Monday, November 18, 2013

November 2013 Books

I have been reading several books at the same time. I decided to re-read Mansfield Park which by the way is a great book to read if you have any trouble falling asleep:) There is absolutely no violence of any sort, and the most shocking thing which happens is the adultery committed by Maria and Henry Crawford. It's quite soothing for one's nerves, and Heaven knows, I needed it badly.

Another book I want to talk about is Friendly Brook which is a collection of short stories by R. Kipling. I decided I wanted to read something more sophisticated than Agatha Christie and was lucky to find this book in a second-hand book store in Delft. So far I have read all the stories but the last one, as here I got distracted by rereading the Narnia books (more about them later).

Well, what should I say? Kipling's stories are sophisticated. In fact, I  had difficulty with understanding some of them, and once I only got it, after my husband explained it to me. The language is also quite difficult at times for someone who is not a native speaker, especially when the author is copying some local dialect.

The first interesting thing I learned from that book is that Kipling, just like Mozart, had connections with Masons. In two of the stories, In the Interests of the Brethren, and A Madonna of the Trenches, the action, at least partly, takes place inside a Masonic Lodge, and Masonic traditions and rituals are described. It seems like everybody was a Mason in those times.

Second, women don't come off too nicely in his stories. They are either adulterous wives (A Madonna of the Trenches, Dayspring Mishandled) or display cruelty and meanness above of that of an average man. In Mary Postgate, a woman lets a wounded German soldier die a slow painful death and observes his agony with satisfaction, while a man, according to the author's own words, would rush to help, bring the doctor and try to save the wounded enemy's life.

I probably shouldn't be surprised about these sentiments from a man who wrote a poem saying that a female of the species is more deadly than a male but still...My father told me that when men write books it's mostly to show women in the unfavourable light, and vice versa, and he is probably right, though in my own book I tried to be fair to both sexes:)

Some of the stories had a mystic component to them. In Madonna of the Trenches, a soldier commits suicide to join his mistress who died a day before, and another soldier observes the ghost of the dead woman as she is calling the man she loved. In The Wish House, a woman enlists help of an evil spirit, so-called Token and sacrifices her health and life to save her lover. That last one was quite scary, I even dreamed of it next night.

 Madonna of the Trenches, by the way, has lovely descriptions of soldiers crawling over half frozen, decomposing corpses of their slain comrades, as a daily occurance. It was part of their patriarchal privilege, apparently, but if feminists have their way, women will be able to share in the experience during the next war.

In general, Kipling's stories kill all one's illusions about the moral state of the Victorian and post-Victorian English society, as they show adultery, illegitimate children and similar things were hardly an exception in those days, though illegitimate kids were mostly passed off as nephews and people seldom bothered to divorce officially.

Some stories deal with the topic of revenge, like Dayspring Mishandled. In Sea Constables, a man lets his enemy die from pneumonia even though he has the means to help him, but not a legal obligation to do so. It makes one wonder what one would do in his place. Regulus is a story about the boys' school and The Eye of Allah is a story about medieval monks.

I'm not going to write a thesis about Kipling's prose though, so I'd better stop, but if you ever come across a book with his stories, keep in mind they are well worth reading.

Now finally a couple of words about Narnia series. They certainly will always stay ones of my favourite children's books, but there is something interesting I noticed about them. If you read the books in the order in which they were written, instead of in chronological order, starting with the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, then Prince Caspian etc you will see that the girls first don't participate in battles. "Wars are ugly when women fight", says Father Christmas in the first book, and Lucy is given only a dagger, though Susan has a bow.

In Prince Caspian Susan uses her bow a couple of times, but doesn't kill anyone, and during the final battle, the girls stay with Aslan. In Silver Chair, Jill isn't given any weapons at all, except a knife; doesn't take any part in fighting. Then in The Horse and his Boy, it's suddenly Lucy who becomes a valiant warrior and goes to battle with her brothers, while Susan stays at home. Looks like Lewis changed his views on women in combat half way down the series, which is, in my opinion, quite disappointing.

Well, this post is already kilometers long, so I'd better stop right here and do some shopping. Have a great day, all of you!


  1. Very interesting reading you have been doing.

    I'm reading a book right now in which has caused me to feel a bit downcast. It is a historical book "Plain and Fancy American Women and Their Needlework, 1700-1850" The history of this time is soooo sad to me, though the needlework is awesome. I began to fault the historian who wrote it for it's sad tone, thinking that she was putting a depressing spin on things, she was definitely ill willed against the Victorian age. But facts are facts. Women had no legal rights to their children, they couldn't own property, couldn't vote, they were the ward of men from beginning of life to the end. Children were also treated poorly many were given over to indentured servitude. And of course the author faulted the religious influence.

    America was different from Europe in that the everyday people shed the norms that came from the "Old World" societies. In the "New World" Husbands and wives stood side by side and worked together. A good wife were considered a great asset to a man as his partner, many wives running their husbands businesses. American women were very enterprising and most men and women ignore the social rules until more folks came from Europe who tried to enforce them. The English American at that time were extremely somber. Sad, I love to laugh and I'm glad I can do it freely in public. No wonder there were so many people heading out west no matter the perils, they were desperate for freedom from social colonial oppression, I would have been one of them. The Europeans were in a new land but old habits died hard.

    The book is more depressing then uplifting or inspiring, I think the author is feminist. I say that because usually when feminist write about women's history it is so depressing that it can make a woman negative about men and christianity. I wouldn't keep it in my library but for the needlework which is so beautiful.
    So, that's what I've been reading.

    Now, I do have a historical book which is excellent and highly inspiring - "Pioneer Women The Lives of Women on the Frontier". So good. Many pictures of days gone by. Cool to see a woman sawing a log in a long dress! Another deceit book "I Dwell in Possibility Women Build a Nation 1600-1920"


  2. Shaolin, until about 1850s the marriage laws in the West were subject to the rule of coverture. Feminists think it was unfair, but in the reality it was a two-way street, and coverture laws defended the rights of traditional women. In fact, there are women (and men) nowadays who want to return to those laws. I suggest you read Secular Patriarchy which has several articles on this topic, and What's Wrong With Equal Rights, where the lady explains the coverture principles in detail:

    Myself, I'll take coverture laws which state that the husband has an obligation to support his wife, even in the case of divorce over the modern situation when women are on their own in the cold. As for suffrage, much good it did to us women. Our daughters soon will have a combat duty, but then we can vote for another corrupt politician, well count me out.

  3. Also check this post of mine which explains the historical situation in more detail and has a link to an article on the topic of coverture by T. Fleming: