October 24, 2003

Joy of Cooking, Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker

...at least one young cook... called a home economist at the local utility company and complained that her grocer was unable to supply her with potato jackets!

(From the recipe for "Baked Potatoes".)

"Newlywed Cooking" used to be a standard joke genre. I never have heard why the sweet bride hadn't learned these things before she left home, esp. as cooking required many hands before chopping machines. But what really puzzles me about this quote is - why was the home economist employed by the utility company?

The extension services still do useful New Deal things, e.g. check whether your pressure-cooker is likely to blow up, and I could see a home economist being employed there, possibly covering a toxics hotline as well. Were public utilities conflated with extension services? Did the newfangled electric utilities hire home economists to provide user support for baffling new appliances? Susan Strasser might say; or Mechanization Takes Control.

ISBN: 0-672-51831-7

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October 23, 2003

In a garden so green, Anonymous

So in my armis two did I the lusty jo
And kissed her tymis mo then night hes hours.

One kiss per hour is a low frequency.

The Baltimore Consort. On the Banks of Helicon. Dorian, 1990.

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October 20, 2003

The Footnote, Anthony Grafton

Not exactly a history of the footnote, but a history of the historical footnote, or of footnotes as a symptom of being a respectable historian - later, a requirement of being a professional historian. Much is obscure to the non-historian. Grafton delicately reminds one of this by describing the ability of Italian historians to offer insult by omitting a reference that only those in their particular clique know to expect.

The rhythm of the book is pleasant for an amateur, though; it goes backwards in scallops - starts with current practice, says moreorless ~All this is of course due to the work of Ranke~, describes Ranke's scholarly evolution in its chronological order, winds up ~but of course Ranke was not as original as he claimed~, continues the pattern of orderly forward progress interrupted by great backward leaps. If I knew enough about his subjects to have come up with the earlier cases on my own, this might be a series of happy resolutions, or it might seem like unneccessary manipulation of a naturally more simple story. Can't tell.

Of footnotes in general:

He had to agree that the provision of documentation was more likely to provoke dissent than assent from a modern reader. Cited documents necessarily suggested that a problem could be solved in ways other than that chosen by the historian.

One can read the whole thing with one's mind on blogging and online discussion and directed links etc., but I don't thnk it's worth it to do so, unless you're actively seeking historical analogies. There are lots of vivid cultural battles that were fought partly in terms of whose histories were believed and on what grounds, if you are so seeking. I best like Pierre Bayle's Historical and Critical Dictionary, which Grafton gloriously describes as only a thin and fragile crust of text on which to cross the deep, dark swamp of commentary. Bayle was an exiled Huguenot who fell out not only with the obvious Catholic power in France but with at least one Protestant institution. He set out, early in the 1690s, to provide a dictionary of all the mistakes in other works of reference, above all those in the vastly popular Grand dictionnaire historique...Anything the reader learned elsewhere and did not find contradicted in Bayle would be true. - oho, no wonder he irritated his allies, but one does see modern applications. Happy story, actually, the project made him a living and sold spectacularly well.

I am left curious about the form - let alone the history - of footnotes or their equivalent in classical Chinese scholarship. The nearest reader of any kind of Mandarin hypothesizes verba interlinearis, but cautiously. Maybe Jonathan Spence has covered it.

ISBN: 0-674-90215-7

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October 17, 2003

Girl Genius, issue 10, Phil Foglio, Kaja Foglio, Laurie E. Smith

The innocent heroine becomes rough and short-tempered; the Ruritanian villain tenderly bears an infant boy on his back. Zeppelins founder, but mostly off-page. Serious bloodshed, partly on-page. No tentacles?

It's clear that even the masterminds in this world really have only a faint clue about what's going on. Even Homer nods; even Studio Foglio brushes realism.

