– The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848) by Anne Bronte
Bronte scoffs at the idea that girls need to be sheltered more than boys from the evils of the world, because of the presumption that females have less capacity for moral judgment. The truth is we all need all the sheltering and nurturing we can get, regardless of gender. At least, that is the view taken by Bronte’s protagonist Helen Huntingdon, on the run from an alcoholic husband.
A couple of years earlier, Charles Dickens used hot-house imagery to comment on another theory of cultivating young minds: accelerated education, as practiced at Doctor Blimber’s school in Dombey and Son:
All the boys blew [bloomed] before their time. Mental green-peas were produced at Christmas, and intellectual asparagus all the year round. Mathematical gooseberries (very sour ones too) were common at untimely seasons…. This was all very pleasant and ingenious, but the system of forcing was attended with its usual disadvantages. There was not the right taste about the premature productions, and they didn’t keep well. (ch. 11)
Greenhouses became a hot topic after the 1830s, as scientific breeding of plants converged with improvements in iron and glass manufacturing. Greenhouses were the first buildings made in factories. The first public greenhouse opened in Regent’s Park, London, in 1846.
Photo: Otto Eerelman, “In the Greenhouse”: http://www.artnet.com/artists/otto-eerelman/in-the-greenhouse-oiYeMedzQfuSwIBX2od_kA2
Apparently they were very bad in India and Burma during the colonial era. In a dark tribute to “Malaria” (1906) by Adela Cory Nicolson (pseudonym Laurence Hope), the mosquitoes formed clouds as they traveled, and they grazed like cattle on sleepless British administrators:
Clouds of mosquitoes, gauzy in the heat,
Rise [on] spangled wings aloft and far away,
Making thin music, strident and faint,
From golden eve to silver break of day.
The baffled sleeper hears th’ incessant whine
Through his tormented dreams, and finds no rest.
The thirsty insects use his blood for wine,
Probe his blue veins and pasture on his breast.
They were so bad, according V.C. Scott O’Connor, that British officials were driven to desperate measures in domestic furnishing: “In some houses, there is a special room, a kind of inner citadel and last refuge, which is wholly of iron gauze, and within it, the master of the house sits like a vanquished lion in a cage” (The Silken East: A Record of Life and Travels in Burma, 1904).
Photo: Zoohistorian/Wikimedia Commons
– Warren Buffett, interview on CNBC (August 30, 2017)
Buffett was not very horrified to learn there were a lot more cockroaches in the Wells Fargo kitchen than previously thought. When auditors revealed the bank had opened $3.5 billion in fraudulent accounts, rather than the $2 billion already acknowledged, the Sage of Omaha took the view that a swarm of disquieting details was only to be expected when cleaning out a mess. Otherwise, he said, “it’s a terrific bank.”
Cockroaches bring a high “eek!” factor (despite having mostly the same anatomical features as lady bugs, crickets, fireflies, and other beloved Insecta) because of a psychological affront:
Countertops, cabinets, drawers, and utensils, which you previously thought of as clean, and exclusively your own, no longer are.
By an act of imagination, your house is transformed. Walls that kept you safe are now teeming with squirmy life forms, which could at any moment rush from under the baseboards and overrun your shoes.
In literature, various authors have used the unhuman-ness of bugs to comment on inhumanity in human beings. In Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” (1915), Gregor Samsa wakes one morning from troubled dreams to find himself transformed into a hideous insect. Gregor’s supervisor treats him like a drone with no worth apart from the revenue he brings back to the home office. His sister and mother lose affection for Gregor, despite his best efforts to keep out of their sight and out of the way of their housekeeping. In the end, Gregor himself gives up on being human, finding he feels free scurrying up walls and comfortable hanging from the ceiling.
Photo: Gary Alpert/Wikimedia
– Inmate writing to his mother in 1929 (quoted in Pete Earley, The Hot House, 1992)
The Kansas tourism board most strenuously objects. Sea of nothingness? Those are the amber waves of grain out there, in a sea of plenty, which we sing about in “America the Beautiful.”
