Duty and Delight

It is difficult to spend much time on the internet without tripping over advice–reams of it–on marriage. Tuning out the wit and wisdom of the hordes and looking instead to married couples I admire, mostly my parents, has been, for me, the path of sanity. So I watch, and think and ask questions. Mostly I watch.

My grandmother had a stroke recently. In her wheelchair, her eyes wander, lighting on ordinary scenes—a daughter pushing her father’s chair around the rehab center garden—with a puzzled curiosity that suggests a benign alien visiting earth for the first time. She slurs her words, and must be reminded of names. She stops in mid-thought, and spills her ginger-ale.

My grandmother never went to college, and dropped out of secretarial school to care for an ailing mother, then, to marry a navy man. She has an eager, roving, soul that could easily have soured on the early constriction of her life, but whatever seed of sourness was planted turned to glee instead. Glee in food, in wine, in beautiful fabrics and stories of Paris, in historical romances and adventures, and dreams for me.

Two weeks after her stroke, she’s wearing lipstick, and chuckling at her own jokes as she clutches my hand. Her most frequent word is beloved. “This is David, my beloved,” she introduces her husband to the nurse for the umpteenth time this week. Then, “This is Ann, my beloved daughter, and Clare, Vince, Rex, and who’s she? She looks like Ann.  My little beloveds.”  She can’t remember Martha’s name, but she knows the girl is beloved.

David, her husband, was a navy man in every sense; disorder, loud noises and spills are not among the things he tolerates well. But now he just anticipates her clumsy movements, and cleans up ginger ale silently. The change in her seems to have produced a corresponding change in him.  When he talks to her, though, there’s nothing altered or disrupted—there’s just her lipstick, and their inside jokes, and the books she’s reading when she can focus.

I do not know what hardships my grandfather has endured in the weeks since his vibrant bossy wife became a dependent, but I know that his face lit up when his wife called him beloved. It lit up again when he mentioned how she cut her own meat, and how nice she looked in her lipstick. His solicitude was not dutiful, it was delighted.


One of the heaviest condemnations of Mansfield Park’s Mary Crawford comes from Fanny’s lips: “She can feel nothing as she ought.” The theme of feeling as you ought crops up again and again in Austen, and has always struck me in its variance from the usual script about emotion and righteousness. We can’t control our emotions, the narrative goes, but we can control what we choose to do about them. Depending on who you ask, we should either follow their untamable whims or discipline ourselves to virtuous action regardless of their promptings. Either way, feelings are posited as something rigidly distinct from and probably inimical to the moral life.

In Austen’s world, what you feel is a morally actionable question. Moral discipline tends not to the indulgence, nor suppression of, nor detachment from subjective feelings, but their conformity and habituation to goodness. To do right without desiring and delighting in it is obviously superior to doing wrong, but it’s still a moral penury—often a blamable or correctable one.

Once I asked my mom if she ever looked back with nostalgia on the heady time of her courtship and newlywed life with my dad.

“Not really,” she said. “Why would I want to go back to a time with less love? I loved your dad so much on the altar, but really, it was just a tiny drop, a tiny drop in the ocean compared to what I have now.”

Did she mean, I asked, that because she and dad had spent twenty years caring for and serving each other, she objectively knew she was loved and did love more than in the days of early passion?

“There’s that, of course. But it’s also just that when I look at him, I feel a thousand times more love than I did then. I know, because I remember.”


The always-excellent Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig introduced me to Stanley Hauerwas* in a beautiful reflection on married life.

Hauerwas, according to Bruenig, deplores the injection of romantic love into marital norms; the bedrock of family cannot be so slight a foundation as feeling. Love, he says is something you look back on, the surveyance of a lifetime of service and fidelity.

He is certainly correct that the structure of marriage as a permanent binding commitment to obey, serve, and form a family obtains, and must be understood and enforced, in total independence of sentiment. But his account of the phenomenon of love seems insufficient.

The impression that love-as-backwards-looking -acknowledgment conjures up is a treasury, with each act of service and fidelity over time building up its store. No one coin is wealth, but at the end of their lives, the love-misers can look at the mountains and rivulets of gold in total and say that they are rich.

