Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Sometimes Love is Not Meant to Be, Sometimes Love Dies


Sometimes love fades. Love is untrue. People change. People can't change enough. Things end wrong. The love that should have lasted forever is over and you are still here. Love is circumstantial. Love is an illusion. Your love was wrong. The best example of this is Blankets by Craig Thompson. I finished reading it in the morning, and then I went to work and told people, "I'm sad because I just finished reading Blankets," and they said, "Ohhh."

A lonely, smart, artistic boy who believes fervently in God, his dour parents, his little brother, and a shitty childhood in rural Wisconsin. Nothing happy. Craig matures to high school in the 90s, and falls in love with a girl from Michigan at church camp. 'Tho she's a girl, he's allowed to stay two weeks at her family's house in the middle of her parents' divorce. Raina's parents are fundamentalists too, and in thanks to God for giving them two healthy children, they adopted a boy with Down's syndrome and a severely disabled girl, so Raina spends too much time taking care of her sister. Walks in the snowy forest and first base-equivalent spooning cross with flashbacks to Craig's Sunday school humiliations and molesting babysitter, and he and Raina's relationship is so tender it breaks your heart that Craig must go back to teenage hell in Wisconsin. In the end, he grows up, moves away, loses his faith, and becomes an illustrator and autobiographical graphic novelist. But Raina's love is the happiest piece of the his story, and they grew apart, without wanting to, without trying to. They lived in different states. It was inevitable. Weekly letters and long distance phone calls became occasional became nothing at all, and they both moved on, and grew up so sadly. Because sometimes people seem meant to be together and then things happen, things they don't understand, offscreen, and then those two people are nothing to each other. Their relationship can't work because of who they are. Like if one is a witch and one is the son of a baron. In Terry Pratchett's Wintersmith, Tiffany Aching is still an apprentice witch up in the mountains getting letters from Roland, the baron's son. Miss Treason, who's 115 years old, wants to know if Roland is Tiffany's beau, but Tiffany won't admit because she's not sure. Miss Treason takes Tiffany up the hill to see the Morris dancers welcome winter, and Tiffany jumps into the gap in the dance and The Wintersmith spots her. He is beguiled, even though, being an element, not a person, he's not even a "he." He seeks to court Tiffany with snow, and the people in the village can't get wood, and the trees are freezing and popping, and the lambs are dying, and Tiffany needs to stop him, but it's flattering all the same. Annagramma, apprentice to Mrs. Earwig, who does witchcraft "the way another lady would embroider kneelers for church," wears all black and a lot of silver jewelry with moons on it, inherits Miss Treason's cottage. She's full unprepared for and doesn't understand the real business of witchcraft, it being mostly about delivering babies, changing bandages, and visiting old people. Tiffany needs to mind Annagramma and her steading, do all her own work, and the denouement, with Tiffany and the Wintersmith in a typically Pratchettian flurry of action (get it?), runs a bit roughly. Tiffany is so comfortable and capable at age fourteen, it's alarming when one sets down Wintersmith and picks up I Shall Wear Midnight and finds Tiffany at sixteen, a witch on the Chalk where she was born, no longer attached to Roland, who even has the audacity to be engaged to a girl called Letitia. And the people of the Chalk are beginning to speak in whispers about witches doing evil in the land. A malignant spirit is spreading fear and Roland accuses Tiffany of killing his father, who's been ill for a good half-decade. A side trip to Ankh-Morpork leads to cameos from the City Watch, and Tiffany teams up with Letitia who has Power, but never thought she could be a witch because she's blond and slender like a storybook princess. Roland, forgiven, can be Tiffany's friend, but what could have been never will be and Tiffany might have a different beau, but "something that is was not meant to be is done and this is the start of what was," or will be if Pratchett survives to write the fifth Tiffany Aching book, which is due out next year, God willing. I Shall Wear Midnight is a better book than Wintersmith, but that doesn't mean a person would ever skip over one for the other.

But back to our topic. Sometimes love ends in disgrace and ruin and death and shame. Honestly, failed romance in the Regency/Victorian period is usually hilarious. Somebody sees somebody else's ankle, or swoons and winds up emigrating, or their cousin turns out to be a rake, but this is deadly serious. Mary Hays is another of MaryWollstonecraft's friends and her second novel, A Victim of Prejudice, blows away people like me who read Gothic romances ironically. As Sir Peter Osbourne would say, "D–mn." I hate Sir Peter Osbourne. Mary Hay's protagonist, Mary (they didn't have a lot of names back then) begins as the happy child of a loving foster father called Mr. Raymond. Mr. Raymond takes a pupil called William who grows up alongside Mary in idylls of childish bliss until he induces her to steal grapes from the neighbor's hothouse, wherein Mary first meets Sir Peter Osbourne, who tries to kiss her. Mary has her first negative emotion, and from then on, Sir Peter makes a hobby of sexually harassing the neighbor kid whenever he runs into her, which is often enough. But Mary has William as her companion and protector, until Mr. Raymond pulls Mary aside and tells her that she's seventeen now and, though his heart breaks to do it, he must send her away because she cannot marry William, as he will inherit a title of rank and his father would be loathe to see him marry someone so base as herself. Mary goes, William follows, and they pledge themselves to each other and tell Mr. Raymond, whereupon he explains that Mary is the illegitimate daughter of a murderess who died on the scaffold, which is even worse than being a poor orphan, and William's father sends him to the continent for two years, during which time all Mary's friends in the world die or emigrate. Mary makes her way to London where, summoning a hackney cab to take her to the address where she's been recommended as a lady's companion, she finds herself led into the house of... Sir Peter Osbourne.

