Creativity And Intellectual Property

The history of Disney’s attitude towards intellectual property is a case of humor and irony, and more than a little hypocrisy. At the beginning of Disney’s history, intellectual property rights were far more limited than they are now. And this was exploited heavily, as old fairy tales were reinterpreted in a more family-friendly way and ended up making Walt Disney a fair amount of money. It is easy to forget these origins now when Disney is a massive owner of intellectual property and wants to make sure that no one can do to its property what Walt Disney and early animators did in reinterpreting existing stories. It is hard to remember where we once were when we become the holders of great intellectual property, and this leads us to be unjust to those who are not as far along in the process as we are. And while Disney’s case is particularly fierce, this is not an unusual issue.

Let us look at the Disney problem of creativity and intellectual property in a more familiar but also smaller form. Let us examine the Beatles. The Beatles began their career as very young musicians who were fascinated to learn individual chords and who were immensely fond of the R&B and early rock music that was coming out of America that was as of yet unfamiliar to many in England. Their time in Liverpool and especially their time in Hamburg allowed them to play covers (and some originals) over and over again, and even their early albums were quite full of cover versions of songs that they admired and appreciated. It was through the practice and performance of thee covers that first John Lennon and Paul McCartney and then George Harrison and to a lesser extent Ringo Starr were able to demonstrate creativity. By the time that the band was recording in the mid-1960’s and beyond, the cover songs largely vanish and increasing ambition, including suites of songs blending together as well as concept albums, demonstrate increasing originality that would in turn inspire other people.

This is not an uncommon thing. We hone our craft first by imitation, by learning the mechanics of something without originality, trying to work through the solutions that other people have come to before. Once we work through these things we then come to better understand how things work and then, sometimes through intuition, come to understand what works and then eventually come to work through problems of increasing originality, the extent of which is dependent on a variety of factors. That said, it does seem rather frustrating to many people that genuine talent and expertise comes from mastering the known and developing a sense of understanding what is unknown. This is what separates mastery from a celebration of the outsider and amateur, who does things that experts do because of a lack of expertise in how things should work, which is what happens when we try to short-circuit the process of developing expertise while we are trying to demonstrate creativity.

It is worthwhile to note that this sort of thing applies across all kinds of art. Art, it should be understood, is something that requires the skill and expertise, as well as the creativity, of the people involved. There are many ways that artistic problems manifest themselves. We can attempt to solve problems in the external world, for example, customer requirements, or the desire to capture verisimilitude. We can attempt to solve problems in the interior world, bringing what is inside of us to the understanding of others, by no means an easy task. We can work in a variety of mediums. We work with a variety of goals in mind, with a different degree of permanence to our solutions. And if we have done what we do well, we will leave behind something that we can feel proud about, something that we can answer for without feeling a sense of shame, and something that resonates with other people as well. These are hard to accomplish in their entirety, but they demonstrate what happens when we have become a master at something. It is a great shame that this mastery can be thwarted by intellectual property concerns, as people forget what got them to where they are.

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Book Review: Reading To Make A Difference

Reading To Make A Difference: Using Literature To Help Students Speak Freely, Think Deeply, And Take Action, by Lester L. Laminack and Katie Kelly

This book really made me upset, because it demonstrated the absence of moral and intellectual soundness on the part of teachers who adopt the leftist approach to contemporary elementary education. This book is a course in the hypocrisy and double standards of education, and in fact demonstrates persuasively (if unintentionally) that the political concerns of contemporary education are a major reason for the failure in the education of America’s youth. There is little to this book that demonstrates speaking freely, thinking deeply, or taking meaningful action to the deep problems of our contemporary world. However, the freedom to parrot contemporary political correctness, the illusion of deep-thinking by adopting the characteristic obsessions of the contemporary left, and encourages the sort of slactivism that makes people think of themselves as generous and enlightened for believing in the misguided worldview of the contemporary left. It is unclear, though, the extent to which this book is intentional in these failings. Are the authors are that they are being massive hypocrites and are pawning off counterfeit freedom in lieu of the freedom to question and critique and correct contemporary follies? Or are they so blinded by their ideology that they actually believe themselves to be enlightened guides to wisdom? I suspect it is the latter.

