Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Lost in La Mancha (2002)

While we're on the topic of Don Quixote, I wanted to mention Terry Gilliam's umpteenth try at filming a movie based on Cervantes' book. There are many articles available, but here are two I liked: Terry Gilliam on finally filming Don Quixote: 'Adam Driver is bankable! Thank God for Star Wars!' and Video: Watch Terry Gilliam talk Don Quixote at Cannes. I love most of Gilliam's films and find myself returning to them again and again. I realize it's not a style for everyone, and even sometimes I weary of the overwhelming parts.

But I do think he is one of the few directors working now that could do a version of Don Quixote justice, although it seems like the film we be more about the idea of Don Quixote than the book itself. I'm OK with that since people seem to many different ways to read the book. As I mentioned in my post on Mark Van Doren's Don Quixote's Profession, he notes
The sign of its simplicity is that it can be summarized in a few sentences. The sign of its mysteriousness is that it can be talked about forever. It has indeed been talked about as no other story ever was. For a strange thing happens to its readers. They do not read the same book. Or if they do, they have different theories about it.

(As an aside, I've updated my post on Don Quixote's Profession to note that the speeches comprising it can also be found, much cheaper, in Van Doren's The Happy Critic, published in 1961).

Gilliam's trouble in trying to make a Quixote-related film has been well documented (see here for a nice recap of his last attempt), and he's not the only one that encountered trouble on such a project. I decided to watch Lost in La Mancha, the documentary by Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe on the ill-fated filming of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. This was Fulton and Pepe's second feature documenting a Gilliam Film: The Hamster Factor and Other Tales of Twelve Monkeys was the first. There was no way they could have known when they started covering Gilliam's The Man Who Killed Don Quixote that the project would fall apart when the film's star, Jean Rochefort, became too ill and injured to continue filming.

The problems with the project begin early: funding falls through, actors aren't under contract and don't show up for pre-production, and sets aren't as advertised. Assistant Director Phil Patterson stated it well, noting that working on a project with Gilliam was like riding a wild horse. You grab on to the mane and hold on for the ride of your life. The first scene was shot next to a NATO bombing range, so jets disrupt their attempts to film. Then massive rain and hail wash away that set. Rochefort leaves the set after day six of shooting, never to return. Despite initial claims of force majeure, the insurance company reimbursed investors but ended up owning the script. A few of the clips filmed are shown and they barely hint at what might have been. The difficulty in filming a movie, especially one with a strict budget and tight schedule, comes through in every scene. Similar to Cervantes' story, reality keeps intruding on the dream.

Gilliam handles everything thrown at him with aplomb. He has a few "blow up" moments, but they're surprisingly tame in relation to what he's facing. The stand-out moments for me was Patterson putting Jean Rochefort's health above making the film and Terry Gilliam sticking with Patterson even when he didn't agree with him. If watching someone under intense pressure reveals their true nature, these are two outstanding guys.

I found watching Lost in La Mancha frustrating at times, even though I knew exactly how things would turn out, because I wanted them to succeed. And I ardently hope that this go-round will be successful. If you go to rent Lost in La Mancha or check it out from a library, make sure there is a second disc including extras. On it is a 54 minute interview between Salman Rushdie and Terry Gilliam from 2002. It's an entertaining romp through their views on different types of books and movies. I found myself wishing it would go on for much longer.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Don Quixote's Profession by Mark Van Doren

Don Quixote’s Profession by Mark Van Doren
New York: Columbia University Press, 1958. Print.
Drawings by Joseph Low

Mark Van Doren in Quiz Show, answering a question about the meaning of Don Quixote:
"It means, if you want to be a knight, act like a knight."

My great friends do not know me.
Hamlet in the halls,
Achilles by the river
Feasting with the Duke see no one there
Like me, like Mark Van Doren, who grows daily
Older while they look not, change not,
Die not save the deaths their masters made.
- The Autobiography of Mark Van Doren (page 351)

My purpose in this case, and I did to keep it a secret from the class, was to examine the various ways in which the greatest storytellers had put divine things and human things together. The ultimate dimension, I suggested, was given to narrative by the presence in it of gods or their equivalent. In the case of Cervantes I promised that it would be difficult to say what the equivalent was, yet I supposed it was there, or else Don Quixote would not be the supreme novel it is. Reading it slowly in preparation for the course, listening to every word of it in Motteux's joyful translation, I had fallen hopelessly in love with it as I continue every year to do.
- The Autobiography of Mark Van Doren (pages 283-4)
In November 1956, Mark Van Doren gave a series of three lectures at Emory University about Don Quixote. In 1958, Columbia University Press put out this slim volume (just over 100 pages) containing those lectures. Van Doren talks about his reluctance to attempt a talk on Don Quixote since it wasn't just a subject, "It was a world." As he ends his introduction he notes, "This is not all I have to say about Don Quixote, but for me it is the central thing and I am willing to let it go at that." It is a pleasing and challenging little book that I highly recommend for anyone that has an interest in Cervantes.

Van Doren begins with a simplistic synopsis of the book (see the link below to Simon Leys article for that summary). He notes that the novel is "both simple and mysterious" and moves on to his central argument:
The sign of its simplicity is that it can be summarized in a few sentences. The sign of its mysteriousness is that it can be talked about forever. It has indeed been talked about as no other story ever was. For a strange thing happens to its readers. They do not read the same book. Or if they do, they have different theories about it. ...

He suffered from no delusion as to his identity. It was merely that he had been reading many books, and out of them he formed a conception of life as he would henceforth live it if he could. ...

