Adorned: Living out the Beauty of the Gospel Together

This book was recommended (and loaned to me) by my younger sister. It is based on the passage in Titus 2 talking about older women teaching younger women:

Teach what accords with sound doctrine.

Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness.

Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine.

They are to teach what is good,

and so train the young women

to love their husbands and children,

to be self-controlled,

pure,

working at home,

kind,

and submissive to their own husbands,

that the word of God may not be reviled.

…so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.

Titus 2:1-5, 10

Mentoring is a concept that has largely fallen by the wayside in our culture today, but if we are to live in accordance with Scripture, we must revive it. Nancy begins the book by showing what the life of an older mentor should look like, and exhorting the older women to be willing to mentor others. At the same time, she shows young women how they can pursue a rich mentoring relationship, by asking questions and making time for the older women in their lives, and reminds young women that they must start cultivating the character traits of a godly older woman even while they are still young.

Each chapter discusses one of the commands or character traits mentioned in the passage, and how it relates to both older and younger women. At the end of the chapter, there are specific questions for both older and younger readers to consider. Some of my favorite chapters were those on purity, loving your husband, and submission.

I find the writing style to be engaging—Nancy has a gift for putting things clearly, with a touch of humour where necessary. In addition—and this is important especially in “christian lifestyle” books—she is able to take familiar concepts and consider them in a fresh light, so that the reader is encouraged, enlightened, and convicted.

My favorite thing about the book, though, is the fact that it is written to both older and younger women. Age segregation is deeply engrained in our society, and as a young person I see with sadness how much many young believers are missing out on. We can draw on the life experiences of older believers to strengthen and encourage our own faith, but it does require talking to them, getting to know them, and being willing to listen. This book is helpful for both age groups to see where the other is coming from, and it is all relevant to both groups. Godly young women should be training themselves into mentors, and godly older women should still be learning and growing in their faith. I would recommend this book to any woman, young or old, who desires to live a life pleasing to God.

Other books by this author:

Lies Women Believe: And the Truth that Sets them Free (I have not read this yet, but I plan on it! I’ve heard a lot of good things about it.)

Revive our Hearts Trilogy:

Brokenness: The Heart God Revives

Surrender: The Heart God Controls

Holiness: The Heart God Purifies (I enjoyed this one the most of the three)

 

 

Podcast Review: 5 Minutes in Church History

Of all the podcasts I listen to, 5 Minutes in Church History, hosted by Dr. Stephen Nichols, is the only one where I do follow-up research after many of the episodes. This is partially because of the length: at just five minutes each, he does not have time to go into his topic in depth, leaving much more to be discovered. Also, though, I’m a huge Church history nerd, so I love finding out more on my own! I’ll just give a few examples of what has been covered recently:

  • Apollinarianism, explaining a heresy that the church encountered in the 300s AD.
  • The Ghent Altarpiece, an awesome piece of art from medieval times, covered in Biblical scenes.
  • 17th Century Poets, introducing me to Edward Taylor, among others.
  • Thesis #37, an episode devoted to discussing one of Luther’s ninety-five theses.

Dr. Nichols also has guests on the show. Some of my favorite episodes are “Deserted Island” episodes, where he asks a well-known Christian leader which five books he would want to have on a deserted island. I find this a very relevant question; it is one I often ask myself, coming up with a different answer each time.

As far as theological background is concerned, Dr. Nichols is connected with Ligonier Ministries and R. C. Sproul, so there is definitely a Reformed bent to the subjects and people covered, (Augustine, Luther, and Calvin are often discussed) and most of his guests are Reformed. However, though I do not agree with some Reformed theology, I greatly admire their history and continuing legacy—entwined as it is with church history as a whole. Of course, Reformed theologians are by no means the only ones considered, and I especially enjoy the episodes devoted to more obscure figures of church history, whether they be Catholic, Protestant, or heretical.