But marriage is a relationship, and though its particular structure decides the duties and forms of love that attend it, it does not dictate a radically different excellence than that which perfects other relationships.

Loving my mother is a discipline, but not one confirmed only in retrospect. I can decide, impelled by love, to discharge my filial duties, to not go out for a drink with friends when I know she is tired and lonely and would enjoy help washing dishes and sharing a beer. And when I sit with her, I can know that I am loving her at that moment—and then I am presented with another choice. I can count my debt paid and mourn the loss of a night out, or I can notice how she becomes pensive and thoughtful when her schedule gives her a moment of quiet, how quick her laugh and sympathy is, the comforting warmth of her arm around me, how much more relaxed she seems. I can turn my desire and delight from my preferences to her. And if I do this, the next time the impulse of love will be stronger, and the knots binding me to her and her happiness, and my feelings to my duties, tighter.

Love in the confines of a mutual relationship resembles a treasury less than a plant. In marriage, it’s bound to the governing sapling-stick of its structure so that it can grow tall and healthy in the appointed way, and bear good fruit. But the tree isn’t a tree only when an oak; it is itself, and be can be known, as a sapling and at every stage subsequent. It needs nourishment, but does not grow only to the sum of its nourishment. It’s not like the hoard of love, static except when discrete increases accrue to its principal. It magnifies what feeds it and transforms it into constant, quiet, hidden growth, and into shade and greenness and leaf and bark.

Hauerwas (by which I mean the ideas I am ascribing to him on the basis two or three paragraphs), is absolutely right that love will starve without the will. The interplay between the will, the feelings, and the capacities of a relationship greater than the sum of both, however, needs more teasing.


Of course, sometimes trees wither. Their nourishment is neglected, or an untimely frost sets in, or they’re maliciously poisoned. The fidelity that tends the blackened roots of a tree that was to have seeded an orchard and fed a family, caring day after day for the ruin of its hopes, is something before which to cover your face.

To say that the demands of a Christian life will lead in a straight line to earthly happiness is a lie. It’s a cruel lie, too: ask any girl who was promised at purity camp or its equivalent, that if she “saved herself”** till her wedding night, she would lie down on bridal sheets for immediately mindblowing! amazing! awesome! sex, no assembly required.

Life can be tragic. It has a gap in it. It just does.

The self-emptying asked of a person bound in marriage to the co-guardian of a withered love is almost a call within a call, the kind of crucifixion that trusses up everyone eventually, whether it be in the loss of a child or humiliating subjection to alcohol, or just the final ruination of death.

The crucifixion lies at the center of the Gospels, but most of their pages involve something else—Jesus sharing meals, consoling his friends, bearing with his disciples’ goony questions. Some of life is tragic, but much of life is not tragic; it is just hard.

It’s a lie that chastity will always or in itself deliver awesome sex, but it is true that a mutually pleasurable, sexually generous marital relationship is possible and important.

It’s true that marriage is an absolute commitment that transcends momentary preferences and sensations. But it’s also true that marital love, in its normative ideal and many healthy iterations, does not imply merely a series of morally correct decisions divorced from feeling and ungrounded in any supporting unity.


Life has a gap in it, but it has a possibility, a fruitfulness and sweetness, too.


“…And rejoice in the wife of your youth. As a loving hind and a graceful doe, let her breasts satisfy you at all times; Be exhilarated always with her love.”

It’s a weighty burden and a joyful hope.









*Keep in mind that I have not read Hauerwas, so this is a third hand account. Despite this, I think it’s worth addressing the content of his ideas insofar as I understand it, because I have seen the same content in many places.

**vile phrase

Beyonce strode out onto the Video Music Awards stage under the banner of feminism—literally. Behind the silhouetted star loomed, in huge white letters, the word “Feminist”, which, as a sampled Chichimanda Ngozi Adichie talk contends, means “the person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes. And, as usually happens when Beyonce exercises her powers, the feminist internet sat up and took notice.

There is nothing healthy about the scrutiny Beyoncé’s feminism has garnered; not the warm appreciation and critical analysis she has elicited from some quarters, but the haggling over whether Beyoncé is a feminist and what that means for feminism.

