When I Grow Up I Wanna Be On TV!

It was like old home week the other night, watching Chris in another Masonic Magical Mystery Hour on History channel, this one being about the supposed treasure buried on Oak Island. (Curse of Oak Island Drilling Down: Founding Fathers S7/E6)

I thought that Chris looked both adorable and intelligent; Chris kept saying how good Akram Elias was.  Neither one of us really enjoys seeing ourselves on television.  In my case, I have gone to war each and every time with the video DP, all of them determined to drench me with enough light to illuminate a football stadium.  It’s always the same battle cry – “Will you please pull back?”  It gets me nowhere.  On one of them, Chris stood behind the camera and checked to make certain they weren’t getting a surgical close-up of my nose hair.  So the little bastard did what they all do; he fixed it in post, doing a cheesy optical zoom that put the camera right back up my nostrils where he clearly felt it belonged, my round, over-lit face glowing like the rising harvest moon.    

In any case, the days of tracking Chris' illness by the way he looked in various shows are now past.  I thought he looked glowingly healthy, and about thirty-two years old. 

As for the unexplainable presence of William Shatner, I can take it, I guess.  He’s obviously signed himself into indentured servitude with History (you’re still not supposed to add “Channel”) where he has another show called The UnXplained.  Am I spelling that right?  They’re obviously going to use him as Spook Host in a bevy of crossover stuff, including this Season Seven episode of Curse of Oak Island.  (Season Seven?)  Shatner isn’t as bad an actor as people say.  Calling him a lousy actor, for awhile there, was this huge national bromide, a cliché as worn as “Wanna buy a duck?”  But he can be good, especially when he’s got a director to sit on him and knock some of the hot air out of him.  When Shatner went head to head with Stanley Kramer, the result was his subtle and easygoing performance in Judgment at Nuremberg.  He’s so laid back you hardly recognize him. 

This episode of Oak Island was called The Founding Fathers, its premise being that the Templar treasure with the Ark of the Covenant that we all know is at the bottom of the island’s deep, deep hole was raided to help finance the American Revolution.  A stretch when you consider that all of Nova Scotia was in British hands at the time.  Also a stretch when you consider that our fledgling nation-in-revolt was in constant, hardscrabble debt, rattling the tin cup to anyone who passed by.  But what the hell, Britain and France were constantly at war in the 18th century, leaving them both bankrupt.  Why not play hardball like the big boys? 

And of course they ended up at Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland, with connective tissue so vague as to be absurd.  At this point, you can’t say the word “Freemason” on TV without doing either Rosslyn Chapel or the hidden symbols in the streets of Washington, D.C.  And then they have the gall to wonder why my husband’s email is so cluttered with meandering, scary missives from the anti-Illuminati crowd, vaguely accusing him of being a Satanist.  These types have been hanging around since the Reverend Jedediah Morse climbed into his pulpit and scared hell out of everyone over the Bavarian Illuminati in 1798, though I find no comfort in this. 

However, once you blow away the pixie dust, the history at the core of the typically meandering episode was fascinating.  This constant battle over Nova Scotia where Oak Island sits was part of the incessant naval warfare that characterized the 17th and 18th century, much of it exacerbated by religion, most of it dominated by the battle of the Continental powers for first dibs on all the richest lands to colonize, not to mention the trade routes between.  The British tried to turn Halifax station into another Gibraltar, a major military outpost.  Americans loyal to their King fled to Nova Scotia during the Revolution, while, in the War of 1812, it served as the operations headquarters for the British blockade of over 2,000 miles of American coastline. 

But what was fascinating about this episode of Oak Island was the log entry claimed to have been from one of the ships of the D’Anville Expedition.  Of course, they made it sound shiny and new, though they’ve talked about it in past episodes.  In actuality, this supposed partial log entry has been in the National Archives in France for many years.  You know, like the founding documents of the Priory of Sion, which the Bibliothèque Nationale just comes out and tells you is a forgery.  But tales of a lost treasure of the D’Anville Expedition have been around for at least a century, along with all the requisite ghost stories.  This sort of thing is a treasure hunter’s Holy Grail, though their explanation of it wasn’t very detailed.  The episode had some lovely photography, though. 

The French navy doesn’t have much of a reputation, and to some degree that’s unfair.  I bought a book that just arrived called Napoleon’s Admirals, a brave attempt to shed some light on French naval history by offering biographies of the 26 flag officers listed on the Arc de Triomphe, where the roll-call of French military heroes is vastly outnumbered by the other 634 names of the generals and marshals who fought on land.  Sad to think there wouldn’t be a United States of America if it hadn’t been for the French navy. 

In the show much was made of the expedition leader being a Rochefoucauld, an important family of French nobility.  This particular flag officer was Louis Frédéric de la Rochefoucauld de Roye, the Duc d’Anville of the marine d’état, and he led a massive French force across the Atlantic in what is called the D’Anville Expedition to Acadia.  Though they sound like a bunch of Greek shepherds drinking wine out of goatskins, the Acadians were descendants of the French who colonized the whole area of Quebec, many of them of mixed blood, métissage, just like here in Indiana, in the Metis settlements along the Ohio.  The British eventually tried to drive them out, in what's called the Great Expulsion.  Their descendants still speak a variety of unusual French dialects, including Cajun.

The dogged British had attacked Annapolis Royal in Nova Scotia six times before they finally took it in 1710, setting off the French, who attacked it, almost mystically, another six times, including D’Anville. 

As for the expedition, there’s a reason most people don’t remember any of this, apart from general indifference to history.  The 18th century may have been the Age of Enlightenment, but you’d need a cheat sheet to keep track of all the wars, the mini wars folded, you might say, into the maxis.  This invasion was part of King George’s War, which was part of the War of the Austrian Succession, which bled into the Seven Years War, our French and Indian War, which preceded the Revolutionary and the Napoleonic Wars.  I once did a blog about one of the minis, the comically-named War of Jenkins' Ear, a ten-year naval war between England and Spain in the Indies.  Yes, there was a real ear, cut off a real guy named Jenkins.  These brawls in the Indies were ongoing.  Places like Martinique changed hands between Britain and France so often they didn’t have time to redo the street signs.

