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Introductory Note: This short story focuses on the moral standards present in much literature throughout the Victorian era. In “Dorothea’s Dream,” the author introduces two sisters with very different roles and abilities. One of the sisters, Dorothea, has a dream where God appears to her and teaches her important lessons on prayer. This story, published in the weekly children’s periodical The Girl’s Own Paper presents the era’s ideal moral standards in a small, digestible story for young girls. It hints at the fears of hypocrisy, the importance of humility, and the essential role of prayer. In Alethea, the sister, the author epitomizes the importance to many women at the time of personal, internal righteousness.
Advisory: This story contains an ableist slur.
“They also serve who only stand and wait.” —Milton1From the sonnet “On His Blindness” by John Milton.
“The prayers of the saints, ascending up before God.” —Rev. viii. 4.
“The patience of the saints.” —Rev. xiv. 12.
DOROTHEA and Alethea were twin sisters who lived together in the populous little town of Hamborough. Alethea’s health was very delicate, the result of a fall in infancy; but few women were stronger or more vigorous than Dorothea.
Alethea lay on her sofa from day to day—whether the glory of autumn lay upon forest and field, or the grey of winter shrouded the landscape in mysterious sadness, or the gladsomeness of spring woke all things to new life, or the summer sunshine glowed on the perfect loveliness of Nature.
Yes! from day to day, without change from the monotony, almost without respite from the pain. She bore it all, for the most part, bravely; but there were times when the sense of what she called her uselessness swept like an avalanche over her soul, crushing her to the very earth, and stilling every voice within but that of a bitter murmuring at the hardness of her lot.
To this “uselessness” the life of her sister Dorothea offered a striking contrast.
She (Dorothea) led indeed a life of literally restless activity. No work of love or mercy in the parish but had her for one of its most energetic labourers; no scheme of philanthropy or social improvement but had her for one of its most enthusiastic promoters. Early and late she toiled, teaching in the schools, visiting the poor, ministering to the sick. If the clergy wanted a woman’s help in their work it was to Dorothea they turned; if trouble fell unexpectedly in some cottage home, it was to Dorothea that the inmates hastened for assistance and sympathy.
No wonder that the contrast between the lives of the two sisters often painfully affected the invalid; the one all zeal and loving labour, the other too weak and pain-stricken to take the smallest share in the never-ending toil.
The enemy of souls is, we know, never idle; the “roaring lion” never relaxes in his search for “whom he may devour;” and just as he whispered into the ear of Alethea that she was but a useless toy, a barren fig-tree cumbering the ground, that it would be better that she should curse God and die; so he whispered to Dorothea that she might well rejoice in her work, might will be proud of it and trust in it.2The “roaring lion” is a reference to 1 Peter 5:8. “Curse God and die” is a reference to Job 2:9.
It is ever so. The old dragon is ever on the watch, the enemy penetrates into every wheat-field to sow tares.3Reference to the parable of the wheat and the tares in Matthew 13.
And, indeed, Dorothea began to listen to his whispers, began to be very pleasantly conscious of the estimation in which she was held, and to reflect at times that certainly no one she knew was as indefatigable as she was.
But if Satan is always on the alert, we know of One who in His watch and ward of His redeemed slumbers not nor sleeps. “And I myself caring for your souls,” He has Himself assured us; and whilst Dorothea was lending a too willing ear to the suggestions of the evil one, the “Lover of souls” was offering to draw the wanderer back to Himself.4Psalm 121:4 reads “Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.
One night Dorothea was unusually tired. There was an epidemic sickness in the town which was taxing all the energies of the charitable. A thick drizzling rain had been falling all day, but Dorothea, undaunted by it, had been on her feet since early morning, going from cottage to cottage on her errands of mercy.
“I shall sleep soundly to-night,” she said to herself, as she laid her weary head upon her pillow. Nevertheless, she did not sleep too soundly to dream a dream.
She was in a place that she knew not, and as she wondered where it might be a shining figure stood before her. His raiment gleamed with the whiteness of Tabor, and “the light that is not on sea nor shore” played like a glory round Him.5Possibly a reference to “Elegiac Stanzas” by William Wordsworth. Tabor is a reference to Mt. Tabor, which is thought to be the site of Christ’s transfiguration. In His hands He carried a crown.
Dorothea was dazzled at “the brightness of His presence,” and sank abashed before His searching gaze.
Then a voice like the music of the spheres spoke to her.
“My child, for whom do I bring this crown?”
Dorothea bethinking her of the work she valued so much, made answer in hesitating tones:—
“For me, perchance, dear Lord?”
A sad smile flitted for a moment over the sweet, grave countenance of the shining One.
“It is for her,” He replied, “who of all women in Hamborough has the greatest faith in my past sacrifice, and who does most work for Me.”
Then Dorothea felt sure, and she stretched out her hands to receive the glittering crown.
But the bright Being made no response to this gesture.
“Do you now know whom it is for?” He asked.
And the peculiar stress He laid on the “now” prevented Dorothea from giving utterance to the words that were trembling on her tongue.
“For me, perchance, dear Master?”
He saw her hesitation, and, understanding all things, understood it.
“It is for Alethea,” He said, speaking again. “Her patience and her unceasing prayers prevail exceedingly at the throne of grace for my dear people in Hamborough.”
Then He vanished, and Dorothea knew that activity was not everything—that, indeed, prayer was more availing. And when, in the morning, she related the story of her vision to Alethea, the languid sufferer understood that she had been wrong ever to repine at the uselessness of her lot, for that “they also serve who only stand and wait.”
Thus two souls, faltering and stumbling on their heavenward way, were helped onward; one learnt resignation to apparent uselessness, the other something more of the might of prayer.
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8 January 2021
30 October 2021
|From the sonnet “On His Blindness” by John Milton.
|The “roaring lion” is a reference to 1 Peter 5:8. “Curse God and die” is a reference to Job 2:9.
|Reference to the parable of the wheat and the tares in Matthew 13.
|Psalm 121:4 reads “Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.
|Possibly a reference to “Elegiac Stanzas” by William Wordsworth. Tabor is a reference to Mt. Tabor, which is thought to be the site of Christ’s transfiguration.
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