On one hand, the scrutiny demands a superhuman level of feminist legitimacy performance.  Supporting the broadly conceived social and political goals of feminism is not enough—she must as an individual attest to the purity of Beyonce the feminist through all of her creative, marital, quotidian choices.It is a cruel burden to lay on anyone—especially a black women vocally championing a social movement forged in alliance with white supremacy. On the other, the anxious search for the next celebrity spokeswoman is one of the grimmest spectacles in the grim mutation of a radical social movement into a cyclical rebranding exercise. The overweening amount of time and resources spent proving that feminism can be fun and sexy, often at the expense of more substantive principles; the desperate wooing of young (upper middle class) women, as if all that mattered was adoption of the label—none of these commodifications are quite as naked as the eagerness to turn a celebrity’s life and choices into a product marked “feminism.”

But the conservative culture commentariat’s take on Beyonce The Feminist raised neither of these objections to third party attempts to harness and narrate the mega-star’s assumption of the feminist mantle. Rather, they dived with abandon down the What Beyonce Says About Feminism rabbit hole, and found, by most accounts, a mess of damning inconsistencies. The fact that feminists and critics met Beyonce’s VMA performance with delight or at least critical engagement, while condemning Sofia Vergara’s rotating pedestal gag at the Emmys, drew the most ire.

If the measure of the artistic and emancipatory merit of women’s work is how much ass they show and how gleefully they show it, or how many times and how explicitly they reference sex in their performances, then yes, Knowles-Carter’s and Vergara’s performance should stand or swing by the same rope. But a quick look at other criteria illuminates instructive differences.

Beyonce is a dancer and singer, a performing artist in two mediums that, since the courtly love troubadours at the very least, have taken romantic and sexual passion as a chief subject. Moreover, even within the heavily eroticized form, Beyoncé’s opera has been dedicated to exploring and voicing in first person the sexual experience of a woman at a specific nexus of contexts—Black, female, Houstonite, lovesick, submissive, vengeful, ferocious.  Her artistic choices have at least sometimes been problematic from a feminist perspective, but her eroticized performance persona is entirely appropriate to her work, and functions within its parameters to form a luminous whole.

Vergara is a comedian. And while her medium is not so steeped in the vagaries of sex, there is certainly a long and venerable comedy of the erotic. Of course, some of the brightest stars of this theater have rendered performances as ideologically indeterminate, as conflicted and contradictory as any of Beyoncé’s. Katherine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story, Claudette Colbert in It Happened One Night, Nora Ephron musing on the difference between men and women, among many others, offer up  a vision of sexual love and female personhood that is at times disturbing and at others openly misogynistic.  In all cases, though, the comedian participates as an agent in a tense gendered dance, or spins the state in which she finds herself with a personal and judgmental eye. The comedy of erotics, like the dance of erotics, will always be open to feminist criticism, but it provides a space in which women’s experiences of love, sex, and gender become as creatively important, regarded, and fruitful as men’s have traditionally been held.

In the Emmy bit, Vergara is neither an equal participant nor a commentator. Note that this holds no matter whose idea the gag was or how much control she had over the scene. Although an analysis of the power of female performers relative to their (usually male) producers and recording industry CEOs would be interesting, the issue at hand is not actor-behind the scenes but actor-producing-work. And the Emmys sketch was not structured around how Vergara engages the desires of others, or her own desire, or how she feels about or deals with the joys and frustrations of a publicly erotic body. None of that provided material for the joke—the joke was her body. Literally, the way the joke worked was thus: a man said, people like to look at Sofia Vergara. Ha ha ha. To further demonstrate his point, he put her on a cake stand, or the nearest equivalent. The internal logic of the jest required no insight, or participation from Vergara.  She functioned as a prop.

AJ Delgado pointed out that Vergara was wearing a tasteful dress and, in general stays away from explicitly sexual humor; thus, she implies, her joke was less offensive and more feminist than Beyonce’s show. But the random declaration of a woman’s desirability in an unrelated context is not less offensive than a dancer’s deliberate inhabitance of an erotic theater, and the fact that a woman’s breasts and ass will be made a public spectacle when she wears a formal dress is much more troubling than a dancer’s display of her body in movements of disciplined sensuality. Beyonce’s bodily display was the stuff of her work; Vergara’s was presented in contradistinction to it. We say we care about story, about talent, about comedy, went the subtext, but really, we’re all here for the show. Ha ha ha.