Mary refuses to marry Sir Peter Osbourne, destitute and friendless though she is, so he locks her in his house for nine days and rapes her in one of the most violent scenes ever come from a Regency novel. She doesn't even swoon. After the rape, Sir Peter makes it clear that, now that she's ruined, she has nothing more to lose and might as well marry him, but Mary escapes and rushes out onto the London street, destroyed and penniless, and bumps into her William, William!, who returned from abroad and didn't bother to tell her. He takes her to a lodging and nurses her while she suffers PTSD and fever. When her health is recovered, he confesses all. He did dabble in worldliness abroad but never forgot his Mary, and inquiring of her when he returned, he found that Mr. Raymond was dead, and her whereabouts unknown, where, when his father arranged a loveless match for him, he married the lady just three weeks prior. He sort of suggests that Mary becomes his mistress, but Mary's pride will not let her and she runs out into the street again with ten pounds William gave her for immediate expenses. Here, Mary's financial troubles begin. Mary's creed is "Death before dishonor," but most people who say that are in a position to die quickly by sword; Mary isn't so lucky. Mary's an archetype like Mary Magdalene or Sonia in Crime and Punishment or Nell from Oliver Twist, the ruined woman still pure of heart. Mary maintains her pride, and her name, which is a terrible idea, because Sir Peter Osbourne has been telling everybody that Mary Raymond is such a loose, disgusting woman that she'd even have sex with Sir Peter Osbourne. No one will hire her as a lady's companion or a governess. She finally finds a job at a print shop, and pays William Pelham back his ten pounds. SERIOUSLY, MARY! WILLIAM IS A LANDED NOBLE. HE LOVED YOU. HE LOVES YOU STILL. HE CAN AFFORD TEN POUNDS. She's constantly doing things like this after her ruin. At her next financial exigency, she nearly gets thrown in debtor's jail, and, later, she does. Sir Peter Osbourne writes her a check for fifty pounds, and she returns the money in a blank cover and runs, forgetting that she owed a neighbor fifteen pounds, and the neighbor has her locked up. KEEP THE MONEY, MARY! PRIDE IS GREAT, BUT YOU SHOULDN'T GO TO JAIL OVER IT! YOU COULD HAVE EARNED ENOUGH TO PAY BACK SIR PETER OSBOURNE DURING THE FOUR MONTHS YOU SPENT IN PRISON, AND THEN, THEN!, YOU COULD HAVE THROWN IT IN HIS FACE! In 1799, it must have been important to Mary Hays to show that her heroine would not debase herself one iota by taking unearned money, but I hope no one followed Mary's principled example in real life. Her tale is feminist, and Mary has an incredible amount of discernment and agency for a woman of her time and class, and it's class that kills Mary as much as Sir Peter Osbourne does. William Pelham's class prejudice sets Mary on a road that, as an unprotected woman, she's already halfway down when her rape occurs. Does anybody remember the terrible movie The General's Daughter? No? Good. In the trailer, a raspy-voiced soldier says, "Do you know what's worse than rape? Betrayal." It's not, but in a world where principles are more important than eating, it's nearly as bad.

William betrayed Mary. They should have been together, but he took the easy road of an unexamined life and their relationship was ripped asunder, rather like African-Americans and the American dream. They wanted to be together, they could be together, but Winning the Race is as close to our topic of jilted love as any popular non-fiction commentary on the state of the African-American experience in contemporary culture can be. John McWhorter writes a scary book about race. I thought Winning the Race was supposed to be the optimistic rebuttal to his own book Losing the Race, but it isn't, oh boy. McWhorter contends that the state of black America from the 1960s onward is the result of what he calls "therapeutic alienation," the result of a cultural meme created in the last years of American apartheid that's stuck around for multiple decades because it's a convenient shorthand for a peoples' experience of why they aren't doing as well as they should. McWhorter points out that black poverty was actually on the decline in the 1960s and 1970s when open-ended welfare was championed by a certain set of academic sociologists who viewed blacks as incapable finding adequate employment and also considered welfare to be a back-door way of reparations. McWhorter argues that while some black people were pulling themselves up, the people who chose the not-terribly-admirable-but-all-too-human easy way found themselves in a culturally detrimental cycle where women could have as many kids as happened to happen to them and raise them at a subsistence level, where men, no longer needing to provide for their families in any meaningful way, could behave in a way that was, a generation previous, reserved for the bottom of society, and that this cycle became quickly established and easily self-perpetuating, as sixteen-year-olds are not the best judges of their own fate. Therapeutic alienation became a way to explain this state of being without blaming the actors. He agrees that racism does still exist, but that the systemic racism of American up to the '60s is passed, and that experiencing overt discrimination can be traumatic but lower class black experience over-relies on explanations of racism, when an unwillingness to engage with formal society is also in play. McWhorter takes down the common arguments explaining the state of Black America, that the jobs left, that drugs came in. A black man can certainly still be arrested for sitting in a chair in St. Paul, but McWhorter calls foul on a university president's moaning that his hotel room is too far from the elevator because he's black. Winning the Race is more universal in its address than Losing the Race, which focused more on higher ed, a topic no doubt close to McWhorter's heart. Very interesting, very good, made me feel racist for agreeing with parts. McWhorter has another short popular book on linguistics out and he's not writing for Time anymore. What is he up to?

