Climate Change – Our Watership Down Moment

By David Buttery - http://www.loganberry.furtopia.org/bnb/pilgrimage/index.html, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1640505
By David Buttery – http://www.loganberry.furtopia.org/bnb/pilgrimage/index.html, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1640505

Included on the 2016 butcher’s bill was our friend from the literary world, Richard Adams, and thusly I’d like to say a few words here regarding Watership Down as it relates to our present situation:

Of Woodbridge and Hedgely is first and foremost a literary examination of the phenomenon of science denial, superimposing the mechanics of climate change denial onto science subjects from the early eighteen hundreds, which, like the former at present, perhaps were a bit fuzzy or unfamiliar to the largely science illiterate public, and as a function of such, allowed opportunistic detractors to hold an undeserved level of perceived credibility then, as they do now.  We in the climate communications and advocacy community like to focus on these detractors because it’s rather simple to do so – there’s little effort in scapegoating the fellow with the horns singing, ’Ba-ha-ha!’ at the top of their lungs; they are indeed a credible goat to scape.

However, as we enjoy demonizing, say Exxon for funding climate denial and doubt, we are, in the end, the voluntary users of its product – all it does is facilitate the transaction.  We tend to forget about the collective actions of all human animals, whether they be – figuratively – goats, chicks, burrows, or rabbits, that too create an excessive paw-print upon the planet when such needn’t be so with but the smallest self reflection.  Most of us purchase cars, appliances, homes, and other energy and resource consumables with little thought concerning the efficiency of their use, even though it would be financially wise to do so, both personally and regarding the system as a whole: The market is full of ill advised consumers making irrational choices secondary to large advertisement campaigns, as well as cultural cues. We are indeed that gluttonous rabbit warren in Watership Down, that lived in the hutch near their morbid Garden of Eden.

And just like that warren of content over-consumers we too embrace the tacit agreement that from time to time one of us will be randomly knocked on the head and eaten to pay for the sins of the group.  Sometimes it’s a climate related storm, flood or famine that presents as the snare; other times it comes in the form of poisoned freshwater, or destroyed property values and maple syrup small businesses as the oil and gasman comes for one’s land; in the long run it will be an insatiably hungry taxman as the cost of running modern society soars in the face of climate disasters and resource depletion.

I had some casual thoughts on this back in February of 2014 on Peter Sinclair’s Climate Denial Crock of the Week blog I will reprint as follows:

There’s a section in the novel where the wandering rabbits chance upon a particular society who are all well fed and seemingly content. But the price to pay for that luxury was that every once in a while a member gets snared and eaten by the farmer whose food they gorge on. There is a tacit agreement in place that the luxury of over consumption will be randomly paid by members in catastrophic fashion. No one knows who’s next but they know the probability of it being them is low. This low probability randomness is the key feature to such an agreement.

So our society’s tacit agreement thus far goes something like: OK, you got hit by a flood; glad it wasn’t me; look at all the ways mass consumption makes life better. OK, you got hit by a drought; glad it wasn’t me; look at all the way mass consumption makes life better.

Except, because of the interconnectedness of society (further enhanced by globalization), as the frequencies of these events go up, the cost burden we all have to pay goes up, and such is no longer assigned to the sole random rabbit here and there.

And in closing let us briefly mention Fiver and his role of keeping his companions from getting knocked on the head in the face of environmental destruction.  We too have our visionaries in science – those able to create a model, test it, and then make future predictions based upon it – indeed a core tenant of science.  Our visionaries too paint a grim environmental picture and it would be wise for our particular warren to follow their instruction.  Thankee, Mr. Adams – thankee sir.

On the Mechanics of Propaganda – a Few Quick Words

pubbrawl
Pragmatic philosophers with no conflicts of interest debating and sharing information in order that they may make the best decisions concerning the governance of their country.

Ahoy readers!  There is not a moment to lose, and thusly let’s clap on directly to the plum in the pudding here:

One of the themes of the novel – the manifestation of the effects of propaganda on society – has come to mind as of recent, upon observing the several variants of reported news and related divisiveness concerning such, nebulous to the 2016 US presidential election and party primaries. Let us see if we may spot a morsel of prescience in Of Woodbridge and Hedgely by the rousing out of some parallel features concerning these current events and that which was said on the subject during my scribbling of the book.

freepromoapril29_30
Old Promo Card: Two Towns Torn Apart By Propaganda; A reminder of the vicious media storm that occurred this 2016 election cycle.

In the middle of the fifth episode we do indeed find the lower rungs of society suffering from one part of such having been molested by the ill hands of disinformation – this generating an apparently chronic series of intra-class altercations, physical in nature, with the Hedgely’s tribally seeking blood from their brothers, the Woodbridge’s – and the subsequent legal adjudications regarding these, presided over by the elder Mr. Moore – the two towns’ squire and community leader:

The corn harvesting in Woodbridge and Hedgely had come a bit late in the year, and as most farmers in the region were of a mixedhusbandry sort, their post-gathering schedules had been affected, so that there were still a significant number of deciduous laborers hanging about, quite willing to make themselves drunk and sociable when such could be afforded, and who were positively beastly in comparison to their more permanent brethren of the towns.  Nevertheless the former’s itinerate qualities, they did possess a fierce loyalty to their employers, especially in the cases of the steadily returning hires, and by default were sympathetic, if not in total agreement, with their master’s religion and politics, that those in Baptist Hedgely’s camp thought rather poorly of Jonathan Moore’s scientific sermons, and on intoxicated occasion had made such known in the presence of their cohorts in the Woodbridge camp.

A few men from each of these respective sets who were unrepentant brawlers had indeed engaged each other over philosophical conflicts similar to those apparently illuminated in The Balanced Scale – the unusual periodical which did of recent plague the Moore’s so, and whose contents had been generously passed down and along by those that could read the material, framing such as a radical attack on Christian orthodoxy and the soul’s path to preservation. Little attention was paid to their initial excursion, as those nebulous to such had presumptively considered it an individual event, but as more material concerning the age of the earth, that of the fossils, and the nature of animal forms and kinds trickled down upon, and circulated around these pawns, such fueled a steady supply of minor violence that was eventually deemed fit for reconcile, and brought to the attention of the area’s lay magistrate:  George Moore.

Mr. Moore’s Michaelmas session had already occurred and it was not yet time for the winter Epiphany, but the squire saw fit to address the issue in an unofficial capacity with the tacit understanding by the offenders that such could convert to a Petty Offence were they not to come to an agreeable conclusion with him.  He was tolerant of a drunken brawl, provided no chronic harm was done to any participant – and indeed there was but a small a number of those to be had over a credible length of time in their small community – yet this particular situation was starting to escalate into an ongoing feud, placing the towns’ reputations one notch closer to the butcher’s block. Thusly he sat at his desk with the Hedgely lot before him, just as he had done with the Woodbridge’s a few days prior:

‘Please to explain sir – your initial objections with the men of the other party’, he asked of one of the more rational members.

‘Well sir, I believe ‘twas the night o’ the social meet at the inn, which we were mind’n our own, next t’ the lot which was mind’n their own, whenst one o’ our fellas here says t’ one o’ theirs, “Praise be t’ God mate – our day o’ rest!”’, as we all o’ us were fixed t’ make ourselves drunk – sorry, sir. ‘twas then that the man gave us joy, but followed with that he was very sorry t’ tell our fellas that there was no day o’ rest, ‘cause God made the earth not in one day, but in a great many ten-fold-a-thousand years, having it on good authority by his parson that that be true.’

‘I see’, said George Moore, who noted a certain reluctance in the voice of the laborer, who was indeed bashful to insult the ‘good authority’ – he of course being the brother of the justice before him.  ‘Go on then sir’, he commanded in as fair a voice as he could intonate, not wishing the man to be the least bit shy on any detail of his case.

‘Yes sir, which I then told the man that we was attentive that that was being told to folk ‘round our village, but it did not signify ‘cause the Bible says otherwise, and there were a right many learned chaps – like the Cuvier fellow their good parson was obliged to – who were just as clever as that ol’ Hutton lad, which knew it t’ be true by their own philosophizin’. Then I cautioned their lot not t’ dig into every bone a learned man had for ‘em, ‘specially if they was – excuse me, sir – pay’n ‘em in supper t’ believe ‘em, for those university gents are returned even better than that by the thought, no matter was it ill or not, just as long as it be plausible t’ their audience – and half of ‘em atheists at any rate’.

The Baptist laborer further explained that the Anglican lot had then accused them of ‘biting into their own ill plausibilities, for ‘twas the recent hand o’ man that penned the Creation date o’ four thousand and four years before the birth o’ the Savior onto the start o’ the Holy Book’, to which the Hedgely’s hastily countered that were God not to have had it so, he would have smote the hand of the amender, which put them in an anxious position regarding their masters’ reverence of traditionalism. This had then grown a bushel of disagreements, including the laborers’ stand that volcanoes were greatly exaggerated things – mere coal seam fires – and surely not evidence of some deep earthen furnace that motivated change from the Lord’s original intentions:

‘“The learned’s lust for boasting a catastrophic strength of a but gently puffing mountain is founded in a latent desire for tragic playwritin’ and self importance”, I says t’ ‘em, directly from the mouth of my master, which such a thing riled ‘em up so, that after an exchange o’ more impolite notions we took t’ the street t’ pink each other’s cheeks a bit more than the grog had done’.

Incidentally the phrase ‘framing such as a radical attack on Christian orthodoxy’, with regard to the work of the propaganda rag, The Balanced Scale, in the novel, brings to mind ‘Fair and Balanced’ Fox News’ War On Christmas theme (and variants of such) that is drummed up at this time of year.  Readers should also note that in the last quoted paragraph, there lies a bit of satire regarding modern climate denial propaganda which seeks to belittle those that are concerned with the long term costs of unregulated carbon pollution, often qualifying them as ‘Chicken Little’s with their radical notion of Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming who seek popular attention and the money brought with it’, authored by those that consider short term reactions to problems to be more valuable than long term prophylaxis; they having not put much thought into the weight of this particular problem or suffer that it will not affect them personally to any significant degree.  However we will stray directly back to the goose we are chasing:

Firstly we will note that were we to place these fictional characters on our own history’s timeline, little has changed in the last two hundred years with regard to stoking the fire of tribalism in the lower classes for the purposes of political leverage; and the general effect of such is too preserved.  There was plenty of bruising to be had this year engendered by the enthusiasms shared by the Hilary’s and the Trump’s, secondary to the primarily negative messaging that was volleyed at and around each camp, naturally so concerning strategy, considering these were two of the most disliked politicians in recent history (or perhaps not so recent). Some of this occurred at rallies, some of it presented but randomly in the regular goings-on of the American day-to-day, and we had one anomalous case exemplifying how embellished and nuanced an ill sentiment can grow, where an armed man showed up at a local District of Columbia pizza shop with the intention of getting at the plum of a pedophile ring that Hillary was supposedly administrating there; this story fabricated not by the masters of mankind, but by the pawns themselves, thusly exemplifying the archetypal notion that there is little which cannot be presented as plausible to the ignorant, by the skillful sophistrist and storyteller, especially in the presence of a particular grudge.

