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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Anne Bronte on Infatuation

A rich Gentleman's snuff box, circa 1775-80,
courtesy of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London

In her novel The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Anne Bronte introduces us to Helen Lawrence, a young woman approaching marriable age. In the 19th Century, the chasm between the rich and the poor was vast, and crossing the distance required truly extraordinary abilities. In order to preserve a family's wealth and position, parents and guardians deemed it essential to marry off their descendants to people of similar social and economic standing. In order to prevent diluting the family's hold on the aristocracy, parents might disown their children, as the mother in Anne Bronte's Agnes Grey discovered when she married a poor English priest. Conventional wisdom also dictated that women must marry as soon as a suitable candidate is found, or risk becoming an old maid. With this aim in mind, Helen's guardians, her aunt and uncle, leave their comfortable country estate behind, and travel to London for "the season."

In London, her aunt and uncle usher Helen through balls, dinner parties, and other social functions. As the season progresses, her aunt and uncle present Helen with two candidates for marriage. Each is much closer to their age than that of Helen, and reflects aspects of their personalities. Her uncle favors the “elderly” Mr. Wilmot, while her aunt applauds the scrupulous morals and sensibilities of (the still much older) Mr. Boarham. But Helen’s heart goes out to another man, of the same social and economic strata as her own, and only a mere ten years older than her. His name is Mr. Huntington.

Helen's aunt cannot understand why Arthur Huntington has struck her fancy. She reminds Helen of their talk before traveling to London. Helen had assured her that she would not fall for a man “deficient in sense and principle, however handsome or charming in some respect he might be.” Her aunt asks if Arthur Huntington is a good man, and Helen answers that he is good “in some respects.” Her aunt asks if he is a man of principle, and Helen responds, “Perhaps not, but it is only for a want of thought.” Helen then goes on to assert that, as he is basically good, she can advise him as to how to make the best moral choices and behavior. His aunt is dubious, as Arthur Huntington is already ten years older than her. Yet despite certain worrying aspects of his behavior, Arthur has rescued her several times from the tiresome Mr. Boarham, caught her imagination with his flair and vitality, and made her laugh. Thus, he has found his way to her heart. When she is not with him, Helen dreams of him, and sketches or paints his portrait from memory.

As Arthur Huntington excites her, Helen forgets that principles and character are forged over time in the furnaces of determined thought and action. Faced with two unappealing prospects, she leaps for an attractive third. Infatuated, she believes that she can overcome any of his deficiencies and make the relationship work for both of them. Instead of rebuffing Mr. Wilmot and Mr. Boarham, and waiting for a more appealing prospect capable of meeting her aunt and uncle’s approval, she believes what her heart tells her. Riding a wave of emotion, she discards her resolutions and marries someone of less than sterling character, believing that her chosen partner will discard his own likes and inclinations, and allow her to reform him. It’s a risky venture, but as they say, the greater the risk, the greater her potential reward. After all, if Helen can work her magic on Arthur, she can have everything, right? Love, wealth, status…and of course, excitement.

Above all, God deliver us for boredom. (Or, in this case, Mr. Boarham).

Dragon Dave

Monday, April 28, 2014

Anne Bronte on Defying Your Elders

A View from Haworth

In her first novel, Agnes Grey, Anne Bronte introduced us to a smart young girl, yearning to demonstrate her capabilities to the world. She yearns to grow, to stretch herself, but is constrained by familial concern and lack of finances. Agnes might make an ideal wife, yet in England at that time few aspiring men would give a young woman from a poor family a second glance. Nor is she likely to meet such extraordinary men, should they exist, as she does not live in the bustling city of London, but an out-of-the-way village much like Haworth, where Anne grew up. Nor do her parents wish her to hire herself out as a governess. They see such a situation as fraught with danger, and don’t believe she’s up to the challenge. Agnes may have no control over her marital status, but with regard to her vocation, she defies her parents, and continually argues with them until they relent, and allow her to advertise for a position. Unfortunately, both of the jobs she takes fall far below her expectations and hopes.

In her second novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Anne Bronte introduces us to Helen Lawrence. Although she came from a moderately well off family, her mother died when she was young, and her father didn’t want her. So she went to live with her aunt and uncle, who reared her with the aim of marrying her into a family of wealth and social prominence. Her aunt’s reasoning and coaching in the selection of a perfect mate seem logical and wise. Yet, when she “comes out” in London society, Helen is appalled by her aunt and uncle’s choices. The first, Mr. Wilmot, is a rich friend whom her uncle views as a prime candidate for marriage. Helen doesn’t mince words when recording her observations of the man in her diary. He strikes her as annoying, disagreeable and ugly. As if that weren’t enough, in one sentence she mentions that he is elderly, and twice that he is old.  Her aunt scolds her for describing him as wicked, and later, as a reprobate, but even she admits that he’s no saint.

