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PHINEAS REDUX by Anthony Trollope [Oct. 2nd, 2017|09:25 pm]
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"A drunkard or a gambler may be weaned from his ways, but not a politician." - Anthony Trollope

Trollope's editor didn't want him to use the title, as the public would probably take Redux for the gentleman's surname, but he insisted. In this novel, the sequel to PHINEAS FINN, an older, wiser, and widowed Phineas is given the same temptation toward a public life as before. But when he gets accused of murdering a fellow MP, is this the end for him?

Phineas and his character development are centred in this volume. His varying mental states are very well written, and Trollope is too good a writer to allow him to bounce back without a qualm from traumatising experiences. Phineas' scruples over the right way to form a parliamentary career after troubles have beset him are also worth reading. There's a brief moment of wish fulfilment when people abase themselves before Phineas' feet after his troubles are over, but other than that Phineas' path is interesting.

Lady Laura Kennedy returns from PHINEAS FINN, but is no longer an interesting character. Lady Laura was originally a fascinating and politically active woman, who refused Phineas at a time when she had given all her money away to her brother. Instead she married the wealthy Mr Kennedy, and chafed under his rule while he became abusive and mentally ill. Marital troubles and widowhood have aged and uglified Lady Laura, and so she's no longer a viable interest for Phineas. The double standard between Lady Laura and Madame Max Goesler doesn't make much sense: both had a first marriage to a wealthy man they didn't love, but Madame Goesler is the only one who's still able to marry a man her age.

Madame Max Goesler replaces Lady Laura's role, being a similarly sparkling and intelligent and determined woman. What interested me in her was the complex friendship between Madame Max and the old Duke of Omnium: Trollope allowed the elderly Duke to have an emotionally complicated relationship, and the characterisation is fascinating. Madame Max's network of relationships with Lady Glencora, Plantagenet Palliser, Phineas Finn, and the tensions around her place in society are interestingly complex. She's also a Jewish character, shown in a positive light (or at least said to be Jewish by Lady Laura). Trollope seems to enjoy writing her.

Lady Glencora is now the Duchess of Omnium, and her character has not changed: as delightful, impulsive, and kind as ever. Nothing will ever change the Duchess, the narrative says. Plantagenet Palliser also hasn't changed much after becoming a Duke. There is a good piece of dialogue about his character, between Phineas Finn and the Duke's cousin Adelaide Palliser:

"He is such a gentleman;—and, at the same time, the most abstract and the most concrete man that I know."

"Abstract and concrete!"

"You are bound to use adjectives of that sort now, Miss Palliser, if you mean to be anybody in conversation."

"But how is my cousin concrete? He is always abstracted when I speak to him, I know."

"No Englishman whom I have met is so broadly and intuitively and unceremoniously imbued with the simplicity of the character of a gentleman. He could no more lie than he could eat grass."

"Is that abstract or concrete?"

"That's abstract. And I know no one who is so capable of throwing himself into one matter for the sake of accomplishing that one thing at a time. That's concrete."

Adelaide Palliser's role in the plot could and should have been excised, unfortunately. She shows that even Dukes can have impoverished relations; she has a boring love story with a lazy man who doesn't deserve her; she receives an alternative marriage offer from a persistent boor with a red nose who isn't as hilarious as Trollope might have intended. None of this has anything to do with the other subplots in the novel.

Lady Eustace and Lord Fawn's appearances in the novel are more interesting cameos. Lady Eustace married the dubious preacher Emilius at the end of THE EUSTACE DIAMONDS, and lived to regret it - they separated and she is trying to prove bigamy on his part in order to escape. Since the murdered man was coming close to the truth of Emilius' bigamy, Emilius is the other main suspect. Lady Eustace's character has some interesting light shed on it in her cameo, which highlights her as a compulsive liar. She doesn't just lie because she is a selfish person; it comes across as an obsessive-compulsive disorder. An interesting character trait. In his cameo, Lord Fawn receives a comeuppance for his weakness and hesitation, for which sympathy is felt by very few.

This novel takes on some territory outside Trollope's normal areas (the detail of a murder case), and resolves Phineas Finn's character development and maturity. Scraps of the politically oriented plot also advance the Pallisers on their journey. Another Palliser novel - a fairly good one.
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Yuletide Letter - blueinkedfrost on AO3 [Sep. 28th, 2017|08:15 pm]
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Dear Yuletide Writer,

Thank you for writing for me! I hope you have a wonderful Yuletide. Our shared rare fandom is joy, optional details are optional, and please don't get eaten by bears.

