Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Authors’ Category

Adeline Virginia Woolf (25 January 1882 – 28 March 1941)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mabel had her first serious suspicion that something was wrong as she took her cloak off and Mrs. Barnet, while handing her the mirror and touching the brushes and thus drawing her attention, perhaps rather markedly, to all the appliances for tidying and improving hair, complexion, clothes, which existed on the dressing table, confirmed the suspicion-that it was not right, not quite right, which growing stronger as she went upstairs and springing at her with conviction as she greeted Clarissa Dalloway, she went straight to the far end of the room to a shaded corner to a looking-glass hung and looked. No! It was not right.  And at once the misery which she always tried to hide, the profound dissatisfaction –  the sense she had had, ever since she was a child, of being inferior to other people – set upon her, relentlessly, remorselessly, with an intensity which she could not beat off as she would when she woke at night at home, by reading Borrow or Scott; for, oh, these men, oh, these women, all were thinking – “What’s Mabel wearing? What a fright she looks ! What a hideous new dress! ” – their eyelids flickering as they came up and then their lids shutting rather tight. It was her own appalling inadequacy; her cowardice; her  mean, water-sprinkled blood that depressed her. And at once the whole of the room where, for ever so many hours, she had planned with the little dress-maker how it was to go, seemed sordid, repulsive; and her own drawing-room so shabby, and herself, going out, puffed up with vanity as she touched the letters on the hall table and said: “How dull!” to show off – all this now seemed unutterably silly, paltry, and provincial. All this had been absolutely destroyed, shown up, exploded, the moment she came into Mrs. Dalloway’s drawing-room.

What she had thought that evening when, sitting over the teacups, Mrs. Dalloway’s invitation came, was that, of course, she could not be fashionable. It was absurd to pretend to even – fashion meant cut, meant style, meant thirty guineas at least – but why not be original? Why not be herself, anyhow? And, getting up, she had taken that old fashion book of her mother’s, Paris fashion book of the time of the Empire, and had thought how much prettier, more dignified, and more womanly, they were then, and so set herself – oh, it was foolish – trying to be like them, pluming herself in fact upon being modest and old-fashioned and very charming, giving herself up, no doubt about it, to an orgy of self-love which deserved to be chastised, and so rigged herself out like this.

But she dared not look in the glass. She could not face the whole horror – the pale yellow, idiotically old-fashioned silk dress with its long skirt and its high sleeves and its waist and all the things that looked so charming in the fashion book, but not on her, not among all these ordinary people. She felt like a dressmaker’s dummy standing there for young people to stick pins into.

“But, my dear, it’s perfectly charming!” Rose Shaw said, looking her up and down with that little satirical pucker of the lips which she expected – Rose herself being dressed in the height of the fashion, precisely like everybody else, always.

“We are all like flies trying to crawl over the edge of the saucer,” Mabel thought, and repeated the phrase as if she were crossing herself, as if she were trying to find some spell to annul this pain, to make this agony endurable. Tags of Shakespeare, lines from books she had read ages ago, suddenly came to her when she was in agony, and she repeated them over and over again. “Flies trying to crawl,” she repeated. If she could say that over often enough and make herself see the flies, she would become numb, chill, frozen, dumb. Now she could see flies crawling slowly out of a saucer of milk with their wings stuck together; and she strained and strained (standing in front of the looking-glass, listening to Rose Shaw) to make herself see Rose Shaw and all the other people there as flies, trying to hoist themselves out of something, or into something, meagre, insignificant, toiling flies. But she could not see them like that, not other people. She saw herself like that – she was a fly. but the others were dragonflies, butterflies, beautiful insects, dancing, fluttering, skimming, while she alone dragged herself up on the saucer. (Envy and spite, the most detestable of the vices, were her chief faults.)

“I feel like some dowdy, decrepit, horribly dingy old fly,” she said, making Robert Haydon stop just to hear her say that, just to reassure herself by furbishing up a poor weak-kneed phrase and so showing how detached she was, how witty, that she did not feel in the least out of anything. And, of course, Robert Haydon answered something quite polite, quite insincere, which she saw through instantly, and said to herself, directly he went (again from some book), “Lies, lies, lies!” For a party makes things either much more real or much less real, she thought; she saw in a flash to the bottom of Robert Haydon’s heart; she saw through everything. She saw the truth. This was true, this drawing-room, this self, and the other false. Miss Milan’s little work-room was really terribly hot, stuffy, sordid. It smelt of clothes and cabbage cooking; and yet, when Miss Milan put the glass in her hand, and she looked at herself with the dress on, finished, an extraordinary bliss shot through her heart.

Suffused with light, she sprang into existence. Rid of cares and wrinkles, what she had dreamed of herself was there –  a beautiful woman. Just for a second (she had not dared look longer, Miss Milan wanted to know about the length of the skirt), there looked at her, framed in the scrolloping mahogany, a grey-white, mysteriously smiling, charming girl, the core of herself, the soul of herself; and it was not vanity only, not only self-love that made her think it good, tender, and true. Miss Milan said that the skirt could not well be longer; if anything the skirt, said Miss Milan, puckering her forehead, considering with all her wits about her, must be shorter; and she felt, suddenly, honestly, full of love for Miss Milan, much, much fonder of Miss Milan than of anyone in the whole world, and could have cried for pity that she should be crawling on the floor with her mouth full of pins and her face red and her eyes bulging – that one human being should be doing this for another, and she saw them all as human beings merely, and herself going off to her party, and Miss Milan pulling the corner over the canary’s cage, or letting him pick a hemp-seed from between her lips, and the thought of it, of this side of human nature and its patience and its endurance and its being content with such miserable, scanty, sordid, little pleasures filled her eyes with tears.

And now the whole thing had vanished. The dress, the room, the love, the pity, the scrolloping looking-glass, and the canary’s cage – all had vanished, and here she was in a corner of Mrs. Dalloway’s drawing-room, suffering tortures, woken wide awake to reality.

But it was all so paltry, weak-blooded, and petty-minded to care so much at her age with two children, to be still so utterly dependent on people’s opinions and not have principles or convictions, not to be able to say as other people did, “There’s Shakespeare! There’s death!  We’re all weevils in a captain’s biscuit” – or whatever it was that people did say.

She faced herself straight in the glass; she pecked at her left shoulder; she issued out into the room, as if spears were thrown at her yellow dress from all sides. But instead of looking fierce or tragic, as Rose Shaw would have done – Rose would have looked like Boadicea – she looked foolish and self-conscious and simpered like a schoolgirl and slouched across the room, positively slinking, as if she were a beaten mongrel, and looked at a picture, an engraving. As if one went to a party to look at a picture!

Everybody knew,why she did it – it was from shame, from humiliation.

“Now the fly’s in the saucer,” she said to herself, “right in the middle, and can’t get out, and the milk,” she thought, rigidly staring at the picture, “is sticking its wings together.”

“It’s so old-fashioned,” she said to Charles Burt, making him stop (which by itself he hated) on his way to talk to someone else.

She meant, or she tried to make herself think  that she meant, that it was the picture and not her dress, that was old-fashioned. And one word of praise, one word of affection from Charles would have made all the difference to her at the moment. If he had only said, “Mabel,  you’re looking charming tonight!” it would have changed her life. But then she ought to have been truthful and direct.

Charles said nothing of the kind, of course. He was malice itself. He always saw through one, especially if one were feeling particularly mean, paltry, or feeble-minded.

“Mabel’s got a new dress!” he said, and the poor fly was absolutely shoved into the middle of the saucer.

Really, he would like her to drown, she believed. He had no heart, no fundamental kindness, only a veneer of friendliness. Miss Milan was much more real, much kinder. If only one could feel that and stick to it, always.

“Why,” she asked herself – replying to Charles much too pertly, letting him see that she was out of temper, or “ruffled” as he called it (“Rather ruffled? ” He said and went on to laugh at her with some woman over there.)

“Why,” she asked herself. “can’t I feel one thing always, feel quite sure that Miss Milan is right, and Charles wrong and stick to it, feel sure about the canary and pity and love and not be whipped all round in a second by coming into a room full of people? ” It was her odious, weak, vacillating character again, always giving at the critical moment and not being seriously interested in conchology, etymology, botany, archeology, cutting up potatoes and watching them fructify like Mary Dennis, like Violet Searle.

Then Mrs. Holman, seeing her standing there, bore down upon her. Of course a thing like a dress was beneath Mrs. Holman’s notice, with her family always tumbling downstairs or having the scarlet fever. Could Mabel tell her if Elmthorpe was ever let for August and September? Oh, it was a conversation that bored her unutterably! – it made her furious to be treated like a house agent or a messenger boy, to be made use of. Not to have value, that was it, she thought, trying to grasp something hard, something real, while she tried to answer sensibly about the bathroom and the south aspect and the hot water to the top of the house; and all the time she could see little bits of her yellow dress in the round looking-glass which made them all the size of boot-buttons or tadpoles; and it was amazing to think how much humiliation and agony and self-loathing and effort and passionate ups and down of feeling were contained in a thing the size of a threepenny bit. And what was still odder, this thing, this Mabel Waring, was separate, quite disconnected; and though Mrs. Holman (the black button) was leaning forward and telling her how her eldest boy had strained his heart running, she could see her, too, quite detached in the looking-glass, and it was impossible that the black dot, leaning forward, gesticulating, should make the yellow dot, sitting solitary, self-centered, feel what the black dot was feeling, yet they pretended.

“So impossible to keep boys quiet” – that was the kind of thing one said

And Mrs. Holman, who could never get enough sympathy and snatched what little there was greedily, as if it were her right (but she deserved much more for there was her little girl who had come down this morning with a swollen knee-joint), took this miserable offering and looked at it suspiciously, grudgingly, as if it were a half-penny when it ought to have been a pound and put it away in her purse, must put up with it, mean and miserly though it was, times being hard, so very hard; and on she went, creaking, injured Mrs. Holman, about the girl with the swollen joints. Ah. it was tragic, this greed, this clamour of human beings, like a row of cormorants, barking and flapping their wings for sympathy-it was tragic, could one have felt it and not merely pretended to feel it!

But in her yellow dress tonight she could not wring out one drop more; she wanted it all, all for herself. She knew (she kept on looking into the glass, dipping into that dreadfully showing-up blue pool) that she was condemned, despised, left like this in a backwater, because of her being like this – a feeble, vacillating creature; and it seemed to her that the yellow, dress was a penance which she had deserved, and if she had been dressed like Rose Shaw, in lovely, clinging green with a ruffle of swans-down, she would have deserved that; and she thought that there was no escape for her – none whatever. But it was not her fault altogether, after all. It was being one of a family of ten; never having money enough, always skimping and paring; and her mother carrying great cans, and the linoleum worn on the stair edges, and one sordid little domestic tragedy after another-nothing catastrophic, the sheep farm failing, but not utterly; her eldest brother marrying beneath him but not very much – there was no romance, nothing extreme about them all. They petered out respectably in seaside resorts; every watering-place had one of her aunts even now asleep in some lodging with the front windows not quite facing the sea. That was so like them – they had to squint at things always. And she had done the same – she was just like her aunts. For all her dreams of living in India, married to some hero  like Sir Henry Lawrence, some empire builder (still the sight of a native in a turban filled her with romance), she had failed utterly. She had married Hubert, with his safe, permanent underling’s job in the Law Courts, and they managed tolerably, in a smallish house, without proper maids, and hash when she was alone or just bread and butter, but now and then-Mrs. Holman was off, thinking her the most dried-up, unsympathetic twig she had ever met, absurdly dressed, too, and would tell everyone about Mabel’s fantastic appearance – now and then, thought Mabel Waring, left alone on the blue sofa, punching the cushion in order to look occupied, for she would not join Charles Burt and Rose Shaw, chattering like magpies and perhaps laughing at her by the fireplace and then, there did come to her delicious moments, reading the other night in bed, for instance, or down by the sea on the sand in the sun, at Easter – let her recall it – a great tuft of pale sand-grass, standing all twisted like a shock of spears against the sky, which was blue like a smooth china egg, so firm, so hard, and then the melody of the waves – “Hush, hush,” they said, and the children’s shouts paddling – yes, it was a divine moment, and there she lay, she felt, in the hand of the Goddess who was the world; rather a hard-hearted, but very beautiful Goddess, a little lamb laid on the altar (one did think these silly things, and it didn’t matter so long as one never said them). And also with Hubert sometimes she had quite unexpectedly – carving the mutton for Sunday lunch, for no reason, opening a letter, coming into a room – divine moments, when she said to herself (for she would never say this to anybody else), “This is it. This has happened. This is it!” And the other way about it was equally surprising – that is, when everything was arranged – music, weather, holidays, every reason for happiness was there – then nothing happened at all!  One wasn’t happy. It was flat, just flat, that was all.

Her wretched self again, no doubt ! She had always been a fretful, weak, unsatisfactory mother, a wobbly wife, lolling about in a kind of twilight existence with nothing very clear or very bold, or more one thing than another, like all her brothers and sisters, except perhaps Herbert – they were all the same poor water-veined creatures who did nothing. Then in the midst of this creeping, crawling life suddenly she was on the crest of a wave. That wretched fly – where had she read the story that kept coming into her mind about the fly and the saucer? – struggled out. Yes, she had those moments. But now that she was forty, they might come more and more seldom.  By degrees she would cease to struggle any more. But that was deplorable! That was not to be endured! That made her feel ashamed of herself!

She would go to the London Library tomorrow. She would find some wonderful, helpful, astonishing book, quite by chance, a book by a clergyman, by an American no one had ever heard of; or she would walk down the strand and drop, accidentally, into a hall where a miner was telling about the life in the pit, and suddenly she would become a new Person. She would be absolutely transformed. She would wear a uniform; she would be called Sister Somebody; she would never give a thought to clothes again. And forever after she would be perfectly clear about Charles Burt and Miss Milan and this room and that room; and it would be always, day after day, as if she were lying in the sun or carving the mutton. It would be it!

So she got up from the blue sofa, and the yellow button in the looking-glass got up too, and she waved her hand to Charles and Rose to show them she did not depend on them one scrap, and the yellow button moved out of the looking-glass, and all the spears were gathered into her breast as she walked towards Mrs. Dalloway and said, “Good night.”

“But it’s too early to go,” said Mrs. Dalloway, who was always so charming.

“I’m afraid I must,” said Mabel Waring. “But,” she added in her weak, wobbly voice which only sounded ridiculous when she tried to strengthen it, “I have enjoyed myself enormously.”

“I have enjoyed myself,” she said to Mr. Dalloway, whom she met on the stairs.

“Lies, lies, lies!” she said to herself, going downstairs, and “Right in the saucer!” she said to herself as she thanked Mrs. Barnet for helping her and wrapped herself, round and round and round, in the Chinese cloak she had worn these twenty years.

Read Full Post »

Reay Tannahill (1929- November 2, 2007)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE FOOD OF CLASSICAL GREECE.

Although by 3000 B.C., the peoples of the Tigris-Euphrates and Nile valleys had adapted their diet to fit their farming, in Greece – according to Homer – animal husbandry was still the decisive factor two thousand years later. Antiphanes might afterward complain that Homer’s idea of a good meal was woefully dull, and Athenaeus that the epic heroes knew nothing of even such commonplace delicacies as “entrees served in vine leaves,” but Homer drew on a sound tradition, not only for his characters’ exploits but for their food. The warriors of Greece in the twelfth century B.C. had ancestral ties with the nomad pastoralists of Central Asia and, in all probability, still lived a life not too far removed from theirs. When Achilles played host to Odysseus outside the walls of llium, he gave him a meal which might have been offered by any nomad chief for a thousand years before, or two thousand years after, the Trojan wars.

Patroclus “put down a big bench in the firelight, and laid on it the backs of a sheep and a fat goat and the chine of a great (wild) hog rich in lard. Automedon held these for him, while Achilles jointed them, and then carved up the joints and spitted the slices. Meanwhile, Patroclus, the royal son of Menoetius, made the fire blaze up. When it had burned down again and the flames disappeared, he scattered the embers and laid the spits above them, resting them on logs, after he had sprinkled the meat with holy salt. When he had roasted it and heaped it up on platters, Patroclus fetched some bread and set it out on the table in handsome baskets; and Achilles divided the meat into portions.” This heroic predilection for roast meat was not to survive the problems set by the landscape of Greece. In the early days, wild boar were still there for the hunting, and a few settled communities were able to feed the domestic pig on acorns and  beechmast  from the trees which clothed the lower levels of the mountain ranges. But the long narrow valleys of the interior and the slender ribbons of fertile plain around the coasts set an irrevocable limit to stock-raising. Only in a few areas, such as Boeotia – whose name, in fact, means “cow land” – were there plains wide enough for pasturing cattle.

While the human population was small, the farmer and his family lived off the land in modest comfort. They grew a little wheat or barley, tended their olive and fig trees and a few vines, reared pigs, and kept a goat to provide milk and cheese. If they were rich, they might have a small flock of sheep, or a pair of oxen or mules.

By about 650 B.C., however, many peasants in such areas as Attica were leading a marginal existence on marginal land. As the population increased, good land became scarce. The hillsides had been denuded of many of their trees to provide the timber needed for houses, for the ships on which the Greek states depended for trade and transport, for the charcoal which was being swallowed up in ever-increasing quantities by the demands of metalworking. Tree-felling at first seemed beneficial. Not only did it provide valuable timber; it also cleared new land for cultivation. But the light soil of Greece, no longer fed by dead leaves or held together by living tree roots, began to be washed away in the torrential rains of winter. Formerly, the rains had been valuable. Filtered through the branches, they had soaked slowly and gently into the soil and then down to the limestone below; from the limestone they drained gradually to the plains. Now, instead, the rains became destructive, pouring down on the naked hills too heavily to be absorbed, and then thundering on to flood the plains. Gradually, the hills lost their soil and the valleys their fertility.

The peasants who attempted to carry on traditional, self-sufficient farming on the increasingly barren lower levels of the hill-sides plunged deep into debt. In the old days, a family short of grain in the lean period before the harvest had been able to borrow a sack or two from a neighbor. But after money was introduced into Greece in 625 B.C., things changed. Instead of borrowing grain, the peasant had to borrow enough money to buy it at high pre-harvest prices. When the time came to repay, he either had to raise the cash by selling his own produce at low post-harvest prices, or hold on until the market began to improve, paying punitive rates of interest in the meantime.

THE OLIVE

At the beginning of the sixth century B.C., Solon forbade the export of any agricultural produce other than olive oil. It was a well-meant gesture, but it struck the fatal blow at the Greek landscape. Such fibrous-rooted trees as remained were felled for the sake of the olive, whose deep-striking tap root soaked up the moisture far down in the limestone and did nothing to knit, conserve or feed the topsoil. By the fourth century B.C., Plato was gloomily contrasting the bare white limestone of the Attic countryside he knew with the green meadows, woods and springs of the past. The pure and brilliant light which is so startling a characteristic of Greece today had been bought at the expense of the trees which had once kept the land fertile. It took thousands of years for the neolithic revolution to desiccate the flat countryside of Mesopotamia, but only a few hundred in the topographical context of Greece.

Cultivation of the olive seems to have originated six thousand years ago at the eastern end of the Mediterranean. The straggly, spiny wild plant, poor in oil, was widely distributed even before this time, but it needed the agricultural and mercantile genius of the Syrians and Palestinians to develop the thornless, compact, oil-rich variety which was to spread all along the shores of the Mediterranean.

Oil was everywhere in demand in the ancient world, for food, lighting and medicine, as well as for the lustrations of Egypt and the perfumed unguents with which the early Mediterranean peoples anointed their bodies. The olive was by no means the only provider, though it was the richest known during the Western bronze age. In Greece, oil was also extracted from the walnut and the opium poppy; in Mesopotamia and Africa, from sesame; from almonds in Anatolia; flax and radish seeds in Egypt; flax and cameline in northern Europe. South, Central and western North America had, respectively, groundnut, maize, and sunflower-seed oil, while in Asia the soybean and the coconut palm were probably the richest early sources.

In Crete, the olive was under cultivation at least as early as 2500 B.C., and the island soon waxed fat on exporting oil as well as the timber that had to be felled to make way for the new groves. The palace of Nestor at Knossos has yielded to archeologists great numbers of stirrup jars which once contained expensive and much-prized oil perfumed with aromatic herbs from the hill-sides. But dependence on the olive in a small country brought, as a natural sequel, dependence on external trade for the necessities of life and a resultant defenselessness in wartime. Crete discovered this, and Athens was to do so too.

During the century and a half after Solon, Athens grew rich on silver from the mines of Laurium and the smooth green-gold oil of the olive. But as first the olive and then the vine – supplemented by fig and nut trees – took over the Attic landscape, livestock became few and wheat and barley virtually disappeared. The trade of Greece, and the Greek empire itself, expanded to meet the country’s urgent need for basic food supplies.

VINTAGES OF THE GREEK WORLD

The olive was the first great export crop of Greece, but it was closely followed by the product of the vine. From about the fifth until the latter part of the first century B.C., Greece and the islands were, to the Mediterranean world, the home of fine wines. There are many picturesque tales about the origins of wine, but what almost certainly happened was that at some time in prehistory a containerful of grapes was left neglected in a corner; that they fermented; and that some inquisitive person tasted the fermented juice – and found it good. The wild vine flourished in the Caucasus, and it was probably there that the plant was first brought under cultivation. By 3000 B.C. it had reached Mesopotamia – whose rulers seem from then on to have taken a very personal interest in it – and Egypt, where wine was first used almost entirely for temple rituals. It was not, apparently, until Greek influence began to be felt in Egypt in the first millennium B.C. that private vineyards became common and wine found its place as a popular drink. But Egyptian temple vintners had become expert long before then, and it is possible that the Greeks simply re-exported to secular Egypt the knowledge that they had earlier imported from priestly Egypt.

In the Mediterranean during the Greek golden age, many countries produced their own ordinaires, but the rich insisted on importing the scarce and expensive vintages of Lesbos and Chios. The great growths appear to have been sweet, and it has been suggested that the most famous wine of antiquity – the Pramnian so frequently mentioned by Homer – may have been as rich as Tokay. Since both Greeks and Romans followed the Egyptian custom of drinking their wines well diluted with water, the finer vintages were often kept until they were as thick and sticky as honey.

The wine was fermented in vats smeared inside and out with resin, which gave it a characteristic tang, and then filtered into goatskins or pigskins if it were intended for local consumption, or into clay amphoræ for export. Fermentation was not a scientifically controlled process, and the wines of the ancient world did not keep well unless special mixtures were added. Each region had its own formula. One consisted of adding a brew of herbs and spices which had been mixed with condensed sea water and matured for some years, while a later Roman recipe favored the addition of liquid resin mixed with vine ash to the grape juice before fermentation. Filled wine jars were often kept to mature in the loft where wood was seasoned and meat smoked, but although reasonable smoking was thought to improve a wine, all Romans with pretensions to good taste were united in vilifying those French vintners who over-smoked their wines in order to make them appear older than they were.

Greek wines were to go out of international fashion after the first of the great Italian vintages, the Opimian, appeared in 121 B.C. In the centuries that followed many other Italian wines, including Falernian, became household names and the competition turned out to be too stiff for Greece. Italian vineyards were able to produce 1600 Imperial, or 2000 American, gallons an acre – far more than those of Greece, which were never very productive and always old-fashioned in their methods. Also, as the power of Rome expanded, the taste for Italian wine – even the vine itself – was carried to many new lands.

GREEK FOOD AND COOKING

The Greek peasant never saw much of the profit from his olives or his vines, but while there was peace he and his family could rely on a solid, if monotonous, sufficiency of food. Sir Alfred Zimmern’s frequently quoted definition of the Attic dinner as consisting of two courses, “the first a kind of porridge, and the second a kind of porridge,” was unduly severe. The Greek word maza, like the Latin puls, is usually translated – rather indiscriminately – as “cakes” or “porridge,” but in fact both maza and puls were terms which almost certainly included unbaked grain-pastes in the neolithic tradition. The word maza, for example, implies kneaded things other than bread, while puls seems to have been a more general term which included pastes made from lentils and beans as well as from grain. From the elder Pliny’s recipes for Greek and Italian barley puls, it is clear that the result must have been an oily, highly seasoned paste rather than a porridge.

The Greeks, said Pliny, “soak some barley in water (probably for a few days) and then leave it for a night to dry. Next day they dry it by the fire and then grind it in a mill . . .  When it has been got ready, in the mill they mix three pounds of flax seed (which produces linseed oil when warmed and pounded), half a pound of coriander seed, and an eighth of a pint of salt, previously roasting them all.” Italians, on the other hand, first baked their barley without steeping it in water, and then ground it “into fine meal, with the addition of the same ingredients, and millet as well”

It was still one of the virtues of the grain-pastes, even in these late and sophisticated forms, that they remained palatable for a considerable time. For long-term storage, Pliny recommended packing the puls into a container and covering with a layer of flour and bran.

In Classical Greece, the peasant ate not only barley-pastes but barley gruel and barley bread. With this basic fare, he would have a handful of olives, a few figs, or some goat’s milk cheese. Occasionally there would be salt fish as a relish. The meal was washed down usually with water or goat’s milk, sometimes with wine.

Meat was a rarity except at times of religious sacrifice and feasting. On such occasions the officiating priest, after paying due heed to the portents indicated by the shape and condition of the sacrificial animal’s liver, would divide the carcass into three parts – one (not usually the best) for the god, one for the priest, and one for the donor or donors,  while the god’s portion reduced itself to cinders before the altar, the priest exercised his culinary skill in preparing and roasting the donors’ ration, watched by his audience in a silence compounded of equal piety and anticipation. None – it may be assumed, would have dared be as greedy as the later Roman emperor Vitellius, who, according to Suetonius, “thought nothing of snatching lumps of meat cake off the altar, almost out of the sacred fire, and bolting them down.

Until the middle of the fifth century B.C., the diet of rich and poor in Greece probably did not differ very radically. The rich would drink less water and more wine; they would eat goat, mutton or pork more frequently; and such game as deer, hare, partridge and thrushes might lend variety to the menu. But in country and city alike, early Greece was an outdoor society and its cuisine was correspondingly plain. Morning and midday snacks were taken outdoors, or at the corner of a table, and the more substantial evening meal was equally unceremonious. The symposium or banquet so dear to literary tradition was a type of dinner party at which the food was disposed of rapidly before the real business of the evening, – talking and drinking – began.

