Cyrano de Bergerac

Rostand, Edmund.  Cyrano de Bergerac. trans. Brian Hooker. New York: Bantam Books, 1981.

It has all of the strengths and weaknesses of drama. It begins with action and maintains that pace.  On the other hand, it’s not entirely clear what’s going on in the first twenty pages. The story itself is charming and simple.  I’m surprised there aren’t as many movies from this book.  (Not surprisingly, the TV show “Wishbone” did a really good job on this book.)

Much like Rob Roy or The Phantom of the Opera, the idea of this book is better than the actual book.

Cyrano is a likeable guy.  Imagine Porthos from The Three Musketeers but slightly more balanced.  True, everything about Cyrano is over the top.  Indeed, he is credited with introducing “panache” into the English language.

The climax of the battle scene at the end of Act IV is about as good a battle scene you will get in all of literature.

Key moments:

* Cyrano rejects the Cardinal’s patronage.

* Christian’s word-play on nose as Cyrano tells his story is truly funny.

The Edinburgh Companion to Sir Walter Scott

Robertson, Fiona. Ed. The Edinburgh Companion to Sir Walter Scott. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2012.

Fiona Robertson presents us with some outstanding essays by noted writers.  These essays clarify both key themes in Sir Walter Scott’s thought as well as the limits of placing him in a larger Romantic context.

While Scott does promote the idea of a Romantic national culture, he dissociates it “from notions of authentic lines of descent or innate national culture” (Ferris 15).

While Kenneth McNeil’s essay, “Ballads and Borders,” is of limited use to the Scott reader today, if only because few will have access to Scott’s poetry, he makes some interesting remarks, including writing the most postmodern sentence of all time–more on that later. He suggests that Scott’s “balladry” illustrates an “in-betweenness” of cultures.  Very Heideggerian, that.  He writes, “The ascendancy of the border in the contemporary disavowal of the Manichean structure of colonial discourse paradoxically provides the context for one of the most influential and interesting returns to Scott’s formulation of the borderlands as the topographical sign for a particular ethnic identity” (McNeil 33). I have no idea what that means, but it sounds fascinating.

“What constitutes Romantic Poetry?”  Alison Lumsen and Ainsley McIntosh ask this question in order to answer why Scott’s poetry, so famous in his own day, is unknown in ours. Romantic poetry became focused on nature whereas Scott wrote about social issues.

Romanticism has a movement that is intensio, not extensio. Classical man looked upward to the heavens.  According to Frye, Romantic man, by contrast, looked inward where “the creative world is deep within, and so is heaven or the place of God” (quoted in Robertson 93).  If this is true, then Scott really isn’t a Romantic writer.  He’s largely uninterested in the conflict of a divided self (except for monarchy), nor do a hero’s brooding emotions factor much into his stories. Romanticism represents a great leap “inward,” which is largely absent from Scott’s corpus.

Scott and Monarchy

Theme: Scott shows us how to avoid choosing between doomed alternatives, allowing us to steal away and live (McCracken-Flesher 47). An initial reading of the Waverly novels imagines the reader as having to choose between the Stuarts and the Hanovers.  It’s not simply that the wrong choice will get you killed.  It will, but there is more to it:  you are forced to make a choice without being able to think about it. That’s the danger.  A deeper reading of Scott shows characters who elude these false dualities.

Scott “stresses the necessity and impossibility of relating oneself to a world of easy oppositions, fatal results, and no real choices” (50).  In other words, ideologies don’t work with Scott. Rather, “At the heart of each Jacobite novel lies a gap…in which a secret works” (53).  This gap allows the rather unimportant hero to not choose, and therefore not die.  Each of Scott’s heroes move from naivete to complexity, which mirrors the philosophical view of the self then current in Scotland: a complexity of experience and association (55).

Tara Ghoshal Wallace has an important chapter exploring Ernst Kantorowicz’s The King’s Two Bodies concept in Scott’s novels.  She correctly summarizes the essence of the concept but fails to dissociate it from its later degeneracy.  According to Kantorowicz, “There is a composite or ruler and realm” within the head of the monarch (Wallace 107).  This allows for the distinction between the king’s royal body and his personal foibles.

