When I saw that one of my favorite LibriVox readers recorded The Scarlet Pimpernel and two of its sequels, I decided to listen to them. The Scarlet Pimpernel isn’t great literature, but it’s fun, and I’ve been in the mood for light reading.
Read by Karen Savage
The Scarlet Pimpernel, by Baroness Orczy
“Armed with only his wits and his cunning, one man recklessly defies the French revolutionaries and rescues scores of innocent men, women, and children from the deadly guillotine. His friends and foes know him only as the Scarlet Pimpernel. But the ruthless French agent Chauvelin is sworn to discover his identity and to hunt him down.”
Read by Karen Savage
The Elusive Pimpernel, by Baroness Orczy
“In this thrilling sequel, the terrorist Chauvelin devises a vile plot to eliminate the Pimpernel . . . once and for all.”
Read by Karen Savage
El Dorado, by Baroness Orczy
“The still-raging French Revolution continues to claim lives, and the shadow of the guillotine draws ever nearer to the young Dauphin, son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. No one dares to attempt to liberate the little prince—no one, that is, but the . . . Scarlet Pimpernel.”
Shirley, by Charlotte Brontë (English classic)
“Written at a time of social unrest, [Shirley] is set during the period of the Napoleonic Wars, when economic hardship led to riots in the woollen district of Yorkshire. A mill-owner, Robert Moore, is determined to introduce new machinery despite fierce opposition from his workers; he ignores their suffering, and puts his own life at risk. Robert sees marriage to the wealthy Shirley Keeldar as the solution to his difficulties, but he loves his cousin Caroline. She suffers misery and frustration, and Shirley has her own ideas about the man she will choose to marry.”
I really wanted to like this book and began it with that intention, and by the time I finished it, I did like it—I just didn’t love it. I think the reason was because it never completely captivated me. Brontë begins the novel by describing many minor characters in detail, and I had difficulty understanding which characters the story would follow, which made it all seem rather pointless to me in the beginning. As the novel and its underlying themes unfold, it does become just as much about a community of people as it does the lead characters, which gives at least some purpose for the detailed descriptions of the secondary characters. Structurally, this novel begins with a community in turmoil and ends as that community begins to come out of the turmoil. This struggle is mirrored on an individual level with several of the characters, in particular Caroline Helstone and Robert Moore. This observation from Chapter 20 puts into words what I believe is the overall theme of the novel:
Most people have had a period or periods in their lives when they have felt thus forsaken—when, having long hoped against hope, and still seen the day of fruition deferred, their hearts have truly sickened within them. This is a terrible hour, but it is often that darkest point which precedes the rise of day—that turn of the year when the icy January wind carries over the waste at once the dirge of departing winter and the prophecy of coming spring. The perishing birds, however, cannot thus understand the blast before which they shiver; and as little can the suffering soul recognize, in the climax of its affliction, the dawn of its deliverance. Yet, let whoever grieves still cling fast to love and faith in God. God will never deceive, never finally desert him. “Whom He loveth, He chasteneth.” These words are true, and should not be forgotten.
Persuasion, by Jane Austen (English classic)
“Twenty-seven-year old Anne Elliot is Austen’s most adult heroine. Eight years before the story proper begins, she is happily betrothed to a naval officer, Frederick Wentworth, but she precipitously breaks off the engagement when persuaded by her friend Lady Russell that such a match is unworthy. The breakup produces in Anne a deep and long-lasting regret. When later Wentworth returns from sea a rich and successful captain, he finds Anne’s family on the brink of financial ruin and his own sister a tenant in Kellynch Hall, the Elliot estate. All the tension of the novel revolves around one question: Will Anne and Wentworth be reunited in their love?”
One of the things Persuasion does best is show that a desirable home is much more than a grand estate and fine furnishings. Anne Elliot’s standard of homemaking has been set by her deceased mother, who is described as an “excellent woman, sensible and amiable” who had managed Kellynch Hall with “method, moderation, and economy.” Anne is grieved that her father and older sister Elizabeth—who, for all practical purposes, became the mistress of Kellynch Hall after their mother’s death—have mismanaged the family’s resources to such an extent that they will have to “retrench” in Bath, where their lawyer believes a family of high rank can appear important without spending a lot of money.
Many months after the family moves to a much smaller home in Bath, Anne and Elizabeth’s sister Mary unexpectedly arrives at their new home with her husband. They have travelled to Bath with Mary’s mother-in-law Mrs. Musgrove and two others. Once Elizabeth realizes that Mary and her husband have no intention of actually staying with them while they are in Bath, she is able to “put on a decent air of welcome.” As the visit progresses, however, she experiences a quandary: Continue reading
Remake, by Todd, Ilima (YA science fiction)
“A World Where Freedom Isn’t a Choice
“Nine is the ninth female born in her batch of ten females and ten males. By design, her life in Freedom Province is without complications or consequences. However, such freedom comes with a price. the Prime Maker is determined to keep that price a secret from the new batches of citizens that are born, nurtured, and raised androgynously.
“But Nine isn’t like every other batcher. She harbors indecision and worries about her upcoming Remake Day—her seventeenth birthday, the age when batchers fly to the Remake facility and have the freedom to choose who and what they’ll be.
“When Nine discovers the truth about life outside of Freedom Province, including the secret plan of the Prime Maker, she is pulled between two worlds and two lives. Her decisions will test her courage, her heart, and her beliefs. Who can she trust? Who does she love? And most importantly, who will she decide to be?”
