randy_byers: (wilmer)
Laura cover.jpgTHERE ARE SPOILERS.

I read this 1943 novel in the Kindle edition of Library of America's Women Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels of the 1940s & 50s. (Obviously the cover I'm using here is from a previous book publication.) I've seen the film adaptation several times -- and twice more since reading the novel -- and it's one of the classic film noirs. In a wonderful overview of the collection and analysis of the methods of mystery/crime fiction, film scholar David Bordwell paints Vera Caspary as quite a character: "Vera Caspary was a woman to be reckoned with —- Greenwich Village free-love practitioner, Communist party member, occasional screenwriter, boundlessly energetic purveyor of suspense fiction, passionate paramour of a married man, and advocate for women in prison." In her appreciation of the novel, Sarah Paretsky says that Caspary had strong feelings about how Laura was presented in the movie: "Caspary fought with director Otto Preminger over the way he depicted Laura’s sexuality in his 1944 film version. Caspary’s rage, as she herself called it, remained so intense that decades after the film’s release, she attacked Preminger (verbally) when she found herself seated near him at a restaurant."

I actually didn't get any sense of a strong sexuality in Laura from my own reading, but I'm willing to admit that I may have just been obtuse. I didn't get any sense that she'd had sex with her boyfriend, Shelby Carpenter, or any of her previous boyfriends, nor did I get any sense that she wanted to have sex with the detective, Mark McPherson, with whom she ends up falling in love. The only depiction of what might be considered sexual feelings on her part that I can remember is when Waldo Lydecker accuses her of a weakness for men with lithe, hard bodies.

The one major difference from the film that I picked up on is that the novel is told from four points of view: It opens (like the movie) with a section from Waldo's point of view as he tells McPherson about the history of his friendship with Laura, then (like the movie) it switches to a section from McPherson's point of view as he prowls around Laura's apartment and begins to develop feelings for her. (To my mind, this is the most sensual part of the novel, as McPherson sniffs her perfume and strokes the fabric of her clothes, almost as if he's trying to become her.) The third section is a transcript of an interview with Shelby Carpenter, which is also depicted in the film, but without the immersive flashback that characterizes Lydecker's narration. Then we get a section from Laura's point of view, and this is more or less completely missing from the film. I wonder if that's what enraged Caspary, because it turns Laura into someone without her own perspective on things; someone whom we only see through the eyes of the men who desire her. Finally the novel switches back to McPherson's point of view, which he shares with Lydecker by quoting some of his thoughts about Laura. Again, this is mimicked in the movie by giving Lydecker the last words spoken.

The film seems like a relatively faithful adaptation of the novel, other than the elision of Laura's point of view. What it helped me to see is how carefully Caspary melded the conventions of the mystery novel and the romance novel. What I'd especially forgotten is that once we learn that Laura isn't the person who was murdered at the beginning of the book, she becomes one of the prime suspects for killing Diane Redfern, who is the person who was mistaken for Laura after her face was blown off by a shotgun while she was staying in Laura's apartment and wearing Laura's clothes. (One change in the movie is that forensics establishes the true identify of the corpse, but only after the detective has already figured out who it was.) The detective is thus not only trying to determine who the killer is, but whether Laura is someone he can trust with his love. It's also a story about a woman trying to pick her ideal kind of man, and it seems very traditional in the way it depicts her choices. Lydecker is a control freak, Shelby is a fop, and McPherson is a manly man. As Paretsky points out, self-control seems to be the redeeming quality. Another major difference between film and book is that in the book Lydecker is a grotesquely fat man who enjoys food and drink too much. He represents an effete parasite class of snobs trying to turn the commoner, Laura, into an artificial treasure removed from her roots, whereas the working class detective can recognize her true value. While the romance aspect of the novel gives it a vastly different feeling from the hardboiled tradition, it's still the hardboiled dick who gets the girl in the end. However, Laura is an agent of her own fate, and the key conflict is the psychological battle between her and Lydecker, which she ultimately wins all on her very own.
randy_byers: (Default)
Pym A Glass of Blessings.jpgBack in March I read Pym's Excellent Women -- an excellent novel -- and when I enthused about it on Facebook the Australian writer Lucy Sussex recommended A Glass of Blessings as another good one by Pym. The two books could be read as a dialogue of a kind, and they even share a character: Rocky Napier, who shows up in Excellent Women as a possible object of romantic interest who was known to have been a ladies man among the WRENs (military nurses) while serving in Italy during WWII. Here the protagonist, Wilmet, and her friend Rowena, were WRENs in Italy during the war and knew Rocky and perhaps even dated him.

