April 24, 2005

Maid Marian and Crotchet Castle, Thomas Love Peacock

Some of the ladies screamed, but none of them fainted; for fainting was not so much the fashion in those days, when the ladies breakfasted on brawn and ale at sunrise, as in our more refined age of green tea and muffins at noon.

The prose is varied and light, especially in Crotchet Castle; reminds me of light George Meredith. Thomas Love Peacock was a satirist of his day, which probably makes his stuff more readable than otherwise; some of his targets still exist, and others are innately funny to the modern taste.

Robin Hood is king of the forest both by dignity of birth and by virtue of his standing army: to say nothing of the free choice of his people, which he has indeed, but I pass it by as an illegitimate basis of power.

I didn't need so much humor about friars falling down; they are not infrequent in the story and wildly overrepresented in the illustrations. Peacock Marian and fallen friar

Maid Marian is only nice if you really like Maid Marian stories; I was more than a little charmed by the energy and martial skill attributed to Marian;

'She can fence,' said the little friar, 'and draw the longbow, and play at single-stick and quarter-staff.'
'Yet, mark you,' said Brother Michael, 'not like a virago or a hoyden, or one that would crack a serving-man's head for spilling gravy on her ruff, but with such womanly grace and temperate self-command as if those manly exercises belonged to her only, and were become for her sake feminine.'

Which sounds as though she's going to be a little dainty and useless, but actually she holds off Richard Lionheart when he meets her standing guard in the woods. She would have lost eventually, but that seems more than fair. Also, there is a valorous cottage-wife with no training but Amazonian strength wielding a spit as a spear. (That same scene uses the phrase 'beaten into mummy'; anachronistic, probably; very odd thing, the Victorian view of mummy.) Also, a remarkably simple explanation of why Maid Marian; not even Robin and Marian think outlawry in the forest is a safe condition for maternity, and there's some theological question about how married they are.

Crotchet Castle is both a satire of country-house romances and finally a straight-up example of the genre. The romances get the field in the end; until then the stock characters make fools of themselves like street-show puppets.

...he could not become, like a true-born English squire, part and parcel of the barley-giving earth; he could not find in game-bagging, poacher-shooting, trespasser-pounding, footpath-stopping, common-enclosing, rack-renting, and all the other liberal pursuits and pastimes which make a country gentleman an ornament to the world, and a blessing to the poor...

I wonder who was expected to be reading this. Jokes regularly appear that are based on puns in the Greek transliteration of some name; they are usually translated in the footnotes, though. Perhaps for the better-educated clerkly class of what they thought of as small means and we think of as liberal tendencies?

Illustrations by one F. H. Townsend in the 1890s.

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April 19, 2005

The Oxford Book of Comic Verse, ed. John Gross

Mostly mild and Cantabrigian (sp?) comedy, but it all scans, and there's a little of anything.

There's a page on an old copyfight, Dicken's outrage at US unauthorized reprints. From The American's Apostrophe to Boz, Aytoun & Martin, both dead by 1909:

That, I s'pose, you call free trading,—I pronounce it utter gammon.
No, my lad, a 'cuter vision than your own might soon have seen
The a true Colombian eagle carries little that is green;
The we never will surrender useful privateering rights,
Stoutly won at glorious Bunker's Hill, and other famous fights;
That we keep our native dollars for our native scribbling gents,
And on British manufacture only waste our straggling cents;
Quite enough we pay, I reckon, when we stump of these a few
For the voyages and travels of a freshman such as you.

This was, I gather, the basis of our official position at WIPO, except that we feel everyone else ought also to spend dollars on US productions and cents on their own.

ISBN: 0192832077

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April 11, 2005

empiric

Originally one of three ancient schools of medicine (neither the Dogmatics nor the Methodists). From, oh, the sixteenth to somewhere in the eighteenth c., meant about what it does now (an experimentalist; one whose beliefs about the physical world are based on observation). After that it picked up a derogatory tone because Physicians were theoreticians, not "rude empirics". And in the eighteenth and ninteenth c. it was used as a boast and an accusation with all the scruple one expects of advertising and faction.

I looked it up because I was surprised by "rude empiric" in one of the Patrick O'Brien naval novels. I suppose surgeons and apothecaries were allowed to be empirics.

O'Brien is not cited by the OED for 'empiric', but he is a source for 'obnubilate'.

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Third volumes, more alike

Neither A Spectacle of Corruption and The Damascened Blade, each third in a series by, respectively, David Liss and Barbara Cleverly, are as interesting as their first two volumes. They're both converging to a normal pattern of series adventure/mystery novels, of a tough but connected solitary man with a new wistful or cynical romance every book.

This is all right, but was done so completely by Raymond Chandler that I'd rather have had more of the social commentary that the total-outsiderness of the first novels had. For one thing, there's more contemporaneous fiction from either period that follows the well-connected. For another, the closer they get to being comfortable in their worlds, the less useful they are as commentary on their eras seen (will we nill we) from ours.

If I were fonder of either character, I would be less ruthless in wishing them interesting lives.

Damascened... has a lot of fun playing the blood-and-honour mores of the Scottish and Pathan highlands against each other. It tickles my memory that some pre-War fiction had even more fun with it, being much less shy about bloodshed and revenge, but I can't put my finger on it. Probably Kipling, of course:

But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
       When two strong men stand face to face,
       tho' they come from the ends of the earth!

