May / June 2012
love a good story. It doesn‟t matter if it is in a book or on screen, if it has a strong heroine, I‟m there. Putting together any issue of Femnista is a challenge but also a delight. Part of my excitement is in seeing what my writers come up with. Picking a topic like “Literary Women” gave them the difficult task of choosing a favorite heroine from literature (just one?!) and approaching her in a new and unique way. If you think you have read all there is to say about some of these literary women, think again. Literature, in large part, can be seen as dominated by men. After all, every well-read girl has a litany of literary men she would marry in a second. How many of us have lovingly daydreamed about Mr. Darcy or Sir Percy or Rhett Butler? But if you look past the cravats, many of their stories have women who are equally terrific. It‟s just that much of the time we do not focus on the role they play in the life of the hero. Without Elizabeth, Darcy would have always been a stuck-up stick-inthe-mud. Where would the Scarlet Pimpernel be without Marguerite? Poor
Rhett would not even have a story to be in if it weren‟t for Scarlett O‟Hara! When we think of “literary heroines,” our minds turn to classics first and all else second… so often we forget that modern heroines also count. Elena from The Vampire Diaries was in a book first… and unlike the dark-haired, good-natured television Elena, she was selfish and blonde in the teen book series. Or how about The Help? It is a best -selling novel with an entirely female cast. In it, a spunky girl with bad hair but a lot of spunk sets out to reveal how badly treated the “hired help” is in 1960‟s Mississippi. But the book isn‟t just about Skeeter… it‟s also about the brave black women who risk their lives to tell the truth of what such a life is like. It is about their heartaches, trials, and triumphs. Sometimes, I think in our modern set of ideals we neglect to respect and even admire different literary women for their strengths in the time period in which they live out their lives. It
would be cruel to judge Gwendolyn Grandcourt by a modern standard. Since she is stuck in the Victorian era, she has no choice but to make the most of her situation. Her courage is different from that of Hermione Granger, but is she any less wonderful as a character? In one of my favorite (fictional) holiday movies, an older man says to the heroine, “You are the leading lady of your own life. Stop acting like you‟re the best friend.” When we look at the many admirable qualities of our favorite heroines, it is easy to dismiss our own virtues as less impressive. They
aren‟t. Ours is a story we write ourselves. God is in control, but our choices define who we are and will become. Like the very best of literary heroines, we should not end our journey the same as we started it. We can pursue happiness at a great cost to others like Anna Karenina, or give up our life (in a metaphorical sense) for the betterment of others, like Lily Potter. In all things, we are writing our own adventure. Look up to your favorite literary women. Emulate them. Respect them. But never forget that you‟re also a heroine in a story that is still being written. ♥
Modern Heroines Hermione, Bella, & Katniss
Feminine Mystique The Women of Rebecca
Fallen Female Elizabeth Gaskell‟s Ruth
Harper Lee & Scout To Kill a Mockingbird
Calm Against the Storm Jane Austen‟s Elinor
The Enigma of Juliet Shakespeare‟s Heroine
Madame le Pimpernel Lady Marguerite Blakeney
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Spelling Friendship A Witch Named Kendra
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Blessed are the Meek Jane Austen‟s Anne Elliot
Learning to Forgive L.M. Montgomery‟s Emily
Asking the Hard Questions Catherine Marshall‟s Christy
Nancy Drew is Still My Gal Carolyn Keene‟s sleuth on screen
Miss Margaret Hale The Heroine of North & South
How to Be a Princess Sara Crewe
Red Headed Snippet Anne Shirley
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WOMEN IN FICTION have changed over time to reflect society. In modern times our heroines reflect three different aspects of femininity: Hermione the scholar, Bella the homemaker, and Katniss the warrior.
The most prominent writer of strong females in fiction is J.K. Rowling. Her books feature an assortment of unique women. While the main character is male, the deep underlining focus is on motherhood, embodied in Lily Potter, Molly Weasley, Narcissa Malfoy, and Nymphadora Tonks. Professor McGonagall also takes on a motherly role to the students at Hogwarts. Among the younger set of heroines are more great literary females: Ginny is clever and funny, Luna is whimsical and quirky, and Hermione is logical and smart. She is a bookworm, a teacher‟s pet, the girl Ron and Harry do not want as a friend until an incident with a troll changes their minds. Hermione catches on fast, comes up with the solutions to most of their problems, is opinionated, loyal, and not afraid to be seen as smart. Rowling‟s women are all different from one another but equally strong in their own way. Romance is not their primary goal nor their greatest success. This is different from Stephanie Meyer‟s series, Twilight. She too explores the theme of motherhood. Bella is not interested in marriage (due to her parents‟ divorce) or children at first but when she gets pregnant during her honeymoon, she soon discovers how much she wants to be a mother. She decides to have the child even though it endangers her health. Through this choice, we at last begin to understand Rosalie, who has treated Bella badly until now. Rosalie did not
want to become a vampire because it meant giving up what she wanted most: motherhood. Bella‟s child makes them allies. Bella is controversial since she conflicts with the usual modern heroine in her status as a homemaker; she is happy to cook for her dad, and her ambition is to spend the rest of her life with the man she loves. That is enough to satisfy her; she requires no more. Eventually, she puts aside her feminism and shares Edward‟s “outdated” and “old-fashioned” ideas. This shows a more scriptural definition of womanhood (submissive but not weak) than most fiction does, as well as reflects the deep inner yearning of many a female heart to be loved, cherished, looked after, and provided for. Bella is feminine but not weak; she makes mistakes and pays for them but in the end, much like Hermione, she finds happiness in being a wife and mother.
it‟s no surprise that young readers are fond of a series where the heroine can be “just a girl.” Society tells us that it is not enough to be a wife and mother, but that we should aspire to much more than that. This leaves those wanting to be wives and mothers feeling as if their dreams are much less important than those who want a career instead.
In Meyer‟s world, love is the driving force in life. It brings Bella and Edward together and calms the lust for blood. This approach is different from Rowling‟s; while she wrote strong characters and made them women, Meyer writes them as girls first and then gives them strength. Alice is formidable but loves to shop. Bella risks her life for her friends but is happy to cook and clean for them.
In contrast to Bella and Hermione is the heroine of The Hunger Games, Katniss. A tomboy who hunts and forages, she has taken on the role as the protector of her family in the absence of her father. She has no interest in romance and must kill to ensure her own survival. Katniss is not without a basic mothering instinct; it causes her to look after her sister and Rue. Yet since her primary reaction must be to defend and protect, she pushes aside her personal feelings to do what she must. She is the most “un-feminine” of modern heroines simply because circumstances have forced her to take on a more masculine role, but it does not mean she isn‟t a girl, that she doesn‟t love the beautiful dresses she is given, or secretly long to feel safe. She lets go of her emotion because she must; she couldn‟t survive if she did not shut off her basic female instincts. It doesn‟t mean she doesn‟t have them, just that she can‟t let them take over.
In a world where we are told that feminism means giving up being a mom, and there is no distinction between men and women,
Katniss is a solitary force against the world. She does not express her thoughts much or let us into her head. She is an ideal
modern feminist icon. Her need is not for the men in her life (she can do fine without either of them); in fact, she can take care of herself and others. She is intelligent and cunning, resourceful and at times merciless, but still has a sense of compassion. In The Hunger Games, the typical gender roles we expect are reversed: the girl is cold, emotionally stinted and doesn‟t hesitate to kill to eat or survive. She has taken her father‟s place as the head of the household; the boy (Peeta) is warm, emotional, selflessness, and romantic. His pursuit of her is shy and insecure but willing to wait. These modern heroines appeal to a totally different set of readers. For the girls who want to be wives and mothers, Bella gives them pride in their dreams and honors the role of a homemaker as a worthy pursuit. For bookworms and teacher‟s pets, Hermione makes it okay to be smart and assures us that even the know-it-all can have a happy ending. For those who feel like they are pitted against the world and must make it on their own, and who are happy to buck conventional gender roles, Katniss inspires them to keep fighting on, to stay strong, and to dream of better things. Each heroine says a lot about what her author values and aspires to, but our reaction also reveals the truth about us. Who is your favorite? Why? What does she say about your ambitions, emotions, and innermost desires? ♥
Last night, I dreamt I went to Manderly again...
