Friday, December 30, 2016

furious attempts, by drum and trumpets

We are a handsome couple – pleasant to be with – because we are courteous and polite toward one another.

(Thérèse Kuoh-Moukoury, Essential Encounters, 1969, tr. Cheryl Toman)

Afterwards he told me that his situation internally was always this: it seemed to him as if on some distant road he heard a dull tramping sound, and that he knew it, by a misgiving, to be the sound of some man, or party of men, continually advancing slowly, continually threatening or continually accusing him; that all the various artifices which he practised for cheating himself into comfort or beguiling his sad forebodings, were, in fact, but like so many furious attempts, by drum and trumpets, or even by artillery, to drown the distant noise of his enemies; that, every now and then, mere curiosity or rather breathless anxiety, caused him to hush the artificial din, and to put himself into the attitude of listening again; when, again and again, and so he was sure it would still be, he caught the sullen and accursed sound, trampling and the voices of men, or whatever it were, still steadily advancing, though still perhaps at a great distance.

(Thomas de Quincey, Society of the Lakes: Charles Lloyd, from The Collected Writing of Thomas de Quincey, Vol. II, 1896, ed. David Masson)

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

to show you where a particular place is

She was glad in autumn 1952 to hire a deaf housekeeper to whom she didn't need to talk, because out of the silence emerged some fine new paintings, inspired by her New Mexico life. She painted the head and horns of the handsome, half-tame antelope that was shot after it had tragically gored the Packs' governess to death.

(Laurie Lisle, Portrait of an Artist: a Biography of Georgia O'Keeffe, 1980)

this fundamental organization so evident that to show you where a particular place is, an apartment in a building, for example, they don't use your position at the moment as a reference point, but the constants of the landscape identical to the cardinal points, those absolute landmarks which even the walls of a room can't hide; and that, consequently, they will say to you, Take your first left, then turn right, but, Take the first street to the east, then turn north, go up the stairs, and it's the south door; that at the table one will even speak of a chair that is to the west of another chair.

(Michel Butor, The Spirit of Mediterranean Places, 1958, tr. Lydia Davis)

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

one who gave appearance

For Moreau was treasured above all by men of letters. To them he was one who gave appearance to their convictions and a recognisable décor to their world, a world dominated by anxiety, mistrust, and premonition.

(Anita Brookner, Incantations to Inertia, from Soundings, 1997. "Moreau" is the painter.)

I love the figure of the emperor in Hans Christian Anderson's The Emperor's New Clothes. I am convinced that he knew he was naked and he just wanted to stun the population.

(Terayama Shuji, Anderusun no 'hadaka no osama' wa sugoi nikutaibi data, quoted in the introduction to his short story collection, The Crimson Thread of Abandon, tr. Elizabeth L. Armstrong)

Monday, December 26, 2016

curious Dialogues

True culture operates by exaltation and force, while the European ideal of art attempts to cast the mind into an attitude distant from force but addicted to exaltation.

(Antonin Artaud, The Theater and its Double, 1938, tr. Mary Caroline Richards)

In short, from Morning till Night, they did nothing but quarrel; and there passed many curious Dialogues between them, which I shall not here repeat, for, as I hope to be read by the polite World, I would avoid every thing of which they can have no idea.

(Sarah Fielding, The Adventures of David Simple, 1744)

Sunday, December 25, 2016

accompanied by the images of sites

Proustian persons never let themselves be evoked without their being accompanied by the images of sites that they have successively occupied. Sites, moreover, that are not necessarily only those where they have really appeared. For to the series of real places where the hero remembers to have seen them there is added the image of the places where – even before they were encountered in flesh and bone – the hero dreamed of seeing them.

(Georges Poulet, Proustian Space, tr. Elliott Coleman, from Modern Critical Interpretations: Remembrance of Things Past, 1987, ed. Harold Bloom)

The eager look – on Landscapes
as if they just repressed
Some Secret – that was pushing
Like Chariots – in the Vest

(Emily Dickinson, The Tint I cannot take – is best, from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, ed. Thomas H. Johnson)

Saturday, December 24, 2016

smiling at the dead ashes of their fires

Little by little the mass of half-dead humanity became so dense, so deaf, so torpid – or perhaps it should be said so happy – that Marshal Victor, their heroic defender against twenty thousand Russians under Wittgenstein, was actually compelled to cut his way by force through this forest of men, so as to cross the Beresina with the five thousand heroes whom he was lending to the Emperor. The miserable creatures preferred to be trampled and crushed to death rather than stir from their places, and died without a sound, smiling at the dead ashes of their fires, forgetful of France.

(Honoré de Balzac, Farewell, 1830, tr Ellen Marriage)

In the mean-time, however, he fitted up a room in a cottage near the new building, and by degrees made little improvements in the cottage till it is become so comfortable that though the large house is finished, he has no wish to remove, and seems, indeed, to have no motive, as the Cottage is large enough to accommodate himself and his mother and sister and two or three friends, and as they are all pleased with the snugness and comfort of their present modest dwelling – indeed, he often regrets that he built the larger house …

(Dorothy Wordsworth, Letters of Dorothy Wordsworth: a Selection, 1985, ed. Alan G. Hill; from a letter to Lady Beaumont sent on Thursday, December 28th, 1809)

Friday, December 23, 2016

not enjoyed but consumed

Apprehension such as these frightened her into forbearance: but in teaching her prudence they did not endow her with contentment. Her hours lingered in depression and uncertainty; her time was not enjoyed but consumed; her faculties were not enjoyed but wasted.

(Frances Burney, The Wanderer, 1814)

I sing Lely
Who burnt no tower
But brought the sea-bed
Into flower.

(Raymond Garlick, Note on the Iliad, from Anglo-Welsh Poetry 1480 – 1980, ed. Raymond Garlick and Roland Mathias)

Thursday, December 22, 2016

an underworld composed

the powdered bone man brayed his beasts into eventually
became Goofy and Mickey and Donald, clotted eidola
flittering about their cages in newspapers, books and films,
empowered with the wrath of a sanitized underworld
set loose with the power-lines of media,
an underworld composed of all the hydras, manticores, gorgons
lamias, basilisks and dragons, and it is from this perspective
that the shadow of every duck is shaped like Donald
and that Donald has the power to leave the duck
as hagfish are said to leave their lairs at dusk
to all night long bore into the souls of children.

(Clayton Eschelman, The Tomb of Donald Duck, from The Name Encanyoned River: Selected Poems 1960-1985, 1986.)

And likewise I myself again, just the day before yesterday, after the knife blade snapped back and almost severed my index finger, revealing all the layers of flesh down to the bone, while I held the hand under the stream of water, waiting for blood, methodically brushed my teeth with the other hand.

(Peter Handke, My Year in No-Man's Bay, 1994, tr Krishna Winston)

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

he had, much against his Will, appeared

Mr Hervey, not yet recovered from his Surprize, stood some Moments considering the strange Scene he had been Witness to; and in which he had, much against his Will, appeared the principal Character.

(Ann Lennox, The Female Quixote, 1752)

Privacy is a sort of 'self-ownership' that society inherently and to a greater or lesser degree threatens.

(Jennifer A Wager, Privacy and Anonymity in Evelina, from Modern Critical Interpretations: Evelina, 1988, ed. Harold Bloom)

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

off they went together

They made no sound, no shriek, no Whoo!
- off on a long-forgotten journey.
- The adventure's miniature and ancient:
collaboration thought up by a child.
But they obliged, and off they went together.
The owl's claws lock deep in the rabbit's fur,
and the owl seated
a little sideways, his mind on something else

(Elizabeth Bishop, The Owl's Journey, from Poems: Elizabeth Bishop, 2011, ed. Saskia Hamilton)

In his mind's eye he saw the events he had experienced; he saw the new deed through which his soul had suffered.

(Stefan Żeromski, The Faithful River, 1912, tr. Bill Johnston)

Monday, December 19, 2016

reloaded at the railway station like tiresome, badly packaged goods

As I did last year, I'll make these posts of paired quotations from books I've read over the past twelve months; and they won't be necessarily the best books, although some of them ... the books that tell narrative stories fairly straightforwardly will be mostly left out, I think, as will the poems needing specific indents and staggers that I don't know how to code.

If – If what, madam? and he snatched my hand, bowed his face upon it, held it there, not looking up to mine. I could then speak – If thus urged, and by SIR CHARLES GRANDISON – I did not speak my heart – I answer – Sir – I CAN – I DO:

I wanted, I thought, just then, to shrink into myself.
(Samuel Richardson, The History of Sir Charles Grandison, 1753, vol. 6, ch XXV)

Yet how grotesque it was that as we made our way to the Gnigl sportsground to compete for our athletic awards we passed hundreds of severely wounded war victims, many of them almost totally crippled, who were being reloaded at the railway station like tiresome, badly packaged goods! Our whole treatment of human beings is grotesque, and nothing is more grotesque than war and all its concomitant circumstances. Even in Salzburg there was an enormous notice over the concourse of the railway station stating that WHEELS MUST TURN FOR VICTORY. One day it fell apart and simply collapsed on the heads of the hundreds of dead underneath.

(Thomas Bernhard, Gathering Evidence: a Memoir, 1985, tr. David McLintock)

Friday, December 9, 2016

touch the flowers

As I come to the end of Fleur Jaeggy's Last Vanities, 1994, tr. Tim Parks, I want to say a quick thing about the sixth piece in the book, The Twins, which achieves something that the other stories are chasing with less success. The style itself is quick march or blast-blast-blast, inserting the next idea directly ahead of you and letting you walk into it as if the story is a path that you are condemned to follow once you are set in place. Twins is different from the work of Robert Walser, which it resembles slightly, in that Jaeggy places things impatiently, not politely, but like him she will find an idea in or around whatever she has just written – it does not have to be the point of what she has written, only a stray thought or a word. She will uphold the enough-ness of a hint.

On the first page she mentions a cemetery.

A notice warns: Do not touch the flowers. In the German-speaking regions of the Alps flowers bud and bloom in furious haste, only to wither slowly, lazily. They too seem unhappy about strangers, for they change colour at the approach of eyes from another world, as if seized by frenzy. When the hay is gathered in, all the meadow flowers are mowed down, perhaps prematurely. Having snipped off some stalks and made them at home in a glass under the glare of an electric light, a poet compared their demeanor and gesturing to the abandonment of Saint Teresa as imagined by Bernini.

After a while a pastor comes in, travelling up to the Alpine town to do something – you learn that he is going to conduct a funeral service for a St Bernard. He shouts "Pagans!" Then we have the pastor's wife and a taxidermy owl that she buys because no one in Chur will stuff her dead cat. The word "owl" seems to come from nowhere, like "St Bernard"; for she is buying a stuffed something (the author has already followed this dead cat idea to a taxidermist's, now what?) and the something needs to be identified as a kind of thing. This is not the sort of writing in which objects are not named. So some noun is necessary, an animal noun because it had to be able to die, and some animal small enough for an average-sized Swiss-German woman to carry away from the shop by herself.

