Thursday, January 16, 2014

a living martyrdom, is better than none

Ada Cambridge (going back a few posts) decides that nature wanted her characters to marry. "She says that even an unlucky marriage, which is a living martyrdom, is better than none." Why should nature have any impact on book characters or any opinion of them: they are not natural but we are pretending, and if the sentences say that they eat like real people then the sentences can also say that nature wants them to get married like real people (the sentences can say anything they like), which means that we could add this faked Nature to the other impulses that we might see moving them or approving of them, elsewhere, earlier, in the same book.

Does nature want them to do other things, I wonder; did she want the protagonist to go for a walk on St Kilda pier in the evening, and did she make hints to the driver of the train that killed the father in the opening paragraph? Does nature enjoy the death of the father because the characters would never have been married if he hadn't died?

Other questions. Does nature like romance novels better than other novels? Is nature discriminating, or does style and characterisation not matter, as long as the characters get married? Does nature judge a novel solely by the number of characters who marry inside the novel? What is nature's favourite book? Can nature read? If not, why does Ada Cambridge care? Has she, by having the characters marry, missed her chance to defy nature without nature knowing about it?

Does Ada Cambridge believe that nature can read her mind?

Is she in fact correct, and is nature at this moment reading billions of books simultaneously by detecting the motions of our thoughts? Are the electrical discharges making its filaments twitch? Are our reading brains playing on nature like fingers on a piano? If so, then does nature understand Ada Cambridge's book as if it is a song? Why don't books have choruses?

Does nature prefer The Pirates of Penzance to any other piece of theatre?


  1. First, this is really funny. Second, if I understand the previous posts about this book, Cambridge uses "nature" at the end as a stand in for her beliefs about the people--the society--who'll be reader her novel, yes? So nature--in this limited sense of Ada Cambridge readers--might very well prefer anything by Gilbert and Sullivan to, say, La Boheme. But I get what you mean, that Cambridge's ending pulls this supposed idea of nature of out thin air and she obeys its dictates, applying some idea of "real" nature to fictional characters, as if the laws of nature apply to the contents of our imagination. She hems herself in, defeats herself in a way.

    Or maybe her publisher told her that the characters had to get married in the end. Did Cambridge leave a journal behind? It would be interesting to see what she thought about this, though that's cheating, to go beyond the boundaries of the book itself. But after my own experiences with publishing, I no longer believe that books necessarily represent the authors' intentions, so this subject gets complex for me pretty quickly. Still, your penultimate paragraph is really funny and I'd love to do something with it in a story sometime. I will probably steal it in a couple of years for my planned book about Chekhov, and by then I'll have forgotten where I got it. Apologies in advance.

    1. Well, somebody might as well do something with it; no need for it to lurk forever in a very little blog post in a very obscure blog. Let it get out and see the world. Cambridge wrote two autobiographies, but if she had private journals then no one's ever published them as far as I know. She barely discusses her writing, except to praise her readers for being such friendly people (she started correspondences with several of them), and to let you know that she has a writing desk, and that being an author gave her an excuse to duck out of the onerous heaps of duties that the churchmen used to pile on their wives, and that, after she was published, some of her more educated neighbours began inviting her to their homes. "If I have ever done anything to earn a respectable place in my profession I owe it to the awakening and educating influences that surrounded me at this time. My intellectual life was never so well-fed and fortified."

      But she published serially in newspapers and I notice that she does tell you that the editors of Australia's newspapers in those days were extremely proper.

      "With few exceptions (for which more or less can be said on the score of other good qualities), there is nothing in general circulation that is not almost austerely respectable. I have been told of an editor of high position who, if "darling" appears in a contributor's MS., crosses it out as an improper word, unfit for the family circle. [...] As with some other of our national institutions, the founders of our Press system were gentlemen. A standard of good taste and high-mindedness was set in the beginning, and the tradition of it remains a living force. "

      So she must have known (even if no one told her explicitly) that any story with male and female characters in it would be expected to end with them getting decently joined, and not with them running away together, or jilting one another, or deciding that marriage was the opium of the masses and they should live in a commune instead.