Some idea of the style of cooking in Greece in about 450 B.C. can be gathered from a passage in Telecleides’ The Amphictyons, in which the author reconstructs life in an imaginary golden age.
“Every torrent ran with wine, and barley-pastes fought with wheaten loaves to be first to men’s lips . . . Fish would come to the house and bake themselves, then serve themselves up at table. A river of broth, swirling along hot pieces of meat, would flow by the couches; conduits fuIl of piquant sauces for the meat were close at hand for the asking . . . On dishes there would be honey cakes ail sprinkled with spices, and roast thrushes served up with milk cakes flew down a man’s gullet.” Though it may sound appetizing, it was essentially a plain cuisine.

The average Greek was no great gourmet, but even he shuddered at the diet favored by the earnest Spartans, whose “black broth” – reputedly made of pork stock, vinegar and salt – was infamous throughout the civilized world. Indeed, Athenaeus reports that a sybarite who went to Sparta was invited out to dine. “As he lay on the wooden benches and ate with them he remarked that he had always before been astounded to hear of the Spartans’ courage; but now . . . he did not think they were in any respect superior to other peoples, “For, concluded Athenaeus gleefully, “the most cowardly man in the world would prefer to die rather than endure living that sort of life.”

The contrast between the food of the rich and poor became more pronounced in Athens during the period of Athenian greatness. The city became a center of magnificence, self-assured and very conscious of its intellectual eminence. It would have been strange if this state of mind had not struck an echo in the Greek kitchen. Although no recipe books remain, titles and extracts have been preserved in other works. There appear to have been at least a dozen culinary vade mecums with the title The Art of Cooking, and such authors as Glaucus of Locris, Mithæcus,Heraclidus, Hegesippus, Eristratus and Euthydemus wrote treatises on Gastronomy, Pickles, Vegetables, Sicilian Cooking, and similar subjects.

The father of all Greek writers on cooking, and self-styled inventor of “made dishes,” was Archestratus who, in the fourth century B.C, “diligently traversed all lands and seas in his desire . . . of testing carefully the delights of the belly.”  In the historical record, Archestratus was the first in that long line of gastronomic pedants, half ludicrous, half irritating, wholly familiar even in the twentieth century, whose pronouncements on haute cuisine have so successfully obscured the realities of everyday eating. While most Athenians who liked tunny fish had to put up with the dried or salted variety from the Black Sea, Archestratus busily insisted that none but the fresh kind from Byzantium would do, and that it should be eaten only “in the autumn, what time the P1eiad is setting.”

As the decades passed, Athenian tastes became more exotic. A pig which had died of over-eating was regarded as a great delicacy, and geese were painstakingly fed on moistened grain to fatten them for the table. The eggs of the peacock – a rare and much admired bird, bred in the gardens of the rich – were claimed to be highly superior. “Fox-goose” eggs ranked second, and hens’ eggs a distant third. The domestic hen was common in the Mediterranean by the fifth century B.C. and almost every Athenian had one – which may explain the rather poor gastronomic rating of its eggs.

By the third century B.C., Athens had developed the original hors d’oeuvre trolley, an innovation which other Greeks stigmatized as evidence of a miserly disposition. Lynceus, in The Centaur, complained that an Athenian dinner was little short of revolting, especially to a hungry man. “For the cook sets before you a large tray on which are five small plates. One of these holds garlic, another a pair of sea urchins, another a sweet wine sop, another ten cockles, the last a small piece of sturgeon. While I am eating this, another is eating that; and while he is eating that, I have made away with this. What I want, good sir, is both the one and the other, but my wish is impossible. For I have neither five mouths nor five right hands”. Such a layout as that seems to offer variety, but is nothing at all to satisfy the belly.

Satisfaction was a relative term. The Peloponnesian wars of the latter part of the fifth century B.C. had wrought havoc in the Attic countryside. Within the walls of Athens, Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes produced works of genius; outside the walls, villages were razed and crops ruined. Recovery was to be, at the least, agonizing, at the worst, impossible. It takes three or four years for a newly planted vine to produce a worthwhile crop, thirty years in the case of the olive. Ultimately, the small peasant sold out to the speculators and left the countryside – as so many peasants in so many countries have done, before and since – for the doubtful haven of the city.

The poet Alexis of Thurii, in the fourth century B.C., described the fare of an impoverished family of five who existed mainly on pulses, greens and turnips, varied with iris rhizomes, beechnut, lupin seeds (reported to be sour but very nutritious), an occasional grasshopper, wild pears, “and that god-given inheritance of our mother country, darling of my heart, a dried fig.” If there was enough food for more than three of the family, it was unusual.

As a rule the other two had to make do  with a mouthful of barley-paste. But though sporadic attempts were made to help the Athenian poor, it was to be left to the Romans to embark on the first massive –  and, in the end self-defeating – social welfare project.

Reay Tannahill

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Accustomed as we are to think of the ancient Greeks  – apart from their androcentrism and lamentable treatment of women – as being a civilised people, most of us would be a little startled to hear that raw fermented grain and lentil pastes  comprised (as they also did in Roman times)  the ordinary daily fare of an average person.

Not only that, but to learn from Reay Tannahill about the sheer scarcity of food, which compelled two out of every five family members (and we should have no difficulty whatsoever in surmising that those two would have had to have been women) to go hungry at mealtimes, comes as a bit of a shock.

But then, this meagre and (what might well seem to us) distasteful diet might have been an improvement on the food of what has been referred to by Hesiod, Virgil, Cervantes and others, as the ‘Golden Age’ –  a happy and peaceful time predating civilisation, with all its attendant detriments such as money, war, poverty and servitude – when ‘men’ lived happily on acorns and honey.

This was necessarily a time predating agriculture, but it was a time of settled existence. Ancient though they were, the people of the ‘golden age’ were not the nomads who pre-dated the agriculturalists, and their culture does not resemble that of the of the nomads who raised animals for food, clothes and shelter.

Hunting and gathering is something we associate with the brutishness of Neolithic existence, but again, the golden age was warm –  and it does not seem to have taken place during the ice-encroached millennia endured by our stone-age ancestors. Life, if we are to believe the descriptions handed down to us of this time, was leisurely,  and possibly communal. People cooked their food, sang, danced, painted and composed poetry.

Fermented  lentil pastes of early agricultural times still retain their place in Indian and Ceylonese (Sri-Lankan) cuisine , but only as cooked (on a griddle or deep-fried) food, and they are never eaten raw. We retain our culinary links with our distant ancestors in our barbecues, clam-bakes and ‘luaus’ which probably hark back to the time, when food was cooked over hot coals without benefit of containers, and groups of people ate the common meal together, conversing, telling – or reciting –  stories and making music.

But this  picture, so suited to our dreamy idealisations of an ideal past, may be just the slightest bit out-of-focus.  The discovery of  the corpse of Ötzi the Iceman from 3300 B.C.E, who was found with an arrow lodged in his back, seems to suggest that however far back we go in human history – or prehistory – we are likely to find evidence of homicide and worse.

I found an interesting essay in Robert Graves’s book The Common Asphodel: collected essays on poetry 1922 – 1925, in which he explains that the tubers of the Asphodel were widely eaten in Greece before corn (what we refer to as wheat) was widely grown there. The tubers were roasted in the ashes and eaten with salt, and according to Hesiod, they were  sometimes eaten after being pounded into a mash with figs. Roasted Asphodel seeds were also eaten like corn (wheat) or made into bread.

Asphodels were said to grow in the Elysian fields, where the souls of the just took their post-mortem rest. Perhaps it is due to this sepulchral association that Asphodel is no longer eaten today, or perhaps it is because eating, for most of us, is no longer predominantly a matter of sustenance, but of taste.

 

 

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/reay-tannahill-accidental-pioneer-of-food-history-and-bestselling-romantic-novelist-760621.html

Read Full Post »

Sylvia Nora Townsend Warner (6 December 1893 – 1 May 1978)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Because of the telephone, Dr. Adam Hutton, the newly
 arrived locum tenens was occupying the conjugal bedroom.
 He got into bed, tilted the reading lamp, and pulled up the
 eiderdown. The moment he laid hold of it, he remembered
the roast fowl at supper. The roast fowl had been good and 
substantial; so was the eiderdown, and the phrase ‘spot
lessly clean’, which the eiderdown demanded as its due,
 could have applied with equal propriety to the fowl’s 
accompanying bread sauce.

Everything in the room brandished cleanliness, merit,
 and substantiality, while, at the same time, the colouring of
 wallpaper, carpet, and curtains plainly indicated that they 
had been chosen because they would not show dirt. ‘All the 
best bedrooms in Horn Street must have been like this,’ he
said to himself. ‘Still are, for that matter, I dare say.’  Behind a chink in the curtains (he had pulled them apart to 
look out) the windowpane glittered like a diamond, and in 
through the opened window came the familiar, grimy 
smell of the industrial West Riding. He had not smelled it 
for nearly thirty years.

But in his youth he had only guessed at such bedrooms,
 deducing them from furniture shops and advertisements.
 The cleanliness, merit, and substantiality of his own  surroundings had been of a shabbier, more arduous kind, and 
the smell of grime much more insistent, while he, with the 
thudding industry of a small engine, had fought to learn,
 and to be able to go on learning, until, by the end of his
 teens, he had finally learned himself out of his station and 
away from his birthplace, never to return. Get-on-and-
get-out, get-on-and-get-out, get-on-and-get-out. . .  If 
they had not been the words of his private heart, the print
ing shop across the street would have dinned them into him.

And he was still within the letter of his vow. He had 
not returned. This was Mexley, not Goatbridge. Identical 
in griminess and clatter, eclectic hideousness of public 
buildings and stoical ugliness of working-class streets,
 Mexley and Goatbridge and Hudderbeck and Wendon and 
Gullaby, sprawling one into another and laced together by 
trolley buses, were identical in mutual contempt, Goatbridge averring that folk in Hudderbeck never shut a door 
after them, Hudderbeck and Wendon cherishing a legend
 of what went into Mexley pies, Mexley, Goatbridge,
Wendon, and Hudderbeck jeering at Gullaby greenhorns,
 and Gullaby on its hillside looking down on their smoky 
rooftops as on the Cities on the Plain. ‘God knows what 
got into my head,’ said Adam Hutton; and opening the
 street map of Mexley, which was not Goatbridge, he 
began to memorize its layout. Knowing Goatbridge, he 
found it easy enough to put Mexley together by its street 
names. Foundry Street, Wharf Street, Hoggle Yard and 
Slaughter Yard and Tanhouse Yard, Bull Ring and Laystall Lane – that would be the old part of the town. And 
Douro Crescent and Portico Place would be the former
 residential quarter, left now to brass-plate users, solicitors,
and town offices –  he need not trouble to memorize that 
square of the map. Odd, though, that he could not find 
Horn Street. Realising that Horn Street had got in from 
Goatbridge and that he was half asleep, he put out the light.

In his dream it was a Christmas morning, and the Goatbridge Brass Band was standing on the roof of the fire
station, playing ‘Christians, awake! Salute the happy 
morn.’ But he was in a double bed in Mexley, and the 
telephone was ringing. A voice that might have come from 
any one of his aunts said, ‘Is that you, Doctor? I’m in the 
call box – Mrs. Bella Heaton – and it’s Joseph. He’s been 
throwing up these last three hours, and I don’t like the
 look of his nose, and his feet are like ice, and- ‘

‘I’ll come at once. But first tell me your address.’

A voice completely changed and concealing ineffable
 astuteness remarked, ‘You aren’t Dr. Walker, though.’

‘No. Dr. Walker’s in Wales, on his holiday. I’m doing 
his work. Now, tell me where you live.’

‘Oh ! Well, I dare say you might as well as not.’

As he left his room a door across the landing opened, and
 Miss Linda Walker appeared. ‘Oh dear! Your first night,
 too. I’m so sorry.’  She wore a blue dressing gown. She had 
put on her spectacles. Her hair stood out like brass filings. 
’Can you manage? Will you be able to find your way?’

‘Perfectly. Mustn’t wake your mother.’

When he returned the hall light was on and a thermos, a 
mug, and a plate of sandwiches stood on the hall table.
 Yorkshire hospitality. Mrs. Bella Heaton had already 
forced cocoa and seed-cake on him. But he ate the sandwiches, for the raw air had given him an appetite. After
 leaving his patient he had gone to view Goatbridge by the 
pale moonlight, driving back by the Gullaby Road, whence
 Gullaby Old Church, silhouetted on the hilltop looked as 
alarming as ever, gaunt and yet glutted, its churchyard 
crammed with enormous, jostling black headstones.

Breakfast was at eight. Porridge, ham and eggs, pikelets, 
potted shrimps, a blazing fire at his back, and a purple 
radiance shed on Mrs. Walker’s spotlessly white hair from 
the band of coloured glass in the window. He was so 
insistently fed that he could barely get in his thanks for the 
thermos and sandwiches.

‘Linda’s her father’s daughter,’ said Mrs. Walker in
 tones of mild pride. ‘She knows. What’s our motto in this 
house, Linda dear!’

‘Keep up the doctor, and he’ll keep up the patient.’

‘That’s right. And you may rest assured, Doctor, if you
 should be out on a night call, Linda will always have something ready for you, no matter how often. And when
 you’ve finished your breakfast, she will be ready to show 
you the files and the forms and the registers and the day 
book and the appointment lists. Linda does all the book-
work, and she’s qualified as a dispenser. She’ll make a 
wonderful wife for a doctor, one of these days.

‘
Even for a mother, Mrs. Walker was shameless. Linda 
was not shameless; she was merely willing.

Adam had no fears. It was only a fortnight, and he could 
be heartless for much longer than that. He would be heartless, civil, and inscrutable.

But as the day wore on, with surgery hours, and visiting,
 and midday dinner, and visiting, and a groaning tea table,
 and surgery hours again, it was to himself that he grew 
inscrutable. What the devil had possessed him to come here
  – What sentimental lunacy, what decrepitude of mind?

Getting on and getting out, he had finished his training,
and travelled on a research scholarship, and passed the war 
years as an Army doctor, and spent his accumulated pay on 
buying a partnership in a South Coast practice; and then, not liking the shape of National Health Service, had got 
out of that and into the research laboratories of a new firm
 that was making a good thing out of vaccines and antibiotics. There he proposed to remain, well paid, well 
thought of, interested in what he was doing, and near 
enough to London to be able to ease himself into a degree
 of culture that would make his old  age creditable and entertaining. And then, because he was glancing through the 
British Medical Journal in order to compare his firm’s
 advertisement with the advertisements of other firms,
 ‘Mexley West Riding’ caught his eye. What followed 
was dementia. Reading that Dr. James Walker required a 
locum tenens during the second fortnight in March, and 
even while scornfully commiserating the wretch  who could
 only get away for that meagre release, he became con
vinced that if he did not snatch at this chance of going to 
Mexley, the rest of his life would be meaningless. So in
tense was his madness that not even the words ‘live as 
family’ could deter him. He had been going to Rome in
 April. Changing the date of his holiday, he arranged to go
 to Mexley in March. But why! But why! To be within 
smelling distance of the Goatbridge gasworks when the
 wind blew from the sweet south! To hear the Mexley
 Choral Society rehearsing Stainer’s Crucifixion? To discover experimentally what went into a Mexley pie?
 With the whole vehemence of his Goatbridge breeding he exclaimed, ‘Mexley !’

But by his third day in Mexley, subdued by hard work and 
harsh air, grossly hungry, grossly sleepy, shamelessly trifling with Mrs. Walker’s shamelessness and automatically 
relying on Linda’s willingness, Adam began to feel it 
almost a matter of course to be there. In the preliminary 
correspondence, Walker had said that he would leave a 
detailed list of the patients under treatment, so that his
 locum might know from the start what would be required
 of him. This list turned out to be a great many slips of 
waste paper scribbled over with mysterious abbreviations – 
patients and treatments intermingled with memoranda
 about drugs that would need to be replenished lyings-in to
 be expected, and fishing tackle that Dr. Walker would 
want on his holiday. These were piously handed over by 
Linda, but every morning she supplemented them with a
 neatly written schedule, telling him in a sweet full voice
 that Mr. Bucklaw and Mrs. Protheroe were cancers, that 
Miss Eden’s boy was an epileptic, Mr. Murgatroyd a faker, ‘And old Mrs. Robertson – she’ll expect to be looked in 
on to-day – is another. But you mustn’t tell her so; other
wise she’ll send for you in the middle of the night with a 
heart attack.’

‘I don’t know why your father wanted a locum. You
 could do it all, and cook the pudding into the bargain. Who 
are these other regulars for to-day?’

Smiling, flushed with pleasure, she replied, ‘Mr.
Holmes, disseminated sclerosis. Ben Trotter, Parkinson’s 
disease. Miss Rawson, arthritic and bedridden. Mrs. Ack
royd, cardiac dropsy. They’re all in Tanhouse Yard, so 
you’d better leave your car in Bull Ring. And if nobody
 answers the door at Number Eleven – that’s Mrs. Ack
royd it will be because the niece she lives with is out
fitting. She dressmakes. So just walk in and up the stairs to 
the front bedroom. But mind the stairs. Father says they’re
 rotten, and the coffin will have to come out by the window.
 

They’re shocking places, those houses in Tanhouse Yard.
They ought to be pulled down. Nobody lives there but 
remainders.’

Still flushed, still smiling, she straightened the papers and
 went away, for it was part of her willingness that she knew 
when she was done with. As soon as she was out of the 
room he unstraightened them again, pencilling in queries
 and alternative medicaments. Walker was still in the epoch
 of Ferri Phos., Tinct. Val., and Card. Co. This was a pity; 
for as a musician reading a single orchestral part can deduce
 quite a lot about the composer’s merits, Adam, reading 
Walker’s clinical notes, often perceived acumen, and some
times even diagnostic brilliance. Someone really ought to
 overhaul the old man and bring him up to date.

Most of the younger patients were ready enough to be 
brought up to date. They had read articles on modern
 medicine in popular papers, knew that recent discoveries
 were wonderful, and asked if they couldn’t have some of 
these injections, like Aunt Gertie when she died in the
 hospital. No such readiness was shown in the quarter 
between Foundry Street and Laystall Lane, where the
 uncontaminated voice of Mexley remarked, ‘Doctor never
 give me blue physic’ or ‘Hayen’t you any of t’old stuff
 left?’ or’ Never set eyes on nowt like this.’

Miss Rawson, arthritic and bedridden, whom he found 
standing on a stepladder in a long flannel nightdress,
 engaged in putting a bit of shine on the gas bracket, consulted him about her football pools and, finding that he 
didn’t know much about them, gave him a long lecture on 
how to do permutations. When he got away he almost
 flinched under the westering light, which had broken 
through the day’s long dullness. Every detail of Tanhouse
Yard was as brilliantly affirmed as if Vermeer had painted
 it. There was no answer when he knocked on the door of 
No. 11, so he pushed it open, to be confronted by a dress-
maker’s dummy, alarmingly actual in a flimsy white satin 
wedding dress. If it had not been for Linda’s directions, he
 might have taken it for the ghost of Anne Boleyn or some
 such headless heroine. But, of course, that onslaught of 
raw light had left him dazzled.

He went upstairs and into the front bedroom, and into
 another attack of light and of pictorial quality. The high
 double bed faced the window. Exactly centred in the bed 
was an elderly woman, sitting up against a heap of pillows.
 She must have been a fine robust creature in her time, and
 she still displayed tokens of an obstinate vitality; for her 
hair was the hair of a young woman, smooth nut-brown
 hair, very thick, and plaited into two great ropes that hung 
down over her subsided breasts. But what overwhelmed 
him was the way she queened it over the bed. Never – so 
it seemed to him – had he seen a bed so mastered, so pos
sessed, by its occupant and though she had those subject 
pillows heaped behind her, her spinal column needed no 
such support. Straight and sufficient, it could have carried 
the weight of a pediment poised on that large shapely head 
with its ropes of plaited hair.

‘Mrs. Ackroyd?’

‘Aye.’

Her voice conveyed nothing beyond local breeding and
 the fact that this was no Miss Rawson to delay him in con
versation. He asked his questions and examined her. To 
judge by her disease, she might be dead in a couple of 
months; to judge by her physique, she might live another 
two years. Her answers were brief, plain, and dismissing as
 though she knew all this for formality and waste of time.
 Her instinct tells her not to talk, he thought. A big black-
and-white cat lay beside her, as unforthcoming as she. 
’Company for you,’ he said, constrained by her lack of con
versation to say something, however flat.

‘That’s right.’ Her eyes were so sunk into the stained caverns of their 
sockets that he could not tell their colour, or the direction 
of their glance. She did not turn her head, but as he opened 
his case and stood debating whether his alternative to the
 medicine Dr. Walker had been giving her would be any
more to the purpose he felt she was watching him ‘Have
 you anyone to go to the chemist – Enright, in Church
 Street”?

‘
’My niece.’

‘I’ll leave a prescription there. It might ease your cramp. She could call for it later this evening. Dr. Adam Hutton 
is the name.’
 –

‘Aye.. ‘And then, with a slow, broad grin, as if mocking 
her own taciturnity she added, ‘That’s right.’

But was it taciturnity? It might be some sort of oncom
ing coma. 
’I think I’ll take your pulse again. ‘

As he took hold of her wrist, the cat began to purr.

The pulse rate was unchanged, the pulse itself a fraction 
steadier.

‘Well, you’ve got a very creditable pulse.’

The purr grew louder. He looked down at her. It
 ceased.

‘Was that you?’

‘I wondered when you’d notice it. It’s quite tiring to do.
 Aren’t you going to tell me I’ve got a creditable purr?,

Her composed expression hardened. The purr began 
again, easy and lulling.

‘Stop it! Please stop it! You might strain your heart’

At this, the cat sat up and examined him. Under their 
joint scrutiny, he somehow got out of the room.  As he 
heard his hobbledehoy feet on the stairs, he realized that his 
departure had been exactly that – awkward, bashful, and 
incompetent, like the boy at Goatbridge; and when he 
reached his car, he only half believed that it was his, or that 
he would be able to back it out and swing into the stream
 of traffic.

No wonder that such women with their cats were 
burned for witchcraft!

A doctor has his professional magic, too, and by the end of 
the day Adam had contrived to forget about Mrs. Ackroyd. But that night, as he got into bed, he remembered how she 
had lain, majestic and central, and he felt a childish obligation to settle himself with equal dignity exactly in the
 middle of the bed. Almost instantly, he was asleep.

 All that night, he dreamed of Goatbridge, only waking
 for long enough to be aware of this before plunging back 
into a further depth of dream. It was the genuine Goatbridge. He walked through the familiar streets – Crane’s
 Lane, burrowing between the tall mills and crowed over by 
the stamping thud of machinery, and Union Street, with
 its abrupt falling perspective of mean little shops and sham-
lavish barrows along the pavement edge, Technical Street 
and Jubilee Street, and Old Snout,  and once, looking
 down from Old Snout, he caught sight of the canopy of 
smoky green and pink above the fairground and heard the
 steam-organ music, hot and strong, like a cough linctus.
 But the intensity of that bygone woe turned him aside and 
he went down Crab Street. There the trolley buses clanged 
by, the greasy brilliance of engraved and gilded glass
 ennobled the windows of The Dog Tavern, Dotty Jenny 
hurried along, whispering to herself, ‘No bread at the
 baker’s,’ and outside the Labour Exchange the men of his 
father’s generation were waiting in a queue to draw their 
unemployment money. But in some way all this was trans
parent, so that wherever he looked he saw the rise and fall
 of the landscape – not just in a crannied view at the end of
 Church Street, or desolately preserved in the bluff of rock
 and sickly turf above the goods yard, but everywhere 
manifest, shouldering itself out of houses, silent amid the 
clatter of machinery, sombre through the neon lights of the
 picture house, rough underfoot though he trod on stone
 pavements. And sometimes it seemed that Goatbridge was
 something cast by a magic lantern on the dark moorland,
and at other times it seemed that the moor was welling up 
through Goatbridge like a gathering mist.

In the morning, he woke knowing that this dream had 
in some queer way enriched him. It was as though he had 
borrowed the Eye of Time, and by viewing Goatbridge in 
its simultaneity of existence and non-existence had arrived 
at a complete clinical observation that would at last resolve 
his conflict of nausea and mysterious craving. So to Mrs.
Walker’s inquiries as to how he had slept he replied that
 he had slept remarkably well.

‘And you’re looking well, too, if I may say so.   Much 
better than when you came.  After all, there’s nothing like
 one’s native air.’

Linda’s spectacles, so clean that they were like something
 in an operating theatre, flushed as she looked up. ‘But,
 Mother, Dr. Hutton comes from the South.’

There was a twang of reproach in her voice. Mrs.
Walker said nothing. Neither did he.

But how on earth had the old schemer snuffed it out?

This was Saturday. On Sunday, Linda appeared in a 
purple tweed tailor-made, but a providentially difficult
 labour spared him from seeing much of it. At Sunday 
supper there was another roast fowl, and Mrs. Walker 
remarked that one wouldn’t think he’d been there only a
 week, he seemed quite one of the family. Linda reported 
that Mrs. Beaumont, encountered on the way home from
 evensong, had no words to express how wonderfully Dr.
Hutton had put his finger on what was wrong with Delia.
 With intimidating frankness, Mrs. Walker asked Linda if
 Dr. Hutton wasn’t just the co-partner that Father needed.
 Turning to Adam, she went on, ‘I know I’d be glad to see
 it. I’ve been saying for these last five years “James, you
 must take a co. or you’ll be dead of overwork before you 
retire.” Now, can’t I tempt you with this nice thigh, 
Doctor?’

During Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, Adam began 
to see his results, and to plume himself on his management 
of patients more intricate than Miss Beaumont. He spent
 his spare time studying their case histories in those files that
 Linda’s neatness made such easy reading. He began to be as 
the God to whom all secrets are known. The Hippocratic 
lust for intervenient power and insighted meddling sprouted 
up in him, all the stronger because he had cut it to the 
ground. By Wednesday midday he was saying to himself
 that as he had changed his course before, he might change
 it again, and go back to general practice, this time not in 
the genteel suburban Home Counties but in some town like
 Mexley, where sickness and death, with a greater variety of 
tricks up their sleeves, would be more interesting foes to
 combat – though not Mexley itself, where Mrs. Walker’s
 intentions threatened a higher price than he cared to pay.
 For that matter, there was also Walker, who might not
 match his daughter in being so very willing.