I could do with less gore, on the whole, although it was certainly the logical outcome of jokes I've enjoyed so far. But, as my other half just remarked of the second volume of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen graphic novel, the "top that" habit with gore, sex, and violence leaves less and less room for the plot. I noticed in issue 10 that the fight scenes were most cursorily drawn. (This also makes one read past them briskly, which is probably Sequential Artist Fu for a fast-paced fight scene.) But the icy lake at the edge of the waste is wonderful.

ISBN: 1890856274

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October 16, 2003

The Columbia Guide to Digital Publishing, William E. Kasdorf, ed.

A probably-useful summary of how digital publishing could work and what tools are available now. Very much aimed at existing publishers, in the part I read. I am more interested in how one makes a digital library, especially of public domain work, which is not quite the same thing, but I was happy to see some acronyms turn up where I expected them.

I only got halfway through, as another hold was put on it at the library before I could extend my original borrowing. I am taking it back promptly like a good citizen, not leaving it in my "I'll finish it tomorrow" ziggurat like a Rhinedwarf.

Found because of Dorothea Salo, who is one of the contributors.

ISBN: 0-231-12499-6

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From Dict.org:

The art or process of coating the inside of glass vessels with engravings or paintings, so as to give them the appearance of painted ware.

Either they're leaving something out of the definition, or that's impressively useless fancywork; it would be easier to paint the outside of a vase than to engrave the inside. Possibly they mean gluing prints of engravings to the inner side of the glass, to use the new Victorian mass of cheap illustration and avoid the need for a kiln.

Why, just so; "reverse decoupage". In a hundred years or so, Lisa Frank stickers.

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The Daisy Chain, Charlotte M. Yonge

And its sequel, The Trial.

A Victorian family saga, with tragic but no really shocking occurrences. The shifting weight of duty between siblings and their surviving parent, and God, is the main subject; there are eleven siblings and some nearly-sibling friends, so there are lots of examples to work out the theme in.

The most central character is a academically brilliant daughter Etheldred who gives up every personal ambition - including a probable good, in all senses, marriage - because a woman has to stay home and look after her father. She knows she's neither the most homebody of the daughters, nor will she ever have a hearth of her own to be central to, so it's a fairly effective novel of renunciation.¹

Tropes and clichés illustrated in these two novels:

The fancywork bazaar. There are penwipers, and watchguards, and the pretty young things of acceptable social class who sell the doodahs wear matching flattering hats and costumes. Most incomprehensible fancywork: glass vases or bottles filled with calico and flour. Like the sand bottles from the Painted Desert? What's the calico doing?

US vs. Great Britain. Young US women have too much freedom, but are also much safer with it than they would have been in England; even honors, if each nationality could be smugly content with the comparison. On the other hand, in the early 1860s this American comment was premature: 'If you could go to sleep for a couple of years, you would wake up to find yourself in a city such as I would not fear to compare with any in Europe. Your exhausted civilization is not as energetic as ours, I calculate.'

Young Women Nowadays! they're so sensible and clear-headed, till they have grown hard. They have been taught to despise little fears and illusions, and it is not becoming. The ear-catching phrase of condemnation, of course, is that a girl is so nineteenth-century. (Surely a rumbustious Georgian girl would be even less to their taste. Maybe only wives and widows were actually rumbustious, despite the convent-skipping precedents in Aphra Behn.)

URI: The Daisy Chain

URI: The Trial

¹This does not reconcile me at all; I have accordingly made up a third volume in which she does get a life of her own. Flora is widowed and comes back home, Etheldred goes out to combine missionary work with philology in the South Seas. Possibly she marries Leonard, though I wouldn't insist on more than a deep spiritual friendship.

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October 15, 2003

Pur ti miro

The other catchy song from Saturday's concert by La Venexiana was Pur ti miro, as tender and twining a duet as one could like. I wasn't the only person afterwards hunting through recordings-for-sale for it; we didn't find one.

