Feeling lukewarm after tussling with fake covid and then the after-effects of my second shingles vaccination, what could be better reading than Thomas Hardy’s The Laodicean. Not one of his greatest novels, the Dorset background is muted, in fact it is said to be located in Somerset, although there are references to folk travelling abroad from Budmouth (Weymouth). Hardy was ill for a long period at the time he wrote it. For me, it doesn’t at all have the same resonance as Far from the Madding Crowd, the Return of the Native or Tess where the Dorset landscape is ever present.
I’ve read it before but it could be as long as a half century ago. Disturbed because I remember so little with only a few scenes laboriously reconstructed in the course of reading (the first being Paula, the main female character, who is presumably the Laodicean, who refuses adult baptism just before the ceremony). The title with its (somewhat obscure?) reference is typical of Hardy; he uses frequent biblical and classical allusions. At least the biblical references were probably more comprehensible in the latter half of the nineteenth century when greater knowledge of the bible was part of the standard formation of educated folk. At the same time, this novel was written as a serial with a much broader catchment area than the professorial. I used to think that the references reflected Hardy’s sensitivity about not having had a university education and a desire to show that, despite this, he was an educated man. Had that been the case, however, it could perhaps be expected that these references would decline as Hardy became the self-confident successful author. And I’m not sure that that’s the case.
Another Hardy theme is the decline of the old land-owning aristocracy, old money (or perhaps no old money). The De Stancy family has come down in the world and no longer owns its historic home, Stancy Castle, which has been bought by new money, a scientist and investor in railways. Typical also for Hardy is the personal entanglement between old and new money, where the new money heiress is greatly attached to one of the surviving members of the De Stancy family. At the end of the tale, the heiress gets her modern man, the talented architect Somerset, the old castle burns down and Charlotte de Stancy shunts herself off to a Protestant Sisterhood, a rather mediaeval solution.
The Laodiceans were one of the Christian communities named in Revelation (according to Wikipedia) and criticised by JC for their lukewarm attitude.
Apart from reading Hardy, I have a collection of words which attracted my attention (both from the novel and elsewhere).
These were “burly”, which comes from Middle English. According to Wiki “in the sense ‘dignified, imposing’): probably from an unrecorded Old English word meaning ‘stately, fit for the bower’. This puzzles me. There is, of course, a bower as shady, leaf place, and a lady’s bower, but earlier it also had a sense of being a living area that was apart from the hall, presumably with more private access. The meaning of “burly” has clearly drifted as we mostly think of it as a physical description rather than other personal qualities.
And another word which is not new but useful in a new context “composite”. A composite postcard is one of those cards which have not just one scene but a number of pictures of a locality (I’m not keen on these but I’m pleased to have the technical term).
Then a word which comes from Hardy “gibbous”, which when applied to the moon means that the illuminated part is greater than a semicircle and less than a circle.
According to one source on the net “Why is a moon called gibbous?
The term waning means decreasing, and the term gibbous means “humped-back.” Therefore, this phase is called Waning Gibbous because the surface area of the Moon that you see is decreasing and the shape of the lit-up part of the Moon looks like a hump-back.
late Middle English: from late Latin gibbosus, from Latin gibbus ‘hump’.
Gibbous and I have followed our respective paths through life for almost 80 years without meeting but now at least we have a nodding acquaintance (although I fear it’s usefulness is limited for romantic moonlit walks – too much of a whiff of jabberwocky about it).
And I wondered about “nowt”, which I learn is from Middle English nowte, noute, nawte, naute, borrowed from Old Norse naut. Cognate with Old English nēat
“. A nice undergrowth word that has defended its place in dialect for very many years, a scrabble-friendly saviour.
“Post-nominal”, with or without a hyphen, is self-explanatory. It’s a fancy way of saying that you have letters after your name.
And “rigamarole” which is mid 18th century: apparently an alteration of ragman roll, originally denoting a legal document recording a list of offences.
Rigmarole, with many variant spellings in the 18th century, is probably a reduction of ragman roll, a long catalog or list, a sense dating from the early 16th century. In Middle English ragmane rolle was a roll or scroll of writing used in a game of chance in which players draw out an item hidden in the roll.
And I have a better grasp of the difference between nauseous (likely to vomit) and “queasy” (uncomfortable feeling but not quite as bad). Queasy is late Middle English queisy, coisy,
‘causing nausea’, of uncertain origin; perhaps related to Old French coisier ‘to hurt’.
and “slur” Middle English: originally as noun in sense ‘thin, fluid mud’, later as verb meaning ‘smear, smirch’, ‘disparage (a person)’, ‘gloss over (a fault)’.
And finally to complete my circle, I had to look at “luke” as in lukewarm.
According to Etymology on line, it comes from Middle English le, leoh, from Old English hleo “shelter, cover, defence, protection, the same word as “lee” turned away from the wind. It doesn’t feel satisfactory but the meaning has obviously evolved via some form of alleviation, moderation.
Wikipedia and etymology of line have been among my sources. I have to sharpen my act as noting where these explanations come from….next time.