June 09, 2004

Tristam Shandy, Laurence Sterne

The anfractuous chronology—Life And Opinions Of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman is presented in such a welter of flashbacks and interruptions and aposiopesis that it must be some kind of Modernist, Mina Loy kind, maybe— is probably in some fascinating but long-since unimportant way a result of codex printing-and-binding technology. Similarly, it's a perfect PDA book. In any five-minute span, either the plot will tergiversate or the dentist will see you now. You do not need to keep all the oddities ordered in memory, as having your stack popped for you is one of the pleasures.

This is a relatively early PG transcription, and the ASCII-versioning is rougher than it really needs to be; they short-sheet a joke by leaving out asterisks, and don't transliterate Greek but instead put in "(Greek)", which has the same first-order effect for those of us who don't read Greek, but I still regret it. Some layout jokes survive well, though, in parenthetical comments like (Blank page crossed by a diagonal line); which was as funny in context as I always find mentions of 4'44".

I can't remember if Quicksilver or The Confusion allude to Shandy, except in their truncated hero. There's little other parallel, since the later books are actually quite linear and monolingual and explanatory when compared to the earlier. I suppose I was waiting for a second shoe to drop when I had only imagined the first one.

The rest of this is really for my memory, a list of the bits I bookmarked:

Thou enviedst no man's comforts--insultedst no man's opinions--Thou blackenedst no man's character--devouredst no man's bread: gently, with faithful Trim behind thee, didst thou amble round the little circle of thy pleasures, jostling no creature in thy way:--for each one's sorrows, thou hadst a tear,--for each man's need, thou hadst a shilling.

The seriousness is lost here, it struck me by following so much mockery.

the great saint Paraleipomenon

(P~, "things omitted", or two Biblical books)

Poo! poo! answered the king--there are more ways, Mons. le Premier, of bribing states, besides that of giving money--I'll pay Switzerland the honour of standing godfather for my next child.--Your majesty, said the minister, in so doing, would have all the grammarians in Europe upon your back;-- Switzerland, as a republic, being a female, can in no construction be godfather.--She may be godmother, replied Francis hastily--so announce my intentions by a courier to-morrow morning.

Consider the behavior towards the uppity republic in Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, and be glad to know that Switzerland holds her own in this exchange.

When Fate was looking forwards one afternoon, into the great transactions of future times,--and recollected for what purposes this little plot, by a decree fast bound down in iron, had been destined,--she gave a nod to Nature,--'twas enough--Nature threw half a spade full of her kindliest compost upon it, with just so much clay in it, as to retain the forms of angles and indentings,--and so little of it too, as not to cling to the spade, and render works of so much glory, nasty in foul weather.

(that for my Soils class)

Quanto id diligentias in liberis procreandis cavendum, sayeth Cardan.


O! there is a sweet aera in the life of man, when (the brain being tender and fibrillous, and more like pap than any thing else)--a story read of two fond lovers, separated from each other by cruel parents, and by still more cruel destiny--

each ignorant of the other's course,
Amandus taken captive by the Turks, and carried to the emperor of Morocco's court, where the princess of Morocco falling in love with him, keeps him twenty years in prison for the love of the his Amanda.--

And more similar. Perfect summary of the continuing low pleasures of novel-reading it is, and I should blog the collection of truly awful ancient Greek and Roman novels with lorn hero/ines and lecherous goats.

In the alphabetical list in ch. 4.XXXVII, the entry for I contains "(there is no K to it)" and the next entry is for L. Surely the J was formally recognized by then, so is it left out because it's near the middle or as a symbol of truncation? There is no eyebrow-wiggling suggestiveness I would put past Shandy.

My father, whether by ancient custom of the manor, or as impropriator of the great tythes, was obliged to keep a Bull for the service of the Parish...

The Bull is there for Shandy to wiggle eyebrows at, but I put it here to give the poor overworked creature a rest. No, actually because I thought it was an interesting example of traditional balances of rights and responsibilities. Having to keep one bull per cow would make milk fiendishly expensive, and beef nearly as much so. Very sensible to expect the person with the best fences and the most trading connections to keep the regional bull. I expect the local monastery fulfilled the obligation in the honestly medieval period, but it does seem a bit much to ask of the vicar.

I've read that keepers of very rare breeds of chicken mail their roosters around in rota every few years, to keep their flocks from getting inbred. The USPS, if I remember correctly, would rather not stay in the small-stock-transport business but the chickenbreeders and the beekeepers of Maine, who need new queens every year, have so far pled to keep the service running... Rights & responsibilities.

Project Gutenberg etext #1079

April 25, 2004

Evelina, Fanny Burney

In Which a young woman, beautiful, amiable, virtuous, timid and impetuous (young enough for that to be believable):

I am new to the world, and unused to acting for myself;-my intentions are never willfully blameable, yet I err perpetually!

unjustly scorned by those who should love her most--goes into the world and marries a rich lord after no worse trouble than sneers and embarassment. You'd expect her to have eyestrain, poor thing; it's an epistolary novel; in the heat of events I once paged back to see just how much she was supposed to have written her dear friend in the course of an evening. "Having to write letters" is a white-lie escape from social quandaries, in the plot.

An ur-Regency romance, if it isn't actually too early to be a Regency... everything but the form would be absolutely normal in the (highly constrained) Regency genre today.

