Monthly Archives: May 2011

I Am Mrs. Malaprop of the Oracular Tongue

Sure, if I reprehend any thing in this world it is the use of my oracular tongue, and a nice derangement of epitaphs! –Mrs. Malaprop

In my finest moment, I played Mrs. Malaprop from Richard Sheridan’s The Rivals(1775). All right, it wasn’t a fine moment, rather a stint of readers’ theater while wearing a wig of bouffant curls. But it was a defining moment, because in playing Mrs. Malaprop, I acted out my own character–the woman with the cracked brain who always jumbles up her words and pulls out the wrong ones from the rucksack of her mind (for more on a rucksack of words, click here).

When the “enamel of philosophy protecting my mind has cracked,”* as James Boswell would say, I not only muck up my words, but I turn to the very same insane Boswell’s London Journal(1762-1763), where I find myself pretending to cavort around 18th C London with Boswell and Thomas Sheridan. Yes, you might think this is a sign of pure insanity, because, here I am–usually at two in the morning–envisioning myself as Mrs. Malaprop, one of Richard Sheridan’s characters, while all the time drinking my beer and eating my beefsteak and bread w/ Boswell and the playwright’s father. Just in case you’re wondering, James Boswell, better known as Samuel Johnson’s biographer, supped w/ almost everybody of note in the London literary world at that time, but he seemed to have a particular affinity for Thomas Sheridan, father to Richard. Hence, I cling to my ghostly connection w/ these two brilliant men.

I’m not sure whether I should laugh or cry at continuously playing the part of Mrs. Malaprop. After all, I’m supposed to be a wordsmith. I’m supposed to have a grasp of language. Yet, I choose my words w/ careful wrongfulness–conjunctions for injunctions, prepositions for propositions. Or was that Mrs. Malaprop who made those errors? I hardly know any more.

Don’t you think that as writers we should strive to get our words right? Shouldn’t we drop the malaprops by whatever means possible? Are you laughing at me? Oh, come on, I can’t be the only writer out there who blunders her words. I’m ripping the wig from my head right now! Something tells me my sleep is incipient, and the beer w/ Boswell is a montage in my overtly fecal imagination. Let me at least bid the men adieu–“I will dismember you in my dreams as giants of the livery world.” Adieu, Adieu.

For more on Mrs. Malaprop, read the play: The Rivals.

For more on James Boswell, read his London Journal or Boswell’s Presumptuous Task by Adam Sisman (*the quote comes from pg. 6 of this book).

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Solving One of Literature’s Great Questions With the Enneagram (this time it’s real!)

First of all, I should explain the Enneagram to you. It’s a personality typing system, one I prefer over the Big Five and the MBTI. The MBTI is based off Jungian theory of psychological traits and, while I think the system has merit, the traits seem so black and white when set against each other–are people really introverted or extroverted, thinking or feeling, judging or perceiving?  The Big Five is a set of (obviously) five personality domains that its researchers and developers found to be common in all societies. But each domain has its opposite, so soon begins to look much like the MBTI: inventive vs cautious, efficient vs easy-going, etc.

Neither the Big Five nor the MBTI addresses motivational underpinnings of why people act as they do. What makes an INTJ prefer to be introverted and unemotional, for example? You could give me a nature vs nurture argument, but it seems clear that we are who we are despite how we are nurtured. Environment easily explains why some people are healthier than others, and fails to explain the essence of personality. Why does one abused child grow up to be a perfectionist, and another grow up to be a creative individualist?  What is driving the perfectionism and the individualism? The Enneagram typing is different than the others because it looks at the underlying fear and basic desire of each of its nine personality types.

To me, this is liberating. I haven’t studied the Enneagram long enough to know whether it has been peer-reviewed or whether it has credibility within the circles of behavioral scientists because, frankly, I’m not certified (or certifiable!). I’m a fiction writer, as well as a lifelong student of people and their habits, and, from the perspective of a natural (that is, not formally educated) social scientist, the Enneagram makes sense.

For my own experimentation, I decided to put the nine Enneagram personality types to the test of an author known for her characterization. Who better than Jane Austen? I’ve read her books numerous times, plus I have movie versions of each one. The benefit of using both the books and the movies is in seeing how well Jane’s characters translate in modern works of art. If the Enneagram theory is correct, and there really are nine basic personality types, they should be evident in classic books that don’t rely solely on archetypes. And–this is very important, as well–the characters should translate with little difficulty into modern adaptations.

