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Loosening up our creative writing ‘muscles’ is made easy through a dalliance with the second person ‘you’ narrator. For when you write as ‘you’ the pen feels liberated and can find immediate direction and story. Â Just try it and see. Give yourself some sort of setting or context in order to frame your ‘you’ and then off ‘you’ go. So try an age, or place or state of mind etc… Â And if you need brilliant inspiration here is a marvellous extract by one of the most versatile and humane short story writers of the twentieth century, Ray Bradbury.Â Â The night – Ray Bradbury Â Â YOU are a child in a small town. You are, to be exact, eight years old, and it is growing late at night. Late, for you, accustomed to bedding in at nine or nine-thirty; once in a while perhaps begging Mom or Dad to let you stay up later to hear Sam and Henry on that strange radio that is popular in this year of 1927. But most of the time you are in bed and snug at this time of night. It is a warm summer evening. You live in a small house on a small street in the outer part of town where there are few street lights. There is only one store open, about a block away; Mrs. Singerâs. In the hot evening Mother has been ironing the Monday wash and you have been intermittently begging for ice-cream and staring into the dark. You and your mother are all alone at home in the warm darkness of summer. Finally, just before it is time for Mrs. Singer to close her store, Mother relents and tells you: âRun get a pint of ice-cream and be sure she packs it tight.â You ask if you can get a scoop of chocolate ice-cream on top, because you donât like vanilla, and mother agrees. You clutch the money and run barefooted over the warm evening cement pavement, under the apple trees and oak trees, towards the store. The town is so quiet and far off, you can only hear the crickets sounding in the spaces beyond the hot indigo trees that hold back the stars. Your bare feet slap the pavement, you cross the street and find Mrs. Singer moving ponderously about her store, singing Yiddish melodies. ‘Pint ice-cream?â she says. ‘Chocolate on top? Yes!â You watch her fumble the metal top off the ice-cream freezer and manipulate the scoop, packing the cardboard pint chock full with ‘chocolate on top, yes!â You give the money, receive the chill, icy pack, and rubbing it across your brow and cheek, laughing, you thump barefootedly homeward. Behind you, the lights of the lonely little store blink out and there is only a street light shimmering on the corner, and the whole city seems to be going to sleepâ¦ Opening the screen door you find Mom still ironing. She looks hot and irritated, but she smiles just the same. ‘When will Dad be home from lodge-meeting?â you ask. ‘About eleven-thirty or twelve,â Mother replies. She takes the ice-cream to the kitchen, divides it. Giving you your special portion of chocolate, she dishes out some for herself and the rest is put away, ‘For Skipper and your father when they come.â Â Â
A few weeks ago I walked around Barrow Bridge Village in Bolton. The village is beautiful and wherever you walk you can hear running water. Moss hangs luxuriantly over the stone walls and seems to be the scent holder of all the olfactory goings on in the village! So here in tribute to my walk is a fifty word story.
Beware moss. I settled my nose into its sun warmed texture and found oaky smoke.
Fresh vetiver. Wet earth.
Moss, you ostensible friend to all that goes on in a village: witness to every virtue and misdemeanor.
Your sensual gift, a subtle testimony. Â
You natural Poirot, perched hungrily on that wall.
Little Momma left them in June.
Most days they dropped by, concerned she might miss them.Â
They quit work.Â
They listened hard; softly too.Â
”Hold to thy faith,” intoned PastorÂ Â Paul.
Clarence staredÂ at the new earth and gave thanks.Â
He returned to herÂ car and took out aÂ spade.Â
Once again, I find that text tales are easy onÂ a smartphone! I enjoyed this one, deciding to make it Â ever so slightly ‘Southern Gothic’ thusÂ changing ‘Reverend Paul to ‘Pastor Paul’ to keep the Southern spirit in mind!Â
I also Â ‘borrowed’ the verb ‘intoned’ from Mansfield’s Daughters of the Late Colonel as there is something piously assured about such a verb! Â The debate between whether it should be ‘miss’ or ‘cold’ in the second line reflected my concern with clues and when to release them. If the line had read: ‘concerned she might be cold’ then perhaps death would have been too apparent to the reader and I preferred ‘stared’ to ‘gazed’ because Â the alliterative echo of ‘gazed’ and gave’ seemed a little overcooked. Once again, the ‘thrift’ of the short tale proved great fun and aÂ challenge.Â Â ‘His’ car or ‘hers’..decisions go on!Â
Â It was the teeth that worried her.Â The long eyelashesÂ too.Â
”But he’llÂ only grow as big as his bowl,” promised Tim.Â
Hoping for the best,Â weÂ Â named him Gabriel. Â
He grew at night and lacked discretion.Â
‘I’veÂ outgrown water, ‘ he said andÂ leftÂ in my car. Â
I could smell chilli pesto.
âSearch in my small bag.ââ
Your voice carried smiles in it. Sunshine lit up the room.
There was a brown bag over a chair. Beside it sat another-cream,
ââYou find what you needed?ââ
ââOh yes!ââ smiled my voice. ââ I think so.ââ
These tales are fun to try anywhere. Just go with the image or firstÂ lineÂ and ‘see’ what happens. AsÂ IÂ saidÂ before, thrift is all. Short tales work well with ambiguity and give our pens the chance to ‘distill’Â ourÂ experience!Â
As you like it.
She pretended to be myopic and it suited her. Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â
ââWe can picnic here and you can tell me all about your origins ââ
A laugh that shook my vertebrae.
Â My night’s dream stalkers were nothing compared to Ms Orange coat.
Â Lithe irony at loose in nature.
Sometimes, Serpents love ardently tooâ¦
That was the summer I changed to thin bleach.
Â I could be brave about stains.
It was the other that unsettled me . Â
But bleach offered gentle purity, a sort of slow healing unlike everything outside.
There lurked the truly impure.
So here I am watching,
waiting for you.
‘They’re all swooping about again.”
‘Harriet, your eyes are closed.”
‘I know.ââ Then she fell asleep.
Apparently it was my turn to create dinner.
In her kitchen such colourful piles of ingredients; easy to add yet another spice.
Later she ate, very slowly.
For some reason, I justÂ wasn’tÂ hungry.
Fifty word tales are easy to create and strangely relaxing. I enjoy the concentration- it feels like colouring in, except with words rather than pencils. Words do carry lightness and weight. Playing with them, even texting them as ‘text tales’ makes you aware of connotation and irony!Â
And so the house came to be haunted by the unspoken phrase: There must be more money! There must be more money! The children could hear it all the time though nobody said it aloud. They heard it at Christmas, when the expensive and splendid toys filled the nursery. Behind the shining modern rocking-horse, behind the smart doll’s house, a voice would start whispering: “There must be more money! There must be more money!” And the children would stop playing, to listen for a moment. They would look into each other’s eyes, to see if they had all heard. And each one saw in the eyes of the other two that they too had heard. “There must be more money! There must be more money!”Â
It came whispering from the springs of the still-swaying rocking-horse, and even the horse, bending his wooden, champing head, heard it. The big doll, sitting so pink and smirking in her new pram, could hear it quite plainly, and seemed to be smirking all the more self-consciously because of it. The foolish puppy, too, that took the place of the teddy-bear, he was looking so extraordinarily foolish for no other reason but that he heard the secret whisper all over the house: “There must be more money!”Â
Yet nobody ever said it aloud. The whisper was everywhere, and therefore no one spoke it. Just as no one ever says: “We are breathing!” in spite of the fact that breath is coming and going all the time.Â
Greed animates every corridor of this feverishly sensitive house house and Lawrence’s allegorical tone and use of omniscient third person narrator communicates Â a palpable sense of ill fated destiny. Even the children’s toys seem contaminated by the adults’ greed.
Innocence has become swallowed up by the near neurasthenic chanting of the whispering house! The children’s susceptibility to the greedy dynamic of their parents, becomes supernaturally imprinted upon the daily reality and very fabric Â of their home.
Â If avarice drives all the adult behaviors in the narrative, then the children, and in particular the protagonist Paul, seek to re-stabilise the unsettling voices in the house through material placation. This placation comes through Paul’s attempt to reverse the ‘bad luck’ of Hester his mother, through his winnings on the horses.
Thus Paul ‘rides’ his rocking horse to ‘find’ the winner of horse races before they take place. Such a dalliance with the supernatural intentions of the horse, Â leads to tragedy as the horse and child frantically ‘possess’ each other, and Lawrence decisively blames the adult world for Paul’s collapse.Â
Â The child’s absent father, permanently dissatisfied mother and boy child’s frantic desire to please his restless mother, show the influence of Freud upon D H Lawrence.Â
A tale as unsettling as Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw and just as slippery as a ghost tale , a psychological thriller..or both!Â
Writing a 50 word short story is great fun and an excellent way to discipline your writing and recognize the value and effect of word choice. Short stories, like poetry, involve a pronounced degree of selectivity,as short stories require thrift!
