The 1919 novel A Damsel In Distress is one of P.G. Wodehouse's stand alone works, not affiliated with either his Jeeves & Wooster series or his Blandings books. It is set in England, although its protagonist, George Bevin, is in fact an American. A Damsel In Distress starts out at Belpher Castle, home of the Earl of Marshmoreton and his family. The Earl is a widower whose son and heir, Percy, is about to reach his majority on his 21st birthday. He also has a daughter, Maud, who is twenty. Also in residence at the castle is the Earl's widowed sister, Lady Caroline Byng and her stepson, Reggie. The Earl is a simple soul whose pride and joy is his rose garden, where he would happily spend most of his days cultivating blooms and killing slugs. Unfortunately, his peace is being constantly disrupted by Lady Byng, who insists that he spend time writing a history of the Marshmoreton family, aided by the efficient secretary, Miss Faraday, whom she has provided for him. Lady Byng has an extremely forceful personality, and the Earl is generally cowed by her, so ends up unhappily working on the book he loathes. Meanwhile, Lady Maud has for the past year been a virtual prisoner at Belpher, kept under careful surveillance by her aunt. This is due to the fact that a year ago Maud was visiting friends in Wales and met an American man whom she fell in love with. When she gets wind if this, Lady Byng is aghast for two reasons: the young man is unsuitable, being a mere secretary to his wealthy uncle, and also, Caroline Byng has been nursing hopes of a match between Maud and Reggie. She whisks Maud back to Belpher, determined to keep her away from this objectionable man until her niece gets over her infatuation. Percy, pudgy and stodgy, has all the snobbery and class consciousness that his father lacks, and agrees wholeheartedly with his aunt's actions. There is, however, another problem with Lady Byng's plans: Reggie, though very fond of Maud, is in love with Alice Faraday, his uncle's secretary. The action starts when Maud receives a secret letter from Geoffrey, the man she loves. He has returned to England (his uncle having been travelling) and asks her to meet him in London. Thrilled by the prospect of seeing him after a year apart, she tries to think up a way to sneak to the city without her aunt finding out. She knows that Reggie is driving into London the following day to pick up Percy and bring him home for the birthday festivities, so she asks him to take her with him; she'll meet with Geoffrey and then take the train back to Belpher before anyone realizes she was gone. Reggie agrees, and the next day they make their way to London.
Meanwhile in London, we meet George Bevin, a successful composer whose musical has just opened the previous evening to rave reviews. He has gone out to pick up a newspaper, but as he walks along the bustling London streets, George wonders why, instead of being happy and excited, he feels tired and jaded; life has become stale and uninteresting. He meets up with one of the actresses from his production, Billie Dore, who is also out and about. He confides his feelings to her, and is surprised to find her understanding. She says that, if she had her way, she'd give up the stage and live on a farm where she could raise flowers like her father, who had run a plant nursery. She also tells George of her concern for a young actress in the show, whom she worries is being taken in by a stage door Johnny whom Billie pegs as trouble. She points this out as yet another downside to show business. As George picks up a newspaper, he realizes that he left his wallet at his hotel, and decides to take a cab back to get it. He and Billie part amiably, and George hails a taxi. Sitting in the cab which is stuck in traffic, he realizes broodingly that his real problem is that he's lonely. Being a success is not enough: he wants someone to share it with... he wants romance and adventure. He gloomily concludes, however, that he was born in the wrong age- the time of heroes rescuing damsels in distress has passed, never to return. It is just at this moment that a beautiful young woman whom George doesn't know opens the door of the cab and jumps in, breathlessly asking him to hide her.
