The Charioteer: Review (Post to maryrenaultfics by Faithfulreader)

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Event
Event: "The Charioteer: Review"
Participants: faithfulreader
Date(s): 12 May 2007
Type: trolling
Fandom: Mary Renault
URL: post to maryrenaultfics (deleted)
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On 12 May 2007, faithfulreader, who had just joined the maryrenaultfics LiveJournal community, made his first (and only) post, "The Charioteer: Review".[1] The actual review was stridently negative; and faithfulreader's responses to comments were eventually gauged to be rude enough to qualify as trolling.

Faithfulreader's Review

The following is excerpted from the review posted by faithfulreader:[2]

I wasn’t very much impressed by The Charioteer, yet I am glad I’ve read it. I wasn’t impressed most probably because aside from Aesopian language, no literary instruments were used; much to my disappointment I haven’t found any metaphors or subtexts. There were a few attempts at grotesque but I am not sure they were successful. The language was quite perfect, though; I especially liked long sentences with tricky punctuation. I learned something, which is always good. But, on the other hand, the beauty of the language made the novel somewhat worse… I think it’s a psychological thing that you want a beautiful thing on the outside to be as beautiful inside.

Now, let’s get more specific. Firstly, I didn’t like the WWII settings because I didn’t really feel that there was a war going on. There was no sense of loss, no sense of tragedy. I think if a writer chooses to set a story in WWII, they should try to portray at least some of its horrors. Surely, it wasn’t meant as one of those many Russian books about WWII, which are the recollections of the people who took an active part in it and which aren’t really meant for people with fragile psyche, yet in my opinion, a reader should realise that the war is a very, very serious business. Even in Harry Potter – a book meant for children, no less – the sense that there’s a war going on seems to be more acute.

Secondly, the gay stuff is dramatically out of date. Do you know what is the difference between Great Literature and other works of fiction? Great Literature doesn’t have an expiry date; even after hundreds of years it can explain people and society much better than contemporary writings.

And thirdly, the only strong feeling I got from reading The Charioteer is the desire to strangle the main character. In my opinion, people like him are a menace to themselves and to the people around them. They should be put down to save the world a lot of misery.

In other words, I started reading The Charioteer with hope that it’ll turn out to be the second Brideshead Revisited. Unfortunately, it did not.

It should perhaps be added that one of the members of MRF, duskpeterson, wrote later in the discussion that it had been from her that faithfulreader had heard of the community:

Just in case anyone wonders, I was the one who mentioned this comm to faithfulreader, because he'd never read Mary Renault before, and I'd recced her to him a while back.

We, um, don't agree on the best way in which to express opinions. But he's actually gentled his posting style since the last time I saw him.

— excerpted from comment by duskpeterson, posted 12 May 2007 08:53 pm

Moderator's Comment

The first comment to the post was made by one of the moderators of the community:

it seems the TC cbc has attracted another new member... an interesting first post to our comm, particularly given the timing[3]

just one admin note here - considered, thoughtful opinions are always welcome, as is the polite, respectful discussion of opposing opinions...deliberate flaming, though, will get you banned in a New York minute

I'm guessing there are a few members out there who might have a comment or two in response - have fun, and enjoy the discussions

— comment by my_cnnr, "modly stuff" posted 12 May 2007 11:34 am

Although the members of the community took the admonition to be aimed at them, faithfulreader assumed that he was the target, and immediately responded, "I'm familiar with the rules, thank you".[4]

Member Response

As the following excerpts indicate, the initial response from members was courteous, picking up specific points from faithfulreader's review for discussion. His reaction, however, was brusque dismissal.

Hi & welcome (although I'm not precisely the most active of community members, despite my username). I think we can agree to disagree on our opinions of this novel but one thing really jumped out at me:

I think if a writer chooses to set a story in WWII, they should try to portray at least some of its horrors.

Given that the author was, herself, a nurse during WWII, I'd have thought that this is one of the more realistic portrayals of the British domestic war experience.

— comment by lanyon, posted 2007-05-12 01:09 pm (local)

Perhaps. I do not know how it was in Britain. And perhaps not much happened to Laurie in France. It’s just the first book about a war I’ve read that looked so peaceful. Maybe it’s a good thing?

— reply by faithfulreader, posted 2007-05-12 02:45 pm (local)

It can be a disturbing thing too, the idea that war, despite being so terrible to so many, can also have no effect on people. It really shatters the idea that humanity is connected. At least for me.

— comment by hulamoth, posted 2007-05-12 04:49 pm (local)

That’s an interesting and literary idea but I am afraid it cannot be applied to the novel.

— reply by faithfulreader, posted 2007-05-13 02:05 am (local)

First of all, it's so nice to have a contrary view for once! I can't talk too much about The Charioteer with you because I couldn't get through it. I'm really a bigger fan of Mary's Greek novels.