Last week, I dozed in my chair beside the fire and woke to the peculiar ‘vision’ of a blue bus apparently stationary in my garden. Of course this was an optical illusion brought on by aÂ privetÂ hedge and my drowsiness, but I ‘wrote’ the following as a text taleÂ in 5 minutesÂ and really enjoyed the spontaneity andÂ focus!Â
‘Through my living room I can see a huge blue bus. Would it sound remarkable if I was to add that two of the passengers are not human, yet are singing something about the sea?
NowÂ the kindest is inviting me to join them.
”My dear, should I go? ‘
Â We were looking at objects the other week and I was still on my DH Lawrence binge! So this owes an obvious debt to Lawrence’s story, The Rocking Horse Winner andÂ somethingÂ to Duffy”s Demeter too, and my beloved dog Harry.Â Â I couldn’t resist the brass horse and I certainly didn’t try! Â
So here’s a short monologue about love.Â
I like him better the wrong way round. Nothing brassy about our boy. We called him Percival after the Grail,Â myÂ Â purest Knight of all.
It was Jim who rode him that first time. Our Glory days they were. Â In the winner’s enclosure Â I wept. Hadn’t cried since my Dad haemorrhaged in Buxton’s Devonshire Hospital. As I cried , I looked up and there was no God, Â just a big dome. Funny how you Â know things sometimes. I just walked around and around looking up. Hoping.Â
No one came though. Â Nobody ever does.
But Percival knew. I touched his neck after that race and he looked at me. Really stared, one of those once in a life time looks; for keeps you might say.
IÂ likedÂ him better than my wife . Â No surprise there Â then.Â
We kept on winning: me , Percival, Jim. After Chester, there was Aintree, Epsom, the Derby.
”I tell you the air hushed about my boy.” Â When all that steam came up off him, and we had won yet again, it felt like a miracle. I was truly alive, you see.Â
My best of times was Percival. I swear even his Â hooves were winged! And thoseÂ eyes!
I sang to him in the mornings: Bassey, Sinatra, Dusty. EvenÂ Elvis. We were aÂ team.Â Inseparable.Â
”YouÂ don’t have to say you love me.” But he did. I did, each and every day.
Percival the Invincible they called him- I simply called him my miracle boy.Â
My worst of times too.
No one else cameÂ near.Â
Our experience of life is often thwarted by our inability to express what we feel through our words. It is as if language is always apart from us, apart from our experience, so that our words mayÂ Â feel like ill fitting approximations,Â strainingÂ after ‘truth’ yet never quite getting there.Â
Yet without language, how can we make ourÂ experiencesÂ known- how can weÂ communicateÂ not only with others,Â but perhaps more importantly, with ourselves? Can we evenÂ experience our experienceÂ withoutÂ resorting to the ‘salvation’ ofÂ language?Â
‘TheseÂ fragments I shall shore against my ruins’ said T S Eliot at the end of The Wasteland, one of the most honest and powerful declarations about language andÂ itsÂ innateÂ insufficiency,Â I haveÂ ever read.Â
For writers language is always aÂ challenge, and the skill of a writer is to find the ‘right words’ in order toÂ reach the reader, so that an experience can be translated and re -experienced in a meaningful and resonant way.
Katherine Mansfield as a short story writer was well aware of the ‘thriftiness’ of her chosen genre. A successful story is hard work, Â as like poetry, there is very little room for redemption in a short story. The language of a short story is highly selective, standing in place of many alternative words, which then place considerable responsibility Â on the words present to communicate to the reader.
Little wonder Mansfield in her Journal and letters, worried about how ‘near’ her writing was to the experience she wished to communicate. She worried her stories seemed a little ‘made up’ and below in one of her final, most poignant letters, she told her cousin that she was ‘tired of my little stories, like birds bred in cages.’
A recent study of her work takes a phrase from one of her final tales, encapsulating perhaps the truly ‘wonderful’ job of the writer to find the right words for the experience. ‘Ah-what is it? -That I heard? ‘ Look how KM’sÂ sensesÂ are STRIVING after authenticity, for the ‘right’Â effectÂ even. She wonders and she wanders, playing with herÂ sensoryÂ experienceÂ and impressions.Â
For writing is a quest for the identity of ‘things’ ; for words of whatever genre, to be ‘REAL’- whatever that momentary reality mayÂ happenÂ to be!
All the same, without being morbid, and giving way toâto memories and so on, I must confess that there does seem to me something sad in life. It is hard to say what it is. I don’t mean the sorrow that we all know, like illness and poverty and death. No, it is something different. It is there, deep down, deep down, part of one, like one’s breathing. However hard I work and tire myself I have only to stop to know it is there, waiting. I often wonder if everybody feels the same. One can never know. But isn’t it extraordinary that under his sweet, joyful little singing it was just thisâsadness ?âAh, what is it ?âthat I heard. ( Katherine Mansfield, The Canary)Â
You see Bogey if I were allowed one single cry to God that cry would beÂ I want to be REAL
You see, my love, the question is always âWho am I’ and until that is discovered I don’t see how one can really direct anything in ones self âIs there a Me.’ …
I see no hope of escape except by learning to live in our emotional & instinctive being as well and to balance all three.Â
Â But I cannot tell you what a joy it is to me to be in contact with living people who are strange and quick and not ashamed to be themselves. It’s a kind of supreme airing to be among them….
(Letters to John Middleton Murry)
Â Â But what nonsense this all sounds. That is the worst of letters; they are fumbling things.
Â Â I haven’t written a word since October and I don’t mean to until the spring. I want much more material, I am tired of my little stories like birds bred in cages.
Â Â Do you see John, I wonder? He sounds very happy and serene – Life is a mysterious affair!
Â Â Goodbye, my dearest Cousin. I shall never know anyone like you; I shall remember every little thing about you for ever.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Lovingly yours,
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Katherine
(Letter to Countess Russell)
But then the diary is so private and so instinctive that it allows another self to break off from the self that writes and to stand a little apart watching it write. The writing self was a queer self; sometimes nothing would induce it to write. 'There is so much to do and I do so little. Life would be almost perfect here if only when I was pretending to work I always was working. Look at the stories that wait and wait iust at the threshold. . . . Next day. Yet take this morning, for instance. I don't want to write anything. It's gray; it's heavy and dull. And short stories seem unreal and not worth doing. I don't want to write; I want to live. What does she mean by that? It's not easy to say. But there you are!' (Woolf 'A Terribly Sensitive Mind'- Review of Katherine Mansfield's Journal) )
Saki is a sardonic, frequently brilliant writer whose stories are often surreal and always witty: his style embraces Wilde, Carroll and even Austen herself. If many of the tales are rather ‘through the looking glass’ of social satire, Â then their comedy tends to keep emotional risk at bay. Thus we enjoy Saki Â and laugh at the wonderfully surreal Â ‘excursions’ he explores, without necessarily feeling the pull of emotional investment.
In Sredni Vashtar however, something feels rather different. This difference I admit I missed when I first read the tale.However my colleague Mark Wrigley always held the story in high regard and the other week I read the Â tale again and found it more involving than say the satire of Esme or Tobermory (though being an animal lover I do mourn the passing of the eponymous hero in the latter tale) !
Sredni Vashtar Â was a surprise. The ‘stakes’ as Mark assured me, were very high. ‘Life or death’ he said.’It’s a duel.’
So where mightÂ Â this involvement emanate from I wondered, Â and how does this sympathy govern its effect?
Let’s look at the opening of Sredni Vashtar and explore how it draws us in….
Conradin was ten years old, and the doctor had pronounced his professional opinion that the boy would not live another five years. The doctor was silky and effete, and counted for little, but his opinion was endorsed by Mrs. De Ropp, who counted for nearly everything. Mrs. De Ropp was Conradin’s cousin and guardian, and in his eyes she represented those three-fifths of the world that are necessary and disagreeable and real; the other two-fifths, in perpetual antagonism to the foregoing, were summed up in himself and his imagination. One of these days Conradin supposed he would succumb to the mastering pressure of wearisome necessary things—such as illnesses and coddling restrictions and drawn-out dulness. Without his imagination, which was rampant under the spur of loneliness, he would have succumbed long ago.
Mrs. De Ropp would never, in her honestest moments, have confessed to herself that she disliked Conradin, though she might have been dimly aware that thwarting him “for his good” was a duty which she did not find particularly irksome. Conradin hated her with a desperate sincerity which he was perfectly able to mask. Such few pleasures as he could contrive for himself gained an added relish from the likelihood that they would be displeasing to his guardian, and from the realm of his imagination she was locked out—an unclean thing, which should find no entrance.