It is well to observe that imitation was his aim. Not impersonation, and not deception. He knew very well who he was. The only question was whether he would be able to act the part he had chosen. (from pages 3, 4, & 5)

That is the focus of his lectures: Don Quixote was not mad—he knew exactly what he was doing when he was imitating a knight. I'm not sure I completely buy into his argument, but it is an extremely fun ride following his thoughts on the book and its central character. He begins by looking at why Don Quixote chose the role of knight. Since he was so well read, he could have imitated a scholar or a shepherd, or even a religious occupation. Van Doren believes Don Quixote chose knighthood as his role because of the learning involved in being one: "The discipline of knighthood was to him the sum of all the arts and sciences; was wisdom itself; was a liberal education." This might present a problem in looking at his role models, such as Amadis of Gaul, who was no scholar. But Amadis didn't have to talk about being a knight—he was one. Wisdom and learning play a part in imitating a knight. As Van Doren mentions later in the lectures, "To act as he [Don Quixote] acts is more than to ape; to imitate as he does is finally to understand."

Van Doren theorizes that Don Quixote "was first and last an actor, a skillful and conscious actor, who wrote his own play as he proceeded and of course kept the center of its stage." Here we run into one of the many similarities with Hamlet. Was he mad because he acted madly? Did he confuse the role he was playing with the role? Early on in the novel, after his first sally, a neighbor farmer finds and rescues Don Quixote. Upon hearing the old man calling himself the names of knightly characters, the farmer tells him that he is only the honorable gentleman Señor Quijana. "Don Quixote answers him with seven famous words. 'I know very well who I am.' This could mean, of course, that he knows he is Baldwin or Abindarez and therefore is mad. But it could also mean just what it says." Possible, but the knight then rambles on about who all he could be, too.

Van Doren mentions the troubling aspect of doing "violence to harmless creatures who get in his way," such as the poor sheep he assaults, mistaking them for armies. Or the funeral procession he disrupts, maiming one of the mourners. It's one thing to risk his own life when tilting at windmills, but something quite different "when he hurts people who in no sense deserve it. His acting now becomes extravagant with a vengeance; his role grows ruthless; he behaves more like a lunatic than like a knight; he is fanatical, as if he thought himself, like Providence, privileged to seem cruel." Van Doren points out there is a rivalry between the concept of behaving outside the law because he is just and the law itself. In order to maintain his role, Don Quixote has to behave in the former manner. And when he does make mistakes, he always blames the misinterpretation of appearances, whether through sorcerers or spells. If things had really been as he had interpreted them, his behavior and actions would have been justified. Van Doren uses this, though, to demonstrate Don Quixote wasn't mad. A madman would have continued these exploits whether or not he thought he could achieve his desires. Don Quixote continues because he believes everything is within his grasp. As he constantly puts it, his goal would have been successful in all of his failures if he had not been deceived. This delusion, then, supports his sanity.

One trait Van Doren points out that proves Don Quixote's sanity is his humor. He is able to laugh, not just at others, but at himself, too. After pointing out several examples, Van Doren states, "So much humor, so easily and so naturally expressed, is not the mark of a madman. It is not demonic humor; it is pleasantry, it is power and wisdom at play... ." Another point Van Doren highlights is that when Don Quixote is alone, which isn't often, "He is controlled and serene." Another is the understanding Don Quixote had of the part he played and his remarkable ability to play it well. If he was a poor actor, we wouldn't be talking about him. Although I have to wonder if he was a superb actor and never failed, would our take on his madness/acting change?

There's also the logic that Don Quixote uses, such as his paying penance in the mountains for Dulcinea. As he explains to Sancho, running mad without a cause shows the perfection of his undertaking. There's a certain logic in his madness, but whether it's of a sane man or a calculating madman I can't say. He understands that pretending isn't actors would say, he has to sell it. We see similar acts of madness in the novel. Carrasco fails to defeat Don Quixote when pretending to be the Knight of the Mirrors because we was a poor actor. He didn't believe what he was doing to the same extent as Don Quixote. The story of Basil winning the hand of Quiteria through his acting skills, though, demonstrates ingenuity in playing a part to earn what he wants, and Don Quixote admires him for it. As the novel progresses, the reader has to wonder which of the other characters are crazy. Characters humoring Don Quixote or trying to outwit him can seem crazier than their target.

As Van Doren concludes, it may be that Don Quixote was the "most perfect knight that ever lived; the only one, in fact, we can believe; but Cervantes never asks us to arrive at that conclusion." One of the most successful of Cervantes' achievements was to save the literature of chivalry and knight-errants by ridiculing it, a treatment that also deepens into a love for the characters he has created. In the move Quiz Show, Charles Van Doren goes to visit his father Mark Van Doren in his classroom. As Charles enters the classroom, his father is answering a question from a group of students (including Ethan Hawke, who recently wrote a book concerning knights) about what Don Quixote is about. "It means, if you want to be a knight, act like a knight," the elder Van Doren replies, and I can think of no better summary for this entertaining book. I enjoyed the confidence he has in his arguments, even when I don't fully agree with him.

I am hopeful someone is able to put these lectures back in print. (Hint hint NYRB Classics!) Very highly recommended.

Other works mentioned in this post:

  • The Autobiography of Mark Van Doren by Mark Van Doren. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1958. Print.
  • "The Imitation of Our Lord Don Quixote" by Simon Leys. The New York Review of Books, June 11, 1998 issue
  • Quiz Show. Burbank, CA: Hollywood Pictures Home Video, 1994.

