Archive for ‘Editorial’

02/09/2016

Not so very steady…

Well, that kind of went to hell, didn’t it?

I have whinged long and hard elsewhere, so I won’t do it again here, merely explain that a combination of work issues and health issues managed to stop me doing anything I wanted to do for several months, and I am still in the process of picking up the pieces.

Things are more or less back under control now, and I hope to have this blog ticking over again shortly.

Apologies to those of you I left hanging (including my commenters), and thanks to everyone who kept the blog warm in my absence.

02/01/2016

More than ordinarily pear-shaped

Well…2015 rather fell apart there, didn’t it? I’m sure that those of you who visit here – and other places – are tired of listening to me whinge, so I’ll just say that some significant personal issues developed over the second half of the year, which prevented me from giving much time to any of my hobbies. I am trying to make some changes at the moment, and I hope that we will all see an improvement in 2016.

As far as this blog in concerned, I am utterly mortified to realise that the putative main subject thread – that is, the development of the English novel – did not get a single update during 2015. There were a couple of reasons for this, none of them very satisfactory: the unappealing nature of the material was one (though that never stopped me before), while another was the fact that after signing off the year 1689 with a flourish some twelve months ago, I immediately came across another item from that year that I was unable to persuade myself could be legitimately ignored. I did read the item in question (short version: erk), but didn’t get around to posting. Hopefully with the help of a little loin-girding, it will be showing up here before too much longer.

A side-reason for not progressing in the Chronobibliography was the introduction of the Australian fiction section, which proved a major distraction. I also made some progress with my examination of early crime fiction, with posts on Eugène Sue’s Les Mystères de Paris and Catharine Crowe’s Men And Women; or, Manorial Rights. I also read Frances Trollope’s Hargrave, another important work in this respect…which had the effect of sending me off on yet another tangled tangent…

…because YET ANOTHER TOPIC AREA is exactly what I need right now.

When researching Hargrave, I discovered that several of Frances Trollope’s novels have crime themes, and should probably be included in this section of reviews. However—it was also asserted that a major influence upon Trollope, and in particular her tendency to mix disparate genres in her novels, was Edward Bulwer-Lytton, specifically his 1828 novel, Pelham; or, The Adventures Of A Gentleman.

This is where it gets complicated. Pelham in turn had been influenced by Benjamin Disraeli’s Vivian Grey, which was published the year before. Both of these novels drew heavily upon what is considered the first Bildungsroman, Johann Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship—and themselves influenced that odd, transitional English subgenre, the “Silver Fork Novel”…a topic I’ve been meaning to tackle, but put off because I felt I had quite enough to be going on with…

Which is of course beyond true. Trouble is, though, I’m now struggling to see this collision of elements as anything other than A SIGN.

Sigh.

So – as the panic begins to take hold – what is on the horizon? Four unwritten posts, to start with, consisting of my second attempt to draw a line under 1689, a “Reading Roulette” selection, another study of the 19th century religious novel, and of course Hargrave. This being the case, new material is the last thing I should be pursuing; but I’ve recently discovered that there may be an opportunity to get my hands on a copy of one of Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s more obscure early works via academic loan. If that does work out, it will be a case of drop everything.

Because let’s face it, everything’s better with Braddon.

29/12/2014

One last thing…

Yes, yes. I’ll shut up in a minute, I promise.

I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank all of my blog visitors for sticking by me in what has been an even more than usually erratic year, and particularly those of you who have taken the time to comment.

I should know better by now than to make promises, so I will confine myself to hoping for a more regular posting routine in 2015.

I’ll also hope to see you all there!

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29/12/2014

Like a hole in the head

Even though I need more things to write about like I need an aperture in my cranial equipment, for the past several months I’ve found myself becoming increasingly fixated upon the idea of taking a look at the development of the Australian novel. This area of study, like its American counterpart, offers one significant advantage over the Chronobibliography that comprises the main thrust of this blog—namely, that it is possible to identify a finite starting point.

More or less.