In the dull, cheerless garden, overlooked by so many windows that were ready to open with a message not to do this or that, or a reminder that medicines were due, he found little attraction. The few fruit-trees that it contained were set jealously apart from his plucking, as though they were rare specimens of their kind blooming in an arid waste; it would probably have been difficult to find a market-gardener who would have offered ten shillings for their entire yearly produce. In a forgotten corner, however, almost hidden behind a dismal shrubbery, was a disused tool-shed of respectable proportions, and within its walls Conradin found a haven, something that took on the varying aspects of a playroom and a cathedral. He had peopled it with a legion of familiar phantoms, evoked partly from fragments of history and partly from his own brain, but it also boasted two inmates of flesh and blood. In one corner lived a ragged-plumaged Houdan hen, on which the boy lavished an affection that had scarcely another outlet. Further back in the gloom stood a large hutch, divided into two compartments, one of which was fronted with close iron bars. This was the abode of a large polecat-ferret, which a friendly butcher-boy had once smuggled, cage and all, into its present quarters, in exchange for a long-secreted hoard of small silver. Conradin was dreadfully afraid of the lithe, sharp-fanged beast, but it was his most treasured possession.
Conradin is declared just ‘TEN’ years old. in the opening line. His age immediately positions us as ‘protective/guardian’ readers and immediately moulds our response to the text.This information (being a lonely child and 10) is immediately emotive (likeÂ Oliver Twist) and is intensified by Â his subjugation to hisÂ Aunt’s stultifying, oppressive government.
She is a totalitarianÂ dictator inÂ a long dress! (See Mrs Reed in Jane Eyre)Â
Â The numerical quantifiers (‘two fifths’) surrounding the intentions of Mrs De Ropp give terrible authority to her despotic ways. Conradin’s Â count down ‘death sentence’ seems as much due to his life Â with his rigidlyÂ controlled life with hisÂ Â Aunt , as to any dubiously announced medical diagnosis/ prognosis.Â Indeed the ill health of Conradin is succinctly associated with Mrs De Ropp’s restrictions.
She is Freud’s death drive- Mrs Thanatos!Â
ForÂ theÂ AuntÂ Â is without playfulness:a tyrant whose controlling ways seem pathologically Â arid – the very antithesis of childhood’s unruly ‘wonderment.’
Mrs De Ropp gives terrible representation to Blake’s ‘mind forg’d manacles’Â asÂ Â she attempts to ‘rope’ in her world, so that she canÂ inflictÂ total authority upon it- to the point of utterÂ suffocation.
How can anyone or anything GROW in thisÂ environmentÂ ? Note how the Â ‘ Dull cheerless garden’ hasÂ connotations of Miss Havisham’s garden at ‘SatisÂ House’ in Dickens’ Great Expectations, where theÂ protagonistÂ Pip cannot ‘grow’Â safely.
Conradin’s only escape from his blighted circumstances is through hisÂ imagination, through his secret play, where in a ‘forgotten corner’ (therefore liberating because free of his Aunt’s taint) of the garden, a ‘haven’ aka the ‘tool- shed’ Â becomes a ‘cathedral’ to hisÂ imagination; a den for anÂ untrammeled mind!
Interestingly one creature(the hen) Â is the receptacle of nurturing ‘affection’ whilst the other (the ferret) induces a terrible fear, yet ironically ‘was his most treasured possession.’ Â So, when Mrs De Ropp removes the hen from the shed out of spite, nurture is defeated and onlyÂ Â primitive nature remains.Â DramaticallyÂ and ironically, she has signed her death warrant without knowing it!
Conradin’s secret, Â lonely worshipÂ of Â the ferret Sredni Vashatr, Â seemsÂ an urgent form of idolatry which culminates in theÂ necessaryÂ sacrifice of the Aunt, by the demi ‘god’ pole Â cat, Â after the fervently obliqueÂ ‘prayers of the young boy for salvation.
It’s a desperate duel! SOUL STUFF! Keeps us guessingÂ rightÂ until the end.Â
As I mentioned in my introduction, this story is different because so much is at stake.
Â We fear for Conradin. We do not even know what heÂ Â prays for, and whatever it is , we fear his prayers may not work. It is a life or death tale.The soul’s desperateÂ choice – and we are relieved thatÂ Saki’s child hero defeats the wicked oppressor,Â through imagination taking the form of ferventÂ Â faith.
As a writer could Saki allow anything else? Â How could he allow the Aunt/book burner Â to live ?!
”If a writer of prose knows enough of what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water.” Hemingwway ( Ice Berg Theory)
Now read the extract below and see the difference betweenÂ Hemingway’sÂ ideas andÂ Lawrence’sÂ narrativeÂ delivery.
I Â know we are told to ‘show don’t tell’ in Creative Writing, but in Lawrence sometimes a good bit of ‘telling’ works most effectively!
Â The tone seems almost biblical in itsÂ rhythm, in itsÂ senseÂ ofÂ inescapable,Â relentless inevitability. Â The Vicar’s wifeÂ belowÂ is trapped by her choices and byÂ the emotions she feels as aÂ reactionÂ toÂ theseÂ choices, thusÂ theÂ ‘telling’ narrativeÂ incarceratesÂ herÂ withinÂ her own self inflictedÂ existentialÂ cul de sac.Â
Â âI am more like L than anybody. We are unthinkably alike in fact.â Katherine Mansfield
At first his wife raged with mortification. She took on airs and used a high hand. But her income was too small, the wrestling with tradesmenâs bills was too pitiful, she only met with general, callous ridicule when she tried to be impressive.
Wounded to the quick of her pride, she found herself isolated in an indifferent, callous population. She raged indoors and out. But soon she learned that she must pay too heavily for her outdoor rages, and then she only raged within the walls of the rectory. There her feeling was so strong, that she frightened herself. She saw herself hating her husband, and she knew that, unless she were careful, she would smash her form of life and bring catastrophe upon him and upon herself. So in very fear, she went quiet. She hid, bitter and beaten by fear, behind the only shelter she had in the world, her gloomy, poor parsonage.
Children were born one every year; almost mechanically, she continued to perform her maternal duty, which was forced upon her. Gradually, broken by the suppressing of her violent anger and misery and disgust, she became an invalid and took to her couch.
DHLawrence is brilliant at giving representation to Â small spaces- literal small spaces and the small spaces that live on within minds, within relationships where claustrophobia often reigns on, festering away lives.
And linked to these small spaces is rage, an emotion with variegated colours that mayÂ destroy, Â but ironically mayÂ also sustain human beings for years, as they rage on, wallowingÂ Â in the ‘dis-ease’ that is their existence.
Lawrence in the extract above, describes the progress of the Vicar’s wife’s rage. He delineates her rage’s journey as she seeks final refuge in ‘her couch’ inside the death driven ‘poor parsonage’ where hope is suffocated by raging, stultifying despair.
Look how sexual relationships are rendered inhuman and robotic by the word ‘mechanically.’ The word is an adverb, modifying the verb ‘born’, though Â the hiatus/delayed gap Â between the verb and the adverb reveals the extent of the physical disassociation; Â the chasm between sex and emotion; Â between maternity and love.
Once again, I detect a peculiar hearkening to Jane Austen , maybe to a character like Lady Bertram in Mansfield Park who spends much of her life resting on a chaise longue! Yet in Lawrence, the irony is absent. This is no comedy, he shows us the utter absence of the Vicar’s wife from daily life and leaves no space for self mockery. Indeed the characters take them selves so seriously that they are dangerous even to themselves, whilst in Austen we do recognize that Lady Bertram’s fatigue, her affectation of ennui, has more than a little irony concerning the endless leisure of the privileged classes, where females in particular are like Lady Dedlock in Dickens’ Bleak House, nearly literally ‘bored to death’!
Here’s a devastating example of character assassination byÂ Â DH Lawrence ! It Â is somewhat suggestive of the playful opening to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, but without the irony which defines Austen’s writing. In Lawrence the concerns are explicitly desperate and barely conceal loathing and hatred. Relationships are cynically pragmatic, awkwardly Â underpinned by fear.
This description of the new vicar, in DH Lawrence’s claustrophobic early story The Daughters of the Vicar, dissects the ostensible ‘man of God’ through a relentless, scalpel like description which rendersÂ the new vicar,Â Â both physically and spiritually repulsive: Â casually Â summarized in the creepily evocative verb Â ‘padded.’ Vitriol is here muted into the inferred softness of the ‘padded’ movement of the new vicar, which augurs not so much care as Â unmanly stealth.
DHLawrence loathed effete males, rather ironically perhaps, considering his own intellectualism and comparative ‘weakness’ Â in terms of masculinity. The males whom Lawrence enjoyed were strong working men, possessed of a primitive natural sexuality which challenged the emasculated diluted males of modern civilization.
The description also captures the unreality of the vicar, his disassociation, even his superciliousness which attempt to ‘defend’ him against his ‘insufficiency’. Â Each reflection exposes yet another ‘slice’ of the Vicar’sÂ temperament, as Lawrence’s scalpel goes to the core of his character’s cold rigid heart.
