The Apple of Discord

The above title is taken from the thirty sixth chapter of the classic novel Villette by Charlotte Bronte and is partially derived from the Greek Mythology story, Judgement of Paris, where the Golden Apple of Discord precipitates the Trojan War.  As a reader who prefers to allow a classic novel to speak for itself without the aid of commentary, it is tempting to believe that Bronte also meant the Apple of Discord to reference the apple that tempted Eve.

The conflicted relationship between Villette’s two main characters, Protestant Lucy Snowe and Catholic M. Paul Emmanuel, personifies the discord between Protestantism and Catholicism and the contrast between steadfast humble belief and obligatory legalistic fervor.  They are Eve and Adam who corrupt their naked innocent trust by tasting knowledge beyond what God intended.  Lucy Snowe refers to the inducing argument in favor of the pomp and glory of Rome as the “third temptation” to which she responds that as Protestants we “…kept fewer forms between us and God; retaining, indeed, no more than, perhaps, the nature of mankind in the mass rendered necessary for due observance.”  Lucy explains to M. Emmanuel that “…the guide to which I looked, and the teacher which I owned, must always be the Bible itself, rather than any sect, of whatever name or nation.”

These two believers, removed from their individual religious influences, were able to reach accord by returning to the uncontested foundation of their faith which Lucy illustrates in her declaration to M. Paul, “…you believe in God and Christ and the Bible, and so do I.”  —  Marian K

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Redeeming Love

George Eliot’s classic nineteenth-century novel, Adam Bede, explores the theme of love as a redeeming force. During the course of the novel, the dynamic characters, including protagonist Adam Bede, experience transformation as a consequence of giving or receiving sacrificial love.

Determined to overcome the shame of a dissolute father, Adam becomes the kind of man his father was not. He is an honorable, forceful and industrious young carpenter whose expectations, for himself and others, are above the reach of ordinary men. Adam is blindly devoted to a vain and superficial farm girl, Hetty Sorrel, who has inflated hopes of attracting the Squire’s self-indulgent grandson and heir, Arthur Donnithorne. Hetty’s hopes are realized with tragic results.

Adam’s tender-hearted brother, Seth, longs to marry the gentle and compassionate Methodist preacher, Dinah Morris, but her devotion to God cannot be divided. Her divine calling is to demonstrate the grace and mercy of Christ through selfless giving.

These characters evolve through the power of redeeming love. Adam discovers that genuine love is not blind adoration; but a desire to see, know, understand, and forgive. After bringing great misery on themselves and others, Hetty and Arthur learn, through the compassion of those they’ve harmed, that love is not self-seeking; but a selfless regard for others. Dinah comforts Hetty in her time of need and lovingly guides her to supernatural mercy and peace. The theme of sacrificial love is best exemplified when Adam is encouraged by Seth to pursue his own beloved, Dinah…who wisely accepts the inverse truth that it can sometimes be as blessed to receive as to give!

Miss R and Mr. C

Miss R was part of a large corporate machine where her useful contributions gave her days a much needed sense of purpose.  At night she returned home to a dependent father and a niece who the father offered protection by proxy.  Familial obligations were honored where genuine connection did not exist.  Miss R’s habitual outward reserve was a wall she used to hide her inner deprivations and protect her from disappointed hopes.

The time came when a new co-worker, Mr. C, ignorant of Miss R’s inner struggles, innocently approached her with overtures of friendship.  When Mr. C’s first attempts did not succeed he assumed the fault was his and altered his approach.  At this stage in their relations both were unaware that Mr. C had in fact already breached Miss R’s wall of reserve.  Finally Miss R was able to reject Mr. C in a way he clearly understood.  Mr. C retreated and for the first time in Miss R’s social career she felt the pain of regret.  This unwanted new emotion upset the level of her existence.

After calculating his failures Mr. C accepted defeat until a force beyond his normal cool-headed reason insisted on re-advancement.  Meanwhile, Miss R, preoccupied with the unaccustomed effort required to resist the disagreeable new emotion, was unprepared to repel his re-advance.  Continuous and unrelenting advances led to Miss R admitting defeat and Mr. C winning the battle for friendship.  He immediately set about applying the same methods to winning the war for love.  Of course he succeeded.    —    Marian K

Bertha Dorset’s Letters

Mrs. Dorset’s letters of appeal to her young unmarried and increasingly distant lover, Lawrence Selden, become a recurring symbol of an underlying theme in Edith Wharton’s classic novel The House of Mirth.  Bertha and Selden are pivotal characters who inhabit and impact the privileged and socially conscious world of protagonist Lily Bart.  Bertha’s letters first appear in the hands of Selden’s char-woman, Mrs. Haffen, who assumes Lily is their author and extorts money from her in exchange for the letters.  Lily’s primary motive in securing Bertha’s letters is a desire to protect Selden from the consequences of exposure.  To Lily, Selden is an admiring confidant whose limited financial means disqualify him as a contender in her ambitious marriage schemes.  Bertha’s dangerous social influence had cost Lily an anticipated marriage proposal from the unattainable and brilliantly rich Percy Gryce.  Lily briefly acknowledges, then dismisses, the self-interested possibilities Bertha’s letters represent.

