Review: Anne of Windy Poplars


I journeyed through the world of Anne Shirley this autumn, accidentally participating in a delightful trend called Annetober. Each time I finished one of her books, I would write my thoughts in a journal.

Here are my thoughts for Anne of Windy Poplars. If you’re interested, last week I posted my thoughts about Anne of the Island.

It chronicles the three years of Anne’s life she spent as a full-time teacher. While she teaches, she’s waiting for Gilbert to finish college so they can get married.

Windy Poplars is written in a different format: L.M. Montgomery shows us Anne’s feeling by means of letters to Gilbert, many of which are long and Anne-ish. She can’t help going into rants about things she finds beautiful or bemoaning what she thinks unjust.

Anne of Windy Poplars has more promise of a loving future than the previous books; still, I found myself becoming impatient. I understood why she had to wait three years for Gilbert to finish college. Nonetheless, I felt that readers deserved more romance at this point. I kept waiting for a sweet scene with Gilbert to show that they were in love, but we mostly got shown this in Anne’s letters. Because Gilbert’s replies were never shared, it felt rather one-sided, almost as if Anne was making it up.

In short, I found Windy Poplars to drag on, sometimes wondering if it was necessary to the series in the first place.

That said, I have to admit that Anne is a masterfully crafted character. She is consistent with her optimism and willingness to work hard. She gives her students the attention that they need, spends her free time learning about her neighbors, and even asks a local about the deceased in a nearby graveyard. Instead of thinking the graveyard frightening, Anne calls it romantic. 

Although these years dragged on, they revealed an Anne who discovered the beauty of normalcy. She learns patience that her vocations entail, both her work as a teacher and her future as a married woman.

When I wasn’t frustrated about its pace, this book made me wonder if I am able to see the beauty in everyday life–the ritual, the routine. Anne tends to her students every day; few things seem to change. Routine is a part of life, much more so than a wedding. 

Contrary to popular belief, if we live our lives fully, we will spend more time doing mundane things. Events like weddings are brief flashes in our long-term memories. We can’t live waiting for exceptional events to take place, because if we do, we blind ourselves to the ordinary and don’t live as we ought to.

One moral I took from Anne of Windy Poplars is that fulfilling lives are composed of ‘ordinary’ moments. We come alive when we learn to recognize and share them with those around us. One small opportunity to make a child smile should not be wasted; this is something we learn through Anne.

Anne’s stay at Windy Poplars reminds me that periods of growth in our lives are quiet. During these periods, it is easy to believe that nothing is changing, or that we won’t achieve the things we set our minds and passions to. Real change is slow. We are unlikely to see the improvement until we look back, a decade later.

Though I found Anne of Windy Poplars to be a slow read, I reflected on it as a writer. From that angle, I realized it might have been intended as foreshadowing for the things that are to take place in the next installment. I had the happy feeling that, with these gentle chapters, L.M. Montgomery is preparing us for delightful adventures.

These ‘smaller events’ were not insignificant after all. Great feasts are composed of small dishes. Vast palaces are made of small bricks raising them up. Just so, a book in which the scenes are quiet doesn’t have to be a bad thing. These quiet scenes are preparing us for a symphony.

Finally, let us not forget the comfort of a life lived in peace. Even if you did not do anything extraordinary or heroic by the end of your journey on earth, you’ll still have memories to reflect on with a smile.

On that day, ask yourself: Did you live a life at peace with yourself? Did you enjoy the gently crackling hearth of a fireplace on a cold winter’s night, or count snowflakes as they fell? Did you gather the leaves outside your door as they turned crisp and golden?

Anne of Windy Poplars reminded me of these small blessings, all great reminders of a life lived to its fullest.

Review: Anne of the Island


If you’ve been following my posts this autumn, you’ll see I accidentally wound up participating in a thing called Annetober. I gather it is a cute term for doing something Anne Shirley-related in October. Reading through her series counts, and I’m already wondering how I’ll participate next year!

