Category Archives: Writing

“France is Bacon”

Someone on Quora, a site that I’ve lately come to love, asked about the meaning of the phrase “France is Bacon.”  It shows up, now and then, in the oddest places.

I knew the answer to this one, because I still remember the first time I read the origin story. It came in response to a Reddit Inquiry entitled “What word or phrase did you totally misunderstand as a child?”

Redditor Lard_Baron responded with this charming reminiscence:

After all this time, that story still makes me smile.

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Jane Austen in Your Pocket

The Bank of England released the new £10 note today, featuring an image of Jane Austen and of her Pride and Prejudice heroine, Elizabeth Bennett. But Austen fans—and there are reported to be several—are not all pleased.

Some object to the Austen quotation cited on the note: “I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!” A fine sentiment, but delivered, in the book, by the snobbish and superficial Caroline Bingley, who didn’t believe it for a minute. She was just using it to ensnare Mr Darcy.

Given how obsessed many of Austen’s characters are with money and the status it confers, one would think the designers could come up with a more appropriate, finance-related quote for a banknote. I’ve certainly plagiarized borrowed “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife” often enough, although, now that I think about it, that line is probably too sexist and too damn heterocentric to be acceptable in the 21st century.

And then there’s a problem with the depiction of Jane Austen. It’s based on a portrait painted years after Austen’s death.

The Sunday Times quotes Lucy Worsley, Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces and author of the book Jane Austen at Home:

“It’s an author publicity portrait painted after she died in which she’s been given the Georgian equivalent of an airbrushing — she’s been subtly ‘improved.’

“Jane had a much sharper face — some might call it sour.”

On the left, a portrait of Austen by her sister, Cassandra. On the right, the image on the banknote.

On the left, a portrait of Austen by her sister, Cassandra. On the right, the image on the banknote.

I think she might have a point.

Still, it’s pleasant to see a nation’s writers and painters celebrated on its currency—the new £20 note, to be released in 2020, will feature J.M.W. Turner—instead of the usual dead politicians. I wouldn’t want it to happen here in the US, though. With the current sad state of American civilization, it’s all too easy to imagine the government replacing Lincoln on the $5 bill with a picture of Ayn Rand‎.

It’s Dorothy Parker’s Birthday

Dorothy Parker (22 August 1893 – 7 June 1967)

It’s been 124 years since the birth of Dorothy Parker. Poet, critic, short story writer, political activist, and one of the greatest wits of the 20th century.


I do not like my state of mind;
I’m bitter, querulous, unkind.
I hate my legs, I hate my hands,
I do not yearn for lovelier lands.
I dread the dawn’s recurrent light;
I hate to go to bed at night.
I snoot at simple, earnest folk.
I cannot take the gentlest joke.
I find no peace in paint or type.
My world is but a lot of tripe.
I’m disillusioned, empty-breasted.
For what I think, I’d be arrested.
I am not sick, I am not well.
My quondam dreams are shot to hell.
My soul is crushed, my spirit sore;
I do not like me any more.
I cavil, quarrel, grumble, grouse.
I ponder on the narrow house.
I shudder at the thought of men….
I’m due to fall in love again.

― Dorothy Parker

Happy Anniversary, Buffy!

It was 20 years ago today, as the old song goes, that the first episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer was televised on the long-gone and much-missed WB network. The show, based on a moderately successful but mediocre movie, survived an uneven first season (i.e. some of the first season episodes are really, really pathetic) to become one of the great pre-Golden Age television programs.

Or maybe, as Lucy Mangan wrote in The Guardian today,

The Sopranos is generally held up as the inflection point for television-as-art – the moment the medium matured and had to start being taken seriously. But Buffy was there first and doing extraordinary things before the conflicted Mafiosi hit the screen…”

—from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer at 20: the thrilling, brilliant birth of TV as art”*

The Scooby Gang, and friends.  And foes.

A personal story.

Back in 2002, I became seriously ill with what’s now called COPD. I went to my doctor on the morning of 12 November, and she immediately sent me to the ER at Washington Hospital Center. I didn’t get a room until a few minutes after 8 PM, but there was a silver lining, because once I had access to a TV set, I was able to catch most of that night’s episode of Buffy.**

I was hospitalized for three weeks, and instructed to recuperate at home for more than six weeks after that. During the entire time, my wonderful mother–who had turned 80 on the day I was admitted to the hospital–called me at least twice a day, just to make sure I was all right. The only time that was off-limits for phone calls was Tuesday night, between 8 and 9 PM, when Buffy was on TV.

So, yeah. I guess you could say I’ve always been a fan.


Bonus Feature

In this fan re-mix, Buffy takes on the most horrible vampire of all, with predictable results.


Another Bonus Feature

Here’s the original, never-aired pilot episode for Buffy, with a different Willow and a much sillier tone.


*The entire article, and the related stories on The Guardian site, are worth reading.
**It was a great episode, too! “Conversations with Dead People”.

A Series of Unfortunate Events — New Trailer

No, that title is not simply a description of the horrendous things that have happened in the last 11 months. Instead, it’s a hopeful sign that 2017 might not be as foul and depressing as much of 2016 has been.

But this trailer leaves me a bit uneasy. For me, the world of A Series of Unfortunate Events has always been a mix of gothic and high Victorian. While there’s some of that in the trailer, the look here owes a lot to Pushing Daisies, a series I loved, but, for me at least, not the best template for the gloomy atmosphere that haunts the works of Lemony Snicket. And the humour in the teaser lacks the wonderful subtlety of the books. It all looks too bright and too simple.

Will I still watch it? Of course I will! But my expectations have been diminished.

The eight episodes of A Series of Unfortunate Events will be available on Netflix on Friday, the thirteenth of January 2017.