There is this idea of words being compelled to occur in the middle of the strict style, but it happens rather vaguely, as if the apparent confidence of the voice is all on the surface and underneath it is not sure of what it wants, exactly: why shouldn't it still have gone on if this had not been an owl.

Jaeggy is compelled to thrust against the Teutonic nuclear family in her stories again and again, which gives her a slight Jelinek smell. The pastor's wife is the latest sufferer. Her husband is saying "Pagans!" in the direction of the Twins, but now that the wife's misery has become accessible to the author she veers onto it for a while, going through the cat, the owl, sustaining the now-familiar repressive-family theme like that. (It's disappointing that she doesn't completely forget the Twins since it would have underlined her determination.)

What is this story getting at, you ask yourself; a meaning or point of view seems present yet evasive though you have a sense of it being there strongly somewhere because the author (in translation) is so plain, as if she is laying down facts that should not be avoided. The story itself is an action that gets you into the air.

Let me add that on Saturday evening I went to see a poet. When someone in the audience asked her to describe "your inspiration" she told us that the letter in the poem she had just read had been sent to her by a friend who used one word twice, close together (as we had noticed while she was reading it aloud). As soon as she encountered that replication, she said, she felt so happy with it that she had to find a reason to show it to the rest of the world. Then she wrote the poem as if she were putting a frame around a picture, though the ostensible story it had been made to describe was the afterlife of her dead mother.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

act then existence

"I am now very much looking forward to your review," said Bill from The Australian Legend, so I'll write one. The People with the Dogs is a book about a man, Edward, who has enough money to thrive but feels unsettled. His family owns a large country property, Whitehouse, where everyone is welcomed. Edward often lives with his tenants in one of the two New York City boarding houses he inherited from his parents, but participation in communal living spaces is not enough: the book believes that he requires some sort of sharpening, a new habit of decision followed by action, "for decision is the little magic word that existence respects," said Kierkegaard (tr. Alastair Hannay) when he wrote his own 1846 review of Thomasine Christine Gyllembourg-Ehrensvärd's Two Ages. Kierkegaard is never mentioned but that sentiment is the conscience of Stead's book. And you remember this from her other work. You recall that the important event at the end of The Man Who Loved Children, 1940, is not the outcome of Louie's decision, whatever that will be, but the decision itself that shakes her loose from her family; and Jules Bertillon in House of All Nations, 1938, seduces everybody and is forgiven by everybody because of his busy willingness to jump after schemes. Bertillon's bad-souled counterpart in A Little Tea, A Little Chat, 1948, talks but is essentially static.

The feeling of Dogs is that life presses against human beings from behind and they are going to rush forward in some way. The push is multifarious rather than singular: it is not attributed to society or biology, specifically, and definitely not to a desire for financial advancement, which has been eliminated by the family's casual bohemianism and mild wealth. Moving forward in the forward movement of time is a phenomenon that you, as a creature, cannot avoid, a strangling vine grows over Whitehouse, and the love of dogs is introduced as a contrast to the love of humans, to marriage: the moment of decision. Love comes in different forms. It is not only marriage. Marriage, however, is the decision-making form that represents progress and therefore a moment of relief. "If … the individual will not act then existence cannot help. To be like that king, Agrippa, on the point of believing or of acting, is the most exhausting state imaginable if one stays in it for too long." Kierkegaard again. Edward's girlfriend Margot has been trapped for eleven years, calling him "cruel," because he cannot move out of that "exhausting state." Alongside him there are people who have tried to stay with past attitudes (the old anarchist, Philip) and people who are trying to push on but failing (Margot). Yet you see that marriage has brought other people to the same kind of life as unmarried ones; the moment of relief is not everlasting. A communal arrangement provides the anarchist's sister with tender care as well as neglect and Edward's married sister also experiences care and neglect. The period of decisiveness is the reward, not the state of marriage. Around everybody there is movement, movement, movement. The "deep peace" of Whitehouse is mentioned several times but the place itself is introduced with a riot of action; and the poverty and troubles of the countryside's farmers are brought up, and the generous family is also selfish and careless when they sneer at the delivery boy who tries to escape from their snapping dogs. As usual in this author, every setting is a situation in flux; multifarious, unstable, contradictory, built to resist singular conclusions and summaries. Much later, in 1979, when the journalist Rodney Wetherell from the ABC asked Stead if she left Australia as a young woman because it was stifling her she said no, it was because she liked the sea; when he asked her if she was a feminist she said no, she did not believe in it; and when he asked if she was a professional writer then she said no, she was not that either. When he pointed out that she had published a "long line of books which make you appear to be a professional writer" she said yes, writing was something one did because one did it, but she was not it.

Monday, November 21, 2016

howled in unison and singly

Witnessing a suggestion made in the comments thread for the review at ANZ LitLovers of Christopher Butler's Modernism, a Very Short Introduction, 2010, that the "non-stop extravagant talk" in The Man Who Loved Children, 1940, might be "aiming for … getting to the essence of a person", I thought I would say something about the nature of speech in The People with the Dogs, 1952, since this was the book I had said I would read for Lisa's Christina Stead Week.

It seems to me that the words depicted as spoken in this book are not being treated like meaning-rooted revelations of personality or with surprise we discover that the person secretly feels such and such, so much as material substances that a character can regard like wood, cloth, marble or anything else that can be made into a participatory, functional, chairlike shape for other fictional phenomenon to observe, ignore, and sit on. Conversation is a sculptural object. Speech reiterates the person's position in the crowd and the form that their participation takes, and is less concerned with any idea of an inner, ineffable self; or else the connection between these two things is constantly stressed by the author until the sense of refraction between them is almost automatic.

Speech's function is to form an act of transition that adds to what Kate Webb refers to as Stead's method of dialectics, the multivalenced collisions of her atmosphere, or what another LitLovers comment on Man refers to as the book's way of making you feel as if you're living next to noisy neighbours. The character Lou remarking "H2O or K9P?" as he looks at a puddle of water from the boiler is not making himself known by saying interesting word-meanings but by creating a playful shape.

He is the only character who is associated with this letter-number way of speaking. And is also reasserting himself as the one in the family who dislikes dogs. This is not news to anybody, but the reassertion itself is part of his role in the larger symphonic arrangement of the family's tics. Then the weather is symphonic and there are dog-symphonies: "The dogs let out a roar, and howled in unison and singly in the hills." Victor-Alexander has lived among birds and his voice "hurried out of his mouth like their trilling." A bird chooses a tree by the window so that it can sing back to Mozart being played on the piano. Many characters engage in performance, the very poor puppeteers and amateur theatre companies, the famous singer Vera; Solo and his band, the brother who is known as Suttinlay because he "once acted a Southern gentleman in a play and said, "Sutt-in-lay, suh," Lydia the actor, Edward with his stage dialects, and this idea of performing, acting, and presenting oneself among people. Victor-Alexander adjusts his presentation whenever someone outside the family can understand him. "If anyone came who understood him, he spoke faster and faster." 

The characters don't necessarily speak to one another. Lou is not saying "K9P" to anyone. They have conversations directed at the conceptual idea of an audience, even when actual people are present. Where is the locus of meaning when Lou says K9P? The terror scene near the end of Shirley Jackson's Hangsaman, 1951, is created partly through a sudden recalcitrance of information. Why is it being stolen from us? In Max Jacob a series of events become dreamlike by the retraction of the source of change between one state and another. The lodging of that change somehow deep within the text, unspoken, as between shots in a montage. See also, election promises.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

A comparison between the language in a description of a Charlotte Smith conference held at Chawton House Library, Chawton, from the 14th to the 16th of October, 2016; and the language of Smith’s own Elegiac Sonnets, and Other Poems, 1827 (a posthumous collection).

innovative … original … beautiful setting … ground-breaking … excitement … burgeoning … innovative … informative … beautifully … stunning … beautiful locations … wonderful … fascinating … inspired … enticing … lively … profitable … bright … engaging … very enjoyable … particularly enjoyed … very fine … wonderfully innovative … fascinating … home-made lavender shortbread biscuits … incredibly talented … wonderful … charming … insight … progress … magnificent … beautifully … insights … innovations … achieved

