Sunday, December 05, 2010

Oh Mr. Darcy!

I've been reading a lot lately (see previous post about work visa application) and, because they're free and readily available, I've found myself nose-deep more than my fair share of 19th century British novels. In the past few weeks I've read Jane Eyre, The Woman in White, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Sense & Sensibility, and a few Sherlock Holmes short adventures. I think Middlemarch will be my next undertaking, though I'm a bit daunted by the first page.

With the exception of the Holmes stories and Alice, my text choices have been largely...similar. Strikingly so. Without meaning to, I wonder if I haven't chosen the three most similar narratives ever written. Perhaps this similarity would not be quite so pronounced to me if I hadn't chosen to read all of them in sequence, but while I've enjoyed all three to a similar extent, the same difficulties have dampened my enjoyment to the same extent in all. I'd like to document these themes here--of plot and language most particularly--for my own future reference. As a reader, you may find this dull, as this is a posting wherein you may find my thoughts, not my fury.

Similar Plot Points and Characters in Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, Wilkie Collins's The Woman in White, and Jane Austen's Sense & Sensibility

-All three involve at least one young woman being bedridden and on the verge of death because of illness, but no men. Jane Eyre, Marian Halcombe, and Marianne Dashwood catch some form of stress/hanging out in the rain-related disease.

Likewise, clearly-doomed girls (the excessively-innocent ultra-pious who talk about how lovely death would be) Helen Burns (Eyre) and Anne Catherick (White) spend some time bedridden before kicking it.

-All 3 protagonists are between age 17 and 20, and all marry men between age 35 and 40. Each marriage must be for love, because though the women are all of high birth (Jane Eyre unknowingly) the men they marry are handicapped in some way. Edward Ferrars (Sense) has lost the bulk of his inheritance, Edward Rochester (Eyre) has been blinded and lost a hand in the destruction of his manor house, and Walter Hartright (White) is sickeningly middle-class, and Laura lost her fortune when her (deceased) first husband declared her dead and stole it. While everybody is still fairly wealthy at the end, they all lose a significant investment or holding.

-All three are caught up in inheritance issues equalling or exceeding £20,000.

-All three involve a nasty elderly woman who screws things up royally for the protagonist with her selfishness. (Mrs. Reed, the Countess, Mrs. Ferrars)

-All three involve one major female character being pressured by a guy that she doesn't like to marry him. (St. John Rivers, Colonel Brandon, Sir Percival Glyde) Only Brandon's pressure ends in something resembling love and financial stability.

-All three involve at least one pair of close, affectionate, inseparable sisters, and it is generally understood that there's a prudent one and a pretty one. (Marian and Laura, Elinor and Marianne, Diana and Mary Rivers) At least one of the sisters has a Mary-based name.

Similar Thematic Elements in the aforementioned text group

-The female protagonist through who's eyes much of the story is told is invariably well-educated, exceedingly honest and forthright, and never makes a statement or decision that is not perfectly well-justified both to her religion and her caste. She likewise spends a lot of paper justifying her decisions and statements to the audience, imploring us to realize that they're being utterly selfless in all things and are only seeking to do what is best for everyone involved.

-People who start high end in the middle. People who start in the middle end with a compromised version of high.

-Women who have choices they can make are just as likely to make ones that cause them harm as good, because they must consider what is righteous regardless of their best interests. Jane Eyre nearly goes to India, where she's sure to die within days of arrival of disease or heat-stroke, because she knows that God would want her to be a missionary. The only thing that stops her is she also knows that God would not want her and St. John to marry without loving each other. Likewise, Laura Fairlie marries Sir Percival, despite the fact she doesn't like him, because she agreed to the engagement to please her father on his death-bed, and it would be shameful to break it. Elinor Dashwood, meanwhile, keep's Lucy's secrets, despite how badly they hurt her and despite how useful it would be to disclose them, because she promised she would. Virtue always wins over self-interest and intelligence.