The third book in L.M. Montgomery’s series did not disappoint, though it did play with my emotions. Anne of the Island chronicles Anne’s adventures as she transitions from girl to young woman. In college, she learns more about people, encountering diverse personalities. She also faces the pain of losing a friend when, during a visit home, someone dear to her passes away after battling the consumption.

Avonlea is changing. People are moving in, while others leave or die. These changes make Avonlea a place that Anne struggles to recognize. Even though she is no longer a child and her daydreaming has gone down a notch, she still struggles with a voice inside of her that is reluctant to grow up and accept that nothing stays the same. 

She also refuses to let go of certain beliefs. This stubbornness might have been a natural reaction to growth, especially since Anne’s childhood was not easy. The stable ground she found in the little world of the Cuthberts is gradually being taken from her; she faces a future of difficult choices. 

Despite her efforts to make the best of it, she is facing life head-on almost completely alone. Bouts of homesickness in college show us how hard it is for her.

I can’t deny that, despite her obvious growth and the changes surrounding her, Anne’s reactions in this novel annoyed me. She doesn’t want to grow up, acting as if she’s been betrayed when her best friend makes a life-altering choice. She knows love when she sees it, but behaves otherwise, clinging to a childish vision of what ‘the perfect man’ should be. Later, when the person whose love she spurned seems to be moving on, this makes her angry. I hope that she will have gotten past this stage of ‘growing up’ by the next book, Anne of Windy Poplars. I’d like to see all those years she spent studying amount to fair, wise decisions.

I’m a dreamer myself; I can understand how hard it is to let go of ‘the ideal’ once you have set your mind to it. Ironically, this ‘ideal’ is not good enough for Anne in the end, either.

That said, I do sympathize with Anne about some of the ridiculous marriage proposals she received over the course of this book. 

Perhaps this element of this plot, her stubbornness, was added to remind readers that what looks perfect is not always best. The beliefs we held as children are not realistic, and no matter how we’d like to choose our own path, life is not a story we are writing. It cannot be controlled. We have to make the best we can with the twists and turns God offers us.

I did enjoy this book despite the moments of annoyance. L.M. Montgomery uses words to create a world for us that is warm, no matter what season it happens to be in Avonlea…or wherever Anne is at the time. 

The mistakes that Anne makes in Anne of the Island are comforting. I could relate to her mistakes too much, and this might be the reason for my annoyance. I was forced to remember that life will not be as I pictured it. We become stronger when we journey down the path set for us.

Readers in a similar phase of life might find comfort in Anne’s awkwardness. Are your friends moving on from the schoolhouse days? So are hers. Do you have a difficult choice to make? Here, Anne faces several. Have you lost someone close to you? Our heroes in our favorite stories deal with pain and grief.

These are phases of life that no human walks gracefully, and neither did Anne.

The conclusion of Anne of the Island did satisfy me, but I had an aftertaste of frustration. I wanted to shake her and say, ‘It should not have taken you so long, Anne Shirley Cuthbert!’ We all have a friend in real life that we want to say this to. The truth of this book is that everyone grows at their own pace, and giving their shoulders a shake will frighten them into slowing their pace. Only sun and water make a plant grow; if you love it, you should be patient.

I now move on to Anne of Windy Poplars. If you’ve been following my little Annetober journey, comment and tell me what you think about my conclusions!

Review: Anne of Green Gables


The title Anne of Green Gables is so often spoken of that I was under the impression that I had read it before. In reality, I’d never picked up the book, but it is so beloved that I’m sure I’m not the only person who considers it an old friend–even if they have only heard the title.

It’s fair to say that everyone–or at least most people–are familiar with Anne, the orphan girl adopted by the Cuthbert siblings. It’s known that they were hoping for a boy to help with the farm work, so she was almost sent back. This book is more than a simple girls can do what boys do; it has layers. You can dig, and oh! how delightful it is to dig.

Some of Anne’s most humorous mistakes have been giggled over, such as accidentally dyeing her hair green or breaking her tablet on Gilbert Blythe’s head. This is the surface. If you do not read the book as it is meant to be, you will miss out on the deeper things, the meat of it: You will perhaps not notice what I believe to be the most important points in this story.