We were then both seated; and, after a short pause, he said, "How to apologize for so great a liberty as I am upon the point of taking, I know not;-shall I, therefore, rely wholly upon your goodness, and not apologize at all?"
I only bowed.

Several times I thought serious trouble, nearly Gothic, was being foreshadowed; but no. (I shouldn't tell you that; the belief enlivened the telltale compression of the progress-bar.)

Jane Austen had a sharper pen, of course. Burney maybe doesn't like a sharp wit; her witty woman is almost always unkind with it. The humorous character is unAustenish, a coarse and cruel sea-captain. Perhaps not a Naval captain? There are a few courtesans who I thought stood up honourably; they escort her back to her friends when she gets lost in one of the obligatory pleasure-gardens. She's mortified when she finds out what's going on, but the women have kept her safe, and they have more fun quizzing her companions than terrified little Evelina.

Odd use: But Sir Clement is an impracticable man, and I never succeeded in any attempt to frustrate whatever he had planned. 'Impracticable' as 'one who cannot be practiced upon', I assume.

Bartleby.com has a page on Burney, from The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21), q.v.:

Starting from the general plan laid down by Richardson, she limits, she adds, she modifies, until the result is something entirely different.

Project Gutenberg etext #6053

(The author, from the National Portrait Gallery of the UK.)

January 21, 2004

Tales and Novels, vol. II, Maria Edgeworth

I think I now see; Maria Edgeworth wrote the moral tales of the new English middle class. Certainly the morals in this volume are practical and prudent: "Out of Debt out of Danger", "To-Morrow" against procrastination (even for romantical geniuses), "The Lottery" suggesting not only that lottery-tickets were a bad bet, but that the imprudent habits that lead to lottery-buying would waste a prize anyway. "Murad the Unlucky" argues that no-one is lucky or unlucky, but habits make them so. "Lame Jervas", my favorite, is an early technocratic bildungsroman. (There can't be many earlier ones in English...)

The painful parts: her kindly slaveowner who doesn't free the slaves; complete scorn of Jews. (Who we see only solitary - no Jewish firms, let alone Jewish families or neighborhoods. One could replace every reference with "miser", I think, and lose no part of the story.)

Unexpectedly egalitarian: her defense of Irish persons, however unformed their commercial habits were; the defense of most other races - as in "Lame Jervas":

these poor creatures! who, say what we will, have as much sensibility, perhaps more, than we have ourselves.

It is not only proper but common that women work for money if they aren't occupied raising children; one spinning for her husband's manufactury, one working in an upholsterer's shop, without late-Victorian palpitations about delicate feminine spheres. One farmer's daughter is competent enough on horseback to gallop six miles.

Another contrast with late-Victorian moral tales; hardly anyone dies. Or rather, they do not die because of their moral state, as they might in Charlotte M. Yonge or even Bret Harte stories.

Gratitude is a central virtue for her, but it isn't slavish or dependent. It isn't exactly based on a lesser being praising a greater one, although there is so clear a social hierarchy that most of the occasions for gratitude go up the ladder of power. Some of its force, I think, is from the small-scale, personal nature of the society she describes: governments, mines, manufacturies are small enough for their owners to be directly known. Gratitude might be the sweet perfume of sacrifice that leaves the meat for men, or it might be a humanization that makes the arrangement more comfortable for the people at both ends. Edgeworth's good characters don't go bad, so no-one has had the problem of expressing gratitude for a virtue their benefactor has now lost.

Gutenberg etext 8720; URI: http://www.gutenberg.net/browse/BIBREC/BR8720.HTM

January 08, 2004

Tales and Novels, vol. I, Maria Edgeworth

I don't know why I enjoyed these moralizing tales so much, although there is a Rational Toy-shop, which is a great name. She lays into a couple of specimen young persons for their Romantic twaddle, and it's newfangled twaddle to her, not a stage all young persons go through.

The greatest weakness, as stories, is that one knows on introduction who is going to be Good, once educated, and who Bad. No-one changes.

The oddity of the education is that none of the children are being principally educated by their own mothers. Most of them are motherless; two mothers have given over their children to governesses (one Good, one Bad). The lucky mother may be educated by her governess, so maybe she's an exception to the rule of fixed natures. The Good Governess has escaped from the French Terror, which may well be connected to Romantic politics, now that I think of it. Certainly Edgeworth is suspicious of the French.

My favorite tale was the last, "The Knapsack", which is actually a play about the return home of a Swedish regiment. I like it because it's a good format for uncomplicatedly good characters, like the perky-peasant operas. There are even songs:

There's the courtier, who watches the nod of the great;
Who thinks much of his pension, and nought of the state:
When for ribands and titles his honour he sells--
What is he, my friends, but a fool without bells?
There's the gamester, who stakes on the turn of a die
His house and his acres, the devil knows why:
His acres he loses, his forests he sells--
What is he, my friends, but a fool without bells?
There's the student so crabbed and wonderful wise,
With his plus and his minus, his x's and y's:
Pale at midnight he pores o'er his magical spells--
What is he, my friends, but a fool without bells?

I can imagine the home-theatricals of the virtuous performing it; there's one foolishly self-centered woman, and no villain at all.

URI: http://www.gutenberg.net/browse/BIBREC/BR8826.HTM