Things I like to read include: adventure, ghost stories, humour, horror, slice-of-life, alternative universes, tragedy, suffering, irony, drama, mystery, complicated characters, complicated relationships, character development, underexplored parts of canon universes, plot twists, banter, capable/competent characters, female characters having adventures or being central to the story, femslash, gen, het, slash, rare characters in the spotlight, unusual stories, being surprised, and many other things that hopefully cover what you enjoy writing. I'd love to read a story you want to write.

If there're any questions about this letter, feel free to go through the Yuletide Mods, or simply write the story you want to write - I'd much rather read fic that went in a direction you liked writing than a story that stuck to a prompt that wasn't working for you.

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THE EUSTACE DIAMONDS by Anthony Trollope [Sep. 25th, 2017|08:13 pm]
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Trollope writes Becky Sharp, aka Lady Eustace. The results are definitely entertaining. Like most writers, Trollope takes great relish depicting a character with no moral restraints whatsoever.

The Lord Fawn family, Madame Max Goesler, Lady Chiltern nee Violet Effingham, Lady Glencora, and various others sweep onto the stage at various times in this continuation of the Palliser political saga.

Impoverished but cunning and beautiful Lizzie Greystock captured the heart of Sir Florian Eustace, baronet - who was heartbroken when he discovered her lie about previous debts incurred to a jeweller, and shortly afterward died. Lady Eustace is now a wealthy titled widow and the mother of the next baronet. But there is one additional bone of contention: the famous Eustace diamonds, worth ten thousand pounds. Lady Eustace lies again to keep them, and refuses the family lawyers when they want to place them in trust. But when the diamonds are stolen, will Lady Eustace's lies expose her in society?

There's a touch of Trollope's commentary on the patriarchy through Lady Eustace's character: she's both ethically bankrupt *and* ignorant of many things, mostly because of the limits of female education in her era. Lizzie's ignorance is an aspect of her character that makes her very different to worldly-wise Becky Sharp; she's led the life of a well-bred woman, and she's been harmed by the ignorance forced on her. Certainly a twenty-first-century, Oxbridge-educated, ethically lacking CEO version of Lizzie Eustace would be able to do a lot more damage, but it's very easy to use the narrative to argue that the ignorance is an injustice done to women in general.

Lady Eustace's ignorance is only highlighted by her intelligence. She is undoubtedly clever and cunning, with a high social position, and even she is hamstrung by a man's world. This encomium may or may not be intended seriously, but here it is from a reasonably reliable character, her brother-in-law:

"She is a very great woman," said John Eustace,—"a very great woman; and, if the sex could have its rights, would make an excellent lawyer."

Lizzie Eustace's ignorance becomes a crucial theme in the plot, and is one of the main reasons why the reader feels sorry for her. She's an awful, unscrupulous, and selfish liar, but she suffers a good deal during the novel. A large part of her suffering is due to her ignorance - which is not her fault.

On the other side of the question, there's not much sympathy available for the lawyers. Their intense dispute about a piece of property seems petty, and it's also more motivated by simple dislike of Lady Eustace than the lawyers want to admit. The Eustace diamonds dispute is between two unsympathetic factions, one of which has an unfair social advantage.

The suspense, mostly as to whether Lizzie Eustace will face any legal penalty for lying to police officers in relation to the robberies or social penalty for trying to steal her cousin from his fiancee, is expertly maintained. I found it a harrowing, exciting read, with plenty of page-turning demanded by the miseries of the characters. The plot and Lady Eustace make the story.

Other than Lizzie Eustace, the characters are fairly limited. Trollope wrote some of them before under other names, such as determined ingenue Lucy Morris and weakly indecisive Frank Greystock. Lucinda Roanoke's part in the story is fascinating and dramatic but deeply restrained: she's a young poor woman with no choice but to marry a man she doesn't love to support herself. Lucinda is reluctant to marry, and her lover, Sir Griffin Tewett, seems very excited about forcing her to submit to him. The subtext here is deeply disturbing, and though it's melodramatic it's also believable. The plot thread suffers from Trollope not allowing himself to go into detail, and/or my inability to interpret the subtext with the full context of the times.

