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.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

confronted with his tormentor, he merely laughed

The woman who told her interviewer that there was "a great deal of exaggeration about Port Arthur and the way the prisoners were treated there" would not have liked Caroline Leakey's book, or Marcus Clarke's book; she would not have liked them if her preferences for literature only followed the direction of that recorded statement, and if she judged her fiction by the way it sympathised with the emotions that were copied down in writing on that single occasion, one day of her life; neither book is in sympathy with the idea that Port Arthur "was not so bad after all" but the woman might have liked one of them for some other reason or both of them for other reasons, if she had ever read them -- what other other areas of her preference might have existed outside that statement quoted in Susanna Hoe's book: "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"?

With her vast finity of life around her I will not say that she would not have liked those books.

One hundred and twenty lashes were inflicted in the course of the morning, but still the sullen convict refused to speak. He was then treated to fourteen days' solitary confinement in one of the new cells. On being brought out and confronted with his tormentor, he merely laughed. For this he was sent back for another fourteen days; and still remaining obdurate, was flogged again, and got fourteen days more. Had the chaplain then visited him, he might have found him open to consolation, but the chaplain -- so it was stated -- was sick. When brought out at the conclusion of his third confinement, he was found to be in so exhausted a condition that the doctor ordered him to hospital. As soon as he was sufficiently recovered, Frere visited him, and finding his "spirit" not yet "broken", ordered that he should be put to grind maize. Dawes declined to work. So they chained his hand to one arm of the grindstone and placed another prisoner at the other arm. As the second prisoner turned, the hand of Dawes of course revolved.

"You're not such a pebble as folks seemed to think," grinned Frere, pointing to the turning wheel.

Upon which the indomitable poor devil straightened his sorely-tried muscles, and prevented the wheel from turning at all. Frere gave him fifty more lashes, and sent him the next day to grind cayenne pepper.

(from For the Term of his Natural Life, (1874), by Marcus Clarke)

Ada Cambridge, publishing in 1903:

If the afternoon is still young we stroll on around the point, along that sea-wall which was built by convict labour -- significant words, recalling days we do not care to think of. The wall is broken down in places, and stays so; this is the "old part" as the old times left it -- some day to be repaired and used, but gently going to pieces in the meantime. All around us here we feel the spirit of those old times, so stern and sad. Close by is the spot where Commandant Price was murdered. It was before my time, but I have heard the tale of his life and death from friends and relatives, co-officials and eye-witnesses, authorities whom the author of His Natural Life never had opportunity to consult. They say -- of course I can only take their word -- that he was a brave and just, if undoubtedly hard, man, and that Frere in His Natural Life, supposed to be a portrait of him, is a cruel caricature. One of his official colleagues, who was also one of the kindest and most high-minded of men, solemnly assured me that what he did was "what he had to do" and represented to him his duty.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

themselves to realise

It is as if the first three volumes (the two Hymns and The Manor House) existed so that Ada Cambridge could turn against them when she wrote the ones that came after them; she was preparing herself, without knowing it, to repudiate her own stated points of view, not denying the words of other people but denying her own words and pressing back against them, "one of those comparatively rare at that time who do their thinking for themselves in regard to these matters," she says decidingly; and then she describes her own thoughts (her pushing-back thoughts) being acted out by Jim as though they are independent actions and not opinions that are attached to her own brain: as though a butoh teacher had said, "Let's be a tree," but in place of a tree they said, "Let's be Ada Cambridge's point of view," and Jim obeys (since actual living people will not behave like that so the fictional must: they are a balloon blown up and tied to the opinion, they are rustling and coloured heliums) -- a clergyman's wife for forty-seven years until her husband died -- much harder not to wonder what her husband's congregation thought, than to wonder it -- the tantalising and useless mental effort quite relentless there, and irresistible, like the Dockers in the semis.

A woman who once spoke to Ada Cambridge at a funeral spends the rest of her life wondering, "Am I Aunt Ellen?"

Then novels, novels, and Caroline Leakey -- I'm coming back to her -- wrote a novel ten years after her book of poems had been published (that same Lyra Australis).

Neither of these authors stopped after one or two books of reiterated shapes (Leakey's rub) but went onward like the cockroaches that try to make themselves houses in the kitchen, or like the people downstairs who broke back into their flat or apartment when they had been locked out -- rent not paid -- the bedroom window grinding down there at two a.m. followed by shoes on the gravel -- evidence that the person has hands and feet -- that same window later smashed and boarded up -- further evidence of their existence, finally the evidence stops when the manager of the apartment complex has a dowel rod inserted in the window runner.

