Learning With the “Marsh Girl”: A Review of Where the Crawdads Sing

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Photo taken from www.deliaowens.com

Finishing a good book is a lot like waking up from a dream or recovering from jet lag after a long trip. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens is one of the best books I have read in a long time. Even though I finished reading it several days ago, I still find my daydreams drifting back to the world of Kya and her marsh.

It is no wonder then that Owens’s first novel easily climbed to #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list, where it still deservedly sits after 35 weeks. Within the first few pages, we meet 6-year-old Kya who is already grappling with the complicated and painful world she must navigate alone. Owens’s talented background as a nature writer is on full display; Kya’s love for the wildlife around her seeps through every sentence, drawing readers deeper into the heart of the marsh. Weaving through the waterways and hiding in the grasses with Kya in her dilapidated boat, we follow the impoverished and isolated yet vibrant life of a girl growing up on the North Carolina coast in the 1950s and 1960s.

The plot snakes and twists along with the marsh lagoons and estuaries, switching back and forth between the present and the future. The present is always uncertain, and we find early on that the future holds a mysterious murder and wonder how Kya’s story will cross its path. We learn to quickly love Kya’s strong and resourceful spirit even as our hearts break for her. Each kind word spoken to her brings a smile, while each cruel snub of the “Marsh Girl” hurts a bit more. Kya and her marsh are intermingled and inseparable from the first page to the last. Through her eyes we see how humanity mirrors the darker sides of nature all too often.

It is difficult to write a review of Where the Crawdads Sing without giving spoilers. The novel defies categorization in many ways—mixing mystery with history, nature, and a study of the human spirit and our capacity to love and to hate. The surprise—yet perhaps not such a surprise—ending will leave you blinking at the last page, unwilling to close the cover on her story. Read this novel, and you will not be disappointed.

 

Check out the website below to learn more about Kya’s marsh and the other wetlands of North Carolina! Blog post photo taken from: http://www.ncwetlands.org/learn/aboutncswetlands/types/

 

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The Art of Waiting

When we are young, we count the days until 16.

When we’re 16, we can’t wait to be 18.

When 18 rolls around, we want to be 21.

We impatiently wait for high school and then college.

After that, the waiting gets harder. There are no set milestones, and so many times life feels like a terrifying blank page with no clear directions. Career? Marriage? Kids?

I don’t know about you, but I tend to fixate on the next best thing around the corner instead of fully inhabiting the moment and space that is now. Perhaps after a life so far spent making countdowns and believing that “things will be better when you’re older,” it is difficult to be present. The unknown can be scary, but learning to live in contentment with the reality of where you are is harder.

This C.S. Lewis quote from The Screwtape Letters has stuck with me over the years:

“The Future is, of all things, the thing least like eternity. It is the most temporal part of time–for the Past is frozen and no longer flows, and the Present is all lit up with eternal rays.”

I love his words here because I am reminded that we rob ourselves of so much joy if we are constantly waiting for what comes next, and we miss out even more if we live in nostalgia. The present is the only part of time that we can fully enjoy and partially control. That is a beautiful gift.

So, this is the challenge I have set for myself: I want to look for those “eternal rays” wherever I happen to be. Even through difficult times, there can be slivers of light. Even if something more exciting is around the next bend, there is still beauty here and now.

Maybe this is the hard work of learning the art of waiting. It’s different from being patient. It’s a choice to be fully here, right now, every day. It forces me to slow down and pay attention. It’s hard, but I know it’s worth it. Join me?

 

Image: https://dispatcheseurope.com/stranded-massive-construction-projects-interrupting-train-service-across-germany/girl-waiting-for-train-wallpaper/

Top 5 Thanksgiving Dinner Foods

Somehow Thanksgiving is only two days away! This year has flown by yet again.

The holiday season is by far my favorite time of year, and I decided it was time for another holiday-themed blog that lists my favorite things. Need more lists in your life? Read about my favorite Christmas movies and favorite Christmas music here!

