lunadelcorvo: (Mac Clarus the Dogcow)

This morning I did something I have never done before. You see, I’ve used Macintosh computers for almost exactly twenty years. I began with a second-hand ‘baby-Mac,’ and old SE30. From there it was a brand new Centris 610, with (ooh!) color – 256 colors to be exact. I was in heaven. From System 6 through 9, and every shade of OS X, I’ve never missed an upgrade, never failed to adopt early. Today, after maybe 10 Macs (plus a dozen more in offices and agencies I’ve worked in) I did something I’ve never done before.

Less than 24 hours after installing Lion. the latest and greatest OS from Apple, I gave up in disgust, and downgraded back to Snow Leopard, my previous OS. Truthfully, it was a hard thing to do (not technically, I’ve been upgrading with new and all but untried OSs before). It felt a little like breaking up.

So why the parting of ways? The bald truth is I hated Lion. I think Apple has made some great updates below the hood, and that’s great. But they have made some big mistakes up front, and taken the interface backwards; a long way backwards. Here are some of those mistakes.

read the review below )

lunadelcorvo: (Default)

I am a big fan of PBS in general. So when a documentary series covering the history of the Inquisition and some of the major heretical movements in medieval Europe showed up on my Netflix recommendations list, I was cautiously optimistic. (I say cautiously because so far, in my experience, history documentaries tend to be dismal in terms of you know, actual history, having instead an alarming and overwhelming tendency to favor sensationalism over fact every time.) But being PBS, I thought the chances of some actual history leaking in were good. Ah, hope springs eternal! Sadly, I was disappointed.

Read the review below the fold )
lunadelcorvo: (Writing Desk)

Today I had the privilege of spending a few hours with a terrific (and gratifyingly large) group of fellow pen enthusiasts, courtesy of Kentucky Pen Collectors. While there I was gifted with a Noodler’s Flex Piston Filler pen, had one of my beloved Viscontis retooled, and got a couple pens-ful of new inks, which I have naturally fallen in love with!

all the details and loads of images below the cut! )

Overall, I dub the day a fantastic success! Thanks again to all who helped organize this event, and I’m really looking forward to getting together again in July!

lunadelcorvo: (Manuscript in hand)

The Visconti Hours, National Library, Florence (Slipcase Edition)

by Millard Meiss

This is a gorgeous volume, not quite a facsimile edition, but a richly reproduced selection of plates from one of the most lavishly illustrated Books of Hours. There is a brief but very informative introduction, which presents not only the manuscript itself, but the background of the Visconti family. It is always good to know background, especially with Books of Hours, as they tended to be customized for their owners, but in this case, the background adds immeasurably to the experience of the illuminations.

The Visconti family employed one of my favorite coats of arms: a basilisk devouring a human child. Not only is this a delightful commentary of the rather ruthless nature of the Italian clans in the middle ages, it survives today, on the front of every Alfa Romeo ever made. So it is particularly interesting that the Viscontis, and this Visconti in particular, motivated by an intense desire to legitimize his position (not quite legitimately attained) as Duke, saw fit to plaster that very insignia all over his personal prayer book, making it rather like a game of ‘Where’s Waldo,” assuming of course, that Waldo is a suitable name for a child-devouring basilisk.

On a more serious note, however, the commentary which accompanies each plate makes this an excellent volume for the study of manuscript illumination, and of Books of Hours. If I have a quibble (and it is a minuscule one), it is that the metallic ink, intended to accent those areas which are embellished with gold leaf in the original, cannot begin to convey the glory to which it refers. I might almost prefer to have the unaccented image, lest the poor pigments available damn the original with faint praise. Then again, photographing gold leaf reliably is notoriously difficult, so perhaps the spot ink serves to clarify rather than dim, in which case, I am happy to have it.

In any case, this is a beautiful book, lovingly crafted with regard to both content and production. It’s a volume that should appeal to those with artistic as well as historic interest in medieval manuscripts.

lunadelcorvo: (Unclear on the Concept)
I know, I'm a little behind the times on this; what can I say? I don't get to the theater much. This one is worth a review nevertheless. Trust me on this one, I'm not going where you think I am, keep reading.

