Review: An Old-Fashioned Girl, final thoughts

So much wisdom encapsulated in an entertaining little story!

I haven’t had time for blogging this past week. It’s very difficult to blog when you have kids at home all day. However, several weeks ago I did a 2nd, more in depth review of An Old-Fashioned Girl. It’s practically an essay! Only god knows why I do this, why I write so much… Why in the world would I write an essay that no one is going to read?! Why?!
But it’s a good thing I did, I guess, because I don’t have anything else to post nor time to come up with anything else.
So, here you go- my 2nd review of An Old-Fashioned Girl, written several weeks ago.

As I was saying…

So much wisdom encapsulated in an entertaining little story!

I did a review of An Old-Fashioned Girl on June 30th, but in that one I focused more on a character comparison and analysis of Polly and Fanny, especially Polly.
In this review I will still have a few more things to say about Polly, but I will focus more on the novel itself and its themes.

I thought this story was going to be nothing more than Poor Girl and Rich Girl find that they can learn from each other. But it’s so much more than that. I was really surprised by how long this story was! It isn’t the longest book, in terms of pages, that I’ve ever read, but I think it seemed longer because it moves kind of slowly. It isn’t boring though, at least not to a reader like me who really enjoys 19th century novels.
The characters are entertaining and very distinct from one another, and a lot happens in the novel, but most of the events are minor and unfold slowly. There was, however, one plot twist at the end that I did not see coming. (Excellent!)
Another thing to note about this novel is that it is told in two parts. Part two begins 6 years after the end of part one, but in a way they seem like two totally separate books.

If you’ve read Little Women it’s hard not to make comparisons between it and An Old-Fashioned Girl. The length, scope, and pace of each story is very similar. The setting and characters and their interactions are also similar. Both books deal with regular day-to-day life events, as well as common milestones. Both stories are very tame, mild, and wholesome, and have several very clear opinions, themes, and moral lessons which are presented throughout the story . . .

The rich unfairly judge and snub the poor, love is more powerful than poverty, poverty can be a great teacher, self-improvement leads to a good life, hard work and purpose are essential for a good life, what you do is more important than what you wear, little girls shouldn’t grow up too quickly, one should strive to be as selfless as possible, doing for others is one of the keys to happiness, women should help lift each other up, the bond between women is very important and empowering . . . etc., etc., (I’ve also noticed that death and grief seem to be recurring themes in LMA’s stories.)
The brilliant part, and why LMA’s work is widely considered to be so enduring, is that these things are still very relevant today- as anyone who reviews either book will point out.

After reading An Old-Fashioned Girl I think that the theme and belief most important to Louisa was “work and purpose.” Time and time again this is directly stated throughout the novel, either by the narrator or the novel’s extra-perfect “little Polly.” I know this won’t go over well with some readers, but sometimes Polly was so perfect that it was down right annoying. She was like Mary freakin’ Poppins! “Practically Perfect In Every Way.”

However, Polly was likable, and even occasionally relatable- she has hopes and dreams, she cries and doubts. As I stated in my first review, Polly was an interesting character, but  not an entirely realistic one. She represents the ideals that LMA holds so dear, she is the story’s protagonist and catalyst.
Much more realistic are the members of the Shaw family, especially Mr. Shaw, Tom, and Fanny, who are so very flawed that they all eventually find themselves very unhappy, but they each achieve great personal growth and happiness by novel’s end. Personal growth and self-improvement are also major themes in Little Women.  Based on what I’ve read by LMA fans these themes are in almost all of her work.

Now, back to “work and purpose.” In the story, Polly, who is poor, is often much happier than her best friend, Fanny.  Despite the money, conveniences, and luxuries she has, Fanny is often dissatisfied with her life. Polly encourages her to try and find something to do. She tries to persuade Fanny that if she had a purpose she would be happier. As the story moves on, Fanny comes to believe this more and more, and to her relief and satisfaction it eventually happens.

” . . . feeling that at last necessity had given her what she had long needed, something to do.”

“I shall groan and moan by and by, I dare say, but . . . I’m half glad it’s happened, for it takes me out of myself, and gives me something to do.”

Through An Old-Fashioned girl, Louisa May Alcott adamantly declares that people without something substantial and meaningful to do will not be happy. Idleness leads to “listlessness,” meanness, and possibly a depressed-like state. Work and purpose make for a good life, they keep a person happy and healthy.

