Sunday, July 31, 2011

all was because of your noblesse

Going from Le Morte d'Arthur to The Spoils of Poynton (Henry James) with my brain still on the subject of knights and knightly codes, and tragic deaths, and so on, and noble Launcelot not killing the man who was gripping his thighs, etcetera, I decided that the exquisite fineness of feeling suffered by James' Fleda Vetch, was in fact chivalry, a compelling chivalry from which her personality, her very Self, could not be separated -- and the problems she faced were not due to the chivalry per se, but to the reluctance of the world to recognise that chivalry for what it was, and reward it.

Which it cannot be commanded to do, except by James himself, and there is the stumbling block, he has a stake in the maintenance of the world's indifference to chivalry. Freda is chivalrous and other characters are not, and a lot of the tension in his story can be located at that crux. On one hand he sympathises with her, on the other hand he sabotages her. Why sabotage? So that he can go on acting like an author. Without the crux there would be no Spoils of Poynton. Fie on you, Henry James, you two-faced gentleman. But without the Spoils of Poynton there would be no Freda Vetch.

When, in chapter sixteen, she refuses to take advantage of her superiority over a rival -- a superiority she has come by honestly, not conniving for it, not plotting for it, but just naturally happening to have it -- she is in the same situation as Sir Launcelot in the Morte when that man grips his thighs. The man has committed a murder, Launcelot has been cast in the role of a judge, and justice could be very easy. All he has to do is administer a coup de grâce with his sword and everything will be over in two minutes. Instead he tells the man to get up and fight him. It is not enough for the man to act like a criminal, he, Launcelot, must act like a worthy knight, and therefore no coup de grâce. He can't kill a man who refuses to act like his equal. No, replies the man. I will not fight you. I'm going to stay down by your legs, where it's safe. "Now will I proffer thee fair," says Launcelot, "I will unarm me unto my shirt, and I will have nothing upon me but my shirt, and my sword and my hand." And Fleda Vetch unarms herself too, she will not take advantage of her advantage, but she tries to be fair.

Her rival is not so scrupulous, and Freda loses the thing she thought she had. Other characters are defeated with her; it would have been better for almost everybody if she had been less chivalrous. Be ruthless, the others might have said to her. For our sakes, be ruthless! But what she needs in her life is not ruthlessness, but a sword and a horse and the incredibly delicate organisation of a Round Table, which can only be maintained in a book with a rigid repetitive structure, and over whose dissolution King Arthur wept, and the knights said to Sir Launcelot as he was leaving Arthur's court forever: "we all understand in this realm will be no quiet but ever strife and debate, now the fellowship of the Round Table is broken; for by the noble fellowship of the Round Table was King Arthur upborne, and by their noblesse the king and all his realm was in quiet and rest, and a great part, they said, all was because of your noblesse." And Freda Vetch might sigh and say, I wish mine was this welcome.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

the element that aroused people to stylized violence

Michael Dirda once asked, I recall, whether it was possible to go from a good book to a computer game, suggesting rhetorically that it wasn't, and sending out, I suppose, the message that the two things were too different, way too different, and yet people are always doing two things that are not similar. Waking is not like sleeping, and getting out of bed is not like either waking or sleeping, and playing chess is not like fighting a lion, but if an angry lion came into the room while you were playing chess and tried to eat you you would find a way to fight it, because you do not want to be eaten; no one does, or almost no one, though there are a few people who have a fetish for it, but they are so rare that they presented a court in Germany with a dilemma in 2004, namely, if you help a vorarephile act out his fetish by eating him, are you a murderer? Manslaughter, they decided, and gave the cannibal eight years in prison. Let that be a lesson to us all

But the memory of Dirda came to me earlier as I was reading Le Morte d'Arthur from cover to cover for the first time, because, "This book," I said to myself, "is built like World of Warcraft" -- in that the story is a series of quests, delivered to the hero by a series of people who are often complete strangers to him, and carried out with obedience and fidelity, even though the person might well be lying for all you know, and occasionally is.

Over and over again a knight meets a damosel or a wounded fellow knight, or some other person, and this person asks if the knight will help them by slaughtering an enemy, or rescuing a spouse, and Yes says the knight, he says yes I will Yes. In WoW this stranger is known as the questgiver and they wear a golden exclamation mark, but many of the questions they ask are the first cousins of the questions in Morte. Oh rescue my daughter, they say, or, won't you go to that hill over there and kill the demon who has locked my friends in cages? The centaur agitate me, they say, so please kill fifteen of them. Bring me their eyes.

