The Waltz of Song & Poetry: CHAMBER MUSIC by James Joyce


There’s music along the river
For Love wanders there.

– James Joyce, Chamber Music

The Waltz of Song & Poetry

It is common for well-loved songs to find their inspiration in poetry. Some are written with the goal of being transformed into music, including Chamber Music by James Joyce.

Our culture is laden with songs that underwent this transformation. We’ve all heard some of them–classics such as “Auld Lang Syne,” a traditional Scottish song derived from a poem by Robert Burns (1759-1796). “America the Beautiful” was the work of Katharine Lee Bates (1859-1929).

Secular music has also been touched by poetry. A collection of songs exist based on the work of Edgar Allan Poe. (Listen to Annabel Lee by Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac fame). We can’t forget songs inspired by novels or poems about music and its power.

Seeking the link between music and poetry sends a person down a literary and musical rabbit hole.


The Words of James Joyce

Joyce himself was not very romantic when he spoke of the title Chamber Music. He said of it that he referred to the sound made by a lady using a chamber pot. Most literary experts consider this mere off-color humor.

When composer Geoffrey Molyneux Palmer (1882-1957) composed a tune for Chamber Music, Joyce was pleased with the outcome. Palmer was not the only one who gave a tune to Joyce’s verses, though Palmer’s was Joyce’s favorite attempt. Other composers took up the challenge, including Moeran, Bliss, and Charlotte Milligan Fox.

Joyce said in a letter to Palmer regarding the work, “(…) you may set all of Chamber Music in time. This was indeed partly my idea in writing it. The book is in fact a suite of songs and if I were a musician I suppose I should have set them myself.”

While casual readers can enjoy Chamber Music and the imagery within, it was not received with enthusiasm on its publication in 1907. Joyce was criticized for using many styles and forms, making the piece difficult to label.

What’s more, Chamber Music was published during a year of political turmoil in his native country of Ireland. Fellow Irish writers scorned that it did not “serve the cause.” Compatriot poet Yeats complained that Joyce had no interest in Irish politics.


What Happened in Ireland?

I wondered while researching why it was such an issue to Yeats that Chamber Music was not political. What was this strife in Ireland capable of turning talented writers against each other? IrishRep summed up nicely:

After nearly eight centuries under forced British rule, the late 1800s brought a wave of Irish nationalism in the form of The Gaelic Revival, which encouraged the reemergence of the Irish language, and the Irish Literary Renaissance, which revived Irish folklore and other storytelling tradition through new works by famed authors including W.B. Yeats, James Joyce, John Millington Synge, Lady Gregory, and more.

read more

We then understand that it was a literary issue. Joyce’s apparent indifference in Chamber Music may have been labelled treason. We can’t forget that he was unique with his writing–anyone who has glanced at Finnegan’s Wake knows what I mean.

Ponder for a moment that this poem can be linked to pop-culture today as well as old political spats. A poem is never just a poem, a book never only a book! The poem’s troubled history is part of its legacy. All things considered, the imagery remains beautiful.

I’ve read a few literary essays by professors, but cannot agree that there is a flaw in Chamber Music. It makes me want to try my own hand at composing music for a few stanzas.

Enriched by the history of Chamber Music, we can enjoy it in all its depth. I live to dig up the “story behind the story.”

How do music and poetry mingle in your life? The two have waltzed for centuries as if in a forbidden romance. Search your Spotify playlist for tracks where they embrace for three magical minutes.

The Creators of CARMEN: Prosper Mérimée and Georges Bizet


My recent recommitment to learning the piano led me to a passion for classical music. I have a book of simplified classic songs my late grandmother gave me. It is one of my most treasured gifts from Grandma Colleen.

I’ve been working through the pieces for a little over a month. To my delight, I came across one of my favorite songs: Habanera from the opera Carmen.

Habanera is not a difficult song to play. It’s packed with energy that keeps me awake as I’m practicing it. It makes me want to dance in a frilly skirt and sing off-key. I would venture to say Habanera is one of the songs that most people have heard in passing, even if they do not know where it is from.

There is no such thing as a coincidence, but something delightful happened last month, after I had begun practicing Habanera. I was reading the spectacular memoir The Seine by Elaine Sciolino, and she brought up composer Georges Bizet. He wrote the songs for Carmen’s opera adaptation.

Sciolino told the story of the opera’s premiere. With its sensuality and suggestive language, Carmen scandalized crowds, so its first reviews were heavy with outrage.

