Sunday, May 27, 2012

"An Episode of Sparrows", Discussion

Writing prompts for An Episode of Sparrows by Rumer Godden.

Please share your answers and thoughts in comments.

Who was your favorite character in the novel, besides Lovejoy?

Along the same lines, what is the most interesting 'couple' in the novel? The book revolves around relationships. Which relationship spoke strongly to you. 

Do you have a favorite passage? If so, please share, and explain what touched you.

What did this book teach you about joy?

Do we all see a bit of ourselves in Lovejoy? What of her character reminds you of yourself as a child?

While the book isn't about parenting, what of the novel may help you be a better mother, aunt, and/or grandmother to children in your life?

Or, write about whatever struck you! Thanks for sharing!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Then and Now: One Man's Comparison

Our Lady of Victories Catholic Church, Kensington, London.
Bombed by 2 oil bombs on September 14, 1940.
I was doing a bit of research on our book, and found this review on one of my favorite websites, The author of the review is a man named Andrew Smith. I greatly appreciate his perspective. He compares his experience of reading the book as a child, while growing up in post-WWII Liverpool, with his re-reading of the book as an adult 50 years later.

He writes:
"I read An Episode of Sparrows when I was a child growing up in post-World War II Liverpool. It was first published in 1955 when I was eight-years-old. It's said you can't go back, but I'm convinced this book is as good as I remember it. I've ordered a copy and look forward to immersing myself in it as I did as the ten-year-old searching for a bright future among the bomb sites and food shortages of post-war U.K.

I couldn’t have been more than ten-years-old when I first read 'An Episode of Sparrows', but I remembered with great fondness the feisty waif, Lovejoy, and her gargantuan efforts to make a secret flower garden in a hidden corner of a London bombsite in a downtrodden section of the British capital. I remembered her temporary guardian, Vincent, with his impractical ideas of running a “first-class restaurant” and his epic struggles to prevent it from sinking into bankruptcy in an area where people could barely afford a few pence to buy fish and chips wrapped in newspaper let alone pay for a three-course French dinner. I remembered the two wealthy unmarried sisters who lived in the posh square that lay at the border of Lovejoy’s working-class neighbourhood. I remembered the clash of class and culture when the sisters’ and Lovejoy’s worlds collided. 
But I hadn’t remembered the subtle sophistication of ideas flying off the pages concerning morality, religion, entrepreneurship, and social responsibility. Like all good novels — written for readers of any age — those issues are understated. I certainly can’t remember being conscious of them as a ten-year-old. However, like any effective work of fiction, those underlying issues and ideas must certainly have made an impression. I obviously can’t know for sure, but I couldn’t help feeling as I re-read ‘An Episode of Sparrows’ some fifty years later that the book must have had a profound effect on me. I recognized in Rumer Godden’s story my own abomination of class discrimination in any form and a derring-do style of determination that sometimes misfires and/or backfires. I think I must have related very closely to the children in the book because I was reminded of the misery of growing up poor, However I was also reminded of moments of intense joy in small events that made life seem not only worthwhile but wonderful.
Apart from lucid realism coupled with a sophistication of ideas in ‘An Episode of Sparrows,’ the book has a suspenseful plot that sweeps the reader along. Every one of the disparate characters is finely drawn, and the descriptions of post-war London — from rubble strewn bombed-out houses to the sparkling exclusive shops of Bond Street — bring the 1950s city vividly to life. The book is also a lesson in excellent writing, including vocabulary that might challenge some adults. Although written for children, ‘An Episode of Sparrows’ makes for an engaging and thought-provoking experience for everyone."

children playing on the site of a bombed out church in London, 1948

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Desire: To Live.

One of our members, Terri, blogs over at Loaves and Fishes. She recently wrote about the connection she sees between Lizzie's War, Shirt of Flame: A Year with St. Therese of Lisieux and Jane Eyre.

Here's an excerpt:

"Lizzie, Therese, King, Jane--they are all embodiments of passion and desire.   They aren't playing by a map or script written by themselves.  They aren't just playing a script written by those around them either.  They don't operate according to the dictates of what society says makes a "good girl" or "good person."   They are following a compass, deep within their very cores--their souls.   The journeys are not perfect.   The paths are not always straight.   And those paths are never neat, tidy, or easy. "

Go read the rest!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

on Rumer Godden, author of An Episode of Sparrows

One of the reasons why I want us to read An Episode of Sparrows is really because we could do well to read just about anything written by Rumer Godden.

