A New Addition To The U.L.S., The Underground Library Society: Ashley Clayton and her book of choice, Jane Eyre

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I want to welcome Ashley Clayton as the newest member of the U. L. S., The Underground Library Society. This is an unofficial organization dedicated to the preservation of books, and it was created in one of my First Year College Composition Classes at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA.  It is based on the Book People from Ray Bradbury’s classic novel Fahrentheit 451.  To join, a writer creates a post about a book he/she would become if they needed to in order to save it. They do not actually have to memorize it though.

When I first watched Jane Eyre[1] by Charlotte Brontë several years ago, I felt I had stumbled upon a pearl necklace left on a tree branch. I had never heard of the novel before, surprisingly—and I still wonder why it wasn’t included on my school reading lists, alongside The Scarlet Letter and Crime and Punishment. Jane is a protagonist I closely relate to, while still finding her differences complex and intriguing. We’re both introverts and artists, we tend to observe humans from afar and would prefer our own company over most people. Jane is also compassionate and does not let her circumstances overcome her fortitude—qualities I greatly admire in other people.

Jane is orphaned as an infant and grows up in an emotionally (and sometimes physically) abusive home. Her Aunt Reed is jealous of the girl and tends to overlook her plights while doting on her three spoiled and vindictive children. After Jane is struck by her older cousin John and she defends herself, she is sent to the red-room in the mansion—a scene which introduces the supernatural theme found throughout the novel. This is the room reportedly haunted by Jane’s dead uncle, and she begs to be released. Abandoned and injured, she falls ill and faints from her panic.

An apothecary is called to the home to see to Jane. Actual physicians, you see, were reserved only for the immediate family—Jane and the servants only saw the apothecary. The man recommends Mrs. Reed to send Jane away to Lowood Institute—an act disguised as charity while tidily securing the girl’s education and ongoing care, and thus eventual livelihood. This is the turning point of Jane’s young life.

Lowood was a harsh and cold place, the food poor and scant, but here Jane is given a chance to learn and develop her talents and abilities. Jane would adapt well and excel in her studies, while learning to survive within the austere school. Jane was already a resilient child from living with her aunt and cousins, and this trait became sharper at Lowood. After her classmate (and only friend) Helen dies, Jane is left alone to navigate the rest of her years at the school.

After Jane finishes her education and teaches at Lowood, she advertises for outside employment and is accepted to work at Thornfield Hall as a governess— “a fine old hall, rather neglected of late years perhaps” as Jane is told. Here she meets the estate’s proprietor, her master—a Mr. Edward Rochester. His life parallels in some ways to Jane’s: he lost a parent (his mother) early in life, his now deceased father was distant and neglectful, and he only inherited the estate after his elder brother’s untimely death. He is also the ward of a Ms. Adèle, a young French child who becomes Jane’s pupil—the third central orphan of the story.[2]

Jane Eyre is a story of injustices, sorrows and resiliency—a story filled with complex moral decisions and vulnerabilities. It is a story of characters struggling along in unfortunate circumstances, trying to find an existence where some sliver of hope and light might be found. Mr. Rochester and Jane find this hope in each other, but only after fire, tragic death and mutual forgiveness. The ending of Jane Eyre is not perfect—the author does not allow for a perfect ending. But the reader is left with a glimpse of a hopeful future and a sense of redemption for mostly everyone involved. And Jane considers herself “supremely blest” at the close of her story.

Jane Eyre is often categorized as a romance novel. While romance is a central theme of the story, I do not believe that is all Jane Eyre should be considered as. And perhaps that is why the novel was not included on my school reading lists. No, Charlotte Brontë’s masterpiece is, I believe, one story about what it means to be human and to find yourself in imprisoning circumstances, and ultimately how to live through continued suffering, albeit imperfectly. Charlotte knew these things well herself—her mother, too, died when she was a child and two of her elder sisters died from tuberculosis contracted at school, just as Helen did at Lowood. Jane Eyre is a story of one woman’s strength as she discovers what love, grace and forgiveness truly entail. It is a novel I want alongside me in my life, preserved always for future generations. It is, by no exaggeration, one of the greatest works of literature ever written, and greatly appreciated by myself.

