Horatio

Horatio
[Photo by Jacquelyn Griffin)

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Phineas Redux Redux--a Re-reading



Phineas Redux long been my favorite of Trollope's Palliser or Parliamentary novels, and, after mining it for my own purposes (my sequel Phineas at Bay carries on the story that reaches its conclusion here), it was nice to go back to this great novel with no agenda.

A couple of thoughts in lieu of a more detailed review:

1. Interestingly, after heightening Madame Max's age in Phineas Finn (PF), Trollope lowers it again here--he makes her younger, describes her in more attractive terms, and generally recasts her as a heroine, without depriving her of her more interesting character aspects. Barbara Murray, who played her in the 1974 adaptation nails the character. It's a magnificent performance.

2. Lizzie Eustace comes off as almost benign in this book--until she realizes that Emilius (whom she has been denouncing in stereotypical terms) has surely murdered Bonteen:
She knew the man who claimed her as his wife, and did not think that Phineas Finn was guilty of the murder. Her Emilius,—her Yosef Mealyus, as she had delighted to call him, since she had separated herself from him,—was, as she thought, the very man to commit a murder. He was by no means degraded in her opinion by the feeling. To commit great crimes is the line of life that comes naturally to some men, and was, as she thought, a line less objectionable than that which confines itself to small crimes. She almost felt that the audacity of her husband in doing such a deed redeemed her from some of the ignominy to which she had subjected herself by her marriage with a runaway who had another wife living. There was a dash of adventure about it which was almost gratifying.
'Myes. So much for benignity.

3. The semi-tamed Lord Chiltern: The development of the relationship between Lord and Lady Chiltern is subtle, but quite effective. His temper is still there, but channeled into his work as Master of the Hunt, and upbraiding the occasional twit (Gerard Maule, I'm looking at you…) They're a happy couple, but recognizably the same people in PF.

4. Chaffanbrass: In the best of his appearances, Chaffanbrass is sly, funny, knowledgeable, and yet touched by Phineas's sincerity. He's a proto-Rumpole in many ways, though Mortimer said he drew Rumpole from life.

5. Phineas himself--in this novel, our friend has all the naiveté pummeled out of him. His learning curve is steep, and he's much less whiny than in the first book (or perhaps it's that his complaints are better founded). He is also far more committed to doing the right thing in this volume, though still desirous of office. Desperation becomes him; this is where he becomes a man, and, unlike John Eames, a man who is not violent, who can stop flitting. (I think that rejecting John Eames shows sense on Lily's part; all through his appearances he wants it both ways and is quite cruel to the women lower than he is in the social scale.) Phineas was unintentionally unthinkingly cruel in PF; here, he tries mightily to avoid that sin, and atone for it.

6. Adelaide and Maule. Boring. Maurice Maule, a little less so. What Dolly Longestaffe could become if he doesn't develop.

7. Phineas & Madame Max: Brilliantly realized throughout. From her caring for the Duke to her business, Madame Max sticks to her decisions. She is also quite credibly unwilling to show her hand a second time to Phineas. But that composed mask comes off in front of Lady Glen (ok, the Duchess). But--and here's what makes her Madame Max--after the outbreak of fear and the tears, she does what she always has--apply that cool, razor sharp mind to the problem, and take action. No useless wailing for Marie--she uses her intellect, cash, and charm to do what she can do.

And Phineas? Unintimidated by her brains, her wealth, her self-sufficiency. This is one of his nicest traits-lots of men in the situation would like the lolly, but find Marie dangerous. Phineas recognizes his luck and their compatibility, and doesn't cavil at their unconventional union--she still runs her business interests, has her own relationships with the Pallisers (much closer than his). Each has a separate sphere of autonomy (his is Parliament) and yet they are fiercely supportive and protective of each other. (In The Duke's Children, she hides the Duke's insult to her she because she knows quite clearly that Phineas will resent it, and damage his own political career, testament to their mutual protectiveness.)

Thursday, November 27, 2014

In Memoriam, P.D. James

I was sorry to hear this morning of the death of the great crime novelist, P.D. James. I have long enjoyed her wonderfully complex characters, their ethically fraught interactions, and the slow, leisurely eliciting of the nature of her people. A James character, even the obligatory victim, is not a cipher. She spends time with them, and we get to know them. As the New York Times obituary phrases it:
Many critics and many of her peers have said that by virtue of the complexity of her plots, the psychological density of her characters and the moral context in which she viewed criminal violence, Ms. James even surpassed her classic models and elevated the literary status of the modern detective novel. She is often cited, in particular, for the cerebral depth and emotional sensibilities of Adam Dalgliesh, the introspective Scotland Yard detective and published poet who functions as the hero of virtually all of her novels.

Her intention with Dalgliesh, she told the British critic and writer Julian Symons in 1986, was to create a detective “quite unlike the Lord Peter Wimsey kind of gentlemanly amateur” popularized by Dorothy L. Sayers. Ms. James envisioned a realistic cop as her protagonist, a dedicated and skilled professional, and yet “something more than just a policeman, you see, a complex and sensitive human being,” she said.
James's work always struck me as Trollopian in this way, and indeed she paid handsome tribute to Anthony Trollope in a a 1994 interview with the Paris Review:

JAMES

….I read Dickens and recognized his genius, but he is not my favorite. I find many of his female characters unsuccessful—wonderful caricatures, wicked, odd, grotesque, evil, but not true. There isn’t the subtlety of characterization you get, say, in Trollope, whose understanding and description of women is astonishing. Jane Austen never described two men talking together if a woman was not present—she would have thought that was outside her experience. In Trollope, by contrast, you get continual conversations between women—for example Alice Vavasor and Lady Glencora Palliser in Can You Forgive Her?—without a man there, and he gets it absolutely right. This plain, grumpy looking man had obviously an astonishing knowledge of women’s psychology.

INTERVIEWER

Trollope has become a hero of the feminists, especially his The Way We Live Now in which he proclaims women’s rights before anyone else did.

JAMES

I tend not to think of books in terms of contemporary issues and passions; it diminishes them. But that particular book is a kind of contemporary novel. The main character was a sort of Robert Maxwell, a monster. Trollope describes women’s lives at a time when marriage was the only possibility for personal fulfillment.
Apart from my enjoyment of her books (and by the way, although dwarfed in public perception by the Dalgliesh novels, her Cordelia Grey books are quite good as well), I owe her a personal debt. James's last novel, Death Comes to Pemberley (2011), was a Jane Austen pastiche, continuing Austen's Pride and Prejudice. When it came out, I had already written the first three chapters of my Trollope pastiche, Phineas at Bay. But James's publication of Death Comes to Pemberley was a real shot in the arm for my morale when I returned to the book in 2013. After all, if P.D. James could write a Victorian pastiche, who was to say the thing was not worth doing?

The best of James's work will, I think, live. I'm grateful for the pleasure she gave me as a reader, and the example she set me as a writer--reaffirming the Trollopian rule that the writer must give every character her due.

