Friday, March 06, 2009

Fragments I Have Shored Against My Ruin

On the day before his execution, Charles I called his two youngest children to him: Princess Elizabeth, aged thirteen and Henry, Duke of Gloucester, aged nine. He took young Henry on his knee and suggested he never let them make him king, as they would then cut off his head. The child replied, "I will be torn to pieces first".

Charles then shared with the children his last remaining wealth: "diamonds and jewels, most part broken Georges and Garters" which he had secreted "in a little cabinet ... closed with three seals".

The pathos of this scene is immense. It is both ordinary (jewels and garters and necklaces almost always break, eventually) and exemplary of the greater break in the body, and in the traditions of the monarchy that would follow the next day. In my draft of chapter five, I wrote today: "don’t we all have a supply of broken jewellery we neither repair nor discard?" I'm leaving that stand for the moment, but can I really get away with that question in my draft? Is this making my book appear too casual? Or is it the personal voice that we all crave?

It's resonant today, too, as I have been to the jeweller's today, the wonderful Robyn at Small Space Jewellery, to seek some repairs. The white gold and blue topaz earrings I bought in Beechworth last year need reinforcing, and the beautifully light beaten gold earrings Paul brought back from Beirut need gold hooks, not whatever metal was used by the man on the street stall. I've also been to the shoemaker's today, for some repairs on some boots, including the brown leather cowgirl boots I bought in London in 1982. What is it about imminent travel that sends me to these artisans, to repair and renew my accoutrements?

But what a moment for mortality. All those odd things lying around the house, waiting for repair, or use. Or in Charles's case, the detritus of office, the residue, the remainder, the fragments shored against his ruin.

OK. Enough mortality for now. It's Friday night: time for pizza, good red wine, lollies, and a movie, then falling asleep listening to the cricket from South Africa. Bliss!

13 comments:

David Thornby said...

I think in suggesting that the image of the broken, but still personally valuable, jewellery has universal resonance, you're indicating (to me anyway) that it certainly resonates with you. (Perhaps, being the Unsentimental Bloke, the fact that I don't have a collection of broken jewellery made your suggestion/assertion stand out.) It makes me think it's the execution itself that affects you. Whether it actually does or not obviously I don't know. I think the whole thing is a very tightly packaged bundle of connections between you and the execution and the book and the reader, though.

I think if it were the only sentence like it in the book then yes, it might be too personal, but only because it would stand out. It really reaches out of the subject matter and attaches a thread from the event, through the book, through you, to the reader. That doesn't need to be a bad thing, but I think it'd certainly stand out if the rest of the text never seeks those explicit connections.

(Hughes 105*, courtesty of successive sixes. Matthew who?)

Karl Steel said...

don’t we all have a supply of broken jewellery we neither repair nor discard?
I like what you're doing here, but if you're taking suggestions, I'd suggest dropping the 'we' and instead foregrounding the 'I' of your own connection to the scene. If a reader then wants to identify with your identification, the reader can then make it a 'we.'

Pavlov's Cat said...

I remember those boots!

About your question: I focused not so much on the pronoun issue as on the rhetorical device. It seems like a not totally rhetorical question, but a not totally literal one either, though maybe that's because the comments here so far would seem to indicate that the answer is sometimes 'No, we don't.' If you want to frame it as a question, what about 'How many of us have ...' or 'Don't many of us have ...', both of which would still keep the personal connection and the personal voice.

I've got five broken necklaces to support the theory myself, mostly of semi-precious stones (tiger eye, citrine, lapis lazuli, leopard jasper, irregular black freshwater pearls) and bought in gem stores or markets here or overseas. I don't get them fixed because I balk at paying more for repairs than I paid for the jewellery, and I don't throw them out because I can't bear to.

Stephanie Trigg said...

Hmm. Yes, I see. It's actually the connection between what seems ordinary and extraordinary in this moment of Charles with his children that I want to focus on; and I think I need a less clumsy way of bringing that out. And perhaps this bloggy excursion into the matter helps to exorcise the truly personal response. The "learning how to die" is actually a separate paper bubbling away in the background, so David's right to pick that up.

I did think about the potentially gendered nature of the "don't we all", but could think of enough single cufflinks, old watches, and unworn rings and other ornaments to wonder if I might get away with it.

Dr Cat, I got over that thing about paying for repairs a while back, figuring that if I liked it well enough, or if someone had given it to me, it was worth whatever it cost to repair, and there's a great pleasure in recycling lovely things from the earth to put on the body.

