24 November 2009

A Little Off Topic...

So, I admit I've been a little lax in my reading of the 1776.. but I have been reading more in the Eleanor Roosevelt biography and I came upon some stuff I thought was interesting and that I'd share.

So, a while back, Ritsumei, you and our Cousin were having a discussion on Facebook about politics and parties and party loyalty. Now, at the time, I didn't really have much to add to things, so I didn't. But a few days later, while reading about ER, I came across her views on the subject. It was too late to post on Facebook ('cuz I couldn't find the thread) but then I thought that this would be a good place to post it:

As she was originally sorting out her political opinions, ER felt that party loyalty was very important. However, as she became more involved politically (especially in getting women exercise their newly won sufferage), she departed from that philosophy and
"argued that voters of "the modern stamps" no longer adhere slavishly to their party's candidates. Although she agreed that women should enroll in the party that best represented their principles, issues of personal integrity, vision superior qualification should determine a person's vote: "Small minded people will tell you that but for party regularity in all things party organization would not exist, and that party government is necessary to our National institutions. This argument has ... been refuted a thousand times." Better government depends on "individual nominees." If our partisans "appear to us unworthy, then we have an even higher duty ... America must come first, not party (Eleanor Roosevelt Vol. 1; B.W.Cook, pg. 303-304)."

31 October 2009

Bracketing the Month

I see that the last post was on the first day of October. Today is the last day of October, so we'll have neatly bracketed the month. Hey, it's getting done, right? At the end of the year we'll be better informed than we were in the beginning. Hurray for setting goals!

So. Just to recap. Boston has fallen and the British fled. The Continental Army got some sweet spoils from the deal: much of what they need, except for arms and gunpowder. I find it somewhat amazing that they were so very short on that stuff. I mean, I knew that Valley Forge was bad; I'd heard that they were short on gunpowder. I had No.Idea.Whatsoever that when they said they were short on these supplies it meant that Washington had so little to work with that he had to conceal their lack from even his own officers! Wow. That's a shortage.

So, on to chapter 4, right? Right.

Washington sounds a little bit like a dandy again, escorted by two regiments with instruction that none should turn out "except those dressed in uniforms," all "washed, both face and hands clean, their beards shaved, their hair combed and powdered." (Page 116) I suppose though, that this is still pretty much the same. Those who get to be escort to the important folks dress their best and are often also selected from the ranks of the best soldiers. Still, it seems odd to read the descriptions.

Spirits are high as the army moves with all possible speed to New York. There is a certain amount of overconfidence:

No one knew how many British there might be, yet few let that bother them. And enthusiastic new recruit from the Connecticut ranks, a farm boy named Joseph Plumb Martin, would recall, "I never spent a thought about numbers. The Americans were invincible in my opinion." As another soldier remembered, there was scarcely a militia man who did not think himself equal to two or three of the British. (Page 117)

I think it was the year that Grandpa died, so around Thanksgiving when I was in 4th grade... uh, 1988. I had just learned to play chess, and played our cousin David, who was only a year or two older than me, though I remember him being "much older." I beat him soundly. This puzzled me, because I regularly lost to my Dad and knew that I wasn't that good of a player. So I asked Dad why it was that I won. Dad said it was because David was overconfident, so he wasn't careful; he made foolish mistakes. I rather suspect that there is some of that going on with both the British and the Colonists at this point in the war. The British don't take the Colonists seriously, so they get beaten soundly and driven out of their cozy spot in Boston. The Colonists read too much into their victory and are all sorts of cocky as they head for New York. Reading about this, it seems clear that John Adams knew this war was going to drag out. Likely others did too, but in general both sides seem to think they can lick the other at their leisure and no big deal. This causes some tactical errors on both sides of the fight.

It also places the Continental Army at an even greater disadvantage than they were already:

New York was not at all like Boston, geographically, strategically, and in other ways. At Boston, Washington had known exactly where the enemy was, and who they were, and what was needed to contain them. At Boston the British had been largely at his mercy, and especially once winter set in. Here, with their overwhelming naval might and absolute control of the waters, they could strike at will and from almost any direction. The time and place of battle would be entirely their choice, and this was the worry overriding all others. (Page 117)

At Boston, where the comparatively few Loyalists of Massachusetts had either fled the country or were bottled up with the British, there had never been a serious threat from "internal foes" ... In New York the atmosphere was entirely different. The city remained divided and tense. Loyalist, or Tory, sentiment, while less conspicuous than it had been, was widespread... two-thirds of the property in New York belonged to Tories. (Page 118)

At Boston, washington had benefited greatly from a steady supply of valuable intelligence coming out of the besieged town, while Howe had known little or nothing of Washington's strengths or intentions. Here, with so much of the population still loyal to the king, the situation was the reverse. (Page 119)

This situation called for careful, cautious strategy in much the same way my chess game with an older cousin did. It looks like some of the leadership appreciated this, but the whole army? Not so much.

01 October 2009

New York

The difference in tone, between this chapter and the previous chapter, was very striking. In Boston the American troops had had great luck and blessing with their successes. They won Dorchester Heights, and spirits were buoyed up as they headed out to their next place of battle. In New York, not so much.

As Chapter 4 begins, the American Troops had begun their march from Massachusetts to Rhode Island, through Connecticut and into New York; speed was of the essence and energy was high - high enough to prevail over any doubts or worries the soldiers might have had about what awaited them in New York.

Despite fears to the contrary, the American troops were in New York well before the British arrived. However, things in New York were markedly different than things had been in Boston. In Boston, Washington had the information and, predominantly, the upper hand. Now, the tables were turned and George Washington was "gravely, realistically apprehensive about the magnitude of the enemy force en route. He fretted over when their ships might appear, and how, with no naval strength, to defend a city bounded by navigable rivers on two sides and a harbor of a size sufficient to accommodate the largest fleet imaginable (pg. 117)." Yet, the prevailing attitude of Congress, and the army leaders, was that New York had "vast importance (pg. 118)", and they must make a stand.

Further complicating things, Washington's troops were still disheveled and unruly. Also, there continue to be a lack of understanding of the importance of hygiene and the proper disposal of human waste. Consequently, many of the soldiers got very sick. In addition to hygiene issues, New York offered a brothel district that introduced its own set of problems.

As Washington and his committee began their plans to fortify the city, they opted to build Forts to fortify the area. Inspired by Ritsumei's previous use of maps to help her understand, I also sought out some GoogleMap goodness to help me get a better picture of where these Forts were.

It was decided that if "New York was the key to the continent, then Long Island was the Key to New York, and the key to the defense of Long Island was Brooklyn Heights (pg. 127)." So, the first Fort they completed was Fort Stirling, right along the water:

View Larger Map

Along with Fort Stirling (A), three other forts were underway, to create a line of defense to "check their drive for the river (pg. 127)."

There was Fort Putnam(B):

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Fort Greene (C):

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and Fort Box (D):

View Larger Map
**locations approximate**

On page 135, we read that on July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress voted to "dissolve the connection" with Great Britain and the news reached New York on July 6th.

The timing seemed a little odd to me, what's this about July 2nd, what?? Well, apparently, the Declaration of Independence was signed on the 4th, giving an explanation of the legal separation that was announced two days earlier, thus making it more officially official.

In the last section of Chapter 4, there was an interesting interview that George Washington had with a British messenger.

On July 13th, General Howe sent a letter addressed to "Mr. Washington". He was sent away with the message that there was "no person in [their] army with that address (pg. 144)." Three days later, the messenger returned again, this time the letter was addressed to "George Washington, Esq., etc. etc." Again, it was refused. The following day, via a new messenger, a letter arrived again, and this time Washington, and his council, met with him.

I was fascinated by this interaction; even when Washington had admitted the messenger, he refused to accept the letter:
"The use of "etc., etc." implied everything that ought to follow", the messenger said. "It so does," said Washington, "and anything."
It's clear that Washington understood the importance of protocol and keeping up images; if they were every to be taken seriously, or have a chance at success, it must be all or nothing. It goes on to say, "A letter addressed to a person in a position of public responsibility ought to indicate that sation, Washington said, otherwise it would appear mere private correspondence. He would not accept such a letter."

One last thought I had on this chapter: Near the end, it talks about some movements of British ships. Then, almost as an offhand comment, the author says, "If anyone among the American command saw the return of the two enemy ships from upriver as a sign of trouble, there is no record of it (pg. 153)." Is that foreshadowing of disastrous events to come?

