Wisdom from a beloved author

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

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.

A great writer on reading

Friday, January 19th, 2007

One of the books on my current reading list (I’ve usually got at least three going at any given time, sometimes more!) is E.M. Forster’s classic on writing, Aspects of the Novel. Here’s a passage I simply had to share:

Pseudo-scholarship is, on its good side, the homage paid by ignorance to learning…Books have to be read (worse luck, for it takes a long time); it is the only way of discovering what they contain. A few savage tribes eat them, but reading is the only method of assimilation revealed to the west. The reader must sit down alone and struggle with the writer, and this the psuedo-scholar will not do. He would rather relate a book to the history of its time, to events in the life of its author, to the events it describes, above all to some tendency. As soon as he can use the word ‘tendency’ his spirits rise, and though those of his audience may sink, they often pull out their pencils at this point and make a note, under the belief that a tendency is portable.

~E.M. Forster

It gives me a lift to think that even ‘the greats’ had to struggle with books at times. But, oh, what a glorious tousle it is! And how dreary and flat life would be without it!

Miss Potter

Friday, January 12th, 2007

Well, my mother and I spent yesterday afternoon in the Lake District–via the delightful new film, Miss Potter, which chronicles the literary journey of our beloved Beatrix. It was so enchanting–so altogether lovely–that we were walking on air when we came out of the theatre. That hasn’t happened to me in a long, long time! And instead of the traffic and noise of one of the (ugliest) parts of town, my eyes were filled with visions of sweeping vistas of mountains and lakes, peaceful pastoral vignettes and cozy rooms–treasures themselves preserved by Beatrix Potter’s conservation efforts.

I thought that the movie captured the flavor of a staid but beauty-filled era. The trappings that hampered Beatrix’s personal freedoms seemed almost whimsical, even for one as old-fashioned as I! 😉 But the seriousness and courage with which the most popular author of children’s books of all time pursued what she loved was treated with a genteel respect–richly deserved, in my opinion. I’ve always loved Beatrix Potter–from the pre-Amazon days when some of the first books of hers I ever laid eyes on were the ones my grandparents brought back to me from England in the early 80’s. And now, as an adult with dreams of my own, her story, interpreted through this film, has inspired me afresh to live passionately in all that I love.

It’s rare to see a movie that is simply lovely fron start to finish, but that’s what Miss Potter is. Renee Zellweger’s adorably frumpy and un-selfconscious Beatrix is a breath of fresh air in such a glamor-obsessed age. She made me want to pull on my Wellies, plunge my hands in the pockets of a long wool cardigan, and set off for a ramble over the hills. My own dear pastures will have to suffice, but that’s alright. This is where I belong…

An Unfulfilled Promise

Saturday, May 20th, 2006

Way back in March I promised to share a new poet I’ve grown to admire. I thought it was high time I kept my word. 🙂

Sir John Betjeman (1906-1984) struck a chord with me from my very first perusal of his works. He was called a modern-day Tennyson, and I can see why. His lyrics flow on with such grace and careful poise; his subject matter is often sentimental. The critics didn’t know what to do with him, but the people loved him. And in 1972 he became the Poet Laureate of England. He was a contemporary of Evelyn Waugh’s at Oxford (who among you would recognize the large teddy bear he carried with him througout his college days?), attended C.S. Lewis’ Magdalen College (though he never completed his degree) and came to Christ, as he claimed, by the lure of the sheer beauty of the Church. Many of his poems capture the mystery and holiness of the Anglican service, from choir boys chanting timeless anthems to rosy light falling through ancient stained glass windows.  He was as famous for his crusade to save England from the irrevokable ravages of development as he was for his poetry, which often addresses the same cause. And most of the pictures I’ve ever seen of him are of a great, jolly-looking man with an enormous smile on his face. I can’t help but like him.

Here is the first poem of his I ever read, which still remains a great favorite of mine. It caught my heart with its lament for the England I love. But I found a sad parallel in what I see happening in my beloved historic corner of the South.