As a minor part of the story, Trollope inserts an interesting self-reference:

The three ladies had a box at the Haymarket taken for this very evening, at which a new piece, "The Noble Jilt," from the hand of a very eminent author, was to be produced. Mrs. Carbuncle had talked a great deal about "The Noble Jilt," and could boast that she had discussed the merits of the two chief characters with the actor and actress who were to undertake them. Miss Talbot had assured her that the Margaret was altogether impracticable, and Mrs. Carbuncle was quite of the same opinion. And as for the hero, Steinmark,—it was a part that no man could play so as to obtain the sympathy of an audience. There was a second hero,—a Flemish Count,—tame as rain-water, Mrs. Carbuncle said.

NOBLE JILT was the precursor to CAN YOU FORGIVE HER, and was probably never put on.

Another fun piece of trivia about the novel is that the legal letter in the novel on the law of heirlooms was requested by Trollope from a friend, Charles Merewether, and became the ruling authority on the subject.

THE EUSTACE DIAMONDS is a strong Trollope. His autobiography favourably records it. His epitaph on the novel is "a series of adventures, unpleasant enough in themselves, but pleasant to the reader" - certainly a fine summation.
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Moved to dreamwidth [Sep. 10th, 2017|10:18 pm]
...and the stains drip between fingers...

I've finally switched over to dreamwidth. Not that I've been a very active journaller at the best of times!

I'm looking forward to participating in Yuletide 2017, where fandom nominations are open until Saturday 16 September.

Hope that anyone reading this is going well.
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Trope of the man who loved the mother and marries the daughter [Mar. 20th, 2017|08:17 pm]
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This is a reasonably common nineteenth-century trope, though some of my examples below are twentieth-century. The story goes that a man falls in love with a woman, who rejects him in order to marry another man. She has a daughter. The man falls in love with the daughter and this time is successful in his suit.

Sometimes the trope's played with overt misogynistic disdain to the mother ('she turned down this nice protagonist guy because she was a shallow bitch, fortunately the 2.0 model in her daughter is much better made'), sometimes it's simply that the mother and the man weren't suited.

The obvious misogyny and creepiness that this older man deserves the beautiful girl young enough to be his daughter isn't lost on most people in the twenty-first century. There's an unpleasant implication that the mother is no longer attractive because she's lived her life and had a family, and that what a middle-aged or older man really needs is an virginal young woman who doesn't have any life experience to compare with him. As well, the incest squick often extends toward people who have had past romantic relationships with our blood relations, i.e. daughter dating mother's ex-boyfriend.

Age differences can, though don't always, mean power differentials as well. The power differentials can be especially strong if the man has been close to the young girl in her childhood as a family friend and adult authority figure, before pursuing her romantically when she hits puberty.

For some reason (sexism) this trope is much rarer in gender reversed form. A woman who once loved a man who married another hardly ever gets to marry his young son. The potential creepy factor for age and power differentials remains in the gender reversed version, but it would be great if more stories gave older women more agency in general.

Like any trope, there are ways to write this badly and ways to write it well. There are non-creepy ways to write it well. Two adults choosing to be with each other despite an age difference is very different from a creepy man grooming a child to grow into his bride. I'd never argue that all relationships with age differences are evil and wrong; there are plenty of real life counterexamples. It just depends on whether the writer can convincingly portray these two people as adults making a free and informed choice rather than one exploiting the other.

Here are some nineteenth century / early twentieth century literary examples:

  • Fanny Fern wrote a novella called 'Fanny Ford'. A man is sent to prison and never gets to marry his fiancee; his fiancee marries another and dies in childbirth. The man adopts the orphaned child and marries her when she is seventeen. This is presented as good because the man's character reformed between his prison time and his bringing up the child. (To be fair, he didn't bring up the child himself so much as leave her with good people.)

  • Mary Elizabeth Braddon's novel 'Milly Darrell' gives a variant on this trope with a young stepmother's stepdaughter falling for her stepmother's ex-boyfriend, thereby making the age difference much less.

  • Mary E. Waller's novel 'A Cry in the Wilderness' features a deserted husband who falls in love with his wife's illegitimate daughter, partly because of her resemblance to her mother.

  • L.M. Montgomery's short story 'The Education of Betty' uses the trope straight. The Emily series also depicts Emily becoming engaged to a contemporary of her father's, though Dean Priest is represented as more than a little creepy.

