Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Two very different books and a poem

Last night I finished reading A Little Princess by Frances Hodgeson Burnett (1905). It was a first time read, although I remember seeing either a British tv mini series, or a movie of the book and quite despising the stuck up little girl at the time. Reading the book now, in my mature years, shall we say, I see her character very differently. In my youth I also disliked Little Lord Fauntleroy for the same reasons, although I doubt I will read that any time soon! I think this time round the thing I liked about Sara, the main character, was her absolute resilience. Even when the worst was happening to her, she tried to be stoic. Sara stood up against her oppressors both adults and peers. She did not care that people thought her odd. She believed that this 'oddity' made her different, and this gave her strength. Two thirds of the way through the book Sara thinks she can not go on from the hunger she feels and the cold, but when she found a fourpence in the mud and bought some buns, she still gave all but one to a girl she knew to be worse off than herself. Sara was able to do this by using her imagination. She imagined she was a princess and kept asking herself, 'what would a princess do in this situation?'
From "Bulletin", Issue 17 (1902) by United States. Bureau of Biological Survey.

Sara helped other students who were drawn to her. She became a mother figure to a young girl and a close friend to another student at the seminary who others saw as stupid. And the maid, Becky was in awe of Sara, and became her fellow prisoner in the attic which they renamed the 'Bastille'. But when the underplayed and undervalued Ram Daas comes up with a plan, he transforms the garret room into a palace. At this point the tale turns and the loss which she suffered on the death of her father turned around and she became, in all but name, a princess. And then she transformed, from thinking of her own worries into being able to help others.

This was a good read for me, but I discovered a book I have fallen in love with. It is rare for me to read a book and want to re-read it immediately. Beowulf was once of these books, and To Kill A Mockingbird (1960) is my most recent. I have had this book since I first left Worcester, England in the 1980's. I never read it. The copy came with me to the States in the 1990's. But I never read it.

I came across an article about the character of Atticus Finch and liked what I read about him, so pulled the book off the shelf and dove in. I was caught by the end of the first page. What a book, what a story, what writing. I loved the characters in this book too. So rich, so powerfully described with so little work. Characters built on gestures, words, actions and manners. Manners play a big part in the story. I am not talking about folks saying 'please' and thank you', but the way we carry ourselves and behave generally. 'Manners' in this book are so much larger than our normal, everyday idea of manners. They carry over into everything.

Scout is another powerful young woman, but so very different from Sara in A Little Princess. Where Sara is prim and proper, Scout is all about fighting for what is right in any manner possible. She punches a cousin to defend her father's name. She will fight with anyone for what is right, to defend honour. Her father Atticus does not like fighting. He does not brag. He is quiet about himself and his skills and he gently imbue his knowledge and beliefs in his children. He knows what is right and will fight against what he believes is wrong even when he knows he could very well lose. Lee is able to show the children coming of age in their own ways, Scout learns to control her temper and with the help of Atticus' words she and her brother learn to imagine what it is like to be another person, to see things from another point of view. The difference between Scout and Sara are huge and yet there are similarities. Both know what is right and wrong. Where Sara uses her imagination, Scout uses her physical strength and the common sense which Atticus has encouraged in her. Scout shows her strength of character and courage when her father is being threatened by a mob. By addressing one of the members of the mob Scout is able to disperse the crowd. The morals and way of life of the early 1900's in England are so different from 1930's Southern America. I loved the voice with which Harper Lee wrote. Even though the topic, the situations, and dilemmas were serious and tough in Mockingbird, she wrote in such a way that made the horrors almost bearable.

And here is a poem I wrote last night.

A Nine Year Old Girl
From when her eyes open
They are bright with life
She finds wonder and joy
In every moment possible
Except when it’s the
Worst Day Ever!
Dancing in circles
Until gleefully giddy
And, giggling, falls down
Only to jump up singing
Hair flinging
To do it all again.
Making herself laugh
She falls back with tears
Rolling down her cheeks
Air filling her belly
Ready to laugh out loud,
Until it’s too hard to stand.
Sitting on the heater duct
Hot air blowing up her back,
Book in hand reading
Until the hot air stops.
Then up onto the couch
To hold the heat.
Pure unadulterated
Joy and happiness.
Unless it is the Worst Day Ever.
Then to bed and those eyes of joy
Slowly close.
Sweet dreams sweet heart.

Simon Brooks, 18th February, 2015
Copyright 2015 (C)

1 comment:

Barra the Bard said...

Simon, I always enjoy your blog! Thank you for reminding me of these books; did you know that an earlier version of Harper Lee's book was found at her publisher's and they are talking about printing it? This was her first submission, and at the time, she was advised to rewrite it from the younger Scout's viewpoint. It would be interesting to compare and contrast the two versions.
I have loved Sara since I was a child, despite some of the filmed/TV versions, which tend to be mawkish and/or deviate from the story. May i recommend my favorite of Hodgson's books? It's *The Lost Prince*. IMO, the best of her children's books, although unfortunately pretty much forgotten now, mainly because it came out at the beginning of WWI. Had it been published a few years earlier, I think it would have rivaled *The Secret Garden* in popularlity. I'd be interested in your comments.
Thank you, too, for the delightful poem!