There are some MIDI or synthesized versions online. It's a popular wedding tune. Unfortunately, when not sung by wonderful (and so dashing) singers, the tune is more simplistic, less appealing, but not any less catchy. It went through my head for hours, like Pachelbel's thingy; beware!

If you do hear it at a wedding, keep a straight face, but allot points if it's a doubly second wedding. Monteverdi's opera L'incoronazione di Poppea recounts Poppaea's abandoning her lover, and Nero setting aside his wife and driving Seneca to suicide, so that they can marry. Eventually, of course, Nero probably killed Poppaea by kicking her downstairs while pregnant.

Opera World summarizes the whole, In Poppea's journey to the throne, Monteverdi and Busenello tell the tale of how lust and ambition conquer all that is just.

Claudette Colbert played Poppaea; not in this opera.

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October 13, 2003

Boots and Saddles

"Butta la sella!" translated in a concert program as "Saddle the horses!"; but later "Tutti a cavallo!" is "To horse, one and all!" I am curious:

  • what's the most literal translation?
  • is that where the bugle call "Boots and Saddles" got its name?

After a bit of web searching:

Google's translation gives "the saddleback throws". Throw the saddle? "Butta" is "it throws", throw the saddles onto the horses? throw yourselves into the saddles? I've wondered about "boots" since I was a kid: shouldn't you already have your boots on?

The entire phrase "butta la sella" only appears on Google in the context of this particular (suggestively martial) madrigal; "Boots and Saddles" apparently doesn't ever mean, "put your boots on and saddle the horses", but "mount your horses", and may have been particularly a U.S. term.

Not debunked, but unlikely. Still, I wish I had a recording of that song; the melody was suggestive.

Posted by clew at 11:27 AM | TrackBack

October 09, 2003

'Realism' vs. Moralism

Two anthologies from Distributed Proofreading which have not weathered time and politics equally well.

Southern Lights and Shadows, ed. William Dean Howells and Henry Mills Alden, claims The most noticeable characteristic of the extraordinary literary development of the South since the Civil War is that it is almost entirely in the direction of realism. Unless this was an excuse to refer to their mountaineers, their slattern country wives, their shy rustic men and maids, their grotesque humorists, their wild religionists, even their black freedmen, under cover of compliment, I'm astounded this made sense even in 1907... the best of the stories are about rural slyness, the worst are off the back of an Aunt Jemima box, the middle is Scott boiled till lumpy. (All the men have military titles and expensive horses, there's a midnight elopement, the fair maiden turns her horse steed across the way as the pursuers fire; none know her wound until she faints at the altar, just as her father breaks down the church door to underscore the minister's pronounciation of the holy sentence!

But she's all right, and there's a wedding announcement in the paper. )

Stories Worth Rereading is explicitly moralistic and Christianizing, but didn't get up my nose nearly as much as the first. It lives up to its own claims better. A good part of the baggage it carries along with its claims is less annoying, too; slaves preach as well as being preached to - and the evil master falls down with an agony in his guts, repentant. Plucky shoeless boys get good jobs based on their characters and diligence. Young women new to paid employment are told to get used to constructive criticism, and buckle down to it. The first American Indian to speak in court wins his case, is represented as a hero, and neither has to convert to Christianity nor to die painfully to deserve it. It's predictable and moralizing and twee, but it isn't mean. In fact, if I consider the stories as moral lessons for the people in power as well as the plucky underlings, it's perfectly healthy.

If the underlings were reading "Suffer Pluckily" stories while the scions of the rich were reading Nietszche or the like, not so healthy for the underlings. There's an argument for national curriculum.

