Oct. 19, 2007

A Disappointment

by Louis Jenkins

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Poem: "A Disappointment" by Louis Jenkins, from North of the Cities. © Will O' The Wisp Books, 2007. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

A Disappointment

The best anyone can say about you is that you are a
disappointment. We had higher expectations of you.
We had hoped that you would finish your schooling.
We had hoped that you would have kept your job at the
plant. We had hoped that you would have been a better
son and a better father. We hoped, and fully expected,
that you would finish reading Moby Dick. I wish that,
when I am talking to you, you would at least raise your
head off your desk and look at me. There are people
who, without your gifts, have accomplished so much
in this life. I am truly disappointed. Your parents, your
wife and children, your entire family, in fact, everyone
you know is disappointed, deeply disappointed.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the anniversary of the surrender that effectively ended the American Revolutionary War, in Yorktown, Virginia, in 1781. That summer, the British had expected Washington to attack New York City. But when he learned that he might be able to capture the British forces on the Yorktown Peninsula in Virginia, he executed one of the boldest moves of the entire war, moving his army 400 miles in order to catch his enemy by surprise. He had to march his troops toward New York City first, to scare the British into hunkering down for an attack. Then he quickly moved south. The British commander only realized what Washington was doing two days after he'd already gone.

Washington's men and their French allies marched every day from 2:00 a.m. until it grew too hot to continue. It was a hot summer, and on one day, more than 400 men passed out from the heat. Few armies in history had ever moved so far so fast. By the second week of October, they had reached Yorktown and surrounded Cornwallis. He agreed to a surrender that began at 2:00 a.m. on this day in 1781. The one soldier who didn't surrender was Cornwallis himself. He sent his sword with his second-in-command to be offered to the French general, signifying that the British had been defeated by the French, not the Americans. Washington was furious, but it didn't matter. England didn't have enough money to raise another army. Two years later, the Treaty of Paris was signed, and the war was officially over.

It's the birthday of the spy novelist who writes under the name John le Carré, (books by this author) born David Cornwell in Poole, England (1931), who joined the British secret service as a young man because he thought it would be exciting, but he said, "[It was] spectacularly undramatic." So he entertained himself by writing novels. He chose the pen name John le Carré because he said, "I wanted something three-syllabled and exotic." Spy novels at the time were full of sexy, daring heroes, modeled on James Bond, but le Carré created a new kind of spy novel about spies who are tired, lonely men, who don't trust their own government any more than they trust their enemies.

Le Carr&ecaute;'s third novel, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963), was so successful that le Carré quit his job as a spy and began to write full time. But he continues to research his books like a spy, traveling alone to various cities, checking into cheap hotels, and carrying out surveillance, interviewing the local police and politicians without ever disclosing that he's actually just a novelist.

Le Carré said, "Most of us live in a condition of secrecy: secret desires, secret appetites, secret hatreds and relationship with the institutions which is extremely intense and uncomfortable. These are, to me, a part of the ordinary human condition. So I don't think I'm writing about abnormal things. ... Artists, in my experience, have very little center. They fake. They are not the real thing. They are spies. I am no exception."

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