Wednesday, December 21, 2016

What the Dickens?

When even diehard American fans of the literary inventor of Christmas can't get along, can we really expect the rest of the country to declare a political truce in honor of the season?

A feud between two New York factions of the international Charles Dickens Fellowship has been simmering for so long (two decades) that members can't even remember the initial cause. It might have had something to do with who broke a rented VHS tape of an old Oliver Twist movie. Or it might have had something to do with the leader of one faction having a dual career as a Franciscan friar and a parole officer. Even though the clubs meet in the same branch of the public library every month, they just can't get up the nerve to attempt a reunification. Not even during Christmas.

I'd be tempted to call them the literary version of the Democratic Party, except that regardless of whether they're Dickens Friends or whether they're Dickens Fellows, they are truly egalitarian. The Democrats claim to have a big tent, but it's more like a luxury high-rise with a paltry few tax deductible "affordable" units and a special door reserved for poor, rural working class tenants. Only party elites are allowed to vote for the party chairman.

But when it comes to their mutual love for David Copperfield and Pip and Oliver, wonky elites with Ph.Ds don't lord it over Dickens readers who are truck drivers, or even high school dropouts. Anybody can join either club, or both clubs, and everybody has a vote over which book to read and discuss next.

The New York Times recently published a droll spread on the Friends' and Fellows' respective big holiday spreads, held on the same exact day. Given that very few people read any more, and that bibliophiles are apt to start dying off sooner rather than later, the two sides of the Dickens Fellowship will likely join forces eventually if the Fellowfriendship has any hope of survival.

Readers of Dickens and readers of all good books will have to unite if for no other reason than to do battle against the Non-Reader-in-Chief, Donald J. Trump. Ignorance, contrary to what Big Brother decreed, is not Strength.

Meanwhile, as the New York Sun reported back in 2004, feuds among bibliophiles aren't all that rare. Even Shakespeare has his rival fan clubs:
At least two groups regularly host Shakespeare-related events in the city.
"Shakespeare is so popular and so broadly appreciated that it serves the purpose of appreciation to have as much as we can," said Adriana Mnuchin, co-founder of the Shakespeare Society, many of whose events regularly take place at the Kaye Playhouse.
And what do you know: Adriana just happens to be married to former Goldman Sachs financier and Hollywood mogul Steve Mnuchin, who is bibliophobe Donald Trump's pick for treasury secretary. Appropriately enough, she once staged a Broadway production of Macbeth with Patrick Stewart, who has also famously played Ebenezer Scrooge.

It's a small plutocratic world after all.

Next up: a reality show White House staging of King Lear, starring Donald as the demented monarch and First Ladymotherdaughter Ivanka as Cordelia. 

The plot thickens, however. The New York Observer, which is owned by Ivanka's husband Jared, published a snarky article about the Mnuchins' luxury New York digs just last year. It seems that Daddy-in-Law's Treasury Secretary had bought the spread for $14.5 million under cover of a tax-avoiding LLC called "Nukes" and he then tried to make a killing by immediately relisting it at $17 million. The poor billionaire ended up getting the short end of his own stick:
Though it has finally gone into contract, it’s only managed that feat after some large cuts—it was last listed for just $13.9 million. The owners must be quite desperate to get rid of it, considering that they will actually be losing money from what they (over?) paid in 2011.
It doesn’t sound so bad. It has two fireplaces, oak herringbone floors throughout, French doors opening up to a terrace, and a 36-foot entrance gallery. There’s also a master suite with 18 feet of custom closets, as well as a bathroom with radiant heated floors and a Jacuzzi soaking tub.

 It even has what the listing, held by Douglas Elliman’s Joan Swift, Vanessa Kitchen and Barton Brooks, declares to be the “ultimate” luxury: heated sidewalks on the front steps, sidewalk and backyard, so that the owner won’t ever have to deal with the indignity of shoveling snow.
Now that Mnuchin looks to become Treasury Secretary, perhaps he can unload future properties on some needy Russian oligarchs seeking access or deals, maybe even the one named Vladimir. He will never have to worry about looking at melted snow again.

As far as Trumpian entertainment goes, therefore, we might have to settle for alt-right advisor and Goldman Sachs alum Steve Bannon's hideous outer space version of the bloodiest Shakespeare play of them all: Titus Andronicus. Trump would probably make it required, taxpayer-funded viewing on PBS, with lots of commercial interruptions and kickbacks from the good folks at Exxon-Mobil, which helped underwrite Trump's whole $5 billion advertising campaign on CNN, Fox and MSNBC.

Well... this particular blog-post certainly has ended up seriously digressing from Charles Dickens to the Two Steves of Goldman Sachs, hasn't it?  So I think I'd better quit right now, before I veer off into analyzing Frosty the Snowman.

1 comment:

Zee said...

"Unless you've read Dickens, you don't know how good he is," Ms. Roberts [leader of the Dickens Fellowship of New York] said.

How does one reply to that except to say: "Well...duuuhhh ..."