The Mill on the Floss
The Mill on the Floss, by George Eliot (English classic)
“Brought up at Dorlcote Mill, Maggie Tulliver worships her brother Tom and is desperate to win the approval of her parents, but her passionate, wayward nature and her fierce intelligence bring her into constant conflict with her family. As she reaches adulthood, the clash between their expectations and her desires is painfully played out as she finds herself torn between her relationships with three very different men: her proud and stubborn brother; hunchbacked Tom Wakem, the son of her family’s worst enemy; and the charismatic but dangerous Stephen Guest.”
The Mill on the Floss used to be on my list of George Eliot novels not to read. I watched a movie version of the story years ago and thought that the ending was so random and awful that there was no way I was going to read that book! In the years that have passed, however, I’ve read and loved several novels by George Eliot and come to trust her as an author. I decided I was ready to give The Mill on the Floss a try.
Many descriptions of this book, including the one above, make Maggie sound like a rebel and perhaps even a revolutionary. The quality they miss is her simplicity and lack of sophistication. Maggie doesn’t want to be a rebel! What she lacks is the ability to suppress her natural authenticity in order to conform to the beliefs and behaviors demanded by her family and community. Her mistakes are rarely true sins against God, and yet they are regarded as unpardonable sins by many members of her family and, later in the book, by the community at large. No matter what Maggie does, it isn’t right. Continue reading
Democracy in America, trans. H. Reeve
Democracy in America, Volume 1, by Alexis de Toqueville, (French classic, American classic)
“From America’s call for a free press to its embrace of the capitalist system, Democracy in America—first published in 1835—enlightens, entertains, and endures as a brilliant study of our national government and character. Philosopher John Stuart Mill called it ‘among the most remarkable productions of our time.’ Woodrow Wilson wrote that de Tocqueville’s ability to illuminate the actual workings of American democracy was ‘possibly without rival.’
“For today’s readers, de Tocqueville’s concern about the effect of majority rule on the rights of individuals remains deeply meaningful. His shrewd observations about the ‘almost royal prerogatives’ of the president and the need for virtue in elected officials are particularly prophetic. His profound insights into the great rewards and responsibilities of democratic government are words every American needs to read, contemplate, and remember.
“From America’s call for a free press to its embrace of the capitalist system Democracy in America enlightens, entertains, and endures as a brilliant study of our national government and character. De Toqueville’s concern about the effect of majority rule on the rights of individuals remains deeply meaningful. His insights into the great rewards and responsibilities of democratic government are words every American needs to read, contemplate, and remember.”
Part 1: Introduction
Democracy in America is a classic that many Americans know about but few have actually read. I’m a member of a book group that exists to read this kind of material, and it took us ten years to finally be willing to take it on. The book’s length is formidable, and it’s written with such depth of observation that it requires time and thought to get through. Four members of the group made the effort to read Democracy in America. One finished the first volume and got part of the way through the second. The rest of us read the majority of the first volume with the intention of finishing it. All four of us were amazed and excited about the truth regarding America that we discerned in this book. All four of us gained a greater understanding of the origins of the United States, the things that make it great, and the underlying reasons for some of its current problems. All four of us want to put the second volume of Democracy in America on our list for next year. Continue reading
The Ladies’ Paradise
The Ladies’ Paradise (Au Bonheur des Dames), by Émile Zola (French classic)
“The novel tells the story of Denise Baudu, a 20-year-old woman from Valognes who comes to Paris with her younger brothers and begins working as a saleswoman at the department store Au Bonheur des Dames. Zola describes the inner workings of the store from the employees’ perspective, including the 13-hour workdays, the substandard food and the bare lodgings for the female staff. Many of the conflicts in the novel spring from each employee’s struggle for advancement and the malicious infighting and gossip among the staff.
“Denise’s story is played against the career of Octave Mouret, the owner of Au Bonheur des Dames, whose retail innovations and store expansions threaten the existence of all the neighborhood shops.”
I found The Ladies’ Paradise to be interesting on several levels and incredibly thought-provoking. My thoughts went down a couple of different lines while reading this novel, both figurative and literal, and I’ll try to capture some of both lines in this post. The figurative one gave me a glimpse of Babylon that was unsurprisingly—yet disturbingly—modern. In this description of The Ladies’ Paradise from Chapter 9, Zola compares the department store to a church or temple:
Madame Desforges was at last reaching the first storey, when a still greater surging of the crowd forced her to stop once more. She had now, beneath her, the departments on the ground-floor, with the press of customers she had just passed through. It was a new spectacle, a sea of heads fore-shortened, concealing the bodices, swarming with a busy agitation. The white price tickets now appeared but so many thin lines, the promontory of flannels cut through the gallery like a narrow wall; whilst the carpets and the embroidered silks which decked the balustrades hung at her feet like processional banners suspended from the gallery of a church. In the distance, she could perceive the angles of the lateral galleries, as from the top of a steeple one perceives the corners of the neighbouring streets, with the black spots of the passers-by moving about. But what surprised her above all, in the fatigue of her eyes blinded by the brilliant pell-mell of colours, was, when she lowered her lids, to feel the crowd more than ever, by its dull noise like the rising tide, and by the human warmth that it exhaled. A fine dust rose from the floor, laden with the odour of woman, the odour of her linen and her bust, of her skirts and her hair, an invading, penetrating odour, which seemed to be the incense of this temple raised for the worship of her body.
Women and the Priesthood
Women and the Priesthood: What One Mormon Woman Believes, by Sheri Dew (LDS doctrine)
“In Women and the Priesthood, Sheri Dew discusses the varying responsibilities of men and women in the context of key doctrine of the Church, including the eternal truths that women are vital to the success of the Lord’s Church, that God expects women to receive revelation, and that both men and women have access to God’s highest spiritual blessings.”
If you do not believe that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints offers much to its female members, I invite you to watch this short video of Sheri Dew explaining that, in fact, the opposite is true and why: What Do LDS Women Get?
Sometimes a book comes along that gives me much more than a glimpse of Zion but an all-out vision of it. This is one of those books. The thing this book does best is detail the tremendous spiritual gifts available to women in the Church right now and how—as powerful as we are now both individually and as a group—we will become even more powerful and able to accomplish the great work God has for us to do as we rise up and access the priesthood power already available to us. I’m sure that the reason this book resonates with me so much is that I share Sister Dew’s vision. I have long understood the principles she teaches in this book and have taught them to both women and men in the Church. The reason I feel so passionately that we should keep our reading wholesome and media habits clean is because such practices will better enable anyone to access the power of God. In the chapter entitled “God Expects Women to Receive Revelation,” Sister Dew talks about this reality: Continue reading