Sunday, December 22, 2013
Thursday, December 12, 2013
Virginia Woolf (1882 – 1941) was born into a privileged English household, where she was home-educated by her free-thinking parents. Apparently, like many girls of her age she had a happy childhood and adolescence, but as she recounted later, she had been sexually abused when she was six years old.
When her mother died she went into a period of depression, which was aggravated when her sister Stella also died two years later.
Despite her bouts of suffering, for four years she took classes in German, Greek and Latin at the Ladies’ Department of King’s College London. It was during this period that she developed her feminist stance.
After some turbulent years of psychological disorders, and after being institutionalized, she committed suicide at the age of 59.
About “Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown.”
The essay was written in 1923, and in 1924 it was read to the Heretics, Cambridge. The essay is a polemical piece that attempts to go beyond Arnold Bennett’s thesis that character is the essence of novel writing, and his too easy conclusion as to why the young writers have failed to create credible characters.
Woolf chooses the year 1910 as the year in which a discernible shift in human relations takes place. This point is important to her because to understand what “real” character is, one has to understand the large context—the British society. In this light, she chooses Mrs. Brown as a metaphor for human nature.
Her analysis highlights the shortcomings of previous generations of writers; in particular the Edwardians and the Georgians, concluding that they also failed to create lasting characters. In this regard, history seems to be on Virginia Woolf’s side: while everyone remembers Mrs. Dalloway, no one remembers a single character created by either the Edwardians or the Georgians. What readers remember instead are the physical settings they created with old tools.
Sunday, December 8, 2013
Although more than fifty years have gone by, the magic moment that Mary Patricia came into my life is as fresh as the morning dew, as clear as spring water, and yet just as warm as a mild fever. And the magic never fades; it glows even stronger with each passing day.
In my freshman year at Columbia College, with the pressures of final exams upon me, as I looked for a secluded spot to study I found myself in Avery Hall, where the music practice rooms were located. Mozart’s magical music flowed from one of the rooms; it was the adagio of Piano Sonata No. 12.
Of course I learned that bit of information much later, since in those years –at age 17-- I had no idea who Mozart was. Noticing that the pianist was replaying the adagio over and over I sat on the floor right outside the door and listened to it. Two hours later, the budding and determined concert pianist stepped around me, for I was glued to the spot, and gave me a quizzical look.
“I didn’t want to disturb you,” I said. “What is the name of that song you played for two hours?”
“It’s not a song--it's a sonata, and you’ve been here two hours?”
Oh, heavenly bliss! Her voice was even sweeter than the music I had just heard. For an instant, my whole being tingled, and I swear the hair on my neck stood on end. My musical ignorance, my heavy Spanish accent, and my less than imposing appearance must have gained her trust and sympathy, for from that magic moment on Mary Patricia and I became inseparable lifetime sojourners.
Today as we enjoy our golden years, three children on their own, and two grandchildren to lavish love and gifts on, I feel that --free will notwithstanding— the touch of an angel nudges us humans in different directions. When Mary Patricia and I discuss the statistics that more than half of the people who get married end up divorcing, we are seized with infinite sadness. I cannot imagine for one instant life without my beloved partner.
This is a story narrated in first person voice, so I cannot tell you what other people’s feelings, thoughts, and attitudes toward life are. What follows are some of the canons (bringing a token home, consulting your spouse, care for others, being a provider, and God in our lives) that have guided my life in my marriage.
Since friends, relatives, neighbors, and even strangers often ask us "What is the secret?" (referring to our marriage, of course), I usually say, "Love and God." But there's more, which I'd like to share --not as a model to follow-- but as good-intentioned advice.
Because Mary Patricia likes to eat fruit every day, I made it a point to always bring home an apple, bananas, grapes, or cantaloupes. Of course I knew she went to the market and picked her own fruit. My gesture, though, was more spiritual than nutritional—never come home empty handed.
Early in our marriage I learned that Mary Patricia wished to be consulted in all my decisions, no matter how petty or insignificant. So, I made the promise to myself that not only would I consult with her, but I would over consult. Over consult I did. Except for that one time when I impulsively bought her a second piano. Not that she wasn’t appreciative, but she let me know that had she been consulted she would have told me that she was pregnant with our third child and that it was time to save rather than to spend.
“With three children to support and put through Barnard College, you need to earn more money,” she said.
Having already two girls, she was looking forward to a third one. “Why not Columbia College?” I asked, sounding like the ever macho-man from South America.
At that point in my career (30 years ago) I had been promoted to corporate controller and was earning a little under $100,000 a year. To my accountant’s mind, that was a pretty good darn amount. And I considered myself a good provider. Yet hubris overcame my good sense and for a couple of weeks I chewed on the cud of resentment at the implication that I wasn’t earning enough money.
Then one good day, Mary Patricia noticing my moodiness, said, “Money making will come easily to you when you think of those about you—not yourself. Your are at your best when you think of others.”
That did it! I had been thinking of my own wonderful self and not of my loved ones. So I told Mary Patricia I would give up my job and I would become an investment banker. Without hesitation she agreed. That same day she went to the Coliseum Bookstore (Columbus Circle, long gone by now) and purchased all the necessary textbooks for me to study and pass the registered representative exams.
That evening she handed me the books and I handed her a colorful dish of juicy, sweet, diced cantaloupe, honey dew, and water melon--all laced with Merlot. To cap the evening she played for me the Mozart’s adagio that had sent chills up my spine that fated day when I saw her for the first time. What did I see in her then? Did I see the face of an angel, or the face of my mother whom I had left behind to come to this country? God only knows.
Shaped and formed as we are by our surrounding, I believe every man has an ideal image or the blueprint of a perfect woman; in my case Mary Patricia was and is my “imago.” To me she is unmatched not only in beauty and talent, but also in virtue.
Today Mary Patricia no longer plays the piano, for her arthritis has invaded her legs and arms. From her debut at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall to her final concert at Carnegie Hall, I never missed one of her concerts. And like a mail carrier nothing – Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night – stayed me.
Fame and glory fade, but in my heart Mary Patricia’s accomplishments grow and glow stronger with the passing days. With what relish her final concert reverberates in my body, the echoes of the standing ovation and “bravas” filling my soul with joy. The following day, a critic from NY Times, called her reading of Brahms’ Piano Quintet “a boon from God.”
God smiled on Mary Patricia, and that smile spilled over to me, for the good Lord made me an even bigger provider, for my career blossomed and I retired a successful investment banker. We’ve sent our children to Ivy schools, have college funds for the grandchildren, and we live in a grand neighborhood with fine neighbors. Mary Patricia –a child of an old patrician wasp family from Boston-- reassures me that she married up when she married me – “a poor immigrant boy from the Andes.”
Last Sunday after church we went to the street fair on Madison Avenue, not far from where we live on Park Avenue. To tell the truth, I can’t think of a better way to spend a gorgeous glorious afternoon in New York City than at a street fair.
And I pushed Mary Patricia’s wheel chair –-an old fashion chair, for she can’t operate a motorized one-- the whole length of the fair--all twenty blocks.
The writing techniques I employ in this article are all explained in Mary Duffy's writing manual: