Thursday, May 27, 2010

DP 5/27 - a Marple Day

My Monday rumination for this week has centred on the marrying couple who aren't entirely in agreement about using church facilities that would not be available to same-sex couples. I have seen at least one other poster saying that it would be no greater hypocrisy than their marrying in church facilities at all, given that the questioner says she is not religious. That point might more accurately depend on a question of degree. There are plenty of people who don't go to church or give a hoot about religious questions one way or the other who aren't at all put out by such things as graduation ceremonies being held in church halls or prayers being inserted into secular occasions. Such people, it seems, might reasonably be allowed not to rule out a church that is making a similar statement in letting them use the facility in the first place - gambling, as it were, that the family might become religious at some point and be in search of a church, in which case, what better choice? An anti-religious person would presumably have ruled out church facilities from the beginning of the search.

The prosecution chose to make a jab at not buying the idea of not marrying simply because same-sex couples cannot yet wed in most places. Perhaps the intent behind that was to invalidate what the prosecution might have seen as an attempt to weasel out of marrying entirely. But I for one find nothing wrong with a conscientious delay. Certainly in a place such as Maine or California after an unfavourable referendum result, a postponement, not that such a thing would be requested, seems a thoughtful gesture. One could write a nice little letter to the editor and send it around to various publications.

This particular questioner reminded me a bit of seeing various Republican women making the rounds recently and mentioning their support for same-sex marriage. Even if I silence my Inner Mystery Novelist who suggests that it's all part of some giant hoax to convince people with libertarian streaks who Just Don't Generally Trust Right-Wingers On Social Issues that the Rs can safely be returned to power (at which point they will just do what they've always done), I still wonder quite often how far the support extends or to what it amounts. It's not as if any of them can ever give a concrete example of a candidate against whom they voted or for whom they withheld support because of this issue. And it doesn't have to. People are entitled to have preferences on issues which are perhaps outside of the top ten in priority. Support is support to whatever extent it can be given. But I wouldn't mind once or twice seeing an interviewer ask for a practical application.

I am not entirely sure this couple should marry at all. They have stumbled into a fairly big incompatibility. The questioner's support is basically theoretical; it would be nice, but the issue is not worth giving up the "perfect" venue, as if this issue were something which gives the venue a slight blemish overshadowed by the facility's superiour amenities. The fiance's principles have a bit more in the way of teeth to them. Even if one is in a sufficiently generous mood to give the bride a pass on considering social issues as basically on the same plane as lighting, seating capacity and appeal in photographs, it does not take the genius of Professor Karl Hendricks to foresee that this couple may well turn out the way Karl and Anya did in the Christie play *Verdict* in which Karl jeopardized his university position by taking in a fellow professor who'd been unjustly treated. Eventually he lost his position, they had to relocate to England, Anya's health failed and she was murdered by a rich girl thinking herself in love with Karl. Perhaps the most interesting thing about the play was that Dame Agatha herself thought it one of her two or three best plays, but that she was practically alone in that opinion.

With this in mind, today feels like a day to invoke Miss Marple.

L1: So for the second consecutive week we have a questionable adoption. The prosecution is really laying it on extremely thick on this one, lambasting the adoptrix and urging a rather violent course of action. Now perhaps the adoption might not really have been the wisest thing in the world, but it did go through; a few questions might clarify whether there is genuine cause for concern particularly given the adoptrix's possible health limitations. I can grant that the witness may well have legitimate concern over the question of whether an adoption given her mother's age and circumstances and the condition of the adoptee was a wise idea.

But what stands out here in LW1's testimony is the ovemphatic resentment of Mamma's European holiday. How much of the objection to the adoption was financially based? It's certainly legitimate to be concerned that a parent with health concerns might be stretched. But we we have a luxury holiday that Mamma cannot afford, according to LW1. Well, that can be determined easily enough. But it could be that LW1 and her natural-born sister have been looking ahead and anticipating financial burdens they don't want to undertake, or perhaps the loss of some future financial consideration. There's enough fuzziness here that this is what would make up the bulk of my questions.

The adoptrix seems to have some admirable qualities, and has done some good even if not entirely for the best of motives. If good were only acceptable when accompanied by pure motivation, then there would be a great deal less good about in the world. I must say that, however much the adoptrix might need a holiday, three weeks at a time when the adoptee is in rather a troubled situation seems a tad ambitious. I am more or less prepared potentially to grant the adoptrix the benefit of the doubt on this point that it is not a sign that she should be thrown under the bus. But perhaps my greatest concern here is that she potentially is considerably put out that her daughters have not taken to their new "sister" in the way she'd hoped and this is among other things part of her trying to force the girl into her daughters' families. The daughters are treating the girl about as much as a real "sister" as Percival and Elaine Fortescue treat Adele as a "mother" in *A Pocket Full of Rye* when their father marries a woman of their own generation.

