How Ernest Hemingway really responded to the Spanish flu pandemic


Ernest Hemingway, July 1918, American Red Cross Hospital, Milan, Italy.
Buckley, Peter, Ernest, Dial Press, New York, 1978

Eamonn O’Neill, Edinburgh Napier University

Earlier this year, as the world came to terms with the coronavirus pandemic, a letter purporting to have been written by F Scott Fitzgerald in the midst of the 1918 flu pandemic did the rounds on the internet. It was, of course, a parody, but the writing style and notes to his pal Ernest Hemingway meant the letter – unless you’re a Fitzgerald expert – was pretty convincing:

At this time, it seems very poignant to avoid all public spaces. Even the bars, as I told Hemingway, but to that he punched me in the stomach, to which I asked if he had washed his hands. He hadn’t. He is much the denier, that one. Why, he considers the virus to be just influenza. I’m curious of his sources.

Its real author, Nick Farriella, had expertly muddied the tone of Fitzgerald’s language with, some contemporary 21st century concerns, and a dash of the clichéd image of the character we’ve come to know as “Hemingway” – something of a macho bore, brawler and liar.

It’s an unfortunate, but sometimes well-deserved, persona, as I have come to know intimately whilst doing research for a new book examining his often ignored, shadowy time spent in London and Europe before and after D-Day.

This was an arguably defining time in his life and career, when he was possibly the best known living writer in the world and something of a one-man global commercial brand. Even then, I have discovered that when he was in the company of undercover spies and well-known authors (sometimes, like his friend Roald Dahl) he could be, by turns, thoughtful, loving, brilliant, brave, embarrassing, abusive and downright nasty.

For some, the tone of the parody pandemic letter was a brief moment of entertainment because it was the return of the cartoonish wild-eyed and comical version of Hemingway from Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. For others, who knew a little more about Hemingway, it was yet another simplistic attempt to besmirch his deeply complex legacy – fake news, you might say.

Hemingway and the facts

In fact, Hemingway’s response to the pandemic of 1918-19 – and later waves too – was very different from the parody. The truth is effortlessly stranger and more enigmatic than any fiction. Of course Hemingway was guilty of hyping facts to meet his mantra that fiction could be truer than the truth. But that didn’t change his basic respect for scientific facts and the natural world.

He was, after all, the dutiful son of a doctor from Oak Park, Illinois who’d witnessed first-hand his father’s work and used the experiences in his later fictional works. The Hemingway scholar Susan Beegel has shown how serious illness, disease, sudden and prolonged death were nothing new to him. He was aware, in humans and animals, of the fragility of life.

A formal picture of a family.
An early picture of Ernest Hemingway with his family, 1905. Ernest stands at the far right.
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston

The GP’s son later had his own appalling experiences in the first world war, when he volunteered for the Red Cross. Bad eyesight meant normal duty was out of the question, but a determined Hemingway used the Red Cross to get to the Italian front line instead.

A man in army uniform stands on crutches.
Ernest Hemingway recuperates from wounds in Milan, 1918.
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston

Within hours of arriving in Italy, Hemingway was tasked with cleaning up the body parts of victims of shelling, a sight he recounted in his controversial short work “A Natural History of the Dead”, that both fascinated and horrified him. Within weeks he would be pulled off a battlefield himself, a bloodied wreck more dead than alive, with 228 pieces of shrapnel embedded in his legs. Long days and painful nights of touch-and-go recuperation followed.

Yet later, after shadowing Red Cross nurses, Hemingway wrote about the worst death he ever saw. It hadn’t been from a bomb or a bullet: “The only natural death I’ve ever seen […] was death from the Spanish influenza. In this you drown in mucus, choking, and how you know the patient is dead is; at the end he shits the bed.”

This horrendous scene was common amidst a global pandemic which had claimed, by December 1919, 50 million people. There was no coordinated national and international research as we would know it, no effective treatment, and certainly no vaccine on the way. Soldiers and volunteers like Hemingway were literally swimming in the virus.

