Sunday, December 29, 2013

by the magic of her voice, she had carried each man back

That's the difference between the two authors in a nutshell, there, Praed's characters looking for a stable and idealised place which in her books is obtainable or at least you can graze it (Anne, a singer whose voice enchants the people that the author keeps describing as savages, "in truth ... seemed like some goddess of their own race, suddenly descended incarnate among them"), the plot points arrive like proper plotted plot points (which is radiantly ideal) and so on, while Cambridge does not have those ideas, the opposite of stability is what occurs to her though she likes good butter and I think she'd get along well with the people in Bengala, loving food as she does, as long as she doesn't get started on sex and touching, two things they're not so good at. They stay luxuriously and undangerously in food. "The rest of the party passed in, impatient for tea."

The characters in Cambridge's Humble Enterprise are skilled at food. "Not a pot of ill-made tea nor a defective scone was ever placed before a customer by those conscientious tradeswomen."

The protagonist in Fugitive Anne doesn't descend to the construction of a scone, the food is left up to a designated servant like the food in Pride and Prejudice, and instead the heroic Praeds (divorced from food and elevated) tend to be good at opera or speaking Mayan, or other acknowledged exotica: she depends I think on the acknowledgement of the social, networked or interlaced world, and on the expectation that this world will have trained her readers to think that a character who has a hypersensitive soul (Countess Adrian: "the young lady's soul might well be likened, as in Dryden's metaphor, to a rare and well-tempered blade fretting in its too delicate scabbard") or whose singing can drive the audience into "awe-stricken silence" is automatically interesting.

(Whereas Cambridge will ask the reader to consider the difficulties that they themselves have encountered in their kitchens when they have tried to make perfect scones: this talent exists on the same plane as the reader while opera singing exists on a plane above, as though the character is on a permanent theatrical stage or pedestal inside the book -- I recall the emphasis, in Praed, on the act of looking, which is also an act of presentation, the author occupying both sides of the equation -- showing Anne a dead body and inhabiting her reaction as well. "She understood now. God of mercy! That this thing should be!")

A set of words like "awe-stricken silence" will fill in the gaps for the reader of Praed, they will be entranced -- so that the backbone of the bushland adventure narrative is the existence of urban standards, or, to put it another way, the endurance of a certain subspecies of memory, tradition and love -- or, to put it yet another way, not that at all but something else -- the fear of appearing ignorant because you do not recognise a worthwhile object when you see it -- and in the real world the reader (theoretically) would be entertained by the opera-singing person and respectful of their respectable gifts, so in the book they will respect them too, and pay attention, and decide that they are worthy, though the person on the page is never going to entertain them with even a half a second of actual noise, still the characters who can hear it are clamouring for it.

They had none of them believed in her voice, till one Sunday, when the Captain held service, she had poured out her glorious contralto in a hymn. Afterwards, they gave her no peace till every evening she sang to Eric Hansen's accompaniment on the old cracked piano in the saloon. Then, by the magic of her voice, she had carried each man back to scenes on shore--to opera-nights in Sydney and Melbourne, as she had sung airs from Verdi and Rossini and Bellini ...

(Faced with this not-even-spectral scene the readers will live up to the nonexistent not-even-ghostly standards of the ship's passengers and give the singer their attention, or I believe that's the idea, anyway. Perhaps they will begin to daydream they are her, and perhaps the author is already dreaming the same.)

Thursday, December 26, 2013

subtracted from language

Ducking away from Praed and Cambridge for one day, I post my annual mash-up of some authors I've read this year. Thank you to everyone who read Pykk in 2013, thanks to everyone who commented. You have my gratitude.

Most significantly, what Merleau-Ponty and Bergson share is an ontology of shoes. Don't they look sweet," he answered with a sudden DREAM OF JOY developing his bust as far as possible towards the east and these vapour-ghosts vanished from before him with grand hoods of light around their faces, top and sides; but country-folks despised the firmament of forms. More significant is the "transcendence" of Aesop, my dog, that I afterwards shot, then the jingling of a buckle against the stones gave a little laugh of satisfaction off the island for two nights and days, with a sudden epilepsy of planet-struck fury. Even the term "alleged deception" caught the physically weak Schulz and held him to the extent of evading the adoption of a style, self-possessed as he may seem. That being qua being is subtracted from language is like the poisonous fangs of the serpent, unless extracted from its burning crypt of chastisement by the lack of resemblance in Rembrandt's portraits. What must resemblances resemble?

(Elizabeth Grosz: Architecture from the Outside; Mary Gaunt: Kirkham's Find; Garnet Walch: Australia Felix, or Harlequin Laughing Jackass and the Magic Bat; Samuel Beckett: Watt; John Cowper Powys: Weymouth Sands; Ada Cambridge: Thirty Years in Australia; Lars Gustafsson, tr John Irons: All Crazy Small Objects from his book A Time in Xanadu; Maurice Blanchot, tr Ann Smock: The Writing of the Disaster; Knut Hamsun, tr W.W. Worster: Pan; Louisa Atkinson : Gertrude, the Emigrant Girl: A Tale of Colonial Life; Caroline Leakey: The Broad Arrow; Charlotte Barton: A Mother's Offering to her Children: By a Lady, Long Resident in New South Wales; The Posthumous Works of Thomas De Quincey; Geoffrey Hill: Collected Critical Writings; Catherine Martin: An Australian Girl; Jerzy Ficowski, tr. Theodosia Robertson: Regions of the Great Heresy: Bruno Schulz, a Biography: Nick Land: The Thirst for Annihilation: Georges Bataille and Virulent Nihilism; Alain Badiou, tr Nina Power and Alberto Toscano: Badiou on Beckett; Amanda McKittrick Ros: Irene Iddesleigh; Hélène Cixous, various translators: Stigmata: Escaping Texts.)

Sunday, December 22, 2013

in her cabin

I wrote that last post because I was still thinking of the opposite situation in Rosa Praed, an author who doesn't care particularly whether her characters touch or not, or whether a thing breaks and decays like the Ormuz or whether it neither breaks nor decays; and instead she thinks through her stories in a series of staging-areas where ideas and scenes execute themselves, a character presenting themselves on that stage with a set of attributes or happiness or sadness and the other characters observing them and reacting to that state, whatever it is.

Her ship in Fugitive Anne is too steady to ever throw anybody out like a ball from a bucket (as in Cambridge); it is a stable location where all of the significant characters have been brought together in a group so that they can be introduced to the reader. Once they are on shore they disperse. The author follows one group and leaves the rest. They come together again at the end of Volume One and again more fully at the end of Volume Two, when the story resolves itself and everyone is famous except for the dead ones and the Ancient Mayans who worship a tortoise.

If the Cambridge ship is an open ship with people in danger on deck then the Praed ship is an enclosure where people are supposed to be in their cabins. Anne has disappeared from her cabin. Everybody gets around to talk about it. "'Come,' said the Captain, 'it's nonsense to take it for granted that Mrs Bedo must have thrown herself overboard, because she isn't in her cabin.'" In Praed's Countess Adrian a character retreats from the deck to her cabin because she is "feeling shivery" even though the weather is "very fine," putting, with this one action, a long distance between her and Cambridge's characters who like to expose themselves to storms.

Praed tells you that her characters are noble, defiant, daring, bold, steady in the face of danger, and so on ("Brave and lighthearted as she was, Anne Bedo knew well enough to what dangers a woman might be exposed in the Bush," "he could well believe that she came of some grand old race, and that there ran in her veins the blood of heroes") -- she gives you these words -- but whenever the characters act or think you know that they'd rather be away in a respectable building somewhere, doing something civilised and fashionable with people admiring them ("it was to be fully expected that the young explorer -- himself a fascinating personality -- should form a centre of attraction for the representatives of fashion, science, and culture, who crowded the Albert Hall last evening"), and that everything else for them is a matter of going through the motions: they do not enjoy their adventures, they put up with them -- cleaning themselves as soon as possible when they find themselves dirty ("I'm dreadfully dirty. I want to bathe") -- so that the reader is like a guest at a party with another guest who wants to leave all the time, and the author is the host who keeps saying, "Just five more minutes," which was the situation at a Christmas party I went to a little while ago, with the guest of honour muttering, "There are only two more hours of daylight. I have no life."

Thursday, December 19, 2013

the earth is her habitation

But Ada Cambridge does not behave as if she is agonised, the way butoh dancers often do (or as they are known for doing, with their whitened faces, hands turned back, lips quivering, etc); she writes as if harm is always about to arrive and yet like the storm it invigorates her. "Bee—a—utiful!" In her first autobiography she wants to touch a wrecked ship: "When the Ormuz had that accident in the Rip she so tightly filled the dock that her skeleton bow was almost within my touch. No more do I wonder at what ships can go through, having seen how that giant frame was put together. I went down to the bottom of the dock and held up the great hull in the palms of my hands. It was a strange sensation." Noticing here that she remembers "almost" touching it as well as touching it, and that she had to move to complete the touch. "I went down ..."

So her characters like to touch as well and important moment in her book are sometimes marked by touching, one character hands another character a tray in A Humble Enterprise and their worlds change: the tray travels, a ship travels in Uncle Piper, the circumstances are altered, the first character goes from poor to rich like the ones in the Tasma book. It takes longer than just the tray-pass, but the tray-pass is the crucial moment. "The world became a changed place to Jenny Liddon from the moment when Anthony Churchill stood up to take her tray." Then she goes to the sea to think about it. "It was absolutely necessary to have the sea to commune with, under the circumstances -- darkness and the sea." She goes to a genuine place, St Kilda pier, or in other words a place that the author could herself touch and probably had touched.

