"Love follows knowledge."
"Beauty above all beauty!"
– St. Catherine of Siena

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Music Tuesday: Sicut Cervus by Palestrina

I haven’t had a Music Tuesday entry in a while and I came across this wonderful composition by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, the 16th century Italian composer.  This is his wonderful arrangement of the opening lines of Psalm 42: “As a deer longs for the flowing streams, so longs my soul for thee, O God.”  It is sung in Latin:   

Sicut cervus desiderat ad fontes aquarum,
ita desiderat anima mea ad te, Deus.

The artist in this rendition is the choral group, The Cambridge Singers.  

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Photo Essay: Pictures from Yesterday’s Solar Eclipse

Yesterday was the great Solar Eclipse of 2017 across the United States.  here were others who took much better pictures, but I did capture these.  The first is holding the Solar Eclipse Sun glasses over the lens, filtering out the ultra-violet and infrared light.  The second is using just natural, unobscured, unfiltered lens.  I think these were snapped about 20 to 30 minutes before max obscuration, which was only about 70% here.  I tried to take it at max obscuration but my hand kept shaking every time I snapped.  These two were the best pictures I took.

If you want to see some professional pictures, you can go to NASA’s website.    

Monday, August 21, 2017

Poetry: “An Eclipse” by Dora Sigerson Shorter

I’ve never heard of Dora Sigerson Shorter, but I came across this little poem which makes good reading for today, the day of the Solar Eclipse of 2017.  I came across it at American Literature.Com, which also features an essay by James Fenimore Cooper, “The Eclipse,” on his experience witnessing the June 16, 1806 solar eclipse. 

It’s actually a nice little poem and I think it’s referencing all the anxiety that come with eclipses over the end of the earth.

An Eclipse
by Dora Sigerson Shorter

Let there be an end
And all be done;
Pass over, fair eclipse,
That hides the sun.

Dear face that shades the light
And shadows me,
Begone, and give me peace,
And set me free.

Interersting she titles it, An and not The Eclipse.  Perhaps she is suggesting more than just the solar event.

Well, I’m going to try to watch the eclipse this afternoon.  We are only get about a 70% eclipse in the New York area.  Be careful and follow the safety precautions if you will be outside.  It happens between two and three o’clock this afternoon here.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc by Mark Twain, Part 2

You can read Part 1 of this series, here.  

You can also find the entire Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc by Mark Twain on line here.  

This post deals with thoughts concerning Book 1 of Twain’s novel.  I’ve divided the post into three parts: one concerning the Faëry tree of chapter two, one concerning some unusual tidbits concerning the narrator of the work, Sieur Louis de Conte, and one concerning Joan’s interaction with the Archangel Michael in chapter six.  If some of my language suggest I’m speaking to someone, it’s likely I am.  These comments were generated as part of my Goodreads book club discussion on the novel.

1. On Chapter 2:

Let me give my thoughts on this chapter 2, "The Faëry Tree of Domremy." It starts as a description of the little town, and moves to beyond the forest and river, and then Louis talks about dragons that spout fire that once lived there and perhaps one still do. He talks about "evidence" for the dragon and he uses the word "evidence" a number of times throughout the chapter. Now evidence is a loaded word when you project ahead in the story. Joan will face a trial and evidence will be presented and falsified to condemn her. That we know from the raw facts of her life. Louis makes a point that knights killed the dragons at one time, but more recently priests have exorcised them out. This has the sense of an allegory, but of what? Does the dragon represent Joan or her enemies? Unless you've completed the novel (and I haven't yet) I'm not sure we can tell what this is an allegory for.

The faery tree, this five hundred year old "majestic beech tree,' stood on high ground and children went there to play on summer days. Children play around this tree with wild flowers and the fairies drove away serpents and insects and other dangers. This is a very Romanticized image of an Edenic setting. A sense of innocence is emphasized. Even in death that innocence is maintained:

Now from time immemorial all children reared in Domremy were called the Children of the Tree; and they loved that name, for it carried with it a mystic privilege not granted to any others of the children of this world. Which was this: whenever one of these came to die, then beyond the vague and formless images drifting through his darkening mind rose soft and rich and fair a vision of the Tree-if all was well with his soul. That was what some said. Others said the vision came in two ways: once as a warning, one or two years in advance of death, when the soul was the captive of sin, and then the Tree appeared in its desolate winter aspect-then that soul was smitten with an awful fear. If repentance came, and purity of life, the vision came again, this time summer-clad and beautiful; but if it were otherwise with that soul the vision was withheld, and it passed from life knowing its doom. Still others said that the vision came but once, and then only to the sinless dying forlorn in distant lands and pitifully longing for some last dear reminder of their home. And what reminder of it could go to their hearts like the picture of the Tree that was the darling of their love and the comrade of their joys and comforter of their small griefs all through the divine days of their vanished youth?

