Archive for August, 2008

The Legend of Love

August 7, 2008

The Reviews

By  S. H. Pearson

    This critique was course-work that I submitted for graded credit in a required class.  This poem is a little-known gem in my opinion.  I post my digestion for your reading pleasure.  Keep in mind that I was courting academic credit.

     Mary Tighe dazzles with her Psyche (or The Legend of Love).  The first sign of a good writer is how fast a piece reads.  This read fast.  I devoured it.  Tighe is as rich as Keats in her literary canvas.  The color and texture smote me.  I see the pinioned god’s blonde ringlets and am drawn into her obsession as I was by Keats over Psyche.  The same fever drove each pen — one for women and one for men.

     In Tighe’s poem we get female focus of this grand old myth.  Instead of erecting a fane to Psyche, Tighe’s is to Eros.  ‘Fittingly so.

     Though Tighe may have attempted to tell the tale, her obsession is clear to me.  Eros.  She sees him vividly — down to the glint of light from under his fringe of lashes (as though his eyes were gleaming orbs).  Like a fan of spooky beams that shoot out at you the glamour of his business.  The sorcery of his seduction – Cupid’s arrows.  Wham.  Then he’s got you in his thrall.  Just one look and that is all.  Love at first sight they call it – this phenomenon. 

     Tighe’s poem is a good one.  It pleasured me greatly.  What better theme than this????  A woman gets a husband who sees her only nightly in the dark – in a blissful nuptial chamber.  The god of blissful infatuation with wings.  I say wings.

     Here’s another one that our film industry should endeavor.  Only problem is that I don’t think there’s a man on earth who could embody Tighe’s beau ideal.  He is not of this world. 

The Eve of St. Agnes

August 7, 2008

The Reviews

By  S. H. Pearson

      This critique was course-work that I submitted for graded credit also, but loved every minute of it.  Keats is one of the big guns of Romanticism.  He turned phrases like the ones in the King James Bible.   Hence I am convinced that all good poetry comes from God.

    John Keats’ Eve of St. Agnes is rich in imagery.  The vaporous breath rising from the beadsman as he says his Rosary.  The cold stone effigies of the dead lining the corridors of a great house seeming to shiver from even colder mail mesh.  The hunka-hunka burnin’ love in Porphyro’s breast for the sleeping Madeline.  The fragrant food so lovingly spread – you can taste it, smell it.  The climate, the feel of that room.  You can sense it.  Keats puts you there – right where he wants you.  Such is the craft of a good poet.

     And before you know it – you are with the two lovers in a disembodied swoon.  Surpassing all that can be earthly known, bathed in other beam than moon. 

     Keats’ oracular pen bleeds along the arcane, winding paths of the Ancient Wisdom.  To the metaphysicist, there is much substance in this poem beyond what Keats could have known.  Seeing as he could “only guess each sweet” as “from heaven is with the breezes blown.”

Fantomina

August 7, 2008

The Reviews

By  S. H. Pearson

 

     This critique was course-work that I submitted for graded credit in a required class.  Keep in mind that I was courting academic credit.  And keep in mind also that sex was shoved down our throats “very” hard.  We were reading crotch novels in a feminist literature class.  It was called “The Literature of Women.”  So here you go:

    Eliza Haywood writes a better crotch novel than Aphra Behn.  Here the writer is not only entertaining herself, but me also.  I enjoyed reading this tale.  Her hunted lover had to be the cat’s pajamas.  He seemed typical of a cad about town – the philandering tomcat that is what he is because women love him that way.

     But every rose has a thorn as we read in this story.  Haywood’s playful girl has several pieces of her cake before it finally catches up with her.  What she did was ride the wave available to her – and with aplomb.  By changing costumes she led this pony along through pasture after pasture.  He just kept falling for it.  Eating out of her hand. 