On Thursday morning, Walker’s daughter, instead of 
knowing when she was done with, hung about the surgery,
 fidgeted her way as far as the door, paused, and turned back.

‘I don’t know how to put it, but I must. I’m afraid
 Mother may have annoyed you on Sunday.’

‘On Sunday?’

‘When she said about this being your native air. She 
didn’t mean it unkindly – quite the contrary. It showed
 how much she thinks of you. But coming from the South, 
you might not take it that way. I’ve been feeling really
 worried about it.’

‘There’s nothing to worry about. As a matter of fact,
 your mother was partly right. I wasn’t born in the  South; 
I just happen to live there. ‘

And now, if she asked the obvious question, what was he 
going to say? But though her lips parted, it was not in 
inquiry. She stared at him with round eyes, her healthy,
 high-coloured, rawboned face remade by its expression of
 compassion and enlightenment as though she had diagnosed
 a secret woe in him.

‘Do you think that’s so dreadful?’ he asked.

‘Well . . . Yes! Yes, I do. I can’t imagine anything 
more wretched than to live away from one’s roots. Of 
course, it’s nice to travel – I went to Switzerland once and 
enjoyed every moment of it. But I wouldn’t have enjoyed 
it – it  wouldn’t have been like Switzerland if I hadn’t known
 I’d got the West Riding to come home to.’  He looked towards the window.  Above the half-curtains
 it showed him the top of the lorry that was screaming past,
 the slate roofs and staring upper windows of the houses 
opposite, the murky sky, the whitening flashes where the
 wind bent the driving rain. Since the feeling her words had
 aroused in  him was too foolish to be said, he would sing it:



’O Bay of Dublin, my heart you’re troubling,

Your beauty haunts me like a fever dream.’

‘Whatever you are, you’re not Irish!’ she exclaimed, and 
went away before he could stop her. Which was as well,
 since he had been so nearly betrayed into kissing the girl.
 He had been so nearly betrayed that when he got his car 
out from the garage he welcomed the grime on the wind-
screen and the spatters of mud on the body as though they
 were so many bracing admonitions to him not to make a 
fool of himself. All that morning, he was on the lookout for 
such admonitions. They did not lack. He was recognized 
by Mrs. Beaumont, who was wearing a transparent pink 
raincoat, and good-heartedly waved a small bunch of 
mimosa at him. He waited for ten minutes in a traffic jam
 while two van drivers who had collided got out of their
 vans and circumstantially established that the other was at 
fault. His roof began to leak and he suspected he was getting 
a cold. But though the mimosa afforded him the pleasure 
of telling himself that Rome would not be like Rome if he 
hadn’t the West Riding to get away from, he knew that he 
was only being toppled toward leaving, as earlier he had 
been toppled toward staying. Perhaps this was what happened when one had no roots.

That night, Mr. Joseph Heaton, who had seemed to be 
recovering, died. He was an alcoholic, a surly old bully and
 incontinent. But he was dead. At the end of the match,
 death has suddenly outplayed Adam, sneaked a pawn into 
the back row and made a castle of it. Adam’s reaction was
 to feel that he now had no alternative. He would stay, he
 would root – not for any sentimental reasons but because 
he wasn’t going to be beat. If need were, he would marry  
Linda. So he thought, eating sardine sandwiches  and feel
ing delightfully cool-headed.
 In the morning he felt cool-headed merely. But during
 breakfast it seemed to him that he must have shouted these 
intentions aloud and been overheard. Linda ate like one
 suspended in a trance, and when he handed her the marmalade she took it as if he were worshipping her with his body 
and endowing her with all his worldly goods. Mrs. Walker
 said no more about Linda’s excellences. Apparently, she 
felt there was no further need to. In a voice that might have 
been breathing o’er Eden she remarked that Dr. Walker
 would be home tomorrow evening, and that it would soon
 be spring. In fact, she was wondering what best to do about
 the bedrooms. If he stayed on over Saturday night – and he had given no indication to the contrary – the best bedroom
 would have to be turned out on Sunday, a thing she didn’t
 like.

The gale had blown itself out, the rain was a drizzle, it
 was a discouraging morning for a man who had made up his 
mind overnight. Adam knew that his mind was made up,
but he knew immediately that he had got a cold in his
 head. He would let sleeping decisions lie till the morrow, 
when he would talk seriously to Walker about that partner
ship. Meanwhile, the patients he saw on his rounds all
 informed him that they wouldn’t be seeing him again, or
 that tomorrow they would be saying goodbye to him. It
 was irrational to resent being signed off like this; nevertheless, he resented it, and stayed longer and inquired more 
elaborately than he otherwise might have done. He had a
long list, and in order to finish it he had to go out again 
after the evening surgery hours. By the time he came to
 Tanhouse Yard, it was so late that many windows were 
already lit up. The front-bedroom window of No. 11 was 
one of them. Well, Mrs. Ackroyd would not waste her 
penurious syllables on telling him she would not be seeing 
him again. If said at all, it would be said by him, and she
 would respond with an ‘Aye,’or a ‘That’s right.’

To-day the niece was there. She opened the stairway 
door, and sat down again to her sewing machine.

The bedroom seemed smaller, the bed larger, the sick
 woman more sickly and less splendid, though she lay in the
 same grand attitude and held her head as erect as before.
The burst of sunlight had romanticized her. The bleak gas-
light stripped all that away. The cat wasn’t there, either.
 Something else was. On the dressing table, dominating it,
as she had dominated the bed, was a large photograph, a 
’professional’ photograph, glossy and glaring, of the head 
and torso of a naked woman. Her hair was heaped up on 
her head in a sort of casque. Her breasts were casqued in 
nets of sequins and imitation jewels. Slantingly across the 
bottom corner was printed in italic capitals Betty d’ Orsay,
 1928.

He looked from the photograph to the woman.

‘You?’

‘Ay. That’s me.’

‘You?’ he said again.

‘Aye. She’s me, and I’m her. It was done a couple of 
years before the show came to Goatbridge. But I’m still 
her.  “All Our French Artists’ Models Are Alive.” ‘

‘Must you always laugh at me?’ He exclaimed, and fell
 on his knees beside the bed, and buried his face.

‘Poor Adam! You took love hard, didn’t you! I never
 saw a boy take it harder!’

He heard her cough as her breath gave out. After a 
pause she went on, ‘And you telling me you were Dr. 
Adam Hutton! I knew you the moment you came in. I’m 
glad you’ve got on in the world.’

He rose from his knees, sat down on the bed, and took
 hold of her two plaits as though they were ropes to save a
 drowning man.

‘Goatbridge Fair, eh?’ She said. ‘Half a dozen of us, lit 
up in hutches behind glass. And you came along with the 
rest for a sixpenny stare. Reckon you’d never seen a naked 
woman before.’

‘I have never seen a woman since.’

‘And picked on me. Poor Adam, it was the hard nut you 
picked. You might have got any of the others. And the 
letters you wrote, and the way you pestered me! You 
thought I was French!’ she exclaimed, and began to laugh.

‘You tried to talk French to me: “Je vous aime.” ‘

‘Why wouldn’t you have me?’

‘I was too young love. If I’d been five-and-forty instead of 
five-and-thirty, I’d have gobbled you up, back, belly 
and whiskers.’

‘What happened to you afterwards? How did you get 
here? No! Don’t talk! It’s bad for you.’

‘Well, whatever else, I didn’t forget you.’

‘And you got out that photograph.’

‘Aye. I don’t rightly know what for. But it wasn’t for 
a tease.’

‘My love, my love, I don’t think that! May I undo this 
plait? I want to feel your hair.’

He had already begun unplaiting it. Released, her hair
 sprang into his hand as if to be fondled.

‘Shall I purr?’ She said after a while.

‘Don’t do anything my darling. Lie back, and let me
 play with it.’

She lay back against her pillows, her hand following his 
through the mesh of her hair, her eyes dwelling on the 
photograph.

‘Poor Adam!’ she murmured, speaking not to him but 
to the woman of 1928.

‘Poor Adam!” That’s what you said then, when you 
wouldn’t have me. But now you say it better. Or I believe 
it more.’

‘Poor Adam! Poor Bet, too! But it had to be, like. Still 
and all, I’m glad I got out that picture.’

‘Will you give it to me?’

‘I was thinking I’d have it sent you after I was dead.’

‘I’d rather have it now.’

‘Why not? There’s some brown paper in that top left-
hand drawer.’

He wrapped up the photograph, and opened his case. It
 was too large to go in. He stared into his case as though into 
another world.

‘Did those pills do your cramp any good?’

‘They eased it a bit.’

‘I’ll leave you some more. I suppose I ought to go over 
you.’

She saw the agonized look on his face, and cried out,
 ‘No, no! That you won’t!

‘
’Always the same cry. What a woman!’

‘Now you must go. Oh, for goodness’ sake, dust your 
knees! Is it to-morrow you’re leaving?’

‘Yes. Unless you ask me to stay. Oh, my love, my love!’

Briefly and calmly she considered it.

‘You must go, lad. Best for both, this time.’

When he looked back from the stairhead, she was 
dreamily replaiting her hair.

He sat for a long time in his car, shuddering and twisting
 his hands, shaken not by this classical grief of the present but by the untamed remembrance of his former woe. A 
prostitute was walking up and down, and presently she 
came and tapped on the glass. He shook his head, and
 started the car. He was at a loss where to go or how to get
 through the next few hours, till a sneeze reminded him that 
he had a cold, and could make it a pretext for going straight 
to bed.

On Saturday, Dr. Walker, getting his full pound of 
flesh, arrived late in the afternoon, as Adam had done a
 fortnight earlier.

‘Hullo, hullo! Well, here I am, safe back in time for tea,
 And how are you all? Hullo, Hutton, everything gone all right?’ Without waiting for an answer, he turned to his
 wife. ‘Ada! I’ve got a piece of news for you. Splendid
 news. But I must have a cup of tea before anything else.
 I haven’t tasted a decent cup of tea since I left home.
 Cat-lap!’

He poured the tea down his wiry gullet, handed back the 
cup to be refilled, rubbed his knees, and announced, ‘Ada,
 I’ve got a partner. I met him at the hotel, he was lunching 
there. He’d come to Llangibby for his aunt’s funeral – from Scotland, the deuce of a way to come for an aunt! – and was travelling back that same night. Well, we got to 
talking I took to him, he took to me. So far, he’s a trainee-
assistant with a view – some place near Peebles, with a
 sulphur spa – but there wasn’t enough future for him. I 
soon found out that what he wanted was to come south and
 see the world. Come to Mexley, I said. We’ve got a bit of 
everything, even anthrax. Of course, he’s never had an 
anthrax, and his eyes positively sparkled. Nice-looking
 fellow, too, and quite young. His name’s Maclaren, and
 he’s coming to have a look round next week. So there you
 are, and I hope you’re pleased, Ada. ‘

Mrs. Walker said it was the very news she’d been hoping 
for, and that she rather believed Mrs. Beaumont had had a 
grandmother who went to a spa in Scotland – though she 
couldn’t say what was wrong with her. 
’

Nothing at all, if she was like the rest of that family.
 And Linda, my girl, cut me a slice of cake, and get ready 
to find a nice little house for him. Not too far out. Or a
 maisonette. Lodgings won’t do, because of the children. 
Didn’t I say he was a married man?  Well, he is. And an 
anaesthetist. Just the very thing we want. Well, now,
 Hutton let’s get down to it. Any deaths?’

‘Joseph Heaton.’

Linda was toasting herself a crumpet at the fire. Her 
hand was steady, her face composed. Only when the
 crumpet fell off the toasting fork and she was so slow to
 retrieve it could one have guessed that her thoughts were
 sad and elsewhere. Poor Linda, Adam thought, one blow
 on top of another, rat-tat ! It was as though he had glanced 
out of his own tragedy and seen the sawdust trickling from
 a doll.

An hour later, he was driving south over the same route 
he had come by.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The Locum Tenens” comes from the inimitable pen of one of the best and most underrated writers of modern times, Sylvia Townsend Warner. The brilliance of her writing is the result of a finely honed craft and constellation of writerly skills not often found in a single individual. Her acute eye and ear catch the defining moment when a glance picks out the particular image that frames the whole picture, and the defining note that imparts its tone to ordinary speech in a way that imprints its sound in the mind of a reader. Even the names of  her grim and seedy Northern towns,  Mexley, Goatbridge, Hudderbeck, Wendon, Gullaby, come smeared with an atmosphere of post-industrial grime of poverty and decrepitude worthy of Dickens, and the street names – Foundry Street, Wharf Street, Hoggle Yard, Slaughter Yard and Tanhouse Yard echo down the almost medieval antecedents of these places with the finality of  shoveled-in clods thudding dully on a coffin freshly lowered into the grave.

The Spirit Rises is the somewhat sardonic title of Warner’s collection of short-stories, which includes the brief  ‘homecoming’ turned ironic misadventure of the middle-aged and tightly buttoned-up Dr. Adam Hutton. This is no sentimental journey, but the Doctor’s irresistible compulsion to return to his raw and stifling origins. Cold fish though he is, deep in his heart is concealed a youthful passion which has somehow displaced all tender emotions and excluded all human attachments, in the irrational way that some dogs or cats   attach themselves to a single human, and ignore all others. He has achieved his professional ambitions, he is well-off  and financially secure, but it is clear that he has been unable to escape his past – a past which claims him even as it repels him, and draws him back to the origins to which he swore he would not return.

The tragic absurdity of ‘love gone wrong,’ and ‘lives gone wrong’ despite outward appearances to the contrary, is a subject well suited to Warner’s gifts. There are very few writers who are able to mix tragedy and pathos with a starkly unsentimental and ironical sense of reality and still plunge a reader into the murky depths of acute vicarious pain. The pain is made more bitter because both Hutton and Linda came so close to achieving a mutual salvation. Hutton’s dreams, his bursting inappropriately into song, his almost succumbing to the lure of matrimony, no matter how pragmatically, might have offered a redemption. Both he and Linda would have been able to root themselves securely in their native soil, and forge a human connection with each other.

Warner’s vivid  portrait of the appalling plight of Linda Walker, hopelessly trapped as she is in her bourgeois role like a fly in ointment, (always a Doctor’s daughter and never to be a Doctor’s wife) is so vividly dealt with that it chills the blood.  So assiduously sensitive and attuned to the needs and requirements of others, Linda’s virtue will be forever unrewarded. We sense that  she will live with her elderly parents for the rest of her wasted life. It counts for nothing that she has sedulously and conscientiously trained herself to be the perfect doctor’s wife and  assistant, because, after the evaporation of her one and only matrimonial prospect, there is no slot in the ghastliness of industrial West Riding into which she could possibly fit. All indications are that she will wither away in the parental home, her position as a fixture and an adjunct to her father’s practice, whittled away to nothing  and permanently displaced, by the arrival of the young sprightly (and married) young doctor her insensitive father has chosen as the partner in his practice.  But still we might suppose that Linda’s stubborn attachment – if not love – for her place of birth will persist, because we know she could not even have enjoyed the pristine beauty of Switzerland, had she not had the West Riding to return to. It is this bleak place, with its noisome atmosphere and squalid neighbourhoods, that holds her fast, and gives her at least a measure of ‘purpose’ to counter the otherwise emptiness of her life.

But Hutton will drive off into the night and pick up the thread of  his uneventful life, sliding slowly and dismally into isolation and a dried-up old age, because he has by his very ambition, severed his own roots. His  drive to escape his awful beginnings will no doubt carry him to a far more dismal end than he might have envisioned for himself. When he dies (I imagine intestate, for there seems to be no one to whom he could leave his estate)  one can imagine that the bailiffs will open a drawer in his bureau , and find there, still wrapped in its original shroud of brown paper) the rather vulgar picture of a  beautiful, naked young woman decked-out in in her passing finery of paste and sequins. They might crack a coarse joke or two about the deceased, and speculate about the secret past he concealed under his show of respectability, or even a hidden propensity to vice of a fairly harmless sort, but how could they know that the relic that had occasioned their awkward laughter was all that remained of the one and only love of a man’s life?

Love also bypassed Betty d’Orsay (how she could ever have honestly come by such a name?), stoically dying of something which seems to resemble congestive heart-failure, but Warner sets her off as a foil for the other characters.  She lived the life she chose, single and independent and serenely ignoring the strictures of convention, which must have placed her beyond the social pale of even such peers as she might have had, had she taken to trouble to tolerate them.  Her rejection of the youthful Hutton’s suit remains unshaken, even as death steals her breath and leans over her shoulder. She alone remains unbroken by life, her spirit as erect as her spine, her gift of arid humour and irony and her vast and substantial dignity show her to have maintained herself heroically free from and uncorrupted by weakness in a way that seems almost superhuman.

All the characters in this story appear in some manner to mere ‘place holders’ for something that has substituted itself for life. Their dreams are blighted, and their  losses, acute. Life is passing them by even as they feebly flutter their wings as bugs do who are chloroformed before being pinned to the wax-board.

But Betty is different.  She alone has lived, and continues to live – and it is her spirit alone that even in finality,  seems capable of rising.

Read Full Post »

Virginia Woolf (25 January 1882 – 28 March 1941)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whatever hour you woke there was a door shutting. From room to room they went, hand in hand, lifting here, opening there, making sure­  –  a ghostly couple.

“Here we left it,” she said. And he added, “Oh, but here too!” “It’s upstairs,” she murmured. “And in the garden,” he whispered. “Quietly,” they said, “or we shall wake them.”

But it wasn’t that you woke us. Oh, no. “They’re looking for it; they’re drawing the curtain,” one might say, and so read on a page or two. “Now they’ve found it, ” one would be certain, stopping the pencil on the margin. And then, tired of reading, one might rise and see for oneself, the house all empty, the doors standing open, only the wood pigeons bubbling with content and the hum of the threshing machine sounding from the farm. “What did I come in here for? What did I want to find?” My hands were empty. “Perhaps it’s upstairs then?” The apples were in the loft. And so down again, the garden still as ever, only the book had slipped into the grass.

But they had found it in the drawing room. Not that one could ever see them. The window panes reflected apples, reflected roses; all the leaves were green in the glass. If they moved in the drawing room, the apple only turned its yellow side. Yet, the moment after, if the door was opened, spread about the floor, hung upon the walls, pendant from the ceiling­ – what? My hands were empty. The shadow of a thrush crossed the carpet; from the deepest wells of silence the wood pigeon drew its bubble of sound. “Safe, safe, safe” the pulse of the house beat softly. “The treasure buried; the room . . .” the pulse stopped short. Oh, was that the buried treasure?

A moment later the light had faded. Out in the garden then? But the trees spun darkness for a wandering beam of sun. So fine, so rare, coolly sunk beneath the surface the beam I sought always burnt behind the glass. Death was the glass; death was between us; coming to the woman first, hundreds of years ago, leaving the house, sealing all the windows; the rooms were darkened. He left it, left her, went North, went East, saw the stars turned in the Southern sky; sought the house, found it dropped beneath the Downs. “Safe, safe, safe,” the pulse of the house beat gladly. “The Treasure yours.”

The wind roars up the avenue. Trees stoop and bend this way and that. Moonbeams splash and spill wildly in the rain. But the beam of the lamp falls straight from the window. The candle burns stiff and still. Wandering through the house, opening the windows, whispering not to wake us, the ghostly couple seek their joy.

“Here we slept,” she says. And he adds, “Kisses without number.” – “Waking in the morning­”  – “Silver between the trees­” –  “Upstairs­” “In the garden­” –  “When summer came­” – “In winter snowtime­” – “The doors go shutting far in the distance, gently knocking like the pulse of a heart.

Nearer they come, cease at the doorway. The wind falls, the rain slides silver down the glass. Our eyes darken, we hear no steps beside us; we see no lady spread her ghostly cloak. His hands shield the lantern. “Look,” he breathes. “Sound asleep. Love upon their lips.”

Stooping, holding their silver lamp above us, long they look and deeply. Long they pause. The wind drives straightly; the flame stoops slightly. Wild beams of moonlight cross both floor and wall, and, meeting, stain the faces bent; the faces pondering; the faces that search the sleepers and seek their hidden joy.

“Safe, safe, safe,” the heart of the house beats proudly. “Long years­” – he sighs. “Again you found me.” “Here,” she murmurs, “sleeping; in the garden reading; laughing, rolling apples in the loft. Here we left our treasure­” Stooping, their light lifts the lids upon my eyes. “Safe! safe! safe!” the pulse of the house beats wildly. Waking, I cry “Oh, is this your buried treasure? – The light in the heart.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In this utterly luminous piece of writing Virginia Woolf conjures up two pairs of lovers, one ghostly and the other living. Despite the suggestion implicit in the title, it is really the lovers who are haunted, and not the house – the dead by their past, and the living inhabitants by their spectral predecessors, whose presence persists in the small but telling events which are the currency of mortal life.

Here there is not a trace of Woolf’s caustic wit; her normally biting observation of humans and their ordinary doings, is suspended and held in abeyance and so is something which I refer to myself as her ‘remote viewing’: in fact it is completely absent, and there is not even a tinge of her customary note of acerbity.  Here she is in tune with a world, which though ever-present, is for the most part unseen and unfelt: the extended reality which can only be sensed through a refinement of the awareness and intuition. It is by the grace of this faculty that the echoes of the past can be heard again because, it would seem, they are never altogether lost.

I recently had a sense of this with the scent which continued to linger so heavily outside my door, of  the choke cherry blossoms which finished  their  blooming many days ago, and left behind a Kirlian image of odour whose origin is now quite invisible.

There is a sharpened sense of urgency in the trance-like succession of hurried, yet vivid conveyance of images, and a sense of life and pleasure which clamours to be reclaimed. The images themselves seem to be encoded: they are not quite cryptic, but the significance they transmit is suggestive of something which is less than obvious.

My own intuition informs me Woolf was swept up in what I call  ‘the writer’s trance’ – a kind of fugue, in which whisps of thought become ardent and  are enkindled. This gives rise to inspired writing, which is the kind that emerges from an altered state. It is instantly recognisable, because it enkindles the same state in others, and  leaves behind a sort of aching enchantment.

Woolf’s story suggests that here is nothing sinister in this intrusion of past lives into present ones –   it is solely benevolent.  The dead live on vicariously or by proxy, the living continue, extend, carry on. They accept the the weight of  the others’ unrealised love, perhaps because she died, perhaps because he went away: something was left unfulfilled, forfeit, overtaken by events, by his error, by a failure to realise the finiteness of mortality,  as often so much in our pasts remain unfulfilled.

But the sibilant incantation of  “safe safe safe” of the unseen lovers tells of  an anxiety allayed, a loss vicariously, but happily recovered by the agency of these suplanting two, who feel the invisible yet strongly sensed presence of the indelible persistence of love.

So, in Woolf’s telling, the treasure is restored love love regained and redeemed.  We are left with the conviction that the lives not lived we so often end up with, the unfulfilled and forfeit past, is not irreclaimable after all. In that spirit, I welcome such reverberations of the past as I am capable of hearing, feeling and sensing.

As usual I find myself coming up with my own twist on stories such as this one, which draw me in and set my thoughts awhirl. I am thinking now of the many generations of same-sex lovers who were not permitted to love as they would have wished. They lived their mortal lives cheated of their rightful inheritance, so perhaps we owe them a debt of remembrance. They are the repositories of  our gay and lesbian ancestral memory. If there is such a thing as a collective unconscious, we must in some sense retain the sparks of their lives. But rather than ‘the unconscious’ or ‘the subconscious,’  I prefer to think of this as the ‘adjacent conscious’, since it lives side- by-side with us and all around us. As such it retains for me a deep and persistent poignancy, which I feel is precious, and should be kept alive.

The heart of this story, and the reference to “kisses without number”,  instantly reminded me of a poem by Catullus – and I can’t help wondering if Woolf thought of it too – and resolved to provide an assurance to the contrary, suggesting that death does not always extinguish mortal love.  If so, I think I understand a little better what she meant by “the light of the heart.”

 

 

Catullus V

Vivamus mea Lesbia, atque amemus,           
rumoresque senum severiorum
omnes unius aestimemus assis!
soles occidere et redire possunt:
nobis cum semel occidit brevis lux,
nox est perpetua una dormienda.
da mi basia mille, deinde centum,
dein mille altera, dein secunda centum,
deinde usque altera mille, deinde centum.
dein, cum milia multa fecerimus,
conturbābimus illa, ne sciāmus,
aut ne quis malus invidere possit,
cum tantum sciat esse basiorum.

 

Gaius Valerius Catullus

 

 

Catullus 5

*Let’s live and love, my Lesbia,                                  
counting the grumblings of severe old men
as being not worth a penny.
The western sun may rise again,
But when our brief light sets,
Night is a perpetual sleeping.
So give me a thousand kisses, then a hundred –
another thousand and a second hundred
and yet another thousand and another hundred
and when we have had many thousands of kisses
we will confound them, and lose count,
lest by counting so many kisses,
evil men should know their number
and be given cause for envy.

 

*My version, adapted from various translations of the original Latin.

Read Full Post »

Edward FitzGerald "Gerald" Brenan (April 7 1894 – Januray 19 1987)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What makes Brenan’s writing so irresistible to me is that everything he writes is vivid and compelling and imbued with his seemingly effortless talent for detailed observation. I am instantly drawn in by his mildly sardonic style, his facility to absorb everything around him, processing it intelligently and drawing unobvious and often ideosyncratic conclusions.

Brenan was possessed of an avid and insatiable appetite for discovering what lies on the surface as well as below it and a jackdaw’s talent for storing odd bits of whatever attracted him – whether they were details of dress or conversation or landscape  – and of course the chaotic and convoluted politics of the time, a time when good and bad, tragic and ludicrous, blended seamlessly into the almost –  but never quite unmanageable –  blend of recent events and intractable ancient customs.