In death, the children of the tree are granted a vision of this tree before they die, and there are two theories as to what the vision means: either as a warning for those with sin ("once as a warning...") for repentance or as a reminder for those sinless (Still others…") of their home, which embraces love, joy, and comfort. So the tree has a dual meaning, which could be a consolidation of the two trees in paradise. There is the Tree of Knowledge, from which Adam and Eve eat the apple, and there is the Tree of Life, a tree that leads to sin and a tree that brings redemption. I think Twain has consolidated the two. But he has Louis say he has personal experience to know the second to be true, that of the sinless children. Louis writes:

I know that when the Children of the Tree die in a far land, then-if they be at peace with God-they turn their longing eyes toward home, and there, far-shining, as through a rift in a cloud that curtains heaven, they see the soft picture of the Fairy Tree, clothed in a dream of golden light; and they see the bloomy mead sloping away to the river, and to their perishing nostrils is blown faint and sweet the fragrance of the flowers of home. And then the vision fades and passes-but they know, they know! and by their transfigured faces you know also, you who stand looking on; yes, you know the message that has come, and that it has come from heaven.

Well, who is he talking about either directly or indirectly of an innocent child dying in a far off land with a transfigured face and with a message from heaven? Joan, of course.

This is such a rich chapter. I'm glad whoever started the question on it brought it up. The Tree of Life in heaven, among other things, is supposed to prefigure the cross on which Christ is crucified. This ancient tree, I think, here prefigures Joan's innocent life, her trial, and her burning at the stake. This chapter is a consolidation of Joan's story in summary and allegory.

2. Tidbits Concerning the Narrator:

There are a couple of tidbits that I came across or noticed in the early chapters that others might find interesting. The first, the one I came across in a search, is probably not that significant, while the second is something that caught my eye may be significant, and I request some thoughts on it.

On the tidbit that's not significant, I came across that the initials of the supposed author, Sieur Louis de Conte, SLC, match that of Mark Twain's real name, Samuel Langhorne Clemens, or SLC. That is rather interesting, especially when one realizes the real Louis de Conte-who was Jaon's real life page-did not have a title. Twain gave him the title "Sieur," which he did presumably to have the initials match. I did not know this until now, "Sieur" is the French equivalent to the English title of "Sir" given to a knight. Fordham University's website on the novel makes this note:  

"Important Note: Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc is a work of fiction by Samuel Langhorne Clemens (i.e. Mark Twain). The pseudonymous author's name - Sieur Louis de Conte [initials SLC] derives from Samuel Langhorne Clemens [initials SLC]. Joan of Arc did have a servant named Louis and the French word for "tale" is conte, hence the name adopted for this story by Clemens."

So the word "conte" has the fortunate translation of "tale," which must have made Twain smile.

The other tidbit that I think carries more significance is the Sieur de Conte's dedication at the beginning. Here are his first two sentences: "This is the year 1492. I am eighty-two years of age." Now Twain is very faithful to the historical facts of Joan's life, but given this is fiction he does take liberties with Louis de Conte. Obviously in that other tidbit above, he gave him a title, and he makes him a childhood friend of Joan. We can see why he does that. If he was to employ a first person narrator who is an eyewitness requires that narrator to be by Joan's side from the beginning until the end. From what I gathered, the real de Conte was not a childhood friend, and it's not clear to me if he was present at her trial and execution. But Twain employs this fiction and has Sieur Louis de Conte write this narrative many years later as an old man of eighty-two, in the year 1492, some sixty-one years after Joan was executed. Now he could have had de Conte write this narrative at any point in the sixty years, but Twain consciously chose 1492, a very curious year.

Why 1492? Of course that is the famous year of Columbus discovering the Americas. What significance could that have to this story? I open that up for everyone.

There are two thoughts that come to mind for me, but I can't say either are completely convincing. One is that it's a way to emphasize what I stated earlier, that Twain is not just speaking about Joan's era and country, but his own time and country. The "1492" detail isn't a strong connection to Twain's time, but perhaps loosely that's what he's suggesting.

The other thought is that 1492 is sometimes regarded as the year the medieval world ended, and the seed of the modern world started to germinate. Of course you have the discovery of the new world, shortly after you have the Protestant reformation, and within a short time you have the codification of national identities rather than more local identities. Is this what Twain is trying to highlight with this detail? Perhaps, but why so?

3.0 Scene with the Archangel

I loved that scene too with the Archangel. And a very important one. Let me just quote it and give you a couple of thoughts on it:

I was coming from over the ridge, one day-it was the 15th of May, '28-and when I got to the edge of the oak forest and was about to step out of it upon the turfy open space in which the haunted beech tree stood, I happened to cast a glance from cover, first-then I took a step backward, and stood in the shelter and concealment of the foliage. For I had caught sight of Joan, and thought I would devise some sort of playful surprise for her. Think of it-that trivial conceit was neighbor, with but a scarcely measurable interval of time between, to an event destined to endure forever in histories and songs.

The day was overcast, and all that grassy space wherein the Tree stood lay in a soft rich shadow. Joan sat on a natural seat formed by gnarled great roots of the Tree. Her hands lay loosely, one reposing in the other, in her lap. Her head was bent a little toward the ground, and her air was that of one who is lost to thought, steeped in dreams, and not conscious of herself or of the world. And now I saw a most strange thing, for I saw a white shadow come slowly gliding along the grass toward the Tree. It was of grand proportions-a robed form, with wings-and the whiteness of this shadow was not like any other whiteness that we know of, except it be the whiteness of lightnings, but even the lightnings are not so intense as it was, for one can look at them without hurt, whereas this brilliancy was so blinding that it pained my eyes and brought the water into them. I uncovered my head, perceiving that I was in the presence of something not of this world. My breath grew faint and difficult, because of the terror and the awe that possessed me.

