le plus loin le plus serré

le plus loin le plus serré
mourning art

in memoriam

"yet I tell you, from the sad knowledge of my older experience, that to every one of you a day will most likely come when sunshine, hope, presents and pleasure will be worth nothing to you in comparison with the unattainable gift of your mother's kiss." (Christina Rossetti, "Speaking Likenesses," 1873)

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Maria Edgeworth says: GET TO WORK!

I'm reading The Parent's Assistant (1796) now, and while it isn't bad reading, exactly, it isn't good reading either.

The moral of the stories:


the class-ishness of it bothers me, of course; the way for affluent young ladies to help the poor folk is to hire them as servants. crikey. I guess that's good, and I know how class worked, but it still makes me uncomfortable. When Simple Susan is trying to scrape together 2 guineas, why don't the fine ladies just give her two damn guineas, instead of resorting to elaborate work schemes? Why buy her a dress when what she NEEDS and WANTS are the two guineas???

Cheerful industry in the face of grueling poverty and hunger has always struck me as....improbably. At least Hesba Stretton gave her cheerful, industrious poor folks some religion to rely on; Edgeworth's poor people evidently just like working themselves to the bone for next to nothing.

But this makes me wonder about Edgeworth's audience, who were more likely to be affluent young ladies than cheerful poverty-stricken kids. So is the lesson: be kind to poor people, some of them deserve your kindness?

Also, is it really charity if you're motivated to your good works by the thanks you receive? somehow, that part seems to be really central to these stories - scenes of cheerful industrial poor people bringing flowers and baked goods to the wealthy, to thank (most pathetically, I think) the wealthy for letting them, the poor people, work?

Should I quibble with anything that seeks to instill a spirit of charity and generosity in its audience?


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