This armada was put together to revenge the taking of Louisbourg the year before, after a siege by the British backed up with a force from New England.  In a major snit, D’Anville was tasked with taking back the capital of Annapolis Royal, also called Port Royal, which was very near Louisbourg.  Afterwards, he was supposed to invade New England, burn down Boston, bombard New York, then attack the British West Indies and destroy some major plantations, all before winter set in.  People in Boston were braced for invasion all that summer.  Unfortunately, due to one foul-up after another, D’Anville didn’t even leave France until June, and he didn’t arrive for three months, at which point fall was in the air, and the forces waiting for him in Canada assumed the whole war was cancelled.

D’Anville’s Expedition has long been a textbook example of an epic naval fiasco.  The Oak Island guys said it was 64 ships, my book says 73.  Never mind, just call it a whole bunch of ships.  But due to incompetence, bad judgment and the primal forces of nature, it was a debacle.  Events were typical of grand naval disasters like the Spanish Armada, in which a variety of catastrophes occurred – after a difficult, disease-laden crossing, short on supplies, the men began dying even faster on arrival, of scurvy and various fevers, having also been whacked by a major storm, scattering some of the vessels as far as the Caribbean.  Lightening hit a magazine and blew up one of the ships, at which point a sensible man might have decided that God wasn’t on his side. 

Only half of them ever reached the military objective.  Like the Walcheren Island debacle and so many others, disease was far deadlier than the enemy.  A lot of it may have been typhus.  Some sources say D’Anville died of the disease devouring his men, while others say he had a stroke a week after he arrived.  I guess you can’t blame him.  Days after his death, when the extent of the failure seemed clear, his second-in-command, Vice-Admiral d’Estournelle, retired to his cabin and fell on his own sword.  Even this was muffed, and he survived the suicide attempt.

The whole thing limped to a close, which is why the unsupported supposition of the show has some weight, this being that, if they had treasure, the remnants of the invasion force wouldn’t have wanted to attempt to re-cross the Atlantic with it, where it would surely have ended up the property of King George. 

So, they buried it, on an unnamed island in the bay, according, at least, to the scrap out of a log by an unnamed seaman of an unnamed ship of the fleet.  And this isn’t unheard of in naval history, though it’s a bad tactic, because the buried goods tend to go missing.  Me, I smell another forgery, but I’m a cynic. 

Yes, the whole show gets bilious and silly, and makes wild unsupported statements, particularly in regard of the Templars.  But for me, in the end, I’m in favor of anything that might get a sixteen-year-old kid interested in history.  Of course, what gets lost in all this is the Founding Fathers of the title, who never put in an appearance, except in a few vague connections of Canadian land speculation.  

As for Shatner’s part in it all, it was typical of History.  He walks around in a really bitchin leather jacket, beautifully reading the prepared script as if it just came to him, then he sits in on a conference in the Oak Island War Room, looking both thoughtful and attentive, nodding and occasionally tossing off a “hmm,” or a “wow,” or in extreme cases, an “Oh, really?”  It’s not a bad gig, at his age.  Listen, I’ve had that gig, and I can tell you, it’s not at all bad.  The difference being that I didn’t get paid for it.  I did get a great deal on a really bitchin leather jacket at Overland. 

I’d like to see Chris do more of these shows, which is a bone of contention.  I mean, he ended up on this one because, when History emailed and asked if he could do one, I said he really shouldn’t say no again, as he’s done for several years, because they’ve been so good to us.  And they have been very good to us, especially when Chris was sick.  So, he said yes, to whatever they wanted, and it turned out to be The Curse of Oak Island.  What are you gonna do? 

If you’re interested, Anatomy of a Naval Disaster by Professor James Pritchard is the go-to book on what happened.  To the French navy, at least.  For the treasure, you're on your own. 

 Order Heart's Blood from Amazon.com

The Professor and the Madman and the Mystery of the Funky Little Cap

Read on, but be warned - semantics will drive you nuts. 

Last night, Chris and I watched a film I didn’t even know was in production, The Professor and the Madman, with Mel Gibson and Sean Penn.  It was based on the book of the same name by Simon Winchester, called The Surgeon of Crowthorne in Britain, Crowthorne being the village where Broadmoor is located.  It’s the story of the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary, and the part played in it by two men – Professor James Murray, a great linguist, and Dr. W.C. Minor, a volunteer who played an important role in crafting it, and who also happened to be an inmate at Broadmoor, an asylum for the criminally insane, a thing Murray didn’t know for a decade.  Chris and I are now part of a select group, those who actually saw the film. 

I’m a writer.  The 20-volume Second Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary sits on a pier table behind my desk, and I use it nearly every day.  One of the things that makes it so remarkable is that it attempts to track every single word to its earliest known usage, then to move forward from there through important changes in spelling and usage reflected in quotes from the works where it appears, a monumental task.  On my old historical-word blog, Historiograpy, I never used those initials, OED, without their being followed by Praised Be Its Name.  For anyone who loves English, it’s a master work, an essential, and something of a miracle. 

I bought Winchester’s book over twenty years ago when it was published, and I always thought it would make a terrific film, as with so many other books of what the trade contemptuously calls “popular history.”  Most are ignored by filmmakers.  Apparently, I wasn’t alone in understanding how cinematic a story it is. 

Quite often when a film goes off the rails the reason is all over the trades, but tracking down the complicated story of what happened to this one was a bit tougher.  Apparently, Mel Gibson had dreamed of doing this story for two decades, and it had been in pre-production since at least 2001, when John Boorman and Todd Komarnicki wrote the first screenplay.  To save time, let’s flash forward to 2016, when Gibson’s co-worker on the film Apocalypto, Iranian writer/director Farhad Safina, was brought in to do a fresh version of the screenplay, for a film that was now on the front burner.  Gibson and his Australian partner Bruce Davey have a company, Icon Productions, and as a rule they raise the money on their own for their films and keep creative control.  But this time, tragically, they brought in another company as a production partner, Voltage Productions, headed by French-born Nicolas Chartier, doubtless for the sake of financing.  Chartier is a talented writer/producer and a bit of a hustler.  Maybe Gibson had a lousy lawyer for this one, but it does seem that Voltage, clearly afraid of losing money, stepped in and took over all sorts of things that Gibson claimed had been forbidden them in the original partnership contract, and he promptly sued to have it nullified, and to take back his own film.  This was the case that he lost.  The judge’s public statements sounded confused by it all.  What’s tragic is that the film only cost 25 million.  I know, I know, but in the film business nowadays, that’s practically a low-budget indie.  The film, as it stands now, was, according to Gibson, “a bitter disappointment to me.” 

