True Crime Poetry: Murder of a Child Bride

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The Ring and the Book, Robert Browning, 1869

Forgive me, ghost of Robert Browning, for what I am about to say.

I don’t believe in ghosts, but I do sometimes pretend that Elizabeth Barrett Browning and her husband, Robert, are watching me from beyond the grave. Just for fun. Because I love them and want them to be my guardian angels. Even though I don’t believe in angels or in any concept not supported by good data. Sometimes it’s comforting to let go of logic and just pretend.

I cannot, however, pretend that I enjoyed Robert Browning’s verse novel The Ring and the Book. It was a chore to read. Quite frankly, I skimmed parts of it.

Once upon a time, Robert Browning bought a Yellow Book, as he called it, from a street vendor in Italy. The book contained records of the 1698 trial of Guido Franceschini for three murders. The tale captivated Browning. After his wife’s death he set to writing a verse novel about the trial. Browning is famous for writing dramatic monologues: poems comprised entirely of a speech by the narrator. He sometimes chose figures from history and wrote speeches for them that revealed intimate psychological quirks and motivations. So, he naturally composed The Ring and the Book in a set of dramatic monologues in the voices of the characters involved in the trial.

This is a true crime verse novel, so I must tell you the sordid details of the crime. Guido Franceschini was an aristocratic Italian nobleman whose family was out of money (which is what happens when you don’t work, dummies). The age old answer to this problem is to marry someone rich, but far beneath your station. In his search for someone stupid enough to marry a broke, evil, 50-year-old Count, he found Pompilia who is twelve. Twelve. He married a twelve-year-old girl. 1698 not 698. Post-Enlightenment. Not the Dark Ages. Twelve. Here is a link to a charity dedicated to ending child marriage.

Pompilia and her parents move in with Count Guido. They discover that he is poor and cruel. He abuses them. Pompilia’s parents run away back to Rome. In an attempt to rescue their daughter or their money from Guido, they reveal that Pompilia is not their daughter by birth, but the adopted daughter of a prostitute. Theoretically, this will nullify the part of the contract that entitles Count Guido to all their money. Optimistically, perhaps they hoped that this information would cause Guido to annul the marriage and give them their daughter back. Instead, he took them to court on the grounds that they were lying and still owed him their money. Meanwhile, he tortured Pompilia to avenge himself on her unforthcoming parents.

Pregnant Pompilia convinces a priest, Giuseppe Capponsacchi, to help her escape her abusive husband by taking her back to Rome and her parents. Guido catches them enroute. Husband and wife plead their case to local authorities. They decide to send Pompilia away from her husband to a convent. They send Capponsacchi away as well.

Months later the nuns at the monastery decide to send Pompilia back to her parents “for her health,” meaning to give birth. Guido hears of this. A clause in his inheritance mumbo jumbo and his marriage contract entitles Guido to a rack of money if he has an heir and if Pompilia and her parents are dead. So, Guido enlists some friends to find the three of them and stab them to death. They are caught and arrested, tried and convicted. They appeal to the Pope. The Pope refuses to save Guido. He is executed.

This is a horrible story. It is true and it is sad. This might seem like quite a lot of plot. Trust me, it isn’t. Browning rehashes the entire story ten times. Ten. He tells the story in the intro, then we hear it again from the perspective of eight different people, twice from Guido makes ten. Ten times over the same details. We hear from the half of Rome that sides with Guido. Yes, half of Rome sided with him because…well because a husband has a right to murder his wife, if she’s unfaithful. (I am snarling at my computer screen as I type this.) Then we hear it from the half of Rome that sides with Pompilia, then a neutral third party, Guido, Capponsacchi, Pompilia on her death bed, two lawyers, the Pope, and Guido again on the verge of his execution.