Dodging disease

Yet Hemingway dodged the peaks of the 1918-19 pandemic waves by weeks, sometimes days, as he convalesced in Italy, and then returned to the US. Once home, he discovered family and friends had perished from it. Despite youthful public insouciance, all these experiences privately scarred him, and that dying soldier in Italy was never far from his mind.

According to as his masterful biographer Michael Reynolds, Hemingway’s superstition about death meant that “the slightest possibility of flu often sent him scurrying for healthier conditions, for he had a particular horror of drowning in his own fluids”. Consequently, by 1926 and now living in Paris, when his son Jack, nicknamed “Bumby”, developed a “hacking cough”, Hemingway immediately sent him and his wife Hadley off to the clean air and sunshine of the Riviera to recover, while he went solo to Spain to work.

A black and white picture of parents and a child.
Ernest, Hadley and Bumby Hemingway, 1926.
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston

Hadley and Bumby Hemingway arrived at Antibes on May 26 1926, and the child was immediately diagnosed with the infectious – and potentially fatal – whooping cough. Quarantine was called for, so both were summarily housed by their hosts, the ever-generous patrons of the arts Sara and Gerald Murphy, in a small dwelling near their own 14-roomed Villa America.

One week later they were moved again, under quarantine conditions, to a hastily vacated Villa Paquita at Juan les Pins, previously inhabited by Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, who had zipped off to the safety of another coastal retreat. To complicate matters, Hemingway’s mistress Pauline Pfeiffer, a chic Paris-based editor at Vogue magazine, arrived from Paris, and within 48 hours, they were joined fresh from Madrid by the central figure in this peculiar set-up, Hemingway himself.

For a while, quarantining was all very jolly. By day, Hemingway dedicated himself to editing corrections to his soon-to-be bestseller The Sun Also Rises. By evening, everyone gathered for socially-distanced cocktails with the Murphys and Fitzgeralds, who stayed outside the garden fence. Empty bottles, drained and upended, were mounted like heads on the spiked fence. Each one marked another day of quarantine for the Hemingway child.

It worked – to an extent.

Quarantine ended when his son got better, though as a precaution he and his nanny were housed nearby, leaving Hemingway in a nice hotel with the two women. He pretended he was happy but inevitably, the post-lockdown arrangement slid into emotional anarchy. Hadley Hemingway and he argued, while Pfeiffer hung on for the prize she wanted most – Hemingway himself. It stayed that way as everyone decamped from the Riviera to Pamplona, Spain for the annual fiesta.

Within a year of that quarantined summer, the Hemingways were divorced.

A couple.
Ernest and Pauline Hemingway, Paris 1927.
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston

In 1937, 11 years later, despite quarantining in Saranac Lake, Upstate New York, the Murphy’s 16-year-old son Patrick died from tuberculosis.

Hemingway rose at dawn on July 2 1961 in Idaho and took his own life.

The child who had the whooping cough in 1926, Jack “Bumby” Hemingway, had a happier outcome than most in his family. He became a decorated second world war veteran who survived capture and imprisonment after parachuting into Nazi Germany, and died peacefully in 2000.The Conversation

Eamonn O’Neill, Associate Professor in Journalism, Edinburgh Napier University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Secret Garden: a place of healing during COVID-19


Tiffani Angus, Anglia Ruskin University

Frances Hodgson Burnett’s 1911 children’s book The Secret Garden has once again been adapted for the screen. Critics have noted that the film about a healing garden has come just at the right time, with The Telegraph calling it “a sparkling COVID antidote”.

Previous filmed versions appeared in 1919, 1949, and 1993. Since those iterations, however, the world has become more tech-enabled and the lives of children more dominated by screens than ever.

Ofcom in the UK estimates that the average three-to-four-year-old spends around three hours a day in front of a screen. This rises to four hours for ages five to seven, 4.5 hours by ages eight to 11, and 6.5 hours for teenagers. Time spent playing outdoors, as a result, is at an all-time low. It might be a wonder then, why, in 2020, a new film about playing outside is being released to an audience that seems so disconnected from it.

