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.

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