I’ve been reading Edith Wharton, and it’s rather depressing. Everything is rather something (or’uther). Not to be too flippant – I am sure the characters in Glimpses of the Moon really felt every bit as miserable and desperate as they sounded, so distant from reality in their artificial world of pre-World War One romantic intrigue and chinchilla cloaks. And to be sure, there was something about the depth of their distress at being parted from their true love (and therefore, from a true life) which inspired a familiar anxiety in me.
How does one engage in everyday work to support the artistic life (trying not to be as tongue in cheek as that sounds and failing miserably, I see Wharton’s sad, sarcastic tone has infected me more than I would have liked!) Surely there is a better solution than that of the two lead characters of Glimpses, who become hangers-on of rich people and wonder at themselves for being so hopeless as to not be able to do an honest day’s job, yet also can’t see a way out. That is, until the very end of the book, the last five pages, when they find each other again and commit to loving each other in poverty. Well, for at least one turn of the moon, anyhow. It’s all rather bleak.
I suppose birth control would have helped the heroine. And to my mind, a good kick up the bottom would have done the hero a world of good.
Is it really that simple? Can the life of the mind be as easy to come by as I ruthlessly suggest?
To my mind (made obstinate by opposition), for thousands of people: yes. A little dose of application and a lot of determination; the good fortune of being middle-class Australian, getting a good education and not having to fight for food: these are all things not to squander. If you have permission from your loved ones to create and, for a while, put money second (though not, entirely, out of the picture!) then take it. There’s nothing that makes me so impatient as hearing of someone in our affluent society, surrounded by supportive people and opportunities to work in ways that will support their writing (if not their Faberge egg habit) who wants to write but can’t seem to find the time.
I am being uncharitable, and these words will come back to bite me, I know. It’s just that blasted Wharton I’m mad at. She spoke too honestly and too close to the bone about the inertia and laziness that can stultify. But then, so can a want of finance. And then, so can fear. Being on the cusp of leaving my job to cobble together freelancing and focus more on writing, you could say that this is on my mind.
I might read something less doleful next. Who would have thought the story of a couple of wastrel New York socialites from the late 1800s could strike from such a distance? Bloody classics. Thoroughly untrustworthy ways to spend your leisure time. Just as likely as a modern read to bite you on the bottom with an home truth, of the kind you thought you had cleverly avoided by immersion in descriptions of clothes and carriages. But look out: what goes on inside those c’s can pack a punch.