     One is compelled to ask what the ending might imply.  The naughty girl’s mother has her carted off to a French convent.  No more “plaisir” for you, young lady.  Pregnancy is served here as a punishment and end to one’s fun.  Pregnancy is written as the girl’s “undoing,” her “ruin.”  Disgrace and dishonor are also implied by the ending of the story.  In those days contraception was a tricky practice at best.  Sex was a risky gamble for women.  This woman sure had her share of it before the gratifying masquerade came to an end.

      I think that this story would do well in today’s film industry.  I am curious as to why it has not been made into a feature film yet.

Oroonoko

August 7, 2008

The Reviews

By  S. H. Pearson

 

      This critique was course-work that I submitted for graded credit in a required class.  Keep in mind that I was courting academic credit.  I nearly blew a gasket on this one.  What mediocre drivel.

    Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko is a yarn that reads like juvenilia. The story seems like the author needed to entertain herself.  It suggests that she had, perhaps, a fixation on some comely slave during her days in Suriname and this novella is the outgrowth and outlet for her panting fantasies about him.  Perhaps her protagonist embodied some of the slave’s attributes with a huge load of Behn’s embellishments.  Her physical description of Oroonoko is hokey and unrealistic.  I say – good grief.  There is little true-to-form about him from a scientist’s standpoint.  The turn of his character is out of character for a man of his origin.

     It reads like Behn needed to create for herself an imaginary lover.  In Oroonoko she could celebrate him publicly and feel smug about it.  To the educated, worldly reader, this story is a not just a laugh, it’s an embarrassment.  Aphra Behn has written herself this man’s cheerleader.  She’s a giddy, panting fan on the side-lines watching him shoot tigers in the eye and be cruel to animals.  Hoo-raa!  Let’s go sneak up on a tigress’ den and raid the peaceful slumber of her cubs.  What creeps.

     Behn’s writing in this piece not only annoyed me, it nauseated me.  She used too many modifiers.  In a circle of masculine, literary minds they would say “she writes like a girl.”  They would not say this, however, of Mary Wollstonecraft, Virginia Woolf, Simone De Beauvoir or Annie Besant.  They command universal respect as writers, whether they are women or not.  They are free thinkers and not out to showcase how many words they know (a penchant of Camille Paglia and Anne Rice).  Mark Twain pointed out that he got paid just as much to write city as metropolis.

     In writing, one’s gender should not be apparent, but rather, transparent – unless one wishes to write specifically about his or her gender.  There is a clear-cut difference in good writers and those who “just write.”  Good writers make us want to read them.  We turn pages rapidly, drawn in by the writer’s voice.  We are smitten by their quill.  Oroonoko felt effete.  To me it lacked literary power.

     What was she trying to prove by the exaggerated, ridiculous descriptions of this Gold Coast “royalty?”  It was corny and puerile from a woman of 48.  Her annoying way of writing the pronoun “them” was a particular peeve.  It peppered the text and was glaringly out of place.  It occurred almost as much as the word “sigh.”  Oh sigh!  The story read like somebody had gone through and re-written the whole thing from Behn’s original text into some sort of fabricated, modernized English.  Indeed, they had created a Frankenstein of verbiage.  It does not read like English hailing from King James II’s day.  There is a mutant weirdness about it. 

     Behn’s lurid descriptions are crude and vulgar owing to her lack of finesse at setting such imagery to a more polished literary form.  She is not what I would call adroit at novel writing. 

     Her obsessive focus on sex, sex and more sex made her seem rather “sex-starved” in herself.  Perhaps this kind of writing is how she got her jollies.  Perhaps this kind of writing was her outlet for sexual fantasies about men she could not have.  Hearty fare for thought.

     Just because a writer is a woman does not mean that what she wrote should be slapped into a book and get called literature.  This story was an embarrassment not only to read but also to womankind for having it thus represent them.  Literature?  It lends credence to how this author died in poverty. 

     One understands the motive of apologetic, post-modern academe to unearth “women’s literature” from the obscure depths and force-feed it to scholars.  We may have to read it but we don’t have to like it.  I see by the evidence, that the reading public of Behn’s day didn’t like it either.

