Monday, February 28, 2011

A Dream Came True - Discussion Thread

Gloria calls Jemima 'neither fish, flesh, fowl nor good red herring...'
Here's a bit from WikiAnswers about that particular reference:
Q. What is the origin of neither fish nor fowl?
A. Also, neither fish nor flesh; neither fish, flesh, nor fowl. Not one or the other, not something fitting any category under discussion. For example, They felt he was neither fish nor fowl--not qualified to lead the department, yet not appropriate to work as a staff member either. This expression appeared in slightly different form in John Heywood's 1546 proverb collection ("Neither fish, nor flesh, nor good red herring") and is thought to allude to food for monks ( fish, because they abstained from meat), for the people (flesh, or meat), and for the poor (red herring, a very cheap fish).

When she reads selections from the newspaper, Jemima chooses to touch 'delicately on the separation of a peer of the realm and his wife.'  But touch upon it, she does.

At Lady Manderly's party, feeling a bit harassed by that woman, Jemima mutters (under her breath) a 'naughty word' and sails off across the landing.  This bodes well for future relations. I think the ability to let off steam is a valuable asset.  I don't approve the use of naughty words, but I do understand the need to vent frustrations. How do you vent? Do you give way to 'naughty words' or do you call your BFF and let it all out?

When I was a kid, I used to love to play the board game Clue. For some strange inexplicably British reason, it's called Cluedo in England (where it was invented).  Lady Manderly actually has tea with a Colonel and Mr. and Mrs. Plum. I think she was pretty lucky not to find a body in the library that had been killed with a revolver by Miss Scarlett.

Jemima writes letter after letter to Shirley, her landlady's daughter (while I'm sure not disclosing anything of emotional depth).  This Bettys grandmother was a champion letter writer.  She wrote very consistently from the time I left home to go to college, until her death (about 12 years later). I, however, was not a faithful letter writer.  I could count on getting a letter from her practically by return mail.  She could count on me to sent a letter every two or three weeks. I wish I had saved all of her letters - I think I have a couple of dozen.  Her letters were exhausting to read - pretty much an account of her week.  They would go something like this:
Dear Debbie,
I'm sure you've been very busy studying and going to school. That must be why I haven't gotten a letter for the past three weeks. I haven't had that much to do this week. On Monday I got up and made six loaves of bread, then picked a couple of bushels of cherries. I watched your cousins in the afternoon, so was only able to make a dozen cherry pies.  After the kids left I delivered the pies and bread to the widows from church. Tuesday was dry so I found the ladder and got up on the roof and started removing the old shingles. It took me most of the day, but I did find a little time after dark to knit a baby blanket for a new mother. Wednesday the weather remained fine, so I was able to get a good start on the roof.  I got all the new tar paper on fairly quickly and even managed to get a couple of rows of shingles nailed up before noon - which was a good thing, because I promised your aunt that I would help her can cherries.  We managed to pit and can about 40 quarts before bedtime.  I admit I was a little sore, but that could have been from the chemotherapy that I had after nailing the shingles and before canning cherries...
You might be tempted to think I am exaggerating...and I am, but only just barely. She did the most amazing amount of work...every day--  including re-roofing her house (she was in her 70's at the time), writing letters, knitting blankets, baking bread, pies, cakes, etc. - to give away. It's no secret where my father got his work ethic from (hint: it wasn't from his father). Part of the reason I didn't write as often as she did, was that I felt like such a slacker compared to her. Which I sort of was. How could I write a letter stating that I had stayed up for hours reading in bed, then overslept my alarm and got poor marks on a test?  It wasn't so bad after I started having kids - I had plenty to write about, but then I had so much less time to write.

'Jemima and Lady Manderly carried on the kind of conversation which the British, as a race tend to indulge in when confronted by an awkward situation--the weather, vague world politics, the newest fashions--hardly a successful topic since both ladies had conflicting views on them--Wimbledon and the Royal family.' It's tough to carry on a conversation with someone who has conflicting views and not...umm...conflict.  I think the term we're looking for here is 'stilted conversation'.


  1. Although I had read the book before, I had never noticed until this time about the Colonel and the Plums--I laughed aloud--I know I could count on y'all for a graphic. La Neels was a sly one.

  2. Betty Barbara here--
    Working retail for 17 years taught me to curb any tendency towards a 'potty mouth' in public. Thou Shalt Not Swear in front of customers! But sometimes (when the computer crashed or some other disaster occurred) you just had to vent. So I would mutter "oh, dirty words" or "oh, expletive deleted"! If the customer heard, they usually ended up laughing. See, you don't actually have to say the actually naughty word to get the emotion across!
    For the younger Bettys out there--"expletive deleted" was a very, very common phrase from the transcripts of the Watergate Tapes.

  3. Why is everyone ignoring the potty mouthness on page 137 (old cover). In my world (a 3-6 grade school) this would get at least one hour of detention.
    And of course my professor's reaction was totally male - 'Not until after the wedding.'

    Now, knowing Betty as we do, this phrase probably means something totally different in her place and time. But What?......

  4. Is this the what you're talking about?
    I found this reference on wikipedia. It's a little violent, possible a bit vulgar...but not really potty mouth (back then).
    Blow the Man Down is an old sea shanty. The lyric "Blow the man down" refers to the act of knocking a man to the ground in a fight.

    1. Definition of blow verb from the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary
      14 [TRANSITIVE] blow somebody/something (BRITISH ENGLISH; INFORMAL) used to show that you are annoyed, surprised or do not care about something
      Blow it! We've missed the bus.
      Well, blow me down! I never thought I'd see you again.
      I'm blowed if I'm going to (= I certainly will not) let him treat you like that.
      Let's take a taxi and blow (= never mind) the expense.

  5. Frankly, Christian Bale saying "Bloody hell" on national TV last night was far worse by the standards of the day. (Today, of course, it's nothing...)

  6. Lol! Betty Barbara, that reminds me of a story my aunt tells. She was a ticket agent for United Airlines for ages and ages and one day Olivia de Havilland came in to buy tickets and she was so nice and kind and gracious until my aunt made a mistake on the computer and she (my aunt) said her default swear which is "Oh, fiddle-dee-dee!" Usually people think this is charming but Olivia de Havilland was NOT amused. She turned off the charm like a switch and was icy until the tickets were purchased and she had left. My aunt was mortified because obviously O de H thought she said it BECAUSE she was there as she didn't know that she says it every single day.

  7. Betty Debbie, There's no 'down' attached to the phrase in my book. And said here, it's not got much to do with songs or sailors. Maybe things are different on the Pacific coast. ;-)

    Betty Magdalen, good thing you and Christian don't visit our school! We've now got a very low tolerance for potty mouthness.
    And no we aren't a private convent school. LOL Just an rural public school with high standards for our kids.

  8. Betty Mary -- I have no complaint with anyone who thinks "aitch-ee-double-hockey-sticks" is a Bad Word.

    My issue is with "bloody" which is seen in the US as a quaint Britishism but in the UK forty years ago it was a Very Bad Word (bad enough it would have been bleeped off the air in a live television broadcast).

    I am guaranteed to want to throw a so-called historical romance across the room if the author has the delicately-bred heroine use "bloody" as an epithet. Delicately-bred women didn't use it in 1970, so I find it very hard to imagine they used it in 1817.

  9. What do they say when something is covered in blood?

  10. I think the context takes the sting out of it, but I suspect in the "olden" days great effort was made not to refer to items covered in bodily fluids at all. :-)

    A bit like the difference between a needle piercing your finger, and someone calling a man a five-letter-word starting with P.

    And didn't we have this problem with the verb "to blow"?

  11. Here's some etymology on 'bloody' just for kicks:

    Many theories have been put forward for the origin of the term. One theory is that it derives from the phrase "by Our Lady", a sacrilegious invocation of the Virgin Mary. The abbreviated form "By'r Lady" is common in Shakespeare's plays around the turn of the 17th century, and interestingly Jonathan Swift about 100 years later writes both "it grows by'r Lady cold" and "it was bloody hot walking to-day" [1] suggesting that a transition from one to the other could have been under way.

    Others regard this explanation as dubious. Eric Partridge, in Words, Words, Words (Methuen, 1933), describes this as "phonetically implausible". Geoffrey Hughes in Swearing: A social history of foul language, oaths and profanity in English (Blackwell, 1991), points out that "by my lady" is not an adjective whereas "bloody" is, and suggests that the slang use of the term started with "bloody drunk" meaning "fired up and ready for a fight".

    Another theory is that the offensive use of the word arose during the Wars of the Roses when Royalty and nobility that is all those "of the blood" (meaning blue-blooded descendants of Charlemagne) wrought death and the most bloody destruction on England. Elizabeth I is also supposed to have used it when referring to her elder sister, Mary, due to her persecution of Protestants.