Afterwards, when she has decided to marry Anthony Churchill, she is still invigorated by the weather on the pier at night: "nightly taking her down to St Kilda for that blow on the pier which still refreshed her more than anything."

The touch of a train half-orphaning her in the opening paragraph, and the launch that throws the couple overboard in the opening of Sisters destroying the book that had been building until then and transforming it into another book.

Thinking now of Leopardi in his Zibaldone saying that a state of nature is the happiest state, because it allows for "illusions" whereas reason does not allow for illusions and therefore makes a soul unhappy: the people of his day were unhappy because they had decided to rely on reason instead of nature, they were developing farther from nature with every year, he said, and as I remember him I wonder if he would believe as I think I do, that Cambridge is obliquely in sympathy with that point of view, or not even obliquely when she refers to "the dictum of nature, who is the mother of all wisdom" -- nature in this case advising everybody to get married -- A Humble Enterprise is a book that wants you to marry, which I suppose means that Ada Cambridge, the author of that book, is mistaking herself for nature and that the dictum of nature is in fact the dictum of Cambridge. Nature wants you to marry someone because it will make you enjoy touch: "the husband necessarily makes his wife feel that the earth is her habitation and the clouds of heaven many miles away."

Sunday, December 15, 2013

the length of the ship through the spindrift of the gale

Fugitive Anne: a Romance of the Unexplored Bush, by Rosa Praed

This book begins on a ship, as does The Soul of Countess Adrian by the same author, and ships are not rare in the Australian Colonial and just-Federated fiction I've read so far (I want to write so far because the more I read in this area the more I realise how little I've read: the boundaries are slightly more clearly delineated and they are far away).

Examples: everything changes in The Broad Arrow after the characters have crossed the sea in their ship, even the author's approach to her own story (which is not her own story I realise, when that happens, but a contentious collaboration between herself and the activity of writing), and the Rev. Mr Lydiat in Uncle Piper of Piper's Hill can't get on a ship without splitting into two personalities who are so separate that the author can imagine them talking to one another: "That celebrated appeal from Philip drunk to Philip sober might have been made with almost equal effect from the Rev. Mr. Lydiat on board ship to the Rev. Mr. Lydiat on land." The characters land in Australia, the rich uncle picks them up, and they have travelled from poverty to luxury.

The people in Ada Cambridge always love ships; their author goes on loving ships after ships have drowned them, and the love of ships and boats in her books is tied to the presence of danger. "I believe," says the narrator in Materfamilias, "we were somewhere in the neighbourhood of the Cape when the most noteworthy of our experiences befell us. We were struggling with the chronic "dirty" weather -- absurd adjective for a thing so majestic and inspiring! -- and I was on deck, firmly tied to my chair, and my chair to the mast, dry under oilskins, and only my face exposed to wind and spray, which threatened to take the skin off. I could hardly see the length of the ship through the spindrift of the gale, and the way it shrieked in the rigging was like fiends let loose. Bee -- a -- utiful!" -- which is something like a fictionalisation of George Santanyana's description of the sublime in The Sense of Beauty:

The suggestion of terror makes us withdraw into ourselves: there with the supervening consciousness of safety or indifference comes a rebound, and we have that emotion of detachment and liberation in which the sublime really consists.

Any water vessel in Cambridge is going to behave like an independent animal or an unstable mass of particles jumbling together in a mixture: "a sudden wave struck the launch, and nearly turned her over, and the young wife and husband, holding to nothing but one another, and simply sitting upon an unprotected plank, were tipped out as easily as balls from a capsized basket" (Sisters).

Cambridge is closer to the practice of literary butoh than any of the other authors I've been reading in this -- series I suppose, call it a series -- because her language is so extremely reactive to the sensual world that she imagines. "Listen to the god of weight," wrote Michizo Noiguchi in the 1970s, referring to physical movement, but Cambridge writes as though this physical movement was always taking place within a world that is inside her own prose.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

suppose -- that I hate and rebel

Bengala ventriloquises between two voices; it drops away from one style when the insane woman has died (we have lost the convicts and workers) and picks up another one when a Catholic priest named Dr. Mornay falls in love with Isabel, surprising all the readers, who never saw that coming. Soon he is writhing and flagellating himself. "Scourge -- fasting -- torture -- where are ye? What am I?" he exclaims and then his hat falls off.

If I had not been reading Miriam Burstein at The Little Professor and from her discovering that anti-Catholicism in Victorian novels was persistent and even a regular theme or sub-genre then I would wonder where he had found the resources to come on so strong so quickly: why is there not more development before the writhing, I would ask myself? Why does he suddenly writhe?

He is a sign that the book is dwelling and living in the world of its own contemporary literature where those actions have been befriended so extensively by other Catholic priests that he can adopt them from his peers. In this respect he is behaving like a fleshy being with a mind and eyes that can see what is expected of him, and understand it, and copy it.

The Austen characters do not recognise his category in spite of all the hints he gives them. "Curious! I wonder if he meant himself all the time!" muses Isabel after he has given her a speech about "a man" who decides to devote himself to an ideal and "awakes to find himself burning with thirst, craving just that one -- one drop of living water which has been put from him." If they had known who his peers were they could have spotted it immediately and given him a useful response. They are not his peers: he has just moved into their book and made use of them for a while. "Yet suppose -- I say suppose -- that I hate and rebel . . . O, Isabel!" he says.

He came from the outside of this book; he knocked on the door of it and entered; he entered almost without knocking. He does his thing and goes away, and Austen takes over again until the end. The lunch-eating Bengala has been violated and reshaped by the actual physical conditions that appeared around the setting of the book, the presence of convicts and the financial crash that brought Isabel closely into contact with Dr. Mornay. They have refused to let it stay static. They have infected its mode. (My imaginary Stifter has resisted everything that would come from the exterior of the book like that: he has built a book like a dam.)

By the end of Bengala it has been revealed that the Austen-characters can't cope with characters from other modes of book: everybody else dies: the body of Vidal's book is fundamentally hostile to everyone except Austens.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

and so I am

The absence of adaptive flexibility here fascinates me: once the subject matter changes then the style has to change as well, into a different mode that must have felt right (felt Vidal) for the non-Austeny classes; that mode is high physical shouting drama, raving misery, characters going mad, and the "melancholy cry" of the curlew.

But she awoke, and had quite an access of delirium, screaming and talking, knowing no one, but always insisting that she was going on some weary journey, among trees, with nothing to eat, and a very high wind; and that Jack was free, and was expecting her. Then she looked at her stained arms and hands and shuddered, exclaiming at her horror of blood.

The lead characters among the convicts are ordinarily desperate and either frantic or cruel in ways that do not have any correlation among the Austen people, who, when they suffer, do it without madness or visions of blood. The Austens have probably read Shakespeare and the non-Austens haven't, but it is the dying non-Austen whose literary bodily self gets miscegenated with Ophelia, with Lady Macbeth, and with repetitive mad-person lines that have been written for spoken-acting voices. "Yes, yes; I'm ill, am I? Well, and so I am. That's odd," she says. (Repetitions in Shakespeare: "No more o' | that, my lord, no more o' that," "It is the cause, it is the cause, my soul," "Now, now, now, now:" all tether-ended people gone frantic, closing in on death.)

And her Jack is driven into a cul de sac that seems doomed and fated, which is not a state that afflicts the Austens, but it does affect people in Shakespeare as well as the Ancient Greeks and Romans who were at the mercy of their spiteful gods who came down and shot your tootling sons with arrows because you had insulted them. In the same Ancient vein, one of the characters in a Vidal short story from Tales for the Bush discovers (when the author gives him the words to say so) that his wife has died from a lingering illness because he did not go to church. The convicts and workers in Bengala are closer to Vidal's early people than to these later Austenesques; they are closer to plays and poetry and the Austens are closer to prose.

So the characters, like two sets of alien species who have landed at the same time on an identical planet, live in at least two different behavioural worlds. Those worlds can touch one another: the people from the Austen world can put the young woman from the drama world to bed and try to cure her ("Miss Terry gave her some nourishing drink") but she is true to the world of poetry and she dies calling for Jack and her mother.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

besides, you are Ticket and I'm not

"Austenesque realism" (at the end of the last post) is not a stretch, and I reckon that anyone who reads Bengala is going to assume (almost without reflective thought, it seems so obvious) that Mary Theresa Vidal is paying a debt to Austen in this book, with the comedies of manners moving shiftily between the people as they eat their lunches and Isabel Lang channelling Emma from Emma as she goes around matchmaking while the level-headed older man hovers over her like the one played by Alan Rickman in the movie, and maybe even the part about the custard owes something to a scent of Austen-atmosphere or floating memory, since (I remembered when I was writing this out in the comments to Tom) it begins with Mrs Vesey insulting the Lang family by asking them to show her how they make their custard, insinuating in this way: Rich people such as myself have servants to do these jobs for them.

Mr Collins in Pride and Prejudice: "The dinner too in its turn was highly admired; and he begged to know to which of his fair cousins the excellency of its cooking was owing. But he was set right there by Mrs. Bennet, who assured him with some asperity that they were very well able to keep a good cook, and that her daughters had nothing to do in the kitchen."

The presence of convict workers does the following thing: it makes the Austen style warp a little when it touches them. The comedies of manners leave the story; that area of sensitivity is gone. (The sensitivity becomes a sensitivity to the characters' suffering, which is a form of pity and therefore different to the sensitivity that flavours the Austen-parts, which is not pity.)

I know that people have criticised Austen for the absence of servants' personalities in her books, and my impression is that this criticism has been more of a twentieth-century phenomenon than a nineteenth-century one, but Vidal made that same point in 1860, not by actually stating it or even by giving any sign that she thought it consciously as she probably did not, but by changing her tone from Austen to melodrama every time the convict servant-workers become the focus of the book, which they do periodically because there is a sub-plot about a prisoner who can't rescue a young woman from her vicious guardians because Mr Lang won't let him have his ticket of leave.