  • The trope is considered in Eleanor H. Porter's 'Pollyanna Grows Up'. John Pendleton was rejected by Pollyanna's mother and lived a sad bachelor's life for a number of years. Pollyanna sees it as her duty to marry him if he wants her, though fortunately he doesn't. Especially given that Pendleton was considered a little too old for Pollyanna's mother.

  • Thomas Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles uses a variation on the trope where the heroine's younger sister is expected to be her husband's next wife (although the legality of this is doubtful due to laws against marrying a deceased wife's sister).

And, to be fair, here's a nineteenth-century counterexample:

  • In 'Manouevering' by Maria Edgeworth (published 1809), wealthy older baronet Sir John Hunter initially courts Mrs Palmer's nubile daughter Amelia, but marries the mother instead. However, Mrs Palmer is close to his age, not nearly old enough to be his mother.

And then there's the "I'm my own grandfather" joke - a man and a son fall in love with a mother and a daughter; the man marries the daughter and the son the mother. The son is now his father's father-in-law, making him his own grandad. It's fun!
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Holiday exchange fanfics [Jan. 30th, 2017|10:31 pm]
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Over Christmas, I wrote two gifts for two exchanges: one for Yuletide, and one for the Baldur's Gate Gift Exchange. Both stories were for the Baldur's Gate fandom.

Summary: The Bhaalspawn must survive with an unlikely companion when he's trapped in a cave.
Characters: Charname, Sarevok

I was the person who encouraged my recipient to sign up to Yuletide, so it made me very happy that they didn't guess my identity until after reveals!

Summary: Sylfana is going to kill Gromnir Il-Khan with her bare hands. Before that, she'll take a moment of luxury with her lover Edwin. Edwin romance, explicit.
Characters: Charname, Edwin

When PuggiePuggie said they didn't mind nsfw, I was happy to stretch my writing muscles and try writing some smut! I feel like I’ve become more repressed as I’ve grown older, so it was good to write an explicit story.
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Two Similar Poems About Cricket And Dogs [Jan. 30th, 2017|12:38 am]
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I've been reading through this amazing collection of short fiction by Wodehouse, and found an interesting similarity between two poems.

How M'Dougal Topped the Score by Thomas A. Spencer
Joe by P.G. Wodehouse

M'Dougal is a classic Australian poem published in 1906. The cricket team of Piper's Flat are not very good, but they play a match with Molongo. Old M'Dougal is the ace in the hole for Piper's Flat - as he owns the sheepdog Pincher. When Piper's Flat tumbles down with nine wickets for seventeen with fifty to win, M'Dougal takes the bat. Pincher the sheepdog runs away with the ball and as a result Piper's Flat makes up their runs and wins the match.

M'Dougal's legs were going fast, Molongo's breath was gone—
But still Molongo chased the dog—M'Dougal struggled on.
When the scorer shouted “Fifty!” then they knew the chase could cease;
And M'Dougal gasped out “Drop it!” as he dropped within his crease.
Then Pincher dropped the ball, and, as instinctively he knew
Discretion was the wiser plan, he disappeared from view.
And as Molongo's beaten men exhausted lay around.
We raised M'Dougal shoulder-high, and bore him from the ground.

We bore him to M'Ginniss's, where lunch was ready laid,
And filled him up with whisky-punch, for which Molongo paid.
We drank his health in bumpers, and we cheered him three times three,
And when Molongo got its breath, Molongo joined the spree.
And the critics say they never saw a cricket match like that,
When M'Dougal broke the record in the game at Piper's Flat.
And the folk are jubilating as they never did before;
For we played Molongo cricket—and M'Dougal topped the score!

PG Wodehouse's poem Joe was published in May 1907, Pearson's Magazine (United Kingdom). The men of Chickenham-infra-Mud face Pigbury-super-Splosh in cricket. Their score is nine wickets for fifteen with seven to win. Then old Joe, the good dog, runs away with the ball and allows Chickenham-infra-Mud to score the runs they need. Wodehouse's poem is much shorter, but the plot is exactly the same and the setting similar (Australian vs British 'lower class country').

It rose in the air, and we shouted “Run!” and a fieldsman started in chase:
But as he was running we thought we saw a curious look on his face;
And then he stopped, and we wondered why, for the feller looked quite scared.
And there was old Joe on top of the ball with his teeth all white and bared!