Update (23 May 2016): After looking high and low for a copy of Don Quixote's Profession I could afford, I gave up and requested a copy via interlibrary loan. My post is based on the original book. I have since found out that Van Doren's The Happy Critic contains the text of Don Quixote's Profession and can be found for much cheaper prices. It does not contain Van Doren's introduction or Joseph Low's illustrations, but for the difference in price (under $10 vs. greater than $50 for DQP), I wanted to post about this avenue of availability. I hope to post on some of the other essays in The Happy Critic soon.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Lunatics, Lovers and Poets: Twelve Stories after Cervantes and Shakespeare

Lunatics, Lovers and Poets: Twelve Stories after Cervantes and Shakespeare
Edited by Daniel Hahn and Margarita Valencia
Introduction by Salman Rushdie
Los Angeles: And Other Stories, 2016. Paperback.


For this anthology, publisher And Other Books commissioned six Spanish-speaking writers to write stories inspired by Shakespeare and six English-speaking writers to do the same for Cervantes. The impetus behind the project being, of course, the 400th anniversary of the death of each writer on the "same day" (or a day apart), although with England was using the Julian calendar and Spain the Gregorian system, which meant they died approximately ten days apart. Regardless, it's close enough to support such a project.

I've commented before that most fiction I read can easily tie back to Cervantes, and that's not just true of the Cervantes-based stories in this collection but the Shakespeare-based stories, too. And I guess you could say several of the Cervantes-based stories show touches of Shakespeare as well. All of which reflects the importance of the two on current authors. One thing that comes across in each story is the universal nature of Cervantes and Shakespeare. Stories are based from the modern day back to the early 17th century, in locations all around the world, and all of them seem fresh and current. It's a fine collection highlighting the pervasiveness of each author.

The opening story by Ben Okri, "Don Quixote and the Ambiguity of Reading," perfectly sets the tone for the collection. The knight shows up at a printing shop and reads about his adventures as written by a Ben Okri from oral histories as well as from "manuscripts originally written by Cervantes, who wrote his from papers he discovered by Cide Hamete Benegeli, who got it from an Arabic manuscript." The matryoshka doll-like nesting of narration calls up Part I of Don Quixote while visiting the printing shop borrows from Part II. But this Don Quixote tries to teach Ben Okri how to read, which is, in large part, what Don Quixote is all about. This crazed version of the knight notes," Reading is about understanding that which cannot be understood, which the words merely hint at." The fact that the pages he read contained nothing like what he said he read makes the narrator wonder, "There still remains some doubt as to whether his reading of this secret reality is a consequence of his madness, or whether our inability to read it is a consequence of our dimness." I feel his pain.

There are other Cervantes-based stories from Don Quixote and his Exemplary Novels. Rhidian Brook's "The Anthology Massacre" tells of the narrator's completion of a novel told from Rocinante's point of view, obliquely references the collection of stories we're reading, and has a bodycount that would make Shakespeare envious. Kamila Shamsie creates the storyteller Mir Aslam, who seems to share characteristics of both Don Quixote and Cide Hamete Benegeli. Nell Leyshon and Deborah Levy start with "The Glass Graduate" from the Exmplary Novels, but take the premise in different directions, each of which touch on the psychosis of the original.

There is a similar range in the stories based on Shakespeare. Marcos Giralt Torrente's "Opening Windows" borrows heavily from Hamlet, especially the play-within-a-play device. Vicente Molina Foix's "Egyptian Puppet," set in Shakespeare's London, tells of a couple going to the Globe Theater to watch Antony and Cleopatra. The next morning the husband, a jailer, leaves for work but is never seen again. His wife moves on with her life, yearning for the man who once was while suffused in melancholy (very A&C-like). In the link above to "The Dogs of War," Juan Gabriel Vásquez gives us real life characters stepping directly from Julius Caesar into 1984 Bogotá, Colombia, filling their roles a little too convincingly.

Valeria Luisella's "Shakespeare, New Mexico" took a while to grow on me, but it gradually became my favorite Shakespeare-based story. A ghost town off the beaten path has become a tourist attraction with actors re-enacting historical characters and events. The catch is that the actors are permanently in character, even when there are no tourists present. The narrator plots to commit adultery with Billy the Kid while one character opts for a Mickey Mouse costume instead of historical dress. That's when things turn weird. Each actor tends to strut and fret upon their own stage of life.

Lunatics, Lovers and Poets proves to be a fine collection that commemorates Cervantes and Shakespeare and their continuing influence, not just on these writers but on all of us. Recommended.

The lunatic, the lover, and the poet,
are of imagination all compact.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Friday, May 13, 2016

Simulation Games in the Classroom

A few years ago, Dr. James Lacey, professor of Strategic Studies at the Marine Corps War College, contacted me about my series of posts on Thucydides. It was and remains one of the high points in blogging for me. So I wanted to share a recent article of his that looks at the difficulty in teaching Thucydides. While his focus is specifically on the war colleges, I think it's an important lesson for both teaching and history in general. The article is "Wargaming in the Classroom: An Odyssey" at

Dr. Lacey recounts his early experience attempting to teach Thucydides and how the standard teaching approach didn't prepare students to answer questions like “Was the attack on Syracuse poor strategy, or good strategy marred by poor execution?” His recent approach freed up classroom time in order to play a wargame that included economic and diplomatic elements. Out of the five Athenian teams playing the game, four of them attacked Syracuse despite the real-life disaster 2,500 years ago. In explaining their rationale for choosing to invade, the students pointed out legitimate strategic reasons for doing so, something Dr. Lacey notes that the standard approach didn't adequately impart to students. He also shares some of the other games and simulations he chose for other conflicts. Despite students chuckling over the stupidity of European leaders getting drawn into World War I, every time he has run the simulation the armies have arched.

