Friday, November 30, 2007

Brideshead Revisited

Brideshead Revisited is one of my favorite novels of all time and the standard against which I compare all Catholic novels. (Not surprisingly, hardly any of them measure up to it.) I have read it countless times, but not until quite recently did I realize that that the British edition is different from the American one.

I stumbled across this website, A Companion to Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited, which has annotated notes for both editions. There I discovered that fifteen years after its publication Waugh, having become a little embarrassed by the lushness of the novel's style, made come cuts and revisions in the 1960 British edition. The American edition has always kept to the original text. (Interestingly, "there was an even earlier limited edition of 50 copies, printed privately for friends, which differs from both the later published editions.")

I am relieved to discover that my copy is the American edition because I always like to see a work as the author originally released it.* (It annoys me no end when an artist can't let go of a piece of published work and keeps on diddling with it. I'm thinking of George Lucas revising Star Wars, Spielberg's multiple versions of Close Encounters, and my mother-in-law who, decades after their completion, revised details on her oil paintings so many times that they lost whatever virtue they had originally possessed.)

On the website David Cliffe points out one revision which he feels is notable. The passage deals with Charles Ryder's attitude to religion in contrast to the way Catholicism pervades the consciousness of Sebastian and his family. I take the liberty of of quoting the two versions.


I had no religion. I was taken to church weekly as a child, and at school attended chapel daily, but, as though in compensation, from the time I went to my public school I was excused church in the holidays. The view implicit in my education was that the basic narrative of Christianity had long been exposed as a myth, and that opinion was now divided as to whether its ethical teaching was of present value, a division in which the main weight went against it: religion was a hobby which some people professed and others did not; at the best it was slightly ornamental, at the worst it was the providence of ‘complexes’ and ‘inhibitions’ - catch words of the decade - and of the intolerance, hypocrisy, and sheer stupidity attributed to it for centuries. No one had ever suggested to me that these quaint observances expressed a coherent philosophic system and intransigent historical claims; nor, had they done so, would I have been much interested.


I had no religion. I was taken to church weekly as a child, and at school attended chapel daily, but, as though in compensation, from the time I went to my public school I was excused church in the holidays. The masters who taught me Divinity told me that biblical texts were highly untrustworthy. They never suggested I should try to pray. My father did not go to church except on family occasions and then with derision. My mother, I think, was devout. It once seemed odd to me that she should have thought it her duty to leave my father and me and go off with an ambulance, to Serbia, to die of exhaustion in the snow in Bosnia. But later I recognised some such spirit in myself. Later, too, I have come to accept claims which then, in 1923, I never troubled to examine, and to accept the supernatural as the real. I was aware of no such needs that summer at Brideshead.

Though the later Waugh may have perferred a more asustere style, the earlier version does a better job not only of capturing Charles's religious background, but the attitude of the age toward religion. Time and place is an important element in Brideshead Revisited, which is why I think that the richer language of the first edtion, which so well evokes it, is more appropriate.

The next time I sit down to read Brideshead, I shall certainly have my browser open to David Cliff's website.

I would also like to point readers to Evelyn Waugh in his Own Words, where you can listen to excerpts from Waugh's talks and interviews. I particularly enjoyed hearing his description of Forest Lawn given on the BBC radio in 1948 (which is when The Loved One was published).

*Except of course those cases when the cutting and slashing has been ordered by the publisher over the author's protests.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Promises To Keep

Right now I'm reading a book from my biography section called Promises to Keep: A Family Close-up by William E. Walsh. It is not his memoir as such, but that of his family considered as an organic entity. The story begins in 1929 with their first date and was published in 1953 by which time they had 13 children, whose names and birthdates are listed at the beginning of the volume under the heading, “By The Same Author.”

The author writes about himself and his family the third person and so it took me a little while to realize that he was actually the “Bill” of the narrative. (Okay, so I’m not at my brightest when I’m home sick.)

The father had a large collection of books -- though he sometimes resorted to selling them when money was particularly tight. I wanted to share the following quotation. The parents are counting their blessings and the father comes to the conclusion that though many blessings are seasonal in nature, their books are permanent blessings.

But the books are constant companions, enlargers of the human experience. They are the autobiography of the family of man. They are not possesions, they are defiance.