Each episode is so short, you can listen to one even in the midst of the busiest schedule—on your way to work, or while folding laundry. It is also a great podcast for the whole family; I can’t recall a single objectionable word or topic, and I’ve had my younger siblings listen to some of the episodes I particularly enjoyed. I think it is engaging enough to keep kids interested. For those who enjoy church history, or feel they want to know more about it, I could not recommend a better podcast.

Augustus Toplady, Debtor to Mercy Alone

Who is Augustus Montague Toplady? The name may look familiar. You may even know him as the author of the well-beloved hymn “Rock of Ages.” However, there was much more to the man than just that one poem, and this biography by Douglas Bond does an excellent job showing the life that led to the familiar words.

Toplady was born on November 4, 1740, and educated at Westminster School, followed by Trinity College. He began preaching at just 12 years old, though he was not truly converted until he was 15 or 16. A preacher and a pastor, Toplady loved to study, and as his understanding of the Bible deepened, he became a strong defender of Calvinist theology, engaging in heated exchanges with John Wesley, his older contemporary. He died in 1778, just 37 years old. His legacy today consists of a few stanzas of verse, which perfectly encapsulate his theology and his faith:

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy wounded side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Save from wrath and make me pure.

Not the labor of my hands
Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone.

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless, look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.

While I draw this fleeting breath,
When my eyes shall close in death,
When I rise to worlds unknown,
And behold Thee on Thy throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee.

Now, there were a few things I liked about this particular biography:

  1. It is short. At just 124 pages, I read it in one day easily. I am not opposed to long books by any means, but because there is not a lot of information about Toplady’s life to draw from, the book was the right length for the subject.
  2. It is humourous. The author obviously enjoys his subject, and therefore the reader does as well.
  3. There are many primary source quotations. This is something I really look for in history and biography. I like to hear the actual words spoken or written at the time, not just some historian’s interpretation of them. The research was solid, there was not too much speculation, but some filling in of gaps to present a coherent picture.

Further Reading:

Augustus Toplady and His Ministry, by J. C. Ryle

Diary and Selection of Hymns of Augustus Toplady

Hymns and Sacred Poems by Augustus Toplady

A Caveat Against Unsound Doctrines, Historic Proof of the Doctrinal Calvinism of the Church of England by Augustus Toplady

Other biographies by Douglas Bond:

The Mighty Weakness of John Knox

The Poetic Wonder of Isaac Watts (I also recommend this one, as I thoroughly enjoyed it!)

Girolamo Savonarola

 

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Alan Jacobs: Musings On The Reading Life

