For the Celebrity Death Match Review Tournament, Hamlet vs Winnie-the-Pooh
Sometimes Winnie-the-Pooh likes a game of some sort when he comes downstairFor the Celebrity Death Match Review Tournament, Hamlet vs Winnie-the-Pooh
Sometimes Winnie-the-Pooh likes a game of some sort when he comes downstairs, and sometimes he likes to sit quietly in front of the fire and listen to a story. This eve- ning— "What about a story?" said Christopher Robin. "What about a story?" I said. "Could you very sweetly tell Winnie-the-Pooh one?" "I suppose I could," I said. "What sort of stories does he like?" "About himself. Because he's that sort of Bear." "Oh, I see. Well, this particular story is not about him, but it’s something that I think you both would like very much." "So could you very sweetly?" "I'll try," I said. So I tried.
Once upon a time, a very long time ago now, about four hundred years ago, lived a prince called Hamlet in a castle in Denmark.
(“What is ‘Denmark’?” asked Christopher Robin. “It’s a northern European country where you pay taxes up to your nose, and where consequently you have to spend your entire working life at the Tivoli Gardens making giant LEGO figurines of Trolls and Cheese Danishes while drinking lots of beer.” “Winnie-the-Pooh isn't quite sure whether he would like to live there,” said Christopher Robin. “But I want to listen to the story,” said a growly voice. “Then I will go on,” said I.)
One night when he was out walking on the castle wall, Prince Hamlet saw a Ghost, who looked terribly like his late father, the King of Denmark. Hamlet wasn’t at all sure about what the Ghost was talking about, so he sat down at the foot of the castle, put his head between his hands and began to think. First of all he said to himself: “My father’s spirit in arms! All is not well. You don’t get all this talk about murders most foul and incestuous beds like that, just buzzing and buzzing without its meaning something. If there’s a buzzing-noise, somebody’s making a buzzing-noise, and the only reason for making a buzzing noise that I know is because there is something rotten in the state of Denmark.”
(“What is ‘incestuous’?” asked Christopher Robin. “Umm --- it’s when your mother sleeps with your uncle, instead of your father.” “What’s wrong with that?” “Uh --- grown-ups don’t like that. You’ll understand it when you’re older.” “Oh, it's one of those things. Alright. Back to the story.”)
Then he thought another long time, and said: “And the only reason for being a Prince that I know of is taking revenge.” And then he got up, and said: “And the only reason for taking revenge is so I can kill my uncle and my mother.” So he began to pretend to be mad.
He pretended and he pretended and he pretended, and as he pretended he sang a little song to himself. It went like this:
To be, or not to be—that is the question: Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune Or to take arms against a sea of troubles And by opposing end them. To die, to sleep—
“I forgot the rest --- it’s been awhile since I’ve been a schoolboy,” said I. “Oh, that’s alright. I don’t understand it anyway. Just go on with the story please,” said Christopher Robin. “Did he get to kill his uncle and mother?” asked a growly voice. “Well, he did kill his uncle with a sword, and his mother died drinking poisoned wine that was meant for him. But not before he made his girlfriend go mad and kill herself.” “But why?” asked Christopher Robin. “Umm --- maybe he didn’t mean to make her go mad. But he killed her father and that made her go mad. And then she drowned.” “I think this Hamlet is a bad man”, said a growly voice. “Is that the end of the story?” asked Christopher Robin. “No,” I said, “the story ends when Hamlet himself dies.” “Winnie-the-Pooh doesn’t really like this story,” said Christopher Robin. “Why? It is a good story, isn’t it?” asked I. “Because he hasn’t any brain,” answered Christopher Robin. He gave a deep sigh, picked his bear up by the leg and walked off to the door, trailing Winnie-the-Pooh behind him. At the door he turned and said, "Coming to see me have my bath?" "I might," I said. "Is that the only story that you know?" "We can listen to something more cheerful next time," I said. He nodded and went out . . . and in a moment I heard Winnie-the-Pooh—bump, bump, bump—going up the stairs behind him.
Winnie-the-Pooh votes for stories about himself against Hamlet because while he thinks that Hamlet is a good story, Hamlet himself is a VERY bad man. ...more
For the Celebrity Death Match Review Tournament, Macbeth vs The Complete Sherlock Holmes
When I glance over my notes and records of the Sherlock HolmesFor the Celebrity Death Match Review Tournament, Macbeth vs The Complete Sherlock Holmes
When I glance over my notes and records of the Sherlock Holmes cases between the years ’82 and ’90, I happen to come upon a half-forgotten adventure that is probably the strangest of them all. My faithful readers, who are no stranger to odd going-ons involving my famous friend’s cases, would be reminded of stories such as The Hound of the Baskervilles or The Sussex Vampire. Yet, this particular case is particularly odd and as such I have never set it on writing, as its features are so fantastical that it is scarcely believable. Even after all these years, I am still not quite convinced that it really happened.
It was in the latter days of September, and the equinoctial gales had set in with exceptional violence. All day the wind had screamed and the rain had beaten against the windows, so that even here in the heart of great, hand-made London we were forced to raise our minds for the instant from the routine of life and to recognize the presence of those great elemental forces which shriek at mankind through the bars of his civilization, like untamed beasts in a cage. As evening drew in, the storm grew higher and louder, and the wind cried and sobbed like a child in the chimney. Sherlock Holmes sat moodily at one side of the fireplace cross-indexing his records of crime, while I at the other was deep in one of Clark Russell's fine sea-stories until the howl of the gale from without seemed to blend with the text, and the splash of the rain to lengthen out into the long swash of the sea waves. My wife was on a visit to her mother's, and for a few days I was a dweller once more in my old quarters at Baker Street.
