Sunday, February 28, 2021

On the Other Hand

 ...I did renew my acquaintance with this bit of dog Latin by reading Thirkell:

Caesar adsum iam forte

Brutus aderat

Caeser sic in omnibu

Brutus sic in at

(You've got to read it out loud with a Cockney accent to get the joke.)

I first learned this hilarious  verse, as most Latin students do, at some point early in my studies; but I'd forgotten it. I enjoyed finding it again.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Reading Angela Thirkell

 A comment over on one of Jo Walton's reading lists reminded me of Angela Thirkell, who I used to read in those ancient days before the kid was born, and before we could buy books online, when all I had was what was available in the local library. 

Though at that time I was living in Pocatello, Idaho, and had access to both the excellent small public library there and the library at the Idaho State University, this was still not very many books. I forget how I stumbled across Thirkell, but I do remember that the first book I read by her was The Brandons

Between the university library and the public library, there were only six or seven Thirkell novels. I read them all, and haunted used bookstores for more when we drove down to Salt Lake City or over to Boise for a day out. To no avail -- Thirkell was at that point long out of print.

Now it seems, however, that she is being re-issued, a volume at a time, by Virago Press; and I have used up my B&N gift cards buying some. (Also our public library has three of them -- I read those first.)

Thirkell, goddaughter to J.M. Barrie and cousin of Rudyard Kipling, wrote a series of novels between 1933 and 1961 set in Anthony Trollope's Barsetshire. These are the interconnected stories of upper-class, aristocratic families who live in this fictional county. 

These might be seen as romance novels -- the key engine in every novel is at least one man and one woman (often two or three sets) who bumble around but eventually realize they love each other. Marriage follows. But really the romance is a side issue. Thirkell's true interest is the soap-opera-ish lives of her upper-class characters.

They're satirical throughout, sometimes viciously so, and give, I think, a fine picture of the worldview of the English aristocracy of the period, which to understate things can be problematic.

For instance, Thirkell despises refugees. Many of these books were written during the run-up to and the period of World War II, when England was taking in refugees from the conflict in Europe. Thirkell peoples her novels with ill-behaved, ill-mannered minor characters from invented countries, and has her upper-class heroes make a number of comments about "those" refugees coming here to take jobs from good Englishmen, while those same Englishmen have been sent to fight the war these refugees escaped.  

(Jews? What Jews? Reading Thirkell you would assume that Jews do not exist. She never mentions them, and Hitler is a villain only in that he is killing upper-class English men.)

Women also, especially in the books written after the war, are villains for taking jobs that should belong to men. The decent women feel ashamed of this, of course, though I notice they take the jobs anyway. "Bad" women, which is to say uppity women not from the right families, just take these jobs as though they have a right to them.

This includes academics. Thirkell despises women who are academics. She has several male professors and tutors as main characters, and since she writes in third person omniscient (occasionally third person authorial), we are privy to the contempt these men have for their female students and colleagues. This contempt, we are meant to understand, is not only understandable, but perfectly correct.

In August Folly, we are given one of Thirkell's most scathing characterizations, a world-famous economist who also happens to be a woman. (That she is more famous and makes more money than her husband, who is a scholar as well, but of Norse folklore, is seen as a failing on her part.) This silly creature, Mrs. Tebben, thinks she can be as rational and logical as a man, but all her attempts lead to misery and discomfort for her family -- she can't manage her cook; she forces her poor husband to work in a tiny, icy room; and she is incapable of standing up to her extremely rude son. 

Furthermore, she doesn't know the tacit rules of behavior that allow one to belong to the "right" people. In Miss Bunting, for instance, which is set in the last years of the war, Mrs. Tebben very rudely brings her own food to a tea party (and it's disgusting food, of course, since her education and her pretense at being intelligent and rational have ruined her for her proper role, housekeeping).

Luckily, however, she has a daughter, Margaret. Margaret's father is briefly saddened that they could not afford to send Margaret to a university (they did send their son), but everyone, including Margaret, sees that as the natural order of things. Margaret, because she sublimates her ambitions in a proper womanly fashion (trying to help her brother), is the salvation of the family. She has spent her energies learning to cook and manage a household, the way a good woman should. She marries a rich man's son and, we are to presume, lives happily every after.

The women characters we're supposed to approve of and applaud are those who are intelligent but subservient -- those who are too busy being wives and daughters, helping to run estates and their husband's households, to bother with going to a university. 

Problematic also is Thirkell's concept of both the working class and of those people who became wealthy after the war through such vulgar means as manufacturing and trade. 

The working class who know their place Thirkell just mocks, and fairly gently. They are comic relief, having illegitimate children and talking in dialect. Those who step out of their place -- i.e. workers who dare to start a union, or working class children who attend an Oxbridge University -- are mocked bitterly. 

