Robert Barr’s “A Prince of Good Fellows”

BLOG #13, SERIES #6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB #39
ROBERT BARR’S A PRINCE OF GOOD FELLOWS
April 1, 2015

For April, here is an easy-read after the monumental War and Peace. It is one of the earliest books I ever bought with my own money; I purchased it in 1953. It had everything my boyish mind reveled in back then: history, royalty, intrigue, danger, romance, and a likable protagonist, James V, King of Scotland.

Back then, I knew nothing about the author. Several days ago, browsing in my library for our 39th book selection, I spied the battered, stained, and discolored copy of my old friend, picked it up, and decided to re-read it to see if it would still have its initial hold on me.

It did—and it didn’t. What was different was that I now had over half a century of historical and literary research behind me, including bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history, a masters in English, and a doctorate in English (History of Ideas concentration). Back then, I read it for the adventure and romance of it; now, I read it with the critical eye of a scholar. In other words, even though I knew it was fiction, I now wondered if it was fiction based on fact (back in the fifties I didn’t care the proverbial “two hoots” whether the book was accurate historically or not—I was just looking for a good read). But now, that wasn’t enough.

Now, remembering how I was captivated by the concluding romance back then, I discovered that I still was, but now I wanted to know if that was accurate. I almost wished I hadn’t checked, for though the book still appears to be historically accurate, there wasn’t to be a happily-ever-after scenario for the king and his bride.

I’d long ago discovered in my historical research that there was precious little real romance in royal marriages down through the centuries. Marriages took place for dynastic reasons and the principals had precious little to say about it. If they wanted romantic love, society would wink at their many extra-marital escapades. In fact, James V was the only legitimate child his father ever had. Note Charles and Diana’s disastrous marriage. In fact, it was said that Charles was the only man in the world not in love with Diana. Instead, he found love with Camilla, another man’s wife. In the case of William, Kate represents one of the very few cases in British history of a future monarch being permitted to select his own mate.

Now, in my research, I discovered that James V’s bride died during the first year after marriage; he remarried—and out of that union came one of history’s saddest heroines: the ill-fated Mary, Queen of Scots, doomed to die at the hands of Elizabeth I, her cousin.

But having said all this, I’m still glad I prowled around in actual history after having re-read this book, because now that I’ve authenticated the core story, I’m more fascinated than ever with James V; his nemesis, that rascal Henry VIII of England; and so many other fascinating real-life characters.

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Now for the author, a most fascinating real-life figure himself. Robert Barr (1849-1912) was born in Glasgow, Scotland. When only four years of age, he emigrated to Canada with his parents. After being educated in Toronto, in 1881 Barr decided to relocate to London, then the most exciting and powerful city in the world. He would go on to become an educator, journalist, editor, publisher, and novelist. By the 1890s, he was publishing a book a year (mostly novels, short story collections as well), and was close friends with literary luminaries such as Arthur Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling, Mark Twain, Joseph Conrad, Bret Harte, and Stephen Crane. Barr was especially prolific in writing historical romances and books about crime.

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He was a real craftsman with words. According to his close friend Jerome K. Jerome, Barr will “often spend an entire morning constructing a single sentence. . . . If he writes a four-thousand-word story in a month, he feels he has earned a holiday.”

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Now that I’ve learned all this about Barr, I’m intrigued enough to track down more of his books and read them. I’ll be interested in your reactions.

Look for copies on the web: A Prince of Good Fellows (New York: McClure, Phillips & Co., 1902).

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Making Memories with Grandchildren – Part 1 – A Grandfather Who Never Got Old

BLOG #41, SERIES #5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
MAKING MEMORIES WITH GRANDCHILDREN
PART ONE
A GRANDFATHER WHO NEVER GOT OLD

October 8, 2014

Many years ago, I was privileged to spend my eighth-grade year with my maternal grandparents in Arcata, California. That one year proved to be pivotal in my own life journey. Pivotal because my grandfather, Herbert Norton Leininger, was a Renaissance man whose passion was truly global: encompassing everything that was going on in the world. Tacked to the walls of the entire second-floor living areas were National Geographic maps, so that Grandpa could keep track of everything that was happening in the world, and the people who made them happen.

Never can I forget Leininger Christmases, when all six daughters and their husbands and families, one by one, arrived and gradually overflowed the big rambling three-story home. Once assigned quarters, everyone gravitated to the second floor where the action was. We kids were tremendously impressed by how little time it took for Grandpa to subjugate these authority figures, our fathers. Grandpa gave hem no time in which to claim any turf for themselves, but instantaneously dominated his second-story stage, vigorously showing his cowed sons-in-law where world events were taking place, lashing out at world leaders who failed to live up to Grandpa’s high and rigid expectations, and occasionally praising the few who passed muster. All the while like a stage actor, he’d vigorously stride back and forth from map to map.