The point of this conception, pace Wallace, was not to justify the extreme decadence of later Stuarts.  Rather, it avoided a political Donatism which would render a king without authority because he wasn’t pure enough or august enough.

The book ends with final essays on Scott’s economics and the afterlife of Ivanhoe.  This is a welcome addition to the dearth of literature on Sir Walter Scott.

Sir Walter Scott: Bonnie Prince Charlie and Scotland’s Romantic Age

Scott, Sir Walter.  From Montrose to Culloden: Bonnie Prince Charlie and Scotland’s Romantic Age. ed. George Grant. Nashville, TN: Cumberland House, 2001.

The survey of this history of Scottish romantic chivalry can be ended with a meditation on “tradition vs. discipline.”  All the heroes and villains are here: Whigs, Tories, Covenanters.    The Tories opposed the accession of King George I.  Scott faults George I for listening to his Whig advisors and unnecessarily antagonizing otherwise noble Tories (Scott 11).

Scott, however, is realistic about what romantic life in feudal Scotland would have been like.  He writes, “[F]ew modern readers would desire to exchange conditions with a resident within the romantic bounds” of those times (29).

The main problem for the Scots in 1715 was the delayed raising of the western clans (46). And in what can only be a bizarre turn of events, the Scottish outlaw Rob Roy was just as likely to support those who supported the Hanovers (71). Rob Roy might have been a Jacobite, but he felt he should be loyal to his patron, the Duke of Argyle.

1715 might seem a sad ending for those with a romantic bent.  The Chevalier de St George was more inclined to “the intrigues of court, not the labors of a campaign” (113).

Scott praises the Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge for establishing chapels and schools, which did more to enlighten “the people of that country than had been achieved by any prince who had yet reigned in or over Scotland” (124).

The uprising of 1745 is the heart of the story.  It tells of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s secret landing in Scotland, his raising of a highland army, his initial successes, and his inevitable failure. The Bonnie Prince never had a chance, but not for military reasons.  His stunning victory at Prestonpans allowed him to march deep into England, perhaps on London.  This was a fatal move, as England eventually marshaled two armies to cut him off.  His army did make good a retreat, allowing the later (and doomed) battle at Culloden.

Even then he wasn’t completely doomed.  He had 9,000 Highlanders under his control, roughly the same as the English.  Desertion was a problem, though, and he never could bring all of his forces to bear.

Could things have been otherwise?  To a degree, perhaps.  He certainly could have retained control of Scotland and left England alone.  That would have given him a few years.  Charlie thought he deserved England and wouldn’t settle for less. 

Scott suggests that even if Charlie won every battle, he still would have lost the war.  Scotland’s standard of living had improved due to English rule.  The Highlanders represented a small minority, and Charlie himself represented that line that was opposed to Presbyterianism.  He would never have had popular support, and his problems would have multiplied in England.

Still, there is something haunting and compelling about the old ways.  While it was good to see the last remnants of feudalism dissolve under modern developments, one wonders–perhaps for our own times–if there is a way to hold to both modern economics and a vision of that way of life which isn’t reducible to economic factors.

Old Mortality (Sir Walter Scott)

Sir Walter Scott. Old Mortality.  New York: Oxford Press.

This book isn’t as anti-Presbyterian as one might expect.  He isn’t making fun of the Covenanters. Indeed, if internet Covenanters today are the standard to go by, Scott is quite gentle.  As far as Scott’s novels go, this is acknowledged to be one of the better ones. The reason is quite simple: the story just flows better.

Like the rest of Scott’s novels, it’s important to pay attention early on.  If you get a good grasp on “who’s who,” his writing style is easy to follow.

Protagonist: Henry Morton.  Morton fights for liberty of conscience.  That’s what drives him, even more than love.

Love interest: Edith Bellenden.  Lady Margaret’s granddaughter.

Lady Margaret Bellenden: arch-royalist.  She’s funny. Back in the day King Charles I visited her castle.  She never fails to remind everyone of “that one day when his most sacred Majesty….”  Her servants can usually see this coming so they have devised ways to head her off.

