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15 Jeff Percifield Mordren Grange TZzz's zs a novel, and I am writing it to amuse you. —Anthony Trollope I will set it in a Victorian manor house. This is a trope so filtered and distilled through modern entertainment that it feels archetypal, seems to spring from the collective unconscious. I will utilize the usual cues: fogs, butlers, parlour maids, arcane constructions, narrative props as alien to your waking life as they are embedded in the genome of popular culture. She stepped downfrom the hackney, into a vapour ofsnowflakes and extermination . . . This, a reference to the ill-gotten nature of the Mordren fortune, the particulars of which I may only hint at, ambiguity—though hardly characteristic of Victorian literature—being a particularly contemporary malady. The Victorian gothic is a myth, a fabricated past, a harsh world which nevertheless seems innocent in the gas-lit haze ofnostalgia. It's a decadent, late-phase fantasy that appeals because it portrays a society that for all its rigidity and shortcomings seems predictable and well-ordered in a way that modern life is not. It has the faux-atavistic appeal of Tolkien. The welldressed 19th Century characters seem noble, in that they are by definition innocent of the unimaginable crimes of the 20th Century; they inhabit a steamy, well-tended conservatory where the serpent of relativity still waits among the palm fronds to lisp E=mc2. These are not contemporary characters in costumed finery, they are another species, their viewpoints alien and antithetical. You would have more in common with a contemporary Eskimo than with these pre-modern, preFreudian Britishers. You imagine that they long to burst their stays, but it's you who long to corset yourself against the horror, the soulless freedom of modern life. She stepped downfrom the hackney, into a morass ofmist and metaphor. Well, maybe not. I will view my antiquarian subject through a lorgnette of postmodern detachment. I will carry an intrusive flashbulb deep into those yellow-lit interiors of guttering tallow and smoking paraffin, I will probe deeply in my gynecological excavation of Victoriana and my squirming characters will have no escape; they are at my mercy. You are complicit, you have a voyeur's thrill in knowing that I am going to strip away their emotional petticoats against their will . . . Or maybe not. Maybe it's I, the writer, who simply longs for a story, that most atavistic of conceits, a long thread that defies our fractured and fis- 16 the minnesota review sured reality1. And yet, ever disingenuous, I must dress it up in the selfconscious fripperies of metafiction. I see your hesitation. You want to know if there will be real feelings here, or if it's to be a cold and elegant étude, as chilly as a Victorian garret; you're wondering if I have real feelings. Reading a novel is most intimate, you want to know if you can trust the author to accompany you to the most tremulous part of yourself. The writer is always present in the act of reading —poststructuralist bores aside—and you don't want to spend the journey with some lonely misanthrope, say, marooned in his apartment, writing stories to invent companions for himself . . . Art is a suture; art is a cicatrix. A book, after all, closed and contained between two covers, is an attempt to organize our feelings, to make sense of our experience of life in a way that the real world can never make sense. Note that the governess arrives in a hackney, a pun that expresses my ambivalence about the genre, to say nothing of my buried rage at putting words on paper for the approval of strangers, some of them editors. My equivocation creates a surface tension between reader and writer, a static electricity that may repel or attract. And: Theferret-eyed, badger-neckedfootman thrust a sputtering lamp at her. Behind him, the blue-black silhouette ofthe Hall, like a horned beast . . . The wintry opening reflects the emotional permafrost of the Mordren family. Note also the feral description of the footman—who could tell you a thing or two about Newgate Prison—and the archly chosen verb. You know your...


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