2020 has been, to say the least, an odd year. And, after a nationwide lockdown and restrictions currently being reimposed over large parts of the UK, The Secret Garden, a story about the healing qualities of nature – where magic, joy and, importantly, escape can be found – speaks to children (and adults) more than ever. “It sees a group of traumatised people who don’t get out much find solace in gardening and fresh air,” notes Helen O’Hara in Empire speaking about the similarities between the Edwardian cast of characters and our current reality.

Restorative gardens

The story follows Mary Lennox, a self-centred and neglected child, who is forced to move to her uncle’s estate in Yorkshire after her parents die from cholera in India. Left to her own devices and struggling to adjust, Mary finds distraction in exploring the estate’s vast grounds. It is on one of these jaunts that she discovers a hidden garden. Overgrown and mysterious, the place was locked years before by her uncle after his wife died in it.

The garden is, unsurprisingly, irresistible to Mary and, along with her spoiled cousin Colin who believes he’s disabled, and the good-natured Dickon, a kindly maid’s little brother, she finds that it is more than just a place to play. There nature has the power to heal, create relationships and bring joy; the garden also can help mend the wounds of the past, transforming hopeless grief to possibility.

The importance of nature as a source of healing has become increasingly clear during periods of lockdown as we find ourselves longing for green spaces as an escape from the news and our own four walls. Gardens (those of us who have them) and local parks and green spaces become important spaces where children can run around and adults can take a moment to reset. Like in The Secret Garden, we have discovered nature anew and it has restored us.

Time-travelling spaces

In children’s literature, gardens are a place for dreaming, adventures, and even for time travel. In books such as Philippa Pearce’s Tom’s Midnight Garden, Lucy M Boston’s The Children of Green Knowe and Andre Norton’s Lavender-Green Magic, the garden takes children back in time. There they meet people from the garden’s history or other historically important individuals. They have run-ins with their ancestors or undertake actions to save other (usually young) characters from the past who were treated badly or in danger.

The garden is a place to “fix” mistakes and learn about the great mystery and circle of life. Gardens, also, represent time itself: they never stop growing and changing. Every seed planted carries within it the hopes we have for the future.

While The Secret Garden is not a time-travel device as such, it does act as a conduit between the past and present. In it the family’s history is exposed and reckoned with, changing the present and setting them on a course to a new, more hopeful future together.

This connection between gardens and time (and time travel) might appeal to 2020 viewers who are looking for a way to connect the past with an uncertain future. In this story that many adults hold dear, they can rediscover their childhood and escape for a moment in nostalgia for a simpler time.

Once we enter the garden, however, who we are affects how we relate to it. Children have a completely different relationship to gardens than adults: adults see the backbreaking work that goes into them, while children benefit from all that hard work and only see a place to run and play. For the children in The Secret Garden, the garden is a place of discovery, fun, and recovery, in that order. And that is possibly the main key to the story’s longevity: it feeds into a faith in nature as healing, something difficult to ignore amid the friction over climate change and the destruction of some ecosystems.

The past seven months of lockdowns have fostered a hunger for personal green spaces. With the newest film version of The Secret Garden, our love affair with gardens is again brought to the big — and small — screen, where those of us who have been stuck inside can unlock the garden gate and, with a childlike innocence we yearn for, enter a magical green wonderland to take advantage of the healing properties and timeless qualities of a garden that has been waiting for us.The Conversation

Tiffani Angus, Senior lecturer in Creative Writing and Publishing, Anglia Ruskin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How reading habits have changed during the COVID-19 lockdown



People have sought more security and safety in their reading.
Andrii Kobryn/Shutterstock

Abigail Boucher, Aston University; Chloe Harrison, Aston University, and Marcello Giovanelli, Aston University

During times of crisis, people find themselves faced with lifestyle changes. One of the earliest and most noticeable changes seen during the COVID-19 lockdown was how we consume media — and especially how we read.

People tend to find comfort in certain books, and reading habits and genre preferences can change during periods of stress. This helps to explain why much genre fiction has roots in times of significant social, political or economic upheaval. Gothic literature is, in part, a British Protestant response to the French Revolution (1789-99).