"Why," said I, glancing up at my companion, "that was surely the bell. Who could come to-night? Some friend of yours, perhaps?"
"Except yourself I have none," he answered. "I do not encourage visitors."
"A client, then?"
"If so, it is a serious case. Nothing less would bring a man out on such a day and at such an hour. But I take it that it is more likely to be some crony of the landlady's."
Sherlock Holmes was wrong in his conjecture, however, for there came a step in the passage and a tapping at the door. He stretched out his long arm to turn the lamp away from himself and towards the vacant chair upon which a newcomer must sit.
"Come in!" said he.
The woman who entered was cloaked in black, her head covered with a peculiar conical hat. A heavy veil hid her countenance, which judging by the sinewy and leathery appearance of her hands was not a rosy-cheeked youthful one. A faint smell of something suggestive of sulphur accompanied her. She was silent for a while, and then she spoke with an eerie, quavering voice,
“Fair is foul and foul is fair. Hover through the fog and filthy air.”
“I beg your pardon, madam”, Holmes said, “are you here for a consultation? I am afraid that you must speak more clearly so that I can hear you.”
“I shall kill thou like the swine thou art, But I’d rather send thou sailing on a sieve To the Thane’s abode shall thou depart Here I give thee a wind!”
At the end of the sinister incantation, our rooms were enveloped in a thick grayish mist, thicker even than the fog that habitually descended upon the streets of London. The room seemed to swirl before our eyes and when the mist finally cleared, it became apparent that we were not in our Baker Street den anymore. I was too stunned to speak, but my eyes gradually became used to our gloomy surroundings. Dimly, I perceived that we were in a stone room with a high vaulted ceiling.
“Holmes!”, I cried with mounting alarm. “Where are we?”
It took some time for him to answer. “ I believe that we are in a sort of a castle, my friend, though I have no idea how we got here. Or whether this whole thing is not an extremely elaborate, albeit an astonishingly convincing illusion.”
Before I had the chance to react to this astounding pronouncement, I heard a man shouting, “awake, awake! Ring the alarum bell, murder and treason!” We ran toward the source of the commotion, our steps clattering through the cold flagstones, only to find ourselves in a great hall, evidently of a great age, filled with a number of people. They were dressed strangely, not quite a few in what appear to be kilts. They were too noisily agitated to notice us. After a while, some of them rushed into another part of the castle, Holmes and I hard on their heels.
“Holmes”, said I in an aside, “how come that there are always murder and treason whenever you come into the picture?”
“Whoever --- or whatever brought us into this place probably desperately needs my expertise, Watson. So let us dispense with rational explanations now and follow the scent. The game is afoot!”
We came into a grand room furnished with rich tapestries, in the center of which stood a heavily carved, canopied bed. In the center of that bed laid an old man in a bloodstained nightgown. He was as dead as a doornail. On the foot of the bed sprawled two young men, utterly insensible, unmannerly breeched with gore. A pair of bloody daggers were strewn upon their pillows.
“There’s the victim!”, said I. “Obviously, these lads killed him while in a drunken stupor. How vile!”
“Tut-tut! Not so fast, Watson. I believe that these were merely scapegoats --- red herrings to distract us from the real murderers!”
“And pray tell me, who are they, Holmes?”
With a dramatic flourish, his face keen with excitement like a hound hard on the chase, he pointed to a couple standing next to the bed.
“These are the murderers! The Thane of Glamis and his lady, Whose hands are stained with royal blood, A stain that shall not be washed clean Until Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill Shall come against him.”
“What? Why are you speaking in such a peculiar way, Holmes?” I asked in amazement.
Because we are in the Bard’s play, Macbeth to be precise. Where everyone speak in verse, Unless they madmen or villains be.
I have not the faintest idea, Watson But anything that involves ruinous-butt Cannot be good for certain.
Thou meddling spur-galled vile worm! Thou tottering base-court bum-bailey!
There she goes again, Holmes!
[LADY MACBETH slowly brandishes a blood-stained dagger]
Let us escape while we can Here take this from my hand ---
[Throws an object at WATSON]
What is this?
‘Tis the eye of newt or toe of frog, Or perhaps wool of bat or tongue of dog. I cannot be certain of its substance I pilfered it from the witches when I had the chance, And shall it be the means of our return!
[HOLMES and WATSON escape through an opening in the wall while thick fog obscures the stage]
Did I imagine it all? Were I caught in a dream, induced by certain substances that I knew Holmes habitually indulged in during those days? We never spoke of the strange incident, and the vivid memories slowly faded, but whenever I sat in front of the fire with a volume of the Bard’s works in my lap, I habitually turned to the Scottish play. I fancy that I heard these immortal words from the doomed Thane of Glamis himself and shuddered in awe.
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player That struts and frets his hour upon the stage And then is heard no more: it is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing. ...more
At the tender age of eighteen, on the cusp of adulthood and having been expelled from his last school, young Patrick Leigh Fermor decided to go on a wAt the tender age of eighteen, on the cusp of adulthood and having been expelled from his last school, young Patrick Leigh Fermor decided to go on a walkabout through the pre-war Mitteleuropa wonderland, all the way to the distant minarets of Constantinople. These are some of the people and things that he encountered along the way:
1. Goose-stepping Brownshirts and beer-swilling S.S. officers
“The song that kept time to their tread, “Volk, ans Gewehr!” ---often within earshot during the following weeks was succeeded by the truculent beat of the Horst Wessel Lied: once heard, never forgotten…”
2. Village stores stocked to the gills with Nazi paraphernalia
“…swastika armbands, daggers for the Hitler Youth, blouses for Hitler Maidens and brown shirts for grown-up S.A. men; swastika button-holes were arranged in a pattern which read Heil Hitler and an androgynous wax-dummy with a pearly smile was dressed up in the full uniform of a Sturmabteilungsmann.”