And my complete set of her work in hardback is on my shelves, where it will remain. I'll want to visit Adam, Cordelia, Piers, Kate, and the vivid characters she created again, and more than once.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Treat for Thanksgiving

I'd often heard that Leo McKern had made his theatrical bones in Ibsen--Peer Gynt, of which it has been reported that "[i]n his own estimation the greatest event of his theatrical life was playing Peer Gynt at the Old Vic in 1962-63."

Well, I have never seen any record of that performance, though I have seen many of McKern's other performances--his superb turn in Ryan's Daughter, in which he plays the quintessential Robert Bolt figure, the traitor with a conscience, or his angry, dying engineer in Travelling North, and of course his ticket to immortality, Rumpole of the Bailey, which I have loved for 30 years now.

But not Ibsen. Missed that boat, alas.

Well, not completely, it turns out, thanks to BBC 2's Theatre Night. Not Peer Gynt--but The Master Builder from 1988, co-starring another favorite of mine, Miranda Richardson.

So here it is, Leo McKern interpreting the work of the playwright whose work he loved:



Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

December with Phineas Finn & Co.

Over at the Trollope 19th Century Studies Group, we are reading my own book, Phineas at Bay. The schedule is not too tight, and, thanks to Ellen Moody's kindness in letting me set it, it breaks down into a rather nice episodic structure. We are beginning November 30, and continuing straight through. Not too late to join if you have a mind.

Anyway, here is the schedule:

Week 1: Prologue--Chapter 10 (Facilis descensus Averno);

Week 2: Chapter 11 (Sir William McScuttle)-Chapter 18 (Matching Priory);

Week 3: Chapter 19 (Phineas for the Defence)-Chapter 27 (A Drink From the Soup-plate of Honour);

Week 4: Prologue-Chapter 10 (Nunc Dimittis);

Week 5: Chapter 11 (Barchester Towers)-Chapter 20 (In the Midst of Death, We Are in Life);

Week 6: Chapter 21 (Ill Met By Moonlight) to Chapter 27 (The Turn of the Wheel).

"For Those Who Enjoy Peering Behind the Curtain " is just what it says, and so should be optional.

Come on the prowl with us!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Ferguson Tonight.



"I don’t know a soul who’s not been battered
I don’t have a friend who feels at ease
I don’t know a dream that’s not been shattered
Or driven to its knees
Oh, but it’s all right, it’s all right
For lived so well so long
Still, when I think of the road
We’re traveling on
I wonder what went wrong
I can’t help it, I wonder what’s gone wrong--
"

Tonight:
CLAYTON, Mo., — A St. Louis County grand jury has brought no criminal charges against Darren Wilson, a white police officer who fatally shot Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American teenager, more than three months ago in nearby Ferguson.

At a news conference, the St. Louis County prosecutor, Robert P. McCulloch, said that members of the grand jury deliberated for more than two days before finding that no probable cause existed to file charges against Officer Wilson.

Over 25 days, the grand jury heard more than 70 hours of testimony from 60 witnesses, including three medical examiners, Mr. McCulloch said.
We'll say all the old things tonight, and tomorrow, and thereafter. Or we won't. We'll stay silent, perhaps, and wait for the divide to paper over again. And then we'll pretend it's all right.

"And I dreamed I was dying
And I dreamed that my soul rose unexpectedly
And looking back down at me
Smiled reassuringly
And I dreamed I was flying
And high above my eyes could clearly see
The Statue of Liberty
Sailing away to sea
And I dreamed I was flying--"


And so it goes:
The killing on a residential street in Ferguson set off civil unrest — and a national debate — fueled by protesters’ outrage over what they called a pattern of police brutality against young black men.

The St. Louis area has been steeped in anxiety as it has waited for a decision by the grand jury, which was made up of nine whites and three blacks and had been meeting on the case since Aug. 20. Around the region, law enforcement authorities were on alert Monday, and the Missouri National Guard stood by as word of the decision began leaking out; political leaders, including Gov. Jay Nixon, held last-minute meetings with community members; and residents, including parents of schoolchildren, braced for what might come next.
As a lawyer, I'm supposed to be all reassuring now, I guess. The system has worked. Better that 99 guilty men go free than one innocent man go to jail. We weren't there. You know the drill.

Some days those slipshod certainties seem like verities. Some days less so.

It's not that I don't believe in the ideals our system is based on. I devoted three years of my life to it. And winning the ones you shouldn't win was always hard, though not as hard as losing the ones you should have won. And, sometimes, knowing the difference was hardest of all.

This case doesn't feel like it goes in that last category. But it wasn't my case…

Oh, we come on the ship they call the Mayflower
We come on the ship that sailed the moon
We come in the age’s most uncertain hour
And sing an American tune
Oh, it’s all right, it’s all right
It’s all right, it’s all right
You can’t be forever blessed
Still, tomorrow’s going to be another working day
And I’m trying to get some rest
That’s all I’m trying to get some rest.


In the wake of an effective suspension of the First Amendment in Ferguson, one which targeted the media as well as the protesters, what trust can the community there have in the outcome?

How do you bind up a community when there is no confidence in the civil institutions that are created do the binding?

How do you restore a life snuffed out for no good reason?

How do the parents live with their loss?

As to the rest of us, well, as Robert Bolt once wrote: "I’m breathing…are you breathing too? It’s nice, isn’t it? It isn’t difficult to keep alive, friends. Just don’t make trouble. Or if you must make trouble, make the sort of trouble that’s expected."

Sunday, November 23, 2014

King Jesus: A Sermon Preached for Christ the King, 2014

[Another in the series of occasional sermons preached by me as a part of my training for ordination to the Diaconate; using the readings for November 23, 2014]

So, Christ the King. Not an easy thing to take on board in an Episcopal Church in 2014, right?

I mean, we don’t do kings anymore. We’re Americans. New Yorkers don’t believe in monarchs, other than maybe the odd royal wedding, which we enjoy as an anachronism all the more because it’s over in England . You know, where it belongs.

But a king over us? We fought a revolution against a pretty mild and inoffensive king in 1776, and that’s certainly not how Jesus comes across in today’s Gospel is it? Separating the sheep from the goats, the righteous from the unrighteous. Welcoming the righteous to inherit the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world. And the unrighteous? They get tossed into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

Not to mention the poor old goats.

But don’t worry—it gets worse:

The feast day of Christ the King was instituted in 1925 by Pope Pius XI, in an encyclical that explained just how bad separation of Church and State is. As he put it:
The empire of Christ over all nations was rejected. The right which the Church has from Christ himself, to teach mankind, to make laws, to govern peoples in all that pertains to their eternal salvation, that right was denied. …the religion of Christ came to be likened to false religions and …placed …on the same level with them… then …tolerated more or less at the whim of princes and rulers.
Pius hoped that the Feast Day of Christ the King would serve as a reminder that everyone, individuals AND rulers and princes -are bound to give public honor and obedience to Christ.

Recalling -
the last judgment, wherein Christ, who has been cast out of public life, despised, neglected and ignored, will most severely avenge these insults; for his kingly dignity demands that the State should take account of the commandments of God and of Christian principles.

For Pius, the State should obey the Church, and enforce its doctrines.

As I said, gets worse before it gets better.

