Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Patrick White, Truman Capote, Edith Wharton, Herman Melville

December, 2010: I borrowed Patrick White's The Eye Of The Storm (1973) from my mother, who was cleaning up her bookshelves. I love Patrick White, and that's that. This novel is peopled by characters possibly even more repulsive than usual; though, as always, they are figured with love and fascination.

I just thought: maybe White's plays are generally more liked than his novels because his characters are played by real people, and the audience isn't exposed to how White has described them physically; his grotesque (to us - not to him) physical descriptions of his characters can alienate readers.

The Eye Of The Storm is about Elizabeth Hunter, an ancient lady, rich, once beautiful, who lives in her Centennial Park mansion with nurses, cook and house-keeper. Her two grown-up (-ish) children, Sir Basil (famous actor) and Princess Dorothy (ex-wife of a French prince) come back to Australia to get control of their mother's money. They decide that putting her into a nursing home will encourage her to die. She has been a pretty awful mother, so we tend to forgive their lack of love for her; but we also forgive her selfishness and cruelty, because there's something admirable about her - her selfishness is also uncompromising trueness-to-self. Being true to yourself often means doing things that don't work in the favour of those closest to you; when you suppress your own will to please someone else, it feels like a weak self-betrayal.

One redeeming characteristic about the three Hunters is that they know better than anyone else how disgusting they are. We are privy to all their private dark moments; dark moments, in White's hands, are rendered light moments, horribly light, with a harsh light shone onto scenes such as the ageing Sir Basil's drunken seduction of an aspiring young actress in Bangkok, that ends with him failing to get an erection, then vomiting beside the bed.

Janie Carson almost didn't glance; she switched off the light soon after. It was thoughtful of her. His nervous shanks might tremble less in the dark, the slacker skeins of flesh not swing. Balls too.

Ergh! He is so visceral! It makes us squirm with recognition and shame.

Another seduction, later in the novel, of one of his mother's nurses, the young, fecund, uneducated Sister Manhood:

"A genuine Botticelli!" He glanced over his shoulder, half-expecting some unseen spectator might have overheard his corny remark.

"My what?" she giggled as he stood out of his dressing-gown.

The breasts of this elderly man - her lover - were developing relentlessly inside the fur bra.

Here's a bit about Elizabeth Hunter and selfishness:

Lal Wyburd [the sensible wife of Elizabeth's lawyer] would naturally have interpreted as selfishness every floundering attempt anybody made to get out of the straitjacket and recover a sanity which must have been theirs in the beginning, and might be theirs again in the end. That left the long stretch of the responsible years, where you were lunging in your madness after love, money, position, possessions, while an inkling persisted, sometimes even certainty descended: of a calm in which the self had been stripped, if painfully, of its human imperfections.

I find that passage beautiful. If I had posters on my walls of cheering philosophical statements, maybe I'd make one out of that.

And another comment on the bygone Australia where people who showed signs of thinking were discouraged from that activity:

Inklings of transcendence had washed against Flora Manhood before, if only by brief moments: after some dream had driven her out from a house of threatened cardboard into a solid white night, to which her own white particle suddenly and miraculously belonged; or swimming with Col Pardoe against the tide of music, where inadmissible eddies would occur in which she was almost whirled to an understanding of mysteries such as love, beauty, fulfilment, death. Now, thanks to this crazy Jewess, she was again troubled; by a shimmer from a grotty dress in Elizabeth Hunter's wardrobe. When, like every good Australian, she must continue to believe only in the now which you can see and touch.

December, 2010: Suddenly short of a book once again, I picked Truman Capote's Breakfast At Tiffany's (1958) from Stella's bookshelf. Now a couple of months has passed since I read it, and so I look at the one page I dog-eared (perhaps I was being restrained in my dog-earring because it wasn't my book):

So I more than half meant it when I wished I were under the wheels of a train. The head-line made the desire positive. If Holly could marry that 'absurd foetus', then the army of wrongness rampant in the world might as well march over me. Or, and the question is apparent, was my outrage a little the result of being in love with Holly myself? A little. For I was in love with her. Just as I'd once been in love with my mother's elderly coloured cook and a postman who let me follow him on his rounds and a whole family named Kendrick. That category of love generates jealousy, too.

Like Ethan Frome, my pleasure in Breakfast At Tiffany's wore off as soon as I'd finished it, especially as I went on to read the next short story, House Of Flowers, and the one after, A Diamond Guitar, and suddenly decided I didn't like Capote's writing any more. The narrator in Tiffany's is very likable (as the above passage shows), but I was thinking, like Ethan Frome, sometimes having a narrator can leave the story feeling very limited, and too objective. It's the reviewing of an episode that exists, all complete, in the narrator's memory. When I was a child, I used to hate comics, though I still read them (such as Snoopy and Footrot Flats), because the worlds that the stories too place in were so limited and confined. And in the case of Tiffany's and Ethan Frome, the story isn't even happening to the narrator - they are passive bystanders, on-lookers.

Maybe if I weren't a writer, I would enjoy spending a novel with these sorts of narrators. But I have enough non-participatory looking-on on my life, and prefer to spend time with characters who experience the world in a different way.

December, 2010: Short of a book, and Stell away in Broome, I browsed over her bookshelf and picked out Ethan Frome (1911) by Edith Wharton. Darren was driving someone else's newly-purchased motorhome from Melbourne to Gympie, and he picked me up as he went through Sydney; I'd been diligently at-desk for four or five weeks, and needed to feel some miles under my boots. Then I had to get to Canberra for my great-uncle Gavan's funeral, so caught the train back from Wauchope, and read almost the whole of Ethan Frome on the train trip.

It's great, simple story-telling. Ethan is a sensitive, inarticulate man in a beautiful, harsh landscape, who, in a panic of loneliness, marries a bad-tempered hypochondriac, Zenobia. Marriage being what it was, he is stuck with her (HOW CAN WE FORGET WHAT MARRIAGE USED TO BE? IT RUINED LIVES! FORGET MARRIAGE! FORGET DIVORCE! ISN'T LOVE AND FRIENDSHIP GOOD ENOUGH? That's one arm of my anti-marriage rant). Zeena's young, destitute cousin comes to live with the Fromes, inexpertly doing the house-keeping in return for her keep. Ethan and Mattie Silver slowly fall in love. Then something happens. The story is told by a narrator, who comes to the town twenty years later, and pieces the story together.

