Toad in the Hole

August 27, 2006

Lit'ry Alert

It was a stark and dormy night, and I was cramming – again – in the smoker, with three of my fellow hopelessly bewildered Post-Structuralist Comparative Adjectival Theory II students, attempting to cram the logic of some post-logical Frenchman into our collective memory as if packing ten pounds of too-warm aspic into a tiny needlepoint evening bag before a long and formal Victorian-re-enactors’ re-enaction of the most stultifying formal dinner-and-dancing party pluckable from one of Miss Mulock’s more obscure novels, even more obscure than John Halifax (sometimes published as John Halifax, Gentleman) but set in the antebellum American South where there was of course no air-conditioning so any such bag would be destined to leak embarrassingly over its unfortunate possessor’s claret-colored (or coloured, depending on the airs of the author and her covert attitude toward the spelling reform attempted by Noah Webster but left to us, its linguistic and literary heirs and assigns, only half-solidified, rather like that aspic, and so prone to allowing neophyte writers to serve upon the page a concoction prone to slipping away from the reader and losing all form before spreading away onto the table of consciousness in an ungraspable if occasionally golden cascade of almost-solidified but ultimately incohesive proteins) taffeta overskirt with blue velvet insets and golden braid trim, much the way the sequence of badly translated yet ineffably bewildering assertions about colonialist consciousness and its effects (and its affect!) upon the naïve reader was leaking repeatedly out of our variously weekend-burdened undergraduate minds; however, it was not I who nodded off and left her laptop battery to burn a hole in her retro-vintage pink chenille bathrobe.

In case anybody here hasn't got the word yet, the Bulwer-Lytton Awards for this year have been announced.

Ask me why we have at least one, maybe two (unless we left one to Chaparral House) copies of John Halifax by Miss (no other name given) Mulock in the house. Go on, I dare you.

Do dorms still have smokers? The common rooms in which one could smoke cigarettes, I mean.

Posted at August 27, 2006 05:17 AM


Right. Why?


Posted by: Pica at August 27, 2006 04:12 PM

Because my mother-in-law was named after the pure but pathetic little blind girl in the book, Muriel. However, as her family had read and liked the name (and, I suppose, the book, a matter upon which I disagree) but had never heard it (not surprising, on a farm on the outskirts of a small town the Ozarks in 1905) they pronounced it approximately "Merle."

My mother-in-law was not, I must specify, blind.

We have her copy of the book, and another we found for a couple of bucks in an antique store.

Posted by: Ron at August 27, 2006 06:48 PM

good laugh! i love this contest. you should enter -- i think you have potential, given the strength of your faux-entry and obvious grasp of the genre.

Posted by: kathy a at August 27, 2006 11:40 PM

What can I say; I was drunk and once the "stark and dormy night" phrase got into my head I couldn't stop myself.

My faves in this year's entries weren't the winners, btw. I'm so gratified that they post all the top entries. I generally have to read them in two or more sittings, though.

Posted by: Ron at August 28, 2006 05:32 PM

Ooh, I have another name-from-a-book for you. My friend's mother loved the name Bianca - I forget the book she got it from. But anyway, she'd never heard it pronounced, so my friend's name is Bye-ANN-Kuh.

Posted by: Rurality at August 28, 2006 07:04 PM

Ru', do you know any of those folks named Taliaferro, pronounced "Tolliver"? Joe used to -- I think that was in Georgia.

Posted by: Ron at August 29, 2006 04:45 AM

Howdy Ron,

Not over-excited about most of the entries this year, moi.

The cat one, furry xample, had so much promise and fell so flat.

Posted by: darkymac at August 31, 2006 12:26 PM

…but the main reason for my opening a comment page was to tell that a friend of the Aborigine persuasion got her new daughter's name down for the Registrar as "Nookala".

Being a native person, she wasn't called out on something that looked real orthentic darkie to the Registrar's whitey clerks, but friend just couldn't resist commemorating the era of George Bush somewhere permanent.

The bub, of course, is not called the registered name.