Sam Adams and his daughter Heather are examples of the latter. Sam Adams is a manufacturer, a foundry owner. He is from the working class, and becomes enormously wealthy. His wealth allows him, in post-WWII England, to encroach on the circle that should properly belong only to the upper-class: Thirkell's "county" people. Everyone despises him for daring to come to tea parties and jumble sales where he is not wanted, and for giving or trying to give expensive gifts to churches and for birthday presents. 

Thirkell despises him as well. He doesn't know his place, and he doesn't understand the rules of "correct" society. He dares, for instance, in Miss Bunting, to offer a local vicar help with the church accounts. In The Brandons, Miss Morris does this same thing for the local vicar in that book, and everyone is fine with it. But when Sam Adams makes this offer, it is a high social crime which sends our upper-class characters into paroxysms of horror and outrage. 

(Similarly, Thirkell, starting in Cheerfulness Breaks In, introduces a pair of impoverished women, in the form of Miss Hampton and Miss Brent, who don't follow the rules for "proper" women. These two are meant to be read as Lesbians, but as the novels progress it becomes clear that we are to approve of these women and find them admirable. Why? Because they're "county," as Thirkell puts it elsewhere: they are upper-class and from the "right" families, even if they do dress funny and are now impoverished. If the wrong people do it, it's gauche; if "our" people do it, it's charming.)

Equally, when Sam Adams offers donations to the local churches, as he does in almost every book, this is seen as a breach of propriety. What if he wants us to dedicate a window to his wife, one vicar thinks, in horror and disgust -- I guess because Adams' wife was working class? Or maybe Sam Adams will try to influence the sort of window, and pick something tacky? It's never really made clear why these acts are so appalling. I guess if I were "county" I would just know.

Thirkell is even more vicious when it comes to Heather Adams, Sam's adolescent and then adult daughter (she grows up through the books). There are endless comments about how "large" this girl is ("She must weight 12 stone," one character comments) and how sweaty and how ugly and how badly dressed and how ill-mannered and so on. She commits one faux pas after the next, bringing, for instance, an expensive gift to a well-born friend's party (something that is admirable when another character does it, two pages earlier, this one upper-class) and not knowing what to say to her "county" schoolmates.

Heather eventually redeems herself, though: she realizes her true place and steps back into it, marrying a guy from the working class as she should, albeit one who went to Cambridge, who works at her father's foundry. Heather herself is a prodigy in math, and goes to Cambridge too, but don't worry, she doesn't try to become an academic: she also goes to work for her father, though only until she has children, when she becomes a proper supportive wife.

And all the upper-class people in these novels, with true noblesse oblige, work endlessly and tirelessly to take care of the working class in their community. Not only are they job providers (unlike Sam Adams, I guess), they perform charitable works for the hapless louts on their estates, who cannot possibly survive on their own.

And what is the reaction of those ungrateful whiners? They vote in a Labour Government, nationalize the trains and power companies and health providers which had been returning a steady 5% for all the wealthy land owners, and tax everything to death. Also, they dare to object to capitalism! And form unions! And want their kids to have orange juice!

As in Faulkner, whose Snopes take over from the benevolent and superior landed gentry of his fictional county, Thirkell, in the later novels, has Sam Adams and his ilk "taking over" England. And as with Faulkner, this is seen as a tragedy. In Faulkner, miscegenation and black people as well as "white trash" getting out of their place cause this downfall; in Thirkell, it is the corruption of the government and the losses of WWII. 

Taxation, she believes, as well as the nationalization of industries, strip the power from the hands of those who wield it properly. The right sort of people can no longer afford to have eight or nine kids each, while the lower classes have huge families (all the children illegitimate) at the expense of the taxpayers. So the upper classes are no longer being created, and those children that are born have no siblings or only one sibling. What will happen when they are sent to boarding schools, with no experience of the communal life? Alors!

Further, the state schools (run by progressives) fail to install a proper attitude in working class children. They are taught math and science and modern literature instead of religion and Latin and Greek, and what is the result? (School certificates! Thirkell expostulates. Ten-year-old genuises at math who don't know what a creche is)!

They think Jack is as good as his master, that's what. And England as it ought to be is lost. 

These are fascinating books to read if you are interested in that England which, indeed, is dead now. The soap-opera plots are engaging, and the whiplash effect of reading about a likeable, engaging character who suddenly says something disgusting never really gets old. 

Also, there is something safe about these books. It may be England in the 1930s, or England in the Blitz, or England in the grim post-War years; but the worst that is going to happen is that someone will do badly in his exams, or be rude to someone else at tea.

