O'Pinions & O'Bservations O' O'Bscure O'Briania

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The Stag at Bay

Date: Thu, 27 Apr 2000 07:21:05 +1000
From: Peter Mackay

I've only just cracked the seal, and it looks perilously close to moral advantage in marriage. In fifteen hundred words.

What could Patrick have to say about the wedded state, I wonder?


Date: Fri, 28 Apr 2000 13:40:50 +0100
From: Martin Watts

Immediate thoughts:

1. "Edwin reflected upon this token of his wife's esteem, this mute fore-runner of her prompt return." Personally I think Edwin is going to be disappointed.

2. Julia and Anthony have literally and symbolically made Edwin "wear the horns", that is cuckolded him and sent him the stag's head. There are puns about...

3. Edwin is "dogged" by "Lady Dogge" (a magazine editor?) who wants his article on marriage. Rather obviously her calls her "the bitch".

Later thoughts:

The more I look at the story the more I think there are hidden depths.

"The porter was also the deputy hangman for the south-east region and the tenants had to humour his independence."

This is a striking line in any context. Couple it with the porter saying "I can have the string, isn't it?" and it becomes more bizarre.

Edwin unwraps the stag's head "then grasping the polished shield upon which the head was mounted he bagan his upward journey". A quest, an ordeal - possibly a martyrdom? According to Brewer a stag is a symbol of Christ.

Questions:

What is the significance of Anthony seeking specifically "a royal (stag) with at least twelve points"?

What are the "feminine ailments" cured by ground stag's horn?

What is the meaning of the stag's eye gleaming "as bright and expectant as a natural in a bus"? I think it might be natural in the sense of "a born idiot" (Non-PC phrase from Brewer). I suddenly thought of a comedy routine "Why does the loony always sit next to me on the bus", but this is not relevant.

The book is due back at the library tomorrow. Renewal time I think...

Martin Watts
50 45' N 1 55' W.
The Borough and County of the Town of Poole


Date: Sat, 29 Apr 2000 02:09:30 +1000
From: Peter Mackay

What is the meaning of the stag's eye gleaming "as bright and expectant as a natural in a bus"?

I immediately thought of "a natural in a lift", but that can't be it. And yes, the hangman reference is from way out.


Date: Thu, 4 May 2000 18:11:56 PDT
From: "P. Richman"

Did Susan say this story was easier than the others? I got bogged down in the first half of the first sentence. "Edwin, as the long and briefless years trailed on,"

What, pray, are briefless years?


Date: Thu, 4 May 2000 23:27:14 EDT
From: Sherkin@AOL.COM

My dictionary says that briefless can mean without clients; said of a lawyer.

Jean A.


Date: Fri, 5 May 2000 08:18:05 PDT
From: "P. Richman"

--- Sherkin@aol.com wrote:

My dictionary says that briefless can mean without clients; said of a lawyer.

Meaning that he was writing an article that would never be published?


Date: Fri, 5 May 2000 12:36:36 EDT
From: Charles Munoz

In a message dated 5/4/0 8:12:16 PM, p_richman@HOTMAIL.COM writes:

Did Susan say this story was easier than the others? I got bogged down in the first half of the first sentence. "Edwin, as the long and briefless years trailed on,"

This has already been answered: Edwin is perhaps a failed lawyer (or a barrister) and has no clients. In any chorus of attorneys, he could sing the castrato parts. So poor Edward has been partly defined in the first half of the first sentence. Symbolically, he's castrated.

But back up a minute: The Stag at Bay. (A good short story writer doesn't waste a word.) Edwin is the stag, yes? He practically wears the royal stag's head at the end of the story.

Stag = a very masculine creature. Irony, what?
Stag = a very much horn-ed creature. Much is made of this in the scenes where Edwin's wife and her satyr-cousin-seducer pick out a twelve point head for Edwin. And the horns indicate a cuckold.
At bay = about to be killed. Wch casts a certain light on the last few silly hopeful paragraphs of Edwin's gratitude. Edwin is about to suffer a total loss.

What's that silly advice article he's writing? He's obviously just the wrong man to write about marriage. (I'd give a penny to know the date of this story.) Marriage, wch he compares to an iceberg--cold, desolate, killing. But he won't recognize this.

Moral advantage: I think this is POB's longest display of how (not) to win it. Don't make the bed, don't do the dishes, don't mend the socks. Show her what she's done to you. Squalor is a sure winner. And at the end, after he's been horribly insulted with the stag's head (but doesn't know it) he decides to clean up the apartment. Can't even win at squalor seven flights up.

The Lady Dogge bit. His employer. (A mirror for his wife?) I'd bet a penny that POB had read Scoop--Yes, Lord Copper. Up to a point, Lord Copper.

