The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Love and Monsters

[Lady Eustace (Sarah Badel) and Rev. Emilius (Anthony Ainley) (Photo Courtesy of Ellen Moody)]

In writing Phineas at Bay, one of the key issues was how to deal with romance and sexuality in a modern way and still be true to the Trollopean ethos. It's not that Trollope is sex-averse. Far from it; by the standards of his day, he pushes the boundaries, what with La Signora Madeline Vesey NeroniCarry Brattle in The Vicar of Bullhampton to that unreformed old roué, the old Duke of Omnium, to Lady Glencora's frankly sexual yearning for Burgo Fitzgerald, to name but a few instance. Trollope held his own day's standards on an intellectual level, but he did not blink from the fact that they were often flouted, and that the cost of the flouting often was left to the more vulnerable party to pay. (One more instance--that rat George Vavsor's discarded mistress.)

Now, I could have hewed to the safe pattern --an ingenue or two, chaste young love,that sort of thing. But, although Trollope often included that classic Victorian safe plot-line, he dared to go beyond it, and so, it seemed, must I.

I didn't want to lose the feeling of authenticity and unbalance the novel by including matter that was clearly outside of what Trollope could have published, nor did I want to uncritically embrace the social and sexual mores of Victorian England, with their concomitant repression and hypocrisy. In other words, I wanted to have, in addition to my story of young love, have two parallels. One (which I do not wish to spoil for the casual reader who has not yet, but might wish to, read the novel), involves a troubled young man who finds love with a woman of a different social class, but one whose life experiences allow her to understand him. Their coming together is facilitated by his parents' own troubled courtship in one of Trollope's novels, and the fact that their own marriage had become highly undesirable socially for very different reasons.

The third relationship--ah, here is where I tried to evoke both Trollope's own characters' development over time and the fin de siècle setting. As portrayed by Trollope, Lizzie Eustace, raised to be a demimondaine, who "liked admiration [and] liked the power of being arrogant to those around her" (and indeed to domineer over her unfortunate companion, Miss McNulty), was tailor-made for the era. So too her now-divorced (or annulled, more properly speaking), husband, the Rev. Jospeh Emilius--a shady clergyman who uses his talents to gain profit and power. In exploring his psyche and hers together, a common interest in power, and an inability to let go, seemed to bind them. In Phineas at Bay, their relationship is reignited--and the question is can two power-driven, sexually unconventional monsters find in themselves something beyond mutual exploitation, or an unending battle for dominance?

The question is by no means intended to be easy for them. It is very current in the world in which Lizzie and Emilius live. Indeed, it's one that (as I discovered after publication) at least one Trollope scholar found already present in his works, as well as in other Victorian works. Certainly the fin de siècle loosening of moral restrictions saw an upswing of such themes in literature in England and on the Continent. So Lizzie and Emilius are very much of their time (as demonstrated by the allusions in the description of her home, to give but one example). But I did not want to just leave it as simple as a pair of debauchees exploiting or even just enjoying each other.

And so I allowed myself one small deviation from the self-imposed rule of no scene that Trollope could have been published. Emilius reflects on having seen a scar on Lizzie's abdomen in (obviously, but inferentially) sexual circumstances. A scar that she did not bear during their (erased) marriage. In seeing time at work on her flesh, Emilius feels something beyond lust, or even obsession.

The two of them are moral monsters in many ways. He is a murderer, she is a thief and a rarefied blackmailer. But each has a glimmer of something better, whether or not they can find their way to it.

The strength of the reaction this plot thread has drawn is surprising to me--some love it, some hate it. But that readers are passionate about these two profoundly compromised and even tainted figures nonetheless trying to cope with the risks and fears of becoming more than monsters seems to suggest that, like Frankenstein's monster, it's alive.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Reflections on Trollope Country

Ellen Moody has published a thought-provoking essay online regarding Phineas at Bay. As the author of the book under consideration--not review, because what Ellen Moody has done is as much a meditation on the possibilities of post-texts yet unwritten as it is an assessment of of Phineas at Bay--I have some thoughts, as is natural. But I offer them with a caveat: I am not attempting to dispute her reactions to my novel. The reader is, to my mind, absolutely privileged in her reaction to the book. As the author, the legitimate scope of my reaction is limited to (1) sharing thoughts sparked by that reaction--insights I have gained; or (2) explaining what I have attempted to convey, sources, influences, etc.

