The Librarian’s Shelf: A Classic You’ve Been Meaning to Read

This wasn’t the book I intended to read for February, but it was the book I picked up at the end of January. The reader’s heart does what it does. I tend to be known as someone who enjoys English novels, someone who has been meaning to read more Catholic authors, and someone who just enjoys reading period. And yet I have had never read anything by Evelyn Waugh. Yeah, I know, it makes almost as little sense as the fact that I first read Chesterton last year (I’m excluding Ballad of the White Horse, which I read my junior year of high school and disliked every moment).

So what made me pick up Brideshead Revisited? Well, aside from having been told by multiple people that it was a good read (not a comforting read, not an easy read, but a good one) I had always put it off to someday because I didn’t have a copy. And then I picked up a copy at Toadstool back in the fall for a few bucks, and I was so certain it would be read in October. But then life happened so I pushed it off. It felt like it just slotted right into the ‘meaning to read’ category with a vengeance.

I really loved the look at the way the twenties devolved into the forties. Waugh apparently was a Bright Young Thing himself, but he’s writing it from a few decades remove and you can tell. There is a nostalgia, and the relief of having lived through The Great War, and the manic frenetic energy of the twenties as you would expect, but there is an overlay of regret that can only come with the remove of time. If you haven’t read it, I really think you should.

When it comes to classics you should read, there are any number of lists to consult, and they’ll have overlap and points of divergence. Given how this library is put together, you should be able to find the classic you’re looking for in either the Ballroom or the Newman Room. A random selection of classics that I have enjoyed for your perusal:

  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin
  • Dracula by Bram Stoker
  • Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
  • Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery
  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  • Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
  • The Iliad and the Odyssey
  • Edgar Allen Poe. Honestly you could pick anything
  • CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien. And yeah, pretty much pick your work for these guys.


The Battle of Hastings and the Bayeux Tapestry

The Battle of Hastings and the Bayeux Tapestry

Today marks the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings. To my disappointment, I was obviously not at Battle Abbey to see the reenactment, nor was I in Bayeux looking at the Tapestry. The internet, however, is a magical thing and it can bring a little Hastings into your evening.

Here are some things to know before exploring the links below:

  • The Battle: The Battle of Hastings is considered the decisive victory that allowed William I (also known as the Conqueror, the Norman, the Duke of Normandy, and the Bastard) to claim the throne of England.
  • The Opponent: William’s opponent in the battle was Harold Godwinson. Harold was the Earl of Wessex before ascending the throne. He is the last Anglo Saxon King, and had a short reign. He was crowned in January 1066 and lost that crown in October of the same year
  • The Predecessor: Prior to Harold and William, the throne belonged to St Edward the Confessor– his feast day was yesterday, October 13th. Harold may be the last Anglo Saxon King of England, but Edward is best remembered and considered a successful, strong, energetic king.
  • The Family: Harold’s sister was married to Edward the Confessor. William was a first cousin once removed of Edward’s. So we’re dealing with claims that have to be enforced at the end of a sword, basically.
  • The Tapestry: Almost everyone has seen the Bayeux Tapestry, or at least part of it. They may not know it, however. Ever laugh at one of those medieval memes? Yeah, those are figures from the Bayeux Tapestry. I’ll leave most of the explanations to the link below but suffice to say, you should care about the Bayeux Tapestry even if you aren’t into needlework.

Links for your edification

  • The Bayeux Museum— Located in Bayeux, France the Museum is the home of the Bayeux Tapestry and they have a nice online exhibit regarding the Tapestry, its importance as a historical document, and the history of the piece.
  • Bayeux Tapestry at the Reading Museum— a digital version of the Tapestry, based on a Victorian Reproduction, the Tapestry is available by section. Wikipedia has a single continuous image of the tapestry.
  • Battle Abbey— Run by English Heritage, the site of the Battle of Hastings has information for you to peruse.

Finally for those perusing the collection, you’ll want to head to the stacks. The first two rows hold general history and early English history.

A Glance at Sts Thomas More and John Fisher

A Glance at Sts Thomas More and John Fisher

Today marks the feasts of St Thomas More and St John Fisher, two men linked inextricably with each other, education, the Tudors, and the last days of Catholic England.

Full disclosure time. I am fascinated by English history and most particularly by two families: the Plantagenets and Tudors. Leaving the Plantagenets aside (Becket’s feast day isn’t until December you know!), let us take up the Tudors. I imagine that most of you are familiar with the broad brushstrokes: Henry VII comes out of nowhere at the end of the War of the Roses, the edge of a twig on a dead branch of the house of Lancaster and emerges the victor from a battle that left large chunks of the Houses of York and Lancaster dead and buried. He married Elizabeth of York for good measure, was blessed with 2 sons and 2 daughters that made it to adulthood, and was succeeded to the throne by his son, also Henry. Henry VIII reigned for 38 years, succeeded by his son Edward, then daughters Mary and Elizabeth.

The key points for our story are these. Henry was the 2nd son, the spare heir destined for a life in the Church. He was never truly prepared to rule the country, his lessons in kingship crammed into the space between when his brother and father died. His older brother Arthur married Catherine, the Infanta of Spain, and died shortly thereafter. Catherine’s parents Ferdinand and Isabella secure a dispensation that will allow Catherine to marry Henry regardless of whether the marriage was consummated. Henry and Catherine would remain married for 24 years before all manner of hell broke loose. Most are familiar with the players and events at this point: Henry, Catherine, the Bolyens, the break with the Church, and the executions of Fisher and More. I could go on (and on, and on) about what I think of the players, the events, the interplay, the what-ifs and if you all care then I may. For today, lets take a look at a few resources for you.

The story of the ends of their lives are well known, but what of the remaining balance of their lives? The easiest way to become familiar with these men are through their words. The Luminarium has put together free digital copies of the major works of both St John Fisher and St Thomas More.

Beyond that, some considerations:

  • Fisher was of the merchant class, though he earned degrees at Cambridge and became Master of Michaelhouse and personal confessor & chaplain to Margaret Beaufort (you know, Henry VIII’s grandmother)
  • He acted as a tutor to the future Henry VIII
  • Despite the fact that he was close to Henry he stood by the Queen during the trial over her marriage, acting as her chief counselor and speaking on her behalf. He did not allow his history with Henry nor Henry’s considerable rage dissuade him.
  • He did not shy away from calling out the abuses he saw in the Church. Let’s be honest, how difficult must it be to stand there defending the Church while also clearly calling out excesses and errors that you see? Its a fine line.
  • Fisher had a reputation for being straightforward and ascetic, a quiet dignified presence wherever he went. Contrast that to More, who was known for being lively and merry, with something of a wicked sense of humor.
  • Where Fisher was within the Church, More was firmly in the laity, two sides of the same coin.
  • More attended Oxford, becoming a lawyer. He did not spend all his time on the law, however, as his prolific writing attests. Both Fisher and More maintained a friendship with Erasmus. To have been a fly on the wall if all three were in a room!
  • More progressed up the ranks within the court, having been identified as a talent that Wolsey and Henry simply had to have. He would ascend as high as being the Lord Chancellor of England, the first layman to hold the office.
  • More’s position put him in close proximity to Henry VIII on a daily basis. He had to be close to Henry as well. He wrote, he fought, and he ultimately climbed the scaffold as well.

The links above will provide links to a good portion of the works of both of these men, though you should consider reading Utopia first. Along with being More’s most famous work and famously misunderstood, this year is also the 500th anniversary of the publication of Utopia.

For those looking for more biographical information, see the Catholic Encyclopedia’s articles on St John Fisher and St Thomas More.