Indeed in the last chapter of Of Woodbridge and Hedgely we have men than have become so attached to the propaganda they were initially fed (not unlike the Drain the Swamp/Brick & Mortar Mexican Wall proponents or their Russia Cost Hillary the Election counterparts), that they continue to both embrace and self generate ridiculous bits of fiction, in an effort to continue to preserve their flawed belief systems, even after adequate information has become available that definitively unmakes such.  Here is one explaining how all the town’s farmland is to be converted to greenhouses so that their political rival, Mr. Winter, can indirectly benefit from the money generated from the taxing of glazed windows – a feature of the tax policy at that particular time in England:

Glass House
An old estate glasshouse – supposedly the right farmer’s greatest rival according to partisan Hedgely’s

‘Sir, you know it to be true: In ten year’s time, there will be glasshouses all up and down the fields and the Moore’s and Winter’s will have lined their coffers with tax money from Cheltenham to Cirencester!’, cried one of the old fellows, uncommonly proud of his distrust of the said parties and the tax collector. And though the lass was a bit less trusting of this man – the counterarguments against him having always been more well thought out than his repetitive snippets of debate – she nodded her head affirmatively at the idea of glasshouses as far as the eye could see.

And one should observe as the conversation continues, the man continuously has to invent new flawed rationals to support the old ones, creating an exponential rise in ridiculousness upon every new level of support for such:

‘Oh Lord, here we are again; and again I will ask of you: Who would pay for such a thing?; ‘cause ain’t none of it cheap!’, returned another from the more sensible camp across the table.

‘Oh the parties in question will pay, for the taxes are just that compelling! Look at ‘em trying to bleed the ground out of a few more bushels of wheat! That’s a rich man’s greed for ya! And not only that, but there will be one in every cottage’s back yard that their tenants may garden all year ‘round; which’ll put all our right farmers out of work!’, the man insisted in as gushing a voice as could be exhibited without him being asked to move along by Mrs. Bagley or one of her men employed at the inn. His proposal was, by any reasonable man’s part, entirely fictional – indeed it conflicted within itself in that the first part required farmers, whilst the second destroyed them – yet it afforded him an ill temper as were it not, but something credibly to be worried upon; and such then did cause his opponent too to become more animated:

‘Unreasonable, sir! Our farmers provide for all the county and more, and one backyard glasshouse per cottage here could scarcely keep enough corn to make half of a loaf of bread a year for its tenant and their family, much the less that for all of Cheltenham or Gloucester!’

‘Oh?; and are you so naïve that you suppose they would stop building once the limits of our towns were achieved?’, the fellow queried, as if all there was to the art of argument was to continue to rabidly answer with ever more cynical and conspiratorial sentiments.  Indeed perceived truth and cynicism had so passionately embraced within him that he gloated in having brought – by his own consideration – such cleverness to their table.

Secondly, of course there are several distinctions between the propaganda of current events and that occurring in the novel, namely the latter is concerned with misinformation designed to confound acceptance of scientific truths/facts, authored by men in fear of what they perceived as an existential threat facilitated by these (paralleling the current attack on climate science by the fossil industry), whilst the former has more to do with two rival sides manufacturing untruths for political gain (sometimes targeting each other, sometimes targeting middle class wealth and livelihood on behalf of the establishment), exacerbated by disinformation agents whose living depends on creating outrageous headlines and content to opportunistically prey upon those inflicted with emotionally driven partisanism.  On another incidental note, regarding these arbiters of so called ‘fake news’ (as were the ‘real news’ that much cleaner), the presence of child or teen related rape propaganda directed at and redistributed by both factions does indeed work as a proxy measure for the present level of smoldering anger in the country.

And in closing (apologies on the abbreviated posting) we must always keep to mind that there is a lighthouse in this tempered sea of low quality information – the scientific method.  I will let Sir Humphry Davy close this day’s missive with the selfsame words he did in the novel concerning the effect of enlightenment in the pursuit of rigorous science:

There are sufficient motives connected with both pleasure and profit, to encourage ingenius men to pursue this new path of investigation. Science cannot long be despised by any persons as the mere speculation of theorists; but must soon be considered by all ranks of men in its true point of view, as the refinement of common sense, guided by experience, gradually substituting sound and rational principles, for vague popular prejudices…  

Addressing the Literary Questions: Question Four

Ahoy readers!  A minor window has at present come to open – merely enough that I may fold and slip this missive through it by the use of two hands on a body that indeed requires at best a doubling of such; for I am constantly awash in multiple disciplines, each owning seemingly infinite demands.  Let us not joke about then, and tackle directly question four of the literary questions existing in the back of Of Woodbridge and Hedgly, after the story has concluded.  This will be my second shot at the questions; the first – my examination of the seventh question – can be found here.

garden-in-bloom-at-sainte-addresse
Spring time, ain’t it?

4.  Throughout the novel, the antagonists – a faction of Hedgely Particular Baptists and their agrarian laborers – have latched onto geological hypotheses and theories that were in the process of falling out of favor at the time (ex. Werner’s Neptunism).  Why did these men hold so fervently to these ideas?   Did each individual and socioeconomic class have its own reasons for this?

In addressing question four, we shall sail to the head of chapter four in the novel, which serves as an introduction to the antagonists’ propagandistic designs – those that confound Mr. Winter and Parson Moore throughout the story.  It is here that they – the antagonists, Preacher Edwards, Mr. Smith, and Mr. Wyatt – start to enthusiastically clap hold of obsolete geological theories, that, were these men not in the throes of rivalry, would have been found to be of little good by any of them.  Their tutor, and fellow they’ve hired to incorporate these weary ideas into counterarguments against our protagonists, goes by the name Princep – a man with credible talent for understanding natural philosophy but who possesses none of such regarding personal contributions to the discipline:

Mr. Princep was something of a fading grey dandy, haggard but well shaved, and missing a hand’s area of hair his junior self did once possess atop his forehead.  More importantly to his company though, was that he was a natural philosopher and Fellow of the Royal Society of London – the title everything to their wants – and it was neither here nor there that he was a most unproductive member, having contributed no articles to the Philosophical Transactions along his tenure. 

Mr. Princep represents those which are known in our modern era as ‘fake experts’:  Men that antagonize a right scientific theory with sophistry and who hold no viable alternative against it, but who gain a large misguided following for being highly advertised in the media, which is complicit in the manifestation of this antiscience propaganda.  An example of such is Professor Richard Lindzen who teaches atmospheric sciences at MIT.  His Lindzen and Choi ‘series’ (in quotations as he has rewritten this selfsame paper multiple times, trying to sneak it past peer review, which does never occur) entitled On the Observational Determination of Climate Sensitivity and Its Implications  seeks to argue climate sensitivity (the steady state temperature the air close to the surface of the Earth will own upon a doubling of CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere) is much lower than what the rest of his colleagues propose.  In the version I’ve linked above, the professor admits (after colleagues point such out during peer review) in the Feedback Formalism section of the paper that previous versions of the paper contained a novice error in the basic construction of his feedback algorithm.  Further the paper is riddled with unbacked assumptions which are explained by Skeptical Science here.  Lindzen is the most unsuccessful climate scientist of the modern era, and my character Mr. Pricep is in this respect modeled on him; he too having failed to publish anything substantial in the Royal Society’s Philosophical Transactions, the prestigious journal cataloguing the scientific discoveries of the day.  And just as science denialists prop up Lindzen by way of his position as a MIT professor, our antagonists wish to prop up Mr. Princep by way of his position as a member of the Royal Society – an ‘appeal to authority’ fallacy.

Let us hear what Mr. Princep has to say in our chapter of interest:

‘It is natural that he would be a champion of Hutton, having cut his teeth in Edinburgh’, said Mr. Princep to his dinner companions, Mr. Edwards and Mr. Wyatt.  ‘But it is poor form not to allow Cuvier and Werner their proper places, foreign as they are, and may I also note that Comte de Buffon retracted his findings regarding the age of the earth?’

Here we will break to note that Comte de Buffon only retracted his written ideas on an ‘aged earth’ – an earth he calculated to be 75,000 year old – because of pressure put on him by the powerful religious component that occupied Sorbonne (the former University of Paris), and not from some scientific revelation.  But our propagandist has communicated such to his audience  in a manner that makes it seem as though the latter could indeed be the true reason, and that their rival, who continues to use the retracted number, is in the wrong.  Mr. Princep is using the selfsame propaganda technique Fox News, or any of the climate denial blogs use:  They give the audience the rest of the story in a simple, quick, and elegant package, piquing their arrogance that they know something the othersthe simpletons – do not; agitating them in the process, that they may become active in the political process against the ‘charlatans’.

Mr. Princep continues to reel the men in with more on the Comte and age of the earth:

‘But the spots in the pudding have to do with this three million year number, supposedly entered into Buffon’s manuscript, based on his sediment observations; not because that too was self removed, as it did not appear in the published addition of Les époques de la nature, but because it varies so much from his first number, such that it is the like to an admission that he knows not a true figure.  Which is it?  Seventy five thousand or three million years?  If we subtract the latter by the former we have two million nine hundred and twenty five thousand years.  And if we subtract the former by the age of the earth then we have sixty nine thousand one hundred and seventy six.  There is a greater discrepancy between the man’s two numbers than there is between his formerly published number and the true age of the earth!  Would I had a quill and paper I could show you that the fractional difference between the division of his lesser and greater numbers and the true age and the greater number is quite insignificant.  He could just as well claim the earth to be but fifty years old and there would be little difference in such and what he has thus put forth.’

Here Princep offers some mathematical non sequiturs.  He tries to dismiss the growing evidence that the earth is older than what the Biblical generations infer by illuminating the large discrepancies in the earliest calculations on the subject.  As I was authoring this section of the novel, I was recollecting a particular mathematical non sequitur that was making the rounds in the low information climate denial community four or five years ago, which presented as the following:  ‘The difference in atmospheric concentration of CO2 concerning today’s readings and those of the preindustrial era only amounts to a 0.013% change.’  This number was billed as the ‘real’ number to ‘debunk’ the actual rise in concentration from 270 to 400 ppm (which works out to be 400-270/270 = 48%).  What the propagandists had done then was simply subtract the original atmospheric percentage from the present one:  400/1,000,000 – 270/1,000,000 x 100 = 0.013% (with respect to atmospheric diluent), or in other words, the CO2 concentration was 0.027% and now it is 0.040% (and this was supposed to ‘feel’ like a small, insignificant change to those without the capacity to question the effects of such).

After Princep riles the antagonists up into a righteous fever, he offers this:

‘You’ve told me of your parson’s account of Hutton, and now I will tell you of two equally compelling philosophical explanations of the origin of our world that vary considerably from The Theory of the Earth; one by each of these men:

‘First I must say that Steno’s superposition does govern all these men’s work – Smith, Cuvier,…; in this there is no divergence with the parson’s offerings.  Indeed, it can be rightly supposed that all these respective philosophers agree that stratification requires some measure of time to be accomplished.  But let us examine Werner who offers that all rock was indeed precipitated or deposited from a receding ocean, originally stocked with all the necessary elements that our strata presently contain.  On Werner’s earth, we start with an irregular solid body surrounded completely with a primitive ocean that is heavily saturated with these elements or minerals, who over time fall out in series based upon their particular qualities:  the primitive series precipitates first, still underwater, which contains our primeval rock – granite, granite gneiss and the like; a transition series then follows, universally depositing our most indurated limestone and seemingly intrusive interstices, by Hutton’s eye at least; after such comes our stratified series with our fossils, and then our sands, gravels, and clays which were deposited on land as the ocean permanently retreated; and lastly local lava flows.  I should add that these lava flows are not the product of some unproven, universal underground heat source, invented by a sprightly imagination to confound the sweeping of Hutton’s erroneous assumptions out the door.  Instead they are the consequence of local coal bed burning, which any man who’s warmed his hands by the material can readily understand:  I fancy the least burdensome explanation is quite often the most true, that I stand by such dogma fearlessly!’