Truthfully, when it comes to identify “the first”, there are probably few areas of literary study that offer more ground for argument than the Australian novel of the 19th century—where we have novels written in Australia but published in Britain, and novels written in Britain but published in Australia; novels about Australia written in Britain, and novels about Britain written in Australia; authors born in Britain but publishing in Australia, and authors born in Australia but publishing in Britain; authors who lived all their lives in Australia, authors who emigrated to Australia, authors who emigrated from Australia, authors who wandered through for a space of months or years, and authors who never in fact set foot in Australia but wrote about it anyway. We even have a few – just a few – of those rarae aves, authors who were born, lived and published in Australia.

There are, consequently, as many “firsts” in the history of Australian fiction as even a complete obsessive like me could possibly desire.

The dogma (of which, by now, I have learned always to be deeply suspicious) is that “the first Australian novel” is Quintus Servinton: A Tale Founded Upon Incidents Of Real Occurrence by Henry Savery, which appeared in Tasmania in the early months of 1831. It was certainly “the first novel” written and published in Australia; its author, however, was born in England. Henry Savery was convicted of forgery in 1825 and sentenced to transportation after having his initial death sentence commuted. He wrote his novel – a semi-autobiographical and rather self-serving tale of convict life – while working as an assigned labourer in the New Norfolk district west of Hobart.

There appear to be three challengers for Quintus Servinton‘s crown. One of them is another, earlier work by Henry Savery: The Hermit In Van Diemen’s Land, which was published in 1830. This is not, however, a novel, but a series of sketches about Hobart life and its prominent citizens, which appeared first as separate stories in the local newspaper, The Colonial Times. It is also, in a sense, a roman à clef since, although without any political motive, its characters are based on real people, with a key to their identities being appended to the single-volume publication.

The other works highlight the difficulties in this area of study. Mary Leman Grimstone was already established as a poet and novelist when she accompanied her sister and brother-in-law to Australia in 1825. It seems that her second and third novels, Louisa Egerton and Women’s Love, were written during her stay in Tasmania, thus pre-dating all of the other contenders—but they were published in England, appearing in 1830 and 1832, respectively. Furthermore, as far as I am aware (I guess we’ll be finding out!), both are set in England as well.

We should also make mention of another 1830 publication, Arthur Dudley; or, The Australian Settlers. Although originally believed to be the work of the English writer, William Howitt (and is still listed in some sources as such), this children’s fiction has been attributed to a Mrs G. Porter, another English writer who never visited Australia, but drew upon Robert Dawson’s non-fiction work, The Present State of Australia : A Description of the Country, Its Advantages and Prospects, with References to Emigration: and a Particular Account of the Manners, Customs, and Condition of its Aboriginal Inhabitants for her story—which is, in any event, the first work for children to be set in Australia.

Taking all this into consideration, Quintus Servinton still seems a sensible place to start—although knowing myself, I suspect that the other works mentioned (and perhaps Mary Grimstone’s first novel, The Beauty Of The British Alps) will also be putting in an appearance.

29/12/2014

Vale, Aphra

epitaph1In her dedication of The Lucky Mistake to “George Greenveil” (George Granville, Baron Lansdowne), published the year of her death, Aphra Behn comments:

…the Obligations I have to you, deserves a greater testimony of my respect, then this little peice, too trivial to bear the honour of your Name, but my increasing Indisposition makes me fear I shall not have many opportunities of this Kind…

The last years of Aphra Behn’s life were a constant struggle against increasing ill-health. Most cruelly, it seems that she suffered from an arthritic complaint that made it painful, if not impossible, for her to write, and thus to earn an income. It is also easy to imagine that the overthrow of James II in 1688 took a simultaneous toll on Behn’s spirits. It is sad yet strangely fitting that her death almost coincided with the coronation of William and Mary in April of 1689.

Whatever her public reputation, Behn had friends and admirers who organised for her burial in Westminster Abbey; and while the epitaph on her gravestone is often taken as an expression of public disapproval, there are many who believe that Aphra wrote it herself—one last joke at her own expense.

Despite the increasingly punitive morality that would see Aphra Behn expunged from the English literary canon from the mid-18th century until her revival in the early 20th, in her lifetime and the decades that followed her writing was extremely popular – and profitable, for her publishers if not so much for herself. It has been pointed out that Behn was the first English writer of fiction to have her works collected and reissued, with William Canning publishing Oroonoko, The Fair Jilt and Agnes de Castro together in 1688 as “Three Histories“. Then, in 1696, Charles Gildon issued another collection under the title, The Histories And Novels of the Late Ingenious Mrs. Behn—following this two years later with, All The Histories And Novels Written By The Late Ingenious Mrs Behn, and two years after that with, Histories, Novels And Translations.