     A salient point is how Oroonoko does not read like it sprang from the same pen who wrote “The Willing Mistress” nor “The Disappointment.”  Is it possible that there is no way to prove who really wrote this stuff owing to its obscurity and the passage of time?  History does not even have a birth date for Aphra Behn.  Is it plausible thereby to infer that they might be lacking other pertinent information?  I present this for further investigation.   

     In Shakespeare’s plays and poetry, there is no doubt, for example, who wrote the author’s works.  Whether it was a ghost-writer or a man actually named William Shakespeare is not the point.  The point is that his works of literature all have a consistent, brilliant “signature voice.”  It is how we scholars of Shakespeare can agree that it was written by the “him” whom we celebrate.  In the case of Aphra Behn, I cannot say that her writer’s voice is consistent.  It would be interesting to see some of her plays acted upon the London stage.  I notice that our text does not provide her plays.

The Power of Now

August 5, 2008

The Reviews

By  S. H. Pearson

 
        I got corralled toward this book (The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle) by Australia’s Robert Bruce.   He touted it on his web site something fierce.  
        Tolle does not waste any words unless you count his one awkward attempt at political correctitude.  Amazing how the pressure to be politically correct even penetrates into the region of metaphysics.
        I feel that this book is part of the “One World Religion” campaign.  It is mental hygiene for a tortured mind.   So that guarantees Tolle a large audience.  Who isn’t on prozac?
        Tolle’s objective is to soothe a harried herd.  He does a good job.  But he’s on the Wizard’s payroll. 
        Read this book to put yourself abreast of the New Age.  Get a taste of it.   But don’t  swallow it. 

Devil in the White City

August 4, 2008

The Reviews

By  S. H. Pearson

This digestion was course-work that I submitted for graded credit in a required class.  Keep in mind that I was courting academic credit.

Erik Larson’s Devil in the White City captures the environs of booming late 19th Century Chicago amid galloping changes.  The rabid growth of cities, industrialization, social change, and racial attitudes all make up the cataclysm that hit America during this period.

The filth, smoke and squirming city streets fall from the pages of Larson’s book onto the reader’s lap.  The pages cannot turn fast enough as one becomes absorbed by the author’s craft at bringing history to life.  That Larson’s text is borne upon historical fact makes it all the more interesting.  The text vividly illustrates what was sweeping the country during the adrenaline shock wave of the Industrial Revolution.

Larson harnesses the correspondence and public records of those days to tell two stories that run abreast:  the sadistic crimes of Herman Webster Mudgett and the brilliant, inventive architecture of Daniel H. Burnham.  The biographical histories of these two men bring many things to light about the surroundings of their times and the trappings of their crafts.

In the life of Mudgett, there was the backdrop of early 1890’s Chicago with its squalor, clamor and teeming city crowds.  The reader learns of how fortuitous for Mudgett was the booming growth of the city.  Here he could prey upon young women with ease.  The anonymity of such a population made it convenient for Mudgett to murder women and dispose of their bodies seemingly without a trace.   Mudgett was a brilliant swindler and evader of debt.  The vastness of the burgeoning metropolis afforded him escape routes from his many creditors.  When they surrounded him for debt collection, he would dodge and parry with eloquence and charm.  With his affable, winning smiles, he sent debt collectors and lawyers on their ways convinced of his sincerity.  It is written that Satan is the father of all lies.  In reading about Herman Mudgett, one gets the feeling that he is a kinsman of Satan for his lies alone.

Mudgett too benefited from the large influx of young rural women who were lured by the city’s employment opportunities.  Many sought work in the clerical fields and textile industries.  Among them the serial killer saw an inexhaustible supply of victims to feed the fires of his lust.  To Mudgett, these young women were like sweets and 1890’s Chicago had become his candy store.

Shifting a gear into the life of Daniel Burnham, the reader is enveloped by the hungry ambition of America’s brilliant architects and engineers of the Gilded Age.  Burnham’s rejection from both Yale and HarvardUniversities only served to spur him harder into the headwind that would lift him into professional heights that nobody expected, least of all the rival city of New York.

