Thursday, September 27, 2012

9/27 - Guest Advisor

This week's letters seem extremely well suited to someone capable of managing irate or difficult parents, problematic gifts and tricky social situations regarding invitations. Who is better suited to handle such situations than the ever-so-tactful Mrs Clay from Persuasion?

L1: I wonder - has your father, for his own amusement, ever taken up any book but the Baronetage? He sounds just like Sir Walter Elliot - the poor dear. And it is very easy to get the knack of managing fathers of this sort, your own or anybody else's. I quite recall how, when Sir Walter had been persuaded by my pappa (with the assistance of his neighbour Lady Russell and the cleverest of his daughters, Anne, who is a little more clever than I could wish, but no matter) to quit Kellynch Hall and settle in Bath, he was about to undo most of the good work by refusing to let the Hall to an Admiral of the Navy - and all because the navy, in addition to the nonsense of providing social elevation to those of inferiour rank - really, where would society be if each of us were content with her place and never determined to rise? - undoes a man's good looks, however much of the same he might have. The old silly - how would he look if he had to go out into the world and earn money, especially as he wouldn't be any good at it? But I was quite able to point out to him that it is the lot of the few, the favoured, the fortunate to be able to select their own hours and form their own habits of sustaining health and beauty, and Sir Walter was soon quite as ready to accept Admiral Croft as tenant as my father could have wished.

Now here, LW1 has an excellent opportunity to use her father's nature to her advantage. As children are so unpredictable and inclined to rebel against attitudes suggested to them, as LW1 doubtless wants her children to become pro-choice and as her father almost certainly isn't entirely on board with that plan, she should get him to take her daughters to a pro-choice event. This will doubtless prove too much for him, and he will jump at the opportunity to fill the girls' heads with pro-life dogma, including the history of their origin, and then LW1 will have both her father and the girls right where she wants all of them. They will rebel against him and take her side - a nice piece of work. As a side note to the columnist, LW1 asked what to do, not how to phrase it; the syrupy cliches were entirely unnecessary. The columnist should go work for Hallmark - or has perhaps tried and failed.

L2: I wish LW2 had consulted me some time ago, as I'd have advised her to murder husband. After all, that's what I di... would do. And, even though the relationship was broken off, one must be very careful to ascertain that there are no lingering feelings for the other party. Why, just look at what happened with Anne Elliot. She broke her engagement to Captain Wentworth, and then was not only not content with refusing to marry the very well off Charles Musgrove, but she actually carried a torch for the Captain for eight years until he asked her again. Eight years! What man is worth such devotion?

As for the Other Woman being a mother, good grief. Mrs Charles Musgrove has two small boys, and nobody has ever thought it would be anything but beneficial for them if she were to be knocked on the head. Both the little dears did so much better when left to the care of their aunt. I advise LW2 to murder her mother as well. If she requires assistance, I have heard of a young lady who has been a perjured witness at every public trial for the last twelve years, murdered both her parents and forged her own Will.

L3: Sometimes there are things to which one just has to submit. I well recall the day when it began to rain in Bath when the two Miss Elliots and I were with Mr Elliot trying marzipan. I was nearly sure of being able to wheedle Mr Elliot out of marrying Anne, but I desperately needed to get him alone, which was never easy given Miss Elliot's determination to monopolize him, even if she did gullibly always include me in the party. When the rain came, I thought I should have my chance, as Lady Dalrymple's carriage could accommodate the two sisters and take them back to Camden Place. But dear Miss Elliot had to insist that I had a little cold coming on, and Mr Elliot swore that Miss Anne's boots were thicker than mine, and thus better suited to a walk home through the rain. But I did prevail in the end, which should serve as an encouraging example for LW3. Otherwise, this is a technical question, and I shall refer it to my pappa the attorney.

