On Virginia Woolf and Maria Goretti

Combining a [not so] Quick Lit post with a Seven [not so] Quick Takes post . . .

Virginia Woolf image via Wikipedia

1. I just finished Virginia Woolf’s, A Room of One’s Own, and it gave me so much to think about; I could go on and on.  Primarily, though I was struck by Woolf’s emphasis on writing for its own sake, with no specific telos*.  Toward the end of the essay, Woolf emphasizes “reality” and that women should focus on reality and not people and relationships.  The implied premise is that women before had been confined to the world of relationships–the drawing room and the nursery and their duties therein–and they hadn’t been encouraged to explore the world as it is.

“So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say.

It is much more important to be oneself than anything else. Do not dream of influencing other people, I would say, if I knew how to make it sound exalted. Think of things in themselves.

See human beings not always in their relation to each other but in relation to reality . . . . Our relation is to the world of reality and not only to the world of men and women.

In other words . . . Ladies, shake off your concerns for other people and any responsibility you have to help other people through your writing.  Focus on being yourself and writing what you want to write and describing the world as you see it.  In other words . . . prioritize work over relationships . . . like men do.

2. And just after reading Ms. Woolf’s essay, I turned to a shorter one by John Cuddeback, in which he proposes that men should prioritize relationships over their work [like women do?].

We need to do more to reimagine and then reinstate a different model of family life. At the center of this model will be a husband and father whose very success in life is fundamentally, though not solely, seen and judged in terms of what he does in the home. Indeed, a central measure of his manhood will be the quality of his presence in the home.

I tend to agree with Dr. Cuddeback.

3. At the same time,when I start mentally criticizing Virginia Woolf, I catch myself and remember that

My life is better than pretty much any woman’s from any other time period or any other part of the globe. 

If I were a man, I might prefer to live in other times or other parts of the world (a [male] taxi driver once extolled North Africa to me as the best place in the world to live), but as a woman, nope.  I think I have it as good as it gets, and possibly as good as it ever will get.

I don’t know how much credit Virginia Woolf deserves for my enviable position, but . . . .  I can take so much for granted that perhaps it skews my understanding?

4.  Virginia Woolf also makes statements like,

“Chastity … has, even now, a religious importance in a woman’s life, and has so wrapped itself round with nerves and instincts that to cut it free and bring it to the light of day demands courage of the rarest.”

After reading Roxanne Gay’s Bad Feminist and (a few months ago) Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl, and of the horrific sexual assaults both women experienced I think . . . maybe we’ve unwrapped those nerves and instincts too much and thrown out the baby with the bath water?  Nerves and instincts are not virtues, but they can be preemptive self-defense measures.

5. Still it bugs me that the Catholic Church hasn’t done enough to unravel “nerves and instincts” from what is actually the virtue of chastity.  (Consent!  Consent is implicit in the definition’s use of the word “gift.”)  I mean . . . if you’d humor for a moment, please picture a Venn diagram: physical virginity and chastity are two separate circles that overlap a great deal, but are not concentric.

So that brings me to Simcha Fisher’s post on Saint Maria Goretti.  (She also uses the baby-with-the-bathwater-cliche but that’s coincidental.)  I’ve mulled over a post on this saint for almost a year, planning to write something around her feast day.  But July 6 came and went.  Probably I was sleeping/eating/gestating and not much else.

As it turns out, my essay was written for me, in various comments to the post.  (Reading the comments to Simcha’s posts is usually a waste of time, but occasionally I slip back into old habits.)

The objection to how St Maria Goretti’s cult is often presented is the notion that she was canonized because she managed to die before her attacker was able to succeed in raping her. Usually in words to the effect of “die rather than lose her chastity.” Which leads to the horrific implication that she would indeed have lost her chastity if he had succeeded in overpowering her against her will before killing her, and that his action carried out against her will would have been a sin on her part, and that anyone who does NOT fight to the death against a rapist is somehow “accepting” and therefore complicit in the attack and committing a mortal sin themselves.

. . . .

Did he say, “Let me rape you, or I’ll kill you,” and she said, “I’d rather you kill me”? That would give the impression that being raped is sinful, which seems confused. Or did he say, “Let’s have sex,” and she said no, and then he got angry and killed her? If the latter, then she was trying to avoid sexual sin (perhaps indeed for his sake as much as for her own), but there’s no reason, in this version of the story, to think there’s any worrisome implication that she was trying to avoid the pseudo-sin of being raped.

. . . .