To outshine Paris, France, in building the World’s Fair was Burnham’s need and to prove it to New York and the world was Chicago’s passion.  With the gale-force wind of Chicago’s support at his back, Burnham mounted the platform that had become his chance to shine.  He was out to prove something to himself, the Ivy League, New York City and the World.  With bog-defying grillage and mercurial focus, Burnham and his fleet of architects set about building the World’s Columbian Exposition.

The Columbian Exposition of 1893 was a showcase for Edison’s electric light en masse.  It was the largest display of its kind transforming the WhiteCity into a dazzling spectacle at night.  The fair was an exhibit for many new and lasting inventions.  Its architecture influenced such brilliant young minds as Frank Lloyd Wright.  This idea is upheld by Larson, “The Fair had a powerful and lasting impact on the nation’s psyche, in ways both large and small.” [1]

As Mark Twain dubbed this era of American history “The Gilded Age,” so fittingly can it be applied to the newly-made wealthy.  With the Industrial Revolution came a new breed of American.  These were previously common folks who suddenly found themselves up to their chins in money.  Railroads, steel and iron, coal and textiles, the meat-packing industry of Chicago and other extractable resources lent themselves as fortunes to be made by the astute and ambitious.  As is often attributed to such people, they seek to showcase their wealth.  Often this takes on any gaudy, outward display that comes to mind.  They spent money lavishly on outlandish things to show off their financial standing.  They adopted affectations and airs that they deemed befitting the upper classes.  However, sudden money does not an aristocrat make.  This is the premise of the term “The Gilded Age.”

The mindset of the Gilded Age can be seen in Daniel Burnham’s eccentric displays of new success as well.  He sent for the best of everything and took cruises on the White Star Line.  He wanted to prove to his neighbors that he had arrived in polite society.  He purchased a home in a more fragrant and fashionable address in the suburbs of Chicago.  The stench of the meat-packing district tainted the air of the city.  The wealthy could afford to move away from this fetid miasma, so that is what Daniel Burnham did.

Another sweeping change that was coming over not only America, but Great Britain and Europe, was the advance of medicine.  Doctors were boldly delving into human anatomy like never before.  In England, this took the form of grave-robbing in the extreme.  Medical students would acquire corpses through underhanded means.  Doctors would pay grave-robbers steep fees for producing the cadavers that their studies demanded.  This mania had spread to the United States during Mudgett’s time.  Fortuitously for Mudgett, this served two purposes:  first, it availed a means by which he could dispose of the bodies of his murder victims and secondly, it was a tidy source of income to defray from his indebtedness.

To illustrate Mudgett’s two-fold ingenuity, he had a formal medical background.  He was trained as a medical doctor.  Being an anatomist, he was adept at killing his victims with profit in mind.  He would be sure to kill them via poisonous gases so as not to mar their skeletons.  He used a method likened unto a killing jar for insects.  After he murdered his victims, he would have their skeletons articulated by one of the men in his employ.  To support this point, Larson writes:

Just after Christmas Holmes asked one of his associates, Charles Chappell, to come to his building.  Holmes had learned that Chappell was an “articulator,” meaning he had mastered the art of stripping the flesh from human bodies and reassembling, or articulating, the bones to form complete skeletons for display in doctors’ offices and laboratories.  He had acquired the necessary techniques while articulating cadavers for medical students at CookCountyHospital.[2]

The perfect skeleton would then be sold to local medical schools, hospitals and doctors’ offices.  This is how Mudgett’s brilliant blade sliced two ways:  it fed his twisted fetish for seducing and killing women and his crimes were handsomely rewarded with money.  He always needed money with so many creditors snapping at his heels.  If all this was not windfall enough, the method by which he marketed the remains of his victims also served as a means of covering the tracks of his crimes.  Amid the new medical mania that was sweeping the country, an investigator would be hard pressed to find the right skeleton with so many clanking about.

