Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Monday, April 20, 2020


Openers:  We drove up the hill from the entrance gates and saw before us vaguely, through the night and the rain and the activities of the windshield wiper, a low, extensive building and three wind-blown elms.  This was the Ivory Tower, a name which I should never have given a house of mine, for it implies that those who live in it have run away to its shelter from the realities of  a life too hard for them to face.

-- Theodora Du Bois, The Case of the Perfumed Mouse (1946)

Theodora Du Bois (1890-1986) was born Theodora Brenton Eliot McCormick in Brooklyn.  Her father, a writer and editor, died the following year and she was raised by her mother and her stepfather.  Her relationship with her stepfather was strained and this prickly relationship would show up in many of her novels.  From the time she was thirteen she began writing compositions and saving them.  When she had just entered her twenties, Theodora came down with tuberculosis and spent several months in a sanitarium.  While there, she began writing poetry but soon transitioned to prose, writing a number of children's plays.

She married Delafield Du Bose, an engineer who would later work on the Manhattan Project, in 1918.  She published her first story in 1920 and her first book, fantasy novel The Devil's Spoon, in 1930.  Although she continued to write fantasy and science fiction, her main body of work was in the mystery field.  She wrote nineteen beeks featuring forensic scientist Jeffey McNeill and his wife Anne (who would narrate the stories).  Here's the back cover blurb from my copy of The Case of the Perfumed Mouse (T. V. Boardman and Company, a paperback with itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny type to conform with the Book Production War Economy Standard):

"Beautiful, vague Jacqueline Granville, philanthropic chatelaine of the Ivory Tower, had an odd assortment of guests, all misfits, whm she was trying to rehabilitate.  When one after the other of her guests were bitten by rats Jacqueline called in Anne and Jeffrey McNeill, the high-grade detectives, to catch the fanciful murderer who used rats as a secret weapon.

"Thirteen-year-old Katrinka Poole, with her adolescent problems and mental vagarities, did not make the quest any easier.  When the perfumed mouse was found dead, a queer assortment of things in a deserted house seemed a possible clue.  Careful investigation and a woman's accurate emory for the sound of church bells contrived to catch the murderer and give happiness back to several people.

"This is an usually well-written and intriguing mystery novel."

As blurbs go, this one lacks a certain oomph, but there were enough interesting bits to make me buy the book.  Even the quasi- had-I-but-known opening paragraph intrigued me.  Full disclosure:  I haven't read the book yet but it's near the top of Mount TBR.

Delafield and Theodora Du Bois travelled a lot.  Travels to Germany, Italy, England, and Ireland help inform her novels.  After World War II the pair worked to assist displaced academics from Cambridge nd Oxford Universities.  Following Delafield's retirement in 1946, the family bought a boat and for nine months of each of the following years, they sailed.  They eventually settled on Staten Island but spent much of their time in Ireland, the setting of her historical novel Rogue's Coat (1949). 

In 1946 Du Bois published a quasi-science fictional mystery Murder Strike an Atomic Unit.  This was followed up in 1954 with Seeing Red, in which the McNeill's had to testify in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee, which Du Bois treated very negatively.  (In her research, she attended some Committee meetings and was horrified by what she saw.)   The reaction to the book from HUAC supporters was immediate and a campaign was waged against Du Bois' publisher, Doubleday.  Doubleday stopped publishing her books; at least nine following books went to other publishers.  Du Bois herself was unaware of the campaign against her -- Doubleday did not inform her because she was having health problems; she evidently never knew why her publisher dropped 
her.  (Yes, Doubleday has a place in the Hall of Shame.)

The early Fifties marked the beginning of Theodora's decline in popularity, in part due to a switch from the agent who had represented her throughout her career to an agency owned in part by a cousin.  Du Bois was pushed to write a major historical novel which was eventually rejected by publishers.  Between that and losing the support of Doubleday, her sales began to lag although she continued writing through at least the mid-Sixties.