3. Brueghelian winter idylls
“A minute later, it was a faraway speck, and the silent landscape, with its Brueghelish skaters circling as slowly as flies along the canals and the polders, seemed tamer after its passing. Snow had covered the landscape with a sparkling layer and the slatey hue of the ice was only becoming visible as the looping arabesques of the skaters laid it bare. Following the white parallelograms the lines of the willow dwindled as insubstantially as trails of vapour. The breeze that impelled those hastening clouds had met no hindrance for a thousand miles and a traveler moving at a footpace along the hog’s back of a dyke above the cloud-shadows and the level champaign was filled with intimations of limitless space.”
4. Friendly peasants in clogs and lots of cows
“In the barn on the other side, harrows, ploughshares and scythes and sieves loomed for a moment, and beyond, tethered to a manger that ran the length of the barn, horns and tousled brows and liquid eyes gleamed in the lantern’s beams.”
5. Gemutliche gasthauses with kind proprietors
“…for in the end someone woke me and led me upstairs like a sleep-walker and showed me into a bedroom with a low and slanting ceiling and an eiderdown like a giant meringue.”
6. Party-loving, pretty Frauleins
“When I woke up on the sofa---rather late; we had sat up talking and drinking Annie’s father’s wine before going to bed---I had no idea where I was; it was a frequent phenomenon on this journey.”
7. Kooky aristocrats and fascinating pedants with a yen for the glorious days of the Kaiser and the Austro-Hungarian Empire
“The Count was old and frail. He resembled, a little, Max Beerbohm in later life, with a touch of Franz Joseph minus the white side-whiskers.”
8. A Shakespeare quoting, enterprising tramp
””Ah, dear young!” he said, “I am of ripe years already! I would always be frightening them! You, so tender, will always melt hearts.””
9. Balkan Ghettoes full of living Hasidic Jews
”…Talmudic students of about my age…their cheeks were as pale as the wax that lit the page while the dense black lettering swallowed up their youths and their lives.”
10. Grunewald’s horrific crucifixion
“…the special law of gravity, tearing the nail-holes wider, dislocates the fingers and expands them like spider’s legs. Wounds fester, bones break through the flesh and the grey lips, wrinkling concentrically round a tooth-set hole, gape in a cringing spasm of pain. The body, mangled, dishonoured and lynched, twists in rigor mortis.”
And most importantly:
11. Grand architecture --- to wax poetic about in a sensory-overloaded, vertigo-inducing manner.
The painted ceiling at the Melk Abbey
“...rococo flowers into miraculously imaginative and convincing stage scenery. A brilliant array of skills, which touches everything from the pillars of the colonnade to the twirl of a latch, links the most brittle and transient-seeming details to the most magnificent and enduring spoils of the forests and quarries. A versatile genius sends volley after volley of fantastic afterthoughts through the great Vitruvian and Palladian structures. Concave and convex uncoil and pursue each other across the pilasters in ferny arabesques, liquid notions ripple, waterfalls running silver and blue drop to lintels and hang frozen there in curtains of artificial icicles. Ideas go feathering up in mock fountains and float away through the colonnades in processions of cumulus and cirrus. Light is distributed operatically and skies open in a new change of gravity that has lifted wingless saints and evangelists on journeys of aspiration towards three-dimensional sunbursts and left them levitated there, floating among cornices and spandrels and acanthus leaves and architectural ribands crinkled still with pleats from lying long folded in bandboxes...”
Fermor’s writing is as marvelous as the brooding castles and baroque palaces that he encountered along his journey, but at times so dizzyingly rich and dazzlingly erudite that it is best taken in measured doses at a time. European culture and history is an open book in his hands and what a wonderful and profoundly strange place it is!
Prepares sturdy boots for the remaining trek to Constantinople.
There was once a noble house called Brideshead Of sacred and profane memories Seat of the last of the Marchmains An ancient pile withBRIDESHEAD REVISITED
There was once a noble house called Brideshead Of sacred and profane memories Seat of the last of the Marchmains An ancient pile with a false dome Where painted classical deities cavorted Reflected in gilt mirrors Echoed in carved marbles The chapel was Art Nouveau The drawing room Chinoiserie And the whole thing flanked by colonnades and pavilions Lady Marchmain was a lady of religion Perpetually at her Matins, Lauds and Vespers Lord Marchmain had long fled the magnificent coop To live large across the continent with a paramour The heir Lord Brideshead an ineffectual matchbox collector The spare Sebastian doomed to waste in foreign lands Sebastian who brushed his teddy bear Aloysius with an ivory comb And who took his lover Charles home To meet his sisters: Pretty and flighty Lady Julia With her flawless quattrocento beauty And plain jane Lady Cordelia Who went to Spain to minister to the rebels Charles was a strange cold fish A painter of crumbling manors Who forsook his wife and children To gallivant across the Americas To search for inspiration Among llamas and lianas Beguiled, ensnared By both Sebastian and Julia Both loves doomed by divine retribution The tale told in exquisitely wrought prose With penetrating intelligence And deftness for conjuring vivid characters But what about the scarcely believable denouement? Abrupt and curiously unexamined And must we mourn the passing of the Marchmains so Dissolute aristocrats with nothing to do? ET IN ARCADIA EGO ...more
Taken before the Intelligence and Security Committee Tuesday 15 July 1958
Mr. Paul Andespoilers!
Uncorrected Transcript of Oral Evidence
Taken before the Intelligence and Security Committee Tuesday 15 July 1958
Mr. Paul Anderson, in the Chair Mr. Jonathan Blakeley Mr. Richard Cunningham QC
Witnesses: MR. JAMES WORMOLD, O.B.E., former SIS operative in Havana, Cuba, 1955-1957; and MRS. BEATRICE WORMOLD (NEE SEVERN), formerly a secretary at the SIS headquarters.