This is hard stuff to read. Not just because reading 21,000 lines of poetry is arduous. I read Bryon’s verse poem, Don Juan, and loved it. It’s hard to read people justify murdering women because of adultery. Men can’t be legally murdered for this reason. Not that they should be. Just an example of the violent forms sexism can take. It’s hard to read that the only reason some people did not consider the murders justified is that they didn’t believe that Pompilia slept with Capponsacchi. They believed her when she claimed that he only helped her escape an abusive husband. It’s hard to read about domestic violence and spousal rape perpetrated against a teenager. It’s hard to read about a teenager treated as a pawn in a game for money. It’s hard to see her appeal to the religious authorities around her to rescue her from her abuser and have them reject her appeals, because she is not noble and he is. It’s a truly wretched story to read ten times over.

Browning, being the poetic genius that his is, of course reveals in each book psychological elements unconsidered in the previous books. It is chilling to hear Guido state that he could have mutilated his wife for her faults against him, but he was too kind. Pompilia’s testimony is sympathetic. Capponsacchi, under interrogation by church elders, correctly points out that the church knew Pompilia was in danger and did nothing to help her, so he did. And why should he be blamed? Browning’s poems are complex and deep. I prefer them in smaller more digestible chunks. There is a limit to the amount of philosophizing on one murder trial that I can personally stand. That limit lies somewhere between a Jack McCoy closing argument and The Ring and the Book. Much closer to Jack McCoy.

You might like The Ring and the Book if:

  • you’re a rare combination of Italian history expert, verse novel adorer, and true crime addict.

You might not like The Ring and the Book if:

  • your attention span has been shortened by television. Is that a real thing? Show me the data.

Final thoughts: I so often pretend the Brownings can hear me that I now must convince myself they cannot. If what Robert Browning wanted to do was bury himself so completely in a complex project that he lost sight somewhat of his grief over his wife’s death, I think he may have succeeded. This is a complex and profound book, if you find legal and religious waffling to be profound. I do not. To give him his due credit, I assume that Browning’s criticism of religion seemed cogent and relevant at the time. I don’t need to be convinced that religious men of power are hypocrites. I didn’t get much out of this text, except sadness for all the child brides who have lived, are living and will live in this world.

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The First Mystery Novel and The Curse of Imperialism

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The Moonstone, Wilkie Collins, 1868

Famous for: generally being considered the first mystery novel.

Every family has that one bastard uncle who gets sent to India to imperialize and murders a couple of temple guardians while stealing a legendary diamond from the forehead of a deity. The Moonstone is the story of how that uncle’s dastardly act ruins a budding romance between two cousins who don’t realize they shouldn’t be marrying each other, because humans hadn’t quite figured out genetics yet.

A charming, intelligent aristocratic young lady, Rachel Verinder, inherits the diamond. That diamond is stolen. Confusion and chaos ensue.There’s mystery. There’s intrigue. There’s a full year of cousins not getting married, because of a misunderstanding.

I love it. It’s a great story. Wilkie Collins is a brilliant writer who should be more read on this side of the pond.

If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you may remember that I loved his earlier novel The Woman in White. I love it more than The Moonstone, but The Moonstone is also wonderful. Wilkie Collins (let’s get a puppy and name it Wilkie) does include some social commentary about the propensity of society to completely misjudge character. In The Moonstone British aristocracy embraces scoundrels and rejects the righteous. However, I think his strength as an author is in satirizing not society, but human nature. Like The Woman in White, The Moonstone has multiple narrators. The first is Gabriel Betteredge, who is basically Carson from Downton Abbey, but more charming. When the facts concerning the disappearance of the diamond do not fit with Betteredge’s worldview, he proclaims himself “superior to reason.” I wish fewer people in this country rejected reason when it didn’t fit their worldview, but it is a funny self-declaration.  Betteredge also continually criticizes the female intellect. Meanwhile, the women around him are demonstrably more intelligent than he is and have a far better understanding of the mystery of the Moonstone.