I've arrived home from this year's family jamboree and have been unpacking and doing laundry. It was a great weekend; my 25 nephews and nieces ran wild, loving every moment they spent together from the moment they woke up ('way too early) in the morning to when they were finally corralled in bed at night (where they proceeded to giggle and whisper instead of sleep). As for the adults, we attempted to keep up with the kids during the day then sat up into the early hours of the morning, talking and playing games. I'm now tired, sun burnt and itchy (if anything, the black flies were worse this year) but happy; it was a great three days. Here's one of my nephews in costume for the family talent show- he and his siblings were singing "All God's Creatures Got A Place In The Choir":
The drive from where I live to where we were staying in New Brunswick takes about three and a half hours, so I downloaded an audiobook for the trip, choosing P.G. Wodehouse's A Damsel In Distress. I had read this book before, not listened to it, but Wodehouse is always a hoot to listen to being read aloud. A Damsel In Distress is a stand-alone work, not being connected with his Jeeves or Blandings stories in any way, and it's a whole lot of fun. I'm planning to do a review of it over the next week or so and so won't get into a description of the plot right now, but I really enjoyed revisiting the witty, frothy work. More on that later. In the meantime, here's Celtic Thunder singing "All God's Creatures Got A Place In The Choir"; their production was more professional, but ours was cuter.
It's the Victoria Day long weekend in Canada, and it's time for our annual Fam Jam, so I'm headed out to the wilds of New Brunswick for a few days and will be off the grid until late Monday. Looking forward to spending quality time with the entire family, and hoping the black flies aren't as bad as they were last year.
Well, the first trailer for the new Star Trek series, Discovery, was released the other day. I knew there was a new incarnation of Trek coming, but I haven't paid any attention because, frankly, I haven't been interested. I did, however, watch the trailer and found out that it is set ten years before the events of Star Trek: TOS. Huh. The last time a series was set before TOS, we ended up with Enterprise, which made almost every Trek fan feel like this:
This is a really early trailer and doesn't actually tell us anything about the show and I'm willing to give it the benefit of the doubt and hope that the producers have learned from past mistakes and are going to make a quality show, but there are a couple of worrying signs. To begin with, the trailer says that this is ten years before "Kirk, Spock, or the Enterprise." This may seem nit-picky, but while this was before Kirk, it wasn't before the Enterprise or Spock, who served under the previous captain of the Enterprise, Christopher Pike. I get that they're trying to give viewers a frame of reference, but this is the sort of thing that irritates fans, because it makes it seem like the people making the show didn't do their homework.
Good Trek can be made by non-fans- case in point: The Wrath Of Khan, inarguably the best Trek movie ever made. Before embarking on developing the storyline for it, however, Harve Bennett went back and watched all of the episodes of TOS. The Trek universe is a lot bigger now, and it would be unreasonable to expect the writers of a new series to never trip over continuity, which makes me wonder why they would decide to set it pre-Kirk, and in the original timeline. They could have set the new show in the movie reboot timeline and not had to worry about continuity, or the limits which the TOS canon will necessarily place on them- such as not knowing what Romulans look like. Or, if they were determined to have it in the original timeline, they could have set it later so as to avoid a lot of these problems. But having insisted that Discovery is set when and where it is, it's just going to tick fans off if they then go ahead and ignore TOS canon.
What I really hope is that the new series won't be used as a soap box to preach to viewers about the correct attitudes to have about contemporary issues. This is what irritated me the most about a lot of TNG; usually when there was some sort of conflict over a moral, social, or political issue, we were told that the choice was between the reasonable, rational, enlightened Federation side, and the incredibly backwards, unreasonable and obviously wrong other side. Very few episodes bothered to present the truth about such issues: that both sides can be well-intentioned, have legitimate points or grievances, and that such things usually aren't clean cut and morally unambiguous. This is why I think that DS9 was a far superior show- they didn't shy away from pointing out that many of the issues being dealt with were messy and complex, and sometimes there were no morally or ethically pure solutions. So those are my rambling thoughts on a new Star Trek series... maybe it'll be good, but Voyager and Enterprise have left a bad aftertaste, and I'm having a hard time working up any enthusiasm for a new series.
There's been a scandal shaking the Canadian literary scene over the last few weeks, and the fallout is depressing but unfortunately not surprising. It all started when the editor of the Writers' Union of Canada magazine, Hal Niedzviecki, wrote an opinion piece which caused a ruckus. His article started off being suitably social justice-y, with him complaining that Canadian literature is "exhaustingly white and middle class" because the majority of writers in Canada fit in that group, and people tend to write about what they know. It was then, however, that he went off the reservation, suggesting that these writers use their imaginations and write about characters of other races and backgrounds, to provide more diverse stories. He then suggested, tongue in cheek, that they award an "Appropriation" prize for the author who writes the best character of a different ethnicity.
