Note: At more than 4500 words, this is the longest essay I have ever published in this column. Were my subject less worthy, I would not waste readers' time with this meticulous unpacking of a somewhat obscure 1990 film. However, I have been carrying a torch for John Patrick Shanley's masterpiece for over half my life, and am delighted to here tell you as much about it as I can.
I almost didn’t fall for Patricia Highsmith.
There are probably a thousand ways to introduce Shakespeare, though I have very little interest in speculation about his politics or whether he was secretly Catholic. Neither do I think it best to begin with the place of his birth, the Globe Theater, a history of stage directions, or controversies about his identity. Those introductions are too bookish, too content driven, too postmodern, or too collegiate.
After more than a decade on Facebook and Twitter, I finally quit. Last December, I deleted my Facebook account and my Instagram account, then a few weeks later I deleted my Twitter account. I started a Wordpress blog, just like I had eighteen years ago, turned off the comments, and have since been perfectly content living without social media. I loathe social media.
There are two kinds of classical schools. There are classical schools which claim a classical education is about the cultivation of virtue, and there are classical schools which claim a classical education is about teaching students how to think, not what to think. The latter kind tend to present classical education primarily through the work of Dorothy Sayers and describe classical methodology in terms of developmental psychology and cognitive theory.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, “tone deaf” has emerged as the hot new go-to complaint. Granted, “tone deaf” isn’t entirely new. We’ve met before. For the last several years, “tone deaf” was the shy clever girl who only stepped off the sidelines to hit the dance floor when she really liked the song the DJ was playing— but now, “tone deaf” is everywhere and fabulous. So move aside, “sexist.” Sorry, “homophobic.” Deal with it, “toxic.” It’s time for “tone deaf” to shine.
The quarantine is the perfect occasion to develop a taste for something you wish you liked, but don’t, like black & white films, opera, coffee, chocolate, or, in my case, mid-century Modern literature. Since giving up social media, I’ve had so much more time on my hands, and a good bit of that extra time has gone towards reading fiction. In the early part of my career, I more or less gave up reading fiction and took up history and philosophy, in large part to become a more competent lecturer.
Over the last week, the administrative team at Veritas in Richmond collaborated with teachers to launch Veritas at Home, a strategy for quarantined students to carry on the school year in the safety of their own living rooms. As opposed to dictating to teachers all they should do, the administrative team began by seeking the counsel of several experienced teachers about what was reasonable to expect of students and teachers alike.
After a good bit of prefatory work on the part of teachers at Veritas, yesterday was really the first day in which students began working from home in earnest. My wife is on the administrative team at the school, and while the quarantine means less work for some people, it means far more work for people such as herself. So, between writing and podcasting, I supervise Beatrice (8) and Camilla’s (10) studies, field endless requests to play outside, and keep house.
After all these years, the real test has finally come.
The real test was never going to be a set of math problems. It was never going to be lab work. It was never going to be a list of facts. The real test was never going to be an essay on Jane’s relationship with Rochester, a fill-in-the-blank about which monster was Scylla and which one was Charybdis, or a series of multiple-choice questions about the Apostles, the Cold War, or “biblical economics.”