doom'd … delusive … thorn … pang … mourning … frail … tyrant … melancholy … woe … sorrow … fate … victims … cruel … disastrous … sad … wretched … sufferers … death … despair … woe … sorrowed … wearied … toiling … sad … pain … fear, anxiety … sad … fade … pale … farewell … tortured … pain ... rankling … wound … delusions … sadness … despair … pangs … shun … taunts … tears … cruel … deceit ... barbed … scorn … lost … delusions … pain … sorrow … sad … aching … anxious … screaming … gloomy … mournful … shipwreck’d … faint … feeble … exhausted … dies … forbids … wither’d ... doom’d … wound … unhappy … sad … grief … sadness … decay … blighted … vain .. hopeless … culpable … grief … dust … bitter … deplore … trembling … ashes … ill-omen’d … harsh … tyrant … despair … maniac … haunt … thorns … poison … gulf … helpless … grave … fatal … sorrow … tears … mournful … pitying … melancholy ... hopeless … despair … pain … weeps … endure … death … faithless … drear … howl … raves … trembling … fade … despair … die … tomb … sigh … suicide … tremble … embalm … dead … mournful … hopeless … guilt … despair … deplore … worms … pain … hapless … vain … mourn … pitying … sorrows … lament … sighing … sorrow … thorns … wretched … wound … wretched … rue … pain … folly … misfortune … vain … fears … oppress … profaned … Folly … disdain’d … sorrows … frail … fades … blast … wounds … misfortune … severe affliction … gloomy ... sorrow … sighs … tears … stain … unfit … arduous … tearful … mourner’s … hopeless … Sorrow’s drooping form … faded … lonely … sad … pangs of sorrow … dread … careless … sighs … mournful … bewail … sighs … sadden’d … melancholy … toiling… burden’d … troubles … fears … tears … regret … languid … beating … bitter … vain … cares … weak … little worth … false … ills … poor … estranged … regret … fruitless anguish … sigh … die … fainting … thorns … roughness … sorrow … unhappy … clouds of evil … sickening … weary … tomb … pale spectre Care … weak … dissolving … tears … cruel … harsh … condemns … unpitied, unrelieved, unknown … delusions … aggravated pain … mournful … wane … deep depression … enfeebled … grief … vain … sullen … cheerless …gloom … exhausted … wretched, hopeless … sorrows … tortures … guilt … bleeds … vain remorse … tumultuous … unfit … death … languid sufferer … die … anguish … vain regret … misery … sallow … ruins … mourn … sobs … wither’d … shrieking … pain … vulture … unhappy … bleak … unfriendly … cold, barren, desert … thirst … hunger … repine … fearful … hopeless … decline … heartless pain … blank despair … fail … lost … woe … delusive … toils … feeble … shrinking … dead … grave … vain … rave … warring … doom’d … opprest … gloomy … farewell … thoughtless … deplore … sorrows … resign … hideous … deserted … drear … sighing … discordant … spoiling … deface … fading … dead … sad grave … murder’d … false … depart … suffer … suffer … anguish … wearied … sad … vain … sorrows … forget … calamity … prey … affliction … mournful … tomb … gloom … opprest … fruitlessly repine … resign … sorrow … tears … silent grave … farewell … deluded … regretted … unfruitful … scanty … desolate … solitude … drear … cheerless gloom … faultering [sic] … unhappy … fades … tempests scowling … apall’d … oppress’d … alone … desolate … unblest … anxious … trembling .. recoils … woe … shivering … regret … parting … dreary … sufferer … waste of joyless life … deplore … forgotten … past … extinguish’d … blank void … hopeless pain … my soul depress’d … pathless … oppress’d … forgetfulness … weary … evils … torturing, savage foes … trackless … howl … waste … dreads … hideous … hollow … trembling … woe … death … horror fraught … desolate dismay … starless … heavy … dangerous … pains … pittance … tawdry … hated … shudders … disgust … spectre … hopeless … insanity … grim … comfortless Despair … victim … faithless … dire … hideous … corrosives … fatal … traitor … untrue … wounds … endure … vain … curse … pain … spirit-wounding pangs … guilty … illusions … dreary … gloom … errors … deplore … long-lost … tortured … pain … agonies … deceived … callous … woes … dread … threatening … gloom … Tempest … terrors … deplore … fatal … conflicting … burst … warring … rave … accurst … ruthless … grave … shrieks … horror … trembling … wretched … despair … threatening … tomb … sorrows … frantic … wept … dust … curse … lost … tomb … grave … unheeded … vain … fruitless … death … agonizing pain … cruelty … dread … mangled … demons … despair … death … peril .. dead, disfigured … wretch … unhappy … deafening … delusion … frantic pain … tears … anguish … despair … vain …dead … horrors … despair … death ... desolation … injured … transient … delay’d … droop … tomb … jealous … doom … thorn … cruel … frail … fade … anger … fatal … wretched … unhappy … vice … folly … storms … lost … discord … death … warring … faithless … savage … blood … venal … sickly … grief … pined … threaten’d … rob … destroy … frowns … sighing … mournful … palsied … denied … raves … faint … trembling … woe … sever’d … wretch … heart-struck mourner … convulsed … anguish … despair’s intolerable weight … frantic … death … pain … deplore … cold, cold … wounds … sigh … anxious … useless … pain … hapless … mournful … scorn … saddening, sickening … dread … neglect … denies … death … transient … anguish … dying … blights … gaudy … sorrow … oppressor’s wrong … despondency … regret … exhausted … robb’d … grave … fiend Despair … anxious … evils … tempests … fainting … tear … sorrows … pain … grief … sorrows … hapless … sad … calamities … gale … garish … offends … ill-omen’d … mournful … dread … evils … lamentation … delusive … wounded … woes … sick … transient … drear … shuddering … woe … enfeebled … cheerless … unblest … pain … vain … dying … wan … waste … desolate … weary … sad vicissitudes … care … doubt .. despair … faded … thorny … wept … transient … vanish … fragile … fleeting … wither’d … barren … lingering pain …tepid … grave … palsied … woe-deprest … torpid … Despair … sad … broken heart … cold blight … bitter … bleakness … blast … sorrow … fade … mourns … deplore … corrosive … hollow … shock … sullen … desolate … wan … opprest … shuns … weep … shudder … aghast … forlorn … chill … howling blast … crumbling … ravenous … tempest … gloom … shun … mouldering … sadness … wretch … despair … bursting … wretched … fade … vain … mourn … hopeless pain … sullen … o’erwhelmed with grief … tears … pallid … trembling, dreads … sorrow … disease … embittering … plunder’d … wretch … wild … sighs … hoarse … lamentation … moody sadness … giant horrors … woe … chill … night-blast … sullen … gloomy … cheerless … frowns … lonely … bleak … mourn … gloom … death … thorny … sad vicissitudes … grief … tears .. scanty … Sorrow’s victims … anguish … grave … forsakes … chill … sullen … sad soul … sorrows … death … hollow … drear … gloom … suffering … miseries … tomb … anguish … deplore … loss … pathless … frown … unknown … capricious … woes … petty … tyrants … Oppression … die … died … mocking … veil … illusive flattery … dull … Sorrow’s … dissolve … leafless .. chilling … trembling … transient … untimely grave … tears … repine … regret … hopeless grief … weary … Violence … Fraud … tired … tear-swollen … trembling … Melancholy … vainly … Sorrow … forsook … lurid … troubled … accursed … bad … abject … parasite … bled … dead … dark plague-spots … demons … death … destructive … mangled … dying … pollute … spoils … blood … forsake … saddening … mourn .. hopeless … crush’d … bitterest anguish … bleeds … sorrowing vigil … weep … poor … mould … time-worn sufferer … evil … threatening woes … friendless … houseless … sigh … coffin … tear … sorrows … sickness .. oppress’d … death … wretch … outcast spurn’d … penury … death … insulted … doom … thorns … chill … howling … scowling … lonely … tears … repining … anxious … deceiving … distresses … blighted …grief … sorrow … storm … victims … sad … dreading … miseries … anguish … hostile … doom’d … chill penury … languish … abject … soul-crushing … terrors … dreading … ruin … fears … mourner … woes … wretched … confined … poor ill-fated … transient … unshelter’d … raves … drooping … pain … vain … hapless … shatter’d … evil … precarious … vicissitudes … distresses … pains … lank … shiv’ring … sorrows … sick … howls … trouble … fears … nervous … rough … stubborn … weary … disappointments … luckless … regret … wept … chaotic … barren … troubled … rifted … frown’d … stormy … drear … tempest-beaten graves … Desolation … dead … fiend … sullen … demon’s … sterile waste … ignorance … toil … bleak … cold … cheerless … grim desolation … frown … blasting … ungrateful … death … scratched … croaking … clamorous … drear … widow’d mourner … melancholy … lone … up-torn … hopeless wretch … mourn … tears … dire … blotted … wild … torrents … fatal … accursed … infuriate … weak … grave … repels … rapine … savage … gasping sufferer … inhuman … half-drown’d … tempests … avarice … callous … weary … toils … fate … decay … despondence … blighted … death … sorrows … bitter … indigent, unheeded … deceitful … mercenary … decrepit … disfigured … sallow … gale … faded … lost … furious … fragile … prey … tremble … desponding … pale despair … enfeebling … shudders … blast … decay … accursed … sick … declining … died … sad … alone … sad … distress’d … dejection … tempests … depress … disfigure … gloom … mournfully … heavily … hopeless … fearfully … heart-sick … sad … wept … sullen moan … wretched … repentance … falter’d … forlorn … pain … cruel desertion … lament … forsake … woe … fear … vain fruitless tear … lament … cruel … anguish … disease … dead … plague-tainted … loss … sorrows … moan … pain … injured … tears … wither’d … miseries … dreading … scar … desolation … death … demons … war … melancholy … woe … sorrow … cheats … ungrateful … Grief … funereal … wretched victims of Disease … weary … weep … agonizing Pain … mourner … die … Sorrow’s pallid votary … crime … bondage … aching … broken … delusion … anguish … sad … sighs … dreads … suffering … woe … pang … treacherous … faithless … grief … deceit … ghost … hollow .. tears … thorns … molest … robb’d … deprived … weep … sad … sorrow … deplore … grief … griefs … wearied … tempest-toss’d … lost … sufferings … fiends … dejected Memory … mourn … regretting … withering … sickening … bleeds … cold … worn … dissolving … wretched … breathless … hostile … surly … trembling … Fear, frantic Fear … weak … repenting … die … Death … dread sound … murderous bomb … destructive … overwhelm’d … horror … mourner … drear … fatal … devastation … hideous … bleeding corse [corpse] … staggering … murder’d … raving maniac … calamitous … robb’d … screams …. cruel … cruel … curse … pain … agony … mourning … vain … dire disease … grave … coldly languish … devoid of joy … anguish … drag … woe … misery … tomb … fester’d wounds … grief … fatal … diseases … die … wretch … pain … abject dread of death … wretched … Despair … fears … die … poignant grief … dregs … woe … torturing pain … impoverish’d … Indigence …. wasting anguish … ungrateful … wounded wretch … deplore … death … joyless, cheerless … sick, reluctant … dismay … terrors … fearful dread ... grave

Monday, November 7, 2016

a Look of extreme Surprize

The Girl being perfectly recover'd from her Intoxication by the Fright she had been in, gaz'd upon Arabella with a Look of extreme Surprize: Yet being mov'd to respect by the Dignity of her Appearance, and strange as her Words seem'd to be by the obliging Purport of them, and the affecting Earnestness with which they were deliver'd, she rose from her Seat and thank'd her, with an Accept full of Regard and Submission.

What is the word “submission” doing in that sentence? It seems to go along by rote with “regard.” The situation that Lennox has written for the Girl is a dangerous one but as the story continues you see that -- she vanishes -- the author is uninterested in her safety. Still it is worth taking a moment to say that she submits. In the books of Marguerite Duras (I’ve been reading Emily L., 1987, The Vice-Consul, 1966, and The Ravishing of Lol Stein, 1964) submission is the sign of a great force that seems essentially disembodied, even though bodies are described carrying it. The anonymous woman in Emily L. appears to be frightened of, or depressed or repelled by, something that the author represents as writing poetry. She also might be in love. At least two forces seem to be either united or in combat against one another with this anonyme as a flashpoint. Herself, she's typically weary and still. But that doesn’t stop Duras using her as a territory where multifarious dynamics can feel themselves into being. Ann Lennox’s Arabella, who pictures herself as a heroic Romantic force, encounters the Girl who is described as a naval officer’s mistress,* and then there is this word, “submission”, that I persist in seeing as important, even though I don’t believe Lennox thought very much about writing it. I think she wanted it to be a continuation of the worry we are supposed to have, that Arabella will embarrass herself by taking the Girl home. (The imaginary reader is laughing and cringing.) If the Girl had been confused or annoyed then Arabella would have been blocked, but since she is submissive there is nothing to get in the way. I suspect I am supposed to think of her submission as a funny threat, not as part of the implied psychology of the Girl, but as one element in the unbroken flow of the fears of Mr. Glanville.

* “An Officer of Rank in the Sea Service had brought his Mistress disguis'd in a Suit of Man's or rather Boy's Cloaths, and a Hat and Feather, into the Gardens.”

