Meet Me in D.C.

August 28, 2008 at 5:27 pm | Posted in Books, Historical Fiction, LIfe, My Life with Books, Philippa Gregory, Reading | 6 Comments
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As my regular readers are well aware, I’m a Philippa Gregory fanatic. To this day, two of my three most viewed posts by far are about reading her Tudor series in chronological order and my thoughts about Anne Boleyn’s rape scene in the film adaptation of The Other Boleyn Girl. When I received her newsletter recently, I read it word for word. When I read that her tour dates for The Other Queen were set on her website, I went there immediately knowing full well that she most likely wouldn’t be coming any where near my little hamlet in Southwest Virginia.

It was like Christmas morning when I discovered that she will be taking part in the 2008 National Book Festival in Washington, D.C. on Saturday, September 27.  D.C. is still five hours away. With gas prices the way they are, my joy started to dim until I noticed all of the other authors who will be there: Neil Gaiman, Salmon Rushdie, Geraldine Brooks, and Marisa de los Santos just to name a few. It’s sounds like such a wonderful event and I’m sad that I’ve not heard about it before this year.  I hope that this is one thing that will continue on after President Bush leaves office.

I have asked my husband to take me there and he agreed so long as our yard sale isn’t held that weekend.  Uh, it most definitely won’t!  I’m not sure what we’ll do as far as driving there.  Neil Gaiman is appearing in the Teens & Children Pavilion at 11:45.  We’d have to leave pretty early in the morning to get there in time for that.  We may drive to Alexandria and get a hotel the night before and then take the train into the city.  Is there anyone else out there who is planning on attending?  Let’s make plans to get together!  It’s going to be a great day!

#26 ~ Innocent Traitor

June 5, 2007 at 9:11 pm | Posted in Amazing Narrator, Books, Henry VIII, Historical Fiction, Reading, Religion | 3 Comments
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With this book I have reached the summit!

Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir

As I have made my way through the wives of Henry the 8th, this book seemed the next logical choice. This book deals with the rise and fall of Lady Jane Grey, the woman who rules England as Queen for nine short days between the reign of King Edward and Queen Mary. Alison Weir is a historian as is known for her academic accounts of the English monarchy. Innocent Traitor is Weir’s first attempt at using fiction to fully flesh out historic characters and fill in those things that can never be known. This book was a wonderful reading experience, independent of the fact that I read it while at the beach. I would heartily recommend it to anyone who has read The Other Boleyn Girl and/or The Boleyn Inheritance. You will not be disappointed.

Lady Jane Grey was born to Henry the 8th’s niece, Frances. Frances and her husband are selfish people who long only for the good life brought about by being wealthy land owners and members of the royal family. After losing two sons in infancy, Frances is bitter when she bares Jane, a healthy, strapping girl. From the moment Jane’s sex is known, Frances hardens her heart. Jane only becomes valuable to her when Queen Jane gives birth to Prince Edward, her uncle’s sole male heir. Within weeks of her birth, Jane is surrounded by people plotting to use her to their own advantage.

From the very beginning Jane experiences only harshness and displeasure from her mother. Because she is unknowingly being groomed to be a future queen of England, her mother uses a heavy hand with her. Jane, an intelligent and inquisitive child who grows into a sober and scholarly young woman, has a will of her own that her mother cannot break. She is content to spend her life reading in the pursuit of knowledge and righteousness before God. While her parent’s faith changes at the whim of the monarch, Jane grows to become a devout, outspoken, and idealistic Protestant under the tutelage of the doctors chosen specifically by Queen Katherine Parr to teach her. Like many stanch idealists, Jane lacks diplomacy and tact when speaking about faith. Believing that she knows the real truth about God, she refuses to hold her tongue, even in front of Princess Mary, an equally devout and staunch Roman Catholic.

It is the combination of the ultimately ill-fated plotting against the succession of the English monarchy and Jane’s unwavering faith in Protestantism that ultimately bring about her demise.

It was interesting reading this book just after finishing March. Both of the narrators are wholly devout to the cause of their faith. They both loved knowledge and its pursuits about all other pleasures. They both lacked tact and diplomacy, believing that they were proclaiming the will of God to the people of their time. They both were taken about as to how others could not believe the way that they do. Where Captain March was led haphazardly by his shame and fear of damnation, Jane stood defiant and confident in her own salvation without fear of death. Interestingly, it is how they differ that brought about their downfalls.