Periodically, Grandpa, with an impish look in his eyes, would glance around to see if those guardians of our morals—his daughters—were listening, then launch into the opening lines of what many in that semi-Victorian Age considered rather “naughty”: Rudyard Kipling’s “And I Learned About Women from Her.” At least that’s what we kids thought it was called, because of that recurring line in each stanza.. It wasn’t until years later that I discovered the poem is simply titled The Ladies.” In it, the persona, obviously—to our mothers at least—a womanizer in then British-run India and Burma. The opening lines run thus:

“I’ve taken my fun where I’ve found it;
I’ve rogued an I’ve ranged in my time;
I’ve ‘ad my pickin’ of sweethearts,
An’ four o’ the lot was prime.
One was an ‘arf-caste widow,
One was a woman at Prome,
One was the wife of a jemadan-sais [head-groom]
An’ one is a girl at ‘ome.”

In essence, in this poem, Grandpa was teaching his grandchildren about the birds and the bees—specifically this fascinating creature we call “woman.” Each stanza having to do with a specific woman the persona in the poem had learned from. But long before Grandpa reached concluding stanzas such as this:

“I’ve taken my fun where I’ve found it,
An’ now I must pay for my fun,
For the more you ‘ave known o’ the others
The less you will settle to one;
An’ the end of it’s sittin’ and thinkin’,
An’ dreamin’ Hell-fires to see;
So be warned by my lot (which I know you will not),
An’ learn about women from me!”

Yes, long before his daughters had vainly attempted to quench the orator, we kids—perhaps because our mothers were so upset with their father—were inwardly enthralled that we’d been permitted to listen to such a wicked poem. Not that we understood why it was supposedly wicked: it was enough that our mothers thought it was.

Grandma Josephine, who’d long ago learned that when the Lord of the Manor was on a roll, he never stopped for breath (for, perish the though, that momentary pause might enable one of his squirming sons-in-law to launch a contrary opinion), consequently, Grandma immediately took the stage in a much quieter manner) with her daughters, discussing family personalities, foibles, idiosyncracies, etc., and the daughters giving as much as they took, there was much laughter.

We kids sat enthralled on the floor taking in both tracks. The experience reminds me of certain contemporary TV interviewers who continually interrupt their interviewees who attempt to answer their hosts’ questions; and when these interviewees interrupt other discussion participants—all these individuals talking at once—, the hubbub is indescribable. In retrospect, I’m convinced that those holiday gatherings were one-of-a-kind. The age of large cohesive families, print-driven education, patriarchal family structure, and children-are-to-be-seen-and-not-heard [we were the last such generation], is no more—and will never come again.

Then, one by one, each car-load would disappear to much hugging, kissing, and waving, each one leaving the house lonelier. And, before long, it would be just us left. Early next morning, religiously at six o’clock, I’d hear the sonorous radio voice of Gabriel Heater (with a fair amount of static) downstairs, and know that Grandpa was once again setting his inner sails for the day.

Only in retrospect do I realize the impact of that one year with my maternal grandparents. How Grandpa’s persona seeped into my own goals and philosophy of life. Nor can I forget Grandpa’s late-life soaring. When he reached the age of 75, he announced that for 50 years he’d pleased the world and his wife—now he was going to please himself. He purchased a snazzy Lincoln hardtop, grew a goatee, and, with the help of a fellow conspirator we knew only as Mr. Smith, he constructed the first camper I ever remember seeing: such a long body grafted on to a Studebaker truck that it was a miracle the front wheels didn’t lift off the ground! Grandpa then found enough bargain paint—the most hideously ugly shade of pea-green I’ve ever seen—to complete the job; loaded it with supplies and grub, and headed north. Only when they reached the last road separating them from the North Pole did they turn around.

When they returned, they didn’t stay long, but headed south into the jungles of Mexico.

But even that wasn’t enough: Grandpa next announced that he was going to explore all of California’s western rivers from their headwaters to the sea. Never can I forget one of those expeditions: the day I joined family members waiting for Grandpa’s outboard-driven rubber raft to round the bend; sometime later that day, here he came; veered in to shore, bequeathed his garbage to us, noblesse obligedly accepted our grocery contributions, restarted the outboard, and he was once again heading down-river. A jaunty last wave—and he disappeared from sight.

