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Days 18-22: Are You There God? It’s Me, AJ.

Posted by Amanda Jane on May 6, 2015

Selected Readings Goal: 1350 | Started: 2 | Finished: 2 | Remaining: 1348

Currently Reading: Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. by Judy Blume

Day 18-22 Reading: Chapters 1-25 | Pages: 1-149

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My parents bought this book for me, on my insistence, as a little girl and I have kept it all these years!  My worn-out paperback copy is from the 80’s.  I think that was around the last time I read it, too–somewhere between my last Barbie and my first bra.  It made me sentimental to reminisce on those times from my childhood that most of us went through in some form or another.  Judy Blume captured the very heart of a preteen girl’s life, with all its accompanying turmoil and refreshing, youthful innocence.

I grew up with two older sisters, one 18 years older, the other 13 years older.  At times I almost felt like I was an only child like the protagonist, Margaret Ann Simon.  What I remember most from my childhood was how much I really wanted to be like my lovely, popular big sisters.  I was always into their things and business–any pesky little sister can relate!  I’m sure I bugged them to their wits’ end, but I was so in awe of them! I needed to be around them, to learn what they did and how they did it so I could be just like them when I was old enough.

When my preteen years came around, I was tall, awkward, and painfully shy.  Nothing like my sisters, much to my dismay.  They always seemed to know how to light up a room, how to make friends easily, how to fall into conversation with strangers–I didn’t.  They had beautiful, long silky hair with just the right amount of curl, I had a tangled, frizzy mop that defied gravity.  Needless to say, when I hit my preteen years, I was eager to grow up, thinking that perhaps aging was my last hope to be the swan instead of the gangly duckling.

In the book Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret the main character, Margaret has moved to a new town where she doesn’t know anyone, is about to enter the sixth grade, and still has an underdeveloped prepubescent body.  She doesn’t even wear a bra yet!  She meets a few other girls from her neighborhood and together they form a club called the Pre Teen Sensations.  To make matters worse, she has just found out her teacher is new and has never had a class before–and he’s a MAN!

We follow Margaret through her becoming more aware of her body and her underdeveloped bustline, friendships, life lessons about believing gossip, the first stirrings of a crush, her first kiss, her first dance, her first bra, and getting her period for the first time.   The book is interspersed with Margaret’s quest to figure out which religion she should belong to.  She has a fully developed relationship with God, regardless of the fact that she has been brought up without any religion.  Her parents decided that Margaret should be allowed to choose her own belief system when she was older, as her father was Jewish and her mother was Christian, and there had been terrible family turmoil and estrangement for that very reason.

Margaret feels that she should figure out which church she should belong to and attends services in many different denominations, but doesn’t feel any closer to God there than when she speaks to him in her room at night.

I love the way Margaret speaks to God, as if she were speaking to a close friend and authority figure.  I forgot what that kind of child-like faith was like.

“Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret.  I just did an exercise to help me grow.  Have you thought about it God?  About my growing, I mean.  I’ve got a bra now.  It would be nice if I had something to put in it.  Of course, if you don’t think I’m ready, I’ll understand.  I’m having a test in school tomorrow.  Please let me get a good grade on it God.  I want you to be proud of me.  Thank you” (50).

The passages where she speaks to God like that really touch my heart.  Regardless of whether you believe in a higher power or not, her small innocent conversations with God have a way of reminding all of one’s naivetë at that age.  The way she speaks what is in her heart remind me of a time when I had the world before me, and had that kind of trust and confidence–that faith–that someday all my dreams would come true if I was patient enough.

Gotta love the 90’s!

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I waited and waited until it was my turn to blossom, and finally, I did, especially once high school came around.  I wish I could return to middle school and have a talk with myself, assuring that girl that the things she is wishing so hard for will happen, that all the necessary parts are on their way, to counsel her to enjoy her age and innocence, to not be in such a hurry to grow up, to assure her that one day she will be a woman who is confident, happy, and loves herself…that although she will not quite be like her sisters, she will be something beautiful in her own unique way.

Posted in Children's Classics, Personal Observations, Reading Commentary | Leave a Comment »

Chaucer and The Canterbury Tales

Posted by Amanda Jane on May 1, 2015

Geoffrey Chaucer

Today I finished The Canterbury Tales, and to celebrate I ordered from Netflix (my new love) the DVD “Chaucer & The Canterbury Tales” featuring Terry Jones, of Monty Python fame, as the host.

It was a fascinating 120 minutes! Jones was Oxford educated and knows a lot about Chaucer and the history surrounding his life and writings.  In hilarious contrast from the buck-naked portrait in the background, the serious conversation with Terry Jones regarding the history of England during the reign of Edward III and Richard II seemed to bring forth the satirical spirit of The Canterbury Tales themselves.

Geoffrey Chaucer, often called the Father of English Literature, was born circa 1340 AD to a wealthy vintner, who was himself the son of a wealthy vintner, and as such was born into prosperity and had the privilege of an education.  His family resided in Cheapside at the heart of the mercantile thoroughfare.

Not too much is known about his youth other than he probably attended school at nearby St. Paul’s Cathedral School, like boys of his station did.  We know he lived through The Black Death and survived the terrible plague.  Around the age of 12, he was kidnapped by an aunt who tried to force him to marry her daughter, but she was arrested and fined for that.  By 17, he was working as a page for the Countess of Ulster, wife of the 1st Duke of Clarence, Lionel, who was the second son of the current king, Edward III.