‘Hear him!’ Mr. Wyatt generously applied to the room.  ‘Mr. Princep, a glass!’ he added emptying the decanter into each of the men’s glasses, they all suffering a boiling excitation arising from the discourse.  It wasn’t that the two staunch Baptists were suddenly great enthusiasts of Werner’s hypothesis, but that there existed such articulate opposition to what indeed was flowing out of the Woodbridge parish every other week.  ‘To ease in explanation’ was jollily toasted at such a barking fortissimo, that the serving maid presented some moment later, unprovoked, with a new decanter. 

After glasses were replenished, Mr. Edwards and Wyatt then reinvented conversations first had a few decades before, concerning the similarity of Werner’s all encompassing ocean and the Noahic Flood, each convincing the other that the hypothesis was evidence for the event and visa versa.  Mr. Princep then added a secondary piece of evidence by regaling the men of Cuvier’s interpretations of what he had found in the geologic column around Paris – a series of strata with alternating sea and freshwater fossils consistently ordered in the rock: such he found was the residuum of multiple singular and catastrophic events, each being followed by periods of stability in which a new succession of flora and fauna would repopulate the land.  The last of these catastrophic events, the naturalist explained, was what Cuvier believed to be the founding of Genesis, for the abrupt nature in which each series of fossil did appear over stratigraphic time, gave him cause to find no fault with biblical creation.

It should be noted here that Cuvier did not accept evolution (which is why he is plopped upon Princep’s dinner table), and at one point argued against his colleagues with respect to such by offering that they were relying too heavily on deep time to satisfy their desire for the success of the concept.  This has been wrongly inferred to mean that Cuvier was a proponent of the young earth hypothesis (derived from Archbishop Usher).  Indeed the father of modern geology, Charles Lyell, actively promoted this untruth, which one may read about here:  Rebuilding the Matrix: Science and Faith in the 21st Century (page 174).

But the plum in the pudding regarding Princep’s lecture is that the antagonists joyfully devour these ideas as they are presented, for they find merit in the function of their existence on a few counts:  Firstly, that they are in eloquent opposition to their rival’s position, and secondly, they can be sold in a facile fashion to not only their Hedgely flock, but to the Woodbridge community as well, as seemingly valid counterarguments against Mr. Moore’s scientific lectures, causing individuals to confusedly question the merit of the material from the parson.  That these outdated hypotheses are true or not is neither here nor there for their – the antagonists – part:  When immortal souls are at stake, or other issues of great importance, necessity compels the use of any devilish means.  This is the tragedy of holding fast to any rigid ideology, whether it be the religious conviction that Archbishop Usher was correct in his methodology and calculation of the age of the earth, or the religious conviction that greenhouse gas concentrations don’t affect the energy budget of the planet – at some point one will have to ally themselves with not merely untruths, but widely known and settled untruths, and look like a flat for doing so.

Break Time

I’ll be back later to talk of each antagonist’s motivations for conspiring against the Enlightenment, whether these be rigid ideologies, indifference to change, or perhaps a bit of romantic and business related rivalry for the part of one man.

Free Kindle Promotion for the Novel October 29th to November 2nd!

Pursuing a more humanistic, popular approach to my promotional adverts.
Pursuing a more humanistic, popular approach to my promotional adverts.

Links:

US Amazon Kindle

UK Amazon Kindle

International (automatically redirects to correct Amazon for your country)


When my thoughts have recently blown drearily onto the act of book promotion, they’ve swirled and coalesced about the dates of November 27th (Black Friday), through Cyber Monday, to December 1st, for the obvious reason, having to do with capitalizing on the large volume of online traffic during such period.  Yet when I went to set the promotion on KDP Select, I noticed that I had not expended my ‘free promo’ days for this particular fiscal quarter, ending on November 6th, if memory at all serves presently.  And thusly, I arbitrarily chalked in an October 29th through November 2nd schedule to burn off the days, and have thrown a few advertising dollars out to some of the higher Alexa ranking sites that don’t charge arms, legs, nor otherwise the like.

This go ’round, I’ve changed my advert copy to something less literary or intellectual in impression, but instead, in an almost contradistinguishing fashion, to a more humanistic and popular entertainment quality.  In such, I’ve slightly reinvented my protagonist from a thoughtful man of applied scientific accomplishment, who tangentially is thrown upon the belches and quakes of love, to a lady’s man, devoted to winning a woman by means of extraordinary accomplishment, which of course is only enacted as a function of amorous pursuit.  I’m not the most quick minded in the realm of base social interaction, but I believe that is what popular mythology – aka, products generated from the entertainment industry to attract young consumers – promulgates in order for such to maximize profit:  Some quintessential version of old world Chivalry, that can be summarized by the Bryan Adam’s song, ‘Everything I Do, I Do it for You’, constructed for the film, Robin Hood; certainly not the realized version of such, where if one defeats a woman’s husband in some battle sport, they are thus, um, privy to his armor, &c., and her – his wife.

At any rate, let us examine the ways in which I’ve perjured myself in the quest for a continuance of lunch money, of which this novel does provide, by means of Amazon Kindle sales.  Here is the newly minted synopsis donned on the Amazon page:

In 1820, in the binary country towns of Woodbridge and Hedgely, Gloucestershire, England, Thomas Winter, bachelor of independent means, had a problem. He was in love with a young woman from a prominent family in the area, thoroughly attached to her countryside, but he having always kept a rather itinerant life, working as an engineer about the country, had to prove to her kin that he could be a reliable and productive member of their society before a marriage proposal would be deemed proper. The industrious Mr. Winter therefore endeavored to increase the agricultural yields of the land surrounding these towns by applying the latest science and engineering of the day, yet to his surprise, he soon discovered a large faction of his neighbors, comprised of several of the towns’ farmers, didn’t believe in science! He found himself the target of a propaganda war, alongside his ally, parson Jonathan Moore, who had begun a lecture series focused on natural history, their antagonists motivated by religious ideology and, for the part of a handsome but dull landowner, romantic adversity. This is the story of how manufactured science denial can tear apart two neighborly towns, pitting brother against brother, and how just, right and scientific men do prevail over such.

As I said, a more human element is the focus of this summary; no inorganic chemistry, dimensional analysis, olden geological or evolutionary theories, hints of political satire, or anything else the like:  science denial is not the literary nucleus, but rather just a nebulous barrier that gets between a man and the woman he is pursuing.  But let us take this in parts, that the true story may be discovered:

In 1820, in the binary country towns of Woodbridge and Hedgely, Gloucestershire, England, Thomas Winter, bachelor of independent means, had a problem. He was in love with a young woman from a prominent family in the area, thoroughly attached to her countryside, but he having always kept a rather itinerant life, working as an engineer about the country, had to prove to her kin that he could be a reliable and productive member of their society before a marriage proposal would be deemed proper.

Sure, it’s true Mr. Winter is in love with a particular young lady whose identity is not revealed until the middle chapters, and it’s further correct that in his mind, he is obliged to accomplish his wholly self-defined endeavorments before he believes this woman’s family will heartily accept him showing up unannounced at their front door, in order to convince her father that their attachment is beyond any simple, worldly explosion.   But more than likely, even if Mr. Winter had failed in his scientific pursuits, he would still have been accepted by this woman and her family, by function of his income and inheritable assets alone, and perhaps further, on the notion that he intended to quit the industrial scene and set up shop in Hedgely for as long as his father – an industrial master of mankind – was alive.

Mr. Winter therefore endeavored to increase the agricultural yields of the land surrounding these towns by applying the latest science and engineering of the day, yet to his surprise, he soon discovered a large faction of his neighbors, comprised of several of the towns’ farmers, didn’t believe in science!

Here again is the implication that everything Mr. Winter does, he does it for her, yet again I will emphasize he is not so one dimensional: He tosses and turns on whether or not he should even pursue her, and once a rival presents to their society, he puts it in mind to give her up altogether, and concentrate on his work at hand.  Were it not that his love secretly reciprocated his sentiments, and was able to travel outside the bounds of social construct and admit as much, his cowardice would have paid him but tragedy in the end.

With regard to the man being surprised at the farmers’ indifference toward his prerogative to apply scientific knowledge for the purpose of augmenting crops yields, there are a few points to make: Firstly, Mr. Winter is an impartial observer of everything around him; he takes in information without assigning any rash prejudices or acute tempers to such, and later quietly contemplates the mechanics involved in their presentation. In other words, he’s rarely surprised by any event, proximally or not. Unfortunately, in the writing of advert copy, dramatic emotional swings hold greater weight than thoughtful stoicism: The average entertainment consumer is attracted to over-the-top action, with the category ‘action and adventure’ polling high in what novel readers are interested in.

Secondly, as we’re dealing with a credible amount of realism here – where character motivations aren’t derived from some inherent ‘good’ or ‘evil’ standing, arbitrarily defined for the sake of instilling the plot with necessary conflict, but conversely, come organically, through the convergence of a suite of situational forcings – it’s unnecessary for Mr. Winter to be even the least surprised at anything the farmers offer (they are, after all, acting rationally, given their particular positions); much less exude the melodrama implied in the synopsis. In fact, he – again, the astute observer – knows perfectly what they’re about:

Here is a relatively young upstart with no agricultural experience, no practice under his belt, trying to convince old veterans of the field that he can make their businesses more profitable – a profit none of them are particularly missing, nor have any desire in achieving, so late in life and uninterested in innovation they are: When one becomes old and accomplished, it is a credible level of constancy that is held in high regard, not sweeping change that may knock certain unlucky fellows off their feet.  Indeed, it is illuminated in the later chapters, that they realize any increase in profit only stimulates their local master of mankind – the squire and extensive landowner, whom several of their mates rent their farms from – to increase their let, leaving them with the obligation of increased productivity year after year and no net benefit from their original enthusiasm.

Further these men have been indoctrinated by a staunch religious component intricately woven inside their culture which 1) has a certain penchant for orthodoxy and tradition; and 2) offers a world view that is uncommonly comforting in its simplicity, so much so that anything which is perceived as disruptive to such must either be ignored or dissolved with a confident might; its wielder never questioning the morality of such, so convinced they are of their righteousness. This too lends a given level of resistance by the farmers against anyone who is, or is perceived to be representing The Enlightenment, which of course holds rationalism and empiricism in higher regard than the set of bronze age fables that comprise the Bible; surely the gravest of sins. They are also not unique among the indoctrinated in that they are apt to find a rational for whatever they are pleased to do by way of a particular passage or principle in the Bible: They have no desire to increase yields – certainly not by instruction from an outsider – and therefore are not gluttons, coveting their neighbor’s profit or the like.

He found himself the target of a propaganda war, alongside his ally, parson Jonathan Moore, who had begun a lecture series focused on natural history, their antagonists motivated by religious ideology and, for the part of a handsome but dull landowner, romantic adversity. This is the story of how manufactured science denial can tear apart two neighborly towns, pitting brother against brother, and how just, right and scientific men do prevail over such.

Here I have little to add other than some of the antagonists and propagandists do become somewhat reformed in the end, so it is not as though the scientific men have crushed their enemies, but rather the antagonism is culled for the sake of the towns’ fellowship.   One point I do make in the novel in the ending chapters is that even though there is a cessation of the propaganda at that point, the effects of such still linger in the communities.  I’ve designed this, like many passages in the novel, as a comment on climate change denial propaganda:  Exxon no longer funds the radical right-wing think tanks that in turn distribute money to science denial bloggers and media regulars, but we still have half of the inhabitants of states like West Virgina unwilling to accept the basic scientific findings related to climate change.