Thank you for reading.

[1] Specifically, the 2006 BBC miniseries starring Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens.

[2] It is unclear who Adèle’s father is and whether he may still be alive. Her father may be Mr. Rochester, or more likely, another man who Adèle’s mother was involved with during (or shortly after) she was Mr. Rochester’s mistress. Either way, I still consider Adèle an orphan, if not legally, then spiritually.

Thank you to Ashley Clayton for joining the U. L. S.

Please be sure to visit her website A. R. Clayton.

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Another Entry Into The U. L. S. , The Underground Library Society from Robbie Cheadle: A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

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Thank you so much to Roberta Eaton Cheadle for creating another entry into the U. L. S., the Underground Library Society! The U. L. S. is an unofficial group of people who are dedicated to the preservation of books and in complete opposition to censorship. The idea is based on the Book People from Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.

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Copy of Roberta Writes - independent pub 2 theme.

A Farewell to Arms  

A Farewell to Arms, written by Ernest Hemingway, is a love story set during the Italian campaign of World War 1.  

The story is narrated by the main character, Fredric Henry, an American medic, who joined the Italian Army at the commencement of war in the capacity of a lieutenant in the ambulance corp. The book details the romance between Fredric and an English nurse, Catherine Barkley, but it is equally a story of Fredric’s personal growth from a young man with foolish notions about the purpose and glory of war, misguided notions about manhood, and shallow views on love and romance to a mature man who sees the horror and waste of human life brought about by the war and the value of his relationship with Catherine.  

When we first meet Fredric, he is heavily influenced by the Italian military personnel he is associating with, including his roommate, lieutenant Rinaldi. Many of them spend their free time drinking and visiting brothels and they have a bad reputation among the English nursing fraternity who regard them as womanisers. This is indicated when the head nurse tells Fredric he may visit Catherine after her work shift but not to bring any Italians with him.  

Fredric goes along with the views and attitudes of his peers, in particular, Rinaldi. They are an irreverent crew who mock and ease the Catholic priest who serves with them. Fredric’s better nature is demonstrated early in the book when he is kind and friendly towards the priest and he experiences feelings of guilt for not visiting the priest’s hometown during his leave. Instead, he had spent his time visiting bars and brothels. The reader sees in Fredric the potential for him to develop into a better man.  

Fredric meets Catherine through his friend, Rinaldi, and is attracted to her. Initially, she is a game to him, but as time passes and he gets to know her better, he is influenced by her more mature attitudes and starts becoming steadier and more reliable. When he is seriously injured and is transferred to a hospital in Milan for surgery and treatment, he asks for Catherine to nurse him.  

This is the beginning of the great romance that develops between the two and changes the course of both of their lives. Fredric’s injury and the loss of some of his men during the attack matures him and makes him more aware of the fragility of life and love.  

Themes in A Farewell to Arms  

A Farewell to Arms has a number of themes which I have set out below with an appropriate quote form the book.  

War  

“War is not won by victory. What if we take San Gabriele? What if we take the Carso and Monfalcone and Trieste? Where are we then? Did you see all the far mountains today? Do you think we could take all them too? Only if the Austrians stop fighting. One side must stop fighting. Why don’t we stop fighting? If they come down into Italy they will get tired and go away. They have their own country. But no, instead there is a war.”  

Reality versus Fantasy  

“… I remember having a silly idea he might come to the hospital where I was. With a sabre cut, I suppose, and a bandage around his head. Or shot through the shoulder. Something picturesque.”  

“This is the picturesque front,” I said.  

“Yes,” she said. “People can’t realise what France is like. If they did, it couldn’t all go away. He didn’t have a sabre cut. They blew him all to bits.”  

Love and Loss  

“I’m afraid we have to start to go.”  

“All right, darling.”  

“I hate to leave our fine house.”  

“So do I.”  

“But we have to go.”  

“All right. But we’re never settled in our home very long.”  

“We will be.”  

“I’ll have a fine home for you when you come back.”  

