Monday, February 11, 2013

Lilias Trotter - YR5 Biography

Before we started Term 2 of YR5 I heard from several people that the Biography option A Passion for the Impossible: The Life of Lilias Trotter was incredibly dry and uninteresting. I had never heard the name before and had no opinion of her book except that the pictures of her were lovely and my daughter seemed excited about starting it. The alternative for the year was a bio on Beatrix Potter - an easy out for sure. Additionally, a trusted friend recommended John Paton's autobiography as another option.

But loving AO's book selection as I do and seeing that it was my test subject first child that would be enduring the book, I decided to press on with Lilias Trotter. We haven't even made it half way through the book yet - we're just at the part where she heads off to Algeria - but I am so glad I chose to stick with it.

A lot of the beginning of the book, as with most biographies, is introductory information about her family, Victorian London, the architecture, the banking industry where her Father worked, etc.. I think prefacing the book by telling them this is how it begins will go a long way in helping them saddle their expectations about it.

What I have found of most value so far are her choices in light of her privileged station in life. She had it all - a good name, money, education, an offer from John Ruskin to make her one of the greatest artists of her time. Even though we are all far removed from Lilias in many ways, the grappling she experienced between her own will on the one hand and the Lord's will on the other is something familiar to all Christians. It is our walk.

She is the wild rose she talks of here; as are you and I in our Christian walk:
Look at the expression of abandonment about this wildrose calyx as time goes on, and it begins to grow towards the end for which it has had to count all things but loss: the look of dumb emptiness has gone - it has flung back joyously now, for simultaneous with the new dying a richer life has begun to work at its heart. ~Parables of the Cross

Have we learned the buttercup's lesson yet? Are our hands off the very blossom of our life? Are all things - even the treasures that [God] has sanctified - held loosely, ready to be parted with, without a struggle, when He asks for them? ~Parables of the Cross

This is a woman who knew about beauty, about living passionately; a woman who knew wholehearted surrender. This is a woman I am very pleased to introduce my daughter to. A woman who chose to save her life in the truest sense of the word.
For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel's, the same shall save it. ~Mark 8:35


  1. I'm glad you're enjoying it. As you know, I didn't enjoy the book, but I do admire Lilias herself very much. I just want somebody to rewrite her life in a living literary style. That said, Jemimah and I still speak of her, so that says something, I guess.

  2. I'm glad you wrote this, Naomi. We are enjoying the book also but I will be honest: I think it might be because we had very low expectations going in, since we had been warned by local AO friends that are a year ahead of us.

    With that said, I think you are right that warning them in the beginning is a good idea. Honestly, I did NOT enjoy the first third of the book, but I've gotten more into it as we go along. One of the interesting conversations we've had around here is about Lilias' love for the native people. My son was astounded that someone could love strangers, and that in and over itself has been so valuable for him, I think...

  3. I agree Brandy, I was expecting terrible and was pleasantly surprised. I wonder how much of it appealed to me also because of having read CM and her mentions of Ruskin and nature journaling and some of those parallels. In any case we are really enjoying it.

  4. I read the book over a year ago (http://educatingmother.wordpress.com/tag/lilias-trotter/), and it quickly became a favorite :)
    I hold Lilias Trotter and Amy Carmichael in the highest regard.

  5. We liked the first part of the book best--the parts about her upbringing, art education with Ruskin, and so on. My daughter actually asked for "more" during that part.

    As a read-aloud book, though, the story really seemed to slow down after the first few years in Algeria, or at least it held less interest for my then-fifth-grader--we finally just skipped some of it and went to the ending.

    I wonder now if it might have been better saved for a couple of years.