Thursday, February 25, 2010

2/25 DP - Let's Visit Cranford

This will be brief, as the affairs of the day went overlong, and I am starting late. If the letters had been of a suitable calibre, this might have been the Figure Skating Edition, but I refuse to waste Stephane Lambiel on this lot. Instead we go to Cranford.

L1: Having been more or less there and done very nearly that, I shall recuse myself on the problem with more firmness than Guthrie Featherstone was able to employ when he was sent to try Dr Morris Horridge on the charge of running massage parlours where a bit of the other was a regular side feature. But this issue is very rich with fodder for cross-examination, as it is entirely unclear when it's Mamma speaking and when it's Junior. "He was horribly embarrassed and guilty, and he promised to give up gloves forever." Part one of that sentence seems normal enough, given the circumstances. As for part two, was it spontaneous or forced? It might be interesting to know about the "piles" he keeps in his room, but, again with the girlfriend or wife worries, where did that originate? While LW1 seems armed with rather better intentions than some parents, she seems at least potentially capable of projecting her fears onto or instilling them into her son, and of being misled into putting him into a very wrong course of treatment. But that is all I should allow myself to say.

The Cranford connection I shall assign to Miss Matilda Jenkyns, who all her life wants rather harmless things that are deemed improper. In her youth, it's Mr Holbrook, but he's a farmer who eats peas with a knife, totally unsuitable for the vicar's daughter in a town where what matter more than what one does is what will be said about what one does. After the death of her domineering sister many years later, she almost gets to marry Mr Holbrook, and she does get to fulfill her lifelong dream of raising a little girl, although her tending to her maid's daughter provokes unfavourable commentary. Yet the equivalent I'll find for Miss Mattie is in her desire for a turban. She has long fancied such a style of headwear. She almost buys a red one, but Miss Pole questions its suitability for a garden party, and Mrs Jamieson cannot approve of such a passion for things Oriental. Miss Mattie tries again when the town is to be visited by a conjuror who has appeared before the Lama of Tibet, suggesting that they might all wear turbans in his honour, but again her idea is shot down and the conjuror's appearance canceled due to the sudden death of Lady Ludlow. But finally, when she arranges for the public ballroom to see service after decades of disuse and a visit from the conjuror after all, Miss Mattie gets her turban, an event only topped by Jem's moving back to Cranford with baby Tillie.

L2: And just why, you poor thing you, can't you say so? What a Martyr with a capital Mar you are. I cannot raise much interest in your situation, but Dodo MacIntosh seems quite content with her best friend of long standing, even when said best friend employed her to make cheesy bits for Chambers parties. You may have an out - it might be possible to tell your friend that your boss Rhymes With Rich (as Barbara Bush might say). Of course, this might expose a major fragility in your friendship, which could have been based on your being the dogsbody all along, whereas Dodo and the former Hilda Wystan seem equally matched over the decades, although one or the other has occasionally seized a brief advantage.

Your Cranford connection is an example of the maxim that it is better to befriend your boss than to work for your friend. Consider the Jenkyns' maid, Martha. Miss Jenkyns (Deborah) is a martinet, always correcting Martha and not allowing her to have followers, but happily Deborah dies. Miss Mattie proves much better, allowing Martha and Jem to meet openly and even giving Jem gold when his five pound note, issued by a failing bank, isn't honoured. When Miss Mattie loses all her money and dismisses Martha, Martha refuses to leave, saying that she'll work for no pay to keep such a good place. She pushes up her marriage to Jem so that they can lodge with Miss Mattie and help keep her afloat. Martha's daughter Tillie is raised in a shockingly egalitarian manner, being attended to either by her mother or Miss Mattie depending on which of them has the leisure (until Martha dies during her second lying-in), That seems a much more satisfactory way to go about things as compared to working for a friend.

L3: An interesting form of communication between the two of you. Let me cross-examine the most adult member of the household. Arf arf-arf! Woof woof. Bow-wow-wow-wow-wow! Rrruff!! Sammy would like new living arrangements, probably without the fool.

The most prominent dog in Cranford is always the one belonging to Mrs Jamieson. Her little darling is always fed from her own plate, given an Italian name and clothed in Italian silks similar to the pattern of her own dresses. Additionally, he always enjoys his mistress' full attention. Carlo is sadly shot by accident, but his successor plays an important role in bringing together Mrs Jamieson's visiting widow-of-a-Baron cousin with her future husband (much to the shock of the town, even Miss Mattie), the socially much lower Captain Brown.

