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Monday, June 30, 2014

Samuel Johnson on the Virtues of Country Life

The sylvan splendors of Lichfield, England
Samuel Johnson's hometown

In The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia by Samuel Johnson, Rasselas’ advisor Imlac has counseled the prince on the value of knowing his own mind. Disturbed by his recent experiences in the city, Rasselas travels into the country. He has heard of a hermit whose virtue has won praise for miles around. Perhaps this man can teach him principles and disciplines that can lead to lasting happiness.

Accompanied by Imlac and the princess Nekayah, Rasselas treks through verdant fields, where sheep feed without concern, and the shepherds guard them. Such idyllic splendor overwhelms Imlac. “This,” said the poet, “is the life which has been often celebrated for its innocence and quiet; let us pass the heat of the day among the shepherds’ tents, and know whether all our searches are not to terminate in pastoral simplicity.”

When they question the shepherds, they realize that peace and tranquility do not necessarily accompany such a simple existence. The shepherds resent their lowly status, and curse the aristocracy, whom they blame for their economic hardship, exile from society, and political impotency. Their vitriol astounds Imlac and Rasselas. Still, the princess holds out hope that she might find joy and satisfaction among people who grow their own flowers, who love to wander through the fields and woods, breathe in the cool, fresh breeze, listen to a gentle stream coursing over stones, and adore the sheep they tend.

Her wish is soon granted. Their journey to the hermit leads them into the woods, where they find twisting walkways cut through tall, healthy trees. Flowers tussle in a riot of colors from well tended planting beds. Tree limbs have been artfully woven together. Water from a nearby stream babbles over rocks. Then, in a scene reminiscent of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, in which Bilbo and the dwarves discover the woodland elves in Mirkwood Forest, Rasselas, Imlac, and the princess enter a grove where young men and women dance to spritely music. 

They are welcomed into a stately palace, where the master offers them every luxury. After several days there, the master confides that a powerful man known as the Bassa envies his prosperity. Up until now, the princes of Egypt have sheltered him, but he knows this cannot last forever, as the princes need money to sustain their power and the splendor of their courts. Thus, the master has sent the majority of his wealth into another country. The instant his spies report that royal favor has turned from him to the Bassa, he will flee from his fine palace, and consign himself to exile.

Troubled by this discovery, Rasselas, Imlac, and Nekayah continue their journey. Soon they reach the hermit, who tells them that he was once a great warrior. When he tired of the constant clash of battle, he fled his enemies for the silence and seclusion of this cave. For many years he found serenity there, but now he is bored, and wishes to leave! Or, as he puts it: I am sometimes ashamed to think that I could not secure myself from vice but by retiring from the exercise of virtue, and begin to suspect that I was rather impelled by resentment than led by devotion into solitude. The hermit digs up what treasures he brought with him, and accompanies the trio back to Cairo.

England overflows with scenic splendor. Bewitching woods, rich pasturelands, and forbidding caves beckon the visitor. Her landscape suggests that, outside the larger cities, life might consist of nonstop tranquility. Yet one of her favorite sons, Samuel Johnson, tells us that, even there, life in the country can never be carefree. 

Still, Samuel Johnson wrote The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia in 1759. A lot can change in two hundred-and-fifty years, right?

Dragon Dave

Friday, June 27, 2014

Too Much Fun To Handle

Rusty: What shall we do today?
Artist: Let's explore the beachfront again. Galveston inspires me.

Artist: I'd dance with her if she took off that spiky crown.

Rusty: Whoa, dude! Two words: Dental Floss!

Artist: The Beatles really were Music Giants!

Rusty: Oops. Activated the growth ray again. My bad.

Rusty: Why are Master & Mistress taking a nap?
Artist: The walk fatigued them, but all that lobster did them in.
Rusty: I'm glad Daleks are built to handle infinite amounts of fun.
Artist: Agreed. Daleks are Indefatigable, Indefatigable, INDEFATIGABLE!

