And poem

And we attempt a kind of bravery in our accordion and drum playing vagabondia.

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End of Spring Break

Ah, Spring Break is at an end, and I’m hard at work on what I think will end up being a delightful essay on Frances Hodgson Burnett’s short story “Sara Crewe; or What Happened at Miss Minchin’s” and St. Nicholas, the monthly children’s magazine that published it. At least I’m having a good time writing it, always a good sign for an essay. I’ve worked leisurely on it all break, primarily reading Gretchen Gerzina’s biography on Burnett and articles in St. Nicholas. I’ve also watched an inordinate number of movies over the past few weeks; including The Adjustment Bureau (post forthcoming on it and Inception), Red Riding Hood (eh, umh, oh well), Beastly (great performances, so so script. I think it probably worked better as a book), The Lincoln Lawyer (I enjoyed it much more than I expected), Morning Glory (such potential, such underwritten roles. I mean Harrison Ford, Diane Keaton, and Rachel McAdams do their best with what they’ve got, but some screenwriter fell asleep at the wheel), and You Again (cute but again, underwritten characters).

Oh, and I also put an offer on a house and had it accepted. So an oddly relaxing and busy break. I’ll post house pictures once it’s officially closed on, and I can post before and after shots. It’s not in bad condition at all, just not to my tastes.

Upstairs Downstairs

In another one of those moments where I should have realized I was a Victorianist long before I got to graduate school, when I was a teenager, I use to rent (from an actual video store no less) British t.v. shows from the 1970s and 80s. I started out with The Secret Adversary and the Partners in Crime series from the early 1980s. Both were based off of Agatha Christie mysteries of the same titles and starred James Warwick as the solidly ordinary Tommy and Francesca Annis as the slightly exotic Tuppence. Together, Tommy and Tuppence were a sort of inter-war years crime fighting duo covertly employed by the head of the secret service. I went from that series to other shows and films, notably a series of 1970s and 80s Jane Austen adaptations. I also discovered the first season of Upstairs, Downstairs. Set in a London townhouse, the series moved through first quarter of the twentieth century, using the domestic lens of one upper class house, its family and servants, to explore the social changes of the day. The kind folks over at the BBC (who really need to get on to that paid iPlayer subscription for people in other countries) have commissioned a new series set at the end of the 1930s, before the Second World War. It begins airing stateside on PBS’s Masterpiece Classic on April 10. It’s like the BBC and PBS conspired to give me a slightly belated birthday present. It’ll also keep me going until the ITV airs new episodes of Downton Abbey. I miss Dame Maggie Smith’s biting class opinions: “What’s a weekend?” Still makes me giggle.

At any rate, the blog Tellyspotting has more details on the old series and the new series.

And, as an added bonus, Red Nose Day 2011 (a charity event put on by Comic Relief) did a fantastic parody of Downton Abbey with Jennifer Saunders, Joanna Lumley, and Kim Catrall. Oh, and Simon Callow (Mr Beebe from A Room with a View) is absolutely hilarious.

Part 1

Part 2

 

Victorian pet peeves

The BBC Magazine published an essay on the legacy of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and now has a follow up article with readers’ meanings. Most, if not all, of these responses are exceedingly well thought out and erudite, providing a full breadth of how Shelley’s novel can be interpreted. I just have a quibble with people who use the word Victorian to describe the whole nineteenth-century. Technically, the term refers to most of the nineteenth-century, roughly 1832/37 (the date of the First Reform bill or Victoria’s ascension to the throne) to 1901/1910 (Victoria’s death or Virginia Woolf’s arbitrary date for when the world changed). But Victorian scholars don’t specialize in the whole period. The first part is considered the beginnings of the Age of Reform, the 1850s through 1870s is the high Victorian period, and the 1880s and 1890s are the fin-de-siecle. Nor would a Victorianist claim that 1817 is part of the Victorian period. It’s during the Regency and during the Romantic literary period, although history of the novel studies tends to follow a different trajectory. Essentially, periodization is hard and involves a lot of hair splitting, but some of that hair splitting is necessary. We wouldn’t lump today’s social values with those of people in the early 1980s, would we? The roughly two decades difference between when Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein and the beginning of the Victorian period matters. The Evangelical revival, the emergence of the middle-classes as a dominant and now voting political force, the abolishment of slavery, and the establishment of England’s economic and military power all occur before Victoria takes the throne. It seems difficult to ascribe Victorian moral values to Shelley, when she didn’t live within that value system nor was responding to it.

