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!

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