Thursday, January 30, 2014

a somewhat ludicrous fashion

Anne will be praised and pitied no matter what she does and Kombo will be sabotaged no matter what he does, surely for the same reason that Job in She is sabotaged, which is to avoid the humiliation or confusion that the author assumes would blossom throughout the book if the wrong kind of person became the hero; the cornerstone of wrongness, wrote Leopardi in his Zibaldone, is the inappropriate.

"Please, sir," he [Job] said, touching his sun hat, which was stuck on to the back of his head in a somewhat ludicrous fashion.

It is right of Job to wear his hat in a ludicrous fashion. He has sacrificed himself for the good of the book. But if the hero of She stuck his hat on the wrong part of his head then the author would look the other way; it would not be conceived, it would not happen, the hero will be rescued from the word "ludicrous," poor man standing there with his hat on his head at some nutty angle, begging to be noticed, the author resolutely staring out the window and whistling; the hero realising with a sinking heart that his antics will only be tolerated within certain limits -- he is not loved unconditionally after all. The reader of Fugitive Anne will never read this sentence: "Kombo turned from the gaze of the Priestess to meet Eric Hansen's pathetic eyes looking appealingly from his little white face, so child-like, and now so weary."

If the characters are facts in a metaphor that is meant to convey the ideals of a society that was not born in this novel and deserves not to have any influence over it (but actually has absolute influence) then Kombo will never see that Hansen has a "little" face, nor will he ever witness Hansen's eyes looking "pathetic," nor will Hansen ever be expected to react to a "pathetic" expression on Kombo's face with the kind of loving sympathy that we are meant to presume he is giving to Anne when she regards him with her face so child-like and now so weary, even if Kombo, also, looks child-like and weary as why should he not, on occasions, when he was a child once too, and has a normal set of veins, skeletons, muscles, etc, like everyone else in the book?

Eric Hansen is allowed to hold firm in his heroism, with one peccadillo when an Aca priestess decides to seduce him, but the seduction is a temporary lapse and he is allowed to explain himself, whereas Kombo will go on being a clown forever no matter how good he is, and Anne will go on being Hansen's little Chummy, "very childlike and very feminine," without a break, no matter how many chunks of scrubland she hikes through, or how many cannibals she outwits or brutal bullocky husbands she escapes by vanishing from her cabin with her friend Kombo's flawless assistance.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

to hear you talk

Eric Hansen is so obviously the hero that Anne shrinks down into his personal sidekick and Kombo is now the sidekick of a sidekick. "'No, no," she cried, 'I'm very stupid and ignorant, but I love to hear you talk.'" Hansen gives her a Kombo-diminutive and calls her Chummy. "Bear up, Chummy." "She was very dear to him, this little Chummy." Chummy has no diminutive for him. She calls him by his name.

She hands over the reins so willingly that this was the point where I began to wonder if she'd really done anything to help herself at all in this book, besides pose as a goddess by singing "Ave Maria" and trudge through the bush with Kombo; in summary, and, again, in spite of this "brave, noble," etc, language, was her behaviour made of nothing but walking and singing? From what is she prohibited by her position, from what is Kombo prohibited, how are they hedged, what barriers and boundaries exist discreetly there in what is not said, how are those boundarylines presented or formed?

(Say that Kombo behaves bravely without being allowed to keep hold of the word "brave" while Anne is always attracting the word "brave" but rarely gets to behave in ways that would have earned it. So that there always appears to be a split in Rosa Praed, between the way she thinks the character should be, and the way they are. There is an unconfronted essential division.)

It has taken all of her strength just to bear up through the advanced strolling activity plus the shock of the surprises that she comes across, which is not very impressive for the protagonist of an adventure novel though it would be reasonable in real life -- hiking for days through steep scrub and bushland would wear you out, of course it would but she is not really doing it, she is a thing in a book and a thing in a book can walk for as long as it wants without being tired since it is not walking or even moving a step -- so then I started to have idle theories and ask myself if it was likely that Rosa Praed found herself sympathising physically with the idea of Anne and asking, through the medium of the book, for authentic help from the other characters, which she felt, as a genuinely hurting person, she deserved. "Hansen turned from the gaze of the Priestess to meet Anne's pathetic eyes looking appealingly from her little white face, so child-like, and now so weary."