Similar Endings in the aforementioned

-Everybody gets married.

-Everybody has babies, or there's hints of babies.

-All the women fall into their roles as subservient wives, though they had the capacity to be powerful and respectable women in their own right.

Similar Things That Piss Me Off in the aforementioned

The ladies always have the option of doing something deemed vaguely improper but better for everyone--and always decline. The authors, rather than congratulating their heroines for their good deeds, make things kinda suck for them as a consequence, but they nevertheless feel better in their hearts for having done what was socially accepted, in spite of the fact that no sensible person around them would have done the same.

Jane Eyre clearly acknowledges that Bertha Mason is not really Mr. Rochester's wife, as she's not only batshit but hell-bent on Mr. Rochester's immolation, but rather than see what is an unfortunate circumstance and run off to the south of France as his beloved mistress (while maintaining Bertha's safe upkeep), which would ensure everyone's estates and safety, she runs off to develop pneumonia and endure abuse under St. John, and lets Bertha burn the house down and severely handicap Rochester. Her virtue screwed her over and left her with half an estate and half a man. Jane grins and bears it, and Brontë seems to think she got off no better than she should have.

Laura Fairlie will be coming into possession of £20,000 in under the space of a year, and her guardian is a douchebag. But rather than refuse to marry Sir Percival until her finances are hers to control, she does what the men around her want, because that's 'right,' and loses everything. Had she said "hey buddy, let's wait 6 months" the story probably wouldn't have happened, but she would not have wound up with the line in her will that gave him everything upon her death (she probably would not have wound up married to him at all) so Marian probably wouldn't have gotten typhus, she wouldn't have wound up in an asylum, and neither the Count or Sir Percival would have wound up dead. Had she taken this one step in her best interest everyone, even the jerks, would have been better off.

Had Mrs. Dashwood stood up for herself against her stepson after her husband's last wishes were for him to provide for her and her daughters, they could have moved somewhere besides the little cottage their income afforded them. They really don't meet anyone that great or helpful on account of it, Marianne wouldn't have had to endure the BS that was Willoughby, Elinor could have been in money enough for Mrs. Ferrars to approve of her relationship with Edward, and Lucy probably would have wound up with Robert anyway but with less money to taunt Elinor with. But no, Mrs. Dashwood doesn't seem to think it's proper to say "look, buddy, I know you're a sucker and your wife's a bitch, but you're not weaseling out of your obligation to your family." so Marianne wound up with a "putrid fever." Bleh.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Atheists Love Christmas too!

Why do you want to take the holiday season away from me, theists? I'm just as cold as you, and is that not provocation enough to seek warmth and good cheer with the people I love? (Did you know atheists can love? When it is reciprocated it is the best feeling on earth. It is real--a bond between two real people, not two people and their shared imaginary friend, which, let's face it, is creepy.) Even your official church documents acknowledge that the birth of your saviour (who was elected saviour, what, 300 years after his alleged lifetime?) could have really been anytime--nobody's sure or gives a hoot, but these Pagans have a pretty good party scheduled for mid-December, so that seems a good a time as any. We've already put a damper on their fertility festival in the spring, might as well ruin the mead-and-fire party too.

Yesterday I had the privilege of seeing the website of Boss Creations which sells "CHRIST-mas" trees--£300 artificial douglas firs with a giant neon cross glowing from within like a...well, like nothing else. Take a moment and google it. Go on. I'll wait. is always nice to see you says the man behind the counter to the woman coming inside, she is shaking her umbrella...doo-doo du-doo dut-dut du-doo...

Yep. Did you notice the red white and blue "Christian Nation" pile of offense? Why has no one told these people that the USA is neither Christian nor even religious? It's not. Really. America does have an official anthem, an official seal, an official flag, and an official football team but it does not have, and has never had, an official religion or a recognition or sanction of any religion of any kind. Them's the rules. Like 'em or leave.