Self versus Duty  

“You saw emptily, lying on your stomach, having been present when one army moved back and another came forward. You had lost your cars and your men as a floorwalker loses the stock of his department in a fire. There was, however, no insurance. You were out of it now. You had no more obligation. If they shot floorwalkers after a fire the in the department store because they spoke with an accent they had always had, then certainly the floorwalkers would not be expected to return when the store opened again for business.”  

Manhood  

“The Italians didn’t want women so near the front. So we’re all on very special behaviour. We don’t go out.”  

And  

“I can’t stand him,” Ferguson said. “He’s done nothing but ruin you with his sneaking Italian tricks. Americans are worse than Italians.”  

Religion  

“The saint hung down on the outside of my uniform and I undid the throat of my tunic, unbuttoned the shirt collar and dropped him in under the shirt.”  

And  

“You understand, but you do not love God.”  

“No.”  

“You do not love Him at all?” he asked.  

“I am afraid of Him in the night sometimes.”  

“You should love Him.”  

“I do not love much.”  

Why should A Farewell to Arms be preserved?  

Hemingway’s purpose with this book was to demonstrate the despite the glamour of war and the perceived honour of dying for your country, war is not a worthwhile undertaking. The war setting with its horror, death, and destruction is a contrasted with the wonder of love.  

There are some flaws with this book. I found Catherine to be a bit unrealistic with some of her comments and behaviour, but Hemingway’s amazing writing still pulled me in, and I loved this story. I dwelled on the ending for a long time after reading the last page.  

robbie

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Please be sure to visit Robbie at her wonderful blogs:

Robbie Cheadle Books/Poems/Reviews

Robbie’s inspriation

Thank you again to Robbie Cheadle for this post!

Welcome Alexis Cunningham to the U. L. S. The Underground Library Society

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I want to welcome the newest member of the U. L. S. — the Underground Library Society — Alexis Cunningham!

The U. L. S. is an unofficial organization dedicated to preserving books and to opposing censorship.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge called poetry “the best words in the best order” or so the blurb on the inner cover of Best Words poetry anthology tells me. Issued to my English literature class as we prepared for our G.C.S.E exams (the equivalent to High School leavers exams) many years ago, I could not have imagined how big an impact one single poem inside could have on me.

Thing is, I’m not generally a fan of poetry. I’m staunchly a prose kind of girl. I think it. I write it. I want to expound at length, not distil language into something symbolic, or constrain it with iambic pentameter, or any of those other fiercely rigid structures that transform the written word into a composition and not an essay.

But when I thought about what book I’d want to become for the Underground Library Society my mind went blank…until they came. Snatches of words, rising from the conquered regions of my mind.

“Belfast. Beirut. Phnom Penh. All flesh is grass.”

These words form the final line of the first stanza of Carol Ann Duffy’s poem the War Photographer, a work of literature I’ve never been able to forget.

When I was sixteen I didn’t know where Beirut was. I’d never heard of Phnom Penh. Yet it didn’t matter. The specific conflicts didn’t matter –I understood. In war, all flesh is grass.

In four unpretentious stanzas, Duffy asks her reader to consider not just war, and the privilege of peace, but also the culpability of a world where the safe can witness horrors from a TV or PC screen, a smartphone video, or, as she puts it “the Sunday supplement” where “reader’s eyeballs prick with tears between the bath and pre-lunch beers.”

This was heavy stuff for a sixteen year old who could barely stay awake when asked to wander lonely as a cloud, or compare thee to a summer’s day, and it’s heavy stuff now –and I suppose I must like that, because poor old Keats and Browning, Byron and Billy Shakespeare have never done a thing for me.

Like the eponymous war photography himself, who “stares impassively at where he earns his living and they do not care” reading the War Photography left me feeling bereft and guilty, shaken out of my complacency and introduced to a new world of vivid imagery that made me look at the everyday through a different lens.

There is one place that links me, Duffy and her War Photography. England. The place I call home and Duffy describes as a land of “ordinary pain which simple weather can dispel”.