Somewhere at the beginning of the 100 Years War, he went to the battle under the service of the Duke of Clarence.  He was captured by the French Army during the siege at Rheims and held for ransom.  Since England had captured King John of France during the Battle of Poitiers, they had the upper hand in getting back their prisoners of war.  King Edward paid the sum of £16 for Chaucer’s release. In 1366 or so, he married Philippa de Roet, a lady in waiting to Queen Philippa, Edward III’s wife.  He is believed to have fathered three or four children with her during their marriage.

During little Richard II’s turbulent reign, even when he was deemed a “royalist” and though he had gotten on the bad side of the Lords Apellant, Chaucer was at the peak of his writing abilities, cranking out The Canterbury Tales and many other great works, including his masterpiece Troilus and Cressida.  He served under King Richard II in many responsible positions, moved to Kent and was  appointed to parliament there.  Even though he was somewhat tied to people of the court who found trouble with the Lords Apellant, he did not.  When Richard II was overthrown and Henry IV was put in power, his annual pension from the King was discontinued, but later reinstated by Henry IV.

Toward the end of his life, he took quarters at Westminster Abbey.  It is not known whether he did this for sanctuary from Archbishop Thomas Arundel and his supporters, or just because he felt like it.  He died in 1400.  Terry Jones believes there might have even been foul play.  Chaucer is buried in Westminster Abbey.  He was the first writer to be buried in the Poet’s Corner section of the Abbey, wherein also rest other greats such as Tennyson, Kipling, Hardy and Dickens.  Even Laurence Olivier is buried there!

I feel I have formed a connection through the centuries to Mr. Chaucer.  It is a poignant reminder of the power of the pen.  The writer’s soul seems to be laid bare on the page.  The inner workings of one’s mind and thought process can touch people in distant places and throughout time to form a bond of unity and likemindedness.

I think I have a new friend.  What do you say, Geoff?  You game? 😀

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Days 14-17: The Antidote to The 7 Deadly Sins

Posted by Amanda Jane on April 30, 2015

Selected Readings Goal: 1350 | Started: 1 | Finished: 1 | Remaining: 1349

Currently Reading: The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

Day 14-17 Reading: The Parson’s Prologue, The Parson’s Tale, Wherein Chaucer Takes Leave of His Book | Pages: 540-627

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Bosch's 7 Deadly Sins

The End Has Come…well, of The Canterbury Tales, anyway. 🙂  I’m a little sad to be done with them, to tell you the truth.  I have a new respect for Geoffrey Chaucer.  I remember reading this when I was much younger and not really paying attention to the beauty of the writing and the wisdom of the counsel.  Besides, reading is always much more enjoyable when it’s done for pleasure and not because you have to.

The last Tale in the collection is The Parson’s Tale.  The Parson says that his story will not be one of frivolity but will seek to teach something.  The host agrees that it is best to end on a somber note, considering the fact that they are near the end of their pilgrimage.

The Parson embarks on a treatise about true repentance and the seven deadly sins, examining what they are comprised of and also how to overcome them if you find yourself in their clutches, as part of the repentance process.

The Parson quotes Saint Ambrose’s definition, who once said that

“…penitence is the mourning of man for the sin that he has done, and the resolve to do no more anything for which he ought to mourn” (543).

The Five Steps To Repentance

The Parson states that to be truly repentant, a man must

“…first regret the sins that he has done, and steadfastedly purpose in his heart to make oral confession, and to do penance, and nevermore to do anything for which he ought to feel regret or to mourn, and to continue to do good works; or else his repentance will avail him nothing” (543).

We can break down the repentance process to five steps which can be applied by any of us, whether religious or not, to make up for, or to give us peace of mind about, something bad that we have done.

1. Regret For The Thing That Was Done

When you are sorry for something that you have done wrong, there is a feeling of deep sorrow and regret in your heart.

2. Confess The Thing That Was Done

When you realize you have done something wrong, you must confess it, to yourself, to the persons affected, and to the proper religious authority, if you are so inclined.

3. Do Penance or Expiate For What Was Done

After the first two steps have been accomplished, the next step is to make up for what you have done by making restitution however possible to the person you have hurt, including yourself.

4. Resolve Never To Do It Again

If you go through all the previous steps, then turn around and do it again, you have not sincerely repented and do not deserve forgiveness until you do.

5. Continue To Do Good Works

Do good deeds and continue on your path to a virtuous life with a tranquil mind.

The Antidotes To The Seven Deadly Sins

Here is a summary of the Parson’s recommendations to overcome them:

SIN: PRIDE (Superbia)

ANTIDOTE: Humility or Meekness

“…the remedy for the sin of pride…is, humility or meekness.  That is a virtue whereby a man may come to have a true knowledge of himself, and whereby he will hold himself to be of no price or value in regard to his deserts, but will be considering ever his frailty” (572, 573).

SIN: ENVY (Inuidia)

ANTIDOTE: Love of God and Love of One’s Neighbor As Oneself

“…just as the Devil is discomfited by humility, so is he wounded to the death by love for our enemy.  Certainly, then, love is the medicine that purges the heart of man of the poison of envy” (577).

SIN: ANGER (Ira)

ANTIDOTE: Gentleness, Patience, Tolerance

“The remedy for anger is a virtue which men call mansuetude, which is gentleness; and even another virtue which men call patience or tolerance” (588).

He goes on to describe the antidote:

“Gentleness withholds and restrains the stirrings and the urgings of man’s impetuosity in his heart in such manner that it leaps not out in anger or in ire.

“Tolerance suffers sweetly all the annoyances and wrongs that men do to men bodily…

“Patience, which is another remedy against anger, is a virtue that suffers sweetly man’s goodness, and is not wroth for harm done to it” (588).

SIN: SLOTH (Accidia)

ANTIDOTE: Fortitude, Strength

“Against this horrible sin of acedia, and the branches thereof, there is a virtue that is called fortitudo or strength; that is, a force of character whereby a man despises annoying things” (594).