His all-surveying eye and his finely tuned, acute sense of hearing make him the perfect proxy, and I feel myself becoming an enthusiastic voyeur.  In fact, this was one of Brenan’s favourite predilictions, and one he indulged without a trace of either shame or guilt!

The feeling for a place  which infuses his writing makes reading it feel a bit like reading about paradise, a countryside which is a microcosm of early creation – of ilex trees and broom and expansive views extending into the distance, but a paradise where terror and despair and human confusion all have a part.

I remember reading somewhere, (perhaps it was in an old Spanish short story) something that lodged itself indelibly in my memory, which fits well with Brenan’s experiences with the typical Spanish pride in social standing. His glimpses of the Spain  reminiscent of  the time of Cervantes when even the nobles starved, making a pretense of grandeur over their sparse and deficient meals, prandial rituals rigidly and helplessly followed when a liveried servant would ceremoniously serve his  high-born but impoverished master   a single egg on the ancient family silver, after which the master would ostentatiously pick his teeth in public to show he had dined well.

This particular book, The Face of Spain, with its endless  kaleidoscopic shifts people, places things – the unstoppable course of onrushing life like a stream which passes through an endless expanse of  space and time – transforms and transports one with the greatest immediacy to another time and place.

Brenan visited Spain in the aftermath of the civil war, during the dictatorship of Generalissimo Francisco Franco. In the last four hundred years everyone had had a go at Spain – England’s Drake and the disastrous loss of the Spanish Armada, ( though to be fair Spain brought this upon herself,) France’s Napoleon, and his butchery, so graphically immortalised by Goya, then the Nazis and fascists, ( and who can forget Picasso’s memorial of Guernica) and finally after a disastrous civil war, the grandest scourge of them all, the mean-eyed, pudgy-faced Franco with his revolting moustache. Under his baneful tyranny Spain became a creature which resembled Goya’s painting of Saturn devouring its young: liberals, intellectuals, poets, anarchists, peasants, clerics, and ordinary people all fell willy-nilly into the gaping maw.

Though Spain remained nominally neutral in WW2, The Germans and the Italians (Franco’s allies) enthusiastically launched several massacres. The Spanish Civil War drew in the young idealists from Europe in droves to fight against the Fascists.  Virginia Woolf’s nephew Julian Bell lost his life in the Spanish Civil War.  Communist lesbians Sylvia Townsend Warner and her partner Valentine Ackland were active volunteers, raising money and involving themselves in many aspects of the conflict such as providing transportation, medicines and other necessities. Rosamund Lehmann (writer of wonderful novels such as The Ballad and the Source,  Invitation to the Waltz and Dusty Answer, with its  ever-so-deeply enduring lavender tinge) contributed money for soap, a commodity in extremely short supply at the time, and one can only imagine the morale of a fighting force which lacks even the basic ability to stay reasonably clean.

Brenan has some fascinating antecedents as one of the fringe elements of the Bloomsbury group with its brilliant women of ambiguous, uncertain or confused sexuality (for my purposes lesbian) including his first love the brilliant painter Dora Carrington, (it is her portrait of Brenan which is at the top of this post) whose life ended tragically in suicide. His wife, the writer and poet Gamel Woolsey, to whom he dedicated The face of Spain, was connected to the well-known Powys family and in particular to the much older Llewellyn Powys (and also perhaps with Lewellyn Powys’s brother John Cowper Powys) with whom she had an affaire. Gamel and Llewelyn’s wife Alyse Gregory were close friends; nonetheless Powys wished Gamel to bear him a child. Brenan too wandered from the path of marital fidelity when he fathered a child, his daugter Miranda,  with one of his Spanish domestics, Juliana Pellegrino. However, it should come as no surprise to anyone that among this loosely knit group of of writers and artists and thinkers who all came from one tiny and remarkable segment of British society, sexual heterodoxy was the norm rather than the exception.

Brenan, like some of the superb writers and  literary luminaries of his social group such as Virginia Woolf, was self-educated. His style of writing – the kind of polished and striking prose which makes portraits and landscapes out of words, is his own unique skill, and cannot be mistaken for anyone else’s. Though Spain remained his most important subject, he was not restricted to one kind of writing. His book St John of the Cross is one of the very best on the subject I have ever read. Last night I read its preface in which Brenan pondered the difficulties and challenges of translating the saint’s Spanish poems into English, and was amazed at how exactly he defined and described the very heart of the problem, he encountered in his book about this saint and his poetry, (here Brenan points out the fascinating fact that Garcilaso de la Vega had a significant influence on John’s poetry) which in essence is the difficulty deciding between the importance of a rough and clumsy but accurate translation of Spanish into English, or a refined English poem in which the original expression has been diluted.

When one reads his books, Brenan’s fascination with Spain becomes infectious. His grasp of the very nature of this fascinating country and people, its history of brutality and violence in conquest, its religious intolerance, its art and its poetry, is in my view unsurpassed. This Spain, with its tendency in modern times to fall into one financial crisis after another, seems to have lost some of the historical hauteur with which Brenan tinged her. His descriptions brought to mind for me the image of a noble old dowager, somewhat the worse for wear, but still keeping up appearances and clinging to tradition. This intractable cycle of poverty is of ancient duration, for even in the past, the wealth of colonial plunder brought inflation and hardship. When Spain’s colonies were lost, along came still more hardship, but throughout it all the Spanish people clung stubbornly to the pride of their imperial inheritance.  We tend to forget that a Spaniard – Cæsar Nerva Traianus Germanicus (Trajan) once ruled Imperial Rome. Once again in need of a European bailout, Spain stands hat-in hand, its financial fate in the hands of wealthier nations, and one has to imagine that the country’s self-respect is getting a bit tattered at the edges.

Before Brenan died at the age of 94, had hoped to avoid funeral expenses and accordingly he had made arrangements to donate his body to a Medical faculty in Málaga. However, and perhaps due to some compunction about using the body of a well-known and much admired man of letters, the body was not put to the use to which Brenan intended it. Thus it remained unburied (and one would hope in cold storage) for 14 years, after which it was cremated and the ashes interred beside the burial plot of Gamel Woolsey in the English cemetery in Malaga.

I wish Brenan were still alive to cast his keen writerly eye on Spain at this juncture of her national life, but alas he is not, nor could anyone else take his place.

 

 

http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/g/gerald_brenan.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerald_Brenan

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/ARTbrenanG.htm

http://www.andalucia.com/history/people/gerald.htm

http://www.losgazquez.com/blog/?p=342

http://www.pythiapress.com/m-intro.htm

http://www.ideal.es/granada/v/20100717/cultura/juliana-amor-granada-20100717.

Read Full Post »

Edward FitzGerald "Gerald" Brenan (April 7 1894 – January 19 1987)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce (born June 24, 1842; died sometime after December 26, 1913)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Many years ago, on my way from Hongkong to New York, I passed a week in San Francisco. A long time had gone by since I had been in that city, during which my ventures in the Orient had prospered beyond my hope; I was rich and could afford to revisit my own country to renew my friendship with such of the companions of my youth as still lived and remembered me with the old affection. Chief of these, I hoped, was Mohun Dampier, an old schoolmate with whom I had held a desultory correspondence which had long ceased, as is the way of correspondence between men. You may have observed that the indisposition to write a merely social letter is in the ratio of the square of the distance between you and your correspondent. It is a law.

I remembered Dampier as a handsome, strong young fellow of scholarly tastes, with an aversion to work and a marked indifference to many of the things that the world cares for, including wealth, of which, however, he had inherited enough to put him beyond the reach of want. In his family, one of the oldest and most aristocratic in the country, it was, I think, a matter of pride that no member of it had ever been in trade nor politics, nor suffered any kind of distinction. Mohun was a trifle sentimental, and had in him a singular element of superstition, which led him to the study of all manner of occult subjects, although his sane mental health safeguarded him against fantastic and perilous faiths. He made daring incursions into the realm of the unreal without renouncing his residence in the partly surveyed and charted region of what we are pleased to call certitude.

The night of my visit to him was stormy. The Californian winter was on, and the incessant rain plashed in the deserted streets, or, lifted by irregular gusts of wind, was hurled against the houses with incredible fury. With no small difficulty my cabman found the right place, away out toward the ocean beach, in a sparsely populated suburb. The dwelling, a rather ugly one, apparently, stood in the center of its grounds, which as nearly as I could make out in the gloom were destitute of either flowers or grass. Three or four trees, writhing and moaning in the torment of the tempest, appeared to be trying to escape from their dismal environment and take the chance of finding a better one out at sea. The house was a two-story brick structure with a tower, a story higher, at one corner. In a window of that was the only visible light. Something in the appearance of the place made me shudder, a performance that may have been assisted by a rill of rain-water down my back as I scuttled to cover in the doorway.

In answer to my note apprising him of my wish to call, Dampier had written, “Don’t ring–open the door and come up.” I did so. The staircase was dimly lighted by a single gas-jet at the top of the second flight. I managed to reach the landing without disaster and entered by an open door into the lighted square room of the tower. Dampier came forward in gown and slippers to receive me, giving me the greeting that I wished, and if I had held a thought that it might more fitly have been accorded me at the front door the first look at him dispelled any sense of his inhospitality.

He was not the same. Hardly past middle age, he had gone gray and had acquired a pronounced stoop. His figure was thin and angular, his face deeply lined, his complexion dead-white, without a touch of color. His eyes, unnaturally large, glowed with a fire that was almost uncanny.

He seated me, proffered a cigar, and with grave and obvious sincerity assured me of the pleasure that it gave him to meet me. Some unimportant conversation followed, but all the while I was dominated by a melancholy sense of the great change in him. This he must have perceived, for he suddenly said with a bright enough smile, “You are disappointed in me–non sum qualis eram.”

I hardly knew what to reply, but managed to say: “Why, really, I don’t know: your Latin is about the same.”

He brightened again. “No,” he said, “being a dead language, it grows in appropriateness. But please have the patience to wait: where I am going there is perhaps a better tongue. Will you care to have a message in it?”

The smile faded as he spoke, and as he concluded he was looking into my eyes with a gravity that distressed me. Yet I would not surrender myself to his mood, nor permit him to see how deeply his prescience of death affected me.

“I fancy that it will be long,” I said, “before human speech will cease to serve our need; and then the need, with its possibilities of service, will have passed.”

He made no reply, and I too was silent, for the talk had taken a dispiriting turn, yet I knew not how to give it a more agreeable character. Suddenly, in a pause of the storm, when the dead silence was almost startling by contrast with the previous uproar, I heard a gentle tapping, which appeared to come from the wall behind my chair. The sound was such as might have been made by a human hand, not as upon a door by one asking admittance, but rather, I thought, as an agreed signal, an assurance of someone’s presence in an adjoining room; most of us, I fancy, have had more experience of such communications than we should care to relate. I glanced at Dampier. If possibly there was something of amusement in the look he did not observe it. He appeared to have forgotten my presence, and was staring at the wall behind me with an expression in his eyes that I am unable to name, although my memory of it is as vivid to-day as was my sense of it then. The situation was embarrassing; I rose to take my leave. At this he seemed to recover himself.

“Please be seated,” he said; “it is nothing–no one is there.”

But the tapping was repeated, and with the same gentle, slow insistence as before.

“Pardon me,” I said, “it is late. May I call to-morrow?”

He smiled–a little mechanically, I thought. “It is very delicate of you,” said he, “but quite needless. Really, this is the only room in the tower, and no one is there. At least–” He left the sentence incomplete, rose, and threw up a window, the only opening in the wall from which the sound seemed to come. “See.”

Not clearly knowing what else to do I followed him to the window and looked out. A street-lamp some little distance away gave enough light through the murk of the rain that was again falling in torrents to make it entirely plain that “no one was there.” In truth there was nothing but the sheer blank wall of the tower.

Dampier closed the window and signing me to my seat resumed his own.

The incident was not in itself particularly mysterious; any one of a dozen explanations was possible (though none has occurred to me), yet it impressed me strangely, the more, perhaps, from my friend’s effort to reassure me, which seemed to dignify it with a certain significance and importance. He had proved that no one was there, but in that fact lay all the interest; and he proffered no explanation. His silence was irritating and made me resentful.

“My good friend,” I said, somewhat ironically, I fear, “I am not disposed to question your right to harbor as many spooks as you find agreeable to your taste and consistent with your notions of companionship; that is no business of mine. But being just a plain man of affairs, mostly of this world, I find spooks needless to my peace and comfort. I am going to my hotel, where my fellow-guests are still in the flesh.”

It was not a very civil speech, but he manifested no feeling about it. “Kindly remain,” he said. “I am grateful for your presence here. What you have heard to-night I believe myself to have heard twice before. Now I KNOW it was no illusion. That is much to me– more than you know. Have a fresh cigar and a good stock of patience while I tell you the story.”

The rain was now falling more steadily, with a low, monotonous susurration, interrupted at long intervals by the sudden slashing of the boughs of the trees as the wind rose and failed. The night was well advanced, but both sympathy and curiosity held me a willing listener to my friend’s monologue, which I did not interrupt by a single word from beginning to end.

“Ten years ago,” he said, “I occupied a ground-floor apartment in one of a row of houses, all alike, away at the other end of the town, on what we call Rincon Hill. This had been the best quarter of San Francisco, but had fallen into neglect and decay, partly because the primitive character of its domestic architecture no longer suited the maturing tastes of our wealthy citizens, partly because certain public improvements had made a wreck of it. The row of dwellings in one of which I lived stood a little way back from the street, each having a miniature garden, separated from its neighbors by low iron fences and bisected with mathematical precision by a box-bordered gravel walk from gate to door.

“One morning as I was leaving my lodging I observed a young girl entering the adjoining garden on the left. It was a warm day in June, and she was lightly gowned in white. From her shoulders hung a broad straw hat profusely decorated with flowers and wonderfully beribboned in the fashion of the time. My attention was not long held by the exquisite simplicity of her costume, for no one could look at her face and think of anything earthly. Do not fear; I shall not profane it by description; it was beautiful exceedingly. All that I had ever seen or dreamed of loveliness was in that matchless living picture by the hand of the Divine Artist. So deeply did it move me that, without a thought of the impropriety of the act, I unconsciously bared my head, as a devout Catholic or well-bred Protestant uncovers before an image of the Blessed Virgin. The maiden showed no displeasure; she merely turned her glorious dark eyes upon me with a look that made me catch my breath, and without other recognition of my act passed into the house. For a moment I stood motionless, hat in hand, painfully conscious of my rudeness, yet so dominated by the emotion inspired by that vision of incomparable beauty that my penitence was less poignant than it should have been. Then I went my way, leaving my heart behind. In the natural course of things I should probably have remained away until nightfall, but by the middle of the afternoon I was back in the little garden, affecting an interest in the few foolish flowers that I had never before observed. My hope was vain; she did not appear.

“To a night of unrest succeeded a day of expectation and disappointment, but on the day after, as I wandered aimlessly about the neighborhood, I met her. Of course I did not repeat my folly of uncovering, nor venture by even so much as too long a look to manifest an interest in her; yet my heart was beating audibly. I trembled and consciously colored as she turned her big black eyes upon me with a look of obvious recognition entirely devoid of boldness or coquetry.

“I will not weary you with particulars; many times afterward I met the maiden, yet never either addressed her or sought to fix her attention. Nor did I take any action toward making her acquaintance. Perhaps my forbearance, requiring so supreme an effort of self- denial, will not be entirely clear to you. That I was heels over head in love is true, but who can overcome his habit of thought, or reconstruct his character?

“I was what some foolish persons are pleased to call, and others, more foolish, are pleased to be called–an aristocrat; and despite her beauty, her charms and graces, the girl was not of my class. I had learned her name–which it is needless to speak–and something of her family. She was an orphan, a dependent niece of the impossible elderly fat woman in whose lodging-house she lived. My income was small and I lacked the talent for marrying; it is perhaps a gift. An alliance with that family would condemn me to its manner of life, part me from my books and studies, and in a social sense reduce me to the ranks. It is easy to deprecate such considerations as these and I have not retained myself for the defense. Let judgment be entered against me, but in strict justice all my ancestors for generations should be made co-defendants and I be permitted to plead in mitigation of punishment the imperious mandate of heredity. To a mesalliance of that kind every globule of my ancestral blood spoke in opposition. In brief, my tastes, habits, instinct, with whatever of reason my love had left me–all fought against it. Moreover, I was an irreclaimable sentimentalist, and found a subtle charm in an impersonal and spiritual relation which acquaintance might vulgarize and marriage would certainly dispel. No woman, I argued, is what this lovely creature seems. Love is a delicious dream; why should I bring about my own awakening?

“The course dictated by all this sense and sentiment was obvious. Honor, pride, prudence, preservation of my ideals–all commanded me to go away, but for that I was too weak. The utmost that I could do by a mighty effort of will was to cease meeting the girl, and that I did. I even avoided the chance encounters of the garden, leaving my lodging only when I knew that she had gone to her music lessons, and returning after nightfall. Yet all the while I was as one in a trance, indulging the most fascinating fancies and ordering my entire intellectual life in accordance with my dream. Ah, my friend, as one whose actions have a traceable relation to reason, you cannot know the fool’s paradise in which I lived.

“One evening the devil put it into my head to be an unspeakable idiot. By apparently careless and purposeless questioning I learned from my gossipy landlady that the young woman’s bedroom adjoined my own, a party-wall between. Yielding to a sudden and coarse impulse I gently rapped on the wall. There was no response, naturally, but I was in no mood to accept a rebuke. A madness was upon me and I repeated the folly, the offense, but again ineffectually, and I had the decency to desist.

“An hour later, while absorbed in some of my infernal studies, I heard, or thought I heard, my signal answered. Flinging down my books I sprang to the wall and as steadily as my beating heart would permit gave three slow taps upon it. This time the response was distinct, unmistakable: one, two, three–an exact repetition of my signal. That was all I could elicit, but it was enough–too much.

“The next evening, and for many evenings afterward, that folly went on, I always having ‘the last word.’ During the whole period I was deliriously happy, but with the perversity of my nature I persevered in my resolution not to see her. Then, as I should have expected, I got no further answers. ‘She is disgusted,’ I said to myself, ‘with what she thinks my timidity in making no more definite advances’; and I resolved to seek her and make her acquaintance and–what? I did not know, nor do I now know, what might have come of it. I know only that I passed days and days trying to meet her, and all in vain; she was invisible as well as inaudible. I haunted the streets where we had met, but she did not come. From my window I watched the garden in front of her house, but she passed neither in nor out. I fell into the deepest dejection, believing that she had gone away, yet took no steps to resolve my doubt by inquiry of my landlady, to whom, indeed, I had taken an unconquerable aversion from her having once spoken of the girl with less of reverence than I thought befitting.

“There came a fateful night. Worn out with emotion, irresolution and despondency, I had retired early and fallen into such sleep as was still possible to me. In the middle of the night something–some malign power bent upon the wrecking of my peace forever–caused me to open my eyes and sit up, wide awake and listening intently for I knew not what. Then I thought I heard a faint tapping on the wall–the mere ghost of the familiar signal. In a few moments it was repeated: one, two, three–no louder than before, but addressing a sense alert and strained to receive it. I was about to reply when the Adversary of Peace again intervened in my affairs with a rascally suggestion of retaliation. She had long and cruelly ignored me; now I would ignore her. Incredible fatuity–may God forgive it! All the rest of the night I lay awake, fortifying my obstinacy with shameless justifications and–listening.

“Late the next morning, as I was leaving the house, I met my landlady, entering.

“‘Good morning, Mr. Dampier,’ she said. ‘Have you heard the news?’

“I replied in words that I had heard no news; in manner, that I did not care to hear any. The manner escaped her observation.

“‘About the sick young lady next door,’ she babbled on. ‘What! you did not know? Why, she has been ill for weeks. And now–‘

“I almost sprang upon her. ‘And now,’ I cried, ‘now what?”

“She is dead.”

“That is not the whole story. In the middle of the night, as I learned later, the patient, awakening from a long stupor after a week of delirium, had asked–it was her last utterance–that her bed be moved to the opposite side of the room. Those in attendance had thought the request a vagary of her delirium, but had complied. And there the poor passing soul had exerted its failing will to restore a broken connection–a golden thread of sentiment between its innocence and a monstrous baseness owning a blind, brutal allegiance to the Law of Self.

“What reparation could I make? Are there masses that can be said for the repose of souls that are abroad such nights as this–spirits ‘blown about by the viewless winds’–coming in the storm and darkness with signs and portents, hints of memory and presages of doom?

“This is the third visitation. On the first occasion I was too skeptical to do more than verify by natural methods the character of the incident; on the second, I responded to the signal after it had been several times repeated, but without result. To-night’s recurrence completes the ‘fatal triad’ expounded by Parapelius Necromantius. There is no more to tell.”

When Dampier had finished his story I could think of nothing relevant that I cared to say, and to question him would have been a hideous impertinence. I rose and bade him good night in a way to convey to him a sense of my sympathy, which he silently acknowledged by a pressure of the hand. That night, alone with his sorrow and remorse, he passed into the Unknown.

 

 

 

 

 

The subjects of tragic love and the supernatural are skillfully intertwined in this curious story by Ambrose Bierce. Mohun Dampier is not an obviously sympathetic character, tightly bound as he is to the relics of his social inheritance – and yet, he is a man of deep sensitivity and the unshakable  sense of formal propriety bequeathed to him by his family and class. These things run parallel to the equally entrenched streak of immaturity and cussedness in him, which in the end bring about his downfall.

That despite his falling helplessly in love, Mohun Dampier found  the prospect of marrying below his class to be an almost unthinkable,  is an idea we might have some difficulty in grasping today. To be fair to Dampier, he lived at a time when class, and not merely money, made for the more significant division between one social group and another. A hundred and fifty years ago, a difference in class signified a difference not just in social and domestic habits, but in values, education and culture as well. Getting married meant that one entered into a durable commitment, and discrepancies in class could very well have lead to significant difficulties for the spouses involved.

Aside from these considerations, which one might suppose to be manageable given his intense and compelling love, it is difficult to understand Dampier’s misgivings. True he believed that marriage led inevitably to the loss of certain cherished illusions, but again, this fails to satisfactorily explain his hesitation. He does not appear to have been a wealthy man – nor does he appear to have had much of a social life, and no relatives, either close or distant are mentioned. There is no evidence in the story of anyone whose disapprobation he might have incurred by ‘marrying beneath’ him, which makes his decision to not approach the ‘girl in white’ more inexplicable still.

However, when taken together, the combined impact of both these assumptions –  the loss of ideals and his need to retain the social approval of outsiders, might together have provided a significant inducement to foregoing the promise of love.

But as time went on, it would seem that despite his initial reservations,  in this regard, his rigidity began to melt. Perhaps he may have rationalised that the rewards of social acceptance might be incommensurate to the price the securing of such a choice might exact in self-denial. Perhaps he was no longer able to resist his heart’s desire. For a modern reader, the reasons for his actions seem difficult to discern, unless a comparison were to be made between Dampier’s reluctance to be ‘reduced to the ranks’ and  the reluctance we see in some homosexuals, to abandon a heterosexual façade.

But Dampier was no hypocrite. He came by his station honestly, and he was not pretending to be something he was not. His tendency to cavil about marriage seems to have been the result of a blend of cynicism and ambivalence, and his attitudes were fraught with confusion and conflict. He may have sought to avoid change by simply staying in place, but change finally overtook him notwithstanding.

When he finally came to a clarity of realisation about his feelings it was too late. Indulgence of the fit of peevishness which prompted him to not respond to the girl’s signals  cost him dearly. The love of his life  being dead, he was condemned to living a lonely life, filled with regret and self-recrimination. His only consolation came from his  belief in the occult  – or perhaps religion –  that the soul is not extinguished by death.  All he could do in the end was to  simply wait for death himself, and one cannot escape the feeling that he waited with anxious expectation for the final summons.

 

 

 

 

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ambrose_Bierce

http://www.online-literature.com/bierce/

http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/a/ambrose_bierce.html

Read Full Post »

Edgar Allan Poe (January 19, 1809 – October 7,1849)

In the consideration of the faculties and impulses — of the prima mobilia of the human soul, the phrenologists have failed to make room for a propensity which, although obviously existing as a radical, primitive, irreducible sentiment, has been equally overlooked by all the moralists who have preceded them. In the pure arrogance of the reason, we have all overlooked it. We have suffered its existence to escape our senses solely through want of belief — of faith; — whether it be faith in Revelation, or faith in the Kabbala. The idea of it has never occurred to us, simply because of its supererogation. We saw no need of impulse — for the propensity. We could not perceive its necessity. We could not understand, that is to say, we could not have understood, had the notion of this primum mobile ever obtruded itself; — we could not have understood in what manner it might be made to further the objects of humanity, either temporal or eternal. It cannot be denied that phrenology and, in great measure, all metaphysicianism have been concocted a priori. The intellectual or logical man, rather than the understanding or observant man, set himself to imagine designs — to dictate purposes to God. Having thus fathomed, to his satisfaction, the intentions of Jehovah, out of these intentions he built his innumerable systems of mind. In the matter of phrenology, for example, we first determined, naturally enough, that it was the design of the Deity that man should eat. We then assigned to man an organ of alimentiveness, and this organ is the scourge with which the Deity compels man, will-I nill-I, into eating. Secondly, having settled it to be God’s will that man should continue his species, we discovered an organ of amativeness, forthwith. And so with combativeness, with ideality, with causality, with constructiveness, — so, in short, with every organ, whether representing a propensity, a moral sentiment, or a faculty of the pure intellect. And in these arrangements of the principia of human action, the Spurzheimites, whether right or wrong, in part, or upon the whole, have but followed, in principle, the footsteps of their predecessors; deducing and establishing everything from the preconceived destiny of man, and upon the ground of the objects of this Creator.It would have been wiser, it would have been safer, to classify (if classify we must) upon the basis of what man usually or occasionally did, and was always occasionally doing, rather than upon the basis of what he took it for granted the Deity intended him to do. If we cannot comprehend God in his visible works, how then in his inconceivable thoughts, that call the works into being? If we cannot understand him in his objective creatures, how then in his substantive moods and phases of creation?Induction, a posteriori, would have brought phrenology to admit, as an innate and primitive principle of human action, a paradoxical something, which we may call perverseness, for want of a more characteristic term. In the sense I intend, it is, in fact, a mobile without motive, a motive not motivirt. Through its promptings we act without comprehensible object; or, if this shall be understood as a contradiction in terms, we may so far modify the proposition as to say, that through its promptings we act, for the reason that we should not. In theory, no reason can be more unreasonable; but, in fact, there is none more strong. With certain minds, under certain conditions it becomes absolutely irresistible. I am not more certain that I breathe, than that the assurance of the wrong or error of any action is often the one unconquerable force which impels us, and alone impels us to its prosecution. Nor will this overwhelming tendency to do wrong for the wrong’s sake, admit of analysis, or resolution into ulterior elements. It is radical, a primitive impulse — elementary. It will be said, I am aware, that when we persist in acts because we feel we should not persist in them, our conduct is but a modification of that which ordinarily springs from the combativeness of phrenology. But a glance will show the fallacy of this idea. The phrenological combativeness has, for its essence, the necessity of self-defence. It is our safeguard against injury. Its principle regards our well-being; and thus the desire to be well is excited simultaneously with its development. It follows, that the desire to be well must be excited simultaneously with any principle which shall be merely a modification of combativeness, but in the case of that something which I term perverseness, the desire to be well is not only aroused, but a strongly antagonistical sentiment exists.

