The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Still My Doctor

Peter Capaldi with some very young fans, at the Doctor Who Experience, celebrating 10 years of NuWho:

I love how Capaldi stays in character, and keeps the kids engaged, all while retaining the spiky presence that makes him more of a challenging Doctor in the Hartnell-Baker-McCoy mode. His quick thinking on the potentially dangerous question "who was your favorite companion?" is admirable, as is the emotion he brings to his answer: His lost grand-daughter.

You have to love how he can relate to the kids without condescension.

The bits with Steven Moffat are pretty fun, too.

Monday, March 30, 2015

"All Things to All People": A Sermon

“I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.”—1 Cor. 9: 22-23

“For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. . . . I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some.”

The Devil has a lot to complain about. We see it in today's Gospel, where demons are exorcised without even being given a chance to speak to Jesus “because they knew him.”

Jesus just casually heals the sick, banishes the demons, and gets on with the real business at hand: Preaching the Gospel—the Good News.

And then we have the Epistle; St. Paul writes “I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some.” He’ll be under the law with you, if that’s where you are; he’ll be outside the law with you, if that’s where you are. And why? He says it flat out: “I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.”

When I first read this passage, really focused on it, in my high school religion class, I couldn’t help but think that St. Paul sounds a little bit like a con man here. We don’t generally hold people who try to be all things to all people in great respect. We value a certain integrity, a candor, even, in how people present themselves to us. And we’re not the only ones to feel that way—in the world Jesus lived in, Julius Caesar was scathingly described as having been “every woman’s man, and every man’s woman.”

I’ve just been binge watching the latest season of House of Cards. And in reading this passage I couldn’t help but think of the hacker who worms himself into a young woman’s life by pretending to share her addiction, and manipulates her for information. He calls this social engineering. It’s uncomfortable to say this, but I thought of St. Paul being “all things to all people” as I watched.

Right off the bat, I know that it’s not the same, of course. Paul is doing it for the good of those he engages. The end is good, whatever we think of the means. It’s all for the sake of the Gospel—but it does seem a bit manipulative, maybe.

In C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters, we get the story of a conversion to Christianity in the days before and during the Second World War through demonic eyes. The story is told by Screwtape, a Senior Tempter in the bureaucracy of Hell, and advises a junior Tempter who is trying to land his first “patient.” One of Screwtape’s grievances is that God does not play fair in the battle over souls. He cheats, Screwtape complains, and, worst of all, “He really loves the hairless bipeds He has created and always gives back to them with His right hand what He has taken away with His left.”

Well, that’s one way of looking at it—God cheats to save us. The demons don’t get a chance to speak, for the very reason that they know the truth about Jesus. St. Paul will be anything to you to get you to hear the Gospel—he’ll socially engineer his way into your life and—for your own good, of course.

And, I think there is a kernel of truth there. Jesus is, famously, a “lover of souls,” and God’s love for us is so strong that rules do get flouted in the story of salvation—Jesus saves the woman taken in adultery by the best bit of lawyering this lawyer can think of: Whoever here is without sin can start the execution. Nice one, that.

Jesus teaches us to forgive not seven times but seventy times seven times, a poetic way of saying an infinite number of times. So, yes: rules give way to the felt necessities of life—the Sabbath was made for us, not us for the Sabbath.

But I’d like to suggest that any analysis that basically agrees with Screwtape is probably one that hasn’t dug deeply enough.

So let’s look at the scripture again, with a more sympathetic eye. There’s a phrase that’s often used in counseling, or spiritual direction, “meeting people where they are.” It means that the counselor or spiritual director isn’t swooping in and laying down the law, but encountering the reality of the person the counselor or spiritual director is trying to help. Not sitting behind a desk or behind expertise, but listening. Building trust and not tearing defenses away too quickly.

I think that’s what Paul is doing here—it’s an extension of the lesson from last week, where Paul urged the Church in Corinth to give each other a break, to “take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.”

Paul’s account of his ministry reflects the same notion, that his freedom, his rights, his knowledge matter less than sharing the gospel.

The King James translation is actually a bit more emphatic about the sharing than the NRSV we heard read today is. Where the NRSV simply says “ I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings,” the King James makes the sharing central: And this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you.

The “with you” is the critical difference, I think. Paul wants to share what he has experienced in order that he can continue to benefit from the Gospel. It’s not enough for Paul to have found peace and redemption through his experience of Jesus.

The harsh defender of the law who encouraged the stoning of St. Stephen has become himself a lover of souls. Maybe he’s even afraid that if he doesn’t share the experience with others, he’ll relapse into that self-righteous, legalistic frame of mind.

Or, as we say in AA, you have to give it away to keep it.

So Paul is not saying that he will lie to people if that’s what it takes to bring them to faith in Jesus. He’s saying he will enter into their experience, empathize with them, and even identify with them. After all, he was the man under the law. He knows what that’s like. He’s been the outsider—dependent on the very Christians he had come to Damascus to persecute. And, finally, he knows what it’s like to be free. He’d like to keep it that way.

You have to give it away to keep it.

Jesus doesn’t have time to talk to the demons, and they don’t really have anything to say to Him. They know Him, after all. And the demons are really beside the point. They are the shadows that obscure the real self. They have to be dealt with, but the real mission is to spread the Good News—that we are free to be children of God, free to realize our own best selves through the love of God. Jesus is too busy spreading that Good News to wallow in the darker side of our nature.

So should we be. We all have our demons—our guilts, our fears, our disappointments in ourselves in our lives. We know those skeletons in our cupboards all too well, and we can wheel them out when we need to beat up on ourselves—stir up that self-hatred.