None of this necessarily means that the joke was unfunny, or that Vergara herself is a sexist. It only means the context and structure of the two stars’ respective performances were different, and evaluations of their merits must reach a little higher than “is showing off your body good or bad?”

It was a very easy joke to make, after all; women’s bodies are already hilarious—subject to exposure, cartoonishly sexual, other—simply as desirable flesh. A little more hilarity at the expense of the sexual female body came courtesy of Mollie Hemingway at The Federalist. Hemingway noted that the main differences between the two actors seemed to be that Vergara “wasn’t splaying her legs with all the subtlety of a stampeding herd of rhinoceroses.” The disdainful hyperbole of the image is telling. Whatever the correct critical responses to Beyonce and Vergara’s respective performances, there is no obvious reason to equate them. Doing so requires a violent and degrading reduction of female performers to their degree of exposure—to their hilarious bodies and shamefully splayed legs. And for two women who have so generously exposed their considerable talents to the world, it is an unjust reduction indeed.

Books and Baked Goods 9

Your baked good for this week is this  Smitten Kitchen’s plum cake, for maximum convenience suggested well after all the plums have vanished from the greengrocer’s. I tried to make this cake in a toaster over, which, I was promised, worked as well as or better than what I was used to. In point of fact the oven burned the top and failed to cook the rest, so I ended up scraping the burnt crust off and cooking it for ten more minutes before serving it with ice cream as plum pudding. It was surprisingly scrumptious.

Moral of the story: when everything goes wrong, serve it as a pudding.

Chapters 60 to 69! Previous installments here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. Explanation of this ghastly drawn out Bataan death march of a book club, here.

Will is finding a little more about his family, and the plot thickens.

“[Bulstrode] was simply a man whose desires had been stronger than his theoretic beliefs, and who had gradually explained the gratifaction of his desires into satisfactory arrangement with those beliefs.”


Bulstrode’s sanctification of profit scheme does not hold up very well to the light. He and his constant terror of exposure are so pitable.

Arghh. Will and Dorothea talking past each other is driving me insane. Lesson learned, folks: if you think it’s one hundred percent certain that the object of your affections must grok the hints and allusions you are dropping….they probably don’t.

Why won’t Lydgate let Farebrother help him? But his pride can’t hold long with the vise of debt squeezing him. The thread of debt runs all through the novel–Fred’s debts, his reliance on the death of a patron to absolve him; Lydgate’s debts, and the degradation in which they immerse him; Caleb’s disinclination to be in Bulstrode’s “debt” by accepting his patronage; even Dorothea’s relation to Will is colored by what she feels she owes him and cannot render him.

“The poor thing saw only that the world was not to her liking, and that Lydgate was the world.”

Rosamund sees herself, and the world, not herself among selves. Her narcissism seems to totally lack a theory of mind.

The idea of letting her house to the man she rejected must be terribly painful for her, coinciding with the loss of Will Ladislaw’s attentions.

Lydgate can only go lower than his original picture of a passive adoring spouse, not higher. Still, his continued love for Rosamund, and more than that, his fervent desire that he might continue to love her, is deeply touching

“In marriage, the certainty, “She will never love me more,” is easier to bear than the fear “I shall love her no more.”

This is true, and not just for marriage, I think. What terrifies me about my sin is not that God will stop loving me, but that I will lose my ability to love God.

This is also why Rosamund is more pitiable than Lydgate.

The alienation of their marriage  is so painful to watch–and Lydgate, with his many real excellencies, could have had a marriage of so much tenderness, respect, and mutual support had he treated the character of a wife more seriously. And instead he ends up sobbing with her while their furniture is sold, a togetherness without unity or intimacy.

Re Fred stopping Lydgate’s gambling, it strikes me how much important action of the novel takes place in public space.

And, as usual, Farebrother is being a hero to Fred. What else is new?

Speaking of news, Raffles has returned, sick and delirious. Uh oh. Is it all over for Bulstrode? Will Bulstrode murder Raffles? Tune in for chapters 70-79 to find out!

