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.

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