L4: The Austenian solution would be to hire a Master of Ceremonies for the evening, assuiming that your husband shares your degree of incapability to host. It was, after all, just such a personnage who introduced Catherine Morland and Henry Tilney in *Northanger Abbey*.

But Cranford provides a shining example of the dangers of having all the people in one's life so neatly boxed off. Consider the plight of young Dr Harrison. He begins with a bang; despite his decision to try a radical surgical technique instead of a safe amputation, he preserves Jem's livelihood by saving his arm. He cannot save little Walter Hutton, but eventually his commencement of a courtship of Walter's sister Sophie gets back on course. But this relationship is only known to the Huttons and Mary Smith, a compartmentalization which nearly costs Dr Harrison everything. His friend Dr Marshland spots Miss Caroline Tomkinson's partiality for Dr Harrison and sends her an anonymous Valentine. Combined with Dr Harrison's failing to pick up on Miss Tomkinson's hints about Caroline's dowry of four thousand pounds, this gives the sisters Expectations, however unrealistic, and unfortunately uncommunicated to anyone. More poignantly, one or two innocent gifts to his housekeeper, the modest widow Mrs Rose, come to the attention of Universal Busybody Miss Pole and her sidekick Mrs Forrester, who convince the reluctant Mrs Rose that she is the Cranford equivalent of a Cougar. (Considering the uproar when Mrs Jamieson's Baroness cousin stoops to marry Captain Brown, it seems an inconsistency that Miss Pole should so heartily approve of an unconventional age difference.) And again this supposed attachment is not spread abroad. Everything converges during the May Day celebration, when Miss Tomkinson tells the Reverend Mr Hutton that she expects Caroline's engagement to be announced that day, and to whom? Why, to Dr Harrison. Naturally Mr Hutton demands an explanation; Dr Harrison's protest that he never gave the Tomkinsons any cause for expectations is overheard by Miss Pole, who exhorts Mrs Rose to defend her fiance. It takes Dr Harrison saving Sophie from near certain death, the recently widowed butcher finding a warm reception at the Tomkinsons' and Dr Morgan's protective feelings towards Mrs Rose to set everything to rights. Moral: Make sure your friends all know each other and all about you.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

2/18 DP; the P&P Edition

Greetings once again to any august QCs come a-slumming.

Although this seems a fairly light day with relatively hard-to-whiff questions, there is some enjoyment to be derived from being able to tell each of the four letter writers to read *Pride and Prejudice* with particular attention to the situation of one of the characters.

LW1: For some reason, you are hesitant to talk to your sister about her early life, and to explain to her exactly why you don't want to be one big happy family with your siblings and your mother. Were you the only one involved whose life might be affected by the information you are keeping to yourself, that would be one thing, but not to tell your sister she has been reestablishing a relationship with a person who abused her when she cannot remember the abuse seems beyond the pale. It would be instructive to cross-examine you on the exact nature and depth of your resentment of your sister and brother, but maybe some other time.

Your P&P assignment is to attend to the situation of Elizabeth (assisted by Jane) Bennet. She likes the charming and open Mr Wickham, and dislikes the haughty and reserved Mr Darcy. But her opinion of Wickham sinks after she learns of Wickham's attempt to elope with Darcy's sister. In Chapter 40, Elizabeth and Jane discuss discuss the question of whether to make Wickham's true character generally known. Jane thinks not because Wickham might have become truly repentant, Elizabeth because it would have to be done without revealing the particulars necessary to convince a neighbourhood in which Wickham was a universal favourite and Darcy a favourite villain, and because Wickham would soon be leaving with the militia. They say nothing. Some chapters later, their sister Lydia, who has accompanied the colonel's wife and gone with the regiment to Brighton, elopes with Wickham and nearly brings down the entire Bennet family by living with him in London heedless of when they might marry. Surely you want to spare yourself the bitterness of Elizabeth's lamentations.

LW2: Most posters seem to be taking your side, though I am somewhat dubious. The wives in question are polite, as you admit yourself. Perhaps there is just too little common ground for you all to advance much beyond politeness, an endeavour which your husband's poor behaviour is not assisting to succeed. Then too, you describe yourself as being very much in love with someone who, by your own account, is rather a jerk. He's getting off big time on your being so much younger and hotter than his friend's wives, and I would not mind bringing out how much this really bothers you, as well as why the two of you continue to socialize with this circle.

