Father Seraphim Rose, Dickens, Chesterton, Belloc, and Lewis

by Andrea Elizabeth

I still haven’t finished That Hideous Strength, but I’m getting excited about what I want to pick up next.

Namely, my copy of Father Seraphim Rose, His Life and Works has been calling me, and then, or simultaneously, I think I’ll try David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens for two reasons. I have previously not been able to clear the hurdle to read Dickens after seeing the 40’s movie of DC, which was heavy on the emotional angst and exaggerated caricature side. How could it not be with W.C. Fields? Plus the assignment of Great Expectations in High School yielded mixed reviews. I don’t mind the wordiness so much as how depressing it was. I don’t remember that much of Dickens’ style, but for some reason I was more motivated to read other 19th C writers, probably because the romances were more satisfying. Dickens’ characters seemed in even gloomier circumstances with not as much emotional relief. On to my reasons why I do want to read him, which actually may be three in number. Or more. When I was converting to Orthodoxy, I read that an Athonite monk recommended David Copperfield to a novice for basic Christian teaching. That started my warming to the idea. But more recently, since having the occasion to spend a couple of hours at a stretch driving my son to college when George doesn’t go in to his office, I have been in the mood to hear words instead of songs. This is the circumstance for my listening to the podcasts I’ve mentioned in posts previous. At home I don’t listen to my pod for some reason. Wednesday I happened to think of listening to David Copperfield which is available for free on iTunes from Librivox. The guy who read chapter one, “I Was Born”, was pretty good, but chapter two’s lady, though possessing an interesting Cockneyish accent, read groups. of three words. at a time. in the exact. same. way. But still, Dickens’s humor, wit and charm show through, unlike in the movie.

The last (maybe, maybe not) reason is more convoluted. A few weeks back, on “Second Terrace” there was a post on Chesterbelloc. At the time, I wondered, which I don’t think was explained, if this word in the title was a combination of G.K. Chesteron’s (whom I woefully also haven’t read, and who was influential in C.S. Lewis’ conversion) name and someone else’s. But I shelved my curiosity in the back of my head. Then yesterday and this morning, my About.com daily classic poem email sent me a couple by Hilaire Belloc called “The Big Baboon”,

The Big Baboon is found upon
The plains of Cariboo:
He goes about with nothing on
(A shocking thing to do).

But if he dressed up respectably
And let his whiskers grow,
How like this Big Baboon would be
To Mister So-and-so!

and “The Birds”,

When Jesus Christ was four years old
The angels brought Him toys of gold,
Which no man ever had bought or sold.

And yet with these He would not play.
He made Him small fowl out of clay,
And blessed them till they flew away:
Tu creasti Domine

Jesus Christ, Thou child so wise,
Bless mine hands and fill mine eyes,
And bring my soul to Paradise.

Eureka! The other half of the combined Chesterbelloc! So I googled that combo to find the relation, and read this fine article about the two artists. This is the last paragraph,

Chesterton said that the world of Charles Dickens was the best of all impossible worlds, and something similar is often thought of his. After all, he was an optimist, he wrote a rollicking prose that often runs away from sense to become a music that mystifies and delights. He can seem so innocent, almost prelapsarian. I suspect that this is one of his greatest accomplishments.

All this (the truly last reason) is under the unfolding umbrella of the nature of this blog, which I’m seeing as being an inquiry into what to do with one’s western roots when becoming Eastern Orthodox. I currently say, make them proud.