I think if a writer chooses to set a story in WWII, they should try to portray at least some of its horrors.

Well, if one is going to portray the horrors, that's a good complex effort in itself. The whole book might have been about the horrors of war; so I think she might have chosen to avoid it because it wasn't what she was really interested in, or perhaps she felt like she couldn't do it justice. Also recall that she was a nurse, not a soldier, so what she was exposed to was different. [...]

— excerpt from a comment by hulamoth, posted 2007-05-12 01:31 pm (local)

I do understand that it wasn’t meant as a book about war, yet a reader, in my opinion, should get a feeling that there’s a war and that the characters may die any moment and that all the world may crumble. It shouldn’t have been so peaceful.

—excerpt from the reply by faithfulreader, posted 2007-05-12 02:46 pm (local)

The setting didn't seem all that peaceful to me. There were several mentions of raids and bombs dropping. In one instance, Laurie is afraid to leave a sleeping Ralph alone in Bunny's flat, fearing an incendiary will fall on the house and Ralph won't get out in time. A few paragraphs later, Bunny and Laurie drive past a house fallen across the road and see rescue crews at work. The little boy Mervyn, tells Laurie how his Aunt and family (including the baby and a dog)are killed in during a raid.

— response by pinkdollhouse, posted 2007-05-12 03:35 pm (local)

Well, consciously I understood that there was a war on. As I said I didn’t *feel* it.

— reply by faithfulreader, posted 2007-05-13 02:06 am (local)

It did not take long for members, especially those coming in late (and hence reading a sequence of replies), to begin to respond with less patience:

Doesn't this analysis simply boil down to...I expected this book to be a different kind of book--the kind of book I LIKE?

As for not catching the metaphor or subtext or literary instruments... It's difficult to see with one's eyes closed.

— comment by jgraeme2007, posted 2007-05-12 02:00 pm (local)

And why would my eyes be closed? People usually need a motivation. Why should I have been motivated to misjudge Mary Renault’s writing?

— response by faithfulreader, posted 2007-05-12 02:47 pm (local)

Well, you do seem to have a very particular concept of what constitutes "great" writing. There's no template. If there were, all writers would simply stick by the rules in order to get the label—and that is surely the very antithesis of genius.
          This, of course, in no way requires anyone to like a particular book. Critical evaluation and personal taste may accord; but they need not. If, in reading a book set during wartime, you want the author to depict horror, then that is your personal taste. The Charioteer was not, however, written to be a "war novel" per se. It is a novel that is set during a war, not a novel about war.
          "As for not catching the metaphor or subtext or literary instruments... " Laying it all out for you is not the author's job; and I agree that Renault is not an easy author to read. Her writing is not transparent; and her techniques are not laid bare.

— response by greerwatson, posted 2007-05-12 05:08 pm (local)

Please, don’t insult me. Have it ever crossed your mind that *you* could be wrong?

— reply by faithfulreader, posted 2007-05-13 02:08 am (local)

I take into account the fact that English is not your native language. For this reason, I feel I should point out to you that your phraseology here could be construed as discourtesy.

— response by greerwatson, posted 2007-05-13 06:07 am (local)

Eventually, at least one thread emerged that was—in its own way—perversely rude:

"Do you know what is the difference between Great Literature and other works of fiction?"

This is a very interesting question. Is there a semantic difference associated with the employment of capital letters? Is there, in other words, a difference between "great literature" and "Great Literature"? The former is a parseable phrase: it has a head and a modifier; and, as such, it may be paraphrased as "literature that is great". When one capitalizes it, however, one metamorphoses the phrase into a proper noun phrase, i.e. a name.
          A discussion of literature that is great requires the definition of greatness, at least in the literary context. By what criteria should a work be judged? Your initial comments suggest that the principal criterion is formal: the obvious use of literary instruments and "long sentences with tricky punctuation". Later, though, you discuss content: specifically the use of setting, its interaction with theme, and the need for characters' motivations and actions to transcend their historical period.
          This is not, however, your question. You did not ask whether we knew the criteria by which to judge whether a particular work of literature might or might not be considered to be "great". Rather, you asked whether we knew "the difference between Great Literature and other works of fiction". As a proper noun, the term "Great Literature" refers to a canon—that is, to an generally (or at least critically) accepted body of literature which every educated person should know.