Vidal knew it in her bones or with a reader's inarticulate intuition, that absence in Austen.

(A ticket of leave, which Caroline Leakey in The Broad Arrow abbreviated down to T.L. or just "ticket," sometimes with a capital letter if somebody was using it as a personal description, "Oh, Bob, I couldn't! you'll do it beautiful, you says everything so clever and nice; besides, you are Ticket and I'm not," was a way of allowing a convict some independence before their sentence was up.)

On the social level Mr Lang is a good-hearted man who gives his friends toast but he's unintentionally malicious when it comes to the field of convict management. In this role of a good man with a careless flaw he is something like Mr Bennet, who only has his family to wound but Mr Lang has a large bush-isolated property inhabited by worker-prisoners who are in his power and who may, if they are feeling desperate, run off and become bushrangers at any moment, sentencing themselves to death since they know they will be hung if they are caught.

This is a version of blindness with which Austen was not conversant and so (Harry Haseltine touching on it in the introduction) the book finds another model for the convict parts. It is as if the Austen-style itself has said, "I will not describe this, I can't, I don't have the words, you have to find something else." The style has a personality; it speaks.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

tinged with pale gold

Bengala was published in 1860 but it is set about twenty years in the past, before the gold rush changed the nature of the Australian colony from a gentle accumulation of people and farms into a site of hectic immigration; the general view of history lessons today is brutality followed by gold, but, reading books set in that period, I see a different point of view, a soft progress with guilty tussles to and fro about the abuse of the indigenous people and the use of convicts who were, for the length of their sentences, as good as enslaved to their farmer-masters -- this arrangement was corrupted or interrupted forever by the interior penetration of outside longings: rapid township diggings going up, the phasing-out of free land for retired military, the phasing out of transportation as well -- a free trip to Australia was not a punishment any more -- a blindsiding eruption of other manners, like the skin of a bubble being pierced, though that upper-middle life did not vanish and it's there in Martin Boyd's Langton Quartet which was published between 1952 and 1962, and the people in his books (with their picnics, their parties, their enjoyment of life) are recenter versions of the ones in Vidal but bohemian and Melburnian whereas Vidal's people are living in country New South Wales.

They are the same species, which is the lunch-eating species.

It all seemed very remote to her, as she sat with Wolfie at lunch on the verandah, while the winter sunlight gleamed on the hock bottle and tinged with pale gold the far purple forests of Gippsland.

(Martin Boyd, Outbreak of Love)

Patrick White goes to that class for characters as well, looking at the extreme uppers and extreme lowers, the people living in manors and the people living in shacks (The Riders in the Chariot), and food has a regular integrated walk-on part in all of his books though slimy when he writes about it (wet caramels pushed into mouths: The Vivisector): still: food: grossness, lowness, farts, and then the elevation of a character having an insight, the Vivisector son struggling for transcendent paintings, or Miss Hare in the Chariot.

Vidal never makes a fart, nor does she make an ecstasy.

However she does have agony and madness.

Harry Heseltine describes the milieu of Vidal's book like this in the introduction: "Bengala does not sit easily within the conventions of Austenesque realism, colonial romance nor melodrama, though it has elements of all three; and it links contemporary English literary, moral and religious debates with social life in Australia during the short period when hopes were entertained for the creation of a colony fit for English ladies and gentlemen."

So there was a phantom nation in the collective mind, and this country may remain forever in the future, which is the place where we are not and have never been.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

the regiment of ants

Bengala by Mary Theresa Vidal (1860)

The characters in the early parts of this book like to visit each other's houses and eat. They are always together. "A long discussion soon arose about shrubs and plants, which continued till they were summoned to luncheon." I felt such a longing for that pointlessly friendful existence, steady denseness and every moment filled, Vidal noticing that the discussion went on till they were summoned to another activity which would also have consumed them completely for another stretch of time, the author leaving no gaps in the chronology and elsewhere tracking the behaviour of each group, though some characters do vanish eventually without any explanation; mainly children.

The discussion was stopped by a summons from Mrs. Lang for all the ladies who wished to help in the custards. Mr. Fitz insisted that he should be very useful in beating up eggs, and made them laugh by tying on one of the little girls' pinafores and tucking up his sleeves. All went to the store but Isabel.

They explain themselves through their food. "Mr. Lang was ruffled, and found fault with the coffee and the toast." That null serenity could have lasted forever, for me; and if the rest of the book had consisted of people in this small middle-class bushland community coming around for coffee and toast, mutton, pumpkin pudding, custard, "biscuits and grapes, bread and butter, colonial wine, and lemon syrup" then it would have approximated my ideas about Der Nachsommer, by Adalbert Stifter, a book I haven't read, but which I imagine as a long period of static, sunny and finely-detailed peace and a self-hermiting. If Vidal could have written nothing but sentences like this for three hundred pages then I would have called her the greatest colonial author I had ever read:

He put his arm on Isabel's shoulder as he spoke, and so, talking and laughing, they all turned into the garden, where they strolled about it in a leisurely way; now plucking a grape or a bud -- now stopping to watch the regiment of ants, which in spite of gunpowder and tobacco and all the various war waged against them, persisted in destroying the gravel paths.

If absolutely nothing more consequential than that had happened then I would have been full of respect whenever I thought about her stubborn or thick adherence to minute occurrences (the kind that create barely more than a bubbling motion, which would eventually, by accumulation, seem to be full of subdued terror, or not terror but repressed meaning; the meaning would seem repressed because it would never be stated).

I wanted to reach the last page still waiting for an event to make a violent impression and stick up like the nail that gets hammered down, but instead I would be astounded when I found Mrs Lang talking about custard. "'Pray, Mr. Lang, don't talk about custards; I dare say Mrs. Vesey is not very much interested in custards,' said Mrs. Lang."

I would have been baffled and suspended on such an intensity of impenetrable lightness. It would have been a triumph for her, who died in 1873. "I want to write that book," I think, "that's the only way it will ever exist," even though I know that the action of creating the book would also be the action of removing the ignorance or innocence that I would need before I could start to read it.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

those who really cannot quite understand as they look round them

Tales for the Bush by Mary Theresa Vidal (1845)

If you were going to be an early Australian novelist and a woman and you were born outside Australia, then a good thing you could do was attach yourself to a religious man, because Caroline Leakey's sister's husband was a Reverend, and Ada Cambridge was married to a Reverend, and so was Mary Theresa Vidal, all of them starting with religious books and growing into less-religious ones: Ada Cambridge writing her hymns, Leakey writing her poems, and Vidal writing Tales from the Bush which considers itself a sermon or series of sermons and sees the reader or congregation leaving the room when it has finished one of its stories.

One day when he was observing how much more comfortable and tidy every thing was about them than in the other cottages, and how much more leisure they seemed to have; Anne colored up and said “Ah sir, it is you, next to God and my poor mother, we've to thank. It is all owing to keeping the Sabbath day.”

Readers go and do likewise.

The short stories begin and end with poems, too, like songs: you sing as you go out and the lesson adheres like that. (Not all of them begin and end with poems but some of them begin with poems but don't end with poems and other ones end with poems and don't begin with poems but the idea of poems or, in other words, silent songs, coming at the opening and shutting of a thing or address, is there.)

You could look at the book as a parasite vine of the new young colony erecting itself up the trellis of ideas that have been established elsewhere: it take its points of view from sermons, it cannibalises the Bible to make sense of a bleakly-ended story called The Little Cousins. "To those who really cannot quite understand as they look round them, why we so often see the good suffer and evil prosper, I would say, read the 73rd Psalm." One cousin is good and the other is indifferent, and the indifferent one has ended the story warm and rich and the good cousin has ended the story crippled, orphaned, living in a Sydney slum, and "poor, with scarcely sufficient to support her, though she worked hard all day, often in pain from her leg and otherwise broken in health."

In one story, therefore, the person who does the right thing receives a "more comfortable and tidy" life than the unrighteous people who live around them, whereas in the other story it is the other way around, and the same uncertainty characterises the rest of the stories in the book, characters either failing or succeeding in a material sense more or less independently of how righteous or unrighteous they are which might well leave the reader with a feeling of vertigo and unmooring or, in short, horror, for if Kitty in Cousins is destined to suffer because she is righteous and her cousin Jane unrighteous then why does Anne in the earlier story not also suffer, or why does Kitty not live a more comfortable and tidy life than Jane?

It is like the short story Podolo by L.P. Hartley in which one character follows the kitten onto the island and wants to die at the end while the other character falls asleep on a boat and goes home. Hartley never explains why the kitten-character should have attached herself so persistently like that to the kitten: she doesn't have a history with pets; the other character might as well have attached himself to the kitten instead and it would have made exactly as much sense. The author leaves you a gap in his explanations where you can intuit an unstated mesmerism. The religious story and the horror story are both haunted. (The force that haunts the religious story does not appear to be God.)

Thursday, November 21, 2013

of conscious art

One more post on Watkin Tench from me, at least one more because I know that Robert Hughes, who must have read or reread Tench for The Fatal Shore, called him "An eye that noticed everything" with "a young man’s verve, a sly wit, an elegant prose style," and Tench's posthumous editor L.F. Fitzhardinge wrote in 1979, "Less detailed than Collins, less matter-of-fact than Phillip or White, Tench is the first man to mould Australian experience into a work of conscious art," but, putting aside the accuracy of that statement, it's the consciousness of his art sometimes that troubles me, or makes me feel betrayed, and why betrayed?