This book is a short one of about 150 pages or so. The book begins with a list of online videos, acknowledgements, and an introduction that seeks to bridge an understanding of ourselves and others that reads like Marxist struggle sessions where the authors apologize for their upbringing and background. After this comes the eight chapters of the main contents of the book, beginning with a chapter on the contemporary leftist obsession with identity politics (1), After that comes a chapter on making unlikely friends (2), which again emphasizes the contemporary obsession with identity as well as the importance to people of being allies to bolster their own ego. This is followed by a chapter on coping with loss (3) that could be argued as a way that leftist teachers traumatize youth so as to better manipulate them through getting them to focus on outrage. This is followed by a chapter that emphasizes the inability of the contemporary left to properly respect boundaries and borders (4), as well as chapters that demonstrate the shrill focus on advocating and protesting for undesirable cultural change (5). The last three chapters of the book focus on things that make contemporary leftists feel like good people, sharing when one has little to give (6), honoring others (7), unless they happen to be Christian white men, I suppose, and then lending a helping hand (8), after which the book ends with various resources that the authors recommend.

It is hard to tell whether this book is directly cynical or merely self-deceived in its approach. For example, the authors show teachers taking control of classes while not claiming that they are taking control. The book as a whole repeatedly demonstrates extreme verbal irony, where the authors urge respect for the identities of others while having already demonstrated (in the introduction) an extreme and lamentable degree of self-hatred for having been raised in decent families of white people, as if that was a bad thing. The author’s unwillingness to show to Christians the same degree of respect that is shown to Muslims, to men the same degree of honor shown to women, to whites the same degree of concern for honor and respect that is given to various minorities, and various obsessive concerns with supposed sexual minorities without giving the same degree of respect to heteronormativity suggests that the contemporary left is highly concerned with presenting an inverse world that turns what is in fact normal and acceptable into what is rejected as outside, and vice versa, not realizing that this perpetuates the sort of injustice that the authors and others of their ilk consider themselves above, but alas are not.

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Book Review: Reading Judas

Reading Judas: The Gospel Of Judas And The Shaping Of Christianity, by Elaine Pagels and Karen L. King

The authors of this book have a lot of mistaken ideas, and a great deal of those problems relate to the problem of authority. The authors are of the mistaken opinion that they and other self-professed biblical scholars have authority to weigh in on the Bible as judges and authorities as to what is reasonable and authoritative, rather than being disabused of these notions and recognizing that they are subject to the authority of God and of His scriptures. The Bible is not in the dock, God is not in the dock, but we are in the dock. From this fundamental misapprehension the general problems of this work (and many other similar works of biblical criticism) extend. The quality of people and of their worldviews can be determined by the quality of their authorities, and those who would prefer the Gospel of Judas with its attempts to make villains into heroes and to attack the bodily resurrection as well as the basic equality of mankind by claiming that some people are spiritual and intellectual elites (certainly appealing to those whose falsely profess themselves to be wise) tend to praise works like the Gospel of Judas and the bogus reasoning of the gnostics.

This book is a short one and is divided into two parts that are a bit more than 150 pages long. The book begins with an introduction that sets up the authors’ point of view. After that comes four chapters that look at how the authors read Judas in his pseudonymous gospel as well as in the actual Gospels, where the authors violate the hermeneutic of charity that governs wise readings of the Bible. These include a question of whether Judas was a betrayer or a favored disciple (1), the troubled relationship between Judas and the rest of the twelve (2), the question of sacrifice as well as the life of the Spirit (3), and the authors’ views of the mysteries of the kingdom (4). The second part of the book is then contains the Gospel of Judas with an English translation as well as some commentary on the gospel by one of the authors and an index of cross-references. The book then ends with notes, acknowledgements and an index. These notes, of course, are heavily based on opinion, as is most of the book, to a degree quite high for this sort of work.

