Sunday, November 19, 2017

225. Childbearing Hymn

This hymn and the previous one (the prayer for a pious mate) are part of a single concept - a kind of extended litany about the times of life that people generally experience, and the added meaning Christ brings to them. Because the idea of a litany came to me early in the planning process for this series of hymns (and there will be a least a couple more), I'm planning to set each one to a different tune in the same meter, as it were, the "litany" meter ( In fact, two of the eight tunes I have curated in that meter are titled LITANY, and more than one of them have been paired with a hymn that has the general character of a litany: an extended prayer calling on God for mercy in a full range of contexts. The tune, in this instance, is SCHEFFLER, from the 1657 book Heilige Seelenlust by Johann Scheffler (a.k.a. Angelus Silesius), whose conversion (only four years earlier) from Lutheranism to Catholicism led many Protestant hymnals to downplay his authorship of the hymns they took from him - a testimony not only to the offense caused by his caustic invective against the Reformation, but also to the undeniable beauty and devotional value of his hymns, such as "Come, follow Me, the Savior spake" and "Where wilt Thou go, since night draws near." Without embarrassment, I give him full credit for publishing the first known instance of this tune.*
1. God, whose Seed was given room
In the blessed Virgin’s womb,
Sown to reap the serpent’s doom:
Help all hopeful parents.

2. From her first, unconscious glow,
Guard the mother’s embryo;
Health and cheer on both bestow,
Fruitfulness increasing.

3. Shelter, like a precious flame,
New life’s miracle, and tame,
By the music of Your name,
Two hearts’ clashing rhythms.

4. If their term be fraught with pain,
Send your servants to sustain
Their endurance, lest in vain,
Father, they may suffer.

5. Should You, in mysterious love,
Summon one or both above,
Give us the conviction of
Resurrected glory.

6. Comes the grueling time of birth,
Ease her pain with love and mirth;
Introduce her child to earth,
Cradled in Your mercy.

7. Bless them with the means to live;
Willing hands, relief to give;
Faith, to share the hope of Eve
In Your gospel promise.

8. By baptism, soon unite,
Christ, to You that little mite;
Death and darkness change to light
And to life eternal.

*Extra credit: This may be the first hymn in history to incorporate a line that its author initially thought of adding as a joke at the expense of its own tune. Have you spotted it?

224. Prayer for a Pious Mate

Here is another item I can cross off the list of hymns I have been planning to write for Edifying Hymns, the projected sequel to Useful Hymns. It's kind of a scary prayer to write, since I'm one of the single adults whose numbers seem to be increasing in the Lutheran church. I've been single so long that I don't know what I would do if God answered it, in my case, with "OK, here you go." Like the best prayers, it uses God's own words to twist His mighty arm. Scriptures specifically cited in this prayer include Genesis 1:18ff; Genesis 24:63-65; Proverbs 18:22; John 2:1ff; 1 Corinthians 7:1-9; Ephesians 5:22ff; and more or less the whole book of Ruth. The tune, which was literally the first one I looked at out of an alphabetical list of eight hymn-tunes in the same meter, is titled ACK, VAD ÄR DOCK LIVET HÄR and is from the 1697 Swenska Koralpsalmboken of Stockholm.
1. God, who deemed it was not good
Man should live in solitude,
Though in paradise he stood:
Bless Your unwed children.

2. Some have not the gift to spurn
Impure lust with scant concern;
Would You not, than they should burn,
Rather have them marry?

3. Isaac, fifty, did not fail
His forlornness to curtail;
Seeing him, her bridal veil
Donned Rebekah gladly.

4. Solomon, too, understood
That to find a wife was good;
Ruth rejoiced that Boaz would
Claim from her that favor.

5. Christ Himself, at Cana’s feast,
Bride and groom’s delight increased;
May we, too, though last and least,
Taste such joy and blessing.

6. Be the unwed woman’s guide,
Fitting her to be a bride;
Place a husband at her side,
Pious, kind, and faithful.

7. Let him learn, who needs a mate,
Chastely for but one to wait;
Make their shared devotion great,
And their marriage fruitful.

8. Let her happiness and gain
Claim his willing toil and pain,
That Christ’s love may tune the strain
Of the praise he sings her.