In fact, to the extent I will discuss Ellen Moody's reaction to the book qua novel, I'll say this: It's nothing short of delightful to see something I have worked on and lived with so long treated with the high seriousness that I have seen Ellen bring to works by established authors and to undisputed literature. Praise is always welcome, but sugary bon-bons are not. Ellen's essay does Phineas at Bay the high courtesy of treating it seriously.

Still, it is an undiluted pleasure for this first-time novelist to see his work described thus:
The providential pattern of the book could be put down to its being (in effect) a historical novel whose main (but only main) franchise is Trollope except that another skein of allusion shows the deep structure is a creation of its contemporary author. Wirenius said that when he began the book he had the uplifting (if ironically so) final lines of the book in mind. He wanted to get there. Religious music (sung exquisitely by Marie), allusions to church fathers, liturgy, the use of Christmas make it not a book more Victorian than our sceptical and secular (and darker) Trollope, but one intended to speak today in the way praised by John Gardner (once a best-selling novelist who wrote a post-text himself, to Beowulf, Grendel) in his On Moral Fiction. Its politics are benevolent, left-liberal, and some of the best long-running stories of the book are effective dramatic analyses of politicking within parties, between rivals and enemies and friends, scenes in courts (at least two trials) and parliament, at elections, pressure dealing, very Trollopian some of these (including a politicized sermon). Hunting scenes, dinners, parties, weddings figure too. Good people finally mostly win out and we are invited to celebrate the figures within a pleasing faery aesthetic pattern (or carpet as Henry James would put it).


Phineas at Bay is a strongly realized, highly intelligent book with many believable characters, some bite and beauty in its use of allusions and reality-feel in its depictions of places (including mines).
This is heady stuff for one just out the gate.

Of course, in stringing together these bits of the essay, I am eliding the themes of the essay which Ellen drew out, and these are--to anyone but my authorial vanity--far more interesting than the purely evaluative parts. I'd like to look at one or two, and share what I learned from the essay and from the group reading Ellen Moody led, and which informs her essay.

1. Influences and Masculinist Texts

In her essay, Moody writes of my section of Trollope Country:
It’s more than a specific region of Trollope country (upper class, lots of lawyers). It represents a readership or perspective on that specific region. Phineas at Bay is a highly intertextual literary book, allusive, bookish (I see nothing wrong with that) whose references are just about wholly to books favored by males, mid-20th century to late Edwardian. A central text is R. F. Delderfield’s To Serve Them All My Days, as embodied and shaped by Andrew Davies’s 1980-81 16 part mini-series which rehearses an archetypal nostalgic schoolboy to teacher story. One of the most (for me) appealing characters in Phineas at Bay is named Ifor Powlett-Jones, clearly after David Powlett-Jones as memorably portrayed by John Duttine[.]


Ifor is a miner in Wales who risks his life to save the lives of fellow miners who have been abusively mistreated by the mine-owner, a ruthless obtuse, sadistic and spiteful industrialist, McScuttle (the book’s one full villain) who accuses the young man of destroying private property and by influence manages to have him thrown in jail for a number of years. We have powerful scenes of a life in prison in this period before Powlett-Jones is rescued (naturally) by Phineas Finn who, with Marie, adopts, has educated by Mr Low (now retired) and makes a sort of nephew-son of the boy, providing him with a career he could not have dreamed of.

Other similar authors, texts alluded to and used significantly are Beerbohm, Mortimer (Rumpole of Bailey), Walter Scott, Tennyson, Wodehouse (a lot), Oscar Wilde, Bernard Shaw, Winston Graham’s Poldark series, Thackeray, Dumas’s Three Musketeers, M. R. James (the ghost story writer). Individual lines are plucked from Hugo’s Les Miserables. The inter-related imaginary carved out here is the one Mark Turner (Trollope and the Magazines) first described as central to understanding how Trollope assumed his readership would react. We follow the trajectory — coming of age — of several newly invented young adult male characters, the next generation of the Palliser and Chiltern sons, e.g., Savrola Vavasour, son of George (remember the escapee from Can You Forgive Her?) who met and married Mrs Winifred Hurtle while in the US. Savrola courts Clarissa Finn, despite her Richardsonian name, a fugitive from an innocent girl’s 19th century novel, protected by a series of benevolent parent figures — rather like Lady Rose McClaren in Downton Abbey. Downton Abbey is in evidence too with a butler who acts paternal roles towards Clarissa and anticipates Marie, his mistress’s every need, including sleuthing.
She later cites "Galsworthy (another masculinist book of upper class life alluded to)."