I eagerly turned the pages, and at the climax, I cried, not just a tear, but a suppressed sob. But now, a month later, something about it has left me cold: what is it? It's a perfectly-told tale - too perfect, I suspect. There's no groping, there are no false steps, no moments of ambitious failure. For a story about an inarticulate character, it's all too articulate. Wharton has Ethan in a little box. She knows him through and through. There are no ragged, fraying edges trailing off the page. That's why I love Stead, White, Mann, even when I don't like them - they are triers!

Here's the one page I dog-eared (sorry, Stella, for the book vandalism!):

He had always been more sensitive than the people about him to the appeal of natural beauty. His unfinished studies had given form to this sensibility and even in his unhappiest moments field and sky spoke to him with a deep and powerful persuasion. But hitherto, the emotion had remained in him as a silent ache, veiling with sadness the beauty that evoked it. He did not even know whether anyone else in the world felt as he did, or whether he was the sole victim of this mournful privilege.

In Tamworth the other day, while walking along the ridge of a sort of flood levee, through a weedy, bullrushy reserve, not a soul in sight, the boom of Peel Street buskers on the breeze, I witnessed a very beautiful sunset - the Tamworth hills turning purple, the nearly-full moon in the sky. I'd been needing a cry for a couple of days, and the beauty finally broke me. The beauty made me feel so lonely, and so alive. I suppose that passage above goes part-way to explaining why I cried.

December, 2010: A History Of Private Life

December, 2010: It was time for Moby Dick (1851). For a long time, I've been meaning to read it - also The Hunchback Of Notre Dame - but I'm running out of long classics. I used to rue my years of hasty reading, but in the future, perhaps I will be grateful to them - all those forgotten novels that I can reread!

Moby Dick is a very odd book. It has passages of action and colour, as rollicking as something from a Dickens novel, then a whole lot of outdated science about whales, and minute detail about the whaling business, a chapter devoted to the significance of the colour white, chapters (and, at the end of the novel, a collection of extracts) about the history of whales and whalemen, whales in the bible, whales in Egyptian hieroglyphs. There are chapters with stage directions, and crew members talking in sotto voce asides about each other. All this variety is how Melville deals with his structural problem: that his story is a long sea voyage, with all the attendant tedium and repetition, building up to the climax (namey: Captain Ahab has it out with Moby Dick), which is also the end. Oh, a tough story he has picked for himself! In our day and age, of messing around with time, we would solve that problem by making the climax the body of the story. We would pick the eyes out of the voyage and poke them into the three days of wrangling with Moby as strategic flashbacks. Moby Dick is proof that clever structures maketh not a work of enduring value. There is something pure and beautiful - unartificial - about this structure. It provides a simple setting for the work's jewels: the authorial voice (Herman, I love you!), and the incredibly vivid descriptions of incidents, sights, feelings, that I will never experience.

I was just flicking through the novel, in search of a sentence which seemed too unremarkable at the time to dog-ear. Something about how men spend their prime years in search of fame, fortune, adventure, and only in their later years discover that all that matters is family, the fireside. This sentiment of Melville's has gradually found its way to the Christina Stead quote-of-the-moment, "She's [womankind is] desperate!" (see previous entry). It struck me that women's discovery is the opposite - they spend the first two decades of adulthood obsessed with family and the fireside - with men - then (post-menopause) discover all the other things life has to offer. In my limited but wide-ranging experience of men, those under forty think that your interest in them is a reflection of all their merits; your interest in them inspires them with the confidence to reach for even greater ambitions. Men over forty think that your interest in them is a fluke, and they try to grab as much of you as they can before you (inevitably) move on. As Jenny Winters said, "Older men - they're grateful." Men - especially the ones with the most charms - must feel a terrible loss when, for all their charms, women in their age-group simply aren't interested in them anymore, not they way they used to be. Maybe it's good and natural that women and men aren't "desperate" for each other at the same time in their life-cycle. But it seems a pity, too! Well, I'm looking forward to my revenge. I read a fairy-story in childhood where the hero had two choices: trials and tribulations in the first half of life, and peace and happiness in the second half, or vice versa. As I child, I decided that, in his position, I would have chosen the trials and tribulations in youth, while I had the energy to cope with it - "get it over with", I thought.

All right, some favourite parts:

...he [Ahab] cried out in his old lion voice, - "Up helm! Keep her off round the world!"

Round the world! There is much in that sound to inspire proud feelings, but whereto does all that circumnavigation conduct? Only through numberless perils to the very point whence we started, where those that we left behind secure, were all the time before us.

Were this world an endless plain, and by sailing eastward we could for ever reach new distances, and discover sights more sweet and strange than any Cyclades or Islands of King Solomon, then there were promise in the voyage. But in pursuit of those mysteries we dream of, or in tormented chase of that demon phantom that, some time or other, swims before all human hearts; while chasing such over this round globe, they either lead us on in barren mazes or midway leave us whelmed.

This set off a "demon phantom" theme for me - all the demon phantoms I senselessly chase, and not just men-under-forty. It would be nice just to live, rather than fill up one's time with difficult circumnavigations.

There is a wonderful passage about our hero Ishmael's first meeting with the tattooed cannibal Queequeg, who becomes his bosom friend. Ishmael is initially repelled and horrified by Queequeg's appearance, and the fact that he has spent the day trying to hawk a severed head around the town of Nantucket. Here, he is forced to share a bedroom with Queequeg in a cheap, crowded hotel:

As I sat there in that now lonely room; the fire burning low, in that mild stage when, after its first intensity has warmed the air, then it only glows to be looked at; the evening shades and phantoms gathering round the casements, and peering in on us silent, solitary twain; the storm booming without in solemn swells; I began to be sensible of strange feelings. I felt a melting in me. No more my splintered heart and maddened hand were turned against the wolfish world. This soothing savage had redeemed it. There he sat, his very indifference speaking a nature in which there lurked no civilised hypocrisies and bland deceits. Wild he was; a very sight of sights to see; yet I began to feel myself mysteriously drawn towards him.

Ishmael starts up a broken conversation with his room-mate, and ends up helping him with his nightly ritual to the little ebony idol that he carries with him:

...that done, we undressed and went to bed, at peace with our own consciences and all the world. But we did not go to sleep without some little chat.

How it is I know not; but there is no place like a bed for confidential disclosures between friends. Man and wife, they say, there open the very bottom of their souls to each other; and some old couples often lie and chat over old times till nearly morning. Thus, then, in our hearts' honeymoon, lay I and Queequeg - a cosy, loving pair.