9. Shape, as well, her wifely ways,
That each service she essays
Such a faith in him displays
As the church owes Jesus.

10. More and more, your graces lend,
Till as one their hearts shall blend,
Letting none their union end
But Your heav’nward summons.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Justice League

I don't go to the movies very often any more, and when I do, as a rule, I try to avoid sequels or installments in long-running franchises - a policy that I think has saved me many a time from feeling my ticket money was wasted. But Thursday night, when I went to see the DC Comics film Justice League, I made an exception. This was an easy decision to make, for two reasons: first, because I would have had to wait an additional hour to see Murder on the Orient Express, and the other choices (including a "Thor" movie and a comedy sequel starring Will Farrell and Mark Wahlberg) didn't interest me in the slightest; and second, because I haven't seen any of the films to which Justice League could be construed as a sequel. So, with little danger of being let down in my expectations based on a previous film, I went and had a good time.

Yes, comic book movie fans, it is true. I have never seen Man of Steel, the first film in which Henry Cavill played Clark Kent/Superman, though I have seen a few excerpts of it. Also, I have never viewed even a tiny bit of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, in which Cavill was joined by Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne / Batman and Gal Gadot in the role of Diana Prince / Wonder Woman, who had a movie of her own earlier this year. So this is kind of a sequel to three movies, all helmed (except Wonder Woman) by this movie's director Zack Snyder. The difficulty in reviewing this movie without committing a major spoiler becomes apparent when I have to bleep out part of the following sentence: Although Superman dies at the end of Batman v Superman, ### ##### principal stars return for this outing, in which they are joined by Ezra Miller (Credence Barebone in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) in his first full-strength outing as Barry Allen / the Flash; Jason Momoa, best known as Ronon Dex on Stargate: Atlantis and the title character in 2011's Conan the Barbarian, as Arthur Curry / Aquaman; and Ray Fisher, unknown to me, as Victor Stone / Cyborg. All three of these new superheroes have been teased in cameo appearances in earlier DC films (including Suicide Squad and BvS), and each of them is slated to headline his own movie within the next 3 years (Aquaman next year, and both Flashpoint and Cyborg in 2020).

In the "also starring" category, some of them making repeat appearances in the current franchise1, are accomplished stars Diane Lane as Clark's mom, a still photo of Kevin Costner as Clark's late dad, Amy Adams as Lois Lane, Jeremy Irons as Bruce's man Alfred, Connie Nielsen as the Amazon queen who happens to be Diana's mom, and Joe Morton (who played a quirky inventor on Eureka) as an ethically-challenged scientist who happens to be Victor's dad. I didn't notice it at the time, but my research tells me David Thewlis (Remus Lupin in the "Harry Potter" films) appears in this film too, reprising a role from Wonder Woman. Also joining the cast for the first, or in some cases only, time in this film franchise are Ciarán Hinds - an actor of many faces and accents - unfortunately submerged beyond recognition in the stop-motion CGI role of Steppenwolf; J.K. Simmons, who has played Peter Parker's publisher in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as Police Commissioner Gordon; Billy Crudup as Barry's jailbird dad; and an uncredited Holt McCallany (TV's Medium) as the burglar who tangles with Batman in the opening scenes.

I haven't seen any of the recent DC Universe films, but I've been equally remiss in following Marvel Universe franchises. It sometimes takes me a while to remember which is which. For example, I spent a few minutes during this movie wondering why Spiderman wasn't in it. So, obviously, you shouldn't take me as an authority on these things. But I saw a recent video review of the latest X-Men movie Logan, which made an interesting case that the superhero film genre is responding to changes in the needs of society by turning in a more pessimistic, dystopian direction, and increasingly exploring doubts and ironies about the very concept of heroes. This movie continues that trajectory somewhat, depicting a world that is teetering on the brink of apocalypse, that is almost beyond saving, and some may wonder whether it deserves saving, or whether the superheroes are really doing it a service by attempting to save it.

This downkey atmosphere is partly, but not entirely, a result of Superman no longer being around, having (the early scenes explain, for those of us who missed it) sacrificed himself to stop a monster/weapon of mass destruction brought to life by a power from beyond this world. Now the world is in even worse danger, because a supervillain-alien-demigod named Steppenwolf, who was once stopped from conquering the world by a coalition of Atlanteans, Amazons, Olympian gods, and men, has decided now is the perfect time to make a second attempt. The aforementioned power from beyond this world proves to be but one of three "mother boxes" that Steppenwolf plans to bring together into "the unity," which will destroy the whole planet and create a new world in the image of Steppenwolf's hellish homeworld.