L4: Again, the LW left things far too late. I well recall how poor Sir Walter went into quite a tizzy when the Dalrymples arrived in Bath, and Lady Dalrymple an actual viscountess. As bad luck would have had it, Sir Walter, who had been in company once with his cousin, Lord Dalrymple, had, owing to a dangerous illness of Lady Elliot at the time, neglected to send the obligatory letter of condolence at his lordship's passing. Clearly this was not to be borne, and the Dalrymples sent no letter on the eventual death of Lady Elliot. But then Lady Dalrymple and Miss Carteret, her daughter, came to Bath. Sir Walter was naturally eager to renew the connection. Fortunately, I was able to guide him in the composition of the letter he eventually sent the Dalrymples designed to explain, if not excuse, his conduct and beg their forgiveness. Neither Lady Russell nor Miss Anneat all approved the letter, but we were on my home field, so to speak. I carried the day, and of course we all know that Lady Dalrymple did choose ere long to renew the acquaintance.

The lesson in the situation is that, while Sir Walter was renewing his acquaintance with the great lady in Laura Place, Miss Anne was renewing her friendship with an old schoolfellow, a sickly widow whose acquaintance could be of no advantage to her. I marvel at her taste, which is apparently shared by LW4. Surely there are more profitable people he could cultivate.

Moral: "We are not all born to be handsome."

Thursday, September 20, 2012

9/20 - Seven letters; no T, S, N or L...

How I wish that the Supportive Shower-Throwing Sister had made the cut for Thursday instead of the earlier-in-the-week jumble. That letter was much more satisfactory than any of these, raising a nice point of how not to punish the baby without condoning or dismissing the bad conduct of the parents. What strikes me most of all is that the LW herself, so eager to throw the shower, suffers from the same obsessive lack of guilt as Miss Brodie. It might be interesting to know which of the sister's friends are among the group of eager shower-throwers. As seems to be the case with the LW, they could well be saying a good deal more about their own condoning of the affair than anything else. The sister's guilt reflects on them. There might also be much to be gained by delving into the mother's excessive shaming, starting with the determination of whether or not it's excessive. Here again it's tricky because the bulk of any disapproval ought to be directed towards the adulterous fiance, who was the vow-breaker while the sister was the accessory, but the sister is probably going to end up being the one taking most of it. All in all, a highly more satisfactory letter than any of these four.

Happily, they all merit quick disposal of the same sort.

Dear LW1: How fortunate that your intended has revealed her true colours before any actual exchange of vows. You could reasonably pre-empt her ultimatum by issuing one of her own; either she accepts DW1 as a person who existed and has a right to a spot in memory and IL1s as members of your family whom she will be making members of her family if she wishes the relationship to progress, or she is entirely free to leave. She could be given a period of time in which to adjust her ideas and expectations. But odds are that this course would prove to be time wasted. If you don't think more time a worthwhile investment, you'd be perfectly justified in imagining that you'd written to Mr Savage instead, in which case you'd surely have received the reply that you ought to - all together now to the tune of the theme for the Mickey Mouse Club - DTMFA.

Dear LW2: Why on earth did you consult the Prudecutor? Surely Dr Westheimer would have been a much better choice. Mr Savage has enough on his plate at the moment, and he is not always the best authority possible to select for consultation on questions concerning woman parts. As the only sensible reason for consulting the Prudecutor instead of someone who knows about and has probably practised the enjoyment of the parts in question can be that you want the Prudecutor to give you an excuse to cut your husband off (but you frame it sufficiently cleverly to avoid being called naughty things by the commentariat), I shall go one step beyond that and give you permission to divorce on grounds of sexual incompatibility. If not now, it will happen soon enough. Why waste time?