Oh, it's tiring typing out another writer's paragraphs! There are so many more dog-eared pages, but I'll stop there for now.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Christina Stead

November, 2010: I suddenly remembered I had Christina Stead's For Love Alone (1945) sitting on my shelf, as yet unread. What a treat!

To me, it's a very detailed depiction of a relationship - I mean, a love-relationship. In many books, any love-relationships between the characters will be part of the background, with the story running across the top. Or a love affair will be an episode, not the story itself. Even love stories - for example, Jane Austen's novels, or D.H.L.'s Lady Chatterley's Lover - tend to depict the act of falling in love, or the meandering way two people got together, rather than the relationship itself, its day-to-day workings. It's almost as if there's an assumption that all relationships are the same from there on. Of course, that's patently untrue. Novels about relationships are hard to write (and read): they're long, gruelling, full of fastidious details, full of what you would call, if you were one of the two in the relationship, "nit-picking". Anna Karenina is a story about a love-relationship. One of the things I remember about it is that where a love-story would end (the two lovers have finally surmounted the obstacles and can be together), Anna Karenina goes on, and on, even past the point where a tragic-love-story would end. Anna Karenina reminded me of Henry Handel Richardson's Maurice Guest (which I had read a couple of years previously): another relentless book documenting the beginning and end of a relationship (of a sort) between two music students in Leipzig.

To be with Johnathon Crow, Teresa Hawkins travels from Sydney to London (between the Wars), having slaved away at a badly-paid (women's wages) job, scrimped, and nearly starved herself to death in order to save up for the passage. The descriptions of Teresa's half-starved existence in 1930s Sydney reminded me of the graphic detail in Knut Hamsun's Hunger(damn! Who did I lend my copy to? A rat had chewed a hole in the cover). On page 445 of For Love Alone (500 pages), Johnathon finally admits, to Teresa's soon-to-be new lover, "I enjoyed her misery." I thought, "That's the sentence this book is about!" It's so hard to understand another person - just one other person. As you enter into a love-relationship with someone, their differences often become increasingly less, not more, fathomable. Perhaps Stead had experienced, close up, a person like Johnathon, who could put a lover through five or six years of pain and unhappiness, and then say, at the end, "I enjoyed her misery." It takes a whole novel to fathom a statement like that; and to fathom how warm-hearted Teresa got herself into a relationship with a cold-hearted sadist, and then got herself out.

Stead's writing reminds me of my flatmate Enrique's painting style: what seems like a busy mass of blobs and quick strokes, drips, mistakes, boot-prints, gradually reveals itself to be a really clearly, precisely executed scene. Enrique hung a painting up in our kitchen - a person drinking a cup of tea, but where? in what setting? Enrique wouldn't tell. After weeks of eyeing the painting, I suddenly saw - it was in our own kitchen! There it all was, the cupboard with the door slightly hanging off its hinges, the window, the noticeboard, the mug I'd bought in Cowra Vinnies. "For Love Alone is as rough around the edges and as messy as a work by a major writer could be," writes Peter Craven in the introduction. After reading that, I didn't bother to read the rest of what Craven had to say, though "very nearly Mills and Boon for serious readers" also unfavourably caught my eye. Just because a novel is about love, doesn't mean it's a romance - jeez! Cormac McCarthy is "Mills and Boon for serious (namely, male) readers". And I mean that in a derogatory way. It's characteristic of a Stead novel that only at the end, or even a few days after finishing it, have I realised what it was about. That's a really satisfying feeling.

Is this romantic, just because it's about love? To me, it's almost terrifying:

Most young women are surprised to find themselves with a lover at all; the oblique remarks and casual slurs of relatives, the naked domestic drama and hate of parent and child, leads them to the belief that love does not exist, that it is a flare-up between the sexes, a fever, or a nugget which must be capitalised as soon as found. They are brought up with the idea that their cousins and aunts do what is next-door to blackmail, robbery, and a confidence trick to get married at all. They secretly agree with the Johnathon Crows that they are failures, freaks, if they don't. They love, but they are taught that their love is ridiculous, old-fashioned, unseemly, and inopportune, an obstacle to their life-game, an actual menace to their family society and to the lives of their children to be, for "show a man you love him and he runs in the opposite direction". This was her aunt's timid belief. A poor woman has only one property, her body; passion destroys all relations and liquidates property. So that open love is a serious stain on her character, even if she is as pure as the Virgin.

I quoted this bit to Bella on the phone the other day, talking about the biological differences between men and women, and what effect that has on us - women have an end, a kind of death, in the middle of their lives, when they can't have children any longer, but men don't have that, their first death is the big one:

Quick bounced up and down the room again, and quoted Jonathan aloud: "Christ gave no hostages to fortune." Then he rushed on: "Woman is haunted - as no man is haunted - by the fear of biological failure. She's desperate! They live contingently! And he knows it, the spider! We are allowed to doubt, they never."

If a man had written that women are desperate, it probably would have raised my hackles.

I liked this speech from a man who tries to pick up Teresa in Sydney:

"Look, wouldn't you go to a movie with me? I don't want anything, only your company. I just want to go to the movies with someone. I never spoke to no one," he said, lapsing suddenly. "I've been here seven days and the girls don't want to talk to you. I'm all right. I'm a counter man in a little ham-and-beef up there, on the other side of the station, in Mortdale. I saved up the whole year to come to Sydney for me holidays. They always say Sydney is lively. I never met nobody here. Yesterday, I took the train up to Arncliffe. I just took any ticket. The day before I went to the Zoo, I spoke to a couple of girls but they wouldn't speak to me. I came back. I've got a room in Darlinghurst."

He depresses the hell out of Teresa and she hurries away. She's too close to being just like him.

And a rape anecdote that Jonathan tells to Teresa, to make himself sound like a man of the world. The nonchalance with which Jonathan retails it is shocking:

"Anyhow, the girl turned back to make the bed and Burton, furious at being answered with his friends there - for I suppose he half-believes that rot of his - brutally pushed her onto the bed and invited one of the chaps to attack her. They were scared of course, so he tried to, but she twisted out of his grasp, although he's a hefty fellow - but shaky just then - and she rushed out of the room, bellowing. What a shindy! Wow! She ran downstairs, crying for the landlady. Do you know what the fellow did? A regular gallow's-bird. You've got to admire his almighty nerve in a way, none of us would have had the brass - it was this gentleman pose - he leaned over the stairhead and shouted to the landlady to send the girl up to do his filthy room, if not he'd leave that very day. That was pushing his gall pretty far, considering what he owed in rent there. What was his pull? The old lady was sweet on him, I imagine. The girl was crying downstairs and telling what was the matter, and Burton yelling upstairs. What a din! Some of the fellows were making a row too. Would you believe it? The landlady wouldn't believe the girl and sent her up, to satisfy him, and he raped her, and a couple of the other fellows did, but we just sat and grinned. What a scene!" he finished reminiscently, but with a sidelong glance at her.