This was his downfall- dismissing "cultural appropriation" as unimportant. Immediately the social justice warriors grabbed their rhetorical torches and pitchforks and marched on the magazine. At the head of the baying mob was the Writers Union of Canada's Equity Task Force- because that's apparently a thing- ready to hurl their weaponized feelings at the enemy. Here's a summation from the Globe & Mail of their behaviour:
The TWUC Equity Task Force issued a statement, saying it was “angry and appalled” by the column, and shocked that it was published – saying it was an indication of structural racism, “brazen malice, or extreme negligence.” It issued a list of demands, including that the next three issues be turned over to Indigenous and other racialized editors and writers, affirmative action hiring for the next editor and future office staff and a future issue dedicated to bringing historical context to the issue.
So did the magazine respond to these outrageous demands by telling the grievance-mongers to go pound sand? Of course not. They cravenly folded like a cheap suit, issued a grovelling apology and had Mr. Niedzviescki resign from his position as editor. One of the TWUC board members also resigned, not over the treatment of their editor, but in solidarity with the protesters:
TWUC editorial board member Nikki Reimer also resigned Wednesday, posting a statement: “At the most generous interpretation [the column] is clueless and thoughtless; at worst, it is offensive and insulting to the many writers featured within the page; it undermines any attempts at space-making or celebration of the writers featured within the pages, and it marks Write magazine as a space that is not safe for indigenous and racialized writers.” She wrote that she agrees with the criticisms circulating on social media. “I vehemently disagree with the notion that cultural appropriation is not real – it exists and it causes real harm. Further, Canada is ‘exhaustingly white and middle class’ not because white writers are afraid to write stories they don’t ‘know,’ but because white writers don’t get out of the way and make space for the multitude of stories to be told by those who aren’t white and middle class.”
Got that? Expressing a different opinion is violence, making the magazine an "unsafe space." And if you're a white person who fancies being a writer, well, get to the back of the bus because you must be censored due to the colour of your skin. Because this isn't unbalanced and racist, or anything. This disgusting display of bigotry, ignorance, and cowardice has seen little push back from anyone of note in the writing or journalistic communities. It is, of course, obvious why: no one wants to be the next target of the mob. This week, however, the editor of another Canadian magazine, Jonathan Kay of The Walrus, rashly expressed concern over these intellectual witch hunts, and promptly fell victim to one himself:
On Twitter, Mr. Kay wrote: “The mobbing of Hal Niedzviecki is what we get when we let Identity-politics fundamentalists run riot.” He added that he did not object to Mr. Niedzviecki’s firing: “Editors get fired all the time. What I object to is the shaming, the manifestos, the creepy confession rituals.” Late on Thursday night, a number of high-profile people in Canadian media had seized on Mr. Kay’s tweet as inspiration for the creation of a real Appropriation Prize, a move which inflamed many who were already upset by Mr. Niedzviecki’s essay. Mr. Kay criticized the move to create an actual prize – tweeting it “went too far” – but held firm on his position that “the idea of turning cultural appropriation into a sort of thoughtcrime that demands shaming and censorship” is, “problematic.” On Saturday afternoon, Mr. Kay debated the issue on CBC News Network with the pop-culture critic Jesse Wente, who told host Carole MacNeil: “We have to acknowledge there is a history of appropriation, that appropriation is institutionalized in Canada. Not just cultural appropriation, but appropriation of land, of our lives, that this is the very foundation of what Canada is based on, including laws that were written specifically to enforce cultural appropriation.” He added that “this manifests itself now in a media that is woefully lacking in inclusion, that is ill-prepared to have these debates, that doesn’t have [Indigenous] representatives, especially at the highest levels.” While Mr. Kay agreed with many of Mr. Wente’s points, he argued, “There is a legitimate debate to be had about where the rights of artists to imagine other cultures end, and the rights of those other cultures to avoid appropriation begin. That’s a real live debate and it doesn’t help the debate when you take one side and cast them all as a bunch of racists, which I argued was essentially the tone and meaning of the TWUC Equity Task Force tweet.” Hours later, Mr. Kay resigned.
