Monday, August 31, 2009

Two Back-to-School Poetry Collections to Look For

Disclaimer: Both of these books are written by people whom I consider friends. This does not mean that I'm not being honest in my reviews, but I figure I owe it to you to disclose that I have a personal relationship with the authors, both of whom were kind enough to ask their publishers to send me a copy of their books. So, I have.

For the lower elementary set

STAMPEDE! Poems to Celebrate the Wild Side of School by my friend Laura Purdie Salas, illustrated by Steven Salerno. Laura used terms related to the animal kingdom in creating her collection of poems, and Steven Salerno took her quite literally in creating the illustrations, which show the children as animal-hybrids throughout the book.

Laura's work is clever, creative and playful. It includes poems about groups of children (e.g., "Swarm", which likens the buzz of conversation to a swarm of bees or "Stampede", which compares the thundering of kids heading for the exit at day's end to a herd of elephants) as well as poems about individuals - usually in uncomfortable situations that most kids can relate to. Here's the second poem in the book, "New Mouse":

New Mouse
by Laura Purdie Salas

Go left, then right,
Wrong turns, dead ends,
Can't find my class,
I've got no friends.

Each hallway is
a hallway clone.
Can't find my way
around alone.

A thousand halls,
a thousand ways,
I'm lost inside
this new-school maze.

The poems are set up in a way that essentially moves through the school day - gym class, lunch, recess, references to various classes and situations (such as picture day and rumored crushes). A fun collection of poems about school. Recommended for the elementary school crowd: K-3 per the publisher, but I'm pretty sure kids in upper elementary school would still like this book!

Laura set up a website for the book, which will give you the opportunity to read two more of Laura's poems (the first and last ones in the book). It will also let you see some of Steven Salerno's artwork.

For the upper elementary and middle school set

Countdown to Summer: A Poem for Every Day of the School Year by my friend J. Patrick Lewis, illustrated by Ethan Long. This book does for the older elementary and middle school age group what Billy Collins's Poetry 180 does for teens: it provides you with 180 poems, one for each day of school. But unlike Collins's book (and the related website from the Library of Congress, both of which are anthologies consisting of poems by a number of poets, all the poems are by a single author.

Pat's book starts with poem #180 and counts its way down to #1. Not all of the poems are funny, although many of them are. Not all of them are about school, although some of them are. Librarians will probably like #175: "Reading Harry Potter Under the Sheets", but they are guaranteed to love #173: "Book Etiquette", which gives directions on how to treat a book properly. But my favorite book-related poem is probably #28: "Ars Libri"

Ars Libri: after Archibald MacLeish
by J. Patrick Lewis

A book should be spirited and odd
As a divining rod,

As the wonder of a child,

Open to the sky and the slanting rain
As an attic's shattered windowpane.

A book should measure its success
By a censor's distress.

* *

A book should be ten candle-watts
Of afterthoughts,

Brilliant as a marbled vein in a quarry
Of story,

Bold enough to leave behind
Unpeace of mind.

A book should be a welcome late-night guest
After a day-long standardized test.

* *

A book should be the map, flashlight, and skeleton key
To literacy.

For all imaginations out of whack or work,
The CEO and the filing clerk,

For kids
Who yearn to see but hesitate to dream--

A book should both be
And seem.

The collection includes lovely poems about Eid ul-Fitr, Thanksgiving, Kwanzaa, Chanukah, Martin Luther King Day and more, riddles here and there, poems guaranteed to make you chuckle and the occasional political poem.

(Don't believe me? I direct you to #143, "Proposed Amendment to the Constitution":

The President and Vice-President
of the United States shall be required
to take the Fourth Grade Standardized
Achievement Test so that
No President or Vice-President
shall be left behind.

To which I say, "Preach it, Pat!"

Truly, it's not all highbrow. Take #149: "A Lasting Impression"

I scratched your initials
on the seat of my chair --
now you're stuck
on my underwear!

So, even though summer is not yet over here in New Jersey (my kids don't go back to school until September 8th), I am recommending that you get your hands on Countdown to Summer, and that you check out "the Wild Side of School" with Stampede.

Kiva - loans that change lives

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Northanger Abbey - Chapter Thirty-One

My, but that month/book went by rather . . . slowly, if I'm being honest. I'm not used to reading a book at this pace, and even though I read the book all the way through (for something like the fifth time) before I got started this month , I ended up reading a chapter a day as I went in order to prepare the posts. It's kind of interesting, slowing something down like that. I know I learned a lot about what Austen did (and, in some cases, how she did it) this way, so I have to declare the month a success. I hope those of you who've been reading along (or who eventually manage to do so) agree.

Moving on.

Chapter 31 - the very short version "And they all lived happily ever after. The End."

Chapter 31

The Morlands are surprised when Henry asks to marry Catherine, but quickly recover. Even without any inheritance from his father, he's already a much better match for Catherine than they'd ever expected her to be able to make, and they don't doubt his love and affection for Catherine. Henry's independently wealthy (or at least well-off enough to support a wife), so unlike the case of James Morland when he wished to wed Isabella, there's no financial impediment to an immediate marriage.

Permission requested
That said, the Morlands are traditional enough to require that General Tilney consent to the marriage (even though Henry is beyond the age of consent) before they will allow the engagement to become official. They're not looking for actual approbation; simple parental permission will do. As a result of this, Henry and Catherine are not technically engaged at this point, although their intention is, of course, to become so.

Henry and Catherine are not surprised by it - unhappy about it, sure, but they go along with it. Henry returns to Woodston while "Catherine remained at Fullerton to cry." Gotta love Austen's narrator here, and how concisely she conveys Catherine's sentiments and actions.

Secret correspondence
Whether the torments of absence were softened by a clandestine correspondence, let us not inquire. Mr. and Mrs. Morland never did -- they had been too kind to exact any promise; and whenever Catherine received a letter, as, at that time, happened pretty often, they always looked another way.

Any correspondence between Henry and Catherine would be "clandestine" because they are a) unrelated and b) not engaged. I like what Austen accomplishes with this bit of narration. She first asserts that she won't inquire as to whether there was correspondence, then pretty much assures us that there was, all quite indirectly. The willingness of the Morlands to look the other way shows them to be sympathetic to the young couple and their plight. They never asked Catherine or Henry not to correspond, nor do they ask Catherine the identity of her correspondents, thereby giving tacit permission for her to correspond with her beau.

Permission granted
I'd like to point out that as miserable as we believe Catherine and Henry to be, it doesn't last all that long. Catherine got to Northanger Abbey in March (that little tidbit comes at the start of Chapter 22) and stayed there for five weeks, making it at least April when she left for Fullerton. We are told that the General gave his permission for the match in the summer, thanks to Eleanor's having made an advantageous match of her own. This means a delay of only a few months, at most.

Now, before you say "that was short work, Eleanor", I'll remind you what the narrator has to say about it. It's worth noting how the narrator doesn't just narrate here, but opines heavily as well:

The marriage of Eleanor Tilney, her removal from all the evils of such a home as Northanger had been made by Henry's banishment, to the home of her choice and the man of her choice, is an event which I expect to give general satisfaction among all her acquaintance. My own joy on the occasion is very sincere. I know no one more entitled, by unpretending merit, or better prepared by habitual suffering, to receive and enjoy felicity. Her partiality for this gentleman was not of recent origin; and he had been long withheld only by inferiority of situation from addressing her. His unexpected accession to title and fortune had removed all his difficulties; and never had the General loved his daughter so well in all her hours of companionship, utility, and patient endurance as when he first hailed her "Your Ladyship!" Her husband was really deserving of her; independent of his peerage, his wealth, and his attachment, being to a precision the most charming young man in the world. Any further definition of his merits must be unnecessary; the most charming young man in the world is instantly before the imagination of us all. Concerning the one in question, therefore, I have only to add -- (aware that the rules of composition forbid the introduction of a character not connected with my fable) -- that this was the very gentleman whose negligent servant left behind him that collection of washing-bills, resulting from a long visit at Northanger, by which my heroine was involved in one of her most alarming adventures.

Dear Jane, your deus ex machina is showing again. But it's so charming that I'm willing to overlook it. Plus, I love Eleanor and agree that she deserves happiness. I'm glad you didn't leave her stranded at Northanger Abbey with General Crankypants.

Henry and Catherine were married, the bells rang, and every body smiled; and, as this took place within a twelvemonth from the first day of their meeting, it will not appear, after all the dreadful delays occasioned by the General's cruelty, that they were essentially hurt by it.

"And they all lived happily ever after. The End."

Okay, so that's not quite how she ends it. She leaves us, instead, with a point to ponder: The General's interference, rather than separating them, appears to have strengthened their relationship. The parting sentence asks a book club sort of question: whether the story actually speaks in support of parental tyranny (like the General's), or in favor of filial disobedience (like Henry's).

To begin perfect happiness at the respective ages of twenty-six and eighteen, is to do pretty well; and professing myself moreover convinced, that the General's unjust interference, so far from being really injurious to their felicity, was perhaps rather conducive to it, by improving their knowledge of each other, and adding strength to their attachment, I leave it to be settled, by whomsoever it may concern, whether the tendency of this work be altogether to recommend parental tyranny, or reward filial disobedience.

I hope you've enjoyed August at the Abbey. I know I have. I'm also looking forward to School in September. (No, it's not a series of posts - it's a reality for my kids, but it won't begin until after Labor Day. Alas.)

