Sunday, August 17, 2008


We were very tired, we were very merry–
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry.
It was bare and bright, and smelled like a stable–
But we looked into a fire, we leaned across a table,
We lay on a hill-top underneath the moon;
And the whistles kept blowing, and the dawn came soon.

We were very tired, we were very merry–
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry;
And you ate an apple, and I ate a pear,
From a dozen of each we had bought somewhere;
And the sky went wan, and the wind came cold,
And the sun rose dripping, a bucketful of gold.

We were very tired, we were very merry,
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry.
We hailed, “Good morrow, mother!” to a shawl-covered head,
And bought a morning paper, which neither of us read;
And she wept, “God bless you!” for the apples and pears,
And we gave her all our money but our subway fares.

Edna St. Vincent Millay

This is one of my favorite poems. It brings to mind images: night on the water, drinking coffee in empty cafes, starry lit streets; the feeling of a strong but pleasant wind blowing; images of New York, real and imaginary - glamorous, gritty, mysterious; that mood one gets in the middle of the night when you're out with friends or someone you're in love with - a wildness, a feeling of incredible happiness to be alive mixed with the knowledge that time is short so cram in everything you can, that tenuous balance between complete happiness and complete despair. And playing over everything the sound of The Bleeding Heart Show by The New Pornographers - probably because, to me, that song conjures up similar feelings.

IMAGE: "Couple watching the moonight" by Howard Sochurek

Thursday, July 31, 2008

"She learned romance as she grew older..."

"They knew not each other's opinion, either its constancy or its change, on the one leading point of Anne's conduct, for the subject was never alluded to; but Anne, at seven-and-twenty, thought very differently from what she had been made to think at nineteen. She did not blame Lady Russell, she did not blame herself for having been guided by her; but she felt that were any young person, in similar circumstances, to apply to her for counsel, they would never receive any of such certain immediate wretchedness, such uncertain future good. She was persuaded that under every disadvantage of disapprobation at home, and every anxiety attending his profession, all their probable fears, delays, and disappointments, she should yet have been a happier woman in maintaining the engagement, than she had been in the sacrifice of it...

How eloquent could Anne Elliot have been! How eloquent, at least, were her wishes on the side of early warm attachment, and a cheerful confidence in futurity, against that over-anxious caution which seems to insult exertion and distrust Providence! She had been forced into prudence in her youth, she learned romance as she grew older: the natural sequel of an unnatural beginning."

from Jane Austen's Persuasion (Chapter 4)

* * * * *

Anne Elliot is my favorite Austen heroine. I agree with Jacqueline Reid-Walsh when she writes that the tone of Persuasion is not autumnal but rather spring-like. Or, it could be said that it transitions from winter to spring as Anne moves from a period of sadness and regret to experience a second chance at happiness in love. At twenty-seven, Anne is the eldest of Austen's heroines and I find her the most easy to sympathize with and relate to. She is past her first bloom of youth (as the novel explicitly tells us - see Footnote 1) and her chances of marriage, and with it a home and family of her own, have all but vanished.

Eight years before the novel begins Anne was engaged to a young naval officer but she relinquished the attachment upon the advice of an older and, supposedly, wiser family friend - thus the context of the quote above and the recurring theme of 'persuasion.' Since I read Emma and Persuasion right after the other, I can't help but compare the charming, very youthful Emma to the wiser, steadier but no less passionate Anne. While Emma goes through a series of errors of judgment, often humorous ones, Anne's predicament is pitiable rather then amusing. Her acceptance of the advice of her elder friend results in a life-altering mistake that causes her great pain and sadness. While Emma is certainly pained while she believes Mr. Knightley to be in love with Harriet, her experience is very brief compared to Anne's period of remorse which lasts eight long years.

Interestingly, once Anne has experienced pain, has 'learned prudence,' she is finally able to pursue romance when presented with the opportunity: a second encounter with Captain Wentworth. Wiser and more experienced, Anne seems quietly determined not to let this second chance pass her by. As Jacqueline Reid-Walsh puts it, when Wentworth comes to Bath, Anne "instigates a delicate pursuit of Wentworth which bends the conduct book rules," 'stretching and even overturning the rules concerning proper ladylike behavior.' While remaining true to the feminine ideal of the time, she exercises assertiveness - going so far as to deftly announce her constancy in front of Wentworth. The interactions between Anne and Wentworth are beautiful and amusing to read and in the process of her 'delicate pursuit,' Anne enters into a "second spring of youth and beauty," regaining that blush which she had lost prematurely:

"Anne saw nothing, thought nothing of the brilliancy of the room. Her happiness was from within. Her eyes were bright, and her cheeks glowed; but she knew nothing about it. She was thinking only of the last half-hour, and as they passed to their seats, her mind took a hasty range over it. His choice of subjects, his expressions, and still more his manner and look, had been such as she could see in only one light. His opinion of Louisa Musgrove's inferiority, an opinion which he had seemed solicitous to give, his wonder at Captain Benwick, his feelings as to a first, strong attachment; sentences begun which he could not finish, his half-averted eyes, and more than half-expressive glance, all, all declared that he had a heart returning to her at least; that anger, resentment, avoidance were no more; and that they were succeeded, not merely by friendship and regard, but by the tenderness of the past. Yes, some share of the tenderness of the past! She could not contemplate the change as implying less. He must love her." (Persuasion, Chapter 20)

Check out the full Jacqueline Reid-Walsh article: "She Learned Romance as She Grew Older”: From Conduct Book Propriety to Romance in Persuasion. It was only by reading some of the passages from the conduct books that Reid-Walsh references that I was reminded that while Anne may seem rather timid and restrained to me, she was actually acting quite boldly; particularly when doing something so seemingly tame by today's standards: initiating a conversation with a male acquaintance (Wentworth at the opera) instead of waiting for him to speak first.

IMAGE: Detail from "Portrait of Mrs. Richard Brinsley Sheridan" by Thomas Gainsborough

1 "A few months had seen the beginning and the end of their acquaintance; but, not with a few months ended Anne's share of suffering from it. Her attachment and regrets had, for a long time, clouded every enjoyment of youth; and an early loss of bloom and spirits had been their lasting effect." (Persuasion, Chapter 4)

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

What the #$@%'s with the double standard?

