Thursday, July 4, 2013
so slender a basis for a lifelong friendship
I want to marry my tutor, thinks Irene Iddesleigh, and so does the title character of another book, Charlotte Brontë's Shirley, a fictional woman who made the name Shirley popular with the parents of real baby girls; those girls burped and farted in their bassinets, two feats that the fictional Shirley would never achieve, never burping herself, never associated by her god-author with the word fart, though she is allowed to claim the words "brilliant, and probably happy," "independent as to property," "surefooted and agile; she could spring like a deer when she chose," and she possesses other features or attributes that the real girls might not have possessed.
Shirley is the second-appearing significant woman in the book; the first is Caroline who lives in the neighbourhood where Shirley has her property. "The very first interchange of slight observations sufficed to give each an idea of what the other was."
It's the same way in Jeannie Gunn's 1908 book, We of the Never-Never, all of her stockmen so taciturn that an "interchange of slight observations" makes them friends for life with the author (not the author but the author's fictional substitute) when she arrives at their cattle station saying "How do you do" -- a stockman coughs and grins -- "It was a most eloquent grinning, making all spoken apology or explanation unnecessary; and by the time it had faded away we thoroughly understood each other, being drawn together by a mutual love of the ridiculous. Only a mutual love of the ridiculous, yet not so slender a basis for a lifelong friendship as appears, and by no means an uncommon one 'out bush.'"
Some of the men are so shy that they dodge her for days or weeks after she gets there but then they talk about horses briefly and the friendship exists: it lasts forever, the mob of them go cattle-mustering, the woman from the city camps under a tree with her swag, her husband owning the place, the cattle, and the trees.
This is almost the only point where I can put together a formula to make the two books touch, Shirley and We of the Never-Never, otherwise they are not alike; Shirley's essence is a pushing-forward movement being thwarted; We of the Never-Never wants its people to stay still, stay still, keep their attributes intact, and display, and reinforce -- "But a Fizzer without news would not have been our Fizzer." It has a deep love of the same event, in other words, nostalgia, the clock hand that always comes back to twelve.
These linkages appear like theorums in bureaucracy or physics, only regarding or explaining the points that coincide with their equations, then lighting a small aura-area around them, the rest of each book is dark matter, obscured even further perhaps if you put several titles together in a genre, listing Shirley next to Irene Iddesleigh in a list called, "Books about women who want to marry their tutors," or you could extend the formula by calling it, "Books about people who marry the teacher-employees in their families," which means you could include Ada Cambridge's Materfamilias, and add the first two lines to your list, explaining that if you cut off the rest of the book these two lines would be a short story by Lydia Davis. "My father in England married a second time when I was about eighteen. She was my governess." It was for the sake of those two lines that you changed the name of the list to get the Lydia Davis comment in there, which you think is a brainwave, then you have doubts, you wonder if it was really a brainwave, you think about changing the name of the list back again but by now you have already spent half an hour hunting down ten more names to justify the new title and you don't want to get rid of them -- anyway -- you think -- maybe somebody will be impressed -- but already you are lugubrious with regret like Eeyore and you haven't even put it out there yet.