Q1 Chairman: Mr. and Mrs. Wormold, may I welcome you to this hearing, which purpose is to examine the veracity of the contents of Dossier No. 1801 dated 24 October 1957 (hereinafter referred to as the Dossier), issued by the SIS or otherwise popularly known as the MI6. This Committee hopes that both of you will be able to shed light on certain events described in the Dossier, which have been challenged by other sources. Everything that transpires in this hearing shall be treated as a matter of national security and be held in the strictest confidence. Let me start with the first question: Mr. Wormold, is it true that you were recruited by an SIS agent, who went under the name of Hawthorne, in Havana during the winter of 1955?
Mr. Wormold: It is true, sir.
Q2 Chairman: Please describe the recruitment process.
Mr. Wormold: I was drinking with my old friend Dr. Hassellbacher at Sloppy Joe’s. Agent Hawthorne was there. He corralled me into the Gents and suggested to me that I should join the Secret Service.
Q3 Chairman: Any particular reason why the deed was done in the Gents?
Mr. Wormold: Uh --- I don’t know, sir. He said that it’s more secure in case anyone barged in. He kept the tap running while speaking to me, to confuse the mike, he said. I said I didn’t want the job, but he insisted. Then he shoved me into a closet and walked away.
Q4 Mr. Cunningham: Did he give you any reason for your recruitment?
Mr. Wormold: Yes, sir. He said that I was a patriotic Englishman who had been living in Havana for years, besides being a respected member of the European Traders Association. He also said that they must have their man in Havana, and that submarines need fuel and dictators drift together. I didn’t quite catch his drift then, sir.
Q5 Mr. Cunningham: What kind of business did you run in Havana, Mr. Wormold?
Mr. Wormold: I ran a vacuum cleaner shop, sir. We carry the finest, most modern machines such as the Atomic Pile Suction Cleaner, the Midget Make-Easy Air Powered Suction Small Home Cleaner and the Turbo, which is the no. 1 brand in Cuba for four years running. We are Phastkleaners’ sole agent for the whole of Cuba.
Q6 Mr. Blakeley: The Dossier describes you as a “well-connected merchant king with a substantial machinery importing business.” How many persons were employed in your business, Mr. Wormold?
Mr. Wormold: One, sir. It was just a small store.
Mr. Blakeley: Interesting. The Dossier also describes you as “stable”, and “uninterested in women.”
Mrs. Wormold: (snickers)
Chairman: Mrs. Wormold, we respectfully ask you not to speak until requested to do so.
Q6 Mr. Cunningham: Mr. Wormold, you initially refused the job, why did you change your mind?
Mr. Wormold: It was because of my daughter, Milly. She was just sixteen at that time. Convent schoolgirl, very good girl. She wanted to buy a horse and rode in the Country Club. The horse alone costed 300 pounds, sir, and the Country Club was even more expensive. Not to say of the bridles, saddles and riding lessons. And I wanted to have enough money to retire in England and take her with me. There was this native person called Capt. Segura who had designs on her.
Q7 Mr. Blakeley: Isn’t he the head of police in Vedado?
Mr. Wormold: The one and the same. Do you know what people in Havana call him, sir? The Red Vulture. He tortured prisoners. He had a wallet made of human skin. This person wanted to marry my daughter. You see, I had to get her out of Cuba. Pronto!
Mrs. Wormold: He is such a good father!
Chairman:: Mrs. Wormold ---
Mrs. Wormold: Not to speak until spoken to. Understood.
Q8 Mr. Cunningham: The Dossier records that you received a lump sum payment of 1,000 pounds in April 1956. Could you confirm what the funds were used for?
Mr. Wormold: To join the Country Club and recruit several sub-agents.
Q9 Mr. Cunningham: Engineer Cifuentes, Professor Luis Sanchez and Lopez. Who’s Lopez?
Mr. Wormold: My employee at the store. He wanted an additional 25 pesos per month. The other two names were from the Country Club’s roster. I had to justify the payments.
Q 10 Mr. Cunningham: I see. And the transfer of 1,500 dollars in June 1956 was for what purpose?
Mr. Wormold: To procure intelligence reports and drawings of the secret military installations in the mountains of Oriente Province.
Chairman: These are the drawings, gentlemen. According to the Dossier, these depict the parts of a massive weapon of mass destruction, very possibly nuclear.
Mrs. Wormold: Actually, those were the drawings of the parts of the Atomic Pile Suction vacuum cleaner.
Q11 Chairman: Is that true, Mr. Wormold?
Mr. Wormold: Uh yes, sir.
Q12 Chairman: Who made them, Mr. Wormold?
Mr. Wormold: I did, sir. I took the Atomic Pile apart and drew the parts. Then I altered the scale to make them seem gigantic.
Mr. Blakeley: He had even drew a little man with a bowler hat next to the drawings --- see?
Chairman: How did these absurd drawings got through the experts at the SIS?
Mr. Blakeley: To be fair, this particular drawing here does look like some kind of a massive cannon bore.
Mrs. Wormold: It’s a drawing of the Atomic Pile’s nozzle. I love it that Jim could be so devious!
Q13 Chairman: Since you seem to be exceedingly eager to speak, Mrs. Wormold, let’s commence with your part. Who sent you to Havana?
Mrs. Wormold: Miss Jenkinson, sir. The head of the secretarial pool at the SIS HQ. Agent Hawthorne specifically requested a Spanish-speaking secretary for the assignment.
Q14 Chairman: Did you speak Spanish? Did you have any other abilities that might have been useful there?
