Sunday, January 19, 2014
seized with a great trembling
"[I]t is the dictum of nature, who is the mother of all wisdom." Thus the book closes (A Humble Enterprise), and maybe all the fixed finities in the world are threats of an ending; the cannibals in Fugitive Anne might decide, let me imagine, not to doubt Anne's godhood, ever, no matter what she does, and by doing that they will fasten her in that role, keeping her there, and Anne, married at the start of the book, might have been trapped with her bullocky husband forever if she hadn't escaped from her ship's cabin, and then, when she is the priestess of the Permanently Ancient Mayans (who are known as the Aca if I'm remembering that rightly), she might have been stuck with them in their caves for the rest of her life if the same bullock driver husband hadn't come along through the bush looking for her. "Then, seized with a great trembling, she swayed dizzily, and might have fallen, but for Semaara's sustaining arm." Soon they are trying to feed her to the holy tortoise or throw her into the volcano, as is the Ancient Mayan way.
She is always being shunted into these positions (wife or priestess or god) that could have immobilised her indefinitely (kept in a cave as the goddess, kept in convent or temple as the priestess) if some change and shock had not been allowed to enter the story, whereupon she is no longer a goddess, no longer a priestess, not really a wife, so forced to move on into another state of discovery, where she will be pushed, eventually, yet again, into a further cul-de-sac, until she reaches the one the author was looking for, which is the Albert Hall and the British aristocracy. There she is allowed to rest. Yes yes, says the author, I'll let you stay in this one.
Fugitive Anne is made out of periods of stasis broken by violent disturbances that Rosa Praed, through her characters, dreads, and yet nonetheless she needs them if her adventure story is going to get anywhere. She likes to write those paragraphs of frozen stage scenery (I've mentioned them before), the heroine standing in front of the rock face with her chin tilted up, her grey clothes, "delicate aquiline nose," etc, an aesthetic photograph, the details perfect, the effect perfect, then movement thwarts it, "a spear, hurled down with unerring aim, struck the ground a few paces from the outskirts of the mob."
Stiffness in her scenes, so why not the liquid tremblingness that I recall when I think of stage-scenes in Mervyn Peake -- the setting of the scene around the lake at the end of Titus Groan, with the reflective drop -- why -- as if it is all in abeyance only temporarily and ready to move again -- then why does Praed seem static and eternal, as if Anne's chin could have stayed up there forever with the same perfect tilt?