Monday, April 26, 2010

"Women In Love" by D.H. Lawrence: A Conundrum

I recently finished Women In Love, David Lawrence's between-the-wars tale of relationships and the modern world. I confess that I'm not at all sure where to place it on the irony meter. That is, do I take it as an earnest statement by Lawrence that (for example) Ursula and Rupert have formed the only proper couple of the four couples in the book (I include the Brangwen parents and the Crich parents as examples of "love pairings" or whatever you wish to call it), or do I assume that Lawrence is saying that even these two have got it wrong, with their "spritual love" and all the metaphysics that go along with that including their self-imposed removal from the world at large? Is Lawrence saying that no matter how one slices it, you can't really have a meaningful loving relationship nowadays? I don't know.

The Brangwen parents are an old-fashioned middle-class Catholic couple and clearly Lawrence sees them as fundamentally unhappy and backwards. The Brangwens are, however, at least unhappy together in the same way for the same reasons (they're repressed and closed-minded). The Crich parents are even worse off: the father is happy in his business and in his (patronizingly noblesse oblige) relationships with his workers and their families, but he and his wife do not get along at all and she literally has been driven mad by his controlling ways (even if what he's controlling are--to his mind--her violently selfish aristocratic attitudes toward their children and the community at large which depends on the Crich industrial empire). Rupert and Ursula manage to negotiate some kind of possibly stable love, but it removes them from society. Gudrun and Gerald attempt to get together but that ends in death and disaster.

The book itself concludes with a conversation between Rupert and Ursula wherein Rupert maintains that Gerald wouldn't have had such a nasty fate had he been able to have a meaningful and honest relationship with another man (that is, Rupert himself), and there is a great deal of homoeroticism between Gerald and Rupert all through the book. Although this book is called Women in Love and all four of Rupert Birkin, Gerald Crich, Ursula and Gudrun Brangwen are cast as main characters, it is clearly the men--and especially Gerald in the last 150 or so pages--whose worldviews are central to Lawrence, and the women exist largely to comment upon the male viewpoint. Which they do at some length, at times with real humor (giving lie to the common complaint that Lawrence was a cheerless fellow).

I can't for the life of me figure out where Lawrence stands amid all of this stuff. The book is frustratingly opaque in that way, which is perhaps a good thing because I keep thinking about it. One thing I do believe is that Lawrence really didn't know any women at all well, and I think he makes clear on any number of occasions his position that the proper relationship between man and woman is one of master and servant (though he also might condemn that attitude during an interior monologue of Ursula's). I am also troubled by a conversation, late in the narrative, between Rupert and Gerald where a dislikable person is said to be "certainly Jewish" or some such, as a negative statement about his character. Is this a comment on the class beliefs of Gerald and Rupert, or does Lawrence take it as given that his reader will say, "Oh, a Jew. Of course he's smarmy." I don't know that, either.

Anyway, it's an interesting book and contains brilliant social observation alongside the (possibly blinkered and unconscious) class, racial and gender prejudices of the author. The title makes it sound like a cheap romance, but even with all the sex, Women In Love is mostly an attempt, possibly, to show love as a human invention that really has no counterpart in nature and is more an ideal than an attainable reality, especially in a dehumanized mechanical age. Maybe.

This Weekend: A Young Ram Says Hello

Friday, April 23, 2010

Chapter Six, In Progress

wordcount = 16,598! Not impressive, but increasing nonetheless. Happily, I feel a certain momentum building as the story heads into the end of this act. Also happily, this chapter introduces two more characters (Gertrude and Ophelia) into the story, and I am pleased with the way I've done them. Here's a helpful hint on introducing characters: already have them known to the protagonist so you don't go through a boring "getting to know you" phase. You can then throw them into the story within their own plot arcs, each character already in medias res. It works, really it does.

Anyway, here's a brief snippet. All the usual caveats about it being a rough draft and cetera:

When the queen and her party arrived well before sundown, her majesty was worse out of temper than ever I had seen her. Gertrude moved like a storm, bursting into the great hall, calling for the king. She was wrapped from ears to floor in a cloak of red and white fox pelts, a black wolf hat on her head. Only her eyes were visible between her furs, glittering sapphire blue and not resting on any face as she swept past the courtiers hastily lined up to greet her just within the castle doors.

“Where is my husband?” she cried, rushing by us. “Someone bring me to the king this instant.” Her voice rang through the hall, a hammer beaten against iron.

Gertrude had forbidden her advance riders to precede her to the castle and so we were caught off guard by her arrival, several hours earlier than expected. Servants and sycophants ran this way and that in her wake. I heard someone say that the king was in his chambers, having a bath. Prince Hamlet appeared and the queen threw herself around him and then they were gone from the hall, the storm of angry queen blowing down the eastern corridor, her ladies-in-waiting running to keep up.

“Did you mark," Guildenstern said to none in particular, "How her majesty gave me an especial nod?”

