novel: Lawrence: The Trespasser (1912)

Lawrence is one of these authors whose books I’ve always collected, but whose work I’ve never really found the courage to read. Where does one begin? It was my mother who handed me a copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover when I was still a teenager, which was all I ever really received as far as a ‘birds and the bees’ talk goes, and I would skim through it looking for some magical description of the female orgasm. But, you see, I viewed it as pornography before literature, so that I looked towards the end of the book, and, finding nothing of interest, tossed it aside, figuring, I mean, hell, what could anyone know about sex way back then anyway. Anais Nin’s Unprofessional Study and how it brought her together with Henry Miller is when I began considering that perhaps I should be reading his works, and so a few years ago I did read The Fox, which I recall as being a cross between Jules et Jim and Bergman’s Persona, nothing ever really feels cleared up. We all giggled nervously at age 17 when masturbation was brought to light in “The Rockinghorse Winner”–but, without a doubt, Lawrence has become one of the most important writers of my life. Yes, I came to my sexuality with my best friend Anais Nin in one hand, I came to my senses with Henry Miller in the other (no, let’s be serious, it was the same hand. just kidding!), but I came to understand my masculinity thanks to Lawrence, and furthermore, it’s in this early novel of his that I find the truest illustration of your complete servitude to the most ephemeral of feelings, feelings that must in truth be something like little bats clumsily bobbing through the air, avoiding Siegmund by scent and smacking into the faces of Helena, who, well, reacts as you characteristically do his myopic and oppressive male chauvinism. And so, it is this book which has led me to make firm my conclusion that I’ve been unsure about for ages, but now am quite certain, because all these games must finally end: I must hide myself, and this may be the only way to finally shake you to your senses, to remind you of reality, there needs to be a complete restructuring of the existing social organization so as to produce full and equal status and protection of both sexes and all genders in order that we might attune our natural with our cultural rights, and perhaps then, perhaps then, the universe will be okay.

What’s most fascinating is the extent to which Lawrence clarifies the logic of his characters in a novel of which I see no signs of his biography, yet I see myself, and I see a confounding episode of my own life that takes place in the same settings as this novel does, under similar circumstances, and I had to deal with the same nonsense of it all–and while I had no answers before, I do now. I am a misogynist. But, before I leave an extended number of quotations that struck me for one reason or another, I will mention two things in particular:

In chapter 29, Lawrence breaks the rules pretty violently after writing up to this point in the past tense, suddenly he draws us out of the story and leads us to believe that there is something beyond the novel, something in reality that continues even after we close the book, something in the present [emphasis mine]:

Now Helena believed he was ill, perhaps very ill, perhaps she only could be of any avail. The miles of distance were like hot bars of iron across her breast, and against them it was impossible to strive. The train did what it could.

That day remains as a smear in the record of Helena’s life. In it there is no spacing of hours, no lettering of experience, merely a smear of suspense.

Towards six o’clock she alighted, at Surbiton station, deciding that this would be the quickest way of getting to Wimbledon. She paced the platform slowly, as if resigned, but her heart was crying out at the great injustice of delay. Presently the local train came in. She had planned to buy a local paper at Wimbledon, and if from that source she could learn nothing, she would go on to his house and inquire. She had prearranged everything minutely.

And then, not long afterwards, he draws us out of the narrative flow like this:

Helena stood still on the station for some time, looking at the print. Then she dropped the paper and wandered into the town, not knowing where she was going.

‘That was what I got,’ she said, months afterwards; ‘and it was like a brick, it was like a brick.’

She wandered on and on, until suddenly she found herself in the grassy lane with only a wire fence bounding her from the open fields on either side, beyond which fields, on the left, she could see Siegmund’s house standing florid by the road, catching the western sunlight. Then she stopped, realizing where she had come. For some time she stood looking at the house. It was no use her going there; it was of no use her going anywhere; the whole wide world was opened, but in it she had no destination, and there was no direction for her to take. As if marooned in the world, she stood desolate, looking from the house of Siegmund over the fields and the hills. Siegmund was gone; why had he not taken her with him?