Even if you have never read Daphne Du Maurier‟s novel or seen the 1940 Alfred Hitchcock film, you have been exposed to the story of Rebecca. It has permeated popular culture through parodies and references in other works. The fame of this story is particularly heartening, as it is a wonderfully femalecentric piece of fiction. Written by a woman and featuring a female villain, narrator, and main title character, Rebecca may be more of a woman‟s story than any other. It takes three feminine archetypes of the wife, the maid, and the harlot and shifts them around in satisfying plotting and character development to result in an unforgettable story. Rebecca features the firstperson narration of the new Mrs. de Winter as she meets and falls for Maxim and travels with him to his estate, Manderly. There, she meets both the head housekeeper Mrs. Danvers and Rebecca, the specter of her husband‟s first wife. Rebecca‟s continuing influence over Manderly and the circumstances of her death cast a shadow over the new de Winter marriage that must be cleared away. The bulk of this duty falls upon the second Mrs. de Winter. Her experiences are the reader‟s filter through the events that unfold. She is never given a first name. This serves to emphasize the fact she is constantly overshadowed by Rebecca. One of the best things about the way the author presents her female
characters is she blends more than one archetype into them in most cases. The most obvious example of this is with the second Mrs. de Winter. Not only is she a wife, she is given the characteristics of a maid as well, in both senses of the word. At the beginning of the story, before her marriage, she is working as a companion to a wealthy older woman. But even more integral to her as a character is the other connotation of the word “maid” (virgin, innocent). Time and again, especially early on, her youth and utter inexperience is emphasized through the comments of others. Her unworldly shyness is something she feels will be the biggest obstacle to making her new marriage work until her husband‟s past with his first wife asserts its toxic grip.
the new lady of the house —both her presence and the ways she is different from Rebecca. The most famous scene in the story occurs when Mrs. Danvers persuades the new wife to wear a certain costume to the Halloween ball, which is later revealed to be exactly like one Rebecca wore before her death. When this is discovered, a chilling scene features Mrs. Danvers asserting to the new Mrs. de Winter that she will never live up to Rebecca, slyly implying that she would be better off putting herself (and everyone else) out of their misery. Obviously, Mrs. Danvers has an unstable personality from the start, but it becomes more so as the second Mrs. de Winter slowly gains the needed confidence to claim her position and household rights as Maxim‟s wife.
Helping along this barrier to happiness in the de Winter marriage is the character of Mrs. Danvers. She is a maid in the literal sense of the word, and is the senior domestic servant at Manderly. The other meaning does not apply, as Mrs. Danvers is elderly in the novel (though less so on screen). The audience soon sees there is very little that is caring or attentive about her towards the new Mrs. De Winter. A cold, calculating and manipulative air surrounds Mrs. Danvers during all her appearances in the story.
Though the main villainess of Rebecca is solidly established in Mrs. Danvers, the first Mrs. de Winter fares little better. Being deceased doesn‟t lessen the influence she has on what happens to the new mistress of Manderly. Without giving away too much of the surprising truth about Rebecca‟s death, it is safe to say the moral decay of her character is given significant development. This is true even though Rebecca is basically a cipher, acting as an overriding consideration in the story but not there to speak for herself. The audience finds out that she is the epitome of the impure woman, having married Maxim simply for
Mrs. Danvers remains utterly devoted to her former mistress, even after death, and clearly resents
his social position and then carried on affairs for nearly their entire marriage. The dialogue of others shows the audience that Rebecca had the public persona of the wife enacted flawlessly. She was the perfect hostess and household manager. Beyond this superficiality Rebecca had no empathy for anyone besides herself. She came closest with Mrs. Danvers, which probably accounts for the latter‟s irrational worship of her memory. Her infecting presence is nowhere more evident than in her final act which reverberates long after she is gone. All three of these female characters are or were wives, yet bear no resemblance to one another in personality or actions, and cannot fit into any of the archetypes that can be applied to them. They are all strongly delineated on page and screen even if unnamed or passed away. The second Mrs. de Winter and Mrs. Danvers are also dynamic, changing by the end of the story to be integral to its memorable conclusion. When director Tim Blake Nelson was promoting his teen Othello adaptation O, he commented the title of the play actually noted more of the motivation for the villain of the piece rather than the name of the lead character. This is also true for Rebecca. Though she is no longer alive, what Rebecca left behind in the loyalty of Mrs. Danvers is the catalyst of this tale. ♥
RUTH HILTON IS ONLY 16 when she becomes an orphan. Her father, a respectable farmer, leaves her in the care of a negligent guardian.
Sensitive and obedient by nature, Ruth is given a job in a dressmaker‟s shop. The work is hard, the hours are long and though Ruth makes friends among her fellow workers, she feels lonely... especially on Sunday when all the other girls have family or friends to go to. Ruth spends her day alone in the empty shop. She soon becomes acquainted with Henry Bellingham, a gentleman, who is enamoured by the beautiful seamstress. He starts walking Ruth home from church and one day persuades her to take a longer walk with him. Misfortune strikes when on their way home they encounter Ruth‟s employer, who discharges her. By this time Ruth has fallen deeply in love with Mr. Bellingham and consents to live with him. Though innocent and naïve, Ruth has a “strange, undefined feeling of doing wrong,” but what other choice has life left her? Ruth was published in 1853, as the second fulllength novel of Elizabeth Gaskell, after Mary Barton and a collection of stories that would become known as Cranford. It tackles with honesty and sympathy a difficult social topic, the fate of “fallen women,” women who lived with men unmarried and sometimes became single mothers. Gaskell was not the first author in whose work illegitimacy played a role. Previous examples are Eliza, Colonel Brandon‟s ward in Sense and Sensibility or Little Emily in Dickens‟ David
Copperfield. Unique to this novel was the way she confronted the issue headon, by making the “fallen woman” the titular character and painting her in a sympathetic and understandable way. The story continues later. Ruth and Mr. Bellingham have taken up residence in a Welsh guesthouse. When he falls ill, his mother visits and persuades him to leave Ruth behind. She despairs and runs without thinking into the Welsh countryside. Victorian society was hard on unmarried mothers. For girls in higher classes of society, “arrangements” would be made consisting of time spent with a distant relative followed by a quiet adoption. Working class women would be shunned by all employers once they were discovered pregnant and often ended with their child in the workhouse. Elizabeth Gaskell was familiar with the problems these girls faced, as she corresponded in 1850 with Charles Dickens about an unmarried mother named Pasley whom she wanted to help. Ruth might partly be based on her real-life story. What happened to Pasley is unknown, but Ruth is lucky enough to be found by a kind-hearted minister, Thurstan Benson. He and his sister Faith decide to take Ruth into their home in Eccleston and give her and her child a chance of a new life. Faith is a heroine in her own right: practical, at times curt, but friendly and with a big heart. She soon takes a liking to Ruth. She lives up to her name when she decides to give
Ruth a place in their home. The income of the Bensons is small but Faith is willing to share it with a girl polite society would shun. Ruth gives birth to a son. Under the loving guidance of Mr. and Miss Benson, she becomes a devoted mother and a Christian. During the first service she attends in Eccleston, Ruth feels as if Mr. Benson‟s sermon is written just for her. She confesses her sins and gives herself to God. Sometimes shame over her former behaviour seems to overpower her, but Faith brings her to mind how God looks at her: “My dear Ruth, you don‟t know how often I sin: I do so wrong, with my few temptations. We are both of us great sinners in the eyes of the Most Holy.” Persuaded by the fear of how society will treat Ruth and Leonard, the Bensons decide to present her as a widow. In this disguise, Ruth‟s modesty and quiet kindness capture the heart of many of the inhabitants of Eccleston, including the Bradshaw family. The father is the richest and most powerful member of the town and a very strict and pious man. He offers Ruth a job as a governess to his daughters, giving her independence. His headstrong, intelligent eldest, Jemima, is impressed by Ruth. The two girls, only a few years separate in age, grow close. Years go by in which Ruth grows in faith and wisdom. But a secret like hers cannot be buried forever and she must face the
judgement of everyone she has come to know. Mr. Bradshaw dismisses her in disgust and Jemima does the same. But she struggles with the decision, as she has gotten to know Ruth as a loving Christian for many years. In the end she turns away from her father‟s doctrines and views Ruth in a more Biblical way, “with a pity, so Christ-like, as to have both wisdom and tenderness in it.” Ruth is an interesting tale about judgement and redemption with three skilfully created female characters. It may be hard to connect to Ruth as a modern reader. Elizabeth Gaskell, over conscious of the reception her novel might get, created a “fallen woman” so innocent and faultless no one could object to her. This was also seen in the responses to the novel by its contemporary critics. Though some did object to Gaskell‟s choice of subject, most criticism was aimed at the characters. The strict Victorian morals of the time when Ruth was written might have converted to the tolerance of the 21th century, but judging other people is something we still all do from time to time. From Jemima we can learn to judge people like Jesus did, to “let those who are without sin throw the first stone.” From Faith we can learn to open our lives and hearts to people who have made mistakes. And from Ruth we can learn that no matter how the world may judge us, we can always turn to Jesus and receive His love and mercy. ♥
UPON A FIRST perusal of To Kill a Mockingbird, one might believe Jean Louise Finch, known as Scout, is an ordinary girl growing up in Alabama during the Depression.