Rusty & Artist Dalek

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Samuel Johnson on Pleasure and Reason

The pursuit of life in Lichfield, England,
Samuel Johnson's hometown.

In Samuel Johnson’s novella, The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia, we follow young Rasselas on his quest for a lasting happiness and fulfillment. Along with his sister and advisor, the prince has escaped the unsatisfying diversions of the Happy Valley, and traveled to Cairo. Amid the rich social strata of this bustling metropolis, he expects to find ample opportunities to discover the people and situation in which he truly belongs.

Rasselas rose the next day, and resolved to begin his experiments upon life. “Youth,” cried he, “is the time of gladness: I will join myself to the young men whose only business is to gratify their desires, and whose time is all spent in a succession of enjoyments.”

Like Arthur Huntington in Anne Bronte’s novel The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, he joins Cairo’s equivalent of London’s gentleman’s clubs. Time passes swiftly in such society, but his hilarity and mirth evaporate when he returns home, leaving him feeling empty and depressed. This hardly seems like the foundation for a life of happiness and fulfillment.

Nonetheless, he cannot deny that he enjoyed their company. Perhaps he could help spur his new friends on to forge a purpose for their lives that would provide them all with lasting happiness and satisfaction. So he returns to reason with them. “Perpetual levity must end in ignorance,” he argues, “and intemperance, though it may fire the spirits for an hour, will make life short or miserable.” His friends listen to him, and study each other’s features. Then, just as Arthur Harrington responds to Helen's reproaches, the room erupts with laughter.

Of course, cities not only provide ample opportunities for relaxation and indulgence, but also for discourse and instruction. Having tried the former, Rasselas seeks out the latter. In a grand hall choked with people, he listens to an old man preach that everyone should direct his life by reason alone, and ignore fancies and passions. He compared reason to the sun, of which the light is constant, uniform, and lasting; and fancy to a meteor, of bright but transitory lustre, irregular in its motion and delusive in its direction.

Given his recent experience among the rich gentlemen his age, Rasselas welcomes the old man’s teaching. Yet when he seeks out the sage later, he finds the teacher overwhelmed by sadness, as his daughter has just died. Rasselas gently reminds him that death is a part of life, the inevitable consequences of which should not divert the man from following reason's straight, guiding course. The man responds that reason has abandoned him, and his daughter’s death has stripped his life of meaning. The man's teachings had seemed so wise, yet the man's philosophy has failed to insulate him against unhappiness and despair. Rasselas, not wishing to bring the man greater pain, leaves him to his mourning.

Perhaps Rasselas can be blamed for seeking out frivolity, as he spent his youth in the Happy Valley, where servants catered to his every whim. But given his altered status, we can understand his desire to seek out others who occupy a similar position in society. We can also understand his excitement in seeking out a man who had discovered the key to lasting happiness, and his disappointment in realizing that the sage is not the equal of his teachings. We may come from different backgrounds, and occupy different social and economic strata, but who doesn’t wish to find others who share their interests and concerns? Which one of us doesn’t seek the best ideology, or principles, along which to order our lives? Thus Samuel Johnson reminds us that pleasure and reason can perform useful roles, but neither should rule our lives.

Dragon Dave

Monday, June 23, 2014

Samuel Johnson On Braving Solitude

A place for reflection in Lichfield, England,
Samuel Johnson's hometown

In his short novel, The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia, Samuel Johnson introduces us to Rasselas, a young man intent upon finding happiness. He grew up in the Happy Valley, where all his needs and whims were catered to. Yet this wealth of pleasures left him unfulfilled. After living incognito in Cairo for two years, Rasselas can converse with the locals, and knows the unwritten rules of conduct that underpin Egyptian society. Accompanied by his advisor Imlac, Rasselas attends all types of community functions.