Excellent Women takes place pretty shortly after the war and is very much about the reduced circumstances of Britain in that era, before the economy had recovered from the devastation. A Glass of Blessings, which was published in 1958, seems to be set a few years later, when the economy has recovered somewhat. Certainly Wilmet is in a more comfortable situation than Mildred is in Excellent Women. In fact, Wilmet seems to be too comfortable. She's pretty, fashionable, married to a successful member of a Ministry. She doesn't work and has no children, the domestic chores are handled by servants, so she is a little bored with her aimless life.

Both novels are centered on Anglican parishes, but I find it hard to parse Pym's attitude toward religion. She has a satirical eye toward everything, including the Church, but at the same time she is not unsympathetic to the Good Samaritan qualities of the religious people in her novels. The excellent women in the novel of that name are indisposable in the functioning of society through their volunteer and charitable work, mostly under the auspices of the Church. Wilmet, however, unlike Mildred, comes across as more of a parasite than a Good Samaritan, and therefore initially she is quite a bit less sympathetic. However, I identified with her inadequate helpfulness to others and her self-deprecating self-awareness of her inadequacy.

Wilmet is a passive dreamer who wishes she were a better, more giving human being. A lot of the satire in the novel is a satire of her muddled lack of motivation to do anything with herself, her vanity about her looks and fashion sense, and the tawdriness of her romantic dreams. Wilmet is bored with her husband, Rodney, and she's looking for an admirer to help her feel that she's still attractive and wanted. She finds a potential admirer in Piers, the brother of her friend Rowena. '[Rowena] usually spoke of him as "Poor Piers", for there was something vaguely unsatisfactory about him. At thirty-five he had had too many jobs and his early brilliance seemed to have come to nothing. It was also held against him that he had not yet married.'

A Glass of Blessings is in some ways a romance novel about Wilmet's futile daydreams about Piers, which are flailing, tentative, and unexpressed for almost the whole novel. Like Mildred, Wilmet dreams of some kind of romantic passion worthy of the trashy novels she reads, but she is helpless to actuate such a thing. In the wry perspective of the novel, this is probably just as well, because such dreams are completely detached from the reality that we all have to settle for less than our ideal.

I'm going to commit a SPOILER here, because what is in many ways the most interesting thing about this novel is a major spoiler. After a whole book of dithering and waiting and misapprehending the signals various characters are trying to send her, Wilmet eventually does make a move on Piers to the extent of actually bulling her way into his household. There she finds that his roommate is a beautiful young man who dotes on Piers, does all the cooking, and cleans the house. Pym never comes right out and says it, but it becomes clear over the final couple of chapters that Piers and his housemate are in fact a gay couple, and the novel gives us an interesting, if oblique, glimpse of gay life in the suburbs of London of that era. One question I have coming away from the novel is, if Wilmet is looking for (and finding) an admirer in Piers, what is Piers looking for in her? Acceptance of his sexuality? If you go back to his sister's characterization of him, does "he had had too many jobs" indicate that he'd been fired for being a homosexual? Does the "early brilliance come to nothing" mean he has been ostracized? In any event, Pym's attitude toward Wilmet's romantic dreams is captured in the fact that the two admirers she attracts over the course of the novel are the husband of her best friend who half-heartedly wants to commit adultery and a gay man who seems happily coupled with a young beauty of a boy.

If Wilmet becomes a more appealing as the book goes on, it's because her self-awareness, while it may not motivate her to good works. allows hers to accept the fundamental absurdity of her situation and her dreams. She *does* accept Piers and the beautiful young man he lives with, and her eccentric, acidic, atheist mother-in-law (a wonderful character), her stodgy husband, the strange trio of parsons in the local parish, and her doormat of a friend, Mary Beamish, and Mary's selfish, domineering mother. This is a novel of colorful characters, even if some of the colors are drab and faded. Pym doesn't overplay the romanticism of her protagonists, which is I think a common problem with satires of romanticism, but she keeps it in scale with the limited choices and constrained circumstances and day-to-day humiliations her characters have to deal with.

One final note: the title comes from a poem by the metaphysical poet George Herbert called "The Pulley" that supplies the epigraph of the book:

When God at first made man,
Having a glasse of blessings standing by,
Let us (said he) poure on him all we can;
Let the world's riches, which dispersed lie,
Contract into a span.

I admit that I couldn't make heads or tails of this epigraph, especially the last line, but having read some commentary about the poem, it appears to portray God as raining blessings on humans, but not unlimited blessing. Always a little is withheld, to make sure humans are aware where the blessings are coming from. The unlimited blessings will be awarded in heaven, so "the span" in the final line might be "the mortal span of life." God withholds blessings during life to keep humans yearning for more:

Yet let him keep the rest,
But keep them with repining restlessness:
Let him be rich and weary, that at least,
If goodness lead him not, yet weariness
May toss him to my breast.

