Silence v words
Posted by Cindy on November 22, 1997 at 10:29:34:
In response to The unspoken truth of things, written by Hil on November 16, 1997 at 22:27:29
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] ] ] ] ] I am horrified by that image of silence. Maybe it is that we are encouraged to articulate our pain, that all our theories of human life tell us that we have to say the words, to admit the dark secrets of our lives. But it seems to me that Ellen's whole life became an effort to live comfortably with that silence, which is almost a presence.
] ] ] ] I think this is a modern idea which is at times very wise but at others not. I'm not convinced that speaking would have made Ellen feel differently about her life with Ash. Is there ever any answer to that probelm, to love a man deeply yet not to want sex? They could have gone over it again and again, it would become a despute and what of their love then?
] ] ] ] ] In the following chapter Roland says aloud "listen to the silence"... and wonders if he has really spoken. Ellen seems always to be listening to the silence, and her diary is an effort to dispel it with words intended to cover its existence.
] ] ] I think of the silence as Ellen's creation. Ash and Christabel had their poetry, Blanche, her painting, Ellen's sisters, their children; Ellen created the silence which enabled her to stay with Ash in a peaceful and mostly happy union.
] ] ] ]
] ] Ellen is as much a web-spinner as Christabel. An Arachne but more of a Penelope, for like that queen of old she unravels as much as she weaves.
] Ellen is certainly a web-spinner; I like the Penelope image.
] The issue of silence in the book intreques me. Like Kate, I find Ellen's silence very disturbing. I think its because it was a such a complete whole life, and a life long, pretence. She recognises that in the end. 'My life, she thought, has been built round a lie, a house to hold a lie' Preservation of one sort of silence becomes her life. In that sense it seems a denial of her real self, and that for me is the disturbing thing.
] But Byatt also says 'She had always believed, stolidly, doggedly, that her avoidances, her approximations, her whole charade as she at times saw it, were if not justified, at least held in check, neutralised, by her rigerous requirement that she be truthful to herself.
] Does this make it any less disturbing? Not really, for me, because it is still implies a completely hidden self. A relationship implies a sharing of real selves.
] She also says 'Randolph had been complicit. She had no idea how the story of their lives looked to him. It was not a matter they discussed.' Somehow, because we as readers see another side of Randolph, the passionate open relationship with Christabel, and because we do se him trying to broach the subject with Ellen, we find it easier to forgive his silence than Ellen's.
] I do have sympathy for Ellen's liking of 'the unspoken truth of things', the things that 'teach us that part of the living language of nature, which we cannot learn by our daily intercourse with what passes on the habitable surface'. But when Ellen says 'I am no ordinary or hysterical self-deciever...I keep faith with the fire and crystals, I do not pretend the habitable surface is all and so I am not a destroyer nor cast out into outer darkness', are we to take it that she is never-the-less a self-deciever despite knowing all these things? I think so.
] I think Byatt does not believe that all kinds of silence are bad. I think she recognises different kinds of silence, and that 'the unspoken truth of things' can be powerful, and for the good. An example would be Roland and Maud before they acknowledge in words or real actions their attraction: " They felt that in some way this stately peacefulness of unacknowledged contact gave back their sense of their separate lives inside their separate skins."
] Once again I get the idea of Byatt being cogniscant of many different facets of any one person, issue, or idea. Things are never black and white. Its one of the things I love about her writing.
Certainly, I may be missing the point, but after reading these comments, I have a feeling like there's really two different things - the silence which keeps things from being addressed between Ellen and Ash. Yes, that's uncomfortable.
But, when I read about how she didn't have words to associate with her honeymoon, that spoke to me. We have our thoughts so categorised as word-pictures. I personally often must simply just absorb what is around me - but the words don't come until much later. Sometimes, even with all the different choices we have to draw out the various nuances of meaning, sometimes words are just too imprecise to capture. So, there wouldn't be words, just impressions. That silence isn't uncomfortable, at least not for me. I know that wouldn't encourage communication, certainly not from an author in a book!, but the silence, meaning simply the lack of words, is very comfortable for me.
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