Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Scales of Stuff

If she were alive to-day, I feel like Elizabeth Gaskell may have been a gamer. The impression I get from Margaret Hale, the protagonist of North and South, is that she's a bit of an avatar for Gaskell, and a someone narcissistic one--Margaret's shown to be the glue holding together her family, comprised of a somewhat weak willed father and a little lost lamb of a mother. Margaret's also the object of desire for powerful men, whom she often leaves feeling disarmed. Mr. Thornton, who's in charge of the mill town (Milton) in which Margaret's family have just taken residence so that her father can act as Thornton's tutor, apparently becomes rather quickly infatuated with Margaret. I loved the possibly unintentionally sexual quality to the prose when Thornton calls on the family, like this section from his POV;

[Margaret] stood by the tea-table in a light-coloured muslin gown, which had a good deal of pink about it. She looked as if she was not attending to the conversation, but solely busy with the tea-cups, among which her round ivory hands moved with pretty, noiseless, daintiness. She had a bracelet on one taper arm, which would fall down over her round wrist. Mr. Thornton watched the replacing of this troublesome ornament with far more attention than he listened to her father. It seemed as if it fascinated him to see her push it up impatiently, until it tightened her soft flesh; and then to mark the loosening—the fall. He could almost have exclaimed—'There it goes, again!'

Even better, from Margaret's POV;

She rearranged her mother's worsted-work, and fell back into her own thoughts—as completely forgotten by Mr. Thornton as if she had not been in the room, so thoroughly was he occupied in explaining to Mr. Hale the magnificent power, yet delicate adjustment of the might of the steam-hammer, which was recalling to Mr. Hale some of the wonderful stories of subservient genii in the Arabian Nights—one moment stretching from earth to sky and filling all the width of the horizon, at the next obediently compressed into a vase small enough to be borne in the hand of a child.

'And this imagination of power, this practical realisation of a gigantic thought, came out of one man's brain in our good town. That very man has it within him to mount, step by step, on each wonder he achieves to higher marvels still. And I'll be bound to say, we have many among us who, if he were gone, could spring into the breach and carry on the war which compels, and shall compel, all material power to yield to science.'

As George Takei would say, "Oh, my."

Later, when Thornton calls on the Hales again, he and Margaret have an interesting debate about Thornton's relationship with his workers. As the title suggests, the book is about a contrast between Margaret's experiences in northern and southern England, mainly in the change of environment from a rural parish to a sooty, miserable industry town (apparently modelled after Manchester). But the conflict also seems to become masculine versus feminine and capitalism versus socialism. The dialogue between Margaret and Mr. Thornton would not need to be changed much to fit into the mouths of a modern day liberal arguing with a libertarian. Particularly in Thornton's arguing against providing more for his workers because he values their independence. Thornton even argues for the necessity of a "wise despotism", which makes him more honest with himself than modern libertarians, perhaps.

Reading about the American Civil War for class, I had to smile about how the Confederacy, which was a loud proponent of states rights, very quickly fell under a system of a stronger central government than it had ever been in under the Union. It has to be the greatest perennial comedy of politics that those who most vociferously argue against the virtues of a "nanny state" inevitably end up with the biggest nannies.

Twitter Sonnet #264

Monkey punishment wears an olive mask.
Red Sophias smile at stranger men.
Legos are equal to galactic tasks.
Taxis grow in places of horse famine.
Flip-flops foil flora friendships quickly.
Shameless girdles indicate a defeat.
Pushpins puncture naive poultry strictly.
What loud, fell cushion embarrassed the seat?
Smashing noodles cuddle popping eye balls.
The slow voices have lightly called the cops.
Ragnarok rings jokes from green waterfalls.
Cats watch behind trees where their quarry hops.
Zapping spigots race a heavy bar tab.
Mutant suspenders walk out of the lab.

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