And they're very readable, charming and funny in the places where they aren't appalling. Thirkell is especially good with children -- I'd read them for Tony Moreland alone.

But they do show us, clearly, how the world has changed; and indeed just what the world that conservatives want us to live in actually looked like. 

Ironically, of course, if most conservatives landed in Thirkell's world, they wouldn't be the characters Thirkell lauds. They'd be the ones she despises and mocks. They're the louts who took over the world she loves.

Which is its own kind of humor, I suppose.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

What I Like Least about the Pandemic

 Here's what I like least about the pandemic so far: teaching a classroom filled with students who are wearing masks.

I am partially face-blind as it is (I remember my mother saying, when I was maybe five, "How can you not recognize him? He's your brother!") so even without masks I often have trouble identifying which student* goes with which name and what work. When everyone is wearing a mask, it's nearly impossible. (How face blind are you?)

Also, I can't tell who is talking. Their voice are muffled, first, so I don't know where the sound is coming from; and I can't see mouths moving, so there's no visual cue.

All of this just to say, I'll be glad when this plague is over. 

*I mainly tell people apart based on their voice, their hair-styles/color**, their body shapes, and the way they move. When any of that changes -- like, when their voices are muffled by masks -- I'm totally lost.

** This is a problem at movies. If every actor has dark hair, for instance, I don't have a hope of telling characters apart, unless one of them has a British accent and the other doesn't. Or if one is tall and skinny and the other short with a beard.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Adventures with Wildlife in Arkansas

 So last night was exciting -- I was up late reading, and the cats suddenly began knocking things over and banging into doors in the hallway.

I went to see what was up and they had a mouse cornered. I said several bad words and went to get a bowl to put over it, except when I got back it had run behind a bookcase. They sat watching the exits (one cat on one end and one on the other) for about an hour, while I twitched nervously.

Eventually, exhausted, the mouse crept out and just sat there, tharn, while the cats sat studying it. (A motionless mouse apparently does not trigger their prey reflex.) I gingerly put the bowl over it, slid an empty file folder under the bowl, and carried it out to release it in the wild.

The wild was 14 degrees and snowy last night, which I assume is why the mouse came inside. So I'm not sure this was a kindness. 

Better than letting the cats bat it around for hours, though, I guess.

Friday, February 19, 2021

How it Works

 Stage One: "People like you can't do X. If people like you could do X, then where are all the people like you doing X?"

Stage Two: "Even if people like you can do X, they do it badly. That's why we don't study people like you doing X. Because even though you did it, you were terrible at it."

Stage Three: "Maybe people like you can do X, but people like us are just better at X, that's all. Probably something genetic. It's science!"

Stage Four: "People like you can only do X with special help. People like you have rigged the system to discriminate against people like us doing X. If the world were fair, people like us would be the only ones actually doing X."

Stage Five: "No one ever said people like you couldn't do X. Why are you so sensitive?"

Stage Six: "I don't know why you keep making a fuss about all this -- who even notices what sort of person is doing X?"


Stage Seven*: X is naturally meant for people like you. People like you don't need to be paid much for doing X, you should just be happy to do it because its so suited to you. People like us will be over here doing a better-paid thing that people like you can't do.

(I've watched this play out in the literary world in real-time, but yeah, it's everywhere.)

(This is on my mind right now, btw, because I've been reading Angela Thirkell novels, and the sheer contempt she has for women scholars as well as for anyone in the working class is just breathtaking.)

*Thanks to Nanai in comments

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Still Snowed In

 I took a short walk with the dog to see if the roads here are passable.

They are not.

Despite this, three separate vehicles chugged past me, one of which I watch skid almost into a ditch before he recovered.

We're out of milk, dog food, and tissues, but I think we'll wait until tomorrow to try for the grocery.

(We have hamburger to feed the little dog, he won't starve.)

I did enjoy all the squirrel, rabbit, and bird tracks on the snow. Little short stories, etched out in blue and white.


High of 27 Today

 The sun is out, and the snow is lovely:

That's the big icicle, there at the left, frozen down from a joint in our gutter.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Cat on a Snowy Afternoon


Cold Wednesday

We got another three or four inches of snow overnight. It's currently five degrees.

We still have heat here, and so far no power losses in our house, though my students have been emailing me for the past two days about losing their internet and their power. 

We're almost out of dog food, milk, and cream. No way to get to the store on these roads. We do have frozen hamburger we can feed to dog, in a pinch, and I have a can of condensed milk and a box of coconut milk. (I have to have milk in my coffee; Dr. Skull likes cream, but he can make do with butter.)

The coffee cake was excellent, by the way.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Cold Tuesday

 It's seven degrees here, with about five inches of snow on the ground, and more snow coming tonight.

