Charles Dickens & George Frideric Handel: Two Quotes

This is a first in my “Two Quote” series, since it sets side by side not only a written quotation but a musical one.

It’s rare when music is mentioned in literature that I feel inclined to dwell much on it but when the writer is Dickens and the composer is Handel, well, naturally I took the bait. Needless to say, the comic nature of poor Bella’s father’s grimly melodious characterization of his marriage took flight. But then Dickens always did have a way of making you literally laugh through your tears, perhaps even his own as he was at the time estranged from his wife.

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Our Mutual Friend was his last completed work and, as if in a farewell gesture, Dickens throws into it the unrestrained comic genius and dramatic flair of his first novel (The Pickwick Papers, 1837) which brought him the acclaim he richly deserved. In the excerpt below, the “Dead March” from Handel’s dramatic oratorio, Saul, is made to dance to the sorrowful notes of Reginald Wilfer’s portrait of married life.

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Mrs. Wilfer, writes Dickens, “is a tall woman, and angular,” necessarily so according to the matrimonial law of contrasts, her husband being “cherubic.” “It is as you think, R. W.; not as I do,” comprised a part of her deceptively submissive repertoire of aphorisms with which she managed him. Only to Bella, his eldest daughter, is Reginald Wilfer able to relax his guard and venture into unfettered conversation.

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“Ransom. Ransom. Ransom. Ransom. Ransom.”

Matthew 16:26/Mark 8:36/Luke 9:25 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?

Of C. S. Lewis’s The Space Trilogy, my favorite for mostly personal reasons is Perelandra. The plot unfolds around a newly formed planet, loosely modeled after Venus, undergoing an Edenic beginning with a man and a woman and a multitude of new creations. Into this is sent Elwin Ransom, the protagonist from earth, charged by God (Maledil) with the mission of thwarting the attempts of Satan (Black Archon) to tempt the newly created Queen to rebel against Maledil and bring about a Fall, the agent of which is another man from earth, the staunch materialist Professor Weston who becomes a demoniac.

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God’s Silence and “Silence”

Having just finished Shūsaku Endō’s Silence (1966), the novel about 17th-century Jesuit missionaries to Japan on which Martin Scorsese’s movie Silence (2016)  is based, I feel free to confess that I had never even heard of the book until the movie was released this past Christmas. Its central concerns are primarily theological, zeroing in on what true Christian faith looks like,  so I was intrigued to see the film’s overall favorable reception by some Christian as well as secular reviewers. Scorsese was quoted as saying that Silence was the culmination of a twenty-eight-year-old journey to bring the novel to life, and I expected some ponderous ruminations, albeit Hollywood-style, as a result. (Spoiler: After reading the book, I had no desire to see the movie.)

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On Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!

Her voice dragged me in, this old crone
who sat in her chair rigid like a schoolgirl.
It beat against the wisteria tendrilled heat
and the cloistered darkness where we sat,
my aunt and I, me home from school to the barren
bower of her past, where jilted desires hung unspoken,
an endlessly fingered bridal dress of twisted longing.

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A Study in Scarlett and Tolstoy

Shamelessly exploitative title, I know. Yet I couldn’t resist the Sherlockian/Scarlett O’Hara pun since after reading War and Peace by the venerable Tolstoy, I found myself thinking paradoxically of “little ole” Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind. Both are hefty novels dealing with the devastating effects of a war and both treat tenderly yet critically the time and place and culture their authors evoke: Tolstoy of Russia, Mitchell of the antebellum South. And both compel a strangely enduring fascination even (or most especially) over those who have little to no knowledge of these particular regions.

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So She Quoth

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Spitzweg, “The Bookworm”

There are some things I read or hear said that for some inexplicable reason, certainly not by design, stick in my head. Not only that, when I think of one, I seem naturally to think of the other. Or here’s a different scenario: during the course of a day or a week, I randomly encounter different texts by totally dissimilar authors and yet their ideas fall along the same lines and “fit” together in a startling way. Such unsought moments are blissful pools of mystery to a bookworm like me.

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Jane Austen & Marilynne Robinson: Two Quotes

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An 1804 watercolor of Jane Austen by her sister Cassaa

Jane Austen,  Mansfield Park:

Here had been grievous mismanagement; but, bad as it was, he gradually grew to feel that it had not been the most direful mistake in his plan of education. Something must have been wanting within, or time would have worn away much of its ill effect. He feared that principle, active principle, had been wanting; that they had never been properly taught to govern their inclinations and tempers by that sense of duty which can alone suffice. They had been instructed theoretically in their religion, but never required to bring it into daily practice. To be distinguished for elegance and accomplishments, the authorised object of their youth, could have had no useful influence that way, no moral effect on the mind. He had meant them to be good, but his cares had been directed to the understanding and manners, not the disposition; and of the necessity of self–denial and humility, he feared they had never heard from any lips that could profit them.

Bitterly did he deplore a deficiency which now he could scarcely comprehend to have been possible. Wretchedly did he feel, that with all the cost and care of an anxious and expensive education, he had brought up his daughters without their understanding their first duties, or his being acquainted with their character and temper.

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