As for American racial attitudes of these times, there is no indication from Larson’s text that much had changed in the minds of leading Caucasian society in that respect.  According to class lecture, even the Irish immigrants were not considered to be among the white people.  The Native Americans had been pushed westward into the barren desert wastes.  The post-Civil War freedmen were still stigmatized for their skin color and had few rights and privileges.  This is painfully attested in the autobiography of Frederick Douglass.  The city of Chicago during this period is no exception to the way non-white people were treated in the United States.  Many of them found employment as unskilled laborers and in the slaughterhouses of Chicago.

Another hallmark of this period can be seen in the opulence afforded the upper classes aboard the White Star Line of steamships.  The Royal Mail Steamship Olympic was an example of this class of vessel.  This was the ship on which Daniel Burnham was voyaging at the beginning of Larson’s book.  The Olympic was the sister ship to the ill-fated and slightly longer R.M.S. Titanic.  Aboard the Olympic, the stellar architect could further celebrate his newly-acquired wealth, “Burnham had chosen this ship, the R.M.S. Olympic of the White Star Line, because it was new and glamorous and big.” [3]

Eerily, the R.M.S. Titanic was carrying one of Burnham’s dear friends heading in the opposite direction across the same ocean at the same time, Francis Millet.  One is compelled to weigh which death was the more clement that would soon befall these men.  Burnham was descending into the agonizing degeneration of diabetes, limping around the Olympic.  Millet would soon slip into the icy waters of the North Atlantic and die quickly of drowning, hypothermia or more mercifully, from both.

In conclusion, one can see how Larson’s book supports the upheaval of change that swelled over America in the late 19th Century.  The tying together of the lives of Daniel Burnham and Herman Mudgett can neatly be done at Chicago’s World’s Fair of 1893.  Here the two men converged.  For Burnham it was the pinnacle of his professional glory.  For Mudgett it was the climax of his killing spree.

[1] Erik Larson, Devil in the WhiteCity (New York:  Vintage Random House, 2003) 373.

[2] Erik Larson, Devil in the WhiteCity (New York:  Vintage Random House, 2003) 150.

[3] Erik Larson, Devil in the WhiteCity (New York:  Vintage Random House, 2003) 3.

Smearing Clodia

August 4, 2008

The Reviews

By  S. H. Pearson

 

      This critique was course-work that I submitted for graded credit in a required class.  Keep in mind that I was courting academic credit. 

     In the case of Marcus Caelius Rufus, Roman defense lawyer Marcus Tullius Cicero excelled at winning an acquittal for his client. Smooth and eloquent, though he was, Cicero was not beyond reproach and neither was his client.

     In the case for Caelius there was both evidence and witnesses that never made it into court. Whether this was because of the tricky social pitfalls surrounding a widow’s bad reputation or the self-sullying stand of any witness on her behalf, posterity shall never know.

     Cicero knew his advantages in this case. He also knew the advantages of his privileged young client. First of all, Cicero had the advantage of knowing his client outside of court as he knew the poet Aulus Licinius Archias for whom he also argued a case and won. Cicero became his own character witness in both cases stating that his clients were good and honorable men. Being a well-known and respected litigator, Cicero’s opinion of these men was a fortuitous rhetorical tack.

     Secondly, the absence of crucial witnesses in plaintiff Clodia Metelli’s case made it easier for Cicero to go for her jugular. Thirdly, women in the ancient world were certainly little more than sexual commodities to be given in marriage and taken as brides or to be bought and sold in slavery.

     It was common knowledge that any woman who bucked the rigid system of social mores would be smeared, sullied and ruined for her liberties. Once her rule-breaking was exposed, anyone who may have theretofore been her consort would clamor for cover from the light of day – such was the case with the alleged household slaves who uncovered the plot to have her poisoned by her ex-lover, Caelius.

     Caelius was a young beautiful man who took up residence next to the recently-widowed, 36-year-old Clodia on a fashionable riverside strand. Clodia at 36 may have been considered middle-aged in Cicero’s time, but she was far from ready to lie down and die. Her late husband had left her with opulent surroundings. There was living left to do.

     Clodia came from a ranking family of good standing. It served Cicero’s agenda in court that as such a woman, all eyes had been upon her since her husband’s death.