But I shall send my Marple comparison in another direction. The adoptrix reminds me of Marina Gregg in *The Mirror Crack'd* half-adopting three children to create her perfect image of her own little family as she gets to play the role of "Mom" in inverted commas (as Margot Bence, once of the three children, later describes it). When she becomes pregnant, that's the end of her little "pretend" family, and the three semi-adoptees are all established with nice little arrangements and assorted emotional scars to sustain them later in life. Here my sense is that the adoptrix has tried to force their new "sister" on her two daughters in an emphasis of that role and they'd really just as soon not have it.

Marina Gregg didn't get a happy ending. She contacted German measles during pregnancy, which did not result in the birth of a happy, healthy child. After a nervous breakdown, divorce, remarriage and relocation to England, she met Heather Badcock at a fete, heard Heather tell a long story about meeting her (during her pregnancy) despite being told by her doctor she couldn't, realized that Heather had caused tragic damage to her child, and killed her.

The hard part is trying to think of what LW1 ought to do. She seems to be a bit of a wispy person surrounded by those more forceful - mother, sister, husband. I shall advise her to treat the new "sister" the way Elizabeth Bennet treats Lydia. If LW1 can spare the funding with a few private economies in her personal expenditure, she might contribute a little on the quiet to the "sister's" maintenance for a short period.

Moral: What will make nobody happy seems obviously the best solution.

L2: The prosecution attempts to get away with a crafty single on this one. LW2 teaches undergraduate English, which is not the same as undergraduate English Literature. These days, there are a great many courses that could be considered remedial. Given the peculiar elegance (or lack thereof) in phrasing that permeates L2, I shall guess that she teaches a course much closer to remedial than literary. She certainly does not seem up to the level required to teach Miss Austen. Perhaps this does not change anything material in the case; I just don't like to let the prosecution slip in these little assumptions.

In Agathaland, there are various cases of older women infatuated with younger men. It usually ends remarkably badly for the older women. In both "The Cornish Mystery" and "Death on the Nile" (which true Christiephiles will recall is not only a Poirot novel but also a short story featuring Mr Parker Pyne) the young man has been stringing the old woman along and ends up murdering her. In *Ordeal by Innocence* Kirsten becomes the accomplice who actually commits the murder Jacko plans (while he establishes a legitimate alibi that fails to materialize due to his witness suffering concussion and temporary loss of memory) only to discover after his arrest that he's secretly been married the whole time. There's General Macarthur's wife in *Ten Little Indians* but she's only a year older than her paramour; at least it's only the paramour who is sent to his death, though she dies of pneumonia shortly afterwards.

But none of these are Marple examples. The closest I can come to an attachment of a slightly older woman to a younger man on not very secure moral grounds might be Esther Walters and Tim Kendall in *A Caribbean Mystery*. She's a widow who doesn't know she'll inherit fifty thousand pounds when her old and ailing employer dies; he's planning to murder his wife and make it look like suicide, as he's done before. The perfect couple!

As for what LW2 ought to do, I shall provide her with some very modern advice. As it seems to me inevitable that such a highly desirable young man should have numerous females clamouring for his attention and his favours, what inevitably seems the inevitable course of action is for LW2 to consult her Inner Slore and inevitably and immediately begin sexting her inamorato. This should inevitably lead to his seizing the day (and various appendages as well best left to the Submariner to describe) and eventually the inevitable spread of the sexts far and wide across the internet. When LW2 is inevitably fired, she can then take great confort that the whole affair was her inevitable Fate all along, and that she will inevitably land in a career better suited to her talents on her next attempt.

Moral: As for what that career might be, I'm thinking that waitressing or exotic dancing seems pretty inevitable, as I see her as inevitably destined to appear on a Judge programme in some lawsuit inevitably involving unpaid rent, loans and/or credit card bills.

L3: Beyond cross-examining a few of the medical staff involved with the diagnosis, the cleanest course of action here seems to be to give LW3 an example as a sort of warning. She does not want to become Mrs Pritchard in the Miss Marple short story "The Blue Geranium". If LW3 spends all her time and energy on her illness, she might end up going in that direction. Mrs Pritchard's main interest besides her own dodgy health (which keeps her husband and her nurse in line) is fortune telling. Told that she will die when various pink flowers on her wallpaper turn blue, she becomes almost mesmerized by the idea and seems to find it quite glamourous by the time she has seen a blue primrose and a blue hollyhock with the blue geranium approaching as the next full moon comes nearer and nearer. Fortunately the poor thing (not a dear by any stretch of the imagination) is spared the indignity of knowing it was all done with litmus paper and her own smelling salts.

Moral: If LW3 must hire a nurse, she should hire a male. A young and attractive female will be Elsie Holland to her husband's Mr Symmington, and a middle-aged one will be Mrs Pritchard's Nurse Copling who kills her in an attempt to become Mrs P #2.