Another woman, Clara, falls in love with Jonathan (I'm working backwards through my dog-eared pages):

"There's something about being a woman. I simply want to be a cave woman when I think of you. I want to work for you, I'd wait on you, I'd wash your feet and dry them with my hair."

"Like Jesus," said Jonathan.

"Yes," she said grudgingly, "like Jesus. As Martha, as Mary - but I wasn't thinking of Jesus."

"No, I know, slavery is a kind of instinct with women."

"We call it love."

"I call it the instinct of the millennial slave."

Friday, October 1, 2010

Dennis Potter, Joseph Westermeyer

October, 2010: Errol noticed Blackeyes on a bookshelf on Lord Howe Island - Dennis Potter has written a novel? Dennis Potter who made the crazy television series The SInging Detective? Errol read it in a night, then roundly recommended it. Deirdre found a secondhand copy, read it, then lent it to me. Dennis Potter’s virtuosity is structure. When I use the word ‘virtuosity’, it does indeed come with a tinge of disapproval. As in The Singing Detective, Potter’s story in Blackeyes goes simultaneously forwards and backwards, runs alongside itself, sees itself reflected between two mirrors. To draw a diagram of Potter’s story would be an effort, and helpful, too. To give you an idea, and to prove that I’m not just being wordy, here’s how the story starts: a former model, Jessica, is trying to write a novel, or rather, to rewrite the bestseller that has turned her decrepit old uncle into a celebrity. His novel is called Sugar Bush. The story is hers, or his version of hers, told to him over a succession of lunches (paid for by her). His novel is now inscribed in her memory - she knows it by heart. She had hoped his novel would give her a voice; instead it has portrayed her as a mute and thoughtless object, named Blackeyes; it has made her into a man’s toy all over again.

Dennis Potter has a lot of fun playing with Jessica’s novel (she is an inept writer), Uncle Maurice’s novel (he is a purple-proser), and Jessica’s actual experiences of the events depicted in Sugar Bush, these experiences described (possibly) by the only nice man that entered her life during her modelling days, a man she has completely forgotten. Phew! - it’s complicated.

Potter’s trickery (his virtuosity) is the honey to help the tablet to go down. The tablet, thankfully, is really interesting - Potter is not a story-teller with expertise but without ideas: with his handful of characters, Potter seems to be examining his own responses to a beautiful, sexy, young girl. This is a great use of fiction - the author can lay down all his or her complex, contradictory, disturbing feelings about something, not in a reasoned essay where every assertion would be cancelled out by its opposite - boring! fence-sitting! - but by embodying each feeling in a different character, who then argue it out amongst themselves. Fiction is more about exploration than about coming to a conclusion. And even the filthy old uncle, and the drooling executives, are explored, and subsequently granted some sympathy. Here’s a casting session, where Blackeyes is desperate to get the job:

Blackeyes unscrewed the silvered cap from the bottle and shook out some of the amber lotion onto the tips of her fingers. The Sleepy Lagoon music was playing again, and it became like an ache at the back of her eyes. She would henceforth always remember this syrup of a waltz with a slow, viscous drip of melancholy.

The stuff felt tacky on her fingers.

She began to rub and then smooth or caress it into the top of her arm. The small circles slowly widened as she moved her fingers with what seemed to be an increasingly erotic deliberation towards her shoulder and her neck. Her head tilted back a little as she worked the slightly gooey dribbles of liquid into her skin, which meant that she could no longer see the shadowed faces of the men seated on the far sides of the room.

These faces were showing signs of sexual yearning, and, in some cases, torment. Fog at the window, fall in the air, a stuffy room, and a succession of bikini-clad young women had somehow deadened the emotions and yet quickened the senses: or, at least, the one sense they usually thought about the most. None of the previous girls had drawn from them quite so powerful a longing.

Most people feel enslaved - in varying degrees - by the sex they are attracted to. Blackeyes examines sexual power and sexual exploitation, and no one really seems to have the upper-hand.

Errol was a bit disappointed by the ending - he thought Potter had grown tired of the whole thing and quickly wrapped it up. The ending is far more ‘plotty’ than it needed to be: flashbacks yield up a pivotal event, Blackeyes is given a happy ending with that nice man she forgot, and Jessica and Uncle Maurice are also well and truly wrapped up. Lots of novels that have been notable for their delicacy or intricacy, suddenly degenerate at the end, as though the last gobbets of paint are squeezed impatiently out of the tube and slapped onto the page, quantity (of plot and action) intended as a substitute for subtlety, and to compensate for failure of inspiration. Endings are what counts, alas - but even so, Blackeyes is a bold look at what arouses us, and why.

Just a little note: the strangest, or most strangely moving romance I’ve ever come across in a book is the one between Uncle Maurice and his teddy bear. All closet toy-huggers will feel dreadfully exposed by the depiction of this relationship. Is Potter outing himself as a toy-hugger? It is a piece of characterisation as brave as Thomas Mann’s make-up wearing old man inDeath In Venice.

October 2010: Poppies, Pipes, And People (Opium and its Use in Laos) by Joseph Westermeyer. Stella borrowed this book for me from the COFA library because she knew there was an opium addict in my novel, and that I’d had trouble finding books about opium. First I turned to the chapters that I thought would be of use to me - such as the parts where Westermeyer describes techniques for smoking opium, and its physical effects. But then the book turned out to be so clearly written, with a great balance between subjectivity and objectivity, that I turned to the beginning and read it cover-to-cover. It’s a book written by someone who has a lot to say about a subject, and who has put in the thought and effort to structure it, so that it will be accessible to any reader. Because I have a few books waiting in the ‘Book Of The Moment’ pile, I’m just going to note down the passages I dog-eared before I give it back to the library, via Stella.