SIN: GREED (Avaricia)

ANTIDOTE: Mercy, Pity

“Mercy, as the philosopher says, is a virtue whereby the feelings of a man are moved by the trouble of him that is in trouble.  Upon which mercy follows pity and performs charitable works of mercy” (601).

SIN: GLUTTONY (Gula)

ANTIDOTE: Abstinence, Temperance, Shame, Measure, Sobriety

“The companions of abstinence are temperance, which follows the middle course in all things; and shame, which eschews all indecency; and sufficiency, which seeks after no rich foods and drinks and cares nothing for too extravagant dressing of meats.  Measure, also, which restrains within reason the unrestrained appetite for eating; sobriety, also, which restrains the luxurious desire to sit long and softly at meat” (603).

SIN: LUST (Luxuria)

ANTIDOTE: Chastity for the Single and the Married, Continence

“Now comes the remedy for lechery, and that is, generally, chastity and continence, which restrain all the inordinate stirrings that come of fleshly desires” (611).

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Chaucer ends his tale with a pious entreaty to be forgiven for his stories that involve lechery, and with a ‘thank you’ to Christ, His mother and all the saints for the books about morality, saints and homilies, etc. that he has written. He asks for the chance to be forgiven for his sins and for God’s grace (626-7).

I wonder if he was worried that he would get in trouble for satirizing the church. 🙂 Either way, I learned so much from him that I am glad he took the chance to write this book.

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Day 13 – Big Mouth Strikes Again

Posted by Amanda Jane on April 27, 2015

Selected Readings Goal: 1350 | Started: 1 | Finished: 0 | Remaining: 1350

Currently Reading: The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

Today’s Reading: The Manciple’s Prologue, The Manciple’s Tale | Pages: 530-539

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The Rare Albino Crow

Shakespeare once wrote, “Though it be honest, it is never good to bring bad news.”  For, as he also says, “The nature of bad news infects the teller.”

The Tale in my reading today was about a man who has a wife he adores, but whom he keeps under his thumb.  So, naturally, she rebels and when he is away, she takes a lover.  The knight has a pure white crow that he pampers and teaches to speak.  On the occasion when the knight was away and the wife was unfaithful, the crow witnessed the occurrence and when the knight returned, he recounted the entire affair to his master.  The knight was so enraged that he killed his cheating wife.  He soon regrets his hasty decision and begins to hate the crow.  He curses it to caw, instead of singing like a nightingale as it had heretofore done,  and to be black.  He plucks out every one of his feathers and curses him to caw in storms and tempests as punishment for the loss of the knight’s wife.

The manciple gives every man this advice:

“Masters, by this example, I do pray/You will beware and heed what I shall say:

Never tell any man, through all your life,/How another man has humped his wife;

He’ll hate you mortally, and that’s certain.”

Although The Manciple’s advice is mainly geared toward informing a husband that he has been cheated on, it speaks to all about being prudent in giving bad news.

It kind of puts me in mind of the show “The Bachelorette,” which I admit I have only seen a few episodes of.  I did watch the episodes in one of the past seasons some years ago where the Bachelorette Jillian still had a few guys she was getting to know and had let the dreamy pilot, Jake, go.  What the audience knew, on Jake’s authority, that Jillian did not, was that Wes, the wannabe country singer guy, had a girlfriend and was pretty much just stringing Jillian along for the exposure to his band.

Well, to make a long, melodramatic story short, Jake returned after he had been booted out just to inform Jillian about Wes.  Jillian was devastated.  I thought it was really chivalrous.  Poor Jake! If he thought it would make him look good to Jillian again, it didn’t work.  Jillian confronted Wes and he smooth-talked his way back into her good graces and all that resulted was that the nice guy was left looking like a jackass, while the bad boy stayed in the saddle for another few rounds.  At least Jillian wised up and chose another great guy, Ed.  Even Jake got another shot to find love in another season of “The Bachelor.”

As the Manciple’s mother taught him:

“My son, think of the crow, in high God’s name;/My son, keep your tongue still, and keep your friend.

A wicked tongue is worse than any fiend…My son, high God, of His endless goodness,

Walled up the tongue with teeth and lips and cheeks/My so, full oftentimes, for too much speech,

Has many a man been killed, as clerics teach;/But speaking little and advisedly,

Is no man harmed, to put it generally” (537-538).

I have, myself, recently learned the virtues of holding your tongue.  Sometimes when people are not ready to hear what you have to say, even if you are right, and they know you are right, the only one that ends up in an awkward situation is you.  Prudence must be the guide.  If it is for the best, say it, but be prepared for the fallout that will inevitably follow.

For, as Sophocles sagely said, “None loves the messenger who brings bad news.”

Posted in Reading Commentary, The Canterbury Tales | Leave a Comment »

Day 12 – All That Glitters Isn’t Gold

Posted by Amanda Jane on April 26, 2015

Selected Readings Goal: 1350 | Started: 1 | Finished: 0 | Remaining: 1350

Currently Reading: The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

Today’s Reading: The Canon Yeoman’s Prologue, The Canon Yeoman’s Tale | Pages: 504-529

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My mother used to say, “If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.”  Perhaps this is a somewhat cynical way to view life, but overall it seems to be true.  Not that there aren’t gems of good in life, but they are rarer than the rarest gems and far more precious. 🙂

Growing up in northern California, the Gold Rush was a big part of my history education.  In the 3rd grade, I remember learning all about the Gold Rush and the 49ers (not the football team–well, maybe a bit about them too 😉 ).  I learned about panning for gold, and mining, and Sutter’s Mill and Coloma.  All rich parts of California history.

