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Liam Scarlett dead at 35


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I am saddened by Scarlett's death but equally I am certain that everyone has the right to a safe workplace where they will be free from bullying and sexual harassment. The Royal Ballet/ RBS investigation seems to have been a protracted affair. We heard that Scarlett had been banned from the theatre and  many months later a formal announcement was made that the company was severing ties with him. I think that the fact that they did not drop his staging of Swan Lake may well say more about the amount of money spent on it than anything else. I don't think that the decision to sever ties with him would have been taken lightly.

I think that the company would have found it very difficult to deal with the matter in any other way for two very basic reasons both of which must have loomed very large in the minds of all engaged in the process of investigating the allegations. First the reputation of the school as a safe place to undertake vocational training and second recollections of the length of time it took to dislodge  Ross Stretton when serious allegations were made about his conduct and his casting methods. I don't think that anyone in the company's senior management team would have been ignorant of the circumstances surrounding Stretton's departure. They would know that David Drew had gone out on a limb to tell the board what they did not want to hear about Stretton and that it did not seem to be enough to prompt any sort of action or enquiry by the board . They would know that It seemed to have taken Lady MacMillan's threat to withdraw the MacMillan repertory to make Stretton's position untenable. If there was evidence to support the allegations made against Scarlett and if things had really changed since Stretton's time and management now took its obligations to its dancers seriously then a slap on the wrist was not going to be an adequate response.

As to the nature of the allegations I seem to recall that when the Times first reported on the matter it referred to allegations that young male dancers were being asked for intimate photographs in exchange for roles in Scarlett's ballets that would usually go to more experienced performers. Now remember that RBS students work with the ballet company from time to time sometimes to dance and sometimes in walk on parts to gain stage experience. Whether those students are from White Lodge or the Upper School as an educational establishment the RBS is in law in loco parentis to its pupils and has a legal duty to protect them. Its child protection duties apply to its students whether they are in the school buildings or in the theatre, This is why the director of the school was so quick to announce the result of the investigation in so far as they related to the school. It must have come as a great relief  to him that no child protection issues had been raised in respect of the school or its pupils. As far as the company was concerned it had to act decisively if it was to make it clear that certain types of behavior were not acceptable and would not be tolerated whoever was involved.

 

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10 hours ago, Drew said:

 

In thinking about Scarlett's death, I keep thinking about finding a middle way through these issues. In my eyes, Scarlett was young enough that it should have been possible for him to have a second act--he might have been given (or taken) the chance to grow up and act differently. Certainly, his death is extremely shocking and saddening to me.

 

Thank you Drew for your reasoned words.

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8 hours ago, dirac said:

I am willing to believe that the Royal cut its ties with Scarlett for good reason - he couldn't be charged with anything, but his conduct still didn't meet the standards of the organization, I presume. What Ratmansky, I think, was saying that he should not have been blackballed - and that, for all intents and purposes, was what happened - he was not only dismissed from the Royal, a pretty big consequence and very possibly deserved, but he and his works were dropped everywhere, even places where he had no history of misconduct, as I understand it. It's reasonable to ask if it had to happen this way.

As you wrote, there's a lot we don't know. 

Dirac,

that doesn't seem to be what happened with the Royal Danish Ballet, however. Which seems to have been the final straw for him.

They had his work on their schedule until this last week, and it was their investigation into his behavior as a guest with them in 2018-19 (I believe) that led to the decision to cancel his piece.

 

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26 minutes ago, aurora said:

that doesn't seem to be what happened with the Royal Danish Ballet, however. Which seems to have been the final straw for him.

I think we should be cautious about making an explicit link between the RDB's decision to cancel Frankenstein—or any company's decision regarding engaging Scarlett or staging his ballets—and his suicide.  

 

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1 hour ago, aurora said:

Dirac,

that doesn't seem to be what happened with the Royal Danish Ballet, however. Which seems to have been the final straw for him.

