Sunday, December 29, 2013

by the magic of her voice, she had carried each man back

That's the difference between the two authors in a nutshell, there, Praed's characters looking for a stable and idealised place which in her books is obtainable or at least you can graze it (Anne, a singer whose voice enchants the people that the author keeps describing as savages, "in truth ... seemed like some goddess of their own race, suddenly descended incarnate among them"), the plot points arrive like proper plotted plot points (which is radiantly ideal) and so on, while Cambridge does not have those ideas, the opposite of stability is what occurs to her though she likes good butter and I think she'd get along well with the people in Bengala, loving food as she does, as long as she doesn't get started on sex and touching, two things they're not so good at. They stay luxuriously and undangerously in food. "The rest of the party passed in, impatient for tea."

The characters in Cambridge's Humble Enterprise are skilled at food. "Not a pot of ill-made tea nor a defective scone was ever placed before a customer by those conscientious tradeswomen."

The protagonist in Fugitive Anne doesn't descend to the construction of a scone, the food is left up to a designated servant like the food in Pride and Prejudice, and instead the heroic Praeds (divorced from food and elevated) tend to be good at opera or speaking Mayan, or other acknowledged exotica: she depends I think on the acknowledgement of the social, networked or interlaced world, and on the expectation that this world will have trained her readers to think that a character who has a hypersensitive soul (Countess Adrian: "the young lady's soul might well be likened, as in Dryden's metaphor, to a rare and well-tempered blade fretting in its too delicate scabbard") or whose singing can drive the audience into "awe-stricken silence" is automatically interesting.

(Whereas Cambridge will ask the reader to consider the difficulties that they themselves have encountered in their kitchens when they have tried to make perfect scones: this talent exists on the same plane as the reader while opera singing exists on a plane above, as though the character is on a permanent theatrical stage or pedestal inside the book -- I recall the emphasis, in Praed, on the act of looking, which is also an act of presentation, the author occupying both sides of the equation -- showing Anne a dead body and inhabiting her reaction as well. "She understood now. God of mercy! That this thing should be!")

A set of words like "awe-stricken silence" will fill in the gaps for the reader of Praed, they will be entranced -- so that the backbone of the bushland adventure narrative is the existence of urban standards, or, to put it another way, the endurance of a certain subspecies of memory, tradition and love -- or, to put it yet another way, not that at all but something else -- the fear of appearing ignorant because you do not recognise a worthwhile object when you see it -- and in the real world the reader (theoretically) would be entertained by the opera-singing person and respectful of their respectable gifts, so in the book they will respect them too, and pay attention, and decide that they are worthy, though the person on the page is never going to entertain them with even a half a second of actual noise, still the characters who can hear it are clamouring for it.

They had none of them believed in her voice, till one Sunday, when the Captain held service, she had poured out her glorious contralto in a hymn. Afterwards, they gave her no peace till every evening she sang to Eric Hansen's accompaniment on the old cracked piano in the saloon. Then, by the magic of her voice, she had carried each man back to scenes on shore--to opera-nights in Sydney and Melbourne, as she had sung airs from Verdi and Rossini and Bellini ...

(Faced with this not-even-spectral scene the readers will live up to the nonexistent not-even-ghostly standards of the ship's passengers and give the singer their attention, or I believe that's the idea, anyway. Perhaps they will begin to daydream they are her, and perhaps the author is already dreaming the same.)

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