And this is where things get awkward. The last volume was sold under the assertion that its contents were, “The greatest part never before printed.” It certainly offered under Aphra Behn’s name various short works not published before…but where did they come from? Charles Gildon, who declared himself to be Behn’s “literary executor”, insisted that they had fallen to his lot after her death; but this hardly explains why he waited eleven years to publish them, particularly given Gildon’s perpetual hand-to-mouth existence and his frequent forays into debt.

Not surprisingly, debate about the origin of these works still continues. There seems to be strong scepticism about their authenticity amongst the experts on Aphra Behn, with most prepared to go no further than to suggest that Behn may have left certain writings unfinished at the time of her death, and that Gildon, or someone paid by him, completed them and published them under her name. Others reject altogether the assertion of her authorship.

And on this basis, I have finally decided not to include these posthumous publications in my consideration of the oeuvre of Aphra Behn…which means that with The Lucky Mistake, we have reached the end of our journey through her works of fiction.

Furthermore, we have also finished our examination of the fiction of 1689—a point I hoped to reach by the end of this year (though for once I had more sense than to jinx myself by saying so out loud). The beginning of 2015 will see us tackling the works of 1690: a year in which I would expect at least a measure of politics to re-emerge, given the events that culminated in the Battle of the Boyne; but which, at least on the basis of a superficial glance, seems to have been a period of consolidation for the English novel.

I’m likewise hoping (ever hopeful, me!) that 2015 will be a year of consolidation for this blog. I did try to get back on track recently with “Authors In Depth”, but ended up lengthening the list rather than making significant headway with our established writers; while “Reading Roulette” came to a halt when a certain book took some dogged tracking down. (It’s on its way now, though!)

Now, between those categories of reviewing, plus my examinations of the roots of the Gothic novel and early detective fiction, you might think I had quite enough to be going on with; yet as I sit here in the waning days of 2014, I find myself in anticipation of founding yet another category of reviews; even though I need more things to write about like I need…um…

20/10/2013

Meanwhile, on Facebook…

williamandmary

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Well, boys and girls, here I am again, beginning yet another apology. Nothing new to report – just the same ongoing struggle to get my head above water and keep it there. I’m not going to make any rash promises about getting back to track – I’ve learned the futility of THAT – but I do have some hopes of a shortish post about a piece of poetry; we’ll see.

My next anticipated round of Reading Roulette has ended in frustration and annoyance. After Steepleton, the roll of the random number generator landed me on Under The Lash, a novel from 1885 by Matilda Charlotte Houstoun, an interesting, socially conscious writer, who was particularly active in the area of prison reform. Finding to my excitement that Under The Lash was available as a reproduction released by the British Library, I immediately rushed to secure a copy – discovering too late that only the second volume of this three-volume novel has been made available – something apparent a priori only in the very finest of fine print – the kind you don’t read until after the event.

Why do they do things like that? Why do they BOTHER?

Anyway, thwarted in that direction, I rolled for another book. Imagine my anticipatory joy – particularly in the wake of wrestling with a 300-page-long polemic on church factionalism – when the Reading Gods offered me this:

Right And Wrong, Exhibited In The History Of Rosa And Agnes. Written, For Her Children, By A Mother

Heavily didactic children’s fiction? – fabulous!

On the other hand, I am currently reading the next entry in my series examining the roots of the Gothic novel, William Hutchinson’s The Hermitage. I’m only about a quarter into it, but so far it has some interesting, and relevant, features: it manages to be heavily anti-Catholic despite being set in England before the Reformation (the hero is an “instinctive Protestant”, if you will); it focuses upon the machinations of an evil priest; it features some haunted armour (shades of Otranto); and it breaks periodically into rapturous descriptions of nature, of the kind we usually associate with Ann Radcliffe. The Hermitage is not always included in the timeline of the development of the Gothic novel, but so far it seems it certainly should be.

01/09/2013

Early…English…novels?