More advert copy focused on the base social and emotive aspects of the novel.
More advert copy focused on the base social and emotive aspects of the novel.

Welp, wish me luck on the promotion folks.  Last time around I was able to achieve the top ten list for Historical Literary Fiction and Romance Literary Fiction without spending one penny on advertising.  This time I’ve designed to try a very modest advertisement budget.  Results from last April:

4th place in Historical Literary Fiction for the UK market.
4th place in Historical Literary Fiction for the UK market.

 

Second Place in Romantic Literary Fiction for the UK market.
Second Place in Romantic Literary Fiction for the UK market.

 

Here I am in 5th place in the US market.
Here I am in 5th place in the US market.

On the Application of Lime to Early 19th Century Farmland (Parts 3 and 4)

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In my last post, I partly published Sir John Sinclair’s missives on liming farmland in his General Report of the Agricultural State, Volume II. from 1814.  The man had divided his instructions into four parts and my design is to keep this format intact for both the readers of Of Woodbridge and Hedgely, who would enjoy further information on the agrarian chemistry mentioned in the novel, and also for those with a historical curiosity on the state of farming in the early 19th century.  Let’s get started:

3. How Land is Managed After Lime is Applied

Increased yields as a function of liming magnitude
Increased yields as a function of liming magnitude

Many farmers have found, to their cost, that land which has received a complete liming should be rested from cropping or laid down for pasture as early as can be accomplished. But this being often inconvenient, a gentle and easy mode of cropping is generally adopted, such as may be sufficient to counteract the effects that lime would otherwise produce. Alternate white and green crops are peculiarly calculated for obtaining so desirable an end, and if these are properly cultivated the soil will not soon be exhausted.

4. What Are the Effects of Lime?

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In bringing in newer maiden soils the use of lime is found to be so essential that little good could be done without it. Its first application in particular gives a degree of permanent fertility to the soil which can be imparted by no other manure. Its effects indeed are hardly to be credited, but the correctness of the following facts cannot be disputed. Maiden soils in Lammermuir of a tolerable quality will, with the force of sheep’s dung or other animal manures, produce a middling crop of oats or rye, but the richest animal dung does not enable them to bring any other grain to maturity. Peas, barley, or wheat will at first assume the most promising appearance, but when the peas are in bloom and the other grains are putting forth the ear, they proceed no farther and dwindle away in fruitless abortion. The same soils after getting even a slight dressing of lime will produce every species of grain, and in good seasons, bring them to maturity, always supposing the ground to be under proper culture, and the climate adapted to the crop. Lime is also peculiarly beneficial in improving moorish soils by making them produce good herbage, where nothing but heath and unpalatable grasses grew formerly.

On the Function of the Description of Nature Inside Historical Fiction

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Of Woodbridge and Hedgely takes place in the Regency years of 1820 and 21, firmly planted in the midst of the Romantic Era, which was defined by a constellation of movements inside literature, music, art, natural philosophy, &c., where particular attention was placed on the depth and quickness of man’s emotion, and his interaction with, and the examination of the beauty of nature.   Indeed it was a reactionary phenomenon against the consuming nature of the Industrial Revolution and its resultant rise in human population, no longer at its Medieval steady state:  Appreciation of the natural world spiked in the face of this industrial monster, whose prerogative was to chew it all up and spit it out broken, and do so year by year in an exponential fashion, creating the conceivability of a future where such, decimated, would no longer exist as it did in the early 19th century.  Alas the magnitude of one’s appreciation of an object is partially a function of their contemplation of its failing longevity, be it man, flora, fauna, or otherwise.

Given this connection between man, nature and romance during this period, a historical author setting their story in such would not do wrong in attempting description of the natural world, weather, and climate, especially when romantic notions are being plucked.  Further, with specific regard to Of Woodbridge and Hedgely, as it functions as a historical lens to criticize modern propagandists that seek to downplay the significance of global warming – whose ramifications indeed do converge upon the end game that our Romantic Era predecessors lamented upon – ecosystems destroyed, natural populations in shambles, the diversity of the biosphere significantly contracted; and as the novel also concerns itself with man’s stewardship of the earth, the agrarian countryside, and a romantic subplot involving two main characters, all of such has obliged me, the author, to do just that.  And even further, as the novel is driven mostly by dry literary mechanics, and not by taking great advantages of those found in the genres of suspense, horror, action, or even full-on romance, the characters therein sometimes experience the bliss of nature as a means of momentarily emotionally connecting with the reader.   The audience should also observe that our main character, Thomas Winter, has at the beginning of the novel quit his job as a mechanical engineer, working in the heart of England’s mechanized industry, in order to escape back to the natural countryside, and apply his scientific mind to agrarian science and botany; he is the quintessential romantic.

Here I will harvest select passages from the novel which illustrate its attention to the natural world, and publish a few relevant comments alongside those, with the above sentiments in mind.

Natural Observations in the Novel

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The first chapter, rightly entitled ‘Setting’, allows us several glimpses of the picturesque Cotswold countryside preparing to dress itself for autumn.  On page six of the novel (effectively page two of the prose) we have an introductory taste of the countryside as seen through the eyes of the young curious girl whose main function as a character is indeed to witness the local setting of Mr. Winter’s home:

Momentarily she cranked her neck southward down Mr. Winter’s backyard – a small agrarian field that extended three hundred feet gradually down the hill from his home – open to the possibility of her mother’s voice retrieving her for dinner. Her cottage was one of many King Street homes that lined the field’s southern edge, sitting quite lower than such that but rooftops and shyly peeking second floor windows were to be had from her present vantage. Beyond these rose another hill not quite as tall as Mr. Winter’s which kept a field for a belly and woodland for a ridge, currently in the first stage of autumn dressing. Such a scene was not uncommon to the little girl nor anyone else she knew, for both the town and surrounding farmland existed thusly on rolling hill that defined their particular plot on England’s greatest isle. 

She gives us another little hint at man’s intimate connection with nature during the period in a few places where her cottage garden – an important source of her family’s nutrition – is mentioned.  Here is one:

The next morning found the tailor’s daughter examining the gooseberry bushes outback of her family’s cottage, regretting the end of their fruit, which had been jammed a month before, and the caterpillars, who had quit the plot several months before that; she having encouraged them to do so. It also found – as did the girl – Mr. Winter in a fine stretch of leg, hastily traveling southward down his backyard field with a footman running after him, calling out the necessity of a waistcoat and jacket, these flapping about in the poor man’s hands. She watched as the servant caught up to him and helped him into his fine, dark blue coat over a simple, white riding cravat and a gray-lilac waistcoat. Then, refusing his top hat, he peered further down the field at his original intention – King Street – and then the opposite direction, finally gesturing to the wheezing fellow that they should retrace their paths, back toward his home. The servant, still looking rather ill after having achieved the farmhouse, gave him a nod and disappeared through the kitchen entry, yet he continued northward, until from the vantage of the tailor’s garden he too was gone.

Mr. Winter himself gives us a tour of the countryside as he walks from his farmhouse, situated in the northern Hedgely fields, northward through Woodbridge Wood and Hedgely Wood – the extensive woodland that separates his town from its sister, Woodbridge – eventually emerging in this latter setting and continuing on to Woodbridge Manor.  This woodland becomes of importance in the resolution of Part 1 of the novel, which I will flush out, further on down in this missive, but in order to fully grasp the significance of this, it must firstly be understood that all the younger characters in the novel – Mr. Winter, Harriet and Charlotte Moore, and the nameless tailor’s daughter – have been born into this spirit of romanticism, and find the utmost pleasure in walking these woods.  Let us follow Mr. Winter into the trees:

Mr. Winter plunged into the forest and continued northward on a path that showed some regular use; perhaps in the innocent collection of fallen wood by Hedgely’s northern occupants. He took in, deeply, the cool air flavored by the scent of the first batches of freshly fallen leaves littering the path, and noted the songs of the tree pipit and sparrow which confounded those of the grey partridge, lapwing and corn bunting he had just left behind in the hedges and fields. These birds he had identified as a novice naturalist – a trait born that summer when he had come to town to examine the renovations to his new home and adventure in the countryside. He had also done quite well concerning the trees: This particular wood kept a vast population of Ash, but other common species noted thus far were local varieties of Beech, Oak, Maple, Sweet Chestnut, Horse Chestnut, Willow, and Birch, though his portfolio was far from complete. In one particular park west of Woodbridge Woods he had also seen Common Yew, Sycamore, and a few lonely Norway Spruce that were more than likely transplants brought by one of the park’s ancient owners.     

After several hundred feet, his path ran perpendicularly into another, and he continued on the western leg of such, running alongside a credible brook whose turbulent waters added to the soundscape of calls, buzzes, knocks, clicks, chirps, and the scattering of leaves by unseen creatures making their way to safety upon his determined approach. And as he momentarily halted his march to examine a particular stream pool for trout, he contemplated the extensive variance between olden woodland and the modern farmland which now dominated the countryside at the expense of the former.

Just as Mr. Winter’s erection of his boiler-heated glasshouse represents the Industrial Revolution beginning to saturate the English countryside, we are given another aspect of man’s destruction of nature for his own gain; save this one occurred much earlier, in ancient times, when it is said that the amount of farmland then was of the selfsame geographical area as what is present today.  The olden English forests held no chance against the sharp set stomach of even bronze age man.  Just examine the UK on Google Maps against the eastern US, and observe the difference in coverage of forest.

In this section, we also find the trend of amateur naturalism in motion, which was the thing during the era, from Sir Joseph Blaine’s large ‘bug’ collection – ha, ha! – to the Patrick O’Brien character, Stephen Maturin’s roaming the world on a Royal Navy frigate, in search of old and new species alike – a man after Charles Darwin’s heart.  My character Charlotte Moore is also an avid bird watcher and keeps close to her person a particular book on the subject in the front chapters of the novel:

Charlotte had failed (or was presently failing) to marry not from want of interest, but from a combination of lack of suitable interest concerning income, and her personal necessity of staying close at hand to, perhaps Woodbridge Manor, but more so to its lush countryside of rolling hills and forests; for like the younger Ms. Moore, and her father, regarding his apples, she too adored the local natural surround – a family trait, one might suppose. She was not as venturous as Harriet, wandering about the wood alone, but was vigilant to the daily opportunities at hand, such as today’s accompaniment of her cousin to the Edwards, for which she brought along the missing book that inspired such trouble in their library the day Mr. Winter had been introduced – Bewick’s History of British Birds. 

And here we observe all three of the younger, main characters walking to Hedgely from the Woodbridge parish with design to identify a few entries in Charlotte’s book:

‘Well then ladies – shall we begin our journey?’ he said through a genuine smile with his arm extended, gesturing at the path before them. Alas such was taken well, and they found much to say about the triumph of walking as opposed to the stuffy, cramped, and sometimes physically shocking experience that a carriage would provide on an uneven road. They too did all agree that Compton Lane, with its wooded embellishments, sounds of the river, and voidance of post coaches was the superior walking path in comparison to the upper leg of Westfield Road, and took the route in hopes of sighting a few specimens from Charlotte’s book.

