Monthly Archives: April 2009

Denunciations Aid the Understaffed Police State

From The War of the World: Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West, by Niall Ferguson (Penguin Press, 2006), pp. 261-263:

Nazi Germany was a police state, increasingly under the control of Himmler and his henchman Heydrich, but it was an understaffed one. The twenty-two Gestapo officials in Würzburg, for example, were responsible for the entire population of Lower Franconia, which numbered more than 840,000 in 1939. The town of Krefeld was more closely supervised; around 170,000 people lived there, under the watchful eye of between twelve and fourteen Gestapo officers. In both towns, the Gestapo had to rely heavily on local people for tip-offs about breaches of the law. The surviving police files reveal that these were not in short supply. Of the eighty-four cases of ‘racial defilement’ investigated in Würzburg between 1933 and 1945, forty-five – more than half – originated with a denunciation from a member of the public. The character of these denunciations sheds vital light on popular attitudes towards the ‘Jewish Question’. A Jewish man and an Aryan woman were arrested because the woman’s estranged husband alleged they were having a sexual relationship; their accuser’s main motive seems to have been to get rid of his wife, but her alleged lover committed suicide in custody. An apparently mixed couple having a drink together were reported to the Gestapo because the man was blond-haired (both parties were in fact Jewish, so no charge could be pressed). In Krefeld the Gestapo were able to be more active: the proportion of cases involving Jews rose sharply from less than 10 per cent before 1936 to around 30 thereafter. Of these cases, some 16 per cent were decided by the courts; in over two-fifths of cases, however, the Gestapo sent the individuals concerned to concentration camps or imposed ‘protective custody’. Yet even in Krefeld more than two-fifths of the cases brought against Jews before the war were initiated by denunciations, a much higher proportion than for other cases, suggesting that denunciation was disproportionately directed against Jews.

Does this confirm the thesis that most ordinary Germans were anti-Semites? No. At most, denouncers amounted to just 2 per cent of the population. What it does suggest is that anti-Semitic legislation was a powerful weapon in the hands of a minority of Germans: the morally vacuous lawyers who drafted and implemented it, the Gestapo zealots who enforced it, and the odious sneaks who supplied the Gestapo with incriminating information. There was one major stumbling block for this unholy trinity, however. The legacy of decades of intermarriage between Jews and Gentiles [more than in any other country] was a substantial group of people who defied clear-cut racial categorization because they had only one Jewish parent, or fewer than four Jewish grandparents. Were they Jews?

In any one-party state, laws become something you enforce against your enemies and ignore among friends.

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Hawaiian Names for Proofreading Symbols

One of my side jobs during graduate school at the University of Hawai‘i—after using up both my G.I. Bill allotment and my graduate assistantship eligibility before finishing my dissertation—was double-proofreading publications full of technical jargon and tabular matter. In double-proofing, one person reads aloud from the copyedited manuscript while the other reads along looking for errors on the galley proofs. To make sure everything matches exactly, you have to read aloud not just every word, but every piece of punctuation. In that capacity I either read aloud, or listened while eyeballing many an issue of the journal Pacific Science: pronouncing every scientific binomial, every abbreviation, every superscript and subscript, every change in type style, and every scrap of punctuation. It was often weirdly amusing, once you got punch-drunk on the stream of critical sounds with rarely a digestible message.

I was reminded of this when I saw the following sign showing the Hawaiian names of punctuation, diacritics, and proofreading symbols used in early Hawaiian printing, which began in 1822 and built up a huge legacy (ho‘oilina) of written records before almost dying out a century and a half later. I imagine there was a lot of double-proofing going on during the earliest days.

Na inoa o na kiko a me na kaha

Na inoa o na kiko a me na kaha

I believe the title Nā inoa o nā kiko a me nā kaha — Kūpono i ke kākau a me ke pa‘i ‘ana can be translated as ‘The names of the dots and lines — Proper in writing and printing’. ( is the plural article, ke or ka is the singular.)

Two of the terms are borrowed directly from English: koma ‘comma’ and kolona ‘colon’. But most of the rest describe either the shape or the function of the symbols.