She's got me dead to rights here. The book is allusive, as Ellen writes, as indeed my mind is allusive. I can't adequately describe the fun I had in writing Phineas at Bay, salting the text with little hommages I described to the reading group as "easter eggs" for my own amusement. Ellen catches many o them--she also notes echoes of specific performancesSimon Raven's adaptation of the Palliser novels for the BBC, broadcast as The Pallisers. I'll admit to one that nobody in the book group rumbled me on: certain actors in The Pallisers later appeared in my beloved Doctor Who, and I couldn't resist giving Rev. Emilius, played by Anthony Ainley in The Pallisers a famous bit of business from his more familiar role. But here's the thing--they came to me in the writing; I didn't plan them in advance, it just flowed exuberantly.

A brief word on the texts referenced. I think it's absolutely fair to describe Delderfield as "masculinist," fond though I am of him. I devoured all of his novels as a teen, have read most of them more than once, and I think that it is a very fair critique. He's one of the generation that thought of D.H Lawrence as opening up the world of sexuality to literature, and his adoption of tropes in which domineering women are "cured" by a spanking in several of his novels by their husbands/lovers/fiancés is a genuine blot on those novels. I think RFD grew to realize this himself, because in To Serve Them All My Days, his most mature and well-done book, he explicitly brings the trope up to have David Powlett-Jones reject it as unbefitting a real man. My affection for Delderfield survives these scenes, but they are blots on a writer who was that rare and wonderful kind of author: a first-rate second rater.

Galsworthy's a bit more complicated. I think The Man of Property does not really fit that description, although one can see Irene as oddly passive and acted upon; as I have suggested elsewhere, I suspect that this is more a function of Galsworthy's effort to shield his wife from the real-life scandal that gave rise to the novel.

2. Virtue and Vice Alike Rewarded

Ellen Moody notes a certain tension in the book between the fates of the good and evil characters. After writing that "There’s a lot of kindness in the book, to Lady Laura Kennedy and the Duke of Omnium (Plantagenet Palliser that was), happy at last, fittingly. Phineas works hard in this book, is as acute and successfully manipulative as Hercule Poirot, and for the public good..." she observes that "[t]here is at the same time a real tolerance for amoral worldly-vicious types of people, the disruptive, the mean, and those complicit with, obedient to those who do evil." She acknowledges that the villains are not punished; that "are not post-modern nor at all nihilistic because the book and its main characters recognize them as reprehensible. They are framed more like Fielding’s Blifil in Tom Jones, their punishment is to go on being what they are."

Yes. Just yes. To me, the experience of reading Trollope was startling because his good characters were sometimes bad (Archdeacon Grantly can be awful, and yet is basically one of the white hats by the tend of the Barsetshire novels; even Rev. Harding lives for years on income that properly isn't his), and his bad characters are sometimes kind--look at Burgo Fitzgerald and the prostitute, or la Signorina in steering Eleanor Bold and Dr. Arabin together. After the absolutes of Dickens, this moral complexity of Trollope was rejuvenating, and part of why I fell in love with his fiction.

So I took it a step further--looking at two of Trollope's most amoral (indeed, immoral) characters, Lizzie Eustace and Rev. Emilius, I asked myself: "What, if anything, is genuine within them?" My answer may not please everyone,but as I see it, they have taken a step forward in one sense, while remaining deplorable in most every other way. Progress not perfection.

