Thursday, July 19, 2012

Histeria's Boston Tea Party

An interesting children's cartoon explaining the Boston Tea Party, including a send-up of the Monty Python cheese shop sketch.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Horrible Histories HHTV News Storming The Bastile

Happy Bastille Day! It's easy to forget that the French Revolution took place during a country-wide famine, but the French peasants surely didn't.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Robot Chicken: 1776

Happy Screw-Paying-Taxes day! Granted, paying taxes to a foreign power that doesn't represent you or your interests in government really sucks. C'mon King George, you could've let there be American rotten boroughs too. It wouldn't've changed the House of Commons all that much....

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Horrible Histories George The IV Who Are You ?

George IV actually did open all the caskets in Westminster Abbey to see who was there, though I imagine it wasn't as entertaining as this.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Emoticons 4eva, my good sir

Here are the earliest known emoticons, from the 1890s. I am all astonishment. Or would be, if I would figure out how to replicate it on a laptop keyboard.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Garmin Napoleon Ad from Super Bowl XLII

This one is an oldie, but a goodie, though the Amateur Historian wishes to point out that Napoleon was actually of average height, the British just didn't understand the metric system.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Drunk Author Texts

Quite an accurate representation of a drunk text from Wordsworth to his sister. Visit the Paris Review website here for more.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

If you want the basket, put the kittens in the brass thing.

Robbing famously witty authors is always a bad idea, though it does give the authors a chance to display their satirical talents. The notice here is from Mark Twain, who was robbed of his silverware on September 8th, 1908. After the burglars were caught, Twain commissioned this notice to hang on his door.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Meet the Seventh Planet, George

The seventh planet, Uranus, was discovered at the end of the eighteenth century by the musician and amateur astronomer William Herschel. He was tentative about calling it a planet instead of comet until the Astronomer Royal had received confirmation of its existence and mathematical calculations of its orbit. The great problem then came of naming the first planet discovered since ancient times.

Herschel, who was a Hanoverian like George III, and who had recently received a royal appointment and yearly stipend from George III suggested naming it 'George's Star' or, in Latin, 'Georgium Sidus'. This was understandably unpopular with the world outside of Britain and the planet was eventually named after Greek mythology again: Uranus. 

Given how easily mispronounced the name 'Uranus' continues to be, perhaps 'George' isn't that bad a name for a planet.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Dance 'the Albatross!'

On a lighter note, it seems that no one really understood The Ancient Mariner when it came out.

Most of the people who bought the first edition were sailors, thinking it was a naval song book.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Nightmare Life-in-Death was she

Coleridge recounted in Table Talk 1830-1832:

"Mrs Barbauld told me that the only faults she found with the Ancient Mariner were — that it was improbable and had no moral. As for the probability — to be sure that might admit some question — but I told her that in my judgment the poem had moral, and that too openly obtruded on the reader, It ought to have no more moral than the story of the merchant sitting down to eat dates by the side of a well and throwing the shells aside, and the Genii starting up and saying he must kill the merchant, because a date shell had put out the eye of the Genii's son."

This gains a very significant moral when one realizes that though are many nasty side-effects to European imperialism, one of the most unpleasant for Tahiti certainly was venereal disease. When Captain Cook arrived in Tahiti, he was aware that island sexual mores were very different from British ones and wrote about the previous British expedition to the South Seas in his journals. When the Dolphin left Polynesian waters, so many nails had been taken out of the timbers and traded for sexual favors, the ship almost split apart during a storm. This time the Tahitians got the much worse end of the deal with "the English disease."

Cook did not like to admit that his precautions to make sure the ship's crew were free from VDs were at fault and at first tried blaming the French of the Spanish. 'However,' he wrote in his journals, 'this is little satisfaction to them who must suffer by it in a very great degree and may in time spread itself over all the Islands of the South Seas, to the eternal reproach of those who first brought it among them'.

