Friday, February 26, 2016

'twas for himself

Margaret Anne Doody wrote this about the character Briggs in her introduction to the 1988 Oxford edition of Burney’s second book, Cecilia, 1782: “It is one of the novel’s inventive triumphs that Briggs, far from being the stereotyped wretched miser, is one of the most vivacious characters. He lives in perpetual complete enjoyment of himself and what he is worth: he his self-love needs no supplement from the comforts or pleasures that lesser men enjoy.” See: Briggs: possessing every supplement naturally by making everything conform to his stratagem: to evaluate -- dressing himself for a masquerade ball in clothes that have been borrowed from a sweep and “pointing with a sneer” at the fake pearls on Sir Robert Floyer’s Turkish turban because they are not real, they are valueless, they are “nothing but French beads.” By the logic of the masquerade it doesn’t matter that the pearls are not real but Briggs’s understanding does not change when he leaves his house, it doesn't change according to anyone else’s wishes: it is never modified, it gets more violent, and his miserliness gives him an arsenal of rudeness, which he loves. His costume does not contribute to “the general air of gaiety diffused throughout the company,” it stinks (“an offensive smell of soot, making everybody look around the room”), it repels (“the company, with general disgust, retreated wherever he advanced“), but he is proud of it because it was cheap, and, in fact, he is glad – “All the better” -- when it is unique and annoying.

"How could this blackguard get in?" cried the Turk, "I believe he's a mere common chimneysweeper out of the streets, for he's all over dirt and filth. I never saw such a dress at a masquerade before in my life."

"All the better," returned the other; "would not change. What do think it cost?"

"Cost? Why, not a crown."

"A crown? ha! ha! -- a pot o' beer! Little Tom borrowed it; had it of our own sweep. Said 'twas for himself. I bid him a pint; rascal would not take less."

The sweep outfit is genuine, and it has a genuine effect, people run away from the smell of soot, while they do not react to Sir Robert’s costume as if the man inside is genuine Turk, nor do they treat a man in a black devil costume as if he is really an evil supernatural monster, and the book notices – Cecilia notices as well – that most people do not try to be genuine, it is not important to them; they do not try to stay in character at the ball. “[A] Minerva, not stately nor austere, not marching in warlike majesty, but gay and airy … ran up.”

"To own the truth," said Cecilia, "the almost universal neglect of the characters assumed by these masquers has been the chief source of my entertainment this evening: for at a place of this sort, the next best thing to a character well supported is a character ridiculously burlesqued."

The book calls a woman ignorant because she is dressed as a haymaker but doesn’t have any idea how haymakers live. “And pleased with her own readiness at repartee, without feeling the ignorance it betrayed, she tript lightly on.” Cecilia values genuineness, the book goes along with her tastes and supports them; Briggs loves genuineness though his is a different species of genuineness, but money-valuing makes him say things that have the same conclusion as her variety of genuineness – when he sums up Sir Robert’s outfit further: “never mind gold trappings; none of his own; all a take-in; hired for eighteenpence; not worth a groat." Robert Floyer’s self is not worth anything either; he looks good but he’s piggish. Cecilia knows it: she won’t marry him.

I think she deserves to feel the strange disgusted attraction towards Briggs that David Copperfield feels for Uriah Heep, but the book, as of page four hundred and eighteen, where I am, has made her react to his unpropriety with mannerly, clear distancing – and yet the example of his self-confidence standing in front of her fear deserves to be weirdly alluring (she is not as retreatful as Evelina, but still, she likes corners, she silences herself, ‘to avoid any hazard of altercation, she discreetly forbore making further complaints”) – she can’t get the black devil man away from her, she is at a loss, but Briggs, being a sweep, has a shovel, and he shovels him. “The fiend then began a yell so horrid, that it disturbed the whole company; but the chimney-sweeper, only saying, "Aye, aye, blacky, growl away, blacky, -- makes no odds," sturdily continued his work, and, as the fiend had no chance of resisting so coarse an antagonist without a serious struggle, he was presently compelled to change his ground.”

And then, patting her cheek with his dirty hand, and nodding at her with much kindness, "Pretty dove," he added, "be of good heart! shan't be meddled with; come to see after you.”