Wherever he went he met gaiety and kindness, and heard the song of joy or the laugh of carelessness. He began to believe that the world overflowed with universal plenty, and that nothing was withheld either from want or merit; that every hand showered liberality and every heart melted with benevolence: “And who then,” says he, “will be suffered to be wretched?”

Yet, just as in the Happy Valley, Rasselas grows depressed. Everyone looks so happy, but he has yet to find his place in the world. Imlac counsels him that every person’s fate is subject to forces beyond his control. Few occupy the positions in life that they set out to inhabit. If they do, they no doubt found the reality at variance with their preconceptions. Therefore, when a person sees others smiling, laughing, or having fun, it's easy to believe that they must be happy and content.

“In the assembly where you passed the last night there appeared such sprightliness of air and volatility of fancy as might have suited beings of a higher order, formed to inhabit serener regions, inaccessible to care or sorrow; yet, believe me, Prince, was there not one who did not dread the moment when solitude should deliver him to the tyranny of reflection.”

Rasselas has escaped the Happy Valley with sufficient riches to tour the world. He is hardly ready to settle down, or spend his days in contemplation. He wishes to search for those places and situations where people seem the happiest, so that he too can live there, and find his ideal occupation. Imlac spent most of his life exploring the world, and believes that no ideal society exists. But he is a patient man, and regards Rasselas with great affection, so he is happy to accompany him on his travels. Thus Samuel Johnson reminds us that we must brave the daunting task of looking inward to understand ourselves, if we are to order our days around the people, places, activities, and situations most important to us.

Dragon Dave

Friday, June 20, 2014

Storming The Beach

Artist: Compared with Brighton, Galveston looks so peaceful.
Rusty: Let's rouse our Humans, and storm the beach!

Rusty: If we're in Texas, how come we're serving English oatmeal?
Artist: It's what Master & Mistress like. The tea's English too.
Rusty: The tea?
Artist: Typhoo.
Rusty: Bless you.

Rusty: Listen up, everyone: I claim this beach for Dalek-kind!

Rusty: Alert! Alert! No one's in that lifeguard station!
Artist: There's only a few people on the beach
Rusty: The Sea Devils or a leviathan could be lurking offshore!
Artist: Relax. This is peaceful, safe Galveston.

Artist: Ah, another pleasure pier. More fond memories of England. Perhaps Master can win us another TARDIS in their arcade.

Rusty: They want $10 admission? Plus more for games?
Artist: It wasn't like this in Brighton.
Rusty: Master & Mistress look so sad!
Artist: We'll make it up to them somehow.

Artist: I know: let's take Master & Mistress out to lunch.
Rusty: Why not? As you say, Galveston is so much safer than Brighton.

Artist & Rusty Dalek

Related Dragon Cache entries
The TARDIS of Brighton Pier

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Samuel Johnson on Finding Your Place in Society

Mingling with the locals in Lichfield, England:
Samuel Johnson's hometown.

In The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia, Samuel Johnson introduces us to Imlac, a man of uncommon learning. In his long life, he has traveled over much of the known world, and met people from many countries and cultures. While he failed to gain acclaim as a poet, his desire to master that art led him to study nature, individuals, and society in all their varied forms. Then, when the rigors of his life caught up with him, and he realized that he had no home to return to, and no place he truly belonged, he applied to the king of Abyssinia for admission into the Happy Valley. There he spent his days and nights enjoying the comfort and luxuries of the royal palace, and shared with the princes and princesses of the realm all he had learned and experienced. 

After awhile, he realizes that one prince in particular shows interest in him. Prince Rasselas has grown bored with life in the Happy Valley, and wishes to see the world. While he's enjoyed his period of rest, Imlac realizes how static life in the Happy Valley is, where every aspect of life is centered around the interests and comfort of the royal family. He feels the itch to travel again, to continue to learn and grow. Yet the king keeps the one entrance to this valley guarded and gated for a reason: to preserve his family against all harm, so that one of them can take his place on the throne when he dies. Imlac knows it will not be easy, but he agrees to help Rasselas search for a way out that the royal security contingent have overlooked. If they find one, he will accompany the prince, and serve as his advisor and guide. 

