Quoting The Eighth Day by Thornton Wilder

The Eighth Day by Thornton Wilder

The Eighth Day by Thornton Wilder

I have just finished this American epic and I am in awe of Wilder’s writing. I am going to record passages from this novel that have resonated with me.

  • Gossip had solidified into conviction as prejudice solidifies into self-evident truth. (p. 5)
  • Every man, woman, and child believed that he or she lived in the best town in the best state in the best country in the world. (p. 7)
  • Nothing is more interesting than the inquiry as to how creativity operates in anyone, in everyone: mind, propelled by passion, imposing itself, building and unbuilding; mind–the latest-appearing manifestation of life–expressing itself in statesman and criminal, in poet and banker, in street cleaner and housewife, in father and mother–establishing order or spreading havoc; mind–condensing energy in groups and nations, rising to an incandescence and then ebbing away exhausted; mind–enslaving and massacring or diffusing justice and beauty:                                     Pallas Athene’s Athens, like a lighthouse on a hill, sending forth beams that still illuminate men in council;                                                 Palestine, for a thousand years, like a geyser in the sand, producing genius after genius, and soon there will be no one on earth who has not been affected by them.                                                                              Is there more and more of it, or less and less?                                          Is the brain neutral between destruction and beneficence?                  Is it possible that there will someday be a “spiritualization” of the human soul?                                                                                                       It is absurd to compare our children of the Kangaheela Valley to the august examples of good and evil action I have referred to above (already in the middle of this century they are largely forgotten), but:                                                                                                                       They are near,                                                                                                   They are accessible to our indiscreet observation. (pp. 10-11)
  • Life! Why life? What for? To what end? (p. 17)
  • What is education, George? It is the bridge man crosses from the self-enclosed, self-favoring life into a consciousness of the entire community of mankind. (p. 18)
  • The Christian religion, as delivered in Coaltown, established a bracing relation between God’s favor and money. Penury was not only a social misfortune; it was a visible sign of a fall from grace. God had promised that the just would never suffer want. The indigent were in an unhappy relation to both the earthly and heavenly orders. (p. 45)
  • It is doubtful whether hope–or any of the other manifestations of creativity–can sustain itself without an impulse injected by love. So absurd and indefensible is hope. Sophia’s was nourished by love of her mother and sisters, but above all by love of those two distant outcasts, her father and her brother. (p. 57)
  • Some people go forward and some go back. (p. 100)
  • Faith is an ever-widening pool of clarity, fed from springs beyond the margin of consciousness. We all know more than we know we know. (p. 124)
  • When God loves a creature He wants the creature to know the highest happiness and the deepest misery–then he can die. He wants him to know all that being alive can bring. That is His best gift. (p. 135)
  • Red. Red. Look at the red. Men, women, and children love you because of the blue of your eyes. But there is a better love than that. Blue is the color of faith. But red is love–every kind of love. Anybody can see that you have faith. So has Fidel! Faith is not enough. Maybe, if you are lucky, you will be born into love. (p. 136)
  • Suffering is like money, Mr. Tolland. It circulates from hand to hand. We pass on what we take in. (p. 141)
  • It is the diversity of life that renders thinking difficult. Many a beginning philosopher has been on the point of grasping the problem of suffering, but what sage can cope with that of happiness? (pp. 145-146)
  • The root of avarice is the fear of what circumstances may bring. (p. 148)
  • In this history there has been some discussion of hope and faith. It is too early to treat of love. The last appearing of the graces is still emerging from the primal ooze. Its numerous aspects are confusingly intermingled–cruelty with mercy, creativity with havoc. It may be that after many thousands of years we may see it “clarify”–as it is said of turbid wine. (pp. 153-154)
  • I think we’re all bad judges of what goes on in other people’s minds about God, Mr. Smith. It’s a bad thing to force a God on a man who doesn’t want one. It’s worse to stand in the way of a man who wants one badly. I know them! I live there! (p. 171)
  • Only those who have known great joy can know our grief. (p. 186)
  • Every death is a right death. We did not choose the day of our birth; we may not choose the day of leavetaking. They are chosen. (p. 189)