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The Nun; or, The Perjur'd Beauty, Aphra Behn

A headlong novel about Ardelia, so lovely that any handsome man who sees her loves her, even if he's hunting down her last lover for having abandoned his sister Elvira¹. (She is inconstant tp every love, even to a holy Vow.) Her final fatal folly is to tell two rivals to get her over the same convent wall at the same quarter-hour; they meet, they duel, all three die calling for mercy, Elvira is left weeping:

This alarmed the Rest of the Sisters, who rising, caus'd the Bell to be rung out, as upon dangerous Occasions it used to be; which rais'd the Neighbourhood, who came time enough to remove the dead Bodies of the two Rivals, and of the late fallen Angel Ardelia. The injur'd and neglected Elvira, whose Piety designed quite contrary Effects, was immediately seiz'd with a violent Fever; which, as it was violent, did not last long: for she dy'd within four and twenty Hours, with all the happy Symptoms of a departing Saint.

Behn is known as 'the first English woman to earn her living by her pen', and really this is no compliment to English reading tastes - Christine de Pisan's works are none so galumphing. I was thinking of blaming it on technology; Behn's readers paid less per word; slower text production might have higher quality; but no, there are classical pop romances that are just as awful.

¹ "Elvira" has turned up before - in Behn, but from a historical source - as the scorn'd Spanish maiden. When did it get into US pop discourse? Is the Gothick Elvira a direct descendant?

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A Fortune-Teller Told Me, Tiziano Terzani

There's a book by Pico Iyer that missed its mark - wanted to make a virtue, a nation or clan or creed, of travelling all the time, and tried too hard to be poetic and visionary about it. Terzani certainly travels all the time, and seems to slide between the beliefs of one place and the next with more ease than I'd manage. But Terzani also has a family home he keeps going back to, and settles into houses in several cities in between.

The hook, for a modern travel tale, is double and sharp; he was long ago told by a fortune-teller to avoid air travel in 1993, and - maybe just because it would make a good book - he didn't fly for that year (an extended year, to allow for Fate's unknown choice of calendar). But he's a foreign correspondent, so he had to travel all the time anyway: but he did it by train and slow boat, and saw things he wouldn't have otherwise. It's not a journey I expect to make or would be good at... I liked Vikram Seth's From Heaven Lake, too.

Terzani also kept going to fortune-tellers, with only enough bare possibility of belief that it doesn't seem actually rude. As he points out, more and more as he visits more and more of them, their predictions and warnings tend to make sense for their particular locales. The people who recommend the local seers are also compare-and-contrast exercises in their attitudes towards doing so. And the best fortuneteller is always somewhere exotic; Bangkok if you're in LA, but in Prague if you're in Bangkok.

ISBN: 0-609-80958-X

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Druid's Blood, Esther M. Friesner

We're in Victorian London, with Queen Victoria and the sense of propriety that gives Watson (and the sidekicks in Talbot Mundy novels) their ballast - but England runs on Druidic magic, which is to say earthy, and there's a certain Golden Bough air to the Queen's garnering her power. How England could have a recognizable Q. V. with such a different history is deeply odd, but it didn't bother me at the time.

It probably works by distraction; everyone who would be fun to write turns up. Byron, Ada, Wilde, Kitchener, shy 'tweenys, counterjumpers.

ISBN: 0-451-15408-8

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Ayala's Angel, Anthony Trollope

How can a story with no villain be interesting? By falling into the (probably earlier and larger) category of gossip, as most love-stories and stories of manners do. It is obvious on introduction that Ayala and her sister will overcome their orphan state and probably marry well and gain a moral victory over their relatives; but then, Pride and Prejudice has few plot surprises either. (At least the Dormers don't conveniently fall in love with their landed swains.)

I like Trollope best when he's being wry and broadminded both at once - as when he pities and mocks Tom Tringle for being such a tacky lubber, but also shows us why a tacky lubber is heroic when steadfast in his accordingly hopeless love. The heroine Ayala is also largely a silly widgeon, and would not have come out so well if she weren't irresistibly pretty and charming. Well, there are silly widgeons on all sides - there are at least six marriages in the course of the story, and the best-matched couples are not the least silly. For that matter, the Victorian mechanics of marrying for money make almost all of the young people seem immature, since so few of them expect anyone to earn a living. The men who do earn their livings probably don't get much stage time since they aren't silly enough to hold the pace.

