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So Hacked

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I’ve been having one of those days that are kind of like emotional whiplash–first good, then bad, then good, then…

And all of this, of course, accompanied by the kind of weather that makes you think that if God exists, He must be schizophrenic.

The good was that the last unresolved problem with Greg’s surgeries seems to be pretty much over, and he’ll even be off all the eye drops as of Friday morning.

I am  more than ever convinced that I was right to kick and scream and annoy insurance companies until they let me have the doctor I wanted, and Greg looks very cute in his new reading glasses.

That having been said, however, I’d like to point out to you that I checked my e-mail on my phone just before we went into the doctor’s office this morning, and sometimes between then and an hour and a half later when we came out, that e-mail account had been hacked.

I know this because I checked that account on my phone again when I came through, and found nearly 30 mailer-daemon messages along with frantic e-mails from several friends and my editor saying that the spam was hitting them in waves.

This resulted first in my cancelling my debit card so that nobody could use it–actually, Matt’s, because his was on the AOL account–and then trying desperately to reset my password.

This was damned near impossible, of course, because I had no idea what the answers to any of my security questions were. 

And that, in turned, got me locked out of my AOL account for 24 hours. 

It shouldn’t have–there’s an alternate security question that is supposed to pop up before that happens–but it didn’t pop up, so there we were, calling AOL tech support to try to get me back online.

By now, a gerbil should be able to figure out where this is going, and that is, in fact, where it went.

I do have to admit that the AOL tech support people were very polite.  They were a lot more polite than Matt, who took over the conversation and ordered me to go back to the cave and play with my rocks.

At any rate, rude or not, they did get me back online, and so here I am.

I still seem to be having problems with my AOL mail on my phone, but I’ll worry about that later.

In the meantime–I’ve been reading Anne Perry’s A Breach of Promise

It’s the first of the Monks that I’ve read, although I have read several of the Pitts.

And on this score, I have several comments to make.

First is that it is an absolutely wonderful book on almost every level that matters to me.    It is ferociously well written,  intricately plotted, and solidly anchored in its characters.

I’m not sure, however, that it can be called a murder mystery, although it is one.   Sort of.


There is a murder.    There is a mystery.  There is a lot of detection.  And the solution is ingenious as hell.

But–well, it’s hard to explain.  Structurally, it doesn’t read as a murder mystery, and the publishers have labeled it simply “a novel.”  I don’t know where the bookstores file it on the shelves.

I want to say that this is an excellent historical novel about a crime, which it is, but too many of you hear me say “maintream” and think I mean “literary.”

And you think “literary” and think I mean “contemporary novels of upper middle class angst.”

But mainstream is Gone With The Wind.  Literary is Catcher in the Rye.  Mainstream is Peyton Place.  Literary is Chilly Scenes of Winter.

So I’ll just say this is a really wonderful mainstream novel about a crime.

But it brings up an issue, and I don’t have an answer to it, exactly.  There are solid reasons why I don’t write historicals.

A friend of mine says he gave up reading Anne Perry’s novels because she seemed to be continuously disapproving of the fact that the Victorians did not have the same values as the contemporary university left,  and after five or six times when the “paterfamilias” was portrayed as either evil or incompetent or both, he let the rest of the series slide.

Let me say to start that I have never noticed any particular attitude about the “paterfamilias” in Perry’s work, but I have noticed a decided disapproval of the customary restrictions placed on middle class women and girls in Victorian society.

The restrictions she describes–and the attitudes of “society” that went with them–are, as far as I know, accurate enough. 

And they were not the province of men alone–it wasn’t a matter of men keeping women down, but of an entire social atmosphere that defined women as a “haven” from the real world, to be kept pure and innocent (meaning childlike and ignorant) so as to provide their husbands with a respite from reality.

I remember being very surprised the first time I encountered this attitude towards women in my reading, but it is at odds not just with modernity but with the Middle Ages and the Elizabethan era. 

Middle class women in the Middle Ages had not only much more social freedom than middle class women in the Victorian era, but more rights in law, too, not the least of which was the right to run their own businesses in their own right, even if they were married. 

So describing that particular reality seems to me to be justified by the fact that it was the truth.

And at least in this book I’ve just read, it’s an attitude ascribed as much to women as to men–women are just as likely to demand that other women be ignorant and childlike (as their “duty” and the only “decency” any woman could be expected to show) as men are.

There is, in fact, nobody I could accurately call a paterfamilias in this book.  The closest it comes is with a character named Athol, who is the brother of a military man who has just survived the Indian Mutiny with loss of limb and terrible disfigurement. 

Athol gallumphs around the place trying to run the lives of the young couple, insisting that the young wife not be told anything about the Mutiny because it will destroy all her value for her husband–etc, etc, etc.  Until the young couple are almost ruined by it, and then aren’t.

But in there there’s the wife of one of the military man’s fellow officers who has much the same attitude, and throwing her out of the house is the young wife’s first act of self assertion.

But here’s what counts as an issue to me–is it really necessary for the writer of an historical novel to approve of the social arrangements of the historical period she is writing about?

If I decide to write a novel about the anteBellum South, is it political hectoring if I do not approve of slavery, and it shows in my story? 

I do not approve of middle class Victorian attitudes towards women.  In fact, I think that such attitudes were and are destructive. 

This is a book more than anything about such attitudes and what they could do to people. 

And it’s a really great book.

But I still don’t know if I think it’s wrong to write about an era some of whose customs and attitudes you reject as a matter of principle.

If that makes any sense.