So what does Christ the King mean to us? How do we grapple with this difficult gospel?

I think we should start by understanding that the gap between our world and that of the pre-Enlightenment world gets in our way. From before the time of Christ to the Age of Elizabeth I, the natural order of things was seen as having a moral dimension.

That’s why, in Shakespeare’s plays, if a great injustice is done—say Macbeth kills the King, and seizes his throne, or Lear is dispossessed by his daughters—nature protests. There are storms, and strange phenomena. All creation was seen as being intimately connected, by relationships, from God down to the smallest, least important insect. All were linked in a Great Chain of Being, in which everybody had a place, everyone was valued in their place, and surrounded by love, whatever his or her rank.

Didn’t work out that way in practice, of course. But the ideal was that a king ruled not just for his own glory and power, but as a deputy for God. A King was meant to protect, to create peace and security, and a civil framework in which all could flourish. A king was meant to defend his people, at the cost of his own life if necessary.

We think of kingship as inherently unjust, and we’re not wrong. It placed the subjects at the mercy of the king, and all too often, the king had no mercy. But the thing to take away from the ideal of kingship is that when we celebrate Christ the King, we are declaring our faith that our Creator has designed us each to take a unique role in relationship not just with each other, but with the world, and with God.

And what is that relationship to God? Through Ezekiel today, we are told of a God who says “I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak.” We are told that God will feed them with justice.

And in Matthew’s Gospel today, we are told to do the same. Clothe the naked. Feed the hungry. Give a cup of cold water to those who are thirsty. Visit the sick and the prisoners. Do this in Jesus’ name, because what we do –or what we fail to do—for others we do for Jesus.

A few years ago, the deacon at my home parish bullied me into going on a three day retreat called Cursillo. It’s very happy clappy—singing hymns I’ve never heard of, total strangers sharing their experiences of God, and all the stuff that can make you feel very nervous as an Episcopalian. I earned my membership in the frozen chosen. On the second day of the retreat, a blizzard of mail came in for us all, quite a lot from prisons. Men’s prisons and women’s prisons. Large hand-drawn cards on posterboard and torn out pages from spiral notebooks. All signed by people in prison praying for us that weekend, hoping that we would have what they had already experienced, a knowledge that God loved each and every one of them, and that they had work to do. That work was sharing that knowledge, and their joy with us.

They were in prison, and wanted to set us free.

All because some other people—people I don’t know—took seriously Jesus’s commandment to love him enough to visit a prisoner for his sake. Someone took the words of today’s Gospel to heart.

Taking that leap of faith—[pause] no; that leap of love—is what Christ asks us to do. To see ourselves in relationship to each other, through him. That’s the kingdom. And the king? Christ the King served whoever came to him in need, and that’s what he urges us to do. In a world where all too many so-called leaders demand to be catered to, imagine that. A king who serves.

So for me that’s what makes Christ the King a day worth celebrating. A king who asks us to serve. To serve the vulnerable, not him. To do what he did, and through us today still does: Take care of those in need. Bring the cup of cold water, if that’s all we can do. Learn that having been fed ourselves, it’s our turn to feed others.

In the name of God, Father Son, and Holy Spirit.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Once is Happenstance: Precedent and Impeachable Offenses



Goldfinger said:"Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it's enemy action." Unlike Auric's rather sensible maxim, which tries to draw the correct lesson from experience, without assuming either too much or too little, Peter Schuck's op ed in today's New York Times falls into a kind of error that my fellow lawyers often do: the assumption that because an act has a precedent, it is therefore presumptively proper:
By constitutional design, impeachment for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors” is a political accusation and initiates a political remedy, not a legal one. It is pretty much up to Congress to define and apply “high crimes and misdemeanors,” and no court would second-guess it. The next Congress could find that the president had violated his oath to “faithfully execute” the laws by refusing to enforce important provisions of the Affordable Care Act, No Child Left Behind and, now, the Immigration and Nationality Act.

The president surely has some power to withhold prosecution, but granting legal status and work permits to millions of people most likely exceeds his discretion. No judge can decide the precise scope of his discretion because no one, including Congress, has legal standing to challenge his order in court.


Of course, many lawyers at the Justice Department and elsewhere disagree, noting that prosecutorial discretion is pervasive, that there isn’t enough money to prosecute all violators, that the president will continue to prosecute criminals and illegal border crossers, and that earlier presidents have done the same thing. These are serious arguments.
Why, yes, they are. Unlike the claim that, in the infamous words of Gerald Ford, that "An impeachable offense is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history." In Federalist No. 65, Alexander Hamilton describes the Framers' idea of an impeachable offense:
The subjects of its jurisdiction are those offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust. They are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated POLITICAL, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself. The prosecution of them, for this reason, will seldom fail to agitate the passions of the whole community, and to divide it into parties more or less friendly or inimical to the accused. In many cases it will connect itself with the pre-existing factions, and will enlist all their animosities, partialities, influence, and interest on one side or on the other; and in such cases there will always be the greatest danger that the decision will be regulated more by the comparative strength of parties, than by the real demonstrations of innocence or guilt.
Now, if you read this passage and come away thinking that the President merely serves at the pleasure of Congress--yer doin' it wrong.

Although it's an example of special pleading, and therefore deserves to be taken with some skepticism, the 1998 memorandum submitted on behalf of President Clinton on the Standards for Impeachment does a nice job rounding up the original understanding of impeachment, consistent with Federalist No 65:
The English precedents illustrate that impeachment was understood to apply only to fundamental offenses against the system of government. In English practice, the term "high crimes and misdemeanors" had been applied to offenses, the common elements of which were their severity and the fact that the wrongdoing was directed against the state.10 The English cases included misappropriation of public funds, interfering in elections, accepting bribes, and various forms of corruption. Ibid. These offenses all affected the discharge of public duties by public officials. In short, under the English practice, "the critical element of injury in an impeachable offense was injury to the state."

The notion that "injury to the state" was the distinctive mark of the impeachable offense was also shared by the Staff of the Impeachment Inquiry when it researched the issue in connection with the investigation of President Nixon in 1974. In early English impeachments, the Staff concluded, "the thrust of the charge was damage to the state. . . . Characteristically, impeachment was used in individual cases to reach offenses, as perceived by Parliament, against the system of government."

The constitutional and ratification debates confirm that impeachment was limited to only the gravest political wrongs. The Framers plainly intended the impeachment standard to be a high one. They rejected a proposal that the President be impeachable for "maladministration," for, as James Madison pointed out, such a standard would "be equivalent to a tenure during the pleasure of the Senate." The Framers plainly did not intend to permit Congress to debilitate the executive by authorizing impeachment for something short of the most serious harm to the state. In George Mason's apt language, impeachment was thought necessary to remedy "great and dangerous offenses" not covered by "Treason" or "Bribery" such as "[a]ttempts to subvert the Constitution."

That is why, at the time of the ratification debates, Alexander Hamilton described impeachment as a "method of NATIONAL INQUEST into the conduct of public men." No act touches more fundamental questions of constitutional government than does the process of Presidential impeachment. No act more directly affects the public interest. No act presents the potential for greater injustice -- injustice both to the Chief Executive and to the people who elected him -- and the Framers were fully aware of this.