Nā kiko: The semicolon is kikokoma ‘dot-comma’; the period/full-stop is kikokahi ‘dot-one’ (in head-modifier order); the question mark kikonīnau is ‘dot-question’; the exclamation point kikopū‘iwa is ‘dot-startle’; the apostrophe is komaluna ‘comma-high’; and quotation marks are kāunakoma ‘cluster.of.four-comma’. The last is my favorite by far. In the Pacific Islands, it is very common to count the larger sorts of gathered foods that one person can carry home—like coconuts, tubers, or fish—in clusters of four such items strung together.

Nā kaha: The hyphen is kahamoe ‘line-lying.down’; the dash is kahamaha ‘line-pausing’; the acute accent is leopi‘i ‘voice-ascending’; the grave accent is leoiho ‘voice-descending’; the macron is leolōihi ‘voice-long’ (cf. loa ‘long’); the breve is leopōkole ‘voice-short’ (cf. poko ‘short’); the circumflex is leo‘uwo ‘voice-splice/interweave’ (or possibly leouwō ‘voice-loud’); and the diacritic marking diaerisis is ka‘awaleleo ‘separate-voice’.

In the 1986 Hawaiian Dictionary, Pukui and Elbert call parentheses or brackets kahaapo ‘mark-embrace’, but this older chart labels a pair of square brackets as simply nā apo ‘brackets’ and a pair of parentheses as apowaena ‘bracket-middle’. A single curly bracket is labelled hui ‘group, union’.

Marks more specific to proofreading include the section mark, palena ‘boundary, partition’; the paragraph mark, po‘ohou ‘head-new’; the strikethrough, ‘ōlelowaiho ‘word-omit’; and the caret, poina ‘forgotten’, which shows where to insert new text. (Pukui & Elbert call the caret puamana, perhaps from the ‘issue, emerge’ sense of pua usu. ‘flower, blossom’ and the ‘branch out, fork’ sense of mana usu. ‘power, authority’.)

Finally, there is the pointing finger, limakuhi ‘hand-point’, corresponding to nota bene (and perhaps also cf., q.v., see also).

Plaque at Site of First Hawaiian Printing, Mission Houses Museum, Honolulu

UPDATE: Another poster at the Mission Houses Museum lists the names of the earliest Hawaiian printers: John Papa I‘i, Henry Tahiti, George Kapeau, Richard Kalaaiaulu, S. P. Kalama, Paahuna, Kaumu, Kawailepolepo, and the Kawainui brothers.

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Ferguson on the Appeal of Fascism vs. Nazism

From The War of the World: Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West, by Niall Ferguson (Penguin Press, 2006), pp. 230-231, 239-240:

Considering the emphasis the new dictatorships laid on their supposedly distinctive nationalistic traditions, they all looked remarkably alike: the coloured shirts [German Brownshirts, Italian Blackshirts, Irish Blueshirts, Romanian Greenshirts], the shiny boots, the martial music, the strutting leaders, the gangster violence. At first sight, then, there was little to distinguish the German version of dictatorship from all the rest – except perhaps that Hitler was marginally more absurd than his counterparts. As late as 1939, Adolf Hitler could still be portrayed by Charlie Chaplin in his film The Great Dictator as an essentially comic figure, bawling incomprehensible speeches, striking preposterous poses and frolicking with a large inflatable globe. Yet there were in reality profound differences between National Socialism and fascism. Nearly all the dictatorships of the inter-war period were at root conservative, if not downright reactionary. The social foundations of their power were what remained of the pre-industrial ancien régime: the monarchy, the aristocracy, the officer corps and the Church, supported to varying degrees by industrialists fearful of socialism and by frivolous intellectuals who were bored of democracy’s messy compromises.* The main function the dictators performed was to crush the Left: to break their strikes, prohibit their parties, deny voice to their voters, arrest and, if it was deemed necessary, kill their leaders. One of the few measures they took that went beyond simple social restoration was to introduce new ‘corporate’ institutions supposed to regiment economic life and protect loyal supporters from the vagaries of the market. In 1924 the French historian Elie Halevy nicely characterized fascist Italy as ‘the land of tyranny … a regime extremely agreeable for travellers, where trains arrive and leave on time, where there is no strike in ports or public transport’. ‘The bourgeois’, he added, ‘are beaming.’ It was, as Renzo De Felice said in his vast and apologetic biography of the Duce, ‘the old regime in a black shirt’….