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In the past six months I have read three books by Alan Jacobs. [1] In an age dominated by blogs, vlogs, podcasts, and endless books I find this to be rather unusual. I am reminded of Oscar Wilde’s observation nearly a century ago that “In old days books were written by men of letters and read by the public. Nowadays books are written by the public and read by nobody.” And Jacobs is eminently a man of letters. He makes me think and stretches my intellectual and literary horizons far beyond what my inner cartographer had ever dreamed possible. But perhaps more than this, my affinity for Jacobs is largely due to our mutual nerdish admiration for C.S. Lewis. In fact it was his biography of Lewis—or more precisely of Lewis’ mind and imagination— that was my first serendipitous encounter with Jacobs. Having loved Lewis from the earliest memories of my father reading Narnia to my sisters and I while still young children and reading Mere Christianity—not for the last time—during my formative theological education to my more recent forays into his older classics The Great Divorce, The Abolition of Man and, an odd book even for Lewis, Till We Have Faces.
Jacobs—along with literary critic Larry Woiwode and historian Carl Trueman—is one the very few Protestant essayists that I have read who are able to weave a witty cultural sophistication with a razor sharp eye to our modern idiosyncrasies. My interest in Jacobs was further piqued when I found that he had been interviewed about the disappearance of Christian intellectuals by Albert Mohler—one of my favorite theologians—on his thinky podcast “Thinking In Public”. Reading Jacobs, at least given my limited literary repertoire, is like finding a goldmine. Anyone who has quoted Samuel Johnson and Soren Kierkegaard before chapter one must be worth reading. If anything, reading him seems to lend credibility to all of the reading in the classics that I did through college and seminary. There is a definite pleasure when he quotes from Augustine’s Confessions thinking back on the nights when I too savored my intimate conversations with the aged bishop of Hippo. But so many other writers that he quotes I do not know. It is depressing to think how much there is yet to read: a whole world of cultural icons and intellectual elites who I will probably never know. And now I am reminded of Luther’s firm belief that it is better to read a few good books over and over rather than skimming hundreds of new books each year. He is echoed by C.S. Lewis who commented, “I can’t imagine a man really enjoying a book and reading it only once.” I find that tend to follow this injunction most closely in fiction (so far this year I have only read Les Miserables, The Princess Bride, and some short stories by P.G. Wodehouse all of which are re-reads). Perhaps this is due to a inherent suspicion toward fiction which I have not had strongly recommended by reliable sources—so much modern literature is utter trash both aesthetically and morally. It is in poetry and history and theology that I am more willing to forage further afield. There is a certain stolid confidence grounded in several years of research (in theology at least) that questionable accuracy or certain bias may be balanced by other reading. Balance is everything, even in ones reading. This is why I enjoy reading theologians with whom I profoundly disagree—such as post-conservative “evangelicals” Donald Bloesch and Roger Olson—since it forces me to consider the very grounding of my own biblical worldview.
War and Peace is probably the longest and most tedious novel I have ever read. But there is one scene where one of the protagonists, Prince Andrey Bolkonsky, notes that the constant social conversations in St. Petersburg were insipid and redundant and claims that it was only in the country that he had time to think for himself: “He did nothing, did not even think or find time to think, but only talked, and talked successfully, of what he had thought while in the country. He sometimes noticed with dissatisfaction that he repeated the same remark on the same day in different circles. But he was so busy for whole days together that he had no time to notice that he was thinking of nothing.” [2] And this comment caused me to pause and consider: do we of the 21st century live forever in the city. Rather than balls and fetes we are surrounded by our iTunes playlists and iPhone newsfeed always telling us what to think and crowding out any time for thoughtful reflection or prayer. So as I consider the numerous tidbits of knowledge which Jacobs sets before his reader—more like a hors d’oeuvre platter than a full meal—it is how he makes me pause to the think that is the most satisfying result of reading his books. In the cacophony of noise in which we of the 21st century live we rarely have time to think for ourselves and it is an incredible boon to simply stop and think about our lives and ask the hard why questions: why do I read what I read? Why does anything in the culture in which I live or the culture of past generations matter? And, narcissistically but necessarily, why does my own life matter? And this a good gift for which I will return again and again to Jacobs’ books.

[1] The Narnian; The Pleasures of Reading In An Age of Distraction; A Visit To Vanity Fair
[2] Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace, p. 797

Book Review: The Federalist Papers

“It has been frequently remarked that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force.”

– Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 1

The Constitution of the United States is one of the most important documents in American History, and it caused its share of controversy when it was first proposed. The Federalist Papers were written to defend it, and to convince the American people of its merits. Consisting of 85 essays, the Federalist Papers were written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, and covered six basic arguments:

  1. Why and how America would be more prosperous politically and economically as a union than as independent states, or a loose coalition.
  2. That the Confederacy was not strong enough to keep the states together.
  3. The need for a stronger government to preserve the union (resulting in prosperity).
  4. That the proposed constitution is in line with the principles of republican government.
  5. How the Constitution is similar to existing state constitutions.
  6. Adopting the Constitution will secure republican liberties, not infringe on them.

Keep in mind that the Federalist is only one side of the debate. There were many prominent figures on the opposite side, and the reader must decide for himself whether the arguments with which the authors back up these bold assertions are sufficient. Whether or not you agree with them will most likely depend on your own political philosophy, rather than the authors’ persuasive powers.

I could not possibly cover all the essays in one post, and some of them are now outdated and irrelevant, due to changes in our political system, but I will link to a few of my favorites, and summarize them.