The specific harms the Framers sought to redress by impeachment are far more serious than those presented here. During the ratification debates, a number of the Framers addressed the Constitution's impeachment provisions. The following is a list of wrongs they believed the impeachment power was intended to address:

*receipt of emoluments from a foreign power in violation of Article I, section 9;
*using the pardon power to pardon the President's own crimes or crimes he advised;
*summoning the representatives of only a few states to ratify a treaty;
*concealing information from or giving false information to the Senate so as to cause it to take measures they otherwise would not have taken injurious to the country;
*general failure to perform the duties of the Executive.
The history on which they relied, the arguments they made in Convention, the specific ills they regarded as redressable -- all these establish that the Framers believed that impeachment must be reserved for only the most serious forms of wrongdoing. They believed, in short, that impeachment "reached offenses against the government, and especially abuses of constitutional duties."21 Fidelity to that understanding requires the Committee to formulate an appropriately high standard to guide its decision whether to launch an inquiry with such potentially grave national consequences.
Professor Schuck continues:
in 1868 President Andrew Johnson was impeached by a deeply partisan, Radical Republican-dominated House. Johnson — a conservative Democrat who rose from the vice presidency when Abraham Lincoln, a Republican, was assassinated — was impeached mainly for firing a cabinet member (which he almost certainly had the legal right to do), but also for obstructing policies that Congress enacted. (Impeachment proceedings against Richard M. Nixon and Bill Clinton involved criminal conduct more egregious than Mr. Obama’s policy unilateralism.)
OK, first of all, the impeachment of Andrew Johnson is hardly looked on as a high point in the functioning of our Nation. Moreover, to blithely equate the impeachment of Bill Clinton for "providing perjurious, false and misleading testimony to the grand jury regarding the Paula Jones case and his relationship with Monica Lewinsky" and the investigation of Nixon's abuse of office to spy on his political opponents hardly (he resigned rather than have an impeachment vote go forward) is absurd. By the Federalist and Framer's definition of an impeachable offense, Clinton did not fall within the class of impeachable offenses; Nixon clearly did.

Now, I do not believe Obama has fallen within that ambit, but that's not my actual point. (Actually, Schuck's piece bodes well for a certain bet I made). The point is that a definition such as that employed by Schuck denudes the constitutional provision of all meaning, and embraces Ford's cynical position, one that would entail that the President serves at the will of Congress. That isn't law, let alone constitutional law. And it shouldn't be encouraged. We have seen, with over a century between them, two manifestly improper uses of the impeachment clause. A third could routinize it, and that could lead nowhere good.

Friday, November 21, 2014

65,000 Words

That's how much Anthony Trollope was required to cut from the Duke's Children:
It is a remarkable fact that one of the best-known novels by one of the greatest 19th-century English novelists has never been published in the form its author intended. Anthony Trollope wrote The Duke’s Children as a four-volume work but then reduced it to three, necessitating the loss of almost a quarter of his original text. The precise reason is lost to posterity but is likely to have been a demand from his publishers on the grounds of economy; it would not have come from Trollope himself, who had earlier written in his Autobiography: ‘I am at a loss to know how such a task could be performed. I could burn the MS., no doubt, and write another book on the same story; but how two words out of every six are to be withdrawn from a written novel, I cannot conceive.’

Yet this is precisely what he was obliged to do, and 65,000 words ended up on the cutting-room floor. As he wrote to John Blackwood not long after making the revisions: ‘I am bound to say that I have never found myself able to effect changes in the plot of a story. Small as the links are, one little thing hangs on another to such an extent that any change sets the whole narrative wrong. There are so many infinitesimal allusions to what is past, that the whole should be rewritten or it will be faulty.’ It was meticulous, exacting and soul-destroying work.
That's over a quarter of the book missing. But here's another fact: It's also a hair beneath the recommended low end of length for a modern novel, with 115 as the high end and 90,000 as "the sweet spot."

Now, Phineas at Bay clocks in at 171,461 (including the Postscript and Table of Contents, so a bit less, really). That's still well under either of the two Phineas novels by Trollope.

The factor that tipped me in favor of self-publishing was just that--a length such as that recommended by agents would not have allowed for a Trollopian feel. You need details for that, what the Folio Society calls "the massive accumulation of details." There has to be a feeling of capaciousness, of breadth. Self-publishing meant I could avoid the dilemma that Trollope himself had to face.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Phineas at Bay Meets the Experts

There is a reading group, Trollope and His Contemporaries, hosted by Ellen Moody, whose blog is a daily read for me, and who wrote Trollope on the Net, a truly innovative work.

I have been a member of the group since the summer, and will be in an unusual role when we turn to its next book, my own Phineas at Bay. Having read both Uncle Silas and Phineas Finn with these folks, let me tell you: They know their 19th Century literature, and especially their Trollope. (Seriously,the level of the commentary and the reactions is extremely high.)

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Trollop's "Butchered" Book Returns to Life

This is something to look forward to, all right:
He's one of the best-loved novelists of the 19th Century, whose work has been read and studied by academics and an army of fans, including Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes.
But remarkably, none of them has been getting the full story of Anthony Trollope's work – until now. A novel 'butchered' at the time of its original publication has been restored after 135 years, and is being hailed as virtually a whole new book.
When The Duke's Children was submitted for publication in 1879, Trollope was forced to hack away more than 65,000 words – a quarter of the original text. But now the sixth and final instalment in his series of novels about the Palliser family is to be published as he intended.
Last night Lord Fellowes said: 'I couldn't be more pleased. The truncated version is an ineffective conclusion to the Palliser novels but this is tremendous and does justice to the series which came before.'
Now, I'll disagree with Julian Fellowes calling the present text of The Duke's Children "ineffective," but I will agree that it is something of an anti-climax. Certainly the descending action of the book, which focuses more on the next generation with the Duke acting as a foil to his children, loses some of the impetus that the preceding novels had created. Also, losing Lady Glen (oh, all right, the Duchess) in the first chapter, while a truly gutsy move, also deprives the move of Trollope's most reliable source of action and warmth in the series. Lady Glen is missed sorely. As Ellen Moody has pointed out, Simon Raven's adaptation of the novels puts off Lady Glen's death, and extends her role fairly dramatically.

But the novel has its glories. The Duke's jealousy and his anger at Glencora's championing of Frank Tregear's courtship of Lady Mary (which he sees as a repudiation of their forced marriage) is excellently portrayed, and his injustice to Marie Finn (the former Madame Max) is even more so. We see Plantagenet's shadow side here, and Marie stands up to him with vigor. He is entirely in the wrong, and, ultimately, his own decency forces him, most reluctantly, to admit it.

It is in this novel that we get a glimpse into the Duke's feelings for Phineas Finn, in his answer to a question posed by his son over dinner at the Beargarden:
"To tell the truth it's a matter I don't care much about. They've got into some mess as to the number of Judges and what they ought to do. Finn was saying that they had so arranged that there was one Judge who never could possibly do anything."