And the knights don't argue, and in WoW you don't argue either, and there is the expectation that the quest will be accepted at face value, without the quester raising one eyebrow and saying, No, that sounds insane, or, I'm tired, why don't you do it yourself? Arthur's knights assume that the person is telling the truth. It's surprising that so few non-knights take advantage of this. Somewhere there is an alternative Morte, an even longer book, telling us about all the times somebody did the equivalent of calling an emergency number because their cat was stuck up a tree, or just because they were drunk.

The ritual action takes place, and then it happens again, and then it happens again: the quest is given, the quest is accepted, and the knight wallops away on his horse. But there are variations operating within this formula, and it's these variations that let the book be a book, a story, something impersonating movement, and not a laundry list of quests and walloping and helmets being brast, on and on and static like a Biblical Begat. (This corpse, it twitches, the statue, it moves.) The setting changes, the person giving the quest changes, the identity of the hero changes from one part of the book to another, the knight is maybe weary but he goes anyway, wondering if he will survive, or he is fresh and angry and goes off with confidence, or he is Sir Launcelot, who always wins, or he is Sir Cote Mal Tail, who is only an average fighter but does his best regardless. A surprising event will come between the knight and the end that he expected for his quest, and he will have to pursue goodness along another route. He can't walk away and leave the quest dangling unfinished, because he is a knight, and negligence looks not goodly in a knight.

In Book VI of the Morte a woman comes to Launcelot through a forest, pursued and terrified, begging him to save her from her husband, who believes, erroneously, that she has been sleeping with her cousin. Launcelot tells the man not to kill his wife. The husband courteously agrees to obey. "And so Sir Launcelot rode on the one side and she on the other: he had not ridden but a while but the knight bade Sir Launcelot turn him and look behind him, and said, Sir, yonder come men of arms after us riding. And Sir Launcelot turned him and thought no treason, and therewith was the knight and the lady on one side, and suddenly he swapped off his lady's head."

Traitor, says Launcelot, and goes to buffet him, but the knight refuses to fight. He falls "flat to the earth and gripped Sir Launcelot by the thighs, and cried mercy." Launcelot can't fight a man who won't fight, and to kill him as he crouches flat to the earth would be ignoble, and so he is presented with a problem, which he must think about, and solve, and so this episode in the book is not like any other, and nor is the one in which Sir Gawaine accidentally kills a lady who throws herself across the body of a knight he's trying to slay, and nor is the one in which -- but none of them are completely like the others.

So there are the constants and then there are the variables -- one thing stays stiff, one thing jiggles -- and it's like a life, or a day, because in a day you get up, you walk to the kitchen, you eat, but the food you eat might be an egg or it might be cereal or natto or maybe you have to run outside to the shops to find something edible because the cupboard is empty; and like this each day is different. But the larger structure is there, the sun comes up, the sun goes down, and food is eaten. And I start to remind myself that in literature there are variations on the nature of the repetition itself. Elizabeth Jolley repeats scenes almost word for word, pages apart, Gertrude Stein writes almost the same words in a different order, and Ann Killough, whose Beloved Idea I found at the library a while ago, sets a word down on the page and then repeats it stiffly in a new sentence, carrying this word on and picking up a new word -- first "wall", here, then "garden:"

She thought perhaps it was the wall

That perhaps the metaphorical wall around the garden was the element that aroused people to stylized violence.

That made them want to deposit their ideological ordnance inside the garden and make a clean getaway.

In How I Became a Nun, César Aira's narrator remembers that when she was six she played a game, pretending to be a teacher instructing an imaginary class; she invents forty-two children and all of them have to have (because this is a rule of the game) dyslexia, but in each case it's a different kind of dyslexia. "For example, then, one child's peculiar dyslexia consisted of putting all the vowels together at the beginning of a word, followed by the consonants … I hadn't invented disorders so much as systems of difficulty." And the large event is animated by vibrations as a cage is animated by birds. "The repetition that didn't always happen," writes Aira's narrator, "gave me a measure of life:a surprise gift for me to unwrap, mad with joy, as the flow of sound [from the radio] made up its mind to be the same or different."

Aira's book was translated by Chris Andrews. Malory's book has been rewritten several times by different authors, each author trying to make the language less antique. Mark Sarvas posted on the subject two weeks ago. The "original Malory" he quotes from (Oxford University Press, 1971) is written like this:

"I wyll wel," said Arthur, and rode fast after the swerd.

