I decided last night to hold off on starting First Among Sequels and finished Seduction and Betrayal. Wonderful essays all. Not only do I want to now read Jane Carlyle’s letters but I want to read all of Ibsen’s plays, Sylvia Plath, and Virginia Woolf. I also want to learn more about Zelda Fitzgerald, and read Dorothy Wordsworth’s jounrals. A dangerous book, Seduction and Betrayal.
I thought you might like some tidbits from the essays. About Zelda who wanted so much to have work of her own and tried writing, dancing and painting:
If she had not been married to Fitzgerald her “ambition” would not have presented itself as a “competition.” Perhaps the result would have been the same; it would have been looked at differently, however.
About Sylvia Plath:
There is nothing of mystical and schizophrenic vagueness about her. No dreamy loss of connection, no manic slackness, impatience, and lack of poetic judgment. She is, instead, all strength, ego, drive, endurance–and yet madly concentrated somehow, perplexing. Disgust is very strong in her nature, but she faces things with a classical fierceness and never loses dignity. That is why her vision is more powerful and more pure than the loose abandon of other poets of her period.
About Virginia Woolf:
The novels are beautiful; the language is rich and pure, and you are always, with her, aware of genius, of gifts extraordinary and original. Our emotions are moved, at least some of our emotions are moved, often powerfully. And yet in a sense her novels aren’t interesting. This is the paradox of her work, part of the risk of setting a goal in fiction, having an idea about it, and abstract idea. Part of the risk also of the bravest and most daring insistence that she would make something new.
About Dorothy Wordsworth:
For him [Wordsworth] the wanderings, the hikes, gave a depth of scenery into which he poured meaning, philosophy, morality. For Dorothy they were like moments of love, pure sensation that held the meaning of her life without clearly telling her what that meaning was.
The concluding essay in the book is the titular essay. In it Hardwick discusses sexual seduction and betrayal in novels like The Scarlet Letter, Tess, Adam Bede, and Clarissa. I’ve marked lots of passages about Clarissa, she has many interesting things to say about the novel. I will same them for when I am done actually reading it and re-read the section of the essay in which she talks about it. Her conclusion at the end of the essay, however, is an intriguing one:
Sex can no longer be the germ, the seed of fiction. Sex is an episode, most properly conveyed in an episodic manner, quickly, often ironically. It is a bursting forth of only one of the cells in the body of the omnipotent “I,” the one who hopes by concentration of tone and voice to utter the sound of reality. Process is not implacable; mutation is the expedient of the future, and its exhilaration too.
I’ll be thinking about this idea for sometime, wondering if it is true or not.
Seduction and Betrayal is a fantastic book. I recommend it to everyone, even if you don’t generally like reading criticism. Hardwick is less like a critic and more like a friendly college professor chatting with you about literature over a cup of coffee. I can hardly wait to read her novel Sleepless Nights. But first, it’s Thursday Next who will get my attention.