Contrary to the old claims that it was the party of the countryside, or of the north, or of the middle class, the NSDAP attracted votes right across Germany and right across the social spectrum…. It is true that places with relatively high Nazi votes were more likely to be in central northern and eastern parts, and those with relatively low Nazi votes were more likely to be in the south and west. But the more important point is that the Nazis were able to achieve some electoral success in nearly any kind of local political milieu, covering the German electoral spectrum in a way not seen before or since. The Nazi vote did not vary proportionately with the unemployment rate or the share of workers in the population. As many as two-fifths of the Nazi voters in some districts were working class, to the consternation of the Communist leadership. In response, some local Communists openly made common cause with the Nazis. ‘Oh yes, we admit that we’re in league with the National Socialists,’ said one Communist leader in Saxony. ‘Bolshevism and Fascism share a common goal: the destruction of capitalism and of the Social Democratic Party. To achieve this aim we are justified in using every means.’ It was a mark of Goebbels’ skill in making the party seem all things to all men that, simultaneously, dyed-in-the-wool Prussian Conservatives could regard the Nazis as potential partners in an anti-Marxist coalition. Thus were political rivals lured into what proved to be fatal forms of cooperation. The only significant constraint on the growth of the Nazi vote was the comparatively greater resilience of the Catholic Centre party compared with parties hitherto supported by German Protestants.

Other fascist movements, as we have seen, depended heavily on elite sponsorship to gain power. The Nazis did not need to. For all the attention that has been paid to them, the machinations of the coterie around Hindenburg were not the decisive factor, as those of the Italian elites had been in 1922. If anything, they delayed Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor, an office that was rightfully his after the July 1932 election. It was not the traditional elite of landed property that was drawn to Hitler; the real Junker types found him horribly coarse. (When Hitler shook hands with Hindenburg, one conservative was reminded ‘of a headwaiter closing his hand around the tip’.) Nor was it the business elite, who not unreasonably feared that National Socialism would prove a Trojan horse for socialism proper; nor the military elite, who had every reason to dread subordination to an opinionated Austrian corporal. The key to the strength and dynamism of the Third Reich was Hitler’s appeal to the much more numerous intellectual elite; the men with university degrees who are so vital to the smooth running of a modern state and civil society.

For reasons that may be traced back to the foundation of the Bismarckian Reich or perhaps even further into Prussian history, academically educated Germans were unusually ready to prostrate themselves before a charismatic leader.

(*A list of all the treasonous clerics who flirted or did more than flirt with fascism would be a book in its own right. If only to give an illustration of how widespread the phenomenon was, dishonourable mention may be made of the writer Gabriele D’Annunzio, who established his own tinpot tyranny in post-war Fiume; the poet T. S. Eliot, who wrote that ‘totalitarianism can retain the terms “freedom” and “democracy” and give them its own meaning’; the philosopher Martin Heidegger, who, as Rector of Freiburg University, lent his enthusiastic support to the Nazi regime; the political theorist Carl Schmitt, who devised pseudo-legal justifications for the illegalities of the Third Reich; the novelist Ignazio Silone, who shopped former Communist comrades to the fascists; and the poet W. B. Yeats, who wrote songs for the Irish Blueshirts. Thomas Mann, who had made his fair share of mistakes during the First World War and only with difficulty broke publicly with the Nazi regime, was not wrong when he spoke of ‘the thoroughly guilty stratum of intellectuals’.)

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March 1933: Similar Talk, Different Results

From The War of the World: Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West, by Niall Ferguson (Penguin Press, 2006), pp. 221-225:

It was March 1933. The national mood was feverish and yet expectant. In the wake of his sweeping victory, the country’s charismatic new leader addressed people desperate for change. Millions crowded around their radios to hear him. What they heard was a damning indictment of what had gone before and a stirring call for national revival….