He mentions a few revelations the students had realized after playing these games and simulations, but I'll just share this one paragraph:
At the end of each wargame, students walked away with a new appreciation of the historical circumstances of the period and the events they had read about and discussed in class. And even though all wargames are an abstract of actual events, I am sure that no student exposed to historical gaming will ever again read about the Peloponnesian War without thinking about Sicily’s wheat, the crucial importance of holding the Isthmus of Corinth, or what could have been done with a bit more Persian silver in the coffers of one side or the other’s treasury. Similarly, the next time one of this year’s students reads about Lee and Grant in 1864, they will also be thinking about how the truly decisive actions took place out west. For, as it was during the actual conflict, in every game the students played, Grant’s role was to pin down the Army of Northern Virginia, while the western armies ripped out the economic heart of the Confederacy.

I recommend reading the whole article even though I doubt any of my readers will attend a war college. The lessons learned that Dr. Lacey presents can be used for any history course. For history this year my kids participated in a co-op class that several homeschool parents pulled together. One parent, a former teacher, had the children do an ancient civilization game that the kids loved. In trying to insure their civilization lasted, they had to deal with resource and money constraints and I think they realized the trade-offs rulers/governments have to face when making such decisions. I definitely plan on including such games in our future courses.

If you have experience with any of these types of games or simulations (as a teacher or student), I would love to hear from you in the comments!

Sidenote: Evidently Dr. Lacey stirred up a hornet's nest at other war colleges with some of the statements in his article. If you have time, you may want to check out an article by Professors James Holmes and John Maurer as well as Dr. Lacey's reply in the Comments.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Lost Children of the Empire: The Untold Story of Britain's Child Migrants by Philip Bean and Joy Melville

Lost Children of the Empire by Philip Bean and Joy Melville
The Untold Story of Britain’s Child Migrants
Unwin Hyman Limited (London); 1989
ISBN: 0-04-440358-5

In 1618, a group of orphaned and destitute children left Britain for Richmond, Virginia in the United States. It was the start of an extraordinary era in British history, formally referred to as Britain’s child migration scheme—a more acceptable phrase than child exportation—and was to last almost 350 years. The final boatload left only some twenty years ago, in 1967, when ninety children left Southhampton for Australia, but altogether about 150,000 children were “exported” to outposts of the British Empire—to Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and, to a lesser extent, South Africa, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and the Caribbean. (page 1)

Lost Children of the Empire is a remarkable overview of Britain’s child migration scheme, where orphans, “street kids,” and other children were packed off to colonial destinations, all with government assistance or blessing. Philip Bean and Joy Melville did a great job of presenting details of the different phases of the migrations along with excerpts from letters/writings from the exiles. Reading their letters, occasionally detailing abuse but more often ill-treatment and hardship, can be heartbreaking at times. Quite a few, though, show a resilience that always amazes me about the human spirit.

There were several distinct phases in child migration. The earliest started when the Virginia Company in America requested local officials to provide “unwanted children” to help fill in for a shortage of labor. In the next century, “child migration was bound up with a different policy: the transportation of convicted felons, mostly to the colonies.” Common law breakers as young as seven were transported as well as “potential trouble-makers.” In the early 19th century, emigration was seen for many as a relief valve for too many children and the substantial increase in juvenile offenses.

Starting around 1849, philanthropic organizations began to form specifically to handle child migration, with most of the children going to Canada. The circumstances for many of the children is that they weren’t adequately being taken care of at home, were embarrassments to families (such as out-of-wedlock children), or were seen as potential problems. Only a third were genuine orphans, despite the habitual use of "orphan children" used by these organizations. The attitude at the time was that a pure, ennobling life in the countryside and wide-open spaces would cleanse the moral degeneracy and pollution of these young souls. Not to mention these schemes provided stock to far-flung parts of the British Empire. Having the "right kind" of stock, though, seems to depend on the curative assumptions about the countryside.

So what kind of life did the children find upon arrival in their new homes? Whether living at a group home or placed with a family, it seemed to be the luck of the draw. Some of the supporting philanthropists appear to have had good hearts and good intentions, but that’s not enough when it comes to insuring a child's safety and well being. Many of the letters from former emigrants make it clear that a substantial number of families where the children were placed viewed their wards as slave labor. Incentives, such as having the children work for their board until they were fourteen (at which point they had to be paid), insured that many children would be returned to a group home to be replaced with younger help. Staff at the group homes and families where the children were placed were rarely interviewed or examined, so all sorts of abuse is detailed in the migrant's words.

There was a government inquiry into child migration headed up by a civil servant, Andrew Doyle. His report, published early in 1875, was damning when comparing the claims versus the reality he found. The point that kept appearing in his report was the question of whether or not the children were really better off by being sent abroad. Even if some were, what about the many who weren’t? He pointed out the lack of inspections on the families with whom children were placed and almost no follow up on how the children were doing. His call for elemental safeguards, though, ended up being undermined by those that had the most at stake in the enterprise—the philanthropists. Most of the benefactors were Protestant, so Doyle’s Catholicism was attacked and his report dismissed as religious pandering. A few of his recommendations were instituted, but usually because they benefited the government or philanthropists. While some of the philanthropists had good intentions, Bean and Melville make it clear that the migrations was a profitable enterprise for them, too.

Around 1890, though, hostility toward the child migrants increased in Canada. The stigma of being unwanted was constantly used against the Home children, especially as jobs became scarce for locals. A few provinces passed laws regulating immigration. The number of immigrants declined for a few years, then began to rise again until World War I. Once a law was passed limiting immigrants to older than 14 years of age (contradicting all earlier arguments that the younger a child was sent, the better), the supposed last group of young children were sent from Britain to Canada in 1925. But that wouldn’t stop the children from being sent abroad in the name of Empire building.