25 September 2009


Turns out I don't have anything to say about the rest of chapter 3. So I read chapter 4, and I expect that I'll post something about it soon.

06 September 2009

Schedule Tweak

I updated the reading schedule this afternoon, since clearly we're not going to be finished by the end of July! I've got some busy-ness going on this week & the week of the 21st, so I did 2 weeks for the next two chapters if that's OK with you. Let me know if it needs to be tweaked some more.

05 September 2009

The King and I

Anna and the King of Siam is a 1944 semi-fictionalized biographical novel by Margaret Landon.

It's also our next book selection.

Dorchester Heights (Part 1)

Where Are We?

The first thing I did when I was looking at this chapter was try to figure out where they were talking about. I was surprised at how tricky that was! Of course, then I got distracted, and when I came back I googled again and it came right up this time. Go fig. Anyway, here's this map of Boston from 1775. And here's the map of present-day Boston. You'll have to zoom in about 3 times, plus recenter the map a bit in order to get the scale to be more or less the same. The countryside that the army was camped in is now part of the city. Dorchester Heights is now just another historic neighborhood in Boston, rather than a separate entity. My the difference a few hundred years can make! But it's nice to know where we are talking about.

View Larger Map


There is a striking difference between the relationship between England and the colonies then, and the relationship of England and America now. On page 77 McCullough talks about the men that England sent to command the troops sent to put down the rebellion.

Clinton, Howe's second-in-command, was the least impressive in appearance, a short, fat, colorless man who could be shy and petulant. But he had a keen military mind and the advantage of knowing Americans from boyhood. He had grown up in New York, where his father, Admiral George Clinton, served as governor from 1741 to 1751.

Quite a few of them had served in the French and Indian War, some owned land in "the Americas," and relations seem to be generally cozier then than they are now. This is, of course, to be expected. England was the seat of the colonies' government, the parent state, the people's homeland. But somehow I'd grown up with the impression that you were either in England or you were in America. (Think of Ever After, with it's "You are forthwith stripped of your titles and sentenced to be shipped to the Americas..." like so much baggage. And certainly not a round trip!) The book makes it sound like there was much more moving back and forth, at least among the well-connected and well-to-do, than I had previously been aware of. More like the way the various stories (and here I'm thinking Secret Garden) talk about English officers and their families going to India, but then coming back for school and marriage and whatever. England, the place, remained an important part of an Englishman's life, even if he did happen to be living in the colonies. It makes the Loyalists' position make more sense. Not that I agree, just that it makes more sense. They were Englishmen. Really, truly. It wasn't until they felt King George betrayed them that the colonists fought for independency. And even then, not all of them agreed; some remained loyal to the crown.

Fort Ticonderoga

Fort Ticonderoga was a fort built on a narrow section of Lake Champlaign in New York. It had been strategically important in previous conflicts between Britain and France, and now was the starting point of some very heroic action in the Revolutionary War. Originally it had been a French fort, but had been captured by the British in the French and Indian War. Americans then held it from shortly after the Battle of Lexington and Concord until 1777, including the time we are considering in our book, though at this time it was in some disrepair. The cannon and other armaments were transported to Boston by Henry Knox, in a move that proved decisive in ending the seige of Boston in the Americans' favor.

I was really impressed with Knox's achievement! Knox was not what you think of when you picture a military hero:

Colonel Henry Knox was hard not to notice. Six feet tall, he bulked large, weighing perhaps 250 pounds. He had a booming voice. He was gregarious, jovial, quick of mind, highly energetic - "very fat, but very active" - and all of twenty five. ... To further complicate life, Knox had taken up the patriot cause and fallen in love with the daughter of a prominent Tory. ... In the tense days following the bloodshed at Lexington and Concord, the young couple packed up what little they could carry and slipped out of Boston in disguise.

It was Henry Knox who first suggested the idea of going after the cannon at far-off Fort Ticonderoga on Lake Champlain, an undertaking so enormous, so fraught with certain difficulties, that many thought it impossible. ... When Knox told Washington he was confident the guns could be retrieved and hauled overland to Boston, Washington agreed at once, and put the young officer in charge of the expedition. (Page58-59)

So off Henry goes, taking his younger brother William with him and sending a letter to his wife with the encouraging news that he should not be facing any fighting on this assignment. But fighting is not the only difficulty to be considered in war time!

First, there's winter. They start this little trip in mid-November. Brrrr! Then, there's distance. On present-day highways the most direct route is 223 miles and 4 hours. But they didn't have highways and they did have snow, thaws, freezes, and more snow, boats, forty-two sleds, eighty yoke of oxen, and a need for stealth and speed. The book says the distance they actually covered was nearly 300 miles. What an undertaking! Here we see one of the advantages of the American army's willingness - necessity for - doing things unorthodoxly. In the English army a junior officer, of low birth and so young, would likely not have been able to get his scheme approved. Knox, however, was in the American army which was not in a position to be choosy about where their talent came from or looked like, so long as it was loyal. So he went. And his cannon were the decisive point which broke the stalemate at Boston.

To Be Continued...

13 August 2009

Chapter 3 - Finally they get a Break!

Whew! Finally I finished this chapter! Yay for all that travel time, sitting around, that allowed me to buckled down and finish.

Such an exciting chapter! I was intrigued by the differences between the attitudes of the two armies' leadership and manner of promoting people. In the British army, if you had title, rank and money, you would be promoted. In the Americans' army, it was whoever was on hand who seemed like they could probably be counted on to step up to the plate.

Also, the British army had set regulations, set ways of attacking and defending; tried and true and that's the way it was. The American army, at a distinct disadvantage, was forced to think outside the box. Consequently, they had much more innovative methods, theories and ideas that would influenced their fighting. For example, Henry Knox convinced a crew to go with him to Ticonderoga and get those guns and, despite what could have justifiably been crippling difficulty, he successfully brought every single one home. That feat not only gave the American soldiers hope, it gave the army a fighting chance at success.

For the last couple chapters, the author has been painting a bleak, bleak picture. The Americans are significantly out-maned, the soldiers are sick and still not very orderly. The shortage of gun powder is causing General Washington to lose sleep and there isn't an expected break in sight. It's felt like, with the narrative, he's been leading up to something.. or at least something had to give, and finally it did.

The standoff outside of Boston had dragged on until spring with neither side making a move. After the heavy loss at Buncker Hill, Dorchester Heights remained empty, a "high, windblown no-mans land, neither side unmindful of its strategic importance, but neither side daring to seize and fortify it."

However, once the guns from Ticonderoga arrived, a new energy blew throughout the American camp; now they could consider making a move. Rufus Putnam, a resourceful lieutenant colonel, came up with the idea to build defensive structures off site and then assemble them in a single night on top of the Heights. Washington's council of war determined that it was the best option available and set about making it happen.

It was a complicated procedure, with many opportunities for the British to notice and take the Heights before the Americans could secure it. To prevent this, Washington cut off all correspondence to Boston so that the word would not leak out. Also, to cover the sound of the construction and assembly, the armies exchanged vollies of fire.

Records indicate a couple instances where the movements of the Americans were noticed and even reported. It seems clear that, if the news had fallen on more energetic ears, the Americans' efforts would have been discovered:

1- According to the diary of one British officer, a few of the British did find out as early as February 29, from deserters and from a spy referred to only as "Junius," that the rebels intended to "bombard the town from Dorchester (pg. 90-91)."

At about 10:00pm on March 4, the night the Americans took Dorchester Highets, a British lieutenant colonel, Sir John Campbell, reported to Brigadier General Fancis Smith that the "rebels were at work on Dorchester Heights (pg. 93)."

But in both cases, nothing came of it and the American army took Dorchester Heights, and the British army, by complete surprise.

It seems so evident to me that the hand of the Lord had to have played an active part in all of these happenings and it seems that many who were there felt similarly:
"The night was unseasonably mild - indeed, perfectly beautiful with a full moon - ideal conditions for the work, as if the hand of the Almighty were directing things, which the Reverend William Gordon, like many others, felt certain it was. "A finer [night] for working could not have been taken out of the whole 365," he wrote. "It was hazy below [the Heights] so that our people could not be seen, though it was a bright moonlight night above the hills (pg. 92)."