Even if I have few nice things to say about the Gospel of Judas or the authors or others who tend to support this sort of book, it is not as if the book is entirely without value. If the book is certainly not Christian and not biblical, it does demonstrate the way that those who wish to be considered as Christians without in fact following Christ and who are highly resentful of the redemption of the flesh and of the sacrifice for sin and of the suffering that is involved in following God demonstrate their frustration with the way that the world works. Sometimes there can be value in reading what people have to say not because they have any authority, but because of how what they say and believe speaks about the quality of their worldview and belief system. And again, the Gospel of Judas is not particularly impressive. It demonstrates a failed attempt at revisionism and also demonstrates that the ancient mutual hostility between Christianity and its fraudulent imitators is certainly a problem in the present-day. The fact that the author sees such layers of meaning in such a modest achievement as this book and cannot see the layers of multiple meaning in the Gospels and their different perspectives is not surprising but is demonstrative of a particular lack of insight.

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In Defense Of Bad Novels: Part Three

Previously, we have discussed the need to defend bad novels in general as well as the worth that bad novels have in providing worthwhile questions that deserve answers. It is important at this point to consider that there are still other grounds on which bad novels have some worth. It is not only that bad novels raise good questions that deserve good answers, but also that the existence of bad novels can reveal the preoccupations of a given place and time. This is worth exploring in detail, as the very plague of bad novels of certain kinds that exists is more useful than often meets the eye, as it can be said that the large supply of bad novels indicates the demand for such things. And while such a demand cannot exactly be praised, it should at least be understood. The more we understand, the more we can understand other people and ourselves and what motivates us.

From where I sit as I watch this, to my right there is a bookshelf crowded with books, and two sorts of books on the bookshelf (which is not mine) are especially instructive. On the one hand, there are a few novels here written by Louis L’Amour, various Westerns, some of which I have read and enjoyed, as I am fond of Westerns. Unfortunately, there is at present little demand for Westerns. While the frontier of the United States was officially closed in 1890, the internal development of the United States through railroads and road and air transportation took several more decades, and it was another seventy or eighty years after the official close of the frontier that Westerns ceased to be immensely powerful, as the problems and concerns that they dealt with were no longer in the mind of a large amount of Americans, to the point where now Westerns are of little interest at all to the general public.

On the other hand, I have near me a lot of bad novels of a different kind. Admittedly, the Western novels are not bad, but the same cannot be said for the suite of novels that purports to be focused on the revelation of end time prophecy. These novels reveal an audience that wants to speculate about prophecy and isn’t willing to let these sorts of things take care of themselves. This does imply, though, that there is an audience of people who want to read about Bible prophecy and fancy that they have themselves solved it through the speculations made by bad novelists. This has led to a wide variety of apocalyptic literature that purports to give certain speculative interpretations of Bible prophecy, including such atrocities as the Left Behind series. Again, though, this bad literature exists for a reason, and that is the curiosity of people and their desire to speculate about things they have no proper understanding of.

It is at this point that we ought to discuss among the largest sources of bad literature that exist, and that is fundamental drives that people have. For example, it is of little surprise that terrible romance novels are so common because of the way that love is such a major concern for humanity as a whole. Interestingly enough, the characteristic fears and longings of people helps to explain the way that genres gain and lose popularity, and why it is, for example, that we have dystopian fiction that live out our fears about the corruption and evil of governments. This suggests that bad fiction is not always bad in the same way–romance novels are bad in part because they give people terrible advice and counsel about how to deal with longings that we have to be loved, and dystopian fiction novels are bad in part because they exaggerate the sort of fears as well as feelings of being saviors that young people have. All of this ought to remind us even more that bad literature has its uses, and these uses are not always immediately straightforward to us.

