Thursday, June 8, 2017

help us to take off

There's one minor character in The Women at the Pump who is like someone from the early Hamsun books coming into this one; he is poor, he has set himself a task that compels him to suffer, and he will not do anything to accomplish it. "He never comes home, no he's a real oddity; he's taken it into his head that he won't come home until he's made a lot of money and can built onto the house and help us to take off," says his father. The son has never made money. He travels on foot around the countryside and plays the mouth organ for his own enjoyment, something he was good at as a child. His parents want to see him again but "he wouldn't come home until he'd become a capitalist." Of course he will never become a capitalist. Oliver, the book's lead character, tries not to become a capitalist by refusing to sell the fish he catches but he cracks eventually. It is from enjoyment that he fishes, though, he says: he does not need to fish. Meanwhile his mother is doing everything she can think of to save the household from starvation. But he does not need to fish; he does not want people to think that he does anything because he has to. And this other son, the harmonica musician, he has stated a need for himself and does not do it; he states that it must be done so that it will not be done; and he has created the thing that he has to do so that he can refuse to make it real. And so reality can be kept out; he is protecting everyone, let's say, from one version of unhappiness.

Charlotte Dacre, in Zofloya, or, the Moor, 1790, says that Victoria has fallen in love – in lust; she seduces him - with her husband's brother Henriquez, but as the Oxford University Press editor Kim Ian Michasiw points out in his introduction to the 1997 republication of the book (and this is true, easily observable, blatant, and strange), the physicality of Henriquez is not described from her perspective nearly as often as that of his servant, Zofloya, who is "of superior height," handsome, "elegant," "graceful," "noble and majestic," well-dressed, and compelling. Victoria's mental reaction to him is detailed more extensively than her thoughts about Henriquez: "Scarcely had her head reclined upon the pillow, ere the image of Zofloya swam in her sight; she slumbered, and he haunted her dreams; sometimes she wandered with him over beds of flowers, sometimes over craggy rocks, sometimes in the fields of brightest verdure, sometimes over burning sands, tottering on the brink of some huge precipice, while angry waters waved in the abyss below."

The Henriquez thoughts are sketches compared to this: "he employed her fancy by night; his form presented itself if she awoke," but there're no paragraphs of specific wandering over beds of flowers, craggy rocks, etc; nor does he have "eyes, brilliant and large" that "sparkled with inexpressible fire."

At some point it strikes even the least subtle reader that Zafloya is starting to remind them of Satan in Paradise Lost.

The love for Henriquez is something that is not happening even while someone is saying to you, "It is real, it is happening," still, your senses (as a reader, your other-than-literal understandings) tell you that it is not occurring, it will not occur, it is not really there – I found this an unsettling position.

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