     The situation that begat this case was almost predictable. An older woman is at liberty to take a young lover. After the rapid wild fires of his infatuation have burned themselves out, he is ready to move on to new territory, leaving the now fallen woman to acquire a new paramour. Cicero and his jury were familiar with this scenario and with the motive of the plaintiff to be scorned by it. This lent credence to Cicero’s argument.

     Cicero then proceeded to drag Clodia’s name through the crestfallen mire of female shame. He implied that she had sex with her own brother. He implied that she gave herself freely and cheaply for sex, that she was a loose, libidinous woman for all to see at her vacation residence in the notorious Baiae. It was implied that anyone who goes to Baiae goes there for one reason anyway.

     The jury received a picture painted of Clodia that was scarlet, wanton, bohemian, hedonist and, ironically, none other than Roman — for Cicero would be a fool indeed not to concede that Rome was synonymous with decadence and sensualism. Rome was known for its excess, debauchery and cruelty for sport and entertainment standing out from all of history – verily, from all the linear time of human existence such have been the trappings of Rome. So here Cicero stands before a jury of men and condemns a widow for her sexual dalliance with the boy next door.

     Cicero condemned Clodia whilst upholding Caelius and yet they were partners in the same “crime” so to speak. Caelius, however, was lauded as a bright, up and coming young lawyer from a good family. His moral blunder was rapidly excused by Cicero with “Everyone agrees that the young should be allowed to play around a little, and nature herself has been generous in supplying them with youthful passions…” [1]  Cicero continues that there are not enough hours in the day for him to cover everything that there is to say on the subjects of corruption, adultery, wantonness and extravagance as though these were somehow not Rome’s middle names.

     To list a few of the supposed gasps to good, upstanding Roman society, the prosecution listed orgies, love-affairs, adultery, Baiae, beach parties, dinner parties, carousing, singing, musical entertainments and pleasure-boats. Short of orgies, the rest reads almost normal when it comes to the privileged lives of the upper classes throughout all of human history. As for wine-fueled orgies, one might accept those as part of the worship service to the Roman god Bacchus.

     Cicero builds his case around one woman’s “reckless infatuation” with the boy next door – how she fell to her knees worshipping at the shrine of his pale beauty. She is condemned for her infatuation that sprouted and grew predictably in the fertile loam of her “pleasure-gardens” on the river. It is easy to understand how Clodia and her young paramour grew entangled.

     It is even easier to understand how an ambitious young lawyer like Caelius had a strong motive to rid himself of an older woman who was now enamored and clinging to him, threatening to ruin him socially and professionally. It is easy to understand also how Cicero felt a loyalty and fraternity to this young man, seeing as he was one of his own. Professionals stick together in a kind of fraternity throughout the world and have done so throughout history.

     On top of their profession, Caelius and Cicero were both men. Men would share an understanding of the pitfalls of illicit relationships with women and this was one such relationship.

     A good illustration comes to mind of how John Fitzgerald Kennedy during his Presidency began an acquaintance with a popular movie star. Kennedy met the woman through an introduction at the home of his brother-in-law. Before long the movie star began making a lot of phone calls to the President’s office and that of his younger brother, the Attorney General of the United States.  She became infatuated and perhaps she even fell in love.  This may have been her knell.  Shortly thereafter, the movie star was found dead in her home of a mysterious drug over-dose. Posterity will never know the real truth about that case either.

     Cicero won his case for Marcus Caelius Rufus not so much because Cicero was a brilliant litigator, but because the plaintiff was a woman. Women in Cicero’s time did not have a leg to stand on in court or outside of court. Today they are still stigmatized for having sex with men that are not their husbands either before or during their marriage. Clodia Metelli was a widow and she was dragged through the brambles in court for her joie de vivre in depraved Rome of all places.

     In conclusion, the analytical mind must pose this question. Why would a woman risk being laughed out of court by an all-male jury by bringing fabricated charges against a man of whom she was recently so fond?

 

 

 

[1] D. H. Berry, Cicero Defence Speeches (OxfordOxford University Press, 2000) 139.