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Book Review: Helter Skelter

Helter Skelter: The True Story Of The Manson Murders, by Vincent Bugliosi with Curt Gentry

This is a book that was written by the prosecutor of the initial Manson cases, and this book makes for sure a thorough case against Manson and his associates and ends up proving to be quite critical of the LAPD in particular for their lax attitude about following up clues and tips given to them by people, including other law enforcement organizations, including the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office, who was investigating two related murders while the LAPD was investigating the Tate murders. The author does a good job at laying out his case as well as his frustrations and fascination with the context of the Manson case. Indeed, one of the best things that this book does as far as true crime is concerned is to provide a reason why it is that Manson is remembered so highly even though later mass murderers have come and gone and been far more quickly forgotten despite their crimes. Something about the motive of Manson is darkly fascinating and that attracts for glamor that he has which other crime sprees and other serial killers simply do not possess.

This is a massive book at nearly 700 pages in length, and it is divided into eight sizable parts. The book begins with illustrations as well as a cast of characters which, as one might imagine, is somewhat large. After that the book is organized in a chronological fashion to discuss different aspects of the case. First, the book begins with a discussion of the murders included in the initial murder spree, which end up focusing on three different sets of murders–those committed around Death Valley, the Tate murders, and then the LaBianca murders, all of which were in different jurisdictions (1). After that the author focuses some attention on the killers (2), and their behavior until they were arrested. Following this comes a discussion of the second phase of the investigation after the suspects were in jail (3). This is followed by the author’s own diligent search for the murder motive (4), which I think the author manage to do pretty well. The pre-trial period of hype and myth then follows (5), as well as a very detailed discussion of the course of the criminal trial (6). The author spends some time talking about the penalty trial and the retaliatory murders, which included one of the defense counsel (7), and then a look at the efforts of the family to free their comrades (8), before the book ends with an epilogue on shared madness as well as an Afterword that looks at the continuing story of the various participants.

It should be noted right off the bat that this book makes for somewhat disturbing reading. The author is pretty graphic about the evidence recorded at the crime scenes, including the various wounds of the people involved, and is similarly graphic about the testimony and his discussions with Manson as well as the behavior of the Manson family even after many of the members were arrested. The book is compelling because the author takes to writing this book (and presumably others) the way he took to being a prosecutor. The case presented is disciplined but also compelling, and based on both evidence and sound reasoning. In the course of telling the reader more detail about the Manson case than most would ever care to imagine knowing, the author also informs the reader about certain aspects of the law, including legal restrictions that prevent “we” statements from being viewed as evidence against others. Anything that can provide me with a reflection on the ideal justice system and how our own justice system falls short, which this book does, is certainly a useful and worthwhile book, and this one is. It is also a very long book and probably not the sort of book most readers will want to flip through at night. It is telling, and intriguing, that Charles Manson was hostile to hippies but was viewed as being among them. Dispelling the myth is something that this book manages to do quite well.

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Book Review: Ripper: The Secret Life Of Walter Siekert

Ripper: The Secret Life Of Walter Siekert, by Patricia Cornwell

Quite a while ago I read the previous book that the author had written, the prematurely and unfortunately titled “Case Closed,” and this book basically falls in line with the previous volume. One thing this book does is to demonstrate the rather primitive nature of forensic efforts in the late 19th century. And whether or not Sickert was in fact a serial killer, he behaved in ways that were definitely troublesome. His proliferation of dark rented quarters, his hostile view towards women, and his obsession with matters dark and criminal, all of these would attract suspicion in a reasonably competent modern investigation of the crime. The greater ability at present to gather physical evidence has made it easier to solve cold cases as long as the evidence of the past has been preserved well to the future. And if there is one thing that is true in the ripper cases, however widely they are defined (and the author goes well beyond the canonical five), is that the evidence relating to these cases was not gathered well or preserved well. And, unfortunately, the choice of victims was largely the sort of people who were not cared about by society and the police at large.

