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Old 01-04-2020, 06:40 PM
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Disguised as dancing bear?


In the Aubrey-Maturin novel by Patrick O'Brian "Post Captain", Aubrey is forced to wear a bear costume and pass as a dancing bear to get out of France. Am I completely imagining it that this was inspired by a supposed true incident?
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Old 01-04-2020, 10:23 PM
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Searching uncovers Man dressed in teddy bear suit sought in armed robbery and Zoo practices escape drill using man dressed as polar bear but those are too recent, as is Elon Musk reveals how disguised Carlos Ghosn escaped Japan. Searches continue. The truth is out there.
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Old 01-04-2020, 11:11 PM
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Possibly a reference to...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J%C3%B6rg_Jenatsch

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On 24 January 1639 Jenatsch was assassinated in Chur by a band of men whose leader was costumed as a bear, as it was Carnival.
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Old 01-05-2020, 01:16 AM
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John Meyer used to dress up in a bear suit and hang out in the parking lot before his own shows. He'd make fun of 'John Mayers' and watch people defend him. It was kind of entertaining. I'm not sure if he was doing it to stroke his ego or because he thought it was funny. Probably both.
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Old 01-05-2020, 01:16 AM
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In the Aubrey-Maturin novel by Patrick O'Brian "Post Captain", Aubrey is forced to wear a bear costume and pass as a dancing bear to get out of France. Am I completely imagining it that this was inspired by a supposed true incident?
It's pretty silly to think that anyone would mistake a person in bear costume for a real bear.

This is why I find O'Brian's novels unreadable. They exceed any reasonable suspension of belief. They are about as realistic and historically accurate as James Bond.
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Old 01-05-2020, 02:14 AM
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It's pretty silly to think that anyone would mistake a person in bear costume for a real bear.

This is why I find O'Brian's novels unreadable. They exceed any reasonable suspension of belief. They are about as realistic and historically accurate as James Bond.
https://www.gutenberg.org/files/3172/3172-h/3172-h.htm
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Old 01-05-2020, 04:31 AM
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On the other hand, award-winning author Nicola Griffith described the novels thus - "In these books every reader who loves fiction both intellectually and viscerally will find something to treasure – and every writer something to envy. They will sweep you away and return you delighted, increased and stunned".

Quite what Mark Twain's diatribe about Fennimore Cooper has to do with it I am not sure.

Last edited by bob++; 01-05-2020 at 04:33 AM.
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Old 01-06-2020, 01:32 PM
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"♫ They'll love us, won't they?
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Old 01-06-2020, 01:54 PM
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"♫ They'll love us, won't they?
They feed us, don't they? ♫"
(unavoidable delay)

oops - linky
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Old 01-05-2020, 06:56 AM
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It's pretty silly to think that anyone would mistake a person in bear costume for a real bear.

This is why I find O'Brian's novels unreadable. They exceed any reasonable suspension of belief. They are about as realistic and historically accurate as James Bond.
I haven't read the novel; but it doesn't seem totally impossible if the "bear" was merely resting or even asleep in its cage? Perhaps in winter hibernation?
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Old 01-05-2020, 11:04 AM
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It's pretty silly to think that anyone would mistake a person in bear costume for a real bear.

This is why I find O'Brian's novels unreadable. They exceed any reasonable suspension of belief. They are about as realistic and historically accurate as James Bond.
I've only read the first one, but I did it just after reading a biography of Thomas Cochrane, and the whole of the book was just a novelization of Cochrane's time commanding HMS Speedy, right down to minute details of Cochrane's capture of El Gamo. The only original elements in the entire book were the character of Maturin and the root cause of Cochrane/Aubrey's enmity with the Admiral (had something to do with a woman in the book, whereas Cochrane was just an insubordinate prick in reality.) I stopped reading after the first one because I thought it was too realistic and historically accurate.

The bear thing does sound ridiculous, though..
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Old 01-05-2020, 12:29 PM
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It's pretty silly to think that anyone would mistake a person in bear costume for a real bear.
Even someone who had never seen a real bear, or a photo or video of one?
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Old 01-05-2020, 02:28 PM
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It's pretty silly to think that anyone would mistake a person in bear costume for a real bear.