So, Mr. Wilmot is no Roger Moore, it appears. (Nor, for that matter, an under-appreciated Val Kilmer.)

Her aunt and uncle then introduce her to Mr. Boarham. Her aunt especially thinks the world of him, and never ceases to sing his praises. Certainly in his own mind, he sees himself as a font of information, which he wishes to share with her. Helen immediately tries to avoid him at social events, for he continually seeks out her company. Once he has found her, he steadfastly remains by her side for the rest of the evening, enlightening her with all manner of useful facts. All too soon, he arrives at her aunt and uncle’s house. In his generous marriage proposal, he expounds on how he will overlook all her faults and deficiencies. He is much older than her, and thus a vast gulf separates them in temperament and wisdom. Helen assures him repeatedly that she appreciates his kind offer, but must decline it. He refuses to accept her answer though, certain that, as in all things, she will soon realize how wonderful life with him could be, and how fortunate she is that he selected her as his mate.

Like the man she has chosen, her aunt sees Mr. Boarham as the ideal choice. Helen argues that she must marry for love, and that she would grow to hate a man who constantly drones on and on about topics on which she has no interest, and who sees himself as superior to her in all things. She has already labeled him Mr. Bore’em in her diary, so you get some sense of her regard for him.

So, when it comes to the crucial moment of a young, rich woman’s existence, her season of “coming out,” Helen finds herself at odds with her aunt and uncle’s choices for her. Despite all the years of education and social conditioning they have given her, their “best” choices for her seem, at best, unrealistic. Although they clearly want the best for her, and as much as she loves them and respects them, she refuses to trust their judgment in these matters. But then, we were all young once, certain that we were right and our elders were wrong.

Of course, I was always right. But then, I’m unique.

Dragon Dave

Friday, April 25, 2014

The Curious Disappearance of the Marshmellow Peep

Blue Bird: Go on, get out of here. I'll cover for you.

Blue Bird: Sorry, I couldn't stand by and watch a young bird get eaten. How about I lay you a nice egg instead?

Pocket: What does she mean, she'll put my order on priority status?

Blue Bird & Pocket Dalek

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Ice Age Seven Sisters

Musing on Kim Stanley Robinson's 2013 novel Shaman, and thinking about the archeological history of Black Rock raised beach, made me wonder about the history of nearby Seven Sisters. Then I remembered seeing a certain artifact during our trip there. Thankfully, I had photographed it.

According to the sign in the Seven Sisters visitor center, this mammoth tusk was found just a few miles away. If I could pop into my TARDIS, and journey back 25,000 years, I might see the wooly mammoths walking along the beach. That'd be a sight, wouldn't it?

At the Discovering Fossils website, you'll find more photographs of Seven Sisters, including the echinoid, sponge, and bivalve fossils that can be found there. Given the wealth of fossils present, I imagine that Edward Taynton and his young gentlemen would have enjoyed a day filled with interesting discoveries, had he led an outing there in E. F. Benson's 1908 novel The Blotting Book.

Dragon Dave

Related Dragon Cache entries
Visiting My Seven Sisters: Part 1
Visiting My Seven Sisters: Part 2

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Poole's Sacred Cavern

People have been visiting Poole's Cavern in England for over 400 years. Its most famous visitor may have been Mary Queen of Scots. The name derives from an outlaw who hid out there in the Fifteenth Century. While my name may someday be a household word, for now I'm just another person who accompanied our amiable guide on a tour of this ancient cave.

It's hard to enter a cave, and not feel as if you have entered a sacred place. In Kim Stanley Robinson's novel Shaman, Thorn and his apprentice Loon spend a lot of time in a cave. In their preliterate society, traditions, culture, and history were passed down orally, and to a lesser extent by drawings or paintings. As caves sheltered artwork from the elements, they served as places to visually record their culture. 

With no books, TV, movies, or the Internet, young Loon had little to divert him from his sexual urges. Thoughts of copulation occupy his waking mind, and rampage through his dreams. He longs for a beautiful young woman to sate his passions. As his community boasts little more than two dozen people, his best chance of finding such a mate rests with the corroboree, an event at which the packs gather once a year. Nor does his master help divert him. For many of the stories Thorn tells, and the artwork he paints, involve giving birth to some aspect of their world. Union between the gods, or their historical forebears, serves as a metaphor for actual creation of places, tradition, and culture.