Coleridge turned the consequences back on the British in The Ancient Mariner. A two hundred man crew all dies (save for the Mariner, who shot the albatross that was later hung around his neck) after a run-in with Death and a lady named 'Life-in-Death.' What gift the lady gave the crew is therefore given is perhaps easy to guess.

In the words of Pangloss, it is a thing unavoidable.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The prune season is the best season

French Romantic/ Realist writers tended to want their lives as dramatic as their fiction and Balzac was no exception.

It took three passwords, each changed regularly, to gain entrance to Balzac’s home on the Rue des Batailles.For example, one could first have to go up to the porter and assure him that, “The prune season has arrived.”, then inform servant on the stairs that “I bring lace from Belgium.”, and, afterwards, assure the valet that “Madame Bertrand is in good health”.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Tesla Time!

Do you, Gentle Reader, want to learn more about Nikola Tesla, the man who discovered the earth's resonant frequency and created ball lightening in his labratory like a contenstant from a two-player Ninendo fighting game? Check out this article by The Oatmeal on just how much Tesla invented.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Lord Byron Fun Fact!

Though, in reality, it is not really much fun unless you find physical deformity hilarious.

Lord Byron famously had somethng wrong with his foot but, however, he did not have a club-foot as popular accounts will have you believe! Historians have analyzed his boots and discovered that he really had a withered leg from birth. Byron enjoyed clothing said leg, and the other, healthy one in white linen trousers. He ordered dozens at a time and threw them out after being worn only once.

So the moral of this story, Gentle Readers, is if you wish to be a Romantic Poet and have a physical deformity of some kind, remember to clothe it well. Historians will pay an extraordinary amount of attention to whatever you leave behind, however, so conspicuous consumption can oddly maintain your privacy.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Thar she blows.

Soon after finishing Emma, Jane Austen's brother, Henry Austen got sick and got treated by the Prince of Wales's personal physician. Henry liked to brag about his clever sister and, despite Jane Austen's preference for anonymity, told his doctor that his sister was the author of Pride and Prejudice. The doctor passed on this information to the Prince Regent, who had a copy of all Austen's published works in each of his residences.

The end result was twofold: one, Jane Austen was invited to visit the Prince's librarian, who urged her multiple times to write a novel about himself, and two, said librarian conveyed to her His Royal Highness's permission to  dedicate her next to work to him. Austen's letters show she wasn't exactly thrilled about either idea, and she asked if it was “incumbent on [her] to shew her sense of the Honour” by dedicating Emma to the Prince Regent. The librarian replied with an emphatic, but politely phrased, yes. 

However, Austen got back the gallery prints and appears to have made a couple of changes to the novel to avail herself of her best and most perfect weapon: satire. This article phrases it more eloquently than the Amateur Historian ever could, but let us reflect a moment on the famous riddle in Emma: 

My first displays the wealth and pomp of kings,
Lords of the earth! their luxury and ease.
Another view of man, my second brings,
Behold him there, the monarch of the seas!

But, ah! united, what reverse we have!
Man’s boasted power and freedom, all are flown;
Lord of the earth and sea, he bends a slave,
And woman, lovely woman, reigns alone.

In the novel, Emma declares that the first two lines mean a 'ship' and the second means 'court'. A 'courtship' certainly answers to the purpose and furthers the plot, but look at the letters that begin each line: M, L, A, B and B, M, L, A. This is not a coincidence, but a reference to Charles Lamb, who had just written a very popular poem declaring the Prince Regent 'the Prince of Whales'.

This typical Lamb-pun thus gives us a second answer. The first two lines mean 'prince' and the second 'whales'. United, we have the Prince of Whales, who was more famous for his seductions than his statescraft, and the very subtle target of Jane Austen's amazingly clever wit. Clearly, the Prince of Whales ought to have thought twice before demanding Miss Austen dedicate a novel to him; she has skewered him more effectively than ever Captain Ahab did Moby Dick.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

How Punny

The poet Charles Lamb really loved puns. On one occasion, upon “being told that somebody had lampooned him,” he remarked, “Very well, I’ll Lamb-pun him!”

