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The naming of chickens (and a Regency rant). June 23, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in chickens, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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People sometimes look at me strangely when I tell them our chickens have names. And they always look at me strangely when I tell them what the chickens’ names are. But here at Hawk’s Haven, we think names matter. Real chickens aren’t stupid (as opposed to factory-farmed fowl who have had pretty much everything but their egglaying or meat-producing capacity bred out of them), and they know their own names as well as we know ours. We keep our chickens for life—which is up to twelve years—so we know them as well as any of our pets. And besides, choosing names is fun.

We like to give our hens theme names, which is pretty easy, since we only have six. Originally, Silence Dogood gave them all the names of Regency romance heroines—Venetia, Sophia, and the like. Silence swears to me that she hasn’t read a Regency romance since high school, when she was a Georgette Heyer addict, but I have my doubts. (Ack! Now I’ve done it. Silence just came in and, looking over my shoulder, announced that she’d like to put in a word at the end of this post.)

Our current flock is as follows: Stella, a Buff Orpington; Roxanne, a Spangled Sussex; Lucretia, a Barred Rock; Olivia, a Partridge Rock; Imelda, an Americana/Partridge Rock cross; and her half-sister Griselda, an Americana/Delaware cross. (To our friend Ben’s knowledge, there are no shoe closets in the Pullet Palace, and if Imelda has any Manolos hidden away, she only wears them after dark.) Needless to say, each hen has her own personality—some more pleasing than others—and because no two look alike, it’s easy for us to tell who’s who. I suppose if you had an entire flock of Rhode Island Reds, it might be easier to just call them all Lucy and get it over with.

But if you have a mixed flock like ours, our friend Ben encourages you to choose a theme and give your girls names you’ll enjoy, be they Jane Austen heroines, favorite Disney or Star Trek characters,  beloved cartoon characters like Blondie, Cathy, and Nancy, or the female stars of your favorite TV show, be it “Ugly Betty,” “Gray’s Anatomy,” or “House.” (Or, say, “American Idol” winners or female rock stars, or even women from famous rock songs like Layla, Lola, and Melissa.) You’ll enjoy your chickens more if they have names that also amuse you. And the more you talk to your chickens, calling each by her own name, the tamer and more affectionate they’ll be. And that’s a good thing.

Let us know if your chickens have especially wonderful names. And now (gulp), here’s Silence…

Silence Dogood here. I’d just like to go on a brief rant about the wretched state of today’s so-called Regency romances. The Regency romance—and the romance novel in general—was the love child of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer. Jane Austen lived in the Regency period, that time in England in the late 1700s and early 1800s when England’s King George III was suffering his bouts of “madness” and his son, the Prince Regent, was acting king. Her delightful novels were set in her own time.

Georgette Heyer, writing in the first half of the Twentieth Century, emulated Jane Austen’s winning Pride and Prejudice formula (smart, entrancing girl meets wealthy, handsome boy, difficulties ensue, but ultimately girl gets boy) in her own novels. She recognized the allure of setting her novels in the past, in a more “romantic” era, so she also chose Jane Austen’s period (thus, Regency romances). And she upped the ante: her heroines, though invariably well bred, were usually reduced by circumstances to take humiliating positions such as governess or paid companion, making them ineligible as marriage partners in the rigid class structure of the day; her heroes were almost always of the nobility, and often dukes. Her plot twists brought the pair together in such a way that the hero overcame his class prejudices to ultimately perceive the lady’s charms, and love conquered all.

It’s tempting to say that, in America’s classless society, the appeal of these books would be incomprehensible. But the success of Harlequin and other romance-novel publishers gives this assumption the lie. Jane Austen is, if anything, more popular now than she ever was. But why? I think it’s because these novels touch on a core issue for women, who want to be loved for who we are, not how we look. Like everyone, women want to be loved. But we distrust surfaces. We have seen the most beautiful, the most famous, the most admired women in the world—Elizabeth Taylor, Princess Diana, Martha Stewart, Jennifer Aniston, Oprah, you name her—fail to find fidelity or marital happiness. If they can’t manage it, how can we ordinary women?

That’s where the Regency romance comes in. The wealthy, handsome, sophisticated man of the world has seen it all. And then he sees us. Wearied by superficiality, he perceives the timeless qualities that set us apart. He is ready to give up his life of idle dissipation in order to love and cherish us—and us alone—for the rest of our lives. It’s as if James Bond suddenly fell madly in love with, and proposed to, Miss Moneypenny.

Obviously, most of us are not out to marry a duke, or James Bond, or even Indiana Jones. But that captain-of-the-football-team-falls-in-love-with-the-brainy-science-major business is still pretty heady stuff for many women. (And I’m here to tell you that it really does happen.) So romance novels continue to sell.

But here’s the thing. In Jane Austen’s day, physical contact between the sexes—at least, until marriage—was a scandal. I’m not sure any of her heroes and heroines even so much as kissed, even after they pledged their troth. And all of Miss Austen’s books ended when the happy couple finally made it to the altar—no steamy night-of or morning-after scenes. Georgette Heyer pretty much stuck to that formula as well, though if memory serves, there were a few kisses in her novels, at least at the end. By contrast, today’s romance novels are filled with graphic sex and pre-marital pregnancies.

I understand the point of this—these novels are aimed at bored 30- and 40-something housewives, not (ahem) virginal teens, who were the heroines in both Miss Austen’s and Miss Heyer’s novels. I assume the authors and their publishers figure that these women are a) not virgins and b) would like to read about heroines who are closer to their own age and life experience. Thus, the age of the romance heroine has moved into the twenties, and more of them are widows or discarded fiancees (discarded, of course, after the cad who engaged their affections has ravished them, often with horrific consequences).

But oh, please. Reading about the couplings of the characters in graphic if eccentric detail (romance novels have their own language as far as describing body parts and sex acts is concerned) is ludicrous at best, screamingly (though unintentionally) funny at worst. Some things are best left to the imagination, as Georgette Heyer knew. That’s why I think that Bollywood’s “Bride and Prejudice,” where the Darcy-and-Elizabeth equivalents never so much as kiss, is truer to Jane Austen’s intent than most modern interpretations of her novels, and one reason why I love Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency books. Though his heroines pursue romances, become engaged, and marry, you never read about so much as a kiss.

Anticipation. Hope. The realization of a seemingly impossible dream. This is romance (if not reality, but that’s the whole point, now, isn’t it?). Our friend Ben is right; I don’t read modern Regency romances. Not because I wouldn’t enjoy the delightful escapist romp every now and then, but because that obligatory graphic element spoils the romance of them for me. How about you? 

Um, Silence, if that’s a “brief” rant, what’s a long rant? And here you accuse me of never being at a loss for words! Uh, Silence? Silence?! Uh oh. Our friend Ben signing off…