Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Not at all related

to books, but Natalie Angier has a rather delightful article about turtles in this week's Science Times.

Turtles loom large on eighteenth-century menus, I can think of a whole host of turtle reference but they are almost universally and depressingly culinary (no wonder so many species are endangered). Here, for instance, is a scene from Susan Ferrier's excellent (underrated--read it!) novel Marriage, which I was teaching a couple weeks ago. The satirical-minded Lady Emily is teasing the greedy and parasitical gourmand Dr. Redgill, who wishes that the novel's heroine would accept the proposal of Lord Glenallan ("The finest deer park in Scotland! Every sort of game upon the estate! A salmon fishing at the very door!"). Lady Emily explains that the young lady in question--her cousin--may not be in love:

"In what?" demanded the Doctor.

"In love," repeated Lady Emily.

"Love! Bah--nonsense--no mortal in their senses ever thinks of such stuff now."

"Then you think love and madness are one and the same thing it seems?"

"I think the man or woman who could let their love stand in the way of five and twenty thousand a year, is the next thing to being mad," said the Doctor warmly; "and in this case I can see no difference."

"But you'll allow there are some sorts of love that may be indulged, without casting any shade upon the understanding?"

"I really can't tell what your Ladyship means," said the Doctor impatiently.

"I mean, for example, the love one may feel towards a turtle, such as we had lately."

"That's quite a different thing," interrupted the Doctor.

"Pardon me, but whatever the consequence may be, the effects in both cases were very similar, as exemplified in yourself. Pray, what difference did it make to your friends, who were deprived of your society, whether you spent your time in walking with 'even step, and musing gait,' before your dulcinea's window, or the turtle's cistern?--whether you were engrossed in composing a sonnet to your mistress' eye-brow, or in contriving a new method of heightening the enjoyments of calipash?--whether you expatiated with greater rapture on the charms of a white skin, or green fat?--whether you were most devoted to a languishing or a lively beauty?--whether--"

"'Pon my honour, Lady Emily, I really--I---I--can't conceive what it is you mean. There's a time for every thing; and I'm sure nobody but yourself would ever have thought of bringing in a turtle to a conversation upon marriage."

"On the contrary, Doctor, I thought it had been upon love; and I was endeavouring to convince you, that even the wisest of men may be susceptible of certain tender emotions towards a beloved object."

In my opinion the best turtle in literature comes in Tom Stoppard's Jumpers, which is my particularly favorite play of his.


  1. Thanks for posting about Ferrier's novel -- I hadn't heard of it and it sounds interesting.

  2. So this type of love she describes is of the "devoir, enjoy, and discard" variety -- nothing to sink too much of yourself into, but still enough to gain a singular pleasure from? Or am I misunderstanding her?

  3. She's being more satirical than that--it's a tendentious comparison between the two kinds of love, given that underneath it she has respect & admiration of a serious kind for her cousin & for true love and contempt for the Dr. and his gluttony...