Sunday, October 20, 2013

the convict garment confirmed her statement

Caroline Leakey changes. Caroline Leakey will spend her time recording slang.

"Canaries, sir, just fledged."

Norwell looks up, but the butt-end of the whip is pointing down at a road-gang clanking by in their yellow clothes.

Clothes are important to the convicts in this book: a woman who wears one kind of petticoat has a certain place in the prisoners' hierarchy, a woman who wears another kind of petticoat has a different social weight. "Here Maida raised her gown an inch or two above her feet, and with the convict garment confirmed her statement." A convict servant is coming close to his ticket-of-leave day and he buys a wardrobe, "gaudy waistcoat," "boots ... which, by the help of new soles, had been made to creak an incredible amount of importance," a "startling blue cravat, and, lastly, he purchased a pot of 'genuine bear's grease' for the due anointing of his anti-convict's pate." The man puts his clothes on and feels satisfied. "The robing ceremony ... soon covered every untoward circumstance."

Another convict says:

"And I can't keep out of yellows no ways. When I think now for the greys! and I am just on having 'em, something comes along to get me into trouble, and it's a sight o' time 'fore I gets out of the yellows; I haven't been out of 'em yet for more than two months to a time."

Ada Cambridge lost and gained two languages between books. Leakey lost and gained her languages between chapters. Suddenly she is allowed to think about the convicts from their own point of view, not as though they are melodramatic but as if they are ordinary. (What allowed her?)

A power altered her as far as writing went, and there's no record of what that was, or how she discovered it, if she eased into it naturally and toned down without thinking about it too much (if the shouting pitch was comfortable in a poem but hard to sustain after twenty pages of prose) or if the act of writing brought so many memories back to her (of herself, staying with her sister's family, in the New Chum position she gives to the character Bridget, who is a naive Everyman for the reader to look through) that she felt that she was transmitting actual events almost directly, the artificial sugar of the melodrama superfluous now because she was not an artificer any more, she was a recorder, language and purpose moving together like a pair of cogs, and the gossipy dialogue staring at the clothes, as she once stared at them, and as she might have been remembering herself staring.

Herself, years later in England, playing with the idea of being a convict in those clothes.

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