Those were different times, indeed.

Depressed by this cold reception of Carmen, Bizet fell victim to depression. It became so crippling that when he died, people speculated he had taken his own life. Carmen was the labor of his hard work and tears; any artist could understand the effect of scathing reviews.

That Bizet took his life appears to be a Parisian myth. In reality, Bizet had suffered from health problems throughout his life. He made a rash decision that winter to go for a swim in the Seine river. This is a bad decision because the Seine was freezing–but also because it’s dirty! After his swim, he contracted a violent fever. This induced a heart attack which led to his death on 3 June, 1875.

If only he could have known that the play would become timeless. Like Vincent van Gogh, his work was not appreciated in his lifetime.


When I had read about Georges Bizet in that chapter of The Seine, I was struck with curiosity about the man who wrote the story–the novella off of which the opera was based. 

Prosper Mérimée, born in 1805, was a French writer. He pertained to the movement of Romantic literature. Mérimée was one of the pioneers of the novella, which is defined as a short novel or a long short story. Carmen is a novella, and I finished it in a day.

Mérimée learned Russian and went on to translate the works of important writers such as Pushkin and Gogol. From 1830 to 1860, he became an inspector of French historical monuments, overseeing their preservation. This included the cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris. I can only imagine his heartbreak if he could see what has become of it now!

A Still from Carmen. Source: The Guardian

Mérimée seemed destined for great things, because he also made an important discovery that would forever change the world of visual art.

Along with author George Sand, he discovered the famous tapestries known as The Lady and the Unicorn. Not only did he write Carmen, a story which become a timeless opera; he also discovered those tapestries that enchant us today!

There is so much more to the story of Carmen and her creators, but it would not fit into a blog post. I’m a history geek and I had a field day reading about these incredible men. When I read Carmen, it dawned on me that a story can take on many forms: written and musical. 

When you read intentionally, you find that underneath every great story is a greater story. History is important because it shows us what humans are capable of. Truth is indeed stranger than fiction, and the lives of these two remarkable men could pass as yarns of fiction.

Never disbelieve that there is wonder in this world: all you have to do is explore history to find it.

River of Life: THE SEINE by Elaine Sciolino


If we made a list of the magical properties found in literature, we would have to include that of transporting us to a different place. When a person can’t afford vacation, a good book can take them to streets far away.

Before visiting Paris with my mother and brother, it was a dream of mine to know her streets. They are works of art; the city was designed over the centuries by her leaders to be aesthetically pleasing. You can call the Louvre a museum, but the streets are mesmerizing. Statues and bridges provide wonders to gaze upon.

When a visit to Paris was still but a dream, I satisfied my wanderlust reading books set in the City of Light. They were written in different time periods and different genres. It might have been ink on a page, but each time I finished a book set in Paris, I felt that I knew France a little better.

This was true in a way; I learned about Paris in the way you know a place after reading about it. If a book is well-written, it can be a powerful tour guide.

The reality is that you never know a country until you’ve been there. The vision of Paris I built in my head with each novel was lovely–but it cannot compare to the reality.

The City of Light is a marvel of human artistry. It’s a testament to development as a civilization as time passed. France boasts of a rich history that most never learn of. There’s more to France than the guillotine during the French Revolution.

I learned so much history in the pages of The Seine by reporter Elaine Sciolino. This book is not heavy like a textbook; Sciolino’s writing style is light and talkative. I never once felt that I was dragging through boring events or struggling with names I couldn’t pronounce. This is history that anyone can appreciate.

Sciolino paints a different perspective of Paris. This perspective is from the river, that ancient body of water pulsing through Paris like a vein. Sciolino has traveled far and wide in search of Seine lore, learning about the river goddess Sequana. She even lived on the Seine during a great flood, when water spilled over the banks.

Elaine Sciolino has witnessed many of the Seine’s moods.

I didn’t have enough time to see all of Paris; it’s bigger in person than you probably think! One thing I remember was the sparkling water of the Seine. I remember how the water shimmered as the sun set. The Seine was the first thing I saw when we arrived; before I had a clear view of the Eiffel Tower, I saw the Seine, dark and mysterious in the moonlight.

The Seine is a treat for the history lover and travel junkie. Sciolino has painted for us a panoramic view of this river. She hiked to its “origin,” a stream way up north. She visited places where the Impressionists painted their works of art, capturing the nature of France in all of her elegance.