L4: While I can sympathize with a member of either gender surrounded by those of the opposite who expect the benefits of Victorian gender-based treatment without being willing to supply the reciprocal treatment, I doubt it would take an expert cross-examiner to establish that LW4 has a very thin case indeed. As for an unpleasant male quick to find fault with the females around him when his own conduct has been far from irreproachable, I need look no further than Colonel Protheroe in *The Murder at the Vicarage*. I'd rather like to advise LW4 on no account to change the water bottle again as a result of the email he's been receiving, but to draw up a byzantine rota for water changing based on usage and an appropriate barter system to compensate him for his actions above and beyond the call of duty. Perhaps he can get fired quicker than LW2 if he tries.

Moral: When LW4 is found shot in the Vicarage study, what's the over/under on the number of suspects? Miss Marple had seven for Colonel Protheroe; that seems a good under/over here.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

5/20 - DP and Bad Barts

So we are within sight of the start of the French Open, and find that both singles fields seem singularly lacking in a variety of plausible champions. Rafael Nadal's sputter has been halted by his expected perfect run on claym and Roger Federer won last year, but all the others who seemed likely starters are in disarray. On the women's side, Serena Williams should be able to muster some form despite her perpetually dodgy health. Venus Williams has had the closest thing to a consistent run since Australia, but only Justine Henin's return will save this one.

Having delved into Gilbert and Sullivan last week, I feel like staying there, and this week shall stay throughout all four letters with *Ruddigore*.

L1: This certainly seems to offer the best scope for cross-examination. It is natural to have a strong instinct in favour of getting the boy completely out of his sperm donor's life, but the prosecution has been overeager and overvehement. The prosecutor has styled the biological parent a deadbeat without a scrap of evidence to support that supposition (however much force of logic there may be behind it). But, more so, the prosecutor has opined that the witness' fear is a sign that there is no place for the biological parent in the boy's life - putting words into the mouth of the witness, who has testified only to worry, not to fear. And who would not worry when a parent who'd been in prison were released and wishing to reclaim his position in the life of his child? Even in the happiest of circumstances, such as an exoneration, there is almost always cause for concern.

And there are other points as well. While it is certainly instinctive to have an immediate feeling of revulsion towards a convicted sex offender (presumably admitted as well), what might have started as an admirable attempt to label every such fiend with a scarlet SO and make sure no such escapes has resulted in a broadening of the label to cover a number of actions that many if not most reasonable people would consider at worst questionable judgement (thinking of the just-eighteen young man in Kansas who got Romeo and Julianed into a lengthy prison sentence for something that occurred during a period of about the only three weeks during which it would have incurred any legal penalty, and even then their ages would have been close enough to evade his fate had his nearly-sixteen partner been female). It's a queasy subject, full of possible contradictions, especially for anyone who has read Matthew Stadler, and as it happened I just finished rereading *Allan Stein* earlier this week.

The Ruddigore comparison is with a range of Bad Baronets. Is the SO most comparable to Sir Rupert Murgatroyd, who delighted in burning witches and drew the curse upon his family that the current Baronet must commit a daily crime or die in agony, Sir Despard Murgatroyd who does commit genuine crimes but does so in the morning and then atones in the afternoon, or the hapless Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd who has such poor success at crime that he has to resort to forging his own will?

I can strike one cautionary word. LW1 is on the brink of reminding me of Mrs Symmington in *The Moving Finger*, whose daughter Megan mopes about feeling unwanted. Megan tells Jerry Burton that her mother doesn't like her, because Megan is too like her father, and Mummy would like to forget all about him and have it just be her lovely little family with Mr Symmington and their two boys. The adoption could just be an outpouring of natural affection, or it could be an attempt to cover up a mistake. On the whole, I'm inclined to think that LW1 comes off as reasonably conscientious, but on what we're given I'm not sure. The one thing I can state declaratively is that the adoption does not need to go through for the boy to think of his stepfather as his real Daddy and to have the desired relationship with him. While it's a lovely gesture in good circumstances, I have seen a little too much of the unintended consequences of the psychologically-pressured adoptions that were so popular for a while, in which it was held to be Better for the Child to have only one legal family and therefore husbands being divorced for incompatibility were guilted into letting Hubby #2 adopt the children and fading away into obscurity, to be eager for an enforced contested adoption - although it could perhaps work out well, if the only way LW1 could enforce an adoption would be if the offence were so horrific that any reasonable person would not want the sperm donor within two states of the child.

Moral: "When in crime you are fully employed (like you)/Your expression gets warped and destroyed (it do)/It's a penalty few can avoid (how true)/I once was a nice-looking youth."

L2: I shall spare my readership a lengthy rant against Those Who Begin Sentences With, "I know it's hard to stay positive, but..." The most just penalty for the prosecutor would be to have to undergo double the job searching experience of the witness.