"Repining restlessness" seems a good metaphor for what the characters feel in A Glass of Blessings, and "rich and weary" might characterize Wilmet. Yet is it an irony that the characters in the book seem largely unaware of God or His blessings?
randy_byers: (2009-05-10)
Excellent Women.jpgRoy Kettle recommended this 1952 novel after I enthused on Facebook about Georgette Heyer's Friday's Child. He must have been responding to my comment on the slight satirical edge in the Heyer, because it's hard for me to imagine two more different books. (A little birdie told me, by the way, that one of my Heyer-loving friends was so upset by my sour review of Cotillion that he advises me not to read any more Heyer for the time being. I'll heed this no doubt wise advice before I get myself into trouble.) Anyway, Excellent Women is a romance of sorts, although to my mind it's a romance of disappointments and humiliations, and it's also a comedy of sorts, although I've elsewhere described it as the most melancholy comedy I've ever encountered. But at least one fan of the book didn't accept that description, so I'll try to tread carefully here. In truth, I find it hard to describe the book. It has also been categorized as a social comedy and a comedy of manners. It's a very finely observed satire of a certain British social class that I probably don't understand well enough to describe.

To quote Penguin's jacket copy, the protagonist, Mildred Lathbury, is "a clergyman's daughter and mild-mannered spinster." As Pym writes of her, in the first person, she does "part-time work at an organization which helped impoverished gentlewomen, a cause very near to my own heart, as I felt that I was just the kind of person who might one day become one.” This is very much a novel of reduced circumstances. It takes place in Britain right after WWII, and the empire has fallen and food rationing is still in place. The "excellent women" of the title are women like Mildred who are largely invisible and ignored, especially by men, but who are indispensable to making this threadbare society work. Mildred is dowdy, reserved, and cautious, but somewhere in her is a repressed stream of poetry and romance. She doesn't trust it, and indeed the novel seems to mock it. The men and women with the most romantic appeal in the story are the least trustworthy.

The excellent women toil in the shadows, and there's an interesting feminist aspect to the novel that never becomes really political. Men are portrayed as lazy and parasitical on women, but if Mildred or the other women feel any anger about it, the anger, like all other feelings, is repressed and reserved. The satire is delicate, and it aims at everyone, including most certainly Mildred herself, who constantly stifles her own impulses with a crushing sense of propriety and passivity: "I hesitated, for there was an uneasy feeling in the air, as if umbrage were about to be taken." The excellent women are not above policing each other for trying to get above their social station or for being overly romantic or, indeed, for not recognizing that sometimes you have to settle for something less than ideal because it's the proper, excellent thing to do.

Well, I despair of getting at why this is so funny, and partly it's because the comedy is so subtle. To repeat, it's a comedy of disappointment, humiliation, and making do. If the novel is in fact less melancholy than I found it, it's because the characters are more accepting of their disappointments and defeats than I want them to be, even as I admire Mildred's resilience and persistent, if sometimes self-defeating, kindness. It's really quite remarkable, and Pym's great strength is an ability to create portraits of recognizable individuals. If the characters are all slightly vain and ineffectual, well, it's a satire. As a longtime spinster myself, I suppose I recognized my own failings in Mildred's, although she is a far more excellent woman than I am. What's been interesting in reading about Pym and the modern response to her in the aftermath of reading the novel is that she appears to be making another comeback with the millennial generation that is so far more resistant to marriage than its elders. Pym was eventually dismissed as old-fashioned in her day, but maybe she was actually ahead of her time after all.
randy_byers: (2009-05-10)
cotillion.jpgI can see why my Heyer-loving friends recommended Cotillion when I expressed my enthusiasm for Friday's Child, because the plots are quite similar. I also have to say that my enthusiasm for Heyer has lessened with each novel I've read. I liked The Grand Sophy less than Friday's Child and Cotillion less than The Grand Sophy, and that's at least partly because the plots all seem quite similar. Well, that's a simplification, and it's not just the plots that seem similar. There are words or turns of phrase (such as "make a cake of someone" or "a Tulip of fashion" of "missish") that I've already gotten tired of. Anyway, I believe I'll give Heyer one more book -- A Civil Contract -- but I'm beginning to think this is a love that won't last.

The plot of Cotillion involves an orphan named Kitty who was raised by a man who was in love with her French mother but otherwise was not related. She's like Hero Wantage in Friday's Child in that she's an orphan who is not of noble birth, but the variation here is that the man who raised her does have money and offers it to whichever great nephew (some of whom are nobles) who agrees to marry Kitty. This is just as contrived a situation as the one in Friday's Child, where the male protagonist, Lord Sherringham, won't inherit his fortune unless he marries before he turns 25. As in FC, where Sherry first asks for the hand of his beloved, there is an assumed favorite for Kitty amongst the "cousins" who have known her since she was a child, and he, like Sherry, is a rake and gambler. What's different in Cotillion is that Kitty's various suitors, not to mention Kitty herself, are not particularly bright. Indeed, while Kitty, like Hero, tries to solve the romantic problems of others while embroiling herself in all kinds of "scrapes" in a high society she doesn't understand, she doesn't seem particularly good at it. Certainly, she is nowhere near the master manipulator that Sophy is in The Grand Sophy.

