Sunday, May 24, 2015

Notes for a commonplace book (15)

Glenway Wescott:

"There were two albums of embossed leather studded with buttons which resembled shoe buttons, and one with celluloid roses glued upon a velvet binding. There were daguerreotypes in cases closed by a metal clasp or a loop of worn cord, which Alwyn opened and tried to read as if they were a library of miniature books. At the left a leaf of red satin, at the right in a mat of beaded gilt the portraits: heads and busts and family groups, pygmy men and women as if seen through a telescope — the men in a daydream, the women anxious about their children, their lovers, their clothes. Mouths like bits of carved wax, nostrils of an insatiable arrogance; eyes long closed in death — or the young, suspicious eyes of men and women who were now old and patted Alwyn's head and peered at him dimly and benificently — staring out of the picture frames as if he were an enemy in disguise ... The lifeless light (in which innumerable photographers had covered their heads with large, black handkerchiefs and imitated a bird with their hands) half hid and half revealed all the possible combinations of all the motives there were — greed and sensuality and courage and compassion and cruelty and nostalgia; all the destinies there were — manias, consolations, regrets.

"The same motives and similar destinies existed still; but these people whose playgrounds they had been were gone. Nothing came back from the oblivion into which they had vanished (for old age and death were equally oblivion) not a sound came back but a little slightly exultant, unhappy laughter — Alwyn's grandmother laughing for them.

"He listened to her comments — old-fashioned maxims, scraps of tragi-comic narrative, implicitly mocking, explicitly compassionate — and what she told revealed little more than the photograph albums themselves: another set of pictures, photographs of actions and opinions, also noncommittal and badly focused. But he knew what she knew and tried to forget: that each picture was a tomb where a dead heart (or merely the youth and freshness of a heart which was now old) lay buried — buried with its affections, its apathy, its fury. He knew that on each insignificant grave there stood (though he could only guess what it was) a secret like hers, wild and perfect as a wild flower, nodding in its everlasting leaves, or dangling from a broken stem ..."

The Grandmothers (1927)

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