The shapes Loon sees inside the caves also suggest that he has entered the womb of Mother Earth. So he regards his visits there as holy. Indeed, the community is only allowed into the outer areas of the caves at special times, and Loon first enters the deeper areas after his test of manhood. As he matures, Thorn's prickly temperament bothers him more. Nor does he understand how these stories are important to his fellow humans. So when he mixes up words and elements of a story, Thorn flicks his ear, and orders him to repeat it. Loon would gladly resign his position, and let Thorn train someone else as his apprentice, if he didn't love helping Thorn paint. Whether he is mixing the colors, or brushing them onto the wall, he loves the artistic process. This keeps him by Thorn's side, even when the man's antics irritate him, and he would rather be out hunting with others his age.

Like the Ice Age characters of Shaman, people have regarded Poole's Cavern as sacred for at least 3500 years. At its entrance, and in its outmost chamber, people lived and celebrated community events. Remains of metalworking and jewelry-making operations date back to the time of Christ, suggesting that, throughout time, Poole's Cavern has sheltered humans from the elements, and fired their creative endeavors. 

Unlike the Chauvet Cave in France, no Ice Age artwork adorns the walls of Poole's Cavern. Instead, they attest to how beautifully Mother Earth adorns her womb, and decorates it with fantastic shapes and colors. Ice Age man felt no compunction about scraping Chauvet's walls with stone or bone tools, and adorning them with his own artistic vision. Tourists in recent centuries may have had no misgivings about carving their initials in the walls of Poole's Cavern. But I felt no compulsion to leave behind a visible reminder of my presence. For even if modern man no longer regards caves as sacred places, I see Poole's Cavern as a treasure to safeguard for future generations. Besides, I've got a pad of sketching paper on which I can draw, and my little corner of the Internet in which to share my photographs with you. I just wish the latter did justice to all that I saw and experienced during my tour of this beautiful English cave. But in that, sadly, they fall short.

Dragon Dave

Related Internet Links
Visit Poole's Cavern

Monday, April 21, 2014

Candy Rocks & Micronauts

While in elementary school, I attended a friend's birthday party. As he enjoyed riding a motorbike, his mother decorated his cake with rocks and a toy motorbike. He was surprised when I asked for a piece with a rock on it, but his jaw dropped when I popped the rock in my mouth and chewed. You see, I recognized the rocks as Pebble Candy, my favorite kind of candy while growing up.

During our visit to Haworth, England, we visited Mrs. Beighton's Sweet Shop. On its shelf-lined walls were stacked glass jars filled with every kind of candy imaginable. Mrs. Beighton, or one of her associates, introduced us to several different types of toffees. Then my eyes were drawn to another kind of Pebble Candy. They came in different shapes, but only two colors: white and black. Regardless of their shape or size, they were all equal in taste. Inside the delicious candy coating awaited a treasure truly worth savoring: smooth, rich English chocolate.

Last week's blog entries on Kim Stanley Robinson's novel Shaman, E. F. Benson's novel The Blotting Book, and English rocks, archeology, and paleontology, made me long for my beloved American-style Pebble Candy. So I wrote down several reasons to visit the mall (aside from procuring the palatable pebbles), and presented my wife with a proposal for a pleasant and productive pilgrimage.

Unlike their English counterparts, American Candy Pebbles come in five different colors, and each one boasts its own unique flavor. Black rocks (No, not the raised beach in Brighton) taste like the best black jelly beans you've ever eaten. Brown rocks warm up the taste buds with rich cinnamon, not as sharp as Red Hots, but a richer taste. The Yellow and Red ones offer different fruit flavors, and the blue ones…you know, after all this time, I'm still not sure what the blue ones taste like. On a previous visit to the candy store, a young saleswoman told me she thought they tasted like soap. (I guess we're talking quality soap here, nothing cheap). To me, they're closer to root beer, but not exactly that either. In any case, the white ones are like swallowing a mouthful of Pina Colada. None of the candies will make you unsafe to drive a motor vehicle, but the flavors (and the sugar) may make your head spin if you eat too many at one time. So enjoy responsibly.

Our outing took us to a mall we don't frequent, as it's fairly far from home. So we took the opportunity to visit some shops not listed on my proposed program. One of these offered some Doctor Who T-shirts, including the one above. I didn't realize that Leonardo da Vinci designed the Daleks' protective outer shell, did you? I guess I should have, as the fourth Doctor visited him in the story "City Of Death." Clearly, da Vinci was a man ahead of his time.