And with a delicious Thanksgiving meal tantalizing in reach, what better list than my top favorite Thanksgiving foods? If there was any doubt, I am definitely a foodie!

Please feel free to add your own favorites in the comments! I know that some people would be willing to fight me on at least a few of these—or be appalled at some that I am leaving out.

  1. Pumpkin Pie

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In the number one spot, we have pumpkin pie! Yes, I do look forward to dessert most of all, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who knows me. Pumpkin pie must be served with whipped cream though, or it’s just not the same! It seems like most people either love or hate pumpkin pie, and I absolutely fall into the first category.

  1. Mashed Potatoes

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Mashed potatoes come in at number two for me, and I think they are simply wonderful for any meal or occasion! I especially love them with Thanksgiving when gravy covers the turkey and mashed potatoes. So delicious!

  1. Cranberry Sauce

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I think I might get some disagreements on this one. I love the canned cranberry sauce! The fancy homemade cranberry sauce with whole cranberries has a strange texture to me, and I always find myself reaching for the canned cranberry sauce if there is an option. Now don’t get me wrong, I love food. And I will eat the whole cranberry sauce if I must!

  1. Turkey

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The poor turkey—the central part of Thanksgiving dinner—comes in at number four, but I can’t have Thanksgiving without turkey. How else would I have such an amazing nap and turkey leftovers for days?

  1. Rolls

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What would Thanksgiving be without these perfectly buttery pieces of heaven? They’re perfect for soaking up gravy and filling in the last corner of room in my stomach! Rolls are the unsung heroes of Thanksgiving dinner. Now the question is, can you have just one?

If you weren’t already excited for Thanksgiving dinner, I’m sure you are now! I have successfully made myself hungry. Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you get to spend it with your family and friends and remember how much we have to be thankful for this year.

It will happen when you least expect it.

“When you know, you know.”

“It will happen when you least expect it.”

I used to hate hearing those words, because at the time they felt like meaningless platitudes people used to give me false hope.

Just six short months ago, I decided to give up online dating and dating apps. If you’ve read any of my previous blog posts, you know that I have struggled with singleness throughout most of my adult life. I finally got to the point when I realized that I was choosing to be unhappy, and dating apps simply did not work for me. I found it very stressful to peruse photos and brief bios and judge men based only on that, and it got to the point where I could not remember what small talk topic I had brought up with which “match.” The superficiality bothered me, and meeting strangers for dates was not appealing at all.

So, I decided that if I ever found someone, it would be in an “old-fashioned” way. I would either meet a guy through my normal daily life, or we would be introduced through family or mutual friends. I chose to focus my energy on the healthy friendships I already had and invest more time in things I truly loved. Instead of praying every night that God would help me find a boyfriend, my prayers shifted, and I began to pray that I would become healthier, more confident, and focus on all the good and beautiful people and things in my life.

Little did I know that mere weeks later, I would meet the man who has forever captured my heart.

We were introduced and set-up by my younger sister and a friend. I knew it was a set-up, but he had no clue until a week later when my sister masterminded a second date! She said her mission was to find someone for me, and she went above and beyond. Thank God for sisters! From the start, I knew there was a real possibility that something could happen between us, but I refused to let myself get too hopeful. I was terrified of getting hurt, and I couldn’t believe he was real.

Fast forward to now, and I have never been happier. There is nothing better than dating your best friend, and I am so relieved that I never fully gave up my dreams of what a healthy relationship would look and feel like. I recognized it when I found him. Now all those hazy daydreams have been brought into bright and colorful focus, and it’s him I see standing at the end of the aisle and playing with our future children.

I am so thankful and so blessed. For those of you still waiting, don’t give up. Now I understand what people meant. It really is true.

It will happen when you least expect it.

When you know, you know.

A Review of The Little Paris Bookshop

Every so often, I read a book and feel instantly compelled to write a review. The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George is one of those books. I cannot recommend it enough. Of course, George also somehow manages to encompass my loves of literature, travel, and romance in dazzling beauty, and even though I read the English translation from the original German, her phrases and descriptions are like reading art.