I'm going through the Huff English blog archives. Two years ago she posted regarding a case in Washington (remarkably the news article is still up!) where a high-school English teacher was forced to step down after permitting a student to enter a poem which included an expletive in the school lit magazine. Since the magazine had already gone to press, all copies that could be found were shredded and the magazine was reprinted minus the 'offensive' poem. I've cited the poem below and the gist is that its about a girl's first sex experience.

The uproar over the poem began, unsurprisingly, with complaints from parents. Take this comment from parent Lorna Soules, for instance:
"This is not the kind of things we need; we need schools that support healthy living and healthy language, that take a moderate view and help parents raise kids," Soules said. "When I came upon that I said, 'Geez, this is too bad and unfortunate — somebody didn't do their job.' "
Interesting choice of words. We need schools that take a "moderate" view? What exactly does the word "moderate" mean in this context? Schools that don't fight the status quo? In the past, taking a "moderate" stance would have meant anything from denying women access to higher education or resisting desegregation in public schools. A moderate stance does not automatically equal a correct stance or a fair or a just one. In fact, this could lead to an entirely new tirade on my part so I'm going to move on for now to what I originally wanted to post about.

What I wanted to address is an apparent double standard. For Huff Teacher writes that schools have an established right to control what is printed in their publications (as per the American Supreme Court).

Alright, that makes sense.

However, does it make any sense that while curbing student expression by suppressing the usage of profanity in student writing, schools are simultaneously teaching students using literature that contains it?

Interestingly, Huff Teacher believes that it does. In her opinion the school was entirely within its right to censor the poem and yet at the same time she strongly feels that "students should have access to reading material without censorship. I don’t agree with preventing access to works of literature."

So basically, its okay to censor students writing, but not their reading? When it comes to specifically school printed publications schools should be free to censor, while they simultaneously provide students with profanity-laden reading material that falls under the approved heading of "literature"?

Cases like these make me terrified of getting in trouble myself some day. I mean, this was an established teacher who had been in the profession for over 35 years who was forced to resign as magazine editor due to - so it would seem - a single misstep.

Does it make sense that such an experienced teacher would purposely go against school rules by printing the poem? It seems unlikely. Which leads me to believe that there were no specific rules regarding the lit magazine's boundaries on student writing! In fact the Seattle Times article specifically mentions that the school district had never taken action in the past when the magazine had previously contained profanities. So evidently the teacher simply made a judgment call based on past experience - that seems entirely reasonable to me. But instead of a discussion subsequently taking place on the rightness or wrongness of his decision, the school caved in and got rid of him when a few parents flipped out and demanded disciplinary action.

What was this really about?

Based on the evidence, it was not about this teacher's worthiness or ability. Jill from Feministe attended the high-school and says that Mr. Kelly was one of Shorewood's "most well-known and well-liked teachers." And the Student Press Law Center has a follow-up article stating that after a grievance hearing Mr. Kelly was subsequently restored to his former position as magazine adviser.

Rather then being a matter of a teacher's failure to use common sense as Mrs. Huff believes, I see it as being about parents' fear and a school which cowardly and unreasonably caved in to that fear instead of standing up for their own employee or even taking the time to address the complaints after some contemplation and conference.

Why did this poem incite such a reaction from parents in the first place?

Read it and deduce what you will....

My first fuck

sure he claims he loves me
and holds me oh so tight
he makes me believe this is special
that he can hold on all night
he claims he isn't pressuring me
but his hand is down my pants
temptation rises and I give in
he turns over
checks the time
gets up and drives me home
no kiss goodnight
no I love you
and no telephone call

by Zoya Raskina

I can understand censoring student writing in extreme cases - like instances of hate speech, statements of threatened harm to self or others - but in this case it seems like an overreaction. Censorship should be a last resort and not something to be taken lightly. In this case, the profanity was chosen to perfectly fit the tone of the poem. When I read the body of the poem and then compare the title, I can think of no other word more appropriate. The poet is talking about sex without meaning, without love, the experience of simply being used and discarded.

Which leads me to believe that what is really disturbing about the poem to parents, to adults in general perhaps, is not the usage of the "f word" but rather the idea that a young girl has possibly already experienced sex in such a harsh way.

I'm curious about Zoya -- where is she now? does she still write? -- and I'm impressed with her father's tempered reaction to the poem:
Her father, Vladimir Raskin, thinks the poem raises a genuine issue. "She is a grown-up person," he said. "I told her my opinion that the poem is good, the title is bad." "It's poetry; some people like it, some people don't," he added. "The problem discussed in the poem is actually relevant and good."
IMAGE: "Open Book" by Nancy R. Cohen

Monday, July 28, 2008

Suicide promotional literature for teens

I came into work an hour and a half early by accident today and since my car is currently indisposed that meant I was stuck here without a way back home. Thus I'm feeling tired, a tad cranky, and reading a lot of Hobo Teacher today mixed with the influx of idiotic customer calls has only increased my sarcasm level.

Anyhow, I just had a thought regarding the use of Romeo & Juliet in high school curriculum...

Who had the brilliant idea to promote a suicidal love story to large quantities of emotionally volatile teenagers?

My wonderment was sparked by Hobo Teacher's lamentation over the failure of students to sufficiently appreciate the... romance? passion? love? ...behind Romeo's choice to die rather then live without Juliet. And yet, if students don't immediately empathize with Romeo's extreme reaction to Juliet's death, if they actually feel it to be an unnatural overreaction, shouldn't we be kind of... well, glad? Are we actually supposed to be hoping that students will strongly identify with Romeo's decision to die rather then bear the pain of his loss? This with teenagers who are already often prone to emotional overreaction (hey, I know I was! possibly still am...) and are similarly going through all the turmoils of romantic love every day, often for the first times in their lives?

I mean, if suicide is romanticized and seemingly justified in Shakespeare... (Which is practically biblical, right? I mean, King James Bible/Shakespeare = practically interchangeable.)

There's no denying that R&J is a pretty darn attractive representation of death. There's even the whole "happy dagger" bit. I mean, R & J are right in there with the other ultimate pin-ups for star-crossed love: Heloise and Abelard, Antony and Cleopatra, Dante and Beatrice, Tristan and Isolde, Harry Potter and Ginny Weasley... okay, that last one might be a stretch. I suppose teachers could always draw upon the sorrow that Romeo and Juliet's families experience to negate any justification for the double-suicide. (Not to mention perhaps adding a mini-lecture on the pitfalls of impetuous decision making - if Romeo had just waited one second longer!)