Betrayed because of this sentence: "He was a man of middle age, with an open cheerful countenance, marked with the small pox, and distinguished by a nose of uncommon magnitude and dignity." (Emphasis mine: from A Complete Account of the Settlement at Port Jackson.)

The nose cuteness exists primarily in the word "uncommon;" take away that word and it is almost gone although it would leave some of itself behind in the words "magnitude and dignity." "Uncommon" makes it opaque. Why do I not like the nose cuteness? Because it betrays itself: because it puts a magic-making word ("uncommon," exceptional, magical) in a miniaturised or disrespected position where it is funny. It makes fun of the quality that it is pretending to represent: the extraordinary.

I read it and I see a little person being fooled.

I see someone turning to a Christmas tree and saying, "You know, you're made of plastic."

Sunday, November 17, 2013

they strayed inland, in some of our numerous excursions

A Narrative of the Expedition to Botany Bay by Watkin Tench (1789)

A Complete Account of the Settlement at Port Jackson by Watkin Tench (1793)

Watkin Tench sailed in the First Fleet with Arthur Phillip but he does not write about "order and useful arrangement, arising gradually out of tumult and confusion" in the settlement; he describes a group of characters making progress at different speeds in the direction of more or less the same objective, or not personally and individually the same objective but one that they are all bound to by the presence of the country that they inhabit.

They all want to go on living, some of them by farming, some of them by stealing, some of them by escaping: there is the convict who stole a boat and sailed away into oblivion, never seen again, and there is a set of cows that left as well, and were never seen again, no sign of them, no sign that any convict or indigene had killed or eaten them, no trace, no hoofprint, a band of lost cows gone forever and immortal. No doubt they wanted to live too. In pursuit of this aim they allowed the continent to swallow them. They have haunted us ever since (not only Australians but potentially the entire reading world); they are there in Tench, they are there in The Voyage of Governor Phillip, they are a literary and historical presence, their exterior presences or physical spirits having been transferred into books and never into the slaughterhouse or, if you believe the evidence, into a human mouth, or the mouth of any animal.

But into the maw of books, which will never finish eating them.

In my former narrative I have particularly noticed the sudden disappearance of the cattle, which we had brought with us into the country. Not a trace of them has ever since been observed. Their fate is a riddle, so difficult of solution that I shall not attempt it. Surely had they strayed inland, in some of our numerous excursions, marks of them must have been found. It is equally impossible to believe that either the convicts or natives killed and ate them, without some sign of detection ensuing

The nation should be haunted by a terrible symbol of cows, and there should be a cow statue or cow monument. The lawn that grows over parliament in the garden city capital is waiting for its ghosts. The static cattle -- the Dororthy Wordsworth cattle, "which accident stamped a character upon places, else unrememberable," the Beckett cattle -- have walked off.

"We have finished being your message to the landscape or the landscape's message to you: we're away," they said. Then there are Ernestine Hill's dried cattle around the dead waterhole in her travel records; there is Clancy in Banjo Paterson, gone droving "and we don't know where he are." "As the stock are slowly stringing, Clancy rides behind them singing,"

They have become everyday life, "the measure of all things" (Guy Debord) and the buttress of the extraordinary.

The writers that Stockdale excerpted in Governor Phillip liked to stay at the level of an observation or a fact, and record the plumage of the parrot without recording also their own personal encounter with a parrot (or Stockdale cuts out the story and yet I don't think so for their tones are so military and so scientific) but Tench has his own natural authorial motion, which is a vibration between anecdote and fact.

Proceeded to the settlement called the Ponds, a name which I suppose it derived from several ponds of water which are near the farms. Here reside the fourteen following settlers. [list of settlers] The Prospect Hill terms of settlement extend to this place. My private remarks were not many. Some spots which I passed over I thought desirable, particularly Ramsay's farm; and he deserves a good spot, for he is a civil, sober, industrious man. Besides his corn land, he has a well laid out little garden, in which I found him and his wife busily at work. He praised her industry to me; and said he did not doubt of succeeding. It is not often seen that sailors make good farmers; but this man I think bids fair to contradict the observation.

So all his facts spread out around an "I" who is involved in fact-generation, who measures the facts, who inserts himself into the facts, I spoke to him and he confirmed it ..., or on my observation or I saw or I went or I measured. "The natives around Port Jackson are in person rather more diminutive and slighter made, especially about the thighs and legs, than the Europeans. It is doubtful whether their society contained a person of six feet high. The tallest I ever measured, reached five feet eleven inches, and men of his height were rarely seen."

He is an agent of population, like the cows, who have multiplied themselves by roaming out. He is in the beetles -- he will live in the beetles -- he will abide in them -- he will plant his I -- with instruments -- with rum --

The hardiness of some of the insects deserves to be mentioned. A beetle was immersed in proof spirits for four hours, and when taken out crawled away almost immediately. It was a second time immersed, and continued in a glass of rum for a day and a night, at the expiration of which period it still showed symptoms of life. Perhaps, however, what I from ignorance deem wonderful is common.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

compiled from Authentic Papers

(I said I'd cover two books per post but I'm exhausted for reasons that have nothing to do with the blog, so I'm reverting to a single book.)

The Voyage of Governor Phillip to Botany Bay with an Account of the Establishment of the Colonies of Port Jackson and Norfolk Island; compiled from Authentic Papers, which have been obtained from the several Departments to which are added the Journals of Lieuts. Shortland, Watts, Ball and Capt. Marshall with an Account of their New Discoveries, embellished with fifty five Copper Plates, the Maps and Charts taken from Actual Surveys, and the plans and views drawn on the spot, by Capt. Hunter, Lieuts. Shortland, Watts, Dawes, Bradley, Capt. Marshall, etc.

The current of order was running through these people (the belief in order, and the trust in it: I think it was a current of trust), or so I can imagine when I read them and perceive that theme recurring, a mental liquid that could fill any balloon: it ran through Caroline Chisholm in 1842, it ran through Mary Gaunt and Catherine Helen Spence, it runs through Arthur Phillip when he writes his portions of The Voyage Of Governor Phillip To Botany Bay, which says that it has been edited by a publisher named John Stockdale who pulled material from different authors, sometimes paraphrasing them and sometimes printing them verbatim. The difference is not always acknowledged but the tenses and references change and by this I believe that I can pick him out.

Order sees its opportunity and pounces or flows in a greedy or anarchistic way, it is a vapour or a droplet; in Phillip it comes to fruition not through female immigrants as in Chisholm or fictional characters finding work as in Gaunt and Spence, but through an adventure.

There are few things more pleasing than the contemplation of order and useful arrangement, arising gradually out of tumult and confusion; and perhaps this satisfaction cannot any where be more fully enjoyed than where a settlement of civilized people is fixing itself upon a newly discovered or savage coast. The wild appearance of land entirely untouched by cultivation, the close and perplexed growing of trees, interrupted now and then by barren spots, bare rocks, or spaces overgrown with weeds, flowers, flowering shrubs, or underwood, scattered and intermingled in the most promiscuous manner, are the first objects that present themselves; afterwards, the irregular placing of the first tents which are pitched, or huts which are erected for immediate accommodation, wherever chance presents a spot tolerably free from obstacles, or more easily cleared than the rest, with the bustle of various hands busily employed in a number of the most incongruous works, increases rather than diminishes the disorder, and produces a confusion of effect, which for a time appears inextricable, and seems to threaten an endless continuance of perplexity. But by degrees large spaces are opened, plans are formed, lines marked, and a prospect at least of future regularity is clearly discerned, and is made the more striking by the recollection of the former confusion.

Order in this instance is a way of measuring time. It is a clock or a calender for the colony. Phillip never wants to end anything, he only wants to order it; he does not want to stop the Eora people living along the coast, he only wants fair conduct between them and him, he does not want to end sex among convicts, he wants to direct it. "He particularly noticed the illegal intercourse between the sexes as an offence which encouraged a general profligacy of manners, and was in several ways injurious to society. To prevent this, he strongly recommended marriage ... we are informed, that in the course of the ensuing week fourteen marriages took place among the convicts." John Latham, the ornithologist whose descriptions of birds have been borrowed by Stockdale for the book, does not want to end birds, he wants to describe them.

The colour of the head, neck, and under parts of the body are dusky brown, inclining to olive, darkest on the belly: the feathers of the top of the head and back part of the neck are edged with olive; the rest of the plumage on the upper part of the body, the wings, and tail, are of a glossy black; the last is pretty long and a little rounded at the end; the two middle feathers are wholly black; the others of a fine vermilion in the middle for about one-third, otherwise black; the outer edge of the exterior feather black the whole length. Legs black.

The connection between Ruskin's moral noticing and the contemporary upsurge in scientific philosophy becomes very bare to me now, this same science that created his dark cloud as well as mountains in the form that he looked at them (both massively and smally), and if you hate those things that are closest to yourself as they say you're supposed to do then I might imagine that I'm being illuminated when I remember that Thoreau said he hated scientists for the way they ordered and categorised things, and I could think, "Of course, since he and they were both in the business of noticing. But the expression or ordering was different."

Sunday, November 10, 2013

that place in the world which she was always longing for

Kirkham's Find by Mary Gaunt (1897)

Now that I'm writing about this book I wonder if was right when I said that Mr Hogarth's Will was the book that Dale Spender liked more than most other books. Kirkham's Find is superficially similar and I might have mingled them. Spence and Gaunt both want the reader to agree that a woman who works for her living is a right and good person. They sweeten the deal by throwing in a husband at the end. Husband is a decent gent. The man and the woman have both done the right thing and they are each other's reward.

They both end with this dangling QED.

