domenica, luglio 19, 2009

Vanity Eyre

Croatia was the greatest thing since sliced bread. Mostly it was the company - two of the brightest women in my life and lots of talking and arguing - the Mitford sisters without the money or Hitler. But I'm not into talking about my people so instead I'll just say Croatia was the greatest thing since sliced bread.

How the sun shone! How the delightful little coves of beaches sparkled blue and turquoise! How the air baked! How the kayak instructor's damp skin glistened over healthy young muscles in the sun! And how sweet it was to have myself to myself, neither of my companions being the sort who hijacks other people and our holiday having been nominally billed as a writing retreat. . . the Cultural Apocalypse Novel didn't get written, and after about 10 minutes of trying to do it on the first day I realized I was being a knob; it's going to need months of devotion just to work out and nail down the narrative voice, and sadly it will need to wait for semi-retirement, or else it'll drive me crazy. But lots of smaller writing, lots of poetry. And lots of sleep. All three of us arrived there stressed out to the point of practically exposed nerves - I think all three of us left as new women, partly because of being somewhere so beautiful, partly because of each other, partly because we could take it fucking easy.

That having been said, I utterly ruined my last two nights of sleep by buying Vanity Fair when I went into Dubrovnik looking for a present for the F-word. I'd brought Dicken's Pictures of Italy and was utterly disappointed, and Paul Theroux's Pillar of Hercules, which I'd swallowed whole on the trip to London and Gatwick (certainly the worst travel book of his I've ever read - very superficial, far more self-obsessed than his better work, much more "I said . . . my eyes danced . . . I was scared" than any of the others), and got Vanity Fair on a whim, mostly because of how much Thackeray showed up in Elizabeth Gaskell's Life of Charlotte Brontë. Vanity Fair definitely needs its own devoted post, and probably a great big one, and not today because I still have 100 pages or so to go.

And probably the impact of Jane Eyre on Vanity Fair needs its own devoted post too, or possibly an academic paper . . . surely there is such a paper, Charlotte Brontë dedicating Jane Eyre's second edition to Thackeray, who was partway through publishing Vanity Fair when it came out. But there might not be, because it's not apparent in a very obvious way - though it is. The thing is, Jane Eyre reads as though it's influenced by Vanity Fair, and not vice-versa, because Charlotte Brontë's great strengths weren't in satire, and Thackeray's definitely were. The facility of Thackeray's satire makes it almost hard to believe Jane Eyre was published first, as Jane Eyre certainly contains efforts at satire - and to me, they're the less successful parts of the book, that the author looks least comfortable with, that would be borrowed from elsewhere if anything was.

The charade scenes in each book, for example, are so similar, but Jane Eyre's charade is all about Jane geeking on the fucking unattainable hotness of Mr. Rochester, and Vanity Fair's charade is the rather gruelling presage of Rebecca gutting her husband while illustrating how she gives London society a collective boner. Unless you're into the romance of Jane Eyre, Vanity Fair's looks ten times better, because it's so much more effective as a cultural illustrator - unless you're getting swept up into Jane's hard-on for Rochester, Jane Eyre's looks derivative of the work that came after it. Luckily Charlotte Brontë was a stunningly competent romance writer, at least as far as Jane Eyre goes, so most of the audience that hasn't gotten alienated and stopped reading at that point has been swept up into Jane's big old hard-on.

Anyways. Back to work. Ew.

5 commenti:

Rocky ha detto...

I had a very embarrassing introduction to Thackeray. I was reading a little essay he wrote on the railway. It was rather colorful, and intensely opinionated. I brought it into my thesis advisor, went on a tear, saying, can you believe this guy? what a reactionary prig! Who's he kidding?

My thesis advisor gave me a puzzled look. You realize, he said, that he IS kidding? This is satire.

oh, I said. erm.

me red in the face.

Mistress La Spliffe ha detto...

Sounds awfully blush-worthy, but I think he was a reactionary prig, though! In his way, in a way we wouldn't even recognize anymore because it was so old Tory it was practically archaic . . . all that credit letting the lower orders getting ahead of themselves (not to mention letting him squander his own wealth in a few years) . . .

Anyways, yeah. It probably still would have been hard to recover.

Rocky ha detto...

I think i get what you're saying - that his critiques originate from a point further right of Right (archaic old Tory), yes.

Mistress La Spliffe ha detto...

Yeah - if only you could go back in time and whisper that in your grad student self's blushing ear!

Rocky ha detto...

I'm already there. He's telling me I'm brilliant.