Thursday, June 12, 2014

truth must be alive

You can call them gossip if you want, those posts of mine about Cavendish, since they are less about her books on the whole and more about the other people who have circled around her. I wouldn't have written like that if I hadn't looked up the essay by Woolf when I was writing the first post. I am not blaming Woolf for my tangent though I say again (third time I think) that she was relying too much on rumour, and on Firth's opinions; and her argument took precedence over the instructions that she gave to biographers in The Art of Biography. “His sense of truth must be alive and on tiptoe.”

If she had read Whitaker's book then she would not have written the essay that she wrote, and the sentences about Margaret Cavendish in A Room of One's Own would not have been the same sentences. “She shut herself up at Welbeck alone,” would not have gone on the page without modification.

But her conclusion could have stayed the same. “No one taught her.”

Cavendish herself was not alive to truth when she wrote her husband's biography. Look at the inconvenient facts she ignored, says Whitaker, listing a few of them. You'd never know that the Cavendishes rackrented their tenants. And Whitaker, defending the subject of her research against the world's Woolfs, must be writing her own book of gaps. How do I evaluate the information when she shows me, contra Woolf, that some of Margaret Cavendish's contemporaries praised her behind her back? Is this decisive evidence in Cavendish's favour or are they the exceptions that prove the rule?

Next I opened Buddenbrooks. After a while it struck me that this was a book of gap-characters, because Mann described them so often and from so many angles. Sometimes he would describe their clothes, sometimes he would go inside their heads, sometimes he would ignore their heads and speculate on their ideas as if they were unknowable, sometimes he would be the god-author and sum them up, sometimes a sentence would agree with their wrong ideas about themselves, sometimes he would give them a tic. “Herr Kesselmeyer stuck his thumbs in the arm-holes of his waistcoat and played piano on his shoulders with his fingers.” He could edit these angles all day. There the people are, at the centre of big flocks of pecking detail-birds, in this mimicry of a biography.

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