Nor can I forget the times he regaled us with Shakespeare—especially Hamlet, which he knew by heart. He was Prince Hamlet when he treaded the attic boards of his house.

His was the only funeral I can remember where all the “mourners” could do was laugh. In my eulogy, I did my best to recreate his unique persona.

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Next week I’ll continue this series of blogs about this thing called grandparenting.

THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL

BLOG #22, SERIES #3

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL

May 30, 2012

 

 

 

Roger Ebert’s review of this new British film doesn’t begin to do it justice:

 

                                    Travel Comedy.  4 ½ stars.  PG-13.

                                    The hotel of the title is a retirement

                                    destination in India for “the elderly

                                    and beautiful.”  It has seen better days,

                                    and if you want to see what the better

                                    days looked like, just examine the

                                    brochure, which depicts a luxurious

                                    existence near Udaipur, a popular tourist

                                    destination in Rajasthan.  To this city

                                    travel a group of seven Brits with

                                    seven reasons for making the move.  As

                                    we meet them jammed on the bus from

                                    the airport, we suspect that the film will

                                    be about their various problems and that

                                    the hotel will not be as advertised.  What

                                    we may not expect is what a charming,

                                    funny and heartwarming movie this is,

                                    a smoothly crafted entertainment that

                                    makes good use of seven superb veteran

                                    actors. (Roger Ebert, Universal Uclick)

                                    124 minutes.

 

It is far more than a travel comedy.  As funny as many of the lines are situations are, undergirding it all is a serious premise.  It reminds me of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (ostensibly, merely a collection of stories told to each other by medieval pilgrims; but in reality, all Europe is being terrorized by a plague that is no respecter of persons or age groups.  It is a plague that strikes indiscriminately and suddenly: today you are healthy, tomorrow you are dying, often horribly).  Marigold Hotel is just as serious, beneath the humor and vibrantly alive scenery and people of India.  In truth, each of the seven Brits is in India for a reason.  In most cases it is for reasons each of us knows all too well: we are all dying, tied as we are to a terminal existence.  But what tortures us most is not the mere ceasing to breathe, but being marginalized, being pushed aside, having to dither in the grandstands of life watching the only players that matter fight it out.  Discovering how little our grown children need us any more—and by extension, the grandchildren as well.  Reallizing that all too often our children or others usurp control of our financial assets.  Ruefully becoming aware that we have inadequate resources to maintain the quality of life we are used to.

 

In times past, before the State assumed responsibility for the needs of its elderly, families took care of their own and lived together or in close proximity, intergenerationally.  In such a world, there were many contributions the elderly could make.  That is much less true in our age of separation of senior citizens from the day-to-day flow of those still active and creating products and services.

 

Another key dimension of the film highlights the aging protagonists’ continued yearning to be loved and cherished, for physical intimacy even though with lower wattage.

 

In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story, “Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment,” older people miraculously have their youth restored to them; at least that’s what they think, and act accordingly.  Since their restored youth is all illusionary the results are grotesque.  In Marigold Hotel, each character is all too aware of their aging, yet each still longs to have their aliveness, their youthful vigor, return—even if it be briefly or for but one last time.

                                                                                                                                                            Marigold Hotel, itself as aged and dilapidated as they, is an inspired setting.  The young Indian hotel owner/manager and his vivacious and lovely sweetheart provide intensity contrast to the lack of it in the guests.  Another layer of meaning is that the old hotel dates back to the days when the British ruled India, and the wisdom articulated then by such writers as Rudyard Kipling still resonating today in such immortal works as “If.”  Almost ironically the descendants of India’s erstwhile conquerors return in order to rediscover meaning in their lives.

 

Miraculously, the aged hotel proves to be a catalyst—not necessarily to a rebirth of youth for the characters, but to a prolongation of their sense of belonging, of camaraderie, of esprit de corps, of friendship, of being needed, of being given the opportunity to contribute again, of being respected again, and last but anything but least: a sense of renewed excitement with the dawn of each new day (in that sense, a rebirth of joie-du-vivre).

                                                                                                                                   

The one character who is unable or unwilling to accept the call of India, returns to England without her husband who—oh, you’ll just have to see and experience the film for yourself!

 

It is not a film young people would understand very well.  However, it is a must for every senior among us, and almost an equal must for all those older children and care-givers who interact with society’s seniors.  As to why, that is something each film-watcher will know for a certainty before the screen credits roll.

 

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The film also segues beautifully with my May 9 blog on Tennyson’s “Ulysses.”