The question of canon is philosophical.
          Should there even be a canon? This is, in fact, a matter of discussion in contemporary academe. Some hold that the concept of canon has actually proven detrimental to literary study, since it requires exclusion—and that requires definition of the conditions of exclusion. Since the canon is determined by the consensus of the academic establishment, who have been largely drawn from the elite, there has been a marked tendency to exclude works written by authors not deemed to be representative of the elite.
          The canon is, moreover, far from immutable. The list of works deemed Great Literature changes with society, as the academic establishment shifts its criteria for in/exclusion. In the eighteenth and early nineteenth century, for example, novels were (as the name suggests) a new form of literature. They were seen as appealing to popular taste, especially women's taste, and hence as Trivialliteratur unfit for serious study. Novels were not, at that time, included in the canon. Yet today, books such as Pride and Prejudice and Tom Jones are certainly considered essential reading for anyone desirous of being considered educated in literature.

Do we, then indeed, know the difference between Great Literature and other works of fiction? Can we, when fiction itself has, in the past, not been considered Great? In the ever-changing Greatness of the canon, how can anyone be certain of the current criteria for canonicity?
          You do pose an intriguing question.

— response by greerwatson, posted 2007-05-12 06:01 pm (local)

By what criteria should a work be judged?

I ask the question, ‘Do you know what is the difference between Great Literature and other works of fiction?’ and I answer it in the next sentence: ‘Great Literature doesn’t have an expiry date; even after hundreds of years it can explain people and society much better than contemporary writings.’

It was a rhetorical question, i.e. a question that doesn’t require an answer.

— reply by faithfulreader, posted 2007-05-13 02:09 am (local)

How many hundreds of years?
          At least two, presumably, since you use the plural. That would take us back to 1807. In that case, no novel written since then can qualify as Great Literature, since its Greatness will not have had sufficient time to be tested adequately.
          That being the case, any discussion of The Charioteer as Great Literature or not would seem to be moot. Why raise an irrelevant issue, rhetorically or not? Straw men invite flames, which are not permitted in this LJ.

—reply by greerwatson, posted 2007-05-13 08:51 am (local)

All in all, it was not the most edifying discussion in the history of fan criticism. Nevertheless, along the way, a number of faithfulreader's points were critiqued, with certain particular foci of discussion:

  • As the examples above indicate, other members felt that The Charioteer did portray World War 2, albeit on the home front rather than the battlefield.
  • There was discussion of the contention that the "gay stuff" was out of date, and what that phrase might mean in the context of a book written in 1953 about 1940.
  • There were objections to the assertion that the book lacked metaphor.[5]
  • There were queries about faithfulreader's language preferences when reading, given that English was not his native language.
  • There was some debate over the concept of "Great Literature".

Although much of the discussion lay between faithfulreader and sundry members of the maryrenaultfics community, after a while two other—and quite distinct—threads emerged. Though neither is directly related to the more contentious portions of the post, they are not without interest, since they shed some light on the dissonance between faithfulreader's tone in discussion and that expected by other members. Both discussions stem from duskpeterson's first comment to the post, which is therefore reproduced here in full:

Just in case anyone wonders, I was the one who mentioned this comm to faithfulreader, because he'd never read Mary Renault before, and I'd recced her to him a while back.

We, um, don't agree on the best way in which to express opinions. But he's actually gentled his posting style since the last time I saw him.

"Secondly, the gay stuff is dramatically out of date."

Well, heavens, so is Brideshead Revisited. That whole "gay love as romantic friendship" thing is so very not trendy these days. Not to mention the theme: "You'll grow into heterosexual love eventually - or if not, your growth will be stunted and you'll end up drunk and impoverished. Oh, and if you commit adultery with a woman who's miserable in her marriage? You're crucifying Jesus, and your only hope is to turn to celibacy and the Church."

I love Brideshead Revisited to death, but it has a very period feel to it. It simply couldn't be written today. Even someone who believed in the above themes would feel the need to justify them to a much greater degree than Waugh did, because those themes wouldn't be so self-apparently true. (Which is a shame, really. I miss a world where romantic friendship is a major force.)

As for the wartime activity, I know what you mean - the war does feel very far away. But as others here have said, I don't think Renault was trying to write about the war overseas; I think she was trying to write about war at the homefront, which is quite a different subject. I think she does a good job of capturing the way in which the war is, in certain ways, so distant that people at the homefront (especially those out in the country) don't have a good sense of what it's like at its very worst. That probably adds to the tension between Laurie and Andrew - the fact that Andrew has never served overseas.

— comment by duskpeterson, posted 2007-05-12 08:53 pm (local)

Conversation between Faithfulreader and Duskpeterson

One of the threads that stemmed from duskpeterson's post is a conversation between her and faithfulreader, mostly about Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited and m/m romantic friendship. Only a portion is excerpted:

Hello, dearest! I thought you wouldn’t reply but I guess your sense of responsibility took over. :)

[...]

Well, heavens, so is Brideshead Revisited. That whole "gay love as romantic friendship" thing is so very not trendy these days

I disagree. Gay love as romantic friendship will never be out of date, because it’s perfect.

