Friday, February 4, 2011

Don't hand me that doctorate yet...

So yesterday was a brilliant "work" day for me.  While waiting for the car to be maintenance-d at the Toyota dealership I read for two hours, reviewing L. Perry Curtis's Apes and Angels, an incredible book on cartoon depictions of the Irish, and Edgar Harden's collection of previously unpublished Thackeray letters.  After a brief stop at the gym, where two old biddies gossiped through my elliptical time, only pausing to share their open-mouthed, phlegm-ridden coughs with the rest of the Y, I came home.

Awaiting me was a package from my adviser--a hard copy of my latest prospectus with her last round of comments.  I spend several hours revisiting and reworking the prospectus, then officially sent it to the department and my readers.  So, after an uber-productive day, I was feeling quite accomplished, the whole project seeming quite possible... but then I was schooled by a toilet! Seriously--as part of my routine here in Erie, I do a daily to chore to prevent me from feeling like a complete mooch on my parents.  And my PhD-aspiring brain was outwitted by a rust stained toilet: unable to get out the stains, I poured in a toxic combination of chemicals, and once headache and nausea hit, I finally decided to abandon my mission.  This left me to a night of overall-icky-ness, not to be subdued by hot tea and bad TV.  Feeling a bit better this morning, I'm going to take my time driving up to Buffalo to see Jess and Ally & Chief and new baby Coraline.

Last thoughts on Laura Berol's article:  I was too hasty before.  Yes, she's making insightful comments about Thackeray's representations of nineteenth century "Irish Question" in his picaresque novel set in the 18th century, but like Deborah Thomas, she pushes too far in trying to attribute political meaning to Barry's depravity.  You see, Barry is actually Irish, but his mother claims their English (and therefore superior), and thus their Irish family hates and abuses them.  When he runs away at 15 yrs old (after being tricked into believing he's shot and killed an English officer), he falls into a ring of crooks in Dublin, then experiences even more cruelty at the hand of the English and Prussian armies before forming a gambling/con-artist team with this Uncle Cornelius.  The last third of the novel details how he virtually stalks the rich English widow, Lady Lyndon, marries her, then locks her away, abuses her, and runs through her fortune.  In Thackeray & Slavery, Deborah A. Thomas suggests Thackeray is abusive to Lady Lyndon because of the abuse he himself experienced as a slave/soldier in the Prussian army.  Berol insists that Irish Barry's treatment of the English Lady Lyndon is retribution for all of the abuse he's received at the hands of the English, making the marriage a metaphor for Irish-English relations (in the model of Jonathan Swift's The Injured Lady).

But in reality, as I understand Stanley Kubrick captures in his film Barry Lyndon, Barry's an abusive, manipulative D-bag because that's all he's ever known! From his cousins, to the crooks in Dublin, various military experiences to travelling in corrupt circles of the finest courts of Europe, Barry's learned the only way to get ahead in this world is through violence and trickery! He's simply a product of his experiences, going to far as to insist to the reader: "Dare and the world will yield."  What makes this novel remarkable is the "global-ness" it represents in the 18th century.  Even though he can barely read, Barry speaks English, German, Czech, French and a bit of Spanish and Italian.  As I mentioned before, soldiers from all over Europe come together in their misery when they are forced into servitude by the Prussian army, and the novel hosts a slew of international characters (Jewish banker, Italian gambler, German countess, etc.)  It's also telling that as Barry sits and old, penniless man in a debtor's prison, what he really longs for are the rolling green fields of Ireland... so much can be done with the nuances of the novel, and that's what I'll concentrate on (when I get back from Buffalo...)

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