Sunday, 1 July 2012

The Desire of the Moth

After a bit of a break to catch up on various writing chores, I've resumed the project to read the entire works of Maxwell Gray (Mary Gleed Tuttiett).

1913 brings me to Something Afar (published in the USA as The Desire of the Moth), which in some blurbs has the subtitle A Romance of the Italian Lakes. You wouldn't immediately know this is what it's about, as MG, I think, was stuck in the conventions of the 19th century three-volume novel where she started out, and is very prone to astonishing amounts of framing before the actual plot begins.

The book starts with a chapter whose title, The Omnibus Horse, reflects metaphorically the situation of the protagonist. Ronald Leith is a middle-aged low-grade bank clerk who lives in London suburbia in a lacklustre marriage to Blanche; the only high point in his life is his beloved teenage daughter Beatrice. Within the characteristic (for MG) pathetic fallacy of a dark and stormy night, Leith's introspections lead to a flashback of how he came to this situation: how, some years before, he had discovered Blanche's cousin embezzling money from the bank where they both worked. Rather than report him, Leith had repaid the money out of his own pocket and let the man flee the country. The deception, however, was discovered during an audit, and Leith's involvement had permanently blighted his career.

It gets worse: Leith is superannuated (i.e. retired with a pension), and his further gloomy introspections reveal 1) the suicide decades previously of his father, Major Leith, following a scandal; 2) the fact that he and Blanche married each other on the rebound from their separate great loves of their lives; and 3) Leith's own exotic past - as a young army officer, he had been shot in Sicily due to the betrayal of a young Contessina he loved. All he has as mementos of the affair are the bullet scar, a precious ring in a drawer, and the letter of betrayal that sent him to the ambush. However, while re-reading the letter, he spots what he has missed for decades: a cipher that reveals the word dettato ("dictated"), evidence that she wrote the letter under duress. There ends the framing intro.

At this point, I'll leave it there for the evening.

It promises to be interesting biographically. As I mentioned in a recent post, I just found direct evidence that Maxwell Gray had been to Italy (she stayed in the Villino Trollope) and there may be something that 'connects'.

Both forms of the book title are allusions to a segment in Shelley's poem of devotion One Word is Too Often Profaned:
The desire of the moth for the star,
Of the night for the morrow,
The devotion to something afar
From the sphere of our sorrow?
Continued in The Desire of the Moth #2.

- Ray

No comments:

Post a Comment