[...]

It simply couldn't be written today

That’s not true. Charles was straight and straight men are prone to romantic friendships.

Which is a shame, really. I miss a world where romantic friendship is a major force

It’s not a major force but then literature isn’t necessarily about major forces.

I still wait for your letters. Every day. *cries*

— reply by faithfulreader, posted 2007-05-13 02:09 am

"Gay love as romantic friendship will never be out of date, because it's perfect."

Are we talking ideally, or in practice? In practice, I can assure you, very few American gay men regard their love in terms of romantic friendship. I'll let somebody who's British speak about the situation over there.

[...]

"straight men are prone to romantic friendships."

Perhaps they are where you live. :) I was at a swing party at my alma mater this evening, and I was struck by how, amidst all the new things that hadn't been there when I was in college (MP3s, cell phones, and, god help us, 1970s clothing), one thing hadn't changed at all: male friends still don't dance with male friends. By contrast, a goodly proportion of females were dancing with each other.

"I still wait for your letters. Every day. *cries*"

I'll send one soon. :)

— reply by duskpeterson, posted 2007-05-13 03:13 am (local)

Are we talking ideally, or in practice? In practice, I can assure you, very few American gay men regard their love in terms of romantic friendship. I'll let somebody who's British speak about the situation over there.

I’m not talking about the love between gay men. It should practical, i.e. physical. I’m talking about love between either two straight men or a straight man and a gay man. The dynamics would be different, of course, but it’d still have elements of romantic friendship.

[...]

"Charles was straight"
You think so?

Yes, yes, I do. Charles was a straight man who fell in love with a guy. Nothing can be more beautiful, right? :)

[...]

Perhaps they are where you live. […] one thing hadn't changed at all: male friends still don't dance with male friends. By contrast, a goodly proportion of females were dancing with each other.

Don’t see any difference: people are the same everywhere. You don’t think that anyone can experience the perfection of romantic friendship, right?

I'll send one soon. :)

*doesn’t believe his luck*

— reply by faithfulreader, posted 2007-05-13 03:44 am (local)

What is noteworthy about this exchange (apart from the opinions themselves) is the distinctly less contentious tone of faithfulreader's response to duskpeterson, whom he considered a friend. Similar chat between other members of maryrenaultfics is infrequent in this particular post; but it is common elsewhere, particularly in discussions of the romantic aspects of Renault's novels.

That faithfulreader is evidently capable of friendly repartee immediately throws doubt on his motivation in making his initial post: it suggests that he was not merely writing a negative review of The Charioteer, couched somewhat brusquely because of inadequacies in his English. Rather, it suggests that he wrote as he did out of a wish to arouse controversy. That would certainly explain why, even though the first members to reply did so with courtesy, faithfulreader did not respond in kind but continued in a provocative tone.

Other Members' Discussion of The Charioteer

The other thread that developed from duskpeterson's comment involved various members of the community who began to analyse The Charioteer as a novel of the war on the home front, before shifting to a discussion of the anachronistic importation of 'modern' sensibilities into historical novels. The following are the first few comments in the thread:[6]

" I don't think Renault was trying to write about the war overseas; I think she was trying to write about war at the homefront, which is quite a different subject."

In a novel set in wartime Britain it is impossible to escape some of the consequences of the war: there are many references in The Charioteer to air raids and the black-out; and virtually all young people are either in uniform or conspicuously not, as with Andrew. By contrast, I have read fiction set in wartime America where the author wrote from the perspective of a protagonist who is not personally involved; and it is generally made obvious that, over the other side of the Atlantic, life went on much as usual for most people most of the time, right down to familiar peacetime leisure activities—with the obvious proviso that this would change abruptly if word came of the death of a close relative at the front.
          The English countryside is so important to The Charioteer; and it remained beautiful and untainted by war, throughout the book and in real life. In trench warfare, this would be emphatically altered; but Britain was not invaded in either World War.
          Laurie saw active service: Renault is in no way trying to minimize that role for a young man of his generation. But it is a past part of life for him. He is not even in the position of a soldier who will recover and return to his unit. As a cripple, his war will now be on the homefront.
          That is also an experience of war. A real one for a lot of people. Furthermore, it is one that will not end with the war, but go on affecting Laurie for the rest of his life.
          If you leave out the romantic plot, there is another story to The Charioteer, that of the soldier who is crippled in battle near the start of a war, who has a long and painful recovery, and has to learn to come to terms with both his lingering disability and the fact that the responsibility for fighting will now belong to his peers, and not to him. That is a war story, if there ever was.

— reply by greerwatson, posted 2007-05-12 09:19 pm (local)

[repetition of final paragraph omitted]

Nicely said.

