Sunday, December 22, 2013

in her cabin

I wrote that last post because I was still thinking of the opposite situation in Rosa Praed, an author who doesn't care particularly whether her characters touch or not, or whether a thing breaks and decays like the Ormuz or whether it neither breaks nor decays; and instead she thinks through her stories in a series of staging-areas where ideas and scenes execute themselves, a character presenting themselves on that stage with a set of attributes or happiness or sadness and the other characters observing them and reacting to that state, whatever it is.

Her ship in Fugitive Anne is too steady to ever throw anybody out like a ball from a bucket (as in Cambridge); it is a stable location where all of the significant characters have been brought together in a group so that they can be introduced to the reader. Once they are on shore they disperse. The author follows one group and leaves the rest. They come together again at the end of Volume One and again more fully at the end of Volume Two, when the story resolves itself and everyone is famous except for the dead ones and the Ancient Mayans who worship a tortoise.

If the Cambridge ship is an open ship with people in danger on deck then the Praed ship is an enclosure where people are supposed to be in their cabins. Anne has disappeared from her cabin. Everybody gets around to talk about it. "'Come,' said the Captain, 'it's nonsense to take it for granted that Mrs Bedo must have thrown herself overboard, because she isn't in her cabin.'" In Praed's Countess Adrian a character retreats from the deck to her cabin because she is "feeling shivery" even though the weather is "very fine," putting, with this one action, a long distance between her and Cambridge's characters who like to expose themselves to storms.

Praed tells you that her characters are noble, defiant, daring, bold, steady in the face of danger, and so on ("Brave and lighthearted as she was, Anne Bedo knew well enough to what dangers a woman might be exposed in the Bush," "he could well believe that she came of some grand old race, and that there ran in her veins the blood of heroes") -- she gives you these words -- but whenever the characters act or think you know that they'd rather be away in a respectable building somewhere, doing something civilised and fashionable with people admiring them ("it was to be fully expected that the young explorer -- himself a fascinating personality -- should form a centre of attraction for the representatives of fashion, science, and culture, who crowded the Albert Hall last evening"), and that everything else for them is a matter of going through the motions: they do not enjoy their adventures, they put up with them -- cleaning themselves as soon as possible when they find themselves dirty ("I'm dreadfully dirty. I want to bathe") -- so that the reader is like a guest at a party with another guest who wants to leave all the time, and the author is the host who keeps saying, "Just five more minutes," which was the situation at a Christmas party I went to a little while ago, with the guest of honour muttering, "There are only two more hours of daylight. I have no life."


  1. Happy Christmas. Looking forward to reading some of what I've missed in the New Year. Already intrigued by the Cambridge/Leopardi references in the last post. Leopardi I am familiar with, Cambridge not - but interested, because of what you've written so far. There's a lot of reading ahead.

    1. Merry Christmas. I've got a number of things I want to read as well (I picked up Robert Lowell seriously for the first time yesterday -- I have a copy of his Union Dead -- and now I realise that I want to know his work). If you only get a chance to read one Cambridge then Sisters might be a good one. Stay away from the poetry, I say: it's not likely to entice anyone.

    2. Did I tell you that, having never heard of her, after reading a post by you that first introduced me to the notion that this writer existed, I bicycled down to the library and went looking for something else - and, lo and behold, there on the recently returned shelf, was a volume by her. Have I just told an exceptionally banal story? It seemed surprising to me at the time but now, retelling it, hmmm.

    3. That's spectacular. I hope the other person liked her, the one who returned her. (I don't remember you telling me this before.) Which one was it? I know Penguin republished The Three Miss Kings in 1987 and I keep wondering if that's why it's not on the internet when so much else of her is.

  2. Love the mash-up. Sorry I've been pretty remiss this year and should have been keeping up better with your Aussie Classic posts. Your observation is interesting here. It makes me think about the authors ... Pas I recollect Praed had a much rockier life/marriage than Cambridge which may explain the in the cabin/out on deck response!

    Hope you're having a great holiday season.

  3. I'm finding it hard to read Praed without thinking of her marriage, because the ghost of that situation keeps returning to her work in different disguises. It's her model for oppression and escape. Here, in different books, with different names, is a sensitive soul, an artistic soul, kept away in the bush, or married to a thug, or oppressed by the wind on the deck of a ship, or otherwise not allowed to have the acclaim and friendship that she deserves and needs. "This is a fundamental wrong," Praed tells you. "This needs to be fixed."

    The irony is that it makes her, as an author, seem less sensitive and more repetitive and stiff than Cambridge, because her fictional heroines are all talented or extraordinary, while Cambridge's protagonists are in the more complicated and volatile position of normal misfortune. (That's how I pair them up in my mind, anyway.)