(Decency is an aspiration in these books, Phoebe in Kirkham's moving into a dirty cottage and battling it, "she was a strong, active young woman, not afraid of work, and with a good fire, lots of hot water and plenty of soap, things soon began to assume a different aspect," fighting in spiritual combat against the lazy cottage next door -- decency here is an extrapolation of non-complacency and struggle. Battlers are decent. (Bells ringing in Australian minds: the Little Aussie Battler.) The Chisholm book about Female Immigration is a record of the same tentacular ideas being extended onto fleshy people. Chisholm assumes that they should be so extended: she does not expect anyone in her audience to disagree. And the ground is watered for her by books like this, though not these books in particular; she came before them. Their minds run into one another and the idea reappears with a new moustache or a hat. Am I right when I see egalitarianism here, with these people telling you that you might not be able to be titled or rich or formally educated, but anybody can be decent, even if you are "the manager of a butter factory" (Gaunt) -- yet, a question, whose vision of egalitarianism is this?)

Spence's book's desire to be conventional is sharper: it starts with a piece of come-hither drama when two sisters lose everything and a man is not allowed to marry the woman he loves or else he will lose everything too. Gaunt doesn't have that; the women in her story are poor but the family has enough money to keep them alive. They are discontented, that is the problem. Their selves are starved.

Beside Nancy's sparkling eyes and fresh complexion her sister's pale face looked sallow; her dark hair, though abundant, was dull in hue; her heavy brown eyes were too deep-set, and her whole face wore a sad and discontented air which alone would have spoiled far greater beauty than she possessed. Her figure was good and she was tall, and had she had but that place in the world which she was always longing for, there would have been many to call the eldest Miss Marsden a handsome woman.

Phoebe's problem is multi-pronged (she has no money, she has a passive-aggressive and hostile family, she is getting older) but essentially she needs to be content.

(She is in the same situation as Louie Pollit is, in The Man Who Loved Children, needing to get away from her family for the sake of her soul, and the Marsden father mollycoddles himself like Sam.)

She goes after independence stoically and firmly and Gaunt follows her methodically and slowly from one action to another, watching her as she approaches each problem.

First there is the keeping of a few hives in converted crates, then the slow organisation of honey-selling -- which means that she has to catch lifts into Ballarat with her monstrous father -- then the gradual accumulation of money and hives with the assistance of "a quaint American bee journal" named Gleanings in Bee Culture by A.I. Root who lived in Medina, Ohio, where the local school's football team is still known as The Battling Bees.

Everything happens chronologically slowly inside the world of the story, even the mail is slow, gold prospecting is slow, bee-accumulation is slow; the few fast things are not worthwhile (Nancy marries a rich man for quick money), only gradual steady motion is trustworthy, though even then the ending is ambiguous ("Phoebe, dear, you really are marrying the wrong man," says one of Phoebe's other sisters and the author may not think that she is wrong), the world is not perfect, Gaunt herself demonstrating the steadiness principle with the matter of her writing, the style proceeding at an even pace, nothing flashy, just making its way on, adding the few extra words that will make the meaning more than clear ("dull in hue," when she could have left it at "dull," colloquial trust overpowered by the desire to have the reader utterly possess and cohabit with the writer's intention), not stinting, and going onwards for its reward.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

you continue to look in front of you as far as may be

(Only one today.)

In the Mist of the Mountains by Ethel Turner (1908)

Books on Project Gutenberg don't always come with covers or blurbs and I didn't know what this one was about until page four. First you have this description:

There is nothing to see, absolutely nothing at all. You know that there are trees on either hand of you, and that the undergrowth is bursting into the stars and delicate bells of its springtime bloom. But your knowledge of this is merely one of the services your memory does for you, for the mist has covered it all away from sight.

You look behind you and your world is blotted out.

You look in front of you, -- nay, you cannot look in front of you, for the mist lies as a veil, actually on your face.

“I breathed up a whole cloud this morning,” Lynn remarked once.

“I eated one -- and it was nasty,” said Max.

Still you continue to look in front of you as far as may be.

And the next moment the veil lifts, -- clean up over your head perhaps, and you see it rolling away on the wind to one side of you, yards and yards of flying white gossamer, its ragged edges catching in the trees.

And now your gaze leaps and lingers, and lingers and leaps for miles in front of you. You look downward and the ball of the earth has split at your feet and the huge fissure has widened and widened till a limitless valley lies there. You look down hundreds of feet and see like sprouting seedlings the tops of gum trees, --gum trees two hundred feet high.

So it starts with a system of feeling and motion through the intimate "you" which is a word that storytellers use, and these two voices coming to you as if you know them -- first you are told that you are having the sensation of the mountain, even though you are actually at home or wherever you are reading the book, and not on the mountain (probably not on the mountain, maybe you are on the mountain), still, you are told to imagine it, and then the voices, a lesson she could have learned from Dickens (Great Expectations launching you against the present when Pip weeps, the lesson is the sudden focussing power of a voice) and then you are told that you know these children, who are fictional, or that the author is a voice that knows them. Either way they have existed for a while because Lynn made her remark not now but "once."

They are adding this bit of narrative past to the mist and interrupting the author, who is telling you about the mist "actually in your face" "Still you continue to look ..." -- two sentences that could have come after one another with no children, and yet here are the children, two dumb or innocent ghosts whose experiences are apparently valid, and who reassure you silently, "Don't worry, dear impatient reader, there are going to be people soon: it isn't all description."

Next Ethel Turner describes a town on the mountain, she lists a population ("two photographers, two shoe-menders, two house agents, two visiting doctors"), and it feels as if she is moving to a point of solidity. The mist passes but the humans are coagulating. Anticipating a story soon. The children speak again and I decide that this book is going to have a consolidated personality because all of the books I have read have had personalities eventually (I am complacent, I do not assume that this is going to be the first book in the world that doesn't have a personality) but what is that personality? (I could be wrong; The Mist of the Mountains could be the first indescribable or miraculous book.)

The personality is a mystery. Is it an interesting mystery? Ethel Turner wrote Seven Little Australians but I do not feel strongly about Seven Little Australians. I am happy because I recognise the gum trees "two hundred feet high" and the fresh brutality of the mist against the springtime bells. It might be a book about paradoxes. (Sue at Whispering Gums has been discussing Christina Stead's paradoxical phrases like "chaste and impure," this language of hers that has the degenerate dark energy of corruption.) They might be trapped on this mountain. Seven Little Australians tells you what it is going to be in the second sentence. "If you imagine you are going to read of model children, with perhaps; a naughtily inclined one to point a moral, you had better lay down the book immediately and betake yourself to 'Sandford and Merton' or similar standard juvenile works." Mist does not tell you. Indirectness seems adult because indirectness believes that you can wait. But the primary characters by the end of chapter one are still the children. I believe the author wants me to be tickled by baby-talk. She trusts me to be excited by a cast of nonthreatening cutes. A little strange to realise that she is making that assumption. We have never met. She died in 1958. All right then.

(It's a romantic farce.)

Sunday, November 3, 2013

stringybark, and a framework

Bark House Days, by Mary E. Fullerton (1931)

Mary Fullerton misses the house that her father built, "all of stringybark, and a framework of bush timber." "The structures of pioneer days are not for permanency. We were born in it, the whole wild, shy, little seven of us, and when it began to tumble and lurch itself out of plumb, hands, I know not if desecrating or reverent, were laid upon it, and it was demolished." The children were wild and shy and the hut was wild and shy, and Mary Fullerton is over fifty; she will be demolished as well when she is seventy-seven, and from then on nobody will know what it was like to live in that bark house but they will know that she knew, and that she missed it; maybe they will be reverent rather than desecrating when they are tearing down houses, after they have read that phrase: "I know not if ..." They do not know what will happen to their childhood homes either. In their imaginations they will have done the right thing even though the house is still down. "There was a gooseberry bush at the back, too, that always betrayed us by tearing the letter “L” in our pinnies." Some lessons are wildly aimed.

Mr Hogarth's Will by Catherine Helen Spence (1865)

I can't find the page now but I think Dale Spender in Writing a New World says that Mr Hogarth's Will is one of the best books she's ever read. I did not find it so satisfying because I thought it was a book that let itself be polluted by the nature of books, or what was expected of books, or what the author thought the nature of books or serialised stories should be. By this I mean that this is an idea-centred book, that the author started with an idea, solved the immediate problem associated with the idea, and then the story dissolved into who was going to get married to who and who was Francis thingy's mother and whether he would get to keep the money from Mr Hogarth's will or not, and other ideas that were more or less irrelevant to the idea and less interesting and novel than the idea, which is: how are educated women in 1865 going to support themselves when nobody will employ them to do the work they're qualified for?

The author says that the problem is pervasive but then the central character finds some useful friends who help her and that area of concern sort of wanders off with a further mention here and there but nothing sustained, and no panorama. So the financial survival of all of these hinted-at women is set on the same level of temporary problematic problems as the will itself, which is particular to that family and only tangentially affects anyone outside.

Once everybody works out how to be nice and thoughtful and do the right thing then the problem is solved in that family, which, as far as the book is concerned, is the prime context of everything and stuff the rest of us, we get lip service.

I am on the sides of all the women who are not in that family.

It is like a curse on me when I see a book that could do something that it wants to do and then it doesn't do it. Francis thingy's estranged mother! Why doesn't Spence bring her into the scheme of the idea? She's a woman isn't she? She's a woman who needs money? But she has been cast in a villain role and somehow that has excluded her. Mr Hogarth's Will was invented to espouse the idea (that's how it seems) but the book like a parasite sucking the host dry has murdered its progenitor. When I think back now it feels as though the theme was waiting to be ambushed from the beginning. If Spence had thought about the matter seriously then Mr Hogarth's Will should at least have ended with someone starving to death in penury with a rejection letter clutched in her spasming hands. Spence knew Catherine Martin (The Silent Sea, An Australian Girl).