I remember that as a child, I always observed this rock my mother had that she said had belonged to my grandfather.  It was about 5 inches wide and 4 inches tall–and sparkled!  When I asked my mother what it was, she told me it was Fool’s Gold.  I had no idea what that meant, but it had the word “gold” in the phrase, so my brain omitted the “fool” part, much to my detriment.  Since I was learning about the gold rush at school, I asked my mom if I could take it to school for show and tell.  If she thought it was strange, she never mentioned it to me.

The next Monday, I took the rock to school, showing it off to all of my friends, telling them that my grandpa had found gold (I had quite an imagination–I think I was already imagining my grandpa as a cross between Davy Crockett and a prospector).  They were all somewhat impressed but a little skeptical.  I rushed in, telling my teacher all about the surprise I had for our class at the end of the day.  We settled into class and–lo, and behold–that day we learned about pyrite.  As the day progressed and we neared show and tell, I visibly deflated.  It became clearer that what I had brought to class wasn’t gold and that the fool had been me!  I was near panic when show and tell came around, shrinking in my seat as much as the tallest girl in a room can.  Without fail, my teacher called me up to the front.

There I was, the shyest girl in my class, stammering madly and mumbling about a golden rock.  I think my teacher caught on to the fact that I had blabbed all about it being gold earlier, because she came and rescued me and held up the rock to the class, telling them how keen it was that I had brought the very thing we had studied that day.  She asked how many people had been fooled into thinking it was gold.  Nearly everyone raised their hands.  She taught us that many people had made the same mistake and had thereby lost a lot of money, sometimes even their families or their lives.  By the time everyone had gotten the chance to examine the rock for themselves, they had forgotten all about the tall tale from that morning, thinking I probably had been in cahoots with the teacher, and I had learned a lesson, having been served a slice of humble pie.

In Chaucer’s story, The Canon Yeoman’s Tale, a yeoman talks about a canon or philosopher which he implies but denies it is the one he rides with, telling a tale of how this alchemist had fooled a priest and cheated him out of a large sum of money, pretending to give him the alchemical process for making silver out of copper.

The Yeoman speaks about greed and avarice, saying

“Consider, sirs, how that, in each estate,/Between men and their gold there is debate

To such degree that gold is nearly done./This multiplying blinds many a one

That in good faith I think that it may be/The greatest cause of this said scarcity” (526).

This kind of puts me in mind of all those get-rich-quick scams that seem so prevalent on infomercials and on the internet.  Those who seek to get gain without any effort on their part, excluding luck or innovation, usually are part of some sort of treachery, whether they are aware of it or not.  The Yeoman advises that even if we are already embroiled in one of these scams, it’s never too late to withdraw and save as much of our lives as we can before the inevitable fall catches up to us.  He says:

“If you have tried it, leave it, I repeat,/Lest you lose all; better than never is late.

Never to thrive at all were a long date./And though you prowl, you never gold shall find” (527).

The story teaches us about avarice and trickery, and also the fact that you can’t always trust your eyes to see clearly.  He teaches that we would be wise to remember that not everything is always what it appears to be, and if something “seems too good to be true” it probably is. 😉

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Day 11 – Idleness is…

Posted by Amanda Jane on April 25, 2015

Selected Readings Goal: 1350 | Started: 1 | Finished: 0 | Remaining: 1350

Currently Reading: The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

Today’s Reading: The Second Nun’s Prologue, The Second Nun’s Tale

| Pages: 487-503

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The Second Nun's Tale

Reading through the Second Nun’s Prologue advising against idleness and the Tale describing Cecilia’s devotion to busyness and good, I began to think about idleness and all that has been said on the subject by great (and not-so-great) thinkers.

For a change of pace, I am going to write about that topic.  For those who will miss my reading summaries, I invite you over to this article for a thorough discussion of Saint Cecilia and her chastity. 🙂

Now then, let’s begin with what the Second Nun says about idleness:

That servant and that nurse unto the vices/Which men do call in English Idleness,

Portress at Pleasure’s gate, by all advices/We should avoid, and by her foe express,

That is to say, by lawful busyness,/We ought to live with resolute intent,

Lest by the Fiend through sloth we should be rent.

She continues:

For he, that with his thousand cords and sly/Continually awaits us all to trap,

When he a man in idleness may spy/He easily the hidden snare will snap,

And till the man has met the foul mishap,/He’s not aware the Fiend has him in hand;

We ought to work and idleness withstand.

Funny, that’s what my mother always told me. 😉

We’ll begin the quote fest with Miguel de Cervantes:

“Diligence is the mother of good fortune, and idleness, its opposite, never brought a man to the goal of any of his best wishes.”

In my opinion, Cervantes is saying that hard work is what makes you get somewhere in life, whereas, if you just sit around hoping for things, it brings you nowhere near success.

Next, Agatha Christie writes:

“I don’t think necessity is the mother of invention. Invention, in my opinion, arises directly from idleness, possibly also from laziness – to save oneself trouble.”

Too funny and too true! 😛 If you take a moment to think about it, some of our best inventions are indeed designed to make us more idle.  Shall we label it as “convenient”, “labor-saving”, “time-saving”, or “energy-efficient” do you think?

Next, the words of Jeremy Collier:

“Idleness is an inlet to disorder, and makes way for licentiousness. People who have nothing to do are quickly tired of their own company.”

I am laughing my way through the writing of this blog.  These sayings ring so true, my amusement can’t be helped.

Franz Kafka wrote:

“Idleness is the beginning of all vice, the crown of all virtues.”

I take this to mean that it can go either way.  It can be used to become a creature ruled by our appetites, or one whose virtue is enhanced through meditation.