This book is a large one at a bit more than 500 pages long and it is divided into 35 chapters. The book begins with a look at Mr. Sickert as Mr. Nobody (1), then discusses the unfortunates (2) and their unknown killer (3), before returning to discuss the painter as a boy (4) and his ambiguous sexuality in the eyes of his family (6). There are chapters about Sickert’s first wife (7). Included in the chapters are discussions about the supposed royal conspiracy (11), as well as Sickert’s interest in bleeding corpses in his art (12), and the question of instant death (13) as well as the system of coroners that had been established in England to solve crimes (16). The author tries to connect the painter in his ordinary and private life and his letters–some of which are admittedly pretty disturbing, as well as the behavior of the ripper letters which adopt various Americanisms and the same sort of language (19, 20). Other chapters focus on clues like a black bag (23), other crimes that could be connected to the Ripper (30), speculations of how the Ripper may have controlled the discovery of the crime through the use of keys (31), and even Sickert’s fondness for Cornish poetry that is suggestive of the Ripper (33). If this case is by no means definitive, nor can it be at this late day, it certainly makes for thought-provoking reading, that is for sure.

This book is rather sad when one thinks about it. Included in the book are a lot of details about the lives of the victims as well as of the painter and main subject of the book that are somewhat heartbreaking. As one might imagine, the case, such as it is, is rather circumstantial, but that is largely a product of what is going on. It is clear, at least at present, that if someone behaved as Sickert did that there would be a great deal of suspicion on him as a person. His interest in painting the crime scenes would have been seen as a bit suspicious, and his own habits of rambling and enjoying gambling dens and adopting various styles of handwriting and disguises would all attract a great deal of scrutiny. Why, after all, would someone want to hide so deeply unless they had something to hide, and that would prompt people to investigate him, which apparently no one thought to do at the time. Additionally, it appears that the narrow focus on five ripper crimes fails to account for the ripper’s possible behaviors outside of London as well as the fact that he had multiple victim profiles, which would have provided more insight into who he was as a person. In particular, the author makes much of a supposed connection between what Sickert suffered medically as a child and the sort of mutilation that she argues the Ripper inflicted on various boys, which is deeply unpleasant but also highly suggestive.

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In Defense Of Bad Novels: Part Two

In order to better understand the purposes and worth of literature that one might have several grounds to disparage and criticize, it is worthwhile to point out some of the ways that people seek to compare different types of literature. Among the ways that certain literature is looked down upon is based on the claim that certain novels are simply a means of escape. It would be nearer to the truth by far to say that the exact opposite is the truth. Bad literature does not provide a means of escape from the problems of life and the world, but all too often provides (often spectacularly terrible) attempts to solve the problems of reality. Good literature, on the other hand, allows people resources in dealing with reality that they may not have otherwise. This would seem to indicate that one of the things that make bad novels bad is the way that they presume to give readers skills and resources to deal with reality that end up making reality more dire and more problematic.

Let us flesh this out a bit more. How do bad novels attempt to provide insight into reality but fail miserably at the task? There are many ways this happens. One of the striking ways that I have noticed many bad novels resembling each other is the way that they deal with some of the more unpleasant aspects of reality. For example, I once reviewed a “Christian” historical book that dramatized Mephiboseth’s story during the time of King David, where he was portrayed not only in the biblical sense of being handicapped, but also as a survivor of child abuse at the hand of the loathsome Ziba. Similarly, a book that purported to present a picture of the times of King Hezekiah showed a totally imaginary character as having survived brutal rape at the hands of the Assyrians before escaping to return to Israel. In general, one of the trends of contemporary literature, especially genre literature, is the exploration of the damage done to men and women as a result of rape and sexual abuse, itself something which can be praised. Less praiseworthy is the way that these books tends to encourage dealing with such matters and the fallout of such things as PTSD and an understandable lack of competence in areas of trust and intimacy.

