Sunday, July 1, 2012

of the most irrational

Vivaldi's servant Paulo deserves a further mention, so I'll mention him: he is a man who makes virtue out of necessity and turns the borrowed tic (by which I mean prolixity) into a mania, smart move, since talking means that the author has to give him things to talk about, which means that he has a character, or something closer to a character than's possessed by Peter or any of the other servants, who are more likely to do as they're told. The Inquisition arrives to drag his master away and Paulo talks them into arresting him too, then goes on shouting as they're carrying him to the relevant place, "I demand to be sent to the Inquisition! I demand to be sent to the Inquisition!" Even the fulfillment of his desires doesn't keep him quiet, because his real desire is to talk. As long as he talks he's present, and the author's tone becomes affectionate towards this unshutuppable servant who is also herself writing him. He is Sheherazade, he stays alive with his voice. She lets him keep going. She gives him the last word. There are one hundred and sixty-three words in the final paragraph and one hundred and thirty-seven of them come out of him. Three of them are other characters repeating him.

"O! giorno felice! O! giorno felice!" repeated Paulo, as he bounded forward to mingle in the dance, and "O! giorno felice!" was again shouted in chorus by his joyful companions.

I say that as if I think Paolo's persistence is a miraculous character trait, but when the Jehovah's Witnesses were being persistent, and coming around every weekend for months to push tracts around the door, and even handwritten messages -- sample text --

We come by but you
are not available. I want to
invite you to a special talk
this Sunday. Hopefully you
can come & if you do give
me a call [telephone number redacted].
Hoping to talk to you soon.

[names of Jehovah's Witnesses redacted]

-- then persistence was as lovable as demons, I wished they had the reticence that Vivaldi tries to inflict on Paolo, I wanted them to give up, and yet I still like persistence when I see it on the page, where Paolo is resisting a clear desire beamed from the rest of the book's universe in his direction. He is one man against the hero, the author's pet; he stands also against an army of all thoses. "I wish that all those, who on this night are not merry enough to speak before they think, may ever after be grave enough to think before they speak" -- he says -- butting against the forces of the sober universe the writer has constructed around him, this universe that would like him to be endlessly told off (and the Jehovah's Witnesses too, perhaps humiliated by doors shut in their faces, and the universe resistant), yet he treats this like an opportunity to make something out of himself (them too I suspect and yet I love them not); then I read in Graham Robb's biography, Balzac, about the writer persisting, sitting writing for hours, up till four a.m. with coffee, dressed in his monk's robe, writing even when he was writing pulp novels, at first, continuing to go, persevering through debt and disaster, the collapses of his businesses and the falling price of his shares in French railways -- which, Robb suggests, was a subconscious tactic to keep bum on seat, because as long as he was in debt he had a reason to write. Debt was a stimulus. Why did Paolo persist? His speeches get longer as the book goes on, he speaks more often, he speaks more nonsensically, and the spectacle of him demanding to be taken to the Inquisition at the same time as he's being taken to the Inquisition, by people who tell him that he's being taken to the Inquisition, is one of those rare moments when Radcliffe seems to be inspired by something outside her own tone. The talkative servant was a convention of the Gothic genre, explains Chloe Chard in the notes to Romance of the Forest, but a man who wants to start a quarrel with with the law because it won't arrest him, and continues this quarrel while he's in the middle of being arrested, is a representation of the one force in the universe that Radcliffe was explicitly and constantly against, which is unreason.

Paolo babbles, but her ethos is anti-babble, her god is reason, thoughtfulness, self-control; her protagonists are good because they are able to control themselves, her villains are bad because they can't; she has an Updike serenity in her sentences.

Ellena, had she obeyed the dictates of her heart, would have rewarded his attachment and his services, by a frank approbation of his proposal; but the objections which reason exhibited against such a concession, she could neither overcome or disregard.

Reason is the language she calls on when she wants to denigrate the Inquisition, saying,

Can man, who calls himself endowed with reason, and immeasurably superior to every other created being, argue himself into the commission of such horrible folly, such inveterate cruelty, as exceeds all the acts of the most irrational and ferocious brute.

The Italian (release date, 1797) was her last book while she was alive, though she published another one posthumously, three years after her death in 1823, of asthma, her husband said, of brain-fever said the rumourists who thought that, for Gothic authors, going mad was the only appropriate way to die; call it a tribute, one of The Italian's sinister monks gliding up to her in a ruin and murmuring, "Go not to the villa Altieri. That way lies DEATH," upon which, insanity struck. *

But pretend, imagine, that she spent those last twenty unpublished silent years being dragged in two directions, reason one way, unreason the other; the unreason of Paolo, the lure of humour, disconcerted her, I, Ann Radcliffe, could be funny -- I could be a funny writer if I went in this direction further, and babbled. It was there, it was a possibility, it tormented her on the country estate where she lived; Paolo let her enjoy herself in a way that no other character did, not the villain, not the heroes and heroines, so she lost faith in reason, the reasonable style had a crack in it, and her internal see-saw between rational neatness and voluminous chatter was represented in the Italian itself -- one tilt was indicated by the flood of Paolo's speech -- the other tilt represented by the master asking him to dial it down -- the dumb-servant dialogue that was meant to bore other characters by being prolix -- bore and annoy them to the point where they said, shush now, cut it short -- she liked it -- she enjoyed writing it -- she wanted it to keep going -- don't shut him up, she might have said if she was speaking the thoughts of her heart: I want him to talk.

* "Go not to the villa Altieri," says a monk in the book, "for death is in the house." Gliding is the ultimate verb of locomotion for all monks in this book. Glide, glide, they go. Glide glide glide glide glide. Mad gliding.

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