I appreciate that Mr. McCullough doesn't shy away from including descriptions of the circumstances and quotes that seem to support that very idea.

23 July 2009

It Gets Better

I had a hard time getting into the chapter. But once I got going, I could hardly put it down. I was up till 1:30 last night finishing the chapter, and had to discipline myself to stop and write before I read the next chapter.

15 July 2009

Looks Interesting

I don't know if we want to officially participate, as in it's part of the "assignment" we set ourselves, but this General Conference "book club" looks interesting. Maybe we could do it on a when-we-get-to-it basis? What do you think?

Oi Oi!

Sadly, I haven't got much to say about 1776 today... Back in June (due to changes with work) I switched up my general day's schedule. When this happened, I thought it was rather a bother. (I miss that extra hour of sleep!!) However, there has been some good things that have come of it. Most notably, I've had more opportunities to read over my lunch hour. It's really great!! I've had two or three days where I've been able to read a chapter over lunch, with time to take notes and think about it too. (Amazing what one can do with an entire hour of undistracted quiet time!) However, it seems that it probably would have been a better idea to have brought my 1776 book to work rather than my Eleanor Roosevelt (E.R.) biography; all that progress I've been making has been in the E.R. book and I've nothing to write here about 1776!
**sheepish grin**

However, I believe we've talked about how we can use this blog to discuss/share any good or interesting book that we're reading, so I thought I'd post a little on this biography that I've been reading.

It's a very interesting read. The author has a written it with a very easy narrative that tells a compelling story. In the introduction she gave a brief overview of what the book would contain and the chapters (so far; I just finished chapter 3 yesterday) delve into much more detail of the various periods and events of her life.

I felt that the introduction had a bit of a feminist slant ("[E.R.'s] experiences as a woman caused her to appreciate the elements of empowerment, of shared power in partnership with others." -how do we know that just 'cuz she's a woman that that increased her appreciation of these things??) Really, on the whole, I don't object to any feminist elements; it would seem that would be a fitting view to take when looking at E.R., she was a powerful and empowered woman; also, and I understand that not everybody holds the same religious views that I do and I accept that, however, having sensed that slant or tone to the author's telling, I became more wary about accepting everything the author says at face value and my 'critical reading' became all the more critical.

Nevertheless, despite my mild concerns, as I've delved into the chapters and followed the author as she has outlined E.R.'s life so far, I haven't felt that things are too biased or slanted to exaggerate the good qualities of E.R. As far as I can tell -at this early stage- the narrative seems to remember to point out shortcomings or shortsighted behaviors as well as the good and the great.

So far, in the chapters that I've read, it tells about E.R.'s childhood. Her family was notable and wealthy, but her father was a raging alcoholic and her mother was young and "unprepared for life's sharp corners." In protecting and covering for her alcoholic husband, E.R.'s mother became withdrawn and bitter. She valued pretty and pleasant things and didn't make any secret that she felt that E.R. did not embody either of those attributes.

So far, my sympathies are definitely with E.R... and to hear the details of her dysfunctional family, it's a wonder that she was able to break the cycle and make anything of herself at all. Still.. part of me wonders if this is really an unbiased account, or did the author focus on the very bad elements of E.R.'s childhood so that we would come out admiring E.R. all the more?

Either way, I'm enjoying reading this book. Still.. Before I'm finished with my study of E.R., I intend to do some other reading, seek out other biographies, just to see how similar the tone/descriptions are to this one.

05 July 2009

Siege at Boston

I found this chapter a bit harder to get into, but I think I've finally made it.

There's a siege at Boston. George Washington was there, trying to whip the soldier into shape so they would not only be a useful fighting force, but also they'd stop getting so sick. Sounds like conditions were terrible in part because folks weren't being at all careful about where they went to the bathroom. Gross. Already folks are dieing, in large part because they are not keeping clean, as mostly they have enough food still at this point.

I think that the most interesting bit from the whole chapter was how King George, by saying the colonies were in rebellion, convinced them - the colonists - of that fact. Prior to that point, even General Washington himself was hoping for reconciliation and a quick end to the conflict. This was news to me, and I find it amazing. Take home lesson from this seems to be: watch what you say! It's still 7 years from the point that Britain recognizes America's independence, but that speech proved to be a turning point in that news of it caused the Americans to make up their minds, en masse.

27 June 2009

George Washington

Let me just say, WOW this chapter is just jam-packed with information!! Mr. McCullough certainly can pack it in there :) But it's all good. I really like that the tone of the book isn't too text-booky (or maybe my tolerance for these educational sort of books has dramatically increased since high school), either way, I feel like the author does a good job explaining things and, for the most part, introducing the people well enough that the reader can get a basic idea and follow the story without any problems, even if they're not already a history buff.

I ended up looking up a couple words that I was unfamiliar with:

1. to pay, recompense, or reward for work, trouble, etc.
2. to yield a recompense for (work, services, etc.).

and also,

2. any of the Arabic numerals or figures.
3. Arabic numerical notation collectively.
4. something of no value or importance.
5. a person of no influence; nonentity.
6. a secret method of writing, as by transposition or substitution of letters, specially formed symbols, or the like.
7. writing done by such a method; a coded message.

So, in this chapter, we begin to get a real feeling for how dire the circumstances are for the American troops. They are appallingly low on powder, with little expectation of more. The troops are uneducated, unclean, and disinclined to accept orders they don't like. Initially, they were well fed (though price gouging came later), but with winter fast approaching, things looked grim.

In contrast, George Washington was the picture of order. He felt that it was imperative that the leader look and act the part. And while he was troubled by the condition of the troops and lack of powder, he never stopped trying to keep his and others' spirits up by reminding them of the goodness of their cause.

Much of the beginning of Chapter 2 is spent talking about the history of Washington and how he came to be the leader of the troops. Previous to reading this chapter, I really didn't know much by way of specific details on this man: He cut down a cherry tree but was honest.. he was a great leader.. a great president and the picture I have of him in my head comes from that painting Washington Crossing the Delaware River. Imagine my surprise when, through reading these chapters, I discovered that he was actually a bit of a dandy!

Ok, probably a more correct statement would be: he was a "Virginia Gentleman". He special ordered his clothes, his boots, his furniture, and the glass for his windows from England. He pretty much as "close to being an English country gentleman as was possible for an American of the day, and intentionally." In his time off between wars, he married a wealthy widow -Martha- and enjoyed very much the life of a plantation owner.

I found myself wondering what could possibly have made this man, who was so very much in love with England, become the leader of the rebellion against that very land? I didn't feel like Mr. McCullough satisfactorily answered that question, so I turned to some outside sources. First I read this article, that said:
Married to a widow, Martha Dandridge Custis, he devoted himself to a busy and happy life. But like his fellow planters, Washington felt himself exploited by British merchants and hampered by British regulations. As the quarrel with the mother country grew acute, he moderately but firmly voiced his resistance to the restrictions.
Also, I found this one that goes into greater detail about the different actions (introducing proposals of boycotting, chairing meetings and being a delegate to the first Continental Congress), and between the two, I felt there was sufficient reason for him to have switched sides.

In the latter part of the chapter, it discusses the war and the strategic planning by Washington and his various advisers. Washington, frustrated by the sitting around, proposed a couple ideas for attack, one including an assault on Boston that would most likely lead to it's being destroyed. His advisers tell him that such a course of action would be unwise and would likely not produce good results. So, he agrees to continue waiting. All the while the looming expiration of most of the army's contracts is growing ever nearer.

Then, on January 1, 1776, the transcripts of King George's speech finally reached the American troops. It marked a turning point as "clear as the advent of the new year."

What had sounded like a patriotic speech of determination, when it fell upon the ears of the English Parliament, served to have an opposite effect on the American troops. The result was immediate. Soldiers burned copies of the letter in public. Nathanael Greene wrote, in a letter to Samuel Ward in Philadelphia, recommending that a Declaration of Independence needed to be written.

Mr. McCullough writes that "The effect of the King's speech on Washington was profound. If nothing else could 'satisfy a tyrant and diabolical ministry, we were determined to shake off all connections with a state so unjust and unnatural. This I would tell them, not under covert, but in words as clear as the sun in its meridian brightness."

