She Stoops to Conquer


She Stoops to Conquer, Oliver Goldsmith, 1773

Notable for

  • being pretty much the only play written in the 18th century that anyone still cares about.  This was not a great century for literature, guys.

She Stoops to Conquer is a Congreve-esque comedy of situation.  A young aristocrat discovers that her potential suitor is terribly shy around gentlewomen, so she poses as a serving girl in order to win his affection.  Meanwhile, her mischievous step-brother pulls some amusing pranks.

I don’t have a whole lot to say about this particular piece of literature.  It’s a funny play.  The comedy centers around characters misunderstanding each other’s’ rank and behaving inappropriately.  It’s very much in the same vein as Congreve, but pared down a bit.  More jokes, fewer aphorisms.  If you enjoy reading/seeing plays, this one is definitely worth your time.

Favorite Snippet:

HARDCASTLE. Depend upon it, child, I’ll never control your
choice; but Mr. Marlow, whom I have pitched upon, is the son
of my old friend, Sir Charles Marlow, of whom you have heard
me talk so often. The young gentleman has been bred a scholar,
and is designed for an employment in the service of his country.
I am told he’s a man of an excellent understanding.
HARDCASTLE. Very generous.
MISS HARDCASTLE. I believe I shall like him.
HARDCASTLE. Young and brave.
MISS HARDCASTLE. I’m sure I shall like him.
HARDCASTLE. And very handsome.
MISS HARDCASTLE. My dear papa, say no more, (kissing his hand), he’s mine; I’ll have him.

You might like this play if you like:

  • William Congreve.
  • Oscar Wilde.
  • a good prank.


You might not like this play if:

  • you’re more into Pinter and dramas than Wilde and comedies.

The Vicar of Wakefield


Yeah, I reused my Jonathon Swift photos. An 18th century Anglican is an 18th Century Anglican, right.

The Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith, 1766

Notable for:

  • being very popular among Victorian authors.  This novel is mentioned in many more famous novels by authors including Dickens, Austen, George Eliot, Charlotte Bronte and Louisa May Alcott.
  • being the first 18th century novel that I like.

Good news! I finally read an enjoyable 18th century novel.  The Vicar of Wakefield is the tale of the trials and tribulations of a rural Vicar and his charming family.  They fall from fortune early on and retire to a small town and a simple life.  The pastoral setting saves the book from the inconsequential drivel of novels set at court.  I certainly prefer a story about getting swindled when selling a horse at a county fair to drama over who escorted whom into whose coach.  (Check out that grammar, y’all.  You love it.)

The narrator/title character is delightful.  The pride and esteem he feels for his family will warm your heart.  And he’s witty!  This book provided a refreshing reprieve from the constant grinding misery of the Song of Ice and Fire series.  The Vicar does suffer losses, but he faces them with resignation, faith in the goodness of man/God/life, and gratitude for all that remains to him.  I hope I’m not making it sound trite, because it is not trite.  It’s an uplifting ode to familial love and being happy with what you have, but with humor and dramatic plot twists!

I will not lie, there is some sermonizing.  Our protagonist is a vicar after all.  However, the sermonizing is minimal compared to other literature from this era and you can just skip over it.

That’s all I have to say.

Favorite Snippet:

‘Now,’ cried I, holding up my children, ‘now let the flames burn on, and all my possessions perish. Here they are, I have saved my treasure. Here, my dearest, here are our treasures, and we shall yet be happy.’ We kissed our little darlings a thousand times, they clasped us round the neck, and seemed to share our transports, while their mother laughed and wept by turns.

You might like this book if:

  • you enjoy classic literature with a rural setting.
  • you enjoy dry, British humor.  It has a Jane Austen-like way of poking fun at the characters.
  • you like happy families.
  • you like optimism.

You might not like this book if:

  • you prefer your books “gritty” and full of human failure/misery.