Love, Lust and the Luxuriation in Nature

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Let us now examine the amalgam of nature and amorous notions with Mr. Winter’s shoddy poetical prose, which he secretly writes at his desk in his bedroom.  In the provided section, he is describing he and a young lover discovering themselves by chance on their lonesome country walks, and falling in love whilst witnessing the waking of the countryside on an early Sunday morning.

We did little to deserve each other, than what we did those few moments rising into the morning sun. Sure, such were no less soluble than any of the hundred scents conjured by the flourishing warmth, yet they did raise to the highest power what was, just before she existed, seemingly ordinary countryside. I fear the younger audience might tend to find love a void to be occupied as soon and as frequently as possible; its depth discovered by fervent thrusting. Perhaps I am grown simple, that it may, with equal credibility, be just the accidental brushing of her hand to mine, as she gestured at some creature I pretended to see for the sake of her excitement, roused out by the starting day…

[Some material removed]

…As the Sun’s titan tongue lapped further at our position, the world was reduced to two odd figures, the wind, the railed fence that marked our converging paths, and the soft permeation of cathedral chimes in the wooded distance; it must have been Sunday, the day we met. I felt it proper to mar at last a tacit interval born from trailing observations we had for each other about the boxed fields and their contents beyond our fence. In doing so – my begging of her name, for she had painted every other aspect of her character necessary for me to stumble about – a damnable hobbledehoy – my topside overweighed – I was confounded by an ungovernable discharge of emotion. Depth begets depth by the sounding of a name.

Her name. Faith, her name! Her name – a charmed amulet thus hung ‘round my neck, suffuse with supernatural will and revelry, that I may stand to the world with enlivened resolve, ingest its colors with an irrational augment of resonance, and have no doubt of comfort these last few earthly steps trusted to me. For these moments do arise that love is careless of curfew and refuge, that an indelible mark is made – the maker unexpected – and that a recognition so strong is to be found in another who has by naked chance shared one’s bit of walking path.

This next section concerns what I had previously stated about the woodland, and the younger characters’ reverence toward it, playing a significant role in the resolution of Part 1 of the the book.  [Spoiler Alert!]  Here Mr. Winter and Harriet Moore, both desiring to confront one another regarding their thus far unspoken love, which has, at this point, reached a flash point, are coincidentally walking toward each others residences – Harriet from Woodbridge, Mr. Winter from Hedgely.  They converge upon one another inside the vast woodland that separates their towns during the beginning of a large thunderstorm, which not only represents their inner turmoil and the ‘sinful nature’ of their behavior, with the extremity of nature playing out both internally and exogenously around them, but also adds a heightened sense of emotion to the scene, and taps into the primitive human desire for shelter seeking against the harsh, climactic elements in their environment, again informing the audience that it is the primal aspects of the human experience that is of concern in that moment:  Who hasn’t woken up to a thunderstorm, and finding themselves in a cozy bed, untouched by the elements, desired some manner of physical romance with their partner next to them, as a function of this transient phenomenon?

‘Mr. Winter!’ – a white flash as the figure sprinted her last few yards at him, her cloak inadvertently opening. Harriet Moore. Her face was entirely wet, yet not entirely from the rain; such was clear from the reddened distress in her eyes.

‘Ms. Moore! It is uncommon wet and only becoming worse. To where shall I take you?’

Ms. Moore looked away and stumbled for words that did not answer in the crescendoing elements. She eventually became overwhelmed and began to weep: ‘Mr. Winter, I am come to see you!’ There was not much of a height difference between the two of them, but still she looked up at him, warming him in the manner he terribly feared, to which his mind became dosed with riotous chemistry.

‘Well, come on then’, he said grabbing her hand and pulling her into Woodbridge Woods for shelter. They stormed the underbrush toward the small path known to the both of them, which led to a crop of olden oaks that were prized by the locals for their quality of shelter in a blow. There it was wet but tolerable, as they stood alongside one’s particularly massive trunk.

‘Oh Mr. Winter, I’ve something horrid to say to you…’

‘Ms. Moore!’, he burst out, ‘I’ve something for you as well – I beg before you do any damage that you hear me first, that I may spare you such. I was headed to Woodbridge to call…’

‘Oh, indeed?’

Mr. Winter felt the passage of time become gnarled as if the great perpetual clock of the wood was gently amiss: some ten fathoms above, the wind did dart to and fro through their tree’s oldest branches, causing sharpened wisps of sound to cry ‘hurry’ to the already shortened day; but below there was no such haste: Droplets lazily fell from the lowest branches and quietly and flatly puttered upon the forest litter, and the gusts were never quite so quarrelsome as to be the cause of their reddened cheeks. He was vaguely aware of the harm he was then to accomplish, but more so he was paradoxically at ease, for this woman calmed him and kept him from suffering the work of the clock, that he was indifferent to the consequences of the next year, the next month, or the next day…

[Large volumes of dialog-driven material omitted]

Thunder came from overhead and cracked time back into its natural setting. Wind, wet and hail surged through and through, numbing their extremities beyond tolerable, that they both uncontrollably shook. But the couple could not proceed to Woodbridge: they two, unchaperoned, presenting like soaked dogs would indeed be the fuel for rumors and those for injury with respect to Mr. Wyatt and by extension, Mr. Moore. Sneaking about unchristian-like, whist the squire was sincerely presenting an opportunity to his niece with the best of intention, even if such was fundamentally flawed, would surely be an insult that could justify a withheld blessing, and further jeopardize Mr. Winter’s social capacity to which his experiments relied. Ditto for Mr. Winter’s home: for they would be betrayed by the servants, and possibly the Edwards’ at their window, marveling at the weather, within the week – they wearily reasoned.  

And so it came to pass that they carried westward through the various splotches of groves to a grounds keeper’s cottage, which Mr. Winter had observed months before as unlet, and which presently displayed no variance in that respect. It took the best part of half an hour for Mr. Winter to ignite a fire, even though the former owner had left a few days’ dry kit for the rudimentary chimney that divided the two rooms of the dwelling. And when he was done, quite worked up and warmer for it, he threw down his grand cloak in front of the fire, offering Harriet the driest section, and alleviated her of her own ill weeping garment, and saturated gloves and hat.

‘Faith woman, your hands are the like to the weather!’, he exclaimed, noting the difference in temperature between them and his. He put a few deep breaths to them and rubbed them inside his own. ‘Sit in front the fire, Miss Harriet, and I will open my jacket and waistcoat just so that I may sit behind you and warm you from behind; between my person and the fire, we will see you warm in ten minute’s time’.

She leaned back into him and nestled her temple and cheek bone into the more supple part of his, that her ear felt afire. He laid his arms and cupped palms of his hands upon the selfsame of hers, contralaterally, that it was no longer just her ear that suffered pleasant inflammation, but the entirety of her skin and deeper still. She closed her eyes and recalled the cathedral chimes and faint smell of the clover and cocksfoot which had saturated her senses that long ago summer day. Then, looking back at him, she found herself unexpectedly fragile for the amount of natural laudanous spirits that boiled into her blood, dismissing everything proper before her king, country and God. It was but twelve beats of her heart that she ensnared an impeccant glance on his part with her resolute stare, that no other enterprise was reasoned or engendered, save the ungovernable collision of their lips; love knowing no honor…

Let the fountains, falls and gushes cease; and of the faintest match or greatest ripple of fire inside the earth – let these spare that which they are nourished; let no moon, nor earth, nor heavenly body crank one more inch; for thrusting into her, I am home and never wish again to depart, he inwardly professed just before the thunder clapped and he filled her with joyous living filament. 

The last line is the novel’s ultimate culmination of the merging of nature and romance:  Mr. Winter ejaculates inside of his lover as the thunderstorm continues to present its own moments of climax.  The term ‘living filament’ is a biological term used by Erasmus Darwin inside his chapter on generation – the sexual reproduction of animals with the concept of evolution of species in mind – found in his book Zoonomia.  Harriet Moore’s father had just presented a lecture on E. Darwin and his evolutionary philosophies, earlier in the chapter.

[I had originally planned a part III to this post, but alas family tragedy and time limits have exploded my intentions.]

[This, I believe, is my last post necessary for the complete reconstruction of my blog which suffered a data erasure a month or so ago.  From this point forward, when time allows, new postings will indeed be such, and not previously published.]

On the Unseasoned Cultural Relations Portrayed in the Novel

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I’ve often asserted that the material in Of Woodbridge and Hedgely is, to at least some degree, derived from the examination of the works of Jane Austen, and the woman herself.  This has mostly to do with the construction of the female characters, their interpersonal interactions throughout the novel, and perhaps the theme of the progressive female protagonist, somewhat defiant of the orthodox social norms that appeared to be in place in early 19th century England.  These are not what I wish to presently address (there is a brief overview of such in a video I posted in the introductory entry of this blog), but instead, I desire the audience will observe that Jane Austen has achieved a certain amount of veneration with regard to the literary phenomenon of realism, and that I too, in my novel, have drunk from this selfsame well; save I’ve plunged a little further in, having addressed the rather rough edges of cultural perceptions by small town country folk.  (Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear, oh dear!)

One of the main themes of the novel is the examination of the mechanisms in which flawed belief systems, existing secondary to base desires, fears, and religious, or otherwise self-reinforced group thinking, explode the acceptance of science by those outside of the scientific community.  Here a parallel can be drawn in that these deficiencies can also manifest as chauvinistic nationalism, and the publishing of impolite thoughts on cultures removed from that of those doing the act.  In other words, those that cannot escape scientific ignorance, by their own character deficits, may indeed also fail to avoid cultural ignorance and the rudeness that coexists with such.  Incidentally, climate activist and journalist Peter Sinclair often blogs about the intimate coupling of anthropogenic climate change denial and racism among a subset of often-uneducated, American conservatives, which are represented in my novel by the Hedgely Particular Baptists.  So with that introduction, let’s take a look at some of the passages from the novel:

Firstly, we have the character Mr. Edwards, the Hedgely Particular Baptist preacher, who introduces the audience to the reality of 19th century English elitism in Episode One, when he instructs his chronically brash wife on the subject of tolerance:

‘Tolerance, Mrs. Edwards! Tolerance, my love,’ Mr. Edwards kindly offered in the baritone voice that matched his tall, grey, near plump and leathery exterior, as he came within range of the ladies after having settled with their carriage. ‘For we are but one set of folk upon this earth out of countless others. And though across our oceans we do find inferior varieties with which we do our best in their keeping, our own countrymen, regardless of their extremity shall not be treated any worse than they, and therefore tolerance must be issued. Oh, how do you do Ms. Moore?’  

This exemplifies the hypocrisy of a few of our more outspoken American Christian conservatives:  They luxuriate in pontificating morality, whilst simultaneously holding conspicuously immoral positions, as they hold fast to the communal beliefs of their local social circles, which seek to justify their particular prejudices with convenient interpretations of the Bible.  This is the only instance of elitism that the preacher showcases throughout the story, but it is implied that such is well ingrained inside the Edwards’ household, as his wife, from time to time, will profess the Englishman’s superiority over his French, German, or otherwise European counterparts.  Such initially happens just a few paragraphs removed from her husband’s Episode One offering:

…Great minutes went by as Ms. Moore politely acknowledged this or that in the inexhaustible prose of the minister’s wife as she issued a flight of thoughts along many a subject: the Union’s internal strife and how caviler the newer members were at molesting orthodoxy for the sake of growing a following; Mr. Winter’s horrid glass-shed-of-a-thing that spoiled his backyard; and how poor the cooking had been at the inn recently and the demise of servitude in general. But as she started to pontificate on French and German inferiority, Mr. Edwards thankfully stepped in, noticing that the slight pink in Ms. Moore’s cheeks began to smolder…

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In Episode Two, as Harriet and Charlotte prepare to entertain Mrs. Edwards by way of voice and piano in her private parlor, we gather a little more of her disdain for Europeans.  The significance in her use of the word ‘medieval’ is that England was at ground-zero of the Industrial Revolution, and at the forefront of engineering innovation, whilst other countries were laggards in comparison.  This likely informed Englishmen that they were indeed superior to their European brethren; their breeding being conflated with their technical advantage:

After having explained she fell square in the mezzo range and that in want of a score she and Harriet were only proficient in but a few ancient songs from a historical compellation that had found its way from overseas to the manor’s library long ago – and such not overtaking Mrs. Edward’s sense of English superiority, for ‘there were composers that may almost rival the three ‘H’s’: Handel, Haydn, and Henry Purcell’, though she would not commit that much further, so many of the ‘medieval continentals having stunted thoughts from malnutrition and inbreeding’ – Harriet sat at the pianoforte and gave Charlotte her first note.