Leakey wrote about the convict system and called her book The Broad Arrow after the convict pheon. Marcus Clarke? She came before Marcus Clarke. He used her book for research. Why do we read his book and not hers; why do the schools teach one and not the other? In Australia I mean. There must be reasons. Her story is more detailed; his story is more exciting. I mean there are more whippings, drownings, failed rescue attempts, etc, "uncontrolled, unbearable brutality," Susanna Hoe writes in her book about Tasmania (Tasmania: Women, History, Books and Places (Of Islands & Women) (2010)): "the contrast could not be more striking between the control and subtlety of the writing in The Broad Arrow and the uncontrolled, unbearable brutality of the treatment of Rufus Dawes."

Just prior to that, on the same page, she (Hoe) has quoted a woman who lived at Port Arthur with her husband from 1846 to 1850. "There has been a great deal of exaggeration about Port Arthur and the way the prisoners were treated there, but 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 [...] They were not the depraved nearly maniac creatures you may have read about, at all. Some of them had been sent out for trifles, and never broke the law again," which, if you want to consider it as an emotional shape exposed by language, is similar to the article that David G. Schwartz published in Las Vegas Seven on September 3rd when he wanted to describe The Green Felt Jungle (1963) as a "pack of fabrications, half-truths and tall tales." His article is called The Book That Tried to End Las Vegas. "Reid and Demaris vacuumed up just about every stray anecdote they found and passed it on without verifying a word. And it's no surprise that the city's reputation suffered." "And while people living in Las Vegas knew much of the book was, at best, exaggerated, those who didn't had no way to distinguish fact from fiction."

Las Vegas feels that it suffers like this often, old Tasmania too, certainly other places: very easy it is to feel misunderstood, very tempting to write correctives.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

appropriate to the then state of affairs

The poet who wrote The Shadow is closer to the prose writer who wrote Ada Cambridge's books than she is to the poet who wrote the earlier, orthodox religious poems that praise churchgoing people (The Silence in the Church from The Manor House, for example, or everything in the two Hymns) -- since the prose writer says in her first autobiography (Thirty Years in Australia, 1903) that attending church went "much against the grain sometimes," and her comments about the church as an institution are almost completely critical, her fictional clergymen are insensitive and pleased with themselves (the Rev. Goldsworthy in Sisters (1904) is a sponger who would rather eat soup than help you, "Just now the doings of the Redford cook were of more concern to him than Mary's doings," the shipboard clergymen in Not All In Vain (1892) are a pair of small business owners eyeing the competition and measuring their customer base), and in an article she wrote for the North American Review she says: "Church-going in theory is the most direct incentive to goodness, but in practical result I have not found that it has the slightest effect upon conduct, while its effects on character seem often harmful" (The Haunted House, 1918).

She had held that point of view for more than two decades. From Not All In Vain:

Later, when the dreadful business was over, one and another attempted the impossible task of "comforting" the mourner. Aunt Ellen proffered her own particular Bible, full of folded corners and slips of paper; Mrs. Hammond came down with " The Gates Ajar"; Mr. Brand with his red-leaved "Priests' Prayer Book," out of which to "read the service" (as if it were an incantation) exactly appropriate to the then state of affairs; and others, stuffed full of texts and pious platitudes, did their little best in the way of what they conceived to be their duty at such a time.

Observance makes you too knowing, you "conceive" your "duty" too easily; you have surrendered your independence, your thinking is quiescent, you become glib.

Jim had too much delicacy to intrude upon her, as he had too much reverence for the mystery involving them to handle it in the vulgar manner. He was one of those comparatively rare at that time who do their thinking for themselves in regard to these matters, and his thinking, resulting in the inevitable recognition of more things than are dreamt of in the philosophy of those who don't think, had made him humble. He didn't know what life and death and sorrow meant (like Aunt Ellen and the rest); he only knew what they didn't mean. So he held his tongue.

"And the rest" after "Aunt Ellen" I think is a spurn.

