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Victorians and Homosexuality, Oddball British Philosophers, and Underground Paris

Also: Mary Bacon’s tall tales and sad life.

Naomi Wolf argues in her forthcoming book, Outrages: Sex, Censorship and the Criminalisation of Love, that the Victorians sentenced dozens of men in consensual homosexual relationships to death. Not so, argues Matthew Sweet. Not one was put to death, and many of the acts were not consensual at all but cases of rape.

Oddball British philosophers: “Ogden, who not only translated Wittgenstein but wrote a book offputtingly called The Meaning of Meaning, also had the idea that English could be boiled down to 850 words — which, as you know, is 830 more than you’ll need to take part in a football phone-in. The language, called Basic, could be learned in days and, he hoped, would pave the way to peace by reversing the curse of Babel. Jonathan Rée’s beguiling history of philosophy in English, from Hamlet reproving Horatio for his imaginative limitations in 1603 to the publication of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations 450 years later, seethes with such potty vignettes.”

Just a friendly reminder, in case you missed the news a few years ago, that those famous Easter Island stone heads are attached to buried bodies. Here are a couple of photos.

Speaking of things underground, Robert Macfarlane writes about Paris’s subterranean city: “All cities are additions to a landscape that require subtraction from elsewhere. Much of Paris was built from its own underland, hewn block by block from the bedrock and hauled up for dressing and placing. Underground stone quarrying began in the thirteenth century, and Lutetian limestone was used in the construction of such iconic buildings as Notre-Dame Cathedral, the Louvre, and Saint-Eustache Church. The result of more than six hundred years of quarrying is that beneath the southern portion of the upper city exists its negative image: a network of more than two hundred miles of galleries, rooms and chambers, extending beneath several arrondissements. This network is the vides de carrières—the quarry voids, the catacombs, which together total an underground space around ten times the space of Central Park.”

May in Chipping Campden. “Unlike April in Paris, or autumn in New York, nobody has mythologised it in song. There’s no need. To spend time in this town of honeyed stone, in the most beautiful month of the year, is to belong to some unending melody, a very English melody that offers fragments of Mays past, and hints of Mays to come. Situated on the north-eastern fringe of the Cotswolds, where Gloucestershire shakes hands with Worcestershire, Warwickshire and Oxfordshire, Campden is almost a dream of rural England. With its noble High Street, and the magnificent Norman church of St James’, this may be the best-known small town in England. Not village, mind: Henry II confirmed its charter in 1170.”

William Logan reviews A. E. Stallings’s latest volume of poetry, as well as posthumous works by James Tate and Geoffrey Hill: “James Tate was the crown prince—make that the clown prince—of goofball poetics. That he was more than that, and less, is the burden of The Government Lake: Last Poems.”

Essay of the Day:

At Deadspin, Patrick Sauer writes about the life—true and fictive—of jockey Mary Bacon:

“The 1973 Philadelphia Sports Writers Association Awards banquet wasn’t lacking for starpower. Flyers legend Bobby Clarke, who became only the ninth player in NHL history to score 100 points with his 104-point 1972-73 campaign, was one of the honorees. So too was Penn State running back and newly-minted Heisman Trophy winner John Cappelletti. The featured speaker that evening was Joe Paterno, who at the time was the biggest name there was in Pennsylvania sports. One of the award recipients was a jockey named Mary Bacon, who was named the most courageous athlete of the year for repeatedly overcoming brutal injuries suffered on the track. At the podium, Bacon accepted the award, shrugged, and said she wasn’t that courageous. She was just doing what she loved.

“Bacon received the award at the height of her fame. She had been granted her jockey’s license just four years earlier, and in the years since had not only become a highly successful and pioneering rider, but a true American celebrity. She appeared in the pages of Vogue, made it on the cover of Newsweek, captured the attention of sportswriting heavyweights and Hollywood screenwriters alike, posed for Playboy, and scored a sponsorship from Revlon.

“Her sudden rise to fame was the result of much more than just her success as a jockey. If there’s one thing Mary Bacon was better at than riding horses, it was crafting her own legend. She was a great interview and a reliable producer of fantastic quotes—two years after divorcing her first husband, she told People magazine, ‘If they ever legalize marriage between horses and human beings, then I’ll get married again.’ She also boasted a backstory bursting with anecdotes of mythic quality.

“Take, for example, the incidents that led to her winning that 1973 award. Bacon had been in the tackroom at the Aqueduct Racetrack in New York when someone screamed out that Aegean Queen, a 2-year-old Bacon had ridden before, was choking. Somehow, the horse had the stirrup iron wrapped around her jaw, so Bacon rushed in and pulled it off. Aegean Queen was facing the rear wall when a hotwalker slapped the horse on the ass, and in the chaos, the 1,200-pound animal fell on the diminutive jockey, breaking her pelvis, upper and lower back, and leaving no feelings in her legs.

“For nearly two months, Bacon was laid up in a nearby hospital, cocooned in a cast from under arms to ankles. During her recovery, she ditched the institutional clothes and wore racing silks as pajamas. Not even four years into a career that would run its course by the time Jimmy Carter moved into the White House, hospital stays had become commonplace for Mary Bacon.

“Nine months before the freak Aegean Queen incident, she was riding Tiger’s Tune at The Meadows outside Pittsburgh in the third, and clipped another horse into the turn. Bacon’s head hit the dirt and she spent the next week unconscious in the ICU with three blood clots on the brain. A few days later, Bacon checked herself out, signed some “official” paper saying it was fine for her to ride, and brought Crafty Cream home to victory on her first mount that night. Someone from the hospital saw her name in the paper and called the track saying she shouldn’t be out there. Bacon packed up her tack and headed to Kentucky. She won three more races that week.

“If these sound like calamities befitting a character in a tall tale, it’s because that’s often what Bacon was. Her life was irresistibly fascinating, but the way she recounted it was also riddled with exaggerations and outright falsehoods. To make matters more complicated, the true stories about Bacon are, in many ways, more fantastical than the ones she invented.”

Read the rest.

Photos: Small solar-system bodies

Poem: Alison Brackenbury, “Drugged”

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