Miss Woodhouse's Musings

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The Birthday Bard

It’s poetry in its purest form- browsing Books-A-Million brooding about the Bard’s birthday. Think I used enough “b”s in that sentence?

But yes, you read that right. Today is supposedly William Shakespeare’s birthday (I subscribe to the 25th, but that’s a story for another time), it is indeed the anniversary of his death, and it is also St. George’s Day, the patron saint of England.

‘Tis a lot to take in.

Therefore, friends, Romans, blog readers, lead me your ears! For indeed I am a friend of the Bard, a fan of his witty sayings and dramatic tales of star-crossed lovers. Forsooth, even I turn a blind eye to his obvious copying of others’ tales, and his shameless borrowing of his own best-loved plot turns. For what great a man he was, still to be revered ev’n in this modern age in which we live.

Yet, my meager words cannot express the genius of this great man; actor, poet, playwright. Let us all instead divert our attention to a different vein; let us turn to the words of the man himself, and let us listen to his thoughts near the end of his life. For it is said that the character Prospero, that wizard and magician banished so many long years on a deserted isle, is meant to be Shakespeare himself, a means by which the Bard expressed his feelings and a plea to his devoted fans:

“Now my charms are all o’erthrown,

And what strength I have’s mine own,

Which is most faint….

…Now I want

Spirits to enforce, art to enchant,

And my ending is despair

Unless I be relieved by prayer,

Which pierces so, that it assaults

Mercy itself, and frees all faults.

As you from crimes would pardoned be,

Let your indulgence set me free.”

–The Tempest

So, then, dear friends, ‘tis nobler indeed to laud the life of a man who spent his time well, and did so faithfully devote his hours to writing for the entertainment of many.

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This year I received an advance copy of Hesperus’ printing of Jane Austen’s last novel, Sanditon. The agreement is that I write a review in return for the book, so I thought that I’d also post my review on here. I really did enjoy the story- you all should read it if you have a chance!

Sanditon is the last of Jane Austen novels, written right at the end of her life. As such, it is incomplete and unfinished. This is the reason that I had never read Sanditon before now- this is the end of Austen’s writings. This just brings home the fact that she will not be writing anything new for me to read.

The novel shows amazing promise, and cannot help but leave the reader regretting that the story was never finished. The tone of the novel reads as a conglomeration of her previous novels. The hypochondriacal storyline hints at Persuasion, the varied house party brings Mansfield Park to mind, the quirky characters are similar to Emma, the cutting social critique is similar to Northanger Abbey’s, and so the novel reads. Though some of the material feels recycled from her other writings, Austen still manages to bring her fresh, breezy style of writing to the storyline.

Some of the elements are new to an Austen novel. The story delves into the male psyche more than any other book of hers. Too, Austen’s approach to “health cures” usually restricts itself to commentary on Bath, so the exploration of Bath-wannabes of the time is interesting to see. Lastly, it is one thing to stand back in the 21st century and critique women for letting their overactive imaginations lead them to imagine illness. It adds another dimension to read a woman of the time critique her own gender, especially since Austen was genuinely ill herself at the time.

The reader will be in no doubt that the story was intended to end happily as all Austen’s novels do- the secret lovers find happiness, inheritances help out those who need money, Sanditon will succeed as a health resort, and the heroine finds someone to give her the perfect life. The good will end well, and the bad will end in disgrace. However, the reader cannot help but regret the loss of those little plot twists and charming character development that only Austen can create on her way to happily ever after.

As to this particular printing, Hesperus printed the edition very nicely. Though it is a paperback, the cover has deep flaps that serve as the perfect bookmarks, and the typeface is the perfect blend between readability and old-fashioned style. Overall, this edition is a nice tribute to the final product of Austen’s unique imagination.

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It’s finals time again, which is why I’ve been MIA around here this week. However, I can’t leave you, dear readers, without something to think about. In going over some papers from last semester, I found a short post I wrote on how the theme of justice is treated in Shakespeare’s plays. We read eight plays in eight weeks, plus some sonnets. I only cover five of the plays- Hamlet, Othello, Much Ado About Nothing, King Lear, and The Tempest. If you have any thoughts about justice in these five plays, or any other Shakespearian works, feel free to leave them in the comments field. One of the things I love about classes is the discussion aspect, so it would be nice to have that here as well. Enjoy!