A second unreliable narrator appears in the character of Drusilla Clack, a sanctimonious spinster who constantly criticizes dear Rachel, quite clearly because she is jealous of her. It takes some, but not a great deal, of subtlety as a reader to pick up on Collin’s jokes at the expense of his narrators. If you love an unreliable narrator and the not-too-difficult puzzle of figuring out when an author is being facetious, this is the book for you.

Collins’ characters are delightfully and hilariously flawed. Rachel is a gender-bending heroine who just can’t do her gender roles well enough for some people, but is loved all the more by others for her individuality. I found the whole thing quite charming and well worth reading and rereading. However, I prefer The Woman in White. There’s more drama in The Woman in White. I found myself more invested in that plot, than this one, simply because the location of a diamond does not concern me as much as the well-being of humans.

You might like The Moonstone if:

  • you love mysteries
  • you like unreliable narrators
  • you like to laugh with the author while he mocks his characters’ foibles

You might not like The Moonstone if:

  • you lack patience. It’s quite long and the mystery drags on a bit before unfolding almost entirely within the last 100 pages.

Final Thoughts: I admire Wilkie Collins. He has a unique style that is intriguing, entertaining, humorous and a bit challenging. If you haven’t tried anything by him, you should. My favorite thing about him is his tendency to demonstrate that the most worthy characters in his melange are the ones who are most harshly judged by society.

 

The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County

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The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County and Other Sketches, Mark Twain, 1867

Here he is, ladies and gentleman: Mark Twain.

An author I had not read before I started this project.

That’s not accurate. I read The Prince and The Pauper as a child, but I mostly forgot it. I have not read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn. I simply haven’t. That’s why this project exists: to remedy such problems. So, here we go, scratching the surface of Mark Twain’s oeuvre.

Before we get started, can I just say that it this series of photos was not easy to achieve. This frog was difficult to knit. Tossing the frog was good fun. Focusing the camera on the flying frog was near impossible. My wonderful friend, Connor, assisted me. We did our best. Here are some blurry pictures of a “jumping frog.”

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I will not repeat the incredibly long title of Mark Twain’s first collected book of short stories. Suffice it to say that in 1867 he had accumulated enough acclaim as a journalist and short story writer (Wait, stop, that’s what George Saunders is doing. He’s a contemporary Mark Twain. People often ask me which contemporary writers I admire, and George Saunders is in my top three. I just realized he’s doing a Mark Twain thing with his short stories/journalism//children’s stories/brand new novel. I see you, George Saunders, trying to be Mark Twain. You even did travel journalism with that Dubai piece for GQ, which I loved even though I wanted it to condemn Dubai’s capitalism more openly.) to publish a book of satirical journalism and short stories. Whoa, went on a tangent there. If you’re reading this, you are amazing for putting up with the mind-vomitorium response to English literature that is my blog.

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Anyhway, Mark Twain was a funny guy who made fun of everybody. I seriously don’t have anything interesting or profound to say about Mark Twain’s first publication. The things he chose to satirize in this first volume seem…lacking in importance. We like to imagine that our political satirists will change perception, but they just preach to the choir and change nothing. “The Daily Show” doesn’t have the ear of Trump voters. Its only function is to make us laugh. The feeling that our opponents will watch and suddenly understand their own hypocrisy is false and we know it.

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My point is that Twain pokes fun at rustics almost exclusively (oh, shit, we are doing that right now, in the post-election frenzy?) and it seems empty to me. Ok, we are post-the-post-election-frenzy now, but we weren’t when I started writing this review. Yes, Mark Twain is funny. His stories are still quite entertaining. He’s a funny, funny guy. But in this first set of stories, I don’t see his merit as a satirist, unless he was satirizing contemporary journalism, which I haven’t read enough of to understand what he’s satirizing. Seriously, I’m not a history professor, so I have no reason to read lots of late 1800s newspapers. In another life, perhaps I would.