This is all quite absurd, really, and quite brilliant, and perhaps in some way paying homage to the real Siegmund and the real Helena, whose story he used as his source, but I think goes quite a bit further than that. Chapter 27, as Siegmund is contemplating suicide, he finds solace in the idea that ‘the heart of life is implacable in its kindness. It may not be moved to fluttering of pity; it swings on uninterrupted by cries of anguish or of hate.’ And then furthermore,

Siegmund was thankful for this unfaltering sternness of life. There was no futile hesitation between doom and pity. Therefore, he could submit and have faith. If each man by his crying could swerve the slow, sheer universe, what a doom of guilt he might gain. If Life could swerve from its orbit for pity, what terror of vacillation; and who would wish to bear the responsibility of the deflection?

The novel begins many months after the suicide, Helena characteristically cold, playing with the affections of her best friend, and some guy, and yes, Siegmund is dead, but very clearly things aren’t so bad after all. And then the narrator takes us back to the beginning, through the suicide, and the aftermath through one year. And the narrator proves just what Siegmund believed, which is that the world does not even hesitate for the blink of an eye at one’s suicide, and even his wife only cries out of mere fear.

If I was faced with the girl I love, hanging in the doorway by the strap of her portmanteau, her face unrecognizable and distended, piss and excrement beneath the shadow of her nightgown, I suppose she’s the only person in all the world whom I could cut down, and place delicately on the bed. And I don’t know that I could leave her alone until her body was underground. And you can’t even text me. Well, such is love, the fairest, truest love.

So, while the opening chapter may be necessary for the sake of framing, the closing chapters are less so, but they function to illustrate that indeed, life does go on, very easily, and perhaps smoother than before, for both wife, children, and mistress. And in case the reader wonders whether things continue on so well, there’s no question, because the narrator drags us to the present tense for a moment, letting us know that, indeed, the death of one man means nothing at all, not to anyone.

* * *

So, now let’s move on to things I really love about this, which is the sorts of conversations I know all too well, in fact, these may be my conversations, not the protagonist’s, because in case you haven’t heard, generally you see no relationship between words and reality.

Chapter 4:

“When Helena drew away her lips, she was exhausted. She belonged to that class of ‘dreaming women’ with whom passion exhausts itself at the mouth. Her desire was accomplished in a real kiss. The fire, in heavy flames, had poured through her to Siegmund, from Siegmund to her. It sank, and she felt herself flagging. She had not the man’s brightness and vividness of blood. She lay upon his breast, dreaming how beautiful it would be to go to sleep, to swoon unconscious there, on that rare bed. She lay still on Siegmund’s breast, listening to his heavily beating heart.

With her the dream was always more than the actuality. Her dream of Siegmund was more to her than Siegmund himself. He might be less than her dream, which is as it may be. However, to the real man she was very cruel.”

Chapter 6:

Then again, when he raised his head and found her mouth, his lips filled her with a hot flush like wine, a sweet, flaming flush of her whole body, most exquisite, as if she were nothing but a soft rosy flame of fire against him for a moment or two. That, she decided, was supreme, transcendental.”

Chapter 7:

“‘I am her child, too,’ he dreamed, as a child murmurs unconscious in sleep. He had never felt her eyes so much as now, in the darkness, when he looked only into deep shadow. She had never before so entered and gathered his plaintive masculine soul to the bosom of her nurture.”

Chapter 8:

‘The best sort of women—the most interesting—are the worst for us,’ Hampson resumed. ‘By instinct they aim at suppressing the gross and animal in us. Then they are supersensitive—refined a bit beyond humanity. We, who are as little gross as need be, become their instruments. Life is grounded in them, like electricity in the earth; and we take from them their unrealized life, turn it into light or warmth or power for them. The ordinary woman is, alone, a great potential force, an accumulator, if you like, charged from the source of life. In us her force becomes evident.

‘She can’t live without us, but she destroys us. These deep, interesting women don’t want us; they want the flowers of the spirit they can gather of us. We, as natural men, are more or less degrading to them and to their love of us; therefore they destroy the natural man in us—that is, us altogether.’

‘I wonder,’ said Hampson softly, with strange bitterness, ‘that she can’t see it; I wonder she doesn’t cherish you. You are full and beautiful enough in the flesh—why will she help to destroy you, when she loved you to such extremity?’

