Friday, August 8, 2014

Reading for Things below the Surface

Let us, if we can, examine the butterfly up close, allowing us to see the loftiness of its essence without leaving it an inert clump of segments on the dissecting board.

Story is the butterfly.  Check.

Story is a functional group of scenes.  Check.

Scenes contain and may be held together by narrative.  Check.

Sometimes, the connective tissue is implicit, not overt in statement.  Check.

A successful scene has an emotional payoff.  Check.

Some emotions are complex, a possible braid of two or more other emotions.  Er, yes, check.  There is more to be considered here.  The "more" is considered in the light of the D. H. Lawrence short story, "The Horse-Keeper's Daughter, wherein emotions are not only manifest and braided, they take us where Lawrence wished to take his readers.

Lawrence was nothing if not an emotional man, in a constant state of argument with himself, his culture, and his goals.  You first became aware of him when he was said to be the model for the character Mark Rampion in Aldous Huxley's novel. Point Counterpoint, which you read with the anticipation of a follower of a magazine serial.  

There was something about Rampion--his outspokenness and apparent disregard for convention--of appeal to you for you were then outspoken and in disregard of convention to the energetic extreme a twenty-year-old finds attractive.

Later, perhaps twenty year later, when you met Huxley, you pressed him for details of Lawrence, whom Huxley spoke of admiring even more so than, as he called her, Mrs. Woolf.  "One gets Lawrence best,"  Huxley told you, "not with the novels, not with the poems, but with what he does in the short stories, where--"  and Huxley sent his gaze off into his own interior lands  "--where he seems to be arguing with his feelings in much the same ways he argued with Freida."  

You spent some considerable years wrestling with this information, alternating between believing you understood the implications and waving them--and Lawrence--off.  In consequence, there was some thought, some processing, some understanding, most of it surface understanding.  Through it all, you were unabashed in your admiration of Huxley, for all the wrong reasons and precious few of the right ones.

Suffice it to say you were impressed by Huxley's ability to see the humor of circumstances from a safe distance.  Meanwhile, your own life did you the favor of holding your head under water for a time, causing you to admire the vast, colorful life under the surface.

If, as your check list appears to indicate, scenes in stories are directed to some emotional atmosphere, we can in actual effect read a story with note pad in hand, using a word or two or three to indicate the target feeling of each scene.

When we've finished our reading, we have an even closer sense of what Lawrence and many more contemporary writers are attempting to leave, for us to see under the surface of the story.  Thus the richness combined with complexity and potential argument young Jack Ferguson, the male lead in "The Horse Keeper's Daughter," feels when Mabel, after he has saved her from drowning herself, announces, "You love me.  I know you love me, I know."

Of course your specifics are relating to Lawrence now for at least two reasons beyond your own more chemical reasons of identifying with some aspects of his behavior.  You are soon to teach a course in which Lawrence's short stories and one novel, Sons and Lovers,  will be pinned on the dissection board for close reading.  In the back of your mind, not far below the surface, there burbles Lawrence's book Studies in Classic American Literature, a series of essays of front rank American authors of the nineteenth century.  With your fascination above and below the levels of consciousness, you wish to write Volume Two of Studies in Classic American Literature, your introduction defining that gallimaufry of narrative in your own terms.

A story is built on a structure of emotional and psychological responses, arranged with great care in order to pull us under the surface for minutes at a time, where we may see through the murk unanticipated beauty and understanding.

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