Wednesday, 30 April 2014

The year in books: April

Squeezing in with only hours of April left to go, I'm so very organised.  This month's book was The Odd Women by George Gissing, which I downloaded from Project Gutenberg.  Published in 1893 it is what you might describe as a progressive novel about the place of women in society, particularly the middle class women who did not marry.  These women were often left in penury with teaching or being a governess the only respectable options for employment, professions for which they were often little suited because they had little education.  Gissing took his title from the population statistics which showed there were around 900,000 more women than men, so inevitably there were going to be an excess of unmarried women.  He uses the novel to rail against the poor education and opportunities available to unmarried middle class women and to argue that all women should be brought up and educated so that they could have a career meaning that if they married they would be better wives and if they did not they would have a means of supporting themselves.  The typewriter is seen as one means of freeing these women from low paid, uncongenial work and two of the main characters are unmarried ladies pioneering the life that is available to unmarried women and training other women in office work.  They appear to see their mission in a similar manner to those rescuing women from prostitution and I think Gissing is suggesting that it is as important a mission.

On the whole this is a rigorous novel of ideas, vividly debated between its protagonists and demonstrated through the lives of the various characters, not one of whom is free of what George Orwell calls "self-torture that goes by the name of respectability".  However, some of the more emotional passages seem rather overblown to modern eyes and are very much of their period, but this does not detract from the interest of the novel and its ideas.  Gissing's view of marriage, as something to be avoided is surprisingly radical for the period and he also discusses ideas of free and equal unions between men and women instead of conventional marriage, something along the lines of "common law marriage" or today's co-habitation.  To some extent this reflects George Gissing's own complicated personal life.

Lithograph of George Gissing by Sir William Rothenstein, 1897

My reading lately has been of books that address this theme of a woman's place and the place of "respectable" unmarried women in society and their poverty, it is one that preoccupies many novelists at least from Jane Austen onwards (although I am sure it predates her) and right on into the 1950s when Doris Lessing's The Golden Notebook, which I have only just started, appears to be asking what place do unmarried women have in society.  In between I have read a short novel by E M Delafield, Thank Heaven Fasting, about a débutante of the Edwardian period who "could never, looking backwards, remember a time when she had not known that a woman's failure or success in life depended entirely upon whether or not she succeeded in getting a husband".  This novel showed a society in which a woman only had a status in relation to a man, a daughter, a fiancée, a wife, a mother, a widow and of these "wife" was far and above the most important status.  The débutante is treated as a child and her mother's emotional collapse upon her father's death shows how far her status is affected.

Anyhow, I shall continue with my feminist reading into May and continue through The Golden Notebook, which I have on an audio-book, making it ideal for listening to while knitting.  Perhaps that will be next month's book and perhaps I shall write about it before the evening of the last day of the month!

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Easter hope

I have not had that much to say lately, I have been going through a bit of a bad patch and been really down at times.  Together with horrible panic attacks at night and the lack of sleep that follows from that, life has not felt like much fun.  I have struggled with my faith too, it is not that I do not believe, not that at all, I still believe in God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit and the Bible, that it is all true.  But more I have been struggling with me in relation to God, struggling to see past the bad in me, struggling to cope with myself and my inadequacy and why God would ever want anything to do with me.  Struggling with grace I suppose, again.

So Easter has been a precious reminder of what Jesus has done for us, that He has taken our sin and takes it afresh every day, so that we can go to the Father.  Today I feel a renewal of hope because Jesus has died for us and has risen and stone is rolled away and the tomb is empty and so everything is possible.  I will still make mistakes today and tomorrow and the day after, I am not perfect in myself and never can be, but through Christ, in God's eyes I am and I am loved and accepted.  How to take in this truth, to understand it and live out that truth?

A couple of songs have been helping me along this path, one is from an album reviewed on a university friend's blog, by a band called Page CXVI and is called Roll Away the Stone, I love the chorus:

Roll away roll away the stone!
Where he lay, where he lays no more
Risen and victorious radiant and glorious
He rose amen He broke the chains of sin

And Boldly I Approach by Rend Collective, a meditation on Hebrews 4.16: "Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need."

I hope they help you enjoy God's grace anew this Easter.  Life has been hard, it will be hard again, but we all need a reminder of the truth to show us that this is not all, that there is a hope to come.  It is a relief to be able to remember God's grace despite not having been able to go to church as I would love to do and amid all the other frustrations of my life.  I do not know what is next or where I should be going but for now I will try to rest with God and remember that the Easter message, "That there is now no condemnation for those who are in Jesus Christ."

Sunset Good Friday
Sunset on Good Friday

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Out like a lamb

As the old saying goes, March went out like a lamb; last weekend was glorious, warm and sunny and I revelled in being able to sit outside.  I also remembered to take my camera out with me and got some lovely shots of one of the robins.  Both were about and I love their trust and curiosity.  They are starting to spend time closer together and yesterday I saw one feed the other.  While I was sitting outside last weekend I was surrounded by birdsong, every bird in the area was singing and singing, I could distinguish the robins, a wren and blackbird, but there were also blue and great tits and a surprisingly assertive dunnock around.  Normally the dunnocks we have in the garden are most inoffensive and spend their time creeping about in flower beds, but this particular individual is not afraid to boss other birds off the feeders.  Watching the birds brings me such joy, it is one of the few times I find myself smiling, broadly and spontaneously.  Anyhow, photos...





One of Dad's beloved cowslips and its red genetic variant




So next time it is beautiful weather and I am sat inside, please remind me how much joy I find outside among the birds and send me outside.