Siegmund looked at him with awe-stricken eyes. The frail, swift man, with his intensely living eyes, laughed suddenly.

‘Fools—the fools, these women!’ he said. ‘Either they smash their own crystal, or it revolts, turns opaque, and leaps out of their hands. Look at me, I am whittled down to the quick; but your neck is thick with compressed life; it is a stem so tense with life that it will hold up by itself. I am very sorry.’

“Throwing himself down on the sand that was soft and warm as white fur, he lay glistening wet, panting, swelling with glad pride at having conquered also this small, inaccessible sea-cave, creeping into it like a white bee into a white virgin blossom that had waited, how long, for its bee.”

Chaptern 11:

“All she knew was that he was strong, and was knocking urgently with his heart on her breast.”

Chapter 16:

She made a moaning, loving sound. Full of passionate pity, she moved her mouth on his face, as a woman does on her child that has hurt itself.

‘Sometimes,’ she murmured, in a low, grieved confession, ‘you lose me.’

He gave a brief laugh.

‘I lose you!’ he repeated. ‘You mean I lose my attraction for you, or my hold over you, and then you—?’

He did not finish. She made the same grievous murmuring noise over him.

‘It shall not be any more,’ she said.

As usual, a man produces a billion sperms every hour, and a woman produces one egg each month, so women are often, highly economic with words when it comes to things that matter, things that demand discussion. This case illustrates it well. And then, here’s a rather pretty line: “turning to Helena, he found her face white and shining as the empty moon.”

Chapter 19:

‘I see it has,’ he answered. Then to himself he said: ‘She can’t translate herself into language. She is incommunicable; she can’t render herself to the intelligence. So she is alone and a law unto herself: she only wants me to explore me, like a rock-pool, and to bathe in me. After a while, when I am gone, she will see I was not indispensable….’

‘Is that why I have failed? I ought to have had her in love sufficiently to keep her these few days. I am not quick. I do not follow her or understand her swiftly enough. And I am always timid of compulsion. I cannot compel anybody to follow me.

‘So we are here. I am out of my depth. Like the bee, I was mad with the sight of so much joy, such a blue space, and now I shall find no footing to alight on. I have flown out into life beyond my strength to get back. When can I set my feet on when this is gone?’

A line I rather like is, ‘the naked body of heat was dreadful,’ and I was also struck by “‘If now,’ prayed Siegmund, ‘death would wipe the sweat from me, and it were dark….’” And it is essential to note that in both chapters 18 and 19 Helena is overly concerned with the time. Siegmund provides no commentary on this, but it’s a trait in you I’ve noticed quite a number of times, as you people have shown an offensive obsession with the time, with timetables, with minutes and hours and schedules and itineraries, and then without explanation, they don’t care anymore, they push aside the importance of time, and then eternity is something that makes sense to them again, and then back to timetables, the importance of being someplace at a certain time when nobody is waiting for you, and another train is leaving in half an hour anyway, but perhaps I’ll never understand because I’ve never gestated anything but diseases, and the only blood I ever anticipated with certainty concerned my wisdom teeth. So perhaps you have some frightening intrinsic connection to the clock, but god knows it’s offensive and superficial.

‘She does not understand,’ said Siegmund to himself. ‘And whatever I do I must not tell her. I should have thought she would understand.’

As he walked home beside her there mingled with his other feelings resentment against her. Almost he hated her.

–which aligns with something a line from chapter 31, when Helena is with her new boy-toy, Cecil, told from his perspective as Helena takes him through the exact spots she took Siegmund, exactly one year later:

He looked at her, wondering how much he was filling the place of a ghost with warmth. He thought of Siegmund, and seemed to see him swinging down the steep bank out of the wood exactly as he himself was doing at the moment, with Helena stepping carefully behind. He always felt a deep sympathy and kinship with Siegmund; sometimes he thought he hated Helena.