3. Lighting Out for the Territory

In writing that Phineas at Bay "is easily arguably the first full completely realized true sequel to Trollope’s books", Ellen Moody implicitly acknowledges the existence of Knox's Barchester Pilgrimage (1934). I admit, I think it doesn't make the cut as a sequel--it evokes Trollope's own characters only fleetingly, and does not continue their stories or explore their characters in any meaningful way. It is, rather, a series of vignettes spanning the time from Trollope's day to Knox's, connected tenuously to his novels, but paying loving tribute. It is a love letter to Trollope's creation, but far too cautious to advance the storyline. Moody suggests that Phineas at Bay raises a question I did not in fact consider, but one well worth asking:
The most interesting question for me that this book raises is, What does and will this book tell us about Trollope’s mainstream readership? what they value in Trollope? One reason there has not been a true sequel before is there is so much Trollope and really so varied. He wrote 47 novels, 42 short stories, 5 travel books, his autobiography, essays, criticism. Among these he has written his own sequels in his Barsetshire and Palliser books, Ayala’s Angel is a kind of sequel to The American Senator, he planned to (he said) to write an Australian set of books out of Lady Anna; his Anglo-Irish books carve out a Trollope terrain or another country in western and across Ireland. When I taught a course wholly devoted to Trollope for the first time this past fall, I found I had surprised those in the class who thought they knew Trollope and had read numerous of his books before. This book would’ve fulfilled their expectations much better than my syllabus.


Wirenius’s Phineas at Bay is an analogous first step to Raven’s mini-series in the textual arena. We have a reconstituted world of Trollopian fiction. How will it affect Trollope’s novels as understood by a wider readership? Reinforcement? Raven was a pessimistic atheist, strong cynic, sceptical; Wirenius turns back to Trollope and softens what is there. Modern film adaptations often make what is back-story of a 19th century book and make it front present story. Wirenius chose instead to make a new group of young mostly male upwardly mobile winning-out protagonists.


If a woman should write a post-text, which story and characters in Trollope would she appropriate? What books would be alluded to, what 19th to mid-20th century intertextualities? Will anyone develop out the Anglo-Irish fiction so different from the Palliser world? and reverse front stories to become back-stories, and of course bring out the implied sexualities. What will future Trollope fan fiction be like? Will it help to extend Trollope’s readership beyond the usual 15 books read? Or not.
Her suggestion that Phineas at Bay is "a world just begun, meant to be continued and invites others to do likewise" would represent a wonderful result of my work. I hope we get post-tests by women, with different allusions and foregrounding stories that I have not thought to. And I hope the darker, the Irish, European, and Australian Trollope texts find their own way into the newly rekindled Trollope Country. Yes, I'll keep exploring for as long as my imagination lives in Trollope Country, but there is room for us all. And if--I say if--I have opened a door to such exploration, then I have done more than I thought.

[Edited to correct some typos and solecisms.]

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Lessons as a Mentor Leaves the Stage

I have only recently found out that a good friend and mentor is retiring; the Rev. Buddy Stallings, Rector of St. Bartholomew's Church will leave St Bartholomew's Church at the end of May. He writes, in part, that his decision "is as holy in its way as any decision I have ever made, and the gift of that conviction is the deep sense that this is right for me." I think it's important to share this thought--that the felt necessities of life, the various seasons of life, come to us, whether we expect them or not.

Or, as Buddy describes it, a recognition that it is time to embrace radical change. By sharing his feelings about it Buddy has helped his parishioners once again, by illustrating the need to listen for that small still voice in our own lives, and to recognize when those moments arise.

But this isn't an end, in one sense. It's a shift, a change of seasons. It's like Anthony Powell's Dance to the Music of Time; we weave into, and out of, and sometimes back into, each other's lives--the note that you hear as as child recurs, with all its old sweetness, in middle age. And possibly even later.

I tried to capture a sense of that in a chapter of my own novel, in a scene where my young heroine, Clarissa Riley, is present at a dance where all of the major players in the novel--friend and foe, in the lives of her uncle and aunt--are present:
Clarissa Riley watched the dancers from the sidelines with awe; how confidently, how surely they moved. She had been trained since her childhood, but always doubted her ability to move with the grace of her Aunt Marie, laughing as Uncle Phineas propelled her surely, swiftly, about the floor. Or, for that matter, “Uncle” Oswald, galumphing about the dance floor while Aunt Violet patiently, unobtrusively made up for his ragged steps, and sudden lunges. Or, for that matter, that distinguished older couple—the lanky Lady Laura of whom she’d heard so many rumors, sedately waltzing with a slim, lantern-jawed grey-haired old man, with a practiced ease.