I’ll end with this quote.

He had never liked the makeshifts of poverty and they had never before entered into his prospects for himself, but he was beginning now to imagine how two creatures who loved each other and had a stock of thoughts in common might laugh over their shabby furniture and their calculations how far they could afford butter and eggs.

Unrelated: IT’S MY BIRTHDAY. Consider this my birthday present to you, after the manner of hobbits.

Poem of the Day 7

The Gentleman of Shalott

Which eye’s his eye?

Which limb lies

next the mirror?

For neither is clearer

nor a different color

than the other,

nor meets a stranger

in this arrangement

of leg and leg and

arm and so on.

To his mind

it’s the indication

of a mirrored reflection

somewhere along the line

of what we call the spine.


He felt in modesty

his person was

half looking-glass,

for why should he be doubted?

The glass must stretch

down his middle,

or rather down the edge.

But he’sin doubt

as to which side’s in or out

of the mirror.

There’s little margin for error,

but there’s no proof, either.

And if half his head’s reflected,

thought, he thinks, might be affected.


But he’s resigned

to such economical design.

If the glass slips

he’s in a fix–

only one leg, etc. But

while it stays put he can walk and run

and his hands can clasp one

another. The uncertainty

he says he

finds exhilarating. He loves

that sense of constant re-adjustment.

He wishes to be quoted as saying at present:

“Half is enough.”


Elizabeth Bishop


Dear Phrontis: A Taxonomy of Spinsters

Dear Phrontis is our advice column, featuring the questions we imagine people would put to us were anyone batshit crazy enough to write us for advice. The questions may or may not be made up or entirely drawn from our own personal lives, and the answers may or may not be safe to apply to your own. Previously, and previously.

Dear Phrontis,

So, I’m a single guy living in a big city where it’s hard to get to know people. The other day I noticed a cat stuck in the fence. Turns out it belonged the woman who lives in the apartment just below me. When I brought it home, she invited me in and we chatted for a while. She’s really pretty and nice, and I think there was a spark there. Thing is, I have very decided tastes, aesthetics, and lifestyle preferences, and I dream of a girl who not only shares them, but to an extent embodies them. Any way to figure out if this is even worth trying before I go and get myself entangled with my neighbor?

Searching for Soulmate in San Francisco

Dear Searching,

In times past, a discreet glance was enough to ascertain a lady’s station in life. Did she travel by post, or in the barouche box? Were her hands roughened by coarsening labor, or soft and innocent as the feminine mind? How much embroidery had her reticule? [Ed. Note: We think Phrontis may be making this one up.]

Feminism, of course, set out to destroy these simple methods. Not content with turning all red-blooded American males into puling, flaccid, beta-males, the feminist flood of sharp-elbowed women into places and positions formerly reserved for men has hopelessly muddled the time-tested systems for ascertaining whether she’s the marrying sort or just some tart.

Luckily, the pernicious project has enjoyed far from universal success. You may still discover, with minimum effort, whether the apple of your eye is a young lady of genteel breeding, or the kind of hussy who unabashedly watches Jersey Shore

You mention that this siren owns a cat. Here, for your guidance and edification, is Phrontis’ Guide To Cat Names and The Ladies Who Bestow them.


The Snowball/Misty/Fluffy coterie is the baseline, the default, the 99 percent. She might be just as agreeable to you had she cats named Snowball to fill all of Cheapside, but I would advise you to proceed with caution. You will gain very little cultural status by such an alliance.

Cleo/Sam/other human name.

Perfectly respectable, take-or-leave. This is the great middle class of feline nomenclature.

Prunesquallor/Martin Chuzzlewit/Other name drawn from Victorian or Gothic literature.

This young lady’s tastes are of the over-refined sort that once would have befitted a governess; now, they grace students of English literature or aspiring arts and culture journalists. Like their governess ancestresses, these ladies forsee a long spinsterhood. It would probably not be gentlemanlike to contradict them.

Emily Dickinson/Elizabeth Bennet

A New York third wave feminist, college educated, single and pretending to be happy about it, overscheduled, undersexed, buys any magazine that says “healthy body image” on the cover. Every two years she takes up knitting for a week.