Dear LW3: Divorce at once. What has taken you so long? You married into a family that made it plain that would always choose coddling and accommodating a member with an abusive personality, whether or not his tendency to abuse ever turned sexual or not. You learned this quite early on in your marriage. Instead of scorning their ridiculous intrusion into your conduct, you even joined in the accommodation. Bad LW3! There might have been some interest in examining the reform had it not been for the disturbing new development. And you are quite right to be disturbed. People who are coddled and accommodated so long, like Sir Walter Elliot, get worse and worse. H3 showed early on that he would not cut off his family for intolerable conduct. In reality, he ought to have murdered his brother several decades ago. Fear of imprisonment ought not to have deterred him, as there would have been available to him the services of at least one barrister with a lifetime's experience in getting murderers acquitted.

Should you choose to remain married, however, there is always entrapment if H3 does not feel up to murder. Correspondence is possible if U3 is not particularly wary and discerning. Or there could well be some way to catch MIL3 and U3 doing something that, while not yet of an endangering nature to D3, is clearly Out of Bounds. H3 should be active in devising such a scenario.

Dear LW4: Divorce your husband on grounds of insufficient intelligence. Anyone with any sense would have long ago imported a dead bed bug or several into the home in question and presented them to F4s to demonstrate the need for new bedding NOW!

Moral: "A baronet must be seen to live like a baronet."

Thursday, September 13, 2012

9/13 - The Austenian Approach

Dear LW1: Your mother has obviously taken for her role model that anti-paragon of parenthood, Mrs Bennet. We are told frequently that it takes a great effort on the part of Mr Bennet to be able to keep the household expenditure down to a level that is just barely within his income. I recall reading  a spot-on critique once of Mrs Bennet in which her attitude towards Jane's beauty was called that of a procurateuse - the fond mamma viewed her eldest daughter not as someone possessing a sweet and virtuous character but more as a piece of stock that could fetch four or five thousand a year on the marriage market.

In part, how to handle this feels like a technical question. One wants to call foul on the Prudecutor (well, one wants to do that anyway, if one must be completely honest, about seventeen times every week) for inserting a question that is so much about various legal steps to take. Surely this sort of question ought to be sent to someone more specialized. But it does allow the Prudecutor completely to duck the question of the ongoing relationship with M1. Thankfully, LW1, you have the potential example of an assortment of daughters. Jane would respond that of course it was very wrong of her mother to act so, but would forgive her and probably pay off more of her mother's debts. Elizabeth would have less patience and would probably take appropriate legal steps to restrain her mother's conduct. Mary would spout platitudes about identity theft and then, on a good day, realize that she had no clue what to do about it. Kitty would have a coughing fit. Lydia would adopt her mother's tactic.

So there you are, LW1 - five separate courses of action. Pick your favourite Miss Bennet, and your dilemma is solved.

Dear LW2: Do you admire Miss Woodhouse?

This letter has Emma written all over it. Sarah's genetic disposition could be a complete rewrite of the question of the Dubious Parentage of Harriet Smith. We all recall how Harriet is the Natural Daughter of Somebody. Harriet herself is content with not being able to know her father; Emma, almost immediately after befriending Harriet, is quite sure that, in such a position, she herself would have been both unwilling to settle for such ignorance and successful in discovering her true origins. At least in one respect, LW2, you have the advantage over Emma in that her elaborate suppositions leading to her eventual confidence in Harriet's father being a gentleman are entirely the product of her own fancy, whereas you at least have done research into facts, rather as Mr Knightley might have done.

The story then takes a turn into one of the few chapters in the book in which Emma does not appear - the conversation between Mr Knightley and Mrs Weston during the course of which Mrs Weston advises that it would be unwise for Mr Knightley to follow his inclination to canvass John and Isabella for their opinions during their upcoming holiday visit. You and Mr Knightley both yielded.

I would place where the story is now at about the point at which Emma and Mr Knightley have a major difference of opinion. Emma dominates Harriet into refusing the marriage proposal of Robert Martin, shortly after Mr Knightley heard out Robert's plans and advised him that he was proceeding in a sound manner.

Therein lies your choice, LW2. You doubtless know how your friend will react to various possibilities. You can be Emma, or you can be Mr Knightley. The choice is yours.