Thursday, October 31, 2013

two loaves and some butter

Uncle Piper of Piper's Hill by Tasma (1889)

This is one of those urban-mansion Australian novels that nobody ever hears about in Australian literature lessons because they are too busy considering Clancy of the Overflow and snakes and such. Uncle Piper deserves to be regarded as a sort of ur-mansion novel because the story itself depends on Uncle Piper owning a mansion. Come to Australia, he tells his financially impoverished English sister's family, and stay in my mansion. So they do, and there is a clash because the sister's husband is a sponging aristocrat who talks up his own titled brother even though that brother steals the teapot. Wife demoralised by his snobbery. The primary casualty of his social prejudice is a domestic victim. Tasma is sunny-natured towards all sides and usually never blights anybody without blighting someone else a little bit as well so that the blight gets shared around and there is a consistency. Ends with a shameless deus ex machina. People fall in love as if they've been told to.

Female Immigration Considered by Caroline Chisholm (1842)

Caroline Chisholm! Mrs Jellyby in Bleak House is a foggy glimpse of one aspect of her. The old Australian five dollar note was another glimpse. Witnessed through her own voice she is like an obdurate guided missile that rescues people and finds them jobs. Nothing will stop her. The book is an open letter to the powers that be, telling them what they need to do. She lays out columns of objects and numbers for their education. In the early 1840s, a newcomer to Sydney, she had noticed that women who arrived in the colony "without friends or advisers" were being picked up by pimps, johns, seducers, and madams. She intervened. She confronted the parties concerned. She made a decision. Jobs for everybody or die trying. "[A]nd from that time I never ceased in my exertions." She wanted a place for her Home. People fobbed her off. Mr Merewether gave her a room full of rats. That was all she needed. She was not going to be done down by rats.

I was put to the proof at starting: scarce was the light out, when I fancied a few dogs must be in the room, and, in some terror, I got a light; what I experienced on seeing rats in all directions I cannot explain. My first act was to throw on my cloak, and get at the door with the intent to leave the building; I knew if I did this my desertion would cause much amusement and ruin my plan; I therefore lighted a second candle, and seating myself on the bed, kept there until three rats, descending from the roof, alighted on my shoulders. I knew that I was getting into a fever, in fact, that I should be very ill before morning; but to be out-generalled by rats was too much. I got up with some resolution; I had two loaves and some butter (for my office, bed-room, and pantry, were one;) I cut it into slices, placed the whole in the middle of the room, put a dish of water convenient, and with a light by my side, I kept my seat on the bed, reading “Abercrombie,” and watching the rats until four in the morning: I at one time counted thirteen, and never less than seven did I observe at the dish during the night. The following night I gave them a similar treat, with the addition of arsenic; and thus passed my four first nights at the Home.

Hard work is what she believes in. Nowadays she would be the CEO of a massive company that started in a shed. Her determination is a kind of blind violence.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

moving off in detachments since the commencement

ZMKC, in the comments not so long ago, wondered where I found the books I'd been reading and I said, "The internet" (all out of print and many on Project Gutenberg) but to give out a slightly fuller answer I thought I'd write short descriptions of some of them and link to the places where they can be downloaded. I'll say two per post and carry this on for a little while.

A Mother's Offering to her Children: By a Lady, Long Resident in New South Wales by Charlotte Barton (1841)

This, the first children's book published in Australia, is a dialogue between a mother named Mrs Saville ("engaged at her needle") and her four children, Clara, Emma, Julius, and Lucy. Where is father? He is dead. The author had already escaped from her real husband, who was mad and drunk. "In 1839 Charlotte fled from him with her children down the precipitous Meryla Pass through the wild gorges of the Shoalhaven River to a coastal outstation at Budgong where she continued their education, particularly inculcating a love of nature," states the Australian Dictionary of Biography. "Charlotte maintained a close-knit family life in an atmosphere of learning and scholarship." Mrs Saville, as per the word offering in the title, is completely generous and will talk to her children about whatever they like so they end up on volcanoes and cannibalism.

Julius. --
What became of George D'Oyley and George Sexton, Mamma?

Mrs. S. --
They remained at Boydamy with the cruel natives about three months, when these bad people added to their crimes by murdering the defenceless boys. Master D'Oyley was a very handsome child, and they cut off his head to adorn the front of a canoe.

Emma. --
This is monstrous! How could such thoughts enter their heads?

Clara. --
Were they cannibals, Mamma?

Mrs. S. --
Yes, my dear. They ate the eyes and cheeks of the shipwrecked people.

Mrs S. pays the kind of attention to nature that people in the nineteenth century seemed to think was a normal part of being an educated thoughtful adult, taking the time to recognise that the spiders she sees murdering a purple beetle are "of a drab, or fawn color," and that their action can be described with the word "bustle." Likewise she takes the time to point out the exact location of Master D'Oyley's head, and to indicate the parts of the shipwrecked people that the cannibals ate. A habit like that is a gun: you point it and it fires.

(Ruskin believed in moral goodness and moral noticing. "I repeat then, generalization, as the word is commonly understood, is the act of a vulgar, incapable, and unthinking mind. To see in all mountains nothing but similar heaps of earth; in all rocks, nothing but similar concretions of solid matter; in all trees, nothing but similar accumulations of leaves, is no sign of high feeling or extended thought." (Modern Painters, Vol. 1))

Shearing in the Riverina, New South Wales, by Rolf Boldrewood (1871)

His real name was Thomas Browne and he was a squatter and a magistrate, which I did not know, as well as an author; he wrote Robbery Under Arms and somewhere along the way he wrote this long essay or short nonfiction book about a season at a shearing shed in the Riverina district on the border between Victoria and New South Wales. He likes his nonfiction to sound like a story, with characters for the different shearers, and the characters leading into facts: "I must here explain that the cook of a large shearing-shed is a highly paid and tolerably irresponsible official. He is paid and provided by the shearers. Payment is generally arranged on the scale of half-a-crown a head weekly from each shearer ..." So there is a moment of solitary human action and then the outspread picture: "'Shearing commences to-morrow!' These apparently simple words were spoken by Hugh Gordon, the manager of Anabanco station, in the district of Riverina, in the colony of New South Wales, one Monday morning in the month of August." He must like that technique because there's a variation of it at the start of Robbery as well. "My name's Dick Marston ..." followed by the history.

Every event is a character-event. (Suggest that he particularises his characters, and, by doing so, generalises about the nature of life. He introduces a literary structure into a nonfictional arena. Maybe this was inevitable.)

There is rain, and we discover that long periods of rain can be disastrous in your shearing season because the shearers can't shear, and then there's an attempt at a strike, which is quashed, not unexpectedly, because Boldrewood signalled his respect for authority as early as the second paragraph when he described the station owner as "a shepherd-king, so to speak, of shrewdness, energy, and capital."

After a while the shearing ends and he respects this natural point of completion by telling us that it's all over and stopping the book.

The long train of drays and wagons, with loads varying from twenty to forty-five bales, has been moving off in detachments since the commencement. In a day or two the last of them will have rolled heavily away. The 1400 bales, averaging three and a half hundredweight, are distributed, slow journeying, along the road, which they mark from afar, standing huge and columnar like guide tumuli, from Anabanco to the waters of the Murray. Between the two points there is neither a hill nor a stone. All is the vast monotonous sea of plain--at this season a prairie-meadow exuberant with vegetation; in the late summer, or in the occasional and dreaded phenomenon of a DRY WINTER, dusty, and herbless as a brickfield, for hundreds of miles.

Silence falls on the plains and waters of Anabanco for the next six months. The woolshed, the washpen, and all the huts connected with them are lone and voiceless as caravanserais in a city of the plague.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

fancy must scathe the object it shall rest upon

Caroline Leakey has a description of a phial which I find very strange.

But one figure is there --a female; her black hair flats [sic?] over her shoulders -- her eyes glisten; you have seen those eyes before; they glisten, not now with radiant joy; there is a fire in them that you fancy must scathe the object it shall rest upon. A cup is in her quivering hand; you glance involuntarily towards a phial on the table; there is a label on the phial, and on the label there are cross-bones and a skull; beneath the skull is written, in large black letters, 'Poison.'

I ask myself: why does she present the phial to me as if I were not reading about it but looking at it, and I needed the word "Poison" and a skull and crossbones to tell me that there was poison inside?

And in fact as if I needed this warning so that I didn't pick up the phial or taste the liquid inside the phial or do anything else that might bring me into contact with the poison?

She could just write, "It was a phial of poison." I could have had this adequate understanding of the phial without fakely looking. Instead I have to be extra-adequate, or outside adequate, or go through adequate and out the other side.

I say to myself: she is asking me to look at the phial at the precise moment when the one thing I cannot do in any respect is look at the phial. Looking at the phial is impossible. By absolutely no earthly power or exertion whatsoever can I look at the phial. Yet Leakey says that I am looking at the phial. She is leading me through the stages of examining the phial and seeing the details that say, "This phial contains poison." But I know that I am not looking at the phial because I don't see any of the other details on the phial. I ask myself: what colour is the phial? I can't even call it a colourless phial. She is making me self-conscious. I feel so blinded.

Another character, later on in a courtroom, shows the phial to a crowd so that it can take in the skull and crossbones. "It was produced in court, and a shiver ran through the audience as from the skull and cross-bones the dreadful word 'poison' with unmistakable distinctness bore witness to the alleged guilt." I have gone through that process already, now they're going through it, these fictional people. Noticing that they can't see the colour of the phial either. Then Norwell the seducer hears that Maida Gwynnham is going to be transported for life and not hanged, and he is so relieved that he creeps into a ballroom through a hole that is not a hole.

