If Victorians Surfed the Web: 50 Pseudonyms from the 1880s

In the spirit of the last post, I rediscovered another gem from long ago which I’d always intended to blog about: Victorian pseudonyms!

Back in 1880–1885, Lewis Carroll—author of the Alice books and real-life mathematician—wrote a series of math story problems for magazine readers to try to solve. Some participants mailed their answers to him using their real names or initials, but others were more creative. After giving them a chance to solve each puzzle, Carroll published the correct answer, calling out certain lucky (or unlucky) individuals by their pseudonyms. The collection of stories and solutions was later published under the title A Tangled Tale.

Below, in order of appearance, are some of the names readers chose for themselves. You can just picture them wielding those usernames on blogs or forums today… Bonus points if you can identify which ones come from classic stories!

Victorian Pseudonyms

  1. A Nihilist
  2. A Mother’s Son
  3. A Redruthian
  4. A Socialist
  5. Spear Maiden
  6. Vis Inertiæ
  7. Yak
  8. A Marlborough Boy
  9. Sea Breeze
  10. Simple Susan
  11. Money Spinner
  12. Galanthus Nivalis Major
  13. Bog-Oak
  14. Bradshaw of the Future
  15. Alphabetical Phantom
  16. Dinah Mite
  17. H.M.S. Pinafore
  18. Old Cat
  19. Rags and Tatters
  20. Mad Hatter
  21. Scrutator
  22. The Red Queen
  23. Cheeky Bob
  24. Bo-Peep
  25. Financier
  26. Sea-Gull
  27. Thistledown
  28. Cheshire Cat
  29. Waiting for the Train
  30. Common Sense
  31. Veritas
  32. A Ready Reckoner
  33. Three-Fifths Asleep
  34. Dublin Boy
  35. Yahoo
  36. Duckwing
  37. Euroclydon
  38. Land Lubber
  39. Polichinelle
  40. Old Hen
  41. Mrs. Sairey Gamp
  42. An Ancient Fish
  43. Froggy
  44. Turtle Pyate (Lewis: “what is a Turtle Pyate, please?”)
  45. Old Crow
  46. The Shetland Snark
  47. A Christmas Carol
  48. Old King Cole
  49. Theseus
  50. An Old Fogey

The 1899 Questionnaire

Many years ago, I came across this fun artifact from the papers of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, meant to blog about it, and never actually did. This is a “favorites” survey which Doyle filled out in 1899 – basically like a modern-day blog tag! He has pretty readable handwriting, but you can find a typed-up version of his answers here. (Is it just me or was he clearly bored when he filled it out? 😛 )

It has no title so I’ve dubbed it the (oh-so-creative) 1899 Questionnaire. I also thought it might be fun to fill it out, and if you’d like to as well, consider yourself tagged.

The 1899 Questionnaire

Your favourite virtue?

Honesty

Your favourite qualities in man?

Kindness and intuition

Your favourite qualities in woman?

Wisdom and perseverance

Your favourite occupation?

Watching YouTube Writing 🙂

Your chief characteristic?

Thinking too much

Your idea of happiness?

A deep conversation (aka Solving World Problems™) with a family member or friend

Your idea of misery?

Having no one to talk to

Your favourite colour and flower?

Favorite color is teal blue, favorite flowers are yellow roses

If not yourself, who would you be?

Something to do with music, probably an itinerant fiddler

Where would you like to live?

Same as where I live now, or maybe further out, in the forest

Your favourite poets?

Tolkien, Longfellow, and various lyricists like Adam Young

Your favourite painters and composers?

Painters: Monet, Caspar David Friedrich, Ivan Shishkin

Composers: Tchaikovsky, and so many more

Your favourite heroes in real life?

I don’t really have heroes, but I admire anyone who speaks the truth even when it’s not expedient.

Your favourite heroines in real life?

Same

Your favourite heroes in fiction?

Sherlock Holmes, half the characters from Lord of the Rings, and Deputy Ryker from The Virginian TV show

Your favourite heroines in fiction?

Tatyana Larina from Eugene Onegin, Marian Halcombe from The Woman in White, and Alice

Your favourite food and drink?

Pretty much anything my mom makes. And Subway sandwiches. For drink: Swiss Miss hot cocoa with eggnog! It’s kind of a meal on its own, though.

Your favourite names?

I love old-fashioned names like Evelyn and Henry.

Your pet aversion?

Random strangers who act creepy or ask personal questions.

What characters in history do you most dislike?

The ones who tried to spread ideology or religion by force

What is your present state of mind?

Sheepish for staying up past midnight when I have to get up at 5:40

For what fault have you most toleration?

I’m not sure I would call it a fault exactly, but I have a lot of empathy for anyone who deals with extreme shyness and low self-esteem, having gone through that myself in the past.

Your favourite motto?

“Live not by lies” – Alexander Solzhenitsyn

The Art of Loving – Questions on Chapters 2.2-2.3

Jordan Peterson (45550029955)
Gage Skidmore [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Previously: The Art of Loving – A Ramble on Chapters 1–2.1

This post will be rather more disjointed than my first one, as these sections left me with more questions than conclusions.  Bear with me!

