The Time Machine by H.G. Wells (originally published 1895) is a short novella that, on the surface, is about a man who invents and then uses a time machine to travel 800,000 years into the future. More specifically, however, The Time Machine is about class division. In the futuristic world the Time Traveller visits, the evolved humans of the future have become divided into two different types: Eloi and Morlocks. The existence of two very distinct types of evolved humans comments on the dangers of living with distinct social classes.
As I followed along with Allie’s Shakespeare Month in January, I was impressed that so many of the plays that other readers discussed sounded familiar, even though I knew I had not read them or seen them performed. I knew I had never seen or read A Merchant in Venice, for example, but the plot seemed so familiar to me.
I recalled I’d read summaries of Shakespeare in eighth grade English class, so I determined to find the volume that we’d read. I discovered Charles and Mary Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare, originally published in 1807, and I’m almost certain that was my eighth grade exposure. It was time to read the volume in full. While I’m glad I rediscovered this classic, I’m hesitant to recommend it for children today.
It’s not to say that there isn’t a place for play summaries for children. Obviously, reading summaries of the plays gave me a background for Shakespeare that I recall nearly two decades later. However, the summaries by the Lamb’s are difficult to get through. Most of the text is exposition rather than Shakespeare’s clever dialogue, and let’s face it, clever as they are, Shakespeare’s plots are quite confusing and detailed. For the plays with which I was not familiar, I found it hard to follow the developing stories. For the plays with which I am intimately familiar (Hamlet, The Taming of the Shrew), it was rather disappointing to read a surface-level treatment of what I consider genius of plot and language. Besides, much as the authors intended to keep their summaries unbiased, they did give their opinions in subtle ways (such as Mary Lamb’s interpretation of the end of The Taming of the Shrew, a play I think is rather ironic rather than misogynistic).
The Lambs recognized the limitations to their task. One of them wrote in the introduction the following:
It has been wished to make these Tales easy reading for very young children. To the utmost of their ability the writers have constantly kept this in mind; but the subjects of most of them made this a very difficult task.
The introduction further explains that they intended the summaries to also be for “young ladies” who are not able to be schooled as their brothers may be. The Lambs suggest that boys simply read the original Shakespeare instead of these summaries:
For young ladies too, it has been the intention chiefly to write; because boys being generally permitted the use of their fathers’ libraries at a much earlier age than girls are, they frequently have the best scenes of Shakespeare by heart, before their sisters are permitted to look into this manly book; and, therefore, instead of recommending these Tales to the perusal of young gentlemen who can read them so much better in the originals, their kind assistance is rather requested in explaining to their sisters such parts as are hardest for them to understand: and when they have helped them to get over the difficulties, then perhaps they will read to them (carefully selecting what is proper for a young sister’s ear) some passage which has pleased them in one of these stories, in the very words of the scene from which it is taken; and it is hoped they will find that the beautiful extracts, the select passages, they may choose to give their sisters in this way will be much better relished and understood from their having some notion of the general story from one of these imperfect abridgments; which if they be fortunately so done as to prove delightful to any of the young readers, it is hoped that no worse effect will result than to make them wish themselves a little older, that they may be allowed to read the Plays at full length (such a wish will be neither peevish nor irrational).
Ignoring the comments about what girls can take or not (and keeping in mind that girls did not recieve a comparative education), I wonder why, then, anyone who can read the original Shakespeare needs to read Lamb’s summary. As I mentioned, there is a place for it, I suppose, and I may even find myself using the Lambs’ summaries with my son in our homeschooling when the time comes for it. Summaries do provide cultural context for young readers.
And yet, I can’t help but feel that we should try to find a way to expose our kids to the original whenever possible. Shakespeare’s writing, not just his plots, are what make his plays magnificent.
For my book club this month, we decided to take it easy and read a holiday short story, since many of us feel overwhelmed and limited on time during the holiday season. We settled on “The Mansion” by Henry Van Dyke, a Christian short story about a wealthy man who has a life-changing dream, much as Ebeneezer Scrooge did in Dicken’s classic.
In “The Mansion,” however, the main character is not a “grinch” being greedy. John Weightman is a very generous man, having donated to charities such as hospitals and orphanages throughout his life. Yet, as the opening scenes with his grown son reveal, he’s still missing the meaning behind the giving. He believes himself to be a Christian well-worthy of a mansion of heaven, but he gives because he expects financial return or a social “Thank You” that recognizes him as such.
In his Christmas Eve dream, John Weightman gets to see his mansion in heaven as he walks with some of the people he knew throughout his life. As I mention, his dream changed his perspective and while I don’t want to reveal the end, let’s just say, yes, it’s a bit predictable and dramatic, but satisfying nonetheless.
My book group enjoyed discussing the ways in which we can adjust our attitudes toward giving; are we giving for that Christmas morning “reaction? are we giving for worldly recognition? What does it mean to give selflessly? Is a generous John Weightman selflessly giving when he’s giving as he thinks about that mansion in heaven that he hopes will be his reward? How can we adjust our attitudes the year round to be more generous and sincere?
The story is a predictable, somewhat sappy one, but it was perfect short Christmas story to talk about this holiday season. I enjoyed it for the most part.
Read The Mansion” online.
Although the RIP challenge technically ended last week with Halloween, I had one more week of ghostly short stories to enjoy. As with past weeks, I enjoyed how each of the stories I read had a different feel. Walter de La Mare’s story was probably my least favorite of the week, but I enjoyed each story (also including stories by Penelope Lively, Alison Lurie, and Ray Bradbury) to some degree. (None of these stories are in the public domain, so I cannot link to them for you.)Continue Reading