She did not recognize every guest at the ball, but many of the dancing pairs, either jointly or singly were familiar to her: Her disturbingly handsome “cousin” Jack, dutifully whirling with a beautiful, if older, woman, garbed in ivory, who gave off a strong impression of danger and avidity, and yet smiled as pleasantly as did a gentle matron; the Prime Minister, carefully steering another striking woman, in a stunning bright blue gown, her red-brown hair cascading down her neck; aging clubman Dolly Longestaffe, with his nondescript but pleasant wife, waltzing in perfect time to the music and each other but with rather less speed and effort than the others.

All these, and many others whom Clarissa did not know, swimming rhythmically amongst a sea of the ruling classes of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, the British Empire, as guests of the enigmatic Marchioness of Hartletop, whom Clarissa had never even seen.

As the dancers moved through and around each other, as so many of them had indeed moved in and through each other’s lives, and had even in and through Clarissa’s short existence, Clarissa’s desire to spot the woman who had brought them all together beneath one roof became more pointed. She looked around the room, trying to discover her hostess, noted for her extreme loveliness and equally formidable coldness, but could not see her. Those not dancing made an interesting enough show, though, when she admitted the fruitlessness of her quest.

She spotted a clergyman—a bishop, from his apron and gaiters—tall and spare, with a receding hairline and a beaky nose, but with kind eyes, chatting with an old woman—one who had been querulously complaining about the Church with a quacking voice over sherry, but now, wrinkles smoothed quite away, smiled almost charmingly.

An old man, of military mien, but with a jolly smile, obviously a kindly, grandfatherly type, himself scanning the room, sharp eyes picking out and recording interesting features. Further along, another clergyman, indeed, another bishop, this one dark, bearded and saturnine, following the beauty in ivory with his eyes, assessing, thinking—
The metaphor of the dance comforts me; as we say goodbye, it is only for a little while; in the intricate patterns we describe in each other's lives, we can never be sure when we will meet again.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

In Memoriam, Marcus Borg

I am very sorry to read that Marcus Borg has died:
Borg, a prominent liberal theologian and Bible scholar who for a generation helped popularize the intense debates about the historical Jesus and the veracity and meaning of the New Testament, died on Wednesday (Jan. 21). He was 72 and had been suffering from pulmonary fibrosis.

Borg emerged in the 1980s just as academics and theologians were bringing new energy to the so-called “quest for the historical Jesus,” the centuries-old effort to disentangle fact from myth in the Gospels.

Alongside scholars such as John Dominic Crossan, Borg was a leader in the Jesus Seminar, which brought a skeptical eye to the Scriptures and in particular to supernatural claims about Jesus’ miracles and his resurrection from the dead.

Like other scholars, Borg tended to view Jesus as a Jewish prophet and teacher who was a product of the religious ferment of first-century Judaism.

But while Borg questioned the Bible, he never lost his passion for the spiritual life or his faith in God as “real and a mystery,” as he put it in his 2014 memoir, “Convictions: How I Learned What Matters Most,” the last of more than 20 books he wrote.
In my time co-leading a book group at St Bartholomew's Church in Manhattan. we read several books by Borg. He was a true scholar who followed his inner light and the evidence wherever it led him.

But he was not dogmatic, or exclusionary about his views. In fact, my favorite book by Borg was one he co-wrote with N.T. Wright, the traditionalist scholar-bishop. In that book, The MEaning of of Jesus: Two Visions, Borg and Wright each presented their views on the key questions of the historical truth and the theological ramifications of Jesus. They did so with charity, with friendship, and, to use a phrase beloved of the current Archbishop of Canterbury, disagreed well. Their arguments gave off light, not heat.

Indeed, I would never have read Wright but for the book, and there were certain areas where the conservative persuaded me as against the liberal, whom I had bought the book to root for. Marcus Borg--and N.T. Wright, let it be said--modeled a higher form of discussion for me in that work. If he had written nothing else, he would have changed my life, at least, there. The less argumentative tone of this blog in recent years is in part a reflection of my admiration for what they did in that book, and a desire to emulate that willingness to hear the other view, and learn from it.