Kiva - loans that change lives

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Northanger Abbey - Chapter Thirty

Chapter 30 - the very short version Henry comes to Fullerton and proposes.

Chapter 30
Catherine got home on Sunday night. It's now Wednesday, and Catherine's spirits are still suffering, and Mrs. Morland has had enough. She tries to get Catherine to do her work - here, a reference to needlework. Evidently, Catherine's supposed to be making shirts for one of her brothers, but she's been remiss. She's so disheartened that she can't really concentrate on anything.

I find what happens next to be very interesting, because Austen and her narrator do something a bit unusual - they follow Mrs. Morland out of the sitting room and upstairs to rummage about and look for a treatise that Mrs. Morland intends to use to beat some sense into get Catherine to stop moping. And so it is that we, the readers, as well as Mrs. Morland are entirely surprised to find Henry Tilney sitting in the parlor with a very happy Catherine. An excellent use of surprise, and well set-up, too. Writers wishing to pull of such a coup on their own may want to take at look at the opening seven paragraphs of this chapter to see the master at work.

After a few minutes of awkward conversation, Henry seizes upon the Allens as a topic of conversation, asking Catherine to take him over to pay his respects. Now, as modern readers, this strikes us pretty much solely as a fabricated pretext for a private conversation - and, indeed, it is a pretext for a private conversation, but there was nothing fabricated about it at all. Having made the acquaintance of the Allens in Bath, it would have been considered extremely rude of Henry to be in the neighborhood and not drop in, although the timing of his particular visit is an excuse to get Catherine alone, as he, Catherine and Mrs. Morland are all aware. Mrs. Morland thinks he just wants to tell Catherine what was up with his father, because she hasn't the slightest clue of his relationship with Catherine at this point. In the movie clip below, however, you will see that Mrs. Moreland is far savvier than her counterpart within the book. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The conversation between Henry and Catherine

I love how the narrator conveys the conversation here. It's worth pointing out that Henry doesn't lead with what was up with his dad, but goes straight for a declaration of love, which is, of course, reciprocated. The narrator's glee in pointing out that Catherine's feelings are not a secret to anyone, including Henry, makes me very happy. Also funny? Her assertion that the reason he ever gave Catherine a serious look in the first place was her attraction to Henry. But where it becomes positively hilarious is where the narrator acknowledges that such motivation may be a first within the pages of a novel, but is a commonplace in the real world:

Some explanation on his father's account he had to give; but his first purpose was to explain himself, and before they reached Mr. Allen's grounds he had done it so well, that Catherine did not think it could ever be repeated too often. She was assured of his affection; and that heart in return was solicited, which, perhaps, they pretty equally knew was already entirely his own; for, though Henry was now sincerely attached to her, though he felt and delighted in all the excellencies of her character and truly loved her society, I must confess that his affection originated in nothing better than gratitude, or, in other words, that a persuasion of her partiality for him had been the only cause of giving her a serious thought. It is a new circumstance in romance, I acknowledge, and dreadfully derogatory of an heroine's dignity; but if it be as new in common life, the credit of a wild imagination will at least be all my own. (Emphasis added.)

The happy couple visits Mrs. Allen only briefly, during which both of them are pretty much incoherent - again, a fact in keeping with real life, I think. Besides, do you suppose that Mrs. Allen noticed they were incoherent? I rather suspect not.

Clever use of "telling"
Austen's narrator cleverly tells us the entire story behind General Tilney's actions in taking a liking to Catherine and later chucking her out, filling us in on John Thorpe's role in the matter. Only after she's filled us in on the whole General Tilney line (which makes perfect sense as backstory to his actions and motivations throughout, by the by) does she mention that Henry didn't tell Catherine all of that, but that it was patched together from a variety of sources. Genius, I tell you.

Henry proves his mettle by standing up to his father on multiple counts: he expresses disapproval of how the General treated Catherine, refuses to go with him to Herefordshire, and tells his father that he intends to propose to Catherine. He left his furious father at Northanger, returned to Woodston, then set off for Fullerton the following day.

It is worth noting that Henry's disagreement with his father is justified to the reader, as a means of showing that Henry is morally in the right here in bucking parental authority. Otherwise, you see, his lack of respect for his father would be shocking indeed.

But, in such a cause, [the General's] anger, though it must shock, could not intimidate Henry, who was sustained in his purpose by a conviction of its justice. He felt himself bound as much in honour as in affection to Miss Morland, and believing that heart to be his own which he had been directed to gain, no unworthy retraction of a tacit consent, no reversing decree of unjustifiable anger, could shake his fidelity, or influence the resolutions it prompted.

And now, for a bit of the final scene (with a squee-inducing kiss, I might add):

Tomorrow: Do we get our happily ever after?

Kiva - loans that change lives

Friday, August 28, 2009

Northanger Abbey - Chapter Twenty-Nine

Chapter 29 - the very short version Catherine gets home and her family thinks the General was a jerk.

Chapter 29

In what ought to be the most frightening episode in the book, Catherine is sent on a solitary journey of 11 hours of relatively steady travel by post chaise without any sort of companion. However, our heroine has matured so very much that even this holds no real fear for her - instead, she passes it in grief and concern: what will Henry say when he arrives at Northanger Abbey on Monday and finds her gone? and how will her family react when she arrives unlooked-for and unannounced? Will they be so affronted by the General's rudeness that they extend their dislike for Henry and Eleanor as well?

I love how Austen inserts her narrator into this scene to remind us how very average Catherine is, and how far from a novel this novel is. It also serves to describe the scene whilst claiming that the scene is not worth describing. Brilliant irony, Miss Austen.

A heroine returning, at the close of her career, to her native village, in all the triumph of recovered reputation, and all the dignity of a countess, with a long train of noble relations in their several phaetons, and three waiting-maids in a travelling chaise-and-four, behind her, is an event on which the pen of the contriver may well delight to dwell; it gives credit to every conclusion, and the author must share in the glory she so liberally bestows. -- But my affair is widely different; I bring back my heroine to her home in solitude and disgrace; and no sweet elation of spirits can lead me into minuteness. A heroine in a hack post-chaise, is such a blow upon sentiment, as no attempt at grandeur or pathos can withstand. Swiftly therefore shall her post-boy drive through the village, amid the gaze of Sunday groups, and speedy shall be her descent from it.

Home again, home again, jiggety-jigOn reaching home, Catherine is happy to see her family, and they are happy to see her. On hearing how her sudden trip home came about, they all agree that the General was impolite, to say the least. In a line given to one of Catherine's sisters, we read the precise reaction that so many readers have upon finishing the last chapter: "'I can allow for his wishing Catherine away, when he recollected this engagement,' said Sarah, 'but why not do it civilly?'"

The next morning, Catherine immediately sits down to write to Eleanor, wishing to reassure Eleanor that she reached home and that she still thinks well of Eleanor. I love how we get to listen in on Catherine as she agonizes over how to say what she wants without sounding, well, wrong somehow, and in a way that wouldn't embarrass her if Henry were to read the letter. I'm sure we've all been there, whether in personal or business correspondence. It's one of those real-life details that Austen draws in so well, allowing the reader to fully engage with her main character as a result.

Mrs. Morland attempts to cheer Catherine up

Mrs. Morland can't help but notice that Catherine is not quite herself. So she first goes for the "they weren't good enough for you" sort of message. However, when Mrs. Morland opines that perhaps Catherine is well-shot of the Tilneys (lumping them in with Isabella Thorpe, no less), Catherine springs to Eleanor's defense (you'll note that she hasn't spilled her affection for Henry). Although her words are about Eleanor, her emotional reaction is based on Henry - what will happen if she doesn't see him for years? Will he move on? Seeing Catherine upset, her mother switches to distraction: Let's go see Mrs. Allen!

Oh, Mrs. Allen!
Mr. Allen expresses unhappiness at hearing how Catherine was treated, which Mrs. Allen echoes, settling on a mantra of "I really have not patience with the General", followed by a discussion of various clothing items. She does, however, say kind things about Henry Tilney, which Mrs. Morland manages not to seize upon.

Mutual inattention
Mrs. Allen usually pays little attention to other people, preferring her own certainty in her own perspective, and so it is in this scene. But she's not the only one: as the scene closes, Mrs. Morland prattles to Catherine about how recent acquaintances are unimportant and keeping long-term friends is the source of true happiness, all while Catherine is busy thinking that Henry must have gotten to Northanger by now and must be on his way to Herefordshire with Eleanor and General Tilney to visit the General's friend.

I am already jumping up and down, for tomorrow brings HENRY with it!

Kiva - loans that change lives

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Northanger Abbey - Chapter Twenty-Eight

Chapter 28 - the very short version The General takes a short trip to London, and on his return directs Eleanor to tell Catherine to leave. Tomorrow. Unescorted.

Chapter 28
The General takes a short trip to London, during which Eleanor and Catherine agree that she's to stay with them for weeks and weeks more, making Eleanor, Catherine and Henry terribly happy. On Saturday, Henry heads to Woodston so he can perform his ministerial duties. That night, the General returns, and directs Eleanor to tell Catherine to leave. Tomorrow. Unescorted. Don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.

How rude is General Tilney? Let me count the ways:

1. For a host to tell an invited guest to leave was pretty rude.

2. To tell them to leave on extremely short notice was really rude.

3. To arrange travel arrangements for the guest's departure before the guest is even aware that they're going is pretty . . . inconsiderate. (I am reminded of the mover in the "Don't F*ck With Mr. Zero" T-shirt knowing about Harry's separation before he did.)