"If Mr. Finn said so it would probably be so, with some little allowance for Irish exaggeration. He is a clever man, with less of his country's hyperbole than others;—but still not without his share."

"You know him well, I suppose."

"Yes;—as one man does know another in the political world."

"But he is a friend of yours? I don't mean an 'honourable friend,' which is great bosh; but you know him at home."

"Oh yes;—certainly. He has been staying with me at Matching. In public life such intimacies come from politics."

"You don't care very much about him then."

The Duke paused a moment before he answered. "Yes I do;—and in what I said just now perhaps I wronged him. I have been under obligations to Mr. Finn,—in a matter as to which he behaved very well. I have found him to be a gentleman. If you come across him in the House I would wish you to be courteous to him. I have not seen him since we came from abroad. I have been able to see nobody. But if ever again I should entertain my friends at my table, Mr. Finn would be one who would always be welcome there." This he said with a sadly serious air as though wishing that his words should be noted. At the present moment he was remembering that he owed recompense to Mrs. Finn, and was making an effort to pay the debt.
In Raven's screenplay, they have become closer than this; however, for Palliser, this is not nothing. It is the primary basis, in fact, from which I projected the relationship between the Duke and Phineas in Phineas at Bay.

An expanded text will certain;y be richer with those character moments that make Trollope unique among his contemporaries. I'll be buying mine as soon as it's available, with thanks to The Trollope Society for keeping on it!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Colors of Autumn

I am currently embracing the season of Autumn--always my favorite, in fact--and the pleasures it brings. I've been traveling more than usual, due to new job, and have enjoyed driving through country roads, past incredible vistas with a peculiar, transfiguring autumn sunlight that has an almost supernatural effect on the objects it strikes, just so. There aren't words adequate to describe the quality of the light--pearlescent, weak and yet astonishingly clear--these words come close to capturing it, but, no; they're inadequate.

Maybe this will help: a world normally seen in the hues of oil paints becomes, for a little under an hour, the work of a preternaturally skilled watercolorist.

Some people don't like the fall, with its intimations that winter is near, and the end of the year, an allegorical stand-in for death, will fast be upon us. It stirs my soul--from memories of the new school year, to the scent of burning leaves.

And the "autumnal" feel in novels has always appealed to me, too. Dumas's Inseparables are never more real to me than when divided by time, other alliances and loyalties, and yet still insistently loyal to each other in the long novel The Vicomte de Bragelonne (often published as three separate volumes, the first under the original title, the second as Louise de la Valiere, and the third as The Man in the Iron Mask).

My own first novel, Phineas at Bay, which takes its main characters from Anthony Trollope's Palliser novels, is not particularly autumnal--it's a story of several characters each finding the way home to his or her own best, truest self. The main characters are in middle age, but each has been balked in some way, and is laboring to get through a personal Sargasso Sea. Ultimately, Phineas at Bay is the conclusion to the season of summer, albeit a delayed summer for some of my characters.

Its sequel, which I have just started, is a very different work. It's a story, with roots in real history, of a very talented criminal, of a young barrister's learning his trade, and of the beginning of a life's work. For Phineas Finn, it will be a story of loss, and of consolation.

For the older characters--Trollope's own, mostly, but a few others--autumn has arrived. What to make of that late, last flush of supernal beauty, is the question before them. Because, after all, for everyone, ultimately, winter must follow.

Friday, November 14, 2014

"Say Something Nice": Two Cheers for "Dark Water" and "Death in Heaven"

Death in Heaven, last week's finale for series 8 of Doctor Who, is as divisive among fans of the show as was Dark Water, the episode leading into the finale. (My views on Dark Water are here.)

It's not surprising; Death in Heaven is quick-moving, nuanced in its characterizations, and convoluted in its plot. Depending on your metric, it can fairly be viewed as a mixed-up mess or as a brilliant success.

On the negative side, once again, my friend Nick Kaufmann:
Look, I’m not going to mince words here. Doctor Who‘s eighth season finale,”Death in Heaven,” was crap. Although I suppose it could have been a passable, rousing adventure if it weren’t for the fact that nothing in it made any sense. If you thought the science in “In the Forest of the Night” was absurd even for Doctor Who, wait until you get a load of this episode!***

Missy employs something called Cyberpollen (magic rain!) that transforms every dead body on Earth into Cybermen — but only dead bodies. It works so perfectly that it begs the question why it wasn’t intended to transform all the living beings instead. But no, that will require a second pollination performed by the dead-body Cybermen! Why have this two-tier plan? Why not just turn every living human on Earth into a Cyberman with the first rain? Why even bother with transforming the dead first? On top of that, there didn’t seem to be any limit on how long someone could be dead before their body is transformed into a Cyberman. Did you die in the 1700s? Are you just dust and bone shards now? Doesn’t matter. Now you’re a full-bodied Cyberman! On the other hand, are you a healthy, living human being with all your limbs intact? Then sorry, we don’t want you. Just the dead , thanks. Again, why? There isn’t a reason beyond the fact that the plot demands a two-tier plan so the Doctor can stop it.
Also, Jill Pantozzi over at The Mary Sue:
There were a few episodes this season I greatly enjoyed but the overall theme dragged me down to point where I’m considering not watching the show anymore because it’s not bringing me any joy. Clara was going to murder someone but didn’t have to because the Doctor was going to in her place, neither a fantastic scenario. And the Doctor feels he won because he didn’t give into the temptation to basically rule the galaxy but it doesn’t feel like a win when everything else is so awful.

***

Perhaps you felt differently about the episode but after what was a very compelling first half for me, the second part fell apart completely and left me longing for fun adventures through time and space again.
On the brilliant success side of the ledger, Philip Sandifer:
It works. There are plot holes. I identified several in the immediate aftermath. On a second pass, all of them have, at the very least, a line of dialogue. Yes, Missy’s entire reason for bringing the Doctor and Clara together and intervening in their timestreams to keep them together was that Clara would eventually lead the Doctor to try to rescue a loved one out of heaven. It’s a scheme by the Master, what did you expect, sanity? The Doctor probably could have commanded the army to self-destruct, but he recognized that Danny was the right person to do it. They’re not always satisfying payoffs, though for the most part, they’re as satisfying as they need to be for the amount the show built them up - if fans inflated the minor mysteries further, that’s their problem.

And when anything falters, it’s willing to get through on sheer bravado. Moffat returned to the two-parter on the back of Sherlock, and built one with a corker of a cliffhanger. He actually rejects his own usual advice of having to pick up the cliffhanger in a different place, instead just weighting the two halves, so Clara drops out earliest in Dark Water and then gets the cold open in Death in Heaven. Then he uses UNIT to change the pace a second time, and he’s off to the races with something that feels very different without any gimmicks, or, at least, without any of the gimmicks his detractors accuse him of relying on. It keeps moving at a thrilling speed. There’s no flab to this story - just a solid knowledge of what the major scenes actually are and a willingness to linger on them and trim the connective tissue.