This is why I find O'Brian's novels unreadable. They exceed any reasonable suspension of belief. They are about as realistic and historically accurate as James Bond.
I don't mind this aspect too much. It's kind of like settling down with a good swashbuckler from Clive Cussler.

I never made it past Post Captain because what started out being a good Horatio Hornblower-style sea adventure suddenly bogged down into Jane Austin 18th-century romance and intrigue.
If I wanted to read Jane Austin, I would be reading Jane Austin. A swashbuckler needs to swash and buckle!
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Old 01-05-2020, 03:27 PM
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I don't mind this aspect too much. It's kind of like settling down with a good swashbuckler from Clive Cussler.

I never made it past Post Captain because what started out being a good Horatio Hornblower-style sea adventure suddenly bogged down into Jane Austin 18th-century romance and intrigue.
If I wanted to read Jane Austin, I would be reading Jane Austin. A swashbuckler needs to swash and buckle!
His writing has been compared to Jane Austen; he read Austen's books.
There is indeed more to the books than swash buckling.
May a suggest Adam Hardy's Fox series?
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Old 01-06-2020, 10:21 PM
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His writing has been compared to Jane Austen; he read Austen's books.
There is indeed more to the books than swash buckling.
May a suggest Adam Hardy's Fox series?
Thanks for the hint, and for the correct spelling of her name.
I will leave my remaining Jack Aubrey audiobooks to gather metaphorical dust.

The only time I listen to audiobooks is while I am running. Anything that bogs down into slow tedium does not help the progress of my run. On the flip side, a really good action story can make the miles fly by.
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Old 01-07-2020, 06:49 AM
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Thanks for the hint, and for the correct spelling of her name.
I will leave my remaining Jack Aubrey audiobooks to gather metaphorical dust.

The only time I listen to audiobooks is while I am running. Anything that bogs down into slow tedium does not help the progress of my run. On the flip side, a really good action story can make the miles fly by.
Fox is pretty much non stop naval action. Enjoy.
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Old 01-05-2020, 04:33 AM
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Missed edit - Quite what Mark Twain's diatribe about Fennimore Cooper has to do with it I am not sure.
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Old 01-05-2020, 07:59 PM
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Missed edit - Quite what Mark Twain's diatribe about Fennimore Cooper has to do with it I am not sure.
1.) I don't see any reference to Mark Twain and Cooper above, but Twain's two essays about Cooper's style are hilarious.

2.) Regarding Cooper, I note that his hero -- Nathaniel "Natty" Bumppo -- dresses up as a bear in The Last of the Mohicans. The hear costume is actually supposed to be an Indian bear costume, so its lack of realism is not a problem.
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Old 01-05-2020, 07:46 AM
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It's not. The bear is extremely active and under close inspection on their long walk to Spain.

I love a bit of Aubrey-Maturin but yeah, the bear thing is totally ridiculous
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Old 01-05-2020, 09:35 AM
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It's not. The bear is extremely active and under close inspection on their long walk to Spain.

I love a bit of Aubrey-Maturin but yeah, the bear thing is totally ridiculous
Wait; does the bear walk all the way, on all four legs, on a leash along with its keeper? Yeah, that's ridiculous. Not only would it give the human bear-impersonator a severe backache after a mile or two; it's also totally contrary to common circus practice. A bear owner would certainly let his precious animal rest between the performances, in a cage on a cart pulled by a horse or an ox (which can be sustained on a much cheaper diet)!
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Old 01-05-2020, 12:03 PM
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Wait; does the bear walk all the way, on all four legs, on a leash along with its keeper? Yeah, that's ridiculous. Not only would it give the human bear-impersonator a severe backache after a mile or two; it's also totally contrary to common circus practice. A bear owner would certainly let his precious animal rest between the performances, in a cage on a cart pulled by a horse or an ox (which can be sustained on a much cheaper diet)!
Maturin doesn't walk all the way in the costume, he only wears it when he needs it to fool soldiers. Even in recent times, people who exhibited 'dancing' bears were abominably cruel to them. In the story, Maturin suffered badly inside the costume and he was a man who could stand a great deal of suffering, especially if the alternative was being tortured/imprisoned by the French.

