“We are not to do evil, that good may come,”

is a line from the Elizabeth Gaskell book ‘Ruth’. I finished it yesterday and this is the line that sticks with me.

The novel is about a young orphan girl, Ruth (working as a dressmaker’s apprentice).

ballroom photo
Photo by State Library of Queensland, Australia

 

She meets a wealthy aristocratic young man, Mr Bellingham, at a ball where she must mend rips and tears in the dresses of the the young ladies who attend. Her employer, Mrs Mason, is a tough, strict lady, and when Mrs Mason sees Ruth walking with Mr Bellingham she tells the young girl never to return. Cast-off like a cast-off, Ruth allows herself to be persuaded to go away with Mr Bellingham and is, consequently, ruined.

When Bellingham falls ill in a Welsh Inn and his mother arrives to take him home, Ruth is once more cast-off – and pregnant, but this time a Dissident Minister and his sister, Mr and Miss Benson, take pity on her and persuade her to return with them, under the guise of new widow.

Mr Benson is concerned not just with the law of the land, but also with what Jesus would do, and is persuaded by his sister to let the townsfolk believe Ruth is a widowed relation of theirs and thus the deception begins. Once the truth is out, the effects are, at first, devastating for Ruth and her son, Leonard, and the Minister wonders if they should have spoken the truth from the outset.

When politics comes to the town, and one man suggests using the weaknesses of other men to forward their own purposes, Benson says: “We are not to do evil, that good may come,”.

This stuck with me, and reminded me of that saying “You’ve got to be cruel to be kind.” I’ve never liked this saying and believe there is always a way of doing things that does not have to be cruel.

When we shrug and tell ourselves, “you’ve got to be cruel to be kind”, we are justifying the means.

Yet there is the question of the greater good. Should we agree to the bombing of a city to kill lots of militants when we know innocents will be killed?

Can cruel means ever be justified?

“We are not to do evil, that good may come,”.

Can good results ever come from evil deeds?

It’s all to easy to think the end justifies the means sometimes, but does it?

Certainly got me thinking.

Louise

Book Musings: The Girl In The Photograph, by Kate Riordan.

I’ve been on holiday! And while on holiday without wifi I managed to catch up on some reading – and found a new author in the process. Kate Riordan.

Kate Riordan Girl in the Photograph

I must mention that the book is published in the UK under ‘The Girl in the Photograph’ and in the US and Canada as ‘Fiercombe Manor’.

I’m not usually a fan of books that flip between two different time periods, even though these two were only 1932 and 1898, but when I ‘looked inside’ on Amazon I was immediately hooked by the first couple of lines – in a Prologue no less. So much for those who declare prologues to be essentially evil. Beautifully written prose:

“Fiercombe is a place of secrets. They fret among the uppermost branches of the beech trees and brood at the cold bottom of the stream that cleaves the valley in two.”

I adore writing like this, always have. Some might say, ” How can secrets fret?”, but I’m not one of those, and anyway, by the end of the novel you understand. So I downloaded and settled in to enjoy, and was not disappointed.

I’m not going to write a summary of the novel, you can read that on Amazon, but I will say that I think the way the lives of Alice and Elizabeth are told and interwoven is beautiful. I loved the parallels drawn between the two women and found I identified a great deal with Elizabeth, who Alice gets to know through a diary and smidgens of information dropped by the housekeeper, Mrs Jelphs. I understood Elizabeth, and why she did what she did at the end.

And, another thing – I never felt annoyed when the author switched to the other woman. There are times when, in some books I have read, that the switch between pov’s or time periods has irritated me. Yes, there is such a thing as tension and keeping the reader guessing, but there’s also telling a story and using the natural curiosity of the reader to lead them into the next point of view. I thought Ms Riordan did that wonderfully.

The only thing I wanted to understand better was why Tom Stanton was attracted to Alice, but it’s quite possible I missed something in my haste to find out what happened.

This is the kind of novel I will read again, not just because I know I must have missed things, but also because this the kind of novel that leaves something with me. I’ve already downloaded Birdcage Walk. Can’t wait.

 

Once A Foreigner, Always A Foreigner

I have just finished ‘Americanah’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and I am still thinking.

This is a book I will read again. It’s the kind of book you read to find out what will happen, yet while you’re reading know you must come back to this page because there was something that gave you insight into your own life. And then there is that page where the characters seem too rich, too characterful to be true, yet you know they are and you relish the time you get to spend with them. And then there are the blog entries which are well-written, educational, and illuminating about what it means to be black in America. To be Americanah in Nigeria. It’s the kind of book where you can dig a little deeper, discover the story beneath the story, the reality beneath the pseudo-reality – or is it the other way around…

 

I live in a country not of my birth and no matter how I try to retain my innate Englishness, it’s surprising how much of the adopted country seeps into me and when I return to the land of my birth it takes a while for the pseudo-sweetness of superiority to dissolve.
I first moved to Switzerland in August 2001 full of hopes and dreams, and assurance that I would find my own niche in this beautiful country. After a month of struggling with the language, people’s perception of me as a foreigner, and nobody to talk to, the shine began to wear away and leave the naked matte of reality. The solution was a language course. I made one or two friends and could thereafter communicate in shops, albeit on a basic level. If someone talked to me about anything other than carrots or potatoes or what my name was, I received a sigh for my pathetic attempts to mumble a few words. I often drew a blank even when I could communicate better – the momentary panic that hits when someone expects an answer before you’ve even begun to process their question.

Slowly, I began to absorb the values and ideas of my adopted country. Then I visited my home town in England. And discovered how foreign I was, once more.

I always assumed England and my home town would remain much as I remembered them, but as soon as I set foot in my familiar country, an unexpected alienness began to wind its way in and alter my previously held perceptions. I wondered whether I had changed, or whether my perceptions had been false when I had lived there. A paradigm shift. I saw the good about Switzerland reflected poorly in my home town. It was not as clean. People did not greet one another. Public transport left much to be desired. But.

I could talk! I could ask a question and someone would understand! Better yet, I understood everything going on around me without the unshiftable shadow of worry that cloaked me whenever I left the security of my apartment in Switzerland. If something happens, can I make myself understood?

Going back to Switzerland was like returning to England, just in reverse. Trains were wonderful and people ‘Gruetzie’d’ like crazy, but I was once again an alien in a foreign country, struggling to be understood, struggling to prove I was worthy.

Has anyone else experienced this? Have you moved from your home town only to go back after a number of years and realize both you, and your home town, have changed?

It’s unsettling until we readjust, find our paradigms, and continue our lives.

 

Louise