Six Degrees of Separation: From A Christmas Carol to Sophie’s World

Much as I want to, I am finding it difficult to get back into the swing of blogging after my enforced break, so I thought I would take part in some of the regular meme posts that are around, just to get used to writing regularly again.  The Six Degrees of Separation meme is hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best.  Every month a book is chosen as a common starting point and each blogger then links to six other books to form a chain.  This month’s chain begins with Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

Despite being a Dickens fan, I have to admit to never having read A Christmas Carol.  I suppose I have always felt that I knew it well enough from the multiplicity of dramatised versions that there are around.  In fact, this year, even though I normally go to see whatever the RSC are offering at Stratford I decided to miss out on their seasonal production of the story just because I didn’t think I could take another re-telling.  Not the most auspicious of starts!

Nevertheless, it serves to put me in mind of Christmas and the beginning of one of my real favourites, Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women.

Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents, grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.

It’s so dreadful to be poor! sighed Meg, looking down at her old dress.

I don’t think it’s fair for some girls to have plenty of pretty things, and other girls nothing at all, added little Amy, with an injured sniff.

We’ve got Father and Mother, and each other, said Beth contentedly from her corner.

It is a really masterful piece of writing, summing up, as it does, in just a few lines, the characters of all four of the March girls as well as telling the reader a great deal about their situation.  There aren’t many years when I don’t pick up my battered copy for a re-read and I might just put it on my Christmas reading list for later in the month.

Little Women takes me to Geraldine Brook’s novel, March.  This tells the story of John March, the girls’ father, through from his earliest years to his meeting with Marmee and later his time spent as chaplain on the front line in the American Civil War.  This book, based to some extent on the life of Bronson Alcott, not only opened up for me the horrors perpetrated during that conflict by both sides but also sparked my interest in the intellectual world that existed around Concord where Bronson was part of a community that also embraced the likes of Emerson and Thoreau, who appear as themselves in the novel.

I did think about moving from March to the works of one of those worthy gentlemen, but instead decided to take a sideways step and think of March in terms of it being one of the months of the year and offer Elizabeth Von Arnim’s 1922 novel The Enchanted April.  I don’t know about an enchanted April, but I have always thought that this was the most enchanting book.  How many of us haven’t fantasised at some point about just taking ourselves away from all responsibilities for a month and to Italy at that?  Lottie Wilkins decision to do just that, in the company of three complete strangers, (in my fantasies I am always on my own!) marks her out as a young woman determined not to be hemmed in by the conventions of society and so for my fourth selection I am going with another ‘modern’ young woman of the 1920s, Fleur Forsyte.

It is in the third novel of the Forsyte Saga, To Let, that we meet Fleur as she falls in love with Jon, not only the son of her father’s much hated cousin, but also of Irene, her father’s first wife.  Fleur is not prepared to let anything stand in the way of what she wants and what she wants is Jon, but Jon cannot put his own happiness before that of his family and so at the end of this novel he rejects Fleur and leaves England for Canada.  Of course, Galsworthy went on to write several more books about the same characters and this is not the end of the relationship between Fleur and her cousin but by the time they meet again they are both married to other partners and their lives are even more complicated than they were when they parted.

I am old enough to have seen the first (and best) televised version of these novels back in the 1960s, when the part of Fleur was played by the actress Susan Hampshire.  It wasn’t, however, the first television role I had seen her in, as earlier in the decade she had played the part of Katy Carr in a dramatisation of Susan Coolidge’s What Katy Did. This was another childhood favourite, although I think I enjoyed one of the sequels, What Katy Did At School, even more.  As an only child, I was fascinated by the motherless family of six being brought up by Aunt Izzy and their busy doctor father.  How did you ever find your place in such a menagerie?  However, I haven’t been back to it in the way that I have returned to Little Women.  Both have their pious elements but I’m afraid the heavenly visitation that turns Katy from rebel into angel proved too much as I grew older.  Perhaps I should give it another chance?  What do you think?

The opening sequence of the televised version featured Katy climbing onto that fateful swing, from which she will fall and damage her back. Another novel in which a swing features, albeit this time a long garden swing, is that journey through the history of philosophy that was all the rage in the early 1990s, Jostein Gaarder’s Sophie’s World.  The part played by the swing is hardly pivotal but it has stuck in my memory because in the English translation it was rendered as ‘glider’.  This made sense to an American audience but completely flummoxed me, as I had never heard a garden swing referred to in this way and therefore couldn’t understand why the two characters concerned had suddenly taken to the skies. Apart from anything else who keeps a glider plane sitting in their garden just waiting for the next time they want to engage in a bit of philosophical conversation?  It was only years later when I just happened to find myself sitting next to the person who had made the translation at a literary conference that I discovered what was really going on. Translation matters!

So, from an exploration of the philosophy of kindness to the history of the philosophy of the world.  Where has your six degrees of separation taken you?

26 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation: From A Christmas Carol to Sophie’s World

  1. FictionFan December 2, 2018 / 12:06 am

    Great chain – I love seeing all the different directions people wander off. Reading, watching or listening to A Christmas Carol is an essential part of my Christmas tradition, so I’m shocked and appalled to learn you’ve never read it! Shocked, I tell you!! All the adaptations are great, especially Patrick Stewart’s, but there’s nothing like reading Dickens’ own words… 😀 I did try to re-read What Katy Did a few years ago, but swiftly decided I preferred to leave my early memories of it alone.


    • Café Society December 2, 2018 / 9:54 am

      I hide my head in even greater shame, FF. I have a feeling you’re right about Katy. Best left on the shelf, I think.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Kate W December 2, 2018 / 2:11 am

    So many of my favourites in your chain! Little Women, the Katy books, Enchanted April (I enjoyed March as well, although it doesn’t quite make ‘favourite’ status) – must say, in Australia, I have never heard of a swing referred to as a ‘glider’!