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The title story is a humorous allegory about a gambling man and his trained frog and his hubris. It’s worth a read. At some point, a literature reviewer translated the story into French to back up his claim that Twain’s reputation as a humorist was overblown. Twain translated the French translation back into English, or as he phrased it “clawed [it] into a civilized language once more by, patient, unremunerated toil.” This is all very funny and would probably be funnier if I could fully understand the French translation. Twain’s translation is a bit silly. He pokes fun at French grammar with phrases like “I no me recollect not exactly.” Which is good for a brief chuckle, but the fact that French uses double negatives while English does not is hardly an inexhaustible mine of humor. Twain does drive home his point that his humor is colloquial and untranslatable. Therefore he should not be judged based on a French translation. Fair enough, Mr. Twain, fair enough.

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“The Story of the Bad Little Boy Who Didn’t Come to Grief” refutes childhood boogeyman tales of the horrors that befall boys who behave badly. A boy is naughty, never gets caught, grows up to be “universally respected” and belong “to the Legislature” despite his litany of deplorable crimes. Sound familiar? There’s a funny tale about being ejected from your lodgings because you are trying to learn an instrument. Twain also pokes fun at the parables we teach children. He responds with extreme vitriol to questions submitted to newspapers. There are plenty of funny moments in Twain’s first anthology. There are many other moments as well.

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You might like The Celebrated Jumping Frog and Other Sketches if:

  • honestly, you’d need a scholarly reason to read this entire volume when you could just skip to later and greater works. Just read the title story and move on to Tom Sawyer.

You might not like The Celebrated Jumping Frog and Other Sketches if:

  • I think I covered it already.

Final thoughts: I’m eager to move on to the more acclaimed parts of Twain’s oeuvre. This bit is quite good, but there’s plenty of room for improvement. The Celebrated Jumping Frog is a great story and if you’re dedicated to literature enough to read this blog, you should certainly read those few pages. Seriously, don’t skip it. You can skip the Other Sketches. Download the pdf and read it right now.

Oh, Those Quaint and Wacky Dutch

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Hans Brinker, or, the Silver Skates, Mary Mapes Dodge, 1865

I was surprised to see Hans Brinker, or, the Silver Skates pop up on Wikipedia’s list of literature published in 1865. I remember watching the movie as a kid, but I never knew it was based on a book. If I had known, I would have assumed that the book was written by a Dutch person. Nope, it’s a romanticized vision of the Netherlands written by an American.

Why? To teach children about the strange, charming habits of the Dutch with their windmills, dikes and such. Mary Mapes Dodge invites us to “take a rocking-chair trip with me to that far country where you may see, perhaps for the first time, some curious things that Hans and Gretel saw every day.” Yes, she really did name her two main characters Hans and Gretel. Grimm’s Fairy Tales was published 43 years earlier, just so we’re clear on that. Mapes considers Holland “one of the queerest countries under the sun.” So, that’s the tone of the novel. Look-at-those-whacky-Dutch.

It’s pretty charming to imagine Victorian children sitting around the fire at night listening to Pa or Ma read to them from Hans Brinker from the rocking chair, though, even if the tone is. . .not ideal.

The story contains two plotlines. First we have the Brinker family: Dame Brinker, Raff Brinker, Hans and Gretel. Years before the start of our story, Raff was called to the dikes to make emergency repairs during a bad storm. Whilst battling back the sea, which threatens to flood Holland constantly (Did you know that? I guess I should have known that, because of the dikes. Will climate change eliminate the Netherlands? Kind of a scary place to live. I’m so glad I don’t live in a place that will be underwater soon.), Raff falls and strikes his head. His TBI causes him to lose his memory and most of his intellect. Also, he has a watch in his pocket that is not his and he can’t explain where he got it. Also, the night before his accident Raff suspected that a frenemy of his was plotting to steal the pile of gold he and Dame Brinker had diligently saved for their children’s education. Unfortunately, Raff moved the gold and did not have time to tell his wife, because he was called to the dikes. Without Raff’s earning power, the Brinkers have descended into poverty. They bear it nobly, but the poor children have become social pariahs, because no one wants to hang out with poorly clothed children.