LCCN: PS 356 I7814 S64 2004 (A Spectacle of Corruption)

ISBN: 078671333X (The Damascened Blade)

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April 08, 2005

PDEs not PDQ

Evolutionary Theory: Mathematical and Conceptual Foundations, by Sean H. Rice, tries to not use any more math than is needed. This only holds off the PDEs until the case of multiple alleles at one locus, p. 24.

Theoretical Ecosystem Ecology: Understanding Element Cycles, Göran I. Ĺgren and Ernesto Bosatta, is PDE-free all the way to a concept of substrate quality, page 37. Those aren't bad, actually; the persnickety equations are often just ODEs.

Theoretical... compares its results to quite a lot of empiric data, considering that it's a short book on mathematics. Also, there's some odd, odd Nordic poetry (in translation) and some worked exercises; very useful, and I must get back to it after this quarter's class in PDEs.

Somewhere else asserts nitrogen:food-energy:water::carbon:fossil-fuel-energy:air. In the soil, it's more like potential and ?metabolic? energy, but they're still wonderfully linked.

ISBN: 0521580226 (Theoretical...)

LCCN: QH 344 A35 1996 (Theoretical...)

ISBN: 0878937021 (Evolutionary...)

LCCN: QH 366.2 R523 2004 (Evolutionary...)

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April 05, 2005

Wodehouse public-school novels

I hiss about id-fic yearnings for aristocracy, I offend my friends with my kneejerk antagonism towards what I think is the reconstruction of a gentry system in the US, but I certainly get the charm of the stories as a form of relaxation.

I can enjoy it in P. G. Wodehouse's novels about public-school life, which are even more inane than his famous Jeeves novels, and try to be more serious. They partly fail to offend me because there are so few non-public-school-man characters in them to grovel. (A Matron speaks once; she doesn't grovel. Also, sometimes there are professional sportsmen.) I can't excuse my fondness for them, really; I can't explain it, since they're full of blow-by-blow cricket matches that I don't follow at all. They're very pleasantly soporific.

The Prefect's Uncle has the best connection to the Jeeves stories; there's a wizened, jaded-too-young, nephew-aged city slicker who turns up in the train of various robber-baron acquaintances of Wooster. A Head of Kay's is very faintly interesting for the psychology of the school Houses always run by and named for living, present men; the management-by-charisma system is of course still tried by your more thrusting, innovative change-management firms, though as far as I know illicit fistfights wth subordinates are not as often used. I expect those are more relevant to the prefect system as training for being a subaltern on some desolate stretch of The Great Hedge of India or wherever. Stalky & Co. is more fun in that line, though, and G. A. Henty more plentiful.

The White Feather was my favorite of this weedy lot for three reasons. First, it has the most plot, because the protagonist makes such an embarrassment of himself and has to make several tries at saving his pride. Second, it has the boxing thing, as in David Liss' Restoration crime novels or Jeffery Farnol's Amateur Gentleman. This seems to be an older foundation of English manly pride, and more class-permeable, than cricket.

  "Since boxing is a manly game,
    And Britain's recreation,
  By boxing we will raise our fame
    'Bove every other nation."

Third, there is science education, although mostly offscreen. The science and engineering sides are sort of respected by the literature/classics characters who get all the traditional praise. There isn't really any science or engineering in the story, excepting a fellow student who conveniently has an auto and can give lifts off school grounds. I had rather wondered how England managed as long as it did in the Industrial Revolution and sequelae without training any of its own engineers; apparently it did, but no-one else wanted to hear about it? Is there a subclass of Scots boarding-school Stinks novels? No wonder the Tom Swift stories were so popular.

Project Gutenberg etext #6877 (A Head of Kay's)

Project Gutenberg etext #6985 (A Prefect's Uncle)

Project Gutenberg etext #6927 (The White Feather)

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April 03, 2005

Ten Basque Melodies, Jesús Guridi

20th century classical music, or even very late 19th. c. by training, informed by Basque nationalism and often based on Basque folk songs. The liner notes describe it as Romanticism with "touches of modernistic acerbity". I can hear a reasonable quantity of that, and the tunes are delightful and not overpadded by the orchestration. Unfortunately the total sounds just like really good movie music. Ths must be partly an accident of era, that the first big movies were scored in this period. However, Así cantan los chicos especially seems subsidiary to something, as though the 'plot' was driving the music rather than unfolding from it.

I often think this of famously programmatic(?) music, e.g. Vivaldi's Four Seasons. I should try not reading the liner notes, in case I'm warping my perception.

Wonderful tunes, though.

Naxos 8.557110

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April 02, 2005

dwine

'Dwine'! That's the onomatopoetic archaic 'dwindle'. 'Dwindle' can sound kind of fun, but 'dwine', I think not.

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April 01, 2005

Roger Zelazny's The Dawn of Amber, John Gregory Betancourt

Up to p. 118, this is inexplicably dull. At that point I gave up.

It's dull partly because it's remarkably like the opening of Nine Princes in Amber, without elaborating on (much less playing against) the expectations set up by the similarity. Also, the main character is duller; doesn't crack wise like the original, isn't nearly as convincingly sneaky and suspicious.

We know how this part of the story turns out; there ought to be more surprises getting there.

Also, the type is large, the margins generous, the paper average, and the book is still shortish; I fear the whole thing is an attempt to respin a hommage into as many hardbacks as possible.

ISBN: 0743452402

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