“. . . Polly came to know a little sisterhood of busy, happy, independent, girls, who each had a purpose to execute, a talent to develop, an ambition to achieve, and brought to the work patience and perseverance, hope and courage. . . . All these helped Polly . . . for purpose and principle are the best teachers we can have, and the want of them makes half the women in America what they are, restless, aimless, frivolous, and sick.”

I agree wholeheartedly! I know from personal experience how true this is.
But you need love too, especially in childhood. True, LMA included the theme of love in this story- Polly’s family is very loving- but LMA did not directly state or emphasize the importance of love and affection to the degree that she did work and purpose.

I say that if love and affection are in place then, yes, bring on the work and purpose! These are absolutely necessary for human beings to be happy and healthy. This is true age-old wisdom going back thousands of years.

I have to say it again, so much wisdom encapsulated in an entertaining little story!

The following are some of my favorite quotes from An Old-Fashioned Girl:

” . . . she received, from an unexpected source, some of the real help which teaches young people how to bear these small crosses, by showing them the heavier ones they have escaped . . .”

 

” . . . that indescribable something which women are quick to see and feel in men who have been blessed with wise and good mothers.”

 

” . . . hearts are so “contrary” that they won’t be obedient to reason, will, or even gratitude.”

 

” . . . soon she had other sorrows beside her own to comfort, and such work does a body more good than floods of regretful tears, or hours of sentimental lamentations.”

 

“I can’t sell myself for an establishment.”

 

” . . . so she put her love away in a corner of her heart, and tried to forget it, hoping it would either die, or have a right to live.”

 

“Blessings, like curses, come home to roost.”

 

” He exaggerated his faults and follies into sins of the deepest dye.”

“He was either pathetically humble or tragically cross.”

 

“Why are bad boys like cake?”
“Because a good beating makes them better.”

 

“Everybody fell to eating cake, as if indigestion was one of the lost arts.”

 

“The gentlest girls when roused are more impressive than any shrew; for even turtle doves gallantly peck to defend their nests.”

 

“Occasionally a matrimonial epidemic appears…”

 

” . . . love and labor, two beautiful old fashions that began long ago, with the first pair in Eden.”

 

“I’ve had so many plans in my head lately, that sometimes it seems as if it would split . . .”

. . . which is exactly how I’ve been feeling about this blog.

 

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Quotes: After Alice

When I share my (many) thoughts on a book I’ve read, one thing I really like to do- one thing I feel compelled to do- is list my favorite quotes. Because I have so many thoughts on Gregory Maguire’s After Alice, and because I found so many interesting quotes, I decided it would be best to break it up into two parts, which will actually make it three parts as I already did a First Impressions review on June 26th. That was only about 16 or 17 days ago but feels as though it was months ago!

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A full review subtitled “Concluding Thoughts” will be posted next Sunday, July 16th.
This book was full of clever and witty quotes, but I had to narrow it down. The following lines are my favorite quotes from After Alice. Some of them are repeats from my First Impressions post.

 

” . . . where in all these enterprises of thought and institution is Lydia herself?  What is the character of Lydia, and where the soul of Lydia . . .

“And where, for that matter, is Alice?”

“It’s as if a botanical display and an athletic contest and a gypsy circus have all set themselves up in a hippodrome of some sort.”

“Up until ten minutes ago, Ada had not had much experience in the practice of imagination.”

“Miss Armstrong was aware that imagination, often a cause of temptation and unrest, could also serve the soul. . .”

” . . . . the tilting of an eyebrow. This was too obscure a hieroglyphic for the Vicar to decipher, no matter how Miss Armstrong concentrated the pure fire of her being in the muscles of her forehead. One day she would self-immolate . . . . Spontaneous combustion caused by an eyebrow left to smolder a moment too long.”

“The world pauses for royalty and deformity alike, and sometimes one can’t tell the difference.”

“Her gait was still lopsided, but so was the world, so she kept on.”

“Evolution a mighty power, could it yield up creatures capable of argument.”

“I have no use for tea, after all. My mother has died . . .  She is, consequently, dead. She had a big head like mine and Alice’s and it’s my opinion that it simply exploded.”

“The instinct toward panic, once experienced, cannot be unlearned.”

“The Queen of Hearts has a robust temper, you see. And anger gives one an appetite. So her edible guests do try to keep her from losing her temper.”

“I understand there is to be an execution.”
“What is to be executed?” asked the Lion.
“Manners and fine taste . . . .” 

They were going to the garden party . . . and we will be wanting to get there before long.” [Said Ada.] You may want that,” said the White Queen.I want peace among all nations. Either that or lemon drop, I can’t decide.”
(Lemon drop?  A nod to Professor Dumbledore? I suspect so, because the White Queen also has a magic cloak.)

