April has brought to Nova Scotia not showers but torrential rain and high winds. Here are a couple pictures of my nephews playing outside after the latest storm:
One of my nephews is fascinated by all creepy, crawly things. Here he is after the rain, rescuing worms stranded in the driveway and carrying them over to the lawn.
Below is a poem by Dorothy Aldis, who wrote children's poetry and stories in the early 1900's. Her poem Brooms describes the appearance of trees in stormy weather, bending in the wind and brushing the sky.
On stormy days When the wind is high, Tall trees are brooms Sweeping the sky.
They swish their branches In buckets of rain And swash and sweep it Blue again.
This film clip is from the 1949 movie Adam's Rib. It stars Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy as a married couple who also happen to be lawyers. After a woman attempts to shoot her husband because he's cheating on her, she is arrested for attempted murder. Tracy's character is a prosecutor who is assigned the case and, to his shock, his wife- Hepburn- takes on the accused as a client. Sparks fly in the courtroom and then inevitably at home as the two argue their respective cases. The scene below shows Hepburn's chatacter (Amanda Bonner) questioning the "other woman" about her affair with the married man. The other woman is played by the always great Jean Hagen, whom many will know from Singin' In The Rain.
Not unrelated to Griffin believing himself to be superior to other men and unbound by the rules which govern lesser mortals is the escalating level of violence in his actions. We see early on that he uses a cat to further his research into invisibility without concern for its welfare; it's just an animal. Then, as the story progresses and Griffin becomes ever more fanatical and convinced of his personal greatness, it becomes evident that he's started to regard other people as little more than animals to be exploited and, if they become an impediment to him, done away with. At first Griffin mostly confines himself to petty crimes like robbery to support his research. Then, however, as his belief in his own preeminence grows, so too does his willingness to hurt others- physically as well as financially. He becomes willing to violently assault- and even kill- anyone who stands in between him and what he wants or who seeks to hinder his plans. Near the end, maddened with rage and drunk on his own power, Griffin murders a man not because he was a threat to him in any way, but simply because he can. The less Griffin regards his fellow men as people, the more inhuman he becomes himself.
This escalation in brutality on the part of the Invisible Man eventually and inevitably leads to an increased level of violent response on the part of those he's threatened and attacked. At first Griffin experiences very little push back from his confused and terrified victims. Gradually however, as his crimes become more extreme, so does the response of the townspeople. This is due in no small part to the efforts of Kemp who, as another man of science, observes his former school fellow's weaknesses and uses these observations to formulate a plan to bring him down. It has become obvious to Kemp that Griffin will not cease his brutal rampage until he is physically forced to do so, and he advises those tracking the Invisible Man to use any method necessary- no matter how ruthless- to stop him. When Adye protests this, Kemp responds with cold logic: "The man's become inhuman, I tell you... I am as sure he will establish a reign of terror- so soon as he has got over the emotions of this escape- as I am sure I am talking to you. Our only chance is to be ahead. He has cut himself off from his kind. His blood be upon his own head." It is a dark statement of intent, but Griffin has brought his violent and bloody fate on himself.
So those are my thoughts on H.G. Wells' The Invisible Man. To sum up, the novel deals with the concept of isolation, and not just the physical kind; Griffin deliberately cuts himself off from others mentally and emotionally long before his invisibility renders him physically isolated as well. Regarding his fellow men as different- and lesser- beings allows Griffin to use and abuse them without feeling remorse. As his behaviour becomes more aggressively violent and most of his victims' responses are ineffectual, Griffin grows intoxicated by the heady feeling of having power over lesser men. He plots to use his invisibility to obtain more power and is willing to do anything- even kill- to attain his desire. Griffin's single-minded pursuit of his research at any cost also leads to questions about the wisdom of practicing science without ethics or boundaries. Wells contrasts the two men of science in the novel: Griffin, who conducts his experiments with little thought or care as to how his methods will adversely affect those around him, and Kemp who, as a doctor, obviously believes that one should "first do no harm." In the end, Griffin's hubris and villainous brutality bring abouthis downfall; his violence provokes his victims to respond equally violently, and his arrogant assumption of superiority leads him to erroneously conclude that he cannot be bested. The Invisible Man dies by the same violence he espoused and the sight of his newly visible body- naked and broken- reveals that, whatever superiority of intellect and ability he possessed, whatever villainy he was capable of, in the end Griffin was a man like any other- flawed, fallible, and very mortal.
This week we watched the 2006 film Miss Potter, which is a partly true/ partly fictional biography of Beatrix Potter, famed children's author and illustrator. In it, Potter is a rather eccentric spinster who refers to the animals she paints and writes stories about as her "friends" and talks to them, fancifully imagining them becoming animated and leaping off the pages of her work. Attempting to get her stories published, she begins working with Norman Warne of the Warne publishing house. As her books go into print and become hugely popular, Beatrix and Norman gradually fall in love, to the dismay of her social climbing parents who regard Norman as a lowly tradesman. Norman and Beatrix become engaged despite this opposition, but her parents insist that she come with them on a three month vacation to the Lake District. They promise that, if the two still wish to marry after this period of separation, they won't oppose the match any longer. Beatrix and Norman write constantly to each other but unbeknownst to Beatrix, Norman has become quite ill and dies suddenly. The film doesn't say of what, but in real life he had leukemia. Devastated, Beatrix struggles to return to her books, only finding peace when she buys a farm in the Lake District and moves there to live and write. Now an extremely wealthy woman Beatrix, with the help of her lawyer William Heelis, begins buying up the land around her farm to be a nature preserve. As the film ends, we're told with a word scroll that some years later, she and William Heelis marry and when she dies, she donates her lands, which are now part of the Lake District National Park.
