It’s one of those site-specific shows in which the lead actress, in the title role of “Sweet Melancholy”, is upstaged by a live, cooing, flying prop; the play is in blank verse, and the director, after blaming everyone else at the Tech Rehearsal, has lost the plot; but the set design is wonderful….
Joseph-Marie Vien Sweet Melancholy 1756.
Cleveland Museum of Art. Image: Wikipedia
Melancholy, as you know it, was never this sweet. This looks more like Wistful Posing, though maybe you have missed the point about contemporary self-consciousness. Mid-drama, she, Melancholy, looking as pretty as possible, rearranges her drapery and takes a selfie.
You would be at a loss for words when you congratulate your friend afterwards, if it wasn’t for Vien’s sophisticated colour scheme, daring to put Melancholy’s acid yellow dress against a dark grey background, and his dedication to historical detail in the props and furniture, pioneering a fashion in neoclassical home interiors.
The smoke from the antique brazier is scented, sending the front rows, especially the critics, into drowsy raptures. That might explain the liminal moment when you thought you heard the dove speak.
You travelled far to get here, to a disused temple in an inaccessible part of the old City, where no buses dare to stop. You took three wrong turns on your way from the station. You are dismayed by the thought of missing connections on the long journey home, and arriving tired and dispirited in the lonely night.
You imagine yourself slumped unprettily on a chair, holding your head in your hands, mourning your losses, knowing that bad as the day has been, there is always hope tomorrow will be worse.
You promise yourself that if you can ever afford it – ach, if only you’d got that film job the other day – you will buy a neoclassical upholstered chair and incense-burner, and recline elegantly in a full-length, yellow silk gown, to sweeten your own melancholy.
You are not lying when you reassure Sweet Melancholy that, “You looked like a goddess on that set, and deserve awards just for acting with that pigeon.”
“This is the true story of a woman whose life was defined by war. Like many of her generation, the freedoms that we take for granted were forged fitfully and painfully by their lives.
There were no guidelines for them.
They were modern women in a not yet modern age.”
from War Changes Everything by Melanie Hughes
In her new novel, Melanie Hughes gently lifts the barriers to our understanding of other people in other times, places and cultures, reminding us that in moments of crisis, the personal and political are indivisible. We have to choose how to respond; we are all witnesses, however differently we perceive events, whether we run from them or confront them. Sometimes we have to play a part.
Melanie Hughes writes traditional novels with a faultless sense of period and a modern consciousness of the impact of violence and prejudice on private lives from childhood to maturity.
The story of Nita and the great loves of her life spans continents, from London during the Second World War to the climax of Indian Independence in the ambitious sequel, Midnight Legacy, is told with the author’s boldness of vision and lifelong belief in equality, liberty and diversity.
I’ve known Melanie since I was sixteen; I’ve known her integrity, intelligence and passionate attachment to the people and ideals she loves. Her latest novels, War Changes Everything and Midnight Legacy, published by Patrician Press, are available in print and digital editions, which can be bought from Waterstones or Amazon.
Melanie is very modest, so I hope she forgives me posting in praise of her….
High Fantasy, Science Fiction and Arthurian Romance
A LIFE LARGER THAN THE SENTENCE
True Shaggy Dog Story for Children of All Ages
All three titles available for Christmas and the New Year on iTunes, Audible and Amazon (UK and USA)
A limited number of Audible codes for free downloads of THE DRAGON AND THE UNICORN and THE WRONG SHADE OF YELLOW are available upon request – please leave a message in the comments section specifying Audible.co.uk or Audible.com and I will email you back.
The Beguiling of Merlin by Edward Burne Jones, 1874. Oil on canvas. Image source: Wikipedia
“You couldn’t even get my name right”, explained the Lady of the Lake to Merlin, as she started reading the audio version of his own spellbook to put him to sleep, imprisoned in a hawthorn tree, for eternity.
Who is the witch who binds us with other people’s stories? She, or he, beguiles us with their voice, conjuring characters, passions and landscapes as vividly as CGI while they read novels and manuals aloud. Try selling that to the teenager, or spouse, playing GTAV in the room next door.