The action the new leader had in mind was bold, even revolutionary. Jobs would be created by ‘direct recruiting by the Government itself, treating the task as we would treat the emergency of war’; men would be put to work on ‘greatly needed projects to stimulate and reorganize the use of our natural resources’…. He would introduce a system of ‘national planning for and supervision of all forms of transportation and of communications and other utilities’ and ‘a strict supervision of all banking and credits and investments’ to bring ‘an end to speculation with other people’s money’ – measures that won enthusiastic cheers from his audience….

Not content with this vision of a militarized nation, he concluded with a stark warning to the nation’s newly elected legislature: ‘An unprecedented demand and need for undelayed action may call for temporary departure from … the normal balance of executive and legislative authority.’ If the legislature did not swiftly pass the measures he proposed to deal with the national emergency, he demanded ‘the one remaining instrument to meet the crisis – broad Executive power to wage a war against the emergency, as great as the power that would be given to me if we were in fact invaded by a foreign foe’. This line brought forth the loudest applause of all.

Who was this demagogue who so crudely blamed the Depression on corrupt financiers, who so boldly proposed state intervention as the cure for unemployment, who so brazenly threatened to rule by decree if the legislature did not back him, who so cynically used and re-used the words ‘people’ and ‘Nation’ to stoke up the patriotic sentiments of his audience? The answer is Franklin D. Roosevelt, and the speech from which all the above quotations are taken was his inaugural address as he assumed the American presidency on March 4, 1933.

Less than three weeks later, another election victor in another country that had been struck equally hard by the Depression gave a remarkably similar speech, beginning with a review of the country’s dire economic straits, promising radical reforms, urging legislators to transcend petty party-political thinking and concluding with a stirring call for national unity .The resemblances between Adolf Hitler’s speech to the newly elected Reichstag on March 21, 1933, and Roosevelt’s inaugural address are indeed a great deal more striking than the differences. Yet it almost goes without saying that the United States and Germany took wholly different political directions from 1933 until 1945, the year when, both still in office, Roosevelt and Hitler died. Despite Roosevelt’s threat to override Congress if it stood in his way, and despite his three subsequent re-elections, there were only two minor changes to the US Constitution during his presidency: the time between elections and changes of administration was reduced (Amendment 20) and the prohibition of alcohol was repealed (Amendment 21). The most important political consequence of the New Deal was significantly to strengthen the federal government relative to the individual states; democracy as such was not weakened. Indeed, congress rejected Roosevelt’s Judiciary Reorganization Bill. By contrast, the Weimar Constitution had already begun to decompose two or three years before the 1933 general election, with the increasing reliance of Hitler’s predecessors on emergency presidential decrees. By the end of 1934 it had been reduced to a more or less empty shell. While Roosevelt was always in some measure constrained by the legislature, the courts, the federal states and the electorate, Hitler’s will became absolute, untrammelled even by the need for consistency or written expression. What Hitler decided was done, even if the decision was communicated verbally; when he made no decision, officials were supposed to work towards whatever they thought his will might be. Roosevelt had to fight – and fight hard – three more presidential elections. Democracy in Germany, by contrast, became a sham, with orchestrated plebiscites in place of meaningful elections and a Reichstag stuffed with Nazi lackeys. The basic political freedoms of speech, of assembly, of the press and even of belief and thought were done away with. So, too, was the rule of law. Whole sections of German society , above all the Jews, lost their civil as well as political rights. Property rights were also selectively violated. To be sure, the United States was no utopia in the 1930s, particularly for African-Americans. It was the Southern states whose legal prohibitions on interracial sex and marriage provided the Nazis with templates when they sought to ban relationships between ‘Aryans’ and Jews. Yet, to take the most egregious indicator, the number of lynchings of blacks during the 1930s (119 in all) was just 42 per cent of the number in the 1920s and 21 per cent of the number in the 1910s. Whatever else the Depression did, it did not destroy American democracy, nor worsen American racism.*

(*Roosevelt nevertheless opposed the Costigan-Wagner Anti-Lynching Bill for fear that to support it might cost him the Southern states in the 1936 election.)

