Thursday, September 30, 2010

9/30 - Happy Families, Agatha-Style

The more I read of people jumping down the throat of the "Grammar Police" LW from Monday, the more surprised I am that the commercial showing Mrs McMahon kicking a man in the privates was authorized by her primary opponent's campaign and not her own. Has it really become such a horrid thing to want to sound educated or at all refined? I wonder what would happen if someone were to update Eliza Doolittle. Would Enry Iggins have to learn to talk like a chimneysweep?

I don't recall seeing anyone mention that it seems highly probable that someone consistently saying, "I seen," would be committing assorted assaults upon standard grammar on a regular basis. This was just the only one sufficiently grating to annoy the LW in question. It does seem that there ought to be a way for him to ask about her idiosyncracy/cies without coming across as correcting her or appearing to assume she doesn't know standard grammar.

Personally, I know a handful of people who consistently say, "He don't." One of them was my last employer. Beyond perhaps responding, "Doesnt he?" once, I never felt inclined to correct anyone, but it might put me off dating someone. But in some situations it can be fun to play with grammar. It reminds me of a couple of role playing scenarios I've done in which a character started out sounding fairly erudite only for the grammar to disintegrate as the situation progressed. There's an interesting sort of allure in that when it's done well.

On to the Thursday lot, which for some reason all made me think of various Christie works.

L1: This is one of those situations in which I'm not entirely sure whom to cross-examine first. The obvious line is to discover how much proof if any Bob and Helen have of the swinging ever having actually occurred. Their behaviour has been so odd, I'm not sure I want to hazard a guess about anything they say, but it certainly suggests that the reason for the couples' falling out would not reflect credit upon them. What exactly they might have wanted now (assuming that there were more to the situation than just the tapes, if they existed) would probably be too much for my poor digestion if I were to hazard a guess, but it seems that LW1 and brother ought to be able to deal with anything that might be revealed.

But I can lob a question or two at LW1 as well. It is interesting that LW1 simply presents the revelation without any commentary. There are hints that LW1 took the revelation to be true, and that it seems to constitute a point of some sort of shame or other, but it would be nice to get things nailed down. And it is particularly interesting that it seems to be more the lifestyle than the (if true) choice of partners that is the problem, but we need not require that LW1 be completely fair or high-minded to feel for the situation.

I have a double comparison here. I might remind LW1 of Virginia Revel in *The Secret of Chimneys*. A young widow who returns home to find a caller asking for money in exchange for returning a packet of love letters signed with her name but which she never wrote (and inadvertently revealing that he presumed her husband still to be alive), she gives the blackmailer forty pounds on account in part because she'd wondered what it was like to be blackmailed and in part because she wants, if possible, to shield whoever the other Virginia Revel is and perhaps buy some time for the other woman. After all, the blackmailer won't go looking for the real writer once he thinks he's found his mark, and she can give him a nasty surprise at their subsequent interview. That the blackmailer turns up dead in her house shortly afterwards complicates the proceedings somewhat.

As for Bob and Helen, I am not nearly as convinced of the truth of their story as LW1 appears to be;. Could there be any motive for them to make it all up - say, the way Nick Buckley in *Peril at End House* admits that she is secretly engaged to a missing aviator? Of course, Nick, whose real name is Magdala, has an excellent motive - Michael's rich uncle had died shortly before. Nick appears to have had several escapes from death. Most dramatically, her cousin Maggie, wearing Nick's distinctive shawl, is shot and killed. We don't find out for some time that Maggie's real name was also Magdala, and that Nick shot Maggie and stole Michael's love letters because Michael and Nick had been friendly enough in the eyes of the world that his will, leaving everything to Magdala Buckley, would naturally be assumed to refer to her.

There may be some points of LW1's parents' conduct that conflict with this revelation or show them in a considerably more unflattering light than the mere selection of partners would suggest. In such a case, one can only advise LW1 to be as charitable as possible, and let as much as possible remain unspoiled of parental memories. The intruders can be dealt with by legal means and restrained from further contact. There doesn't seem much point in attempting a line of appeasement to prevent any spreading of rumours. Let us just hope that they don't claim parentage.

L2: Gracious - more blackmail. LW2's sister wno't attend her father's retirement party (merged into the company holiday party) unless there's an insertion of acknowledgment of her boyfriend's birthday when the vast majority of party guests will have no idea who he is and when there is a counter-offer of an event intended exclusively in his honour? These sisters must have been at it for decades. They are certainly a well-oiled machine. How important is the family business, one wonders? It can't hurt to get out of both of them whether this particular boyfriend or one of his predecessors has been a prominent accessory before now in their little power play. But I am most interested in the boyfriend. Is he fully participating in the silly demand and threat? If not, how aware is he of what is going on and being demanded on his behalf? While it's unlikely that he can succeed in telling the sister to behave herself, does he have any influence? And how does he take the sister's dealings with the family - with indifference? active support? muted opposition?

It would be nice if the boyfriend could be part of the solution, as otherwise there really isn't much of a satisfactory solution. In order to avoid hurting the feelings of the honouree of the day, the little blackmailing jerk gets her way. LW2 could perhaps put the case to her father, but I suspect that Daddy might have been a point of contention between the sisters on multiple occasions, and that his likely thinking appeasement not to be a big deal won't make LW2 feel any better. If there is anything LW2 might do, it might be to unearth any employee birthday(s) that might be sufficiently close to the party and just have a little Birthday Moment that naturally can include the sister's boyfriend. Alternatively, she can just wash her hands of it and let the sister do as she pleases if she really wants to cram in the extra bit, but I suspect things might have gone too far for that by now.