  • Roger was overwhelmed by the crowds of Chicago. He was oppressed by the multiplicity of human beings. On the way to work he would stop and gaze at the throngs on LaSalle Street. (During his first days he thought he was seeing the same persons walking back and forth.) All these men and women had souls, had “selves.” All were as important to themselves as he was to himself. In seventy years everyone he was looking at–and himself–would be dead, except a few old freaks. There’d be a whole new million hurrying and worrying and laughing and talking. “Get out of my way. I don’t know you. I’m busy living.” … In the street people put on a face so that strangers won’t read their souls. A crowd is a sterner judge than a relative or a friend. The crowd is God. LaSalle Street is like hell–your’e being judged all the time..Suicide very logical.” (p. 213)
  • Never ask a man what he believes. Watch what he uses. ‘Believe’ is a dead word and brings death with it. (p. 220)
  • There is no true education save in answer to urgent questioning. (p. 222)
  • Man is cruel to man and even those who are kind to those nearest them are inhuman to others. It’s not kindness that’s important but justice. Kindness is the stammering apology of the unjust. The whole world’s wrong, he saw. There’s something wrong at the heart of the world and he would track it down. (p. 224)
  • Where there’s injustice, there’s fear. Where there’s fear, there’s cowardice. But the chain begins farther back: where there’s money, there’s injustice. (p. 237)
  • Those who ask no questions receive the fullest answers (p. 261)
  • Mr. Frazier, works of art are the only satisfactory products of civilization. History, in itself, has nothing to show. History is the record of man’s repeated failures to extricate himself from his incorrigible nature. Those who see progress in it are as deluded as those who see a gradual degeneration. A few steps forward, a few steps back. Human nature is like the ocean, unchanging, unchangeable. Today’s calm, tomorrow’s tempest–but it’s the same ocean. Man is as he is, as he was, as he always will be. (p. 264)
  • One day, months ago, the Maestro made his youngest daughter–Adriana–leave the table. She’d merely said that she adored her new shoes; she thought they were divine. He said those were religious words and that they had nothing to do with human beings either. He warned me to beware of husbands and wives who adored one another. Such persons haven’t grown up, he said. No human being is adorable. The early Hebrews were quite right to condemn idolatry. Women who adore their husbands throw a thousand little ropes around them. They rob them of their freedom. They lull them to sleep. It’s wonderful to own a god, to put him in you pocket. (p. 272)
  • As I shall have occasion to say when we consider the early years of Eustacia Lansing: all young people secrete idealism as continuously as the Bombyx mori secretes silk. It is as necessary to them as food that life be filled with wonder–that they contemplate heroes. They must admire. The boy in the reformatory (his third conviction for burglary with assault) secretes idealism as a Bombyx mori secretes silk. The girl of fifteen, brutalized into prostitution, secretes idealism–for a while–as a Bombyx mori secretes silk. Life to newcomers presents itself as a brightly lighted stage where they will be called upon to play roles exhibiting courage, fair dealing, magnanimity, wisdom, and helpfulness. Hoping and trembling a little, they feel that they are almost ready for these great demands upon them. (p. 298)
  • There are few things so conducive to despair as seeing the recurrence of weaknesses in those close to you…(p. 322)
  • Slowly she had learned that beautiful things are not for our possession but for our contemplation. (p. 338)
  • The most painful aspect of this phase was the absence of any faint intimation from the realm of the spirit… (p. 365)
  • We are as Providence made us (p. 381)
  • For every person who has enough to eat there are ten persons starving (maybe a hundred). For every girl and lady who goes down the street and their friends say pretty things to them, there’s a dozen girls and women who’ve had no chance. For every good hour that a family has in a home evenings, somebody is paying. Somebody they don’t even know. I don’t mean merely there are a lot of poor people in the world. It’s deeper than that. Look at all the sick and crippled and ugly and damned. It’s the way God made the world. He can’t stop it now or change it. Some people are damned before they are born. You won’t like that, but I know. God doesn’t hate the damned. He needs them. They pay for the rest. Paryas hold up the floors of homes. Enough said. (p. 384)
  • The world is a thousand times more beautiful and mighty than most people can see. (p. 386)
  • But there is only one history. It began with the creation of man and will come to an end when the last human consciousness is extinguished. All other beginnings and endings are arbitrary conventions–makeshift parading as self-sufficient entireties, diffusing petty comfort of petty despair. The cumbrous shears of the historian cut out a few figures and a brief passage of time from that enormous tapestry. Above and below the laceration, to the right and to the left of it, the severed threads protest against the injustice, against the imposture.                                                                                     It is only in appearance that time is a river. It is rather a vast landscape and it is the eye of the beholder that moves.                           Look about you in all directions–rise higher, rise higher–and see hills beyond hills, plains and rivers. (p. 395)