I think it’s fair to begin with Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert. In a way, this is their story: They sent for an orphan boy to help them in their advanced years, and with the appearance of Anne, faced a bewildering decision indeed. I was so proud of Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert when they made what was probably the most frightening decision of their lives, the choice to change their mundane lifestyle and raise a little girl together.

Consider how frightening it must have been for Matthew and Marilla to come up with the resolve to make this choice. Especially when Anne went into her hysterical rants, the sudden disturbance of the silence they’d grown accustomed to must have been terrifying. Because of this, when Marilla acted harshly towards Anne’s (many) silly accidents, I perceived it as the product of a deep-set fear. She must have worried that perhaps she was too old to raise a girl correctly.

Few people speak of Matthew and Marilla’s courageous choice to accept the dare.

Anne’s growth from wily daydreamer to studious young woman is my second point. She had relied on her daydreams as an orphan in order to keep sane, but as she settles in with the Cuthberts and at her new school, we can see her learning to contain her nerves and focus. This is also an incredible feat! In fact, when Anne has grown older and almost finished her studies, Marilla notes that she has become quieter. She no longer falls into paragraph-long anxious rants.

Her rivalry with Gilbert Blythe might have been the motivator for this admirable change, but it creates a new Anne who is no longer simply the former orphan girl, the one no one wanted. She is ready to change the world, becoming a scholar and hoping to be a teacher.

Apart from these points, I must note that the prose sparkles. Nearly every sentence is quotable and will help the reader in some way. Anne’s quotes are poetic and work like balm to the weary heart; in this way, I believe she healed Matthew and Marilla without their noticing. Ultimately, they needed her more than she needed them. She came to sprinkle life into their graying years, after they had followed the same monotonous routines for most of their lives.

Anne Shirley gave Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert reasons to accept change. She was a reason for them to improve themselves; she gave them something young to nurture in their elder years, and these were, as a result, their best years.

Perhaps this book feels familiar to most of us because of its theme of growth. We all have blind spots and weaknesses. All of us have a character arc that could lead us to becoming different people entirely. When faced with these arcs, we feel fear; will we proceed with the life-changing decisions like Matthew and Marilla did? Will we face our weaknesses head-on and work to change, like Anne?

Contemplate your life; you will identify these character arcs if you are brave enough.

Books like Anne of Green Gables encourage us to face these changes and to grow. They also provide escapism with their soothing words, taking us away from this often painful world for a little while.

When you pick up a timeless book like this, you are holding more than pages bound by glue. You’re holding comfort, timelessness, a loyal friend with words to heal any wound…and to encourage you to be brave. 

Review: The Black Tulip


In the past month I have discovered two beautiful romance stories written by the Dumas family.

Did you know that Alexandre Dumas’ son also became a writer? Neither did I, until I read Camille and it was stated in the introduction.

Alexandre Dumas, pere

It hardly seems fair that one family should produce stories so beautiful as The Black Tulip by Dumas Senior and Camille by his son, but I will talk about Camille later.

I waited a for quite while after finishing The Black Tulip before writing about it; I wanted to let it sit in my heart. Now I think that it’s time this beautiful piece of literature was talked about.

One of his lesser-known works–I had no idea about it until I found it by chance while scrolling the Kindle store–The Black Tulip has the elements of tension that make a good action novel and tragedy to give it a gothic tone.

All of this is softened, I believe, by the love story.

The object of conflict is a black tulip. I had never thought of it before, but having read Tulipomania by Mike Dash a couple of weeks later, I found out that it’s impossible for a completely black tulip to exist. The closest you can get to a black tulip is a very dark brown or purple one.

A ‘black tulip’; source

In this novel the main character, Cornelius, is a tulip-fancier during the tulip boom of Holland–a period of history in with a single bulb bred in a unique way would have been worth thousands to the tulip obsessed.

A contest is announced: there is a great money reward for anyone who can raise a black tulip, jet-black, not dark brown or purple. Cornelius is a genius with his tulips; he manages to raise three bulbs he claims will produce black tulips.