And I'd bet tuppence, after reading that tragically funny last paragraph that POB had been reading John Collier: the rhythm is perfect. "I will fix it solidly to my bedroom wall after I have done the washing-up, and I will hang my clothes on it at night." Lovely! The stag, himself, the horns, his horns, and he'd going to hang his skivvies on those horns.

Question: briefs in the US, can also be underclothes. Is it so in Britain?

Charlezzzz


Date: Fri, 5 May 2000 13:40:29 -0400
From: William Peschel

I'm surprised no one has come up with much of an explanation for "briefless."

Briefs is the English equivilent for cases, as in legal cases. Unlike the U.S., British barristers aren't supposed to go scavening for briefs. No, they are gentlemen (and gentleladies, if that is the correct word). Briefs are brought to them by solicitors, who by law and custom cannot go into court themselves, but must have a barrister represent them.

Thus, a briefless barrister is an unemployed barrister.

Now, will one of you Brits jump in and correct this hash I've made of it? I picked all this stuff up from the Rumpole stories.

William Peschel
Book page editor, Rock Hill (S.C.) Herald
(who is considering a nom de scrivener for notes like these)


Date: Fri, 5 May 2000 10:38:44 -0700
From: Susan Wenger

Edwin seemed to me the perfect male version of Mrs. Williams: a caricature of the awful traits of a certain kind of male as seen by a female; carried just enough too far to be hilarious. And O'Brian had a fine sense of how a female reader would enjoy the revenge of the "morally advantaged/disadvantaged" wife.

- Susan


Date: Fri, 5 May 2000 17:38:56 GMT
From: yvonne soy

Briefs is the English equivilent for cases, as in legal cases

So if James Bond were to meet a tantalizing British female barrister with a brief in her lovely hand, would he suggest, as he opened the door to his bedroom, "Let us begin with the debriefing?"

Yvonne


Date: Mon, 8 May 2000 13:16:27 +0100
From: Martin Watts

Bill wrote:

Thus, a briefless barrister is an unemployed barrister.

Now, will one of you Brits jump in and correct this hash I've made of it? I picked all this stuff up from the Rumpole stories.

Why - as far as I can see you have summed this up very well. I only have two points to make:

Firstly the intermediary between the solicitor and the barrister is the Chambers' Clerk - I seem to remember that Rumpole's was called Henry - and the barrister who wanted to get the plum briefs had to keep on the right side of the clerk.

Secondly I believe there have been recent changes to allow solicitors to appear before the court in some cases where previously a barrister would have been briefed. I am not sure of this - can anyone comment?

As Charlezzzz has pointed out "briefs" can also be nethergarments. This is true either side of the Atlantic. On the other hand not even a barrister would keep them in a briefcase.

As regards the royal stag my dictionary defines "royal" as "formerly a stag's second tine, now the third: a stag of twelve points." While looking up sumac I found "surroyal", "any tine of a stag's horn above the royal". I hadn't realised that sumac could be pronounced this way. My dictionary gives "shoo" as the 2nd of three possible pronunciations.

Martin Watts
50 45' N 1 55' W.
The Borough and County of the Town of Poole


Date: Mon, 8 May 2000 08:34:59 -0400
From: u1c04803

As regards the royal stag my dictionary defines "royal" as "formerly a stag's second tine, now the third: a stag of twelve points." While looking up sumac I found "surroyal", "any tine of a stag's horn above the royal".

Hm. Could this designation be related in any way to "royal" sails. Which are above the 3d tier--equivalent of the position of "royal" "tines" on a stag's bract?

Lois


Date: Mon, 8 May 2000 22:40:55 +1000
From: Peter Mackay

Secondly I believe there have been recent changes to allow solicitors to appear before the court in some cases where previously a barrister would have been briefed.

So if a lady barrister drops her briefs outside the court, would she be soliciting?


Date: Mon, 8 May 2000 10:59:07 EDT
From: Marian Van Til

In a message dated 5/8/2000 8:20:41 AM Eastern Daylight Time, Martin.Watts@MARCONICOMMS.COM writes:

As Charlezzzz has pointed out "briefs" can also be nethergarments. This is true either side of the Atlantic. On the other hand not even a barrister would keep them in a briefcase.

Are you sure?

Marian,
just asking in the interests of scientific inquiry

P.S. And Peter asked,

So if a lady barrister drops her briefs outside the court, would she be soliciting?

Peter, Peter, a little equal opportunity, if you please: Why a *female* barrister? You don't think women might have any interest in a male barrister dropping his briefs outside the court? (Well, come to think of it, you might be right.)


Date: Tue, 9 May 2000 07:52:47 +1000
From: Peter Mackay

Peter, Peter, a little equal opportunity, if you please: Why a *female* barrister? You don't think women might have any interest in a male barrister dropping his briefs outside the court? (Well, come to think of it, you might be right.)

By using a female barrister, the joke becomes clearer. Feel free to insert as much manhood as you wish into the dropped briefs.


Date: Fri, 12 May 2000 05:43:38 -0700
From: Susan Wenger

"The Stag at Bay" is an openly humorous story, with more general appeal to standard short story readers than most of O'Brian's other short stories. It seems simpler to understand than most of O'Brian's short stories - is that deceptive?

To begin with, we actually know the main character's name right from the start: Edwin. The first word of the story: Edwin. Edwin was labouring over writing an article on marriage for a women's magazine. The joke isn't obvious right away, but no woman would have chosen this marital bozo to write about marriage. And what magazine could have selected him to write about anything, considering his approach to writing? "Pinned to the wall in front of him was a list of smart things that had already been said about marriage." And then, "Marriage was a subject that he had thought about a great deal . . he was in the right mood, costive and solemn." I think that herein lies one of the keys to the story - the idea that the right mood for thinking/writing about marriage is "costive and solemn."

Edwin had the experience to write about marriage; at this time he felt more than usually married, "for . . Julia had left him again, had gone back to her mother, and he was conscious of this all the time, if for no other reason than that the place was in such a mess."

Occasionally when reading O'Brian I find a piece that I intuitively feel he had written previously, and saved to stick into a novel or story. I felt this way when I came to:

"Marriage iceberg. Somewhere he had read that seven-eighths of an iceberg is always submerged and that it is only the remaining eighth that one sees; and this he meant to liken to marriage, the visible berg corresponding to the squabbles and superficial disharmony and the vast unseen majority serving as a figure for the profound unity and deep affection that must always subsist, etc."

Edwin believed this - he believed that there was such a profound unity and deep affection between himself and Julia. He looked upon her occasional leaving him to go back to her mother as temporary always, perhaps a female idiosyncrasy of flightiness, immaturity, something that women DID, something that he would tolerate with masculine amusement, while he retained the moral advantage by never picking up after himself during such intervals. Upon her return, she would have the pleasure of cleaning his picturesquely-piled dirty dishes and mending his mountain of holey socks.

What is Edwin's approach to marriage? The first words in his article are, "We all know Mr. Punch's advice about marriage . . ."

(And then we find that Julia has not simply gone back to her mother, and Edwin knew this all the time: Julia was consciously, deliberately exploring the question of adultery; was, in fact, in bed with horrible old Anthony Limberham, her cousin).

This story just gets better and better from here, but that's all the summary I'll give, because I want to go over Mr. Punch's advice about marriage:

"Advice to persons about to marry. - - - Don't."

THAT'S the opening of his article for the woman's magazine about marriage! And isn't it just like Patrick O'Brian to make me go look it up, too!

What a magazine article writer our Edwin is!


Date: Fri, 12 May 2000 07:49:40 PDT
From: "P. Richman"

I enjoyed the part of Edwin talking to the telephone saying "Yes Lady Dogge, yes yes, I'm very sorry Lady Dogge" and "The Bitch" when he hung up - Lady Dog meaning Bitch.

Is there any significance, there must be, that the stag's head arrives just as he puts the completed manuscript into the mail?


Date: Fri, 12 May 2000 08:44:49 -0700
From: Susan Wenger

I wrote earlier today that I thought "The Stag At Bay" did not have the deeper significance that we've seen in other stories, but I found some stuff that changed my mind. Going out on a limb, as I so often do, I offer the following to shed some light on this story:

Who are the main characters in this story named after? I looked up the names in a "Saints" listing.

St. Edwin was venerated in England as a martyr, but though his claims to sanctity are less doubtful than those of some other royal saints, English and other, he has had no liturgical cultus so far as is known

St. Julia was born of noble parents in South Africa.

When she was still quite young, her city was conquered by barbarians. Julia was captured and sold as a slave to a pagan merchant, but she did not complain or feel sorry for herself. She accepted everything, and performed the most humble tasks with wonderful cheerfulness. For Julia loved God with all her heart. In her spare time, she read holy books and prayed fervently.

One day her master decided to take her with him to France. On the way, he stopped at an island to go to a pagan festivsl. Julia refused to even go near the place where they were celebrating. She did not want to have anything to do with those superstitious ceremonies.

The governor of that region was very angry with her for not joining in the pagan feast. "Who is that woman who dares to insult our gods?" he cried. Julia's owner answered that she was a Christian.

He said, too, that although he had not been able to make her give up her religion, still she was such a good, faithful servant that he would not know what to do without her.

"I will give you four of my best women slaves for her," offered the governor, but her master refused.