Wait, what, am I pulling their own bullshit to serve my ends? "like it or leave" eh? them's fightin' words! (especially from an ex-pat) But seriously. It is so brazenly disrespectful of the nation for a religious group who seeks daily to remove the rights of everyone who disagrees with them--Feminists, minorities, Muslims, homosexuals, Blacks, the educated--to arbitrarily decide that the country *actually* is Christian and Naughty People are trying to take it away and punish them for their beliefs. How Dare you try to undermine the truth of what makes the USA so remarkable? How Dare you try to impose your theistic law to the land, while simultaneously condeming other nations for doing precisely the same thing with a different religion?

How Dare you suggest that because other people want to be festive in December that we're not only trying to outlaw your obsolete religion, but trying to make it mean something it doesn't?

Christmas is a religious takeover of the winter solstice celebration. It began as a celebration of light on the longest, darkest night of the year in the hemisphere. It still is for many millions of people. It is a time to be warm. It is a time to be together. It is a time to celebrate our survival so far and to hope our friends and families keep living until spring. That's the long and short of it.

All that December 25 birth of your saviour bullshit? You Made It Up. Just like your deities and your nonsensical rules and your ban on mixed-fiber fabrics. It's shit. Admittedly, it's old shit, but that doesn't make it right. You hurt my feelings by trying to tell me I can't celebrate at this time of year because I'm not one of you. By telling me I can't send cards wishing people good cheer because they don't have angels on the cover and verses overleaf. That I can't give people gifts simply to warm their hearts, not because it represents something in your thought-control system.

I am insulted. As an American I feel like I bend over backward for you far too often, let you have your way far more than is necessary or right. This is a time of togetherness. If the only way you can unify your flock is to convince them there's bad guys out to get them, maybe you should re-evaluate why you're together.

Me? Me.

I have finished my MA. It's official, I have my letters and results. Yadda yadda. NatWest were true to their word and sent me my bank statements on Monday. I checked through my application, signed and dated it, and put it in the post. I also sent a birthday card to my dear grandmother. They put this gigantic gold stamp on it to send to the US, which was pretty nifty. I hope she likes it.

I checked with the post office and saw that as of yesterday evening the parcel had been signed for. I checked my bank account today and saw that I'm officially £550 poorer. I think they got it.

Oof. I'm now broke. I just went ahead and canceled my gym membership and Boy has agreed to take over my chunk of the rent and council tax until I can find a job. I'm such a filthy freeloader. Hopefully I'll have a visa soon, maybe even before February, and will apply like mad to get a job and start paying for myself again like a real grown-up. At this point I really don't care what the gig is, so long as it's out of the snow.

I filled out the form truthfully and fully, though there was this one bit that made me uncomfortable. The form indicates I must include my Biometric Residence Permit, and write its number and expiration dates and such in the space provided. My application will be deemed incomplete and will be returned to me without this data and official card. I never received a Biometric Residence Permit. I'm a Tier 1 (Post-Study Work) applicant here legally on a Tier 4 (Student) visa. Neither of these categories are included in the Biometric Residence Permit scheme, and indeed, when I checked the Border Agency website, I discovered I am Forbidden from applying for a Biometric Residence Permit. Yet the Tier 1 (Post-Study Work) visa application is incomplete without one and will be rejected out of hand. I assume this is a clerical error and I'll be fine, but it about scared the pants off of me.

The Border Agency website also informs me that there's a 6-week wait time before applications are considered. They're currently considering applications submitted on or before October 13. Yay. I feel naked without my passport. And my overcoat.

My neighbourhood is sitting in about 6" of snow right now, and the sidewalks are coated in two-inch thick mirror-smooth ice. At the time of writing it is just past 4:30pm and pitch black outside. Now is the winter of my discontent. Or at least my griping about the weather. Sheez. One day I hope to be wealthy enough to have a winter home somewhere closer to the Tropic of Cancer. Not even somewhere particularly nice, just Not Here. Hell, it'd be great if we could just have a Winter London somewhere south of here, maybe in northern Algeria. It's not like they need...oh wait, I'm starting to sound like an imperialist. Oof, at least now I understand where they get it from.