O'Brien wrote fiction but he seriously researched 19thC British Naval practices and language and only altered the battles to allow for Aubrey and Jack to be present, when obviously they were not.
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Old 01-05-2020, 02:02 PM
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O'Brien wrote fiction but he seriously researched 19thC British Naval practices and language
His naval practices and language are only good enough to give an illusion of historical accuracy to people who are not familiar with the real thing.

Try

Frank Mildmay; Or, the Naval Officer by Captain Frederick Marryat

Start at chapter 2 if you find the beginning too slow. Or just jump into the middle.
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Old 01-05-2020, 02:13 PM
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Maturin doesn't walk all the way in the costume, he only wears it when he needs it to fool soldiers. Even in recent times, people who exhibited 'dancing' bears were abominably cruel to them. In the story, Maturin suffered badly inside the costume and he was a man who could stand a great deal of suffering, especially if the alternative was being tortured/imprisoned by the French.

O'Brien wrote fiction but he seriously researched 19thC British Naval practices and language and only altered the battles to allow for Aubrey and Jack to be present, when obviously they were not.
Jack Aubrey wears the bear suit, not Stephen Maturin, and it is sewn closed.
I too wonder if it has any historical accuracy. It certainly sounds impossible. I believe it was written before a series was considered. The author did much research for historical accuracy. Cochrane's attack on a larger ship has been the subject of much fiction, including Horatio Hornblower.
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Old 01-05-2020, 02:18 PM
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FTR, be careful when Googling "dancing bear." It tends to the NSFW.
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Old 01-05-2020, 02:29 PM
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Wasn't there one of these in Gravity's Rainbow?
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Old 01-05-2020, 04:07 PM
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And yet for more than a century later rubes were still paying good money to see fish sewn on to monkeys, jackalopes and even shaved bears done up as 'pig-faced ladies', a sort of Opposite World version of the Aubrey-Maturin bear.

Not everyone in the early 19th century was as switched on, worldly or completely unignorant as this site's readers are now with their fancy internets and History Channel. Even with that I think it would be an optimistic means of escape through enemy territory, but no more implausible to us than many other things that people believed.

Two contemporary examples - convicts escaping in New South Wales thought they could make it overland to China. They would tear out the compass roses from maps to help guide them on their way. The first specimen of the platypus was suspected of being a hoax.

Also this!
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Old 01-05-2020, 05:58 PM
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And yet for more than a century later rubes were still paying good money to see fish sewn on to monkeys, jackalopes and even shaved bears done up as 'pig-faced ladies', a sort of Opposite World version of the Aubrey-Maturin bear.
On the other hand, you couldn't pull the wool of the eyes of a scientist like, say George Shaw with some bloody beaver with a duck's bill sewn on, masquerading as a supposed "amazing discovery" from the Antipodes...
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Old 01-05-2020, 10:15 PM
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On the other hand, you couldn't pull the wool of the eyes of a scientist like, say George Shaw with some bloody beaver with a duck's bill sewn on, masquerading as a supposed "amazing discovery" from the Antipodes...
Shaw would have known how to taxonomize a raw prawn when he saw one.
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Old 01-05-2020, 05:42 PM
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There have been so many series about a hero rising through the ranks of the RN during the Napoleonic Wars, that relatively recent (anything after 1960) contributors to the genre like O’Brian must be hard-pressed to find anything original to contribute. All of these tomes include capture and inevitable escape (or parole) from the French. Honestly, the only unused plots are either boring or extremely unlikely. I imagine “disguised as a bear” was just above “dig a tunnel to Swingate” on a very short list.
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Old 01-05-2020, 08:06 PM
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Link in post #6 is Twain on Cooper. Worth a read any time!
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Old 01-05-2020, 09:35 PM
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Doc Savage disguises himself in an alligator suit in one book.
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Old 01-05-2020, 10:57 PM
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Doc Savage disguises himself in an alligator suit in one book.
Off-topic a bit, but who can forget the “Holiday Armadillo”?
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Old 01-06-2020, 12:04 AM
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2.) Regarding Cooper, I note that his hero -- Nathaniel "Natty" Bumppo -- dresses up as a bear in The Last of the Mohicans. The hear costume is actually supposed to be an Indian bear costume, so its lack of realism is not a problem.
I did not know that when I added the reference.