Final Thoughts:

The Victorians were right: The Vicar of Wakefield is a great book.  Unlike many great books, it’ll make you feel happy.  (I’m looking at you, Lolita.)

The Castle of Otranto

Castle of Otranto

The Castle of Otranto, Horace Walpole, 1764

Notable for:

  • being the first Gothic novel in English, thus initiating the tradition that includes Edgar Allan Poe, Brahm Stoker, Mary Shelley (ugh) and Daphne Du Maurier.

A while back I decided that the 18th century was under-represented on my reading list.  So, I did some digging and added some fairly obscure titles.  The Castle of Otranto, written by Horace Walpole in 1764, is one of those additions.  I was pumped to start reading it for two reasons.  Firstly, it’s short.  I am developing a phobia of long books due to reading Clarissa, Game of Thrones, Tom Jones and Clash of Kings consecutively.  All those books are too long!  I don’t begrudge an author length, if they use it well.  Those authors do not, in my humble opinion.

Side bar: I feel the need to write “in my opinion” whenever I say something negative that might offend, but I feel kind of silly about it.  Obviously, everything subjective that I write on this blog is “just my opinion.”  In real life it bothers me when people tell me “that’s just your opinion.”  Duh.  Of course it is.  Unless I specifically declare that I am speaking as certified authority on a subject or as a representative of a group of people, we can all assume that everything I say is simply my opinion.  Duh.

The second reason I was excited about The Castle of Otranto was that I was hoping it contained a fun ghost to dress as for the pictures.  At first I was concerned on the ghost situation.  For the majority of the book the paranormal menace is a mysterious—and dangerous due to crushing—giant suit of armor.  Fortunately, a skeletal ghost hermit appears!

Walpole uses the conceit that he found an old Italian manuscript and translated it into this book.  It tells the story of Manfred, the prince of a little place called Otranto.  The tale contains many Classical elements:

  • a strong male lead with tragic flaws
    • anger problems
    • prophecy problems
    • the-sins-of-the-father-are-visited-upon-whoever theme
    • ends in marriage
    • virtuous wife
    • bold, virtuous, handsome, puissant bachelor
    • surprise parentage revelations that elevate a peasant to a noble
    • tragic ending

I have been reading so much classic literature that I’ve come to have certain expectations based on oft repeated trends.  One element of Castle O stood out as odd in relation to those trends.  There are two lovely bachelorettes and only one eligible bachelor.  Later I discovered that Walpole sets this situation up so he can waste one lady and still end the story with a marriage, which is necessary according to every story ever told before the Modern Era.


Favorite Snippet:

“Have done with this rhapsody of impertinence,” said Matilda.


You might like this book if:

  • you like Poe.
  • you like ghost stories, generally.


You might not like this book if:

  • you prefer happy endings.
  • Really, it’s too short to be unlikable.  Anything that might irritate you won’t irritate you for long.


Final ThoughtsCastle of Otranto is a cute little tale you may want to check out the next time you’re in the mood for ghost story.

Tom Jones


I had high expectations for Tom Jones by Henry Fielding (1749), because Samuel Taylor Coleridge said “To take [Fielding] up after Richardson, is like emerging from a sick room heated by stoves, into an open lawn, on a breezy day in May.”  Sounds like exactly what I needed after my 850 page excursion into the bowels of Clarissa.  I was inclined to trust Coleridge, because someone who writes awesome poems probably has good taste in literature, right?  Wrong!  I found picking up Tom Jones after Clarissa to be like walking from a sick room heated by five stoves, into a sickroom heated by four stoves.  It is slightly more enjoyable than Clarissa, because Fielding makes use of his sense of humor occasionally.  He is not as relentlessly earnest as Richardson.  However, the farcical scenes are embedded in so much filler that the overall experience of reading the book was not great for me.