They had his work on their schedule until this last week, and it was their investigation into his behavior as a guest with them in 2018-19 (I believe) that led to the decision to cancel his piece.

 

Queensland Ballet's decision to cancel its planned tour of Scarlett's Dangerous Liaisons is explained here and here and here.

Queensland Ballet conducted its own investigation and "found no evidence of improper behaviour by Scarlett in Australia." Although the company had "been aware of the existence of allegations" against him in October 2020, it didn't make the decision to suspend its ties with Scarlett until April 2021, when they received more information regarding nature of the complaints: "Queensland Ballet's artistic director Li Cunxin says his company did not cut ties with world-renowned choreographer Liam Scarlett sooner because it was not aware the allegations against him were sexual in nature."

I'm not surprised that performing arts companies that rely on public good will and the public purse to remain viable decided to suspend planned performances of work by an artist publicly and credibly accused of harassment and sexual predation, especially when minors or very young dancers are involved. (The subtext of the two Sydney Morning Herald articles seems to be "why didn't you cancel this tour sooner?")

Should Scarlett's work be blackballed forever? I'm not sure I can answer that question honestly myself and I'm very glad that I don't have to make that decision.

Edited by Kathleen O'Connell
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3 hours ago, aurora said:

Dirac,

that doesn't seem to be what happened with the Royal Danish Ballet, however. Which seems to have been the final straw for him.

They had his work on their schedule until this last week, and it was their investigation into his behavior as a guest with them in 2018-19 (I believe) that led to the decision to cancel his piece.

 

Quite so, aurora. I would expect the company to look into such charges and I am willing to assume they did their due diligence. I also understand that Scarlett would have to pay for his transgressions for at least an extended period away from work. I would also think, or hope, that, as I wrote earlier and based on the knowledge I have, that someone of his age would be capable of learning from experience and getting canned very publicly at a highly privileged job from one of the world's great companies might well serve as a (deserved) shock to the system. He had lived much if not most of his brief life as part of the Royal Ballet.  

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I think that the fact that they did not drop his staging of Swan Lake may well say more about the amount of money spent on it than anything else. I don't think that the decision to sever ties with him would have been taken lightly.

No, indeed. They certainly wouldn't drop a rising star over trivia or dubious accusations. I would also assume that there was hard evidence such as texts and photos and they must have looked pretty bad for Scarlett.

As for his "Swan Lake" -- yes, there are morals and then there's money.

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16 hours ago, pherank said:

 Cancel Culture is a type of mob rule, and entirely dependent on group mind. The individual is going to suffer, and is, seemingly. That's not a positive institutional change by me.

And it would be a mistake to think that anyone one of us is immune from cancellation.

👏👏👏

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Alastair Macaulay posted a string of long remarks about Scarlett's death and what is known, and not known, about his troubles with the ballet companies. I do think it's worth reading, regardless of how one might feel about Macaulay's writings/personality.

(On a number of these posts it's necessary to continue scrolling down because Macaulay kept adding on information)

https://www.instagram.com/p/CNyFlRoAPsL/

https://www.instagram.com/p/CNzFNk7AXT9/

https://www.instagram.com/p/CNz9bMngsH8/

https://www.instagram.com/p/CN0kVpuAi6J/

https://www.instagram.com/p/CN10GkXAauU/

The last posting above also appears in this easier-to-read(!) format:

https://slippedisc.com/2021/04/alastair-macaulay-on-not-cancelling-liam-scarlett/

Edited by pherank
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I notice it was Holten, not Hubbe who delivered the killer blow.  The former opera supremo in London who would have been aware of Scarlett's RB troubles.  As someone else has pointed out, Danes as a rule are not subject to sexual hysteria and didn't Mr Hubbe himself  experience problems with young dancers?  Not sexual I hasten to add.