Mrs. Wormold: No Spanish, but I’m half French. At the SIS, they think that all Latin tongues are the same anyway. I could encode and do microphotography. I also have a good knowledge of electrodynamics.
Q15 Mr. Blakeley: What’s that?
Mrs. Wormold: Let’s just say that if you have any trouble with your fuse box at home, you can give me a call.
Mr. Blakeley: Er --- all right.
Q16 Mr. Cunningham: What happened when you arrived in Havana? Did Mr. Wormold’s activities as an agent seemed suspicious to you from the start?
Mrs. Wormold: We first met at the Copacabana --- it was so romantic --- all those palm trees, the Parisian songs, the cabaret…
Chairman: Please answer Mr. Cunningham’s questions, Mrs. Wormold.
Mrs. Wormold: Where were we? Oh yes, I was not suspicious at first. I thought that he was kind of bumbling, but what a sweet man! And then someone shot at Cifuentes and everything started to unravel. He took me to the Shanghai Theater to warn Teresa ---
Mr. Blakeley: One of the alleged sub-agents, a “nude dancer who is the mistress of both the Minister of Mines and the Director of Post & Telegraph.”
Mrs. Wormold: That’s the girl. We got her into Jim’s car and we rode to Professor Sanchez’s house to warn him too ---
Q17 Mr. Blakeley: Is this the incident described in the police report attached to the Dossier, in which Mr. Wormold was arrested for driving around with a naked girl and breaking into Professor Sanchez’s home?
Mrs. Wormold: Yes. It was quite funny, actually. It was a total farce. I wished that he had just told me, though. No need for all that merry go round --- right, darling?
Mr. Blakeley: Apparently, there were other murky incidents after that --- it’s rather difficult to understand what actually happened from the Dossier. But at the end Mr. Wormold successfully eliminated several suspected enemy operatives while providing us with an invaluable list of foreign agents.
Mr. Cunningham: May I point out that Mr. Wormold could not be charged under the Official Secrets Act as he hadn’t actually given any secrets away? He invented secrets, and such an act is not covered by the OSA.
Chairman: I think that I can speak for this Committee --- on the balance, Mr. and Mrs. Wormold’s actions had brought us more benefits than disadvantages, although it must be said that we have some concerns about the sheer amount of invention that was involved. But such is the nature of intelligence work. It is in our national interest that we concur with the conclusion of the SIS’ internal inquiry: Mr. Wormold deserves his O.B.E., and Mrs. Wormold does not deserve to be sent to Jakarta.
Mr. Blakeley and Mr. Cunningham: We agree.
Mr. Wormold: May I say something, sir?
Chairman: Certainly, Mr. Wormold.
Mr. Wormold: This is the lesson that I’ve learned from all of this. The cruel come and go like cities and thrones and powers. They have no permanence. But the clown whom I had seen last year with my daughter at the circus --- that clown is permanent, for his act never change.That is the way to live: the clown is unaffected by the vagaries of public and the enormous discoveries of the great.
Chairman: Umm, yes. Quite an interesting sentiment. Is that all?
Mr. Wormold: One more: thou shalt not invent a weapon of mass destruction where there is none.
Chairman: I agree. May I thank you on behalf of the Committee? You both have been most helpful.
"God save us always...from the innocent and the good."
Alden Pyle, a young American newly arrived in war-torn Vietnam, is a force for good. He’s all fo"God save us always...from the innocent and the good."
Alden Pyle, a young American newly arrived in war-torn Vietnam, is a force for good. He’s all for preserving freedom and liberty for the suffering masses of Asia, after all --- so goes the then popular domino theory --- if Vietnam goes red, so will Siam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia. He’s also no fan of the Red’s enemy, the French, who are fighting a losing battle for their Indochinese colony. A ‘Third Force’ that is composed of native elements (with a little American help) is Vietnam’s best bet, and Pyle is willing to do anything to help it come into power.
Thomas Fowler, a middle-aged British war journo who’s too jaded to take any side in the conflict, views Pyle’s activist idealism with bemused contempt. Separated from his wife, whom he left in England, he takes a young Vietnamese lover, Phuong. Fowler tells himself that he is under no illusion whatsoever in his relationship with her; she is there to provide for his comforts (“… she was the hiss of steam, the clink of a cup, she was a certain hour of the night, and the promise of rest."), and in return he provides her with the comforts of a Western standard lifestyle. It’s an arrangement, all too common in distant Third World postings, and strictly temporary. He has no plans to ask his wife for a divorce; what would Phuong do in rainy, grey London anyway? However, Phuong has other aspirations. She dreams of a life in the West --- and if her aging lover won’t take her to England, then she’ll go to America instead. Fowler’s contempt for Pyle’s naiveté, both political and romantic, intensifies when Phuong left him for the American. It is so obvious that he is practically considered a main suspect by the Surete when Pyle is found dead not long after.
Despite its espionage trappings, The Quiet American is a morality play, in which all the costs and benefits of a moral decision are so precisely laid up that it’s almost mathematical. Yet, unlike in The Heart of the Matter, another morality play of an almost biblical intensity, the characters are allowed certain shades of ambiguity; they make a deal with the devil and then get on with their compromised lives. The wages of sin now is not necessarily death --- sometimes we weak humans are allowed a little leeway, a little compromise that maybe, somehow, is justifiable in the greater scheme of things.