And whan he cam home the lady and al were out to see the joustyng. Thenne was Arthur wroth and saide to hymself, "I will ryde to the chircheyard and take the swerd that stycketh in the stone, for my broder sir Kay shall not be without a swerd this day."

My 1994 Modern Library copy modernises the spelling but not much else.

I will well, said Arthur, and rode fast after the sword, and when he came home, the lady and all were out to see the jousting. Then was Arthur wroth, and said to himself, I will ride to the churchyard, and take the sword with me that sticketh in the stone, for my brother Sir Kay shall not be without a sword this day.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

the climber scrambles and clambers ever higher

I've put this link in the sidebar but I'm going to add it here as well -- it is Brian Sibley's Radio 4 serial adaptation of Mervyn Peake's Titus books. I can't say anything about Episode Two, because I haven't listened to it yet, but Episode One is excellent, just an excellent example of books being taken apart as books and put together again as radio. The opening lines of the first book, the outer houses clinging like limpets to the castle wall, don't appear until almost twenty-five minutes in, and he inserts them as we're following a character away from Gormenghast for the first time, and seeing it from without -- which is exactly the point of view of those lines. So he's paying attention to what things mean.

He has (and he had this too, back in 1984 when he turned the trilogy into a radio two-parter) an Under Milk Woodish habit of eliding his lines, and slicing them up, so that one character might start a description and another character slip in to finish it, or the narrator will begin to explain a point, then a character in the scene will speak and the narrator will pause naturally, as if a comma has uttered, then go on. The whole play flows and flows as though we're listening to a river running on and each ripple has a new voice. This is how he gives us Nannie Slagg leaving the castle to find a wetnurse for the baby --

A Bright Carver: One from the castle comes amongst us.
Nannie [to herself]: Ooh, but I must remember the right words …
Narrator: Nannie Slagg
Nannie: The bright carvers.
Narrator: Fourteen inches taller on account of a black hat
The Bright Carvers [responding to Nannie]: The castle!
Narrator: Topped off with a bunch of glass grapes that flare in the moonlight.

-- and here are the two narrators taking part in the same sentence --

Titus: Meanwhile, Steerpike the climber scrambles and clambers ever higher
Narrator: Through the dusty matted mass of ivy
Titus: Ever nearer to my world

-- and here's the technique in Milk Wood:

First Voice: Ocky Milkman, drowned asleep in Cockle Street, is emptying his churns into the Dewi River,

Ocky Milkman: regardless of expense,

First Voice: and weeping like a funeral.

The lines slip after one another pauselessly; the pauses in this play occur within the actors' performances, their own pauses, in character, the Doctor, for example, giggling, hesitating, then laughing again. (James Fleet as Doctor Prunesquallor gives individual personalities to passages of speech that, written down, would not be anything more useful to an actor than the flat nudity of "ha ha ha.") They slide on one another's heels like those staggered splitlines of Shakespeare's, in King Lear, Scene Two, Act Two, when Kent says, "It is both he and she / your son and daughter," and Lear follows immediately with, "No." Online versions of the script don't seem to replicate this, but the Oxford Shakespeare I've got here shows the nos and yeses arranged down the page from left to right like a set of steps. Kent: "Yes." Lear: "No, I say" -- and then the next line shuttles all the way back to the left side of the page as the tempo skips a beat and then it begins to make steps again: "I say yea," "By Jupiter I swear no." Maybe Kent, feeling thwarted by "No I say," had to pause to gather himself together for another assault on the unbelieving and knuckleheaded world, who knows; the actor can interpret it as he likes. But the way the lines are placed -- the fact that the playwright means them to follow one another quickly -- "conveys an increased sense of dramatic moment," writes David Crystal in the Oxford's introduction. And it does, even on the page. "An increase in tempo is also an ideal mechanism for carrying repartee," writes Crystal, and he quotes another example of stepped lines from Taming of the Shrew. Kate and Petruccio: "You are withered. " "Tis with cares." "I care not." The Titus books are known among other things for their slowness, but Episode One moves like repartee, like a grand conversation, addition on addition like a stack of challenges pushing onwards, like a train, clack clack clack.

Friday, July 15, 2011

suddenly the hour of liberation came for this yearning creature

Cliffs and birds, I say: cliffs and birds.

The language of the Faroe Islands is anciently spoken but only recently brought to print, and when the people open their mouths they come closer to the Vikings than anyone else bar their neighbours across the cold blue sea to the north-west in Iceland.