  • History is one tapestry. No eye can venture to compass a hand’s breadth of it. (p. 396)
  • The first months of our life we are wrapped in white, we are soothed and put to sleep in white. Later, we are told that heaven–which is the memory of infancy–is white. We are lifted and carried about; we float. That is why we are told that angels fly. The first snow reminds us of the only times in our lives when we were without fear. A cemetery under rain is the saddest sight in the world, because the rain reminds of tears; but a cemetery under snow is inviting. We remember that world. In winter the dead are encradled. (p. 400)
  • Mr. Frazier, in every lively healthy family there is one who must pay. (p. 407)
  • A feeling of something portentous and strange in human experience had been gathering within him. He felt as though he had walked all of his life in ignorance of abysses and wonders, of ambushes, of eyes watching him, of writing on clouds. It came to him that surely life is vaster, deeper, and more perilous than we think it is. (p. 427)
  • “You com from such a house. You are marked. The mark is on your forehead. There are billions of births. At one birth out of a vast number a Messiah is born. It has been a mistake of the Jews and Christians to believe that there is only one Messiah. Every man and woman is Messiah-bearing, but some are closer on the tree to a Messiah than others. Have you ever seen the ocean?…”                     “It is said that on the ocean every ninth wave is larger than the others. I do not know if that is true. So on the sea of human lives one wave in many hundreds of thousands rises, gathers together the strength–the power–of many souls to bear a Messiah. At such times the earth groans; its hour approaches. For centuries a house prepares the birth. Look at this picture. Christ descended by more than thirty generations from King David. Think of them–the men and women, the grandfathers and grandmothers of Christ. I have heard a learned preacher say that it is probable that the mother of Christ could not read or write, nor her mother before her. But to them it had been said: ‘Make straight in the desert a highway for our God.’”                                                                                                He put his finger on the page and lowered his voice. “There are some names here of whom the Bible tells us discreditable things. Is that not strange? You and I would say in our ignorance that the men and women who were so near to bearing a Messiah would be pure and without fault, but no! God builds in His own way. He can use the stone that the builders rejected. There is an old saying, ‘God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform.’ Have you heard it?”…                                                                                                 “The sign of God’s way is that it is strange. God is strange. There is nothing more childish than to think of God as a man.” He waved his hand towards Coaltown–“As they do. His ways to our eyes are often cruel and laughable.” He turned back a page in the Bible. “Here is the tree of Christ’s descent form Adam to Jesse. When Sarah–here!–was told that she would bear a son she laughed. She was an old woman. She bore Isaac–which means ‘Laughter.’ The Bible is the story of a Messiah-bearing family, but it is only one Bible. There are many such families whose Bibles have not been written.”…                                                                                        “Can it be that your family has been marked? Can it be that your descendants may bring forth a Messiah, tomorrow or in a hundred years? That something is preparing? Your father fired a rifle; a man near him fell dead, but your father did not kill the man. That is strange. Your father did not lift a finger to save himself, but he was saved. That is strange. Your father had no friends, he says; but friends saved him. Your mother never left her house; she had no money; she was dazed. But a child who had never held a dollar in her hand sustained a house. Is that not strange? A great grandmother has reached out of her grave and spoken to you. Your father is right in this letter: there is no happiness equal to that of being aware that one has part in a design. ” Again he pointed to Coaltown: “They walk in despair. If we were to describe what Hell is like it would be the place in which there is no hope or possibility of change: birth, feeding, excreting, propagation, and death–all of some mighty wheel of repetition. There is a fly that lives and lays its eggs and dies–all in one day–and is gone forever.” (pp. 429-431)
  • There is much talk of design in the arras. Some are certain they see it. Some see what they have been told to see. Some remember that they saw it once but have lost it. Some are strengthened by seeing a pattern wherein the oppressed and exploited of the earth are gradually emerging from their bondage. Some find strength in the conviction that there is nothing to see.                                                        Some (p. 435)