Although she seems secure enough in her classical superiority to descend to terrible puns (much like those millionaires’ daughters who wear nothing but athletic leggings and expensive riding boots), this young woman will do you no favors. Her jokes will be terrible. More importantly, her references may stray far outside the decorous limit of quirky pop culture and New Yorker approved novels established by that guiding lodestar of feminine excellence, Gilmore Girls.

Mrs. Norris

You are mooning after Argus Filch or someone who obsessively read/reads Harry Potter. The second category is, alas, far too universal to base useful caste deductions on.


If you want your firstborn daughter to struggle under the burden of a name like Tinuviel, not only on the playground, but her entire adult life, be my guest.


This woman may style herself after Holly Golightly, in which case she is probably in high school and you are a creepy predator. Or she may just consider herself above all this nonsense, under which heading I can assure you that you and your delicate sensibilities will fall.


This young person fancies herself a witch,  an avocation with the kind of cultural cachet that will increasingly diminish as you approach middle age together. One must not be short-sighted; seances in Bushwick are all very well, but can she charm a PTA meeting?


This woman actually is a witch, and if jilted will turn you into a toad.


If her cat is named Tybalt, she’s your landed gentry.  Conscientious about imbuing even the smallest details of daily life with a picturesque sophistication, she respects the taste consensus too much to ever deviate far from its center. Here, truly, is a gently cultivated lady worthy of your devotion.

Yours sincerely,


[Ed. Note: While Phrontis' hatred of single women is well documented, spinsters are possibly the most favorite and welcome demographic here at Babes. Especially when they bring gorgeously pretentious cat names to the party.]


Speaking of witches, I am pretty sure this guy is a magician. Look at his name. Look at his picture. Look at his profession. Bam.

Saturday Links

Who doesn’t want new reasons to worry about your nether regions?

I sense a trend piece in the offing.

Who knew?

Renisha McBride

I’m just going to link to this, because if I try to comment, suddenly I’ll be staring in confused horror at a 2,000 word monstrosity.

I tip my hat to you, sir.

Melissa Harris Perry, meh, but I would listen to bell hooks read the phone book.

rsgdfihncklqwefosjk YES. 

Of note.

War and obscurity

One of the most smugly moronic things I’ve read in a while

Since we’ve just been petulantly reminded that the Pope is Catholic, let me draw your attention to the barbarity of our criminal justice system.

Does anyone else remember the sinking realization that all the plots were the same?


This was lovely.

Walmart strikers

I’d argue that it behooves social conservatives to close up the casinos and back off of drugs, as the war on them is possibly the single most effective policy for separating fathers from their children.

Who ARE these people? Who does this?

Marilynne Robinson’s political allegiances are primarily to America.


Books and Baked Goods 8

Right now, my feelings about this project resemble Frodo’s towards the ring on one of the steeper trails up Mt. Doom.

I will finish this. I must.

And be you Gollums or Sams, you are welcome to plod up the summit with me. In place of Lembas, I offer you Smitten Kitchen’s cream scones. I made these once with yogurt, once with cream. The yogurt ones were more second breakfast, the cream version a decadent afternoon tea treat. I also added approximately an extra half to full tablespoon of butter, because why not? Substitute tiny pieces of chopped up apples, add a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg to the batter, and swap some of the sugar for maple syrup if you, like me, insist that all your baked goods from September to Christmas scream autumn in the most predictable of ways.

Chapters 50 to 59!

It seemed that where there was a baby, things were right enough, and that error, in general, was a mere lack of that central poising force.

I love the impersonal universality of this axiom.

Dorothea’s terrible shock at realizing someone she trusted had “hidden thoughts” from and about her is probably familiar to a lot of people; I think this discovery is one of the most agonizing blows to a friendship possible.

Dorothea also just seems to have awakened to Will’s erotic potential. Well, this should be interesting.

But Will is an Italian with white mice, and he might as well be in Rome. Dorothea is an uncomfortable and misplaced product of Victorian Protestant England, and Will is a disruptive, sensual, and suspect foreigner. But Will’s  rootless disruptiveness can be channeled politically into a useful engine of reform–what happens to Dorothea?