Yet England is irrevocably connected to foreign fields that explode “beneath the feet of running children in a nightmare heat,” through the War Photography himself. Forever jaded by all he has seen, he brings the war home to sleepy England with its baths and Sunday luncheons.

That juxtaposition of ordinary pain and nightmare heat, and of grass and flesh, is one that has captivated my imagination ever since.

It’s no real surprise that in my first published work, The Innocent Have Nothing to Fear, I chose to write ten short stories of an England where monsters roam in plain clothes and innocents live with their eyes wide-shut, creating a suburban world where horror lives hand-in-hand with absurdity.

Sometimes, we don’t choose to become our words, they choose us, and there are ideas that are much bigger than the pages that contain them.

About me: I am a fantasy fiction writer and life-long n00b working on a book series –The Seraphim Chronicles–focused on a group of dysfunction gods and their human avatars, set in the world of Aldlis where souls fuel magic and the dead can’t pass on.  I am also learning to run my blog Aldlis Chronicles, while knowing nothing and doing it all backwards. It’s going great!

My first published work, The Innocent Have Nothing to Fear and Other Stories of Chilling Modern Horror Fantasy is available on Amazon and a follow up, The Innocent Need Not Apply is in development.

Links to me:

Book:
The Innocent Have Nothing to Fear: and Other Stories of Chilling
Modern Horror Fantasy eBook: Cunningham, Alexis: Available: Amazon
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Once again, thanks to Alexis Cunningham for joining the U. L. S.!

The Continuing Call To Join The U.L.S. — The Underground Library Society

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I am again asking for those who would like to join the U.L.S., the Underground Library Society, to join and write a guest post. I put this request out several times over the course of a year, because I hope to have more people join in the cause.

In an earlier First Year Class at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA, The U.L.S. — The Underground Library Society — was created. It is in the spirit of the Book People from Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. In that novel, all books have been banned, and a few people “become” books by memorizing them, in the hope that, one day, books will be permitted to exist again.

In that spirit, I am putting out the call once more for like-minded people to join The U.L.S. All that is needed is to choose a book you would memorize if the need ever arose. The type or genre of the chosen piece does not matter.  There is no restriction on what you would become. You do not, however, actually have to memorize  the book now. If you wish to join, simply write a guest post in which you say what book you would “become” and why.

I have had several other bloggers join the U. L. S. Join the movement!

I hope many of you choose to join.

If you are a member and wish to add another book that you might become, you are welcome to do another post!

In the past, I have mentioned that I would become one of the following books: The Lord Of The Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien, Hamlet, by William Shakespeare, or Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.

If you do wish to do a post, please email me at frenchc1955@yahoo.com  and write a guest post as a Word doc. Thank you.

Charles F. French

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I am looking forward to hearing from new members!

Please, come and join in the fun!

U.L.S. Post from TA Sullivan: Bag of Bones by Stephen King

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I want to thank TA Sullivan for becoming a member of the U. L. S. The Underground Library Society! TA Sullivan is an author of fiction and nonfiction; TA’s excellent website can be found here: TAS Through the Looking Glass. Please be sure to visit this wonderful site!

TA Sullivan’s post:

If I were to choose a book to memorize, I believe it would be Bag of Bones by Stephen King.

While this book is categorized as horror, to me it is first and foremost a book about relationships and loss. The protagonist is a young author, Mike Noonan, whose wife unexpectedly dies. With no close family, we struggle along with Mr. Noonan as his despair and depression result in his inability to write.

At first, he moves through his days following a sort of hazy routine, but eventually, he recognizes what he’s doing, and he strives to find more purpose to his life that no longer contains the love of his life or his life’s work (writing).

The insight and care with which Mr. King has approached this subject of loss is so complete that you can’t but help hurt along with Mr. Noonan as he works his way through this story of love, loss, and the idea that you never really know anyone, not even the person you’re married to.

It’s this book and Mr. King’s insights that helped me understand just what my father was going through when my mother died. I saw him try to follow the same routines that he and my mom had forged during their long years of being together. But I also saw how hollow those motions were because my mother was no longer there to share the routines with him. Because of Mr. King’s book, I was able to help my father move away from those shared routines and find a new purpose to his life.