There's a lot of CGI in this movie, and unfortunately, not all of it is of the most convincing quality. But when the eye is able to follow the action and the mind can be persuaded to believe what it is seeing, it has a remarkable look and a lot of exciting battles. However, and perhaps to an extent that will leave rabid comic-film fans squirming with impatience, this movie's particular strength is its treatment of its six main superhero characters as human beings, and the development of their relationship.

So, without any further blather, here are the three scenes that made this movie for me:

(1) When Barry Allen walks into his apartment, switches on the light, and finds Bruce Wayne sitting in his second-favorite chair, waiting to recruit him for the Justice League. This whole scene, extending to where they drive off together in the Batmobile, is superbly written, and both Affleck and Miller deliver their dialogue with comic flair and character chemistry. I particularly liked Barry's hilarious attempt to explain his costume (made of a material designed to withstand space shuttle re-entry conditions), and Bruce's answer when asked what his superpower is.

(2) Lois Lane's confession to [### bleeped out for spoiler reasons ###] that she hasn't been strong since Clark died, and he would be disappointed with her. The emotions surrounding the entire plot of this act of the movie, which I can't describe without ruining it for you, cover an enormous range and are very effective.

(3) Barry's attempt to say goodbye to a little Russian girl, which left me guffawing and thinking, "Did he really say that?"

There are plenty of runner-up scenes, like the one in which Bruce counts his injuries after getting the stuffing beaten out of him, or when he tells Diana that Clark - who, you may remember, is actually Kal-El of the planet Krypton - is the more human of the two of them, or when Arthur unexpectedly opens up about his emotions (a perfectly timed moment that pays off brilliantly just when you're starting to wonder whether it's going to work). I think Diana is a great character (quite a looker too), and Victor has interesting problems to work through, and to be sure, Jason Momoa and Henry Cavill both supply enough masculine animal attraction that it's a wonder the picture doesn't distort around them, for relativistic reasons.

Nevertheless, my vote for the most fun character has to go to Barry Allen. He's just so endearingly insecure, chatty, funny, charged with nervous energy that keeps him running fast even when he isn't moving, afflicted with numerous fears and insatiable dietary needs. I predict his solo movie will be more of a hit than the Aquaman and Cyborg ones, because even though Jason Momoa is the epitome of unreconstructed male coolness - I mean, seriously, he makes Hugh Jackman ("Wolverine") look like a nebbish - the average person isn't going to identify with him, or feel close to his character; while Cyborg just isn't very human. Also, in a way that strangely parallels Cavill's role in this franchise, it seems Miller's character in an upcoming Fantastic Beasts sequel is going to #### #### #### ### ####. Oops. Had to bleep another spoiler there. If he keeps this up, he'll be a shoo-in for the list of "best multiple franchise actors"2 - which, I was amazed to notice, doesn't have Jeff Goldblum on it. But that's a rant for another time.

1Not that I would notice, but those of you following the series would.
2Anyone below Danny Trejo on this list is apparently being damned with faint praise.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Razing Arizona: A Parable

To what may I compare the politics of the present generation?

How about this map of Arizona. Just look at it. Have you ever seen a more unequal distribution of altitude? The difference between the highest elevation (12,633 feet at Humphreys Peak) and the lowest (70 feet above sea level, on the Colorado River) is horrendous. While a very small percentage of the state's area is at a lofty elevation above 9,000 feet, the Colorado Plateau forms a big, bourgeois, middle class of elevations between 4,000 (the statewide average) and 8,000 feet. A significant part of the state - almost the whole southwest quarter of the state, in fact - is below the average, with the hottest, driest, loneliest parts of the state forming a basin ranging below 3,000, 2,000, or even 1,000 feet above sea level.

Having lived there two and a half years, I can personally bear witness that life in Yuma - one of Arizona's lowest, hottest, and least rainy areas - is completely unbearable from May to September. Forget it. Only scorpions, Gila monsters, saguaro cacti, and the occasional javelina can survive there, without terraforming projects on the order of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. The planet Tatooine is literally just across the river, which means California gets all the tax revenue from the Mos Eisley cantina. (It's also the planet from the original "Stargate" movie, but I digress.)