Science fiction, which emerged as a genre around the fin de siècle, was galvanised by both the industrial revolution and the theories of Charles Darwin. The hard-boiled detective story, which appeared in the 1930s, takes its cues from the privations of the great depression.

While it’s still relatively early to see the influence of the coronavirus and the lockdown on creative industries, there were some striking patterns in media consumption in the early part of the pandemic. Books about (literal and metaphorical) isolation, like Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar and Gabriel García Marquez’s novels One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera were among those that saw a big rise in sales. (Beyond books, horror flourished; in particular, films about global pandemics such as 28 Days Later, Contagion, and Outbreak were among the highest rentals on streaming services.)

In view of these patterns of changing reading habits during times of upheaval and signs that such changes were happening during COVID-19, our team decided to research reading habits among the UK public. We were particularly interested in the following questions about the effects of the pandemic:

  1. How much people have been reading;

  2. What type and genre of texts people have been reading;

  3. To what extent people have been returning to previously read books.

As many as 860 participants took part in our online survey, which was advertised through social media. Our findings show that the COVID-19 lockdown changed not only how people read during times of stress, but also what people turn to for comfort or distraction.

Reading frequency

Respondents generally reported that they were reading more than usual. This was largely due to having more free time (due to being furloughed, or not having a commute, or the usual social obligations or leisure activities).

Man reads to two children.
Those who were caring for children reported they spent more time reading with children.
rSnapshotPhotos/Shutterstock

This increased reading volume was complicated for those with caring responsibilities. Many people with children reported that their reading time had increased generally because of their shared reading with children, but had less time than normal for personal reading.

Reading frequency was further complicated by a quality vs quantity snag. People spent more time reading and seeking escape, but an inability to concentrate meant they made less progress than usual. In short, people spent more time reading but the volume they read was less.

Genre choice

Despite the early figures showing spikes in interest for content about pandemics and isolation, it appears that people quickly tired of these topics. Many respondents sought out subject matter that was at least predictable, if not necessarily comforting. Many found solace in the “security” of more formulaic genres (whodunnits and other types of thrillers were often cited). Others found themselves significantly less picky about genre than they were before the lockdown: they read more, and more widely.

Many found the lockdown to be a great opportunity to explore things they didn’t normally have the time or desire to read (like hefty classics that seemed too dull or heavy to bring on a commute) or to fill other gaps in knowledge (the protests over police brutality and racism were cited frequently as the catalyst for many readers seeking out more texts by non-white authors).

Re-reading

Much as with the choice of genre, readers generally fell into two camps: those that read for exploration and those that re-read for safety. The re-readers found solace in previously read books: familiar plots and known emotional registers helped stressed-out readers avoid suspense and surprises.

Unsurprisingly, lockdown also made re-reading a physical necessity for some. Some respondents noted how they were unable to visit the library or browse at the bookshop for new books. Others reported that they simply wished to save money. On the other hand, the participants who reported re-reading less than normal during the lockdown period wanted to use their newfound time to seek out new topics and genres.

The two groups also drew on different metaphors to describe their experiences: some of the non-re-readers talked about time as a commodity (for example, valuing reading something new), while the re-readers discussed the ability to travel easily, and with little effort to familiar places, characters and experiences.

Our research shows that the lockdown really did affect the reading habits of those who took part in our survey. But what might be the longer term implications of the lockdown on how and why we read? And what might happen given the possibility of a second lockdown? It remains to be seen if and how the pandemic might be responsible for continuing changes in our relationship with books.The Conversation

Abigail Boucher, Lecturer in English Literature, Aston University; Chloe Harrison, Lecturer in English Language and Literature, Aston University, and Marcello Giovanelli, Senior Lecturer in English Language and Literature, Aston University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How COVID-19 is changing the English language



The coronavirus forced the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary to break with tradition.
Illustration by Anurag Papolu/The Conversation; dictionary photo by Spauln via Getty Images and model of COVID-19 by fpm/iStock via Getty Images , CC BY-SA

Roger J. Kreuz, University of Memphis

In April, the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary did something unusual. For the previous 20 years, they had issued quarterly updates to announce new words and meanings selected for inclusion. These updates have typically been made available in March, June, September and December.

