Thursday, June 28, 2012

it is not necessary

Ann Radcliffe takes that one Nurse-trait, prolixity, and doles it out to more than one character, and yet her servants aren't actually unreasonably prolix (she doesn't carry it a long way, she hints at the prolixity they could achieve if they were allowed, "Well, Peter, it is not necessary to repeat what you said --" the other party reacts as if the servant is talking more than they do --), and the relationship between master and servant is always superior to inferior, and not, as in Romeo and Juliet, a to and fro between companions who have known one another for years. The masters in Radcliffe expect an instant answer -- they've inserted their money in this particular vending machine so where is the can? -- is their tone -- though if you note the words on the page you can see that they talk more than the servants. And this makes them seem cruel, which is not the dynamic in the Shakespeare.

Even the sweet heroes and heroines adopt that impatient master-mode when the relevant scene arrives, noble and sensitive creatures otherwise but changing like werewolves when this brand of conversation rises full-mooned into the plot. Vivaldi, hero of The Italian, tells his servant Paulo to be quiet, be quiet Paulo, be quiet, all right Paulo, keep it short Paulo, that's enough Paulo, Paulo, we're being held by the Inquisition Paulo will you stop antagonising them. Of course master, says Paulo, who adores his master with berzerk sincerity like all of these mistreated sods, it's just that they're idiots. Paulo, they're standing right there. I know master, and what idiots they look.

And this is a nexus of artificiality, the fact that a character can be called sensitive, thoughtful, kind, a hero, and also engage in behaviour that is unkind, patronising, abrupt, insensitive, going from one assigned role into the other without any reflection from the author, or any sign that there is supposed to be reflection from the reader either, we are expected to switch brains, forget the old and embrace the new, or decide that this new set of cruel tags fits naturally onto the same skeletal prose-framework as the old kind ones, take the master's side and roll our eyes, even when the master is La Motte, who, in most of the rest of the novel, we're expected to despise, weak man, unworthy man, but for the purposes of this convention he is suddenly ourselves.

Conclude that for the duration of the servant-scene we are supposed to forget that one human being snapping at another for trivial reasons is repulsive and not heroic or sympathetic; we want a blind spot here, Radcliffe had that blind spot, her readers might have had it too unless she misjudged them: the conversation is a black hole where assumption rules, the clouds part to reveal the pointing neon hand, and the mutual game of pretending that these scraps of deployed description are human beings, trembles.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

words are a very fantastical banquet

Servants in Radcliffe aren't often allowed to answer a question without being interrupted -- that's true in Romance of the Forest and true in The Italian as well, the two books of hers I've recently read -- "I got a sound drubbing," says servant Peter in the Forest, as he's telling La Motte about a reconnoitering expedition to a nearby village, "but then it was in your business, and so I don't mind. But if I ever meet with that rascal again --" then the master steps in, "You seem to like your first drubbing so well, that you want another, and unless you speak more to the purpose you shall soon have one," and soon again, "Is it impossible for you to speak to the point?" snips La Motte, and "Do be less tedious if it is in thy nature," and this pattern recurs, not only with Peter and La Motte, but with other servants and other masters, in different combinations; Peter enters the role of the one who exasperates people; he can barely say a line without somebody having a go at him, and it's played for laughs, it seems brutal.

This is the Nurse and Juliet, I thought when I came across it the first time -- the servant who keeps talking about themselves ("Fie, how my bones ache! what a jaunt have I had!" says the Nurse, "Would thou hadst my bones, and I thy news," says Juliet) and the master trying to extract some specific piece of information -- "although," I said, "probably an everyday comedy trope at the time and borrowed from other literature without coming through Shakespeare" -- and I still believe, without knowing for sure, that it must have been a contemporary habit that she picked up -- believing this because she picked it up, when she's not a funny writer; easiest to take what's there -- but I noticed that the pattern was accompanied by bits of language that seemed to indicate an older presence inhabiting Radcliffe's brain, "thy" in La Motte's "thy nature" when the characters use a normal "you" in other conversations, and also his "speak more to the purpose," which appears in Much Ado About Nothing: "He was wont to speak plain and to the purpose," says Benedick in the garden, Act Two, Scene Three, "like an honest man and a soldier; and now is he turned orthography; his words are a very fantastical banquet, just so many strange dishes." Benedick at this point has sent a servant Boy to bring him a book; the words "He was wont," etc, are not referring to this Boy, but Benedick began the speech by telling the Boy to stop faffing around and obey.

