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The Spirituality of Jane AustenHow well do Jane Austen lovers really know the motivation of the author who unleashed a burgeoning industry that has moved from the revenues of printing press and movie land to hats, party catering and greeting cards? Apart from re-writes of Pride and Prejudice, prequels, sequels and screen adaptations whose genres start with period drama, spill into horror (thanks to the unleashing of zombies)–and may well yet burst into outer space—all we know is that the limits of Austen commercial fare are constricted by nothing but the creativity of the human spirit.
Yet how much do we understand Jane Austen’s spirit, the one that set her published works on the road to immortality, though she, frail human, died at the age of 41? Paula Hollingsworth, author of The Spirituality of Jane Austen makes a persuasive argument that the beloved British novelist’s motivation was fueled by spiritual considerations, which had the good sense to not be overtly religious.
Using every Austen novel published and some not published, Hollingsworth shows how well the mistress of novel-writing understood her own characters before the action began, building them into a story arc that would keep the reader entertained and guessing while sending the message she intended from the beginning.Elizabeth-Benentt-jane-austen-952991_1024_764.jpg

For instance, Sense and Sensibility is in many ways a Taoist tract:  it is about the balance between emotions and logic. The novel shows how, “when rightly used, sense brought balance and self-control.” Only when used without understanding does sense “lead to callousness and rigidity.”

Jane Austen,  Hollingsworth shows us, made her entire novel about staying in the middle, keeping a balance, and what happens when that is not achieved.

Excess of grief, while welcomed by Mrs. Dashwood in regard to her daughter at the death of Mr. Dashwood, seems to bring all considerations to a grinding halt. Austen demonstrates that if Elinor, also suffering, had not “exert[ed] herself” she would not have been able to “consult with her brother” and receive guests with due attention.

A character of excess is Marianne.  She is the most difficult of the people with whom Elinor must deal because, unlike their mother, she can never be awakened to the destructive element of her excessive emotions. Though she stays awake all night, refuses to eats, suffers from headaches and shows inability to acknowledge kindness from others, even accusing Elinor of coldness as those given to emotional excess are wont to do, Marianne does not demonstrate beneficial character development until her total embrace of misery drives her to a “near-death experience.”

In the same book, those characters who show no development, resting in materialism, like John and Fanny Dashwood, have no spirituality at all.

The theme of money was recurrent in the Austen books, and Hollingsworth takes on its analysis at the end of her study of Pride and Prejudice. It is not the amount of money but the attitude towards it that demonstrates the happiness level of the various characters. Thus Lydia and Wickham are always in need of it, spending too much because they desire too much. Hollingsworth goes through the character list, explaining how their attitudes about money reflect in their personalities. Austen is so good at characterization that she does not fail in her depiction of a single person to demonstrate the effects of money on ego and sense of self-worth, which, in a negative sense, become crucially isolating.

Hollingsworth’s acknowledgement of Austen’s criticism of the Church and those hypocrites who seek to pretend they represent it takes clear form in the character of Rector Collins, lap dog of Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Collins has a skewed sense of “forgiveness,” as can be seen in his recommendation to Mr Bennet, telling him to “throw off your unworthy child from your affection for ever.” To Collins, one forgives and damns simultaneously: a peculiar sort of forgiveness, bringing no unity of family. Hollingsworth scores Pride and Prejudice “highly as a spiritual book”  and does a stupendous job of proving she is right.

The Spirituality of Jane Austen will cause anyone who reads it to speak knowledgeably of the novels of Austen. Writers will rejoice to drink at this well of inspiration!

 

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I want you to know that your book is amazing and I’m sure you’ve heard that before. It sent me through a roller coaster of emotions. I was mad and sad and happy and laughed it was so awesome. You should! It’s great. It’s something people need to hear. The young marriages, motherhood, loneliness, everything in it was so great. It really kept me interested, and shocked at some of the things in there I just can’t believe how people weren’t accepting. It really broke my heart. In the beginning I had so much hope of a beautiful love story, I still thought you guys would get through everything and be together. It’s like even though I knew how it ended I was still stuck on the book and wanted you guys to end up together. Your writings are wonderful, you truly brought the old days as well as the days you were there to life. I felt as if I was a fly on the wall, even as an outsider I felt as if I was right there with you. –Veronika D.cat_and_dog_in_library

As a writer/teacher/writing judge who goes through over a hundred books a year, I have noticed a BIG mistake made by excellent writers, a mistake that is reflected in their Amazon selling score (the easiest way for me to figure out how they are doing).

Successful authors don’t make this mistake.

Writers who are not friendly and findable on the internet do not do well. Do I hear you muttering, “J.D. Salinger”? Oh please. That was eons ago. The way books sell has changed and you know it.

J.K. Rowling and Stephen King agree with me. They are findable online and, presuming they read all the tweets, they can get your message–hence, they are friendly.

Karen Armstrong, author of a ton of books including Fields of Blood, accepted my friend request on Facebook. I was stunned. Geraldine Brooks, author of Year of Wonders wrote back to me when she found my letter after a move. I had chalked up her silence to author aloofness. The letter gave me tingles.

I still have it. Geraldine Brooks wrote to me! Wow!

Mark Anderson, author of the amazing Shakespeare by Another Name, opened a Facebook page for his book and responded to me and my son because we both adore his book. That Facebook page became a circle that was retitled Shakesvere.73159._UY475_SS475_

Often when I read books by struggling authors with great voices, and then try to find those authors online, I can’t. Francis Coco wrote the stunning Cheeking My Meds. I would love to reach out to her, but the Amazon author page offers a useless link to an artist colony where I cannot fid her name, which is actually Penni Goode Evans. This happens to me more than I would like to say.

