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Posts Tagged ‘Pygmalion

“H as in How in the World Are We Going to Escape?”*…

A treatise on the the letter “H,” on the occasion of its becoming an arbiter of class in the later 19th century…

In George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion (1913), which inspired the musical My Fair Lady, a fictional linguist describes a phonetic endemic: missed employment opportunities due to the connotations of a person’s accent. Addressing the “many thousands of men and women who have sloughed off their native dialects and acquired a new tongue”, the professor insists that “the thing has to be done scientifically, or the last state of the aspirant may be worse than the first”. Shaw’s wit shows through in the near homonym: aspirations of social mobility, in this period, often included pronunciationary emulation — the breathy aitch sounds of aspirated consonants.

Alfred Leach, who Steven Connor, in Beyond Words, calls one of the “doughiest defenders of the h”, believed that English’s aspirated aitch (or rather, haitch) signaled a direct inheritance from Classical antiquity. In the pronounced h of words like “herb” — notably lacking from American English — he heard the “spiritus asper” of Hellenism. Leach was writing in a period when linguists began reflecting on the shifting history of aspirates and the role they played in indicating status, class, and education. These traits continue into our present day. The historian of language Henry Hitchings, whose own name is uncannily reminiscent of Shaw’s Henry Higgins, argues that the pronunciation of this letter is “still a significant shibboleth”, and quotes Leach’s contemporary, Oxford scholar Henry Sweet, who called it “an almost infallible test of education and refinement”.

Why so much huffing about the letter H? Throughout the nineteenth century, this aspirated sound was on the rise. At the end of the previous century, Received Pronunciation (RP) became known as the accent of aristocracy, leading to aspirational elocution guides like Poor Letter H (1854). While words like “hotel” had once been pronounced in the French style (oh-tell), English speakers had begun to exhale audibly, as if yawning at the continued Norman influence on British tongues. Leach led the charge against “English Grammarians” who “conspired to withhold from us the means of propitiating this demon Aspirate”. In The Letter H, he ridicules those he calls “H-droppers”, speakers whose phonetic errors seem to snowball: “lost H’s have a knack of turning up in wrong places, when they return at all”. Leach is prone to hyperbole — “the early aspirative labours of a converted H-dropper give birth to monstrosities” — and sneers at Cockney speech: “Horkney hoysters, ‘amshire ‘am, and ‘am and heggs”…

More, from Hunter Dukes (@hunterdukes) in @PublicDomainRev: “Aspirated Aspirations: Alfred Leach’s The Letter H (1880)

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* Lemony Snicket (Daniel Handler), The Hostile Hospital

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As we ponder pronunciation, we might recall that it was on this date in 1961 that Coronation Street premiered in ITV in the UK. It holds the Guinness World Record for longest running soap opera.

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“Children are not deceived by fairy-tales; they are often and gravely deceived by school-stories. Adults are not deceived by science-fiction ; they can be deceived by the stories in the women’s magazines.”*…

 

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In the 1890s, empire building was in the air in New York, and magazine editors succumbed to the craze. As President Theodore Roosevelt sent troops to Cuba and the Philippines, the magazine men—they were nearly all men—had quieter plans to extend their influence. They used their brands to sell model homes, universities, and other offerings of middle-class life. It was, after all, the Progressive Era, when technological innovations and post-Victorian values were supposed to hasten the arrival of a more enlightened, egalitarian social order. Before the concept of branding even existed, these new magazine ventures represented an exercise in branding. But woven into this phenomenon lay a stealth traditionalism, a new way of packaging the often conservative, sometimes quixotic visions of a few titans of the press.

Editors Edward Bok (Ladies’ Home Journal), John Brisben Walker (Cosmopolitan), and S.S. McClure (McClure’s) saw a way to directly shape their readers’ class aspirations. In 1895 Ladies’ Home Journal began to offer unfrilly, family-friendly architectural plans in its pages. They were mainly colonial, Craftsman, or modern ranch-style houses, and many still stand today. The Cosmopolitan, as it was then known, advertised the Cosmopolitan University, a custom-designed college degree—for free!—by correspondence course. McClure’s magazine, the juggernaut of investigative journalism—home to Ida Tarbell’s landmark investigation of Standard Oil, among many other muckraking articles of the Gilded Age—began to plot an array of ventures, including a model town called McClure’s Ideal Settlement.

Cannily noting the trend for smaller, servantless suburban homes, Journal editor Bok [the grandfather of Harvard President Derek Bok] was selling more than home design. Every house should be occupied by a female homemaker, he decided, and every family should aspire to a simpler, more frugal way of life. The campaign rapidly succeeded. By 1916 the editors of the Journal claimed that thirty thousand of their homes had been built. Part of this was due to the Journal’s wide circulation—it was the first American magazine to surpass a million subscribers. Its sister publication, the weekly Saturday Evening Post, was a fixture of nearly every household…

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“A Fireproof House for $5,000,” illustration by Frank Lloyd Wright in Ladies’ Home Journal, 1907

When the (male) proprietors of women’s magazines believed that their publications could change lives on a grand scale: “Editorial Visions.”

* C.S. Lewis

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As we shape society, we might recall that it was on this date in 1914 that George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion premiered in London, featuring Mrs Patrick Campbell (for whom Shaw had written the role) as Eliza Doolittle.

The Greek myth of Pygmalion, who fell in love with one of his sculptures, was a popular subject for Victorian English playwrights, including one of Shaw’s influences, W. S. Gilbert, who had written a successful play based on the story,  Pygmalion and Galatea, that was first presented in 1871.  Shaw’s play in turn has been adapted numerous times, most notably as the musical My Fair Lady and its film version.

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A Sketch Magazine illustration of Mrs. Patrick Campbell as Eliza Doolittle from April, 1914

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“The details are not the details. They make the design”*…

 

Katerina Kamprani set out to “re-design useful objects making them uncomfortable but usable and maintain the semiotics of the original item”– that is to say, to demonstrate design gone wrong…

See more of her whimsical riffs on utility at “The Uncomfortable.”

* Charles Eames

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As we struggle to reinsert the “you in “utility,” we might recall that it was on this date in 1914 that George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion opened in London.  An essayist, novelist, and short story writer, Shaw is best remembered as a playwright– and Pygmalion, as his most-loved play.  Having detested a musical adaptation of is play  Arms and the Man (called The Chocolate Soldier), Shaw subsequently forbade musicalization of his work, including a proposed Franz Lehár operetta based on Pygmalion.  But after his death, several of his plays formed the basis of musicals—most famously the musical My Fair Lady. It is officially adapted from the screenplay of the film version of Pygmalion rather than the original stage play (keeping the film’s ending); still, librettist Alan Jay Lerner kept generous chunks of Shaw’s dialogue, and the characters’ names, unchanged.

Shaw is the only person to have been awarded both a Nobel Prize in Literature (1925) and an Oscar (1938, for his work on the film Pygmalion).  Shaw wanted to refuse his Nobel Prize outright out of disdain for public honors, but accepted it at his wife’s behest: she considered it a tribute to their native Ireland. He did reject the monetary award, requesting it be used instead to finance translation of fellow playwright August Strindberg’s works from Swedish to English.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

April 11, 2014 at 1:01 am

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