Well, I didn’t think I was going to have time to do Downton recaps this season—I mean, I don’t have time; it’s crazy how much I don’t have time for it. But I watched episode 3 on the treadmill this evening and doggone it, I miss talking about it with you guys. I thought I’d see if I could knock out a quick comment on each major plotline—no frills, no photos, no direct quotes, because that’s what turns a recap into a nine-hour endeavor. (No exaggeration.) Sound all right?
Spoilers below, obviously.
DON’T DREWE IT
Let’s see, where to begin. I’ll focus mainly on this week’s episode (argh, here I go already), but we’ve got to chat about the whole Drewe of Yew Tree Farm situation. Or maybe we don’t. I’m too irritated by that whole hamhanded series of events. My heart breaks to think of the family leaving the farm they and their forefathers have nurtured “since before Waterloo.” The wrenching resolution of that storyline illustrates one of the dominant themes of this season: the question of agency. Who has it, and who doesn’t. The difference between doing what you want to do and what you must—and what kind of must it is. Duty? Desperation? Social roles? Lack of options? Sometimes the “want” and the “must” overlap, but not often, so far this season.
Mrs. Drewe wants Marigold back (wants not to have had to give her up at all), but she has no agency, no say in the matter. Mr. Drewe wants conflicting things: to keep his farm; to keep his promises; to protect his wife’s mental health; to take care of his family. The farm, which is part of his being at the cellular level, is the thing that must be sacrificed. He started this chain of events in motion by agreeing to raise Marigold, and then by giving her back to Edith, and he’s doing what he sees as his duty by handing in the lease and relocating his family, to remove Mrs. Drewe from Marigold’s vicinity. And…as a plotline, I think this stinks. It’s one of those places where I’m just yelling at Julian Fellowes: “Write it differently! Come on!”
SAD-EYED MR. MASON
Also out on his ear. Zero agency. New estate owner, new plans, old story. Of course it all seemed too coincidental last week—dear old Mr. Mason is going to need a new farm, and why look, there just happens to be a vacancy at Yew Tree. I made the same leap Daisy did, and this week I’m scratching my head, wondering why Cora hinted about “an idea” (strongly suggesting she was picturing Mr. Mason being able to take over for the Drewes) but is now being so cagey about it. Daisy, positively quivering with agency, is determined to maneuver her father-in-law into that gap whether Cora likes it or not. This is a pretty interesting turn of events, actually—Cora being all “oh, I don’t know, I wouldn’t get your hopes up” about it and Daisy just barreling ahead and announcing it to the world like it’s a done deal. “I want to get things settled,” she insists, when Molesley chides her for counting her chickens before they’re hatched. Daisy’s ready to start cracking open some shells. Her impetuous efforts to help Mr. Mason at the neighbor’s auction in Ep. 1 backfired rather badly, but it is to be hoped she’s more successful this time. I mean, that perfectly nice farm is wide open now, SO WHAT’S THE PROBLEM, CORA? And how come this hasn’t occurred to anyone else? Robert makes such a convincing worry face but I’m not sure he’s had an original thought in a decade.
THOMAS, ODD MAN OUT
Second most infuriating storyline. Robert and Carson have accepted that a staff reduction is inevitable, but why fire someone when you can freeze him out? Thomas is openly, deliberately made to feel redundant at every turn. Carson seems to despise him. Honestly, this business seems out of character for Carson. He’s usually more direct. If you’re going to sack him, sack him already.
So Thomas goes on another job interview and I have to say, there was a moment in this scene that choked me up. The vast, empty house; the lonely old man. For a moment I thought Thomas was going to find a congenial and fulfilling position here: the chance to be important to someone, to be needed and useful. But the scene turned. The house is a tomb. Sir Michael is a ghost. Thomas, despite a dearth of other options, walks away from the opportunity. He won’t be the guy holding the tattered coattails of the 19th century as it staggers into the sunset, thirty years late. Nor is he eager to shift from being an under-utilized under-butler to the jack of all trades, master of none (no staff, that is) that is what Sir Michael’s servant will have to be.