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Wordcatcher Tales from the Merrie Monarch

Each year the Merrie Monarch Festival in Hilo, Hawai‘i, showcases the best of the best in Hawaiian hula, which nowadays includes performances by hālau from overseas, where some of the top hālau have branches. I haven’t watched it that regularly, but it is easier now that KITV in Honolulu offers a special Merrie Monarch website with stories, slideshows, and streaming video.

Hawaiian hula has a lot of distinctive terms and cultural practices that are usually not translated into English. Kaua‘i’s Ka ‘Imi Na‘auao O Hawai‘i Nei has a helpful webpage that explains the principal roles and responsibilities within a hālau. And Hula Traditions has a useful page naming and explaining dozens of different types of hula. Thanks to KITV’s helpful video captioning, I also picked up a few new words this year.

Each Merrie Monarch Hula Kahiko has three formal segments (like a concerto), introduced by an oli (‘chant’), which can be intoned by either the ‘olapa (dancers) or the ho‘opa‘a (‘memorizer’, chanter, drummer, maestro). In the individual Miss Aloha Hula competition, however, the dancer is judged on both her oli and her hula, so she must perform both. The center of each hula is the mele, the processional/lead-in movement is called the ka‘i, and the recessional/exit movement is called the ho‘i. The spectators are not generally expected to remain silent between the movements, and they often break into cheers as the mele gets underway.

I like the traditional Hula Kahiko (‘ancient’) much more than the modern Hula ‘Auana (‘wandering, straying’), and only watched the Kahiko performances this year. One of my favorites among the Wahine Kahiko was Kumu Kapua Dalire-Moe’s Hālau Ka Liko Pua O Kalaniākea‘s “Kaulilua I Ke Anu Wai‘ale‘ale,” a hula pahu (to drum beat) that was performed at the coronation of King David Kalākaua, the Merrie Monarch himself. I liked the subdued costumes, stately movements, and excellent synchrony. Very suitable for a coronation.

But I was also utterly entranced by Kumu Rae K. Fonseca’s Hālau Hula ‘O Kahikilaulani (Hilo hometown favorites), whose Kane Kahiko and Wahine Kahiko performances both took wonderfully vigorous advantage of the percussive effects of the wooden stage itself.

The first authentic hula I can remember seeing was in the early 1970s at Hawai‘i Loa College, where a seemingly frail ‘Iolani Luahine performed a vigorous Kane Kahiko, even slapping her chest and biceps. In fact, she was instrumental in preserving and passing on many of the key elements of men’s hula.

UPDATE: Well, the judges really went for the hula ma‘i, which traditionally celebrated the chiefly genitals at the birth of a new heir. Hula ma‘i are performed later in the evening and are full of suggestive movements and rich double-entendres. Language proficiency has become ever more important in evaluating Hawaiian hula compositions and performances. The hula ma‘i performed by the women of Kumu Sonny Ching’s Hālau Nā Mamo O Pu‘uanahulu was indeed very finely executed, and the performance by longtime veteran Kumu O’Brian Eselu’s Ke Kai O Kahiki was by far the most athletically demanding and the most lascivious men’s hula I have ever seen. In fact, the men and women of Ke Kai O Kahiki were the overall winners, while those of Hālau Nā Mamo O Pu‘uanahulu took second place.

Ke Kai O Kahiki means ‘The Sea of Tahiti’ and would have been *Te Tai O Tahiti before *t shifted to /k/ in what later evolved into Standard Hawaiian. But the title of the suggestive mele in the hula ma‘i performed by the men of Ke Kai O Kahiki was Tū ‘Oe, which preserves the earlier *t. (If tū corresponds to kū ‘stand tall’, perhaps the title might be translated as “Get it up, you!”)

Now, there’s another suggestive mele full of both double-entendres and instances of /t/ in place of /k/ (but /k/ as well). Tewetewe ‘back and forth’ is ostensibly about the little red-tail goby fish (‘o‘opu hi‘ukole). I wonder if the use of the old-fashioned /t/ in both mele is just coincidental.

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Scott Meredith Manuscript Rejection Letter, 1952

My maternal grandmother received the following 4-page, single-spaced, detailed rejection letter in response to a novel-length manuscript she submitted between short stints of teaching in various rural schools in West Virginia, Maryland, and Virginia during the 1950s after abandoning her husband, who was 27 years older than her. She got her teaching certificate in 1915, after attending Harrisonburg State Normal and Industrial School, then did further coursework at Radford College (1915-18). From 1919 to 1951, she married and raised 4 children, my mother being her youngest. She wanted to be a writer, but only really succeeded at publishing short devotional pieces for magazines like The Upper Room, which never paid a living wage. So she taught school. Perhaps I’ll post more about her teaching career later on, since my wife is a teacher, my daughter is now a teacher, and I’ve been offering this free, online extension course (no grades!) in Obscure History Studies since 2003.

SCOTT MEREDITH
Literary Agency

580 Fifth Avenue
New York 36, N. Y.
PLaza 7-8795-6
Cable Address: Scottmere

April 24, 1952

Mrs. Janie S. Clay [not her real surname—J.],
Jones Spring
West Virginia

Dear Mrs. Clay,

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to read your novel, THE DOORMAT. Your previous writing experience has contributed to the formulation of a first rate style, end this is even more noticeable here than it was in your short story. It proves that you can keep your standards up to as high a mark in a long piece as in a short one–a sure proof of your basic writing ability. Your style has a clarity and straightforwardness that would be an asset to any writer, and you have a remarkable talent for colorful description. Narration, dialogue, and action are all handled with the ease and confidence of a born story-teller. Also, you have a grasp of character and situation that stands as a solid achievement in any appraisal of the whole work. However, all these qualities on the credit side of the ledger are not quite enough to make your novel marketable. In addition, it should have a strong, closely-knit plot, which moves along to a logical and satisfying conclusion. Since THE DOORMAT falls short in this respect. I am forced to return the manuscript to you as unsalable.

Plotting is definitely your weak point. and I will therefore devote the greater part of my report to an analysis of your story-structure. in the hope that it will help you when you begin work on your next story. You are already acquainted with the plot skeleton–lead character, central problem, complications, crisis, and solution–and I will again take it as a useful device for pointing out the structural flaws in your story, showing just why and how it fails to engage the reader’s interest.

In a novel, the familiar pattern is there even as it is in short stories. Of course. the “bones” of the skeleton won’t be immediately visible if you only give the work a casual glance, because there is always a great deal of “flesh” on them, in the way of dialogue, description, etc.;–in short, all the many striking and beautiful things that a talented writer can do with words. The pattern is there, but much expanded so that it covers a wider territory. A novel has plenty of room for development of character, sketching in background, and making the story full and rounded in all its parts; also, there is space for many exciting actions, many persons, and many problems. Nevertheless, one central problem or theme must predominate over all the others; they must stand in some relation to it, and it must give them their place and relevance in the narrative. The novel thus presents the author with an opportunity to examine one idea or problem in all its ramifications, and with a consequent chance for great variety and richness of subject matter. But the variety must be ordered and regulated by some strong line of narrative; it cannot exist in its own right, but must contribute to some oentral problem, issue, or impression, the nature of which is both clear end urgent in the reader’s mind. The reader must have an active and vital interest in the outcome of the whole story rather than a casual interest in its diverse parts. But he cannot do this if the problem doesn’t grip him from the very start, and your novel fails to meet this demand. You felt this, of course, for you mention it in your letter. It hits the nail on the head to note that the story lacks problem and suspense. The skill with which you write is not enough to compensate, and the problem remains too weak to support the plot structure which depends upon it. As a lead charaoter gives the story a point of view, so does the problem give it a purpose. I suspect that your sense of purpose in writing the book has been too-general a one to serve as a gathering-point for a strong narrative. David finally attains kind of character suggested by the title, but this is not the drama that holds the center of the stage most of the time.

But first, before we come to grips with the problem–or problems–let’s have a look at your lead character, Lucy Turner. She is a young girl, seventeen years of age, returning home from college because of her mother’s illness. This is a bit young for a lead, because the reader is more likely to identify with an adult facing adult problems. But you overcome this handicap by presenting Lucy at precisely the point of assuming the duties of an adult, and your further development of her character is both just and consistent. She, and your other characters, do have a liveness and naturalness in all ways that makes them attractive: you need have no fear on that point. However, she is not an exciting character, and her problems–central and otherwise–do not grip the reader’s imagination. Interest in the love between David and Lucy is aroused early, and remains the predominant theme of the narrative. The heroine at first has much to worry her though, what with her mother’s illness and her father’s drinking. Both these are out of the way before long, end something else pops up, a small example of the color question. One thing I want to emphasize here is that all these small early problems are just that–small! Yet they serve to take away interest in the Lucy-David relation, which operates independently of them. In other words, you have not used the materials of the narrative to develop anything; the events remain separate entities, and do not add up to any total impression. The story does not seem to be going anywhere, and is rather accounting for the day to day existence of Lucy, her family, and her friends. The problem of getting the young people together is there, but is not a pressing one. The reader thus has nothing to sustain his interest, nothing to hang on to. Minor problems are raised and dropped, sometimes solved, sometimes forgotten, and the question of what is going to happen between David and Lucy is apparently one that can be postponed indefinitely. As Lucy herself realizes, she can do little but wait and hope for David’s love: she cannot chase him. The fact that she cannot take a more active part in solving her problem automatically deprives her problem of reader interest. The possibility of an active solution has to be there: she cannot merely wait until the time and the circumstances come and grab her. Thus the problem at the heart of the story fails in its essential function of arousing and sustaining reader interest. What about the other problems?

Of the smaller ones, perhaps the most interesting is the race-relations theme. The new Baptist preacher, old Mr. Allen, goes out to preach before a colored congregation–a thing unheard-of in this part of the country. But this only looks as if it is going to be a problem, and it never develops into anything. There is talk, people gossip, there are objections in private conversations, but the controversy never comes into the open, and the threats soon vanish as if nothing had ever happened. The theme returns again in the last chapter, but it is no more than a promise of better things and more help for the colored people. The issue never comes to a head, and the problem fails to become pressing and vital. Mind you, there are a great many fine and telling points made by the wayside: your characters are always dropping wise and witty comments here and there, as for instance Mr. Allen’s reason explaining why so many Negroes are Baptists; and another good one that I remember is when some one observes that the Primitive Baptists are so narrow they can sleep five in a bed! These are right in tone, and this kind of color goes a long way towards making your book a pleasure to read. But of course, no amount of this kind of thing can make up for the lack of problem and plot.

The other major issue in the book is David’s attitude to the ministerial service, and this is the source of your title. But this, too, lacks vitality. The fact that he is not your lead character deprives it of a certain amount of interest for the reader. It does not come vigorously into the open until the fifteenth chapter (p. 148), then goes underground again, to be finally resolved only by the ministrations and good advice of Jim Peterson. I realize that it is not quite the same thing in its later form, but it is still the problem of how to serve adequately. The solution is brought about by a minor character, which is also a weak point, since reader’s like to see a character get out of his jam through his own exertions and by his own ingenuity.

As for the complications to the central problem, most of them are provided by David, who finds that he cannot play the part Lucy would have him play. They are separated by the circumstance of his having to go off to college while she stays at home and teaches school. But the reader will feel that the problem of getting David to marry Lucy is not really pressing enough to worry about. You give her other interests that will keep her from taking his loss too hard. This is already evident by Chapter Twelve in which Lucy is made unhappy by David’s distance at the service. What happens here is that the religious interest overshadows the personal angle, and she seems so happy in the primary joy of religion that the reader will feel this is bound to be ample compensation no matter what becomes of her relation to David. Her thoughts about him at the baptizing are merely passing notions when compared to her pleasure she takes in the proceedings. It is all too obvious that if worst comes to worst, the problem of David’s reluctance and distance will not sweep her completely off her feet. This is a paradox at the very heart of your story, because the reader understands from the start that this is precisely what Christianity is supposed to do: we almost presume it when we see it in a story. This is bound to take away suspense, no matter how you try to get around it. David is at college for three years, then goes off to the war. Soon after he returns, he marries enother girl, leaving Lucy heartbroken. The loss makes her doubt, turns her listless, and almost changes her character. However, she is brought back to herself by Elizabeth’s efforts, and by the end of Chapter Twenty-two has attained inner peace and happiness. But this, of course, she could not do by herself; again, the minor character makes all the difference in the world, and moves the story in the direction you want it to go.

