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.

1 comment:

  1. hrumpole, I hope that you will forgive me when I admit that reading the following passage allowed to learn a side of your sense of humor that, until now, I'd not been privvy to:

    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.

    Though the rest of your column was a wonderful study in Austenian solutions and observations, and an engaging read (as always), I have to say that laugh of laughs came from the above quote. Perhaps it was the juxtaposition, but, regardless, bravo! :-)