Monday, February 15, 2010

Politically Incorrect Murder, She Wrote

One New Year’s Eve, long ago, I made a resolution that I have actually managed to keep. It was to read all those ‘classic’ novels I had heard about but never had any desire to read. To date, I have read from Austen, Jane (Pride and Prejudice) to Wilde, Oscar (The Picture of Dorian Gray) and some 52 others in between.

Dickens took some getting used to (Our Mutual Friend was tough sledding) but now I can’t seem to get enough. Nicholas Nickleby is next on my list. Hands down, Robinson Crusoe was my favourite and I have gone back to it two more times (once after reading The Moonstone as it is referred to so often). Of course, Sherlock Holmes is the top of the heap but as I had read and enjoyed many of those pre-resolution, the ‘favourite’ title can go to Daniel Defoe. Silver medal to Jules Verne ~ Around the World in Eighty Days!

Admittedly I have not loved (or even liked) them all. Thomas Hardy and Jude the Obscure depressed me to no end. I kept thinking it, like the majority of others I had read would surely have a happy ending, but no. It did not. Not wanting to face another of his works on my own, I started our now defunct book club with Tess of the D’Ubervilles. While not the happiest of endings, I at least enjoyed it.

The realization that Friends is not a trustworthy source for the plot of classic works also dawned on me. Do you remember the episode where Rachel agreed to read The Shining if Joey read Little Women? And then she ruined the end for Joey by saying “Beth dies”. Know what? She doesn’t die. But after Jude the Obscure I have to say it wouldn't have been a shock.

Stories aside, I have also learned several useful tidbits about the evolution of words. Slut, for instance, used to (and I suppose still does) mean a poor house keeper. And slut’s wool is a dust bunny. Thank you Emily Bronte for putting me in the know.

I try to keep in mind that ‘such words’ worked their way into everyday language “way back when” but I have to say the use certain words makes my jaw drop. Smattered throughout some of the plots and storylines are phrases and descriptors used to characterize certain religious and ethnic groups. I have to say however, that G. K. Chesterton takes the cake when it comes to this.
Having read and re-read all of Holmes’ cases, I was looking for another set of murder mystery classics. ‘The Woman in White’ and ‘The Moonstone’ we both fantastic, but not as compact as one of Mr. Doyle’s adventures. I then stumbled across Mr. Chesterton and Father Brown.

Each story stands on its own and is a great way to spend 15 minutes before heading off to bed. Three or four back-to-back are the perfect accompaniment to an afternoon pot of tea. I can almost imagine the cook substituting some flour in my scone with rat poison or the butler slipping some arsenic in with the tea. Not that I have either of these domestics, but if I did……

None are not too taxing on the brain and remind me of episodes of Murder, She Wrote. Much like Jessica Fletcher, Chesterton’s parish sleuth has a “face round and dull as a Norfolk dumpling”.

Every once in a while though, he makes me drop my clotted cream and look around the room for the PC police. He seems to have been the Andrew Dice Clay of his generation – no one is safe. A certain religious figure is referred to as “that dirty old humbug that lived in the desert”. Another group that has stereotypically been referred to as, shall we say, tight, always seems to be in season.

But most cringe worthy is the use of the now strictly taboo ‘n’ word. Several of the stories take place in the United States as the little parish priest and his brown parcels set out on a North American crime solving spree. Between 1910 and 1935 I don’t think the etiquette police were quite as entrenched as they are now but he seems to be more than generous with his use of the word.

I don’t want to get into a big debate about whether or not we have gone too PC these days. I guess I understand why parents don’t want their kids thinking that a lumberjack will cut you out of a wolf’s stomach after you go visit Grandma. Although, really, pretty good lesson for staying away from wolves isn’t it? Serves ‘em right really. “Oh boo hoo, a wolf ate Red Riding Hood”. Well maybe you should have thought of that BEFORE you sent her into the woods with a basket of freshly baked goods. But I digress…..

I have to admit I am surprised that no one has ‘cleaned up’ some of the language but I guess Father Brown is not main stream enough to attract the attention of the censors. And on the plus side, after such offensive language I find myself having to indulge in a little snort of port, apres tea as it were, to take the edge off.


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