Sunday, September 26, 2010

Them

In some moments of whim, you imagine yourself as Professor Henry Higgins for a variety of reasons, but in particular regard to Eliza Doolittle, more so the Shaw Professor Higgins than the musical Higgins, where characters break forth with such remarkable ease into song appropriate for the dramatic moment.  It is not that you have anything against song, even though you are not given to breaking into it at dramatic moments, resorting instead to words with Anglo-Saxon derivation.  Your first encounter with the Pygmalion theme came as a black-and-white film, going on scratchy, in which Higgins was portrayed by Leslie Howard and Eliza by the redoubtable and elegant Wendy Hiller.

Perhaps it was the black-and-white film, perhaps your age, and comparative range of sophistication at the time, perhaps the greater presence of Shaw in the former version; in any case you were deeply "in" the concepts and consequences of the play (film) than you were of the musical version.  Higgins was attempting to construct a fictional character out of a human, attempting to move Eliza a considerable step upward on the social elevator and was later faced with the awareness that having done so, he had more or less made her unfit for the class into which she was born and raised.  Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn, although you admire both, were more Harrison and Hepburn.  Howard and Hiller were Higgins and Dolittle; above all, they were both Shaw.

Now for the reasons behind your sometime Higgins whim.  Can you, as Higgins did with Eliza, and indeed Shaw did with Higgins, create characters who successfully "pass"?  Are you able to send your characters off to a life where their intent is so bold, defined, and devious?  Will your characters "get" their purpose from you of carrying story to the point where it explodes off the page in a combustion that flies off the page into the readers' conscious and symbolic awareness?  Can you create characters who will believe one another, each reacting to the others in as complex a package as real people?  Many authors you have read possess this significant ability; you surely reach for it.

You have had some success in creating, say, women characters who appear more womanly than they appear as a mere embodiment created by a male.  You have portrayed various ages and professions, even races and social classes.  But as you well know, characters of the writers you admire have the ability to reach within themselves and respond to the ghosts haunting their locked rooms, places where the family secrets and individual desires are stored under lock, key, and cobweb.  Can you accomplish more than a stumble along those musty hallways of the interior?

Sometimes the answer to the rhetorical question you ask yourself--Just who do you think you are? is best answered with one choice word:  them.

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