But we can push them aside, and listen to the people around us everywhere. Instead of raging at the people who push out buttons, we can all try to identify with them, hear what they’re suffering, what’s making them angry. We can respond with kindness, even if it’s an effort and not a hundred percent from the heart. Because when one of them does respond, it will be from the heart.

Good advice.

I might even take it myself.

After all, you have to give it away to keep it.

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

Friday, March 27, 2015

Buster T. Katt: A Memorial

[Buster T. Katt, foreground; Giles T. Katt, background]

When La Caterina and I came together at last, we each had three cats. I brought Giles, Ethan and Elspeth into the family, she brought Elvis, Betty and Buster. We lost Elvis last May, at 15. Now his litter-mate Buster has gone to join him.

Buster was our wild child--a yowling nuisance at times, affectionate and clever all the time. He would strand himself in a high place so that La Caterina would have to rescue him. He would insist on being picked up by me, knead my shoulders, often sinking his claws luxuriantly into my shoulders. (My heavy wooly bathrobe soon made that more bearable.) When we moved from Queens to Brooklyn, he burst the cat carrier in a scene that only James Herriot could do justice to.

A little over a month ago, I was celebrating Buster T. Katt's flash of his old style and diablerie in catching a mouse (a big one, too), and strutting through the apartment to the front door.

I was delighted to see that he remained what La Caterina and call "a cat among cats"--that is, still holding his place in the herd. Or the pack, or a pride, whatever a gathering of cats is called. Gaunt from causes our vet couldn't specify, he had nonetheless maintained his élan.

He even seemed to have put on a little weight two weeks ago.

He had to be put to sleep yesterday.

On Saturday, I noticed he had lost all the weight he had gained, and some, and that he was less agile than previously Still, he managed to get from the floor to the chair, the chair to the table, and the table to the back of the bench--just the right hope to walk across the thin rail atop the bench, and step onto my shoulders, as he has long loved to do, and purr in my ear as I caressed him.

But he was terribly light.

Wednesday, while I was upstate, he crashed--a necrotic mass in his mouth became evident, and he lost all energy. I came home the next morning, and got back at 2:00 pm, just in time to take him to the vet. La C and I knew the outcome, of course, but when the vet tech hazarded a guess that it might just be his teeth, an unrealistic, idiotic, hope flared in me.

I knew better, of course. I picked him up (the mass stank horribly, but he wanted a pickup one last time, and damned if I was going to disappoint him). I held him until the vet came, and then after she confirmed he was terminal and it was time, I held him on my shoulder while they prepared.

Enough. I won't harrow you with the details. The vet did what had to be done, and I spoke to him, my face against his, nose to nose, so that he knew he was not alone. He slipped gently out of life, and into the next life.

In The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis describes a visit to Heaven, in which he is chaperoned by George MacDonald, a Nineteenth Century novelist who was his teacher in many ways. they meet a woman in heaven, woman, trailed by a great throng of people, but also animals:
Is it? it?” I whispered to my guide.
“Not at all,” said he. “It's someone ye'll never have heard of. Her name on earth was Sarah Smith and she lived at Golders Green.”
“She seems to be...well, a person of particular importance?”
“Aye. She is one of the great ones. Ye have heard that fame in this country and fame on Earth are two quite different things.”


“And how...but hullo! What are all these animals? A cat-two cats-dozens of cats. And all those dogs...why, I can't count them. And the birds. And the horses.”
“They are her beasts.”
“Did she keep a sort of zoo? I mean, this is a bit too much.”
“Every beast and bird that came near her had its place in her love. In her they became themselves. And now the abundance of life she has in Christ from the Father flows over into them.”
Aye, that'll be La C, and so I am sure that Buster and I will meet again. But it is hard to say goodbye.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Book Gloat

Ok, I bought it. Well, of course I would.

I mean, it's the actual, Anthony Trollope version of the last of the Palliser Novels. The sequence of novels are my favorite of his works, and among my favorite novels, period. (There are only a few others that share the top tier with Phineas Finn and Phineas Redux).

The Duke's Children, the end of the series (though possibly not where AT planned to end it), is a great novel in its previously published three volume form. I own a copy of the copyright edition, published in Germany simultaneously with the first British edition to prevent pirated editions being published:

I'm very glad to have both versions, but I am especially glad that I'll have the chance to read it as AT intended.

Here's what Melanie Kirkpatrick, who will be speaking with me at the Trollope Society Dinner in May, has to say about the new edition:
Trollope’s drastic abridgment of “The Duke’s Children” “meant that, although most of the plot was retained and the book has been rightly admired in his shortened form, much of the in-depth characterization has been lost.” In cutting “The Duke’s Children,” Trollope did not eliminate any of the book’s 80 chapters. Instead, he deleted numerous passages and individual words. In doing so, he excised thousands of details about his characters.

The richer characterizations found in the restored version include that of the eponymous hero, the duke of Omnium, who is a former prime minister also known as Plantagenet Palliser. The duke is an aloof, enigmatic figure who plays key roles in the preceding Palliser novels. But it is only in “The Duke’s Children” that his inner life is explored in depth. That is part of the book’s appeal—to see a familiar character, a man readers thought they knew—emerge as a more fully formed person.

As the book opens, the duke’s wife—the vivacious Lady Glencora—has died, and the duke is left to deal with his three nearly grown children, their unsuitable suitors and their youthful peccadilloes. The duke, who has always been better at political maneuvering than at managing personal relationships, is at sea. The duke’s three children—Lord Silverbridge, Lord Gerald and Lady Mary—seem beyond his understanding or control. Trollope’s subject is the joys and sorrows of fatherhood.