A tomboy, yes, but still fairly typical. Freckled with a page boy haircut, she wears bibs, runs around with her brother Jem and befriends a little boy named Dill. They spend the summer exploring, playing games and spying on the Radley house, where the infamous Boo Radley resides. It isn‟t until her father Atticus represents Tom Robinson that she is given their first dose of reality. In her innocent mind good always triumphs over evil but she comes to realize in life that isn‟t always the case. By now, the reader is awakened to the fact that this is no ordinary coming of age novel. Many stories featuring young adults follow the hero or heroine through various escapades and lessons, but rarely do they let the protagonist be the audience‟s eyes and ears into a world of racial hatred and prejudice. As To Kill a Mockingbird progresses, when evil prevails over good, Tom Robinson is sacrificed for the benefit of social order, and Atticus fails, Scout understands that all is not lost. Some of her childlike innocence has faded away, but the world is changing and the truth will not always be stifled. Close to the end of the book the villain ambushes Jem and Scout and tries to revenge himself on Atticus by harming his children. But Maycomb‟s notorious
recluse, Boo Radley, rescues them and carries an injured Jem to the Finch home. Insightful as always, Scout concludes that to shine a light on what Boo did would be like killing a mockingbird. The reader, too, can now see both Tom Robinson and Boo Radley were harmless, beautiful mockingbirds. One was slain and the other one was set free. Nelle Harper Lee grew up in a home somewhat similar to Scout Finch‟s. Her father, Amasa, was an attorney like Atticus and to the chagrin of many in 1923 he represented an African-American man. Naturally, he did not win. Nelle was a scrappy tomboy, she had an older brother and a good friend named Truman, who was later the inspiration for Dill. Given a typewriter, Nelle and Truman (who was given the last name Capote by his stepfather, and went on to become a famous writer) spent hours crafting stories. By adulthood, expecting to follow in her father‟s and older sister Alice‟s footsteps, Nelle studied law for a little while. But unfulfilled, she was compelled to leave law school and move to New York, where she was determined to become a successful writer. On Christmas of 1956, as a guest in the home of a family friend, Nelle was presented with a year‟s
worth of wages so she could quit her job and write full time. She soon reconnected with her friend Truman, managed to secure an agent and after two and a half years of devotion, she finished To Kill a Mockingbird. In 1959 when a tragic murder of a family occurred, Nelle accompanied Truman to Kansas to research the crime and assisted him in writing In Cold Blood. His book is dedicated to her.
Scout, Atticus, Jem, Tom Robinson and Boo Radley are immortalized on screen and in literature and will continue to make a lasting impression on future generations. Nelle wrote and published a few essays and in 1964 gave her final interview to the public. She said her aim was to be “the Jane Austen of south Alabama.” Ever since, with the exception of receiving awards, she has remained withdrawn from public life.
In the summer of 1960, To Kill a Mockingbird was released. It instantly became a best seller and what we now consider a great American classic. Not only that, it won the coveted Pulitzer Prize and was swiftly transferred to the silver screen. The unforgettable characters of
Nelle Harper Lee may have wished to have been the Jane Austen of south Alabama, but she more than surpassed that dream with her work. Through Scout Finch she will reside forever in our hearts and minds. ♥
ELINOR WAS DEEPLY afflicted; but still she could struggle, she could exert herself. This summarises Elinor Dashwoodâ€&#x;s philosophy in life: no matter what happened or how much something bothered her, she would keep moving and not let anything leave her in a state of shock.
It is a good philosophy to have, especially in a time when women are limited in what they can do and how much independence they have. Elinor‟s practicality and strength come into good use over the course of Jane Austen‟s Sense and Sensibility as she and her family navigate through issues of finance, family and love. Elinor is described as a young woman who “had an excellent heart … her disposition was affectionate, and her feelings were strong; but she knew how to govern them.” She inherited her family‟s tendency to feel deeply yet at times comes into conflict with them because they see her restraint as insensitivity rather than as a way of coping with a situation. Her usual method of hiding her emotions “qualified her, though only nineteen, to be the counsellor of her mother.” Her practicality suits their dire financial situation; she suggests that a cottage would be more affordable than a house, and is mindful that they would not be able to care for the horse Willoughby gives Marianne. Budgeting and making unpopular decisions are thankless jobs, but her efforts ground her family in their present situation. Her pragmatism extends to matters not related to their finances, for she is also an astute observer. Many of the characterisations conveyed in the book are derived from observations she makes about the people she meets along the
way. For example, while Marianne makes fun of Colonel Brandon and avoids his company for most of the novel, Elinor understands him to be kind and dependable and feels sympathy for him. She even understands the rude and withdrawn Mr. Palmer to be a kind man who resorts to rudeness due to exasperation over his wife and his mother-in-law. Her judgment is not always spot-on: she is fooled by Willoughby‟s charm and is later appalled to learn of his dalliances with women. Her quiet observations not only help her and her sister Marianne decide who they can depend on in a number of occasions but also, more importantly, look beyond people‟s flaws and quirks to see the good in them. This particular ability is sorely tested when it comes to Edward Ferrars. It is difficult to determine how deep Elinor‟s feelings are towards him; the reader is not provided with explicit scenes depicting their time together other than in others‟ personal comments and observations. Elinor admits to Marianne that she “think(s) very highly of him—that [she] greatly esteems, that [she] like(s) him.” Edward‟s visit to their home at Devonshire shows how deep Elinor‟s feelings really are with the way she is consciously watching out for him and how acutely aware she is of his uneasiness and preoccupation. Lucy Steele‟s revelation of being secretly engaged to him for the past few years
catches Elinor off guard because she cannot believe he would do something as improper as holding a secret engagement, an act that is generally frowned on at the time. The more Lucy‟s explanations and tokens of love prove her story to be true, Elinor‟s shock is replaced by hurt. Such a revelation is enough to warrant her to distance herself from Edward (after all, she was deceived by his omission) but instead of jumping to that conclusion, she reflects at length on his behaviour during their time together. Remembering the kind of person he was, the fact that he ultimately did not act improper towards her and the love she has for him, Elinor is able to forgive him for hiding such a connection from her and continues to think well of him. She even feels sorry for Edward because of his predicament and how ultimately he will have to choose between Lucy and his family. To look beyond his faults and continue caring for him shows a strength of character in Elinor that many people would not find easy to do. Elinor‟s temper and emotional discipline are sorely tested by Lucy‟s continued presence. She never actively seeks Lucy‟s confidence and is cornered into keeping the secret to herself. Upon learning her secret, Elinor is resolved to never broach the subject ever again. Much to her chagrin, Lucy continues to turn to her and unload all of her many thoughts, concerns and hopes for the
future. She could have sought a way to discourage Lucy from conversing with her about it, or maybe even to influence her decisions about Edward, but instead she chooses to endure her company and numerous conversations because she always acts accordingly, regardless of her opinion of the individual she is socialising with. She listens to Lucy out of respect for the confidentiality she swore to, something she takes very seriously. Throughout the novel, Elinor faces the obstacles before her... supporting Marianne as best as she can in the wake of Willoughby‟s strange behaviour and betrayal, enduring Lucy, facing the possibility of losing Edward forever... quietly, stoically and alone. Her sobs upon learning that he is released from his former engagement are not only a catharsis of the emotions she has been holding back but also an affirmation that everything she is braving through is now resolved and out in the open. Elinor is a strong Austen heroine in her own right, remaining steadfast and calm amidst personal turmoil and drama. Her keenness to remain responsible and act properly is a tough and repetitive job, especially when counteracting a vivacious and passionate sibling like Marianne who does not care for social expectations. But her ability to keep pushing forward even when things are not going her way is admirable and something to aspire to. ♥
A LOVELORN TEENAGE girl stands at her balcony one evening, gushing over the handsome stranger she has met at a masquerade ball that same night.