In the late spring, however, and again in July, the dictionary’s editors released special updates, citing a need to document the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the English language.

Although the editors have documented many coronavirus-related linguistic shifts, some of their observations are surprising. They claim, for example, that the pandemic has produced only one truly new word: the acronym COVID-19.

Most of the coronavirus-related changes that the editors have noted have to do with older, more obscure words and phrases being catapulted into common usage, such as reproduction number and social distancing. They’ve also documented the creation of new word blends based on previously existing vocabulary.

The dictionary of record

The Oxford English Dictionary aspires to be the most extensive and complete record of the language and its history.

In 1884, parts of the first edition were released. It wasn’t completed until 1928. Over the ensuing years, additional volumes of new words were published to supplement the first edition, and these were integrated into a second edition that appeared in 1989. This is the version you’ll find in most libraries. A digital release, on CD-ROM, followed in 1992.

In March 2000, the dictionary launched an online version. For this new edition, the editors have been revising definitions dating from the first edition that are, in many cases, over a century old. Due to its size, this third edition will not appear in printed form, and these revisions may not be completed until 2034.

At the same time, the editors continue to document the language as it grows, changes and evolves. The quarterly updates provide a list of new words and revisions. The September update, for example, includes “craftivist” and “Cookie Monster.”

Something old, something new

The special, coronavirus-related updates give us a glimpse into how language can quickly change in the face of unprecedented social and economic disruption. For example, one of the effects of the pandemic is that it’s brought previously obscure medical terms to the forefront of everyday speech.

Traditionally, dictionary editors include scientific and technical terms only if they achieve some degree of currency outside of their disciplines. This is the case for the names of drugs, since there are many thousands of these. For example, you’ll see Ritalin and Oxycontin in the dictionary, but you won’t see Aripiprazole.

However, the pandemic has seen at least two drug names jump into public discourse.

Hydroxychloroquine, a malaria treatment touted by some as a magic bullet against the virus, was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in July, although the drug’s name had appeared in print as early as 1951.

Another newly famous drug is dexamethasone, a corticosteroid that has reduced the COVID-19 death rate. It appeared in print as early as 1958 and was included in the dictionary’s second edition. In the July update, the editors provided a quotation illustrating the drug’s current use to combat the coronavirus.

The updates also include new citations for such terms as community transmission, which dates to 1959, and community spread, which was first documented in print in 1903.

The language of quarantining

Terms related to social isolation existed long before the COVID-19 pandemic, but they’ve become much more common in 2020.

Self-isolate, self-isolated and shelter in place all received new citations to illustrate their current usage.

Some terms have seen a shift in meaning. Originally, sheltering in place referred to seeking safety during a circumscribed event, like a tornado or an active shooter attack. It’s now being used to refer to a prolonged period of social isolation.

Similarly, elbow bump has evolved from a gesture akin to a high-five, as documented in 1981, to its present form: a safe way to greet another person.

Some regional differences are also emerging in COVID-19 language. Self-isolate has been the preferred term in British English, whereas self-quarantine is more commonly employed in the U.S. “Rona” or “the rona” as slang for coronavirus has been observed in the U.S. and Australia, but the dictionary editors haven’t documented wide enough usage to warrant its inclusion.

On the watch list

A perennial issue for lexicographers is deciding whether or not a term has enough staying power to be enshrined in the dictionary. The COVID-19 pandemic has produced its fair share of new terms that are blends of other words, and many of these are on the editors’ watch list. They include “maskne,” an acne outbreak caused by facial coverings; “zoombombing,” which is when strangers intrude on video conferences; and “quarantini,” a cocktail consumed in isolation.

Other new blends include “covidiot,” for someone who ignores public safety recommendations; “doomscrolling,” which happens when you skim anxiety-inducing pandemic-related stories on your smartphone; and the German term “hamsterkauf,” or panic buying. Whether such terms will be in common usage after the pandemic is anyone’s guess.

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‘COVID’ or ‘Covid’?

And what of COVID-19 itself?

