28 February 2017

What Love Has to Do With It!


I had recently screened again Stephen Daldry’s film The Hours, with a script by David Hare. The Hours, is a film based on Virginia Woolf’s novel, Mrs. Dalloway, and appears to be a film about how three women over three generations confront suicide, and event central to the novel. I returned to the original text:--Virginia Woolf’s novel,--and I sense though death, mortality and suicide are themes of the book, for me the novel speaks to an intense yet fragile love of life. Clarissa Dalloway loves life. From the opening pages the narrator, speaking clearly from within Clarissa’s consciousness (if it is not actually her consciousness we follow), declares “For Heaven only knows why one loves it so, how one sees it so, making it up, building it round one, tumbling it, creating it every moment afresh; but the veriest frumps, the most dejected of miseries sitting on doorsteps (drink their downfall) do the same . . . they love life.” Yes, Clarissa loves life though not always specific people in it: for example, she does not like Mrs. Kilman at all, and Hugh Whitbread seems rather stuffy, and Lady Bruton doesn’t invite her to lunch though Lady Bruton welcomes Richard, Clarissa’s husband. And Mrs. Dalloway has suffered illness and is constantly aware of her mortality. As she walks through London on the day of her party (ah, she wonders, why does she organize these parties; why, why?) Clarissa “felt very young; at the same time unspeakably aged.” Life was so fragile that “she always had the feeling that it was very, very dangerous to live even one day.” To love it so much as to suffer the danger that at any moment it might be lost: as it was for Septimus Smith whose experience during World War I had left him permanently damaged and who throws himself out of the window to put an end to his despair. I think Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway is about the nature of love in the world of the twentieth century and following the experience of the first world war. And I think that for Mrs. Dalloway love exists in the ordinary, the mundane, and the daily routine of life. Love is expressed in the diurnal activities in which people daily engage. Love does not reside in the great passions on display sometimes on the stage or the screen, or that is written about in even the great novels; love resides in the ordinary sometimes even inarticulable expressions we haltingly make as we go through our daily lives, as in Richard’s sudden desire and purchase of roses for Clarissa and yet his inability to say to her “I love you,” when he gives them to her, though she knew from his gift what he was saying. Love exists in the daily. What Clarissa loved “was this, here, now, in front of her; the fat lady in the cab.”
     And I am thus reminded of J.D Salinger’s book Fanny and Zooey. Franny Glass has suffered an existential crisis, a spiritual breakdown, and taken to her bed seeking some salvation and spiritual uplift by her recitation of the Jesus prayer. She has become immobilized, and in her search for some transcendent and ultimate purpose lost touch with the daily life. From a different room in the apartment her brother Zooey calls on the telephone and tells her to “go on with your Jesus Prayer if you want to. I mean that’s your business.” But he reminds her that when she did suffer her break down she did not search the world for a master spiritual guide; rather, she came home and he feels justified to serve now as a lowly spiritual counsel to her. “You’re only entitled to the low-grade spiritual counsel we’re able to give you around her, and no more.” He has something to say to Franny!
     Zooey’s counsel to Franny returns me to Clarissa in Woolf’s novel, Mrs. Dalloway. Zooey demands that Franny look at the ordinary activities of life as sources of joy and love. He chides her: “You don’t even have sense enough to drink when somebody brings you a cup of consecrated chicken soup Bessie ever brings anybody around this madhouse.” In her quest for the ultimate Franny has missed the sacredness of the ordinary.” He asks her, “How in hell are you going to recognize a legitimate holy man when you see one if you don’t even know a cup of consecrated chicken soup when it’s right in front of your nose?” It is life and life only that must be loved. Once, Zooey tells Franny, his older brother Seymour had advised Zooey that even though they performed on a radio show he ought still to polish his shoes: “He said to shine them for the Fat Lady,” though he never revealed the identity of the Fat Lady. And Zooey says to Franny, who in her search for purpose and meaning in life suffers such anguish, “But I’ll tell you a secret—Are you listening to me? There isn’t anyone out there who isn’t Seymour’s Fat Lady . . . Don’t you know that—don’t you know who that Fat Lady really is? . . . Ah, buddy. Ah, buddy. Its Christ’s Himself. Christ Himself, buddy.” The Fat Lady listening to the radio or sitting in the cab is the holy, and the constant recitation of the Jesus prayer serves to deflect Franny from attending with care and with love to the Fat Lady listening to the radio—to miss the sacred that inheres to daily life . . . and to the fat lady in the cab!   

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