As a historian, Borg was a member of the Jesus Seminar, which has contributed much to our understanding of Jesus's life and times. I say this, by the bye, as one who is not 100% onboard with all of their results. I am more aligned with Charles Gore and John P. Meier. But Borg, like the great John Dominic Crossan, has challenged me, enriched my knowledge and understanding, opened my mind, and, ultimately, deepened my faith.

May light perpetual shine upon him.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Who Will Walk Through the Mirror Door?

This song from the Who's 2006 album Endless Wire (which doesn't get enough love, by the way; see David Fricke's perceptive review) gets something about the creative process, as far as I can see.

There's an unpredictability, and a vulnerability, when you--ok, when I--undertake something creative. I don't know what's coming out. Oh, I have a vague plan, some bullet points, I admit--but something takes over; a typo leads to a whole new digression, a prior character changes from his planned arc, an unplanned character announces her arrival.

The mind and spirit are effervescent, I follow, as bemused any future reader will ever be.

And, like the Who in "Mirror Door," I find myself invoking my specters--my predecessors in writing, my teachers, even though I have only met them from their books.

They enter through my own mirror door….

Tony Trollope, RFD;
Powell, A and Snow, CP;
GBS and Mark Twain;
Saki bearing extra dry champagne.

Simon Raven, still unhailed;
Oscar Wilde, who thought he'd failed;
Thomas Hardy, Galsworthy, J;
Alex Dumas, Bronte,A;
Jane Austen by no means least,
Make room for TH White at the feast.
AS Byatt and Barbara Pym,
Conan Doyle and Newman, Kim.

There are legions more, of course, but I'm no Townshend. It's just that his song gets across the strange solitary intimacy of writing better than anything else I've ever read.

But enough--time to start the next chapter...

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Thick of It All

I have just binge-watched the entirety of The Thick of It, and have found it to be greatly amusing. It's a trenchant, brilliantly acted, and clever satire--a darker Yes, Minister. The show's greatest fame comes from the scabrous, intimidating, Malcolm Tucker, the "Iago with a Blackberry" who raised obscenity to an art form.

Peter Capaldi was outstanding in the part, and the occasional grace notes--Tucker's consistent kindness to working class people, his secretary, his apparently sincere ideological devotion to his party, and his sincere, shocked remorse when he punched a colleague--only hinted at a more complicated person beneath the persona. Tucker ran off with the show, leading Capaldi to do a self-spoof, in which Malcolm "Tuckered" GQ magazine for its Christmas 2012 issue.

[Warning: Obscene. No, really. Told ya.]

But Conservative minister Peter Mannion had his moments, too:

They are surrounded with assorted imbeciles, time-servers, and connivers whose greed is only limited by their incompetence.

The Thick of It is a cynical show, with much to be cynical about, about the state of British politics. Mannion's world-weariness, or Tucker's flame-thrower antics are, all too often, the only choices on offer. It's a less optimistic show than the rather gentle Yes, Minister, for a less optimistic world. Ultimately, the show rejects both Mannion and Tucker, but doesn't hold out any really positive role models. Like Anthony Trollope's The Way We Live Now, The Thick of It provides only a diagnosis; cure is left to us.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Another Review for Phineas at Bay

Novelist Tyler R. Tichelaar, has posted a review of Phineas at Bay, in which hewrites:
"Phineas at Bay" is an intriguing sequel to Trollope's Phineas novels and indeed to the entire Trollopian world.

The Phineas novels are not among my favorites by Trollope, but Wirenius introduces so many of Trollope's characters from not only the Palliser novels but also the Barchester series, The Way We Live Now, Orley Farm, etc. that it's a treat just to try to pick them all out and try to remember which ones are Trollope's, separating them from the few new ones Wirenius invents. Major characters include Plantagenet Palliser, Madame Max, Lizzie Eustace, Lady Laura, and Samuel Grantly, among many others.

I also found Phineas more likeable and appealing in this book than previously. He seems more focused in his legal and political efforts and a bit more mature. The novel is set in the 1890s and many historical and literary references are made that are fun to pick out as well.

I did feel the characters needed more development in terms of their internal worlds - I never felt the absolute misery that Trollope can sometimes show us in his characters' heads, but I was delighted by many of the characters and the plot twists. Best of all, I loved the ending. I think it is exactly how Trollope would have left Phineas had he written one more novel about him.