It wasn’t easy for my father, but then losing someone you love and have lived with for over 50 years never is. However, letting go of those old patterns of behavior can sometimes make it a little easier, and that’s what Mr. King’s story showed me. Therefore, if I were to choose a book to memorize, it would be Bag of Bones, so that others could also benefit from Mr. King’s insights while enjoying a good spooky story in the bargain.

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Once again, thank you to TA Sullivan for joining this little society!

Another U.L.S. entry by Roberta Eaton Cheadle–All Quiet On The Western Front

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Roberta Eaton Cheadle, or Robbie, is an esteemed member of the U. L. S. — the Underground Library Society — and she is offering her thoughts on another book! Robbie, thank you so much!

Robbie has excellent blogs: Robbie Cheadle books/poems/reviews and   Robbie’s inspiration. Both are wonderful; please be sure to visit them.

Thoughts about All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

Overview

This book is a first-hand account of the life of Paul Bäumer, who belongs to a squad of German soldiers on the  Western Front during World War I. Paul and his classmates enlisted in the army at the end of their high school career as a result of the impassioned patriotism and relentless coaxing of their teacher, Kantorek. 

All Quiet on the Western Front tells the story of Paul and his friends experiences in the trenches. There is a lot of fighting, death, and destruction in this book, but there are also scenes of comradery, friendship, and bravery that break up the ‘heaviness’ of this read and give the reader some short periods of lighter relief.

Among these lighter scenes is one when Paul and his friend ‘Kat’ decide to poach a goose from a local farm. They roast the bird and enjoy a midnight feast, even venturing to share some of their spoil with friends who are in prison for insubordination towards a senior officer.

There are also some interesting insights into life for the French civilians trying to survive amid the disruption and decimation of the war. Russian prisoners of war also feature in this story and their pitiful plight is almost too much to bear.

My thoughts

Why do young men volunteer for war?

I look at my two sons, and I wonder why young men hurl themselves into the teeth of the storm through voluntary subscription to the army. I read about this in The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane, and I read about it again in this great, but disturbing, novel, All Quiet on the Western Front.

I have decided there are a few reasons that lead to this rash action. The first, is the expectation of parents and other older members of society that their sons throw down the gauntlet and risk all for “king and country”. Secondly, I believe there has historically been a terrible ignorance about the reality of war. War is glamourized and young men enter the fray with no concept of its harsh conditions or the horror of death.

I wonder if the young men of today would be as eager to take up the role of ‘cannon fodder’ with their greater knowledge of the world through internet access and better educational opportunities.

Leaders and war mongers pray on the passionate fervor of the young to achieve their ill-gotten ends when it comes to war. Wars are all fought either for purposes of greed and power or over religion. More recently, greed and power have trumped the possibly purer intentions of religion. Have recently explored in great depth the reasons behind the Anglo Zulu War and both Anglo Boer Wars in South Africa, as well as the First and Second World War, power and the gain of wealth have been the overarching reasons for placing young men in the line of fire and, often, ending their lives before they have even started.

All Quiet on the Western Front is a book that is written in a war setting and exposes with a sharp and unerringly accurate pen, the absolute horror of the First World War. The book is not, however, about the war, but rather about the loss of innocence the young soldiers experience and their inability to ever adapt back to civilian life afterwards. This is quite clear by the manner in which the story is told. Battles are not named and have so little relevance to the story that whether they are won or lost is not even revealed. Battles feature as a regular feature of the lives of Paul and his comrades; one during which death is a high possibility and survival is the only goal.

The obvious themes of war and patriotism that present in this novel are not the ones that resonated with me.

Given my status as the mother of two teenage boys, not much younger than the boys featured in this novel, it is understandable that the following themes are the ones that have stayed in my mind. I am sharing select quotations that explain these themes as they do so far better than I could.