A picture of Ada Cambridge renouncing knowingness then, renouncing it in subject matter and in the language, getting rid of the authority she'd borrowed with thee and thy, and the hymn form, and the Robert Browning cadences in A Dream of Venice from The Manor House, allowing herself to have the normal authority of an author (the authority to say that the Marquis went out at five o'clock, not challenging that) but writing with an everyday vocabulary; the poet who had written with Browning's cadences (1875) is dying, the author of A Mere Chance (1882) has barely read Browning; the author who writes Materfamilias (1898) hasn't read him ever and the people in that fictional church are grousing at each other: "Mary Welshman and her husband wanted to make out that it was -- this, however, was merely a bit of revenge for some strictures I had passed upon that disreputable brother of hers -- and they took upon themselves to such an extent that I resigned my sitting in the church and stopped all my subscriptions." Mary Welshman's husband is the Reverend.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

is it there we go?

Leakey has found her ending, she has discovered her conclusion, it rhymes, it is neat, it has the unnatural and satisfactory appearance of accuracy, it is helplessly correct. And she has stuck to established ideas in her language, the "sunny smile of innocence," the word "merry" associated with the laughter of childhood, the "joyous songs of birds;" it is too late to find a radical conclusion now, or it is too easy not to. She has set herself up to discover or write an idea that has been used before. She enters the cul de sac and parks.

She is reinforcing a textbook, she is not forging a path, she does not want to forge one, she has no wish, etc. Here is a fact or form of history: she repeats it, she makes that lesson-shape again, she carries on a pattern, she grinds it slightly deeper into the world, she is a rub, and any unhappiness or happiness she wanted to speak about can conceal itself inside that rub and closed inside that closet of accepted shapes: what octopus is it that lives under this stone.

But she is mentioned anyway, in footnotes, a pioneer of poetry via one act: she published a book of her poems when no other woman in Australia, even if they had written poetry, was publishing it in volumes. They sent it to newspapers or magazines where it was published singly.

So there was her and everyone after her, the lumpy stone of disguise becomes the tissue'd curtain of selective exposure, and her name can be associated with other people if you use the asphalt of this fact which may or may not be true, abridging the gravel together, Mary Hannay Foott (1846 --1918) who wrote Where the Pelican Builds, and Marie Pitt (1869 --1948), whose poems sometimes have a hectic rhythmic muscle that was not usual in her peers, what I've read of them ("The fierce red horses, my horses, follow | With flanks to the faint earth flung," A Gallop of Fire, which is a shorter beat than Banjo Paterson in The Man From Snowy River, for instance) and it's there even in the more formal Ave Australia that won the ABC's National Lyric Contest in 1945 ("Fling out her flag to the world and the wrong in it!" "Quarried her quick soul from matrix and clod"); there was Lesbia Harford (1891–1927) who wrote about the Blouse Machinist who was sitting near her in the factory ("She's nice to watch when her machine-belt breaks. | She has such delicate hands | And arms, it takes | Ages for her to mend it"), there was Gwen Harwood (1920 - 1995) in a century that Leakey never saw; and before her there was Ada Cambridge (the same Ada Cambridge), with two books of hymn lyrics (Hymns on the Litany (1865), Hymns on the Holy Communion (1866)), then The Manor House: and Other Poems in 1875, Unspoken Thoughts in 1887 and The Hand in the Dark: and Other Poems in 1913, the verse or hymnal form compelling her at first to write with thou and thee and o'er but then she overcomes the thee and thou; her attachment to the flesh asserts itself and thee retreats, still there but less so, these two things happening together in Unspoken Thoughts, the thee and thy appearing while she's approaching one of her key points then disappearing when she makes it:

Whence did we come? And is it there we go?
We look behind -- night hides our place of birth;
The blank before hides heaven, for aught we know.
But what is heaven to us, whose home is earth?

Flesh may be gross -- the husk that holds the seed --
And gold and gems worth more than common bread;
But flesh is us, and bread is what we need,
And, changed and glorious, we should still be dead.

(from The Shadow)

A thud on dead, like a brake or anchor, and the opposite of Marie Pitt: her gallop-a gallop-a rhythm of always-renewable triumph.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

with the sunny smile of innocence

She has named the first section of the book, "Shadows of Death" and added a quote by Tennyson, "The shadow passeth when the tree shall fall," from Love and Death (1830): "Life eminent creates the shade of death; | The shadow passeth when the tree shall fall." "'Shadows of Death' are a series of thoughts which were presented to my mind during a long illness in Tasmania. Some of the poems perhaps are -- or rather appear -- of a wild and wilful nature; but I give them a place here, in order to show to greater advantage those which breathe the better spirit of resignation and trustfulness."