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I must confess that I first judged this book by its cover at my favorite local bookstore, Afterwords Books. The cover art caught my eye, and in this case, I was not disappointed. The Little Paris Bookshop follows the story of middle-aged Monsieur Jean Perdu, who has lived in heartbreak for “7,216 nights” since his beloved Manon left him. His only reprieve is the old barge he sets up as a bookshop on the banks of the River Seine and calls his Literary Apothecary. Perdu does not only sell books; he uses them to help heal the broken and hurting people who come to his store.

After a jolt from the past leaves him reeling, Jean Perdu suddenly unmoors his barge and his life and begins a journey to the south of France. Along the way he befriends a ragtag group and learns more about himself and the woman he loved for so long. His journey makes this a travel book of sorts as well, and George’s descriptions led me to look up the towns he visited in France. Did you know, for example, that Cuisery is a town dedicated to literature and books? It was quickly moved toward the top of my “Places to Visit” list.

George’s novel is a love letter to literature and a tribute to the healing power of stories. It is a map of one man’s literal and spiritual journey of discovery and memory. In Perdu’s own words:

“Books are more than doctors, of course. Some novels are loving, lifelong companions; some give you a clip around the ear; others are friends who wrap you in warm towels when you’ve got those autumn blues. And some . . . well, some are pink candy floss that tingles your brain for three seconds and leaves a blissful void. Like a short, torrid love affair.”

I would place this book in the “friends who wrap you in warm towels” category. The Little Paris Bookshop reminded me that our lives are all guided by stories; literature has certainly shaped my own. Love binds people together, and no matter where we call home, there are paths that connect us all.

 

All quotations taken from:
George, Nina, and Simon Pare. The Little Paris Bookshop: a Novel. Crown Publishers, 2015.

Choosing Marriage: A Short Book Review

I’ve once again been MIA for too long, but I’m back and wanted to share this review of one of my favorite author’s newest book. If you read my blog at all, you know that I write a lot about singleness, relationships, faith, and books. This post combines all of those topics. I was part of the launch team for Choosing Marriage, and today is officially launch day. I’m excited to get the actual paperback copy in the mail tonight! I definitely encourage you to read this book whether you’re single, dating, engaged, or married.

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Debra Fileta’s newest book Choosing Marriage: Why It Has to Start with We > Me is even better than I expected. I loved her book True Love Dates and consistently learn so much from her blog. Debra is a wonderful storyteller, and her vulnerability shines through her writing. She understands the struggles of navigating life as both a single and a married Christian, and her training as a professional counselor adds even more depth and insight. Debra’s writing style is familiar and never judgmental or prescriptive, a combination that is sadly rare in many Christian relationship books.

Her latest book is expertly written to include both singles and married couples in its intended audience. I have to admit that I was skeptical at first since I have experienced the feeling of exclusion in books and studies that are clearly for married people even if they claim otherwise. Choosing Marriage succeeds in going over and above my expectations. Debra’s focus on authenticity and personal stories is refreshing. Reading this book is like soaking up encouragement and advice from a best friend over a cup of coffee.

“Choosing to love someone is so much more meaningful than needing someone to love.” 

This quote is near the end of Choosing Marriage, but it stopped me in my tracks. Such a simple phrase—14 words that hold so much meaning.  I needed that reminder, and I know I’m not the only person who is sometimes tempted to make relationship decisions out of the deep need and longing for companionship rather than from choices of what is right and healthy. And someday, when I do find someone, I hope with God’s help to be able to choose to love him every day—not from a desperate need but from a committed and daily choice.

Don’t Miss These Top 5 Christmas Movies This Year

I’m back again and already getting excited for Christmas. If you remember from my post last year, it’s an impressive feat for me to wait until after Thanksgiving to start listening to Christmas music. (I failed again this year.) And good news! Thanksgiving is next week already! I love the holiday season.

