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Saturday in the Country

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That sounds very elegant, but it isn’t really.  I’m in desperate need of having my lawn mowed.  My older son is so allergic that the year he tried it, he put himself in the hospital.  Granted, it was a minor trip, but still.  My younger son doesn’t have the doctor’s permission to even try running a lawn mower.   And my guys from last year seem to have disappeared into the mist.  Then I called the local guy who does my nearest neighbor’s lawn.  He promised to show up yesterday, and hasn’t shown up yet.



Other than grass, though, we’ve got the Trollope, and a few words on The Way We Live Now.

First is to note that this is the favorite Trollope novel of a number of people whose likes and dislikes usually speak well to my own, including Theodore Dalrymple’s.    That tends to work for me, and it has with this.  I don’t know if I’m having such a good time with this for the same reasons somebody like Dalrymple is, but I am definitely having a good time with it.

Second is that the book is eerily modern.

At least, I tend to think of the “all that matters is money and it doesn’t matter where it came from” thing attitude as being modern, but that is definitely the world about which Trollope is writing here. 

And the snobbery of the “respectable” people who are willing to do anything and everything to get near that money mirrors a lot that is modern about places like Fairfield County, CT, too.

But what really strikes me as modern is the fact that the man of great wealth at the center of all this is not a Northern industrialist, but the Victorian fictional equivalent of Bernie Madoff–he’s running a gigantic Ponzi scheme. 

Except, being Victorian England and not 21st century NY, the presumed source of the fictional wealth in question is not derivatives and credit default swaps, but a railroad that is theoretically being built from San Fransisco to Vera Cruz, Mexico.

What’s that from The Hunting of the Snark about “to threaten its life with a railway share”?

Trollope tends to deal mostly with people whose lives are not hemmed in inexorably by the conventions of respectability,  either because their social standing never was high enough to warrant worrying about it, or because their presumed social standing was two high.   In Trollope, the dissolute minor aristocracy is always with us.

What is also with us, I think, is the fact that, underneath it all, money isn’t the only consideration.  Sir Felix Carbury isn’t much interested in people like his cousin’s biggest tenant farmer, who has managed to put away enough to be richer than Sir Felix, or cousin Roger, or the Ponzi man schemer himself.

It makes me wonder if what people like Sir Felix actually want–and their counterparts today actually want, all those people who hang around people like Paris Hilton–isn’t so much the money itself but a very particular way of life.

And the thing about the way of life is that it’s virtually impossible to live like that and have money.    It’s easy enough to run through $30 or $40 million dollars if you insist on $40,000 a night hotel rooms.

I think it’s also fairly easy to get your priorities skewed, which is why we have the kind of bankruptcy nonsense we get with a person like Ken Lay.    If the mechanic down the street goes bankrupt, he can lose his house and be left to himself to pick up the pieces.  If Ken Lay goes bankrupt, he needs enough left over to live a live that is “reasonable” to live, and we have Linda Lay crying on television because she’s left with only one thirty-room house.

And, you know, from her perspective, from the example she has of all the people she knows, she isn’t being idiotic–that really is suffering. 

By now, of course, you’re all probably thinking that we ought to go back to the kind of bankruptcy that leaves a Ken and Linda Lay with about enough for a raised ranch in Davenport, Iowa, and I’m with you.

But we seem to have done all this in 1880, and learned absolutely nothing since.

I need to take back recycling.

Written by janeh

May 21st, 2011 at 10:18 am

Posted in Uncategorized

6 Responses to 'Saturday in the Country'

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  1. And it wasn’t new in 1880. Wedgewood’s THE KING’S PEACE mentions lining up investors for a secret project with high returns. The investors can’t be let in on the secret, of course. The whole thing depends on not letting the hoi-polloi find out. Strangely enough, no one made any money on that one, either. And the King was Charles I. (Read Charles on the prerogative power of the executive, and ask youself if we’ve learned anything in nearly four centuries.)

    I once read an English social historian complaining that every historian from the 12th Century onward revealed the same Great Secret–wealthy nobodies displacing the old landed aristocracy. I think maybe the 12th Century is when the records get good enough to detect the trend. And none of it feels so very different from late Republican Rome. It’s one of the common human settings. But it isn’t the only one.

    If people just wanted what money buys, eventually they’d have it (mostly.) Everyone can have good work clothes and a Sunday suit, 2,000 calories a day and a 500 s/f apartment. Lots of people can have palatial homes, beach houses and hunting lodges.

    But only a handful can be known and envied by the population at large, or have public works named after them. If the objective is not money as such, but more money than their neighbors–money as a means to power, prestige or fame, which are relative things–there is no stopping point. The sleeping in a $40,000 a night suite is important only as a means. The gossip columnists and paparazzi are the objective. That’s another very common human setting–no different today than when Nero built the Golden House.

    So, no I don’t expect progress in that sense. We’ve been doing the same things wrong for a very long time.


    21 May 11 at 2:26 pm

  2. Ecclesiastes 1:9 (New International Version)

    What has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun.

    That’s at least 2000 years old!


    21 May 11 at 5:03 pm

  3. Should have thought of that.

    By the way, anyone who hasn’t read Zelazny’s “A Rose for Ecclesiastes” ought to set aside an evening for the purpose. And always remember “Only your friends steal your books.”


    21 May 11 at 8:08 pm

  4. Back in those evil “good old days” when ordinarty people learnt their wisdom at their grandparents’ knees, from the likes of Aesop’s Fables, in the schools of hard knocks and so on, it was, perhaps, unsurprising that people continued to make the mistakes of their ancestors which, at most, might have skipped one or two generations before reappearing. But these days, with saturation communications technology and media-on-demand with seemingly every possible combination and permutation of extensive sources of knowledge and distilled wisdom for the guidance of the wise men and foolish alike, we are witnessing our governments and populations not only making those same mistakes, but in many instances being absolutely unaware that we’ve been there and done that, many times in the past without seeing any different outcome. This is the very definition of insanity, of course.


    21 May 11 at 10:30 pm

  5. One mistake of our times seems to be a belief that a group of human beings collectively called “the government” can make laws and regulations that will prevent other people from making fools of themselves.

    But perhaps we could call the 10 commandments an early attempt to prevent folly.


    22 May 11 at 2:35 am

  6. Thank you for encouraging me during the past few months to read. Trollope — he is delightful!!


    23 May 11 at 1:12 pm

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