Nevertheless, for all these countries, it was open house on British children. The British government, always eager to save costs at home at the expense of colonial governments abroad, cheered on the children. The voluntary societies collected the subsidies and, under no constraints whatsoever, made their decisions about the type of regime under which the children should be brought up.

Few curbs were placed on them and there was not a hint of a code of good practice. There were no objective arrangements to inspect the children’s progress; to check on their happiness; to give them access to personal and family records; to arrange for them to be sent home if they could not settle and had a parent or parents in Britain; to educate them well enough to get a professional job; to provide after-care.

The children boarding the emigration ships were often cheered off by classmates at the boat. Listening to an account of what happened to one child in Australia many years later, a horrified teacher said, “Oh, my God, if only we’d known. There we all were, waving and thinking that they were all going off to this better world.”

That, too, is what the children thought. (page 92)

Children began to be sent to institutions called farm schools in Australia in 1913, Canada in 1935, and Rhodesia in 1946. It is noted, though, that one of the more famous farms on Vancouver Island did not produce a single farmer despite intentions. Once World War II was over, the return of London evacuee children caused a short-term evaluation of the effects of separation from families, but it wasn’t long before child migrants began being sent around the empire again. As Bean and Melville wryly put it, “The same old arguments for sending the children were brought out, the same mistakes were still made.” The main child migrant agencies shipped off 10,000 British children to Australia after the war.

The history of child migration in Australia is in many ways a history of cruelty, lies and deceit. For instance, children were told that their parents were dead; that they came from deprived backgrounds; that they had been “rescued” and should be grateful. … Yet these children were not orphans. And most of the families they came from were not poor or deprived. Marriage breakdown and illegitimacy rose sharply during and after the Second Would War and unwanted children were often place in children’s Homes in the understanding that they would be fostered or adopted. This belief stopped the parent(s) and other family members from enquiring about the children. …

Children who were sent to Australia with brothers and sisters were also promised they would all be kept together. Yet often they were split up on arrival and either never saw their brothers and sisters again, or too rarely to have a normal brother and sister relationship. … The policy of the agencies was to cut children off from their previous life, in order to make it “easier” for them to adjust to their new country. (pages 111-112)

Since the relocation to Australia was more recent and efforts have been somewhat successful in locating families, there are plenty of reports from this wave of emigrants. The comments from the (now) adults are surprisingly compassionate regarding their parents. There is still a common theme of cruelty in the orphanages, farms schools, or other institutions. Very few of the children sent to Australia were adopted or fostered, but a common theme around acceptance of their situation (since they didn't know any better at the time) is repeated over and over. You can almost see them coming to terms with what happened as they tell their stories and reassess what really happened. Many chose to blank out these experiences. Some of the stories recount a sadistic cruelty that is almost unbelievable. One ex-Christian Brother who served at Bindoon (made famous in Oranges and Sunshine…see below) wrote to three children he had saved from drowning at the institute’s swimming hole, apologizing for saving them. “He admitted that, looking back, it might have been a blessing if the creek had claimed them, in view of what a terrible life many ultimately led, ‘suicides, alcohol, broken marriages, loneliness, desertions—a life of misery.’” Another description used for one place is “brutalizing cruelty,” providing cruelty disguised as discipline.

There is a chapter titled “The Children’s Voices,” where letters and interviews from migrants willing to talk about their experience are printed. As the authors note, many are in tears when retelling these stories, and many are hesitant to speak openly about what happened to them. It’s a powerful section. “[C]hildren in that day and age were not considered to be quite human, but rather some sort of creature to be whipped into shape as they matured.” Not all the child emigrants speak badly about their situations. Many of the provided quotes from the boys sent to Rhodesia were positive in parts or in whole. And some of the migrant children did receive an education, although school seems to be an afterthought most of the time.

One message coming up over and over again is the children’s lack of identity. The children, once grown, were constantly lied to or given the run around when trying to find out about their family in Britain. Records were routinely suppressed. Original families were also constantly lied to. Many parents were shocked to find out their children had gone abroad. They thought they had been adopted or placed with a foster family nearby. Many of the children didn’t even know their correct name or birthdate, making an investigation of their family history even harder. "The child migrants' increasingly desperate and failed attempts to find out information about themselves and their families led to the remarkable history of the Child Migrants Trust." This was led by social worker Margaret Humphreys, and the story is told in the book and movie Oranges and Sunshine (see "Related books" below). So few people knew that children were still being sent to Australia until the late 1960s that one man was compulsorily detained in a UK psych ward for his claims of being shipped to Australia as a child.

In all the time of the migration, no one seemed to care about the children’s legal rights. Many were emotionally scarred, unable to form relationships throughout their lives. As one of the concluding statements notes, “Child migration was meant to be in the best interests of the child. But throughout its history, the children never came first.” And earlier: “What is so extraordinary about the child migration scheme is that at no time were any legal safeguards made governing the welfare of the many thousands of child migrants sent out by the voluntary societies.”

Overall, I thought Bean and Melville did a remarkable job of remaining as even-handed as possible in their reporting, which is why I’m choosing to post on this book. They do make pronouncements and judgments, but often such conclusions come through in their word choice more than actually stating them. Considering the length of time the child migration scheme(s) was in effect, I thought they did an extraordinary job of organizing and presenting the material. The book is out of print, but copies can be found at book sellers online for not a lot of money (particularly the hardback version). Very highly recommended.