I'm pretty sure I can recall your tiger eye and citrine necklaces, too. But then this is the woman who may be poor at face recognition, but who recently scored 14/15 on an Oscars frock recognition test. One remembers what one can...

Anonymous said...

As an academic editor, working in publishing, I'd say simply—yes, definitely yes, please let us have a bit of personal voice, it makes an academic book sing. There is no danger this author would ever make the text sound too casual.

What a lovely post.

Occasional reader

froginthepond said...

I would certainly welcome the authorial voice in such a text since history (for me, at least) is memory, time, a search for the particular and the universal. The elements such as the loss of life may be personal but the response universal and authorial reflection is able to bring this out for the reader, entwined with the larger narrative.

I'm embarking on my first academic ms and there is a personalism I would like to communicate. How I do it, and how successfully, I don't know.

Clare said...

Clare M. here, I just wanted to agree with you about the pleasures of Friday night with takeaway and cricket on the radio. The movie was Harry Potter in our house, and the food was chinese and it was chocolate not lollies, but otherwise identical

Stephanie Trigg said...

In fact, our "movie" was two episodes of Twin Peaks (but "lollies" for us always means "lollies and chocolate", so decadent are we.

But yes, the cricket. And that young man Hughes (youngest ever to score back to back centuries in test cricket) ever... Looks as if we will soon be back to No. 1 and all will be right with the world again.

Word verification: mbflabi, which is what we will become if we don't also go out and play some cricket (or in my case, tennis).

Stephanie Trigg said...

But also, in response to anon. and the frog, thanks for the words of encouragement. I guess the trick is to make it a little personal without seeming to make it either self-regarding or seeming to claim a kind of universalism – the "we feel here...." kind of moment.

I would like to think it can be done, to take some of the pleasure that surrounds the text in teaching and translate that somehow to writing. That's my next mission, to work on that voice. And I certainly find the blog helpful in that endeavour.

David Thornby said...

Just one more comment on this -- I don't think you *do* need a 'less clumsy' way of getting your idea across. It's fabulous; it demonstrates your attachment to the event (and thereby encourages others to think about theirs), and I'm sure you'd be adding a little bit more in there of a discussion about the banal and the essential being experienced together, to bring the idea out into the open. On reflection, technically no, we don't all have a...etc, (and yes it's arguably a little bit gender-biased). But who cares? You're establishing (probably among other things) that there's an emotional connection to be had between us and Charles I (which, pardon my untrainedness again, seems to be kind of what medievalism is about), not trying to establish logical certainties about the sparkly-hoarding characteristics of medieval vs modern people. So go with emotion, and your personal expression of it is doing a fine job here. Just, you know, do it in other places too! A bit.

innercitygarden said...

I like it, but I have a collection of broken things I can't throw out for sentimental or historical reasons. For what it's worth, most people have broken or otherwise unusable things they keep for sentimental reasons (eventually someone in a family is unsentimental and gives it to a museum or op shop). My father has his grandfather's broken watch. My grandfather inherited it from his father, already broken, and he put it in a tobacco tin, where he kept it for several decades before dying and passing it on. Unsentimental blokes communicate with material culture. Sometimes we use material things as a shorthand, when there is nothing adequate to say (and what could you say to your child if you knew you were definitely dying in the morning?)

Perhaps the gender thing, and the class thing (very few of us can boast the sort of jewellery Charles I had) wouldn't seem so stark if the association was with broken-but-un-throw-outable things rather than gemstones.

Sarah Randles said...

Stephanie, what's the book you're quoting from? I think it's a book I bought as a child, around 8 or 9, on holiday in Adelaide one year. It had a beautiful embossed hardback cover and was about the children of Charles I. I loved it, but lost it in one the many subsequent moves. I'd love to know what it is so that I can find a copy.

Stephanie Trigg said...

Thanks again, everyone, for comments and suggestions here.

Sarah, I'm quoting from Patricia Fumerton, Cultural Aesthetics: Renaissance Literature and the Practice of Social Ornament (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991), 4, who's quoting Sir Thomas Herbert, Threnodia Carolina; or, Sir Thomas Herbert’s Memoirs , in Memoirs of the Martyr King, etc. (v.long sub-title) ed. Allan Fea (London: John Lane, The Bodley Head, 1905), p. 139. My guess is that your book may have been part of the general and widespread martyrology about Charles.

Clearly this story struck a chord with you too!