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Thank you.

Y’know, sometimes I just have to laugh.  Pardon me while I do so now. (*Ahem* – Ha ha ha!)

You see, long ago at mother’s knee, I learned to associate the word “prestige” not with impressiveness or honor or worth, but rayther with its Latin root meaning of deceit, falsity or trickery, and thus to look on it with deep suspicion.  So when somebody tries to tell me how prestigious a certain person, place or thing is (and usually, by association, how prestigious the speaker is), it generally has exactly the opposite effect on me from what they had in mind.

In a city as egocentric as Dee Cee, and especially in a profession as egocentric as the law, you can imagine that this happens quite often.

Hence my frequent desire to laugh.

On the attractions of the ladies of Jane Austen:

We love Jane Austen through her heroines. Knowing so little about her, we worship her surrogates. And generally speaking, unless we are cranky scholars or celibate critics, we love and rank the novels according to our regard for the female principals. I can’t help finding my own response to the novels coloured by the degree to which I find the heroines attractive, although over the course of some 30 years of reading and rereading, I find my admiration shifting among the young ladies; unlike Frederick Wentworth, longtime lover of Persuasion’s leading lady Anne Elliot, I could be accused of inconstancy, but I like to think my tastes show an underlying consistency.

The author drifts primarily between Elizabeth Bennet and Emma Woodhouse, although he also takes in the other leading ladies as well.

I’m not altogether sure that I buy the premise, but I suppose that in the end it is a pleasant and harmless little parlour game.   (Would it be reasonable to suppose that female readers who are not “cranky scholars or celibate critics” rank the novels in terms of their admiration of the heroines and the extent to which they would like to identify themselves with one or the other?)

On the other hand, I fully approve of the author’s sentiments regarding the effort to turn Austen into what she most certainly is not:

There have been some recent attempts to enlist Jane Austen into the Romantic movement, despite the famous disapprobation of Charlotte Brontë. But Austen would have been appalled by William Blake’s avowal that “those who control their passions do so because their passions are weak enough to be controlled”.

Lydia Bennet and Maria Bertram are the pathetic examples of those who let their passion overrule their reason. Given the choice between rationality and emotion, Austen chooses both. And yet, the most important quality that all the Austen protagonists share is a capacity for passion and a commitment to the concept of romantic love. Personally, I’m inclined to be most passionate about those, like Elizabeth and Emma, who are not always perfectly rational and measured, whose passion sometimes gets the better of their reason.

Yup.  Aaaaaaand, since it’s Friday, how about the Semaphore Version of Wuthering Heights?

(starts at 1:05)

We have a new summah intern in the office who’s just finished his first year of law school.

When I met him this morning, my first reaction was to think he didn’t even look old enough to have a driver’s license.

Kids today.  They’re young.

This has always been one of my very favorite portraits of George Washington.  It was painted in 1772 by Charles Wilson Peale and features young George in the uniform of the Colonial Virginia Militia and looking mighty pleased with himself.

As well he might.  That little hollow of land in the background is Jumonville Glen, located in southwestern Pennsylvania.  And it was on this day (or night, rayther) in 1754 that then Lt. Col. Washington and a force of about 50 militia and Iroquois bushwhacked a French party of roughly the same size led by Joseph Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville, thereby kicking off the Seven Years (or, if you prefer, the French and Indian) War.  Getting the drop on the Frenchies, Washington and his men killed about a dozen of them and captured the rest, with a loss of only one man.

Washington wrote to his brother after the battle, “I can with truth assure you, I heard bullets whistle and believe me, there was something charming in the sound.”

Alas for ol’ George, Jumonville Glen was just about the last time he had anything to smile about during the War.  A month later, a large French expedition laid seige to his small band at the hastily built and aptly named Fort Necessity, located nearby, causing him to surrender and withdraw (and sign a confession in French – which he did not understand – that he had assassinated Jumonville and his men).  The next summer, Washington served as aide-de-camp to the disastrous Braddock Expedition and was lucky to get out with his life and his scalp.  Subsequently, he spent some time pulling his own hair out as he attempted to defend the Virginia frontier from maurauding Indians whipped up by the French.