One of the overarching themes I have noticed through Shakespeare’s plays is the idea of justness and rightness. With the notable exception of King Lear, the good end well and the bad end in disgrace. In plays like The Tempest, this idea is a little vague and hard to grasp. However, we can see that Ferdinand and Miranda, two innocent characters in a sea of magic and manipulation, are able to be happy together (5.1, 199-201). Caliban, the evil plotting man-fish, ends in disgrace and ruination (5.1, 299-301). Even Prospero experiences a form of justice- he can regain his place in society, but he must surrender his somewhat overused magical powers to do so (Epilogue, 1-3).

Much Ado presents a simplistic form of justice. After attacking the very character of Hero, Claudius is able to regain her and her love by simply mourning her “death” and agreeing to marry her “cousin.” Don John, the instigator of all things unpleasant, is captured in flight and put aside until someone could be bothered to devise a good punishment for him (5.4, 121-122).

Shylock receives the rougher end of the complication of justness when Portia’s pleas to him for grace and mercy go unheeded (4.1, 228-229; 303-307). As Greenblatt points out, the justice Portia serves is lacking in the very mercy she begged for Antonio, but that should not matter to the reader since the characters are satisfied by it (254). Though Ophelia’s death in Hamlet does not seem fair, the injustice of it is somewhat tempered by the fact that all the truly bad characters meet their death in various ways as well. Othello shares the same idea- though readers are saddened by the senseless death of an innocent woman, the event is made slightly less tragic by the clearing of her name and the death of her murderer.

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Romeo loves Juliet… and then they die.

Yesterday I had the amazing opportunity to hear Regent’s president-elect speak on the immortal love story Romeo and Juliet. First, I must say that this experience banished all the doubts I had about choosing Dr. Campo to head the university. The man is amazing! He establishes a rapport with people in a seemingly effortless manner. I introduced myself to him briefly before the presentation, and he spent the first 10 minutes casually teasing me even though we just met. Second, it’s wonderful to have someone in power who loves literature. Going to a Christian college means that quite a few people are very religion/psychology minded. Not that this is always a bad thing, but those are not my passions. Literature is my passion. Thirdly, he gets British literature. ‘Nuff said!

He made some wonderful points about what we can glean from this story, and the things we can learn about love, life, family, and passion. The first word of the play is “two”, so Dr. Campo talked a lot about the duality of the play. Love and hate; reason and passion; reality and illusion. In short, he taught the play as a journey- a reformational journey from chaos to form and order.

I must admit that I’ve never been a huge Romeo and Juliet fan. Not that I don’t love a tragic ending, but I hate people holding it up as the ultimate love story. In fact, I almost didn’t listen to Taylor Swift’s song Love Story because of the Romeo/Juliet lyric angle. There’s just something frustrating about a guy who impulsively kills himself before he knows the whole story. A little bit more patience and a little less impulsivity would make for a much happier play. I know, I know, spoil-sport. Those are my feelings though.

Anyway, it was the perfect Valentine’s Day book club meeting. We all laughed a lot, thought deeply, and really enjoyed our time together.

Nay, I’ll conjure too.

Romeo! Humours! Madman! Passion! Lover!

Appear thou in the likeness of a sigh.

Speak but one rhyme and I am satisfied.

Cry but ‘Ay me!’ Pronounce but ‘love’ and ‘dove’.

Speak to my gossip Venus on fair word,

One nickname for her purblind son and heir,

Young Adam Cupid, he that shot so trim

When King Cophetua loved the beggar maid. –

He heareth not, he stirreth not, he moveth not.


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Rolling Down A Beach With A Guide To the Galaxy

In my Victorian literature class last week, we discussed the end of “Dover Beach” by Matthew Arnold.

The sea is calm tonight.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast, the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,

Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Aegean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

In the last stanza, the speaker describes the condition of the world to the woman with him, “the world, which seems / To lie before us like a land of dreams.” The speaker describes a scene of hopelessness and despair, a world where nothing is real, nothing matters, a world that has become a battleground. For the speaker, this is the end of the world, the end of all his hopes of finding a reality. Faith is withdrawing from the world, and all is a dream.

We discussed in class how this seems to be Arnold’s way of working through the changes in society at the time. Darwin’s theories of evolution and the descent of man were talking hold of the world, and Christianity was slowly beginning to disappear from the forefront of life.