Anyways, I'm not by any means trying to start a campaign for pulling R&J from classrooms (although I wonder how successful said campaign might turn out to be). I love Shakespeare and I love R&J. Artists aestheticize death and killing all the time. And I mean, we read Macbeth in high school as well and I know that it doesn't immediately follow that teaching it will cause kids to go out on a murderous rampage of politicians. Right? (Now, A Clockwork Orange - maybe.)

But I do think having teachers lecture teens on a play which romanticizes the suicides of its specifically teenage heroes is just a tiny bit funny.

IMAGE: "Antique key and metal heart on open book, close-up" by David Muir

Sunday, July 27, 2008

"O lady, my heart..."

Deathless Aphrodite of the spangled mind,
child of Zeus, who twist lures, I beg you
do not break with hard pains,
O lady, my heart

but come here if ever before
you caught my voice far off
and listening left your father's
golden house and came,

yoking your car. And fine birds brought you,
quick sparrows over the black earth
whipping their wings down the sky
through midair---

they arrived. But you, O blessed one,
smiled in your deathless face
and asked what (now again) I have suffered and why
(now again) I am calling out

and what I want to happen most of all
in my crazy heart. Whom should I persuade (now again)
to lead you back into her love? Who, O
Sappho, is wronging you?

For if she flees, soon she will pursue.
If she refuses gifts, rather will she give them.
If she does not love, soon she will love
even unwilling.

Come to me now: loose me from hard
care and all my heart longs
to accomplish, accomplish. You
be my ally.

by Sappho (translated by Anne Carson)

IMAGE: "Woman wearing a black dress" by Bragi Thor Josefsson

Friday, July 25, 2008

Piles of Books & Puppets

The stacks of books lying around the apartment have been slowly growing and may become ridiculously numerous in the very near future as I just learned on Wednesday that I get a 50% off discount at the used bookstore I've been working at. Above are a few of the treasures I grabbed as soon as I found out about the discount. Among them are The DNA Dimension by Carol Matas, The Dying Earth by Jack Vance, A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (a total perv, by the way), The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner, and a Longman anthology of world literature.

Carol Matas is an old favorite. I still remember clearly the day in fourth grade when I pulled The Fusion Factor (disregard the "with reservation" comment at the end - even at 9 years old I had no difficulty comprehending the utter horror of nuclear war) at random off a shelf in my elementary school library. Along with Roald Dahl's The Witches and C.S. Lewis' Narnia series, it comprised the beginnings of my love for fantasy and science fiction. The Dying Earth has been on my Amazon WishList for so long that I can't remember why I added it - I think I was reading about great sci-fi classics and came across it. Hopefully it'll prove to be better then Vance's Big Planet - which I thought had horrible characterization. From what I've read about Faulkner I anticipate loathing The Sound and the Fury, but I could definitely be wrong (I anticipated loving Milan Kundera only to find him totally misogynistic and egotistical; I anticipated hating Anne Michaels and yet now Fugitive Pieces is possibly my favorite book of all time). In any case, I've heard mention of it so many times and have seen it feature on so many high school English teachers' lesson plans/curriculums now, that I've decided to suck it up and give it a try. As for the Longman, I've always liked anthologies of any kind - poems, short stories, plays, etc. And this one actually contains 11 novels/novellas, including The Metamorphosis - which will be my first introduction to Kafka. Plus, I've been reading a bunch of teachers' blogs lately and one, Hipteacher, kept mentioning World Literature classes that she has to teach. Since the extent of my exposure to World Lit in university has basically just been Canadian, American, and British I feel like I should start to broaden out on my own.

I've noticed that since I've started to read teacher blogs, I've begun to become considerably more nervous about the prospect. Previously I was simply worried that I'd be a bad teacher. And still am. But as I'm at least 3 years away from getting into an actual classroom, I'm a long way away from finding out whether that fear will turn out to be justified (but nevertheless I'm preparing a stratagem that I hope will help at least a bit). My new fear is that I won't be well-educated enough to be a good teacher, that all of the other teachers will have had more of a "classical" education then I'm getting in my undergrad degree, that my knowledge isn't going to be well-rounded enough, etc, etc. - basically, the fear that I'm not going to be "smart enough," that I won't be a brilliant teacher, just an average one. I think there are actually a lot of things I can do to counter both of these worries - read more about teaching, for one and do more volunteer work with youth, for another. I've picked teaching after so much indecisiveness and now that I've made a choice I'm going to do my best to throw myself into it.

On Wednesday I was at the store shelving Poetry, Local Authors, Literary Biographies, Prairie Fire, and a bunch of other sections (have I mentioned I really like jobs that involve me going through piles and piles of interesting books?) near the front entrance when a woman and her husband started chatting with me. It turned out they were both English teachers from BC and had dropped in to get some ideas as they're planning on opening their own used bookstore on Vancouver Island. The woman actually doesn't teach in the classroom anymore, but her husband does so she kind of shoved him at me so he could give me some ideas. However, he seemed really shy, and, being tired and covered in book dust, I wasn't in that talkative a mood even though I knew I was in the midst of a great opportunity. I was pretty much standing there racking my brain, trying to think up some intelligent questions to ask. Eventually we talked a bit about BEd's and since I said I was looking at options all over the country and the US, he and his wife recommended Malaspina (now the University of Vancouver Island).

He also said that when he started teaching he was completely and utterly terrible at it.

And since he absolutely refused to tell me why, I deduce that there must be some kind of interesting story behind it.

He's now over sixty, has been teaching for over thirty years, and loves it.

Hearing that a rough start isn't a sign of total doom is good to know.

(The finger puppets are lying out so that I remember to bring them along on Sunday when I go to see a weird Lovecraftian themed Fringe play. You get a discount if you bring your own puppet.)
"We must carry each other..."