Here I really ought to recuse myself, having personally been underemployed for over a year. But it might provide some sport to put a few questions to a recruiter. Thinking of Mrs Boynton in *Appointment with Death*, who became a prison wardress because it suited her sadistic temperament, there are those who become employment recruiters because, being Queen Bee Wannabes, that way they get to preside in a sense over a lot of suffering people and either consciously or unconsciously twist the knife. Then there are those who genuinely enjoy helping people find good matches for themselves in the career arena. And in between are those with good intentions who don't entirely appreciate how they either sound like a Queen Bee Wannabe or how someone who has been out of work for two years might hear their inquiries as if they were so.

My own recommendation to LW2 would be to meet such an inquisition with incomprehension. That seems about the only sensible reaction that doesn't do the cause any active harm. False positivity (even if it's the unconsciously false sort advised by the prosecutor) gives a tell that rings a bell that can be heard five miles away.

Not only did I rewatch *To Play the King* yesterday, but also sometime this week I read some columnist going on about whether the poor economy will create an irreparable rift between the Haves and the Have Nots. To judge from the writing produced by career recruiters (and I really hope the vast majority of them are deliberately being sadistic, because it would be so depressing if they really think they're being helpful that that would be worse than their just being cruel because they can), the attaining of even the simplest of jobs requires such prodigious jumping through exactly the right quantity of hoops that I'd say the Divide has Already Happened and it's a Doozie with a capital Dooz. As the King expresses it, the Jobless are already viewed as "a little less human than ourselves, and the Safely Employed have a worse chance of successful commisseration than married opposite-sex couples did with not-yet-married same-sex couples after Proposition 8 passed.

But my Ruddigore comparison will be for LW2, not the recruiter. I shall look at the task set to poor Mad Margaret to transform herself, once Despard renounces Sir Ruthven's title and in his new role as virtuous person keeps his vow to marry her, into a highly respectable District Visitor. That's probably a reasonable simile for what is required these days.

Moral: "She didn't spend much upon linendrapers/It certainly entertained the gapers//My ways were strange beyond all range/Paragraphs got into all the papers."

L3: Now I wish I were still in Austenian mode, because LW3's mother-in-law is right in the mode of Mrs Bennet. Why, I can hear Mrs Bennet now, telling Mr Bingley what a close friend of their family Charlotte Lucas is, and how she has never joined in the common gossip of the neighbourhood in calling Charlotte unattractive. Then, when Bingley pays Charlotte the compliment of being very pleasant, Mrs B fires back, "But you must own she is very plain."

Now I have a huge bone to pick with the school, let alone LW3 or any of her relations. If there is a TIE for valedictorian, then there CANNOT be a SECOND tie for salutatorian. Look at the leaderboard and the placements listed at any PGA or LPGA tournament. When two players are tied for first place, what is the next place listed on the leaderboard? THIRD. Not second. Accordingly, I cannot care about the outcome unless both of the so-called tied-for-salutatorians decline the misguided and erroneous honour.

I'll compare the mother-in-law to the ancestors in Ruddigore who come out of their picture frames to torment any Baronet who refuses to commit his daily crime until he dies in agony. It is perhaps only out of desperation that Sir Ruthven at last manages to defeat them by realizing that Sir Roderick, his predecessor, died in the only way any Baronet of Ruddigore could, by refusing to commit his daily crime. But knowing that such refusal was death meant that the refusal was basically suicide - a crime - and that therefore Sir Roderick ought never to have died at all. But LW3 also reminds me a little of Rose Maybud trying to cope with the dilemma of how to convey to Dame Hannah which of the local swains she favours when her book of etiquette, which was all her parents left her and which she has taken as her Guide to Life, seems to thwart her at every turn.

Moral: "You may not hint, you must not hint/It says you mustn't hint in print."

L4: Interesting to see the prosecutor acting like counsel for the Defence, but the solution to this one is quite simple. This is grounds for breakup. The lucky couple have discovered their strong incompatibility on a significant point quite sufficiently early. (We should start a pool on how long they'll be married before they realize that they knew now it wouldn't work.) I shall not even have to cross-examine the witness on exactly how she thinks she has acquired veto power over the proposed arrangement. (I forget now whether LW4 actually made it incontrovertibly clear that the letter is written by a woman; it would be a much more interesting situation if LW4 were male; cross-orientational lines often make for a much more entertaining picture.)

This letter is actually my strongest *Ruddigore* likeness. Early in Act II, Rose and Dick Dauntless sing the duet, "Happily Coupled Are We," in which Dick predicts a happy married life for them but Rose suspects otherwise, even if she is such a bright little, right little, slight little, tight little craft.

Morals: "And all of my wishes you'll throw to the fishes/As though they were never to be - poor me!" and "For you'll be asserting your freedom by flirting/With every woman you meet - you cheat!"