Reminds me of George Eliot’s Casaubon in Middlemarch and just as repulsive! Both the vicar and Casaubon are arid human beings with zero erotic appeal and no warmth; marital quagmires!
Lawrence returned to this early story later in his writing career and produced one of his greatest works, The Virgin andÂ theÂ Gypsy whose origins can be detected in this earlier tale.Â
Still, at the back of her mind, she remembered that he was an unattached gentleman, who would shortly have an income altogether of six or seven hundred a year. What did the man matter, if there were pecuniary ease! The man was a trifle thrown in. After twenty-two years her sentimentality was ground away, and only the millstone of poverty mattered to her. So she supported the little man as a representative of a decent income.
His most irritating habit was that of a sneering little giggle, all on his own, which came when he perceived or related some illogical absurdity on the part of another person. It was the only form of humour he had. Stupidity in thinking seemed to him exquisitely funny. But any novel was unintelligibly meaningless and dull, and to an Irish sort of humour he listened curiously, examining it like mathematics, or else simply not hearing. In normal human relationship he was not there. Quite unable to take part in simple everyday talk, he padded silently round the house, or sat in the dining-room looking nervously from side to side, always apart in a cold, rarefied little world of his own. Sometimes he made an ironic remark, that did not seem humanly relevant, or he gave his little laugh, like a sneer. He had to defend himself and his own insufficiency. And he answered questions grudgingly, with a yes or no, because he did not see their import and was nervous. It seemed to Miss Louisa he scarcely distinguished one person from another, but that he liked to be near her, or to Miss Mary, for some sort of contact which stimulated him unknown.
Later she heard her children playing in the garden. Lottieâs stolid, compact little voice cried: âKeâzia. Isaâbel.â She was always getting lost or losing people only to find them again, to her great surprise, round the next tree or the next corner. âOh, there you are after all.â They had been turned out after breakfast and told not to come back to the house until they were called. Isabel wheeled a neat pramload of prim dolls and Lottie was allowed for a great treat to walk beside her holding the dollâs parasol over the face of the wax one.
âWhere are you going to, Kezia?â asked Isabel, who longed to find some light and menial duty that Kezia might perform and so be roped in under her government.
âOh, just away,â said Kezia. .Â .Â .
Here, in Mansfield’s Prelude, the mother Linda, overhears the conversations of her children in their new Â garden which in this description seems part innocence, part experience in terms of indoctrination. (See BlakeÂ for ‘fallen’ places and think of Eden too!)
Perhaps theÂ factÂ that the family haveÂ recentlyÂ moved, Â accentuatesÂ the need forÂ theirÂ roles to beÂ reestablishedÂ afterÂ their relocation/dislocation? Lottie’s fears of being lost and of ‘losing people’Â emanatesÂ perhaps from this dislocation andÂ from herÂ Â mother’s unconcern at her whereabouts . Futhermore, Â being ‘at home’ or not at home seems a major theme ofÂ MansfieldÂ whoseÂ ownÂ experienceÂ of exile was both selfÂ chosenÂ and toÂ someÂ extent imposed upon her by her ‘frontier’Â statusÂ in London as well forÂ her (at that time) unconventionalÂ sexuality.Â
The accidental aspect of this scene is essential to its meaning as both private and public identities are explored, in a seemingly natural way, through the symbolic incident of the ‘neat pramload of prim dolls’: Â surely something which anticipates both the final New Zealand story about the Burnells(The Doll’s House) and recalls Ibsen’s famous play about gender roles and oppression, ‘A Doll’s House.’
Â Dolls are lifeless: these dolls even look conventional and ‘prim’; they accept their social role and condemn females to waxen purgatory beneath a toy parasol!Â
Conventionality is the norm and only Kezia has the imagination toÂ Â behave in an individual and spirited manner. ‘Oh , just away.’ The resting mother Linda, needs space from her children finding them too draining of her energies and being too much a reminder of her fertility which she fears may kill her literally as well as metaphorically through Â fatigue and possible depression. ‘They had been turned out after breakfast..’
The three children’s identities are seemingly ‘naturally’ differentiated through a seamless intermingling of third person narrator with direct speech so that as Linda ‘hears’ the children, so do we. The children come alive before us as they speak; indeed the resonance of what each child says even becomes symbolic of their individual identity.Thus the controlling Isabel esquires of Kezia ‘Where are you going to, Kezia?’ in her best quasi adult, tone of reprimand, whilst Kezia’s vague,Â elusive response shows she is too free a spirit to be governed:’ ‘Oh, just away,” said Kezia…” note too Â the telling use of ellipsis suggestive of mystery , abstraction and even creativity.
For Kezia is a character who wishes to write herself, rather than to be scripted by the conventions and expectations Â of her gender that time. Â Like Mansfield she grows into a reflective yet defiant figure, willing to think differently and to write her role anew. Remember it is Kezia who notices the singular lamp in the final New Zealand story, ‘The Doll’s House and it is Kezia who breaks the class rules Â and shows compassion to the socially inferior Kelveys who are snubbed by the rest of the Burnells for being too poor.Â Kezia like KM will not be ‘roped in’ byÂ debilitatingÂ socialÂ convention.Â Â
The Kelveys came nearer, and beside them walked their shadows, very long, stretching right across the road with their heads in the buttercups. Kezia clambered back on the gate; she had made up her mind; she swung out.
Notice the tellingÂ clauseÂ following the semi colon, ‘she swung out.’ A choice has been made and rather than keeping ‘within’ the gated, regulated world of the Burnells with their oppressive class values, Kezia chooses kindness instead. She imagines another person with compassion. Once again in Mansfield, thresholds are crossed, ‘moments of being’ or epiphanies experienced, and changes suggested throughÂ Â the simplest ofÂ metaphors. And the semi colon gives narrative space to the defiant decision. The first semi colon after the noun ‘gate’ Â anticipates the second. Choice is a process, it takes physical as well as mental time. We can almost hear Kezia’s breath as she chooses to behave ‘otherwise’ .
I also love the Impressionist image of the approaching Kelveys through ‘their shadows…with their heads in the buttercups’- beautifully ‘painted’, evoking surely the spirit of Monet and his contemporaries? Innocence is communicated through the simple allegiances of nature- in this case buttercups! Â
Woolf’s reading of Jane Austen’s characterization of Mr Woodhouse, seamlessly explores Austen’s Â deploymentÂ Â of narrative ‘point of view’.
For Woolf Â is a brilliant reader.Â She recognizes here that Austen makes her characterization seem natural, as if Â we are merely overhearingÂ Mr Woodhouse’s conversations and making up our own minds about him as we go about our business. He seems to ‘evolve’ as in life!Â
Thus onceÂ Â the original ‘seed’ about Mr Woodhouse’s characterÂ Â is planted Â by Austen’s declarative Â third person narrator, the rest of his ‘character’ seems to evolve naturally, proving the orginal idea, ever growing before us as we encounter and re-encounter him amidst Highbury’s community.
Reading Woolf years ago as an undergraduate changed my life: she was a revelation both in her fiction and her criticalÂ essays/reviews.Â
I still find her writing wonderful and she makes me cry.Â
To the Lighthouse is perhaps the most perfect elegy Â in English prose.
This brief exploration of Austen’s Emma is delivered with the understated Â easeÂ of a most beautiful mind!
âMatrimony as the origin of
change was always disagreeableâ to Mr. Woodhouse, sheÂ
says. Almost immediately, she thinks it well to let us see thatÂ
her words are corroborated by Mr. Woodhouse himself.Â
We hear him talking. âPoor Miss Taylor!âI wish she were
here again. What a pity it is that Mr. Weston ever thought
of her.â And when Mr. Woodhouse has talked enough toÂ
reveal himself from the inside, she then thinks it time to let
us see him through his daughterâs eyes. âYou got Hannah
that good place. Nobody thought of Hannah till you men-
tioned her.â Thus she shows us Emma flattering him andÂ
humoring him. Finally then, we have Mr. Woodhouseâs
character seen from three different points of view at once;
as he seems himself; as his daughter sees him; and as he is seen
by the marvellous eye of that invisible lady Jane Austen
herself. All three meet in one, and thus we can pass round her
characters free, apparently, from any guidance but our own.
Bonus Austen:Â âI will not say that your mulberry-trees are dead, but I am afraid they are not alive.’
Jane Austen, Letter to Cassandra, 31st May 1811
A few months ago when it was warm enough to sit outside in Turton Tower’s beautiful garden and drink tea, I took a notebook and made a few notes.
