Monday, 26 December 2011
Woman with a Troubled Past
Plans are afoot for Auntie to return victoriously to Poland as the keynote speaker for a women's retreat. This retreat is very much still in the planning stages, and eventually I will have to remind the enthusiastic organizer that I do not, in fact, speak Polish and I get the parish Polish altar servers to read me his letters./ In one of the letters, the organizer sketched out his suggestions for the programme, and my parish Polish altar server du jour stumbled over one of the phrases. Apparently I was being described as a "brave woman with a troubled past", which the loyal altar server did not think a sterling summation of my auntish character./ "Yarg," shouted Auntie. "It's the divorce, isn't it? Yarg! Continental Europeans! Yarg!"/ The altar server listened patiently as I ranted about European Catholic attitude towards annulments and divorced women and why people look at me as if I have a troubled past. And then I remembered the last bit might be because I actually wrote about it in my book. Meanwhile, if you write about being divorced, people are going to think of you as divorced. And if you are somehow magically married again, people are going to want to see your annulment papers and hopefully some contrition./ My principal source of contrition, which I thought about as I woke up today, is that I thought Dorothy L. Sayer's Gaudy Night was any kind of guide to life. Plot spoiler alert. In Dorothy L. Sayer's Lord Peter Wimsey novels, Lord Peter eventually falls in love with a dark-haired, husky-voiced, detective novelist named Harriet. We will not say that she was based on Dorothy L. Sayers herself because I will go mental if anyone thinks my own heroines are based on myself (unless they are actually named Seraphic, of course)./ Now, BIG PLOT SPOILER, after a few novels in which Harriet consents to go out to dinner now and again with the dashing and clever Lord Peter, about whom she has a major inferiority complex, Harriet "gives way" at the end of Gaudy Night and, to quote Lord Peter's mother, they end up "kissing madly in a punt."/ This is all very romantic, and I think Gaudy Night was an absolutely splendid book, but Dorothy L. Sayers sacrificed common sense to a handy literary device by making her heroine fall in love with a man she had consistently rejected for three years or so. Harriet is depicted as having won a major victory over herself, and it was of Harriet I thought when I was 24 and much stupider than I am now./ It may have been the last time I mistook fictional decisions for real life lessons. I certainly hope so. And meanwhile I have discovered that I am not the only woman who has done this, for apparently there are women who honestly take as Gospel lessons learned from Sex and the City and other television shows. Never mind that a freelance writer does not make Carrie's salary. I remember Samantha wondering if sleeping with half of New York is what got her breast cancer, and she being very relieved to discover that the nun in her waiting room also has breast cancer. Yes, nuns get breast cancer. But they don't usually get cervical cancer which, unlike breast cancer, is linked to a very common STD. And as my friend Lily pointed out, there is no way a woman who uses men the way Samantha does could possibly have long-term loyal friendships with three women./ Being in general pro-great world literature, I am sure that there are some lessons you can learn from the classics. However, I would steer clear of making major life decisions based on the decisions made by fictional characters. I don't care that PLOT SPOILER Anne and Gilbert got married in the end and had seven children. Lucy Maud Montgomery and her very best bosom friend both married men mostly just not to be spinsters, it seems, and they were miserable./ The Anne books were and are escapist fiction, no matter how many Japanese and Korean tourists insist Anne is real. Plato wouldn't allow any poets into his perfect state, and that is because they told such shocking lies. I am sure he would feel the same way about novelists. However, to be fair to novelists, our first loyalty is not always to the truth of ordinary life but to our beloved characters. We make up our own universes, and the laws that govern this universe do not always govern ours./ If Blogger does not fix the bug in its new model I will be leaving it sooner rather than later for my very own new webpage, so stay tuned.