Saturday, October 29, 2016

laudable Affection of the Mind

Looking across the history of reactions to The Female Quixote I believe that nobody has ever seemed happy with the ending, not even the ones who agree that Arabella needed to be reformed. It happened so quickly that the (this is my paraphrase:) realism of reasonable pacing was violated.

It switches to Rasselas shortwindedness in which an abstract represented by Sir Charles seems not only pre-assured but imminent. Arabella’s Romantic mental fantasyland is dispelled through logical argument; and quickly, quickly she has expressed humility and married Mr Glanville.

The author, taking a new self from herself, moves at a fantasy speed, as if she wishes she had the dream-instantness that happens in Powys’ novellas, but as a proponent of realism she has removed her own access to that usefulness -- she has been aligning herself with the opposition for over three hundred pages now (in the Oxford University Press, 1970 edition), though at this point in the historical development of the book she can still write a variation on then they lived happily ever after – I mean she has this shorthand for happiness still available to her.

Mr. Glanville and Arabella were united, as well in these [titles and finances], as in every Virtue and laudable Affection of the Mind.


In book IX, ch. 1, before her conversion, she walks into a crowd of sailors in Vauxhall who are teasing a woman who has come here dressed as a man – come with me, says Arabella: you are clearly a noblewoman whose current adventure has caused her to wear a disguise. And the woman is so amazed by this statement that she behaves as if Arabella’s belief is true. “The Girl being perfectly recover'd from her Intoxication by the fright she had been in, gaz'd upon Arabella with a Look of extreme Surprize: Yet being mov'd to respect by the Dignity of her Appearance, and, strange as her Words seem'd to be, by the obliging Purport of them, and the affecting Earnestness with which they were deliver'd, she rose from her Seat and thank'd her, with an Accent full of Regard and Submission.” A moment later Mr Glanville is pulling Arabella away and telling her not to “make all this Rout about a Prostitute. Do you see how every body stares at you? What will they think --”

I have a fantasy in which the woman goes home with Arabella and actually transforms herself into the thing that she believes as easily as someone in Powys, or Max Jacob, or becomes something else magically instead. (“At this point, Sir Elizabeth joined the military and was killed.” Jacob, tr. William Kulik.)

Monday, October 17, 2016

this terrible Inundation

Richardson’s contemporary and friend Ann Lennox wrote a book called The Female Quixote, 1752, a satire against – against? - women who loved Madeleine de Scudéry’s Grand Cyrus, 1649 – 53, Cleopatra, 1648, by Gauthier de Costes, Roger Boyle’s Parthenissa, 1676, and other serialised romantic stories. The character Glanville begins trembling in vol. one (“began to tremble”) when he sees “the Girl return, sinking under the Weight of these voluminous Romances.” Courting Arabella the Quixote, he has promised to read her favourite books. “Glanville sat wrapt in Admiration at the Sight of so many huge Folio’s, written, as he conceived, upon the most trifling subjects imaginable.” Imbalance, the underlying subject of Lennox’s humour, lies, in this moment, with the idea that a huge Folio should pay the reader off with plenty of intelligent meat. If the subject matter is light then the size of the book is ludicrous, and Glanville is right to start trembling in the face of an assault. He should not be expected to … he is right to inhabit the same mindset that produces Infinite Jest, a well-packed, bursting big beef flesh parcel … so should we all …

De Quincey in the Opium Eater, 1821, proposing that “the deaths of those whom we love” have more impact in summer because the clouds are a different shape, is, I think, making a more complicated use of the instinct for ludicrosity that Lennox draws on when she wants to make you sympathise with Glanville; the romantic stubbornness and potential vulnerability in the face of possible disgust that also comes into play at the end of this sentence from de Scudéry’s Clelia, 1654 – 1661. De Scudéry is the most daring of them all: she is serious.

This pleasing anxiety proceeding from an amorous Impatience, did nothing discompose his usual temper sometimes clouded by most strange Distractions of his Spirit, which perswaded him some doleful accident might intervene whereby his happiness might be retarded as formerly it had been; for e're this he had Espoused his Mistress had not the River on whose Banks was situated a stately House wherein Clelius resolv'd to consummate his Daughters Nuptials, with such a sudden violence exceeded its prefixed limits that 'twas impossible to solemnize any Feast there during this terrible Inundation, the Waters continually encreas'd for the space of twelve hours, the Wind, Lightning, Thunder, and a dreadful Shower of Rain so multiplying the horrour of this fatal Deluge, that there was generally fear'd a total ruine and desolation: the water of the River seem'd to reach the Skies, and conjoyn'd, with that the Heavens pour'd down, agitated by those impetuous Tempests, roar'd as the swelling Billows of an angry Sea, or the falling of the most rapid Torrents: this violent eruption of the River, much disordered this Region of delight; for it demolish'd Buildings both publick and private, rooted up Trees, covered the Fields with Sand and Stones, levell'd Hills, furrowed the Plains, and changed the whole face of this little Country, but when it had wholly spent its fury, 'twas evidently seen that this inundation had in some places, unburied the ruines of divers Tombs, whose Inscriptions were half effaced, and in others it had discovered great Columns of Marble, with many other precious Materials; so that this place in stead of being deprived of its former beauty, received a more additional lustre from those new acquired Ornaments.

Translated by John Davies and George Havers.

Friday, October 7, 2016

crossed the bar, hove to

On page ninety-two of Wyndham Lewis’ Tarr last week (it was the 1990 Black Sparrow Press edition, subtitled The 1918 Version because the book was published three times during Lewis’ life with changed edits) I had the feeling that I was reading a sentence that had been written to be quoted. Once I went back to it I didn’t know why I would have mechanically (unconsciously, as if in a reader’s adaptation of Surrealism’s automatic writing) picked it out: “People feel with the ‘lonely’ man that he is going about with some eccentric companion, that is himself.” The afterword by the editor Paul O’Keeffe argues against the idea that the character Tarr is the Dostoevsky-Double figure Lewis planned for Kreisler (he wrote Soltyk in that role, O’Keeffe says. “[I]t is surely no coincidence that Soltyk’s original name was ‘Partikoff’”), but when David Trotter reviewed O’Keeffe’s biography Some Sort of Genius: A Life of Wyndham Lewis in 2001 he recalled that Lewis had referred to someone’s veil as “apoplectic gristle” in paragraph two of the short story Bestre, from Wild Bodies, 1927. When you read that, you know that no matter how many intelligent essays Trotter ever comes across, Lewis will always be his gristle author. Likewise I noticed last night in Saint-John Perse, how this poet of huge landscapes, deserts, wind, and seas, is never able to keep focus without drawing down now and then to a small object: “And the ships taller than Ilion under the white peacock of the sky, having crossed the bar, hove to | in this deadwater where floats a dead ass.” From section IV of Anabasis, 1924, tr. T.S. Eliot, 1938. Also, bees, birds’ eggs.

Lewis doesn’t have a Dostoevskian personality, as an author. His version of the desperate underground man doesn’t strut helplessly. And the writer seems to believe that strutting is justified (at some level other than the Dostoevskian 'soul'), rather than wretched, that Kreisler’s defiance is seriously recognised, not ludicrous.

The most memorable thing about Lewis in Tarr is not that he is reflecting Dostoevsky but that he is brusque. He can write. As always there is Dorothy Richardson talking about sentences that are written to show you that an author is clever, to advertise – sentences that take the place of persuasive branding for the writer. I wondered about an ethics of sentences, and whether there should be a penalty for quotable lines. Would writers take the penalty voluntarily; would that in itself become advertising? The Bulldogs skipper Robert Murphy is trying to get a kind of poetry around himself I think, in the article I read after the Dogs won on Saturday, when he ends an extended use of the word “loch” with the line, “[M]y lot this year means I won't get to lead my boys out in front of the Bulldog clan. That's my little loch that I shall keep locked.” He can expect his readers to know that he is talking about the acl injury that wrecked the upward trajectory of his life in April (removing him from the field) but “my little loch” is rhythm, singing, and not dictionary-meaning, since you can’t lock a lake, but it indicates a space where meaning somehow by suggestion, distinct from words, is.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

say yes today

Speaking of Jelinek reminded me of Eric’s comment on Lust, here. (“Think of what a strange work of art she has produced.” True.) Lust (more than Wonderful Wonderful) exists at angles to, or in defiance of, all books that progress through a series of events and end in a logical culmination of those events – it does not progress and not-progressing is one of its points (here’s life: repetition then death) – instead it establishes a set of more or less static situations and repeats them: the son is needy, first one way, then another; the man and the woman have sex and then they have it again, and sometimes it happens in the bath, another time in the kitchen, and each time Jelinek explains it with some different cohesion of context (“Blindly the woman cashes in her security from the man’s spitting dispenser,” “It wants to dwell within thy hallowed halls,” “His rain comes pouring from the cloudburst”) but the act itself occurs potentially endlessly, with the inevitably of genre, since in genre certain things are always going to happen. The nature of the individual genre establishes the type of thing that will happen but genre itself is the presence of them happening. Richardson’s Clarissa is noteworthy because it has both the forward progress and also the repetition with intensities.

The woman in Lust breaks from her home, finds another man, goes through sex with him and cycles back again to her husband. Breaking away does not make anything fundamentally different. Here the possibility of the progress that other books love, is teased. Sex is a pleasure for her husband and she wants a repetition of one pleasure with the other man. “She wants to hear that young man say yes today, having heard him yesterday.” (“Yes/today” and “yesterday” must be the translator Michael Hulse giving you a lick of Jelinek’s musical-clotted style.) But the young man is brutal and contemptuous. The woman does not have pleasure, she has a brief mastery of difference in repetition. The escape and discovery are like a parody of the idea of a quest. The treasure is supposed to transform things. This is pathetic.

The woman causes a rupture that ends the book but she has not attacked the repetition of sex. She has not removed herself, she has not deleted her husband. Even if she had, we have been told that Austria is full of the same mentality: erasing two people would not dissolve it. When Pausanius (c. AD 110 – c. 180) describes the oracle of Trophonius in his Description of Greece, he outlines a series of ritual acts that the petitioner has to undergo before their request is fulfilled, when they are allowed to descend into the rock and come out disoriented, with a revelation if they are lucky. (Sensory deprivation or exposure to volcanic gas, theory says: one or the other.) That visit to the cave is the end of their personal repetitions but the next person will have to undergo them too: the repetitions continue to exist. You could make a strip of patterned wallpaper long enough to wrap around the globe and it would still be exactly the same pattern at the beginning and end, without entropy, a piece of artificiality or art, not biological, although biology is present in the commission of the acts or marks themselves. (Genre is also resistance against entropy.) So the end of Lust has to be an explosion, which is the only way to calm down for a moment and have a straight line without patterns. “But now rest a while.”

