Wednesday, February 15, 2012

all but forgotten

Violet on her wedding day, June 16, 1919.

She doesn’t seem enthused.

For the author recalling her life, “Curiosity rules,” says the reviewer of the author’s book, “roving where it will among assorted lives from his favored historical era. Let the stabilizing principle be the author himself.”

The author—a biographer—presently makes a fiction of real lives, including himself as pursuer, thereby made a character fictionalizing what can be known. But the reviewer finds less: “... this figure, with his already proclaimed ‘great reluctance’ to plunge into self-analysis, remains little more than a two-dimensional frontman, an amenable cipher.”

No, look: Anyone in fictive narration proclaiming great reluctance to plunge into self analysis (I prefer no hyphen) is expressing a narrator, one with allegedly great reluctance, which is an authorial confession (a point of self-analysis) masked by narrative displacement.

“Whatever,” Violet might have replied, 2012, bored by pretense.  She might very well have been that Portrait Of A Lady that was already long popular then, having herself come into English wealth by birth, then preferring life in Italy—for that is what one did back then, eventually, if one could. To travel Europe was, like, de rigueur.

Then one returns dismissively to one’s jaded estate and tends one’s garden.

Violet Trefusis was born Violet Keppel, daughter of a mistress to King Edward VII of the UK. Her biological father, however, was considered by members of the Keppel family to be William Beckett, subsequently 2nd Baron Grimthorpe, a banker and MP for Whitby, northeast England. According to the Wikipedia article about her, “She is most notable for her lesbian affair with English poet Vita Sackville-West, which was featured under disguise in Virginia Woolf’s Orlando: A Biography.”

The reviewed author so affected by Violet (and by William Beckett, among others in his story) is Michael Holroyd, A Book of Secrets: Illegitimate Daughters, Absent Fathers, reviewed unfavorably by an erudite English dandy, Julian Bell, in the current New York Review of Books. (You can read the whole thing as a PDF here.) The New York Times review was more gracious.

I’m drawn here not so much by the aura of then-scandalous love, rather to
a pathos of fascinating lives soon forgotten, but for narrative immortality.

Okay, I confess: I was a scandalous woman, born on Bloomsday (Violet’s wedding day), and today is the birthday of a woman I love dearly (who was enjoying Portrait of a Lady after touring Europe), and that’s part of a true story that is so literally incredible that it would be regarded as fiction (no tease, but the rubric “literairy living” is at heart less about academic aspiration than about living with—framing, appropriating—past uncanniness).