4. To send a young lady off unescorted was exceedingly rude. Slap-in-the-face rude. Inviting trouble rude.

5. Travelling on Sunday was considered poor manners unless there was some particularly exacerbating circumstance.

6. Forcing someone else to travel on Sunday is that much worse - you are forcing someone who might never violate the "no travel on Sunday" injunction to do just that.

To sum up, our host, General Tilney, told an invited guest to get the hell out, on very short notice, with arrangements for her departure already made before she knows a thing about it. She is being sent post-chaise* without a servant or other escort, and she's being forced to leave at a beastly early hour on Sunday morning - not only will she be travelling on Sunday, but he's preventing her from attending church as well. Oh - and he's forcing her to arrive at her family's home unexpectedly and unannounced. It's all highly irregular and extraordinarily unmannerly, when taken as a whole.

*post-chaise: The General is sending Catherine in a closed carriage. It's a private vehicle (sometimes owned, sometimes hired), and not a form of public transportation like a stage coach. That said, when travelling a distance, stops would be made and horses would be changed. The driver would likely have ridden postilion (astride the left-hand horse of the pair closest to the carriage - there would have been either two or four horses pulling the carriage; if there were two pair, he'd have held the reins to the front pair while riding the back pair). Catherine is being sent without an escort to keep her company at any rest stops, so she has to manage whatever needs to be done on her own - an unusual circumstance for a young, unmarried lady.

Catherine's thoughts on the matter show remarkable discernment, and display character growth:

It was as incomprehensible as it was mortifying and grievous. From what it could arise, and where it would end, were considerations of equal perplexity and alarm. The manner in which it was done so grossly uncivil, hurrying her away without any reference to her own convenience, or allowing her even the appearance of choice as to the time or mode of her travelling; of two days, the earliest fixed on, and of that almost the earliest hour, as if resolved to have her gone before he was stirring in the morning, that he might not be obliged even to see her. What could all this mean but an intentional affront? By some means or other she must have had the misfortune to offend him.

Brava, Catherine! You've finally gotten something right. Too bad there's no way you can correctly sort out what it is that has the General's knickers in a twist. In this scene in which Catherine has to react/respond to something truly horrible, she manages to react and respond rationally. Does she cry? Yes, but only when alone. She wonders about the possible reasons and sorts out that the General is (to borrow from Lady Catherine De Bourgh in the 1995 BBC Production) "quite put out". Catherine's exit from Northanger Abbey is another "civilized" twist on a Gothic theme, in which the heroine is sent on a midnight carriage ride alone under horrifying conditions. Now, Catherine's not leaving at midnight, but she is leaving terribly early in the morning and under all of the rude circumstances already discussed. Dear Jane Austen: I c what u did thar.

Before moving on, let's take a second to recall how Catherine spent her first night at the Abbey - wigged out about the storm and wondering about the documents she found in that cabinet right before her candle went out. Now, let's look at how our little girl has grown through the course of the novel:

Heavily passed the night. Sleep, or repose that deserved the name of sleep, was out of the question. That room, in which her disturbed imagination had tormented her on her first arrival, was again the scene of agitated spirits and unquiet slumbers. Yet how different now the source of her inquietude from what it had been then -- how mournfully superior in reality and substance! Her anxiety had foundation in fact, her fears in probability; and with a mind so occupied in the contemplation of actual and natural evil, the solitude of her situation, the darkness of her chamber, the antiquity of the building, were felt and considered without the smallest emotion; and though the wind was high, and often produced strange and sudden noises throughout the house, she heard it all as she lay awake, hour after hour, without curiosity or terror.

Catherine isn't kept awake by fantasies and fictions, but by actual concern over a very real situation. It is natural for one to be distressed under such circumstances, and what keeps her awake is not the noises she hears, but her curiosity and distress over what has occurred.

Poor Eleanor. Eleanor is in a horrible situation here as well. She is expected to be obedient to her father, and also expected not to violate any confidence he may have imparted as to the reason for his incivility. But she is genuinely fond of Catherine and seriously unhappy with the way her father is behaving. Nevertheless, she is constrained to act in accordance with his wishes. Under the circumstances, she does the best she can. She offers to help Catherine pack, requests that she write*, and ensures that Catherine has sufficient funds to pay her way home, all the while revealing herself to be upset and acting under severe strain.

*requests to correspond: Despite the fact that pretty much every member of the 19th-century gentry generated a large amount of personal correspondence, one did not simply send letters to people willy-nilly. One waited to be invited to correspond (you may recall that immediately prior to being invited to visit the Abbey back in Chapter 17, Catherine was hopeful that Eleanor was going to ask her to correspond). Eleanor has specifically asked Catherine to open a correspondence with her; however, given her father's fit of pique, Eleanor has asked Catherine to enter into a surreptitious correspondence by directing the letter to Eleanor's friend Alice (whom she will be visiting, presumably) as a means of getting the letter through undetected.

Eleanor's and Catherine's leave-taking concludes with Catherine making reference to Henry before bursting into tears and racing into the carriage. What will her family say when she gets home tomorrow?

Kiva - loans that change lives

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Northanger Abbey - Chapter Twenty-Seven

Chapter 27 - the very short version After a letter from Isabella, Catherine displays her new-found good sense in calling Isabella a whore. In polite, early 19th-century terms, of course.

Chapter 27

Isabella sends an extremely entertaining letter to Catherine, trash-talking Captain Frederick Tilney while demonstrating that she's pining after him, and asking Catherine to please smooth things over with James Morland.

Such a strain of shallow artifice could not impose even upon Catherine. Its inconsistencies, contradictions, and falsehood struck her from the very first. She was ashamed of Isabella, and ashamed of having ever loved her. Her professions of attachment were now as disgusting as her excuses were empty, and her demands impudent. . ..

. . . "So much for Isabella," she cried, "and for all our intimacy! She must think me an idiot, or she could not have written so; but perhaps this has served to make her character better known to me than mine is to her. I see what she has been about. She is a vain coquette, and her tricks have not answered. I do not believe she had ever any regard either for James or for me, and I wish I had never known her."

"It will soon be as if you never had," said Henry.

Catherine goes on to question Henry as to what on earth his brother had been thinking, chasing after Isabella like that. When Henry basically says that Frederick was in it for the sport, and hadn't cared about Isabella, Catherine's pretty offended. Sure, Isabella was a heartless cow, but what if he'd made Isabella fall in love with him? Henry's answer was that Isabella would have needed a heart in order to fall in love:

"But we must first suppose Isabella to have had a heart to lose -- consequently to have been a very different creature; and, in that case, she would have met with very different treatment."

"It is very right that you should stand by your brother."

"And if you would stand by yours, you would not be much distressed by the disappointment of Miss Thorpe. But your mind is warped by an innate principle of general integrity, and therefore not accessible to the cool reasonings of family partiality, or a desire of revenge."

First, bravo to all these points, and an extra bravo with a "wow!" for Henry's flattery of Catherine at the end.

Second, if you go back and read the entire conversation between Henry and Catherin in this chapter, I think that you'll find (as I did) that they are starting to sound far more like parties on even footing, and less like teacher/student or master/grasshopper. Henry's still more experienced than Catherine (as he ought to be - he's like, seven years older than she), but thanks to his earlier tutelage and a bit of life experience outside the bubble of her hometown, Catherine's a lot more savvy than she used to be. Thank you Henry, and thank you hard knocks Isabella.

Tomorrow - What do you mean, "get the hell out?"

Kiva - loans that change lives

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Northanger Abbey - Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter 26 - the very short version General Tilney takes Eleanor and Catherine to visit Henry at his home at Woodston

Chapter 26
Some brief summary is in order. No mail from Frederick Tilney, so who knows what's up there. And the General tells Henry they will surprise him one day when he's at Woodston. On Wednesday. At precisely 12:45 p.m. Have a little something - anything - ready. As long as it is precisely what the General likes precisely how he likes it. "[W]hy he should say one thing so positively, and mean another all the while, was most unaccountable! How were people, at that rate, to be understood?"

Also, how can one not fall in love with Henry Tilney in this scene?

A ball itself could not have been more welcome to Catherine than this little excursion, so strong was her desire to be acquainted with Woodston; and her heart was still bounding with joy when Henry, about an hour afterwards, came booted and great coated into the room where she and Eleanor were sitting, and said, "I am come, young ladies, in a very moralizing strain, to observe that our pleasures in this world are always to be paid for, and that we often purchase them at a great disadvantage, giving ready-monied actual happiness for a draft on the future, that may not be honoured. Witness myself, at this present hour. Because I am to hope for the satisfaction of seeing you at Woodston on Wednesday, which bad weather, or twenty other causes, may prevent, I must go away directly, two days before I intended it."

"Go away!" said Catherine, with a very long face. "And why?"

"Why! -- How can you ask the question? Because no time is to be lost in frightening my old housekeeper out of her wits, -- because I must go and prepare a dinner for you, to be sure."

"Oh! not seriously!"

"Aye, and sadly too -- for I had much rather stay."


I love Austen's use of indirect discourse here, and how she shifts from Catherine's frustrated internal narration about the passage of time to the narrator's smartass comment on how time passes just as it should:

Now, there was nothing so charming to her imagination as the unpretending comfort of a well-connected Parsonage, something like Fullerton, but better: Fullerton had its faults, but Woodston probably had none. -- If Wednesday should ever come!