Now, I've seen plenty of scathing criticism of this film, and not just from the religious right, or even the mildly religious. Atheists, anti-religionists, and liberals have lambasted Maher for this one as well. Essentially, the gripes revolve around two points. One is Maher's selection of the craziest of the crazy and the most extreme of the extreme in order to give an extreme picture of religion. The other complaint is that Maher is overly harsh, condescending, disrespectful and flat-out insulting to the people he interviews.

I'd have to say both of these are dead on. There were time in the first hour or so that even I, being a pretty outspoken and vehement anti-religionist, found myself wincing, thinking "Woah! That was harsh!" or "Yikes! Did he just say that?" And admittedly, he does not spend time talking to moderates; his interviewees are decidedly the oddest apples in the bunch. Both of these make Religulous a bit uncomfortable to watch, though incredibly funny.

That's the thing, though. Getting laughs out of the religious loons is easy sport; were the humor the real intent of this piece, I would have to call it a cheap shot, or rather, a long series of cheap shots. Love or hate Maher himself, one must admit that's not his brand of humor. That's how you know the humor isn't the point. It's the tool.

The humor is a tool, like his rudeness is a tool, like his selection of the kookiest of the kooks is a tool, like his leaving in the snippets of him being kicked out of the Vatican, or off the Mormon Temple lawn, is a tool. The purpose to which these tools are turned is nothing less than the dismantling of religion's Get Out of Jail Free card.

Bill Maher is not poking fun at religion to get a laugh. He is not being rude to religion to get a laugh. He's forcing us to see religion for what it is - delusional, irrational. Our habit of toleration and respect for religion is so ingrained, that it takes a lot to be shaken out of it. Even (perhaps especially) for liberals, who have so long chamioned the rights of the other to be who they are, who have fought for equality of the sexes, acceptance of race, non-discrimination; we more than anyone need to be forcibly shaken out of our tendency to be tolerant, our desire to get along.

For all the humor, Maher is deadly serious, and he's not wrong. It's crucial that we do let go of our tolerance for religion; our survival as a species may depend on it. It's not easy letting go of our toys, and leaving the childhood of humanity behind us, with its invisible friends and fairy tales and happy endings. It's not easy telling ourselves, or each other, that no, Santa's not real, and neither is God, there's no happily ever after, and only we can make (or break) a better world. But, like a child allowed to keep his toys and his childhood fantasies becomes a dysfunctional monster, humanity must grow up, or we will become a monstrous race, killing and devouring with a child's heedlessness, blindness and greed. As Maher says, our abilities to pollute, to kill, and to destroy have outstripped our ability to reason and to be rational. Religion is the security blanket, the pacifier, that keeps us from moving on.

That is Maher's mission - to rid us of the security blanket. As long as we treat it with reverence, we will never let it go. Religion is a very real threat. It will remain a threat as long as societies like ours continue to allow religion a pass on behavior and thinking which we would (and do) condemn in other contexts. This is a point I have argued for years, and if *I* was taken aback at Maher's blatant disrespect, clearly, we have along way to go.
lunadelcorvo: (Remain calm! I'm a Historian)
So I was out at the bookstore the other day, browsing the history shelves, when I found The Most Holy War: The Albigensian Crusade and the Battle for Christendom. Now one would think this would be right up my alley. So I grabbed it, ordered my mocha, and sat down in the cafe to look it over. (I am always suspicious of scholarly history I find in mainstream bookstores.)

On first look over I was impressed. Written by a professor of history at Washington University in St. Louis, published by Oxford University Press. Nice! Then I got to reading, and soon realized that even names like Oxford and Wash U are no guarantee of quality, or accuracy.

For those who may not be familiar with the Albigensian Crusade, it was a Crusade much like those to the Holy Land, but waged by Christians against Christians, albeit heretical Christians. It was preached (instigated) by Pope Innocent III as a desperate measure to address the growing problem of Cathar heresy in southern France. One of the principle strongholds of one particular variety of Catharism, the Albigenses, was centered, not surprisingly, in the city of Albi. While it was a long, bloody mess which raged from 1209-1229 and left southern France devastated, it was neither the first Crusade, nor (by a long shot) the first instance of sectarian violence in Christendom. It was due in large part to the utter disaster of the Albigensian Crusade that Pope Gregory IX created the Episcopal Inquisition (not at all like the Spanish Inquisition of which we hear so many horror stories) as a better method (better than war, to be sure!) of addressing the problem of heresy.