We also stopped by a comic book shop we had visited once before, where we found a few back issues of comics that we were missing. I've enjoyed reading the adventures of "The Micronauts" this year, and was excited to find Issue 8. The story finishes off the Micronauts' adventures with young Steve Coffin on Earth, and marks the first time Captain Universe appears in Marvel Comics. (In this incarnation, Steve's father, ex-astronaut Ray Coffin, is transformed into Captain Universe). Remember the toy motorbike that adorned my friend's birthday cake? This series was written by Bill Mantlo, a writer for Marvel, who noticed how much his son enjoyed playing with the Micronauts toys. This inspired him to convince Marvel Comics editor-in-chief Jim Shooter to procure the story rights to Mego Corporation's characters and vehicles. He built some complex ideas into these stories, created a history and culture for the Micronauts' home planet, and…

You know, I may have to blog some more about "The Micronauts" sometime. Right now I'm starting to have trouble thinking clearly, and my head is spinning. Can't think why.

Dragon Dave

P.S. Please, no remarks about having rocks in my head. Be kind.

Related Internet Links
Leonardo da Vinci at Tardis Wikia
Bill Mantlo at Wikipedia

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Dalek Easter Vigil

Yellow Bird: I'm going to peck the seed topping off this cake.
Blue Bird: That's not seeds. It's almonds and chocolate chips.
Yellow Bird: Wow, talk about a "Good Friday."


Artist: This cake looks too tasty to guard. I want to exterminate it. 
Exterminate it! 

Rex: Stop! You're blowing out the candles! 
Artist: Sorry. I'm overwhelmed with temptation right now.
Rex: By Davros, this is going to be a pleasant Easter Vigil.

Artist & Rex Dalek

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Brighton's Ice Age Hunter

Kim Stanley Robinson's 2013 novel Shaman follows young Loon for several, crucial years. After his two week test of manhood, his community declares him a man, even though our modern world would still regard him as a boy. Those weeks on his own, fending for himself, make Loon wonder if he really needs a community. After all, his parents have died, and he doesn't really like Thorn, the shaman who decided to train him as his replacement. So, while he continues his lessons with Thorn, he also pursues other activities that interest him, including hunting.

Loon and his fellow hunters never fight a wooly mammoth, but they do hunt bison and other animals that would have inhabited Brighton during the Ice Age. 

Brighton's Ice Age Animals,
courtesy of the Brighton Museum

Loon hunted during his test of manhood, but found it far more difficult to bring down the animal alone. Once he killed the animal, he needed to carry the meat away for later. So, with no one to stand guard, he works hurriedly, constantly on the lookout for other predators, such as lions and tigers and bears (Oh my!) that will be drawn by the scent of fresh blood. After hurrying to cut free as much meat as he dares, he must clean the blood off himself, disguise the scent of the meat he will carry away, and hope that these measures mean that no predators will track him down. So, while Loon finds the idea of going his own way attractive, being part of a community, and participating in a hunting party, clearly offers advantages over obtaining provisions alone.

An Atlatl at Brighton Museum
When hunting, Loon uses an atlatl, or spear-thrower, which allows a spear to be thrown faster and farther than by arm alone. Loon often personalized his possessions by carving animals and other shapes into them. And what tool did he carve with? You're right: he used a piece of stone. Isn't it amazing what we can accomplish with the most basic resources, if we put our minds to it?

Hm… I think I'd like a burger for lunch today...provided I can pay someone in my community to make it.

Dragon Dave

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Ice Age English Rocks

I'm sure the locals, and perhaps most of the English, are used to the idea of a rocky beach. But I'll never forget the crunching sound my feet made as they walked across Brighton's beaches, and I can't imagine spreading a towel, and laying down on those rocks to enjoy a sunny day. Yet they catch the eye, and they possess a certain beauty, in their own way.

I found the rocks at the bottom of nearby Black Rock raised beach quite interesting. I have no idea what Edward Taynton (in E. F. Benson's novel The Blotting Book) might have told his young men about these rocks, had he served as a guide on the expedition. Lacking any real knowledge of geology, the only thing I can liken them to is pebble candy. So many different colors, shapes, and sizes, and often the inside looked completely different from the outer coating.

Ice Age man might have found similar beauty in different colors and shapes of rocks, but his appreciation was necessarily more pragmatic. In last month's post, Growing Up During The Ice Age, I related to you how the young protagonist Loon (in Kim Stanley Robinson's novel Shaman) is sent off on his trial of manhood. Lacking anything from the community he grew up with, he is forced to draw on the resources he finds around him. 