Chapter 20:

As Helena continues her flimsy companionship, sometimes overcome with senseless unexplained passions, like every time you’ve thrown yourself at me and then jumped away crying ‘no, I cannot, I cannot,’ only to wake me up hours later by flinging yourself at me again and pulling the same stunt, followed by a two hour rant about why Senator Clinton trumps Senator Obama any day of the week; let’s see how Siegmund fares:

She had a peculiar, childish wistfulness at times, and with this an intangible aloofness that pierced his heart. It seemed to him he should never know her. There was a remoteness about her, an estrangement between her and all natural daily things, as if she were of an unknown race that never can tell its own story. This feeling always moved Siegmund’s pity to its deepest, leaving him poignantly helpless. This same foreignness, revealed in other ways, sometimes made him hate her. It was as if she would sacrifice him rather than renounce her foreign birth. There was something in her he could never understand, so that never, never could he say he was master of her as she was of him the mistress.

Chapter 24:

Some rather nice lines:

“Her father’s quiet ‘H’m!’ her mother’s curt question, made her draw inwards like a snail which can never retreat far enough from condemning eyes. She made a careless pretence of eating. She was like a child which has done wrong, and will not be punished, but will be left with the humiliating smear of offence upon it.”

“The west opposite the door was smouldering with sunset. Darkness is only smoke that hangs suffocatingly over the low red heat of the sunken day. Such was Helena’s longed-for night.”

Chapter 25:

Siegmund dealing with his youngest child, after all his family has turned against him, his youngest daughter who conspicuously disappears after his suicide, a bit like Celia’s mysterious and unexplained lack of a single line in the entire final act of As You Like It, when she stands there dumbly as every difficulty is resolved. But seriously, isn’t this the truth? Dear children, the only ones who can see life as it is because they’re the only ones who can see life as it should be, and they’re only wrong because they discount all human constructs as being so false as they truly are.

He waited in a daze of suspense. The child shifted from one foot to another. He could just see the edge of her white-frilled drawers. He wanted, above all things, to take her in his arms, to have something against which to hide his face. Yet he was afraid. Often, when all the world was hostile, he had found her full of love, he had hidden his face against her, she had gone to sleep in his arms, she had been like a piece of apple-blossom in his arms. If she should come to him now—his heart halted again in suspense—he knew not what he would do. It would open, perhaps, the tumour of his sickness. He was quivering too fast with suspense to know what he feared, or wanted, or hoped.

Chapter 31:

The best evidence for why I should hide from you, right now, is during Helena’s discussion with Cecil:

‘More sorrow over one kitten brought to destruction than over all the sufferings of men,’ he said.

She glanced at him and laughed. He was smiling ironically.

‘For the latter, you see,’ she replied, ‘I am not responsible.’

Because although she sometimes loved Siegmund in all the right ways, even in his absence, she also has that peculiar chilliness about her, the separation of body and mind and life and morality and emotions. It’s all a lot of shit.

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Proust: Swann’s Way: ‘Combray’ (1913)

I don’t want to pit Proust against Lawrence, but they simply beg to be tried, and how particularly funny, that it is a Frenchman being pitted against a Brit, and losing, for the time being, in terms of passion. I would not have considered comparing the two except that in Lady Chatterley, Clifford Chatterley is reading “a French book” and the following argument begins thus:

‘Have you ever read Proust?’ he asked her.
‘I’ve tried, but he bores me.’
‘He’s really very extraordinary.’
‘Possibly! But he bores me: all that sophistication! He doesn’t have feelings, he only has streams of words about feelings. I’m tired of self-important mentalities.’
‘Would you prefer self-important animalities?’
‘Perhaps! But one might possibly get something that wasn’t self-important.’
‘Well, I like Proust’s subtlety and his well-bred anarchy.’
‘It makes you very dead, really.’
‘There speaks my evangelical little wife.’

Anarchy and Bolshevism are the two political systems thrown around by characters in Lady Chatterley. I’ve always thought of anarchy as something idealized by rebellious teenagers, rich teenagers, and if all I knew of it was the definition given by the OED, I’d suppose it was simply the central tenet of the Republican party, “absolute freedom of the individual.” The catch, of course, being fairly Christian in nature, that everyone has an immutable position in society, that there will be the happy, and there will be the unhappy. And, of course, without a ruler, the happy may flourish by suppressing the unhappy by whatever means are necessary. Bolshevism, in this case, means that the miners, people who Lawrence suggests were born with the mines (though, reports on BBC lately insist that the death of the mines in the 1980s did not bring about the death of all the miners) deserve much more than Clifford Chatterley, with his nothing legs and nothing penis. Even Mellors rose through his own hard work, language abilities, and eventually through his service in the military. Making it through Proust’s “Combray” only shows the world through the eyes of a child, at least Proust as a child, which doesn’t particularly say much, as I’ve seen the questionnaire he filled out as a little boy, and he was an adult even then. But perhaps the most we can say is that he is raised in a house filled with people who don’t seem to work, whose lives consist of “enjoying themselves” as Connie might call it. Are they dead?