Regular port-swillers will be well aware of ol’ Robbo’s interest in this conflict and of his disgust that it is not more widely studied by our young people (or anyone else, for that matter).  Not only is the battle between the British and French for control of North America fascinating in itself, it was the pressures brought by this conflict on the relationship between Crown and Colonies that led directly to the American Revolution a mere 12 years after its conclusion.  How on earth anyone supposes they can understand the latter conflict (and its shaping of our modern concept of republican government) without also understanding the former is totally beyond me.  But then again, I realize that I am a member of a rapidly shrinking minority who believe that history matters.

Speaking of portraits and historickal myopia, have you seen this book being flogged by Vanity Fair?  Entitled Vanity Fair’s Presidential Profiles: Defining Portraits, Deeds, and Misdeeds of 43 Notable Americans–And What Each One Really Thought About His Predecessor,  I am absolutely convinced – convinced – that it was published for no other reason than to put Washington and Obama side by side on the cover.

Given that our current president is only a little more than a quarter of the way into his term, it seems ridiculously premature to speak of anything “defining” him yet.  The whole concept strikes me as gratuitous to the point of obscenity.

You’d think somebody would be ashamed of him- or herself for this.  But then again, gratuity is Vanity Fair’s entire raison d’etre, innit?

Behold the Bosavi woolly rat, discovered last year in the depths of the jungle of Papua New Guinea.  The thing grows as big as 33 inches long and is thought to be the largest rat in the world.

The eldest gel mentioned last evening that she was going to be researching a presentation on this critter for St. Marie of the Blessed Educational Method today.  A little while ago, she called up bursting with glee:  She had downloaded a picture of it on to the science lab computer and had forgotten to clear it before the monitor went to sleep.  When Mrs. R went to do something or other on the computer, the screen lit up suddenly to reveal Mr. Rat in all his glory.  Mrs. R, who is not a-tall fond of rats, was exceedingly startled.  Alarum and confusion followed.

The gel thought this was hy-larious (the rat).

I noticed that today is the birthday of the actor Sir Christopher Lee.  (I hadn’t been aware that he was knighted.  I assume it was for his more recent work such as his Star Wars and Lord of the Rings roles and not his earlier horror flicks.)

At any rate, as I glanced over the wiki entry for him, I noticed two interesting facts about Lee.

First, he’s a step-cousin of Ian Fleming.  Of course, he actually starred as the villain in the rayther wretched The Man With The Golden Gun, but apparently Lee was somewhat more involved in the whole Bond franchise than that.   It would seem that Fleming actually wanted him to play Dr. No early on.

Second, during WWII, he served as an intelligence officer with the Long Range Desert Group in North Africa.  What was the LRDG?  Well, it was a sort of commando-cum-recon unit that worked behind the Axis lines, haunting the coastal bases and roads and fading into the desert as needed.  Intel-gathering and occassional raiding were its forte, and it was manned by a remarkable collection of characters.

A pretty good fictional account of the LRDG can be found in Derek Robinson’s A Good Clean Fight, in case you’re interested in learning more about their largely unsung efforts.

Anyway, I thought that was worth mentioning.

Is it wrong of me to take such delight in seeing the new Sex and the City movie get so thoroughly trashed in the reviews?

If so, I’m not sure that I want to be right.

‘Cos this is fuuuuuun……….

Doing to Carmen what ought to be done to Carmen.

A glass of wine with Mr. FLG.

This reminds me of my own yootful encounter with the habanera.  Let’s go to the way-back machine:

A century after his death, Samuel L. Clemen’s autobiography is set for publication:

Exactly a century after rumours of his death turned out to be entirely accurate, one of Mark Twain’s dying wishes is at last coming true: an extensive, outspoken and revelatory autobiography which he devoted the last decade of his life to writing is finally going to be published.

The creator of Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn and some of the most frequently misquoted catchphrases in the English language left behind 5,000 unedited pages of memoirs when he died in 1910, together with handwritten notes saying that he did not want them to hit bookshops for at least a century.

That milestone has now been reached, and in November the University of California, Berkeley, where the manuscript is in a vault, will release the first volume of Mark Twain’s autobiography. The eventual trilogy will run to half a million words, and shed new light on the quintessentially American novelist.

The article suggests that many bombshells will be tossed about and that this, perhaps, explains why Twain wanted the publication to be delayed.

Oddly, one of the historians quoted in the piece says, “Most people think Mark Twain was a sort of genteel Victorian.”

They do? I would suggest that only people who have never actually read him think so.


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May 2010