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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Justifiably Petulant Beauty

I've made that wretched and oft-repeated mistake of starting two books simultaneously. And I haven't even said anything yet about The Painted Veil, which I finished last week, and needs to be discussed. Nevertheless, we begin what I'm sure will be a long chapter (I'm sorry -- I couldn't resist) as The Idiot and The Beautiful and Damned are both fairly sizable. I've been working up to The Idiot for months, so, since I feel like I have the energy to tackle it now, I think I'd better take advantage of it. Dostoevsky makes his characters so sweetly and charmingly lovable -- those that are supposed to be, that is. I mean, seriously, I might have to name my first three sons Alyosha, Razumikhin, and Myshkin. More on that later. Meanwhile, I've become increasingly enchanted with Fitzgerald after my recent reacquaintance, and feel it necessary to indulge said enchantment. Hence, my happy conundrum. 

Over the next several weeks, then, don't expect too many solid, well-reasoned and pithy posts of my own making. The most I'll attempt for now is sharing some good passages with you. I'll wait to pontificate on deeper meanings until I've actually finished the books. On today's menu, a dialogue from The Beautiful and Damned.  I've italicized my particularly favorite lines for those of you in a hurry, but, really, it won't take a great deal of time to read the whole exchange. This is from chapter 2, under the section entitled "A Flash-Back in Paradise":
_Beauty, who was born anew every hundred years, sat in a sort of outdoor waiting room through which blew gusts of white wind and occasionally a breathless hurried star. The stars winked at her intimately as they went by and the winds made a soft incessant flurry in her hair. She was incomprehensible, for, in her, soul and spirit were one -- the beauty of her body was the essence of her soul. She was that unity sought for by philosophers through many centuries. In this outdoor waiting room of winds and stars she had been sitting for a hundred years, at peace in the contemplation of herself._
_It became known to her, at length, that she was to be born again. Sighing, she began a long conversation with a voice that was in the white wind, a conversation that took many hours and of which I can give only a fragment here._
BEAUTY: (_Her lips scarcely stirring, her eyes turned, as always, inward upon herself_) Whither shall I journey now?
THE VOICE: To a new country -- a land you have never seen before.
BEAUTY: (_Petulantly_) I loathe breaking into these new civilizations. How long a stay this time?
THE VOICE: Fifteen years.
BEAUTY: And what's the name of the place?
THE VOICE: It is the most opulent, most gorgeous land on earth -- a land whose wisest are but little wiser than it's dullest; a land where the rulers have minds like little children and the law-givers believe in Santa Clause; where ugly women control strong men ----
BEAUTY: (_In astonishment_) What?
THE VOICE: (_Very much depressed_) Yes, it is truly a melancholy spectacle. Women with receding chins and shapeless noses go about in broad daylight saying "Do this!" and "Do that!" and all the men, even those of great wealth, obey implicitly their women to whom they refer sonorously either as "Mrs. So-and-so" or as "the wife."
BEAUTY: But this can't be true! I can understand, of course, their obedience to women of charm -- but to fat women? to bony women? to women with scrawny cheeks?
THE VOICE: Even so
BEAUTY: What of me? What chance shall I have?
THE VOICE: It will be "harder going," if I may borrow a phrase.
BEAUTY: (_After a dissatisfied pause_) Why not the old lands, the land of grapes and soft-tongued men or the land of ships and seas?
THE VOICE: It's expected that they'll be very busy shortly.
THE VOICE: Your life on earth will be, as always, the interval between two significant glances in a mundane mirror.
BEAUTY: What will I be? Tell me?
THE VOICE: At first it was thought that you would go this time as an actress in the motion pictures but, after all, it's not advisable. You will be disguised during your fifteen years as what is called a "susciety gurl."
BEAUTY: What's that?
(_There is a new sound in the wind which must for our purposes be interpreted as _THE VOICE_ scratching its head._)
THE VOICE: (_At length_) It's a sort of bogus aristocrat.
BEAUTY: Bogus? What is bogus?
THE VOICE: That, too, you will discover in this land. You will find much that is bogus. Also, you will do much that is bogus.
BEAUTY:(_Placidly_) It all sounds so vulgar.
THE VOICE: Not half as vulgar as it is. You will be known during your fifteen years as a ragtime kid, a flapper, a jazz-baby, and a baby vamp. You will dance new dances neither more nor less gracefully than you danced the old ones.
BEAUTY: (_In a whisper_) Will I be paid?
THE VOICE: Yes, as usual -- in love.
BEAUTY: (_With a faint laugh which disturbs only momentarily the immobility of her lips_) And will I like being called a jazz-baby?
THE VOICE: (_Soberly_) You will love it....
(_The dialogue ends here, with _BEAUTY_ still sitting quietly, the stars pausing in an ecstasy of appreciation, the wind, white and gusty, blowing through her hair._)
 The confusion over the word "bogus" is probably my favorite. For some reason, it makes me think of Yoda. More to follow shortly, I am sure.

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