Even while thousands were leaving the army lines, substantial numbers stayed on. Washington declared a "new army, which in every point of view is entirely continental." And so the army finally had a name: The Continental Army. A new flag was raised, with a 13-gun salute. "When the British in Boston saw it flying ... they first mistook if for a flag of surrender." They soon would learn otherwise.

What an exciting culmination to the chapter! I am excited to read on :)

10 June 2009

Don't Bother...

... with the movie. I got the movie Little Women, the one that got the best reviews, with Katherine Hepburn and everything. I was sooo disappointed!! I didn't even finish it. It's not that it was a bad movie, it just lacked the depth of the book. You lost the lovely interaction of Marmee with the girls, you lost many of her best teaching moments. You lost the distinction between "Little Women" and "Good Wives." Meg was making eyes at Mr. Brooks practically from the first time that they saw each other. And Jo. Oh my, all the acting seemed overdone, but Jo especially seemed over the top and larger than life. Even more than she was in the book. I guess I should have known better... I never like movies that I've read, and the more recently I've read the worse it always is. I specifically didn't read Lord of the Rings again before I watched those because I didn't want to spoil it. I should have known better.

29 May 2009

And so We Begin!

I must admit, I was a little jealous that your version had such fancy pictures! (heh.. see how serious i am about all this. i get all excited about reading a "heavy" book and then pout about not having as cool of pictures!) Then, I flipped a little further into my book and realized that I, too, have pretty pictures in an insert in the middle. Yay!


I really don't know what I was expecting when I began this book. I admit that much of my interest in selecting this book was because I admitted to myself that the amount of information I've retained on this time period, from my bygone history classes, is embarrassingly little. So, understanding that it's WAY more complicated than this, my very vauge idea of what happened that I carry around in my head goes something like this: Big Bad Britain oppresses all its subjects; Brave Noble Settlers rise up and, against all odds, win their independence. Lots of wars... Important declarations.. Yay America... The end.

I really like that Mr. McCullough starts us of with a little peek at what's going on in England, pre-revolution; it was a new angle that, previously, I'd pretty much known nothing about. Our author's narration is definitely compelling. I agree with Ritsumei: the description of the procession was great; I really felt drawn into the story immediately.

I found, as I began to learn about King George III, I was very surprised. Perhaps it's the American slant on all the history that I've ever learned, but I'm pretty sure he's always been painted as the crazy bad-guy. With this description, he seemed very likeable; easy to relate to. He's a patriotic king. He's just trying to do his duty.. You almost feel bad for the guy since you know how the story of his trying to beat "the 'riotous rebels' of America" into submission will end.

I am very impressed by Ritsumei's dilligence in keeping up with all the name dropping that's going on. I did not keep such detailed notes :) However, I feel like Mr. McCullough does a reasonably good job throwing in a breif introduction of people whom he will talk more about further on in the chapter, so I wasn't completely lost as I read about all the action with Parliment.

The stuff with Parliement and the big speeches and lively debates between those supporting and those not supporting taking action on the (pre-labeled) insurgence in America. It was astonishing to think they'd argued until 4am!! And it didn't sound as though there were any fillibusters, it was straight arguing. That's intense.

27 May 2009

His Majesty the King

I borrowed the illustrated edition of our book from the library, and this picture of King George (now in the public domain) was one of the first pictures in the book, preceded only by George Washington. I am sure that His Majesty the King would not have approved such placement, though of all the royalty that I have read about (not that the list is long), King George seems the most real. The least caught by the power of the throne, the closest to what would make, in my own mind, a good King. King George is definitely going to be making an appearance in my Book of Centuries.

I love the description of the King's procession (and the picture in the illustrated edition!), though I've had to look up a number of the different things described: Horse Grenadiers, which are a sort of mounted infantry that fights with explosives, Royal Horse Guards (pictured below, right), and the Yeomen of the Guard (below left), who, it turns out, are the Monarch's bodyguards and the oldest existing British Military unit. In honor of this, they still wear the old Tudor style uniform. Today, the Yeomen are strictly ceremonial, though the Wikipedia article makes it sound like they were much more functional in the time of King George III.

One thing that I find terribly interesting about King George is that both 1776 and the Wikipedia entry for him paint him as a good and honorable man. Faithful to his queen, conscientious in his duties both as a King and a Father. I find it interesting that a man trying so hard to live in a way pleasing to God would be the man to preside over the American Revolution. Of course, just like there is more to our government than the President, there is more to the English government than the King.

As interesting as the King is there are other folks, both familiar and unfamiliar to me, mentioned in this chapter. Here is a selection, though I find that Kate is right and there are a LOT of guys just mentioned around here!

Lord Sandwich, First Lord of the Admiralty, yes, that Lord Sandwich. Turns out that the Sandwich Islands (now Hawaii) were named after him. Lord Sandwich was confident of the defeat of the colonists, saying they were "raw, undisciplined, cowardly men.(Page 19, illus. ed.)"

James Grant, Laird of Ballindalloch (General James Grant in our book), a Scottish lord and member of the House of Commons, former Governor of Florida, and an officer during the French and Indian War. He also fought in the Caribbean in the Seven Years' War. The thing that I find interesting about him is that he had actually been to the American Colonies, and still boasted that "with 5,000 British regulars he could march from one end of the American continent to the other. (ibid)" Wikipedia expands on this claim, quoting him as saying that he could go from one end of the continent to the other and geld all the males. Nice guy, eh? He went on to create plans for Battle of Brooklyn, and Battle of White Plains, both British victories, but in both cases George Washington and enough of his army escaped to continue the war.

The colonies had their supporters in Parliament. These included John Wilkes, that is, John Wilkes, Lord Mayor of London, who appears to have been quite the character, in addition to supporting the cause of the colonies. Our book calls him "flamboyant;" he was thrice expelled from Parliament after he wrote a pornographic poem, and he had a reputation as a rake.

Edmund Burke, considered the father of modern conservatism, was another gentleman who weighed in in favor of the colonies. An interesting tidbit about him: Burke was Irish and Protestant, but his political enemies kept trying to get folks to think that he was Catholic (as some members of his family were) in order to disqualify him from public service.

After he talks about the people, he starts getting more into talking about the events. Here, I found that I needed a timeline. I added a bunch of the dates to my Book of Centuries, and brushed up on Lexington & Concord's "Shot Heard 'Round the World."

This is Battle of Bunker Hill by John Trumbull, one of his "history" paintings of the Revolutionary War. It's depicting the death of General Joseph Warren. It's included in the illustrated edition, and my first thought upon looking at was: war is a terrible thing.

McCullough mentions an "Olive Branch Petition" rejected by His Majesty, but says very little about it. I found this article at Wikipedia, in addition to the full text. It's interesting to see how people talk to the king. Such bowing and scraping! Here is a sample:

Thus called upon to address your Majesty on affairs of such moment to America, and probably to all your Dominions, we are earnestly desirous of performing this office with the utmost deference for your Majesty; and we therefore pray, that your Majesty's royal magnanimity and benevolence may make the most favourable constructions of our expressions on so uncommon an occasion. Could we represent in their full force the sentiments that agitate the minds of us your dutiful subjects, we are persuaded your Majesty would ascribe any seeming deviation from reverence in our language, and even in our conduct, not to any reprehensible intention, but to the impossibility of reconciling the usual appearance of respect with a just attention to our own preservation against those artful and cruel enemies who abuse your royal confidence and authority, for the purpose of effecting our destruction.

So many times, things could have gone another way. A confidential letter from John Adams was intercepted and arrived in London about the same time as the Olive Branch Petition, undermining it. The King actually announced that the colonists were in a state of rebellion & seeking independence, before the colonial leaders themselves had openly said anything about it. Looking at all this with the Book of Mormon in mind, and the way that Nephi talks about the "Gentiles who had gone forth out of captivity" and their conflict with their "Mother Gentiles," I have always thought of the was as being a single event with a rather foregone conclusion, in spite of having studied US History relatively closely in high school. But it becomes apparent here that the conclusion was, at this point, far from foregone. These people all had their agency. Yes, the Spirit was working with those who would listen, and the final outcome was known to the Lord beforehand, but that's not the same as the "fated to be" view that I've often taken.

