Sunday 24 July 2022

Desperately Dated

The decade immediately previous to the one you’re in is the “decade that style forgot” or “the decade that dare not speak its name”. We’ve come a long way since then! (Usually from people in their late 20s.) The converse of "dated" is “timeless”, which usually means “we can go on selling it”. A truly timeless book would be bland and dull.

Marking the report card of the past from the ideological perspective of the present is an unproductive use of leisure time. (John Lanchester on past mystery writers)

It's interesting reading the comments of those who dislike this movie; they either call it "dated" and so disregard it, or "ludicrous" in that it could never happen; that way they don't have to take the concept seriously and so aren't threatened by it. Well, history is dated. That's why it's history. And we learn history supposedly so that we won't repeat the mistakes of the past (I wonder if that's ever worked?). (imdb commenter mercuryix-1 on The Forbin Project)

The bitchiness of this comment: "We’ve done several architecture and interior projects ... not stuck within an archaic Postmodern framework". (Douglas Murphy)

Giggle, the book is so dated, giggle. While I live in the one time in history which is non-ridiculous and will forever remain a standard of what is cool and normal. ( reviewer parodies the concept)

One of the labels I've found annoying in reference to books and films of decades past is 'dated,' as if a work of art can't be worth one's time if it was about its own time. (Amazon reviewer)

Written many years ago, the language used in the book may appear somewhat archaic to new readers of Dennis Wheatley. But it would not benefit from updating as this was the idiom of the day. (Amazon commenter)

People appear to love the past most when it looks like the present, hence the greater focus on the most "modern" stuff. (Xavier Lechard on trends in past mystery writers)

A word which other reviewers have used about the book is "dated". That is, in itself, not necessarily a criticism of a novel. After all, writers write for, and about, their own era, and they are not to blame if social attitudes change over the succeeding decades. (Amazon reviewer on Margaret Drabble's The Millstone. When the book was written, the succeeding decades hadn’t actually happened.)

Unlike many period fiction books this book was actually written at the time it portrays so there is no problem with anachronism or badly researched details. (Amazon review of Dorothy Sayers’ Have His Carcase) 

I've got an even worse one for you. From a review of Gladys Mitchell's Speedy DeathWhile the author was herself writing in the 1920s (the copyright is 1929), the TV movie version manages to capture the style, culture, attitudes and technology of the era far better. [...] It's as though the writers who recreated the character for TV and rescripted the tale presented in the book had a better understanding of the time period and what constituted it than the author. The author gives no real sense of time other than casual mention of the war and interrogating German prisoners of war. Lush descriptions of interior decor, of dress and make-up for the period are lacking. (Jack Hamm)

Beware of nay-sayers who are always trying to compare films of this era with today's output – phrases like "it does (or doesn't) show its age" or "it does (or doesn't) hold up today" are meaningless when viewing films of this genre. In fact, such comparisons are boring and tedious. (imdb commenter) 

People are often shocked by the fact this famous tracking shot was made nearly 100 years ago, but silent films were often just as if not more visually creative than those today.

And this is why current writers produce historical novels – or still worse, films – whose characters spout today's ideology. 

The opposite of dated is "extraordinarily forward-looking for its time".

Thursday 21 July 2022

Grammar: Oxymorons 2

This year, Black Friday starts on a Wednesday!

She’s the girl with the red blue jeans.

Douglas Emhoff will be the nation's first second gentleman.

Peter Tatchell says we should have “religious civil partnerships”. (Times, 2011) 

There’s a Little Grand Canyon in Georgia.

Longer shortlists help reduce gender bias, says the BPS Digest (paraphrase).

Keep Redskins white! (As fans urged after the Washington Redskins became the last NFL team to integrate, when forced to do so by the US government in 1961.)

Most of you appear to have missed it but there is a new old parish map walk! (@oldmapman)

non-binary haircuts for women

wooden headstone

Waterloo teeth from American Civil War battlefields

young vintage port

faux natural ivy leaf with seed heads (available from décor firm Escapology)

older younger people

ancient modern humans

Indonesia’s tiny Bigfoot

human BSE (bovine spongiform encephalitis)

sunk relief

River Otter beaver trial

mini Great White Shark

white Green and Black’s

link detached bungalow

old New Scotland Yard (by Norman Shaw)

Guernsey jersey

earthquakes on Mars

university town hall (meeting)

rice Mac n cheese

long short story

vintage new

lady Lord Justices

Industrial park (per Judith Martin)

rural urban legend (There must be some.)

More here.

Monday 11 July 2022

Who were the Bright Young People?