Thursday, May 13, 2010

5/13 - The DPs that Bloom in the Spring, Tra-La

Today's version will have to be a quickie, as much of the day has been spent coping with screwing those horrible little cables out of and into a VCR and whatever this new box my cable company sent me that lets me get the Hallmark channel again now that they aren't showing Murder, She Wrote any more.

It often amuses me with the Monday mini-questions the way that one can predict how a particularly soulless question will receive the vast majority of the comments. This week, of course, everyone and the Lady with the Alligator Purse had to have a say about Hand Sanitizer, which was even worse than last week when 98% of the comments were about into which restroom a parent should take an opposite-sex 4-year-old. There were a mere handful of comments about the questioner worried that her summer-intern-Ivy-League-roomie will be a snob, and DP's outrageous suggestion that the girl might be worth knowing because maybe her parents are divorced or she has a disabled sibling. I am not unused to being the only one outraged by these things, but I liked the question, because it reminded me of three things:

* Iolanthe, the excellent performance a friend of mine gave as Mountararat (one of the two Earls trying to marry Phyllis) and the song "Blue Blood" ("High rank involves no shame/We bear an equal claim/With him of humbler name to be respected").

** Rumpole and the Family Pride, in which Mizz Liz Probert is beside herself over an unmentionable secret she's just learned about her lover Dave Inchcape. Rumpole eventually discovers that Inchcape is related to Lord Luxter, and is actually an Honourable. When he consoles Mizz Liz for Dave's disgraceful birth, Rumpole convinces her that the sons of lords are deprived children, sent away from home and lied to by their fathers about their mothers' deaths, and Liz completely fails to see how he's taking the mick out of her.

*** Lady Marchmain telling Charles Ryder (before Sebastian leaves England for good) how becoming so rich when she married troubled her until she realized how the rich could sin by coveting the privileges of the poor. That strikes me as especially apt for today.

But now, as we go on to a group of questions refreshingly free of mothers, I find that my weird fancy has lighted for the nonce on Gilbert and Sullivan.

L1: Cross-examining LW1 on the exact nature of the hard evidence of the affair might be quite enjoyable if it weren't for the likelihood that LW1 would enjoy perjuring herself with details invented on the spur of the moment, or at the very least find being cross-examined quite thrilling. If one were given enough ammunition to take down the witness, then I should proceed without qualm.

Clearly I rank myself with those who find LW1 less than entirely trustworthy. However, as to what LW1 should actually do if the letter is absolutely true, that seems easy enough. Leave something important in the Tryst Room, and make an excuse to have someone in high office accompany her there at the appropriate time. Really, the whole thing seems extremely difficult to believe. One is almost inclined to apply for employment at this company, if the superiours are so dim that two employees can actually conduct a sexual affair including hour-long trysts in the workplace and not draw the attention of anyone on a higher level.

This is rather reminding me of the LW from a couple of weeks back who heard an invited and an uninvited guest having sex in her living room. If a hostess were to hear an invited and an uninvited guest in her living room having a game of going around the room in a circle without stepping on the floor, she would certainly make her opinion known as quickly as possible, and be lauded for doing so clearly and directly. If the two employees were giving everyone else extra work because they spent so much time playing Internet Poker, anyone blowing the whistle on them would again probably be lauded. But because the misconduct is sexual in nature, it's supposed to get a pass?

I can almost see this sort of situation being picked up by the anti-same-sex marriage crowd as a sign of the decline of values. Once upon a time, if a married person were exhibiting even mildly suspicious conduct, there would be a good deal of commentary and the community would openly take the side of the Wronged Spouse. But now, given that the universal assumption of monogamy that accompanied marriage is on rather shakier ground, and one or two other little factors, blatant affairs do get a lot of the Not My Business reaction.

I really hate these sorts of situations, because whatever anyone does I always expect the worst. If noone does or says anything, I am convinced Wifey will be given some nasty disease, or that the affair will go on long enough to render the marriage too damaged for repair, when a timely word early enough might have given it a chance to be saved. But then again, there are far too many instances of people blurting out the truth all over the place and it not doing anyone any good, especially when not speaking might keep someone out of chokey. I suppose if I had to choose a course, I'd opt for confronting the husband - IF (and it's a big if) LW1 is really firm on her facts and preferably will have a backup.

Now for the G&S comparison to a suspected affair. We can stay in Iolanthe. Strephon is engaged to Phyllis, but the peers and Phyllis herself overhear bits of his meeting with Iolanthe. The tidbits of evidence they hear are suggestive of an affair. As Iolanthe, being a fairy, always appears to be 17 to Strephon's 25, Strephon's explanation that the lady is his mother is quite laughable. It takes a long time (and Iolanthe risking death by revealing her identity to the Lord Chancellor) before the Fairy Queen, infatuated with Captain Shaw, lifts the ban on Fairy-Mortal unions, and everyone can accept the truth.