It did come, and exactly when it might be reasonably looked for.


Catherine loves everything about Woodston - its setting, the village, and, of course, its owner (not that that part is exactly spelled out). She still hasn't quite realized what a yenta General Tilney is being here, nor does she understand him well enough to know what it is that he'd most like to hear, so rather than gushing about the house in accordance with her thoughts, she speaks with a bit more reserve, until she gets to the unfinished drawing room, which she immediately adores. Her effusive response about the room is exceedingly gratifying to the General. It also probably saves the home of a tenant, since part of what she loves is the view of a little cottage across the way, which results in this remark from the General: "'You like it -- you approve it as an object; -- it is enough. Henry, remember that Robinson is spoken to about it. The cottage remains.'" (Robinson is probably the estate manager for Henry.)

"[S]o gratifying had been the tenor of his conduct throughout the whole visit, so well assured was her mind on the subject of his expectations, that, could she have felt equally confident of the wishes of his son, Catherine would have quitted Woodston with little anxiety as to the How or the When she might return to it." Awww . . . poor insecure girl. Still, Austen completely nails this scene, I think. We learn more about how well-suited Catherine is to Henry - she likes his house and gardens and what he's done with it, and she finds it exceedingly comfortable. She's finally crystal-clear as to what the General's up to as a matchmaker, but uncertain about the depth of Henry's affections. Well-played, all 'round.

Tomorrow: A letter from Isabella - I guarantee it will be fun!

Kiva - loans that change lives

Monday, August 24, 2009

Northanger Abbey - Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter 25 – the very short version Catherine receives a distressing letter from James, and Henry proves what a mensch he is.

Chapter 25
When last we saw Catherine, she had made a run for her room, sobbing in humiliation after making an ass of herself in front of Henry (who was of great assistance in pointing out exactly how much of an ass she was, kinda). Today's episode opens a bit later the same day – it's almost time for dinner, so Catherine has to come downstairs, where she finds Eleanor being as kind as ever. And as for Henry . . .

The formidable Henry soon followed her into the room, and the only difference in his behaviour to her was that he paid her rather more attention than usual. Catherine had never wanted comfort more, and he looked as if he was aware of it.

The evening wore away with no abatement of this soothing politeness; and her spirits were gradually raised to a modest tranquillity. She did not learn either to forget or defend the past; but she learned to hope that it would never transpire farther, and that it might not cost her Henry's entire regard.

Has she lost Henry's regard? And will the mail never come?

What I particularly like about Catherine's ponderings during the evening – besides the sassy tone with which the narrator conveys them – is how she allows that other countries might contain people who fit the bill in Mrs. Radcliffe's books, and is willing to allow that the northern and western parts of England might be suspect, but central England is safe as houses.

Despite this rather flippant introduction, Catherine shows signs of real growth:

[A]mong the English, she believed, in their hearts and habits, there was a general though unequal mixture of good and bad. Upon this conviction, she would not be surprized if even in Henry and Eleanor Tilney, some slight imperfection might hereafter appear; and upon this conviction she need not fear to acknowledge some actual specks in the character of their father, who, though cleared from the grossly injurious suspicions which she must ever blush to have entertained, she did believe, upon serious consideration, to be not perfectly amiable.

Nine days pass. Things with Henry are better than ever. But why hasn't Isabella written? Of course Isabella's going to write – she promised so faithfully. And while Catherine's sorted out that not everything is black and white, and not everyone is trustworthy, she hasn't gotten around to assessing Isabella in light of her new-found discovery. I'll bet she catches on quickly from here on out. Let's see, shall we?

Day ten: A letter! Henry is happy to give it to Catherine, since she's been waiting so long. Catherine is happy, too – finally, a letter from her dear friend Isabella!

Only it's from James. WTF? (And really, Catherine's line "'Tis only from James, however" is pretty much Regency for WTF, in this instance.) Rather than repeat the letter (which you've already read), I'll summarize:

Dear Catherine,
Found out my girlfriend is a whore. Broke it off. She'll probably marry Captain Tilney. Hope that doesn't mess up your relationship with his siblings.

James is such a buzzkill. But I'm going to skip the crying and moaning and move right to the part where Catherine and Henry talk over the contents of the letter, Henry having guessed that Isabella Thorpe is the issue.
"How quick you are!" cried Catherine, "you have guessed it, I declare! -- And yet, when we talked about it in Bath, you little thought of its ending so. Isabella -- no wonder now I have not heard from her -- Isabella has deserted my brother, and is to marry your's! Could you have believed there had been such inconstancy and fickleness, and everything that is bad in the world?" Yes. Yes he could Isabella to be inconstant and fickle and everything that is bad in the world. As could us readers. We are pleased that you are finally catching on. Let's see what Henry has to say about a Thorpe-Tilney alliance.
"I hope, so far as concerns my brother, you are misinformed. I hope he has not had any material share in bringing on Mr. Morland's disappointment. His marrying Miss Thorpe is not probable. I think you must be deceived so far. I am very sorry for Mr. Morland -- sorry that anyone you love should be unhappy; but my surprize would be greater at Frederick's marrying her, than at any other part of the story."

Henry, you see, is a pragmatist. He knows that Frederick has to land himself someone wealthy, and that Isabella Thorpe is, as far as his brother is concerned, (more or less) a bit of skirt. Catherine hands the letter first to Henry (well-played, Miss Austen – you have now established that the primary bond is definitely between Catherine and Henry, and you've given us additional proof of how much Catherine trusts him, that she would pass a piece of extremely personal correspondence to him).

About that letter . . .
Eleanor is also permitted to read it, and she asks the follow-up questions about Isabella's background and wealth. This particular exchange, which involves Eleanor, Catherine and Henry, serves multiple purposes:

1. It reinforces the requirements for an intended Tilney spouse. We know that Catherine's slightly better off than Isabella, but not wealthy, and are left to wonder what that might mean.

2. The exchange of a look between Eleanor and Henry about wealth confirms that we readers are correct in thinking that General Tilney is whatever he says he is not (and vice versa).

3. The flat-out denigration (okay – in polite, early 19th-century terms) of Isabella Thorpe by Eleanor Tilney lets us know that the entire Tilney family has high moral standards, including the cavalier Captain. A woman such as Isabella, who has proven herself false, would not suit any of them.

4. Henry's final pronouncement on the subject condemns Isabella, but has a double meaning praising Catherine, who does not understand what he is on about, although his sister does:
"That is the most unpromising circumstance, the strongest presumption against him. When I think of his past declarations, I give him up. -- Moreover, I have too good an opinion of Miss Thorpe's prudence, to suppose that she would part with one gentleman before the other was secured. It is all over with Frederick indeed! He is a deceased man -- defunct in understanding. Prepare for your sister-in-law, Eleanor, and such a sister-in-law as you must delight in! -- Open, candid, artless, guileless, with affections strong but simple, forming no pretensions, and knowing no disguise."

"Such a sister-in-law, Henry, I should delight in," said Eleanor with a smile.

Henry's opening sentences are sarcastic – he definitely thinks Isabella stupid enough to break off her engagement before she's secured a replacement. His concluding sentences, however, are sincere; they have to do with Catherine, of course, who is too "candid, artless, [and] guileless" to pick up on the fact that she's the one being discussed.

I confess that I rather love that Henry says that while he pities her brother, Catherine's grief must not be undervalued. And then he manages to cheer Catherine up by asking her a series of questions, the answers to which indicate that she's not actually heartbroken over the event. Well-done, Henry and Catherine, and well-done Miss Austen as well. For the sorts of distress that Henry questions Catherine about are the sorts of distress that a Gothic heroine might be expected to feel, but none of it rings true to our now-living-in-the-real-world heroine, Miss Catherine Morland.

Tomorrow: To Woodston!

Kiva - loans that change lives

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Northanger Abbey - Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter 24 – the very short version Catherine decides to check out Mrs. Tilney's rooms on her own and is busted by Henry.

Chapter 24
It being Sunday, much of the day is spent in church. Because for observant members of the Church of England, Sunday meant both morning and afternoon services (although sometimes people went only in the morning, and in inclement weather, women often remained at home). As a result, Catherine has no real opportunity to sneak off to see whether Mrs. Tilney is imprisoned in her chambers, what with church and outdoor exercise and eating cold meat. (The eating of cold meat, by the way, meant that the kitchen staff had cooked it the previous day; it was typically a self-service sort of item.)

Church, however, was interesting, since it included a good view of the memorial plaque erected in honor of Mrs. Tilney, which spoke of her with the highest regard. Catherine is so convinced that General Tilney is guilty of his wife's imprisonment and/or murder that she finds his ability to sit near it and look at it – and even his ability to enter the church – to be "wonderful," a word which in Austen's day meant "inspiring wonder", without being limited to something good.

Monday morning - what a lovely coincidence for us novel-readers today!
On Monday morning, Eleanor shows Catherine the portrait of Mrs. Tilney, which hangs in Eleanor's bedroom. Catherine cannot find any resemblance between Mrs. Tilney's portrait and with the faces of Eleanor and Henry. A thinking person might suppose that to support the General's claim that the portrait wasn't a sufficiently good likeness to hang in the drawing room, but as we know, Catherine's not always operating from a logical place.