So, there you have the short version. This guy makes some extraordinary claims, however. Note, that I have not read the whole book, but I will share some of my favorite quotes:
  • The Cathars, according to this author, did not exist. "Everything about the Cathars, down to the name, is utter fantasy. (p. x)
  • Cathars, in the index, have a separate entry "Cathars, as historiographic fantasy" (p. 245)
  • "The town of Albi was never considered a heretical stronghold by the crusaders, and 'Albigensian' does not derive from it." (p. 117)
  • Only AFTER the war (10 years or more) were "Albigenses" implicated in it. (p. 171)
  • The Albigensian Crusade was responsible for the introduction of genocide into the west. (p. 189)
  • (my absolute favorite) "Anti-Semitism (rather, anti-Judaism) in the Middle Ages only occurred after the Albigensian Crusade" (p. 190)

No, no, a thousand times NO! OK, when he first says the Cathars didn't exist, he says it in terms of there not being a Cathar church with a similar structure as the Catholic church. Well, no, it wasn't *quite* like that, but it was damned close! Hell yes, the Cathars existed! Sure, there were political factors both leading up to and playing into the Crusade, but the whole business was still, at its heart, about the Cathars. And if "Albigenses" doesn't come from "Albi" where in heck does it come from, and can anyone explain the amazing coincidence that Albi was one of the towns that the Crusade was raised to regain?

And while I do appreciate the distinction between "anti-semitism" and "anti-Judaism," this bit about anti-Judaism not occurring before the Albigensian Crusades? WTF do you call the massacres of Jews in the First Crusade???? Or that of 1197, ten years before the Albigensian Crusade? Or any of the other dozen or so instances of anti-Judaism before then? Hello? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

I can appreciate daring scholarship, challenging long-held notions, and reexamining old sources with new eyes. But come on, folks. There is a point at which it becomes clear that the author is really just making stuff up! I mentioned this book as a cautionary point to a student who is working on the Cathars, and he made an interesting comment: "If I ever really need to make money, I will write a book on history that is so wrong, and so outrageous, that I know everyone will buy it, just so they can get angry with it."

I think he hit the nail on the head.
lunadelcorvo: (Medieval Facepalm)
Surprise - I didn't like it at all.

First of all, having only seen the film, and not read the book, my comments may not relate directly to what the original work represents. From what I do know of the book, though, it goes into far more exhaustive detail, and builds a far more elaborate case for a continuity of anti-Semitism from Constantine to the present day. That broad arc is not quite as visible in the film, which might, ironically, be a saving grace, albeit a minor one, of the film over the book.

A broad connective arc is definitely implied, though. It's hard at times to sketch a clear historical arc from the film version, because it jumped back and forth from biography (with a heavy doses of quasi-confessional angst, or so it appeared to me) to history. Again, I don't know if that was the case in the book as well; if so I question the value of its organizational structure! But the events that do appear are related by implication if only by virtue of the fact that they appear in a sequence, each one punctuated by Carroll's ongoing "revelations along his journey." (I use the phrase for lack of a better one; I don't really connect to him on this level, any more than I do to the documentary AS a documentary, but maybe I'm just unsympathetic, cold and critical...ha!)

I don't have TOO much difficulty with his treatment of contemporary issues, although he focuses almost entirely on contemporary anti-Semitism in conservative and evangelical Christianity, which I think rather misses the salient point. Granted, it is there - the public statement by the head of the Southern Baptist Seminary (yes, the one located in our fair city) that "God doesn't listen to the prayers of Jews" is ample proof of this. However, if we are going to worry ourselves over the threats inherent in the rise of contemporary ultra-conservative Christianity, we have much broader concerns to address, thank you very much. Let's start with theocracy and the Constitution, for example, and go from there.