On Thornton Wilder’s The Eighth Day

thornton_wilder_eighth_day_617_347

John Updike says this about The Eighth Day:

The Eighth Day–his one real novel, he said, and much his longest–opens itself to the digression, the sermonette, the stray inspiration that might capture the simultaneous largeness and smallness of the human adventure. Untidy, self-delightingly, it brims with wonder and wisdom, and aspires to prophecy. We marvel at a novel of such spiritual ambition and benign flamboyance.

Wilder says that this novel deals with

how great love causes havoc…how gifts descend in the family lines making for good, making for ill, and demanding victims…

The reviewer at The Christian Science Monitor called Wilder’s novel

a major work of the imagination [in which] he has raised the ultimate questions and sent them whirling their deep spirals with a wit and intelligence no other American novelist of the moment can match.

Wllder wrote his sister, Isabel, after nine months of writing this novel in Douglas, Arizona. He had finished ninety pages so far, saying it was a long family saga, an adventure story

as though Little Women were being mulled over by Dostoevsky

Tappan Wilder, the author’s nephew, says this:

Will The Eighth Day someday join Our Town and The Bridge of San Luis Rey as a classic, “a story for all times?” Worthy of note is that over the years students in this country and abroad, in a symposium here and an essay there, have kept the light on for a novel they celebrate as a work of epic proportions. In fact, Wilder poured everything he knew about human nature and himself and his society into his American epic.

What The Eighth Day meant for Thornton Wilder, author, is no secret. He went to Douglas, Arizona as a playwrite and came home a novelist. He tried his hand at drama once again, but returned quickly to fiction, the form that now satisfied his drive to tell stories.

Other reviews:

  • A work that Dickens or Dostoevsky would have been proud to have written. (Denver Rocky Mountain News)
  • It ends with the most amazing final paragraph of modern literature. (Asheville Citizen Times)
  • He has taken a calculated risk with few parallels in literary history and he has won. (Chicago Tribune)
  • No resemblance to any other novel in the past 100 years. (Washington Post)
  • A well told story is not of an age–but for all times. (Dallas Times Herald)

The Eight Day by Thornton Wilder: VI. Coaltown, Illinois, Christmas 1905

In the final chapter of Thornton Wilder’s novel, The Eighth Day, the reader sees Roger return to Coaltown. He speaks with Felicite Lansing, the late Breckenridge’s daughter, learning important information about his father. George Lansing confesses to the murder and flees to Russia. Roger also learns who the rescuers of his father were. The families enjoy the company of each other during this Christmas.

Question:

Throughout this entire novel, from the very beginning, the question of whether man is better or worse than before. Whether the ancients or the moderns are better. Whether man can change or not. Most of these passages that discuss this are either the narrator or Dr. Gillies, or another older character. In this final chapter we have Constance, who is young, but is even more young at heart, ask the following question:

Do people change any–while they’re growing up?” (p. 433)

Obviously there is change in each individual, but is their actually change between the generations? See a post on Bensonian for this.

Favorite Quotation:

The grandfather of Roger’s closest Coaltown friend, Porky, a member of the secluded church, Covenant Church, says this to Roger:

“You come from such a house. You are marked. The mark is on your forehead. There are billions of births. At one birth out of a vast number a Messiah is born. It has been a mistake of the Jews and Christians to believe that there is only one Messiah. Every man and woman is Messiah-bearing, but some are closer on the tree to a Messiah than others. Have you ever seen the ocean?…”

“It is said that on the ocean every ninth wave is larger than the others. I do not know if that is true. So on the sea of human lives one wave in many hundreds of thousands rises, gathers together the strength–the power–of many souls to bear a Messiah. At such times the earth groans; its hour approaches. For centuries a house prepares the birth. Look at this picture. Christ descended by more than thirty generations from King David. Think of them–the men and women, the grandfathers and grandmothers of Christ. I have heard a learned preacher say that it is probable that the mother of Christ could not read or write, nor her mother before her. But to them it had been said: ‘Make straight in the desert a highway for our God.'”

