Monday, April 29, 2013

My Protagonist Has a Husband and She Hates That Dick

"...I always want to know the things one shouldn’t do." "So as to do them?" asked her aunt. "So as to choose" said Isabel. – Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady 1881

"This is life. What a fucked up thing we do. What a nightmare come true. Or a playground if we choose. And I choose." – The Offspring, I Choose, 1997I believe I can say with 99.9% certainty that I am the first person in the entirety of human existence to compare a line from a Henry James novel to a lyric in a song by The Offspring.

In case you were wondering, James is the one on the right.

Epiphanies often come when you least expect them. For example, when I was 22 and in my first year of graduate school I was complaining about not knowing how to iron clothes to a fellow classmate. A professor overheard our conversation and said, "Kyle, it’s not that you don’t know how to iron, it’s that you choose not to learn". I was so dumbstruck by this remark I immediately changed my name to Lyle and stopped persecuting Christians.Sorry, classical reference. Had to be done. But more importantly I realized how right this professor was. How hard is it to learn how to iron clothes? How pathetic was it to sit there and bitch about something that was totally in my power to change?

Fast forward a few more years and I’m listening to this Offspring song for the 1200th time but I finally really listen to the lyrics. Life can be a nightmare or a playground, but it is your choice! I can choose to sleep in late and eat a huge breakfast or I can get my ass up and run 10 miles. Yes I can make excuses as to why I can’t run the 10 miles. I am le tired. I have two kids who kept me up all night. It’s cold. It’s rainy. But still it is my choice. And I choose.

Which made it great when I encountered the above conversation in James’ The Portrait of a Lady. This novel contains the story of Isabel Archer, whose life changes dramatically when she is whisked away from her childhood home by an Aunt she had never met. When describing the room Isabel sits in when encountering her Aunt for the first time James describes how Isabel had always looked at the door:

"But she had no wish to look out [this door], for this would have interfered with her theory that there was a strange, unseen place on the other side, a place which became, to the child’s imagination, according to its different moods, a region of delight or of terror.

That strange, unseen place on the other side is the adult world which is waiting for Isabel and as she discovers, it is very much a place of delight and terror. But the important fact, the most important fact is that it is entirely within her own power Yes Yes cousin Ralph’s help in obtaining her a large fortune definitely helped in this but still. to choose between the two, and the rest of the novel consists of Isabel learning this. So, in the end when she makes the decision to return to her evil bastard husband instead of turning towards the safety of Caspar Goodwood’s arms, don’t pity Isabel. I don’t know what happens to her after she got on that train to Rome. But I do know that it was her choice to make and she chose. And I choose to believe she has more delights than terrors, and more playgrounds than nightmares, ahead of her.

1 comment:

  1. I just read this article in The New Yorker by Rebecca Mead which compares Isabel Archer to Amanda Knox. Neat to see she used the same quote I used at the beginning of this blog entry.