The great Samuel Johnson wrote:

“To be idle and to be poor have always been reproaches, and therefore every man endeavors with his utmost care to hide his poverty from others, and his idleness from himself.”

It kind of follows the saying from Lord Melbourne, who said that, “it wounds a man less to confess that he has failed in any pursuit through idleness, neglect, the love of pleasure, etc., which are his own faults, than through incapacity and unfitness, which are the faults of his nature.”  None of us like to think that we are idle.

So what is idleness?  John Lubbock tells us what it is not:

“Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.”

Rest and reflection, stolen moments that are a refreshing respite for our soul and our weary mind should not be considered idleness.  Only things which profit no one, not even your self, that bring you down and make you feel useless and hopeless should be counted as such.

It is said that Idleness is the Devil’s workshop, and whether or not you believe in the Devil, you know for sure that you get into more trouble when you are idle than  when you are busy with something that has to be done, for, as George Borrow has said:

“It has been said that idleness is the parent of mischief, which is very true; but mischief itself is merely an attempt to escape from the dreary vacuum of idleness.”

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Day 10 – Promises, Promises…

Posted by Amanda Jane on April 24, 2015

Selected Readings Goal: 1350 | Started: 1 | Finished: 0 | Remaining: 1350

Currently Reading: The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

Today’s Reading: The Franklin’s Prologue, The Franklin’s Tale | Pages: 462-486

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Dorigen from “The Franklin’s Tale”

The clever Mae West once observed, “An ounce of performance is worth pounds of promises.”  This could not be more accurate.

In The Franklin’s Tale, Chaucer makes a case for being honorable and ensuring the integrity of our word.

In his story, the Franklin tells of a brave knight named Arviragus and the love of his life, his wife called Dorigen.  Arviragus was away from home for a long while and Dorigen languished from the heartache of missing him.  A squire named Aurelius fell in love with her and wanted to declare his love for her.  She felt sorry for him so she told him that if he were to make all the rocks at the foot of the cliffs disappear, then he could have her love.  She knew it was not possible but felt that by giving him this task, she was being kind to him.

He went away very sad because he knew it was impossible.  One day his brother had an idea.  He remembered that in Orleans he knew of people who could make illusions and that he could probably have someone cast an illusion so that his brother could be put out of his misery and finally win his love, even if it were by trickery.  He informed his brother, and they went to see a philosopher who could help.

The philosopher said he would do it for a thousand bucks.  That would leave the squire destitute, but he was willing.  So the philosopher came to the land, sponsored by the squire and cast the illusion.  The squire went to Dorigen to tell her that it was done and she was overcome by despair.  She didn’t want to be unfaithful to her husband and neither did she want to break her promise, because she valued her honor.  She tried to convince herself that suicide was the only way to go by listing the many women in history who had died for similar situations of honor.

Arviragus, her husband found her sorrowing, and he asked her what was the matter.  She told him and he told her that he didn’t want to lose her, but that it would be more painful to him to know she had broken a promise and been untrue to her word than for her to be with another man.  He basically gave her his permission.  She went to meet the squire, still despairing, because she didn’t want to go through with it, but knew that she must.  The squire saw her and she told him what her husband had said and the squire was so filled with pity for this woman who truly loved her husband, and more so with Arviragus for his nobility and honor, that he had mercy and released her from any obligation to fulfill any promise she had ever made to him, especially the one that was distressing her so.  She went to Arviragus to tell him and they were both overjoyed and venerated this squire’s honor.

The squire, meanwhile, was left destitute, for he still had to keep his word and pay the philosopher from Orleans, so he went and gave him half of the sum, for that was all he had at the moment and asked for leniency to pay him on a set date every year until the debt was paid in full.  The philosopher was filled with pity and he forgave him the debt saying since Aurelius had paid his way, and room and board, they should consider it even.

Chaucer asks through the Franklin at the end of the tale who was the most generous in the story.  For my part, I think Arviragus was the most generous.   J.K. Rowling once said, “If you want to see the true measure of a man, watch how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.”  He was willing to have his reputation sullied and his wife used by another man and live through that pain and ridicule so that she could keep her dignity.  He desired that the squire, who was an underling, should have the promise made to him kept honorably.  I have a feeling that no matter what the position in life of the person to whom the promise was made by Dorigen, Arviragus would have acted the same.

In the business world, I have learned that one’s word is truly important.  Your honor and reputation are the most valuable asset you have, and as such, should be treated with the utmost deference, mindfulness, and respect.  As Thomas Fuller once said:

“Thou ought to be nice, even to superstition, in keeping thy promises, and therefore equally cautious in making them.”

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Day 9 – Beauty’s True Colors

Posted by Amanda Jane on April 23, 2015

Selected Readings Goal: 1350 | Started: 1 | Finished: 0 | Remaining: 1350

Currently Reading: The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

Today’s Reading: The Squire’s Prologue, The Squire’s Tale, The Words of The Franklin, The Franklin’s Prologue | Pages: 443-462

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Beautiful rendition of “Belle” by Mike Kupka

Not long ago I had an experience which taught me about judging beauty.  I was walking down a mountain path and saw a shimmer in the distance, the sun reflecting off a lovely little pond in a quaint bucolic setting.  I felt a little shiver of delight at having discovered such a dainty pool in the middle of nowhere.  I wanted to see it better, to observe it closely.

As I neared the pond, it became clear that it wasn’t what I thought it was.  Instead of a little pond, it turned out to be a large puddle leftover from a recent rain which campers from nearby campsites defecated in, toilets not being present in the middle of the woods.

I learned then that beauty can be deceiving.  I think it works the other way as well, like in those pictures you look at that seem dizzying and grotesque, but that once you press your nose up to it for a bit and pull back a bit, you can see with more clarity, and find the beauty amidst the chaos.

