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That such ‘monetary crimes’ have met with unparalleled success in our own times makes the reissue of this book (first published in 1899) both timely and acutely relevant to current events.

   James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man was initially shunned by publishers but later acknowledged as a literary masterpiece because of Joyce’s use of a style of indirect speech that drew the reader into his character’s innermost thoughts. Heavily autobiographical, the novel relates the story of Stephen Dedalus – Joyce’s alter ego – from  a young child to early manhood. The result is a surprisingly profound and moving account that succeeds in laying bare, on multiple levels, the complexity of human existence.

   Our last Catherdral Classics offering, The Last Empress: the She-Dragon of China, by Keith Laidler, is non-fiction that reads like fiction. Yehonala had lost her family, her betrothed, and all hope of a normal life when she entered  the Chinese Emperor’s harem at the tender age of sixteen in 1851. Her beauty and sexual expertise soon enthralled the Son of Heaven, and she was held in high favour as the “Orchid”, especially after presenting the Emperor with his only male heir. Even with this protection she was far from safe from unscrupulous nobles and calculating eunuchs. But survive she did, to become Ci Xi, the Empress Dowager of China, and the most famous female autocrat in history.

   With much more in common with each other, we now come to our Parchment Books titles. The Confessions of Saint Augustine and The Story of a Soul: the autobiography of St Thérèse of Lisieux are inspiring Christian works by two highly esteemed Christian mystics who give an honest account of their struggles in trying to live by Jesus’ teachings. The Dhammapada, is equally uplifting with an equally challenging requirement for self-discipline. It encapsulates the core of Buddhist philosophy and is believed to have been dictated by Sakyamuni himself. It comprises 423 poetically inciteful verses grouped by themes deemed important for the attainment of Nirvāna or “highest freedom”. The Buddha’s  key methodology is control of the mind because only through control of the mind can the follower progress to a point where he can be set free from the cycle of death and re-birth.

   Two different religions but with many shared values.

  

  THE BOOK OF THE CAVE OF TREASURES: A history of the patriarchs and kings, from the Creation to the crucifixion of Christ

Despite its Harry Potter-like title, The Book of the Cave of Treasures is actually a rich seam of Jewish and Christian apocryphal lore, by means of which its 5th century author frames the story of Jesus in a truly cosmic context ­– as the inevitable conclusion of God’s redemptive plan for humanity, set in train since the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise.

Along the way we are treated to a feast of extra-Biblical details: of the life of the Patriarchs; of the Wind-Flood that overthrew Ur of the Chaldees, Abraham’s home; of the mysterious Priest-King Melchizedek; the origin of the Magi; the genealogy of Mary; and Adam’s secret burial at the ‘navel of the world’, the very spot where Christ was later crucified.

Translated from the Syriac by Sir E.A.Wallis Budge, former curator of Egyptian and Assyrian Antiquities at the British Museum, the book is extensively annotated, and contains 21 illustrations.

St. Augustine  THE CONFESSIONS OF SAINT AUGUSTINE: An intimate record of a great and pious soul laid bare before God

Confessions ranks as one of the most widely translated and highly valued books in Christian theology and is considered the first autobiography ever written.

The work was penned around AD 397 when Augustine was in his forties and is an honest narrative of his sinful youth and ultimate conversion to Christianity. It seems Augustine’s abilities as a young man were never in any doubt – a brilliant mind combined with a natural talent in rhetoric – but one little interested in Catholic Christian scripture. He describes his wilfulness as a boy growing up in the Roman province of Numidia, his later attachment to sexual pleasure and the vanity of academic acclaim. His dogged pursuit of truth led him from Manichæism to Neoplatonism and, eventually, after a slow and painful struggle, to his conversion and baptism at the age of thirty-two.

From this point in the autobiography Augustine focuses on a number of familiar Christian concepts, among them, Creation, the Trinity, the Origin of Evil and the Cause of Sin. His incisive analyses are a treat for any reader drawn to the Christian mysteries.

Buddha  THE DHAMMAPADA: The Buddha's "Way of Virtue"; W. D. C. Wagiswara & K. J. Saunders (translators)

The most popular and widely read of all Buddhist texts, the Dhammapada, (Path of the Eternal Truth), is widely regarded as encapsulating the core of Buddhist philosophy.

This classic text was believed by tradition to have been dictated by Sakyamuni himself. It comprises 423 poetically inciteful verses grouped by themes deemed important for the attainment of Nirvāna or “highest freedom” – joy, anger, desire and hell, among others. The Buddha’s  key methodology is control of the mind because only through control of the mind can the follower progress to a point where he can be set free from the cycle of death and re-birth.