She was 11. He had a knife and already heard the word “no” many times without impact. If anyone sees the potential for HER to sin in this situation, get thee to a therapist. Consent was not an option.

. . . .

I am sorry but this is trying to paper over an ugly truth in the Catholic Church.. the Church cared more about little Maria Goretti’s purity than it did her life. Maria Goretti was definitely not canonized for her forgiveness but for her purity. Pius XII mentioned as much in his homily at her canonization. It was all about her purity; she was a symbol used to condemn Italian girls who were sleeping with the American GIs.

These ^ are all other people’s words, not mine, but I’ve had the same back and forth in my head.

6. And I ponder why so many (all?) cultures place more weight on women’s physical purity than on consent, or on actual virtue, or on men’s chastity.  Like Dr. Iannis says in Corelli’s Mandolin,

It’s a fact of life that the honour of a family derives from the conduct of its women.  I don’t know why this is, and possibly matters are different elsewhere.

I do, sort of, understand why this is.  In the grand, sordid, scheme of life men generally have to have some assurance that children are their own before they’ll support them.

Simcha’s description of why Saint Maria G. was canonized is a nice idea but it certainly isn’t the story I’ve been told.  In fact, in his homily during her canonization homily, Pope Pius XII stated,  “With splendid courage she surrendered herself to God and his grace and so gave her life to protect her virginity.”  The Church’s teaching is a lot more nuanced than the crude-if-necessary emphasis on physical purity that so many cultures have.  But you wouldn’t get that impression from Saint Maria Goretti’s story as it’s traditionally been told.

I have no neat, insightful conclusions for you.  Just my thoughts.

7.  Oh phew! I have more links to share, but that’s enough for tonight.

Have a great weekend!

* Telos = secret code word used by conservative-Catholic-liberal-arts majors to identify themselves to one another.

What I’ve Been Reading Lately: 7 Quick Book Reviews

Let’s see if I can finish this before the three-year-old wakes from her nap:

IMG_8474

1. The Scent of Water by Elizabeth Goudge: I keep hearing about Elizabeth Goudge. She has a devoted following.  Her books mostly went out of print but are now back in print.  Sadly, I’m not a fan.  She develops some lovely themes of redemptive suffering and the working of grace, but she has a wordy, sentimental style I’m not fond of.

2. Growing Up With Sensory Issues: Insider Tips from a Woman with Autism: I really appreciated this first-hand account of growing up with sensory processing disorder and autism/Aspergers.  I’ve read a lot of books on similar topics, so I just skimmed it but I might go back.  I especially liked her accounts of what worked for her (her parents’ tough love mixed with lots of understanding) and what didn’t (a lot in the conventional classroom).

3: Quirky Kids: Understanding and Helping Your Child Who Doesn’t Fit In- When to Worry and When Not to Worry:  The title is misleading.  It sounds like it’s about kids who are quirky but without a diagnosable condition.  Actually, it focuses mainly on kids who are on the autism spectrum, although it doesn’t completely ignore those who don’t have a diagnosis.  Again, I skimmed because a lot of books on this topic cover the same material.  But the one page on picky eating made the book for me: basically, don’t make a big to-do over your quirky child’s eating preferences, they’ll probably do just fine no matter how self-limited their diet; you have bigger issues to deal with.

4. It Starts With Food by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig: I keep hearing about Whole 30, and this is the book that started it.  I find the authors’ writing style condescending (“We’ll keep the science-y stuff to a minimum,” . . . because I’m too dumb to understand it??? . . . I hate having my intelligence insulted.)  And yet . . . I found it compelling.  I haven’t done a Whole 30 yet for reasons I won’t go into now, but I’m inclined to try in the near future.  I ate almost-paleo for a few weeks and was surprised at how much I liked it.  Also . . . white potatoes now are allowed!  This makes a world of difference to me.

5. The Little Lady Agency by Hester Browne: This was fun, easy reading.  Total chick lit.  I got bored with the sequel though.  The premise of the first is just original enough to keep me interested but the second felt formulaic from the get-go.

6. Death Comes to the Archbishop, by Willa Cather: So beautiful.  It’s not really about anyone’s death, it’s about a missionary priest–eventual archbishop’s–life, told in a series of short stories about incidents in his life throughout the years.  I wish I could think of a way to make the topic more interesting–as it is, I never would have picked it up if it hadn’t been chosen for book club–but it’s really beautiful and exciting too.  For those who have read it–I almost think the real protagonist is Fr. Joseph, and not the archbishop.  It’s kind of like Fr Joseph’s story is told through the archbishop’s story.  At least, I found Father Joseph a lot more personally likable and colorful than the archbishop.  What do you think?