Before he can plant any of them to see if he has succeeded, he is arrested on suspicion of having betrayed the Prince of Orange.

a dark purple ‘black tulip’; source

Cornelius takes his precious tulip bulbs with him to prison as he awaits his fate.

Here he meets the jailor’s daughter, Rosa, and–suspecting that he will be put to death–he gives her the bulbs, telling her to turn them in as her own work and claim the money.

But he is not executed; the Prince takes pity on him and instead sends him away to a prison fortress for life.

Cornelius is in jail for a long time, wondering what became of Rosa and his tulip bulbs. One shudders to think of the boredom and loneliness he felt, locked away in a cell while innocent.

In his desperation for company, he uses some of the moldy bread given to him in order to attract some pigeons that will keep him company. He despairs; we can feel his despair. However, it won’t last forever.

“I’d rather have ten soldiers to guard than a single scholar.”

― Alexandre Dumas, The Black Tulip

Rosa’s father is appointed as jailor in the same prison where Cornelius is trapped. Rosa comes with him, and she has brought with her Cornelius’ treasures–the three tulip bulbs, unharmed and full of potential life.

This, reader, is where I could not put the book down: Cornelius tells Rosa how to grow a tulip, instructs her on the ideal soil to use and how much light the bulb needs, and together they raise one of the flowers from its bulb.

The imagery! I wanted to cry as they fell in love with prison bars between them, yet raised a live flower because of their collaboration. It reminded me that bars cannot stop love. 

I will not tell you how the story ends, only that it is worth reading this book because their love story is so beautiful.

I encourage you to look at the obscure classics, those books that might have been lost in time; you will find gems, and in some of them, such as The Black Tulip, you will find true love.

Review – Crave the Rose: Anne Brontë at 200


During my adventures reading books I have become aware of the fact that, when a story is timeless, it’s in part because of the person who wrote it.

I have decided to learn more about the authors behind those stories which have survived over the centuries, which our grandparents and great-grandparents enjoyed. Anne Brontë’s biography was the first I read.

Called Crave the Rose, I believe the biography to be an elegant tribute to the youngest Brontë sister. Though I knew that many people in Anne’s family had written books, I did not know how very literary the Brontës were; indeed, until I read Crave the Rose, I didn’t even know they had a brother, Branwell.

I also did not know that there had been two older sisters who had died. Named Maria and Elizabeth, death took them before Anne was old enough to remember them.

Anne Brontë was said by many to be the prettiest of her sisters.

The Brontës were stalked by death. Beginning with their mother, Maria, who expired when Anne was a baby, death took their family one by one; finally, only their father, Patrick remained. How deep his grief must have been after seeing all of his family depart this world.

It is a good length. I say this because I did not once skim the chapter or think “there’s too much filler.” On the contrary, I lamented that Anne didn’t live long enough to have a thicker biography. I suppose we readers add to her literary legacy by reading and loving her work.

I was first struck by Anne’s talent at poetry in the verses that the author shared at the beginning of every chapter. Her words could start a heart racing with joy, or make it share in her great despair. She felt each emotion so deeply that it bounced off the page.

There are moments in literature when you find connections between two authors you admire and must stop to think of the magnitude. I learned in Crave the Rose that Elizabeth Gaskell, whose work I also enjoy, wrote a controversial biography of the Brontë family painting a glum picture of them, depicting the father as abusive.

As I read about this part of their story, I couldn’t be angry with Mrs Gaskell. I was instead excited that greatness connects with greatness. North and South by Mrs Gaskell is one of my favorite books.

Learning that the Brontës were in this way connected to Elizabeth Gaskell made me feel like a historian uncovering a gem in the words of a page. It seems that the Brontës were a favorite subject of criticism; there is a biography of Branwell Brontë by Daphne du Maurier, whose work I have yet to read, which also supposedly gives him a bad light.

But he that dares not grasp the thorn
Should never crave the rose.

Anne Brontë

I did not realize until reading Crave the Rose how dedicated to the written word this family was. Their story is tragic and empowering.

