Thursday, April 29, 2010

DP 4/29 and Gender Ruminations

It does seem as if various little tweaks to these letters could improve them considerably.

L1: Now this is interesting. Your supervisor constantly has little "crises de nerfs," and spends much of the workday in a state of considerable Upset with a clearly capital U (like Mrs Oliver in *Dead Man's Folly*) making demands on you for your sympathy. You, good sir, are working for Mrs Bennet of *Pride and Prejudice*.

Mrs B, as any reader of P&P will instantly recall, is inclined to react to any vexation, be it minor or major, from Kitty's coughing to Mr Bennet's saying he will not visit a new neighbour who happens to be a highly eligible bachelor to Elizabeth's refusing the proposal of marriage from a man she despises who happens to be the future inheritor of the family estate, with loud lamentations that noone appreciates her suffering or has any compassion for her poor nerves. It's difficult to know exactly how to rate Mrs Bennet's judgment. One is inclined to dislike her so much that it is difficult to rate her conduct with objectivity. Yet, to judge by results, she comes out almost tolerably well. Her judgment is seriously off for thinking that Elizabeth could ever find Mr Collins even a tolerable husband, but then again she does manage to get Jane and Bingley together with speed, and her results exceed even her own expectations. Not bad for a woman of little or no understanding and illiberal mind.

I wonder about LW1's supervisor. Does she spend her entire day going from employee to employee sobbing her poor little heart out while forming and dismantling vendettas at whim? It doesn't seem terribly likely. It might be entertaining to determine why she singles out LW1 and what he might have in common with any other favourites of hers at the office.

But I suspect that the real problem just does not appear in the question, and might not even have occurred to LW1 yet. The strange conduct of his wife is what concerns me. LW1's wife knows that Another Woman is telling LW1 her Feelings - the most sincere, precious and important communication any woman can ever disclose to a mere man - and her extremely unwifely reaction is to be so completely sanguine and to encourage such an outrageous assault on the entire foundation of American Family Values to continue? This will not do. Mrs LW1 is clearly cheating on her husband, or at least wishes to do so, probably with another woman. Unless LW1's lifelong fantasy is to be the Creme Filling in an Oreo Cookie, he must divorce her at once.

Moral: Reverse the genders of the couple, and would this even be a letter? Make the couple gay and bisexual males for maximum number of interesting side lines to pursue.

L2: This one is creeping me out a bit. Here I shall have to draw a parallel between a rather spaniel-like human and an actual dog. LW2 has returned home to find that his best friend has turned into Mrs Norris from *Mansfield Park*.

Mrs Norris might well make a rewarding case study, perhaps one of the most rewarding case studies in all of Austeniana. Beginning life as Miss Ward, with a fortune of seven thousand pounds, she has the remarkably mixed blessing of seeing her sister Maria marry up after captivating a baronet. Shortly thereafter, Miss Ward finds herself obliged to become attached to Mr Norris,a clerical friend of her brother-in-law's. On the plus side, Sir Thomas can give his friend a living, and the Norrises begin their career of conjugal felicity with an income (that would satisfy Elinor Dashwood) of very little less than a thousand a year. On the minus side, this throws Mrs Norris into a lifetime of scrounging and toadying to her inactive sister, a situation slightly similar to that of Sir Walter and Miss Elliot at the end of *Persuasion* when they are forced to find their only consolation with Lady Dalrymple - that to follow and flatter others without being followed and flattered in return is but a state of half enjoyment. However much Mrs Norris might enjoy the direction of affairs at Mansfield Park to the extent that she can act in Lady Bertram's stead, she has noone to whom she can openly feel superiour, which, one must presume, grates on her during the course of her marriage until the action of the novel begins.

