‘Why all the oblique loops and feints and ridiculously convoluted travels?’–Mark Sarvas, ‘Harry, Revised’

Harry lies in bed, poking at the carcass of the day. He supposes Max is right. Theirs was a friendship that never ran all that deep. So why does he feel so lousy? Because, one by one, the fixed points in his life are giving way, dissolving, and he’s left wondering why any of it mattered to begin with. Why all the deception? Why all the oblique loops and feints and ridiculously convoluted travels? Looking back at the last few years of his life, he can find no two points connected by a single, straight line, and now an ineffable sadness at the time wasted, the opportunities missed, takes hold, and he’s afraid that this perpetual indirection is all he knows. The direct approach, Max had advised. How might the direct approach have saved him and Anna?

—Mark Sarvas, Harry, Revised, Chapter 13

I do enjoy rereading books, partly because I barely remember what they are about, and partly because it justifies keeping them on the shelf. I remember reading this the first time on the southbound Bx10 bus, dawdling through Riverdale on my way back from the veterinarian. This second time I read most of it on the QM2 bus dawdling through Beechhurst and Whitestone on the way back to Manhattan. Last time I take the QM2 bus, although it’s a good way to catch up on the reading.

Harry, Revised is about a guy in his forties who has been married for eight years, so it seems strangely apropos. Of course, Harry’s wife has died, and my wife is still living, and I actually have only been married for coming on five years. The George Szirtes blurb which I referred to in the comments on the original post brings out the idea that the book is about Anna, Harry’s wife, much more than about Harry. I can support that; the balance of the book between Harry’s flashbacks to life with Anna and his adventures in the present day seems tilted in favor of Anna.

Bearing in mind that Harry Rent is a fictional character and thus needs something to justify himself in the author’s imagination, his regret quoted above seems strange and alien to me. I feel so concentrated on spending time either at work doing the job or at home with the family that the notion of deceiving anyone, of even having a secret, seems like it would take up too much brainpower and time.

I suppose my secret is writing this blog. How about that for a loop or feint?

‘She had never taken kindly to the idea of marriage in the abstract’ –Thomas Hardy, Far from the Madding Crowd

Until she had met Troy, Bathsheba had been proud of her position as a woman; it had been a glory to her to know that her lips had been touched by no man’s on earth—that her waist had never been encircled by a lover’s arm. She hated herself now. In those earlier days she had always nourished a secret contempt for girls who were the slaves of the first goodlooking young fellow who should choose to salute them. She had never taken kindly to the idea of marriage in the abstract as did the majority of women she saw about her.…That she had never, by look, word, or sign, encouraged a man to approach her—that she had felt herself sufficient to herself, and had in the independence of her girlish heart fancied there was a certain degradation in renouncing the simplicity of a maiden existence to become the humbler half of an indifferent matrimonial whole—were facts now bitterly remembered. Oh, if she had never stooped to folly of this kind, respectable as it was, and could only stand again, as she had stood on the hill at Norcombe, and dare Troy or any other man to pollute a hair of her head by his interference!

—Thomas Hardy, Far from the Madding Crowd, Chapter XLI

Bathsheba Everdene is the most puzzling character in Far from the Madding Crowd, but with this passage, Thomas Hardy really clarifies her motivations. Too bad it arrives forty-odd chapters into the book, but if one’s read this far, it comes as a well-deserved prize to find this little cribsheet stuck between the pages.

Bathsheba and Troy, her husband, have been quarreling over his previous relationship with the ill-starred Fanny Robin, and this passage brings to the fore her regret over marrying at all.

I love self-sufficient people, but reading about them is always a lot more interesting than meeting them, because it’s so hard to find common ground on which to converse. Bathsheba in this passage bemoans the loss of her self-possession and how she has degraded herself through marriage. It’s a pretty revolutionary stance to take, and I think this is why it only comes after we’ve read two-thirds of the book: it would make no sense if we had not already gotten to know Miss Everdene, both through her prior steadfastness against marriage and her latterly regretted indulgence of it.