“My,” said Ada, laying the dead rose on the peaty moss. “Life is a very cheap thing here.”
“Cheap and dear all at once,” said the Rose from her grave. “That’s the thing. You’ll figure it out sooner or later.”

” . . . the White Queen and the White Knight. Generally adults were a failure, but these two managed failure well.”

“All of life hinges on what one does next, until finally one makes the wrong choice. But was that this moment?”

“She had no intention of stripping to her smalls in a court of law, however deranged the audience.” 

Though usually a dreamer of commonplace notions, once in a while Ada had enjoyed dreams of flying. So she was hardly surprised to find herself not only capable but skilled at this . . . She moved upward in a spiral . . . She disobeyed earlier advice and looked up rather than down.

” [The] essayist’s point is about the urgency of not being dislodged from one’s deepest beliefs. No matter how beset one might be.”
“Perhaps we are meant and made to shift our beliefs.”
“If we are ‘made’ or ‘meant,’ then someone must have made or meant us.”

 

 

 

 

Review: My first impressions of After Alice

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After Alice is a Gregory Maguire novel. He’s the guy who wrote Wicked, the novel that tells the Wizard of Oz story from the perspective of the so-called wicked witch of the west.
After Alice is, obviously, a spin on the Alice in Wonderland novel(s). To me the title has a double meaning, and the book, in fact, tells two separate stories. What was going on with everyone else- friends, family, neighbors, acquaintances- after Alice fell down that rabbit hole? The reader is also introduced to Ada, the little girl who also somehow falls down into Wonderland (although it is never called that) sometime after Alice had already descended. Once down there, Ada comes to the conclusion that maybe this strange place is where Alice has disappeared to and decides to go after Alice, to find her and bring her back home, if she can.
So, that’s a brief synopsis.
Now, my first thoughts and impressions of After Alice. . .

Big words. This is why I think Gregory Maguire writes- to use big, obscure words that most people have never heard of, let alone understand.

For example,

aspidistra      comportment      miasma      cozen/cozened      descants
bucholia         ellipsis                   vatic            self-immolate       martinet
camphor        churlish                 gibbet         dipsomania            crepuscular
farrago            purloined             unguent      opodeldoc               hydrocephalic
pellucid          portents                denizen       bosh                         folderol
kitted

Yes, I actually wrote them all down. As I was reading After Alice I became so fascinated by the incredible amount of unfamiliar words and phrases that I felt compelled to start making a list. What I listed above is only part of what I recorded on paper here at home, and includes only up to chapter 7!
Now, to be honest, I haven’t done any research on Maguire at all, so maybe there is an article or something out there that explains why he writes using such obscure language. With that said, I think one possible explanation as to why he uses such strange words in After Alice is that he is writing for the time period in which the story is set. Just a theory…

However, on the back of the book jacket of After Alice there is a quote from the Los Angeles Times regarding Wicked which describes that novel as “A staggering feet of wordcraft. . . .”

Exactly. Wordcraft. The words come first. The story- the tale being told- is secondary. It takes a lot of patience, perseverance, and determination for me to read a Gregory Maguire novel. And I state this unequivocally despite the fact that I’ve read only 1 and 1/2 books by him. A few years ago I read Wicked. It was difficult, but I did finish it. (I also saw the play. The play is much better.) And, a bit challenging though it may be, I WILL finish After Alice. I am, as I’ve said, determined. I will conquer it. That’s why I stuck with and ultimately finished Wicked even though it took me forever to get into it, and it’s why I will do the same with After Alice- TO CONQUER IT, to beat it, to win! I can’t let the book win!
This is a new sensation for me.
I’ve never read any book to “beat” it. I read books that I actually like, books that are fun and interesting with characters and stories that I love, relate to, and learn from. I read books to relax, I read books because I enjoy them- not to conquer or beat them as though reading is some sort of battle or struggle between book and reader. Or reader and author.

At this point (Sunday June 26th, 2016, approximately 1:00 am) I am a little more than half way through After Alice. It took several chapters but I finally understood what was going on, and now that I’m getting close to finishing the book I can say that the story– once the author finally gets to it- is actually pretty good and interesting. It’s also, from what I can remember, much easier to follow than Wicked.
I was just talking to my mother-in-law about this today (well, yesterday, technically.) She’s the one, as I mentioned in a previous post, who gave me her copy of After Alice. She’s  read Wicked as well, and we (along with several other readers we know) share the same sentiments regarding Gregory Maguire’s unusual writing style. We don’t care for his style of storytelling, but he is a good writer. The following are some of my favorite quotes (so far) from After Alice.