Meanwhile, just as Sherry foolishly marries Hero to get revenge on the beloved who rejects him, Kitty proposes to her not-very-bright cousin, Freddy, that they pretend to be engaged so that she can go to London and learn the high society ropes. There she gets involved in the romantic turmoils of other not very bright characters, including her "cousin" Dolphinton, who lives in terror of his domineering mother, and the beautiful low-born Olivia, who is also pushed around by her domineering, greedy mother. If this novel seems inferior to the first two Heyers I read, it's probably because I didn't find the characters very interesting. Freddy is probably the most interesting. As in FC, where Sherry transforms himself over the course of the novel from cad to hero, Freddy undergoes the most interesting transformation in this one. In some ways his most interesting characteristic to begin with is that he understands fashion and color, but by the end he has, in his own bumbling and priggish way, become an unconventional solver of other peoples' problems.

While this one felt quite conventional to me, by Heyer's standards, I have to confess that I read almost the whole thing in one day, which proves it got its narrative hooks into me. Also, I was in a shitty mood the whole day, which may have affected my appreciation of the novel. Thus I'll give Heyer another chance. For whatever reason, this one didn't do the trick for me. The characters seemed largely tiresome to me, and I had a hard time caring when everyone's romantic problems were solved in a rapid, triumphant tumble in the end. I take it that a cotillion is a kind of formal dance, so perhaps that's Heyer's comment on her own structural, thematic formalism.
randy_byers: (2009-05-10)
fridayschild.jpgI didn't like this one quite as much as Friday's Child, largely because there's what I can only describe as a lazy thread of anti-Spanish racims/exoticism that runs through it and also a much, much nastier outcropping of anti-Semitism, involving a money lender afflicting one of the members of the aristocratic family that Sophy comes to stay with and transform in the course of the story. It's still an enormously entertaining book, but the racism left a bad taste in my mouth. If I run into much more of it in Heyer (I didn't notice any in Friday's Child) I'm going to lose enthusiasm for her work real quickly.

The Grand Sophy is about Sophy, whose ambassador father leaves her with his sister's family in England while he goes off to an assignment in Brazil. His sister's husband has been financially disgraced, forcing the eldest son, Charles, to take over the family finances enabled by a surprise inheritance from an uncle (father's brother, in fact). Charles is engaged to the snobbish, disdainful Miss Wraxton, and he's a bit of a control freak with an anger problem. His oldest sister, Cecelia, is engaged to a wealthy and worthy gent somewhat her elder, but her heart belongs to the dippy, romantic, poorly (or really un)-employed poet, Augustus Fawnshope (love Heyer's names!) Sophy's father tasks his sister with finding Sophy a suitable husband, since she's now of the age, but of course Sophy has ideas of her own about whom she and her cousins should marry.

Sophy, like Hero in Friday's Child, is a winning character, but she's rather more pugnacious than the selfless Hero. Sophy is worldly, competent, knowledgeable, manipulative, and intentionally disruptive. She abhors snobs such as Miss Wraxton, but while she sympathizes with Cecelia's romanticism, Sophy is entirely practical when it comes to the subject of marriage. However, it's not totally about marrying a man of means; the man must be emotionally mature and honest and worthy of your alliance with him. One of the things that The Grand Sophy pulls off very successfully is eventually pairing Sophy with somebody who completely surprised me. I can imagine that I could have seen it coming if I were more familiar with the conventions of these kinds of romances and if I had simply done the character math better, but I didn't at all expect the actual resolution, which was delightful. I felt Heyer had done a little judo on me, by allowing me to see some developments coming ahead of time and then effectively disguising this one. Once again Heyer is particular strong at characterization, and everybody comes across as a distinct personality, for better and worse. I still love the assurance of her prose, but some of the more exotic slang and terminology of the early nineteenth century seemed too similar to that in Friday's Child. I still really enjoyed this novel, however, and I'll read more Heyer, probably Cotillion next.
randy_byers: (blonde venus)
fridayschild.jpgGeorgette Heyer is a name I've been familiar with for years because for some reason a lot of science fiction fans like her novels. I seem to recall that the late rich brown was a fan of hers, as is Jo Walton, and now I discover via Hazel Ashworth that D West recommended her novels to Hazel years ago and that Friday's Child was a particular favorite of theirs. Since I've been focused on women writers lately, this appeared to be an ideal time to finally explore Heyer's work, so I picked this one up at Powell's City of Books while I was in Portland for Christmas.