He put his finger on the page and lowered his voice. “There are some names here of whom the Bible tells us discreditable things. Is that not strange? You and I would say in our ignorance that the men and women who were so near to bearing a Messiah would be pure and without fault, but no! God builds in His own way. He can use the stone that the builders rejected. There is an old saying, ‘God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform.’ Have you heard it?”…

“The sign of God’s way is that it is strange. God is strange. There is nothing more childish than to think of God as a man.” He waved his hand towards Coaltown–“As they do. His ways to our eyes are often cruel and laughable.” He turned back a page in the Bible. “Here is the tree of Christ’s descent form Adam to Jesse. When Sarah–here!–was told that she would bear a son she laughed. She was an old woman. She bore Isaac–which means ‘Laughter.’ The Bible is the story of a Messiah-bearing family, but it is only one Bible. There are many such families whose Bibles have not been written.”…

“Can it be that your family has been marked? Can it be that your descendants may bring forth a Messiah, tomorrow or in a hundred years? That something is preparing? Your father fired a rifle; a man near him fell dead, but your father did not kill the man. That is strange. Your father did not lift a finger to save himself, but he was saved. That is strange. Your father had no friends, he says; but friends saved him. Your mother never left her house; she had no money; she was dazed. But a child who had never held a dollar in her hand sustained a house. Is that not strange? A great grandmother has reached out of her grave and spoken to you. Your father is right in this letter: there is no happiness equal to that of being aware that one has part in a design. ” Again he pointed to Coaltown: “They walk in despair. If we were to describe what Hell is like it would be the place in which there is no hope or possibility of change: birth, feeding, excreting, propagation, and death–all of some mighty wheel of repetition. There is a fly that lives and lays its eggs and dies–all in one day–and is gone forever.” (pp. 429-431)

I have qualms about what Deacon says. However, the passage is not without truth. First, I agree that “every man and woman is Messiah-bearing.” I believe that each human being is made in the image of God (Imago Dei) and that each human being presents us with the presence of God, along with the rest of Creation. Deacon seems to mean something a little different, however: that each human being has the potential to become a Messiah themselves–now that I cannot agree with. To put ourselves on the level of Christ, or even the potential to be “Christs” seems blasphemous. We are to be imitators of Christ, but we can never be Christ.

Second, Deacon discusses the strangeness of the gospel narrative, that things are done in “mysterious” ways. I agree. The gospel narrative is comic, even fantastic at times (See Frederick Buechner’s book on this).

Third, Deacon says something that perplexes me: “There is nothing more childish than to think of God as a man.” I agree with this statement, but it seems contradictory to what he is saying. It seems that if it is ignorant to think of God as a man, than isn’t it childish to think of man as a God or a Messiah?

Lastly, Deacon says: “Your father did not lift a finger to save himself, but he was saved. That is strange.” I think this reaches a truth of the gospel narrative. That each of us has not lifted a finger, yet Christ has saved us. That is strange.

Cross-Reference:

Me:

The Eighth Day by Thornton Wilder: V. “St. Kitts” 1880-1905

In the fifth chapter of Thornton Wilder’s The Eighth Day, we experience the biggest shift in the narrative so far. We have moved location, from Coaltown to Chile to Chicago, but we have always been surrounding the Ashley family. Now Wilder explores the Lansing family, whose patriarch was murdered at the beginning of the novel.

Question:

This chapter explores love, like the rest of the novel, but it seems that this chapter seeks to find the nature of love more deeply. We see different aspects of love in several characters in this chapter. What is the nature of love in the Lansing family?

Scripture defines love as follows:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned,[a] but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;[b] it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13)

Eustacia:

She knew her vocation. She knew why she had been born into the world. It was to love; to be a wife and mother… Eustacia Sims intended to give and receivve all the plenitude of the earth by love; to grow seven feet tall by love; to have ten children–Chevalier Bayards, Joséphines–by love; to merit her beauty by love; to live to a hundred, bowed down beneath the crowns of love. (pp. 214-315)

Eustacia Lansing fell consumedly in love with John Ashley. (p. 325)

It seems that Eustacia’s life is “injected by love,” but we are forced to question it by her divided love between her husband and family and John Ashley. How could a woman so filled with love and so devoted to her family be in love with another man?

Félicité:

She was moving towards abstraction. She loved her mother. She loved her brother passionately. But these loves were already imbued with the love of the creature which was enjoined upon her. Through these same disciplines she had found her way to a love for her father and younger sister. (p. 330)

“You know what the deep wish of my life is. I cannot ask to take my vows until my dear brother is–as the Bible says–‘made whole.’ Come to Coaltown.” (p. 391)

In Félicité, we see what might seem as a pure love, but is so abstracted from its objects that it almost doesn’t seem real.