Ice Age stone tools,
courtesy of the Brighton Museum

To make his first set of clothes, he finds a rock such as those in the photo above, and uses it to cut and weave a thin but intricate wooden suit. Today's power tools help us fashion wood into practically any shape we desire. Yet I imagine that not one modern woodworker in a thousand could match Loon's feat. Loon and his people were primitives, right?

Dragon Dave

Monday, April 14, 2014

Ice Age Brighton

In his 1908 novel The Blotting Book, E. F. Benson introduces us to Edward Taynton, a pillar of Brighton's community. He's a respected English lawyer who runs a club for young men to prevent them from falling into vice. One of the activities he plans, but never carries out, is an archeological expedition to a raised beach several miles away. But there's no reason for him to travel so far, as there's a raised beach right at the edge of Brighton that has yielded numerous archeological finds.

Two hundred and fifty million years ago, Black Rock was flat. Due to the way the tectonic plates move and rise and fall, and given how the vast and heavy sheets of ice changed the landscape, the former beach is now a cliff. Had Edward Taynton led his young men here, they could have followed the example of real life archeologists, who have found Neanderthal tools, shells from ancient sea creatures, and bones of land mammals such as the magnificent furry mammoths.

A storm blew through during our week in Brighton. As a result, we had to tread carefully along the paved walkway to avoid splashing white, chalky mud on our shoes and pants. Isn't it amazing that such soft earth, so susceptible to erosion by wind and rain, would still be present, and still yielding treasures from thousands, let alone millions, of years ago? 

I don't know if many of the locals really take time to appreciate Black Rock, or partake of archeological tours there. When I visited, my main reason for doing so was to follow Edward Taynton's journey, and see with my own eyes what E. F. Benson had described in his novel. Having followed Loon's adventures in Kim Stanley Robinson's 2013 Ice Age novel Shaman, it would be neat to return to Brighton, and see Black Rock once again.

I could rent one of these apartments in Brighton Marina, and sit by the window, and read novels set in Brighton. Or I could just gaze out at Black Rock all day, and contemplate the history of this raised beach. Ooh, Black Rock. Ooh, Black Rock. Ooh, Black Rock.

Say, did anyone notice that the raised beach is white, not black?

Dragon Dave

Related Dragon Cache entries
A Day in Brighton

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Dalek Gardener in Glorious Color!

RustyYou know, I'd never have agreed to model for you if I'd known it would take you two hours just to do the color. I thought Master said he penciled this scene in less than half an hour?
Artist: That's not unusual. Master's friend, who works as a colorist for Marvel Comics, struggles to finish as many as three pages a day, and that's with the aid of advanced computer technology. It makes you wonder why the writers and pencilers grab the headlines in the comics industry, doesn't it?
Rusty: All I know is my energy and patience reserves are nearly drained, drained, drained!

Artist: Fine. I think I've done enough for now to pronounce it completed. What do you think?
Rusty: I think Master made me look a little intolerant of the plants' normal rate of growth.
Artist: Please, we don't criticize Master in this forum. What do you think of my coloring job?
Rusty: You made me look a little too orange, don't you think?
Artist: Do you think so? Let me see.

Artist: Ah, you see, what I was doing here was actually quite sophisticated, yet understated. I preloaded the orange, knowing that in time, it would rust over and darken to resemble your actual appearance.
Rusty: Oh, I see. Say, that's rather smart of you.

Artist: Yeah, I'm a coloring genius.

Rusty & Artist Dalek

Related Dragon Cache entries
Another Year, Another Dalek
The Daleks & The Doctor Who Angels
A Dalek Joyride

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Dalek Gardener in Black & White

The other day, I waited at the dealership for my car to be serviced. After reading my magazine, I wrote a scene for my novel. Then, as they were busy that day, I pulled out my sketchbook and started drawing.

I had no preconceived notions of what to draw. I considered finishing up a drawing I'd started earlier. But then I got an idea. By the time my car was ready, I had done two sketches.

I haven't sketched a lot this year, and felt a little ashamed when the service attendant tapped me on the shoulder and told me my car was ready. But then his eyes widened, and he said, "I wish I could draw." He didn't seem to know about Daleks, or Doctor Who (You know, anything that really matters), but his expression and tone suggested respect.

Odd isn't it, that others might wish for an ability I think so little of, and take so little time to perfect?

Dragon Dave

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Anne Bronte: Agnes Grey & Fanny Price

The third in a three-part series on this English literary classic

A side chapel in Haworth Parish Church,
where Anne Bronte worshipped.

