Friday, May 09, 2008

Too much author

During the American Civil War, a female sergeant disguised her sex until, to the horror of her commander, she "was delivered of a baby... in violation of all military law and of the army regulations."

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, in Well-behaved Women Seldom Make History.

Okay, the poor guy was probably a bit shocked that one of his 'men' delivered a baby, but are you really telling me that it was written into the mid-nineteenth century army regulations that 'Thou shalt not give birth to a baby'? Why would they have bothered, if they weren't expecting to have women in the army at all? I feel that Ms Ulrich has used that ellipsis for nefarious purposes, to make the poor man look (more) stupid.

On another tack, the whole premise of this book is built on the fact that the eponymous line from the author's PhD thesis has been quoted–and misquoted–on coffee mugs, bumper stickers and T-shirts ad infinitum, often with spurious links to the original sentiment. To make sure that it doesn't happen again, Ulrich has very kindly italicised certain sentences in her text to let the reader know what she considers suitable for reproduction.

This is quite annoying, because it takes away that delightful feeling of discovery that comes when one finds such a quotable gem. And, contrariwise, it makes you not want to quote that sentence at all, and quote other bits of lesser wisdom and more spurious provenance.

Disclaimer: I own a "Well-behaved women" T-shirt, and am otherwise enjoying the book very much.

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