    Another thought is that it simply comes from a reference to blood, a view that Eric Partridge prefers. However, this overlooks the considerable strength of social and religious pressure in past centuries to avoid profanity. This resulted in the appearance or slang appropriation of words that in some cases appear to bear little relation to their source: "Crikey" for "Christ"; "Gee" for "Jesus"; "Heck" for "Hell"; "Gosh" for "God"; "dash", "dang" or "darn" for "damn". These, too, might be considered implausible etymologies if looked at only from the point of view of phonetics. Given the context in which it is used, as well as the evidence of Swift's writing, the possibility that "bloody" is also a minced oath (or more precisely, a slang usage of an otherwise legitimate word masquerading as a minced oath) cannot be lightly dismissed. The suggestion that it originated as a reference to Jesus "bleeding" on the cross is compelling for its shock value, callousness and sacrilegious intent, just as the Irish, and those of the diaspora, will exclaim "suffering Jesus" in response to something shocking.

    It has also been surmised that "bloody" is related to the Dutch bloote, "in the adverbial sense of entire, complete, pure, naked, that we have transformed into bloody, in the consequently absurd phrases of bloody good, bloody bad, bloody thief, bloody angry, &c, where it simply implies completely, entirely, purely, very, truly, and has no relation to either blood or murder, except by corruption of the word.

  12. My housecleaner is mildly retarded. When one first meets her, it's very hard to tell that she's got problems. Not long into a conversation, however, one realizes that this response or that question is just a bit off.

    She is sent into giggly, blushing, hysterics when she hears of someone who's called, "Dick."

    "Isn't that TERRIBLE? Who would name their son DICK!??"

    I think she does the same for Peter, silly girl.

    But she takes the Lord's name in vain with blithe indifference. I finally told her about it. (She is a Christian, otherwise I would "grin" (not) and bear it.)

    Magdalen, why/how did "bloody" come to be considered such a dreadful, vulgar word? Do you know? Would one of the Brit Hubs know?


    PS I was typing this while Keira was putting her post together. I'm still interesting in hearing what the Hubs have to say.

  13. Betty Magdalen, for the same reason I can't hardly bear to watch Glory (1989) (an otherwise very fine film), with Denzel Washington uttering "s--t" every other word. This was not a 1860s word used by anyone in this fashion much less by the Massachusetts 54th U.S. Colored Troops. AARRRGGH!

    My gut guess is that "bloody" almost has to have a blasphemous connotation in order to earn its place in the profanity pantheon. Oddly, one of our last non-broadcast-t.v. words--the "f-bomb"--was not particularly horrific in Shakespeare's day.

  14. Betty JoDee (and all the Bettys) -- There's a complicated and contentious debate going on over on Twitter and at various blogs about historical "accuracy" and "authenticity" vis à vis Georgette Heyer and more modern authors of historical romances.

    The word "bloody" is my litmus test -- I can't read a romance that has a well-bred young woman using that word. Such books are almost always written by American authors. I understand that to American ears and sensibilities, it's a quaint British oath. No biggie.

    But having lived in England, I know otherwise. And unlike the example of Glory, where the context was right for some sort of epithet, just not that one because it hadn't been coined yet, having a heroine in a romance novel set in early 19th century England use that word means the author has no clue what the word meant. She thinks it means "botheration" or, in modern parlance, "darn" or "drat."

    Based on my experience in England in the 70s, a young upper class woman would not have blurted out any phrase with bloody in it under any circumstances at all. Basically, it would have sounded as though she was using the F-bomb.

    There's a rule in writing: don't trip up the reader. Our goal is to write stories that keep the reader in our fictional world, caring about our characters, etc. If I'm in a Regency drawing room and a character uses "bloody," I'm not in that drawing room anymore. I'm suddenly glaring at the American writer who couldn't be bothered to look "bloody" up in a British dictionary. Makes me cranky.

    (Yes, okay, that's not the only thing that makes me cranky. I'll admit that...)

    I'm pretty sure Betty Keira's reference books are the same as ours, so we're no help there. Partridge seems to think it was acceptable until 1750; after that it was ethically okay but aesthetically distasteful.

    And Betty Henry's contribution is usually to point out that his father would occasionally lose his temper and say "bloody hell," in a series of increasingly intense exclamations. Quite intimidating. (To be fair to Thomas, it was never directed at anyone, but usually expressed his frustration at some inanimate object that refused to do his bidding. And don't I know that feeling!)

  15. You know what kills me? Pants. Regency heroines donning pants. Sometimes (occasionally) I get it as a cute plot device (with the understanding that it is rare and deeply daring and genuinely shocking), but I've too often seen it as 'Hey, I like pants because skirts are uncomfy!' and nothing pulls me out of period like that.

    Psst: If anyone has read the Hunger Games (not regency--more apocalyptic sci-fi) series and wants to discuss how silly the end is (the author essentially shoves her character into a very modern mold) and how much it pulls me out of the books, then I'm game for some diversion...

