Literature

Bookshelf Tour: An Ever-Fixed Mark by Sabrina

Growing up, we moved regularly, so, when I was a child, books were my dear friends. Every year (usually around New Year’s), I would re-organize my bookshelf–make sure that all the books were alphabetical by author’s last name and grouped into series. We recently rearranged our book area. We had four bookshelves that were double-stacked in places, so we bought another one and sorted through out books to weed out any duplicates/unwanted. Sadly, we still need to buy a sixth bookshelf to finish our project. Re-organizing the books though was like going to a reunion of old friends. Some of those books I have read regularly since I was in elementary school. My husband was quite entertained listening to me wax eloquent over my various books.

I also (finally!) moved all my fan fiction bookmarks from my old phone to my new phone. I’d never read fan fiction prior to a year and a half ago, but I’ve found quite a few gems in that time. I had about 150 bookmarks I had to copy.

Anyway! It was so fun to go back through my books that I thought I’d take you on a tour of my bookshelf so I get to talk about them some more. 🙂

Today I’d like to talk about a story on my virtual bookshelf: An Ever-Fixed Mark by Sabrina. It’s a Pride & Prejudice fan fiction posted on Dwiggie.com. I like to start my year with Pride & Prejudice and even though I haven’t read the original yet, I did read this version again.

This short story takes Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 as its theme, particularly this well-known section:

Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
It is an ever fixed mark
Which looks on tempests and is never shaken.

Fan fiction takes a well-known story/characters and basically changes something and then writes out the results of those changes–sort of like throwing a rock in a pond and then taking a picture of the resultant ripples. The “rock” Sabrina chose to throw is that after Darcy’s disastrous proposal and subsequent letter to Elizabeth, Anne de Bourgh asks to speak with Darcy and gives him some solid advice about how he should propose to Elizabeth. It prompts him to think back over why exactly Elizabeth had rejected him and he realizes that it was his own fault. He repents of his pride (gotta love that about Darcy!). I will say that I think Sabrina speeds up his character shifts beyond what’s realistic, but at the same time, she keeps with the logical trajectory of his repentance and there have been times in my own life when something just hits me and I’m able to see things differently–so it’s at least plausible, even if the real battle is whether those character changes play out long-term. When Darcy finds Elizabeth distraught over his letter, he comforts her. They end up having a conversation about the nature of love, and it’s just beautiful.

Sabrina also addresses something that has gradually driven me nuts about P&P: Bingley’s lukewarm behavior. Now maybe you don’t think Bingley was lukewarm. Maybe you think the poor guy should get a pass because of his temperament or the situation he was in or whatever. I personally think Jane should have made things a little harder on him when he came back. He’d proven that he wasn’t his own man–he let other people run his life. I love that Pamela Aiden addresses this character flaw in her Fitzwilliam Darcy trilogy.

Yes, I do realize that it wouldn’t be realistic or politic for the timeframe if Jane had made Bingley work for her. Women were dependent on a good marriage to secure their livelihood–we clearly see this evidenced in Charlotte’s marriage to Mr. Collins (ugh!). But then, Austen contrasts Charlotte’s more practical approach with Elizabeth’s unwillingness to settle for a marriage of convenience. Jane and Bingley are kind of the middle ground. Jane is in love with Bingley, and Bingley is in love with Jane (supposedly). But their love isn’t tested the same way that Elizabeth and Darcy’s is. Maybe it really does come down to different personality types.

I had an interesting conversation about literature and personality type the other day. I gravitate towards strong female characters because that’s my personality type. But a friend of mine is turned off by those types because they grate on her personality type. It really emphasizes how genius Jane Austen was to be able to portray multiple personality types realistically and winsomely. I find myself writing the same personality type for my main characters (my own) because it’s easy for me to do so realistically. But Austen has a broad base of personality types.

Anyway! If you’re an Austen lover, An Ever-Fixed Mark is a treat to read and, as I said, deals with some really great themes about the nature of love. You can also check out Dwiggie.com for more great fan fics. It’s a fun genre to get into!