“We must carry each other. If we don’t have this, what are we? The spirit in the body is like wine in a glass; when it spills, it seeps into air and earth and light… It’s a mistake to think it’s the small things we control and not the large, it’s the other way around! We can’t stop the small accident, the tiny detail that conspires into fate: the extra moment you run back for something forgotten, a moment that saves you from an accident – or causes one. But we can assert the largest order, the large human values daily, the only order large enough to see.”

from Anne Michael's Fugitive Pieces (p. 22)

1: Lodz Ghetto, child deportation (Wikipedia)
2: Nazi soldier laughing at Jews (United States Holocaust Memorial online archive)
3: "Austrian Nazis and local residents watch as Jews are forced to get on their hands and knees and scrub the pavement" (The History Place)
4: "Child prisoners at Auschwitz just after its liberation in 1945" (Source unknown, probably a Google image search)
5: Nazi soldiers, "Laughter lines the faces of camp staff as they prepare for a sing song" (United States Holocaust Memorial online archive)

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Village

Ivy Walker: When we are married, will you dance with me? I find dancing very agreeable. Why can you not say what is in your head?

Lucius Hunt: Why can you not stop saying what is in yours? Why must you lead, when I want to lead? If I want to dance I will ask you to dance. If I want to speak I will open my mouth and speak. Everyone is forever plaguing me to speak further. Why? What good is it to tell you you are in my every thought from the time I wake? What good can come from my saying that I sometimes cannot think clearly or do my work properly? What gain can rise of my telling you the only time I feel fear as others do is when I think of you in harm? That is why I am on this porch, Ivy Walker. I fear for your safety before all others. And yes, I will dance with you on our wedding night.

from The Village (M. Night Shyamalan's best)

Saturday, July 19, 2008

"Altered beyond his knowledge"

"Captain Wentworth is not very gallant by you, Anne, though he was so attentive to me. Henrietta asked him what he thought of you, when they went away, and he said, `You were so altered he should not have known you again.'"

Mary had no feelings to make her respect her sister's in a common way, but she was perfectly unsuspicious of being inflicting any peculiar wound.

"Altered beyond his knowledge." Anne fully submitted, in silent, deep mortification. Doubtless it was so, and she could take no revenge, for he was not altered, or not for the worse. She had already acknowledged it to herself, and she could not think differently, let him think of her as he would. No: the years which had destroyed her youth and bloom had only given him a more glowing, manly, open look, in no respect lessening his personal advantages. She had seen the same Frederick Wentworth.

from Jane Austen's Persuasion (Penguin edition, p. 57)

IMAGE: Photograph by Robert Warren

Friday, July 18, 2008

Louisa May Alcott: "I have fallen in love in my life with so many pretty girls"

"I am more than half-persuaded that I am a man's soul, put by some freak of nature into a woman's body ... because I have fallen in love in my life with so many pretty girls and never once the least bit with any man."

(from an 1883 interview with Louise Chandler Moulton)

* * * * *


Daughter of educator and reformer Bronson Alcott, raised in the heady intellectual milieu of midcentury Concord, Louisa May Alcott was encouraged in her literary aspirations to a degree unusual in Victorian America. Yet that encouragement was qualified in a variety of ways. Since Bronson and Abba May Alcott strictly monitored their four daughters' development, Louisa's work had to satisfy strict parental standards of philosophical value and moral worth; further, since Bronson was chronically insolvent, her writing had to bring financial rewards to support the family. The larger intellectual world of Concord in which the Alcotts circulated added to this sense of constraint. "To have had Mr. Emerson for an intellectual god all one's life," she once remarked in conversation to a friend, "is to be invested with a chain armor of propriety."

Despite the innovations of her upbringing, in short, Louisa May Alcott came of age in a culture whose moral and familial constraints compounded, rather than undercut, the propriety demanded by Victorian gender ideology. It is no surprise that by age twelve, she registers the "chain armor of propriety" in her journal as a homiletic discourse on the necessities of self-denial: "What are the most valuable kinds of self-denial? Appetite, temper. How is self-denial of temper known? If I control my temper, I am respectful and gentle, and every one sees it. What is the result of this self-denial? Every one loves me, and I am happy." Faithfully copied from her daily lessons, these comments were almost certainly read by her parents; Bronson had been observing Louisa closely since her infancy, while Abba wrote in the same journal entry, "I often peep into your diary, hoping to see some record of more happy days." Even Alcott's private exercise of self-discipline was open to surveillance, in a pedagogy of self-control monitored both internally and externally. Her coming-of-age accords closely with what Richard Brodhead, following Foucault, has termed the "disciplinary intimacy" characteristic of antebellum America, whereby self-imposed restraint lovingly taught by the family, rather than corporal punishment harshly imposed by an external authority, became the privileged mode for disciplining the self. For all the joyful eccentricities of Alcott's early life, she was governed by a self-regulating pedagogy that rewrote the implicitly male credo of Emersonian self-reliance as female self-denial.

In this narrative of female identity as psychic self-regulation, Alcott's work provides insight into the possibilities, metaphoric as well as literal, afforded women by the onset of the Civil War. Alcott's private writings make clear an identification with masculinity that long predated but was energized by the war. At fourteen, for example, she wrote in her journal: "I was born with a boy's spirit under my bib and tucker. I can't wait [for a time] when I can work"; and at twenty-eight she echoed in a letter, "I was born with a boys nature & always had more sympathy for & interest in them than in girls, & have fought my fight for nearly fifteen [years] with a boys spirit under my 'bib & tucker' & a boys wrath when I got 'floored,' so I'm not preaching like a prim spinster but freeing my mind like one of 'our fellows.'" In these quotations, a woman who speaks assertively is immediately suspect--"preaching like a prim spinster"--while maleness, by contrast, signifies a way of working and speaking freely, as much a style as an identity. Long before the war begins, Alcott identifies agency with masculinity, in a culture in which the only way to imagine being a person is to envision being a man.

When war arrives, it offers Alcott a particular psychic charge, since it increases the value of masculine freedom by framing it as patriotic duty. "War declared with the South," she writes in her journal, "I've often longed to see a war, and now I have my wish. I long to be a man; but as I can't fight, I will content myself with working for those who can." At a turning point in her own life, she declares, "Thirty years old. Decided to go to Washington as a nurse. . . . Help needed, and I love nursing, and must let out my pent-up energy in some new way. . . . So I set forth . . . feeling as if I was the son of the house going to war." Metaphorically turning from thirty-year-old "prim spinster" to "son of the house," Alcott grows up in wartime by growing down to her favorite state, that of boyhood. The war, in short, marks Alcott's coming-of-age as a man...