And just a few paragraphs down we have Mrs. Edwards struggling with her primal reaction to the Moore ladies’ song, despite it being performed in the ‘inferior’ Italian language:

…The first few passages, steeped in piano driven sensitivity, capitulated to bold fortes, that the poet would certainly not be mistook: ‘Doubt not its truth; Open my breast and see it written on my heart’, she sang in his native language as he referred further to his love. And though Mrs. Edwards spoke not a lick of any inferior language, she was frightfully stirred by the Moore ladies’ interpretation which exuded a relentless magnitude of female sensuality that went far beyond what was expected of English women, much less gentlewomen. Indeed she was powerless against it, and despite the small, remaining pin prick of her now anesthetized rationality working it hardest to cause her shame, the rest of her mind, and body, was flooded by the universally appealing Renaissance tonalities the ladies afforded the room so that she could not move to object. She surely was bewitched…

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Now let us examine the indiscreet approach to cultural relations by oWaH’s field workers, who keep dispersed agrarian duties along the outskirts of the binary towns, but are shown to congregate at times, especially at The Plough or Woodbridge Inn – their local pubs – on account of these serving scrumpy (apple cyder) and other alcoholic beverages.  In the following example we have these men – some of which having likely been impressed as able men upon Royal Navy ships during the Napoleonic Wars, and others having naturally embraced the nationalist rivalry between England and France secondary to these wars – displaying contempt for the latter country in their private, class-warfare humor involving the gentleman Mr. Winter, whom they’ve dubbed ‘The Frenchman’ or ‘The Crapaud’, as he chronically wears the selfsame blue jacket, reminiscent (for jesting purposes) of a French soldier’s.  The joke was certainly not meant to breach their personal circle, but in this scene at The Plough, inside Episode Four, the men’s drunkenness affords them boldness enough so that Mr. Winter indeed overhears their revelry:

The manners on the inside of the inn were no better: He struggled quite profoundly with the folding of his umbrella, and by the time one of Mrs. Bagley’s men came to his assistance, he was breathed and in a slovenly state, concerning his hair and posture. Then at the disposal of his cloak, his now famous blue jacket made its appearance, and that, wrapping such an unkempt person, inspired a set of laborers watching him from the dining hall to offer a few private comments, which were unfortunately inflamed to a roar by their mates:

‘No sir, no sir – the gentleman is not a crapaud! He is no so loathsome!’

‘Huzzah!’, yelled a chorus of drunkards nebulous to the jester.

‘Nor sallow faced!’

‘Huzzah!’

‘Nor hollow eyed!’

‘Huzzah!’

‘Nor herring gutted’

‘Huzzah!’

‘Nor spindle shanked, goiter necked, sore mouthed, sad looking, half clad, tatterdemalion, petty, swaggering; an’ nor at all a bog trotting potentate!’

‘Huzzah, Huzzah!’

These are actual insults from Victorian England, pulled from an elitist essay malignantly describing the German people, if I recall correctly; though I’ve forgotten my source.

The laborers’ unrefined notions on exogenous cultures and races again presents in the front of Episode Seven, as an argument unravels involving the transmutation of species (and variants within a species):

‘Sir – though I do not follow you with the creatures, I believe you have become too colourful with Mr. Darwin, for ‘plain chance’ is not reasonably followed by ‘all possible chances’, and in what Mr. Moore has told us of the man’s philosophies there does not appear the like to what you say,’ returned the Woodbridge’s best man, further adding, ‘But were it that Mr. Darwin indeed has pointed in the direction you suggest, then just as Mr. Cuvier’s great mammoth no longer walks the earth as his cousin the elephant does, there then exists the chance that some cousin of man may be long buried in the earth, but awaiting the naturalist’s shovel. And have you not heard of the physical variants of the savages from the lesser continents?’ A hard pinch of dissatisfaction came over him and his mates as he improvised on topics absorbed from Mr. Moore’s last lecture.        

‘I heard ‘ems was of a rather strange physique and colour, but on account o’ their savagery an’ not more. Oh, oh, oh!’ the Hedgely cried in alarm as he pointed over the heads of the Woodbridge’s at their table, causing them to turn around only to find the keep with their scrumpy. ‘My apologies, sirs: I reckoned it were a winged boar or a crocodilian-duck! Ha, ha, ha!’      

The ‘winged boar’ is obviously a flying pig, and its implication is sincerely held by the man uttering the term as a means to cause injury to his opponents at the pub; but the ‘crocodilian-duck’ is a hat tip to science journalist Potholer54, who runs/ran a YouTube channel dedicated to confounding anti-science positions kept by men with both religious and political motivations for doing so.

Incidentally, the scene also portrays the reality of how those without scientific backgrounds accept science: through the acceptance of the opinions of experts in their respective fields.  Ironically, this too almost parallels blind faith, save that our scientific systems consistently produce credible results and progress, and thus it is perfectly reasonable to consider those as trustworthy.  (And this is why the modern conservative think tanks, funded by the fossil fuel industry, spend a great deal of their time trying to smear climate experts with non-scandals like Climategate or conspiratorial notions of government tax allocation abuse, &c.  They seek to confound the public’s trust in our modern scientific systems; at least along the topics of climate and geophysics.)

Readers should further note that even though the Woodbridge laborers are defending these early notions of evolution, again merely by deferring to their town’s scientific authority, Johnathan Moore, as a trustworthy source of information (and in many cases just defending the man out of loyalty), they too are struggling with the concept, having been indoctrinated by religion all their lives.  Indeed, even the protagonist George Moore, Johnathan’s brother and benefactor, has trouble with the subject throughout the story, though he is never brazenly dismissive of it, as the antagonists are.  This, I believe, adds a handsome dose of realism to the novel.

But let us turn back to our original subject with a few closing thoughts:  I’ve mostly portrayed the antagonists in the novel as the ones keeping improper or immoral stances on cultural and race relations.  This is where the realism stops.  The truth is a man can be good, right, and heroic in some areas of this life, whilst also being a total failure in others, especially concerning cultural sensitivity during the era in which the novel is set:  The cherished opera composer, Richard Wagner, is said to have held antisemitic view points in some of his essays and writings, for example.  Indeed, several of our greatest American presidents were slave owners.  Thus it would not be so burdensome to conceive that both the Woodbridge field workers, as well as their Hedgely counterparts would have individuals among them, equal and significant in number, that were indifferent to cultural sensitivity at this point in history; and that this circumstance is certainly not limited to the lower caste, if you take my meaning.  Alas, a writer can only chip so much morality away from a protagonist, for the sake of realism, before the audience rejects them as such, and so they – the readers – are contentedly left with either characters awash in false purity, or a don’t ask, don’t tell policy, regarding this subject of cultural sensitivity.  Asking, of course, gets uncomfortable:  How many friends did Pride and Prejudice’s Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley have, that fought politically against the Slave Trade Act of 1807?  And did Darcy, Bingley, or any other of the prominent figures in Jane Austen’s books themselves gather on the ‘wrong side of the fence’ with respect to the Act?

And finally we come to end with one last thought concerning evolution, xenophobia, elitism, racism, and structured social conflict in general.  Are not these rooted in primal, hunter-gatherer tribalism, which originated secondary to evolutionary pressure regarding the competition for resources, mates, shelter, &c.?  In other words, individual early hominids that coagulated into small clans and who declared outsiders, or other clans, as enemies when necessary (as they were competing for limited resources) were more likely to pass their genes on to the next generation, than the ‘lone-wolves’ in their area, or those with some altruistic prerogative.  And not only does an evolutionary explanation exist for these constructs, a generalized definition of their manifestation can be afforded in fairly simple terms:  1) group together in a clan; 2) find something different between your clan and another competing clan in a formal manner; 3) use that as a rallying point to influence your clan to (sometimes viciously) interact with the competitors for the purposes of grabbing as much resources as possible; and 4) do so.  And it matters little what variable one picks in defining the said difference: race, culture, geographical location, religious affiliation, political ideology, &c.  The idea is to pick a difference, and then convince your brethren that they are superior with respect to such, in order to justify the taking of the other side’s resources.

Mr. Princep illustrates this in Episode Ten of oWaH:

‘I had thought on it a little sir; but if there were as steady work as you say, then I will do so even more. And if I have indeed caused such a sand storm, even at present, I suppose it would therefore be my duty to reverse it, if at all possible; but you will observe that one could place a race of men, who do not vary in the least their physical, emotional, and ceremonial qualities, onto a plot of land where none was less equal in situation to any other, but in the end let half be of blue eyes and the other of brown, and before long they would be at each others’ throats over it. What might the articles entail, do you think?’ asked Mr. Princep as he attempted to massage his lower back in his chair as they occupied Mr. Winter’s study.   

Carry on.

[Note:  this is a re-posting of a blog article I wrote in July of ’15, my WordPress account having been unexpectedly wiped clean for an unknown reason.]

Addressing the Literary Questions – Question Seven

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In fear of a repeat of the cold 1816, where the Thames froze over, and crop yields were diminished, Manchester began providing what they conceived was a solution to the global cooling.

In my last post, built for book reviewers, I posted the set of literary questions that exist directly after the conclusion of the story in both the kindle and physical formats.  Question seven of these is as follows, for which I will attempt a brief answer:

The author, in various places inside the novel, offers mathematically detailed solutions to simple, logistical problems, which showcase the creative spirit of an entrepreneur and applied scientist; and the manner in which such a person would approach puzzles owning both inherent knowns and unknowns. Many days research were spent so that not only sound physics and chemistry prevailed throughout the story, but the engineering and material solutions were true to what was available in 1820 (albeit to a son of one of the wealthiest men in England, who happened to have his hand squarely on the modern industrial operations of the time). Why did the author risk stifling the flow of the novel with technical details that could be construed as excessive, or improper for popular entertainment and the casual reader?

There are a few places, indeed, where Mr. Winter walks the reader by the hand through the details of calculations he has made concerning his experiments, the first one, I believe, involving how to water two 1/2-acre fields with a solution of carbonate of ammonia so that enough of the fertilizer is deployed at the correct concentration, but further, that the field is not overly drenched, especially during the months of heavier precipitation; the second, being where he affords logistical and dimensional analysis driven solutions to moving marl, lime, and gypsum from their quarries to their sights of application; and thirdly, towards the end of the novel where he estimates his grain yields through sample based extrapolation.