“The Duke’s Children” is also about grief, about which Trollope’s descriptions may be unsurpassed in English literature. The book’s moving opening line is the same in both versions: “No one, probably, ever felt himself to be more alone in the world than our old friend, the Duke of Omnium, when the Duchess died.”

The restored version explores the duke’s grief in greater depth than in the abridged version. There is a poignant passage in which Trollope describes the duke’s guilt at having taken his wife for granted: “In those former days many a long evening he had passed all alone in his library, satisfied with blue-books, newspapers, and speculations on political economy, and had never crossed the threshold of his wife’s drawing-room; but now, when there was no longer a threshold that he could cross, he felt himself to be deserted.”

Silverbridge, the duke’s elder son and heir, emerges as a far more likable and sympathetic character in the restored version. “He comes alive,” said Mr. Amarnick, in a way he doesn’t in the cut version. Silverbridge starts out as a boy but becomes a man by the end of the book “and you see the steps along the way” to his maturity. It’s the “accumulation of subtle details that makes the difference.” Trollope is sometimes criticized for not devoting enough attention to his male characters, who often pale against the vibrant women who walk through his pages. In the extended version of “The Duke’s Children,” Trollope’s young men are as complex and credible as his women.

Both versions end happily, with the duke finally agreeing to accept Silverbridge’s and Mary’s choices of whom to marry. In the abridged text, the book’s final lines have to do with the duke’s grudging acceptance of Mary’s new husband. The concluding words of the restored version, however, set a different tone. Gerald, the younger son, gets the last word: “‘It will be my turn next,’ said Gerald, as he was smoking with his brother that evening. ‘After what you and Mary have done, I think he must let me have my own way whatever it is.’”

This ending raises the intriguing possibility that Trollope didn’t intend to end the Palliser series with “The Duke’s Children.” Did he have another Palliser book in mind? Did he plan to carry on with the story of Silverbridge, Gerald and Mary? We’ll never know. The author died two years after “The Duke’s Children” was published.
My own Phineas at Bay continues the story, and I try to keep faith with Trollope. Reading the restored edition will help me in continuing to do so in my next work.

Monday, March 23, 2015

A Keynote Address on Phineas at Bay...

The 2015 Trollope Society Dinner Just Got even better; from the website:
Trollope Society 2015 Annual Dinner
May 18 @ 6:45 pm - 10:00 pm | $150

A Special Address by Melanie Kirkpatrick

We are delighted that Melanie Kirkpatrick, former deputy editor of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page and senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, will be joining us at our 2015 Annual Dinner. Kirkpatrick will report on the proceedings of the U.K. Trollope Society’s bicentenary dinner held in London at The Athenaeum on Anthony Trollope’s birthday, April 24, 2015. Kirkpatrick recently wrote an outstanding assessment of the new edition of The Duke’s Children for The Wall Street Journal entitled “A Bigger, Better Trollope.”

Keynote Address by John Wirenius, “‘I Run After Units’: Returning to Trollope Country”

The title of the address that our speaker, John Wirenius, has prepared for our Annual Dinner comes from Lady Glencora’s admonition to her husband in Phineas Redux: “We must go after our nature, Plantagenet. Your nature is decimals. I run after units.” Wirenius’s experiences in his early career as a public defender, and in recognizing his own call to the Church, were informed, he says, by Trollope’s compassion for flawed humanity. This empathy extends to characters others would relegate to the category of simple villains, but as Trollope observed in He Knew He Was Right, “The good and the bad mix themselves so thoroughly in our thoughts, even in our aspirations, that we must look for excellence rather in overcoming evil than in freeing ourselves from its influence.” With this view firmly in mind, Wirenius has continued the story of Phineas Finn, his wife Marie, and their friends (and enemies) in Phineas at Bay (2014). Wirenius picks up twenty years after Phineas’s acquittal for murder, deftly weaving a tale that involves a number of favorite characters from the Trollope canon with elements of romance, political intrigue, and labor strife.

The dinner will be held on May 18, 2015 at The Knickerbocker Club, 807 Fifth Avenue at 62nd Street, New York, NY. The reception will begin at 6:45 p.m., with dinner following at 7:30 p.m. Black tie.

John WireniusJohn Wirenius is a lawyer and will be ordained as a deacon in the Episcopal Church in May 2015. He is the author of a series of scholarly articles on freedom of speech, legal history, and, most recently, of theology and the intersection of law and religion. His love for Anthony Trollope’s writing dates back to his first year of college, where, as an English major, he stumbled on first the Barsetshire and then the Palliser novels. Phineas at Bay is his second book, and first novel.
Ms. Kirkpatrick and I may have very different political views, but we share a love of Anthony Trollope, and his nuanced characterization, capturing the inner lives of such disparate figures as Phineas and Marie Finn, Plantagenet Palliser, and the lamented Lady Glen. I look forward to making her acquaintance, and hearing about the proceedings in London, as we mark Trollope's bicentenary date in New York.

Tickets may be purchased at the link; hope to see you there!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Springtime is Icumen in?

[Photo by David Carson, March 20, 2015.]

Today is the first day of Spring? I hoped for something out of the Cuckoo Song:

Alas, it feels more like
Winter is icummen in,
Lhude sing Goddamm.
Raineth drop and staineth slop,
And how the wind doth ramm!
Sing: Goddamm.

Skiddeth bus and sloppeth us,
An ague hath my ham.
Freezeth river, turneth liver,
Damn you, sing: Goddamm.

Goddamm, Goddamm, 'tis why I am, Goddamm,
So 'gainst the winter's balm.