It’s phenomenally good, and a worthy capstone to a season that has been a genuinely incredible piece of television. And it’s been a barnstorming success in practice. There are detractors, but most reviews have been positive, ratings have been high. AIs have been a smidgen weak, perhaps, but that’s maybe OK for a show that’s taking this many risks. Maybe the best television doesn’t get a 91 point AI.
(Paul Cornell raved, too.)

So, what gives, and where do I stand?

Well, look. I find myself very forgiving of bad science in Doctor Who, always have been. That's because I have never seen Doctor Who as science fiction, but as science fantasy--I think that Sandifer's great contribution to critical reading of Doctor Who is his insight that, thanks to David Whitaker's seminal contribution to the program, Doctor Who is rooted in alchemical thinking. So, science? Not so much--quasi-science, with alchemical roots, that begins in the Hartnell era and continues into the present. And in terms of that logic, Death in Heaven works.

A few specific points:

1. "Doctor Idiot": The Doctor's self-discovery

When the Doctor realizes he is not a good man, a bad man, a hero or an officer, he realizes that he is "an idiot with a box nd a screwdriver. Just passing through, helping out, learning." He is, in other words (Robertson Davies's words, for choice, the Fool:
The Fool; the cheerful rogue on a journey, with a rip in his pants, and a little dog that nipped at his exposed rump, urging him onward and sometimes nudging him in directions he had never intended to take. The Fool, who had no number but the potent zero which, when it was added to any other number, multiplied its significance by ten. . . He had been inclined to see his own myth as that of a servant, a drudge, not without value, but never an initiator or an important figure in anyone’s life but his own. If he had been asked to choose a card in the Tarot that would signify himself, he would probably have named the Knave of Clubs, Le Valet de Baton, the faithful, loyal servitor. Was not that the character he had played all his life? . . . Oh, the Knave of Clubs to the life! But now Mamusia had declared as true what he had for some time felt in his bones. He was something better. He was the Fool. Not the servitor, napkin in hand, at the behest of his betters, but the footloose traveller, urged onward by something outside the confines of intellect and caution.
And that's not a bad description of the core meaning of the Doctor as he has been presented in the series, from the beginning on. Finding himself, alchemically speaking, spiritually speaking, is a key step on his trip back to Gallifrey. It's not an express trip, for those who thought that this would be the reason arc; he has to get acquainted with himself first.

2. The Mistress's Plan: Why the Dead, and Not the Living, too?

Missy's two step plan makes perfect sense when you look at it in terms of her purpose: she wants to force the Doctor to accept her gift and exercise power. She hangs the threatened cyber-conversion of all the living as a sword over the Doctor's head to make him do so. She says this explicitly:
DOCTOR: Nobody can have that power.
MISSY: You will, because you don't have a choice. The only way you can stop these clouds from opening up and killing all your little pets down here. Conquer the universe, Mister President. Show a bad girl how it's done.
(Missy drops a deep curtsy. The Doctor rips the bracelet off.)
DOCTOR: Why are you doing this?
MISSY: I need you to know we're not so different. I need my friend back. Every battle, every war, every invasion. From now on, you decide the outcome. What's the matter, Mister President? Don't you trust yourself?
(My emphasis.) The whole plan is structured not to defeat the Doctor, but to corrupt him--to make him see the Mistress as his peer, his friend, again. The dead are used because the living are hostages, spared only if the Doctor takes the bait, and actively participates in effectuating Missy's plan.

3. Why Clara?

Missy's putting Clara and the Doctor together likewise works; as we have seen this whole season, Clara has learned exactly the wrong lessons from the Doctor. Her "control freak" aspect, always present, has come increasingly to the fore, as she has come to enjoy power and its exercise. She has become, as the episode makes clear, "an incredible liar." She has become, while not evil, someone who the Mistress (as the Doctor said about her name, a regeneration or two back, "You chose it. Psychiatrist's field day.") understands enough to manipulate. Clara is enough like Missy that Missy can predict how she'll behave. And (the inference seems clear), either she brings about Danny's death, or is aware of it as a fixed point from her scanning of Clara and the Doctor's timeline.

4. Give Me Something to Sing About: What About "The End of Time"?

Back in June, I wrote:
the Doctor has seen his own darkness, and, in revulsion at his own arrogance, is prepared to die to stop the corrupted Time Lords under Rassilon destroying, well, everything. The Master makes the same choice, first telling the Doctor to "get out of the way," mirroring the Doctor's own prior warning to him.

It is hard to imagine a story that brings back the Master without undermining that ending, and though I have always enjoyed the character, I would hate for that to happen. Unless the integrity of the character development can be respected, and a new kind of story told, I'd prefer Moffatt leave the Master in peace.
So, the inevitable question--did the Moff pull it off?

Well, he has found something different, and something that I, personally, find compelling--the Doctor's oldest friend trying to regain her former role in his life, trying to bridge the gap between them, but in a psychotic way that shows that she is still deeply, profoundly damaged. This isn't Eric Roberts's seemingly motiveless malevolence, or even Ainley's game-playing aesthete. The character now is a logical extension of the best of Ainley's Master, and, especially, of Simm's portrayal--less walking wounded, more polished, but still--insane, even against her own best interests. And despite that, and even with the Doctor poised to kill her, there was a kind of meeting of the minds in this story that we haven't seen before--this touch-averse Doctor cupped her face in his hands, and kissed her, thanking her for what he learned through his ordeal. Look at how Micelle Gomez plays that scene again--how gentle her expression is at that moment. And again, when the Doctor chooses to kill his old friend rather than to let Clara do so:
DOCTOR: No. No, don't you dare. I won't let you.
CLARA: Old friend, is she? If you have ever let this creature live, everything that happened today, is on you. All of it, on you. And you're not going to let her live again.
DOCTOR: Clara, all I'm doing is not letting you kill her. I never said I was letting her live.
CLARA: Really?
DOCTOR: If that's the only thing that will stop you, yes.
(Clara hands over the thingy.)
MISSY: Seriously. Oh, Doctor. To save her soul? But who, my dear, will save yours? Say something nice. Please?
DOCTOR: You win.
MISSY: I know.
(The Doctor prepares to vaporise Missy, but another energy bolt gets there first. It was a Cyberman with a dark chest disc. It points to something lying amongst the gravestones.)
The Doctor-Missy dynamic is in a very different place from where it has previously been. Moffatt has found a new story to tell.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A Hermeneutic of Suspicion

There are those who think me unduly cynical about the Roberts Court. In granting review in King v. Burwell, the Supreme Court has teed up a case that might provide me with further grist for my mill. You see, as Abbe Gluck has ably summarized the issue in KIng:
The five words at issue sit in a provision that requires the ACA’s insurance subsidies to be calculated based on premiums for individuals enrolled through an “Exchange established by the State under 1311” (ACA § 1401); the question is whether the IRS properly interpreted the ACA to allow those subsidies also to be available on federally operated exchanges (which now are the majority of exchanges). Section 1311 establishes the state-run exchanges and so, read in a vacuum, Section 1401 appears at first glance to deny the subsidies on federal exchanges. In context, however, the words are at a minimum highly ambiguous, and arguably actually clearly provide for subsidies on the federal exchanges.
Oh, sure, Anglocat, I hear some say. Pick the summary from someone on your side. Who could really believe that non-textual malarkey--and you, a professed textualist, too! Bad cat!