Loss of innocence

“While they went on writing and making speeches, we saw field hospitals and men dying: while they preached the service of the state as the greatest thing, we already knew that the fear of death is even greater. This didn’t make us into rebels or deserters, or turn us into cowards – and they were more than ready to use all of these words – because we loved our country just as much as they did, and so we went bravely into every attack. But now we were able to distinguish things clearly, all at once our eyes had been opened. And we saw that there was nothing left of their world. Suddenly we found ourselves horrible alone – and we had to come to terms with it alone as well.”

Loss of individuality

“I can still remember how embarrassed we were at the beginning, when we were recruits in the barracks and had to use the communal latrines. There are no doors, so that twenty men had to sit side by side as if they were on a train. That way they could all be seen at a glance – soldiers, of course, have to be under supervision at all times.

Since then we’ve learnt more than just how to cope with a bit of embarrassment. As time went by, our habits changed quite a bit.,

Out here in the open air the whole business is a real pleasure.”

Home

“It gets dark. Kemmerich’s face gets paler, it stands out against his pillow and is so white that it looks luminous. He makes a small movement with his mouth. I get closer to him. He whispers, ‘If you find my watch, send it home.’

I don’t argue. There is no point any more. He is beyond convincing. I’m sick with helplessness. That forehead, sunk in at the temples, that mount, which is all teeth now, that thin, sharp nose. And the fat, tearful woman at home that I shall have to write to – I wish I had that job behind me already.”

Hopelessness

“But our mates are dead, and we can’t help them. They are at peace – who knows what we might still have to face? We want to chuck ourselves down and sleep, or stuff as much food into our bellies as we can, and booze and smoke, so that the passing hours aren’t so empty. Life is short.”

Primitiveness

“It’s a nuisance trying to kill every single louse when you’ve got hundreds of them. The beasts are hard, and it gets to be a bore when you are forever pinching them between your nails. So Tjaden has rigged up a boot-polish lid hanging on a piece of wire over a burning candle-end. You just have toss the lice into this little frying-pan – there is a sharp crack, and that’s it.”

Conclusion

All Quiet on the Western Front is a book we should never allow to be burned or removed from its place as a historical classic. Its primary role in literature, in my opinion, is that it illustrates the pointlessness of war which descends into a series of actions and day-to-day survival with no real meaning or even importance to those involved in the fighting. This sentiment is generally presented through the character of Albert Kropp, one of Paul’s previous school friends.

This book also highlights the destruction of young men’s innocence and their inability to ever reconnect with ordinary civilian life. It doesn’t mention post-traumatic stress syndrome specifically, but this is alluded to throughout the book.

All in, this is one of the most emotional and memorable books I have ever read.

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Again, thank you to Roberta Eaton Cheadle for this U. L. S. post!

Copy of Roberta Writes - independent pub 2 theme.

Robbie

An U.L.S. — The Underground Library Society– Post by M. C. Tuggle

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I want to thank M. C. Tuggle for joining the Underground Library Society!

I will have another post for the U. L. S. up on Sunday.

Now, here is M. C. Tuggle’s post:

I Am Beowulf

by M. C. Tuggle

I follow the rusting railroad tracks, occasionally veering off to wade through icy streams so the Mechanical Hound cannot follow my scent. When I find Granger and his small band of rebels, he welcomes me with hot coffee, which I greedily drink, then chase down with the bitter fluid Granger assures me will change my scent and confuse the Hound. Then he asks what book I choose to become by committing it to memory.

There is no question which book it will be.

After all, I’ve joined the resistance against a totalitarian government that controls its subjects by keeping them in perpetual ignorance. Numbed by mindless, ever-present mass media, the population exists without a past, either as individuals or as part of a living tradition. Only the present moment exists for them. Independent thought is quickly detected and snuffed out, and anyone with a book is a criminal who can be executed on the spot.

So of course the book I choose to memorize and become must be Beowulf.

After all, the oppressed people of Fahrenheit 451 need a vision that will rouse them out of their apathy. Once they rediscover who they are and what they were meant to be, maybe a fire will grow in their bellies and inspire them to reclaim their humanity.