Tom Jones is the story of a foundling bastard, who is taken in and raised by a kind, old aristocrat.  He grows up to be, like, the hottest guy in England.  He falls in love with the neighbor’s daughter and develops a rivalry with the nephew of the old aristocrat.  Despite his pure, devoted love for Sophia, Tom sleeps with nearly every female character in the book.  The love scenes are actually quite funny.  Fielding’s ornate, exalted style clashes with the crassness of the rural rendezvous.  There’s a bizarre amount of cat fights.  I don’t think Fielding ever witnessed a cat fight, because he seems to believe that women’s clothing just falls apart if you claw at it a bit.  In this time period women wore linen, wool or silk, none of which can be easily ripped.  Nevertheless, the first blows in these fights invariably render the women bare breasted.

Moving on, I can’t tell you how many times I have heard someone complain that Thackeray’s habit of “inserting himself into the text” ruined Vanity Fair for them.  You just can’t have a conversation about Thackeray without someone using that exact phrase.  When I read Vanity Fair it didn’t bother me too much.  It’s kinda funny to me that Thackeray takes so much heat for mentioning himself, when post-modern authors get praised for the same device.  It’s brilliant when Vonnegut does it, right?  That being said, Henry Fielding’s pervasive presence in Tom Jones ruined the book for me.   He frequently pauses to explain his authorial decisions to the reader.  For example:

“We would bestow some pains here in minutely describing all the mad pranks which Jones played on this occasion, could we be well assured that the reader would take the same pains in perusing them; but as we are apprehensive that, after all the labour we should employ in painting this said scene, the reader would be very apt to skip it entirely over, we have saved ourselves the trouble.  To say the truth, we have, from this reason alone, often done great violence to the luxuriousness of our genius, and let many excellent descriptions out of our work, which would otherwise have been in it.”

That quote also serves to illustrate another problem I have with Fielding: always using 100 words where 12 words would do.  He often explains why he ends chapters where he does.  This drove me crazy.  I want to go back in time and tell him “Listen, end the chapters where you want to.  Your readers aren’t so delicate that they need to be warned when a chapter is ending.  If you want to leave out descriptions and conversations to prevent boring your reader, just do it.  Don’t bore them by explaining that you are doing it.”

The most aggravating element of Fielding’s style is his need to stop and ruminate on human nature in abstract terms.  ALL THE TIME.  If a character tells a lie, Fielding inserts a mini-essay on honesty.  If a character is ambitious, we get a lecture on ambition.  So tedious.  Personally, when I read a novel I like to do my ruminating on human nature myself.  I don’t want the author to do it for me.  The novel is divided into 18 books.  The first chapter of every book consists of a little essay on blah blah blah (not gonna lie, I skipped all of them after the first three) and zero references to the narrative. In Book 5, Chapter 1 Fielding states that he is sure the reader won’t enjoy reading “these initial essays” and he didn’t enjoy writing them.  So why on earth are they in there?  Did they not have editors in 1749?  I get that the book is intended to be a farce.  So, perhaps he is mocking writers like Richardson.  He did like to mock Richardson.  He even wrote a parody of Richardson’s Pamela called Shamela.  But what does he gain by writing a boring book to make fun of other boring books?  Ultimately, you end up with yet another boring, excessively long 18th century novel.

You might like this book if:

  • you are reading a brutally edited version

You might not like this book if:

  • you try to read it.

Twin Study


Notable for:

  • being my favorite book of short stories ever.  That’s right, ever.  No exceptions, not even Flannery O’Connor.
  • saving my sanity one time when my best friend and I were trapped in my cabin in the pouring rain for one million consecutive hours with nothing to do but read and discuss Twin Study.

Twin Study by Stacey Richter has been filling my life with joy since it was published in 2007.  The stories are hilarious and delightful and kind of messed up.  I’ll tell you about my favorites.