“Depending upon the hour, a governess in a troubled household is either a ministering angel or an ambulatory munitions device.”

“Ada, not a deeply imaginative child, believed the cows were resistant to conversation.”

“But she was a good girl. On the way out, she slammed the sewing room door only a little.”

“Mrs. Boyce lay squalid in self-forgiveness.”

“Miss Armstrong was aware that imagination, often a cause of temptation and unrest, could also serve the soul. . .”

“Miss Armstrong sometimes tried to communicate her yearning for recognition as a feminine entity by the tilting of an eyebrow. This was too obscure a hieroglyphic for the Vicar to decipher, no matter how Miss Armstrong concentrated the pure fire of her being in the muscles of her forehead. One day she would self-immolate . . . . Spontaneous combustion caused by an eyebrow left to smolder a moment too long.”

“The world pauses for royalty and deformity alike, and sometimes one can’t tell the difference.”

“She’d fall forever and never land. She’d be the world’s first internal asteroid.”

“She’d stood there for sometime, poking the pyre of coals so that no evidence of her own corruption survived. . .”

“Up until ten minutes ago, Ada had not had much experience in the practice of imagination.”

“Marmalade has to make its own way in life, like the rest of us. . . .”

“She’d have to take up a hobby of some sort if she were to fall for eternity.”

“Her gait was still lopsided, but so was the world, so she kept on.”

“No one can ever know the answer to that question. It is existentially, hyperbolically, quintessentially unknowable.”

“Evolution a mighty power, could it yield up creatures capable of argument.”

 

 

 

Book talk and thoughts: The Alice Coincidences

Something strange…
Something very, very strange has been happening…

strange: (adjective) unusual or surprising in a way that is unsettling or hard to understand.
Synonyms: extraordinary, unusual, odd, peculiar, funny, bizarre, weird, unexpected, puzzling, mystifying, perplexing, baffling, curious

Alice in Wonderland has been popping up in my life the past few weeks, but especially over the past weekend. First of all, I knew several weeks ago that the movie Through the Looking Glass was coming out soon. I was looking forward to seeing it since I like movies like that and I really liked the first one.
Then, enter Interesting Alice Coincidence No. 1.
About 14 days ago I got a book from the library to help me with part of my current ‘family situation’- Understanding The Borderline Mother by Christine Lawson. It drew me in right away. I took to it and liked it immediately, not only because it’s one of the most validating books I’ve ever got my hands on, but because the author incorporated quotes and themes from the novels Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.
Brilliant.
Absolutely brilliant.
Why, you ask, is that so brilliant?
Because the quotes and themes from Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland novels fit Lawson’s book, or any book about BPD, like a pair of True Religion jeans. (So I’ve heard.) The home life of a child being raised by a parent who has Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) truly is like living in the “Wonderland” depicted in Lewis Carroll’s novels.

A place full of contradictions, denial, and doubt. Consistency is unheard-of, everything is unpredictable, nothing makes sense- riddles with no solution, questions with no right answers, questions you have no right to answer, and you have no right to ask questions! Up is down, down is up. Wrong is right, right is wrong. Quietly accept the unacceptable. Silently tolerate the irate, intolerant tyrant. Trust is fantasy, denial is reality. Every path you choose is the wrong way. There is no right way! It’s not a maze, it’s a trap!  A game with ever-changing rules made up by the self-appointed tyrannical “queen.” (She has mistaken the horns on her head for a crown.) You have to follow the rules she’s made but she doesn’t. And when you try to tell her that there seems to be no way to win or end the game, she insists there isn’t a game at all! She looks at you like you’re crazy! But you know she’s the crazy one!
The audacity! The absurdity! It’s maddening!
But you know the truth. You do. You know it… You know you do…. and yet…. and yet… When the “queen” decides to play nice again you start to doubt your former perceptions… And before long she bullies, corners, traps, isolates, confuses, and silences you yet again. And on and on it goes, back and forth, back and forth-  until the anger and frustration build up within you so much that you really do start to feel crazy.