Fifty years later the same subject would jump the pond and show up in the poetry of the American writer/poet Stephen Crane. In his poem “Should the Wide World Roll Away”, Crane addresses the idea of the world disappearing to leave only darkness and terror.

Should the wide world roll away,
Leaving dark terror, limitless night
Nor God, nor man, nor place to stand
Would be to me essential
If thou and thy white arms were there
And the fall to doom a long way.

Like Arnold, all Crane thinks that he needs is the love of his woman- he does not need religion or a foundation if she will just hold him through it all. However, Arnold mourned the loss of faith, and hoped that it would come back. Crane acknowledges that faith is gone, but he thinks that God and faith are not essential to him.

In the 1970s, British author Douglas Adams addressed again the subject of the world dissolving away into nothingness. Where Arnold sees religion as ebbing and Crane sees it as unnecessary, Adams sees religion as a thing to mock. It does not matter what happens to the world, religion, God, or love. In fact, Adams goes so far as to talk about how God went wrong, and uses the idea of faith to “prove” that God does not exist and never has. For Adams, all you need is your towel, a portable guide to the galaxy, and improbable luck.

I really don’t have much point in posting this here, other than to show how quickly godlessness took hold in the world of literature. A scant 100 years after the first seeds of doubt about God and the Bible were planted in society, they became a weed that took over secular literature and eradicated all thought of faith.

Today we assume that “secular” means godless, religionless, faithless. This is the product of the changing times. Before 1850, it was not uncommon for secular literature to deal with religious and faith issues. As the issues seen above spread, though, the religious sphere and the secular sphere began to separate. Now, we have complete separation, but at the same time total confusion as to what matters in the world, why we are here, and what our purpose is. Unless we can unite our spheres again, the world is only going to become more and more confused, until it actually does disappear.

I’m not sure if we can do anything about this, but it is worth thinking about.

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Warning: this post contains a long-winded English major talking about business and budgets. Read at your own risk! The author assumes no responsibility for misinformation, because the city’s information is confusing, and she refuses to go to business school just to understand it. All the best- Miss Woodhouse

I’m missing a library book.

Wait, stop! Please don’t pass out!

Okay now? Good; I’ll move on.

Here’s the deal: it’s somewhere in my room, and I will find it. Hopefully, I’ll find it tonight. It’s just that it’s a small little paperback, and I have a lot of books. No, really, I mean it. A lot of books. Too many books, if there is such a thing. (I don’t believe that there is, but others have a differing opinion.)

What I find amazing is that if I go buy the same book as I lost for the library with the same ISBN, it’ll cost me about $6. Seriously, and that’s for a new copy. They, however, want me to pay $16 dollars to replace the book, with no guarantee that they’ll get a new copy to replace the one I can’t find. They can make $10 or more on this transaction! Arg.

But this post is not meant to focus on my inability to organize. No, this post is on the ridiculousness  of libraries. First off, library fines don’t go straight back into the library budget. They instead go into the city coffers. I have a bit of an issue with that. If I get a speeding ticket, then I expect my money to go to the city. If my book is a little late, then I expect my money to go to the library.

Apparently, this is a tough concept for the city to handle. Or maybe not.

Before I delve too deeply into this mess, allow me to confess that I am not a business-type person. I don’t fully understand the workings of city government, and all the information I have is gleaned from conversations with librarians and a PowerPoint that you are free to view for yourself here. But never fear, dear readers, this ignorance will not stop me from expressing my opinion.

Our city, by its own admission, has higher library fines than average. More to the point, its fines are much higher than the cities surrounding it. According to data from 2007 (not great, I know, but it’s the most recent I could find), other cities are between $.10-.15 per item. We are at $.20.

Now for the big numbers. Annually, residents pay somewhere in the neighbourhood of $300,000 yearly in fines. Now that I see those numbers, my $16 seems so insignificant. Wow, $300,000? That’s a lot of late books/movies/cds!

This is the part where my head begins to hurt. Library fines (which I’ve been told don’t go directly to the library), only make up 2% of the annual library budget. Breathe for a moment and soak up that information. Our libraries have a 15 million dollar budget? They don’t seem to buy all that many new materials, so I’m assuming that the bulk of that goes to building upkeep and salaries. It may look like a lot of money, but then realize you are spreading that out among 10 buildings. Not such a liberal budget after all. Anyway. It is also 13% of book purchasing yearly- sorry, but doing that math makes my head hurt. Feel free to work out what the annual book buying budget is and post it in the comments!