Sing goddamm, damm, sing Goddamm.
Sing goddamm, sing goddamm, DAMM.

--Ezra Pound, Ancient Music.

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Last Campaign

Old friend Anthony Clark has now released his long-awaited book The Last Campaign: How Presidents Rewrite History, Run for Posterity & Enshrine Their Legacies:
Learn the hidden politics & history of presidential libraries, our taxpayer-funded American shrines - including the untold story of a president who broke the law to build his library on a tract of spectacular land: a primary training base for the United States Marines. The president took it anyway - during a time of war - and created a new bureaucracy to cover up his actions; only his other, larger crimes put an end to his scheme. "The Last Campaign" examines what presidents do to keep us from knowing what presidents do: skewed history, self-commemoration, the influence of private money and political organizations, and a compromised government agency - the National Archives, which operates the libraries. Presidential library expert Anthony Clark recounts his attempts, as a private citizen and as a senior Congressional staffer, to rein in the system’s worst abuses. Unrestrained commemoration, unregulated – and undisclosed – contributions, and unchecked partisan politics have radically altered the look and purpose of presidential libraries, changing them from impartial archives of history into extravagant, legacy-building showplaces where the goals of former presidents, their families, financial donors, and the national parties trump accuracy and the (often inconvenient) facts. Using records discovered over twelve years of research and repeated visits to all the presidential libraries, the National Archives, and other sources, Clark deftly narrates the ways presidents rewrite history. And how their private, political foundations use government institutions to raise millions of dollars for political purposes. He tells the story of the most political Archivist of the United States, and why his deplorable actions still resonate, still matter to us, more than twenty years later. Americans deserve fair and accurate history in the libraries for which we pay; history based on records, not politics. But while presidents run for posterity, dedicating their self-congratulatory museums an average of four years after leaving office (complete with exhibits created to glorify them and their achievements), the records that show what actually happened won’t be opened for more than a hundred years…unless we decide to do something, and reform our presidential libraries.
I have known Anthony Clark since we were 15 years old, a shockingly long time now. He has always been a straight shooter and a principled, dedicated believer in the U.S. Constitution, and the institutions created by that Constitution. It is no surprise to me that he kept digging for over a decade, as a citizen, as a congressional staffer, and now once more as a citizen, to learn if our Presidential library system is functioning as intended, or has been corrupted into a device to rewrite history.

Guess which--or better yet, follow Anthony on The Last Campaign...

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Phineas at Bay: A Tasting Menu Redux

Between the announcement that I will be speaking at the Trollope Society's annual dinner and letter to the editor of the NYT Book Review,We've had a lot of interest in Phineas at Bay the past two weeks.

Needless to say, I'm delighted. And the spike in sales was very welcome. But, I'd like to encourage the curious who have not yet taken the plunge.

So, to whet the appetite, here is the opening:



Mr. Quintus Slide, newly returned from nearly two decades in Australia, where he had been fortunate enough to earn a considerable sum of money, surveyed his newly re-acquired kingdom. Many would have thought that the making of a fortune was enough to justify a man’s career, and would lead one to forget old grudges. Not Quintus Slide. He had been, until the mid-1870s, the editor of The People’s Banner, and when he had lost his job at the broadsheet for going past the line of scandal permitted even the second tier of journalism, it had rankled. So he had written a few scurrilities about a Duchess? As if that mattered, even if she was married to the Prime Minister! The Banner’s proprietor at the time had been weak-willed enough to give Slide the push, making him unemployable, thanks to his editorial zeal in doing the competition down.

With nowhere to go, he fled to the Antipodes, and had profited handsomely; his school of journalism seemed to take root and flourish quite naturally in Australia. And now, he had sold up, bought the Banner outright, and was proprietor and editor both. An unpleasant smile creased his face, and, walking into his old digs in the editor’s office, he called for his secretary.

“Miss Allen!”

“Mr. Slide?” Miss Allen was a petite, handsome woman, whose severe, almost predatory, face was framed by auburn hair and the spiked tips of the winged collars on her blouses. Her rare smiles showed that she could, under different auspices, have been taken for beautiful. As it was, she remained both handsome and a little chilling. Smoothing her tailored skirts to guard against the untidiness she so hated, she seated herself in the chair opposite him on the other side of her desk.

“The file, Miss Allen. Tell me what you have found out about them.”

“Very good, Mr. Slide. You have asked me to research several individuals, and their current status or involvement from a political or social point of view. These individuals were all, I believe known, to you in your previous tenure as editor.”

“Yes, yes; what have you found?”

“Shall we begin at the social summit? His Grace Plantagenet Palliser, the Duke of Omnium. Liberal Member of the House of Commons for Silverbridge, until his uncle the prior Duke died, Prime Minister of the Coalition Government from 187--”

“I know all that, Miss Allen. Since the Coalition?”

“The Duke and his Duchess, Lady Glencora M’Cluskie as was, took an extended tour of the Continent when the Coalition fell. During that tour, the Duchess took sick, and died.”

“Indeed, Mr. Slide? My researches reflect that the Duchess was quite popular.”

“Not with me she b----y wasn’t. What next?”

“The Duke has effectively retired from politics since then—he held office in the early ‘80s, in Mr. Monk’s last Government, as President of the Board of Trade--”

“Rather beneath a Duke, eh, Miss Allen?”

“True, Mr. Slide. My informants tell me that the Duke hungered to be Chancellor of the Exchequer or even Prime Minister again, but the former position is barred to a member of the Lords, and as to the latter, the Duke is respected, but not popular.”

“No second go for Planty Pall, then. Good!”

