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The Siren’s Song

            We mentioned at the end of last class this notion of the North vs. the South, or the Country vs. the Metropolis. This was evident in Brambles tangent in the opening pages of the second volume. Although too long to quote the entire passage, his illustrative ramblings captured his disdain towards the newly immigrated country peoples, as they appeared to maliciously affect every element of his life, starting with the moment he woke up. It almost seems like he’s likening the City to the Sirens of Homer- luring in its victims with songs and fancy, only to be painfully awoken by reality. The people venturing to the city dreamed of a sedentary life with few duties, a substantial change from their previous lives of raising livestock and crops. “They desert their dirt and drudgery, and swarm up to London, in hopes of getting into service, where they can live luxuriously and wear fine clothes, without being obliged to work…” But like with the Sirens they awake to find a life of misery, eating bread for example, that, “…is a deleterious paste, mixed up with chalk, alum, and bone-ashes; insipid to the taste, and destructive to the constitution.” But what’s most striking about the bread example, which Bramble points out, is that the people could be eating hardy bread, but instead choose the bleached substitute, as it’s more appealing to the eyes. They’re so obsessed with this notion of “Luxury”, that they’re willing to sacrifice just about anything as to appear luxurious. This strikes a chord with me when I think of our credit-driven, materialistic society. The people that ate the pasty bread are the same people today who eat something because the packaging says it’s “fancy” or “European”. As for Luxury, one could drive through many lower socio-economic regions of the country and find a great percentage of homes with flat screens on their walls and Escalades in the driveway. Like those wanting all the spoils without the effort in the book though, the modern-day man will also realize a life of despair, as they’re hounded by creditors and all their “toys” get repossessed.

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6 thoughts on “The Siren’s Song

  1. Hi Chris – I enjoyed reading the connections you made between Humphry Clinker and Homer, and the obsession with luxury they had then and we still have in contemporary society. In my post, I wrote about Mr. Bramble’s dislike of the people who had a want of taste, and I think he saw this in the country laborers who went to the city for service jobs. Additionally, this shows he valued physical labor over hospitality services, which is ironic because although he lived in the country, he had servants to perform the physical labor for him.

    I especially like your example about bread because I think it demonstrates the ways times change. Maybe this isn’t the case for everyone, but in the 90s I remember white bread was more desirable, especially the Wonder Bread brand because of the commercials on TV. However, more recently, there’s been a resurgence of all-natural, whole wheat, organic, etc. foods, and now it’s a luxury to be able to afford these types of food. Your comment about people buying something because it’s marked as fancy or European makes me think of food or businesses with “quality” in their name because it makes me automatically assume it’s crummy, haha.

  2. I also really liked your connection between the preference for the luxurious in Humphry Clinker and the consumerist tendencies of our modern-day society.
    There is something else in your observation about luxury that I found really interesting. Particularly the quote you mentioned about the bread. I, for whatever reason, have collected a few volumes of house-keeping and etiquette literature. In one of the volumes (a Miss Manners Column Collection) I was particularly struck by one particular instance in which Etiquette is defined as being the opposite of the practical. I remember thinking this was both totally weird, and somehow kind of true. I was reminded of this as you quoted the exerpt about the bread. It is horribly bad for people and doesn’t really even count as sustenance, but yet it is more desirable. I wonder if this strange truth doesn’t relate to Miss Manner’s ideas of the refined as being the most impractical and difficult thing possible.

  3. I also liked the connection you made with Homer, however, I saw this a bit differently. As not everyone showed disdain for these items or “woke up” but rather preferred these items. I believe this speaks to the issue of Taste and also I couldn’t help but relate it also to change. Change is hard for most everyone and Mr. Bramble, who seems to be the one with the most disdain for this city life may hold this disdain as a way of mourning the past; the way things were.

    • Bridget, I agree – I saw most of Bramble’s rants as relating to his negative view on change as well as his various reflections on the reasons for these changes (mainly the type of people that he believes have contributed in full to these changes). I think the idea of taste here was quite pertinent as well even though that is something I missed the first time around as I could not get past Bramble’s nostalgic ways as the crux of his disdain towards the changes that he sees in his surroundings.

  4. Chris-

    I really liked your thoughts on this idea of materialism and how it is an idea taking over the area. We see this sadly, too often today where symbols of status are deemed as being far greater to posses than some things that are actually better. However, as Amy noted, there is definitely a resurgence of healthy foods and but I think you could argue that as a result of the grim state of society health wise. I liked the point you touched on about many of the people’s dissatisfaction with the city. I found the disappointment to be reflective in some of the characters thoughts and letters, most notably through Matt.

  5. Pingback: RE: “The Siren’s Song” « History and Literature of Georgian England

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