Likewise, people soon bemoan the folly of trusting the symmetry of a graceful visage and deeming it beautiful.  We find that true beauty indeed comes from within.

Chaucer’s heroines are always fair of face, as famous heroines are wont to be.  Canace, in The Squire’s Tale, is no different.  The Squire describes her gracefulness poetically:

“…up rose lovely Canace to dress, /as ruddy and bright as is the warm young sun…

…And forth she sauntered at an easy pace,/Arrayed according to the season sweet,

Lightly, to play and walk on maiden feet;” (453).

On the day of her walk, Canace comes upon a falcon in throes of agony.  The falcon is bloody, swooning, and shrieking.  Canace owned a magic ring that allowed her to understand the language of animals and be understood by them, so she asked the falcon what was wrong with her and offers to help in whatever way she can to ease her pain. The falcon sees Canace has compassion and empathy for her pain, so she tells Canace her story so that perhaps others may be instructed by it.

She tells her tale of meeting a tercelet (male peregrine falcon) and how he seemed to be everything that was good and true.  She describes him thus, in great foreshadowing style:

[He] seemed the well of every nobleness;/ Though he was full of treason and falseness,

It was so hidden under humble bearing,/And under hues of truth which he was wearing,

And under kindness, never used in vain,/ That no one could have dreamed that he could feign,

So deeply ingrained were his colours dyed/ But just as serpent under flower will hide

Until he sees the time has come to bite,/Just so this god of love, this hypocrite

With false humility for ever served/And seemed a wooer who the rites observed

That so become the gentleness of love (456).

In short, this tercelet won her love, swearing to be true.  One day a kite flies by and, because “men love, and naturally, newfangledness,” he changed his mind about the falcon that now drips blood on the tree.  She describes how he betrayed their love:

“So are they all newfangled of their meat,/And love all novelties of their own kind;

Nor nobleness of blood may ever bind…Though he was gently born, and fresh and gay,

And handsome, and well-mannered, aye and free,/He saw a kite fly, and it proved a she,

And suddenly he loved this she-kite so/That all his love for me did quickly go,

And all his love turned falsehood in this wise;/Thus has this kite my love in her service” (459).

What was Canace’s response to this?  This is what she did:

“…Canace home bore her in her lap,/And softly her in poultices did wrap

Where she with her own beak had hurt herself./Now Canace dug herbs more rich than pelf

Out of the ground, and made up ointments new/Of precious herbs, all beautiful of hue,

Wherewith to heal this hawk; from day to night/She nursed her carefully with all her might” (460).

Canace’s compassion and gentleness with this pitiable creature demonstrate a measure of her true goodness and inner beauty, far beyond the gracefulness of her person, and only add to her charms and prove that she is beautiful through and through.

By contrast, the tercelet, whose fickle heart has brought the falcon to the depths of despair, is also thought beautiful and noble, his dyed plumage feigning an ingrained nobility.  But when the test of his beauty comes about in the form of a test of loyalty, he shows his beauty was superficial and selfish.

So what is the difference?  One had real beauty, and the other, only the appearance of it.  There is a quote from La Rochefoucauld that I muse over from time to time that says,

“There is no disguise which can hide love for long where it exists, or simulate it where it does not.”

I would add to that wisdom my own version:

There is no disguise which can hide real inner beauty for long where it exists, or simulate it where it does not.

How many of us have not been fooled by someone who turned out to be wholly different than what we first believed him or her to be?  We can empathize with the falcon’s pain at the deception.  She who had given her loyalty and every trust to this tercelet, even bending her will to his in righteousness, defending him, standing with him through all, was betrayed and made to feel like a trusting fool for having believed he had the beauty of a character of integrity.

True beauty rules the life of the truly beautiful, in their grace, their kindness, their sweetness, their patience, their temperance, their humility– It is not something that can be feigned for long because people will see through the façade the moment their guard is let down.  True beauty is inspiring–refreshing–and gives those of us who wish to develop that height of character something to aspire to.  Beauty is not always seen with the eye, but rather, can discerned with the heart.

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Day 8 – The Eternal Bachelor

Posted by Amanda Jane on April 22, 2015

Selected Readings Goal: 1350 | Started: 1 | Finished: 0 | Remaining: 1350

Currently Reading: The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

Today’s Reading: The Merchant’s Prologue, The Merchant’s Tale, Epilogue to The Merchant’s Tale, | Pages: 410-442

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*sigh* Bachelor no more George Clooney and his new Mrs.

Ahhh, the eternal bachelor.  The wild stallion, forever young, that many of us would give anything to tame.  (Are you listening, George? I was available too, you know!) Will there come a day when this stallion will trade worldwide adventures for the comparatively quiet life of domesticity? (apparently, yes)

The time for settling down came to a noble knight named January, at the age of sixty.  In The Merchant’s Tale, we learn about his decision to settle down, his picking of a young wife, who ultimately cheats on him with another, and how the domestic life he imagined didn’t turn out to be as carefree and jubilant as he believed it would be.

At the beginning of the story, January calls his friends to confer with them as to whether taking a wife is the right thing to do, for:

“[as Solomon said] Do everything by counsel…and then thou has no cause to repent thee” (417).

Some think it’s a good idea, while some disagree.  Here, according to January’s friends, are “Points to Consider Before Abandoning Eternal Bachelorhood.”

Pros:

  • Freedom isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Being free from the fetters of domestic responsibility might surely sound desirable to some, but after living a life where no one is there to help or comfort you because it’s not their job, or there is nothing in it for them, it would be a joy to have someone be there when the world beats you down.

