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!"


  1. Your writing is amazing! I wish I knew all the references - Jane Austin is all I recognized - but I am going to Amazon now, so I can order Ruddigore.

  2. Why, thank you! For some reason, it kept showing "0 comments," so that I never saw that anyone had said anything.

    Although *Ruddigore* was the main focus of the week, Agatha Christie popped up twice (*The Moving Finger* and *Appointment with Death*), and I just came on to add another Christie comparison in reaction to the suggestion some people made that LW1 should buy out Bio-Dad, which would be almost exactly like Mrs Argyle's adoption of Mickey in *Ordeal by Innocence*. Poor Mickey took about twenty years to get over his resentment that his natural mother was willing to sell him for a hundred pounds, a resentment that kept him from having a cordial relationship with his adoptive mother.

  3. Greetings hrumpole! My apologies for and sincere embarrassment for being so late.

    I specifically wanted to ask you about the French Open and the brouhaha over Venus Williams' red and black outfit. I don't watch very much tennis, but, the story was topping all of the sports sites that I frequent, along with several entertainment sites! The outfit didn't look particularly different to me from what I've seen Anna Kournikova wear, but, I'm rather ignorant of the typical fashion choices for either gender in professional tennis.

    I sincerely appreciated your level-headed and well-thought-out take on LW#1 (not that the thorough analysis surprised me!). So many were quick to jump on the bandwagon of doom for the sperm donor.

    As for the MIL in Letter #3, I had so hoped you'd go down the Mrs. Bennet route! Admittedly this is because, given my limited knowledge of Austenian literature, she was my first thought and one that I could have conversed about intelligently-enough. But, as is usually the case, you've given me inspiration for my continually-growing reading list.

    My favorite point of all was in your response to Letter #4 when you said, "I shall not even have to cross-examine the witness on exactly how she thinks she has acquired veto power over the proposed arrangement." Indeed! :-)

    Thank you again, hrumpole, for a wonderful and engaging read!