I Am Not a Moral Pauper

Join me at Ink-Stained Wretches today, where I go on and on about habits and sinking ships and why I don’t make annual resolutions any more and why in 2021 I’m going to read all the novels of Anthony Trollope and a couple of others plus complete the novel I’ve been writing forever.

I also reveal my dirty little secret.

“The Year Is Going; Let Him Go”

For seventeen years after the death of his best friend, Arthur Henry Hallam, at twenty-two, Alfred Tennyson worked on the elegy In Memoriam. In effect, he wrote through his grief.

One of the last cantos in the book, “Ring Out, Wild Bells,” signifies the end of grief, the casting aside of the heartaches and pain of the old year, the return of faith, and the hope of a new and better way of life. Legend has it that Tennyson was inspired by hearing church bells on New Year’s Eve.

“It is an accepted English custom to ring English Full circle bells to ring out the old year and ring in the new year over midnight on New Year’s Eve. Sometimes the bells are rung half-muffled for the death of the old year, then the muffles are removed to ring without muffling to mark the birth of the new year.” (Wikipedia)

The poem was published in 1850. Read it slowly. Words composed 170 years ago are as alive as if Tennyson had written them with the upcoming New Year’s Eve in mind.

I need to hear them now. Maybe you do, too.


Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.
Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.
Ring out the grief that saps the mind
For those that here we see no more;
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.
Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.
Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes
But ring the fuller minstrel in.
Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.
Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.
Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

The musical setting by Charles Gounod omits two of the poem’s stanzas.

Beware This Boy


Spirit of Christmas Present: Will you profit by what I’ve shown you of the good in most men’s hearts?

Ebenezer Scrooge: I don’t know. How can I promise?

Spirit: If it is too hard a lesson for you to learn, then learn this lesson.

Scrooge: Spirit are these yours?

Spirit: They are man’s. They cling to me for protection from their fetters. This boy is ignorance. This girl is want. Beware them both, but most of all, beware this boy.


Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol during a period when the British were exploring and re-evaluating past Christmas traditions, including carols, and newer customs such as Christmas trees. He was influenced by the experiences of his own youth and by the Christmas stories of other authors, including Washington Irving and Douglas Jerrold. Dickens had written three Christmas stories prior to the novella, and was inspired following a visit to the Field Lane Ragged School, one of several establishments for London’s street children. The treatment of the poor and the ability of a selfish man to redeem himself by transforming into a more sympathetic character are the key themes of the story. There is discussion among academics as to whether this was a fully secular story, or if it is a Christian allegory.

Published on 19 December, the first edition sold out by Christmas Eve; by the end of 1844 thirteen editions had been released. Most critics reviewed the novella favourably. The story was illicitly copied in January 1844; Dickens took legal action against the publishers, who went bankrupt, further reducing Dickens’s small profits from the publication. He went on to write four other Christmas stories in subsequent years. In 1849 he began public readings of the story which proved so successful he undertook 127 further performances until 1870, the year of his death. A Christmas Carol has never been out of print and has been translated into several languages; the story has been adapted many times for film, stage, opera and other media.

Author William Thackeray “wrote that A Christmas Carol was ‘a national benefit and to every man or woman who reads it, a personal kindness.'”

~ Wikipedia



“Ignorance and Want” by John Leech, from the original edition of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol,1843. {{PD-US-expired}} Via Wikipedia

Charles Dickens in 1842, the year before A Christmas Carol was written, by Francis Alexander. {{PD-US-expired}}


A Christmas Carol (1951), Alistair Sim



UnSubject: #atozchallenge


I’m watching an old production of The Woman in White and pondering the place of the woman in Victorian fiction.

There are two half-sisters, one who has inherited, or will inherit, great wealth; the other is relatively poor. The wealthy one is beautiful; she is delicate and wears pastels. Occasionally she faints.

The poor one is nice looking but her face doesn’t rival that of her sister;  she is sturdy and wears plaid. What the poor sister lacks in looks and money, she makes up for in intelligence and gumption. No shrinking violet, she. When the going gets tough–when the heiress marries a sadist who locks her in an asylum so he can have her fortune–the sturdy one takes charge.

The sturdy sister is helped by a young man, frequently a man of lower station. He is in love with the heiress, of course–hopelessly, although she has hinted she would be favorably inclined toward him if only her guardian would approve. Guardians never approve. The hopeless young man would take her with no dowry at all, but he doesn’t want that kind of trouble.

It all works out, of course. The heiress gets loose and marries the young man and they’re happy ever after. The sturdy sister lives with them–the sisters are Devoted–and carries on her belt the ring of keys to all the doors and cupboards and probably makes out all the menus. And is happy ever after.

I have no argument with the plot, but the women . . . The delicate, sensitive girl watched over by the brave, sturdy one. The fainting. The vapors. The lack of brain power.

David Copperfield falls for the empty-headed Dora while Agnes hangs around to keep Dora from running completely  amok. Dora conveniently dies–she’s delicate–and after a time, he realizes he loves Agnes and always has. Agnes says she loves him, etc., and is kind enough not to point out it’s taken him long enough to figure it out.

One male author who had a clearer view was William Thackeray. Amelia was delicate and sensitive–I can’t remember her fainting–and Becky Sharp was sturdy, but Becky didn’t stand around going pat-pat-pat when Amelia had a headache. She made her own way and did her best to take Amelia’s husband with her.