I pictured Anne and Charlotte on their one trip to London, two small and meek women, determined to prove to their publisher that there were indeed three authors in the famous Bell literary trio, with nothing to support their claim but correspondence with the publisher. It must have been frightening, but they were determined to defend their work–as they should have been.

The Brontë sisters

Then I pictured Anne falling ill shortly after this trip. She succumbed to the consumption soon after it took her sister, Emily. I admire the recorded courage with which she lived her final days, courage I cannot fathom. I have a fear of death, myself; accounts like these challenge my perspective.

If you want to find hope in this world again, begin searching history for people like Anne Brontë. Their small acts of bravery will be lost in time if we do not keep their memories alive. I can only hope that I will one day be as determined a writer as Anne Brontë, and that I will not be afraid when facing death.

Anne, despite being the youngest daydreamer of the family, seems to me to have been the bravest of them all.

I would not send a poor girl into the world, ignorant of the snares that beset her path; nor would I watch and guard her, till, deprived of self-respect and self-reliance, she lost the power or the will to watch and guard herself.

Anne Brontë

5 Books Set In Paris (Part 1)


Before I had the opportunity to visit Paris with my wonderful mom and brother last year, I had a theory. I told myself that, if I found and read enough books set in Paris, I could pretend I had been there before.

With each book that I read set in Paris, I believed that the street names and locations would become more familiar; I could create a sort of map in my head of the City of Light.

Can Books Replace Reality?

The map was not accurate, though, for many reasons. Here are a few:

  • You can only experience a city in a novel to a certain point. Different authors reflect different versions of themselves in their stories. Victor Hugo and Charles Dickens are not going to paint the same version of Paris.
  • The books that I read were set in different time periods. We have WWII-era Paris with airplanes and bombs; then we have Emile Zola’s novels, where marketplaces were described in minute, fascinating detail. This is not a bad thing: It means the city has many faces, and through books, we can see them all.
  • The struggles of the characters change the flavor of Paris. Is the character happy living there, or are they trying to escape? Are they grieving a death or celebrating a marriage? This is the joy of literature.

While I did not create an accurate present-day map of Paris, I still benefited from my collection of books set in France. I felt connected enough with the city to satisfy my inner traveler until the day I made it there. Then I was blessed to see Paris with my own eyes; thanks Mom!

I know there are more books set in Paris and I am still woefully underread as far as the lists go. I have not yet read bestsellers such as The Nightingale or The Lost Girls of Paris; I do plan to read them eventually.

Here are five books I did read and enjoy.

1- Paris by Edward Rutherfurd

Edward Rutherfurd writes novels in which the main characters are cities, rather than people. I have only read one to this day, Paris, a sprawling 800-page glimpse into Paris that covers different time periods. My favorite scenes were those written during the construction of the Eiffel Tower. I enjoyed seeing the city as she grew into what she is now.

2- The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

This was a beautiful and heartbreaking fictional account of Ernest Hemingway’s wife, Hadley. It features legends such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein. Imagine becoming such a famous author that you’re a character in someone else’s book. I hope if that happens to me one day, I’ll be an interesting one!

3- Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

For fans of YA fiction, Anna and the French Kiss simply has to be on this list. I like that it showed Paris from a student’s point of view; Anna is going through different life changes. At the time when I read it, her angst was more relatable. The story is simply lovely.

4- The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

If you need a reason to give this delightful novel a try, here’s an excerpt from the blurb on the back:

Monsieur Perdu calls himself a literary apothecary. From his floating bookstore in a barge on the Seine, he prescribes novels for the hardships of life. Using his intuitive feel for the exact book a reader needs, Perdu mends broken hearts and souls. The only person he can’t seem to heal through literature is himself; he’s still haunted by heartbreak after his great love disappeared. She left him with only a letter, which he has never opened.

5- Moonlight Over Paris by Jennifer Robson

Okay, here I’m cheating. I read Moonlight Over Paris after my visit to that delightful city, but it was still an enchanting read. It’s apparently part of a series, so I will keep an eye out for the others in that series: I found this third installment in a secondhand bookshop.