She speaks nothing but open admiration for the man in question, Romeo Montague, despite the fact that their families have locked horns in a neverending feud. Romeo, having fled the masquerade, finds himself hidden in Juliet‟s garden and at the same time, hears his name from the lips of his lady love: “Oh Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?” This is the famous quote from one of William Shakespeare‟s most beloved characters, Juliet Capulet, from the play Romeo & Juliet. The idea of Juliet has permeated literature, entertainment, and our culture of romance ever since. Some single women pine to be Juliet in search of their Romeo. Very seldom do women strive to emulate Jane Eyre in search of a Mr. Edward Rochester (men who lie about being married seem to draw some red flags). Often, women can have a rather misconstrued view of what it would like to actually be Juliet. It is easy to imagine oneself living in a rich, 15th century Italian family without a care in the world but also it is wise to note that Juliet, barely 13, was originally set to wed Count Paris, a man twice her age. At the time, life expectancy was not very good (the period wasn‟t known for its advanced healthcare and sanitation) so getting married at such a young age was expected. Just imagine being a 13year-old engaged to be married to a man in his
mid 20s. From our standpoint, the word “creepy” merely underestimates the very thought. Being torn between two men, one of them an enemy of one‟s relations, also compounds the problem. Romantically speaking, it would not be very easy to be in Juliet‟s shoes, because sometimes the spouse your parents pick out for you isn‟t necessarily “the one.” Juliet Capulet has influenced music and entertainment in several ways. A ballet by Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev and an opera by French composer Charles Gounod are based on Shakespeare‟s famous play about the two star-crossed lovers. The rock band Blue Oyster Cult and country singer Taylor Swift also make mention of the play, with Swift putting more emphasis on Juliet‟s feelings about being apart from her beloved Romeo in the song Love Story. The song itself appears to draw more on the notion of young teenage girls who desire to find the Romeo in their lives despite the objections of their parents for whatever reason. In literature, Juliet is referenced a great deal and can be found as a main character in Robin Maxwell‟s novel O, Juliet, an interesting spin on the play where there are slight changes but it still has the same meaning, and also in the nonfiction book, Letters to Juliet by Lise and Ceil Friedman, later becoming a 2010 motion picture.
Film versions of Romeo & Juliet are abundant, with great performances by Norma Shearer (1936), Olivia Hussey (1968), Claire Danes (1996), and several other actresses portraying the titular Shakespeare heroine. While Norma Shearer does an excellent job as Juliet, her age at the time of filming doesn‟t do the role justice as she was in her mid-30s. Claire Danes‟ Juliet is almost spot on but the production itself has too much of an MTV feel. Olivia Hussey‟s Juliet is just right; age, beauty, and personality shine through to make a believable lovelorn and angsty teenager.
While there are other literary heroines that are more admirable, none pervade our culture like Juliet Capulet, who leaves single females envying her situation in life and influencing the culture of romance in entertainment and society. While her situation may not be envied, those who have been in her shoes (romantically speaking) may empathize with her because of her desire to be with her forbidden lover despite the obstacles that keep her from him. The very concept of Juliet can be seen often in literature, music, film, and even stage performances, making the heroine a sort of literary enigma. ♥
MY EARLIEST MEMORIES of classic literature are not drawing room romances in the vein of Jane Austen or epic social commentary and meaty family drama from the pen of Dickens, but were swashbuckling, romantic adventures.
Critical in developing my love of fiction and the power of imagination were classic films such as The Adventures of Robin Hood, Captain Blood, and The Sea Hawk, the latter two based on novels by Rafael Sabatini, a master at penning unforgettable, swashbuckling romances. Sabatini‟s works led me to Scaramouche, the story of an adventurer during the tumultuous years of the French Revolution, “born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad,” an apropos description of life during the reign of Madame Guillotine. That time period captivated my imagination and in my quest for like adventures I found Baroness Emmuska Orczy‟s 1905 novel The Scarlet Pimpernel, which captured my heart and has in no small way informed my preferences in fiction and film to this day. Considering The Scarlet Pimpernel, the first image that comes to mind is likely a dashing, brave English nobleman masquerading as an inane fop to hide his daring in saving countless members of the French nobility from death at the guillotine. The novel‟s title and its male connotation is a bit of a misnomer. While revisiting it, I was struck by a similar statement in the introduction by Gary Hoppenstand. When I discovered Orczy‟s book I fell hard for her hero and never stopped to examine the fact that this isn‟t the Pimpernel‟s story at all, but rather his wife‟s, the beautiful and intelligent Marguerite.
In his introduction, Hoppenstand posits that Marguerite is Orczy‟s “idealized self.” Reading it with that in mind, I have a deeper appreciation not only for my own decadeslong love affair with it but a newly-articulated kinship with its creator. As a reader who usually inserts herself in a novel via the character I identify with, I can relate to Orczy‟s desire to inhabit a fictionalized ideal. In Marguerite, she gave the world an unforgettably strong-willed, classy, competent heroine willing to fight for what she believes in, and one half of a heart-stopping romance that occurs after marriage. Love stories are usually about a meet, conflict, and resolution, culminating in a permanent, committed relationship with the implication that marriage is soon to follow. But what happens after all of that? In books, films, and most television shows, as an entertainment-consuming public we‟re addicted to the chase, dragging it on for years in the case of the latter because somewhere along the line we‟ve bought into the idea that when a couple commits to one another the adventure and romance end—the story has lost its spark, is no longer worth following. That concept has always maddened me. But in the characters of Marguerite and Percy I‟ve come to the conclusion that one reason Orczy‟s novel is timeless and has resonated so strongly with me for years is the fact that she flew in the face of convention. In
The Scarlet Pimpernel, when we‟re introduced to Sir Percy and his wife, the initial chase has occurred and the marriage vows recited, but the happy couple has hit a seemingly impenetrable wall. Thanks to Marguerite‟s foolish words, used to condemn an entire noble family to death, Sir Percy has shut his wife out of his life, donning a mask of indifference. His foppish attitude drives Marguerite to use her considerable intellect to belittle her husband at every turn. Rereading it, I was struck by a parallel to my “other” favorite classic literary couple from Jane Austen‟s Pride and Prejudice. If Darcy and Elizabeth‟s story is a tale of pride and prejudice as an obstacle to marriage and a happily ever after, perhaps it isn‟t too much of a stretch to argue that Percy and Marguerite‟s adventure is a story of the danger of pride and prejudice in a marriage and the damage those emotions can wreak in a marital relationship. Her journey from embittered bride to passionate fighter for marriage and a future with Sir Percy sets Orczy‟s novel apart from more traditional romances. When the „cleverest woman in Europe‟ … linked her fate to that „demmed idiot‟ Blakeney in marriage, it sent shock-waves through society as the pair seemed so ill-suited. Initially for Marguerite, it was enough to be „blindly, passionately, wholly…worshipped,‟ until the revelation of her part in sending a noble French
family to the guillotine is revealed. Percy‟s passion for her transforms into „complete contempt‟; she responds in kind. Marguerite entered her married life in love with the idea of being in love— she‟s flattered by Percy‟s adoration but doesn‟t respond to it equally. Then she discovers that in a desperate attempt to save her brother from death, she‟s condemned her husband instead. Only when she stands on the brink of losing Percy does she realize what their love and marriage could be, recognizing and rejecting the emptiness of living life as a glittering „ornament.‟ Marguerite and Percy began their marriage wearing masks of pride and indifference. But when she realizes Percy‟s true nature, she discovers the sacrifice she‟s willing to make for true and lasting love. Orczy‟s fictional “other” is no quivering wallflower needing to be rescued. For the chance to save her husband and marriage she willingly braves the lion‟s den, determined to meet Percy as an equal partner, stripped of artifice and disguise, to aid him in his quest or die at his side in the attempt. It‟s high adventure to be sure, but it‟s what makes Marguerite and her love story timeless. Through her, Orczy crafted a fiercely intelligent, capable heroine, a delicate balance of femininity and smarts, whose passionate determination to fight for her marriage‟s survival resonates to this day. ♥
THERE IS A fine line between those who are good witches and practice magic that seeks only good reactions, and those who are evil and give everyone else a bad name.