Surprise bonus win! 🐻

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Link in post #6 is Twain on Cooper. Worth a read any time!
That was, essentially, my logic for posting it.
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Old 01-06-2020, 04:03 AM
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In the Aubrey-Maturin novel by Patrick O'Brian "Post Captain", Aubrey is forced to wear a bear costume and pass as a dancing bear to get out of France. Am I completely imagining it that this was inspired by a supposed true incident?
There is Hawkeye, "Guillaume de Palerme" (fiction), and also the punishments in the Russian and Roman empires.

Or you may simply be remembering Nick Cage or something from YouTube -- you can have a look and decide how convincing it seems.

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Old 01-06-2020, 04:20 AM
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So then I go and look it up, and discover that disguising your self as a bear has a VVVery long literary and mythic history.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Golden_Ass

https://archive.org/stream/jstor-409...15008_djvu.txt

Last edited by Melbourne; 01-06-2020 at 04:24 AM.
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Old 01-06-2020, 09:56 AM
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In defense of O'Brian, while the bear scene was admittedly ridiculous, it was also delightful and hilarious. Jack in the bear suit tiredly dancing a hornpipe, and Stephen working the crowd for tips "Remember the bear sir, remember the bear!" And it's really the only incident like that in the whole series. In terms of historical accuracy, I don't think it's terrible and is quite unnoticeable to the casual reader. Yes, he puts his heroes into multiple famous battles, and yes, he crams about 13 books and a decade's worth of action into 10 months of real historical time, but what else are you going to do in historical fiction?
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Old 01-06-2020, 11:05 AM
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"If I get that man on my quarterdeck, he'll dance!"
When a British officer prisoner makes the bear dance to impress a woman.
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Old 01-06-2020, 11:31 AM
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Yes the sequence is ridiculous and very punishing to Jack. But remember the events immediately prior to this: Jack was involved in an affair with Diana and Stephen was very jealous and ready to duel with him. Emerging political and naval events shut that down pretty quickly, and then the two were thrown on shore and needed to get to Spain.

I view the whole sequence as Stephen's sly revenge on Jack.

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Old 01-06-2020, 12:13 PM
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The bear scene is the least-plausible thing in the entire series (second only to two people floating in the middle of the Pacific being rescued by a native craft randomly happening upon them, and that's at least possible if very unlikely). I wish there was an interview with "O'Brian" where it was brought up, just to know what he was thinking, given how careful he was to base the nautical adventures on actual events or at least plausible ones. [Unless, GreenWyvern, you can give examples of where he was inaccurate in naval matters?]

Sure, there were some ignorant rubes around then, but most of those rubes would also have seen lots of animals up close and in person. And there were just as many smart people then as now, and plenty of relatively well-traveled and worldly suspicious people, too.