Yesterday I came across the notes again and this formed the beginning. Setting is crucial as it gives a birth place to writing. Once a setting is established, even if vaguely, then the momentum of writing is generated.Â
Gardens are fascinating places and always have an effect. I never forget Jane Austen’s flawed but brilliant heroine EmmaÂ escaping to her shrubbery from the melancholy of home after she thinks she has lost KnightleyÂ forever.(ChapterÂ 28).Â
The weather continued much the same all the following morning; and the same loneliness, and the same melancholy, seemed to reign at Hartfieldâbut in the afternoon it cleared; the wind changed into a softer quarter; the clouds were carried off; the sun appeared; it was summer again. With all the eagerness which such a transition gives, Emma resolved to be out of doors as soon as possible. Never had the exquisite sight, smell, sensation of nature, tranquil, warm, and brilliant after a storm, been more attractive to her. She longed for the serenity they might gradually introduce; and on Mr. Perry’s coming in soon after dinner, with a disengaged hour to give her father, she lost no time in hurrying into the shrubbery
Â The setting here reflects the controlled yetÂ Â sensual turmoilÂ of Emma, and the way in which society at that time provided little escape for women from the oppression of their daily circumstances. Here Â nature (though enclosed) offers respite from loneliness and self recrimination. It reconnects her to the natural physical world and indeed her natural physical self.Â
Their garden always felt better empty. Everyone had goneÂ away,Â and the cafe plates were cleared. For some reason these thingsÂ Â cheered her. She felt that theirÂ Â place relaxed into itself again. She watched the sinking light and in her headÂ dared to repeatÂ the word whichÂ haunted her.
For in this garden once upon a time, a woman had made a promise to her favourite son who could only smile from one side of his mouth. His smile stopped her from crying because he still knew her well enough to love her, even though she was now all he had left of his previous life. It was part of their perfect trust that she called him a new name each day, Â as the old gave him pain: and maybe Â names were such fluid imaginings after all.
Her son used to go by the name Roger; but after the accident he became someone else and buried Roger right back there in the past,with its sharp smell of fever and disinfectant, edged with low voices murmuring about illness and care.
”RogerÂ isn’tÂ a strong name mother, it will not endure you know” said her son.
So they buriedÂ Roger(who lacked the skills to survive) and this other young man, slightly broken, Â but so, so brave had been born.
The Stone Hare
Think of it waiting three hundred million years,Â
not a hare hiding in the last stand of wheat,Â
but a premonition of stone, a moonlit reefÂ
where corals reach for the light through clearÂ
waters of warm Palaeozoic seas.Â
In its limbs lies the story of the earth,Â
the living ocean, then the slow birthÂ
of limestone from the long trajectoriesÂ
of starfish, feather stars, crinoids and crushed shellsÂ
that fill with calcite, harden, wait for the quarryman,Â
the timed explosion and the sculptor’s hand.Â
Then the hare, its eye a planet, springs from the chiselÂ
to stand in the grass, moonlight’s muscle and bone,Â
the stems of sea lilies slowly turned to stone.
Â What a example of a wondering, wandering, time travelling mind at work! Clarke is a magician, a conjuror of the ancient past, using words like a linguistic trapeze artist, transporting us through the ‘faith’ of her imagination. to places where everythingÂ beganÂ and where everything will end!Â
Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.
âI saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.âÂ
I only came across this poem the other day. I was looking through Google for examples of ‘Unseen Poems for GCSE’ and stumbled upon this wonderful poem by Gillian Clarke. I admire her writing immensely and her ‘Cold Knap Lake’ is now one of my favourite poems- discussed here too.
‘Cold Knap Lake’ was included in the original AQA Anthology which Â provided GCSE Â students with a wonderful selection of poems, as besides Clarke’s poem , I also encountered Â Heaney’s Mid-Term Break’ and Duffy’s Havisham which was the first poem I ever taught as an Independent English tutor! (see here).
The casually contemplative wonder of ‘Think of it waiting..’ Â transports us from one state of mind and time frame to another, Â in a mind boggling hare leap of ‘three hundred million years.’ Â Clarke’s response to the hare is anchored to its stillness, as it is haloed in moonlight,rendering the hare an ancient sculpture about to spring to life. And in its sculptured stone self, the hare contains knowledge of the earth’s origins, a testament to how life began.The intricacies of the lexis all relating to ancient time,’warm Palaeozoic seas,’engender a sense of palpable wonder at the hare as Â a ‘premonition of stone’ so that chronologicallyÂ and yet intrigued,’ its eye a planet,’Â we follow the poet’s wondering, wandering speculative narrative about the hare’ s past.
Michelangelo’s famous insights about stone and sculpture seem pertinent here, as Clarke’s imaginatively ‘excavates’ her vision of the night time hare, weaving the hare’s voyage through time, so that it springs back into life right before us as we read the poem:’Â springs from the chisel’.
Â The hare is thus Michelangelo’s ‘angel’ trapped in the stone until freed by the faith and imagination of the artists’s chisel or pen.
Here is another wonderful example of young Jane Austen’s writing, Â of her natural genius for the surreal, where her Â earnest letter writer’ Elizabeth Johnson’, Â reveals her mother’s proclivities for a ‘fast’ Â moving ‘poney’ and the difficulties this poses for achieving any Â artistic ‘resemblances’–Â not to mention the ensuing ‘fine perspiration’!
Â Maybe mother was endeavoring to escape her maternal duties.Maybe mother had a secret desire for the Â turf.Â Maybe mother was a covert highway man! At any rate the ‘blue sattin slippers’ were a truly generous gift…
…and what a beautifully arch Â use of the word ‘contiguous’ by the way!Â
I have been so long on the ramble that I have not till now had it in my power to thank you for your Letter–. We left our dear home on last Monday month; and proceeded on our tour through Wales, which is a principality contiguous to England and gives the title to the Prince of Wales. We travelled on horseback by preference. My Mother rode upon our little poney and Fanny and I walked by her side or rather ran, for my Mother is so fond of riding fast that she galloped all the way. You may be sure that we were in a fine perspiration when we came to our place of resting. Fanny has taken a great many Drawings of the Country, which are very beautiful, tho’ perhaps not such exact resemblances as might be wished, from their being taken as she ran along. It would astonish you to see all the Shoes we wore out in our Tour. We determined to take a good Stock with us and therefore each took a pair of our own besides those we set off in. However we were obliged to have them both capped and heelpeiced at Carmarthen, and at last when they were quite gone, Mama was so kind as to lend us a pair of blue Sattin Slippers, of which we each took one and hopped home from Hereford delightfully—
I am your ever affectionate
ThisÂ short piece of writing records a dream about Katherine Mansfield in 2007!
She did have wet hair and was very hungry, being perhaps marooned in another dimension where breakfast is unnecessary and relegated to memory! Dreams are a great source of fascination and often prove more lively than real life!
Having read and ‘studied’ Katherine Mansfield for years for my PhD (and even before I embarked upon any research ), the short tale does communicate a fondness for the headstrong, witty, brilliant writer whose life was tragically curtailed Â by tuberculosis.
I still Â find Â MansfieldÂ fascinating,Â do wonder about her voice. Woolf was envious of her writing and found Â even her Â ‘scent’ disturbing. She gave many people short shrift and feigned a sardonic, ‘cat like’ Â exterior, whilst inside suffering profound self doubt. Contradiction was her middle name.
What do you give a ghost for breakfast?Â
Sheâd always arrive with damp hairÂ begging for the top of the milk.
Slight Kiwi accent too. How weird after all these years. Nice smile though.Â Cute if you like that sort of thing.
No air kisses though.
Call me Kezia.
”I murdered my father at a very early period of my Life, I have since murdered my Mother, and I am now going to murder my Sister. I have changed my religion so often that at present I have not an idea of any left. I have been a perjured witness in every public tryal for these last twelve years; and I have forged my own Will. In short there is scarcely a crime that I have not committed–But I am now going to reform. Colonel Martin of the Horse guards has paid his Addresses to me, and we are to be married in a few days.”
I read this to my mother yesterday after reading Fay Weldon’s article in the Â Saturday paper.
‘Guess who wrote this?’ I asked her.
‘Jane Austen of course’ said my motherÂ withoutÂ missing a beat.
For who else could write such a perfectly cadenced Â litany of destruction without a hint of heavy labour or regret? One clause chases another to the finishing line, Â where a new start is perfectly Â possible through romantic love Â enjoyed withÂ a fine, most Â military man.
A morally Â reformed soulÂ is thus easily within reach, certainly within reach of Austen’s droll wit and succinct syntax! Our taintedÂ charactersÂ Â can be redeemed without aÂ traceÂ of theÂ dishevelling, Â ‘ugliness’ Â Â of guilt!Â
In Austen’sÂ mature novels, monsters lurk around in most drawing rooms, Â and young girls are metaphorically imprisoned by social mores and economic strictures. Yet here, in an example of her early writing, Â Austen reveals Â her zest for anarchy, with thisÂ Â subversively witty ‘confessional’, Â whichÂ Â restores happiness to a’ lost soul’ through the healing powers of anÂ Â excellently executedÂ marriage to a Horse Guard!Â
(I wonder what became of the Colonel….)
