G. K Chesterton, Jane Austen and Mr. Wickham

In his collection of essays, “Come to Think of It” published in 1930 we find this little gem On Jane Austen in the General Election.  I’m not interested in what Chesterton writes about how political commentators are using – or misusing – Austen to argue about the New Woman as much as I am in his observations about George Wickham.  When my husband handed be a print-out of the short essay, I was just finished with my annual re-reading of Pride and Prejudice.  This includes re-reading the novel, watching the Colin Frith/Masterpiece Theater adaptation, and more recently, re-reading the P.D. James sequel, Death Comes to Pemberley, so everything was fresh in my mind.

For anyone who has not read Pride and Prejudice or seen one of the many adaptations, there is a kind of love triangle between the heroine, Elizabeth Bennett; the handsome, wealthy, brooding Fitzwilliam Darcy; and the charming, handsome, impoverished George Wickham.  Darcy is private and quiet; Wickham, open and talkative.  When we, and Elizabeth, first meet the men, Wickham is the more attractive.  Made more so, perhaps, by the fact that Mr. Darcy, proud and aloof, publicly refuses to acknowledge Mr. Wickham.

Wickham

It is Wickham’s explanation that Chesterton writes about.

….A writer in a leading daily paper, in the course of a highly optimistic account of the new attitude of woman to men, as it would appear in the General Election, made the remark that a modern girl would see through the insincerity of Mr. Wickham, in Pride and Prejudice, in five minutes.

Now this is a highly interesting instance of the sort of injustice done to Jane Austen.  The crowd, (I fear the considerable crowd) of those who read that newspaper and do not read that author will certainly go away with the idea that Mr Wickham was some sort of florid and vulgar imposter like Mr. Mantalini. [Mantalini, a character in Dicken’s Nicholas Nickerby, is a handsome man who lives off his wife and eventually ruins her.  Also described as a gigolo.]  But Jane Austen was a much more shrewd and solid psychologist than that.  She did not make Elizabeth Bennett to be a person easily deceived, and she did not make her deceiver a vulgar imposter.  Mr. Wickham was one of those very formidable people who tell lies by telling the truth.

Wickham tells Elizabeth the part of the story that puts Darcy in the wrong.  She has no reason not to believe him and neither do we until we learn the rest of the story from Mr. Darcy himself.  As the story unfolds we learn that while Wickham may not be vulgar, he has a lot in common with the gigolo, Mantalini.  But I digress.

Chesterton, thinking of the General Election, views Wickham as the perfect politician.

….For Mr. Wickham was, or is, exactly the sort of man who does make a success of political elections….And he owes his success to two qualities, both exhibited in the novel in which he figures.  First, the talent for telling a lie by telling half of the truth.  And second, the art of telling a lie not loudly and offensively, but with an appearance of gentlemanly and graceful regret.

George Wickham as the perfect member of Parliament and perfect politician.  I love it!  Maybe the problem with politics today is there are not enough George Wickhams.

Photograph is a still of Adrian Lukis as George Wickham in the 1995 BBC/Masterpiece Theater version of Pride and Prejudice.

 

 

 

 

Some thoughts over breakfast, on America’s “deadly gun culture”

Some thoughts over breakfast, on America’s “deadly gun culture”

Having lived in Boston where hearing gun fire was a regular occurrence and then moving to Vermont, I have experienced both cultures. I agree: They need to talk to each other.

View from Prospect Hill

Reading the front page of the Brattleboro Reformer today over a half cup of coffee, after finishing my eggs and toast, I glance to the bottom of the page and see the lead to an inside-page editorial, “America grapples with its deadly gun culture”. My first thought is that “gun culture” is not a single thing, is not the same in every part of the country, and is neither wholly nor intrinsically “deadly”. My second thought, a little later, was of the seeming incompatibility of the concepts of ‘gun’ and of ‘culture’, the former being a tool of violence, the latter conveying thoughts of arts, food, dress, customs and other beautiful expressions of our many different human ways of living.

But I do think that there is such a thing as “gun culture”, so allow me to tell you a bit about my experience of gun culture and we’ll see if that sheds any light on…

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A few thoughts on race and gender and childhood….

View from Prospect Hill

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Someone from my high school class posted a video of 50s rock and roll, kids like ourselves dancing to Danny and the Juniors “At The Hop”, and the first thing that struck me was that, just as I remembered, a number of the couples dancing in the video, just as we did at the time (knowing nothing about Lindbergh or the “Lindy Hop”), were girls. None of the couples ever were boys. That was unthought and unthinkable, never occurred to any of us that I was aware of. But it was perfectly common and acceptable, and not even to be noticed or remarked, that two girls would form a dance couple if a boy was not available to dance. For me this experience was from around 1958, when I turned 12 years old.