Whigs vs. Tories

Initial Problem

In order to weaken the stricter Presbyterians, the law said that local communities had to train their militias on the Sabbath.  Furthermore, each laird had to meet a quota. Our story starts at one such militia gathering.

The “change” that happens to Henry Morton is perfectly captured.  Scott notes, “Desperate himself, he determined to support the rights of his country, insulted in his person” (160). Many god-fearing citizens throughout history aren’t really fanatical.  And this is a warning to the Deep State today: there is a limit beyond which we will not be pushed. Don’t go there.

There is even more to Morton’s development.  He finds himself on the opposite side of the war with his girlfriend.  She can’t forgive his “treason,” yet he knows he simply can’t lay down his arms and come back to her.  This is what Scott calls a new “Manly” moment in Morton’s life. Manly for Scott, and for the ancients, meant something like a firm resolve.  Morton wants to be with his girlfriend, but other things have to change first.

Scott doesn’t pull any punches.  In some ways this is the best argument for the non-establishment of religion.  The Covenanters are persecuted, and there is one tough scene of torture at the end of the book.  However, Scott, through Morton, reminds us that if the roles were reversed, the Covenanters would not allow freedom of religion to the so-called prelatists.

Henry Morton is a hero because he steers the middle course. Scott has created the problem perfectly.  Morton can’t just abandon the Whigs and join his lover because that would also abandon his principles–and she knows it.

I can usually anticipate how Scott will end a story, but this ending caught me completely off guard.

Hegel and Modern Society (Charles Taylor)

Taylor claims this isn’t merely a summation of his earlier tome on Hegel. That’s not really true. A number of pages are lifted but I think he succeeds in succinctly tying Hegel’s ontology to Hegel’s politics and showing the latter’s relevance for the modern age.

Hegel’s Ontology

Hegel sought to synthesize the Romantic desire for freedom and expression with the Rationalist desire for Reason. The Romantics saw Enlightenment science severing man’s unity. Man can only be self-conscious when he abstracts himself from the world. But when he does that, he severs himself from the organic unity of life. Reason and Life are thus opposites. But they are opposites which can’t exist without the other.

This leads us to Geist (God, sort of) as the Embodied Subject. A rational subject must be embodied because their must be an opposite pole in which it may flourish. Hegel rejects both Christian theism (God independent of the world) and naturalism (God as not absolute). Self-positing: God eternally creates the conditions of his existence. Hegel is not so much arguing for an existent reality, but for the conditions that Geist be.

What is the Dialectic?

we start with the most elementary notion of what consciousness is, “to show that this cannot stand up, that it is riven with inner contradiction and must give way to a higher one, which is also in turn shown to be contradictory” (55).

Politics as Alienation Overcome

Modern society has seen the proliferation of Romantic views of life along with the rationalization and bureaucratization of collective structures and an exploitive stance toward nature (71). The adequate form of Spirit (remember, Spirit must be embodied) is social. Man has to be part of something larger than himself, since man cannot exist by himself.

alienation: this happens whenever the public existence no longer has meaning for me: e.g., the perceived futility of voting; nominal religious belief in Church-States. Individuals then strike out on their own to define their individuality. They then (ironically) come together as a new social unit.

Negative freedom would require that the whole outcome be decided by me. Yet, the whole outcome is a social one, so it cannot be decided by me alone. Thus, negative freedom is impossible.

The Modern Dilemma

Here is why modern liberal society is doomed: radical participation in civic structures is only possible if there is a ground of agreement, or underlying common purpose (Augustine’s common objects of love). Democracy and participation cannot create this; they merely presuppose it. The demand for absolute freedom by itself is empty.
Modern ideology and equality leads to homogenization [Taylor isn’t always clear on what he means by homogenization] of society. It is an acid drip on traditional structures, yet it cannot replace them.

Hegel and Marx

This is where Charles Taylor, using Hegel’s analysis, cuts Marxism to the bone. The Soviet view sees the proletarian party as “engineers of building in conformity with the laws of history…[combining] two opposed pictures of the human predicament. It shows us man, on one hand, imposing his will on the course of history…On the other hand dialectical materialism sets out the laws which govern man and history with an iron necessity” (151). “The laws of history cannot be the basis of social engineering and reveal the inevitable trend of events” (152).