And, frankly, this would be the more difficult story to write. Drama and action carry their own energy and momentum. The quiet, bittersweet undertone of TC requires a deft and subtle hand.

And will not be to the taste of all readers. But then no book is.

— response by jgraeme2007, posted 2007-05-13 12:25 am (local)

There are so many ways the war - the situation in England after Dunkirk - affects the book. The dream Laurie has when he and Ralph are standing alone against the enemy, as the Spartans in Thermopylae, is not just a boy's heroic dream: it reflects a very real fear at that time that Britain might indeed need to die to the last man to defend herself against a Nazi invasion. The scene where he and Ralph draw closer together, defending their small island of decency, could even be seen as a metaphor for the threat of invasion. Bim's death, Sandy with the shovel, and the Boy Melvin all make the war as experience on the home front quite real. The injuries suffered by so many of the characters also bring home the tragedy. You could have your exciting, horror-filled WW2 book - but it would not be the Charioteer, and I'm not sure why you would want it to be. There are so many, but most stop when the shooting stops, and never pay attention to the wounded and their physical and mental scars. The Charioteer does - does that make it a worse book than Das Boot or Goshawk Squadron? Why does it have to be 'a second Brideshead Revisited? Wasn't one enough?

And Secondly, the gay stuff is dramatically out of date. I can assure that that when I read it in the early 1960s it was not at all out of date - it was still possible to be sent to prison for homosexual activity. I miss the point of this comment, unless the writer is so much a child of the computer that he expects all incidents and opinions to be updated regularly. Books don't do that! It records how things were at that time - they have since changed. They may change back. They may change so swiftly and harshly that even books like The Charioteer are banned. Some things, as you say elsewhere, are never out of date.

— response by rosinarowantree, posted 2007-05-12 09:54 pm (local)

[repetition of final paragraph omitted]

That's beautifully said.

I've heard the complaint that the "gay stuff" in TC is out of date before. It seems such an odd thing: to expect another era's contemporary novels to reflect current attitudes and mores. One might as well bitch that HUCK FINN doesn't reflect current race relations. And, in fact, I believe some folks do make this very objection.

Perhaps this is why so many contemporary "historical" novels suffer from painfully anachronistic elements.

— response by jgraeme2007, posted 2007-05-13 12:40 am (local)

(Two further responses to rosinarowantree, by jgraeme2007 and greerwatson, have been omitted.)

What is most noticeable about this thread is the relative length of some of the comments that are made—commensurate, it should be noted, with those from the second chapter-by-chapter (CBC) discussion of The Charioteer that had been completed only a week earlier. In the context of faithfulreader's review, however, it is the tone of the comments that is significant: in this thread, one encounters brief, friendly chat similar to the exchange between duskpeterson and faithfulreader. Furthermore, during the CBC, even when people had disagreed in their interpretation, the arguments had always remained civil.

Since the inception of the maryrenaultfics community, its membership had generally subscribed to a culture of courtesy, at least with respect to their interactions on the community itself. The reaction of those who participated in the discussion on this post was coloured, therefore, by their prior expectations. It is impossible to say whether faithfulreader (who had not taken active part before posting his review) had lurked on the community for any significant time prior to joining. However, duskpeterson's apology suggests that he may well have only heard of maryrenaultfics a relatively short time beforehand and would hence have been unfamiliar with community expectations.

Faithfulreader's Command of English

Given that faithfulreader's mother tongue is apparently Russian, one obvious point that needs to be discussed is the effect his ability in the English language might have had on both community members and faithfulreader himself.

Let us first consider faithfulreader's command of English.

In his review, he had said "[...] I started reading The Charioteer with hope that it’ll turn out to be the second Brideshead Revisited," to which rosinarowantree responded, "Why does [The Charioteer] have to be 'a second Brideshead Revisited? Wasn't one enough?" As well, faithfulreader said in his review, "the gay stuff is dramatically out of date," to which she responded in the same comment, "I can assure that that [sic] when I read it in the early 1960s it was not at all out of date - it was still possible to be sent to prison for homosexual activity."

The reply to this was:

Why does it have to be 'a second Brideshead Revisited? Wasn't one enough?

*laughs* That was a metaphor. :)

I can assure that that when I read it in the early 1960s it was not at all out of date

Really? If it were out of date ten years after it’s [sic] publication…. *clears his throat* I don’t know….

— reply by faithfulreader, posted 2007-05-13 02:10 am (local)

Now, faithfulreader clearly has a good comprehension of English and writes with a fair competence. Nevertheless, in his response to each point, he betrays the limitations of his fluency.

First, to a native speaker, it is clear, not only that rosinarowantree recognizes that his reference to Brideshead Revisited was metaphoric, but that her question, "Wasn't one enough?" was both rhetorical and ironic. While faithfulreader (who had himself referred elsewhere to rhetorical questions) may have recognized that aspect of her response, her irony seems to have escaped him.