As for the picture – especially in this part, I was having flashbacks to 12 Rules for Life, and anyone who found value in that book should probably read this one (and vice-versa).

Chapter 2.2, “Love Between a Parent and a Child”

The big theme of this part was Fromm’s definition of fatherly and motherly love.  He describes motherly love as unconditional, forgiving, and organic to the mother-child relationship – C. S. Lewis’s “Gift-Love,” in other words, with no limit.  Motherly love and validation of the child is present whether the child “deserves” it or not.  Fatherly love, by contrast, is rules-based and must be earned in order to be granted:

Since [Father’s] love is conditioned, I can do something to acquire it, I can work for it; his love is not outside of my control as motherly love is. 

Either type of love can be abused or misapplied; the key is to achieve balance and a smooth transition from the emphasis of motherly love (in early life) to the focus on fatherly love (adolescence and up).  This concept ties neatly into Peterson’s model of Chaos (feminine) vs. Order (masculine) and the individual’s need to walk the fine line between them.

I am not sure I subscribe to this concept, though on the surface it seems to make sense.  If it is true, I would ask what does this mean for the present-day situation, where in the U.S. some statistics suggest there is a fatherhood crisis, leading to a sort of fatherhood renaissance ranging from the popularization of “dad jokes” to the Fatherhood.gov billboard campaign.  And if adolescents are receiving more unconditional motherly love than fatherly love, is there any correlation to the widespread depression, including a higher percentage among adolescents?  It could either indicate motherly love is not unconditional (which is what I would argue), and/or that the lack of fatherly order/rules-based system causes a deficit linked – in some inherent way, maybe – to self-esteem.

Chapter 2.3, “The Objects of Love”

In this section, Fromm elaborates on his theory of true love as an act rather than emotion.

One key concept he highlights is the idea of “paradoxical logic” – the idea that “X is A and not A.”  (Sort of like quibits, for fellow nerds.)   In a way that I found frankly a little difficult to follow, Fromm ties this into his study of man’s love of God.  He compares Christianity to Aristotelian (or binary) logic and Judaism to paradoxical logic: the former emphasizes belief and the latter emphasizes a way of living (though he does point out Christianity does not exclude the latter).  This goes back (obliquely) to his conviction that love is primarily an act rather than a thought or a feeling.  Again, there are echoes of Peterson, who – rather than say that he believes in God – said in a recent interview that he lives as if he believes in God.

I hope I have sufficiently emphasized how philosophical this section is.  Apart from the religious commentary, Fromm covers all kinds of love as well, including the necessity of loving one’s self in order to love others (completely agree!).  At one point, he acknowledges “erotic love requires certain specific, highly individual elements which exist between some people but not between all.”  This doesn’t quite appease my disgruntlement with the first chapter, but at least he acknowledges there must be Something other than pure formula or will-power.  🙂

This statement did raise questions for me: “In erotic love there is an exclusiveness which is lacking in brotherly love and motherly love.” I may have missed something but I’m not sure what the basis for this is.  Though frowned upon in Western culture, parental favoritism is common in other cultures, whether it’s gender-based or simply individual-based.

And here again, I do agree: “If love were only a feeling, there would be no basis for the promise to love each other forever.” I would put the emphasis on “only,” because again, I do believe some feeling is necessary, even if it is simply the primal affection we feel for other human beings because of our shared humanity.

The Art of Loving – A Ramble on Chapters 1–2.1

This month, Cleo is hosting a readalong of The Art of Loving (1956) by Erich Fromm and On Friendship by Cicero. It’s a sequel to the Four Loves Readalong – which feels recent but was actually back in June(!!).  Fromm and C. S. Lewis were contemporaries (and Lewis’s book was published just four years later), so it adds interest to see how their perspectives correspond or differ.  I’m also looking forward to Cicero, as I haven’t read many ancient classics.

You can find the full schedule on Cleo’s post.  I felt the need to break down my check-ins a little more, so this one will cover the first 1 1/3 chapters.

Chapter 1, “Is Love an Art?”

Fromm opens with his short but pithy thesis – that love is not just a flurry of feelings, but an actual scientific art, like music or medicine, which must be learned and practiced.

He posits three interrelated societal problems.  First, culture is overly focused on the state of “being loved,” particularly for superficial reasons, instead of giving love.  Second, people are misguided in thinking they need only to find the right person to love, rather than determine how best to love someone.  This quote from J. R. R. Tolkien comes to mind:

Nearly all marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes: in the sense that almost certainly (in a more perfect world, or even with a little more care in this very imperfect one) both partners might have found more suitable mates. But the ‘real soul-mate’ is the one you are actually married to.  – Tolkien, Letters, 51-52

(I do not know if I agree with this…but, it’s memorable.)

Fromm’s third point is that people will not put in the work – or do not understand how – to sustain a state of love, being obsessed instead with the romanticized concept of falling in love.  Of such a couple, he adds, rather cynically:

…they take the intensity of the infatuation, this being “crazy” about each other, for proof of the intensity of their love, while it may only prove the degree of their preceding loneliness.

