In the Spring, I started Ben-Hur by Lew Wallace. I’d started it a few times, but grew faint-hearted. The beginning made me doubt I was equipped to endure. That it was the top-selling book behind the Bible from its publication in 1880 until Gone With the Wind’s publication had put it on my shelves as a goal. I loved Dickens, how could I fail to love Wallace’s Ben-Hur enough to endure to the end? I kept getting stuck in the first “book”, the story of The Three Wise Men. In the Spring, I read Anne of Green Gables – if Anne could read it, I decided I could, too.
My younger self never really noted the entire title of Ben-Hur, but my older self did: Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. Some books, I think, I needed to grow in to, mature, open my eyes to more of the world. . . and more of God. Anne made me realize it was time. I was ready to did in.. I set page goals, and came out the richer for it.
Was it like the Charleton Heston movie version? In some ways – yes. In many ways – no. The book was more about preconceived notions of Christ coming differently than expected – that for Jesus to have come as an avenging soldier, freeing God’s people from Roman rule would have diminished the promise of eternal salvation handed down. The Savior was coming for the world – not just one part of the world. Forgiveness and retribution were also not tied up as tidily as in the movie. Messala lived but not well. One of my favorite scenes was the widowed mother of Ben-Hur trying to answer hard questions about choices for his future. A mother-son discussion that went straight to the heart. It was so very worth the read. Below are some of my favorite quotes:
“What children we are, even the wisest! When God walks the earth, his steps are often centuries apart.” ~ Lew Wallace, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ
“It is more beautiful to trust in God. The beautiful in this world is all from his hand, declaring the perfection of taste; he is the author of all form; he clothes the lily, he colours the rose, he distils the dewdrop, he makes the music of nature; in a word, he organized us for this life, and imposed its conditions; and they are such guaranty to me that, trustful as a little child, I leave to him the organization of my Soul, and every arrangement for the life after death. I know he loves me.” ~ Lew Wallace, Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ
“They to whom a boy comes asking, Who am I, and what am I to be? have need of ever so much care. Each word in answer may prove to the after-life what each finger-touch of the artist is to the clay he is modelling.” ~ Lew Wallace, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ
After my success with Ben Hur, I decided to tackle Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables that has been on my book shelf since my 35-year-old son was two. . . . you read that right! Thirty-three years!
I started reading it before the Broadway production Les Miserables. . . I just couldn’t get beyond what I consider Book One. The exquisite story of Grace over Law – friends, it was so rich, so gorgeous, so soul-beautiful, I couldn’t go on. Seriously! Really! It was that good, that rich, that touching to my soul. If that book were a class, it would have been one of the most important classes of my life. It so filled me up, it was as though it took me over 30 years to digest before I could go on.
Hugo’s Les Miserables could be broken into three abridged versions: The first – 60% History of France & Political Dissertation (which includes Social Philosophy and Reformation), 10 Percent Ecclesiastical and 30 % Love Story. There’s a fantastic series of chapters about Slang (Argot). I thought how fun it would be for students to rewrite a section using student’s slang – a study of the evolution and devolution of language. Then there was a series of chapters about Riots (Emeute): “There is emeute, there is insurrection; they are two different angers; one is wrong, the other right. . . . The war of the whole against the faction, I will call insurrection. The attack of the faction against the whole, I will call Emeute” (Victory Hugo, Les Miserable). It is, indeed about 161 years later, a book pertinent to our times, a good tool for discussion about today’s challenges.
I re-read what I call Book One – digested it quickly and moved into the rest – one book at a time. Maybe because of my accumulated knowledge of history and politics. Maybe because of our political climate, I moved forward, enjoying, reading, learning, thinking. Les Miserable would be a book on which an entire curriculum of religion, history, language and sociology could be built.
I emptied one highlighter and started another before I finished – there was that much good stuff within. My husband asked me when the exam was. Below are just a few of my favorite quotes.
“The greatest happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved, loved for ourselves, or rather loved in spite of ourselves,” ~ Victor Hugo, Les Miserable.
“There are thoughts which are prayers. There are moments when, whatever the posture of the body, the soul is on its knees.” ~ Victor Hugo, Les Miserable.
“The future has several names. For the weak, it is impossible; for the fainthearted, it is unknown; but for the valiant, it is ideal.” ~ Victor Hugo, Les Miserable.
“O Thou which art. Ecclesiastes names thee Almighty, the Maccabees name thee Creator, the Epistle to the Ephesians names thee Liberty, Baruch names thee Immensity, the Psalms name thee Wisdom and Truth, John names thee Light, the Book of Kings names thee Lord, Exodus names thee Providence, Leviticus Sanctity, Esdras Justice, creation names thee God, man names thee Father; but Solomon names thee Compassion, which is the most beautiful of all thy names.” ~ Victor Hugo, Les Miserables
What’s next on my list? The City of God by St. Augustine and Interior Castles by St. Teresa of Avila, two books that have been on my shelves for about twenty years, two books I’ve started over and over. It seems like just yesterday, I put them there. I think it’s time!
Who have you spent your summer with? What characters? What authors? What nuggets within the stories went to your heart?