Arizonans Against Altitude Inequality (A3I) recognized the injustice of these disparities. So they got a constitutional amendment on the state's referendum ballot to shave the top 3,633 feet off the state's elevation. What area really needs to be higher than 9,000 feet, anyway? All prominences above that altitude will be converted into gravel and either thrown into the Grand Canyon, or spread around that big basin in the southwest part of the state, depending on which version of the ballot language gets the final nod from the Commission for Elevation Equalization (CEE), which the amendment will establish. Just think how much that gravel will raise the elevation of the low desert!

Just think!

All right, that amount of gravel - or the parts of it that don't end up being sold to road paving companies, with profits to be disbursed at the CEE's discretion - won't raise the elevation of that basin by any measurable amount, but it will close the gap (by up to 3,633 feet!) between the highest and the lowest points in the state. Plus, the CEE will continue to entertain proposals about shaving off even more of the rock from the higher-altitude regions of Arizona, and perhaps moving some of the middling-high peaks more-or-less intact to lower areas.

Sure, the net result will only be that the highest elevation in the state becomes lower, and maybe establishing a few additional high-ish spots (though they'll never be quite as high). And of course, those high altitudes, and whatever benefits or resources depended on them, will be gone for good. But at least the playing field, by which I mean the desert, will be more level on average. Right?

Let him hear who has ears. Let him think who has something between them.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Daisy Miller

Daisy Miller
by Henry James
Recommended Ages: 13+

This little trifle of a novella, almost a short story, weighs in at 59 pages in the "Dover Thrift Edition" in which I read it - an extra-thrifty purchase at some used-book store, whose price tag lists it at all of 10 cents. A list of other Henry James titles, printed in the back of my copy of The American, lists some full-length novels going for 50 to 75 cents. Somewhere between a clue to how old this book is and the fact that its author, dead now more than 100 years, can no longer control the rights to his work, there is a lesson about something or other - like, "Thus far the fortunes of (in some people's estimate) the finest novelist in the English language." But I don't have that lesson in sharp focus yet, because this isn't exactly a novel, and it's only the first thing I've read by Henry James.

The story, dating from 1878, is touching and sad, told from the point of view of a young American expat studying in Switzerland, named Winterbourne. While visiting his very proper, upper-class, widowed aunt in the lakeside resort town of Vevay, he is fascinated by a beautiful young American named Daisy Miller. Unlike Winterbourne, who was educated in Europe and who doesn't really understand American manners, Daisy is entirely a creature of Schenectady, N.Y. - a gregarious, fashionably dressed, spoiled banker's daughter who doesn't understand the way her every act, whether innocent or defiant, is judged by the exacting mores of the European nobility. She loves being in society, but has no consciousness of its proprieties or improprieties. She loves having gentleman friends, and risks scandal by going all over town with them unchaperoned. Her mother doesn't have the spirit to check her, and neither of them can tell the difference between a real gentleman and a charlatan. So, while Winterbourne watches her - first in Vevay, and later in Rome - he can never quite make up his mind whether to censure her for acting improperly, or excuse her for her innocence. So, while her head is seemingly turned by a handsome Italian adventurer, Winterbourne never succeeds in cutting in and saving her before her lack of good judgment leads her to irrevocable harm.

The word "bittersweet" is not enough. The ending of this brief novella (novelette?) is downright painful. Seventy years earlier, in the hands of a Jane Austen, approximately the same raw materials would have been the making of a comedy of manners. This, instead, is a tragedy of manners, in which the manners themselves are subtly indicted, and in which the difference between the manners of old world and new actually claim an innocent and vivacious life. Class snobbery; traditions - then more prevalent in the aunt's circles than elsewhere - such as single young women needing to be chaperoned in public; the health risks of visiting certain parts of Rome at certain times of day - which would probably give today's doctors a good laugh; and the heart-deadening consequences of a young man, so long separated from his home country, being unable to read the signals a beautiful girl is sending him, all combine to leave the reader sighing at the end.

The next book I plan to read is Henry James' 1877 novel The American. It's the only other one I have by me at the moment. The back-cover blurbs of both books, and the introduction helpfully inserted into this one, suggest there are common themes between them, and perhaps in most of James' better-regarded books. A native New Yorker who, like Winterbourne, was educated abroad and spent the better part of his career in Europe, James wrote such well-known novels as The Europeans, Washington Square, The Portrait of a Lady, The Bostonians, The Wings of the Dove, The Ambassadors, and The Golden Bowl, and famous short stories and novellas including The Turn of the Screw and The Aspern Papers, plus lots of less-well-known stuff, long and short. Since I felt the impact of this little work, I think I might be up to exploring some of his bigger ones and deciding for myself whether he is as some say, in spite of Hardy and Eliot, our language's best novelist.