Thursday, April 12, 2012

"The Conga" is about as silly a name as "Mr. Beveridge's Maggot"

Every savage can dance, but only the true gentleman can free-style disco while in period trousers.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The History of a Young Lady's Various Fits of Tears

Fanny Burney's Evelina is the novel that shot the author to fame, fortune, inclusion to all the best salons and membership to perhaps the most entertainingly named group of the late eighteenth century, 'the Witlings'. I therefore entered into the novel with only the minor qualm that I am not fond of epistolary novels.

When I finished the book and my kindle kindly asked me to rate the book, all I could think was, 'Meh.'

That is not to say the book was entirely without merit. There are sparkling parts of the text-- Burney is not as deft a hand at satire as Jane Austen, but she still does it remarkably well and she forms very entertaining and likeable characters, as long as they are not her hero and heroine. I had the same problem with the loving couple at the center of Evelina as with the lachremouse lovers Mrs. Radcliffe so unkindly inflicted on her readers in The Mysteries of Udolpho: the lady spent at least a third of the book crying, being silent or otherwise not speaking, displaying her personality or proving her worth as a human being, and the gentleman never actually seemed like a believable human being. I dislike the romances about equally: in Evelina, there heroine is so shy, quiet, awkward and embarrassed with most of her interactions with the hero that I simply couldn't believe that the hero could possibly form even a friendship with her, as he did, let alone a favorable impression of her and later a lasting devotion. Why should he? All she does is be embarrassed and uncomfortable around him. If it was an Austen novel, instead of a Burney one, I would be inclined to say that Evelina and her exemplary Lord Orville will soon get very bored with each other and have a very unhappy marriage. However, it is Burney, so Evelina will live on in silent, agitated, often tearful happiness to write long letters with perfect recall of hours-long conversations.

However, unlike The Mysteries of Udolpho, I hated the hero because he was Lord Honorable McBlandyPants and had no interesting flaws, foibles or indeed any part of his character that was not boringly perfect. The heroine was a little better than the weeping Emily; Evelina likewise resembles an ambulatory fountain that random gentlemen kept wanting to molest, but she makes a number of mistakes out of ignorance and then endeavors to correct them. She, at least, has a functioning brain.

The Amateur Historian did not feel the same antipathy she did towards The Mysteries of Udolpho, but, though I liked the satire quite a lot, and enjoyed the taste of late eighteenth century dialects, the heroine-narrator has the unfortunate tendency to sentimentalize and moralize over everyone she meets (except the hero who is always, and ever, a paragon of tedium and virtue). I, as a reader, prefer to draw my own conclusions and not have the author present to me what I ought to think. However, this is Burney's first novel, so I will not write her off entirely. Perhaps (after a judicious dose of Voltaire or Austen), I shall try Fanny Burney again.

Next time, one hopes to find a less soggy heroine.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

I like Ike!

The Amateur Historian is, fortunately or unfortunately, an American and as plagued to death with the endless sufferage of the primary season as the rest of the country. However, it has given the Amateur Historian time to reflect on the necessity of a campaign slogan.

The human brain is wired for language and, in an odd turn, particularly susceptible to rhyme.

One such political rhyme destroyed the candidacy of one Henry Addington, 1rst Viscount Sidmouth in 1804. Addington, it must be admitted, did not have the greatest record while in office. He unsuccessfully attempted to sue for peace with Napoleon before giving up and declaring war on France again and was a terrible orator. Mind you, these were the days of Burke, Fox, Sheridan and Pitt, where gentlemen learnt to recite Horace in school; to be a bad orator was to be a bad politician. To be a bad politician meant one could not rally MPs to one's cause and therefore to lose one's bills and, thereafter, to lose the trust of the king.