It would be a double tragedy were Scarlett's ballets to die with him.  I very much hope there is a chance of a couple of the best ones such as Asphodel Meadows and Symphonic Dances finding an appreciative audience elsewhere.  His Hansel and Gretel was superb in my view though very much tailored to the acting skills of the original RB dancers.

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Macaulay makes excellent points:

  • Scarlett died by suicide: speculation.
  • If it was suicide, the Danes' cancelling of his ballet was the immediate cause: speculation.
  • Nor do we know the specifics of why Scarlett was dismissed from the Royal Ballet.

People are free to speculate, of course; and sometimes it might be educational to do so. But I know from personal experience how quickly gossip turns speculation into "facts," and I know all about the harsh judgement that follows.

Edited by Anthony_NYC
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22 minutes ago, Anthony_NYC said:

Macaulay makes excellent points:

  • Scarlett died by suicide: speculation.
  • If it was suicide, the Danes' cancelling of his ballet was the immediate cause: speculation.
  • Nor do we know the specifics of why Scarlett was dismissed from the Royal Ballet.

People are free to speculate, of course; and sometimes it might be educational to do so. But I know from personal experience how quickly gossip turns speculation into "facts," and I know all about the harsh judgement that follows.

Hi, AnthonyNYC. Thank you for posting your thoughts. In his piece for "Slipped Disc" Macaulay cautions against attributing Scarlett's death, which is tacitly acknowledged to be suicide without using the word, to "cancel culture" as the "determining factor," which does seem wise. (However, I also don't think that the dismissal followed by decease is necessarily entirely a post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy, at least not at this time.)

You are quite right that we don't know the specifics of Scarlett's dismissal from the Royal Ballet. I think the consensus here is that it was likely justified at the time, but no, we don't have the information.

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Reading through a bunch of IG tributes and such to Scarlett, I'm stunned by the "cancel culture" and "he was a great person" comments. While there were no criminal charges or illegal acts with students (not sure if the final decision was all students or just those under 18), it seems pretty clear that he did some things that weren't ethical or moral and that companies decided he was too much of a legal liability to work with again. Diving into the things on IG, I'm especially struck by how there's a lot of blame being put on the dance companies for Scarlett's choices. He behavior was all their fault, it was all a part of the culture, if you don't change the culture, he can't be expected to change, even if these allegations are true, he's too great of an artist to ignore his talents and his choreography should still be gracing our stages... For anyone in the dance community who may need to come forward with allegations, I think they're going to be thinking twice in light of all of this. The dance community does not seem to take alleged assault or consent very seriously. There are also some concerning comments from those in the "know" in the dance world about Scarlett's past transgressions. For instance on Ratmansky's post, Ezra Hurwitz replied to someone, saying: 

@alexe84 i dont have sufficient energy to educate you in the greater context of a centuries old culture that produces and profits off creative young choreograpgic minds and asks them to produce unprecedented and evocative work via intimate and physical connections with fellow artists and peers, all while isolating them from their contemporaries. using salacious buzz words like "rape culture" illustrates that you 1) dont know the details of liam's circumstances and 2) lack any perspective on the complex issues the ballet world faces and the casualties on every side that will continue to fall as the dance world struggles to survive in the 21rst century.
@alexe84 when ur a 25 year old phenom celebrated for ur emotionally visceral creativity and sent around the world to live in hotel rooms alone for months at a time, and asked to create uninhibited physical poetry with artists your own age - and raised, defined by and reinforced in every way by an insular yet increasingly toxic world - u tell mr how ur meant to survive when that world banishes u for consensual relationships they profited from
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3 minutes ago, PeggyTulle said:

Reading through a bunch of IG tributes and such to Scarlett, I'm stunned by the "cancel culture" and "he was a great person" comments. While there were no criminal charges or illegal acts with students (not sure if the final decision was all students or just those under 18), it seems pretty clear that he did some things that weren't ethical or moral and that companies decided he was too much of a legal liability to work with again. Diving into the things on IG, I'm especially struck by how there's a lot of blame being put on the dance companies for Scarlett's choices. He behavior was all their fault, it was all a part of the culture, if you don't change the culture, he can't be expected to change, even if these allegations are true, he's too great of an artist to ignore his talents and his choreography should still be gracing our stages... For anyone in the dance community who may need to come forward with allegations, I think they're going to be thinking twice in light of all of this. The dance community does not seem to take alleged assault or consent very seriously. There are also some concerning comments from those in the "know" in the dance world about Scarlett's past transgressions. For instance on Ratmansky's post, Ezra Hurwitz replied to someone, saying: 

@alexe84 i dont have sufficient energy to educate you in the greater context of a centuries old culture that produces and profits off creative young choreograpgic minds and asks them to produce unprecedented and evocative work via intimate and physical connections with fellow artists and peers, all while isolating them from their contemporaries. using salacious buzz words like "rape culture" illustrates that you 1) dont know the details of liam's circumstances and 2) lack any perspective on the complex issues the ballet world faces and the casualties on every side that will continue to fall as the dance world struggles to survive in the 21rst century.
@alexe84 when ur a 25 year old phenom celebrated for ur emotionally visceral creativity and sent around the world to live in hotel rooms alone for months at a time, and asked to create uninhibited physical poetry with artists your own age - and raised, defined by and reinforced in every way by an insular yet increasingly toxic world - u tell mr how ur meant to survive when that world banishes u for consensual relationships they profited from

Just an observation: this seems to have become yet another culture war. People are railing about "cancel culture" and "political correctness" without knowing anything about the reasons Scarlett was dismissed from so many companies. 

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3 minutes ago, canbelto said:

Just an observation: this seems to have become yet another culture war. People are railing about "cancel culture" and "political correctness" without knowing anything about the reasons Scarlett was dismissed from so many companies. 

Your observation gets at the gut of how I was feeling. All of these in-support-of comments scare me so much. 

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[Admin hat on]

I've removed the irrelevant analogy of a Supreme Court nominating process, which is a purely political one.

[Admin hat off]

I'd also like to reiterate as has been posted here several times, that employment law is civil and there are different standards than for criminal cases, and employers are incentivized to limit liability, and have limited legal responsibilities to an employee/person whose contract they want to terminate.  Applying criminal standards, where the government is the prosecutor, or those observed on Law & Order is every bystander's right, but isn't reality.

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5 hours ago, PeggyTulle said:

Reading through a bunch of IG tributes and such to Scarlett, I'm stunned by the "cancel culture" and "he was a great person" comments. While there were no criminal charges or illegal acts with students (not sure if the final decision was all students or just those under 18), it seems pretty clear that he did some things that weren't ethical or moral and that companies decided he was too much of a legal liability to work with again.

It's important to point out that whenever you or I talk about "things that weren't ethical or moral" we're applying our own personal value systems to the situation and making a broad assumption that the wider society, or even human beings in general, share our same values and in pretty much the same order of importance. But it it just doesn't work that way. We humans also have the tendency to assume that governments and organizations generally "do the right thing" (I will avoid straying into political examples). But that isn't so much based upon real-world truths as it is upon human psychology. The establishment is busy making their own assumptions about what is right and what is wrong while the disenfranchised tend to feel that the establishment doesn't take their values into consideration at all.