But Greene’s book is not just a morality tale. It is also a vividly rendered, unsentimental evocation of Vietnam in the 1950’s. Not just the part that was at war against the French (although there is plenty about it too), but also the country that hosts the Cao Dai church, a French planter with an extensive Victorian erotica collection and a Chinese-Vietnamese junk dealer who is also a secret Vietminh agent. These journalistic vignettes constitutes half the pleasure of reading this book for me, the other half constitutes of reading about moral dilemmas that are summed up in angsty, exquisitely phrased aphorisms that perhaps contains more than a kernel of truth ("The hurt is in the act of possession: we are too small in mind and body to possess another person without pride or to be possessed without humiliation."). Plenty to ruminate about long after the book is closed. ...more
In a world full of flawed characters, pity for another human being may be the greatest flaw of all. The story charts the gradual decline of Major Scob In a world full of flawed characters, pity for another human being may be the greatest flaw of all. The story charts the gradual decline of Major Scobie, an upright colonial policemen who slowly succumbs to corruption and adultery. The irony is that the mortal sins (yes, this is a Catholic novel) that he committed are fueled not by garden-variety greed or lust, but by his propensity to take pity on other human beings. Pity for his wife --- he doesn’t love her but he feels an overwhelming sense of duty towards her wellbeing --- leads him to accept bribes. Pity for a friendless young widow, a war survivor, leads to an illicit relationship. Before long, he gets so entangled in a web of deceit that there is only one way out. You may or may not agree with Greene’s assertion that pity is a kind of pride that can lead to damnation, but there is no denying the power of this sparely told, bleak morality tale....more
**spoiler alert** What I learned from this book (in no particular order):
1. Spring in Hampstead is depressing. Italian trains are always late.
2. Eatin**spoiler alert** What I learned from this book (in no particular order):
1. Spring in Hampstead is depressing. Italian trains are always late.
2. Eating macaroni with a knife, even though it is of the wormy, stringy variety, is an insult to a proper Italian cook.
3. Other people’s chills are always the fruit of folly, and the worst thing that could happen is that if they are handed on to you, who had done nothing at all to deserve them.
4. Being too sexy for your own good is hazardous to your mental health.
5. Clothes that are infested with thrift make you practically invisible.
6. It is difficult to be improper without men around.
7. There were in history numerous kings who had had mistresses and there were still more numerous mistresses who had had kings.
8. You shall only write books that God would read. Books about long-dead mistresses are NOT something that HE would read.
9. There are miserable sorts of goodness and happy sorts --- the sort you’ll have at a flower-bedecked medieval Italian castle by the sea, for instance, is the happy sort.
10. A flower-bedecked Italian castle by the sea can repair the most broken of marriages and induce you to fall in love with a random person.
I liked this book until the men show up at the villa; I can appreciate how Mrs. Wilkins and Mrs. Arbuthnot have been changed by their time there, but the men just basically show up at the end of the book and suddenly (cue swelling music) IT’S AMORE. Everything is suddenly hunky-dory again between the estranged married couples, although Mr. Wilkins is still steeped in his miserly, ambulance-chasing mentality, and Mr. Arbuthnot originally came not to see his wife, but to make a grab, both personally and professionally, at Lady Caroline Dester the Flapper heiress. And Mrs. Fisher’s icy crotchetiness suddenly melts for, of all people, Mellersh Wilkins, a man who still primarily thinks of her as a walking cash cow for his solicitor firm. Briggs, the villa’s owner and perhaps the most sympathetic of the men, is incredibly fickle. Having come for Rose Arbuthnot, whom he thought to be a widow, he immediately transfers his affections to Lady Caroline once he laid eyes on her supernatural prettiness. And, despite protesting against the unwanted attention from men barely a dozen pages ago, including Briggs, the author tells us, conveniently, that it’s amore for them too.
I guess I just have difficulties with accepting the villa as a sort of deus ex machina for all the characters; or perhaps I was just having a bad day when I finished the book. Or perhaps I’m secretly a repressed housewife who desperately needs a life-restoring, love-enhancing holiday at an impossibly beautiful Italian villa on the Amalfi Coast. Yeah, that’s it. Now I’m going to pester hubby about blowing out our hard-earned nest egg on some charmingly dilapidated pile somewhere sunny in Italy. ...more
North and South is a perfectly enjoyable Victorian novel. Which is to say that it is didactic, occasionally wordy, earnestly concerned with social issNorth and South is a perfectly enjoyable Victorian novel. Which is to say that it is didactic, occasionally wordy, earnestly concerned with social issues and not entirely free from sentimentality and melodrama.
The heroine, Margaret Hale, can be a tad Mary Sue-ish at times, but she is ultimately an admirable example of resilience and single-minded perseverance in the face of constantly changing, often difficult, circumstances. It is quite astounding, and at times frustrating, that such a young girl is expected to be a pillar of strength for so many others; for her father, a country parson who quits his comfortable living for conscientious reasons but is too chicken to tell his family about it; for her mother, a fragile invalid whose terminal illness must be concealed from everyone else; for her cousin, a shallow, dependent woman whose life revolves around dinner-parties; for her brother, a fugitive from justice; and even for a family of laborers who are oppressed by the harsh working conditions of the industrial north of England. From time to time, I feel the urge to smack the weak, vacillating adults around her for reserving the right to make all the life-changing decisions and then abdicating responsibility for the consequences. And yet, Margaret herself is not without flaws, for she could be proud and prejudiced against the newly rising class of Northern self-made men, mere “manufacturers” like Mr. Thornton, who due to their affluence, is able to employ her father, an Oxford-educated gentleman, as a tutor. It is interesting that she could look down on her suitor Thornton, a wealthy man who began his career as a draper’s assistant, and yet also forms an entirely sympathetic relationship with a factory hand’s daughter, someone who is several rung under him in the social pecking order. Apparently, the lower classes are perfectly fine as objects of Christian charity but are objectionable as potential spouses.
To his credit, the equally proud, taciturn Thornton himself is mercifully free from the more vulgar traits of the manufacturing class and is zealous in catching up on his education. Through his personal acquaintance with Higgins, the laborer that Margaret befriended, he even introduces reforms in his factory that is not solely inspired by utilitarian principles.
