Jane Austen’s estate

March 5, 2017

There’s more going on here than agreement of verb with subject

A visit to the Jane Austen House Museum in Chawton raised some interesting questions, and not only about English grammar.

If there is a valid point being made in the picture above, I think it’s the corollary of the one stated: Due to her writings, she had some money of her own at a time when women generally didn’t. I wonder what Cassandra did with it? How much it was in today’s terms is an almost completely meaningless question–between £ 50,000 and £ 3,000,000 perhaps according to measuringworth.com.

In Capital in the Twenty-First Century Thomas Piketty states:  In Great Britain, the average income was on [sic] the order of 30 pounds a year in the early 1800s, when Jane Austen wrote her novels….She knew that to live comfortably and elegantly, secure proper transportation and clothing, eat well, and find amusement and a necessary minimum of domestic servants, one needed–by her lights–at least twenty to thirty times that much. The characters in her novels consider themselves free from need only if they dispose of incomes from 500 to 1,000 pounds a year.

So on that basis Jane Austen’s lifetime earnings of £ 800 wouldn’t have got her very far.  If she had bought land with the normal rental yield of 4-5% that would have given her the average and deeply insufficient annual income of £ 30-£ 40.  But the question is what the marginal cost of an unmarried sister or maiden aunt would have been–once you had the house, carriage, servants etc the marginal cost of an extra household member may have been comparatively small.

While it is true that nowadays many of us would be penniless without our jobs, Piketty’s point is that in Jane Austen’s day you might make 5x average income from a job or profession or even writing novels if the French didn’t pirate them, but it wasn’t enough–you needed to own lots of land or seize bling from the French like her brothers Charles and Francis, both of whom became admirals.

In Brief March 2017

March 1, 2017

The Tale of Januarie  GSMD 27 February

I was interested by the libretto in Middle English and it did not disappoint, being rather similar to Northumbrian dialect.  I bought a programme at the interval and so found out that we were supposed to regard the characters distantly, before that I had been quite sympathetic to may.  I thought the music in the ensemble passages worked best, there was nothing particularly striking in the individual declamations and I had the feeling that composer Julian Philips was trying to find a safe place between Machaut on one side and Benjamin Britten on the other.  Set, costumes and performance were all first class.  I don’t think the audience actually laughed at any point…

Cost:  £ 25  Rating: ****

The Importance of Being Earnest  Bridewell Theatre 28 February

It was interesting to see this finally, and there was more than sporadic laughter from the audience as the action progressed, interspersed with two intervals.  It all seemed to be played fairly straight, and Jack Worthing emerged as more human than I expected.  But what I enjoyed was Cicely producing to biscuit-tin of the letters to herself she had been forced to write on behalf of Algernon and showing him the diary entries reflecting the course of their engagement.  That was quite mad and also the kind of thing a young woman living in the country with her governess and strict guardian might well do.  This one must have more famous quotes per scene than anything else outside Shakespeare…

Cost:  £ 12   Rating:  ***


Crime and Punishment, Brockley Jack 8 February

February 8, 2017


At the end of this second preview, which played to a full house, the actor playing Raskolnikov (Christopher Tester) asked audience members to say something nice about the show on social media, or indeed in real life.

We are happy to oblige.  As a text, this was an excellent adaptation, which embodied the bright idea of getting to the basics of the characters and their story and the author’s intentions and reconstructing that from the ground up as a play.

I thought that both Christopher Tester and Stephen MacNeice (who played Pofiry Petrovich, Marmeladov, and a couple of other characters) were excellent.  We had a harried, ratty, unEnglish Raskolnikov and a Porfiry Petrovich who for once did not bore me to death.  His Marmeladov was impressive in letting you find the degradation, not drowning you with it.  I also thought that Christina Bastion was just too posh as Sonya-we are given to understand that she can read only with some difficulty and she looks up to Raskolnikov as an educated man–and as the pawnbroker Alyona, who also turned out to be Scottish.

But the production moved forward vigorously with clearly-delineated characterisations and a few well-chosen props.  And the well-worn scene where Sonya and Raskilnikov read the Bible together really got to me…

There is a video trailer here, but I’d say the show is better than it suggests.