I think I "get" what Hurwitz is saying in your quotes, but I certainly also feel that there is unhealthy behavior perpetrated by potentially anyone, everyday. (As one writer once put it, "the world runs on the Seven Deadly Sins and the weather".)  And individuals and societies need ways to identify and deal with this unhealthy behavior. Note that I'm saying "unhealthy" and not "unethical" because I think that the realm of ethics and morality is where things get really sticky. "Of course" sexual relations with 12 or 13 year old children, or marriage at the age of 12, or forcing children to work long hours each day all seems abhorrent to us now. But my ancestors routinely did such things at a time when the average life expectancy for the peasantry was 24 for men and 33 for women. If the children didn't work alongside their parents from an early age, the family starved to death. We've only had a hundred years or so of our "modern" values - our ancestors had at least 100,000 years of different values to live with (my apologies to anyone following the Bible's timeline). They had their reasons and their values that arose from their situations. Well that continues - the values of say, the LGBT community, are going to differ from the BLM community on certain issues. And an individual who can identify with much of LGBT, and MeToo and BLM, for example, is also going to run into points of conflict with those general movements. Because we have our individual lives, feelings, thoughts and needs. I think it is very problematic to assume that my values are superior to, or some kind of improvement over, the next person's - or the previous generation's, and that they are certainly deluded in their thinking. That's been something of a "thing" on the dance forums over the last few years - that dancers are somehow deluded in their thinking around certain recent controversies, and we on the outside have the clearer view and can make the more appropriate judgement. But I think that's something of a delusion as well. I either acknowledge another person's experiences, thoughts and feelings, or I don't. And not acknowledging someone else's experience, thoughts and feelings tends to derail any relationship.

If I have an overall point regarding Scarlett's situation and untimely death it is that humans are complicated and have very little understanding of how their own minds and bodies work. We don't have all the answers, and we make mistakes on all levels every single day. It is entirely possible for someone to have talents, and charm, or remarkable insight into particular things, whatever, but still make mistakes - and those could range from occasional spoken 'gaffs' to what someone else might experience as ruinous or potentially deadly behavior. Human behavior runs the gamut and we see it each day. If there are many artists in the dance community that had good relations with Scarlett, then it is important for us to acknowledge that this was also a part of who Scarlett was. If his family continues to love and cherish his memory, then we should acknowledge that. If he was involved in unhealthy behavior then that too needs to be recognized and dealt with in an instructive and healing way. For everyone. Because the failure to do so only fuels the cultural infighting.

My apologies if this sound like I'm trying to educate anyone. I don't have the answers, and I'm trying to gain some understanding of the world around me, just like everyone else.

Edited by pherank
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I'm really puzzled by the "this was okay 100 years ago" arguments. The fact is, Liam Scarlett lived in 2020, not 1820. In 1820 slavery was considered moral and just but I'd like to think that not everyone in 1820 if brought up in the 21st century would have the same views. 

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9 minutes ago, canbelto said:

I'm really puzzled by the "this was okay 100 years ago" arguments. The fact is, Liam Scarlett lived in 2020, not 1820. In 1820 slavery was considered moral and just but I'd like to think that not everyone in 1820 if brought up in the 21st century would have the same views. 

I'm sorry it was confusing for you. I didn't say anything about Scarlett's behavior (that we don't have any details of), being OK 100 years ago. I was making a different point in that paragraph.

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Quote

I think I "get" what Hurwitz is saying in your quotes, but I certainly also feel that there is unhealthy behavior perpetrated by potentially anyone, everyday. (As one writer once put it, "the world runs on the Seven Deadly Sins and the weather".)  And individuals and societies need ways to identify and deal with this unhealthy behavior. Note that I'm saying "unhealthy" and not "unethical" because I think that the realm of ethics and morality is where things get really sticky. "Of course" sexual relations with 12 or 13 year old children, or marriage at the age of 12, or forcing children to work long hours each day all seems abhorrent to us now. But my ancestors routinely did such things at a time when the average life expectancy for the peasantry was 24 for men and 33 for women. If the children didn't work alongside their parents from an early age, the family starved to death. We've only had a hundred years or so of our "modern" values - our ancestors had at least 100,000 years of different values to live with (my apologies to anyone following the Bible's timeline). They had their reasons and their values that arose from their situations. Well that continues - the values of say, the LGBT community, are going to differ from the BLM community on certain issues. And an individual who can identify with much of LGBT, and MeToo and BLM, for example, is also going to run into points of conflict with those general movements. Because we have our individual lives, feelings, thoughts and needs. I think it is very problematic to assume that my values are superior to, or some kind of improvement over, the next person's - or the previous generation's, and that they are certainly deluded in their thinking. That's been something of a "thing" on the dance forums over the last few years - that dancers are somehow deluded in their thinking around certain recent controversies, and we on the outside have the clearer view and can make the more appropriate judgement. But I think that's something of a delusion as well. I either acknowledge another person's experiences, thoughts and feelings, or I don't. And not acknowledging someone else's experience, thoughts and feelings tends to derail any relationship.

