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The Freedom to Be an Amateur

Ruth said quietly:

“[…]Well, you know what father is like, terribly naive and emancipated and all that, and rather mad about artists. So when he had got it into his head that I had talents as an artist, because I drew nicely and correctly, he would hear nothing else but that I must devote myself entirely to art. Literally devote myself—

“Actually, you know, grandmother Randall for instance got a great deal more out of her accomplishments, when she made drawings of the houses they lived in and did water-colours of grandfather and their children or of baskets of flowers. She could afford to be an amateur—literally an amateur of all that she thought was pretty, for she played and sang too, and wrote the most enchanting letters. Not to mention their financial difficulties and that grandfather was not an easy man to live with and she had his parents in the house and had seven children and lost five of them while they were young. But she had the chance of using all her powers in the order which seemed natural to her, so no doubt she always felt free. So that both your mother and mine were able to grow up to maturity with sunshine all about them.—

“The most nonsensical thing of all, in my opinion, is that nowadays if a girl has ever so little talent, it must be commercialized. Either she’s fond of dancing or she sings nicely while she is washing up, or she can do pretty little water-colours of the house at home and the veranda with father reading the paper—then she must be trained. But if I’d been in the same position as grandmother Randall or as old Berret Andersstuen, I’m sure I should have turned out an amateur like them—and drawn and painted when I had and hour to spare, or sung while I was at work, and I would have sat and told stories while I was sewing and weaving, just like Berret—”

—from The Burning Bush by Sigrid Undset, Book 1, Ch. 4


  • Although the excerpt above doesn’t contain any specifically Catholic thought, it does come from a book by a Catholic author in which Catholicism is something that influences the actions of certain characters. It was this excerpt that I read in either this book or this book by Anthony Esolen that made me interested in reading The Burning Bush and it’s prequel, The Wild Orchid.



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