The Duchess

The Duchess

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On Friendship

On Monday the 13th of March, I was home in Gloucester for Spring Break. My mother and I made plans to have dinner with Regina Symonds, my old french tutor, and her daughter, also called Rachel, an old friend of mine. We met at restaurant in Downtown Gloucester called The Franklin.

I admit that I have always been a little jealous of Rachel. She is tall and beautiful and a talented actress, who usually got leading roles when we did plays together in our younger days. Right now, she is attending college in New York City, studying and performing in the works of Shakespeare and getting to go the Metropolitan Opera. Talking to her about what she has been up to makes me wonder what I’m doing with my life.

Madame Symonds and I discussed how I’m hoping to study abroad in Paris next years, which she highly recommends. My mother is less enthusiastic with the idea; my xenophobic grandparents have convinced her that Europe is a terrorist infested hellhole. But I think that I will be able to convince her to let me go for three next summer. I hoped to use this get together with Madame Symonds as an opportunity to try out some of my french, but english was the main language we used.

The Franklin is a chichi restaurant in Gloucester’s comparatively upscale downtown area. My mother paid for the dinner; she would later complain about how expensive it had been. But the price had been worth it; the chicken and spinach macaroni and cheese I had was delicious and Madame Symonds and Rachel are both very sophisticated and enjoyable to talk to. I miss getting together with Madame at the Pleasant Street Tea Company for our Thursday evening lessons.

Sarah Stotzer has been my therapist since I was ten and over the past eleven years has become more like friend.  We have only been able to meet every few months or so since I have started college and since I was home on spring break, we made plans to meet. The day chosen was Friday, March 17th; my mother drove me over to her house for five o’clock. I shared with her some drawings and songs from a playlist I made based on the story I am writing while we talked about what was new in our lives. Sarah is someone who I have always found it easy to talk to and sharing my work is the best way for me to explain how I’m feeling or what I am interested in at the moment. I have been sharing my writing with her since I was eleven or twelve; it could be argued that Sarah was the one who got me started as a writer.

When my mother picked me up at six, we decided to go see O’Malley Middle School’s production of Mulan Jr., which my neighbor Rhian was in.  We tried to go out to dinner but since we only had less than an hour until the show, we decided to get McDonalds. O’Malley is my old middle school and I was a part of their drama program back in the day. I ran into one of my old theater teachers, Miss Sellers, and we chatted for a while before the curtain went up. Miss Sellers was always good to me when I was at O’Malley, though I was never successful in the drama program.

The production of Mulan Jr. got two reactions from me: “Aren’t they adorable?” and “Bless their hearts, they try.” My middle school self thought that O’Malley’s productions were rather impressive but my older and wiser self only finds them quaint. Rhian had the smaller part of Mulan’s Mother but performed in the chorus that night (oh well, I never did any better). My mother promised her mother that we would drive her home and she was cordial but quiet during the ride home. She used to be a chatty little girl but is now a taciturn adolescent; I miss the days when she thought I was cool and my presence did not cramp her style.

I promised my roommate, Jasmine, that we would go see the new live action remake of Beauty and the Beast when we returned from spring break on Monday, March 20th. The Salem Cinema at the Museum Place Mall is one of our favorite places in town. A few doors down is a pizza place we enjoy. At five o’clock, I called at taxi to bring us to Museum Place Mall. We bought our tickets and then still had an hour and a half or so to kill. Our next stop was a bookstore that Jasmine and I love called Wicked Good Books, where I bought an old copy of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure. Then we returned to the mall and got pizza and loafed around the mall, discussing the merits of tomboys vs. girly girls, until quarter to seven.

Going to see a movie, getting pizza, and taking a look into Wicked Good Books describes a perfect evening for Jasmine and I. We both adored Beauty and the Beast and sang “Be Our Guest” during the taxi ride home. I am currently doing research for a version of the Cupid and Psyche  myth, which bears many similarities to the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale, and I noted down some aesthetic elements from film to add to my own version. You know what they say? Good writers borrow, great writers steal.

My friend, Samantha, is an ambitious and career focused woman and is often too busy for us together as often as I would like to. She was going to be in Gloucester, watching her parents house, during the weekend of March 24th, and invited me over to watch a movie with her. I had the perfect film. Samantha and I are both big fans of Jane Austen and I got a dvd of Love and Friendship, which is based on Austen’s novel, Lady Susan. She said she would pick me up around quarter to seven but a meeting of her’s ran later than expected and I did not get to her house until almost eight. I was very hungry by this point and Samantha and I got started right away with making our homemade pizza, which was served with sauted vegetables. We sat down to watch Love and Friendship with Samantha’s dog, Rosie, trying to mooch our food. I was completely full when I finished my dinner but still forced myself to down the root beer float I had been looking forward to; I hated myself when I came home after the movie. I shared an idea with Samantha about getting a summer job or internship at the Shalin Liu performance center in Rockport, which she encouraged; this week I called the Shalin Liu and got an interview for a summer job.

