Friday 29 June 2012

Richard Lander

I’m ending this month how it began, with a Dick from a young adult book. Richard Lander is featured in books one and two of Ann Rinaldi’s Quilt Trilogy, a work of historical fiction set in Salem, Massachusetts in the late 1780s and early 1800s. Rinaldi’s work is certainly a step above the Angel by my Side stuff that I mentioned earlier. Rinaldi’s work is well-researched, and her books are a couple hundred pages each. When I was in middle school, I loved her stuff.

A quick note: The Quilt Trilogy is not about quilting, but what one particular quilt represents. Three sisters, who are about to physically separate, partition a quilt. Each sister is supposed to add pieces of fabric from people she trusts (as trust is something sorely lacking in their family). As the sisters separate and age, the quilt serves as a marker of identity for their descendants and as tangible evidence of the different paths their lives took.

Richard Lander is the love interest of Hannah Chelmsford, the protagonist of book one (and the eldest sister of the three quilters). Richard is a few years Hannah’s senior, and he’s about to embark on his first voyage as captain of his own ship. People in town think he’s going to become a slave trader and continually denounce him; Richard refuses to stoop to their level and refrains from comment. In the end, he brings back a shipment of pepper and is well on his way to becoming rich and successful.

Overall, Richard is a stand-up guy who shows Hannah what real love is. Although Hannah comes from a rich family, her father is, for lack of a better term, a major asshole. Her home is filled with suspicion, recriminations, disappointment, and highly-conditional love. Everyone is continually on tip-toes around Hannah’s father because he is a mean, controlling person (for instance, Hannah was once engaged to a man named Louis, but her father prevented her from marrying him because he couldn’t stand the thought of his eldest daughter – who ran his household because her mother was long deceased – leaving). Even though Hannah occasionally insults Richard and, at one point, thinks he might be a slave-trader, he never stops loving her. After Richard helps Hannah through a couple of major family crises, Hannah realizes how much Richard loves her and is finally able to admit to herself that she loves – and trusts - him (it’s worth noting that Richard is much poorer than Hannah, so he can’t marry her until he’s had some shipping success). The two ultimately become engaged, but are still unmarried when the book ends because Richard wanted/needed to return overseas and make more money.

Book Two in The Quilt Trilogy picks up many years later, when Richard and Hannah are in their late thirties/ early forties and still unmarried. Why they never tied the knot is not completely explained, but the two do get married at the end of the book. Richard is actually in a British prison for most of the book (it’s War of 1812 time), but when he returns he is his wise, caring self. He guides Hannah’s niece, encouraging her to “do the right thing,” even though it might jeopardize her standing with her douche-y grandfather (the problem relates to a new relative and the quilt, but I won’t give the rest away). He is not, however, pushy about it, but expresses his faith in the girl, thereby giving her the confidence to take the moral high road. Basically, he’s extremely kind and understanding – and awesome!

Sadly, Richard doesn’t appear in book three because he (and almost all of the characters from book one) are dead by that point. Consequently, I like that book the least and see no reason to discuss it here.

So check these books out! The reviews on Amazon are mixed, but Richard Lander is sheer awesome.

A Stitch in Time – the best one; best on character development
Broken Days – very good, but more plot driven
The Blue Door – much less awesome than the previous two

Tuesday 26 June 2012

Richard Shelton

Richard “Dick” Shelton is the hero of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Black Arrow. The book was published in 1888 and is an adventure-romance – a fun novel, more along the lines of a Treasure Island than a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Anyway, I love this book – I have a hard copy and a copy on my Kindle.

I first remember hearing about this book on Wishbone. It was a later season of the show, when Joe and company were in high school rather than middle school. As soon as I found out the main character was a Richard, I had to read it. If you want a visual representation of the book, I recommend you hunt down the Wishbone episode because the 1948 movie version of the book is terrible. I can’t even begin to describe all its flaws.