Theodora Du Bois is a neglected writer, perhaps unfairly.  Her output appears to have been uneven but some of her books -- including The Case of the Perfumed Mouse -- received critical acclaim.  Yet a cursory look through the internet did not come up with a complete bibliography of her works.  Her papers are housed at the College of Staten Island Library, CUNY, which includes "33 plays for adults" and "75 plays for children."

#Floridamorons:  Move over #Floridaman!  There's a new hashtag in town that's giving you a run for your money.  This one came about when some Florida beaches were reopened to the public and news reports showed people flocking to enjoy the sand, surf, and close proximity to each other.  Yeah, we spit on social distancing!

While not necessarily a sign of the coming apocalypse it is at the very least a sign of the power of the right wing to distract people from the truth.  The president, aided by Fox News and other irresponsible outlets, skeezy logic, wishful thinking, and pure greed, has been pushing to reopen the country economically.  Most experts say this is a very premature move and could both lengthen and exacerbate the pandemic while greatly increasing its human cost.  I should add that those experts who disagree are not really experts.  While reopening the country is not a good idea, it is a great talking point and Trump is making the most of it.  Fueled by ignorance and the ultra Right, protests have begun across the country -- often in Democratic states -- demanding the country be reopened to "save" the economy.  Many of the protesters are genuinely worried about their jobs and their ability to provide for their families; others are juyt parroting nonsense fed to them by the president and others.

A good recap of the misinformation concerning Covid-19 came from last night's Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.  It's worth taking a look at the entire show:

We are in for some very hard economic times that may equal or surpass the Great Depression.  I would argue that the time to deal with that is after, and only after, we deal with this pandemic.  Then we'll be able to devote the country's full resources (which can be considerable if we are united for the greater good, rather than political one-upmanship) to the problem.

Let's keep our fingers crossed, our hopes high, and out resolve steady.

In Other News:  Here are some news items that may have slipped under your radar because of the coronavirus.  Some are actually Covid-19 related.

  • Tornadoes and severe weather has killed at least 30 people in the Southeastern United States
  • Millions of pounds of fresh food are being destroyed by farmers as businesses close during the coronavirus outbreak; 3.7 million gallons of milk are being dumped daily because schools, restaurants, and other institutions are closed; tens of thousands eggs are being trashed
  • Saudi Arabia announced a cease-fire in the war in Yemen, perhaps ushering in a peace deal to the five-year-long conflict
  • One hundred million children worldwide are now at risk for measles due to a halt in vaccinations because of Covid-19
  • Devastating droughts last year in Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and Myanmar were the result of China's limiting the flow of the Mekong River
  • Libya's civil war has escalated despite pleas to stop fighting during the pandemic
  • The United states has labeled the Russian Imperial Movement, a white supremacist group as a terrorist organization -- the first time we have named foreign white supremacists as terrorist
  • 5G cell phone towers in Britain are burned as people react to the false rumor that 5G causes coronavirus
  • A decline in wildlife conservation funding has led to an increase in poaching, threatening endangered species
  • Shake Shack is returning $10 million it received as part of the coronavirus stimulus package after criticism for taking money meant for struggling small businesses
  • As a sign of the times, The Boston Globe printed sixteen pages of obituaries
  • The Trump administration awarded a $55 million contract to  bankrupt company with no employees to produce N95 masks, which it never did
  • Showboating GOP Representative Matt Gaetz (who represents my little piece of Florida heaven) may have violated House rules by giving $184,000 taxpayer dollars to rent office space from a long-time friend and donor
  • USNS Comfort Navy hospital is 2% full and is not taking Covid-19 patients
  • This past month was the second warmest March on record; all ten of the warmest Marches on record have occurred since 1990
  • A small helicopter has passed its final tests and will be attached to the Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover scheduled to launch in July, making it the first aircraft to attempt power-controlled flight on another planet; the helicopter is schedule to be deployed about two and one half months after the Rover's landing in February 2021
  • The sinonophore, a 150-foot long creature found in waters off Western Australia, is thought to be the longest creature ever recorded; the sinonophore is actually a colony of individual animals, much like a jellyfish, and looks like a long string looped in consecutively larger circles
  • In our I Wish Bill Crider Were Alive To See This Department, feral pigs have expanded their territory into Canada; the animals, described as "an ecological train wreck," can reach up to nearly 300 kilograms in weight, are highly adaptable, impervious to cold, and extremely fecund; their territory is now increasing by almost 80,000 square kilometers a year
  • A "terrorist" knife attack in southeastern France has left two dead and five others wounded
  • Two migrants were shot and killed trying to enter Greece from Turkey as
    Ankara encouraged thousands of migrants to enter Europe from their border; additionally, one woman is missing and presumed dead after being shot by Greek forces while attempting to cross a river into Greece; the confirmed dead are presumed to have also been shot by Greek forces, although the country denies this
  • Ying Ying and Le Le, two middle-aged pandas at a Hong Kong theme park, finally got it on for the first time in more than ten years of trying to get the two to mate; evidently all it took was the privacy of a pandemic; ah, those wild and crazy kids...

