Inspirational quotations can be just the little giver of buzz you need when your spirits are low. Or when your mojo is most definitely out of sync.
But sometimes you need something that illustrates what makes a writer great rather than possessing an ability for the pithy apothegm. Something that makes you work that little bit harder.
So, it’s a long quotation today; from Lawrence’s The Rainbow.
His voice was harsh and cat-like, he was blind to the child. She shrank away in childish anguish and dread. What was it, what awful thing was it?
The mother turned with her calm, almost superb manner.
‘What has she done, then?’
‘Done? She shall go in the church no more, pulling and littering and destroying.’
The wife slowly rolled her eyes and lowered her eyelids.
‘What has she destroyed, then?’
He did not know.
‘I’ve just had Mrs Wilkinson at me,’ he cried, ‘with a list of things she’s done’.
Ursula withered under the contempt and anger of the ‘she’, as he spoke of her.
‘Send Mrs Wilkinson here to me with a list of things she’s done,’ said Anna. ‘I am the one to hear that.’
‘It’s not the things the child has done,’ continued the mother, ‘that have put you out so much, it’s because you can’t bear being spoken to by that old woman. But you haven’t the courage to turn on her when she attacks you, you bring your rage here.’
This is a quite wonderful passage in a quite wonderful long section about the relationship between the father and his eldest daughter, Ursula. In these few lines of dialogue and actions, Lawrence perfectly outlines the family dynamics of the Brangwens – and, I think, of many families.
Look at the way Anna – the mother and wife – holds the still centre and moves little more than her eyes. Her husband’s rage is to one side of her and her daughter’s fear and hurt to the other. And there is perfection in that almost identical phrase she repeats when asking what Ursula is supposed to have done. The grandiloquence of ‘destroyed’ after ‘done’ punctures the whole bloated seriousness of the situation. And ‘He did not know’ shows us a man puffing out his cheeks and waving a hand dismissively.
Anna has turned his anger away towards Mrs Wilkinson and rightly seen her husband’s sense of frustration and resentment towards this woman as the cause of his rage. His only response when Anna delivers her verdict in the final line above is to go silent and drift away from them.
As I said, quite wonderful.
This is the writing of a master. It moves the story forward while showing the depths of the characters and their relationship to one another. I also like the fact that the sentences of dialogue are not polished or particularly grammatically correct. It’s not so much about showing how the characters speak as letting the words run free. Proper punctuation might sit uncomfortably where clauses separated by commas only can carry us forward with no hindrance.
This moment in the book is important in Ursula’s relationship with her father because it starts the process of accepting that he is part of a malignant world that can cause her pain. She loves him dearly and she remains his favourite but there is a loss of innocence – early because she is only about 4 years old at this point – that gives her a strength she will need later.
And that gesture by Anna with her eyes. You can just see it, can’t you? I know I’ve seen it often enough aimed my way by wife and daughters. Chastening, it is. Always.