It began shooting in Dublin back in 2016, but disorder in the court kept it from any release, such as it was, until summer of 2019.  In finding out what really happened, it doesn’t help that, after a long court wrangle between all parties, lawsuits and counter-suits, much of the matter was put under seal.  The director, Farhad Safina, had his name removed from the credits, always an ugly bit of business.  The film’s distributer, Vertical Entertainment, pretty much took it directly to DVD and the small screen, with a limited theatrical release, the hallmark of a disaster in which no one has any confidence, treatment generally reserved for films like Howard the Duck. 

I have a lot of respect for Mel Gibson, which would startle most of my friends, who would invariably bring up what they call “the Jewish thing.”  Yes, I’ve got a thing about the Jews.  Since I was a teenager I’ve studied Hebrew and the Bible and Jewish history, ancient and modern, I’m a complete Zionist pig, and though I’m not fashionably looking for racists under the bed each night, I don’t much care for anti-Semites.  But if the conversation between them was properly recorded by the cop that arrested Gibson on a DUI that night in 2006, I think you’re dealing with a man who was, and perhaps is, in desperate need of help.  Aren’t they all nuts, you ask?  Yep.  Actors are flashfire people who can’t balance their own checkbook, as a rule, and artistic brilliance is often a bitch clawing at your back.  I think what Gibson has going for him as an artist is pathetically rare these days – a fairly good understanding of the sort of film people want to see.  People don’t want to sit through a film depicting Jesus as gay, which is not only complete rot historically, it’s clearly and deliberately provocative, a middle-finger held up in the face of the paying audience. 

The Professor and the Madman is the kind of film people are dying to see.  The reviews for it have been incredibly mixed – the professional trade reviews were savage, as if a vengeful Chartier slipped them cash under the table.  But the reviews from real people, though mixed, were far more positive, a 77% on Rotten Tomatoes.  Take a look at the ones on Amazon.  Many are glowing, and from obviously intelligent viewers.  I think one of the reasons for this is simple.  People are incredibly hungry for films that inspire, films that tell the story of dogged determination and courage, that show a positive view of the partnership of marriage, and that even, horror of horrors, while not being a “Christian” film, occasionally reference the Bible without its being in the hands of a tattoo-covered pederast and serial killer.  This film is all of the above, and so, even in its wounded form, it hit those nerves. 

Okay, let’s take a look at the wreckage, available for viewing on Amazon. 

As we watched, it was with an increasing blend of adoration and frustration.  The story itself is wonderful, begging to be told, and this alone kept it going.  The performances as well are solid, no matter what you might have heard.  Gibson is fine as Murray, the self-taught linguist who left school at 14, clearly making him a threat to academia.  Penn, as well, does a great job, and if he’s a bit over the top at times, the role calls for it.  If I had a minor complaint about the tech, it would be that the sound in many scenes is a bit muddy.  Between Penn’s ramblings and Gibson’s Scottish brogue, some key stuff was difficult to hear, especially when the two start trading off words at lightening speed, an incredibly good idea for a scene that gets hurt by it. 

The major complaint here is that the whole thing has a feel of being slapped together.  Not surprising, in light of its history. 

A director and his editor have what can only be described as a marital relationship.  One of the main bones of contention in the lawsuit is that Voltage claimed the right to control content and brought on a pair of editors to whack down the director’s original two hour-forty minute cut, a thing he was already doing himself.  Safina rightly demanded his original editor, who knew the project, be rehired, and lost this point – the judge, for some reason, found that Voltage had the right to hijack it. 

My Chris was a film editor for years, and he’s got a favorite rant.  Not surprising, to those who know him.  Americans are still the finest film artists on earth, but all through the late 1990s and into the millennium, Chris and I watched as film after film was sunk by two things – a lousy script and bad editing.  Editing was once a very different process.  Each shooting day you put together the rushes of that day’s filming, slowly knitting them together into a workprint.  Workprints were generally screened in a theatre, by a group of people who’d worked on it, in a way similar to what was to come, when the film was released.  Now, editing is one more thing that’s done on a computer, in a little room, quite often all alone.  I once thought this great leap forward was a godsend, and you would too if you’d ever dealt with miles of workprint.  But later, we both began to see something subtle happening.  Films were getting longer, as a rule, films that couldn’t carry two extra reels.  The days of the cleanly-cut 112-minute feature were passing.  Even Jaws, with its epic feel to the last half, came in at a relatively tight two hours under the flagship of the great Verna Fields.  But so many films we saw were coming in at a sloppier two hours twenty minutes, if not longer, and as a rule they weren’t the better for it.  Editors weren’t as good anymore at knowing where to flick off the fat.  Of course, epics were always longer – they had a bigger story to tell.  

That’s why it was so odd, because with The Professor and the Madman, the problem was just the opposite; even at a bit over two hours, it felt too short.  There was a sensation that it had been hurriedly sewn together.  The passage of incredible amounts of time was never conveyed.  Too many story arcs weren’t followed, too many things were left unexplained, things you really wanted to know.  The crescendo moment, when Murray discovers that his long-time correspondent isn’t, perhaps, a doctor at Broadmoor, but rather a murderer and an inmate there, is pushed up way, way too fast, as if they just couldn’t wait to get to it.  The timing is lousy, and the moment loses some of its power for that reason. 

A great supporting cast is wasted – for example, the wonderful actor Ioan Gruffudd, who plays Henry Bradley, another brilliant, self-taught linguist who came on as an assistant and eventually became joint senior editor with Murray.  He’s literally thrown away.  Maybe he had a couple nice little scenes, but they ended up on the floor.  Jennifer Ehle is her usual wonderful as Murray’s wife, and Steve Coogan as his friend and co-worker, Frederick Furnivall, is also especially good.  