The novel starts out with a bit of a head fake that initially threw me off. Viscount Sheringham proposes marriage to the Incomparable Isabella Milborne, widely believed to the most beautiful woman available -- and as a side benefit she's quite wealthy too. Isabella rejects the proposal, because she considers Sherry an irresponsible gambler and libertine. Sherry, who won't inherit his fortune unless he marries before he turns 25, flies into a rage and vows to marry the first woman he sees. This turns out to be Hero Wantage (what a name!), who is a childhood friend of his and Isabella's who was raised by a cousin when she was orphaned at an early age. Sherry always treated Hero as a bratty kid sister, but when he learns that her mean-spirited cousin is trying to force her to become a governess in Bath, he takes pity on her and proposes marriage. She accepts.

From this set up, I confess I thought the novel would be about how Sherry would reform his rakish ways and win the Incomparable over in the end. However, I was quite wrong about that. The title is from an old nursery rhyme about the character traits of people according to what day they were born on:

Monday's child is fair of face,
Tuesday's child is full of grace,
Wednesday's child is full of woe,
Thursday's child has far to go,
Friday's child is loving and giving,
Saturday's child works hard for a living,
But the child who is born on the Sabbath day
Is fair and wise and good in every way.

Wikipedia says there's an alternative version which has it, "Friday's child works hard for a living/Saturday's child is loving and giving," but Heyer pretty clearly had the former version in mind. Hero is an unbelievably sweet and giving person, and the novel is a kind of satire contrasting her essential goodness and empathy with the selfishness and corruption of the aristocratic crowd that Sherry runs with. Far from being about Sherry's reformation in pursuit of Isabella, the novel is about his reformation in pursuit of Hero.

I loved pretty much everything about this book. I loved Heyer's assured, precise, nuanced prose style, her vivid characterization, complex plotting, sly wit, and also her rowdy humor. There's a scene involving a duel between Sherry and one of his upper crust friends whom he sees kissing Hero that is particularly hilarious and had me laughing out loud in delight. Early on I thought I might find the unquestioned life of ease and plenty of these aristocratic characters tiresome after a while, but the slight air of satire kept it fresh, and to be honest it works as a kind of fantasy world as well, where you can have the vicarious pleasure of never having to worry about money or work or really anything other than, well, pleasure. Heyer is aware that her characters are less than admirable, but she generously forgives them for it, whether they deserve the generosity or not. Yet she keenly observes their absurd vanity, selfishness, and meanness, all the while contrasting it with Hero's loving and giving self-sacrifice, which puts them all to shame. It's wish-fulfillment, but it's very funny, sweet, and moving as a form of escape from harsher realities, and that was something I really valued at this particular juncture in my life. It definitely convinced me to read more Heyer, and maybe to get back to Jane Austen, to whom Heyer is often compared, because Heyer wrote a lot of romances set in the Regency era. Hazel Ashworth says D. liked to say that Heyer was like Austen on speed. Sounds about right to me. It was also funny to discover how much of D's humor I could see in Heyer. It didn't surprise me to learn that he loved Hunter S. Thompson, but I surely had no ideas whatsoever that he loved Georgette Heyer too. It's enlarging to be surprised like that, I must say. Many thanks to Hazel for recommending the book, which she says has helped her through many a hard time too.


Jan. 2nd, 2016 03:10 pm
randy_byers: (blonde venus)
'Mr Fawnshope, having written some thirty lines of his tragedy the previous day, with which he was not dissatisfied, was in a complaisant humor, neither chasing an elusive epithet, nor brooding over an infelicitous line. He said everything that was proper, and, when all enquiries into the invalid's condition were exhausted, conversed on various topics so much like a sensible man that Mr Rivenhall found himself quite in charity with him, and was only driven from the room by Lady Ombersley's request to the poet to read aloud to her his lyric on Annabel's deliverance from danger. Even this abominable affectation could not wholly dissipate the kindlier feelings with which he regarded Mr Fawnthorpe, whose continued visits to the house gave him a better opinion of the poet than was at all deserved. Cecilia could have told him that Mr Fawnthorpe's intrepidity sprang more from a sublime unconsciousness of the risk of infection than from any deliberate heroism, but since she was not in the habit of discussing her lover with her brother he continued in a happy state of ignorance, himself too practical a man to comprehend the density of the veil in which a poet could wrap himself.' (Georgette Heyer, The Grand Sophy)


