Sunday, May 27, 2007

In loving memory of Lusitania Andrews

To round off a very dull wet Sunday, TV offered a choice of either a documentary about the wreck of a pirate ship, or the BBC's full blown drama-documentary on the sinking of the Lusitania. In this, Winston Churchill and the Admiralty manipulated some perfectly decent German submariners into torpedoing the liner. The ship was also packed full of some contraband explosives, though the programme did stop short of implying they had been loaded aboard to make sure that the loss was catastrophic.

The BBC's offerings (what I see of them, I certainly spend far more time on their website than actually watching the box) are often enlivened by contempt for and revulsion at 'the government'. I recall a particularly egregious episode of Doctor Who, in which flatulent alien pigs had taken over 10 Downing Street. Here in this case, the account of the historic likelihoods was so skewed as to suggest that the Lusitania was being treated as a metaphor or a symbol of bad faith between government and civilian population. I have no objection to the BBC scoring points, but does history have to be so unscrupulously co-opted?

But it all reminded me of this child's gravestone in Langley Marish churchyard: dying at 2 years and 11 months on July 6th, 1917, Lusitania Andrews had been born at around the outbreak of the war. For decades in the first half of the 20th century, ocean liners were a source of national prestige. Locomotives competed. In these latter days of unheroic technology, we have to make do with celebrities, who strive to be thinner, faster, consume more resources, etc. The name seemed suitable to Mr and Mrs Andrews for their little baby girl, as parents do pick on names that are in the media. After the terrible loss of the ship, perhaps they felt they had not after all chosen well, and that the little Lusitania was unluckily named. Sadly, they soon had reason to think as much.

I recall that in the Cinthio source narrative for Othello, Desdemona's father is (after it all) blamed for having given his murdered daughter such an unlucky name.

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