I’ll give only one example of the sort of storyline confusion that plagues it here and there, I think the most egregious one.  There were several physicians and “alienists,” doctors who treated lunatic patients, on staff in this period at Broadmoor.  They’re given more detailed treatment in the book, but the only one on film is a Dr. Richard Bayne, a late arrival in reality, thanklessly played by Stephen Dillane.  The character in the film seems to be a composite of all of them.  In the opener, when Minor arrives at Broadmoor, Bayne is played as a soft-spoken, kindly physician with a very modern attitude about madness.  He even points to a chair once used to tie down the insane, brushing it off as a relic of a sad past.  By the end, he’s portrayed as a complete bully and probable nutcase himself, subjecting Minor to some sort of horrid “treatment,” again never explained by anyone, in which Minor’s own hands, in rubber gloves, are forced down his throat until he vomits, while Bayne stands off madly snapping pictures of the whole thing.  In truth, I think the first physician was the kindly Dr. Nicholson, who retired in 1895, having never recovered after an attack from one of his patients, while Bayne was the one who took over for him, after Minor had been a patient for decades.  And yes it’s true, not only that Bayne was a little martinet despised by all, but that, after the grisly incident of Minor cutting off his own penis in the throes of a major breakdown, Bayne came down on him hard, taking away his many privileges and subjecting him to horrific treatment.  The separation of the two, played by two different actors, would have made this all clear, or at least some enlightening dialog.  As it is, it leaves you scratching your head.  It was after this that Murray campaigned for Minor’s release from Broadmoor, going to then-Home Secretary Winston Churchill, and he succeeded.  Minor went home to America, and died in 1920 in Hartford, Connecticut, in an elderly home for the mentally ill. 

Safina’s 2016 screenplay is available online, being Exhibit A in the court case, and I’d love to take the time to read it.  I find myself wondering if much of what I seek, what feels absent on film, is to be found there. 

One of the battles between the two production companies that got reported was that five more shooting days at Oxford were slated, and Voltage denied the funds to do this, or Oxford refused, or both, depending on the article you read.  Clearly Gibson and Safina were right.  It does lack a certain Oxford feel.  I think of the original miniseries of Brideshead Revisited, in which Oxford University is like another character, and, like the great country house of the title, a palpable presence throughout.  Since the OED is one of the ultimate achievements of the oldest university in the English-speaking world, it would have been nice if that were the case for this film. 

Critics often plead for the audience to read the book the film was based on, but in this case it may be your only chance to really get the whole story.  Simon Winchester is a good popular historian, and the book is a quick, fun read.  My only major complaint is that such a work should have no index.  The back of the book contains lots of goodies Winchester calls a “postscript,” but there’s no index, which has grown increasingly common, in the battle over who’s going to pony up the lousy three hundred bucks.  Traditionally, for reasons that pass all understanding, this cost was laid on the author rather than the publisher, and in an increasingly embittered battle between them, with advances at an all-time low, authors are commonly refusing to pay for it, while publishers won’t step into the breach as they damn well should. 

Broadmoor asylum was only nine years old when William Chester Minor was sentenced to it in 1872.  Increasingly judges were sentencing the criminally insane to hospital rather than prison, and, as in America, these were open-ended sentences, with the inmate released at the King’s pleasure.  Minor had been a captain, a medical officer in the Civil War, an educated, well-born man from New Haven, Connecticut who’d been in London only a year when the murder occurred.  The case briefly became something of an international incident.  He’d fled to the Continent to escape his demons, and ended up obsessing on prostitutes and contracting gonorrhea, worsening his sexual fixations, if that was possible.  On the night of the crime he chased brewery worker George Merrett through the streets of Lambeth and gunned him down, admitting at once that he’d shot the wrong man – he was after one of “them.”  He was a paranoid schizophrenic, and in the daytime he could seem perfectly rational.  It was at night that the pixies came, to torture him and sexually abuse him.  Everyone involved knew he was mad as Moses.  Having a regular income, and being neither epileptic nor suicidal, Dr. Minor was sent to Block Two at Broadmoor, which was far nicer, the block for the “swells” in the lingo of the day.  (The way epileptics were treated in institutions is appalling.)  It seems odd to us that he was given so many privileges, but this wasn’t uncommon.  Broadmoor was, for its day, a progressive institution, especially compared to St. Mary of Bethlehem, the “Bedlam” of legend.  He had two rooms, with a paid servant to help keep them clean, all the books and art materials he wanted, even wine and tobacco.  He played the flute, and gave lessons to the other inmates.  The American consul in Britain kept track of his treatment. 

The American consul also put together funds for the widow of his victim, Mrs. Merrett, and her seven children.  Minor’s step-mother contributed to it, while Minor himself gave up part of his stipend from the American army.  Merrett and Minor did develop a relationship, perhaps not as romantic as the one portrayed in the film.  But she did bring him books over the course of many months, apart from the ones he bought himself, and this was how he found out about James Murray and his appeal for volunteers, on a paper tucked into one of them.   

But this is a story, as Winchester says, with two protagonists, and if for no other reason, buy this book to read the biography of James Murray; it will make you feel like a worm.  He was astonishingly brilliant and almost entirely self-educated, what was once called a polymath, a man with too many areas of knowledge to be listed.  But for Murray, language was the siren’s song.  He spoke dozens of them, studying everything from the sheep-counting numerology of the Wowenoc Indians of Maine to the Syriac Peshitta, and he raised himself from an impoverished bank clerk with a dying wife to arguably the most important scholar in the British Empire, taking on a project most had deemed impossible.  Many men worked over the course of seventy long years on the first edition of the OED, but Murray is the one who’s remembered.  The union of these two men, Murray and Minor, is a story worth reading. 

And the film The Professor and the Madman is one worth seeing.  It’s on Amazon Prime with an appallingly cheap price.  Right now, you can buy it for $4.99.  It’s certainly worth that much to screen it for yourself, and take from it all that is good, while you try to forgive what is bad.  In all, it was a noble effort. 

For my own part, I have only one question left, the Mystery of the Funky Little Cap they're both wearing.  It's like that hoary old gag about the pope, "I don't know who the guy in the beanie is, but the other one's Bernie Schwartz."  To my annoyance I can find no reference to it in Winchester’s book, but on the cover is a picture of Dr. Minor, in the garden at Broadmoor.  He’s wearing a funky little cap.  In several famous photographs of James Murray in his scriptorium, he, too, is wearing a similar cap, though his looks more like the four-sided Sir Thomas More cap, a probable precursor to our pasteboard graduation cap.  In More’s day it was some sort of master scholar’s cap that made bilious and silly headlines when Chief Justice Antonin Scalia wore one he’d been given by the Thomas More Society to swear in Obama.  Let the conspiracy theories fly.  Even the website of the Society has only a vague explanation of what the cap means, that it's definitely something academic.  Versions of it are called an Oxford cap or a Tudor cap.  Having never been matriculated by the British university system, I’m much in the dark about its meaning, but I suspect Minor’s cap may have been a gift from Murray.  I’ve spent hours searching, and it’s sort of outrageous that nobody anywhere is even mentioning it, much less explaining it.  Of course, in our present society, scholars don’t rate much ink anyway.  If you really want attention, you have to be a stripper who slept with the president. 

