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One of the other peculiarities of still having dial up is the fact that you can’t get on the Internet in a thunderstorm.   That means I spent this morning working in the living room, because the thunderstorms probably started before I was awake and went on nearly nonstop until about nine o’clock.  And there was lots of rain, too, which means that the pollen problem was considerably relieved.  

Somehow this seems very inefficient–can only work in office when I can’t work in office.  Hmmm.


For those of you who asked–the reason I wanted some references for good opening chapters was that I felt as if we were all talking past each other.  To me, the opening chapters of The Way We Live Now were fascinating, and I found the plot thoroughly engrossing, from the very first.  It never seemed to me as if the characters weren’t “doing something.” 

I felt as if a few concrete examples would help me figure out what people were talking about. 

I thank everybody for their suggestions, and Robert for producing what looks like the reading list for a graduate seminar on the American popular novel. 

I will go forth and attempt to find copies I can read the beginnings of.  Some of what you suggested are on Amazon with “look inside this book” features, meaning I can do it online for free and don’t even have to drive out to Barnes and Noble to see what I can find.

That said, before I’ve stared on the actual research, I must say that I think anything with the title “The Elegance of the Hedgehog” deserves a shot.

Before I do the research, though, I’ve got something else on my mind.

I’ve said here before that I get a little upset hearing people–police officers, former jurors–declare that this or that defendant in a criminal trial “showed no remorse” or “wasn’t upset at all” or “was just stone cold emotionally” or whatever,  with these things being used as “proof” of the person’s guilt, or of the “fact” that he/she is a monster, thoroughly evil, pick your adjectives.

There’s a lot of that sort of thing going around.  I think it’s probably an artefact of our tendency to think in narratives.  We want the good guys to look like good guys and to have certain specific sets of behavior.  When people, being people, don’t oblige, we chuck them into the “bad guys” category.

Still, the entire concept of guilt–of feeling guilty–is a complicated one.  We often justify harsh punishments for some offenders by saying they have no sense of guilt and no feelings of remorse.   I think that most of us feel that, at least under some circumstances,  feeling guilty is a good idea.   We wouldn’t excuse Hitler if he’d felt guilty about murdering six million Jews, but we’d probably think better of him if he had. 

With that in mind, I want you to consider the case of Louis VII of France, king in the 12th century and first husband of Eleanor of Aquitane. 

Louis was, quite frankly, a train wreck of a human being.  It’s possible he wouldn’t have been one, and that we would have wonderful reports of him, if he had only not ascended the throne of France.  Or any other country.

Louis was brought up in a monastery, on the assumption that he would one day enter the church and the royal family would thereby have one of their own as their bishop.   Then his older brother died, and there was nothing for it.  Louis was king.

Louis lived in an era when it was not considered a good thing for kings–or much of anybody else–to control their emotions.  Even in such an era, however, his emotional swings were considered a bit extreme.

(And you wonder what it took to be extreme.  Henry I of England was once so angry that he leaped out of his bed bellowing in fury, then had at it until he’d eaten an enormour hole in the mattress.  In a more psychologically therapeutic age, the male members of every one of the twelfth century royal houses of Europe would have been institutionalized.)

At any rate, Louis was removed from his monastery and set up as King of France.  He thereupon dutifully married Eleanor and fell deeply and permanently in love.  She had very little use for him.  He thought she was God walking on earth.

It was at the behest of Eleanor that Louis decided to invade Champagne, the result of a Byzantine series of dramatic events I would need twenty blog posts to even start to get straightened out.   Let me just say that the purpose of the campaign was an attempt to have the control of various lands returned to Eleanor, that control having been usurped by local vassals, and then the whole thing was complicated by the fact that Eleanor’s cousin eloped with the wife of another man and the Church responded by picking a bishop for an empty see in the area.  The bishop was not congenial to Eleanor, or the elopers, or–

Okay, I told you it was a mess.

What’s important here is that Louis was not invading the Champagne for the usual military purposes, but to punish the region’s nobility for their refusal to accede to his wishes by punished their people.

It was January, 1143, and Louis started by invading the town of Vitry-sur-Marne with a large force of soldiers.  Louis was not a good military commander.  He was barely a passable one.  And he was really bad at enforcing discipline among his soldiers, so that whenever Louis went to war he ended up enforcing the enimity of the population of any place he invaded, because his soldiers, raped, murdered, looted and pillaged on a truly heroic scale.

In this case, of course, it didn’t matter as much as it might have, since Louis was not trying to gain the confidence of the populace but to so appall the nobles that they would end their opposition to his plans.

His soldiers therefore laid waste to the town, murdering hundreds, raping at will, burning down everything in sight and often burning houses with the people still in them. 

Louis sat in his encampment on the hill above town and listened to the agonized screams that went on all night–and then he did what Hitler did not do. 

