You are currently browsing the daily archive for May 4, 2009.


For family movie night this weekend, I got the brilliant idea of turning the gels loose on one of my old favorites, A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum

There was much rejoicing in the House of Robbo, as the gels found the continual flow of pratfalls, quick take ’ems and chases to be hy-sterical.   Of the musickal numbers, they seemed to be particularly fond of  “Everybody Ought To Have A Maid”. 

As for the racier plot devices, as I had hoped, most of them went sailing right over the heads of my young innocents.  At one point, the eldest did demand to know what a virgin was and why “an honest virgin” would be such a terrible combination.   I simply replied with the time-honored fallback that she would understand when she was older.  At least no one asked what a eunich was.

In her review of Paul Fisher’s House of Wits: An Intimate Portrait of the James Family, the Claremont Institute’s Cheryl Miller takes down the modern biographical genre of “pathography”.    A sample:

Even Fisher’s insistence that the Jameses are “curiously contemporary” plays into current biography’s demand for relevance, which always takes the form of telling a mass audience of readers that the great men in question are just like us, replete with our foibles and insecurities. Why, Henry James would have loved Prozac, too! Such a perspective certainly makes him seem less remote, but it also downplays the real differences between his world and our own. More insidiously, it encourages us to pity him and his family for the misfortune of having been born in (as Fisher calls it) “the monumentally repressed nineteenth century.” After all, if they’re just like us, “their hidden passions and vulnerabilities” should be completely explicable to us. Indeed, given our superior vantage point in history, we can understand them even better than they understood themselves. Yearnings unnamable to them are classifiable by us. Given our “new theoretical structures,” Fisher tells us, “we are significantly more able to interpret what lies behind [the Jameses’] hard-to-read expressions.”

What these “new theoretical structures” are capable of is nothing short of amazing. To judge from House of Wits, they confer the power to read minds. Take, for example, Fisher’s account of the “rather repressed” William’s trip to Brazil, during which he supposedly experienced a “sexual awakening.” That there’s no indication of this in his letters home or other papers is of no importance. Perhaps the letters were edited, Fisher suggests, “comically doctored for consumption by his little sister.” (This is one of Fisher’s favorite tricks, in which the very absence of evidence is made out as proof.) Anyway, he continues, poor William, coming from “buttoned-up Massachusetts,” probably didn’t understand the full import of this life-changing event. “During an era in America when sex was rarely mentioned, William hardly knew what desires had broken loose inside him.” But you can bet Fisher does.

It’s hard to say to whom this biographical approach is more condescending: its readers or its subjects. On the one hand, it assumes that today’s readers are so narcissistic they’re only interested in a book that holds up a mirror to their own lives, or perhaps what their lives lack; hence the curious tabloid-style packaging as if these Victorians were modern-day celebrities. On the other hand, note the pity redolent in “rather repressed William,” who could hardly understand what “desires had broken loose inside him.” And what of “the vulnerable, struggling Harry James,” who is so squeamish he can’t even use the word buttocks in his letters, but has to resort to the “jarringly nursery-ish or auntish” bottom, “visibly struggl[ing] with the issue of graphic nakedness”? But what else can be expected from those poor, benighted Victorians, always covering statues with fig leaves and draping furniture legs?

Victims and victimizers: these are the roles available in contemporary biography. For the most part, the young Jameses are cast as victims, though occasionally Fisher slips in a mention about all those poor souls in steerage while the Jameses luxuriate in first-class cabins. But class war is not terribly interesting to Fisher, so the Jameses get a free pass on that one. Still, there must be a villain, and unlucky Henry Sr. gets the part. Whenever Fisher needs a stand-in for the evils of patriarchy, Henry Sr. is called in, always ready to tyrannize over his wretched female relations.

Read the rest. 

Mom is actually the family’s resident James authority so I would defer to her on the details, but I’ve seen this sort of thing in action with biographies of other artistic luminaries including both Mozart and Austen.  Indeed, one of the things that soured me on the idea of pursuing any kind of advanced literary degree (or academic career) was the realization that if I expected to eat, I would most likely have to adapt to the victimization culchah myself, something I simply could not stick.  

Via Arts & Letters Daily.


Ruh, roh.  I have to report that Team Robbo dropped below the .500 mark this weekend, losing on Saturday by a score of 18-10.  We’re now 2-3 on the season.  (By the way, it turns out that the umpire made a mistake in forcing us to forfeit our game the other night.  And I, in turn, made the rookie manager mistake of not being sufficiently familiary with the rules to spot it.  Grrr.)

Our loss this weekend came at the hands of a team managed by a great big, burly fellah who spent the entire time literally bellowing at his girls.  Indeed, he had several of them in tears after their fielding did not live up to his expectations.   He even started yelling at his third base coach when he felt the coach wasn’t sending runners to try and steal home on passed balls when he should have.


Ya know, fellahs like that may, perhaps, wind up winning more ball games than I will, but that’s a trade off I’m perfectly willing to accept.

UPDATE: Oh, I should mention that despite our record, we are still in third place in our division.  The two teams that have beaten us both have perfect records, while everyone else frankly stinks.  We’ve got one more game against each of these teams (both of which I believe we can take out), but the rest of our schedule is against the bottom-feeders.  So I am still quite confident that we can come away with a good win/loss record when all is said and done.  This thing is far, far from over!


Blog Stats

  • 497,146 hits
May 2009