Breckenridge:

“Stacey, I love you. Can’t you get that into your thick head: that I love you? I don’t want to be off in some damned hospital where you’d only be allowed in for half an hour a day. Stacey, will you listen–just once–to what I say? I’d rather die with you near me than live forever and ever without you.” (p. 356)

For all the Ivan Ilyich type behavior in Breckenridge’s illness, all of his outbursts and infidelities, all of his harsh treatments of George, he does truly love Eustacia from the bottom of his heart.

Eustacia and Breckenridge:

Maudlin: He loved her. Did she love him? Really love him? When had she loved him least? When had she loved him most? When he met that little girl on the island of St. Kitts he’d foreseen that she’d be the best little wife in the world. Oh, yes, he had. He was no fool.

Aggressive: Had she loved any other man since she left the islands? He didn’t mean misbehaved–merely loved? Answer honestly. Would she swear to it? She didn’t sound as though she meant it. He bet there was somebody. She was hiding something from him. That fellow in Pittsburg–what was his name? Leonard something. He’d thought she was pretty neat and cute. The fellow with the big weeping-willow mustache. Was it him?

Sly (soothing digressions from which he could suddenly stage a surprise attack): The way she ran the store in Basseterre! It beat the dutch! Smartest little head in the Caribbean. Regular little Shylock! All the officers from those foreign ships. Girls go crazy for a uniform…He wouldn’t be surprised…Lot of little back rooms…He’d been blind as a bat. He bet that she’d lied to him all his life. She’d gone to Fort Barry to church. Who’d she seen there? (pp. 363-364)

The most painful aspect of this phase was the absence of any faint intimation from the realm of the spirit (p. 365)

She loved him. Yes, that’s what marriage had brought her to. She loved him as a creature. Like most completely bilingual persons she thought in both languages. About the more superficial machinery in life she thought in English. Her inner life presented itself to her in French. In both languages the word “creature” wears two aspects; in French the two are more drastically contrasted. Her favorite French authors, Pascal and Bossuet, constantly evoked the double sense: a créature is an abject living thing; it is also a living thing–generally a human being–fashioned by God. Her dear uncle in marrying her had predicted that they would become one flesh; he had been right. She loved this créature. She could not imagine him away. Just as she shrank with horror from any desire to have wished her life to have been other. It was these children–and no other imaginable children–that constituted her boundless ineffable thanks to God. That’s what destiny is. Our lives are a seamless robe. All was ordained, as the English language put it. She arrived at a position much like Dr. Gillies’s. We don’t live our lives. God lives us. (pp. 366-367)

While Breckenridge’s love for Eustacia is relatively simple, Eustacia’s love for him is more complex. She loves him as creature, certainly not as an equal partner in God. She could not imagine herself with anybody else, but that doesn’t tell us that she loves Breckenridge as a husband on equal footing with her and others that she loves. Her love for Breckenridge almost seems a condescension. Breckenridge and Eustacia’s spirits lack the intimate relationship of what marriages need. Their spirits are distant from one another.

George:

Maybe I’ll get a letter from you tomorrow. Maybe I’ll never be happy one day in my life, but I don’t care. Other people will be happy. (p. 382)

I guess there’s no hope for me. I’ll have to get used to it. As long as other people are happy…I know that I was born to be a very happy person, but then things happened. Sometimes, I’m so happy I could crush the whole universe in my arms for love. Doesn’t last. You and Maman and Anne–be happy for me, Oneself doesn’t count. (p. 383)

Lew died. I held his hand. Everything I do falls to pieces for me, but I don’t care. I don’t live. I don’t really live. I never will. I don’t care as long as other people live. Lew told me I gave him three happy months. I heard that in India those street cleaners have to wear badges. I’m proud of mine. Don’t you worry about me. (p. 390).

In the rebellious character of George, we surprisingly see the most pure form of other-centeredness in the novel. He doesn’t care for his own happiness, but for others’ happiness.

How do these examples of love compare to 1 Corinthians 13?

Favorite Quotation:

Eustacia quotes Shakespeare in a letter to George:

“Forgive, George. Forgive and understand.”