Similarly, there are entire genres of literature whose exploration of the fears of the contemporary generation of youth can itself lead to negative results. For example, the entire genre of dystopian young adult fiction encourages young people to think of themselves as having the burden of saving the world from the problems that adults are responsible for. These books nearly uniformly present the adult world as being intensely hostile and even sadistically cruel to young people. They also present young people in the uncomfortable position of being heroic in causing massive social change that is viewed as a positive and also as being incredibly damaged as a result of their intense bravery. As a temperamentally conservative person with a pessimistic streak about human nature, including (and especially) that of would-be social revolutionaries who routinely underestimate the amount of darkness and evil lurking in their own hearts, I find this to be a very unpleasant state of affairs, in that these books can both traumatize young people as well as confirm them in some of the less helpful and less accurate views that they have of their own proper role in the world. Again, bad literature fails to present an accurate view of reality, but is not an escape from reality.

How, then, are we to praise bad novels if they do not provide good solutions to the problems of reality? It is, admittedly, easier to praise good novels for the way that they deal with such issues. Let us take, for the sake of convenience, the writings of Jane Austen. Austen’s novels demonstrate that the most secure fate for young women, especially of the gentry class, was marriage to suitable gentlemen, and that this offered advantages to both men and women, demonstrating how a combination of moral duty as well as emotional sensitivity on both sides could lead to very successful unions that would create godly families and provide meaning and security and comfort for men, women, and children. This is a good solution to a real problem, and one that is done without making Jane Austen a social pariah as a radical feminist, since she was able to combine her sharp wit and keen intellect with politeness and tact, something many people neglect to do, thus causing unnecessary offense and creating unnecessary enemies. Because not only the message but also the approach of good literature provides good solutions to real problems that are timeless in nature because of the unchanging aspects of human nature and human frailty, it is easy to praise good literature for the way that it can provide people with the resources to cope with the constraints of reality.

Bad literature, though, does still provide us with something that is useful, if not as useful as what good and great literature provide. With all of the problems that come from bad novels, there is still something that they do that is worthwhile, and that is draw attention to real problems that deserve to be addressed better. Romance novels that feature problematic examples of spousal rape as being a solution to the PTSD that results from child abuse are not good novels, but they do point out that rape and child abuse do leave damage that makes it difficult to enjoy successful intimacy with one’s spouse. Simply because the wrong solutions are pushed on the reader does not mean that the problems discussed are unworthy of being addressed. A better novel might acknowledge that some damage is perhaps too much to be overcome in this life, or that growth and improvement will require a lot of effort as well as a great deal of patience and kindness over a long period of time. But the value of bad novels is to provide us with an understanding of the problems in society that are so obvious to those who are sensitive to them that they attract both good and bad solutions to them. When we are clued in to what other people are concerned about and want answers about, then we can go about to equipping people with the skills and worldview and resources that they need to cope with reality without fancying themselves to be the saviors of our dark and evil world, or without becoming evildoers and wicked and immoral people in search of some imaginary and often hypocritical idea of justice and happiness. If we cannot go to bad literature in search of answers, we can at least view them as a source of worthwhile questions.

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Book Review: The Further Observations Of Lady Whistledown

The Further Observations Of Lady Whistledown, by Julia Quinn, Suzanne Enoch, Karen Hawkins, and Mia Ryan

One of the most telling aspects of this particular book is the way that the four couples in this book are so dependent on the course of their courtships on a narrow group of events. For example, the couples all end up going to the theater to watch a noted actor in The Merchant of Venice. In addition, all of the couples end up going to a disastrous ice skating event where most of them end up making a fool of themselves and others, and all of them end up going to a Valentine’s Day party. This sort of forced unity within the stories demonstrates the small world effect that these novels and many other romance novels work on, where people seek their spouses from a very narrow range of potential marriage partners, and where their follies and foibles and struggles in relationships are in full view of competitors as well as other potential partners, making it hard for people to get a fair chance from other people because of their prejudgment of people, which ends up proving important in several of these particular stories. If everything ends up well, at least in the mind of the authors, the characters are sufficiently appealing for love to prevail.