Although Colonel and Mrs Forster are probably the couple who match you and your husband on the age difference, your P&P assignment is to attend to Charlotte Lucas. Without valuing either men or matrimony highly, she designs to marry. Her intelligence and lack of romanticism are offset by her dangerous age of 27 and her general deficiencies of beauty and fortune. But opportunity falls her way when Elizabeth refuses the proposal of her cousin Mr Collins, a clergyman who has obtained a most wealthy and attentive patroness. In the course of a mere two days, Charlotte manages to redirect his proposal to herself. In exchange for a comfortable situation, she surrenders much of the esteem of her closest friend with the consolation of a man of no sense whose company is not agreeable and the patronage of Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Elizabeth recovers enough feelings of friendship to visit Charlotte in Chapter 28, and cannot but come away impressed with how well Charlotte manages to arrange her household to her liking, get her husband as much out of the way as possible, and cope with the continuous intrusions of Lady Catherine into every detail of the Collins' domestic existence. Surely none of your husband's friends' wives, who are always, by your own admission, polite, are anything like a match for Lady Catherine de Bourgh.

LW3: Once again, after LW1 from last week, I note and disapprove of a second-party letter. Even if it were deemed a good strategy for the two of you to deny your pasts, I for one would not be comfortable telling you what he ought to do about it. I will say that your husband having a youthful indiscretion reminds me of Mr Bennet, although Mr B's youthful indiscretion was of rather a different nature. In Chapter 42, we see how Mr Bennet, captivated by youth, beauty, and the appearance of good nature which youth and beauty generally give, had selected a wife of weak understanding and illiberal mind, but consoled himself as a philosopher with the amusement that could be derived from her ignorance and folly. Let us hope that your husband does not have cause to emulate Mr Bennet.

However, this makes a nice segue into your P&P assignment, which is to attend to Mrs Bennet. Should you decide to reverse your intended course of parenting, you can use her as an example of how to take the opposing style too far. Rather than learn from her own past, she uses the entry of her youngest daughters into the marriage market as an opportunity to relive her own youth. In Chapter 41, rather than join her husband, Jane and Elizabeth in being pleased by the imminent departure of the regiment, she joins Kitty and Lydia in their despair, recalling the departure of a Colonel Miller twenty-five years previously and attempting as eagerly as either of the youngest girls to persuade Mr Bennet to take the whole family on holiday. A short time later, when Lydia is invited by Colonel Forster's wife to accompany the regiment to Brighton, Mrs Bennet sees no drawback in the scheme and is as delighted as Lydia herself, while Elizabeth risks sisterly disapproval and tries to persuade her father to refuse permission. In the end, while Lydia would likely have gone to the bad anyway, her mother's assistance certainly amplified the magnitude.

LW4: Hardly having anything to say about a predicament that at least rises above that of the previous week's L4 in giving rise to a dispute between husband and wife, I shall round out my response to LW3 by making your P&P assignment a sort of complement to that one. Having seen an example of Mrs Bennet's parenting style, you get to attend to Mr Bennet (as an example of how not to address a social embarrassment) on the grand occasion of the Netherfield ball in Chapter 18. There fate conspires against Elizabeth as event piles upon event. Wickham, whom she still likes at the time, is not in attendance (his friend Denny passing on that Wickham thought it prudent to avoid being in company with Darcy). She must dance with Mr Collins, who apologizes in lieu of attending to the proper steps. Darcy asks her to dance and she is so surprised she agrees. Their conversation while they dance is vexing to each, but the interruption of Sir William Lucas, during which he hints that the evident attachment between Jane and Bingley has given rise to Expectations, is even more so to Elizabeth. After their dance, she has an unpleasant encounter with Miss Bingley, who takes an ineffective jab at Wickham. A pleasant moment of chat with Jane might turn the tide, but then Mr Collins mortifies Elizabeth by actually introducing himself to Darcy, much to the astonishment of the latter. At supper, Elizabeth must not only hear but also observe Darcy hearing Mrs Bennet bragging to Lady Lucas of her delight in the expectation of Jane and Bingley marrying soon. After supper, Mr Collins makes a ridiculous speech before the company, much to the amusement and derision of Bingley's sisters, and then remains by Elizabeth for the rest of the evening, ominously attempting to make himself agreeable to her and preventing her from dancing with anyone else.