Cold cold cold cold. I was so optimistic when I set the heat timer. Yeah, the house will be tolerably warm until 6:30, you don't need to waste money on gas until then... yeah right.

I think it's funny how, when you're cold or hungry, that's all you can think about. You could be the cleverest person alive, but as soon as the heat dries up the only thoughts you can muster are "Cold! Hey stupid, yeah you up there! Toes, fingers, legs, and nose agree--cold! You know what's great? Warm. Find warm. Oh, and by the way--Cold." It's like the body stages a coup d'intellect. The only ideas my id will let through are pictures of socks and instructional videos on how to open the airing cupboard and switch on the boiler. Okay! Okay, I'm going...

(toes cheer)

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Republicans and why I'm not going back (Incoherent Rant)

You have got to be f'ing kidding me. You can't f'ing hold the f'ing congress hostage like that--saying you won't vote for necessary social progress until you let the wealthy have unnecessary increases to their wealth contrasted with the rest of the population. This is Nonsense. What the hell is going on?

Why aren't people rioting?

Get it together, middle class! The American Aristocracy is working very hard to take your rights, your health, your food, your jobs, and your freedom away, and yet you're not gathering stones? There is no more room for debate. There is no more room to let the wealthy and their doting pawns laugh at you while trampling over your votes, your liberties, and your self-interests. They have never listened to you, they will never compromise or consider reason, they don't give a wet slap about equality, the Constitution, or civil liberties. START THROWING THINGS.

Oh middle-class Republicans. They're stupid enough to believe their representatives when they tell them continuation of tax cuts for the wealthy and cutting services to the poor will help them in the long run. They think Wall Street deserves every cent it earns, despite Everything, as they hope to one day enjoy a portion of that money if they play by the rules. That they will one day fulfil the American Dream and be one of the wealthy fat cats at the top--and gee, when I'm rich and famous, I sure won't want to pay taxes so the poor can survive the winter! These hope-blind sheep are proud enough to think that the poor don't deserve anything, and ignorant enough to disregard simple truths about poverty.

Being poor and living like you're poor are only likely to continue your poverty, and the poverty of your children. It is very difficult to pull yourself out of poverty, particularly when you're born into it, regardless of how many or few government handouts are available to you.

Poor people toe a fine line between fed and housed and hungry on the streets. The difference between 'sandwich' and 'no sandwich' is the difference between 'law-abiding citizen' and 'violent criminal.' Ask Haiti. You can't starve people, offer them nothing, keep them unhealthy, and prevent them from providing for themselves and expect your society to survive. Ask South Africa under Apartheid. Y'know, all those nice lovely middle-class homes surrounded by chain-link fences and razor wire. That's what happens when the difference between the rich and the poor becomes too skewed. The poor become, not angry, not insubordinate, but Desperate. Desperate enough to break, to steal, to cause great harm in order to find something to pawn.

Providing for the poor--keeping people housed, fed, educated, and healthy--benefits everyone in very direct ways. It is not philanthropy to provide Medicaid and unemployment benefits--it is national and personal security. But these projects do require money in order to function. Wealthy individuals and corporations should Gleefully allow their Bush tax cuts to expire, happily pay an extra million or so per annum, because it means they can lay off a few of their security guards, and maybe even defuse the land mines in the croquet field. Perhaps go outside when the weather is fair, and open the windows in the armoured car.

Because fed, sheltered, safe, and educated people don't break into houses. They're comfortable enough in their lives to not need to, and they're smart enough to recognize that they have something to lose if they get caught. If your life has value to you, you protect it. You don't improve the value of your own life by devaluing others'--you just make them more likely to try and take yours off you.

