01 December 2007

Possess me

For my bookclub, I've been reading The Thirteenth Tale, which I love so far and which reminds me of one of my favorite books, Possession by A.S. Byatt. Possession is one of those books that lends itself to hot chocolate or earl grey tea and dreams of the moors-- but it also lends itself to about three months of plowing through Victorian letters and journal entries, academic theory, and stories of isolation, art, myth, and love. You can't rush this type of book, and I recommend reading it with a pen by your side to write questions in the margins.
A lot of the book investigates biography and scholarship, which is of course of immense interest to me (on my road to understanding myself and seeking those out who understand me). Biography is about being recognized, not just for the steps that you took but more for the things that you felt. Judith Thurman writes about this phenomenon in her new collection of essays Cleopatra's Nose: 39 Varieties of Desire, in which she covers both Possession and another sort of favorite "autobiography," Jane Eyre. Of Charlotte Bronte, Thurman writes that "the gauntlet that she throws down so defiantly but yearningly to her heroes, suitors, friends, critics, readers, and biographers is the challenge to recognize her." Biographers and scholars should investigate and write with that same sort of "imaginative sympathy and penetration." This is why the modern scholars in Possession are so fascinating to me-- they differ from the thieves and collectors (scavengers, if you will) by finding what their subjects intended to say and reflecting that out in a type of verbal mirror. I seek that type of recognization in my good friends, loves, and family, but it is harder to find than you may think. There are far more scavengers than there are looking glasses, when it comes to "kindred spirits" (to borrow a term from Anne Shirley).
Back to Possession. Some of the passages are so gorgeous that I just have to share them here:

"They say that women change: 'tis so: but you
Are ever-constant in your changefulness,
Like that still thread of falling river, one
From source to last embrace in the still pool
Ever-renewed and ever-moving on
From first to last a myriad water-drops
And you-- I love you for it-- are the force
That moves and holds the form."

"They took to silence. They touched each other without comment and without progression. A hand on a hand, a clothed arm, resting on an arm. An ankle overlapping an ankle, as they sat on the beach, and not removed...One night they fell asleep, side by side, on Maud's bed, where they had been sharing a glass of Calvados. He slept curled against her back, a dark comma against her pale elegant phrase."

And, one of my favorite poems that Byatt includes, by Robert Graves:
"She tells her love while half asleep,
in the dark hours,
with half-words whispered low:
As earth stirs in her winter sleep
and puts out grass and flowers
despite the snow,
despite the falling snow."

1 comment:

sparrowsoul said...

oh, my... must watch out for those scavengers - they will pick your bones dry... i am with you, dear friend, on the search for kindred spirits...