Or so Kendra tells us. Her story, Bewitching, is one of danger and romance but more than all the many complications that come with those implications, it‟s an account of her beliefs, and choice to help those forced to live in the shadow of others. Her passion is that everyone should be able to shine in their own way. Dark magic was never considered something “good” in my childhood. Even children‟s fairytales were approached with caution in our house. It wasn‟t until Disney reimagined one Grimm folk tale that I became lost in a world vastly different than the one I knew. Years later I am still entertained, amused, and enchanted by the genre. Witches were not a fictional character I took to for a number of reasons. Their popularity was made more so by the book series that ushered in a craze of controversy, books I was too young to really care about. Now I‟ve found one I actually like. Her name is Kendra. New York Times bestselling author Alex Flinn first introduced her to us in the novel Beastly. In it, Kendra, quite the social outcast, placed a curse on a popular guy who needed to be taught a lesson on treating people as equals, showing kindness and how better to interact with his fellow peers and show respect to his elders. We met a live version of Kendra in the film adaptation of Beastly in which Mary-Kate Olson
portrayed her, an interpretation I am now convinced does her no justice. In the film, she is a “weirdo” who is ridiculed but cares little, and lurks in shadows while in the books she is much more than a figure to be mocked. Now, Kendra is back, and memorably so, in her own story. It is a bewitching one at that. The fact that this fairy-tale is merely an invention, a place in which Kendra was inserted into a fantasy world that has given her the powers of a witch, makes no difference to the realization that the story has a gift for its reader if we choose to see it through the lens of reality, which at times can be difficult due to the magic. It is a story that a modern girl can relate to. Kendra doesn‟t have an easy life even before she discovers her powers, but each of the blows she is dealt makes her stronger. These experiences shape her into the person she will become hundreds of years later. What her sorrows did for her was build her character and teach her to be a friend in the true sense of the word (contrary to what we might imagine of Kendra) to the friendless. In this crazy thing we call life we are going to face decisions that will challenge us, dilemmas that may decide one way or the other if our actions will pull us down to where Satan wants us to be, or support the kind of attitude we need to be successful human beings and set us
on a course that will fortify a relationship with Christ. In a minor fashion, this is what Kendra‟s story reminded me of. Up until her teen years, she knows nothing of her supernatural abilities. She is simply an English girl who grows up loved and cared for in her humble surroundings. It takes death and the threat of being alone in the world for Kendra to summon her powers. Not only does this change her world completely, it also gives her a new lease on life. We might all face a choice where we have to decide which would be the right thing—do we do something that will result in serious consequences? Yes, if it is the right thing to do. It may effectively ruin what was a wonderful friendship or change our life but the burden of our conscience in not doing it is going to haunt us a lot longer than the loss of a friendship that wasn‟t as important as it seemed. In Kendra‟s story, there is a defining moment when she reaches a crossroads, a place where she fully recognizes the damage, pain and evil she could inflict. Instead, she vows to do only good. In a split second, just before she makes the promise to herself, we are unsure of her motivations and her judgment. It strikes a chord within us of the temptations we will encounter in life, our own opportunities to choose the “right” way of life over the “wrong.” Satan is lurking
out there. He wants nothing more than to bring us down to a level in which even we would not recognize ourselves. What we need to do is toss the dare away, not sit around waiting on him to strike. Like an intricate, clever game of chess in which our intellect is employed, we should make the first move. How we chose to live is a reflection on us not only as a person but proving whether or not we are, or will be, a successful person —successful defined not by society but in our spiritual relationship. Kendra may not be a character we can look up to as a spiritual role model but I loved how she stood by the people she helped in her own special way, on her own time. The themes of her narrative may be worldly and fictional but they are ones we could all learn from should we accept it in the prism of reality. Her story may not be “normal” but it will leave you with not only a sense that honorable actions do triumph but also give you something to think about as to her character. Ultimately, the story is about friendship and seeing Kendra and anyone who might be an outsider as more than a stereotype. There is always another side to a story, another side to a person. It is up to us to find out what. ♥
WHAT IS THE scripture? The meek shall inherit the earth? While it is true that Jane Austenâ€&#x;s heroines such as Elizabeth Bennett and Emma Woodhouse make society more interesting, it can be claimed of neither of them that they are meek.
The majority of Austen‟s meeker heroines go underappreciated because they are just that: too meek. Then there is Anne, sweet, kind, quiet, and yes, definitely meek Anne Elliot of Austen‟s Persuasion. Of the many bibliophiles for Austen I have met, Elizabeth Bennett remains their favorite and Anne Elliot their least. Why is that? My guess (and it is merely a guess because no one has ever given me a decent answer to the question) is that Elizabeth is unconventional in her behavior and Anne, well, ordinary. Let‟s face it. People prefer heroines who break the mold. They love girls who don‟t follow a strict set of guidelines and know their own mind. That is Elizabeth Bennett and almost any other of Austen‟s female characters you could name and they are to be admired. But what if a book heroine starts with a lack of selfawareness but develops it as she matures? This is Anne Elliot. One might even say sweet Anne always knew her own mind but resisted the urge to break the hearts of others by a decision she would have deemed selfish. She let herself become something of a sacrificial lamb for her family and while I‟m not saying that was right, it makes her a heroine of great worth. Adversity is something most of Austen‟s heroines encounter. Miss Elizabeth found the road to love did not run smooth and nearly
lost Mr. Darcy before she even had him. Anne gave up Captain Wentworth. Yes, she did, gave him up because of her father‟s displeasure and on the advice of her oldest and dearest friend, Lady Russell. Wentworth had, after all, been penniless and entirely unsuitable for the daughter of a baronet like Sir Walter. Not that being penniless mattered a whit to Anne, but it did to those around her. And because she was so very, very young at the time, Anne found no refuge or support in any of her companions. And so we return to Anne‟s meekness, which could be viewed as a fault but is a virtue. The Psalms have a few positive things to say for the meek such as “The LORD lifteth up the meek” in Psalms 147:6a and “the meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace” in 37:11. What seems to be promised to the meek is their gentleness of spirit will be rewarded. Anne had no way to know Captain Wentworth would re-enter her life. For all she knew, her meekness cursed her with becoming an old maid. Yet there he was and just as in Anne‟s case, Wentworth had never fallen out of love with her either. Persuasion wouldn‟t be pure Austen if Anne did not find happiness with her true love. It just takes a bit longer than with some. Anne waited for years, never expecting Captain Wentworth to re-enter her
sphere of influence. Miraculously, there he is. The two grow to love one another again, older and wiser in many ways. Anne‟s virtues remain the same but this time, when Wentworth confesses his love to her yet again in a letter meant to make the female heart flutter, Anne says yes. Under no circumstances would he allow her to be persuaded against him a second time.
was right in submitting to her […] if I had done otherwise, I should have suffered more in continuing the engagement than I did even in giving it up, because I should have suffered in my conscience.”
Ironically, her family did not attempt such persuasion. Wentworth was now a respectable naval officer with twentyfive thousand pounds to his name in comparison to Anne‟s small share of ten thousand pounds. There could be no complaints on behalf of her family. What matters most, however, is her reaction to achieving the dearest wish of her heart. She never begrudges the interference of others. Speaking to Wentworth near the end she even says kindlyof Lady Russell, “I
who persuaded her only because they loved too well. Anne‟s meekness was rewarded more than she could have ever imagined. The Austen heroines are marvelously crafted by a clever creator. Anne Elliot must, and should, stand out as one of her highest achievements if only for the realization that she was willing to accept whatever pitfalls and trials might come her way, with humility and gentleness of spirit. That type of inward beauty deserves the happiest of endings. ♥
Such is Anne‟s beauty of character. Bitterness or resentment held no place in her heart against those
REINHOLD NIEBUHR, an American theologian, once said, “Forgiveness is the final form of love.” I have to agree.