19 May 2009

Proposed Schedule

It looks like 1776 is about 200 pages shorter than Little Women, but the chapters are a bit longer. Last time we were doing 30-35 pages a week. Most of the chapters in this book are about 40-45 pages, except chapter 2, which is 70 chapters. Looks like the text is pretty readable, so I propose the following schedule:

Chapter 1: (17 pages) read & post by May 29. (1 week)
Chapter 2: (70 pages) read & post by June 12. (2 weeks)
Chapter 3: (50 pages) read & post by June 26. (2 weeks)
Chapter 4: (40 pages) read & post by July 3. (1 week)
Chapter 5: (46 pages) read & post by July 10. (1 week)
Chapter 6: (46 pages) read & post by July 17. (1 week)
Chapter 7: (48 pages) read & post by July 24. (1 week)

We could, alternatively, make it 2 weeks & 3 weeks for each chapter. Let me know what you think.

18 May 2009

More Extra Discussion

My edition of the book didn't have any interesting questions in it, but I thought I'd take a couple from those we have listed in the left column.

How does the author's style contribute to (or detract from) the book?
Early on, we discussed how Louisa May Alcott wrote Little Women in the style of realism. I think that, overall, this was a benefit to the story. That style aided in making her characters more likable and, at least for me, made it easier to relate to them in their joys and trials.

I do think, however, that while her overall tone was in the style of realism, there was a definite rosy-hue to the story; everything always resolved very very nicely. Initially, when I read that final chapter where everything was amazingly, perfectly, and deliriously wonderful I thought that that was a little over exaggerated. But in rereading it, I've decided that it's not so far off. That was just a glimpse of one fabulous afternoon. Perhaps, while the day to day is often more gritty, I can think of days or occurrences in my life where things seemed just perfect. Plus, that seems a fitting end to our book.

What is the "moral" to the story?
I feel that this Ms. Alcott definitely had a theme to her book: be true to yourself, be true to those things you know to be good and true. And I don't think it's too crazy to say that the "moral" of the story is that one's life work should be to better oneself and those around you.

Are you going to change something because of the book?
Am I going to change something... Change might be too strong a word I think. I feel I like do pretty well with being focused on bettering myself (not that i'm perfect by any stretch of the imagination) and trying to become more like my Father in Heaven. I do think this book (while I may not agree with every thought portrayed, or theory presented) definitely has good examples and is a good touch of added support to that goal, and it helps me remember that it's good to have this goal. So, perhaps more than inspiring me to change something about myself, the book helps reinforce the choices I've already made.

I'm glad to have read it but, like Ritsumei, I am ready to move on.

Flourishing to the Finish

Heh, so here I am with my rather late installment :)

Chapter 45
I think it's interesting that we get such a detailed story about Meg's marriage, household and babies, and the other two's life events are sort of touched on, but quickly moved past. This was a cute chapter though.

Chapter 46
I thought that the scene under the umbrella was very sweet. It doesn't bother me nearly as badly as it does Rits that the professor is so much older than her, I just like seeing Jo, after so many chapters of her being so many scraps and down on herself and feeling so out of sorts with the world, finally find a place where she fits and is so very happy.

Chapter 47
I thought that the idea for the school was great; pretty much the perfect solution for Jo and her Professor. She's always had tons love and charity that she's never been able to really share or focus into something that satisfied her; now Jo has the perfect outlet for all her energy.

I think Rits summed it up best when she said, "The book ends with everyone deliriously happy." A fitting end for this book about people who've striven to be the best that they are able.

17 May 2009

Extra Discussion

My copy of Little Women has some interesting quotes and questions for discussion at the back. Here's the first one that caught my eye:

Do you feel Alcott pressuring the reader, no matter how obliquely, to take Jo as a role model?

I don't think that I do feel that way. One of the quotes included comes from Louisa herself. She wrote in her diary:

"Mr. N. wants a girls' story, and I begin 'Little Women.' Marmee, Anna, and May approve my plan, so I plod away, though I don't enjoy this sort of thing. Never liked girls or knew many, exceping sisters; our queer ways and experiences may prove interesting, though I doubt it."

Though the story is semi-autobiographical, I don't think that she set about to make us into herself. It seems to me that she was just trying to make some money. If there was anyone in the story that it seems to be encouraging us to be like, I'd have to say it's Beth, not Jo. Beth is the one that is always held up as a saint and a model girl. Or perhaps Marmee, with her gentle ways and quiet goodness. But Jo doesn't even seem to like herself very much, much less does the book seem to be asking the reader to become like her! She's forever criticizing the way that Jo does things, the way that she says things, the things that she thinks, and Jo, being Jo, gets herself into more than one serious bit of trouble. She's definitely the main character, particularly in Good Wives, but I don't think that there's any pressure whatsoever to become more like her.

It seems to me that rather than asking the reader to become like Jo, the story is more a story about how Jo becomes a better person. In the process of showing the reader that story, I often felt inspired to become better than I am now. Some of that was Jo, but just as much was Marmee, and the other girls were working equally hard to become their best selves.

On a completely different note, I ordered the 1933 version of the movie, with Katherine Hepburn, from the library. Hopefully Monkey will be interested in watching it with me.

15 May 2009

The Final Chapters


Conjugal: 1. of, pertaining to, or characteristic of marriage: conjugal vows. 2. pertaining to the relation of husband and wife.


Chapter 45: Daisy and Demi, Meg & John's twins, get into a variety of scrapes. Demi also accidentally exposes Mr. Bhear's intentions toward Jo.

Chapter 46: Jo and the Professor finally come to an understanding that they each love the other. Sadly, they do not have the money to set up housekeeping at the present.

Chapter 47: Aunt March leaves her home to Jo, who then is finally able to marry the Professor, after more than a year of engagement. They move into the estate and open a boarding school for boys. Mr. Laurence kindly sponsors a few very poor boys, thus helping the Professor and Professorin to keep the place open and also to be able to give them a little extra money without it being an outright handout. The book ends with everyone deliriously happy.


I like the Daisy & Demi chapter. Demi is such a little toad, and those boys are so much fun to have around. I thought it was clever the way that the Professor's interest was brought to Mr. March's attention. I still wish that Alcott had made the professor 10 years younger, but it's not to be. In the end, Mr. & Mrs. Bhaer are happy, and the family is happy, and that's really all that matters.

Jo's idea for a school is really a fine one, and I think that it shows the quality of the woman for that to be her dream. It's nice that it turned out as well as it did for them. I thought the image of Aunt March's reaction to the use of her "sacred precincts" was priceless! I like to think that had there really been such a person as Aunt March, arriving on the other side would have been sufficient to teach her what is really important and that she might have (grudgingly) admitted that it was not such a bad use after all.

It's been a good read, but I'm definitely ready to be done.

10 May 2009

Growth (Part 2)


Homily - 1. a sermon, usually on a Biblical topic and usually of a nondoctrinal nature. 2. an admonitory or moralizing discourse. 3. an inspirational saying or cliché.


Chapter 43: This chapter opens with a homily touching the virtues of being kind to spinsters, who perhaps are not as miserable as one might think. I thought this was interesting, as it seems to me that it's the most direct look into Alcott herself that we've had through out the book. She has a lot to say:

"A old maid, that's what I'm to be. ... And Jo sighed, as if the prospect was not inviting.

It seldom is, at first, and thirty seems the end of all things to five-and-twenty; but it's not so bad as it looks, and one can get on quite happily if one has something in one's self to fall back upon. At twenty-five, girls begin to talk about being old maids, but secretly resolve that they will never be; at thirty they say nothing about it, but quietly accept the fact, and, if sensible, console themselves by remembering that they have twenty more useful, happy years, in which they may be learning to grow old gracefully. Don't laugh at the spinsters, dear girls, for often very tender, tragic romances are hidden away in the hearts that beat so quietly under the sober gowns, and many silent sacrifices of youth, health, ambition, love itself, make the faded faces beautiful in God's sight. Even the sad, sour sisters should be kindly dealt with, because they have missed the sweetest part of life, if for no other reason: and, looking at them with compassion, not contempt, girls in their bloom should remember that they too may miss the blossom time; that rosy cheeks don't last forever, that silver threads will come in the bonnie brown hair, and that, by-and-by, kindness and respect will be as sweet as love and admiration now.