Inexpensive Progress

Encase your legs in nylons,
Bestride your hills with pylons
O age without a soul;
Away with gentle willows
And all the elmy billows
That through your valleys roll.

Let’s say goodbye to hedges
And roads with grassy edges
And winding country lanes;
Let all things travel faster
Where motor car is master
Till only Speed remains.

Destroy the ancient inn-signs
But strew the roads with tin signs
‘Keep Left,’ ‘M4,’ ‘Keep Out!’
Command, instruction, warning,
Repetitive adorning
The rockeried roundabout;

For every raw obscenity
Must have its small ‘amenity,’
Its patch of shaven green,
And hoardings look a wonder
In banks of floribunda
With floodlights in between.

Leave no old village standing
Which could provide a landing
For aeroplanes to roar,
But spare such cheap defacements
As huts with shattered casements
Unlived-in since the war.

Let no provincial High Street
Which might be your or my street
Look as it used to do,
But let the chain stores place here
Their miles of black glass facia
And traffic thunder through.

And if there is some scenery,
Some unpretentious greenery,
Surviving anywhere,
It does not need protecting
For soon we’ll be erecting
A Power Station there.

When all our roads are lighted
By concrete monsters sited
Like gallows overhead,
Bathed in the yellow vomit
Each monster belches from it,
We’ll know that we are dead.

John Betjeman (High and Low, 1966)

For more on this fascinating artist and Christian gentleman, visit the official John Betjeman site

And I’m looking forward to diving into Summoned by Bells, his autobiography in verse. I obtained a copy from that same little English book shop in Birdhole Lane. 🙂

Lucy Maud Montgomery

Monday, September 12th, 2005

What imaginative girl has not been captivated by the works of Lucy Maud Montgomery?  With a loving eye and a ready pen she gave to the world a tiny island off the coast of New Brunswick and a little band of girl heroines that have delighted the souls of ‘kindred spirits’ the world over.  How much we owe her, we who cherish the beauty and romantic ideals of another day!  Reading Anne of Green Gables at thirteen gave me my very first glimpse of how delightful it was to be different, of the glad freedom in being yourself and not everyone else.  Lucy Maud Montgomery was the first of many authors to lead me through the realms of enchantment—and how happy to discover that the magic lay not in flamboyant plots and fanciful settings but in friendship, human love and the beauty of God’s creation.

Lucy Maud left Prince Edward Island upon her marriage and ever after considered herself an exile from the place she loved best on earth.  But in her books we can go there as often as we like and find a world in which romance gilds the most common hours.  Anyone who has not acquainted themselves with characters beyond Anne will find friends just as lively and appealing in Pat (of Silver Bush), Emily (of New Moon) and Jane (of Lantern Hill).  In addition to these, volumes of short stories—among the best being Chronicles of Avonlea and Further Chronicles—give us vignettes of a town we all feel homesick for.

Here is an excellent biography of LMM published in Inkblots literary magazine.

Maud Hart Lovelace

Friday, September 2nd, 2005

Anyone who has loved Maud Hart Lovelace’s ‘Betsy-Tacy’ series will no doubt be delighted to learn that these books were basely almost entirely on her very happy girlhood in a small Minnesota town at the turn of the last century.  Maud grew up in a loving and supportive family that encouraged her in her dreams of writing from the time that she was a child.  What began as bedtime stories for her own little girl of the adventures of her youth later became her best-known and most beloved work: the chronicle of Betsy Ray and her two best friends, Tacy and Tib, through childhood, young womanhood, and into the Great World beyond.  What makes these books so special is that Betsy is a real, living human girl, with beautiful ideals and honest struggles that girls of any time can identify with.  Reading them as a teenager, I saw in Betsy someone I longed to be friends with; reading them as a 30-year old married woman (yes, I admit it!) I found that we had been friends all along. 

Maud Hart Lovelace exemplifies the adage to ‘write what you know’.  And what she knew was that the love of family and friends can make a story of a life.

 For a complete listing on the books of Maud Hart Lovelace, please visit this site.