As the title of an article written by the UK's The Telegraphs states, "Rumer Godden's life is a story in itself."

And, while Blogger is here trying to correct my spelling of this woman's name, I am reminded that she has also drawn me to have some bit of respect for Bruce Willis and Demi Moore, who named their daughter after the author. Despite their crazy Hollywood lives, they must have some good, down-to-earth roots in there somewhere to give their daughter such an honor.


Rumer Godden was born in Sussex, but raised in India where her father ran a shipping company. She and her 3 sisters had a pleasant childhood, somewhat removed from the societal standards of England and the brutalities of World War II. "I always thank God" wrote Godden "that we did not have sensible parents".  She was the 'plain one' of the 4 girls and was a bit jealous of her older, beautiful and talented sister Jon.  "Everything she did was marvellous," Rumer Godden recalled at the end of her life, "and nobody took any notice of me, which was very healthy. To be ignored is the best possible thing for a writer. My writing was an effort to outdo Jon."  

Once grown, she ran a mixed-race dance school in India, became pregnant, married and lived with her rather unkind husband in Calcutta. She had an unhappy marriage, and ended up parting with her husband and moved back to Kashmir to raise her two daughters. They lived like the locals, in a small house, with no electricity or running water. She ran an herb farm and wrote to support her daughters and pay of the debts left to her by her husband. 

In 1947, she returned to England, remarried a good man and entered into the burgeoning English/American literary scene. Around 1950, she became intrigued with the Catholic Church, although she did not convert until 1968 at the age of 60. While researching for her novel In This House of Brede, she spend several years living in the guest house of the Stanbrook Abbey run by the Benedictines. It is said that is where her love for the Church began. After her husband died, she moved to Scotland to live with her daughter. She died at the age of 90, writing until the end. 

Her first published novel, The Black Narcissus, was written almost entirely on a ship voyage from India to England while her infant daughter slept in the bunk below her. 

In the end, she wrote over 60 books, nine of which were turned into movies. Some of my favorites are:

An Episode of Sparrows
In this House of Brede
The Diddakoi
Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy
The River

only because those are the ones I've read...
"There are several things children will not put up with in a book," she reflected. "You have to have a proper beginning and an end; you cannot have flashbacks. Then you can't have a lot of description: keep it to a minimum. And you must be very careful with words. I find I use fewer, and they have to fit the case exactly and be chosen with extreme care."
She wrote all her works in longhand with a fountain pen.  She said "that as an artist has to dip his brush into the paint so a writer should dip his pen into the ink and this gives time for thought. She thought many modern books were too wordy as authors just ran away with words on their computers."

Discussing writing, she once stated firmly that she never believed in self-expression. "All these young people, particularly women, say, `We want to express ourselves', but writing is not self-expression. The writer is simply an instrument through which the wind blows and I believe it is the Holy Spirit that makes the artist creative. My writing is something outside me that I've been chosen to do and I think that is what has enabled me to go on."

I like her because she was different. She was strong.  She had dignity. She loved her daughters fiercely. She never stopped thinking. She didn't let cultural standards keep her from the Church. Even in her later years, she never stopped learning.  She was always herself. These are all things I hope for myself and my children. 

"When I was a young writer, I and my contemporaries, wanted one thing more than anything else for our books. It wasn't money, or success, although of course we wanted those things, too. The thing we wanted was for our books to last. And I believe that a book that is written slowly, carefully, words chosen, do last. And in a small way, in a very small way I admit, I have proved it. Black Narcissus was written in 1937 and it's never been out of print. And now, my publishers are bringing back the old books, books I wrote quite early on. I had 6 books republished just last year. And, it's a little bit of the proof of the pudding is in the eating. And I was very grateful for that."

To appreciate her books, you should read about her life. Here is the wikipedia article.   Here is the Rumer Godden Literary Trust, set up by her two daughters after her death in 1998. Here is a nice review of An Episode of Sparrows from the Catholic Media Review blog. Here is the obituary published by the UK's Daily Telegraph.

Here is a youtube video interview with Rumer Godden produced by Off The Page, a Scottish literary and culture series. I could listen to her talk forever... a very good way to spend 25 minutes.
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