Saturday, June 28, 2008

Saturday Garter prose blogging

Oh well. In line with my theory that blogging is the perfect example of the pleasure principle at work in the life and time-management of a busy academic, it'd be no fun if we kept all the rules all the time.

So yesterday was a day for running round. In the morning, two completely ridiculous examiners' meetings, where we struggle vainly and furiously (in both senses) to make our marks and grades fit the straitjacket of faculty and university requirements about averages, spreads and distributions of grades, etc. while also making sure we protect the postgraduate scholarship chances of our best honours students. Then a dash to the hairdresser where I fell asleep during the head massage. Bliss! And for the second time in my life had my hair ironed...

Then drinks for a colleague who's just been promoted — congratulations, Nikos! — then dinner with friends, then back to pick up Joel from the house of our normal Friday night companions. We'd had a lovely meal, but still sank into their chairs and started wondering when they were going to order pizza.

Anyway, no time yesterday to blog, and today is a prose day. Here's an extract from Virginia Woolf's Orlando. I had forgotten about this moment till I was scanning around the blogs the other day and came across this image:




‘Come!’ she said. She was sitting bolt upright beside the fire. And she held him a foot’s pace from her and looked him up and down. Was she matching her speculations the other night with the truth now visible? Did she find her guesses justified? Eyes, mouth, nose, breast, hips, hands—she ran them over; her lips twitched visibly as she looked; but when she saw his legs she laughed out loud. He was the very image of a noble gentleman. But inwardly? She flashed her yellow hawk’s eyes upon him as if she would pierce his soul. The young man withstood her gaze blushing only a damask rose as became him. Strength, grace, romance, folly, poetry, youth—she read him like a page. Instantly she plucked a ring from her finger (the joint was swollen rather) and as she fitted it to his, named him her Treasurer and Steward; next hung about him chains of office; and bidding him bend his knee, tied round it at the slenderest part the jewelled order of the Garter. Nothing after that was denied him. When she drove in state he rode at her carriage door. She sent him to Scotland on a sad embassy to the unhappy Queen. He was about to sail for the Polish wars when she recalled him. For how could she bear to think of that tender flesh torn and that curly head rolled in the dust? She kept him with her. At the height of her triumph when the guns were booming at the Tower and the air was thick enough with gunpowder to make one sneeze and the huzzas of the people rang beneath the windows, she pulled him down among the cushions where her women had laid her (she was so worn and old) and made him bury his face in that astonishing composition—she had not changed her dress for a month—which smelt for all the world, he thought, recalling his boyish memory, like some old cabinet at home where his mother’s furs were stored. He rose, half suffocated from the embrace. ‘This’, she breathed, ‘is my victory!’—even as a rocket roared up and dyed her cheeks scarlet.


There are a couple of instances where we know the Queen did tie the garter on with her own hands, as a sign of special favour, but it's extremely rare to see this portrayed visually. In fact, I know of only one other illustration of a monarch, whether Edward III or anyone else, tying the Garter on anyone else's knee. The example I have is a book for children, with a drawing of the original moment of Edward tying the Countess's garter on his own knee (The Story of St George's Chapel, 1981). I'd love to know if anyone else has ever seen an illustration of the monarch kneeling.

The other reason this moment from the movie is so cool is because it is so ... queer. Quentin Crisp cross-dresses as Elizabeth to tie the Garter on the knee of Tilda Swinton cross-dressed as Orlando, who will later become female. I'm going to write a section in Chapter Six called "The Queer Garter" and will use this moment as the starting-point for thinking about Dinshaw's queer historicism and what it might mean for the Order's medievalism. I'm not saying I've done any of the thinking about this yet; I'm just saying I've got a juicy bit of text to talk about.

1 comment:

Eileen Joy said...

I, for one, can't wait to read the chapter on "The Queer Garter." Please don't forget to actually write it, and soon.