Gaskell’s writing about industrial Milton and contemporary social issues is credible and informative --- undoubtedly derived from her first-hand experience as a minister’s wife in Manchester --- but I expected it to be more detailed. I’d be interested to see the insides of the textile factory, for instance. Or to hear more about the working conditions that spark the violent riot. We get to see the interior of the on-site Thornton home, but never get into the factory itself. The workers’ arguments are mostly presented through Higgins’ monologues, and the bosses’ side through Thornton’s reasoning. This part of the story is pretty slow for me because of the way Gaskell chose to tell it, and also because of the laborer characters, who veer towards Dickensian sentimentality but are drawn without his knack for creating memorable traits for them.
Ultimately, the book’s strength lies on the vivid evocation of Margaret’s experiences and the sympathetic, yet not wholly uncritical portrayal of its characters. Aside from the main characters, the grumpy but kindly Mr. Bell and Dixon, the chronically class-prejudiced but utterly loyal maid, are particularly delightful. The prose itself is not that extraordinary --- you won’t find Eliot’s epigrammatic wit, Dickens’ intricate plotting, or Hardy’s descriptive power in it --- but it is perfectly enjoyable, very accessible and oddly soothing, considering the numerous tragedies in the story. The ending, with its last-minute romantic reconciliation is rather abrupt, but utterly believable, and the characters feel like old friends that you have known all your life. ...more
I have mixed feelings about this book. I like how Bronte used the narrative framework, with Lucy Snowe as the not always reliable narraSPOILER WARNING
I have mixed feelings about this book. I like how Bronte used the narrative framework, with Lucy Snowe as the not always reliable narrator, who alternately reveals her deepest feelings while deliberately concealing certain fact/plot point from the reader. We are both privy to her innermost thoughts --- at least those that she feels appropriate to share --- while at the same time being held at a distance by her sly opaqueness and secretive nature. Jane Eyre she ain't. How Bronte utilized this framework to both tell the story and illuminate Lucy’s complex psychological states is both subtle and brilliant, and surely ahead of her time. We get to learn firsthand what makes Lucy Snowe ticks; we see her being reticent about the tragic circumstances of her early life, pining over Dr. John --- while still making excuses for his shallowness, being amusingly sardonic about the goings-on in the pensionat (secret love letters! cross-dressing as a nun!), struggling with depression, and (in a plot development that is hard to swallow --- more on this later) learning to love a man whom she previously despised.
That said, the technique also exposes us to a lot of her internal monologues, which occasionally devolve into tedious ramblings composed of melodramatic, adjective-laden sentences that seem to breathlessly run forever. Perhaps Bronte used Lucy to explore her own dark night of the soul, but somehow my eyes tend to glaze over whenever they occur.
Another recurrent theme is Lucy’s vehement anti-Catholicism and strong belief in English superiority. I have no idea whether Bronte shared the same views, but they are an integral part of Lucy’s personality and perhaps are simply a reflection of the times that they were living in. The French are shown to be similarly afflicted with national and religious chauvinism.
Eventually, love between Lucy and her “little” Frenchman, M. Paul, conquers all --- which brings us to my major beef with the story. M. Paul is a misogynist (“A ‘woman of intellect’,… a luckless incident, a thing for which there was neither place nor use in creation, wanted neither as wife nor worker.”) and control freak (“Pink or scarlet, yellow or crimson, pea green or sky blue; it was all one: these were all flaunting, giddy colours…”) of the first order. He constantly harangues Lucy about her dress, her intellect, her manners etc. ad nauseam. Sure, the man is not entirely devoid of little gestures of kindness for the lonely English teacher, and there is that big reveal about the life-long sacrifice that he made for a bunch of ungrateful semi-relatives, but he never repents of his earlier unPC-ness, and Lucy seems to happily gloss over them once they become an item. Oh, and Lucy is supposed to be fiercely independent, but at the end it is M. Paul who sets her up financially by giving her the girls school to run. Perhaps it’s better that he never returns from that business trip to the West Indies --- we never know, because Lucy is just as reticent about the closure to her story as about her early life.
3 ½ stars (1/2 star deducted for the awkward romance and rambling monologues). ...more
**spoiler alert** Daniel Deronda is not an easy book to read. If Middlemarch is a masterpiece of 19th century realism, Deronda is something else altog**spoiler alert** Daniel Deronda is not an easy book to read. If Middlemarch is a masterpiece of 19th century realism, Deronda is something else altogether. Like its predecessor, the narrative follows two main protagonists: Deronda, a young Englishman of uncertain parentage, and Gwendolen Harleth, a pretty, at times vain and spoiled daughter of a well-off family. The two meet by chance at the gambling hall of a swanky European watering place, where Gwendolen is doing her best to live in fashionable dissipation. The gentlemanly Deronda discreetly helps her when she loses everything at the roulette table. He doesn’t know that she is, in a sense, a runaway, and that her reason for being so is perfectly honorable. Gwendolen may share certain qualities with the shallow Rosamond Vincy in Middlemarch, but she is not entirely devoid of a sense of honor.