I recall the term “queer” from perhaps as early as the 6th grade but I don’t…

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The Race

I was working in Somerville when Bob Curley’s son was kidnapped and murdered and I remember how very angry he was. If I recall correctly, the Mass State Legislature even considered reinstating the death penalty, but didn’t do so. People CAN change. Thank you, Kim, for reminding us.

Kim McLarin

turtle

All week I have been walking around muttering to myself, “The assholes usually win.” There are personal reasons for this rumination (you know who you are) but all it takes is a clear-eyed looked at the world to see that it is true. I mean: Dick Cheney? Vladimir Putin? Kanye West? The logical corollary to “Nice guys finish last” is that assholes finish first, and all the magical thinking and candy platitudes in the world will not alter that fact. The innocent suffer and the wicked prosper and how one deals with this reality shapes one’s life but to pretend it is not true is simply beyond my abilities. Uncle Jimmy said, “One can be—indeed, one must strive to become—tough and philosophical concerning destruction and death, for this is what most of mankind has been best at since we have heard of war; remember, I said most of mankind…”

Most…

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Join Us in the Fight For Net Neutrality

The WordPress.com Blog

“Net Neutrality” is the simple but powerful principle that cable and broadband providers must treat all internet traffic equally. Whether you’re loading a blog post on WordPress.com, streaming House of Cards on Netflix, or browsing handcrafted tea cozies on Etsy, your internet provider can’t degrade your connection speed, block sites, or charge a toll based on the content that you’re viewing.

Net neutrality has defined the internet since its inception, and it’s hard to argue with the results: the internet is the most powerful engine of economic growth and free expression in history. Most importantly, the open internet is characterized by companies, products, and ideas that survive or fail depending on their own merit — not on whether they have preferred deals in place with a broadband service provider. Unfortunately, the principle of net neutrality, and the open internet that we know and love, is under attack.

Net Neutrality under…

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Hitting reset

A few weeks ago, my husband and I both noted an article in the New York Times Week in Review section called “Hit the Reset “Button in Your Brain.”  The authors argued the need for a true vacation from work.  In other words not one like President Obama had where according to a news report I heard he talked to at least 9 foreign leaders and held at least 4 press conferences.  This would be in addition to the normal routine of daily briefings, etc.  Some of the rest of us call work and read email while ostensibly on vacation.  They argue

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, there’s a reason: The processing capacity of the conscious mind is limited. This is a result of how the brain’s attentional system evolved. Our brains have two dominant modes of attention: the task-positive network and the task-negative network (they’re called networks because they comprise distributed networks of neurons, like electrical circuits within the brain). The task-positive network is active when you’re actively engaged in a task, focused on it, and undistracted; neuroscientists have taken to calling it the central executive. The task-negative network is active when your mind is wandering; this is the daydreaming mode. These two attentional networks operate like a seesaw in the brain: when one is active the other is not.

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So what helps us reset and overcome the overload?

Increasing creativity will happen naturally as we tame the multitasking and immerse ourselves in a single task for sustained periods of, say, 30 to 50 minutes. Several studies have shown that a walk in nature or listening to music can trigger the mind-wandering mode. This acts as a neural reset button, and provides much needed perspective on what you’re doing.

Daydreaming leads to creativity, and creative activities teach us agency, the ability to change the world, to mold it to our liking, to have a positive effect on our environment. Music, for example, turns out to be an effective method for improving attention, building up self-confidence, social skills and a sense of engagement.

I suspect that by moving to Vermont with cleaner air, quiet, and lots of space to walk and appreciate nature even within a few blocks of our house, we have hit our reset buttons.  Being able to sit on the screened in porch and watch daylight fade as I did last night or taking a walk to see the stars tonight provides time to think and reflect.  We did try to do this in Boston by walking around Jamaica Pond for example, but even there you could hear traffic.  I used to walk over to Boston Harbor at lunch and look at the water.  These are urban dwellers solutions which people in cities can employ.  But they need to do so without cellphones and other devices.

I know it is a privilege to be able to retire to a place where we can so easily hit reset.

Illustration by Matthieu Bourel

Pete Seeger at the Lincoln Memorial

I was going to write about Pete Seeger’s death, but then I realized I had already written this back in 2009.

FortLeft

The concert at the Lincoln Memorial was a wonderful start to the festivities.  My favorites were Garth Brooks (who knew he could do gospel?) and Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen leading everyone in Woody Guthrie’s This Land is My Land

I grew up with Pete Seeger both with the Weavers and as a solo.  He used to come and perform at the annual Bucks County PA Peace Fair and I recall selling him Italian Ice at least once.  John Pareles wrote in his review of the concert in the New York Times

Its penultimate song had the 89-year-old folk singer Pete Seeger, who survived being blacklisted during the McCarthy era, leading a singalong on a full-length version of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land,” with one of his admirers, Mr. Springsteen, by his side.

And Joanna Weiss  in the Boston Globe

But the penultimate act seemed…

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