On the surface, L. M. Montgomery‟s Emily trilogy is about a gifted girl who grows into a woman and, through heartache and hard work, achieves her dreams and lives happily ever after. But scratch the surface of the story a bit and you find that Emily‟s life and those around her are really a testament to the power of forgiveness.
done, and tells her that he loves her.
In the story, the greatest examples of forgiveness come from Mrs. Kent and Emily. From the first moment Mrs. Kent is introduced, she‟s a suspicious, hateful woman. She wants her son, Teddy, to stay hers and hates anything that might take his love away from her. She kills his pets, burns his art, and dislikes his friends, especially Emily. As Emily develops into a young woman, Mrs. Kent‟s dislike grows into a deep hatred.
Emily herself has a lot to forgive in the books, from family members who don‟t understand her proud yet sensitive nature, to a sadistic teacher and backstabbing school-mates. Her biggest trials come, though, through her greatest loves. Through all three books, Emily loves Teddy, and in the first two she‟s sure he loves her back. In the last book, Emily‟s Quest, she‟s faced with the reality that Teddy loves someone else and discovers that Mrs. Kent is partially to blame for this heartache. But through her devastation, she forgives Mrs. Kent, and in the end her forgiveness enables Teddy to keep loving his mother.
Not until it‟s obvious that Emily will not take Teddy away from her does Mrs. Kent try to befriend her. They have an uneasy friendship until the day Emily finds an envelope addressed to Mrs. Kent from her late husband. In the letter he forgives her for an awful thing she‟d
All those years, Mrs. Kent carried the guilt and anger, but the forgiveness of her husband, though dead, changed her completely. For the rest of the last book, she is a different person, a happier one because she knows her husband died still loving her.
Emily also has to forgive a dear friend for a lie he told, a lie that almost killed her
passion for writing. Because of this lie, Emily put down her pen and didn‟t write for years. When she learned of this lie, she was able to forgive her friend as well as thank him for what she learned during the time she had stopped writing. Naturally, all this forgiveness makes me thing of Christ and the verse that tells us, “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” He loves us ages before we even thought of asking forgiveness for our sins. While I don‟t see Emily as a Christ figure, I do see Christ in her life. How else could she have forgiven two such major things unless she had His strength? And though she forgives others, her life doesn‟t end happily ever immediately; she still had struggles in her life. Christ never promises a fairy-tale ending. Instead, He asks us to take His yoke because his burden is light. He gives us His strength to live like Him. As we strive to be more like our Savior, our lives will reflect His love and forgiveness. ♥
GOD DOESNâ€&#x;T ALWAYS make sense. Though it is to be expected in looking through a glass dimly and embarking on individual faith journeys, His seeming absence and utter silence are more than perplexing.
For some, admitting there are issues with the greater vision of eternity and God‟s plan is equal to admitting spiritual inadequacy or even defeat. We think the questions; we feel them and are immediately given to guilt. We look to others and wonder they seem to have their faith walk figured out, why don‟t I? In these moments (and they occur more often than I‟d like to admit) I find the courage and honesty of Miss Christy Huddleston to be inspiring. She rebelled against the norm by posing questions of deep doubt and troubled faith. Christy by Catherine Marshall is a hybrid: a fictional memoir reimagining the author‟s mother‟s life as a teacher in mountainous Tennessee, and a platform through which Marshall can reclaim the power of questions, uncertainty, and disbelief. It validates the fleeting thoughts sifting through my mind as I daily embark on my flawed spiritual journey: misunderstanding, stumbling, doubting, disappointed by silence, and aching for clarity. Christy probes me to voice my disappointment, and to confront the deep spiritual truths that pepper daily life as a contemporary believer. “The only time I ever find my dealings with God less than clear-cut,” Christy admits, “is when I‟m not being honest with Him. The fuzziness is always on my side—not His.” She advocates a true and open relationship with her Savior, cognizant of the fact that at the core of His being
and existence is truth. She muses, “Some of what I wrote bordered on blasphemy—if there was a God, he would have to be truth. And, in that case— candor—however impertinent—would be more pleasing to Him than posturing.”
her most greatly when he challenges her to confront what Christianity means to her and determine why she‟s a believer. Christy, young and impressionable, has been greatly inspired by Alice‟s life battles and solid faith to the point where she can quote her at large.
Her journey begins with an act of faith when she leaves a high society life to serve as schoolteacher at a Mission in lowly Cutter Gap. Soon Christy realizes that there is more at stake than goodwill and Christian kindness. She is prodded more to confront her faith and Christianity. She is changed far more by her circumstances and interactions than she is able to change them: especially by the contrast between extreme beauty and pathos surrounding her and the mountain people. “Living in the middle of beauty like this, we‟ve no call to have puny ideas about God,” she rails on one occasion. Part of the challenge is in the contradiction: an aweinspiring canvas housing earthly turmoil immediately sets her against all cozy Sunday School notions learned in formative years.
David, while a wonderful guide to the children and devoted shepherd, wrestles so much with the greater mysteries and tenets of spiritual dogma (such as eternal life) that he‟s unable to provide a substantive claim when a dying woman asks the hardest question of all about life after death. Christy, thus, learns that her penchant for asking hard and tough questions make her just as strong a believer and as blessed and fulfilled by her journey as those she has emulated around her.
The influence of others as she develops her faith is also significant: mostly through her relationships with the righteous Quaker woman Alice Henderson, the pragmatic and goodnatured (if spiritually baffled) David Grantland, and the Cove‟s agnostic and spirited doctor Neil MacNeill, who shares her dedication and love for the people of the Gap even if he doesn‟t initially share her faith. It is he who influences
While Christy rails against Neil‟s obstinacy when it comes to matters of faith and his strong scientific beliefs, she likewise recognizes that he pushes her to confront the issues that challenge her the most. This leads her to forge a belief all her own based on her own experience, her personal relationship with Christ, and beyond the realm of human expectation or influence. This pairs our ultimate Christian heroine with her ultimate hero: what sets Neil apart from Christy‟s other suitor, David and, I argue, most other fictional men of his ilk, is not his initial reticence to lean on God or his ultimate re-connection with the Savior but the time inbetween when his internal
struggle guides him to challenge Christy to the point where both their faiths become stronger. There is no better love story than that. The same questions Christy asks and the same prodding moments that fluster her when verbally battled by Neil have forced me on more than one occasion to stop and reassess my own walk. God doesn‟t give us all of the answers for a reason. He wants us to challenge Him, rail against Him, seek further in hopes of finding our human equivalent of spiritual clarity. Christianity is not a religion for the weak -minded: there are far too many contradictions, far too much suffering and far too many open-ended questions beyond our realm of understanding. Leaning on faith is what Christy does as a genuine approach to a world that baffles her. I encourage Christians to keep asking, no matter how inane or embarrassing the questions might seem. I also encourage them to, like Christy, come to the understanding that the Christian walk is not for wimps, it has no room for ignorance, and it is built on the presupposition that we will take the winding and complicated mystery of life and faith and, with God‟s help, act on it. Don‟t shy from the questions; don‟t shy from reading, living, and experiencing. After all, as Christy says, “A Christian has no business being satisfied with mediocrity. He‟s supposed to reach for the stars. Why not? He‟s not on his own anymore. He has God‟s help now.” ♥
WHEN IT COMES to literary women, one name has been on my lips since I was eight years old: Nancy Drew.