...Alcott's topsy-turvyness implicitly involves inversions of sexuality as well as gender and race. She declared in an interview, for example, that "I am more than half-persuaded that I am a man's soul, put by some freak of nature into a woman's body . . . because I have fallen in love in my life with so many pretty girls, and never once the least bit with any man." Bringing together masculine identification with female object-choice, this passage is startlingly proleptic of the sexological language of the "invert," only just beginning to emerge by the end of Alcott's lifetime, which pathologized the lesbian as a "man's soul trapped in a woman's body." Such codifications were prescriptive rather than descriptive, and Alcott's biographers provide little conclusive evidence about whether she was lesbian. But her comment suggests at minimum her swerve away from the accoutrements of heterosexuality--husband, children, household--which normatively accompanied Victorian womanhood. Thirty and still unmarried when she went to Washington, Alcott was topsy-turvy--or, to use another of her favorite adjectives, "queer"--by virtue of being a permanent spinster as well as a "boyish" girl.

from Elizabeth Young's A Wound of One's Own: Louisa May Alcott's Civil War Fiction
(American Quarterly 48.3 (1996) 439-474)

IMAGE: "Sabinella" by John William Godward

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Sunday sermons:
A humorous passage from A Handful of Dust...

The vicar climbed, with some effort, into the pulpit. He was an elderly man who had served in India most of his life. Tony's father had given him the living. He had a noble and sonorous voice and was reckoned the best preacher for many miles around.

His sermons had been composed in his more active days for delivery at the garrison chapel; he had done nothing to adapt them to the changing conditions of his ministry and they mostly concluded with some reference to homes and dear ones far away. The villagers did not find this in any way surprising. Few of the things said in church seemed to have any particular reference to themselves. They enjoyed their vicar's sermons very much and they knew that when he began about their distant homes, it was time to be dusting their knees and feeling for their umbrellas.

"...And so as we stand here bareheaded at this solemn hour of the week," he read, his powerful old voice swelling up for peroration, "let us remember our Gracious Queen Empress in whose service we are here, and pray that she may long be spared to send us at her bidding to do our duty in the uttermost parts of the earth; and let us think of our dear ones far away and the homes we have left in her name, and remember that though miles of barren continent and leagues of ocean divide us, we are never so near to them as on these Sunday mornings, united with them across dune and mountain in our loyalty to our sovereign and thanksgiving for her welfare; one with them as proud subjects of her scepter and crown."

from Evelyn Waugh's A Handful of Dust

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Bookish things

Though Mr. Darcy is apparently the ideal romantic hero for many modern women, it would seem that Austen wasn't one to hold out much hope in real-life soulmates:

"There are such beings in the World, perhaps, one in a Thousand, as the Creature You & I should think perfection, where Grace & Spirit are united to Worth, where the Manners are equal to the Heart & Understanding, but such a person may not come in your way, or if he does, he may not be the eldest son of a Man of Fortune, the Brother of your particular friend, & belonging to your own County."

Jane Austen in a letter to her niece, Fanny Knight
(November 18, 1814)

I think I've finished my Jane Austen kick, though there are still a few articles and quotes that I'll probably be posting when I get around to it. I've read Sense & Sensibility, Persuasion, and Emma over the last few weeks. Persuasion was definitely my favorite - Anne Elliot is an endearing, sympathetic heroine and the themes of sadness, regret, and lost youth make the final happy resolution of the story a very satisfying one.

This just leaves Mansfield Park (I've already been through Pride & Prejudice and Northanger Abbey) - which I think I'll save for another time. I bought a copy of MP from Aqua Books the other day but I haven't been able to move past the introductory essay. Mansfield Park is so far my favorite Austen film-adaptation, but supposedly Fanny Price is Austen's most hated heroine.

So instead I've moved on to Heart of Darkness and a Y.A. series by Tamora Pierce that I've been wanting to check out for a long time, ever since I read that it didn't shy away from plotlines related to gender and sex. That's pretty rare for a medieval fantasy series - especially a Young Adult one. (Can you imagine a young character having sex in a Susan Cooper or a Narnia book?)

I'm at a hilarious bit right now where the heroine Alanna has just been given a magical gold pendant that will keep her from getting pregnant indefinitely. (Well, its hilarious to me anyway - in the book I don't think its necessarily meant to be funny.)

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Elegy XIX: To His Mistress Going to Bed

Come, Madam, come, all rest my powers defy,
Until I labour, I in labour lie.
The foe oft-times having the foe in sight,
Is tired with standing though he never fight.
Off with that girdle, like heaven's zone glistering,
But a far fairer world encompassing.
Unpin that spangled breastplate which you wear,
That th'eyes of busy fools may be stopped there.
Unlace yourself, for that harmonious chime
Tells me from you that now it is bed time.
Off with that happy busk, which I envy,
That still can be, and still can stand so nigh.
Your gown going off, such beauteous state reveals,
As when from flowery meads th'hills shadow steals.
Off with your wiry coronet and show
The hairy diadem which on you doth grow:
Now off with those shoes: and then safely tread
In this love's hallowed temple, this soft bed.
In such white robes heaven's angels used to be
Received by men; thou, Angel, bring'st with thee
A heaven like Mahomet's Paradise; and though
Ill spirits walk in white, we easily know
By this these Angels from an evil sprite:
Those set our hairs, but these our flesh upright.
License my roving hands, and let them go
Before, behind, between, above, below.
O my America! my new-found-land,
My kingdom, safeliest when with one man manned,
My mine of precious stones, my empery,
How blest am I in this discovering thee!
To enter in these bonds is to be free;
Then where my hand is set, my seal shall be.
Full nakedness! All joys are due to thee,
As souls unbodied, bodies unclothed must be,
To taste whole joys. Gems which you women use
Are as Atlanta's balls, cast in men's views,
That when a fool's eye lighteth on a gem,
His earthly soul may covet theirs, not them:
Like pictures, or like books' gay coverings made
For lay-men, are all women thus arrayed.
Themselves are mystic books, which only we
(Whom their imputed grace will dignify)
Must see revealed. Then, since that I may know,
As liberally as to a midwife, show
Thyself: cast all, yea, this white linen hence,
There is no penance due to innocence:
To teach thee, I am naked first; why than,
What need'st thou have more covering than a man?

by John Donne

Ok, I'm sorry to display my ignorance but when I first read this, I admit my first thought was, "Wow! Who knew John Donne had it in him!!" I had him pegged as being passionate, of course - but passionate only for God! So this was a nice surprise.
However, I'm a huge fan of the first line, but hate the last. My modern female mind construes it as overtly sexist.
And yes, I realize this is a cop-out post - the trouble is that every time I feel like posting in my blog, I'm too tired to actually write something original. Bah!

