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.


  1. Greetings hrumpole! My, what a wonderful blog you have! As for LW#1, your point, "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" seems to me to very concisely capture the entire interaction and its eventual resolution. I'm willing to hope with you that the LW *will* get over this, but, I'm not willing to hold my breath. ;-)

    And, again, with LW#4, your "the employer, who cheats both the company and his employees in order to give charity to his customers without suffering personally" was straight down the middle of the bull's eye. Bravo!

    SB1 :-)

  2. I found all the delights in L#4:

    "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." ~ and

    ~ the Joan Plumleigh Bruce reference ~ you charmer, you. ;)

  3. Greetings...I see I have my work cut out for me as I need to Google these folks...I was lost in a sea of new references.

    Septimus Cragg (RA) and the Brittlings.

    Septimus...this name sounds somehow unclean and a bit certainly does not roll off my tongue feeling anything other. Interesting.

    Good point on LW4 cheating not only his company but all his employees as well. Makes you wonder what else he's up to!

    Happy trails....

  4. Welcome aboard Hrumpole! Glad you're here. I suspect you'll be upping the tone just a tad.

  5. My thanks to you all for the welcome. I hope I manage not to run out of references.

    I always feel sorry for people with names like Septimus and Octavia (*Cranford* has one of each) - one's parents must have a singular lack of imagination if they can only give one a name indicative of birth order. My favourite Septimus is probably Septimus Warren Smith in *Mrs Dalloway*.

    And now to work.

  6. I went to school with a girl named Eugenia Madeleine. She wouldn't let anyone shorten it, either. She had to be "Eugenia" or nothing. Sigh.