Afterward, Eleanor was going to take Catherine to see her mother's rooms, only to be summoned at the last moment by the General in a loud voice (startling both of the young ladies, who were unaware he was back). Catherine thereafter decides she'll go see the room on her own, thinking that doing so would let Eleanor off the hook for revisiting negative emotions. She does not think that it could be construed as prying, although she should have considered such a thing. Her main concern is doing it that afternoon since Henry's due back the following day.

Catherine checks out Mrs. Tilney's room
Once Catherine gets to Mrs. Tilney's room and sees how modern and ordinary it is (and how well-tended), she's in a rush to get back to her own room. Imagine her terror on hearing footsteps approaching up the stairwell. She's so startled at seeing Henry that she completely forgets her manners and exclaims "Good God!" (which is rather strong language, and not entirely polite). And then she proceeds to question why he is where he is, despite her being the one who is technically out-of-bounds. Gotta love her nerve, I say. And Henry, to his credit, answers her before asking her a WTF? sort of question of his own.

And then we come to the truly mortifying portion of the book – at least, to the part that is obviously mortifying to all readers, even those not well-versed in 18th- and early 19th-century customs (because I assure you that there are other mortifying bits to come, only they don't usually resonate with modern readers in the same way that they would have done with Austen's contemporary audience).

"If I understand you rightly, you had formed a surmise of such horror as I have hardly words to -- Dear Miss Morland, consider the dreadful nature of the suspicions you have entertained. What have you been judging from? Remember the country and the age in which we live. Remember that we are English, that we are Christians. Consult your own understanding, your own sense of the probable, your own observation of what is passing around you. -- Does our education prepare us for such atrocities? Do our laws connive at them? Could they be perpetrated without being known, in a country like this, where social and literary intercourse is on such a footing, where every man is surrounded by a neighbourhood of voluntary spies, and where roads and newspapers lay everything open? Dearest Miss Morland, what ideas have you been admitting?" (Italics added.)

They had reached the end of the gallery, and with tears of shame she ran off to her own room.

A neighbourhood of voluntary spies
I don't blame Catherine for running off in shame – she really ought to be ashamed of herself. Henry's lecture shows him to be upset, but he's also rational – and he manages to refrain from attacking her, despite her having intimated that she thought his father to be a murderer. He basically says "life is not a Gothic novel", with his rationale for that sentiment based on God and country. The reference in the highlighted section to "a neighbourhood of voluntary spies" is to people such as his own father, who readily keep tabs on their neighbors and, if necessary, report them to the authorities.

The reference to neighborhood spies also ironically undercuts what Henry is saying in defense of England, because things that were sounding very reassuring suddenly take a turn for the creepier. And as we all know, Miss Austen didn't do those sorts of things by accident. At the end of Henry's speech, therefore, we are left still a bit discomfited, not only because Catherine Morland is our proxy and she's just been set down, but also because some of what was offered as comfort feels very much like a threat.

As an interesting aside (for me, anyhow), Austen knew of strange, Gothic-like goings-on in real-life England. A former pupil of her father's with diminished mental faculties was found to have been married off by his custodian for pecuniary gain; he was kept chained in a cell within his home for months until his plight was discovered and he was rescued. And Austen's own ancestry included a story from a few generations back in which a mother kept her three daughters prisoner within their own home until they managed to escape. Catherine's suspicions sound less far-fetched now, don't they?

Henry's staunch Anglicism is a by-product of his own rearing by a law-abiding (if not always loving) father. In addition to being a fairly well-rounded character, Henry is also a "type" – he represents a rational being of the Enlightenment, who is thoughtful and logical and possessed of both a superior education and a finely tuned intuition.
Austen's final Gothic arc in this book is now complete – once again, Catherine has been swept away by her imagination, and once again, it has ended in her embarrassment (here, to the point of complete mortification and tears).

How will Henry and Catherine interact tomorrow? And what news will the mail bring?

Kiva - loans that change lives

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Northanger Abbey - Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter 23 – the very short version Catherine gets a tour of the Abbey and starts to wonder if General Tilney murdered his wife.

Chapter 23
Finally, we get a tour of the house! That the General is very proud of his home and of the wealth it represents is readily apparent. Catherine (who has been hoping for a cobwebby, dismal, haunted sort of place) is not as keenly interested in many of the rooms as one might think.

House Tour
I love Austen's narrator here, though, and the way she takes a swipe at the General for his dual sins of pride and vanity:

he led the way across the hall, through the common drawing-room and one useless antechamber, into a room magnificent both in size and furniture -- the real drawing-room, used only with company of consequence. -- It was very noble -- very grand -- very charming! -- was all that Catherine had to say, for her indiscriminating eye scarcely discerned the colour of the satin; and all minuteness of praise, all praise that had much meaning, was supplied by the General: the costliness or elegance of any room's fitting-up could be nothing to her; she cared for no furniture of a more modern date than the fifteenth century. When the General had satisfied his own curiosity, in a close examination of every well-known ornament, they proceeded into the library, an apartment, in its way, of equal magnificence, exhibiting a collection of books, on which an humble man might have looked with pride.(Italics added.)

First, HA! Second, the bit I italicized is an instance of the free indirect discourse for which Austen is so justifiably well-known. "Free indirect discourse" is the reporting of conversation without the use of quotes. The narrator is telling you exactly what Catherine Morland said, but the entire conversation isn't being shown.

From the dining-room, of which, though already seen, and always to be seen at five o'clock, the General could not forgo the pleasure of pacing out the length, for the more certain information of Miss Morland, as to what she neither doubted nor cared for, they proceeded by quick communication to the kitchen -- the ancient kitchen of the convent, rich in the massy walls and smoke of former days, and in the stoves and hot closets of the present. The General's improving hand had not loitered here: every modern invention to facilitate the labour of the cooks had been adopted within this, their spacious theatre; and, when the genius of others had failed, his own had often produced the perfection wanted. His endowments of this spot alone might at any time have placed him high among the benefactors of the convent.

We get further evidence of the General's pride and vanity, which extends to his kitchens. The General is quite interested in his food – both the growing of it and its preparation and consumption. On the plus side, he hasn't simply improved the "public" rooms of his house and let the back rooms (including the pantries and kitchen) moulder.

We get another demonstration of how real life is different than novels when the tour through the back offices (pantries and various service stations) discloses an army of servants:

The number of servants continually appearing did not strike her less than the number of their offices. Wherever they went, some pattened* girl stopped to curtsy, or some footman in dishabille** sneaked off. Yet this was an Abbey! -- How inexpressibly different in these domestic arrangements from such as she had read about -- from abbeys and castles, in which, though certainly larger than Northanger, all the dirty work of the house was to be done by two pair of female hands at the utmost. How they could get through it all had often amazed Mrs. Allen; and, when Catherine saw what was necessary here, she began to be amazed herself.

*pattened: wearing pattens; pattens were an early form of platform shoe used to keep one's shoes from getting wet (or, if out of doors, muddy). I did an entire post on pattens once, including an original poem about them.
**dishabille: a state of being undressed, or exceedingly casually or carelessly dressed (out of uniform, in any case, in this instance).

She was here shewn successively into three large bed-chambers, with their dressing-rooms, most completely and handsomely fitted up; everything that money and taste could do, to give comfort and elegance to apartments, had been bestowed on these; and, being furnished within the last five years, they were perfect in all that would be generally pleasing, and wanting in all that could give pleasure to Catherine. As they were surveying the last, the General, after slightly naming a few of the distinguished characters by whom they had at times been honoured, turned with a smiling countenance to Catherine, and ventured to hope that henceforward some of their earliest tenants might be "our friends from Fullerton." She felt the unexpected compliment, and deeply regretted the impossibility of thinking well of a man so kindly disposed towards herself, and so full of civility to all her family.

The General's reference to visits from "friends from Fullerton" is a pretty transparent reference to his expectation that Catherine and Henry will marry; he therefore intends to entertain his future in-laws. Catherine appreciates that it's a compliment to her and her family; whether she fully understands his marital expectation is in question.

But not in my lady's chamber
At the end of the tour of the upstairs, Eleanor is precluded from taking Catherine to see the rooms that once belonged to Mrs. Tilney. Catherine immediately supposes that it has to do with guilt and a desire to avoid reminding himself of his wife. Eleanor divulges that the rooms remain as they were when her mother died nine years ago. While Catherine assumes that this is normal (based on her extensive reading of Gothic novels), I can assure you that my extensive reading of actual biographies from the time and my genealogical research reveal that rapid remarriages were exceedingly common, particularly where children were left without parents. Granted, Eleanor was the youngest of the three children, and she was thirteen and already at school; still, preserving the rooms of the dead wife as a sort of shrine was generally not done (if only because of insufficient space).

We also learn that Eleanor was away when her mother became ill and died. Catherine immediately supposes that perhaps the General did away with his wife. We then fast-forward to the evening, when the General spends the better part of an hour pacing the room like "a Montoni" (the villain in The Mysteries of Udolpho).

The General and his pamphlets The reference to the General's need to stay up and read pamphlets is again a direct reference to politics during the war between France and England. In 1795, England passed the Anti-Treason and Seditious Meeting Acts, designed to suppress any dissent to the actions of the government. (They were kind of like the Patriot's Act in some respects, making certain actions illegal and allowing for the use of a number of surveillance tactics in order to ferret out any possible dissent.) In the summer of 1803 (the year the novel was first sold), all of England was again on edge, expecting imminent invasion after the Treaty of Amiens collapsed in May.