This for the first poem, Sonnet:

Oft have I sought in vain a cause to trace,
That to mine anxious heart would kind reveal,
How it can be that I should saddest feel,
When gazing on fair Nature's lovely face,
Bright with the sunny smile of innocence;
How it can be that yon rich sloping field,
Pleasing mine eye, should to my spirit yield
Fresh dreams of sadness -- a still deeper sense
Of emptiness; and how the flowers' bright glow,
The joyous song of birds, the murmuring bee,
The laugh of childhood ringing merrily,
Should all bring heaviness. But now I know, --
For Death doth ever linger on the stair
Of earth's best beauties and of things most fair.

Her "long illness" was a fever and a diseased hip, says the Australian Dictionary of Biography. "[F]ever, followed by hip disease and other complications, and for ... five years was an invalid ... confined to the house." But the poem does not mention an illness, the poet is healthy, no hip explains the "dreams of sadness," the condition is universal and constant, "Death doth ever linger," the poet has searched "oft" for alternative conclusions, they are speaking earnestly; the Caroline Leakey behind the poem was not earnest, she was creating an effect, she was miming dead ends ("How can it be ...") when she had a reason for her own "series of thoughts," which was her illness, but she would not offer it to the poet, who could have contemplated it, even if they rejected it ultimately, she left the poet to struggle on, confused, sad, riddled and infested with these ideas that had been borrowed from a woman who was not well enough to travel outside a front gate that was not even hers but her sister's husband's, who could not visit "yon sloping field," who was kept away from an immersive experience of everything that should have made the poet happy.

Why am I depressed, wonders the poet, not knowing that they are being pretended. They are not too sad to ride through the poem on a recurring s-sound, going pause-s pause-s starting slowly with one or two esses per line, sought and then the middle of anx[say:ss]ious -- building to fresh dreams of sadness (mad slither) then winding down again to a slow-paced -s, finally no s: s in the process of departing as the last line ends.

A person who came across this poem would read about the birds, the animals, the fields, the sunshine, and probably believe that the writer was in fact out of doors all the time and wandering a long way in every possible direction to suck in as much of Nature as possible since they never mention the hall, the bath, the kitchen, the garden wall, the wardrobe, the fireside, or any other accoutrement of Leakey's actual restricted domesticity.

I imagine that this "I" is suffering from an implacable doom that they will never understand because they are participating in a masquerade, and the poem they are really in, is a dream of not being physically crippled.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

earth denied

But Doris, fascinated by death, is not alone, Catherine Martin is not alone; the idea of death recurs in the colonial-era writers I've been reading, death is an atmosphere around them, especially the poets, who often kill their characters in the narrative poems --

The bell-bird called to its tardy lover,
The grebe clouds all to the west had sped,
But the river of death had a soul crossed over,
The man with the swag on the bank was dead.

(from The Lonely Crossing by Louisa Lawson -- I suspect that the writer went through the effort of killing this man just for the pleasure of writing about the bell-bird and the grebe cloud and the rhyme of "sped" and "dead" -- the irrefutable neatness of that tump-ta-tump -- and I would suggest, too, that the potential creation of that irrefutability, which is a small mimickry of immortality -- a species of immobility so strongly heavy that it puts the brakes on time itself -- might have been a large part of the poem's demand on the poet's imagination, and that any kind of pity for the possible internal physical or mental strife of the fictional swaggie played no role, though he is "A silent man, on the road alone" )

-- or the narrator tells themselves that life is done but heaven will be happy (Happy Days by Mary Hannay Foott: "And, -- in horizons hidden yet,-- | There shall be happy days") -- there are poems of suicide-longing long before them: "To see God only, I goe out of sight ; |And to scape stormy days, I chuse | An Everlasting night" (Donne, A Hymn to Christ); "O for that Night ! where I in Him | Might live invisible and dim!" (Henry Vaughan, The Night) -- the ancestors of Doris.

Then Caroline Leakey (1827-1881), author of Lyra Australis, or Attempts to Sing in a Strange Land, a book of poems in which almost every page mentions death or else God, who in Leakey's formulation is more or less the same thing by implication because she believes you have to die to seriously enjoy Him, which you will want to do since life is miserable after you have finished childhood (A Young Mother to her Infant: "But, oh! sweet babe, a time is there, | A time of joy for thee, | Ere yet the withering touch of Care | Hath chilled thy young heart's glee;" other poems about careworn adults, "unconscious children in their play," and

The subtle toil,
And shameful soil
Of sorrow, sin, and strife
Cannot out blot
The purer lot
With which it started into life;
And not wholly is destroyed,
But with baser dross alloyed

from To the Evening Star).