Dear LW3:  The Austenian component is a bit thin here. It would certainly be possible to go back to Pride and Prejudice and think of Mr Collins assiduously courting the patronage of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, but I shall move on to Persuasion, where this can be framed as a tricky comparison to the relationship between Sir Walter Elliot and Mrs Clay, especially as the Prudecutor  seems to be presuming to side with or feel like Anne Elliot in opining that LW3's male colleagues are jockeying to see exactly which of them gets to be her Sir Walter.

But this leads me directly to a feminist thread of mentoring that I read from a while back. LW3, you have the idea of a mentor in the back of your mind, but the concept completely sails right over the head of the Prudecutor. Indeed, her attitude is exactly the sort of claptrap that is preventing the expansion of mentoring into the model needed to assist the advancement of women in many fields. The question the Prudecutor completely fails to ask is whether this is how the men are mentoring other men. A personal response would be that one has no idea, but it seems plausible enough. Now one might expand in due course into what necessary differences there may be for cross-gender mentoring, but it would be a bit disappointing for this all to devolve into men, on being told that they must mentor women, as they've been mentoring men, attempting to do exactly that, only to be told that they're Doing It Wrong.

On the other hand, given this particular situation, your instinct is not to be comfortable with the invitations you've been issued. There ought to be some way to work your way into mentoring situations that is as comfortable to you as the current system is to the younger men these elders mentor. The Prudecutor's road doesn't go there.

Dear LW4: While I can hear Mrs Elton proclaim that their coachman and horses are so extremely expeditious, and that she believes they drive faster than anybody, I'll pop over to Northanger Abbey instead. Although John and Isabella Thorpe are brother and sister instead of husband and wife, they fit neatly into the same sort of blustery exaggeration as that perpetrated by your friends. Happily, I doubt that they are slated to remain friends much longer.

Moral: "It is very good advice, and it shall have a better fate than your advice has often found; for it shall be attended to."

Thursday, September 6, 2012

4 x 100 again

Short on time; here we go.

L1: Interesting that this sort of issue would arise after forty years of marriage. In one respect, this could be as innocent as Richard Sackbutt's mother inviting a homeless woman home for the night, only this has turned into an extended stay, which is a number of steps too far. Perhaps decades of ministering have not had a good effect on H1, who has taken it on himself to assume more authority than is good for him. Perhaps, too, LW1 and H1 have let spousal communication fall into such a state of disrepair that this problem is more symptom than cause.

L3: This could be a technical question. To what extent does the Jewish faith play a central role in this question? It could be a great deal. Odd that all the tales of the Old Bailey contain no open Jews, when there are many lawyers and judges as openly Christian as Soapy Sam Ballard. My main question here is why LW3 would assume that she couldn't ask BF3 about the non-invitation. Under what kind of code are these families operating that everything done must proceed under such a veil of secrecy and second-guessing of motivations rather than open discussion? How Venetian.

L4: The answer is secondarily about the dog and primarily about the human relationship. As far as the dog is concerned, if stepparent were more accurate than co-parent, then a significant but unequal contribution would be quite in order. Co-parent could go either way, but the human relationship is probably more to the point. What is the couple's overall financial style? How does money affect their general decision-making process and influence? What does this request tell LW4 about BF4's conduct and character? Where is the relationship going? Do both parties agree? There is much too little information provided by LW4 here.

L2: I call a foul on the Prudecutor here. Nobody who suggested Operation Brokeback Ambush in deadly seriousness can make any sort of claim about being all twisted up inside over military witch hunts. At most, the Prudecutor did what Mr Knightley suggests Emma did during the four years when she was supposedly labouring to bring about the match between Mr Weston and Miss Taylor, that she just had a stray thought to that effect one day and repeated it to herself every so often. A case can be made for staying, but on balance leaving wins. My sympathies to LW2.