In my chamber-window lies a book: bring it hither
to me in the orchard.

I am here already, sir.

I know that; but I would have thee hence, and here again.

Exit Boy

And I suspect (though I can only suspect) that the conjunction of actions, servants being told to hurry up, masters giving orders, and "his words are a very fantastical banquet," suggested that other phrase to Radcliffe's mind, namely, "to the purpose," and I suspect also that in The Italian she is thinking of Macbeth when one character urges an accomplice to stab a person to death, then, when the accomplice baulks, tells him to hand over the dagger, saying, "Arouse yourself, and be a man!" So too, Lady Macbeth tells her husband to hand her his daggers when he baulks: "Infirm of purpose! / Give me the dagger." Meanwhile the accomplice suffers bloody visions. Macbeth has bloody visions. In another part of the book the murderer who says, "Arouse yourself!" is in cahoots with a woman who is unnaturally firm and murderous (thinks the author) for a woman; and so Shakespeare seems to disintegrate and scatter himself through the two books, emerging from the author's brain at different times.

I know, I know, I know, I'm aware: people reading a book are often amazed when they see how nicely it reflects something they already know. "Look at this sentence here, they've been reading my favourite --" "Nuh," says the author, interviewed, "never heard of it. Total coincidence. Bizarre."

But whether she thought about Benedick or not is less interesting than the idea that she could have done so, that these conjunctions leading to results are possible, and that evolution therefore is capable of mysterious courses.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

with whom we had in idea mingled

Ann Radcliffe's romantic country landscape, crags, cliffs, always "varied" ("the varied landscape, rich with wood," "the varied features of the landscape amused her fancy," "a scenery of varied and romantic beauty," "a sweep of sea and land, so varied," "its varied margin sprinkled with villas") -- convert this into brick and this is an aspect of Balzac's city, his Paris, also varied, cliffed, cragged; and the city's devotees have their romantic aesthetic reaction to its pits and details: it is their sublime, but at the same time it is filthy, "not having one single clean corner." And Radcliffe's landscapes are terrible, large, stern sometimes, and melancholy on occasions.

For the length of the first page in Balzac's History of the Thirteen I thought that the characters in the Thirteen gang, if they switched books, would never manage to be Radcliffe villains, even though they were "versed in guile," "never having trembled before public authority, the public hangman, or even innocence itself" -- which is villainous, but they were too self-controlled, I thought, "endowed with sufficient energy to remain faithful to a single purpose," where her villains are unrestrained; the evil Marquis in The Romance of the Forest has deliberately decided to unrestrain himself. He makes a speech praising lack of restraint; he has probably been reading Rousseau, who died in 1778, two decades before Romance was published. The natural human is free, etc, kills enemies when he likes, etc, think of the wonderful Indians in distant America, etc, and while we're on the subject does La Motte happen to have a vial of poison? La Motte does not. Poison is an expediency he thinks not of. Meanwhile good Clara is resisting her lute. "I am determined not to touch it at all this day. I will prove that I am able to control my inclinations when I see it is necessary so to do." But La Motte has been in the city, he has been gambling, he is weak, he is in debt, he couldn't control his inclinations in front of the card table, now he can't control them in front of the Marquis, who, rich, keeps the impoverished man under his thumb, where he makes readers so angry that they refer to him as Asshole in blue pen on the one hundred and twenty-fifth page of my copy of the book, price, one dollar at the local library bookshop.

