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.

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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

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Images

“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}}

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A Christmas Carol (1951), Alistair Sim

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The Great Throwing-Away: Back When I Was Smart

One of the advantages of being disorganized is that one is always having surprising discoveries.

~A. A. Milne

Last night, embroiled in the Great Throwing-Away, I made surprising discoveries. I found

*The senior will, which I read at the junior-senior banquet (1969)

*The judge’s comments on ten pages of a novel I submitted to the Writers’ League of Texas (2007), not as bad as I remembered

*The essay, with judge’s comments, that I wrote for the state Ready Writing contest (1969), during which I was imprisoned in a classroom with other students from all over Texas for two hours or until I’d written a 1000-word essay, whichever came first. It was torture.

*Several pages–or maybe all–of a story I wrote in the early ’80s for my fellow teachers to read in the teachers’ lounge or (surreptitiously) in meetings. In chapter one, the principal expires while eating poisoned chocolate mousse prepared by home economics students.

*But the big, really big, surprise was the discovery of a paper I wrote in grad school for a Tennyson/Browning class and presented at the Conference of College Teachers of English back in 1984, my first year as a college teacher of English. I’d thought it was gone forever.

The paper is titled, “Sickness and Death in Tennyson’s ‘Lancelot and Elaine,‘” from Tennyson’s The Idylls of the King. I wrote it six months after my father died unexpectedly. If that year had been happy, I might have seen something happier in the poem, but it was a miserable year, so I saw sickness and death.

It was a miserable year for Lancelot, Elaine, and Guinevere, too. Guinevere, Queen of Camelot, is sick and can’t go to the fair jousts King Arthur has arranged. When she tells Arthur she can’t go, Sir Lancelot, his closest friend, says “‘Sir King, mine ancient wound is hardly whole, / And lets me from the saddle.'”

I’ve forgotten how he got his ancient wound, but it’s healed; he could sit in that saddle if he wanted to. When he claims to be ailing, he’s lying through his teeth. He doesn’t want to go to the joust. He wants to stay with Guinevere.  Although Tennyson doesn’t come out and say it, he makes it clear that Arthur knows–or at least suspects–it’s not a wound that’s keeping him at home.

Then there’s Elaine, the Lily Maid. Lancelot dreams about her and then meets her, and she immediately falls in love with him. She’s young, lovable, sweet, and pure.  After Lancelot is wounded in a joust–he went to the fair joust after all, but in disguise–Elaine cares for him. Her company has a healthful effect on him. But his spirit is also sick–carrying on with your dearest friend’s wife and fibbing about it and then becoming semi-involved with another woman will do that to you–and Elaine can’t restore his spirit. And, unfortunately, although he’s attentive, he’s not in love with her.

Elaine isn’t in good health either. She lives in sterile, self-imposed isolation, refusing to express emotion. She wants Lancelot, but he can’t live in her fantasy world, and when she realizes he doesn’t love her, the mirror cracks from side to side and the curse comes upon her. Infected by reality, she decides to die.

(The mirror and the curse are in “The Lady of Shalott,” not the Idylls, but Tennyson wrote both, and he wouldn’t mind my combining them).

Well. If this weren’t enough, Guinevere is behaving badly. She starts out by rebuking Lancelot for lying to Arthur. When she sees he’s become fond of Elaine, jealousy overtakes her–spiritual sickness runs rampant in this Idyll–and carps at Lancelot unmercifully. She doesn’t have one good word for the man. Granted, she’s been sick, but I don’t think that excuses the carping.

When Lancelot brings her a gift of diamonds he’s won in a series of jousts, a gesture most women would appreciate, she throw a hissy fit and tells him to give them to Elaine, then changes her mind and says, “She shall not have them,” and throws them out the window into the river. Then, while Lancelot is leaning on the window sill, watching his diamonds hit the water, here comes a lifeless Elaine, floating down the river on a barge.

Not a good day. A triangle with two sides sick and the other dead.

