Where Angels Fear to Tread by E.M. Forster

Given the old phrase ‘fools rush in where angels fear to tread,’ I can only imagine that Forster’s use of the title Where Angels Fear to Tread is to refer to Earth as the “Where.” After all, I’d have a hard time classifying anyone in this book as anything other than a fool. Not that we aren’t all fools, of course. Still, despite whether they act out of propriety without love, love without propriety, or cannot decide between the two, they all act pretty foolish.

(Note, for those following along in The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books, this one was 7th for Elizabeth Spencer.)

In Where Angels Fear to Tread we have The Herriton family. The family never approved of one of their sons marrying a girl named Lilia, but they dealt with it. After he died, they primarily tried to keep Lilia from embarrassing their family. To be honest, there’s not a lot of love in the Herriton’s.

Worse, much of how they try to keep Lilia from embarrassing their family is by convincing Lilia not to remarry and thus embarrass the memory of their son, or themselves by the low status of her choices. They even sent her to Italy with a Miss Abbott (who is supposed to keep her out of trouble) to get her out of the way. Unfortunately, she ends up marrying a somewhat nobly born yet low class Italian man who is passionate but cares little for propriety. To their horror, he is the son of a dentist.

Interestingly to anyone who thinks that Where Angels Fear to Tread is just a critique of propriety, the marriage actually does go bad. Her husband isolates her, spends her money, cheats on her, and all that. She ends up dying, after giving birth to a son. That’s when the real fun starts.

Honestly, the Herriton’s don’t care about the son, but they do care about their image. As such, they decide they must get the baby and raise it themselves. However, though the Italian is crude and is grasping after money, he doesn’t want to give up the child. An exchange between the surviving Herriton son and Miss Abbot sums it up, and pretty much the book for me, best:

“So what are you going to do?” said Miss Abbott. 

Philip started, not so much at the words as at the sudden change in the voice. “Do?” he echoed, rather dismayed. “This afternoon I have another interview.” 

“It will come to nothing. Well?” 

“Then another. If that fails I shall wire home for instructions. I dare say we may fail altogether, but we shall fail honourably.” 

She had often been decided. But now behind her decision there was a note of passion. She struck him not as different, but as more important, and he minded it very much when she said– 

“That’s not doing anything! You would be doing something if you kidnapped the baby, or if you went straight away. But that! To fail honourably! To come out of the thing as well as you can! Is that all you are after?” 

“Why, yes,” he stammered. “Since we talk openly, that is all I am after just now. What else is there? If I can persuade Signor Carella to give in, so much the better. If he won’t, I must report the failure to my mother and then go home. Why, Miss Abbott, you can’t expect me to follow you through all these turns–” 

“I don’t! But I do expect you to settle what is right and to follow that. Do you want the child to stop with his father, who loves him and will bring him up badly, or do you want him to come to Sawston, where no one loves him, but where he will be brought up well? There is the question put dispassionately enough even for you. Settle it. Settle which side you’ll fight on. But don’t go talking about an ‘honourable failure,’ which means simply not thinking and not acting at all.” 

“Because I understand the position of Signor Carella and of you, it’s no reason that–” 

“None at all. Fight as if you think us wrong. Oh, what’s the use of your fair-mindedness if you never decide for yourself? Any one gets hold of you and makes you do what they want. And you see through them and laugh at them–and do it. It’s not enough to see clearly; I’m muddle-headed and stupid, and not worth a quarter of you, but I have tried to do what seemed right at the time. And you–your brain and your insight are splendid. But when you see what’s right you’re too idle to do it. You told me once that we shall be judged by our intentions, not by our accomplishments. I thought it a grand remark. But we must intend to accomplish–not sit intending on a chair.” 

“You are wonderful!” he said gravely.

See what I mean? The Herritons follow propriety without love, the Italian follows love without propriety, and Miss Abbott and Philip oscillate between the two without ever really finding a good mix. Bottom line, they’re all fools…as are we all.

As for Where Angels Fear to Tread as a whole, I enjoyed it. It isn’t exactly an uplifting book, but I don’t equate that with ‘good’ and Where Angels Fear to Tread certainly has some beautiful elements anyway. Where Angels Fear to Tread isn’t exactly going on my all time favorite list, but it is definitely a fine piece of fiction.

