Monthly Archives: December 2009

Reconnecting with the Chimes Within

One of my favorite Christmas stories when I was growing up was Raymond Macdonald Alden’s “Why the Chimes Rang.”  I write today to figure out why.  You can click here to read it.  The story is about a church with a tower so high that no one can see the top.  It is reputed to […]

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Using Shakespeare in Business Dealings

In yesterday’s examination of universal health care legislation in terms of Dickens’ Christmas Carol, I mentioned E. D. Hirsch’s Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know (1988).   Hirsch believes that cultures need a set of common texts to function effectively.  While I have some reservations about that work, I wholeheartedly support Hirsch’s contention that […]

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Obamacare to Tiny Tim’s Rescue

Paul Krugman made clever use of Dickens’ Christmas Carol in a column last week.  The New York Times columnist and Nobel prize winning economist addresses opponents of the health care bills that have emerged out of the House and Senate, arguing that progressives should be pleased, despite the bills’ limitations.  Arguing that politics is the […]

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The Children’s Books that Shaped Me

The poem I printed by my father in my last post provides a good map of the books and poems that he used to read to me and my brothers.  In case there were any works that you do not recognize, here’s a key: –Leerie is “The Lamplighter” in Robert Lewis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden […]

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Books Unleashed in Christmas Carrels

On this Christmas day, I want to acknowledge one of the greatest gifts I ever received from my parents: my love of reading.  Both are voracious readers, and my father (Scott Bates) would read to me and my brothers every evening.  This included, for each of us, both a story or chapter and a poem.  […]

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Ring Out the Old, Ring in the New

I am writing to you from the home of my parents in Sewanee, Tennessee, where I figure I have spent around 48 of my 58 Christmases.   In this I differ from the Tennyson in the third Christmas passage of In Memoriam.  For the first time since Hallam’s death, he is not celebrating the season in […]

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Dead Hands Reaching Out to Comfort

Alfred Lord Tennyson’s three Christmas passages in In Memoriam are reminiscent of the way that my own family celebrates Christmas. My ancestry is British and the ceremonies that we observe date at least as far back as my great grandmother Eliza Scott Fulcher, born in the 1850’s.    Christmas in Sewanee, Tennessee (which is where we are […]

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Singing Carols in the Darkness

Thinking about my dead son in this Christmas season brings to mind Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s In Memoriam, the lengthy poem that he wrote over the course of 17 years lamenting the death of his close friend Arthur Henry Hallam.Hallam was a young man when he died unexpectedly of a cerebral hemorrhage, and Tennyson describes his […]

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Terabithia and Coping with Loss

Last week my library discussion group talked about the children’s classic and Newberry award winner Bridge to Terabithia (1977), by Katherine Paterson.  It has been our tradition each December to choose a children’s book in honor of the holiday season. Bridge to Terabithia, we discovered, fits the season well.  Warning: I reveal the ending in […]

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Using Twilight to Teach Antigone

Having compared Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight yesterday with Frances Burney’s Evelina, I feel I owe my readers an apology and an explanation. The apology is that I violated one of my principles for the website and judged the book by the movie. All I’ve read of Twilight is the excerpt on If I sell the […]

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Comparing Evelina and Twilight

We talked about the movie Twilight in the last gathering of my British Restoration and 18th Century Couples Comedy class. That and France Burney’s epistolary novel Evelina (1775). Hang on as I spell out the connection. If you don’t know about Twilight, then you are probably neither a teenager nor the parent of a teenager. […]

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Austen’s Good Enough Match

First of all, a happy birthday to Jane Austen (thanks to my mother for pointing this out).  Jane would have been 234 today. My students have been bothered by the Marianne-Brandon marriage that concludes Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, and I’m inclined to agree with them.  Kat Vander Wende reasonably pointed out that the sought-after […]

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Romantic Comedy, A Fruitful Oxymoron

I met with my British Restoration and 18th Century Couples Comedy class for one last time today.  I baked them a whiskey cake (I do this for all of my classes), and we reflected on the experience of the course. We had undertaken quite a journey, starting out with the scandalous poetry of the licentious […]

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True Love and a Steady Income

Hugh Grant and Emma Thompson as Edward, Elinor I’ve been reading essays on Sense and Sensibility and thinking of all the useful lessons it teaches, including about the influence of money on people’s dating decisions.  One of my students focused on the figure of Lucy Steele, whom she compared to a woman in the reality […]

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The Jane Austen Punishments List

It’s the last day of the semester (except for exams) and I’m swamped by term papers from my three courses. As a break from writing my own post on Jane Austen, therefore, I share with you a very funny item that I picked up from the Jane Austen Information Page. In addition to more serious […]

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Jane Austen’s Subtle Stiletto

I’m teaching Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility at the moment and, once again, recalling what a masterpiece it is.  The interactions between the sisters never fail to elicit sibling stories from my students.  Some of us see ourselves as the elder sister Elinor, others as the younger sister Marianne.  As the oldest in my family, […]

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Unspeakable: A Father’s Suicide

Yesterday independent filmmaker Sally Heckel visited St. Mary’s and showed us her most recent film, Unspeakable.  Sally is most known for Jury of Her Peers, which was an Oscar nominee in the dramatic live-action short category.    As powerful as Jury of Her Peers is, I like Unspeakable even better. The film is about the suicide of her […]

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Rediscovering Wild Strawberries

My daughter-in-law’s recent blog post on children, discussed yesterday, has taken me back to a time when I myself wrestled with the question of whether we should bring children into an uncertain world.  A powerful work addressing this issue is Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries, a magnificent film that feels like literature. The film is about a day […]

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On the Logic of Having Babies

In a recent post on her website, my wonderful daughter-in-law reflects on whether she and Darien will have children.  The reflection was occasioned by our Iowa Thanksgiving where she saw all of her husband’s cousins having children (and I mean all, the only exceptions being those who are in college or younger).  So Betsy compiles […]

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Moral Verse for Bad Little Children

When I was a child, I was a great fan of the tongue-in-cheek “cautionary verses” of English poet Hilaire Belloc.  I have written in the past about how, in the Alice books, Lewis Carroll took off after those heavy-handed Victorian moralists who tried to scare children into good behavior.  Belloc did more of the same, […]

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Telling the Truth about War

As the president addressed the nation Tuesday night about his decision to send more troops to Afghanistan, I found myself impressed with his seriousness and depressed over the situation. I know that he has no good options.  I can’t tell whether his decision is the right one. Literature, as I’ve periodically noted on this blog, […]

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“My Habits . . . Would Assassinate You”

   As a change of pace, I turn today’s column over to my very good friend and department chair, Mark Twain expert Ben Click.  Ben is a 6’6″ Texan who is the funniest man I know and a kind of Mark Twain figure himself. His courses on the man who called himself “the American” have […]

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But What If Daddy’s Wrong about Him?

Frances Burney   The fascinating conversations with my students about father-daughter relationships and Frances Burney’s Evelina continued yesterday.  The class had a range of reactions to how Evelina should respond when her guardian tells her to override her growing affection for Lord Orville. He has a number of reasons to be nervous.  Lord Orville (they both […]

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  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

    Please feel free to e-mail me [rrbates (at) smcm (dot) edu]. I would be honored to hear your thoughts and questions about literature.

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