And it doesn’t stop there. The last line of the poem predicts that Lancelot will “die a holy man.”

“Lancelot and Elaine” tells a sad story. It could be a downer, especially for someone not in the best state of mind. Looking back, I can see that focusing on sickness and death for several weeks while I studied the text and wrote the paper was depressing.

But now when I think of the the Idyll, I remember not sickness and death but a beautiful image. Ironically, it grows out of Guinevere’s rage, when she exclaims that Elaine shall not have the diamonds.

Saying which she seized,
And, through the casement standing wide for heat,
Flung them, and down they flashed, and smote the stream.
Then from the smitten surface flashed, as it were,
Diamonds to meet them, and they past away.

When the diamonds, flashing in the sun, hit the surface of the stream, water splashes up, droplets flashing in the sun like diamonds.

More than thirty years after first reading the Idylls, I retain that image: diamonds meeting diamonds.

Those are some of the loveliest lines I’ve ever read.

Coming across the paper on “Lancelot and Elaine,” was true serendipity. A delightful surprise, because it reminds of me of a time when I was smart. When I was a scholar. When I engaged in literary criticism. When I could write formal prose. When I would never have inserted an incomplete sentence into a formal composition. Or in an informal composition. When I had a personal lexicon of more than a dozen words. When I could spell.

And when I would have floated down the river on a barge before I’d let anyone read what I’ve written in this irreverent little post.

 

***

Images

“How Sir Launcelot Fought with a Fiendly Dragon.” Arthur Rackham. Public domain. Via Wikipedia.

Guinevere.” Henry Justice Ford (1860-1941). {{PD-US-expired}}

“The Lady of Shalott.” Henry Meynell Rheam{{PD-US}}

“The Lady of Shalott Reaches Camelot.” Author unknown. From “The Lady of Shalott” by Alfred Lord Tennyson.
{{PD-US-expired}}

T Is for Time: #atozchallenge

One play. Twenty years. 

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When you reread a classic you do not see more in the book than you did before; you see more in you than was there before.  ~ Clifton Fadiman

 

The first few years I studied Romeo and Juliet with my high school freshmen, when I was in my early twenties, I followed the Star-Cross’d Lovers school of thought: Romeo and Juliet, two innocents, their eyes meet across a crowded room, she teaches the torches to burn bright, he’s the god of her idolatry, he wants to be a glove upon her hand, she wants to cut him out in little stars–but the cruel world conspires to bring them down.

The way Juliet’s father tells her to thank him no thankings nor proud him no prouds but get to that church on Thursday and marry Paris or he’ll drag her thither on a hurdle–what kind of father says that to a thirteen-year-old girl? Parents don’t listen.

The kids might be a little quick to act, and goodness knows Romeo should have waited to talk to Friar Laurence before buying that poison. But who can expect patience of such romantic souls? A sad story indeed.

When I hit thirty, and had several years of teaching under my belt, I shifted to the What Can You Expect When Teenagers Behave Like Brats? philosophy: Romeo and Juliet, a couple of kids in a hurry. He doesn’t even bother to drop in on his family, just runs off to crash Capulet’s party, proposes to a girl before the first date, insists on a jumped-up wedding, then gets himself kicked out of the city, and he still hasn’t been home for dinner.

She mouths off to her father, tells him what she will and will not do, and right after he’s told her what a nice husband he’s picked out for her. I mean, if you were a parent and your daughter spoke to you in that tone of voice, would you pat her hand and ask what’s wrong, or would you remind her who’s boss here? If Romeo had just gone home in the first place, like any decent boy would, instead of running off with his friends, this mess wouldn’t have occurred.

In fact, since Old Montague and Old Capulet had that very afternoon been sworn to keep the peace, they might have arranged a marriage between Romeo and Juliet–formed an alliance that way–and the whole of Verona would have lived happily ever after, and Montague would have been spared the expense of a gold Juliet statue. Paris might have been a little put out at being jilted, but he’d have gotten over it. Kids! They don’t think.