Bright Young People: The Rise and Fall of a Generation 1918-1940
 by DJ Taylor

The Bright Young People were a group of mainly rich, very young people who flourished just after WWI – for the whole of the 20s in fact. They gave lavish costume or stunt parties, and their doings were reported in in breathless newspaper write-ups. Eventually any partying youths were described as Bright Young People, and everybody copied their mannerisms and slang. (“Too, too divine, my dear! How utterly bliss-making!”)

Dorothy L. Sayers concluded that the public liked reading about murders and aristocrats, and created an aristocratic sleuth who sometimes mixed with the BYPs (Murder Must Advertise). Writing thinly fictionalised novels about the bright crowd was a money spinner – see Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies, Cyril Connolly’s The Rock Pool, Anthony Powell’s Afternoon Men, Beverley Nichols’s Crazy Pavements. (Nichols later produced detective stories, gardening books, a study of interior designer Syrie Maugham, and even a children’s book about a young witch.)

The hero of Crazy Pavements comments that for the BYPs “the most ordinary feelings and facts” are “divine, amazing, shattering, monstrous”. He wonders “what language they would speak if something really awful did happen”. (They would probably employ litotes or understatement.)

Two kindly, elderly gents from my childhood are featured in the text. The nice old man (Matthew Ponsonby) who lived in the 12th century priory down the road – his sister Elizabeth was one of the movement’s stars and gave riotous parties in the medieval survival, leaving the prior’s chamber littered with glasses and cigarette ends. 

We went to stay several times at the decaying Irish country house of John Heygate. He was once an item with Evelyn Waugh’s wife (also called Evelyn). My mother told me she’d just arrived on his doorstep and he could hardly turn her away.

Both Ponsonby parents kept diaries and wrote letters, and constantly wrung their hands over their daughter and her friends and lifestyle. Taylor points out that the BYPs rebelled against their parents’ plans for them: debutante dances and a good marriage for daughters, a respectable job for sons (or running inherited estates). Elizabeth Ponsonby eventually found someone to marry. Her mother pronounced on her future mother-in-law, Mrs Pelly: “A sort of second rate daughter of the regiment ease of manner... Of course it’s pathetic – she lives in a sort of boarding house in Cromwell Road – and I’m afraid she’ll be rather a pest.” The marriage didn’t last, and Elizabeth died young of alcohol-related health problems.

Evelyn Waugh revealed that he’d “always thought himself a gentleman until he met his future mother-in-law Lady Burghclere”.

Some of the BYPs who were famous among their set, like poet Brian Howard, are now almost forgotten. He was disappointed to find that the family’s surname was not the aristocratic sounding “Howard” but had originally been “Gassaway”.

Expected, not least by himself, to write novels that would out-Firbank Firbank in their orchidaceous subtleties, he ended up a tragicomic turn in novels by other people. 

Most of the BYPs were rich and could afford to live in central London doing nothing very much, but others, like photographer Cecil Beaton and writer Evelyn Waugh, had to work for a living, and networked like mad. 

What gave you entrance to the club? Talent for doing something the BYPs wanted – Beaton's snaps were good, and got the BYPs publicity. Charm, wit, beauty: “Beverley Nichols, who made great play of his matinee idol good looks...” (So much for “looks don’t matter”.) 

What happened to them all? Writing a Times obituary of his old friend Hamish Erskine in 1973, Alan Pryce-Jones noted: “Hamish, in his day, was a Bright Young Person and his life for the last thirty years exemplified the difficulty of taking on from there.” 

All Hamish possessed, in fact, was his charm and the memory of a world in which charm had perhaps counted for too much.

It’s a particular kind of syndrome, ponders Taylor – early in life you find a milieu in which you flourish, in which your particular personality and talents are valued – and then it’s gone and you never find it again. They themselves clearly thought they were marvellous: "wicked, divine" as John Le Carré put it. But the novels about the group show them up as frivolous, shallow, bored and "artists manqué", according to one reviewer. 

The sparkling text is marred by the odd gaffe. Taylor thinks, as many do, that “inanition” means “inertia” rather than malnutrition, and he confuses “flout” and “flaunt”. (You flout convention, and flaunt your superior learning.) He dangles the occasional modifier: “Tall, saturnine and vaguely clerical in appearance, Tom Driberg’s gravity went down well with senior members of the Express’s staff.” He, not his gravity, was tall, saturnine etc. In the literary world "feet tended to be kept simultaneously in several camps". These writers were millipedes? And “enmired in guilt”? There is no such word – how about “enmeshed”?

The BYPs had a strange afterlife, still appearing in the press occasionally in the late 30s, but “the tone was that of the museum guide proudly displaying some venerable exhibit under dim, antediluvian light”. Yes, the BYPs now seemed “antediluvian” – it means “before the Flood” – but “dim religious light” is the usual cliché, being a quote from Milton’s Il Penseroso: an allusion the well-educated BYPs would probably recognise.