He felt guilty.

Louis’s guilt was on almost as large a scale as his war crimes had been.  He was unable to sleep for days at a time.  He took to fasting on nothing but bread and water, then nothing but water, then nothing for days at a time, sometimes making himself so weak, he could barely walk.  He also took to wearing a hair shirt under  his clothes and against his skin. 

At a time when the single most important thing he could do was to stay strong to keep his realm together, he went to pieces.

If it had ended there, we could chalk the whole thing up to the man’s emotional idiocy, and leave it alone.  But it didn’t end there.  Louis found himself casting about desperately for some way to expiate his sins, and he finally had one handed to him by the Church.

We call it the Second Crusade.

Now, I’m not one of those people who sniffs self righteously at how awful Christian fanatics were invading innocent Muslims in the Crusades.  That wasn’t what the Crusades were. 

They were, more or less, what we have in NATO–the nations of the Middle East were Christian kingdoms.  They were invaded by Muslim armies with mind-boggling brutality, and then subjected to dhimmi status under Muslim rule. 

The Christian nations were as justified in their Crusades as we were in invading Germany in WWII, and for exactly the same reason.

But a Crusade was a very difficult enterprise.  Remember–no communications except what could be had by sending runners or horsemen, no modern transportation methods, no refrigeration to keep supplies from spoiling.

And that’s just the beginning.

You couldn’t just go on a Crusade because you felt like it on Monday.  The distances took months to traverse.   The kingdoms between your own and the Holy Land were not necessarily friendly to your cause, even if they were Christian. 

You had to keep your army together, and the army on the second crusade eventually reached 100,000 soldiers on foot and horseback.  You had to keep them from the rape and pillage thing, because you needed the good will of the populace.   You had to keep massive numbers from deserting or from running away in battle, and those soldiers were mostly not trained.

And, like I said, Louis was not only not a great military commander, he wasn’t even a good one.

The Second Crusade, in other words, was a complete and utter mess for everybody involved.  Unlike the First Crusade, it did not push back the Muslim advance, and it did not save the Christian nations of the Middle East from being conquered and oppressed by the Turks and others.

In fact, I think I could make a good case for the Crusade actually helping the Muslim advance, not only because it resulted in increasingly acrimonious relations about the Christian nations, but because tens of thousands of Christian soldiers converted to Islam when that turned out to be the only way they were going to get to eat.

And in spite of all this, Louis’s guilt for the massacre at Vitry-sur-Marne was assuaged.  He returned to the sacraments.  He felt himself cleansed.

It is, I think, a really astonishing thing.

Written by janeh

May 30th, 2011 at 12:48 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

5 Responses to 'Guilty'

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  1. It wasn’t the introduction. I LOVED the first chapter of TWWLN. In Chapter 2, Trollope abruptly switched from “show” to “tell” mode. And in Chapter 3, Sir Felix made his appearance. It’s not, you understand, that I dislike Sir Felix. I’m sure Trollope disliked him too. It’s that he’s duller than ditchwater. Common, too. Shoot any member of my family and three of him would show up for the funeral–once someone sent a bus ticket. Mellmotte is interesting, but, for much of the novel, rather distant. I’d trade a LOT of Sir Felix gambling down at the Beargarden to actually see Augustus Mellmotte pushing his dubious railway shares, putting together his real estate empire and moving into politics–but again, we’re mostly told and not shown.

    And the activity level drops sharply after Chapter 1. Lady Carbury is far and away the most active character we see–writing her books, wheedling her publishers, vamping and bribing reviewers. No one else is working with her purpose and energy. Or at least, we never see anyone else working like that. Georgiana Longestaffe must have been setting a blistering pace. Again, we’re told more than shown. Perhaps Trollope took advise to write about what he knew a bit too far.

    Guilt. Well, Louis had a lot to feel guilty about. And as an executive, I’m sure he had a fair number of people around him to tell him the Second Crusade wasn’t really the fiasco it obviously was. Does anyone need me to name more recent examples?

    My focus would be on competence. In our private capacities, any one of us is welcome to write bad novels, paint poorly or put up crooked walls. In our public capacities, we’re under a moral obligation to get certain things right. Maybe strategists have to be born. Maybe tacticians can only be trained to an extent–but discipline and logistics can be learned, and if you’re not prepared to learn them, you have to delegate the authority, or pass on the job altogether.

    Louis wanted to be King. At least he wasn’t prepared to abdicate and go back to the monastery. But he also wasn’t prepared to talk to the peasants and make sure his soldiers misbehaved only as and when ordered. He wasn’t prepared to take lessons from some merchant on shipping capacity, the preservation of food and how much water you needed for 10,000 men for a week. And he wasn’t prepared to talk to his soldiers to find out when they last ate and when they were last paid.