Moral: "A plague on this vagary/I'm in a nice quandary/Of thoughtless tone/With dames unknown/I ought to be more chary/It seems that she's a fairy/From Andersen's library/And I took her for the proprietor/Of a lady's seminary."

L2: Talk about a rush to judgement! I suppose LW2 can go to her mentor and find out the true facts of the case, but we're certainly in the mood to go burning down the house just to get rid of a fly that has evaded swatting, aren't we?

This situation feels a little bit like The Pirates of Penzance in reverse. Early on, the Pirate King is entirely at a loss to understand why the pirates have found piracy so unprofitable. Although Frederic, who has been their apprentice for many years, has apparently reached the end of his contract with them and will leave them in an hour, he spends the end of his time with them informing them of their great inefficiencies, such as never taking anything from anyone who claims to be an orphan. Later, of course, the Pirate King finds a loophole - Frederic is bound to them until "his one and twentieth birthday" and he was born 21 years ago -BUT - as he was born on the 29th of February, he has only had five birthdays, and must therefore serve the pirates for another 67 years, which will entail robbing the Very-Model-of-the-Modern-Major-General (father of his beloved Mabel).

The LW's incompetency also reminds me a bit of The Sorcerer. Alexis Poindexter, son of Sir Marmaduke, happily engaged to Aline, daughter of Lady Sangazure, cannot understand why his scheme to have love transcend social barriers of birth, breeding and fortune is only catching on with the labourers and not with the ladies among whom he has attempted to spread his philosophy. Accordingly, he reveals to Aline that he has purchased a philtre from John Wellington Wells which will make every unmarried person who drinks it fall asleep and, on waking, fall instantly and permanently in love with the first person of the opposite sex (s)he sees. It seems to go to Alexis' liking at first, but Sir Marmaduke and Lady Sangazure, who are old flames and were secretly inclined to reunite in their joint widowhood, both fall in love elsewhere, and Aline unluckily first sees Alexis' old tutor. Sadly, the only solution requires either Alexis or John Wellington Wells to die at once, and Alexis survives.

Moral: "And that birthday will not be reached by me til 1940."

L3: Here we have an engagement dying for want of sex. I am certainly inclined to cross-examine him, although, even if he has a genuine physical problem, laughing at his partner in what was intended as Alluring Costume is never a good idea. But then, just as LW1 loses a lot of points for bringing in her faithless father, LW3 loses points for bringing in her "oversexed" friends. It almost sounds as if she was fine with Not Very Often until hearing her friends' tales of Derring-Do, and then she pressured him into the current box in an attempt to keep up with them. Not very likely, perhaps, but I've defended worse cases.

I recuse myself from coming up with any reply as to what she should actually do, as I can't raise enough interest in myself to care. Consult a Ouija board or the Magic 8-Ball.

Now the worst engagement in G&S occurs in Patience, when the title heroine agrees to marry Bunthorne despite loving Grosvenor with all her heart. You see, Lady Angela has explained to Patience that True Love, the noblest of all emotions, is completely unselfish. As Grosvenor is a paragon of perfection, there would be nothing unselfish in loving him, whereas loving Bunthorne would be the most ennobling trial imaginable. Just as Bunthorne, the more flambuoyant of the two aesthetic poets, is about to give up on Patience and raffle himself off to one of the twenty lovesick maidens who pine for him, Patience agrees to marry him. Then everyone is horrified when the twenty lovesick maidens, who had temporarily reunited with their former loves the Dragoon Guards, discover that Grosvenor is aesthetic and poetic (though more platitudinal), and transfer their affections to him - except for Lady Jane, who remains faithful to Bunthorne. Furious at the loss of his fan club, Bunthorne blackmails Grosvenor into transforming himself into a commonplace young man. His success makes him cheerful and agreeable, which convinces Patience that it would be a pleasure to love him. That means, of course, that they cannot wed. But when she sees the transformed Grosvenor (the lovesick maidens, seeing that Grosvenor has discarded aestheticism, discard it also), Patience realizes that there is now nothing selfish about loving him, and they are happily united. Bunthorne is about to console himself with Lady Jane until the Duke arrives to make his selection of a wife. As those who are truly lovely have all they need in terms of beauty to secure their happiness, in the common fairness he feels he should choose the only one among them who is truly plain - Jane! The other maidens return for good to their dragoons and noone marries Bunthorne (who was a clear Gilbertian stab at Oscar Wilde).

But a broken engagement is actually the entire subject matter of Trial By Jury. The plaintiff, Angelina, is suing the defendant, Edwin, who seems due for a tough time. The Bailiff extols Angelina's beauty at the same time he tells the jury that From Bias Free of Every Kind/This Trial Must Be Tried. Nor does Edwin's evidence help him much. He must describe how at first in the relationship he was her lovesick boy, only to become, in a short time, another's lovesick boy. [Note: in the Opera World production of TBJ, the non-lined role of Ann Other was played by Anna Dawson, who went on to portray the unhappily wed Violet in Keeping Up Appearances.]