#25 ~ March

May 23, 2007 at 3:04 am | Posted in Books, Historical Fiction, Reading, Religion | 2 Comments
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March by Geraldine Brooks

I have loved Little Women for as long as the first time I picked the book up to read it. My parents gave me a beautiful set of Louisa May Alcott‘s books for Christmas one year. Those books remain my most treasured gift from them (I ought to let them know). When I first heard about this book, I knew that I had to read it. I haven’t really spent much time researching authors, so I knew very little about the world of the Alcott’s other than that the poverty experienced by the March’s in Little Women was based on reality.

March is about seeking redemption and finding forgiveness. It show the effects of demanding yourself to redeem past wrongs without allowing yourself to be forgiven by those you have wronged or, most importantly, yourself. It is also the story of having the courage to understand your spouse and to forgive mis-communications and wrongs.

Captain March started life in a poor family. He made his fortune by traveling through the South selling trinkets along the way. Although attempting to enrich himself, Mr. March’s passion is for learning and reading. Once, while in Virginia, he stays with a wealthy land and slave holder who has the most amazing library Mr. March has ever seen. He revels in his time to freely pursue intellectual pursuits. As an idealistic young man and Yankee, he finds it necessary to argue with his host, Mr. Clement, about slavery when in fact, he does not understand the society at all. With the help of Grace, a house slave, he takes it upon himself to begin teaching a young slave girl how to read. His time spent teaching is immensely rewarding to him, but he has no concept of what his self-righteous pleasure could cost those involved with him. His desire for Grace leads his host to discover what has been happening. Mr. March is dismissed from his plantation, but not before he is forced to watch Grace, stripped from the waist down, have pieces of flesh slashed from her buttocks by the overseer’s whip. We find that even after marrying Marmee and raising a strong abolitionist family that Mr. March cannot forgive himself for causing Grace this humiliation and pain.

Mr. March becomes a preacher and blindly celebrates any person or group working for the end of slavery. Although it causes his family to suffer, he does not much regret giving his entire fortune as an investment to the deceitful John Brown. Brown claimed that the money would be used for peaceful abolitionist purposes, but instead, March unknowingly helped to fund the rebellion that never took off at Harper’s Ferry. He is so enamored of what Brown’s vision that he did not speak out against Brown after he and his family are forced into poverty. He does not want to do anything to smear the reputation of abolitionists.

When the country fell into Civil War, Mr. March gave a sermon for the troops leaving for battle and it is during this speech that he sees a way to clear his conscious – he could join the army as a chaplain and provide aid to soldiers fighting for the cause. He sees his wife in the crowd lifting her hands to him and he takes that as a sign of her unity of purpose. What he didn’t anticipate was that his stringent religious views would irritate his superiors and that the soldiers were not fighting for “the cause.”

After he was unable to save a soldier who couldn’t swim from drowning, he came upon the Virginia plantation that was the sight of the barbaric beating of a woman he loved. Sure enough, Grace is still there. Due to the old age of the Mr. Clement, she stayed when everyone else left. Seeing her again only adds to the heaping pile of sin and unworthiness he feels. After being caught in a somewhat compromising position with Grace, Captain March is forced to leave his post and set up shop as a teacher once again on a homestead for freed slaves. This type of a homestead was a trial to see how a plantation would run when the workers were actually paid for their labors. Over and over again, Captain March is shocked and bewildered when people do live up to the “utopia” he envisioned when blacks and whites lived together in equality. He gets lost in reality that a snap of the fingers doesn’t change hundreds of years of history. He does assimilate as best as he could and did good work until a fever sent him to a military hospital in Washington, DC.

It is while Captain March is delirious that the reader discovers that Marmee March is not in lock step with her husband. Certainly she is an abolitionist and made her home a safe haven along the Underground Railroad, but she resents the loss of the easier life she grew up with and married into. There were a lot of assumptions made on both sides. Captain March’s attempts to redeem himself for Grace’s beating caused his family great harm and ultimately failed to ease his conscience. While tending to her husband in the hospital, Marmee has to deal with her resentment and come to a place of understanding and forgiveness, but Captain March won’t accept it from her.

In the end, the reader is unsure if Captain March ever gave up the ghost of the past and forgave himself. I’m not entirely sure he would know what to do without that hanging over his head. He could not give in to happiness. Blindly following his political and religious ideology throughout his adulthood to impress his wife caused his burden to grow exponentially. All these things he’s blamed himself for were, for the most part, entirely were out of his control. One might even conclude that he was most guilty of the sin of pride – something he did not see.

March is an interesting look at how ideology and merciless self-judgment can take a good man and ruin him. It is unfortunate that Captain March never took the well deserved credit for raising honest, intelligent, hard-working, and humble daughters. It’s funny those people who can see every possible fault in their lives cannot for one second relax and see the beauty.

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