Posts tagged Against Nature
Project Proposal — The History of Beauty and the Beast: A Biography

My novel, The History of Beauty and the Beast: A Biography, is a retelling of Madame de Villeneuve’s The Story of Beauty and the Beast (published in 1740). Villeneuve and her “original”—about whether Beauty will consent to have sex with the Beast—have been forgotten by history. My novel aims to recover the life story of author-salonnière Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve and to restore to her tale her 18th-Century proto-feminist philosophy. My PhD dissertation situates itself between serious literature and mass-market fairy-tale romance, between the folkloric historiography of Aarne-Thompson-Uther type 425C and the bestselling genre of historical fiction, between novel and biography and the intersection of these in the mimetic-parodic literary tradition of fictional biographies, such as Virginia Woolf’s Orlando: A Biography (1928) and Thomas Mann’s Doctor Faustus: The Life of the German Composer Adrian Leverkühn, Told by a Friend (1947).

In the Author’s Preface to The History of Beauty and the Beast: A Biography, “I” am my novel’s first 1st-person narrator, and I ask if we really need another retelling of Beauty and the Beast. I quote fairy tale scholar Maria Tatar, who claims: “That every culture seems to tell ‘Beauty and the Beast’ in one fashion or another suggests it is part of our DNA. We make the story new so we can think more and think harder about the stakes in partnerships and marriages.”[1] I also refer to critic Jerry Griswold, who believes its “popularity over time suggests its importance. The oldest version [… is Apuleius’s] ‘Cupid and Psyche,’” which appeared around 150 A.D. but drew on Greek versions derived from India’s “The Woman Who Married a Snake,” which “existed in oral form before its appearance in print in 500 A.D.” The story’s “endurance” for “more than two millennia,” Griswold contends, is one reason for its “significance and power” — as well as its “geographical distribution” the world over and its appeal to mainstream and marginalized child and adult audiences.[2]

In the next section, the Introduction, I go on to explain that the goal of my retelling is to re-narrativize our commonly held belief about the historical rise of the novel. I aim to reach Creative Writing, English, Folklore, and Literary History professors who might teach my book. Chapter by chapter, I will chronologically mimic and integrate the traditions of the 18th-Century novel; the 19th-Century’s Gothic, social realist, and Decadent novels; 20th-Century Modernist novels; 21st-Century Postmodernist novels. My retelling of Beauty and the Beast will provide professors, students, book clubs, and casual readers with a step-by-step model that traces the development of the Western novel from the 18th Century to today. From this new context I provide, I hope English majors in particular can further appreciate the objectives of their required “Survey of English Literature” courses. I hope they will enjoy reading my novel, but also that they will discuss and debate the literary, historical, creative, and artistic issues it raises.

In my Prologue, I reveal a new 1st-person narrator (Villeneuve’s biographer) and an editor who points out that Samuel Richardson’s Pamela (also about a young beauty imprisoned in a country estate by a beastly “Mr. B”) was also published in 1740. This footnote propels my novel’s first sub-narrative, about Pamela’s spinoff products, “critiques, parodies, translations, plays […], and several sequels.”[3] Our editor will further compare the production of Pamela-inspired ephemera to Beauty and the Beast’s transmedial phenomena. Villeneuve, however, in her Eighteenth-Century Paris salon — our biographer interjects — could not have known the extent to which her story would endure. My Prologue becomes the opening frame of my novel proper, with Villeneuve in her salon the night she begins telling “La Belle et la Bête.”

In chapter one, Villeneuve becomes our third 1st-person narrator (fourth, if we count our editor). She opens with the misfortunes of Beauty’s father, a merchant whose ships have been pillaged by pirates, and tells how he and his children are forced to relocate from a city “not far from here” to their country house that “might well be considered the saddest abode in the world.” Our editor tells us this is significant because Villeneuve’s tale is set neither “far away” nor “long ago,” making it the first of its kind to place its characters in the author’s own space and time. This may reflect Villeneuve’s awareness of her audience’s receptivity, as she satirizes the merchant’s friends who were “so cruel as to attribute [his] misfortunes to his own bad conduct.”[4] Her jab at victim-blamers mirrors Henry Fielding’s contemporaneous notes/manifesto toward the new novel, in which he states the satirist might punch up but never down.

