You are currently browsing the daily archive for January 14, 2009.

In doing a little schedule-shopping, I can’t help noticing that the reputedly lib Catholic church near my house uses the term “Reconciliation” instead of “Confession”.

I know that the relevant passage of the Catechism refers to reconciling the penitant sinner with the Church through the sacrament, but my weasle-words radar starts pinging at this label.  It suggests more of a misunderstanding  to be ironed out, rather than a frank acceptance of responsibility for sinfulness and seeking pardon of same.

Or am I just being prickly?

How widespread is this practice of calling it “Reconciliation” anyway?

Victorian novels like Pride and Prejudice and Dracula act like are good for us and help to teach us how to behave, claim scientists.

Researchers believe the novels act like “social glue”, providing instructions on how society should behave.

In particular they believe that the novel reinforces beliefs that maintain the community and warn against destructive influences and character traits.

The study suggests that good literature “could continually condition society so that we fight against base impulses and work in a cooperative way”, said Professor Jonathan Gottschall of Washington and Jefferson College, Pennsylvania.

The researchers asked 500 people to fill in a questionnaire about 200 classic Victorian novels.

The respondents were asked to define characters in the novels according to their traits.

Elizabeth Bennett in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, for example, scored highly on conscientiousness and nurturing, while Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula scored highly on status-seeking and social dominance.

Dr Carroll added that while few in today’s world live in hunter-gatherer societies, “the political dynamic at work in these novels, the basic opposition between communitarianism and dominance behaviour, is a universal theme”.

A few characters were judged to be both good and bad, such as Heathcliff in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights or Austen’s Mr Darcy.

“They reveal the pressure being exercised on maintaining the total social order,” said Dr Carroll.

Dr Carroll, whose research is published in the New Scientist, believes novels have the same effect as the cautionary tales told around the fire in older societies.

“They have a function that continues to contribute to the quality and structure of group life.”

“Maybe storytelling – from TV to folk tales – actually serves some specific evolutionary function,” said Prof Gottschall.

“They’re not just by-products of evolutionary adaptation.”

Well, it’s nice to see novels recognized as having some moral function and more importantly that morality might actually be recognized as serving a positive purpose in life, instead of being nothing more that an arbitrary behavioral framework imposed on us by a patriarchal hegemony in order to keep us from being true to our inner selves.

But can I be just a leeetle pedantic here and point out that Jane Austen was not a “Victorian”?  She was a product of the late Georgian Era and published all of her works during the Regency (1811-1820), in which the future George IV (whom she detested, btw) ruled in the stead of poor old ga-ga George III.  Indeed, Austen died better than fifteen years before Victoria ever came to the throne, during which span both George IV and William IV came and went.

Which reminds me of an anecdote I once heard:

Victoria was the niece of William IV and succeeded because she was the only legitimate grandchild of George III.  Supposedly, when William died, leaving the throne to Victoria, her mother – who had fought with William extensively and had at one point hoped to be Regent herself –  is said to have exclaimed, “Now I am the Queen Mother!”

To which someone responded coldly, “No, Madam, you are the mother of the Queen.”

This bandying about of the “Victorian” label also reminds me of one of my favorite sketches:

Today is the seventh birthday of the youngest daughter (aka the Lunatic).

In her honor, and in honor of her elder sister who turned nine last Saturday,  I post this old favorite:

I identify with the lemonade guy more and more with each passing day because this is entirely how those two operate.  Indeed, what with their snippy eldest sister, there is a certain Groucho/Chico/Harpo thread that pervades my entire domestic life.

BTW, I was quite pleased by Mrs. P’s recent remark that the Lunatic was going to marry a billionaire some day.  Saves me a whole lot of worry about how I’m every going to get enough dosh together to retire!

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