The second story line involves a group of boys who decide to skate between several Dutch cities along the canals. Hans is not included, because he doesn’t have the money for food and lodging and no one likes him, because he’s poor. Of course, one boy has an English cousin visiting who needs everything explained to him so he can comment on how weird the Dutch are. The boys’ trip is a vehicle for description of Dutch history, geography, architecture and culture. Sadly, there’s a heavy dose of fat shaming. Mapes paused every few pages to poke fun at the good natured, pudgy kid in the group who can’t keep up and continually needs a nap and more food.

Both stories culminate in a race to see who is the fastest kid in this particular Dutch town. The prize is a pair of silver skates.

If you’re a sentimental sort, like me, you will find the resolution of the Brinker family’s strife quite touching.

I don’t have much else to say about this book, because there’s not much to it. Considering that the genre of children’s literature did not exist as we know it when this book was written, it’s not a bad first foray. It’s not great either.

You might like Hans Brinker, or, the Silver Skates if:

  • you’re dutchophile (Is that a thing. Surely it is.)

You might not like Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates if:

  • you’re not even a little bit sappy

Final thoughts: While Hans Brinker is an influential work of literature, it popularized the speed skating and the story of the Dutch boy plugging the dike with his finger, it is forgettable as literature. Some aspects are well done, but it’s a bit tiresome overall.

 

Christina Rossetti: Men Are Goblins

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Christina Rossetti, Poetry

Christina Rossetti was a Victorian poet. That’s all I know about her, so perhaps she didn’t have a dramatic life. Her most famous poem is Goblin’s Market, a fairy tale treatise on the tiresome theme of female sexual purity.

The poem is a longish ballad that commences with a list of fruit, which is good fun. Goblin men call out to maidens, entreating them to taste their many varieties of succulent fruit. If that sounds sexual, you are interpreting it correctly. Lizzie and Laura are two sisters who live in the woods near this band of fruit-bearing goblins. Laura really wants to try that luscious fruit, but Lizzie says “Maids should not look at goblin men.” We are so far in advance of the Sexual Revolution, that unmarried women should not even look at men. Laura listens not. Having no money, she trades a lock of her golden hair for the goblin’s wares. And she loves the wares.

When the sisters get back to their cabin, Laura pines away with desire for . . . fruit. Lizzie had a friend who died of sadness after eating the goblin fruit and she worries so much for Laura that she enters the forest with a piece of silver, determined to buy Laura a peach. But those nasty, bestial goblins with their squirrel-tails and snail-faces laugh at Lizzie and implore her to taste their plump grapes herself. Pure, chaste Lizzie refuses. The goblins kick her and pinch her and smear fruit on her face and neck, which is truly horrifying if you think about what this behavior symbolizes. Lizzie does not let a drop of goblin fruit juice pass her lips. After her ordeal, she exultantly returns to Laura, covered in fruit juice that she knows will satisfy her sister’s longings. Laura kisses Lizzie, but the delicious flavor of the fruit has changed to a fiery antidote that cures the pangs Laura has been suffering. She is redeemed. They both get married and have babies.

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The poem is well-written and the descriptions of succulent fruit and misshapen goblins are delightful.

“One  had a cat’s face

one whisked a tail,

One tramped at a rat’s pace,

One crawled like a snail,

One like a wombat prowled obtuse and furry,

One like a ratel tumbled hurry skurry.”

Even though I have spent the last few years reading literature that primarily concerns itself with female sexual purity, I still feel too far removed from that culture to truly understand this poem.

I see a “why buy the cow when you’re getting the milk for free” message in the goblin’s rejection of Laura after she taste’s their fruit. Rossetti warns young women that if they give in to a man’s seductive words, they will crave more—sex? attention? affection?—but will be discarded. Perhaps that was prudent advice during a time when female virginity was still a prerequisite for marriage. The double standard here is still repugnant.