Having finally gotten James out of England, I find myself a bit indecisive about how to proceed with the Chronobibliography. Though we have necessarily turned again and again to the political writing of this period, the original idea here was to look at the development of the English novel – fiction, in other words. However, although plenty of novels were being published in England at this time, the vast majority of them were translations of French novels; and in fact, the French were streets ahead of the English at this point in the development of their fiction. English writers, meanwhile, were apparently too intent upon rationalising the events of 1688 by fictionalising them to bother with actual fiction: political writing continued to dominate the scene right through 1689, and the only person I can identify as publishing genuine English novels at this time was Aphra Behn…and she, tragically, was not going to be doing it for very much longer.

So the question becomes, do I skip rather hurriedly through 1689, or do I fill in the gap with some of those translations just to give an idea of the popular fiction of the time? I’m inclining to the former; particularly since that phrase “skip rather hurriedly” does still encompass Aphra’s last works of fiction and, unavoidably, a bit more politics.

Besides—it turns out that at this time, the French too were very much given to writing slanderous versions of the recent political turmoil, and during 1689 produced any number of romans à clef along the lines of The Amours Of Messalina—but much, much longer than the typical English ones. At the moment, I confess, I’m feeling disinclined to tackle any more versions of what went on at the Stuart court than I absolutely have to.

(For some reason I have yet to determine, Louise de Kéroualle, the Duchess of Portsmouth, became a popular target for attack during this period, taking her lumps from both sides of the Channel.)

Anyway—I am able to say definitely that from 1690 onwards, the English people settled down enough to start demanding a supply of light entertainment, and for actual fiction to start appearing on a more regular basis. Though of course, “settled down” is a relative term, since 1690 brought the Battle of the Boyne. (And the Battle of Beachy Head, but that’s another story…)

Having had my focus for so long upon getting James off the throne, I hadn’t actually given much thought until very recently to what happened to him afterwards—beyond being generally aware that there was a Battle of the Boyne and that sooner or later I’d probably have to deal with it. But as so often happens, my off-blog reading conspired to bring me back to the point. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been looking into the roots of detective fiction lately, and so was reading The Purcell Papers by J. Sheridan Le Fanu, chiefly for his story Passages From The Secret History Of An Irish Countess. (Long story short: it turns out Le Fanu, not Poe, invented the “locked room” mystery. However, the former wrote it as a Gothic while the latter made a detective story out of it.) In the same collection of stories is An Adventure Of Hardress Fitzgerald, A Royalist Captain, which is set in the immediate aftermath of the Battle of the Boyne, and offers an intriguingly ambivalent, Irish-Catholic view of the events. Not that it’s ambivalent about James:

Some said that the king still lay in Ireland; others, that he had crossed over to Scotland, to encourage the Highlanders, who, with Dundee at their head, had been stirring in his behoof; others, again, said that he had taken ship for France, leaving his followers to shift for themselves, and regarding his kingdom as wholly lost, which last was the true version, as I afterwards learned…

Later, by then a fugitive, Hardress has the misfortune to encounter a Williamite camp follower intent upon forcing everyone to publicly declare their loyalties:

“Then drink the honest man’s toast,” said he. “Damnation to the pope, and confusion to skulking Jimmy and his runaway crew.”

At the Boyne, James, an inexperienced general (and, moreover, navy not army), failed to anticipate William’s strategy and held back a majority of his troops for what he wrongly assumed would be the main area of assault. He never deployed those troops: when word came that William’s forces were pressing on both Jacobite flanks James saw the possibility of escape slipping away and ordered a hasty retreat that was more about securing his personal safety than the consequences for his followers. James nevertheless tried to put the blame for the outcome of the battle on his Irish troops, saying bitterly to Lady Tyrconnel, “Your countrymen can run well.” “I see Your Majesty has won the race,” she retorted, unimpressed.

The rapidity with which James gathered up his court and fled Ireland for France did not exactly endear him to the men who were left in the field, and who fought on even in the absence of their commanding officer, extending the conflict into 1691 and to the signing of the Treaty of Limerick. Sheridan Le Fanu, via his Captain Fitzgerald, cleaned up the local vernacular when he referred to “skulking Jimmy”: the actual nickname James earned for himself with his flight from the battlefield and the country was Seamus a’ chaca—“James the Shit”.