Unlike the brilliant mechanist, whose knowledge was mostly theoretical, Imlac's years of observing human societies and nature in minute detail proves valuable immediately. 

As they were walking on the side of the mountain they observed that the coneys, which the rain had driven from their burrows, had taken shelter among the bushes, and formed holes behind them tending upwards in an oblique line. “It has been the opinion of antiquity,” said Imlac, “that human reason borrowed many arts from the instinct of animals; let us, therefore, not think ourselves degraded by learning from the coney. We may escape by piercing the mountain in the same direction. We will begin where the summit hangs over the middle part, and labour upward till we shall issue out beyond the prominence.”

They spend several days searching, and finally discover a small cavern amid the shrubs and plants. This time, Rasselas doesn't have to wait a year for his instructor to construct a fabulous new invention. They procure readily available tools, and dig deeper into the cavern. When Princess Nekayah discovers their efforts, Imlac and Rasselas agree to take her with them, as she likewise desires escape.

After a few days, they emerge on the other side of the valley. Bringing gold and gems to pay their way in the world, Rasselas and Nekayah feel ready to begin their adventure. Yet, after she grows tired of walking, the princess begins to look for another palace, where the attendants can satisfy all her desires. Rasselas discovers that those he meets don’t leap to obey him, or pay him proper obeisance. Imlac watches them carefully, cautions them against actions that might betray their identities, and eventually forces them to remain in one village for several weeks until they grow accustomed to their lowered status in the world. Then they set off for Cairo

As they approached the city, which filled the strangers with astonishment, “This,” said Imlac to the Prince, “is the place where travellers and merchants assemble from all corners of the earth. You will here find men of every character and every occupation. Commerce is here honourable. I will act as a merchant, and you shall live as strangers who have no other end of travel than curiosity; it will soon be observed that we are rich. Our reputation will procure us access to all whom we shall desire to know; you shall see all the conditions of humanity, and enable yourselves at leisure to make your choice of life.”

While Imlac warned them what to expect, as they walk the streets, the prince and princess are overwhelmed by the noise and the crowds. Why should merchants and beggars accost them in the street, while the aristocracy pass them by? Bewildered, they allow Imlac to help them trade in an appropriate portion of their gems for a house, servants, food, and clothes. Imlac teaches Rasselas and Nekayah the value of the riches they have brought with them, so that they cannot be cheated and do not squander it. Imlac orders their house and lifestyles in a sufficiently impressive manner that their neighbors seek them out. Slowly, Rasselas and Nekayah begin to understand how a society works that does not revolve around them. They learn the local language. They observe how people conduct themselves with members of their own class, as well as individuals occupying higher and lower levels.  They witness the rich variety of humankind, and see all the sides of people’s personalities that they would never have observed from their royal subjects.

After two years in Cairo, Rasselas realizes that Imlac's oversight and tutelage have given him the skills and abilities to fulfill his original purpose: to understand how others live outside the Happy Valley. Now he can walk amongst strangers, and by careful observation and study, find his place among them. His time in the classroom may be over, but his education has only begun.

Dragon Dave

Monday, June 16, 2014

Samuel Johnson on the Value of Education

A statue of Samuel Johnson,
in his hometown of Lichfield, England

In The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia, Samuel Johnson introduces us to Imlac, the son of a successful merchant. Although his father desires for him to follow the family trade, Imlac yearns to increase his knowledge and understanding of the world. When his school years end, his father gives him ten thousand gold pieces and charges him to travel, to buy and sell, and to return within four years, having doubled his original investment. Imlac travels with a caravan, but soon discovers that his fellow merchants, for no better reason than that they envy his greater wealth, conspire to cheat him. Disgusted with the world of commerce, Imlac discards all serious intentions of being a trader, and travels with the aim of increasing his knowledge of the world.