Whereas these bachelors do but sing “Alas!”/When they fall into some adversity

In love, which is but childish vanity./And truly, it is well that it is so

That bachelors have often pain and woe;/On shifting ground they build, and shiftiness

They find when they suppose they’ve certainness./They live but as a bird does, or a beast,

In liberty and under no arrest,/Whereas a wedded man in his high state

Lives a life blissful, ordered, moderate,/Under the yoke of happy marriage bound; (412).

  • A wife will be there to comfort, serve, and provide you with children.

Leaving aside the fact that every woman is imperfect, the same as every man, overall, the responsibility of a married couple is to be there for each other.  It is such an important part of the marriage state that is clearly set forth in the marriage vows: “for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health,” etc.

For who can be so docile as a wife?/Who is so true as she whose aim in life

Is comfort for him, sick or well, to make?/For weal or woe she will not him forsake.

She’s ne’er too tired to love and serve, say I,/Though he may lie bedridden till he die (412).

And also:

“Let him take a wife whose quality he’s known/For lawful procreation of his own

Blood children, to the honor of God above” (416).

  • Woman was created to be Man’s helpmeet.

He quotes biblical passages on the creation of Eve, then goes on to describe the wonder that is Woman.

A wife is a man’s help and his comfort,/His earthly paradise and means of sport;

So docile and so virtuous is she/That they must needs live all in harmony…

How may a man have any adversity/Who has a wife? Truly, I cannot say…

If he be poor, why, she helps him to swink;/She keeps his money and never wastes a deal;

All that her husband wishes she likes well;/She never once says “nay” when he says “yea.”

“Do this,” says he; “All ready, sir,” she’ll say” (413).

Yeah, sure she will.  I prefer Seneca’s description, personally.

“There is not a pleasure so superlative…as a humble wife can give.

Suffer your wife’s tongue, Cato bids, as fit;/She shall command, and you shall suffer it;

And yet, she will obey, of courtesy./A wife is keeper of your husbandry;” (414).

Cons:

  • A woman is too expensive and will put a strain on your wallet.

Oh, come on, we’re not all princesses.  Nonetheless, here’s the argument from Theophrastus:

“Take not a wife,” said he, “for husbandry,/If you would spare in household your expense;

A faithful servant does more diligence/To keep your goods than your own wedded wife.

For she will claim a half part all her life;” (412).

  • Women cannot always be trusted. You have to be careful of her motives.

Wise Justinus, friend to old January, had this to say about marrying a woman:

“…a man ought well himself advise/To whom he’ll give his chattels or his land.

And since I ought to know just where I stand/How much more well advised I ought to be

To whom I give my body; for alway/I warn you well, that it is not child’s play

To take a wife without much advisement” (418).

  • What if she changes colors and turns out to be different than you thought. You’d be stuck.

Justinus continues advising his friend:

“Men must inquire, and this is my intent,/Whether she’s wise, or sober, or drunkard,

Or proud, or else in other things froward,/Or shrewish, or a waster of what’s had,

Or rich, or poor, or whether she’s man-mad./And be it true that no man finds, or shall,

One in this world that perfect is in all…With any wife, if so were that she had

More traits of virtue that her vices bad;” (418-419).

These just barely scratch the surface as to what kinds of things a man needs to consider before taking a wife.  It kind of puts me in mind of an article I wrote for engaged couples for my event design company about how to get to know each other better before making the ultimate decision.  Here is the printout of the Partner Survey exercise for your benefit and amusement. 🙂

I’ll end with this cheeky but wise retort:

“A wife is God’s own gift, aye verily;/All other kinds of gifts, most certainly…

…pass away like shadows on the wall./But without doubt, if plainly speak I shall,

A wife will last, and in your house endure/Longer than you would like, peradventure” (413).

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Day 7 – The Corrupted Man & The Abuse of Power

Posted by Amanda Jane on April 21, 2015

Selected Readings Goal: 1350 | Started: 1 | Finished: 0 | Remaining: 1350

Currently Reading: The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

Today’s Reading: The Friar’s Tale, The Summoner’s Prologue, The Summoner’s Tale, The Clerk’s Prologue, The Clerk’s Tale | Pages: 346-409

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Griselda dressing the ‘new’ Marchioness in The Clerk’s Tale

Sometimes I get so caught up in a story, I actually feel as if I am living it.  My empathy for the characters draws out fierce emotions from within me.

As I read today’s selections, I found myself becoming progressively more irate.  It amuses me to recall how much I wanted to champion the oppressed.  They’re not real, Amanda Jane!!! Sometimes I forget.

The first selection was the Friar’s Tale.  He tells of a shifty summoner who goes about on the errand of his master, summoning people to pay for their sins, or else leading them to believe that they are condemned to hell.  He makes up tales about them, accusing them of evil-doing so that they will pay to be absolved of their sins.  He doesn’t take all the money to his master, but keeps a large portion of it.  He basically harasses and extorts people for a living.

He comes across a person whom he believes is a yeoman and he pretends to be a bailiff.  The yeoman befriends him and tells him he is a bailiff too.  He asks that they make a brotherhood pact since they are in the same business.  They do, and then the bailiff reveals to the summoner that he is a fiend, that is to say a devil, come from hell.  The summoner tells him that it will have no bearing on their pact and that they will continue to help each other.

They come across a man who has his cart in a ditch and is cursing, saying that the devil may take the cart and the donkey.  According to the fiend, that is all the permission he needs to take the man’s possessions, but the fiend explains to the summoner that he will not take them because the man didn’t really mean it–and in a minute you can hear the man blessing the donkey as he finally gets moving from the ditch.

