Well, I was getting better; the fever, chills, brain fog, and stuffy nose went away, and the cough diminished. Then late last week, the cough became frequent and severe again, and I haven’t been able to shake it. Lord willing, I’ll see a doctor tomorrow, and maybe get more medicine to clear this up.
On the bright side, the whole situation inspired a plot point in Enkie’s story and got her unstuck. When she informed me of this, I readily described my symptoms to provide her with necessary details. And if any of you writers need to describe a character’s pneumonia, drop me a line and I’ll be happy to help out. 🙂
It also struck me today what the lyrics of the song “It Is Well With My Soul” really mean. I had interpreted the lines to mean a serene peace in the middle of a tornado of circumstances, and in a sense, the song does mean that. But the emphasis is on “soul”. It is well with my soul. Not body or emotions or heart, but soul. Because of Christ’s death on the cross, Christians are no longer under God’s wrath. Which means that whatever our bodies or hearts or minds may suffer, we need not fear the ultimate tragedy: separation from God.
On a different note, I’ve continued reading. Last night, I finished rereading Louisa May Alcott’s An Old-Fashioned Girl (and started The Secret Garden this morning). I don’t have the energy for much literary analysis, but I pondered what makes An Old-Fashioned Girl so different from the Life of Faith Elsie Dinsmore stories. Both heroines live in households that do not share their values, both try to do what they know is right, both influence the other characters, and both are thought odd. But Elsie came across as practically perfect and the victim of characters who despise her for her pretty looks, her perfect faith, or her actions and attitudes. Polly came across as multi-layered with strengths and flaws, a girl who tries to do what she knows is right—and sometimes fails.
Therein lies one difference. Elsie is so spiritually mature at age 9 that she can Scripturally defeat the arguments of a Christian man 16 years her senior. (Not making that up; it’s in Book 2.) And she doesn’t grow or change much throughout the series. She matures mentally from girl into woman, but the story is not focused on her discoveries about the world or her own intellect and is focused on her faith. Except that her faith cannot grow because she’s already attained near-perfection there.
But An Old-Fashioned Girl offers a more balanced personality. While Polly tries to do what she believes right, she also gets confused about what is true or where the root of a problem lies. She refuses to flirt or play with love and tries to get the other characters to respect their elders and to consider others more important than themselves. But her temper gets the better of her once or twice, she feels hurt at being left out of the fashionable set, she’s sometimes afraid of what others will think, and she struggles with envy of her cousins’ grand attire and with discontent with her own plain costumes. She gives into to the temptation to flirt at one point (and has to deal with the consequences). On the flip side, she sticks to her values, encourages the other characters, works hard, serves cheerfully, tries to overcome her faults and remain cheerful, and influences those around her by her actions and her perseverance.
Another major difference between Elsie and Polly is how other characters perceive each girl. Many characters living alongside Elsie are awed by her or jealous of her (though some characters are more moderate). There are reasons for these extreme sentiments: who wouldn’t be awed by a practically perfect child still in single digits?—and her step-grandmother hates that Elsie is prettier and richer than her own children. And of course, the children follow their mother’s example. But the jealous characters are so spiteful that they’re one-dimensional. I can’t recall any redeeming qualities in them.
Polly, on the other hand, is neither adored nor despised. Many of the fashionable set in her cousins’ social circles are polite but indifferent. Some characters admire her manners in passing; and her cousins are sometimes shamed by her country ways and family’s poverty, but are also grateful for her kindness and friendship. And are sometimes annoyed by the qualities she has that they lack. But the supporting characters each have layered personalities. Fan values her cousin’s friendship and is a caring girl, but sometimes thoughtless; she dresses and behaves better than some girls in her social circle, yet sometimes feels shamed by Polly’s country ways and old-fashioned manners. Tom is a fun-loving, affectionate sort, mischievous, but also gruff and often lonely. Belle, one of Fan’s friends, is flighty, but kind, affectionate, and a true friend to those she cares for. The characters in An Old-Fashioned Girl have strengths and flaws of their own, and they neither idolize Polly or condemn her. All of which makes Polly’s world a realistic place.
A third difference is the conflict the two heroines face and where it comes from. Elsie sometimes struggles against her sinful nature, but the majority of her trouble is inflicted upon her by other characters. She’s frequently the victim of others’ spite, thoughtlessness, malice, or ignorance, and never really makes a mistake herself for which she has to suffer the consequences. As a child, she disobeyed her father a couple of times, the first time out of ignorance and the second through accidentally forgetting the command. Not quite the same as letting temptation overcome her or acting foolishly. Then in Book 4, she is duped by a thorough facade from a suitor–and honestly, if one character hadn’t accidentally found an incriminating letter from said play-acting suitor, it’s possible that the rest of the characters would have thought him, if not husband material, still a good man, regardless. Which again makes Elsie (and everyone else) the victim.
Polly, on the other hand, does suffer snubs and thoughtlessness, sometimes from those she considered her friends. But when Fan and Tom realize their mistakes, they apologize. Elsewhere, Polly struggles against her sinful nature, sometimes succumbs, and in some cases, has to pay a difficult price for the mistakes. She also struggles with discontent and discouragement repeatedly, rather than getting over those two vices all at once. It’s a far more balanced and realistic character portrayal than found in Elsie’s stories.
Another encouraging aspect of Polly’s story is the reminder that a situation or sorrow could always be worse. When she’s grown-up and a music teacher in the city, Polly feels frustrated at being unable to dress as her cousins did, have a circle of friends, and the money for amusements. She feels left out and unable to do anything fun—feels sorry for herself, basically. Then, as she’s helping an older friend sew, Polly hears the account of a girl who was so poor and feeble that she could not find work, and felt that her remaining options were sin or death. This puts things in perspective for Polly—and for me too, because, really, my sickness could have a much grimmer outlook. In the age of X-rays, lab tests, precise instruments, and antibiotics, doctors can diagnose a problem and offer a solution rather than having no clue and dosing the patient up with opium. And I’m thankful that, other than painful coughing, I don’t feel too badly at the moment.