. . .They are the great rebels against stupidity, parochialism, injustice, dullness, indifference, and blindess. They are defiance against mediocrity, because each book is a sharp awareness of personal experience, an individual savoring of the meat and drink of existence. They are flavored with the intimate moments of man’s best and surest living. Books are, like fear, the beginning of wisdom, because, like fear, they remind us of mortality and awaken in us the deep longing to live well while we have ‘world enough and time.’

. . . and I want the kids to like books, too, so they’ll know that the fight isn’t hopeless and that other men have faced every problem they will have to face, and solved it. (p. 118-119)

I hope that's what our children picked up from being exposed to their parents' love of books.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

Because we are so into primary source material:

It is the duty of nations as well as of men to owe their
dependence upon the overruling power of God; to confess their
sins and transgressions in humble sorrow, yet with assured
hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon;
and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy
Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations are
blessed whose God is the Lord.

We know that by His divine law, nations, like
individuals, are subject to punishments and chastisements in
this world. May we not justly fear that the awful calamity of
civil war which now desolates the land may be a punishment
inflicted upon us for our presumptuous sins; to the needful
end of our national reformation as a whole people?

We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of
heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and
prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no
other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We
have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace
and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have
vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all
these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and
virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success we have
become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming
and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made

It has seemed to me fit and proper that God should be
solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged, as with one
heart and one voice, by the whole American people. I do
therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the
United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are
sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last
Thursday of November as a day of Thanksgiving and praise to
our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.

Monday, November 19, 2007


"When one stops to consider what life would be like without the ability to read after age forty or thereabouts, and the consequences for the life of the mind in general, eyeglasses suddenly appear as important as the wheel." --Barbara Tuchman

I was in the seventh grade when I got my first pair of glasses. Even though the frames looked like those worn by the fat lady in Gary Larson's cartoons, I loved them. That first pair of glasses endowed me with the high-definition eyesight of Tolkien's elves: a crispness, a clarity, a capacity to distinguish detail that I hadn't even known I lacked. And every year the miracle was repeated when the optician dispensed a new pair with a stronger perscription.

Though The Wisdom Of The Age affirmed that "Men never make passes at girls who wear glasses," and also considered "Four-Eyes" a perjorative, I loved my glasses because I thought they were waaaay cool. I considered them my badge of intelligence, a symbol of my love for books, and my pass into a fraternity of the mind. (Or perhaps I had already discovered the proverbial wisdom, "if you like what you have, you'll have what you like.)

Now that I've added presbyopia to my nearsightedness and astigmatism, and have discovered an inability to wear bifocals, glasses seem more like a sad neccessity than a badge of honor because I have to juggle multiple pairs of them. I have one pair of glasses for driving, another for reading, a third for ordinary tasks around the house, and one with a very short focal length for sewing. Yet it seems that I'm always moving into little pockets of poor vision where something is too small or too close or too far away for me to bring it clearly into focus. O, for the days when a single pair of glasses could do it all. Scotty, beam me a prescription for Retinax V!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Forgotten Treasures

My friend Sartorias posted a link to this discussion of "Forgotten Treasures":

What I think of as the "Harry Potter Effect" - a renewed interest in YA or children's fantasy - has resulted in the welcome recent republication of authors who had been well-known in certain circles, like DWJ, or well-known from the past, like Edward Eager. It has also seen the reprinting of some rather more obscure but equally deserving works, like A String in the Harp by Nancy Bond or Elizabeth Marie Pope's The Perilous Gard. I've been thinking for a while of beginning a series of posts on old forgotten treasures from my own collection - not necessarily SF or fantasy, but books I loved that I wondered if anyone else had heard of, that I think deserve a bigger audience and potential reprinting.

I enjoyed reading all of the comments to this post. So many of the books mentioned were books that I checked out of the library time after time. Others are books I've never heard of but now intend to find. I'd been trying to make up my own list of Forgotten Treasures, but most of the ones I could think of had already been mentioned or were too well known to qualify as "forgotten" (such as Little Women or Alice in Wonderland).

But tonight the the springs of memory sudddenly started burbling and brought forth a surprising collection of titles.

Baby Island by Carol Ryrie Brink (also the author of the more well known Caddie Woodlawn).
As a Navy brat I got to know many school and public libraries. Baby Island was only to be found in one of them. It's the story of two sisters, Mary and Jean, who are traveling on an ocean liner to join their father in Australia. When the order comes to abandon ship, they find themselves in a lifeboat with four babies under the age of two. The lifeboat conveniently drifts to a desert island where the girls enjoy playing Robinson Crusoe with their boatload of babies until they are eventually rescued. (BTW, I just checked Amazon and this book is back in print. But the copy I read was published in 1937 and had the most beautiful color illustrations.)