Love fails, love slides away, love dies, and love is wronged: If you need to murder your cousin on her wedding night and assume her identity to be with the man you love, don't. Your relationship won't be happy, regardless. The Forsaken Inn by Anna Katharine Green takes place before the inn is forsaken, it's actually quite prosperous. Set before and after the Revolutionary War, which has nothing to do with the story, the woman innkeeper is first skeeved out by a creepy man and his timid bride who spend the night in the Oak Parlour with their big heavy luggage box. Years later, a tourist shows up and says, "I'd like to see your hidden room." "What hidden room?" "One night, years ago, I was at a tavern and a man told the story of an old innkeeper/smuggler and his hidden room. I said if I was ever in the area, I would like to visit this inn and see it." So they pop open the secret door of the hidden room and there's a woman decomposing. The innkeepstress stays at the inn and the tourist rides off on some very efficient detectiving to find a man who's been living in a cave for several decades because the woman he loved threw herself off a bridge. Cave-man's story explains the illogically complex love affair between himself, bridge suicide, nice cousin, and the villain. The innkeepster and the interested tourist let the hermit know that the woman he's been living in a cave over is not only not dead, but a murderess and alive in France, and he throws off his cloak of solitude. Then a woman arrives from France at the inn and seems desperately interested in the Oak Parlour, because the murderer always returns to the scene of the crime. As someone on the internet said, "There's no mystery." Anna Katharine Green wrote dozens of books in the late 1800s, none of which are read nowadays.

And maybe, sometimes, there's a happy ending and everything works out like in a fairy tale and everything is happy. Even if it's fraught in the middle, there's a silver lining and every boy gets his handsome prince, because Fairy Tales: Traditional Stories Retold for Gay Men by Peter Cashorali. I never would have read this on my own, but Laura read it and she told me Rumpelstiltskin, which, to summarize:

A miller brags excessively: "My nephew can turn shit into gold." The king happens to be walking by and says, "My son is total shit. Send your nephew by the castle tonight." The nephew goes to the castle, and is left in the prince's room full of destroyed furniture. The nephew cries because he can't turn shit into gold, when a funny little man dressed all in leather appears. The funny little man says, "I know how you can fix the prince, but in exchange, I will take all your happiness." The nephew decides that's a fair trade, considering, and he says, "How do I turn the prince into gold?"

"Well," says the funny little man, "when he comes back into the room, he's going to try to hit you."
"Should I hit him back?" says the nephew.
"No, then he'll fight you and win."
"Should I not him back?"
"No, then he'll think you're weak."
"Well, what should I do?"
"Ask him to spank you," says the funny little man. Then he disappears, the prince comes in, raging, the plan works, and the prince and the nephew are happy, until the funny little man takes all his happiness, and there's more! This book is a amazing. All the stories are spot on re-tellings with a twist for the fairy tale aficionado(Missie). I like it when a man and a talking chicken walk through the forest and come upon a gym, a trendy patisserie, and a men's clothing store on their way to the next castle. Peter Cashorali mines multiple sources and the depths of Grimm; he gives you Beauty and the Beast, The Ugly Duckling, and the Frog Prince, but there's also The Golden Parrot, Two Apprentices, and some other ones we've never read before. Romaine (Rapunzel) includes that second part everyone forgets where the prince goes blind, and the Ugly Duckling is a brutally tender AIDS metaphor. Laura is my friend who is like a catfish of literature. She lives in the bottom of the recycling bin and filters all the scummy bits for the benefit of the ecosystem. Polyandrous incest; your children, rock music, and the devil; Lurlene McDaniel; the Greek billionaire's virgin mistress: she's read it all. Hurray to her for stumbling on a good book! Because we all need love, and happy endings, and the aforementioned books won't give them to us.

Next time: The continuing story of how I survived outdoors for several days by bringing lots of food.

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