I volunteer there regularly, and every time I do I meet the same man, who tells me what his mother said to him before she died, which was, "Don't rush," though last time I was so busy that he never had time to say anything except, "How much are the National Geographics?"

Balzac mentions Radcliffe, he seems to be impressed by her ("Since the death of Napoleon, an accident concerning which the author should still preserve silence, has dissolved the bonds of this life, as secret and curious, as the darkest of the romances of Mrs. Radcliffe"), but the History continues, he disagrees with her ideas about goodness, he doesn't see a point in restraint (turn away from Romance and the fragile idea of the angelic heroine Adeline dissolves, its body was made of the author's steadiness), he is excited when "their long repressed urges had become inescapable" -- the Thirteen really are Radcliffe villains -- and he goes through complicated exasperations over the cherishable Auguste de Maulincour whose grandmother has brought him up with the character of a Radcliffe protagonist, as previously discussed: see older posts below.

At one point, like her, he brings up Ossian, but he is placing that representative of melancholy, myth, mood lighting, etc, in the conversation of a shop assistant who wants a customer to put black feathers in her hat to make it look mysterious. The gang of Thirteen is Gothic in itself, baffling, supernatural, ferocious, but the Gothic is also a tool for an advertisement for there's nothing untouchable in Balzac, even the genre he loves can be violated, he does it himself, thrilled, language rising, really excited when he points out that love "needs gold too" -- this would be pollution in Radcliffe's Forest; she would not have a sense of thrill or humour but he is moved. He is excited by outrage, even his own outrage, he has a character in Father Goriot say that people, for money, will fight and devour one another like spiders in a pot, a sentence quoted on the jacket flap of my copy of Christina Stead's House of all Nations. "Balzac is the one writer that I feel as a man," she wrote to her love William Blake, "every word he wrote seems to be spoken in my ear."

Balzac's point of view is represented by one of Radcliffe's predecessors, another Gothic author, Sophia Lee, in her 1783 book, The Recess.

We were delighted with a playful group of fawns and deer, with whom we longed to frolic, and stole through Mrs Marlow's chamber into the park, by a passage she had pointed out to us the day before. What was our surprize when we saw those with whom we had in idea mingled, were large fierce creatures, and that had they not run from us, we must from them; that every bird feared its natural protector, and that men lived in continual warfare with every living thing in creation, even to his own species!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

that arch suspended between two rocks

Connections! says Carlyle -- you act without knowing where your act will travel or what it will do after it's out of you. It's true that I wouldn't have read his Diamond Necklace if Ann Radcliffe hadn't borrowed the name La Motte, perhaps, or not. "[T]he name which La Motte [...] is given is one which had become notorious in the seventeen-eighties as a result of the trial, in France, resulting from "the affair of the queen's necklace" (a scandal which did some harm to the standing of the French monarchy) in which one of the accused was Jeanne de Luz, de Saint-Remy, or de Valois, comtesse de la Motte," explained Chloe Chard in the endnotes to Romance of the Forest. "This name might also have been suggested , however, by that of the 'Monsieur De La Motte' (the French poet and critic Antoine Houdart de la Motte, 1672 - 1731) whose fables are cited as the source of several poems in Dodsley (an anthology which contains a number of the works quoted in The Romance of the Forest)."

Fictional gambler, La Motte suggested both of these men to Chard, her brain saying, aha, and two antennae quivering off the gambler in two directions. (Is there money in this? he asks, cunning, cunning, cunning. Then what's the point?) Ann Radcliffe took out a sheet of paper and dipped her quill, gestating (not in herself but in time and history) future endnotes, which, now that she was writing, would be published in 1986 by Oxford University Press (herself not realising), nor did she foresee the life of Chard, "a lecturer in English literature at the university of of Osijek, in Yugoslavia" -- a country that didn't exist when Radcliffe was alive and doesn't exist now either -- nor would she have pictured the clean bloc biography that begins, "Ann Radcliffe (née Ward) was born in London in 1764. Her father was in trade ..." which is printed on the first page under a cardboard cover whose invention she would not have predicted, any more than Claudius Aelianus in the second century A.D. could have known that his description of a stingray would remind me of Steve Irwin every time I look at it.