2nd Timothy–from the Bible

The blog post on 1st Timothy is here. In there, you will find a link to the first Bible blog post I did forever ago, as well as what authors listed the Bible in their top ten (the original blog post also shares _why_ one author listed it).

2nd Timothy is another letter from the Apostle Paul to Timothy. As I mentioned in the last post, I’ve always loved reading letters from one person to another. Also journals, but that’s not relevant here. So, the next time you read a Bible post from me, it’ll possibly be another Pauline Epistle (the fancy way of saying, one of the books of the Bible that is a letter written by Paul to either a person or a new church).

In 2nd Timothy, in the very first opening of it, I love what Paul has to say. 2 Timothy 1:3 “3 I am grateful to God—whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did—when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day.”. I love that Paul recognizes and tells about how it is through Him that we are moved to pray for someone. I’ve had times where out of nowhere, I feel the strong urge to just pray for someone, not even knowing why. So, this sort of spoke to me in this verse.

Verses 7 through 9 are part of the support the Protestant churches feel for the concept of being saved by grace alone. (For those of you that don’t know; Catholics believe it is a combination of works and grace, Protestants believe it is only through grace that we get to Heaven). Paul states it in these verses, it has also been stated many other places. “7 for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.
8 Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, 9 who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began,”. I also love verse 7, it has a certain amount of hope in it for me.

Here, in the United States, Christians are not heavily persecuted, but in many other countries they are. The following verses, I think, fall flat on American audiences. We think of the times someone’s laughed “oh haha you believe in a man raised from the dead, oh haha, you believe in a virgin conceiving” and we believe that is suffering with and for Christ. However, it’s not. This is.

These are from Chapter 2, 2 Timothy.

“8 Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David—that is my gospel, 9 for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained. 10 Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, so that they may also obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.”

The following verses sadden me, since most Christians do _not_ follow the advice of Paul to Timothy in these verses:
(also from chapter 2)

“23 Have nothing to do with stupid and senseless controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. 24 And the Lord’s servant[c] must not be quarrelsome but kindly to everyone, an apt teacher, patient, 25 correcting opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant that they will repent and come to know the truth”

Unfortunately, many Christians appear to be more along the lines of the first few verses of chapter 3:
“3 You must understand this, that in the last days distressing times will come. 2 For people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, brutes, haters of good, 4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 holding to the outward form of godliness but denying its power. Avoid them! ”

The following verse is part of the reason that many Christians believe the Bible and all its contents to be true, while others believe that maybe some of it allegorical but still true in its attempts to teach. It’s also from chapter 3.

“16 All scripture is inspired by God and is[b] useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.”

For those of you still wondering how the Bible has much to do with literature, the following verse is referenced more than once in more than one literary genre I’ve read.

From Chapter 4. ” 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” Paul basically is talking about how his life is effectively over, that he is a libation being poured onto the ground and that he is ready for his reward in Heaven.

And towards the end of the book, and the end of chapter 4, I found the following paragraph to be very reminiscent of reading just about anyone’s letters to other people.

“9 Do your best to come to me soon, 10 for Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica; Crescens has gone to Galatia,[a] Titus to Dalmatia. 11 Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful in my ministry. 12 I have sent Tychicus to Ephesus. 13 When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments. 14 Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will pay him back for his deeds. 15 You also must beware of him, for he strongly opposed our message.”.

Okay, done for now with Bible posts. Next time I might be talking about the literary character I hate.

Blessings 🙂

New Grub Street by George Gissing

My overall impression to New Grub Street to George Gissing is one of surprise. First off, I can’t believe that I’ve never heard of either this book or George Gissing. Given all the books I’ve talked to people about and read about, let alone read, I just can’t believe I wasn’t at least aware that this one was out there. However, I wasn’t. Hadn’t heard a single word that I can recall.

(Note, for those following along in The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books, this one was 8th for Jonathan Lethem.)

The next surprise is how modern this book is. It’s modern in tone as well as style. Most surprisingly, I think you could almost lift the literary situation focused on in the novel to present day. There would be relatively few changes necessary to make this convincing. Keep in mind, this book is from 1891.

