Monday, 23 January 2017

Jeux de mélancolie

George Eliot is disturbed and embarrassed by 'The Lifted Veil'. In a letter to John Blackwood, she describes it as 'a slight story of an outré kind - not a jeu d'esprit but a jeu de mélancolie'. And Eliot's struggle for control over the material of 'The Lifted Veil' manifests itself both within the tale in the narrator's repeated apologies for going on at such length, and externally when Eliot returns, fourteen years later, to preface the tale with a new epigraph which resolves some of its more disturbing ambiguities. Yet the experience proves cathartic, allowing Eliot to move on to the masterpiece of Middlemarch.
John Lyon, Introduction to the Penguin edition of The Sacred Fount by Henry James 

Shusha Guppy: Do you ever rewrite what you have written?
Brookner: Never. It is always the first draft. I may alter the last chapter; I may lengthen it. Only because I get very tired at the end of a book and tend to rush and go too quickly, so when I have finished it I go over the last chapter.


(Brookner tells (I think) Haffenden, in answer to the same question, 'There just isn't time', as though she were writing for her life.)


How far was Brookner like the George Eliot of 'The Lifted Veil'? Or indeed the Henry James of The Sacred Fount? Of course one couldn't imagine Brookner returning to any of her texts fourteen years afterwards, though here and there in interview she goes some way towards rethinking them, even belittling or neutralising them. Several at least of the novels might be described as jeux de mélancolie, others as more expansive, more like Middlemarch (if not in length). In both 'The Lifted Veil' and The Sacred Fount there is, as John Lyon goes on to say, an 'impulse to finish and have done'. In Brookner, perhaps, this manifests itself in her professed tendency to rush the end of a novel. Whether, however, her subsequent reworkings are successful is another matter. Brookner's last chapters sometimes strive towards hope, even towards epiphany, in a way that doesn't always chime with what has gone before.

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