Books & Travel

While reading didn’t really take me to Paris as it is now, I can’t deny that reading takes you on an adventure. I met Hadley Hemingway and explored the marketplace of La Halle in The Belly of Paris by Emile Zola (who wrote more books set in those remote parts of the city; he loved it dearly.)

Do you have any suggestions for books set in France? Perhaps you have a favorite that isn’t listed here? I would love to know. Leave a comment and I’ll check it out!

Russian Magic Tales from Pushkin to Platonov by Robert Chandler


My third book in this year’s classic novel challenge, Russian Magic Tales, was a delight. I wandered dark forests, met evil stepmothers, learned riddles, and—happily—found the Russian mermaid, who draws travelers to death with her weeping.

More interesting than the stories were the biographies of each featured author. Many lived dank lives, suffering illness and imprisonment. During those stretches of despair, they worked on collecting stories.

One man finished his collection while quarantined for tuberculosis; another was banished to Siberia and, in what is perhaps the coldest town in the world, interviewed locals for their tales. He wrote them during his stay in order to keep sane.

What does this tell us about fiction? Just because a story is “made up” does not mean it’s worth less than a biography. A story based on truth can strengthen the human spirit—and where is truth stronger?

The fairy tales in this collection often seemed overwhelming; many did not make sense. Tell me, when does the human spirit make sense? Have we not all wished to speak with animals? When angered, are we tempted to get revenge? Everyone has a witch in their interior forest.

You were a child; you knew times when the imagination went where it wanted. Fairy tales, fiction novels, things the world thinks ridiculous, are reflections of our nature—part of our nature that we’re prone to deny, embarrassed by how illogical it can be.

Fiction helped one man survive the coldest town in the world. Today it gives comfort when monsters and witches appear in our lives. It helps where worldly logic does us no good; sometimes we just have to talk to the birds and chipmunks. They might help us out of trouble, for a favor.

Do not be hasty to write off fiction. You never know when you might need it. Caught in our blank offices, sooner or later we all need magic to help us keep going.

My next read for the challenge is going to be The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens, and I’m very eager to read one of his books again. Considering its length and the beauty of his writing, I am sure it will be worth two or three blog posts here.

I’ve also managed to read some novels on the side by authors who are not yet dead—a historical romance and a YA sci-fi. I will be posting reviews for those books, too, when I write them.

I hope the month has treated you well! What are you reading?

The Story of King Arthur and His Knights by Howard Pyle


Mounted Knight By Howard PyleThe second book in my 2019 classic novel challenge was The Story of King Arthur and His Knights. These stories were released in serial form for a children’s publication; they are characterized by their bold protagonists, as well as their focus on virtue and morality.

It is not a novel, but a compilation of tales following a handful of powerful characters. Aside from King Arthur himself, we meet remarkable people including Merlin, Lady Guinevere, and Sir Gawaine.

No two characters were the same, even when they shared a goal. Though the stories were written for children, the characters’ personalities were bold and controversial. The stories were meant to inspire children to live honorable lives; it’s fitting that they were given serious heroes.

These stories seemed relatable to me in the way that my heart reacted to their decisions. They stirred a desire in me to do good for the people I know. Our instinct for good has not change over the years. We still strive to be honest. We fight for causes we believe in and protect the people we love. Each of us wants to save the world in the way we think is best. In these Arthurian stories, I encountered traits most people respect, qualities we look for in a leader.Arthur And Excalibur

Don’t we all dream of slaying the dragon and taking care of the monster? Don’t we all have a rebellious side like Sir Gawaine, who resorts to unconventional means for victory? These stories reflect what we are; we still have these instincts.

Arthurian literature became a subcategory because of its heavy moral focus. I am pleased to know there are more tales of characters I met in this book. I will be looking for them, because the world of King Arthur and themes explored in it encouraged me.

They gave me hope that we are capable of creating a better world. All we need is to find courage and bring forth those ancient qualities our ancestors admired.

Next, I will be reading Russian Magic Tales. I’m excited for this one! Thank you for following my journey so far, and I will post again soon.