Second, his response to rosinarowantree's description of the position of homosexuals in the 1960s is worded obscurely, even obtusely. One might expect such a response as, "Well, I'd hardly expect the book to be out of date only ten years after its publication"—which may, indeed, be what he intends to say. He leaves the impression, though, that he may have interpreted the phrase "not at all out of date" to mean the exact opposite.

His difficulty in parsing complex English structures also emerges in the discussion of his reading preferences, as the following sequence of excerpts demonstrate:

First of all, it's so nice to have a contrary view for once! I can't talk too much about The Charioteer with you because I couldn't get through it. I'm really a bigger fan of Mary's Greek novels.

— excerpt from a comment by hulamoth, posted 2007-05-12 01:31 pm (local)

I’m afraid, I am a non-native speaker and it’d be just too weird for me to read about Greeks in English.

— excerpt from a comment by faithfulreader, posted 2007-05-12 02:46 pm (local)

Really? Why not?

— excerpt from a comment by hulamoth, posted 2007-05-12 04:46 pm (local)

As a child I’ve read a lot of Greek stuff in Russian and I am got used to the way names of places and people are spelled. And, I’ve read a few paragraphs of her Greek things and… the language was really, really weird and I’m not sure I would enjoy it. It’s a cultural thing, I guess.

You know, I tried to read ‘Anna Karenina’ in English and it sounded awkward to me. Tolstoy *can’t* sound awkward. :)

— excerpt from a comment by faithfulreader, posted 2007-05-13 02:07 am (local)

Now why would this be? Do you simply prefer to read historical novels in your native tongue, but are prepared to essay the difficulty of reading modern novels in the language of the author, since that represents the culture of the characters? Is it a question of authenticity?

— excerpt from a comment by greerwatson, posted 2007-05-12 07:31 pm (local)

No, I prefer to read in English about English native-speakers.

— excerpt from a comment by faithfulreader, posted 2007-05-13 02:08 am (local)

Note the difference between the questions posed by hulamoth and greerwatson: "Why not?" receives a very sensible (and, it should be noted, courteous) response from faithfulreader; but the more syntactically complex query from greerwatson is simply misunderstood. Whereas he seems to feel that he is contradicting her suggestion, his response indicates that he is, in fact, agreeing with what she has said: authenticity would, indeed, seem to be the reason he prefers to read about English characters in the English language.

This was promptly picked up in the further exchange, which examined the implications:

On the whole, your English is excellent. However, it is not your native language, which is perhaps exemplified by the difficulty you have evidently had in parsing the first sentence which you quote here.
          Your response starts, "No,...." In English, this indicates that your subsequent words will be a contradiction of what I said. However, you actually partly paraphrase me—indicating agreement.
          As I say, you write English well; and you presumably read it better. I wonder, though, whether part of your difficulty with The Charioteer may not be related to this deceptively excellent command of English, which is nevertheless a foreign language to you.
          One can, if necessary, consult a dictionary for the meaning of unfamiliar words. Complex syntax must be puzzled out on one's own; and Renault's sentences can, as you mentioned in your initial post, be quite long and difficult. This is true even for native speakers.
          You are, of course, to be commended for essaying novels about English-speakers in their native tongue. So often nuances are lost in translation.

— comment by greerwatson, posted 2007-05-13 08:38 am (local)

On the whole, your English is excellent

*blushes* Oh, thank you, but it’s not really. I’ll be able to say that my English is excellent when I am able to express my thoughts no less beautifully than Oscar Wilde did.

In English, this indicates that your subsequent words will be a contradiction of what I said

Actually, it was the intention…

I wonder, though, whether part of your difficulty with The Charioteer may not be related to this deceptively excellent command of English, which is nevertheless a foreign language to you

I didn’t have any problem with understanding ‘The Charioteer’. However, I perfectly well understand what you mean and I assure you that if some non-native speaker read ‘Master and Margarita’ in the language of its original and said that they didn’t find it to be the greatest novel ever written, I guess I’d blame it on their ‘deceptively excellent command of Russian’. I was told the same thing many times and I came to conclusion that it’s usually kept as the last resort.

— excerpt from a comment by faithfulreader, 2007-05-13 12:55 pm (local)

From which exchange one may conclude that faithfulreader feels unwontedly confident in his ability to understand English.

A similar point was made more briefly by jgraeme2007:

Laying it all out for you is not the author's job; and I agree that Renault is not an easy author to read. Her writing is not transparent; and her techniques are not laid bare

Please, don’t insult me. Have it ever crossed your mind that *you* could be wrong?

