Thursday, February 24, 2005


I've always said that a critiquer's comments on a story are as much a map of the critter's psyche as of the story's content.

I may have mentioned, I gave copies of "Sikeston" to my kung-fu teacher, Sit, and to a coworker, Susan.

About halfway down the first page is this description:

She was slim, and pale, and very English, with fair hair swept back in a tight knot and china-blue eyes.

Susan's parents are English. They moved to Canada, then to the U.S., before Susan was born. Susan said to me, "What does that mean, she looked English? Do I look English?"

Susan does not look English. She looks like all my Mom's uncles, who are potato-bug Irish, as Trace would say. I explained to Susan that there is a stereotypical ideal of English beauty as blond and pale and blue-eyed--and this stereotype was much stronger in the nineteenth century. No one else has questioned this description.

Sit, on the other hand, is a 50-year-old Chinese native, been living in the U.S. since the 70's, I believe.

In the story, the Englishwoman has a Chinese manservant (The story takes place in St. Louis, 1880.):

“Miss Fairweather will be with you momentarily,” the Chinese said, bowing. His English was excellent, with British enunciation.

Sit told me last night that the servant was unlikely to have good English, because virtually all Chinese in America at that time were poor laborers. Only a rich man's son, he said, would have known good English.

Fair enough, but I know some things about that Chinese man that don't feature in the story, i.e. his employer brought him from China to England and then to the U.S., and he is quite educated.

Again, nobody else has even noticed this detail. I think some of the critters may pick up on it, though.

I just find it amusing, because people have their hot buttons--they notice the things that relate to them, which they find either flattering or potentially insulting. The second Trace story will have several Chinese railroad laborers featured in, as spear carriers and victims, and I'm already squirming at the inherent prejudice I'll have to deal with, for the sake of versimilitude.

Oh yeah, "Sikeston" is up on Critters TODAY, instead of next week--I didn't expect my MPC award to be redeemed so quickly. I'm not mentally prepared for this.

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