When compared to Pitt's successions of pan-European coalitions, his renowned oratory and his successful management of the Houses of Parliament, Addington looked a poor figure indeed, giving rise to the epigram:

"London is to Paddington
as Pitt is to Addington."

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Founding Fathers History Pickup Lines (in 2012)

Try your luck, ladies and gentlemen! Warning for some language.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Nothing like a skullful of ocean brine!

Ah, spring is here! For those who wish to celebrate in a slightly more unusual way, take these tips from Theophile Gautier:

 "It is true that we did not possess Newstead Abbey, with its long, shadowy cloisters, its swans gliding about on the silvery waters in the light of the moon, nor the lovely young sinners,fair, dark, or red-haired, but we could certainly secure a skull, and Gerard de Nerval undertook to do so, his father, a retired army surgeon, having quite a fine anatomical collection.

 The skull itself was that of a drum-major, killed at the battle of the Moskowa, and not that of a girl who had died of consumption, so Gerard told us. He further informed us that he had mounted it as a cup by means of a drawer handle fastened by a nut and screw-bolt. The skull was filled with wine, and handed round, each man putting it to his lips with more or less well-concealed repugnance.

"Waiter," cried one of the neophytes, endowed with excessive zeal, "fetch us brine from the ocean!"

 "What for, my boy?" asked Jules Vabre.

"Is it not told of Han d'Islande [in Victor Hugo's gothic novel] that 'he drank the briny waters in the skulls of the dead '? Well, I mean to do as he did, and to drink his health. Nothing can be more Romanticist!" "

 Or more unsanitary.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Do Invaded Countries Often Feel Inclined to Provide Food?

Napoleon I has arguably one of the largest influences on modern France than any other historical figure (and will once the Napoleon theme park gets running. I, for one, want to go on the Russian Campaign Ski Slope). As it turns out, he was also responsible for the invention of canned goods. Unsurprisingly, the Emperor wished to better feed his army "when an invaded country was not able or inclined to sell or provide food" and set up a cash prize for it. The confectioner Nicolas François Appert invented a process to preserve food by heating, boiling and sealing it in glass jars, a process which (with some modifications) is still in use today. This was also very useful for (here we come full circle) the Russian Campaign, where the Russian winter obviously did not provide much food. However, canned food did nothing against Russia's snows, storms and low temperatures, giving us all the frozen corpses of men and horses set to decorate the Russian Campaign Ski Slope.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Catsterpiece Classics Presents - Downton Tabby

The Amateur Historian realizes that this is a little out of this blog's time period, but allow the cat pun titles of nineteenth century novels at the end to be my justification.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Horrible Histories Newgate Prision

Oh capitalism! The amateur Historian feels the urge to quote from Cabaret. "Money makes the world go round, the world go round...."

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Revved up for ART

The Amateur Historian's favorite artist, outside of the Regency period, is John Everett Millais, whose breath-taking attention to detail (Millais encoded a world of meaning in the remarkable number of flowers he painted into Ophelia's riverbank, above- for example, in the Victorian language of flowers, red poppies represent sleep and death) never fails to please her.

Millais himself was, to the Amateur Historian's mind, extremely endearing. When he was working on a canvas, he would get so worked up he liked to jog around the room before greeting a visitor... and then make the visitor hold his or her arm up so that Millais had the pleasure of jumping over it.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Happy birthday Victor Hugo!

Happy birthday to the Amateur Historian's favorite author, Victor Hugo. Though André Gide once replied, "Victor Hugo, hélas" to the question, "Who is the best French writer?" other Hugo fans have been less reserved in their praise. In the international Vietnamese religion known as Cao Dai Victor Hugo is actually one of the most important saints in their pantheon. Somehow, given Hugo's self-conceit, the Amateur Historian doubts that Hugo would be upset about this fact.

Friday, February 24, 2012

SMBC Theater - Thomas Jefferson

More videos for February. Warning for language.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Fashion forward!