I’m not quite sure how old I was when I began reading Anais Nin’s first diary, but at the time I was firmly opposed to consumption of alcohol and drugs, and it was Nin who gave me the best argument I’d ever heard. I’m a writer, she said, and she has to have her wits about her at all times because she must later write all that she experiences, and alcohol or drugs would hinder that. Well, I considered myself a writer, so it seemed a good enough argument, though I don’t think I ever had to use it. I think I felt betrayed later, when she and June were a bit drunk together. It was Nin who led me to both Lawrence and Proust.  Connie says, ‘he doesn’t have feelings, he only has streams of words about feelings,’ and ever since she commented thus, I’ve been reading him through her eyes. Because, when it comes down to it, what would I rather be: the creator of something beautiful? or something beautiful myself? No contest: I’d rather be beautiful. I’d rather live a work of art.

But I think Proust dodges the question quite gracefully in showing something else, that there’s a third possible answer to that question: can one’s memory be a work of art, even if the reality was not. Indeed. And perhaps that’s what his work is, not meant to be engaged in so much as to be imbibed, we’re back to Shelley’s ravine. I find myself not caring about whether or not the narrator is reliable, because somehow this is a work about memory, and memory is allowed to be grandiose. Is it passionate? I find myself unable to recall the moments of the most heightened passion in my life, perhaps it is then that I become entirely an animal, and when I am in the moment, I am truly in the moment, unable to do what I usually do, to figure out what words I will later use to describe this, to be writing and editing while living, periodically disappearing to write down conversations and descriptions and then popping back into life, perhaps when there is no past, and there is no future, one simply loses the ability to recall that moment. I’ve always hoped there would be somebody else with me who would write down our experiences together, so that I didn’t have to be the only one, so that the memory could be more colorful, but nobody ever has, it’s a sad thing.

Perhaps, then, it’s worth noting that the sex scenes in Lady Chatterley begin very explicit, when she’s not particularly involved in the moment. And as she becomes increasingly involved as the novel continues, they become more metaphoric, more symbolistic, and if arousing, then arousing on such a deep physical level as to be almost spiritual, and then finally, the sex is not described at all, and everything surrounding it is, the ripped nighties, the flowers woven into her maidenhair, and her observations of others and their sexuality.

One night when I was sleeping on H’s sofa, he was sitting very close to me in a wooden chair, smoking pot and talking me, not caring if I was listening or sleeping, and he said “I don’t know what you think of my girlfriend, but I’ve slept with a lot of girls, I’ve seen a lot of girls naked, and it’s come to the point where I don’t even need to see them naked anymore to know precisely what they look like without their clothes on. And perhaps you can’t tell just by looking at her, but my girlfriend is perfect, there is nobody in the world more beautiful than she is.” As one gets older the more one understands any given person’s carriage, all that it indicates. At one time I thought it was all guesswork, but now, like H., and like Connie, I begin to understand. A little.

love and silence, my first reaction to Lady Chatterley.

Perhaps it’s no secret that I think very, very slowly, and have immense trouble understanding when other people speak. Not always–not when I am on autopilot, when I have another mission, when that mission is to tear somebody apart, or to be the life of the party, it’s at those times when it’s far more critical for me to push myself aside and let that other part master me, when I know that beyond all else it’s important to be witty, or to be cruel, or to be perfect. When I emerge from these moments they’re all dreams, and when I look back on them I see them as if they took place underwater, everything is blurry, I remember very few specifics, I become drunk on myself and my thoughts and my power, and others remind me quite frequently of things I’ve said or done that I haven’t any recollection of–thank god they’re generally wonderful, and I wish I could be so wonderful when I’m being myself–though I once had three conversations with a guy when I was in such states, and when he introduced himself to me when I was thoughtful, I had no idea who he was. It’s all a bit horrifying, really. I have suspicions that this is all due to keeping closed-captioning on the television for nearly a decade for no reason except that I enjoyed reading my television shows.