So, if I have this right (and again, I might not), the fines we pay make up 2% of the total budget, and that 2% of the budget only cover 13% of book buying costs. Is anyone else having flashbacks to high school Algebra word problems? Then we will quickly move on.

Now, in 2007 the libraries began using a collection agency for accounts seriously in arrears. Considering I have about $50 on my card right now (I’ll drastically reduce that by finding this silly book), I’ve been a little nervous about that agency. (Editor’s note: make that $47.60. Yuck.)

I shouldn’t be. According to my source material, 454 accounts in 2007 had fines amounting to more than $72,000. At first I thought that all 454 accounts added up to $72,000, with the average account having a $158 total fine. No, apparently these are individual accounts with $72,000 each. I don’t know if that is even possible, but unless the slides are poorly written that’s what they say. That would make outstanding fines over $32.5 million, and that seems unreasonable to me. Maybe it is the $158 instead, but who knows?

Here’s my problem- if our yearly library budget is $15 million (and again, math is not my strong suit), and the city managed to collect the some $30 million in unpaid fines (we are still very hypothetical here), that extra money would not go to the library. Instead, that money would go to the city coffers, $15 million would go to the Library budget (making Library fines support them 100%), and the other $15+ million? I guess that the city could do with it whatever they choose. This, my friends, is what I don’t see as fair.

So now my head hurts, I know WAY too much about library budgets, and I still don’t know where that book is. If only I knew how to hack one of those grossly overdue accounts. I mean, if you owe over $72,000, what’s another $50 or so? Oh well, off to dredge the room….

(Just kidding! The book is found, returned, and the debt settled. More money for the city, I guess.)

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Investing In the Generations

This article is cross-posted from this blog, but since I wrote the post over there, I figure I have the right to steal from myself! My school’s English Club goes once a month to a senior community, reads a short story or two, and then leads a short discussion loosely based on what we read. It’s really great, and I enjoy it a lot.

For the past week I’ve been trying to put together a nice, formal write-up of our experiences reading at Chesapeake Place’s senior community.

I realized today though, that our times with these lovely people are not formal. Rather, they are an amazing chance to interact with some wonderful people with entertaining life stories and experiences. Our part in the interaction is minimal- all we do is bring a story, read it aloud to them, and ask some interactive questions. Their answers make each meeting priceless.

These people all come from different lives, different backgrounds, and different countries. One woman immigrated from the political unrest in Germany in between the two world wars. Another woman told us what it was like growing up in a large family with a deceased mother and a workaholic father. Yet another woman shared her childhood experiences of living in a Catholic boarding school in Canada.

Our printed, polished, literary short stories by Doyle, O. Henry, and Capote truly pale in comparison to the living, breathing epistles these people share with us. At the same time, it’s heartwarming to watch them listen to what we read- the peaceful, thoughtful expressions on their faces, and the way smiles creep onto their faces during humorous parts. They are so appreciative of us coming once a month to spend time with them, but really, I’m grateful to them for their willingness to open up about their lives.

I never leave Chesapeake Place without a feeling of regret- regret that I can’t spend more time talking with them, and regret that so many people are missing out on opportunities to interact with people like this. Local senior communities are a wealth of stories and experiences just waiting for an audience- why don’t you take an hour or two and invest in these wonderful people? You will never regret it!

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Digging Up the Past

*Disclaimer: My use of the word “Archaeology” in this post pertains solely to the methods used in the Middle-East and parts of Africa. I have no experience with more “modern” or “American” archaeology locations and techniques, so I will not pretend that I do. Enjoy the post! Miss Woodhouse*

I have an active interesting in archaeology. If you don’t believe me, then just looking at the archaeology books on my shelf, the National Geographic and Archaeology Today magazines scattered around my room, and the dirt on my hands. Okay, I’m kidding about the last one, but the other two are true. There’s just something about digging into the past that fascinates me.

Last spring I took a Biblical Archaeology class at university, and tonight I pulled out my books to reference them for another class. Specifically, I’ve been studying whether archaeology disproves the Bible, or if it confirms the Bible’s veracity. One of the most interesting books I’ve read on this subject is titled “What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It? What archaeology can tell us the reality of ancient Israel”. Snappy title, I know.

The author is a long-time archaeologist named William Dever. After devoting his whole life to digging up the past, Dever uses this book to present his arguments against deconstructionists who say that the study of history is irrelevant in today’s postmodern world. They even go so far as to say that the field of archaeology is pointless and should have been abandoned decades ago.

