plus ça change

plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose (the more it changes, the more it remains the same)

Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, 1849

I only know two Karr quotes, and the other – the other on the abolition of the death penalty – is also a fine dryly humorous comment : ‘Let the men who do the murders lead the way.’ But what brought the more it changes to mind was the fact that at a garage sale I picked up three Australian century old children’s novels. As I figure that they formed some of the foundation of the nation I emigrated to, and that I am trying very hard to become a part of, I thought they’d make good homework. (Yes I know. That’s just depraved. The correct, approved multi-cultural attitude is to remain ignorant and expect my host culture to adapt and learn mine. Not happening. I’m not that stupid.)

They’re by Mary 3-Names. No, not sf/Fantasy’s one, but Mary Grant Bruce (plus ça change?).

A century plus on from the first one… and they’re still readable. Things have changed, of course. But the language is still readable, the story entertains, and the dialogue is not as stilted as some far more recent novels. It’s a bit like reading Enid Blyton set 30 years earlier, and in Australia.

There are a couple of very noticeable differences to modern tales in that the food is very Enid Blyton-ish (something that is much less described in modern books, to my mind) and of course the attitude to fathers and brothers is vastly different. That’s probably the biggest single difference, that actually kept hitting me about the head. The girls (and it was, I suspect principally written for a female audience) are resourceful and plucky, and somewhat tomboyish, with unruly hair, less interested in what the author rather derides as the female pastimes of the urban girls of the day (and yes, those too seem to have changed only in details). That, and the fact that hard physical (and often monotonous) outdoor work (for both sexes) are lionized, and indoor city work… well, it’s like going to the toilet. Necessary but not a subject of praise or discussion. Second best to working the land.

The boys, and men, particularly the fathers, play a far larger role than I think I’ve seen in a MG or YA novel in twenty-thirty years. They’re portrayed with – for want of a better description, a far higher expectation of kindly, generous and out-right noble behavior, and with intelligence and ability. When in one of the later books a father fails to live up to this – does not defend his daughter from the demands of his second wife (her stepmother) it’s held up as an abnormality, and a thing of disparagement.

I sometimes wonder about modern portrayals –as people do try and live up to expectations (particularly society’s expectations, as Adam Smith so eloquently explained way back in 1759. There’s a whole that he wrote about that hasn’t changed much either.) If you think about it, it’s what fashion and appearances, and all of the SJW virtue signaling come down to: caring about what others think of you. So yes, brilliant move, portray all men as bumbling incompetents or depraved sexual predators. That’ll give them something to live up to, eh?

Fortunately, society’s mirror is broken into many fragments, or heaven knows what further self-inflicted injuries the perpetual victim class would have to whinge about.

The inevitable comment made of Mary Grant Bruce’s work – with the usual anachronistic viewpoint that gets hissy fits about the ‘N’ word in Huckleberry Finn, is the usual complaint about racial stereotypes of Irish, Chinese and Aboriginal characters. Honestly – considering it was published in 1910 – she did a pretty good job. Yes, she may resort stereotype ‘accents’ – these stereotypes didn’t spring unbidden from the air – they have at least some basis in what the writer had heard. And –once again, considering the time, her characterization is remarkably ‘liberal’ (the Chinese, Irish, and Aboriginal characters are all minor heroes, and portrayed as kindly, nice people. Not what we’re told was typical of the time.

One of the obvious differences is sexual content. That is pointedly different – the heroine of the first book is I think 12 and appears entirely free of hormones. In fact even romance of any sort (even among adult characters) seems rather absent.

What endures (or recurs) is always worth noticing. These were enormously successful books in their day, for their target market. They had, I suspect quite an impact on the society of the day. I don’t think that was the author’s manipulation as is so often the case now – it was merely holding up a mirror to what was best in bush society rather than the worst, and telling quite entertaining yarns to carry it along.

But what struck was a worrying similarity, a lack of change, despite all that has changed. She was writing for the customers of the time. The people who read, who bought books for their children… And rather like YA’s lead characters being a year or two above most of the readers, she sets her lead characters among the Squatters (Australian term for a large landowner -rather like the Squirearchy but with slightly less servants, and more land, and actually doing some of the work themselves) – the upper class of large-landowners. They’re in her book fairly decent people, and some are in life. That’s not the point. The point was the upper and middle-classes of her time were her major customers. They could read, had money to buy books, had leisure time to read them. The lower middle class such as scraped into her customer base aspired to be part of that. The largest part of society… didn’t read much, and didn’t have much spare money for lots of books. At a coarse guess 50-70% were just below the radar.

But we’re a century later… and we have gone through – particularly with paperbacks – a HUGE popularizing of reading novels. Almost a feature of many of those was Joe Ordinary (not the secret prince, or squire, or even the squatter) – just a working stiff, getting into strife and and fighting his way up and out. Sometimes he ended up as the king or the squatter… but he didn’t start there. I like to think this was particularly true of sf. I think of Keith Laumer’s Galactic Odyssey, Simak’s ordinary farmer/countryman heroes, or Heinlein’s Glory Road as examples.

So… how come we’re drifting back overwhelmingly into upper or upper-middleclass settings, heroes, and indeed the values of particularly female East Coast Arts and Humanities Liberal authors? That was 1912’s market. Things have changed. There are more customers available, a lot of whom do not aspire to those values, and won’t.

Maybe we need more battlers barely making a living, not college graduates, or bluebloods.

Or maybe I should just stick to 1910 fiction. It had a lot of can-do, even if it did concern itself with the lives of those who automatically become the officer class in 1914-18.

 

41 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

41 responses to “plus ça change

  1. morrigan508

    and sadly, most of that officer class bought it in two world wars, leaving the, well, shall we say “lesser” to carry on the species. With results as we see them. QED

  2. Your last few paragraphs remind me of an article I posted on my Facebook yesterday. It should have been titled: How to talk to your inferiors without condescending (at least, so much that their tiny brains would recognize it).

    The fact is, a lot of the traditional elite is suffering from a huge case of intellectual inbreeding. I’d feel bad for them, but in the age of the Internet such ignorance is a choice. To quote Leslie Fish “we’ll have the whole world that you threw away, and we won’t know you at all”.

    • I should have bailed when I saw it was Salon. The interviewer’s questions have to be a parody, they just have to be.

      • It started out okay, but it descended into self-parody fairly quickly, because it’s pretty obvious that the interviewer is one of the gentry liberals and doesn’t like the idea that he might actually have to address the concerns of the hoi polloi.

  3. Dave asks: “So… how come we’re drifting back overwhelmingly into upper or upper-middleclass settings, heroes, and indeed the values of particularly female East Coast Arts and Humanities Liberal authors?”

    Because its propaganda.

    The Internet wrecked a lot of things that used to keep everybody in line with the Elite Class at the front. Now, you can read a local blog from Japan using Google Translate and find out what’s -really- going on at Fukushima, if you care. You don’t have to wait for the AP or Reuters to send a guy over there.

    There’s a whole lot of people very upset at having their megaphone taken away. The Stupid People (that would be us) might make a Stupid choice and do something unmannerly! They are fighting back in every venue they still control.

    East Coast Liberals control publishing in the USA, and I expect their comrades in Oz do as well. Nobody gets published in Canada except by little Toronto publishers, all very much Liberal. And by Liberal I mean the type of person very keen to bribe you with tax money, so they can stay on top where they think they belong. The aristocracy.

    You can tell, because unlike the 1912 stories, it isn’t selling to the target market. In 1912 Mary Grant Bruce was making a living giving people what they wanted in a book. In 2017, Big Five publishers don’t care what people want in a book. They are giving people what they think those people deserve: a stern talking-to. A lecture. They are preaching Values to the great unwashed in full fire-and-brimstone mode.

    Case in point, the much-lamented cancellation of the Sense8 TV show on Netflix. They spent $200 million dollars to produce two seasons of that show. That’s a lot of dough for a TV series. I’ve been watching it, my impressions are here: http://phantomsoapbox.blogspot.ca/2017/06/sense8-no-wonder-it-got-cancelled.html

    Its propaganda. The purpose is to normalize transgender and gay lifestyle, loosen up the squares, and sell Liberalism. I’m fast forwarding about a quarter to a third of each episode, they are not being subtle about it. More like laying it on with a trowel. The preaching, so preachy!

    Its almost as if they want more Trump. Because that sort of thing is how you get more Trump.

    This concludes my rant for today. ~:D

    • Sam L.

      And most excellent a rant!

    • You would think with NCIS being a consistent winner for over 10 seasons someone might get a clue.

      And trust me, NCIS has plenty of “preach the liberal faith” episodes, mainly about women or gays in the military, but they are still more subtle than average and not the primary focus. Their one truly action girl character had at least a salable backstory on why and still often lost out to larger men with the same degree of training…maybe it was still power grrl fantasy but tempered enough to not insult.

      • All the really long-lived shows are like that. The formula was set by “Murder, She Wrote” and every show that follows it is a long-standing hit. These guys know how it works.

        That’s the thing. They -know-. They don’t care. They’re not selling entertainment anymore. They’re beating you with a bat, trying to twist how you think.

        They’re very open about it too. I always go back to the Hugos because its the best example of people who know better and don’t care. Could N.K. Jemsin write a runaway hit story? Sell a billion copies? Probably. She’s smart, she could do the market research and figure it out.

        Will she? No way. Her gig is writing torturous scolding and SJW grey goo pr0nz. She gets all the adulation and brownie points from her target audience, which is white Liberal New Yorkers in the publishing business. They shower her with praise, and money, even though the sales are crap.

        That’s who gets a Hugo. The great story that Joe and Jane Average buy off the spinner rack in the drugstore, and they just love it and buy everything that author can put out? No Hugo.

        Ian M Banks didn’t even get a Hugo, and he was One Of Them. Too populist. Too entertaining.

        • In the end stories need to sell for people to buy dinner.

          • Let the b*st*rds freeze (and starve) in the dark.
            Perhaps then they will come to their senses.
            And if not, at least cease to infest things.
            Good thing ox not evil.
            Oh wait. Horns. Hooves. Tail. Almost there.

    • Uncle Lar

      “East Coast Liberals control publishing in the USA”
      Traditional publishing, but not indie. May be why indie and e-books are such anathema to the big dogs.
      Business cannot make customers purchase what they do not want or need, only the government can do that. As their constant flood of message fiction and tell all bios of people no one wants to know about continue to tank it can only be a matter of time before they start to demand that for the sake of art and knowledge our government is obligated to prop up the failing publishing industry.
      At which point the indie publishing numbers will be pointed out to them amongst peels of laughter and mockery.

      • “Traditional publishing, but not indie.”

        Don’t kid yourself. Amazon is run by the same type of people.

        Consider what would be the result of a few subtle tweaks to the suggestion algorithms on Amazon. You could post all the books you want, but if your prose didn’t tick off the right boxes no one would ever see them.

        Ultimately that would drive the Indy side of Amazon out of business, but as I said above, they know that. Two hundred million bucks for a TV show nobody but SJWs want to watch, guaranteed failure, THEY SPENT THE MONEY.

        Propaganda is expensive, but it works.

        • Uncle Lar

          The beauty of free enterprise is that when one supplier of a commodity fails to satisfy the market another will jump in to take advantage.
          Sure, Amazon has the lion’s share now, but absent legislation to prevent it there is nothing stopping someone from offering a similar or better service. I will point out Baen Webscriptions as a small house effort that offers an alternative to Amazon, though only for Baen authors at this time.

        • Draven

          well, that is also because they bought the SJW propaganda that they were some kind of silent majority, rather than the truth that they are just an insanely loud vocal minority.

    • mrsizer

      I really liked Sense8. It is definitely preachy, but the way they manage the time/space/personality issues is gorgeously and brilliantly done. It also has some of the best use of music in TV that I’ve ever seen.

      I was surprised there was a season two.

  4. One thing I’ve wondered is how hard it would be to take one of these out of copyright stories and update them to the present day. Say “The Railway Children”. I’m thinking it wouldn’t be too hard to update the background and the characters (and wow free diversity as you do when the maid/cook becomes a filipina nanny and the gardener a hispanic etc.) but I suspect the attitudes and limits of acceptable behavior have changed so much that it wouldn’t make sense.

    How many kids these days are allowed to roam at will, for example?

    • Well, you could actually make that a plot point–constantly having to deal with CPS and various other busybodies freaking out when they see unsupervised children.

    • If you want to do “diversity” the Filipina has to be a kindly doctor, and the Hispanic has to be a kindly lawyer. And they have to be in an open relationship that includes gays and a transperson too. Otherwise you are guilty of crimethink.

      Double-plus ungood, comrade.

    • Be interesting to try, though…
      *wanders off to have a ‘think’ about which book and how to update*

    • Zsuzsa

      The culture change is a big problem in trying to update many of the old stories, or even the not-so-old stories. I remember a few years ago when they were trying to update “The Baby-Sitters Club” series. The technological changes caused a few problems, but they were nothing compared to the problem that a 2010s audience just couldn’t accept 11- to 13-year-olds doing the sorts of things the girls in the 80s did, let alone that they did them while being in charge of younger children.

      • Good heavens, and in the 1970’s… with no with-you-all-time phones and “Sure you can go to $NEIGHBORS (0.5 mi away min.[1]) just be back before dark.” And then out all day… fields, woods, whatever.. out of contact with the world, as such.

        [1] That WAS the *close* one.

    • You do realize your free diversity would be called racism unless it was about the struggle and oppression of the help. If they actually like the children and their employers it won’t fly.

  5. Some of her books are free on Amazon. I now own a couple and am looking forward to reading them!

  6. Readers concerned about a hierarchy — or perhaps a loserocracy — with bad values but leading a country should read Corelli Barnett’s Pride and Fall series, especially the first part of his first book, explaining how wrong English theories about what high school and college (actual words are slightly different) should teach wrecked the country.

  7. I don’t know about Australia, but in midwestern 1900 America, every household had books — reading was THE leisure pastime for the farming class, tho for the most part only school-age kids had that leisure time. My mom’s family (the main lot of ’em whelped in the 1930s, and the previous generation around 1900) shared a fiction collection that ranged from Tarzan to Gone With the Wind. A household library might be only a couple dozen books, but they were read and re-read until they fell to rags.

    And until the recent craze for purging books that haven’t been checked out in a while, every public or school library had a big section of 1800s/early-1900s fiction (generally donated from estate sales) — often with an inscription to some beloved child of the book’s original era. There are TONS of what we now call MG from back then which have completely fallen off the radar, tho some have been preserved at Gutenberg.

    One of my peculiar treasures is a well-used Complete Works of Byron. The inscription (I believe it was a gift from son to father) is from Boston, 1845. [I looked up the family. They still live there.]

    Whenever you think that folks back then didn’t read much, remember the serials and penny-dreadful publication industry was already in full swing in Dickens’ era, and that the SF pulps were a tiny and late-arriving fraction of the modern pulps.

    http://www.bl.uk/romantics-and-victorians/articles/penny-dreadfuls

    • I don’t know about Australia either, and you may well be right – but at least some of my ancestors at that time only had one book. Yes, this was just post Boer War, and they had had their farm burned. Ithink (could be wrong) that much of Australia’s people were pretty close to the bone back then – a more class-divided society (imported from the UK) than the US. WW1 ended that and bound the nation into being a nation.

  8. I suspect that drift reflects a change in the gatekeepers from people with a business eye looking to sell to that broadening audience to people with a social eye looking to virtue signal to their economic and social peers while awaiting the husband who will allow them to be hobby writers (all the while demeaning the existence of such husbands until they get one).

  9. I was on vacation and picked up a pulp novel from the ’50’s because the cover was awesome. The back of it says in fine print: “This low priced Bantam book, complete and unabridged, is made possible by the large sale and effective promotion of the original edition, published by McMillan Company.” It’s like they’re trying to lure authors by boasting of their effective promotion. I had never seen that before.

  10. I have a sneaking fondness for the novels of Gene Stratton Porter, now typically classed as juveniles. Most of the protagonists are struggling upward from the near bottom strata, often under extreme hardship, and they all rely on fortitude, honor, and persistence to make their way. They all value living on the land over the interior life, and the honorable struggle for success. Great models for living, if soppy to modern tastes.

    We process them as juveniles partly because that’s what their romances and their focus on “purity” feel like to us now (c.f., Sir Walter Scott), but they deal with some harsh stuff none the less.

  11. The Modern Left has three strikes against it, in my personal Book Of Grudges. Number One is what it has done to destroy the masculine ideal of responsible, reliable, dependable, and protective men. Number Two is how they’ve recruited a sizable percent of multiple generations of women into the cult of victimology. Number Three, their destruction of the trust in science through the politicalization of “Climate Change.”

    Books from a past with good men are a reminder of the parts of the past we _need_ to remember and keep.

    • BobtheRegisterredFool

      Destruction of trust in science is about more than whether the climate modelers are adequately leaving their data and assumptions available enough for auditing, or whether they or any of the others making such choices are competent to apply the results to problems involving human welfare.

      • BobtheRegisterredFool

        I really should not be posting, because my mind is not on things.

        There are many disciplines of science too soft for their predictions to be testable, or compellingly testable. In these disciplines, preference for one school over another at a societal level comes down to social pressure, at a personal level to a gut check and or faith. Popular coverage of these disciplines by minds on par with most journalists borrows from the trust harder disciplines have earned, and squanders it. Minds on par with most journalists give untrustworthy summaries of even hard sciences.

        The use of social pressure to make certain things unspeakable prevents the popular practice of science as laymen in many disciplines. Yes, I know how annoying the layman’s ignorance and profound pronouncements can be in my own field. Science comes down to argument and discussion. More speech is better.

        Now I have shown that my own situation might be improved by painkillers and sleep, I hope I have earned some measure of charity through saying something not entirely the insane. Some circles would certainly tell me that I am mad. Best wishes to y’all.

  12. mrsizer

    Maybe we need more battlers barely making a living, not college graduates, or bluebloods.

    Now I need to find it… The A Learning Experience is awesome.
    A group of former Marines is camping in the middle of nowhere when aliens abduct them. They promptly take over the ship. It gets better from there.