/ Literature /
Little Dorrit is one of the Dickens novels I have not read. Jan and I just tried acquainting ourselves with it a bit via the Masterpiece Theater version: that franchise slinging dreck as much as pitching masterpieces, the DVD technically inept moreover. But: there’s a line, from the character Jeremiah Flintwinch, addressed to his suffering wife Affery, that I must address, however shallow my familiarity with the novel.
Affery has noticed something Jeremiah Flintwinch does not appreciate her noticing. He threatens her: with a physic:
he warns her. And poor Affery withdraws, the threat works, in future she’ll notice only what her husband approves.
I’ve read an awful lot of English classics, an awful lot of Victorians, a lot of Dickens (however far short of all) … I’ve seen an awful lot of abused characters, abused women, abused servants: abusing women, abusing servants … I’m well aware that it was Dickens who made the world aware of the inhumane nature of many of our social institutions: the law, orphanages, prisons … (Did you realize that in the mid-Nineteenth Century all prisons were run for profit!? prisons like the Marshalsea debtors prison?) (Oh what an opportunity for abuse is there!) (I’m also well aware that other cultures, other countries, other governments were a good deal further removed from decency than were English institutions!)
And (this is a hairball, might as well face it) I’m aware of how contemporaries continue to fall short of awareness in matters of institutions despite the efforts of genius/saints like Ivan Illich (and his disciple, me) … For instance: Upstairs / Downstairs, Downton Abbey (more Brit stuff) peel a layer or two off social classes, as had The French Lieutenant’s Woman: the right people of the right class had rights, sometimes, when the alpha kleptocrats were on their side, but most people, 99% of the people, had no such rights, didn’t dream of having such rights. Servants, for example. The employer had all the power: could fire, without a recommendation, smear … all with impunity.
You want a much deeper look into employers’ lairs, check out the great At Home: A Short History of Private Life by the great (and very funny) Bill Bryson. Check out his story about Hannah Cullwick, a maid who kept a diary, a woman who served as a maid, powerless, helpless, even while married, secretely, to her employer.
|She spent thirty-six years as a maid, from 1873 to her death in 1909, secretly married to her employer, a civil servant and minor poet named Arthur Munby, who never disclosed the relationship to family or friends. When alone, they lived as man and wife; when a visitor called, however, Cullwick stepped back into the role of maid. If overnight guests were present, Cullwick withdrew from the marital bed and slept in the kitchen.|
Back to Jeremiah Flintwinch and wife Affery in a moment: Step back with me, step back a thousand years or so: consider Peter Abelard, known by many (understood by very few), skewered by the universities (and the Church) (still skewered by the universities), and his paramour Héloïse d’Argenteuil. Héloïse’s rich father hired Abelard to tutor her, put Héloïse into Abelard’s discipine! (That is to say Abelard could order her, punish her … He had the authority, he didn’t need to ask for any specific license, he had carte blache. Abelard could say, “Now take your dress off, bend over, spread your lips …” Abelard could beat her if didn’t didn’t obey, pronto.
Now, understand: it’s always been like that. The shah didn’t need permission to behead Scheherazade. Abelard was a professor, Abelard was simultaneously a priest. Héloïse’s father didn’t expect Abelard to tell his daughter to take her dress off: he expected her to be drilled in her prayers, in her rosary, in her Latin … And I don’t doubt that Abelard did do those things: those things and lots more. (Anyone who’d asume he wouldn’t has to be certifiable.)
Ok, back to Little Dorrit:
Flintwinch threatens his wife, formerly his charge as an underservant, with a dose: of physic! What’s that? Well, a common physic was intended to induce the bowels to move.
In Downton Abbey Carson (played by Jim Carter) is in charge of the mansion. If he wanted to punish Daisy he’d likely pass the responsibility down to the housekeeper who might pass it down to the cook. But what if he wanted to punish Daisy with an enema? and wanted to do it himself?
Diasy could tell the priest, after it was done: and the priest could tell Sir Robert.
Mrs. Clennam in Little Dorrit is a religious freak, but also a cripple, doesn’t leave her room, leaves everything up to Flintwinch. I doubt very much that Affery had any appeal to any priest.