According to the dictionary’s editors, it first appeared in a Feb. 11 World Health Organization situation report as shorthand for “coronavirus disease 2019.”

But should it be written as COVID-19 or as Covid-19? The dictionary’s editors report regional differences for this term as well.

“COVID” is dominant in the U.S., Canada and Australia, while “Covid” is more common in the U.K., Ireland, New Zealand and South Africa.

Because the Oxford English Dictionary is edited and published in England, British forms take precedence: in the online dictionary, it appears under the headword Covid-19.

Earlier health crises also spawned new acronyms and terminology. Nearly 40 years ago, the terms AIDS and HIV entered the language. However, they didn’t appear in the dictionary until the second edition was published at the end of the 1980s.

By releasing updates online, the editors can track language changes as they occur in near real time, and the arbiters of the English language no longer have to play catch-up.The Conversation

Roger J. Kreuz, Associate Dean and Professor of Psychology, University of Memphis

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

What the USA is Reading


The link below is to an article that looks at what the USA is reading during the coronavirus pandemic.

For more visit:
https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/2020-book-trends/2020/09/02/6a835caa-e863-11ea-bc79-834454439a44_story.html

‘Quarantine envy’ could finally wake people up to the deep inequalities that pervade American life



Envy is one of the seven deadly sins – the worst of them all, according to the ‘Canterbury Tales.’
Richard Donaghue/EyeEm via Getty Images

Jessica Rosenfeld, Washington University in St Louis

In recent months, mental health experts have been drawing attention to what they’ve dubbed “quarantine envy.”

Many people, they note, have been sizing up the extent to which they’ve been affected by lockdowns and economic hardship. Who still has a job? Who gets to work from home? Whose home is spacious, light-filled and Instagram-worthy?

The start of the school year adds another layer of comparison. Parents stuck in a small apartment with two kids forced to learn remotely might feel pangs about the fact that their friend’s kids get to attend a private school in person.

What should we do with these unpleasant feelings? Should we repress them or reason them away? Are they too shameful to be shared?

Envy is one of Christianity’s seven deadly sins – the worst of them all, says the Parson in Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales.” But my research into the long history of envy shows that the emotion has many sides to it.

Some are certainly destructive. But envy can also be useful. The “sin” can help us better understand ourselves and the world around us – and it can be a key driver of social change.

Tales of envy

Envy has a bad reputation. Everyone feels it at one point or another, although we often don’t want to admit to being truly envious of others – harboring the kind of envy that gnaws at us and makes us feel inferior.

One man – representing envy – stands with his palms out and one eye blinded. The other – greed – has both his eyes blinded.
A 15th-century illustration of a classic fable of envy and greed.
Morgan Library

Portraits of envy can show it as an astonishingly malicious emotion. One version of a popular fable tells the story of an envious man and a greedy man being given a single wish. The one condition is that the person who does not get to choose the reward will be given double what the other man wishes. The greedy man quickly asks that the envious man be given the choice; the envious man then wishes to be blinded in one eye.

In William Langland’s poem “Piers Plowman,” the personification of Envy confesses that all he wants is for his neighbor, “Gybbe,” to have something bad happen to him; he wants this even more than he wants cheese (which is saying a lot, if you ask me!).

In these stories, envy is typically defined as wanting misfortune for others, longing to feel superior in some way or at least making them just as miserable as you are.

Late medieval literature is also filled with stories that point to envy as a source of violence.

The chronicler Jean Froissart describes the social unrest associated with the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 as a consequence of the envy the commoners had toward the nobles and the rich.

Here – and elsewhere – envy is a label used to diminish the political claims of a particular group of people. In 2012, Mitt Romney accused Barack Obama of practicing the “bitter politics of envy.” In this way, criticism of the rich or powerful, or wanting the wealthy to be taxed more to fund public services, brings accusations of petty envy and resentment.

When envy spurs social change

Modern understandings of envy are also related to other kinds of negative feelings, like anger that someone has undeserved wealth or frustration that certain groups are hoarding money, power, or privileges.

Here is where envy can take a turn that can lead to better outcomes. Envy can be productive when it is not directed at one person in particular but is instead directed at the way society is structured.

