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RRR: The Fifth Kiss

Sometimes everything in stories comes together to make a great “show,” if you will, and The Fifth Kiss did just that. I found it highly entertaining, and alternating between being infuriating and delightful, which is what a good romance should be. Yes, yes, we women like the drama. It’s exciting, it’s where we often find our adventure. This was a standout among what I’ve read from the mystery box last summer so far. I’ve got about fifteen novels left. This one is written by Elizabeth Mansfield, who had a short story in the Christmas compilation with somewhat similar characters. She likes bookish girls, or Bluestockings, as they were called back then.

First and foremost, The Fifth Kiss would be easily adapted to TV, a show or a miniseries. That was the appeal to me, I could see it as a show, a successful one at that. Not only does it start out with our heroine, Olivia, shocked–shocked I tell you!–but throughout the tale we get to be upset and exasperated along with her as she finds out that the hero, Miles Strickland, Earl of Langley, is all too often right. We meet many other interesting characters, and have a really cool second romance later in the book. Several characters are there waiting to be further developed, and there could be several subplots added to the main story. Olivia is at first someone we like, and then don’t like, as we realize that Miles is correct, she interferes when she should not, but then we, along with him, come to love her again, as she’s such a dear with her niece and nephew and is really very good at running a household. Many relationships abound throughout the book, not just romantic ones, but those of father to daughter, brother to sister, father to son, masters to servants, and the like. Social and political commentary is also woven throughout the story and could be expanded upon in a show.

I was pleasantly surprised to find I liked our hero by the end. So many of these stories seem to think it’s a desirable thing for a man of that time to have a lot of experience sleeping around before he finds “the one” and gets married. In this one, we are shown a different view of infidelity and just what that means. It is sobering to remember that two people are always involved. We so often think a man or wife just goes out to cheat on their own, and sometimes that is the case, but sometimes it is that their spouses have left them or retreated from them in some way. Doesn’t make cheating or infidelity right, of course, but it puts things into perspective: Neither is it right for spouses to cut their partners out of a piece or pieces of their lives. A marriage is two lives wholly shared, much more than any other relationship. Someday I hope to experience that also, but, for now I have the tacky romances.

This one wasn’t so tacky, really, the cringiest part was when Olivia Matthews takes it upon herself to get some kissing experience and it was just hard to believe she’s quite that dumb, but some people are. Mansfield got the descriptions right, the strange experience when someone has more emotion or ardor than you do. It’s sort of a disembodying thing, and of course sad for the other person to be kissing you so ardently with no response, but it happens. Unrequited love, unrequited attraction, such a great disappointment, not evil exactly, but it’s always something that seems like it should not be, a great wrongness in the world. However, a couple of the men in this story press on when they should not, forcing their physical attentions on the hapless Miss Matthews. No matter how sorry I may be for them, it just isn’t right. Olivia bears up well, though really doesn’t seem to understand the danger she sometimes puts herself in.

The part about the story that got to me was Olivia’s moral outrage, which ended up being misplaced, and her interference. Sometimes we–often, but not always, women–see a wrongness and think we have to, we must correct it. Really, we should wait and see first if anyone is asking us to interfere, yes, even if God is asking us to interfere. Most of the time not only is it not our place, but also there’s always more to story that we don’t know, and our interference will only make things worse, especially if it’s not wanted. In this case, the true moral wrongness was a wife cutting a husband out of her life, perhaps with the intention of saving him from pain, but giving him more pain in the process. Olivia is humbled and a bit bewildered. She really doesn’t understand what a marriage relationship is or means. And she really does not understand men, but fortunately, she grows up through out the story and comes to understand how to deal with them and bring out the best in them, well, at least in one of them. That was very great to read.

The Fifth Kiss is one that may stay on my shelves, though it’s no Jane Austen, so time will tell. There are actually six kisses or series of kisses in the novel, and it is the fifth one which makes our hero realize he loves Olivia. He finds it horrid to find her in the arms of another man, even if her feelings for the man are stone cold. So, nothing especially magic with a fifth kiss, just that it was the turning point in the romance of the story.

Reviews: House of Salt and Sorrows/Christmas at Wickly

What fun it is in this modern era when there are so many wonderful retellings of the old fairy tales. These books are a treat to read, though sometimes they miss the mark. House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin Craig has so much going for it, and although I really enjoyed it, I’m not sure I recommend it. The story has a maritime setting on a series of islands, the salt, the sea, etc., but it didn’t really become nautical in the sense of being really firmly set in a world of ships and sailing. The twelve girls are all daughters of a wealthy landowner/governer of the island chain and have little to do with actual sailing trips, fishing, and the like. It could have gone much farther in the world of the sea, and also the quasi-Greek mythological religion the world follows. Still, what was there was adequate for the story. Our heroine is one of the 12 sisters. She’s in the middle and her name is Annaleigh.

Twelve main characters plus any additional ones are tough to keep track of, but in this tale, four of the sisters are already dead at the beginning of the story. Wisely the author groups the rest of the sisters, making them easier to remember. The story has a lot of stops and starts and never really flowed well, but the ghostly figures in the beginning didn’t prepare me for the end. Although the story ended happy, the incident in the lighthouse was just…icky, for lack of a better word. Icky, and for no apparent reason. There was just a lot of gore and grossness at the end, which ended up being too much for me. The actual adaptation of the Grimm tale was mostly in the latter half, and it was when their father finally made the wager that whoever figured out the mystery of how his daughters wore out their shoes every night would gain his estate, that I realized how uneven the story was.

Where it went wrong was the world building, something I, too, have trouble with. The stuff on their immediate region was good, but a full description of the world was lacking, or perhaps it was too blink-and-you’ll-miss-it. The ickiness related to one of the deities in another province who was not detailed nearly enough, and that’s why it just doesn’t fit at the end. Also, I expected fairies in the story, that is, I expected them to be the villains, and was disappointed in that.

All in all it’s an adequate retelling, but it could have been so much more. I did enjoy the use of Fisher, but I also didn’t think the character really got his due, either. The romantic hero was very appealing, but we didn’t get to know him that well. Fairy tales are hard to retell in some ways, because they are short and often have very blank characters. Sometime this bleeds into the longer adaptations. Also the dancing was severely lacking. I wanted more time at the balls and there just seemed to be a lot of Annaleigh thinking, which is of course what young women often do, but it doesn’t drive stories along very well.