Some of the most important moments of my life, though, I’ve had to give up, because I could not understand what was being said to me, because I have such difficulty understanding English behind any sort of accent except the American no-accent characteristic of Philadelphia. If I was in bed with Humphrey Bogart, I’d have no idea what terms of endearment he’d be calling me, because I can’t understand what he says. And it becomes embarrassing very quickly, to continue saying “I’m sorry…what?” because, well, I have two ears, and if one is pressed against your tummy, you probably suspect that my other one is still working. I could perhaps claim that they’re like my eyes, that one ear can recognizes something is there, but two ears perceive the depth of it. But then I’d always have to keep one ear against your tummy so that I could keep up the lie, the lie being that I can’t understand what you say to me when it’s most precious to me that I understand. I hope someday I understand, that someday your voice becomes one with mine, though right now all that’s been burned into my memory is the exact words on your voicemail, on the edge of exasperation, a picture of polite curtness, “you know what to do” it says, when the truth is, I don’t know what to do, not anymore. Everyone was scolding me for not leaving messages when I called, so I began leaving messages, “hi it’s me. bye.” and everyone was twice as annoyed. “You know what to do.” No, I don’t. And I won’t, there’s no chance that I ever will again, unless you tell me to leave my name, my number, a brief message, and the time that I called, or unless you answer. And the truth is, I’m very self-conscious on answering machines, when I hear people leaving messages I sometimes write down precisely the formula they use, I try to understand it, I find these pieces of paper in pockets, boxes, shoes, and still.

“So,” I am asked, “did you find anything interesting at work today?”
“Yes.”
“What did you find?”
“An old lady, born in the 20’s, who signed her name with a heart as the dot over her letter i.”
“Yes? And what else?”
“A man who misspelled the abbreviation for October.”
“How did he spell it?”
“O-T-C.”
“Is that all?”
“Yes, that’s all.”

I’ve been dried up, dried and shriveled like a dried salami. “Do you know what a dried salami is?” I am asked.
“I can guess, Grandpa.”
“Let me tell you. You’d go to the butcher, and they sell salamis, and some of them they take them and–”
“Dry them. Yes.”
“They hang them up, and a few months later, they’re dried, all shriveled up. If you eat one, it has a different consistency than a regular salami.”
“Yes, I think we passed one around at a party once, Scott’s grandmother gave something to him, I think a dried salami.”
“They’re more expensive than a regular salami.”
“I can imagine.”
“Because it takes more work to make them.”
“Yep.”
“So if you go looking for a dried salami, expect to pay more for one.”
“Right.”
“And when you speak to the butcher, make sure you specify precisely, a dried salami, not a regular salami, or he’ll give you a regular salami, and you’ll be able to tell instantly, because it’ll be too big to be a dried salami, and it won’t be wrinkled, and a dried salami is darker than a regular salami.”
“Like when you hit puberty your penis is supposed to get darker?”
“What?”
“I’ll make sure to specify. To the butcher.”

“And only now she became aware of the small, bud-like reticence and tenderness of the penis, and a little cry of wonder and poignancy escaped her again, her woman’s heart crying out over the tender frailty of that which had been the power.”
Ch. XII

And it’s this that finally melts her after confessing that she could never love him, finding him clownish in his dirty brown corduroys, a buffoon to turn his back to her as he zipped up his pants, so self-assured in his ignorance, so ugly in his broad common-speak. And she suddenly melts in his arms and comes to love him, first his body, perhaps only his body.

But it’s the language, the language, the language, the language, he knows how to speak a good English, once a bright young man who progressed beyond his place in society, moved upwards through the military, learned to speak in the language of the ruling class, and then, he lapses into his horrid common-speak, that I cannot even fully decode, and he does so at the worst moments, when his clothes are off, when she is wrapped in him.