A sense of adventure-seeking may also be a part of such curiosity. Undertaking an adventure often relieves boredom and can lead to increased well-being. Soldiers surviving battle and women surviving childbirth commonly experience increased self-confidence and self-esteem. Similar feelings may accompany the experience of having exposed oneself to the risk of addiction, not having succumbed to it, and thus having shown strength of character and self-control. (p. 63)

...males in all ethnic groups were at greater risk to opium addiction than were women...One explanation has been that depression or neurosis in women may be an equivalent of substance abuse in men. Careful family studies by several researchers strongly support this theory (p. 120)

Dumont’s tavern dwellers bore other resemblances to the den habitués in Laos. They were alienated from their families, worked only irregularly, and spent several hours each day at the tavern. A certain stability of intoxicant usage was maintained by regular adherents to the group. For these regular members, the tavern group became their main, or only, reference group. Each of these characteristics applied to the den-using addicts in Laos. (p.145)

I have followed the lives of these eight people...since their smoking opium in one or another Loatian den. None has ever become and opium addict...Had any of them done so, I would have been greatly remorseful. Was the risk, while small in my opinion, worth our small adventure? That is difficult to answer directly. We were all explorers of a kind, or we would not have been in Laos - and in an opium den at that. I might beg the question by saying were were all several years younger then and more bent on riskful adventure than cautious conservatism. Such ventures together also cemented the bonds between us. but there is a risk to curiosity about opium...especially if it remains readily available to the experimenter and if the experimenter has an ongoing problem, such as chronic pain, loneliness or fear. (p. 166)

The French Drug Dealer. Jacques’s father had been a colonel with the French Army in Indochina during the 1940s and 1950s. After Jacques had dropped out of the lycée, impregnated the daughter of a prominent family, and proven unable to hold down any of several jobs, his father suggested that he might seek his fortune in Indochia. Besides giving his son a one-way airline ticket, his father promised to send s small monthly stipend from his service pension. (It seems likely that his father sent him with the expectation that Indochina would make a gentleman or a corpse of his wayward son.)

Jacques soon met two other countrymen like himself, both selling heroin to world travellers and using it themselves. Within a month of arriving in Vientiane, he was addicted. During the subsequent two years, he fared better than he had in France...As I repeatedly encountered Jacques and his two friends around Vientiane, the steadfastness of their three-sided partnership became evident. All three comprised an armed, mobile heroin business. They carried concealed small handguns and volumes of heroin and could make change in several currencies on the spot. yet they were known to be fair to their clientele and generous in their charitable contributions to the police. perhaps in his own way, Jacques was on his way to growing up. Pity I was not able to see over time whether the colonel ever got back a gentleman or a corpse. (pp.171-2)

In Search Of A Stern Parent. Hans was one of the more skillfully obnoxious people it had been my fortune to meet. The youngest son of a wealthy German industrialist, he was a past master at the art of alienation and social masochism. Within five or ten minutes, he could antagonise the most phlegmatic government functionary at the Narcotic Detoxification Centre. It seemed to be the only skill he had acquired in his twenty years, at least besides linguistic proficiency in several European languages. He had no difficulty conversing with the Lao staff in fluent French. With me he spoke a flawless, clipped, London version of English, without a hint of Germanic overtones (except perhaps in his haughty mien). His appearance was as initially intriguing as his surface sophistication. Delicate, with finely chiselled features, he wore an expensive embroidered black silk tunic over a pair of rough canvas pants cut high above his Asian thongs.

Hans had developed his brief social exchanges to a high art. They began with his smoothly attracting someone, anyone, into conversation. There followed in short order some outrageous demand: a wish to be served breakfast at a restaurant in the afternoon, a request for a watch on credit in a jewellery store, approval from the medical staff at the Centre that he receive morning doses of methadone to stave off his withdrawal so he could have glorious heroin trips in the evening. When refused, Hans would launch into a cool, scathing string of insults and diatribes against the individual whom he had so recently engaged - and who in many cases then became (ambivalently) his persecutor, tossing him out of a shop, clinic, or restaurant on his ear.

In several brief snatches, Hans allowed me some glimpses into his past life. He had been raised by a series of French au pair girls and English matrons, none of whom could apparently tolerate him (or possibly his parents) for more than several months. When old enough to attend school, he matriculated transiently through a series of Swiss and English private schools. At eighteen, when he came into a small annual inheritance, he promptly dropped out of school and began his world travels. Two years later found him in Laos on heroin, again replicating the isolated and alienating lifestyle that he had learned many years earlier. (pp.184-5)

These two descriptions of people whom he had come across are so well-observed; not only did they remind me eerily of my own Theodor, but they also caused me to wonder (acutely) what happened to Jacques and Hans. And I almost wish I haven't been working for seven years on a novel about drug addiction, and male partnerships, loyalty, disloyalty etc., because reading about these characters make me want to write a novel set in the 1970s about drug addiction, male partnerships etc. Or maybe my interest in the subject isn't yet exhausted. Well-tilled soil, it's true - but where do the women fit in? This is a question I direct not just at stories, but at life, more importantly. Where does a non-drug- or risk-taking woman fit into this world? Why the hell would such a woman be drawn to that world, drawn to the men in those worlds?

There's a lot of very interesting information about addiction in Westermeyer's book. If you're an addict - of anything - wanting to give it up, I'd recommend reading it. Or if you wonder whether you'd be considered an addict, or wonder how serious your addiction is, from page 288-90, there is a really clear table that I might even photocopy. I applied it to my addicted friends, and found it strangely helpful.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Patrick White, John McGahern

September 2010: I bought The Aunt’s Story (1948), by Patrick White, while I was wandering round the streets of Adelaide's CBD, just in case I happened to finish The Secret Agent while I was in some potentially bookshop-forsaken town such as Lightning Ridge. The Aunt's Story started well; by that I mean there was little sign of his trademark "hard-won bilge" (Christina Stead's assessment of White, her fan). Theodora is a skinny, yellow girl with too many ideas - this being a phase in Australia's development where, according to novelists, people who displayed any signs of thinking were disapproved of. "Your father is a one for books, sighed Gertie Stepper, as the flour crept up her arms and her face grew red from squeezing so much dough. The tone of Gertie Stepper's voice made it something sad and incurable, almost as if it were an illness, what Father did with books."

It's a portrait of the life of a non-conforming woman; Theodora's life is horribly confined and narrow; nature, or the countryside, is the only place she can be herself, striding around with her girl-sized rifle on shooting expeditions with her sympathetic (-ish) father. Theodora scares off the occasional man who crosses her path; her more man-alluring sister marries the neighbour's son, whose interest was initially in the unsettling Theodora. Theodora ends up an 'old maid' - an aunt as opposed to a mother.

