Theft of Letters: Impetus to Action
Posted by Karen R on October 20, 1997 at 17:49:42:
In response to Roland Redux: An Introduction to the Major Chracters (Excluding Val), written by Cassia on October 20, 1997 at 15:21:19
] I don't think he means to steal the letters. I don't think he steals them at all, rather they steal him. Think of it, he's just plodding along with his bits of lecturing and restaurant dishwashing when he find them there and they seem more alive than he is. Suddenly he's doing things he'd never consider when in his right mind. He is the one possessed, taken over, and without ever intending it he has begun a quest.
There are so many ideas to deal with here; I thought I would just start with one--the beginning of the action or theft of the letters.
Very interesting that the letters steal him. Giving human qualities to what would normally be considered inanimate objects!! [But we know that words will definitely have more than a life of their own....] If we back up about a half a page, another scrap of paper that had fallen out of the Vico may have been the one to spark this change in Roland--albeit unconsciously. Ash had written on a scrap of paper:
"The individual appears for an instant, joins the community of thought, modifies it and dies; but the species, that dies not, reaps the fruit of his ephemeral existence."
Roland's reaction is to note it on a card and affix "Query?"
To me this foreshadows the discovery of the "real" Ash that will appear for an instant in the drafts of the letter to Christabel. When he reads these draft letters, he breaks conventional taboos and takes them. Not for possession of an object, but for what they will reveal to him--the knowledge he is seeking about his beloved, minor poet from the Victorian period.
I agree, whole-heartedly, these pieces of paper are alive. They record a living emotion that provides new insight to Roland. At the beginning of Ch. 8, when they are hunkering down to read the cache of letters (in the wrong way), it says:
"he knew the workings of the other man's mind, he had read what he had read, he was possessed of his characteristic habits of syntax and stress. His mind could leap ahead and hear the rhythm of the unread as though he were the writer, hearing in his brain the ghost-rhythms of the as yet unwritten."
Roland knew Ash so well...or so he and all the other literary scholars thought. Byatt certainly turns the academic world upside down. A discovery of this magnitude would only have meaning to someone like Roland. The other
academics (Cropper and Blackadder) don't have the depth. They are only into the superficial knowledge, the objects, the relics of the past.
You know, the letters not only steal Roland, but they found Roland.
I too love this book,
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