The Fixed Period: A Time without Violins or Imagination

Brace yourself.  Try to imagine a world in which the violin has become “nearly obsolete.” I know, right?!  You’ve nearly fallen to your knees, begging for mercy, asking yourself why. Why, great creator, did humanity ever get to this point?

I am a big fan of the violin.  I am learning to play it at almost 40 years old because I feel that it is the most beautiful instrument on the planet. Yet, when Trollope kicks off his futuristic dystopia novella The Fixed Period (British, 1882) with this absolutely chilling vision, it signals that although Trollope is one of the most skilled Victorian Realist writers, the man had next to no imagination.

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Living in Henry James’s Other House

An affluent womanizer, Tony Bream.  The nicest, sweetest girl, Jean Martle.  A desperate lover abroad too long in China, Dennis Vidal.  The odd Rose Arminger.

They all seem like characters from the famed game Clue. 

Who was the murderer of the little girl Effie Bream; who held this child’s delicate body under the water until she drowned?

In The Other House, Henry James writes an awkward murder mystery vis a vis a  novel of manners that begins with some piquant flavor of the supernatural.  As in many of James’s works (such as The Turn of the Screw and What Maisie Knew and The Awkward Age), a child is in grave danger of a horrific and unnameable threat from the adult world.  And as all good fairy tales do, this wayward genre-shifter begins with the death of a damned good mother.

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Collins’s “The Devil’s Spectacles” is Just Heroics in the Arctic with Satan

The motif of arctic exploration is not unique during the Romantic period in which many authors, such as Mary Shelley and Coleridge, utilize the setting of a sub-zero climate and its  dangers to highlight the macabre and mysterious nature of their plots and characters. In Wilkie Collins’s short story “The Devil’s Spectacles” the artic setting is reminiscent of such Romantic literary locations where characters are confronted with what they fear most — in this case, the devil and the dark nature of humanity. Septimus Notman propels the tale by admitting on his deathbed to being a cannibal through eating his dead friend during an arctic adventure to save himself from starvation.  Upon his contemplation appears the devil with a pair of spectacles for Notman, which will give him the extra push needed to turn him from borderline sinful to full-fledged brute.  These spectacles allow their wearer to  “read everything in [one’s] mind, plain as print” and must be passed on to a different man before Notman can die.

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