Prometheus Bound, Greenwood Theatre 1430 8 February

February 8, 2017



At the end:  chorus–Prometheus–Io

Prometheus Bound certainly made an interesting choice for this year’s KCL Greek Play in Greek.  One question is whether it actually is a play or merely a scene-setting for following parts of a trilogy.  Nothing much happens apart from various characters coming to sympathise with or talk sense into Prometheus and him referring to the injustices he has suffered and the dark secret he knows.

I remember a production at the Soho Theatre where the clientele were expected to be satisfied by a combination of the manly heaving of the hero’s bare breast and chains.  Lots of chains.  But here it wasn’t quite like that.  We had a female Prometheus, and Oceanus, and whichever it is of Force and Violence that doesn’t actually say anything.

More generally, I’m afraid that there was no sign of a solution to the severe problems posed by staging this piece.  It started off with projections of various modern figures, especially Donald Trump, and you could see how Prometheus might be a kind of Nelson Mandela in captivity, but his captors needed him more than he needed them.  Or Trotsky perhaps, who thought he had the earth-shaking prophecy and was a prisoner to his own well-founded fears. But nothing came of this possible line of thought.

Rather than being chained to a cliff with a wedge through her chest, our Prometheus had to top of a table to call her own.  For some reason sound effects and lianas suggested that this was in the jungle somewhere.  Loud sound effects meant you couldn’t hear what was being said, though the Greek verse sounded to be spoken competently enough.  At the end, Prometheus’s final defiance got lost in underwhelming stroboscopic effects..

On the positive side, the entrance of the chorus was effective, as were some of their choreographed moves.  Likewise for Io’s entry and exit, though I’m afraid she did rather remind me of the domovoy from Morphine.  And indeed there were similar surtitling issues, with lots of text appearing some time after the event.

If you ask what I would have done–well, have a much larger chorus and have them sing and dance.  In fact, have them on stage the whole time and have them  hold up the surtitles on placards, to give the idea of a debate of some importance not people  coming on stage and exchanging words about mouldy mythology…But making something out of Prometheus Bound would be difficult with the best performers and technical resources in the world…






Morphine, Etcetera Theatre 7 February

February 8, 2017



Picture from Anna Denshina’s Twitter feed

So let’s think–what problems might there be with staging Bulgakov’s ‘Morphine’, about a country doctor who falls victim to…err…morphine? Well, putting a non-dramatic work on the stage is always problematic–if the author had wanted to write a play he’d have done things differently. And especially in a case like the present, where the original text is in the first person and reflects the hero’s diseased apprehension of reality more than actual happenings between people. The latter is where you need to have things in a play. Here we also have some more objective narration from ‘Notes of a young doctor’ brought in to set the scene as well.

That said, the show combined the Russian tradition of having music in lots of places where you don’t want it with the English one of having characters shuffle on, deliver their lines through a mask of embarrassment, and then shuffle of again. The cast members showed various levels of comfort with appearing on stage and the Russian language…that said, I thought that Anna Danshina put in a good and affecting performance as the love interest called Anna.

There were also sutitling issues–the surtitles contained a lot of text at one go and tended to catch up after the event.  But I suspect the proportion of the audience who neither knew Russian nor the storyline of ‘Morphine’ was rather small…

Too few and too many–I outsmart myself

February 8, 2017


The quiz questions about this street somewhere around Heaton were:

So can you see why this street has to be:

i) in the North generally?

ii) not on Merseyside?

iii) specifically on Tyneside?

with the intended answers:

i) many burglar alarms

ii) not enough burglar alarms

iii) two front doors per ‘house’–these look like terrace houses but were built as upstairs and downstairs flats (rather than being converted) and are known as ‘Tynesiders’.

But I may have outsmarted myself there–this also looks like what’s called an ‘avenue’ locally, which means that there’s just pavement (perhaps some flowerbeds too) out the front and vehicle access is up the back alley…

More about lost sleep

January 3, 2017


Following the earlier study,  our client has now produced some further data covering three weeks’ holiday, with results as shown above.  We suspect that the slightly anomalous results for Sunday are indeed due to there only being three observations.  The mean amount of sleep per night is 6:32 for the Work period and 7:08 for the Holiday period.

So there is some difference, but hardly enough to say that the client is compelled to give up work.  He will have to make his own decision, which is rarely a popular piece of advice…


A story from Villa Amalia by Pascal Quignard

December 8, 2016

The photo


Written on the back of the photo



Inscription in front of book

The copy of ‘Villa Amalia’ I got second-hand from Amazon had this photo in it and this inscription in the front.