For example, Carroll starts by discussing the problem of proselytizing in the military - this is a serious issue, with broad ranging implications reaching well beyond the Jewish population, and I was (at first) happy to see some light shed on it. However, he quickly focused only on the pressure on Jews, which, from everything else I have read about this (and similar issues) is one of the smaller aspects of it; this same aggressive proselytization exists across the armed forces, and anyone not in accord with evangelicalism is pressured equally. To discuss it as though it is exclusively a Jewish/Christian issue both misrepresents it, and shifts focus from the true problems.

He begins his history with Constantine, and says not too much interesting, except to note that the cross was not really used much as a Christian symbol until Constantine himself made it one. I have always thought that this rather makes the account of his victory and conversion a bit less remarkable, not to mention rather suspect (as though it wasn't already).

When I first started railing at the screen, however (Yes, I am someone who yells at the TV; now you know), was his first foray into the 'tragic history.' (Strongly evocative to me at least of what Baron termed "the lachrymose" view of Jewish history.) That begins with the Crusades in the Rhineland, of course. I don't know how the events are portrayed in the book, but in the film - well, to say the presentation is 'heavily shaded' towards his message is perhaps too polite. He doesn't say outright that the church supported the massacres, but he certainly does nothing to note that they didn't, either. (And based on his treatment of other events, it is clearly implied.) He says that the Bishop of Mainz refused entrance to his palace to any Jews except those who would convert. I have not read every account, to be sure, but that's not how I recall reading it. Nor does he ever mention any attempt on the part of the Bishop to stop the Crusaders, something I definitely recall reading in several sources, even in the Jewish accounts.

He never gives numbers, but his telling of how "the entire Jewish population of the Rhineland was wiped out" certainly suggests number far greater than I recall reading about as well. Nor do I recall any suggestion that the entire region found itself suddenly utterly devoid of a single Jew... He visits a Jewish cemetery, also in Mainz, and first shows a stone telling the story of a young woman converted by force. He doesn't mention a date, but it is implied it's from the same time. He then shows an elderly Jewish man, a guide to the cemetery, weeping over a gravestone that is obviously MUCH more recent, (looked to be maybe 18th C, but what do I know about gravestones in the Rhineland?) but again, the implication is that this is a victim of the Crusaders. Indeed, the suggestion is that the entire cemetery is filled with such victims.

He does the same sort of thing on his brief mention of Spain and the Inquisition - tosses out a few broad statements about expulsion, torture and extermination, voiced over what appeared to be 18th-century woodcuts of diabolical torture, and moves on, leaving the viewer to draw only the worst conclusions. It's that kind of misleading, slanted, and to me, entirely gratuitous misrepresentations that riddled the film, and drove me nuts. I don't know that he intentionally misrepresents, or how much of it is editing, and how much of it is him just not checking his sources. (For example, his source for the information on the events in Mainz is, if I recall correctly, a local abbot.) Then again, it's difficult to imagine this not being intentional, as he never seems to err against his argument; convenient that.

It irritated me enough that when he got to talking about things I don't know much about personally, I didn't trust a word he said. He implied, for example, that the confinement of the Jews to the Ghettos in Rome was at the explicit order of the Pope. I don't know anything at all about Rome in the 1500s, but I doubt the accuracy of this (or at least, strongly suspect that, even if this is true in one sense, there is vastly more to the events) simply because I saw how the events of 1096 were portrayed. And so on.

In dealing with the Nazi phenomenon, again, he doesn't say outright that the Church was involved, or that the ideology was Christian, but he might as well have. He never discusses the difference between religiously and racially motivated persecutions, (a crucial difference!) again, save by implication. However, the implication is very much that the support of the Vatican for the Third Reich is religiously motivated. i.e. The Vatican knew just what Hitler was about, and was only too happy to sit back and let him do the dirty work. He even discusses at great length the warning sent to the Pope by Edith Stein about what Hitler was up to, and how she never received an answer, but herself perished in Buchenwald. OK, that is true, but it's the WAY it's presented that makes it so pregnant with accusation.

It's never said explicitly, but it is clearly there. (It's infuriating really, to watch!) He gives a brief nod to the influence of "neo-pagan" ideology to the formation of the Nazi programs as a way to share or shift blame from Christianity (also inaccurate as far as I know; my impression has been that Hitler's quasi-mythical inspiration had more to do with Wagner and the 19th-century romantics & occultists than anything genuinely 'pagan,' much less 'neo-pagan.'). But he never explains what he means, leaving the viewer to either cast blame on contemporary Wicca/neo-pagan groups, or to simply dismiss it, and remain focused on Christianity/Catholicism, neither of which do a thing to further any understanding of the issue at hand.

Nothing is ever mentioned about the other myriad elements which formed the foundation for the Nazi phenomenon: social Darwinism, Malthus, the early forms of Aryan thought, Müller, no mention of the impacts of technology, or the social and political history of Germany prior to the rise of the Nazi party, or the rise of totalitarian regimes in other places in the 30s; not a bit of it. No context here, folks, it's a context-free zone.

Naturally, I do think that there is plenty to be discussed on many fronts here. In no sense am I trying to soften the harsh realities of anti-Semitism, or pogroms against Jews, whether in antiquity, the middle ages, the early 20th century, or now. Nor am I issuing blanket pardon for those individuals and groups that have used religion as the excuse for this or any form of persecution. But to my mind, there is plenty to talk about without distorting meaning and misrepresenting events. So too, is there plenty to discuss in terms of the Vatican and its willingness to meet Hitler as a political ally, and its reticence to speak out against the Reich. (Then again, the same could be said, perhaps even more vehemently, about many other governments and other entities, not the least of which being major American companies; something else Carroll utterly fails to mention. And why would he? It might detract from his message.)

But if we are to have this conversation, let's have it correctly, with responsible scholarship and unbiased history. To do otherwise is to construct our own Guantanamo - if we are to hold history, or the church to trial, let it be a fair trial. However, the sort of blame Carroll sketches seems to be, like so much else, too deeply shaded to read as balanced or credible. This sort of editing and shading is, I know, bread and butter for 'message-driven' film as a genre. But in this case, I think it really detracts from those points he may have that may be valid, or at least, worth discussion. It takes what could have been a documentary with real value, and real impact, and puts it on par with something like Zeitgeist, or one of the 9-11 conspiracy films.

(This review is adapted slightly from a discussion of the film/book that I had with a professor)
lunadelcorvo: (Default)
Interesting movie, and, frankly, a little hard to watch. It's hard to put into words just *why* it was hard to watch, though. I suppose it's because while in 10 years or so, when the Bush legacy is (hopefully) a cringe-worthy memory, this will be a blisteringly funny movie. However, it's not funny at all now. That was the thing, even in the theater, there was very little laughter; a few nervous chuckles, but that was it. By the end, no one was laughing, and the crowd left the film looking like they'd just come from a funeral. It should have been funny - it's a brilliant film, and the filmmakers had no need of adding anything to Bush's own story to make a point - the point was made, loud and clear. Had it been a scathing parody, it would have been deliciously funny. It wasn't funny only because it is true, it is real.

From a purely critical standpoint, I will say the movie is very well done. The casting is inspired! Just brilliant. I would never have said that Brolin looks one whit like Bush, but he captures him perfectly. There were moments I wondered if the dialog had been lip-synced, he captured Dubya's inflection so well. Nor would I ever have equated Dreyfuss with Cheney, but he, too was spot on, (although he still sounded like Dreyfuss.) Rove was more Rove-like than the original, if you can imagine that; picture Rove morphed with he creepy little German with the round glasses from Raider of the Lost Ark, and you've almost got it. *shudder* And Condi had all the tense, plastic charm of a stepford wife with way to many Botox treatments in her past. She was always slightly twisted - her posture, her expression, as if she were wincing full-time. I don't know if it was intentional, but it made her distinctly uncomfortable to watch. If it was planned, it was genius.