Gentlemen, which means boys, be courteous to the old maids, no matter how poor and plain and prim, for the chivalry worth having is that which is the readiest to pay deference to the old, protect the feeble, and serve womankind, regardless of rank, age, or color. Just recollect the good aunts who have given you from their small store, the stitches the patient old fingers have set for you, the steps the willing old feet have taken, and gratefully pay the dear old ladies the little attentions that women love to receive as long as they live. The bright-eyed girls are quick to see such traits, and will like you all the better for them; and if death, almost the only power that can part mother and son, should rob you of yours, you will be sure to find a tender welcome and maternal cherishing from some Aunt Priscilla, who has kept the warmest corner of her lonely old heart for "the best nevvy in the world."

I chuckled at the "20 more years" part, but the next makes me want to find a biography and learn a bit more about Louisa: was she thinking of someone she'd given up when she speaks of "tragic romances" and "sacrificed" love? I put a biography on hold at the library, so maybe after reading a bit more about her this will seem more clear. In the mean time, she's got some great advice on downright decent behavior here at the beginning of the chapter.

The moralizing done, she jumps right back into our story with Jo's discovery of Amy & Laurie's marriage; a most comical scene! It's so like Jo, "Mercy on us! What dreadful thing will you do next?" A fine welcome home, congratulations, glad to see you this is!

I'm still not buying the whole Jo/Professor thing, but the outcome is a foregone conclusion... she's going to marry a man who is her father's peer. He's a nice man, charming and kind. But I still think that big of an age difference is one that's going to make a difference. At least, it would in real life.

Chapter 44: Amy is a goose. "Your nose is such a comfort to me?" She was silly as a girl and hasn't grown out of all of it. Which is a good thing. But I've never understood the whole nose thing she has.

This chapter wasn't quite what I expected. I was anticipating something like the chapter where Meg and John set up housekeeping. I had to read it twice because it was so unexpected. But I like what they say, though it is more or less another homily. I've felt that way many times: I wish I had more so that I could give it away a little more freely than I can now.

Growth (Part 1)


abnegation - n. Self-denial. a denial; a renunciation.

Summaries & Ponderings:

Chapter 42: Jo and her parents deal with the loss of gentle Beth. Jo struggles, and feels that without some help she'll never make it. This is a difficult time for Jo, but also a time of great growth.

But someone did come and help her, though Jo did not recognize her good angels at once because they wore familiar shapes and use the simple spells best fitted to poor humanity. (Page 417)

What a true statement! I've heard many times that when someone prays for help the help most often sent is brought by ordinary mortals. In my experience, it's most often close family and friends. I think there are many times when people fail to recognize their "good angels," particularly at first. And it seems to me that nearly as often, perhaps more so, it's hard to tell exactly when you've become the instrument in the Lord's hand to act as a "good angel" for someone in need. The amazing thing is, it's often true that when you help another you are in turn helped yourself. I think that was what the Lord was talking about when He spoke of loosing yourself to find yourself. And Jo begins to do that in this chapter. She's picking up the slack that is left in the absence of her sister, and in doing it she brings comfort to her grieving parents and finds new avenues of growth herself. She learns to appreciate and find satisfaction in the humble homey things that previously she had little patience for. What a difference between this Jo and the girl who first took up her burden, saying "I'll try and be what he loves to call me, 'a little woman,' and not be rough and wild, but do my duty here instead of wanting to be somewhere else," who thought that facing a "rebel or two down South" couldn't be as difficult as keeping her temper at home! (See page 18) Meg also helps Jo realize the value of a homemaker as Jo sees how being a wife and mother has helped her sister improve herself. I find that many of the changes Jo notices in Meg, the "good womanly impulses", the growth in general she observes, are things that I find myself needing to tend to. The process of parenting is one big opportunity for growth, self-control, self-discipline, and a host of other virtues that, if I allow them, will bring out the best in me as I work toward being my best self in order to teach my Monkey correctly. The growth that comes in a marriage is a little bit different, but no less important. These are the things that I think Jo begins to see in her sister and is gradually deciding that marriage isn't such a bad thing after all. It's not necessarily the stifling loss of freedom that she seemed to perceive it as previously.

Here's another bit that I like:

It's highly virtuous to say that we'll be good, but we can't do it all at once, and it takes a long pull, a strong pull, and a pull all together, before some of us even get our feet set in the right way. (Page 420)

Isn't that just the truth! It reminded me forcefully of a lesson we had in Relief Society not too long ago. Joseph Smith said that if the saints wanted to build up Zion it would take, "a long pull, a strong pull and a pull all together." I wonder if this wasn't something that would have been a common saying at the time. Louisa was 20 years Joseph's junior, and he said it in 1831, so she would have been a little girl at the time, and in a different part of the country. But it's got the ring of a saying, so I wonder if it wasn't a relatively common thing to say. Reading those Work and the Glory novels has reminded me that there was an awful lot of heavy labor going on in this time period! In any case, it's such a true statement. Whether you approach the idea from a personal betterment, or from creating unity, which in many ways are different faces of the same coin, it's a true principle.

Next in this installment: chapter 43!

05 May 2009

It Came!

My 1776 book arrived this morning. Yay!! I'm getting very excited to delve into this book, I think it'll be interesting to learn more about that time period and all the exciting happenings way back in the day.

Though, I discovered that there are drawbacks to buying a used books.. I thought I'd be all super-bargain-hunter-like and get a gently-used book online. When I opened the package this morning it was very apparent that the previous owner (or at least someone in the house) was a heavy smoker. Eew!

Ah well, I'm sure that'll wear off eventually and other than that, it seems to be in reasonable condition, so I'll survive :)

01 May 2009

Winding Down..

Woot! We're closing in on finishing a book :) Yay! It's been a fun read, but I am definitely looking forward to our next book, 1776. I've ordered it and it should be in any day now. Wohoo!

But back to Little Women...

Chapter 42
Poor Jo. Her little Beth has left her and she promised to be good and to be a comfort to her parents, but it's a difficult thing for Jo.
"...these were dark days to her, for something like despair came over her when she thought of spending all her life in that quiet house, devoted to humdrum cares, a few small pleasures, and the duty that never seemed to grow any easier. "I can't do it. I wasn't meant for a life like this, and I know I shall break away and do something desperate if somebody doesn't come and help me," she said to herself, when her first efforts failed and she fell into the moody, miserable state of mind which often comes when strong wills have to yield to the inevitable."
But she found comfort in talking with her father and mother and, eventually, Jo found pleasure in doing the same things and humming the same songs as Beth, and through her actions she, and the rest of her family, were able to remember Beth a little better.

Also, Jo took to spending time with Meg and she noticed "how much improved her sister Meg was, how well she could talk, how much she knew about good, womanly impulses, thoughts, and feelings, how happy she was in husband and children, and how much they were all doing for each other." Leading her to conclude that "Marriage is an excellent thing, after all" and to wonder "if I should blossom out half as well as you have, if I tried it?"

Here we see clearly that a change has come upon our Jo; she has "enjoy [her] liberty" until she has decided to try something else, and now (I feel) she is in a much better place to consider getting married (which from her elated reaction to that letter from her "dear old Fritz" seems might not be too far distant).

Chapter 43
Laurie and Amy surprise everyone and come home married. The newlyweds are very happy and the family is even happier to see them. I'm very glad that Jo and Laurie were able to come to an agreement that they are better off as being more like brother and sister and were content with the arrangement. That's a rough transition, and isn't always the result (in real life) but here, it's definitely the best way that a happy ending could be achieved, and I've always suspected that this book would end with a very neat and happy finish :)

I enjoyed reading about the evening that Mr. Bhaer spent with the March family; funny how everyone but Jo suspects that something more than just friendship looms in her future with him.

Chapter 44
In this chapter we get a glimpse into the new relationship between Laurie and Amy. I liked their banter and the energy that they bring out in each other. And I laughed out loud at Amy's comment to Laurie: "your nose is such a comfort to me". It seems they are very happy. Though, my heart gave a little twinge when Amy asked Laurie "Shall you care if Jo does marry Mr. Bhaer?" Imagine getting married, and having a lingering doubt that your husband might love your sister.. But Laurie, the good man that he is, had already searched his own heart before making the marriage vow and was able to honestly reply: "Oh, that's the trouble is it? I thought there was something in the dimple that didn't quite suit you. Not being a dog in the manger, but the happiest fellow alive, I assure you I can dance at Jo's wedding with a heart as light as my heels." and with that his lovely wife's fears vanished and their love was even more cemented and they went on to plot how to help the "Old Professor" without giving insult with their well-meant charity.

