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Saturday, October 01, 2011

An Eloquent Journey Towards Grace

Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber is almost like a non-fiction Brideshead Revisited.  Like that wonderful novel, Surprised by Oxford, is a moving love story and a tale of conversion.  Set in Matthew Arnold's "sweet city of dreaming spires", this is an eloquent memoir of the journey to faith.

When Weber is a young undergraduate student studying Donne in Canada, she is criticised by her lecturer for not understanding the poem.  She is surprised to discover that her professor is a devout Christian who tells her that "anything not done to the glory of God is doomed to failure..."  She begins to think about this in a deep way.  This is the first sign that, like the great poet, Weber is on a spiritual pilgrimage.

When Weber arrives in Oxford on a graduate scholarship, she is engaged to a nice young man but she feels dissatisfied with her life.  She has an anguished relationship with her clever father who apparently threw his life away to a great extent.  A tall, dark, and handsome American student realizes that she is homesick and sympathizes with her, making her feel somewhat happier.

She starts to think that 'TDH' is a bit strange when she sees an email from his friend attempting to match him up with a 'virgin', and TDH tries to convert her rather too quickly.  However, she soon starts wanting to find out more about Christianity and finds out that many of her tutors and fellow students are Christians.  Even her study of Romantic literature is leading her along this path.

Weber struggles with her new search which some people, including her fiance and her family, find difficult to understand.  TDH helps her on her journey and she begins reading the Bible and going to church.  However, she tries to escape from her new-found faith at times, which leads to a falling-out with TDH.

This is a journey towards finding meaning in life.  A passage which will resonate with many Christians is when Weber discusses Christianity with her friend, Edward.  He argues that he "gives himself meaning" and he "is the ultimate judge of goodness."  She finds this attitude a very odd one.

The memoir is beautifully written.  Lovers of the classics and great literature will especially enjoy this book because it contains many quotations and descriptions of Carolyn Weber's studies.  She also describes the beauty and traditions of Oxford vividly.

I liked all of these aspects of the book, but I have to admit that I liked the love story best of all.  It was almost like a real-life version of a Jane Austen love story.  Jane Austen, a deep-thinking Christian herself, would certainly approve of this lovely memoir!

NB:  This was a free book from the Book Sneeze program.  This opinion is entirely my own and I was offered no incentive to write a good review.