Monday, September 19, 2016

she has followed her instructions to the letter

Near the end of Shirley Jackson’s Hangsaman, 1951, the character Natalie follows her friend into a dark forest where she realises that this good companion has been employed all along by a presence that somehow wants to abduct her. “She has done as she was told then, Natalie thought; she has brought me here with friendship and without force, she has followed her instructions to the letter and will probably be commended.” What is the presence? Earlier on the bus the two friends guessed that the other passengers might be agents of “them,” but the conversation is so ambiguous that it’s possible for the reader to understand “them” as something fairly routine: a power of convention that wants to repress an imaginative high school student; that sort of they. Now, though, when Natalie anticipates the presence in the woods, it is as if she is expecting a murderer. It is not the powers of society, it is a phenomenal force that draws her specifically away from society in order to approach her. Its strength does not seem to be located anywhere outside her belief in it: not in any institution or animal physicality.

Hangsaman is always discussed as if that event is a manifestation of the trauma that was repressed after a sexual assault in chapter one. Why is it necessary for trauma be shaped like a magical serial killer? This seems like a key question in Jackson and the answer must lie unanswerably outside the books as well as inside them. If you can say why Natalie’s family ignores the evidence of the assault then you might know why Eleanor in the Haunting of Hill House, 1959, has to steal a car, drive away, and be mentally possessed by an unfamiliar structure, why it is necessary for the structure to seem (supernaturally) familiar to her; why, in other words, the exposition of her character has to happen there, and not in the home where she has spent eleven years caring for her dying mother. All of Hill House can be read as a return to the last fifty pages of the earlier book.

(I think that by publishing Hangsaman Jackson found the other story.)

When I started writing this post I was wondering how Jackson might have changed her work if she had been able to read Elfriede Jelinek. Specifically I wondered if she might have lost the magazine archness veneering her sarcasm, if she might have looked at Otto, Gretl, and the twins in Wonderful Wonderful Times / Die Ausgesperrten, 1980 and recognised her own cynicism towards families, the conviction of Natalie’s father that his desires are best and that his disdain for his wife is justified, the wretchedly obedient self-hatred of the wife herself which Jackson makes as unpitiable as possible, for both authors will prickle at benevolence. I was disturbed by what I interpreted as the author’s voluntary or habitual defanging of herself. In Jelinek’s translated sentences play and anger are the same thing: the sentences are negatively energised, the play is jeering, whereas Jackson’s play is play apart, in a place where people have time to sit comfortably every now and then, writing calm, wry statements about the little things in life: a leisure place, and as such it exists apart from the anger or panic or disgust that supply the sentences with their meanings. But there is always something theoretical to appeal to in Jelinek when the characters act on that sarcasm: there are patriarchal mores or the denialism of postwar Austria; there is no ghost they. Jackson is unsealed, more careless, she hides (Jelinek exposes); she is (idea) not writing Hangsaman to reveal a fictionalised sexual assault but to conceal one, as if some wound, not necessarily sexual, has already happened and now it needs obfuscation to hide it away.

Monday, September 12, 2016

come to hear a little more

Society is the unit of enclosure in Richardson; also the space of letters. The books are their own enclosures in a way that a fiction with nature descriptions is not, since the material of a book is never nature and it can’t mimic nature; cannot be like a twig or rock; a book can’t come from nature; so every detail in a Richardson book is a reinforcement of enclosure in its own implied matter. (This should be qualified by a reminder of the Alps in Grandison, vol. 4 ch. 39.) Richardson, as an author of fiction books, was born from a volume of model letters that his friends Charles Rivington and John Osbourne convinced him to write for them, “a little book (which, they said, they were often asked after) of familiar letters on the useful concerns of common life; and, at last, I yielded to their importunity” (letter to Aaron Hill, 1 Feb., 1741). He owned a printing business and they were his colleagues in the trade. You assume that they didn’t feel like writing the model letter book themselves; maybe not trusting their own abilities, or else they didn’t have time, or it seemed easier to bug their friend, who had never written a work of fiction before, though he had edited some of the books that came through his presses, and had once composed a pamphlet of advice for apprentices, The Apprentice’s Vade Mecum, 1733. Something in what he was (what was it: what was he?) encouraged them to ask him several times to write this Familiar Letters, which was composed in 1739 and published eventually in 1741. “While I was writing the two volumes, my worthy-hearted wife, and the young lady who is with us, when I had read them some part of the story, which I had begun without their knowing it, used to come into my closet every night with – ‘Have you any more of Pamela, Mr. R.? We are come to hear a little more of Pamela’ &c. This encouraged me to prosecute it.” They did not have to ask him directly, according to him (their asking-him asked him, not they) – he flew into it “so diligently, through all my other business, that, by a memorandum on my copy, I began it Nov. 10, 1739, and finished it Jan. 10, 1739-40.” The epistolary formula stimulated him to invent it, the never-alone to and fro motion, which he combines with the direct me-to-you of instruction (the idea of vade mecum never left him). These two actions at once. He is always with people.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016


Reading the sentence, “How a middle-aged business man came so thoroughly to understand a little servant girl is the usual mystery of creation,” in Eaves and Kimpel’s Samuel Richardson: a Biography, 1971, p. 105, re Pamela, 1740, I made the following notes:

Richardson believed that he was shy; now say that shyness is a form of captivity.

See for evidence, his letter to Samuel Lobb, Jan 31st, 1754, sampled like this: “When I was young, I was very sheepish; (so I am indeed now that I am old: I have not had Confidence enough to try to overcome a Defect so natural to me, tho’ I have been a great Loser by it),” going on through the strategies he invented so that he could raise his voice in public: “this was my Rule to get Courage … : I let them all speak round before I open’d my Lips, after the first Introductions: Then I weigh’d, whether I had been to speak on the same Occasions, that each Person spoke upon, I should have been able to deliver myself as well as they had done ...” etc.

His women are under the wills of others, even in their homes, this is the form of his world.

Sir Charles Grandison, who is the best possible man in Richardson’s mind, is not shy.

Richardson doesn’t heroise inactive men (compare Burney).

Grandison lectures his inactive uncle. The uncle becomes subordinate.

An inactive, speechless woman in Richardson has a vocabulary of goodness around her: she is humble, modest, obedient, kind, and respectful; lots of praiseworthy things can be read into her silence; especially young women.

Kind, self-sufficient men are active in R.

Kind, self-sufficient women do not have to be active.

His “Rule” was to wait until the rest had spoken before he decided to join or stay silent: all depended on them. “I let them all speak round before I open’d my Lips … Then I weigh’d … And if I found I should have rather chosen to be silent, than to say some things they said, I preserv'd my Silence and was pleased. And if I could have spoken as well as others, I was the less scrupulous: While those who were above my Match, I admir'd, endeavour'd to cultivate their Acquaintance, by making myself agreeable to them by my Modesty, if I could not by my Merit; and to imitate them, as nearly as my Abilities and Situation would permit ...”

Friday, August 26, 2016

to have recourse

Harriet asking to delay her wedding, Clementina wanting to repel marriage and become a nun, this is another mirroring that I can’t parse, the two women parallel, both struggling against a vise (vol. 6, many ch.). The tenor of the book runs a) with the desires of the vises, but also b) with the feelings of the women since it will not criticise their unreason except through a questionable polyphony. Unreason here is as the vises perceive it. The value of this secret unreason is preached by the book, but hopelessly, the book forming the parallel as a kind of protest, like an extended, begging hand. It is sympathetic to Harriet, showing her dread, and Harriet says that Clementina should be allowed to follow her inspiration, though she is not speaking to the other woman’s face, never having met her. Harriet believes the longing, as a longing, should be heeded. And the reader might recall the aspiring rapist Pollexfen ignoring Harriet's own distress long ago in vol. 1, ch. 33: “he now and then made apologies for the cruelty, to which, he said, he was compelled by my invincible obstinacy, to have recourse.” Now the Pollexfen situation is replicated insidiously by people the author has more or less labelled good. Here is a high point of Richardson’s ambiguity.

Here is one undertone in him: women are always in captivity.

Friday, August 19, 2016

see Greville just ready with his dagger

Richardson wrote to his friend Isabella Sutton on July 24, 1752,

I have had two letters from Miss Mulso, admirable ones. She particularly commends herself to your favour. I have threatened her with a melancholy ending of my story. O how she raves! almost execrates me! I want to shew you fresh instances of her admirable genius though against myself; and I want to let you see Greville just ready with his dagger; but I will say no more. What scenes of distress might be painted! but did I not say, I would not proceed on this subject?

Greville is an expressive mood-object, a poltergeist: he makes the book more frightening; produces gestures but never enforces them. Sir Hargrave Pollexfen is the ghost’s solid: he acts, he suffers, isn’t playful and plots real sexual violence (does not press impressions on hands). While he is helping his friends carry out a seduction he is caught by Italian revengers who would have castrated him if Grandison hadn't appeared in the nick of time (vol. 4, ch 36). This scene offers itself up as an obvious counterpoint to the earlier rescue of Harriet from Pollexfen himself (vol. 1, ch. 33), but there are so many ways to read the existence of this mirroring that I find I can’t say what I think it should ‘mean.’ As an event it fuels the cycle of events, but as a mirror it has no lessons and appears like a blank.

Grandison’s character is illustrated more than once by his willingness to manifest in certain situations, e.g., when Pollexfen invites him to breakfast (vol. 2, ch 3) – a trap, as Grandison knows – but Grandison comes nonetheless, refusing to be teased into a duel in front of Pollexfen’s friends; he will set his own conditions for appearing. Calmly he tells everyone why he will not duel. They understand. He has “shewn that reputation and conscience are entirely reconcilable,” they say. When he appears in front of the Italian family that has contentious feelings towards him he will set his own conditions there too. It is part of Richardson’s plan for his magnificence, him being able to impose himself reasonably. Harriet you notice cannot lay out her terms; she can’t say that she loves him. As her marriage draws closer she has progressively more trouble appearing and speaking. She hesitates over her own marriage ceremony, she wants it put off; she does not want to marry in front of people. She fails to finish sentences or she remains quiet and curtsies instead (vol. 6., multiple places). Even as she is married, “My joy may not be sufficient to banish fear” (vol. 7, ch. 6). Why does she feel this weird terror? In vol. 6, ch. 32 it is bad enough to give her nightmares. She says that Grandison should marry the superb and good aristocrat Clementina della Porretta, not her. Harriet has never met Clementina but at no point does she suspect that the people who tell her about Clementina's goodness might be exaggerating. You could say that Harriet is having a dream of a perfect woman, but later they meet and there is no difference between the Clementina in the reports and the real one. One letter from anybody was enough to describe her as she is.

Harriet is fortunate. She is marrying the right man and everyone envies her. Horror, humility, and depression, this is what, however, for some reason, Richardson decides he will describe for her, as if she is going through a terrible incident; as if something bad has happened. What does she want? She wants something that is not sensible.