‘”Goodnight,” she said.
“Goodnight, your Ladyship,” his voice.
She stopped and looked back into the wet dark. She could just see the bulk of him. “Why did you say that?” she said.
“Nay,” he replied. “Goodnight, then, run!”
She plunged on in the dark-grey tangible night.
-Ch. X’

I reread this part of the conversation a few times and decided that she gave pause over his use of the term “your Ladyship”–after making love, shouldn’t she be addressed differently? Perhaps it’s at that moment she feels somehow as if he is the hired man only performing his role of pleasing those who hire him. Later she gives him reason to suspect that she’s using him in an effort to become pregnant, and he gives perhaps his longest speech thus far:

“Well,” he said at last. “It’s as your Ladyship likes. If you get the baby, [your husband’s] welcome to it. I shan’t have lost anything. On the contrary, I’ve had a very nice experience, very nice indeed! . . . If you’ve made use of me, it’s not the first time I’ve been made use of; and I don’t suppose it’s ever been as pleasant as this time; though of course, one can’t feel tremendously dignified about it.” . . .
“But I didn’t make use of you,” she said pleading.
“At your Ladyship’s service,” he replied.

But I think there’s something more to her pause: I don’t think she’s regarding the term “your Ladyship” and what their apparent relationship is based on that so much as the difference between his language of love and his proper speech. He collapses into his broad accent when he is naked, and that’s how and when he is most honest, speaking in punctuation, and when she loves him, she gives no notice, though there’s no indication of whether she understands or not, as she never answers his broad accent directly, only conversing verbally with his proper English, and otherwise answering physically or emotionally.

So, she tells him she cannot love him. And then they make love. And she wants him again. And so, for a third time, they make love, and here begins the conversation that began all these thoughts of mine:

And afterwards she was utterly still, utterly unknowing, she was not aware for how long. And he was still with her, in an unfathomable silence along with her. And of this, they would never speak.

When awareness of the outside began to come back, she clung to his breast, murmuring ‘My love! My love!’ And he held her silently. And she curled on his breast, perfect.

But his silence was fathomless. His hands held her like flowers, so still aid strange. ‘Where are you?’ she whispered to him. ‘Where are you? Speak to me! Say something to me!’

He kissed her softly, murmuring: ‘Ay, my lass!’

But she did not know what he meant, she did not know where he was. In his silence he seemed lost to her.

‘You love me, don’t you?’ she murmured.

‘Ay, tha knows!’ he said.

‘But tell me!’ she pleaded.

‘Ay! Ay! ’asn’t ter felt it?’ he said dimly, but softly and surely. And she clung close to him, closer. He was so much more peaceful in love than she was, and she wanted him to reassure her.

‘You do love me!’ she whispered, assertive. And his hands stroked her softly, as if she were a flower, without the quiver of desire, but with delicate nearness. And still there haunted her a restless necessity to get a grip on love.

‘Say you’ll always love me!’ she pleaded.

‘Ay!’ he said, abstractedly. And she felt her questions driving him away from her.

‘Mustn’t we get up?’ he said at last.

‘No!’ she said.

But she could feel his consciousness straying, listening to the noises outside.

‘It’ll be nearly dark,’ he said. And she heard the pressure of circumstances in his voice. She kissed him, with a woman’s grief at yielding up her hour.

He rose, and turned up the lantern, then began to pull on his clothes, quickly disappearing inside them. Then he stood there, above her, fastening his breeches and looking down at her with dark, wide-eyes, his face a little flushed and his hair ruffled, curiously warm and still and beautiful in the dim light of the lantern, so beautiful, she would never tell him how beautiful. It made her want to cling fast to him, to hold him, for there was a warm, half-sleepy remoteness in his beauty that made her want to cry out and clutch him, to have him. She would never have him. So she lay on the blanket with curved, soft naked haunches, and he had no idea what she was thinking, but to him too she was beautiful, the soft, marvellous thing he could go into, beyond everything.

‘I love thee that I can go into thee,’ he said.

‘Do you like me?’ she said, her heart beating.

‘It heals it all up, that I can go into thee. I love thee that tha opened to me. I love thee that I came into thee like that.’

He bent down and kissed her soft flank, rubbed his cheek against it, then covered it up.

‘And will you never leave me?’ she said.

‘Dunna ask them things,’ he said.

‘But you do believe I love you?’ she said.