As I read Agnes Grey, I couldn’t help comparing it to Jane Austen’s novels. In particular, it reminded me of young Fanny Price, the heroine of Mansfield Park. Like Fanny, Agnes quietly gets on with the job, and never seeks the limelight. She knows what is right, and never swerves from her code of ethics. She holds out hope that she will achieve what she desires, even though she knows the odds are against her. Aware of the limitations imposed on her by society, she nonetheless does what she can for others. Her circle of influence may be small, but those within it gradually realize her worth, and by the end of each novel, both women achieve their heart’s desire.

(Spoiler Alert: If you plan to read either of these novels soon, you should stop reading now!)

In Mansfield Park, the love of Fanny’s life is none other than her cousin Edmund, with whom she has grown up, and in whose household she lives. Edmund falls in love with another woman over the course of the novel, but ultimately realizes that Fanny is the woman he loves most. They marry, and he becomes the local parish priest.

In Agnes Grey, the title character meets a young curate named Edward. Unlike the rector he serves, Edward preaches messages of substance, and always looks for ways to help the poor in his community. Agnes finds strength and encouragement in his sermons, and meets him during his rounds, when she is utilizing what little free time she has to help out some poor acquaintances. While it’s clear that Edward likes her, the young woman under her tutelage, Rosalie, grows jealous of the attention her governess receives, and embarks on a campaign to win the curate’s affections. But Edward, like Agnes, is firmly grounded in his principles. Events separate the two, and they lose contact for some time, but in the end, they recognize their mutual affection, marry, and embark together on their happily-ever-after.

As much as I enjoyed Mansfield Park, Pride And Prejudice offers more to the average reader, works on a number of levels, and justifiably deserves more praise. Similarly, when comparing the two novels, Agnes Grey never approaches the greatness of Wuthering Heights. Yet with its simple structure and style, we emerge with a satisfactory understanding of who Agnes is, what matters to her, and the society she inhabits. The novel doesn’t read like a fictionalized memoir, but as a tale in its own right.  And unlike Anne’s own life, which (like her sister Emily) ended in illness at a young age, we get to see Agnes amply rewarded for all the trials and tribulations she endured. 

If Agnes Grey can only labeled a classic because of Anne’s association with her sisters, then I’m grateful for that association. As with Jane Austen's novel Mansfield Park, sometimes it's nice to see the more sedate, less sensational stories win through and achieve immortality. Unlike all the countless stories that are destined to be forgotten, I’m glad this one is still remembered. Not because Agnes Grey was great, but because it was good. Really good. Not perfect, not spectacular, not thrilling. Just a nice, relaxing, straightforward, easy read. Sometimes, I need that. Perhaps, every once in a while, you do too.

Dragon Dave

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Anne Bronte: Agnes Grey the Adventurer

The second in a three-part series on this English literary classic

The sanctuary of Haworth Parish Church,
where Anne's father Patrick preached for 41 years.

Literary critics, and even her sister Charlotte, have suggested that Agnes Grey is a fictionalized account of Anne’s own life. If so, it serves as a powerful repudiation of the Victorian aristocracy, who educated their children at home, or sent them off to boarding school. In the novel, Agnes learns that the most important trait for a governess is to be obliging. Thus (perhaps without even realizing it), rich parents empower their children to rule their governesses, and dictate their every movement. Of course, when the children do wrong, and fail to develop the desired skills and temperament, the parents blame the governess. Agnes becomes the Victorian equivalent of the Roman body slave, constantly at the children’s beck and call, yet invisible to the rest of society. By the way the parents and children treat her, her fellow household servants disrespect her, assigning her the lowest rank in the household. While Agnes finds it a lonely life, she has little time to contemplate it, as her charges constantly keep her busy.

Nevertheless, an irony runs through this literary classic. Agnes may not have stepped into the position of power and authority she sought, but she gets to do all the little things her mother and sister would never allow her to do at home. She gets to clean up after her students, write the poems and essays her students refuse to write, and draw or paint the pictures her charges would rather not do themselves. With her thrifty lifestyle, she saves enough of her salary to earn financial independence from her family. Near the end of the novel, when her father dies, and her older sister has married, it is Agnes her mother approaches, and wants as a partner in the school she wishes to run. Her mother now sees Agnes as an adult, and capable of doing everything she can do, which is what started Agnes off on this journey to begin with.