The barb of the Sting-ray nothing can withstand. It wounds and kills instantly, and even those fishermen who have great knowledge of the sea dread its weapon. For no man can heal the wound, nor will the creature that inflicted it; that was a gift vouchsafed, most probably, to the ashen spear from mount Pelion alone.

(translated by A.F. Scholfield: On the Characteristics of Animals)

But my Steve Irwin is nothing but reports of Steve Irwin, since I never watched the show, only heard about it from others.

My thoughts run on in chains, and even the word "chains" would not have made it into this sentence if I hadn't found a copy of Paul Muldoon's New Selected Poems 1968 - 1994 at a secondhand bookshop that was going out of business on Tropicana Avenue, far down by Goodwill and a petrol station. If you open this book casually, without aiming for a specific area, then it will flip open automatically at page one hundred and twenty-five where you can read his 1987 poem Something Else, which ends with --

hanged himself from a lamp-post
with a length of chain, which made me think

of something else, then something else again.

Twelve lines earlier the poem starts with a lobster --

When your lobster was was lifted out of the tank
to be weighed
I thought of woad

-- and runs through other scenes before it reaches the lamp-post. The poet must have known that the human mind can connect these things, will do so willingly, and wants to. (Carlyle in On History, prefers webs to chains and now that I've mentioned it I think I do too.) In Radcliffe's last book, The Italian, the hero manages to accuse a monk of villainy by mentioning the word "friar" near the word "banditti" during a conversation about scenery.

"That arch," resumed Vivaldi, his eye still fixed on Schedoni, "that arch suspended between two rocks, the one overtopped by the towers of the fortress, the other shadowed with pine and broad oak, has a fine effect. But a picture of it would want human figures. Now either the grotesque shapes of banditti lurking within the ruin, as if ready to start out upon the traveller, or a friar rolled up in his black garments, just stealing forth from under the shade of the arch, and looking like some supernatural messenger of evil, would finish the piece."

Schedoni, sneering, hostile, bitter, detects the accusation instantly, and reacts with, "I cannot but admire the facility with which you have classed the monks together with banditti," but I am distracted by the hero's name, which I never can read without believing, for a second, each time, that he composed the Four Seasons. Because I am a human being who recently read Hazlitt's Table Talk I perceived a connection between his essay on actors and these sentences from Carlyle's book about the necklace: "As in looking at a finished Drama, it were nowise meet that the spectator first of all got behind the scenes, and saw the burnt-corks, brayed-resin, thunder-barrels, and withered hunger-bitten men and women, of which such heroic work was made: so herewith the reader. A peep into the side-scenes shall be granted him, from time to time. But, on the whole, repress, O reader, that too insatiable scientific curiosity of thine; let thy esthetic feeling first have play." But their points of view are too different, only editing makes them seem similar, you can only maintain the connection if you leave it pristine, deciding, pause here, do not feed your brain any material that might push it on to more advanced conclusions and take you away from the position you already hold: stand in that position and stay with that link, which reminds me of the unicyclist who told me that a unicycle will not coast when you stop pedalling.