Craig did a good job of portraying an estate constantly in mourning. The behaviors of many characters can be excused largely due to the tragedies they’ve experienced, so it’s not a wonder in that sense that it takes people a long time to realize something is amiss. The ultimate villain at the end…meh. I suppose the lesson is you never get what you want no matter how clever a deal you make, especially if it’s a deal with a devil. Not a bad story, but I wouldn’t recommend it, and I’ve read a better adaptation of the fairy tale at some point in my life and hopefully one of these days I’ll remember the title.

A Regency Romance Review

Continuing with the A Regency Holiday book of five Regency romances, story four was actually quite good. I wish it was a longer story. Judith Nelson is the writer, and was excited to find that one of her longer novels was in the surprise bag I bought last summer. Christmas at Wickly stars the Earl of Wickham, who is in his thirties, and a twenty-eight year old heroine who believes herself firmly on the shelf. She’s not wrong, in that day and age women often married in their late teens, but Miss Worthington lives fully up to her name and her humor and capableness convince the earl that she’s the one for him. All this is planned in advance by a wily grandma who wants to see their family’s inheritance continue and not go on to lesser family members. In her eyes, it is essential the earl marry and start having children as soon as possible. She’s not wrong, but I’m also glad that she wants him to truly be in love.

The romance is quiet, just two people spending a lot of time together and falling in love while doing it. Somehow the love surprises both sexes and Nelson makes it exciting to both of them, as well as sweet to read. They are both total dorks and also snobs after a fashion. It will be great to see what she does with a longer story. The story outlines four key points for a good match: Humor, companionship, similar perspectives and/or temperament, and time together to make the relationship happen. As Wickham dismisses the other, younger women one by one, I just think of Austen’s Mr. Knightley proclaiming that “men of sense don’t want silly wives.” In this story, that’s true, although our hero quite sillily makes a habit of stealing mistletoe so he’s not forced to kiss anyone under it. It’s hard to imagine societal rules so strict one couldn’t refuse a kiss, but I suppose if a gentleman is faced with having to refuse a lady, he would just rather avoid the situation altogether. And that’s rather gentlemanly of him, even if it also makes him silly.

It Is Thursday.

It is Thursday, and I totally forgot to do a review today and now there’s no time because I really have to work on TfD3, which is turning out quite fascinating and now I’m really looking forward to writing book 4…after a lot of necessary draft finishing and editing of book 3. Reviews coming this weekend of House of Salt and Sorrows, a retelling of the 12 Dancing Princesses, and RRR short story Christmas at Wickly. Have begun reading The Wanderer by Fanny Burney, which is a tome and a half in weight, The Wings of a Falcon by Cynthia Voigt, and The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis. Forgot how creepy the uncle is in that and that the main characters are Digory and Polly. Full review of the Chronicles of Narnia when I’m done with my reread. Speaking of Thursdays, Thursday Next, hero in The Eyre Affair, a fun, fun book, though the series itself flounders a bit. Good spring/summer reading. God be with you until we meet again. And it is great how we can meet through reading and writing. –Pixie

RRR and musings

The time has come for another Regency Romance Review. Not sure I’ve made much of a dent in the box I bought last summer, but onward I will go. This one I meant to finish and review in December, but Christmastime always gets so busy, and then there was January, and then my Dad passed away, and then, then. There’s always an “and then.”

A Regency Holiday, “Delightful and Heartwarming Christmas Stories by Five Acclaimed Regency Authors,” published by Jove Regency Romance in 1991. This is likely the most recent one from the batch. As I don’t particularly care for short stories and read them sporadically, it’s taking awhile for me to get through this. Two stories yet to go, but some quick reviews on the first three:

The Girl with Airs: This one stars a Scottish laird and although he was described as being very handsome, he favors lightskirts or loose women, and talks in dialect. I have been to Scotland. It’s beautiful and the language and accents are all great. However, the way the Scottish dialect looks written down has always looked like baby talk to me, and thus it’s always difficult for me to take the characters talking the dialect seriously. Had the same trouble trying to read Outlander. Fortunately the “girl with airs” was taken in by the accent and the actually very smart laird who ended up wooing her. Written by Elizabeth Mansfield, which is interesting, because the box actually contains one or two of her novels. I plan to read her The Fifth Kiss next. Why does it take the couple five kisses? If you don’t know in the first kiss, maybe it’s not really love. Just kidding.

Proof in the Pudding: Although it’s maybe not the best choice to base a story around the guy who didn’t get the girl, this was amusing. Humans are so, so clueless, and sometimes reading or watching stories about people even more clueless than us can bring us real joy. Really. The ending was funny, but not realistic, and way too contrived. Probably the lovers don’t care, because at least they got together. Poor Virgil Clive lost not only a possible bride, but also a tasty pudding, a valuable coin, and what little what left of his dignity. By Monette Cummings.

A Christmas Spirit: By Sarah Eagle. My favorite part was the title pages which says, “in memory of my grandfather, Edwin John Hawkes, Sr., who was always Father Christmas.” Seriously, that warmed my heart. This story had real potential and would be better as a full length novel. The young Earl of Denham Abbey is plagued with annoying relatives, sudden visitors, and a ghost who likes to play cupid. The beginning where a girl is stuck there in bad weather reminded me a bit of the Princess and the Pea, and I started to wonder if I should write a retelling of that fairy tale, but found that there have been, so, so, so many remakes and rewrites already. Anyway, the sudden kiss was romantic, but really, does this ever happen in real life? Perhaps not in the time of Me Too and COVID, but there still may be some brave men that throw caution to the wind. The earl was a bit of an absent minded professor type who got his girl because she’d been in love with him for oh, so many years. Girls, sometimes waiting for love works, at least in stories.

Christmas at Wickly: I really like the writing so far in this one and it has a spunky grandma who is going to trap her grandson, the Earl of Wickham, into marrying and settling down. By Judith Nelson, who also may have another novel in this stack I have.