But perhaps the coup de grace and one of the more well-remembered quotations in the Austen calendar comes just after the conclusion of supper, before Mr Collins' speech. As is the custom, the conclusion of supper is followed by talk of singing, and, as sure as eggs are eggs, the one young lady in the room who, for want of ever being asked to dance, is always eager to oblige the company on very little entreaty, is Mary Bennet, who refuses to see Elizabeth's look imploring her not to perform. After Mary finishes her song, the slightest hint of a hope is enough encouragement to her to oblige the company with another, an exertion for which her powers are not suited. Elizabeth, consoled only by Jane's and Bingley's being too engrossed with each other to attend, sees Darcy looking grave with Miss Bingley and Mrs Hurst looking only too well amused, and finally can only look imploringly to her father for assistance lest Mary remain at the piano all night. But Mr Bennet's parenting style brings little more comfort than his wife's, as he cannot resist the humourous admonition, "That will do extremely well, child. You have delighted us long enough. Let the other young ladies have time to exhibit."

In my mind, however, Mr Bennet redeems himself on the next day. As if not punished enough on the previous evening, Elizabeth is forced by Mrs Bennet to grant Mr Collins a private interview. He not only proposes to her, but refuses to accept any attempt she makes to decline, calling her repeated refusals mere words, a matter of form to refuse the first offer or even a second or third, and an affectation of elegant females designed to increase his attachment through suspense. Lady Catherine de Bourgh has advised him to marry, he came to visit his cousins with the intention of marrying one of them, Jane was already attached elsewhere, and he cannot conceive of his proposal (accompanied by a desirable establishment which her own fortune could not claim as her due) being disagreeable to her. Even Elizabeth's ardent claim that Lady Catherine would declare her unsuitable only shakes Mr Collins for a moment. When she has spoken as plainly as she can and he has vowed that she will accept him when her parents approve of the match, he retires to confer with Mrs Bennet. By no means so sanguine as Mr Collins that Elizabeth means to accept him at last, Mrs Bennet can only go to her husband, saying that she refuses to see Elizabeth ever again if she does not marry Mr Collins, and requiring Mr Bennet to insist that Elizabeth accept the proposal. After having Elizabeth brought to them in the library, Mr Bennet recapitulates the situation, and then sums up, "An unhappy alternative is before you. From this day forward, you must be a stranger to one of your parents. Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr Collins - and I will never see you again if you do."

Thursday, February 11, 2010

2/11/10 DP, or, Orgasms With Others

Greetings to all the QCs yet again. This week's alternate title just springs from a remark I made at the Fray, and is in no way intended as any sort of commentary on Ms Plays Well. Now to work.

L1: Now, I must confess that I cannot imagine myself in the position of Mrs A. I doubt I'd ever be competent to care for anyone in such condition as her husband. Instinctively, thinking as a potential patient, I certainly would not want my loved one to become a worn-down and embittered shell of himself due to the demands of devoting himself to my care. We don't have to look too far back - LW3 from the previous week might well serve. But then reasonable doubt will creep in as I wonder how much of this is pride, and then hear the stories of people who gave up their lives to care for someone and describe the experience as being incredibly full of grace, and wonder if Billie Jean King's motto that Pressure Is A Privilege might apply, and it makes me all the more glad both that my body is bound to deteriorate much faster than my mind and that I have retired from Romance.

I have the tiniest hint of what Mrs A's life is like at the moment through running a weekly bridge game for residents of a nursing home. The player who has the most trouble simply following the rules of the game was a regular player in my club for twenty years, and still played as recently as 2006. She's nowhere near as far gone as Mr A, though apparently headed in that direction, and two hours a week are enough to drain most of my energy.

I shall not urge Mrs A in either direction. Only she knows what she needs to know to make that decision. And cross-examination seems too indelicate. But Mrs A is not LW1. Why is it LW1 and not Mrs A writing in for advice?

Several Fray posters have remarked on this and speculated that the okay from DP would hardly be the sort of thing they could wave in front of a disapproving family or community as if it were Charlie's Golden Ticket to Willie Wonka's Chocolate Factory. (Not that LW1 doesn't remind me a little of Veruca Salt...) One poster at least has suggested that LW1 isn't Mrs A because Mrs A herself might be reluctant and he's hoping the DP Seal of Approval will provide him with the key to the Lead Casket. Well, I added the latter part myself, but that was the poster's general idea. And I rather think I'd enjoy cross-examining him along such a line.

