lord Rocksmith, who considers himself engaged to her. In herself, she presents a modern independence of intelligence, thought and strength, of poise and vision, of integrity and compassion, unusual for a woman in that small community of simple folk.
Maryllia and John clash, especially as he disapproves of her worldliness and the society that she keeps. Yet each encounter shows their true colors, pleasing colors. They are actually cut from the same cloth in their common qualities of humility, strength of character, goodness and faith. Eventually, they begin to see past their first impressions and develop an affectionate friendship, which leads to love. The ending is not predictable, and keeps the tension high until the last words.
Often throughout the book, literary geniuses are quoted, such as Chaucer, Spenser, Herrick and Longfellow. Here is a quote of Epictetus, which John is pondering:
“Had we understanding thereof, would any other thing better beseem us than to hymn the Divine Being and laud Him and rehearse His gracious deeds? These things it were fitting every man should sing, and to chant the greatest and divinest hymns for this, that He has given us the power to observe and consider His works, and a Way wherein to walk. If I were a nightingale, I would do after the manner of a nightingale; if a swan, after that of a swan. But now I am a reasoning creature, and it behooves me to sing the praise of God; this is my task, and this I do, nor as long as it is granted me, will I ever abandon this post. And you, too, I summon to join me in the same song.”
“A wonderfully advanced’ Christian way of looking at life, for a pagan slave of the time of Nero!” thought Walden… “With all our teaching and preaching, we can hardly do better.” Amen!
I can’t say enough good about this book! Highly recommended for all ages!
Give this book to a young reader to introduce them to top quality, wholesome literature.
This lovely book is available through Amazon and other online booksellers. You can read it for free at Online books, Project Gutenberg, Public Bookshelf and other sites. You can learn more about the author at this U.K. website.