10/06/2013

Getting nowhere fast

Hello, all – remember me?

Probably not.

My apologies for the deathly silence, and particularly to those of you whose comments have gone unresponded to. I have been dealing with a mountain of frustrating crap lately and am only just now beginning to crawl out from underneath it. The challenge will be to stay out once I do.

I did briefly contemplate a long, whiny, self-pitying post about it all, but on reflection, I think this basically covers it:

    Alice never could quite make out, in thinking it over afterwards, how it was that they began: all she remembers is, that they were running hand in hand, and the Queen went so fast that it was all she could do to keep up with her: and still the Queen kept crying “Faster! Faster!” but Alice felt she COULD NOT go faster, though she had not breath left to say so.
    The most curious part of the thing was, that the trees and the other things round them never changed their places at all: however fast they went, they never seemed to pass anything. “I wonder if all the things move along with us?” thought poor puzzled Alice. And the Queen seemed to guess her thoughts, for she cried, “Faster! Don’t try to talk!”
    Not that Alice had any idea of doing THAT. She felt as if she would never be able to talk again, she was getting so much out of breath: and still the Queen cried “Faster! Faster!” and dragged her along. “Are we nearly there?” Alice managed to pant out at last.
    “Nearly there!” the Queen repeated. “Why, we passed it ten minutes ago! Faster!” And they ran on for a time in silence, with the wind whistling in Alice’s ears, and almost blowing her hair off her head, she fancied.
    “Now! Now!” cried the Queen. “Faster! Faster!” And they went so fast that at last they seemed to skim through the air, hardly touching the ground with their feet, till suddenly, just as Alice was getting quite exhausted, they stopped, and she found herself sitting on the ground, breathless and giddy.
    The Queen propped her up against a tree, and said kindly, “You may rest a little now.”
    Alice looked round her in great surprise. “Why, I do believe we’ve been under this tree the whole time! Everything’s just as it was!”
    “Of course it is,” said the Queen, “what would you have it?”
    “Well, in OUR country,” said Alice, still panting a little, “you’d generally get to somewhere else—if you ran very fast for a long time, as we’ve been doing.”
    “A slow sort of country!” said the Queen. “Now, HERE, you see, it takes all the running YOU can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”

31/12/2012

James is kicked out of this blog!

…and with those posts about Inés de Castro (albeit that they ended up being nothing like what I originally envisioned), I have achieved my 2012 ambition of “getting the hell out of 1688” – YES!!

{holds for applause}

Honestly, I’ve been so long in reaching this point that it’s almost a physical shock. I feel slightly disorientated and panicky, but in a good way, if that makes sense. It’s one of those “time is relative” situations, I suppose, but I seem to have spent infinitely longer trapped in the three-year reign of James than I devoted to the twenty-five preceding years during which his brother was on the throne. What’s more, in contrast to the mixture of contempt and vague amusement which seems to be my prevailing attitude towards Charles, I find myself harbouring towards James a smouldering resentment that has little if anything to do with his methods of governance.

This being the case, I’ve decided that the most fitting way for me to see out 2012 is with a repeat viewing of Captain Blood, the film that marked Errol Flynn’s spectacular Hollywood debut.

For the benefit of those of you unfamiliar with the novel by Rafael Sabatini and its 1935 translation to the screen, Captain Blood opens during the Monmouth Rebellion. Peter Blood, a young Irish physician practising in England, unknowingly treats some of the wounded rebels and is arrested with them; he finds himself one of many tried during the Bloody Assizes of Judge George Jeffreys, and is condemned to death. However, his sentence is commuted to transportation and penal servitude for life when James is persuaded that simply hanging all these rebels is a waste of manpower that could be put to better use on the royal plantations in the West Indies. Peter’s fortunes improve when the Governor of Jamaica, a martyr to gout, learns that he is a doctor and engages him as his personal physician. Peter is granted certain privileges as a reward for his services, and uses his new opportunities to arrange the purchase of a ship and a mass breakout by his fellow slaves, who then embark upon a career of piracy.

The specific significance of this film in my present state of mind is not just its historical background, however, but that fact that it is bookended by two extremely rude references to James Stuart.

The first comes when Peter is originally condemned, and retorts upon Judge Jeffreys: “What a creature must sit upon the throne, that let’s a man like you deal out his justice!”

The second comes towards the end when, just as all seems lost, word of the Glorious Revolution reaches the West Indies, along with the welcome news that as a consequence, Peter and his men have been pardoned. Peter’s reaction is to leap up onto the railing of his ship and announce joyously, “James is kicked out of England!”

I know exactly how he feels.

So what lies ahead? I honestly don’t know. I’ve been so focused on getting to this point that I haven’t looked any further. I’m pretty sure that we’re in for some more political writing and romans à clef, though, since many of the people who had bitten their tongue during the three years of the dangerously thin-skinned James put pen to paper during 1689 in celebration of their new freedoms. And of course, sadly, we have the last few works of Aphra Behn, who died in April of that year at the age of only forty-nine. Beyond that, it’s all a mystery.

I’ve neglected the other aspects of this blog during my push to the finish-line, but from here I’ll be trying to get back to Reading Roulette and Authors In Depth, so we can mix it up a bit more. However, I’ve decided not to do anything so foolish again as making a definite statement of intent about where I’d like to get to next year: too much like hard work! Let’s just say that I hope to post more regularly, and leave it at that.

Finally—profound thanks as always to everyone who has visited this blog in 2012, and in particular to those of you who took the time to comment. See you in 2013!

01/12/2012

She’s doing it again!

It was just under a year ago that I declared my ambition for 2012 to be, “To get the hell out of 1688”, and much to my surprise I’ve almost managed it. And if I don’t manage it, it will only be because I’ve chosen to make the final step in this journey far more complicated than there is any real need for it to be.

I’m sure you’re all astonished to hear that.

In the meantime, I’m working up to what will be — I SWEAR — a single-post examination of Aphra Behn’s The Fair Jilt. This was, along with Oroonoko and my current bone of contention (of which, far too much anon), one of the three short prose pieces that Behn published during the second half of 1688, which first appeared as individual works and then later the same year were bundled together and re-released under the title, Three Histories.

The Fair Jilt, it turns out, is a peculiar thing indeed; as close as anything I’ve yet seen to the “amatory fiction” that Behn tends to be accused of writing by people who like to downplay her accomplishments, yet constantly taking the kind of odd turns that Oroonoko might now lead us to expect from her.

However, what is occupying me at the moment is the fact that, without attracting anything like the attention that Oroonoko has over the years, The Fair Jilt too passes itself off as a true history that took place under the eyes of the teller of the tale—this time, when she was in Antwerp, spying for the Stuarts. Given that the proofs of the time in Antwerp were and are much stronger than those for the time in Surinam, it seems odd that this further example of “a true history” should have passed almost without comment, particularly when we consider the centuries of hysteria over Oroonoko.

Perhaps it is the fact that Behn confines her assertions of truth-telling to her short story’s dedication, while her narrative proper in in the third person, which is responsible for this lack of reaction from the critics:

Nor can this little history lay a better claim to that honour than those that have not pretended to it; which has but this merit to recommend it, that it is truth: truth, which you so much admire. But ’tis a truth that entertains you with so many accidents diverting and moving that they will need both a patron and an asserter in this incredulous world. For however it may be imagined that poetry (my talent) has so greatly the ascendant over me, that all I write must pass for fiction, I now desire to have it understood that this is reality, and matter of fact, and acted in this our later age, and that, in the person of Tarquin, I bring a prince to kiss your hands who owned himself, and was received, as the last of the race of the Roman kings, whom I have often seen, and you have heard of, and whose story is so well known to yourself, and many hundreds more, part of which I had from the mouth of this unhappy great man, and was an eye-witness to the rest…

(That’s quite a run-on sentence!)

To my mind, there are two significant aspects to Behn’s claim for her story’s truth. The first is that this “prince”, this “unhappy great man”, was eventually exposed as an imposter, which by 1688 Behn must have known full well. The other is her mock-tragic head-shaking over the incredulity of the public and the fact that she is so well known for her poetry, even when she tells the truth it “pass[es] for fiction”. That last remark suggests to me that contemporary readers were not in least fooled by the protestations and assertions in which Behn’s prose was frequently framed, but rather knew very well that what they were reading was just a story.

Apparently in the 17th century, people were much smarter than they were in the 20th.