Also, practical issues aside, I just love Beowulf. It’s the high school classic that made me into a future English major. The gritty details of battle against Grendel, his mother, and the dragon are as vivid and breathtaking as the greatest adventure tales of Robert E. Howard or H. Rider Haggard. And the action in Beowulf is not only entertaining, but significant. The tale is packed with commentary on the human condition as well as eye-opening insights into history, religion, and culture.

In Bradbury’s dystopia, historical amnesia has been weaponized to keep the people alienated and aimless. In Beowulf, on the other hand, one’s history is a vital part of one’s existence. Early in the story, when a Danish watchman challenges Beowulf and his crew, Beowulf identifies himself by telling the watchman about his lineage:

“We belong by birth to the Geat people and owe allegiance to Lord Hygelac. In his day, my father was a famous man, a noble warrior-lord named Ecgtheow.”

And in stark contrast to the soul-crushing conformity and stupor of Fahrenheit 451’s dystopian society, the world of Beowulf celebrates achievement, battle, and nobility. Upon first viewing Beowulf, the Danish watchman remarks, “Nor have I seen a mightier man-at-arms on this earth than the one standing here: unless I am mistaken, he is truly noble.”

Beowulf also gives us an overview of the history of Western civilization. It offers a glimpse of Britain’s transition from a pagan to a Christian culture. My take on this classic is that it is a rewriting of an oral epic from pagan days. What makes it unique is that it mirrors the history of the spread of Christianity, particularly in northern Europe, where the world-weary religion of southern European slaves and the poor reinvented itself to appeal to the more prosperous, more aristocratic, and more worldly north.

In doing so, the new religion embraced much of the pagan worldview of northern Europe, and this update of a pagan classic reflects that.

Consider the book’s undisguised pagan values. The hero sets out to save the Danish king’s mead hall, a place where members of the warrior class drink, feast, and share the spoils of battle. Prized weapons are named, something we do not see in the Iliad or Odyssey. And instead of promoting turning the other cheek, or looking to an eternal reward as life’s ultimate aim, Beowulf glorifies revenge and worldly honor: “It is better for us all to avenge our friends, not mourn them forever. Each of us will come to the end of this life on earth; he who can earn it should fight for the glory of his name; fame after death is the noblest of goals.”

I have four translations, or modernizations, of this epic poem. My favorites are by JRR Tolkien and the Irish poet Seamus Heaney. If forced to pick, I’ll have to go with Heaney’s shimmering retelling. That’s the book I would memorize.

END

M. C. Tuggle writes science fiction, fantasy, and mystery stories, and occasionally gets some published. His observations and rants about the writing craft appear on his blog mctuggle.com

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Thank you again to M. C. Tuggle!

Please Join The Underground Library Society!

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I am again asking for those who would like to join the U.L.S., the Underground Library Society, to join and write a guest post. I put this request out several times over the course of a year, because I hope to have more people join in the cause.

In an earlier First Year Class at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA, The U.L.S. — The Underground Library Society — was created. It is in the spirit of the Book People from Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. In that novel, all books have been banned, and a few people “become” books by memorizing them, in the hope that, one day, books will be permitted to exist again.

In that spirit, I am putting out the call once more for like-minded people to join The U.L.S. All that is needed is to choose a book you would memorize if the need ever arose. The type or genre of the chosen piece does not matter.  There is no restriction on what you would become. You do not, however, actually have to memorize  the book now. If you wish to join, simply write a guest post in which you say what book you would “become” and why.

I have had several other bloggers join the U. L. S. Join the movement!

I hope many of you choose to join.

If you are a member and wish to add another book that you might become, you are welcome to do another post!

In the past, I have mentioned that I would become one of the following books: The Lord Of The Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien, Hamlet, by William Shakespeare, or Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.

If you do wish to do a post, please email me at frenchc1955@yahoo.com  and write a guest post as a Word doc. Thank you.

Charles F. French

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I am looking forward to hearing from new members!

Please, come and join in the fun!

A Renewed Call To Join The Underground Library Society!

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I am again asking for those who would like to join the U.L.S.,the Underground Library Society, to join and write a guest post. I put this request out several times over the course of a year, because I hope to have more people join in the cause.