The queen had indeed brought a great many trunks, cabinets and servants from Copenhagen and these poured into the fort, Gertrude’s possessions carried in a seemingly endless caravan down corridors, up flights of stairs and delivered to her suite of rooms. There were boxes of clothing and jewelry, chairs and tapestries, a bedstead with a thick mattress, a rolling cabinet apparently filled with shoes, a dressmaker’s dummy and a dressmaker with her implements and much more besides. Gertrude’s train from the palace must have stretched out for a mile as they came north along the highway.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Chapter Five Finished

I have finished Chapter Five (during lunch at my new favorite Chinese restaurant), and I think I'm going to call it "A More Dangerous Enemy." Wordcount = 15,569! I've also made good notes for Chapter Six, which I hope to work on this evening. Yay, me! No corpses in Chapter Five, nor will there be in Chapter Six. But chapters Seven and Eight? Gosh, look out.

Also, this:

It is springtime in Seattle. Which means that right now, it's raining. Of course.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Plot Versus Story

A quick one, possibly to be developed later on:

PLOT is a series of events. STORY is what gives MEANING to those events. Plot answers "What happened?" Story answers "Why did this happen?"

Story, more specifically, answers "Why did this happen to this person/these persons at this time in this place?"

Plot is "what happens next?" Story is why you care what happens next.


Thursday, April 15, 2010

Chapter Four, Excerpt

We had got to the top of the battlements on the western side of the castle. Below us, beyond the moat and past a field that had been cleared of trees during my childhood, was the town where I had been born. Raised in the shadow of Kronberg, I had seen the fort thousands of times in all seasons, lights and weather, but I had never stood on the castle walls and looked down upon Elsinore. Despite myself I thought it a lovely view, the houses, mercantiles and offices gathered behind the walls in neat rows along the harbor, the spire of the basilica rising at the northeast corner of the town, Lake Elsinore and the wilderness beyond where thick stands of trees encircled the city walls and protected the inhabitants against centuries of intellectual and philosophical advances. A few lights shone in windows and in the harbor the furled sails of ships glowed ghostly white. It was quite a lovely scene as Rosenkrantz had promised. Though I could well enough see the neighborhood, I could not make out my father’s house from so far in the night.

“Frederik,” I said. “Do you know what a telescope is?”

“Some Greek potion?”

“Nay, it is an optical device that allows a man to see far into the distance. They are a German invention, though doubtless a Dane could build a better one.”

“You would look at your stars with one?”

“Nay, the stars are finite in number and seen well enough on a clear night. I should look at the planets instead. They are closer than the stars, larger and certainly they would prove of more interest to the investigating eye. Ah, Rosenkrantz, to gaze clearly upon the features of the moon!”

“I should rather see the faces on coins, Horatio. Whose face will be on our money when there is a new king, do you think? Young Hamlet?”

“Faith, I know not. I should not wish the throne upon him. He believes that to rule is to sit handsomely on a horse and wear fine armor. Being king is not always valor and glory, Frederik. Being king is trade and treaties, fishing disputes with England, taxes on ships and sheep and wool and wheat, or petty arguments between owners of orchards and owners of granaries. Or perhaps I should say that being king is to concern oneself with displaying the right breed of courtesy to the right breed of courtier. I do not think my friend Hamlet would enjoy this.”

“Nonsense. Every man wishes to be king.”

“I do not.”

“A philosopher king is what you’d be, but surely you would rule if you could.”

“Only were it thrust upon me by necessity.”

“Aye, and every man keeps a wary eye for the call of necessity, that he may finally act according to his deepest desire.”

“Perhaps. In any case, young Hamlet is now being groomed in earnest to take a high place in Denmark’s affairs. He will likely be king after his father.”

“Do you still find in him a worthy man? We have some control in this succession, Horatio.”

The moon was full but a curtain of cloud hung along the eastern sky, spreading the satellite’s white glow but hiding her face. I estimated the aspect between the moon and my father’s house, with me at the crux of the angle. Sesqisquare, I thought, or within an orb of ten degrees or so.

“I like the prince,” I said. “Though he and I are becoming strangers.”

“You move in different orbits.” Rosenkrantz smiled at his cleverness. I also smiled.


“Well, we shall see. But it is shrewishly cold and you cannot keep me freezing out here all night, Horatio. Tell me: will you accomplish you task here, or will you wait until the court is returned to Copenhagen?”

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Chapter Four Finished!

wordcountometer ~= 13,150!

No excerpts to post, sorry. Maybe later. Title for this chapter: "The Hour of Their Discovery." I am enjoying taking the titles from the actual chapter text, finding it when the chapter is finished. It's a new thing for me, and new is always good.

The end of chapter four also marks the end of Act One in this 5-act structure. Act Two is provisionally titled "The Assassin" and that means, you know, that the corpses will begin to pile up. That's how you know it's a book I've written. Chapter Five will also introduce two characters (Gertrude and Ophelia) and therefore some character dynamics and, finally, some discussion of sex. There will also likely be more drinking and someone will fall from a battlement. Probably. We'll see when I get there. I'll be interested to see what this title's chapter is. Chapter 7, I think, will be called "Bet on the Pig." Maybe that's Chapter 8, though. Again, I'll see when I get there.