“You will soon be playing Shylock. Think of your father when you hear Portia saying to you:

‘We do pray for mercy,

And that same prayer doth teach us all to render

The deeds of mercy.'” (p. 388)

We all want others to give us mercy, but are we willing to bestow that gift of mercy to others? I know personally that this task is very difficult. I am quick to judge, but it is He who is Judge. Why don’t I love? Why don’t I bestow mercy? I don’t know what lies in my neighbors heart. I don’t have the ability to judge, so why do I try?

Cross Reference:

Me:

The Eighth Day by Thornton Wilder: IV. Hoboken, New Jersey 1883

In the fourth chapter of Thornton Wilder’s novel, The Eighth Day, the narrator narrates the time when John Ashly, “our uninteresting hero,” meets his future wife, Beata Kellerman. He is attending engineering school in Hoboken, New Jersey. He “saves” Beata from her family and “frees” her. They then decide to move and find a new life together.

Question:

Clotilde Kellerman had other passions, too, or tended other altars. She loved her family collectively, while being in a constant state for exasperation with each individual in it. The were hers. She would have walked into a fire for any of them. (p. 295)

Here, in this genealogical chapter, we are introduced to Beata’s mother, and her relationship with her family, which includes Beata herself. This small statement about Clotilde’s love reminds me of another one of Wilder’s character’s. In Wilder’s early novel, The Bridge of San Luis Rey, he teases out the character of Doña Maria (The Marquesa de Montemayor) and her love for her daughter, Clara:

The knowledge that she would never be loved in return acted upon her ideas as tide acts upon cliffs…And when on the balcony her thoughts reached this turn, her mouth would contract with shame for she knew that she too sinned and that through her love for her daughter was vast enough to include all the colors of love, it was not without a shade of tyranny: she loved her daughter nor her her daughter’s sake, but for her own. (pp. 17-18)

Love is not some tyranny, it is not for possession. Clotilde, like Maria, seems to love for her own sake, as opposed to loving for her family’s sake.

Why do we love for ourselves? Why do we not love for our objects’ sake? It’s easy to condemn Clotilde and Maria, but they are not dissimilar to each and every one of us. We tend to love selfishly. Now, the hope is to turn to love the object for the object. We ought not treat everything as property to be possessed.

Favorite Quotation:

As I shall have occasion to say when we consider the early years of Eustacia Lansing: All young people secrete idealism as continuously as the Bombyx mori secretes silk. It is as necessary to them as food that life be filled with wonder–that they contemplate heroes. They must admire. The boy in the reformatory (his third conviction for burglary with assault) secretes idealism as a Bombyx mori secretes silk. The girl of fifteen brutalized into prostitution, secretes idealism–for a while–as a Bombyx mori secretes silk. Life to newcomers presents itself as a brightly lighted stage where they will be called upon to play roles exhibiting courage, fair dealing, magnanimity, wisdom, and helpfulness. Hoping and trembling a little, they feel that they are almost ready for these great demands upon them. (p. 298)

This passage particularly stands out to me. I am interested in the relationship between pragmatism/realism vs. idealism. I usually tend towards idealism. However, as Wilder seems to declare, idealism is not all that rational.

I am not content to leave this conversation at that. Pragmatism, or realism, seems to be without hope. Life without hope is absurd. Why live? What for? For what purpose? (as Dr. Gillies says on that New Years eve when John Ashley and Eustacia Lansing Kiss). So what is the right combination of pragmatic and idealistic thought? I know I need to think of things in realistic terms, but sometimes there is room for imagination, creativity, and hope. I know I need to trust I’ll be healthy and safe, but I also need to be confronted with the reality that its possible that I won’t be. Where is the middle ground? How can I stay away from the two extremes?

Cross Reference:

Bensonian on Hoboken, New Jersey

Me:

The Eighth Day by Thornton Wilder: III. Chicago 1902-1905

dff18b_558c7a9a9dde4ebabe5a191f7f2d536f

Chapter 3, Chicago, outlines the story of John Ashley’s only son, Roger, in Chicago. Roger Ashley left the house shortly after the conviction and escape of his father. He went to Chicago to look for work. This chapter takes us through his time in Chicago up until 1905, when he returns to Coaltown for Christmas.

