The Styles of the City: Cultchah!

There’s a persistent strain in the USA of aspiration. Ever since Thomas Jefferson we have desperately longed to not only be smart but to be seen and acknowledged by the world as smart. This is less noticeable now — the 20th century has sort of cemented our place in intellectual history. But in the 18th and 19th century, and the first half of the 20th, we were kind of needy. You can see it in how we named our towns: Rome, NY, Athens, GA, Madrid, NM, Memphis, TN, Cairo, IL, Paris, VA. If you named your new home New York or New Hampshire then you were being homesick. But naming a town of less than 400 inhabitants Paris is touchingly optimistic, a hope and a dream.

 Where I am now, this impulse manifested itself in adorning buildings with the names or images of admirable people. I’ve posted before a photo of a medical building adorned with caduceuses and profiles of noted doctors. And here we can see that temple of learning, the main public library building. Up at the eaves the major areas of knowledge are engraved: Biography, Mathematics, Astronomy, Travel. (Wait a minute, travel?)

Lower down are plaques adorned with famous engravers: Hogarth, Durer. And next to them the artists: Titan, Rembrandt, Rubens. And, finally on the benches at ground level, the authors. This one, the largest, commemorates the Inimitable himself, Charles Dickens. But some of the names are of authors that I have never heard of (and at this moment I am irritatingly well read in 19th century English lit). Who is George Borrow? Naturally this kind of thing dates with astounding speed. You don’t see Stephen King or Louis L’Amour here.

 Even the water fountain is adorned with a literary quotation. We are going to be cultured or die for it.



About Brenda Clough

Brenda W. Clough spent much of her childhood overseas, courtesy of the U.S. government. Her first fantasy novel, The Crystal Crown, was published by DAW in 1984. She has also written The Dragon of Mishbil (1985), The Realm Beneath (1986), and The Name of the Sun (1988). Her children’s novel, An Impossumble Summer (1992), is set in her own house in Virginia, where she lives in a cottage at the edge of a forest. Her novel How Like a God, available from BVC, was published by Tor Books in 1997, and a sequel, Doors of Death and Life, was published in May 2000. Her latest novels from Book View Cafe include Revise the World (2009) and Speak to Our Desires. Her novel A Most Dangerous Woman is being serialized by Serial Box. Her novel The River Twice is newly available from BVC.


The Styles of the City: Cultchah! — 2 Comments

  1. George Borrow is British writer who wrote 2 novels of some interest still, LAVENGRO and ROMANY RYE, both about surprise! the culture that used to be called “gypsy”. I don’t know the current polite term. Anyway, Borrow wrote in the mid-1800s, and I think you’d find his stuff interesting.

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