— comment by faithfulreader, 2007-05-13 02:08 am (local)

Of course we could all be wrong, but I think the fact that The Charioteer continues to pop up on Best Gay Literature lists speaks for itself. The fact that it continues on in print, year after year, edition after edition, speaks for itself.

Dated or not, it continues to be an influential book. That's not opinion, it's fact. Will it still be considered a classic a hundred years from now? Language and sexual mores may be dated, but the themes are certainly not--and beautiful writing never goes out of date.

However, it is possible, given that English is FR's second language, that he simply might miss much of the nuance and subtlety of the work.

— comment by jgraeme2007, 2007-05-13 12:00 pm (local)

If nothing else, these exchanges indicate that members of the community were aware that faithfulreader was writing in a language not his own, whether or not they made sufficient allowance for the fact in their own responses.

Moderator Response (Part One)

It is important to note that, at the time this post was made, maryrenaultfics had open membership: anyone could join the community, with full posting privileges as soon as they became a member. It was therefore only after the post was up that the moderators began to look into faithfulreader's LiveJournal profile and posting history. What they found (including interests in Cassandra Claire and trolls, and a history of rude, tendentious posts in other fora) simply provided support for their next move.

Early on the morning of 13 May, they rescinded faithfulreader's membership of maryrenaultfics:

well - I think we're finished here...

there are plenty of other communities ( many of which, judging from your posting history, you've already found and trolled ) where snark is the daily fare...here we've always managed to disagree without the sarcasm

we've removed you from the membership...if you're truly interested in a civil discussion of Renault's work, you're welcome to submit comments for moderation — posted by my_cnnr, 2007-05-13 03:19 am (local)

As indicated, faithfulreader remained able to post comments; and discussion therefore continued throughout the day. However, at some point on 13 May 2007, the moderators may have frozen some or all of the existing threads, since this is referenced in faithfulreader's final post.

Final Posts

The final member comment was made by nikhos, another new member of maryrenaultfics who was also not a native English speaker.

Hii, first at all , english is not my first language but i will try to make a comment because there are some points i´m dissagree about the first comment. I just write as a fan reader of this marvelous novel.

According with the background WW2, i think the story reflect to well the decadent world in that time. Why?? don´t to describe a battles or some historical facts but, describing the experience in a hospital during the war. The third chapter is just appalling when it tell us about the ground where many injuried soldiers stand. There are a brilliant comparision between the hospital´s fornitures and the soldiers´s looking. Then, the narration is focused in the health condition of Laurie; the fact he was wounted in Dunquerque his leg condition. The atmosfere is tense sometimes with the air attack in all the book. You know the story the boy Mervyn, some chapters ahead,the Charlot´s die or when Laurie is afraid to let Ralph in his place, alone , in the middle of an air bomb attack. You feel the fragil and volatile is life, and how people just focused the present without thought about the future.

[NOTE: this paragraph is a quotation from faithfulreader's initial post.] Secondly, the gay stuff is dramatically out of date. Do you know what is the difference between Great Literature and other works of fiction? Great Literature doesn’t have an expiry date; even after hundreds of years it can explain people and society much better than contemporary writings

About the gay stuff. The novel is focused in one point : the Plato´myth : The Charioter. Renault just paint a beatiful explanation about this myth. Two horses, two souls: love and desire the eternal dilema even in a heterosexual love.

This thought is timeles in the literature and Renault give and interesting viewpoint in this way. For me, her fiction belong to the clasic novels of the times. I firmely believe that.

In his reply, faithfulreader (among other things) referred rudely to nikhos's command of English.

Oh, Merlin, they freezed the threads… What am I going to do with it? *cries*

Have it ever crossed your feeble mind that I can unfreeze them whenever I want? I’ve just deleted your reply to that person with grotesquely bad English. Really, when I meet an opponent like you are, I just want to laugh, and laugh, and laugh, because it appears that one cannot possibly imagine the kind of stupidity they are bound to deal with.

You’re the touchiest and least democratic mod I’ve ever met. Really, you could have worn a sign: ‘I’M TOO INSECURE! I CAN’T COPE WITH THINGS WHEN THEY AREN’T EXACTLY THE WAY I WANT THEM TO BE! PLEASE, DON’T DISAGREE WITH ME! I MIGHT CRY!!’

Goodbye. Hopefully, we’ll never meet again.


Yours truly,

FSR

Moderator Response (Part Two)

Shortly thereafter, the entire post was deleted by the moderators.