In an earlier First Year Class at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA, The U.L.S. — The Underground Library Society — was created. It is in the spirit of the Book People from Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. In that novel, all books have been banned, and a few people “become” books by memorizing them, in the hope that, one day, books will be permitted to exist again.

In that spirit, I am putting out the call once more for like-minded people to join The U.L.S. All that is needed is to choose a book you would memorize if the need ever arose. The type or genre of the chosen piece does not matter.  There is no restriction on what you would become. You do not, however, actually have to memorize  the book now. If you wish to join, simply write a guest post in which you say what book you would “become” and why.

I have had several other bloggers join the U. L. S. Join the movement!

I hope many of you choose to join.

In the past, I have mentioned that I would become one of the following books: The Lord Of The Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien, Hamlet, by William Shakespeare, or Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.

If you do wish to do a post, please email me at frenchc1955@yahoo.com  and write a guest post as a Word doc. Thank you.

Charles F. French

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I am looking forward to hearing from new members!

Please, come and join in the fun!

Another Member Of The U.L.S. — Robbie Cheadle Writes On The Red Badge of Courage

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I want to welcome Robbie Cheadle to the U. L. S., The Underground Library Society! This group is an unofficial collection of people who deeply value books. It is based on the idea of The Book People from Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.  Robbie is the newest member of this group of book lovers!

Robbie has excellent blogs: Robbie Cheadle books/poems/reviews and   Robbie’s inspiration. Both are wonderful; please be sure to visit them.

The Red Badge of Courage

Background

The Red Badge of Courage is a novel about the American Civil War, written by American author, Stephen Crane. Although the author was born after the war and had not ever participated in a battle when he wrote the book, The Red Badge of Courage is cited for its realism and naturalism.

The book depicts several very vivid and intense battle scenes which are graphically depicted from the perspective of the young protagonist, Henry Fleming, a private in the Union Army. The book explores the themes of maturism, heroism and cowardice with regards to Fleming’s regiment which comprises mainly of inexperienced first-time soldiers who have conscripted for various reasons and the indifference of nature to the follies of man.

The red badge of courage referred to in the title of the book is a wound incurred during battle.

My review of this book

The Red Badge of Courage was a fascinating insight into the psychology of warfare for young recruits who have never experienced battle before. I read the author’s biography and was astonished that he had never experienced war before he wrote this startling descriptive and vivid account of the fictional 304th New York Infantry Regiment during the American Civil War.

The main character is 18-year old man from a farming background called Henry Fleming. Henry is tired of the monotony of his life helping his mother on the farm and enlists because he has romanticized battle as a result of reading several accounts of war. He is attracted by his perceived glamour of battle and enlists against the advice of his mother. When she attempts to give him some practical advice before he leaves to join his new regiment, he resents her words which belie and detract from his romantic notions.

Henry’s main ambition is to prove that he is man enough to be a soldier, and he suffers endless anxiety about how he will react when his regiment eventually sees some action on the front. He becomes friendly with a number of his compatriots, including a young man named Jim Conklin, who confesses that he would run from battle if all his peers did so.

Henry’s regiment finally faces the enemy and is successful during their first session of combat. After a short reprieve, the regiment faces the enemy again and this time Henry is convinced that his regiment will lose and he runs away from the battle. He retreats into a nearby wood and comes across a dead body. In his fear and fright at coming across this grim sight, he joins up with a group of injured soldiers, one of whom is is friend, Jim Conklin. Henry is deeply ashamed of his cowardly behavior and does his best to hide the fact that he is not injured but has fled the battle. He manages to get away with it, but his disgust at his own behavior and fear of discovery results in later behaviour that is almost reckless and lacking in reasonable self-care in his attempt to redeem himself in his own mind.

I loved the characterisation of Henry as a thinker and a person who is sensitive to his own potential failings and fears. I am sure that many young men must feel like this when faced with the real possibility of their own imminent death. The effect of peer pressure and the comradery or brotherhood of soldiers when in a group is also intriguing and believable.

Once again, thank you to Robbie Cheadle, and welcome to the U. L. S., The Underground Library Society!

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