P.S. Check this out - Rebecca Ann Bach argues that Donne was actually gay. It seems a well written article, but I'm too tired to read it in full now, I'll have to look at it tomorrow.

(The photograph is of Julianne Moore and it's a favorite.)

Friday, June 20, 2008

'Grand, venerable, and sweet, all at once'

"I paused upon the bridge, and admired and wondered at the beauty and glory of this was grand, venerable, and sweet, all at once; I never saw so lovely and magnificent a scene, nor, being content with this, do I care to see a better."

- Nathaniel Hawthorne on Durham Cathedral, from "The English Notebooks"

(The photos are of Mont Saint Michel from my trip there in April.)

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The hilariously hypochondriacal Mr. Woodhouse on the danger of open windows

She was obliged to repeat and explain it, before it was fully comprehended; and then, being quite new, farther representations were necessary to make it acceptable.

"No; he thought it very far from an improvement—a very bad plan—much worse than the other. A room at an inn was always damp and dangerous; never properly aired, or fit to be inhabited. If they must dance, they had better dance at Randalls. He had never been in the room at the Crown in his life—did not know the people who kept it by sight.—Oh! no—a very bad plan. They would catch worse colds at the Crown than any where."

"I was going to observe, sir," said Frank Churchill, "that one of the great recommendations of this change would be the very little danger of any body's catching cold—so much less danger at the Crown than at Randalls! Mr. Perry might have reason to regret the alteration, but nobody else could."

"Sir," said Mr. Woodhouse, rather warmly, "you are very much mistaken if you suppose Mr. Perry to be that sort of character. Mr. Perry is extremely concerned when any of us are ill. But I do not understand how the room at the Crown can be safer for you than your father's house."

"From the very circumstance of its being larger, sir. We shall have no occasion to open the windows at all—not once the whole evening; and it is that dreadful habit of opening the windows, letting in cold air upon heated bodies, which (as you well know, sir) does the mischief."

"Open the windows!—but surely, Mr. Churchill, nobody would think of opening the windows at Randalls. Nobody could be so imprudent! I never heard of such a thing. Dancing with open windows!—I am sure, neither your father nor Mrs. Weston (poor Miss Taylor that was) would suffer it."

"Ah! sir—but a thoughtless young person will sometimes step behind a window-curtain, and throw up a sash, without its being suspected. I have often known it done myself."

"Have you indeed, sir?—Bless me! I never could have supposed it. But I live out of the world, and am often astonished at what I hear. However, this does make a difference; and, perhaps, when we come to talk it over—but these sort of things require a good deal of consideration. One cannot resolve upon them in a hurry. If Mr. and Mrs. Weston will be so obliging as to call here one morning, we may talk it over, and see what can be done."

from Jane Austen's Emma
(Chapter 29)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

It may be possible to do without dancing entirely...

"It may be possible to do without dancing entirely. Instances have been known of young people passing many, many months successively, without being at any ball of any description, and no material injury accrue either to body or mind;—but when a beginning is made—when the felicities of rapid motion have once been, though slightly, felt—it must be a very heavy set that does not ask for more.

Frank Churchill had danced once at Highbury, and longed to dance again; and the last half hour of an evening which Mr. Woodhouse was persuaded to spend with his daughter at Randalls, was passed by the two young people in schemes on the subject..."

from Jane Austen's Emma

(Illustration artist unknown)

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Fist

The fist clenched round my heart
loosens a little, and I gasp
brightness; but it tightens
again. When have I ever not loved
the pain of love? But this has moved

past love to mania. This has the strong
clench of the madman, this is
gripping the ledge of unreason, before
plunging howling into the abyss.

Hold hard then, heart. This way at least you live.

by Derek Walcott

(I find it interesting that the person this reminds me of is also the same person who told me they disliked all poetry. How is that even possible...??)

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Books Read in 2007

A somewhat belated list...


The Wizard (Part 2) by Gene Wolfe
Our Town by Thornton Wilder
Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper
Middlemarch by George Eliot
The Grey King by Susan Cooper
The Secret Island by Enid Blyton
Greenwitch by Susan Cooper
The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper
Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis
Tam Lin by Pamela Dean
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters
The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
The Queen's Fool by Philippa Gregory
The Playboy Book of Science Fiction by Alice K. Turner
Edna St. Vincent Millay: Selected Poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay
The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
Eifelheim by Michael Flynn (only read half)
Atonement by Ian McEwan (the book is better than the movie, but the movie is still gorgeous and well-done)
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
Crisis on Conshelf 10 by Monica Hughes
The War With Mr. Wizzle by Gordon Korman
A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews
The Englishman's Boy by Guy Vanderhaeghe
Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
Old Songs for New Ears by Pygmalion Books
The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman
The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman
Brain Wave by Poul Anderson
Green Grass, Running Water by Thomas King
Doomsday Book by Connie Willis (for which I wrote one of my most favorite entries)
Galapagos by Kurt Vonnegut (I'm not a fan of his fiction but I am of his person)
I Never Liked You by Chester Brown
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling

Ara Pacis Augustae by Erika Simon
The War for Children's Minds by Stephen Law
Woman of Letters: The Life of Virginia Woolf by Phyllis Rose
Gandhi: His Life and Message for the World by Louis Fischer
No Future Without Forgiveness by Desmond Tutu
Experiencing the World's Religions by Michael Molloy
An introduction to Philosophy of Education by Barrow & Woods

(There's a sad lack of much non-fiction. Actually, though, the list is kind of deceiving - I did read a lot of non-fiction in 2007 for my classes but what I read was mostly just parts of books along with a ton of journal articles.)