Political pamphlets abounded, and these are what the General is reading. He is looking for evidence of subversive activities by his neighbors and/or people operating in his vicinity. "'I have many pamphlets to finish,' said he to Catherine, 'before I can close my eyes, and perhaps may be poring over the affairs of the nation for hours after you are asleep. Can either of us be more meetly employed? My eyes will be blinding for the good of others, and yours preparing by rest for future mischief.'"

Catherine, whose own family and friends are not politically involved, assumes this is a lie. "But neither the business alleged, nor the magnificent compliment, could win Catherine from thinking that some very different object must occasion so serious a delay of proper repose. To be kept up for hours, after the family were in bed, by stupid pamphlets was not very likely."

I love what she comes up with as a possible alternate explanation: She essentially believes that General Tilney is Mr. Rochester, and that he's locked his wife in the attic. (As an aside – George Lewes wrote to Charlotte Brontë in 1848 after Jane Eyre was published, exhorting her to write less melodramatically and more like Jane Austen; Miss Brontë was not pleased.)

Tomorrow – We see how this last Gothic arc plays out

Kiva - loans that change lives

Friday, August 21, 2009

Northanger Abbey - Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter 22 – the very short version Catherine feels silly, gets a tour of the Abbey grounds

Chapter 22
As promised, Catherine awakes to discover that the papers she found were a farrier's bill and some laundry bills listing articles of clothing belonging to a man, and a list of purchases including "hair-powder, shoe-string, and breeches-ball*" – all the sorts of things a visiting gentleman of fashion might use (although by the time the novel was written, hair powder had fallen out of favor due largely to a tax imposed in 1795, when Pitt tried to recoup Treasury losses – many men responded by tossing aside their wigs and wearing their hair short, in the style one sees in so many Regency adaptations). Catherine is duly mortified to find out she stayed up tossing and turning over these papers, and further figures out that the diabolical locks were a figment of her imagination as well – in fact, the cabinet had been unlocked; her actions had resulted in the cabinet becoming locked.

*breeches-ball was a special soap used to clean stains off of men's breeches. As best I can tell, it was a combination of soap and dye. Here's a handy recipe with which one can make their own breeches-ball, assuming one has ox galls and the other ingredients at hand. It's taken from the Household Cyclopedia, an online reproduction of a practical text dated 1881:
"Mix 1 lb. of Bath brick, 2 lbs. of pipe-clay, 4 oz. of pumice-stone powder, and 6 oz. of ox galls; color them with rose-pink, yellow ochre, umber, Irish slate, etc., to any desired shade." One – or rather, one's valet – would moisten the stain, then rub the eraser-like breeches ball on the stain. Et voilà.

Before I move away from the cabinet and out of the room, I want to point out this particular bit of foreshadowing: "Heaven forbid that Henry Tilney should ever know her folly!" Indeed, Catherine blames Henry for her interest in the cabinet in the first place, "for had not the cabinet appeared so exactly to agree with his description of her adventures, she should never have felt the smallest curiosity about it."

Breakfast with Henry Catherine rushes down to the breakfast room (a less formal dining salon than the grand room used for dinner) to find Henry alone. As has already been established, Henry really does understand Catherine; therefore, he makes an arch reference to the storm and the Abbey and hopes she wasn't too terrified. In her haste to change the subject, Catherine declares that she has "just learnt to love a hyacinth", thanks to Eleanor. Henry's further conversation on the matter flirts with matters of love:

"But now you love a hyacinth. So much the better. You have gained a new source of enjoyment, and it is well to have as many holds upon happiness as possible. Besides, a taste for flowers is always desirable in your sex, as a means of getting you out of doors, and tempting you to more frequent exercise than you would otherwise take. And though the love of a hyacinth may be rather domestic, who can tell, the sentiment once raised, but you may in time come to love a rose?"
"But I do not want any such pursuit to get me out of doors. The pleasure of walking and breathing fresh air is enough for me, and in fine weather I am out more than half my time. -- Mamma says, I am never within."
"At any rate, however, I am pleased that you have learnt to love a hyacinth. The mere habit of learning to love is the thing; and a teachableness of disposition in a young lady is a great blessing. -- Has my sister a pleasant mode of instruction?"

Austen's multitasking is once again brilliant. Henry manages, through double meanings, to speak of love at the same time that he is praising Catherine for characteristics he applauds, all while encouraging her to keep developing herself along the same lines. Catherine manages to reveal more of her background and nature to Henry, and her embarrassment is an indicator that she understands his intended second meaning. It's all obscurely swoon-worthy, once you slow it down and parse it.

The General's tea set, or how to read his tea cup. And yes, I meant "tea cup" and not "tea leaves". Allow me to 'splain:

1. The General's insistence on claiming to support English manufacturers and his reference to the tea in them tasting the same as from cups made in Dresden or Sêvres shows that he is patriotic, although the way he couches his comment implies that the craftsmanship of Staffordshire manufacturers (which even then would have included Wedgewood and Spode) may or may not be as fine as the others; it also tells us that he is quite particular about the way his tea tastes (although as we shall later see, Catherine takes him at his word, not understanding his double-speak). In the case of Sêvres, his comment probably reflects an antipathy towards the French based on the ongoing war between Britain and France.

2. His comment about it being an old set shows his fondness for displaying his wealth. The tea set is a mere two years old, and although he states things in the negative, it's clear that he toyed with the idea of replacing it already with whatever is currently a la mode.

3. His comment about needing to buy one soon, but not for himself, flies over Catherine's head, although he probably intended for her to pick up on it as approval of her as a mate for Henry. He undoubtedly intended for Henry to understand it that way, and to encourage and/or command Henry to form the match.

First mention of Woodston, Henry's own home Alas, Henry is off for a few days. The way the General claims to defer to Eleanor for an opinion, then barrels along without giving her any opportunity at all to chime in tells us still more about the General, and the items he feels impelled to describe it in terms that make it clear who's the bully boss around here – and around Woodston, too, from the sounds of it. His disclaimer about the importance of money will be believed by Catherine, but having paid attention to the General's tea cups, we now know that any sentence that includes a descriptor of himself and his views is highly suspect, and that he says what might be most socially acceptable, but actually operates differently. He claims an uncritical palate but is highly critical, he claims to be without vanity for the latest styles when it's obvious here (and in later scenes set at the Abbey) that he keeps up with current fashions in all things, and his claim that it is employment, not money, that is important also rings false, since money is one of his very chief concerns.

And now the house tour? Catherine desperately wants to tour the house. From an authorial perspective, it is therefore logical to frustrate the main character's wishes, and so Austen does.

The General offers her a tour of the house, which she accepts with alacrity, and then says he'll tour her around the gardens as well, and then he decides to walk out of doors first, all the while saying that he's acceding to Catherine's wishes, which (of course) he's not. It's a heavy-handed form of manipulation, but Catherine, who's not familiar with the tactic in general and with the General in particular, believes she has displeased the General by opting to go outside (even though she hasn't) rather than touring the house. Eleanor is, as one might expect, embarrassed, because her father has ridden roughshod over their guest all because he wants to keep to his usual routine.

To the gardens, in which Miss Austen becomes very political indeed If you are scratching your head at the title of this section, it is because we live – and have always live – in a post-enclosure society. In 1801, Parliament passed the General Inclosure Act, which enclosed open fields and common lands in the country, thereby depriving many small landholders and workers of space in which to graze their sheep and cattle or in which they could gather wood. As a result, numerous country workers who could no longer eke out a living on the land moved to urban areas in search of industrial jobs, thereby becoming wage laborers. When General Tilney shows off his vast enclosures, it is because Austen means to point out how he has been enriched by the enclosure movement, and – quite possibly – how he is oblivious to or unconcerned with any hardship it causes to others. Also, greenhouses were particularly expensive to maintain, and the general doesn't just have one or two. No, we are told that "The walls seemed countless in number, endless in length; a village of hot-houses seemed to arise among them, and a whole parish to be at work within the enclosure."

The General's obvious pride in his hothouses and gardens – and his triumph in having again "bested" Mr. Allen (whom he doesn't really know, by the way, but whom he obviously imagines to be tremendously wealthy) – is immense. At a time in England when large numbers of people were having difficulty finding food (because of the enclosure movement), he has the nerve to complain that his "pinery" (hothouse dedicated to growing pineapples) had only produce 100 of them in the prior year. I think it's all worth mentioning so that we, as modern readers, can better appreciate precisely what sort of rich man the General is: he's not the millionaire next door. In a modern interpretation, he'd be more of a mogul: amassing wealth, commanding legions, showing little regard for the hardships his needs impose on others. And he wants his ego to be constantly stroked – something for which naive, kind-hearted Catherine Morland is particularly well-suited, since she really and truly has never seen anything like it before, and says so.

Mrs. Tilney's favorite walk Eleanor and Catherine manage to escape the General by heading into a shaded walk. The irony of this is wonderful. An ordinary Gothic heroine would enter a winding path through a gloomy grove only because she was being chased into it. Here, the General "chases" them into the path with his offer (or threat) of continued examination of greenhouses. He intends to keep to the sunshine. They willingly flee into the shade.

An ordinary Gothic heroine would feel nothing but oppression and trepidation while in such a secluded grove; Catherine and Eleanor, however, feel happy and light-hearted and fall easily into conversation once they are out of the General's domineering presence. Dear Miss Austen: I c what u did thar.

