Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Pax Victoria

Well, now. The focus of my last post was a pink baby bunny hat. You wouldn't think that would cause an explosion of hate mail, now would you?

It did, because I had the audacity to display the hat on the head of the bust of Queen Victoria that stands on my desk, along with busts of Jane Austen, Puccini, Shakespeare, Dickens, Empress Sisi of Austria, Bach, and Mozart.

Birdfarm and Jon both made comments, perfectly acceptable comments, which mentioned some of the less humane policies enacted by Victoria when she was on the throne. No problem there.

Then there followed the e-mails - sixteen of them - the likes of which I've never received before. For mere possession and display of 18 inches of plaster statuary, I was called a racist, a sexist, an imperialist, and a bigot. Not mention internally homophobic. Mind you, none of my correspondents had the courage to post comments. No, they chose instead to send e-mail so others would not see what they wrote.

I haven't the time or inclination to respond in person to each. A simple post will suffice. And then I consider the subject closed.

Now Hear This

I am well aware that Queen Victoria was in many ways, by modern standards, a cruel and inept leader. (Hard as it may be to imagine, in her own era she was one of the more equitable. Read a little world history, and see for yourself.)

Particularly after the death of the Prince Consort, Victoria's single-minded devotion to what she believed would be Albert's wishes on everything led to conservative and reactionary policies that caused widespread hardship for some of England's domestic subjects and also some of those who inhabited British colonies and territories.

So, Why Do You Have a Bust of Her?

I do not have a bust of Queen Victoria on display in my house because I naively think she is a candidate for sainthood.

I do not have a bust of Queen Victoria on display in my house because I think she was a model ruler, a model mother, or a model anything else.

I have a bust of Queen Victoria on display in my house because, first of all, female rulers - indeed, women in command of any sort of power - are a lifelong source of fascination to me.

Second, I have a bust of Queen Victoria on display in my house because she is the ultimate symbol of a period in history that interests me particularly, from a country whose history has always interested me in general.

Third, I have a bust of Queen Victoria on display in my house because this particular bust, which came from working-class pub in London and has the nicotine stains to prove it, is a little piece of history and I like looking at it.

Fourth, I have a bust of Queen Victoria on display in my house because I need somewhere to put my bunny hats when I photograph them.

History: Good or Bad?

To the writer who feels it is inappropriate to "celebrate" (by which she seems to mean remember) a "bad time in history," I say that history in itself is neither good nor bad. History simply is.

I have no illusions about the British Empire having been a wonderful institution, nor do I wish (as one of you suggests) to see it return. However, why should we pretend it never happened? And why, if we study it, may we only focus on the horrors?

In my considerable reading on this period I've been fascinated by the outpouring of art and literature, by the results of cultures and religions colliding, by technological innovations transforming the world at a breathtaking speed. Victoria reigned during a positively cataclysmic era. Some of what happened was to the betterment of humankind, some of it was dreadful. I want to know about it all.

Victoria vs. Adolf

One of you suggests that for a gay man to display a bust of Victoria is equivalent to a Jewish person hanging up a picture of Adolf Hitler. This is insulting, absurd, and incorrect. Victoria is not generally thought of as a symbol of unadulterated hate. She did not set out to systematically exterminate homosexuals. Victoria's legislation on homosexuality reflected the accepted morals of her day, and was neither especially harsh nor particularly unusual for the time.

We are all in part a product of the time we live in. Had you been alive at the time, the chances you would have been outspokenly "Queer Positive" are pretty slim.

The Unmentionables

Another fellow's suggestion that Victoria should not even be mentioned or taught about in schools because of her less noble qualities is ridiculous. If we are not to study, or even mention, persons who are less than perfect, we shall have nobody to mention or study. Even St. Francis of Assisi had his moments.

To speak of historical women specifically, I've also got a painting of Empress Maria Theresa up in my kitchen. Consider her illustrious career:
  • Waged deadly wars to further her own ambitions.
  • Used her own children as pawns in international politics.
  • Promoted general education for both boys and girls, including musical studies.
  • Instituted training and certification for midwives in order to lower the mortality rates for mothers and infants.
Good or bad?