Richardson, in his letter, relishes the thought of Miss Mulso being not-sensible, being filled with desire for she doesn't-know-what, "but I will say no more,"

Friday, August 12, 2016

read it out, that I may know what I have written

So (repeating myself) Grandison is a book of evidence, of evidence addressing itself forwards and backwards to more instances of evidence, and not only complicitly, internally, with innocent remarks between characters (actually the opposite of innocent, since they are written as if they mimicked spontaneity), but also with obvious footnotes that point you from (for example) the words “that situation” in vol. 6, ch. 18 to an incident in vol. 3; and then there are the references to letters that are not actually there, annotated with the news that “These three letters do not appear” when Harriet in vol. 7, ch. 45, refers to “my last three letters,” as if the story took place in a real universe where those letters exist as of course they do not, and never did, though the author will (in his endnotes) include quotes from genuine texts, namely a sermon by John Tillotson (1630 – 1694) – and a military law against duelling – to supplement the book as an entity, though he is still pretending to pretend that he is only the editor of someone else’s letters, a transparent protest as everyone knew, and he knew they knew; and he wrote this book that teases its own exterior context by having Grandison take away a stack of Harriet’s letters and return the next morning to say that he’d stayed up all night with them because the story was so exciting – he couldn’t put them down – (vol. 2 or 3? Somewhere around there).

There is a second critic, a more technical and cynical one, in the character of Charlotte or Lady G, whose way of reflecting on people’s motivations gives Richardson an opportunity to show his readership how conscious he is of his invention, this structure made of letters that pretend to have been written almost immediately after the events that they describe. (He remarks covertly: I have the personality of a writer who identifies that opportunity and takes it.) Immediacy increases the emotional thrill, Charlotte says. “No pathetic without it.” Contrast with Tom Jones, Fielding, 1749, which only takes place after everything is safe. But the wrong amount of distance is comedy, continues Richardson through Charlotte: look – fidelity? – too much fidelity, becomes – what? – look, that’s a playscript – (like a contemporary writer putting in something that feels like a movie scene, that impression of almost-unconscious influence – but this is ‘life’ that scripts itself).

I am referring to the letter that Charlotte writes to Harriet, vol 6., ch 9, from the moment when she records the approach of her sister.

But here she comes. – I love, Harriet, to write to the moment; that's a knack I had from you and my brother: And be sure continue it, on every occasion: No pathetic without it!

Your servant, Lady L.

And your servant, Lady G. – Writing? To whom?

To our Harriet –

I will read your Letter – Shall I?

Take it; but read it out, that I may know what I have written.

Now give it me again. I'll write down what you say to it, Lady L.

Lady. L. I say you are a whimsical creature. But I don't like what you have last written.

Charlotte. Last written – 'Tis down. – But why so, Lady L.?

Lady L. How can you thus teaze our beloved Byron, with your conjectural evils?

Ch. Have I supposed an impossibility? – But 'tis down – Conjectural evils.

Lady L. If you are so whimsical, write –
'My dear Miss Byron – '

Ch. My dear Miss Byron – 'Tis down.

Lady L. (Looking over me)
'Do not let what this strange Charlotte has written, grieve you: – '

Ch. Very well, Caroline! – grieve you.

Lady L. 'Sufficient to the day is the evil thereof.'

Ch. Well observed. – Words of Scripture, I believe. – Well – evil thereof.

Lady L. Never, surely, was there such a creature as you, Charlotte –

Ch. That's down, too. –

Lady L. Is that down? laughing – That should not have been down – Yet 'tis true.

Ch. Yet 'tis true – What's next?

Lady L. Pish –

Ch. Pish –

(Describing his own technique in a letter to his friend and collaborator Lady Dorothy Bradshaigh as a “way of writing, to the moment," 14 February, 1754.)

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

a mellow manly voice, and great command

Richardson’s method of concentrating your attention on an idea is to mention it repeatedly rather than beautifully, issuing periodic capsule summaries of sympathetic actions, eg, “The Count saluted me in a tender accent,” vol. 5, ch. 7, without any detailed description of the salutation; multiple characters stating the same idea in their own ways – here’s a paragraph from the same chapter –

O that I could embrace my fourth son! said the Marchioness. The Bishop threw his arms about me. Generous expansion of heart! were the words that fell from his lips. Jeronymo shewed his friendly Love in what he said: And must not, said the Count, this young man be one of us?

--in which he varies the nature of the affection that each person shows to Grandison, with the Marchioness and the Count uttering speech at opposite ends of the bloc, Jeronymo not having his speech reported, and the Bishop both acting and speaking, but the important part, the dominating motive, is that we realise everyone in this house feels tenderly enthusiastic towards Grandison while he approaches the daughter, Clementina. Grandison is loved. As a further example, there are the sentences, “He sung. He has a mellow manly voice, and great command of it” (vol. 4, ch. 16), which are not trying to get a reader vitally excited in the moment when Grandison sang, but present his vocal handsomeness as a kind of plain fact that joins the other facts we have learnt about him, mounting up, mounting up, volume after volume, creating a kind of inescapable mass. The word “inescapable” reminds me of Richardson’s penchant for shutting his characters anxiously in rooms or other enclosed spaces such as carriages. The books ostensibly preach patience and reason but they are neither patient nor reasonable. See the reaction to Clementina’s religious decision in vol. 5: people calling her an angel, Harriet deciding that nothing she can do will live up to the heights of C.’s behaviour; a monotonous hysteria of praise. They are knotted inside these hysterics. But they have their variety, that little leak. Speaking of enclosure, there is also the way Harriet will shut herself alone in her room for hours because she values the attention she has to pay to what she calls “narrative letter-writing.” This kind of writing does not happen quickly, she tells her friends when they ask her to come down. It takes effort (vol. 2 somewhere?). Clementina, beginning to go mad because Grandison may have left her, becomes a compression of all of this, the enclosure, the focus, the addressing of words to people who aren’t there --

She shut herself up in her chamber, not seeming to regard or know that her woman was in it; nor did she answer to two or three questions that her woman asked her; but, setting her chair with its back towards her, over-against a closet in the room, after a profound silence, she bent forwards, and, in a low voice, seemed to be communing with a person in the closet.

’And you say he is actually gone? Gone for ever? No, not for ever!’

(vol. 3, ch. 20)

Friday, July 29, 2016

they had no reason to be dissatisfied with what they heard

The surprise of the hand interrupts the completeness of the surveillance that attempts to constitute the book, letters being written and characters showing their letters to other characters, and those characters then copying the letters into their own letters, till the story can occur for the reader with a more or less (but not completely) chronological distinctness, details filled in and characters saying words that seem mysterious but then we see a piece of information, an anecdote, that explains it: there is a network of sense that we will get to eventually, that is more or less one promise implicit in the History of Sir Charles Grandison: if we keep watching and explaining one another – if we read -- and so on, we will discover why things are said or done, and the quality of a character’s nature will be exposed, tested, and given additional verity; people will comment and others will reinforce their comments, the decency of Charles Grandison will be mentioned by everyone, his enemies will be converted to admirers (vol. 2, ch. 4), his sisters when they meet him after a long separation become his advocates (vol. 2), the parents of a young woman in vol. 3, ch. 20, will eavesdrop outside a room so that we can learn that they appreciate the respectability of his conversation, “they had no reason to be dissatisfied with what they heard me say to their daughter;” all of this as if the reader is a judge or interested enquirer who requires proof of some conjecture, or an answer to some question. Or not an answer to the question but a response. We won’t “get to it eventually,” there is no “it,” there is rather an increasing cluster of actions around a few core ideas, which seem to be represented in Grandison’s character and his unusually handsome appearance: his complexion, his hair, his fine mouth, all of which are mentioned, and praised. Clarissa Harlowe was beautiful too. Richardson is conscious of beauty. But you notice that he develops a more ostentatiously enthusiastic imagination when a character is ugly, with Emily's bad mother having a "complexion, sallowish, streaked with red [that] makes her face (which is not so plump as it once has been) look like a withering John-apple that never ripened kindly," (vol. 3, ch 5) and a corrupted clergyman entering the room behind "a nose now that hid half of [his pimply face], when he looked on one side, and he seldom looked fore-right when I saw him" (vol. 1, ch. 30).

Greville’s behaviour appears opaque against the dense mass of clarity around him.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

not to be too serious upon it

Writing suffer because in Moon Lake everything that might be like a digression is preemptively overruled or ruled, that is, dominated, by the plot. It does not allow itself to recognise the plants as an impediment, and it blends them in and ends them and goes on as if everything had a reasonable purpose. If I had to define “middlebrow” in the pejorative sense then that would be one consideration. And some things that get qualified as Middlebrow would be disqualified by that qualifier; they are not middle by my calculations, they are only mild, not blind. When I read Wallace Fowlie’s translations of Rimbaud next to John Ashbery’s then I see that Fowlie has decreased the poet’s hysteria by changing his punctuation. And there is a moment in vol. I, letter 20, of The History of Sir Charles Grandison, Samuel Richardson, 1753, that comes like a flash into the story. Up to this point, the men and women in the book have been speaking to one another regularly in civilised rooms, the epistolary sometimes-narrator, Harriet Byron, being wooed by the men and telling them straightly that their requests are hopeless because she is not in love with them. “I have never yet seen the man who is to be my husband,” she says. They have been using the phrase “your hand” in its symbolic matrimonial sense, when the tense decorum is shocked by one of the suitors taking Byron’s actual hand and pressing his teeth into it. The word “hand” acquires a retrospective build-up of pressure which can only be recognised by that release.

Why, Mr. Greville, I do most sincerely declare to you, as to a neighbour and well-wisher, that I never, yet, have seen the man to whom I can think of giving my hand.

Yes, you have! By heaven you have (snatching my hand): You shall give it to me!—And the strange wretch pressed it so hard to his mouth, that he made prints upon it with his teeth.

Oh! cried I, withdrawing my hand, surprized, and my face, as I could feel, all in a glow.

And oh! said he, mimicking (and snatching my other hand, as I would have run from him) and patting it, speaking thro' his closed teeth, You may be glad you have a hand left. By my soul, I could eat you.


I rushed into the company in the next room. He followed me with an air altogether unconcerned, and begged to look at my hand; whispering to Mrs. Reeves; by Jupiter, said he, I had like to have eaten up your lovely cousin. I was beginning with her hand.

I was more offended with this instance of his assurance and unconcern, than with the freedom itself; because that had the appearance of his usual gaiety with it. I thought it best, however, not to be too serious upon it.

Then there is this strange sentence.

But the next time he gets me by himself, he shall eat up both my hands.

In what sense is she saying that? Is she reporting Greville’s lines again, or is this her? What does she mean by “hand” in that sentence and what does she mean by “eat”? Why does it come after the assurance that she is not going to “get too serious upon” his behaviour? Richardson allows her to say it in any sense you choose to understand: it has come out weirdly and the weirdness is allowed to stand without being softened.