Without further ado, here are my five favorite Christmas movies:

 

  1. The Holiday

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This movie has to be at the top of my list, and it’s hard to believe it is 11 years old now! It was released in 2006 and stars Cameron Diaz, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, and Jack Black. If you’re anything like me, Jack Black’s name makes you immediately skeptical. He does not seem to belong in that star-studded line-up, and yet his character is lovable and integral to the plot. Everything about this movie is relatable—even if the plot is somewhat predictable. What Christmas movie doesn’t have a bit of predictability after all? I don’t want to give anything away if there’s any chance you haven’t already seen it, but in my opinion, the story is extremely well done. The characters experience a range of emotions and reactions to relationship issues, and each of them end up stronger. The storyline switches easily between gorgeous scenes in the United States and England. All four of the main characters end up connected in some way, but it doesn’t feel forced as some plotlines do. Prepare to laugh and cry when you watch this movie.

Fun fact: Hans Zimmer composed the soundtrack, and the film’s music adds another level of enjoyment.

 

  1. The Polar Express

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Released in 2004, this heartwarming Christmas adventure is based on Chris Van Allsburg’s children’s book. A young boy takes a magical train ride to the North Pole and makes fascinating discoveries on his journey. The entire movie is a reminder that the spirit of Christmas never fades for those who continue to believe, and it transports the viewer back to childhood. The film soundtrack composed by Alan Silvestri is also amazing.

Fun fact: Tom Hanks voiced six of the characters. See if you can guess all of them without looking it up!

 

  1. Elf

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I could never write a Christmas movie list and not include Elf. This film was released in 2003—and again, how has it been 14 years already! It is a laugh out loud comedy following the story of Buddy the elf, played by Will Ferrell, who leaves the North Pole and must navigate life in New York City after the discovery that he is not a “real” elf. Buddy goes on a search to find his father and through a series of hilarious mishaps, he ends up saving Christmas and finding love with Jovie, played by Zooey Deschanel. As Buddy says: “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear!” There is plenty of loud singing involved in this movie to fill you with contagious good cheer.

Fun fact: For fans of Game of Thrones, did you realize that Peter Dinklage was in Elf long before he starred as Tyrion Lannister in the hit HBO show?

 

  1. How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966 cartoon)

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Before you ask, yes, I have seen the live action production of Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas, but there will always be a special place in my heart for the short 26-minute cartoon version. I remember watching it every year with my family. We would wait in anticipation all day, and then sit enthralled in front of the TV and sing all the words to every song. Is it possible not to sing along to “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch”? You will feel so sad when Cindy Lou Who wakes up in the night and sees “Santa Claus” stealing her Christmas tree, and you will feel your own heart growing when the Grinch’s heart grows. For me there is no better representation of the Christmas spirit—especially when I remember how I felt watching it as a kid.

Fun fact: If you miss the show airing on TV this year, it is on YouTube!

 

  1. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

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The last one on my list is this 1964 TV movie. This stop motion animated film was actually based on the classic Christmas song. If you haven’t seen this movie, it doesn’t really need an explanation. It is the endearing story of Rudolph and how he saved Christmas by being different even when everyone made fun of him for his red nose. Like all the movies on my list, Rudolph fills you with warmth and a reminder of why we love Christmas, even when the magic starts to fade in adulthood.

Fun fact: CBS will air Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer on Saturday, December 9, 8:00 P.M. Eastern/7:00 P.M. Central. Don’t miss it!

 

I could have made this list much longer, but I’ll just add the runners-up here:

A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) and Frosty the Snowman (1969) are basically a three-way tie with Rudolph, but I had to choose one! Something else we all learned from this post is that we can thank the 1960s for some of the best Christmas movies ever made!

I also don’t know how I forgot to add It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) near the top! Obviously, this list could have been Top 10 or 20, but I’ll stop for now. Happy Christmas movie-watching!

Do you agree with my list? What other Christmas movies would you add to the list?

There Is a Time to Be Honest

I decided to share some honest thoughts and feelings today. Sometimes it is difficult to be honest, but this post is basically the thoughts that cycle through my head every single night before I go to sleep. And I know I’m not the only one who feels like this sometimes.

