Story Time: Small Wives Tales

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Studying behavior is fun.  We can do thought experiments based on real-life observations of fact.

and a short story.

Consider this fact: women are smaller than men.  This is sexual dimorphism, the genders are splitting apart.  Most species have males and females about the same size.  When they are different, it means something’s going on.  Something having to do with natural selection.  Here’s a thought experiment story that takes the phenomenon to the extreme.

=====  A booth in a shabby diner, late morning.  =====

Yo, Joh, why so late?

The third wife was upset, and the other two said I had to help calm her down.  She’s got some bug up her butt about the kid, so I had to listen to her whine before I could leave.

You’re such a nice hubby.  Why don’t you get another one?

Are you kidding?  Three’s the limit for me.  What about you, you stopping at two?

No, I could use a third one.  Having two means they fight among themselves, and I have to break it up all the time.  I hear having a third, and maybe even a fourth keeps them mixed up enough so it takes a lot of pressure off.

You’re both crazy.  Why not just stick with the one and train her the way you want?

Like in the olden times?  What are you, a Neanderthal?  You know how many of those marriages went bust?  No, what those biologists figured out was perfect.  This way each wife has less of a man to make her crazy, she has more women friends to hang with keeping the pressure off him, and he ends up with more sex, while each of them ends up with less.  Win win win win win.

Still, I’m pretty happy with my one.  She’s got everything I need, and we seem to work well together.

Sure, youngster, keep telling yourself that.  It’s also a heck of a lot cheaper, isn’t it?  But it takes all types.

Why do you think women were smaller than men anyway?  There was a time they were only 10% smaller, now they are 25% smaller.

Perfect for carrying under your arm.

Or stuffing in your pants!  (Everyone laughs.)

Look, a long time ago the women were almost the same as men.  About the same size, about the same brain, small breasts, just as hairy.

Then something changed.

Yeah, we don’t know what.  Some eggheads think it was the women that did it to themselves, but maybe the men did it.  Anyway, the women got smaller, got boobs, and started painting themselves all over.

Don’t forget the sex part.

Right, then something happened to both genders so that having sex hardly ever makes a baby.  So it’s fun to do.

Very fun.

How much fun you having with the one?

Well…

I thought so.

C’mon.  After breakfast, we’ll do some shopping for you.  Then we’ll fix that ancient Camaro of yours.

Thanks.  So how about that game last night?

Pride and Prejudice: Omniscient Vendetta

Great Novel, Great Novelist

Last P&P post covered the fact that the omniscient narrator was making a mistake.  I know, it seems crazy, but there it is.  She (of course it’s a she!) makes claims about Mr. Bennet that aren’t shown in the book.  

What we didn’t cover was why the narrator would make mistakes like that.  What is she hiding?  More importantly, what is Jane Austen trying to prove?

I’m not sure what Jane was thinking, but it certainly makes the book far more complex.  It means the narrator becomes a character.  And a character has, well, a character.

In the case of P&P, this narrator is certainly not omniscient.  Even worse, the narrator has a thing against Mrs. Bennet.  How do I know?  Check out this evidence.

Her father, captivated by youth and beauty, and that appearance of good humour which youth and beauty generally give, had married a woman whose weak understanding and illiberal mind had very early in their marriage put an end to all real affection for her. Respect, esteem, and confidence had vanished for ever; and all his views of domestic happiness were overthrown.

 This comes from P&P, first paragraph of Chapter 42 (Volume 2 Chapter 19).

Talk about getting slammed!  The narrator is pretty much saying Mrs. Bennet who is weak, illiberal, no longer gets any affection, respect, esteem, or confidence.

But the book doesn’t hold up any of those claims.  True, Mr. Bennet never kisses her or says he loves her, but a lot of that didn’t go on back in those days anyway.  At the same time, he does show her respect and confidence throughout.  So what’s going on here?

The only thing I can figure is that the narrator has it in for Mrs. Bennet.

Maybe they were childhood rivals, and the narrator is in love with Mr. Bennet?  Or perhaps it’s a sister that no one likes to talk about.  At any rate, the narrator takes great pains throughout the story to slam Mrs. Bennet whenever she can.  Why?

Even if you think this is crazy talk, consider this.  No one writes tighter than Jane Austen.  It’s like reading a compressed computer file that expands in your head.  So why should Jane keep going on and on about how silly Mrs. Bennet is?

There can only be one reason.  Mrs. Bennet is truly a genius but hides it well.  The narrator is jealous, but since she’s a narrator she doesn’t have much recourse to revenge but telling us lies about Mrs. Bennet.  That’s where the vengeance comes in.

What who did when, I don’t know.  But I’ll get to the bottom of it.  In the meantime, I’ll just have to read more Jane.

Pride and Prejudice: Omniscient Mistakes

Great Novel, Great Novelist

Back in writing class I learned that the omniscient narrator was, well, omniscient.  That means they know everything.

Since the author DOES know everything, and since the narrator is also the author, that makes sense.

But what if they weren’t the same?

That means the narrator becomes a character.  And a character has, well, a character.

In the case of P&P, this narrator is certainly not omniscient.

Need some evidence?  Here you go:

Her father, captivated by youth and beauty, and that appearance of good humour which youth and beauty generally give, had married a woman whose weak understanding and illiberal mind had very early in their marriage put an end to all real affection for her. Respect, esteem, and confidence had vanished for ever; and all his views of domestic happiness were overthrown.

 This comes from P&P, first paragraph of Chapter 42 (Volume 2 Chapter 19).