If anyone out there knows about it, I’d love to hear.  I hate hanging chads. 

It's About Architecture

It seems odd to do a post about the first time Chris laughed again, when he was undergoing cancer treatments.  But it’s a story I’d love to get down.  I think it's a keeper. 

I really loathe academia.  I have an unfortunate way of speaking, a thing I can’t control, that gets me labeled an academic, all the time.  Maybe it’s because I do history, but even in high school they used to needle me by calling me “the Professor.”  But hate them I do, more with every year that passes. 

There are basically two kinds of books out there on the subject of history.  One is contemptuously labeled “popular history,” because what academics despise about it is that anyone can read it.  It’s my very favorite sort of book, a genre that uplifts and one that constantly produces classics, as, for example, all the works of Barbara Tuchman, particularly A Distant Mirror and The Guns of August. 

The other kind is academic histories.  When you write historical fiction, you quite often end up forced to read them, because you need oddball information that only academics have ever covered in depth.  Academic histories, many of them outgrowths of a PhD thesis, are, first of all, grotesquely expensive as a rule.  Some have a startling price tag, I’m talking over two hundred bucks, and you know instantly that this book is being foisted on kids for a class somewhere, so money is no object, at least, not for them.

The other aspect of academic histories is far more disturbing, this being that the authors, every man-jack of them, are Marxists.  No, I don’t mean “liberals,” and I don’t even mean “Leftists.”  I mean hard-core political officers for Communism, running a constant litmus test on other works that may admit a little free thought.  For example, one book I needed was called The Beginnings of Commercial Sporting Culture in Britain, 1793 – 1850.  I was writing about boxing in the Regency.  Took me nine months to find a copy that was under a hundred bucks.  But I did find, online, the author being excoriated for the capitalist ideology he’d allowed to creep into his work, forcing him to come online and defend his Marxist credentials. 

Sure, I had Communist professors back in the 1980s.  It was already de rigeur for the fashionable pedagogue.  But we were still a long way from people being fired because they weren’t Marxists. 

God had been kind to me up to this point, and I mercifully knew nothing of the feminist concept of The Gaze, wherein men, i.e. the Patriarchy, dehumanize Women, i.e. the Victims, by gazing at them, for the gaze becomes an expression of the asymmetry of social and political power.  In other words, if you’re a man and you look at a woman, you’re a pig.

I needed a book on Regency architecture, and I was about to get a crash course in Gazing.  The pickings were lean, and the only promising one I could find was entitled The Pursuit of Pleasure.  The author, Jane Rendell, came out of something called Matrix, a “feminist architectural cooperative,” with, of course, a non-hierarchical management structure, and a passionate belief that women are oppressed by spaces designed by men.  Okay.  She says up front that this history of the great Regency pleasure haunts was written around two works, one being Life in London by Pierce Egan, the other an essay by French feminist Luce Irigaray, 'Women on the Market.'  Egan was a sportswriter, and his popular book, written in 1823, is a comic tale of Tom and Jerry and Bob Logic and their sprees through Regency London, a vital work to understanding the slang of the period.  Irigaray, adored by the author, is a “phallocentrist,” believing that the world and everything in it is designed and organized around the male sexual organ.  It says everything about this book that Egan is mentioned in second place, after several pages lauding Irigarary.  What dismayed me was that all this personal garbage that should have been in a preface was designated Chapter 1, implying I was about to get a very long dose of it. 

I’m working on a blog post about Life in London, a really fun book.  For now suffice it to say that the wise King Solomon was wise indeed when he said there’s nothing new under the sun, including dreary political correctness.  Despite the incredible popularity of his work, including the stage show based on it, there was grumbling in various dictatorial Victorian quarters about the sexual freedom of the book, not to mention all the drinking and the gambling.  In 1828 Egan wrote his mea culpa, The Finish to the Adventures of Tom and Jerry, and to his career as well.  In this book all his beloved characters die, most of them of a social disease.  No, I’m not kidding.  Only Jerry survives, to return home to Hawthorne Hall in the clean-green English countryside and be properly married, and nevermore visit the evil stewpots of London town.  I think it sold about fifty copies.

What’s annoying to me about this sort of feminist screed isn’t just the incessant ragemongering over events two centuries in the past, getting all steamed over a culture literally gone with the wind.  What really bugs me is the self-indulgent tendency to take something simple that’s understood by anyone with a nodding acquaintance with the past, that something in this case being that in the 19th century there were places ladies didn’t go if ladies they wished to remain, and spend page after page ruminating on it in cryptic language, until you just want to pull your teeth out.

But I was trying, I really was.  

In the old days, before Chris got sick, we used to read to each other quite often.  Apart from interest, it was a way to get your thoughts out, and to hear one another’s opinions on a work that needed to be thoroughly understood.  Of course, I hadn’t done this in some time.  But Chris was always a bug on design, and had read many books on the subject.  I was so curious to see what he thought, that I went back to the bedroom and sat on the bed and asked if he’d listen for a minute. 

He was pretty listless, but he said he was willing, so I gave it a shot, starting with a passage that had me doing a lot of head scratching.  I wanted to see if it sounded like bullshit to someone else, or was I just not getting it.  The following was on the subject of historical documents and representations of buildings that “marginalize women’s relation to public space.” 

Representations of space or architecture may also be gendered, not only through the inhabitation of space by men and women as geography or anthropology would suggest, but also through representations of such patterns of occupation.  Representations of cities and individual buildings too may be gendered, both in terms of their formal similarities to biological bodies in shape, colour, texture, but also in relations to other gendered notions, such as domesticity.  For example, in associating the city with the feminine or the labyrinthine, connections have often been made between the chaos of the city, the uterine form of the female body and the patriarchal notion of the unknown, or the other, as an unknowable entity.  In order to look at the ways in which gender is structured and represented in signifying systems, feminist theory has used psychoanalytic as well as semiotic models.  Feminist art historians in particular have drawn on psychoanalytic concepts in order to discuss how subjectivity is sexually differentiated, and how gender difference is structured by the relations of looking and being looked at, desiring and being desired. 
I hadn’t finished, but here he stopped me, and I looked up.  He was just staring at me.  He blinked a couple times, then kept on staring, until he finally asked, “What did you say this book was about?” 