An appeal to one’s own heart is, after all, the best reply to the sophistry just noticed. No one who trustingly consults and thoroughly questions his own soul, will be disposed to deny the entire radicalness of the propensity in question. It is not more incomprehensible than distinctive. There lives no man who at some period has not been tormented, for example, by an earnest desire to tantalize a listener by circumlocution. The speaker is aware that he displeases, he has every intention to please; he is usually curt, precise, and clear; the most laconic and luminous language is struggling for utterance upon his tongue; it is only with difficulty that he restrains himself from giving it flow; he dreads and deprecates the anger of him whom he addresses; yet, the thought strikes him, that by certain involutions and parentheses this anger may be engendered. That single thought is enough. The impulse increases to a wish, the wish to a desire, the desire to an uncontrollable longing, and the longing (to the deep regret and mortification of the speaker, and in defiance of all consequences) is indulged.

We have a task before us which must be speedily performed. We know that it will be ruinous to make delay. The most important crisis of our life calls, trumpet-tongued, for immediate energy and action. We glow, we are consumed with eagerness to commence the work, with the anticipation of whose glorious result our whole souls are on fire. It must, it shall be undertaken to-day, and yet we put it off until to-morrow; and why? There is no answer, except that we feel perverse, using the word with no comprehension of the principle. To-morrow arrives, and with it a more impatient anxiety to do our duty, but with this very increase of anxiety arrives, also, a nameless, a positively fearful, because unfathomable, craving for delay. This craving gathers strength as the moments fly. The last hour for action is at hand. We tremble with the violence of the conflict within us, — of the definite with the indefinite — of the substance with the shadow. But, if the contest has proceeded thus far, it is the shadow which prevails — we struggle in vain. The clock strikes, and is the knell of our welfare. At the same time, it is the chanticleer-note to the ghost that has so long overawed us. It flies — it disappears — we are free. The old energy returns. We will labour now. Alas, it is too late!

We stand upon the brink of a precipice. We peer into the abyss — we grow sick and dizzy. Our first impulse is to shrink from the danger. Unaccountably we remain. By slow degrees our sickness and dizziness and horror become merged in a cloud of unnamable feeling. By gradations, still more imperceptible, this cloud assumes shape, as did the vapour from the bottle out of which arose the genius in the Arabian Nights. But out of this our cloud upon the precipice’s edge, there grows into palpability, a shape, far more terrible than any genius or any demon of a tale, and yet it is but a thought, although a fearful one, and one which chills the very marrow of our bones with the fierceness of the delight of its horror. It is merely the idea of what would be our sensations during the sweeping precipitancy of a fall from such a height. And this fall — this rushing annihilation — for the very reason that it involves that one most ghastly and loathsome of all the most ghastly and loathsome images of death and suffering which have ever presented themselves to our imagination — for this very cause do we now the most vividly desire it. And because our reason violently deters us from the brink, therefore do we the most impetuously approach it. There is no passion in nature so demoniacally impatient as that of him who, shuddering upon the edge of a precipice, thus meditates a plunge. To indulge, for a moment, in any attempt at thought, is to be inevitably lost; for reflection but urges us to forbear, and therefore it is, I say, that we cannot. If there be no friendly arm to check us, or if we fail in a sudden effort to prostrate ourselves backward from the abyss, we plunge, and are destroyed.

Examine these and similar actions as we will, we shall find them resulting solely from the spirit of the Perverse. We perpetrate them merely because we feel that we should not Beyond or behind this there is no intelligible principle; and we might, indeed, deem this perverseness a direct instigation of the arch-fiend, were it not occasionally known to operate in furtherance of good.

I have said thus much, that in some measure I may answer your question — that I may explain to you why I am here — that I may assign to you something that shall have at least the faint aspect of a cause for my wearing these fetters, and for my tenanting this cell of the condemned. Had I not been thus prolix, you might either have misunderstood me altogether, or, with the rabble, have fancied me mad. As it is, you will easily perceive that I am one of the many uncounted victims of the Imp of the Perverse.

It is impossible that any deed could have been wrought with a more thorough deliberation. For weeks, for months, I pondered upon the means of the murder. I rejected a thousand schemes, because their accomplishment involved a chance of detection. At length, in reading some French memoirs, I found an account of a nearly fatal illness that occurred to Madame Pilau, through the agency of a candle accidentally poisoned. The idea struck my fancy at once. I knew my victim’s habit of reading in bed. I knew, too, that his apartment was narrow and ill-ventilated. But I need not vex you with impertinent details. I need not describe the easy artifices by which I substituted, in his bed-room candle stand, a wax-light of my own making for the one which I there found. The next morning he was discovered dead in his bed, and the coroner’s verdict was — ‘Death by the visitation of God.’

Having inherited his estate, all went well with me for years. The idea of detection never once entered my brain. Of the remains of the fatal taper I had myself carefully disposed. I had left no shadow of a clue by which it would be possible to convict, or even suspect, me of the crime. It is inconceivable how rich a sentiment of satisfaction arose in my bosom as I reflected upon my absolute security. For a very long period of time I was accustomed to revel in this sentiment. It afforded me more real delight than all the mere worldly advantages accruing from my sin. But there arrived at length an epoch, from which the pleasurable feeling grew, by scarcely perceptible gradations, into a haunting and harassing thought. It harassed me because it haunted. I could scarcely get rid of it for an instant. It is quite a common thing to be thus annoyed with the ringing in our ears, or rather in our memories, of the burthen of some ordinary song, or some unimpressive snatches from an opera. Nor will we be the less tormented if the song in itself be good, or the opera air meritorious. In this manner, at last, I would perpetually catch myself pondering upon my security, and repeating, in a low under-tone, the phrase, ‘I am safe.’

One day, whilst sauntering along the streets, I arrested myself in the act of murmuring, half aloud, these customary syllables. In a fit of petulance I re-modelled them thus: ‘I am safe — I am safe — yes — if I be not fool enough to make open confession.’

No sooner had I spoken these words, than I felt an icy chill creep to my heart. I had had some experience in these fits of perversity (whose nature I have been at some trouble to explain), and I remembered well that in no instance I had successfully resisted their attacks. And now my own casual self-suggestion, that I might possibly be fool enough to confess the murder of which I had been guilty, confronted me, as if the very ghost of him whom I had murdered — and beckoned me on to death.

At first, I made an effort to shake off this nightmare of the soul. I walked vigorously — faster — still faster — at length I ran. I felt a maddening desire to shriek aloud. Every succeeding wave of thought overwhelmed me with new terror, for, alas! I well, too well, understood that to think, in my situation, was to be lost. I still quickened my pace. I bounded like a madman through the crowded thoroughfares. At length, the populace took the alarm and pursued me. I felt then the consummation of my fate. Could I have torn out my tongue, I would have done it — but a rough voice resounded in my ears — a rougher grasp seized me by the shoulder. I turned — I gasped for breath. For a moment I experienced all the pangs of suffocation; I became blind, and deaf, and giddy; and then some invisible fiend, I thought, struck me with his broad palm upon the back. The long-imprisoned secret burst forth from my soul.

They say that I spoke with a distinct enunciation, but with marked emphasis and passionate hurry, as if in dread of interruption before concluding the brief but pregnant sentences that consigned me to the hangman and to hell.

Having related all that was necessary for the fullest judicial conviction, I fell prostrate in a swoon.

But why shall I say more? To-day I wear these chains, and am here! To-morrow I shall be fetterless! — but where?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is Vincent Price’s bravura performance of Poe’s best known works. His fiendish delight his malicious cackle, his overwrought enthusiasm, all make for a brilliantly manic display, which were he to have heard it, would be guaranteed to have made Poe proud.

 

 

 

 

Consistent in Poe’s writing, is a sense of chafing and straining against the restrictions of language in an effort to carry the mind into the unimpeded realm of the imagination. This is a mind which expresses itself in the images found beyond words, which is to say, the subconscious. His cataracts of vocables and torrents of words stress the supremacy of sound, through which an altered and modified sense is permitted. They compel hearing rather than sight to become the dominant faculty of the reading experience. His excesses serve an emphatically reiterative purpose, to subdue, on the one hand, the censorship of the conscious mind, and to liberate its counterpart, and leave it free to experience the chaotic fears and fantasies it usually indulges in during the hours of sleep.

When I read Poe last night, I was repeatedly reminded of Chopin: not his nocturnes, as I might have expected, but his etudes, with their persistently dark one-handed counterpoint to the progress of the melodic line. Poe’s dark romanticism seem to me to form a literary parallel to Chopin’s music – though in Poe’s hands the overtones and harmonics horrify even as they delight – if indeed one can be said to feel delight at something incontrovertibly ghastly.

Poe was undoubtedly a morbid fantasist, making excellent use of his familiarity with what we today call the subconscious. He dredged his own imagination for all the fears and horrors which he correctly surmised beset his reading public, and which fill us with dread even today – premature burial, immuration, sensory deprivation, claustrophobia, torture and imprisonment, and the ghoulishly supernatural.

Poe’s writing has never been considered to be in good taste, though to be fair to him, good taste might not at all have been high on his list of concerns. That epicene arbiter of literary epicureanism, Henry James, is quoted as saying “An enthusiasm for Poe is the mark of a decidedly primitive stage of reflection.” To give James his due, he has a point, but of course not the one he intended to make. The primitivism James so snootily and invidiously deplores, is the very thing that provides the occasional sign of life in his own ponderous novels – the hidden and ungovernable impulses which lie below the social sheen of finely parsed proprieties.  James, with his effete ways and his  heavy burden of upper-class pretensions, could not but be appalled by Poe’s brash sensationalism.  To my mind however, Poe is by far the greater genius, the more original thinker, and the superior innovator. If James was the staid anglophile, Poe was the typical American, full of new ideas, novel insights, and original perspectives.

Poe was an innovator. He invented the detective story and the science fiction story, and was the first to come up with the idea of ‘the big bang.’ He was a scathing literary critic himself, pronouncing Washington Irving as overrated and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow a plagiarist (he aimed his accusations of plagiarism at Henry Wadsworth Longfellow because of what he perceived as Longfellow’s servile aping of European poetical conventions.) Not satisfied with this, he also announced that the best thing about James Fenimore Cooper’s book was the bad paper on which it was printed.

Poe’s verbal exuberance prompted him to come up with words such as aeronaut, bewinged, bugaboo, cryptograph (Poe was a talented cryptographer) didacticisms, elocutionary, finicky, grotesquerie, hysteria, odorless, pants, and unclassifiable. Writers such as Sheridan le Fanu and Bram Stoker are his spiritual heirs, as are in a sense Baudelaire,  Duchamp, Dali, and  of course, Alfred Hitchcock.

It is natural to speculate about what could have given rise to such a fertile mind as Poe possessed, a mind, if one is to judge by his writing, fizzing and bubbling with fantastic speculations. The idea that Poe suffered from manic depression has been advanced by Kay Redfield Jamison. Many creative people suffer from this disorder, and such a condition might explain the headlong rush of Poe’s writing style. I tend to think that Poe was what Susan Sontag referred to as ‘a heroic depressive,’ which is someone who manages his or her depression by engaging in tasks which demand a high degree of attention and organisation.

Even had it not been clinical, Poe had serious and legitimate reasons for his depression. When his mother, a stage actress died, he was left orphaned at the age of three, separated from his siblings, and sent to live with a wealthy tobacco merchant, with whom he was never on the easiest of terms. His young wife (and cousin) Virginia Clemm, whom he married when he was aged 27 and she 13, died in 1847, aged 24. Though we might recoil at the thought of a 13 year- old marrying an adult man, it might be helpful to consider that Virginia was Poe’s cousin and she knew him well. Nor was she was forced to marry him. She never had to leave her mother Maria Clemm in order to live with Poe, and the three of them remained a close-knit and mutually supportive family for the rest of Virginia’s life. Poe loved Maria Clemm as a mother, and addressed her affectionately as “Muddy.”  Most importantly, Virginia  was not compelled to bear and raise children, and Poe provided as best he could for her, always seeing to it she had a piano or a harp in the home so she was never deprived of the pleasant and necessary to her pass-time of playing music.When she died, Poe was stricken, and he only survived her by two grief- filled and miserable years, during which time he would sometimes leave the house on sleepless nights in order to lie beside her grave.

Dogged by bad luck and poverty during most of his life – Poe was often too impoverished to procure the most basic necessities such as the money for heating his home or even to put food on the table. Nonetheless he struggled on, trying to make a living solely by the sale of his work. He received no royalties from the sale of his first book Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, and the rights to his most famous work “The Raven” were sold for $15.00.  His story “The Tell-Tale Heart” was initially turned down for publication. However, Poe’s unique writing style as a morbid fantasist caught the imagination of his reading public, which must have cast an inexplicable spell of fascination upon their minds. Here was Poe spinning compelling tales which appealed to the part of the mind which we call the subconscious – something which would not be conceived of as a mental or psychological construct for another three quarters of a century.

The foundation of the gothic novel had been laid by Ann Radcliffe, (The Mysteries of Udolpho published in 1794) and  much later Mary Shelly (Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus published in 1823) but it was Poe who crisply and effectively adapted the characteristic elements of  baroque horror and morbid fantasy to the form of the short story. The themes which tend to fascinate and horrify us to this day, those of sensory deprivation, claustrophobia, premature burial, were Poe’s stock in trade. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s cruel ridicule of Poe in referring to him as “the jingle man” for his over-use of rhyme in poetry, and apparent lack of rigour: hepointed to Poe’s  seeming inability to hold back the glut of words –  but this was the very  device which drove Poe’s stories. His intentional use of the sound of words to speed up and slow down thought suggests to me that the rate at which the reader’s eyes perceive the words and the brain assimilates their meaning are meant to be kept in synch; the images that follow are calibrated with careful instinct to achieve the maximum effect. We seem to hear his words as the approach of heavy footsteps in the tenebrous gloom of a house we had hitherto thought to be unoccupied, and suddenly in the middle of a Poe story, we find ourselves transported from our world of reassuring daylight, right into the depths of ‘the dark side.’

In “The Imp of the Perverse”, a purely psychological rather than supernatural tale, we hear an echo of the fable of Midas and the secret he tried so hard to keep – that he had asses’ ears. In this story, the imp seems to play the part of conscience – the compulsion of the protagonist to confess to having committed an act of murder for pecuniary gain.

Though the whole preamble that introduces this very brief short story might sound suspiciously like mumbo-jumbo, note Poe’s explanation – in which he has very neatly defined our subconscious urgings:

“a paradoxical something, which we may call perverseness, for want of a more characteristic term. In the sense I intend, it is, in fact, a mobile without motive, a motive not motivirt. Through its promptings we act without comprehensible object; or, if this shall be understood as a contradiction in terms, we may so far modify the proposition as to say, that through its promptings we act, for the reason that we should not. In theory, no reason can be more unreasonable; but, in fact, there is none more strong.”

These implacable promptings, whether they are of our best or worst instincts, defy our attempts to repress them. Whether these impulses compel self-revelation in the form of creativity or confession, they cannot in the end be denied. In fact, what “The Imp of the Perverse” seems to be saying is “truth will out.” The man in this story has contrived to secure his financial well-being by means of murder. He has cannily accomplished this with malice aforethought, and fabricated a wax taper imbued with poison. He has removed and disposed of the evidence of his crime, and ensured his safety from possible discovery. He savours his exemption from punishment by whispering to himself the reassuring phrase of “I am safe, I am safe.” Unlike King Midas, he entrusts nothing or no one with his secret. But he has not counted on what Shelly might have referred to as the “Epipsychidion” – the little psychic self – which in this case propels him helplessly towards self-incrimination. He is the creature of his irresistible impulse  – though he is not at all aware of what he is saying, nor does he retain any memory of what he has said. A part of his mind has gone AWOL, and he cannot compel it back.

The force of ‘will beyond will’ which functions  in a manner that is punitive and inimical to his self-interest puts an end to the internal civil war between the ‘conniver self’ and the ‘social and moral justice seeking self.’ It has been lying dormant like a serpent ready to strike, until the moment of perfect susceptibility presented itself. The moment of madness held at bay, but barely, and only with the greatest effort, is a thing which in a moment shatters the claustrophobic bonds of its own repression.   The dungeons, prisons, walled-in graves, coffins etc of Poe’s other stories are all symbolic of a species of psychic repression from which we seek to escape. But the escapee is not always something – or someone –  familiar to us.

For most of his life, Poe was himself was himself a crumbling ruin, doomed from his earliest childhood. Abandoned by his father as an infant, orphaned at age three, he suffered many subsequent bereavements before the last and most devastating – the death of his young wife. Following this shattering loss, Poe desperately sought to remarry, courting Sarah Elmirah Royster who was then a widow. He proposed to Sarah in a cemetery, begging her to save him from himself. When his suit did not meet with success, the next year Poe managed to get himself engaged to Sarah Helen Whitman. The engagement only lasted a month, since it had been made on a condition stipulated by Whitman that Poe abstain from drinking. His predictable lapse and its unavoidable outcome was followed by a suicide attempt, when Poe took 60 times the ‘normal’ dose of laudanum. Poe survived the ordeal.  He then renewed his friendship with Royster, and was on his way to marry her when he took an unexpected ( and some say mistaken) detour to Baltimore where he died a few days later on October, 1849, aged 40 years.

Poe died a broken man, friendless and impoverished. He had endured grievous misfortune, several bereavements, poverty and loss. He had lived through two cholera epidemics. He suffered from a devastating degree of alcohol intolerance (a single glass of wine was said to inebriate him.) He obviously suffered from depression, and  admitted to at least one suicide attempt.  He said of himself in a letter “I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity. During these fits of absolute unconsciousness, I drank – God only knows how often or how much. As a matter of course, my enemies referred the insanity to drink, rather than the drink to insanity.”  The horror and damnation of a tormented psyche was a familiar thing to Poe as was “the keen collective calmness of despair” (“The Pit and the Pendulum.”)

There were only four mourners at Poe’s funeral. His memory was besmirched by the man (here to be nameless, since to mention his name alongside Poe’s would be to confer on it a dignity it does not deserve) who filled Poe’s obituary with scurrilous lies, and on account of these falsehoods, Poe is still thought of  by some as a souse and a dope fiend. He was in fact neither. Poe’s unforgettable poem “Annabelle Lee”, (which I learned in First form Elocution) was written in memory of his wife Virginia and was published posthumously ten days after his death.

Poe was interred on the grounds of Westminster Hall and Burying Ground, now part of the University of Maryland School of Law in Baltimore. In 1875, about 25 years later, his remains were exhumed and moved to their present location near an imposing monument.   As for Virginia’s remains, when the cemetery where she was buried was destroyed, Poe’s biographer William Fearing Gill retrieved her remains and for several years stored them in a box beneath his bed. Nearly 40 years after her death, Virginia’s remains, along with those of her mother Maria Clemm were re-buried on either side of Poe in 1885, and the little family of nephew and aunt, husband and wife, mother and daughter, were at last reunited to rest in peace together.

Read Full Post »

Sarah Orne Jewett (September 3 1849 – June 24 1909)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For a great many years it had been understood in Longfield that Miss Horatia Dane once had a lover,and that he had been lost at sea. By little and little, in one way and another, her acquaintances found out or made up the whole story; and Miss Dane stood in the position, not of an unmarried woman exactly, but rather of having spent most of her life in a long and lonely widowhood. She looked like a person with a history, strangers often said (as if we each did not have a history); and her own unbroken reserve about this romance of hers gave everybody the more respect for it.

The Longfield people paid willing deference to Miss Dane: her family had always been one that could be liked and respected and she was the last that was left in the old home of which she was so fond. This was a high, square house, with a row of pointed windows in its roof, a peaked porch in front, with some lilac-bushes near it; and down by the road was a long, orderly procession of poplars, like a row of sentinels standing guard. She had lived here alone since her father’s death, twenty years before. She was a kind, just woman whose pleasures were of a stately and sober sort; and she seemed not unhappy in her loneliness, though she sometimes said gravely that she was the last of her family, as if the fact had a great sadness for her.

She had some middle-aged and elderly cousins who lived at a distance, and they came occasionally to see her; but there had      been no young people staying in her house for many years until this summer, when the daughter of her youngest cousin had written to ask if she might come to make a visit. She was a motherless girl of twenty, both older and younger than her years. Her father and brother, who were civil engineers, had taken some work upon the line of a railway in the far Western country. Nelly had made many long journeys with them before and since she had left school, and she had meant to follow them now, after spending a fortnight with the old cousin whom she had not seen since her childhood. Her father had laughed at this visit as a freak, and warned her of the dullness and primness of Longfield; but the result was that the girl found herself very happy in the comfortable home. She was still her own free, unfettered, lucky, and sunshiny self; and the old house was so much pleasanter for the girlish face and life, that Miss Horatia had, at first timidly and then most heartily, begged her to stay for the whole summer, or even the autumn, until her father was ready to come East. The name of Dane was very dear to Miss Horatia, and she grew fonder of her guest. When the village people saw her glance at the girl affectionately, as they sat together in the family pew of a Sunday, or saw them walking together after tea, they said it was a good thing for Miss Horatia; how bright she looked! and no doubt she would leave all her money to Nelly Dane, if she played her cards well.

But we will do Nelly justice, and say that she was not mercenary; she would have scorned such a thought. She had grown to have a great love for her cousin Horatia, and really liked to please her. She idealized her, I have no doubt; and her repression, her grave courtesy and rare words of approval, had a great fascination for a girl who had just been used to people who chattered, and were upon most intimate terms with you directly, and could forget you with equal ease. And Nelly liked having so admiring and easily pleased an audience as Miss Dane and her old servant Melissa. She liked to be queen of her company: she had so many gay, bright stories of what had happened to herself and her friends. Beside, she was clever with her needle, and had all those practical gifts which elderly women approve so heartily in girls. They liked her pretty clothes; she was sensible, and economical, and busy; they praised her to each other and to the world, and even stubborn old Andrew, the man servant to whom Miss Horatia herself spoke with deference, would do anything she asked. Nelly would by no means choose so dull a life as this for the rest of her days; but she enjoyed it immensely for the time being. She instinctively avoided all that would shock the grave dignity and old-school ideas of Miss Dane; and somehow she never had felt happier or better satisfied with life. Perhaps it was because she was her best and most lady-like self. It was not long before she knew the village people almost as well as Miss Dane did, and she became a very great favorite, as a girl so easily can who is good-natured and pretty, and well versed in city fashions; who has that tact and cleverness that come to such a nature from going about the world and knowing many people.

She had not been in Longfield many weeks before she heard something of Miss Dane’s love-story; for one of her new friends asked, in a confidential moment, “Does your cousin ever speak to you about the young man to whom she was engaged to be married?” and Nelly answered, “No,” with great wonder, and not without regret at her own ignorance. After this she kept eyes and ears open for whatever news of this lover’s existence might be found.

At last it happened one morning that she had a good chance for a friendly talk with Melissa; for who should know the family affairs better than she? Miss Horatia had taken her second-best parasol, with a deep fringe, and had gone majestically down the street to do some household errands which she could trust to no one. Melissa was shelling peas at the shady kitchen doorstep, and Nelly came strolling round from the garden, along the clean-swept flag-stones, and sat down to help her. Melissa moved along, with a grim smile, to make room for her. “You needn’t bother yourself,” said she, “I’ve nothing else to do. You’ll green your fingers all over.” But she was evidently pleased to have company.

“My fingers will wash,” said Nelly, “and I’ve nothing else to do either. Please push the basket this way a little, or I shall scatter the pods, and then you will scold.” She went to work busily, while she tried to think of the best way to find out the story she wished to hear.

“There!” said Melissa, “I never told Miss H’ratia to get some citron, and I settled yesterday to make some pound-cake this forenoon after I got dinner along a piece. She’s most out o’ mustard too; she’s set about having mustard to eat with her beef, just as the old colonel was before her. I never saw any other folks eat mustard with their roast beef; but every family has their own tricks. I tied a thread round my left-hand little finger purpose to remember that citron before she came down this morning. I hope I ain’t losing my fac’lties.” It was seldom that Melissa was so talkative as this at first. She was clearly in a talkative mood.

“Melissa,” asked Nelly, with great bravery, after a minute or two of silence, “who was it that my cousin Horatia was going to marry? It’s odd that I shouldn’t know; but I don’t remember father’s ever speaking of it, and I shouldn’t think of asking her.”

“I s’pose it’ll seem strange to you,” said Melissa, beginning to shell the peas a great deal faster, “but as many years as I have lived in this house with her, – her mother, the old lady, fetched me up, – I never knew Miss H’ratia to say a word about him. But there! she knows I know, and we’ve got an understanding on many things we never talk over as some folks would. I’ve heard about it from other folks. She was visiting her great-aunt in Salem when she met with him. His name was Carrick, and it was presumed they was going to be married when he came home from the voyage he was lost on. He had the promise of going out master of a new ship. They didn’t keep company long; it was made up of a sudden, and folks here didn’t get hold of the story till some time after. I’ve heard some that ought to know say it was only talk, and they never was engaged to be married no more than I am.”

