Charles Dickens: Ghost Hunter

victorian_ghost

Victorians were big on clubs.  Gentlemen’s Clubs.  No, the Brontes were not wearing pasties and stripping to “Oh, Mother Take the Wheel Away!” These were exclusive gatherings of writers and artists who came together to chill, drink, and probably scratch-and-spit.  No “damned scribbling women allowed.”  (Such a fun guy, that Hawthorne…) .

ANYWAY, Charles Dickens was one of those writers who was a high-profile member of a hoity-toity club called “The Garrick Club” until he got into a fight with William Makepeace Thackery.  Apparently a journalist was talking smack about Thackery, and what he knew could have only been found out through club connections.  (First Rule of Garrick Club:  Don’t Talk About Garrick Club.)

SO, Dickens says, basically, “Screw you, Thackery. I’m the biggest star you’ve got and I’m taking my fame elsewhere.” Plus, the journalist, Edward Yates, was a very close friend and the godfather of Dickens’ children.

Dickens would eventually join the still-in-existence “Arts Club” (actress Gwyneth Paltrow is now its Creative Director). But before that, in 1862, Dickens became one of the founding members of “The Ghost Club. ”  Until he joined and brought some legitimacy to the off-beat club, the press was not very complimentary, but his presence gave the organization a modicum of credibility.

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Positive Development in Negative Spaces: Anne Frank and Peter Schiff

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Despite her own fears as well as the horrors going on outside the crowded annexe where Anne Frank and her family were hiding from the Nazis, Anne, like many girls her age, was mooning over a boy.  His name was Peter Schiff and Anne recalls a poignant dream about him in one of her candid entries.  She writes:

This morning I woke up just before seven and immediately remembered what I’d been dreaming about. I was sitting on a chair and across from me was Peter… Peter Schiff… the dream was so vivid… Peter’s eyes suddenly met mine and I stared for a long time into those velvety brown eyes. Then he said very softly: “If only I’d known I’d have come to you long ago.” I turned away abruptly, overcome by emotion. And then I felt a soft, oh-so-cool and gentle cheek against mine, and it felt so good, so good.’

On another date, Anne describes Peter so well we can almost see him:

Peter was the ideal boy: tall, slim and good-looking, with a serious, quiet and intelligent face. He had dark hair, beautiful brown eyes, ruddy cheeks and a nicely pointed nose. I was crazy about his smile, which made him look so boyish and mischievous.”

Anne would never know what became of her childhood sweetheart, but history tells the sad story.  Peter was imprisoned in two concentration camps, arriving first in  Bergen-Belsen, before he was transferred to Auschwitz, where it is known that he perished although the exact date is unclear.

Like Anne, we, her readers, could only envision Peter in our heads.  This remained so for nearly sixty years, but in 2009, one of her classmates donated a picture of Peter to the Anne Frank House.  Here he is:

peter

It would have been lovely to know if this young love would have come to anything, if, as Anne hoped, they were able to consummate their desire.  Calling Peter by his pet name, “Petel,” Anne opines:

Once, when Father and I were talking about sex, he said I was too young to understand that kind of desire. But I thought I did understand it, and now I’m sure I do. Nothing is as dear to me now as my darling Petel!’


Problematic Peacocks and Other Elizabethan Era Warnings

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Perhaps the reason the Virgin Queen decided to remain so is to avoid the humiliation of having one of her upstart subjects oil paint a picture of her swaddling cat in her arms….

Maybe someday there will be superstitions that arise from the era when Queen Kate and King William reign, but it is unlikely that they will be as elaborate or as colorful as these.  The folks over at The Oddment Emporium recently posted this list from an elderly nobleman known here only as “Sir Cecil” who reflected on the superstitions that arose during the era of the Maiden Queen, Elizabeth the First.

eliz1-rainbow

“During the era of my youth,” Sir Cecil recalled, “it was most important these be followed at all times.”

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Feats of Greatness, Feet of Clay: Authors, Flaws, and the People Behind the Stories

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(Orson Scott Card poses at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, in 2008. Wikimedia Commons/ Nihonjoe)

“Just because someone’s a member of an ethnic minority doesn’t mean they’re not a nasty small-minded little jerk.” ~ Terry Pratchett, from Feet of Clay 

There is a reason I frequently shy away from reading biographies:  people suck.  Even the best people suck.  If you want to go on admiring someone, don’t know them personally.  The art, of course, speaks for itself.  It need not be burdened by the shortcomings of its creator.  But (at least for me) it is difficult to separate the two once you know.  You cannot, as the saying goes, unsee something.