“But if you are to wait till we get a logical Bill, you must put yourself forward as a revolutionist, and then Middlemarch would not elect you, I fancy.”



“But as to one family, there’s creditor and debtor, I hope; they’re not going to reform that away; else I should vote for things staying as they are.”

Farebrother is finally getting his due! I’m so glad. He is so very lovable in these chapters. The scene wherein he pleads Fred Vincy’s case to the woman he himself loves, particularly.

The English evangelicalism of this period is fascinating, especially since we’re mostly used to think of revivals et al. as American phenomena.

I think the most realistic touch Eliot gives Bulstrode is his sincerity; he really does think he is a humble servant endowed by the Lord with a mission to prosper. But now he has Raffles jamming up the works! Secrets and scandal! Bulstrode’s apparent relation to Ladislaw reminds me of a Dickens story, where each character is intricately tangled up in another, sometimes by roots that remain subterranean for most of the novel.

“to sit like a model for Saint Catherine looking rapturously at Celia’s baby would not do for many hours in the day, and to remain in that momentous babe’s presence with persistent disregard was a course that could not have been tolerated in a childless sister.”

This sounds…familiar.

James and Celia’s worries over Dorothea being lonely are loving and innocuous, but we see the general determination to keep her docile in Mrs. Cadwallader’s warnings against “seeing visions.”

“But I see clearly a husband is the right thing to keep her in order.”

But it’s not as though Dorothea’s non-conformity is unambiguously valorized, either. Rather, much of it seems her poor-woman’s negative substitute for greatness of action and leadership.  Although now, it seems, she’s planning to build some kind of commune.

Will and Dorothea’s awkward fumbling around each other feels surprisingly possible and relatable, despite the ostensibly Victorian obstacles separating them.

The railroad is cutting its way through Lowick, the the disapproval of the workmen, who see only rich owners turning a profit from the disruption of their lives.

And Rosamund has suffered a miscarriage. It’s only mentioned in passing dialogue, given much less time and attention than any other events of these chapters. What does this mean to her? We get no peek into an interior world where loss and grief exist.

“…Mary always desired to be clear that she loved Fred best.”

This seems like the root of fidelity.

Lydgate’s belief in Rosamund’s innate submissiveness and adoring deference crumbling, he has no way of being married beyond alienation and sterility. He never saw her as one with real agendas and desires of her own, so he can’t ask her to give them up in loving mutual sacrifice. She can’t help and suffer with him in his struggles, because she was never to take an “unwomanly” interest in his work, never to be his partner in any real sense.

And she wouldn’t recognize the call to that kind of heroism; nor can she ask him to enter into her own projects. She has only learned how to gently thwart others’ plans for her. It’s a damning look at a dynamic that’s sometimes romanticized.

And then he compares her to Laure, with his “It is the way with all women.” I had almost forgotten about Laure; poor foolish Lydgate.

He also remembers Dorothea, and I’m still not sure the poor chump’s wrapped his around the fact that Dorothea’s absolute loyalty to her husband is not some natural feminine clinging but active, struggling virtue.

But now Will knows about the codicil! What will happen next? Tune in next time for the surprising adventures of me, Sir Digby Chicken Ceasar, I mean, uh….Middlemarch.

Poem of the Day 6

Chemin De Fer

Alone on the railroad track
I walked with pounding heart.
The ties were too close together
or maybe too far apart.

The scenery was impoverished:
scrub-pine and oak; beyond
its mingled gray-green foliage
I saw the little pond

where the dirty old hermit lives,
lie like an old tear
holding onto its injuries
lucidly year after year.

The hermit shot off his shot-gun
and the tree by his cabin shook.
Over the pond went a ripple
The pet hen went chook-chook.

“Love should be put into action!”
screamed the old hermit.
Across the pond an echo
tried and tried to confirm it.


Elizabeth Bishop

Time for Links

Who has seen this?

Earths! Everywhere!

Austerity in Kentucky


More reasons to move to Iceland, etc

This confirms all my suspicions

As does this

Emotional labor

Aw swell

5 billion in food stamp cuts over the next year. This is atrocious and terrifying, and it’s not just on Republicans, either. On the off chance you live in the Philadelphia area, Philabundance does great work and always needs help meeting demand for food.

