21 Sep 2006, Comments Off on The Vivisector #2

The Vivisector #2

Author: Helen

Girl at a Piano by Paul Cezanne

This is for the Patrick White Reader’s Group. If you don’t like Patrick White, just talk amongst yerselves until I post some more snark.

I’m interested in how White wrote chapters 4 – 7 of The Vivisector. Have you noticed how they go together?

The length of the book’s chapters varies hugely. Some are just a few pages long, while others form mini-novellas in themselves. Chapters 4 and 6 are like this – you could cut them out and publish them pretty much as they are, and they could stand alone with an edit or two. They almost seem to be more than just chapters. So, it’s odd to see the little chapters 5 and 7 sandwiched in there.

Chapters 5 and 7 are codas. Each belongs to the chapter preceding it. That’s clear enough. But it is interesting that chapters 4-5 and 6-7 follow the same rhythm. Chapter Four is dominated by Hurtle’s love affair with Nance. Nance becomes his muse as well as his lover, and inspires a new series of paintings. With her, Hurtle is at times inspired and at other times wallowing in suffering, filth and squalor. Nance dies at the end of the chapter.

In Chapter 5, the coda, Hurtle is seeking solitude, but is approached by “the grocer”, “the fat man”, Mr Cutbush, a character who is in some ways a coarse and ignorant Everyman, but in another way an interlocutor who helps gather the threads of what has gone before. He is the sounding board for Hurtle to talk and think about himself, in a place where the story stops and takes a breath– although even now, Hurtle’s artistic sense is hyperactive, envisioning a huge, obscene painting.

Chapters 6 and 7 are the same. Chapter 6: an almost novella-length account of Hurtle’s love affair with Hero. Hero becomes his muse as well as his lover, and inspires a new series of paintings.With her, Hurtle is at times full of inspiration (and able to mix with high society again) and at other times wallowing in suffering, filth and squalor.. sounds familiar? As Nance and the “rocks” merged in his last series, Hero becomes conflated with a bag of cats, drowned by her callous husband (there isn’t any way to write that without it sounding ridiculous, but in the novel, it does sort of work.) Hero dies at the end of the chapter.

Coda, chapter 7: Hurtle, seeking solitude, is approached by another Everyman, “the printer”, Mothersole. Interlocutor number two. The surnames of these two sound a bit Dickensian, don’t they? What’s with that? And with their bland occupational titles? Mothersole is a sounding board for his memories of the events in the chapter before and again his inspiration to paint is given a new impetus.

Now I’m into chapter 8. An almost novella-length account of Hurtle’s love affair with Kathy Volkov… Becomes muse as well as lover… inspires more paintings… Hurtle alternately transcends and wallows in suffering, filth, squalor, especially given the incestuous, Lolita-ish nature of this relationship… and so on… yada yada…

I’ve sneaked a look ahead and [SPOILER ALERT] I don’t find the same little coda chapter with a new, male interlocutor with a Dickensian surname. Instead, there is a meeting with someone from Hurtle’s old family, and the chapter length flattens out. Interestingly, though, Cutbush returns as a friend of Kathy Volkov’s family, although he doesn’t figure in any of the dialogue or action – he’s just there. I wonder why, and I wonder whether Mothersole will make another appearance.

What is the real meaning of Mothersole and Cutbush? Are there any more parallels in chapters 4,6 and 8 that I haven’t picked?

You will point out that I’m ignoring some very important characters, like Olivia Davenport (chapter 6) and Rhoda (chapter 8 ). That’s true. Women who are counterpoints, kind-of, to the lover/muse person? Poor old Hurtle, who only ever wants to be left alone, doesn’t seem to do much unless it’s in response or reaction to another eccentric or tortured person.

Update: Mike at Prawnwarp describes the Cutbush and Mothersole characters as act as a kind of grout. Which, of course, is something that fills interstices. Brilliant!

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