What I can’t fathom is how Lizzie is able to rescue her sister. Is this some sort of Jesus-like sacrifice? Does her suffering erase her sister’s sin? I don’t understand how this worked for Jesus or for Lizzie. Why would one person’s suffering transmogrify another person’s wrongdoing? It makes no sense to me. Why would God feel more charitable towards humans after they tortured his son to death? How can anyone restore another person’s virginity?

The theme of female sexual purity reoccurs throughout Rossetti’s poems. Women sneer at other women for their sexual indiscretion. I’m against it.

A friend of mine suggested an interpretation of Goblin’s Market as a metaphor for addiction. I like that interpretation, but I think the sexual undertones are undeniable. Fruit generally alludes to sex in poetry, and prose for that matter. Christina Rossetti’s brother, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, famously painted Proserpine. We all know what that pomegranate in her hand symbolizes. In the myth, when Proserpine/Persephone cannot return to her mother, because she already took a bite of fruit in Hades. We’re not talking about fruit. Hades raped her and now she has to stay married to him. A pomegranate is not always just a pomegranate. Also, culture is horrible and I would like to take a vacation from it, please.

I must mention my favorite poem by Rossetti, No, Thank You, John, a poem repelling some obnoxious friend-zoner named John. Here are a few stanzas to give you an impression of the poem:

 

You know I never loved you, John;

No fault of mine made me your toast:

Why will you haunt me with a face as wan

As shows an hour-old ghost?

I have no heart?—Perhaps I have not;

But then you’re made to take offense

That I don’t give you what I have not got:

Use your own common sense.

 

Girl, you tell him! I love this as a rebuttal to Cavalier poems attempting to seduce women. Shove off, John. I don’t owe you a thing, much less my heart or body. Stop mooning around like an idiot and trying to guilt me into courting you. The first line is “I never said I loved you, John.” I don’t know that I prefer any other first line to this one. It’s magnificent. Proof that mi’ladying is an age-old tradition.

You might like Christina Rossetti if:

  • your favorite things are fruit and goblins

You might not like Christina Rossetti if:

  • you’re not interested in shaming women for their sexuality

Final thoughts: I love No, Thank You, John, but overall, Rossetti is not one of my favorite poets. I like her poems, but they don’t thrill me.

What I Learned from Reading Slave Narratives

 

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Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Harriet Jacobs, 1861

You should not read this post; you should just read Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. I can tell you that my heart hurt when I read Harriet Jacobs’ account of her life, but you need to feel that for yourself. You need to spend some time thinking about the white men who raped their slaves and then enslaved their own children. It’s not enough to just contemplate the fact that this happened, you need to hear from a woman who lived under these circumstances. Harriet Jacobs recounts living in terror from age fifteen, which was when her “master” began threatening her sexually. I could tell you how I feel about that, but you shouldn’t hear it from me, you should hear it from her.

You should think about the enslaved fathers who had no power to protect their wives and children from being raped. You should think about the mothers who felt that the only reason to keep living was their children and yet prayed that their children would die as infants rather than live as slaves.

I can tell you that Harriet Jacobs’ fear of being raped was so great that she hid in a crawlspace barely bigger than a coffin for seven years until she could escape to the North, but you need to hear it from her. Her words as she describes listening to the voices of her children below her, but being unable to talk to them or hold them are more important than the words you are reading right now.

This is such an important book. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl is one of the only firsthand accounts of slavery from a woman’s perspective. Just before the commencement of the Civil War, Harriet Jacobs began publishing her account of her life serially in The New York Tribune, but her very veiled descriptions of sexual harassment were deemed unsuitable for publication. At that time white women were protected from even knowing about the acts of violence that a man could legally commit against his black slaves.