Posted by: darkymac at August 31, 2006 12:38 PM


"Nookala" as in Nookaledonia? OK, nevermind. I trust she'll explain it all to the kid before she has occasion to lay eyes on her, what, birth certificate? Name on the civic rolls? Whatever official docco that rates. Kids deserve a laugh now and then too.

Then again, who knows, it might get her into some school somewhere or something.

Posted by: Ron at September 1, 2006 01:28 AM

It's the State Registrar - hatch, match and dispatch.
The bub in question has been given her own right-way name by an uncle recently. Like her father, she has a very dry sense of humour and it's taken nearly a year and half before she's let us know what her way of being really is.
You know, it's really less than 40 years that us mob have felt welcome to use our right-way names in official documents - and even in daily life - most of us having had meaningless European christian names entered in the Registry for us and many even now being pressured once they reach school to use a European-friendly first name when their peers have trouble using their right-way one.
So letting little "Nookala" in on the joke is part of how her ma and pa will give her a good education in the history of European settlement.

For the best commentary on an incumbent power's control via names, do you know Flann O'Brien's "An Béal Bocht" - "The Poor Mouth"? One of the funniest things ever written.
Where the hero is given his English name on his first day of school:

"We all gathered in the schoolhouse. We all sat on benches, without a word or a sound for fear of the master. He cast his venomous eyes ever the room and they alighted on me where they stopped. By jove! I did not find his look pleasant while these two eyes were sifting me. After a while he directed a long yellow finger at me and said:
~ Phwat is yer nam?
I did not understand what he said nor any other type of speech which is practised in foreign parts because I had only Gaelic as a mode of expression and as a protection against the difficulties of life. I could only stare at him, dumb with fear. I then saw a great fit of rage come over him and gradually increase exactly like a rain-cloud. I looked around timidly at the other boys. I heard a whisper at my back:
~ Your name he wants!
My heart leaped with joy at this assistance and I was grateful to him who prompted me. I looked politely at the master and replied to him:
~ Bonaparte, son of Michelangelo, son of Peter, son of Owen, son of Thomas's Sarah, grand-daughter of John's Mary, grand-daughter of James, son of Dermot…
Before I had uttered or half-uttered my name, a rabid bark issued from the master and he beckoned to me with his finger. By the time I had reached him, he had an oar in his grasp. Anger had come over him in a flood-tide at this stage and he had a businesslike grip of the oar in his two hands. He drew it over his shoulder and brought it down hard upon me with a swish of air, dealing me a destructive blow on the skull. I fainted from that blow but before I became totally unconscious I heard him scream:
~ Yer nam, said he, is Jams O'Donnell!

When my eyes were in operation again, there was another youngster on his feet being asked his name. It was apparent that this child lacked shrewdness completely and had not drawn good beneficial lessons for himself from the beating which I had received because he replied to the master, giving his common name as I had. The master again brandished the oar which was in his grasp and did not cease until he was shedding blood plentifully, the youngster being left unconscious and stretched out on the floor, a bloodied bundle. And during the beating the master screamed once more:
~ Yer nam is Jams O'Donnell!"

Posted by: darkymac at September 1, 2006 06:14 AM

O yah, Flann has the Micks down right. Funny, I re-read The Third Policeman a month or two ago. Wonder if I can find The Poor Mouth -- we have it here, somewhere. I think I know which room it's in, at least. Now you've given me the urge to dig it up. I'd best take it in small doses, or I'll get really grouchy and start talking in an incomprehensible brogue.

When I get the piece about Monterey pines off this morning, maybe I'll blog about names. I'm suddenly reminded of Sister Mary Eleanor, who gave me a hint that second grade wasn't going to be a good year when she insisted on calling me "Veronica." Sister Jean Marie (pronounced as in French, approximately "Zhohn Ma'ie"), who taught the lot of us to be word-hungry and curious and also to speak French, just in the spare time between official lessons in a school day crowded into a half-day because there were so many of us, had taken her cue from my parents and called me "Ronnie" like everyone else.

Hmm. Funny thing about that naming power, in large ways and small.

Posted by: Ron at September 1, 2006 04:18 PM