Death is an aim, not an obstacle; it cures life.

"What earth denied, -- a father's tear-sought love, --
She now has found in perfectness above:"

from Dora

In 1847 Caroline Leakey boarded a ship for Tasmania where her sister had preceded her, in 1853 she returned to England and the poems she had written for her own satisfaction in the southern hemisphere were published, first in London, then the following year in Hobart, which in those days was Hobart Town but the end part of the name was declared redundant like everything eventually, horses, hand-knitted socks, night soil men, the word "Town" too, and maybe other parts of other words, no set of letters sacrosanct, no phrase utterly safe, a century of transformation for the area, convicts then no convicts, the solid stone roads they built remaining for the time being yet surely not forever, though the one near the Prosser River in Orford (named for Horace Walpole, who was the Third Earl of Orford) on the east coast is "in a remarkably well preserved state. Very easy to find," providing "a delightful and authentic historical walk from Orford along the northern riverbank ... and takes you to the ruins of the Paradise Probation Station."

It was her friend Francis Nixon, the first Bishop of Tasmania, who told her to approach a publisher. These are good, he must have said, reading about the death of a woman named Mabel. "The winds were bleak -- they smote her, and she dropp'd."

The Bishop's mansion lasted less long than the convict road, it's gone; the Quakers built a school there.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

that unknown incommunicable depth

Doris in The Silent Sea commits herself to death but she is not to blame; the author doesn't weigh the action as if it is an action; the book doesn't treat the action as if it is a conscious piece of willed behaviour undertaken by an actual person or fictional person-representative even though, in the plot, it is in fact that absolute thing; she decides to ride the cart through that scrubland for a reason that should have been an active reason; in another character it would even have been a heroic reason but in her it deflates. With the threat of her own importance coming towards her she shrivels up and dies.

Instead her innocence is stressed, and her hints about death are treated as if they come out of her as passively as wet stool.

Which panics me when I read it; the author has hamstrung her character, she is being kind and killing her, which is so sinister; the actions of the author horribly mimicking a liar.

It is terrible for a woman to be like that, hints Catherine Martin earlier in the book when she has a character write to Doris' mother, "She has been sheltered and reared as within convent walls; and up to a certain age this may be right for girls; but she is now over sixteen," yet the prose itself continues this conventing of her; it describes her Lulu eyes, "confiding wide-eyed gaze of a child," "her slender rose-tipped fingers," her toylike activities, "Doris put down the little pink dress and went to the piano" -- the hero isn't knocked for preferring her; it's treated like a normal fact of nature and he's a healthy man -- the equivalent in Middlemarch would be Rosamond, and the hero's attitude to her is Lydgate's attitude toward Rosamond, "That is what a woman ought to be: she ought to produce the effect of exquisite music."

In Martin: "The face and form, so exquisite in their beauty and innocence, seemed to him a type of that spiritual loveliness which man worships rather than dreams of possessing."

Rosamond Vincy is an efficient animal, which Lydgate cannot see, and there's the disaster waiting for both of them, but Doris doesn't have this trap-jaw part of herself or anything else in its place (references to "that unknown incommunicable depth of inner personality" but no follow-up), she's a death-wish girl, and the hero can see it -- because she keeps talking about it -- and she's placid and gentle, which the hero can also see, and the author doesn't make her anything else.

(Her mask is genuine.

"Doris saw him drawing towards her, she turned to meet him with grave simplicity, without hesitation or embarrassment. ‘I was so sorry, after you had gone on Saturday evening," she said" -- this is all true.)

Martin suggests -- hints -- that the ideal maiden is not ideal -- but she doesn't violate her by psychological-descriptive frottage, the way Eliot treats Rosamond; she leaves her to witter almost unmolested by complexity and then she does her in.

She is a character whose movements all are treated as if they were happening without her, and as if they were brought into her by outside forces until all that was left for her was an opinion about the whiteness of an orchid. "All white flowers are so lovely." Like the death lily. And there are meaningful representative remarks about hothouse flowers compared to "those that grow out in the sunshine, and in the light of the moon and the stars—where the birds sing, and the dawn comes red into the sky over the tops of the trees." These are the words of Doris herself, who might be saying, I prefer not to be this hothouse flower. But she has been exposed to birds singing and dawn coming red into the sky over the trees (growing up in her wilderness garden) so if this is a hint then the hint is muddled; the poetry in "the light of the moon and the stars" has lured the author away from a decisive expression of her point, and even though Martin admired George Eliot for her "depth of philosophic thought" she has not paid her back by following her own thought to the depths or byways.