This is @pherank paragraph I refer to. Again, I say this: 

Liam Scarlett wasn't operating on a 100 years ago timeline. We aren't retroactively applying judgment the way people are to, say, Thomas Jefferson who had an extremely 18th century worldview about slaves and women and their roles in society. 

Liam Scarlett lived in 2020 and was expected to conform to the norms and values of 2020. Based on his termination from multiple ballet companies for problematic behavior re: students and dancers it seems as if he struggled with this. 

 

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I'm more of an absolutist and think that slavery was always wrong and people knew it and did some fancy footwork to justify it. The English clergy worked hard and long during the early nineteenth century to remind Caribbean sugar plantation owners of that fact. So moral justice is pretty much the same in each period – otherwise Balzac's, Tolstoy's and Dostoevsky's novels wouldn't make sense to us today.

I think we're losing track of the power dynamic here – the power that an older leader has over a group of much younger dancers who depend on his good judgment for their advancement as artists. This isn't about peers slipping into each other's hotel rooms on tours as some of the Macaulay IG and SD commenters have tried to contextualize it. An abuse of authority appears to be what Scarlett's dismissal was about.

Macaulay has some other comments that I was going to quote in earlier post I made about the work and its author: 

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An immediately curious fact during his lifetime becomes far more poignant now: three of his works took their titles from the various mythological realms of the dead - “Asphodel Meadows” (2010, the work that immediately made his name with the Royal Ballet ... His “Sweet Violets” (2014, Royal Ballet) addressed the sexual murders of Jack the Ripper’s London.

Scarlett himself retained cherubic looks: rosy cheeks, curly hair, boyish demeanour. Yet his mind kept turning to death even in the titles of admired plotless ballets.

Which helps give us an overview of the ethos and world view of Scarlett's body of work. There was a kind of dialectic of wholesomeness of the choreographer ("cherubic ... wide-eyed, with a touch of puckishness:" Macaulay in 2014) against the darkness and hardness (Hansel and Gretel) of the subject matter. You reached for one and got the other.

Edited by Quiggin
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Quote

The English clergy worked hard and long during the early nineteenth century to remind Caribbean sugar plantation owners of that fact. So moral justice is pretty much the same in each period – otherwise Balzac's, Tolstoy's and Dostoevsky's novels wouldn't make sense to us today.

At the risk of going off thread, and with all due respect, the English clergy were up to the slavery traffic to their eyeballs. Others did preach and campaign against it. The abolitionists in the US were regarded as dangerous cranks, and talked of secession.

I can appreciate the great works of the past without necessarily accepting their "moral justice" -- certainly not in its entirety. One of Tolstoy's greatest works describes the really bad things that can happen to a woman who leaves a barren marriage for love. It doesn't end well for her, and while Tolstoy does not lack compassion his book is basically about why she was wrong. I am glad that women taken in adultery these days don't have to cope with such moral justice, they already likely have enough complications to deal with. 

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I was thinking of the Sugar Boycott and the role some of the British religious organizations played in it, Quakers and Baptists. I was painting with a broad brush. I always liked Tolstoy's almost Jamesean Family Happiness and the slow analysis of a change in a relationship. My Anna Karenina unfortunately has long faded, superseded by a few childhood memories of Greta Garbo walking fatefully ahead. But situations in 19th century novels, Elizabeth Gaskell, George Eliot, Stifter, Chekhov, T L Peacock, comic and sad, still do speak to us today.

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