The Rev. John Ames is the Midwestern image of a good man. He reminds me of my own father, born on the edge of the Midwest 80 years ago. I don’t regard myself as particularly sentimental, but I found tears near the surface very frequently while listening to this novel. This story is luminous in the sense that it illuminates, not the dark corners of the soul, but rather the little-observed or recognized areas of life. You’re a hard case if your wonder about the richness of the world and our humanity is not stretched by this tender book. I suspect I now know Pastor Ames much better than I do many of my flesh-and-blood friends.
Housekeeping is a rich story, even though I found it somewhat depressing. Biblical themes abound, but at times it is hard to believe that the sophisticated narrator is a high-school aged girl. The narration, while generally good, is occasionally rather flat and too obviously read. There is a mystical touch here, but all in all I much preferred Robinson’s more recent Gilead. Still, this is a wondrous story, and I will likely return to it again someday for a better understanding of its many themes. The overall theme, however, is that the world is not my home: I’m just passing through.
Silas Marner is a bit sentimental by modern standards, but is a good story still. I found the characters somewhat thinly drawn, and the audio quality of this reading rather poor. Even a bit of road noise tended to drown out large chunks of the narrative.
Anne Bronte was the most pious of the three Bronte sisters. So it should come as no surprise that The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is the story of a Christian wife’s struggle for the conversion of her pagan husband. Helen Graham, the protagonist, is not without her own faults, particularly in her choice of a husband. The story is built around Helen’s penance, namely, her marriage, and her decision to rectify her mistake by means acceptable to God, if not pleasant for herself. It is the story of how Christian faithfulness brings hope out of evil and despair, and a testimony of how all things (eventually) work for the good for those who love God.
If you love 19th-century British novels, this is clearly a book for you. Its strong religious and moral emphasis may not sit well in the 21st century, but if so—so much the worse for us. The vocabulary, the sensitivity, the sheer humanity of the characters serve to remind us of how far civilization has, in many respects, declined from greater heights.
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