The General's unkindness to Mrs. Tilney In case you hadn't realized what the trajectory of our next Gothic arc is, you ought now to have an inkling that it has to do with the General and Mrs. Tilney. The interesting thing will be to note what Catherine gets right, and what she gets wrong. She determines from her conversation with Eleanor that Mrs. Tilney was not happy in her marriage to the General, and that the General was not in love with her – if he did not love his wife's favorite walk and did not care for the portrait that was painted of her, he must not have loved her. On the one hand, her logic is a bit hinky. On the other hand, her intuition on these two points will prove to be 100% correct. Her decision to consider the General as a villainous character, however, is where the final Gothic arc lies in this book. (Discussion of prior arcs can be found in yesterday's post.

Catherine attempted no longer to hide from herself the nature of the feelings which, in spite of all his attentions, he had previously excited; and what had been terror and dislike before, was now absolute aversion. Yes, aversion! His cruelty to such a charming woman made him odious to her. She had often read of such characters, characters which Mr. Allen had been used to call unnatural and overdrawn; but here was proof positive of the contrary.(Italics added)

I italicized the phrase about Mr. Allen in the above sentence for the following reasons.

Having already been proved to be a sensible, kind-hearted gentleman who has his head properly affixed (as to everything except, perhaps, his choice of spouse, which was based on looks alone), Mr. Allen's opinion is one we ought to respect. If he says this sort of character does not exist in real life, we – and Catherine – ought to believe him. We are now on notice that Catherine is deviating from a rational path in her imaginings about the General. Not in her observations, mind you, or in some of her conclusions, but once she starts to imagine what may have transpired between the General and Mrs. Tilney.

That the General is so observant of Catherine as to notice her losing interest, which he immediately assumes has to do with her becoming tired, shows us that he is not, in general, inattentive. That he immediately sends her back to the Abbey with Eleanor shows that he is solicitous, and not entirely unkind. Whether his exhortation to Eleanor not to show Catherine around the Abbey until he gets back is motivated by concern for her health or something else (and possibly something nefarious) is left open.

Tomorrow: Finally – a house tour! Plus, some details about Mrs. Tilney's death

Kiva - loans that change lives

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Great Nursery Rhyme Disaster

The Great Nursery Rhyme Disaster had me at hello.

How can you resist a story that begins with the line "Little Miss Muffet was bored"?

Little Miss Muffet was bored.

She was bored of being in the same old nursery rhyme and she'd had quite enough of that scary, little spider.

"What I need," she told herself, "is a change."

So off she went into the pages of the book to find another nursery rhyme to be in.

Miss Muffet tries joining the grand old Duke of York:

Oh, the grand old Duke of York,
He had ten thousand men;
He marched them and Miss Muffet up
to the top of the hill
and he marched them down again.

Turns out Miss Muffet doesn't like all the marching. Jack and Jill turns out to be too painful. Climbing up and sliding down a clock is too embarrassing. "Ding, dong, bell" finds her wet and unhappy; "Hey diddle, diddle" finds the dish unhappy after Miss Muffet runs away with the spoon, resulting in several pages of RUCKUS that gains momentum as it makes its way through Four and Twenty Blackbirds, the Queen of Hearts and more.

In the end, Little Miss Muffet returns to her usual story, only to recall why she'd wanted the change to begin with.

Picture book writers interested in form will appreciate this one's use of a circular story arc – the character ends up where she started, slightly wiser than when she set out in the first place. In this case, as you can see above, the text does not begin with Miss Muffet's nursery rhyme, although it tells us enough about it to remind us what her story is. The book ends, however, with her own nursery rhyme, with no text following her rhyme. Because of this, it practically invites child listeners to demand a second reading, since the commentary on page one logically follows a reading or recitation of Miss Muffet's rhyme.

Kiva - loans that change lives

Northanger Abbey - Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter 21 – the very short version Catherine has fun with furniture.

Chapter 21
You may remember that during yesterday's carriage curricle ride, Henry Tilney decided to amuse Catherine and himself (at Catherine's expense) by telling her a Gothic sort of tale about the sorts of horrors she must be prepared to find at Northanger Abbey. The illustration to the right is C.E. Brock's illustration to go with yesterday's Chapter 20, but I saved it for today so you'd have a) a visual of what Catherine thought she might encounter before she got to her room and b) a feel for the vibe Catherine managed to generate for herself when she eventually retires to her room to discover the very cabinet that Henry Tilney so cleverly thought to include in his story yesterday (someone pays attention to what furniture is where, yes?), and then manages to freak herself out thanks to the storm and the loss of her fire and her accidentally putting out her own candle.

I'm getting a bit ahead of myself, to be sure, having skipped past her examination of the chest that turns out to be merely a spare piece of furniture that Eleanor thought might be useful. With Catherine's examination of that particular trunk, we see her starting to buy into the notion that the chest might hold hidden horrors, only to have it shot down by a combination of her inspection and Eleanor's comments.

Austen returns to the same notion later in the chapter, tracing over the same figure like a practiced skater carving compulsory figures into the ice. This time, however, there is no person to intervene or explain things away for Catherine. It's late, it's stormy, her fire's out, she's managed to outsmart the diabolically complicated locks in the mysterious cabinet that happens to precisely match the horrid one that Henry described earlier that day and she's found secret, ancient documents, only to manage to outen her candle when she only meant to trim the wick a bit. Once can readily imagine how Catherine's heart must have been racing by the end of this chapter (I know I can, since mine manages to pick up speed every time I read it, and I've read this novel a handful of times in the past two years)!

As I never promised you a rose garden that I wouldn't include spoilers, I will say that if you're averse to them, skip the bit behind the cut.

Analysis of what Austen's up to, now with spoilers

Today's chapter is the middle of a three-act piece (as it were) about Catherine and her Gothic expectations. Chapter 19 was about Henry telling her a story and creating an expectation. Today's Chapter 20 is about Catherine having her expectation met, at least a bit. And tomorrow's chapter finds Catherine taking a closer look at things on her own to discover that the diabolical locks . . . weren't (I'll not say why just here, but still – AHAHAHA!) And the ancient, secret documents? Yeah . . . laundry tallies. (Laundry tallies that turn out to serve a double purpose, by the by, but more on that tomorrow.)

In short, Austen tells you what she's going to show you, and then she shows you a short version (Eleanor and the curious chest), and then she gives you the much fuller account. It's the same emotional journey each time – Catherine gets caught up in the notion of the Gothic, only to feel rather foolish when all is said (by Henry) and done (by Catherine). And I will tell you one more tidbit for free: we're going to see the same story one more time, writ large, and in super slow-mo, and it's already begun to play out in the carefully-seeded bits of information that Austen's been parceling out to us in recent chapters.

Why keep covering the same groundI believe that it's exceptionally clever of her to keep skating in the same pattern, because, as readers, we allow the tension of this particular arc to affect us every time. Partly, it's because she does such a good job of conveying what's going on with Catherine (who does get herself pretty well twisted up about it) and partly because after all the hints she's dropped about Gothic heroines and Gothic elements and the like, we are still waiting for one of these lines to pan out in classic, Gothic format. Not when Henry tells Catherine the story – we know to laugh at Catherine from the start. But in the short action version (the first of the "show, don't tell" versions with the mysterious chest), reader tension actually starts to rise, only to have the lid quickly slammed on us. Like Catherine, we are a bit embarrassed, but we laugh (it's a classic "jump story" technique that she's using, really).

In today's long version – in which the chapter ends in mystery accompanied by heart-pumping, adrenaline fueled Sturm und Drang – we are left thinking that maybe Catherine is really and truly onto something this time. When, tomorrow, she finds out the reality of her situation, we will again shake our heads and laugh and remember that life is not like a Gothic novel, only to have that "or is it?" thought creep back into our minds slowly over the next few chapters. Brilliantly done, Miss Austen. Seriously clever from an intellectual, as well as from a strategic, standpoint.

Our heroine, having tried (and failed) three times in her quest to find Gothic elements in real life is almost certainly going to be correct on her final go, yes? Well, no. Not really, since Austen's making a different point with this novel: reality can be interesting enough, and examination of a character's internal motivations and the adroit use of foreshadowing can lead to an extremely diverting reading experience without resorting to all the bells and whistles of a Gothic novel. And, since she's writing satire and having a huge amount of fun, she makes her point while incorporating Gothic elements. As those guys in the Guinness ads say, "Brilliant!"

A pictorial digression. This cover for Northanger Abbey may be my favorite yet. I rather suspect that the book designer didn't bother to actually, y'know, read the book or otherwise find out what it was about, since the cover conveys both the notion that this is actually a Gothic novel (and not a parody of said genre) and that it belongs in Victorian England. It's a bit of a digression, but I'm sure having seen the magic that is "the terror of Northanger Abbey", I'm sure you'll forgive me.

One more thing about the middle. (Cue Otto from A Fish Called Wanda - "What was the middle part again?") At dinner, the General is again tremendously solicitous of Catherine and her opinions. It's important to note that he makes references to Mr. Allen's house here (and elsewhere, going forward). Also, notice how pleased he is at being told that his is bigger than Mr. Allen's (dining rooms, people – yeesh!) He likes to be consequential, which he manages to tell us (in his way) and Austen manages to show us (through descriptions of him, his home and lands, and his behaviour) at nearly every turn.