Song of the Day: Pavement, “Gold Soundz”

Oh, Pavement, you quirky, nostalgic, shimmering thing of indie pop goodness. How I adored driving down Texas highways, the windows rolled down, singing along at the top of my voice. Or skipping through the Taj Mah Kroger singing “Cut Your Hair” with Dan and Tony. How much fun when that strange dude climbed into the rafters of the Galaxy Club when I saw you in Dallas in 1995. I’m still surprised by how much this band hasn’t aged sound wise since the mid-1990s.

I want my NPR

The House voted to defund NPR today. The bill won’t pass the Senate; it’s purely a symbolic vote. I don’t want to wade into the political debate over whether or not NPR is biased towards liberals or against conservatives, an absurd notion of journalistic objectivity that only the United States pays lip service to. Although, brief toe dipping: seriously folks, crafting a story out of information is an inherently biased activity. You’re interpreting information; the moment a journalistic picks an angle, they’ve picked a bias–political, social, gender, racial, or otherwise. In point of fact, I would prefer us to stop even considering political bias as part of how we discuss journalism. At least if I know something has a liberal or a conservative slant, I know how I need to read more critically. Admittedly, I read everything critically, but I’ve been trained to do so. Most people don’t read everything the same way I do. Okay, toe dipping over.

What I want to say is that we should fund NPR just as much as we should fund a NASCAR team as an Army recruiting device. Both serve a public good (and no one has threatened to kill Congresspeople who want to cut NPR’s funding that I know of; people certainly did over the NASCAR team). But mostly, I want to say that NPR serves one of the highest public goods. We talk a lot about NPR’s news division, but for many areas, NPR and PBS are bastions of culture, exposing generations of people to art, music, critical thought, and taste. People talk about NPR as elite culture, but it isn’t. A Prairie Home Companion celebrates the Midwest, family values, blue grass, real country music, vaudeville, and simple comedy. Car Talk is two guys from New Jersey helping people understand how cars work. Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me asks us to be savvy media consumers. Thistle and Shamrock exposes us to the world of Celtic music. The Splendid Table translates the often times confusing world of food and cooking. Fresh Air introduces us to new books, music, and film. None of these things are elite; in fact, they are utterly ordinary. Raymond Williams, one of my favorite scholars, makes the claim that culture is ordinary, culture is how we put together the so-called elite with the rest of culture. I don’t think we, as a nation, can afford to lose an avenue for exposing people to a wide range of ideas. NPR and PBS builds communities. When I taught high school, one of my most outspoken, troublesome students and I bonded over Hycanith Bucket in Keeping Up Appearances. Sure, other forms of culture would have created a similar moment, but this one was special. It wasn’t just about liking a show; he literally saw me differently and I saw him differently after that. It shifted our relationship because we shared a cultural touchstone.

Most importantly, for me at least, NPR got me through graduate school. The drive to and from Dallas was punctuated by Carl Kasell’s voice, gravely and ow, coursing over the airwaves. I learned to appreciate sports from NPR, learned so much about the world I had never even conceived of. I listened to Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me on the way to my father’s funeral. It was the only thing that made sense in that moment.

So, I want to keep NPR, and I’m putting my money where my mouth is, so to speak. I recognize that NPR may no longer be viable via federal funding, but I would hate for it to lose it’s public spiritedness, which I’m afraid it would if solely a commercial enterprise.

Song of the Day: They Might Be Giants, “Ana Ng”

My friend Walter just posted an old mediation on the They Might Be Giants album Flood. Go read it. It’ll remind of you of your youthful geekiness, kind of like a John Hughes film. While I loved Flood (and so did my dad, by the way; he’s the one who bought the album originally), I think my favorite TMBG song is from the 1988 Lincoln, “Ana Ng.” I appreciate the way the band puts together metaphorical concepts, from the globe to the 1964 World’s Fair. It’s the chorus that resonates for me: “Ana Ng and I are getting old, and we still haven’t walked in the glow of each other’s majestic presence.”

Commonplace

Her daughter enjoyed a most uncommon degree of popularity for a woman neither young, handsome, rich, nor married. Miss Bates stood in the very worst predicament in the world for having much of the public favour; and she had no intellectual superiority to make atonement to herself, or frighten those who might hate her, into outward respect. She had never boasted either beauty or cleverness. Her youth had passed without distinction, and her middle of life was devoted to the care of a failing mother, and the endeavour to make a small income go as far as possible. And yet she was a happy woman, and a woman whom no one named without good-will. It was her own universal good-will and contented temper which worked such wonders. She loved every body, was interested in every body’s happiness, quick-sighted to every body’s merits; though herself a most fortunate creature, and surrounded with blessings in such an excellent mother and so many good neighbours and friends, and a home that wanted for nothing. The simplicity and cheerfulness of her nature, her contented and grateful spirit, were a recommendation to every body and mine of felicity to herself.

~ Jane Austen, Emma