There is much truth in this first chapter; in spite of that, my gut reaction was not positive.   Fromm is right in that love is sacrificial and requires effort and even strategy.  He is right in that people often let their heady feelings carry them away without any logic or wisdom. On the other hand, I would regret for someone to read this and then conclude they could simply “self-help” their way to a good relationship.  I think it takes more than that.

Fromm describes the action of love as polar in the next chapter, but I see the state of love as being polar as well.  To paraphrase my comment on Cleo’s post – I believe a relationship needs both the “infatuation” and the “art,” just as a country needs both heart/culture and good laws/policy.  In some cases, I think this can sustain a relationship, especially where love is not reciprocated.  More on that in the next section…

Chapter 2.1, “Love, the Answer to the Problem of Human Existence”

Here we get into Jordan Peterson-esque territory.  Fromm examines the issue of human isolation, which is directly contrary to our innate desire for unity with others.  Humans will do anything to escape the feeling of separation, from allowing themselves to be dominated by an aggressor to sadistically forcing others into submission to themselves.  Sometimes this takes a purely voluntary form:

…the democratic societies show an overwhelming degree of conformity.  The reason lies in the fact that there has to be an answer to the quest for union, and if there is no other or better way, then the union of herd conformity becomes the predominant one.

The tragedy is that we believe we are individualistic.  But as Fromm so relevantly observes, we are so eager to identify ourselves by group labels, such as our political party, our handbag designers, and our charitable organizations. 

On the same note, he addresses the concepts of mental/metaphysical masculinity and femininity and his belief that certain “masculine” or “feminine” traits, while present in both genders, exist in higher ratios in one or the other.  I can’t remember if it was Lewis, Wollstonecraft, or Peterson (or someone else) who said something similar, but I’ve read that elsewhere and do not find it very convincing.  He suggests this polarity is necessary in love, and where we lose our differences, we lose individuality and the kind of connection that is established by attraction rather than force or conformity.

But back to the “problem” of human existence.  Fromm sees love as the only healthy option to solve the issue of loneliness (the non-healthy option being sadism).  Here I do agree with him.  From a Christian perspective, mankind needs God’s Love and nothing else will fill our emptiness.

Need-Love was a theme in Lewis’s book, and I am not sure Fromm recognizes it here.  Rather, he seems to be focused on what Lewis called Gift-Love.  Fromm breaks gift-love down into four common elements: care, responsibility, respect, and knowledge.

Love as a Means or an End?

There is a lot I could say about this chapter, but I want to zoom in on this statement, where Fromm qualifies gift-love by its reception and mirroring:

If you love without calling forth love, that is, if your love as such does not produce love, if by means of an expression of life as a loving person you do not make of yourself a loved person, then your love is impotent, a misfortune.

To me this is an understandable perspective, but problematic.

Several years ago I read Works of Love by Kierkegaard, which was a life-changing experience – I actually didn’t blog about it because I didn’t quite know how.  Anyways, this one thought of his has always lived with me since then:

Never cease loving a person, and never give up hope for him, for even the prodigal son who had fallen most low, could still be saved; the bitterest enemy and also he who was your friend could again be your friend; love that has grown cold can kindle again.

In the spirit of “love your enemies,” what Kierkegaard is saying is that even unrequited love has value.  If his love is not returned, he would not call his love “impotent” or a “misfortune,” because the love itself has an inherent, inseparable value that is not altered by the response of the recipient.  It may change the relationship, but it will not undermine your sacrifice.

There are times the relationship must change or even end, for the wellbeing of one person or both.  But if the relationship can reasonably stay intact, continuing to love the other person could be the one link to bring the two people back together on the other side. 

Moby-Dick – Chapters I-XVIII – Quick Check-In

Though dreadfully behind on Brona’s readalong, I am still plugging away at this American tome and really savoring it.  This is my second time reading Moby-Dick, the first time being nearly a decade ago.  The familiar scenes and phrases are coming back to me like old friends.

Nantucket NASA 2002
NASA Johnson Space Center – Earth Sciences and Image Analysis (NASA-JSC-ES&IA) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The first 18 or so chapters cover Ishmael’s land journey to his ship the Pequod, anchored at Nantucket, and meeting his unexpected, cannibal friend Queequeg.  Much has been written about the exploration of religion and culture that Melville covers in this introduction, where we see both conflict and communality between different characters, both on a broad scale and on a personal level.

What really gets at me this time is the range of emotions and “worlds,” if you will, which Melville shows us.  You feel Ishmael’s wanderlust in the first chapter, his mix of fear and humor on meeting Queequeg, and the gloomy aura of the church where Father Mapple preaches.  The whale bones which decorate the Pequod are just one detail which foreshadow things to come and which Ishmael, in spite of his irritating personality, will tell you about incessantly, like a close and endearing friend.

It is a slow and gentle descent into the plot’s ultimate chaos.  If you did not know the ending, you might not suspect it from this opening, which reads like a series of chronological vignettes. That is part of the genius of the book.