Brought to life by the pen of Carolyn Keene (the pseudonym under which several different authors wrote the series), the titian -haired sleuth came into my life when I was in the third grade, and by the time I had reached the fifth grade, I had read all but about five books in the series. I lived and breathed Nancy Drew during those years, bought new books for my ever-growing collection every chance I got, put longed-for titles on all my gift lists, talked “Nancy” with my fellow mystery-lovin‟ friend Claudia and even tried to write my own series of mystery stories. The end of elementary school didn‟t find me leaving her behind, though. On the contrary, the brainy girl detective went on to middle school with me. Even while other girls were reading more mature literature, Nancy Drew was still my obsession. I reread my favorite stories and discovered new ones as they were published. To be honest, I have never lost my love for the delightful Nancy (or her friends Bess and George and her boyfriend Ned); even as a 30something adult when I was in the mood for easy (yet interesting) reading, I occasionally sought out my old pal Nancy. She has been a beloved friend for over four decades now, so imagine my pleasure when I discovered my love of her could be “married” to my love of classic films. In the late 1930‟s, a series of four Nancy Drew films was made—Nancy Drew,
Detective; Nancy Drew, Reporter; Nancy Drew, Trouble-Shooter; Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase. All four films, which were directed by William Clemens, feature Bonita Granville as Nancy, John Litel as her father, and Frankie Thomas as her boyfriend, Ted (Ned in the books). As in the books, Nancy lives with her singleparent lawyer father and their housekeeper in the town of River Heights. Also in keeping with the books, Nancy is brave, smart, resourceful, and utterly determined. In Nancy Drew, Detective the school she attends has been promised a $250,000 donation from wealthy Mary Eldridge. But before the endowment is given, it is discovered that the benefactress has left with no explanation as to her whereabouts or why she has gone away, other than that she was in need of a rest. While some in her circle believe Mrs. Eldridge is an eccentric woman who never had any intention of bequeathing a sum to the school, Nancy is certain she did and vows to discover her whereabouts. While following Mrs. Eldridge‟s manager in her convertible, Nancy witnesses the kidnapping of the town‟s doctor. He‟s not held long, though… just long enough to treat the shoulder of an elderly woman… a woman he believes is being held against her will. Sure Dr. Spires was treating Mrs. Eldridge, Nancy questions him about the location of the house to which he was
taken; although he had been blindfolded and didn‟t know exactly where he was, the doctor does know the house was in the country and was about an hour‟s drive away, plus he remembers that the driver of his car muttered the word “bluebells” to the gatekeeper. Although these clues are minimal, Nancy remains determined to solve the mystery of Mrs. Eldridge‟s disappearance. A bit later, a neighbor pops by the Drew home to show off a pigeon that landed at his house. Nancy and Ted realize it is a carrier pigeon and when they read the note he‟s carrying, they discover a wonderful new lead. “Shoulder okay, Bluebell,” is all the note says, but the words are enough to convince them that the pigeon just might lead them to Mrs. Eldridge. All they have to do is follow it and the mystery will be solved… right? Sort of… but things don‟t go quite as Nancy and Ted expect. For one thing, the people holding the elderly lady aren‟t going to go down without a fight… and certainly not to a perky teenage girl. Eventually, though, her determination leads to the arrest of the gang and the release of the wealthy widow. This particular film was based on The Password to Larkspur Lane (book #10 in the series, originally published in 1933). While it‟s not an identical retelling, I immediately recognized the theme of bluebells, carrier pigeons, and a kidnapped elderly
woman, Mrs. Eldridge. That title was always one of my favorites in the series so I was thrilled to see it brought to life in film. Bonita Granville is quite delightful as Nancy. She plays the part to perfection and even looks exactly as I imagine Nancy looking. She definitely exhibited the spunk and resourcefulness typical of Carolyn Keene‟s heroine. John Litel (Carson Drew) and Frankie Thomas (Ted) played their parts well too, and the chemistry between each of them and Miss Granville was great. The only negatives I have are that Mr. Drew called his housekeeper an idiot. I don‟t feel it is ever acceptable to call someone an idiot and it‟s something the kind and very proper Carson Drew would never have done. Also, Nancy fainted when confronted with a gun, something totally out of character for the always-courageous detective. Those things aside, I found the Nancy Drew films enjoyable. There is enough mystery to make them entertaining and interesting for adults, yet not so much suspense that children would be frightened. Definitely, fans of the Nancy Drew series of books ought to quite enjoy these films. My love of Nancy Drew remains. While I may not have read a single book in the series for the past couple of decades, Nancy is and always will be one of my favorite literary women. Now, through these engaging movies, I can enjoy her on my TV screen as well. ♥
I ADMIT TO a preference for strong literary females. Perhaps this stems from the fact that I dislike weak-willed, helpless womenâ€”fictional or not. Or maybe it is because I believe women can both be strong and gentle, vulnerable and powerful.
I believe her role is more than just delicate. It is raw. Yet often in literature and on screen, fictional females are seen as petty, stupid, and superficial. There is a token material girl in many TV sitcoms, and shallow or non-intellectual woman in most contemporary films. Although sometimes with worthwhile reasons, such as to shape or contrast the behavior of the heroine, costume dramas are not free of such caricatures. (Think Lydia or Kitty in Pride and Prejudice.) Regardless of the era, such characters highlight the feminine weakness rather than strength and beauty. How refreshing then when a woman can be a woman, as serious as she is funny, as light-hearted as she is strong. Such a character can be found in Elizabeth Gaskell‟s beloved North and South. We meet Margaret while she is living with her family in Helstone, in the south of England. Life is slow and the world in bloom like a perpetual garden. The south is full of farmland with small, well-attended chapels, and happiness is found by everything being in its place. Yet Margaret is never quite satisfied with “things as they are” and the quiet expectations of her hometown. She shows the strangeness of her opinions by rejecting a proposal from Henry Lennox on the grounds that she does not share his affections. There are similarities in this sense between Margaret Hale and Elizabeth Bennet from Jane Austen‟s Pride and Prejudice in the theme that marriage should arise
not solely from a perverted sense of obligation but the deepest kind of love. Margaret is stronger-willed than the typical swooning female. Gaskell gives us Margaret‟s beautiful and frivolous Cousin Edith as one model by which to compare her opinions. While Edith is happy in her crinoline comforts and new husband, she finds her cousin at times “so severe.” In the miniseries, Fanny Thornton also makes this accusation. Margaret is not always happy and carefree, but is given to greater reflectiveness and different angles of emotion. She is genuine, thoughtful, and at times stubborn. She is also not averse to melancholy, which gives the sense that Margaret is unafraid to experience the fullness of life, both in its joys and sorrows. Through this intensity of feeling, it can be said she experiences more of life than even her well-traveled cousins. Helstone appears on the surface to be romantic and idealistic, like something dreamed up by a romantic scholar. Yet her father, a parishioner, is a scholar of a different kind. When he comes to disagree with the traditional, uneducated, rote version of faith found in that part of England, he relocates them to Milton in the industrial north, where life moves quickly, and money exchanges hands with a greater lust and haste than his family is accustomed. In the north, people are rough around the edges, and less afraid to speak their minds. At first, Margaret finds this
shocking and chaffing, but as the city grows on her, she realizes the honesty of the place and its people, even in the midst of their racing and struggling. Perhaps the greatest trait in Margaret is integrity. Although not without great errors, as is the case of any literary heroine, Margaret is enduring and relatable. She lives in a changing world where time moves quickly and sorrow is universal, yet is confident in her beliefs and opinions rather than conforming to her environment. In Helstone she was accused of being severe, but in Milton she is often viewed as too concerned with humanity and principles in a world that runs on cotton not the feelings of men‟s souls. Regardless of what others say about her, she chooses for the most part to stay true to her convictions and do what she believes deeply to be right. Her actions arise out of her reflective and strong -feeling nature, and her heart finds worthy causes from her offence at any poverty and injustice. She sees pain in the eyes of the men that walk blackened streets and attributes some of it to the harshness of the masters of the factories, including her father‟s friend Mr. Thornton. As she states, “Those who are happy and successful themselves are too apt to make light of the misfortunes of others.” Part of the growth of a heroine involves pain and mishap of which Margaret undergoes her fair share. Yet North and South‟s
heroine is a rarity because of her gentle strength, so uncommon in novels of Gaskell‟s time and rare still. Equally interesting is the journey she undergoes during her stay in Milton. At first she is angry at her father for moving them so suddenly and with so little explanation. She dreams of the home they left behind. Gradually she discovers the north has its merit as well. In the city there is less order and more chaos, more hungry children, immediacy and death. All of these traits stand in great contrast to Helstone‟s calm meadows. But there are also people with hearts of strength. While strength of heart is important, Margaret does not believe herself selfsufficient. Her modest and gentle approach is in direct contrast to some of today‟s “strong literary women” that believe in autonomy and more absolute independence. Margaret remarks, “God has made us so that we must be mutually dependent. We may ignore our own dependence, or refuse to acknowledge that others depend upon us… but the thing must be, nevertheless.” Her strength comes not just from herself, but from those around her, and, in turn, God. In her, Gaskell captures the truest sense of womanly strength, independent from others but unafraid to accept their assistance. Margaret is a “real” woman who acknowledges the source of her strength and does not neglect to use it. ♥
IF THEREâ€&#x;S A little girl in your life (niece, daughter, granddaughter, cousin, goddaughter, neighbor, or in any other capacity) you know about the princess infestation.
