Week Twelve (pg 187-198 Hilaritas edition, Part II, Chapters 7 & 8 all editions)
By Gregory Arnott, special guest blogger
Maria’s daybook begins with her musing on the climate of England; both weather-wise and political. While statements such as “...there is still a lurking fear that someone might denounce us all to the Inquisition…” and “yet there is nothing savage about these people; they are all so polite and tactful…” might seem to further illustrate the difference between Southern and Northern Europe during the eighteenth century, her perspective and opinions are undermined by what we have witnessed in the previous chapter. Her observation that her husband has kindly not asked her to convert to Protestantism is mocked by the rabidly anti-Catholic policies being carried out partly in his name across the Irish Sea. We can contrast the observation of Maria’s that she couldn’t imagine an Englishman biting his thumbnail at another or stabbing another person in anger with the fact that some of Seamus Muadhen’s fingernails have been pulled out during his interrogation and his torture has been carried out most methodically. Even her bringing up Jonathan Swift’s “indecent language” is unhappily hilarious compared to what he was he was critiquing; as has been mentioned, he wrote one of the most effective protests against the English occupation of Ireland of his time. (Interestingly a group skeptical of climate change recently tried to use “A Modest Proposal” as the basis of a “clever” protest which instead displayed their complete lack of reading comprehension skills. I guess that type of person probably doesn’t digest straight-forward information very accurately, let alone a parody that has been explained ad nauseum since its publication.)
John Wilkes was as controversial a figure as Maria’s writings indicate; at first he was liberal who in the current year of the narrative pushed for the right of publishers to reproduce Parliamentary debates for public perusal and later supported the cause of the American colonists. However he made a sharp turn in his later years and began supporting conservative policies before retiring from politics. He was a member of the Monks of St. Francis and was the direct instigator of the prank involving an orangutan and the Earl of Sandwich mentioned in the footnote on pg. 189 (Hilaritas edition). Wilkes, aside from his libertine activities, was also known as a remarkably ugly man which lent himself to caricature and parody. In an exchange with the Earl of Sandwich, the Earl wrote that "Sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox," Wilkes is reported to have replied, "That depends, my lord, on whether I embrace your lordship's principles or your mistress."
Wilkes “Essay on Woman” was an even bigger scandal than Maria’s private writings indicate and was considered to be the biggest misstep of his career. Here is the text of the poem, which was originally meant to be printed side by side with Pope’s “Essay on Man” for easy comparison. And here is a post on the John Wilkes Club blog that provides context and details about the scandal -- therein they detail more blatant hypocrisy on the part of the Earl of Sandwich who was, in the words of Norm MacDonald, “a real jerk.” Babcock’s observation to his wife that Wilkes is “a saucy rascal but has too much honor to become a true scoundrel” is a repetition of Max Beerbohm’s assessment of the character of Aleister Crowley in Masks of the Illuminati.
The beginning of Chapter Eight, where Pietro receives a letter from Chartres telling him of Sigismundo’s “death,” gives us a privy perspective of Sigismundo’s attempts to free himself from the Bastille. The hopes that he has pinned on his letter to Chartres denouncing Count Cagliostro are futile and the reader understands by the end of the chapter that Sigismundo’s methodical efforts to hang out the window and slowly weave his rope is his best, and only, avenue of escape at this time.
On pg. 196-197 (Hilaritas edition) Sigmismundo lists the types of novels to be found in the library of the Bastille. My understanding of the novel as a concept and my knowledge of what novels came out in what year indicate that this list is somewhat anachronistic. Many of the epitomic examples of the six novels would not be published until after 1771. For type One, I’d say that The Count of Monte Cristo would be the most immediate example which wouldn’t be published until 1844. For the second type, the novels of Samual Richardson fit the bill and both Pamela and Clarissa were published thirty years before the narrative so it is plausible translations would have been available. Type Three is obviously the picaresque novel- classic examples such as Grimmelhausen’s Simplicius Simplicissimus had been originally published in the seventeenth century, Voltaire’s parody Candide had been published in 1759, and the novels of Henry Fielding, namely Joseph Andrews and Tom Jones were already published making this the strongest possibility of Sigismundo encountering multiple examples of any type of novel on this list in 1771. (At least in an accurate timeline, but I have never prejudiced RAW his anachronistic elements.) Type Four is obviously modelled on the gothic romances of Anne Radcliffe, yet her oeuvre was not published until the 1790s. Type Five is noted to be based on the novels of Lawrence Sterne, namely Tristram Shandy, but could also describe the French novel Jacques the Fatalist by Diderot which would not be published until the 1790s. Type Six recalls Moby Dick, American naturalism, and some of the short Hemingway-style stories that would not be published until decades, or over a century, after the events of the novel. I’m interested to see what examples the community can think of and look forward to reading them in the comments.
We end with Sigismundo in a well-deserved slumber and will come back next week for more of the trials and tribulations of Seamus Muadhen as he becomes James Moon, in the service of Sir John Babcock.
From Eric Wagner: “In honor of Maria’s healing hands, I have chosen Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” for this week. I remember Rick Wakeman quoting this in the movie Yessongs. I play his version on piano in class when demonstrating plagal cadences.”
(Gregory again) Personally, this is my favorite use of the Chorus: