seeing yourself: whose clothes are these?

this seems to be a bit of a theme that runs through passages, poems, stories that particularly strike me. i will figure out why sooner or later, bear with me, but i wanted this to be shared. here are some snippets i particularly enjoyed today. see if you can figure out who penned these lines. i will of course give the source at the end but see if you can identify this voice. The setting, as far as is relevant, is this: the main character is at a social occasion, and for this occasion she had a new dress made, a decision she for some reason now regrets.

[…Lines] from books she had read ages ago, suddenly came to her when she was in agony, and she repeated them over and over again. ‘Flies trying to crawl,’ she repeated. If she could say that over often enough and make herself see the flies, she would become numb, chill, frozen, dumb. Now she could see flies crawling slowly out of a saucer of milk with their wings stuck together; […] But she could not see them like that, not other people. She saw herself like that – she was a fly, but the others were dragonflies, butterflies, beautiful insects, dancing, fluttering, skimming, while she alone dragged herself up out of the saucer. (Envy and spite, the most detestable of the vices, were her chief faults.)

nothing quite like being at a party you didn’t want to go to in the first place, and not having anything to say to anyone, is there. i love the image of the fly in the milk. the labored movements, the difficulty, the danger of drowning when to others this is such a simple, harmless, even “good” thing, milk – think of all the associations that go with milk. babies, mother’s milk, health, sweet foods, desserts –

She saw the truth. This was true, this drawing-room, this self, the other false. Miss Milan’s little workroom was really terribly hot, stuffy, sordid. It smelt of clothes and cabbage cooking; and yet when Miss Milan put the glass in her hand, and she looked at herself with the dress on, finished, an extraordinary bliss shot through her heart.

Suffused with light, she sprang into existence.

Rid of cares and wrinkles, what she had dreamed herself was there – a beautiful woman. Just for a second (she had not dared look longer, Miss Milan wanted to know about the length of the skirt), there looked at her, framed in the scrolloping mahogany, a grey-white, mysteriously smiling, charming girl, the core of herself, the soul of herself; and it was not vanity only, not only self-love that made her think it good, tender, and true.

a few pages further, this passage just hit me. i think it is just another example of the psychological / emotional insight this writer had, and her wonderful ability to pin down her observations simply and effectively:

‘Why,’ she asked herself, ‘can’t I feel one thing always, feel quite sure that Miss Milan is right, and Charles wrong and stick to it, feel sure about the canary and pity and love and not be whipped all round in a second by coming into a room full of people?’

i totally buy this note to self, i think this is a believable character. the straighforward meandering of the mind. and meandering she goes, in her mind, until with these last thoughts she reaches a point that allows her to leave the uncomfortable social situation by excusing herself and going home.

She would go to the London Library to-morrow. She would find some wonderful, helpful, astonishing book, quite by chance, a book by a clergyman, by an American no one had ever heard of; or she would walk down the Strand and drop, accidentally, into a hall where a miner was telling about the life in the pit, and suddenly she would become a new person. She would wear a uniform; she would be called Sister Somebody; she would never give a thought to clothes again.

again, i totally buy it. because i love books. i always have. as a kid i spent so much time reading, living in books, because i learned early on that they could take me anywhere and that anything could happen. books can be wonderful accidents, they can be enchanting, disgusting, predictable, shocking, dull, intoxicating, but really, it is hard to be indifferent toward a book. at least for me. and, as worn out as the phrase may be, i honestly believe that books change people. they can reach and transform us in ways that cannot necessarily be explained. suffice to say, they add to us, page by page, and we become new people. that’s why i love books.

that’s also why bookstores are real treasure troves for me. i love the smell of paper and bindings and there are few places i would rather spend my time than surrounded by shelves full of books. second hand bookstores, by the way, are far superior to your regular “book superstore” in my humble opinion, not just because they have SO MANY MORE titles to offer, not just what is in print and selling big right now. second hand bookstores are the places you can find books you didn’t know you were looking for yet. even if they are long out of print or by some obscure local writer. can you tell i love second hand bookstores? (sam weller’s zion bookstore in salt lake city is a good one, a favorite of mine, and so is the oxfam bookshop in reading, england.)

oh and in case you were wondering about the source of the snippets above, they are from a little red volume published by Reclam, titled “ytrap s’yawollad srm,” (read backwards. trying not to spoil it for those who had the wandering eye while still trying to figure out the answer) which contains seven short stories that were later more or less combined and reworked to be published as the well-known novel about said mrs. the passages are from the story titled “the new dress.” i do like this writer a lot, and no doubt will talk more about her at some point or other.


About annette.c.boehm

words escape me.

One comment

  1. I remember how immersed I felt in the minds of the main characters in To the Lighthouse. Woolf made me aware that we have as many inner universes as we do outer ones. I like the new features of this blogsite, especially the little fishes in the box on the upper right. Did you create that?

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