We Two: Victoria and Albert: Rulers, Partners, Rivals, by Gillian Gill.
The practice (in some cases, the law) was, if you were part of a royal family, you couldn’t marry someone from your own country – at least, not if you wanted the children of that marriage to be able to inherit your title. You had to marry someone royal - someone from another of Europe’s royal families. And more often than not, that meant a German. Germany was made up of many little kingdoms, each with its own royalty: a veritable prince-and-princess factory!
Albert was the younger son in one such family. His father, though quite promiscuous, divorced and sent away Albert’s mother when she had an affair, and saw that his handsome young son was protected, educated, and kept pure for such a day as he would might make a match with his cousin, Victoria, who would be allowed to choose her mate and had been trained to like just the sort he would become. Indeed, the young queen, only recently emerged from under her mother’s thumb, was enchanted. She proposed to Albert on the third day they were together.
Yet this marriage was going to take a tremendous amount of work. Each was determined to rule, but forced to compromise; Victoria, by her constant pregnancies, Albert, by his German-ness and lack of true position (also, while he was brilliant, he was rather lacking in charm). How would they make things work? Gill’s biography explores the times and character of Victoria, Albert, and their surrounding cast; what caused them to make the decisions they did; and what happened as a result. Fascinating stuff.
20 Most Asked Questions about the Amish and Mennonites, by Merle and Phyllis Good.
So, how did these orders come about? What do they have in common, and how are they different from each other, and the rest of us? What is life like for them? What holds them together, and what would threaten to tear them apart?
I was fascinated, during our recent visit to Pennsylvania, to learn about the diversity of groups that took up William Penn’s offer and fled German-speaking Europe to settle in the wooded land the Quaker had purchased and declared to be a place of religious freedom. Many were various flavors of Anabaptists – those who believed Christianity could and should be a choice deliberately made, and a way of life - not merely an identity decided by one’s current government or inherited from one’s parents. As a sign of this, they went and got themselves baptized - a second time, if necessary; hence the name.
Many Anabaptist groups, like the Amish and many Mennonites, focused on protected themselves from the distractions and fashions of the world in order to focus on God and family. Isn't that what it was about?
What puzzles me though, is this question to which I never heard an answer, in this book or elsewhere: What does Amish spirituality look like? Do any, many, or most experience the inner fruitfulness that their way of life is designed to protect, or is it, for many, merely a humanistic or legalistic thing, a matter of family and culture and tradition? Do they find it worth it?
This book asserts that many of the Brethren/Mennonite/Amish groups are growing, especially the more conservative ones.
The Summer of the Great Grandmother, by Madeleine L’Engle.
In this, the second in a series of memoirs, the author reflects on the life of her mother and other relatives, describing her mother’s descent into senility and the family’s efforts to care for her at home during the last few months of her life. Many of the stories reveal as much about Madeleine as anyone else, and provide sources for some of the people, places, and situations that appear in her novels. A good read. Madeleine’s prejudices against other options do not ring so true in this day of more humane care for the elderly, though it’s still challenging: what does it look like for us to love, really love, our parents, when they are no longer all there, or turn on us in anger or fear?
Also read: Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World, by Henri Nouwen.
Digging to America, by Anne Tyler.
The Donaldsons and Yazdans, two very different American families, meet at the Baltimore airport where both families have come for baby girls they are adopting from Korea. On a whim, Bitsy Donaldson (‘with her burlap-sack dresses and more-organic-than-thou manners’) reaches out to looks up the Ziba Yazdan (born in Iran, but insecurely "American" in her tight jeans and dark lip liner) and her family and invites them to get together socially. Much of this story focuses on Ziba’s elegant mother, Maryam, who has always felt like an outsider in life and not sure whether this is the worst or best thing about her life. Interesting, well written.
All Shall Be Well; and All Shall Be Well; and All Manner of Things Shall Be Well, by Tod Wodicka.
This story features a medieval re-enactor with a taste for home-brewed mead and some fairly serious family problems. The book suffers from over-creativity, sentences one is not sure whether to admire or roll one’s eyes over, like these: “June collected stamps of disapproval,” and “I was left with the room’s mirror, which hung there like a scream.”
The Moon in the Mango Tree, by Pamela Binnings Ewen.
This novel of the 1920s and 30s tells the story of the marriage and experiences of a Philadelphia couple trying to find meaning in purpose in very different ways. Shortly after finishing his medical studies, Harvey hears of the opportunity to practice medicine in Thailand, and with practically no preparation he and Barbara end up as part of a (rather twisted and rigidly fundamentalist) mission team in an isolated region of Thailand.
Barbara, a socialite and feminist with no religion to speak of and nothing particular to live for except her husband, since she has had to lay down her craft as an opera singer, is not going to do well.
I found this a rather painful, but interesting and honest exploration of the lives of American women, and the missions movement and lives of expatriate women of that era.
The Tale of Hill Top Farm, The Tale of Hawthorn House, and The Tale of Briar Bank, by Susan Wittig Albert.
These are part of a series of British-flavored “cosies” featuring Miss Beatrix Potter and the inhabitants of the Lake District village where she has purchased land following the sudden death of her fiancé. The blend of human and animal characters was a bit confusing at first, though the two are characterized in similar ways! I'll leave you with a line from "Hawthorn House."
“In Rascal’s mind, Jeremy would always be a happy boy browned by the summer sun, sharing his bread and cheese with a small brown terrier beside a tumbling beck high on a rocky fell, the wide world spread invitingly at their feet, the future endless and bright and always exactly the same as the present.”>> In my stack for June:
The Lost History of Christianity, by Philip Jenkins
The Hunt for Red October, by Tom Clancy
>> See also: