Twain—Episode One hundred eighty-four–Wish You Were There

Heather

Mother, knitter, spinner, writer, wife, weaver, host...not necessarily in that order...

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11 Responses

  1. Heather says:

    From Listener Erica (Sarasyn):
    Hey Heather,

    I told myself I wasn’t going to write you about this. I was planning to figure out the audio thing and then submit it to you that way. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but then I just couldn’t help but make a commentary on what you were saying. If you’d like I can copy the important stuff into the comments on the show notes or I can read it later as an audio, once I figure it out, of course. I’d be happy to do either for you, but in the mean time I just felt I had to say something.

    In the discussion portion you were talking about Twain’s social commentary of people of his time in contrast to the idealization of the middle ages. For me this is something that really speaks to me. I have to hear about it all the time from friends of mine who idealize this era or that. They seem to think “things would be so much better if we were still in (insert name of the era they wished we were still a part of)”. My ex-husband was one of those people too. He thought it would be so much better if we were all living in the middle ages. I honestly don’t think he really realized what that would entail. He seemed to think he’d rise to knighthood, but I don’t think he ever took time to consider that most people were peasantry. Chances are he’d just be some serf like many of the rest of us, especially if you take standing in today’s society as any hint of what it would be like. He comes from a family that’s lower middle class and he as a person would definitely be considered to live in poverty. This does not make for noble blood.

    Anyhow, I digress from my point. What I was getting at was the number of times I’ve had to discuss with friends the reality of the times they are looking back at with such longing. There are plenty of books available that detail what things were like, or may have been like, in these times that are built up so much. Some of these books like the Outlander series by that author whose name I always butcher (and I’ll be honest, I’m just too lazy to look it up) and the Doomsday Book by Connie Willis (a personal favorite of mine) are fictional novels that simply hint at a reality of what things must have been like and how lacking in glamor those times truly were. The Doomsday Book in particular (though it’s a bit extreme due to the fact that half of it takes place during the bubonic plague) shows the medieval world as dark, smelly, dirty, and unpleasant by a modern standard. It really highlights the lack of luxury the people of that time truly lived in, held up to the perspective of a pretty contemporary character. The contrast in it all is fantastic and paints a whole new image of reality over it all.

    While Twain was combating the image of Camelot, in this day and age most people are pretty certain they’d never want to go back to that time due to the lack of modern conveniences. I’ve known a lot of people who can’t imagine living without plumbing, heat, and electricity, and most people are pretty aware of exactly how dirty and smelly everything must have been. It was one thing to live there your whole life, but from a modern perspective, life without deodorant and regular showers seems pretty dire to many people I know. Instead we fill our heads with other images of other times, more modern times with more modern conveniences. It’s a little closer to home and a little more believable to many.

    The example that comes to mind most readily is the image of the 1950’s housewife. I’ve known more than a few women who believe that feminists ruined it for everyone believing that they are to blame for the necessity of the two-income household. They blame feminism for the downfall of traditional family life and the breakdown of social society. Cutting all of that out to the simplest of terms, they wish we were still in the 1950’s because they have this image that the life of a housewife was incredibly kush and easy. Yes, the housewife made breakfast, prepared everyone’s lunch, and had dinner on the table when her husband got home. Yes, she cooked and cleaned. In their minds, with thoughts of our modern conveniences, that’s really not so bad. You get up earlier than everyone else, make food, toss in a few loads of laundry while everyone is away, cruise through the house for a minor pick up, and have plenty of time to relax and make social calls until it’s time to make dinner. Throw food in the oven, and dinner’s ready in a half hour. Then you’ve got plenty of time to relax before bed.

    Of course, the reality of the 1950s housewife is much different. Yes, there were newfangled machines, but chores still took significantly longer than they do today. It’s not like dishes were as simple as a light rinse and throwing everything in the dishwasher. Meals didn’t come out of boxes where you just add water and call it a day. Sometimes cooking could take all afternoon. There was no sitting around and watching television all day or gabbing away with friends. There were also incredible expectations on how a woman must appear. Appearances mattered a good deal for women then. They needed to be dressed properly and made-up to face the world even just to cook in their own kitchen. Social calls had a sense of protocol to them. You didn’t just gossip about what went on in your family to anyone. Family business stayed within the family. More importantly, women who were beaten and abused had far less options. For many of them their only option was to stay with their abuser and weather it out, hiding from the world that there was anything wrong. It wasn’t a life full of shopping, hanging out with friends, making social calls, dinner parties and engagements, and all of the fun things my friends like to imagine. The world was much different then, and honestly, I don’t think any of them would have been very successful in that world.