An old acquaintance of Theodora's father arrives at their farm; he's down on his luck and is hoping for a meal. The young sisters, Theodora and Fanny, chat to him:

"What do you do?' she [Theodora] asked.

"I look for gold."


"Because," he said, "it is as good a way of passing your life as any other."

A few pages later, after he has been given, begrudgingly, a feed...

"And we shall come," cried Fanny. "We'll walk at least as far as the bridge. So that you can tell us things."

But the man had stopped talking. He looked at his boots as he walked, and sucked the beef out of his teeth. Till Fanny had to shake his arm.

"Tell us something," cried Fanny. "Why don't you speak?" she said. "Soon we shall have gone."

But inside the man's silence, Theodora could feel his closeness. The sleeve of his coat touched her cheek. The sleeve of his coat smelt of dust, and mutton fat, and sweat, but it stroked her, and she bit her tongue.

"Yes," said the man, "it's as good a way as any of passing your life. So long as it passes. Put it in a house and it stops, it stands still. That's why some take to the mountains, and the others say they're crazy."

This was my favourite quote of the novel, just because it is one of those clues into the self-mystery of why I have so many indoor hobbies, as though I'm a prisoner finding ways to occupy myself during my sentence, and why when I'm out walking, to it-doesn't-matter-where, I feel as though, a last, I'm not waiting for anything.

Aunt Theo is yellow. White finds many different ways of reminding us that she's yellow and scrawny. She also has a black moustache. Here is an example of how what is generally considered repulsive - physical traits that most writers would point out only in their villains - White finds fascinating and therefore beautiful:

"Is Aunt Theo happy?" asked Lou.

"Why ever not?"

"Aunt Theo hasn't any children," said Lou.

"Aunt Theo," said George, "has a moustache. I felt it. It was soft."

"I forbid you to speak like that!" said Fanny.

Sometimes she smacked her children for the truth.

"You must respect your aunt," she said.

Respect became something written in a book for children to learn, just as Theodora Goodman became the Respected Aunt. She could make a dancer with a handkerchief. She could tell about Meroë. And, falling asleep, they raised their hands, but respectfully, to touch the moustache that was black and soft, and warm and kind as dogs.

Part One is worth reading. Part Two degenerates into hard-won bilge. I have dog-eared a few pages, but when I reread them, I think, "I must have dog-eared this page because the writing is so awful." Here's an example (it will be almost as obscure here without its context, as it is with its context):

Ohhh the long night rolled but studded with islands. Then the door-knob stood in the pale morning. Still for a moment. But you knew it was not for long. It would happen soon. Now.

The morning light saw the drawers fly out of the chest. Its tongues lolled. The whole cardboard house rejected reason. Then there was a running. They were calling on the stairs, Yanni the Moustache, and his daughter Science.

"Come," they called. "Run. It is the will of God. The earth is going to split open and swallow the houses of the poor."

Ohhh, that's right, there was a little earthquake. That's what he's talking about. In Part Two, Theodora goes to France and stays in a hotel. She seems to have developed the ability to commune directly with her fellow hotel-guests' souls: though in reality they may only be exchanging pleasantries, in alternate-reality Theodor takes on the identity of someone from their past and together, they relive old memories. I dragged myself through the rest of the book. Then I bitched about it at a Tavs dinner, and Deirdre said that The Aunt's Story was many people's favourite White novel. Her defence of it was valid: that it tells its story in such a wild and free way (yes, I'd agree), and breaks away from conventions of story-telling, that it makes the reader think, "When it comes to story-telling, anything's possible!" In my opinion, his experiment was a failure. But "Bravo!" for trying!

Also, what is his obsession - I'm sure there's some pointed point to it, but bugger me if I figured it out - with names that feature an umlaut? Meroë is the only one I can remember, but there were at least two others.

September 2010: Errol recommended I read John McGahern's novel That They May Face The Rising Sun, a title he could never remember: "Sally, what's the name of that novel Ross called 'The novel where nothing happens'?" I went up to Cowra, and had forgotten to go next door and borrow the book from Errol...I looked in Ross's shelves for something to read and foundThat They May...Sun. I've since lent it to Deirdre, so (phew!) can't transcribe my favourite passages. The novel takes place over a year, following a couple who lead a quiet life in a small rural Irish community. There is something very big about this quiet, uneventful novel. When I finished it, I thought, "This is a novel about grief!" But didn't really know how to support my thesis. The other day, I thought, "John McGahern was reviewing the happiest year of his life: taking out the memories, bringing them into the light, and handling them with great care, because you only get one go at memories, and after that, they are memories of memories." There are vivid, detailed, frequent descriptions of the landscape, and the changes that occur to it over the seasons; the changes - modernisation, death - that occur to the people and community around our married pair are also carefully documented. There was one sentence I dog-eared, and the gist of it was that one day, our hero would look back on this time and consider himself to have been happy then. But the happiness he describes isn't skipping through beflowered meadows hand-in-hand with his wife. It's a good book. I could think it over for hours. But my curry is cooking on the stove and I'm sick of sitting. So John McGahern gets short shrift tonight.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Joseph Conrad

August, 2010: I was short of a book to take with me on my travels (entirely on land! – foot, train, and hire-van: from Sydney to Melbourne to Daylesford, back to Melbourne, to Adelaide, to Broken Hill, to ass’d western NSW towns, then back to Sydney), so I cast my eye over my own bookshelf. I have read a lot of Joseph Conrad’s work, but mostly back in the dark ages, when I used to read books quickly, passing my eyes over the pages, and often unable to remember anything about them except, “I liked it/didn’t like it”. So I looked at The Secret Agent (1907) and couldn’t remember a single thing about it, but I knew I’d read it because it had a bookmark in it (a Scrabble score-sheet, with several games documented on it, including one where my grandmother played, just for one turn, and another where I played against myself).

Phew! It is a relentlessly ugly book. There are so many depictions of London of this period (late nineteenth century) where outrage at its ugliness, its new, industrial-revolution ugliness, is a loud subtext (or, in Dickens’s case, an overt theme). The ugliness made The Secret Agent a hard read.

Here’s our main character (I can’t describe him as a hero), Verloc:

“His eyes were naturally heavy; he had an air of having wallowed, fully dressed, all day on an unmade bed.” “His big, prominent eyes were not well-adapted to winking.” “Undemonstrative and burly in a fat-pig style…”

Every character we meet, even incidentally, is unalluring:

“The bald top of a head, and a drooping dark whisker on each side of a pair of wrinkled hands.”

