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.