    I guess what I’m saying is Twain’s criticism of romanticizing earlier times still stands today, even if we’re not so caught up in Camelot anymore. To this day people still think things were so much better, so much easier “back then”. Life was so much simpler, when in reality it was just different. From his writing he kind of conveys that he understands it was just different. He seems to express very well the idea that things aren’t as easy to simply understand if they were before your time. Maybe we don’t understand social protocols or superstitions. We don’t really get how life worked back then, so therefore we might not be the best judge of what would be easier and what wouldn’t.

    The funny thing I’ve found in the book so far is the main character is all to familiar to me. I’ve known far too many people who seem to think our life, our way of living is so much more ideal than the way things used to be. So many people look straight past the simplistic beauty of things, like people who think I’m crazy for wanting to knit and garden on my own. I must be “one of those earthy-crunchy people” or a hippie. They think the modern convenience of being able to go to the store and buy something is so much more advanced that it’s stupid not to do it. Why have it any other way?

    Oh, and one thing I did find interesting about the episode before this, I think it was. “The Boss” was talking about the telephone and how he had completely forgotten about the convenience of calling back from the Fountain of Holiness because he had become to accustomed to not having a telephone at all. I find it interesting that Twain through that realistic piece of human nature in there. Not only can we adapt to new ideas and concepts, as the general population was doing by adapting to all of the Boss’s improvements on their society, but human kind can also so easily adapt to a lack of “modern conveniences” with equally as much grace. Much of the writing I know focuses on the ability of human kind to adapt to the advancement of technology, but very few authors focus on the other direction. Again, the Outlander series and the Doomsday Book both cover that really well, possibly another reason why I love those books.

    I’ve noticed that myself as I had one period of my life, while I was pregnant with my older son. I had grown incredibly accustomed to having a cell phone, my own laptop with internet at my house, cable television, pretty much all the modern conveniences, aside from a car. I didn’t need one back home. The T covered everything I could possibly need for transportation. When I was about five months pregnant with my older son I lost my home. All I had was an incredibly old computer, an ancient computer, and a house phone. To give you an idea of how much of the “dark ages” I’d fallen into, let me tell you what I mean by those statements. My computer was basically an over-glorified word processor at that point. It was a ‘95 digital that had no ability to connect to the internet. I’m sure I could have found a way if I wanted to, but when we did have it on the internet it was painfully slow and just wasn’t worth it. Our television was so old that it still had the bunny ears on top and you actually had to change the channel with a dial on the front. It was older than I was, but I did take some relief that it was a color television, and just enough that my daughter could watch cartoons while I did the dishes. My house phone was an old rotary phone that weighed a ton and had a broken ringer so I never knew when anyone was calling and only had the privilege of calling out. Eventually I was given a more modern television and got a new phone with answering machine, but those first couple months I got quite used to my situation. Without even a radio to listen to music or NPR, I was left to my own devices for entertainment. This was actually when I picked up a book and taught myself to knit again, something I’d tried when I was younger but gave up when my grandmother decided I was too difficult to teach. I honestly think my quality of life was better, easier, when I didn’t have television, much use of the telephone, internet, and computer games. I spent my time writing letters, knitting, playing my big Djembe drum, and doing other productive things. It was amazing how much happier I was without all those modern conveniences! Of course, I have all that back now and I’m definitely enjoying them, but I think I really gained something by stepping away from modern and appreciating life from a more simplistic, less technologically advanced point of view.

    I guess what I’m saying is I can see first hand one of Twain’s possible points of life not necessarily being better once it’s been “modernized”, and how incredibly easy it is to get used to something that’s different. It seems like the whole experience is making an impact on the way “the Boss” views the world, even if it’s just subtle things, like his encouragement of superstition when he starts the fountain going again because it suits his purpose. It just seems like he’s being altered by the situation just as much as he’s altering the people around him.

    I have to say I’m really interested to see where Twain is going with all of this. I wish I’d found this book sooner. It’s definitely my kind of story!

  2. Aasa says:

    Heather! Hi! I’ve wanted to mention something about acyikac as I’ve been listening to it, and especially after your discussion in this episode. This fall I’ve gone back to university and am majoring in Development Studies (ie. studying “Developing World” issues). The reason I’m finding this book relevant is that The Boss’s attitude towards 6th Century society and his approach to his role there reminds me a great deal of how the “developed” world has treated the “developing” world.

    As industrialized, “modern”, mostly-Western countries have attempted to “help” or “develop” the “Third World”, they’ve gone in with very specific perspectives and ideas of what “development” looks like. These countries and the international financial institutions they control have then prescribed for less-wealthy countries what has worked for them, with no regard for the different histories, cultural backgrounds, or local knowledge of these places (and without recognizing the impact that their previous colonization and current economic practices have had on these places. But I digress.).

    (Also, I know I’ve gone a bit crazy with the quotation marks there, but I do feel they’re necessary. I’m sorry if they hurt your head!)

