The second ugh
Posted June 17, 2007on:
Despite the fact that I have four books going and, because of certain projects, will have at least two more added to the plate, I will have to pick up another, probably by A.S. Byatt or Patricia McKillip. I am fucking tired of stupid, swooning females. Up to here. I came off The Good Soldier, which leaves an impression, the one the narrator wishes to leave with you of women isn’t fair or complimentary. Then there’s good ol’ Cervantes with his fragile women capable of only transitory cleverness with a sense of honour about as thick as a thistle and the “nice”, bright ones stupidly clinging to assholes, swooning and bawling all over the place. (The Marcela story can only take one so far.) Finish this up with the majestic Paradise Lost and its references to heartening Bible stories where daughters are offered up as sexual morsels for who cares what reason.
It’s just a bit much, you know? One after the other and all.
“You wanted me to be yours, and you wanted it in such a manner that even though you no longer do, it will not be possible for you to stop being mine. Consider, Senor, that the incomparable love I have for you may be recompense for the beauty and nobility for whose sake you have abandoned me. You cannot belong to the beautiful Luscinda because you are mine, and she cannot be yours because she belongs to Cardenio; if you consider it for a moment, it would be easier for you to turn your will to losing one who adores you, rather than trying to force love from one who despises you. You solicited my shame; you pleaded for my integrity; you were not ignorant of my status; you know very well how I surrendered completely to your desire; you have no justification or reason to claim you were deceived. If this is true, and it is, and if you are as much a Christian as you are a gentleman, then why do you go to so much trouble to avoid making me as contented at the end as you did at the beginning? And if you do not love me for what I am, your true and legitimate wife, then at least want me and take me as your slave; if I am possessed by you, I shall think of myself as happy and fortunate. Do not, by leaving and abandoning me, permit my dishonour to become the subject of gossip and rumours…And if it seems to you that you will debase your blood by mixing it with mine, consider that there are few, if any, noble lines in the world that have not taken this path, and that the bloodline on the woman’s side is not relevant to your illustrious lineage; furthermore, true nobility consists of virtue, and if you lose yours by denying me what you rightly owe me, then I shall have more noble characteristics than you.”
I know it’s all parody, right? He’s taking the tropes of chivalric romances, pushing them to ridiculous extremes, and so on. Maybe I wouldn’t be so annoyed if, when the men are idiots, it’s presented as a terrible thing, and when the women are it’s terrible but, lord, what can you do eh? Women.
Thank god for Roger Mais, a male author who, though born and raised in the early 20th century, managed to write books published in the 1950’s that featured strong, complex female characters. If you will, imagine me running from Sarah Hall’s batter based enthusiasm towards Mais’ quiet, contemplative style. Oh, sweet relief. (It’s still not quite enough so I need the Byatt and McKillip.)
I’m half-ashamed to admit that if I found Don Quixote more pleasing I wouldn’t mind so much. Suffice it to say that I don’t expect much better from Milton once we get to the Eve and the apple scenes. I do not know what approach he took — don’t spoil it for me — so I am hopeful but not optimistic. Fact is I won’t really care because on a basic level I’m in love with the story, the characters, how he presents, simply enamoured with the way he dramatised and expanded the Biblical narrative in ways I never thought to. It’s almost like learning a whole new story.
On a basic level, after a good start, DQ is dangerously teetering towards mediocrity for me. I know, I know, first novel, has everything in it. I see the commentaries on reading and writing, the riffs on chivalric romances, the frank observations on human nature and the societal norms, the way the stories work within the stories helped by Don Quixote’s mad capers as he creates his own blah blah and I look at all of these things bobbing in front of me, waiting to be properly unpacked and examined, blink my eyes and go, “Mmmm…yeah.”
Another problem that came to me is that, stylistically speaking, the prose is plain, as plain can be. Entirely utilitarian, there to serve the story it seems to me in this translation, so all I have to live on is the story. And the story…it just keeps on going. The same thing, taking turns, world without end, so help me.
I’m still..curious about the whole thing so I’ll keep going, and will probably finish it. I’m only a bit down because it’s one of those texts that necessitates a second reading and at this point I’d need a serious offer of a lot of free books and a harem of oiled handsome men to consider it.