“His children are all married: Lord Silverbridge to the daughter of the American Ambassador shortly after the fall of the Omnium Government, Lady Mary to Francis Tregear, Conservative M.P. for Polpenno--”

“Popinjay, more like! And how the Duke must hate having a Tory son-in-law! Go on, Miss Allen, go on.”

“And Lord Gerald Palliser to Lady Agnes Kirkness.”

“Never ’eard of ’er.”

“From Scotland, Mr. Slide.”

“Well, that explains that. What about”—and here Mr. Slide’s voice took on an especially eager, rather unpleasant tone, “Mr. Phineas Finn?”

“Mr. Finn held office under Mr. Monk—he was Secretary for Ireland, and First Lord of the Admiralty, as under Omnium. He might have risen further, but Mr. Monk’s retirement due to ill health led to a new Government, and Mr. Finn was not given office. Mr. Gresham did not approve of his independence.”

“Ha! No more did he in the old days. What about now? He used to be thick with Barrington Erle.”

“They remain on amicable terms, Mr. Slide, but Mr. Finn’s independence does not appear to please the Prime Minister any more than it did his predecessor.”

“I should have known. Erle always valued loyalty above all else.”

“He still does. One of my informants tells me that he was overheard at the theater saying that Richard III couldn’t have been as bad as he is painted, since his motto was Loyaulte me lie.”


“‘Loyalty binds me.’ You were particularly interested, Mr. Slide, as to whether there were any connection between Mr. Finn and any ladies.”

“Yes, well?”

“No hint of any impropriety. Mr. Finn appears in public quite often with his wife, the former Marie Goesler, who was in former days commonly styled Madame Max Goesler. She was very close with the late Duchess of Omnium. Mr. and Mrs. Finn appear to be well-suited. His niece, an orphan, lives with them. He spends most of his time in the House, in chambers, or at the law courts.”

“Eh, Finn, practicing at the bar? But his wife’s as rich as Croesus!”

“Yes, Mr. Slide, and very actively engaged in her business. She has prospered these past five years, especially, although I have not been able to trace all her interests. A formidable woman.”

“Takes one to know one, Miss Allen.”

Bowing her head in acknowledgment of the compliment, Miss Allen resumed her report.
“Mr. Finn appears to have taken over his pupil-master’s practice.”

“Probably got the bug after he was acquitted.”

“You mean of the murder charges, Mr. Slide? Yes, no evidence has ever been found to establish who murdered the Duke’s proposed successor as Chancellor of the Exchequer, a Mr. Wilfred Bonteen. Mr. Finn’s innocence having been established, suspicion rested for a time on a clergyman, the Reverend Joseph Emilius, but nothing could be proved against him.”

“Nothing, d’you say? He was convicted of bigamy, at any rate.”

“Yes, leading to the dissolution of his marriage to Lady Elizabeth Eustace.”

“A rum customer herself, Miss Allen—almost certainly stole diamonds from the family she married into, and then had ’em stolen from her—what I calls poetic justice.”

“Yes, Mr. Slide. The bigamy conviction was vacated when the sole witness recanted her testimony, and Mr. Emilius disappeared shortly thereafter.”

“Nothing between Finn and Lady Laura Kennedy? He interfered in her marriage, I know that, though not how, or how much. Her husband went mad, you know, as a result. Aye, and then died, poor d---l.”

“Lady Laura lives a quiet life, Mr. Slide. She was, it is said, her cousin Barrington Erle’s principal tutor in politics, and it’s also said that he owes his premiership to her, but that he sees her seldom these days.”

“A falling out, Miss Allen?”

“I do not think so, Mr. Slide. She sees the Prime Minister periodically. He seems simply to feel no longer in need of her tutelage.”

“And Finn?

“Normally sees her at family gatherings of the Brentford family. The current Earl of Brentford, the former Lord Chiltern, is a good friend of Mr. Finn’s, and the two families spend a fair amount of time together. Indeed, Mr. Finn is godfather to the current Lord Chiltern.”

“A Papist godfather to the heir presumptive of an earldom! What’s the world coming to, Miss Allen? I ask you, what’s the world coming to?”

“The godson has possibilities, Mr. Slide. He is often in the company of ladies of a bohemian tendency, and proclaims himself a socialist. He declines to use his title, in fact.”

“Oh, yes?”

“And he is, lately, often to be seen in the company of Lady Eustace.”

“Really?” Mr. Slide stretched out the word to twice its normal length, chewing it over as though it were a particularly succulent bit of toffee, and added, “And her old enough to be his mother, and a bit of a naughty one, if I remember aright. Yes, that could be quite useful, Miss Allen.”

“I am glad to hear it, Mr. Slide.”

“Keep yer feelers out there, Miss Allen. The People’s Banner is back in business, and Quintus Slide has a few scores to settle, if he can.”

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Post-text, Pastiche, Even Call it Fanfiction; It's All Rock and Roll to Me: A Note on Trollope Country

When I told one friend, early in the drafting, about Phineas at Bay, he was decidedly unimpressed at the idea.

"So," he said, gently enough, "you're spending your time writing Nineteenth Century fan fiction."

At the time I was a bit defensive, but let's think about that for a moment.

Yeah, I guess that's true--I am a fan of Trollope's writing, I am continuing his storyline and using his characters, in an effort to create a reading experience that feels like a natural extension of his work, while remaining true to my own authorial instincts and drive.

In literary criticism, of course, a less judgmental term, post-text, is used. And that works too--it's broader than the kind of direct sequel that I have undertaken, but would certainly encompass it.

