(Hesperus)A young lady works in a shop, in London, sending telegrams for the upper class people who live in her area. She works in a barred enclosure set up in a small grocery store --- what the author calls "an animal in a cage... in framed and wired confinement, the life of a guinea-pig or a magpie."From time to time, a handsome and apparently wealthy young man by the name of Capt. Phillip Everard comes to send off messages to his friends. The girl --- never named --- is smitten by him. In the few moments she waits on him she sees him as "extraordinarily kind, very fair."
The mere bloom of his beatitude [she thinks]. He himself, absent as well as present, was all.She is engaged to a grocer by the name of Mudge (Mudge!) who walks around with "a pen behind his ear" and is described as "oleaginous." Still, when she leaves work, she manages to walk past Everard's apartment every afternoon.She finally meets the good Captain. He takes her to a nearby park where they have one of those convoluted Jamesian dialogues: "Well, here we are, and it may be right enough; but this isn't the least, you know, where I was going." As to whether she's eaten supper, "Yes we do feed once. But that was long ago." And then: "I've walked so much out of my way with you only just to show you that ... that ... that anything you may have thought is perfectly true."
Then she bursts into tears and confesses that she's only kept on at the store, despite Mudge's protests, because of the good Captain. "I'll do anything for you," she says, and then runs home.
§ § §
To read James is to be plunged into a muddle --- in this case, the muddle of a young working lady who is gaga over a handsome gentleman. She is convinced she is worthy:
If there was a thing in the world no one could charge her with, it was being the kind of low barmaid person who rinsed tumblers and bandied slang.
When she confesses she stayed at her job just for him, she says, in typical orotund fashion,
I've known perfectly that you know I took trouble for you; and that knowledge has been for me, and I seemed to see it was for you, as if there were something --- I don't know what to call it! --- between us. I mean something unusual and good --- something not a bit horrid or vulgar.
Get the picture? It is as if you went to your corner 7/11 every day to buy bread, cheese and milk and you go to the clerk to have him ring it up and then one day you run into the selfsame clerk in front of your apartment and he tells you that he knows when he is ringing up your bread, cheese and milk he knows that there is something good and noble going on between the two of you.
§ § §
Push comes to shove, the Captain, rather than being noble and good, turns out to be something of a schemer. If this one had come out in 1958 instead of 1898, we'd suspect the blighter had gotten his lady friend with child. Instead, according to the gossip --- and you know the importance of gossip to advance the plot lines in James' novels --- something else, never spelled out, is going on. His friend Lady Bradeen has arranged for it to be hushed up.
There will be a marriage, presumably a marriage of convenience. And the girl in the cage will go off with Mudge, into the Victorian sunset.
For those of us who are fond of leisurely, class-filled novels, this is as good as many of the other novelettes that flowed so prolifically from the hands of this author --- for example, What Maisie Knew or The Turn of the Screw which was published the same year.
For the first time in my years of reading him, something else popped up, a regular Jamesian Jack-
in- the- Box.
He was a student of the English language. Indeed, in the introduction to this volume, we are told that in his old age, after he had a stroke, "he was found the next day searching through the thesaurus for an apter word than 'paralytic' to describe his state..."
What an acute reader will find is that James uses words that, in another context, would surprise and possibly appall the readers of his day. "Intercourse" is everywhere. We all know it is an exchange, esp. of thoughts and feelings. We also know it's physical sexual contact --- and has been so since the 15th Century. Since the author was a devoted student of etymology, I think the old bastard knew exactly what he was doing when he slipped in these words.
The year In the Cage was written --- 1898 --- was the year of the very public trial and jailing of Oscar Wilde. I am suggesting that since James was one who shared the "love that dare not speak its name," and even though he was himself deeply in the Victorian closet, he might have used such punning, ambivalent words in the cloud of his writings to mystify the public, to please himself, and to have a good laugh up his well-starched sleeve. Here are some direct quotes of other doubtfuls from In the Cage:
- "Of course you always knew my one passion!"
- He expressed at a venture the hope that she had had her fill of Cockers.
- "And what manner, pray?"
"Elsewhere? --- I say!"
This was an ejaculation used also by Captain Everard.
- It had been an abject little exposure of dreadful, impossible passion.
- "Their little games and secrets and vices --- those things all pass before me."
- All our humble friend's native distinction, her refinement of personal grain, of heredity, of price, took refuge in this small throbbing spot.
- Won't you look?" he went on.
"I remember your coming," she replied.
- There were places where the screw drew blood.
- Mrs Jordan had never looked so queer, nor her smile so suggestive of a large benevolent bite.
- "Where do I come in?"
"You don't come in at all. That's just the beauty of it!"
§ § §
Our anonymous girl works at "Cockers" --- even though she "has had her fill" of it. Her hero is named Everard. (Sound it out; remember the Cockneys --- like her --- always dropped their "h's.") And one of his telegrams is signed "the pink 'un."
