Monday, 26 January 2009


'I do not wish to consider myself, nor yet to be considered, in a bony light': thus Pleasant Riderhood to Mr. Venus, articulator of bones in London's East End. And thus Mr. Venus - though made, it would seem, for true love and surrounded by trophies of his art - loses his domestic chance. He may scuttle its image in the fathoms of his teacup and read in the residue there of twists and turns in its future dearth. But he cannot wash out the taste of its truth: that Venus must never trump Virtue.

Pleasant is in love with Love, no doubt. But Pleasant knows that Love is a virtue; Love is what you do. And if what you do is articulate women, bone by bone, then all the professions of Love in the world will not override the sense, primary and strong, of woman as so many tarsals and carpels, as so many shillings and pence, with no sense nor worth until spoken for.

A woman may be Pleasant; but she must not forget her Virtue: if she does not, then she may win her Love (who agrees to articulate only men, children and the lower animals) and may reasonably hope to keep him.

Monday, 19 January 2009

HM's Chamber

In March 1870, Dickens met Victoria. Her husband's death had left the queen alone in the world, as she considered it, and loath to perform any but the most perfunctory rites of her sovereignty, for which she found excuse in a various and almost wholly elective ill-health. She was, in fact, stout of constitution and, out of respect for an author whose writings she had enjoyed and who had so captured the Victorian age, she remained standing for the course of their interview. He, whose decline in health was no less marked than his determination to suppress the fact in a frenzy of continued exertion, no doubt wished they might both take a seat.

But they stood: a writer, born into the shabbiest of gentilities, who attended to the minutiae of Victorian poverty, to its shawls and its smells, with the careful, expansive, eye of one for whom it was, had been at least, personal; a queen, born into the shabbbiest of sovereignties, whose horizons had narrowed to the diameter of her dead husband's chamber pot, daily scoured out in a mourning that, by now, replaced ruling. London, reeking with river and fog and misery; and a pristine pot, never to reek no more. A man, desperate to bury bad health in a fever for more of his audience; a woman, recoiling from hers in a fiction of nerves and disorders.

Dickens died 3 months later. Victoria reigned for 30 years more.