What will become of him? I find I’m more interested in learning his fate than almost anyone else’s—with, I think, one exception. Another underdog, of course. But we’re coming to her.
THE HOSPITAL BUSINESS
War! Bloodshed! Venom! Hats with feathers perched at indignant angles! For three episodes, we’ve watched Violet and Isobel duke it out over the question of the Great Hospital Takeover. Good for the village, or bad for the village? Here again, of course, we’re grappling with the question of progress: is change a force for good, or for destruction? Everyone has an opinion except Robert, who isn’t allowed more than two opinions a season and he’s already spent one on the matter of where Carson and Hughes should have their wedding reception. (He was wrong, of course.) I expect he needs to save his other Season Six opinion for naming a new dog. Surely he’ll have a new dog to name soon, no?
But back to the hospital. Poor Violet, losing her allies one by one. Now even Dr. Clarkson is wavering. Isobel was pretty hard on him this week, and now he’s rethinking his position. Maybe a merger isn’t a terrible fate for the village. It’s interesting that in none of these barbed conversations has the subject of Sybil’s fate come up—how if the family had listened to Clarkson instead of the Important City Doctors, she might still be alive. I would have expected Cora to be more suspicious of the Royal Yorkshire.
One thing is certain: Cora has elbowed her way into this fight (as I certainly hoped she would), and Violet’s not going to forget that in a hurry.
ROBERT HAS INDIGESTION
This got ten seconds of screen time and had me convinced a heart attack was imminent and would either delay the wedding or interrupt it. But no, he just needed to burp. Carry on.
SPRATT AND MRS. BUSYBODY
Mrs. Denker is gleeful to have some dirt on Spratt—his no-good nephew escaped from prison and Spratt helped him on his way. She covers for him when the constable makes inquiries, and Spratt knows it’ll cost him, sooner or later.
…didn’t have much to do this week. Except make faces about Edith and be dressed down by her mother over the wedding plans, which I enjoyed. Cora calls her out for “bullying” Carson and Mrs. Hughes into having the reception in the Great Hall. Mary can’t fathom a situation in which her opinion isn’t the correct one (she’s more like her grandmother all the time) and is baffled—and a little insulted—by the suggestion that she might not understand all the nuances of a situation.
Then she completely misguesses the way her mother will feel about having Anna and Mrs. Patmore rummage through Cora’s closet in search of an evening coat for the bride-to-be. Cora, bursting in upon the unexpected trio in her bedroom, behaves very badly indeed, addressing them coldly and severely. I’m glad she had the face to apologize later.
ALL ABOUT EDITH
This is who I really want to talk about. I can never resist a good “Hey kids, let’s put on a show!” I cheered when she sacked the heinous editor; I crossed my fingers when she agreed to have a drink with Bertie; and I positively beamed when they hustled all night to put the magazine together. Come on, Edith. Unlike so many of the people around you, you have opportunity. You have options. You have a magazine, for Pete’s sake. And a flat in London! You’re a Muriel Spark character waiting to happen and I for one can’t wait.
CHARLES AND ELSIE CARSON
They did it. Whew. I really wasn’t sure it was going to be allowed to happen.
Tom! I have nothing snarky to say. His return brings me one hundred percent delight, even his hokey ripped-from-the-Wizard-of-Oz line about having to go all the way to Boston to learn that Downton was his home.
Oooh, but does this mean Mary will have to share estate-running duties again? Or will Tom find something else to do?
As always, there’s so much more I could say. But I’m already late for the next thing. Chat away, my lovelies. Let’s pick it apart!
Thought I’d share a few of the books I’ve tossed/will be tossing Beanie’s way during our 20th Century History studies…
Betsy and the Great World by Maud Hart Lovelace. Betsy’s family, ever supportive of her writerly dreams, sends her on a trip to Europe in 1913. Venice, Germany, England. She’s in London when the Great War begins.
Rilla of Ingleside by L. M. Montgomery. Always and forever one of my favorite books. Life on P.E.I. during WWI, with beloved brothers…and Ken Ford…away at the front.
Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank B. Gilbreth, Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey. When you hit the Roaring 20s, you gotta read Cheaper by the Dozen. That’s practically a Law of Homeschooling.