"It was a collection of folk tales that was to give Faroese its written form," writes Hedin Brønner in the introduction to Faroese Short Stories. "V.U. Hammershaimb, publishing the tales in Copenhagen in the 1850's and again in the late 1880's, created an orthography based on etymological rather than phonetic principles." Hammershaimb borrowed the old ð, which is used by only two other living alphabets, the Icelandic and the endangered Elfdalian.

(Elfdalian is the Anglicised spelling of a word that is also Övdalian, Övdalsk, Övdalską, Älvdalska or Älvdalsmål, a language in Sweden with a small number of speakers, three thousand, roughly, living in Övdaln, and most of them over forty-five.)

The Faroe Islanders imported a printing press in 1852 "but it was then used only to print material in the Danish language" until "the appearance of the first newspaper in 1890." Then there was "a landslide" of Faroese printing. "Polemic articles and pamphlets joined forces with patriotic poetry." At that time the Islands with their steep shores and green fields were ruled from the mainland by the Danish crown, and the island patriots were saying, See us, we are not another group of Danes, we are ourselves, we are Faroese, with our kvæði songs and our grindadráp hunt, the gannet, the seal, the neat and local sheep, and an evident amount of sexism, as only men are allowed to club whales to death and have their short stories translated by Hedin Brønner.

Literature in mainland Scandinavia was already well-evolved by the time the Faroese began to write their fiction, and so this collection, whose oldest writer was born in 1871 and the youngest in 1932, is a kind of compression of a national literature, a pressed-down strata, the youth of a literature and its developed adulthood existing almost simultaneously, with some stories that are folk tales arranged for the page (the storyteller's ums and ahs and digressions removed, the story proceeding from start to finish at the same steady pace, which is the pace of your reading, and no interruptions unless you want them; no one has to go to the toilet, no one burps, no one speaks) and other stories that have been informed by the author's tertiary education on the mainland, prankish in a literary way, the author taking joy in the act of writing, of sentence-making, noodling with words on the page, one written thought leading to another, and the second one more extravagant than the first, the glee of a writer one-upping himself.

William Heinesen, prince noodler, opens his Night of the Storm with a hurricane tearing the roof off a house owned by two seamstresses. "Cloth and drapery flapped about their cheeks, and patches and half-finished garments fluttered through the air like frightened birds," he writes. Then he is inspired further, he becomes specific, he sees the scene and a single garment grabs his eye. "A nightgown stood leaning out of a broken window, desperately gesticulating in the wind, but suddenly the hour of liberation came for this yearning creature. It got loose and went heavenward with rapid wingbeats." Now that he has gone from the general cloth to the specific and personalitied nightgown he merges them, and we have a general mass rushing full of specifics and characters. "And the ravaged house continued to spew forth more of its homeless contents -- wood splinters and sticks, ashes and paper and most of all -- cloth. Wet remnants and rags, long ribbons and tapes whipped at the faces of rescuers and spectators.. Indeed, the impecunious old seamstresses' modest tatters and rags had been stricken with uncontrollable fury and were carrying on an obsessed reign of terror."

The distance between him and Bruno Schulz here is very narrow, but Heinesen doesn't cross into the other man's dreamland. He's too jocular for the uncanny. The story has a sad end, but the author is an author of digressions, and in these digressions he takes real joy; the story on the whole seems to be a vehicle for digressions. When he decides to give two characters a love affair that ends unhappily ("for tragic and compelling reasons") it isn't enough for him to tell us that the young man was miserable and left the island, he first has him join "the English Mission and get baptized again," and then set out on his long voyage, sending his sister "sympathetic letters from foreign lands," until finally he dies, but the author doesn't simply say "he died," no, instead "he went down with a British ship in the Mediterranean during the First World War," and what's more, the courtship became the subject of "a moralizing ballad, 'Flowers of Sin.' No one knows," says Heinesen, lying, "who composed it, but it is to be found in the collection known as Absalon Isaksen's First Book, which is kept in the archives of the Tórshavn library."

Exultant with this invention he veers back to the seamstresses. "But now we shall hear further of what happened to the two old seamstresses …" None of these details are necessary to the story, the fact that the young man joined the English Mission, and died during the First World War are incidental, and The Night of the Storm could have proceeded equally well in an A-to-B sense if the author had written, "And then he left the Faroe Islands on a ship and never returned."

