‘I hope she’ll be a fool – that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.’
Daisy, The Great Gatsby
Is it better to be a beautiful fool or to be plain and clever? Who is happier? Who feels more fulfilled? Daisy’s example seems to imply that beautiful women attract the sort of men that only fools could be happy with. And conversely then, do plain women necessarily attract men with whom they can form more meaningful relationships? That is, if they attract any man at all. And is the situation truly hopeless for the clever, beautiful woman? Shouldn’t a woman with two of humanity’s most admired traits be happy?
Perhaps a survey of 19th century literature can shed some light on this question. Much of 19th century fiction (and most fiction before that period) was meant to demonstrate some moral lesson. Generally, the clever and virtuous triumphed and the foolish and cruel came to a bad end, regardless of physical beauty. This is certainly true of authors like Jane Austen and Charles Dickens but less so of Gustave Flaubert, whose Madame Bovary was intended to be a story written objectively, devoid of moralizing. Even his heroine, however, is punished for her foolishness.
Here’s a quick rundown of some famous 19th century heroines, their smarts/beauty quotient, and their fate.
Elizabeth Bennett – Clever and Beautiful – Ends up happy
Lydia Bennett – Foolish and Beautiful (?) – Ends up happy
Jane Eyre – Clever and Plain – Ends up happy
Catherine Linton – Foolish and Beautiful – Ends up unhappy/dead
Madame Bovary – Foolish and Beautiful – Ends up unhappy/dead
Emma Woodhouse – Clever and Beautiful – Ends up happy
Marian Holcombe – Clever and Plain – Ends up happy (though not married)
Dorothea Brooke – Clever and Beautiful – Ends up happy
Rosamund Vincy – Foolish and Beautiful – Ends up unhappy
In most cases, the foolish are punished and the clever rewarded, regardless of physical beauty. The one (I’d say pretty famous) exception that perfectly fits Daisy’s definition of a beautiful fool is Lydia Bennett. I’m not sure if she’s noted in the book as actually being particularly beautiful, but she clearly has charms enough to attract a cad like Mr. Wickham. Luckily for her, she has a quality Daisy does not. She is foolish enough that she has no idea she has married a scalliwag, and she may never figure it out. She will live her life blissfully ignorant of her husband’s poor character. This is Daisy’s dream for her daughter and by extension, herself – to be beautiful enough to marry comfortably and foolish enough to be ignorant of her husband’s flaws and failings.
Twentieth-century fiction departs dramatically from the moralizing of the 19th century. Daisy’s statement (and by extension, Fitzgerald’s) sounds like a reaction to modernism, to the type of world where even in fiction the bad guy can win (he certainly does in The Great Gatsby) and the fool can come out on top. But what about in real life? Real life is so diverse and varied, it’s impossible to prove that one or the other type of woman is happier or more successful. I have known examples of all kinds, though I can say from personal experience the only women I know who bothered to consider this question were the smart ones.
I can say for myself, beyond a doubt, that I would rather be smart and plain than sexy and stupid. Most of us would probably characterize ourselves as somewhere in the middle on both traits anyway. How about you, dear readers? Who is happiest, and which would you prefer to be?
I saw a lovely German movie (auf Deutsch, aber mit subtitles) last week called “Ludwig II.” I have since discovered that there have been a bunch of German movies about this particular king, so this one may have been a bit of a bore for those who have seen the other ones, but this was my first movie about the “Mad” King of Bavaria, and I quite liked it.
The movie spends a lot of time on one particularly interesting aspect of Ludwig’s life, and that was his patronage of the composer Wagner. Later in Wagner’s life, he was living in hiding, on the run from creditors and the authorities for failing to pay his debts and having revolutionary and otherwise scandalous political connections. When Ludwig II became king, he immediately summoned Wagner to Munich and took him in, paying off his debts and encouraging him to continue to compose. It was under Ludwig’s patronage that Wagner composed his later works Tristan and Isolde, Die Meistersinger, and the Ring.
