I Await the Devil’s Coming

by

Butte, Montana.

January 13, 1901.

I of womanhood and of nineteen years, will now begin to set down as full and frank a Portrayal as I am able of myself, Mary MacLane, for whom the world contains not a parallel.

I am convinced of this, for I am odd.

I am distinctly original innately and in development.

I have in me a quite unusual intensity of life.

I can feel.

I have a marvellous capacity for misery and for happiness.

I am broad-minded.

I am a genius.

I am a philosopher for my own good peripatetic school.

I care neither for right nor wrong – my conscience is nil.

My brain is a conglomeration of aggressive versatility.

I have reached a truly wonderful state of miserable morbid unhappiness.

I know myself, oh, very well.

I have attained an egotism that is rare indeed.

I have gone into the deep shadows.

All this constitutes oddity. I find, therefore, that I am quite, quite odd.

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Along some lines I have gotten to the edge of the world. A step more and I fall off. I do not take the step. I stand on the edge, and I suffer.

Nothing, oh, nothing, on the earth can suffer like a woman young and all alone!

::

It is the Byron of “Don Juan” in whom I find suggestions of myself. In this sublime outpouring there are few to admire the character of Don Juan, but all must admire Byron. He is truly admirable. He uncovered and exposed his soul of mingled good and bad – as the terms are – for the world to gaze upon. He knew the human race and he knew himself.

::

I am ready and waiting to give all that I have to the Devil in exchange for Happiness. I have been tortured so long with the dull, dull misery of Nothingness – all my nineteen years. I want to be happy – oh, I want to be happy!

The Devil has not yet come. But I know that he usually comes, and I wait him eagerly.

:::

Mary Maclane’s journal, I Await the Devil’s Coming (1902), is at once hilarious in its naivety and grandiosity, and wonderful in its honesty and ironic self-knowledge. Here is a young women with a raging thirst to live out loud, to be and do and see and feel and experience LIFE. She is desperate to escape her humdrum existence, and what could be more humdrum than Butte, Montana, in 1901. She awaits the Devil’s coming, for surely he will liberate her from propriety and the sameness of everyday.

I’m enjoying reading Mary’s wild imaginings and feeling her raw need for MORE. I quite like Nothingness these days, but I remember that feeling of wanting MORE, of being young and yearning for my life to unfurl into splendid technicolour adventures. Oh, yes, I remember that. (Be careful what you wish for, Mary.)

A Line Made by Walking

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Instead of deleting the blog, I decided (maybe) to start over. I never liked the direction my writing here headed after I got tired of blogging about books and reading. However, I think I want to start writing about books again, and I need a clean slate for that.

The book I finished most recently is A Line Made by Walking, Sara Baume’s beautiful novel dealing with a young woman’s quarter-life crisis. Frankie is twenty-five and has run up against the sad truth that her artistic ambitions far outweigh her artistic talent. She is also dealing with various debilitating anxieties, and people-problems arising from her social awkwardness. Eventually, she falls into major depression and ends up living in her dead grandmother’s house, riding around the countryside on a bicycle, and taking photos of road kill. Hmm. It doesn’t sound very enticing when stated baldly like that, but the writing is gorgeous, and I felt a close connection with Frankie and her World of Woe. There’s this one part where she goes to a hairdresser to have her self-hacked hair tidied up and the hairdresser starts asking the usual banal and annoying questions, and Frankie gets fed up and turns the tables and starts asking the hairdresser some fairly inappropriate things instead. And then there’s the part where she goes to see a doctor about her depression and very ungraciously refuses the medication foisted upon her. I liked Frankie’s bolshie attitude, and I liked seeing my own life experience reflected in a novel for once. Usually, I don’t feel much connection with female characters, but I did feel as though I knew Frankie quite well. Anyway, I felt sad when the narrative skidded to a halt long before I was prepared for it to end.

‘The ability to talk to people, that’s the the key to the world. It doesn’t matter whether you are able to articulate your own thoughts and feelings and meanings or not. What matters is being able make the noises that encourage others to feel comfortable, and the inquiries which present them with the opportunity to articulate their thoughts and feelings and meanings, the particulars of their existences, their passions, preoccupations, beliefs. If you can talk to other people this way, you can go – you can get – anywhere in this world, in life’ (Baume, 122).

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At the moment, I’m immersed in William Gaddis’ The Recognitions, which was published in 1955 and mostly ignored until it gathered something of a cult following years later. I’ve been meaning to read it for ages, but at 956 pages of fairly convoluted writing, it’s one of those books you need to make space in your life for.