As spring fashions begin to come out, it's always nice to look to the past to see how the future might turn out. I very much doubt that any of the trousers below will be featured on Chanel or Dior's runways, but I think we can all agree that the field of haberdashery has sadly disappointed the visionaries of 1893 who thought we would be wearing braided cushions as hats in 1965.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Well... it's... better than Napoloen's?

Here's hoping there are some lucky and unlucky tarts (according to one's preferences) this Valentine's Day! Ladies and gentlemen, take note on how to woo that special someone. Be bold, and always make the recipient question the composition of your DNA.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

A Bit of Fry and Laurie - The Duel

Once again proving a. that Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry are made for silly period pieces and b. duels are a rather silly way of settling debts of honor.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Something Nobler and Moister Indeed

Sorry, Emma Thompson, Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie cannot be kept apart no matter the era. Also of note, the truly questionable neckbeard the costume designers decided to give Stephen Fry.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Maybe this is why she doesn't write to you.

Napoleon and Josephine have one of the more interesting romantic relationships in the Amateur Historian's chosen period. This is partly due to the fact that Napoleon has some really... odd letters. Aside from the famous, perhaps apocryphal note "I am coming-- do not bathe" he rails against Josephine for the strangest reasons.

Take, for example, this... I suppose we ought to call it a love letter:

"I don't love you, not at all; on the contrary, I detest you. You're a naught, gawky, foolish Cinderella.

You never write me; you don't love your own husband; you know what pleasures your letters give him, and yet you haven't written him six lines, dashed off so casually!

 What do you do all day, Madam? What is the affair so important as to leave you no time to write to your devoted lover?

What affection stifles and puts to one side the love, the tender constant love you promised him?

Of what sort can be that marvellous being, that new lover that tyrannises over your days, and prevents your giving any attention to your husband?

Josephine, take care! Some fine night, the doors will be broken open and there I'll be.

Indeed, I am very uneasy, my love, at receiving no news of you; write me quickly for pages, pages full of agreeable things which shall fill my heart with the pleasantest feelings.

I hope before long to crush you in my arms and cover you with a million kisses as though beneath the equator.

Napoleon Bonaparte"

After that letter, I'd say the dear Emperor is going to have to wait a long time before crushing Josephine in his arms, even if he does decide that breaking and entering is truly the way into a woman's heart.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Le Lever - getting dressed in the 18th century

If you're looking for a date this Valentine's day, fop 'til you drop with the advice in this video.

Friday, February 3, 2012

All that must please!

February gives us Valentine's Day, a day which the Amateur Historian's friends tend to spend watching Jane Austen and Bronte adaptations. I think any adaptation of a nineteenth century novel would benefit from having Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry derail the accepted script, and, of course, Emma Thompson makes everything better just by being in the shot.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Pride & Prejudice - Bloopers

The best way to celebrate the run-up to Valentine's Day, I believe, is through period dramas. Particularly things going not quite as expected in period dramas. The Amateur Historian would just like to say that Mr. Bingley is wonderful.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Most Boring Mysteries Imaginable

I really wanted to like The Mysteries of Udolpho. Really. I very sincerely wanted to do so. It is one of the first Gothic novels and it was written by a female author in a time where novels were sneered at as 'women's stuff' and women were considered too feeble-minded to vote, even though they were sometimes allowed to own property. However, because it is one of the first Gothic novels, it feels like Mrs. Radcliffe was working out what the genre was as she went along.

This makes the novel incredibly dull.

For example, she seems to have stuck with the classical French ideal of bienseance, which basically means that nothing exciting ever happens where the viewer/reader can see it. Whenever there's a fight, the heroine faints or staggers away pleading for the men to stop; whenever there's a scene of utmost horror, the chapter ends, or it happens to men that do not care to describe their experiences to the heroine until several chapters later, in the most boring fashion imaginable.