Moral: "Is this the court of the Exchequer?/Be firm, be firm my ****er!" [actual line!]

L4: I cannot bring myself to side with those posters who seem to think that abusive ridicule is a good way to convince a loved one to lose weight or an appropriate expression of concern. But this situation does provide LW4 with an opportunity to set herself apart from her jelly of a mother and make it clear to her nasty relations, without having to resort to equal nastiness herself, that their conduct will no longer be tolerated. The moral high ground is giving her a really wide lane for this one. My personal choice for a retort to have ready would be something along the line of the scene in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie when Maggie Smith as Miss Brodie has had her first meeting in the film with Miss Mackay. We have seen their battleground laid out over educational methods. Leaving the office, Miss Brodie comments on Miss Mackay's, "Chrysanthemums - such... serviceable flowers!"

But on to G&S, where I can happily inform LW4 that her grandmother is King Gama from Princess Ida, who has the traditional patter song on the subject of wondering why everyone thinks he's such a disagreeable man. And Princess Ida herself is that novelty, an Educated Woman. In fact, she carries the idea so far that she gets her father into trouble with King Hildebrand by refusing to honour her engagement to Prince Hilarion because she has established a college for women who will never have anything to do with men. One student is even in trouble for having a set of chess pieces, because they are men with which one gives mate. Hilarion and his friends have to penetrate Ida's school in drag and then defeat Ida's brothers in battle. Gilbert gets in his authorial jab at feminists at the end. Ida proclaims that she will never marry; Gama asks her what if every woman were to do the same; what if her mother had done so? and Ida can only reply, "I never thought of that!"

Moral: "I can tell a woman's age in half a minute - and I do!"

Thursday, May 6, 2010

DP 5/6 - Which Austenian Mother Are/Have YOU?

This week, I find myself still somewhat depressed after a quick read through Andre Agassi's "Open," which was certainly frank but not terribly edifying. It depressed me to see how much he disliked the vast majority of the other players (without much cause beyond finding Michael Chang's propensity to credit God for his victories offensive); he was neutral about Bjorn Borg, Mats Wilander and Stefan Edberg, positive only about Patrick Rafter, and negative about basically everyone else, though he did come to terms with Pete Sampras and John McEnroe. It was also a little disappointing not to get his perspective on the Graf-Hingis 1999 French Open final, as that was more or less when he and Stefanie finally got together. Still, as he does seem to be under a good influence, perhaps he will turn out better in time.

Moving on to this week's DP, it does not strike me as incredibly inspiring. Maybe it's the enforced Mommy Theme, as the letters themselves don't seem too much below par if at all.

L1: Decent fodder here, without even inquiring into the details that might be of most interest to the majority of male posters. It ought to be easy enough to determine that this all occurred before LW1's existence. What interests me most is the mother's parenting style. As LW1 does not mention anything specific that strikes her as peculiarly surprising about the news given her upbringing, I might start the line of questioning along the assumption that Mumsy didn't jump right onto the Virginity-Or-Else Train. Reluctantly, I shall also state that there probably wasn't any coo-coo-ca-chew going on either with LW1's friends during the Mary Kay LeTourneau years or since. Does LW1 think that might be just the flimsiest possibility? Perhaps, but I have no strong interest in this particular Pandora's Box.

I do see a few traps here. The first is in assuming that they were actually really great parents in the first place. If we can assume LW1 isn't outright lying, then they were probably popular parents and she was the Most Popular Mom, but just because LW1 thought (s)he had parents that were just about perfect doesn't mean they'd score so high on an objective scale. My So-Called Life gives us a glowing example of how the teenage fantasy of the Perfect Parent can fail to measure up to the ideal. Another trap is for posters who might be inclined to smack LW1 around with the intent to invalidate what (s)he is feeling. While one might be inclined to find it a bit odd that someone would still be having difficulty processing such news almost a year after the disclosure, people have their own timetables, and putting on the You're So Wonderful mask DP suggests just glosses over that LW1 isn't quite where (s)he wants to be yet. Planning a bit of time apart for the summer seems in order. Not that I don't think LW1 deserves to be smacked around a little, just not for the reason that may seem the most likely. I am getting a very faint read that LW1 has assumed an air of undeserved moral superiourity for having such wonderful parents, perhaps not because of having been raised that way. That might be able to take some adjusting. The end goal, perhaps, might be for LW1 and Mumsy to be able to accept it being okay for them to have differing views of the past while still being able to keep it in the past.