Jun. 26th, 2014 03:56 pm
randy_byers: (2009-05-10)
'The delight of recollection refers not only to the one who has loved but also to the one who has loved letters, rekindling knowledge and sensation that are both literary and erotic. In fact, the two activities are not unrelated: readers will recall subjective individual associations connected with their education into both love and letters. Still further, recognition of this highly conventional system implies more than a "tension between physis [nature] and tekhne [art] that is reflected in the very artificial form in which 'natural' education of the children is described." Rather, the boldness of Longus' experiment suggests that at a certain level of analysis, love and letters are inseparable, that one's only means for apprehending any experience of eros is already entirely shaped and determined by the cultural system of representations, including and especially stories about love. Thus, as the children speak the language that the narrator writes, and live in the spatial landscape he creates, the whole problematic relationship between nature and art comes alive. For if, by the premises of the novel, the children are doing what comes naturally, then when they engage in such pastoral activities as comparing one another to berries or myrtles, pelting the other with apples, wishing to be the pan pipe so that the other might play upon the beloved, imitating the nightingale in their singing, or feeling the first pangs of love in the springtime of the flowers, then a curious set of contradictory processes is set into seesaw motion in the mind of the reader, one now gaining, now losing the ascendancy: are these conventions rooted in nature, or (quite the reverse) is "nature" in our perceptions of it sheerly convention?' (Froma I. Zeitlin, "The Poetics of Eros: Nature, Art, and Imitation in Longus' Daphnis and Chloe)
randy_byers: (Default)
I've read books for many different reasons before, but this is the first time I recall reading a book because of ballet music. As I mentioned in an earlier post I recently heard the Seattle Symphony Orchestra perform Ravel's full score for Daphnis et Chloé, and during the performance a supertitle screen told us the story of the ballet. Thus I learned that the story involved pirates and nymphs and Pan, and this naturally made me curious about the ancient Greek novel that the ballet is based on. It turns out to be a wonderful book, which I've now read in two different translations -- Jeffrey Henderson's for the Loeb Classical Library, and Ronald McCail's for Oxford World Classics.

Along with reading the novel (which is very short -- more of a novella by modern standards), I've been reading a lot of literary analysis of it and of the romance genre as well (cf my review of the Northrop Frye book last week), so I've got a lot of other people's commentary in my head at the moment. Therefore I know that nothing is known about Longus, who gets the credit for writing Daphnis and Chloe. Nothing was said about the book by ancient critics, and the earliest surviving manuscript is from the Byzantine era. Based on textual evidence scholars date the composition to some time in the second century of the common era. It is one of only five ancient Greek novels that have survived in complete form. All of them are romances in the sense of love stories as well as of adventure stories.

Daphnis and Chloe by Louis Hersent

Daphnis and Chloe by Louis Hersent

Daphnis and Chloe is a pastoral romance, and unlike the other ancient Greek novels, in which the lovers wander around the Mediterranean, Longus' story is entirely set on the island of Lesbos. Both Daphnis and Chloe were abandoned as babies and raised by slaves working on the estates of rich men who live in the nearby city of Mytilene. As the story proper begins, Daphnis is 15 and Chloe is 13, and the god Eros is conspiring to make them fall in love. They herd goats and sheep together, and they begin in a state of childlike innocence into which piercing thoughts of sex and love are initiated. In four chapters, the book outlines a charming but subtextually fraught series of mini-adventures involving wolves, pirates, partying playboys, an invading army, lusty cowherds, courtesans, and pedophiles, and divine intervention from nymphs and from Pan, all carrying Daphnis and Chloe further down the road of sexual love.

Considering the fact that I've been able to read numerous analyses of the book, it's almost hard to believe that Daphnis and Chloe was long considered a trivial work of mild pornography. Only in the past fifty years has it been recognized as a major work of literature that, under its sunny surface, is carefully constructed and chockablock with literary references to older writers such as Theocritus and Sappho. Not sure how much of that I would have noticed without having read the commentary, but the story works perfectly fine on its own, building slowly to an emotionally gratifying climax that ends, yes, with Daphnis and Chloe finally having sex, "spending that night more sleepless than any owl."

In a prologue, Longus describes the book as (in Henderson's translation), "an offering to Love and the Nymphs and Pan, a delightful possession for all mankind that will heal the sick and encourage the depressed, that will stir memories in those experienced in love and for the inexperienced will be a lesson for the future," and I'll be damned if it didn't do just that for me. It's rare to read something that is both so sweet and so wise, so knowing and so fond. It embodies its theme of Love with loving grace. There's a lot of the commentary about the religious dimension of the book, with Dionysos seemingly at the glorious garden heart of it, surrounded by the Nymphs and Pan and Eros, and Longus brings a sense of the sacred to the initiation of his innocent protagonists into the mysteries of Love, even as much of the action plays as a kind of slapstick comedy. It's really hard to describe the tone, because its such a fine balance of multiple valences. Goethe apparently loved the book so much that he said you should read it once a year, "to be instructed by it again and again, and to receive anew the impression of its great beauty." I may well follow his advice. I was completely enchanted by it.

The scenario for Ravel's ballet, by the way, was written by Michel Fokine. Fokine initially wrote a scenario that covered the whole novel, but it proved too long, so what they ended up with covers only the first half of the book. Even then it cuts out quite a bit and moves things around. The story it tells is therefore far simpler than the novel, but it retains the dreamlike quality and the sacred sense of Pan's awesome power. In fact, I'm listening to the music as I write this, and it strikes me as a work of intricate genius responding, even if idiosyncratically, to another.