Question:

In this chapter, we see Roger leave his home and interact with the crowds of Chicago–reconciling himself with “human continuity” (p. 209). He also starts meeting young women in Chicago, often dating multiple at one time. We get short phrases such as these: “Everybody liked him and he liked nobody” (p. 210), “He loved no one” (p. 215), and “He was loved and he loved no one” (p. 216).

What is the nature of love in Roger’s life? Why does everyone love him and why does he love no one?

I think that Roger takes after his dad, John. Back in Coaltown, John Ashley attracted the attention of everybody. He was loved by everyone, especially the women in Coaltown. Roger probably has the same effect on the people he meets in Chicago.

With regards to Roger’s lack of love towards others, Wilder as narrator says the following:

He was expunging from his imagination–by urgent necessity–the compelling presence of the woman who he had loved so passionately and whose failure to respond to him had come close to convincing him that he would never be loved, that he could never love. None of these women resembled their mother. (p. 251)

Beata Ashley, Roger’s mother, apparently wasn’t loving. When we hear about Beata as a mother, she seems to be a good mother. But after we become acquainted with her, we realize that she wasn’t necessarily loving to her kids. She cared for them and provided for them, but there wasn’t an outpouring of love that is usually present in maternal relationships. Apparently,

She merely didn’t care they [or we] existed or not. Mama cared for only one person in the world. She adored Papa. (p. 272)

Beata was so devoted to her husband, John, and she adored him so much, that she neglected to love her own children. This comes to affect Roger. He loved her with all his heart, but she failed to reciprocate that love, forcing him to question whether he could be loved at all, and wonder if he could ever love again.

We get a peak at a possibility for him to love again at the end of the chapter. On the train home, Felicite Lansing, the daughter of the man that John Ashley was convicted of murdering, talks to Roger about something she needs to tell him on Christmas Day. He says to himself that he will marry that girl.

Will roger be able to love?

Favorite Quotation:

“One day, months ago, the Maestro made his youngest daughter–Adriana–leave the table. She’d merely said that she adored her new shoes; she thought they were divine. He said that those were religious words and that they had nothing to do with shoes. He turned to me and said that they had nothing to do with human beings either. He warned me to beware of husbands and wives who adored one another. Such persons haven’t grown up, he said. No human being is adorable. The early Hebrews were quite right to condemn idolatry. Women who adore their husbands throw a thousand little ropes around them. They rob them of their freedom. They lull them to sleep. It’s wonderful to own a god, to put him in your pocket.” (p. 272)

One day, Lily Ashely, the oldest daughter of the Ashley family, after moving to Chicago also talks with her music teacher about adoration. Lily’s mom, Beata, adored her husband–so this conversation is decently relevant to her.

Wilder really hits a chord with me in speaking about this. Idolatry is something so easy to fall prey to. I love reading, which is a good in itself, but I can go overboard and covet different books and desire just the possession of the physical objects, as opposed to the knowledge and love that God gives me with these books. There are other examples, but I think Wilder is right to separate Adoration as something purely divine, not for us humans.

Cross Reference:

Bensonian on Chapter 3 Chicago

Me:

In Memoriam A.H.H. by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

I just finished Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s most famous poems, In Memoriam A.H.H. This poem was a poem written in memory of his dead friend, Arthur, who was also a poet. This poem takes us through the struggle with grief: generally, starting out in dark grief, ending in hopeful anguish. It is a long poem at 131 cantos, along with an introductory canto and a concluding canto. It took me a while, but it is a beautiful poem that explores, grief, love, and death deeply. I read this without notes, commentary, or a companion, which has its advantages and disadvantages. As a result, I don’t have some big message about what Tennyson is saying, I merely will quote my favorite canto:

CVI

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,

The flying cloud, the frosty light:

The year is dying in the night;

Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,

Ring, happy bells, across the snow:

The year is going, let him go;

Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,

For those that here we see no more;

Ring out the feud of rich and poor,

Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out  slowly dying cause,

And ancient forms of party strife;

Ring in the nobler modes of life,

With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,

The faithless coldness of the times;

Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes,

But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,

The civic slander and the spite;

Ring in the love of truth and right

Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;

Ring out the narrowing of lust of gold;

Ring out the thousand wars of old,

Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,

The larger heart, the kindlier hand;

Ring out the darkness of the land,

Ring in the Christ that is to be.