Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Orange Girl by Sir Walter Besant, published 1899, is a rambling, wordy book with familiar themes of the era and will probably bore most readers


This book by a 19th century British author reflects many of the themes one would expect in the era of Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy:

Kind-hearted but achingly poor folks being preyed upon by greedy businessmen and corrupt lawyers; lovely pure-hearted maidens; the filthy mean streets of London teaming with pickpockets, rogues and criminals; the absurd horrors of debtors prisons - but underlying it all, an avenue of escape promised by an overriding belief that there is a higher good, and a few well-placed saintly people determined to uplift the lowly.

What was surprising to me, however, was the tedious, disjointed and verbose rendering of this over-long novel. The writer is Sir Walter Besant, a bona fide scholar, intellectual and prolific author. Yet with The Orange Girl, he delivers a rambling mess of a work that is repetitive, pandering and ludicrously mawkish.

The story revolves around Will Halliday, a young man whose father is one of London's richest shipping merchants. Halliday is expected to take over his father's empire, but young Will becomes enamored with the fiddle. He desires the life of a musician. To his family, a musician is a step above a common footpad. Young Will chooses music anyway, is disowned, and is thrust into a life hovering at the edge of poverty.

The plot thickens when Will's father dies and implements a real twist in his will - he leaves £100,000 to either his son or his nephew - based on which one dies first. If the poor musician outlives his cousin, he gets the fortune. If his cousin, the avaricious Matthew Halliday, who remained in the family business, lives longer, he claims the loot.

To make a long story short - a very long story - the matter of the inheritance attracts greedy lawyers, criminals and sundry troublemakers who hover around the fate of the unclaimed fortune like flies around a steaming pile of manure. They all scheme to make the life of the innocent fiddle player Will Halliday a living hell.

So who is the "Orange Girl?" That would be Jenny Wilmot, a blissfully beautiful, overpoweringly lovely and magnificently gorgeous goddess of a woman who is the purest of pure saints - so virtuous she is willing to sacrifice anything and everything for the sake and comfort of her fellow man. She crosses paths with Will Halliday, gets entangled in his life - and so the plot plays out.

The character of Jenny Wilmot is modeled on the real-life 17th Century British actress Nell Gwyn, and something of a folk heroine who also happened to be the mistress of King Charles II.

By the way, an Orange Girl is a young woman who worked the crowds at theaters or other public events. They carry baskets of oranges and either give them out for free or sell them for pennies. They do so while dressed as risqué and revealingly as the stilted 18th or 19th Century British society allowed - they are like an Elizabethan version of a Hooter's waitress - although the Orange Girl enjoys a status more akin to a prostitute.

I have a theory as to why Sir Besant managed to deliver such a substandard heap of fiction, but since zero out of zero readers of this review have made it this far, I'll just end it here by saying that "The Orange Girl" is not a work destined to be a classic, but a work destined to be forgotten.

Download a free copy of The Orange Girl here: THE ORANGE GIRL

Ken Korczak is the author of: BIRD BRAIN GENIUS

Sunday, January 6, 2013

"The Last Frontier" by Julia Assante is a book much needed today because our society is obsessed with death in a negative, macabre and destructive way


This book recommends that everyone speak to the dead, and I agree. I’ll be blunt: I’ve tried speaking to the dead, and I’m happy to report that it works. And, yes they talk back. If a cynical, hard-headed skeptic like me who loves empirical science and rational thought can speak to the dead and gain value from it, then anyone can.

Not only is it possible to speak to the dead, but it will make you feel absolutely on top of the world. I’m not kidding. Having a conversation with a dead loved one – or any deceased person – is like undergoing a terrific psychological cleansing. It’s amazingly uplifting.

Even if you absolutely cannot believe that the dead live on somehow -- on another plane or in some kind of afterlife -- and even if you are the ultimate rational atheist, you can still benefit greatly from speaking to the dead. If you don’t believe me, try it. Maybe you are a super rational, empirical materialist -- I still dare you – I double dog dare you – to use some of the methods this author, JULIA ASSANTE suggests for contacting the dead.

So this is a pretty terrific book. What I like about it most is the author’s dogged insistence that the issue of death should be a positive and uplifting subject in our society. Death, dying and being dead is something which should be stripped of the fear and sense of the macabre our mainstream culture has overlaid it with. As the author says, our two greatest achievements in life are probably being born and dying – and death is definitely not the end.

Julia Assante, Ph.D.
Here, now, I will air some quibbles I have with this book:

First, the author gives a vigorous and breathless endorsement of the Spiricom device – an electronic contraption which supposedly enabled a man by the name of William O’Neil to contact the deceased American physicist, Dr. George Mueller.

O'Neil recorded an amazing 20 hours of two-way conversation with the deceased Dr. Mueller. The Spiricom was bankrolled by a wealthy inventor and industrialist, George Meek, who was said to have revolutionized the air-conditioning industry, and got rich on his numerous patents.

To make a long story short, the Spiricom experiment has been all-but proven to be a hoax – and it was probably a hoax perpetrated by William O’Neil. Even George Meek was hoodwinked. The Spiricom device worked only once – and only for Mr. O’Neil. After that, the contrivance was passed from hand to hand, and owner to owner, and not a single other person was able to make the heap work, much less contact a famous dead scientist.

William O’Neil was known to have been diagnosed as suffering from schizophrenia – it’s listed on his death certificate. Remember, the Spiricom worked for O’Neil and O’Neil only.

It was also the case that O’Neil had some financial interest in making the Spiricom work. He was being bankrolled by the wealthy George Meek. Success with the Spiricom meant that the gravy train could keep rolling for O’Neil – and O’Neil needed the money. He was living in a burned out shell of a decrepit old house at the time.

Now get this: O’Neil was a self-proclaimed psychic and medium, but he also was well known to be a performing ventriloquist. That’s right! And not only was William O’Neil a schizophrenic ventriloquist, it was also known that he owned what is called an “electronic-larynx” device – this was a small microphone worn at the throat that could help a ventriloquist “throw” his voice –and also make his voice sound totally different. It gives the voice a kind of electrical-robotic sound – as was the quality of the voice of the supposedly eager to communicate and dead Dr. George Mueller.

Interestingly, O’Neil never allowed himself to be photographed from the front while using the Spiricom – was it so that he could hide the fact he was wearing and electronic larynx? I ask readers to add up all the evidence and and draw their own conclusion.

I bring this up because the author should have known better than to endorse the legacy of the Spiricom. She holds a Ph.D and thus must be well familiar with not only citing sources, but vetting those sources for accuracy. She stumbles here in the case of the Spriricom. This is unfortunate because her overall thesis is one that is highly controversial – and this means that every bit of information offered is critical to sustain overall credibility. All it takes is one glaring error for skeptics and debunkers to pounce.

Another minor quibble is that the book is overwritten, wordy and seems repetitive and padded at times –but others might disagree.

Overall, I absolutely recommend this book. I also liked the author's skillful overview of how beliefs about death and the afterlife shifted and evolved from ancient times, through a series of dominating structures which hold sway over society for a few centuries, only to change.

Ken Korczak is the author of: MINNESOTA PARANORMALA