Friday, July 21, 2017

Pilgrimage to another time and place

19th C. view of Chautauqua's Hall of Philosophy

I first encountered Victorian writer Isabella “Pansy” Alden through the writings of her niece, the still-popular, prolific author of Christian romances, Grace Livingston Hill. And once I started reading Isabella’s beautifully penned, deeply earnest wake-up calls to her era’s drowsy believers, I was captivated. I’m not the only one who simply can’t get enough of her—a wonderful tribute blog introduced me to dozens of her stories and books. I’ve read simply everything “Pansy” has scribed—and am hungry for more.
In several of her most acclaimed novels, Pansy sings the praises of Chautauqua (originally a 19th century assembly for Sunday School teachers and participants in their innovative home reading course—the famed “Chautauqua Literary and Science Circle” aka CLSC). After reading (and re-reading) these wonderful novels, I decided (much like hundreds of her long-ago readers), to visit this charming Western NY lakeside cultural conference center and contemporary watering hole for NPR types.
My pilgrimage ignited a burning desire to graduate with a Class of 2018 diploma from the CLSC, 140 years from its inception in 1878. That would mean my completing the required 12 texts from their reading list in one calendar year. Challenge accepted.
Once any reader has met their delightfully laid-back requirements, they qualify to join their "graduating class" on the still-gorgeous grounds of Chautauqua and walk through the Golden Gates of their historic “Hall of Philosophy”—a pillared and portico-ed outdoor forum for gatherings spiritual, cultural, and political. Pansy wrote extensively about her adoration and admiration for the physical presence and the spiritual essence of what she termed “The Hall in the Grove” and it’s in that spirit that this blog has been conceived.
The twist? Rather than choose from Chautauqua’s current (primarily fiction) booklist, I’ll be pulling my dozen books from their historic 19th century booklist. For extra fun, I'll also be selecting a contemporary book that examines the same--or a very similar--subject, i.e. 2015's SPQR by Mary Beard read in concert with Dr. Vincent's 1883 History of Rome.

Framing this whole project in my worldview as a devoted Christ-follower, I want to read what Pansy read, steep myself in the innocence, passion, and beauty of the founders' dreams, and walk in step with my long-ago brethren as they passed through the Hall of Philosophy’s Golden Gates in late 1800s. 
Two of Pansy's Chautauqua-centric novels
I’ll be documenting my CLSC year here, along with musings, spiritual discoveries, decidedly opinionated “book reports” and other reflections on the 19th century thoughts, mores, hopes, and inspirations that made Chautauqua the 19th century's rallying place for dedicated Christian workers.
Join me?

"For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope." Romans 15:4


  1. Thank you, dear Estacia! I'll be posting my official booklist next time--and links to online FREE versions of many of the texts! God bless you (and sorry if I mangled the English version of your name, my dear friend!)