“Regency architecture.” 

He blinked again, and then his mouth got very stiff.  I thought maybe he was mad about something, then for a second I thought he was in pain.  Finally his shoulders started to shake, and fairly soon his face was red, his eyes were watering, and he was laughing so hard he knocked his chemo bag off the nightstand.

It fell, of course, into the Hodapp lexicon.  Now, when we’re on the road, and we drive past some postmodernist piece of brutalist Soviet architecture by some nimrod like Thom Mayne, Christopher starts bitching, and I always remind him that at least it’s gendered with a uterine form in a healthier dialectical relationship of society and space, and I get a smile.  Makes the drive more pleasant.  

Thom Mayne may have his PC credentials, but I'm sorry,
this high school in Pomona he designed constitutes a phallus.
In fact, it may constitute rape. 

We're getting warmer. Though the architect said it was a limp phallus. 

We've arrived! Model for Endless House, by Friedrick Kiesler. He said he designed it on a uterus.
Maybe he never actually saw one. At any rate, no one ever ponied up to have it built. 

What is a Tory, anyway?

Or for that matter, what’s a Whig? 

They’re both good questions, but I think, even in distant America, “Whig” is a vague term, despite the fact that we once had Whigs of our own.  But the British word “Tory” has always been loaded.  The image above gives you a rough idea of what revolutionary Americans thought of them, using the elimination method the French called á la lanterne! or hang them from the nearest Liberty Tree.  But really, even in 21st century America, the word Tory just sounds like a snotty, brandy-sniffing aristocrat, the Powers That Be.  I remember, back in high school, when I once saw Tories defined as Catholic rebels against the king.  It left me scratching my head. 

The word Tory started out as slang for an outlaw, with a layer of cheap racial shot to boot. 

When we watch British historical drama, Americans are confused about the difference between a Tory and a Whig.  I think even some of the writers of Regency period romances don’t really understand it.  It isn’t surprising; it’s hard enough sometimes to understand the difference between a Democrat and a Republican, particularly because, at this moment in time, our two parties are undergoing a seismic shift, though not for the first time.  People forget that the political party that gets the overwhelming number of African-American votes in this nation was, for a century, the party of slavery and Jim Crow.  But in 1900, it would have been nearly impossible to find a black man who didn’t vote Republican. 

Something similar has occurred over the course of the last three centuries in Britain with Whigs and Tories.  In the period I write about, the Regency, roughly 1790 to 1820, the Tories were the party of King and Stability, while the Whigs were the party of Parliament and Change.  Even then that’s a very, very broad brush.

During the entirety of the Regency the Whigs were out of power, an opposition party, but throughout the 1700s they were calling the shots – it was the Whigs who put a foreigner on the throne, George I, a Hanoverian who couldn’t even speak English, because he was a Protestant and therefore acceptable to them.  In that period, there wasn’t much concern for Catholic civil rights in the Whig party. 

I’m going to make this pill as easy as possible to swallow, but you won’t get any of this without a brief thrill ride through British history.  It begins with the bloody English Civil War.  When Cromwell won it, he had the Stuart king, Charles I, beheaded, in 1649, and ruled for more than a decade as “Lord Protector.”  When England got fed up with the grim reign of Cromwell and his Puritans, they put the son of Charles I on the throne, in the Restoration, though they remained a Protestant country.  Charles II was a gay blade, with more mistresses and bastard children than the stars in the sky, but no legitimate heir except his brother.  Charles believed in religious freedom, but he was a Catholic in his heart.  Unfortunately his brother James, who came to the throne as James II when Charles died, wasn’t a Catholic on the quiet, as the wise Charles – he was belligerently open about it.  The first shots in the new war of religion were fired within six months of his coronation.  James was a lousy king and a major pill, with all the diplomatic finesse of a Hun.  He was tossed off the throne in favor of his Protestant daughter Mary and her husband, William of Orange.  (Charles II wisely had his two nieces, Mary and Anne, raised as Anglicans.)  Parliament decreed that no Catholic could sit on the British throne.  The men who engineered all this were the Whigs, and the 1700s was the great age of their power. 

Along with the Whigs, there were already Tories around.  Since before the death of Charles I, a “tory” was a brutal and murderous Irish highwayman.  In the old Gaelic tory means “pursuit,” with hostile intent.  In those days, right or wrong, when a Brit thought “Catholic,” he thought “Irish.” Some of James’ supporters at Court actually were Irish.  It was an easy slam against your enemies, to label them a bunch of ragged Catholic thugs – hence the term “Tory.”  The Whigs tried others at first, especially “bogtrotters,” another slam on the Irish, but Tory was the word that stuck. 

The entire century from the ousting of James until the mid-1700s was marked by incessant rebellions, the many attempts to put James’ son, and then his grandson, the Old Pretender and the Young Pretender, onto the throne.  It ended with the great uprising of 1745, which was soon put down, in their rout at Culloden, and the Young Pretender, Bonnie Prince Charlie, escaped to the Continent to drink himself to an early death.  But those who wanted to put the Stuarts back on the throne were not necessarily Catholic.  Many were, particularly those of high Stuart blood, while others were passionate monarchists who believed that God put the Stuarts on the throne, and Man had no right to object.  They were called Jacobites, a word so easily confused with “Jacobin,” the violent revolutionaries in France.  It was a name they took from the Latin for James, Jacobus.  In the end it didn’t win them any friends that so often their revolts were backed by England’s perennial enemy, Catholic France. 

It’s interesting that even in Francis Grose’ slang dictionary, written in 1785, he defines Tory not only as “An advocate for absolute monarchy and church power,” but secondarily as “An Irish vagabond, robber or rapparee.”  Rapparee is another word for an Irish bandit; a rapparee was a short half-pike, a weapon used by the Irish guerrilla fighters who gave Cromwell such grief, and later by Irish highwaymen who were veterans of these wars.  Which means that decades after the last of the Jacobite wars, the negative connotation of the word was hanging around, understood by all. 

