Wisdom from a beloved author

I didn’t realize how desperately I was waiting to hear someone say this until I read it in print:

Bess Streeter Aldrich, 1881-1954

Why quarrel with a writer over realism and idealism?  After all an author is a glass through which a picture of life is projected.  The picture falls upon the pages of the writer’s manuscript according to the mental and emotional contours of that writer.  It is useless to try to change those patterns.  If one writer does not see life in terms of grime and dirt, adulteries and debaucheries, it does not follow that those sordid things do not exist.  If another does not see life in terms of faith and love, sympathy and good deeds, it does not follow that those characteristics do not exist.  I grow weary of hearing the sordid spoken of as real life, the wholesome as Pollyanna stuff.  I contend that a writer may portray some of the decent things of life around him and reserve the privilege to call that real life too.  And if this be literary treason; make the most of it.

from Why I Live in a Small Town by Bess Streeter Aldrich
(reprinted from the Ladies’ Home Journal, 1933)

The beauty is every bit as real as the sordid.

And, what’s more, the beauty is True. It’s why I even dare to take up my own pen.

Thank you, dear Bess, for affirming me to the depths of my writer’s heart. And thank you, dear Sallie, for pointing me in the right direction.

16 Responses to “Wisdom from a beloved author”

  1. Abby Maddox says:

    Oh wow. I loved this…I usually just explain what I like to read (and write ;)) by saying: There’s plenty of ugly in the world, and I’d rather get lost in something beautiful than not.

    Then, (I feel like) most people roll their eyes at me and wonder at my conscious decision to hide my head in a hole 🙂 This was a much more…politically correct way of putting the feelings that reside in my own heart. Thanks for sharing Lanier.

  2. Gwen says:

    That was lovely Lanier, and perfect timing. Just the other day I was on a walk through the bush behind my house (I live in Australia), mentally having an argument with a non-existant imaginary human about the importance of beautiful books. My defense to that imaginary human was that, “flowers are just as real as sewerage,” which is an idea you have summed up beautifully!

    God bless you,

  3. Robin says:

    Thank you for posting this. I first discovered Bess Streeter Aldrich and her books while studying Iowa history in school.

    Beautiful stories remind me of what is to come…the full redemption of creation and Christ’s kingdom here on earth.

  4. Deanna says:

    Oh, I love that! Good for her and for us!

  5. mary kathryn says:

    Oh, Lanier, I love that quote! Thanks so much. And, you know, since the evil is relegated only to this fallen world, and the beautiful is (by definition) eternal, the beauty is so much more real, more true. Thank you for this reminder. We keep our eyes on our heavenly home, our new earth, where only beauty dwells.

  6. Rebecca says:

    Oh, oh, oh! The only book by Aldrich that I’ve read was Miss Bishop, and I loved it and the author, too. Thank you for sharing this bit…

  7. Josie Ray says:

    It’s time for one of my favorite LMM quotes. These two sentences are a touchstone for me…a solid rock…a recalibration.

    “Don’t be led away by those howls about realism. Remember-pine woods are just as real as pigsties and a darn sight pleasanter to be in.”

    — L.M. Montgomery (Emily of New Moon)

  8. My Dear Lanier,

    I always enjoy my visits with you. It’s one of the few places I visit where the comments section often offers as much to ponder as the post. : D I shall check out this author as she is new to me. Thank you so much.

    Earlier I read a post of yours referring to Flora Thompson’s Lark Rise to Candleford and the subsequent BBC adaptation. Thanks to that bit of sharing on your part our family has been gathering regularly to view the delightful series on dvd. The book sits at hand for further reading, disappearing now and again with curious viewers.

    This blog is a spot of beauty and I appreciate it. I have dedicated my blog to “Whatever is beautiful” and the Lord blesses me with beauty spots in each day (so long as I am not too distracted to notice). Please continue to tend the fires of beauty, that others may share in its rejuventating warmth and visit together as they gather in the glow.

  9. Martina says:

    I believe, too, that it’ s your deliberate choice to see beauty in life, regardless the circumstances around you. It has a lot to do with an optimistic attitude, but also with the ability to see beauty in the tiniest detail. You have this gift – this is why we all enjoy visiting you so much!
    Thank you also for the interesting link! “Keeping an author humble” made me smile a lot!

  10. Elisabeth says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this quote, Lanier. Just yesterday I read a blog post that argued this point the other way. I left the blog feeling saddened and shaken, but not at all sure how to defend my position. I must confess, people who argue that the sordid side of life is the one and only truthful side of life tend to make me feel very young and silly – I fancy that they’re thinking, “How sweet – a real Pollyanna!” In fact, I know that the sordid side of life is alive and well – and yet I ALSO know that the beautiful side of life is alive and well. I haven’t reached my twenties without living and suffering … and discovering that when the days are dark and the nights are full of pain, there is God and, therefore, there is hope. And when there’s God and hope, there’s beauty. Aren’t all of us who call ourselves artists for HIS sake under a solemn obligation to seek and find the beauty He has given us so generously and portray it for all to see in our words and pictures? I think so. And I’ll save this quote as a reminder of WHY I think so.

  11. Hunter says:

    All I can say is a genteel and resounding Amen!

  12. Josie Ray says:

    Cherish your visions; cherish your ideals; cherish the music that stirs in your heart, the beauty that forms in your mind, the loveliness that drapes your purest thoughts, for out of them will grow all delightful conditions, all heavenly environment; of these, if you but remain true to them, your world will at last be built.

    –James Allen, As A Man Thinketh

    And, to me, this is what the “whatsoever” verse is all about:

    Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Phil. 4:8

  13. […] Wisdom from a beloved author from Lanier’s Books (No, it really isn’t an extended link exchange.  But I have thought about this post of Lanier’s a LOT since she wrote it.) […]

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  15. […] a writer has a philosophy like Bess Streeter Aldrich’s, I know I’m in good […]

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