Think of the novels Orlando, by Virginia Woolf, Challenge by Vita Sackville-West and Violet Keppel's Broderie Anglaise, that "Rashamon of the Violet-Vita affair." Why can only the English say or write something of this nature and have it be entirely plausible, whilst for the rest of us over here it would come off as unintentionally comic?
“Who was my father? A faun undoubtedly!” she wrote to Vita, not too far off the mark. “A faun who contracted a mésalliance with a witch.”This is from a long piece on Sir Michael De Courcy Fraser Holroyd's latest and perhaps last volume dealing with "the Blooms berries," A Book of Secrets: Illegitimate Daughters, Absent Fathers, which centerpieces Violet Kepple and Vida Sackville-West and their love affair, which remains of constant fascination to at least me.
Why this eternal fascination? For me, I'm guessing, it's because the people and their lives are so foreign, unlike anyone I have ever known. Even among the aristos of the art world that I might spend time with, these English are an alien species, even though the Bloomsburyes are artists, historicans and writers, of whom I do know so many. Among the American species I do encounter patterns of behavior and relationships that are reminiscent of those Holroyd's described, particularly when it comes to the louche behaviors that seem common to some groups or individuals within these groups, but -- the settings and landscapes, the ancestry, the history as it were -- so very different! Thus, one has little or no personal emotional investment in their behaviors -- which face it, were so often cruel and damaging, particularly to their children.
But perhaps, for me, possibly this enduring fascination has a great deal to do with my political platforms -- these are the heirs, the end products of a long-time, vastly wealthy colonial empire, unique perhaps, in the history of empires, so far as we can know them from the outside of their time and culture.
Americans aren't good at Feydeau-like farce. Among the reasons for this is we haven't had a heritary aristocracy, we don't have the kind of French pornographic traditions that are related to Feydeau farces -- and most of all, we have always, top-to-bottom, in our culture(s) had a much more grave vision of marriage, and we still do. So perhaps that's why when we try them we end up with something like this.
What we do tend to do, however, is the kind of menage of Emily Dickinson's married brother, Austin, with Mabel Loomis Todd, married to a charming somewhat conning fellow who himself couldn't ever resist seducing whomever he could seduce. He was 'paid off' by Austin with privileged positions at Amherst, for which he was not, strictly speaking, qualified. The rest of the family, including Austin's wife and children, hated Mabel Loomis, the intruder, the Lady Macbeth of Amherst. It is the paying off with a job and property of Mabel's husband that truly strikes one as American. There isn't much wit, charm or comedy here. Rather desperation, economic and social climbing, and anger -- as Emily Dickinson put it, lives that stood "like loaded guns."
Guns. You cannot get more U.S.A. than guns.