Velvet is the life history of a terrier.  It is not one of those stories where the dog is a foil for a sad little Southern boy.  This story is just about Velvet; humans are background characters.  Richter manages to pull off a story about the interests and misadventures of a dog, because her style has all the zeal and relentless energy of a terrier.  I usually do not like literature about dogs, but this one gets me every single time I read it.  It contains many amazing sentences such as “The little girl swore to feed her and house-train her and dress her in tiny plaid coats when it rained, but after several weeks spent holding the puppy so constantly that the dog was damp with hand-sweat, her infatuation faded and the care of Velvet reverted to the mistress of the house.”

My Mother the Rock Star is the story of a girl’s thirteenth birthday.  She happens to be the daughter of a very famous and very crazy musician.  This is the funniest story I have ever read, no contest.  It contains the wonderful sentence “My mother says, I gave birth to her thirteen years ago and I still remember the drugs they gave me at the hospital, they were so fucking great.” 

Habits and Habitat of the Southwestern Bad Boy is the story of two friends who invite (abduct?) a teenage boy on a trip to the nearby desert to see a giant cow skull.  Tension ensues.  Here’s a quote: “[. . .]his T-shirt, which seemed to be from a foreign country where English is admired rather than understood.  It said: ‘Do To Others As Others Have To You Be.’”

A Case Study of Emergency Room Procedure and Risk Management by Hospital Staff Members in the Urban Facility is a fictional case study and a modernized fairy tale.  The premise: a meth-cooking princess consumes too much of her own product and admits herself to the ER.  It is hilarious and odd.  It is also the story that inspired the pictures that accompany this post.


                Over the course of our friendship my best friend and I have had a few debates over the merit of a Dalai Lama quote that goes something like “everyone is trying their best at their own level of consciousness.”  She agrees wholeheartedly.  I think some people are trying their best, some people are coasting and some people are intentionally being jerks.  Personally, there are days when I kick butt, accomplish things and do favors for others.  There are also days when I watch six episodes of “Battlestar Gallactica” then go out and say something unkind to someone who irritates me.  I am not willing to admit that I was trying my best on those days, because if I was trying my best, I should have been a whole lot better.  However, Richter’s characters exemplify that quote.  They are truly trying to do their best at their own strange levels of consciousness.   They are striving for a better iteration of themselves, a more thrilling existence.  Despite the dark kernel of bitterness, doubt and dissatisfaction in the back of their minds they continue to strive.

I really admire Stacey Richter.  Her stories are hilarious and dark.  Her sentences surprise and entertain you.  Her economy of word is impressive.  Whether literature resonates with a reader is subjective and personal, but these stories really resonate with me.  To quote a friend: “How could anyone not like Twin Study?”  I think she is underrated.  Everyone should read this book.

You might like this book if:

  • you have a sense of humor.
  • you have any sense at all.


You might not like this book if:

  • I don’t even know.  I can’t think of a reason.


Final thoughts: Get your hands on a copy.  Read it.  You won’t regret it.

A Modest Proposal


Jonathon Swift is the poster boy for satire.  Gulliver’s Travels is probably the most famous work of satire in the English language.  I read that in high school, so I put Swift’s second most notorious work on The Book List: A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People From Being a Burden on their Parents or their Country, and for Making them Beneficial to the Publick (1729).  You know, the one about eating children.

Swift’s parents were English, but he spent most of his life in Ireland.  He was outraged by British exploitation of the Irish people.  In A Modest Proposal Swift satirizes the barbarous treatment of the Irish by suggesting that poor Irish mothers sell their babies to the wealthy for food.  He defends his proposal in grizzly and hilarious detail: “I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricasie, or a ragoust.”  I love that he gets his information on cannibalism from an American.  We were considered uncivilized barbarians at that time, I suppose.

I am not going to say much else about A Modest Proposal, because it is only about eight pages long.  So, if you are interested at all, you might as well read it yourself.  It’s worth reading simply because it is so frequently referenced, in my all-time favorite episode of Sealab 2021, for example.