But I'm not ashamed to be writing a post-text, or, for that matter, Trollope fan fiction, if you wish to call it that. Because frankly the genre has a long and honorable history. There have been many versions of the Oedipus story, and its offshoots--Jean Anouilh's Antigone, in which the great dramatist cast the eponymous heroine as the Frendh Resistance, Creon as the Nazi Occupation, and the guards as the collaborators (I played the main guard in a production in college), and did so in such a compelling manner that both sides embraced it. Or think of Eugene O'Neill's Mourning Becomes Electra, openly a reworking of The Oresteia. More modern works abound--George MacDonald Fraser's twelve volumes of the Flashman Papers are a post-text to Tom Brown's School Days, with stops along the way at The Prisoner of Zenda.

So, no shame here.

The phrase "Trollope Country," used as part of the title of my forthcoming talk at the annual dinner this year of the Trollope Society USA originated in discussion of on the online reading group, Trollope and His Contemporaries, and was coined by Trollope scholar Ellen Moody. She used it to denote both the familiar territory comprised by the Barsetshire and Palliser novels but also the less familiar, more atypical locations and milieus in which Trollope's less comfortable, less widely read novels are set--Prague, in the case of Nina Balatka, or revolutionary France as explored in La Vendee.

Often post-texts are discussed in terms of working in the "world" or "land" of the original authors. But something about Ellen's coinage of "Trollope Country" struck me. It took me a while to think of it, but it led me to a thought by that earlier continuator, George MacDonald Fraser in his underrated novel Mr. American (1980). The novel, told in the third person (and thus outside of the Flashman Papers, which are ostensibly Flashman's memoirs, although Flashy puts in an appearance), involves an American westerner who comes to his family's ancestral home in England. The passage that Ellen's coinage put me in mind of was this discussion between the protagonist, Mark Franklin, and his soon-to-be father-in-law, Sir Charles Clayton:
"You like land, Mr. Franklin?"

Mr. Franklin gave the question his usual careful concentration, and replied: "Yes, I guess so. I don't exactly think of it as land, though. We call it country."

Sir Charles laughed pleasantly, and nodded. "There speaks the new world. When it has been enclosed, and worked and farmed for centuries,it's land; when it's open, unbroken, waiting to be possessed, it's country.
And that's the thing about Trollope Country--it's country the way Fraser has his characters use the word. Oh, Angela Thirkell appropriated the geography of Barsetshire, and, toward the end of her writing career, she employed as characters descendants of Trollope's characters, but--well, honestly, her characters are not his,her concerns only incidentally overlap his, and she's only taken a tiny slice of Trollope Country and tried too make it land. As I have previously noted, Ronald Knox's Barchester Pilgrimage gives us only fleeting glimpses of Trollope's characters, and moves swiftly to later generations. (Fair dos: He does a nice job, through, in evoking an older version of la Signorina Madeline Vesey Stanhope Neroni, whose charms briefly bewitch John Bold the Younger--the story that comes closest to being a sequel to Trollope's own work in the collection.)

No, Trollope Country is wide open. In the words of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Trollope Country is "just as real as if some giant had hewn a great lump out of the earth and put it under a glass case, with all its inhabitants going about their daily business, and not suspecting that they were made a show of.”

It's wide open. Adaptations give the extant texts a new spin, new viewpoints, subtle changes, but there is room enough for a myriad of different perspectives and takes. In her essay on Phineas at Bay, Ellen wrote that the novel presents "a world just begun, meant to be continued and invites others to do likewise."

Just so. Just so.

Anglocat at the Feast: Speaking at the Trollope Society

From The Trollope Society USA:
2015 Annual Dinner
May 18 @ 6:45 pm - 10:00 pm | $150
“I Run After Units”: Returning to Trollope Country

Our Speaker: John Wirenius, Author of Phineas at Bay

The title of the address that our speaker, John Wirenius, has prepared for our Annual Dinner comes from Lady Glencora’s admonition to her husband in Phineas Redux: “We must go after our nature, Plantagenet. Your nature is decimals. I run after units.” Wirenius’s experiences in his early career as a public defender, and in recognizing his own call to the Church, were informed, he says, by Trollope’s compassion for flawed humanity. This empathy extends to characters others would relegate to the category of simple villains, but as Trollope observed in He Knew He Was Right, “The good and the bad mix themselves so thoroughly in our thoughts, even in our aspirations, that we must look for excellence rather in overcoming evil than in freeing ourselves from its influence.” With this view firmly in mind, Wirenius has continued the story of Phineas Finn, his wife Marie, and their friends (and enemies) in Phineas at Bay (2014). Wirenius picks up twenty years after Phineas’s acquittal for murder, deftly weaving a tale that involves a number of favorite characters from the Trollope canon with elements of romance, political intrigue, and labor strife.

The dinner will be held on May 18, 2015 at The Knickerbocker Club, 807 Fifth Avenue at 62nd Street, New York, NY. The reception will begin at 6:45 p.m., with dinner following at 7:15 p.m.

John WireniusJohn Wirenius is a lawyer and will be ordained as a deacon in the Episcopal Church in May 2015. He is the author of a series of scholarly articles on freedom of speech, legal history, and, most recently, of theology and the intersection of law and religion. His love for Anthony Trollope’s writing dates back to his first year of college, where, as an English major, he stumbled on first the Barsetshire and then the Palliser novels. Phineas at Bay is his second book, and first novel.
I am very honored to be asked to speak at the dinner of the Society, which not only promotes scholarship and discussion of the great Victorian writer's work, but does so with warmth and wit.

If you are interested in attending, you can register here. I can't guarantee the quality of the speaker--but the company will be superb.