Imlac realizes that the education his father provided him was of great value. In Agra, the emperor grants him an interview, and afterwards welcomes him into the royal court. In Persia, he discovers people with drastically different lifestyles and social customs, and their openness gives him more insights into the diversity of human nature. In time, he realizes that humans prize one ability above all others: despite different languages, cultures, and outlooks, people regard poetry as the greatest achievement of mankind.

As Imlac tells his student Prince Rasselas, this inspires him to become a poet.

“I read all the poets of Persia and Arabia, and was able to repeat by memory the volumes that are suspended in the mosque of Mecca. I saw everything with a new purpose; my sphere of attention was suddenly magnified; no kind of knowledge was to be overlooked. I ranged mountains and deserts for images and resemblances, and pictured upon my mind every tree of the forest and flower of the valley.” 

The calling of a poet dovetailed nicely with Imlac's interest in traveling. Surely the poet needed the extensive understanding of human nature that he craved! So he made it his goal to assess how and why people were happy or miserable with their lives, at each rung on the social ladder. He determined to understand their motivations, and how their outlook changed as they aged, regardless of their social position. Along the way, he strived to discard the prejudices associated with his childhood and homeland, study the sciences, and observe how people conducted themselves in the various strata of each society.

Imlac's travels took him to Syria and Palestine, where he interacted with the locals and travelers from all over Europe. He ranged throughout Asia, sometimes as a trader, and other times as a pilgrim. He spent time in Egypt, and finally returned to Goiama. There he learned that his father had been dead for fourteen years, and his brothers had all split the family money and moved away. Most of the friends he had grown up with had died, or barely remembered him. The rest thought him corrupted, rather than benefitted, from having spent so much time in different cultures and countries. 

Still, Goiama was his homeland. If he no longer had an actual home to return to, Imlac determined to make a new one for himself there. "I forgot, after a time, my disappointment, and endeavoured to recommend myself to the nobles of the kingdom; they admitted me to their tables, heard my story, and dismissed me. I opened a school, and was prohibited to teach. I then resolved to sit down in the quiet of domestic life, and addressed a lady that was fond of my conversation, but rejected my suit because my father was a merchant."

If Imlac ever actually got around to writing poetry, he never gained much money from selling it, nor did it afford him an entry into society. Certainly all his other attempts to reenter Goiaman society were repulsed. So he applied for entrance to the Happy Valley. The king of Abyssinia recognized his worth, and selected him to help train, teach, and prepare his sons and daughters for the most important task of all: to rule the kingdom in his stead. So Imlac received a pension of sorts: admittance to the Happy Valley, fine clothes and food, good company, and a position of esteem. He might have started off as a merchant's son, but he became an advisor to the son of a king. Thus Samuel Johnson reminds us that education is never wasted, and a life devoted to continual learning will often pay rich dividends, if not in the way we initially expected.

Dragon Dave

Friday, June 13, 2014

A Dalek Graduation

Rusty: When will the graduation start?
Artist: Soon. We arrived early to get good seats. 

Rusty: Alert! Alert! A Human is handling us disrespectfully!
Artist: Release us, or you will be exterminated! Exterminated!! EXTERMINATED!!!

Rusty: For a minute there, it was "Planet of Giants" all over again!
Artist: Alert suspended. Look, the students have entered; Graduation can commence!

Rusty: Why are the females using their phones during the party? 
Artist: Human females are complicated. They're enjoying the party; they're just parallel processing.
Rusty: You mean they're really androids, and their microprocessor brains are computing--
Artist: No, I mean human females are complicated. Listen, we can discuss this subject later. For now, focus on our mission!

 Artist: Table traffic clearing. Prepare to assault the Goodies Table.

Rusty: Someone's approaching! Shall we abort?
Artist: Negative. Stay on target.