When I hit forty, however, I developed the dogma of the Meddlesome Priest. Friar Laurence has no business performing a secret marriage between two minors without parental consent. He says he wants to promote peace, but he isn’t a diplomat. His field is pharmacology.

Furthermore, when Juliet informs him she’s about to acquire an extra husband, why doesn’t he go right then to her father and tell the man she’s married? Capulet wouldn’t have been pleased, but he’d have gotten over it.

Instead, the Friar gives Juliet a sedative and stuffs her into a tomb with a passel of relatives in varying stages of disrepair. The man appears to mean well, but it’s also possible he intends to take credit for being the brains behind the peace accords.

Bunglesome or corrupt–the end is the same. With role models like this, are we surprised that children run amok?

Soon after the last epiphany, I ended my stint as a classroom teacher. I’ve wondered what would have happened if I’d continued studying Romeo and Juliet with them year after year. Would I have had new insights? Developed new interpretations? Uncovered new layers of meaning?

How much more would I have shared with my students?

Would I have continued to teach them respect and reverence? Would I have led them down the primrose path of dalliance and left them mired in levity?

How much more would I have seen in my students?

How much more would I have seen in myself?

The Stand-Up

Jane Austen at a PUB? Yes!
Maddie Shrewsday, Kate’s fourteen-year-old daughter, speculates on what Jane did there.
Prepare to be enlightened. And to LAUGH.

Kate Shrewsday

Screen Shot 2015-02-02 at 19.02.11

She’s a stand-up, and she’s only 14.

So we’re driving down to Winchester on one of our Saturday afternoon jaunts, and I come off the soulless M3 motorway to take the old carriage way. The road the postal carriages would have taken to get post to the south and south west. The route the stagecoaches flew along moving visitors from one big house to the next.

And I am doing that thing mothers do where they repeat ad infinitum the litany of landmarks on a road; those that have personal significance (ah, that’s where our car broke down in 1989; that’s the Little Chef where I left my handbag and never went back to get it) and those which have a greater, more elevated place in history.

“Look, darling,” I gesture expansively over the steering wheel, “you see that pub?”

It is labelled ‘The Wheatsheaf’ and it’s a member of…

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Love Poem for Valentine’s Day

I

The Owl and the Pussy-Cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea-green boat:
They took some honey, and plenty of money
Wrapped up in a five-pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
“O lovely Pussy, O Pussy, my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are,
You are,
You are!
What a beautiful Pussy you are!”

II
Pussy said to the Owl, “You elegant fowl,
How charmingly sweet you sing!
Oh! let us be married; too long we have tarried,
But what shall we do for a ring?”
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
To the land where the bong-tree grows;
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood,
With a ring at the end of his nose,
His nose,
His nose,
With a ring at the end of his nose.
III
“Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
Your ring?” Said the Piggy, “I will.”
So they took it away, and were married next day
By the turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
The moon,
The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.

~ Edward Lear

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1st Line: The Private Patient

English: 149 Harley Street
149 Harley Street (Photo credit: Wikipedia). Philip Halling [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“On November the twenty-first, the day of her forty-seventh birthday, and three weeks and two days before she was murdered, Rhoda Gradwyn went to Harley Street to keep a first appointment with her plastic surgeon, and there in a consulting room designed, so it appeared, to inspire confidence and allay apprehension, made the decision which would lead inexorably to her death.” ~ P. D. James, The Private Patient

Gather Ye Rosebuds…

To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time

“Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May” (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Oil on canvas, John William Waterhouse

 

 

 

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles to-day
To-morrow will be dying.

The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
The higher he’s a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he’s to setting.

 

 

 

 

 

“Gather ye rosebuds while ye may” (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Oil on canvas, John William Waterhouse

 

That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst

Times still succeed the former.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Circa 1908 Study for next painting
Circa 1908 Study for next painting (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Oil on canvas, John William Waterhouse

 

 

 

Then be not coy, but use your time;
And while ye may, go marry:
For having lost but once your prime,
You may forever tarry.