Archive for April, 2009

Chapter XIV

April 24, 2009

Had it been up to Miss Stackpole they would have left the confines of Gardencourt immediately, but it was not up to Miss Stackpole; the decision was Isabel Archer’s, and Miss Archer was of the decided opinion that her discourse with Lord Warburton had not been concluded, not to either’s satisfaction; so they waited for something happen, waited while Warburton prevaricated, waited while he dithered, waited for Warburton to arrive…

At least this was Miss Stackpole’s opinion.

Isabel, on the contrary, rather felt that Lord Warburton’s delay was understandable, that it corresponded with his desire not to appear aristocratic and arbitrary. She felt it both established his concern for her feelings and credited his need to let some time pass while he mastered his own difficult emotions. It was, in short, appropriate to Warburton’s situation whether Miss Stackpole thought so or not, and her uncle silently agreed with her, for when Warburton did finally come to lunch, Mr. Touchett made it his business to be present, providing a kind of umbrella of support and camouflage to both Isabel and his good friend.

viclady3Isabel was at first surprised that Lord Warburton brought his sister with him. Was Miss Molyneux there for support or camouflage? The two visitors were introduced to Miss Stackpole, who sat next to Warburton and questioned him avidly. Isabel couldn’t help but admire his self-possession, for while Warburton neither looked nor spoke to her, he conversed freely with the rest of the table and seemed to enjoy his meal. Miss Molyneux was wearing a simple silver cross that bespoke deep Anglican mysteries. She appeared to be quite taken with Miss Stackpole, and while they talked, Isabel took in her smooth features and quite demeanor, her almost nun-like self-possession. Isabel wondered what Miss Molyneux would think if she knew she had refused his brother’s marriage proposal, but quickly realized Miss Molyneux would never know of this event. Lord Warburton did not tell his sister such things. Miss Molyneux would find the act difficult to comprehend, and surely see the situation as a failure of Isabel’s—of Isabel’s own comprehension—and not that of her brother’s heredity certainties.

Despite her friend’s pensive state, Henrietta Stackpole was not inclined to miss her opportunity. ”Do you know you’re the first lord I’ve ever seen?” she stated to Warburton. “I suppose you think I’m awfully benighted.”

“Then you’ve escaped seeing some very ugly men,” he answered, glancing briefly at Miss Archer.

“In America, you know, they try to make us think they are all handsome and magnificent, and that they all wear robes and crowns.” She reflected: “They can’t all be ugly.”

“Ah, the robes and crowns are gone out of fashion, I’m afraid—like your tomahawks and revolvers.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Miss Stackpole replied. “An aristocracy ought to be grand. I can’t see any other use for…”

“Potatoes?” Warburton interrupted. He was holding a plate of boiled potatoes. “They’re awfully good.”

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Bleak House

April 11, 2009

calipers11At first it seems like a flouting of the phony. A magician steps on stage, Mysterioso the Magnificent, set to amaze us with prestidigitation and conjugation, so the sign says—he’s even got his black cape on, he twirls an elongated mustache, bows to the audience, speaks with a wicked smile: ‘Watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat’…we groan, ‘not that old hat trick’…and instead pulls out ‘flowered curtains thin and frayed’ and ‘a strip of building land,/ Tussocky, littered’ and ‘the same saucer-souvenir’ and ‘the Frinton folk/ Who put him up for summer holidays’. He digs in again: and at his age’…


Is there such a thing as a ‘thrill’ of sorrow, a ‘sad’ frisson? Is there a harrowing melancholy? A despair so ordinary you can wrap it up tight and put it in a poem?

The hat Mysterioso’s opening out is this poem by Philip Larkin:

'This was Mr Bleaney's room. He stayed
The whole time he was at the Bodies, till
They moved him.' Flowered curtains, thin and frayed,
Fall to within five inches of the sill,
Whose window shows a strip of building land,
Tussocky, littered. 'Mr Bleaney took
My bit of garden properly in hand.'Bed, upright chair, sixty-watt bulb, no hook
Behind the door, no room for books or bags -
'I'll take it.' So it happens that I lie
Where Mr Bleaney lay, and stub my fags
On the same saucer-souvenir, and try
Stuffing my ears with cotton-wool, to drown
The jabbering set he egged her on to buy.
I know his habits - what time he came down,
His preference for sauce to gravy, why
He kept on plugging at the four aways -
Likewise their yearly frame: the Frinton folk
Who put him up for summer holidays,
And Christmas at his sister's house in Stoke.
But if he stood and watched the frigid wind 
Tousling the clouds, lay on the fusty bed

Telling himself that this was home, and grinned,

And shivered, without shaking off the dread
That how we live measures our own nature,
And at his age having no more to show
Than one hired box should make him pretty sure
He warranted no better, I don't know.

Names must count for something. Name your protagonist ‘Maurice Conchis’ or ‘Mr. Cogito’—not to mention ‘Everyman’—and you’re suggesting to your reader something universal is going on here, something cosmic: consciousness itself is to be scrutinized, the fate of mankind is being weighted, so pay attention. Name your character ‘Mr. Bleaney’ and it’s not so obvious that you mean anything more than, you know, you opened the phone book and randomly pointed at ‘Harold Bleaney’. You’re going for the ordinary. You don’t know him; it’s just a name; because everyone has to have a name, don’t they?

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