One up-woman-ship

Doubtless the next few outings will reveal what Malcolm has been doin’ of late.

G-VROCBack to a fer-fer-freezing London, courtesy of G-VROC Mustang Sally (and she surely was bucking about in the early stages of the flight), one of the first little bizarreries lodged in Malcolm’s mind was that very word.


The OED definition is Bizarre quality — which is rather like saying ‘pinkness’ is the quality of being pink. It doesn’t really help. You either ‘get it’ or you don’t.

Rather like ConDem coalition government, which itself defines a particular bizarrerie.

Perhaps bizarrerie was intended to be the name of a retail shop, and therefore most likely to suit one specialising in female ‘intimate’ apparel. And so we have another bizarrerie: how can clothing be ‘intimate’?

Anyway, bizarrerie enjoyed a brief span as a borrowed (from French) English word in the first part of the Nineteenth Century. We find the ubiquitous Walter Scott employing it in his little spook-story, The Tapestried Chamber:

Upon a gentle eminence, nearly a mile to the southward of the town, were seen amongst many venerable oaks and tangled thickets the turrets of a castle, as old as the wars of York and Lancaster, but which seemed to have received important alterations during the age of Elizabeth and her successors. It had not been a place of great size; but whatever accommodation it formerly afforded, was, it must be supposed, still to be obtained within its walls; at least, such was the inference which General Browne drew from observing the smoke arise merrily from several of the ancient wreathed and carved chimney-stalks. The wall of the park ran alongside of the highway for two or three hundred yards, and, through the different points by which the eye found glimpses into the woodland scenery, it seemed to be well stocked. Other points of view opened in succession; now a full one, of the front of the old castle, and now a side glimpse at its particular towers; the former rich in all the bizarrerie of the Elizabethan school, while the simple and solid strength of other parts of the building seemed to show that they had been raised more for defence than ostentation.

A wee bit of Lit. Hist.

Another bizarrerie: the Gothic Novel was running into exhaustion by the start of the Nineteenth Century.

In its first incarnation it expired with Charles Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer, of 1820. That’s why Jane Austen, in Northanger Abbey (1818) guys The Mysteries of Udolpho (from 1794) so mercilessly. And Thomas Love Peacock’s Nightmare Abbey, from the same year as Austen, is up to the same knavish tricks. Yet here we have Scott, in 1828, apparently counter-reacting against the reaction, and re-deploying some classic Gothic elements: the haunted room, a stereotypical villain, and a family curse. Scott’s regular publishers, James Ballantyne and Robert Cadell, were none too keen; and Scott had to divert his gothic tales to Frederic Mansel Reynold’s annual The Keepsake.

Scott, though, was the shrewd dude. He recognised that the clichés of the Gothic genre would sell and sell — all the way down to the present day. Which, in another way, is what Austen and Peacock were also about.

The particular instance

What brought the word bizarrerie into Malcolm’s mind this particular day, and in connection with the headline above, was discovering the story of Galla Placidia and Saint Germanus.

Galla Placidia was one of the pincesses of the later Western Roman Empire. daughter of Theodosius I. On New year’s Day, AD 417, she fulfilled the dynastic need imposed upon every princess: she was married off to Flavius Constantinus, the Emperor Honorius’ military hatchet-man and fixer-in-chief. By the end of that year, Galla Placidia was the mother of a doughtier, and a son was added within another year or so. Constantinus was named co-emperor, and the young son, Valentinian marked as Honorius’s heir.

After seven months as co-emperor, Constantinus died, and Honorius — never the most stable element around — took suspicions that Galla Placidia was plotting to do him down. Galla Placidia bunked off from Ravenna to the eastern court of Theodosius at Constantinople. Theodosius was severely frosty about Valentinian, nurturing ambitions to reunite the empire from Constantinople.

Galla Placidia was in a vexed political position, distrusted by both imperial court. Her solution was to revert to virginity (i.e. strict chastity and religious observance).

Time passes

By her later years (let’s jump over the vagaries of fifth-century Italy) Galla Placidia was back in Ravenna, being a professional mother of the church, founding churches and monasteries, providing an example to all and sundry.

In 446 Bishop Germanus of Auxerre came visiting, apparently to moderate the ‘official’ distaste (which fell little short of persecution) for the Bagaudae, who were grass-roots, and lower orders, fundamentalist christians and as-near-as-dammit national liberationists across Gaul and Iberia.

The Bagaudae had first emerged from the primeval forests between the Seine and the Loire towards the end of the Third Century, attacking the great landowners in their villas, and even over-running small, ill-defended towns. A further outbreak of civil disobedience, also termed the ‘Bagaudae’, happened in the first half of the Fifth Century, all the ay from Brittany to the Pyrenees. Roman generals Aetius and Litorius had to do a bit of aggressive ‘hearts and minds’ stuff, using the full might of the Roman army and their Visigoth mercenaries.

Germanus had acquired charisma as a populist preacher, ascetic, faith-healer, and miracle-worker. He turned up at Ravenna, in the depths of night, hoping to avoid fervid excesses. Galla Placidia was not to be cheated of her celebrations, though: she had ordered a full-on, all-night vigil. Galla Placidia 1, Germanus 0.

Germanus was welcomed with a vast silver platter, laden with all sorts of vegetarian delicacies (a gesture to the Bishop’s known diet). Galla Placidia 2, Germanus 0.

Germanus countered by giving away all the prepared food: Galla Placidia 2, Germanus 1. He followed up with another strike: he sold the silver platter, and distributed the proceeds to Ravenna’s poor.

Half-time: two-all.

Into the second half, Germanus went for an opportunist goal, sending Galla Placidia a gift of his own: a modest barley loaf on a simple wooden platter. One up to Germanus, particularly because the implicit message was how Galla Placidia insouciantly combined the regal ostentation of her imperial rank with shows of pious simplicity.

Our gal was up for that.

She had the barley loaf preserved, assuring all and sundry that it had miraculous healing powers. The wooden platter she had framed in gold, and made an object of veneration. A clear win for the lady and the home team, by any standard.

And that, friends and acquaintances, is Malcolm’s example of bizarrerie.



Filed under air travel., broken society, History, reading, Religious division, Walter Scott

3 responses to “One up-woman-ship

  1. Pingback: “At least leave me the f**king k!” | Malcolm Redfellow’s Home Service

  2. Pingback: Mr and Mrs Smith, indeed | Malcolm Redfellow’s Home Service

  3. Pingback: Ex America semper aliquid novum | Malcolm Redfellow’s Home Service

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