To actually describe the book a bit, though, New Grub Street focuses a great deal on poverty. More specifically, it focuses on poverty in the literary world. We have a number of authors. Some are believe literature as an end to itself while trying not to starve, some believe the same about literature but don’t care as much about starving, and some acknowledge that they will never contribute anything useful to literature and instead mercenarily seek advantage and position as if literature was only a business:

‘To be sure! To be sure!’ exclaimed their brother. ‘You have no faith. But just understand the difference between a man like Reardon and a man like me. He is the old type of unpractical artist; I am the literary man of 1882. He won’t make concessions, or rather, he can’t make them; he can’t supply the market. I–well, you may say that at present I do nothing; but that’s a great mistake, I am learning my business. Literature nowadays is a trade. Putting aside men of genius, who may succeed by mere cosmic force, your successful man of letters is your skilful tradesman. He thinks first and foremost of the markets; when one kind of goods begins to go off slackly, he is ready with something new and appetising. He knows perfectly all the possible sources of income. Whatever he has to sell he’ll get payment for it from all sorts of various quarters; none of your unpractical selling for a lump sum to a middleman who will make six distinct profits. Now, look you: if I had been in Reardon’s place, I’d have made four hundred at least out of “The Optimist”; I should have gone shrewdly to work with magazines and newspapers and foreign publishers, and–all sorts of people. Reardon can’t do that kind of thing, he’s behind his age; he sells a manuscript as if he lived in Sam Johnson’s Grub Street. But our Grub Street of to-day is quite a different place: it is supplied with telegraphic communication, it knows what literary fare is in demand in every part of the world, its inhabitants are men of business, however seedy.’ 

‘It sounds ignoble,’ said Maud. 

‘I have nothing to do with that, my dear girl. Now, as I tell you, I am slowly, but surely, learning the business. My line won’t be novels; I have failed in that direction, I’m not cut out for the work. It’s a pity, of course; there’s a great deal of money in it. But I have plenty of scope. In ten years, I repeat, I shall be making my thousand a year.’

To sum up the book, being a good writer is no guarantee that someone won’t starve. Connections and money are more important, possibly being enough on their own when even good writing is absent. Literature is a business and has to be run like one to be successful. People are reading less and their reading choices are becoming increasingly banal.

Sound familiar?

Frankly, I think the biggest value in New Grub Street, beyond being an entertaining and clear work of late 19th century English realism, is to provide a reality check for all the literary doomsayers out there. This book says a lot of the things people say now, and it said them about 122 years ago. These trends aren’t new, and I’m guessing that they aren’t proceeding as fast as some people think. The literary situation in this country may not be the most desirable, but literature probably isn’t going to die completely anytime soon.

Of course, that’s just my take.

1st Timothy–from the Bible

Today (a day late, sorry! snow days threw me off!) I am discussing 1 Timothy from the Bible. These are in the New Testament, in the section of the Bible called the Epistles. These were the letters sent by Paul to various churches and from other disciples to him or to each other. The two books of Timothy are written by Paul to his friend Timothy, who had taken over Paul’s travels to the different churches. I’m just covering the first book today. Timothy is mentioned in other books in the New Testament, with Paul even calling him my true son in the faith in the opening of 1 Timothy. It’s in effect a letter of introduction as well as a letter straight to Timothy. Timothy was meant to read it aloud to the congregation, and Paul’s letter sets him as someone to be treated as an extension of Paul.

Now, those of you that have been here for awhile with Dave and me, know that the Bible is one of the books listed in the Top Ten, but due to the inability of me to read it as a whole, I’ve been breaking it up.

The Bible has six authors that listed it in their top ten. Andrew Hudgins, Haven Kimmel, Erin McGraw, Richard Powers, Robert Pinsky and James Salter all listed it in their top ten.

The first Bible post I wrote can be found here.

Now, 1 Timothy has one of the passages in it that causes a lot of uproar these days.
1 Timothy Chapter 2
“8 I desire, then, that in every place the men should pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument; 9 also that the women should dress themselves modestly and decently in suitable clothing, not with their hair braided, or with gold, pearls, or expensive clothes, 10 but with good works, as is proper for women who profess reverence for God. 11 Let a woman[b] learn in silence with full submission. 12 I permit no woman[c] to teach or to have authority over a man;[d] she is to keep silent. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 15 Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.”