Young King Ludwig, only 18 at the time of his coronation, was deeply enamored of Wagner and his music. Ludwig was a passionate and sensitive man who deeply loved music and the arts. During their relationship as composer and patron, Ludwig wrote a series of heartfelt letters to Wagner, expressing his love and devotion to the composer.
My one Friend, my ardently beloved!
This afternoon, at 3.30, I returned from a glorious tour in Switzerland! How this land delighted me! – There I found your dear letter; deepest warmest thanks for the same. With new and burning enthusiasm has it filled me; I see that the beloved marches boldly and confidently forward, towards our great and eternal goal.
All hindrances I will victoriously overcome like a hero. I am entirely at thy disposal; let me now dutifully prove it. – Yes, we must meet and speak together. I will banish all evil clouds; Love has strength for all. You are the star that shines upon my life, and the sight of you ever wonderfully strengthens me. – Ardently I long for you, O my presiding Saint, to whom I pray! I should be immensely pleased to see my friend here in about a week; oh, we have plenty to say! If only I could quite banish from me the curse of which you speak, and send it back to the deeps of night from whence it sprang! – How I love, how I love you, my one, my highest good! . . .
My enthusiasm and love for you are boundless. Once more I swear you faith till death!
Ever, ever your devoted
From what I’ve read, modern historians generally concur that Ludwig was a homosexual, though this seems to remain somewhat controversial. Whether he had romantic affections for Wagner is unclear simply from his letters, but it is obvious he felt a very close connection to the composer. The movie portrays them as having more of a father/son relationship, which seems more reasonable to me based on their significant age difference.
Another enjoyable thing about the movie was the serious man candy. Deutschland is seriously bringing the hotties.
My favorite had to be Friedrich Muecke, the actor playing Richard Hornig, Ludwig’s Master of the Horse and one of his lovers. I’ve never seen this guy before, but I’ll take two, please! Do any of our German readers know of any other well-known movies this gentleman has been in that might be available in the US? Staring at this picture is making me hornig.
Source: Letter from http://rictornorton.co.uk/ludwig.htm
On the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, while the people of the young United States were celebrating with cannons, hymns, and fireworks, two of the nation’s greatest patriots lay on their deathbeds. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, two of the only three living signers of the Declaration, died only hours apart from one another on that significant day. The poignancy of this coincidence has always struck me. What are the odds? It is generally known that both of these venerable Patriots knew their end was approaching and purposefully “held on” (as much as a mortal can) until the fourth. But still! Jefferson was eight years younger, and Adams lived to an unusual 91 years old. It just seems so beautifully fortuitous. The significance was not lost on the people of the time, either. John Quincy Adams called it a “visible and palpable” manifestation of “Divine favor” (David McCullough, John Adams, p647), and honestly, I have to agree. But amidst our celebrations of our founding, I can’t help but think of the hymn we often sing at church, “This is my Song.” Written in 1934 by Lloyd Stone, it reminds us that as much as we love our own country, there are people all over the world who love their own just as passionately. Happy Fourth of July to our American readers and may God bless all nations.
This is My Song, 1934
This is my song, O God of all the nations,
A song of peace for lands afar and mine.
This is my home, the country where my heart is;
Here are my hopes, my dreams, my sacred shrine.
But other hearts in other lands are beating,
With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.
My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean,
And sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine.
But other lands have sunlight too and clover,
And skies are everywhere as blue as mine.
O hear my song, O God of all the nations,
A song of peace for their land and for mine.
Patrick Henry holds a special place in my heart for various reasons, but I am not sure how many people who are not from Virginia have even heard of him. Those of us who were lucky enough to be raised in this beautiful state memorized his great, “Give me Liberty, or give me Death!” speech in grade school. Or maybe that was just my school. Patrick Henry gave that speech at St. John’s Church in Richmond. The church is still there, and they do re-enactments all summer. Doing a little research for this post, I discovered something I never knew, that his speech to the Virginia Convention that day, March 20, 1775, arguing in favor of Virginia drawing up militia troops and preparing to defend itself against the British, was never actually transcribed. The speech was re-created years later based on the memories of other men who were there to hear it. In THAT case, I think I should have gotten a bit more leniency in my grade when I flubbed a line in the middle because you can’t prove to me he didn’t say, “Is life so dear, or peace so neat…” With that caveat, I present to you the last part of the inspiring and timeless speech he (probably) gave that day. Yes, it was said specifically for the British colonies in the Americas years ago, but it could be said for any civilization at any time; Liberty is always worth fighting for.