Norwell pacified himself with the thought, 'that will seem nothing after such a fright she would have had that otherwise,' and gladly crept out of the loophole opened by circumstance (Providence, he said) and still wider opened by the fair law of England; he crept out into--

The ball-room! No harm either -- it was the assize ball.

She's a reckless woman sometimes, Caroline Leakey.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

the convict garment confirmed her statement

Caroline Leakey changes. Caroline Leakey will spend her time recording slang.

"Canaries, sir, just fledged."

Norwell looks up, but the butt-end of the whip is pointing down at a road-gang clanking by in their yellow clothes.

Clothes are important to the convicts in this book: a woman who wears one kind of petticoat has a certain place in the prisoners' hierarchy, a woman who wears another kind of petticoat has a different social weight. "Here Maida raised her gown an inch or two above her feet, and with the convict garment confirmed her statement." A convict servant is coming close to his ticket-of-leave day and he buys a wardrobe, "gaudy waistcoat," "boots ... which, by the help of new soles, had been made to creak an incredible amount of importance," a "startling blue cravat, and, lastly, he purchased a pot of 'genuine bear's grease' for the due anointing of his anti-convict's pate." The man puts his clothes on and feels satisfied. "The robing ceremony ... soon covered every untoward circumstance."

Another convict says:

"And I can't keep out of yellows no ways. When I think now for the greys! and I am just on having 'em, something comes along to get me into trouble, and it's a sight o' time 'fore I gets out of the yellows; I haven't been out of 'em yet for more than two months to a time."

Ada Cambridge lost and gained two languages between books. Leakey lost and gained her languages between chapters. Suddenly she is allowed to think about the convicts from their own point of view, not as though they are melodramatic but as if they are ordinary. (What allowed her?)

A power altered her as far as writing went, and there's no record of what that was, or how she discovered it, if she eased into it naturally and toned down without thinking about it too much (if the shouting pitch was comfortable in a poem but hard to sustain after twenty pages of prose) or if the act of writing brought so many memories back to her (of herself, staying with her sister's family, in the New Chum position she gives to the character Bridget, who is a naive Everyman for the reader to look through) that she felt that she was transmitting actual events almost directly, the artificial sugar of the melodrama superfluous now because she was not an artificer any more, she was a recorder, language and purpose moving together like a pair of cogs, and the gossipy dialogue staring at the clothes, as she once stared at them, and as she might have been remembering herself staring.

Herself, years later in England, playing with the idea of being a convict in those clothes.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

punctiliously observed

The crudeness of "due for my ticket" compared to "punctiliously observed" is like the shove of the elbow compared to the peacefulness of the elbow at rest in polite society where resentment would seethe quietly or stifle itself humourously and not make a circular jerk.

"Punctiliously observed" making a little gap between herself and those characters. She is looking at them.

Caroline Leakey by the end of the paragraph is inhabiting the shove and the shove gets inside the language: it is the language, it is shove-language created by the person who is making the shove, who is not Caroline Leakey.

That indignation is the indignation of Tammy, not the indignation of the author (who is not due for her ticket): the contamination of the convict settlement has reached out over the years and it has come into Caroline Leakey. She will keep it, she will have it, she will melt and run; she will accept the words of that other class that is not the author-class; she will not be an author for a moment, she will not have that authority of removed language, she will melt and dissolve into the non-author classes. (I do not mean social classes.) Where is she now, what is she when she writes due for her ticket, what hybrid, what minotaur, what centaur, what animal or transmigration?

The shape of the language in the paragraph is the shape of the character's vanity: a big front ("punctiliously observed") with a small fear behind. Like a cartoon bulldog it has large shoulders and tiny hips and that is the way the language moves, from big to small.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

the right of precedence

The Broad Arrow starts with the same kind of "Oh!" that she uses in the poems; the first word is "Oh!" -- "Oh! let the merry bells ring round" -- summoning your attention, she tells you look, see, listen to "the clank of the felon's chain," pay attention to these ideas that she will propose -- "Does not the sight of the plumed hearse fill the breast with solemnity? ... Do not the voice of laughter and the song of thoughtlessness involuntarily cease, or drop to softer tones, when the toll of the death-bell meets the ear?" The speech is melodrama. Everybody is so anguished they're posing. "Ay! he will break some other heart when mine is sinking far away," bursts forth Maida, rattling her irons in a cell. "He never loved me!" ("Bursts forth," Leakey wrote, once upon a time. Little image of a pen shitting like a horse as it passes by.)

Maida receives her sentence and goes away on her convict ship. Then the author sends a family of not-prisoners to Tasmania. They are attached to the prison ministry in Hobart. Like magic the Oh-language dissipates. She still likes to address the audience sometimes, but the moans have become passé. "Does not the sight -- Do not the voice --" she doesn't want to shotgun you with those phrases any more. The impulse has left. She slows down, she makes a survey, and if she was thinking of stage performances for the first part of her story then she might be recalling an actual memory now; a young woman like herself arrives in Tasmania naively: the purpose of the writing changes, it still presents you with cruelties and inequalities and innocent people bullied, but it goes into the social nuances among the convicts.

In leaving the room Tammy punctiliously observed the right of precedence. With a circular jerk of her elbow she edged Diprose back and herself forward: it was not to be thought of, that a new expiree should walk before her, who was almost due for her ticket.

Tammy and Diprose are incidental characters; the point is not them, it's the noting of the nuance. The author is making fun of them but the comedy is the vehicle for the nuance. And the tone of the paragraph is modified as it goes, starting with the tongue-in-cheek over-explaining voice, "punctiliously observed ..." (she wants you to credit her with a sense of humour) and getting into the language of the convicts themselves: watch yourself mate, I'm due for me ticket -- going there through that moment of formal humour, which you could see as a softening agent -- humour loosening the grip of the literary language and making a loophole through which the slang could enter.

"Due" is the giveaway: it is a very subtle change of language into greed and expectation, and it is the language people still use: I'm due for a beer, I'm due for a smoke, there are still voices saying those words though voices do not say "punctiliously observed," or not often, not where I can hear them.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

thy warning finger, prest

Death is the solution that occurs to Caroline Leakey in Lyra Australis, even when she has recovered from her hip fever and moved to Boa Vista with the family of the Bishop. Death comes to her when she thinks about babies (Cui Bono?) and when she thinks about flowers (Early Snowdrop). Death is always coming, or guilt is coming, she writes a poem about the end of transportation to Tasmania, she worries that the island (too excited and pleased, these festivities make her uneasy; in another poem she squashes them with a line she gives to a child) will not be able to control itself: "oh, task most hard!" -- her job is to warn --

And let thy lips in heartfelt murmurs break
On festal voice around, with words inspired
By Him who spoke as never man yet spake,—
"Where much is given, there much will be required."

The baby son in Cui bono? will develop loose morals if its mother doesn't watch it closely as it is growing up.

Is it a time of good or ill?
Choose, mother, choose -- which shall it be?
Thy God hath left the choice to thee

The Broad Arrow overseer who "Just out of spite" let Bradley loose on Pragg is the mother's failure: he is the conduit of the arbitrary.

Everybody needs an eye kept on them, even the poet needs that keeping eye; her sorrow will be the eye that keeps on her and probed by its eye she will be mindful.

My soul, to erring prone,
Dares not, O Sorrow, walk through life's dark road alone,
She may forgetful prove.
No more upraised thy warning finger, prest
To check the murmuring sigh or thought ere yet exprest,
I may not heed thy love.
O, then, till death abide;
Then we must part, for thence beyond, my faithful guide,
No step of thine may stray:
Back to my God me brought, will be thy mission o'er.
For He hath said, from that bright land, that sinless shore, Sorrow shall flee away.

She might have read Cowper (like him, she enjoys the notion of a pathway followed by the word "alone"):

The path of sorrow and that path alone
Leads to the land where sorrow is unknown.

(from An Epistle To An Afflicted Protestant Lady In France)

And bedridden in Tasmania would have come across these lines:

Thy tender sorrows and thy plaintive strain
Flow in a foreign land, but not in vain

Her depression or sadness or misery has a story that she has attached to it; it is her life-assistant, it reminds her to feel guilty, which she believes is necessary for a worthwhile religious existence, not only for herself but for others, for sons and for the mothers of sons, and for people who will not give alms in Thou Art Thy Brother's Keeper: "Shall the blood of Abel crying, | Awake to call on you." It is not awareness of original sin merely but awareness of being watched, and of watching and addressing. She writes "O!" and "Oh!"* and "Alas!," she summons attention to her before she delivers her message, she has her hwæt.

Why does she keep reminding things that she exists? Why is she anxious? I think this is the unanswered question in all of Caroline Leakey's work.

The way to lead a good life is to open yourself to vigilant unprivate interventions, or, in summary, privacy is the door to damnation.