Fortunately for Mrs Norris, there were three Miss Wards. While Miss Maria married up, Miss Frances married considerably down. By the time of her ninth confinement, her last recourse is to appeal to her sisters (primarily Lady Bertram) for relief. This is all Mrs Norris could request of life, and it is no coincidence that the scheme to raise Mrs Price's oldest daughter at Mansfield comes from her older, poorer and more active aunt. After more than a decade and a half of subordinating herself to the Bertrams, Mrs Norris has a relation to whom she can condescend, and the treatment Fanny receives at her hands is about what one might expect from someone who has had to repress herself for so long and now finds an object ideally suited both in temperament and situation to all the worst excesses within her character.

As to what LW2 should do, I'm just too sick that he went around consulting others instead of taking action at once. That he sorta-kinda-should-woulda-coulda tried to do the right thing is all very nice and cute, but if I had my way LW2 would spend a day (with only the same recreation breaks provided) in a cage meant for someone rather smaller than he is for every day he knew the abuse to the dog to be continuing and did nothing to stop it. We can deal with the friend and determine whether he's a likely serial murderer or just very sick later, but the main thing is that the dog must be saved. Buy the dog. Blackmail the friend if necessary, just do not let the poor animal live through another day of mistreatment. Do it at once, yesterday, last week. If you really want to worry about the friend later, be my guest.

Moral: Talk about Good Men Doing Nothing...

L3: As if L2 weren't bad enough. Now we go all the way to Miss Austen's juvenilia, with a fiance who could have been a model for a title character in her story, "Jack and Alice." The Johnsons were a devoted family and, though a little addicted to the bottle and the dice, had many amiable qualities. At least LW3's intended does not gamble, so far as we know. Jack, sadly, does not get to do very much in the story. He appears in the opening chapter, at the masquerade to celebrate his father's birthday, and then is not mentioned until he dies young (considerably assisted in this endeavour by alcohol), an event which, as it makes her her father's sole heiress and thus increases the possibility of her being considered worthy to marry the exquisite Charles Adams, is a source of pleasure to his sister.

It might be possible to spend a long afternoon asking questions about how LW3 had it drummed into her that judgment was such a negative quality, but taking any interest in such an exercise would be considerably assisted by feeling at least the tiniest piece less contempt for her. In fact, I think her course of conduct is quite clear. She must get herself both spayed and neutred just to be safe, move with him to Manhattan where he will not have to drive ever again, and marry him at once. In fact, my heart may be more set on this pair marrying than on any other pair that has ever appeared in this column.

Moral: I suppose it's progress of a kind if the general reaction to the situation would be the same with the genders reversed. Would it be? I'm not sure.

L4: I could spend the rest of the day trying to decide whether this is an improvement or not over the previous letter from the woman who did reconnect with her (Swoon) First Love and then had a Psychic Dream about his dying. In a way, working off my previous moral, it's a little interesting to see LW4 producing a letter that looks like such a bad fake it almost has to be genuine (unless it had been written by a novice female staffer who had not yet taken a course in How to Sound Male). And I am going to give LW4 at least a few points for sounding a lot less crude than the LW of some weeks ago whose old flame was married to the demented man and who could neither write two sentences without mentioning the strength of her sex drive or instance even one point of merit in the poor woman's character.

But I would refer LW4 to *Persuasion* and how Captain Wentworth and Anne Elliot may have gone on with their lives, but neither of them married and had children even though they were neither expecting nor hoping to meet again. As Eleanor of Aquitaine said to Henry II in *The Lion in Winter* - Save your aching arches; that road is closed.