“…a face of pasty complexion and melancholy ugliness surrounded by a lot of fine, long, dark grey hairs, barred heavily by thick and bushy eyebrows. He put on a black-framed pince-nez upon a blunt and shapeless nose…”

The hideous physical descriptions aren’t done with relish (as they are by Dickens), or fascination (Patrick White), but doggedly, with a refusal to shy away from the truth. I don’t know about the rest of the population, but when I look at people’s faces and try to describe them, generally I end up making them sound grotesque. It’s easier to describe an ugly face than a beautiful one. Several years ago, a painter, who is less notable for his social graces than for his blunt honesty, took it upon himself to describe my body; to him, his description was a rhapsody, yet what he had actually chosen to mention were what could be considered flaws. And when I think of faces and bodies I’ve known, it is equally the white splotch on the front tooth, the pink scar on the forehead, the raspberry with hairs sprouting out of it, the dry, grey patches on the knees, as it is the round, hazel eyes that are often bright with what seems to be the beginnings of a tear, or the warm, brown skin (much more livingthan mine, which is white, cold and clammy, as though just cut out of a plaster cast). It would almost be fun to write a novel where I put to paper all the hideous observations I make (and tend to suppress) as I go about my day. Not fun to read. Joseph Conrad reaches the pinnacle of ugliness about three-quarters of the way through the novel:

“The conveyance awaiting them would have illustrated the proverb that ‘truth can be more cruel than a caricature’, if such a proverb existed. Crawling behind an infirm horse, a metropolitan hackney drew up on wobbly wheels and with a maimed driver on the box. This last peculiarity caused some embarrassment. Catching sight of a hooked iron contrivance protruding from the left sleeve of the man’s coat, Mrs Verloc’s mother suddenly lost the heroic courage of these days. She really couldn’t trust herself. “What do you think, Winnie?” She hung back. The passionate expostulations of the big-faced cab-man seemed squeezed out of a blocked throat. […] His enormous and unwashed countenance flamed red in the muddy stretch of the street. […] The man slowly turned his bloated and sodden face of many colours bristling with white hairs. His little red eyes glistened with moisture. His big lips had a violet tint. […]

“I’m a night cabby, I am,” he whispered, with a sort of boastful exasperation. “I’ve got to take out what they will blooming well give me at the yard. I’ve got my missus and four kids at ‘ome.”

The monstrous nature of that declaration of paternity seemed to strike the world dumb. A silence reigned, during which the flanks of the old horse, the steed of apocalyptic misery, smoked upwards in the light of the charitable gas-lamp.

The cabman grunted, then added in his mysterious whisper:

“This ain’t an easy world.”

It’s a novel about lazy, inept revolutionaries, and the bureaucrats, diplomats and policemen who waste their lives manipulating and managing these harmless old men. Conrad is in no doubt that the society he’s describing needs a complete overhaul, but he is equally contemptuous of the people who have put themselves in charge of effecting this revolution, as he is of those whose job it is to maintain the status quo. I have the feeling that it was a novel written with a pressing sense of purpose, one for the time and place, and one that is not quite relevant to a reader in 2010; perhaps the threat of revolution (and blood-thirsty, violent revolutionaries) was one exploited by the government of the day, and Conrad sought to defuse it, as it was a mere decoy of public attention away from the desperate need to improve life for the impoverished majority. The Secret Agent seems to say, “This is not an abstract question of politics, revolutionary or counter-revolutionary – plain and simple, it’s about being humane!”

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Thomas Mann, Virginia Woolf

July, 2010: I didn’t realise that Thomas Mann had written “that supposedly impossible thing, a good German comic novel” (Listener, quoted on the blurb), namely, Confessions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man.

It was enjoyable to read, partly because our guide through the novel is the ridiculously handsome, intelligent, ambitious Felix, AKA Armand, AKA the Marquis de Venosta, whose pride never comes to a fall - quite the opposite! Most novels are about a character’s struggle through hardship or crisis; so novels that depict a character’s sure-footed passage through life (Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim is another) are a pleasant change.

The structure is odd: it feels as though Mann started this novel at his usual pace - heavy with detail, accounting for every significant moment of Felix’s life. Felix’s perverse dreams are realised when a marquis wants him to impersonate him and embark on a year-long tour of the world. We start the journey with Felix, go to Spain, and then, about two months into his year-as-a-marquis, the book ends. I can’t help but feel that Mann got tired of his premise, and was called away to work on more dignified, Nobel-Prize-worthy novels. There is one typically obscure thesis through Felix Krull - Felix’s obsession with matched pairs. He is struck by, and refers to regularly, a beautiful, upper-class brother and sister, possibly twins, whom he spots on a balcony one day. The novel ends (abruptly) with another matched pair - Felix smooching a beautiful daughter, then her magnificent mother, to boot. I just don’t get the matched-pair idea. And as Felix Krull is a figment from Mann’s sexual-fantasy life, I suspect the matched-pair theme is, too; somehow I relate it to those men on who say, “Bi-man looking for other bi-men”, because they’ve rationalised this (after much internal argument) as a way of still being straight even while having sex with men. But, the strange thing is, that I have a matched-pair theme in my own life, when it comes to men. This is an enigma I haven’t quite figured out. In my case, it’s almost as though my heart can find what it needs in two men at once (and I’m not talking about threesomes). Maybe it’s the safe way for a ‘commitment-phobe’ to fall in love.

Beauty often comes up in Mann’s novels (did he always find himself very ugly in comparison to the people he admired?). Felix sees a performer, Müller-Rosé, and, like the rest of the audience, is transfixed:

Müller-Rosé dispensed the joy of life - if that phrase can be used to describe the precious and painful feeling, compounded of envy, yearning, hope, and love, that the sight of beauty and lighthearted perfection kindles in the souls of men.

I’m sorry to say that I left this ‘Book of the Moment’ entry unfinished, and now I hardly have the spirit to finish it. I might just transcribe a few of the passages I dog-eared. Here’s one that addresses the theme of together/separate (a preoccupation of mine and D.H. Lawrence’s), as spoken by Felix to a rather cynical young girl:

“Recently you said that Nature had carefully separated and divided one human being from another. Very apposite and only too true. That’s how it is and that’s the rule. But in love Nature has made an exception - a very marvellous one if you look at it with new eyes. [...] It is true: a man lives separated and divided from others inside his own skin, not only because he does not wish it otherwise. He wants to be as separate as he is because essentially he wants to be alone and cares nothing at all about others. Anyone else, everyone else with a skin of his own, is actually repulsive. His own person is the only thing that is not repulsive. [...]