The Seine takes us on a fascinating ride through the history of the country, following the course of her famous river. It ends with a sobering chapter about the fire which destroyed Notre Dame in 2019. Sciolino us how water from the Seine was used to help stop the fire.

I will continue to read books about Paris until I can visit her again. I hope that, when the time comes, I will know more about this city. The Seine is one of my favorite books; let it take you across oceans to the place where art and history was made.

The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas


Though I did enjoy reading this masterpiece of French literature, The Three Musketeers was not exactly the story that I had expected. To begin with, not once in the book did the famous phrase appear: “All for one, and one for all!” Neither did there appear to be a single overarching plot. It’s a book written for people with different attention spans; it had been published in serial form over the course of two months, so it was designed to keep readers hooked like a television show.

I like books written in serial form. They require commitment to read, though; I’ve been working on The Three Musketeers for almost a month, and I’m a fast reader.

Something still felt rather off about the whole story. I blame all of the cartoon adaptations that have popped up over the years. These adaptations present children with a softened version of the story, so it is a surprise when one opens the long novel and discovers elements of darkness or sketchy behavior. Adaptations did this book no justice.

It’s about four men, sword-wielding Musketeers loyal to the King, who are willing to fight and duel almost anyone over anything (many of these things are trivial.) It features gambling, murder, infidelity, mistresses, and a great deal of bloodshed (because of trivial things.) Honor is the big virtue the book touts, but it is often portrayed in a trivial manner–comical.

We might hesitate, these days, to call such men heroes, but they are indeed the heroes of this novel. D’Artagnan, Porthos, Athos and Artemis live to protect the King and Queen, no matter what that might involve. They also protect one another, helping avenge a person who insulted a friend. Loyalty is an admirable quality, too, but some instances I felt could have been let slip.

That’s the point of this book, though–it lauds bravery, fearlessness, loyalty and honor. It perhaps goes a little too far, but I understand that, at the time it was published, readers might have been in need of characters like these. It was published in 1844; not long before that, people had experienced the Bourbon Restoration, the fall of the first Napoleon–a time of great fear, in which wars were waged and many people were killed. Escapism has always been necessary to heal a society from a difficult time period. Maybe the French of the 1840s needed reckless, brave, outspoken heroes, people who would fight for their honor, leaders.

This, of course, is only my speculation; what is for certain is that the fall of Napoleon would have been felt for a long time after it took place, and it would have affected literature.

Of the four characters, the only Musketeer I had sympathy for from the beginning was Aramis. He is only temporarily a Musketeer; his real desire is to enter a monastery. He took up the sword on a youthful matter of honor, but reading about his theological epiphanies and his genuine conscience provided me with a welcome break from the rash duels.

Athos I also came to like, but only near the end, when more details about his past were given. He was able to keep a level head in the midst of a struggle, as opposed to young hot-blooded D’Artagnan, who does not hesitate to draw his pistol. At the age of twenty-one, D’Artagnan has not lived enough. When a tragedy takes place near the end of the novel, he does show his human side, and I sense this tragedy was the initiative for him to mature.

The brave lackeys who aided these men did not get the credit they deserved; rather, they are often treated as objects, even to be gambled away. The Musketeers are not always people worthy of admiration.

Though it was an enjoyable read, I felt that the story did not fully grip me until the final quarter, in which we see the tale from the antagonist’s point of view. Milady de Winter’s thought process is completely different from the Musketeers. For better or for worse, she is making decisions based on reason and cunning, rather than knee-jerk duels. She is by no means a good person, but her intelligent choices kept me reading. I wanted to know what she would do next.

The Musketeers–and most of the men in this novel–underestimated the clever ways in which a woman under pressure can survive.

Finally, the prose–it was so beautiful that I found myself constantly stopping to jot down a quote or two. I wish that I could read The Three Musketeers in its original French; one day, perhaps.

The Three Musketeers is the first in a series of books published by Alexandre Dumas, known as The D’Artagnan Romances. In order, the series is as follows:

  • The Three Musketeers (serialized between March and July, 1844)
  • Twenty Years After (serialized between January and August, 1845)
  • The Vicomte of Bragelonne: Ten Years Later (serialized between October 1847 and January 1850)

In addition, there have been unofficial sequels:

  • The Son of Porthos (1883) by Paul Mahalin, published under the pen name of Alexandre Dumas
  • D’Artagnan Kingmaker (1900) – supposedly based on one of Dumas’ plays
  • The King’s Passport (1925) by H. Bedford-Jones
  • D’Artagnan, the sequel to The Three Musketeers by H. Bedford-Jones

In addition is a sequel written by Dumas himself but left incomplete after seventy-seven chapters, called The Red Sphinx. This, in particular, interests me–as all unfinished classics do, such as Dickens’ Mystery of Edwin Drood and Austen’s Sanditon. Unfinished novels give a sense of the authors’ being very much alive; I’ll write more on this later.