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My alarm wakes me up from a dream. Again. It’s a new day.

I drag myself out of bed, take a shower, eat breakfast, pack my lunch, drive to work, check my email, answer phones, organize, plan, work and more work, go to lunch at the same time every day, more work, drive home, binge-watch my current Netflix obsession, go to bed.

Repeat.

How many stories, books, and poems have been written about life’s monotony?

I’m sure some people would just say that I’m a stereotypical “millennial,” discontent and ungrateful. I’d agree that I tend to be discontent, but I’m not ungrateful.

Why am I discontent? My life is good. Full-time job, new car, my own apartment, master’s degree finished, family and friends nearby, my health.

Is this what being an adult is like? Is this what it means to be an independent 20-something? They told me it would be hard, but I never expected to worry constantly about how I would pay my bills or whether or not I could afford to go see a movie with friends—especially when I work 40 hours every week. People talk about de-stressing, but is that even possible? Stress does not go away; it compounds with interest. It is heavy and impossible to ignore – like a migraine on a hot summer day. No matter how hard you try to ignore it, there it is pounding itself back into your consciousness again.

This is not what I pictured. In all my naïve imaginings, there was one thing that is very absent in my current reality. That thing was a boyfriend and someday husband who would help, encourage, challenge, and love me. Someone to be a witness to my everyday life. Maybe that’s what makes life more difficult for me in particular, being alone when I wake up and when I fall asleep.

People tell me to enjoy being single—that I’ll miss it someday. Well, I’m ready to miss it. I’m done listening to well-meaning and trite advice, the good and the bad. I’m lonely and always trying to ignore a simmering anger and disappointment deep inside me. And it’s time to be honest.

I realize that compared to the pain and evil in this world, my “problems” are superficial and unimportant. But to me they’re very real and painful.

I am not unhappy. I am not ungrateful. I love my family and my friends. I’m thankful for my job. But something is missing, and I can’t ignore that empty space in my heart. I know that being in a relationship will not make life easier, but it will make my life brighter and fuller. Until then, I wait and keep trying to figure out this crazy life on my own.

My alarm wakes me up from a dream. Again. It’s a new day.

Women’s Circles Broken: Thesis Introduction

         I’m back! After five months of silence, I have finally finished my graduate thesis. I am publishing the introduction here on my blog for those of you interested in reading what has consumed my time for the past year. I may eventually publish the entire thesis in installments. The full title is: “Women’s Circles Broken: The Disruption of Sisterhood in Three Nineteenth-Century Works,” and I am writing specifically about Little Women, Pride and Prejudice, and the poem “Goblin Market.” This is definitely an academic paper and not the most riveting reading material, but for those of you brave enough to read on, enjoy! 

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife” (Austen 11). If rich men must go wife-hunting, then the women presumably are lucky to get them, spending their time scrambling and fighting to beat out the competition and become the chosen wife. However, Jane Austen and other nineteen-century women authors such as Louisa May Alcott and Christina Rossetti saw the truth played out in the society around them. Of course, on the surface, the frantic search for wealthy husbands was reality; women were trained to become wives. Since women had such limited opportunities available to them, marriage was the most viable option for survival. An interesting connection found, though, among the literature written by women at the time is the way in which women thrive together in communities with each other—up until the men enter the scene. Many women are extremely unhappy after marriage and mourn the loss of community they had shared with their sisters. Once the men, or more commonly, one man who is also the future husband, disrupt these women-centered communities, the close bond among women is severed.

Three works of literature sharing this similarity are Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market,” and Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. Austen’s Pride and Prejudice was published in 1813, early in the nineteenth century, when many people had yet to question the societal relegation of the “woman’s place” to the home. By the mid-nineteenth century, however, when Rossetti published “Goblin Market” in 1862 and Alcott published Little Women in 1868, there was already an early push for women’s suffrage in both the United States and England. These three authors realized that women should have more options than marriage—although even they could not quite visualize what these options could be. What they longed for was a way for women to retain sisterhood after marriage instead of leaving it behind completely and to be allowed a place in the public sphere. They could see this better option, a supportive sisterhood—safe, loving, and uninterrupted. How and why did women thrive together in these three fictional nineteenth-century communities? How did they communicate? In what spaces did these communities exist? In what ways did men disrupt these communities, and was it possible for women to regain a similar level of closeness with each other after the disruption of men (i.e. marriage)? Some answers to these questions will become clear as this thesis looks at the various viewpoints and treatments each author brought to women’s communities, their importance, formation, and men’s intrusions upon them.