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The Speed of Repentance

As I’ve mentioned, my husband and I are reading Pamela Aidan’s Fitzwilliam Darcy trilogy out loud right now–I so love that series! Anyway, I’ve been re-convicted by the speed of Darcy’s repentance. I know that it’s fictional, blah, blah, blah, but I still think there’s a lesson to be learned there. So! for those of you who haven’t read Pride & Prejudice some 20+ times ;), the basic story line is that during Darcy’s trip to visit his Aunt Catherine at Easter, he proposes to Elizabeth Bennet and she takes him to task for his pride. Since Austen doesn’t tell us the story from Darcy’s perspective, we all just have to imagine what happens to him after that. What we do know is that by the time Elizabeth visits in July, Darcy has changed significantly. He’s gotten rid of (or at least made a good start on it) his class prejudices and starts to evaluate people based on their character. He’s able to deal with Wickham despite his obvious hatred of the man (which we see both in their interactions in Hertfordshire back in November of the previous year as well as Darcy’s letter to Elizabeth in April).

I am amazed at and convicted by the sheer determination and ferocity with which Darcy repents. Once he realizes that Elizabeth was right; i.e., once he sees the flaws in his own character, he goes about self-reformation with such energy that he can be a different person only 3-ish months later. 3 months. I don’t know about you, but my tendency is to see repentance/character change as something that I pursue sort of half-heartedly or plan to change sometime in the future, or even if I think I’m pursuing it whole-heartedly, I don’t expect to see significant progress until a much longer period of time than 3 months. I think, if repentance is characterized by making a 180, sometimes mine looks like turning around but just standing still on the road or maybe ambling along in the right direction.

Re-reading the Darcy trilogy has made me wonder what my life would look like if I believed I could make significant changes in my character in such a small space of time and actually threw myself into the process of character reformation. For instance, due to my health issues last fall, I’ve spent months trying to get my sleep schedule switched back around to a more diurnal regimen. I have to admit that it’s felt like a huge struggle, and I honestly haven’t had a lot of motivation because it feels so hopeless. But I wonder what it would look like if I really believed that I could make a significant difference in a short period of time and that it was important to really pour myself into effecting that change. Or what about any of the other changes I’m trying to make in my life? to be a person who’s motivated by love rather than fear? or to spend less energy on housekeeping and more energy with my kids?

It’s definitely worth thinking about. Almost every time I read Pride & Prejudice, Darcy challenges me to become a person who repents with all my energy, rather than meander through my repentance.

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Pride and Prejudice in the New Year

Somehow for the past couple of years, my yearly book rotation begins with Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen. I have heard from some folks that they wade through the book, feeling somewhat cheated when they get to the end by the lack of epic themes. However, every time I read it, I find myself challenged and convicted. Austen wrote a story about how two people characterized by these two character traits would interact… how the two find themselves rubbing against each other–bringing the worst out in each other. Rather like the church should be. I’m always challenged by their willingness to take a look at themselves and humbled by their heartfelt repentance and changed lives. They don’t just talk about repenting–they come face to face with the worst in themselves and become someone different. Both discover their flaws have made them blind to reality, about others and about themselves.

A few years ago my husband picked up Pamela Aidan’s Fitzwilliam Darcy Trilogy (An Assembly Such as This, Duty and Desire, and These Three Remain). Basically, it’s Pride & Prejudice from Darcy’s perspective. At first I was really disappointed that she doesn’t go into the gospel more explicitly, but I’ve found myself wooed by her masterful treatment of the themes I love (and I’ve spent the past year wrestling through my own ideals about conveying the gospel in fiction). Mercy is what saves Darcy in the end, what enables him to move forward after seeing what a horrible person he is. He discovers he isn’t a “gentleman”–not in isolated specifics or actions, but in essentials, in the core of his being. At first he thrashes around in his misery. He runs from the knowledge, turning to other relationships, busy-ness, and alcohol to crowd it out. But mercy forces him to acknowledge his true condition and then he repents. In fact, his repentance paves the way for him to have mercy with Wickham.

In some respects, the holidays always feel like a furnace… for a variety of reasons, I spend mid-November to about mid-January adrift. I feel like someone steals away my personality, my coping skills, everything. I switch into straight up survival mode and I really can’t think straight at all. So, in the midst of this furnace all my worst qualities come to the forefront… the unbelief, the pride, etc., etc.

Reading Pride & Prejudice and/or the Fitzwilliam Darcy Trilogy reminds me that I have a choice when I come face to face with the worst in myself. I can go to God for mercy, repent and bear the fruit of repentance or I can run away from it.