3

In "In the Midst of Alarms" (1894) by Robert Barr, the author is describing a conversation between, Yates, who had knocked someone down, and his friend, Stilly, who is usually quite and silent. And in many parts in the story, Yates referred to this knocked man with "1812", because he was a very obsessed Canadian man with the war of 1812.

The young men were shown into a bedroom of more than ordinary size, on the upper floor. Everything about the house was of the most dainty and scrupulous cleanliness, and an air of cheerful comfort pervaded the place. Mrs. Bartlett was evidently a housekeeper to be proud of. Two large pitchers of cool, soft water awaited them, and the wash, as had been predicted, was most refreshing.

“I say,” cried Yates, “it’s rather cheeky to accept a man’s hospitality after knocking him down.”

“It would be for most people, but I think you underestimate your cheek, as you call it.”

“Bravo, Stilly! You’re blossoming out. That’s repartee, that is. With the accent on the rap, too. Never you mind; I think old 1812 and I will get on all right after this. It doesn’t seem to bother him any, so I don’t see why it should worry me. Nice motherly old lady, isn’t she?”

“Who? 1812?

“No; Mrs. 1812. I’m sorry I complimented you on your repartee. You’ll get conceited. Remember that what in the newspaper man is clever, in a grave professor is rank flippancy. Let’s go down.”

I found here that "lady" using for referring to some males has been started in 1912, and the story were published in 1894, so how even the professor mixed it up with the man, i.e 1812?

10

The title of the question isn't applicable to the provided example, because as Hosek and shoover point out in their answers, Mr. Barr is never referring to Mr. Bartlett as a "lady" in the provided context:

Here we get a description of the clean, tidy and generally welcoming setting, which of course is thanks to the housekeeper (Mrs. Bartlett) having prepared everything for the guests:

The young men were shown into a bedroom of more than ordinary size, on the upper floor. Everything about the house was of the most dainty and scrupulous cleanliness, and an air of cheerful comfort pervaded the place. Mrs. Bartlett was evidently a housekeeper to be proud of. Two large pitchers of cool, soft water awaited them, and the wash, as had been predicted, was most refreshing.

The first topic of the conversation seems to be about the fact that they are guests of someone with whom they were in a fist fight (or whatever), as well as Stilly's communication skills:

“I say,” cried Yates, “it’s rather cheeky to accept a man’s hospitality after knocking him down.”

“It would be for most people, but I think you underestimate your cheek, as you call it.”

“Bravo, Stilly! You’re blossoming out. That’s repartee, that is. With the accent on the rap, too. Never you mind; I think old 1812 and I will get on all right after this. It doesn’t seem to bother him any, so I don’t see why it should worry me. Nice motherly old lady, isn’t she?

This last sentence is a complete change of topic. Here Mr. Barr is turning the subject of his attention away from Mr. Bartlett towards Mrs. Bartlett and praises her indirectly for the hospitable surroundings, that water was prepared for them to have a refreshing wash etc.

Stilly misses this change of topic as well, therefore his question:

“Who? 1812?”

Then Mr. Barr mockingly points out that of course he wasn't referring to Mr. Bartlett in his last sentence:

“No; Mrs. 1812. I’m sorry I complimented you on your repartee. You’ll get conceited. Remember that what in the newspaper man is clever, in a grave professor is rank flippancy. Let’s go down.”

2
  • 7
    This is good, but I am not sure that it is quite right — you say that "Stilly misses this change of topic" but I think it more likely that he is merely playing dumb in an attempted bit of pedantic humour. Yates seems to interpret the response as a failed attempt at humour ("I'm sorry I complimented you on your repartee"). – Gareth Rees Dec 16 '20 at 16:31
  • @npunzi Many thanks. – Ahmed Samir Dec 16 '20 at 19:58
7

In my reading of the passage, Stilly(?) says “Who? 1812?” because he’s confused by the sudden mention of a motherly old lady—he knows that 1812 is a man and then there’s a sudden mention of a female, thus the question.

1
  • Thank you so much. – Ahmed Samir Dec 16 '20 at 19:56
7

"Mrs. 1812" refers to Mrs. Bartlett, the housekeeper.

In Chapter III, Mr. Hiram Bartlett appears in the bar. After he leaves, the barkeep describes him as obsessed with the War of 1812, thus "1812" is Mr. Bartlett, and "Mrs. 1812" is his wife, the housekeeper Mrs. Bartlett who is mentioned in the passage you quoted.

Chapter III:

With this Bartlett drew his coat sleeve across his mouth and departed.

“That’s him exactly,” said the barkeeper. “He’s the most cantankerous crank in the township. And say, let me give you a pointer. If the subject of 1812 comes up,—the war, you know,—you’d better admit that we got thrashed out of our boots; that is, if you want to get along with Hiram. He hates Yankees like poison.”

“And did we get thrashed in 1812?” asked Yates, who was more familiar with current topics than with the history of the past.

“Blessed if I know. Hiram says we did. I told him once that we got what we wanted from old England, and he nearly hauled me over the bar. So I give you the warning, if you want to get along with him.”

1
  • 1
    I don't think this answers the question — the OP wants to understand why Stilly responds to "Nice motherly old lady, isn’t she?” with “Who? 1812?” – Gareth Rees Dec 16 '20 at 16:26

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.