Economists and political scientists increasingly recognize that reducing inequality can be an end in itself. Envy – even the kind of nakedly competitive envy that seeks to damage others for no personal gain – can work to regulate inequality that has grown too wide.

Political scientist Jeffrey Green defends policies driven by a “reasonable envy” that targets the well off, even if there is no expectation of gain for everyone else. For example, he says that capping wealth might lower the material welfare for all, but this would be worth the reduction in inequality, since excessive or unjust inequality can lead to instability and feelings of disempowerment among ordinary citizens.

Economist Robert Frank prefers taxing consumption to reduce “luxury fever,” in which competitive spending escalates wildly, especially among the super-rich, leaving less money for individuals and the government to spend on essential services.

Personification of envy, wearing a veil and green dress, sits on a bench with her arms folded.
An illustration of the personification of envy from a medieval manuscript.
The Morgan Library

In their new book, “The Economic Other,” political scientists Meghan Condon and Amber Wichowsky open with the line, “The human imagination is an engine of comparison.”

In their studies, they show that politics is driven by the social imagination – and Americans have fewer opportunities for comparison because of increasing class segregation in our society. Middle-class and poorer Americans see the wealthy online and on TV but not in everyday life. The authors believe policies might become more just if there were more opportunities for “upward comparison” – if everyday Americans could simply see, in their day-to-day lives, the extent to which the wealthy lead extravagant lives. Their research suggests that envious comparison would lead to more support for government spending on welfare, Social Security and education.

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Dwelling with envy

Aristotle has a much more specific – and negative – definition of envy. In his view, the emotion is directed toward our equals. We become envious when our neighbors have something we desire and believe we deserve, and when we feel it is our own fault that we do not have that good thing.

He distinguishes envy from other comparative feelings like emulation, indignation or pity. These kinds of distinctions are helpful, because thinking carefully about emotions can give us information about ourselves and our environment. Some philosophers describe emotions as reasoning tools, a shortcut to filter copious amounts of information.

In a time of quarantine – when comparisons often involve who has the best version of being alone – dwelling with envy can open our eyes to ourselves and the world.

Do these negative feelings say something about ourselves? Are they specific to another person? Or do they reflect an unjust system?

Can these disparities change? If so, what could bring that about?

Trying to manage or avoid envious feelings doesn’t allow us to answer – or even ask – those questions.The Conversation

Jessica Rosenfeld, Associate Professor of English Literature, Washington University in St Louis

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

‘Quarantine envy’ could finally wake people up to the deep inequalities that pervade American life



Envy is one of the seven deadly sins – the worst of them all, according to the ‘Canterbury Tales.’
Richard Donaghue/EyeEm via Getty Images

Jessica Rosenfeld, Washington University in St Louis

In recent months, mental health experts have been drawing attention to what they’ve dubbed “quarantine envy.”

Many people, they note, have been sizing up the extent to which they’ve been affected by lockdowns and economic hardship. Who still has a job? Who gets to work from home? Whose home is spacious, light-filled and Instagram-worthy?

The start of the school year adds another layer of comparison. Parents stuck in a small apartment with two kids forced to learn remotely might feel pangs about the fact that their friend’s kids get to attend a private school in person.

What should we do with these unpleasant feelings? Should we repress them or reason them away? Are they too shameful to be shared?

Envy is one of Christianity’s seven deadly sins – the worst of them all, says the Parson in Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales.” But my research into the long history of envy shows that the emotion has many sides to it.

Some are certainly destructive. But envy can also be useful. The “sin” can help us better understand ourselves and the world around us – and it can be a key driver of social change.

Tales of envy

Envy has a bad reputation. Everyone feels it at one point or another, although we often don’t want to admit to being truly envious of others – harboring the kind of envy that gnaws at us and makes us feel inferior.