In each of the works discussed, one female character is affected most particularly by the male disruption. For Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, one of the most obvious instances of male intrusion occurs when Mr. Collins takes her dear friend Charlotte away from her. The loss of their friendship and intimacy deeply affects Elizabeth. Jo March in Little Women quite nearly despises the man who marries her older sister Meg and removes her from the cherished community of sisters, and after Laura eats the fruit offered to her in the poem “Goblin Market,” she drifts away from her sister Lizzie and moves swiftly toward death. Consequently, Lizzie is also deeply affected when she must discover a way to save her sister’s life. All of these characters navigate a world that shifts drastically with the entrance of men—and in the case of both novels, the changes brought by marriage.

The two novels use realism to illustrate aspects of female utopian spaces, relationships, and struggles, while by the end of the poem, Lizzie and Laura exist in a true female utopia—a world devoid of men and devoted to sisterhood. Coming hand-in-hand with the nearly inevitable event of marriage in women’s lives was the fact that they would be forced to leave these female utopias for the worlds mostly inhabited and controlled by men. In these writings by nineteenth-century women, women consistently pursue a space free from the overwhelming presence and power of men. Because of the transplants caused by marriage, these women constantly seek communities of women, new utopias and places of refuge with their own ways of communicating with each other that are often vastly different from dominant male forms of communication.

These women’s communities have been viewed as utopian alternatives to the patriarchal societies around them. The word “utopia” was created in 1516 when Sir Thomas More wrote the novel of the same name. He took it from the Greek word ou-topos for “nowhere” or “no place,” but the extremely similar eu-topos also means a good place. It is within this in-between area where women exist in these works of literature—the space between nowhere and a good place. The word “utopia” commonly connotes perfection and unity, but these women’s utopias do not quite fit this definition. The utopias they create are not recognized by the patriarchal society, and because of this, the women’s utopias are much closer to More’s original definition of “nowhere.” Where men often gather in large, boisterous groups, women gather in small, private spaces. From the parlor to written letters, the places and ways in which women communicate differ drastically from those of men.

In a search for a space away from men’s authority, women create their own. Many of these spaces are unique from their male-dominated counterparts. For example, the women in these works claim letter-writing as a space distinctively theirs. While not usually viewed as a literal “space,” letters create a location wherein women share their true, hidden thoughts and feelings with each other, free from the prying eyes of their husbands. Letters act as a private space for sharing intimate details about life, love, frustration, and loneliness—but also a space for sharing joyful news and encouragement. Writing and story-telling feature heavily in relationships among women—not only through their letters but through journals and stories repeated around the fireplace, in the drawing room, the kitchen, and other places women make their own.

In Space, Place, and Gender, Doreen Massey discusses the important roles that literal and metaphorical spaces and places play in women’s lives—specifically in the nineteenth century. Massey argues that critics should think “of social space in terms of the articulation of social relations which necessarily have a spatial form in their interactions with one another” (Massey 120). A few lines later, she elaborates:

Thinking of places in this way implies that they are not so much bounded areas as open and porous networks of social relations . . . It reinforces the idea, moreover, that those identities will be multiple (since the various social groups in a place will be differently located in relation to the overall complexity of social relations and since their reading of those relations and what they make of them will also be distinct). And this in turn implies that which is to be the dominant image of any place will be a matter of contestation and will change over time. (Massey 121)

Women construct their identities within literal and metaphorical spaces in these three works—most commonly the home or “private sphere.” However, as Massey explains, the women themselves also have varying definitions of identity as it compares to specific places. Women do not define their identities based solely on the spaces they inhabit; rather, the ways in which they choose to use certain spaces confer identity on the spaces themselves. In this mutual transferal of identity, almost any space available to women can be transformed into a female utopia, giving women a type of power all their own.

