Saturday, March 29, 2014

Saturday morning, 32 degrees above zero, damp and dripping and overcast. Little grey birds--chickadees, nuthatches--cluster at the  feeder by the kitchen window. Kindling snaps in the woodstove. From a distance--through insulated walls and barricades of trees and the slow press of heavy, softening air--I hear a jay's metallic screech. Outside the mist-coated windows the landscape is the color of a blurry black and white photograph left for 20 years in a damp trunk, a picture that a stranger finds by accident, a picture that's become yellowed and foxed, its gloss aging patchily to matte, its original intent forgotten.

I spent last night sitting on the couch, vaguely watching the Michigan-Tennessee game, browsing now and then through a book of John Singer Sargent reproductions, thinking occasionally about What Maisie Knew, the novel I'm rereading. It occurred to me to write about the novel in today's post, but I don't feel ready. Partly that's because so many people either despise the novels of Henry James or react with professorial push-button fervor about their importance. My feelings are far more ambivalent and, as reading approaches go, far more naive. I can't help but identify with the principal characters; and because the principal characters are almost always mystified and manipulated, I am always cloudy and perplexed when I'm reading a James novel. Still, there are two I go back to again and again: Portrait of a Lady and What Maisie Knew. In these two books, as in Elizabeth Bowen's The Heat of the Day (which I have managed to write about and which is reprinted in some past blog entry), I drift among sentences that are painful, mysterious, eloquent evocations of the characters' assumptions, desires, and distress.

But, as I said, I'm not prepared to write any more about Maisie yet. What I need to do is to return to the land of the prosaic: vacuum the living room, scrub the bathroom, make sure my violin strings are in good order, agonize over what to wear to tonight's show, remind myself not to forget to bring along the chocolate layer cake I baked yesterday afternoon. Here's a link to Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings's version of "Elvis Presley Blues," one of the songs I'll be singing tonight. I won't do it like Gill does, but I will do it as best I can.

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