Today, a lot of people, including myself, were surprised to learn that beloved science fiction writer Orson Scott Card (Ender’s Gameis an anti-gay activist, and has been for a very long time.  In 2008, he wrote that “marriage has only one definition, and any government that attempts to change it is my mortal enemy. I will act to destroy that government and bring it down.”   Responding to the Supreme Court decision on the topic of gay marriage, Card told Entertainment Weekly  “it will be interesting to see whether the victorious proponents of gay marriage will show tolerance toward those who disagreed with them when the issue was still in dispute.”

Hmmmm…. interesting that someone who is against tolerance wants to see how people with tolerance respond….

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Ten Things You (Probably) Didn’t Know About the Fourth of July

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There are lots of things we expect on the Fourth:  fireworks, friends, family. There are things we love (sparklers, Roman candles, cold beer) and things we despise (sauerkraut, ambrosia, Lee Greenwood… all right, haters… this was from a friend. Direct all your spittle-filled anger elsewhere).

Here are a few unexpected things about the Fourth you can share tomorrow, if only to divert mom’s attention away from Uncle Collin while he takes the youngest  kids ’round back to set off three packs of taped-together Blackcat firecrackers…

10.  No Rush to Get “God Bless America” to the People

Famed American composer Irving Berlin gave his adopted nation one of its greatest and most iconic songs but it didn’t see the light of day because its author didn’t deem it worthy of being sung. Berlin was drafted into the military in the early 1900s and helped to draft a musical comedy for his fellow troops in which he composed the song for its final number — a tune inspired by a phrase his Russian mother would often utter after escaping to America from underneath the iron fist of the bloody Russian empire. However, the composer didn’t think it would fit in the show and kept it in his file for 20 years until singer Kate Smith wanted a patriotic song to sing on the radio as war broke out across Europe. The song became one of the most requested patriotic ditties almost overnight and a staple in American songbooks.  (Source)

White House Book

9.  Ehhhh… We’ll Get To It. We’re… Busy.

July 4th was not declared a federal holiday until 1941.  Most federal holidays are observed on a Monday but despite the temptation of a Guaranteed Long Weekend,  that pesky date made lawmakers leave it be.  (Source)

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After the Dash: Last Words of the Politically and Historically Infamous

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The thing that is so fascinating about a person’s final words is, of course, that the person rarely knows those  utterances will be his or her last.

One of my favorite poems is W.S. Merwin‘s “For the Anniversary of My Death”:

Every year without knowing it I have passed the day
When the last fires will wave to me
And the silence will set out
Tireless traveler
Like the beam of a lightless star
Then I will no longer
Find myself in life as in a strange garment
Surprised at the earth
And the love of one woman
And the shamelessness of men
As today writing after three days of rain
Hearing the wren sing and the falling cease
And bowing not knowing to what.

Here are ten of those now-famous, or at least, interesting, last words:

marie_antoinette
1.  Marie Antoinette
Pardon me, sir. I did not do it on purpose.” - after she accidentally stepped on the foot of her executioner as she went to the guillotine.
Dominique_Bouhours
2.  Dominique Bouhours (French grammarian) 

“I am about to — or I am going to — die: either expression is correct.”

george-v
3.  King George V

“Bugger Bognor.”” - to his physician, who had suggested that he relax at his seaside palace in Bognor Regis.

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What are Prop 8 and DOMA and Why Do They Matter?

This week, as the Supreme Court released its rulings on a variety of different issues, supporters of same-sex marriage were particularly anxious to hear an important piece of news: the Court’s ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California’s Proposition 8.

What is the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)?

The Defense of Marriage Act is a federal law that restricts federal marriage rights to opposite-sex couples. It was enacted on September 21, 1996 under the Clinton administration, though Clinton, among others who were involved in the law’s enactment, has since changed his position and advocated for its repeal.

Supreme Court deems DOMA unconstitutional

Supreme Court deems DOMA unconstitutional

The law’s exact wording on the issue of marriage is as follows:
“In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any  ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative  bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word `marriage’ means  only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife,  and the word `spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is  a husband or a wife.” (Defense of Marriage Act)

Among others, these are the benefits that have been denied to same-sex marriages under the Defense of Marriage Act:

  • Insurance benefits for government employees
  • Social Security survivors’ benefits
  • Immigration benefits
  • Joint tax return benefits

What is Prop. 8?

Prop. 8, or California Proposition 8, is a ballot proposition passed in California’s November 2008 elections. Much like DOMA, it declares that only opposite-sex marriages may be recognized by the state of California. The proposition effectively overturns a California Supreme Court ruling released in May of 2008 that found marriage to be a fundamental constitutional right that should be granted to all couples. The timeline of same-sex marriage history in California is shown below:

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