Huge thanks! My muse hasn't been very cooperative this year, so it's extra nice to learn that people appreciate the few things I did write.
Check out all the winners here!
I'm hoping to get some sort of holiday fic up before Wednesday.
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Deviating a little from the general 'hedjog goes bah humbug' seasonal theme:
In today's Observer The 10 best Christmases in literature.
And, of course, while I like her inclusion of a fairly obscure short story by Stella Gibbons (it's in Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm) I am thinking of what I would include in such a list:
a) Could you count Susan Coolidge's memorable Christmases in What Katy Did and What Katy Did at School as one entry; or would it have to be two?
b) Christmas with the Aubrey family in The Fountain Overflows.
c) And if you want grim and ghastly, la patronne racommande Angus Wilson's 'Saturnalia' in The Wrong Set and other stories.
Yes, I think that is a point one could make, but might one not also invoke who George V's father was and the sort of (negative) influence that might have had on How He Wanted To Be King? (I.e. not Edward the Caresser).
We note that they were both not the Designated Heir who ended up landed with the job.
I rather love the idea that Ramsey MacDonald was George V's favourite Prime Minister - we ask ourselves whether he (unlike his father) had liked John Brown... or whether there was a family love-that-Scottish-accent thing going on.
We note that the George VI bio goes with the standard narrative and doesn't go down that route which claims that far from being 'gracious, photogenic and supportive', his lady wife insisted on progenating via Artificial Insemination.
I was reading this interesting piece about sex positivity and critical analysis, and encountered the following about What Men Want:
they always tell me that they want a partner who’s down for whatever and wants it all the time.
Okay, in context that is really young men who have probably not done a lot of reality-testing about their desires and fantasies.
On one level this is a shallow sexist dream which is not even about a partner who is actually 'down for whatever' and 'wants it all the time': what they actually mean is a partner who is down for whatever they want to try or have seen in porn, and wants it whenever they do.
I think if they found a partner who did want it all the time, even when they did not, and whose downness for whatever included whatevers that were way outside their own comfort zone, they might find themselves to be seriously discomfited.
(Some years ago I read a literary sort-of sffy type of novel in which someone was putting something into the water supply, or something like that, so that women were going into oestrus: and the protag's wife started being unusually periodically sexually forthcoming, but not, I thought, in a way that to me mapped to 'woman with imperative desire for her own gratification' rather than 'male fantasy of male gratifications performed'.)
I also wonder a bit about the context, and whether this is expressed in public or private, but generally, is this really at bottom about a certain and possibly aspirational model of masculinity which is about being the kind of man who needs someone who wants it all the time and will accommodate any whatever that crosses his mind. (There is a sharp comment in, if I recollect aright, The Female Eunuch, apropos of a male-gazey novel, and the extremely sexually-gymnastic female love interest, and how a woman like that is actually some kind of comment on the macho-macho qualities of Our Hero.)
I feel another woman/car analogy coming on, whereby the fast sporty car thing is also about performing a certain kind of masculinity.
I do think the writer of that piece might have interrogated the kinds of expectations and attitudes that affect men and get expressed in statements similar to the one quoted.
(Not sure how coherent this is - Friday evening, long tiring week.)
From commodorified: 'your thoughts on legal and social perceptions of sexuality as affected by war'.
I am sure that this is a topic for which the temptation to start 'throughout the whole of history' should be fiercely resisted (I came across a version of this quite recently in an article about the importance of medical history for medical professionals, claiming that this was a case which had been being made 'for centuries'. I think not, really.)
What 'war' even meant has varied widely over time and cultures.
Claims can certainly be made for, well, maybe, Europe since the Renaissance/Reformation with the rise of professional national armies for the perception of the soldier as brutal and licentious (though am pretty sure have come across mentions of historical warrior cultures for which celibacy was the rule?). But that idea that these men Need Sex/Have Imperative Drives seems to be pretty pervasive (and not just in Europe, cf apologias over the 'comfort women' for Japanese troops) and that these needed to be catered for and contained in the interests of preventing the disruption of society at large.
