Mrs. Grundy is alive and well and quite as sanctimonious as ever, thank you very much.
For members of the iPod generation who lack acquaintance with the bespectacled, long-nosed, tut-tutting personification of overwrought sexual squeamishness, Mrs. Grundy is the stock figure of Victorian prudery, the kind who would have measured the legendary "skirts" that every decent piano should drape over its legs.
The hyper-modest zealots of the high-Victorian age were afflicted with the vapours at any flash of a human limb, and found the very naming of any human body part almost as much of a moral trauma, almost as dangerously thrilling as (eek!) the sight of one. Euphemism, the art of hanging lexical lace over the real or proper name of things, was her preferred mode of speech. The act of human reproduction was her horror, the female body and all its (horrid!) contours and appurtenances her nightmare.
Mrs. Grundy was, if I may put it this way, the identical twin of Charles Dickens's fastidious moral pedant, Mr. Podsnap, who tested every word and every sight by applying the test of "whether it would bring a blush to the cheeck of the young person."
Firing up my laptop, I gather tidbits out of Wikipedia that Mrs. Grundy was regarded as "the ultimate arbiter of stuffy middle-class propriety," and that as long ago as 1930, she was being satirized in what was likely regarded as a daring book in that long-ago time under the title Mrs. Grundy is Dead.
But no - she lives, she stirs, and she's as busy and annoying and as gratuitously censorious as she ever was.
For there she was this week, standing in the House of Commons and fulminating against the images she had "seen" on a laptop of another member a few rows in front of here. [Reader - move the "young persons," out of the room, for I am about to quote words that will bring that famous blush to all young and innocent cheeks.]/p>
Irene Mathyssen, NDP member - I apologize for that saucily ambiguous term - for London-Fanshawe spied what she told the Commons and the entire country was the image of a "scantily clad" woman on the laptop screen of her fellow parliamentarian, Conservative James Moore.
Scantily clad? When or where was the last time anyone encountered that cloddish euphemism? You may have to return to the pirate stories and nurse novels of half a century ago, where "scantily clad" wrestled - wrestled is a good term here - with the "heaving bosoms," "taut bodices" and "pouting lips" in the outer boundaries of Romance titillation, where cliché dived under the blankets for a boring romp with hypocritical prudery.
"A sultry wind blew under a cloud-washed moon as Charles pushed his manly chest against her scantily-clad and heaving bosom. Her lips pouted. Both of them. Urges ensued." I apologize - the gagatorium is over there.
The first question to put to Ms. Mathyssen is what is she doing checking out Mr. Moore's laptop in the first place? It's simply bad manners and prying, the 21st century equivalent of reading a letter over someone's shoulder. Unless he's running some download of a marathon version of Debbie Does Dallas and charging his seatmates for viewing privileges, what's on his laptop, when he's viewing it, is none of her business.
Outside the House, Mrs. Grundy/Ms. Mathyssen, having established she has very good eyes, pursued the theme. It wasn't "full nudity," but "lingerie ... scanty lingerie."It's a scant mind that fixes so much on scant and its variants, but let that pass.
The real devastation she went on to deliver was to suggest in the most ardent tones that what she thought she had seen somehow - don't ask for logic here - associated James Moore with Marc Lépine's slaughter of 14 women in Montreal in 1989.
Just to be clear: James Moore and James Moore's attitudes, or what is on James Moore's computer, have as much to do with the Montreal massacre, and no more, than Halley's comet.
But of course, now we know that the self-evaluated keen eyes of Ms. Mathyssen did not see what she told all of Canada that she did. Mr. Moore was not looking at "lingerie" models, scantily clad or not. There were not "soft-core Playboy type stuff" pictures on his laptop. So all the dubious, indeed outrageous, implications she drew from what, actually, she didn't see are doubly tripe.
But from pure overeagerness to slam a Conservative MP, she somehow managed to throw him into a parcel with a mass-murderer and one of the most horrific events in modern Canadian history. And here I was thinking the Karlheinz Schreiber hearings were setting the standard for guilt by the most generous free association.
By week's end, on Friday in the House, the mist had cleared from Mrs. Grundy's spectacles, and Ms. Mathyssen offered finally to close this dreary episode with the unqualified apology Mr. Moore so clearly deserved.