The Naming of the Dead

The Naming of the Dead
by Ian Rankin
Recommended Ages: 14+

In my recent review of The Snowman, I said something about Jo Nesbø moving hardboiled fiction to a climate where it will keep. I guess I shouldn't be surprised to see more hardboiled crime hanging out in Edinburgh, Scotland, which is about 578 miles southwest of Oslo as the plane flies, or about four degrees less in latitude - within about a degree, at each end, of the difference between Juneau and Anchorage. If climate change is driving mystery genres to northerly climes, I should be paying more attention to the writings of Ian Rankin. Based on this book, I probably will.

DI (Detective Inspector) John Rebus is an aging, hard-drinking, maverick detective in the Edinburgh CID (i.e., the plainclothes police). He and his lower-ranking partner, DS (Detective Sergeant) Siobhan Clarke - her first name isn't pronounced the way you think - catch a couple of inconvenient cases just as the July 2005 G8 conference, and the massive demonstrations surrounding it, are about to make their part of Scotland a mad place to be. Things get even madder on July 7, 2005 - the date that made "7/7" mean to the U.K. something like what "9/11" means to the U.S. In the midst of that, nobody wants a couple of insubordinate, boundary-crossing detectives poking into an MP's (member of parliament) plunge from a castle rampart - suicide? accident? murder? - or even chasing a serial killer whose trophies are found just up the road from the conference.

There are some odd things about that serial killer evidence, though that probably goes without saying. For one thing, the victims - three, so far - are all convicts recently let out on parole, chronic offenders with a record of rape or sexual assault. These are big, bad men: not exactly your typical, high-risk victim; but because they had victims of their own, no one has worked very hard to catch their killers, or rather killer, until now. A connection between the three men and a pro-victim website seems too obvious, too on-the-nose. A psychology professor at the local university points out the key may be anomalies in the evidence concerning one of the crimes. A computer nerd (who happens to be Siobhan's ex-boyfriend), a journalist (who collaborated on a book with John's criminal nemesis), and Big Ger Cafferty, the selfsame underworld kingpin John has spent most of his career chasing, all make themselves suspiciously helpful to the crime-solving pair, while a Special Branch operative, a city councilman, and their own chief constable put up every imaginable roadblock to their investigation, including (in the chief constable's case) suspending them from duty. Also, by the way, Siobhan's parents come to town, her mum ends up in the hospital, the whole southeast of Scotland gets snarled up in a series of demonstrations, riots, and traffic jams, and London gets bombed; so yes, there are a lot of distractions. But in spite of all these things, they keep plugging away at their puzzles.

What makes my nose twitch to the scent of something hardboiled is how, while the mystery slowly comes into focus, problems arise in the hero detectives' lives that aren't as easily cleared up. No amount of persistence will make them go away. Chuck in a dash of disillusionment with the state of the world, a specter of mortality with a nice side of nihilistic futility, some heart-tugging struggles with loneliness and (ahem) alcohol, and some of those breathtaking moments when the sleuth is forced to consider whether some of the bodies wouldn't have dropped if it hadn't been for him or her, the occasional surprise where the hero is scrobbled by villains and held prisoner overnight, and the sense that the toughest crimes are best solved by a detective who follows his own ideas about how things are done, rather than sanctioned police procedure... Yes, indeed, the Dashiell does not fall far from the Hammett.

This is the 16th of (so far) 21 "John Rebus" mystery-thrillers by Scottish author Ian Rankin, and though it is not the first of the series I have read (that honor belongs to No. 8, Black & Blue), it is the first I have reviewed. Since I've reviewed every book I have read since at least 2003 and perhaps a bit farther back, that tells you about how long it's been since I've dipped a toe in the waters of Rankin's popular series; Black & Blue's 1997 release date provides the yonder boundary of a relatively narrow time window. One of the things that may have deterred me from going back to Rebus is my recollection of Black & Blue being so full of regional dialect and slang terms, such as "paraffin budgie" (meaning, I believe, "helicopter"), that I found it heavy going. I was surprised to find no such difficulty in reading The Naming of the Dead - no budgies, paraffin or otherwise. This suggests either that my recollection was off, or that my reading since sometime between ages 25 and 31 has vastly improved my language comprehension, or that the U.S. editions of Rankin's more recent books are being more heavily edited (if "translated" is too strong a word) to give American readers more of a fighting chance. Assuming the prize lies behind Door No. 3, please remind me not to complain next time I see a publisher's note to American readers, advising them the book has been expurgated of idioms you'd have to be Scottish (or English, Irish, etc.) to understand. If English-to-English translation has become a thing, there may be a good reason.