Another strange thing. The wood had been silent-smitten with that deep stillness which comes when a storm-cloud darkens a forest, and the wild creatures lose heart and are afraid; but now all the birds burst forth into song, and the joy, the rapture, the ecstasy of it was beyond belief; and was so eloquent and so moving, withal, that it was plain it was an act of worship. With the first note of those birds Joan cast herself upon her knees, and bent her head low and crossed her hands upon her breast.

She had not seen the shadow yet. Had the song of the birds told her it was coming? It had that look to me. Then the like of this must have happened before. Yes, there might be no doubt of that.

The shadow approached Joan slowly; the extremity of it reached her, flowed over her, clothed her in its awful splendor. In that immortal light her face, only humanly beautiful before, became divine; flooded with that transforming glory her mean peasant habit was become like to the raiment of the sun-clothed children of God as we see them thronging the terraces of the Throne in our dreams and imaginings.

Presently she rose and stood, with her head still bowed a little, and with her arms down and the ends of her fingers lightly laced together in front of her; and standing so, all drenched with that wonderful light, and yet apparently not knowing it, she seemed to listen-but I heard nothing. After a little she raised her head, and looked up as one might look up toward the face of a giant, and then clasped her hands and lifted them high, imploringly, and began to plead. I heard some of the words. I heard her say-

"But I am so young! oh, so young to leave my mother and my home and go out into the strange world to undertake a thing so great! Ah, how can I talk with men, be comrade with men?-soldiers! It would give me over to insult, and rude usage, and contempt. How can I go to the great wars, and lead armies?-I a girl, and ignorant of such things, knowing nothing of arms, nor how to mount a horse, nor ride it… Yet-if it is commanded-"

Her voice sank a little, and was broken by sobs, and I made out no more of her words. Then I came to myself. I reflected that I had been intruding upon a mystery of God-and what might my punishment be? I was afraid, and went deeper into the wood. Then I carved a mark in the bark of a tree, saying to myself, it may be that I am dreaming and have not seen this vision at all. I will come again, when I know that I am awake and not dreaming, and see if this mark is still here; then I shall know.

 Notice how detailed it is. Louis states the actual date, the location in detail, the weather, the birds acting in unison with Joan. Twain is making sure that the visions and voices Joan hears are true. There is no ambiguity for at least two reason I can think of.

First, Twain is telling us the complete divinity of Joan's claims are true. A modern writer would probably couch her visions and voices in ambiguity because the secular modernist couldn't quite believe it. He has to attribute it to psychology or coincidence or misunderstood science, if not to outright lies. And those secular modernists were already there in Twain's time. But Twain is clearly separating himself from them here. For all of Twain's personal antipathy toward organized religion, he is clearly separating himself here from the secular enlightenment. He is saying that Joan of Arc really communicated with the divine.

Second, and perhaps more important to the logic of the novel, Twain is showing us the truth against the falsified evidence against Joan at her trial. When she goes on trial later in the novel, we will know the truth, and we will feel the villainy of her accusers. Not only will we know the truth of her visions, but we will have her endeared in our hearts because she is clearly acting on behalf of God.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc by Mark Twain, Part 1

My Catholic Thoughts Book Club on Goodreads is reading Mark Twain’s historical novel of the French saint and martyr, Joan of Arc, titled, Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc.  I was the person who nominated the work, and low and behold for a change my nomination actually won.  Here’s what I said to persuade people, and hopefully it will persuade you my dear readers to pick up the book as well and read my ongoing comments.

I've been reading French literature and I always wanted to know more of St. Joan.

As to whether it's a Catholic book, Ignatius Press, a Catholic book publisher/distributor puts it out and has a great description.

You could read it but since some might not go over, let me copy and paste:

Very few people know that Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) wrote a major work on Joan of Arc. Still fewer know that he considered it not only his most important but also his best work. He spent twelve years in research and many months in France doing archival work and then made several attempts until he felt he finally had the story he wanted to tell. He reached his conclusion about Joan's unique place in history only after studying in detail accounts written by both sides, the French and the English.
Because of Mark Twain's antipathy to institutional religion, one might expect an anti-Catholic bias toward Joan or at least toward the bishops and theologians who condemned her. Instead one finds a remarkably accurate biography of the life and mission of Joan of Arc told by one of this country's greatest storytellers. The very fact that Mark Twain wrote this book and wrote it the way he did is a powerful testimony to the attractive power of the Catholic Church's saints. This is a book that really will inform and inspire.

“I like Joan of Arc best of all my books; and it is the best; I know it perfectly well. And besides, it furnished me seven times the pleasure afforded me by any of the others; twelve years of preparation, and two years of writing. The others needed no preparation and got none.”
-Mark Twain

Also, of the listed endorsements, one is the wonderful and erudite Fr. George Rutler of EWTN fame, a writer of many Catholic books himself:

“Mark Twain comes furtively like Nicodemus at night with this tribute to one of God’s saints. In doing so he tells a secret about himself. It is as though the man in a white suit and a cloud of cigar smoke thought there just might be a place where people in white robes stand in clouds of incense.”
-Fr. George Rutler

And a biographer of Twain says this:
"Joan of Arc is the lone example that history affords of an actual, real embodiment of all the virtues demonstrated by Huck and Jim and of all that Twain felt to be noble in man, Joan is the ideal toward which mankind strives. Twain had to tell her story because she is the sole concrete argument against the pessimistic doctrines of his deterministic philosophy."
-Robert Wiggins, Mark Twain: Jackleg Novelist

Joan wrapped up as Huck and Jim! No matter how cynical Twain can get, his universe always has a moral center. Now isn't that enticing?