Favorite Snippet:

 A child will make two dishes at an entertainment for friends, and when the family dines alone, the fore or hind quarter will make a reasonable dish, and seasoned with a little pepper or salt, will be very good boiled on the fourth day, especially in winter.

You might like this pamphlet if:

  • you have a dark sense of humor.
  • you liked Gulliver’s Travels.
  • you like biting political satire.
  • you like the instant gratification of reading things that are short.
  • you are interested in 18th century Ireland.


You might not like this pamphlet if:

  • you can’t take a joke.


Final thoughts: Just read it.


Journal of the Plague Year by a million little Daniel Defoes


Daniel Defoe was kind of whacky.  I didn’t know him personally, but considered from our current perception of literary genre and journalistic integrity (not that I think journalistic integrity is a thing that exists) he was wild and crazy.  In the early 1720s Defoe wrote a book about the Great Plague outbreak of 1665.  He published it under the initials H.F. and claimed that it was written just after the outbreak.  The narrator is a grown man who stayed in London for the duration of the “visitation.”  Defoe himself was five years old in 1665 and fled to the countryside with his family.  See what he did there?  He published a historical novel and claimed it was non-fiction.  Sound familiar?  Are you outraged?

I have always thought readers these days are too hung up on what things are “true” or “real” and what things are “fiction.”  I heard Tim O’Brien read at Arlington Public Library.  He said he is confused by all the people who ask him which parts of The Things They Carried are true.  Yes, the book is about Vietnam.  Yes, he was there.  But it’s all fiction and he says it is closer to the “truth” about his experience in Vietnam than any factual account could approach.  Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is published as non-fiction these days.  There is exactly a 0% chance that the events of that book happened just the way Thompson described them.  However the speech about the wave, you know, the one that starts with “San Francisco in the middle sixties was a very special time and place to be a part of. Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run… but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant.…’ has got to be the truth, as he felt it.  It gives you more “truth” about that generation and that place than any doctoral thesis on the counter culture in the ‘60s could, in my humble opinion.

Swinging back around from my tangent, Journal of the Plague Year does contain plenty of facts and statistics (“But, Sydney, statistics hadn’t been invented in 1722.” I know, shut up.) about the Great Plague in London.  Defoe lists the number of people that died in each borough during each week of the plague.  He peppers in incidents from H.D.’s personal experiences.  Overall, he creates a very detailed if somewhat fictional account of the lives of the people of London during the “distemper.”  I know what you’re thinking: that sounds really boring.  You’re right.  This book was boring.  Fortunately for you I am going to tell you all the most exciting tidbits.

What I learned:

·         To ward off plague write this symbol on a piece of cloth and pin it to your clothes:












Congratulations!  You are now plague proof.

  • Each ward elected Examiners to go into houses and determine whether the inhabitants were infected.  If they refused to perform their duty, they were thrown in jail.  I would pick jail.
  • The Mayor of London issued an order to kill all the animals in the city.  Yep.  “That no Hogs, Dogs, or Cats, or tame Pigeons, or Conies, be suffered to be kept within any part of the City, or any Swine [. . .] and that the Dogs be killed by the Dog-killers appointed for that purpose.”  Can you imagine?
  • He also prohibited plays, bear-baitings (ugh), games and singing of ballads, to discourage people from assembling and infecting each other.

You might like this book if:

  • you are very morbid.
  • you like to read about dead bodies.
  • you have a particular passion for the plague.

You might not like this book if:

  • you are a human.


Final thoughts: The plague sucked.  Hooray for soap, epidemiology and microbiology!

William Congreve: Restoration Drama


William Congreve is one of my favorite discoveries from the first few centuries of the Book List.  He wrote five plays in seven years, from 1693 to 1700.  I wish theater companies would take just a tiny break from Shakespeare and give Congreve some love.  He has a witty, incisive style that reminds me of dear, beloved Oscar Wilde.

