#BookSnapSunday – The Portrait of a Lady


I was deliberating about whether to post a book snap today. Our hearts and minds have been so consumed and overwhelmed by what is happening in our nation. Watching our country burn, towns wiped off the map, swathes of bush land burned, the devastating loss of flora and fauna, and the heartbreaking loss of homes and human life, leaves us feeling stunned. We feel helpless. Our hearts ache for those who have lost everything and the logistics of rebuilding communities on such a scale is beyond our comprehension. For those of us not threatened by fire, our daily tasks and holiday activities pale in significance to the very real danger and devastation that our fellow Australians have faced from the beginning of this bush fire season in September, are still facing at this moment and will continue to face over the coming weeks. 

We admire the courage of our firefighters and volunteers, the defence forces and the reserves who have now been called up for service. The label of hero sits uncomfortably on their shoulders. For them, they are just ordinary people doing what had to be done. In my mind that is the real definition of a hero. True heroes don’t have super powers. They are just ordinary people, like you and me, but when a crisis hits, their true courage and strength rises to the fore. They do what needs to be done.

We can’t all be fire fighters. We can’t all serve in the armed forces. We can’t all provide physical support and skills at the coal face. So what can we do?

We can donate our money to organisations who are best placed to deliver emergency relief to those who need it. The Salvation Army, the Red Cross and State Fire Services are just a few.

We can keep abreast of the changing conditions, the successes and the tragedies from reliable media sources. We might not be able to be there physically, but knowing what people are experiencing, we can be there emotionally and spiritually.

We can reach out with our words – words of support and encouragement, words that convey our heart felt emotion, words that highlight the courage and resilience of the locals and the generosity of people near and far, words that keep us connected.

Words connect us to each other. They take us to foreign places. They depict the lives of people past and present, near and far, familiar and unknown. They express ideas that challenge and promote reflection. And I am often amazed at the way whatever I may be reading at a given time, has relevance for what is happening in my life or in the world at large.

So this week I have started reading The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James. The book snap was inspired by the opening scene, where three men are enjoying afternoon tea. There’s no bush fire nor does it contain any environmental themes. It is the story of Isabel Archer, a young American woman in England, and her desire for independence and freedom. It is the first time I have read the book, although I have seen the film starring Nicole Kidman, pictured on the cover of my edition, so I kind of know how the story goes. Isabel’s fierce desire to preserve her independence and liberty is quite admirable. We all desire independence and liberty. But as I am reading about Isabel’s  pursuit of independence, I am also watching the valiant efforts of fire fighters to protect life and property. It led me to reflect on how much our independence and liberty is inexplicably intertwined with dependence upon others. 

There is nothing like a crisis to show how much we depend upon each other. Australians are quite used to fighting bush fires at a local level, but the intensity, ferocity and sheer scale of these fires have escalated the disaster to international proportions. We cannot fight these fires on our own. We need help and the international community has responded with overwhelming generosity sending firefighters and donating desperately needed funds. Thank you so much! And when others are in need, we respond in kind. This is how a living, breathing, interdependent community works. We respect each other’s right to independence and liberty and fight to preserve it, and we graciously recognise we need each other and pledge to be there for each other.

Will Isabel Archer find this delicate balance between independence and dependence? Will she find true respect and happiness?

Keep Safe and Take Care






4 thoughts on “#BookSnapSunday – The Portrait of a Lady

  1. That is a beautiful post Karen and the photo is lovely. The two books I intended to post on were both about forests and nature and I just couldn’t face it after spending the morning watching the news. I really need to stay away from too much coverage. Thankfully they have some rain at the moment.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Sharon. Yes, it’s important to find that balance between being informed and being overwhelmed. I can understand your feelings. I was in two minds about whether to post or not. There’s a tension between having to get up and go on with our lives while others are facing life threatening situations or have lost everything. It is especially when these are places we might know personally. A book post can feel a bit trivial in comparison. But we are readers and writers, and in the end I felt compelled by the idea that this is how we serve. We never know when someone might land on our blog and our words be meaningful for them. And let’s hope there is more rain on the way.


  2. So well said, Karen! What true words. It reminds me of that quote from Forster: “only connect.” Thank you for sharing the words and thoughts on your mind, they connect us all even when they are heavy. Hoping for rain…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Lorraine. Sadly, it looks like rain is a bit further away yet. Yes, I think that when we connect, we find that we have a lot more in common with each other than we think, and sharing our hard times does feel like it lightens the load.

      Liked by 1 person

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