Your RDA of Irony

The Rat Race

Last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine had a gruesome attempt at being cute. The feature story “The Squirrel Wars” told of a British lord’s crusade to exterminate gray squirrels in England. The gray squirrel is an alien species, an American tourist who doesn’t know when to leave. In fact, the gray has proved quite an Anglophile (imagine Henry James cute, furry and tailed) and is crowding out the native red squirrel. To protect the native English squirrels, Lord Redesdale founded an organization called the Red Squirrel Protection Society. That protection requires the extermination of gray squirrels. Lord Redesdale is distributing traps and instructions how to smash the skulls of the trapped animals. In his efforts to protect the traditions of England–including its rodents–Lord Redesdale seems a disturbing combination of Beatrix Potter and Rambo. If you were more familiar with his Lordship, you might even be further unnerved.

In the first paragraph of the story, Lord Redesdale lets you know that his family came over to England with William the Conqueror. He ironically overlooks the fact that the Normans were an invasive species, too. Furthermore, for a man who knows his ancestry, he seems to have forgotten his last name. He tells the author, “our original name was Bertram.” However, siince the 18th century the Baron Redesdales have had an impeccably English surname: Mitford.

That was quite an oversight by both the Baron and the Times reporter. You see, the Mitfords are renowned for their crusades against “alien species”. The second Baron Redesdale, great-great-uncle of the Squirrelicide, apparently used Mein Kampf as a guide to childrearing. His daughter Unity Valkryie Mitford had a wild crush on Hitler and was disappointed that the Fuhrer did not want to marry her. (Hitler was old enough to be her father.) When her native Britain went to war against her beloved Adolf, she attempted suicide–shooting herself in the head. Surprisingly, her brain was large enough to be hit and damaged; leaving her in a vegetative but more likable state.

Unity’s sister Diana was a more practical Nazi groupie. She at least found a functioning heterosexual among the Brownshirts: the leader of the British Fascist Union Sir Oswald Mosley. And they lived happily after, if you don’t count their years of imprisonment as Nazi agents. Their brother Tom shared their political sympathies; when he was killed in the war, at least it was by the Japanese rather than his beloved Nazis.

(Three other sisters–Deborah, Pamela and Nancy–were politically neutral, and they certainly could not approve of Hitler’s bombing London. Yet another sibling, Jessica went to the other extreme: she became a Communist and even married a Jew.)

So, the alleged Mr. Bertram seems to have inherited the Mitford heritage as well as title. In espousing the racial purity of the red squirrel, however Baron Redesdale seems to show better taste in rodents.

  1. Footnote Number One: To save my friend Hal Gordon writing an indignant correction, you should know that Nancy Mitford was an accomplished author of comic novels. Her work was good enough for “Masterpiece Theater”.

    Footnote Number Two:

    I am surprised some theater wunderkind (Peter Sellars is a leading culprit) hasn’t updated “Pride and Prejudice” to the 1930s. The Bennetts could become the Mitfords. Elizabeth, alias Nancy or Jessica, could be singing the Internationale while Mom and the other sisters are giggling over that adorable Herr Hitler. Mr. Darcy could be torn over which side to join in the Spanish Civil War. Meanwhile Mr. Bennett is on morphine, the only way that he can stand Mrs. Bennett.

    You know what is frightening? I think that this interpretation actually works.

  2. Bob Kincaid says:

    Wait’ll I tell the wife! They’s kinfolk! My wife’s maiden name is “Bartram,” course, and I think I’ll be out of thrown-kitchen utensil range when I share this with her.

    Are squirrels kosher?

  3. Hal Gordon says:

    Nancy Mitford also wrote a witty and marvelously entertaining biography of Frederick the Great, from which I shall quote this brief extract, dealing with the Seven Years War: “Even the Austrians were appalled by the behavior of their allies the Russians: the committed every atrocity under the sun and raped everybody, including the Burgomaster of Beuthen, whose wife said she really thought they might stick to women.”

  4. Leah says:

    I’m no expert in this area, but since squirrels do not have hooves (cloven or otherwise) and do not chew their cud (they only have one stomach, not two) I think they’re treyf.

    I thought the article was pretty interesting, especially the part about how Redesdale wants everyone to kill the grey squirrels but has great difficulty mustering the stomach for it himself.

    Having said that, I do think grey squirrels are rats with fluffy tails– actually, I’ve known some rats who are much nicer than squirrels.

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