Redskin Summer (?) I'm not sure about the title on this one. It was about some kids whose families always spent each summer vacationing by a lake. There was an island in the lake where the kids were allowed to camp and pretend to be Indians. But this summer there's a new Boy Scout camp across the lake and the "redskins" find themselves at war with the "palefaces." I particularly remember an exciting segment where one of the girls is captured and "scalped" by the Scouts, i.e. they cut off one of her braids.

I read Mysterious Island by Jules Verne over and over when I was a kid. It's a shipwreck story, but this time the castaways are dropped onto the desert island from a balloon having just made their escape from a prisoner of war camp during the Civil War. Unlike the characters in The Swiss Family Robinson, who had a whole shipload of goods to help them colonize their island, the plucky Americans in Mysterious Island had only the contents of their pockets and the magnificent brain of Cyrus Harding, an American engineer, to help them survive.

I was also very fond of My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craigshead George, though I guess it doesn't qualify as "Forgotten" since it's been popular and in print ever since I was a kid. The main character runs away from home to the wilderness where he lives off the land. He carves out a home in a hollow tree, makes his own deerskin clothing, grinds acorn flour and trains a wild falcon to hunt for him.

Are you noticing a theme here? It's a surprising one. I don't even like camping. I hate getting dirty. I'm scared of bugs. Why did I love all these shipwreck/camping out books? Maybe it's because I always had a fascination with doing things from scratch. Even if I never wanted to do those things in real life. Spinning wool, baking bread, skinning rabbits -- you name it, I read about it. I even remember devouring a children's novel about canning vegetables and fruit for a 4H competition. Yup. And I must have read it at least three times.

Of course, fantasy has always been my favorite genre though there wasn't as much of it available when I was young as there is now. However, all my childhood favorites have already been mentioned in the above linked post and its comments. Except, I think, for some books by Evelyn Sibley Lampman such as The Shy Stegasaurus of Cricket Creek and The City Under the Back Steps. The former is about two children who discover a live dinosaur in the Southwest and the latter is about a boy and girl who are shrunk down to the size of ants and taken prisoner in an ant colony. (My goodness! Someone else besides me must have liked that book. The cheapest copy listed on Amazon is $59.40! Nyah, nyah -- I still have my childhood copy. Update: I just checked the shelf. I only see Stegasaurus, not City. Arrrgh!)

And I don't think any of the posters mentioned Time at the Top by Edward Ormondroyd. It's about a little girl who travels back in time in her apartment building's elevator. Or Tom's Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce. It's another time travel book, but the portal is a garden which can only be accessed at night when the clock strikes thirteen. And the garden isn't there in the daytime.

Mara, Daughter of the Nile by Eloise Jarvis McGraw got checked out repeatedly when I was in junior high. The main character is a slave girl in ancient Egypt who has a gift for languages. She is bought by the supporters of Hatshepsut to act as a spy against the pharoh's brother
Tutmose. But due to complicated circumstances, Mara is forced to become a double agent. It's an exciting, swashbuckling adventure which even includes a romance.

The Winged Watchman by Hilda Van Stockum used to be a Forgotten Favorite, but her books have now been republished by Bethlehem Books. The Winged Watchman is about a Dutch family during the Nazi occupation of Holland. I loved it because the characters were Catholic and there was actually some theological discussion that was absoutely germane to the story and very naturally presented.

The Family Nobody Wanted by Helen Doss. Originally published in 1954, this memoir tells the story of a young white couple who adopted eleven children of various ethnic backgrounds at a time when trans-racial or trans-ethnic adoption was inconceivable both to professional social workers and to the general public. I still have the Scholastic Book Services paperback edition I bought in the 1960s which has my name carefully printed on the inside front cover in a large childish hand. It is very well read. I think I liked it because it was about a family that was even larger than ours. It was also my first glimpse of the fact that not everyone thought that a brown Mexican baby was much prettier than a pasty blond one.