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway


Farewell_to_Arms

This is my first Hemingway novel. It’s a quick read and struck me for being so detached. The writing style seems indifferent by nature, focusing little on the main character’s emotions and more on dialogue.

I don’t know if Hemingway’s writing is like this in other novels. It isn’t bad: the way the main character interacts with others, rarely showing strong emotion even to the woman he loves, gives the settings sheens of gray.

At first I thought Maybe he doesn’t love her as much as he thinks. Later, when his child is born, he feels nothing towards it, not even anger. Maybe it’s the war, and the drinking certainly didn’t help. Whatever the case, it’s a powerful scene, bringing out his inability to feel.

The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places.
― Ernest Hemingway

Some criticize Hemingway’s style for being too bare. We know what’s going on from what the characters say to one another. The writing is very minimal, so I could not pick it apart for layers like I have done with Dickens. You’re pulled along by its straightforwardness.

There are different styles for different authors; it’s a reminder that there isn’t a right or wrong way to tell a story. The book is worth a try, keeping in mind that some will enjoy it and others will not.

There were descriptions that plunged me in. You will find and remember them. Overall, I’m glad I read the book. It’s a powerful statement about writing style and the impact it has on a story.

David Copperfield: The Call to Action


photo-1440595228939-3673bdb622b4

In my final reflection on David Copperfield (for now), I want to muse on a paragraph which appears to me as a living, direct link to the author and what he stood for. It is a reflection on the homeless of his time–and ours.

In context: still a child, David Copperfield has escaped horrific months of factory work. Alone, he fled London on foot to find an aunt he has never met. She will adopt and protect him, putting an end to his darkest years, but they have marked him forever.

The journey to find her is grueling; he is forced to sell the coat off his back in order to buy food. Once he is taken in by his aunt and given a roof over his head, he reflects before going to sleep:

I remember how I thought of all the solitary places under the night sky where I had slept, and how I prayed that I never might be homeless any more, and never might forget the houseless. I remember how I seemed to float, then, down the melancholy glory of that track upon the sea, away into the world of dreams.

Though the first part of this paragraph seems most relevant, I will share all of it because it sets the scene: Copperfield is a child, and his final thought before drifting off is that he might not forget the poor. He hopes never to forget the sensation of feeling unloved and belonging nowhere.

I believe it was written as a call to action. Dickens is telling his readers never to forget the poor. His words are relevant to us, as well.

The poor are still around us, though they look different. You may not see a David Copperfield walking through the countryside, but you will find other children who don’t eat enough, their families enduring hard times in silence.

It might be tricky nowadays to spot someone in need. What, then, can we do to make a difference? Besides prayer and donation to trusted causes, I think the answer is kindness. Many of us forget to practice the virtue of charity, when a smile might be the light needed to relieve a stranger’s pain.

Dickens was not perfect–reading his biography, we see he had flaws. However, the flawed man can make a difference. I hope we can all smile at the strangers around us despite our imperfections. It might give them strength to make it through another day.

I’m not done taking apart David Copperfield for truths between the lines. However, I am ready to dissect other books. There is so much to be learned–both from the classics that never died and in modern works.

Seek truth between the lines and explore the margins. Books will always be relevant. Pay attention to their calls of action, because many stories are timeless for a reason.


Here are my other musings on David Copperfield, if you are interested in reading them:

David Copperfield: Contrast of Summer and Winter


Paragraphs can be so telling. Here, I’m going to compare two passages from David Copperfield that made their way into my reading journal because of their devastating depth.

Here is the first:

When my mother is out of breath and rests herself in an elbow-chair, I watch her winding her bright curls round her fingers and straightening her waist, and nobody knows better than I do that she likes to look so well, and is proud of being so pretty.

David Copperfield’s mother, Clara, was widowed before the birth of her son. The above paragraph shows she has not lost her energy and attractiveness, even when raising a son alone. When David grows old enough to observe, he notices this, but never thinks it will lead to great change. They have a good life, himself, his mother, and the faithful housemaid. What else do they need?