LW4's manner of mentioning his wife in passing opens up all sorts of possibilities. I think I should cross-examine him along the line of finding out exactly what the trigger was that woke him up one day to his being in late middle age with nothing much in his life except a sense that his Golden Past seemed to suggest so much more Promise in his future than life actually delivered. I think the comic strip *Mary Worth* recently had a not-too-dissimilar story line. Wilbur Weston, a man of about 50 who writes an advice column called, I think, Dear Wendy, had a recent brush with his past. A young man appeared briefly in his life; his mother had been Wilbur's college sweetheart and Wilbur just might have been his father. He wasn't, apparently (I only saw the Sunday strip and a rare one on a weekday and didn't think to follow it on line), but I recall a strip or two of reminiscence about Abby and what a free spirit she was, and how she and her son basically grew up together. Unfortunately, Wilbur Weston is widowed, but LW4 might as well be for all the interest he seems to be showing in his marriage. (Perhaps his wife expected him to buy her an expensive engagement ring and never got over it, so that now she is free with her affections only when she receives presents that will fetch a decent amount at the pawnbroker's.) That seems a decent long along which to start; he doesn't really give off the impression of having been half-consciously obsessed with his (Swoon) First Love all the time, though the cross could easily transpose into such a vein.

As for what LW4 should do, this seems one of those times when a heartfelt note would be genuinely heartfelt. It would be easy enough to omit any little details that would be less than comforting to the grieving family. And their could be a side benefit in such a course of conduct. If the family happen to reply, LW4 might learn a thing or two of interest, such as whether his (Swoon) First Love ever mentioned him to her children, or perhaps compared him favourably to their father, or maybe even went so far as wish she'd had them with LW4 instead and openly cried to them every night that she'd thrown away Her One Chance At True Love - well, a LW can dream, can't he? And if it had happened that his (Swoon) First Love had turned him into her family joke, at least the relations would probably be sufficiently polite to keep that from him.

Moral: This sort of letter really needs something like non-matching sexual orientations in order to give it sufficient seasoning. Otherwise it just comes out all swoony and droopy.


  1. Wonderful, hrumpole! :-) First, I'll admit that you've taught me a new word. Illiberal. I'm going to try to keep it in noggin and actually add it to my vocabulary.

    I have no clue about LW#1's wife. I suspected that the LW was hiding some information from either his wife or us, because the wife's reaction certainly does seem positively odd.

    I was glad to see that we agree almost word-for-word regarding LW#2.

    LW#3 is in a sick relationship, but, it can certainly be saved. And, your counterintuitive (at least to me) advice just might work. If nothing else, it'd be fun to watch. And, as you say, in Manhattan such that there need be no driving. :-)

    LW#4 is a... Well, you've done a wonderful job of treating him well. I wasn't as patient. ;-)

    Wonderful writing, as always, hrumpole. ;-)

  2. Is LW#1's wife's reaction THAT significant ? I think you may be onto something but I lack enough insight into the female mind to be sure. I think we need some feminine input here.

  3. I have some feminine input for you.

    If my husband told me that his female supervisor kept taking him aside for daily boo-hoo sessions

    I'd take her aside and tell her she better find another Human Kleenex on which to wipe her snotty nose

    or I'd wipe it for her.

    On the floor.


    Wonderful work, as always, hrumpole. And I hope you noticed your new spot on the front page of The Fly, courtesy of your biggest fan. No not Smagboy, I mean ME. :) Hope you're not too disappointed, on either point.

    *I also hope you know I'm kinda sorta kidding about that nose-to-floor thing. My man can take care of his own business, and I'm not that agressive, but I AM territorial where it's warranted, and you can best believe he'd hear at least a OH HELL NO from me, and she'd at the very least be getting the big time skeeve eye from me at the company Christmas party. In that situation, just keep me away from mixed drinks and we'll all be okay.*

  4. Actually, the page thing was a bit weird - someone made a comment a while back, and by the time I saw SB1 directing me to it and sent an email, it had been nearly a week, and I didn't know what was happening. But all has ended well.

    I thank the Mermaid for demonstrating the Proper Wifely Response in LW1's situation. It reminds me of when Dot Clapton suddenly appears in Chambers with a diamond on one side of her nose. Henry tries to tell her that barristers are too conservative for jeweled noses, but Dot cuts him short and he hasn't the nerve to be direct. Claude Erskine-Brown, whose regular application to become a QC has been harmed by Soapy Sam Ballard's being a little too frank with Keith from the Lord Chancellor's Office, just giggles at Dot, apologizing and saying he hasn't had anything to laugh at. Ballard himself is so alarmed he has to call a Chambers Meeting about it.

    But the only member of Chambers to shift ground on the issue is Mizz Liz Probert. Her initial reaction to her first sighting of Dot's nose is congratulatory. Dot can't follow the grand compliments on her Making a Statement and being the Radical Sisterhood of Free Spirits because she's just trying to get on with David Inchcape's typing. When Inchcape hurries in and thrusts more papers at Dot with urgency, she twinkles and tells him she'll make him her top priority. As soon as Mizz Liz sees another woman making up to Her Man, well one can take the Radical Sisterhood and stuff it. At the Chambers Meeting, the official Probert opinion is that Dot's nose is Politically Incorrect - nothing more than a harem signal to any (with a significant look at Inchcape) would-be sheik who might be foolish enough to listen.

    We also see Phyllida Erskine-Brown to advantage in one of her most wifely moments. When she learns that Claude has called Ballard a Pompous Pr**k in front of a table of solicitors (which she calls the most persuasive speech he ever made down the Old Bailey, as well as the shortest), she decides that the time for speeches is over. The time for action has arrived, which means that she is on the case. At the Chambers Meeting, Phyllida flatters Ballard and stays behind afterwards to be chummy. She gets him to invite her to lunch, changes the health food bar to the Savoy Grille, pretends to think he ordered champagne and that he's had lots of practice chatting up women at lunch, and convinces Ballard that she believes he opposed Claude's being made a QC not, as Ballard claims, for Claude's own good, but because he was thinking of her. Phyllida tells Ballard he was worried she would get fewer leading briefs in Hong Kong with Claude competing, but lets him know she's leaving the bar, and that, if Claude were a QC, away most of the time, doing leading briefs in Hong Kong, they could have lunch together often - wouldn't Sam like that? Of course he would, and then, once Claude is safely on the list of new QCs and Sam issues a lunhc invitation on his own steam, Phyllida replies that she's going to be too busy for lunch. What noone finds out until it spoils Claude's celebration of his elevation when the news appears in the paper on the same day is that Phyllida has been made a Red Judge - and she never even told her clerk.

  5. SB1, as for LW3, I just have less patience with people like that. All the Social Worker types who make comments are having the time of their lives falling all over themselves with Concern, and as usual they have chosen an object who does not merit their efforts.

    I can have SOME sympathy for people who get cowed by the Judgmental Card. I've seen in played by discriminatory groups who have caught on to the conundrum in Not Tolerating Intolerance, and have accordingly cried that, if they are not allowed to discriminate, then they're being made victims of discrimination. Such claims have not always been easy to refute by those who have been caught by surprise. The key is that they usually go on to equate not agreeing and assisting with their discrimination as discriminating against them.

    But LW3 is reminding me greatly of Marigold Featherstone's complaint about Guthrie having absolutely no judgment, which must come as a bit of a drawback in his profession. There is surely some point at which one might say that a fiance's drinking being a dealbreaker is being too intolerant. But LW3 has taken this to such an extreme that she has completely abdicated her status as an adult (if she ever had such).

    She's nowhere near ready to marry anybody, and I'm not sure she ever will be. If it weren't for the fact that he endangers innocent people actively and she only does so passively, it might be possible to argue that she's far more in need of fixing, or probably harder to fix than he is. It's all very well and good to tell a LW that (s)he has chosen a poor partner, but it's quite another to say or imply (s)he deserves better. LW3 does not deserve better. As it seems a tossup which of them if either ever will deserve better, I want them safely married off to each other, living somewhere where they will never have to drive, and then at least they will both be doing the world the favour of not marrying someone who does deserve better.

  6. Hrumpole, who knew Austin already perused every social quandary anyone could face! I'm amazed at your memory and how you can translate present day letters into Austinian language, and vice versa. Neat!