"Rolling blackouts" are being used because our infrastructure was not designed for this sort of cold. Everyone is being asked to keep their heat at 65 or below and not to use any inessential items -- like dishwashers or washing machines. One request asked us to "skip the shower." Which, argh.

Dr. Skull is making me a coffee cake. This is probably a non-essential use of the oven.

I'll let you know how it turns out.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Still Snowing

 Okay, this does look like four inches:

Also, ice is frozen on the inside of my windows. This house is not made for 5 degree weather (it's five degrees here). The local power company is begging everyone to conserve energy, since they can't keep up with the demand. Don't do laundry, don't run the dishwasher, keep your heat at 68. (I've got ours at 66.)

Plus, weather guy says more snow is coming late tomorrow and into Wednesday. We went to the store just before the snowpocalypse hit, fortunately.

Sunday, February 14, 2021


 Weather guy now says we'll have non-stop snow through Wednesday.

Here's what we have so far:

Our house is not made for 14 degree weather, I will tell you that. Tonight the low is eight degrees. May have to break out the sleeping bags.


 It is finally snowing here.

Weather guy says more snow all day!

Meanwhile, I found a picture of Jasper as a kitten, sitting on my lap while I wrote:

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Snow /no Snow

 Weather reports keep threatening us with a snowpocolypse -- six to nine inches! Impossible to travel! Killing cold!

So far no snow, though on-campus classes have already been canceled for Monday.

It is really cold out, though, I'll admit that -- 14 degrees this morning, 20 degrees now at 10:30. (That's cold for Arkansas.)

If it's going to be this cold, at least we should get some snow out of it.

Thursday, February 11, 2021


Because I was on sabbatical last semester, and am teaching f2f this semester, I taught my first zoom class today. (We had a snow day, which in the age of the pandemic means on-campus classes are cancelled, and we go to remote learning.)

Good points:

Almost all the students showed up.

Bad points:

They all kept their cameras and mics off (for which I do not blame them in the least, mind you -- I would do the same).

I could not get the screen sharing function to work. (I think I have this problem solved now, half an hour after the class ended.) This means all I could do was talk about how to use citation machine, instead of showing them how to use it. UGH.

My computer locked up two minutes into the class, and I had to shut it down and reboot. My students kindly did not leave during the five minutes this took.

No one asked any questions. Does this mean they didn't HAVE questions, or that they were afraid to ask, or...

Thanks, I hate it.

I have another class this evening. It should go better, since I think I have the bugs worked out. Famous last words.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Not That Hard to Be a Decent Human Being

I broke a tooth on Saturday -- it's one where I had a giant cavity as a kid, and it had cracked just before the pandemic got serious last March, so I knew it was coming. Saturday, despite how careful I have been with chewing, it just broke off.

So this morning at dawn, I went to see my dentist. This is the Christian conservative dentist we have been seeing since the kid was five. She's great with kids, and she always asks after the kid, and the entire family, really.

So today she asked whether the kid had graduated, using the kid's dead name and former pronouns. I told her the kid was trans, and...she asked about the kid's new pronouns and new name, and then restated the question: "Has [new name] graduated?"

I told her about his change in major, and how well he was doing, and she was so happy for him. "It's wonderful when kids find their passion," she exulted with me. "I'm so happy he's doing well."

I'm so used to weaponized, hateful Christianity that meeting up with an actual Christian is a shock. But a good one!

Monday, February 08, 2021


 It's so cold here, even with the fireplace lit and the heat on. 

I've moved my workstation in front of the fireplace, which helps a little.

Sunday, February 07, 2021

Found on FB


(Image: a T-Rex in trans colors bearing a banner "Trans Rights or I Bites.")

Clearly the flag I need for the flag stand that came with this house.

Did I ever tell y'all about the Jesus Light that came with this house? It's just a regular light switch cover, but it has a painting of Jesus on it, with the switch coming out of a place where, frankly, I would not have put a switch on any picture, much less Jesus.

It turns on the exterior light, out back of the garage.

Life in Arkansas, I guess.

Friday, February 05, 2021

Vaccine Accomplished

 I've gotten my first dose of the vaccine.  Two weeks from now, which will incredibly be March 1, I'll get the second.

So far no superpowers.

It was no big deal. The local hospital is running a clinic at the local park. We got appointments through the university at 5 minute intervals (I was at 8:50, the guy behind me was 8:55), and they ran us through pretty rapidly. I arrived at 8:49 and was done by 9:05. 

The actual stick didn't hurt at all. "Was that it?" I asked the nurse.

"That's it," she said, and pointed me to the other room. (They make you stay fifteen minutes after the shot to make sure you're not going to swell up or pass out, I guess.)

This morning was all the university people, so lots of people I knew were there.