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Category Archives: 19th Century

The Warden

At first I didn’t think I’d ever get into The Warden’s story. Whether a clergyman in Victorian England kept his £800 stipend or not seemed insignificant, but Trollope did get to me and when Mr. Harding is attacked by the press thanks to John Bold, I was won over. I suppose I have a soft spot for anyone who’s bullied, though I also kept wondering about this money. 

Anthony Trollope’s novel The Warden centers on a dilemma over the money the Warden, a clergyman who’s in charge of the welfare of a dozen bedesmen (also spelled beadsmen), to whom a wealthy man bequeathed money to support in their old age, is accused of getting too much money himself. The mild mannered Mr. Harding isn’t prepared for a scandal. He wasn’t taking a farthing more than allotted but John Bold, who’s sweet on Harding’s daughter feels the whole agreement is a major injustice.

Should more go to the bedesmen? How much? I did find the story to be an effective tug-of-war because Harding’s Archdeacon son-in-law seemed to be a personification of what can go wrong with the clergy.

When I found out that £800 is over $100,000 in today’s economy, I did see John Bold’s side better. I will say Trollope succeeded in creating realistic tension between the characters and added to it by making Harding’s daughter Eleanor in love with Bold and his other daughter Susan the Archdeacon’s wife.

I was at a disadvantage not knowing all these titles: Warden, Archdeacon, bedesmen, but soon enough I got the gist. 

By the novel’s end, Mr. Harding did impress me with his willingness to abandon his stipend, his home and comfort, though it cost him the esteem of those in his circle who thought he was crazy. 

I mentioned earlier that like many English books, films or television programs, even members of the clergy don’t seem particularly religious. It’s like this society just sees religion as an organization that has a code for a good life. Mr. Harding could work for the Boy Scouts. I think C.S. Lewis, Evelyn Waugh and Graham Green’s books show more spirituality. These writers wonderfully approach spiritual topics using flawed characters. (I suppose a modern version of this could show Green Peace or another organization. Human nature doesn’t change much. Mr. Harding did know and befriend the bedesmen and they got what they are do.)

A young and brash, John Bold was a surgeon, who knew how to take things apart and not how to heal or put things together.  He had a valid point, but never thought through how to best handle it and ran off to the press, to a sensationalizing journalist who writes anonymously. I could see this updated by cutting out the middleman (journalist) and just typing away on the internet and things getting way out of hand. His passion reminds me of what Eric Hoeffer refers to in The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements, which I read at the same time as The Warden, coincidentally. Bold is dogmatic and rushes to a lawyer and the press, which I think we’ve learned can make things worse, while Harding, whom I preferred, questioned himself a lot, sometimes too much, and truly knew these bedesmen and shared friendship, though maybe not on equal social terms, while I don’t believe Bold visited them. (I may have forgotten if he did.) 

Trollope’s satire worked in how he crafted the Archdeacon, Bold and the rest of the characters. Because Mr. Harding describes his thoughts and understanding of his duty so well, I came to like him.

 
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Posted by on April 18, 2021 in 19th Century, fiction

 

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Heard on The Crown

I’m just starting to watch season 4 of The Crown and heard Margaret Thatcher recite this poem to buttress her decision to reshuffle her cabinet.

No Enemies

by Charles MacKay

You have no enemies, you say? 
Alas! my friend, the boast is poor; 
He who has mingled in the fray 
Of duty, that the brave endure, 
Must have made foes! If you have none, 
Small is the work that you have done. 
You’ve hit no traitor on the hip, 
You’ve dashed no cup from perjured lip, 
You’ve never turned the wrong to right, 
You’ve been a coward in the fight.

 
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Posted by on February 11, 2021 in 19th Century, poetry

 

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Book Club: Up From Slavery

Carol Swain

Carol Swain, PhD, discusses Up from Slavery with Michael Knowles. I remember reading parts of it in junior high. It’s back on my reading list.

 
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Posted by on September 20, 2020 in 19th Century, African American Lit, Book club

 

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A Beautiful Blue Death

bluedeathI learned about Charles Finch’s A Beautiful Blue Death at Citizen Reader’s blog. Again her recommendation was spot on. Finch’s first novel, a mystery introduced me to amateur detective Charles Lennox. Lennox’s friend Lady Jane asks him to look into the death of her former maid Prudence Smith.

Lennox is very much cut from the same cloth as Sherlock Holmes, though he’s polished his social skill more than Benedict Cumberbach’s Sherlock. His right hand man is Dr. Mitchell, these amateur detectives are shrewd to have a close friend who can analyze poison, dead bodies and such. Graham is Lennox’s butler who’s willing to go to the ends of the earth for his boss.

Strong, fascinating female characters include

“Pru” is an interesting victim. She entrances me and as Lennox investigates he keeps learning of yet another lover. She appears to have been a strong woman who spoke up for herself and for what’s right, which is how she wound dead.

Following the Holmesian path, Lennox must deal with an inept Scotland Yard and that’s lead by Exeter, who’s about 5 steps behind Lennox vis-a-vis science and logic.

A Beautiful Blue Death has a smooth style and kept surprising me till the very last pages. Though Finch is American, his tone and style were very British. I’ll read more in this smart, delightful series.

 
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Posted by on October 17, 2019 in 19th Century, fiction, mystery

 

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The Old Wives’ Tale

a3fba127a3076a6465b57e6895a575ef“. . . humanity walks ever on a thin crust over terrific abysses.”

