Following the railway lines, nineteenth-century civilization was a slender-tentacled octopus extended upon an immemorial rural quiet.
~ William Irvine, Apes, Angels, and Victorians
Where this mysterious cephalopod had come from and how it had got so big, no one could say. Presumably it had crawled out of the sea one night, or perhaps it had arrived by steamer from a distant star. A few things were certain: it was accompanied by its own parasites in the form of bankers, lawyers, and insurance salesmen. It couldn’t abide the thought of unemployed children. And that film of soot we’re taught was spread all over the cities by belching late-Victorian factories? Ink.
“By Maude’s count, Claire had now cheated her of three or four too many trophies.”
Bathing beauty contest winners (and losers), circa 1920.
Is not general incivility the very essence of love?
~ Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
I was once thrown out of a furniture store for daring to return a bunk bed I’d picked up thirty minutes before. On opening the boxes at home, I’d discovered it wasn’t made in the U.S., as was claimed, and was not really solid wood. It smelled of glue and formaldehyde. We didn’t want our kids breathing the fumes at night. “I don’t get you people – environmentalists!” the owner of the store snarled at me. The bed was a special order, he said, and non-returnable. It didn’t matter that no one told me it was a special order. The bed was my problem, not his, and if I didn’t leave the premises, he’d call the cops. Seeing how much he loved me, I tried not to take offence.
Having been unable to do what they would, they have pretended to will what they could.
~ Montaigne, Essays II, 18
You may have noticed that, just before the deathblow, a gazelle will seem to sigh and resign itself to circumstances under the cheetah’s paw – almost as if it had finally found what it secretly wanted all along. Slow the footage for a moment and you’ll get a perfect icon of the peaceable kingdom. It may be one of those odd intersections of wisdom and foolishness in life, a sort of grotesque mercy: to finally choose what you can no longer escape.
“She climbed to the platform with a ticket for the 10:14 limited.”
Photograph by Francis Frith, circa 1850-1870.