Scott Glenn as Rumsfeld didn't have the same visual likeness, but the on-screen Rumsfeld most definitely had the same oiliness as his namesake. So too with Powell's air of long-suffering frustration - he's not a ringer like some of the others, but he captured the essence of Powell so well you never once had to wonder who was who. The only one who didn't have that almost eerie shroud of the figure he portrayed was Bush Sr. I didn't mind though, because Cromwell, despite his familiar face as an actor, carried the role adroitly. I got the feeling we were meant to see Herbert Walker though W's eyes anyway, and that came off very well, so it seemed appropriate that we saw him looking different in this context than he did during his term in the White House.

My only gripes? Iain Gruffudd as Blair didn't work at all for me. Regardless of the other things I have seen him in, it was Reed Richards with a bad English accent talking to Bush. Kinda surreal; I kept waiting for him to stretch his arm way out for something... I don't know that I blame him, the part was a cameo, and he didn't have much to do - given more screentime I think he might have done better. And Noah Wylie popped up in a minor role that I don't think suited him, which I found jarring, but that may have been only me.

Overall, I think this was excellently handled, very well made, and superbly acted. As I sat waiting for it to start, and watching the trailers for two other strongly political films coming up, I wondered why "W" was released now with Bush still in office. Wouldn't the filmmakers have more leeway with the project with Bush out of office? Now, however, I get it. This film is a pointed reminder of what, exactly, we have dealt with for the past eight years, and a sobering reminder that we have the chance to change all that. It's a pre-election wake-up call, and given the way the election is looking, it's perfectly timed.

(and now back to the thesis.... argh!)
lunadelcorvo: (Default)
I just watched The Serpent's Kiss. OK, yes, I'm on a certain Scottish actor kick, I'll admit it. But this was a really wonderful movie! I read several reviews that pretty much trashed it as being too slow, or boring, but I loved it!

It had a wonderfully bizarre sort of tension. The look of it was perfect - cinematography just off-beat enough to go well with the strangeness of it, but never jarring for a period piece. Beautifully costumed, and I tend to be pretty ruthless about costuming - I've spent too long knowing the difference between a martingale and a farthingale; costume gaffes REALLY bug me in a period film. But this was very well done. I have a few minor quibble with the wigs, but that's only now as I look back; it didn't bother me while watching it at all.

Fitzmaurice was deliciously evil while keeping a nice balance between becoming a parody of himself and going just far enough over-the-top to keep up the surreal tension. Tom Smithers (where have I seen this actor before? Both of them seemed SO familiar!) is just clueless enough to be credible, but earnest enough to be likable; you don't want him to come to ruin, even as you know for a certainty he will. I can't say I liked Ann, exactly, but she carried a quietly desperate sort of eccentricity reasonably well. Her character lived most through the others, I think, and I'd say that worked well in this film.

And of course, Meneer Chrome - we never learn his real name, something that I would have thought would irritate me (I get bugged by details like this) but I didn't actually notice until now - is played subtly; some might say too subtly, but I would have to disagree. He shares a kindred sort of quiet desperation, but it's of an altogether different sort.

The moments of understated erotic tension are a delight to watch (well, particularly if you are fond of McGregor), and they do keep you guessing as to how things will end up, even as you keep thinking "No, that can't be right..." But there is a definite sexual undertone lurking beneath the period clothes, and it's powerful without being blatant. I don't want to spoil it, so I will only say that it will be some time before I extinguish a candle without a smirk....

Yes, it's likely more of a girl flick than a guy flick, but perhaps not irretrievably so...I say, go, rent and enjoy!
lunadelcorvo: (Ecstacy by moonlight)
Long philosophical review of the film Asylum

Passion... it lies in all of us. Sleeping, waiting, and though unwanted, unbidden, it will stir, open its jaws... and howl.

Passion... is born... And though uninvited, unwelcome, unwanted... like a cancer... it takes root. It festers... it bleeds... it scabs... only to rupture.

It speaks to us, guides us; passion rules us all. And we obey. What other choice do we have?

Passion is the source of our finest moments. The joy of love, the clarity of hatred, and the ecstasy of grief.

It hurts sometimes more than we can bear. If we could live without passion, maybe we'd know some kind of peace. But we would be hollow. Empty rooms, shuttered and dank. Without passion, we'd be truly dead.

- Angelus

But I can't help thinking - isn't that where the fire comes from? Can a nice, safe relationship be that intense? I know it's nuts, but.. part of me believes that real love and passion have to go hand in hand with pain and fighting.

