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.