People familiar with Mr Mortimer's authorial efforts will perhaps recall an Alzheimer's case when the disease claimed one of the few judges with whom Rumpole shared a friendship. The judge's doctor was well-known for advocating euthenasia, but she claimed that his case had not yet reached that point when he died and she was tried for his murder. If I were to make this letter into a similar story, the husband would die. Mrs A would be arrested and tried for his murder. LW1 would get a brilliant defender, who would discover evidence against a doctor or another family member. At the trial, the prosecution would succeed in proving that the evidence had been faked, and LW1 would break down on the stand and be revealed as the murderer. But, interestingly enough, I have a more apt analogy coming in a bit. Wait for it.

The reason for my inclination to cast LW1 in the role of murderer may not be too hard to discern through a reasoably careful perusal of the letter. He mentions that there was no sex involved when they were teen sweethearts (seemingly gratuitous). Then there comes the reunion and their deep love. This is followed by Mr A's sexual inadequacies even before the disease, which has, of course, resulted in Mrs A having been deprived of sex for many years. Then we have her strong sex drive. Fortunately, they are principled people, and then we have the remarkable conclusion: "We are not intimate now but want to know, is it permissible for a woman to indulge her sexual needs with a man she loves since she cannot get that satisfaction within the confines of her marriage?" He doesn't change the subject to "I want to know," and once again we have her sexual needs and her lack of satisfaction within the marriage. I shall return to one more point presently.

I like SB1's Truth Serum version of L1 very much. It captures the spirit of L1 very well as one reviews the letter. They didn't boink the first time around because Good Girls Didn't or for some other reason. But it appears that he has done very little over the forty or fifty years since except to regret their not boinking. I shall not judge Mrs A for whatever intimate details she may have revealed (LW1 may well have cross-examined most of them out of her), but I note that he has nothing to say in praise of her character, being too lost in lust and overpowered by the desire of decades.

With all due respect, I challenge the statement that they love each other deeply. Perhaps she does love him deeply, but he gives no indication of such capacity. For another minor referral, I turn to *In This House of Brede*. Barbara Colquhoun, Sister Julian, is nearing her Final Profession when her brother, who has joined a missionary order, gives the community a talk which impresses many of the younger nuns. One of them asks at recreation, "Wasn't it *deeply* interesting?" and receives the reply, "No. He is not a deep young man." LW1 is someone who looks at Sophia Loren or Tina Turner and wants to boink because visually she's as hot as she was before, not someone who looks at Geraldine McEwan or Joan Hickson and sees with his heart that inside the woman there still lives the sweet girl who was the world to him and whom Time has not made less dear.

(As that was perhaps a fair piece of rhetoric, I shall acknowledge that there is a chance LW1 may have carried a torch for her all these years and might be pounding home the sexual aspect of the attraction in an attempt to downplay what he may perceive to be his improper emotions for her. It's worth a question or two in cross-examination, but I feel inclined to stand by the earlier sentence.)

But now we come to their actual situation. I don't criticize Mrs A, but I am concerned, if she does anything, about whether LW1 is the right partner, both for her sake and for his. For her sake, I could see it working out terribly. What if one night of boinking proves to be enough to quench his burning desire, and he waves goodbye just as he's finally helped her to own and reactivate her sexual self? I don't really think that will happen, as he seems to realize he's on to a Good Thing in the form of a Regular Source of Nookie, but if she's not very good in bed, who knows? But I wonder a bit more seriously about whether an old flame is the best sort of person for it. I'd be content to abide by Mrs A's judgment, though I note that an affair can give energy with which to deal with a tragic situation or it can drain energy, and an affair with LW1 could well turn into one of the latter sort.

Even if LW1 sticks around and carries on with the affair to Mrs A's benefit, the effect on him may be more than what he bargains for. If by chance he genuinely loves her more than he appears to do, how long will he be able to put up with being just the tool with which she satisfies her sexual desires? When the thrill of Regular Nookie wears off, if he feels bound to keep the affair going , he's likely to grow selfish, want more of her time, wish her husband out of the way, perhaps try to push her into divorce, or...

But now, rather late in the day, I finally come to my main comparison for LW1. It was rather entertaining that Mr Paris mentioned Dan Savage in the first post of the day, and a person's right to sex outside of marriage when it became impossible inside. I thought of Mr Savage in quite a different context.