One man – representing envy – stands with his palms out and one eye blinded. The other – greed – has both his eyes blinded.
A 15th-century illustration of a classic fable of envy and greed.
Morgan Library

Portraits of envy can show it as an astonishingly malicious emotion. One version of a popular fable tells the story of an envious man and a greedy man being given a single wish. The one condition is that the person who does not get to choose the reward will be given double what the other man wishes. The greedy man quickly asks that the envious man be given the choice; the envious man then wishes to be blinded in one eye.

In William Langland’s poem “Piers Plowman,” the personification of Envy confesses that all he wants is for his neighbor, “Gybbe,” to have something bad happen to him; he wants this even more than he wants cheese (which is saying a lot, if you ask me!).

In these stories, envy is typically defined as wanting misfortune for others, longing to feel superior in some way or at least making them just as miserable as you are.

Late medieval literature is also filled with stories that point to envy as a source of violence.

The chronicler Jean Froissart describes the social unrest associated with the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 as a consequence of the envy the commoners had toward the nobles and the rich.

Here – and elsewhere – envy is a label used to diminish the political claims of a particular group of people. In 2012, Mitt Romney accused Barack Obama of practicing the “bitter politics of envy.” In this way, criticism of the rich or powerful, or wanting the wealthy to be taxed more to fund public services, brings accusations of petty envy and resentment.

When envy spurs social change

Modern understandings of envy are also related to other kinds of negative feelings, like anger that someone has undeserved wealth or frustration that certain groups are hoarding money, power, or privileges.

Here is where envy can take a turn that can lead to better outcomes. Envy can be productive when it is not directed at one person in particular but is instead directed at the way society is structured.

Economists and political scientists increasingly recognize that reducing inequality can be an end in itself. Envy – even the kind of nakedly competitive envy that seeks to damage others for no personal gain – can work to regulate inequality that has grown too wide.

Political scientist Jeffrey Green defends policies driven by a “reasonable envy” that targets the well off, even if there is no expectation of gain for everyone else. For example, he says that capping wealth might lower the material welfare for all, but this would be worth the reduction in inequality, since excessive or unjust inequality can lead to instability and feelings of disempowerment among ordinary citizens.

Economist Robert Frank prefers taxing consumption to reduce “luxury fever,” in which competitive spending escalates wildly, especially among the super-rich, leaving less money for individuals and the government to spend on essential services.

Personification of envy, wearing a veil and green dress, sits on a bench with her arms folded.
An illustration of the personification of envy from a medieval manuscript.
The Morgan Library

In their new book, “The Economic Other,” political scientists Meghan Condon and Amber Wichowsky open with the line, “The human imagination is an engine of comparison.”

In their studies, they show that politics is driven by the social imagination – and Americans have fewer opportunities for comparison because of increasing class segregation in our society. Middle-class and poorer Americans see the wealthy online and on TV but not in everyday life. The authors believe policies might become more just if there were more opportunities for “upward comparison” – if everyday Americans could simply see, in their day-to-day lives, the extent to which the wealthy lead extravagant lives. Their research suggests that envious comparison would lead to more support for government spending on welfare, Social Security and education.

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Dwelling with envy

Aristotle has a much more specific – and negative – definition of envy. In his view, the emotion is directed toward our equals. We become envious when our neighbors have something we desire and believe we deserve, and when we feel it is our own fault that we do not have that good thing.

He distinguishes envy from other comparative feelings like emulation, indignation or pity. These kinds of distinctions are helpful, because thinking carefully about emotions can give us information about ourselves and our environment. Some philosophers describe emotions as reasoning tools, a shortcut to filter copious amounts of information.

In a time of quarantine – when comparisons often involve who has the best version of being alone – dwelling with envy can open our eyes to ourselves and the world.

Do these negative feelings say something about ourselves? Are they specific to another person? Or do they reflect an unjust system?

Can these disparities change? If so, what could bring that about?

Trying to manage or avoid envious feelings doesn’t allow us to answer – or even ask – those questions.The Conversation

Jessica Rosenfeld, Associate Professor of English Literature, Washington University in St Louis

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Little Free Libraries and Coronavirus


The link below is to an article that looks at the role of Little Free Libraries in the coronavirus pandemic.

For more visit:
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/books/story/2020-08-20/little-free-libraries-in-the-time-of-covid