Well that won the vote—after a runoff with Mother Teresa’s Heart of Joy, which we’ll be reading next.  Here is the schedule for the Mark Twain read:

Week 1, 13-19 Aug: Book 1 and the prefatory pages.
Week 2, 20-26 Aug: Book 2, chapters 1-13.
Week 3, 27 Aug – 2 Sep: Book 2, chapters 14-28.
Week 4, 3 Sep – 9 Sep: Book 2, chapters 29-41.
Week 5, 10 Sep – 16 Sep: Book 3, chapters 1-12.
Week 6, 17 Sep – 23 Sep: Book 3, chapters 13-24 & Conclusion.

It amounts to seventy to eighty pages per week.  I hope you’ll join us.  The book is available in all formats, free in Kindle, and on line in many places, here for instance.  
In reading the opening chapters of PROJOA, I realized there were a number of historical facts that are mentioned that assumes the reader knows. Let me summarize the history that led to Joan of Arc as best I can, but realize I’m not an expert here. If someone sees any glaring errors, please correct me.

I guess the history goes back to the Normans, a fierce Viking culture that traveled down from Scandinavia somewhere around the ninth century and settled into northern France. In time they were absorbed into the French kingdom, albeit they retained a certain identity and created a particular French dialect. The arrangement with the French King was that the Norman dominated lands were vassals under the French King, meaning they had a certain level of independence as fiefdoms but owed allegiance to the French King.

In 1066, the Normans (under William the Conqueror) decided to invade England across the channel after some sort of dispute based on intermarriage rights. As it turned out, the Normans conquered England and established their own kingdom there, while still being vassals to the French crown in their northern French states. So you can see the beginning of the complications. A Norman King and aristocracy ruled England, but they owned lands in northern France that fell under the French kingdom.

Now without getting into the nitty-gritty of which Kings thought they owned which land and who was a vassal of whom, all complicated by marriage arrangements, all of which I’m no expert in or can even figure out on a rudimentary level, suffice it to say that English nobility, who were of French ethnicity, had claim rights to lands in France, while French aristocracy saw a conflict between what they started to consider as English aristocracy claiming lands on French soil. What had happened in the couple of hundred years since 1066 was that the Norman-French rulers in England became more English and less French. And so distinct identities started to develop, especially when the Hundred Years War began in 1337 and continued onward in what seemed endless. The longer it went, the more national identities set in. At the time of Joan’s birth, the war had gone on for 75 years, and, while there was back and forth, one could consider it a draw.

What changed dramatically was in 1413 (Joan being one years old at the time) was the assumption to England’s throne of Henry V, who turned out to be a master strategist. This Henry V is the same Henry V of Shakespeare’s play, a great play and wonderfully filmed by Kenneth Branagh. Read the play and watch the movie if you haven’t. It’s both Shakespeare and Branagh at their best. There’s a scene at the beginning of the play where Henry and his lords try to figure out which lands they own in France but are confused themselves. Henry almost throws up his hands and says let’s go take it back anyway, which shows you the confusion of property rights and vassalship in feudal times. And so now the war resumed after what had been a pause in the long war. But Henry V started to rack up victories, despite being at a numerical disadvantage and fighting on foreign soil. One of the things that had changed was a technological advantage to the English side, the development of the long bow, which now could pierce armor from a distance. The two sides gathered all their forces into a set battle which would be known as the battle of Agincourt in 1415 (Joan now being three). Mark Twain mentions the battle and says that the English fought with 8000 men to the French’s 50,000. And that’s historically accurate give or take a thousand on either side. What Henry V did was arrange his position so that he lured the large French army to charge through a narrow opening, where upon his long bowman annihilated the overly aggressive French army. It was a slaughter, one of the most lopsided defeats in military history, studied today at war colleges across the world. The death of nearly 50, 000 soldiers and aristocrats was a near unrecoverable event for the French. That many fighting age men are just not around to replace the dead.

Henry V had won a decisive battle and essentially conquered the French. To his credit, he did try to unify the two countries by marrying the French king’s daughter, Catherine of Valois, with the arrangement Henry would take the throne upon the King’s death, disposing the French King’s son, the crown prince, referred to as The Dauphin. Albeit to say, Charles VII, the Dauphin, was not going to accept this, but he wasn’t capable of defeating Henry V. But fate turned the tide and Henry V suddenly died of an illness in 1422 (Joan now ten) and left only a child as his heir, Henry VI, who was an infant at the time. With the English crown in chaos, Charles VII reclaimed his right to the French throne, and so the Hundred Years War resumed. The English did continue to win battles, and in 1424 nearly annihilated the French army again. The situation solidified in that the English dominated the French but had an internal lack of leadership while the French maintained resistance in what might be seen today as guerilla warfare. That is where Joan as soldier comes in.

