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Pauline, the American girl mentioned in the previous extract, seems fated to play the supporting female romantic role in Florence Barclay's 1910 novel, The Rosary. But I was startled by a phrase in this passage from Chapter X of the book, where she reflects on how she will never marry Garth "Dal" Dalmain, the male lead:
But after her maid had left her, Pauline switched off the electric light and, drawing back the curtain, stood for a long while at her window, looking out at the peaceful English scene bathed in moonlight. At last she murmured softly, leaning her beautiful head against the window frame:

"I stated your case well, but you didn't quite deserve it, Dal. You ought to have let me know about Jane, weeks ago. Anyway, it will stop the talk about you and me. And as for you, dear, you will go on sighing for the moon; and when you find the moon is unattainable, you will not dream of seeking solace in more earthly lights—not even poppa's best sperm," she added, with a wistful little smile, for Pauline's fun sparkled in solitude as freely as in company, and as often at her own expense as at that of other people, and her brave American spirit would not admit, even to herself, a serious hurt.
Not even whose best what???!!!???

(And do you find it gives you a wistful little smile like Pauline's????)


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 23rd, 2010 11:09 pm (UTC)
Presumably Pauline means that she herself is (her) Poppa's best sperm, rather than that Dal should seek comfort in some homoerotic exploits...

ETA: I had no idea about the lights...

Edited at 2010-08-24 01:09 am (UTC)
Aug. 23rd, 2010 11:33 pm (UTC)
sperm oil used for lights? otherwise whaaa?
Aug. 23rd, 2010 11:42 pm (UTC)
This. OED:
sperm, n. ... 7. "Sperm candles or oil."

1856 Orr's Circ. Sci., Pract. Chem. 458 If there be any difference, the light of sperm is a little greater, and that of stearic acid a little whiter. 1890 CLARK RUSSELL Ocean Trag. I. iv. 68 The soft..radiance diffused by the burning sperm.

One of the most delightful passages from Moby-Dick is the description of the extraction of spermaceti from the corpse of a whale:
Squeeze! squeeze! squeeze! all the morning long; I squeezed that sperm till I myself almost melted into it; I squeezed that sperm till a strange sort of insanity came over me; and I found myself unwittingly squeezing my co-laborers' hands in it, mistaking their hands for the gentle globules.
I am pretty sure that Melville intended the double entendre; perhaps Barclay did too?
Aug. 23rd, 2010 11:44 pm (UTC)
Yes, this is clearly what is meant here, at least on the single-entendre level.
Aug. 24th, 2010 01:58 am (UTC)
It does give me a wistful little smile. I feel gently gladdened all over in my maidenly heart!
Aug. 24th, 2010 07:47 am (UTC)
Yeah, having re-read Moby Dick recently meant that the intended meaning was clear
Aug. 23rd, 2010 11:46 pm (UTC)
Makes perfect sense to me.

Aug. 24th, 2010 06:24 am (UTC)
You know that they actually eat whale sperm in Japan - it's a delicacy...
Aug. 24th, 2010 01:21 pm (UTC)
I would read that as Poppa being an oil merchant, providing lighting material.

Although references to whale oil in 1910 surprises me - I would have thought gas, kerosene, other cheaper oils and even electricity, but not whale oil? I thought spermacetic was primarily used for perfume and medicinal stuff by then!
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )

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