For the record, I don't particularly agree with Jon Kay, either. He thinks that there is some debate to be had over whether or not writers and artists have the right to depict cultures other than their own. Um, there is no room for debate on this. We are free Canadians and neither the government nor any other body has any business trying to police our thoughts, our words, or our art. If you don't like someone's depiction of a culture or religion, don't read it, or exercise your right to write- or speak- a refutation of it. If you want to criticize and critique, have at it. It's when your response to spoken or written words that you disagree with is to try to ban them that we're going to have a problem.
As to this whole "cultural appropriation" nonsense, it scarcely deserves a response. The idea that writers of one race should not be allowed to imagine fictional characters of different ethnic backgrounds is ludicrous in the extreme. Are these race hysterics planning to make their demands retroactive? Perhaps they think works like Othello, To Kill A Mockingbird, and Huckleberry Finn should be banned? What of fictional characters written by authors of the opposite sex- are they also problematic? Maybe Frankenstein, The Outsiders, and the Harry Potter books, which all have male protagonists written by women, should be added to the pyre. And don't even get me started on Shakespeare's Beatrice, Thackeray's Becky Sharp, or Dickens' Betsey Trotwood, all strong women characters, but written by men. In addition, what about characters being portrayed on screen or stage by actors of different races? Is that wrong as well? If it is, Hamilton had better close down right now. Once you start down this road of social justice, the only logical end is everything of interest and worth being verboten. To sum up: 1) "Cultural appropriation" is a load of horse pucky and everyone knows it. Those who pretend it isn't do so for generally one of two reasons: either they want to use it as a cudgel to try to knock down those who are more talented or successful than they are, or they're afraid of reprisals if they don't go along with the mob. 2) Being offended or having your feelings hurt doesn't give you the right to stifle someone else's freedom of expression. I'm a Christian, and pretty much any depiction of Christianity by the entertainment industry is inaccurate, negative, and frequently offensive in the extreme. I don't enjoy this, but so what? I have the option to not watch, and to criticize- which I frequently do. What I don't have the right to do is try to stop them from writing and producing works which I don't like. 3) If your response to words and opinions you don't like is to try to ban them and destroy the careers of those who dare utter them, you aren't just wrong or misguided, you are a bad person. 4) There's no point in trying to appease social justice warriors, because it can't be done. They live to be offended: it's an ego and/or power trip for them, so once they get one demand met, they just move on to the next grievance- like locusts devouring and laying waste to everything in their path. Far better to take a principled stand right from the start and at least retain your self-respect.
***Literally while I was working on this, news broke that another person has lost their job over this issue- this time at the uber-left wing CBC: Managing Editor Of CBC's The National Reassigned. As in the Reign of Terror, eventually even those who agree with the cause but aren't seen as being radical enough will be purged. 20th century dystopian literature generally portrayed the rise of totalitarian regimes as coming from the right side of the political spectrum. It is becoming increasingly obvious that at this time, it is the leftists who are intent on removing personal liberties and cracking down on fundamental freedoms. Arthur Miller wrote The Crucible as a response to the McCarthy trials. If he were writing it today it would reflect university campuses and social justice warriors, hysterically accusing dissenters of thought crimes and calling for their destruction, while others cravenly go along with the madness, hoping to avoid being targeted themselves. It's a sad state of affairs.
We had our closing dinner for the choir season last night at a local restaurant. A good time was had by all, the food was great, and I arrived home uncomfortably full, having dined not wisely but too well. During the course of the evening, the society's president gave a short speech in which he provided us with an update on the state of the choir's coffers. It turns out that this was a banner year for us; the Christmas concert is well attended every year, but frequently the spring concert is less of a draw. This spring, however, the Broadway program really packed in the crowds. Cha-ching!
"Do it big, do it right and do it with style." -Fred Astaire
"To become self-aware, people must be allowed to hear a plurality of opinions and then make up their own minds. They must be allowed to say, write and publish whatever they want. Freedom of expression is the most basic, but fundamental, right. Without it, human beings are reduced to automatons." -Ma Jian