The function of these sections, which would surely be dissected by a professional editor, is five fold:

Firstly I’m recreating real problems that would have existed during this era, and finding real solutions to them.  Even though I’m but an armchair historian, I believe there is historical merit in doing so, especially considering that a true historian may not have the mathematical skills or abstract problem solving ability to provide a detailed account of such by way of recreation.  When Mr. Winter informs his audience, regarding the movement of marl from the quarry to the field, that, ‘Each cart [they’ve] observed is drawn by one draft horse of approximately eighteen hundred pounds, and on account of the hills, we wished that the creatures not pull more than their weight,’ the reader may comfortably accept that I did the research on how much a horse weighed, how much it could pull up a moderate hill, the like to those characteristic of the Cotswold countryside, and how much a tumbril cart would have weighed, &c.  Again I will reemphasize that I did my level best in recreating calculations that would have been accomplished in 1820 to garner the feats my characters thusly performed in the novel.

Secondly I want the audience to realize the cold hard reality of cold hard calculations.  I’m weary of those contemporary propagandists that would have us believe that scientists are ‘fudging numbers’ to conform to a liberal agenda; the like to the cooked books coal baron and billionaire Donald Blankenship of WV created to fool safety inspectors into thinking he wasn’t out to destroy his gentlemen miners for the sake of a few extra cents in earnings per share of common stock.  There’s no magic; no feelings; no mark-to-fantasy home values; just plain, simple Euclidean inspired adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing.  This novel is about science advocacy; here is partly the essence of science and engineering, boiled down to some rudimentary calculations.

Thirdly this novel was intended partly for the readership of those scientists fed up with the right wing think tanks’ propaganda that they are up to no good for the sake of money, that global warming is ‘the greatest hoax played on the American people’, &c.  I fancy a particular reader may try to recreate my calculations on the back of an envelope for their own amusement.

Further, this is my hobby.  The novel exists mostly for my own amusement, and is indeed not an instrument to sell a million copies to the teenage masses for the sake of wealth creation.  In fact there is some diversion from the thought of an editor, all in an uproar, over Mr. Winter’s long winded instructions inside the mundane subject of farming.

And lastly, the book is a reaction to a novel, contemporary phenomenon which marks the most significant crossroads in human history – the point where we either listen to our scientists and engineers and prosper, or we destroy ourselves needlessly for the greed of a small subset of wealthy humans, cohabiting among us.  Here, at least in my novel, the reader is obliged to listen to the scientist, understand in detail he is not a fraud, and reinforce their acceptance of the scientific method.  What an odd time we live in, drowning in technology that has improved our condition, but where it is politically fashionable to deny the method of thinking that led us to such.

Message to Potential Reviewers of ‘Of Woodbridge and Hedgely’

Note: Until a satisfactory number of reviews are present, I will provide a free mobi or pdf file of the novel to anyone that agrees to write a well thought out review on its Amazon Kindle page!  See the comments field below on how to contact me.  

Of Woodbridge and Hedgley bravely occupies what one might consider a credibly small niche in the ever growing sea of literature available online:  Firstly, it is a literary work that focuses on science denial and the flawed belief systems, mechanics of propaganda, and delinquencies of character that are nebulous to such.  Secondly, the science involved in the novel is that from the early 19th century, with emphasis on early geology (James Hutton), pre-Darwinian evolution (Erasmus Darwin, grandfather of Charles Darwin), and the birth of agricultural chemistry (Sir Humphrey Davy); with a few brief examples of the state of engineering, concerning glass, iron, stove and boiler manufacturing.  Thusly, I often appeal to likes of ‘Science Geeks, History Geeks, and Science-History Geeks’ to answer to the call of readership:

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The novel also provides subtle messages with regard to climate change and food security, basic ecology, and resource limitations. A brief overview of some of these can be found in my post entitled On the Satirical Content and Philosophical Commentary in the Novel. Readers best equipped to comprehend the novel’s offerings are those that are interested in the politics of science (such as modern climate change politics, or possibly the teaching of evolution in public schools), have at least some small degree of environmental concern, and enjoy science advocacy.

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Yes, there are also secondary, Jane Austen inspired romantic subplots at work, where the novel’s frontward pages afford some mystery as to who will be married to who (and perhaps, who will fail to marry) by the end of the novel. The main character, Mr. Winter, has a habit of writing detailed poetical prose (sometimes poorly) in a journal he keeps, where he documents his scientific and engineering endeavors, and all other dealings he has in his new towns of which the novel’s title is derived. And the lead female, Harriet Moore, even offers some country poetry in the novel’s interlude. Indeed man’s interaction with the world of nature is at the very heart of music, literature and art’s 19th century romantic era, and the novel keeps to this tradition with characters enjoying the sights and smells of the small town English countryside. Yes, there is romance. It would almost seem amiss not to offer such in a Regency Era novel.

Further, the novel is an appeal to intellect, and not to pop entertainment. There are no vampires. The plots are idea driven; not action driven. The tragedy is subtle; not one character melodramatically dies. There is, however, one gentleman’s duel that represents the concept of climate change inflaming false belief systems and causing adverse physical outcomes (the U.S. military considers climate change a ‘threat multiplier’).

And so there it is, dear reviewer – my four paragraph caveat for a book that presumably benefits from explanations that exist beyond its pages; the like to the many literary works that have come before it. Indeed this blog is the primary medium in which such occurs. Please do look around if there is any question in your mind as to whether or not the novel would be a handsome addition to your collection and inspire thoughtful feedback on its kindle product page. You may also find utility in the literary questions that exist directly after the novel’s conclusion which I will post below:

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For less than a cup of coffee, you too can enjoy the mechanics of propaganda.
  1. Of Woodbridge and Hedgely is set in the county Gloucestershire, in the South West of England. The two towns are separated by a fairly significant amount of wood for the area, and it becomes known in chapter nine that the closest grain markets to them were at Gloucester, Cirencester, and Stow-on-the-Wold. From these clues, can you find which two Cotswold’s towns these are modeled after? What features, such as road names, or other geographical names, did you use to confirm your answer?
  2. The author has, in many places in the novel, paid tribute to Jane Austen novels and movies, as well as Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey and Maturin Series. For example, the latter author did oblige his character, Jack Aubrey, to use a particular phrase, ‘to smoke’, in a unique dialectal manner that was given to mean ‘to understand’. This may have been the author’s own invention, or it may have derived from his study of naval letters and knowledge of early 19th century dialect; but inside Of Woodbridge and Hedgely it has taken on a more general role as a substitute for having understood a phenomenon or idea. Another example, related to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, is where the character, Mr. Wyatt, who is obliged to learn to read after being unexpectedly elevated from an agricultural laborer to a land owner, has expressed a desire to show off his newfound abilities by reading William Paley’s Natural Theology to the Moore cousins, Harriet and Charlotte, at his estate home to which the ladies are invited, and which the lesser cousin conceives would be an unpleasant experience. This somewhat parallels Jane Austen’s Mr. Collins, who insists on reading James Fordyce’s Sermons to Young Women to the Bennet ladies. What other hat tips does Of Woodbridge and Hedgely contain, regarding these authors? Which Jane Austen character does Harriet Moore most resemble?
  3. The novel’s purpose is to showcase science denial and manifestations of ideology confounding rational thought, using a historical lens: The phenomenon becomes readily observable when applied to scientific positions long settled in our present era, and which, even in 1820, had enough credible evidence to point thoughtful men in the proper direction towards them, but which were indeed irrationally refused by a particular individual or set. What are some of these settled scientific positions featured in the novel?
  4. Throughout the novel, the antagonists – a faction of Hedgely Particular Baptists and their agrarian laborers – have latched onto geological hypotheses and theories that were in the process of falling out of favor at the time (ex. Werner’s Neptunism). Why did these men hold so fervently to these ideas? Did each individual and socioeconomic class have its own reasons for this?
  5. Following question four, list several elements contained within the Particular Baptist’s belief systems. Further, provide a contradistinguishing list for the Anglican’s (which includes Mr. Winter, for the purpose of the question). Finally, provide instances where beliefs were held, not secondary to rational conclusions, but from social constructs and the failure of an individual to understand their own incapacity to properly assess a phenomenon, purely by reason and examination of evidence. Were there individuals within the novel that were aware of their limitations, with regard to understanding whether or not a phenomenon was probable, based rational and empirical evidence? Which modern sociopolitical groups are most similar to the Baptist and Anglican groups?
  6. Mr. Winter’s chooses two ‘experimental’ fertilizers for his two, half-acre plots, situated by the River Compton (Mr. Foster’s fields). Which of these represents the scientific pillar of reproducible results from previous discoveries and claims? Which of these represents the scientific phenomenon of serendipitous and rationally informed discovery? What do these two compounds represent with regard to modern fertilizer?
  7. The author, in various places inside the novel, offers mathematically detailed solutions to simple, logistical problems, which showcase the creative spirit of an entrepreneur and applied scientist; and the manner in which such a person would approach puzzles owning both inherent knowns and unknowns. Many days research were spent so that not only sound physics and chemistry prevailed throughout the story, but the engineering and material solutions were true to what was available in 1820 (albeit to a son of one of the wealthiest men in England, who happened to have his hand squarely on the modern industrial operations of the time). Why did the author risk stifling the flow of the novel with technical details that could be construed as excessive, or improper for popular entertainment and the casual reader?
  8. Why does the author state in chapter ten, that the most prolific female writer of the day – meaning the early 19th century – was a woman who went by the title, ‘A Lady’?
  9. Most of the natural philosophers at the time were noblemen or otherwise men financially independent. Why were there little, if any, female scientists? What were some of the disciplines or roles gentry class women could pursue during the Regency Era as a proper means of intellectual expression for their sex? Considering the time period, who are the progressive females in the novel, and who are less so? Were women of the Regency Era less, similarly, or more emotionally happy than they are in today’s Western society?
  10. Mr. Edwards dinner table is always dressed with handsome dishes during his entertaining of guests: white soup, tarts, mutton, pigeon pie, &c. But in the last part of the winter recess, he is said to have suffered a want of food reserves. It is also stated that his income may only be around 100 pounds per year. Is this character going above his means in entertaining guests?
  11. At the front of the novel, the nameless tailor’s daughter watched a glasshouse being built in Mr. Winter’s backyard. Such was the product of brand new glass and iron manufacturing techniques at the time, yet it was still quite a rare for anyone but a handful of the most wealthy people in the country to own one. What does the construction of the glasshouse represent in the novel with regard to themes? What were the latest manufacturing techniques and material innovations occurring, concerning glass and iron? Were there any other attempts previous to 1820 to install a boiler and pipe system into a glasshouse? Who owned and/or where were other glasshouses, conservatories, or orangeries located in England before 1820?

The Divine (or Blind) Watchmaker

William Paley, author of Natural Theology, a series of converging inferences on the existence of divine creation.

One of the reoccurring ideas in Of Woodbridge and Hedgely is that of clockwork, as is analogously applies to the solar system, evolutionary mechanics, and to the local ecosystem of the forest that exists between the two towns (and to the distortion of time during an acute romantic moment at the end of chapter five).

