Disaffection has nothing to do with my reclusion. There is no one “that I no longer love.” Nor am I wounded, licking. Sometimes perhaps out of boredom. Perhaps what began as a subconscious drive, creativity, had become conscious, and its sense of imperative mystery, its glamour, and its magic seemed faded.
Painting, the little deliberate impulses accruing, stroke by stroke, takes a lot of staring, which looks moronic. It isn’t pretty. The practical lad finds it dull going. He finds it hard to see it all as worth the work. I stare at the things wondering what to do next, I disappear into them, I lose all sense of time and the temporary, I lose consciousness of them and when I come to, I’ve been painting again, making my marks. It is just a beauty contest. This time competing with the last.
The sound of New Orleans train whistles would put me to sleep and wake me. In my home town the rails were torn up long ago. I’d sometimes feel a sob of nostalgia when I’d open my eyes in the first light of the morning. I didn’t try very hard to figure out why some part of me felt returned to the sense of childhood’s morning hopes in dirty old New Orleans. I’d figure it out later, at another remove. It wasn’t important.
I’d just read Brookner: Kitty, a lonely academic, crosses the English channel to France, crossing a cultural divide in herself, for she is half French, half English. Crossing back and forth, passing, not passing, knowing it all, and knowing nothing. Kitty’s antecedents alienate her in halves.
Kitty encounters the romantic example, for the romantics are her specialty, in an erotic temptation on the train.”He had, Kitty decided, a Byronic head, a fact of which he was well aware, as he kept turning his head aside so as to present himself in three-quarter profile. He was remarkably handsome and she could understand why Clare was in love with him. She did not, however, rate Clare’s chances very highly; Mr. Pascoe seemed to have enough to do just to cope with himself.”
Kitty is travelling by prearrangement to meet her secret and secretive English lover, Maurice. Brookner gives him a French name as Kitty gives herself English one. He is studying the cathedrals of France (he adores them floodlit at night) assembling popular lectures. He has faith in the English god, in providence as he describes it. Kitty has none.
Absurdly perhaps, she hopes to marry into his Gloucestershire milieu. Kitty is soon herself to debut as a lecturer on the romantic tradition. She is not as glamorous, as charismatic as Maurice but the reader suspects that she is more substantial, that Kitty is too aware of her felt inability to fit in to see or her own excellence or give it much value.
For the Brookner misfit at least, financial and vocational successes come fairly easy. This ease is almost disdainfully considered like a trinket and, because she does not grittily chart poverty Brookner is seen as a chronicler of the comfortable. Mansion flats and Harrod’s provide the virtue, or position signifiers. But conviction of belonging does not come so easily if at all and it is craved. I read in a synopsis of this novel, a very well written synopsis indeed in, I figure, The Jewish Women’s Archive “Kitty never feels at home in England. In the face of concerted and varied efforts to “belong,” she retains a sense of exile. Nor is she truly considered English by her colleagues and acquaintances. The product of her doting French grandparents, Kitty is unaware of her true cultural allegiance; ironically, it is the French heritage that dominates in her English setting. Her manners, clothes, and speech belie her English father. In Maurice, Kitty seeks an attachment that anchors, a place to be. Here and elsewhere in Brookner’s fiction, the recurrent theme of the search for a home acquires the force and weight of myth. So powerfully realized is Kitty’s intense desire for love, acceptance, and liberation from loneliness that it comes as a shock when Kitty, who is expecting Maurice’s proposal of marriage, instead learns of his sudden engagement to a woman who shares his aristocratic background. The novel concludes with Kitty’s realization that she has indeed been living in a haze of romantic expectation; the truth is, she has been first, last, and always an outsider.”
Brookner’s dp’s are often fascinated by those by providence entitled, the ones golden by nature. Brookner’s characters often fix on entitled beauties, erotically, analytically, and are disappointed and damaged by the fixation at worst. At best they become pityingly bemused by the paragon epitome. They make a painstaking, self comparative study. She notes the type: “He seemed to prepare an atmosphere of affection for himself, yet I think we all felt that this was his natural climate. He was born to it, or seemed to be, totally ignorant of the sad compromises and makeshifts, the substitutes and fantasies that constitute the emotional baggage of the average person.”
Kitty does this with her lover.
Clothing is telltale and Kitty is still Marie Therese to her old French Grandmother Louise at home. Louise dresses kitty. Kitty asserts that her London lecture dress “…Can’t look too expensive. She meant I can’t look too old fashioned, too obvious.”
Louise “Knew better than anyone else what would be suitable for a particular occasion. She, the product of the rue Saint-Denis and Percy Street, was on more intimate terms with the rituals of society than many of her clients, at home with the requirements of royal garden parties, wedding receptions, Glyndebourne, the south of France, Scotland.
And later “Turning her puffy hands in her lap in a strange mute appeal, she said, “I do not understand your life. Are your colleagues real men? Is it so different here? What do you discuss over your tea and biscuits? Come,’ she would say, with a glint in her eye, but the hands still turning, sadly, ‘come, ma fille, tell me about England.’