It seems our little Amy and Lazy Laurie have grown into thoughtful and caring adults. It's cool.

29 April 2009

A Thought From my Scripture Study

"In our Savior’s great intercessory prayer recorded in the seventeenth chapter of John, he prayed for us, “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou has sent” (John 17:3). Then he spoke of the Apostles and of the believers of that time: “For I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me” (John 17:8). The kind of knowing which came to Christ’s Apostles and other believers of that time was a gift of the Spirit, but note the importance of the words which Christ conveyed to them orally, which then were conveyed by them to any who would hear their testimonies, and later are conveyed to us as written testaments. The reality of God and Christ and our relationship to them comes to us through a chain of knowing conveyed by words, even holy words, and by the Holy Spirit.

It is because of our awareness of the importance of words in transmitting redeeming truths to one another that Relief Society has embarked on an effort to encourage learning by offering help with basic reading skills to those who need them and by motivating those of us who now read to read more meaningfully.

Being able to read well and with understanding is an important path to knowing God, and it is a reliable and universal way. I call it universal because as human beings we are all born with a genetic endowment for recognizing and formulating language. It is just one of the wonderful ways we are! Our Creator meant for us to value and develop our ability to communicate with him and with each other. He expects us to use these capacities to learn righteous ways, to lift one another, and to develop our divine natures."

-Aileen H. Clyde, “Charity and Learning,” Ensign, Nov 1994, 94 (emphasis added)

27 April 2009

Changes and Developments

Chapter 39
Laurie stops his aimless wandering to spend time with Amy; hoping to enjoy the familiarity that a friendly face provides, he sticks around for a while. However, Amy, upon seeing the lazy state he is in, gives Laurie a piece of her mind, but then feels bad when she realizes that this change in Laurie was caused by Jo turning him down. However, Laurie takes her reproaches to heart and he begins to transform himself, little by little.

Chapter 40
In this chapter, our dear Beth passes away. This had been some time coming, so she and the family were ready for this. I thought it was a shame that they didn't tell Amy.. yes, distance is a factor, and time in Europe is a wonderful and rare opportunity, but so is saying good bye to a loved one.

I read this chapter while at work.. hehe. I knew it was coming, but I still had to blink back tears as I read Jo's poem to Beth; it was so sweet and heartfelt. Happily, I was successful in not crying over my keyboard and I didn't have to explain to anyone why it was I was suddenly all weepy :)

Chapter 41
I admit I had to roll my eyes a little at the opening sentence of this chapter.
"Amy's lecture did Laurie good, though, of course, he did not own it till long afterward. Men seldom do, for when women are the advisers, the lords of creation don't take the advice till they have persuaded themselves that it is just what they intended to do. Then they act upon it, and, if it succeeds, they give the weaker vessel half the credit of it. If it fails, they generously give her the whole."
These sorts of sayings, or schools of thought strike me as very silly; things women say (when they feel men get all the credit) so they will feel like they are important too. It's like that silly saying "Men are the head of the house, but the woman is the neck and she can turn the head anyway she wants." Bah.

But anyway, enough of my rantings, in this chapter we see the effects of Amy's strong words. Laurie feels that he must make something of himself, so he goes about it in various ways. He tries to use Jo as a focus, but finds himself inspired by golden haired heroines instead.

I kind of liked the sweet, subtle way that the romance between Amy and Laurie is developing. I agree with Ritsumei in that I think they will be very happy, though I too am curious to see what the reactions back home will be.

22 April 2009

New Beginnings

Chapter 39: Laurie, lazing around Europe, spends some time with Amy, who gives him a piece of her mind, not realizing that he & Jo have had words. She then feels terrible about it; but the "damage" is already done: he decides to shape up.

Chapter 40: Beth dies. It's a very sweet chapter. I actually cried more over learning that she was going to die, than I did over the actual dieing, strangely enough. One thing that just makes my heart ache is the decision not to tell Amy that Beth was as sick as she was, so she doesn't get a chance to say her goodbyes. While I do understand the reasoning: Amy's in Europe and there's not going to be another opportunity like this, it seems to me that she should have been included in the decision making process, and known what she was sacrificing for her stay in Europe.

Chapter 41: This is the story of Laurie and Amy's love, and it's far more satisfying than the past several chapters, and much nicer than I thought it would be. I think I'm finally coming to terms with Jo's rejection of Laurie. If she "begged him to be happy with somebody else," then she's not in love with him. It was the thought of Andy with someone else that made me realize that I was in love when we were dating. The growth that Laurie finally allows in this chapter is also a wonderful thing. All through the book he's been a bit flighty, and the Marches have seen his better potential and encouraged him to find it for himself. Now, he finally is. He and Amy will likely be very happy together. It will be interesting to see what Mrs. March has to say about Amy marrying him, as she didn't seem very keen on him at all when it was Jo he was courting!

20 April 2009

Pressing On

I like that we're working on catching up; I find that after that last bunch of chapters my momentum is lagging. I'll probably see if I can't do another batch in the next couple of days before it runs out altogether. Josh is bringing the next Work & Glory book on Thursday...

Chapter 36: Beth is dying. She and Jo talk about it during their trip to the seashore, and it is obvious to Father and Mother when the girls return home. I cried my way through this chapter.

Thou shalt live together in love, insomuch that thou shalt weep for the loss of them that die, ... And it shall come to pass that those who die in me shall not taste of death, for it shall be sweet unto them.
D&C 42:45,47

Chapter 37: Amy and Laurie meet in France at Christmastime and enjoy each other's company much more than either one of them expected to. As Kate said, the writing is on the wall.

Chapter 38: This chapter might be called "Meg Makes a Mess." While the lesson included is a good point, I have a hard time with the idea that Meg, former governess, is so completely unwilling to shape her own children's behavior! The indulgent parenting depicted is completely over-the-top and out of step with everything that she would have learned at home. Can you imagine sensible Marmee bribing her little ones into the behavior she wants? Meg should know better. However, the rest of it is completely believable. It's downright hard to find the right balance when babies come. They're such little sponges for attention! They're cute, cuddly, and helpless, and it's easy to neglect your husband. Mrs. March was in much better form with her advice and help this time. And I notice that it was accepted (unlike the jam debacle), so perhaps both John and Meg have learned a bit in the 2 years or so that they've been working on their marriage!


Well, for once I can't say that I enjoyed the chapters we've read. Jo is making a terrible mess, and it's not pretty to watch.

Chapter 33: This is letters home to Jo's family, which, for some odd reason includes, specifically, "a young man by the name of Teddy." Seems rather unkind, as she's gone away specifically to give him a chance to fall out of love with her. The sad thing is, she doesn't even know she's toying with him.

Chapter 34: Jo and the Professor get better acquainted. The Professor shows some jealousy toward Laurie's place in Jo's affections. Jo gives up writing sensational stories because they bother her conscience. It doesn't hurt that the Professor doesn't like them and she's sure that Mother and Father would also disapprove.

Chapter 35: Jo returns home, attends Laurie's graduation, then turns him down when he proposes marriage. Laurie decides to go abroad with his grandfather.

While Kate commented on Laurie's behaviors being less than ideal, which some of them are, I don't think that it would be as bad as Jo thinks it would be. Look at her reasons for not marrying him:

I agree with Mother that you and I are not suited to each other, because our quick tempers and strong wills would probably make us very miserable, if were so foolish as to --" ...
"Marry - no, we shouldn't!" If you loved me, Jo, I should be a perfect saint, for you could make me anything you like."
"No, I can't. I tried it and failed, and I won't risk our happiness by such a serious experiment. We don't agree and we never shall, so we'll be good friends all our lives, but we won't go and do anything rash."

Thing is, Jo has been able to influence Laurie, and he's influenced her. The fact that she wants to "be good friends all our lives" says to me that there's more to her feelings than she's allowing herself to see. Instead of asking herself what life would look like without him, she's acting based on fear that things won't be perfect. She's repeating the things her Mother said (which I still maintain was really bad advice) because she's afraid of getting married, afraid to change, and afraid of not being good enough. Look at what she says a little later:

"I'm homely and awkward and odd and old, and you'd be ashamed of me, and we should quarrel ... and I shouldn't like elegant society and you would, and you'd hate my scribbling, and I couldn't get on without it, and we should be unhappy, and wish we hadn't done it, and everything would be horrid!"