Monday, July 18, 2016


The End of the World, Filmed by the Angel of Notre Dame, Blaise Cendrars, 1919
Three Fantasies, John Cowper Powys, 1985
Vathek, William Beckford, 1786
The Sundial, Shirley Jackson, 1958
Something by Nathalie Seurat
The Lost Ones, Samuel Beckett, 1971
Topology of a Phantom City, Alain Robbe-Grillet, 1977

Topology of a Phantom City, Alain Robbe-Grille, 1977
Justine, the Marquis de Sade, 1791
Bound to Violence, Yambo Ouologuem, 1971
The Lives of Cleopatra and Octavia, Sarah Fielding, 1757
Clarissa, Samuel Richardson, 1748
The Making of Americans, Gertrude Stein, 1925

The Making of Americans, Gertrude Stein, 1925
Miss MacIntosh, My Darling, Marguerite Young, 1965
Rhode Island Notebook, Gabriel Gudding, 2007

Rhode Island Notebook, Gabriel Gudding, 2007
Speech! Speech!, Geoffrey Hill, 2000
Miss Herbert (the Suburban Wife), Christina Stead, 1976

Miss Herbert (the Suburban Wife), Christina Stead, 1976
Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift, 1726

A Season in Hell, Arthur Rimbaud, 1873. [suggested by Scott GF Bailey]

Thursday, July 14, 2016

those whose shoots grow

When you look at the post about book lists at Babbling Books again you are in despair because in the interim you have seen the Feminista's 100 Great 20th Century English-language Works of Fiction by Women, and noticed To Kill a Mockingbird, which, as you know, is only there because everyone had to read it under duress in high school, so that this is one of the few books by women, or in fact by anybody, that anyone who voted for this list has ever known or can remember. You think of lists as bad records of failures. Why did Giorgio Bassani say that Francesca Duranti’s 1984 book The House on Moon Lake, tr. Stephen Sartarelli, reminded him of “the same beloved, familiar, infallible fictional pathways discovered by Henry James”? He must have remembered that stories in James tend to consist of people haunting one another, The Turn of the Screw making it overt by introducing the notion of ghosts, which foregrounds, by default, the author’s usual implied verb. At the end of Moon Lake Duranti has inserted a supernatural woman who promises to sell the lead male a collection of letters and then retains him inside her house by means of some enigmatic power. So the constellation of ideas, woman, house, man, mystery, letters, haunting might make you think of The Aspern Papers. But the intention is different; the presentation is blunt, the book does not seem convinced of its own paranoia, the haunting is deserved in a way that appears clear (the lead male does not want to spend his time with real women so he gets an unreal one), and honestly the most weird mystery in the entire Moon Lake appears at the end of chapter fourteen, when this man is trying to work his way through a stumbling block in a book that he is writing and the thought of the word voluble sends the text off on botany, a subject it has never been interested in before. “Voluble. The word’s ambiguity entranced him. Botanists define voluble plants as those whose shoots grow upward in a twining spiral – each species in its own way, the dextrorse twining only in a clockwise direction, the sinistrorse always in a counterclockwise direction; they are plants that …“ etc. These plants enter the book more or less of their own volition. Once they have appeared then the man considers birds and following this he realises that he is going to create a female character with the qualities of owls and lilies. It is as if Duranti has tried to think of the least likely source of inspiration that a book-writing human being could possibly have but she does not enjoy her imagination’s own convoluted strangeness: it is a functional object that she now drops. If Bruno Schulz had written this, I thought, he would know what he had done. He would allow the book to suffer fully from its bewitchment.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

wide the arms

Two lines in Mary Oliver that bother me particularly are “when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse | to buy me, and snaps the purse shut,” from When Death Comes, which I found in the New Poems 1991-1992 section of her New and Selected Poems: Volume One, 1992. The second line does not need to exist because the act of purchasing is already implied by the removal of the coins from the purse, and the notion that dying can be represented by the textual description of an open object such as door, coffin, or tomb being closed, has been used so often that by now it is contained inside the word “death” as a matter of course. When Geoffrey Hill uses ‘signal’ twice, close together, in Holbein, 2007, the second usage both echoes the first and also expands it beyond the figure who is “spreading | wide the arms as a signal.” That figure takes on an additional identity: he is dissolved into motions that are universal to the point of being inhuman. The scene is an execution; he is also being removed by the language. A certain power of choice has been abstracted from his behaviour and he is communised. The words “In fact it’s” in the lines “In fact it’s all | signals” are the language of someone who is making an assertion that may be baseless: “in fact” is what can be used in place of an explanation and the contracted “it’s” suggests that this is being said quickly, perhaps even carelessly or with a sudden, unstudied ease, enlightenment, or despair. So this “In fact” is the poet signalling a flavour of possible insincerity, surprise, or laziness in the voice that is not or not quite his.

The voice has also been produced in isolation from any suggestion of human flesh, which differentiates it from the crowd-voice that Dickens mimics or echoes (& plucks up & drops) in Epsom. Everyone that Dickens ever heard speak, you say, is dead. When Oliver Lawson Dick edited John Aubrey for a 1949 edition of Brief Lives he rearranged the details of Edward Herbert’s entry chronologically so that Herbert’s death was positioned at the end of the section, and the description of his home, Castle Montgomery, near the beginning. When an edition is not so reshaped then the castle is at the end of the entry, not participating in the movement of narrative through Herbert’s life, leaving the reader to make out of it whatever they can, and the entry begins with the man almost dead: start: dying. Aubrey repeats gossip, as everyone points out.

Monday, June 27, 2016


Reading the Dickens portion of the Epsom article, you notice that he is not stimulated by horses or by racing but by the spectacle of human mass. “Never, to be sure, were there so many carriages, so many fours, so many twos, so many ones, so many horsemen, so many people who have come down by ‘rail,’ so many fine ladies in so many broughams, so many Fortnum and Mason hampers, so much ice and champagne!” There is the wonderful moment when the writing pretends to be the crowd so that it can describe the crowd’s actions compressively; but what is it saying – it is not the crowd – it has something to say about the crowd – it does not only observe the crowd – it wears the crowd’s voice -- the people watching the race are saying “What is the matter?” and there is an omniscient party that shows itself to witnesses with the words, “Another roar,” –

Amidst the hum of voices, a bell rings. What’s that? What’s the matter? They are clearing the course. Never mind. Try the pigeon-pie. A roar. What’s the matter? It’s only the dog upon the course. Is that all? Glass of wine. Another roar. What’s that? It is only the man who wants to cross the course, and is intercepted, and brought back. Is that all? I wonder whether it is always the same man and the same dog, year after year!

and, as a complete aside, the other Dickens races that I can think of at this moment, in the Old Curiosity Shop, 1841, are all narrated in that omniscient roar voice, and everything there is different: the glad crowd of Epsom in “so many carriages, so many fours” is, in Shop, a group of selfishnesses who neglect the desires of the poor entertainers and flower-sellers such as Nell (“Now, all the variety of human riddles who propound themselves on race courses, come about the carriage to be guessed,” says Epsom, meaning the same kind of poor people), the adventurers who travel with the girl and her grandfather to the track are sinister; the child, with a bad feeling, leaves in a way that feels like an escape from danger, and decides that she enjoys being alone in a churchyard where death and solitude are the keynotes; they are both forms of peace, it seems, which she will attain, Nell will, eventually, her life being motion and harassment. You note that Epsom is about motion and pleasure: “And now, Heavens! all the hampers fly wide open and the green Downs burst into a blossom of lobster salad!” A woman who has been tending the grave of her husband for more than half a century tells the little girl a story.

Then growing garrulous upon a theme which was new to one listener though it were but a child, she told her how she had wept and moaned and prayed to die herself, when this happened; and how when she first came to that place, a young creature strong in love and grief, she had hoped that her heart was breaking as it seemed to be. But that time passed by, and although she continued to be sad when she came there, still she could bear to come, and so went on until it was pain no longer, but a solemn pleasure, and a duty she had learned to like. And now that five-and-fifty years were gone, she spoke of the dead man as if he had been her son or grandson, with a kind of pity for his youth, growing out of her own old age, and an exalting of his strength and manly beauty as compared with her own weakness and decay; and yet she spoke about him as her husband too, and thinking of herself in connexion with him, as she used to be and not as she was now, talked of their meeting in another world, as if he were dead but yesterday, and she, separated from her former self, were thinking of the happiness of that comely girl who seemed to have died with him.

Proustian convolution. You notice that Dickens puts her outside herself, so that she is like David Copperfield watching his own red eyes in the mirror ("If ever child were stricken with sincere grief, I was. But I remember that this importance was a kind of satisfaction to me," in Copperfield), she wants her impressions and her body to coincide, “she hoped her heart was breaking as it seemed to be” (wishing, like Nell, for death) but her growing physical, ageing weakness means the separation and confusing of one and the other, and if this anecdote had flowed open (instead of being closed at the end into a story) then there is the possibility that she might have split into more and more people as she went on: so, then, eventually -- eventually, you see -- she could have been every Dickens character (in secret); she could represent the lady in the carriage who gives Nell a coin, the gypsy with the silvery voice at Derby Day in Epsom, the ventriloquist, the lobster salad in the Fortnum and Masons hampers, Mr Micawber, and all of the horses. Probably that is true, and this woman is all of Dickens’ characters, but how would I know, I’m not an expert.