Another tiny word on the middle, Otto:
The evening passed without any further disturbance, and, in the occasional absence of General Tilney, with much positive cheerfulness. It was only in his presence that Catherine felt the smallest fatigue from her journey; and even then, even in moments of languor or restraint, a sense of general happiness preponderated, and she could think of her friends in Bath without one wish of being with them. (Italics mine.)

Tomorrow: Let's tour the Abbey!

Kiva - loans that change lives

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A word about microfinance

Some of you may have heard of Muhammad Yunus, a remarkable man from Bangladesh who developed the idea of microfinance and founded Grameen Bank, which is opening branches in both New York City and Glasgow, Scotland. He's written at least two books about it (Banker to the Poor and Creating a World Without Poverty), appeared on Oprah, The Daily Show, The Colbert Report and other television programs, and won a Nobel Peace Prize and a Presidential Medal of Freedom. You can learn more about him and his principles over at The Yunus Center, but I can tell you that the awards are well-merited, and that he has helped countless individuals find their way out of poverty.

Here's a brief excerpt from an article in The Guardian that talks about why his business model continues to work, and why the recession doesn't have to be bad news for everyone:

Muhammad Yunus is to economic development what Nelson Mandela is to world peace - a revered figure whose Grameen Bank has helped millions of Bangladeshis out of rural poverty by lending them small amounts of money, or microfinance, to set up their own businesses. It has 8 million borrowers, 97% of whom are women, and since 1982 has issued more than $6bn (£3.65bn), lending around $100m a month, with the average loan just $220, and repayments of near 100%. Its model has now been rolled out worldwide, from China and Zimbabwe to New York, and plans are underway to open the first British Grameen in Glasgow.

Yunus attributes its success to "trust-based banking". Money is lent to women - who he identified as using money more effectively than men for the wellbeing of their children - in groups of five. If one defaults, they all suffer, so they support each other to pay it back. And the borrowers own the bank, receiving dividends in lieu of profits.

In 1976, when he approached conventional banks asking them to lend to villagers deep in debt to loan sharks, the young economics student was told it couldn't be done because the poor are not creditworthy. He has proved them wrong, as has the collapse of the global banking system.

"2009 is a good year to ask again: 'Who is creditworthy?' Is it the large banks with large clients? They cannot obtain their money back ... whereas the poor taking tiny loans, without collateral, are paying every penny of it and changing lives," he told a packed audience last week at a British Council lecture in London.

A couple of years ago, when the incredible Green brothers were still in the Brotherhood 2.0 era, they started talking about microfinance. Here's John's vlogpost:

And that's when I decided to become a microfinancier. I sent $82.50 (via credit-card) to Seventy-five dollars of it wasn't tax-deductible, because it was for loans, and loans are not charity. I applied the full $75 of my microfinance funds toward the request of a Cambodian woman who wanted to buy more vegetables and buy a motorcycle to help her deliver produce for her existing business. Earlier tonight, I applied $25 of my Kiva credit (from repaid loans) to help a cab driver in Nablus pay for major repairs to his taxi (it was an especially fun experience for me, since my $25 moved his loan into the "fully funded" category).

In the past two years, I've never paid any more money in, and I've never pulled any money out (although I did donate some additional funds from it to Kiva to help them with their operating expenses). I've made 8 loans totalling $275 to various people in Uganda, Honduras, Viet Nam, Tanzania, Pakistan and the Dominican Republic, in addition to Cambodia and Nablus (which is located in the West Bank under the governance of the Palestinian Authority). Not a penny of it has been lost. Not a single loan has defaulted.

I hope that those of you looking for a way to make the world a better place will consider becoming microfinanciers. And even if you don't, at least now you'll know what that little "kiva" logo is at the bottom of my posts. (Oh - and if you do take out a loan, I hope you'll tell them I sent you. My email account is my first and last name (w/out the R in the middle) at hotmail dot com. Take that, web spiders!)

Kiva - loans that change lives

Northanger Abbey - Chapter Twenty

Chapter 20 - the very short version General Tilney turns out to be high maintenance (no shock); Catherine enjoys an open carriage ride and story time with Henry.

A word about curricles A curricle was an updated version of a chariot, and was usually pulled by two horses (unusual for a light gig at that time - why use two horses when one would suffice?); the horses were often a matched pair. The curricle was as much about seeing and being seen as it was about speed. In the curricle which you see to the right, the small person at the back is a servant known as a "tiger". It was a matter of pride to have the smallest tiger, oddly enough.

For an amusing take on the difference between a gig (John Thorpe's vehicle) and a curricle (Henry Tilney's), read Margaret Sullivan's article at Tilneys and Trapdoors.

Chapter 20
I don't know about you, but I find the beginning of the chapter uncomfortable. Austen does such a great job at describing the General that I was instantly transported to occasions in my own life when I've heard someone's superior (boss, parent, whatever) go off on them, in part because they are trying to ensure that things are right for me (or others in my presence). You get the discomfort of listening to someone (here, Captain Tilney) being taken to task, with the added discomfort of knowing that they are using you - in whole or in part - as the basis for their temper tantrum. Of course, Austen summed it up better than I did: "[Catherine] was quite pained by the severity of his father's reproof, which seemed disproportionate to the offence; and much was her concern increased when she found herself the principal cause of the lecture, and that his tardiness was chiefly resented from being disrespectful to her."

At their rest stop along the way, Catherine observes how the General seems to suck all the joy out of the room: "General Tilney, though so charming a man, seemed always a check upon his children's spirits, and scarcely any thing was said but by himself; the observation of which, with his discontent at whatever the inn afforded, and his angry impatience at the waiters, made Catherine grow every moment more in awe of him, and appeared to lengthen the two hours into four." On leaving for the final leg of their trip, however, the General suggests that Catherine accompany Henry. In an open carriage.

To be driven by him, next to being dancing with him, was certainly the greatest happiness in the world. It turns out that Henry, like Rainman, is an excellent driver. I rather agree with Maggie Sullivan's opinion that "Catherine would have approved of an ox-cart had Henry Tilney been driving it". Still, it's more than just his driving. Thorpe was all popping the clutch and hollering "Whoa, Nellie! My horse is so spirited that we would die were it not for my efforts - WHAT DO YOU MEAN IT'S SLOW!" whereas Henry is all "Lovely day for a drive with such a lovely girl. You are so sweet to come spend time with my beloved sister. Giddyap" while executing smooth lane changes on the Autobahn.

While Maggie Sullivan compared their equipages, I rather expect that Austen intended readers to deduce a little something about the men from the way they handle their horses. Thorpe is rather erratic and slightly clueless in his handling of horses and in his dancing; Tilney is adroit and assured in both. Most likely readers were meant to extrapolate that one's skills in these areas represented their skills in a relationship (sexual and otherwise), and I'd have to say that based on what we know about their personalities, it seems likely. Henry is kind and considerate, generous and coordinated, clever and well-read; John Thorpe is . . . not. *wink wink nudge nudge, say no more, say no more*

Time out for a brief digression involving an Executive Transvestite. For reasons that will make sense to nobody, perhaps, but me, my last comments brought to mind Eddie Izzard's bit about coffee from Dress to Kill. My digression, let me show you it:

I have to say, I love that Henry speaks so lovingly of his sister and so sweetly to Catherine before he decides to have her on about her notions of a Gothic abbey. Knowing that she likes Udolpho, he does his best to depict his father's home as just such a place, complete with brooding housekeeper, thunderstorms and more . . . until he finds he can no longer keep his countenance because Catherine has gotten too involved in his story. Instead, he breaks character as "serious, solemn narrator" and cracks up. Gotta love Mr. Tilney for that, say I.

Imagine, then, Catherine's consternation at finding herself inside a beautifully appointed, modern residence (particularly after Henry's Gothic recitation). The narrator wryly assures us that Catherine was disappointed to find that the windows were clean and there were no cobwebs, as she had so been looking forward to finding something like the edifices described by Ann Radcliffe in her novels.

The General's pronouncement of the time and the rapid response it triggered in all parties is an indicator of the General's rigid adherence to his schedule and rituals. Being, as they were, in the country, dinner was likely to be served no later than 6 p.m., and possibly as early as 5:30. Having traveled all day, the Tilneys and Catherine were undoubtedly wearing travel clothes (a particular form of "morning" dress, designed not to show the wear and dirt of travel - it is highly unlikely that even Miss Tilney was wearing white, despite her being inside a closed carriage the whole way). One would wish to discard outer layers and remove bonnets (which would likely necessitate a new hair style). One would also wish to clean ones' face and hands - the only parts of the body that were washed with any true regularity, since they were pretty much all that showed.

Back then (and, indeed, in some houses even today), one dressed for dinner, which usually required a complete change of dress. For a woman, that would have involved the assistance of a maid, and the following alterations would have occurred: The outer dress would have been removed and replaced, along with (in many instances) the petticoats underneath. One would, of course, use the facilities (such as they were - a privy chair, perhaps, or an outhouse if the weather were fine - Regency women often said they were stepping out "to pluck a rose"). One would likely re-dress one's hair; a woman's hair at that time was often exceedingly long when down. In a recollection from her childhood, Jane Austen's niece, Louisa Knight, recalled that her Aunt Jane's hair hung almost to her knees when down - that takes a while to dress and/or re-dress. It goes without saying that the more one changed, the longer it took; hence, Eleanor's exhortation to make as little alteration as possible (a hint to Catherine not to take too long getting ready, and one that Catherine immediately understands).

Tomorrow: Foreboding furniture and forbidding weather

Kiva - loans that change lives