My purpose is not to teach the entire Enneagram. Instead, look it up if you’re interested. Here’s a rundown of the nine types with only a basic explanation:

1: The Reformer. Fears being corrupt. Desires to be good.
2: The Helper. Fears being unwanted. Desires to feel loved.
3: The Achiever. Fears being worthless. Desires to feel worthwhile.
4: The Individualist. Fears not having an identity. Desires to create an identity.
5: The Investigator. Fears being incapable. Desires to be competent.
6: The Loyalist. Fears not having support. Desires security.
7: The Enthusiast. Fears being deprived or in pain. Desires to have their needs fulfilled.
8: The Challenger. Fears being controlled by others. Desires to be in control of self, or to protect self.
9: The Peacemaker. Fears loss or separation. Desires to be at peace. 

Did I find correlations in Jane Austen’s characters? Yes, I did. Or, as an android would say, “Affirmative!” I’ve attempted to type all the main characters in her six novels, but for today, I’ll give you my rundown of her six protagonists:

Catherine Morland is a type 4 individualist. Her story goal is to discover her identity as a heroine.

Elinor Dashwood is a type 1 reformer. She desires to do what is right all the time.

Elizabeth Bennet is a type 8 challenger. She doesn’t appreciate losing control of any situation, least of all to Mr. Darcy.

Emma Woodhouse is a type 3 achiever. She needs others to look up to her in order to feel worthwhile.

Anne Elliot is a type 4 individualist. She attempts to be herself, despite her meddlesome family and friends.

Fanny Price is a type 5 investigator because she feels capable through study. Doesn’t she? It’s been a while since I’ve read Mansfield Park.

What great literature question did I solve? Well, it was simple, really. I was busy watching Pride and Prejudice, and it suddenly struck me that Elizabeth’s basic fear was of losing control of her destiny. By contrast, Mr. Darcy’s biggest fear was in doing wrong according to the standard of morality he had set. Therefore, the great question of who represents pride, who prejudice became clear to me. Elizabeth is prideful because she must be in control; Darcy is prejudiced because others can’t meet his strict standards of behavior.

Sometimes, it’s good to laugh. Really, that was a whimsical exercise–because, who cares? All humans are prideful at times, and all suffer from prejudice. But it’s a relief to oversimplify the world on occasion, rather than the opposite, which is what I’m most apt at doing. Because I’m an Enneagram type 5, INTJ, with a predominance of Inquisitiveness on the Big 5. Go figure.


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Honeysuckle Cottage and the Relief of Laughter

What began as an earache turned into a difficult weekend of illness. The harsh climate in NM seems to breed chronic illness in the people who live here–the severe and quick weather changes, the cold, dry winter, and the hot, wet summer all spell trouble for anybody whose immune system is not working at peak level. I’ve heard the flu season lasts for eleven months here, and, although that might be an exaggeration, there’s some truth in it.

I’ve found no better way of warding off the depression illness causes than reading P.G. Wodehouse. And because of the arguments going around the Christian speculative fiction blog circles, I decided to reread Honeysuckle Cottage. This story is one of the master’s masterworks. Mr. Wodehouse wrote hundreds of stories, most of which adhere to a formulaic comedy structure. Some, however, stand out due to the universal truth of the humor.

First of all, I advise you to head on over to Mike Duran’s blog for the many debates there on Christian fiction. Focus particularly on these recent discussions, Interview w/ Agent Rachelle Gardner and “Redeeming Love”–A Review, in which the debates revolve around what makes good Christian fiction. Inevitably, arguments between the romance readers and the serious fiction readers abound.

Now go find a copy of Honeysuckle Cottage–it will take you less than half an hour to read. This short story was originally published in The World of Mr. Mulliner, but I’m certain you can find e-versions, or discover it in a P.G. Wodehouse volume at your local library. In case you don’t want to do that, a synopsis of the story is as follows: an author of serious hard-boiled fiction inherits 5000 pounds from his aunt Leila J. Pinckney, famous author of drippy romance stories, so long as he promises to live six months out of the year at her country cottage. The cottage, however, is haunted by the numerous romance novels the aunt has written there, and our author of serious hard-boiled fiction soon finds drooping-violet-type females entering into his stories, where previously only suspense, murder, and mayhem existed.

We should all laugh at ourselves occasionally, and Wodehouse provides a way for us to do just that. Even agent Rachelle Gardner  (Mike Duran’s agent, as well as agent to numerous romance writers) would find this story amusing because it pokes fun at the literary agent in the story, who is serious enough about selling books to represent both Leila J. Pinckney, romance writer, as well as her nephew, the writer of serious fiction. When the nephew complains that his aunt’s books are tripe, the agent responds, “No author who pulls down a steady twenty thousand pounds a year writes tripe.”  Bear in mind that Wodehouse’s story was first published in 1925, when 20,000 pounds a year was an insane amount of money for an author to earn.

When my head is feeling a little more attached to the rest of my body, I’ll actually write the blog post I intended to go w/ the title Solving one of Literature’s Great Questions With the Enneagram.

p.s. Image of P.G. Wodehouse taken from the wiki article on the same.

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