The Kissing Bough: The last one is written by Martha Powers and has chapters split up by kisses. Ends in a fifth kiss. Ok, so what is it about fifth kisses? Is this some sort of thing, a milestone in a relationship or romance? Were fifth kisses special in the Regency era for some reason? No idea, but readers, if any of you are in new relationships, pay attention to your fifth kiss. Maybe it opens a door to another dimension where 2020 is a good year.

Some musings. So my dad died about a month ago and I miss him so much. I know I’ll see him again in heaven, but some days the tears just come and there’s nothing I can do about it. Fortunately, God has blessed me and my mom and siblings with wonderful family and friends who have surrounded us with our love. Life has felt a bit surreal this past month, and the best part has been all the wonderful hugs from people, something I’ve missed so, so much lately. Human contact and skinship is key to health. In our own pain, God has also showed us how many others are hurting. So many who have recently or not so recently lost spouses, family friends, loved ones, and dear ones. It makes me pay more attention now, to others who are hurting in the same way.

It is so awesome how God works. How unexpected he is, and how surprising. God is definitely romantic in his ways. Today he answered a prayer that I didn’t even realize I asked. He knew, he just knew that I wanted an opportunity to make an in person apology to someone, and he made that happen! The timing was perfect. God’s perfect timing.

Another one, and this is a little gross, so sorry if you’re squeamish, but I had this tiny cyst on me, this little hole in my skin for over twenty years, and suddenly in January it got infected and and horror show gross. I was so, so sure I would have to have surgery on it or something, but lo and behold after packing and bandaids for a few weeks, it’s almost all healed! And now there will be no hole at all. Why did this happen and heal now? God was showing me his power, and the power of our God-given bodies to heal, even after such a long time. It’s pretty great. That taught me it’s never too late to heal, and we should never give up on it. We don’t have to be stuck in one bad spot all our lives. God can help us and circumstances change for the better.

Book Review: Cinders & Sparrows

Really, this book is more for October or early November, but I was eager to read and review it as the author, Stefan Bachmann, is on my list of authors to watch, as I love his way with words.

Let’s get the negative out of the way first: Being a Christian, reading stories where witches are the heroes, even Harry Potter, a series I like, makes me uncomfortable. Communing with the dead as the witches do in this story, is definitely more how real witches operate–think the witch of Endor from the Bible. Thus, I am reluctant to recommend this story for any child I know. Nevertheless, I do recommend it for older people on certain merits, and you’ll see those below.

That all being said, there’s lots to like about the story. Zita Brydgeborn, a 12-year-old orphan who works as a house maid, receives a letter that she’s inherited a castle. She’s excited and surprised that her family has seemingly found her and leaves at once to go to Blackbird Castle. The castle is fantastic, not unlike the famous Hogwarts, and Bachmann has us on familiar footing as Zita begins to take witch lessons from Mrs. Cantanker, her new guardian. The main theme is also clearly good vs. evil, though the definitions of both things are pressed within the pages of the story, solidifying it more into a fantasy where people when they die go to an underworld to which live humans can still travel. The story sports a lot of fairy tale references, numerous similarities to the HP series, and in the end resoundingly celebrates life, something I can get onboard with. It’s an exciting story with the main character having to constantly reassess what’s being told her and who to trust.

The main thing I like about C&S is the writing. Again, Bachmann has a wonderful gift with words and I can’t wait to see what he writes next. Some of his sentences and phrases I just want to read over and over again. With this book, he shows himself as a clear possible successor to JK Rowling, should he decide to pursue a series in this vein. The plotting was also well done, and I enjoyed the ending, especially the dragon stairs.

Other works I have read by Bachmann are A Drop of Night, a very creepy, quasi-dystopian adventure tale with all things French that would make a cool movie or TV show, and The Peculiar, which delves into pagan lore, and introduced me to his awesome, crackling writing style.

For lovers of the Harry Potter series, I would highly recommend this book as it’s a glimpse as how a different writer may have handled that story. It may be grating for me to mention HP so much along with this story, but the similarities are everywhere, from Zita being an orphan who gets a letter delivered to her by magical means, to the castle with its creatures and changing rooms, to even the plot, where are horrible curse never to be used is used. It was like when I read Eragon and at every turn, there was The Lord of the Rings. A lot of stories are similar and each can be good and treasured in their own right. C&S has enough of its own uniqueness to break with HP by the end.

Restaurant to Another World: Book Review

Never before have I read a book that made me so hungry! Restaurant to Another World, book 1, by Junpei Inuzuka, is a light read focused on gastronomic goodness. Every Saturday, Western Cuisine Nekoya restaurant in Japan connects to another world, a world full of magicians, elves, warriors, and the like.

Restaurant is charming in its approach: It is from the perspective of the people in the magical world who come to the place to eat their favorite dishes. Although there is some awkward phrasing with the English translation, it mostly works as we are seeing things from the perspective of fantasy people and creatures who struggle to describe the delicious alien dishes. It’s fun seeing our food–and it’s a variety of dishes, not just Japanese dishes–from that viewpoint.

I enjoyed the book, but it was more a series of vignettes rather than a cohesive story. Any and every fantasy creature populates this other world, from Lord of the Rings characters, to tiny people, and there is a complete lack of forward momentum or overarching story arc. Character and food descriptions are okay, but I’m a reader that likes plots, and often complicated ones at that. Perhaps in the subsequent volumes there’s more going on plot wise, but at this time I’m not going to spend the money to find out. The bland names for the countries in the fantasy world disappointed me also: Ocean World, Mountain World, Desert World.

It also seemed unrealistic that not a one of these fantasy creatures and people tried to get out of the restaurant into our world. We get a basic background of what’s going on with the character, they find a door to the restaurant and either order their favorite dish or try it for the first time. Sometimes they get takeout. That’s it, that’s how each chapter plays out.

The idea for Restaurant is creative, and I can see this could be something that teachers could use in the classroom for creative writing. Explain the concept to the students and then they have to think of their own fantasy creature or person and write a short story of what’s going on in their lives, how they come across this restaurant, and the describe the dish they ordered and ate. Describing the food alone would be a great writing exercise. This would totally be something I would have used back in my teaching English as a second or foreign language days.