The brain goes on, I pick up my copy of Balzac's History of the Thirteen whereat pages zero to seventy drop out in a fall of brown dry glue, an action that could be used, if I were writing a story, to suggest the disintegration of an attachment, perhaps a marriage between my characters, whoever they are, in other words this emblematic disintegration would not exist separately, it would be embedded in the chain or web of remarks that made up my book, not free, but hauled up and nailed into place, in my last paragraph maybe; maybe I could borrow it for a portentous ending.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

the Thing Done will come to use

Ann Radcliffe's La Motte, just as an aside, may or may not owe his name to a French con artist of the 1780s, Jeanne de la Motte, who tried to heist a diamond necklace and became famous because the queen was involved; Marie Antoinette, innocent in fact, but the French public didn't completely believe it, and angry feeling was building toward the Revolution. Jeanne de la Motte had "a character, which the present Writer, a determined student of human nature, declares to be undecipherable," wrote Thomas Carlyle in 1837 for his short book about the heist, The Diamond Necklace (published by himself and his wife in limited edition); he was not helped by her three volumes of memoir.

"As to Lamotte the husband, he, for shelter against much, decisively dives down to the 'subterranean shades of Rascaldom'; gambles, swindles; can hope to live, miscellaneously, if not by the Grace of God, yet by the Oversight of the Devil, for a time," he writes, which are also the words you would use to describe the progress of La Motte in Radcliffe's book (gambles, swindles, tries to thrive), but every human being was a melodrama to Carlyle at this point in his life (so anybody can see by reading his essay, On History, published in 1830), with a mysterious story and plot, each person hurtling through the universe on this earthly cannonball, sending out star-beams of action (who knows where the light ends up), each person a concentrated history and fractal image of the larger history: "Is not every memory written quite full with Annals, wherein joy and mourning, conquest and loss manifoldly alternate; and, with or without philosophy, the whole fortunes of one little inward Kingdom, and all its politics, foreign and domestic, stand ineffaceably recorded?" -- he asks in the essay, which came out in Fraser's Magazine.

History should be treated poetically, he said, philosophically, musically, because it was humanity's "chief inheritance," each historical narrative evidence of our "spiritual nature" -- he explained the high dramatic style of Necklace to his brother in a letter --

My attempt was to make reality ideal; there is considerable significance in that notion of mine, and I have not yet seen the limit of it, nor shall till I have tried to go as far as it will carry me. The story of the Diamond Necklace is all told in that paper with the strictest fidelity, yet in a kind of musical way.

His song is called Force. "Work," he tells the audience in Necklace, "lies not isolated, stranded; a whole busy World, a whole native-element of mysterious never-resting Force, environs it; will catch it up; will carry it forward, or else backward: always, infallibly, either as living growth, or at worst as well-rotted manure, the Thing Done will come to use. Often, accordingly, for a man that had finished any little work, this were the most interesting question In such a boundless whirl of a world, what hook will it be, and what hooks, that shall catch up this little work of mine; and whirl it also, through such a dance ?"

Carlyle, who was a lover of Great Man-ism, makes his Lamotte-husband dive "decisively" and court the Devil, possessing not just ordinary badness, but badness almost worthy of Devil-attention: let Jeanne's husband have the bliss of extremity if he couldn't have any other kind. The husband is a listless figure in the Diamond Necklace saga, drifting out of sight and leaving the notoriety to his wife, who made her way eventually to Britain and published the three volumes.

Every person was a participant in a strong force, so Carlyle suggested; their actions entered that force when they were acted, the force flew through the world and the Great Man is a kind of pure focus. Great Mannery was a current of thought that ran through Europe during the 1800s: great tug of war between democracy and great despotism, the mass of workerdom here, Napoleon there, and various artists supporting either side, Carlyle arguing for a kind of chaos with multiple intense points, motionful not static, he died, time went on, others argued, then the Great Man hove up and it was Hitler.