“You say he was lost at sea?” asked Nelly.

“The ship never was heard from. They supposed she was run down in the night out in the South Seas somewhere. It was a good while before they gave up expecting news; but none ever come. I think she set everything by him, and took it very hard losing of him. But there! she’d never say a word. You’re the freest-spoken Dane I ever saw; but you may take it from your mother’s folks. I expect he gave her that whale’s tooth with the ship drawn on it that’s on the mantelpiece in her room. She may have a sight of other keepsakes, for all I know; but it ain’t likely.” And here there was a pause, in which Nelly grew sorrowful as she thought of the long waiting for tidings of the missing ship, and of her cousin’s solitary life. It was very odd to think of prim Miss Horatia’s being in love with a sailor. There was a young lieutenant in the navy whom Nelly herself liked dearly, and he had gone away on a long voyage. “Perhaps she’s been just as well off,” said Melissa. “She’s dreadful set, y’r cousin H’ratia is, and sailors is high-tempered men. I’ve heard it hinted that he was a fast fellow; and if a woman’s got a good home like this, and’s able to do for herself, she’d better stay there. I ain’t going to give up a certainty for an uncertainty, – that’s what I always tell ’em,” added Melissa, with great decision, as if she were besieged by lovers; but Nelly smiled inwardly as she thought of the courage it would take to support any one who wished to offer her companion his heart and hand. It would need desperate energy to scale the walls of that garrison.

The green peas were all shelled presently, and Melissa said gravely that she should have to be lazy now until it was time to put in the meat. She wasn’t used to being helped, unless there was extra work, and she calculated to have one piece of work join on to another. However, it was no account, and she was obliged for the company; and Nelly laughed merrily as she stood washing her hands in the shining old copper basin at the sink. The sun would not be round that side of the house for a long time yet, and the pink and blue morning-glories were still in their full bloom and freshness. They grew over the window, twined on strings exactly the same distance apart. There was a box crowded full of green houseleeks down at the side of the door; they were straying over the edge, and Melissa stooped stiffly down with an air of disapproval at their untidiness. “They straggle all over everything,” said she, “and they’re no kind of use, only Miss’s mother, she set everything by ’em. She fetched ’em from home with her when she was married, her mother kep’ a box, and they came from England. Folks used to say they was good for bee stings.” Then she went into the inner kitchen, and Nelly went slowly away along the flag-stones to the garden from whence she had come. The garden-gate opened with a tired creak, and shut with a clack; and she noticed how smooth and shiny the wood was where the touch of so many hands had worn it. There was a great pleasure to this girl in finding herself among such old and well-worn things. She had been for a long time in cities or at the West; and among the old fashions and ancient possessions of Longfield it seemed to her that everything had its story, and she liked the quietness and unchangeableness with which life seemed to go on from year to year. She had seen many a dainty or gorgeous garden, but never one that she had liked so well as this, with its herb-bed and its broken rows of currant-bushes, its tall stalks of white lilies, and its wandering rose-bushes and honeysuckles, that had bloomed beside the straight paths for so many more summers than she herself had lived. She picked a little bouquet of late red roses, and carried it into the house to put on the parlor table. The wide hall-door was standing open, with its green outer blinds closed, and the old hall was dim and cool. Miss Horatia did not like a glare of sunlight, and she abhorred flies with her whole heart. Nelly could hardly see her way through the rooms, it had been so bright out of doors; but she brought the tall champagne-glass of water from the dining-room and put the flowers in their place. Then she looked at two silhouettes which stood on the mantel in carved ebony frames. They were portraits of an uncle of Miss Dane and his wife. Miss Dane had thought Nelly looked like this uncle the evening before. She could not see the likeness herself; but the pictures suggested something else, and she turned suddenly, and went hurrying up the stairs to Miss Horatia’s own room, where she remembered to have seen a group of silhouettes fastened to the wall. There were seven or eight, and she looked at the young men among them most carefully; but they were all marked with the name of Dane: they were Miss Horatia’s uncles and brothers, and our friend hung them on their little brass hooks again with a feeling of disappointment. Perhaps her cousin had a quaint miniature of the lover, painted on ivory, and shut in a worn red morocco case; she hoped she should get a sight of it some day. This story of the lost sailor had a wonderful charm for the girl. Miss Horatia had never been so interesting to her before. How she must have mourned for the lover, and missed him, and hoped there would yet be news from the ship! Nelly thought she would tell her own little love-story some day, though there was not much to tell yet, in spite of there being so much to think about. She built a little castle in Spain as she sat in the front window-seat of the upper hall, and dreamed pleasant stories for herself until the sharp noise of the front gate-latch waked her; and she looked out through the blind to see her cousin coming up the walk.

Miss Horatia looked hot and tired, and her thoughts were not of any fashion of romance. “It is going to be very warm,” said she. “I have been worrying ever since I have been gone, because I forgot to ask Andrew to pick those white currants for the minister’s wife. I promised that she should have them early this morning. Would you go out to the kitchen and ask Melissa to step in for a moment, my dear?”

Melissa was picking over red currants to make a pie, and rose from her chair with a little unwillingness. “I guess they could wait until afternoon,” said she, as she came back. “Miss H’ratia’s in a fret because she forgot about sending some white currants to the minister’s. I told her that Andrew had gone to have the horses shod, and wouldn’t be back till near noon. I don’t see why part of the folks in the world should kill themselves trying to suit the rest. As long as I haven’t got any citron for the cake, I suppose I might go out and pick ’em,” added Melissa ungraciously. “I’ll get some to set away for tea anyhow.”

Miss Dane had a letter to write after she had rested from her walk; and Nelly soon left her in the dark parlor, and went back to the sunshiny garden to help Melissa, who seemed to be taking life with more than her usual disapproval. She was sheltered by an enormous gingham sunbonnet.

“I set out to free my mind to your cousin H’ratia this morning,” said she, as Nelly crouched down at the opposite side of the bush where she was picking; “but we can’t agree on that p’int, and it’s no use. I don’t say nothing. You might ‘s well ask the moon to face about and travel the other way as to try to change Miss H’ratia’s mind. I ain’t going to argue it with her, it ain’t my place; I know that as well as anybody. She’d run her feet off for the minister’s folks any day; and though I do say he’s a fair preacher, they haven’t got a speck o’ consideration nor fac’lty; they think the world was made for them, but I think likely they’ll find out it wasn’t; most folks do. When he first was settled here, I had a fit o’ sickness, and he come to see me when I was getting over the worst of it. He did the best he could, I always took it very kind of him; but he made a prayer and he kep’ sayin’ `this aged handmaid,’ I should think a dozen times. Aged handmaid!” said Melissa scornfully; “I don’t call myself aged yet, and that was more than ten years ago. I never made pretensions to being            younger than I am; but you’d ‘a’ thought I was a topplin’ old creatur’ going on a hundred.”

Nelly laughed. Melissa looked cross, and moved on to the next currant-bush. “So that’s why you don’t like the minister?” But the question did not seem to please.

“I hope I never should be set against a preacher by such as that.” And Nelly hastened to change the subject; but there was to be a last word: “I like to see a minister that’s solid minister right straight through, not one of these veneered folks. But old Parson Croden spoilt me for setting under any other preaching.”

“I wonder,” said Nelly after a little, “If Cousin Horatia has any picture of that Captain Carrick.”

“He wasn’t captain,” said Melissa. “I never heard that it was any more than they talked of giving him a ship next voyage.”

“And you never saw him? He never came here to see her?”

“Bless you, no! She met with him at Salem, where she was spending the winter, and he went right away to sea. I’ve heard a good deal more about it of late years than I ever did at the time. I suppose the Salem folks talked about it enough. All I know is, there was other good matches that offered to her since, and couldn’t get her; and I suppose it was on account of her heart’s being buried in the deep with him.” And this unexpected bit of sentiment, spoken in Melissa’s grum tone, seemed so funny to her young companion, that she bent very low to pick from a currant-twig close to the ground, and could not ask any more questions for some time.

“I have seen her a sight o’ times when I knew she was thinking about him,” Melissa went on presently, this time with a tenderness in her voice that touched Nelly’s heart. “She’s been dreadful lonesome. She and the old colonel, her father, wasn’t much company to each other, and she always kep’ everything to herself. The only time she ever said a word to me was one night six or seven years ago this Christmas. They got up a Christmas-tree in the vestry, and she went, and I did too; I guess everybody in the whole church and parish that could crawl turned out to go. The children they made a dreadful racket. I’d ha’ got my ears took off if I had been so forth-putting when I was little. I was looking round for Miss H’ratia ‘long at the last of the evening, and somebody said they’d seen her go home. I hurried, and I couldn’t see any light in the house, and I was afraid she was sick or something. She come and let me in, and I see she had been a-cryin’. I says, `Have you heard any bad news?’ But she says, `No,’ and began to cry again, real pitiful. `I never felt so lonesome in my life,’ says she, `as I did down there. It’s a dreadful thing to be left all alone in the world.’ I did feel for her; but I couldn’t seem to say a word. I put some pine chips I had handy for morning on the kitchen fire, and I made her up a cup o’ good hot tea quick ‘s I could, and took it to her; and I guess she felt better. She never went to bed till three o’clock that night. I couldn’t shut my eyes till I heard her come upstairs. There! I set everything by Miss H’ratia. I haven’t got no folks either. I was left an orphan over to Deerfield, where Miss’s mother come from, and she took me out o’ the town-farm to bring up. I remember when I come here, I was so small I had a box to stand up on when I helped wash the dishes. There’s nothing I ain’t had to make me comfortable, and I do just as I’m a mind to, and call in extra help every day of the week if I give the word; but I’ve had my lonesome times, and I guess Miss H’ratia knew.”

Nelly was very much touched by this bit of a story, it was a new idea to her that Melissa should have so much affection and be so sympathetic. People never will get over being surprised that chestnut-burrs are not as rough inside as they are outside, and the girl’s heart warmed toward the old woman who had spoken with such unlooked-for sentiment and pathos. Melissa went to the house with her basket, and Nelly also went in, but only to put on another hat, and see if it were straight in a minute spent before the old mirror, before she hurried down the long elm-shaded street to buy a pound of citron for the cake. She left it on the kitchen table when she came back, and nobody ever said anything about it; only there were two delicious pound-cakes –  a heart and a round – on a little blue china plate beside Nelly’s plate at tea.

After tea, Nelly and Miss Dane sat in the front doorway, – the elder woman in a high-backed chair, and the younger on the door-step. The tree-toads and crickets were tuning up heartily, the stars showed a little through the trees, and the elms looked heavy and black against the sky. The fragrance of the white lilies in the garden blew through the hall. Miss Horatia was tapping the ends of her fingers together. Probably she was not thinking of anything in particular. She had had a very peaceful day, with the exception of the currants; and they had, after all, gone to the parsonage some time before noon. Beside this, the minister had sent word that the delay        made no distress; for his wife had unexpectedly gone to Downton to pass the day and night. Miss Horatia had received the business letter for which she had been looking for several days; so there was nothing to regret deeply for that day, and there seemed to be nothing for one to dread on the morrow.

“Cousin Horatia,” asked Nelly, “are you sure you like having me here? Are you sure I don’t trouble you?”

“Of course not,” said Miss Dane, without a bit of sentiment in her tone; “I find it very pleasant having young company, though I am used to being alone; and I don’t mind it as I suppose you would.”

“I should mind it very much,” said the girl softly.

“You would get used to it, as I have,” said Miss Dane. “Yes, dear, I like having you here better and better. I hate to think of your going away.” And she smoothed Nelly’s hair as if she thought she might have spoken coldly at first, and wished to make up for it. This rare caress was not without its effect.

“I don’t miss father and Dick so very much,” owned Nelly frankly, “because I have grown used to their coming and going; but sometimes I miss people – Cousin Horatia, did I ever say anything to you about George Forest?”

“I think I remember the name,” answered Miss Dane.

“He is in the navy, and he has gone a long voyage, and – I think everything of him. I missed him awfully; but it is almost time to get a letter.”

“Does your father approve of him?” asked Miss Dane, with great propriety. “You are very young yet, and you must not think of such a thing carelessly. I should be so much grieved if you threw away your happiness.”

“Oh! we are not really engaged,” said Nelly, who felt a little chilled. “I suppose we are, too; only nobody knows yet. Yes, father knows him as well as I do, and he is very fond of him. Of course I should not keep it from father; but he guessed it himself. Only it’s such a long cruise, Cousin Horatia, – three years, I suppose, – away off in China and Japan.”

“I have known longer voyages than that,” said Miss Dane, with a quiver in her voice; and she rose suddenly, and walked away, this grave, reserved woman, who seemed so contented and so comfortable. But when she came back, she asked Nelly a great deal about her lover, and learned more of the girl’s life than she ever had before. And they talked together in the pleasantest way about this pleasant subject, which was so close to Nelly’s heart, until Melissa brought the candles at ten o’clock, that being the hour of Miss Dane’s bedtime.

But that night Miss Dane did not go to bed at ten; she sat by the window in her room, thinking. The moon rose late; and after a little while she blew out her candles, which were burning low. I suppose that the years which had come and gone since the young sailor went away on that last voyage of his had each added to her affection for him. She was a person who clung the more fondly to youth as she left it the farther behind.

This is such a natural thing; the great sorrows of our youth sometimes become the amusements of our later years; we can only remember them with a smile. We find that our lives look fairer to us, and we forget what used to trouble us so much, when we look back. Miss Dane certainly had come nearer to truly loving the sailor than she had any one else; and the more she thought of it, the more it became the romance of her life. She no longer asked herself, as she often had done in middle life, whether, if he had lived and had come home, she would have loved and married him. She had minded less and less, year by year, knowing that her friends and neighbors thought her faithful to the love of her youth. Poor, gay, handsome Joe Carrick! how fond he had been of her, and how he had looked at her that day he sailed away out of Salem Harbor on the brig Chevalier! If she had only known that she never should see him again, poor fellow!

But, as usual, her thoughts changed their current a little at the end of her reverie. Perhaps, after all, loneliness was not so hard to bear as other sorrows. She had had a pleasant life, God had been very good to her, and had spared her many trials, and granted her many blessings. “I am an old woman now,” she said to herself. “Things are better as they are; I can get on by myself better than most women can, and I never should have liked to be interfered with.”

Then she shut out the moonlight, and lighted her candles again, with an almost guilty feeling. What should I say if Nelly sat up till nearly midnight looking out at the moon?” she thought. “It is very silly; but this is such a beautiful night. I should like to have her see the moon shining through the tops of the trees.” But Nelly was sleeping the sleep of the just and sensible in her own room.

Next morning at breakfast, Nelly was a little conscious of there having been uncommon confidences the night before; but Miss Dane was her usual calm and somewhat formal self, and proposed their making a few calls after dinner, if the weather were not too hot. Nelly at once wondered what she had better wear. There was a certain black grenadine which Miss Horatia had noticed with approval, and she remembered that the lower ruffle needed hemming, and made up her mind that she would devote most of the time before dinner to that and to some other repairs. So, after breakfast was over, she brought the dress downstairs, with her work-box, and settled herself in the dining-room. Miss Dane usually sat there in the morning; it was a pleasant room, and she could keep an unsuspected watch over the kitchen and Melissa, who did not need watching in the least. I dare say it was for the sake of being within the sound of a voice.

Miss Dane marched in and out that morning; she went upstairs, and came down again, and was mysteriously busy for a while in the parlor. Nelly was sewing steadily by a window, where one of the blinds was a little way open, and tethered in its place by a string. She hummed a tune to herself over and over:-

“What will you do, love, when I am going,
With white sails flowing, the seas beyond ?”

And old Melissa, going to and fro at her work in the kitchen, grumbled out bits of an ancient psalm-tune at intervals. There seemed to be some connection between these fragments in her mind; it was like a ledge of rock in a pasture, that sometimes runs under the ground, and then crops out again. Perhaps it was the tune of  Windham.

Nelly found that there was a good deal to be done to the grenadine dress when she looked it over critically, and became very diligent. It was quiet in and about the house for a long time, until suddenly she heard the sound of heavy footsteps coming in from the road. The side-door was in a little entry between the room where Nelly sat and the kitchen, and the new-comer knocked loudly. “A tramp,” said Nelly to herself; while Melissa came to open the door, wiping her hands hurriedly on her apron.

“I wonder if you couldn’t give me something to eat,” said the man.

“I suppose I could,” answered Melissa. “Will you step in?” Beggars were very few in Longfield, and Miss Dane never wished anybody to go away hungry from her house. It was off the grand highway of tramps; but they were by no means unknown.

Melissa searched among her stores, and Nelly heard her putting one plate after another on the kitchen table, and thought that the breakfast promised to be a good one, if it were late.

“Don’t put yourself out,” said the man, as he moved his chair nearer. “I lodged in an old barn three or four miles above here last night, and there didn’t seem to be very good board there.”

“Going far?” inquired Melissa concisely.

“Boston,” said the man. “I’m a little too old to travel afoot. Now if I could go by water, it would seem nearer. I’m more used to the water. This is a royal good piece o’ beef. I suppose you couldn’t put your hand on a mug of cider?” This was said humbly; but the tone failed to touch Melissa’s heart.

“No, I couldn’t,” said she decisively; so there was an end of that, and the conversation flagged for a time.

Presently Melissa came to speak to Miss Dane, who had just come downstairs. “Could you stay in the kitchen a few minutes?” she whispered. “There’s an old creatur’ there that looks foreign. He came to the door for something to eat, and I gave it to him; but he’s miser’ble looking, and I don’t like to leave him alone. I’m just in the midst o’ dressing the chickens. He’ll be through pretty quick, according to the way he’s eating now.”

Miss Dane followed her without a word; and the man half rose, and said, “Good-morning, madam!” with unusual courtesy. And, when Melissa was out of hearing, he spoke again: “I suppose you haven’t any cider?” to which his hostess answered, “I couldn’t give you any this morning,” in a tone that left no room for argument. He looked as if he had had a great deal too much to drink already.

“How far do you call it from here to Boston?” he asked, and was told that it was eighty miles.

“I’m a slow traveler,” said he; “sailors don’t take much to walking.” Miss Dane asked him if he had been a sailor. “Nothing else,” replied the man, who seemed much inclined to talk. He had been eating like a hungry dog, as if he were half-starved, – a slouching, red-faced, untidy-looking old man, with some traces of former good looks still to be discovered in his face. “Nothing else. I ran away to sea when I was a boy, and I followed it until I got so old they wouldn’t ship me even for cook.” There was something in his feeling, for once, so comfortable, – perhaps it was being with a lady like Miss Dane, who pitied him, – that lifted his thoughts a little from their usual low level. “It’s drink that’s been the ruin of me,” said he. “I ought to have been somebody. I was nobody’s fool when I was young. I got to be mate of a firstrate ship, and there was some talk o’ my being captain before long. She was lost that voyage, and three of us were all that was saved; we got picked up by a Chinese junk. She had the plague aboard of her, and my mates died of it, and I was down myself. It was a hell of a place to be in. When I got ashore I shipped on an old bark that pretended to be coming round the Cape, and she turned out to be a pirate. I just went to the dogs, and I’ve gone from bad to worse ever since.”

“It’s never too late to mend,” said Melissa, who came into the kitchen just then for a string to tie the chickens.

“Lord help us, yes, it is!” said the sailor. “It’s easy for you to say that. I’m too old. I ain’t been master of this craft for a good while.” And he laughed at his melancholy joke.

“Don’t say that,” said Miss Dane.

“Well, now, what could an old wrack like me do to earn a living? and who ‘d want me if I could? You wouldn’t. I don’t know when I’ve been treated so decent as this before. I’m all broke down.” But his tone was no longer sincere; he had fallen back on his profession of beggar.

“Couldn’t you get into some asylum or – there’s the Sailors’ Snug Harbor, isn’t that for men like you? It seems such a pity for a man of your years to be homeless and a wanderer. Haven’t you any friends at all?” And here, suddenly, Miss Dane’s face altered, and she grew very white; something startled her. She looked as one might who saw a fearful ghost.

“No,” said the man; “but my folks used to be some of the best in Salem. I haven’t shown my head there this good while. I was an orphan. My grandmother brought me up. You see, I didn’t come back to the States for thirty or forty years. Along at the first of it I used to see men in port that I used to know; but I always dodged ’em, and I was way off in outlandish places. I’ve got an awful sight to answer for. I used to have a good wife when I was in Australia. I don’t know where I haven’t been, first and last. I was always a gay fellow. I’ve spent as much as a couple o’ fortunes, and here I am a-begging. Devil take it!”

Nelly was still sewing in the dining-room; but, soon after Miss Dane had gone out to the kitchen, one of the doors between had slowly closed itself with a plaintive whine. The round stone which Melissa used to keep it open had been pushed away. Nelly was a little annoyed; she liked to hear what was going on; but she was just then holding her work with great care in a place that was hard to sew, so she did not move. She heard the murmur of voices, and thought, after a while, that the old vagabond ought to go away by this time. What could be making her cousin Horatia talk so long with him? It was not like her at all. He would beg for money, of course, and she hoped Miss Horatia would not give him a single cent.

It was some time before the kitchen-door opened, and the man came out with clumsy, stumbling steps. “I’m much obliged to you,” he said, “and I don’t know but it is the last time I’ll get treated as if I was a gentleman. Is there anything I could do for you round the place?” he asked hesitatingly and as if he hoped that his offer would not be accepted.

“No,” answered Miss Dane. “No, thank you. Good-by!” and he went away.

The old beggar had been lifted a little above his low life; he fell back again directly before he was out of the gate. “I’m blessed if she didn’t give me a ten-dollar bill!” said he. “She must have thought it was one. I’ll get out o’ call as quick as I can; hope she won’t find it out, and send anybody after me.” Visions of unlimited drinks, and other things in which it was possible to find pleasure, flitted through his stupid mind. “How the old lady stared at me once!” he thought. “Wonder if she was anybody I used to know? `Downton?’ I don’t know as I ever heard of the place.” And he scuffed along the dusty road; and that night he was very drunk, and the next day he went wandering on, God only knows where.

But Nelly and Melissa both heard a strange noise in the kitchen, as if some one had fallen, and they found that Miss Horatia had fainted dead away. It was partly the heat, she said, when she saw their anxious faces as she came to herself; she had had a little headache all the morning; it was very hot and close in the kitchen, and the faintness had come upon her suddenly. They helped her to walk into the cool parlor presently, and Melissa brought her a glass of wine, and Nelly sat beside her on a footstool as she lay on the sofa, and fanned her. Once she held her cheek against Miss Horatia’s hand for a minute, and she will never know as long as she lives, what a comfort she was that day.

Every one but Miss Dane forgot the old sailor tramp in this excitement that followed his visit. Do you guess already who he was? But the certainty could not come to you with the chill and horror it did to Miss Dane. There had been something familiar in his look and voice from the first, and then she had suddenly known him, her lost lover. It was an awful change that the years had made in him. He had truly called himself a wreck; he was like some dreary wreck in its decay and utter ruin, its miserable ugliness and worthlessness, falling to pieces in the slow tides of a lifeless southern sea.

And he had once been her lover, Miss Dane thought bitterly, many times in the days that followed. Not that there was ever anything asked or promised between them, but they had liked each other dearly, and had parted with deep sorrow. She had thought of him all these years so tenderly; she had believed always that his love had been even greater than her own, and never once had doubted that the missing brig Chevalier had carried with it down into the sea a heart that was true to her.

By little and little this all grew familiar, and she accustomed herself to the knowledge of her new secret. She shuddered at the thought of the misery of a life with him, and she thanked God for sparing her such shame and despair. The distance between them seemed immense. She had always been a person of so much consequence among her friends, and so dutiful and irreproachable a woman. She had not begun to understand what dishonor is in the world; her life had been shut in by safe and orderly surroundings. It was a strange chance that had brought this wanderer to her door. She remembered his wretched untidiness. She had not liked even to stand near him. She had never imagined him grown old: he had always been young to her. It was a great mercy he had not known her; it would have been a most miserable position for them both; and yet she thought, with sad surprise, that she had not known she had changed so entirely. She thought of the different ways their roads in life had gone; she pitied him; she cried about him more than once; and she wished that she could know he was dead. He might have been such a brave, good man with his strong will and resolute        courage. God forgive him for the wickedness which his strength had been made to serve! “God forgive him!” said Miss Horatia to herself sadly over and over again. She wondered if she ought to have let him go away, and so have lost sight of him; but she could not do anything else. She suffered terribly on his account; she had a pity, such as God’s pity must be, for even his willful sins.

So her romance was all over with; yet the townspeople still whispered it to strangers, and even Melissa and Nelly never knew how she had really lost her lover in so strange and sad a way in her latest years. Nobody noticed much change; but Melissa saw that the whale’s tooth disappeared from its place in Miss Horatia’s room, and her old friends said to each other that she began to show her age a great deal. She seemed really like an old woman now; she was not the woman she had been a year ago.

This is all of the story; but we so often wish, when a story comes to an end, that we knew what became of the people afterward. Shall we believe that Miss Horatia clings more and more fondly to her young cousin Nelly; and that Nelly will stay with her a great deal before she marries, and sometimes afterward, when the lieutenant goes away to sea? Shall we say that Miss Dane seems as well satisfied and comfortable as ever, though she acknowledges she is not so young as she used to be, and secretly misses something out of her life? It is the contentment of winter rather than that of summer: the flowers are out of bloom for her now, and under the snow. And Melissa, will not she always be the same, with a quaintness and freshness and toughness like a cedar-tree, to the end of her days? Let us hope they will live on together and be untroubled this long time yet, the two good women; and let us wish Nelly much pleasure, and a sweet soberness and fearlessness as she grows older and finds life a harder thing to understand, and a graver thing to know.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
“The Lost Lover,” this lovely story by Sarah Orne Jewett, placed as it is in the tranquil setting of  the New England of a century and a half ago, might just as well be called “The Narrow Escape.”

