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."