Ps here is another wickedly witty extract from Austen’s earlier Â self, this time from Love and FreindshipÂ (her spelling)!Â
âShe is probably by this time as tired of me, as I am of her; but as she is too Polite and I am too civil to say so, our letters are still as frequent and affectionate as ever, and our Attachment as firm and sincere as when it first commenced.â
What a devastating woman she was! I do wonder at the extent of herÂ cynicismÂ or whether her exuberantÂ wit just took over and took off ? And why Â did her sister CassandraÂ burn the letters?!
Synthesis brings together separate elements to make a new and coherent whole. Â OurÂ Â ability to synthesize different ‘readings’ or experiences help us make sense of our world. Synthesis helps our sense of orientationÂ as in literary analysis, synthesis helps us find our way around a text and offer a reading that is compelling.Â
Synthesis helps us to Â coalesceÂ ourÂ understanding.
It makes it real!
Today I have been exploring the different readings of the Minotaur, who like Medusa seems to be one of the most vilified, grotesque figures in mythical history.
The Minotaur’s terrible incarceration in the labyrinth, a place where he seems as ‘lost’ as his sacrificial victims themselves, Â appears a metaphor for our hidden selves, our repressed secrets, our ‘buried’ mourning. His status asÂ prowling, ‘buried’ monster preserved in time as if he wasÂ trappedÂ Â inÂ amber!Â
And as I was examining paintings by Picasso, Maggie Hambling and even a contemporary opera dedicated to the Minotaur, I was aware of the underlying rage of this mythical creature forever condemned by history to be a monster, justÂ awaiting’justified’ slaughterÂ by the’ courageous’ hero Theseus. Beneath the Minotaur’s rage however , there lurks despair and this despair and impotency perhaps I think filters on throughout culture metamorphosing into other narratives and texts.
ForÂ can’tÂ Â we all recognize the loneliness and Â despondent otherness Â of the Minotaur’s incarceration in the labyrinth; Lost, consigned to his underground prison, ‘fed’ sacrificial victims by those who fear and despise him?
I think Â his monumental rage is our own.He is deprived of speech too-his monstruousness therefore a spectacle rather than an inwardly experienced characterization. Â Hence his persistent fascination for us all.Â
The Minotaur leads the way toÂ Â Frankenstein’s unnamed creature, rejected by his parent, Â condemned toÂ violence except in Shelley’s version- tragically informed byÂ Â language which makes his despair all the more real as Frankenstein’s creature can articulate how miserable he is and like Caliban in The Tempest can use language to inflict verbal rage.
So here below we have a marvellous quotation by Jeanette WintersonÂ from her novel Oranges are not the only Fruit, my fictional review of the remake of King Kong and two brief analyses of one of my favourite poems by Dylan Thomas, ‘Do not go gentle into that good night.’ The Minotaur’s rage and barely disguised despair underpins them all.
His rage is Â a metaphor for our own buried emotion and palpable ‘lostness’- Freud’s id perhaps!Â
âThere are many forms of love and affection, some people can spend their whole lives together without knowing each other’s names. Naming is a difficult and time-consuming process; it concerns essences, and it means power. But on the wild nights who can call you home? Only the one who knows your name.âÂ (Winterson, Oranges are not the only fruit)Â
Kong was being taunted in the theatre. God the arrogance of man. And yet, his love had not betrayed him. There was Anne Â dancing in some cheap revue.Â The hollowness of the fake blonde though. No wonder poor Kong raged in his manacles. Demeter took out her pocket book and made a note. She loved her hooded nibbed pen. Deep black ink.Â Â No flourish either which was a good thing. Crucifixion she wrote. She underlined the word very very clearly.
Meanwhile Â Kong was rampaging on Broadway throwing away blondes like flies. Not this one. Not that one. He wanted his baby. Imagine that, Â mother told herself. Nothing compares to you. Nothing.Â Â Oh the passion of the guy. That rage.Â Â
And then there she was. Floodlit with sheer love of Kong coming towards Â him out of time. Mother wept loud and Callum looked over hoping his friend wouldnât notice, Â but proud too in a way. The girl climbed in to Kongâs hand. The cinema melted. Woman I can hardly express my feelings of tenderness.
Now they were in the park. The ice rink. Kong was waltzing his girl. Snow blessing their most perfect love.Â Â Mother preferred his out and out rage. Now that mother could understand.Â Â Mother looked into his haunted eyes and saw the loneliness of love. Was love worth the risk? (She adjusted Claraâs nappied bottom on her knee. Nothing wet yet). She decided it must be. yes, it was.Â
I have an affinity with rage on this blog!Â MedusaÂ gets lots of attention and so doesÂ Miss HavishamÂ and even David AlmondâsÂ Â The Savage. Perhaps it is the most Janus facedÂ of all of our emotions: rage the disorderly dancing partner of despair.
Perhaps rage is about trying to externalize despair in a deflecting, Â non submissive way. I donât know. But this a a great poem. It reminds me ofÂ my fatherÂ and of my own fears aboutÂ acquiescence and non attachment. I think it is one of my most personal readings on this blog and although I am sure Dylan Thomas was often unbearable personally , hisÂ Welsh furyÂ moves me deeply.Â We can all sympathise with his sense of helplessness as his father dwindles away his hold on life.Gentleness seems too much like a farewell to the living, an acquiescence that induces railing panic on the part of the still alive.Â
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Sometimes only rage will do.
My father was Welsh and his favourite listening was Richard Burton reading Under Milk Wood on an LP that has long been lost. My father was a wanderer in so many ways and on Sunday I found a letter I had written to him nearly 28 years ago when he was again living somewhere else, trying to build once again another new life, having no knowledge whatsoever, that within two years he would be dead. Reading the poem this morning to my son as he ate his cereal for school, I was suddenly aware of my father andÂ aware of his ownÂ profound sorrow about his tragically early death; his wrongful attachments to careless people whose sincerity proved unenduring and illusory and whom he loved becauseÂ he didnât dare to love himself at all.
In the poem the sense of visceral despair at the fatherâs impending mortality is spat out in this villanelle, where the poet tries to order his fatherâs life force to resist his illness and fight back for life.How ironic the âgood nightâ might be when what it represents is desertion, the abject loneliness of being the oneÂ left behind. The final stanza declares the desolate desperationÂ of the poet for any communication from his father, be it savage or sane enough to save him from the dying light.Â
Dylan Thomas was a poet who got so many things wrong in his life and perhaps even in his Art. Yet here he is absolutely right.
Sometimes only rage will do.
Reading Dylan Thomas for A Level and never encountered before except for Richard BurtonâsÂ Under Milk WoodÂ which my dad adored.
What monumental Â rage! Like King Kong when he is on Broadway and looking for his girl throwing away all the fake blonde pretenders to his soulmateâ¦
Â Find the poem very gritty and distinctly awkward. Muscular poetry I suppose and passionate grief which knocks me over. Â
I donât necessarilyÂ want this to be the death of anyone I love as it is so resistant to leaving life,to letting go. It lacks peace. Yet its lack of peace yields up its grandeur too. ForÂ it is passionately attached to life.Â It affirms our uniqueness and our intimacies. Â It communicates âdonâtÂ leave Â meâ over and over again. Bravely, loudly and vulnerably.
Relentless tenderness that burnsâ¦
Not a lukewarm writer in any way andÂ intensely Â captures the flattening, abject rage of watching someone you loveÂ leaveÂ you tooÂ ****** soon.
Makes you think about your emotional contribution to this planet!
Walking inspires your writing because it liberates our heads from our daily ‘mind forg’d manacles’ as Blake would say! Â We get into ‘flow’ and words and ideas become loosened up Â from our over-thinking…our curiosity is restored!Â
English Tuition can help you with the practicalities of writing and offer support. English Tuition can give you space to ask questions and to learn how to develop your ideas.Â Indeed perhaps the best thing about English tuition is the way it can encourage you to ask questions and to value the quality of your own questions.Â
But a lovely walk can inspire ideas as walking is a natural form of Creative tuition! Â If you are revising, or feel ‘blocked’ in any way, then the fresh air rejuvenates your mind and literally can take you outside of yourself.
Like a formÂ of ‘free writing’ with the feet!Â
This Creative tuition throughÂ walkingÂ works because the rhythm of walking liberates youÂ from your overÂ Â busy head/mind and brings in fresh perspectives. Â You can try out ideas as youÂ walkÂ andÂ discarding or enjoying them becomes spontaneous and easeful….
Each step ‘tries’ outÂ differentÂ thoughts and theÂ physical awareness supplantsÂ over-thinkingÂ naturally.