Anne is tired like this on several occasions, the other characters noticing her tiredness and responding to it -- Kombo fetching her food for example -- heroines in Praed's other books also feeling wrung out by their excursions (Lady Bridget in Lady Bridget in the Never Never Land "did not seem able to bear any more. Her head drooped upon her hands, her shoulders heaved convulsively," and the narrator herself wilts desperately in the autobiographical Romance of a Station) -- there's something about the spectacle of a worn-out woman that moves Rosa Praed, or haunts her: she returns to it; even lying in a deck chair is too much for the woman in the first chapter of Countess Adrian and she goes down to her cabin forsooth. I think later she gets attacked by a vampire but I haven't gone that far.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

the brightest coloured

Anne has an Aborigine servant or friend or follower or just general sidekick if you prefer, who is called, for some reason, Kombo. "Anne ... had known Kombo since her tenth year." Kombo: what a name. And yet the author gives the other Aboriginal people or spirits or clans more authenticish and dignified names like Moongar, Karraji-Wiràwi, Mununduala and Multuggerah. The only other character with a name that comes close to Kombo's is a wife of his who appears for a chapter or two; her name is Unda. Her name may only be Unda because his name is Kombo, the names of partners needing to have a roughly similar sound, after a Papageno/Papagena kind of logic.

Why is his name Kombo? My guess, which is based on his subordinate status in the book and the fact that Praed associates him with words like "humourous" and "ridiculous" is that it's meant to be a free-floating familiar diminutive and remind you, on a more or less subliminal level, of circus names like Jacko the clown or Jumbo the elephant. The os and the b might also (this is a long shot) owe something to the presence of the name Job in Rider Haggard's She, because Fugitive Anne (1902) is riffing off She (serialised 1886-1887), and Kombo's role in one book is Job's role in the other book, a useful companion but still the comic relief.

I think Kombo is playing a replacement Cockney.

"And in truth Kombo was made of heroic stuff, and would not have been undeserving of honour in the ancient days of chivalry," writes Praed, but she qualifies his heroism in ways that sabotage it, oh, heroic, "the brave boy," but also ludicrous, he's lecherous, he's ignorant, he's superstitious, he's greedy, he wants to wear clowny clothes, "the brightest coloured of the tunics," "Kombo's interest in the rock-city, the booths and braziers, and above all, the Aca women, was uncontrollable and farcical in its expression," and yet he's also "intelligent," "clever," "Kombo's agile wits had already jumped to the situation," "Kombo's quick intelligence had grasped all points of the situation," "Kombo's comprehensive plan was the best in the circumstances," he has a sense of humour, "In their keen sense of humour, she and Kombo were at one," he knows how to survive in the bush and still the author won't stop undermining his heroism and his intelligence, deciding that he is somehow clever and ridiculous in patches, however she needs him to be at any particular moment, this motley presentation eliminating any chance he might have had of competing for dignity with the Danish explorer, Eric Hansen, who is presented so steadily that even Anne-the-heroine retreats when the Dane re-enters the story firmly at the end of Volume One determined not to exit again; we saw him last at the end of chapter two or three, I think, and now it's umpteen chapters later. "This man was a big Dane, tall, muscular, and determined-looking, with a short fair beard and moustache, high cheek-bones, and extremely clear, brilliant, blue eyes."

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?

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?