Massey also writes that “it is necessary to understand … gender relations as significant in the structuring of space and place, spaces and places” (Massey 182). By focusing on how women affect the spaces they inhabit, it becomes clear that they construct them differently from male spaces and specifically for themselves. For Massey, “It means that spatiality cannot be analysed through the medium of a male body and heterosexual male experience, but without recognizing these as important and highly specific characteristics, and then generalized to people at large” (Massey 182). Pride and Prejudice, Little Women, and “Goblin Market” were all born out of strict patriarchal societies, but the characters within them seek and discover ways of defining spaces and meaning without men. Further discussion of specific characters’ definitions of space and identity will be found in each chapter.

When reading and writing about relationships among women, it can be easy to come to the incomplete assumption that all women seek to be united together on common ground; and while that is true in one sense, there are multiple dimensions to women’s connections. Women in the nineteenth century were most often drawn together in their struggle for a place to call their own where their voices could be heard, but their methods of creating spaces were as diverse as their personalities. One critic, Helena Michie, coined her own term for describing one aspect of communication among women. In her book, Sororophobia Differences Among Women in Literature and Culture, she makes continual use of the title word “sororophobia,” which “attempts to describe the negotiation of sameness and difference, identity and separation, between women of the same generation, and is meant to encompass both the desire for and the recoil from identification with other women” (Michie 9).  It is this simultaneous longing and withdrawal from sameness that gives rise to many elements of women’s communication. In the three works discussed here, it becomes clear that women are different even within the same families, and it is often these dialogues among sisters and friends that drive the plots nearly as much as the impending marriages and disruptions by men.

Patricia Meyer Spacks writes in The Female Imagination that “Pride and Prejudice centers on marriage. In the society it depicts, marriage measures a woman’s success; mothers value themselves for marrying off their daughters; girls value themselves and are valued for their ability to attract and hold eligible men” (Spacks 148). In “Goblin Market,” there is a definite underlying theme of the girls preparing themselves for marriage. With so much emphasis placed on becoming “marriageable,” it is no wonder that it factors into the women’s communities. However, as we will see, marriage was not the sole focus of women’s lives. Even in the phase of “waiting” for men to arrive, the women—and especially sisters—in these works of literature create alternate, often utopian spaces for themselves. Each work discussed here displays varying differences in women’s communication, their level of closeness before and after marriage, the places they could call their own, and the ways in which they viewed impending marriages and probable separation from each other.

It has been argued that the communities of women in both novels are brought more closely together through difficulties that arise from the “lack” of men in their lives. Nina Auerbach writes in Communities of Women that “throughout Austen’s completed novels, women lead a purgatorial existence together … their lives are presented through an avoidance of detailed presentation as unshaped, unreal, a limbo” until men enter the scene (Auerbach 47-48). This statement simplifies the complexities that women’s communities can achieve. While it is true to some extent that the women in these stories exist in a culture of waiting and training until marriage becomes a possibility—until marriage ends the communities they have built together, their communities are not “purgatorial” as Auerbach claims. Rather, these communities are fragile and always at risk of disruption or dissolution caused by marriage. The clearest example of this can be found in the Bennet sisters, who exist in a close family unit until the marriageable men arrive in town.

          Pride and Prejudice specifically has been labeled a marriage novel. At first glance, the entire plot is moved forward by impending marriages. The first sentence itself seems to focus readers on the fact that all rich single men are searching for wives, but there is much more going on under the surface. Austen’s language here can also be read with sarcasm; rich men do not actually need wives because they are rich men, but their culture demands marriage. However, even though the plot does lead to marriages, the bulk of the novel is centered on women’s communities. Readers see the social aspects of balls and dinners and whispered conversations among women, but we also see Elizabeth Bennett strategically avoiding a marriage with Mr. Collins. For her, marriage is more than simply security, and she refuses to settle for a life with a man who would make her miserable.