"For absolutely no one has ever escaped Love nor ever shall, as long as beauty exists and eyes can see."
randy_byers: (Default)

The Young in Heart (1938)

"Your whole family are rather complex, aren't they?"
randy_byers: (Default)

ALL of them? )
randy_byers: (2009-05-10)
So what are some great movies about relationships that were powerful but didn't last? The only one that's coming to me right at the moment is The Man I Love, since I've seen it quite recently, but there's got to be more than that. I'm also not talking about the type of story where one of the lovers dies (e.g., Moulin Rouge or Titanic or more recently Bright Star). What I'm thinking of is stories where the romance dies out or doesn't quite work over time for whatever reason. Not necessarily downbeat, but bittersweet. There must be a zillion of them, but for some reason my mind is blanking. Maybe the recent Two Lovers? I didn't see that, but it sounded interesting.

Oh, right, Shakespeare in Love would be another one.

Updates, as I think of them (more suggestions in comments, of course):

Code 46 (a great movie) and Nine Songs (a terrible movie) by Michael Winterbottom.

Diva might fit too, although the relationship between the courier and the diva is perhaps not strong enough, more of a fling, even if an exultant one. [Although now that I've watched it yet again -- since writing the previous sentence -- I'm not sure where the relationship is going at the end of the film. More irresolve.]

La femme Nikita is another French genre film that fits the bill.

Choose Me is like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind in that it's specifically about the fragility of romantic relationships and ends on the (re)formation of one with a lot of uncertainty about whether it will last. It is irresolute.

Velvet Goldmine -- yeah, I like a lot of movies in this vein. No surprise. This one is a series of lapsed or momentary loves.
randy_byers: (2009-05-10)
It strikes me that perhaps what I want from a girlfriend is less a lover or a companion or a partner than a muse. I want someone who inspires me to write the best that I can. That's something that Sharee was very good for, even after we stopped being a couple, but I need a new muse. Which amongst other things means I need new passwords.

This is part of a recent reflection that I'm still digesting my experience with Sharee last year and will probably never really understand it, but at least I got a good fanzine article out of it.

Cf. also Hazel, who was only ever a muse, never a girlfriend -- but ten years a muse.

Muses are less messy than lovers, and Ramdu abhors a mess, unlike Nature.
randy_byers: (blonde venus)
I had intended to write a long, funny, soulful meditation on the subject of my "stubborn inability to form new romantic relationships," but after further contemplation I have concluded that it boils down to a motto from Milton: "It's better to reign in hell than serve in heaven." Yes, it's mere pride. It's better to be lonely than to be humbled by love. Except that approximately every seven years I test the waters to see if it's still true.

Then again, maybe it's really just a deadly combination of passivity and finickiness.
randy_byers: (blonde venus)
"The person one loves never really exists," said Arthur C. Clarke, "but is a projection focused through the lens of the mind onto whatever screen it fits with least distortion." Your assignment, Virgo, is to prove Clarke at least partially wrong. See if you can figure out a way to dissolve or elude your own projections long enough so that you can see the raw truth about a certain person you crave or adore or care about. Not a reflection of the dream lover who hides in your heart. Not a fantasy you wish your beloved would become. But the perfectly imperfect soul who is actually there in front of you.

--Rob Brezsny, Free Will Astrology, Virgo Horoscope for week of February 12, 2009

Lord knows I do try.
randy_byers: (Default)
Well, here's a song that made me cry along with Ginger as I watched Shall We Dance last night. (Yes, I was drinking.)

They Can't Take That Away from Me
Lyrics by Ira Gershwin, music by George Gershwin

Our romance won't end on a sorrowful note,
Though by tomorrow you're gone;
The song is ended, but as the songwriter wrote,
The melody lingers on.
They may take you from me, I'll miss your fond caress.
But though they take you from me, I'll still possess ...

More lyrics and a link to the song itself below the cut )
randy_byers: (Default)
So it was a good weekend. The Solstice Parade on Saturday was a blast, with the weird giant babies and the goddess with the fountain breasts a particular highlight, even if it did slow the parade down. Afterwards, I got a cajun salmon burger at Ballard Brothers and visited with Art Widner, [livejournal.com profile] holyoutlaw and [livejournal.com profile] juliebata for a while. Art confessed that he invented science fiction gaming in 1943 with a board game he called Interplanetary, in which the planets move and you have to calculate a course to land on them. In the evening, Denys and I went next door for a barbecue, and still later, round midnight, the neighbor came in through my window to drink, smoke, and listen to music. Welcome, o Summer!

