Monday, December 16, 2019

There Goes That Fantasy

When I entered my teens, Ma introduced me to the next level of "literature": Regency romances. 

The authors were typically Joan Smith, Carola Dunn, Fiona Hill. Georgette Heyer here and there, but she used a lot of annoying exclamation points and was rather antisemitic.  The books were usually about a mousey girl who for some unknown reason catches the fancy of a strapping, handsome marquis (he always had a title, rarely a mere Mr.), or about a spirited young woman of striking beauty but was too anticonvention for her own good who for some unknown reason catches the fancy of a strapping, handsome marquis. 

I gobbled them up like tater tots. They were my main form of entertainment for years, until I branched out into medieval romances as well. Cough. 

In the last decade or so, I've left them behind, preferring historical novels of other topics. But I still watch the Austen adaptations with glee. 

My sister-in-law and I swap books, and she excitedly handed me "A Murder in Time" by Julie McElwain. It's about a female FBI agent who gets sucked into a vortex and ends up in Regency England. 

However, she is not familiar with Austen's work, and finds the restrictions on women to be simply ridiculous.  Seeing the era through her eyes, you do realize that she's right. The romance is gone. So while all the language of those books I once enjoyed are there, the limitations women faced, the hardscrabble existence of the other 99% of humanity that wasn't landed gentry, the misconceptions on science and medicine, has sort of removed the glow from those tales. 

It's like when I read "Longbourn" by Jo Baker, and however considerate Lizzy is depicted in "Pride and Prejudice," maids were not granted that consideration. While most women believe they would have been Emma in another life, chances are they would have had the job of scrubbing her boots for a pittance. 

When I was a teenager, "Ever After" was one of my favorite movies. Spirited girl wins heart of prince! Yay! Then I began to read Sharon Kay Penman's novels about the British monarchy, and it became quite clear that princes did not marry for love. They married for political reasons, and had mistresses for love. I think I read somewhere once that character of Danielle was actually based on a mistress of a royal Henri. Being a royal mistress was actually  a great position so had Danielle been offered that, she would have been thrilled. All those scenes of Marguerite angling to become princess is all the more laughable because she would have known that's never. Ever. Gonna. Happen. 

I can't rewatch "Ever After" again knowing that. 

There are times in life when fantasies are fun and helpful. But then you grow out of them, finding you don't need them anymore. 

But I still anthropomorphize toys. Hmm.

Monday, December 2, 2019

I Finally Read Gluckel

Gluckel of Hameln is supposedly required reading, the memoirs of Jewish woman from the end of the 1600s. Every time I tried to take it out there was always a hitch, but I finally got my hands on it and read it through, much to Ben's annoyance ("Hey Ma! What's so interesting?")

What is surprising to me is how money is most of the conversation.  This person is worth this much; that person has that much; this person had this much but lost it. "Thalers," the currency of the time and place, is probably the most repetitive word in the book.

Gluckel had 13 children to marry off, so that was the other theme. Girls of 12 were promised to boys from other cities that they would not see until the "betrothal feast," at which point everything was agreed on. No child said, "Mother dear, not for me." Gluckel herself wed at the age of 14, and was widowed at 44, after 30 years of marriage. 

One passage in particular I found entertaining was when she recounts a visit to her in-laws. While her husband's father was worth a staggering amount,  he gave them a  gift worth a paltry sum. However, she proclaims, we treasured that present, unlike other ungrateful children who suck their parents dry. I can't tell if she's being serious or sarcastic, if she's pointedly chewing out one of her kids.

It's also a reminder of how precarious life was for Jews in the past. The rabble could be roused, the leader could banish. Life was cheap and murders were often unavenged. Never mind illness; Gluckel lost a little girl and many other relatives to diseases that probably do not plague us any longer. 

While reading of all the arranged marriages, I snarked to myself,  "Hey, solution for shidduch 'crisis' right here! Let's bring back betrothing tweens to unseen grooms!"

My neighbor has a great-granddaughter born the same time as Ben. I hear she's quite the cutie. Crisis averted.