Monday, October 19, 2015
suddenly through the gap
Mudpuddle points me back to Sarraute's Age of Suspicion: Essays on the Novel, a book that I have come to realise describes Sarraute's own habits as well as those of the other authors she discusses. Over the course of her career her fiction grew more and more closely into the frame of pursuit she ascribes to Dostoevsky, "these attractions, these feigned withdrawals, these pursuits and flights, these flirtings and rubbings, these clashes, caresses, bites and embraces, to excite, disturb, bring up to the surface and allow to spread, the immense, quivering mass, whose incessant ebb and flow, whose scarcely perceptible vibration, are the very pulse of life."
"This is common for an author," I say to myself, "they see their own reflections," remembering the moment between four and five o'clock on Saturday afternoon when I looked at the preface to a 1951 Oxford edition of Sterne's Sentimental Journey, and noticed that the last owner of the book had written, "herself" in the margin with a pen next to one of the paragraphs. I turned to the end of the essay and the author was Virginia Woolf. "We hardly know what jest, what jibe, what flash of poetry is not going to glance suddenly through the gap which this astonishingly agile pen has cut in the thick-set hedge of English prose," she had written, the other person then beginning their pen-mark at "glance" but "glance" in this book is at the start of a line and I think this is the only reason why they have begun there; really they were reacting to "agile pen." They believe that Woolf had such a pen, and that it cut a gap "in the thick-set hedge of English prose." Later I saw a mark in the same ink next to a place where Woolf quotes Sterne, "I think I can see the precise and distinguishing marks of national characters more in these nonsensical minutiae, than in the most important matters of state," -- but the ink mark leaves out the end of the quotation, "where great men of all nations talk and stalk so much alike, that I would not give nine-pence to chuse amongst them," which may mean that they did not think Woolf had the same opinion of great men that Sterne did, or that it was not germane to their point. Next to it they have written, "All imp. to V.W." On another page there is a squiggled line next to, "It is thus that Sterne transfers our interest from the outer to the inner. It is no use going to the guide-book; we must consult our own minds." This time the person has not written the name of Virginia Woolf or put any note but I believe they are still thinking of her. She is in their minds so much that they have stopped using her name. She is implicit. At the end of the essay they have circled the word "must" in "but enough of must; it is not a word that Sterne was fond of using" and given it a long tail that runs into the margin where they have added, "yes thank heavens." This could mean that they think Woolf is too demanding or it may mean that they want to remind themselves of the thing she has done here in her essay.
If they are getting so comfortable with her that they are leaving out her name then they might have been at the stage where they want to talk back to her as well; stop deviating from my comforts, Woolf. The end of the preface is about to meet us both, I see it coming, I will tell you to shut up now, knowing that you will do it: nice: obey -- and she does. "Both the gentleman and the lady are trying to control the novelist’s perspective so that it shall resemble and reinforce their own," she wrote once, in her essay on Robinson Crusoe. The person who wrote "Asshole" against one of the villains in my copy of Radcliffe's The Italian knew that they and the author were in cahoots.