Perhaps the Amateur Historian is not the intended reader of the novel. Though I am a fan of Romanticism, I am not a fan of excessive sensibility, and all the times the heroine ends a chapter crying annoy me to no end. In fact, I am hard put to say what it is, exactly, the heroine does besides weep, suffer, stop playing her lute because she is crying so much, and get unfairly persecuted by nearly everyone she meets. I sometimes wondered if I was reading about a particularly mobile water feature.

Likewise, the Amateur Historian had nothing but cordial disdain for the love interest Valencourt. What good can be said about him that has not already been said about Koko the gorilla? He can almost express himself in a normal human fashion and his ability to form special bonds with pets makes one really hope for his intellectual development and the potential of ranty, emotionally disturbed young men to join normal society and actually resemble other human beings. Like many Gothic heroes, he thinks that stalking means love. The Amateur Historian does not, and thus felt extremely uncomfortable about the whole romance, which basically was Emily crying with happiness or vexation and Valancourt variously breaking and entering, defacing public property by carving poems on trees, trespassing and relying on really, really awful emotional abuse to get Emily to do things she did not want to do.

Granted, the whole book could be subtitled, 'Ranty Men Make Emily Do Lots of Things That Make Her Cry' but still, you want a love interest that isn't a total dick when he's not weeping piteously, releasing sighs fit to break one's heart and raving incoherently about his gambling debts. God, I hated him. I wanted to call the cops on his emotionally abusive behavior, only there isn't a police force in whatever-time-the-book-takes-place in the South of France, and he's a fictional character. However, just a general tip for any Gentle Readers out there thinking of writing their own Gothic novels-- when the hero is going through his requisite near-death experience, the reader should not be cheering for his demise, like I was. I was actually hoping that all the characters would mysteriously die because I hated them all so very, very much.

Some of the secondary characters were decent, of course, and the satire of various society figures was pretty well done, but it wasn't enough to pull the novel from the Marsh of Monotony caused by everyone going off into hysterics at the slightest provocation. The descriptions of nature and the French and Italian countryside were quite well done, and, like the neo-Romantic I am, I loved all the passages on the sublime aspects of nature and the "melting sweetness" of music. The plot is decent, which makes it all the more disappointing that the prose is so dull and the characters are about as sympathetic as mold spores.

It's hard to see what's so frightening about the book, too. Sure, there are elements of horror and everyone thinks they see a ghost at one point or another, but the narrative skims blithely over it. I found that the only really interesting bit was the third to last chapter where everything was explained. If the content of that chapter had actually been the whole book, it would have been wonderful. As it was we have Lady Mopey and her love interest Sir Douchebag weeping their way over the Alps and back.

I'm at a loss of what to say about this just because it was so dull. Perhaps this was not meant for modern eyes, or did not age well? I am at a total loss to explain the novel's popularity. I found it extraordinarily easy to put it down and it was even easier not to pick it back up for weeks.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

"It's going to be fun for the family.”

For those Gentle Readers wishing to plan their summer vacations in 2017, might the Amateur Historian suggest Napoleonland? According to The Telegraph, along with the expected museums, hotels and gift shops, you can ski down a slope decorated charmingly with the frozen bodies of men and horses, presumably from the Russian campaign, watch a water display of the Battle of Trafalgar, attend the execution of Louis XVI, or participate in a reenactment of the Battle of Waterloo.

Sign me up. My favorite exercise is cross-country skiing past an enormous number of dead French soldiers.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Jane Austen Old Spice Parody

The Amateur Historian is currently forcing herself through The Mysteries of Uphaldo which is remarkably dull for a novel that Mr. Tilney read in two days with his hair standing on end the whole time, and greatly appreciated this parody. I shall probably earn myself deep enmity for saying I prefer Henry Tilney to the other Austen heroes, but so be it! Let it be the subject of a long discussion in the comments section.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Huzzah for Hat Pins

This is perhaps a little out of the Amateur Historian's chosen period, but this article on Victorian/Edwardian women's self-defense with hat pins is too good not to have on this blog.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Jane Austen Fight Club

Jane Austen's Fight Club from Keith Paugh on Vimeo.
This is a few years late, but I remembered it after watching all the imagined sword-fighting scenes in the BBC's highly entertaining adaptation of Northanger Abbey. Hopefully the Gentle Readers will find this amusing.