  16. Betty Miranda has her heroine in pants in one of her books, but it is part of the plot (and humor and Brighton chemistry). But Betty Magdalen, my point is your point that the s-word instantly moves me from the beaches of Confederate South Carolina to downtown L.A.

  17. And to make it even worse, Betty Keira, "pants" means an entirely different piece of clothing in the UK. Basically, men wear trousers or jeans, and underneath those they wear pants! (as distinct from boxers, btw.) (I've learned, after two Brit Hubs, the distinction.)

    In opera, there are roles for women singers to play someone of the opposite sex -- we call them "pants roles" and the Brits say "trousers roles."

    Betty JoDee -- I know: that's the sort of thing that trips one up, whether it's reading a book or watching TV or a movie. Most people wouldn't get the significance of that word, of course, but then you are quite assuredly not "most people."

  18. It was a compliment. Sheesh. Some people. *but not most people*

  19. *confused* by Betty Keira's earlier comment about the Hunger Games. Since it happens in the future, why wouldn't some of today's manners and mores have carried forward?

  20. Oh, I see I ought to have said, 'current' rather than 'modern'. (Spoiler Alert: I was mostly irritated that the resolution of the heroine's angst resulted in her having the requisite 2 children in her thirties, which seemed to be shoehorning some pretty pedestrian self-actualized-professional-woman-circa-2009 reproductive feeling (not that there's anything wrong with that--it just felt jarring to me) into a world wherein that was going to be pretty outside of the norm.--I was hoping that her middle finger (please excuse the vulgarity)to the evil empire would result in her having a whole bunch of little Katnisses and Peetas at a shockingly young age (which I admit wouldn't be very Katniss-y at all)and making Peeta not have to carry every bit of water in their relationship.) I still love Hunger Games though even if I thought the heroine needed a beating at the end. But it all gave me lots to think about. I wrote a whole blog post on my mommy blog about how Katniss reminded me of Simon Wiesenthal.

    1. Katniss's behavior from late in the first book onward was confusing and weird to me, but that seems right. She was brutally tortured by being required to participate in ritualized murder, and she has got to be a complete wreck forever after. Even WWI and Viet Nam didn't get as personal as the 'games.'

      On the subject of Denzel Washington's potty mouth, Jonathan Swift was using that word in his 'scatalogical' poems in the early 18th century. So why couldn't Denzel have been using it in the mid/late 19th?

    2. Okay, well as long as we're interested in The Hunger Games for a minute, I'll dig up my old post about it (Again, spoilers ahead):

      The end has Katniss watching her two children (born 15 years after the end of the story) play in a field and she talks about how it took Peeta that long to talk her into having children. Though being ruthless and self-involved was consistent with her character, this is the only part that drove my nuts and here's why:
      I watched a documentary recently about Simon Wiesenthal (see right)--a man famous for surviving the Holocaust and then becoming a Nazi hunter for the rest of his life. He was a strange and heroic man with flashes of humor and an interesting personality. But what was uncomfortable for me was his relationship with his wife (at least as portrayed in the film). She also survived the horrors of WWII. Her family was also decimated as was his. And, though they seemed to love each other very much, it appeared that she agreed to live life on his terms.
      They had only one daughter who he didn't see for long periods. Their home (with their daughter as well as themselves inside) was firebombed. They received many death-threats. By all reports, she longed to settle in Israel with her daughter and grandchildren.
      But they stayed in Austria and hunted Nazis.
      Now, I think that Simon Wiesenthal is an heroic figure. He did necessary work and drove himself ruthlessly to pursue justice but I can't imagine that he was a comfortable person to be married to.
      The film made me think of a recent topic on a talk radio show about high-maintenance spouses. Now, Simon Wiesenthal was not high-maintenance in that he was unkind or dismissive of his wife, I think. He was not unpunctual or self-obsessed as far as I know. But Cyla his wife, it felt clear, did not share his passion to the same degree that he did. But they lived life on his terms and she accepted it and might have been very happy with him (she probably was. He came off as very engaging and delightful.) but it must have cost her terribly too.
      Which brings me back to Peeta and Katniss.
      It took him 15 years to talk her into having children. Though she is a clearly heroic figure, this holding on to her fear and hate and insecurity seems high-maintenance to me. Yes, yes, she lets it go in the end (sort of) but I would have liked her character to arc more towards trust and a willingness to live life on Peeta's terms too--particularly as he seems to have a knack for it.

      **But all this isn't a criticism of the writing. The author makes the end quite consistent with her characters--and as she is written, Katniss is flawed and not a little selfish.

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