By the bye, Amazon rankings fluctuate wildly enough to give an author agony and ecstasy in a short period. I'm currently ranked #35,789 in Books--by tonight I could sink below the 1 million mark. But for now, just for now, mind you, my sales are better than abject.

Something to savor.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Letter to the NYT Book Review On Marriage, Trollope & Phineas at Bay

From the letters page of the New York Times Book Review:
Bookends: Marriage

To the Editor:

I enjoyed Charles McGrath’s penetrating analysis of the marriage of Lady Glencora and Plantagenet Palliser, later the Duke of Omnium (Bookends, Feb. 15), but was surprised he did not point out how Trollope sets their marriage in counterpoint to the much less conventional pairing of Marie “Madame Max” Goesler and Phineas Finn. That happy couple constitutes a rare instance of a Victorian novelist celebrating the union of two outsiders — a Viennese Jewish widow and an Irish Roman Catholic — who become insiders, and their story takes center stage in two of the six novels.

The continuing fortunes and misfortunes of Phineas, Marie, the Duke and other characters from the Palliser books have become the subject of an intriguing follow-up novel, John Wirenius’s recently published "Phineas at Bay," set roughly 10 years after the end of the series. Wirenius’s book not only continues the story but fleshes out Trollope’s hints regarding the marriage of Marie and Phineas in a credible way, as well as providing an amusing subplot featuring everyone’s favorite adventuress, Lizzie Eustace (who made off with the eponymous diamonds in Book 3 of the series), and her former husband Joseph Emilius, who is not, as it turns out, quite as former as Lizzie thinks.

“Phineas at Bay” also movingly depicts the Duke’s life after his children are all married, and how he ultimately comes to terms with life after Lady Glencora’s death. Like Tolstoy, Trollope paints on a broad canvas and gives us characters who are first, last and always true to the drives and motivations their creator envisioned as he constructed them as lively and vivid individuals.

That's awfully nice to see in print, and I can only quote Michelle Gomez's Missy, "That is a good point well made. I'm proud of you, sister."

Thursday, March 5, 2015

In Memoriam, Edward, Cardinal Egan

I note with regret the death today of Edward, Cardinal Egan:
Cardinal Edward M. Egan, a stern defender of Roman Catholic orthodoxy who presided over the Archdiocese of New York for nine years in an era of troubled finances, changing demographics and a priesthood of dwindling, aging ranks shaken by sexual-abuse scandals, died on Thursday in Manhattan. He was 82.

His tenure in New York had mixed reviews. His priority was to restore financial stability to the deficit-ridden archdiocese, and he did it by closing or merging parishes and schools and by raising millions from corporations and wealthy laymen. But he also drew bitter complaints from affected parishioners and priests. He tried to recruit more priests, but with little success.

And as the sexual-abuse scandal widened, he tried to protect the church from liability. In Bridgeport, he was accused of withholding information about accused priests and moving some from parish to parish. In New York, he gave prosecutors files on accused priests, but critics said he was slow and reluctant to act.
All true, and Cardinal Egan's record regarding the sex abuse crisis was distinctly poor, though not among the worst. (He, and his generation, were particularly prone to the clericalism I have chronicled elsewhere.) It is a blot on his escutcheon, no doubt.

But the rather chilly obituary leaves out a facet of Cardinal Egan I had the opportunity to glimpse, and serves as a reminder, particularly timely as we near the end of the second week of Lent: We are none of us reducible to our worst acts.

Just about 4 years ago, I spoke at a conference at St. John's University Law School (details here; my own contribution here, or here).

Anyway, Cardinal Egan was the keynote speaker, and he was quite good. Not just in his manner, but he spoke, with a genuine passion, of the Catholic Church's social justice teaching, and of the importance of labor having a voice. (A brief account is here, a fuller version, but behind a paywall, here.)

After his lecture, in the Q-and-A, a young priest--an Opus Dei type (trust me, I'd been sitting one row above him all day)--clearly upset to be challenging a Prince of the Church, but shocked at the "liberal" views the Cardinal had expressed, asked horror-struck, "But--Your Eminence--how can we afford to pay for the higher wages collective bargaining leads to--especially in the public sector?"

Clearly appalled, the Cardinal wasted not a second: "We can begin by ending these damned unlawful wars, to start," he grated out, with a what-is-the-matter-with-you-anyway expression on his face.

At the end of the Q-and-A, the Cardinal greeted attendees. He had mentioned in his lecture a book that sounded useful to me, but I'd missed the title, so I approached him, a trifle shyly. I mean, c'mon. I was raised Roman Catholic, and this was my first meeting with a Cardinal, after all. I introduced myself, and the Cardinal asked who I was. I explained my talk (it was on social justice in Anglican Anglo-Catholic theology), and asked about the book. After shaking my hand, and regretting that he'd missed my talk (he'd been attending a panel himself), he whistled up his secretary.

"Can you hunt out a copy of the Compendium on Social Doctrine for this young man?" He asked.

It was an unexpected kindness, and most generously done, for a stranger belonging to a different communion.

Not bad, Your Eminence.

Rest in Peace.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

It's a Fool's Game

From Lewis Carroll, Through The Looking-Glass:
When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

’The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

’The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.”
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments today in King v. Burwell, a challenge to the provision of the Affordable Care Act that the Obama Administration has read to allow federal subsidies under the Act to purchasers of insurance enrolling in federally created exchanges in states which chose not to set up their own state-run exchanges (34 of them).