Updates

Well, Nanowrimo was a bit of a bust for me, but then November, even this November is always very busy at work, so it’s difficult to find the time and brain space for writing. I did get over 10,000 words, so that’s something. Kevin and Becky Colossus are getting into serious trouble and the actors in the Etherland are realizing they are not alone there.

Readingwise, I’ve started The Last of the Mohicans and will also be starting another Regency romance. My stack of possible reads for winter is piling up, and I’m aiming at reading the entire Narnia series, finally getting to The Wings of a Falcon by Cynthia Voigt, and other books which I’ll detail in a future blog post.

Book Review: The Meaning of Everything

Books are a joy to read multiple times, because if they’re good, one gleans more information and enjoyment every time. This is my second time reading Simon Winchester’s The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary, and I quite enjoyed it. It is the tale of how the Oxford English Dictionary or OED came to be, and what an enormous undertaking it was.

This book actually started with a different book that Winchester wrote called The Surgeon of Crowthorne, later to be retitled, about the contribution of a murderer and madman to the OED. The Meaning of Everything describes the full scope of the project.

I have to say the beginning chapter describing the difficulties and strangenesses of the English language compared to others, although interesting is far less so than the stories of the men that follow. Philology, or the study of language and languages, can be nearly as tedious as advanced math, if not more so. There’s also a bit about the history of dictionaries in general. The famous Samuel Johnson wrote his Dictionary of the English Language in 1755, and it was the book of reference for the next hundred years. Others who tried their hand at dictionaries were The Brothers Grimm, Jakob and Wilhelm, who had a lot of people reading for their work. Webster’s Dictionary from America was a great success also, and not too long after that The Philological Society in England started talking about making their own dictionary of the English language.

Dean Trench gave the initial paper and presentation on the subject in 1857 entitled “On Some Deficiencies in our English Dictionaries.” The main deficiency was simply that no dictionary was comprehensive enough. The scope of the Oxford English Dictionary was to be huge, recording not only the various definitions of all words in and taken in to the English language over time, but also the origins of those words. This book was to be the authority on the language. Neither Trench or any other member of the Philological Society foresaw that the project would take 70 years to complete, and the enlisting of hundreds of readers to help them.

Readers for a dictionary are necessary. These are people who read specific books, articles, etc., to find unique or definitive uses of words. That they had so many volunteers really shows how smart and well-read people were at that time. They would send their findings on carefully sized slips of paper that were stored in massive cases of pigeon holes.

The first two editors or project heads for the dictionary did not last long. The first, Chenevix Trench, burnt out quickly, and the second, the diligent but sickly Herbert Coleridge died in a year. The third one, Frederick Furnivall, lasted much longer, but was not fit for the job. He was an eccentric who ended up irritating a lot of people and was overly interested in young women. Thankfully, Furnivall himself realized he was no good at it and recruited one James Murray to take over.

James Murray was amazing–all these men were–having dropped out of school at fourteen, as his family was too poor, yet teaching himself numerous languages and having a vociferous appetite for knowledge of all kinds. He was a bank clerk and later a teacher, beloved by his students because it seemed like he knew everything about everything.

Rival to Murray was Benjamin Jowett of Balliol College in Oxford. He at first tried to hijack the project from Murray, causing Murray to threaten to leave, but another great man, a peacemaker named Henry Hucks Gibbs (later to be a Lord) whose family made money in the guano industry intervened. Eventually Jowett became one of Murray’s greatest supporters.

Some interesting readers, contributors, editors and subeditors of the dictionary were: J.R.R. Tolkien of The Lord of the Rings fame, Fitzedward Hall, an American who taught Sanskrit in England and later became a hermit who found good work working on the OED, and William Chester Minor, another American who was schizophrenic and a murderer placed in an asylum in England. Reading for the OED was his therapy, and notable enough that Winchester first wrote about about him before proceeding to this story.

It’s quite a tale, and The Meaning of Everything is littered appropriately with a plethora of words to look up in the dictionary. Winchester describes the difficulties the editors had with certain letters of the alphabet, especially finding word origins and the like. The end result was a body of 12 volumes that would never really be done as languages are continually in flux. The men who worked on this project were shockingly good at languages, as were the numerous readers that sent in their slips. I have only met a few people in my life who have learned ten or more languages and it boggles my mind, as I seem to only pick up a few words here and there. It’s quite a super power, that one. One of the editors, Henry Bradley, taught himself Russian in only fourteen days.

This story of the beloved OED is fascinating and I think would make a great movie or documentary. The OED today is mostly online with a variety of print editions available. If you are interested in reading obscure or new books for the dictionary, you can go to public.oed.com/contribute-to-the-oed and see the requirement for submitting digitals slips of words. Another aspect the dictionary is currently working on is the confirmation of all of Samuel Johnson’s examples he used in his dictionary, tracking down what work they came from. On the website it sounds like OED editors are assigned to this task and there’s not a lot left to find, but if you are an avid reader of, say, Francis Bacon, and come across the quote, “the chymists have a liquor called water of depart,” be sure to contact them and let them know where you found it.

Loss of Freedom

Just a quick item here. It seems as if WordPress is now in the business of censoring political speech, and is starting to ask Conservatives of “wrong think” to move elsewhere. As my readership is small, it may be some time before they ask me to leave or cancel my account, but if that does happen, I will simply be found at gab.com under Pixie Beldona. (Sorry, haven’t posted much on there at this time). With such, frankly, fascist, censorship going on, it may be soon that all webhosting sites will deplatform anyone not of a leftist and/or globalist mindset, and I don’t have enough money to buy and run my own server. I’d much rather focus on writing. For now Gab is good and for free speech, and hopefully will stay that way. I urge you again, please, please pray for our country. We have the boot of tyranny preparing to slam down on us, should we not rise against it.

RRR: Marriage by Decree

Can a man really be forced into marriage? This is a key question posed in Marriage by Decree, the Signet Regency Romance by Ellen Fitzgerald. Published in 1988 and part of Signet’s Romantic Interludes, this is only one of a few that Fitzgerald wrote for Signet. The story wasn’t half bad, but I didn’t find it to be a keeper, as the magic just wasn’t there.