I am going to go over his four comedies, all of which have roughly the same central tension: will the rakish lover be able to trick his darling’s curmudgeonly/vengeful relations into allowing him to marry her?

First, in The Old Bachelor (1693) a bitter old misogynist finally falls in love and is pranked and mocked by some young fops.  This one is not my favorite.  An author’s first work is rarely their best, and The Old Bachelor lacks the refinement of Congreve’s last two plays.  I think there are too many characters with overlapping motives and personalities.

The Double Dealer was produced just one year later and I greatly prefer it.  It has all the elements of an entertaining intrigue: a jealous woman, a double agent, a desirable maiden, an aspiring lover and disguises.  The end is effectively shocking.  Congreve includes many teasing jabs at the British aristocracy.  Take for example this dig at the upper class need to appear unlike the lower class:

LORD FROTH.  But there is nothing more unbecoming of a man of quality than to laugh; ‘tis such a vulgar expression of the passion; everybody can laugh.  Then especially to laugh at the jest of an inferior person, or when anybody else of the same quality does not laugh with one- -ridiculous!  To be pleased with what pleases the crowd.  Now when I laugh, I always laugh alone.

Love for Love (1695) won my heart with silly astronomical references.  I just love mysticism in literature.  Sir Foresight is a big believer in the portends of the stars, a failing his friends and family relentlessly tease or manipulate.  This play features a naïve but bold country maiden, a forthright sailor, a reluctant maiden, a husband perpetually doubting his wife’s fidelity and a son who feigns madness to get out of (and into and out of again) an undesirable situation.  The play also features the first use of the phrase “kiss and tell.”

Congreve’s only tragedy, The Mourning Bride, was produced in 1697.  I didn’t read it, but I should mention that it originated the oft paraphrased quote “Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.”  Too true, William Congreve, too true.  Scorned women frequently feature in Congreve’s plays, and, boy, are they furious.


The Way of the World (1700) contains the same plot elements as the other comedies, but pared down and simplified, which I appreciate.  Mirabell, our leading man, contrives an elaborate ruse to win his lady against the machinations of  both her relatives and his scorned lovers.  This play is deservedly regarded as one of the best Restoration Dramas.  Notably, it contains some interesting gender role play, including women openly castigating the entire male sex.  However, that was not considered as radical as the pre-nuptial negotiations between Mirabell and his lady Millamant.  Remember, Congreve wrote this play long before the idea that women should submit themselves entirely to the will of their father or husband began to lose favor.  I would list her demands, but the conversation is well worth reading.


So, here it is:

MILLAMANT. [. . .] Mirabell, I’ll lie a-bed in a morning as long as I please.

MIRABELLE. Then I’ll get up in a morning as early as I please.

MILLAMANT. Ah! Idle creature, get up when you will. And d’ye hear, I won’t be called names after I’m married; positively I won’t be called names.


MILLAMANT. Ay, as wife, spouse, my dear, joy, jewel, love, sweet-heart, and the rest of that nauseous cant, in which men and their wives are so fulsomely familiar—I shall never bear that. Good Mirabell, don’t let us be familiar or fond, nor kiss before folks, like my Lady Fadler and Sir Francis; nor go to Hyde Park together the first Sunday in a new chariot, to provoke eyes and whispers, and then never be seen there together again, as if we were proud of one another the first week, and ashamed of one another ever after. Let us never visit together, nor go to a play together, but let us be very strange and well-bred. Let us be as strange as if we had been married a great while, and as well-bred as if we were not married at all.

MIRABELLE. Have you any more conditions to offer? Hitherto your demands are pretty reasonable.

MILLAMANT. Trifles; as liberty to pay and receive visits to and from whom I please; to write and receive letters, without interrogatories or wry faces on your part; to wear what I please, and choose conversation with regard only to my own taste; to have no obligation upon me to converse with wits that I don’t like, because they are your acquaintance, or to be intimate with fools, because they may be your relations. Come to dinner when I please, dine in my dressing- room when I’m out of humour, without giving a reason. To have my closet inviolate; to be sole empress of my tea-table, which you must never presume to approach without first asking leave. And lastly, wherever I am, you shall always knock at the door before you come in. These articles subscribed, if I continue to endure you a little longer, I may by degrees dwindle into a wife.