The storyspelling power belongs to actors when they narrate audiobooks. Does it always work? Probably not. I turn off BBC Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime as a barrier between me and imagination, and, sometimes, sanity.
I loathe narration in movies, which, except when used ironically or to heighten emotional effect (Sunset Boulevard?) mitigates experience by explaining information to audiences which they or the film-makers are too stupid to share through images and dialogue.
It’s reassuring for me that Harrison Ford objected to the voice-over imposed by the studio on Blade Runner. As he said, “it was simply bad narration”.
But – “but” being the most important word in peaceful communication and the most laborious in fiction – there are other testimonies. When the spell works, you are transported to other worlds through your headphones:
– Without fail, the time I spent in your storyspell upgraded the quality of my day. – A. A. Attanasio, author of The Dragon and the Unicorn, describing listening to the audio version of his novel.
Is the audiobook merely a modern convenience for assimilating information already available in print, or can it enhance the listener’s imaginative experience in a sensory way? Whose voice or voices do we hear when we read to ourselves?
– I got to looking forward to the next installment, for the aesthetic rush of your performance that invariably left me feeling uplifted, strengthened. Somehow – magically! – your artistic élan brightened my own mundane history. That’s the authentic power of art! Thank you for bringing that power to my novel. – A. A. Attanasio
Do we prefer the voices in our own heads, or the insistent voice of the witch trying to enthrall us?
– I am mesmerized by the voice you have given this novel. –
The siren’s magic works for some aurally sensitive people – but not for all of us, fed up of other people’s intrusive voice-overs when what we really want is to live in the moment ourselves. Do I really find the witch’s voice more enchanting than imaginary ones?
Can the witchiest of readers transport me away from my everyday dullness and anxieties to take part in “a life larger than the sentence?” (A. A. Attanasio again – he’s got a way of putting awesome concepts into words.)
Am I promoting an audiobook, or sabotaging it?
Am I for the witch, or against her?
Consider Merlin – a genius, a philosopher, a sage with superpowers who could see into the future. Look at him, in your mind’s eye or in Burne Jones’ painting, voluntarily surrendering to the nymph Nimue/Vivien/Ninianne – hardly anyone in Arthurian legend knows for certain what they want to be called or spelled, as if they are resigned to their symbolic significance being more important than their individuality – whom he had foreseen would enchant him into eternal sleep by turning one of his own spells against him.
In the end, people gave up calling her by a name: we know her as the Lady of the Lake. He could have avoided her; he could have carried on reading the print edition of his spellbook to himself, as he had done for hundreds of prosaic years, but instead he gave himself up to the voluptuous blossoms and pleasurably piercing thorns of enchantment by choosing the audio version.
– Words – those impish logoi – only carry the human spirit so far … and then not always where the writer intends; so, [the actor’s] narrative power, [their] skillful communion with those words, makes them live a life larger than the sentence. – A. A. Attanasio.
The Dragon and the Unicorn: The Perilous Order of Camelot (Volume 1) by A.A. Attanasio is now available as an audiobook on Audible, Amazon and iTunes. The author blends Arthurian myths and legends with philosophy, history, theology and science fiction. At the heart of the book is the story of Ygrane, who triumphs over adversity in multiple roles, as maiden-sacrifice, witch-queen, wife and mother, whose emotional life seems so vividly real to readers that she rises out of fantasy as a real woman, a once and future heroine.
– I feel privileged that my text now wholly partakes of the larger life of performance art through your talent.–
A.A. Attanasio writing about the audio version of his monumental novel, read by Pippa Rathborne, on sale at Audible, Amazon and iTunes.
Jean-Frédéric Bazille, The Terrace at Méric (Oleander) 1867 Oil on canvas, Art Museum, Cincinnati. Image source: WGA
QUOTES FROM WRITER NOËLLE MACKAY:
I like being invisible. I reject the meek life of a wannabee. I don’t want to spend a life in waiting for a dish that might never come, or that I’ll have to send back when it’s served cold.