It was getting late when she drove me home. I was getting a cold and probably should have gone to bed early and not eaten so much. This was a mistake I made again the following night when my brother, Tom, and his girlfriend, Gabby, convinced me to go out with them; I had two drinks which was two drinks many.

A Review of Beauty and the Beast 2017

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A favorite place of mine in downtown Salem is the Salem Cinema, inside of the Museum Place Mall.  Jasmine, my roommate, and I went there to see the live action remake of Beauty and the Beast on Monday, March 20th, two days after it came out. I had been looking forward to this movie coming out since I first heard about it nearly two years ago, mostly because Dan Stevens, Matthew from Downton Abbey, is in it. Immediately following its release, I watched three reviews on YouTube to get a sense of how the film was being received. The first one was by Chris Stuckmann, who gave it a very positive review. The next one was by Brad Jones for Midnight Screenings, who gave it a fairly positive critique but was less glowing with his praise. The final was by Doug and Rob Walker for The Nostalgia Critic, who vehemently disliked the film. Beauty and the Beast appeared to be getting a mixed to positive reception.

The cliched criticism of this film is that it has no reason to exist: all of these new live action remakes are a cynical attempt by Disney to make more money out of their most lucrative properties. Doug and Rob Walker dismissed this particular remake as shallow fluff which pales in comparison to the original.  When I finally got to see it for myself, the flaws I was told to look for did not keep me from enjoying the overall work.

Beauty and the Beast is visually amazing. The sets, costumes, and cinematography are spectacular, especially the Beast’s Castle, which is Baroque and Rococo on steroids. Another common complaint is that this version is a shot for shot remake of the original, which is perhaps a little unfair. A number of new plot points and characterizations are added, such as, Maurice losing his wife to a plague and the Beast having a darker and more fleshed out backstory, to varying degrees of success.

One of the biggest complaints I often heard about was Emma Watson’s performance as Belle, specifically that her singing was not the best. I can see where this complaint comes from; her voice sounds very auto tuned but it is not a glaring problem.  In all, the film is well cast and performances are enjoyable. Dan Stevens, as the Beast, did not disappoint. Luke Evans and Josh Gad as Gaston and Lefou were a delight. Kevin Kline, as Maurice, Belle’s brilliant but eccentric father, reminded me of my own dad.

I got what I wanted from this movie: a pretty fairytale with pretty dresses and nice music. All of these live action remakes of Disney animatic films may be a cynical  ploy, but one that I fell for.

Catherine Maria Sedgwick and Jonathan Edwards

The calvinist theologian, Jonathan Edwards, spent his later years as pastor of the church in Stockbridge MA. and a missionary to the Housatonic Indians. Stockbridge was also the hometown of author Catherine Maria Sedgwick. In Sedgwick’s novel, A New England Tale, calvinist beliefs similar to those of Edwards are shown in a dark light through the character of Mrs. Wilson, the stern and uncaring aunt of the heroine, Jane Elton.  Mrs. Wilson, like Edwards, is a staunch Calvinist, and Sedgwick portrays her as being more concerned with outward displays of piety than actually practicing Christian virtue. She uses her strict religious beliefs to justify her cold hearted treatment of others, specifically her authoritarian parenting style and her lack of charity towards her orphaned niece. Some of her most notable traits are her sense of superiority and lack of empathy. Throughout the novel, she harshly judges people and feels no obligation to help them. The character of Mrs. Wilson feels like a negative of parody of beliefs espoused by the likes of Jonathan Edwards.

When Mrs. Wilson is introduced in chapter one, she is presented as an unkind and judgemental figure. She tells the recently orphaned Jane that the untimely deaths of her parents were due to their sinfulness,

“I told her the judgements of an offended God were made manifest towards her in a remarkable manner; and then I put it to her conscience, whether if she was sure her mother had gone where the worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched, she should be reconciled to the character of God, and be willing herself to promote his glory, by suffering that just condemnation.”

(Sedgwick 16)

She dismisses Jane’s suffering as “God’s will” and a just punishment for her family’s shortcomings. In his best known sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, Jonathan Edwards shows a similar lack of compassion,

“They are already under a sentence of condemnation to hell. They do not only justly deserve to be cast down thither, but the sentence of the law of God, that eternal and immutable rule of righteousness that God has fixed between Him and mankind, is gone out against them, and stands against them; so that they are bound over already to hell”

(Norton 431)

According to Mrs. Wilson and Jonathan Edwards, anyone who does not live up their idea of Christian virtue is beyond redemption and bound for hell.