* * * * * * *

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
The Wizard Knight by Gene Wolfe
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
Middlemarch by George Eliot
Tam Lin by Pamela Dean
The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

(I feel a bit weird putting The Time Traveler's Wife next to To the Lighthouse as TTL was possibly the greatest book I've ever read. But still, they were both really good in their own ways.)

Eifelheim by Michael Flynn (Its one of Elliot's favorites and it has a really interesting premise, but I found it really slow moving and dull. It some ways it seemed like a less well-written Doomsday Book.)
Fingersmith by Sarah Waters (Compared to The Night Watch - which is one of my favorites - or Affinity, this was not up to par.)

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman
The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman
The Englishman's Boy by Guy Vanderhaeghe
Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson
The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis
Tam Lin by Pamela Dean
Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder

There are a fair number of "kids" books and re-reads on my list. When I'm stressed out with school work or when its dark winter, I think I tend to find familiar or really light-reads comforting.

Further annoying categorization for no one's pleasure but my own...

The Wizard Knight by Gene Wolfe
The Dark is Rising series by Susan Cooper
Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis
Tam Lin by Pamela Dean
The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
The Playboy Book of Science Fiction by Alice K. Turner
Eifelheim by Michael Flynn
Crisis on Conshelf 10 by Monica Hughes
Old Songs for New Ears by Pygmalion Books
His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman
Brain Wave by Paol Anderson
Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters
Edna St. Vincent Millay: Selected Poems
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson
Woman of Letters: The Life of Virginia Woolf by Phyllis Rose

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Margaret Atwood on "God"

BT: When The Handmaid's Tale was published, Contemporary Authors listed your religion as "Pessimistic Pantheist," which you defined as the belief that "God is everywhere, but losing." Is this still an accurate description of your spiritual philosophy?

MA: I expect you don't have the foggiest what I meant in the first place. On bad days, neither do I. But let's argue it through. In the Biblical version—Genesis-God created the heaven and the earth—out of nothing, we presume. Or else out of God, since there was nothing else around that God could use as substance. Big Bang theory says much the same, without using the word God. That is: once there was nothing, or else "a singularity." Then poof. Big Bang. Result: the universe. So since the universe can't be made of anything else, it must be made of singularity-stuff, or God-stuff—whatever term you wish to employ. Whether this God-stuff was a thought form such as a series of mathematical formulae, an energy form, or some sort of extremely condensed cosmic plasma, is open to discussion. Therefore everything has "God" in it. The forms of "God," both inorganic and organic, have since multiplied exceedingly. You might say that each new combination of atoms, molecules, amino acids, and DNA is a different expression of "God." Therefore each time we terminate a species, "God" becomes more limited. The human race is terminating species at an alarming rate. It is thereby diminishing God, or the expressions of God. If I were the Biblical God, I would be very annoyed. He made the thing and saw that it was good. And now people are scribbling all over the artwork. It is noteworthy that the covenant made by God after the flood was not just with Noah, but with every living thing. I assume that the "God's Gardeners" organization in I used this kind of insight as a cornerstone of their theology. Is that any clearer?

from the BoldType interview

* * * * *

I imagine that if Margaret Atwood were an English prof, she would be a tough one. She seems like she has an excellent, dry sense of humor but also a no-nonsense, straight-up attitude.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

In thy face I see
The map of honour, truth, and loyalty!

Henry VI

(Ok, the quote and the pics don't match, but I'm a fan of Desdemona. Especially Irene Jacob's portrayal.)

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

More evil than Walmart

"...controlling the seeds is not some abstraction. Whoever provides the world’s seeds controls the world’s food supply."

Monsanto's Harvest of Fear (from Vanity Fair, May 2008)

Every time I read about Monsanto I'm reminded of the Umbrella Corporation from Resident Evil. Now that I've read Margaret Atwood's amazing, scarily possible Oryx & Crake another comparison might be to OrganInc or HelthWyzer.

One of the VF article's most damning tales is of the town of Nitro where Monsanto ran a chemical plant:

On March 8, 1949, a massive explosion rocked Monsanto’s Nitro plant when a pressure valve blew on a container cooking up a batch of herbicide. The noise from the release was a scream so loud that it drowned out the emergency steam whistle for five minutes. A plume of vapor and white smoke drifted across the plant and out over town.Residue from the explosion coated the interior of the building and those inside with what workers described as “a fine black powder.” Many felt their skin prickle and were told to scrub down.

Within days, workers experienced skin eruptions. Many were soon diagnosed with chloracne, a condition similar to common acne but more severe, longer lasting, and potentially disfiguring. Others felt intense pains in their legs, chest, and trunk. A confidential medical report at the time said the explosion “caused a systemic intoxication in the workers involving most major organ systems.” Doctors who examined four of the most seriously injured men detected a strong odor coming from them when they were all together in a closed room. “We believe these men are excreting a foreign chemical through their skins,” the confidential report to Monsanto noted. Court records indicate that 226 plant workers became ill.

According to court documents that have surfaced in a West Virginia court case, Monsanto downplayed the impact, stating that the contaminant affecting workers was “fairly slow acting” and caused “only an irritation of the skin.”....

....In 1981 several former Nitro employees filed lawsuits in federal court, charging that Monsanto had knowingly exposed them to chemicals that caused long-term health problems, including cancer and heart disease. They alleged that Monsanto knew that many chemicals used at Nitro were potentially harmful, but had kept that information from them. On the eve of a trial, in 1988, Monsanto agreed to settle most of the cases by making a single lump payment of $1.5 million. Monsanto also agreed to drop its claim to collect $305,000 in court costs from six retired Monsanto workers who had unsuccessfully charged in another lawsuit that Monsanto had recklessly exposed them to dioxin. Monsanto had attached liens to the retirees’ homes to guarantee collection of the debt.

Monsanto stopped producing dioxin in Nitro in 1969, but the toxic chemical can still be found well beyond the Nitro plant site. Repeated studies have found elevated levels of dioxin in nearby rivers, streams, and fish. Residents have sued to seek damages from Monsanto and Solutia. Earlier this year, a West Virginia judge merged those lawsuits into a class-action suit. A Monsanto spokesman said, “We believe the allegations are without merit and we’ll defend ourselves vigorously.” The suit will no doubt take years to play out. Time is one thing that Monsanto always has, and that the plaintiffs usually don’t."...