People are constantly handing out "queer" glances, or staring at each other "queerly." When Everard is seeking the missing telegram, with its cryptic numbers, she sees in his eyes "terror and rage and literal tears." When asked if she remembers the date it was sent, she says, "I remember your coming."
At one point, she seems to be teasing him: the phrase used is "she quite dangled him." The phrases "You are in danger" and "There's trouble..." are repeated again and again, as is an unnamed "horrid scandal." She meets him in the park, talks of "the horrors" of him and his friends.
"But isn't 'horrors' rather strong?"
"What you do is rather strong!" the girl promptly returned.
"What I do?"
"Your extravagance, your selfishness, your immorality, your crimes," she pursued, without heeding his expression.
"I say!" --- her companion showed the queerest stare.
"...For all I get out of it is the harmless pleasure of knowing. I know, I know I know!" --- she breathed it every so gently.
"Yes, that's what has been between us," he answered much more simply.
One of his friends is Lord Rye. He had a servant named Drake. The latter is described as "Almost --- I may say --- a loved friend." But they have to separate. Why? Because "he had to sleep out." Where will he be going? To the apartment of Everard and Lady Bradeen.
Most revealingly, there's the line repeated twice, ostensibly about a missing telegram, but certainly a telegraphic message from the author: If it's wrong it's all right.
§ § §
There was always a part of my Puritan mind that said, "No, he couldn't mean that" --- especially when I come across words like "intercourse" or "ejaculation," or when I think on the title The Turn of the Screw. "No," I think: "it's just my lurid mind!"
But we can never forget that James was a homosexual in a society that brutalized its homosexuals --- the most famous case being that of his contemporary Oscar Wilde. Like Wilde, like an animal, James was "in the cage." Perhaps he was in a cage with someone like Everard. Perhaps for him, too, there was a touch of a "horrid scandal." Perhaps he was in danger "for his vices." Perhaps, though, he hid his contrary spirit, forever and cleverly, behind words --- words and sentiments that are buried deep In the Cage, thus protecting himself from the likes of Reading Gaol.--- Arthur J. S. Symonds
A. L. Barker
(Virago)Doug Bysshe is a film star, lives in the south of France, is about to embark on a new picture based on the life of Zwemmer, an Albert Schweitzer look-alike famous for caring for the lepers of Africa.
His twin sister, Dulcie, is married to Pike but he has just run off to the south of France with eighteen-year-old Cherrimay Pugh, as in "pew." Or "phew." Dulcie goes off to Nice to try to rescue what's left of her marriage, and finds Pugh and Pike ensconced in a hotel which doubles as a whorehouse.
Pike's back goes out on him ("He's got his back years ago and it's been a boon to him ever since") and Dulcie arrives in their hotel room, unannounced, rolls up her sleeves and says to Cherrimay, "Move over."
"What are you going to do?"
"What I always do when he gets a bad back, gentle massage and manipulation."
"Leave us alone," said Pike ... You and me are finished, Dulcie. Have been for a long time."
"What you mean is you never got started." To Cherrimay I said, "But that's my business. I contracted to cope, one way or another. Marriage is using what you're given, making the best of it. Sometimes making the best of the worst."
She gazed up at me out of his arms. "We love each other."
For her that solved everything. I don't call it innocence, or ignorance. I call it dimness, underendowment, and it's dangerous. Not to her, to everyone else. Especially to Pike. "He's old enough to be your grand-daddy ... Did you bring a hot-water bottle?"
"Of course not."
"Go and buy one. Buy two. Your love may keep him warm but his back needs toasting..."
Meanwhile Dulcie's twin brother --- Bysshe ("as in Shelley") --- lives in his run-down estate just outside of Nice where all this is going on. His place is old, and messy, and filled with trees and herbs. And geese. The geese are cared for by the "oieboy," the gooseboy who wandered into the finca one day and stayed. He has half a face --- or rather, one half is that of a beautiful boy, crowned with golden hair --- the other is burned and scarred, the eye half-lidded and wet.
Bysshe's publicist Hilda arrives and decides that she wants to do a story on the Gooseboy. The actor, just back from tending lepers in the film, is not very enthusiastic. The photographer says,
"The kid ... what do you call him? Warboy?"
"Pronounced as in oiseau."
"What's he do evenings? Go dancing?"
"With the geese?"
"Has he got a girl?"
"I shouldn't think so."
"Why not? He's got pazazz and he's young. Young beats everything, even a face like his. I'd like to do something for him."
"Nat," said Hilda, "you're here as a photographer, not a plastic surgeon."
At this point, our photographer Twoomey begins to describe, in masterful fashion, how he can move and shape his images to make them into anything he wants. In other words, he's a photographer who is also a whore.
"Did you ever wonder what a face is? Where the original design comes from? The practical considerations aren't all that good. We'd do better with recessed holes and dermal scales. What interests me about this boy's, is which side registers which. Does the left register the same emotion as the right? Or does it come out sweet and sour, like a Chinese takeaway"?