* "Oh, soon will end this weary life" (Sonnet II); "She died of grief, they say; and oh! to me" (Blanche); Oh, many-tonèd voice of man; "Oh, crowning mercy of all blessings poured" (Thankfulness); "Oh! tell me, is the night come up? -- mine eye is darkened now" (XXVII); "Oh, what are these hidden feelings" (XVI); "But, oh! I love the willow best, still bent | To weeping" (Pale Oleander of the South); "But, oh, how oft | The thankful mother creeps to watch her boy" (Rest); "While there are those -- oh, mark them as they stand, | The blasting curse, pollutions of our land!" (Dora); "Oh! sweet complain of disappointed love" ("They Have Taken Away My Lord"); "Oh! ere Death's heavy bolt be drawn" (The Prisoner's Hospital, Van Diemen's Land); “O joy, the thunder-storm to see!" (A Tale of Conscience); "Oh! fraught within thy tiny sphere" (To a Very Early Snowdrop); "Oh! day most sacred" (My Father's Birthday); "Oh! sought of all, but rarely found" (Ode to Pleasure); "Oh! flee thee there, my trembling dove, -- | Oh! flee thee there and rest!" (The Young Mother to her Infant); "Oh! let it sleep, disturb it not" (Cui Bono?); "Oh! that grave was very small" (XXV); "Oh! brother, faint not" (And Art Thou Weary with the Strife?); "Oh, happy child! I envy thee" (The Child, that 'neath the Summer Tree); "Oh! how the moments lag" (A New Light on Illumination); "Oh! so strange a thing is love, and so wayward is the heart" (Poor Nannie's Return); "Oh, faithful bud, what power was thine!" (The Silent Rebuke); "Oh! I have strung a chain so bright" (Morning and Evening); "Oh! who may tell?" (VI); "Oh! how he came I cannot tell, I heard no footstep fall" (XXVII); "Oh! be not this thy curse" (On Tasmania's Receiving the Writ of Freedom); Oh! Paradox Most Rare; "Oh! there are thoughts, when loving forms are missed" (XXVIII); "Oh! sure these gentle beings are | A voice that calleth from afar" (Little Children) and there are more.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

the chains removed

Both Leakey and Clarke have decided that their convict protagonists will be innocent, both of the characters have been sentenced to life imprisonment in Tasmania, both are suspected of murder, both are stern and quiet, both of them are protective when they see a weaker younger person, both are preyed on by other convicts, both are hard workers, both of them resist the prison clergymen who try to resurrect their faith in Christianity. "He finds in me a spirit as proud as his own, and he delights in trying to wring a confession from it," says Maida Gwynnham. "Maida sounds pretty," says Mrs Evelyn, "the other name's rather glumpy."

Leakey the poet never uses "glumpy" or any language similar to "glumpy;" and even the characters in her narrative poems (Dora, The Messenger Knight) are not that verbally eccentric, they don't independently refuse to revolve around the central point, and the central point is not (this is what I learnt when I read The Broad Arrow after Lyra Australis) the absolute indigenous state of Caroline Leakey, but it is the possible requirements of poetic character-diction round about the middle of the eighteen hundreds and her own coincidence with those requirements.

She reaches the prose story, it occurs to her that she can use "glumpy;" she uses it; that series of letters has become acquiescent, out of every set of letters in the world she has found that set.

Every word in a book has been kept.

So when I am surprised by violence in this book, The Broad Arrow (violence that does not seem to belong in the same woman who wrote the poems, because it describes a human being who is hopelessly degraded, not degraded so that a moral lesson can follow immediately with a couplet as in her verse but degraded so that the story is filled just there with horror) I am amazed not that she wrote it but that she kept it, she held it, she allowed the world to know that she had conceived those ideas and that she wrote them down: the most exemplary person in her family, said her sister Emily who published a memoir about Caroline Leakey after her death: "her purified heart had a secret mine of joy and exuberant mirth." (Clear Shining Light, p. 69)

'No, just extricate Pragg from Bradley; but I would not have the chains removed from either,' said Mr. Herbert, who had heard the grumble, though it was not meant for him.

But just out of spite the overseer would release them: he had barely done so, than, with the roar of an uncaged lion, upstarted Bradley, knocked him down, caught up a handcuff and struck Pragg a blow that felled him to the deck and made the blood flow from his head. Bradley then flung himself on his hands and knees and lapped up the blood.

'I swore I'd never rest till I'd spit your own blackguard blood in your face; now, here it is!'

(writes Leakey in The Broad Arrow.)

Thursday, October 3, 2013

receiving its finishing touches from convict labour

(Just a note: Blogger is not allowing me to update the sidebar).

The presence of a convict town spreads corruption everywhere in one form or another, sometimes violent, sometimes not; Charlie is "a bright, glowing, bouncing boy of six years"; adult prisoners are so natural to him that he assumes he's going to be one when he grows up, as if convict is a profession.

When taken by his father to see some public work, which was just receiving its finishing touches from convict labour, he admired in silence for a long while, and then broke out:

'When I'm a prisoner, won't I build a beauty!'

Charlie is a merging agent: he is amoral, he never sees the corruption (I mean that he does not witness the dichotomy that his author sees, and on which she dwells; he has a Rabelaisian acceptance, he is free of her devils), he is pragmatic: the imprisoned people, the alcoholic people, the mad people, they are his surroundings, and once he works out that the "howl" from the "drefful wild beasts" is only a convict lunatic then he's fine:

But when Miss D'Urban told her that, wild beast or not, they had been alarmed by the most doleful wail that ever mortal heard, the wife began to wonder whence the noise could have proceeded, and wondered on until her eldest boy burst into a laugh.

'Oh! 'twas nothing, mother; 'twas only from the Cranky Yard.'

Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto. His acceptance is the cure that Leakey sees but does not want. She would rather be sick than cured like him. (There is a story that is not being spoken here, about a healthy boy whose adults are trying to make him moral, therefore ill.)

But she never changes him, which is interesting in itself: she doesn't reform him by bringing him over to her own point of view. He was not invented to be reformed then, he is not like Maida Gwynnham, who was invented for a purpose (to carry the load of the book, in other words to suffer) or like the man who seduced her (who was invented so that he could seduce her). Charlie was invented to be himself, because that is how he remains.

Why does Maida Gwynnham need to suffer? Leakey was not writing The Broad Arrow to turn people against transportation. Transportation was over before she began. Tasmania received its last convict in 1851. She started the book in 1858 and published in 1859. If she is not trying to end transportation or to titillate people with prison stories then what is she doing? Is it a warning to seducers? (The seducer suffers at the end. It is a warning to seducers.) Why doesn't the story take place in England, where she spent most of her life? Why does she see life in this torn-apart or separated state? She was evangelical and her family was evangelical: is that part of an answer? She was a migrant for a few years: the place she visited is the place she describes in detail, her homeland is a caricature.

The wrong is nebulous: it is corruption in toto, it is life, which is a mixed substance. Tasmania in this book is the place where life is strongest because it is the place where it is most mixed. The convicts exist casually next to the upper classes. Leakey herself came to the colony to replace the convict who was nursemaiding her sister's children. She chases the riven around but she can't corner it. The dichotomous crack exists intimately in the senses:

Lessons of morality and piety, listened to with reverence on the mother's lap or father's knee, were contradicted by the practices of convict life, so that Charlie was puzzled to know which was the correct path -- that commended to him by precept, or that chosen by the multitude. In fact, he had to decide between seeing and hearing.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

the combined rattle of the many hundred irons

Port Arthur in both of those books is a degrading place -- this is the authors' point of view, which is not the point of view of the woman in Hoe, who saw Port Arthur un-degrading the degraded criminals: "you have only to look at the numbers of them who came on and did well for themselves to realise that it was not so bad after all" -- but in Leakey and Clarke it degrades the convicts and it degrades the people who have been sent to guard or look after the convicts; an ordinary church service in Leakey gets polluted by by a "tremendous" "rush of chains."

The hum of the responses blended with the occasional clank of fetters, or every now and then was wholly drowned in the combined rattle of the many hundred irons. Bridget no longer wondered that Mr. Herbert felt the impropriety of the service, it was a pain to hear it even.

This is how Leakey works her degradation, everyday scenes are polluted and electrified, Bridget opens her window to see the morning sunshine and instead she sees a swarm of prisoners who are being forced out of bed by a bell.

And that way of doing things is introduced in the first chapter, before the story has found its way to Tasmania, when it is still in England: "Why do they let those happy bells ring?" -- when criminals are preparing to be sentenced, bells ringing for the assizes and bells also ringing from the church of St Judas, "The bells from St. Judas are made to outswell the prison bell," (suggestion of dishonesty and denial from St Judas). A ball is coming up. "Placards announce a ball -- and the newspapers hint that this ball is to be a nonpareil." "It is the festival of the assizes! and the ball the 'Assize Ball'!" "Carriages throng the thoroughfare, and from the carriages fashion and beauty gaze placidly on the crowd."

The shape of that dichotomy staying the same as the book goes on but the scale changing, the contrast becoming more domesticated, no longer a person in chains ("sorrow, punishment, death") versus an expensive ballgoer "as elegant in person and deportment as in attire" but instead an ordinary woman opening a window expecting to see the sun. Degradation appears with a bell, this borderland between brightness and darkness is a bell'd borderland, as in those old books-on-tape for children that told you to "turn the page when you hear the chimes ring, like this," so you do, and a shadow swings back over the page you have finished until it is buried, and like the underworld on Mayan artifacts it is painted black, along with foreigners and dead kings, populated also with anthropomorphic singing deer in some cases, ditto again the underworld of the Mayans.

"Oh! let the merry bells ring round," she writes, followed by the assizes. Personally I do not often hear bells, this apartment having no doorbell, and telephones make music instead of ringing, and there are no schools nearby, I never ring for a servant as these characters do (what would that be like, and did you worry before they came?); nobody rings bells at me, though a car in the carpark outside has been running its engine, wum wum wum for the past quarter of an hour like a wobbleboard, and so I hate abrading noises as she seems to do: she itches at the stabbing bell, the chains in the church, the sound that enters like a disease, a sound or a sight enters Caroline Leakey, it is recognised as an invasive presence, the world is ready to be warm and then the corruption arrives, the book reacts violently, the characters twitch back, "Bridget hastily closed the shutters" -- why does this have to be?

There could be a ball and nothing but the ball. Instead there are prisoners and grief as well as the ball.

As if life is constant shocks and imperfection is a horror and a sadness for Caroline Leakey.

The Mayan point of view (anciently, I don't know about today) was not like this, so a somewhat-expert told me last week, explaining that the Mayans were fascinated by the presentation of opposites: the dark and the light, she said, day and night, life and death together on the same pot.