Verse 8 is an instruction to men (though it probably does hold true for women as well). Paul was stating that “dissension in the ranks” would lead to ineffective prayer. He’s stating that a person could not effectively come to God in prayer, or attempt to work together in prayer, if they came with an angry and bitter heart. Verse 9 is instructions on how women were to dress. Some believe (and actually, given that the instructions were about displays of wealth, I can stand behind this thought) that women in the churches were displaying their wealth, and possibly creating an environment where people of less wealth would feel uncomfortable. Christianity, in its purest form, is all about equality. We are all sinners, we are all unworthy of God’s grace, yet we can all have God’s grace. Presently, many churches still create this unwelcoming atmosphere. If you go into a church in a wealthy part of town, the attire of the congregation could in fact, make a person of low economic means feel discluded. Paul wanted to make sure that all could feel welcome in the church.

In terms of the verses about women not teaching and being in submission, I struggled. I actually went and read commentaries to attempt to find out more about these verses (this is why the Bible isn’t the fastest thing to read). Paul says in Galatians 3:28 “28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”. I think we need to see all the other dictates from Paul in that light. There are so many possibilities as to what was going on in those verses. Paul talks in Chapter 1 about there being false teachings. Some commentators believe that it’s possible that the false teachers were having women continue the false teachings. I also look at it in the context of the verses above about not coming to prayer in anger. There are so many possibilities that make me think that this might be instructions to a particular time and place. Paul’s focus on men coming to prayer in anger and false teachings, make me think that it’s possible that some commentators who think that the false teachings might have been teaching that since the dictates on marriage and sexuality came after the fall in Genesis, that they no longer applied after Christ’s resurrection. If your wives were suddenly all clamoring to have sex with your best friend and neighbor instead of yourself, I could see how a lot of men would be angry.

Throughout the New Testament, the Epistles talk about being respectful and following social dictates as much as possible, as long as they don’t contradict with the teachings of Christ. It is also possible that Paul is writing from his time and society, advising this course of action. It’s important to also note that Paul does talk about the role of women in the ministry that he knows and does so in a positive light. Unfortunately, like many other portions of the Bible, these verses have been used as justification for subjugation of people.

Paul also uses this letter to encourage Timothy (and also, since he would be reading the letter to the church, to back up his authority) with the following words from 1 Timothy Chapter 4.
“12 Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. 13 Until I arrive, give attention to the public reading of scripture,[e] to exhorting, to teaching. 14 Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you through prophecy with the laying on of hands by the council of elders.[f] 15 Put these things into practice, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress. 16 Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; continue in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers.”

Paul, in chapter 5 also speaks about women in a way that some criticize “13 Besides that, they learn to be idle, gadding about from house to house; and they are not merely idle, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not say. 14 So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, and manage their households, so as to give the adversary no occasion to revile us.”. He’s speaking of the church’s dictates in regards to supporting widows, that widows would be supported by the church. This is also something that might be speaking to this particular church at this particular time. Also, “to give the adversary no occasion to revile us” speaks to Paul not wanting non Christians to have reason to attack the church and hurting the church’s mission.

Chapter 5 also gives us the advice to drink a little wine 😉 “23 No longer drink only water, but take a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.”

Chapter 6 contains the verses that lead to the often used literary statement and device of money being the root of all evil. ” 9 But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.”

I also like the following advice he gives Timothy for those in the church that _do_ have wealth. He doesn’t command them to give it all up, but rather to use it for good works and to not rely on it’s capricious nature. “17 As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share,”.

In terms of literature, I’ve always enjoyed reading people’s letters to each other. There are tons of books out there full of letters that prominent people of history, from the political realm, the literary realm, the artists’ realm and others showing the thoughts of these people. The epistles are not just instructions for the church to me, but also the literature of reading prominent people’s letters to others and learning about the author as well. Paul puts a lot about himself in all the letters he writes (the thorn in his side is one that most people have heard of).

So, that’s 1st Timothy. Sorry for the length. It’s hard for me to go short. It’s dense in the Bible! 😀

Have a great week!