Monday, September 15, 2008

Elizabeth Taylor, Olivia Manning

I used to write for pleasure; I used to write for leisure. Now it is a treasure!

I’m in that phase of my career where I study the careers and lives of other men and women to understand why they failed. It is frightening to finally learn to accept that giftedness, talent, and will are not enough to push you to the front rank of success. You may work hard all your life and get no reward at the end of it all.

So I have seen some of the stories and I have read some of the stories and I have been in cafes and hovels in all the cities in the world following around unfolding chronologies. I never did understand the full horror that had Russian writer Anton Chekov’s worst nightmare as at the end of his life to be found dead, alcohol stench emanating from his corpse, in a gutter.

Until you get to this point in your life, you can never appreciate why English writer Charles Dickens, a millionaire before he was in late 30s, would continue to drive himself relentlessly in his work, refusing to rest and eventually killing himself from working too hard and giving public readings of all the works the public loved and could never tire of hearing from lips, until blood in spurts was jolting out of his lips, coughing between performances. The months of deprivation in the blacking factory, and then the London winter streets, freezing, looking for a job were a life long whip lash whose welt never left his face.

French writer Gustave Flaubert could advise young Guy de Maupassant to wait ten years, learning how to write to the best of his ability, before he published his first story, that masterpiece Boule de Suif. Resist all calls to publish himself before he was ready but when he had a niece who was married to a feckless man and she came with tears in her eyes to ask her famous uncle to financially assist, specters Flaubert had avoided contemplating all his life killed him at his desk.

I know understand, a bit, what I heard someone say so long ago, when I was a child, and they did not know that playing hide and seek, I had gone to hide behind the couch, and he was telling her she could leave her husband, be with him, life is a chance, their chance was now and they might never get another. He certainly would not be coming back and if the years once again threw them together, he would not have her because she was hesitant to have him now when he must needed her to have him. Believe in him, take a chance, trust her life to his life.

I guess.

It was the strangest afternoon of my life and when I went blinking back into the afternoon sunlight to my friends in the compound to continue the game, I was changed.

Life is about luck too. You have got to be born lucky to get where you dream you want to get. Perhaps that is what they lacked: the writers Elizabeth Taylor and Olivia Manning. The easiest description of them, a lying deceptive description, is that they were like the Jane Austen’s’ of 20th century English literature. But they were so different from her in vital ways but perhaps not different enough. Or nobody saw the differences enough.

I cannot for the life of me fathom why Olivia Manning and Elizabeth Taylor are not better known than they are. I still love Kampala though and said silent thanks when I bought Olivia Manning’s The Balkan Trilogy for Shs. 4000 though I could have paid even less but could not bring myself to disrespect the pleasure her work was going to give him, just after Barclays Bank on Kampala road on Friday evening, walking down to the Old Taxi Park. All last week.

The Balkan Trilogy is a book of war. The World War II and a woman who marries a man almost within a week of knowing him when he’s on leave in England. The man works with the government, attached to a sort of British Council situated first in Romania, except then it was spelt Rumania.

The book is about the advance of war, the inexorable march of Hitler’s German troops plunging Europe into war, and how this woman and her husband forge a marriage and survival in these circumstances. You may know how the war turns out, consult your Encarta to find out what happened to specific European cities as the couple is forced often at the last minute to move by air, by land, by sea in a desperate hurry, but Manning makes you care, she makes you share their highs and lows, listen intently as they do to the rumour of war and the atrocities attendant.

You wonder how you would hold up, trapped in a city under siege, no rescue possible, the soldiers supposed to be defending the city fleeing first. Wartime affairs blossom, unlikely persons turn out to do heroic deeds out of pure selfishness or pique, the deed accidental. John Galsworthy’s Forsytes’ were my most beloved trilogy family in 20th century English literature and now the Pringles’ have joined them and I have another reason to be fonder of the name Guy than ever before!

I have sometimes wondered if there was punishment in here for these two women’s fates because they never had to live an uncomfortable life like some of their male peers. Perhaps there was resentment in that which is why they were ignored in their time, writing their novels and short stories, between feeding the baby in the morning and writing out instructions for the maids how the evenings party was to be seated and who was to be served what. These women married to men who earned enough to grant them city and country homes. Perhaps there was resentment?

Or they were not strange enough? They were not neurotic enough? We all love a diseased genius. They are not so great that that we cannot pity them, we maybe in awe of them but we do not want to be them with their pain and oddities. Is it that? Is this why Olivia Manning and Elizabeth Taylor are not better known? I have wondered. Or did they just not have the luck, the only luck that counts? I have puzzled over this.

Now people might say whatever they may but as far as I’m concerned, the late Heath Ledger only ever came onto the set in two films, Ten Things I Hate About You and The Dark Knight. Brokeback Mountains never scandalized me and to be frank was quite a boring long take, the actors accidental in a motion picture dedicated to showing us landscapes. Quite a view they were too sometimes! Ledger was at his best in those two films. One is a classic and one is a Ledger film. Ten Things I Hate About You is a classic, no matter from which angle you approach it and try to tear it down, and The Dark Knight, well The Dark Knight is like Ledger saying goodbye the way like Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now. Giving you a chance to have a taste of lemon in what you will always think when you think of Ledger. He was talented, he could have been great, and you are left wondering what happened, what went wrong and put him side by side with other dead young promisers like River Phoenix.

The Dark Knight is not a great film but neither is Gangs of New York but I watch both over and over. Two actors in those two films were inspired. Ledger commanded and scene stole just as Daniel Day Lewis might as well have been that crazed killer. The goody two shoes in both films are so cloying and annoying that I have to confess I did not feel much when Harvey Dent was supposedly going mad because the girl he loved with Batman had been murdered.

I must stop though! I have ailments to tend to.


~ScotchBiscuits~ said...


~ScotchBiscuits~ said...

and you know too many writers and have read too many books!!!

smelling the coffee said...

borrow me some books, please!

Malaeka's Folks said...

i sense a sadness so profound. it must lift sometime, i guess but then again, you shine your brightest when you are in the doldrums.