Put yourself for a moment in Dever’s place. Here he is, getting on in years, spending most of his life digging up the past and now some upstart, pseudo-erudite scholars want to tell him that his work is meaningless, pointless, and obsolete. For most of you, dear readers, your contact with archaeology stems mainly from Indiana Jones and Amelia Peabody. Modern archaeology is nothing like the action-packed adventures of these characters. Basically, you spend months findings sponsors to pay for your expenses and crew. Then, you spend a few months in the relentless sun, systematically digging through an endless sandbox with little more than a toothbrush and tweezers, hoping to find something worthwhile. Maybe you will find an old mosaic, or the corner of a house. Mostly though, you will find little but garbage and potsherds, so you will try to pick up any contextual clues you can from these objects in order to gain more support for your next season.

I can’t fully wrap my mind around how frustrating it must be.

So, at this point you may be wondering what importance archaeology can have in our lives. Good question! Well, first there’s the old saying that those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it. By conducting archaeological excavations, we can learn and understand the history of an area. Sometimes the lessons are cultural- for example finding out that a city turned into a ghost town because the government was overthrown. Other times, archaeologists find clues to the history of the land that will make a difference in how we develop it in modern times. For example, if an excavation finds a civilization buried suddenly in mud, then we can surmise that the area was prone to sudden mudslides, and still may be unstable.

Biblically, archaeology provides some of the most compelling outside evidence that the Bible is real. We read about how the wall of Jericho fell inward by the power of God. Then, we find archaeological evidence of a city called Jericho whose walls fell inward. Given this information, archaeologists can make a correlation between the evidence and the accounts and conclude that the Biblical account is accurate. When we find seals, cartouches, and engravings that speak of people and events we read about in the historical books of the Bible, we can conclude that the events written there are true and accurate. In fact, Dever ultimately claims that archaeology can and does prove the veracity of the Bible. He believes that the details contained in the ancient scrolls and confirmed by archaeological discoveries are much too precise to be made up. Therefore, archaeology confirms the Bible and by doing so confirms the validity of our faith.

Just think- all of that meaning from a clump of dirt and sand!

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Rambling On

I was reading excerpts of Samuel Johnson’s Rambler tonight for school, so I thought I’d pass on some thought-provoking quotes. I’ve totally undervalued Johnson’s writing out of ignorance- this must change! He’s really an interesting person.

On Fiction:

It is justly considered as the greatest excellency of art, to imitate nature; but it is necessary to distinguish those parts of nature, which are most proper for imitation; greater care is still required in representing life…” In other words, we can’t just imitate something because it is there. We should be careful to evaluate what we are copying.

Vice, for vice is necessary to be shown, should always disgust; nor should the graces of gaiety, or the dignity of courage, be so united with it, as to reconcile it to the mind.” This is really good. Fiction is good way to teach the evils of vices, as long as we don’t make it look so appealing in the process that the lines between good and evil are blurred.

Hollywood, by the way, apparently doesn’t read Johnson either.

Moving on….

On Spring:

We solace ourselves with some new prospect, and press forward again with equal eagerness.” Oh, I really love this quote! What a wonderful way to think about spring, as a fresh start for both the world and for ourselves.

It may be laid down as a position that will seldom deceive, that when a man cannot bear his own company there is something wrong.” This is the 18th century version of an insult upon mankind. What a great comment! Basically, if you can’t just sit back and enjoy everything that’s happening around you, then something is amazingly awry in your life.

So there you have it!

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What to do at one in the morning…

…when all you want are eggs over easy but you don’t want to wake the family with the noise and smell:

Look in the fridge.

Open all opaque containers to verify contents.

Avoid eye contact with the egg carton.

Read all the yogurt labels.

Browse pantry.

Consider eating corn chips.

Regain sensibility and abandon corn chips.

Resume fridge raid.

Spot milk.

Spot cheese.

Ponder why milk and cheese, which come from cows, are considered dairy along with eggs, which obviously come from chickens.

Locate crackers for cheese.

Ponder cracker selection- butter, wheat, or sesame?

Decide on sesame.

Hum the theme song from Sesame Street (old school style, not this jazzy new thing they call a theme song).

Settle at table with milk, cheese, crackers, and book.

Remind self as to why food mysteries are a bad idea after midnight!

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