…Three millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us. Besides, sir, we shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations; and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave. Besides, sir, we have no election. If we were base enough to desire it, it is now too late to retire from the contest. There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come.
It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!
Since we love a good anachronism, we asked ourselves, if our Founding Fathers were around today what kind of music would they listen to? Here’s what we think they might enjoy:
George Washington – Country music or Bruce Springsteen. Both masculine and patriotic.
Alexander Hamilton – Pop/Rap. Rap is all about money and sex, so that seems right up Hamilton’s alley. I can also see him grooving to Justin Timberlake, Future Sex/Love Sounds. Alex definitely brought sexy back.
John Adams – Adult Contemporary. John was a bit too Puritanical for anything very edgy.
Thomas Jefferson – Anything French. Edith Piaf on lazy days, M83 or Phoenix when he wants something peppier. He would also be into experimental electronica, too. I am pretty sure he would be a hipster and like lots of weird bands John Adams has never heard of.
Benjamin Franklin – R&B/Soul. Al Green, Barry White, maybe R. Kelly – can’t you see him grooving to “Let’s Stay Together?”
Patrick Henry – Muse. Henry would definitely dig the passionate, revolutionary themes of this band’s songs.
Sam Adams – Rage Against the Machine. Because.
We hold this truth to be self-evident, that not all hotties are created equal. The Vicky A’s are over-stepping our bounds just a bit and dipping way back into history, before Queen Victoria, back to the end of Colonial America and the founding of our nation, the United States of America. This week, we will answer the timeless question, “Who is the Hottest Founding Father?” But Katherine, you may scoff, these men were great statesmen, diplomats, soldiers, and philosophers – it is shallow and silly to compare them on looks alone. To you I say, I have the greatest respect for the men who founded the nation in which I live. I love this country dearly, and I think the people who laid the political and legal foundations of this country were truly remarkable. Some of them were also pretty hot, so I say it’s about time for a little objectification – we women have been putting up with it, oh, FOREVER. So lighten up and let’s get to it!
First up, Thomas Jefferson!
Let me start by saying, I don’t understand this whole, “Make fun of gingers” thing – I think redheads are awesome. I have always been super-jealous of girls with vibrant red hair – I think it’s striking and beautiful. TJ was a redhead, and I love him all the more for it.
In addition to being a sexy Red, he did a few little things with his life like writing the Declaration of Independence, writing the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom, and founding the University of Virginia. Honestly, I could go on for a long time about TJ’s many talents and interests, but all you need to know is how good he looks in this painting. How can Ben Franklin concentrate on anything else with so much hotness in such close proximity?
Next is Alexander Hamilton. Have you ever stopped to look at a ten dollar
bill? I mean really look at it? Do it right now – take a minute to gaze
upon the visage of Mr. Hamilton and tell me that man isn’t a major hottie.
If he had been president, he would have been Babe-raham Lincoln. He was even acknowledged in his time as being a major looker. In fact, he gave this country one of its first political sex scandals. Oh yeah. Before he was in office, Hamilton had an affair with a married woman and blackmailed her husband to keep it a secret. This came to light during Washington’s administration, and Hamilton admitted to it and resigned. According to Wikipedia, the affair started when the woman came to him for help, claiming to be abandoned by her husband. She asked him for some money to get herself and child back to New York. This is what he had to say about the meeting, “I took the bill out of my pocket and gave it to her – Some conversation ensued from which it was quickly apparent that other than pecuniary consolation would be acceptable.” Thus began a three-year long affair. Dang, Hammy!