    Anyway, I feel The Boss is a good representation of this Western attitude that we still export today–We, the more technologically-advanced, “developed” (there I go again), etc. countries feel that our ideas and ways of life are the best ones, and therefore every country and culture on earth has to catch up to us in order to count. The Boss feels the same way about 6th Century Britain – that it must be taught his ways in order to be civilized. He never stops to consider that the society might function just fine in the minds of the people who live in it, and that it might not be his place to impose 19th Century ideas into an Arthurian landscape.

    So anyway, I am enjoying the book and your commentary on it, and without you I don’t think I ever would have read this one, thank you!

    I was also thinking, as you were talking about getting your writing consulting business up and running – do you have any posters or business cards? I thought if you had digital files of them on your website, people like myself could print them off and leave them in various places around their university campuses – just to help get the word out there.

    A.

  3. Josie says:

    thank you T2! I’m in Tristan and Isolde now. Hope you enjoy my podcasts

  4. T2 says:

    I loved the audio message from Crafty Pod. I happen to be listening to the same point in A Tale of Two Cities. What are the chances? At the same time, I listen to the “Heather” portion of the ACYIKAC episodes to keep current.

    Anyway, I’ll be checking out the Crafty Pod and I’m sure I’ll be adding it to my list of walk companions.

  5. DebbieN says:

    I loved your tale of the mystic badger helping you find your way.

    It reminded me of my most recent badger experience on the A38 coming home at night at 50mph – stared the thing in the eye before mowing it down. Unfortunately didn’t see it in time to swerve (although there was an oncoming car so that would have been worse!) or slow down. I didn’t sleep well that night thinking I most probably killed the thing 🙁

    Also as a Brit can say I’m enjoying acyikac for the humour and waiting on Sir Boss getting his comeuppance for his pomposity and superciliousness – really hope that is coming!

  6. DebbieN says:

    I loved your tale of the mystic badger helping you find your way.

    It reminded me of my most recent badger experience on the A38 coming home at night at 50mph – stared the thing in the eye before mowing it down. Unfortunately didn’t see it in time to swerve (although there was an oncoming car so that would have been worse!) or slow down. I didn’t sleep well that night thinking I most probably killed the thing 🙁

  7. emelye says:

    Oh! Please do Tenant of Wildfell Hall. I have enjoyed a peculiar obsession with this novel by the other Bronte sister for years.

  8. Renee says:

    I’m probably one of the few folks out there who heard of Emily’s father before her. Will definitely be checking out the video!

  9. Jinxie says:

    Knit Cast is back! Heather, thank you for mentioning that! I’d no idea Marie had brought back her podcast until you brought it up. I just found it on iTunes, re-subscribed and downloaded the 8 or so 2010 episodes, and I can’t tell you how excited I am to listen to them.

  10. Josie says:

    Excellent episode as usual. Thanks for putting my message up! I’ve been contemplating what you said about how badly received acyikac was by the Brits and I can see why. We don’t have a good history of taking kindly to what we see as brash Americans coming over and telling us what to do! (The latest of these might be the anger at Blair for being a Bush baby) Even taking into account the confusion between author and narrator it is occasionally galling to have Sir Boss striding around being all superior to the natives. Still very, very funny though. I had always been led to believe (as Brits do) that Americans didn’t understand irony, but clearly Twain does —I loved his piece about the bicycle — and he must have believed there’d be a market for irony in an American audience.

    Instead of pointing out the anachronisms, the biggest for me is the confusion between pre-Norman and post-Norman England (omg just been reminded of this awful cartoon my boy likes to watch called ‘King Arthur’s Disasters’ which features Robin Hood and the merry men in the same setting as King Arthur and Merlin and makes me scream and tear my hair out every time, which is possibly why he loves it), I’m seeing acyikac in the same vein as Jasper Fford’s ‘The Eyre Affair’. In other words it’s not time travel, but an entry into a book or fairy tale, done as a way of poking fun at the original story and perhaps making comment by subterfuge on our own society. In this case the usual time travel rules don’t hold. I’ve been marvelling at how unusual it is to read (hear) a story about going back in time where we don’t have to go through the whole ‘don’t change anything or there’ll be paradoxes’ discussion. Here Sir Boss is roaming around inventing the telephone, paper, matches, factories, fireworks and goodness knows what else. But it doesn’t matter because there isn’t a future for him to alter or to explain why it didn’t alter, because he’s not in our past, he’s in some fantasy world. We already know from the beginning that the Sir Boss character is the old guy that the original narrator met in Warwick Castle, and there was mention of him being struck on the head, so he could be anywhere at all, on the moon living with the moon people, and it would still work within the narrative.

    As is usual with a really good book, there are so many layers to the story, so it can be seen as purely a fantasy, but also as social comment. I’m looking forward to seeing how it all ties up in the end.

  1. October 19, 2010

    […] megalomaniac podcasty self. I uploaded a new episode of Casting Pods, Heather played my message on Craftlit and my first voice acting appearance on QN in Scottish Lass. Up to now my appearances on QN have […]