I’d rather be a successful fraud than a failed tryer. Chameleons are the best of nature’s artists. If people don’t understand or like what you’re saying, change colour to communicate the same thing.
Anna Ancher Sunlight in the Blue Room. Helga Ancher Knitting in her Grandmother’s Room 1891
Oil on canvas, Skagens Museum, Skagen. Image: WGA
As I write to please myself by following trains of thought to their derailment, reaching success station was never likely. After so long in the sidings, I started missing other people, even the voice saying “Eh? What did you say?” or “That’s stupid”.
I don’t think effort and/or self-belief are substitutes for talent and finishing skills. If something’s not working, shut it down. A hundred new beginnings are worth more than one bad ending.
Ramon Casas i Carbó Laziness 1898-1900 Oil on canvas, Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, Barcelona.
Rosalind was joking when she said good wine needs no bush. If truth is essential to good (as distinct from popular) writing, the possibility of being neither good nor popular should not be discounted.
Writers, artists, and actors have a professional duty to hold the mirror up to nature, not to reflect ourselves fumbling to hold the mirror up in the right position, in the right light, on the right day.
Degas Madame Jeantaud in the Mirror 1875 Oil on canvas, Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Image: WGA
The selfie is the death mask of self-criticism.
While we were mesmerized by our own reflections, we slipped into akrasia. We have lost self-command and feel justified by proof of existence alone.
I work in anti-social media.
Vilhelm Hammershøi Interior in Strandgade, Sunlight on the Floor, 1901.
Last February, we visited the island of Ruegen on the morning after a great storm. The usually calm Baltic had raged for a day and a night, trees were torn out of the cliffs, and firefighters in the state of Mecklenburg Vorpommern had been called out two hundred times.
Next morning, the coast looked pure and innocent, the sand beaches, white rock, and grey sea as unruffled as two hundred years ago when Friedrich had painted his view of the chalk cliffs, jagged as canines, snapping at the inverted blue triangle of water, while three deranged travellers tottered, elegantly, on the lips of the maw.
The only signs that violence had been committed were the wounds left in the cliff face, and the broken limbs of trees. The sea whispered indifferently. We took photographs.
One day, a few weeks after our trip, I caught up with myself, nine months into my term, time to have a baby instead of bearing sorrow like a malignant tumour.
You reach a time when you realize you’ve stopped falling in the chasm and you should drag yourself up to peer over the edge for everyone else’s sake, if not your own.
Even the dreams have quietened down. There was one last night that took me somewhere new, not into the turbulent darkness of a bottomless well, or boxed up in a suffocating, windowless room, but outside into the sunlight of a boundless landscape.
I was looking for her; I’d lost her. In my dreams I was always losing her. It was my fault. We were supposed to be doing a roleplay job together as simulated patients in a hospital, and she’d gone missing. It was unlike her to miss a job.
She must have left the building to go out for a walk, and I panicked because she was supposed to be under medical supervision, though she did not know, or at least admit to me, how ill she was, and I would have died rather than let her find out.
After a frantic search through dressing rooms rigged in crowded corridors and on staircases blocked by actors putting on their makeup, and, on landings further down, by wounded soldiers being evacuated in the middle of a war. They were real soldiers, not actors, or, if they were, very good actors, because of the pain in their eyes as they shared jokes and smoked their cigarettes.
I ran until I reached the auditorium of a shabby Victorian theatre, dusty and ashen with disuse. It was a cavernous husk, where no human voice would speak again, so I knew she would not be there.
I ran to the first exit I could find, and opened a door expecting to see the concrete paths and dejected trees of the hospital grounds. They weren’t there. The world had shifted on its axis. In front of me was Richmond Park, on a bright summer’s day, packed with people having picnics under a cloudless blue sky.
I have just woken up to this, like the sun breaking through clouds on a miserable birthday morning – the result of a sudden, unexpected collaboration with the novelist and blogger, Vickie Lester. Her account of how it came out reads like the beginning of a new mystery novel, which you can read here on the ever Beguiling Hollywood. I am very excited to play a small part in it. All the words and images are hers alone. Thank you, Vickie, for an adventure and a pleasure!