Bertha’s social foundation is her wealthy and prominent husband George who holds the same power over Bertha that she exerts over Lily.  George’s power is unconscious and he is suspicious yet preoccupied.  Lawrence Selden moves past the superficial attraction he once felt for Bertha and remains independent and uninvolved.  Lily replaces Bertha as the focus of Selden’s thoughts and becomes an irresistible and undefinable fascination.  Selden discounts Lily as a potential marriage partner for the same reason she dismisses him, her financial dependence and his just sufficient means are inadequate to produce the lavish household and lifestyle indispensable to their exacting social class.

Lily continues to resist capitalizing on Bertha’s defamatory letters in reaction to either of Bertha’s calculated moves against her…Bertha’s sabotage of Lily’s intentions to marry Percy Gryce or her maneuvers to position Lily as a diversion for George and scapegoat for herself while she openly conducts an adulterous affair with Ned Silverton.  Bertha’s calculations have irreparable consequences for Lily, she loses her social standing and all acceptable chances of rising through marriage.  Being unprepared and unwilling to survive outside her familiar world, Lily begins to self-destruct.  As Lily’s circumstances continue to deteriorate, she sees and ignores the potential the letters afford as collateral to compel Bertha’s sanction of her social reinstatement.  An implied final offer of marriage from the socially objectionable yet prosperous and powerful Mr. Rosedale is dependent upon her social restoration.

In Lily’s final hours she comes to understand that Lawrence Selden represents her best chance for a future, one more likely to satisfy than that she had endeavored to attain.  Bertha’s letters once more offer a means of redemption for Lily as proof that she is all Selden believes her to be, a woman unwilling to sacrifice her integrity for an unworthy ambition.  Believing her chance for redemption has passed, Lily secretly, nobly and symbolically drops Bertha’s letters into Selden’s fire.  —  Marian K.

A Pilgrim’s Journey

My journey began in inner and outer darkness, I dimly perceived a glimmer of the light which surrounded me.  I stumbled then fell, stumbled and fell again, and again.  I reached until knowing arms lifted and set me on my path.  The direction was unclear, fear and mistrust made my advance slow and unsteady.  Often, I resented the struggle and pain of moving forward, the cost seemed greater than the gain.  The thought of ending my journey tempted when defeat followed self-reliant striving or rejection followed appeals to fellow travelers.

A voice whispered…hope…persevere…endurance will be rewarded with revelation.  Understanding, truth will replace blindness and emptiness.  A plan, a purpose will create order out of chaos and confusion.  Power, strength will overcome doubt and weakness.  The whispered promise was kept and faithfully continues to be fulfilled.  I am anyone and this story is for everyone who seeks more than breath and life, who desires wisdom greater than their own understanding or who longs for refuge in an ever-present help in time of trouble.  —  Marian K.

Lily & Edna

The House of Mirth Lily Bart in Edith Wharton’s “House of Mirth” is nurtured on ambitious expectations which can only be realized through a brilliant marriage.  Although the main focus of her adult life is the pursuit of those expectations, an innate yet unperceived sense of their emptiness causes her to sabotage their fulfillment.  Lily’s failure to overcome this conflict, combined with an unwillingness to accept the reality of her destitution or to develop the fortitude necessary for survival, results in her determined yet unacknowledged self-destruction.

Lily’s reactions to her narrow and uniformly insurmountable choices as well as the final decision of her life are echoed, under comparable restrictions, by Edna Pontellier in The Awakening by Kate Chopin.  Both women ripen and evolve beyond who they were expected to become and subsequently discover their enlightened selves cannot survive within the framework of their intolerable circumstances, place and time.

Both Lily and Edna interact with men on the periphery of their worlds, respectively Lawrence Selden and Robert Lebrun, who through intuiting and touching each woman’s higher self become catalysts for their awakening.  These men are not the essential cause of Lily and Edna’s new awareness and are also not the solution to their subsequent dilemma.  Lily and Edna choose their corresponding solutions as the only perceived alternative to a barren existence.  If their enlightenment had extended beyond themselves to an external and eternal source they might have experienced a truly awakened existence and thereby triumphed over their circumstances.   —  Marian K

The Awakening

The Awakening