The Federalist 10: The Union as a Safeguard Against Domestic Faction and Insurrection

Madison argues that one of the main dangers of a “popular government” is its propensity to divide people into factions, (by which Madison specifically means a group motivated by a common cause or belief that is antagonistic to the beliefs of other citizens, not just a difference of opinion), and the chaos caused by these factions clashing. To avoid this danger, one can:

  1. Remove the cause or
  2. Control the effects

Within option one, there are two ways to remove the cause: by taking away liberty, or by brainwashing everyone into having identical beliefs and goals. Neither of these is an acceptable solution (and the second one is impossible), so Madison moves on to option two: controlling the effects.

This is most difficult if the troublesome factor makes up a majority of the population, since a popular government is supposed to carry out the will of the majority, and this is one reason that America is a republic, not a democracy. Governing by representation rather than a direct democracy helps to control factions, because issues are decided by men at one remove from the concern, and thus able to look at the matter with more fairness, and the bigger the republic the better, since the sheer number of people makes it less likely that a majority will agree on something that hurts the public welfare. It does happen occasionally, but less often.

Some of these arguments are countered by the two party system we have set up now, but it is still a fine piece of reasoning.

The Federalist 37,  38, and 39

In No. 37, Madison explains how difficult was the task of the constitutional convention, and how impossible to get everything exactly right. The founding fathers never expected a perfect government, but they were striving for balance. They intentionally set people’s personal interests against one another. No. 38 continues this theme, going back into the history of Greece to further illustrate how difficult a task the convention has undertaken. Madison also attacks the arguments of the anti-federalists, showing that their objections are incoherent and they do not even agree with each other—there is no unity in their dissent. In addition, many of the things they dislike about the Constitution are even worse in the Articles of Confederation. No. 39 argues that the Constitution conforms to republican principles, and explains the difference between the terms “federal” and “national”.

The Federalist 78

Hamilton describes the role of the judicial branch in this essay (the subject is continued in No. 79), how the judges will be appointed, the length of their tenure, and why it is essential that the judicial branch be independent from the legislative.


Closing thoughts:

Overall, I prefer Madison’s style of writing to Hamilton’s. He lays out his arguments very logically, and is more even-handed as he deals with the questions raised by the opposition.

The Federalist is excellent to read in small doses; if too much is attempted in one sitting the topics tend to run together.

When I was about three quarters of the way through the essays, it occurred to me that perhaps I should have re-read the constitution before starting them. I’ve read it a few times, for different courses in high school and college, but it has been a while. For others embarking on The Federalist Papers, I would recommend you begin by re-familiarizing yourself with the constitution, as it will help you follow the arguments.

If The Federalist Papers looks interesting to you, you might also enjoy:

Democracy in America, by Alexis de Tocqueville

The Constitution of the United States

The Articles of Confederation

The Anti-Federalist Papers (I read a few of these as I was going through Federalist, and it was interesting to see the other side of the argument.)

If you’re feeling especially ambitious you could even look into:

Leviathan, by Thomas Hobbes

Two Treatises on Government, by John Locke

The Rights of Man, by Thomas Paine

The Spirit of Laws, by Charles de Montesquieu

Book Review: Don Quixote (In Which I find Cause to use the word “Inconsequentialness”)

Historic Background:

Don Quixote was written by Miguel de Cervantes, and first published in 1605 (the sequel/second part was published 10 years later). As one of the very earliest novels, it has influenced Western literature and culture right down to the present day. It is also one of the best known Spanish literary works of all time.

Setting:

Don Quixote is set in the Spanish countryside, in the region of La Mancha. The time period of the story is supposedly many years before Cervantes is writing (he claims to have found old “records” of Quixote’s adventures, which he is now publishing).

Plot:

Don Quixote is a romantic gentleman, who rides about on his horse seeking adventures in an attempt to revive the practice of chivalry. He does find adventures, but they are mostly of the humorous sort, at least from the reader’s perspective. Quixote himself considers them to be serious matters of honor and valor. He meets many people in the course of his wanderings, and they often laugh at him, or encourage him in his delusions.

