Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea. Blog, Internet resources, online reading groups, articles and interviews, Illuminatus! info.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

The Widow's Son reading group, Week Twelve

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: 


Oz Fritz said...

Chapter 7 corresponds with Venus, the Goddess of Love. I like how it starts:


The year looks interesting to a qabalist, two sevens flanked by ones.

The Venus quality of the chapter shines near the end when Maria writes of her pregnancy.

"I am a stranger in a strange land" (p. 124, Bluejay edition) suggests Heinlein's book of the same name and the Venus aspect of the main character's name, Valentine Michael Smith."

Conicidentally, the other book I read from today, The Changing of the Guard, Jerry Cornelius' O.T.O. memoirs, described the member who came from The Church of All Words - the religion inspired by Stranger in a Strange Land, and who wrote several articles about the Thelemic connections to that book.

Chapter 8 connects with Mercury, the God of Communication and has a couple of different letters attempting magick, nefarious and otherwise, by communicating disinformation in one case and information in the other, but unfortunately to the wrong person. Neither communication bodes well for Sigismundo, he also gets blocked from trying to write directly to his family.

8 also corresponds with Thoth, the Egyptian deity who gave us writing, so it seems appropriate to discuss the typology of novels and poetry in this chapter. I don't know enough about classic literature, actually most literature, to venture examples to fit those categories. Category 6 seems specifically about Moby Dick. There seems a metaphor or pun in there.

Alias Bogus said...

I just have to say how excellent Gregory’s research feels. I read about the kind of books in the library of The Bastille, but really don’t know enough about early literature to manage to identify examples of the type of books – and assumed I might have to spend a lot of time researching. And he has provided samples of all the types of novel (anachronistic or not). Wonderful!

I appreciate his comments on the contrast between the English that Maria experiences, and those we have witnessed in Ireland. If feels totally contemporary. Those “English” currently voting for Brexit retain this self-image, of Merrie England, jolly, irreverent,drunken, outrageous, droll, etc. Mostly total nonsense. And those same people remain oblivious to our old relationship with Ireland – dismissing all the problems of the border between “Catholic” Republic of Ireland, and that remnant of British rule - “Protestant” Northern Ireland - apparently oblivious to how much hatred lingers for the English (British) . And we had made so much progress in the peace process, as countries now belonging to a larger entity (the European Union). I would make The Widow’s Son compulsory reading, if I found myself a tyrant!

Re: Sir Francis Dashwood and Lord Sandwich: I have never been to Medmenham Abbey, where the main partying went on, but, back in the day when my juggling and fire-eating got me work as a ‘court jester’, I actually did one brief performance in The Hellfire Caves, when they re-opened the “Banqueting Hall”. Possibly the least exotic/erotic place I have ever been. The chalk walls were cold and wet, and to be avoided in nice clothes… The whole atmosphere felt clammy and damp. Probably a great place for a torch-lit, and spooky initiation, although you can no longer take a boat over the “River Styx”.

Admittedly, in the last 45 years they may have improved their ‘tourist attraction’ (lighting, etc) but I tried to imagine it before electricity, and it certainly must have felt strange, but definitely not the place for an orgy!

Note: Apparently they had the club motto in stained glass over one of the doors in the Abbey - “Fais ce que tu voudras” (Do what thou wilt), a philosophy of life associated with François Rabelais' fictional abbey at Thélème, and later used by Aleister Crowley.

And yes, of course, they have ghost rumours.

Eric Wagner said...

I enjoyed David Thomson’s biography of Laurence Sterne. It touched on a lot of the same areas as the Historical Illuminati books.

Alias Bogus said...

PS: Sometimes I forget the obvious. Anyone who has read the Schrödinger's Cat Trilogy knows that a possible descendant of the founder of the Hellfire Club runs Orgasm Research - Dr Frank (Francis) Dashwood.

Oz Fritz said...

Gregory makes a great point that I overlooked: the contrast between Maria's observations of the English behavior of the genteel class visiting her husband with that of the brute, violent behavior of the enforcers working on behalf of her husband in Ireland. This shows the beginning of what I call a literary chiaroscuro effect, the blending together of light and dark elements. The light of Maria's feeling of rapture at the end of Chapter 7 blending with the darkness of Sigismundo's imprisonment in the following chapter as well as the darkness of Moon's torture in the previous chapter. I suspect this blending becomes more apparent as the novel progresses as for instance when Seamus goes to work for Babcock.

Maria speaks of a death/rebirth type of experience near the start of Chapter 7: "It is as if Maria Maldonado, the girl, ceased to exist and a new person, Lady Babcock, were born." She mentions getting completely transformed. This could provide a clue to brain-change enthusiasts who travel.

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

I agree with Alias Bogus and with Oz that Gregory made an excellent observation about the contrast between the freedom the English enjoyed and the terrible repression of the Irish.

There is quite a contrast between the views of Anglophiles (such as me, for example), who appreciate the way that the English developed the ideas of liberty, and classical liberalism, and the view that the Irish, with good reason, had of the English.

I would suggest that RAW also meant to draw a contrast in the reader's mind between domestic life in the United States, generally free and prosperous in comparison with the rest of the world, and U.S. foreign policy, which involved such actions as invading Vietnam and dropping napalm on people.

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

I have been reading Jack Vance since I was a teen, and just for fun, I tried to see if I can match at least one of each of his novels to each of the six types:

Type One, Emphyrio, the Demon Princes novels.

Type Two, Madouc.

Type Three, Eyes of the Overworld.

Type Four, Ecce and Old Earth, (not the best fit,but there aren't a lot of Vance novels with female protagonists)

Type Five: Not the type of novel Vance wrote, but how about The Languages of Pao?

Type Six: The Blue World.

Eric Wagner said...

Greg, I had forgotten about the use of Handel in "Face/Off".