- Buffy (Something Blue)

Just finished watching Asylum. Wow. OK, yes, lots of eye candy (yes, I am hooked, no surprise there). But beyond that, it is a disturbing film. The themes of love, passion, insanity...quite a bit to reflect on.

Stella, the wife of a doctor at an asylum, has a good, if bland marriage, and a son she adores. She finds a passionate affair with Edgar, a dangerous inmate with a history of murderous jealousy. Her affair continues after his escape, but ultimately ends with disasterous consequences, including the death of her son while she looks on, numb and motionless. Committed herself to same asylum where Edgar has also been returned, she is offered a marriage, a fine home, and a comfortable life by her doctor. After being falsely told by him that her lover (also a patient of this doctor - highly suspect, the only real plot flaw I can report) no longer desires to see her at a holiday ball, she leaps to her death from the clock tower of the asylum.

Definitely not a cheery flick. But it does make one ponder the nature of passion, obsession, and love. Obstensibly, the 'real' love in this story is Stella's husband, father of her child. But from the beginning, despite her love for her son, we can see she is unhappy, unfulfilled, and lonely.

It is tempting to see Stella's affair with Edgar as the 'real' love. It is certainly the only source of passion. He does fly into a jealous rage, and hits her, but he does not seriously harm her, despite the situation mirroring that in which he brutally beat and murdered his unfaithful wife. Yet, at every turn when we expect him to harm Stella, he does not. He trackes her from London to Wales, not for revenge, but to be reunited with her. When he learns of Stella's impending marriage to the doctor he is furious, but he says only that her husband failed her, he himself failed her, and that the doctor will fail her as well. He submits to the doctor's orders though, on the promise of the chance to see Stella at the ball, and he is almost childishly eager for the ball to begin, having painstakingly dressed up for her. As the strains of the waltzes from the ball echo through the corridors to Edgar's solitary cell, where the doctor has confined him, refusing at the last moment to let him see Stalla, we see him crumpled on the floor sobbing for her.

Then there is the doctor. Urbane, softspoken, civilized and seemingly sympathetic at the outset. However, his machinations begin at unsettling, and rapidly progress to out-and-out creepy. His offer to give her a home, arrange her release into his private care seems caring. He seems for a moment to genuinely care about her, even love her. But a few scenes previous, he visits Stella's estranged and broken husband, essentially to ask if he can have ger, since the husband is obviously finished with her. Then his manipulation of both Stella and Edgar, offering each to the other like forbidden apples, only to deny them both - whether out of fear of the consequences or to cement his control over both I can't decide....

So, the passion of a jealous murderer proves truer, more selfless, and more forgiving than either the husband or the kindly doctor. But is it love? Does Edgar find his personal redemption in Stella's love? Did Stella find passion, love, or merely obsession? Were they doomed because of thier own flaws, or the flaws of those around them? Can love spring from passion? Or are they mutually exclusive?

For me, passion is but a hair's breadth from love, but it a different thing. Both are only a slightly thicker hair's breadth from hatred, rage, despair or madness. There can be passion without love, certainly, and there can, I think, be a certain kind of love without passion. Not the kind of love I would choose...

Were I Stella, I have to say I would choose Edgar. The fiercest fire, the roughest need, the passion most primal, though brief; over the placid emptiness. To have loved and lost and all of that. (Though, I would like to think I would be smarter about it that she was, that I would certainly care better for my child, and so on. After all, Mamabear has her own passion, and a fierce and protective passion it is...) But I have ever been drawn to the lonely, the haunted, the dangerous and the forbidden. Nor have I ever been one to choose the safe path... the path of passion is that of life, after all...



Things I need to remember:
• Asking for help is not, as it turns out, fatal.
• Laughing is easier than pulling your hair out, and doesn't have the unfortunate side effect of making you look like a plague victim.
• Even the biggest tasks can be defeated if taken a bit at a time.
• I can write a paper the night before it's due, but the results are not all they could be.
• Be thorough, but focused.
• Trust yourself.
• Honesty, always.

Historians are the Cassandras of the Humanities



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