Characters:

Don Quixote, knight errant—is he insane? Most people seem to think so, and he is certainly delusional when it comes to such things as mistaking a windmill for a giant, or a herd of animals for a great army. On other matters, however, he is quite sensible, and he has a strong sense of justice, which he tries to enforce on others. The reader usually feels rather sorry for him.

Sancho Panza—the sidekick, Quixote’s squire. He is somewhat of a “skeptic”, wavering between believing Quixote—he is following the knight because he promised to make Sancho a governor—and trying to convince him of what is going on in the real world. Like others in the book, he often deceives Quixote, only pretending to fulfill the quests that Quixote sets him.

Style:

This is a book written more than four hundred years ago, and it definitely shows. I read a lot of older literature, and I struggled to get through some of the dialogue and drawn out descriptions. It was sometimes hard to keep track of what was going on, because of the archaic language. There may be more modern translations that would be easier for a twenty-first century reader, however. Scattered throughout the story are many poems and songs, as well as short stories related by one character to another, or to a group of characters. Cervantes seems to enjoy layering stories within stories.

There is a second part to this book, which I have not read, and given my experience with this first part, I doubt I will take the time to do so. I enjoyed the book, but there was too much rambling and inconsequentialness for my taste, without enough plot or character development to make up for it.

Themes:

Reality vs. Illusion. Quixote has a very different view of reality from all the other characters, and anything that fails to match up to his version of reality is explained away as being the result of magic or enchantment. In our world as well, it is impossible to convince people with evidence that their view of reality is incorrect—they will always have an explanation that makes sense to themselves, however nonsensical it may seem from another point of view.

Deception and lying. By the end of the book, everyone is lying to Quixote in one way or another, whether for their own amusement, or in an attempt to get him back home without him realizing where they are going. Whether their motives are good or not, the result is to make Quixote look ridiculous. Is it right to lie to someone for their own good? Cervantes does not answer the question, but leaves it for the reader to consider.

Comedy. For the most part, this book is just a rollicking adventure, replete with jokes and laughter. There are some serious themes to be found, but the book as a whole is quite lighthearted.

Book Review: Great Expectations

Historic Background:

Great Expectations is one of Dickens’s later novels, published as a serial between 1860 and 1861. At this time Dickens was a famous public figure, but he still wrote, edited, and published for newspapers.

Setting:

The novel is set earlier in the 1800s, roughly between 1810 and 1835 (except for the last chapter). It begins in the country—a rather damp and dreary country, from Pip’s description—where Pip divides his time between the forge, a warm, welcoming place, and Miss Havisham’s grand house, which is very gloomy and dark. In contrast with this setting is London, where Pip goes later in the book. While London is more exciting than Pip’s village, it is dirty and lonely, especially when he first arrives.

Plot: This is a coming-of-age book, centered on Pip, using his narrating voice. The tale starts when Pip is just a village lad, who is scared out of his wits by finding a convict on the marshes one Christmas eve. Pip’s life begins to change shortly after that event, when he is sent to Miss Havisham’s house to “play”. Though he is scared of the eccentric lady, he meets Estella and gets a taste for gentility there, and begins to be discontented with his station. He initially tries to better himself with education, but his life takes a sudden turn when he is informed that he has “expectations” from a mysterious benefactor, and is to go live in London. Pip is so happy to become a gentleman, and so anxious about his social standing, that he cuts himself off from the village entirely, even being rude to Joe when he comes to visit.

In London, Pip is extravagant, spending money foolishly because of his “great expectations”. He gets into debt, and drags his friend in with him. Sure that his benefactor must be Miss Havisham, Pip believes that he will marry Estella, who is now also in London, in the same circles as he is. When he comes of age, Pip decides to find out who his patron is, but is interrupted by a tramp called Magwitch suddenly showing up. Confused at first, Pip eventually understands that this Magwitch is the convict whom he helped when he was a boy, by bringing him food secretly when he was in hiding. Pip is stunned to learn that the man has made his fortune in Australia, and all this time it is he who has been his benefactor, not Miss Havisham at all. By coming back to England, Magwitch is in danger of being arrested, and Pip tries to help him get out of the country. Compeyson is working against them, however, and Magwitch is arrested, all his property is confiscated by the crown, and that is the end of Pip’s expectations.

