Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Death of Reason, I: 2 + 2 = 5. Maybe 3. Would You Believe 7?


A short time ago we reread Josephine Tey’s last novel, The Daughter of Time (1950), about Richard III and the Princes in the Tower.  The Crime Writers’ Association voted it the greatest mystery novel of all time in 1990, leading us to suspect a little Shakespearean punning going on.


The Crime Writers’ Association vote is something of a surprise to fans of Anna Katherine Green (1846-1935), whose 1878 masterpiece, The Leavenworth Case, set the standard for the genre and is considered by some authorities to be America’s first “bestselling” novel.  It was even used as a textbook at Yale Law School to show the weaknesses inherent in building a case on circumstantial evidence.

And that surprises fans of George Lippard (1822-1854), whose surreal 1845 masterpiece The Quaker City, or, The Monks of Monk Hall, is also considered America’s first bestseller . . . as is Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  The Quaker City was also considered hardcore porn in its day due to references to “heaving bosoms.”  No, really.  The play adapted from the novel could not be put on in Philadelphia for fear of riots. (BTW, despite the reference to "monks," the novel has nothing to do with the Catholic Church, except where Lippard exposes the ignorant bigotry against the Church by having a minister leading a revival meeting in Philadelphia relate the most ridiculous story about the pope turning Protestants into bologna sausage in the factory behind the Vatican.  When a kindly old non-Catholic dares to question some of the bizarre details of the story, the crowd murders him.  You think we made that up, didn't you?)

But we digress.  This is not a posting to debate the claims of what a bestseller is, is not, or should be.  Rather, we want to look at the more fundamental question as to What Is Truth (or TRVTH, if you prefer).  The point of bringing up The Daughter of Time is that the main character, “Inspector Alan Grant” (“of Scotland Yard,” of course, without the “New”), is laid up in hospital (we Yanks always add “the” in front of “hospital,” as if there were only one in the entire world) after falling through a trap door while chasing a bad guy.

Long story short.  Laid up in bed.  Gets interested in the story of Richard III and the (alleged) murder of Ye Princes in Ye Tower.  Applies police investigative techniques.  Decides Richard III didn’t do the dirty deed.  It was probably Henry VII, who had the most to gain.  We think it was Buckingham.  It fits perfectly into his rebellion, for with Richard out of the way, the princes would have been next in line if parliament declared them legitimate — as it could have.  So Buckingham bumped them off and then rebelled against Richard.

Another digression, but relevant to the point we’re eventually making here.  As others have done, “Grant” — Tey (whose real name was Elizabeth Macintosh and who also wrote as “Gordon Daviot” . . . the plot thickens) — mistakes Thomas More’s satiric riff on Tudor England, History of Richard III, as serious political propaganda.

Uh, huh.  Did you ever actually read the silly thing?  Like, totally outrageous, dude, and deliberately so.  The problem was that More made his satiric Richard III just a weensy bit too much like the actual totalitarian Henry VII for his own safety, so he never completed it.  More disguised The Maleficent Tudor Dynasty (a sneer to Alison Weir) much better in Utopia . . . that “experts” have declared is a blueprint for an ideal society.  Yeah.  Just like Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” is a serious program for dealing with poverty.

Oh, yes, the point.  As Inspector Grant is discussing his investigations with the actress friend who brought him the print of Richard III from the British Museum that started the whole thing, he (Grant) comments that people don’t know how to use reason.  They can get from A to B easily enough (or, at least, most people can), but getting from B to C really throws them.  Just like knowing that More was writing satire (A to B) doesn’t clue people in to the fact that he was being satiric when he wrote satire (B to C).

See?  We told you it was relevant.  Tune in tomorrow as the plot thickens even further.

#30#

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