Posts by Dr. Boli
Dear Dr. Boli: This fancy-pants toothpaste from the organic drug store says it contains activated charcoal. How do they activate charcoal? —Sincerely, A Man Reconsidering the Notion of Putting Black Toothpaste on His Toothbrush.
Dear Sir: Modern charcoal is usually activated by entering an activation code supplied by the manufacturer, which allows the charcoal to be activated by central servers. This precaution is necessary to prevent the chaos that would ensue if everybody could make charcoal without purchasing it from a reputable manufacturer. In the old days, of course, the activation code had to be sent by telegram, on receipt of which the manufacturer would dispatch a courier to the customer’s address with the activation key. It was a dangerous business being a charcoal activation courier, as they were frequently waylaid by miscreants who would stop at nothing to obtain the keys. For this as for at least one other reason (viz., the Magazine you are reading now), we may be grateful that we live in the age of the Internet.
When you use clip art, especially from a culture you may not be familiar with, you should perhaps show it to a focus group or something to make sure it sends the message you think it sends. For example, this Taiwanese company that makes publishing software wanted a graphic that said “books,” so…
Once again Dr. Boli has contributed an introduction to a work of literature that, if it is not quite a “classic,” is at least older than he is. And once again, by permission of the publisher (who hopes someone will be tempted to buy the book in a very attractive and economical paperback edition), he reprints his introduction here. This time the book is by another professional female scribbler, one who was at least as industrious as the ingenious Mrs. Aphra Behn. In this case the book is a reaction to the biggest seller of the eighteenth century: Pamela, the interminable epistolatory novel by Samuel Richardson. If you were thinking of reading Pamela for some reason, you can do yourself a great favor and read Anti-Pamela by Mrs. Eliza Haywood instead. And with no further introduction to the introduction, here is the introduction.
This is not a work of great literature, and we shall not attempt to make you imagine that it is one. It is a very entertaining book, however, and a very instructive one as well.
It was written, as the title alone would tell us, in response to Samuel Richardson’s Pamela: or, Virtue Rewarded, a fantastically popular novel, published in 1740, whose incalculable influence on English literature consists mostly in causing so many better writers to hate it and embark on novel-writing careers of their own in response. No one willingly reads Pamela today, although it is still available in paperback editions for college students who made the mistake of taking classes in eighteenth-century literature, supposing that everything from the 1700s must be as good as Fielding.
Anti-Pamela was published anonymously, the way most reactions to Pamela were published. (Indeed most novels were published anonymously, including Pamela itself; novel-writing was not a respectable vocation.) The author, Eliza Haywood, displays a convincing knowledge of the seediest sides of London life, and indeed she was accused of being a woman of ill repute herself by no less an authority on women of ill repute than Alexander Pope. (To be accused of anything by Alexander Pope was probably a great favor to one’s reputation.) Not much is really known about her life, however, and that is by her own design. She deliberately kept her private life out of the public eye. More than one author might have profited from her example. One thing we do know about her, however, is that she wrote prodigious amounts of copy for anyone who would buy it.
Unsurprisingly this whole book has the appearance of being dashed off in a monstrous hurry. The very punctuation adds to that impression, with phrases and sentences connected by long dashes that make us imagine a writer in too much of a hurry to get to the next word to think up some proper punctuation. Of course this is partly a deliberate technique: the story seems to move faster when the paragraphs are full of dashes. But the printing is hurried, too, with many obvious errors (most of which we have silently corrected in this edition). Anti-Pamela was written, printed, and published in time to be the second response to Richardson’s Pamela; the first, Fielding’s Shamela, beat it by only a couple of days, and whereas Shamela was a short novella, Anti-Pamela is a substantial novel in its own right, twice the length of Shamela. Our impression of hurry is probably justified.
This is therefore not a perfectly constructed story. Plotting is not our author’s strongest skill. When the schemes of mother and daughter are accidentally revealed by a waylaid letter, “they only cursed Fortune, and accused themselves for having trusted the Secret of their Design to Pen and Paper,” as our author says in one of her moralizing passages. Yet their next intrigue is ruined by exactly the same accident, as if they had entirely forgotten the lesson.
Yet, having complained about that, we must admit that the action seems to proceed very naturally. Our author has created a protagonist—one stops short of using the word “heroine” here—whose character is consistent and memorable, and that character drives all the incidents of the plot. Everything that happens to her arises from Syrena’s pursuit of two objects: “interest” and pleasure. She cannot have either, because she demands both, but her pleasure runs counter to her interest, and her interest would deprive her of her pleasure.
It is a little disappointing at first that our author cannot narrate the monstrous actions of Syrena and her mother without pointing out, repeatedly, how monstrous they are. She might have simply let them speak for themselves by sticking entirely to the epistolatory format, as Richardson did. Or she might have adopted a more satirical voice and praised them for their wisdom and perspicacity, as though mercenary considerations were the only virtue. That certainly would have been an effective satire against Richardson.
But our author is not the satirist Fielding was. She has accomplished something Fielding had not yet accomplished, however: she has created a story worth reading for its own sake, whether we know anything about Richardson’s novel or not. When Fielding did attempt stories of his own, he would turn into one of the greatest novelists in English literature, equaled only by Austen, Dickens, and a few others; so it is hardly insulting to the memory of Mrs. Haywood to say that Fielding would later write better novels. Fielding had not yet shown the English-speaking world that there could be such a thing as a better novel. Novels were cheap popular entertainment, not works of art.
