Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Maybe in this reading it will come out better

She continued reading for a while in The Odd Women. And found that, over the years, her reader's response had changed. She still rooted for the two women for whom some chance of love was still possible. The other three she grew impatient with out of despair (as she had despaired of her student Portia): what hope for Monica's two older sisters, eating their meal of rice at a table measuring three by one and a half feet in Lavender Hill, the hair of one falling out, the other becoming an alcoholic? She did not wish to dwell with them longer than absolutely necessary as she herself lay in her young married sister's cast-off room, every other woman in this house warming herself against a man. When Monica Madden who was still young and pretty, met the older Widdowson, a bachelor with money, in Battersea Park, Jane thought furtively, as she had thought the last time she read this novel: Oh, go ahead and marry him. Why not? Maybe in this reading it will come out better. Perhaps he will have learned his lesson and won't hound you literally to your death with his jealousy. And you will have learned to be more discreet, to value a good home. Likewise, Jane counseled Rhoda Nunn, the young spinster career woman with whom she most identified: Stop playing this feminist power game with Everard Barfoot. You've proved your admirable point--that in the nineteenth century you are able to forgo the legal form of marriage to preserve your independence. And he has proved he loves you enough to give up his prized bachelorhood and marry you. Why not get married and do more interesting things than destroy your love with ideologies? Nevertheless, Jane found herself circling Rhoda's angry outcry:

. . . Love--love--love--a sickening sameness of vulgarity. What is more vulgar than the ideal of novelists? They won't represent the actual world. . . . . In real life how many men and women fall in love? . . . Not one married pair in ten thousand have felt for each other as two or three couples do in every novel.

Was Rhoda right? Was "love--love--love" never to be found outside the ideals of novelists? But she remembered Sonia Marks saying, "Most women can identify with heroines who can learn to live without marriage; but not so many want to live without love of any kind."

--Gail Godwin, The Odd Woman

Monday, February 13, 2012

The sound of swords crossing

"Make yourself comfortable," Ada says, motioning him toward the sofa before she heads for the kitchen. But Case doesn't sit. He roams about the room, picks up a book lying on the sofa, glances at the spine. Daniel Deronda. He doesn't recognize the title; it must be Eliot's most recent. He replaces the novel and shifts to the bookcase, which hold a surprising amount of philosophy: Bentham, Mills, Burke, Locke, Hobbes. There are numerous abolitionist pamphlets and bound numbers of a journal called The Lily. Several shelves contain the usual English poets, the plays of Shakespeare, novels by Hawthorne, Washington Irving, Thackeray, Trollope, and Defoe. There is much more George Eliot, including the essays.

He startles at the bookcase, embarrassed, when Mrs. Tarr enters the room. Clearing his throat, he says, "Your husband has a fine library."

She carries a lacquer tray holding two glasses of iced tea. Her black eyebrows lift and a mocking smile tucks the corner of her mouth. "My husband's library? It is mine, Mr. Case. Or rather it was my mother's--which I have augmented over the years. Mr. Tarr never puts his nose in a book--except a law book."

. . . . He hears her say, "My mother used to claim that one can learn more about a person by scanning their books than could be learned by years of acquaintance. Do you think that true, Mr. Case?"

. . . . He senses she is trying to conduct him, direct him the way she did the audience the previous night. He is to spring into action at her command. Well, if that's what she wants, he will. Trying to adopt her insouciant manner he says, "If I were a medical man and those books were symptoms, I would diagnose a case of mortal seriousness." Even worse, he thinks. Ponderous, silly.

Case detects a mercurial flash of intelligence in those dark eyes, a slight colouring of her extremely pale skin. But she looks more intrigued than angry. Whatever the woman thinks seems to register itself on her face. "Mortal seriousness? Particularly deadly for a woman, I take it. And what is the cure, Doctor?"

"A dose of Dickens is what I would prescribe, ma'am." He crosses his legs; his foot begins to flick impatiently up and down. He wills it to be still.

"Oh, I don't think Dickens will do," says Mrs. Tarr. "My mother could not abide Dickens. She said his characters resembled no human being she had ever met. She called Dickens false to life. It was the gravest charge she could level." Her eyes fall on Case's shoe, which has resumed a frantic jigging.

He uncrosses his legs and shoves both feet firmly to the floor, grips both knees hard to keep them from bouncing. "I would say that it is all to Mr. Dickens's credit that he gives us the sort of characters he does. I find them entertaining. Who would read a novel just to meet the same bores they encounter on their daily rounds?"

"Click, click, click," says Ada, and sticks her tongue impudently in her cheek.

"Beg pardon?" says Case.

"The sound of swords crossing. I do enjoy a fencing match, a lively discussion about the respective merits of artists. It has been ages."

--Guy Vanderhaeghe, A Good Man

Saturday, February 11, 2012

I'm not making this up

At the library. Someone just called and asked if we had audiovisual books.

I referred him to the public library.