Analysis and Conclusion

A Christian cannot accept Hegel’s ontology. It echoes pantheism and is openly process theology. Hegel’s analysis of epistemology on lower levels is sometimes interesting. Hegel’s insights on politics (if not his conclusions!) are occasionally brilliant.

The concepts of social alienation are more pronounced today than ever before. Hegel was spot on. His critique of Negative Freedom of the French Revolution applies equally to Marxism (and its body count) and the Cultural Leninism of today’s America

Redgauntlet (Sir Walter Scott)

Image result for redgauntlet

I am going to be using the format recommended by Susan Bauer in this review.

Grammar Stage Inquiry: The What

What is the most important event in the book, in which the character(s) change? The most important event is when Darsie decides to leave the stability of Joshua Geddes’s house and join with the blind fiddler.  Darsie does that because he isn’t very smart (none of Sir Walter Scott’s heroes are smart).

Logic Stage Inquiry [The Why and How]

Is this novel fable or chronicle? This is a chronicle.  Sir Walter Scott invented the genre of historical fiction.

What does the central character(s) want? He wants action and adventure. He isn’t very smart.

What is standing in their way? For the first part of the novel, his friends.  Granted, they have no power to stop him, but they are warning him of where his Quixotic dreams will take him.

What strategies does the character(s) use to overcome their difficulties? While Darsie doesn’t suffer from common sense, he isn’t stupid, either.  He’s able to think quickly on his feet and adapt to new situations.

Who is telling the story? The first part of the novel is a series of letters written between the protagonist, Darsie Latimer, and his friend Alan Fairford. Admittedly, it’s not the most engaging beginning. It makes some demands of the reader, given the lack of dialogue, yet it does provide a character sketch for the two gentlemen. The back and forth between the two men’s letters becomes really amusing after a while.  Fairford grants that Latimer may have had “adventures,” but he thinks he embellished the whole thing, and comes close to insulting the man.

The background knowledge of the novel suggests that Redgauntlet is some sort of Byronic satanic figure.  Scott develops this tension in a very skilled way.

Beginning and Ending:  What draws you in? What is the resolution in the end?  What is the logical exhaustion, which demonstrates a philosophy about human nature?  Sir Walter Scott’s skill as a narrator is on full display.  He takes a very dangerous and unwieldy approach by introducing the plot through letter writing.  Yet in the letter writing he uses the possible Redgauntlet character to tie both Darsie’s and Fairford’s adventures together.  I won’t say more so as not to give away anything.

The ending is about as perfectly “exhausted” as one can expect in a story. The philosophy in this work, as in many of Scott’s works, is that the heroic age ended a generation ago.

III.  Rhetorical Stage of Inquiry [The So What?]

Do you sympathize with the characters?  Which one(s), and why? I sympathize with both Fairford and Darsie, for I have been both men.  And Darsie is funny at times: One of Walter Scott’s heroes has to take up residence with a Quaker, and here is how he describes the blessing before the meal: “We settled to your breakfast after a blessing, or rather an extempore prayer, which the Spirit moved Joshua to prolong rather more than I felt altogether agreeable.”

After Darsie is captured and doesn’t know where he is, he tries to ferret out his location from the serving wench.  The wench is the archetypal dumb blonde and parries all of his rather skillful questions with feigned (or perhaps real) idiocy.

Did the writer’s times affect him? Scott’s characters in this story aren’t as affected by the Jacobite cause as others.  They are not tempted by the Bonnie Prince nor do they seek to overthrow the Crown. Quite opposite.

Is there an argument in this book?  Alan Fairford is often at pains to show Darsie that courage isn’t simply fighting bravely in battle.  There is a “civil courage” that is “courage enough to do what is right, and to spurn what is wrong–courage enough to defend a righteous cause with hand and purse, and to take the part of the poor man against his oppressor, without fear of the consequences to himself” (Scott 47).

Do you agree?  Is this work true about the human experience? Very true. We all know those who want to “overthrow the gubmn’t,” but what stops them isn’t fear or arms, but apathy in their comrades.