7. A Handful of Dust, by Evelyn Waugh:  I read this years ago, but just discovered it’s a selection of the month for the Wall Street Journal book club.  I’ll following along because I think Waugh’s writing is brilliant, this book included.  To quote the Wall Street Journal article on it,

What they’re talking about is this end of civilization, or the end of a certain kind of civilization. He’s saying it’s all falling apart. These people are losing whatever heritage they’ve ever had. But there’s a subtext where he’s saying: And didn’t they have it coming? These are frivolous, morally groundless people, who are careless about their privilege, careless about each other and careless about society. And they need some moral underpinning that they don’t now have.

The character’s are ridiculous enough to make you laugh, but their faults are realistic enough to make you cringe.  The ending is just wonderfully over the top.  It’s great satire.

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Girl 2 is waking up.  Gotta go.  Click over to Kelly of This Ain’t the Lyceum for more quick take posts and click over to Modern Mrs. Darcy for more quick lit (she’s finally posting about books she doesn’t like and why she doesn’t).

Books, my skinny kid, evil Nutella, & blogging under the influence

This lovely Friday night, I’m linking up with Anne for Quick Lit and with Kelly (finally!) for Seven Quick Takes.

I’ve been reading . . .

1. Cassie’s post--what do you think about the idea of sex scarcity as the primary male motivator on a societal level?  Meaning that, if we women give it up too easily, men, by and large, will devolve into oafish man-boys who while away their lives playing video games and viewing porn in their parents’ basements.  (Cassie does not put it so bluntly, but I do.)

2. This article, handed out at a parents’ night at my girls’ school recently.  I read it already some months ago, via Mary, I think.  What a blessing to have a school that shares this wisdom!

I find it fascinating that in the gospels there is not one mention of Jesus coming against immodesty, even though among his followers were prostitutes and the like.  Jesus emphasized cleaning up the inside while the Pharisees were the ones preoccupied with cleaning up the outside.  We must as ourselves: Which are we more like — Jesus or the Pharisees?

. . . .

We have gone [the Pharisees’] way when we judge others.  It is easy to miss this area of pride because we may not express our judgments “arrogantly”; we may instead wrap them in compassionate-sounding words.  Arrogance wrapped in concerned tones is deceiving. . . . We will think we are just making observations and feeling pity, when in fact, we are looking down on others from or lofty place of confident enlightenment.  It is a high view of ourselves that allows us to condescend to and belittle others in our mind.

. . . .

[W]e will also imagine others are judging us.  Consequently, we will find ourselves frequently being defensive.  We assume that others will think lowly of us for some perceived inadequacy, so we offer unsolicited explanations and clarifications for us or our children. . . . If we live under fear of judgment, not only will we tend to be on the defensive, but whenever we are in a public setting where our children might be “watched,” we will put pressure on them.

The middle paragraph–I think I will live my whole life still working on that.

3. Year of No Sugar by Eve Schaub.  This was an interesting read.  It introduced me to this video (“Sugar: The Bitter Truth”) on the dangers of fructose, which was very interesting and enlightening.

4. Skinny Girl 1 (not a book): So I resolved that the whole family would be off sugar for the month of January, birthdays excepted. Pat and I also decided that the whole family would be on the Perfect Health Diet for the month of January, to see if we noticed an improvement in the girls’ health and behavior.

Up until now, Girl 1’s diet consisted primarily of wheat and fruit and carrots–bread product with Nutella for breakfast, bread product with Nutella for lunch, pasta for dinner, with fruit and carrot sticks and Goldfish crackers on the side.  I hoped that taking wheat out of the picture would whet her appetite for more nutritious food.

Well.

If Girl 1 doesn’t like what’s offered, she doesn’t eat.  She now eats egg and banana pancakes (with lots of maple syrup), but other than that, her palate has not broadened.

I weighed her on Wednesday and found she had LOST a pound since last May.  She’s now about 50″ tall and weighs only 48 pounds.  I don’t know when the weight loss started, because I haven’t tracked it until now.  Likely she lost weight when she had a stomach bug around Christmas.  She went several days hardly eating and never quite got her appetite back.  Also, a few months ago she decided she didn’t like milk and cheese; that can’t help.

So anyway, the girls are now off the Perfect Health Diet.  I ordered pizza last night and made chocolate cupcakes this afternoon.  And of course that led me to cheat on my diet, too.  But I’ll be better tomorrow.

Eat, little girl, eat!