As historian of STIs, have noted that:
a) The state of war and general socio-political upheaval in Europe at the end of C15th was the perfect storm for something like syphilis to become epidemic, whether it was a local disease that had changed virulence or something from somewhere else
b) It was in the military context that STIs were initially perceived as a problem sufficiently impinging about fitness for purpose that they had to be taken official cognisance of and strategies (not, we may add, necessarily very adequate strategies) of prevention put in place.
c) After WWII (or possibly slightly earlier) it became accepted belief that high STI rate was positively correlated with poor morale (once had Brit military gent, not in medical services, expatiate to me snarking on the significance of the enormously high rate in US troops in Vietnam, and what this meant that they were doing wrong). Not so much however that the ones who didn't get them weren't Doing It, more that they were taking the necessary precautions.
There's a trope about the two World Wars as bringing about Decay of Morals which has been problematised by historians - rises in illegitimacy rates were more about war preventing marriages that would otherwise have taken place, probably, though, yes, there was a certain amount of casual sex going on given that people were away from home and their lives were disrupted and so on.
But almost certainly rather less than moral panics at the time claimed. There was huge furore about the ATS in WWII being 'officers' groundsheets' and fathers refusing to have their daughters directed into it, but the investigations undertaken as a result found that if anything, there was less 'immorality' happening than in the other women's services.
There was also a pervasive urban myth that prostitutes were exempt from call-up (this was a bit IAMC, but essentially, a lot of the population in question were not eligible on other grounds, such as criminal convictions, nationality, etc etc, and it was Not A Problem).
All wars are different. Different kinds of war affect different groups of the population.
A lot of the scholarship focuses on quite specific situations and really, no, you cannot generalise on the basis of WWI or WWII, which I suspect lie at the base of a lot of people's thoughts on the subject, probably because they affected large swathes of the population who would not normally have been involved in any kind of military or war-related activity and have continuing resonance for a lot of reasons.
Any particular war situations you would like me to comment on further? (if I can.)
Still very immersed in Sekkrit Projekt #ifitoldyouidhavetokillyou reading, but I did read two mentionable works.
Of course, some people may consider Laurell K Hamilton's Anita Blake series not entirely mentionable, and this one - Jason (2014) - is one of those shorter, inter-big-adventure works that focuses on character relationships. (Mostly while they are in bed and, er, quite active.) But there are times when I enjoy these. Also, could possibly make a case that there are many, many action heroes of lengthy series out there with a pretty terrible record of collateral damage, often terminal, to women they encounter, sidekicks, and others. Whereas it should be quite a nice touch for an action heroine just to add them into their shagging spreadsheet and introduce them to the rest of the polyamorous constellation. Instead of having a brief moment of manpain and an accumulation of angsty backstory before it's on to the next.
That said, just possibly I was hoping for somebody to do a Raymond Chandler ('have some guy come through the door with a gun') during the prolonged orgy and relationship geeking.
And for the intermittently scheduled reading whiplash, the other thing I read was Angela Thirkell's Cheerfulness Breaks In (1940), which was delightful. It's set during the Phony War (evacuees, rationing, gasmasks, nurses in the local hospital waiting rather ghoulishly for the war casualties the place has been emptied for, general sense of people hanging around waiting for things to happen) and has a pleasing sense of 'we're all in this together' rather than the slightly later 'Barsetshire groans under the Iron Heel' whingeing. The leftish headmaster of an evacuated City school and his former-teacher wife are deemed to be good eggs (even if NQOSD generally) and even some of their pupils come off well.
I can't remember: have we had the collar-and-tie couple (with dog), one half of which writes sensational books that get banned and condemned from pulpits and are v profitable, before? They feature quite strongly and are molto sympatico comic figures. Interestingly, however, there is an effete young man of Germanic origin who is a film director and heavily coded gay and who is a Bad Egg with equally horrendous parents.
One cavil I did have was about the ending, which strongly implies that an important character is Missing In Action (which later books indicate to not have been the case). I can see that this does sort of indicate that The War is no longer Phony and Shit Gets Real, but it struck a sour note after what had just gone before.
Up next: I have just received, in connection with SP, a book I'd been holding off on buying in case it did thus turn up. Yay.