On Sunday, I watched movies, starting with the Hong Kong musical Perhaps Love (2005), which ended up gutting me like a trout. It was a fitting companion to Choose Me (1984), which I watched for a second time on Friday. Choose Me is, in [livejournal.com profile] akirlu's memorable phrase, an odd species of '80s noir, with an overriding mood of romantic melancholy. The title is a plea for love, and the ensemble of well-drawn eccentric characters are all looking for it in the wrong places -- every one of them (except perhaps Genevieve Bujold's delightful Dr. Love) a femme or homme fatale. It's a smoky, jazzy meditation on how love makes fools of us all, with a wonderful, soulful soundtrack by Luther Vandross, mostly sung by Teddy Pendergrass.

So that got me in the mood, and then Perhaps Love delivered the sucker punch. It's a postmodern musical about the filming of a movie. The movie within the movie is about a girl who loses her memory and is taken into the circus by a ringmaster. The boyfriend she has forgotten comes to the circus to try to get her to remember him. As they film this story, we learn that the actress playing the girl was once in love with the actor playing the boy, and that she left him to become a star under the tutelage of the director, who is now her lover. While I found the male ingenue, played by Takeshi Kaneshiro, irritatingly mopey and whiny, the story of first love, lost love, and then the attempt to rekindle it, the desperate plea to not be forgotten ... At the emotional climax of the film, I was bawling like a baby, and that ended up pissing me off, because I thought I was well over it, seven months on. But I dreamed about her last week, and she grew colder and more distant in my dream. So maybe I needed another cry to let go a little more, but it pissed me off to need it.

But instead of spinning out, I counterprogrammed by then watching the first part of Louis Feuillade's serial crime thriller Fantomas (1913) -- a movie, or at least character, that got several namechecks in Banlieue 13. Once in the dreamlike world of silent movies, I had to continue with an umpteenth viewing of the old dark house thriller, The Bat (1926), with its wonderful towering gothic sets that must have influenced Gorey as much as the titular character's bat signal influenced Bob Kane. No romantic melancholy here, and it seemed that everything was okay again. Dunno what or if I dreamed after that, but I woke up this morning refreshed. The gutted trout miraculously swims upstream ...
randy_byers: (Default)
I realized yesterday that what it feels like is withdrawal. It feels like my chemistry is changing, like I'm coming down off an enormous two-year high. It's strange that it has taken this to make me feel lonely, when we were pretty much separated all the time anyway. But loneliness isn't really about being alone, is it? And from certain angles, even these difficult feelings result from something beautiful and profound, something that my heart is honoring with sadness. (I am such a fricking romantic!)
randy_byers: (Default)
So Sharee and I have agreed that we've taken this long distance romance as far as it will go, and it's time to end it. The writing was pretty much on the wall a month ago when she let me know she couldn't afford to come to Corflu in Toronto next May. Suddenly we didn't have a plan for seeing each other again, and then it was time to think again about whether this arrangement made sense. This time it didn't seem to add up.

So far, so amicable. I'm sad, but I've been slowly preparing to let go all month. It still hasn't completely sunk in, of course, because we didn't talk it over until last night.

Later today I'm off to Oregon to spend Thanksgiving weekend with my family. They're a big part of the reason I couldn't see moving to Australia, although there were several other big ones, including the fact that I like being settled down in one place and Sharee doesn't. So I'll go commune with my family, drink too much wine, and look at the mountains and the Crooked River canyon, the big wide world.

Cheers, sweetheart. That was an amazing thing we did together.
randy_byers: (Default)
Yesterday I had my weekly satphone chat with Sharee, who is way far away on a prawn trawler in the Gulf of Carpentaria. She told me that she probably won't be able to go to the Toronto Corflu next year, and that news has left me feeling blue today.

This is partly continuing blowback from the trip to Glasgow this year, which not only cost a lot of money but resulted in her losing a high-paying job on the Moccasin. She actually likes her new boat, the Gulf Bounty, better, but she reckons she's making half as much money. On the other hand, she doesn't have to do any heavy lifting, so her ankle's not killing her and thus the prospect of going back out next year is more enticing. It may not be as much money as she was making before, but it's still better than anything else she's can think of to do at this point.

So she'll probably go back to sea at the end of February and won't be bailing out early to go to Corflu. It also means she'll probably miss the NatCon in Brisbane in April. Of course, this is Sharee we're talking about, and everything could change when she gets back to shore at the end of November. Hell, everything could change five times by the time May comes around.

Still, this morning is the first morning in over two years when I haven't had a definite plan for when I'll see Sharee again, and it's not a good feeling. The obvious plan B is to go to Australia this winter, but I'm not sure how much vacation time and money I'll have saved up before February. Must talk to my accountant -- but yeah, that would be me, and I've been too busy writing a Worldcon report and luxuriating in memories of the glorious time we had together there. Why can't it always be like that?



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