So what does the inscription say?  It looks like: J’adore cette photo première d’un bonheur retrouvé. 26 janvier 2013 But surely the première should be in front of the photo–unless it’s in apposition, in which case there’s a comma missing?

The birthday boy seems to be well over 30 if you count the candles on the cake, so bonheur may have been missing for some time…

If it’s really première then [she] has formed the p differently there and in photo. If you look at janvier [her] v extends below the line, which increases the number of possibilities for the suspect word. [She] and [her] are my supposition from j’adore and an inscription in the front of the book. Restoring the omissions there gives us La souffrance [,l’amour, la musique, la faim] avai[en]t fait d’elle une femme intense–which looks like a case of adapting the sentence to refer to oneself.

There are no shes in the photo, which would be strange for a family gathering, so this she might have taken the picture.  Let”s call her Ann Hidden, since she’s behind the camera.  The man on the left of the picture seems to have the same shaped face as the candle-blower-out, which lends credence to the family gathering idea.

My conclusion for the time being is that it’s not a birthday party–there aren’t enough people–but a family celebration of the lad overcoming some mishap and the candles (say) represent the number of [periods] he was in hospital/prison/rehab/married to that woman, though he looks a bit young for some of those. If it was hospital/rehab, that would explain why he is warmly dressed while the bloke behind him is in shirtsleeves.

It’s much easier to leave out punctuation–note that there’s no full stop at the end of the sentence–than put an adjective in the wrong place, so première is a noun in apposition to photo, with some meaning like Première épreuve tirée pour la correction. ‘Galley-proof of happiness’ is quite good really.

Then  the inscription La souffrance…avait fait d’elle une femme intense would fit in well with [Ann Hidden’s] [son] returning from [rehab] [or from death’s door].

There is another and perhaps better idea. When I first looked I thought it had to be pleine or remplie, just by context but could find no way of making that fit what appear to be the letters. The second “l” in elle above doesn’t extend above the line, so you might be OK with pl- plénière [plenary] could fit the bill. I think that in French ‘plenary photo’ would be OK.   Plenary photo from a recovered happiness.  That would indeed imply that [she] took the photo–it would be plenary from her point of view but not the others’.  Which leaves the putative ‘l’ that doesn’t extend above the line–which may not be a problem at all–and the absence of one accent to deal with…A missing accent is better than a missing comma…

Were it not that I have bad dreams…

December 1, 2016


A middle-aged bureaucrat has collected data on his sleep pattern for 29 weeks or so. He works 4 days a week (not Wednesdays) and wants to know whether these data should impel him towards early retirement.  We can see from the above that the prospect of going back to work on Monday and Thursday causes some lack of sleep.

Table of sleep data

  Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun
Mean 06:25 07:10 05:12 06:52 07:40 07:07 05:00
N 29 29 29 29 29 28 28
Min 01:00 03:00 02:00 04:00 05:00 05:00 00:00
Max 08:30 09:00 07:30 09:00 10:00 12:00 07:00
Q1 06:00 06:30 05:00 06:00 06:30 06:52 04:30
Q2 06:30 07:30 05:30 07:00 07:30 07:15 05:45
Q3 07:30 08:00 06:00 07:30 08:00 08:07 06:30
StDev 01:27 01:29 01:19 01:07 01:07 01:26 01:35

The overall mean is 06:29, while results here indicate an average of 06:50 for those aged 40-55.  The difference is hardly large, but in the other hand the justified expectation of sleeping poorly tw0 nights a week is not something one would wish to continue indefinitely.

We presume that there are essentially two possible explanations for the smaller amount of sleep on Sunday and Tuesday nights:  apprehension and having to get up early/change in routine.  If it was purely a case of the latter, we would expect the effect to be greater on a Sunday night since there are two days of changed routine to account for as against one on a Wednesday night.  But in fact there is no significant difference between the means for Wednesday and Sunday, so we presume apprehension is playing a role here.

Our preliminary recommendation would be for the client to collect the same data for a substantial period of leave so as to establish how far the results above deviate from the natural pattern.  And here it is!

Not enemies, not judges, not so neat…

November 7, 2016


Meanwhile, the exhibit above has been brought to our attention.

Well, no.

It says ‘Traitors to the people, expelled from the German national community.’

The men are leaders of the German Social-Democratic Party.

Mit der Dummheit kämpfen Götter selbst vergebens.