It's interesting to reach for an Austenian parallel, as obviously we cannot find an exact parallel. I suppose Mrs Bennet or Lady Susan might not have objected to the conduct of the secret past, though neither was a popular mother. Mrs Dashwood would be the best parallel to the mother whose house was always where all the kids were, but she isn't the sort to have had a real past. I shall go with a non-mother here, Mrs Croft, who would have been the most popular mother around had she had children, and who, having at least married the future Admiral after an acquaintance of a duration she would just as soon not mention, comes as close to having a chequered past as any of Miss Austen's admirable females of middle age.

Moral: This letter will be nothing to the one that will be written after LW1's intended happens to learn Mumsy's Little Secret.

L2: As this letter deals mainly with logistics, I have little to say. It might be entertaining watching LW2 and Mumsy each determined to say and do what the other secretly wants her to say and do while never having an adult conversation about it, but not for more than five minutes or so. How unfortunate that this situation will be permanent.

The Austenian parallel is again not the easiest. Lady Elliot, Mrs Woodhouse and Mrs Tilney have already died. Only Mrs Churchill both thinks herself ill and is really ill, although her using her health as an excuse to her own advantage backfires on her. The mother and daughter who seem best suited to each being more determined than the other to bend over backwards are Mrs Dashwood and Marianne. It's almost a common theme for them. Marianne is only convinced by Elinor to refuse Willoughby's gift of a horse because clearly Mrs Dashwood would never admit to being unable to afford to keep it. And Mrs Dashwood in her turn is only too eager for Elinor and Marianne to accept Mrs Jenning's invitation to accompany her for a short season in London.

Moral: Happily, this sort of situation does not always turn on the unfortunate circumstance of ill health.

L3: The overwhelmed and dependent mother seems to be largely Mrs Bennet (despite her indefatigable efforts to get her daughters well married) with little bits of Mrs Price, who was completely unable to cope with the demands of a large family and a small income. The sisters are a little tougher. Anne Elliot might serve as a model for LW3's sister, but neither Elizabeth nor Mary would feel guilty about a falling-out. Emma Woodhouse might lose her patience in the way LW3 has done, only not with her father. The closest it might be possible to get to a parallel would be to take Jane and Elizabeth Bennet. Elizabeth might just possibly become fed up with their mother at some point, though she probably would never allow herself to give rein to her exasperation, and she certainly would not fall out with Jane about it, although they would have different opinions about the situation.

LW3 and perhaps her sister as well might do well to take Jane and Elizabeth as models. Although Jane consistently thinks rather better of people than Elizabeth does, they manage to maintain their affection for each other in the most perfect repair. I might also question LW3 along the line of whether what she really wants isn't to get out of the rent agreement without sacrificing her sisterly relationship. That probably isn't possible, and I'm not sure whether LW3 is willing to give up enough of her resentment for a happy ending.

Moral: It seems quite possible that LW3 isn't female, but these sorts of situations just play out so much more satisfactorily among sisters.

L4: One thing on which I am willing to take a little guess is that LW4 was presumable not among the intelligentsia when she was in school if she rallied against popularity instead of railing against it. But enough snarking. I find it very interesting that I am getting a strong feeling that LW4's having popular daughters seems a peculiarly apt punishment for her. She comes across as one of those Intense Social Worker types who have the unfortunate knack of alienating people who agree with them. "There are students who are picked on at their school," may just be awkward phrasing but comes across as if LW4 finds this a unique phenomenon. And the idea that her daughters might actually go through a rebellious phase seems to be the sort of thing she thinks she can eradicate if she raises them properly, so that, even if she suppresses it at present, it might be worse when it occurs. Think of Liz Probert, daughter of well-known Labour leader Red Ron, going to University and joining the - gasp - Conservative Association!

The daughters remind me of Maria and Julia Bertram. "Their vanity was in such good repair that they seemed quite free of it," or something along that line ran the description of them. LW4 herself seems more like their aunt, Mrs Norris, than their mother. And this leads me to my line of questioning. I cannot shake the suspicion that LW4, for all her wanting her daughters to have empathy and to stand up for the underdog, has been raising them to do so in that Intensely Earnest sort of way that makes it only too painfully clear to the underdogs for whom they stand up that they *are* Underdogs. It's all well and good to stand up for people, but how many have they actually befriended? And if the girls have befriended some underdogs, have they treated them the way Emma Woodhouse treated Harriet Smith or Miss Bates? For all her "rallying," I am not entirely sure that LW4 is clear on the concept, and therfore how far can we trust the principles she has instilled into her daughters?

Some posters see potential Carrie moments in the offing, which is certainly likely enough to explain the behaviour of those who rejected the however-sincere-it-was gesture from LW4's daughter. But there seems to be a little too strong a desire to contrast the Mean Girl popular faction against those Little Angels who Genuinely Like Everybody, who are occasionally instanced as the pinnacle of personality perfection. Too much like Mr Weston for my taste, though. The affections of someone who likes everyone can't really be the highest distinction in the calendar.

Moral: Had LW4 read her daughters two pages of Miss Austen's every night before they went to sleep, she might not have had this problem.