But even an encounter with a diabolical Great Man couldn't knock the idea out of the human head immediately. E.R. Eddison was publishing books about fascistic Great Men while World War II was running (I know: I've made that point on this blog before), and perhaps did not see what he was writing about; like Lucien in Balzac he couldn't estimate the prospect that was standing in front of his eyes: all normal and human, when you put it like that and try to frame him as Lucien, and what unconscious spite I saw the other day online -- one person unemployed, and another saying, You should have done what I did when I was seventeen, I foresaw everything accurately and studied subject X -- but if everybody had studied subject X then you wouldn't be in the position you are now, a desirable commodity. There's nothing more infallible than luck.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

to admit a view

Ann Radcliffe's calm tone in Romance of the Forest is the voice of the person who can see differences from a distance: she surveys each state clearly with her voice, the villain's badness is evident, the heroine is detectably good, and La Motte enters and exits obvious states of goodness and badness. La Motte's progress through the story is unique, lone twitch, he moves like a coin being flipped. Which side will be facing upwards when the end arrives? The decision to end the book won't be his. It will belong to the characters who move directly. He probably suspects it, powerless man, if characters can suspect anything, which they can't, but it would explain his moodiness if they could. "Why are you like that, La Motte? Why are you sneaky and grouchy and wayward?" "Because I know I have no power in this book, I'm going to be everybody's pet idiot, and readers will write abusive pen notes next to my name when all I'm trying to do is keep myself viable to the end of the chapter." "All right, that makes absolute sense."

If Lucien de Rubempré could separate out his states and foresee the consequences as clearly as Hazlitt, he would be happier.

Lucien would have been happier if he'd stayed home in his village, says Balzac, and Ann Radcliffe agrees, yes, innocence should stay away from the cities. "Here is the village!" indicates an honest servant at the end of Forest. "God bless! It is worth a million such places as Paris." Rustic dances forthwith and the protagonists retire to a chateau. "Here, nature was suffered to sport in all her beautiful luxuriance, except where here, and there, the hand of art formed the foliage to admit a view of the blue waters of the lake, with the white sail that glided by, or of the distant mountains." Adeline the virtuous heroine from Forest appears in Balzac's History of the Thirteen, where he is a man and his name is Auguste de Maulincour. Auguste was raised by his grandmother. "She transmitted all her own delicacy of feeling to him and made a timid man of him and apparently a very stupid one. His sensibility was preserved intact, was not blunted by contact with the world and remained so chaste, so vulnerable that he was acutely offended by actions and maxims to which mundane society attached no importance."

This is Adeline through other eyes, an intact sensitivity, chaste and "acutely offended" in exactly that way.

Misguided, easily outraged, Auguste becomes suspicious of a married woman; he spies on her, he wants to tell; he fills the role of Iago, suggests the translator Herbert J. Hunt in the introduction, he is a suspicion-spreader: Iago guileless. (Graham Robb, in his Balzac: a Biography, says that Hunt is "one of [Balzac's] most scrupulous translators," and they are alike, Robb and Hunt, they are both opinionated, they are both scrupulous, and they both admonish less scrupulous people. Hunt's footnotes and Robb's biography of (even more than the Balzac one) Victor Hugo have a similar rigorous critical tone, which Robb has found a word for, here, where he comments on Hunt: this behaviour is "scrupulous.")

But this Iago's Desdemona's father is a member of the untouchable Thirteen and he attacks Auguste in revenge, with hair-poison. Ann Radcliffe is right, her kind of innocence should stay out of the cities, it will be destroyed there, or impurified, it won't be able to live in the protagonist any more, it will have to migrate. If Adeline-innocence wants to survive then it should put its hands on the steering wheel of its vehicle-human and drive that body away.

And Hazlitt is right, presume: the state of fairy innocence he has described will be ruined too, if he goes backstage, he will have seen "the half-lighted candles stuck against the bare walls" "this insight into secrets I am not bound to know" but I still think, in spite of Lucien, that whatever will replace it might not be worse; in Dickens it is not worse, it gave him the Crummles in Nicholas Nickleby.

