To be Distracted

This week I am away from the library taking a week of scholarly leave so I can finish writing an article and start two other articles. I am trying to not be too distracted so I can actually accomplish what I need to this week. Distractions are everywhere.

I have distracted myself briefly with the January issue of Vanity Fair, featuring an interview that makes me love Meryl Streep even more. I love how she points out about raising three daughters, “As girls grow up…as soon as boys come into the picture, you figure out that you have to modify that assertiveness thing in order to even be acceptable, let alone appealing, within the cohort of girls as well as boys…I can’t remember the last time I really worried about being appealing.” I love that observation, and I love the fact that she is a successful actress in spite of the fact that she has no desire to be “appealing.” Too bad in Hollywood, it is only Meryl Streep who is exempt from all of those requirements about appearance that seem to dictate the standards for every other actress. Or perhaps it is just that Meryl Streep is the only on assertive enough to stand up for herself and demand something more, which makes me respect her even more. The quotation also reminds me of someone else that I greatly admire, my sister, Sarah. Of all of the women that I know, Sarah is the only one that I know that at no point in time ever dialed back her own intelligence or assertiveness for the sake of pleasing someone else. That is why she is where she is today.

After reading The Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy, I thought that that the decline of the hereditary landed gentry class was due to a number of factors: the declining value of agricultural land and rents in Great Britain, the increase of taxes, particularly estate taxes, the sheer loss of aristocratic blood during World War I, etc. However, Charles Spencer (yes, Diana’s brother) posits in Vanity Fair that divorce and spendthrift young wives are to blame for the death of stately estates and homes in the UK. Debauched aristocrats marrying social climbing ingenues is nothing new in Great Britain, so I am not sure that I completely buy into Spencer’s argument. Just look at the laxity and depravity of the Prince of Wales’ circle during Regency England or the Happy Valley set of colonial British East Africa. I think that what Spencer should have focused on is how modern estate planning laws have changed the restrictive entailment that kept the estate from passing from father to son. However, modern family law and estate planning laws that now break that hereditary expectation are what lead estates now passing to the Anna Nicole Smiths of the British kind. I still don’t think that has as much to do with it, though. My aunt and uncle are friends with a Scottish couple who live in North Carolina. The husband works as a surgeon, the wife as a veterinarian (that is how my aunt met her because she is Aunt Sarah’s vet for her horse farm). The husband is set to inherit a very large estate in Scotland, but because of the expectation of extremely high estate taxes, he and his wife work in the US and save every last penny they can to anticipate the high cost of inheriting the sizable estate. Of course, the future cost of heating a home with 35 bedrooms also is cause to save as well. Maybe in Charles Spencer’s world there are greedy soon to be ex-wives waiting to pilfer the estate, but it seems like the more reasonable (and less misogynistic) explanation is that the cost of maintaining the great estates is just too high in this day and age.

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