I’d never heard of Arnold Bennett or his novel The Old Wives’ Tale till my friend chose it for us to read and discuss. The Old Wives’ Tale focuses on two sisters in Northern England in the fictional “Five Towns” area. The oldest Constance is a practical, predictable yet strong woman, while Sophia is a vivacious beauty who pushes all the boundaries.

Their mother is much like Constance and faithful to conventions. Their father is bedridden, which means the family’s welfare depends on the mother running the business, a drapery store.

The story starts with the girls in their teens. Despite their different personalities, they get along for the most part. Sophia yearns for romance and excitement, while Constance is satisfied with working in the family store and living a standard middle class life. When their father dies and Sophia runs off with a dapper traveling salesman, the story takes off.

A keen observer, Bennett fills the novel with insights that make readers think, “Yes, people are like that, even today.” Although there are many stories of bourgeois life or of the prodigal who runs off, Bennett’s characters experience surprises till the bitter end. His characters, even minor ones, are alive and worthy of respect and sympathy. I’m happy to say I’ve found another author I’ll read more of.

 
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Posted by on March 22, 2019 in 19th Century, British Lit, British literature, chick lit, classic, fiction

 

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Sepia Saturday: Reading

Sepia Saturday 460 : 9 March 2019

Reading is one of my favorite pastimes and it’s this week’s inspiration for Sepia Saturday. Look what I found on the theme.

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Source: Nationaal Archief, Flickr Commons, 1951

I didn’t know ostriches liked to read.

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Mennonite Archives, Flickr Commons, n.d.

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Florida Memories, Flickr Commons, 1940

Woman in Sarasota reading (with schadenfreude) of the harsh winter weather up north.

I started wondering about what artists have done to portray reading. Here’s what I found.

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“The Reader,” B. Morisot, 1888

Picasso

Reading, Picasso, 1932

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Nurse Reading to a little Girl, M. Cassat, 1895

To see more Sepia Saturday posts from this week, click here.

 
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Posted by on March 9, 2019 in 19th Century, history

 

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On Liberty

Here’s a short video I made introducing the ideas of John Stuart Mill culled from his work “On Liberty.” Mill was a big champion of free speech.

I think more people should read this book. Project Gutenberg has it for free here.

 
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Posted by on August 10, 2018 in 19th Century, British Lit, British literature, non-fiction

 

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From What I’m Reading

9780141441283

I’m reading The Wings of the Dove by Henry James and this quotation stood out:

“Oh,” he laughed, “I like her so much; and then, for a man of my trade,
her views, her spirit, are essentially a thing to get hold of; they
belong to the great public mind that we meet at every turn and that we
must keep setting up ‘codes’ with. Besides,” he added, “I want to
please her personally.”

I liked that a reporter or journalist would so appreciate such a mind.

Has a quotation stood out in your reading?

 
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Posted by on June 11, 2018 in 19th Century, American Lit, classic, fiction

 

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TBR: Dostoyevsky

To be read – Dostoyevsky – right after I finish The Wings of the Dove.

 
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Posted by on May 24, 2018 in 19th Century, fiction, Russian Literature

 

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Germinal

9780199536894

Part of Émile Zola’s Rougon-Marquart series, Germinal is set in a mining town in 19th century France. The title comes from the new Republic’s calendar, it’s the name of month in spring when things start sprouting. Whatever you might imagine the life of a miner to be like, it was far worse in France. At times I had to put the book down, because it was just too heart-breaking to read about the suffering people endured.

The hero is Étienne Lantier who arrives in town seeking work. Trained as a mechanic, Étienne accepts the only work available, working in the mines. Pay’s low so he moves in with a mining family and shares a room with Catherine, their teenage daughter to whom he’s attracted. But love is not in the offing. Catherine’s jus 14 and her poor diet has stunted her maturation, but she’s involved with Chaval, a boy, who also works in the mine. Brutish and abusive, Chaval is a product of the mines, not the sort of boyfriend who can respect a girl. Respect though is a luxury item, just like a good meal. Like all their peers, Chaval and Catherine work all day in a back-breaking environment and spend their nights having sex in a kind of quarry. The young and old’s spirits have been crushed and there’s no hope, romance or joy. Life offers few choices so if you’re pregnant and your boyfriend beats you, you put up with it. Life’s about survival.

The work and environment is described in acute detail. Work was arduous in the sweltering mines. Pay was so low that children had to work. Encouraged by Étienne and a couple others who’ve read up on socialism and labor rights, the miners go on strike. Then the oppression reaches new lows. They’re tough and dedicated, but are soon starving as their pooled savings run out. As you’d expect the workers’ pay gets reduced and their expected output increased. The owners are far off in Paris. The mine’s run by managers who’re well paid, but have no power. Miners and their families start to die. Some return to work and violence ensues. Just as things appear to improve more disaster, disaster based on a true event, strikes.

Each day I looked forward to reading more of this gripping story, but then would have to put it down as the hardship was unbearable, worse than other stories of coal mingling like King Coal by Upton Sinclair. I appreciated Zola’s descriptions and how he portrayed his era with such clarity. (Though when people were moving through the mines it was hard to grasp how extensive they were.)

To his credit, Zola doesn’t glorify the miner’s and vilify the managers and elite. There’s plenty of realism and fairness to go round. I appreciated Zola’s prose and his complex characters.  I read that Zola researched Germinal painstakingly and even went into the mines to see the conditions.

 
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Posted by on April 8, 2018 in 19th Century, book review, fiction, French Lit

 

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