Related books:

  • New Lives for Old: The Story of Britain's Home Children by Janet Sacks and Robert Kershaw is another great overview of the entire Home Children programs.
  • Oranges and Sunshine (originally titled Empty Cradles) by Margaret Humphreys concentrates on the children sent to Australia. Made into an excellent 2010 movie, also titled Oranges and Sunshine, starring Emily Watson. I thought the movie was so well done I compiled an extensive list of quotes from it.
  • The Little Immigrants: The Orphans Who Came to Canada by Kenneth Bagnell focuses on the Canadian migrants. It is estimated that 11% of Canada’s population is descended from these child migrants.
  • The Home Children by Phyllis Harrison consists of letters written by Home Children in Canada about their experiences about their journeys to Canada, life in the homes, and their lives since then.
  • Joy Weare has an impressive number of pictures related to the Australian migrants on her “Oranges and Sunshine” Pinterest page.

There are several more books, documentaries, and movies I know about, but have not read or seen. I can highly recommend all of the above if you are interested in exploring more on this topic. The Wikipedia page on Home Children contains many more. There is also an extensive bibliography and list of reports and papers at the back of Lost Children of the Empire.

If you have read any book on this topic or seen any related video movie/documentary, please feel free to talk about it in the Comments and add links if you have posted on any of them.

In the 1950s, a poster from the Fairbridge Society showed a slum child in Britain gazing at an outline of Australia in the sky. His loneliness could, it seems, only be relieved by emigration. The plea for funds comes next: “Help him join his friends,” is the message. (page 38)

Actual text on the back cover: “Left behind! His friends have gone; will YOU help him to join them? It costs £30—a Christmas gift that lasts a lifetime!”
I don’t think they realized how ironic that statement could be.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Interview with Meg Groeling, author of The Aftermath of Battle

The Aftermath of Battle: The Burial of the Civil War Dead by Meg Groeling
Emerging Civil War Series
Savas Beatie; Fall 2015
192 pp.; 211 images
ISBN: 978-1-61121-189-4

I first became aware of this book when our local bookstore was touting an upcoming talk by its author, Meg Groeling. I wasn't able to make that talk, but the topic interested me since I too would think, "What did they do with all the bodies?" when visiting a U.S. Civil War site. While reading the book I found many more questions being raised, something the Suggested Readings section helps address. When I found out Groeling lived close by, I figured why not ask her some of these questions? So what follows is the culmination of our e-mail chain. (I've cleaned up a few of my typos.)

Since some of my questions go beyond the scope of the book, I recommend you read this article on Groeling and the book by Liam McGurl and this interview with Groeling by the book's publisher first since they focus more on the book itself. My post on the book lists some of the topics included in the book.

Dwight: You mention several of the directives and orders released after the war started, such as Federal General Order Number 33 (page 15) on how to construct a burial trench. I'm curious as to what was in place at the start of the war.

Meg: Practically nothing was in place--mortuary science was not exactly a "thing" at that time, and it was mainly left to the winning army (determined by who had final control of the battleground) to deal with the dead & injured. Usually the dead were gathered up and buried in relatively shallow graves, with wooden markers. Dead Mexican soldiers in the Mexican War were not identified, but were interred. There was no "official" way to move a corpse, which was usually in the process of decomposing. Lead-lined caskets were used, but sometimes railroads refused to move smelly cargoes. There weren't even toe-tags, or ways to identify wounded as they were moved from hospital to hospital. It was barbaric, or so it seems to us now.

Dwight: With so many officers on both sides having attended military academies (West Point or VMI, for example), is it possible to know what they had studied regarding logistics in general and specifically handling the dead during their studies? (I don't know if it's possible to know what the West Point curriculum looked like in the 1840s and 1850s, but I thought I'd ask.)

Meg: I wondered myself--one thing that shows up again and again in the Civil War is the incredible inability of officers to write coherent orders. I am thinking "Writing Orders 101" was not a class at West Point! Mostly they studied math and engineering. Some French was offered, and Jomini was taught, with attention to Napoleonic tactics and things like interior & exterior lines, frontal assaults, flanking attacks, etc. Battles from the past were studied, but logistics was NOT given the emphasis we now know it needs. Experience in the field was supposed to supplement a lack of curriculum depth. One problem with this was that America had fought no large-scale engagements since the Mexican War, and there was no military retirement plan. Officers at the top just stayed until death, basically. This meant that very few positions of command opened up for younger officers, so guys like Lee and McDowell ended up staying captains forever, and many had never commanded large numbers of men by 1861. No one even talked about handling the dead. Frontier forts just buried soldiers in fort cemeteries, and then wrote letters back home.

Dwight: Burying the dead, as you mentioned in the book and your online interview, usually fell to the victor since they held the ground. But it seemed to fall to the locals if the ground wasn't really "held" in the usual sense, such as in Grant's Overland Campaign (constant engagement with Lee) or Stonewall Jackson's Valley Campaigns (constant motion and harassment). From what you've described, though, they don’t seem to have really been able to handle the clean-up, especially near the end of the war, do they?

Meg: In a word, no. Technology had to catch up with reality very quickly. There wasn't even reliable embalming, much less reliable transportation for dead or injured. Many times the home folks came to the battlefield looking for loved ones and privately arranged for the returns. People scoured hospitals looking for loved ones as well. This really ticked [Dr. Jonathan] Letterman off. The soldiers got better treatment at a hospital than at home, and he knew many would not survive being moved any distance at all.

Dwight: The book covers a lot of wide-ranging topics, some of which I see are covered in books in the Suggested Reading section. I particularly liked the chapter on the horses and mules and the one on Dr. Jonathan Letterman. Was there a particular topic or subject you wanted to include in the book but weren't able to cover?

Meg: Oh yes!! I really wanted to do a chapter on haunted battlefields! Gettysburg is said to be one of the most haunted places in America. I know I could have handled the topic with some degree of taste (because ghosts care about that sort of thing, you know!) but I was voted down by my editors, big time. I guess the stories will have to wait--but it would have been fun!

