Hypocriticisms: Double Standards in Literature No. 6

Clipart depicting two women. Left, a woman is bent double and struggling under a huge stack of books. Right, a woman stands on her tiptoes to add another book to the top of the stack.

Welcome back to Hypocritisms, the series in which we list a few double standards we find in literature!

If you’ve ever read a book, you might have noticed that sometimes there are some double standards.  All kinds. It’s not limited to gender roles or sexuality. Just like in real life, you see discrimination for aspects like age, religion, justice/law, race/nationality, nepotism, and so on.

Evening in the Palace of Reason by James R. Gaines serves mainly to parallel the lives of Frederick the Great of Prussia and Johannes Bach the composer. But here we’re interested in the historical dynamic between Frederick William and his son Frederick the Great.  

The first thing you should know about Frederick William is that he hated the French. The French style, with powdered, curled hair, and embroidered clothes, was “effeminate”. The flute was an effeminate instrument. Both of these things Frederick the Great loved even as a child.  

Frederick the Great as a child with his sister Wilhelmina. Can you tell which is Freddy? (ID: a painted portrait of three children: front are two white children in expensive jeweled skirts. The left child is dressed in blue, wearing a red sash, and holding a drum. The right child is wearing a white dress with gold embroidery and holding a basket of flowers. Behind them is an enslaved Black child wearing a pinstriped shirt and carrying a parasol.)

The double standard is that Frederick the Great would go to his mother’s French palace with his sister Wilhelmina, and they would dress up and play songs together. And every time Fred William came along and caught them, he would beat Frederick, but he never said a word to his daughter about the French influence. Because it’s effeminate, right?  

To make matters worse, as Frederick the Great grows up, he’s constantly abused–physically and verbally–by his father. But he does manage to make a good friend in the son of a general, by the name of Katte. To make a long story short, most everyone suspected Fred and Katte of having a homosexual relationship—which is not unlikely. At one point, Katte and Fred make plans to get Fred out of Prussia and into England so he would be safe from his father. Unfortunately, they’re caught, and all of them, including the dudes in charge of chariots and horses, are arrested and put on trial.  

A group of old white men sat in a room together to judge these people, as they do, with the exception of the crown prince who is above the law. Their judgment of Katte was life in prison; but Fred Sr. demanded a revote in favor of execution, while the other aiders and abettors retained their sentences of jail time. The evil king got his way, and he executed Katte in front of his son’s eyes. So it would appear that Katte received such harsh punishment due to the rumors of homosexuality.

I don’t think I need to explain the double standard there…

What double standards do you notice in Gaines’ Evening in the Palace of Reason?

-Leigh Ann

Published by modcasters

We’re a group of graduate students studying English Literature and Language on a mission to discuss literature, provide access to those on the deafness and/or blindness spectrum, and rock mustachios.

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