In the world of little girls, princesses are everywhere. Toy stores and TV shows are full to bursting with sparkly tiaras, pink frills, and the like. And the little girls who want as much of it as they can get are legion. I‟m not saying this trend is a bad thing. I enjoy buying princessy things for my young goddaughters and I love their reactions when they receive them. But I do wonder where these particular notions of princessdom came from, and many are concerned that the consumerist nature of the princess industry (analyzed in depth by Peggy Orenstein in her flawed but fascinating book Cinderella Ate My Daughter) may be offering a shallow and self-centered version of what it means, not just to be a princess, but to be a girl. This is all the more reason to appreciate a classic children‟s book from 1905. Frances Hodgson Burnett‟s A Little Princess (an expanded version of her earlier book Sara Crewe) may look at first glance like one more fluffy tale of a privileged, pampered little girl. But it‟s much more than that. Sara Crewe is a boarding school student in London at the turn of the century. The daughter of a wealthy army officer, Sara has always been given everything a little girl could desire, including a pony, a doll with a lavish wardrobe and enough dresses and books for fifty little girls. But none of this fits Sara‟s definition of princesshood. The concept comes up
when Sara is talking to Becky, a scullery maid whose life is as different from hers as one could possibly imagine. Becky is struck by Sara‟s dress (which, in anticipation of modern princess fashions, happens to be pink): For a few seconds Becky was almost speechless with admiration. Then she said in an awed voice: “Onct I see a princess. I was standin‟ in the street with the crowd outside Covin‟ Garden, watchin‟ the swells go inter the operer. An‟ there was one every one stared at most. They ses to each other, „That‟s the princess.‟ She was a growed-up young lady, but she was pink all over—gowndan‟ cloak, an‟ flowers an‟ all. I called her to mind the minnit I see you, sittin‟ there on the table, miss. You looked like her.” “I‟ve often thought,” said Sara in her reflecting voice, “that I should like to be a princess; I wonder what it feels like. I believe I will begin pretending I am one.” It seems at first that the idea of princesshood is tied to the idea of pretty gowns. In Becky‟s mind it certainly is. But Sara sees things differently. After a long talk with Becky, and after giving the destitute girl food and a chance to get warm by the fire in her own room, she muses: “If I was a princess—a real princess . . . I could scatter largess to the populace. But even if I am only a pretend princess, I can
invent little things to do for people. Things like this. She was just as happy as if it was largess. I‟ll pretend that to do things people like is scattering largess. I‟ve scattered largess.” The beauty of A Little Princess is that, like so many other children‟s books of its era, its focus is on the development of good character rather than the gratifying of self. Thus, once Sara has hit on her idea of a princess as one who gives freely of herself, it guides her toward greater wisdom, strength, and maturity. It helps her stay patient and polite even when provoked by bratty younger children, jealous schoolmates, and a schoolmistress who has never liked her. When Sara‟s father dies of a sudden illness, she loses everything and becomes a servant at the school. Yet now that she is in much the same position as Becky, she has more opportunities than ever to be a true princess. Dealing with systematic mistreatment, including near-starvation, this child keeps her dignity and her sense of decency to an extent that confounds those around her. The cook at the school says of her, “She‟s got more airs and graces than if she come from Buckingham Palace, that young one. . . . I lose my temper with her often enough, but I will say she never forgets her manners.” In one of the most memorable passages in the book, a wet, cold, hungry Sara finds a coin in the
street, with which she plans to buy herself a few buns. But on her way into the bakery, she spots a beggar child, “a little figure more forlorn even than herself.” Questioned by Sara, the child says that she has not eaten all day. Just to look at her made Sara more hungry and faint. But those queer little thoughts were at work in her brain, and she was talking to herself, though she was sick at heart. “If I‟m a princess,” she was saying, “if I‟m a princess— when they were poor and driven from their thrones—they always shared—with the populace—if they met one poorer and hungrier than themselves. They always shared. Buns are a penny each. If it had been sixpence I could have eaten six. It won‟t be enough for either of us. But it will be better than nothing.” It takes a heart of stone not to be deeply moved by the ensuing description of Sara giving all but one of her buns to this ragged little girl. Eventually, Sara finds a happy ending, but by that time, our ideas of what makes a princess have been forever changed. That‟s why Burnett‟s book is one princess-themed product that anyone could be glad to give to a little girl. It may turn all her ideas about princesses upside down, but in ways that will do her nothing but good. ♥
I‟M SURE WE all possess something that we would call the “bane of our existence.”
You know, it is being petite and having to wear five inch heels to at least have a little volume. (Before we progress any further, yes, that is me to a tee.) Or it is being so tall you seem to tower over every one else in the room. What if it is pesky curls that we wish were slick and straight? Or could it be having hair that does absolutely nothing no matter how hard you try? The lists go on and on and on. You can deny having one, but face it, if we are honest with ourselves, we all know that we have something about ourselves that we want to change. Anne Shirley is perhaps best known for one thing: her red hair. It is the thing she hates about herself the most. She could always imagine away other flaws in herself. An alabaster brow and starry violet eyes were easily attainable in her mind, but she could never, ever, ever imagine her red hair away. She can‟t even call it anything but “red,” a generic word that to her bespoke of all the hate and ire she felt towards the color. True, the nickname that she unceremoniously garnered, “Carrots,” is not attractive. Boys and girls want nicer nicknames than something inspired by a vegetable. It doesn‟t help if a new classmate calls you
“Carrots” in front of the class. I get why she cracked a slate over his head. Being called a name is never an easy pill to swallow. It probably didn‟t help that Diana Barry, Anne‟s bosom friend, looked like everything Anne wanted to look like. Namely, she had gorgeous black hair, hair Anne requests a lock of when they are torn apart by a mother‟s unfortunate misunderstanding. We don‟t have insight into Anne‟s mind, but I bet she was envious of those tresses so vastly different from her own. The story in books often parallel what the reader is experiencing. I know when I read a girl‟s “plight” in regards to wishing something were different about herself, I can see my perceived problems staring me in the face. Because we are vain and shallow human beings we often try to change the image issues we seem to have. Who can forget the scene where Anne tries to change her hair color with a peddler‟s wares, a dye promised to turn her hair a beautiful raven black… instead of that luxurious color, Anne finds herself with green hair. Green is a million times worse than red. Anne learned this lesson the hard way as dye
takes a little while to wear out. Megan Followes, in the film adaptation, does a fantastic job at conveying the utter despair Anne deeply felt. But here is the thing… her acting could have been portraying each and every one of us. When I have gotten a pair of too high heels that pinch my feet and the feeling lingers for days on end, I feel in the depths of despair. I might as well have green hair for I can not imagine going out in public with it blatantly obvious that my “limp‟s” source stemmed from my vanity. It was hair dye for Anne Shirley; it might be heels for me. We all want to change ourselves to make our external appearances be everything we imagine (and if we are much like Lucy Maud Montgomery‟s heroine, we have quite the imagination!). However, these things, these selfperceived flaws, are not what our sole focus should be upon. Our character is infinitely more important than all of the other things combined. If something inside of us is ugly, that should get all of the time and effort necessary to change. After all, our sin takes a lot of blood, sweat, tears, prayer, and a desire to change in order for it to be something of beauty. It‟s
not something easily accomplished; it is much more painful than getting a haircut to mask a bad hair job. But in the end we know that we are doing something that makes us more beautiful on the inside—the place where it counts the most, the qualities that will leave us with a more lasting legacy. It would come across as a surprise to no one when I say that Anne Shirley is a literary character not too different from myself. I have a tendency to learn from those types of people, both in a book and on a television screen. If I can learn from their flaws and “mistakes” a greater lesson that God wants to communicate to me, then who am I to stand in His way? Even if it only does start with a wish and a bottle of hair dye, that is okay. We can learn and be taught lessons from anyone, if we let ourselves be teachable. Maybe we can spare ourselves some of the consequences if we only listen to others. That is so much better than learning the hard way. Anne had to deal with green hair; I have had to deal with pinching feet. Embracing how God created us, as people of unique beauty, would be so much easier. ♥
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