Rusty: But we're in danger of being captured!
Artist: Stay on target! Stay on Target!! STAY ON TARGET!!!

Rusty: My nerves are glowing like overloaded laser cannons!
Artist: Yes, but we procured two graduation hats. Now let's exterminate them before any humans find us and take them away.
Rusty: I love to exterminate Chocolate! Exterminate Ch--
Artist: Exterminate quietly while I savor! Savor!! SAVOR!!!

Rusty & Artist Dalek

Monday, June 9, 2014

Samuel Johnson on the Importance of Partnership

Lichfield, England: the birthplace of Samuel Johnson

In his 18th Century book, The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia, Samuel Johnson whisks us off to the Happy Valley. This virtual Eden boasts all the varieties of plants, fish, birds, and animals known to Man. There is one way in or out: a gated and guarded tunnel. It is opened once each year, when the king visits to hold a grand celebration. Those who have petitioned to serve the royal household—servants, entertainers, and teachers—arrive at this time. When the king departs, these remain behind, and cater to all the needs and desires of the royal family.

When Rasselas is twenty-six, he grows bored of life in the Happy Valley. Pleasures that formerly delighted his senses or inspired his mind no longer satisfy him. A former instructor notices him withdrawing into himself, and asks him what's wrong.

“I fly from pleasure,” said the Prince, “because pleasure has ceased to please: I am lonely because I am miserable, and am unwilling to cloud with my presence the happiness of others.”

“Sir,” said he, “if you had seen the miseries of the world, you would know how to value your present state.”   

“Now,” said the Prince, “you have given me something to desire.

This is not a desire that can readily be fulfilled. The king has placed his heirs here to preserve them against any future need to rule Abyssinia. The prince spends over a year musing on the idea of escaping the Happy Valley. In the meantime, he attempts to enjoy life as best he can. Then he realizes that he must work hard if he is to discover a means of escape that the king and his advisors have not yet conceived. 

After searching out all conceivable means of escape, Rasselas visits an accomplished master of the mechanical sciences, who has brought running water, air conditioning, and recorded music to every room in the palace. The mechanist dreams of inventing a sailing chariot, and convinces Rasselas that his theories regarding flight are sound. As he's accomplished nothing on his own, the prince prompts the man on, hoping that this theorist and dreamer can help him escape the Happy Valley. One year later, the mechanist completes his first attempt at flight: a set of wings. Rasselas rejoices at the man's invention, and accompanies the man up "a little promontory." He watches eagerly as the mechanist straps on his newly designed wings. 

"He waved his pinions awhile to gather air, then leaped from his stand, and in an instant dropped into the lake."

While Rasselas is disheartened, he's not ready to give up. Still, he recognizes that he needs a partner if he is to escape. This time, he turns to an old man named Imlac, a poet and educator whose ideas have impressed him. Imlac tells him about his childhood. His father "was honest, frugal, and diligent, but of mean sentiments and narrow comprehension; he desired only to be rich, and to conceal his riches, lest he should be spoiled by the governors of the province. When I had once found the delight of knowledge, and felt the pleasure of intelligence and the pride of invention, I began silently to despise riches.”

Eventually, Imlac's father handed him ten thousand gold pieces. Imlac could regard this as a gift, or an investment in his future. If he wished to help run the family business, he must return within four years and with twenty thousand gold pieces. Imlac uses his father's money to travel, see the world, and increase in knowledge and wisdom. By the time he returns home, he finds his father dead, and the family business defunct. So he plies his knowledge as an educator, and eventually petitions admittance to the Happy Valley.

In Imlac, Rasselas finds a mentor, someone who knows what the world has to offer. He advises the prince: “Human life is everywhere a state in which much is to be endured and little to be enjoyed.” But Rasselas will not be put off, and Imlac, who petitioned to enter the Happy Valley because he was worn out by traveling, has now grown weary of this gilded cage.

