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.