“For now something in through which Nature deviates amazingly from her basic design, something through which man’s whole fastidious insistence upon separateness and being alone inside his own skin is annulled. [...] Well, then! What is the digression on Nature’s part that, to the astonishment of the universe, wipes out the division between one person and another, between the me and the you. It is love. An everyday affair, but eternally new, and, carefully considered, nothing short of miraculous.”

Sometimes Mann can be so damn sweet! There’s another soft-hearted scene, where a Scottish lord, who has developed a deep crush on the beautiful Felix, offers him a job as his personal attendant. Felix, no homophobe, rejects him gently:

“This require careful consideration, milord,” I replied finally. “I need not say that I am greatly honoured by your offer. But it comes so unexpectedly...I must take time for consideration.”

“There is very little time for consideration,” he replied. “Today is Friday, I leave on Monday. Come with me! It is my wish.”

He took one of the cigars I had recommended, regarded it thoughtfully from all sides, and passed it under his nose. No observer could have guessed what he was saying as he did so. What he said softly was: “It is the wish of a lonely heart.”

Who is so inhuman as to reproach me for feeling moved? Yet I knew at once I would not choose this by-path.

“I promise your lordship,” I murmured, “that I will make good use of this period of reflection.” And I withdrew.

He has, I thought, a good cigar to go with his coffee. That combination is highly enjoyable, and enjoyment is, after all, a minor form of happiness. There are circumstances in which one must content oneself with it.

I’ve dog-eared another passage, a very long passage, and I believe it is a dog-ear of protest, of “Why do you, Thomas Mann, think I want to read pages and pages of conversation - theme: human evolution - between Felix and a paleontologist he meets on a train?” I won’t transcribe any of it.

July, 2010: In Love In A Cold Climate, Fanny lends Lady Montdore a copy of Mrs Dalloway, and Fanny’s husband asserts that Virginia Woolf might be one of the few women capable of intellectual enterprises (I’m paraphrasing, too lazy to get Love and find the passages). So I read Mrs Dalloway, too. It is an unusual book, with the narrative a thread that floats from one character’s mind to another’s, against a common background of the sky overhead, the sound of bells tolling, the familiar landmarks of twixt-War London through which the characters meander, and against the background of one warm, summer day that ends with Clarissa Dalloway’s party. It’s a neat, ingenious way of structuring the life-stories of numerous characters, some of whom have almost no connection with each other, except that they’re in London on that day. I’m not a big fan of “neat and ingenious” - I prefer “rambling, groping and vainly trying to reach”. There were times when Mrs Dalloway seemed contrived, and Virginia Woolf seemed too in control of all her characters, with the method of telling the story, and the narrative voice, overpowering the voices of her characters. But there were enough passages groping towards something indescribable to keep me reading.

Here’s a short passage that describes the World War grief that must have been a constant undercurrent in that quarter of the twentieth century (it certainly is in literature from that period):

But what was she dreaming as she looked into Hatchard’s shop window? What was she trying to recover? What image of white dawn in the country, as she read in the book spread open:

Fear no more the heat o’ the sun

Nor the furious winter’s rages.

This late age of the world’s experience had bred in them all, all men and women, a well of tears. Tears and sorrows; courage and endurance, a perfectly upright and stoical bearing. Think, for example, of the woman she admired most, Lady Bexborough, opening the bazaar.

Lady Bexborough had opened a bazaar, as planned, and only later had Clarissa found out that the piece of paper she had been holding while giving her polite and proper speech, had been a telegram informing her of her son’s death in the War.

Here’s a description of the wife of the domineering Sir William Bradshaw:

But Conversion, fastidious Goddess, loves blood better than brick, and feasts most subtly on the human will. For example, Lady Bradshaw. Fifteen years ago she had gone under. It was nothing you could put your finger on; there had been no scene, no snap; only the slow sinking, water-logged, of her will into his. Sweet was her smile, swift her submission; dinner in Harley Street, numbering eight or nine courses, feeding ten or fifteen guests of the professional classes, was smooth and urbane. Only as the evening wore on, a very slight dulness, or uneasiness perhaps, a nervous twitch, fumble, stumble and confusion indicated, what it was really painful to believe - that the poor lady lied. Once, long ago, she had caught salmon freely: now, quick to minister to the craving which lit her husband’s eye so oilily for dominion, for power, she cramped, squeezed, pared, pruned, drew back, peeped through; so that without precisely knowing what made the evening disagreeable, and caused this pressure on the top of the head (which might well be imputed to the professional conversation, or the fatigue of a great doctor whose life, Lady Bradshaw said, ‘is not his own but his patients’’), disagreeable it was; so that the guests, when the clock struck ten, breathed in the air of Harley Street even with rapture; which relief, however, was denied to his patients.

One thing that’s really enjoyable and admirable about this book, is that although it follows some tortured and miserable characters, including a man who hears voices and finally throws himself out a window, the main character, Clarissa, is happy and conventional - an atypical heroine; but Woolf certainly makes her heroic, and not by burdening her with unexpected depths, talents or dark sides, but by celebrating her mysterious ability to be happy. I liked this defence of frivolous party-throwing:

Why did she suddenly feel, for no reason that she could discover, desperately unhappy? As a person who has dropped some grain of pearl or diamond into the grass and parts the tall blades very carefully, this way and that, and searches here and there vainly, and at last spies it there at the roots, so she went through one thing and another [...chopping out a bit...] Her parties! That was it! Her parties! Both of them criticised her very unfairly, laughed at her very unjustly, for her parties. That was it! That was it!

Well, how was she going to defend herself? Now that she knew what it was, she felt perfectly happy. They thought, or Peter at any rate thought, that she enjoyed imposing herself; liked to have famous people about her; great names; was simply a snob in short. Well, Peter might think so. Richard merely thought it foolish of her to like excitement when she knew it was bad for her heart. It was childish, he thought. And both were quite wrong. What she liked was simply life.

“That’s what I do it for,” she said, speaking aloud, to life.

Since she was lying on the sofa, cloistered, exempt, the presence of this thing which she felt to be so obvious became physically existent; with robes of sound from the street, sunny, with hot breath, whispering, blowing out the blinds. But suppose Peter said to her, “Yes, yes, but your parties - what’s the sense of your parties?” all she could say was (and nobody could be expected to understand): They’re an offering; which sounded horribly vague. [...I cut out another little bit...] She could not imagine Peter or Richard taking the trouble to give a party for no reason whatever.