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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Seeing and Being Seen

So far this year, I’ve read my way through a large portion of fan fiction.com’s Pride & Prejudice fan fiction (as well as some other sites like Dwiggie.com). I love that story. Lately, I feel like I need the daily reminder that people can change. This week’s favorite version is: The View from Where I Sit by Darcysfriend.

The deviation from the original version begins just after Mr. Collins proposes to Elizabeth and Mr. Bennet tells Elizabeth: “An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents. Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do.” Instead of following Elizabeth, the author chooses to follow Mrs. Bennet who leaves the house quite distraught over the loss of Longbourne from the Bennet family. Mr. Darcy comes upon her weeping in the woods and they end up having a lengthy conversation where Mrs. Bennet takes Mr. Darcy to task for his pride and reveals that Jane loves Bingley.

Both Mrs. Bennet and Darcy end up asking each other questions that are outside of normal polite discourse and they come to truly understand each other, as well as gain a deeper understanding of themselves and how society views them. For instance, the author says that Darcy asks: “‘…you want your eldest daughter to marry for love. Does not Miss Elizabeth deserve the same?’ Darcy, while dismayed that he could barely speak straight, was astounded at his own forthrightness–but he truly ached to know and understand.”

It’s a beautiful story. Their simple act of letting go of their prejudices in order to see the other person as they are and letting go of their pride in order to allow themselves to be seen sets off a whole series of events whereby all the characters around them are redeemed. Don’t get me wrong: I love the original Pride & Prejudice. However, I love, love, love fanfics where more than just Elizabeth and Darcy change.

Henri Nouwen said that listening is the art of creating space for someone to be themselves. The View from Where I Sit showcases that reality. Each character is changed simply through the act of knowing and being known. I was challenged not to underestimate the power of simply being with someone vs. trying to force and/or encourage them to change.

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More Adjustments

Well, so the benefit of doing blogging this way is that I have no idea what I’m going to talk about before I actually start talking about it. Hope you enjoy a more conversational style 😉

In case you haven’t noticed, there are a few things I’m kinda obsessed with. I have been called nerdy a few times in my life. I love Star Trek (TNG is my fav; not much of a fan of TOS, but I do love the new movies–yes, I know that makes me a heretic). I’ve read more than half of the Lois & Clark fan fiction archive. We watch Speed Racer (the movie) whenever we spend too much time with family and need reminded that faithfulness is key to changing the world, rather than running after any certain careers. I read David Eddings’ Belgariad/the Malloreon whenever I need to remind myself that following God is the short-cut to getting wherever is best for me, even when it feels like getting lost. And I can’t tell you how many days it feels like getting lost. I read Penelope Wilcox’s The Hawk and the Dove when I feel like my brokenness is a hinderance to God’s ability to use me–that maybe by virtue of my absolutely destroyed physical health and sometimes precarious emotional health, I’m unusable, the days when I start feeling sorry for my kids because they have such a sick mom, that kind of thing. I’ve read/watched more versions of Cinderella than I can remember–excited for Disney’s new version! Since it came out, I’ve been reading Rowlings’ Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows every year around Easter. And this year I celebrate reading Pride & Prejudice at least once a year for twenty years (woohoo!!). I do so love that book. We named our daughter after Jane Austen and Jane Bennet. Someone recently asked me how many books I read more than once and I didn’t really have an answer for that. As I’ve mentioned, books are part of my soul adjustment. I don’t think I could breathe without stories to remind me of what’s true–not that I’m saying that the Bible isn’t more important because obviously it is.

So since it’s New Year’s and time for Pride & Prejudice, I’ve started reading Pride & Prejudice fan fiction (in addition to reading Pamela Aidan’s fabulous Fitzwilliam Darcy Trilogy). I’ve been reading a lot of fan fiction the past 7 months–basically since I got sick in July. It’s amazing how being too sick to function opens up lots of reading time. Anyway! I have read so many terribly written stories that there have been days when I literally have wished I could take my brain out of my skull and wash it. It terrifies me when I realize some of these people actually thought their writing was edited enough to post on the internet for all to read–mostly because I’m scared that my writing is really that bad, but no one has the heart to tell me 😉 (ps–that wasn’t fishing for compliments, just sharing) Today, however, I read a version of P&P that I fell in love with called A Rush of Blackbirds. I could probably happily talk about character development for hours, so I’ll try to keep this short. Basically, the thing I loved about this version is that the author pushed Lizzie until she broke. It could be where I’m at in my life, but I am in love with stories that have lots and lots of angst. There’s something so satisfying about reading/writing a story where people are pushed far beyond their coping capacity and then somehow by the end, things work out ok.

In case you’re not familiar with the concept of fan faction, the author takes well-known characters/stories and basically changes something and then writes about how that change affects the rest of the story or sometimes they write the further adventures of the character. In this version of P&P, the author had Darcy get injured just before Bingley and co. were going to leave Netherfield, which meant that they all ended up staying. Darcy gets over his pride quite a bit earlier in the story. Elizabeth recognizes her own attraction to Darcy quite a bit earlier. I’ve never really spent a lot of time thinking about Elizabeth’s home situation, which is odd given how much my own family has played into my issues and how much Darcy throws her family in her face. This author talked about how traumatic it must have been for Elizabeth to have her father be so checked out, and yet how torn she was because she was his favorite. How hard it was for her to have her mother constantly put her down… for her mother to tell her she’d ruined the family by refusing Mr. Collins. How much she missed Jane, especially when she had some angst in her life and no one to turn to. And how even strong personalities reach a breaking point and need love to heal. It was beautiful.

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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.