Of course, it’s all really much more complicated than that, being Dickens. I had to ruthlessly leave out many subplots which are integral to the story to condense it even this much.

Characters:

Phillip Perrip: (Pip) An orphan, but being brought up by his older sister and her husband.

He starts out as a nice boy, but as soon as he starts wanting to be a gentleman he becomes rather annoying. For most of the novel Pip is selfish and extravagant, but when he learns who actually left him his “great expectations” he does begin to change, and to see more clearly what is valuable in life.

The Gargerys: Are bringing up Pip by hand. Mrs. Joe Gargery is Pip’s sister, who goes on rampages at the slightest provocation. Pip is afraid of her, especially when she has Tickler. Joe, a blacksmith, treats Pip as a son, and is his best friend. He is not educated, but is kind to everyone, honest, and innately polite.

Miss Havisham: A creepy lady always dressed in a wedding gown.

Pip has to go to her house as a companion, to walk with her, or play cards. She is very rich, but unhappy because she was abandoned by her fiancé right before their wedding. Appears to enjoy making everyone around her uncomfortable.

Estella: A spoilt beauty, the adopted daughter of Miss Havisham.

Miss Havisham is training Estella to take revenge on the male sex, by making all men fall in love with her, but never being in love herself. This certainly works on Pip.

Magwitch: Also called The Convict, terrifies Pip when he is a small boy, but is later his benefactor.

Pip, under threat of being eaten alive, brings him food when he has escaped from the convict ship and is hiding on the marshes, and Magwitch is grateful to him, even though he is soon recaptured and sent off to Australia.

Wemmick: Lives in a castle with his Aged Parent, works for a lawyer named Jaggers in London. Wemmick has two sides to his character, his “Walworth sentiments” at home and his “official sentiments” at the office in London. He gives Pip advice and guidance while he is in London.

Compeyson: Another convict, Magwitch’s mortal enemy.

The reader does not even hear of this fellow until near the end of the book, but he is responsible for Miss Havisham’s blighted life, Magwitch’s life of crime, and Pip losing his great expectations. In a way he is the villain, although I always think of Pip himself as the “villain”, because it is his weaknesses of character that are the main source of conflict.

Themes:

Valuing Friendship

Throughout the book, Pip is careless of his friends, often ignoring them until he needs them, yet they still stand by him and help him through every scrape he gets into—Joe cares for him when he is sick and pays his debts, Herbert gets him a job after he loses his expectations, and Wemmick gives him advice and helps him with Magwitch even against his own better judgment. By the end of the story Pip realizes that his friends are more important than social standing and money.

Wealth

Wealth is portrayed as at least dangerous, if not altogether bad. It makes those who have it either suspicious of everyone, like Miss Havisham, because she thinks everyone must be trying to get money out of her, or corrupt, like the lawyer Jaggers who squeezes all the money he can out of others, or lazy and self-indulgent like Pip, relying on his money rather than on his own talent and work.

The Treatment of Convicts

If there is a social issue expressed in Great Expectations, it is the treatment of convicts, and the prison system as a whole. Magwitch, for a minor crime, has his whole life ruined, while Compeyson, who has done much worse things, gets off easily. Dickens is quick to spot and decry this injustice.

 

Book Review: The Pickwick Papers

Historic Background:

The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club—usually shortened to The Pickwick Papers—is the first novel Dickens wrote, and it was published in installments between 1836 and 1837. Though only 24 years old when he began the novel, Dickens had already had some experience and success in writing for newspapers.

Setting:

The book begins in London, at the Pickwick Club, and then ranges from a country house, where the Pickwickians stay for several days, to a town in the middle of a Parliamentary Election, to Fleet Prison, where Mr. Pickwick is incarcerated for some time.