I am reminded of *Hercule Poirot's Christmas* in which Poirot goes to stay with Simeon Lee, an old man who has gathered all his surviving children round him for the holiday, much to their own discomfort, which he intends to make even more uncomfortable. That his granddaughter turns out to be an impostor and that a couple of his unacknowledged children turn up as well add considerably to the flavour of the holiday and his murder.

L3: Now here we have a letter very similar to one or two other letters we have had recently. There was the Jewish-agnostic LW whose fiancee's relations regularly made remarks that he knew would offend the more religious members of his family. There was the Grammar Cop mentioned earlier. And now we have LW3. Three men who suffer embarrassment in one way or another that can be traced back to the women of their choice.

There is one significant point of interest here. Both of the first two LWs described their own backgrounds in complimentary terms as liberal and well-educated, and their loved ones as having had upbringings that were backward in nature. LW3 does not, as they did, imply his own Better-than-Hers circumstances which some colleagues who go in for rewrites of What LWs are Really Saying might translate to snooty. LW3 actually comes out and calls his place of employment snooty. Very interesting.

In fact, LW3 seems, in this day and age of wild partisanship, one of the last of the Vanishing Moderates. He does not gush on about what a wonderful wife he has only to insert a BUT of gigantic proportions. He seems rather moderate about her choice of employment - not understanding but supportive. There might even be an outside possibility that this is a straightforward etiquette question about what to do when there is an embarrassing pause in the conversation because his snooty co-workers expect all the spouses of co-workers to be more or less prestigiously employed. Not that one really thinks that, but it's a possible interpretation.

One must have a bit of a go with LW3. How right is his assessment of his wife's employment history being due to her difficulties with authority figures? Why does he not understand her current choice of employer? Is it simply that, as a number of posters have observed, the food service industry might not exactly be all that low-stress, or does he rank with those annoying posters and the Prudecutor herself in thinking that She Ought to Be Doing Better and Should Be in Counseling? What exactly is snooty about the agency? And where does the awkwardness come in? Are his coworkers really so incapable of wrapping their heads around the concept that not every spouse will be a Credit to the Firm (ugh!), or is LW3's own shame about his wife rearing its head?

Of course, the practical thing would be to tell LW3 that he probably won't have this problem much longer. Once she finds food service less low-stress than she expects, she may well be on to something else, and then it will be Problem Solved. Perhaps he can persuade her to find employment that will be less controversial for him. It's a bit of a shame that Exotic Dancer is probably out of the question at her age. Or is it? (I know so little about women, at least in such areas.) But telling co-workers his wife is an exotic dancer seems to carry more of hint of ducking the question than saying she's in fast food. People may think it equally non-serious, but take it as a polite-but-humourous brush-off.

Then, of course, one might ask whether he should even give a truthful answer at all to such a question. If there's little chance of his wife ever meeting any of his co-workers, he doesn't seem particularly obligated to provide truthful answers. After all, he is not being cross-examined in a court of law. And by the time anyone might find out, chances are that his wife won't be employed at the same place anyway.

The weird thing about this letter is that there may well be a conflict within LW3 - he might genuinely be happier if he were to quit his job and take employment that matches hers. Perhaps they can't afford it. He doesn't seem enthusiastic about his line of work. He might be the sort of negative example his wife considered when she decided to opt out of the Rat Race.

I would commend to LW3's attention Aristide Leonides in *Crooked House*. A Greek from Smyrna, who always found ways to make tons of money by going around the law, he managed to make two successful marriages to vastly different women who never went over well with his business associates. The first was a woman definitely fitting the adjective County (they had eight children) and the second a waitress about as old as his granddaughter.

I'm not sure how long it will take me to get over the nasty comments from the Prudecutor and others about the wife doing better and needing therapy. Why on earth does everyone have to have challenging work or a career that utilizes as close to the full range of capacity as possible? What of those who put their real passion and energy into non-profitable pursuits and simply work enough to enable them to do what they find meaningful? Or what of those who would take something that fell into their laps but don't care for the dehumanizing and degrading process of playing the Corporate Game to get it? Oof.

L4: We finish with a case of impersonation. I'd ask LW4 if (s)he is at least getting a Vermeer out of the deal, as Miss Gilchrist did when she impersonated Cora Lansquenet at Cora's rich brother's funeral in *After the Funeral* and dropped the possibility of his having been murdered into the conversation to create a diversion from her subsequent murder of the real Cora - or ten thousand dollars, the fee agreed upon for Carlotta Adams to impersonate Jane Wilkinson at a dinner party in *Lord Edgware Dies*, although sadly, Jane's poisoning of Carlotta later that evening prevented Carlotta from enjoying the fee. As impersonation always leads to disaster, I'd advise LW4 to decline, the wise course even if the incentive involved is highly tempting.


  1. Excellent post today. That is all.

  2. Neat advice, but how on earth do you manage to remember all those plots. I love to read mysteries but at this point in my life I can't remember what I read and sometimes I start a book and there's something vaguely familiar about it but I sure can't remember what it is....

  3. Interesting articles on Agatha Christie:

    Hi Rhumpole, there are 3 (three!) articles on Agatha Christie in today's Guardian. Can't put the exact link here but go to Guardian, then to "culture" then to "books" then to "genres" then to "mysteries" ...and voila!

  4. Thank you both. It may help that the audiobook industry has such a large Mystery section. There are frequently interesting differences between print editions besides just U.K./U.S. titles and audio editions.