It’s pretty hard hitting, with the narrator letting us know how hard life has been for Mr. Bennet.  That last line is the hardest of all; he’s lost all respect, esteem, and confidence in Mrs. Bennet.  Wow.

Wait just a minute.  One of the things that strikes me about Jane Austen’s writing is that she is tight, super tight.  When she describes something, or someone, she doesn’t waste space or words.  We learn Lydia is tall and stout.  Austen tells us this in two separate places, only once.

But when it comes to certain things, the narrator just keeps going on and on.  We’ll get to that in the next post.  What’s critical here is that Austen does everything right – her characters do exactly what she wants them to do.

So, let’s look at the three items that Mrs. Bennet has lost in the eyes of Mr. Bennet.

Respect.

How do you show someone respect?  You leave their personal space alone.  You don’t talk when they are talking.  You don’t badmouth them behind their back.  You address them politely at all times.

Guess what?  Mr. Bennet does exactly all those things throughout the book.  So how is that he has lost respect?  He certainly has lots of opportunities to show it.

Esteem?  This is a hard one so I’ll leave it for later.

What about confidence?

This one’s easy.  How do you show confidence in someone?  You trust their decisions, you don’t second guess them, you don’t “micro-manage” their activities.  Guess what?  Yes, it’s happened again.  Mr. Bennet does in fact trust his wife to make all sorts of decisions, including managing the girl’s education.  How about that?

We’ll talk about why the narrator makes these mistakes next.  But for now, it’s sufficient to show that the narrator certainly is not omniscient.  In fact, I don’t think the narrator even read the book.

So what I learned back in writing class was a start, but studying Jane Austen?  That’s a master class.

 

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Pride and Prejudice: Omniscience

Great Novel, Great Novelist

Way back in olden times, my English professors told us about how a writer can become the “omniscient” narrator.

This makes sense, because the person telling the story is made of words written by the writer.  Since the writer is making up the story, then the omniscient narrator knows everything the writer knows.  Right?

Wrong.

In P&P, they are two very different things.  For instance, the narrator keeps telling us that Mrs. Bennet is silly, but I have found several instances where she drops the act, if only for a moment, showing that there are some brains behind that faded beauty.

You may disagree, in fact I encourage feedback for this is all good fun, but there’s a good chance you can find your own examples where the narrator doesn’t know exactly what Jane knows.  That’s Jane Austen by the way; she and I are on a first-name basis.

Some incredible literates may observe that many writers do this, now.  Perhaps there were some that did this, then.  Good point, the omniscient narrator is treated like another character.

Except that in P&P, Jane makes the “edges” of the omniscient narrator invisible.  Unless you are extremely persistent, maybe even crazy persistent (like me) then the seams become evident.  But they are easy to miss.

Jane was such a fine writer that it’s almost impossible to see any seams, any cracks, any flaws in anything.  P&P is a perfect novel in which nothing ever happens.

So the next time you come across an omniscient narrator, tip your hat and pay a quick tribute to Jane.

 

Short Story Time: Talking Heads

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Studying behavior can be fun!  We can do thought experiments, like hard-assed physicists when they bend the universe to fit the speed of light, or put their heads inside a proton in order to get to know quarks and gluons better.

Our thought experiments take the form of short stories, generally known as science fiction.  Enjoy!

 

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Walter looked upon two graceful women in shimmering, semi-transparent robes.  They revealed enough to excite.

“He’s reacting well, like an alpha male of his time,” the older one said.  “Welcome to the future, Walter.  Not many heads made it from your era.  Yvette will be your guide for now.  I’ll be going.”  She gave instructions to the young woman and left.

Walter winced in pain.  The young lady stroked his temple and neck so gently he immediately felt at peace.

“Walter, go slowly.”  She continued stroking, and he looked her over.  She was twenty, curvaceous, and perfectly formed.  She was tall, and nothing about her calmed him.

He had a body!  He had signed up for freezing his head for centuries, until the future could cure his disease.  Now here he was!  Could he talk?

Talk he did.  As he warmed up, he asked Yvette many questions, and she answered him patiently, lovingly.

The body was built of his own cells.  They made improvements, and he would live a normal life.  His former profession was making “movies,” but there was still a need for storytellers.  He would have to learn new techniques.

He could walk now.  There were no cities, no tall building, no monorails.  These had all been deemed dangerous to the environment, Yvette explained.  Terrans lived in harmony with nature.  Machines were only found on Luna and Mars.

We colonized space? Walter asked.

“Of course.  We have also perfected our bodies and our society.  We learned how to alter DNA directly, no need for random pairings.  Every child is carefully engineered, and improved.”

No falling in love, no husband and wife?

“Wife?” she laughed.  “A concept males used to subjugate females for a million years.  No, the husband is history.”

I’m a man, I have deep feelings.  You are someone that I could easily fall in love with.

“You will find that we are all, as you would say, desirable.  Humanity is all female.  How old am I?” she demanded.  Walter shared his thoughts.  “I’m 50, my mentor over 90.”

I’m surrounded by millions of beautiful women?

“Yes, you are.  And according to history, you were quite randy, weren’t you?”

Walter confessed the truth.  But he remembered the 1960’s well, and hoped this future was as sexually enlightened.  He was looking forward to making many new friends.  Yvette laughed.

“I’m sure you are.  But the only way you can experience sexual stimulation will be through a deep brain stimulator we have implanted.  Here is your special button that only you can access,” pointing to his groin.  “We also removed your sex organs.”

Walter held onto a tree, looking at his lap.  The world spun, even as Yvette continued.  “Now, let me show you where you’ll be living for the rest of your life.”