Then and Now

There’s a new movie coming out, Vanity Fair, based on the book. It inspired me to read the book, which I started long ago and didn’t quite finish.

One of the things that is so interesting about Victorian novels, and which makes them so enduring for today’s readers is the struggle for POSITION. These girls who are trying to marry a man with money, so blatantly struggling to bag a husband with 5 thousand a year, or 80 thousand a year, or with a hundred a year and a title, they are struggling so hard to attain status in their “society.”

The victorian era was all about the rise of the middle class. The Middle class, the newly rich capitalists, rich off trade and business rather than inherited estates were struggling in their world to be what they felt they had a right to be. They wanted into the higher eschelons of “society” and it was a constant struggle to fit in.

The Victorian prudery and extreme care for the chastity and reputation of the ladies was a huge part of that. The lower classes were the only ones that were supposed to engage in imorality. Or, I should say, the lower class WOMEN were the only ones supposed to engage in immorality.

A new standard for women had been introduced, that the unmarried women had to be pure as the driven snow or she could be rejected by that man of X thousand a year.

Why? Because women did not have earning power. They did not have economic rights to the same degree as men did, so their earning power was their marriageability, for the most part.

But that’s really a side note.

What struck me in this novel was again, as I have seen so many times in other novels, was the the focus on CREDIT. Apparently, a young man of nice clothes could ring up bills and bills and bills and no one thought anything of it.

This is so completely contemporary that it makes me wonder.

We’ve got all kinds of new formality in place, that allows a much more egalitarian debt system. You don’t have to “cut a fine figure” as those novelists say. You just have to fill out a mean form.

Bill collectors coming after you? Like they did to Captain Crawley and Rebecca (the Heros of my novel)? Rebecca was praised for her ability to persuade them away.

The 21st century way of dealing with it was to consolidate the debt, transfer some funds and get back on the road.

Here’s the next snapshot in my train of thought:

I saw another ad for a different movie. This one is called “The Corporation

It’s a documentary. I really want to see it.

I’ve previously complained about my life in elevators. That’s one way I describe the life of a corporate corpse. But I also admit that it can be exciting to work in a large structure.

I get to point at my corporate logo, and the corporate logo on the many tall buildings and in the marble lobbies with the huge expensive flower arrangments and say, “I am a part of this. This is the glory I contribute to.”

And I get to build a little home from the blue paychecks.

Do you remember the story of Babel? The tower of babel? They wanted to build a tower to the heavens. They said, ‘We don’t need God anymore! We will climb to heaven ourselves!”

And God looked down from heaven to the people he had created and said, ‘oh shit! They can do it, too!” okay, he actually said, “”If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.”

Then he made all the humans who were working together on this tower speak different languages from one another. Suddenly, they couldn’t work together any more. The tower faltered, and was abandoned.

What’s happened since then? A couple more towers have sprung up. A few more very tall buildings have come into existence. Is this a deferred dream we are realizing or a nightmare once averted and now awakened?

The documentary about Corporations seems to be showing how corporations are bad, and how insidious they are to our culture. Granted, take everything I say with a grain of salt because I haven’t seen the movie.

BUT, i’ve seen some other things. I’ve heard the cries for “back to the land!”

You know that commercial where the alternative-hippie-looking kids are hitchiking and talking about majoring in ceramics? But they they see a cool SUV and decide to minor in ceramics so they can afford this shiny car?

THAT”S what I’m talking about. Yes, we know about our desire to be close to the land and the rhythms of the earth. To have our hands in up to the elbows in the act of creation and the practicing of our art.

And we..the american culture…still want the SUV. Which is it?

I wonder. Which half of that equation is the most hypocritical? The pat answer is the side that wants the SUV. I’m not so sure.

I am not in love with corporations. But let us assess.

Did you know that during the victorian period, that marvelous rising of the middle class, there was a huge “back to the earth” movement too? Back to nature?

Only then it was THEIR version of nostalgia. It was for peasant hood (Carlyle is who I am thinking of). ‘Go back to being a peasant! You wil wake with the sun and grow your own food, and live life in the ebb of the earth’s seasonal pageantry! Give up this pursuit of life in the city and …

CAPITALISM

oh yeah…capitalism…That famous economic tome”Das Kapital” by Karl Marx is from the Victorian age. The Communist manifesto came out of that time too. Remember?

…Communism vs. Capitalism…

The words are still used today. Even though communism is widely described as dead, and capitalism has changed so much that Marx’s theories no longer apply.

What are we up to? We want all the good things, we want all we can get. Then as now. Vanity Fair was the description of London society. Couldn’t it just as well be a description of New York society? Or Beverly Hills?

We have built some pretty big towers. And if we didn’t want them, why did we bother?

What it all a big misunderstanding? Did we really want to live close to the ground, but the architect looked at the plans sideways? Did we have a meeting and someone scrawled the minutes so they build a 105 stories instead of 105 foot garden?

Maybe we don’t recognize this world because after the vision came the revisions.

Did we all get caught in the close at hand and forget the future results? Did our parents and grandparents look only at that weekly paycheck and not know what would happen when all their toil piled up into accomplishments?

I can’t believe that we didn’t know. I think many many of us learned to put aside our different ways of talking and worked together very very hard to get the world that we live in now.

But this final version, this present version of life2004 (brought to you by Microsoft~!) or Reality or however you want to see it contains ALL.
The conversions, reversions, subversions and perversions are all a part of the final version.

This version keeps all that. no pebble turns without reshaping the universe.

Maybe we are amazed at our small selves affecting so much change.

The monuments we’ve constructed changed the warp of gravity. We’ve altered the universe slightly and our environment mightily. We are what we have worked diligently to become.

And that bring it all back to Hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy…”Are you sure you asked the right question?”

Are we sure we worked toward the right goal?

Let us deal with what is here and now. You cannot begin your journey in a different place than the one you are in.

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