5. Another thing on my list of things that didn’t work in 2014 was buying Nutella on the reg.  (It was on my Forever Grocery List.)  The girls got very attached to it and me, well . . .

It's been an eat Nutella straight from the jar kind of day

It’s been an eat Nutella straight from the jar kind of day

that kind of day–> every day –> I gained a lot of weight.

I appreciated Elizabeth Esther’s post for the reassurance I wasn’t the only one thwarted by the devil-in-a-jar.

6. I got this book for Girl 1 for Christmas, and she’s off to a good start with it.

I Can Draw People from Usborne books

7. Perhaps I mentioned this already, but I’m reading the Ramona books with the girls.  Sometimes I read aloud, sometimes I play the audiobook read by Stockard Channing.  So much fun.  The chapter in Ramona the Pest where Howie takes Ramona’s old stuffed bunny-turned-cat-toy to Show & Tell–hilarious!  I read it aloud to the girls and laughed so hard I cried.  (I may or may not have had a touch of PMS at the time.)  The girls were fascinated and a little scared.

Happy weekend folks!  I raise my second glass of cheap pinot noir in your honor!  (Or I would, if it weren’t empty already.)

XOXO

Quick Lit: Castles, Lost Creatures & a Canary in a Coal Mine

Real quick-like, here are summaries of a few books I’ve read lately (I went on another reading bender).  I’m linking up with Jenna for Five Favorites and with Modern Mrs. Darcy for Quick Lit.

 

So, quickly here, in no particular order:

1. Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead: About a ballet dancer, her son, her husband, and her former lover.  I didn’t really like any of the characters (except possibly one, and things don’t turn out so well for him). Somehow, though, the author kept me interested in them, at least until about 2/3 of the way through. Just as I was losing interest, a surprise twist at the end hooked me back in. I like the way the author describes certain experiences and relationships in one generation being echoed in the next. Worth reading.

2. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett:  I kept hearing about this author.  The descriptions of her novels didn’t draw me in, but I started one anyway, and I’m glad I did.  A captivating tale about–I think–the power of beauty through music.  One Goodreads reviewer remarked the book could have been titled, The Lighter Side of Stockholm Syndrome.  This is true.

3. Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindl: On its jacket, this book is billed as “a book as frothy and fizzy and light as a champagne cocktail- think I Capture the Castle meets Pride and Prejudice!”  This drives me nuts because Pride and Prejudice is not frothy, frizzy, or light.  Neither is I Capture the Castle. But, this book is pretty similar to Georgette Heyer’s regency romances, which are sort of Jane Austen lite.  This book is sort of Georgette Heyer lite.  I liked it.

4. Julia’s House for Lost Creatures by Ben Hatke:  This is such a charming picture book.  The illustrations are detailed and lively.  I can’t wait to give my girls the (autographed!) copy I bought for them for Christmas.

 

5. Where’d You Go Bernadette by Marie Semple:  I already wrote a little bit about this slightly wacky, chick-lit style whodunit here.  I’ve since had one more thought about why I like this book: one character is a stereotypical hypocritical, backstabbing, judgmental, proselytizing “Christian.”  The book even mentions that her middle name is “Faith.”  So, you expect her to be the bad guy throughout the book.  I read a theater review by Terry Teachout recently, which hits the nail on the head:

Christianity is the great blind spot of American theater [and, I would posit, most modern literature].  Most Americans believe in the resurrection of Jesus and the existence of heaven and hell–but in most American plays, these beliefs are treated either as proofs of invincible ignorance or as signs of blackhearted villainy.

The Christian character has a change of heart and becomes a good person later in the book.  It’s after she goes through a 12-step program, so maybe she left Christianity in favor of “being spiritual” and “calling on a higher power.”  Maybe.  But.  The book doesn’t specify.  Anyway, it was nice to see a book written from a secular perspective have a card-carrying Christian this is neither invincibly ignorant nor a black-hearted villain.

Also read recently (but not favorites):

Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham: There’s nothing worthwhile about reading this book except that Dunham is a canary in our cultural coalmine.  As her t.v. character put it, “I think I may be the voice of my generation. . .  Or at least, a voice of a generation.”  She may in fact be the voice of her generation, and if so, we’re in deep sh*t.  Dude.

Mindless Eating:Why We Eat More Than We Think by Brian Wansink: Some interesting studies, but the tips the author gives aren’t especially original.  I’m looking for a way to lose weight with no exercise of willpower whatsoever.  Can’t someone help a girl out?  Somebody??

 

Okay, back to you Ann and Jenna.