    • Café Society December 2, 2018 / 9:55 am

      Neither had I, Kate which was what puzzled me. It isn’t the same type of swing that Katy comes to grief on, but one of those long, sofa types with a shade over the top.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Kate W December 2, 2018 / 10:29 am

        Yes. I guess I call that a patio swing.


  3. Kathryn Gossow December 2, 2018 / 5:08 am

    I had forgotten about the Katy books. How odd to forget. I never forgot Little Women though. Great chain, thanks.


    • Café Society December 2, 2018 / 9:57 am

      One of the beauties of book blogging, Kathryn, is that every now and again someone will mention a book that you had completely forgotten about but which suddenly brings back the most amazing memories. Even if you don’t then go on to re-read it, the memories are often wonderful in themselves.


  4. BookerTalk December 2, 2018 / 6:44 am

    If to Americans a slide is a glider, what do they call what Brits know as a glider plane????
    I’m afraid I can’t join you in your love of Little Women. Despite my admiration for the tomboyish Joe, overall I find the book far too preachy.


    • Café Society December 2, 2018 / 9:58 am

      They are preachy, Karen and the Rose books even more so, but I can forgive them anything for Jo, who was my role model as a child.


      • BookerTalk December 4, 2018 / 9:56 pm

        yep she was the one I related to most of all. Maybe it was due to her that I became a journalist???


  5. Margaret December 2, 2018 / 6:52 am

    Your chain took me back in time – and I’m old enough to remember Susan Hampshire in the Forsyte Saga too. I don’t remember seeing What Katy Did dramatised though. That book was a great favourite, but I haven’t revisited it because I don’t want to spoil the magic it had for me. Little Women and the other Alcott books were books I read and reread many times as a child but when I read LW again a few years ago I was disappointed – it was so preachy, which I hadn’t noticed before, so I expect the Katy books will be the same – especially Cousin Helen’s lessons about pain and patience etc. Then, Sophie’s World – a book I have been meaning to reread but have never got round to it – I can’t say I remember much about it now – or that I noticed a glider, so I got it off the shelves this morning to satisfy my curiosity. I’d completely forgotten most of the book!! The only book in your chain I haven’t read is The Enchanted April, maybe I should.


    • Café Society December 2, 2018 / 10:03 am

      I think you would love The Enchanted April, Margaret. There was a televised version of that as well, but it changed the ending and consequently rather over sentimentalised things and did the original no favours. I know what you mean about Little Women, but Jo was such a role model for me as a child. And, as the years have gone by, I have even become reconciled to her marriage to the Professor. As a child I couldn’t forgive her for turning Laurie down, nor Laurie for marrying that prig Amy😉.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Margaret December 2, 2018 / 2:50 pm

        I’ve just realised that I have The Enchanted April on Kindle and had forgotten all about it – that’s one of the drawbacks of e-books for me, it’s as if the books have disappeared down a black hole. Jo was my favourite of the March sisters and I really wanted her to marry Laurie too.


  6. A Life in Books December 2, 2018 / 10:59 am

    That’s a very neat link between March and April! I enjoyed being reminded of the Katy books, too.


    • Café Society December 2, 2018 / 5:06 pm

      Thank you, Susan. I think there were rather more of the Katy books than I actually read. I do remember reading ‘Clover’ but I think Coolridge wrote others as well.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. mlegan December 2, 2018 / 2:45 pm

    To me, here in the US, a glider is a sort of chair or two seater outdoor furniture that glides back and forth on spring/runner set up. I can’t imagine how you could fall and hurt your back. And I can recite the opening words of LW as my best friend and i read and reread it and even put on plays our families were forced to watch!


  8. Café Society December 2, 2018 / 5:08 pm

    Yes, that’s what Gaarder meant, Mary Lou, but it isn’t a term we use in the U.K., hence the confusion. Two countries separated by a single language, as the saying goes!


  9. Helen December 2, 2018 / 5:49 pm

    Great links, especially as this is the first time you’ve taken part. Little Women is one of my favourites too and I also read the What Katy Did books as a child, although I’ve never felt tempted to return to them as an adult. I can’t remember the glider in Sophie’s World but it’s been years since I read it – now, that is a book I would like to re-read one day.


    • Café Society December 2, 2018 / 6:21 pm

      It’s funny, is t it, how books come back to you. I hadn’t given Sophie’s World a thought for years but as I remembered Susan Hampshire in that swing suddenly there it was. I’ve checked and it wasn’t one of the books that I bought with me when I moved; I hope I can pick up a second-hand copy.


  10. Liz December 2, 2018 / 9:26 pm

    I have really enjoyed your thoughtful and clever chain, Ann. I really must have another look at Little Women some time. I read it as a girl and am sure it would be interesting to give it another go all these years later!


      • Liz December 2, 2018 / 9:34 pm

        ooh my goodness – I had not thought of it like that – eek!


  11. Nicola December 7, 2018 / 9:18 pm

    Just re-read Little Women and Good Wives and found it as fresh and charming as ever.


    • Café Society December 8, 2018 / 4:14 pm

      Well, that’s good to know, Nicola. Definitely on for a Christmas re-read, then.


  12. Diana @ Thoughts on Papyrus December 13, 2018 / 1:57 pm

    A fun tag! I think Little Women is THE book to read near the Christmas time. It is so heart-warming and delightful.


    • Café Society December 13, 2018 / 2:41 pm

      Opinions have varied about this Diana, but I am with you. It’s definitely on my list.


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