Friday, July 2, 2010

dead flowers

One of the worst moments in Jude the Obscure is ... no, that is hardly a good beginning: there are so many worst moments. One of the moments that most haunts me is when Jude and Sue and the preternaturally ancient child, Father Time, go to the great Wessex Agricultural Show, and linger in the flower tent, which is like a palace to them. Sue - albeit with her usual wry grudgingness - owns up to being happy - not a word one trips over all that often in the book. Father Time refuses to yield. "'I am very, very sorry, father and mother,' he said. 'But please don't mind! - I can't help it. I should like the flowers very very much, if I didn't keep on thinking they'd be all withered in a few days.'"

By his side, Eeyore looks like a 24-hour party person [yes! deliberate Michael Winterbottom tie in - he both did the (depressing) 1996 film of Jude and the Manchester club scene movie of that name...]. What I didn't know till today was that this was pretty similar to Hardy's own reaction to going to the 1891 Royal Academy exhibition and looking at "the fair spring and summer landscapes ...'They were not pictures of this spring and summer, though they weem to be so. All this green grass and fresh leafage perished yesterday; after withering and falling, it is gone like a dream.'" This is from Florence Hardy's Life of TH - i.e., his autobiography - which for whatever strange reason I've never read before. I can remember thinking, many decades ago, that it looked very long. Which it is, but it's also compelling - a writer's notebook of every strange, quirky thing that he noticed - miniature stories, poems, vignettes - and I think it's going to have to come with me to North Carolina.

By the time I get back, this flower will doubtless have perished. Nonetheless, as the picture testifies (ah, Barthes, etc), it's here now, preserved briefly in a shot glass. And as Hardy wrote on 27 January 1897 - a great argument for alertness to the present, and not being like Father Time: "To-day has length, breadth, thickness, colour, smell, voice. As soon as it becomes yesterday it is a thin layer among many layers, without substance, colour, or articulate sound."

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