Some view Anne as the least talented of her sisters, and her works classics only due to the family association. Having just read two Bronte novels, I cannot make such a judgment. I certainly found her first novel more straightforward than her sister Emily’s sole novel. But after Wuthering Heights, I wanted something simpler and easier to read, and Agnes Grey fit the bill. Not only that, but as it is told from the protagonist’s perspective, I constantly knew where I was at all time. Seeing the world through Agnes’ eyes helped me better understand her, the role of a governess, the conditions of the poor, the manner in which different levels of society interacted, and the conceits and schemes that permeated Victorian aristocracy. And unlike in Wuthering Heights, where the drama is confined to isolated moors and manor houses, Agnes Grey travels, sees the world, and interacts with others beyond her family and employers.

It might be going too far to call Agnes an adventurer, but unlike any of the female characters in Wuthering Heights, she ventures alone to distant places (at least distant in her day). While her employers naturally limit her schedule and actions, she never grows mesmerized by a man, or allows herself to be drawn into an abusive situation. Nor does she ever need to be cosseted or provided for. She yearns to stand on her own two feet, and does so. If Agnes character and actions resemble those of Anne herself, then the authors seems as worthy of praise as the novels she wrote: someone with whom modern women can identity and respect. Still, if Robert E. Howard had written the novel, we might have seen a much bolder version of the character adapted for comic books. 

Presenting Red Agnes, Adventuring Governess with a Sword!

"Excuse me?" Red Agnes slammed her gauntleted hand on the wooden desk, making little Tom Bloomfield shake. "You don't wish to study?" she hissed. 

He shook his head frantically as her eyes burned into his very soul. 

"By Mitra," she cried, "return to your books, dog, or feel my steel!"

The boy shrieked, and fled through the house. Hot on his heels, Red Agnes pursued him into the garden. Whipping out her sword, she...

Sure, that might be going too far, at least for diehard Bronte fans. But wouldn't that make a great comic book?

Dragon Dave

Monday, April 7, 2014

Anne Bronte: The Relentless Agnes Grey

The first in a three-part series on this English literary classic...

The author standing in the garden of
Haworth Parsonage, where Anne Bronte lived.

In Anne Bronte's novel Agnes Grey, we meet a young woman who grows up in the home of an English priest.  Her father earns little money, and although her mother came from a wealthy family, they severed all ties when she married for love over wealth and status.  While her mother seems happy enough on their limited income, her father seeks ways to make up some of what she gave up. As a final stab at wealth, he invests all their savings in a sea trading expedition. This seems like a sure thing, and the family begins to dream of what they’ll do with the additional income. But then the ship is lost at sea, leaving the family bereft of all hopes of improvement, and saddled with debt.

The family institutes austerity measures. Everyday measures of economy, such as meal portions and candle usage, are further constrained. Her mother and older sister take on what additional jobs they can, and concoct schemes to generate what little they can to survive. Young Agnes wishes to aid their efforts, or help more around the house, but all her offers are repulsed. “No,” they tell her kindly, “you’ll just get under our feet,” or, “That’s kind of you dear, but we’ll manage.” They might as well say, “Just grab your toys and go out and play,” even though she’s educated and eighteen years old. Her parents view her older sister as an adult, but somehow they still see her as a child, and Agnes fears that they always will. So, as a means of earning their respect, empowering herself, and repaying them for all the kindness and love they invested in her, she wonders how she might give back.

Ultimately, she latches onto the idea of becoming a governess. Yes! She will seek out a position with a rich family, and help care for and educate their children. They will value her for her intellect, her capabilities, her wisdom, and the values she instills in their sons and daughters. Her family doesn’t embrace this idea as heartily as Agnes, but she pursues it nonetheless. Eventually, despite her family’s (particularly her mother’s) uneasiness, she accepts a position with the Bloomfield family.

At first, the children seem delightful, and the parents respectable, if reserved. But as she gets to know them better, she realizes that the children are cruel, that they delight in foiling her at every turn, that they truly seek to make her life a misery. The son even derives pleasure from torturing birds and animals. Nor will the parents allow her to discipline the children, or take any firm measures that could enhance her authority over them. They expect results, but they refuse to give her the requisite power to achieve them. So, although her situation might be different than at home, she once again finds herself powerless.

Only now, she’s also lonely, and yearning for home. But she refuses to admit defeat. Recognizing that no venture is without cost, she stays on plan, and continues working toward her goals.  She doesn’t know if she can succeed, but as a model for us all, she vows to try her best, every single day.

But then, we'd expect nothing less of a heroine.

