Monday, 09 October 2006

Fœtid Historical Romances & Their Effect on Expectations After endless hours spent reading this: "I don't understand you, and we are both a trifle annoyed, and that is the reason why you must go away. And remember to be early at Mr. St. Clair's [tea]; we must make it a success." "And the Leighs?" [says the narrator]. "They will come; and now go and repent of your having been cross to Fred Vincent's wife" [says Fred Vincent's wife, inexplicably referring to herself in the third person]. [The narrator] looked at her reproachfully. "Oh, but you were, and you would have liked to be still more unpleasant. Good-by." This elicited a giggle: "Yes; I am asked to go South on a Government commission to study the outbreak [of yellow fever] they have had. I think I shall go. I saw it once before, and for some reasons, no one else is quite as well fitted for this not over-pleasant task" [says the narrator]. "It is risky" [says the narrator's poet-friend]. "Very." "I would n't go. What 's the use?" "It is a simple duty. I should like to go away for a while, and it fits in nicely." "Darn duty." I laughed, as if darning duty mended matters, and we parted. See what I've been reduced to? After burning, Miriam-like, through five such novels the past five days, I'm increasingly tolerant of bad puns, witless cutting insults and the nimble plotting of the club-handed. Before you can say "Spelling," I'll find Desperate Housewives clever, watch ER religiously and argue the literary merits of Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Works outside the canon may be, as my betters have argued, of historical import—but sometimes neglected works have been abandoned with good reason. I dread the day someone says "I read X, Y or Z on the strength of your article," as I'm a man of peace and can do nothing to arrest the pummelling I've earned. I mean, I could plead professionalism: "You don't understand! Appreciative criticism isn't appreciated in academia! Not the face! Not the face!" But why heap humiliation on hospitalization?

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