The antagonists tend to apply it in two manners:  1) as an argument that the universe/world/earth was intelligently designed, in homage to William Paley’s Natural Theology; and 2) as a foundation to their argument that evolution cannot explain the present state of the earth’s biology.  They argue that, regarding a pocket watch, if one component of the clockwork – say as spring, lever or gear – was to change shape (or perhaps metallurgic properties) that the watch would fail to function; and then such is analogically applied to the idea of evolution:  if one animal or plant were to change, this too could be detrimental to the entire system; and thus if there is no detriment being witnessed, then the concept of evolution is wrong.  Such is most eloquently expressed in chapter six of the novel, in the antagonist’s propaganda pamphlet, in which the author, Mr. Princep, writes:

‘…Should we be so bold as to disrupt supreme authority, as well as the simplest common sense, in venturing beyond the notion that the Lord without question has the capacity to create a cow, a hen or a hog in but one day, further insisting that he has done so? Whatever for would a brilliant creator of heaven and earth waste a thousand, or ten thousand, or a million years doing what he could do in a day? As to the supposed mechanism let us dispel it by considering the following: Firstly, that as all of creation may easily be compared to a supreme apparatus – let us say a great clock – constructed by our Lord, the Watchmaker – and this is not too burdensome to conceive when we observe the perfect motion of our heavenly bodies – it must thusly follow that each animal and plant tribe upon our earth are but tiny gears or instruments whom do play small but vital roles to the continuance of our Clock’s right motion. Therefore if but one part is corrupted, the entire machine becomes lost; and every right clockmaker or engineer knows that the resilience of their parts against such corrosion is vital to the longevity of that from which they are made; the weakest gear or assembly being the limiting factor. Would not then our heavenly Watchmaker to his fullest capacity ensure that the weakest gear in His great Clock, be it animal, plant, or other have an inextinguishable fortitude against corruption? To say otherwise is atheism…

This argument is deficient in that it is ignorant of the phenomenon of extinction, which was still a new concept in the early 19th century, derived from Cuvier’s examination of northern hemispheric mammoth bones,  but was ironically known to the protagonists, through parson Jonathan Moore’s science lectures.  The argument is also ignorant of the basic mechanics of evolution where species can ‘react’ to, or with the environment, sometimes fluidly, to become better equipped to survive its tribulations; a somewhat pertinent, though imperfect, analogy of this being that of an old, worn gear in a watch being replaced with better made one; its excellence naturally derived from the original piece’s experience.  And at one point in the novel this antagonistic argument is stifled by Mr. Winter’s dispelling of artificial rigidity of the earth system, when he rejects the parroting out of the talking point by an indoctrinated field worker:

‘An’ how many times must it be pounded, sirs – th’ world is but a clock made by Divinity, with gears that cannot become molest’d…’

‘Or else they do, causing the gears adjacent to do so as well, and then those tertiary members respectively having their turn; and so on throughout until by the appreciation of deep time an entirely new clock is born! Good afternoon, gentlemen’, piped up the lonely gentleman that had been keeping to himself in the corner as he rose to quit the room.  

‘Oh, oh! Damn my eyes – it ‘twas the Frenchman!’, cried one of the Hedgely’s as the man exited the inn.    

‘The Mr. Winter?’

‘Oh, he was in disguise without his Napoleon’s jacket!’  

‘He’s sure to go directly to Mr. Moore and we are all to be hung!’ 

Yet it was the propagandist’s style of argument that allowed the religiously indoctrinated to so readily grab hold of the concept.  In chapter six, Mr. Princep explains his methods of argument:

‘Whilst I know not of any one piece of philosophical information that can comprehensively break their entire lot, we must however constantly strive to create the perception that such can be done, or has already been done. Indeed in a contradistinguishing fashion to one sole, all-smiting stroke, we, to the greatest effect, thus work in the realm gratuitous rhetoric, the like to a London barrister weaving a case by multiple strands, the greater of these appealing to an audience not necessarily on any logical ground, but in a manner rhetorical, political, emotive, or otherwise. To be sure, we will have our moments for a given strand: we may find a careless error in our adversary’s argument and work to turn such into a very great thing indeed. But the better part must be attractive enough, even in cases of broken reason, that it remains effective; in fact it’s probably most efficacious not to subject any strand to the focus on first principles or evidence. By this style of argument, several strands may buckle or break, but if the majority stay intact then we give ourselves the finest cause to be the victors. And for every strand our adversary produces, we need only continuously produce two against it to legitimize our stand against him’. 

This is also the method in which the modern climate denial propagandists (conservative think tanks, Fox News, &c.) get their audience stirred up.  And further down the page Mr. Princep states:

‘For the material that is relevant to your particular country towns sirs, sharp wit is not our instrument; rather the opposite: We must solicit the admiration of dullards that hold the way of the world, not in long drawn out passages, but in quick bites of ‘truths’ that are easily clapped onto: casual observances that work more times than not, even if but near half of those, yet which they will grasp onto most angrily on all occasion as a function of they being so readily understood, and by their holder’s frailty of mind in the presence of the unfamiliar, or that which is troublesome to smoke…’

‘An egg in the pudding is worth two in the bush, sir?’

‘To that effect, yes; our arguments must be the like to such. However the pamphlet itself is the better exemple: Do I not know my audience when I provide, “Why would God do in ten thousand years, what he could do in a day?”? I believe they very much delight in a sprightly little sting such as that’, returned Mr. Princep.

‘Oh, Mr. Princep – there you have it! You’ve knocked them all flat with but a handful of wit! I had read it of course in our publication, but not until this moment, when you’d pressed upon it, did I gather its full capacity!’, cried the preacher.

‘Y-yes sir, indeed’, their author returned in another fit of blinking.

Basically, Mr. Princep is arguing for the use of an easily remembered meme or talking point that sounds witty or clever, even though the notion is, more often than not, veritably false or misleading.  The concept of offering a Gish gallop of ‘strands’ of information to form a rhetorical argument was something I came across when reading the introduction to William Paley’s Natural Theology:

IntroToNaturalTheology2
page xx, Introduction, Natural Theology
IntroToNaturalTheology
page xxi, Introduction, Natural Theology

And it may be incidentally noted, having now displayed part of this well done introduction, that Paley’s early 19th century work was getting the ball rolling on the denial of evolution by 1) misunderstanding its mechanics and then applying straw-man arguments against such.  [This is easy enough to do since all he had to work with at that point was Erasmus Darwin, possibly Lamarck (though I believe Lamarck’s theory was published after Natural Theology, if I’m not mistaken), and other immature hypotheses; The Origin of Species was still more than half a century away; whilst Jame’s Hutton’s chapter hinting at natural selection was tucked away in a book consisting of thousands of pages, the volume discouraging its reading.  And indeed, it’s hard to even give Paley this handicap, as one of the fundamental tenants in Darwin’s and Lamark’s evolutionary philosophy is that species evolve in reaction to evolutionary pressure:  Erasmus Darwin even lists three facets to this in the his chapter on generation in Zoonomia: mating advantages, advantages in food acquisition, and advantages in the dissuasion of predators];  2) by misapplying probabilistic reasoning; and 3) by his ignorance of the phenomenon of extinction.

I’ve showcased some of Paley’s fallacies in my novel, again using the antagonist propaganda pamphlet, The Balanced Scale, which quotes from him the following:

“…There is another answer which has the same effect as the resolving of things into chance; which would persuade us to believe that the eye, the animal to which it belongs, every other animal, every plant, indeed every organized body which we see are only so many out of the possible varieties and combinations of being, which the lapse of infinite ages has brought into existence; that the present world is the relic of that variety; millions of other bodily forms and other species having perished, being by the defect of their constitutions incapable of preservation, or of continuance by generation. Now there is no foundation whatever for this conjecture in anything which we observe in the works of nature; no such experiments are going on at present; no such energy operates as that which is here supposed, and which should be constantly pushing into existence new varieties of beings: Nor are there any appearances to support an opinion, that every possible combination of vegetable or animal structure has formerly been tried. Multitudes of conformations, both of vegetables and animals, may be conceived capable of existence and succession which yet do not exist. Perhaps almost as many forms of plants might have been found in the fields, as figures of plants can be delineated upon paper. A countless variety of animals might have existed which do not exist. Upon the supposition here stated, we should see unicorns and mermaids, sylphs and centaurs, the fancies of painters, and the fables of poets, realized by examples. Or if it be alleged that these may transgress the limits of possible life and propagation, we might at least have nations of human beings without nails upon their fingers, with more or fewer fingers and toes than ten, some with one eye, others with one ear, with one nostril, or without the sense of smelling at all…”

And of course everything that gets published in The Balanced Scale eventually gets parroted out by the uneducated Baptist field workers, no doubt in the same smug, Dunning-Kruger inspired cockiness that is to be found inside informal internet conversations, concerning climate change, &c.:

‘Rain an’ shine mates, an’ what be th’ newest on centaurs an’ fairies?’

‘Centaurs and fairies, sir?’, returned one of the Woodbridge’s, genuinely confounded.

‘An’ mermaids’.

The locals looked amongst themselves for answers that did not materialize, and when a consensus of ignorance was established they peered back at the Hedgely with pursed lips and furrowed brows that he may issue his point, for it was clear he was gaming them.

‘Does your parson not preach that man’s arisen directly from emmets an’ worms?’    

‘No sir, he does not!’

‘That from th’ Great First Seed all creatures are sprung?’

There he had them. They understood their opponent’s design, and consequently their faces hotly flushed beyond that of the effects of their grog and they began to lightly pant, for the last time transmutation became the subject of debate, noses were broken and eyes were blackened. Unmade they appeared, for some among them were not viscerally convinced by all of Mr. Darwin, and what cognitive impartiality they had mustered for the sake of Jonathan Moore had been wounded by their recent revelation that the parson personally included man in the fold of animals that had gradually formed from microscopic beings – a tough nut to crack for many in their community who had been told otherwise all their lives by the very man. Indeed it might have been their lack of enthusiasm in defending the poet-doctor’s ideas with their own that had brought the debate so rapidly to a scuffle during their last assembly.  

But let us now wrap back around to the concept of clockwork for the final leg of this posting and illuminate some of the protagonists’ thoughts – namely Mr. Winter’s – on the ecology of the local forest, and on the experience of romantic lust within it, with such in mind.   Upon walking through the forest in the first chapter of the novel – that which seeks to paint its setting – Mr. Winter comes to the following epiphany:

But the forest needed no such attention: the thirsty Willow arranged itself by water courses; the autumn leaves and the offerings of the birds, squirrels, and every other creature present manured the soil and enlivened it, that there were no areas fallow or need be so. Pestilence was held in check, Mr. Winter rationalized, as function of the rich variation of flora and fauna of the wood, for just as agrarian fields were less susceptible to disease as their contents became more varied season by season through the introduction of rotation, such manifested exponentially here, though he admitted that the mechanics of this were still partly a mystery. And acts of man, be they structures, paths, or otherwise, if left in want of attention would be reclaimed by the forest, similar to the body’s reaction to a minor cut or wound. It was as if the wood was a great perpetual clock having hundreds to thousands of working parts which were self-righting and self-tinkering, that all gave and received from each other purpose.

And in chapter five, we have his moment of passion, in which scientific notions on this clockwork are replaced with poetic ones:

Mr. Winter felt the passage of time become gnarled as if the great perpetual clock of the wood was gently amiss: some ten fathoms above, the wind did dart to and fro through their tree’s oldest branches, causing sharpened wisps of sound to cry ‘hurry’ to the already shortened day; but below there was no such haste: Droplets lazily fell from the lowest branches and quietly and flatly puttered upon the forest litter, and the gusts were never quite so quarrelsome as to be the cause of their reddened cheeks. He was vaguely aware of the harm he was then to accomplish, but more so he was paradoxically at ease, for this woman calmed him and kept him from suffering the work of the clock, that he was indifferent to the consequences of the next year, the next month, or the next day.    

And I believe that’s all the other great perpetual clock has for me this evening…