When I DO find a talented author and want to be friends, said person either turns away, doesn’t understand the value of networking or pooh poohs all my networking ideas.

When I write about a book on this blog and the author is disinterested in returning the favor, I wonder if all the brilliance that person possessed was used up by writing the book.

 

 

Beacon Books has just announced publication of my newest book , hooray! Click on the link to see the book trailer. Based on legend and history, Burning Boats tells how the rescue of a beautiful girl thrown in prison by an evil king triggered the launch of a Muslim army into Spain.

Burning Boats Cover New

Click here to see the book trailer!

18402649_643085942558265_6071952483121272405_n.pngPlease vote for the cover you find most engaging for my newest book children’s book, The Burning Boats. This contest takes place on Facebook at Beacon Books and voting is determined by the icon you choose:

The Burning Boats

I adore my students, which I prove by often posting their amazing essays. However, some of what a teacher does takes work and results in stress. I put the following question to my very talented friend Heather Jamieson Brown, who was once one of my students, and who is now one of my favorite writers. She is currently writing a two-book Western romance. 1378298_10201520866455379_1600872193_n

Me:
Why do I need Tylenol and why do I have to lie down after every editing and grading every two research papers? Why does my digestion more or less stop this time of the semester? Am I weird?

Heather: Good question. My prayers are with you.

Me: Lol thanks for approving the question oh Madame Brainiac. But WHY???

Heather:
Oh, I thought it was a rhetorical question lol. Hmm…I haven’t finished my coffee yet, but I shall try to come up with a scientifically sound answer for you. Ahem….. the medula oblingata is the part of the brain that controls involuntary things like breathing and digestion, etc. Yours, I think, is hypersensitive. You are artistic so you are naturally a very sensitive person. Beautiful things affect you deeply just as terribly ugly things do to an even deeper degree when it involves writing. When you are working on those research papers, and many of them are trash, it affects your whole system. For you, reading a terribly written research paper is the same as witnessing a horrible multi-vehicle accident where bodies are torn apart and flung through the air. When a student destroys a perfectly good statement with a comma splice, your medula oblingata goes into spasms, causing your intestines to go into contractions and you end up in physical distress.

Me to my readers: I love this woman. She is one of my favorite writers and as you can see, oh agents and editors of the world, hilarious!

Arendt

The Psychological Toll of Concentration Camps

by Vanessa Shubin ( a wonderful student essayist)

A human being can become accustomed to any depth of depravity and horror. It is unfortunate but also true that many people have the natural inclination to go along with authority figures no matter their level of personal emotional distress. Not only did the Holocaust affect the individuals who lived through it, but it has also impacted those who were connected to those fortunate to survive through this time of fear. Hannah Arendt’s Total Domination paints a perfect, yet frightening, image of the people subjected to the terror of concentration camps.

Many have heard the popular saying “time heals all wounds” but when it comes to Holocaust survivors, this might not be the case. Time cannot cure survivors’ traumas because the Holocaust has left such deep scars on their minds. The Holocaust is the biggest trauma in survivors’ lives and changes their destinies. They lost everything including their family members, relatives, houses, properties, jobs, businesses, social positions, and future. No matter how many years pass, the damage cannot be erased in survivors’ minds. Hannah Arendt writes, “The end result in any case is inanimate men… who can no longer be psychologically understood, whose return to the… human world closely resembles the resurrection of Lazarus,” (Arendt, 286). This excerpt gives the reader a clear example of not on the psychological but the psychical affects the survivors had to live with after the liberation of the concentration camps.

When the survivors integrated back into society after the war, they found it very hard to adjust. It was made difficult by the fact that they often induced uncertain feelings of fear, avoidance, guilt, pity, and anxiety. This might have been hard for them, but decades after the Holocaust most of the survivors managed to rehabilitate their capacities and rejoin the paths their lives might have taken prior to the Holocaust. This is more true for the people who experienced the Holocaust as children or young adults. The experience of the Holocaust shows how human beings can undergo extreme traumatic experiences without suffering from a total regression and without losing their ability to rehabilitate their ego strength. The survivors discovered the powers within them in whatever aspect in their lives that were needed.

The treatment that the survivors had to undergo could leave anyone fearful. Arendt writes, “The murderer leaves a corpse behind and does not pretend that his victim has never existed; he wipes out any traces… of his own identity… he destroys a life,” (Arendt, 287). The measures that the Nazis went through to treat the prisoners as if they’re lives were worth less, or worth nothing to be more specific, were outrageous. Arendt continues to advise the reader that the real horror of concentration camps lie “in the fact that the inmates… are more effectively cut off from the world of the living than if they had died, because terror enforces oblivion,” (Arendt, 288). In the concentration camps, murder was an everyday thing, just how waking up and going to work is for most of us nowadays, and that fact is shocking.

When looking at it from a general point of view, the survivors, for the most part have shown to be as strong as humanly possible. Not one person who hasn’t seen what they saw can possibly imagine how they feel. These people were lucky to have survived but there is no doubt that there have been times when their memories have made them think otherwise.

Works Cited

Arendt, Hannah. “Total Domination.” A World of Ideas edited by Lee Jacobus. Bedford/St.Martins, 2013. Pp 279-290.