Who indeed could believe such a thing? How about Justices Scalia, Thomas, Alito, and Kennedy in their dissent in NFIB v. Sebelius:
If Congress had thought that States might actually refuse to go along with the expansion of Medicaid, Congress would surely have devised a backup scheme so that the most vulnerable groups in our society, those previously eligible for Medicaid, would not be left out in the cold. But nowhere in the over 900-page Act is such a scheme to be found. By contrast, because Congress thought that some States might decline federal funding for the operation ofa “health benefit exchange,” Congress provided a backup scheme; if a State declines to participate in the operation of an exchange, the Federal Government will step in and operate an exchange in that State. See 42 U. S. C. §18041(c)(1).
(Dissent sec. V(E)(2)) (emphasis added))

Naturally, I think we can all count on these four justices to rule in King in a manner consistent with their prior opinion in NFIB v. Sebelius, right? No? Anyone really think they will?

If not, don't blame me for my lack of trust in the Court's conservative activists.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Veteran's Day, 2014

We don't live in the world of my grandfather (Calvin Schuh, USN, World War I), or of my father's stepfather, my Uncle Fred (Fred Kalkbrenner, who served in the US Army in World War II. In their day, military service was not always voluntary, although they both, as far as I know, enlisted, and was spread over a wide range of society. Military service is now voluntary, a good thing, in my opinion, as I have always agreed with T.H. White that "the one unutterably evil thing about war is conscription." But the volunteer service has changed the military. To take but two ways, pointed out by Karl Eikenberry:
[N]ot having those domestic political constraints inherent in a draft force may have freed otherwise cautious U.S. government decisionmakers to carry out large-/scale extended military operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan. When I have spoken on this topic to various audiences around the country, I ask: "If we had a conscripted military good enough to accomplish the same missions assigned our current volunteer forces (admittedly a bold assumption), would the U.S. have invaded Iraq in 2003 and had almost 100,000 troops stationed in Afghanistan one decade after 9/11?" Never more than one or two participants offer an affirmative response.

***

The second unintended consequence of the AVF, which the Gates Commission did not speculate on, is the potential impact on the quality of civilian oversight and on the willingness of senior military officers to take fair responsibility for their organization’s failures. I believe both have suffered, though the views I offer here are admittedly more informed by personal experience than by quantitative analysis.
These points should give us some pause; we are less invested, socially, in those who serve, because, after all, they choose to do so. They, in the lovely language of lawyers, "assume the risks" of service.

We should not be so cavalier with the lives who enlist to defend our freedoms. I sometimes think we are too flip about decisions involving the lives of those who serve, no matter which party is in power. I'm grateful to all I've known, family and friends who have served. We citizens owe them not just a quick "thanks for your service," but an ongoing commitment to not expel their lives loosely, and to care for them when wounded, or otherwise incapacitated.

I know; bummer of a post on Veteran's Day. We should be honoring those who serve, not hectoring our fellow citizens, right? Maybe; but I can't help but think of those who have not been received the care that is their due.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

"I Don't Wanna Go"--to the Supremes, I Mean



Today's decision in DeBoer v. Snyder is poorly reasoned, in tension with multiple decisions by other circuits, and slipshod in the extreme. It is also a case that purports to prize the unknown and unknowable "original intent" of the Framers of the Fourteenth Amendment over the Amendment's actual text. The dissent makes these points, and others which I frankly can't be bothered to make. Other than to note that by the reasoning employed by two of the three members of the panel, the Fourteenth Amendment's protections would not extend to any group other than the freed slaves (and maybe their descendants. Maybe.) Michael Kent Curtis demolished that argument back in the 1980s. Hell, even I had a run at it a decade ago, so you can read my views at no tedious length there, and not make me rehash them here.

But for all that the panel decision has created a split between the circuits, I'd seek an en banc review rather by the whole Sixth Circuit rather than a writ of certiorari. Because, honestly? I've lost my faith in the Supreme Court pretty much completely. It's a purely political bench, these days, at least the majority, as witness the Hobby Lobby and Shelby County cases. Yeah, I think Justice Kennedy will probably hang in there with his prior decisions on the line, but why trust these guys (and I do mean the guys) if you don't have to? If en banc review vacates the panel decision, no circuit split exists, and every marriage in every state increases the pressure to maintain the pro-equality status quo.

I know I sound rather cynical, but--seriously; these guys have recently voided the 15th Amendment and raised the statutory free exercise of religion rights of fictional entities over he statutory rights of real, y'know, people.

I'd only go to them as a last resort.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Where Do We Go From Here?



For those of us Americans who are progressives in our political leanings, last night and today were hard indeed. It is not pretty to see those you support go down to defeat, while those who you believe are seeking to guide the Nation in the wrong direction triumph. I could write multiple versions of this post--the angry, splenetic one, the rhetorical firestorm, the wistful "if only they knew" one.

But what good would any of them do, for any of my readers or for myself.

We lost. We've won in the past, we may again. Or not.

I don't want to minimize my displeasure at this election, my conviction that this is a disaster in terms of our taking action on issues that I think are critically important--but those of you who read this blog, or know me in real life, know that.

So what's the point?

This: Be the change you want to see. Yes, vote; yes, organize; yes, do what you do. But do more: Live with your neighbors, work among them, find the little ways that you can make the world around you a little less cruel or ugly, and draw comfort from that. And remember that those with whom we disagree are not our enemies. If we think of them as enemies--why, that's what they'll be. Somewhere, somehow, we all need to stop the fire of righteous anger from burning down the house. Because we all have to live in it.

Think of what the fire-eating chaplain learns all too late after watching the execution of Joan in Shaw's Saint Joan:
THE CHAPLAIN [clutching at his hand] My lord, my lord: for Christ's sake pray for my wretched guilty soul.

WARWICK [soothing him] Yes, yes: of course I will. Calmly, gently--

THE CHAPLAIN [blubbering miserably] I am not a bad man, my lord.

WARWICK. No, no: not at all.

THE CHAPLAIN. I meant no harm. I did not know what it would be like.

WARWICK [hardening] Oh! You saw it, then?

THE CHAPLAIN. I did not know what I was doing. I am a hotheaded fool; and I shall be damned to all eternity for it.

WARWICK. Nonsense! Very distressing, no doubt; but it was not your doing.

THE CHAPLAIN [lamentably] I let them do it. If I had known, I would have torn her from their hands. You don't know: you havnt seen: it is so easy to talk when you dont know. You madden yourself with words: you damn yourself because it feels grand to throw oil on the flaming hell of your own temper. But when it is brought home to you; when you see the thing you have done; when it is blinding your eyes, stifling your nostrils, tearing your heart, then--then--[Falling on his knees] O God, take away this sight from me! O Christ, deliver me from this fire that is consuming me! She cried to Thee in the midst of it: Jesus! Jesus! Jesus! She is in Thy bosom; and I am in hell for evermore.
We are not yet among enemies, though our friendships may be more strained than they should be.