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‘there is no regular path for getting out of love as there is for getting in’ – Hardy, Far from the Madding Crowd

It may have been observed that there is no regular path for getting out of love as there is for getting in. Some people look upon marriage as a short cut that way, but it has been known to fail. Separation, which was the means that chance offered to Gabriel Oak by Bathsheba’s disappearance, though effectual with people of certain humours is apt to idealize the removed object with others—notably those whose affection, placid and regular as it may be, flows deep and long. Oak belonged to the even-tempered order of humanity, and felt the secret fusion of himself in Bathsheba to be burning with a finer flame now that she was gone—that was all.

Thomas Hardy, Far from the Madding Crowd, Chapter V
Start with the pith of the aphorism, and then flip it around so that
it actually becomes a keen insight into human nature, and then (as if
those two achievements weren’t enough, in a single paragraph, no
less!) in the fourth sentence apply it all to one of your immortal
characters so exactly that you create an immediate secret fusion of
your reader in the character of Gabriel Oak. How breathtakingly easy
Hardy makes it look, but consider just how many lesser novels must you
trawl through for an insight into humanity—or love—that shines as
brightly as this one would even after years of refraction through your
memory’s multiple lenses.

“What is the difference between the ‘birch’ mushroom and the ‘white’ mushroom?” —Anna Karenina

Now or never it must be said—that Sergey Ivanovitch felt too.
Everything in the expression, the flushed cheeks and the downcast eyes
of Varenka betrayed a painful suspense. Sergey Ivanovitch saw it and
felt sorry for her. He felt that to say nothing now would be a slight
to her. Rapidly in his own mind he ran over all the arguments in
support of his decision. He even said over to himself the words in
which he meant to put his offer, but instead of those words, some
utterly unexpected reflection that occurred to him made him ask:

 “What is the difference between the ‘birch’ mushroom and the ‘white’ mushroom?”

 Varenka’s lips quivered with emotion as she answered:

 “In the top part there is scarcely any difference, it’s in the stalk.”

Anna Karenina, Part Five, Chapter 5

 While at the Levins’ country estate, Sergey Ivanovitch, Levin’s
brother, falls in love with Varenka, Kitty’s friend from her European
trip. He, much older than she, is about to ask her to marry him. They
go mushroom hunting and repair to a glade, away from the others, where
he intends to propose.

 Sometimes the serendipitous occasion comes from not asking. We
can only wonder what would have come if he had proposed, but the book
is long, and maybe, as Kitty later on accepted Levin’s proposal, this
pair too will become a couple.

The state of blissful absurdity, ‘Anna Karenina’

‘Then relations arrived, and there began that state of
blissful absurdity from which Levin did not emerge till the day after
his wedding. Levin was in a continual state of awkwardness and
discomfort, but the intensity of his happiness went on all the while
increasing. He felt continually that a great deal was being expected
of him—what, he did not know; and he did everything he was told, and
it all gave him happiness. He had thought his engagement would have
nothing about it like others, that the ordinary conditions of engaged
couples would spoil his special happiness, but it ended in his doing
exactly as other people did, and his happiness being only increased
thereby and becoming more and more special, more and more unlike
anything that had ever happened.…

 ‘What was extraordinary was that everyone not only liked him, but even
people previously unsympathetic, cold, and callous, were enthusiastic
over him, gave way to him in everything, treated his feeling with
tenderness and delicacy, and shared his conviction that he was the
happiest man in the world because his betrothed was beyond
Anna Karenina, Part IV, chapter 16.

 As I was reading this chapter sitting in my folding armchair in the
sunshine outside the tent yesterday morning, the oracular shuffle
feature brought up this Monty Alexander classic, which is on a
collection called “Strange Funky Games and Things,” right after Sam
Mangwana singing “Marie Kembo.” The songs seemed to match like lock to
key the delirious, yet organized nature of the happiness that Tolstoy
describes Levin as being in the throes of as he plans his marriage to