I will certainly finish The D’Artagnan Romances, but keeping in mind that each of them is an almost month-long commitment. You can’t skim old books like these without losing sight of what makes them timeless. 

Our world is fast-paced; to read a good classic, one must be prepared to slow down.

Review: Rainbow Valley


My journey through Annetober this year showed me many fictional places that I wished I could visit. From Avonlea to the House of Dreams, L.M. Montgomery knew how to create a place that could heal any soul, a place to which readers would become attached. Though I wish that I could visit these places, they are alive in my heart.

One of these places is a field after which the seventh book is named. Rainbow Valley stands out from the other books because it follows the perspectives of Anne Blythe’s children rather than her own. The brood from Anne of Ingleside have grown old enough to understand things–old enough to recognize a soul in trouble and want to help.

Not only is Rainbow Valley different in this sense. It takes us to a different house where we meet a new family. The Meredith children live in an old manse next to a graveyard. I thought this an excellent way to contrast their life with that of the Blythes. While the Blythes play in the fields of Rainbow Valley, the Manse children have games on headstones. They wander the graveyard, singing and chasing insects. Their paradise is a place of death.

The Meredith children stumble upon Rainbow Valley one day when the Blythes are playing there. From that day on, the children become friends; the Merediths are welcome to visit Rainbow Valley whenever they want. This only provides temporary relief, however. They still have no mother, and practically have no father. Mr. Meredith is an absentminded minister who has not thought about their comfort in years.

As the Meredith children remain motherless, they get into unbelievable scrapes. They are not aware, most of the time, that what they’re doing is not acceptable to society. To them, playing and singing on headstones is normal. It isn’t until Faith Meredith goes to church without socks one day that their situation becomes a public scandal.

People begin to talk about how the Presbyterian minister does not know how to care for his children. Whispers circulate that the man should remarry for their sake. It’s out of the question for him. He has not yet recovered from the death of his wife, Cecilia. He’s convinced that he never will.

The Manse in which he lives with his children is a reflection of his own soul: it needs tending, it is lonely, and there are shadows everywhere.

In my review for Anne of Green Gables, I suggested that book one was the story of Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert. Anne might have come into their lives, but the Cuthberts made the frightening decision to adopt the orphan girl. I have the same opinion about Rainbow Valley: it is the story of Mr. Meredith facing an important decision. Will he choose a life of endless mourning, or will he seek a wife to be a good mother to his children–especially after he becomes aware that they are in constant trouble?

Mr. Meredith’s heart is eager to move on. Soon he will meet a woman who’ll enchant him in a different, quiet way–a woman who is difficult to get, because of a promise she made–and perhaps that will make him more determined to fight for her love. If the wellbeing of his children was not enough to bring on a life change, a personal challenge might.

The Meredith children affect us in a different way than the Blythes; they represent loneliness while the Blythes live in a state of joy. They frolic in a graveyard while the Blythes have a field to themselves. They have no mother, while everyone who meets Anne knows she is a great parent.

If you have a ‘Meredith child’ in your life, a person who is alone and could use some company, would you invite them over to play?

Rainbow Valley challenges us to reach out to people in the graveyards of life. Not only that, it warns us that grief can take one over. If we allow grief to consume us, those we love will be affected–and it will be almost as if they were dead, as well.

Life alone is not the answer to any problem, and if you have children or others who depend on you, then you will have to make the frightening choice to stop grieving and open the window. If you live in your own Rainbow Valley and know somebody stuck in a graveyard, share your adventures with them.

This book offers a new perspective on Montgomery’s world that I truly appreciate. It was a welcome break from the colorful nature of Anne’s other books; it acknowledged that not everyone in the world knows true love. Will the Meredith children have a new mother at the end? Read this delightful novel to find out.

At last, we are nearing the end of the beloved series by L.M. Montgomery. Next week I will share my thoughts on my favorite book of them all, Rilla of Ingleside. Until then, I hope you are having a great holiday season, despite the challenges of this year!

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.

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?