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Friday, February 16, 2007

Romancing the Dead

All of the names in this post have been changed -- in order to try and prevent Googling, as per Simplicius's effort below.

I heard a talk today on a kind of amazing-sounding book, written by one Mary de Goor-nay (more or less), who was apparently the editor, adopted daughter, and crazed fan of a famous early modern essayist whose name is Michael de Mountain (again, roughly). The story of their meeting, as I heard it, is itself sort of incredible: she read his essays, and on that basis alone fell in love with him to the point that her family had to administer hellebore to bring her back from the verge. That itself is a kind of incredible, writerly version of the old romance trope of falling-in-love-long-distance: but usually it's a description or a picture that does it, not reading the persons's works: think Britomart in Spenser. At any rate, Mary then sought Michael out, I guess to get an autographed copy of his book, plus maybe a concert t-shirt. He was evidently at least somewhat intrigued with this precocious, young, female fan, and they struck up a correspondence. She was evidently a total auto-didact: apparently, out of the inspiration of his essays, she taught herself classical literature, taught herself Latin, etc. At some point down the road, she shared with him the work of editing his essays, to the point that in some of the manuscripts, apparently, it's almost impossible to tell her notes apart from his. She took over this work altogether after his death, apparently much to the dismay of various of his contemporaries not to mention more or less all subsequent Michael de Mountain scholars. She lived the rest of her life writing and editing, apparently in a Paris apartment shared with another woman -- which is another story.

That's all sort of interesting enough -- the insane fan who actually manages to worm her way into a direct relationship with her idol, and then finally even manages to become his literary executrix; I guess writers are easy -- the hip madrigal bands of the time probably would've had better security, not to mention agents and managers, all working to prevent this kind of thing. Then, on top of that, there's the story of the early modern woman writer who may or may not have been living for years in a same-sex relationship, and who in any case certainly avoided the whole question of marriage, in order to concentrate on her writing.

But there's more. At some point after his death, Mary publishes a brief romance. I haven't read this, and the discussion of it that I heard was rushed, for various reasons. It appears to be pretty short, and generally sort of typical as a romance -- shipwrecks, pirates, whatever. Heliodoran romance, I think, based on what I heard. But the interesting thing about it is that the narrative voice in which this romance is told is directed specifically at Michael de Mountain: he's actually the interlocutor: the narrator specifically directs the narrative at him, almost as though expecting a reply or a conversation over the subject of the narrative. The talk I heard described this as a work of mourning. But I find it altogether remarkable, as an act of narration: I'm presuming that we're talking about an omniscient narrator, and yet one who is specifically directing the narrative at one particular individual -- who, moreover, is dead. Incredible. I can't think of anything quite like it.

Of course, all of this is hearsay, based on one talk, so I can't really vouch for any of it. But I found it compelling.

 Scribble some marginalia

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