 

A Book that blew my mind

Plus a few others

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, by Harriet Jacobs: This book blew my mind and changed how I look at our society.  What effect does it have that many (most?) African-Americans are products of rape that occurred generations ago?  What are the spiritual ramifications of that?

Like many conservative-leaning people, I puzzle over why race is still an issue in this country.  (Please don’t verbally stone me here, I know this is sensitive, contentious topic.)  I’m not a racist; you’re not a racist (I don’t think).  What’s the big deal?  I tend to attribute racial inequality to the breakdown of the black family, which I attribute to the sexual revolution, the welfare state, and certain aspects of the civil rights movement gone wrong.

I still think that but . . . for hundreds of years black people in our country never had a chance to have a normal family life.  Rape was an inevitable fact of life for many (most?) black women.  At least that’s the picture this book paints, and I’m inclined to believe it.  White slaveholders impregnated their slaves, fully intending to use and sell their own children as chattel, enriching themselves by adding more slaves to their stock.  How could we possibly be over that in 150 years?

So, I took a reading break after that little pick-me-up, but in the last two months I also managed to read

My Life In France, by Julia Child: This is charming.  I wrote a few more thoughts here.

The Soul of A Lion: A biography of Dietrich Von Hildebrand by his wife, Alice Von Hildebrand.  Von Hildebrand was both an influential Catholic philosopher and a brave opponent of Nazism during World War II.  I’m glad to have read about him, although the book could have been written better.

I’m hereby acknowledging that I’m Not Going To Finish a few books:

Kisses From Katie,  by Katie J. Davis and Beth Clark: How terrible is it that I wrote a blog post about this book before finishing it?  Katie’s is an amazing, inspiring story, but it isn’t written very well.  Read about Felicity White’s concept of how the book should have been written; she would title it In Uganda They Call Me Mommy.  I like it.

Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend: This book has a lot of important concepts, but by 75% of the way through it got repetitive.  (A few more thoughts on applying it to parenting here.)

Boundaries With Kids: I didn’t get very far here.  Again, great ideas but repetitive of the first book and of other parenting books I’ve read.

A few others are going on the To Finish Eventually shelf:

Shirt of Flame by Heather King, Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, by John Gottman, and The Joy of the Gospel: Evangelii Gaudium by Pope Francis:  Someday, someday, starting with the latter.

What have you been reading?  What have you shelved?

I haven’t stayed within 140 characters per book; nonetheless, I’m linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy for Twitterature.  Happy weekend!

 

What I’m Reading, Twitterature Style

Oh the pain–the pain!!–of being a grammar snob and then realizing you titled a past post, “Book reports in 140 characters or less.”  Fewer, Laura, fewer.  “140 characters or fewer.”  **So embarrassed**

Soldiering on, here are a few more very brief thoughts–with letter grades–on books I’ve read in the past few months.

Fiction:

  • Peace Like a River by Leif Enger
    • Outlaws, a mystic, wild West, workings of Grace, power of a (The?) Father’s Love.  Not my usual type but WOW.  Starts slow finishes strong.   A+
  • The Story of a Soul, Therese of Lisieux
    • Is St. Therese INFP?  I have trouble relating.  Still glad I reread it after many yrs.  Better not grade a Dr of the Church?
  • Cherries and Cherry Pits, by Vera Williams
    • Luscious illustrations and a sweet story.  I remember this from my childhood and now enjoy reading it with my kids.  A
  • The Old Man and The Sea by Ernest Hemingway
    • O Ernest how I admire your prose.  O Ernest how this story bores me.  2 dull, didn’t finish.

Linking up with Anne at Modern Mrs. Darcy for Twitterature  (on Monday) and (next week) with Jessica at Housewifespice for What We’re Reading Wednesday.  Happy reading!

 

What I’m Reading: Book reports in 140 characters or less

Here are my very brief thoughts–with letter grades–on books I’ve read in the past few months.

Fiction:

  • The Expats by Chris Pavone
    • A sort-of spy novel. Page-turner. Takes place in Luxembourg. Narrative jumps around from before, during, and after. Clumsy ending. B-

Non-Fiction:

For Kids:

Linking up with Anne at Modern Mrs. Darcy for Twitterature (once it’s up) and with Jessica at Housewifespice for What We’re Reading Wednesday.  Happy reading!

And–how annoying is this?–I’m going to name my five favorites of these books and link up with Heather for Five Favorites:

1. Please Look After Mom

2. Grace for the Good Girl

3. Girls On the Edge

4. Seven Silly Eaters

5. Promises I Can Keep