As promised, I have begun at the beginning of Ms. Soulsby’s work, Stray Thoughts on Character. These are some of my favourite quotations (slightly out of order) and my personal notes from the first chapter.
People sometimes talk as if we should all aim at being merely good human beings with no distinctive qualities of sex. ‘J’aime les sexes distincts‘…let us realize that, if we fail to attain these, we shall be like some nondescript building of no architecture in particular; which does to live in, but which loses the distinctive beauty of a Cathedral…” [Ch. 1, pg. 10]
This is a refrain which Ms. Soulsby repeats throughout her writing, namely that we as women are created fundamentally different from men in both our roles and our strengths–that it is not undervaluing women to say this, but rather giving due reverence and admiration to the special work given to women. [Ch. 1, pg. 2; Ch. 1, pg. 5] Needless to say, this is no longer a popular sentiment. However, I believe that there is nothing that pleases God more than when I submit to His design and specific plan for my life–which frees me to be all that I was created to be.
…does not the lily (‘a lady among flowers,’ as Parkinson calls her in his ‘Paradise of Delights’) look the very picture of a gracious woman, soothing by her very presence? And yet under that yielding gentleness lies hidden such strength that you could moor your boat by holding to that delicately beautiful flower.” [Ch. 1, pg. 1]
This is the type of woman I want to become. Ms. Soulsby also reminds her students several times throughout the book that it is important to have ideals, which we “do not reach…but they help mould us.” [Ch. 1, pg. 2-3] The ideal she goes on to describe is the type of woman who fulfills the biblical model of womanhood, with “outward graciousness and hidden strength.” [Ch. 1, pg. 2]
She proceeds to offer many examples of what this looks like in practice through the rest of the chapter. I can’t list them all–this is supposed to be a summary, after all, but a few of the gems are as follow:
- “Home should mean a well-ordered, comfortable little world, with the central presence of a gracious, kindly nature that always has time for the one who needs her…If, by and by, you are do be that one, what will you need?…I. Quick perceptions [of need]…II. A responsive manner...” [Ch. 1, pg. 4]
- She makes people feel wanted. Small talk is “worthy of the best wit she has.” [Ch. 1, pg. 5]
- She has a “good heart, quick wits, and a sympathetic imagination.” [Ch. 1, pg. 7]
Finally, Ms. Soulsby recognizes that women have a special battlefield as distinct from that of men–namely, that of affections and emotions. She writes:
…essential as emotion is to a woman’s beauty and full power, it is nevertheless her bane unless she turns it into a power for good by conscientious and devout self-discipline…Here is your special battlefield…You cannot alter these feelings by a direct effort of will–just as you cannot love God by direct resolve; but you know that, by regular prayer and daily duty, you can dig a channel of devout habits, through which the waters of that love will assuredly flower some day, as His reward for your patient continuance in well-doing.” [Ch. 1, pg. 11-12]
My own struggles have long been a tendency toward anxiety and depression, which boil down to affections and emotions controlling me rather than the other way around. (I’ve written about this in the recent past, here.) But, I’ve learned that it is the doing of “tiny duties of the moment, at the moment,–by control of words and thoughts,–by making yourself attend to other people” by the power of Christ in me, these terrible, paralyzing enemies can be overcome. [Ch. 1, pg. 12] Not that they disappear entirely, of course–I haven’t achieve some state of nirvana in which circumstances or feelings can’t touch me. It’s just that depression doesn’t own me any more.