But by the time one of the seamstresses dies at the end, the wealth of details associated with her is so rich and bright and thick (she is enchanted royalty, the fairies keep on giving) that her death is the end of something more vital than a basic A to B, and I wanted her to come back so that I could have more of the vengeful modest tatters and "young fellows from the Seamen's School" who perform chain dances and sing "the tragic but at the same time gloomily-delightful Køngens Son of Engelland, the tale about the English king's son who went down with his gilded vessel off Jutland." (Heinesen loves the worldmaking power of adjectives, not just a vessel but a "gilded vessel," and a character who is a smith is not just a smith, he's a "berserk smith": and this is more exciting, like decorations on a Christmas tree. The author's habit of going off on tangents makes it seem almost likely that at any moment he could decide to follow one of these adjectives and conduct the story away in that direction -- into an exposé of the Faroese berserk smith community, or a history of gilded English ships.)

The chain dances have made him veer off again, and he resumes: "But back to the two homeless maidens …" And as I write this I realise that the plainly-told folk tales in Faroese Short Stories might have the narrative of the storyteller's stories, but Heinesen has the storyteller's style, the open possibility for endless side-thoughts, and additions, the speaker responding to his own mood with another invention, oh yes, not only this but also that, and another thing as well, now I'm going to tell you something else, now watch as I … and I have a glimpse of writing as a further form of speaking, the piling-up of ongoing thoughts, formed and shaped and sent out, and made larger.

Dedalus Books published an English translation of Heinesen's The Lost Musicians in 2006, and there's a sample of the book online.

Monday, July 4, 2011

for the house to be preserved

I know that some of the people who might read this post already know about the renovations to one of Christina Stead's old childhood homes, but aside from pointing out the petition in the side bar I've been holding off on mentioning it until the deal was done, the jig up, the operatic lady singing her sing. This is the summary I'm going to put on Pykk's Christina Stead page. If anyone knows of any other significant newspaper articles, blog posts, etc, let me know and I'll include them.

In 2011 the latest owner of her other childhood home (the family moved here after Lydham Hall) decided to modify the property and in June the plans went to the council for approval. There was opposition, people said that the house should be preserved, quotes were obtained from authors. Opponents set up a petition and a twitter account but the council passed the plans nonetheless. The renovations were reported by Street Corner, Domain, the Wheeler Centre, the Independent, the Wentworth Courier, the New Zealand Herald, the Sydney Morning Herald, the Age, the Guardian, and the Telegraph. ANZLitLovers blogged about it, and so did A Better Woman, Clarissa's Blog, Whispering Gums, and A Pair of Ragged Claws. The house is named Boongarre, or Stead House, it is located at 14 Pacific Street in Watsons Bay, New South Wales (here are some photographs), the owner's name was Mark Schwarzer, and the Wheeler Centre sounds as if they found her biography on the side of a cereal packet.

David Stead moved his family to Boongarre in 1918, which was, he says, the same year he talked to a group of crayfishermen who believed they had seen a hundred-foot extinct prehistoric shark upsetting their crayfish pots.

He wrote:

In the year 1918 I recorded the sensation that had been caused among the "outside" crayfish men at Port Stephens, when, for several days, they refused to go to sea to their regular fishing grounds in the vicinity of Broughton Island. The men had been at work on the fishing grounds -- which lie in deep water -- when an immense shark of almost unbelievable proportions put in an appearance, lifting pot after pot containing many crayfishes, and taking, as the men said, "pots, mooring lines and all". These crayfish pots, it should be mentioned, were about 3 feet 6 inches [1.06 m] in diameter and frequently contained from two to three dozen good-sized crayfish each weighing several pounds. The men were all unanimous that this shark was something the like of which they had never dreamed of. In company with the local Fisheries Inspector I questioned many of the men very closely and they all agreed as to the gigantic stature of the beast. But the lengths they gave were, on the whole, absurd. I mention them, however, as an indication of the state of mind which this unusual giant had thrown them into. And bear in mind that these were men who were used to the sea and all sorts of weather, and all sorts of sharks as well. One of the crew said the shark was "three hundred feet [90 m] long at least"! Others said it was as long as the wharf on which we stood – about 115 feet [35 m]! They affirmed that the water "boiled" over a large space when the fish swam past. They were all familiar with whales, which they had often seen passing at sea, but this was a vast shark. They had seen its terrible head which was "at least as long as the roof on the wharf shed at Nelson Bay." Impossible, of course! But these were prosaic and rather stolid men, not given to 'fish stories' nor even to talking about their catches. Further, they knew that the person they were talking to (myself) had heard all the fish stories years before! One of the things that impressed me was that they all agreed as to the ghostly whitish colour of the vast fish. The local Fisheries Inspector of the time, Mr Paton, agreed with me that it must have been something really gigantic to put these experienced men into such a state of fear and panic.

