Monday, April 20, 2015

stag-headed men, winged lions

Will, will ... and now I'm re-reading E.R. Eddison -- the second of the Zimiamvia books -- whose characters have a more basic and elevated sense of will; they are kings and ladies waging war bravely, and very ruthlessly and gaily, staring calmly at death; and they are a little like Malory but less fallible, much less fallible, because the fall in this fantasy world, the end of this one form of the social order, is not the collapse of a loving clique. It is betrayal by someone whose utter nature is betrayal, as we have known ever since he was introduced, and the person he betrays knows it too, and ditto the betrayer’s sidekick, his family, other members of the nobility, the people he has made treaties with -- nobody trusts him -- and so you cannot say that it is a shock. And yet Eddison makes a similar point to Malory, that what he calls "beatitude" can't survive in the world as it is. His fantasy world "is like the sagatime, there is no malaise of the soul." So he said in a letter. "A very unearthly character of Zimiamvia lies in the fact that nobody wants to change it."

He lists lovely things in the fantasy world but not the real one (when his characters are in the real one):

Hedgehogs in little coats he beheld as household servants busy to bear the dishes; leopards, foxes, lynxes, spider-monkeys, badgers, water-mice, walked and conversed, or served the guests that sat at supper: seals, mild-eyed, moustachioed, erect on their hind flippers and robed in silken gowns, brought upon silver chargers all kinds of candied conserves, macaroons, fig-dates, sweet condiments and delicate confections of spiceries; and here were butterfly ladies seen, stag-headed men, winged lions of Sumer, hamadryads and all the nymphish kind of beck and marsh and woodland and frosty mountain solitude and the blue caves of ocean: naiad and dryad and oread, and Amphitrite’s brood with green hair sea-garlanded and combs in their hair fashioned from drowned treasures of gold.

And wants to enchant you with precision, which opposes him to the "always" that Dorothy Richardson was criticising in that quote a few posts ago. The always in his work is a now. Now there is a hedgehog. Now there is a hawk and it is hovering over a field where there are poppies. Now there is a diamond on a column. And seems to grasp hold of this presence so desperately, with these rows of notations, like gravestones passing by me as I read. So that it is like walking through a cemetery.

Richardson, on the other hand, wants to integrate a beautitudinous frame of mind into the world as it is, or perhaps I'll say that the fantasy is just better disguised in her book and not naked; Eddison's books with their longing on display are naked in that sense but not naked in other ways; the characters are invulnerable. They’re inclined to the fastidiousness that is a sign of will in Richardson as well, that casually hyperattentive ability to feel that a certain XYZ is right and therefore it must occur. One man, Lessingham, released from a dungeon, tells a servant to take his shirt away and burn it, because a shirt that he has worn in a dungeon is not a shirt that should exist. This is in the middle of a thousand other things that are going on and you’d think they were more important than the shirt but the detail of that shirt is necessary to his well-being – not just thrown away but eliminated. And these wills are holistically perpetual, and they need to endure as they are for the authors' peace of mind.

(How can I guess that? Because they both reinforce them so often, and they are both so aware that they are fragile events that need to be protected. The real world, in Eddison's book, exists in a zoo-cage bubble that can be popped with a hairpin, but the reader knows that this is the opposite of the truth. It is the book itself that can be closed away, and that will exist only in the memories of the people who have experienced it.)

In Villette though (going back to that), the invulnerable will is in danger of being melted and that is deeply exciting, not bad nor good but both and neither -- which in Eddison would be an unambiguous disaster, I think you can say, after reading that letter -- the will, in Vilette, is embattled from the inside of the body it lives in – it – may – concede to the outside – and then – some miracle -- the fall is not a fall but a swooping-up. (Will, character, and worldly pressure, are going to war in that book.)


  1. By the end, this post has become too idea-rich to withstand comment, so I will leave this as a substitute.

    Great stuff.

  2. The fact that Bronte's ideas about will were so absolutely different to the wills in the other books (even though they were also so similar) was something that hadn't fully struck me before I brought her into this, but now I've got a new respect for her ambiguity and her willingness to get herself disturbed by this risk of will-suicide. (And now I'm having unformulated thoughts of Knausgaard as a low-key clown-Bronte, immolating himself too.)