Dwight: The detail you provide on many of the historic sites (National Parks and Cemeteries) seem to be from first-hand visits. Were you able to visit many of the sites you mention? And how hard is it to write about events that happened in Virginia (for example) when you live in California?

Meg: One of the truths about being any kind of historian is that you have to just have to suck it up and go where the history is. I have visited many historic sites and plan to continue to do so, although I am not a particularly good traveler. The Civil War Trust has excellent information about their sites, and it is hard to beat the National Park Service for the individual e-sites dedicated to battlefields and other historic places. I think the quality of the information improves as folks get used to manipulating the technology to five visitors a virtual experience. It makes it easier all around, for trip planning and for seeing what is there second-hand.

Dwight: I had wondered about the role of race when it came to the cemeteries, and Matt Atkinson provided a glimpse at this in his Appendix on the National Cemetery in Vicksburg. Was the racial segregation pretty standard for many of the cemeteries? I'm glad to see blacks at least included in Vicksburg's cemetery. For Confederate cemeteries, were slaves or freed blacks that died in battle on the South's side likewise included (like at Hollywood)? Or is Vicksburg pretty much an anomaly?

Meg: When the Union Army lost large numbers of men, like at Olustee, the Crater, or Ft. Wagner, the Confederates were anything but respectful of African-American corpses. Few were returned, and many were mutilated beyond belief. There were few black bodies to bury, or to rebury, for that matter. The Union bodies at Fort Wagner are famous for having been tossed into a shallow pit, white officers, black soldiers--no matter what--just all buried together. When the bodies were reinterred, some had been lost because of the ocean tides. But those left remained together, just as in life, so in death.

Dwight: I wondered if you'd like to say a few words about the Emerging Civil War Series? It seems like a great way to provide new details and research on the war by people with eclectic backgrounds but with an interest in the subject.

Meg: The Emerging Civil War series was originally created as a series of price point books that could be sold at the National Park sites, with an emphasis on a certain book being sold at a matching site. It turned out that the books were written very well, and as nicely illustrated as possible in black & white, and actually more than anyone thought they would be. The original price has been raised a little, the page count is now longer, and the subject matter is wider. Aftermath is one of the newer books, with more pages. Its topic is general, and includes several Civil War sites, making it suitable for sale at more than one venue. I know, however, that the idea to do a book on the topic, "What did they do with all the bodies?" has been part of the ECW idea from the beginning. I was asked to write it, and proud to do so.

My final question had to do with the book Meg is currently working on, which is about Elmer Ellsworth, considered the Civil War's first casualty. Since much of her reply seemed to be "off the record," I won't post her answer. I will update this post as more becomes available about its publication.

Many thanks to Meg for taking time to patiently answer my questions! Now...go check out her book...

Monday, May 09, 2016

The Aftermath of Battle: The Burial of the Civil War Dead by Meg Groeling (Emerging Civil War Series)

The Aftermath of Battle: The Burial of the Civil War Dead by Meg Groeling
Emerging Civil War Series
Savas Beatie; Fall 2015
192 pp.; 211 images
ISBN: 978-1-61121-189-4

“After the battle, what did they do with all the bodies?”
— common question from U.S. Civil War battlefield visitors

I recently stumbled across the Emerging Civil War Series, which provides "fresh perspective on America's defining event." To date, the series contains overviews and details on some of the battles as well as issues surrounding the war. One such issue has to do with what to do with all the casualties of a battle. When visiting a Civil War park, the opening question repeatedly gets asked once the magnitude of the carnage sinks in. Meg Groeling address this question and many more related to it in The Aftermath of Battle: The Burial of the Civil War Dead.

The protocol of the time was the winner of a battle would take care of burying the dead since they held the ground. This meant their own fallen were usually taken of first and best, while the other side got whatever resources were left over. However, many situations proved difficult for even this simple procedure. The elements could make burials problematic. Oftentimes, both sides were immediately on the move after a battle, leaving little time to take care of the dead. In this case, locals were usually left with the challenge of burials. And too often the sheer numbers of dead men and animals was simply overwhelming.

Groeling's narrative begins with addressing what was done with the dead, but the book covers many more topics, such as:

  • The origin of the bugle call "Taps" during the war.
  • The invention of photojournalism, effectively starting with Matthew Brady's exhibition "The Dead of Antietam," showcasing stunning photography by Alexander Gardner.
  • How the dead animals, particularly horses and mules, were handled. Their numbers are no less staggering than the human toll.
  • The pioneering work in battlefield medicine by Dr. Jonathan Letterman. His plans (and the work of many) revolutionized what happened to those wounded in battle.
  • The reforms started by Dr. William A. Hammond, the surgeon general of the U.S. Army.
  • Improvements in embalming and coffin technology, for families that wanted to (and could afford to) have a fallen soldier buried at home.
  • The development of national cemeteries, usually involving much effort to identify and reinter bodies.
  • Not all bodies fell on land. Many seaman lost their lives, and Groeling goes into detail about the discovery of the Confederate submarine Hunley.
  • Special attention is given to the difficulties in and around The Wilderness battle sites, where fires and inaccessibility of terrain made burials impossible.
  • How Dorence Atwater, with Clara Barton's help, was able to document deaths at the infamous Andersonville Prison.
  • Competing numbers and methodologies for calculating the Civil War battle deaths.