Ada Cambridge can look at a character behaving in a limp manner and in a straight voice she calls her cowardly; she even considers a difference between innate cowardice and cowardly behaviour: "she was, if not quite a coward, cowardly."

I think this is why I contrast them: here is one author who can state an idea brusquely, bring it out, turn it over, and think about it on the page, then here is another author who seems to be paralysed at the hinting stage: "that unknown incommunicable depth of inner personality" might as well be another standard gesture.

In my mind Doris is so aware of Catherine Martin steering her around that in her despair she has turned limp, she is waiting for the day when the predator will lose interest and let her drop from its jaws, and she is hoping that a reader will identify the cause of her limpness and say to themselves, "This is the waving arm of a kidnap victim signalling to me from the top window of a house while I walk by in the street."

Sunday, September 1, 2013

drain it, and make a little colony

Then I tell myself I have recognised another piece of Catherine Martin's personality to go with the fear of explaining herself too clearly, and I think, Perhaps she was a perfectionist, perhaps she was afraid of being wrong, perhaps she was afraid of fog, and these observations begin to represent themselves like clues, which is a tendency I might want to suppress, O this understanding that seems too easy, and Catherine Martin so dead so lost so long, forgive me I suppose, and not many biographical details of her in circulation: a regressive writer who published The Explorers under her initials only, M.C., and An Australian Girl anonymously, and then The Silent Sea as Mrs Alick MacLeod (she was not Mrs Alick MacLeod, her husband was an accountant named Frederick), until Dale Spender in 1988 looks at these names and says that possibly "she wrote even more but that it has not -- as yet -- been attributed to her" (Writing a New World: Two Centuries of Australian Women Writers).

Stella doesn't have the many-sidedness that George Eliot ("Martin also wrote of George Eliot with great admiration, speaking, for example, of Eliot's ‘superb individuality’, her ‘wide culture’ and ‘intellectual grasp’, and of ‘the depth of philosophic thought’ which characterised her works and which ‘marks a new departure in fiction’" -- Rosemary Foxton) gave to Dorothea Brooke, who could have sounded like a prig too if she had not been so naive and sincere that her own ambition makes her into a joke; she runs into a trap because she doesn't know how to recognise it. Then the ambition to live in selfless dedication leads her into an ignoble circumstance.

But Stella is not flawed like that, her refinement does not betray her, the problems come from the outside, they are not within, she meets a villainous woman in a drawing room, her high-mindedness is correct, it is the people around her who work to thwart her; she is not the villain as well as the victim though Dorothea is both those things, and is Don Quixote the clown-knight.

Martin's opinion, in the Mallee chapters, about the land being refurbished to grow fruit and corn, might have been a legacy of Middlemarch. Dorothea makes plans --

"I should like to take a great deal of land, and drain it, and make a little colony, where everybody should work, and all the work should be done well. I should know every one of the people and be their friend"

-- which is close to the position Stella finds herself in at the end of An Australian Girl. "Give me two hundred acres to cut up into little farms --" she says, but the book ends before the plan is allowed to work itself out.

Which could even be understood as a muffled reference to the hymn of the uncompleted life that comes at the end of Eliot's story even though the evidence for that assumption would never be perfect.

Dorothea is a range of characters inside herself; Stella is only one or maybe two. I begin to wonder if priggishness is the faith that you alone in all humanity have only a single flat clear side or dimension.

The prose agrees with Stella's opinions; she believes that Ted is not intelligent and the world provides clues to back her up; she would like to run away from him and the world justifies her feelings by making him an alcoholic. (The alcoholism was not there before. It was born from her desires. It was abrupt.) Her ideas about properness are allowed to structure the material universe and so this universe is a universal strait jacket. Martin hasn't given herself the freedom (does not want the freedom, in her heart of hearts: doesn't desire it, fears it?), the freedom that George Eliot takes for herself, to make her characters despicable, mistaken, or pitiful. Eliot's characters are to blame for their predicaments -- Dorothea is to blame for marrying Casaubon -- she did it, she was the one, but this blame breaks the reader's heart perhaps.