Facts about the history of slavery are horrifying. Yet, it’s too easy to shudder at a line in a textbook and pass on the next sentence, the next chapter, the next thought, without truly contemplating the meaning of slavery for the enslaved. When we study history, we spend too much time on the lives of great men, and not enough time on the lives of the people. Personally, I think the best measure for evaluating the greatness of a historical figure is by the effect their actions had on the quality of life of the people within their power. All of the people within their power. No slave owner should be held up as a great man or woman.

I’m losing focus and I’m getting very tense. I am going to stop writing, because I am not important. Harriet Jacobs is important. If you are from the US or live in the US, you need to read this book.

The Play Lincoln Was Watching When He Was Killed

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Our American Cousin, Tom Taylor, 1858

Our American Cousin has the dubious distinction of being the play that Abraham Lincoln was attending when he was assassinated. Ironically, given its dark history, the play is a delightful, farcical comedy. The plot centers around the visit of an American to his aristocratic English family. I believe a description of the characters will serve to illustrate Tom Taylor’s humor.

  • Asa Trenchard—the titular American cousin. “I’m Asa Trenchard, born in Vermont, suckled on the banks of Muddy Creek, about the tallest gunner, the slickest dancer, and generally the loudest critter in the state.” He’s rustic, a good shot with a bow and arrow, worldly-wise and savvier than his British relatives. Asa speaks in a stream of folksy colloquialisms. He is unrefined, but kind and practical. Taylor’s depiction of Asa’s culture shock cracked me up. Asa finds the valet assigned to him astoundingly useless, quipping “Hold on, say, I may want to yawn presently and I shall want someone to close my mouth.” After a few days in England, Asa figures out the foibles and hidden agendas of every member of his uncle’s household.
  • Lord Dundreary—a silly British nobleman visiting the family. “I never can forget—when I can recollect.” A lisping buffoon with odd facial hair, and a habit of mixing up words. Dundreary became an iconic comic character. Actor Edward Askew Sothern’s physical comedy and ad libs became so famous that bushy sideburns were known as Dundrearies and mixed metaphors as Dundrearyisms for a while. Dundreary is in love with Georgina.
  • Sir Edward Trenchard—a proud but terribly indebted lord. “A pretty time for such levity when ruin stares me in the face.” He considers suicide or marrying his daughter to a scoundrel as means to ending his financial difficulties.
  • Coyle—an old servant of the household who is now attempting to defraud them of all their property and marry Florence. “And now to show this pompous baronet the precipice on which he stands.”
  • Florence Trenchard—Sir Edward’s daughter. “Why will papa not trust me? Oh, Harry! I wish he would. I wish he would find out what a lot of pluck and common sense there is in this feather head of mine.” Florence truly is plucky. She realizes Asa’s value and helps him resolve the family conundrum.
  • Mary Trenchard—a cousin dispossessed by the will that gives Asa the family property. “Well, I must look to my dairy or all my last week’s milk will be spoiled.” Disinherited Mary must make her own living in her dairy. She’s sweet and domestic. Asa falls in love at first sight, because she’s the only productive person he’s met in England.
  • Georgina—a girl who’s trying to marry Lord Dundreary. “I’m too delicate.” Georgina pretends to be a delicate invalid, because that’s what turns on Dundreary.

While Asa seems to be the comedic figure, the play actually satirizes foolish, affected, avaricious British nobility. It is pretty funny to read a Victorian Brit’s take on Americans. I mean, I know I can’t speak for more than 30 seconds without including a metaphor involving possums, eels, or pigs in hollers. So, a pretty accurate portrayal of Americans.

You might like Our American Cousin if:

  • you’re a curious history buff.
  • you have a sense of humor.
  • you like puns.
  • you enjoy a little satire in your farce and a bit of farce in your satire.

You might not like Our American Cousin if:

  • you’re more serious than a badger in a bunny hole.

Final thoughts: This was well worth reading. I reread it before writing this post and I enjoyed it the second time too. It’s funny, entertaining and quite short. A good read.