If that seems like a lot squeezed into the book, it is. Groeling goes into great detail in some areas, but others are necessarily higher level summaries. Fortunately there is an excellent "Suggested Readings" section at the end that covers any area raised in the book for a curious reader. As the back jacket notes, The Aftermath of Battle is an "easy-to-read overview that will complement any Civil War library...." The book also provides plenty of information about many Civil War parks, battlefields, and cemeteries as well as museums and other related sites that would be of interest.

For a morbid topic, Groeling's writing handles the subject matter with grace and taste. The suffering during and after the battles are presented, but it's the portraits of compassion by people wanting to help those in agony or wanting to honor those who fell that resonated the most with me. More information on the Emerging Civil War Series can be found here. The publisher, Savas Beatie, has done a good job with the books I've looked at in the series. There were a few typos in Aftermath (most notably mislabeling casualties as deaths in one place), but overall the layout, the content, and the flow of information was well done. I'm not a fan of the font used for chapter headings (the same as on the book cover), but that's a minor quibble. Highly recommended.

In a separate post, I'll have an interview with Meg Groeling.
Update: the interview is in this post.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

A bleg: sources for teaching the Bible as literature

Next school year I want to go through parts of the Bible with my boys, focusing on literature aspects of it. That is, if they're going to fully understand authors such as Faulkner, Melville, Lincoln, Marilynne Robinson, (and many others), they need to be grounded as to what's in the Bible and the language of the King James Version.

So I have a question for anyone that has some expertise or exposure on this subject. I hesitate to raise it with secular homeschool friends ("You're teaching the Bible?" [both eyebrows arched]) or religious homeschool friends ("You're teaching the Bible as literature?" [both eyebrows arched]). I already know what it feels like to be on the receiving end of multiple-arched eyebrows.

Some sources I plan to include is Robert Alter's Pen of Iron: American Prose and the King James Bible (2010). Another book I'm familiar with that would be helpful is Adam Nicolson's God's Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible, so they understand how its eloquence and, at times, inaccuracies came into being. I've planning on using the Oxford World Classics' copy of the King James Bible (and Apocrypha) since it a) is inexpensive, b) has Apocryphal texts, and c) supposedly has a good history of the Bible in its Introduction. And I'm willing to go through the MIT Open Courseware course on The Bible since the course description covers a lot of what I'm trying to cover...albeit for a younger crowd. Although if you're going to approach the writing as literature, I don't understand the exclusion of the Psalms.

So my request is to pass on any sources you think would be helpful on this subject. I'm sure there's more out there, but I'm a little overwhelmed with the end of the schoolyear and planning for next year. Not to mention the whole eyebrow thing I'm trying to avoid. Thank you so much!

Monday, April 18, 2016

His Only Son by Leopoldo Alas...upcoming from NYRB

I was such a huge fan of La Regenta by Leopoldo Alas that I tracked down several of his out-of-print English translations and devoured them, too. So I was extremely happy to see NYRB will be releasing His Only Son with a new translation by Margaret Jull Costa this fall. (Nice to see I have a blurb on it.) I thoroughly enjoyed the translation I read by Julie Jones, who was kind enough to answer some of my questions on the novel, so I'm excited to see a version of the novel return to print.

To be included with His Only Son is the novella "Doña Berta," something I thought would be a great introduction to Alas in my post on it, with translation by Robert M. Fedorchek. In addition, I called it rich and perplexing (and ambiguous), so I'm also happy to see it included in the NYRB release.

I hope readers will take advantage of this opportunity!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Bill (2015 movie: UK)

Last night my wife and I went to see the 2015 movie Bill, which has the tagline of "How Bill became Shakespeare." As far as I know, this was the only U.S. screening before its DVD release in the states next month. Thanks to Fathom Events for another wonderful media experience.

If you're familiar with the live Horrible Histories series, you'll know exactly what to expect with the movie (seeing as it's mostly the same people). The movie supposedly fills in some of the gaps of Shakespeare's "lost years"—how he moved from obscurity in Stratford-upon-Avon to a famous London playwright. Don't look for it to make sense...just let the lunacy and gags wash over you. And the gags come at warp speed. The musical group "Mortal Coil," after kicking Bill out of the band (for doing an extended solo on his lute), doesn't just leave...they shuffle off. After being told, "Saying things in a short snappy way instead of a long drawn-out way is the soul of wit," Bill asks, "You mean brevity?" When Bill stands on a stage in an empty theater that looks eerily familiar, you hear strains of music in the background that sound a lot like the Shakespeare in Love soundtrack. You get the idea, and either you enjoy this kind of humor or you don't.

Much of Shakespeare's entire career and the surrounding history of both Elizabethan and Jacobean eras are crammed into the few days during the Lost Years shown. The Gunpowder Plot of 1605 provides a crucial plot device (even though it's...well, I'm not really sure how many years earlier since I'm not sure what year it is exactly). And for me, that was the fun of it. There are running gags throughout about an espionage agent not understanding the meaning of a Trojan Horse. Lines from Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet get mashed together. There's a musical number providing a lot of insight into theater at the time. Christopher Marlowe not understanding some of the basic principles of humor. And even if some of the themes are ahistorical, it serves the purpose of the movie.

Catching the references. Understanding the sight gags. It may be geeky fun, but non-geeks can like it, too. Many reviews I've seen of the movie say it is Monty Python-esque, and while I don't disagree, I think the "Horrible Histories" people have established themselves well enough to say that it faithfully follows their franchise's family-friendly approach, even though it isn't officially affiliated. I look forward to seeing it with my boys, where they might actually learn something by accident. Which is the whole point of "Horrible Histories."

The showing had bonus content, with an introduction on special facts about Shakespeare and a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the movie, some of which I'm sure will be on the upcoming DVD release. All in all, a lot of fun if you like snarky humor. Definitely recommended.