Sunday, January 12, 2014

looking fixedly

So there's humour in a disability, I mean Ruskin thwarted, but Ruskin with his skill is showing himself thwarted; the paragraphs are his triumph over a defeat that he is pretending to have (say that he only pretends to have it so that he can win, suggest that all writing is winning, and that the hapless compulsion to write in Beckett's narrators is the hapless compulsion to win, life's betrayal of the loser), the physical matter of the world is against him (but revenge!, he calls its bluff), it is the comedian: it presents him constantly with girls when he wants forty male thieves, the shapes of bodies standing between himself and any evidence of the world's sympathy for his desire for men's presences, just as the physical world stands in front of all artists and indeed in front of all spirits as they steer around in their skeletons wondering what is going on and why doesn't anything work as well as it should and "how did any man twist away | soul-free from that shining," asks Geoffrey Hill (who believes in Ruskin and has mentioned him in poems. During one of his Oxford lectures he notices that he is in the place that Ruskin and Carlyle occupied over a hundred years before, and he says so, and repeats it), contemplating the substance of underground coal and the miners who worked it, in his homage to Wales, Oraclau/Oracles -- art is one of the refinements of that -- the idea is hovering in front of the inner eye but in the outer world the wood of the stretcher has cracked or the studio is out of glue or your rock falls off a truck, as happened to someone I know when it was too late to do anything except continue with the installation in spite of the crack -- the spirit saying, go on, go forward with my idea, while the body tries to cope with this rock or this stretcher bar -- and Ruskin discusses his inabilities more or less often, though not as often as John Cowper Powys in his autobiography, who will tell you that he is useless at this thing or that thing, or that he looked ridiculous in this situation or that situation, or that he is "a sadist" and "perverse," and crippled by his ulcers, he spits, he dribbles, he is constipated, and for years of his adult life he wants to eat nothing except bread and milk in a bowl, he is motherless, even though he had a mother, Mary Cowper Johnson, descendent of Cowper the poet, and what I mean when I say "motherless" is that he never mentions her and can anyone tell me why or do I need to hunt down Descents of Memory: The Life of John Cowper Powys by Morine Krissdottir to find out, because it is strange, in an autobiography, to tell us that your father had ten more children after yourself, the first, without mentioning the mother who gave birth to the eleven, never saying that she existed in any capacity or form, never using the words "my mother" in connection with yourself, and never explaining the omission, as if a country reverend could give birth to eleven children on his own, or pluck them off trees, or find them in the font, or do some other harmless, painless thing that produced or procured children somehow, which is ridiculous, and yet the assurance of John Powys in this matter never cracks; and there has never been a writer who more casually and naturally neglected to mention his mother.

"What object whatsoever he fixed on, were it the meanest of the mean, let him but paint it in its actual truth, as it swims there, in such environment; world-old, yet new and neverending; an indestructible portion of the miraculous All," wrote Carlyle in The Diamond Necklace (1837, a few years before the first volume of Ruskin's Modern Painters), asking for the dignity of Things ("looking fixedly at the Thing"), dignity given through the quality of attention being paid, and this attention I believe is evidence of love: a love of any Thing, the love more important than the worldly importance of the Thing ("were it the meanest of the mean") but we must have love. Give it and give it until the world drowns in it, then the rising water will pull the objects up in our estimation, is my reading. The Thing will swell. It will be a treasure. Love for everything and the whole life dedicated. What work. "I am nearly convinced," writes Ruskin in The Elements of Drawing,

that when we see keenly enough, there is very little difficulty in drawing what we see; but, even supposing that this difficulty be still great, I believe that the sight is a more important thing than the drawing; and I would rather teach drawing that my pupils may learn to love Nature, then teach the looking at Nature that they may learn to draw.

Powys the author does not look at any mother although Powys the boy must have looked at one. He gave nicknames to the inanimate objects around his house, seeing spirits in them. He had a set of respectful manners for his walking stick. "Our buried giant," Hill calls him. "Of the eyes that men do glare withal, so few can see." (Carlyle)

Thursday, January 9, 2014

he cared for any manner of spectacle

Cockroaches in Las Vegas will appear in the middles of walls, though the thrips sit on the windowsills and at the edges of things; the cockroaches, however, arrive at the centre of a white space with no evidence of their approach, they are always just there at the centre, appearing, as if they have come via spaceships, invisible chairlifts, and so on, in the same way that Ruskin has appeared here suddenly, and I know (as the cockroach knows how it got there) that he is appearing because Tom at Wuthering Expectations and Scott G.F. Bailey at Six Words for a Hat were discussing him a short while ago.

I am still thinking, then, of the way that the attention of a writer expands and contracts in different areas until literature is a sea creature opening and closing its valves, Cambridge expanding into the area of touch, Praed expanding into the area of sight; Cambridge not expanding massively into mood-landscape, and Catherine Martin, however, happy to expand into that area (paragraphs from one, a line or two from the other), Ruskin expanding in Modern Painters when he comes to mountains, and then contracting in Ariadne Florentina when he comes to the Indian artwork, "a black god with a hundred arms, with a green god on one side of him and a red god on the other," contracting down to the word "damnable," and those variations on damnable, "pestilential" and "loathsome," his whole self snapping shut at the sight of an Indian god.