TheÂ followingÂ ‘scene’Â just appearedÂ because the walkÂ remindedÂ me of Hardy, Lawrence and even Chatwin…you can’t beat a bit ofÂ tensionÂ aroundÂ theÂ family table! And an interloper is always a catalyst to change! Â ThinkÂ InspectorÂ Calls, Of Mice and Men…Miller’s View from the Bridge!Â
âLook up my girl. Keep your eyes steady and clear. Be proud, not cowed. âSaid Grandfather.
Tabitha watched her grandfatherâs mouth as he chewed his meat. Gravy and fat. Her plate was empty. Clean. She liked animals. âWhy did Aunty Caroline go away?â
Grandmother slowly removed the plates without answering. Grandfather lit a cigarette and watched his granddaughter through the smoke.
âYou should eat moreâ he said.
âI know she was beautifulâ continued Tabitha.â But where has her photograph gone?â
No one spoke. The room did look empty, as if a clearance sale had taken place. A long table remained and they were eating at it.
âGo on outside and check on your brotherâ said her grandmother.
Tabitha remained in her chair.
âStop mithering woman. Callumâs a capable lad.â Said her grandfather.
âI worry about Callum. Heâs small for his age Daniel. Â Quiet mostly.â
âIâm not quiet am I?â Tabitha stared at them both. She waited. Grandmother broke the silence.
âAunt Caroline read too much. Too many ideas about â¦daft things. She got restless .She left. â
âDaft things! Worse than daft Gertrude. All that bloody time at the tower too. I know she was meeting someone. Why be so secretive if you donât Â have something-someone to hide eh?â
âStrange place to meet anyone Daniel. Wild up there. She always liked to dress up. â Said Getrude touching her own grey hair.
âThoughts above her station since she did that course and met that Sydney creature.â Granddad examined his cigarette.
The name hung in the air. Tabitha mentally painted the letters in her head âSYDNEY â
Gertrude placed her hands on Tabithaâs shoulders. Tabitha felt their weight. She touched her grandmotherâs left hand.
âI like Sydney. She draws clouds as if they are alive.â Said Tabitha. âWhen is she visiting again?â
Grandfather lit another cigarette, this time with the old one. He looked reflective, as if in pain.
âDresses too proud that woman. Â Messy on the eye. Like oil paint everywhere.Â â
âNot oil paint Daniel. I thinkâ¦.she is unusual â¦ âsaid his wife.
Her husband glanced at her but said nothing.
âYou used to like her Granddad.â Tabitha reminded him.Â She took you to the exhibition last year. We didnât even know you liked pictures.â
âHe doesnâtâ said Gertrude. He just liked Sydneyâs ways. We all did. âGrandfather shifted in his chair.
Tabitha watched her grandparents waiting again. Â But then she reminded them, âSydney looked at everything differently didnât she? Sometimes I find I am using a word and wonder where it came through and then I remember.â
âStick to your own words girl Why do you need to borrow new ones? You are here, at home- not some bloody college in London.â
âPropinquityâ said Tabitha ignoring him laughed. âShe gave me that word. I wonder which wordÂ she gave Caroline.â
English tuition helps with confidence …..
Our confidence is not fixed, it fluctuates. One day we can feel bold ,Â Â witty and interesting, on another we can feel dull as a grey dishcloth on the back step.
One day we can put up our hands and speak, or Â we can easily volunteer an opinion, Â on another day we findÂ talking in front of people deeply embarrassing. We feel uncomfortable inside and out.Â
SoÂ Confidence sometimes seems a strange elusiveÂ creature….we need to be in rapport inside ourselves and out…
Rapport is key to confidence. Rapport with ourselves and rapport with others…rapport with our writing and words….
English tutoring involves encouraging confidenceÂ so we can express ourselves comfortably…
Writing and speaking do require self belief. For there is something very brave in writing, in creating something on paper that didn’t exist before, particularly when that writing draws upon ‘you’ in some way.
Looking at a blank screen or piece of blank paper and then trying to create something requires confidence, it requires a first step, then a second, then a third…..
And part of the ‘make up’ of confidence involves our ability to feel comfortableÂ and in rapport,Â even when we are in a new or relatively unfamiliar situation
- Here’s any easy way of helping yourself or someoneÂ elseÂ soar in confidence and get into rapport: Â just get think about or get them to start Â talking about one of their passions, about something or someone they love.
- THIS IS MOST IMPORTANT- Ask them HOW they do what they love…the HOW takes them into their experience and thus ANCHORS them into the passion positively and directly.
- HOW is the key….RAPPORT is the outcome…
SwivellerÂ loves the cards and wishes to help the ‘small servant’ Â so he models a way of playing the cards and behaving whilst they play the cards with a new name too…
…the name ‘marchioness’ gives the small servant confidence, puts her in a special rapport with herself Â and her new circumstances…
âNow,â said Mr Swiveller, putting two sixpences into a saucer, and trimming the wretched candle, when the cards had been cut and dealt, âthose are the stakes. If you win, you get âem all. If I win, I get âem. To make it seem more real and pleasant, I shall call you the Marchioness, do you hear?â
The small servant nodded.
âThen, Marchioness,â said Mr Swiveller, âfire away!â
The Marchioness, holding her cards very tight in both hands, considered which to play, and Mr Swiveller, assuming the gay and fashionable air which such society required, took another pull at the tankard, and waited for her lead.
The ‘small servant’ becomes the ‘Marchioness’ in the ‘real and pleasant’ game of cards and MAGIC happens…TRANSFORMATION!Â
A few weeks ago a student suggested this to me and it’s such a beautifully evocative idea that it has stayed on in my mind. So let’s have a quick look at the idea when it is applied to a poem in the AQA Anthology.
Here is the second stanza from Brendon Gallacher by Jackie Kay.
He would hold my hand and take me by the river
where weâd talk all about his family being poor.
Heâd get his mum out of Glasgow when he got older.
A wee holiday some place nice. Some place far.
Iâd tell my mum about my Brendon Gallacher
Look at the poetic simplicity of the first line of this stanza; it suggests tenderness and escape. It connotes connection and yearning; a desire to be understood in the privacy of some special , liberating Â place/ space.
Al Green’s song comes to mind too. Soulful dreaming of another Â life or another way to navigate being human and young and hopeful…
I think it is the leap from the simplicity of the held hand to the abstract expansiveness of ‘take me to the river’ Â which gives this stanza itsÂ intimate ‘route and root.’ We are rooted to the safety of the held hand and then feel safe enough to take the leap to what the ‘river’with its flow and mysterious directionÂ might connote.
The rest of the stanza appears a displacement of all the young speaker might secretly desire to achieve.She speaks through the safety of the river and the held hand and of course through the persona of Brendon Gallacher.
Maybe this is what we all desire in friendships: to feel ‘rooted’ and safe and to feel we have a ‘route’ to follow so we are not lost but found?
A beautiful, very understated poem
I am still in the process of trawling through old bits and pieces of writing and seeing if there are any elements Â with any potential for transformation. As I noted before, sometimes it does feel as if the writing is utterly ‘foreign’ and ‘not me’ and that says a great deal about the effects of time…
I do like the idea of the watchfulness of the Face in the wall and the plaster becoming something reassuring and even tender. The Plasticine figures seem more dangerous yet comic too. Perhaps they sit on that precarious ledge between the childlike and the grotesque?
Someone famous Â had once turned theirÂ face to the wallÂ and diedÂ becauseÂ they had run out of the words they cared about. Â The face couldnât recall who they were and perhaps they hadnâtÂ rememberedÂ either. Â When words turn your heart to dust, your who or why Â crumbles too.
He wondered if they had smelt the deep coldness of old plaster , Â or just let go anyway before they got there. Â Everything was only a breath away, even death. Especially death. How easy to close down our will over the chill of plaster.Â PlasterÂ held its buried temperature, held together all these particles of the past, held him together so that he could watch and see. What was he thinking about just before? The plaster drew him again. His Â mouth smiled. It was the small matter of the last breath. Â He was not breathing nowadays anyway. Yet he was still here, watching those faces feeding on this air that kept their careless hearts beating. He watched how their Â their greed crawled about them, likeÂ MedusaâsÂ snakes,Â slithering about their smiles, their scaly, glittering talk littered with Â snares.
Gulpers.Â Each word they uttered was painted in secret Â spite. Sometimes they hid their spite behind Â sweetly coated adjectives, but Â the spite always lurked about their edges if youÂ listenedÂ and waited. People do have edges. You have to listen and then Â the trick was to watch out of the corner of your eye; for Â when you are Â not looking, you see. You learn and know. Â The face knew this Â watching his uncleâs pet hawks as a child. The hawks had taught him to wait and then Â when the prey felt safe, to punish without mercy.