This particular book is a cooperative set of four stories that are all themed around winter romances in a season where people are drawn to the freezing over of the Thames (itself the result of a volcanic eruption, not discussed here). The first story talks about a young woman who has been engaged all her life to a fiance she does not know, and whose flirtatious behavior draws her reclusive fiance from his farm to court her, seeking to win a heart he had assumed was his all along. The second story shows a man reluctant to marry who finds himself spurred into courting a friend of his who has shown a sudden interest in matrimony, showing an example of a friend turning into a lover. The third story has a young woman being courted by two gentlemen, one of whom happens to be the man who evicted her from the house, rather accidentally because of some brain injuries he suffered in war that made it impossible for him to be as articulate as he would wish, encouraging him to be rather eccentric. The fourth and final story then deals with a young woman who was jilted by a gentleman and is then courted by his brother, with a great deal of competitiveness even though the younger brother is now married to someone else who is not happy to see him still trying to manipulate the feelings of the young lady.

In looking at the travails of the couples in this story, it is interesting to look at the sort of situations that are portrayed. Many of the stories are, perhaps unsurprisingly love triangles of a sort, These love triangles manifest themselves in different ways. For example, one of the couples was jilted by a younger brother and then courted by the older brother, but the younger brother still tries to get his jilted partner to suffer because of the rejection even after he has married someone else. Another young lady behaves in a way that draws her reclusive fiance from his sheep in Yorkshire to a London he dislikes in order to court someone he has been engaged to all of her life. Given the way that love triangles are an easy way to ramp up romantic tension and competition and spur people on to court, they are easy to put as part of romance novels, though admittedly they do not make for very enjoyable experiences. The fact that such things are relied on to such a large degree by these writers suggests that they are not quite at the highest level of skill in being able to use less obvious means of increasing the tension between characters, though even the best romance novelists use such things at least occasionally.

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Book Review: Lady Whistledown Strikes Back

Lady Whistledown Strikes Back, by Julia Quinn, Suzanne Enoch, Karen Hawkins, and Mia Ryan

This book is made up of four romance novellas, and as a cooperative story there are definitely a great deal of common threads shared throughout the story. This particular book is thanks to the popularity of sequels and requels, where the popularity of a particular character, in this case the sharp and witty Lady Whistledown, encouraged the creation of a series of novels that are united by the waspish commentary of the titular character, even if each of the couples involved are focused on by different authors. It should be noted that every chapter of this book begins with a humorous comment from Lady Whistledown, all of them written by Julia Quinn, to whom the character belongs. In this particular case, the stories are connected via a rather loose frame narrative that involves a disastrous dinner party that leads to the hostess’ jewelry going missing with accusations as far as who the thief is, which leads to each writer choosing to write about a different couple who attended that disastrous dinner as well as various other social events going on at the same time.

This book is made up of four connected stories that revolve around a few set piece events that the various characters are a part of, and some characters that are minor characters in one story are themselves major characters of their own and are related to each other. The book begins with novella where the hero is a second son of a relatively poor gentleman who is seeking an heiress and ends up finding love with the sister of a close friend of his who died near Waterloo. The second novella looks at Bella, the companion to Lady Neely, seeking business success as well as her first kiss at the advanced age of thirty, where she finds herself courted by Lord Roxbury, someone viewed as a rake who happens merely to be reluctant to marry. The third story then discusses a young woman whose parents drastically underestimate her who finds love with an eligible earl. The fourth story then looks at a relative of the young woman in the third short novella who is courted by her husband, who has been in exile on the continent for years, and who returns home when she seeks an annulment. These stories are connected by the disastrous dinner party by Lady Neeley, visits to Hyde Park, and a rather disastrous reenactment of the Battle of Waterloo, as well as Lady Whistledown’s observations.