Excellent novel if you have the 'flu, in short.

Added much later, and tangentially: see Juan Martinez' autobiographical musing on being a hobbledehoy, as Trollope called his tacky lubbers.

ISBN: 0-19-281747-7

URI: http://ota.ahds.ac.uk/texts/1873.html

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October 03, 2003

Morality for Beautiful Girls, Alexander McCall Smith

Is this Imagist writing? I'm not sure there are any metaphors or similes, etc., in the whole thing, but the details paid attention to are vivid. (Was Imagism ever anything but a frail offshoot of preWar modernist poetry?)

The conversations are also exact, although many of them are about philosophy or morals so they aren't concrete. Very good. Not much happens - maybe not more than in The Last Days of Publishing - but I was enthralled while it went on.

ISBN: 1-4000-3136-2

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The Last Days of Publishing, Tom Engelhardt

I thought more should happen. Either publishing (as the high cultural endeavor associated with nice bindings) should actually have failed and the protagonist should have dealt with that; or the foray into starting a DIY publishing house should have happened in the book, or the writing should have been more of a thing in itself.

ISBN: 1-55849-402-2

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The Monk Downstairs, Tim Farrington

This is, technically, more of a bodice ripper than the costume romance I read just before - a button might be lost, in the most consensual and conversational way. The conversations follow a guarded balance between honesty and tact, in an educated California etiquette. Every so often there's a short letter on the anguish of lost religious faith, like a palate-cleanser between sweet courses.

The "readers guide" of questions is a quaint thing. It opens with an essay by the author comparing his life to the novel, but the " Topics for Discussion " don't mention the author at all or anything about how the writing might shade or evade answers that would have to exist of real people. Farrington isn't an especially plain or transparent writer; the sentences aren't complex but they are much studded with metaphor and lightly with allusions to philosophy and religion.

ISBN: 0-06-251786-4

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The Seduction, Julia Ross

Costume melodrama - lace cuffs on men, jeweled swords, corsets. These fine clothes are removed - in slow stages, and after lengthy barbed conversations. Masculine prowess is displayed in mowing a hay field, which scene made me both laugh and fan myself.

The plot, and the characters, will have the charms of familiarity.

ISBN: 0-425-18469-2

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October 01, 2003

The Humane Interface, Jef Raskin

I liked the introduction to GOMS measurements for comparing interfaces for a given task - it quantified how much slower mousing is than keystrokes; say, 0.2 seconds per keyboard character, vs. 1.1 seconds to point to something onscreen (I don't mention the time for switching from keys to pointer; the book doesn't mention mouse-clicking time as a separate action). This is one of the weak points of the Mac GUI and why I like Launchbar.

The best part of GOMS was not measuring the time, but taking the breakdown of thoughts and actions and distilling the information content of the task; and then comparing that to the information content of the intended task, to get an efficiency measure for the UI. Clearly this chapter only brushed the surface of nailing that down, but I really like the idea.

Other stuff may be profound insights into human-machine interaction, or carefully thought out responses to tiny but unhealed irritations. (Or some Ozymandias complex: the authors' ancient Canon Cat system sounds like a well-reasoned beginner's system of the old day, which neither I nor the household sysadmin have ever heard of, so... sank without trace, eh?) E.g.: cables should not have gendered ends; modes are an insult to human cognitive habits; dialog boxes with a message and a single button are stupid.

ISBN: 0-201-37937-6

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The Lord of Castle Black, Steven Brust

Brust is playful with the melodrama, the language, the references to Dumas - which he rearranges at his convenience as Dumas rearranged his references to history - and possibly the connections to Brust's related novels, or maybe I am following a red herring. Fluff, but honest work.

ISBN: 0-312-85582-6

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