Characters:

Mr. Pickwick is an elderly man, who likes to observe human nature. For this reason, he is traveling around England with three other members of his club, collecting interesting facts and stories. Pickwick is a kind man, but rather idealistic. At times he lets his temper get the better of him, becoming especially indignant at fraud and injustice.

Mr. Tupman is one of Pickwick’s companions, portrayed as very susceptible to feminine wiles, though he is not a young gentleman any longer.

Mr. Snodgrass, another companion of Pickwick, is of a poetical turn of mind, though he has not actually written any verses. His love story is developed mostly in the background, culminating in a wedding at the end of the book.

Mr. Winkle, supposedly a sporting gentleman, is in reality very timid, with little experience in shooting, hunting, or any other manly exercise. When he is content to stop pretending, however, he wins the love of a nice girl, and manages to elope with her.

Sam Weller, Pickwick’s servant, is the comic relief of the book, but he ends up being very much attached to Mr. Pickwick, and is willing to do anything for him, getting him out of a lot of difficulties.

Alfred Jingle attaches himself to the Pickwickians as a friend, but he causes trouble first for their host, and then for Pickwick himself, trying anything he can to get money, until he winds up in debtors’ prison, without even food to sustain himself.

Plot:

As is often the case with Dicken’s books, there are multiple plot lines moving throughout the story. In fact, Pickwick Papers is even more disjointed and episodic that most of his later works. The characters’ expressed goal is to see a wide variety of English life, for which purpose they set out over the countryside and get embroiled in all kinds of adventures along the way, as well as hearing many outlandish tales from those they meet, which are basically just short stories sprinkled through the book that add nothing to the plot. The first larger plot arch begins when the four Pickwickians meet Alfred Jingle, the villain of the book. Jingle befriends the Pickwickians, and they happily introduce him to their other traveling acquaintances. He is not exposed as a villain until he has tried to run off with a lady whom Mr. Tupman has been courting. Being thwarted in this scheme, Jingle vows vengeance on Mr. Pickwick, and through the rest of the book does all he can to cause him trouble. Meanwhile, Mr. Winkle and Mr. Snodgrass have both fallen in love with young ladies, and meet with all manner of obstacles in love. Mr. Pickwick himself is sued for a breach of promise, due to a misunderstanding with a widow, and is required to pay damages. Conscious of his own innocence, Mr. Pickwick refuses to pay, instead submitting to being locked up in a debtor’s prison—much to the dismay of his friends—where he once again encounters Alfred Jingle. Now, however, the erstwhile conman is suffering extreme deprivation, and Mr. Pickwick is merciful instead of seeking vengeance. Mr. Pickwick is finally persuaded to pay his fine in order that he might have the liberty to straighten out his young friends’ romances, and all ends happily.

Themes:

Loyalty and friendship

There are examples of both good and shallow friendships in the book. Most significant is Sam’s loyalty to Mr. Pickwick, perfectly shown in the moment he gets himself arrested for debt in order to stay in the prison where Mr. Pickwick is being held.

Humourous misunderstandings versus little social deceptions

There is a lot of deception throughout the book, mostly in the form of people pretending to be something they are not. Mr. Winkle is especially prone to this, almost shooting a person while hunting because of his unwillingness to admit that he does not know how to use a gun.  In his treatment of such scenes, Dickens clearly shows that he believes this to be wrong. On the other hand, there are accidental misunderstandings due to a character happening into the middle of a situation and jumping to the wrong conclusion, which is used for comic effect.

The state of the downtrodden

As with his later books, Dickens is concerned with social reform, and the state of the poor of England. Many of the short stories sprinkled through the book—anecdotes told to the Pickwickians by various minor characters they meet in their travels—concern paupers, drunkards, widows, sick men and children, and how their condition is due at least in part to the law and custom of the land.