Rasselas has not yet discovered a means of escape, but now he has a worthy partner who can help him look for one. Should they escape, Imlac can then serve him as an expert guide, having toured all regions of the globe. Thus Samuel Johnson reminds us that desire alone is not enough. We must seek out expert assistance, and find someone with the right kind of real world knowledge. Lacking those, our efforts are destined to fall flat, just like those of the gifted mechanist.

Dragon Dave

Friday, June 6, 2014

The Dalek Magical Mystery Tour

Artist: Master, we're enjoying Indiana Jones and the Genesis Deluge, but could we look out the window?

Rusty: Where do you think we're going?
Artist: Wait for the sky to clear, then look for key landmarks.

Rusty: That guitar has Janis Joplin's face on it. Maybe we're in San Francisco.
Artist: Naw, it's gotta be Nashville.

Rusty: Austin Texas? What'll we do here?
Artist: I don't know. Maybe help the locals "Keep Austin Weird?"
Rusty: That's not very nice.
Artist: Hey, it's their slogan!

Artist: It may not be weird, but this pork Cordon Blue reminds me of Cornish Pasties!

Rusty: This Schwiezer Chicken definitely looks weird. I wonder where Mistress will put it all

Rusty: It can't be bedtime already! I want the weirdness to continue!!
Artist: Enough complaining! It's time to power down for the night.
Rusty: But all Master and Mistress have done is read, eat, and sit all day! How can they be so tired?
Artist: Deactivate! Deactivate!! Deactivate!!!

Rusty & Artist Dalek

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Pride And Prejudice And Passion

A garden at Wychnor Hall in the English Midlands

In Mary Robinette Kowal’s Jane Austen-pastiche Shades of Milk and Honey, Miss Jane Ellsworth adores the family estate of Long Parkmead. She loves to wander through the maze of hedges, with the rose garden at the center, and looks forward to the grand strawberry-picking outing her parents have planned. She brings this love of nature into the house with her use of glamour, as well as her sketches and paintings. As her family and friends, including the handsome Mr. Dunkirk, complement her talents, she feels proud of her artistry. But when she sees the glamural Mr. Vincent created for Lady FitzCameron, it takes her breath away.

The fine furniture and architectural details of Banbree Manor pale before the moonlit glade nestled against one wall. Jane walks across soft grass, breathes in jasmine and the pleasant smell of loam, walks beside the babbling brook that flows through the wind-blown trees, and listens to sweet birdsong. The effort has cost Mr. Vincent however, and after his collapse, she visits him in his room. Bedridden, he presses a book into her hands. It is filled with his sketches, and his thoughts on glamour. While he compliments her efforts, he insists that she take his book and study it. He tells her:

“You are always so careful, so methodical in your thoughts and actions. I should like to know what levels of art you could reach if you relaxed your guard.”

When Jane reads his book at home, her eye is drawn to a seascape she painted in Lyme Regis. Previously, she gazed at this watercolor with pride. Now she feels disappointed.

“Though her colours were correct, and her use of light and shading exacting, the whole of it was lifeless and dull.”

A few nights later, Jane tosses and turns in bed, worried by the unwise choices of some family members and friends. Unable to help them, she summons a birch tree from the ether, and then adds a few more for good measure. The next morning, she realizes this woodland scene in her bedroom possesses more vitality than any glamural she has previously done.

“The level of detail she had employed was not what made the difference; it was the tension underlying the straight graceful boughs, as if they had yearned to uproot themselves and move, giving the whole scene life.”

Her devotion to art and glamour, as well as her impeccable manners, have won Jane the interest of Mr. Dunkirk. Now it would seem that Mr. Vincent respects her as well. Longpark Mead is entailed; she has no future there. Most men see her as plain, and she is twenty-eight, far older than most available young women. Worse, her inheritance amounts to little more than a pittance. But now she realizes that she can draw upon her passion, her fervor, to create compelling scenes of glamour. This feeling of empowerment means more to her than the idea of a man rescuing her from spinsterhood.