These same gun-waving "Christians," these same people who continue to insist the President's birth certificate is fraudulent and support senators who refuse homosexuals the right to love while leading the most pathetic lives of (white) adultery, money laundering, and graft need to just come clean about what they are. They're bigots. Bigots who do what their politically-bankrolled preachers tell them to do in their neon-lit mega-churches. Bigoted idiots who have been lied to time and again--and been present, but not paying attention, when those lies have been exposed--by mouthpieces which avow that social and fiscal conservatism are not only linked, but appropriate for all.


Homosexual marriage does not harm, undermine, de-value, or threaten heterosexual marriage. It only increases the number of marriages per year.

The function of marriage is not to make babies. People's reproductive systems can do that regardless of marital status, and married people are not legally obligated to have kids. Neither are unmarried people forbidden. That would require quite invasive government, and would get real ugly, real fast.

The function of marriage is, however, to ensure shared financial responsibility, and the right to make choices for your spouse in the event of his or her incapacitation.

Guess what--that's not even me being uber-liberal and progressive and minimalist. Read any novel written before 1900--over and over the story is "wealthy woman marries wealthy man, her estate passes to him, he squanders it and abuses her, she runs away a pauper, without claim to home or stock, she falls in love with a poor man, her wicked husband dies, she and poor man take the house back." (Okay, well that's essentially the story of the Woman in White, and bears resemblance to Jane Eyre and Pride & Prejudice) Marriage is nothing, and Never Has Been anything, but a financial arrangement.

Or an immigration issue.

You can love without marriage, and marry without love. You can equally replace both words 'love' and 'marriage' with 'sex' and be equally right. It is pretty much indistinguishable from any corporate merger, except somewhat less binding.

It is not, by any stretch of the imagination, holy.

Marriages are worth exactly the paper they're written on. Nothing more, nothing less. They have no intrinsic worth, no spiritual elevation, no super-duper special Us-Only-Because-We're-Chosen properties that can possibly be undermined by opening them up to homosexuals. Fundies like to say that marriage is a super-sacred covenant between the couple and their deity, but it doesn't upset them that Hindus, Taoists, or Buddhists are allowed to wed. (For the purpose of clarity I will acknowledge the shared god of Islam, Judaism, Mormonism, Rastafari, and Christianity) It Does annoy them that Atheists, Wiccans, Feminists, contraceptive-users, and poor people can share their visitation rights, but they can grudgingly say "land of the free, I guess" and get back to the serious business of chewing their McBurgers. But when it comes to gay people having the ability to co-sign on a mortgage or help each other's credit scores?!


I'm really just writing for the sake of venting frustration. This probably doesn't make a heap of sense. I'm just sick and tired of America embarrassing me--not just the Fundies, but the government and media run by the greedy wealthy who are determined to find a way of milking money from absolutely every aspect of life. People who won't perform medical procedures on the customers they insure--not because it's hopeless, but because it's expensive. People who demand you pay a fee for the right to use your internet connection how you want to, to use the products and services you choose. People who lie about matters of significance and aren't fired or even made to apologise when they're caught. People who make the system of checks and balances necessary.

Because that's how it's designed to work--both parties take the most extreme version of their wants to the floor, and through a system of compromises, come to a liveable middle ground. Everyone is dissatisfied, but nobody is beheaded for having a beard. Nobody starts with a reasonable middle-ground, because where's the fun in that? Nobody starts with what is actually best for everyone, because you can't froth at the mouth about reasonable taxation or the notion that everyone is different and that's okay. Politicians must come to the lectern with an all-or-nothing scenario so they have somewhere to haggle from. Which wastes everyone's time and gets everyone upset. Why not just start with the idea "everyone is different, and as long as their differences don't actually cause physical, financial, or psychological damage to others, they should be allowed to live life the way they choose?" What is Wrong with that? What? what...


As to why I'm not going back, I have a wonderful boy and I'm happy in London. I've submitted my work visa application and hopefully will have the right to get a job around here in the new year. We're about six inches deep in snow right now, but it's a good opportunity to snuggle up and waste time blogging.

No Holds Barred