Well, they ran and ran, and the fieldsmen yelled, but that didn’t disturb old Joe.
He sat on the ball as much as to say, “Am I downhearted? No!”
And, just as they’d finished the seventh run, he rose and he winked at us,
And he trotted away with a sort of blush, like he didn’t want no fuss.

Oh, he ain’t a Serciety beauty with a lovely silky coat:
One of his ears is torn a bit. There’s a scar or two on his throat:
No, he ain’t the sort of dog, maybe, as ’ud win a prize at a show,
But for tact and sense there isn’t one as is in the race with Joe!

I believe the cricket rules have updated since that time, making both these poems and their exploitation of the loophole dated. My guess is that Wodehouse was at the very least "inspired by" Spencer's poem. To me, the poems are similar in a way that makes me lionise Wodehouse less. Perhaps there was a "dog related misadventures in cricket" zeitgeist that was very popular at the time? Or perhaps there are other theories.
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PHINEAS FINN by Anthony Trollope [Jan. 4th, 2017|11:04 pm]
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Phineas begins the story as the sort of wretched young man who insists that his complete irresponsibility is charming. The reader struggles to keep down their bitter bile in the hopes of character development.

Phineas is supposed to be a rather pretty man - six feet high, and very handsome, with bright blue eyes, and brown wavy hair, and light silken beard - which is another of his misfortunes, along with becoming a Member of Parliament at too early a stage in his career. Like George Vavasor in CAN YOU FORGIVE HER, Phineas can't support himself as an MP; but Phineas is more good-hearted and more sincerely interested in Parliament and politics for its own sake.

Phineas, like other young and foolish men, begins to get himself into trouble in his career for debt, signing bills for other men without consideration - Mark Robarts' mistake.

Phineas, my dear fellow, as far as I have as yet been able to see the world, men don't begin either very good or very bad. They have generally good aspirations with infirm purposes;—or, as we may say, strong bodies with weak legs to carry them. Then, because their legs are weak, they drift into idleness and ruin. During all this drifting they are wretched, and when they have thoroughly drifted they are still wretched. The agony of their old disappointment still clings to them. In nine cases out of ten it is some one small unfortunate event that puts a man astray at first.Read more...Collapse )
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Yuletide Letter - Blueinkedfrost on AO3 [Oct. 6th, 2016|07:49 pm]
...and the stains drip between fingers...
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Dear Yuletide Writer,

Thank you for writing for me! I hope you have a wonderful Yuletide. Our shared rare fandom is joy, optional details are optional, and please don't get eaten by bears.

Things I like to read include: adventure, humour, horror, slice-of-life, ghost stories, alternative universes, tragedy, suffering, irony, drama, mystery, complicated characters, complicated relationships, character development, underexplored parts of canon universes, plot twists, banter, capable/competent characters, female characters having adventures or being central to the story, femslash, gen, het, slash, rare characters in the spotlight, unusual stories, being surprised, and many other things that hopefully cover what you enjoy writing. I'd love to read a story you want to write.

If there're any questions about this letter, feel free to go through the Yuletide Mods, or simply write the story you want to write - I'd much rather read fic that went in a direction you liked writing than a story that stuck to a prompt that wasn't working for you.

I'll Be Away: I'm expecting to be without internet from about December 21 to January 3, but I hope to read and comment on Yuletide as soon as possible. Thank you again for writing for me, and sorry in advance for being away on the date.

Decameron - Boccaccio (book)
The Way To The Lantern - Audrey Erskine Lindop (book)
Baldur's Gate (video game)

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Finished posting a long fanfic. [Oct. 5th, 2016|07:28 am]
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Bhaalspawn Rebellion, a Baldur's Gate fanfic. (Archiveofourown version.) 94K words, complete.

This story was soft science fiction - hot butter on the Mohs scale - with swords, spaceships, and a fun universe that I don’t own to play around in. I enjoyed writing it.

Summary: Baldur’s Gate, IN SPACE. Lionstone XIV, the Empress, rules as a tyrant from the Iron Throne. The warrior Ourawang, daughter of Bhaal, seeks to overthrow her, but not without help from a cyberrat, an esper, a thug, and a mad terrorist. Fusion crossover with Simon R. Green’s Deathstalker series. Don’t need to know canon.

Main characters: Bhaalspawn, Imoen, Aerie, Montaron, Xzar
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