But we do not all have the same character, Hazlitt points out to me: I am not Dickens. "The stage is not a mistress that we are sworn to undress," he writes, and he might also (following that idea) have thought that other mysteries should not be penetrated, women's clothing for instance (since he is talking about mistresses and undressing), but nothing is alien to Balzac, and so when he wants to put Madame de Bargaton's intelligence and skill in perspective for us in Lost Illusions he can tell us how quickly she learnt to wear a hat, and how challenging it is, this hat-wearing. "There is an indefinable art in wearing a hat: wear it too far back, and it gives you a bold expression; too far forward, it has a sinister air; too far to the side, it gives you a jaunty look; but well-dressed women can put a hat on just as they like, and yet it will always look right. Mme de Bargaton had instantly mastered that curious problem."

I am not Balzac either, says Hazlitt.

There might have been some compensation for you, I say to him, if you had seen how Cato painted, or how Caesar combed, and you might have written another essay afterwards: "There is an indefinable art in brushing hair. This is how Caesar mastered that curious problem." No, replies Hazlitt. I would not. Now go and pester La Motte, he's used to it.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

that ludicrous medley of things

Charles Dickens does not conserve and Balzac does not conserve, they stare, they hunt, they describe, Dickens goes backstage with the actors, Balzac goes backstage in Paris, which city is his stage; and he goes up stairs, into tenements, looks around; he divulges everybody's secrets. "For the devotees," he says in Herbert J. Hunt's translation of History of the Thirteen, "Paris is sad or gay, ugly or beautiful, living or dead; for them Paris is a sentient being; every individual, every bit of a house is a lobe in the cellular tissue of that great harlot whose head, heart and unpredictable behaviour are perfectly familiar to them." It's wonderful to be a devotee and let's go up these stairs where we'll see a poor woman's secret boudoir, "a truly Parisian glory-hole" with a pug dog and a chicken.

Hazlitt pictures a barrier between those things he knows and the things he doesn't, or not a barrier but he sees a pair of different states, and there are conditions he would have to fill to pass from one to the other -- he doesn't want to pass -- he doesn't want to meet the actors in their dressing rooms, he doesn't want to be Lucien de Rubempré in Balzac's Lost Illusions: "At a sign from Lousteau, the doorkeeper of the orchestra took a little key and opened a door, concealed in the thickness of the wall. Lucien followed his friend, and passed suddenly from the brightly lit corridor into the dark hole that, in nearly all theatres, leads from the house to the wings" where he looks at "all that ludicrous medley of things, sordid, dirty, hideous, and gaudy" "the scenery, hideous when seen close up, the actors with their make-up and their extraordinary costumes, made of such coarse material, the scene-shifters in greasy overalls."

The original innocence is precarious, Lucien loses it so simply, by walking through a door after his friend, by being curious, and by being human, by having eyes, he never, like Hazlitt, identifies a state and plans to remain there; Lucien wants to prosper, and Lousteau has promised to introduce him to people -- he had no idea that Hazlitt's two states existed until he had left one and crossed into the other. If you can't see a danger then you can't say no. If you told me that Hazlitt stayed innocent of the backstage area until he died then I would believe you easily. But Lucien never can measure the experiences in front of him, even, in a different area of the book when someone in the know is telling him that they will be terrible. Don't do that, they say, I did it and it was the worst mistake of my life, I'm doing it right now and it's a disaster, whatever you do, don't do that, and he does it.

He wants to prosper, in other words he wants to change, and he changes; every new state sucks him in: love with one kind of woman, love with another kind of woman, friendship with idealists, friendship with cynics, Balzac presents him with a chain of alterations and he goes naturally into each one, foreseeing an advantage every time, in the act of change; the transitional period that Hazlitt fears, lures him on, perhaps it lured Hazlitt too, therefore the fear.

Journalism for example, says one of Lucien's friends: don't go into journalism, it will destroy you, trust me, I've seen that world. Journalism? He goes into journalism. Change is corruption, says the author. Change is always worse, says Balzac. But change excites him, paradox excites him, grotesque pawnbrokers excite him, his language becomes extravagant, he sounds thrilled -- violation excites him, if you have to choose a word -- expectations being violated, or ideals being violated -- everything that makes Lucien's life more difficult, Balzac likes.