§ § §
Barker has come up with a corking good story here. With an easy artistry she intertwines Byshee's acting, Dulcie's lost husband, two crass publicists, and the scarred Gooseboy into a single wonderful whole. Somehow, everything turns into dyad: Byshee thinks that his leper-saving doctor should be played cold and aloof; everyone else sees the portrayal as warm and sensitive. Dulcie describes her husband Pike as a fool ("People think it's easy dealing with a fool. But a fool has the advantage of not being bound by commonsense") --- yet she goes to Nice to drag him away from Cherrimay. Hilda is a PR lady, with all that implies --- but she asked to do a story on Bysshe because it turns out he had an affair with her sister, and when it went sour, her sister killed herself.
And the boy that Twoomie calls "Warboy." He's a character who is there and yet not there; and he is the fulcrum of the whole. Since he is deaf and dumb and two-faced (not in the usual meaning of the word), everyone makes of him what they will. Bysshe talks to him most directly, and most honestly, more than with any of the other characters. His twin Dulcie goes out to the estate one day, finds the boy alone, and finds herself thinking of Jekyll and Hyde:
It was Hyde who kissed me. I'd been waiting years, donkeys' years my time --- the calendar year is for calendars --- and how many girls would bring themselves to be kissed by that stitched-up mouth? We sank to our knees, drew each other down. It was need, not passion ...
We clung to each other, rolling and devouring each other. With Pike I used to keep my eyes open. I had no faith and tried to see where I wasn't going. But this boy knew what Pike had never known. He took me without by-
your- leave or foreplay, he took me with him. Who said it's better to travel than to arrive --- anyone half way to normal doesn't need me to tell them it's all marvellous ...
His power and mine --- that's how the world was made. And I was one of the last to know it. I had my eyes shut because I knew where I was going and I knew I'd get there.... I cried aloud things that I'm glad I can't now remember. If I'm required to rise above myself in future I shall need help. I was fully conscious that I'd never get another moment of glory like this one. No need to remind myself to make the most if it: you don't quantify at a time like that.
Jekyll and Hyde. The twins Bysshe and Dulcie. Pike ... a man who is also a fish. A cold fish. The doctor with his lepers and the actor with his two-faced boy. Acting and reality. Love and marriage. Deceit and honest love. The tales are all expertly interwoven, and you find yourself begging the author not to end it, please keep it going, the twin strands DNA and RNA, words and pictures, jokes and tragedy, cynicism and innocence, laughter and tears, good and bad: you want her to never stop ... please pretty please.--- F. A. ManleySleeping
These nuns don't talk Spanish, you could say French. Parlor fluent frenchy, jumble lying crawfish pie filling gumball. They taught girls to knit. They taught her to hit the piano. They taught all the girls to say hell merry fuller grays, dolores wit chew, blast due art dower mung wimmen, blast dis fruit uh duh loom, cheez whiz. Anomie, dull party, dull filly, dull spitter shoo sanity...
K was burn at the bend of the ear in the mouth of Remember. She was the fecund child burn in her famish. She came into the word with a putty smoother, a handsewn farther, and a yodeler cistern. They were all to gather in a rosy horse on a piety sweet in Alligator Panorama... When her smoother and farther wrought her chrome from the hose spittle, her cistern fought the piddle ably was a girly heeded bawl. A bawl that dank silk, booed, burgled, rabbled, fried, and tweed in wipers...
I picked this one up to flip though it and became enraptured (and entrapped) by it. "Burn at the bend of the ear in the mouth of Remember..." I say aloud. "Born at the end of the year in the month of December," I translate --- but I am thinking I prefer it in the original. "Bend of the ear," I say. "That could mean something."
"When her smoother and farther wrought her chrome from the hose spittle," I read out loud. "When her mother and father brought her home from the hospital..." I translate. But I still prefer the original. "Smoother and farther..." I think. Perhaps mother was a "smoother." Or a smother. And perhaps her father was "farther" away. "Yaws I lark that jest find," I begin thinking.
And so Ms. Mullen catches us in her words, because this is what we've been doing with words all our lives, children twisting and stretching the vocabulary into puns; Dylan Thomas and his "craft and sullen art;" William Empson and his Seven Ambiguities; Hamlet's "Too much i' the sun;" Lewis Carroll and the gyres and gimbels; Mencken and Perelman and Benchley bending clichés around; Puns and Anagrams in the august New York Times Magazine. Alexander Pope. Gertrude Stein. The play of words, the words for play.
Ms. Mullen catches the reader in her great game, makes us children again, so that latter in the dray, I thanking O'Reilly muss I go down stares, into the ketchup to stert our donor? Whale have T Boone Pickins and grain salutes, I wont a battle of whine, maybe sum mere loot, maybe shiny blank --- with desert able bye. These world gam place catchers mitts your mine, won't foggin' lave you a lone.--- A. W. Allworthy