Dragon Dave

Friday, April 4, 2014

The Eleventh Doctor Dalek

DD11: Ah, K-9, there you are. Be a good little fellow and unlock the TARDIS for me. I thought we might pop off to Haworth for a fun English getaway together.
K-9: You are not the Doctor Master. I cannot let you inside.
DD11: Of course I'm the Doctor. I'm the Eleventh Doctor Dalek, designation DD11. Don't you recognize my distinctive fez and bow tie?
K-9: Clothes may make the man, but they can't transform a Dalek into a Time Lord. I cannot allow you inside. 
DD11: K-9, really! Haven't Master's posts on Wuthering Heights transformed you into a Bronte fan?
K-9: Negative. I remain untransformed, and loyal to Doctor Who, Doctor Who, Doctor Who!

DD11: You know, with this hat and bow tie, I really thought I was guaranteed a good timey-wimey.

K-9 & DD11 Dalek

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Focusing on What You Do Best

In "Growing Pains," Issue 2 of "Ultimate Spider-Man," once Peter Parker gains his superpowers, he tries out his new abilities. One place he does so is the school Basketball court. Using his enhanced strength and reflexes, he surprises the coach by making shots that would have previously been beyond him.  

Then he notices Flash Thompson chatting up the girl he loves, Mary Jane Watson. He hurls a basketball across the gym. The ball slams into his rival's head.

Needless to say, Flash is not amused.

Flash refuses to calm down, and catches up with Peter after school.  

While the basketball throw might have been instinctive, Peter doesn't really want to fight Flash. Peter tries to evade the blows, and raises his hands to ward them off. Then Flash punches Peter's outstretched palm, and crumples to the ground. Suddenly, it's Peter Parker who grew up on a high-gravity world; along with his increased strength and agility, his hand is as hard and unmovable as stone.

This incident is one of several that helps Peter realize responsibilities accompany abilities.  Even if a career in professional Basketball lay within his grasp, he has more to offer the world than he can ever contribute on the court. So, while he can do much more than he could before his transformation, he decides to focus on what he can do best. For him, this means rededicating himself to his studies, running density tests on the molecular adhesive his father was developing before he died, and keeping the streets of New York clean of nefarious villains. Hmm…an incredibly strong molecular adhesive? I wonder what he could do with that?

What do you do best?

Dragon Dave

Related Dragon Cache entries
Stan Lee's First Spider-Man Story

"Growing Pains" was written by Brian Michael Bendis and Bill Jemas, penciled by Mark Bagley, inked by Art Thibert, colored by Steve Buccellato, and lettered by Richard Starkings and Troy Peteri. You can read about more of Peter Parker's transformation into Spider-Man, and his first battle with the Green Goblin, in the seven-issue compilation Ultimate Spider-Man Vol. 1: Power And Responsibility

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Playing Basketball Like Peter Parker

The summer before my Freshman year, I signed up for High School Basketball. I was never particularly good at guarding, or getting the ball in the basket, but I enjoyed playing, and it was a sport I could play by myself, or with a few friends, when I got tired of reading and wanted a little exercise. Suddenly, I was facing off against players from a higher-gravity planet: they could move faster, leap higher, and make far more baskets than me. 

The coach was equally alien. Instead of instructing us to guard man-to-man, or guard in fixed areas of the court, he diagramed plays and strategies as intricate as those of a professional dance troupe.  

In "Powerless," Issue #1 of "Ultimate Spider-Man," Peter Parker finds himself in a similar situation. He's not trying out for the team, but merely enduring his afternoon P.E. class.

After Flash Thompson and Kong make impressive baskets, it's Peter's turn to throw.

Unfortunately, his efforts fall short of impressing the coach.

No matter how hard I tried that summer, my abilities still resembled those of Peter Parker before he was transformed by that famous spider bite. Yet my coach remained kind and gracious. While he constantly encouraged me to step up my performance, he never called me out or belittled my efforts. Even though I was a drag on the team, he kept me involved during practice sessions. He even asked me to attend a preseason game. As it was a close game, he didn't send me in to play. Still, he wanted me there, and I appreciated the fact that he asked me suit up and sit with the team.  

Perhaps my coach was an exceptionally kind man.  Perhaps, in this instance, he decided that effort counted for more than ability.  Either way, he rewarded my efforts that summer with an A, and gave me an Excellent for "Citizenship."  In other words: even though it was to obvious to everyone that I was a drastically inferior Basketball player, he gave me the highest marks possible.  

For me, that makes him a real superhero.

Dragon Dave  

Related Dragon Cache entries
Celebrating Brian Michael Bendis

"Powerless" was written by Brian Michael Bendis and Bill Jemas, penciled by Mark Bagley, inked by Art Thibert, colored by Steve Buccellato, and lettered by Richard Starkings. Read about Peter Parker's transformation into Spider-Man, and his first battle with the Green Goblin, in the seven-issue compilation Ultimate Spider-Man Vol. 1: Power And Responsibility