The love of Aunt Horatia’s life, formerly a dashing sailor, but now at the end of his own life of high adventure and down on his luck, comes begging for food – and a mug of cider (unequivocally denied) at her kitchen door. He is now a scruffy indigent at the bottom of the social scale, the worse for drink, and humiliatingly divested of the species of morality which would persuade one not similarly afflicted to inform the giver of a $10.00 bill that she may have mistaken it for a dollar. “She must have thought it was one. I’ll get out o’ call as quick as I can; hope she won’t find it out, and send anybody after me.” The sailor is now a beggar and a tramp, a decrepit old souse with no good prospects, except what he might find, if he was lucky, at the end of his 80 mile trek to Boston, if indeed he makes it to his intended destination.

Aunt Horatia, on the other hand, has lived a proper and upright – if lonely –  life. She is a woman of means, and of good standing in her community, and if love and marriage have passed her by, she has had the consolation of a faded romance which might still on occasion be summoned to recall, with all its attendant rosy glow of the ‘might have been.’ She had set her heart on one man, and spurned all other more promising marital prospects, and when the inevitability of a spinster’s life assumed its immovable position in place of more tender hopes, she resigned herself to her fate with the courage and fortitude typical of New England women of her class and station. She had thought her lover (and here we must divest this word of its contemporary connotation of carnality) to have loved her nobly, and she trusted the misfortune of his loss to have been occasioned by nothing short of death. That he had gone down with his ship with his love for her still burning in his heart and perhaps with her name on his lips, might have been a small recompense for the chaste life she was compelled to live in default one better preferred.
Melissa, and Horatia Dane have lived together all their lives. They provide each other with security and stability, and their well-ordered domestic life, if not exactly happy, cannot be said to be unhappy either. When young Nelly comes to join them, she fits neatly into place, and interjects a note of harmony into the settled quotidianity of plain New England tune. Until Nelly’s arrival at Longfield, Horatia had supposed herself to be the last in her line, and therefore the last inhabitant of her family home. But Nelly, who takes great pleasure in finding herself among such “old and well-worn things” as the garden gate, has all the sovereign hallmarks of a future New England spinster herself. She takes a quiet but decided pleasure that

“… everything had its story, and she liked the quietness and unchangeableness with which life seemed to go on from year to year. She had seen many a dainty or gorgeous garden, but never one that she had liked so well as this, with its herb-bed and its broken rows of currant-bushes, its tall stalks of white lilies, and its wandering rose-bushes and honeysuckles, that had bloomed beside the straight paths for so many more summers than she herself had lived.”

As for Horatia, who begins to decline in spirits after the unfortunate visit of  the benighted Joe Carrick, she mourns the loss of her dream. She was better off supposing her ‘lost lover’ dead than knowing the sordid reality of his life. Could Melissa  have mentioned even in passing, the wife abandoned in Australia?  because if she had, this would have been an additional affront to her sense of rigid propriety, that all the while she had supposed herself to be Carrick’s ‘one true love’, as he had been hers, that she had been supplanted, and that now both she and the woman who had assumed her vaunted position were the casualties of a decrepit sot and his crumbling recollections of the faded past.

The term “Boston marriage” has its origin in Henry James’s novel The Bostonians, and refers to the relationship between Verena Tennant and     Olive Chancellor. James denies the women a happy ending when Verena leaves Olive for Basil Ransom, a young lawyer, but he ends his story with dark hints of a tearful future for Verena.  It has been suggested that James based his model for the Olive/Verena relationship on that of Sarah Orne Jewett and Annie Fields – one that did not end in loss and desertion. In 1881,  and at age 31, Jewett began living with Fields after the death of Field’s husband  James Thomas Fields, the publisher of the ‘Atlantic Monthly’. Jewett and Fields remained together until Jewett’s death 28 years later in 1909 . There was a fifteen year difference in their ages (Fields was the older), as there might have been between Horatia and Nelly.  One is reminded here of another lesbian aunt and niece literary pairing (and one which endured for 40 years) between Katherine Harris Bradley and Edith Emma Cooper, who wrote and published jointly under the pseudonym ‘Michael Field.’

In “The Lost Lover” Jewett has firmly established Horatia’s heterosexual credentials, and perhaps Nelly’s as well, but Jewett herself wrote to Fields “I shall be with you tomorrow, your dear birthday. . . .I am tired of writing things. I want now to paint things, and drive things, and kiss things.”  That Henry James was himself subject to ‘the love that dare not speak its name’ as was his sister Alice James, did not prevent him taking a jaundiced view of lesbians and feminists such as Jewett and Fields. The feminist  philosophy of Olive Chancellor James so snidely scoffs at in The Bostonians, today is taken quite seriously and firmly established in contemporary society and Western values, and it is James’s unfortunate prejudices and sexist views which have fallen into obsolescence and disrepute.

Here I am reminded of my first encounter in Ceylon with what was probably (but I could never be certain) a home-grown version of a ‘Boston marriage.’ My maternal grandmother’s unmarried siblings lived together in the house called Sunnyside Gardens, built many decades ago by their father Edward Jansz who was the postmaster general of Kandy, the city in which the family lived. My grand-aunt Nellie occupied the front room next to that of her friend, (known to us all as Aunty Illo) Wallbeoff. Nellie and Illo (both Eleanors) had met as schoolteachers, and occupied adjoining rooms for the rest of their lives. My memory has them sitting on the front verandah; I am watching Aunt Nellie peeling an apple while I sat on the front step, crushing a fragrant juniper sprig from the nearby bush. I remember the scents of apple and juniper combined, and eating the apple peels while listening to their conversation.

When I consider Jewett’s sympathetic summing up of Horatia Dane’s state of mind after her unfortunate discovery, I find it quite probable that she urged Nelly against the entertainment of any ill-advised illusions about George Forest, since

“By little and little this all grew familiar, and she accustomed herself to the knowledge of her new secret. She shuddered at the thought of the misery of a life with him, and she thanked God for sparing her such shame and despair. The distance between them seemed immense. She had always been a person of so much consequence among her friends, and so dutiful and irreproachable a woman. She had not begun to understand what dishonor is in the world; her life had been shut in by safe and orderly surroundings. It was a strange chance that had brought this wanderer to her door. She remembered his wretched untidiness. She had not liked even to stand near him. She had never imagined him grown old: he had always been young to her. It was a great mercy he had not known her; it would have been a most miserable position for them both; and yet she thought, with sad surprise, that she had not known she had changed so entirely. She thought of the different ways their roads in life had gone; she pitied him; she cried about him more than once; and she wished that she could know he was dead. He might have been such a brave, good man with his strong will and resolute courage. God forgive him for the wickedness which his strength had been made to serve! “God forgive him!” said Miss Horatia to herself sadly over and over again. She wondered if she ought to have let him go away, and so have lost sight of him; but she    could not do anything else. She suffered terribly on his account; she had a pity, such as God’s pity must be, for even his willful sins.”

We must hope such counsel, duly spoken by the voice of experience, was well-received. Perhaps the unnamed minister – the one who prayed so unctuously over Melissa in her “fit o’sickness” –  was possessed of a suitably prepossessing daughter. Perhaps  Nelly was introduced to her – perhaps we might call her Charlotte after my Grandmother, great-grand mother, and great -great-great grandmother. Perhaps in the uncommon felicity of Charlotte’s company Nelly will gradually dismiss the now ephemeral memory of the George Forest, and avert the whopping disgrace that might accrue to him were he likely to have followed in the unsteady footsteps of Joe Carrick. Charlotte and Nelly can  take their sweet and unruffled place in that sober New England community, and the question implicit in the poignant song,

“What will you do, love, When I am going,

With white sails flowing, in the seas beyond?”

will be joyfully, satisfactorily and conclusively settled.

 

 

 

A Quote from Wikipedia

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarah_Orne_Jewett
Jewett never married; but she established a close friendship with writer Annie fields  1834–1915) and her husband, publisher  James Thomas Fields , editor of the Atlantic Monthly . After the sudden death of James Fields in 1881, Jewett and Annie Fields lived together for the rest of Jewett’s life in what was then termed a ” Boston Marriage.” Some modern scholars have speculated that the two were lovers. In any case, “the two women found friendship, humor, and literary encouragement” in one another’s company, traveling to Europe together and hosting “American and European literati.”
 

 

 

 

 

 

And another from the following GLBTQ  site                                                                                                                                                                           

http://www.glbtq.com/literature/jewett_so.html

Annie Adams Fields was a primary feature in Jewett’s personal experience of that world since the two women maintained a “Boston marriage” from early in the 1880s until Jewett’s death. The widow of Boston publisher James T. Fields, the gracious, vivacious Annie provided Jewett with companionship and emotional support and introduced her to a galaxy of literary and cultural stars that included Alfred Lord Tennyson, Matthew Arnold, Henry James, Rudyard Kipling, and Christina Rossetti.

An indefatigable traveler and dazzling hostess, Annie was also fifteen years older than Jewett and likely served as the model for the older women who so frequently guide younger women in Jewett’s fiction.

Read Full Post »

Susan Glaspell (July 1 1876 – July 27 1948)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Martha Hale opened the storm-door and got a cut of the north wind, she ran back for her big woolen scarf. As she hurriedly wound that round her head her eye made a scandalized sweep of her kitchen. It was no ordinary thing that called her away–it was probably further from ordinary than anything that had ever happened in Dickson County. But what her eye took in was that her kitchen was in no shape for leaving: her bread all ready for mixing, half the flour sifted and half unsifted.
She hated to see things half done; but she had been at that when the team from town stopped to get Mr. Hale, and then the sheriff came running in to say his wife wished Mrs. Hale would come too–adding, with a grin, that he guessed she was getting scary and wanted another woman along. So she had dropped everything right where it was.

“Martha!” now came her husband’s impatient voice. “Don’t keep folks waiting out here in the cold.”

She again opened the storm-door, and this time joined the three men and the one woman waiting for her in the big two-seated buggy.

After she had the robes tucked around her she took another look at the woman who sat beside her on the back seat. She had met Mrs. Peters the year before at the county fair, and the thing she remembered about her was that she didn’t seem like a sheriff’s wife. She was small and thin and didn’t have a strong voice. Mrs. Gorman, sheriff’s wife before Gorman went out and Peters came in, had a voice that somehow seemed to be backing up the law with every word. But if Mrs. Peters didn’t look like a sheriff’s wife, Peters made it up in looking like a sheriff. He was to a dot the kind of man who could get himself elected sheriff–a heavy man with a big voice, who was particularly genial with the law-abiding, as if to make it plain that he knew the difference between criminals and non-criminals. And right there it came into Mrs. Hale’s mind, with a stab, that this man who was so pleasant and lively with all of them was going to the Wrights’ now as a sheriff.

“The country’s not very pleasant this time of year,” Mrs. Peters at last ventured, as if she felt they ought to be talking as well as the men.

Mrs. Hale scarcely finished her reply, for they had gone up a little hill and could see the Wright place now, and seeing it did not make her feel like talking. It looked very lonesome this cold March morning. It had always been a lonesome-looking place. It was down in a hollow, and the poplar trees around it were lonesome-looking trees. The men were looking at it and talking about what had happened. The county attorney was bending to one side of the buggy, and kept looking steadily at the place as they drew up to it.

“I’m glad you came with me,” Mrs. Peters said nervously, as the two women were about to follow the men in through the kitchen door.                 

Even after she had her foot on the door-step, her hand on the knob, Martha Hale had a moment of feeling she could not cross that threshold. And the reason it seemed she couldn’t cross it now was simply because she hadn’t crossed it before. Time and time again it had been in her mind, “I ought to go over and see Minnie Foster”–she still thought of her as Minnie Foster, though for twenty years she had been Mrs. Wright. And then there was always something to do and Minnie Foster would go from her mind. But now she could come.

The men went over to the stove. The women stood close together by the door. Young Henderson, the county attorney, turned around and said, “Come up to the fire, ladies.”

Mrs. Peters took a step forward, then stopped. “I’m not–cold,” she said.

And so the two women stood by the door, at first not even so much as looking around the kitchen.

The men talked for a minute about what a good thing it was the sheriff had sent his deputy out that morning to make a fire for them, and then Sheriff Peters stepped back from the stove, unbuttoned his outer coat, and leaned his hands on the kitchen table in a way that seemed to mark the beginning of official business. “Now, Mr. Hale,” he said in a sort of semi-official voice, “before we move things about, you tell Mr. Henderson just what it was you saw when you came here yesterday morning.”

The county attorney was looking around the kitchen.

“By the way,” he said, “has anything been moved?” He turned to the sheriff. “Are things just as you left them yesterday?”

Peters looked from cupboard to sink; from that to a small worn rocker a little to one side of the kitchen table.

“It’s just the same.”

“Somebody should have been left here yesterday,” said the county attorney.

“Oh–yesterday,” returned the sheriff, with a little gesture as of yesterday having been more than he could bear to think of. “When I had to send Frank to Morris Center for that man who went crazy–let me tell you. I had my hands full yesterday. I knew you could get back from Omaha by today, George, and as long as I went over everything here myself–”

“Well, Mr. Hale,” said the county attorney, in a way of letting what was past and gone go, “tell just what happened when you came here yesterday morning.”

Mrs. Hale, still leaning against the door, had that sinking feeling of the mother whose child is about to speak a piece. Lewis often wandered along and got things mixed up in a story. She hoped he would tell this straight and plain, and not say unnecessary things that would just make things harder for Minnie Foster. He didn’t begin at once, and she noticed that he looked queer–as if standing in that kitchen and having to tell what he had seen there yesterday morning made him almost sick.

“Yes, Mr. Hale?” the county attorney reminded.

“Harry and I had started to town with a load of potatoes,” Mrs. Hale’s husband began.

Harry was Mrs. Hale’s oldest boy. He wasn’t with them now, for the very good reason that those potatoes never got to town yesterday and he was taking them this morning, so he hadn’t been home when the sheriff stopped to say he wanted Mr. Hale to come over to the Wright place and tell the county attorney his story there, where he could point it all out. With all Mrs. Hale’s other emotions came the fear now that maybe Harry wasn’t dressed warm enough–they hadn’t any of them realized how that north wind did bite.

“We come along this road,” Hale was going on, with a motion of his hand to the road over which they had just come, “and as we got in sight of the house I says to Harry, ‘I’m goin’ to see if I can’t get John Wright to take a telephone.’ You see,” he explained to Henderson, “unless I can get somebody to go in with me they won’t come out this branch road except for a price I can’t pay. I’d spoke to Wright about it once before; but he put me off, saying folks talked too much anyway, and all he asked was peace and quiet–guess you know about how much he talked himself. But I thought maybe if I went to the house and talked about it before his wife, and said all the women-folks liked the telephones, and that in this lonesome stretch of road it would be a good thing–well, I said to Harry that that was what I was going to say–though I said at the same time that I didn’t know as what his wife wanted made much difference to John–”

Now there he was!–saying things he didn’t need to say. Mrs. Hale tried to catch her husband’s eye, but fortunately the county attorney interrupted with:

“Let’s talk about that a little later, Mr. Hale. I do want to talk about that but, I’m anxious now to get along to just what happened when you got here.”

When he began this time, it was very deliberately and carefully:

“I didn’t see or hear anything. I knocked at the door. And still it was all quiet inside. I knew they must be up–it was past eight o’clock. So I knocked again, louder, and I thought I heard somebody say, ‘Come in.’ I wasn’t sure–I’m not sure yet. But I opened the door–this door,” jerking a hand toward the door by which the two women stood. “and there, in that rocker”–pointing to it–“sat Mrs. Wright.”

Everyone in the kitchen looked at the rocker. It came into Mrs. Hale’s mind that that rocker didn’t look in the least like Minnie Foster–the Minnie Foster of twenty years before. It was a dingy red, with wooden rungs up the back, and the middle rung was gone, and the chair sagged to one side.

“How did she–look?” the county attorney was inquiring.

“Well,” said Hale, “she looked–queer.”

“How do you mean–queer?”

As he asked it he took out a note-book and pencil. Mrs. Hale did not like the sight of that pencil. She kept her eye fixed on her husband, as if to keep him from saying unnecessary things that would go into that note-book and make trouble.

Hale did speak guardedly, as if the pencil had affected him too.

“Well, as if she didn’t know what she was going to do next. And kind of–done up.”

“How did she seem to feel about your coming?”

“Why, I don’t think she minded–one way or other. She didn’t pay much attention. I said, ‘Ho’ do, Mrs. Wright? It’s cold, ain’t it?’ And she said. ‘Is it?’–and went on pleatin’ at her apron.

“Well, I was surprised. She didn’t ask me to come up to the stove, or to sit down, but just set there, not even lookin’ at me. And so I said: ‘I want to see John.’

“And then she–laughed. I guess you would call it a laugh.

“I thought of Harry and the team outside, so I said, a little sharp, ‘Can I see John?’ ‘No,’ says she–kind of dull like. ‘Ain’t he home?’ says I. Then she looked at me. ‘Yes,’ says she, ‘he’s home.’ ‘Then why can’t I see him?’ I asked her, out of patience with her now. ‘Cause he’s dead’ says she, just as quiet and dull–and fell to pleatin’ her apron. ‘Dead?’ says, I, like you do when you can’t take in what you’ve heard.

“She just nodded her head, not getting a bit excited, but rockin’ back and forth.

“‘Why–where is he?’ says I, not knowing what to say.

“She just pointed upstairs–like this”–pointing to the room above.

“I got up, with the idea of going up there myself. By this time I–didn’t know what to do. I walked from there to here; then I says: ‘Why, what did he die of?’

“‘He died of a rope around his neck,’ says she; and just went on pleatin’ at her apron.”

Hale stopped speaking, and stood staring at the rocker, as if he were still seeing the woman who had sat there the morning before. Nobody spoke; it was as if every one were seeing the woman who had sat there the morning before.

“And what did you do then?” the county attorney at last broke the silence.

“I went out and called Harry. I thought I might–need help. I got Harry in, and we went upstairs.” His voice fell almost to a whisper. “There he was–lying over the–”

“I think I’d rather have you go into that upstairs,” the county attorney interrupted, “where you can point it all out. Just go on now with the rest of the story.”

“Well, my first thought was to get that rope off. It looked–”

He stopped, his face twitching.

“But Harry, he went up to him, and he said. ‘No, he’s dead all right, and we’d better not touch anything.’ So we went downstairs.

“She was still sitting that same way. ‘Has anybody been notified?’ I asked. ‘No, says she, unconcerned.

“‘Who did this, Mrs. Wright?’ said Harry. He said it businesslike, and she stopped pleatin’ at her apron. ‘I don’t know,’ she says. ‘You don’t know?’ says Harry. ‘Weren’t you sleepin’ in the bed with him?’ ‘Yes,’ says she, ‘but I was on the inside. ‘Somebody slipped a rope round his neck and strangled him, and you didn’t wake up?’ says Harry. ‘I didn’t wake up,’ she said after him.

“We may have looked as if we didn’t see how that could be, for after a minute she said, ‘I sleep sound.’

“Harry was going to ask her more questions, but I said maybe that weren’t our business; maybe we ought to let her tell her story first to the coroner or the sheriff. So Harry went fast as he could over to High Road–the Rivers’ place, where there’s a telephone.”

“And what did she do when she knew you had gone for the coroner?” The attorney got his pencil in his hand all ready for writing.

“She moved from that chair to this one over here”–Hale pointed to a small chair in the corner–“and just sat there with her hands held together and lookin down. I got a feeling that I ought to make some conversation, so I said I had come in to see if John wanted to put in a telephone; and at that she started to laugh, and then she stopped and looked at me–scared.”

At the sound of a moving pencil the man who was telling the story looked up.

“I dunno–maybe it wasn’t scared,” he hastened: “I wouldn’t like to say it was. Soon Harry got back, and then Dr. Lloyd came, and you, Mr. Peters, and so I guess that’s all I know that you don’t.”

He said that last with relief, and moved a little, as if relaxing. Everyone moved a little. The county attorney walked toward the stair door.

“I guess we’ll go upstairs first–then out to the barn and around there.”

He paused and looked around the kitchen.

“You’re convinced there was nothing important here?” he asked the sheriff. “Nothing that would–point to any motive?”

The sheriff too looked all around, as if to re-convince himself.

“Nothing here but kitchen things,” he said, with a little laugh for the insignificance of kitchen things.

The county attorney was looking at the cupboard–a peculiar, ungainly structure, half closet and half cupboard, the upper part of it being built in the wall, and the lower part just the old-fashioned kitchen cupboard. As if its queerness attracted him, he got a chair and opened the upper part and looked in. After a moment he drew his hand away sticky.

“Here’s a nice mess,” he said resentfully.

The two women had drawn nearer, and now the sheriff’s wife spoke.

“Oh–her fruit,” she said, looking to Mrs. Hale for sympathetic understanding.

She turned back to the county attorney and explained: “She worried about that when it turned so cold last night. She said the fire would go out and her jars might burst.”

Mrs. Peters’ husband broke into a laugh.

“Well, can you beat the women! Held for murder, and worrying about her preserves!”

The young attorney set his lips.

“I guess before we’re through with her she may have something more serious than preserves to worry about.”

“Oh, well,” said Mrs. Hale’s husband, with good-natured superiority, “women are used to worrying over trifles.”

The two women moved a little closer together. Neither of them spoke. The county attorney seemed suddenly to remember his manners–and think of his future.

“And yet,” said he, with the gallantry of a young politician. “for all their worries, what would we do without the ladies?”

The women did not speak, did not unbend. He went to the sink and began washing his hands. He turned to wipe them on the roller towel–whirled it for a cleaner place.

“Dirty towelsl Not much of a housekeeper, would you say, ladies?”

He kicked his foot against some dirty pans under the sink.

“There’s a great deal of work to be done on a farm,” said Mrs. Hale stiffly.

“To be sure. And yet”–with a little bow to her–‘I know there are some Dickson County farm-houses that do not have such roller towels.” He gave it a pull to expose its full length again.

“Those towels get dirty awful quick. Men’s hands aren’t always as clean as they might be.

“Ah, loyal to your sex, I see,” he laughed. He stopped and gave her a keen look, “But you and Mrs. Wright were neighbors. I suppose you were friends, too.”

Martha Hale shook her head.

“I’ve seen little enough of her of late years. I’ve not been in this house–it’s more than a year.”

“And why was that? You didn’t like her?”

“I liked her well enough,” she replied with spirit. “Farmers’ wives have their hands full, Mr. Henderson. And then–” She looked around the kitchen.

“Yes?” he encouraged.

“It never seemed a very cheerful place,” said she, more to herself than to him.

“No,” he agreed; “I don’t think anyone would call it cheerful. I shouldn’t say she had the home-making instinct.”

“Well, I don’t know as Wright had, either,” she muttered.

“You mean they didn’t get on very well?” he was quick to ask.

“No; I don’t mean anything,” she answered, with decision. As she turned a lit- tle away from him, she added: “But I don’t think a place would be any the cheerfuller for John Wright’s bein’ in it.”

“I’d like to talk to you about that a little later, Mrs. Hale,” he said. “I’m anxious to get the lay of things upstairs now.”

He moved toward the stair door, followed by the two men.

“I suppose anything Mrs. Peters does’ll be all right?” the sheriff inquired. “She was to take in some clothes for her, you know–and a few little things. We left in such a hurry yesterday.”

The county attorney looked at the two women they were leaving alone there among the kitchen things.

“Yes–Mrs. Peters,” he said, his glance resting on the woman who was not Mrs. Peters, the big farmer woman who stood behind the sheriff’s wife. “Of course Mrs. Peters is one of us,” he said, in a manner of entrusting responsibility. “And keep your eye out, Mrs. Peters, for anything that might be of use. No telling; you women might come upon a clue to the motive–and that’s the thing we need.”

Mr. Hale rubbed his face after the fashion of a showman getting ready for a pleasantry.

“But would the women know a clue if they did come upon it?” he said; and, having delivered himself of this, he followed the others through the stair door.

The women stood motionless and silent, listening to the footsteps, first upon the stairs, then in the room above them.

Then, as if releasing herself from something strange. Mrs. Hale began to arrange the dirty pans under the sink, which the county attorney’s disdainful push of the foot had deranged.

“I’d hate to have men comin’ into my kitchen,” she said testily–“snoopin’ round and criticizin’.”

“Of course it’s no more than their duty,” said the sheriff’s wife, in her manner of timid acquiescence.

“Duty’s all right,” replied Mrs. Hale bluffly; “but I guess that deputy sheriff that come out to make the fire might have got a little of this on.” She gave the roller towel a pull. ‘Wish I’d thought of that sooner! Seems mean to talk about her for not having things slicked up, when she had to come away in such a hurry.”

She looked around the kitchen. Certainly it was not “slicked up.” Her eye was held by a bucket of sugar on a low shelf. The cover was off the wooden bucket, and beside it was a paper bag–half full.

Mrs. HaIe moved toward it.

“She was putting this in there,” she said to herself–slowly.

She thought of the flour in her kitchen at home–half sifted, half not sifted. She had been interrupted, and had left things half done. What had interrupted Minnie Foster? Why had that work been left half done? She made a move as if to finish it,–unfinished things always bothered her,–and then she glanced around and saw that Mrs. Peters was watching her–and she didn’t want Mrs. Peters to get that feeling she had got of work begun and then–for some reason–not finished.

“It’s a shame about her fruit,” she said, and walked toward the cupboard that the county attorney had opened, and got on the chair, murmuring: “I wonder if it’s all gone.”

It was a sorry enough looking sight, but “Here’s one that’s all right,” she said at last. She held it toward the light. “This is cherries, too.” She looked again. “I declare I believe that’s the only one.”

With a sigh, she got down from the chair, went to the sink, and wiped off the bottle.

“She’Il feel awful bad, after all her hard work in the hot weather. I remember the afternoon I put up my cherries last summer.

She set the bottle on the table, and, with another sigh, started to sit down in the rocker. But she did not sit down. Something kept her from sitting down in that chair. She straightened–stepped back, and, half turned away, stood looking at it, seeing the woman who had sat there “pleatin’ at her apron.”

The thin voice of the sheriff’s wife broke in upon her: “I must be getting those things from the front-room closet.” She opened the door into the other room, started in, stepped back. “You coming with me, Mrs. Hale?” she asked nervously. “You–you could help me get them.”

They were soon back–the stark coldness of that shut-up room was not a thing to linger in.

“My!” said Mrs. Peters, dropping the things on the table and hurrying to the stove.

