I finished a collection of Tennessee William’s short one act plays this week on a whim – recalling the sweetness of reading Streetcar Named Desire. It was stunningly gripping and beautiful – the sort of plots which creep onto you and overwhelm you with a sudden confrontation of temptingly human characters.
Paradise – a word which recalls so many meanings. To regain paradise, to retrace the road to pleasure in a world of pain and loss, is a common theme in the work of Williams. William’s characters blend a sort of Henrik Ibsen reckless passion and Manon vulnerability – they are driven by the desire to see beyond the walls of their worlds, to see outside and above and beyond it – leading to a singular encounter of the kind that Lawrence describes as ‘one of those rare electrical things beyond people’.
In Summer at the Lake, a 16 year old boy is denounced by his mother as a ‘dreamer’ without a future, his mother’s voice rings through the play, her questions are gapped in the boy’s empty’s replies, and while she builds her dreams of him in a steady industrialist job, he flees the house to go swimming in the lake. In the space between words, the reader glimpses the desire of the boy to escape his identity constructed by his mother and the world he lives in.
A personal favourite was And Tell Sad Stories of the Death of Queens, about the private life of ‘Candy’ Deleany, a New Orleans fashionable tranvestite recalling the plot of Sunset Boulevard. Her lingering emotions and heartfelt desire to seek out the unlikely passion of a sailor make for an awkward empathy for the reader, and an interesting statement by Williams of homosexuality in postwar drama and film. The self-conscious naivete of Williams’ characters are evident, and yet they are passionate, non-conformist individuals:-
I think the strange, the crazed, the queer
will have their holiday this year,
I think for just a little while
there will be pity for the wild. I think in places known as gay,
in secret clubs and private bars,
the damned will serenade the damned
with frantic drums and wild guitars.
I think for some uncertain reason,
mercy will be shown this season
to the lovely and misfit,
to the brilliant and deformed—
I think they will be housed and warmed
And fed and comforted awhile
before, with such a tender smile,
the earth destroys her crooked child.
On other things. A week ago I came across my old diary, and came across a passage I had copied from Machado De Assis’s Epitaph of a Small Winner, in which the protagonist speaks of old letters:
Unenlightened reader, if you do not keep the letters of your youth you will never enjoy the pleasure of seeing yourself, far off in the flatteringly dim light, with a three-cornered hat, seven-league boots, and curled mustachios, dancing at a ball to the music of Anacreontic pipes. By all means, save the letters of your youth.
Or, if you do not like the figure of the three-cornered hat, I shall use an expression of an old sailor who used to come to Cotrim’s house. I shall say that, if you save the letters of your youth, you will be able to “sing a yearning.” It seems that our sailors give this name to songs about the land that are sung only at sea. It would be hard to find a more poetic expression of nostalgia.
On British romantic tragedies- read Agatha Christie’s Giant Bread last week (under her pen-name Mary Westmacott) and it proved to be a brilliant and pleasurable read- even better than her detective fiction. Features the gettings-on of an avant garde musician and his devastating romances and flight to music. Reminded me of Evelyn Waugh, but she wrote so poignantly of childhood, I found myself wishing I had a similar grandmother and mauve violets on my wallpaper. Really worth reading if you are in the library. It usually comes with her trio collections, under Mary Westmacott.
And for those with ipods – I’ve been listening to the 45C English classes of UC Berkeley Charles Altieri and John Bishop – there are some good ipod downloads, though most are frightful, and even Oliver Wendell Holmes on law turns out to be quite a bore. But these were quite good – the tapes deal with the modernism of English literature – some Dickens, Yeats, Pound etc. (though I am not quite an Ezra Pound fan, I like Yeats terribly) and moving on to the novelists James, Conrad, Woolf (I dislike James as much as I adore Conrad, and even did Conrad for Special Paper in junior college). As Lawrence adorably intoned, the two men are ideal foils for one another. Altieri delivers with a lovable Woody Allen, schizoid New Yorker style, whereas Bishop utilizes an incredibly dense stream of monotone. What I would like, a blossoming romantic ze French accent, winning the hearts of girls over radio waves.
Also reading Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell – a treatise on poverty strongly recommended by a friend. Unfortunately I think its ok though, the stories are entertaining, but not enjoying it all that much. It makes me worry about the day where I might have to sell my coats at a pawn shop though.
So many other books I’ve been promising to share with you, Irving! You have to especially read the Giant’s Bread. But I really ought to go back to my law assignment, now. I feel so reluctant and frightfully like a procastinating kitten with an old grey mouse toy. Please call me soon to tell me about flute girl after all my assignments are finished.