Don’t you just love Millamant?

You might like these plays if you are entertained by:

  • witty banter.
  • Oscar Wilde.
  • comedy of manners.
  • war of the sexes.
  • scorned women.
  • delightful ruses.

You might not like this play if:

  • actually, I can’t imagine not liking them unless you don’t like classic literature at all.

Final thoughts: Congreve is wonderful and he deserves more attention in this day and age.  I think his comedies are simply delightful.  For Simone; when Bathsheba Everdene retires upstairs after her terrible disappointment, she calls for her lady’s maid to bring her most of Congreve’s plays.

Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mary Rowlandson by Mary Rowlandson

Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mary Rowlandson

I know that this picture is insensitive, tasteless and not an excellent piece of photography, but I am ok with it.

Notable for being:

  • a genre starter.
  • the first bestseller in what would become America.
  • the first book on my list authored by a woman!

In 1667 the English settlement of Lancaster, Massachusetts was attacked by Native American tribes including the Narragansett and Wampanoag.  Mary Rowlandson was captured and held for eleven weeks until a group of women in Boston heard about her plight and raised money to buy her back.  In 1682 Rowlandson published an account of her captivity, which was widely popular in its time.

This book is brutal.  She describes the initial raid of Lancaster in vivid, frank and plain detail, so you really get a sense of how horrifying it would be to witness the slaughter of nearly everyone in your town.  On page one Rowlandson sees a man get shot, beg for his life, get knocked on the head, stripped naked and disemboweled.  She is forced out of her burning house into the line of fire.  A bullet goes through her side and into the child she is holding.  Brutal.  Rowlandson and her three children are taken by the “bloody heathen” as she calls them.

For eleven weeks of incredible physical and emotional strain, Rowlandson was held by her captors while they fled from the colonial militia.   Although she was traveling many miles a day, she was barely fed. Her injured daughter had no chance to recover in such difficult conditions and soon passed away.  Her captors tormented her by refusing to give her information about her other two children or by claiming they had died.  If one person took pity on her and gave her a scrap of food, horse liver for example, another would take it from her after she had cooked it.  She eventually learned that she could sew garments and trade them for food, which helped prevent her from starving.

Amazingly, what kept Rowlandson from complete despair was her religious faith.  She had a Bible and continually looked to it for guidance.  Which is pretty boring for the reader, but I have to admire the strength of her faith and conviction.  As I was reading Narrative of Captivity I was amazed over and over again that under her circumstances she was grateful to God.  I would have been enormously angry with him.  I would have started building a Tower of Babel so I could punch him in the face.  The point of the Tower of Babel was to build it so high they could walk right into heaven and chat with God, right?  I might be using the wrong parable here.

Anyway, as the daughter/granddaughter of naturalists, to me the most interesting part of Narrative of Captivity was the description of what they ate.  Which leads us to:

Favorite Snippet:

“As we went along they killed a deer, with a young one in her, they gave me a piece of the fawn, and it was so young and tender that one might eat the bones as well as the flesh, and yet I thought it was very good.”

You might like this book if you are interested in:

  • early Colonial history.
  • early interactions between Colonists and Native Americans.
  • the natural history of North America before we ruined it.
  • non-fiction survival stories.

You might not like this book if:

  • you are a sensitive soul who doesn’t do well with violence.


Final thoughts: Reading this made me wonder what kind of psycho would move their family to the New World.  Not worth it, too risky.  As a kid, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s father, Charles Ingalls, was my hero and model of manhood.  Now I see that he was a crazy person who moved his family into Indian Territory, because he couldn’t bear to hear the sound of another man’s gun.  They could have all been killed!  It completely blows my mind to think of the incredible hazards that settlers exposed themselves to while stealing this country from earlier inhabitants.