Shakespeare would write three plays of Henry VI’s reign. I have not read them (I’ve read something like 27 of Shakespeare’s 36 plays) but perhaps after Twain’s Joan I will pick them up since the history will be fresh in my mind.

I’m going to leave it here and come back later with the war history during Joan’s leadership when we get to Book 2.

Summary to Book 1 and the prefatory pages:

As a preface, the text is presented by a “translator” who is a most definite admirer of Joan of Arc.  We are introduced to Joan by her childhood friend and who would become her page, Sieur Louis de Conte, who narrates the story of Joan since he will be at Joan’s side from the beginning to the end.  Book 1 takes us through Joan’s childhood to the day she leaves to meet the King of France to get permission to lead the army against the English.  We learn of life at Domremy, have an insight into Joan’s character, watch her grow from childhood with her family and friends, told of her encounter with Archangel Michael, and her Divine Command to lead France to freedom. 

Having read a number of Twain works I can see the similarities and the differences from his other works. Overall, it is different from what I expect Twain to write.

We can easily see the differences. It’s a historical novel, it’s a religious work, it’s a serious work with limited humor. That’s not to say some of his other works aren’t serious, but they have a sort of playfulness that is mostly absent in Joan. One could probably say that all of Twain’s other novels are satires, while Joan is a work of realism.

Of the similarities, one is the two-dimensionality of the characters. So far in this first section, Twain idolizes the central characters. Except with the exception of Huckleberry Finn, I can’t recall a Twain character that was truly three dimensional, and that is here as well. Joan, The Paladin, Joan’s brothers, the King are pretty flat. Perhaps one could disagree that Sieur Louis is more three dimensional, but a character narrating such a history would tend to be a little more fully developed, only because he’s reacting to the serious events around him, which tends to create depth. It’s similar to Huck, who also narrates his novel.

I’ve said this on occasion, that Twain is a great prose writer of the American language, but a mediocre novelist, mostly I think because of his lack of skill in character development. Other than The Adventures of Huck Finn, I don’t find Twain’s novels great, and he almost ruined Huck with its convoluted ending. But I do find Twain as the premier American prose writer of his generation. In my opinion, Twain’s great works are his nonfiction works, such as Life on the Mississippi.

However, I do find Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc engaging. It seems to be somewhere between his novels and his nonfiction works. Perhaps because he’s committed to historical facts and that the character of the saintly Joan would have to be somewhat two-dimensional given her extra-ordinary nature.

With that said, I thought the very beginning pages were superb, perhaps the best written so far. It was actually the Translator’s Preface, and no wonder. It’s Twain writing in his own voice. I wish I could quote it here in its entirety but it’s too long. We see Joan as the loftiest person in history, We see her as such because despite the brutality of her era, she stood apart. Here’s the second paragraph.

When we reflect that her century was the brutalest, the wickedest, the rottenest in history since the darkest ages, we are lost in wonder at the miracle of such a product from such a soil. The contrast between her and her century is the contrast between day and night. She was truthful when lying was the common speech of men; she was honest when honesty was become a lost virtue; she was a keeper of promises when the keeping of a promise was expected of no one; she gave her great mind to great thoughts and great purposes when other great minds wasted themselves upon pretty fancies or upon poor ambitions; she was modest and fine and delicate when to be loud and coarse might be said to be universal; she was full of pity when a merciless cruelty was the rule; she was steadfast when stability was unknown, and honorable in an age which had forgotten what honor was; she was a rock of convictions in a time when men believed in nothing and scoffed at all things; she was unfailingly true to an age that was false to the core; she maintained her personal dignity unimpaired in an age of fawnings and servilities; she was of a dauntless courage when hope and courage had perished in the hearts of her nation; she was spotlessly pure in mind and body when society in the highest places was foul in both—she was all these things in an age when crime was the common business of lords and princes, and when the highest personages in Christendom were able to astonish even that infamous era and make it stand aghast at the spectacle of their atrocious lives black with unimaginable treacheries, butcheries, and beastialities.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but Twain’s latter cynic’s outlook on life—and Joan was a latter work—came to regard his very age as being wicked and rotten to the core. And so I think we get a glimpse of why Twain wrote this work: Joan is a distant person in history living in an age that is known for its brutality and living by a code—her faith in God, truth, and goodness—as a model for his age, for his time, for his country. Perhaps it’s a means to bring back some idealism back into his own soul, having been so warped. But in the end, even he can’t do it. Here is the last paragraph of the Translator’s Preface:

And for all reward, the French King, whom she had crowned, stood supine and indifferent, while French priests took the noble child, the most innocent, the most lovely, the most adorable the ages have produced, and burned her alive at the stake.