In Chapter eight, Mrs. Wilson refuses to aid her profligate son, David, when he is in financial trouble, claiming that these troubles are a punishment from God for his dissolute lifestyle and that because he is sinful, he deserves these punishments.

“If my children, though they are my flesh and blood, are not elected, the Lord is justified in their destruction, and I am still. I have done my duty, and I know not ‘why tarry His chariot wheels.’”

(Sedgwick 85)

It is a tenant of Calvinist theology, known as predestination, that a select few were born holy and destined to go to heaven while the majority are inherently sinful and hellbound. The sinful majority deserve whatever punishments they get because it is God’s will. This is the theme Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, in which Edwards tells his congregation that God can strike them down into hell any moment and if it his will to do so, then it is perfectly justified.

“They deserve to be cast into hell; so that divine justice never stands in the way, it makes no objection against God’s using His power at any moment to destroy them, Yea, on the contrary, justice calls aloud for an infinite punishment of their sins. Divine justice says of the tree that brings forth such grapes of Sodom, “Cut it down, why cumbereth the ground?” Luke 13.7. The sword of divine justice is at any moment brandished over their heads, and it is nothing but the hand of arbitrary mercy, and God’s will, that holds it back”

(Norton  431)

Both Jonathan Edwards and Mrs. Wilson have negative and unforgiving views on human nature and are quick to turn against anyone who does not fit their idea of holiness.

Edwards begins his sermon by referencing Deuteronomy 32.35 “Their foot shall slide in due time”. He describes the sinful as being in a slippery place where they can slide into hell at any moment. They do not know when they are going to fall but that end is inevitable.

“It implies that they were always exposed to to sudden unexpected destruction. As he that walks in slippery places is every moment liable to fall, he cannot foresee one moment whether he shall stand or fall the next; and when he does fall, he falls at once without warning: which is also expressed in Psalm 73.18-19 “Surely thou didst set them in slippery places; thou castest them down into destruction: How are they brought into desolation as in a moment!”’

(Norton 430)

In chapter fifteen, the dying Mrs. Wilson is informed of the further iniquity that her son, David, has fallen into. She tells Jane, the only person who bothered to visit her on her deathbed, “…he has gone out from me, and he is not of me; his blood be upon his own head; I am clear of it. My ‘foot standeth on an even place’” (Sedgwick 166).  Mrs. Wilson sees herself as a model of holiness and,therefore, not on Edward’s slippery slope. There is a degree of snobbishness which colors the doctrine of predestination; the elect (those chosen by God to go to heaven) are an elite group who judge and look down the rest of the population. People like Mrs. Wilson see themselves as above everyone else and do not feel responsible for people they see as beneath them.

In contrast to the harsh calvinism of Mrs. Wilson and Jonathan Edwards, Sedgwick advocates a more compassionate form of Christianity. She characterizes people like them as using religion to feed their their own sense of self-righteousness.

“Mrs. Wilson was often heard to denounce those who insisted on the necessity of good works, as Pharisees;-she was thankful, she said, that she should not presume to appear before her Judge with any of the the ‘filthy rags of her own righteousness;’-it would be easy getting to heaven if the work in any way depended on ourselves;-any body could ‘deal justly, love mercy, and walk humbly.’ How is easy it is, we leave to those to determine, who have sought to adjust their lives by this divine rule.

Mrs. Wilson rejected the name of the Pharisee, but the proud, oppressive, bitter spirit of the jewish bigot was manifest in the complacency with which she regarded her own faith, and the illiberality she cherished towards every person, of every denomination, who did not believe what she believed, act according to her rule of right)

(Sedgwick 22)

Sedgwick would say that someone like Mrs. Wilson may be outwardly christian but do not practice christian charity and compassion. Her idea of what Christianity should be is expressed in the words of John Winthrop’s sermon, A Model of Christian Charity: “Secondly, the former propounds one man to another, as the same flesh and image of God; this is as a brother in Christ also, and in the communication of the same spirit and so teacheth us to put the difference between Christians and others” (167). A proper christian, according to Winthrop, treats everyone with respect and compassion.

The character of Mrs. Wilson in A New England Tale shows how strict religious views, like those of Jonathan Edwards, can be negative. They feed into a smug sense of superiority and foster a lack of sympathy for others, these, in turn, can make a person selfish, cruel, and intolerant. People like this feel that can do whatever they want to others because they see themselves as superior. A New England Tale, in the form of the virtuous heroine, Jane Elton, advocates kindness, compassion, and humble dignity and more uplifting and inclusive forms of Christianity.