John Rebus has been portrayed by actors John Hannah (2001-2004) and Ken Stott (2006-2007) in a series of films for British television. He is also, as I mentioned, the star of 21 novels, plus a volume or two of short stories. Their titles include Knots and Crosses, The Black Book, Set in Darkness, Fleshmarket Close, Exit Music, and Rather Be the Devil. Rankin's career goes back to the 1980s, and also includes two "Malcolm Fox" novels and seven other novels, including three originally published under the pseudonym Jack Harvey.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Northanger Abbey

Northanger Abbey
by Jane Austen
Recommended Ages: 12+

This book's heroine is the sort of person, the narrator tells us, no one would have expected to be a heroine. But from that opening sentence on, that's exactly what we expect - that, and a story that will stand the conventions of sensational, Gothic fiction on their ear.

I opened this book under the influence of a rumor that it is primarily about a silly girl whose habit of reading novels like Ann Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho leads her into an embarrassing misunderstanding while staying in the stately home named in its title. Actually, that is only a minor subplot in a book that, like everything else by Austen that I have read so far, is really about a girl's dramatically fraught struggle to land Mr. Right.

In this case the girl is literally a girl: 17-year-old Catherine Morland, the eldest daughter of a clergyman and his wife who have 10 children. Mr. Right, right enough, turns out to be the first eligible male to whom she is introduced while accompanying a childless local couple to a season in the then-fashionable spa city of Bath. Unfortunately, Catherine has no experience in society, and the flighty Mrs. Allen, her chaperone, isn't a reliable instructor. So, she blunders her way into one fix after another, partly through her ill-judged friendship with the coquettish Isabella Thorpe. Isabella has designs on Catherine's brother James, and Isabella's odious brother John has designs on Catherine, but in spite of their best efforts, they seem unable to sabotage Catherine's growing attachment to the clever Henry Tilney and his lonely sister Eleanor. Things are looking really promising when Catherine is invited to visit the Tilneys' romantic pile for a while, but the Thorpes haven't played their last trick.

In addition to the romantic suspense of the story, this book contains an impassioned defense of the habit of novel reading, some superbly comic passages, and a daring number of authorial intrusions into the narrative, reminding us that Catherine & Co. are, after all, characters in a novel. It's a piece of romanticism with an anti-romantic wink, and sometimes more than just a wink. And it all goes by so quickly that you'll notice the dwindling number of unread pages with a sigh of regret.

Although one of Austen's earliest mature novels - she sold it to a publisher in 1803 - it was not printed until after her death in 1817. She is also the author of Persuasion (originally published with this book), Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Emma, and Mansfield Park. I can personally vouch for them all, except Mansfield Park (which I haven't read yet), as delightful pieces of Regency-era romantic comedies/comedies of manners, written with transparent style, economy of language, gentle irony, and sparkling wit.

On the other hand, I would rather not recommend the edition of this book I read, due to its preface by literary maven Margaret Drabble, who seriously entertains some of the most obnoxious and destructive feminist criticism of this book. I recommend enjoying this book for what it is, and for what generations before us have prized it for: a piece of lightweight, lighthearted entertainment by a self-taught authoress who scarcely lived long enough to be anything but a sheltered young lady, who knew never lived anywhere but under her parents' roof, who knew nothing but the provincial drawing room, the social hothouse of places like Bath, and the "marriage mart" of the late Regency period when, thanks to the Napoleonic wars, eligible English women significantly outnumbered their male counterparts. She wrote what she knew; she wrote it convincingly; she filled it with charm and a touch of good-natured good sense; and somehow, she bequeathed on English literature a small body of prose that remains among the most prized novels of her time. The books enjoyed by this book's characters, and lampooned by its storyline, are now almost forgotten. But we remember Austen. And we forgive her for not being the battle-axe people like Drabble seem to believe she should have been. I wish those people would get over it; but it doesn't matter. Austen triumphs in spite of them.