Friday, January 6, 2012


I do not like Twilight for rather a stupid and specific reason, to be honest. The Amateur Historian wishes desperately to say that her initial, gut-reaction of dislike arose from feminist principles, an admiration for the subtleties and satires of Jane Austen over the sentimentality Brontes, a dislike of melodrama or something of sort, but it really started because the person who introduced Twilight to the Amateur Historian said Edward was a "Byronic hero."

Well, no, that’s not quite how it works. The Byronic hero stemmed from the Romantic and Gothic adulation of Milton’s Paradise Lost, in particular for his characterization of Satan  as a personnage of “flawed grandeur”—a magnificent and powerful person destroyed through their hamartia, or tragic flaw (hamartia stemming from Aristotle's Ars Poetica).The one to perfect this beloved staple of nineteenth century fiction was, of course, Lord Byron, who drew from his own self-myth and from the trajectory of Napoleon, whom Byron saw as a brilliant, dark and mysterious leader who just also happened to be the author of his own downfall. Byron wrote these young, oddly charming, prematurely-tainted-by-sin, trapped-by-the-constraints-of-memory-and-society protagonists in Childe Harold, The Corsair, Lara, and Manfred.  Though I suppose Edward does reflect, the erie, supernatural seducer of Lady Caroline Lamb’s Glenarvon, how is Edward a) a fascinating psychological portrait, b) lead into his own destruction by free choice and a tragic flaw, or c) representative of Byron, who, well…

For the last point, have these macros, Gentle Readers:

It's enough to make one want to join George Takei's Star Alliance.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Great... well, rather Bleak Expectations.

Ah Charles Dickens, that perennial Christmas favorite! This year, however, the BBC decided to adapt his Great Expectations instead of A Christmas Carol, for which the Amateur Historian is grateful, if only because it has given us another Gorgeous Man in Period Costume. Or Beautiful Man in a Cravat. The title of this tag will need work.

Pip sure did grow up nicely.

At any rate, the Amateur Historian freely admits that Dickens is not her favorite social justice nineteenth century novelist. Victor Hugo does it better, on a more epic scale, Balzac is frankly more ballsy, and George Elliot can actually write female characters. Sorry Dickens. You earned my enmity with Lucy Manette and that horrible Purity Sue Agnes in David Copperfield. The best I can say for your angels in the house is that at least they don't turn into hideous copies of their husbands, a la Tolstoy. However, the Amateur Historian does like Great Expectations best out of Dickens's oeuvre. Though unfortunately Miss Havisham is again a Dickensian heroine defined by her reactions to men, she is still a very intriguing figure, and Estella is wonderful. Pip is well... a Dickensian hero. He is pretty generic, the Everyman who is supposed to guide us, the readers, on a journey to middle-class morality and propriety.

The new production takes a few interesting spins on these popular characters, namely, Pip is better looking than Estella.

As one British reviewer put it, if she was Miss Havishmam, she would be tempted to say to hell with the experiment and marry Pip, so she could look at him over the breakfast table every morning. However, it astonishingly makes Pip less likable. The child actor they have for Pip turned out a really excellent performance and adult Pip's early earnestness at the end of the first episode (and his lovely blacksmith costume) make one (or rather, the Amateur Historian) really want him to be a decent person who deserves a happy ending. However, he's not. Great Expectations is about vengeance and class snobbery, so Pip gives off the impression of being a useless pretty boy sponging off of the misery of others rather than a confused young man desperate to understand society and to succeed. Yay corrupting capitalism? Yay Marx was right? It rather made me want to #occupybondstreet.