Mrs. Hale stood examining the clothes the woman who was being detained in town had said she wanted.                                                                 

“Wright was close!” she exclaimed, holding up a shabby black skirt that bore the marks of much making over. “I think maybe that’s why she kept so much to herself. I s’pose she felt she couldn’t do her part; and then, you don’t enjoy things when you feel shabby. She used to wear pretty clothes and be lively–when she was Minnie Foster, one of the town girls, singing in the choir. But that–oh, that was twenty years ago.”

With a carefulness in which there was something tender, she folded the shabby clothes and piled them at one corner of the table. She looked up at Mrs. Peters, and there was something in the other woman’s look that irritated her.

“She don’t care,” she said to herself. “Much difference it makes to her whether Minnie Foster had pretty clothes when she was a girl.”

Then she looked again, and she wasn’t so sure; in fact, she hadn’t at any time been perfectly sure about Mrs. Peters. She had that shrinking manner, and yet her eyes looked as if they could see a long way into things.

“This all you was to take in?” asked Mrs. Hale.

“No,” said the sheriffs wife; “she said she wanted an apron. Funny thing to want, ” she ventured in her nervous little way, “for there’s not much to get you dirty in jail, goodness knows. But I suppose just to make her feel more natural. If you’re used to wearing an apron–. She said they were in the bottom drawer of this cupboard. Yes–here they are. And then her little shawl that always hung on the stair door.”

She took the small gray shawl from behind the door leading upstairs, and stood a minute looking at it.

Suddenly Mrs. Hale took a quick step toward the other woman, “Mrs. Peters!”

“Yes, Mrs. Hale?”

“Do you think she–did it?’

A frightened look blurred the other thing in Mrs. Peters’ eyes.

“Oh, I don’t know,” she said, in a voice that seemed to shink away from the subject.

“Well, I don’t think she did,” affirmed Mrs. Hale stoutly. “Asking for an apron, and her little shawl. Worryin’ about her fruit.”

“Mr. Peters says–.” Footsteps were heard in the room above; she stopped, looked up, then went on in a lowered voice: “Mr. Peters says–it looks bad for her. Mr. Henderson is awful sarcastic in a speech, and he’s going to make fun of her saying she didn’t–wake up.”

For a moment Mrs. Hale had no answer. Then, “Well, I guess John Wright didn’t wake up–when they was slippin’ that rope under his neck,” she muttered.

“No, it’s strange,” breathed Mrs. Peters. “They think it was such a–funny way to kill a man.”

She began to laugh; at sound of the laugh, abruptly stopped.

“That’s just what Mr. Hale said,” said Mrs. Hale, in a resolutely natural voice. “There was a gun in the house. He says that’s what he can’t understand.”

“Mr. Henderson said, coming out, that what was needed for the case was a motive. Something to show anger–or sudden feeling.”

‘Well, I don’t see any signs of anger around here,” said Mrs. Hale, “I don’t–” She stopped. It was as if her mind tripped on something. Her eye was caught by a dish-towel in the middle of the kitchen table. Slowly she moved toward the table. One half of it was wiped clean, the other half messy. Her eyes made a slow, almost unwilling turn to the bucket of sugar and the half empty bag beside it. Things begun–and not finished.

After a moment she stepped back, and said, in that manner of releasing herself:

“Wonder how they’re finding things upstairs? I hope she had it a little more red up up there. You know,”–she paused, and feeling gathered,–“it seems kind of sneaking: locking her up in town and coming out here to get her own house to turn against her!”

“But, Mrs. Hale,” said the sheriff’s wife, “the law is the law.”

“I s’pose ’tis,” answered Mrs. Hale shortly.

She turned to the stove, saying something about that fire not being much to brag of. She worked with it a minute, and when she straightened up she said aggressively:

“The law is the law–and a bad stove is a bad stove. How’d you like to cook on this?”–pointing with the poker to the broken lining. She opened the oven door and started to express her opinion of the oven; but she was swept into her own thoughts, thinking of what it would mean, year after year, to have that stove to wrestle with. The thought of Minnie Foster trying to bake in that oven–and the thought of her never going over to see Minnie Foster–.                                                                                                                                                

She was startled by hearing Mrs. Peters say: “A person gets discouraged–and loses heart.”

The sheriff’s wife had looked from the stove to the sink–to the pail of water which had been carried in from outside. The two women stood there silent, above them the footsteps of the men who were looking for evidence against the woman who had worked in that kitchen. That look of seeing into things, of seeing through a thing to something else, was in the eyes of the sheriff’s wife now. When Mrs. Hale next spoke to her, it was gently:

“Better loosen up your things, Mrs. Peters. We’ll not feel them when we go out.”

Mrs. Peters went to the back of the room to hang up the fur tippet she was wearing. A moment later she exclaimed, “Why, she was piecing a quilt,” and held up a large sewing basket piled high with quilt pieces.

Mrs. Hale spread some of the blocks on the table.

“It’s log-cabin pattern,” she said, putting several of them together, “Pretty, isn’t it?”

They were so engaged with the quilt that they did not hear the footsteps on the stairs. Just as the stair door opened Mrs. Hale was saying:

“Do you suppose she was going to quilt it or just knot it?”

The sheriff threw up his hands.

“They wonder whether she was going to quilt it or just knot it!”

There was a laugh for the ways of women, a warming of hands over the stove, and then the county attorney said briskly:

“Well, let’s go right out to the barn and get that cleared up.”

“I don’t see as there’s anything so strange,” Mrs. Hale said resentfully, after the outside door had closed on the three men–“our taking up our time with little things while we’re waiting for them to get the evidence. I don’t see as it’s anything to laugh about.”

“Of course they’ve got awful important things on their minds,” said the sheriff’s wife apologetically.

They returned to an inspection of the block for the quilt. Mrs. Hale was looking at the fine, even sewing, and preoccupied with thoughts of the woman who had done that sewing, when she heard the sheriff’s wife say, in a queer tone:

“Why, look at this one.”

She turned to take the block held out to her.

“The sewing,” said Mrs. Peters, in a troubled way, “All the rest of them have been so nice and even–but–this one. Why, it looks as if she didn’t know what she was about!”

Their eyes met–something flashed to life, passed between them; then, as if with an effort, they seemed to pull away from each other. A moment Mrs. Hale sat there, her hands folded over that sewing which was so unlike all the rest of the sewing. Then she had pulled a knot and drawn the threads.

“Oh, what are you doing, Mrs. Hale?” asked the sheriff’s wife, startled.

“Just pulling out a stitch or two that’s not sewed very good,” said Mrs. Hale mildly.

“I don’t think we ought to touch things,” Mrs. Peters said, a little helplessly.

“I’ll just finish up this end,” answered Mrs. Hale, still in that mild, matter-of-fact fashion.

She threaded a needle and started to replace bad sewing with good. For a little while she sewed in silence. Then, in that thin, timid voice, she heard:

“Mrs. Hale!”

“Yes, Mrs. Peters?”

‘What do you suppose she was so–nervous about?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” said Mrs. Hale, as if dismissing a thing not important enough to spend much time on. “I don’t know as she was–nervous. I sew awful queer sometimes when I’m just tired.”

She cut a thread, and out of the corner of her eye looked up at Mrs. Peters. The small, lean face of the sheriff’s wife seemed to have tightened up. Her eyes had that look of peering into something. But next moment she moved, and said in her thin, indecisive way:

‘Well, I must get those clothes wrapped. They may be through sooner than we think. I wonder where I could find a piece of paper–and string.”

“In that cupboard, maybe,” suggested to Mrs. Hale, after a glance around.

One piece of the crazy sewing remained unripped. Mrs. Peter’s back turned, Martha Hale now scrutinized that piece, compared it with the dainty, accurate sewing of the other blocks. The difference was startling. Holding this block made her feel queer, as if the distracted thoughts of the woman who had perhaps turned to it to try and quiet herself were communicating themselves to her.

Mrs. Peters’ voice roused her.

“Here’s a bird-cage,” she said. “Did she have a bird, Mrs. Hale?”

‘Why, I don’t know whether she did or not.” She turned to look at the cage Mrs. Peters was holding up. “I’ve not been here in so long.” She sighed. “There was a man round last year selling canaries cheap–but I don’t know as she took one. Maybe she did. She used to sing real pretty herself.”

Mrs. Peters looked around the kitchen.

“Seems kind of funny to think of a bird here.” She half laughed–an attempt to put up a barrier. “But she must have had one–or why would she have a cage? I wonder what happened to it.”

“I suppose maybe the cat got it,” suggested Mrs. Hale, resuming her sewing.

“No; she didn’t have a cat. She’s got that feeling some people have about cats–being afraid of them. When they brought her to our house yesterday, my cat got in the room, and she was real upset and asked me to take it out.”

“My sister Bessie was like that,” laughed Mrs. Hale.

The sheriff’s wife did not reply. The silence made Mrs. Hale turn round. Mrs. Peters was examining the bird-cage.

“Look at this door,” she said slowly. “It’s broke. One hinge has been pulled apart.”

Mrs. Hale came nearer.

“Looks as if someone must have been–rough with it.”

Again their eyes met–startled, questioning, apprehensive. For a moment neither spoke nor stirred. Then Mrs. Hale, turning away, said brusquely:

“If they’re going to find any evidence, I wish they’d be about it. I don’t like this place.”

“But I’m awful glad you came with me, Mrs. Hale.” Mrs. Peters put the bird-cage on the table and sat down. “It would be lonesome for me–sitting here alone.”

“Yes, it would, wouldn’t it?” agreed Mrs. Hale, a certain determined naturalness in her voice. She had picked up the sewing, but now it dropped in her lap, and she murmured in a different voice: “But I tell you what I do wish, Mrs. Peters. I wish I had come over sometimes when she was here. I wish–I had.”

“But of course you were awful busy, Mrs. Hale. Your house–and your children.”

“I could’ve come,” retorted Mrs. Hale shortly. “I stayed away because it weren’t cheerful–and that’s why I ought to have come. I”–she looked around–“I’ve never liked this place. Maybe because it’s down in a hollow and you don’t see the road. I don’t know what it is, but it’s a lonesome place, and always was. I wish I had come over to see Minnie Foster sometimes. I can see now–” She did not put it into words.

“Well, you mustn’t reproach yourself,” counseled Mrs. Peters. “Somehow, we just don’t see how it is with other folks till–something comes up.”

“Not having children makes less work,” mused Mrs. Hale, after a silence, “but it makes a quiet house–and Wright out to work all day–and no company when he did come in. Did you know John Wright, Mrs. Peters?”

“Not to know him. I’ve seen him in town. They say he was a good man.”

“Yes–good,” conceded John Wright’s neighbor grimly. “He didn’t drink, and kept his word as well as most, I guess, and paid his debts. But he was a hard man, Mrs. Peters. Just to pass the time of day with him–.” She stopped, shivered a little. “Like a raw wind that gets to the bone.” Her eye fell upon the cage on the table before her, and she added, almost bitterly: “I should think she would’ve wanted a bird!”

Suddenly she leaned forward, looking intently at the cage. “But what do you s’pose went wrong with it?”                                                              

“I don’t know,” returned Mrs. Peters; “unless it got sick and died.”

But after she said it she reached over and swung the broken door. Both women watched it as if somehow held by it.

“You didn’t know–her?” Mrs. Hale asked, a gentler note in her voice.

“Not till they brought her yesterday,” said the sheriff’s wife.

“She–come to think of it, she was kind of like a bird herself. Real sweet and pretty, but kind of timid and–fluttery. How–she–did–change.”

That held her for a long time. Finally, as if struck with a happy thought and relieved to get back to everyday things, she exclaimed:

“Tell you what, Mrs. Peters, why don’t you take the quilt in with you? It might take up her mind.”

“Why, I think that’s a real nice idea, Mrs. Hale,” agreed the sheriff’s wife, as if she too were glad to come into the atmosphere of a simple kindness. “There couldn’t possibly be any objection to that, could there? Now, just what will I take? I wonder if her patches are in here–and her things?”

They turned to the sewing basket.

“Here’s some red,” said Mrs. Hale, bringing out a roll of cloth. Underneath that was a box. “Here, maybe her scissors are in here–and her things.” She held it up. “What a pretty box! I’ll warrant that was something she had a long time ago–when she was a girl.”

She held it in her hand a moment; then, with a little sigh, opened it.

Instantly her hand went to her nose.

“Why–!”                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

Mrs. Peters drew nearer–then turned away.

“There’s something wrapped up in this piece of silk,” faltered Mrs. Hale.

“This isn’t her scissors,” said Mrs. Peters, in a shrinking voice.

Her hand not steady, Mrs. Hale raised the piece of silk. “Oh, Mrs. Peters!” she cried. “It’s–”

Mrs. Peters bent closer.

“It’s the bird,” she whispered.

“But, Mrs. Peters!” cried Mrs. Hale. “Look at it! Its neck–look at its neck! It’s all–other side to.”

She held the box away from her.

The sheriff’s wife again bent closer.

“Somebody wrung its neck,” said she, in a voice that was slow and deep.

And then again the eyes of the two women met–this time clung together in a look of dawning comprehension, of growing horror. Mrs. Peters looked from the dead bird to the broken door of the cage. Again their eyes met. And just then there was a sound at the outside door. Mrs. Hale slipped the box under the quilt pieces in the basket, and sank into the chair before it. Mrs. Peters stood holding to the table. The county attorney and the sheriff came in from outside.

“Well, ladies,” said the county attorney, as one turning from serious things to little pleasantries, “have you decided whether she was going to quilt it or knot it?”

“We think,” began the sheriff’s wife in a flurried voice, “that she was going to–knot it.”

He was too preoccupied to notice the change that came in her voice on that last.

“Well, that’s very interesting, I’m sure,” he said tolerantly. He caught sight of the bird-cage.

“Has the bird flown?”

“We think the cat got it,” said Mrs. Hale in a voice curiously even.

He was walking up and down, as if thinking something out.                                                                                                                                           

“Is there a cat?” he asked absently.

Mrs. Hale shot a look up at the sheriff’s wife.

“Well, not now,” said Mrs. Peters. “They’re superstitious, you know; they leave.”

She sank into her chair.

The county attorney did not heed her. “No sign at all of anyone having come in from the outside,” he said to Peters, in the manner of continuing an interrupted conversation. “Their own rope. Now let’s go upstairs again and go over it, picee by piece. It would have to have been someone who knew just the–”

The stair door closed behind them and their voices were lost.

The two women sat motionless, not looking at each other, but as if peering into something and at the same time holding back. When they spoke now it was as if they were afraid of what they were saying, but as if they could not help saying it.

“She liked the bird,” said Martha Hale, low and slowly. “She was going to bury it in that pretty box.”

When I was a girl,” said Mrs. Peters, under her breath, “my kitten–there was a boy took a hatchet, and before my eyes–before I could get there–” She covered her face an instant. “If they hadn’t held me back I would have”–she caught herself, looked upstairs where footsteps were heard, and finished weakly–“hurt him.”

Then they sat without speaking or moving.

“I wonder how it would seem,” Mrs. Hale at last began, as if feeling her way over strange ground–“never to have had any children around?” Her eyes made a slow sweep of the kitchen, as if seeing what that kitchen had meant through all the years “No, Wright wouldn’t like the bird,” she said after that–“a thing that sang. She used to sing. He killed that too.” Her voice tightened.

Mrs. Peters moved uneasily.

“Of course we don’t know who killed the bird.”

“I knew John Wright,” was Mrs. Hale’s answer.                                                                                                                                                           

“It was an awful thing was done in this house that night, Mrs. Hale,” said the sheriff’s wife. “Killing a man while he slept–slipping a thing round his neck that choked the life out of him.”

Mrs. Hale’s hand went out to the bird cage.

“We don’t know who killed him,” whispered Mrs. Peters wildly. “We don’t know.”

Mrs. Hale had not moved. “If there had been years and years of–nothing, then a bird to sing to you, it would be awful–still–after the bird was still.”

It was as if something within her not herself had spoken, and it found in Mrs. Peters something she did not know as herself.

“I know what stillness is,” she said, in a queer, monotonous voice. “When we homesteaded in Dakota, and my first baby died–after he was two years old–and me with no other then–”

Mrs. Hale stirred.

“How soon do you suppose they’ll be through looking for the evidence?”

“I know what stillness is,” repeated Mrs. Peters, in just that same way. Then she too pulled back. “The law has got to punish crime, Mrs. Hale,” she said in her tight little way.

“I wish you’d seen Minnie Foster,” was the answer, “when she wore a white dress with blue ribbons, and stood up there in the choir and sang.”

The picture of that girl, the fact that she had lived neighbor to that girl for twenty years, and had let her die for lack of life, was suddenly more than she could bear.

“Oh, I wish I’d come over here once in a while!” she cried. “That was a crime! Who’s going to punish that?”

“We mustn’t take on,” said Mrs. Peters, with a frightened look toward the stairs.

“I might ‘a’ known she needed help! I tell you, it’s queer, Mrs. Peters. We live close together, and we live far apart. We all go through the same things–it’s all just a different kind of the same thing! If it weren’t–why do you and I understand? Why do we know–what we know this minute?”

She dashed her hand across her eyes. Then, seeing the jar of fruit on the table she reached for it and choked out:

“If I was you I wouldn’t tell her her fruit was gone! Tell her it ain’t. Tell her it’s all right–all of it. Here–take this in to prove it to her! She–she may never know whether it was broke or not.”

She turned away.

Mrs. Peters reached out for the bottle of fruit as if she were glad to take it–as if touching a familiar thing, having something to do, could keep her from something else. She got up, looked about for something to wrap the fruit in, took a petticoat from the pile of clothes she had brought from the front room, and nervously started winding that round the bottle.

“My!” she began, in a high, false voice, “it’s a good thing the men couldn’t hear us! Getting all stirred up over a little thing like a–dead canary.” She hurried over that. “As if that could have anything to do with–with–My, wouldn’t they laugh?”

Footsteps were heard on the stairs.

“Maybe they would,” muttered Mrs. Hale–“maybe they wouldn’t.”

“No, Peters,” said the county attorney incisively; “it’s all perfectly clear, except the reason for doing it. But you know juries when it comes to women. If there was some definite thing–something to show. Something to make a story about. A thing that would connect up with this clumsy way of doing it.”

In a covert way Mrs. Hale looked at Mrs. Peters. Mrs. Peters was looking at her. Quickly they looked away from each other. The outer door opened and Mr. Hale came in.

“I’ve got the team round now,” he said. “Pretty cold out there.”                                                                                                                                      

“I’m going to stay here awhile by myself,” the county attorney suddenly announced. “You can send Frank out for me, can’t you?” he asked the sheriff. “I want to go over everything. I’m not satisfied we can’t do better.”

Again, for one brief moment, the two women’s eyes found one another.

The sheriff came up to the table.

“Did you want to see what Mrs. Peters was going to take in?”

The county attorney picked up the apron. He laughed.

“Oh, I guess they’re not very dangerous things the ladies have picked out.”

Mrs. Hale’s hand was on the sewing basket in which the box was concealed. She felt that she ought to take her hand off the basket. She did not seem able to. He picked up one of the quilt blocks which she had piled on to cover the box. Her eyes felt like fire. She had a feeling that if he took up the basket she would snatch it from him.

But he did not take it up. With another little laugh, he turned away, saying:

“No; Mrs. Peters doesn’t need supervising. For that matter, a sheriff’s wife is married to the law. Ever think of it that way, Mrs. Peters?”

Mrs. Peters was standing beside the table. Mrs. Hale shot a look up at her; but she could not see her face. Mrs. Peters had turned away. When she spoke, her voice was muffled.

“Not–just that way,” she said.

“Married to the law!” chuckled Mrs. Peters’ husband. He moved toward the door into the front room, and said to the county attorney:

“I just want you to come in here a minute, George. We ought to take a look at these windows.”

“Oh–windows,” said the county attorney scoffingly.

“We’ll be right out, Mr. Hale,” said the sheriff to the farmer, who was still waiting by the door.

Hale went to look after the horses. The sheriff followed the county attorney into the other room. Again–for one final moment–the two women were alone in that kitchen.

Martha Hale sprang up, her hands tight together, looking at that other woman, with whom it rested. At first she could not see her eyes, for the         sheriff’s wife had not turned back since she turned away at that suggestion of being married to the law. But now Mrs. Hale made her turn back. Her eyes made her turn back. Slowly, unwillingly, Mrs. Peters turned her head until her eyes met the eyes of the other woman. There was a moment when they held each other in a steady, burning look in which there was no evasion or flinching. Then Martha Hale’s eyes pointed the way to the basket in which was hidden the thing that would make certain the conviction of the other woman–that woman who was not there and yet who had been there with them all through that hour.

For a moment Mrs. Peters did not move. And then she did it. With a rush forward, she threw back the quilt pieces, got the box, tried to put it in her handbag. It was too big. Desperately she opened it, started to take the bird out. But there she broke–she could not touch the bird. She stood there helpless, foolish.

There was the sound of a knob turning in the inner door. Martha Hale snatched the box from the sheriff’s wife, and got it in the pocket of her big coat just as the sheriff and the county attorney came back into the kitchen.

“Well, Henry,” said the county attorney facetiously, “at least we found out that she was not going to quilt it. She was going to–what is it you call it, ladies?”                    

Mrs. Hale’s hand was against the pocket of her coat.

“We call it–knot it, Mr. Henderson.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Susan Glaspell, besides being a writer of fiction, was also an accomplished dramatist. She wrote her play Trifles in 1916 over a ten day period,  in what must have been a burst of creativity. She then re-wrote the play as a the short story “A Jury of Her Peers”. After several decades of neglect, her work was rediscovered in the ’80s, by feminist scholars. Glaspell was in many respects, a woman ahead of her times, and therefore out of synch with them. She married twice, for the first time 1913 when she was 37 years old, and again in 1924, two years after after  the death of her first husband. She was friends with some of the most non-conformist women of her day – Edna Ferber, Djuna Barnes and Edna St.Vincent Millay, and she belonged to a feminist group called ‘Heterodoxy’.

Around 1908 she spent a year in Paris with her friend Lucy Huffaker (her friend for the next 50 years) where the two rubbed shoulders with the cream of lesbian literary society, including women such as Natalie Clifford Barney, Gertrude Stein, and Sylvia Beach.

Though Glaspell was not a lesbian, much of her work, including “Trifles” and ” A Jury of Her Peers” is suffused with a keen sensibility of the emotional bonds that exist between women. For this, and other reasons, some feminst scholars today claim Glaspell as ‘Queer’.

Here is an excerpt from a paper by Cheryl Black. I have provided the link to it at the bottom of the post at the bottom of the post.

“Susan Glaspell was queer in her geographic and ideological departure from her middle class, Midwestern roots. She was queer in her desire for education and a career as a writer, in her artistic ambitions, in her delay of marriage, in her sexual desire for a married man and later in life, for one nearly twenty years her junior. She was queer in her childlessness, in her critique of sexism, racism, and other forms of injustice within American social institutions, in her bold expression of “unwomanly” behavior: unruly sexuality, unbridled ambition, rage, and violence. She was queer in her use of irony and parodic humor, in her jarring juxtaposition of tone and mood that keeps her readers and spectators off-balance, in her unique displacement of traditional dramatic focus from onstage to offstage.
In her most politically and artistically radical works, these ideological and formal subversions may be read as queer dramaturgy, and Susan Glaspell, in her continual identification of subversive gender and sexual identity as well as subversive aesthetic creation as “queer,” functions as a queer theorist and may be regarded as a pioneer in queering feminism. These works emerged at the advent of the invention of compulsory heterosexuality as a political and economic institution in American life, and they resonate with new vitality in our current cultural climate’s attempt to reify the “sanctity” of heterosexual unions and to constitutionally prohibit any other kind.
 

Strangulation is a long slow death – it requires strength and determination, and takes roughly four minutes to complete, and a man of  John Wright’s temperament would not have gone easy. To accomplish such a feat must have required a sufficiency of pent-up anger and grim determination, and that Minnie Foster possessed it in a measure commensurate to her task bespeaks a long history of degradation and abuse.

Minnie Foster’s tender girlhood has ended long ago. She is now trapped and isolated on a remote farm with a cruel and sadistic husband, John Wright. She has no future – nothing to ameliorate her condition or beguile her hours but a little singing bird – a bird whose neck John Wright–of whom it is “common knowledge that  he did not care to please his wife”– snaps in two.

It is a challenging task to attempt to imagine the full extent of  Minnie Foster’s tenebrous and despairing life. No central heat, no electricity, no telephone, no gramophone, no radio or t.v or computer – no friends, no books, no cat or dog – just a little canary to break the silence and relieve her desolation.

Add to this her taciturn and begrudging husband John Wright who keeps her shabbily dressed and ill-provided so that she has to do her cooking on a broken stove and do her sewing sitting on a broken rocker, and the dismal picture comes sharply into focus.

Glaspell’s  story is about reading the clues – the clues she lets us see through the eyes of the two women, Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters, but particularly Mrs. Hale, Minnie Foster’s girlhood friend.  The women alone are capable of making the kinds of observations – and inferences–which go below the surface in order to re-construct and interpret a reality which is invisible to the men. The men look in all the wrong places – and through the lens of their unexamined assumptions about the triviality of womens’ natures.  Glaspell with the steady accumulations of unremarkable-seeming  facts revealed through dialogue, makes it clear to her readers that the investigating trio of kind and straightforward Mr. Hale, with his slight tendency towards garrulosity, the bluff and unsubtle sheriff  Mr. Peters, and the odious little prig of a county attorney Mr. Henderson, would never understand that the murder of John Wright was no crime, and that justice had already been done.

What else could a real ‘jury of her peers’  do but take the law into their own capable hands and dismiss the case?

What was it I wonder that caused Martha Hale to not set foot for 20 years in the house of her girlhood friend? Why did she remember her so tenderly? And why did she cover-up for her murder? Pity and guilt for omissions of care and sympathy may present themselves as possible reasons, but I cannot help feeling that these facts hint at a different mystery from the one this story solves.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Article on Susan Glaspell

http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/awia/gallery/glaspell.html

A thorough and beautiful analytical disquisition of Susan Glaspell’s life and work.

https://www.google.com/search?sourceid=navclient&hl=en&q=susan+glaspell+lesbian

Wikipedia entry on Susan Glaspell

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Susan_Glaspell

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »