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Tue Jan 31st, 2017


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09:32 pm - Other people's worlds
My parents' library had a number of hardback novels by American writers- Thomas Wolfe, Steinback, Carson McCullers- and sometimes in adolescence I'd dip into them and be utterly baffled. These people didn't inhabit the kind of social and human universe I, and the characters in more popular literature, did. There was no kindness or civility or generosity to be seen, and people's motives were utterly opaque. Real people aren't like that!, I thought; why write such a revolting and demeaning view?

(My peculiar mother gave me Truman Capote and Ronald Firbank to read at a young age, and they didn't bother me at all. They were fantasies, quite as much as Ray Bradbury, though I recall one or two opaque characters in the Capote short stories.) (She also gave me Swinburne and Sappho, and I remember she wanted to get me to read Ulysses in my early teens. Occurs to me belatedly that maybe I was quite as peculiar a child as she was a parent.)

In any case, Sleepless Nights half-recalls my reaction to Hardwick's contemporaries, but in the opposite direction. Everyone looks strange and marvellous in the luminous light of Hardwick's narrator. Real people aren't like that, I think, but I'm sure she's actually writing about real people. And then I see the trick. It lies in exclusion. Pick out salient details of people- their tiny black shoes, their red lipstick, their sudden trips to Paris to indulge in theatre- and leave out the domestic, the normal, the everyday, the *everything* of them.

And I have done that: I viewed all the friends of my teens and twenties in that sort of light. For me they were their distinctive handwriting, the incense they burned in their rented rooms, the patchwork jackets and Indian skirts they wore (this was the late 60s and early 70s, when dress became costume), their photographs and published poems and film school films. All rare and strange and quite different from my own bourgeois life. It was much much later- decades, in fact- when I could see the whole person, and the middle class attitudes that had always been there, and the sameness of their affairs and marriages- the everything.

(What *is* rare and strange to me, in both Hardwick's book and my friends' lives, is the heterosexual married thing. It's treated as normal and inevitable, like physiology- something that happens to a woman almost unthinkingly. I can't get my head around it at all. I know it's normal if not inevitable, and I'm odd woman out; but it seems to me that anything which gets you married to Robert Lowell is something a woman is better off without.)
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[User Picture]
From:lebateleur
Date:February 2nd, 2017 12:01 am (UTC)
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the heterosexual married thing. It's treated as normal and inevitable, like physiology- something that happens to a woman almost unthinkingly.

To say nothing of the strangeness of how people react when their iteration of normal and inevitable is found lacking: "If I could just switch out this husband/husband's career/house, things would be better" never questioning whether it's that pattern itself that isn't working for them.
[User Picture]
From:flemmings
Date:February 2nd, 2017 02:40 am (UTC)
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The unquestioning acceptance of the pattern is head-hurty. That there simply can't be an alternative, a valid alternative, because of course, everyone needs a man.
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From:mvrdrk
Date:February 2nd, 2017 01:39 am (UTC)
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Sadly, I'm sure that for some it was 'normal' in the sense of camouflage. Men could go thru life being bachelors and no one blinked an eye, but I'm sure women weren't so lucky. A lot fo those books, I suspect, are wasted on the young, I really should go read them myself, perhaps books on tapes...
[User Picture]
From:flemmings
Date:February 2nd, 2017 02:38 am (UTC)
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Doubtless. But these are women who always wanted to be married, like women (not always the same women) who always wanted to be mothers, and knew they could do both. That's the part that hurts my head.

Harding also deals with bachelors, the classic (and upperclass) sort who had their tidy male lives that they would never wholly give over to a woman. Not gay, usually sexually active, but too fastidious for complete domesticity. There were upperclass women like that too, I'm sure, who might be married but who were never part of a couple.
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From:i_am_zan
Date:February 2nd, 2017 02:53 am (UTC)
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Women here camouflage it by saying that they have an older parent to look after. You'd be surprised how many do. (my oldest sister hides behind this, although she does have my mum and runs around after my dad too, most of the time she is her own person and is quite happy with it. If she wants children, she's happy to baby sit any of ours and she can give them back to us when she/they've had enough ... it's nice arrangement and everyone wins.)

My sis did have relationships but found them to be tedious and over-rated and hence is quite happy without men.
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From:flemmings
Date:February 3rd, 2017 01:56 am (UTC)
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My sis did have relationships but found them to be tedious and over-rated and hence is quite happy without men

And that's another thing. These women never seem to find men tedious and over-rated and I wonder how come? Maybe svelte writers for the New York Review of Books attract a different kind of man? Ones that are at least amusing...
[User Picture]
From:i_am_zan
Date:February 2nd, 2017 02:47 am (UTC)
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First of all Huzzah for peculiar parents and peculiar children! (I like to think every pair of parent and child are peculiar and thus unique! Hahaha!)

Girl picked her own books mostly, or they might be given to her by my mother-in-law and the boy won't read unless I get him the books. What he will read, and what he reads 'dragging his feet' always surprises. Credit to the boy that he's never not finished a book, no matter how long it will take. But then again he will savour books with he enjoys, long and deep. He tries to make it last and doesn't want to finish it too fast. Hubby does try and pick him books, but I think hubby looks at things like a genre and thinks well, he might like that because he's read book A but he doesn't see that it doesn't work quite so cut and dried like that for the boy. But he tries.

My parents (again hooray for peculiar parents) have always let us do what we want so the marrying thing has always been the furthest from our minds. Certainly mine, until it kind of happened and then it just did. Saying that sadly, I think my parents will be more accepting of my wonderfully peculiar children than their own aunts who were allowed the same free reign they were given, when they make their life choices.

Now it is me with the mundane and all the bells and whistles that come with it. I'm good with that. Because my mundane is sort of peculiar in itself and a lot to love and be thankful for. ^_^ - ermm - if any of that makes sense even ahahaha!

*hugs and much love*

[User Picture]
From:flemmings
Date:February 3rd, 2017 01:57 am (UTC)
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Mhh yeah. Your mundane is indeed rather peculiar in itself, given that it mixes opposite sides of the globe.
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From:rushthatspeaks
Date:February 2nd, 2017 05:18 am (UTC)
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I now legitimately envy you for growing up in an environment in which Carson McCullers didn't make any sense. When I read McCullers as a teenager, I had to stop because her world was exactly like my life and world, except that the narrative was admitting how terrible these ways of being were. I couldn't deal with that until I had some way of getting out of there. I still find her one of the most terrifying naturalistic writers I've ever encountered. Upgrade the technology slightly, and the portrait of ninety percent of the people I met before I was twenty and how they interacted is note-perfect and horribly precise.

I can't make any sense out of Wolfe or Steinbeck myself, though.
[User Picture]
From:flemmings
Date:February 3rd, 2017 02:12 am (UTC)
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Well, a good part of it was the strangeness of Southern life and attitudes to a European/ English descended city-child. It really felt like another universe, and not at all a nice one.

I read Member of the Wedding when I was sixteen, and something of the claustrophobia and need to get away resonated then: but still, no one I knew had the kinds of conversations Frankie and Berenice and John Henry did around the kitchen table.

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