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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?


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May 2010