There are at least some aspects of this book that are interesting, although the stories are highly variable. The text at the back of the book is not all that useful in helping the reader to understand what is going on. To give one example, the back text refers to someone as a servant who has always tried to stay out of trouble who is courted by a rake, when in reality she happens to be Lady Neeley’s companion and relative, and so not strictly a servant, but rather someone in a more ambiguous position. Similarly, the men in this book aren’t really as bad as the blurbs try to make them out to be. That is not to say that they are very moral individuals, by Christian and biblical standards of morality, but by society they are hardly immoral. The real issue is the women. It is perhaps unsurprising that modern women would have a hard time being able to understand the level of restraint that was expected out of women. The authors can hardly expect their precious heroines to show more restraint than they would, which is not nearly enough for them to be moral according to the standards of their time. Nonetheless, it is telling that the double standard that feminists complain about has very good reason, in that men were expected to be able to please their women, which required experience, while women who had acquired the same level of skill were by definition fallen women. Perhaps we are a bit too hard on the double standards of the past.

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Book Review: An Offer From A Gentleman

An Offer From A Gentleman, by Julia Quinn

The Bridgerton series has been known for its problematic portrayals of sexuality, and this book is no exception to that. This is lamentable, because although the heroine of this story is admittedly a bit of a runner (which is, in light of her story, quite understandable), the two lead characters could be said to suit each other, except that the portrayal of these characters is so problematic. Indeed, this book contains not only a near-rape of the heroine by some obvious loutish young men who do not respect her refusal of their advances and think that she, as a servant, has no right to refuse them, but her rescuer from this fate, the hero of the story, ends up taking action that might be considered as a power rape in seeking to coerce the unwilling heroine into being his mistress, which she, for very understandable reasons, refuses to do, until he has to save her life/freedom by proposing marriage to her. All of this makes this novel nowhere near as romantic as it thinks it is, which is a great shame because the heroine of this story in particular shows a lot of spunk in the face of a traumatic and abusive life that is deeply admirable. It’s just a shame the author doesn’t know how to bring these two together in a way that does not merely increase the trauma of her existence.

By all rights, this particular novel exists on the borderline between romance and melodrama. As I have stated on several occasions, melodrama is not a mood that I object to and it is certainly a mood that I can identify with. And this particular book has the makings of a Lifetime movie, or a contemporary Cinderellaesque fairy tale, about a young woman who was the illegitimate daughter of an earl who is raised in an ambiguous position between servant and daughter, and when her father dies she is shamelessly exploited by her stepmother, who absolutely hates that she can see her dead husband in his by-blow. Sophie is given a chance, through the machinations of the servants, to pretend to be an eligible member of the ton for one magical night, where of course she snags the attention of the second Bridgerton son, Benedict, who is fascinated by her and tries to find out who she is, something which takes years. He saves her, she saves him by tending to him in his illness, and he seems unable to find a way to make her stay without abusing his power as a well-connected and well-privileged gentleman. And if the ending is a happy ending, it comes in a deus ex machina fashion that will probably play well on television.

The reader of this book is invited to ask questions of the way that this novel handles the relationship between its two leads. Is it wise on the part of Benedict Bridgerton to trust his heart to a skittish young woman whose characteristic response to difficult situations is to gather her meager physical possessions and make a run for it? Is the fairy tale ending of this book enough to give her other and better ways to cope with the difficulties of life than to run away? Can we expect a happy future between a man who rescued his wife from would-be rapists and a woman who was treated as a near slave during her youth? What is it about the mysteriousness of Sophie that makes her so attractive to Benedict? Is it problematic that he is instantly drawn to someone who is so radiantly happy merely to be accepted as part of the elite that she has some birthright to rather than taking it for granted as so many people do? Why does Benedict take advantage of his privilege, and how is this both a good thing and a bad thing for Sophie? Why is Sophie so reluctant to fess up about her identity even after becoming aware of the Bridgertons and their shrewdness as well as their kindness? If you read this book, you will likely have all of these questions and more, and the answers point to this being a more ambivalent and ambiguous novel than it seeks out to be.

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