Any regular follower of Savage Love has probably come across one of his most passionately held principles concerning Bisexual Men. With all the difficulties they face when they date gay men, such as finding on occasion that their partners might not believe in true bisexuality, or objections they perceive to be unreasonable when they dump their male partners for women, they are presented by Mr Savage with advice that they should date Other Bisexual Men and leave the Kinsey Sixes to each other. Now, while I am not entirely convinced that B and G don't or shouldn't mix, I think the idea that Mrs A is so particularly situated that the best companion for her is someone similarly circumstanced might have some merit. I'd like to see Mrs A in a support group for Alzheimer's Spouses and taking up, if she feels so inclined, with someone caring for an ailing wife. If LW1 really loves her, let him assist her in caring for her husband - but I shall not hold my breath waiting for that to happen.

I shall conclude this ridiculously overlong portion of post by saying that I'd rather like to kick LW1. Not that there's anything wrong with having a strong sex drive at his age, but to be so completely obsessed by how much he wants to boink Mrs A that he can't even provide a single compliment on her character - well, really!

L2: I am going to presume that LW2 is of legal age, because that means that I get to slap him for talking about a GIRL and not a WOMAN (pet peeve). But I would not do so very hard, as I rather like this sort of situation.

Serious people won't agree with me, I'm sure, but my memory is immediately drawn to *A Murder Is Announced,* in which witnesses to a shooting are arranged for through the expedient of advertising (and inviting friends to) a murder in the local newspaper. I'd be strongly tempted to advise LW2 not to send a real Valentine but a sort of pre-Valentine, accompanied by the suggestion that, if she's intrigued and would like the real Valentine, they correspond through a local Personals column. They could make quite a nice little game of it, and put a little money into the coffers of a dying institution in the process. Now there's a nice air of old-fashioned romance...

L3: Does LW3 never watch A&E, USA or TNT? Let us list: CSI Miami; Criminal Minds; Cold Case Files; The First 48; NCIS; Bones; the whole Law & Order franchise; there are other programs that probably rotate in and out. That was just from a quick scan of the weekly television section of my local newspaper. I don't actually watch much crime television, just keeping up with Criminal Minds because I liked Thomas Gibson in *Love and Human Remains*. But as long as I'm on a television jaunt, I have occasionally seen an episode of something called Parental Control, in which parents who dislike their child's significant other set their little darling up on two blind dates and watch the dates with the SO. The child then chooses which of the three (s)he will keep seeing. This is completly unserious, but we could devise a twisted version of the programme for Alice and her ilk. (A bit lame, perhaps, but I've been at this for several hours now.)

L4: Now we get to the rich fodder for cross-examination. Due to exhaustion, I shall not spend much time trying to re-word my posts in the day's early threads:

One thing I'd want to establish early on is exactly what sort of nonmonogamy we have in operation. Is he the only one sleeping with others? One might guess so as being true at present, even if she also indulged in nonmonogamous conduct earlier on. It would be helpful to get a general idea of the rough proportions of their conduct - about how many outside encounters to inside and his to hers, and how she felt about it all. It helps to know whether we're dealing with both of them going out for a pickup after several weeks of exclusivity or his having five outside boinks between his encounters with her while she sits in her room trying to feel GGG, or somewhere in between.

It's reminding me of *Torch Song Trilogy*. In the first act, Arnold hasn't heard from Ed for a while and goes over only to find Ed preparing for his dinner with Laurel. "If I have to accept that you're seeing other people, then you have to accept that I'm not!" Then in the second act, when Ed and Laurel are married and hosting Arnold and Alan, Ed and Alan get frisky in the hayloft and Laurel accidentally spills the beans to Arnold later over the telephone, during their fight about it, Arnold tells Alan that he agreed they could see other people, "Because I wanted you to feel that you could!" "No, because you wanted me to feel that you could."

I suppose we can safely agree that the majority of heterosexual relationships in which one partner takes advantage of sexual license and the other does not are an M doing multiple Fs, and that women are more likely than men to agree to nonmonogamy in order to keep a partner, but it's a bit of a jump from that to assume that any woman in such a relationship is really and has always been crying out on the inside, desperate for monogamy.

the first sentence that stands out for me in L4 is, "Lately I've started to feel that I don't want to continue nonmonogamy." Whatever sentiment one may think she's really expressing, she is hardly taking bold and declarative ownership of it. Ms Messy would certainly express herself rather more forcefully, would she not? I am reminded of the writer Grace Lichtenstein in her book *A Long Way, Baby* which she wrote after attending women's tennis tournaments in 1973. At the U.S. Open, she was struck by something Margaret Court said in an interview after she'd defeated Chris Evert in one semifinal. Asked about her opponent in the final, Evonne Goolagong, Margaret replied, "She's a beautiful mover, isn't she?" It occurred to Ms Lichtenstein that, had Billie Jean King been in Margaret's place, she would have made it perfectly clear that she was going to beat the living daylights out of Evonne. Margaret fully intended to do the same, but she had a classy way of not putting it in those terms.