If you love Trollope and enjoy sequels to the classics--this is one of the best--you'll enjoy this book. If only Trollope had written it or a few zombies or vampires had been thrown in, I'd give it 5 instead of 4 stars.
Well, I am not, alas, Trollope, and the zombies are reserved for the sequel--but in all seriousness, having a professional's praise is very meaningful. Tyler participated in the discussion of Phineas at Bay on the Trollope and his Contemporaries reading group, and one of the great pleasures of the group is getting to know him and my fellow Trollopeans by discussing novels of "the long 19th Century" together.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

No, I am Not Charlie, Nor Was Meant to Be...But I do support its Right to Free Speech

Today's rallies against terror in Paris are important, but. as Bernard Holtrop, a cartoonist from the staff of "Charlie Hebdo" points out, it doesn't help matters to identify with the magazine if it isn't something you really don't know:
The Dutch-born, Paris-based cartoonist explained that the shocking magazine has unexpected “new friends” following the Wednesday massacre that killed a third of its staff: the pope, Queen Elizabeth and Russian President Vladimir Putin have all praised the magazine.

“It really makes me laugh," Holtrop told the newspaper, according to a translation by AFP. "A few years ago, thousands of people took to the streets in Pakistan to demonstrate against Charlie Hebdo. They didn't know what it was. Now it's the opposite."

He added: “But if people are protesting to defend freedom of speech, naturally that's a good thing."
I don't know the content of Charlie Hebdo. Maybe I'd love it, maybe I'd hate it.

It doesn't matter.

Those who would silence speech with violence are the enemies of civilization.

A free press is the sine qua non for a real democratic-republican form of government. If criticism, even deeply unpleasant, angry, scalding criticism, can't be aired, then we are not free.

And that's when the government is doing the silencing. If self-appointed vigilantes are doing the silencing--the point is even more important. Because that means civil society is going, let alone democratic-republican society.

Standing up for free speech is critical--but it has to apply not just to speech we favor, but speech we abhor.

A Pome, From Life

Crying baby on the train,
Will no one rid me of the pain?
Gurgles, wonders, blows a fart,
Then howls to tear a mother's heart.

The poor sod in the seat behind
Struggles to keep her out of mind.
Vexation seems a bit too strong
And yet this din goes on too long.

We all were once so small and wee,
and no doubt reeked of stale nappie,
And so we must forbear to curse,
and confine our reveries to verse.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Another Review for "Phineas at Bay"

Ooh, I like this...
Politics. Sex,Scandal and a Trial: What more could you ask in a book?,

I loved this book for all the wrong reasons. Not merely as a continuation of the Palliser series of which i have read one and a half: not all. I love a good trashy novel with historical facts and a civics lesson on what it costs to live in a democracy.WORK!
I am more a Jackie Collins fan than an Anthony Trollope fan and this book has the best of both those worlds. Phineas at Bay is fast paced yet requires a dictionary. It had a good trial with a surprise witness and lots of suspense and some bloody combat. it had costumes, scenery, travel, Americans who were not stupid, lots of passionate relationships , it paid tribute to the lost art of flirting and its importance to human relationships of all ages!. And women are allowed even encouraged to age and still be sexy and loving. You don't see that everyday or even any day. These days.These are the reasons I loved this book.
If you are lucky enough to have day in bed reading and you're smart and unpretentious enough to choose a fun read that you just might learn something from you won't be sorry to choose Phineas at Bay
You don't have to be a Trollopean to Phineas at Bay; no prior knowledge required!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

The 80s-ist 80s Song

First, a Happy New year, to all who are kind enough to read. It's been a whirl, this holiday season, so posting has been light. That said, I should note that today's post is hardly epochal, albeit it's about an epoch. I had a chance to go out for brunch with friends today, and the question was raised: What is the 80s-ist 80s song of all.

Having had to explain this to my nephew, I was sure I had the answer:

Seriously, beat that for sheer over the top crazy.

(My friends referred me to this:


I mean, you could counter with this:

…but that's really the end of the 80s, and rather lacks the sheer looniness of Ms. Tyler.

How about:

Not bad, I admit, but the 80s did its weirdness mostly unironically.