After writing about Leonora Carrington today, I was perusing Youtube and came across this clip from a documentary about her life, which also includes a filmed rendition of her short story, “The Debutante,” which is both humorous and grotesque, as you’ll see if you watch the clip. It’s about ten minutes in length, and my favorite part is toward the end when Carrington, while being interviewed, says, “My anger is that I was put on the market,” in reference to the compulsory selling of upper class daughters into marriage during her youth. In a world where women are still being bought and sold and controlled, I think the voice of an old crone (I mean this positively) like Carrington still resonates.
“Despite everything, I believe people are good at heart.”
I’m so glad Anne Frank could believe this. It’s a testament to her own goodness. It is not a testament to human nature itself, though. It tells us more about Anne than it does about ourselves.
I don’t believe it. I don’t attribute my disbelief to my own goodness, but to what I have seen of humanity, including what was going on around Anne, after the fact, and would like to say, You know what? People are still very eager to do away with other people who are not like them.
Anne, you are a beautiful star.
But people? In general? They are not.
When we are exceptional, when we see those unlike us as ourselves, despite our differences, THEN we are as beautiful as Anne.
When we are unable to do that? We are ugly, inhumane, and disturbing.
I speak about this in relationship to the writing of fiction. Is it worthwhile to speak of that which is good about us?
But there is a stronger push against, a resistance, to writers who speak about our ugliness, that which is disgusting in human nature. And the more we resist it, the more I wish to represent our ugliness.
It should not be forgotten.
It should be the thing about which we are most uncomfortable.
It should be the thing we talk about more than anything.
Until we have done away with it.
Then, let us speak of our goodness, as Anne would. But when our goodness has been won, an earned virtue.
Okay, we can speak of our goodness, which we would not want to lose.
But not at the expense of acknowledging that which comprises our darkness.
Otherwise, we are living within an ideal, what we would like to think about ourselves, not about reality.
And even when we write fantasy, we should be speaking to reality. The reality of the story.
Otherwise, we are making ourselves feel good about ourselves without reason.
Love is the difficult realization that something other than oneself is real.
– Iris Murdoch
Honestly, the only novel by Murdoch that I’ve read has been The Unicorn, which I remember liking, because it was all Gothic and philosophical, set in a big English manor somewhere in an English countryside, with strange characters who were a little touched, but I have never plunged into the Murdoch oeuvre. Whenever I look at her books, I get the sense that they’re very dry and dusty, though very intelligent. I’d like to keep the intelligent but get rid of at least the dryness. I think that’s what I did like about The Unicorn, but I haven’t managed to move on to any others. But then I come across quotes like this from Murdoch, and they make me want to look into her books again. If there are any real Murdoch fans out there reading this, send me honest to goodness suggestions as to which of her books I really should read. I still can’t imagine myself ripping through all of her work, but I would read another Murdoch novel if I had it on good authority that one or two of them are absolute must-reads.
It’s spring, or so it seems for the moment, and my inner English novelist is calling for a good cup of tea and a desire to read about vicars and rummage sales. Early spring seems to always do this to me. And I’m fresh out of A.S. Byatt. I did read through all of her books a long time ago.