Thursday, April 27, 2017

Science placards around the world

This placard from Boston is my absolute favourite from the biggest science event in history, the global March for Science on 22nd April.   And here are the runners-up:-

In no. 2 place, Think while it's still legal.  A similar thought prompted a Swedish placard in Stockholm: Våga Fråga! (the å's are pronounced like English "or"). It means "Dare to ask", nicely encapsulating the scientific enterprise - enquire, then follow the data wherever it leads.

I must include I'm not a zoologist ... perhaps I should have placed it higher up my list, but here it comes at no. 4:-

And this photo contains a few more worth a glance.  You've got to smile at When do we want it, after peer review, and Paid scientist, I protest for free.  Science not silence was a slogan used in many protests across the globe.  We can call these 4(a), (b) and (c). Next,  Less Invasions More Equations deserves a place, here it is at no. 5:-

I'm with Her is a nice repurposing of a Hilary Clinton slogan. This one was from Paris:-

Not an alternative fact was mass produced, I've seen it in numerous photos, so while certainly rating a mention, I have to put it bottom of my list:-

All good humoured stuff. A pity then that we have to end on a sour note. Did Donald Trump really need to turn up in New York and spoil the day by playing golf with the Earth? So very sad.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Tell me it's not true!

Ha! … bet you thought it was going to be something about the first six weeks of Trump. No, what concerns me right now is news in the Daily Mirror, about the governor of the Bank of England and what he's putting on a £10 note.

A few weeks after taking up his appointment as Bank of England governor in 2013, Mark Carney shows off the proposed Jane Austen £10 note

There are four things worth remarking about this new banknote, due to be issued later this year. The animal fat it contains; the campaign of abuse and threats against the feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez whose persistence persuaded the Bank to put Jane Austen on the back; the airbrushed portrait ... 

And lastly, an ill-chosen quotation (too small in the photo) placed under Jane Austen's image: "I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!“

Last November I was in Dublin to hear John Mullan, author of What matters in Jane Austen?  It was a lecture put on by the Jane Austen Society of Ireland, and half a dozen of us travelled from Cork.  Well worth sitting 6 hours on a bus for. Prof Mullan brought up the no enjoyment like reading quotation, and asked the audience if we could guess the controversy it has provoked. We could, of course. As three years had elapsed since the Mark Carney photo opp, and the new note was still not issued, the professor had reason to hope this delay betokened unease about the said quotation, and that the bank was hunting out a replacement.

Sadly, it appears not ... According to a story posted on the Mirror website on 15th February, no enjoyment like reading is still there. Dearie me ...

Prof Mullan even surmised how it came about; convinced that governor Carney had a gofer called Barney, he imagined the following conversation.

“Barney, there's been a bit of a fuss about needing a woman on the back of the new tenner, Jane Austen would do, be a good fellow and find me an image.” 

Next day Barney produces the Jane Austen image for the new banknote. “That’s terrific Barney, now we could do with a quotation to go with it.”

“What sort of quotation boss?”

“Oh I dunno, something to do with reading would be good.”

Barney goes googling and comes back with “I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!”

“Good Barney, very good, and where does that one come from?”

“Pride and Prejudice boss.”

“Wonderful, my fave, now then, we need a meeting about interest rates, set one up for Friday will you, like a good chap.” 

Cue an outcry from all Jane Austen enthusiasts.  If you are one, you'll know the rest. If not, you need to understand that these words from Pride and Prejudice are put in the mouth of the ghastly Caroline Bingley, the novel’s least appealing character, not even excepting the villainous Wickham and the atrocious Lady Catherine.  

Caroline Bingley is deceitful, she's pretentious, she's a snob, and the worst is, she's the sworn foe of English literature's favourite heroine, Elizabeth Bennet.  To cap it all, she has no interest in books, as proved in the scene where in furtherance of her campaign to hook Darcy as a husband, she sidles up to him, purporting to share his interests. Since he is reading a book, she sits next to him and pretends to read one too, which she has only chosen because it's the second volume of his. (At that time, novels were commonly issued in three volumes.)

Here's this scene in full:-

Miss Bingley's attention was quite as much engaged in watching Mr. Darcy's progress through his book, as in reading her own; and she was perpetually either making some inquiry, or looking at his page. She could not win him, however, to any conversation; he merely answered her question, and read on. At length, quite exhausted by the attempt to be amused with her own book, which she had only chosen because it was the second volume of his, she gave a great yawn and said, "How pleasant it is to spend an evening in this way! I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of anything than of a book! When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library."

No one made any reply. She then yawned again, threw aside her book, and cast her eyes round the room in quest of some amusement …

Now of course all Jane Austen’s heroines are at odds with Caroline Bingley in this respect, that they are great readers. (Save one. Emma knows she should read, and even makes reading lists, but never quite gets round to it.) Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey actually reads too much, makes a fool of herself by imagining she’s living out the plot of a gothic novel. Anne Elliott in Persuasion in a crucial scene is overheard by the hero Captain Wentworth discussing books, leading to the happy denouement. In Sense and Sensibility, Elinor and Marianne are fond of reading, and a shallow character called Lady Middleton fancies them satirical as a consequence. Fanny Price reads about the McCartney expedition to China, and Lizzy Bennett is disparaged by her antagonist Caroline Bingley as "a great reader".