A Mad, Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller. This was one of my favorite reads during the CYBILs 2014 judging: the story of an English girl who gets involuntarily (at first) swept up in the fight for women’s suffrage.
Lost by Jacqueline Davies. Wrenching story (how could it not be?) about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.
My friend Sarah Mackenzie of the Read-Aloud Revival podcast is in town for a speaking engagement, so we got to hang out for a while. (Kortney, we missed you!) We decided to hop on Periscope for quick hello and wound up chatting about Betsy-Tacy and Little House and middle-grade vs. chapter books, and all sorts of bookish things. Super-fun. Come back soon, Sarah!
Sarah interviewed me on Read-Aloud Revival a while back—here’s the link if you missed that episode. If books are your jam, you should subscribe to the podcast; Sarah has some awesome guests lined up for next year—and the archive of previous episodes is full of riches.
Today we were exploring new courses and happened upon this gem: “Who Composed Me?” You listen to audio samples of particular musical works and match them to their composers. We’re having a lot of fun with it so far. This mini-course lends itself well to group study. We already know several of the pieces by heart, having enjoyed them in our own composer study times in years past. I like to pick one composer a month to encounter Charlotte Mason-fashion, listening to one key work per week, more or less. It’ll be fun to draw from the pool in the Memrise course for future selections.
I can tell it’s December when my stats are full of searches for Hanna’s Christmas! If you’re new: it’s been out of print for a long time, so here’s a read-aloud video to share with your kids.
If you’re on the hunt for a used copy, set yourself a reminder to check Amazon Marketplace and eBay in June or July. Resellers tend to mark the book up to ludicrous prices at this time of year, when demand is high.
1. Christmas Trolls by Jan Brett: always our first book of the season. My younger three love it every bit as much as my older three did. I’m right there with them—the troll voices are so much fun to read aloud, and there’s a bit at the end that chokes me up every single time. Plus we have a red wooden horse exactly like the one in the book!
(Why has Amazon started slapping a copyright notice on book covers? They’re fair use.)
2. I really appreciate the downloadable lock-screen calendar Inkwell Press provides for free every month. What a nice gift! I like being able to turn on my phone and see what day it is without clicking to my actual calendar. I’m lazy that way. If you sign up for their email list, Inkwell will send links to each month’s wallpaper options—lock screen, home screen background, and desktop. Pretty nifty.
3. I mentioned this on Facebook and Twitter last night, but for those who missed it: 50 Incredible Minecraft Seeds You Must Try is free on Kindle right now and it’s pretty darn cool. It includes seeds for PC, Pocket Edition, XBox, etc. My kids and I were pretty excited to explore some of the Pocket Edition maps today…there’s one with four villages squished together and another with a mountain village that looks like something out of Howling Fjord. I ran around the mountain one for a while and it was a hoot. The blacksmith shop is high up on a rocky crag above the rest of the town.
4. The Jacquie Lawson Advent Calendar! We look forward to this every year. It’s an animated Advent calendar with some new little piece of story to click on every day. I’m glad my friend Phoebe reminded me to download it today. (Costs $4.) This year’s theme is “Victorian Christmas,” which, you know, had me at hello.
5. Periscope: I’ve done about one scope a week since I started. I never know if I should post them here! You can view all my replay videos at katch.me/melissawiley, but I could upload them here on the blog, too, if it would be helpful. Actually, I suppose I ought to start posting a list of links for stuff I mention in each scope, since show-and-tell seems to be what I wind up doing every time. Okay, there’s a plan (but not for tonight). Yesterday’s was called “A quick Monday hello” and is pretty chatty. Sometimes I have a structured topic, and other times I’m just there to gab.
Happy November! Just a quick list (no commentary) for this week’s books recap—my weekend is running away again.
I finished The Search for Delicious. The kids were glued to every page. Stay tuned for a Periscope in which I will discuss what book I chose for our next read-aloud and how I arrived at this choice. I’ll also talk a little bit about how I approach character voices.
Speaking of doing voices, Scott just started reading the first Harry Potter book to Rilla. His Dumbledore is magnificent.