Actually, both words were once derogatory slang terms.  The origin of “whig” is debated.  Some tie it to the term “whiggamore,” which was a cattle driver, and the political roots of the word seem solid, since the Whiggamores staged a famous march on Edinburgh, in opposition to a faction of their own party of Scottish Covenanters with ties to the King.  But the Oxford English Dictionary sticks to its guns, that these are two separate words, and that the political party called Whigs got their name from slang for impoverished Scots who drank whey milk, something like buttermilk.  In either case, whig definitely carried the connotation of a country bumpkin, with a subtext of both radical and rebel. 

In the Regency the Whigs were led by the great Charles James Fox, and they were known then as the “party of the buff and the blue,” these being the colors of George Washington’s uniform, colors they wore to show their sympathy for American rebels.  Ironically, even the Prince Regent claimed, at least, to be one of them, probably to annoy his father, who was too nuts at that point to notice.  The just-as-great William Pitt was leader of the Tories, bulwark of King George.  These parties shifted over time, in a complex fashion, and lightening issues like the Corn Laws could cause tectonic shifts of allegiance.  Historically, the wealthiest of the aristocrats and the poorest of the peasantry were the passionate party of the King, and this was true for later Tories, who favored the small landholders, the yeoman class of farmers, as well as some of the gentry.  The high middling classes were often Whigs, as well as some of the great aristocratic families, and wealthy industrialists, all of them backing Parliament against royal autonomy.  It’s strange that the Whigs, who so despised the Catholics, eventually became the party of Catholic emancipation, as well as supporters of the so-called Dissenters, the many other Christians who weren’t Anglicans, all of whom lived under some very degrading laws.  Although it was a Tory, the Iron Duke, Wellington, who pushed the Act of Catholic Emancipation through Parliament.  The Whigs as a party died out in Britain in the 1860s, though there’s been a recent attempt to revive them.  The Labour Party became the fighting liberals, in opposition to conservative Tories, the name that, once again, stuck. 

So the next time you’re watching Masterpiece Theatre, trying to follow the Whig/Tory grudge match, just remember they were the Irish highwaymen versus the bumpkin Scots, labels they both wore with pride. 

Dutchy's Book Reviews

Wanted to shout out a thank you to a great site, Dutchy's Book Reviews. Witzia Raspe is a book reviewer in the Netherlands who does several sites, and this one was great fun. We have a lot in common in our taste in novels, with lots of romance and mystery in the Barbary Wars and the Ottoman Empire.  Witzia posted my first review for Heart's Blood on NetGalley, and it was such a shot in the arm for a very nervous author.  She's just incredible. 

Letter From Mollie

I always loved the 1981 book Intimate Sex Lives of Famous People, which included everyone from Rousseau to W. C. Fields, a project so big Irving Wallace brought in the whole family to help him write it. Wallace knew that lots of famous people had miserable love lives – it goes with the territory. So he added a short and charming final chapter, showcasing some incredibly happy marriages, including Jack Benny, Robert E. Lee, Louis Pasteur and Walt Disney. He called it “And They Lived Happily Ever After.” When my copy started falling apart, and I saw a new edition had come out in 2008, I ordered it, despite the claim it had been “updated.”

It wasn’t updated; it was assassinated. Actually, most of it was the same, but for a few additions like Kurt Cobain, be still my heart. But the entire last chapter had simply been axed. Why? My guess is that the original publishers, Delacorte Press, a division of the mighty Random House, had no interest in doing a new edition, and the politically-correct mavens at the ultra-hip, underground Feral House Publishing that did do it had no interest in the subject of what makes a happy marriage. In fact, I’ve no doubt the whole idea of a happy marriage offended them.

To my fury, one of the things that got cut was a postscript called Letter From Mollie, that was just jaw-dropping. Most victims of a public education think all sex was missionary position and just plain lousy until 1968, despite ample evidence to the contrary. This letter was written around 1882, from a young newlywed named Mollie, who lived "back East." Having promised to let her cousin Julia in Northern Mines, California, know what to expect on her wedding night, a common thing between close friends and sisters, she mailed a graphic and delightful description of her own. I wish I could have found a picture of the letter itself, but it's in private hands. It made me feel so great, and I wanted to share it.

Incidentally, it is reproduced here with most of its punctuation, or lack of it, in place. Spelling, too, was more a matter of opinion in those days. It’s not a spoiler. It only adds to the charm of this remarkable billet doux. However, I did throw in a couple periods, as an aid to the first-time reader.

My dear cousin Julia
I am now with much pleasure about to fulfill my promise of writeing to you after the consumation of my marriage with Albert so you may have some Idea of the thing when you and Harry are united which I hope will be soon. You will please remember this is strictly confidential if we were not so intimate I would not write so plain but you know when we were together what one did the other knew so I will keep nothing back from you. Albert and I where married day before yesterday our minister E. Hodge performed the ceremony. All of our folks were present and nothing occured to mar the pleasures of the day all went off as weddings generaly do with fun frolicking cackes & wine &c. 
But oh dear Julia you can but faintly comprehend the felicity I have experienced since that ever to be remembered night. I thought I had some Idea of the enjoyment of married life but I was a novice in the mystries I will now endevor to give you a faint description of our married life. The first night I lay with my dear Albert a thrilling sensation shot with the rapidity of lightning through my entire system. Oh-the bliss of that moment So sensitively alive it excelled any thing I had ever experienced it was superlatively nice. We lay a few moments enfolded in each others embrace our naked bodies in close contact for by some unaccountiable means my night clothes had all slipped above my waist. My blood boiled and rushed through my frame like molten lava my prespiration ceased entirely at entervals and my head throbed almost to bursting. A dizziness amounting almost to stupeifeication over came me a felcitiy not to be expressed in words. My breath seemed to leave my body I felt paralysed and lay motionless and calm as some southern sea on a still summer morn. When as to test the utmost tension of my nerves Albert took my hand and by degrees (I did not resist I suspected his intentions) in tremulous excitement conveyed it down his body until it came in contact with his-0! Heavens the thrilling sensation of that moment you know what I mean. It was swollen to an enormous size my hand immediatley and tenaciously grasped it though I declare it was as much as I could do to fairly span it. The soft velvet like feeling of its head gave additional impulse to my already excited feelings When to cap the climax of my felicity he gently raised himself on one knee and with the other between my thighs he separated my legs so as to admit his body between them and then in a moment he was gently heaving up and down with an undulating motion when I felt it enter my person. When the head entered it appeared to me that I was attacked with a spasm for I raised with sudden emotion as he bore down on me and this mutualy kept up had the effect of driving it quite into my person and then a shock suddenly passed through me as if from a galvanic battery a dizziness overcame me my eyes closed my bosom heaved my arms relaxed my perspiration ceased I was actually gone for I fainted. 
When conciousness returned Albert was hugging & kissing me clasping me in his arms in the estacy of the moment I forgot all the world except my dear Albert we lay quite exhausted for about twenty minutes when he again conveyed my hand to that Dear member that had given me so much pleasure. It was some what less in size but as soon as it felt the pressure of my hand it resumed its original proportion. Albert made another attempt to raise himself upon me but I begged him more from delicacy than disinclination to desist wich kind soul as he is he did but I could not long resist for he thrust in between my thighs and kissed me so that longer resistance was impossible and I once more yeilded to his solicitation. I did not faint this time though the pleasurable sensations were more acute than the first. I would sooner have risked my soul's salvation than to have had Albert withdraw from his embrace. I was some what sore and stiff in my parts next day but at present I feel as chirp as a squirrel. I think he has done the work for me I think I am pregnant. Now dear Julia the day is coming to a close and I must conclude this letter for I expect Albert at any moment and I would not for the world have him know what I have been writing to you so good bye for the present and in my next I will tell you more of the pleasures of married life. Give my love to Anna T Uncle and inquiring friends. 
I remain your affectionate cousin Mollie