But Ann Radcliffe is never excited by anything she has said she is against.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

meet the prompt-boys in the passage

A Radcliffe villain is energetic and unfrugal; they love cities, which makes them Dickens and Balzac but not so much Hazlitt, who was a city man too, but a quieter one. Actors, he wrote in his essay Whether Actors Ought to Sit in the Boxes, from the 1822 collection Table Talk, actors should never sit prominently in the audience where everyone can see them; they should be subtle and sit in the pit. "For them to thrust themselves forward before the scenes, is to drag us behind them against our will, than which nothing can be more fatal to a true passion for the stage, and which is a privilege that should be kept sacred for impertinent curiosity." Oh! he wrote

while I live, let me not be admitted (under special favour) to an actor's dressing-room. Let me not see how Cato painted, or how Caesar combed! Let me not meet the prompt-boys in the passage, nor see the half-lighted candles stuck against the bare walls, nor hear the creaking of machines, or the fiddlers laughing; nor see a Columbine practising a pirouette in sober sadness, nor Mr. Grimaldi's face drop from mirth to sudden melancholy as he passes the side-scene, as if a shadow crossed it, nor witness the long-chinned generation of the pantomime sit twirling their thumbs, nor overlook the fellow who holds the candle for the moon in the scene between Lorenzo and Jessica! Spare me this insight into secrets I am not bound to know. The stage is not a mistress that we are sworn to undress. Why should we look behind the glass of fashion? Why should we prick the bubble that reflects the world, and turn it to a little soap and water? Trust a little to first appearances -- leave something to fancy.

Let secrets be hoarded, let there be a hoard and a hoard, and let there be some ignorance so that there can also be some wonder and amazement, a conservative position, the person wants conservation, they want to conserve and keep, and contemplate, and feel assured that there is always something in reserve, some secret they do not know -- they don't know the answers to those secrets but they want them to stay under their control as if they did -- and Radcliffe wants her characters to stay away from urban areas, always having the city there as a distant mystery they will never investigate, living instead in the country, having interior enjoyments, the source of pleasure coming through the eyes to the brain where it rarifies the emotions like a good sieve; and most of the exterior vigour can be spent on a lute. Her Clara dwells so much with her lute that she is ashamed. "This lute is my delight, and my torment!" Consternation over the lute. "This reflection occasioned her much internal debate; but before she could come to any resolution upon the point in question, she fell asleep."

The romantic landscape in Radcliffe is a mystery too, kept in reserve; the characters admire a mountain without wanting to climb the peak or study geology, they spy a crag, the eyes fill with tears, and melancholy floods the system gently, the absence of knowledge gently disincarnates the body, so that, detached from the solid, it achieves the sublime.

But Dickens goes behind the stage and in front of it and never wonders whether he should save some for later, and never behaves as though the lake of wonder might be drunk up if he comes too close to the backstage area, and yet he still has "fancy." Hazlitt's idea seems like logic until I look for examples and then there are plenty against it. I have been into the back area of a casino, and did that make the public area seem less strange, and did it feel as though a vital illusion-bubble had been pricked? It didn't; the front of the casino seemed more like a wonderful apparition, now that I knew how it had been segregated, the eccentricities seemed more pronounced now that I had seen the ordinary offices on the other side of the wall, the specifics of the difference were visible; I was not disillusioned after I spotted the costumes of a singing act inside a row of plastic bags on a rack in a corridor; I saw inside the walls between Harrah's and the Imperial Palace when the shops there were being knocked down (and our coupon for a free sundae at the chocolate shop would be useless now even if it hadn't expired already), iron spars crossed over one another, and a date written in chalk on the side of one beam, but that didn't make intact buildings seem smaller. I'm not convinced that anything can be more interesting if you know less about it.

I worked in a lower position for years, said a supervisor to me recently, and now that I see the job from here I realise that everything is different.