Tuesday, January 12, 2010

When first we practice to deceive*

Current book: The Wings of the Dove
Pages read: 437 (220) - 504 (287)

Somehow I misread earlier (Gee, I wonder how that could possibly have happened. Surely it wasn't the fact that my stultified brain was unable to force itself to absorb all of the information in James's interminable paragraphs of description. Must have been the 19th century American literature goblins. They're always making you forget stuff. Little scamps.) and it turns out that Milly actually does like Merton. I was right about Kate, though, asking Merton to dance attendance on Milly because of the fact that she's a terminal case and she loves him. Despite his better judgment, he agrees to do it, and correspondingly (I don't think that's the word I mean. Something else with a c. Consequently. That's the one.) goes to visit Milly at her hotel, where she is flattered and surprised to receive him. Looks like he'll be able to make her love him, or fulfill her fantasies of being in love, anyway, with relative ease. We also learn that Aunt Maud thinks Merton should actually go after Milly, and she tells Susie so in a meeting the two have. Susie, however, had heretofore been under the impression that Kate didn't love Merton; Aunt Maud, during the same meeting, corrects said impression, making this little love triangle even more complex.

Here's how it breaks down:

1) Kate loves Merton.
2) Merton loves Kate.
3) Milly loves Merton.
4) Milly thinks Kate doesn't love Merton.
5) Susie knows that Kate does love Merton.
6) Kate asks Merton to pretend to love Milly.
7) Aunt Maud tells Merton to really love Milly.
8) Merton thinks Milly is a nice girl and very pretty, but doesn't love her. Yet.

A couple of things could happen at this point: Merton could actually fall in love with Milly, which would certainly be awkward; Merton could con Milly into marrying him, wait until she kicks the bucket, and use her fortune to make himself marriageable in Aunt Maud's eyes, though we've seen no evidence that he'd be that calculating; Milly could find out Merton's just pursuing her out of pity, and die of hurt feelings; or something else entirely could happen. (I'd like Milly to snap and kill everyone, but then it'd be postmodern.)

The excessive description is still obnoxious. It's like James has to cover everything three times: once before it happens, when it actually happens, and then after it happens. Just the middle one would be fine with me. He's probably trying to create a sense of dramatic irony, as well as to illuminate the social and psychological aspects of his characters' decision-making, which, to be fair, is brand new and exciting in James's literary America, and is why he's a respected author. (See? See how reasoned and fair and objective that was? I'm being good.) But I don't have to like it.

*I'd like to point out that this quote is from Sir Walter Scott's Marmion, and not, in fact, Shakespeare. Because I'm here to inform the public. Be informed, public.

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