They come to a widow’s house, which the summoner meant to harass for 12 pence.  He bangs on her door and accuses her or cheating on her husband in her youth and that unless she gives him the money, he’ll take her pan.  She knows he’s lying because she’s never married, and she curses him, saying that the devil may take him and her pan also.  So the fiend comes and asks the woman if that is her real desire, and she says yes.  So the fiend makes off to Hell with the summoner and the lady’s pan.

This summoner, entrusted with a supposed holy errand, to help bring people to justice before their souls ended in eternal torment, used his power for his own personal gain and frivolity.  He would extort and punish even innocent people, just because he could.  Who became the fool then, at the end?  The devil took him using his own game.

The friar says to those who would hearken to the devil:

“The lion lies in wait by night and day/To slay the innocent, if he but may.

Dispose your hearts in grace, that you withstand/The Fiend, who’d make you thrall among his band.

He cannot tempt more than beyond our might;/For Christ will be your champion and knight.”

The next story is about a falsely-pious friar who uses his position to get people to give him money, claiming that he is using the donations to build his church, and in return, takes down their names so that he can pray for them later.  In truth, he seeks to live a life of ease and immediately erases people’s names, never living up to his side of the bargain.  He comes to a sick man, Thomas, whom the friar means to take advantage of.  Although the friar is received with cordial hospitality, he immediately is told by Thomas that he won’t give him money because he’s already given plenty to friars in the past and it hasn’t done him any good–he’s still sick.  The friar tries to convince him telling him about the importance of friars in society.  Thomas says he has something that the friar can have to divide among his brethren.  He tells the friar to put his hand behind him and farts in it ( 😛 ) then tells him to divide that 12 ways.  The friar leaves, extremely offended, and goes to the local lord to try to get him to punish Thomas, but the lord and his people are somewhat dismissive and make it into a sort of joke, trying to figure out how a fart can be divided 12 ways.

The slothful friar is yet another example of corrupted power.  When men have the capacity to make others fear, they can get whatever they want from them.  The fact that he demands a roasted pig’s head in Thomas’ house instead of simple food, and that he charges over to the lord’s house to try to get him to exact justice for having been dishonored/insulted by Thomas makes it plain that he has a pompous sense of entitlement owing to that power.

I don’t know about you, reader, but I was reminded of the SS.  How the dark side of otherwise good people took over when they were given the power to exercise dominion over others.  I have wondered, at times, whether any of my acquaintance would have acted as callously as those soldiers if they had been in the same position.  I would like to think not.  Then again, if those same soldiers were asked ten years prior whether they  were capable of harming or torturing another human being for no good reason they would probably have also answered “no.”

The final cause of my irritation was Walter from The Clerk’s Tale.  This worthy marquis who is so well liked by his people is compelled to take a wife.  He chooses one of mean birth, Griselda, and stipulates in the marriage terms that she must always bend to his will if he is to condescend to take a wife of her social standing.  She agrees.  They live in happiness; she, ever constant and the model of wifely duty, and he, a very kind husband.  She bears a daughter.  He gets it in his head that he wants to test Griselda.  He tells her that he is going to send her daughter to be killed because the people are not happy with her or with a child born into nobility from such a low-born mother.  She graciously gives the child to the man he sends, but instructs him to bury the little body where no wild animal can desecrate it. The marquis, Walter,  in reality sends the baby to his sister to be raised.  Time goes by and in no manner has the wife shown sorrow or displeasure, or turned against him.  She bears a son 4 years later and the story is repeated.  Again, she readily submits to his will and does not let him see her private sorrow.  The people begin to murmur, saying that the marquis is wrong to be killing his children, for no one but the man who takes them from Griselda and the marquis know the truth.  Then when the daughter turns 12, he tells Griselda that the people want him to take another wife because she is not suited for the job and tells her to return to her father’s hovel.  She submits meekly.  Then, as if he has not humiliated her enough, he asks her to return to prepare things for his new bride, (which he never means to take, for it is his children that are coming back home).  She does and bows down before the “new marchioness.”  Finally, after 12 years of it, the marquis decides she’s had enough and tells her the truth and places her back into her position, revealing to her that her children stand before her.  And supposedly, they all live happily ever after.

I have a BIG problem with this story.  This Walter guy got on my last nerve.  A truly beneficent sovereign would never exercise his authority to test the fidelity of a dear one by humiliating and emotionally torturing her, all the while bidding her to keep her peace.  That is cruelty above that displayed by the summoner and the friar.  Sadly, it is this corrupt power that we see more often in today’s world, though many times we are not aware of it because it goes on within the four walls of a home.

The Clerk leaves us some advice on handling adversity with humility, lest we take the story to mean that we have to put up with anything people do to us.

“The story’s told here, not that all wives should/Follow Griselda in humility,

But this would be unbearable, though they would,/But just that everyone, in his degree,

Should be as constant in adversity as was Griselda;”

He goes on to say:

“For since a woman once was so patient/Before a mortal man, well more we ought

Receive in good part that which God has sent;/For cause he has to prove what He has wrought.

But He tempts no man that His blood has bought,/As James says, if you his epistle read;

Yet does He prove folk at all times, indeed.”

He ends with this thought:

“[He] suffers us, for our good exercise,/With the sharp scourges of adversity

To be well beaten oft, in sundry wise;/Not just to learn our will; for truly He,

Ere we were born, did all our frailty see;/But for our good is all that He doth give.

So then in virtuous patience let us live.”

In other words, submit patiently to the trials that God in his love sends for our benefit and instruction, and endure all adversity with patience, and it will be to our credit.  But be not as Griselda who submitted to her husband as if he were a God, exercising all dominion over her and causing her humiliation.  He did not do it out of love, but out of cruelty of heart, for his own sick amusement, no matter how much he justifies his actions as being for her benefit.  No one has the right to test a person that way but God.

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