The reader knows better, though, drinking in these sentences. Young David has noticed that his mother is pretty, and that she likes being pretty. He does not realize that she’s open to the idea of finding love again. He doesn’t realize that their peaceful life could change at any moment.

Since he loves his mother in that innocent way in which children love, David notices that she is pretty and happy. He does not think his mother will marry again. He can never predict she will choose a cruel man who will actively work to put out this spark. Mr Murdstone will dull the glow that David notices in his mother; where once she twirled her hair and daydreamed, now she will lack life.

Clara’s new husband will subject both of them to emotional abuse. When David does not behave to Mr Murdstone’s satisfaction, the child is sent to boarding school. He returns to find his mother’s spark is gone, and when she later dies, her pride and will have both been destroyed:

He [Mr Murdstone] drew her to him, whispered in her ear, and kissed her. I knew as well, when I saw my mother’s head lean down upon his shoulder, and her arm touch his neck–I knew as well that he could mould her pliant nature into any form he chose, as I know, now, that he did it.

The paragraphs, placed side by side, tell a devastating story: the destruction of a beautiful person in a cruel way.

Dickens’ words go so far as to change the light in readers’ minds. The first paragraph feels like a summer afternoon, complete with flowers and a warm breeze. Then we find the second, which evokes a feeling of confinement, and I found myself fearing such bleak loneliness.

As a deep thinker, I wonder: who or what inspired Clara’s character?

This is the beauty of old books: they’re relevant. Clara’s story reminded me that, even today, men and women are tricked into cages very much like this.

Though they look dusty on the outside, old books contain the bits of humanity that never vanished, both light and dark. Read them–not because you were told to in school, but because they contain realistic people.

There are books set today, yesterday, and tomorrow. This means that, at any point in time, there will be a story in which someone relates to your struggle. Even if there isn’t a happy ending, this ancient sense of community gives me hope: people fought these battles. There have been losses, such as poor Clara, but there have also been victories.

There is a book for everyone and everything. Find the story you need–it’s out there.

David Copperfield: Intro


david copperfield coverThe Personal History, Adventures, Experience, and Observation of David Copperfield the Younger of Blunderstone Rookery. This is the original title of Charles Dickens’ eighth novel, published in serial form in the year 1850. Now sold as a 700-page book, it was originally released in 19 monthly one-shilling installments. This makes for a delightfully long story in which even the villains trigger a certain empathy.

Dickens himself called it his favorite among all his novels, and countless readers over the years have agreed; I myself found it to be moving, not only because there wasn’t a dull moment, but his word choice–as usual–took my breath away.

Based on Dickens’ own past, particularly the chapters which describe a troubled childhood, the story immerses you–as any good book should. Even if I had not enjoyed the story, I would have kept reading because of the style in which he wrote. His style is known to be vivid; he forms creative parallels to make readers feel emotions, even those of characters we don’t like.

Reading this book, I felt their anger, love, heartbreak, infatuation–and it took me a long time to finish, because I had the constant urge to stop and jot the paragraphs in my journal. Some scenes were so bold that I sensed I had lived them–they were part of my past–and I had to record them, borrowing words from one who was a master at using them.

As I wrote Dickens’ words, I couldn’t help contemplating them on a deep level, finding poetry between the lines–in the pauses–the things not said. They found new meaning as I took them apart from the rest of the book. I realized that, as a reader, there is little like the beauty of a paragraph: words, black ink, old or fresh, promising a tale, promising a description that our own minds wouldn’t have come up with.

I would like to share a few of the notes I made. In the next few days, I want to show anyone interested what I found beautiful and why I thought it so–not as complex analysis, but because I want to share. Perhaps you will find enjoyment in the passages. Perhaps they will encourage you to read the book, but it will be enough if they make you stop and ponder, as they did for me.

I do this because I hope to one day write something this powerful. I do this because I have deep love for words and the magic they create. I do it because I love Dickens’ work and wish he was not dead.

Most of all, I do it because words are beautiful. They ought to be appreciated. I believe they can uncover depths in us, timeless depths. Check back if you want to read my thoughts as I share them. I hope they will make you pause for one moment of your day.

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