(from his Sharks and Rays of Australian Seas, published in 1963. I found it on the Unknown Explorers website)

Friday, July 1, 2011

flux, mere flux

Nina -- and when I say Nina I mean one of the two teachers in Muriel Spark's 2004 book The Finishing School, the one who teaches afternoon lessons in comme il fait -- Nina talks with aplomb on any topic that comes into her head, she talks about elephants, about Ascot, about hypocrisy, about criminal boyfriends, and she tells her students that if you are pursued by a snake then what you need to do is sit on the ground facing the snake with your legs apart and while the snake is trying to work out which foot to bite you should chop its head off with your knife. She is absolutely confident and serious and ludicrous yet truthful and I wonder if she would be a good model of behaviour for Mr Toots.

As you can see from my last post I am thinking about the problems of Mr Toots.

If Mr Toots could pursue a topic with Nina's indifference to shame then he could tell Florence Dombey that he loved her straight away, without sabotaging himself. He could go into the subject in depth. But, no, that wouldn't work because Nina only holds people in thrall like that when she has the cape of the classroom around her, when people are listening to her because she is going to tell them how the world works and how they should behave in it; this is the promise of the class. Also she is in a Muriel Spark novel, and this is the way people talk in Muriel Spark novels. They are mysterious with non sequiturs.

On the outside they are presented rigidly. The author will describe them with the same character tag again and again. (Different students in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie are known in shorthand: "famous for sex," the "silent lump," the one with "tiny eyes," etc.) But then they will do something almost unprepared-for -- and yet you could see it moving underneath that strangely dotted surface of tags and gestures, and in fact the surface rigidity itself is enough to let you know that things are not as they seem, because these brief tags and stiff spoken lines leave very obvious gaps, they do not explain; the author is not explaining everything to the reader, she is touching on the characters too slightly, she tells us too little, and perhaps in this way she lets us know that she thinks that as human beings we cannot know people. People will always surprise us.

"If we were constant beings by nature, like angels, it would be easier," she wrote once in a letter to her lover, Derek Stanford. "But we are flux, mere flux. No, not 'mere' flux -- necessary, right & proper flux."

Mr Toots is a constant being, like an angel, and the flux of his disorganised behaviour is only a mere outward flux -- he is rushing home and throwing himself on the bed because he can't bring himself to tell Florence Dombey about his constant inward state, which is one of love. He is attracted to her from beginning to end. His feelings are solid, like a long stuffed tube that never alters its diameter. By contrast in The Finishing School one character will start the book admiring her husband and by the end of the book she will have left him for the next-door neighbour, and a heterosexual man will hate another man to the point of wanting to murder him, and then he will decide that he is in love with him, and gay.

"Leave Dombey and Son," a concerned friend might say to Mr Toots. "Leave Dickens. Move to a Muriel Spark. You won't get anywhere with the heroine in a Dickens novel. He never lets them marry characters like you. Look at young John Chivery in Little Dorrit. Dickens lets his people jiggle around and give off energy but he keeps them on track (with some exceptions. Miss Mowcher veered but she had help) and if they're villains then they get to be superlatively villainous, and if they're ridiculous they get to be superlatively ridiculous, and if they're talkative they get to be superlatively talkative, and so they expand their god-given personalities to the fullest extent, but we know where it's going, don't we -- we know that the villain is going to suffer, die, or vanish at the end, and when a specific type of man shows up we know that the book is going to end with a marriage, and she's going to marry him. But Muriel Spark is different. Spark will let you hope. You might marry Florence Dombey in a Spark. It's not impossible."

Wrong, wrong, the friend is forgetting what Mr Toots is made of, Mr Toots is made of words, and if this word-thing (assume for a moment that he is a thing) moved into a Muriel Spark novel he would be freer, but he would have to change, he would not be Mr Toots, and the readers would be afraid of him perhaps or scornful of him or they would hate him; there is something ominous about the intractable mutability of her characters. He might be annihilated instead of rewarded. There's freedom's risk. The world become newly unreliable. He would not be as easy to see, or as easy to touch, and the readers would be less likely to recognise their own silliness in him, their own fallibility, because who thinks they are Miss Jean Brodie? She is totemic, a stiff totem, not an intimate one.

Freedom and uncertainty but also coldness and distance. Would it be worth it, Mr Toots? You live in a tyranny now, but the tyrant loves you.