But the inmate’s metaphor is interesting for having two parts. The first part equates being in prison with being dead. The second part emphasizes how far removed the mausoleum is from the land of the living. “Far from where I want to be,” says Johnny Cash in “Folsom Prison.” Cash hears a passing train and imagines a fancy dining car in which people are “drinking coffee and smoking big cigars.” People in the land of the living “keep a-moving, and that’s what tortures me.”
In “1998,” a poem from Stone Hotel (2003), Raegan Butcher writes:
I used to sit and cry and hold a loaded gun up to my head,
but I chose a slower way of being dead.
Photo: Leavenworth Penitentiary/Wikipedia
Gulliver is a metaphor for France (a great nation tied down by petty factions) in this 1830 cartoon by Ferdinand-Philippe d’Orléans; Library of Congress
The idea that you are a battleground where good and evil clash is as old as the story of Adam and Eve and as contemporary as the image of a micro-devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other.
In the song “My Body Is a Battlefield” (Tobias Jundt/Bonaparte, 2010), the devil versus angel conflict is expressed as a series of contradictory impulses and perceptions, negative versus noble, raising a question of true identity: Who are you really? The two sides shatter the self into “a thousand faces”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=859p9lW0Wws.
In Barbara Kruger’s poster “Your body is a battleground” (1989), the inner devils and angels turn political and the question is not which choice to make but who has the right to make it. Pro-choice and pro-life advocates battle in the courts, legislatures, and streets to determine who will own the “territory” that is a woman’s body: http://www.thebroad.org/art/barbara-kruger/untitled-your-body-battleground.
In the Book of Job, God and Satan use a man’s body as a battleground – leaving him with a bad case of boils.
In The Odyssey, Odysseus makes a battleground of his own body. He has himself tied to the mast of his ship so he can experience the thrill of the Sirens’ song without being drawn to his death, like a moth to flame. Odysseus-minded people nowadays go bungee jumping.
When it’s compared to something other than a battleground, your body may be a temple, a nation, a house, a shell, a suit of clothes, a machine with a control unit upstairs, or a gross weight carried around by the soul. Duality (or multiplicity) is built into all these metaphors. When there is duality, there will be a battle.
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– Martha Walton, Vermont resident, on early spring weather
People have been awed by the beauty of snow and ice for millennia, but we have only been comparing it to confectionery since the late 1600s, when cookbooks first described “icing” as a sugary syrup poured onto a cake and hardened in the oven. References to cake “frosting” began in the mid-1700s, and “marshmallow” became the name for a puffy-gummy candy by 1857.
The edible cottage in the story of Hansel and Gretel, with its boiled-sugar windows (Grimm’s Fairy Tales, 1812), helped popularize gingerbread houses as a baking specialty. The E.T.A. Hoffmann story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King (1816), which became Tchaikovsky’s perennial Christmas ballet, did the same for confectionery landscape. Hoffmann’s story features a Candy Meadow, a Lemonade River, an Almonds and Raisins Gate cemented with sugar, and the original chocolate city, Bonbonville. Penny-candy stores, opening their doors on Main Street in the 1830s (thanks to new manufacturing technology), and mass-marketing of Santa Claus led to sugar-plum visions of the North Pole as a sucro-delic paradise.
What-if ideas about a world where everything is yummy go back to medieval poems and songs about the Land of Cockaigne, a legendary country where sinful pleasures are available every day – gluttony, sex, sloth on demand. The streets, to borrow a phrase from Encyclopedia Britannica, are “paved with pastry.”
Photo: Sperry Chalet, Glacier National Park; nationalparkstraveler.com
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Justin Davidson, blogger at vulture.com, dislikes the logo adopted last March by New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, comparing it to a London tourist bus with everyone aboard being squished into each other.
True, the letters are seriously scrunched, and THE is a little shorter than MET, yielding a slightly sloped contour in the front and back — a not altogether unvehicular profile.
As a denunciation, Davidson’s post is unmemorable (except for the bus metaphor), but his appreciation of the old logo – the letter M proportioned to a square and circle, as in the famous Vitruvian man drawing by Leonardo da Vinci – may change the way you look at signage.
Read Justin Davidson’s blog about the Met logo: http://www.vulture.com/2016/02/metropolitan-museums-new-logo-the-met.html#
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