Back to the question: Can a man, or a woman, for that matter, be forced into marriage? Certainly in some cultures, yes. In the Britain of the Regency Era, though, it was a lot easier for a man to escape an unwanted marriage than a woman. They simply had more resources, especially legal ones, to avoid it. However, this isn’t really what the author refers to in the story. What she’s talking about is the nature of manhood, primarily man’s purposeful pursuance of romance. Basically, it works like this: The man pursues, the women succumb. Don’t believe me as now women are so liberated? Women, try chasing and winning a man who doesn’t want you. Time and time again, you will find it just doesn’t work, but with the tables reversed, women often give in and/or are won over and it all works splendidly. And that is actually very romantic.

In Marriage by Decree, two people are decreed by royalty, aka, the government, to get married. Scandal being the reason. Alice Osborne, our heroine, is an American this time, and not too fond of the British due to the Revolutionary War and its following skirmishes and battles. Alice’s father, Charles, is more optimistic about improving relations between the two countries, and has agreed to be a diplomat to London at the request of the President, who in 1815 would have been James Madison. As they travel by ship to England, Alice is openly scornful of anyone on the ship who looks as if they might be a British soldier.

Deep down, though, Alice is a good soul, and during a storm on the sea, saves one of those soldiers from being washed overboard. This part I thought could have used more description. Help came too quickly, though the way some women can scream, would definitely garner immediate attention. At any rate, despite holding him fast and screaming, Alice doesn’t do much, it’s one of the sailors who gets the solider below deck. Despite that fact, tall, dark, and handsome Robert Saint-Aubyn is overwhelmed with gratitude for the pretty red-headed eighteen-year-old. The lesson, here, ladies is to assist handsome men when they are in dire need as they will be extremely grateful and will perhaps even want to marry you.

Despite what would normally be a turning point for someone, Alice is still scornful of Robert, though attracted. Definitely attracted. Sadly, he already has a fiancee, something Alice’s friend Phoebe bemoans, as she has been instantly smitten. When they arrive in England, Alice and Phoebe part ways, as Phoebe’s going to live in Scotland. The Osbornes settle in London and Alice is able to meet Richard’s fiancee, Janet. At first, Janet seems quite helpful to the women who saved her fiancee’s life, but the “help” soon grates on Alice, who as an American is used to more freedom.

Janet sends a harridan of a woman to be a companion to Alice, but the woman proves to be overly strict, causing Alice to react poorly, leaving the house secretively to meet men she barely knows, much to her father’s horror. Of course he responds by making her prison even tighter around her. It is not without reason that Alice should have a chaperone everywhere she goes, the streets of London aren’t always safe, men do have sinister motives, and young women are very naive. However, Alice is more naive than most, and that grated on me during the story. She is so loathing of Britain in the beginning, yet how quickly a handsome stranger persuades her throw caution to the winds.

Soon Alice finds herself in truly dire straights. The handsome fiend, a womanizer named Lord Winston, helps her escape her house in the dead of night and take her hours away to the whorehouse of a French emigre. Alice’s stupidity doesn’t end there: She allows the Lord to ply her with enough alcohol to make her drunk and lead her upstairs to “rest.”

In comes our hero, Robert, who has not forgotten Alice and keeps talking about her life-saving heroics to Janet, who is obviously quite jealous by this time. Turns out Lord Winston is a friend of Janet’s and they have both plotted together to ruin Alice. Winston will sleep with Alice and leave her, allowing her to fall out of all good society. When Robert hears of this he goes into knight errant mode and immediately takes off to rescue Alice, with barely a thought for Janet in the process. After the rescue, the pair find it slow-going to get back to London and have to stop at an inn at which there is only one room left. When Robert drops her at home, the servants hear him speaking of their adventures and scandal ensues. So much so that the Prince Regent himself, a friend of Robert’s, decrees that Robert and Alice must marry even though they did not sleep together. Janet leaves Robert and he caves, agreeing to marry Alice.

At first it seems as if the two may make the best of things with this unwanted marriage, but after arriving at Robert’s estate called The Towers (Wives and Daughters! So have to read that again), he takes off for days, deserting his new bride. Alice despairs, thinking she will never find happiness with a man who was forced to marry her. But her servant wisely says that no man can truly be forced into marriage. On some level, Robert did in fact want to marry her. Robert himself struggles with this reality. He finds himself needing some time to get over Janet, who has stupidly eloped with Lord Winston, but when he returns is resolute, and also horrified to find that Alice has been riding out with Tim, one of the stable hands–not romantically, of course, but servants will talk. He is at once afraid that all women are like Janet, but soon finds that Alice wants to be true to him, it’s just that she needs some help.

Here’s a lesson for the men: It’s not logical and if they try, women can fight against the mentality, but if a women doesn’t have some kind of connection with her man for a few days, she may become anxious. This is entirely due to the nature of women. We want to please men and we want reassurance we are accepted. If we don’t think we’re accepted, we may determine to find out how to get accepted, to be pleasing, change our clothes, or hair, even behavior. We really are very anxious to please. A women who doesn’t hear from her partner in a few days will be much, much more anxious than a man will. A man will logically think she’s just busy. A woman will illogically think there must be something wrong. Men in relationships, help yourselves out here: Don’t leave your woman hanging for too long. Connect with her as much as you can and reassure her that she is the one you want. Yeah, it’s annoying, but it will save you so much time and energy in the long run.

This illogical anxiety is Alice’s state of mind and she just doesn’t have the maturity to realize it for what it is. Her servant helps her the most by telling her that Robert wouldn’t have married her if he hadn’t wanted to do it. Neither prince or country could make him. Robert comes back and proves that this is true. He soundly beds his wife and makes her incandescently happy.

The last half of the story I didn’t find super interesting. The villainess Janet rises again, being as she’s one of those people who think if they aren’t happy, no one should be happy, and it just gets over the top, what with Alice getting kidnapped by an angry ex-soldier and held hostage. It was just too, too much, although the contemplating of the mood between America and Britain at the time I did find interesting. It’s not something we think a lot about today. Not a bad story, not bad writing, but forgettable. Nothing really stood out about it to me, except the intriguing question from above.

We are in different times today, and in many countries it’s not likely one would be forced into marriage. I think it likely few of either sex today would allow themselves to be forced into a marriage they didn’t want. Men sometimes say that women trap them into marriage by getting pregnant, but I think it’s just something they say to avoid the fact it was their choice to sleep with the woman and also their choice to marry her. It’s takes both a man and a woman to make a baby. It just does, and it’s silly to blame another person for choices one freely makes. So, can a man be forced into marriage? Can a woman? Do babies force marriage? It is a true kindness and goodness to a child if his parents are married, but our current society doesn’t make it mandatory. I think the answer is that no, neither sex is forced, not these days. If they get married, it’s because on some level they want to either be married to that person, or to just be married.

One more thing for women: Women’s anxiety over her man. It’s a thing, we do have this, but if you are married to a good man, or even a bad one, remember that he chose to do it. He chose you instead of all the others out there. There should be some security in that. And often if he’s not in touch or not around much, he truly is busy. He’s dealing with work or projects he has to get done. Men, I would like to say the reverse is true, but it’s not a great sign if your woman is not in touch with you. Working women are in fact forced into single focus man mode while on the job, so that’s an exception there, but otherwise it’s generally not in the nature of a woman to stay disconnected from you. We crave those connections constantly.

Alright, and that’s my Regency Romance advice for today! What do you think? Do you think that’s true about men and women or am I just spinning yarns of worlds here? Too many romances going to my head, perhaps?

Up next week, a review of Missing: The Other Side, a ghostly tale perfect for Halloween.

Those D’Urbervilles: A Review of Tess of the…

Thomas Hardy just may be my new favorite writer. Somehow I missed reading Tess of the D’Urbervilles in school and am sorely sorry I did. What a crazy, wonderful book. There’s much to love and hate about the story and that’s kind of why I like it–Great literature often produces polarizing views and opinions.

Because Hardy is writing in a time of more censor in art and entertainment, the scenes regarding the rape were unclear to me. Not that I wanted to read violence or anything, it’s just he wrote it in a way that even Tess herself didn’t understand she was raped. But Hardy makes it very clear she doesn’t like Alex D’Urberville, especially in the last part of the story. More spoilers ahead.

Tess is a sad, sad story, but it’s not a boring sad story: It ends with a cathartic, pathetic climax of both horror and ecstasy. I do not like the story itself, nor many of the characters, but it reminded me of another much hailed horrible story: The Great Gatsby by Scott F. Fitzgerald. Both of these books are somewhat the horrors of their times on display, written in gorgeous prose. Most of the enjoyment is in the writing itself, but as with Gatsby, there’s much to learn from Tess about the times in which she lived.

Again, we come to the problem of a woman in being young and beautiful. Here, my sympathy is roused, as Tess faces not only a rapist who impregnates her, but who, after encountering her later on continues stalking and pursuing her. Because she is poor and her husband who could have helped her has abandoned her, she has little defense against him. The story is intended to show how hypocritical society is towards young women who have been wronged in this way. The rape part aside for a brief moment, even still today a woman that sleeps around is reviled, where a man that does the same is often lifted up as having many conquests. Why this is the case, I’m not sure, but it has largely to do with the differences between the sexes, and there are many.

This is shown a bit in the story: Tess and three of her friends all are in love with Angel, our almost hero. One gets the impression that at least her friends would have all been perfectly happy to be in a harem with Angel. Maybe they think it would be better than nothing. Tess herself seems genuinely sad for them that they don’t get the desire of their heart. They also are genuinely happy that Angel chooses her. This is may be a bit of a fantastical view of women from a man’s point of view, but it is true that at least some women don’t seem to mind sharing a man. Men seem far less likely to agree to share their woman with another man, and a man who would, would automatically go down a few notches in a woman’s perspective of him.

I think the dichotomy between the sexes comes largely due to the fact that men are and should be the pursuers when it comes to romance. It just doesn’t work out when the woman is the one doing the pursuing, and that is the implication that comes to mind when we hear of a women having many sexual partners.

However, this is not our dear, beautiful Tess! In this story, Tess is an innocent teenager who has been raped. Society should have compassion on her; sadly, in those times, it often did not. Hardy doesn’t really show society’s rejection of Tess in full force. He shows it through one man: Angel Clare. Like his name, Angel is a fanciful head-in-the-clouds kind of person. He doesn’t take the religion of his parents seriously, has the luxury of being well off enough to have time to think and dabble in farming, considering making it his occupation. Being able to study, think, and write is really a form of wealth all on its own. Tess is quite a thinker herself, but she has to do it while doing physical labor or while making treks of miles and miles across Wessex, Hardy’s fictional English county.

Angel Clare is essentially modern society at the time, throwing off religion and taking up fanciful views of the people who work the land. He is a man who imagines himself to be very liberal minded, but when it comes down to it, it is the Christian love and forgiveness that would have served him far better than any liberal attitudes. Not that Tess really has anything to forgive. It was so, so hard to read the chapter when they finally got married and on their wedding night she still hadn’t told him that she wasn’t a virgin, when lo and behold, he suddenly brings up the topic. Angel, too, is no virgin, having had a fling one night. He is anxious that Tess would forgive him for this and her soul soars because she, too, has a similar sin to confess, and is thrilled thinking they will both forgive each other and that will be the end of the matter.

But as will people who profess to be tolerant, often one finds they are not. So it is with Angel. He rejects her almost instantly. Does he understand she’s been raped? Does society understand this about the incident? Tess’s mother certainly does, but she seems to be the only one. Tess is so in love with Angel, that she agrees to be a martyr, to take whatever punishment he meets out. Hardy says she would have been far better to act more the emotional women, to beg and plead at his feet, as then he would have been won over and relented. Hardy is referring to the fact that men are moved by women’s genuine tears; and to their credit, they so often are. We love that about men. Hardy also states that Angel’s father who is a preacher and very religious is far more full of forgiveness than the irreligious son. It is true that society so often promotes the judgmental church, that it forgets the church is also and much more so about forgiveness and love, and being able to start over no matter what–all things are possible with God.