The challengers, recruited by conservative activists who hope to send the ACA into a "death spiral", may not even have standing, as came up today in oral argument. In any event, their theory of the case turns on reading the section subsidies will be provided through an "exchange established by the state" in isolation from the rest of the text, on the theory that it is the only operative language, and, as such, is unambiguous (and thus not warranting deference to the administrative interpretation that treats federally-created exchanges in such states as the functional equivalent of an exchange established by the state itself). In short: no subsidies for those receiving insurance through the federal exchanges.

Now, this is a question on which the conservative justices have not been silent. As I pointed out back in November, the dissenters in NFIB v. Sebelius, in an opinion by Justice Scalia, contrasted the Medicaid expansion provisions (deemed by them to be unconstitutionally coercive) with the federal exchanges at issue here:
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 inand operate an exchange in that State. See 42 U. S. C. §18041(c)(1). Likewise, knowing that States would not necessarily provide affordable health insurance for aliens lawfully present in the United States—because Medicaid does not require States to provide such coverage—Congress extended the availability of the new federal insurance subsidies to all aliens. See 26 U. S. C. §36B(c)(1)(B)(ii) (excepting from the income limit individuals who are “not eligible for the medicaid program . . . by reason of [their] alien status”). Congress did not make these subsidies available for citizens with incomes below the poverty level because Congress obviously assumed that they would be covered by Medicaid. If Congress had contemplated that some of these citizens would be left without Medicaid coverage as a result of a State’s withdrawal or expulsion from the program, Congress surely would have made them eligible for the tax subsidies provided for low-income aliens.
(Dissent sec. IV(E)(2)) (emphasis added))

Later in the opinion, in discussing severability, Justice Scalia's opinion--joined by Justices Thomas, Kennedy, and Alito--makes clear that the financial burden of the subsidies under the exchanges is a reason for finding the whole statute unconstitutional. The dissent does not suggest that federal exchanges are not encompassed in the universe of those receiving subsidies, which makes sense, because they would be ineffective as a "backup scheme" if such was the case.

So who's surprised that the conservatives will almost certainly read the statute in a manner clearly opposite to their dissent only three years ago?

At argument today, Justices Scalia and Alito were newly skeptical of the Administration's argument, with Scalia saying:
I mean it may not be the statute they intended. The question is whether it's the statute that they wrote. I mean, you know, there ­­ there ­­ there are no
provisions in the statute that turn out to be ill [-] ill­considered and ill ­­[-]ill­conceived.

. . . .

Is it not the case that if the only reasonable interpretation of a particular provision produces disastrous consequences in the rest of the statute, it nonetheless means what it says. Is that true or not?
(Tr. 45-47)

When the Solicitor General pointed out that that principle is delimited by the Court's duty to harmonize the provisions of a statute, Scalia replied:
Well, I disagree with that. You have a single case in which we have said the provision is not ambiguous, it means this thing, but, Lord, that would make a terrible statute, so we will interpret it to mean something else. Do you have one case where we've ever said that?
The Solicitor General did, in fact, have such a case. (Tr 48) Justice Scalia did not address it.

Likewise, Justice Alito:
Well, the puzzle that's created by ­­ by your interpretation is this: If Congress did not want the phrase "established by the State" to mean what that would normally be taken to mean, why did they use that language? Why didn't they use other formulations that appear elsewhere in the Act? Why didn't they say, "established under the Act"? Why didn't they say, "established within the State"? Why didn't they include a provision saying that an Exchange established by HHS is a State Exchange when they have a provision in there that does exactly that for the District of Columbia and for the territories? It says that they are deemed to be States for purposes of this Act.
(Tr. 60)

No wonder Laurence Tribe gave up halfway through writing a third edition of his seminal treatise on constitutional law; it was predicated on the notion that there was an actual good faith effort on the part of the justices to construe the legal instruments before them, and not to carve their own policy--or, worse, political, preferences into the law.

Bonnie Tyler may have been the more prescient legal commenter.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Statler or Waldorf?

On a 3 hour train trip (I know!) tonight, we were fairly crowded--every seat taken.

In the 4 pack seat directly in front of me was an older lady, a psychologist by trade, with some hearing issues, and her daughter. Seated opposite them, when we left, was a lung man, a college student, and his friend. They engaged in a spirited conversation for the first hour of the trip, quite loudly for the benefit of the hearing-impaired psychiatrist. After a bracing description of his high school career--the more talkative of the two appears to have attended Kellenberg Memorial High School, and to have studies under an old friend of mine, so the conversation had, at least some interest. (They spoke highly of my old friend, I am glad to say.) But it quickly turned sour. They were plumbing his mother issues, at full length, and at full volume.

I restrained myself. As did my neighbor, a lady younger than I by a few years.

I tried to concentrate on the first of two novels I had brought with me, a rather twee effort by a well-reputed writer. I managed to finish it.

And then the two youths left at the halfway point. Only for two more to take their place. College students, that is. Again, one talker, one silent type. The talker was in ROTC at whatever institute of learning he attended, and wanted to be praised for his aggressiveness.

The older psychologist batted him around a bit, calling him "passive aggressive" and exploring his fixation with needing praise from strangers. Again, at full volume.

After about an hour of this, I leaned over to my neighbor, "Do you think she'll strangle him?" She giggled and rolled her eyes.

The misguided youth persisted, leading the older psychologist--with some helpful interjections from her younger colleague--to deplore the barbarism of humanity, of which he was a prime specimen.

"Ah," I murmured, "she's going for humiliation, not murder."

"Safer," my seat mate replied.

"And legal."

Of course the little barbarian loved being diagnosed as a little barbarian. Enough to make you despair.

We snarked all the way to journey's end.

So does this make me Statler or Waldorf?