In the end, Twain returns to the crassness of Joan’s age, which reflects the crassness of his age and once again looks through the eyes of a misanthrope. Virtue is not rewarded, but spurned, forsakened, and betrayed.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Faith Filled Friday: St. Dominic of the Order of Preachers

This passed Tuesday, August 8th, was the feast day of St. Dominic de Guzmán, founder of the Order of Preachers, their official name, otherwise referred to as the Dominicans. It's no secret around here I think that I associate with the Dominicans. If I had a religious calling I would have joined them. St. Catherine of Siena, my beloved patron saint, was a Lay Dominican. St. Dominic was a contemporary of St. Francis of Assisi and they developed their orders in parallel. In many ways St. Dominic and St. Francis shared a number of things in common: reform of the Church, a belief their members should live in poverty, active ministry as opposed to monastic or purely contemplative religious life, and preaching at all times, both with words and actions. St. Dominic has a more intellectual bent than St. Francis, and so Dominicans have this intellectual tradition. Once the order was established in 1216 (they just had their 800th anniversary), it spread rapidly across Europe. Perhaps it was St. Dominic’s personal touch that inspired so many to join him. He seemed to befriend everyone. Someone once said that he befriended an order, not created. He never wanted the order named after him; he was just too humble for that. And so it is named the Order of Preachers because their mission is to preach the Gospel.

On his death bed he gave an open confession and one of the things he confessed was that he had a particular fondness in working with ladies. It’s true, he created several monasteries for women, and was quite ahead of his time in allowing women into an active participation. St. Catherine herself was part of a woman lay Dominican ministry called the Mantellates. I also remember reading that on St. Dominic's death bed he told the friars gathered around him he could do more for them in heaven now that he was incapacitated than in earthly life. And so he didn't want them to fuss with him. He meant that he could pray and petition God from there. So though his feast day has passed, look up St. Dominic if you are unfamiliar with him, and say a whisper to him to pray for your cause. I think of him as the friend I have in heaven.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Matthew Monday: Father and Son Baseball Game

Baseball has become Matthew’s big passion, and I’ve written several posts on the games we have gone.  Saturday I took him to an Orioles game down in Baltimore.  I have mentioned how my son has broken my heart by being a Yankees fan, but really we talk baseball every day and he has become my baseball buddy.  Last year I posted how we took Matthew to a minor league game for his first game ever, and I also posted how I took the entire family down to Baltimore but this year my wife did not want to come.  So this became a father and son adventure. 

On the drive down we listened to a Sherlock Holmes story read aloud (“The Case of the Red-Headed League”) and then music the rest of the way, and we had quite a constant conversation.  It’s a three and a half hour drive but we stopped for lunch and bathroom break, so it was nearly four and a half hours.  This was a Saturday night game, and so we had to leave before the third out since the game was running late.  Orioles had a great comeback victory in the late innings, so this was a lot of fun.  Matthew said the game was “awesome!”  It was a give-away game where we received a bobble head doll of the Orioles second baseman, Jonathon Schoop.  Matthew does root along with me with the Orioles if the Yankees are not involved. 

Here’s a picture of the two of us.  Backlighting made it too shadowy a picture, but I like it.

So Matthew has now been to four games and his record is perfect.  The team he’s rooted for has won each time.  He pointed this out the next day and said the Orioles should have him go to every game.  I told him they would gladly pay him to attend if his presence guaranteed a win!  He liked that. 

Friday, August 4, 2017

Faith Filled Friday: St. Faustina’s Prayer to be Made Merciful

I ran across this prayer taken from the diary of St.Fautina Kowalska, recommended by Pope Francis at last year’s World Youth Day, and posted on the online Catholic magazine, Aleteia.  It is so astonishingly beautiful that I can’t help but share it here. 

“Help me, O Lord,

… that my eyes may be merciful, so that I will never be suspicious or judge by appearances, but always look for what is beautiful in my neighbors’ souls and be of help to them;

… that my ears may be merciful, so that I will be attentive to my neighbors’ needs, and not indifferent to their pains and complaints;

… that my tongue may be merciful, so that I will never speak badly of others, but have a word of comfort and forgiveness for all;

… that my hands may be merciful and full of good deeds;

… that my feet may be merciful, so that I will hasten to help my neighbor, despite my own fatigue and weariness;

… that my heart may be merciful, so that I myself will share in all the sufferings of my neighbor”     (Diary, 163).

I have never read St. Faustina’s Diary, but it is on my wish list.  Perhaps when I focus a year on Polish literature, I’ll include it in my reading.  

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Short Story Analysis: “The Magic Barrel” by Bernard Malamud

The first short story I read this year, the latest in the year I think I’ve ever done so, way past mid-May, was a good one, “The Magic Barrel” by Bernard Malamud, and I’ve been giving it thought ever since.  Born in New York City or more precisely the borough of Brooklyn, and the son of Jewish immigrants, Malamud is known for his well-crafted short stories about Jewish-American life, but also for several novels, including The Natural.  I have not read any of his novels, but I have been impressed with his short stories.  In fact, one of the most prestigious awards for an American short story, the PEN/Malamud Award for “excellence in the art of the short story", is named in his honor.  

“The Magic Barrel” may be one of his best known, and a really fun read.  You can find it online, here, in PDF if you wish to read it ahead of my post.  

The story begins in New York City with an almost “Once upon a time” opening.

Not long ago there lived in uptown New York, in a sma ll, almost meager room, though crowded with books, Leo Finkle, a rabbinical student in the Yeshivah University. Finkle, after six years of study, was to be ordained in June and had been advised by an acquaintance that he might find it easier to win himself a congregation if he were married. Since he had no present prospects of marriage, after two tormented days of turning it over in his mind, he called in Pinye Salzman, a marriage broker whose two-line advertisement he had read in the Forward.