Understanding+the+Borderline+Mother

The author of  Understanding the Borderline Mother has dubbed this “Borderland.” When I talk to my therapist, husband, or close friends about my mother and the things she has done and said, I like to use the term “the twilight zone.”

twilight zone: (noun) a situation or state of mind seemingly between reality and fantasy, a region or context located in between others and therefore not subject
to their norms, a region in which surreal, bizarre, and incongruous events occur . . .
I’ve never watched an episode of The Twilight Zone, but I heard people use that phrase when I was growing up so I guess it just kind of stuck with me. I have, however, read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I had to read it for a lit class back in high school and I really, really loved it. When I picked up Understanding the Borderline Mother I was pleasantly surprised to see quotes from one of my favorite books. I love quotes! Especially when used so creatively. I wish I could go into further detail about how well the author incorporated the themes and quotes from “Alice” into her book, but that will be for another post. Below are some of my favorite “Alice” quotes used the book:

“I used to read fairy tales, I fancied that kind of thing never happened, and now here I am in the middle of one!”

 

“. . . they don’t seem to have any rules in particular: at least, if there are, nobody attends to them- and you’ve no idea how confusing it is . . .”

 

“We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”  “How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice. “You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”

 

“Alice said nothing: she had never been so much contradicted in all her life before, and she felt that she was losing her temper.”

 

“You know very well you’re not real.” “I am real!” said Alice, and began to cry.”

 

“I know they’re talking nonsense,” Alice thought to herself, “and it’s foolish to cry about it.” So she brushed away her tears and went on, as cheerfully as she could.”

This really makes me want to read  Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland again. I always planned on reading it again, and I will, but it will be a slightly different experience this time around. I’ll never think of that book the same way again. I also want to read Through the Looking Glass, which brings me to Interesting Alice Coincidence No. 2., After Alice.

I saw the Through the Looking Glass movie with my mother-in-law this past weekend, but the interesting part is that before we even discussed going to see the movie together she gave me a copy of Gregory Maguire’s After Alice. I had no idea that he had done an “Alice” book. I read Wicked and I’m a little familiar with some of his other books- Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, Son of a Witch, etc. But I had no idea about Alice.
When my mother-in-law gave me that book I just couldn’t believe it. Here they were AGAIN!
Alice. And Wonderland.
What do they want with me?
Enter Interesting Alice Coincidence No. 3.
Well, like I said, we saw the movie, and I noticed it was heavy on themes that really hit home for me- family, time, and the past. Namely, that we should treasure our family and understand that “we cannot change the past, but maybe we can learn from it.”

Family and learning from the past- these are both challenges for me, especially the family part. However, another very interesting thing about this past weekend, I spent a lot of time talking to my mother-in-law. I told her about the ‘situation’ with my mom. She asked me how my mom was doing, so I told her the truth. And then some. I told her things about my mom and my childhood that I had never told her before, and I’ve known her for 12 years.
I don’t know why I so strongly felt the need to tell her, but I did. It was very therapeutic. But why? I suppose it’s about validation again. Validation is so important. Author and psychologist Jean Shinoda Bolen emphasizes the importance of having someone “bear witness” to our story. I get that, I really do. I agree that having someone listen to your tragic “tale of woe” is, somehow, immensely helpful and healing.
But how many times do I need to tell my story?
How many therapists have I told? How many times does my husband have to hear the same stories? And my friends? And now my blog. How many people need to bear witness before I’m satisfied!? And what, or who, is it in me that feels the need to purge all the time!? And is it really purging if it’s all still in there? Because even though I keep repeating and retelling- it’s still in there…
I know you can’t change the past. You can learn from it.
Well, I have learned from it! And now I’d like to move on!

facepalm

Now, about these Alice Coincidences- the new movie, the quotes popping up very unexpectedly in a mental health book, my mother-in-law giving me After Alice, seeing the movie with my mother-in-law (and my son), and then sharing details about my “Borderland” mother with my mother-in-law….
Are these coincidences pointing to a path? Should I follow? Should I re-read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass before finally reading After Alice?

Or are these just silly coincidences that have no profound meaning and I should just let it go? Maybe that is the message. Let it go. Don’t go chasing Alice like she chased the White  Rabbit down the rabbit hole, don’t fall down into that dark hole…
Eh. It’s probably not that serious! Haha!

Well, I might read After Alice. I don’t like Gregory Maguire’s writing style, but I like the concept of revisiting well known stories from a different angle. And I like the challenge of reading his stuff-  ’cause it ain’t easy! Not for me anyway. However, I feel like I’ll get more out of After Alice if I read the original Alice stories first… We’ll see.

(After finishing this post I noticed another strange coincidence- I used an Alice clip art pic in the second post of this blog many, many months ago. So I went ahead and inserted it in this post as well.)