The Dhammapada has been published in more languages than any other Buddhist text and for many students of eastern philosophy this translation by Wagiswara and Saunders remains the standard text in English. 

St. Therese  THE STORY OF A SOUL: The autobiography of St. Thérèse of Lisieux

 A best-seller from its first publication in 1898, this autobiography of St. Thérèse and her “Little Way” to God, has since been translated into 55 languages.  St. Thérèse became a Carmelite nun at 15, and died at the early age of 24.  But her life was filled with such wisdom and Holiness that she was not only canonized, but declared a Doctor of the Church.

In a collection of three manuscripts, St. Thérèse tells first of her life as a child, of her intimate relationship with Jesus, and of her struggles to become a Carmelite nun.   The second section reveals the Saint’s Little Way of Spiritual Childhood, the Way of Trust and Absolute Self-Surrender - her method of achieving great holiness in ordinary life.  We are urged to love God for God’s sake, not our own, and to seek ways of offering small sacrifices each day, whether it be accepting discomfort or being kind to someone we dislike.  In the final manuscript St. Thérèse describes her later life – which included her own Dark Night of the Soul - until just three months before her death from tuberculosis, an event narrated with great compassion in the final chapter, written by The Prioress of the Carmel.

Also included in this edition are a series of Letters, Poems and Prayers by the Saint.  An inspiring and uplifting book, essential reading for any soul seeking to establish - or renew - a more intimate relation with the Godhead.

 Icarus   A PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN

 

Although it is now an acknowledged literary masterpiece, James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man was all but rejected when first presented to the world (no one in Britain would publish the work).  The book relates the story of Stephen Dedalus, from young child to early manhood, charting his journey of self-discovery, from the trials of boarding school, through the sexual awakening of adolescence and rebellion against Ireland’s religious strictures to his own very personal battle to discover meaning and ‘a voice’ as a budding artist.

Stephen Dedalus is James Joyce’s alter ego, an attempt at “turning his life into fiction”.  Joyce himself struggled with all his hero’s problems, and the book is patently semi-biographical.  More importantly, it is also Joyce’s attempt to break free from the rigid literary forms of his time: he uses a variety of experimental techniques to give depth and colour to his narrative, mixing styles to emphasise the chaotic nature of his hero’s thoughts, and revealing a gradual complexity of mentation as he moves towards manhood.  The result is a surprisingly profound and moving account that succeeds in laying bare, on multiple levels, the complexity of human existence.

  Yehonala (Ci Xi) THE LAST EMPRESS: The She-Dragon of China

Forced to enter the Chinese Emperor’s harem at the tender age of sixteen, Yehonala lost her family, her betrothed, and all hope of a normal life.  Immured in the seraglio, her beauty and sexual expertise soon enthralled the Son of Heaven, and she was held in high favour as The Orchid, especially after presenting the Emperor with his only male heir.  

But even with this protection she was far from safe.  Yehonala had entered the perilous world of  the Forbidden City, a shadowy demimonde peopled by unscrupulous nobles and calculating eunuchs - a milieu of luxury and intrigue, compounded equally of tradition and corruption, where a misplaced word or unthinking gesture might swiftly prove fatal.  

Yet such was her own guile, courage and absolute refusal to countenance defeat, the Orchid slowly triumphed over every adversary to become Ci Xi, the Empress Dowager of China, and the most famous female autocrat in history.

Greedy octopus  BANKERS AND OTHER ROGUES: A brief history of monetary crimes

Alexander Del Mar’s book delves below the trite explanations and glib catch-phrases used by a superficial media to mask the true, and always unsavoury, source of monetary crises - greed of gain.  Beginning over three hundred years ago, Del Mar traces the continuing attempts, by select groups of bankers and politicians, to manipulate the currency, flout national laws, and ultimately to take sole command of the Holy Grail of Finance - control of a nation’s money supply.  That such ‘monetary crimes’ have met with unparalleled success in our own times makes the reissue of this book both timely and extremely relevant to current events.

Del Mar was uniquely qualified for such a work. He became by turns the first Director of the US Bureau of Statistics, the American delegate to the International Monetary Congress in both Turin and St. Petersburg, and commissioner to the US Monetary Commission, set up to investigate the Panic of 1873, (which had led to a worldwide economic depression).  His conclusion, (that bank reserves had been far too small for the amount of notes issued), made him unpopular in academic circles, and his prescient views were all but ignored.  Others, however, recognised his virtues.  John Stuart Mill called Del Mar a man with “…stuff in him. He knows what he is about. He is the sort of man to put things right … in any country”.