Written by janeh

May 17th, 2011 at 4:34 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

4 Responses to 'So Hacked'

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  1. I read BREACH OF PROMISE, and, allowing for different tastes, I’d agree. Nothing wrong with it, but I felt no urge to buy the next volume.

    Disapproval. No, I don’t think you have to approve of any society, contemporary or historical, to write a novel set in it. Margaret Mitchell certainly didn’t approve of Victorian prudery. Neither did Scarlet O’Hara. John Dickson Carr wrote a story in which a young woman looked at the legal and social status of unmarried women in Georgian times, and married a condemmed man so as to be a widow the next day. (BRIDE OF NEWGATE before anyone asks. No, it didn’t work.)

    McClure clearly disapproved of Apartheid. But his characters didn’t necessarily. There is another series–memory fails me–set in Paris about 1942. The author isn’t in sympathy with Nazi Germany or with Vichy, but they’re still good detective novels. The early Elizabeth Peters can show the weak points of the Empire without being obsessed with them. But the later Peabody and Emmersons are one long lecture on the evils of colonialism, and that’s the problem.

    One of the tricks to writing historicals is the same as writing high fantasy and SF: the reader has to be drawn into the story, and he can’t be if he’s continually hearing an editorial voice saying “of course, WE would never do that.” The continual sniff of disapproval drags one right out of the novel and back to the editorial page. Maybe my sample was inadequate. It didn’t imclude five or six paterfamilias, for instance. But it seemed to me that every crime I ever read about in an Anne Perry Victorian came about, not through the eternal motivations of greed, lust, envy and wrath, but because of specific laws and customs corrected on the modern university campus. (BREACH OF PROMISE is a particular case in point, by the way.) The Victorians had virtues to match their vices–courage, confidence, a belief in science and education, sexual restraint after the libertine Georgians. (N.B. Restraint need not be prudery, whatever they’re telling you down at the Hooters.) These virtues come through well enough in Conan Doyle, who was there. But I see no trace of them in Perry.

    Which is why the Anne Perrys stay in the county library’s shelves, and the Conan Doyles stay on MY shelves. You don’t have to approve of a society to write about it. But you have to be there, and not somewhere else keeping score.


    17 May 11 at 5:47 pm

  2. Perhaps the Victorian period is too close. The various detective novels set in ancient Rome work for me. And so do the Brother Cadfael stories in medieval England.

    Mary Renault didn’t write detective stories but she brought Plato’s Greece alive to me. And I doubt if she approved of slavery or the sack of cities.


    17 May 11 at 6:08 pm

  3. One of the wonders of Kindle and epublishing in general has been the ready availablility of classics in most if not all genres. I’ve just been reading the Kindle version of that modern classic of WWII, James Jones’s “From Here To Eternity”. It is described in the blurb as “An American classic now available with scenes and dialogue considered unfit for publication in the 1950s, From Here to Eternity is a stirring picture of army life in the months leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor”.

    It is now many years since I read the “original” version and even since I watched the original movie most famous, perhaps, for the steamy beach scene between Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr if not for Frank Sinatra’s brilliant portrayal of the Maggio character that resurrected his career from its then recent doldrums. I remember the original book shocked me for any number of reasons, but most particularly for the crudity and apparent brutality of what seemed to be a large minority if not the majority of the enlisted men in the pre-WWII regular US Army and of the Army itself. Jones’s depiction of the hopelessness of the professional officer corps or that era was equally scathing, although that much at least was well-depicted in any number of military biographies about such well-known generals as Macarthur and Patton to name just a couple.

    I can’t find any hardcover or any other hard-copy re-release version of the novel on Amazon, and I’m not surprised. If the “restored” bits were not considered suitable for publication in the 1950s when prudery might have been the reason for censoring out the cruder passages, then modern political correctness could be expected to prevent the unexpurgated version reaching our children’s delicate eyes. Which is a pity, because those autre temps of barely 70 years ago most definitely contained extremely autre mores the knowledge of which might give our precious petals a sense of proportion and depth of perception that kidz these daze and many of their parents so desperately need.

    It is precisely that sense of proportion that makes reading the classics such a worthwhile experience.


    18 May 11 at 3:32 am

  4. I think it must be difficult to write a book set in a period with attitudes the author is opposed to – and although it can be done, it leaves the author open to accusations that she also holds these beliefs from people who seem to think all characters in all fiction reflects the author’s personal views. But although Falco is criticized for being a twentieth-century person, I don’t think Lindsey Davis thinks slavery is a good idea when Falco goes out to try to buy a good cook.

    I suppose some people would say that putting currently offensive attitudes in the heads of appealing fictional characters makes the attitudes themselves dangerously appealing, however authentic they may be for the period.

    I think that making a period real is worth the risk – that way we learn that our way isn’t the only way to live, and besides the educational benefit, a book is more enjoyable if the distant time or place is vivid and real, just as a holiday abroad is more exciting than one in the park at the end of your street.

    Maybe I’m becoming more aware – or the mainstream is drifting further from my own views (or I from its’ views) but I seem to be noticing more and more a certain ‘educational’ – even preachy – take on some ideas and actions that clearly diverge from the author’s own. When the author inserts him/herself into the story to that extent, I tend to find myself looking for other authors to read.

    So I vote for the realistic, even though currently offensive, in historical novels rather than being beat over the head with how awful it all was and how much better we are now. I can see that an author of strong opinions might find it difficult to portray something honestly that was personally offensive, and perhaps such an author should write fiction set among like-minded individuals.


    18 May 11 at 8:49 am

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