Thursday, July 5, 2012

ebb and flood

So, say Paolo is allowed to talk, he talks so much he becomes a first person narrator, he feels independent, he doesn't want to be a servant any more, he leaves the country estate where the married couple employs him, those two, Vivaldi and Ellena, the former protagonists whose prominence he has usurped, it's the 1800s, democracy is in the air, he goes to the city, where, in Radcliffe, characters are corrupted, and he is still a Radcliffe character, in spite of this new first-person narration technique, whose seeing eye observes smart-mouthed city-people summing up their fellows in a businesslike and greedy way, they're well-dressed, he's dressed like a clod, he realises that he has spent years being treated like a moron, he remembers himself prancing around with the peasants, shouting, "O giorno felice!" and he is flooded with shame, so much shame that he becomes the narrator of Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground, "I'm a sick man," he says, "a mean man. I think there's something wrong with my liver," but he has never been sick before, living in the countryside of a Radcliffe book where good health is everywhere, and yet now he's in the city, he is suffering, he has joined the stream of human beings from country to city, the movement of the nineteenth century, he roams through Balzac's city, "a terrible desert," he feels thirsty; through Baudelaire's' city "time to get drunk", he buys champagne; through the city of Cesário Verde, "The gas from the streetlamps makes me queasy," he reels, his head swims, the street rolls like a wave; through James Thomson's city, "The mighty river flowing dark and deep, / With ebb and flood from the remote sea-tides / Vague-sounding through the City's sleepless sleep, / Is named the River of the Suicides," then plunges into the cold water, is hauled out downstream by Gaffer Hexam, who, looming, bundled in clothes, frisks his pockets and reminds him of a monk, and the monks at home, Paolo recalls, could say anything they liked, due to their habit of gliding (always gliding) up to his old master Vivaldi under a ruined archway and murmuring threats, and there, he muses, is a set of people who knew how to represent themselves verbally with minimum effort, thinking this as the boatman drops him again, he drifts through the mud to the bottom of the river, he is drowned.


  1. Lovely post DKS ... Love Paolo's cross-fertilization across the annals of 19th century literature. I'm starting to wish Jane Austen made more of her servants, but the closest she got really was talking about the horrors of bein a governess in Emma, and I suppose, Harriet in the same book.

    1. It would be interesting to see how she dealt with a person who was not only non-autonomous (like her poor-relation characters) but also constantly employed. She could work inside restrictions. What would she do with that one?