(He has had the same opinion of Indian artwork everywhere I've seen him mention it.)

Also, in Time and Tide by Weare and Tyne, making fun around the idea of expansive deduction itself when, watching a troupe of Japanese jugglers perform on a London stage, he chooses a few impressions out of their act, adds them together, and presents you with a ridiculous patchwork idea of the Japanese -- ridiculous on purpose, because he wants you to understand that the popular entertainment the contemporary theatre gives to its people, is not worthy of them. "There is base joy, and noble joy." He wanted noble joy but London gave him base joy. He went looking for shows on a Thursday and a Friday evening in the February of 1867 and found these jugglers on Thursday and a pantomime on Friday. "These, then, were the two forms of diversion or recreation of my mind possible to me, in two days, when I needed such help, in this metropolis of England. I might, as a rich man, have had better music, if I had so chosen, though, even so, not rational or helpful; but a poor man could only have these, or worse than these, if he cared for any manner of spectacle."

The pantomime was, as I said, 'Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.' The forty thieves were girls. The forty thieves had forty companions, who were girls. The forty thieves and their forty companions were in some way mixed up with about four hundred and forty fairies, who were girls. There was an Oxford and Cambridge boat-race, in which the Oxford and Cambridge men were girls. There was a transformation scene, with a forest, in which the flowers were girls, and a chandelier, in which the lamps were girls, and a great rainbow which was all of girls.


Presently after this, came on the forty thieves, who, as I told you, were girls; and, there being no thieving to be presently done, and time hanging heavy on their hands, arms, and legs, the forty thief-girls proceeded to light forty cigars. Whereupon the British public gave them a round of applause. Whereupon I fell a thinking; and saw little more of the piece, except as an ugly and disturbing dream.

Humour here in expansion and contraction hugging together, the contraction of everything into the word girls (and lesserly into the word forty, which links or unlinks rhythmically with girls) and then the expansion that makes the contraction visible (saying it again and again); the potential field in which anything could be mentioned being thwarted by the actual composition of the pantomime, which was the only one given to him in the theatre where he had chosen to sit, and all of life going stop-start, stop-start, little imitations of birth and death if you like, little resurrection comedies. "I am like a man in a box," he explains without saying it. "Whichever way I try to go in the world, all it hands me are these girls along with the number forty." Everything is so strange and arbitrary. Why should it be forty? Because it is Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. But why forty?

Sunday, January 5, 2014

etiolating and moderating influences

Critical theory -- from its beginnings in the work of Marx and Nietzsche -- sees the human being as a finite, material body, devoid of ontological access to the eternal or metaphysical. That means that there is no ontological, metaphysical guarantee of success for any human action -- just as there is also no guarantee of failure. Any human action can be at any moment interrupted by death.

(Boris Groys: Under the Gaze of Theory)

I'd argue that Cambridge is a writer who senses and reacts, not a writer who reasons, but she is a prime noticer of interruptions even at the end of A Humble Enterprise when she has spent her book leading up to a marriage, arranging the marriage, getting rid of oppositions to the marriage; now she begins to wonder if she should be happy because she has succeeded. "Also, however well a marriage may begin, nobody can foretell how it will eventually turn out." The marriage could go wrong, everything could go wrong, the world could explode tomorrow; Proust points out that the sun might kill us all next weekend.

People pursue their pleasures from habit without ever thinking, were etiolating and moderating influences to cease, that the proliferation of the infusoria would attain its maximum, that is to say, making a leap of many millions of leagues in a few days and passing from a cubic mili-meter to a mass a million times larger than the sun, at the same time destroying all the oxygen of the substances upon which we live, that there would no longer be any humanity or animals or earth, and, without any notion that an irremediable and quite possible catastrophe might be determined in the ether by the incessant and frantic energy hidden behind the apparent immutability of the sun, they go on with their business, without thinking of these two worlds, one too small, the other too large for them to perceive the cosmic menace which hovers around us.

How is Ada Cambridge going to stop progress, which is the book itself? Calling on "nature, who is the mother of all wisdom" she finally shuts herself up. Nature believes in marriage and nature says that marrying was the best thing the characters could do. An appeal to nature as a fixed finite authority, recognised by everybody, this is how she puts on her brakes, by becoming Rosa Praed for a minute. The spirit of finity is Praed's friend; it has to come to Cambridge, she has to summon it, for once, like a genie that will get her out of trouble.