"No," he said, "All you own will not buy her. I would willingly lose the most valuable thing in the world rather than lose her."

When the merchant was asleep, however, the wicked governor tried to make Julia sacrifice to the gods. He promised to have her set free if she would, but she absolutely refused. She said she was as free as she wanted to be as long as she could serve Jesus. Then the pagan ruler, in great anger, had her struck on the face and her hair torn from her head. She was next put on a cross to hang there until she died.


Date: Fri, 12 May 2000 16:13:01 +0100
From: Martin Watts

Susan wrote:

What is Edwin's approach to marriage? The first words in his article are, "We all know Mr. Punch's advice about marriage . . ."

Enlightenment at last! My first thought had been the well-known character in the puppet theatre, and I couldn't think what the advice was except "That's the way to do it!". I had quite forgotten the former humourous magazine.

Martin Watts
50 45' N 1 55' W.
The Borough and County of the Town of Poole


Date: Fri, 12 May 2000 13:04:06 -0700 From: Susan Wenger

--- "P. Richman" wrote:

Is there any significance, there must be, that the stag's head arrives just as he puts the completed manuscript into the mail?

Since no-one else tried, I'll take a stab at a reply:

perhaps the story he was writing was his own marriage, the one that started with the advice, "don't." When the story was done, the marriage was done.
?

Susan

=====

"Who wishes to be a meagre sailorman if he can be a learned and enter the government service? Why, in time you might be an official and never do anything for remainder of earthly existence. You could grow long fingernails, and become obese and dignified. " -
Patrick O'Brian


Date: Fri, 12 May 2000 13:11:45 -0700
From: Susan Wenger

What is Edwin's approach to marriage? The first words in his article are, "We all know Mr. Punch's advice about marriage . . ."

Enlightenment at last! My first thought had been the well-known character in the puppet theatre, and I couldn't think what the advice was except "That's the way to do it!". I had quite forgotten the former humourous magazine..

I can see O'Brian particularly loving this quote. It is probably based on Lord Acton's "Letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton" (the one that includes the famous "Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely"), which said, "Advice to Persons About to Write History - Don't."

It seems to sum up O'Brian's general feelings towards most marriage throughout the Aubrey-Maturin series.

- Susan


Date: Fri, 12 May 2000 16:24:38 EDT
From: Charles Munoz

In a message dated 5/12/0 3:04:31 PM, susanwenger@YAHOO.COM writes:

perhaps the story he was writing was his own marriage, the one that started with the advice, "don't." When the story was done, the marriage was done. ?

Sure. All the time he's writing his hopelessly wrong advice on marriage, his wife is off with her lecherous cousin getting him his horns: simultaneous action. She is doing; and he is writing. A comment on at least one writer and his wife, what? And the poor fool is pleased with the gift--maybe she's getting ready to come back.

Charlezzzz


Date: Fri, 12 May 2000 19:57:32 -0400
From: Don Seltzer Susan Wenger wrote:

It seems to sum up O'Brian's general feelings towards most marriage throughout the Aubrey-Maturin series.

This is the first of the short stories in which I can see a connection with the writer of the A/M series. The attitude toward marriage, the style of humor, moral advantage, even the character of the porter who could be a latter day Killick.

My choice for the most pleasing word play, even beating out the Lady Dogge passage, is:

"she increased his grounds [for divorce] to a most liberal extent - to expansive and park-like grounds in which the horned beasts could be seen wandering at large."

Susan, as long as you are investigating the significance of the names of the chief players, what do you make of horrible old Anthony?

Don Seltzer


Date: Fri, 12 May 2000 18:23:03 -0700
From: Susan Wenger --- Don Seltzer wrote:

Susan, as long as you are investigating the significance of the names of the chief players, what do you make of horrible old Anthony?

Well, a few possibilities come to mind. Surely he wouldn't describe our redoubtable Ant in such terms. Nor yet our list scholar Anthony Gary Brown. So checking the best source for such information, "Persons, Animals, Ships and Cannon," ("The Port-Wine Sea" saying nothing at all about any horrible old Anthony), I found:

"Anthony, Saint: An extreme ascetic reffered to by Maturin. (Doesn't exactly sound like our man, does it?) Two Anthonies are possible, Saint Anthony Abbas, a religious hermit and monk in Egypt, or Saint Anthony of Padua, a Portuguese Franciscan Friar and Patron Saint of the Poor."

I don't think so.

Anybody else have any ideas about Horrible Old Anthony?

- Susan


Date: Sat, 13 May 2000 11:24:37 +1000
From: Peter Mackay

The joke isn't obvious right away, but no woman would have chosen this marital bozo to write about marriage.

I once knew a marriage councillor who was three times wed...

And I still want to know about that "natural on a bus".


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