LW4 then resorts to more distancing qualifiers before mentioning changing their sexual lifestyle, his presumptive non-agreement (interesting to cross-examine on exactly how flimsily or thoroughly she'd really tested the waters) and then how "horribly guilty" she'd feel for "making him do so". MAKING? She'd have that power? That's a bit of a jump from just Starting the Conversation, especially when she seems so terrified of doing so. HORRIBLY guilty? That may be the strongest statement she makes in the entire letter.

I raise an eyebrow at her thinking it's irrational of her to feel that she wants the relationship to evolve into monogamy, but my guess is that it comes perhaps from her being a convert to Savagism and a little overinterpretation of the scriptures leading to a mild overdose of GGG.

It does seem that she wants monogamy, but she doesn't want him to be monogamous "for her" because she wants no more ownership of this decision than she does of any of the sentiments that she picks up only with ten-foot-long tongs. Of course, it is possible that I may still be getting vibrations a few weeks old from Ms He-Never-Buys-Me-Flowers.

I do apologize, but I am going to have to cut this one short at this point; I have been going on for ages. My apologies for the incomplete bit at the end.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

2/4/10 DP

Greetings to all the august QCs who have come in for a bit of slumming. And now to work.

Letter 1: This letter clearly offers the widest realm for cross-examination. In a way, the situation seems a sort of backwards version of the triangle involving Septimus Cragg (RA) and the Brittlings. In that case, as people may recall, Harold Brittling, a disciple of the great artist Cragg, broke with him when Cragg took Harold's wife Nancy over to Dieppe for a naughty weekend and an impromptu portrait. Many years later, Brittling (who had been given the portrait by Nancy), having been unable to establish himself as Cragg's equal, sold the painting in a manner designed to get himself convincted of having forged it. This is much that chain in reverse - only here Nancy had her one-off with Cragg before marrying the lesser light Brittling.

Of the three characters involved, I think the most interesting to cross-examine would be the brother. There are a number of possibilities for the way the brothers grew up. The older brother could have been an irresponsible but charming cad while the younger never put a foot wrong and resented going unrewarded. The older could have been a Star who didn't even notice the resentful pipsqueak left unnoticed in his wake. Perhaps the most dramatic scenario would reveal a *Carrie* moment - OB, pestered by an ex, agreed to a mercy shag if she would take YB to the prom; YB, excited to be going to prom with a girl he'd thought out of his league, happened to overhear both OB and later the ex telling some friends about the arrangement and mocking YB's social ineptitude. That seems like the sort of thing that would lead to the virulent resentment displayed by LW1 years later. But whichever of the brothers, if either, emerged with some credit, it would be interesting to establish exactly why the brother has remained silent. Were he truly the cad LW1 wants to convince us he is, OB might well have spilled the beans for a variety of reasons.

Some posters have made LW1 out to be rather a slug, perhaps without realizing that painting him in too nasty colours brings down his wife at the same time. As people say, she did choose the LW for a husband and one night with the brother was enough. The LW's being a complete cretin would suggest a mediocre wife who only married him because she knew she could never keep the older brother for long and preferred the safety of a husband whom nobody else would much want. My sense is that there is enough material to make between one and two decent humans out of the three of them, but it might not be possible to say how the decency is divided between them given the small amount of unreliable testimony before us.

It's also hard to comment on the non-disclosure. Perhaps the wife didn't know they were brothers until the wedding or some point that seemed too late for a mention. I'd want some cross-examination into the family dynamics before trying to say whether the revelation was just bad luck or would have been almost inevitable.

Then there's how the truth came out. He could have been throwing around unwarranted accusations and that one just stuck. She might have said something unwise in the heat of argument. Or a chance remark of his might have made her react, and then he popped out the question almost automatically. Any of these seems likely enough, more so than her deliberately dropping hints or taunting him openly because she was angry, though even that is possible. Plenty of scope for creative questioning.