(I'm going to modify "she doesn't reason" by saying that she does reason (she makes equations out of thoughts, "this plus this plus this") but the expectation that she will come to a conclusion perplexes her; it amazes Ruskin too, when he thinks about it --

Do you suppose I could rightly explain to you the value of a single touch on brass by Finiguerra, or on box by Bewick, unless I had grasp of the great laws of climate and country; and could trace the inherited sirocco or tramontana of thought to which the souls and bodies of the men owed their existence?

-- even though he comes to conclusions constantly and in the same book, Ariadne Florentina, calls an Indian painting "damnable" without any more reasoning than, Because it is:

Giotto or Raphael could not have made the black more resolutely black, (though the whole color of the school of Athens is kept in distinct separation from one black square in it), nor the green more unquestionably green. Yet the whole is pestilent and loathsome [...] entirely damnable art.)

Thursday, January 2, 2014

the tale of his marvellous exploits, and those of his wife

When I think about that quote ("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 ...") it strikes me more and more that Praed (in all of the books of hers that I've read) will often write as if you had asked her the question, "How is this character being evaluated by the people around them?" which in Fugitive Anne means that there is a supporting cast of extras who initially disregard the heroine and then change their minds.

There are the passengers who try to ignore her on that ship, and there are the cannibals who are united in a decision to eat her until she sings Ave Maria, which convinces them that she is an earthly representative of Mormodelik, Spirit of the Pleiades. "The warriors continued their dance, but presently stopped too; and now the whole congregation gazed at her as she stood on the raised ledge, her head level with the point of the boulder; her grey habit the colour of the rock itself, falling in straight folds round her; her brown face upraised, with its delicate aquiline nose, its little square chin, and its shining eyes all aglow; her lips tremulous with excitement."

The people on the ship and the cannibals here forming a united group of converted doubters. Later they will be thematically at one with the lost tribe of Ancient Mayans and several nations of Europe. "This was the Danish explorer's first appearance as a public lecturer in England, though in his own country, and in Germany, he has related before several learned societies the tale of his marvellous exploits, and those of his wife the Baroness Marley." (Anne is the Baroness.) "It is an open secret that Lady Marley and Mr Eric Hansen have been received with favour in high places."

The groups notice her, they acknowledge her, she has given them her evidence and they have accepted it, though there is a danger that the cannibals will get tired of her singing and eat her anyway. "In her misery, she wondered whether the time would ever come when she should fail in bringing down rain or in frightening away the tribesmen's enemies; and whether they would then denounce her as a false goddess, and roast and eat her as they were eating the dead warriors of the Pooloongools."

Change here being something you can foresee and dread, whereas in Cambridge you often do not foresee it: the train will arrive suddenly on top of you, or the man you're going to marry will unexpectedly hand you a tray, which is a way of looking at the world that is more in sympathy with a contemporary theorist's point of view than is Praed's appeal to the fixed order of aesthetic appreciation, so firm and universal that even a group of people who have lived far away from Ave Maria can react as if they're acquainted with its reputation, even becoming a congregation: "and now the whole congregation gazed at her." Contemporary theoretical thought in general moving further towards the non-hierarchical, the less-fixed, and the volatility of the self, and Leopardi in the 1820s reasoning that the appreciation of beauty depended on acculturation, the Ethiopian, he said, preferring black beauty to white beauty because relevant experiences had naturally brought them to inhabit that point of view. Praed's cannibals have received experiences that have brought them into the same frame of mind (re. Ave Maria) as the Europeans whose bodies form a component of their nourishment at those times when they are not eating the Pooloongools. Here's the question that comes next: are the rumours about cannibalism's benefits true, and does eating human flesh really let you absorb the abilities-slash-tendencies of your victim?

(Has it occurred to them that by eating her they might acquire the singing voice?)

Praed dreads; Cambridge does not often dread; it is possibility of a universe of fixed statuses that gives Praed this dread, the expectation that a certain thing should be so (or: should be evaluated so) but what horror if it doesn't, what horror, what high stakes we're playing for as we wait here to get eaten; and the result of the evaluation is not completely under our control, no matter how much evidence we give, our grey habits harmonising with the rock face and our contralto pouring out, yet not enough, maybe.