Thursday, June 27, 2013

and ends, as it should commence

The skeleton of Irene Iddesleigh's plot is familiar, the pieces have been plucked up on the roadside like Cheval's rocks: the poor orphan woman Irene has to marry the rich aristocrat even though she really loves a humbly-situated tutor.

But the author adds a surprise that is not a plot twist or anything literary: the tutor's name is Oscar Otwell and the uncanniness of one alliteration falling in love with another alliteration is a conundrum with no answer.

The writing is never conscious of it, Ros never jokes about it, she never suggests that these two people belong together because of their vowels, the proximity is a red herring, it seems to be hinting at an answer, and a writer who did not want the reader to think about it would not have put those names together like that and yet she does not seem to want us to think about it, yet she does put them close together like that, apparently stimulated by a natural impulse that said, "Do this, do this, write an alliteration, write more alliterations," -- so she writes --

The silvery touch of fortune is too often gilt with betrayal: the meddling mouth of extravagance swallows every desire, and eats the heart of honesty with pickled pride: the impostury of position is petty, and ends, as it should commence, with stirring strife. But conversion of feminine opinions tries the touchy temper of opposition, and too seldom terminates victoriously.

She is never ironic at her own expense, she uses a grandly dramatic vocabulary, she invents aphorisms, all techniques that have worked for other people but they don't work for her, critics laugh, Tolkien laughs, I laugh, but where does that accent of instinct come from, what country, what nation, what coastline, what climate?

Not Oxford, where the Inklings were sitting, not that cluster of foreign nations with its don-atmosphere. Not any nonmysterious place. But somewhere so strange that it shortcircuited itself and vanished.


  1. It's quite an experience to read Ros out loud, and I would love to have an audio book of this or any of her novels read by the right actor, someone who would read it as Ros herself must have thought it. I too am curious about the origins of all that alliteration everywhere - in the titles of all three of her published novels, in nearly every line. It reminds me a little of a student I encountered years ago who wrote almost entirely in clichés (sometimes mixing and matching them in innovative and occasionally hilarious ways). When I pointed this out to him, he seemed baffled. He'd actually aspired to using clichés, assuming they were an indicator of good writing.

  2. That's the way I picture it: she got hold of the notion that this was how proper writers wrote. Alliteration was a necessary ingredient, like carrots. She was doing it properly. People would congratulate her on her similarities. Then she blushed with baffled anger when they fell over laughing, which reminds me of a person I was talking to on Wednesday. It's amazing, she said -- I'm not quoting her but that was the gist -- it's amazing when you see adults in an art museum trying to put their fingers on the paintings. How could they not know that you don't do that, she said. They're adults.

    You've probably already seen the audio version at Librivox, and I can't imagine her thinking Irene quite the way it's being read there. It sounds so sane and knowing. I think she'd want someone with exclamation marks in their voice. Bring in a Shakespearean. Bring in a stage Shakespearean. Bring in Ian McKellen doing Lear. Bring in the posh and the fruit and the vim.