But back to the book. Richard Shelton is seventeen and an orphan who has been living with his guardian Sir Daniel Brackley since his father’s death when he was an infant. As was so often the case with medieval wardship, Sir Daniel did not exactly take Richard in out of the kindness of his heart, but in order to turn a profit. Medieval guardians managed their wards’ estates (Richard’s father was a knight, so he had some land) and usually made some extra cash by selling off their marriage rights. This is not to say that some sort of affection couldn’t develop, which it has in this book. Richard begins the book extremely devoted to Sir Daniel and Sir Daniel’s men; it is only as evidence of Sir Daniel’s treachery is brought to light that Richard wavers.

The book is set during the Wars of the Roses, so there’s a lot of fighting and flip-flopping going on. It is as Sir Daniel is preparing for battle that strange black arrows start appearing in the village, variously accusing Sir Daniel and his friends of having murdered Sir Harry Shelton, Richard’s father. Although everyone pleads innocence, the arrows keep coming and a few men hint to Richard that Sir Daniel is not all he seems. When Sir Daniel attempts to murder Richard, the boy escapes to the forest and takes up with a Robin-Hood-esque band of vengeful woodsmen known as “The Black Arrow,” whose leader is the awesomely-named Ellis Duckworth, an old friend of Richard’s father. The Fellowship of the Black Arrow informs Richard of Sir Daniel’s true nature: he is a piece of shit who murdered Richard’s father for money.

Naturally, Richard wants vengeance. But more than that, he wants to save his lady-love Joanna Sedley from the clutches of Sir Daniel. Joanna is introduced in the first section of the book when she is attempting to escape from Sir Daniel, who has kidnapped her. Disguised as a boy, she and Richard have an adventure in the woods but end up back at Sir Daniel’s manor. When Richard learns she is a girl, he decides he loves her, presumably because she is cool enough to pretend to be a boy (and she can swim, which impresses him to no end). Anyway, Joanna was unable to escape when Richard did, so he must work with the outlaws of the Black Arrow to save her and bring down Sir Daniel. As is to be expected, Richard triumphs. I won’t bore you with the details – read the book!

I will, however, note that Richard III, as Duke of Gloucester, makes an appearance in this book. There is a big battle at the end, and Richard Shelton fights under Richard of Gloucester (given the timeline of the book, this is technically impossible as the real Richard III would have been only seven or eight at the time, but whatever). Richard of Gloucester ends up knighting Shelton, who promptly marries Joanna. The two then spend their days back on Richard’s land, lying low and avoiding the conflicts of the Wars of the Roses.

And what about Sir Daniel? Well, Ellis Duckworth takes care of him with a black arrow. Richard and Sir Daniel have a confrontation, but Richard takes the high road and tells Sir D to piss off but lets him live. Ellis, who was creeping in the background, isn’t having that, so he shoots Sir Daniel. Ellis then lays down his bow and proclaims that the black arrow shall fly no more because “the fellowship is broken.” I always think that quote would work well in The Lord of the Rings!

So yeah, read The Black Arrow. You actually get two Dicks (Shelton and R3) for the price of one! Holy Robert Louis Stevenson!  

Thursday 21 June 2012

The Rules of Attraction

The Rules of Attraction by Bret Easton Ellis is a novel about over-sexed, drug-addled undergraduates at an elite liberal arts college in 1980s New Hampshire. It’s comedic in many places, but also quite sad in many others. Various people pine over others who barely realize they exist, people commit suicide, girls get pregnant and have abortions but are offered little to no support by those around them, everybody drinks (and does drugs) way too much, and girls get date raped. Whew. I swear, though, there are funny parts!

I’m actually just going to talk about a small portion of the book – obviously, the part that involves a Dick. One of the main characters, Paul Denton, is summoned to Boston to visit his mother, who flew in from Chicago with her friend Mrs. Jared. Mrs. Jared’s son, Richard (a student at Sarah Lawrence and Paul’s friend since childhood), also comes to Boston.

It is soon revealed that, although Richard and Paul were pretty close in high school, they are mostly friends with benefits. As he waits for Richard to arrive, Paul remembers that he has had sex with Richard before. Later, Richard arrives epically drunk and disheveled, but Paul still notes that he is pretty hot.

During the short visit, Richard proves to be both a major jerk and somewhat cute. He’s exceptionally crass at the dinner table, telling a horribly racist joke and continually molesting Paul’s penis with his foot (would that be a foot job?). Richard then leaves the table, goes to a movie, and returns to the room he and Paul are sharing several hours later.

Back in the room, Richard is less tedious. Maybe the movie sobered him up a tad. Anyway, he’s kind of cute then, reminiscing with Paul and flirting with him. Then the two have sex. Paul leaves early the next morning, although that’s mainly because he’s irritated at his mother and wants to get back to his untrustworthy pseudo-significant other on campus.

Two other things are worth mentioning. One, Paul shows signs throughout the book of being an unreliable narrator, so it’s entirely possible that much of what we, as readers, know about Richard isn’t true. However, it’s likely true, as there is some other evidence to back up Paul’s claims.

Two: a couple of times, Richard insists that he wants to be called “Dick.” This leads me to an exciting new corollary to my (just now dubbed but already proven largely false) Van-Wilder-Theorem-on-Fictional-Dicks: if you want to show in a blatant way that your male character is largely a sex object, name him Dick/Richard.

*My Van-Wilder Theorem was introduced here. In brief, I speculate that authors name certain male antagonists Dick in order to immediately convey to the audience that these characters are, in fact, dicks. So far, this holds true for Van Wilder and Crocodile Dundee.

And as a bonus, a fun quote from Paul (who wants to have sex with a guy he doesn’t know is gay or straight):

“I wondered suddenly if he was Catholic. My spirits rose: Catholic boys will usually do anything.”

Insert your own tasteless joke!

Tuesday 19 June 2012

A Man and Some Women

Although the above is not a George Bernard Shaw play (it’s by Githa Sowerby), my mom recently saw it performed at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada. She has obligingly given me a full report, but this is second-hand Dick for me (I suppose making it third-hand Dick for you all).

Anyway the man from A Man and Some Women is named Richard Shannon, which is why he gets a spot on this illustrious blog. The play was originally written in 1913 and first produced in Manchester, UK in October 1914. Unfortunately, World War I had already broken out, limiting the play’s run. It fell into obscurity and was not produced again until 1996. This is a shame because it’s a fascinating look at how gender constraints on women oppress, define, and limit both men and women.

The play begins with Richard supporting his wife Hilda and his two unmarried sisters, Rose and Elizabeth. Unbeknownst to the sisters, their recently-deceased mother mismanaged the family’s money, essentially leaving them without an inheritance. Richard thus has to support all three of these women on his salary. It’s because Richard has so many dependents that he gave up his job as a scientist (which he loved) and become a businessman. This leaves Richard overworked and unfulfilled, while his women keep house (aka “do nothing”).

A former professor of Richard’s gets in contact with him, offering him a scientific job in Brazil. Richard longs to take the job, but he feels he cannot because he would not make enough money to adequately support his women. But after his sister Rose precipitates a family crisis, Richard decides the jig is up. He tells his women that he has been supporting them on his relatively meager salary, and that he simply cannot do it anymore. They need to get jobs.

Richard even breaks it off with his wife, whom he accuses of only wanting him for his money (and thereby being little different from a mistress who uses a man and then ditches him when the money runs out – an experience Richard had in his youth). Richard gives Hilda some money and they separate. Richard attempts to start a relationship with Jessica, his educated, self-reliant cousin whom he loves (and who loves him in return), but Jessica says she does not want to leech off him the way the other three women have. In the end, Richard goes to Brazil for a year to participate in the scientific expedition; once he returns, who knows what the future will hold?

According to my mom and her theatre-going companions, sister Rose is a major bitch. She is incredibly self-centered and self-righteous, which is a dangerous combination when one is essentially a parasite on society. Wife Hilda is little better, constantly resenting Richard’s sisters for taking money she believes to be hers. Sister Elizabeth is pretty cool and laments her lack of useful skills. Cousin Jessica represents a turn-of-the-century “New Woman,” an educated and self-supporting woman. Together, these women represent the old Victorian order and the new way.

Seems like I’m going to have to read this one!

Tuesday 12 June 2012

Richard Dudgeon

Richard Dudgeon is the protagonist of The Devil’s Disciple by George Bernard Shaw. It was apparently Shaw’s eighth play, but his first commercial success (the original production starred Richard Mansfield, who was briefly suspected to have been Jack the Ripper. See his blog post here.).

The play takes place in a small New Hampshire town during the American Revolution. The people in the town are Puritans (or Congregationalists or whatever they were calling themselves then), and Richard rejects their conservative, judgmental religion, which leads to him branding himself “The Devils’ Disciple.” [I am not exactly sure if Richard technically worships the devil or if he just claims allegiance to him because he rejects the hypocrisy of organized religion. I am leaning towards the latter].

Anyway, the play begins with the reading of Mr. Dudgeon’s will (he has died off-screen, if you will). Richard shows up to hear the will read, much to the chagrin of his extremely shrill, terrible, judgmental mother (okay, she’s a bitch). As the lawyer reads, it is revealed that Mr. Dudgeon revised his will to ensure that Richard, rather than his wife, inherited. [This was in line with old-time inheritance practices. In medieval England, widows only received one-third of the estate, while heirs received two-thirds]. Mrs. Dudgeon flies into a rage and vows never to live in the house with her good-for-nothing son; Richard promptly concurs and tells her she isn’t welcome. Richard, however, does invite his cousin Essie to stay with him. Essie is the young illegitimate daughter of his deceased uncle, who Mrs. Dudgeon never liked, courtesy of her having been conceived in sin. This is the first sign that Richard is a good person.

In the second act, Richard goes into town to visit the pastor and his wife, Judith. The pastor is away at Mrs. Dudgeon’s deathbed (her ire at her husband rapidly did her in), so Richard waits at Judith’s insistence. When the pastor is delayed, the two sit down to tea. Shortly thereafter, British troops burst into the house and proceed to arrest Richard, thinking he is the pastor. They intend to hang him the next day as a traitor to the crown. Richard orders Judith not to tell her husband and is led away, intending to die in the pastor’s place the next day. Of course, when Pastor Anthony returns home, Judith breaks down and tells him the whole story. The pastor immediately takes off, and Judith is left thinking he is a consummate coward.

In act three, Judith visits Richard, both out of gratitude and to ask if he offered himself because he loved her. Richard disabuses her of that notion, asserting that he did so simply because he felt it would be wrong to save his own skin by sentencing another to death [I think it is also implied that Richard feels Pastor Anthony is more worthy of life than him, al lá Sydney in A Tale of Two Cities]. Although Richard’s true identity is revealed at his trial, he is sentenced to die anyway because someone needs to be hanged as an example. As Richard is about to be hanged, General Burgoyne orders a pause so that he can meet with an American officer, flush from a recent victory. The officer turns out to be Pastor Anthony, who bargains for Richard’s release. Afterwards, the pastor reveals that he is better suited to be a soldier, while Richard seems better suited to be a minister. He suggests Richard replace him, although the play ends before we know for sure if Richard is going to become the town preacher.

Richard is thus a Christ-like figure, although he manages to escape with his life, unlike Jesus and Richard’s literary buddy, Sydney from A Tale of Two Cities. Although Richard is initially shown to be an outcast, mostly because his mother hates him, he is on top of the world at the end of the play. With his mother dead, everyone is free to judge him on his own merits – and people like him.

I heartily recommend that everyone read this play – it’s really fun. Plus, it has a great liberal message. You do not have to be a “Christian” to be a good person. Personally, that’s a message that we all need to hear.