Jane now knows that it's not enough to study life, and follow the dictates of others. To follow her dreams, and live the life she desires, means pushing herself forward with all the passion she possesses. Only by doing so can she unleash the magic that makes her--and every person--unique.

Dragon Dave

Monday, June 2, 2014

Pride And Prejudice And Plays

Early 19th Century Male & Female apparel,
courtesy of London's Victoria & Albert Museum

In Jane Austen’s novel Mansfield Park, the Bertram family decides to stage a play for their own amusement. In the absence of Lord Bertram, eldest son Tom takes charge of the production. Using his position and charisma, he navigates a stormy sea of negotiations and choices. Not only must they settle on a play that everyone likes, and not only must each person find a role agreeable to them, but also the play must be rewritten so that no one’s part is too large or too small. Then their labors and expenses really begin. A stage must be built, backgrounds painted, curtains and costumes made, and of course, everyone must practice long and hard to learn their lines. And hanging over all this activity and expense is the question of whether Lord Bertram would approve of this production, and members of their social class acting, if he were present.

In Mapp And Lucia by E. F. Benson, Mr. and Mrs. Wyse ask Lucia to hold a garden fete in her backyard as a fundraiser for Tilling’s hospital. While this is nothing in comparison with the elaborate Fetes she threw in her former town of Risholme, a stage must be constructed, acts planned, and costumes constructed. Lucia plans a series of tableaux vivants, in addition to other types of entertainment. She and her friends dress up as historical characters such as Queen Elizabeth, King Cophetua, and Sir Francis Drake, and appear holding props and adopting specific poses. Between each tableau, while the stage is being redressed, a choir sings to hold the audience’s attention. It’s a large effort for Lucia and her friends, but everyone who attends has a marvelous time, and they raise needed funds for the hospital.

In her novel Shades of Milk and Honey, Mary Robinette Kowal introduces magic to the world through her characters’ use of glamour. Jane Ellsworth decorates the family room with swaying trees, warm sunsets, birds and animals that prowl the walls or drink from ponds, and the scents of exotic places. When she plays the piano, she can summon a length of glamour from the ether, and tie it off when the piece reaches its conclusion. Having recorded the music with a strand of glamour, she can then replay the music on an infinite loop, or until she banishes it. And then there are Mr. Vincent's shadow plays, and the tableaux vivants performed with the aid of glamour.

One day, while enjoying an outing in the country, Lady FitzCameron declares that she wants a tableau vivant. So Jane and Mr. Vincent take a moment to discuss what scene to portray, and summon the energy and mental focus necessary to perform such an illusion. The others sit waiting for their entertainment to commence.

Jane tugged folds over her to create a mask of Daphne, and the delicate garments such an ephemeral nymph would wear as she fled the sun god.

Appearing taller than he was, and glowing with the light of the sun, Mr. Vincent embodied Apollo, his hands outstretched to reach for the frightened nymph. As their guests studied the tableau vivant with exquisite fascination, Jane released the slipknot she held, and hidden folds slid around her into a laurel tree. She was gratified by the gasps of surprize and pleasure from their viewers. It was no small thing to change a detailed glamour so smoothly.

While Jane and Mr. Vincent pull off this tableau successfully, a later attempt ends differently. After putting the finishing touches on Lady FitzCameron’s impressive glamural, Mr. Vincent exhibits signs of exhaustion at its unveiling. Yet Lady FitzCameron takes no notice, and commands Mr. Vincent and Jane to perform another tableau for her visitors. Jane performs her role as expected, but Mr. Vincent collapses. So drained is he that he nearly dies. Thus Mary Robinette Kowal reminds us that, regardless of the era they live in, some people will always undervalue the entertainment they enjoy, and that nothing worthwhile—no matter how easily accessible—is created without great skill, effort and cost.

Dragon Dave