I do tend to see the question of it being none of his business as more of a continuum than anything else. I think that even those who maintain her total right to privacy could perhaps come up with something that they might think ought to be divulged - instead of just a one-nighter, an ongoing fling with his brother? with his father? his mother? both parents? Rather like the person who would sleep with someone for $1,000,000 but not for $1, it's just a question of establishing the tipping point.

Now for the hard part - a solution. To LW1 I don't want just to say, Bite the bullet and get over it, as some posters do. Not that I don't think it would be best if he could get over it, but because I think the people telling him to bite the bullet want to punish him and bullet-biting will be counter-productive. He'll only end up seething with resentment, and that will destroy the marriage as surely as a divorce. My best guess about the wife is that she was probably unlucky, that she would have put the incident behind her and never mentioned it to no ill effect in good faith. Unfortunately, when one realizes the presence of a likely deal-breaker and decides to bury the past, even if no wrong-doing is involved, there is an understanding of there being consequences if the truth comes out. Probably not fair in this case, but then, as others far more decisive than I have stated, life is not fair.

As for what to do, I might tentatively propose a gesture of conciliation. He goes to therapy and comes to terms with his obsession with his brother, and she rewards him by yielding on a point of some importance, preferably not a personal one. Just off the top of my head, instead of remodeling the kitchen, she lets him put the money towards a more expensive car. Not really fair to her, but if either of them is the adult, it's she. And if he still can't get over it, even with the children involved, then she should walk with a clear conscience.

L2: Oh, dear, L1 went on much too long. There doesn't strike me as being a lot about which to cross-examine in the case of L2. I shall address LW2 directly.

Of course you tricked your husband into marriage. Big whoop. Read *Pride and Prejudice* with particular attention to Charlotte Lucas and her views on matrimony. Yours might do well enough if this is all you have against yourself. If it's any consolation, should you go on for years and years acting on your guilt, your husband will have much the better of it.

But this is the letter that made me think of Mr Parker Pyne, the statistician-cum-detective who actually employed Miss Lemon and Mrs Ariadne Oliver before either of them met Hercule Poirot. He solved people's problems, attracting his clientele through an advertisement in the newspaper: "Are you happy? If not, consult Mr Parker Pyne." LW2 is not happy.

Also in Mr Parker Pyne's employ were a gigolo and a vamp, whom he put to work on matrimonial cases - a wife whose husband was infatuated with his secretary, a sporty husband whose wife wanted a divorce to marry an arty type, a mother who disapproved of her son's fiancee. Now, the Parker Pyne solution for you, dear LW2, is to employ someone to vamp your husband in a situation contrived to be once-in-a-lifetime. Give her free rein to go as far as you did and decline to be informed of the details. Then you may carry on with the scales more or less balanced. If he confesses anything, so can you. If this incident starts him out on a path of regular cheating, well, then, something else might have gotten him started and at least you'd know when it began.

L3: Having no expertise here, I shall defer to my better informed and more experienced colleagues, contenting myself with a second reference to a case involving a painter. This one reminds me a little of Sir Daniel Derwent, whose increasing infirmity was making it impossible to paint. When he was poisoned, his current wife (who was younger than his daughter) was tried for murder and acquitted.

L4: Oh, the near-analogies! I can think of quite a few not-quite-matches, but the particular middle status of the employer, who cheats both the company and his employees in order to give charity to his customers without suffering personally, is hard to match. Miss Marple can recall a number of plausible scoundrels in business, but they all cheat their customers. The mindset of imposing one's employees' charitable endeavours on them seems appropriate for Joan Plumleigh Bruce or for Maggie Smith's character, the Countess of Trentham, in *Gosford Park*, but we don't really see either of them interacting with their superiours.

I think I have actually heard of a workplace or two where it was expected or perhaps even enforced that all the employees would contribute a certain amount to a particular charity, but this goes beyond anything. I hesitate to advise anyone who would stand for being paid two hours' worth of wages for a full day's work, as it's difficult to conceive of any course the LW and her husband would have the gumption to complete. I shall content myself with the comment that this is entirely the reverse of Biblical. Surely the worker who worked for one hour in the vineyard received the same pay as the worker who put in a full day - not the other way around. Perhaps someone with superiour expertise concerning the work in question will be able to provide fuller details.


Oh, dear, this was so long that I have no time for an elegant conclusion, but wish well to any who read this. Take it all apart, by all means.