The problem isn't really Laurie at all, the problem is within Jo herself. What Laurie should have done is keep up with the changes that he's made, and see how they fit over the long term. Really, is longer hair that big of a deal? As changes go, that one seems rather trivial. Playing billiards also seems like a pretty little thing. The other change he seems to have made is working harder than before. While this is a bigger deal, I don't see the harm in bettering yourself, regardless of the cause. What Laurie lacks, and I think the thing that really costs him the girl in the end, is patience. He should never have proposed when he knew she was going to say no! He should have invited her to do fun things with him, to spend time with him. He should have made himself indispensable to her, and given her time to see that marriage, based on a good friendship like theirs, could be a wonderful and beautiful thing. Who knows what a year of learning his grandfather's business and continued friendship might have done for him. But instead of waiting for a better time, he forced her to tell him that she didn't want to marry, and thus dashed his hopes. I think that Jo herself realized, at the very end of the chapter, that it was the end of something special:

Ah, but it wasn't all right, and Jo did mind, for while the curly head lay on her arm a minute after her hard answer, she felt as if she had stabbed her dearest friend, and when he left her without a look behind him, she knew the boy Laurie never would come again.

17 April 2009

Keeping with the Keepin' On...

Alrighty, so I know I just posted an installment yesterday, but I thought (since we'd talked about doing double for a while to catch up a little bit) I'd do another one today.

Chapter 36
Life is full of difficult truths. In this chapter, we explore the frailty of this human condition. Our dear Beth is fading before Jo's very eyes. With the money that Jo made during her summer in New York, she takes Beth on a trip to the seashore. While she enjoyed their time together, the trip did not have the effect that Jo was hoping for; Beth was still sick.
Beth is sick but at peace. She has found comfort in a faith that the Lord "could teach and strengthen heart and spirit for this life and the life to come. She did not rebuke Jo with saintly speeches, only loved her better for her passionate affection, and clung more closely to the dear human love, from which our Father never means us to be weaned, but through which He draws us closer to Himself."

Chapter 37
There's nothing like a rebound relationship to cure a broken heart. Ok, I don't actually think that applies in this case, but it was sure fun to say :)

So our boy, Laurie, has been wandering Europe listlessly for who knows how long, wallowing in self-pity and idleness (as he is wont to do) and then he meets up with fair Amy.

Again, knowing something of the plot (from having seen the movie), I can see where things are going and I recognize that this foreknowledge probably heavily influences my opinions of our story. But I can't help but notice that Laurie has taken a new notice of little Amy.

Amy is not blind to the changes in Laurie, though she is unaware of their cause. Laurie is taller, older and quite handsome, even if a little broody and a mite artificial, and she found herself "conscious of a very natural desire to find favor in his sight". So she got all cuted-up (and it will be noted that he did as well) and they met again that evening for a party. Her efforts did not go unnoticed, or unappreciated and throughout the night they talked and the result was that Laurie found himself liking her more and more and "devoted himself to her for the rest of the evening in the most delightful manner; but the impulse that wrought this agreeable change was the result of one of the new impressions which both of them were unconsciously giving and receiving."

Initially when they met, Laurie was aloof and not quiet himself (as Amy remembered him). But, it seems that seeing Amy sparked a change in Laurie that day, almost on the subconscious level. He spoke more genuinely, he sat up straighter.. not because he thought she wanted it of him, but because he wanted to. By that, I feel, we are witness to the very beginnings of what is to come. And, I think, it's a surer foundation for these things to be built upon.

Chapter 38
I thought this was a very sweet chapter. I really enjoyed the dynamics presented and the lessons learned by Meg and John. And I was heartened to see that it lead to a better division of labor.

Meg was feeling overwhelmed and stressed and essentially neglecting her husband in her devotion to caring for her children, whom they both loved dearly. To compensate, John took to having dinner at a friend's house and talking politics. When this finally penetrated Meg's frazzled brain, she was sad but didn't want to appear a clinging wife so she didn't say anything but became increasingly stressed and despondent.

Eventually, the wise Mrs. March stepped in and offered some hard-earned advice. She pointed out that, while she was sympathetic to Meg's feelings of being neglected, it was actually Meg's actions that had largely brought about these circumstances; by devoting herself 100% to the kids and never sparing a moment for her husband she had sent a message she had not intended to send. Mrs. March said, "Don't neglect husband for children, don't shut him out of the nursery, but teach him how to help in it. His place is there as well as yours, and the children need him. Let him feel that he has a part to do, and he will do it gladly and faithfully, and it will be better for you all."

And in implementing it, Meg found it to be sound advice. Her coddling her children was causing them to walk all over her, and John was willing to be stern and let the children understand that there needed to be boundaries in all things, even bed-times. Once a clearer law was established, and the parents remembered to think of each other as individuals as well as parents, peace was restored and the home became a haven of love and support that even those outside the family noticed and enjoyed partaking in.

These are wise words of counsel and something that I think would be good to keep in mind as I go forward with life.Who doesn't want a home like that?

16 April 2009

The Winds of Change

Chapter 33
In this chapter, we read about Jo's adventures as she begins her summer in New York. It seems that the boarding house is a bit of a change for her; it is big and full of strangers, she does have some homesickness and mainly keeps to herself and really only talks to Mrs. Kirke and the kids she's teaching. However, Jo is still Jo and she takes great interest in her surroundings and finds pleasure in "people watching"; the most interesting tenant is Professor Friedrich Bhaer.

Considering our recent discussions about who we think Jo should marry, I admit I paid extra attention to the descriptions of Professor Bhaer that Jo used. He intrigues her; he's intelligent and humble. She thinks very highly of him.

I also find it interesting that, while we don't see any letters that others send to Jo, she does comment on things she has received and it seems that Laurie has gone silent for the summer and doesn't write to her at all while she is away. Is he silent because he's so absorbed in throwing himself into his studies, in "fixing" himself for her? Is he just so certain that she'll come around that he doesn't bother to write?

Chapter 34
Jo begins publishing more of her "trash", and she is not proud of her work, but saves her money and plans grand things for Beth. She rationalizes that, since the money will be spent on good things, it's ok that she writes things that she's ashamed to put her name on. Also, while she didn't notice the subtle changes, writing that stuff, looking for the drama in people, altered the way Jo looked at others, and at life. And not for the better. It is only when she discovers that The Professor doesn't approve that she stops churning out the "sensational" stories and stops writing, temporarily, to ponder what better options and subject matters are out there.

In this chapter we get a deeper glimpse into The Professor's character. He is wise, and sees much.. but he is gentle with his guidance; he inspires Jo to be a better person.

At the end of the chapter, having seen a lot and grown up significantly, Jo returns home.

Chapter 35
This was a rough chapter to read. It was so sad to me to watch Laurie try so hard, feel so strongly, and leave unsuccessful. Still.. I think that Jo was very wise (and brave) to say no, and stick with it.

In an attempt to win Jo's love, Laurie changed many of his behaviors (the ones which Jo disliked). He said, "I worked hard to please you, and I gave up billiards and everything you didn't like, and waited and never complained, for I hoped you'd love me..."

Changing one's behaviors drastically to win over another is a major red-flag to me. While I do think some of those behaviors were best stopped, it wasn't that he was changing and becoming a better man, he simply had an objective and goal that he wished to achieve and altered his behaviors to achieve that. I don't think that there is much substance in his rash promise that "If you loved me, Jo, I should be a perfect saint, for you could make me anything you like." Also, getting married because "Everyone expects it. Grandpa has set his heart upon it, your people like it, and I can't get on without you. Say you will, and let's be happy. Do, do!" would only lead to unhappiness down the road.

To me, Laurie seems to very immature in his thinking in a lot of ways. He's always gotten what he's wanted by being charming and persuasive. He's not a bad guy by any means, but he's not settled in a steady course; he still goes wherever the wind blows him. I think that lots of people want the best for Laurie: His grandfather, all of the Marches, and they offer advice and direction which he frequently takes, but ultimately, I don't think Laurie really knows what Laurie wants out of life, yet.

It made my heart ache to read about Laurie's struggles after that; as he wrestled with the emotions of a broken heart. Unrequited love is never fun. However, I applaud Jo in her wisdom and being firm in what she knew was right. In that, I believe, she saved them both from much worse heartache later.