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.”


  1. This is how scholars become specialists in single words; how they end up spending their time searching databases of texts for key words. These little shifts in meaning are so difficult.

    1. I think it's the only shift like that in the book. Lennox doesn't usually describe people for the sake of scenery-flavouring, so it seems evident that this Girl is about to do something with her submission and her respect, and then (on the brink of fame) she evaporates.

      Whatever attempt at reason I come up with, I think the Girl is always going to be one of those excessive things; it's more than the author needs to have just there, a very short Moby Dick.