...What had Monsanto known—or what should it have known—about the potential dangers of the chemicals it was manufacturing? There’s considerable documentation lurking in court records from many lawsuits indicating that Monsanto knew quite a lot. Let’s look just at the example of PCBs.

The evidence that Monsanto refused to face questions about their toxicity is quite clear. In 1956 the company tried to sell the navy a hydraulic fluid for its submarines called Pydraul 150, which contained PCBs. Monsanto supplied the navy with test results for the product. But the navy decided to run its own tests. Afterward, navy officials informed Monsanto that they wouldn’t be buying the product. “Applications of Pydraul 150 caused death in all of the rabbits tested” and indicated “definite liver damage,” navy officials told Monsanto, according to an internal Monsanto memo divulged in the course of a court proceeding. “No matter how we discussed the situation,” complained Monsanto’s medical director, R. Emmet Kelly, “it was impossible to change their thinking that Pydraul 150 is just too toxic for use in submarines.”

Ten years later, a biologist conducting studies for Monsanto in streams near the Anniston plant got quick results when he submerged his test fish. As he reported to Monsanto, according to The Washington Post, “All 25 fish lost equilibrium and turned on their sides in 10 seconds and all were dead in 3½ minutes.”

Sunday, June 01, 2008

The More Loving One
by W. H. Auden

Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
That, for all they care, I can go to hell,
But on earth indifference is the least
We have to dread from man or beast.

How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.

(The rest of the poem sucks, so I'm only posting the first part.)

"The places you love that you can never return to are also places
you can never leave.
They become part of your own small portion of eternity."


Sunday, May 25, 2008

"All Paris was spread out at his feet, with her thousand turrets, her undulating horizon, her river winding under the bridges, her stream of people flowing to and fro in the streets; with the cloud of smoke rising from her many chimneys; with her chain of crested roofs pressing in ever tightening coils round about Notre Dame."

- Victor Hugo, 'Notre-Dame de Paris,' Chapter 2

Grave matters

"Of all the world's wonders, which is the most wonderful? That no man, though he sees others dying all around him, believes that he himself will die."
- Yudhishtara answers Dharma, from "The Mahabharata"

Some people find it morbid to think about death - particularly their own or that of those they love - and so never dwell on it, never discuss it. But I can't help contemplating the inevitable on at least a weekly, if not daily basis. Maybe its because of my religious background - death was a constant topic and was nothing to be feared at the time because we were so completely confident that we knew what would come after. Of course now not so much. Now its just a huge unknown. (Though not necessarily a terrifying one.)

Anyway, it was interesting to come across this and see that I'm not actually alone in this obsession with my own mortality and that thinking about it may even be healthier than not. I'm not a fan of the "psycho" fields (psychology/psychiatry), but this seems like undeniable common sense thinking to me:

The Salon interview with Irvin Yalom

Thursday, February 28, 2008


I have a new (anonymous) blog, thus the lack of posts in this one.
I may still use this one for nonpersonal posts. We shall see. I'll at least retain the alias.
I feel like instead of being a place to record what was happening in my life so that I'd be able to look back and remember years later, this blog turned into a mess of posts on random things.
And at this point, I'm just not the kind of writer who wants to journal openly. I end up going overboard and putting waaay too much time and thought and effort into my posts. Plus, there are so many things I feel I can't post about here. And life is so busy right now that when I do have time to write, I don't want to have to hesitate or censor myself.

Friday, February 08, 2008

A Newborn Girl at Passover

This is for my sister, a somewhat belated birthday poem:

Consider one apricot in a basket of them.
It is very much like all the other apricots--
an individual already, skin and seed.

Now think of this day. One you will probably forget
The next breath you take, a long drink of air.
Holiday or not, it doesn't matter.

A child is born and doesn't know what day it is.
The particular joy in my heart she cannot imagine.
The taste of apricots is in store for her.

by Nan Cohen

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Not such a wonderful wizard

I'm reading Thomas King's Green Grass, Running Water for my English class. Today I went through it and looked up a bunch of the names and events that it references.

By way of the Wikipedia articles on Sitting Bull and the massacre at Wounded Knee I was led to this:

"The proud spirit of the original owners of these vast prairies inherited through centuries of fierce and bloody wars for their possession, lingered last in the bosom of Sitting Bull. With his fall the nobility of the Redskin is extinguished, and what few are left are a pack of whining curs who lick the hand that smites them. The Whites, by law of conquest, by justice of civilization, are masters of the American continent, and the best safety of the frontier settlements will be secured by the total annihilation of the few remaining Indians. Why not annihilation? Their glory has fled, their spirit broken, their manhood effaced; better that they die than live the miserable wretches that they are. History would forget these latter despicable beings, and speak, in later ages of the glory of these grand Kings of forest and plain that Cooper loved to heroism."

"The Pioneer has before declared that our only safety depends upon the total extirmination [sic] of the Indians. Having wronged them for centuries we had better, in order to protect our civilization, follow it up by one more wrong and wipe these untamed and untamable creatures from the face of the earth. In this lies future safety for our settlers and the soldiers who are under incompetent commands. Otherwise, we may expect future years to be as full of trouble with the redskins as those have been in the past."

Who wrote the above?

L. Frank Baum, the author of the Wizard of Oz books.

Are you wondering what I'm wondering?

Can a good thing be "tainted"? A "bad person" (what does the term really mean though - is anyone ever wholly "bad"?) can create "good" art. But if the artist is racist and cruel can those aspects of their character "infect" their art? Without our realizing it? And even if the art is free of the unsavory aspects of the creator's character, is it wrong for us to enjoy it? Should we dismiss it completely as an unacceptable product of a "bad person"?

If Hitler had written great children's' books would we be reading them to our children today?

How much consideration should we give to the moral character of the author of a piece of art?

This could obviously be taken to extremes (and already is).

Should we start banning The Wizard of Oz? Should it join Judy Blume's Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret on the list of books that have already been banned for their supposed moral offensiveness?

Or should we perhaps preface our reading of The Wizard of Oz to children with a comment about the author's hatred for Native American people so that they're provided with a greater awareness of the complexities of life?

Its a quandary.

In any case, I've never really liked The Wizard of Oz much...