The last book I'll mention is by Elizabeth Enright. Actually, I loved all of her books. But The Saturdays, published in 1941, was a special favorite because it struck me as being the most exotic. The four Melendy children decide to found the Independent Saturday Afternoon Adventure Club. (I.S.A.A.C for short.) Each week the children will pool their allowances (a whole $1.60!) and take turns using the entire sum to to fund a special, individual adventure. All but the youngest are old enough to travel into The City (New York) alone. So twelve year old Rush, a music fanatic, goes to the opera and hears Sigfried. Ten year old Miranda visits an art gallery . Thirteen year old Mona goes to a real beauty shop and has her long braids cut off. And on each of their adventures they meet seemingly ordinary people who turn out to have fascinating stories.

If you have Forgotten Treasures to share, please post them in the comments box.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

All Souls Day (Belated)

"November is the most disagreeable month in the whole year," said Margaret, standing at the window one dull afternoon, looking out at the frost-bitten garden.

"That's the reason I was born in it," observed Jo pensively . . . ."
--Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.

If I lived in New England, I'd probably loathe November too. But when you live in California there's a lot to like about this month. For one thing, the infernal heat of summer is pretty much over. The roses are still blooming, and I'm harvesting lemons from my dwarf lemon tree. And if you're also Catholic you get a jump start on the end of the year holidays with All Hallow's Eve, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day.

On All Souls Day, and indeed during the whole month of November, we remember and pray for the dead. Naturally, departed family and friends are at the top of everyone's list, but since praying for the dead is one of the spiritual works of mercy, many people also make it a point to pray for those poor souls who have no one to pray for them. Or for those souls most in need of prayers.

It is perhaps no surprise that in our family we included in our November prayers a special subset of the departed: dead authors. I always liked to include J.R.R. Tolkien among our November intentions. Since he was a devout Catholic, I knew he would appreciate it. And my husband always included James Boswell. For not only was The Life of Samual Johnson one of his favorite works, but Boswell probably needed the all the prayers he could get. (In a fit of youthful rebellion, Boswell converted to Catholicism but could not be said to have lived a good Catholic life. Libertine is the word that springs to mind.)

I hasten to assure my readers that the Bibliophagist family does not restrict its special intentions solely to Catholic authors. We are equal opportunity intercessors. And it seems not only charitable but just to pray for authors who have given us pleasure in this life regardless of their denomination. Perhaps someday they'll be praying for us.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

A Little Shop of Horrors ; )

By his own account, Jim Rosenau was given a proper upbringing.

"I was raised with a near-religious relationship to books. Never write in a book. Don’t lose someone else’s place. How to protect its vitally-important spine. Rules pertaining to the avoidance of moisture. And, like all observant families, we were taken once a week to the library for worship."

But then, several years ago, he began to engage in unspeakable practices. He built bookcases -- out of books!

Yes, those are real books . The pages in these red volumes have been replaced by salvaged wood, making the shelves strong enough to hold actual books. (So the covers are actually being used as a kind of veneer.)

Some of his smaller shelves, though functional, are also humorous works of art. Click here to see a slide show of his "Funniest Shelves Gallery." The titles of the books from which they are composed are aptly chosen. And don't forget to look at the "Procedures" page for a factory tour, starting with the harvesting of ripe books from the Tree of Knowledge.

Catholic Bibliophagist has mixed feelings about Mr. Rosenau's enterprise. I find his work to be clever and visually amusing. And yet . . . I also view it with a horrified fascination. Intellectually, I realize that he only works with books that nobody wants, books that "look better than they read." But I can't help feeling a little queasy at their vivisection and their transformation into bibliofrankenstein constructions. And I find myself straining to read the titles of the books in his photos. I hope I won't see a copy of Aristotle's lost work on comedy.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Neither a Borrower Nor a Lender Be

There are few greater pleasures than reading a wonderful book -- except, perhaps, that of persuading a friend to read it also. But do you actually lend him your copy? And if you do, will you ever see it again? Anatole France seems to have been skeptical, but his well known advice betrays that he is also part of the problem:

"Never lend out books, because no one ever returns them. The only books I have in my library are books that other folk have lent me. "

I no longer lend books because at my age I have trouble remembering to whom I've lent them. Perhaps incribing a book curse (like this one from the monastery of San Pedro, Barcelona) on the flyleaf might jog a book borrower's conscience:

"For him that stealeth, or borroweth and returneth not, this book from its owner, let it change into a serpent in his hand and rend him. Let him be struck with palsy, and all his members blasted. Let him languish in pain, crying aloud for mercy, and let there be no surcease to this agony till he sing in dissolution. Let bookworms gnaw his entrails...and when at last he goeth to his final punishment, let the flames of Hell consume him forever."