OK: that just opens some questions. I don’t intend to answer them. I think Jan and I are bailing on the balance of the Masterpiece Theater version: no, don’t send us DVD 2. Maybe we’ll read the novel someday, if we life long enough: I’m 75 & 1/2; she’s 83 & 3/4. But we may. Then, if and then, I’ll worry about exactly what Flintwinch threatened Affery with. Whatever it was I don’t see Affery complaining to Mrs. Clennam, or any priest, or any cop, and certainly not to Flintwinch.
It occurs to me, not everyone today will even know what an enema is. I remember whimpering as a boy as my mother, lovingly I presume, forced hot medicated water up my colon, telling me that I was constipated. Horrible, whimper. She was bigger than me, had society and the law on her side.
Now that’s a relationship commonly understood to be intimate, mother and child, to have certain rights of force. The cop manacling you if you’ve offended the prince, or if the prince and his party are for some reason afraid of you, has the “right”, but need not be so loving.
Now, picture Flintwinch and Affery: she was in his power before he married her. She was doubly in his power after he married her. When Arthur Clennam, just back from China, queries her we learn that she’d married Flintwinch in Arthur’s absence: she reports it like reporting that she’d had her fingernails trimmed, of no interest, no passion, and not much importance. Helpless. Helpless woman, a servant.
Further reflect: forcing alien things up people’s ass has a history: in the world, and in England. Which unloved English king was murdered with a molten crowbar up his ass? Edward? in the Tower? Shakespeare portrays it. The king judged to have been homosexually active: an apposite punishment: dick up his ass; hot crowbar up his ass: justice. I’ll check that history in a moment.
Prisons for Profit
Boxing champion Jack Johnson made a deal with the US court that he’d come back to the US from England so that the US could arrest him, on a violation of the Mann Act, transporting women across state lines for immoral purposes, the woman in question being his wife, his white wife, understand, when he, Jack Johnson, was a “black” man: so, by definition, in a racist society, Johnson’s wife was a whore, provided that: his US jailors let him come and goes as he pleased, bring him his wife (and other women) as he pleased, serve him chilled champagne in glasses of his choice, change his silk sheets for him, making sure the colors pleased him … Now that’s prison for profit, under a for profit government: enslave the n-word [Bowdlerizing K., 2016 08 01, I censor an offensive word and substitute something more obscene: euphemism!], kowtow to the genius n-.
The Marshalsea was the same: rich debtors could come and go, poor debtors could starve: and did: as many as ten a week. And remember: the jail was run by and for those who claimed the debt: nothing was ever “proved” to a Newton’s satisfaction. Amy Dorrit was born in the Marshalsea. As a young woman she comes and goes, to her sewing work, supporting her whole family: exploit the serviceable girl with the neat sewing work.
Politically Weak Women
Last evening I began the TV series, Rebellion: Ireland, home rule, republicanism, leading up to The UpRising, WWI … So far I like the atmosphere, the sense of period. One thing I noticed I’ll report here: Guy proposes to gal, tells her he’s asked her father, her family, has his permission, their approvel. The woman doesn’t look all too pleased. But before she can say Hold you Horses, I’m studying, I have a career coming, I care for you but … But the door bursts open and her family arrives, all congratulating each other. No body checks with her, least of all the groom. Yes. I bet it was, just like that.
I feel a kinship with the subject. I’m an American, 3/4 German, 1/4 British: that is, 1/8 English – 1/8 Scots. I speak English, love the Celts, the Welsh, the Scots, the Irish; do Not love the English, the Saxons, the Angles … I’m a revolutionary. I respond to Wallace and his martyrdom … and I have a toe dipped into early Twentieth Century British arrogance. I want to see them get theirs.
At the same time I don’t trust the Irish, don’t know that much Irish history …
Then again in this show there’s a occasional conversation in Gaelic! I get to hear a pronunciation for names like Sinn Féin. …
Yummy. Now bring on Yeats.
It’s ironic, the human species was born in Eve gaining control of her fertility cycle and thereby getting control of Adam. So how did everything get turned upside down? How did Eve lose all that power? How did fathers and aunts get into it?
|More pk on Dickens||