Tuesday, January 25, 2011


So I've been reading The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, aka the autobiography of Gertrude Stein, not closely, but just to get a sense of the woman to inform my readings from Mary Butts' short story collection, From Altar to Chimney Piece. As I said before, the essence of Stein seems to be her perpetual amusement. Not to say that she can't be serious, but she's so endlessly amused by life. Also, the story of Stein's life is as much about her friends' biographies as hers; her history is a timeline of people she's met. As for the style of the book, there are a lot of digressions into various anecdotes. It's the autobiography of a gossip.

Someday, I will finish the whole thing. But now, on to Mary Butts. The first piece is a short story called "Brightness Falls." First of all, the style is really sort of in your face; fast-paced and repetitive and conversational, like an excited rambling person. Also, on the first page we get this:
"When all's said and done, we do hang together against our women, and not wholly from rational reasons. All one finally discovers is that, when they urge us, the loveliest and wisest become all one with the slut" (203).
Interesting. Though it's not yet clear, I'm assuming the first-person narrator is male; and what's represented here is related to the prude-or-slut dichotomy which inspired this independent study.

I'm having a little trouble picking out things to talk about; there's been so little actual content thus far. It's like a drunk person telling a story and giving you all the irrelevant facts. So this post might just be a festival of quotes.
"It is getting more and more inopportune to suppose that women have no secrets unconnected with sex" (210).
Or just the above. I rather like it.

So having now finished, this is what I can gather. The story is a man named Max relating something to the unnamed, thus far un-gendered narrator, and that something has something to do with his wife obsessing over assonant sounds in "Corandel," "Coromandel," and "parallel." She hears these sounds, picks them out everywhere; she seems to have some psychicness attached to them: she wants to intercept her friend Cynthia with Dr. Corandel at the Lincoln Inn, and she knows "it [will] be in Lincoln's Inn, because in Lincoln's Inn there was a map of the Coromandel Coast" (211). Very strange. On 213 Max describes his wife: "Parmys looked coarse; and again that was because Parmys was like an archaic goddess stored with raw power. Not my wife, not Cynthia's friend and belle-femme, but something that is in the foundation of wise woman and child." So there seem to be some connections to female mysticism. This is reinforced by the conclusion to Max's story, in which Parmys and Cynthia have somehow prevented Corandel and his assonant sounds from invading a "place," apparently some parallel dimension, that travels along with and slightly ahead of them. Max is briefly able to "see" this place.

I'm going to be frank; this story is hella confusing. Fascinating to consider narratively, but since all the information is secondhand the most I can glean is that women have almost preternatural connections with the world and each other, and men only understand sometimes.

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