Just a gentle hint, you know. Unfortunately, all of my friends are about the same age as I am. So even if they intend to be honorable, they probably can't remember where the book came from. (Okay, I finally found a replacement copy of C.S. Lewis and the Church of Rome. Not that I'm bitter or anything.)

Monday, November 5, 2007


Connections was a television series on the history of science and invention that was a much beloved part of our homeschooling curriculumn. (Actually, the kinder didn't know it was part of their education. Since videos were severely rationed in our household, they thought that being allowed to watch an episode was a special treat.)

Its delightfully interdisciplinary approach sought to demonstrate how seemingly random discoveries, scientific achievements, and even historical events were actually part of an interconnected series of cascading triggers that brought about certain aspects of modern technology.

I think that one reason we enjoyed it so much is that the human mind is always searching for patterns, even where they don't exist. I know I always get a thrill when I discover unsuspected connections.

This morning I was struggling to complete a post that had been in the works since Halloween. Well, struggle is probably too strong a verb. I like writing when I'm in the midst of it. I love having written. But I absolutely HATE to begin writing. So I wasn't so much struggling as engaging in really high level procrastination. ("My, wouldn't this be a good time to totally rethread my serger?")

When I'm in this state almost any stray thought blossoms into a full blown distraction.

Halloween. Hmm. Fillius2's Jack-o-Lantern. And those potato people he carved. Should have taken a picture. They used to use turnips in England. Oh, remember the illo in that Church Mouse book? I wonder if there's a copy on the Web? (Never mind that I have a copy in the other room.) Google. Diary of a Church Mouse.


Graham Oakley's book didn't turn up until the second page of results. It turns out that there's also a poem called "Diary of a Church Mouse" by a fellow called John Betjeman. Apparently, he was rather well known, so I suppose that Oakley might have been referencing the poem in his title. Connection!

I rather liked Betjeman's poem. (It rhymed and was easy to understand. I know, my taste in verse is rather hobbitish.) It's about a church mouse who's always on short commons except when the church is decorated with agricultural products during the Autumn Harvest Festival.

But how annoying when one finds
That other mice with pagan minds
Come into church my food to share
Who have no proper business there.
Two field mice who have no desire
To be baptized, invade the choir.
A large and most unfriendly rat
Comes in to see what we are at.
He says he thinks there is no God
And yet he comes… it's rather odd.
This year he stole a sheaf of wheat
(It screened our special preacher's seat),
And prosperous mice from fields away
Come in to hear our organ play,
And under cover of its notes
Ate through the altar's sheaf of oats.
A Low Church mouse, who thinks that I
Am too papistical, and High,
Yet somehow doesn't think it wrong
To munch through Harvest Evensong,
While I, who starve the whole year through,
Must share my food with rodents who
Except at this time of the year
Not once inside the church appear.

(Reminds me of a curmudgeonly friend of mine who used to complain every Christmas and Easter when his pretty little church was invaded by "outsiders." Not quite the right attitude, I think. But that's a different story.)

So then I went over to Wikipedia to read about the fellow and discovered that he "famously brought his teddy bear Archibald Ormsby-Gore up to Magdalen with him, the memory of which later inspired his Oxford contemporary Evelyn Waugh to include Sebastian Flyte's teddy Aloysius in Brideshead Revisited."

Connection again! Brideshead Revisited is right up there among my top ten favorite novels and is certainly the best Catholic novel I have ever read. (Sometimes it seems that everyone knew everyone in that period of literary England. So guess who Betjeman's Oxford tutor was -- C.S. Lewis.)

Oakley's The Diary of a Church Mouse is one of a charming series of picture books about the adventures of the mice living in the vestry of the parish church of Wortlethorpe. In exchange for chores such as polishing the brasses and picking up the rice after weddings, the vicar makes them a weekly allowance of cheese. It's a jolly lifestyle, especially because Sampson, the church cat, has taken a vow of brotherly love and friendship to mice though they try his patience sorely. The illustrations are lavishly detailed which both amplify and contradict the text, adding an extra dimension of humor to the stories. Fortunately, we have a complete set because they are now out of print and selling for outrageous prices at

This is a nice webpage about the Church Mice series which includes a fan-written interview with Arthur and Humphry, the spokesmice of the vestry. (This fellow does a good job with his "interview," lifting most of the dialogue's wording from the text of the books.)