    When you’re an adult, you don’t get to do just the fun parts of the job. Louis failed the test.

    By the way, Stonewall Jackson once had a soldier leave his march column and “disturb” a woman in a nearby cabin. The soldier was arrested, tried and hanging by the side of the road within half an hour of the “dusturbance.” I’m sure it was brutal, abrupt a gross neglect of the appeals process, and took no account of the soldier’s prior life. But I can find no record that a soldier under Jackson’s command ever distressed a civilian again. “Old Blue Light” knew his duties as well as his prerogatives.


    30 May 11 at 2:04 pm

  2. The current view of guilt is that it’s something bad that should be eliminated. I think it’s an extremely useful emotion, one which encourages people to avoid actions that create it, and usually, in most societies, become part of a process to enable wrongdoers who aren’t deterred by the possibility of feeling guilty to do some kind of symbolic atonement and become more useful and less dangerous members of society. Of course, like all emotions, either too little or too much guilt can cause problems for both human happiness and social stability. And, like all emotions, it usually gradually diminishes with time. Unlike Robert, I don’t see guilt tied to incompetence. Louis could have felt guilty for a lot of things, but doing something you prove to be incompetent at is due more to stupidity or over-ambition or something, which is usually cause for learning from ones mistakes, not for a lot of guilt. But as time went by, and Louis had participated in various activities designed to ensure he examined his own behaviour & repented etc, and the initial emotions evoked by being responsible for a failed war (assuming he didn’t blame his subordinates) to reduce naturally, of course he’d feel cleansed and forgiven. A modern atheist would probably have the same emotion after pyschological counselling, group therapy & time passed in a prison, and would probably write a book about his experiences. Louis, being a devoutly Christian king certainly didn’t end up in prison or doing therapy, but he did the equivalent.

    I recently finished yet another fictional treatment of Queen Eleanor (by Cecelia Holland, but not, I think, one of her best) which dealt with the interesting question of how Eleanor managed to convince Louis to let her – and Aquitaine!! – leave the marriage, but I still don’t quite understand how that trick worked. I don’t see what Louis got out of it, except possibly a more peaceful home life.


    30 May 11 at 5:28 pm

  3. Many men would think a province a cheap price for a more peaceful home life, if they had a spare one to give up.

    But I wasn’t clear. I agree about guilt. When you do something morally wrong, you should feel guilty, and do something about it. And since you can’t undo the massacre, going on crusade is not unreasonable in a 12th Century context. I also have no doubt Louis’ courtiers assured him he’d done a wonderful thing. I’m sure Bush’s did and Obama’s are. That’s what courtiers are for.

    I meant to say that the problem wasn’t so much that he’d gone on crusade, botched it and nonetheless felt better afterwards, but that part at least of the botch was because he wouldn’t do the hard, dull parts of his job.
    These days we seem to give a lot of points for intentions, but as far as I can see, someone who won’t find out what it takes to do a job properly, or put in the time and effort to do it as it ought to be done, doesn’t “mean well” in any meaningful sense.

    That men should die in an unsuccessful war may be for reasons beyond a king’s control. That men and women are slaughtered along the way because he won’t maintain discipline, or starve because he won’t pay attention to logistics is another matter altogether. That level of competence is a moral responsibility too. You need to either exercise it, or give up the job to those who can and will. Incompetence kills people just as dead as malice, and it’s a lot more common.


    30 May 11 at 5:57 pm

  4. I don’t think I tend to give too many marks for intentions, so that far, I agree with you. I’m not entirely certain that failure to put in a lot of hard work to get the logistics right is always a reluctance to do the work. I suspect in many cases it’s a stupidity so profound that the person doesn’t even realize that someone has to do something long before the moment of battle to make sure that enough arrows are available. You can’t just say ‘send in the archers!’ and assume that they’re all there, ready and armed. This sort of thing happens all the time in smaller ways in modern offices – the Great Leader says ‘Do X, now!’ and simply doesn’t know what’s required.

    Of course, the effect of such failings are worsened if the person either doesn’t listen to advice, has poor judgement in advisers, or lacks conviction. I know less about Louis than Eleanor, but he always struck me as a wishy-washy sort who didn’t learn from advice. And, he really didn’t have much choice in his occupation. Medieval kings didn’t usually get to decide they were really better suited to growing roses in a monastery garden, and give the throne to someone else.


    30 May 11 at 7:38 pm

  5. Well, we certainly aren’t teaching kids in school that it takes more than good intentions. If I hear one more time “but I tried really hard!” in a plea for a higher grade from a student who clearly hadn’t even read the syllabus, I may defenestrate someone!

    As far as incompetence goes, I recommend to you the Dunning-Kruger effect.



    31 May 11 at 2:28 pm

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