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!"


  1. Greetings hrumpole! Outstanding readings this week!

    I must say that I side with the crowd, regarding LW#1, when they insist that the LW should not say anything to the wife. But this has nothing to do with an expectation nowadays of philandering, or a current day loss of respect for monogamy. Rather, it has to do with how the LW is being wronged. Assuming the letter is true to the word (which, like you, I doubt), the LW is only suffering an increased (and unfairly so) workload due to the actions of the office lovers. That is a legitimate complaint and one that the LW could certainly take up directly with the lovers, and/or management. I would support her wholly in those endeavors.

    However, regarding telling the wife, I suspect the LW's motives so much that I can't possibly support that course of action. If the only motive was truly to prevent an STD or other damage, then yes, fine, send an anonymous note saying only that it'd be wise to get checked for STDs. But nothing about with whom the husband might or might not be sleeping. The name of the partner only adds to drama and produces nothing good or positive in return. At least in my humble opinion.

    Regarding LW#3, I'm not convinced that the LW's fiancé actually laughed at the LW. I believe she took what was likely nervous discomfort as laughter and disparagement when it was, in fact, nervous discomfort. Something is certainly going on there, and it is a problem, but, based on her letter alone, there is truly no way to know.

    Oh, too, regarding your Rumpole example, and taking the mick out of Mizz Liz, please see this for someone taking the mick out of Mick:

    Good cheer, hrumpole! :-)

  2. Now, SB1, my page is badly messed up. Before you posted this comment, I posted a comment which has disappeared, and accordingly I thought noone had said anything.

    My final take on L1 was that maybe the whole affair was a Witness for the Prosecution-type sham designed to lure LW1 to her doom, although perhaps the more proper comparison would be to Widow's Peak: Miss O'Hare and Mrs Broom dislike each other from the moment the latter arrives in Kilshannon, escalating from graffiti to vanadalized roses to car damage to shipwreck until Mrs Broom tells Mr Clancy the dentist Miss O'Hare's scandalous secret and Miss O'Hare shows Mrs Broom up as an impostor during an engagment luncheon thrown by Mrs Doyle Counihan. Before leaving Kilshannon, Mrs Broom is seen boarding Miss O'Hare's boat and starting a quarrel. Then Miss O'Hare disappears. With Mrs Broom unable to offer a convincing explanation, the police soon find it impossible to restrain Mrs Doyle Counihan and the other wealthy widows from calling Mrs Broom a murderess and arranging a public meeting where proceedings come to a sudden halt when Miss O'Hare walks in, having spent the interval with her cousin in another town. Then just as the two troublemakers leave Kilshannon for good, Mrs Doyle Counihan is visited by Gaffney the lawyer, who informs her that Mrs Broom is suing her and the other widows for slander. Then the whole plot wraps up neatly.

    Yes, I can see traces of Mrs Doyle Counihan in LW1, which may be a bit of why I don't think I'd mind much if she did tell the wife and get herself into a spot of bother.

  3. "P****r", by the way, means upper lip, typically of the stiff kind.