The description of the novel Remake surprised me when I read it in the Deseret Book catalogue in the fall of 2014. This book, a dystopia that Deseret Book published under its Shadow Mountain imprint, was quite a bit different from anything I had ever seen the company publish before—in a good way. I like dystopia and was so intrigued by the fact that Deseret Book would publish something like Remake that I downloaded the book and read it on a trip to the beach at the end of 2014. Continue reading
Our Mutual Friend
Our Mutual Friend, by Charles Dickens (British classic)
“A body is found in the Thames and identified as that of John Harmon, a young man recently returned to London to receive his inheritance. Were he alive, his father’s will would require him to marry Bella Wilfer, a beautiful, mercenary girl whom he had never met. Instead, the money passes to the working-class Boffins, and the effects spread into various corners of London society.”
Our Mutual Friend details corruption and falsity in those “various corners of London society” to such a degree that a glimpse of Zion didn’t come easily to me as I read it. In this Babylon-like society, the altruistic mingle with the mercenaries, and distinguishing between them isn’t always simple. One thing that Dickens does well in this novel is show how these types exist at all levels of society and that it is possible for a person to change—sometimes for the better and, just as often, for the worse.
As I was thinking about this novel after I finished it, I became aware of profound themes that illuminated the novel for me in ways that surprised and awed me. I almost want to re-read it again right away so that I can delve more deeply into those themes. The twists and turns of this story are half the fun of it, and I don’t want to spoil that fun for those who haven’t read it by saying too much. For that reason, I will try to tread carefully. Continue reading
Villette, by Charlotte Brontë (British classic)
“With neither friends nor family, Lucy Snowe sets sail from England to find employment in a girls’ boarding school in the small town of Villette. There she struggles to retain her self-possession in the face of unruly pupils, an initially suspicious headmaster, and her own complex feelings, first for the school’s English doctor and then for the dictatorial professor, Paul Emmanuel. Charlotte Brontë’s last and most autobiographical novel is a powerfully moving study of isolation and the pain of unrequited love, narrated by a heroine determined to preserve an independent spirit in the face of adverse circumstances.”
I read Villette by Charlotte Brontë for the first time about twenty years ago. During that first reading, I became caught up in the raw emotion and love story of this great work. I thought it was a very stark novel, and I said as much when one of the members of my book group told the rest of us in the autumn of 2014 that she had recently finished reading it. She disagreed with my opinion and declared that it was a happy book. Of course, this disagreement fascinated the other members of the group, and we put it on our list for 2015. I just finished re-reading it and still think it is stark and that it ends in tragedy. Imagine my surprise when I learned that I was the only one out of the five in attendance at our meeting who felt that way. We had a spirited discussion about the matter, and I couldn’t persuade them to my point of view, and they couldn’t persuade me to theirs. Continue reading
One of the problems with old mysteries and romances is that if they’re any good, their plots have been rehashed a zillion times since they were originally published. Out of the five books listed below, I only remember two real surprises, and they were in the same book. Nevertheless, all of these books satisfied my need for a light read and yet possessed a certain sparkle. Continue reading
Cicala Filmworks 2007
“ARRANGED centers on the friendship between an Orthodox Jewish woman and a Muslim woman who meet as first-year teachers at a public school in Brooklyn. Over the course of the year they learn they share much in common—not least of which is that they are both going through the process of arranged marriages.”
I watched this film for the first time about a year ago and liked it so much that I recently watched it again. Because it’s such an unusual, obscure film that helped me envision Zion, I thought I’d comment on it. Nasira and Rochel were more familiar than foreign to me for a couple of reasons. I live in a suburb of Washington, D.C. that is as religiously, philosophically, and ethnically diverse as the area depicted in the film. The friendship between Rochel and Nasira could have taken place in my community. The challenges they faced could have happened here too, and while I can’t imagine a principal at one of my children’s schools challenging devout women in the vigorous way the one in the film did Nasira and Rochel, the principal’s mindset is prevalent in my community and contributes to a culture that can be hostile to religious ideas and practices that aren’t politically correct. Continue reading
Cottonwood Summer, by Jean Z. Liebenthal (LDS nostalgia)
“When Nola and Beverly are forbidden to participate in the lake excursion, they can’t guess that their selected alternative will provide the biggest adventure in their young lives. Nothing less than a reform school escapee, in fact!”
Feathers and Rings, by Jean Z. Liebenthal (LDS romance)
“Nola is in love with Kent—but he hardly seems to notice her. Although she manages to have an occasional good time at the Saturday-night dances with her longtime neighbor Norman, Nola fears she may become an ‘old maid.'”
As I embarked on this project to comment on novels that give me a glimpse of Zion, I felt that, despite my love for the classics, this would be an unbalanced presentation if I neglected the fiction written by members of my own religion. I thought I would re-read a few of the books in this category that I actually own. Several years ago I gave quite a few LDS novels away, needing the shelf space and knowing I wouldn’t re-read those particular works. For that reason, the books I own are ones I like a lot and have probably already re-read at least once. Continue reading
The Idiot, by Fyodor Dostoevsky (Russian classic)
“. . . a saintly man, Prince Myshkin, is thrust into the heart of a society more concerned with wealth, power and sexual conquest than with the ideals of Christianity. Myshkin soon finds himself at the center of a violent love triangle in which a notorious woman and a beautiful young girl become rivals for his affections.”
Daystar, by Kathy Tyers (Evangelical science fiction)
After fleeing to their sanctuary world for safety with other telepathic Sentinels, members of the Caldwell family must decide whether to accept or reject the claim of a previously unknown family member that he is Boh-Dabar, the prophesied Messiah.
Okay, I know what you’re thinking—that only a person with a very strange brain would talk about a Russian classic and an Evangelical science fiction novel in the same breath. Despite the obvious differences between these two books, they are based on the same premise: What would happen if Jesus Christ came to live among a particular group of people? How would He act? How would people react to Him? What would He require of those people individually and as a community? Continue reading