Mostly, I want to have this book written so I can sit and read it. Yes, I think it's going to be that good.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Chapter Four, continuing

I am now about 1,000 words into Chapter Four. I haven't found a title for it yet, but the royal banquet is nearing the end and the king has just taken his feet in order to make a rousing, patriotic speech. My assumption is that he'll say something pithy and metaphorical that I can use as a chapter title. If not, I'm sure Horatio will say something good later in the chapter, after the banquet is over. Guildenstern has passed out drunk, in case you were wondering, and Horatio has had a moment of nostalgia for banquets past. Polonius gets a "Paradise Lost" reference, which pleases me. I have also rewritten the sentences describing what food is served, giving a bit more detail and adding such phrases as "smothered in mushrooms." Alas, there are no desserts.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Chapter Four, in progress

I'm about 600 words into Chapter Four and it seems to be going well enough. I have introduced two characters (Sir Yorick and Frederik Rosenkrantz) and possibly a third (a priest who's not been given a name yet; we'll see if I actually need him as anything but a prop). Yorick and Rosenkrantz (or possibly "Rosencrantz" if I change my mind about Danish spellings) will both feature prominently in later chapters. At some point someone will say, "Alas, poor Yorick." That someone might even be Hamlet; we'll see how I feel about it when the time comes. I have begun to view Shakespeare's play as a big toybox filled with colorful objects from which I am inventing a new game as I go along. I don't mind that.

Anyway, the gang's all having a feast in the great hall at Kronberg castle. Some drinking has taken place. More to come. Also: eels! A Swiss general will address the party before everyone goes off to bed, and then Horatio will talk to Rosenkrantz/Rosencrantz about telescopes! You may think that's not exciting, but you'd be wrong. I am of course leaving out all of the important details in this summary, like talk of poison and revenge. But oh. Oh, yes.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Chapter Three Finished

wordcountometer = 10,163!

10K words! Yay, me. I'm shooting for about 90K on this version, so that makes me about 1/9th finished. Huh. Anyway, I found a nice place to write during lunch just now and scrawled out a few hundred words and decided that I'd reached a nice place for a chapter break so I called it good. That means there will be one more chapter in this act than I had originally intended, but that's no big deal. In fact, it's no deal of any size at all.

It seemed to me that what was missing from Chapter Three was a sense of mystery. Even though I have been careful to plant questions in the reader's mind with every scene, I wanted there to be something more, something hinting at sinister doings and possibly foreshadowing some scenes to come (I confess that I didn't realize I was foreshadowing until just this minute, so well done me), so I decided to send Horatio up a stairwell and stumble upon some mysterious doings at the top of the tower. I am prepared to claim that it's a very Nabokovian moment.

Anyway, onward to Chapter Four, for which I have plenty of notes. Chapter Four will consist of a long, drunken feast and a conversation afterwards between conspirators. It will be, I think, the first of several (many?) drunken scenes. Denmark, you know. Hey, maybe Sir Yorick will be at the feast. It could happen.

Monday, April 5, 2010

This Weekend's Fun With Hardware and Tools

This weekend Mighty Reader and I built a new grape arbor in our back yard out of copper pipe, braided steel wire and steel fittings. Mighty Reader and I like that the new arbor gives the yard an airy, open feel (the old arbor was made of 4" x 4"s and 2" x 4"s and was more like a split-rail fence than an arbor, ta awfully). Mostly, though, I like all the metal hardware in the yard. It appeals to my inner architect and builder.

braided cable! copper pipe!

eyebolts! cable clamps!

cocktails! These are "Blue Arnauds," which contain 1 1/2 shots of gin, 1/2 shot of blue curacoa, and 1/2 shot of vermouth. Garnished with raspberry. Very pretty and tasty!

mixing concrete!

The arbor is essentially invisible, but that's fine. The grapevine is kind of scary without leaves, though. A bit haunted house if you ask me. Still, it will be cool once the grape has leafed out.

Not Flying Through This Draft Just Now

I have been not writing for the last week, because I've been not having time to write, mostly. Today at lunch I worked on the chapter in which I'm in the middle, and it was one of those "What's this scene about? What's this chapter about? What's this book about?" sort of writing sessions that I abhor. I need to stop and read from the first page up to where I've left off, have a good look at my notes, and then start up again with the prose. It's exceedingly frustrating lately, because I'm running ragged and feeling disconnected with life itself; how am I supposed to concentrate on an entire fictional world at the same time? But! I did manage about 350 words and have a pretty clear idea of the rest of this chapter and I have come up with some good ideas to push through the narrative discourse of the entire story, so that's all fine.

More vexing, possibly, than the time question is the problem of finding a spot where I can physically write. I work on this book during lunch, and it's becoming harder in this neighborhood to find a restaurant that's not wall-to-wall crowded. Is that so much to ask? I'm not even asking for quiet; I just need a chair and a table large enough to both eat and work. Someday, maybe, it will warm up outside and I can sit on the lawn and write while I eat lunch. Someday. Maybe.