Corrections to the blogosphere, the consensus, and the world

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Modern Men Swear

Love and marriage, love and marriage, go together like a whoreson carriage, as Shakespear might have said after an argument with Anne.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Christie and the war

Remember, these are supposed to be the sympathetic characters:

'That won't happen in my time, I hope,' said Edward, smiling. 'My tenants are a contented lot.'
'They shouldn't be,' said David. 'Nobody should be contented. '
'If apes had been content with tails -' murmured Lady Angkatell from where she was standing by the sideboard looking vaguely at a dish of kidneys. 'That's a poem I learnt in the nursery, but I simply can't remember how it goes on. I must have a talk with you, David, and learn all the new ideas. As far as I can see, one must hate everybody, but at the same time give them free medical attention and a lot of extra education (poor things, all those helpless little children herded into schoolhouses every day) - and cod-liver oil forced down babies' throats whether they like it or not - such nasty-smelling stuff.'
Lady Angkatell said: 'Midge, you'd better ring up your shop.' Midge went slowly to the telephone.
Her life had always been so entirely normal and commonplace that she felt she lacked the phraseology to explain to her employers that after four days' holiday she was unable to return to work owing to the fact that she was mixed up in a murder case.
It did not sound credible. It did not even feel credible.
And Madame Alfrege was not a very easy person to explain things to at any time.
Midge set her chin resolutely and picked up the receiver.
It was all just as unpleasant as she had imagined it would be. The raucous voice of the vitriolic little Jewess came angrily over the wires.

“What wath that, Mith Hardcathle? A death?  A funeral? Do you not know very well I am short-handed? Do you think 1 am going to stand for these excuses? Oh, yeth, you are having a good time, I dare thay!' Midge interrupted, speaking sharply and distinctly. 'The poleeth? The poleeth, you thay?' It was almost scream. 'You are mixed up with the poleeth?' Setting her teeth, Midge continued to explain. Strange how sordid that woman at the other end made the whole thing seem. A vulgar police case. What alchemy there was in human beings!
Edward opened the door and came in; then seeing that Midge was telephoning, he was about to go out. She stopped him.
'Do stay, Edward. Please. Oh, I want you to.'
The presence of Edward in the room gave her strength - counteracted the poison.
She took her hand from where she had laid it over the mouthpiece.
'What? Yes. I am sorry, Madame. But after all, it is hardly my fault -'
The ugly raucous voice was screaming angrily. 'Who are thethe friendth of yourth? What thort of people are they to have the poleeth there - and a man shot? I've a good mind not to have you back : all! I can't have the tone of my ethtablishment lowered.'
Midge made a few submissive non-committal replies. She replaced the receiver at last, with a sigh of relief. She felt sick and shaken .
'It's the place I work,' she explained. 'I had to let them know that I wouldn't be back until Thursday because of the inquest and the - the police.'
'I hope they were decent about it? What is it like, this dress shop of yours? Is the woman who runs it pleasant and sympathetic to work for?'
'I should hardly describe her as that! She's a Whitechapel Jewess with dyed hair and a voice like a corncrake.'
'But my dear Midge -'
Edward's face of consternation almost made Midge laugh. He was so concerned. -
'But my dear child - you can't put up with that sort of thing. If you must have a job, you must take one where the surroundings are harmonious and where you like the people you are working with.'
Midge looked at him for a moment without answering.
How explain, she thought, to a person like Edward?
What did Edward know of the labour market, of jobs?
And suddenly a tide of bitterness rose in her. Lucy, Henry, Edward - yes, even Henrietta - they were all divided from her by an impassable gulf - the gulf that separates the leisured from the working.
 Yes, we knew all about the casual English antisemitism that defaces so much of its fiction, but that's from The Hollow, published in 1946.  After Auschwitz. It may have been written earlier - pre-war, perhaps, with Poirot added at the last minute - but she could have reviewed it. 
Edward peered suspiciously into the show window at a little black dress with a narrow gold belt, some rakish-looking, skimpy jumper suits, and an evening gown of rather tawdry coloured lace.
Edward knew nothing about women's clothes except by instinct, but had a shrewd idea that all these exhibits were somehow of a meretricious order. No, he thought, this place was not worthy of her. Someone - Lady Angkatell, perhaps - must do something about it.
Overcoming his shyness with an effort, Edward straightened his slightly stooping shoulders and walked in.
He was instantly paralysed with embarrassment.
Two platinum blonde little minxes with shrill were examining dresses in a show-case, with a saleswoman in attendance. At the back of the shop a small woman with a thick nose, henna red and a disagreeable voice was arguing with a puzzled and bewildered customer over some alterations to an evening gown. From an adjacent cubicle a fretful voice was raised.
'Frightful - perfectly frightful - can't you bring me anything decent to try?'
In response he heard the soft murmur of Midge’s voice - a deferential, persuasive voice.
'This wine model is really very smart. And I think it would suit you. If you'd just slip it on -'
The Hollow
'I'm not going to waste my time trying on things that I can see are no good. Do take a little trouble. I've told you I don't want reds. If you'd listen to what you are told -'
The colour surged up into Edward's neck. He hoped Midge would throw the dress in the odious woman's face. Instead she murmured:
'I'll have another look. You wouldn't care for green I suppose, Madam? Or this peach?'
'Dreadful- perfectly dreadful! No, I won't see anything more. Sheer waste of time -'
But now Madame Alfrege, detaching herself from the stout customer, had come down to Edward and was looking at him inquiringly.
He pulled himself together.
'Is - could I speak - is Miss Hardcastle here?' Madame Alfrege's eyebrows went up, but she took in the Savile Row cut of Edward's clothes, and she produced a smile whose graciousness was rather more unpleasant than her bad temper would have been.
It may be some excuse that Christie is also, through Lady Angkatell, expressing a range of social prejudices, too, against
free medical attention and a lot of extra education (poor things, all those helpless little children herded into schoolhouses every day) - and cod-liver oil forced down babies' throats whether they like it or not - such nasty-smelling stuff.' 
Codliver oil was a source of vitamin D, which prevented rickets. How evil to give it to poor children....

It's possibly worth noting, at the fringe, that Lady Angkatell's memory has led her astray - the poem "If apes had been content with tails" is an endorsement of 'progress', not an attack on it:


THE splendid discontent of God
With chaos made the world.
Set suns in place, and filled all space
With stars that shone and whirled.
If apes had been content with tails,
No thing of higher shape
Had come to birth: the king of earth
To-day would be an ape. 
And from the discontent of man
The world's best progress springs.
Then feed the flame (from God it came),
Until you mount on wings.
Ella Wheeler Wilcox

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