Tess’s behavior in willingly letting Angel walk all over here is pathetic, but it comes from an unstable mind: It is unclear in the book until the end that Tess understands that what Alex did to her was wrong, though she is afraid of him and talks about doing him harm if he keeps showing up in her life. It is also clear that Angel’s rejection is merely a picture of society’s rejection of her. At this time Tess would be perfectly happy to die at Angel’s hand as punishment for her sin. This foreshadows her death at the hand of society for another, worse, sin. Tess really has no outlet for sharing her sorrows, for the guilt of the rape is placed on herself, i.e., she never should have put herself in that vulnerable position. While it’s true that sometimes young women don’t use common sense in dress and behavior that encourages unwanted attention, I don’t think it’s fair to blame them for a man raping them. Even Alex continually says it’s her fault for being so attractive! Is this belief genuine, from Alex, from society, and from Angel? It seems to me a good way not to deal with the actual problem: Alex D’urberville is a dangerous predator who should be tried and charged.

Happily, Angel eventually wakes up from his stupidity, realizing a year or more later that he does love Tess and does forgive her. Sadly, there still is little self-reflection on his own sin. Aside from his confession on their wedding night–a confession in which there was no question in his mind that Tess would forgive him–he thinks little of it. What hypocrites we humans are: We commit the same sin (though I wouldn’t call it a sin on Tess’s part) and ignore it in ourselves, yet see it as unforgivable in other people.

Angel and Tess are reunited for a few good nights of passion, but this comes at a cost: Tess murders Alex D’Urberville. Because Angel takes so long coming back to her, and she and her family are so down on their luck, Tess becomes prey once again for Alex. Although he is loathsome, when someone wants to step in and provide for you and your family that are on the brink homelessness and starvation, that’s hard to turn down. She also believes his lies that her husband will never come back to her, and it is those lies that actually cause her to stab Alex.

The story ends rather epically in the early morning as Tess and Angel are fleeing cross country. They happen upon Stonehenge and decide to rest there, only to be surrounded by the police. As before, Tess is only too happy to be taken away to be tried and executed for her sin. I think Hardy is making it very difficult for society at the time to swallow such a thing as the criminal so eager to be brought to justice. The implication in this is that even in committing murder, Tess did nothing wrong. Again, Christian love, forgiveness, and understanding from the beginning would have been far better, as would have justice against the true villain, Alex, but then we wouldn’t have a story.

For a time, Hardy has Alex himself reform and take up religion, but it is only a sham, for the moment he sees Tess again, he drops God like a hot potato, and picks up his sin of wrongfully pursuing her once again. Alex justifies this by claiming to love her and also to want to take care of her and provide for her, but it’s pretty clear all he’s going by is lust.

What the significance is with the D’Urberville family history in the story, I’m still not sure. Tess is Tess Durbeyfeld, and her family was at one time the powerful D’Urberville tribe, of which her very distant cousin, Alex, is one of the last. The family estates and cemetery plots appear to be all over the county. Tess’s father is a drunken lout, who has no real keening for work. He’s a dreamer and when he finds out that his family was rich long, long ago, he fancies that somehow riches will find his family again, as if by magic. He and his wife send their eldest daughter, Tess, out in search of the leftover D’Urbervilles, putting her in Alex’s way, and there the story begins. So far has the family fallen, that their last remaining heir is a rapist, and Tess’s branch of the family poverty stricken. It’s all great, great stuff, especially Angel’s profession not to care for lofty families, but then being impressed that Tess is a D’Urberville. Maybe the significance is, again, just the ironies involved, or Angel’s inconsistency. It’s easy to forget that he, too, is very young–maybe 25?

Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed the story and the wonderful writing, and will definitely be reading it again at some point. I take it back what I said about good looking people: It can be a curse for them, just as much as ugly looks can be a kind of curse for others. The good news is that we don’t have to live our lives based on such shallow things. We can choose to rise above them, and with God’s help, succeed. This love and charity Hardy showed best between Tess and her friends. They were only too happy for each other’s success in romance, held no grudges against each other, and continued being friends and giving genuine help, despite their unfortunate fixation on Angel Clare. As for this idea that only women are held accountable when it comes to sex, it’s hard to deny that even today, this is still somewhat true. It may be largely due to the fact that women alone can get pregnant, a nine-month visibility of the sin. Happily today, rape is considered wrong and not the women’s fault, though that’s muddied a bit by some women falsely accusing men of the crime and the feminist push to perceive all men as rapists.

Again, we don’t have to live this way. All women are not harlots trying to trap men and all men are not rapists trying to abuse women. I for one would be happy to see the movements of the sexual revolution and feminism die the agonizing deaths they well deserve. Both philosophies are a stain on humanity and have caused so much grief, sorrow, and torment, especially for women. Nowadays, some men have been so estranged from women that they will gleefully talk about sleeping with them whenever they feel like it, but never about protecting, providing, or loving them. With glee, these men joke about lonely cat ladies, while they eagerly pile on wealth for themselves and themselves alone. Many women do the same, neither caring for or nurturing the men they sleep with, and only wanting their money, quickly divorcing them for the alimony at the first chance they get. Both attitudes keep the cycle of war between the sexes spinning at an impressive rate. How did we get here?

I say, again, we don’t have to live this way. We can choose to marry, to settle down, to have children and family, to have lives full of love and meaning. We can rise above past hurts and still love and care for the opposite sex. Even if for some reason we can’t marry or can’t have kids, we can support those who can, and encourage their prosperity. Families, not single, selfish, lonely people, are the true building blocks of a thriving society. Tess clearly shows that all of Angel’s lofty ideas are but nought if he has not love and charity. This, for me, was the true lesson of the story.

Jeremiah: Always timely

This was supposed to be published last week, but other things got in the way. Gotta earn my daily bacon somehow. Next week I plan to review Tess of the D’Urbervilles and also possibly the Kdrama Melting Me Softly, if I finish it in time. Tried Watcher starring Han Suk Kyu (Secret Door) and Seo Kang Joon (When the Weather is Fine), and made it to episode 5 before realizing I was extremely bored, despite it being an interesting plot of investigation police corruption. Sometimes a show can be too slowly paced, even if it’s a slow burn type of story. On to the prophet Jeremiah:

In Bible reading the Old Testament prophets don’t get a lot of love. Many people like Psalms, Proverbs in the OT, and the Gospels and letters of the New Testament, but the books of the prophets are often a hard sell for daily reading. For one thing, God’s prophets were sent with one main message: Repent or you will be destroyed. Not a happy message. God also asked the prophets to do strange things in their lives, making them into living object lessons for the people. The books of the prophets often require a knowledge and understanding of the history of Israel and Judah at the time as well, so they can really be intimidating. These days, I’m reading Jeremiah, as I’ve never read the whole thing before, but I’m doing it via The People’s Bible series, which combines commentary and annotations to the text, presenting a fuller picture for the reader.

