Swiss Miss

Justice has finally been served. Today, the government of the Swiss state of Glarus, in conjunction with both the Protestant and Catholic churches, officially exonerated Anna Goeldi -- the last woman tried and executed for witchcraft in Europe.

One might ask why I have chosen to take note of this. I could say that the DNC coverage has put me in a political mood, and that speeches condemning torture have made Goeldi's story seem strangely relevant. She confessed under torture to having made a pact with the devil, who appeared to her (as he does) in the shape of a black dog.

Her testimony did not lead to the arrest of the devil. Nor, indeed, of the dog.

I could say it's because she was held on the baseless charge of feeding needles to her master's daughter by supernatural means, and subsequently tried by the Protestant Church council -- which did not have the legal authority to try her.

I could also say it's because this brings Pamela to mind. Goeldi left her home in Sennwald looking for work and found a position as a maidservant in the house of Jakob Tschudi, a physician and magistrate. According to local journalist Walter Hauser, Tschudi quite fancied her. The two had an affair, but Tschudi had to have her silenced when she threatened to go public. His prayer was answered when the church council had her beheaded by sword-stroke in the public square.

Say what you will about Squire B., but at least he didn't have poor Pamela done for witchcraft.

Of course not, you will say; Richardson published Pamela in 1740. Witchcraft had gone the way of aether, eye-beams, and decent epic poetry. Perhaps, I will say; but that didn't stop the church council from returning a conviction for the crime in 1782.

This is why I'm taking note. The court probably no longer believed in witchcraft, though it remained a crime. Officially they convicted her for poisoning, but as the act was non-lethal it shouldn't have carried the death penalty. So, really, witchcraft it was. But, according to the government that has just exonerated her, "Goeldi's execution was even more incomprehensible as it happened in the Age of Enlightenment when 'those who made the judgment regarded themselves as educated people.'" Hauser makes a similar claim: "Educated people here did not believe in witchcraft in 1782."

It's a tad difficult to tell about precisely what the officials and other folks of Glarus feel worse: the injustice committed against an innocent woman, or the idea that people will think their ancestors still believed in witchcraft during the Age of Enlightenment. They're caught between the devil (or a dog) and the deep blue sea: history can remember them as having either been evil or ignorant.

I must say I'm not entirely sure that if those were my only options I wouldn't rather choose to go down as evil.

On a separate note--I'm not sure where I stand on the subject of overdue government apologies for crimes committed ages ago by people long dead. I can see their symbolic value, I suppose, but at the same time they strike me as being a bit silly. Was anyone really waiting around for the government to speak up before deciding where to come down on Anna Goeldi's guilt or innocence? And what's this government really got to do with the one that looked the other way two and a half centuries ago?


The library's the thing

It's been about four months since anyone has commented on a post. This saddens but does not surprise me. Really I do prefer to do all the talking myself, as it saves time and prevents arguments.

But, in the interest of generating conversation, and in the even greater interest of not working on my dissertation, I'd like to share a brief anecdote and then solicit the feedback of my readers.

I've always wanted to pretend to have readers.

A couple of years ago, I paid for a lifetime membership to librarything.com. In my more optimistic days I thought I might have a future in academia, and so believed that my library would soon grow out of all compass and want some form of functional catalog. (I see by the little red squiggly dots we're no longer spelling that "catalogue.") I entered everything I owned and have continued to do so, but really it's been an exercise in narcissism. I for reasons passing understanding aspire to have more obscure books; I stand back and marvel at my almost oppressively canonical author cloud; I wonder when my "eighteenth-century" tag will finally dwarf all other tags by a ludicrous margin. It's full-on gloriously self-indulgent book-nerd exhibitionism. But it hasn't been useful.

Until today. Having watched the trailer for Watchmen, I found myself wanting to reread it. I couldn't remember, though, if I already owned it. I was about to buy a copy when I remembered librarything and decided to check it. I searched my books, and there it was. Saved me eleven bucks, plus shipping.

Provided, of course, I can find it, which brings me to the point. Though my library is exceedingly small, my apartment is even smaller, so shelf space is at a premium. Like any actual library, I at some point had to make a decision about what I wanted to have immediately accessible and what could go into the apartment-dweller's version of off-site storage: some plastic bins shoved under my bed, in my closet, etc. Right now, sitting in prime positions on a very comfortable bit of pine, are books that I have not touched in years. Meanwhile, the book I want is no doubt at the very bottom of an unmarked box buried under three years' worth of stuff that even Superfund isn't prepared to deal with. Therefore, as has been the case several times this summer at the British Library, recovery of my requested item could take up to a week. The point is, I got it wrong -- I did not accurately anticipate my likely needs, and failed to make critical decisions about space according to the right criteria. I think I got tripped by vanity; thinking back on how I went about it at the time, I left anything that could be classified as Literature on the shelves and left everything else to the mercy of the dust-bunnies. Old textbooks, pleasure-reading, etc. went first. Eventually the Russian lit fell, then the French. The whole of the 20th century followed, and at the moment it's not looking good for 1850-1900.

So my questions are: 1) do you have a librarything account, and 2) if so, has it been useful? 3) If not, have you ever had to waste half a day looking for a book you couldn't possibly have known you'd need when you deprioritized it and 4) if so, have you actually found doing so a perversely rewarding experience? Lastly--5) how are your books organized now, and by what criteria did you determine their arrangement?