I quite liked this film which, though somewhat fanciful, sticks pretty close to the actual facts of Potter's life. Renee Zellweger does a fine job as Beatrix, making her charmingly eccentric, socially awkward yet determined to succeed. Ewan McGregor is also extremely likable as Norman Warne, sweet and enthusiastic and very supportive of Beatrix's work. It is rather endearing to see these two somewhat shy, lonely souls find in each other a kindred spirit, making it all the more tragic when Beatrix loses the one person who truly understands her. Of course, the scenery in the Lake Districts is amazing: it made me want to go back there... I once took a ferry across Lake Windermere, which is just as breathtakingly beautiful as the movie portrays it to be. Although the swans on the shore were just plain mean. The movie also made me want to pull out some of my Beatrix Potter stories. I may have to invite a few nephews or nieces over so I have an excuse to read them.
The Country Of The Pointed Pines is the 1896 novel by Sarah Orne Jewett. In it the narrator- a woman author- moves from Boston to a small fishing village in Maine, takes lodgings with a local widow, and rents an old schoolhouse in which to write without interruptions and distractions. Despite this, many residents and their doings make their way into the narrative and much of the book can be seen as a meditation on the effects- good and bad- of living in such a remote place. Probably because it was first published as a serial in a magazine, the book is episodic in nature though the stories are all bound together by the people and places in them, rather like in Stephen Leacock's Sunshine Sketches Of A Little Town. I hope I enjoy this novel as much as I did Sunshine.
The Monuments Men is a nonfiction book about a very specialized U.S. army unit called the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives section. Most of the members of it were volunteers originally from the art world, and with the mandate "respect and protect" they would advance with the Allied troops in war zones and rescue as many art and cultural treasures as possible from destruction and damage. A big part of their job was to track down and liberate the many caches of artworks which the Nazis had stolen from their victims and hidden in various places around Europe. Though I consider myself fairly well educated on World War II, this is a subject which I know very little about and look forward to reading up on. The book was made into a movie a while back which I haven't seen but is apparently a bit of a dud, which is unfortunate. I have higher hopes for the book.
Pudd'nhead Wilson is one of Mark Twain's works which I haven't read before. It was published in 1894 and is set in pre-Civil War Missouri. In it, Roxy, who is a slave although she is only 1/16 black, has a baby son- Chambers- who is 1/32 black. She is also caring for her master's baby son Tom who is about the same age as Chambers. After some fellow slaves are sold, Roxy grows panicked about the fate of herself and her baby, so switches the two infants in their beds, hoping to give her son a better life. They look enough alike that no one else is the wiser. As a result, Tom- now Chambers- grows up as a slave, while Chambers- now Tom- becomes a wealthy and arrogant aristocrat. The book details the consequences of this when, two decades later, the truth comes out.
This image is from Mark Twain's 1884 novel The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn. It occurs during the time when Huck and Jim are travelling by raft down the Mississippi River. One night during a storm, they come across a steamship which has run aground and is listing. Assuming it to be abandoned, Huck convinces a reluctant Jim that they should go aboard to see if there's any food they can pilfer. Once on the ship, however, they discover that the ship is indeed still occupied- by three criminals who are having a falling out. Suspicious that the third member of their group is planning to turn them in, the other two are discussing either shooting him or scuttling the boat and leaving him to drown. Undetected, Huck and Jim plan to sneak back off the ship and go inform the local sheriff, but find to their dismay that their raft has broken loose in the storm and floated off down the river. Uh oh.
When I left off discussing The Invisible Man last week, I had been pointing out how, due to feeling that he is separate from and superior to the rest of humanity, Griffin- the Invisible Man- has no compunction about using, hurting, and even killing other people. We see that, as the story progresses Griffin becomes more fanatical and extreme in his beliefs and behaviour. This is due, I believe, to the fact that he is becoming more used to using his invisibility and realizing more fully the power it affords him. Griffin has always been amoral, but as his list of crimes grows and no one is able to successfully stop him, he becomes bolder in his villainy. Although of course, The Invisible Man's circumstances are incredible, this escalation in violence and villainy has something to say about human nature.
Sir John Dalberg-Acton famously once wrote that, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." I think that this is true, but only to the extent that power frees an individual to act on impulses that he already possesses. In other words, corruption already exists within the heart of every man but it is usually constrained by something. For people of faith, this may be fear of God; even non-believers may be bound by morals derived from the Judeo-Christian tradition. Others may be motivated by the threat of legal repercussions, social stigma, or perhaps fear of physical punishment. Giving persons enough power that they no longer fear physical retaliation or other ramifications can lead to them giving way to temptations and impulses which they always possessed yet lacked the resources or opportunities to act upon. The true test of a man's character is how he behaves when he thinks he can get away with it. Another issue which Wells raises is the danger of practicing science without ethics. For Griffin, science is his religion and he is his own god. Therefore, anything done to further his research is allowable, no matter its effects on the general population. He never stops to consider if his research should be subject to some regulation, or if, once completed and successful, there should be practical limitations put on its use to keep it from being abused and misused. The fact that one can do something doesn't necessarily mean that one should do it; surely there are some lines which should not be crossed. One example in the real world which leaps to mind is prenatal screening for Down Syndrome: whatever it's originally intended use, it has resulted in the vast majority of pre-born babies with Downs Syndrome being aborted. In places like Iceland, their termination rate is close to 100%. As far as I'm concerned, this is no less than the deliberate eradication of persons with disabilities, something we had a problem with when it was the Nazis who were doing it. Science can only determine if something is possible- and why. It can't decide for us if that thing is moral, but far too many people use it as an excuse not to have to make uncomfortable or inconvenient ethical judgments.
O.K., I'll have one more post on The Invisible Man in which I'll discuss the escalating level of violence in the novel and also do a general wrap up.