This Orq (He Cave Boy) by David Elliott. We received a copy of this book from a friend at Boyds Mills Press and it became an instant hit. I booktalked it on Periscope on Thursday, if you’d like to hear more about why we fell in love with it. (The link will take you to katch.me where my scopes are archived, or you can scroll to the bottom of this post and watch the replay there.)
I’ve launched a series on Periscope. I’m calling it “Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something True” — this will be a regular feature in which I do my favorite thing: talk about books. A family favorite (that’s the “old”), a new gem, a library book, and a nonfiction title. I tried out the format last week and I think it’s going to work nicely! Here’s the first installment. I’ll announce future editions here and on Twitter.
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October 15, 2015 @ 2:52 pm | Filed under: Books, Family
I was going to make this a Monday thing, but the week ran away from me. So let’s try Thursday. I’ve enjoyed having a regular day for posting my weekly booklists—it helps keep me on track, knowing I’ve slotted the roundup for Sundays. I thought it might be nice to set aside time to answer questions from the comments on another dedicated day. Maybe not every week—every other, perhaps? When I answer questions in the comment box, I’m never sure if the original poster sees the answer (since sometimes it takes me a while to reply). So I’m going to start pulling questions into these Q&A posts. You can leave more questions (or discussion topics in general) in the comments here and I’ll tackle them in the next Q&A.
I’ve just got to jump in and ask, do your kids read a lot in their free time? Your philosophy is very much like what I’ve done with my kids and I also have olders and youngers. It just doesn’t seem like mine are not like I once was and couldn’t wait to have some free time to read. I wonder if it is all of the technology available (which I greatly limited with the older kids and have, admittedly, given too much slack with the younger ones). I am comforted that there are still really great books going into their little ears and they have book jags every once in awhile, but…am I being idealistic in our present society or simply expecting too much of a picture book image in our homeschool?
With this many kids, my answer’s going to be all over the place. Some of them read constantly, incessantly. One of my teens was an obsessive reader when she was younger, but now she goes in spurts—she’ll be up late many nights in a row, devouring a stack of books, and then weeks will pass where she feels sort of meh about reading and pretty much only reads things necessary for her studies. I think she gets more sleep during the meh times, so it’s probably a healthy balance.
My younger children are less book-obsessed than my older three, and I do think that has something to do with the presence of gaming devices in their world—increased options, perhaps? We have limits on game time (two hours a day), so my younger kids’ day divides roughly into morning lesson time, after-lunch gaming time, and the rest of the day is free time until evening chores. There’s a good chunk of free time in the mornings, too, most days. Whereas Jane, Rose, and Beanie were apt to spend a large portion of their free time buried in a book, my younger trio choose other activities more often—drawing, crafting, Snap Circuits, outdoor play, etc. A lot of hands-on activities. If I find them sprawled on the sofa with a book, it is probably a graphic novel or picture book. Rilla hasn’t sparked to a prose fiction series yet the way her older sisters did with Redwall, the Warriors books, Boxcar Children, and other series. She is more drawn to art books and nonfiction—specifically books about bugs, birds, and animals.
So my younger kids aren’t as bookwormish, but I don’t worry about it. I figure they are getting plenty of reading in their day through readalouds and audiobooks—as you say, “really great books going into their little ears and book jags every once in a while.” That’s a dead-on depiction of what I’m seeing here these days! Since our homeschooling style is literature-centric, I feel confident they are absorbing a wide range of excellent books, stories, and poems.
One more thought: I do make a habit of combing the shelves for good picture books every couple of weeks. I’ll swap out a batch in an easily accessible basket—or leave a pile on my dresser, which seems even more effective at catching their eye. For some reason everyone likes reading on my bed best. I display books face out so the covers jump out at the kids. Huck is especially attracted to these casual displays and I will often him lolling on my bed, surrounded by these little curated collections. They also jump on any library or review copy that comes through the door—it seems the novelty makes a book extra attractive. I’ve known them to check out library copies of books they’ve walked past on our own shelves a thousand times. And the review copies—oh boy. Anything that arrives in a box is a hot commodity. The magic of the brown truck?