At this point, there is a gap in time, and the next chapter takes up three and a half years later with a remarkable accident that sets the stage for the reunion between David and Lucy: the reader hears that David has killed his wife in a tragic hunting accident, and is almost crazed with grief. This, however, is not quite fair, even as the background of a solution. Coincidence should not play a part in the construction of a story, especially insofar as complication and solution are concerned. Stories can start from a coincidence, but it is not proper to make them end there. Chance and accident can solve any problem, and should therefore not be used. The reader doesn’t want to find that the lead character is being brought to his goal by means of luck. Of course, the problem was solved when the accident took place, and reopens the possibility of David and Lucy coming together again. The accident raises another problem–getting David back into the world of men–which is solved by his summer with Jim Peterson (mentioned earlier). Gradually, you bring the lovers together, until they finally decide to get married. It was the natural thing to do, seeing that his wife was dead. But the story moves exceptionally slowly in this part, because the obstacles to their marriage no longer exist, and it is only a matter of time. You have a tender love scene between them at the time of the proposal, but it cannot seem to bring the narrative to life. (There is a slip of names, by the way on p. 242, when Lucy becomes “Mary”; guess you got excited!) The story still carries on for two more chapters, showing something of Lucy’s and David’s life together after they are married, but this does not do more than settle a few minor difficulties raised in the past and give a promise of a useful future for the two main characters. Both have learned exactly how to serve, and they are able to help each other in the work. I’m afraid the everyday-ness of much of the rest of the story is even more apparent here, and that the reader’s interest cannot possibly be sustained.

I’m sure you can see by now why I am unable to recommend a revision of your novel. Its flaws are structural, and are too basic to be “patched up.” The weakness of central problem and solution are insurmountable obstacles inherent in the whole work. However, I think you do have the talent to write a salable novel–and one with a real message–if you put a bit more thought into your plotting. By all means keep up the good work! Best wishes.

Sincerely,

/s/Scott Meredith
SCOTT MEREDITH

SM:tr

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No Plebiscites for Germans, 1919

From The War of the World: Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West, by Niall Ferguson (Penguin Press, 2006), pp. 160-161:

Applying the principle of self-determination proved far from easy, however, for two reasons. First, … there were more than thirteen million Germans already living east of the borders of the pre-war Reich – perhaps as much as a fifth of the total German-speaking population of Europe. If self-determination were applied rigorously Germany might well end up bigger, which was certainly not the intention of Wilson’s fellow peacemakers. From the outset, then, there had to be inconsistency, if not hypocrisy, in the way Germany was treated: no Anschluss of the rump Austria to the Reich – despite the fact that the post-revolutionary governments in both Berlin and Vienna voted for it – and no vote at all for the 250,000 South Tyroleans, 90 per cent of whom were Germans, on whether they wanted to become Italian, but plebiscites to determine the fate of northern Schleswig (which went to Denmark), eastern Upper Silesia (to Poland) and Eupen-Malmédy (to Belgium). France reclaimed Alsace and Lorraine, lost in 1871, despite the fact that barely one in ten of the population were French-speakers. In all, around 3.5 million German-speakers ceased to be German citizens under the terms of the Versailles Treaty. Equally important, under the terms of the 1919 Treaty of St Germain-en-Laye, more than 3.2 million Germans in Bohemia, southern Moravia and the hastily constituted Austrian province of Sudetenland found themselves reluctant citizens of a new state, Czechoslovakia. There were just under three-quarters of a million Germans in the new Poland, the same number again in the mightily enlarged Romania, half a million in the new South Slav kingdom later known as Yugoslavia and another half million in the rump Hungary left over after the Treaty of Trianon.

The second problem for self-determination was that none of the peacemakers saw it as applying to their own empires – only to the empires they had defeated.

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Filed under Austria, Belgium, democracy, Germany, Hungary, Italy, nationalism, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, U.S., war, Yugoslavia