And come back to the fray, and remember the words of the greatest conservative of history:


Monday, November 3, 2014

Meeting Missy: Musing's on the Master's Mutability



And there it is. Beyond the quick "I called it!" response, my first reaction was one of "Oh, this could be interesting…"

And, it's fair to say, it already has been, if only for the reactions of my fellow Whovians. There have been a series of responses, from Philip Sandifer's nuanced appreciation to my good friend Nick Kaufman's equally nuanced claim that "Dark Water is a triumph of style over substance. It’s also a big, honking mess. It’s an interesting mess — it plays with some compelling concepts — but a mess nonetheless."

I am more with Sandifer (whose Tardis Eruditorum I admire enough that I backed it on Kickstarter) than I am with Nick (whose fiction I admire very much). Let me explain why.

1. The TARDIS Key Volcano Scene

The scene in which Clara blackmails the Doctor into rescuing Danny from death is one which I think is completely in character. Clara firmly believes that the Doctor will not use the TARDIS to go back and prevent the accident (experience says she's right), and so she decides to force the Time Lord's hand. It's well in keeping with the Clara who has been, throughout the season, becoming more Doctor-ish, and enjoying the making of the "hard decisions" (which the Doctor himself, at least in this incarnation, does not enjoy. Think of how Twelve had to work himself up to dispelling the "Boneless" in Flatline:
The Doctor: [emerging from the TARDIS to confront the monsters] I tried to talk. I want you to remember that. I tried to reach out. I tried to understand you, but I think you understand us perfectly — I think that you just don't care. And I don't know whether you're here to invade, infiltrate or just replace us — I don't suppose it really matters now. You are monsters! That is the role you seem determined to play! So it seems that I must play mine: the man that stops the monsters. I'm sending you back to your own dimension. Who knows, some of you may even survive the trip. And if you do, remember this: you are not welcome here! This plane is protected! I AM THE DOCTOR! … And I name you: the Boneless!)
Clara's error is that the power and the rush are starting to go to her head, corrupting her a bit.

Her idea is a bit crap, though--as Nick quite rightly points out, the Doctor, and even Clara, can get the TARDIS to let them in with a snap of their fingers. You can hand wave away this inconsistency (if you have a key, and the TARDIS loves you, you can get in…), but it's there. Where I disagree with Nick is his statement that the incident "was a psychic test of her resolve, which she apparently passed and now the Doctor will help her." I don't think that's a correct read of the sequence. I think that the Doctor saw that Clara was desperate, and diverted her into a bid to force his hand that he could control. She didn't pass a test, he diverted a real attempt, and, in fact, was livid with her:
Clara: What do we do now? What happens now, you and me? Doctor?
The Doctor: Go to hell.
Clara: Fair enough. Absolutely fair enough. [walks towards the TARDIS doors]
The Doctor: Clara? You asked me what we're going to do. I told you: we're going to Hell. Or wherever it is where people die. If there is anywhere. Wherever it is, we're going to find Danny, and if it is in any way possible, we're going to bring him home. [smiles] Almost every culture in the universe has some concept of an afterlife. I always meant to have a look around, see if I could find one.
Clara: You're going to help me?
The Doctor: Well, why wouldn't I help you?
Clara: Because of what I just did. I–
The Doctor: You betrayed me. You betrayed my trust, you betrayed our friendship, you betrayed everything I ever stood for. You let me down!
Clara: Then why are you helping me?
The Doctor: Why? Do you think I care for you so little that betraying me would make any difference?
My emphasis; the Doctor here is showing us that beneath all of the sarcasm, glumness, and irritability, he remains the Doctor--he loves his friends, even when they fail. Also note that, even when he is prepared to risk himself, the TARDIS, and Clara to save Danny--he still won't go back and prevent the accident.

2. Death to Danny!

I should add that Danny's death worked for me; yes, it was senseless, quotidian in the extreme. That's what made it work for me. Life is that way. When I was in high school, a classmate of mine died of an aneurysm right there in class (no, I wasn't in the room, thank God.) Life is that way. Danny survived war, aliens, frickin' tigers, only to lose his concentration and walk into an oncoming car? I have no problem buying that.

3. The Mistress?

Several Whovians have questioned whether the Master, even if regenerating into a female form, would stop referring to herself as the Master. A fair question. The Master has always been a bit camp, especially in his Ainley and Eric Roberts personae (no, really:

See?)

As portrayed by Michelle Gomez, the Mistress is enjoying herself mightily; preening, commanding, a little lubricious, too--she is enjoying herself in an arch way not seen since the Ainley days, say in The Five Doctors. And what she's enjoying in Dark Water is messing with the Doctor's head, with an old Ainley-style alias. Does she really mean to go on being known as "Missy" or the Mistress in future? Maybe; she certainly seems to enjoy her femininity, what with the Poppins-styling, and the accents from later eras. But it's an alias, like the Portreve, Sir Gilles Estram (Master, geddit?), allowing her to spring the good news on the Doctor with a theatrical flourish.

Now, why does the Doctor not sense her telepathically? We don't know yet--we've just had the bare reveal--but I'd imagine it's simple; either a perception filter, or the fact that the Master always was more in control of his psychic powers than the Doctor.

4. "Moffat Evil Woman " No. X in a Series?

Some viewers have caviled that the Mistress "is sexually obsessed with The Doctor–as Moffat’s “Evil Women” seem to be with the titular heroes. (See also: Adler, Irene)." Wa-aal, as Ten might point out, the master has been obsessed with the Doctor since the classic series, and while it was less pronounced with Delgado in the role, by the time Ainley donned the penguin suit, the FoeYay was canon. Gender-swapping did not make the Mistress more obsessed with the Doctor than was the Master.  (Mind you, the critique is considerably more salient as applied to Irene Adler, who is quite indifferent to Holmes in "A Scandal in Bohemia.")

Much depends, I suppose, on whether one enjoys the character of the Master; I do. Delgado especially, but Ainley also made great theatrical, affably evil villains vis a vis Pertwee and especially Davison, respectively. I enjoyed the weird chemistry of the Doctor and the Master--half enmity, half affection. When we got five minutes of Derek Jacobi I wanted more, and Simm versus Tennant worked for me. And I could have let the Master rest there; Davies gave the story a good ending in The End of Time. So I hope Moffat has more to do with the character than just a reboot. But so far, I like the chemistry between Capaldi and Gomez, and Gomez's relish for the part is just what the Doctor ordered, despite himself.

5. Update, 11/4: On a second viewing, the Doctor's first meeting with Missy is even funnier than at first view.  She is clearly waiting for the penny to drop--after the kiss, she looks at him to see if he gets it, then she puts his hand over her hearts--no, still nothing; this Doctor's social awkwardness and shock at being touched have flummoxed him.  She drops a leaden compliment, getting the Doctor to (as other characters used to routinely do in the old series) ask "Doctor Who?" and finally moves on, calling Dr, Chang in a moment of pure frustration.  It's a great slow burn--he gets none of the hints, and she's bursting with excitement.  A nice piece of character building from  the Moff, deftly handled by Gomez and Capaldi.