Friday, February 19, 2016

martyrdom for the pleasure

Fanny Burney’s Evelina wishes that the people she doesn’t like would leave her alone and that is the dominant tone in the novel, more than anything else, the subject of its most constant inventions. The introductory essay that comes with my edition (Edward A. Bloom, 1968) talks about an educational development that she undergoes, Bloom writing, “Like any education, hers is cumulative, with virtue and self-awareness directed to social fulfilment,” but I reckon I am not convinced, the word education is wrong in this context, she is not Austen’s Emma of 1815, or even Betsy Thoughtless of 1751, she has not been confronted with a body of wisdom that transfers her by increments from a child into an adult, the city-knowledge that she obtains is patchy and functional – don’t go down that dark walkway in Marybone Gardens – but the longing to go there did not need to be conquered and chastised – she never had a desire to go – Betsy Thoughtless had to learn not to but Evelina Annville would always rather not – I would rather not is her self-awareness and it is in place from the beginning to the end – not taught, no, fundamental, consistently reiterated (eg, at her first London ball, Vol. 1, letter XI; in her reluctance to accompany Madame Duval, Vol. 1, letter XXI; in the fact that she "wished extremely to shew" Mr Macartney that she was not part of the group, Vol. II, letter XIV; in her avoidance of Tom, Vol. II, letter XXIV; she is impressed when Lord Orville refuses to participate, Vol. III, letter III; her discussion of the Orville note, Vol. III, letter XVI, etc), and the people around her ignore it. “Can you then,” they say, “refuse me the smallest gratification, though, but yesterday, I almost suffered martyrdom for the pleasure of seeing you?” and so, sabotaged, she puts up with their wheedling, periodically trying to make them stop – "I entreat you never again to to address me in a language so flighty, and so unwelcome," she says, and rises to go, but Clement Willoughby "flung himself at my feet to prevent me" – scenes like that are repeated: the wheedling person is Sir Clement, or it is Polly, or Mr Smith or Mr Braughton "demand[ing]" "Why so?" when she ("looking alarmed") tells him that a thing "is utterly impossible," and then Madame Duval chimes in at her, "Ma foi child, you don't know no more about the world than if you was a baby" – so the group does that vulgar thing anyway, and she has to be involved, "I would rather have submitted to the severest punishment  – but all resistance was in vain" – it is not Evelina that the author wishes she could train to virtue, it is everybody else – cos they are hopeless – “I find all endeavours vain to escape any thing which these people desire I should not ...”

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

she had a Desire to return to the Place

After the last post I thought of Haywood’s 1726 Double Marriage again, especially a section of one sentence, which came into my head, or some version of it, God knows I didn’t remember the words too well, but they were this: “ … she resolved to know the Truth; and as nothing but ocular Demonstration could convince her it was so, she procur’d herself a Suit of Men’s Clothes, and in all things equipt like a Youth of fashion, went in the Stage-Coach to Plymouth; having pretended to her Father that she had a Desire to return to the Place she came from in the Country …” – which deserves to be set next to this fragment from chapter one of the same book, “Alathia [the same ‘she’], had Beauty, such as, in Idea, enliven’d the Fancies of the celebrated Titian and Raphael, famous for their Representations of the Queen of Love” – so, wonder, how did she ... -- where did she find a wig? – did she look like one of Chardin’s young men who dream over their cards with epicene Elizabeth Peyton faces? -- and what if (this was actually my real first thought but I had to fill in the rest first) the aspect of Haywood that had worked in the theatre as actor and playwright had accepted that this line was a cue she could have used to show off her knowledge of costumes?

Extrapolatory swagger! At least a paragraph’s worth of tangent there. How did she coat over that extreme womanliness. But Haywood didn’t do it --

She has cued herself and not used the cue --

She is an author of restraint.

She has used the words “of fashion” after “Youth,” to explain the unusual shape of the boy teenager, the phrase “Queen of Love” being transformed here, by the words “of fashion,” into long-bodied, flexible, free-floating ambiguous grace, without the earlier implications of extreme unmistakable female shape, the womanly-coy “sweet disorder” of Alathia’s other self, page two, chapter one, and other phrases the author has used on her, all suggesting physicality, all capable of being replaced by a formation called “fashion.”

Monday, February 1, 2016

a mistress may presumably have an unlimited number

When I saw that the woman in Eliza Haywood’s 1726 novella The City Jilt; or, the Alderman Turn’d Beau was named Glicera I thought back to the article I had seen earlier that day in the online version of the New York Times about a five-hour theatrical adaptation of Roberto Bolaño’s 2066, 2004. The author of the article had said that Bolaño’s book was “wildly digressive,” meaning praiseishly that the dead Chilean had done a startling, impressive, and difficult job, but I could not recall a single digression in 2066 that attracted my attention more than the one that had been created for me by Haywood when she wrote the word, “Glicera.” It was a mysterious black hole for me in the story; I could not grasp it as a name. Why Glicera -- had anybody ever been called actually Glicera? -- then what relevance did it have to the motto of the story, since Haywood is also the creator of personages with pointed names like Betsy Thoughtless (in A History of Miss Betsy Thoughtless, 1751) and Bellacour (a lover in The Double Marriage; or, the Fatal Release, 1726, a book that ends like Hamlet with everyone dead except one latecomer surveying the corpses), and then what about the fact that the word “Glicera” wants me to think that the character is wearing the same green grey dress all the time, and I can’t picture her in another dress: she always has to wear that one? And she is always in the same room with a bare wall behind her, textured like stone but without the joins between blocks: it looks as if stone has been slabbed somehow on the walls, like thick liquid concrete, and yet it is brown, not grey. There are shadows. Such a wall has not been described in the Jilt anywhere but I have made it. Potentially Glicera is a name which will not answer itself or be answered by the story, and it is a suspended infinite digression that I could kill off, I said to myself, if I thought about it for more than two seconds – then I won’t do it I said – I do not want to answer by thinking of explanations for it, or words in other languages that might resemble it, or by thinking of figures in antiquity who were named Glicera, and if I have ever known any then I will blank them out of my memory so that I can retain my own endless, bottomless Glicera, and not replace her with the one who wrote about love to the dramatist Menander in the years BC, and “Tibullus’ Glycera has long occasioned needless confusion and speculation [… The word] has no apparent symbolic force (although having some poems might help us decide that), and is in all likelihood a pet-name, of which a mistress may presumably have an unlimited number),” said David F. Bright in Haec Mihi Fingebam: Tibullus in His World, 1997. Glycera, Glicera, was a nickname for courtesans, meaning Sweetness, or something like that --