The corruption of the English legal and political system

The grand finale of the book, Pickwick’s imprisonment, is due to his protest against corruption in the legal system, specifically the idea that truth does not matter. This theme is also shown earlier in the book when they go to watch an election, in which Dickens ruthlessly satirizes the politics of the time as being blindly partisan, with no concern for actual issues.

Forgiveness

Mr. Pickwick is a forgiving man. When his friends foolishness disappoints him, or when his enemy is reduced to dire straits, he forgives and does what he can to help the situation. I was glad to see that forgiving Alfred Jingle was viewed as a good action on Mr. Pickwick’s part, not foolish or silly, regardless of whether or not Jingle would reform his behavior. This is only a faint reflection of God’s forgiveness for sinners, but it was encouraging to see the idea represented without confusion or doubt.

Personality Tag: All about the…

Well, if I told you my personality right up front, it wouldn’t be much fun, would it?

Anyway, the person who tagged me for this (my sister, incidentally) already knows my personality, so I’m not being cruel.

The Rules: (if I must, I must.)

 

1. (optional) Thank whoever nominated you/Post the above button
2. Find two favorite quotes for your personality type
3. Name three favorite movie characters that have your personality
and one weakness in your personality that you’re trying to change (or more if you really want to)
4. Tell us a little bit about your personality
5. Have you ever taken a personality test? If so, which one?
6. Tag three to five people

Thank you Rebekah, but I’m not posting the button. Sorry. If you want to read about her personality, go here.

Also, I’m going to do these all out of order, starting with telling you a little bit about my personality. First off, the “all about” part of the title is misleading. It would be impossible to fit everything about any personality all into one blog post. My personality requires me to clarify this point right from the beginning. My personality is a favorite of authors, and random people discussing personalities online, but the inaccuracies in such conversations are rampant:

  1. We are not purposefully mean to people. Usually.
  2. We do not constantly break rules. Most rules make sense, at least in my life.
  3. We do not make all decisions based on logic. Everyone is irrational occasionally.
  4. We are not cold and heartless. Just because you can’t see feelings doesn’t mean they aren’t there.
  5. We do not consider ourselves superior to other personalities. Just because I wouldn’t want to be you doesn’t mean you have to want to be me.
  6. We do not want to rule the world.
  7. We are NOT all mastermind super-villains. This is such an annoying stereotype. The other points have a least a grain of truth, a tendency we have to fight against, but this is just ridiculous.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m an INTJ. I love using unusual words and punctuation, when they precisely convey my meaning. I see the world as a fascinating web of information, all woven together and connected to itself. I am obsessively accurate, and constantly learning new things. At any point in a conversation, I may very well be playing devil’s advocate. In general, I am rather awkward in social situations, especially if they involve hugging.

Well, that’s quite enough of that, I think, so now I’ll find a couple quotes.

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So true, so annoying. I would add, “and remember it for the rest of their lives as proof that you’re human.”

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I can’t force my brain to pay attention to these mundane, everyday things. Random historical facts, people’s credit card numbers, how to convert centimeters to inches, this all sticks. But remembering the name of someone I just met, let alone what they were wearing? Not a chance.

Have I taken a personality test? Of course. Every one I could find online. Multiple times, changing my answers to screw with the results. Over-analyzation is practically the definition of my personality, what else do you expect?

Movie/book characters:

  1. Elrond, from The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings.
  2. Mr. Darcy, from Pride and Prejudice
  3. Professor Moriarty from Sherlock Holmes

Real people:

  1. C.S. Lewis
  2. Isaac Newton
  3. Jane Austen
  4. Augustus Caesar
  5. Abigail Adams

As far as weaknesses go, there are two I’d like to change:

  1. I’m not very good at reading people, or knowing how to respond to them emotionally when they need it, while on the other hand I am extremely reluctant to open myself up to others or explain my feelings.
  2. I hate being wrong, or looking ridiculous, which makes me very hesitant to try new things.

Finally, the tagging.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well…pretty much all the bloggers I know have already written about personality types, so I’m actually not going to tag anyone. I think people feel compelled to share their personality already, without being tagged to do it.