Austen, Alcott, and Rossetti each had significant relationships with their sisters in one way or another. Most famously, Alcott’s novel is based on her childhood with her sisters, and Austen’s close relationship with her sister Cassandra has also been widely speculated upon and discussed. Rossetti’s tumultuous relationship with her sister is not as well known but influential all the same. For better or for worse, these sisterly relationships had a lasting impact on what and how these three authors wrote. Another significant similarity shared among the three authors is that they all chose to remain single. In a time when nearly all women married out of necessity, the fact that these three were unmarried is meaningful. It has become increasingly common to avoid authorial biography when writing about literature, but the strong parallels in this case create a space for inclusion and justification of biographical details. While biographical analysis will not feature heavily in this paper, each author had strong bonds with at least one sister and remained unmarried—common life experiences that are too important to omit.

All three authors knew one thing in particular that appears often in their writing: women create communities when they are together. They can transform unlikely spaces into female communities to strengthen and support each other. In these works of literature, the heroines struggle with the disruption and subsequent loss of these support systems most often through men and marriage. The characters we will discuss and befriend in these pages do not hate men, but they love their sisters more. The communities they create are not in opposition to male communities, but they are essential for women to function and thrive. for It is their resilient spirits that draw readers back to Elizabeth Bennet and Jo March centuries later. Lizzie’s devotion to Laura in her defeat of the goblin men is magnetic—it pulls us into the poem and challenges us to see beyond the words on the page. Nineteenth-century women’s communities are ephemeral, but even their weaknesses produce strength among women, binding them tightly together until the disruption of marriage and oftentimes continuing after marriage. These communities are spaces where women define and claim identities, challenge, and support each other. When women are forbidden to enter the public sphere, they create better spaces for themselves which are not defined by men—spaces that allow perseverance and rebuild community. For a first look at this type of strength found in women’s communities, we turn to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

Christmas Music Before Thanksgiving?! The Great Debate…Plus My Top 5 Christmas Albums

There is something about the holiday season that can bring out the best in people. Christmas music also has a magical ability to bring back feelings and memories from past years.

I’ve always wondered why so many of us wait to listen to Christmas music until after Thanksgiving. I remember fighting the urge to listen to Christmas music in November for years. I didn’t want to “skip Thanksgiving.” But, I’ve come to the conclusion that Christmas songs aren’t only for the specific holiday.

Remembering Jesus’s birth isn’t reserved only for December. Listening to and enjoying songs about love, joy, and peace on earth should be part of the whole year—not just one month of it.

Of course, I do know that sometimes hearing the same five songs on repeat everywhere you go can get extremely annoying. If we listened to Christmas music all the time, it wouldn’t be different from any other music. I’ve decided that I will definitely listen to Christmas music before Thanksgiving. I might even listen to it at other times of the year when I need a reminder of how it makes me feel during Christmas.

For those of you who aren’t yet feeling the Christmas spirit, here are my Top 5 favorite Christmas albums. Give them a listen, and let me know in the comments if there are others you would add!

 1. Michael Bublé – Christmas

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How can you not love listening to Michael croon some classic holiday favorites?

2. Pentatonix – A Pentatonix Christmas

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This album was just released last month, and it includes a hauntingly beautiful rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”—which is something different for a holiday album.

3. Josh Groban – Noel

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I really love Josh Groban’s voice. And one track on this album is called “Thankful.” It can definitely count as a Thanksgiving song!

4. The Time-Life Treasury of Christmas

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This 2 CD set was the soundtrack to every childhood Christmas for me. If you see this album, buy it. You won’t regret it—songs by Bing Crosby, Dolly Parton, The Beach Boys, Elvis, and many more.

5. Pentatonix – That’s Christmas to Me

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Yes, Pentatonix makes my list twice. I can’t choose just one. Listen to “White Winter Hymnal.” It will be stuck in your head in a good way.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone, and don’t feel bad for listening to Christmas music before December!