Heart's Blood: Kindle finally working at Amazon

Amazon's running like a well-oiled machine full of sand right now
After four days of exchanging cryptic messages with the far off exotic shores of distant lands — a Malaysian chatbot — Amazon finally has the Kindle edition of Heart's Blood up and running four days AFTER my official launch day. The B&N Nook version was working on Day One, as was the AppleBooks version. But I suspect this is the byproduct of 10,000 new employees at Amazon in two months and the apocalyptic deluge of business they've had to deal with during the COVID shutdown.
We're still trying to get Amazon to connect the Kindle listing to the paperback edition, but at least it can now be found on their site.

And there was much rejoicing.

Interview: I Love Romance Blog

A great way to officially kick off the start date of Heart's Blood sales today. My first romance blog interview was published this morning by Marie Lavender on her I Love Romance blog! Many thanks to Marie for spotlighting me and the book. She even poked around and found the early NetGalley and Goodreads reviews for the book. She packed an awful lot of information into a single post, and that was a nice surprise. 

In addition to running her romance blog, Marie is a multi-genre author of twenty-one books that include historical romance, contemporary romance, romantic comedy, paranormal romance, fantasy, romantic suspense, science fiction, dramatic fiction, mystery/thriller, literary fiction and poetry. The breadth of her books is downright astonishing! 

Thanks again, Marie! You made my day.

'Heart's Blood' by Alice Von Kannon Released Today

As Robert Burns famously penned, 'the best-laid plans o' mice and men often go astray... An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain.' 
He must have had a book scheduled to be published during a global pandemic, too.

My new historical novel Heart's Blood is set for release today, April 21st, from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and most every major and minor bookseller. It seemed like a terrific date last November when we picked it, but now most of us are trapped in our own homes waiting out the quarantine period.

I've written and published other books over the years —maybe you've read the 'For Dummies' books I co-authored with my husband, Christopher Hodapp. But Heart's Blood has always been my problem child, so naturally, it is coming out at the strangest possible moment in modern history.

Heart's Blood is a sweeping historical novel set in 1803 that combines romance, adventure, murder and mystery against a backdrop of Salem, Massachusetts in its greatest age of sailing ships and exploration. It's the sort of sprawling story that made historical romance the most popular genre in the world, yet no one wants to publish those anymore. Even though the world is still full of people who want to read them.

I hope that includes you.

The past is like a foreign country - they do things differently there. Historical romance novels used to be million-sellers because they captured an exciting time and place and transported their enraptured readers into it. I believe that the story I tell of Captain Issac McCallister and artist Eleanor Hampton will capture your heart and imagination just as those captivating novels of the past once did.

Despite three agents who believed in this book over the course of a decade, they were never able to shepherd it into print. More than one publishing house reluctantly rejected it after long, tortured meetings on the grounds that they just didn't know how they'd sell it. It didn't fit the chokehold pattern the romance genre has become, at least according to the Big Five publishers. It was smart and sexy and well researched – but it just didn't have any English dukes in it. And yet, every time a hard-edged professional in the publishing business or another author would read the manuscript, they'd all ask, over and over, why hasn't this been published?

Well, it has now.

Heart's Blood by Alice Von Kannon

It is 1803, and the village of Salem, once known only for the dark horrors of its witch trials, is now a cosmopolitan seaport, the richest city in America. But in many ways, Salem is still a small village. Everyone knows that Captain Issac McCallister lost his mind in the desert, five years a slave in Barbary. He is a damaged man, looking for a reason to go on living.

He finds it when he meets Eleanor Hampton, a hard-headed New Englander living on his property. Isaac is bewitched by this determined, gifted woman, while Eleanor is unexpectedly drawn to him. He's not the man she expected—there is a gallantry in Isaac that couldn't be snuffed out by the hell of Algerian slavery. But Issac's unexpected proposal of marriage sets dark forces out of the past into motion, resulting in a stunning betrayal and a brutal murder. And as her passion for her enigmatic husband consumes her, Eleanor finds there's no danger she's unwilling to face to save him from the hangman.

ADVANCE PRAISE FOR HEART'S BLOOD "An engrossing tale of navigating new love and finding one’s way back home after a perilous journey." - Kirkus Reviews"Intimacy versus desire is explored in depth in HEART'S BLOOD, a sprawling historical romance by Alice Von Kannon, as Isaac and Eleanor learn to fully love each other, not only in body but also in soul." - Indie Reader

Paperback: 480 pages
Price: $8.99
Publisher: MCP Books (April 21, 2020)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1545674582
ISBN-13: 978-1545674581

The paperback is deliberately priced at a paltry $8.99 because I want people to actually buy it and read it, review it, pass it to their neighbors, and tell their friends. It's been available for pre-sale for several months and it should start shipping today. Amazon will also be offering the Kindle edition as of today.

For more about how and where to order 'Heart's Blood,' visit my website's book page HERE.