Tag Archives: life

A Metaphor of Stone Fences

Even as the morning was happening, I knew it was a metaphor, and by the time it was over, I experienced such a euphoria at my accomplishment that I stopped in at the church and lit a candle. It all started when I set out to walk to Synge’s Chair, the spot on the north end of Inis Meain where J.M. Synge used to sit and contemplate. It’s a beautiful spot for a writerly person.

On my last visit here, I was told it’s possible to walk all around the edge of the island, and I decided to set out, but I didn’t get committed until later. This is a very rocky place, without enough soil to support trees and only rare bushes. On my right, as I proceeded counter-clockwise (another metaphor, now that I think on it), there was a high barrier of piled rocks, so that while I could hear the ocean, I couldn’t see it. I stumbled and tripped and teetered over shards and stones and occasional bits of grasses until I came to a stone fence, which I climbed over. I did that about six times.

As I searched for footholds, I pointed out to myself that maybe I shouldn’t do that, that it was foolhardy and didn’t I know my age. I replied that in that case, this was probably the only time I would ever do it. So I kept on. I started composing my apology to the search and rescue people who were going to have to come out and find me after I sprained an ankle or broke a hip. All the time, I could hear the ocean and sometimes I could see the spray. I wasn’t wearing a watch.

And then, I came to the end of the high barrier and could see the ocean. I could also see the flat stone platform that circles the coast on the sea-side of that barrier. And I thought to myself of course I did it the hard way.  I always do it the hard way. It happens without even trying. I have a gift for it. But, for my own mad reasons, I didn’t turn back, didn’t give up. And I felt such relief when I got to a bit of road and the walking got so easy, even though it was all uphill. When I got to the spine of the island and could see the dun, I began to feel elation. I felt a euphoria of accomplishment, and parched as I was, I took a few minutes to light the candle as a gesture to the universe before heading home. I’d been gone three hours.

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Filed under On Thinking, On Writing

Thomas Hardy’s Life Story

One of the things I love about reading authors’ biographies is making connections between the life and the work. Academic departments traditionally have a lack of respect for biographical criticism, although department members regularly research and write biographies, an irony that frustrates me no end. An historian once informed me that biography isn’t history, and I replied that history isn’t either. What we both meant was that these are not “real” or “true,” necessarily. They’re both all about storytelling and making meaning from events. What’s important is to start from the original data rather than to read backwards from the stories and to assume that everything in them happened exactly that way. Not everything that goes on in a novel is something that happened to the author.

But writers write what they know. They borrow from anywhere to get what they need, but they also use their own lives. Readers need to be discerning. In the case of Thomas Hardy, one of my great loves, and the focus of my Master’s degree, there are a few staples that recur: an architect, older woman/younger man, social class divide. When Hardy was a young man, he trained as an architect, and when he married, he was beneath his wife in terms of class. Characters need to do something, and what they do needs to be convincing. In Hardy’s marriage, social class was a barrier, and he works that out novel after novel. Also recurrent are Hardy’s philosophical convictions. For one thing, he believed that we are in the hands of an unkind Fate. Novel after novel.

But most interesting to me is that he struggles, book after book, with the question of to whom does a person really belong–the one to whom a person is married or the one with whom a person has a bond. Transgressing societal order, in terms of this dilemma, is at the heart of Jude the Obscure. Hardy lays the blame at society’s judgmental feet. When we read a writer’s work, we read what concerns that writer, and it’s couched in aspects of the life.

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Filed under On Reading, On Writing