Gwendolen has been running away from one Henleigh Grandcourt, a rich, indolent playboy who is only one life away from inheriting vast estates and a peerage. Everyone, including her widowed mother and country parson uncle think that he is a splendid catch for her. Except that Gwendolen has secretly found out that he had fathered a number of illegitimate children with another woman, whom he is now ready to discard to be able to marry her. As long as her family remains well off, she has no pressing need to marry, and she keeps fending him off. But then all the family money is lost in a speculative bubble, and what can a pretty, essentially uneducated girl of modest talents do? She wants to sing for her supper, but is told that she is not talented and tough enough to be a professional singer. The only other alternative is to be a governess, a desperate option that she despises. She is too dutiful a daughter to let her beloved mother and sisters live poorly in a dinky cottage. Therefore, she (with a little nudge from her newly impoverished family) convinces herself that after all, Grandcourt is a suitable husband material. He seems pliable enough, and with her beauty and forceful personality, she figures out that she will have the upper hand in that marriage. She is unaware that in Eliot’s universe, marriage is a noose and a husband likes to be master. Soon, she finds herself at the mercy of the possessive, passive-aggressive Grandcourt, a control freak of the first order who is jealous of his wife’s emotional dependence on Deronda.
Gwendolen is an interesting character and her dysfunctional relationship with her husband is morbidly fascinating, but the Deronda side of the narrative suffers from the lack of character development. Deronda accidentally rescues a suicidal girl, Mirah, a Jewess who had ran away from her abusive father to find her family in London. He brings her to live with the family of Hans Meyrick, a painter friend whom he has helped in the past. In the course of searching for her long-lost relatives, Deronda develops an interest in Judaism, and under the influence of Mordecai, Mirah’s terminally ill brother, even becomes a Zionist sympathizer. But how can a goyim be a (proto) Zionist and also win the hand of Mirah the Jewess (who, despite being attracted to him is dead set against miscegenation)? Cue a letter from Deronda’s long lost mother, now Contessa Maria Alcharisi, who informs him that he IS a Jew (duh). She had given him up to be raised as an English gentleman when she decided to pursue her singing ambition.
The character of the Contessa is probably the most interesting one in the Deronda strand, although she immediately exits the stage after discharging her plot duties. Among the three women who aspire to be singing stars (Gwendolen, Mirah and herself), the Contessa is the only one who manages to succeed. But to achieve it she had to abandon her son, family and race. Success for a woman always comes at a price, often a steep one.
Deronda himself, despite being given lengthy, sometimes rambling monologues, is oddly amorphous as a character. We know that he is a rescuer of distressed damsels, and that he is almost saintly, but other than that he is a blank. Even his transformation from an English gentleman to a committed Zionist is not entirely convincing. It doesn’t help that the parts in which Eliot expounds about Judaism are perhaps aesthetically among the weakest in the book. It is mostly done through Mordecai’s rambling about ‘ruach-ha-kodesh’ and other bits of Jewish lore, as well as through scenes of a meeting, where talking heads discuss --- rather abstrusely --- proto-Zionist ideas. Eliot clearly had researched the subject extensively, but the regurgitated knowledge that she presents to the reader is patchy and quite tedious to read. Mordecai himself is so much the Suffering Jew that he virtually has no personality, a fact that holds true for most of the Jewish characters. It is surely laudable that Eliot strived to present Jewish characters in a positive light in the midst of rampant anti-Semitism in Victorian Britain, but what is gained in positive characterization is lost in the believability of the characters themselves. The Jews are too busy being model minorities to be real people.
Meanwhile, Gwendolen’s increasingly creepy husband drags her across Europe on a trip, which primary object seems to be to put the farthest distance between her and Deronda. While boating off Genoa, he accidentally drowns, thus releasing Gwendolen from the ‘empire of fear’ that he had created. Deronda, who happens to be there to meet his mother, rescues her. He notes that, while she herself did not do the deed, she actively desired her husband’s death. He also discovers that, in a vindictive move, Grandcourt had altered his will to prevent Gwendolen from inheriting the bulk of his property, bequeathing it to his illegitimate son instead. The novel’s end is inconclusive; Gwendolen learns to stoically accept her situation and Deronda, after marrying Mirah, sets off for Palestine.
Despite a happy ending for Deronda and Mirah, the tone of the novel is somber, with very little of the sarcastic wit and humor that enliven Middlemarch. At certain parts, Eliot seems to abandon realism and descends into melodrama and insipid characterization, which makes it hard to continue reading. If you absolutely have to read one Eliot novel, pick Middlemarch instead.
Orwell's scathing denunciation of British colonialism won't win awards for subtlety, but still a powerful, unsparing account of colonial characters anOrwell's scathing denunciation of British colonialism won't win awards for subtlety, but still a powerful, unsparing account of colonial characters and their tragic foibles. The humor is of a dark variety, and as the story progresses, it feels like an agonizingly slow train wreck making its way through the fetid jungles of Burma. Virtually all the characters are unlikable --- perhaps some depth is sacrificed in the interest of illustrating the excesses of the system and the people who run it --- and it seems that there is also an element of self-loathing in the writing, as well as a certain attitude about the country and its people. At least it is an unflinchingly honest and presumably accurate account of the bleakness of life in a remote Burmese colonial station in the waning days of the British Empire. ...more
I suppose that a story that is so ubiquitous during Christmas time as this one needs no introduction. I can see why it has been constantly popular forI suppose that a story that is so ubiquitous during Christmas time as this one needs no introduction. I can see why it has been constantly popular for more than one hundred years. I appreciate the writing and craft that goes into the story, the social commentary, the worthy morals, and the affection that generations of readers have for it. But I hated it. Yes, it's official, I'm the Grinch and (pre-reformed) Scrooge rolled into one. I have a heart made of stone, or at least something equally hard, immune to the plight of tiny, poor, crippled tots and destitute Victorian families who couldn't afford a stuffed goose for their Christmas tables.
I found the story to be simplistic, with sketchy, largely one dimensional characters, and so drenched in sugary sentimentality that it made my teeth hurt. I can deal with sentimentality, but such a massive, industrial-strength dose of it renders me comatose, instead of being genuinely moved.
*slinking away to hide under a rock until Christmas is over* ...more