Please Governor Carney, choose one of these! Not Caroline Bingley! Tell me it's fake news!

Note: the Pride and Prejudice extract is from ch 11. More Jane Austen extracts about reading, including those mentioned above, on a separate page if you want them.  In the last extract on that page I've suggested a possible alternative quote for the new £10 note - see if you agree. And a final point, we must beware of being too up ourselves over this one, as Jane Austen wouldn't have said … "for she had a lively, playful disposition, which delighted in any thing ridiculous." (P&P ch 3)

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Some curiosities from 'Self Control', an 1811 novel

Jane Austen was very rude about Self Control, a novel by Mary Brunton that came out in 1811, the same year as Austen's first, Sense and Sensibility. Austen said she would go one better and in her next book, have her heroine cross the Atlantic in a boat by herself [1]. This was an unfair swipe at Brunton whose kidnapped heroine Laura escapes her American captors by floating downriver to safety in an Indian canoe, narrowly avoiding drowning in a waterfall. Saved by a farmer, our heroine is conducted to Quebec where she boards a ship for her home in Scotland.

And here's the point: lacking money to pay for her passage, she persuades the captain to accept a banker's draft, which can be cashed at the voyage’s end. On arrival at Glasgow we read: 

“The next morning she gave the captain a draft for the price of her passage; and producing her purse and Mrs De Courcy's ring, offered them as further security; ... The sailor, however, positively refused to accept of any thing more than the draft, swearing that if he were deceived in Laura, he would never trust woman again.” [2] 

Paying for travel by draft as early as 1811? (or the 1790's which is when I suppose the action is set.) I was intrigued … 

But having looked it up I find that ordinary citizens had been able to write cheques since around 1650. Here's one of the earliest surviving handwritten cheques in England, dated 16th February 1659.  

A 1659 handwritten cheque. The amount is £400 - over £40,000 today.
Printed cheques, it appears,  were introduced by the Bank of England in 1717 and the earliest surviving cheque on a printed form is dated 1759.  However, as we have seen, in Self Control Laura gave the captain the draft “the next morning”  so I imagine we are to suppose Laura tendered a handwritten cheque similar to the image above.  The context makes it improbable she would have had time to visit a bank to get a proper form.   

For international merchants using bills of exchange the banking system and cheques seem to go back to the 9th century at least, see Wikipedia.  But it's ordinary people, if you will permit me use that word loosely, that I am interested in. 

Another historical curiosity from Self Control.  Early in the story, Laura and her father have to travel from Edinburgh to London: the surprise here is that they go by sea.  By land would have been more convenient in every way, but much more expensive, so a sea passage was chosen as the mode of conveyance best suited to her father’s finances. "Five days they glided smoothly along the coast. On the morning of the sixth, they entered the river, and the same evening reached London." [3]

Application to the officers of police

I was startled to come across the word “police”.    I had thought this word came into use in the 1840’s, at the very earliest. But to my surprise, in 1811 you could contact the police to report missing persons. After Laura is kidnapped, her friend Mrs De Courcy searches for her, by advertising in every newspaper, and by making “application to the officers of police for assistance in her inquiries” in London. [4]   I see from the Oxford English Dictionary that “police” is first found thirteen years earlier, in 1798. 

In Pride and Prejudice the housekeeper guides Elizabeth and the Gardiners through Pemberley's interior. From Jane Austen's World blog.
A party is got up to view pictures in a country estate, in the owner’s absence [5]– putting me in mind of the Pemberley visit in Pride and Prejudice; an episode which has long puzzled me, that you could just turn up at a grand house and ask to be shown round by the housekeeper. In Self Control, the visit is with the owner’s  prior permission, so the parallel is not exact. But I've subsequently found an essay explaining the protocol of these country houses visits.[6]

It seems that in the 18th century it was accepted that respectable people could view the lavish country homes of the aristocracy and landed gentry.  A tip to the gardener or housekeeper for their trouble was often all that was expected. Though in some cases you bought tickets. The scale of country house tourism at the end of the century was prodigious. In August 1776 the visitor book for Wilton, a great house with a celebrated collection of artwork, showed 2,324 visitors in the previous year; and the second half of the 18th century saw 26 editions of four different guidebooks to this house.  The blog Jane Austen's World is also very good on this topic.

I see I haven't actually told you anything about the novel itself, but maybe that's another day's work. I'm slowly making my way through some of the books that Jane Austen would have had on her shelf, and finding it much more enjoyable than I expected. Next I might say something about Elizabeth Inchbald’s A Simple Story, 1791.

[1] When writing her Plan of a Novel, Austen wrote to her niece: "I will redeem my credit with him by writing a close imitation of 'Self Control' as soon as I can. I will improve upon it. My heroine shall not only be wafted down an American river in a boat by herself. She shall cross the Atlantic in the same way, and never stop till she reaches Gravesend." (Jane Austen's letters,4th ed. Oxford University Press. p. 295)
[2] Self Control chap XXXIV
[3] Self Control chap VII
[4] Self Control chap XXXII
[5] Self Control chap XXIV
[6] “A Fine House Richly Furnished: Pemberley and the Visiting of Country Houses”, Stephen Clarke (2000), in Persuasions, the journal of the Jane Austen Society of North America. Thanks to Eileen Collins for drawing this to my attention.