How about Eleanor Roosevelt? She's going up on the wall as soon as I get the proper frame for the photo I bought at the Smithsonian. Amazing woman. One of my idols. A source of endless inspiration. Someone I would give a year off my life to meet. Also largely responsible for beginning welfare programs in rural America that may well have led to a cycle of dependency that continues to this day.

Was she good or bad?

The creation of a list of "unmentionable" topics is stifling to academic freedom and I oppose it vehemently and with all my heart. I am all for reasoned and balanced discourse. I am not for biases that slant in either direction.

You want to live in a world where nobody ever disagrees with you or your views? You shouldn't be at a university. Go found a commune. And good riddance to you.

Feminist, My Ass

And finally, one priceless commentator, who describes herself as an "ardint [sic] feminist," faults Victoria for her flaws as a ruler but doesn't have a problem with Henry VIII because, as a man, his actions were part of his nature. Sorry, honey, but that ain't feminist. Holding women to a higher moral standard was one of the most pernicious aspects of Victorian society, a society in which you would perhaps feel strangely at home. Go lace yourself into a corset and ponder your sins while embroidering "The Lord is My Shepherd" on a cushion. And stop reading my blog.

Discussion's now over on this one, and I mean it.

Back to knitting and photography. Thanks.

14 comments:

Corvus said...

How dare you write intelligent posts containing politely restrained annoyance on a knitting blog? You must be some sort of monster, displaying critical thinking skills to your reading public like this. How do you think you make all the people who don't have those skills feel about themselves?!

*eltrohc* Mostly likely confused, on a good day. Angry, on a bad one (like today seemingly).

Good job on this post, Franklin. I'm glad I'm not the only one who gets fed up with people's need to censure.

Buzz said...

when i grow up, i want a blog that gets stupid hate mail too!!!!

goblinbox said...

I love you. You go.

sep said...

and here i was thinking of posting about that bunny hat... where's his ears? i don't get it.

history be damned! where's his ears?

MarQ1 said...

Jeez, Victoria is still relevant? She happened. You can't change that.
That's like getting upset now because Elvis gyrated on the Ed Sullivan show.
Clearly you are attracting a lot overseas attention, because, aside from the meager interest piqued by Merchant-Ivory films, most Americans have no idea who Victoria was, or is. Is she dead yet?

Sean said...

WTF! People need to get a life...for REAL. I would count it as a compliment that so many people READ your blog...except do you really want assholes and idiots reading. Well, maybe they're looking for an education.

Knott said...

I'm new to your blog, but this was exactly why I added you to my favorites. Rock on!

markknitz said...

awesome as usual, Franklin. revisionism is such a scary thing. in this day and age it's so easy to believe that such reactionary behaviour is limited to conservatives. and congratulations on the hate mail. you've arrived!!!

Jon said...

I sooo love reader hate mail. It means, to me, that I touched something. Bawahahahahaha

I find it rather interesting that Gilbert and Sullivan mocked the Queen in their productions. She was either a figure in the show or referred to. Hell, in each show, there's a fat matronly female character who is a caricature of the queen.

And Sullivan was KNIGHTED!

Back to Hilter and Jews. Yes, he was probably the worst human being ever to walk the face of this or any other planet. However, he was an incredible orator. Nixon was a brilliant president who made one mistake that has overshadowed his entire carrier. He was the first US president to ever visit China and his foreign policy was the best ever seen in this country. But no one reveres him for that.

OK, enough political history blather. To Sir Edwin's point, where the hell are the ears?!?

Colleen said...

You can't see me, but I'm standing an applauding you in the mess that is my office.

Anonymous said...

That was a lovely, intelligent, and well reasoned post.

-frm

Felicia said...

I'm with Mushlette. I luv u!

I'm truly sick of people sugar-coating everything! This makes me think about the GA school board wanting to use a texbook which described American slavery times in the following way:

Africans came to America to help build this nation.

Nyet on any mention of the buying, selling, beating, and killing of the Africans. Forget the entire slave trade.

The reasoning behind this? Talking about slavery in America makes children feel bad.

I'd take a class from you any day. You remind me of one of my fav college professors from 20 years ago. No one is perfect, and even the evil among us are creatures we can still learn something from.

(Oh, you'd also be quite easy on the eyes, unlike my former prof. He was okay for a man in his 70s, but he still remained, a man in his 70s!)

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