Sunday, December 8, 2013

and so I am

The absence of adaptive flexibility here fascinates me: once the subject matter changes then the style has to change as well, into a different mode that must have felt right (felt Vidal) for the non-Austeny classes; that mode is high physical shouting drama, raving misery, characters going mad, and the "melancholy cry" of the curlew.

But she awoke, and had quite an access of delirium, screaming and talking, knowing no one, but always insisting that she was going on some weary journey, among trees, with nothing to eat, and a very high wind; and that Jack was free, and was expecting her. Then she looked at her stained arms and hands and shuddered, exclaiming at her horror of blood.

The lead characters among the convicts are ordinarily desperate and either frantic or cruel in ways that do not have any correlation among the Austen people, who, when they suffer, do it without madness or visions of blood. The Austens have probably read Shakespeare and the non-Austens haven't, but it is the dying non-Austen whose literary bodily self gets miscegenated with Ophelia, with Lady Macbeth, and with repetitive mad-person lines that have been written for spoken-acting voices. "Yes, yes; I'm ill, am I? Well, and so I am. That's odd," she says. (Repetitions in Shakespeare: "No more o' | that, my lord, no more o' that," "It is the cause, it is the cause, my soul," "Now, now, now, now:" all tether-ended people gone frantic, closing in on death.)

And her Jack is driven into a cul de sac that seems doomed and fated, which is not a state that afflicts the Austens, but it does affect people in Shakespeare as well as the Ancient Greeks and Romans who were at the mercy of their spiteful gods who came down and shot your tootling sons with arrows because you had insulted them. In the same Ancient vein, one of the characters in a Vidal short story from Tales for the Bush discovers (when the author gives him the words to say so) that his wife has died from a lingering illness because he did not go to church. The convicts and workers in Bengala are closer to Vidal's early people than to these later Austenesques; they are closer to plays and poetry and the Austens are closer to prose.

So the characters, like two sets of alien species who have landed at the same time on an identical planet, live in at least two different behavioural worlds. Those worlds can touch one another: the people from the Austen world can put the young woman from the drama world to bed and try to cure her ("Miss Terry gave her some nourishing drink") but she is true to the world of poetry and she dies calling for Jack and her mother.

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