The matchmaker appeared one night out of the dark fourth-floor hallway of the graystone rooming house where Finkle lived, grasping a black, strapped portfolio that had been worn thin with use. Salzman, who had been long in the business, was of slight but dignified build, wearing an old hat, and an overcoat too short and tight for him. He smelled frankly of fish, which he loved to eat, and although he was missing a few teeth, his presence was not displeasing, because of an amiable manner curiously contrasted with mournful eyes. His voice, his lips, his wisp of beard, his bony fingers were animated, but give him a moment of repose and his mild blue eyes revealed a depth of sadness, a characteristic that put Leo a little at ease although the situation, for him, was inherently tense.

As a New Yorker, I know these characters, know them in the sense that similar people walk in  the neighborhoods I grew up.  The story was written in the 1950’s, in what is sometimes considered the golden era of New York City.  I’m not that old, but similar people were around when I was growing up a couple of decades later.  So we have the rabbinical student and a sort of old world peddler who in this case hawks brides.  It’s is interesting that Salzman smells of fish, and fish is a motif that goes with the matchmaker throughout the story.  But the sadness in his eyes is an interesting detail that contrasts with Finkle’s youthfulness and inexperience.

Next we get some critical information about Finkle. 
He at once informed Salzman why he had asked him to come, explaining that his home was in Cleveland, and that but for his parents, who had married comparatively late in life, he was alone in the world. He had for six years devoted himself almost entirely to his studies, as a result of which, understandably, he had found himself without time for a social life and the company of young women. Therefore he thought it the better part of trial and error--of embarrassing fumbling--to call in an experienced person to advise him on these matters. He remarked in passing that the function of the marriage broker was ancient and honorable, highly approved in the Jewish community, because it made practical the necessary without hindering joy. Moreover, his own parents had been brought together by a matchmaker. They had made, if not a financially profitable marriage--since neither had possessed any worldly goods to speak of--at least a successful one in the sense of their everlasting devotion to each other. Salzman listened in embarrassed surprise, sensing a sort of apology. Later, however, he experienced a glow of pride in his work, an emotion that had left him years ago, and he heartily approved of Finkle.

Here we learn of the parallel situation with Finkle’s parents in that they too have met through a marriage broker, and their marriage was a happy one.  But that was an old world relationship and they lived in Cleveland.  Finkle is now in the modern world and lives in the big metropolis. 

Next Salzman takes out a half dozen cards with woman’s information on it.  As Salzman tries to sell Finkle on the women on the cards, what follows is some of the most entertaining dialogue I can remember.  I can’t quote all of it, but here is a sample.

When Leo's eyes fell upon the cards, he counted six spread out in Salzman's hand.

"So few?" he asked in disappointment.

"You wouldn't believe me how much cards I got in my office," Salzman replied. "The drawers are already filled to the top, so I keep them now in a barrel, but is every girl good for a new rabbi?"

Leo blushed at this, regretting all he had revealed of himself in a curriculum vitae he had sent to Salzman. He had thought it best to acquaint him with his strict standards and specifications, but in having done so, felt he had told the marriage broker more than was absolutely necessary.

He hesitantly inquired, "Do you keep photographs of your clients on file?"

"First comes family, amount of dowry, also what kind of promises," Salzman replied, unbuttoning his tight coat and settling himself in the chair. "After comes pictures, rabbi."

"Call me Mr. Finkle. I'm not yet a rabbi."

Salzman said he would, but instead called him doctor, which he changed to rabbi when Leo was not listening too attentively.

Salzman adjusted his horn-rimmed spectacles, gently cleared his throat and read in an eager voice the contents of the top card:

"Sophie P. Twenty-four years. Widow one year. No children. Educated high school and two years college. Father promises eight thousand dollars. Has wonderful wholesale business. Also real estate. On the mother's side comes teachers, also one actor. Well known on Second Avenue."

Leo gazed up in surprise. "Did you say a widow?"

"A widow don't mean spoiled, rabbi. She lived with her husband maybe four months. He was a sick boy she made a mistake to marry him."

"Marrying a widow has never entered my mind."

"This is because you have no experience. A widow, especially if she is young and healthy like this girl, is a wonderful person to marry. She will be thankful to you the rest of her life. Believe me, if I was looking now for a bride, I would marry a widow."

Leo reflected, then shook his head.

Salzman hunched his shoulders in an almost imperceptible gesture of disappointment. He placed the card down on the wooden table and began to read another:

"Lily H. High school teacher. Regular. Not a substitute. Has savings and new Dodge car. Lived in Paris one year. Father is successful dentist thirty-five years. Interested in professional man. Well Americanized family. Wonderful opportunity."

"I know her personally," said Salzman. "I wish you could see this girl. She is a doll. Also very intelligent. All day you could talk to her about books and theyater and whatnot. She also knows current events."

"I don't believe you mentioned her age?"

"Her age?" Salzman said, raising his brows. "Her age is thirty-two years."

"Leo said after a while, "I'm afraid that seems a little too old.

Salzman let out a laugh. "So how old are you, rabbi?"