It is sometimes painful to watch, though if one mutes the sound and watches Burberry model-turned-actor Douglass Booth angsting in tailcoats and top hats, it becomes ever so much more enjoyable. The final return to the forge and to, you know, decent, thoughtful, humanitarian and compassionate behavior much more satisfying, but the little changes to Joe (I love Joe!) made it less cathartic than one needed after the poorly-lit but beautifully dressed angst preceding it.

Estella left me cold, which I think she was supposed to do. I have nothing to say against her performance, but it did not particularly dazzle. This was not entirely her fault, since the tone of the whole series was incredibly bleak. There was no leavening of Dickens's usual humor to make Estella's coldness and lack of a heart more noticeable. Her child incarnation was charmingly awful, but her adult form... well, when Pip is prettier, there really isn't much one can do, is there, aside think of how awful 1830s sleeves were and wish for a return of Pip's fabulous waistcoats and his questionable pinky-rings. In fact, I rather enjoyed the child actors better than the adult actors. They were much more fun to watch, and actually seemed to enjoy their parts. Pip and Estella spent most of their screen time looking tortured. This isn't out of line with the script, but it does become a little dull after a while.

Gillian Anderson makes an interesting spin on Miss Havisham, portraying her in rather a J.M. Barrie sort of way, as a woman who refuses to grow up. She also self-immolates on a bonfire made of her ersatz-fiance's letters, which was incredibly disturbing to watch, if one is easily squicked out by things going wrong with the human body, like the Amateur Historian is. Seriously, I cannot sit through an episode of House without having to hide my eyes at least twice.

Ah, and what would a Dickens novel be without a cast of supporting characters who are much more interesting than Blandy McBland, the hero of the piece? Joe was as good-hearted an incarnation as he usually is, though I was disappointed they cut out all of his little games with Pip, to alleviate the misery of a poor childhood, and his backstory as an abused child who had forgiven his own awful father and was determined to prevent the miseries of his old childhood with Pip. He was such a breath of fresh air when he appeared, however. There was no Biddy (I can't say that I missed her), just Joe with his kindness and decency. Pip's uncle was enjoyably snobbish, but Mrs. Joe was not as funny as I read her in the novel. During some of her scenes, I kept thinking, 'haha, child abuse? Is that what the BBC wants me to laugh at?' Still, she turned in a fine performance, as can be said for all of the secondary actors. Mr. Jaggers seemed to really enjoy his role, and his final monologue was excellently filmed and so dramatically satisfying, I rather wished the episode would end there. Mr. Wemmik and Herbert Pocket were a nice mix of materialistic and sympathetic, though Ray Winstone, as the mysterious convict, seemed to be playing Ray Winstone more than anything else. I'm not altogether familiar with British actors, but I suppose there must be people like John Malkovitch everywhere, who are famous for playing themselves in every single role. Indeed, there is no arguing with the casting or the filming, which was rather beautifully grim, with mud, fog, shadows and rot vying for time on screen, but with the little changes to the script and therefore the characters. What's the point of a lot of the little changes? Why have Pip's scene with the convict over a bridge instead of in a graveyard (I guess to nicely bookend it, considering what ends up happening to the convict)?

All in all, it was a decent adaptation, and if one has a few idle hours, one could do worse than watch Douglas Booth in period clothing. However, it hardly achieves the brilliance of past adaptions of Dickens, and past BBC adapations. It feels all at once too artsy and too grim to be Dickens, and for those like the Amateur Historian, who loves the satire in nineteenth century novels above all, there is none to be found.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Horrible Histories Paul Rivere's All American Toothpaste

One of the Amateur Historian's friends admitted that she believed in making easily fulfilled New Year's resolutions, and therefore, her resolution was to take better care of her teeth. One hopes she did not invest in this toothpaste in order to do so.

Happy 2012!