The Pilgrim’s Progress from this world to that which is to come delivered under the similitude of a dream by John Bunyan.

Christiana from Pilgrim's Progress

To fuse the literature aspect of the blog with the makeup aspect, I have decided to start transforming myself into the characters from the books I blog about.  That’s me as Christiana from Pilgrim’s Progress.  I was going for bloodless and absent of all worldly desire.  I think it worked out.  Hold on for Robinson Crusoe, it’s gonna be weird.  Does anyone have some spare goat skins?

So, Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan is one of the most popular books of all time.  It was published in 1678 and has never been out of print.  Impressive.  I have always been interested in this book, because the sisters in Little Women read it.  Remember?  This first chapter of Little Women is titled “Playing Pilgrims,” because they decide to emulate the characters in Bunyan’s book in order to improve themselves and bear their burdens without complaint.  Pilgrim’s Progress is all about self-improvement and living a godly life.  I have a hard time imagining children enjoying this book.  There are some exciting moments.  The protagonist, Christian, fights a demon, for example.  However, the language is dull and you have to plod through copious sanctimonious speech making between the exciting parts.  I guess you’re not actually supposed to enjoy it.  You’re probably supposed to reflect on God’s will and your own life or whatever.

The “delivered under the similitude of a dream” part of the title refers to Bunyan’s device of stating that he saw the events of the book in a dream he had.  The book is divided into two parts.  In part one Christian leaves his family to go on a pilgrimage to God’s kingdom.  That’s right, his wife mocks his religious calling so he regretfully leaves his family to damnation.  The book is meant to guide the reader along the path to a righteous life, but seriously any life that involves abandoning your family behind to ruin and damnation is not righteous in my opinion.  Bunyan would probably say that God’s will is more important and blah blah blah, but no.  Just no.  I don’t care what God says, take care of your kids!  In part two Christian’s wife, Christiana, has a change of heart and takes her children on the same pilgrimage that her husband completed.  So, I guess it turns out ok in the end…sort of.

On their journey the pilgrims encounter many characters who are allegories for help or hurdles on the road to righteousness.  These characters are named for the qualities they represent.  Character names include: Obstinate, Pliable, Mr. Worldly Wiseman, Faithful, Mercy, Superstition, Ignorance etc.  The tone is pretty much exactly what I expected it to be: holier-than-thou, judgmental and preachy.  Christian likes to stop and explain ad nauseam how much better he is than the other people he encounters. Christiana is more humble, as she is feeling very guilty for not going along with Christian in the first place.  Overall, I found part two much more likeable than part one.  The language is actually delightful in parts.  The contrast between the often silly events of the novel and Bunyan’s unfailingly earnest tone creates a certain humor.


Favorite Snippet:

Now I saw in my dream, that just as they had entered this talk they drew near to a very miry slough, that was in the midst of the plain; and they, being heedless, did both fall suddenly into the bog.  The name of the slough was Despond.  Here, therefore, they wallowed for a time, being grievously bedaubed with dirt; and Christian, because of the burden that was on his back, began to sink in the mire.”


You might like this book if:

  • you are interested in Christianity and influential Christian literature.
  • you love heavy-handed allegory.


You might not like this book if:

  • you don’t like heavy-handed metaphor.
  • you are bored by preachiness in literature.
  • you get offended when Christians go on about how righteous they are relative to other people.


Final thoughts: There are some lovely little phrases like “grievously bedaubed with dirt,” but they are buried in 17th century sermons.  It is more an interesting work of Christian literature than an interesting work of literature.  Not among my favorites.  I should mention that the audio recording on one of my favorite sites,, is done by my favorite librivox reader, Joy Chan.  She has a wonderful accent and reads with perfect solemnity.