And as entertainment, in spite of its flaws, Anti-Pamela succeeds admirably. Mrs. Haywood manages her protagonist with considerable skill. While she is hatching a scheme, we are involved enough with her that we almost hope for her to succeed; when she is on the point of success, she begins to behave so abominably that we are happy to see her humiliated yet again. As long as she sticks to this formula, Mrs. Haywood unfailingly entertains us. Her one attempt at a tragic love story does not come off so well; one wants to shake the poor expiring heroine and tell her to pull up her socks. Wisely she did not attempt that sort of thing again in this tale, and the rest of the book is simply fun.
As for its avowed instructive intent, that is of course the usual excuse for presenting concentrated lewdness to the reader: that the exposure of vice to the light of knowledge will be instructive. To us in the twenty-first century, however, the book is instructive in quite a different way. It is as lively a picture of a certain kind of London life as we can find in all literature: specifically, the world of kept mistresses, casual assignations, and vice papered over with conventional hypocrisy. Most of us will learn more about that world from this one story than we could possibly learn from a dozen academic historical studies.
Instructing us in that way, however, was certainly not the author’s intention. We can be sure that Mrs. Haywood had really only two intentions, beyond selling her book: to entertain her readers, and to lob a great big custard pie at that awful Pamela creature.
We have already remarked that she succeeds in entertaining us. As for parodying Pamela, she succeeds very well at that, too. The thing that provoked such outrage among sensitive readers of Richardson’s great bestseller was that Pamela, presented as the epitome of virtue, seems calculatingly mercenary, and is happy to marry a perfect cad if she can have him on her terms, merely because his status is so far above hers. It has been pointed out by more than one reader—Henry Fielding and Eliza Haywood being two examples—that, merely by observing her actions, there is no way to tell whether Pamela is a simple innocent or a wily schemer who knows what her virginity is worth on the open market and gets her own price for it in the end.
As we have suggested, Mrs. Haywood might have made a cleverer satire, but she hits her mark pretty well with this one. The innocent is not always so innocent, and happy the man who sees women for what they are—which is to say, creatures as much motivated by pleasure and avarice as he is. We might describe Mrs. Haywood as a feminist in at least this sense: that she seems to believe the differences between men and women are artificial, and nature left to herself will make the sexes equal, if only equally bad. In her world it is better, therefore, to harbor no illusions: we should not expect innocence in others, and we should not put too much effort into maintaining it ourselves. (We can hardly help noticing that the only truly innocent character in the whole book dies of sheer innocence and nothing else.) This world is not one that attracts us morally, but to look at it from the outside for a few hours is very entertaining, and what more can we ask from a novel?
H. Albertus Boli.
Five Famous Buckets You Must See Before You Die.
The Old Oaken Bucket, located at the Woodworth House in Scituate, Massachusetts, inspired the famous song by Samuel Woodworth——
The old oaken bucket, the iron-bound bucket,
The moss-covered bucket which hung in the well.
This remains one of the most famous songs ever written about a bucket.
The Devil’s Bucket, northeast of Dead Armadillo, Texas, is a hole in the ground, approximately twelve feet in diameter, whose shape gives it an uncanny resemblance to a large bucket.
King Ethelbeard’s Bucket, a large golden vessel encrusted with precious stones and elaborate Saxon filigree work, is used by Queen Elizabeth to water her petunias. It may be viewed by the public at Buckingham Palace every year on Bucket Day.
The Amazing Farmer’s Bucket Theme Park in Qianxinan Buyei, China, has as its centerpiece a three-hundred-foot-tall mechanical figure of a farmer carrying a bucket. Riders ascend an elevator to the shoulder and slide down the interior of the arm into the bucket, and the “farmer” dumps them on his “garden.”
The George Jasnorzewski Memorial Bucket Truck in Grant Borough is used every year to place the Christmas decorations on the borough building. It is named for Mr. Jasnorzewski, who tragically died at his desk in the borough building while filling out the requisition forms for a bucket truck.
Novel. A substantial work of fiction, usually too long to be read at one sitting.
Novella. A work of fiction short enough to be read at one sitting, but only if the reader is willing to carry it to the bathroom several times.
Novelette. A work of fiction short enough to be read at one sitting, but too long to be read while waiting for the dentist.
Novellina. A work of fiction just long enough to occupy the time spent in the dentist’s waiting room.
Novellinetta. A work of fiction the proper length for reading on the phone screen while waiting in line at the grocery-store checkout.
Novellona. A very long work of fiction, to read which occupies a whole summer vacation.
Novellissima. A work of fiction stretched out over multiple volumes released over the course of several years and left unfinished at the author’s death.
Here’s an amusing fact: there is no English rhyme for “morgue.”
I learned that from a page at Wikipedia.org.
Do you have trouble sorting out the events of the Wars of the Roses? No more. In galloping Elizabethan fourteeners, William Warner gives us a complete English history called Albions England. When he comes to the Wars of the Roses, he finishes his narration by giving us the whole story “digested in this sum”:
Fourth Henry first Lancastrian King put second Richard downe:
Fourth Edward of the House of Yorke re-seazd sixt Henries Crowne:
Lad-Princes twaine were stabd in Field, of either Linage one:
Foure Kings did perish: Sundry times now-kings anon were none:
Sixe, three of either faction, held successively the Throne:
But from the second Richard to seventh Henry we pretend
Eight Kings this Faction to begin, continue, and to end.
Now you never need to worry about sorting out the Wars of the Roses again.