"So what is the difference, tell me, between twenty-seven and thirty-two? My own wife is seven years older than me. So what did I suffer?--Nothing. If Rothschild's daughter wants to marry you, would you say on account her age, no?"

"Yes," Leo said dryly.

Salzman shook off the no in the eyes. "Five years don't mean a thing. I give you my word that when you will live with her for one week you will forget her age. What does it mean five years--that she lived more and knows more than somebody who is younger? On this girl, God bless her, years are not wasted. Each one that it comes makes better the bargain."

"What subject does she teach in high school?"

"Languages. If you heard the way she speaks French, you will think it is music. I am in the business twenty-five years, and I recommend her with my whole heart. Believe me, I know what I'm talking, rabbi."

"What's on the next card?" Leo said abruptly.

There is a folktale feel to this story, as the rabbi goes through female candidate after female candidate.  Leo, as he goes through the list, can’t be satisfied with any of the women.  But there are some questions that are brought here that drive the story forward.  What is a right fit for a rabbi’s bride and how does Leo’s lack of experience with the opposite sex cause him select or reject potential brides?  The bulk of the story presents the drama inherent in these abstract questions, and it’s quite entertaining. But I want to move toward Leo’s central crises and then finally toward the climax.  He finally accepts going out on a date with the older woman, the one he rejected because of her age, Lily.  And her probing questions, questions natural of people trying to learn of each other, leads him to respond as to why he chose to be a rabbi: "I was always interested in the Law."

"You saw revealed in it the presence of the Highest?" He nodded and changed the subject. "I understand that you spent a little time in Paris, Miss Hirschorn?" "Oh, did Mr. Salzman tell you, Rabbi Finkle?" Leo winced but she went on, "It was ages ago and almost forgotten. I remember I had to return for my sister's wedding." And Lily would not be put off. "When," she asked in a trembly voice, "did you become enamored of God?" 7 He stared at her. Then it came to him that she was talking not about Leo Finkle, but of a total stranger, some mystical figure, perhaps even passionate prophet that Salzman had dreamed up for her--no relation to the living or dead. Leo trembled with rage and weakness. The trickster had obviously sold her a bill of goods, just as he had him, who'd expected to become acquainted with a young lady of twenty-nine, only to behold, the moment he laid eyes upon her strained and anxious face, a woman past thirty-five and aging rapidly. Only his self control had kept him this long in her presence.

Lily probed too deep.  She hit a nerve, and just like she had misrepresented her age, it became apparent that Leo had misrepresented his faith, only not just to her, but to himself.  Salzman had played up his devoutness, which ultimately, days after the date came back to sting Leo into a self-realization.

He was infuriated with the marriage broker and swore he would throw him out of the room the minute he reappeared. But Salzman did not come that night, and when Leo's anger had subsided, an unaccountable despair grew in its place. At first he thought this was caused by his disappointment in Lily, but before long it became evident that he had involved himself with Salzman without a true knowledge of his own intent. He gradually realized--with an emptiness that seized him with six hands--that he had called in the broker to find him a bride because he was incapable of doing it himself. This terrifying insight he had derived as a result of his meeting and conversation with Lily Hirschorn. Her probing questions had somehow irritated him into revealing --to himself more than her--the true nature of his relationship to God, and from that it had come upon him, with shocking force, that apart from his parents, he had never loved anyone. Or perhaps it went the other way, that he did not love God so well as he might, because he had not loved man. It seemed to Leo that his whole life stood starkly revealed and he saw himself for the first time as he truly was--unloved and loveless. This bitter but somehow not fully unexpected revelation brought him to a point to panic, controlled only by extraordinary effort. He covered his face with his hands and cried.

The experience of finding a wife has made him realize his “relationship to God.”  If he didn’t love anyone, he didn’t love God, and of course this brings him to a spiritual crises, questioning his faith and his vocation.

And finally we get to the climax.  Leo falls in love with a girl of a picture Salzman accidently left behind.  He tries to get Salzman to arrange a meeting.  Salzman refuses.  This girl would not be suitable for him.  As it turns out the girl is Salzman’s daughter who he has banish from his house because she is “wild.”  But Leo cannot let go.

Although he soon fell asleep he could not sleep her out of his mind. He woke, beating his breast. Though he prayed to be rid of her, his prayers went unanswered. Through days of torment he endlessly struggled not to love her; fearing success, he escaped it. He then concluded to convert her to goodness, himself to God. The idea alternately nauseated and exalted him.

So he convinces himself he can convert her to goodness.  And so there is an arrangement.

Leo was informed by better that she would meet him on a certain corner, and she was there one spring night, waiting under a street lamp. He appeared carrying a small bouquet of violets and rosebuds. Stella stood by the lamp post, smoking. She wore white with red shoes, which fitted his expectations, although in a troubled moment he had imagined the dress red, and only the shoes white. She waited uneasily and shyly. From afar he saw that her eyes--clearly her father's--were filled with desperate innocence. He pictured, in her, his own redemption. Violins and lit candles revolved in the sky. Leo ran forward with flowers out-thrust.
Around the corner, Salzman, leaning against a wall, chanted prayers for the dead.

It is certainly not a match made in heaven.  Why prayers for the dead?  Leo and Stella are heading toward a fall.  Both their innocence will suffer a death.  They will be very different people, as Leo already is from the beginning of the story.