Jeremiah prophesied from 627BC to 586BC, some forty plus years. He lived in Judah after the northern kingdom of Israel had been destroyed, and went through four kings of Judah in his time of ministry. After I finish Jeremiah, I want to read the parts of 2 Kings that deal with this time in history, as it will give more a picture of each king’s reign. The first king, Josiah, was a good king, who rediscovered the Scriptures and helped lead at least some of the Jews back to worshipping God. Josiah’s sons, however, were ungodly and despicable, and although God’s patience is long, eventually the kingdom of Judah was conquered by Babylon and king Nebuchadnezzar.

A prophet’s life is one of ministry, it’s a calling and is one’s whole life. Jeremiah didn’t get to have a wife or family, as God wanted him solely focused on telling the people of Judah what God wanted him to say. For warning the kingdom of the coming destruction, Jeremiah got no thanks and was much abused by the people and officials of the day. His life was often threatened and at times he was imprisoned or put in the stocks. Still, he kept speaking the truth, hoping that some would listen, repent, and turn back to the Living God who so loves them.

One thing I really like with The People’s Bible series is getting more background of what’s going on. It also helps in separating what parts of the prophecy are Jeremiah speaking and what parts are what God said. For some reason in trying to read it straight through on my own, I didn’t really distinguish it as much, even though it’s pretty clearly identified by Jeremiah. Likely, I was just trying to read it too fast. Forty years, lots of prophecies. Now I’m about halfway, and like with Isaiah, another long book of prophecies, one almost gets whiplash. It goes from punishment to redemption, destruction to salvation, and captivity to freedom. That is kind of the roller coaster or rather pendulum of the Christian faith. Sin, repentance, forgiveness and redemption…and then usually back to Sin again, because our sinful natures constantly drag us down, pulling us away from God. Again, again, and again, we need to be shown our sin and turn back to God. If that’s sounds frustrating for us, it’s probably even more so for God, but he hasn’t deserted us. He has a lot of patience, considering. In Jeremiah, he had a lot of patience for Judah as well, but finally had to fulfill the prophesies of destruction and captivity, for they would not repent of their idolatry and turn back to them.

Unrepentant hearts aren’t unique to Judah. This is a problem every nation faces. Many Christians can see the same effects of sin and idolatry in America today. It’s maybe not outright idol worship, but it’s just as destructive to the country. We have many criminals and people of violence wishing to seize power and drag us down even further. However, I think many people are turning back to God, which is a wonderful thing. Now, a lot of the evil is being so blatant and open about what they are doing that many people’s eyes are being opened to the truth. Our governments have all become very, very corrupt, and it is only by God’s grace that we currently have a president who actually loves America and its people.

The other side only has fear, violence, and hate. Most people don’t want to live that way; they want to live quiet lives and go to work and care for their families. For some reason, in this day and time, God is letting the good people have power again, and they are gaining more every day. I’d like to think that he is relenting in our country’s destruction because many are turning back to him in prayer, but I don’t know for sure. God chooses the authorities and rulers in this world, and, good or bad, he works out what they do for his purposes. In Jeremiah, it’s clear that any ruler who deliberately scorns God is walking a dangerous tightrope, both for himself and for his nation.

Jeremiah also has some good quotes. I’m on chapter 29 and here are my favorites so far:

Circumcize yourselves to the Lord, circumcise your heart, you men of Judah and people of Jerusalem, or my wrath will break out and burn like fire because of the evil you have done–burn with no one to quench it. –Jeremiah 4:4

Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, “We will not walk in it.” –Jeremiah 6:16

They have built the high places of Topheth in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to burn their sons and daughters in the fire–something I did not command, nor did it enter my mind. –Jeremiah 7:31

O Lord, my strength and my fortress, my refuge in time of distress, to you the nations will come from the ends of the earth and say, “Our fathers possessed nothing but false gods, worthless idols that did them no good. Do men make their own gods? Yes, but they are not gods!” “Therefore I will teach them–this time I will teach them my power and might. Then they will know that my name is the Lord.” –Jeremiah 16:19-21

“But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is him him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that send out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit. –Jeremiah 17:7-8

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? –Jeremiah 17:9

“I will punish you as your deeds deserve,” declares the Lord. “I will kindle a fire in your forests and will consume everything around you.” –Jeremiah 21:14

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The Lord Our Righteousness.” –Jeremiah 23:5-6

“Am I only a God nearby,” declares the Lord, “and not a God far away? Can anyone hide in secret places so I cannot see him?” declares the Lord. “Do not I fill heaven and earth?” declares the Lord. –Jeremiah 23:23-24

“But the prophet who prophesies peace will be recognized as one truly sent by the Lord only if his prediction comes true.” (Jeremiah speaking to the false prophets who kept saying everything would be fine and that Judah would not be destroyed) –Jeremiah 28:9

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” –Jeremiah 29:11-13

There are so, so many more good quotes, so many cool idioms and metaphors, and such great descriptions, that I just couldn’t write them all down. Would have to become a biblical scribe. I’m sure by the time I’m done reading it, I will have many more quotes written down. Jeremiah is timely in his message now and until the end of the world, because we are always sinning, and always need God to remind us to repent and to turn to him and all will be forgiven through the blood of Jesus. It’s very comforting to know that God does take sin seriously, especially idolatry and the evil practices regarding children of the day. This has not gone away. Children are still being trafficked and abused horribly by those in power who practice idolatry or even just pretend to practice it to get ahead in whatever power group in which they want to advance. Because God does take sin seriously, it is all the more comforting to see he is just as serious about our salvation from sin. He wants everyone, all people, to turn to him, to believe on Jesus Christ who lived a perfect life and died for them, and to be saved to eternal life.