Not Celebrating This Birthday:  On April 20, 1889, Adolphus Hitler was born in Braunau am Inn, Austria-Hungary, near the border of the German Empire.  His father was the illegitimate son of (supposedly) Johann George Heidler ("George Hitler") and Maria Anna Schicklgruber and since the baptismal record did not list the father, the child bore the mother's surname.  When Adolph's father was 39, the baptismal record was changed to list Heidler/"Hitler" as his father.  Heidler/Hitler had married Maria Anna some five years after the child was born.  It has been suggested that Hitler's true father was a Jewish youth named Leopold Frankenberger but this claim that Hitler had Jewish ancestry has been dismissed by historians.

Adolph Hitler was 14 when his father (with whom he had a combative relationship) died and 19 when his mother passed.  Less than two years later he ran out of money and was forced to live a homeless life and in various shelters in Vienna.  Hitler moved to Germany when he was three with his family and there developed strong German nationalist ideas at a young age.  According to several sources, either shortly before or shortly after his mother's death, Hitler began to have strong racist, anti-Semitic feelings; other sources place the responsibility with Germany's treatment after World War I.  Whichever the case, Jews made a great scapegoat for a young man who felt the German Army had been "stabbed in the back" on the home front.

Hitler remained in the army and, in 1919, was assigned as an intelligence agent to infiltrate the German Worker's Party.  There he became indoctrinated in the party's political stance and, when released from the army in 1920, Hitler began to openly embrace the party's nationalism.  When the part changed its name to the National Socialist German Worker's Party, Hitler designed the new party's banner -- a swastika in a white circle with a red background.

I am not going to go into the rest of Hitler's life because why should I?

Let me just finish by noting that Adolph Hitler suffered from meteorism, or uncontrollable farting.  Let that be his legacy.

The Good Stuff:
And as hospitals are releasing Covid-19 patients, many are doing it to music, from the theme from Rocky to the Beatles' Here Comes the Sun to this:

Keep smiling.  Keep positive.  Keep informed.

Today's Poem:
New World Coming

There's a new world comin', and it's just around the bend.
There's a new world comin', this one's comin' to an end.
There's a new world callin', you can hear it if you try.
And it's growin' stronger with each day that passes by
There's a brand new mornin', rising clear and sweet and free.
There's a new day dawnin', that belongs to you and me.
Yes, a new world's comin', the one we've had visions of,
Comin' in peace, comin' in joy, comin' in love.

-- Cynthia Weil & Barry Mann


  1. Have you watched SGN (Some Good News) with John Krasinski. I like that one.

    1. I did watch the first episode. Patti, and will be watching the rest. We need all the good news we can get.