(Here’s a poster for a movie based on Vanity Fair. Myrna Loy and Conway Tearle. “CHILDREN NOT ADMITTED.”)

Vida Woodward Waller and Jessie Waller, ca 1910

I shouldn’t be so hard on the fainters. It’s a wonder any woman wearing one of those corsets could stay on her feet at all. I’m told that around 1910-1920, every time my grandmother had a dress fitting, she laced her corset so tightly that she fainted amidst the pins and patterns. It upset one dress maker so much that she refused to sew for her.

However, she came from a family of natural fainters, men as well as women. But they say that when not wearing  a corset, my grandmother stayed in the saddle on any horse she rode, no matter how hard it tried to throw her off. She was no shrinking violet either. (I’ve had a couple of brushes with fainting myself, but when I feel one coming on, I usually manage to lie down on the floor before I topple over. Horses can toss me out of the saddle whenever they please, and I speak from experience.)

The question is, how did we go from Jane Austen and Lizzie Bennet to Dora Copperfield?

If Charlotte and Emily Bronte knew any delicate women, they didn’t make them main characters. Their females were sturdy. Jane Eyre didn’t put up with any nonsense from Rochester or from St. John Rivers. Catherine Earnshaw is a little cracked, I contend, thinking that Heathcliff would be okay with her marrying Edgar Linton, but she  didn’t wait for a sturdy woman to come along and tell her what to do. (Maybe she should have.)

(I’ve read that Jane Austen’s women would have burst out laughing if they’d had to deliver any of the speeches Charlotte Bronte wrote for Jane Eyre.)

[I’m not finished, but it’s almost midnight and I have to get this online today, so I’m going to post and finish later.]

Admission: This post is a stream-of-consciousness example of superficial faux literary criticism. The many generalizations are unfair and an ethical person would not write such things about the classics and then fling them into cyberspace. Normally, I am ethical, but not tonight.

The thing is, I started two posts, each running to six hundred words incomplete, and they were terrible and I scrapped them and wrote without regard for form or function. Ethics tomorrow, foolishness tonight.




Everybody’s Politics

Isabel did read Italian; if she had any difficulty with La Repubblica, it was with understanding the complexities of Italian politics. But that, she suspected, was the case with everybody’s politics. And it was not just a linguistic difference; she could never understand how American politics worked. It appeared that the Americans went to the polls every four years to elect a President who had wide powers. But then, once he was in office, he might find himself unable to do any of the things he had promised to do because he was blocked by other politicians who could veto his legislation. What was the point, then, of having an election in the first place? Did people not resent the fact that they spoke on a subject and then nothing could be done about it? But politics had always seemed an impenetrable mystery to her in her youth. She remembered what her mother had once said to her about some American politician to whom they were distantly related. “I don’t greatly care for him,” she said. “Pork barrel.”

Isabel had thought, as a child, that this was a bit unkind. Presumably he could not help looking like a pork barrel. But then, much later, she had come to realise that this was how politics worked. The problem was, though, that politics might work, but government did not.

Alexander McCall Smith
Alexander McCall Smith (Photo credit: Wikipedia). By TimDuncan (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

~ Alexander McCall Smith,
The Charming Quirks of Others

Just Wo-ahn Out

The snowy owl
Image via Wikipedia

Sometime back in the 1930s, my grandmother picked up the telephone receiver just in time to hear the Methodist minister’s wife, on the party line, drawl, “I am just wo-ahn out. I’ve been waterin’ the yahd.”

The statement might not seem significant, but my family has its own criteria for significance. And so those two sentences entered the vernacular.

They were used under a variety of circumstances: after stretching barbed wire, frying chicken, mowing the lawn.

My father would fold the newspaper, set it on the table, and announce, “I am just wo-ahn out. I’ve been waterin’ the yahd.”

I am wo-ahn out, too. I’ve been taking the Jeopardy online test.

Fifty questions, fifteen seconds to type each answer. Spelling didn’t count but was appreciated. Short answers were accepted, not in the form of a question.

I didn’t do too badly, I think. Better than last year. Last year was a mess.

I won’t include specifics, but I did okay on questions related to literature, biology, and chemistry.

But I won’t be called in for an interview. My natural distaste for geography and abject ignorance of popular culture took care of that.

Katie Who?

And there was the What’s-His-Name problem. I can see his face but–

Time is up. Proceed to the next question.

Students used to say, Why do we have to study literature? Why do we have to read Shakespeare? Beowulf? Canterbury Tales? All this stuff?

I would say, So you will know the pleasure of beautiful words and elevated thoughts. So you will understand literary allusions. So you will be culturally literate. So you will be educated.

So when you see an ad for fat-free cheese with a caption reading, A lean, not hungry, look, you will recognize the copywriter has read Julius Caesar.

Finally–finally–I came up with the right answer: You study literature so when Alex Trebec says, “The blank ‘for all his feathers, was a-cold’ you will buzz in and put the answer in the form of a question and walk away with a pile of money.

That got their attention.

I don’t know that it’s actually happened for any of them. But I fully expect to turn on the television someday and see one of my students clicking away.

It hasn’t worked for  me. But that’s all right. It is the student’s job to surpass the teacher. I shall have a vicarious victory.

Now it’s almost midnight. I must post and then retire.

Because I am just wo-ahn out. I’ve been waterin’ the yahd.