‘Tha loved me just now, wider than iver tha thout tha would. But who knows what’ll ’appen, once tha starts thinkin’ about it!’

‘No, don’t say those things! —’

And he’s absolutely correct. How intelligent Connie is, how sharp and thoughtful, how passionate and able to love, and yet able to play games, to “give him the slip” as he puts it, to say what she feels at one moment, that he takes as truth, and change her mind the next, and then shudder at the way he reacts by closing himself up emotionally, that no matter how she feels he treats her the same, with the same touch, the same temper, whether he is being loved or used, and in love he gives her this language, his truthful language, but also in pain, so long as she is touching him, as it were, to the quick.

I heard an interview with Chinese author Yiyun Li, who said that she had only ever written creatively in English, and so when she created Chinese characters, they spoke to her in English only, and that she would have to give them old Chinese proverbs to speak in, to give us some sense of them as real people. We seem to delegate this or that language to demarcate segments of our lives, and there’s this language of love, that perhaps is the same as the language of pain and of joy, though I’ve heard Céline exclaim “oh shit!” and I myself have said “merde!” at such comparable moments.

And I end the call without leaving a message, and wonder if I’ll ever find my head surfacing from the water again.

So, I am there, longing to my very depths for answers, and I cannot understand a word, and I wonder if I too speak complete nonsense, when I grow intoxicated and begin pronouncing every single letter with infinite gravity, and I am too ashamed to request that you speak to me in Philadelphian English, embarrassed too by my own accent, and when I want to plead, all I can do is cling, physically, emotionally, uncertain above all, hopeful, and trying desperately to be secure in silence.

Proust: Swann’s Way: ‘Overture’ (1913)

Clearly, I’ve decided to go with a translation (Moncrieff/Kilmartin), what seems to be considered the driest and most accurate translation available, as the new ones seem to carry the prose into something more contemporary. I never found an argument concerning that with which I particularly agree, even when modernizing Shakespeare, I think it should be done only with an emphasis on finding his likeliest original words and removing whatever adulteration printers added and propagated throughout the centuries. Well, so, here I am reading a translation. Fuck me, but I can’t wait any longer, and truth be known, I’m only making my halting way through Le Petit Prince in French and if I don’t get Proust started now, why, by the time I finish it I’ll be old enough to appreciate it.

It was probably Céline’s putting him back in my head as we snuck around the pathways between tombstones and stared at his own, somewhat austere. Nathalie suggested we touch it, we all wiped our noses, and Whitney finally choked out, “well, who is he?” It was Céline who answered, and I think she gave a better answer than Nathalie or I could have given, because she said something that made a lot of sense, and she didn’t stumble, and she made Proust almost sound interesting. “There is a phrase in French, the madeleine of Proust, which you use when something reminds you of a story from long ago, because he wrote a very long novel, very long and famous, and it all begins because he tastes a madeleine, which is a type of cookie.” Well, so there you have it.

I almost fear the taste of madeleines, and of clementines, I cannot recall their flavors now, but I know one taste will send me back to the dark streets of Paris, to the early morning snows, to sitting on the stones before the cathedral in Rouen and seeing all the clementine peels on the ground wherever I went, cigarettes, bottles, thinking about what a good American I was being by cleaning up my own messes.

Initial reaction? Not quite the same immediate joy I feel when reading Lawrence or Nin or Miller, but yet beautiful, and yes, he does go quickly, the first fifty pages are criticized because nothing happens–yet, it’s the sort of nothingness that we come to appreciate, it’s thoughtful nothingness, and it’s a compelling prelude to the work we’re about to embark upon.  It’s not only the obsessive attention to detail I love, but the insistence on resisting vulgarity, quite the opposite of Lawrence, actually, whose vulgarity is yet somehow an aesthetically cogent illustration of how beauty integrates itself within the animal, or perhaps vice versa, how it is that our instincts can be delicious. So far, Proust takes a higher road, one built of suggestions rather than directness, telling us things we already know, not how it could be, but how it is, not in the secret world between two people, not in the secret world of one’s heart, but in the secret world of the mind, of language, of the expressible, of art, of memory, all the things that Connie Chatterley is so far grown opposed to as she comes to need her lover.