Ben Franklin – Playa Plenipotentiary and Ambassador of Love
He’s not here because he’s good looking per se but because he was the
Pan-Global Mack of the Millenium. He went to France and got it on with
everyone. In what is now a classic letter, Franklin advised a friend on his choice of mistress, arguing that the man should choose an older woman rather than a younger one because:
1. There is no hazard of children
B. They are more discreet
4. Since people walk upright, the body parts up top fade and sag more quickly than…lower parts. So an old woman looks just like a young woman “below the Girdle.” (I AM SERIOUS HE SAID THIS)
Plus he invented bifocals and lightning.
I feel like this could be a picture of a young Tommy Lee Jones. John Marshall was one of the first Supreme Court Justices, and he was incredibly influential in the development of the American legal system. He also served as John Adams’s Secretary of State. He is so handsome and stately in his old age…
Next up is James Madison — he was a major player in the creation of the Constitution, wrote the Bill of Rights, and helped write the Federalist Papers. He served as Jefferson’s Secretary of State before becoming president himself.
Ignore the hair on this next photo. He actually kind of looks like a vampire here with that crazy widow’s peak, but if you focus on the face, he’s pretty good looking.
So who is your fave? I know this list does not include all of the Founding Fathers, but I’m not sure I would classify the others as hotties. His Rotundity John Adams just doesn’t do it for me, but feel free to fight for General Washington’s right to eternal hottie-dom in the comments!
First, the Colonists bought lots of things from England, but England charged them taxes on those things without them having a chance to participate in the government. Sam Adams didn’t like that.
Sam Adams didn’t like a lot of things. In protest, the Colonists had the least fun tea party ever (which I refer to as the Boston Massacre) at which no tea was actually drunk but defenseless cases of tea were thrown mercilessly into the ocean. At least they got to wear costumes. (Note to self: Next time, have a Boston-Tea-Party-themed tea party?)
After that, some people were like, “Maybe we should be independent, guys.” So they all got together for the Continental Congress to decide what to do and how best to stop the continued loss of innocent tea. When they got to the Congress, the Massachusetts reps thought they were the hottest, but they were wrong. The Virginians were the hottest.
The Continental Congress got together a poopload of times. There was a lot of this from South Carolina.
And a lot of this from Massachusetts.
John Adams decided they needed to write down their feelings, so he asked Thomas Jefferson to write a Declaration of Independence.
They liked it!
But they still had to vote on it. Eventually, everyone agreed to declare independence. Then they had to announce to the general populace that they had basically just signed them all up for war.
Then there was a lot of fighting for a couple of years. Luckily for them, Ben Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson were all in Europe pretty much the whole time.
Not long after that, they all went back to the new independent states. It was time to elect a President. George Washington did not want this job.
But they made him President anyway, because he was the man. His one rule was that he didn’t want political parties in his administration. That didn’t work out too well.
In the end, President Washington served two terms before stepping down and allowing a new President to be elected. You know those before and after pictures they show of President Obama from 2008 to now? This is what GW looked like before and after his two terms.
That was a rough 8 years, but he made it and so did the rest of the country thanks to our Founding Fathers!
All still images from HBO’s John Adams miniseries. Mouse over images for gif credits.
And now for something completely different: thanks to a certain spectacular Presidents’ birthday on Saturday, Katherine and I had the brilliant idea to dedicate this week to America’s Founding Fathers! Yes, yes, we know it’s not about Victoriana, and that most of these honorable gentlemen died (or were shot in a duel) before the era in question began, but we love our history, darn it, and we feel you should too!
Without further ado, we plan on bombarding you all with articles historical, ridiculous, and Seussical about these daring gents. We’ll celebrate the life of Thomas Jefferson and ogle photos of the handsome actor (Stephen Dillane) who portrayed him in the John Adams’ miniseries (I have an affection for both men that borders on the unreasonable). We’ll review said miniseries and discuss its importance for the Founding Father’s in modern media. We’ll have a Founding Father-off, and see who wins! We will even go as far as to summarize all of American Revolutionary history with a series of silly gifs. And of course, expect lots of terrible Declaration of Independence puns.
We hold these truths to be self-evident; that if there is an event of historical importance, we can find a way to make it silly.