[I just accept the 'five years of action happen in one historical calendar year' and 'one person sees way more action than really plausible' as necessary if we want a series longer than three or four books, so it doesn't bother me. But the bear, I just can't get past].
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Old 01-06-2020, 12:32 PM
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[I just accept the 'five years of action happen in one historical calendar year' and 'one person sees way more action than really plausible' as necessary if we want a series longer than three or four books, so it doesn't bother me.
The timeline was always implausible, but didn’t become impossible until around 1812. I think it was in the forward of the third or fourth book taking place in that year that O’Brian actually acknowledges, and begs the reader to excuse, this very necessary literary conceit.
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Old 01-06-2020, 01:23 PM
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(second only to two people floating in the middle of the Pacific being rescued by a native craft randomly happening upon them, and that's at least possible if very unlikely).
A group of women fleeing authoritative men in their tribe, who have hacked of a male symbol of vitality from their outrigger. Given POB's use of historical incidents, I wonder if it has any basis in fact.
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Old 01-06-2020, 01:34 PM
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A group of women fleeing authoritative men in their tribe, who have hacked of a male symbol of vitality from their outrigger. Given POB's use of historical incidents, I wonder if it has any basis in fact.
Don't forget about the small, dried, purselike objects nailed to totem as well...
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Old 01-06-2020, 01:37 PM
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Don't forget about the small, dried, purselike objects nailed to totem as well...
I try to forget about things like that, muldoonthief, and I was doing rather well until now. Thanks a lot!
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Old 01-06-2020, 12:03 PM
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Did anyone else think it was a reference to this video?
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Old 01-06-2020, 01:30 PM
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Yeah, I find that jumping the shark. A human in a bear costume would likely be exhibiting unmistakable human motions and behaviors despite trying his hardest to pass himself off as a bear.
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Old 01-06-2020, 02:14 PM
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Yeah, I find that jumping the shark. A human in a bear costume would likely be exhibiting unmistakable human motions and behaviors despite trying his hardest to pass himself off as a bear.
Especially - the locals may not have ever seen a bear, but they see plenty of animals, wild and tame, and should be able to tell a taxidermied head and glass eyes versus a real live animal - or notice that, hey wait a minute, those are just eyeholes for someone wearing a mask.
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Old 01-06-2020, 05:48 PM
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It sounds like a silly disguise, but this is also claimed of Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de la Force, a 17th-century French writer. She wanted to marry a younger man, Charles Briou, whose family opposed the match. Supposedly, they locked him up, but she gained access to the home by accompanying a travelling performing troupe disguised as a dancing bear and managed to escape with him in this guise (they were subesquently married with the King's permission, but Charles' family had the marriage annulled and Charles locked up in a madhouse).

This is of course speculation, but supposing the story is true; in that case, even if the costume didn't convince anyone that it was an actual bear, it would perhaps have been good enough for the purpose of disguising Charlotte's identity. Perhaps they just saw her as a performer disguised as a bear and left it at that.
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Old 01-07-2020, 06:40 AM
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It sounds like a silly disguise, but this is also claimed of Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de la Force, a 17th-century French writer. She wanted to marry a younger man, Charles Briou, whose family opposed the match. Supposedly, they locked him up, but she gained access to the home by accompanying a travelling performing troupe disguised as a dancing bear and managed to escape with him in this guise (they were subesquently married with the King's permission, but Charles' family had the marriage annulled and Charles locked up in a madhouse).

This is of course speculation, but supposing the story is true; in that case, even if the costume didn't convince anyone that it was an actual bear, it would perhaps have been good enough for the purpose of disguising Charlotte's identity. Perhaps they just saw her as a performer disguised as a bear and left it at that.
Thanks! Now I'll wonder if POB read about that.

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Old 01-08-2020, 03:43 PM
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This is what a bloke in a bear skin actually looks like. Not bad actually.
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Old 01-08-2020, 05:01 PM
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It was an actual bear skin, as I remember, not just a manufactured costume, so maybe that adds to the verisimilitude? Maybe? A little?

But I also think there's another plausible explanation. People at the time were probably used to seeing traveling performing animals, and maybe some, or even most, of those "animals" were actually people in skins/costumes. It might be that all "dancing bears" looked a little bit fake, and that's what people would expect to see, so the costume would work.

Maybe somewhat dubious. But possible.

How do you get a tall, blond-haired, rosy-complexioned, stout Englishman through miles and miles of countryside where he can't be recognized for who he is? Maybe you don't actually disguise him as a bear, but as some poor schlemiel whose only way to make a living is to go around in a bear costume. Even if people pretty much knew he was a guy a costume, they wouldn't think of him as a Royal Navy officer in a costume.

(Or maybe I should tell that to the marines; the old sailors will never believe it)
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