Pregnant workers. Pregnant working women are contributing in two ways–the one the labor market rewards, and the bearing and birthing of workers on whom the economy depends. Something to keep in mind when we talk about “accommodations,” rather than “not punishing women for doing what keeps life, civilization, and your workforce moving along, at great personal cost.”

Hey Philly, let’s not screw this one up, ok?

I give the sexual revolution five more years. Childbirth also sounds increasingly terrifying.

Dinosaur sex. The evangelicals have purity bear–maybe we could have an NFP stegosaurus?


Nancy Wake, via The Toast, who,  by the way, whatever else you may say about them, pay their writers.

New Inquiry is all about the witches right now.

And finally

Ghosty and Fragmented Bullet Points on Death and Exile

1. Maureen Mullarkey discusses death and the jolly skeleton.

2. The entire month, of November, as she points out,  belongs to the dead. It’s my favorite month, not least because I was born into it.

3. This is the first November of my life I’ve spent entirely away from home, and it’s very strange to never pass the cemeteries where my grandparents, aunts, sister lie.

4. The threat of unburial is frequent in the Illiad and Odyssey. Priam kisses the hand of his son’s murderer in order to regain the body, and Odysseus tells an enemy that the crows will peck at his rotting flesh, or something like that, I can’t find my books.

5. Unburial is horror for the dead, but what about the living? When we bury the dead we claim them. We claim the dead just because they are ours, and we love them, not because they are productive citizens or because they can feel bodily pain.

6. This seems to me the terror of exile–to be so far from one’s beloved dead. Not the struggle to build a new life, but its formless rawness, the weight of being only oneself and for oneself, existing only in the present. Home is where the burial ground is.

7. Zombie movies are comforting in their action adventure format. They can’t be real if they don’t show the suffocating grief of your dead refusing to recognize you, turning against you. There’s no peace in life or death when that happens, which I suppose is the premise of Zombie-hood. No one ever asks if the world is worth saving, though, and so the films reassure.

8. An unburied corpse is horrible, because he has not been claimed, and might turn against us. The peaceful solidarity of our present moment with our inherited past and inevitable future, of living and dead, depends on our tethering the dead to ourselves. Without the dead we have no “ours.”

7. Emily Bronte calls her ghosty menage “sleepers in the quiet earth,” and we refer to departed Christians as “those who sleep in Christ.” Christ will come to wake them all from sleep, but there’s an interesting range of possibility suggested in dormition. If you wake a sleeper too early, will she sleepwalk? Can you guide her gently back to bed, or will she become angry in her confused dreams?

I understand why atheists reject the existence of ghosts as a matter of dogma, but not why Christians would.

” Yes, in an objective sense, some rape victims may be culpable in a limited sense — in the same way that a mother may have limited culpability for her child’s death if she forgets to remind him to put on his bicycle helmet the day that he is hit by a car — “

This is from a comment by Melina Selmys. Melinda’s comment in context is about the importance of not blaming or shaming rape victims, but I think there’s something wrong, in an important way, with what she’s conceding.

She compares rape to getting hit by a car. That is, rape is a pre-existing, natural, impersonal violent event. But this is not true. Rape is a perverse and deliberately willed act of violence another person chooses to commit.

The normal obligations we have to ward off evils like disease, accidents, and disasters cannot be applied to to the victims of a violent crime. The two cases are totally different.

Two sets people bear the blame in the case of a violent crime: the criminal, and those charged with curtailing the activities of evildoers. The state is responsible for protecting its citizens, institutions and communities are to a degree responsible for the conduct of their members, and as Christians we are all responsible for protecting and supporting our brothers and sisters.

The “limited culpability” in the case of rape belongs not the victim, but, in the case of rape as it is practiced in America, to the collective whose silence or compliance enabled the rapist.

If we could be “culpable” in some way, for failing to prevent our own deliberate victimization by other people, the culpability for Christ’s death would lie on his own head, not only on ours.

Moreover, his injunction in the Gospel

But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.

would be an invitation to wrong-doing. The Gospel’s ethic is one of perfect love, and may not be immediately possible for everyone, or proper to enforce at the level of government, but its tenets certainly do not represent moral failure even in the smallest sense.