Friday, June 17, 2016

homage to those who insist on being found

The characters who can see that Andoche Finot is “the evident son of a hat-maker“ don’t need him to know anything about hats. If he had been the son of a shoe-maker then nothing would have had to change in the book besides the word “hat,” and the son of a table-maker or a butcher would have done equally well because the others don’t need him to know about tables or meat. “Son of a perfumer” would have been a problem since there are already people in the book working on perfumes and then Balzac would have had to align him with the existing perfume-universe in some way, which would have been a waste of time, the plot not needing another perfume person. It already has more than the average number of perfumers for a work of fiction. You can also say that it has more than the average number of sons of hat-makers, because most books have none. There is a certain character in the same author's Sarrasine, 1830, who, if he had been able to look “from head to foot” like precisely what he was, would have made it impossible for Balzac to write the story. As I am reading the introduction by Susan Bernofsky and Christine Burgin to the recent translation of Robert Walser’s essays about art I learn that the writer once managed to get himself fired from a secretarial position by sending “highly inappropriate business letters” to clients of the Berliner Secession. Immediately I assume that he found it essential. The displaced and abandoned title character in Balzac’s Colonel Chabert, 1832, does not need people to see that he is Colonel Chabert so much as he needs them to see that he is not someone who would pretend to be Colonel Chabert. There is one person who recognised him flawlessly and against her own desires but she is also unfortunately the human being who most benefits from him not being Colonel Chabert, and so she undermines him, knowing what he is but not wanting anyone else to know. Several theatre-workers in Sarrasine prefer to keep a certain true identity secret too, for their own enrichment -- emotional rather than financial: now that they have caused the sculptor Ernest-Jean Sarrasine to think that he is something that he is not, they are able to laugh and nourish themselves on that fun misapprehension. Chabert’s wife likewise derives satisfaction from her husband not being himself. The knowledge that Finot sends shining out of his appearance is not harmful to him because no one in The Rise and Fall of César Birotteau is going to cripple a man with the information that his father makes hats. But he is not going to benefit from it either. So his ability to look like the son of a hat-maker is not useful to him in any way that the reader can see. The crowd of characters in other Balzac books who travel from the provinces to the city because they want to be successful and envied do not want people to look at them and know that they are the sons of villager individuals. Think that I am the offspring of someone other than my parents: that is their wish and their hope. If Finot had been one of those characters then his skill would have been a liability that he would have had to overcome by being rich. “No one likes to pay homage to those who insist on being found noteworthy,” writes Walser in his essay on Manet’s Olympia, but money is strong, says Balzac, as he makes his characters wrestle the strongman, money. Some of them will lose the fight voluntarily. The author is thrilled by those freaks. César Birotteau himself wants to pay his debts honestly. His wife and daughter are the same way; his impoverishment has made them act out what they are, says Balzac: they are quiet, resolute, strong, upright, attractive, etc. Ferdinand du Tillet, the one who has decided to destroy César by taking away his livelihood, is being true to himself when he behaves cruelly, we are told; he is a destructive, vindictive person. But he is not happy at the end, even though he has been himself. People respect this brave Birotteau. Du Tillet is uneasy. Meanwhile Colonel Chabert realises that he has the opportunity to resume his identity but he is not willing to put up with the personal warfare he will have to go through to get it. He is enraged; he produces a dramatic spasm, he gives up on the possibility of money. His creator is deeply moved by what he has done. Ernest-Jean Sarrasine, seeing that he is thwarted and realising that he is not able to be what he thought he was, threatens to commit murder, and is murdered. Chabert dies, Birotteau dies, Finot leaves the story one way or another; Walser died in the snow. It is safer to be one of the series of ventriloquists that Charles Dickens imagined at subsequent Derby Days in the Epsom article he co-authored for Household Words in 1851.* They had an eternal appearance, “the sickly-looking ventriloquist with an anxious face (and always with a wife in a shawl) teaches the alphabet to the puppet pupil, whom he takes out of his pocket.” He doesn’t have to be the same individual every time, only the same evident self.

* Reprinted in Charles Dickens' Uncollected Writings from Household Words 1850 - 1859, vol. I, 1969, ed. Harry Stone

Thursday, June 9, 2016

arms, legs, bones, and other trash

“Furthermore, the mutilated bodies of Jacob Donner, Samuel Shoemaker, Joseph Reinhardt, Antoine, and James Smith were still unburied and scattered around the tents and Tamsen was not of a mind to clear up the mess.”

“Mutilated body parts of arms, legs, bones, and other trash were prevalent in the cabins and on the grounds, but Eddy and Foster had just been through their own tragedy, and refused to clean up the mess.”

Richard F. Kaufman’s Saving the Donner Party: and Forlorn Hope, 2014

Who expected Tamsen Donner to tidy mangled corpses? Who were William Eddy and Charles Foster defying? “Mess” and “_____ up” were both incongruous, as were the words “from head to toe the evident son of a hat-maker” in a sentence from Balzac’s Rise and Fall of César Birotteau, 1837, tr. Katherine Wormeley. “A stout, chubby-faced fellow of medium height, from head to foot the evident son of a hat-maker, with round features whose shrewdness was hidden under a restrained and subdued manner, suddenly appeared,” he says, without telling you what might have made the man look distinctly “from head to toe” like something as totally precise as the son of a hat-maker. The son of a hat-maker is mystical here: what does it do to signal its presence? How does it overcome and supersede the ordinary qualities that Balzac actually lists? He has decided without anything else that this character not only is “Andoche Finot, son of a hat-maker in the Rue du Coq“ but also phenomenally resembles himself. Finot is dazzling, like the sun seen in its idea. All characters could be introduced like that in all books. For a moment the imaginary figure is in his pure form, untouched by story, and it is downhill from here. In Kaufman the people are impurified, they are not what they are, they are as petty as someone who won't pick up their socks; they are detached or split, they are in more than one place. “One does not often see a lamp and an angel united in the same body,” writes Lautreamont, tr. Guy Wernham, Les Chants de Maldoror, 1868, as the lamp in a sentence develops an angel’s wings and torso. Maldoror licks the angel’s face until the skin is gangrenous. The incongruity here is in the word “often.”

Sunday, May 29, 2016

a memorandum book

“We take a new route to California, never travelled before this season; consequently our tour is over a new and interesting region,” wrote Charles Stanton to his brother Sidney in a letter-addendum that he dated August 3, 1846. There he was, at the town of Independence in Missouri, preparing to start on the Oregon Trail. “How clean the sun when seen in its idea,” Wallace Stevens says, “Washed in the remotest cleanliness of a heaven | That has expelled us and our images …” – the heaven of text – being a reaction to something that is in time and space, not of the same material as itself, “The poem is the cry of its occasion,” but also “Part of the res itself and not about it” -- both from and of. De Quincey’s snow-forest is not snow, it is, theatrically, Solitude on a stage, this snow shining with a promising impervious beauty, not like the firework-burned snow that I travelled through a few days ago as I passed the turnoff to the lake where people from the Donner Party died one after the other in a landscape of snow until they became a fable of disaster and of the hubris of Lansford Hastings, the author of a book called The Emigrants’ Guide to Oregon and California, 1845, which contained a sentence outlining the route that held them up before they reached the Sierra Nevada ranges. People point the blame at him but it is unfair, says Kristin Johnson, author of Unfortunate Emigrants: Narratives of the Donner Party, 1996, because the survivors themselves, interviewed or writing memoirs, “hardly mention Hastings, except in passing.” They blamed themselves, she says, not the author of a sentence that they often had not read.

A friend of mine who was raised in Reno has told me that the people there spend a long time on the Donner Party in their high school history classes, even taking trips across the Nevada-California border to the Donner Memorial State Park, where a plaque on a statue tells you that the snow during the unusually cold winter of 1846 was twenty-two feet deep.

There is a photograph of a man sitting under trees in a forest with chopped-off portions high above his head: this was the depth of the snow and the Donner Party chopped them, here he is sitting to say that their chop was of the res and he is about the chop, afterwards: he is illustrating, they are separate, and so are you, looking.

In concordance with Hastings’ description the Donners and their people decided not to follow the established east-west route that ran north around the Great Salt Lake Desert in Utah. Instead they went by a southern track across seventy-five miles of bleak alkaline, a choice that, years later, caused the newspaper journalist Charles McGlashan to put these words in his book, The History of the Donner Party: a Tragedy of the Sierra, 1880: “Each jagged cliff, or pointed rock, or sharply-curved hill-top, hung suspended in air as perfect and complete as if photographed on the sky,” a sentence that I consider accurate.

The route that Hastings briefly mentioned in his Guide was not one that he had tried out himself at the time that the book was published; however when he tested it later he was successful – but when he wrote it he did not know.* “The most direct route,” he said, “for the California emigrants, would be to leave the Oregon route, at Fort Bridger; thence bearing West Southwest, to the Salt Lake; and thence continuing down to the bay of St. Francisco, by the route just described.” His tone of declaration is similar to the one in the poem “found … written on the leaf of a memorandum book by the side of [John] Denton's lifeless body” (History of the Donner Party) and I wonder how much it is the general public tone of that century in English.

Oh! after many roving years,
How sweet it is to come
To the dwelling-place of early youth
Our first and dearest home.
To turn away our wearied eyes,
From proud ambition’s towers,
And wander in those summer fields,
The scene of boyhood’s hours.
But I am changed since last I gazed
On yonder tranquil scene,
And sat beneath the old witch-elm
That shades the village green;
And watched my boat upon the brook
As it were a regal galley,
And sighed not for a joy on earth
Beyond the happy valley.

I wish I could recall once more
That bright and blissful joy,
And summon to my weary heart
The feelings of a boy.
But I look on scenes of past delight
Without my wonted pleasures,
As a miser on the bed of death
Looks coldly on his treasures.

The poem was printed in the California Star newspaper on February 13, 1947, as the Donner Party story was receiving its first round of publicity from journalists. I am unable to find any unbiased source that can tell me proofishly that the poem was written by Denton as he was sitting alone waiting to die in the snow (he might as well have written it weeks before: who knows) but I see that McGlashan wants it to be understood as the “cry of its occasion” when he adds, “The pencil with which it was written lay also by the side of the unfortunate man.” The gap between the impetus and the composition needs to be very short: this is his reading of the Wallace Stevens poems, which he must have seen before they were published. Jesse Quinn Thornton, putting a preface in front of the poem when it appeared in the Star, supports McGlashan’s understanding of Stevens by placing the imaginative and physical processes immediately next to one another.

On every side extends a boundless waste of trackless snow. He reclines against a bank of it, to rise no more, and busy memory brings before him a thousand images of past beauty and pleasure, and of scenes he will never revisit. A mother's image presents itself to his mind, tender recollections crowd upon his heart, and the scenes of his boyhood and youth pass in review before him with an unwonted vividness. The hymns of praise and thanksgiving that in harmony swelled from the domestic circle around the family altar are remembered, and soothe the sorrows of the dying man, and finally, just before he expires, he writes:

"Simple and intimate to the last degree, yet coming from the heart," Thornton says, "When the circumstances are considered in connection with the calamities in which the unhappy Denton was involved, the whole compass of American and English poetry may be challenged to furnish a more exquisitely beautiful, a more touching and pathetic piece." But. "After many roving years," etc, was not Denton's poem: it was the words to a song by Thomas Haynes Bayly (1797 – 1839), or almost those words -- a few changes -- "weary eyes" in Bayly instead of "wearied eyes," "trees and flowers," instead of "boyhood hours" -- Denton was remembering lines that he had probably heard people singing, once upon a time, maybe when he was at home in England (he was born in Sheffield) -- part of an oeuvre that some critic in the Spectator on February 10, 1844, described in a summary: "This reflex of the feeling of the amiably genteel is visible through every part of [Bayly's] composition. Except in sportive effusions upon inconstancy, the morals he points are unexceptionable; but they are those of society at large -- nothing above its opinion, nothing lower than what the mass would avow [...] his ideas are level to the apprehension of all his readers: the intellect is never tasked to understand him; the mind need not be raised to follow him, or at least not raised above the thickness of a carpet."

*Dr Henry Heimlich uses Heimlich manoeuvre for first time, aged 96.