GeorgeÂ was different,Â awkwardlyÂ innocent. Innocence was awkward to live with. You had to clamber inside it and then everything hung off you and even your way of Â talking had aÂ slouchÂ to it. Â But the boy got angry with theÂ metallicÂ laughter of the visitors, crowding in on his Auntâs forgotten fortune,Â seekingÂ to judge her paintings, to sell them to Â H. R. Emerson of Lincoln.
That afternoon George Â had leant against the wall and wept. The world had gone from his eyes and he was crying out that he was Â lost. The face felt the boyâs hot grief wash all overÂ the wall.He felt alive again, more than this echo of a person. Â The boy warmed him with his own face, smashed his forehead into his hair and then without knowing why, Â took a step back and saw him for the first time, trapped within the silent wall.Â The faceÂ felt the boys interest. They watched each other gently.
âYou need more air. More light. This place is too dark for you.â George wiped his eyes and Â went over to theÂ FrenchÂ windows Â taking Â the key from his Auntâs smallest table.
It was the Â first time the faceÂ hadÂ seen a gardenÂ for years . It felt like Â he had stepped out of a âplane in some Â hot country. The plaster drew his head slightly to the left. The late afternoon air was dancing and the tall trees at the edge of the lawn seemed stood in coloured lights and the plaster started to lose the coolness and grow warm.
This was Georgeâs first gift to him.
Once upon a time there was a woman who needed a change. She felt the need between her eyes. It was Â a heat, burning asideÂ her all her cliches in her head. There was a Â burning outside too, singeingÂ away at the facade, the camouflage that was her life. So she began her change Â in a careful way, attempting new things, making adjustments, replacing Â the careful apparatus of her days. Some days it helped, Â she felt more stretched out, more pleasingly unsettled. Maybe she could even bask a little in the fresh airÂ of change.Â But it was not enough, it didn’t dig deep.
‘Just abrasions- gentle bruising and then back to that Â flat pool again. ‘ wrote Ella to her oldest friend Terry.’ I would like to know my own power.‘
Terry read her letters without surprise. His heart wrote back, ‘be bold my friend. Stretch out that head of yours but please chose your allies carefully. Ella, I never burn. I survive because I keep my Â dreams small. Like Cereal grains for hope.’
‘We are different’ wrote Ella.’ I feel thisÂ uncoiling. Â Unleashing. Â I want my name back again.’
‘Your name is Ella. I gave it to you, Â when you needed to hide. Be content.The other must not beckon you.’Â
But it did. Torn, Ella took up the cards. No one at home approved, but she sat in her window Â seat overlooking the back garden and told her visitors stories about their past and future.
‘Five ofÂ cups. You feel an attraction but hold yourself close, waiting for a sign that will never come unless you grow bolder. The Chariot. Step into your life. ‘
‘Ten of Wands. IÂ feel as if my shoulders are weighted down by life. Such sadness too. Do you see, you are far more than you allowÂ yourselfÂ to be.Â Strength.Â WorkÂ is a place of mistrust. Dark corridors. You feel a woman is between you andÂ a lighter future. You have the Sun! ‘
Sometimes the burning did manage Â more and then Ella Â would find curled up evidence of herÂ gradualÂ change. HerÂ metamorphosis. Â Shedding they called it back thereÂ where she came from.Â Shedding skin. It could happen anywhere.
It feels like poetry Terry. I leave a trail.
The bits of her old skin didn’t shrivel as she hopedÂ though.Â They lay about until she buried them and even then it felt as if they were muttering about reminding her of their existence. We are only temporarily indisposed. Which part of her life was temporary and which permanent?
‘I long forÂ Â magic.’Â
I feel the twists and turns of my head.
Be more mindful said her husband Timothy whom she had forgotten about.
‘You look different’ said Emily as they collided trolleys.
‘ I am different ‘ said Ella. There was a sweet scent about her too, part cedar, part lime.
Pleasant thought Emily but…’It’s your colouring, you look …’
‘Bolder ? ‘ said Ella.
‘Bolder. Yes. Like you areÂ all lit up within . In love.’ she gushed.Â Â On fire.’
Ella smiled at the small woman and her mouth widened at Emily’sÂ last word.
‘Perhaps I am’ she replied showing neat white teethÂ and a dark crimson tongue. ForÂ Â some reason she couldn’t fathom,Â Â Emily was glad to arrive at the checkout without any more conversation.
Creatures of instinct aren’t we all murmured Ella as she her.
She remembered Terry’s early lesson about human survival. Emotions stink. We radiate who we are and how we feel. Our scent communicates. Â We just need to remember that. You don’t though. Just pretend for a while until you know what you want to do. They’ll never find you with your camouflage.
Terry was only partially right. It took them 5 years to track her and 5 years of camouflaged living to feel suffocated.Â
Fighting wasÂ more fun.
Over the weekend, during the wind, sleet and hail, I climbed up to Peel Tower near Ramsbottom, with Moira EribenneÂ who captured the extraordinary aliveness of the place with her camera, and who took Â the two images above and below. The afternoon light kept altering which brought a timelessness to our walk, as well as a quiet senseÂ of awe. We felt blessed.Â
Â Our walk was magically bleak and beautiful. The cloud formations and the extraordinary solitude of the simple Tower reminded me again of the following moment in chapter one of Hardy’sÂ novel Two on a Tower when the fated couple meet for the first time. I have always loved Hardy perhaps because as a child I saw the film of Far from the Madding Crowd with Julie Christie, Peter Finch and Alan Bates Â and thought it the most gorgeously passionate storyÂ in the world!Â
Here, in the Hardy extract below, I love the metaphysical wonder (almost Blakean) of the ‘maelstrom of fire ‘ Â where humans are forever excluded and yet Hardy allows us to ‘peep’- (voyeuristic as ever-see Far From a Madding Crowd when Oak spies on Bathsheba forÂ exampleÂ or in Tess when Angel watches the innocent TessÂ Â at Talbothay’s Dairy) !Â
The wonder is also shared, so that the couple’s first meeting involves the exceptional; a sharing which seems immediately intimate and encourages a certain mood of ‘fatefulness’ to surround the encounter. Â Courtship is set in the stars!Â
âWhat do you see?âsomething happening somewhere?â
âYes, quite a catastrophe!â he automatically murmured, without moving round.
âA cyclone in the sun.â
The lady paused, as if to consider the weight of that event in the scale of terrene life.
âWill it make any difference to us here?â she asked.
âBut would you like to see it?â he recommenced.Â âIt is an event that is witnessed only about once in two or three years, though it may occur often enough.â
She assented, and looked through the shaded eyepiece, and saw a whirling mass, in the centre of which the blazing globe seemed to be laid bare to its core.Â It was a peep into a maelstrom of fire, taking place where nobody had ever been or ever would be.
âIt is the strangest thing I ever beheld,â she said.Â Then he looked again; till wondering who her companion could be she asked, âAre you often here?â
âEvery night when it is not cloudy, and often in the day.â
âAh, night, of course.Â The heavens must be beautiful from this point.â
âThey are rather more than that.â
Thomas Hardy, Two on a Tower, Chapter One.
If the past is a ‘foreign country’ and we do things ‘differently there’ ( L.P.Hartley) then reading this old piece about young George and his pen confirmed It!
For even after three years ‘George’ seemed a stranger Â to me Â and yet I found his need to reconnect with his dead Aunt through his pen poignant and moving.
Tensions within families seem a recurring theme,Â as does hypocrisy. Think a bit of excavation of old writing may be in order to ‘see’ what I can find! Â
George stood on the door step and smelt the sea. He took one of his famous long breaths and tasted salt on his tongue. Shutting his eyes he started to sway as the sea scent became airy and lifted his hair. More than anything today he wanted to write again with her pen and wait for what she had to say. He had faith. He had always been a faithful child, even when his family divided themselves into parts, spending Christmases in different houses, cultivating conversations where strange silences strayed into code words and he wasÂ asked Â to read a book in his room so as not to be involved in their bitter murmurs and namings.
Of course the face in the wall knew this, knew it all. All with a drawl, withÂ drawn outÂ vowel sounds that would one day shake the heads of this petty household into regret. But would they regret anything or would they just blame chance, fate perhaps with a large unwieldy âFâ. George had seen the face as soon as he returned for the funeral party. His family assembled like dark suited crows, devouring the huge buffet spread of meat, eyeing at each other,Â listening for weakness, hoping for somethingÂ revealed.Â Â He had walked into the hall and lifted his head hoping to see her again waiting for him on the stair. But she could not appear yet and then he had seen the face and even though the face frowned, George knew the frown was not for him.
So there he was, once again at the kitchen table, filling a large tortoiseshell pen with ink and waiting to see what she would begin to tell him. Perhaps the sea was a hint. She had loved the sea. She had read Treasure Island Â with him when he had come to stay and had that long cough which filled the house but didnât hurt and made her find honey and lemon from the pantry she had called her special place.
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