On 14 May, the moderators posted an apology to the community:[3]

This community has always encouraged lively and friendly discussion on its pages, as well as lots of wonderful fic and thoughtful feedback. However, we have had to close a recent post, due to a fairly clear breach of our userinfo guidelines on inappropriate posting, We would like to apologise to one of our members in particular for being insulted more than once during the discussion *hugs her closely*. We hope that you'll all continue enjoying the community and sharing in the appreciation and discussion.

my_cnnr and trueriver

Contrary Perspectives

Although the moderators certainly explicitly considered faithfulreader to be trolling the community, it is also true that maryrenaultfics was run as a markedly civil place—subscribing, one might say, to the "cult of nice". After the fact, there was some discussion, therefore, as to whether the term "troll" was actually appropriate.

The question was raised by greenlady2, who was a new member who had missed the kerfuffle. Among the responses were the following:

No, this one was a genuine troll - not the illiterate sort, which are just annoying, but what I've heard called a "concerned" troll. He's trolled over at fanficrants as well - and admitted it on his journal.

— response by athousandwinds

Nevertheless, there were those who disagreed.

I still don't see what the fuss is about.

But that's a personal bias; around the same time that maryrenaultfics was being "trolled", another community of mine was hacked, individual member journals also hacked, then stuffed with porn. Icing on the cake, at least one of the individual members was sent death threats.

So this guy in maryrenaultfics? Seemed like sugar.

I just feel like I'm kinda out of the loop on all the energy that's gone into hating this guy, because in comparison, he's not bothersome. Maybe I haven't seen everything. Not to contradict your judgement - the mods should be able to ban whomever they deem a nusiance [sic] - but I just needed to get that off my chest.

— response by cleo_eurydike (hulamoth)

In particular, duskpeterson (who had introduced faithfulreader to maryrenaultfics) disagreed with his identification as a troll.

If a "troll" is defined as someone who joins a community for the sole purpose of making trouble, then no, that wasn't the case here. I referred the poster over here because he had never read Mary Renault, he had a passion for British writers, and I thought he would enjoy the comm posts and resources. It hadn't occurred to me that he would post here himself, which was naive of me. But I don't believe that he posted the original message he did for the sake of stirring up trouble. I've seen him post essays like that at his own journal, where nobody would be disturbed. He simply likes to comment on what he thinks of writers.

How he acted later in the thread I can't comment on, because I missed the relevant portion of that thread, but I can well believe that he was less than gentlemanly, based on his behavior at the comm I originally met him at. I was not at all happy that he'd caused a disturbance at yet another comm, and I told him so.

So my apologies for the fact that I evidently brought trouble into this community.

However, I'm very disturbed to see condemnations of a person being made at a community where that person cannot post defenses.

— comment by duskpeterson

In this context, it is perhaps useful to quote faithfulreader's response to the moderators when they told him they were rescinding his membership of the community:

This is the only post I've ever intended to make, so don't worry. And, unlike some people here, I wasn't insulting anyone. It's a pity that you believe in whatever people say about me.

— reply by faithfulreader, posted 2007-05-13 03:47 am (local)

Who but a troll, after all, joins a community for the admitted purpose of making one and only one post, simply in which to slag off a book dearly beloved by so many of the other members?

Consequences

On 26 May 2007, in a further admin post ("members post")[4], the moderators announced that, for the foreseeable future, MRF would go to moderated membership:

we recently felt it necessary to change maryrenaultfics from open to moderated membership...not because we're attempting some kind of awful exclusivity...it was done in response to that rather bizarre problem child, who, with luck, has gone to play elsewhere...

my_cnnr and trueriver, posted 26th May 2007 12:51 pm

Some member responses referred directly to the recent trolling:

I see the necessity for moderated membership, if for the good of the rest of the members. This guy's been trolling other livejournal communities for a while now. Sadly, there's no guarantee that other trolls would not follow.

— comment by sapphire_hime, posted 26th May 2007 01:30 pm

References

  1. The post "The Charioteer: Review" was originally at http://community.livejournal.com/maryrenaultfics/166205.html prior to its deletion.
  2. This comprises the main introductory matter in faithfulreader's review. Omitted is a long series of specific examples (with comments) which followed the introduction. There was no summation at the end.
  3. The moderator's comment about timing refers to the fact that the members of maryrenaultfics had just completed a lengthy, chapter-by-chapter discussion of The Charioteer.
  4. Excerpted from a post made 12 May 2007 11:45 am.
  5. It should be added that faithfulreader's insistence that there was no metaphor in the book inspired a lengthy discussion of the matter in two subsequent posts to maryrenaultfics: "Metaphor in The Charioteer",[1] posted by greerwatson on 2 June 2007 (which opens "I recently found myself brought to think of the question of metaphor in The Charioteer."); and the follow-up "The conintuaton [sic] of the use of Metaphors in The Charioteer",[2] posted by weavinghugo the following day.
  6. These comments have been slightly reordered for clarity, since jgraeme2007's response to greerwatson, which relates directly to her comment, was made after rosinarowantree's, to which he also responded.