In The Inward Turn of Narrative, Erich Kahler states that in the 18th century, “the ego engaged in monologue and dialogue became the vehicle of the new narrative.”[5] Villeneuve, then, a historical figure recast as character-who-narrates in my own novel, employs the same playful monologuing as Fielding, and, in dialoguing with her salon-audience, she digresses like Laurence Sterne — which our editor identifies as the main reason Villeneuve’s version never stuck (and why Disney adapted instead Madame de Beaumont’s much-abridged 1756 version). Reveling in Cervantes’ and Fielding’s subplots, and Sterne’s anti-plot shenanigans, Villeneuve in my retelling joins the ranks of these men who famously inaugurated the rise of the novel.[6]

In chapter two, when Beauty’s father receives his death sentence, my novel turns Gothic. I will draw from Mary Wollstonecraft’s Maria; or, The Wrongs of Woman so that my editor-character can investigate Diane Long Hoeveler’s claim that Wollstonecraft’s “devices—hyperbole, dramatic self-stagings, repeated presentation of heroines as victims, [… are] very similar to [those] employed by later female Gothic novelists.” I wish to examine the father’s emasculation as well as this chapter’s potential to highlight “the Gothic’s role in reforming class attitudes, in defining appropriate behavior for both sexes, and in codifying literature’s role as an ideological system that operates to shape and enforce what we now call values in society.” [7]

In chapter three, the Gothic turns Romantic when Beast sends his white horse to bring Beauty to the castle, where she is greeted with fireworks, gardens filled with unseasonably fruiting trees, costumed monkeys pantomiming Renaissance dramas (hidden parrots beneath wigs performing the voices), and his library that houses every book ever written and every book yet to be written. In this epistolary chapter, Beauty’s letters are laments about how she has only her imagination for company. Terrorized by Beast’s request to let him sleep with her, she nightly answers, “No,” which prompts our editor to remind us of Beaumont’s revision, “Will you marry me?” I cannot overstate the importance of restoring Villeneuve’s original. Her boar-headed, lion-tailed, lizard-scaled Beast understands the meaning of consent—unlike Richardson’s refined Mr. B., whose repeated attempts to rape Pamela will go neither unmentioned nor unpunished in my dissertation.

Chapter four, in which Beast insists that Beauty go home, is written as 19th-Century social realism with a dash of decadence. The chapter begins with a nod to Madame Bovary, briefly utilizing the 1st-person plural of Beauty’s five sisters who sabotage her return to the castle. Their point of view — their disinterested Des Essientes-style cataloging of the fine clothes and jewels they wear (thanks to Beast’s generosity, owed to Beauty’s self-sacrifice), their lavish living arrangements, their petty amusements and desires for suitors with titles — transforms into a Bleak House-inspired 3rd-person narrator whose judgments are harsh and unfailingly unforgiving, drawing attention to social norms, mores, hierarchies not usually observed.

Chapter five — my modernist episode — is told from Beast’s close 3rd-“person” point of view. Like Gregor Samsa, he wakes in his monstrous form. His stream-of-consciousness is as fragmented as his body: transported into a memory of overtaking and ripping open the throat of a doe, he smells the sweat and fear of prey the way Marcel tastes tea; he speaks, when he speaks, like Gertrude Stein, stuttering interrogatives to determine whether Beauty is satisfied with his castle’s objects, rooms, and food; he thinks like Beckett’s Unnameable, in the ever-present, consumed by his inability to communicate, to comprehend his body; he desires obsessively like Humbert Humbert; yet he observes, always, like the narrator of Jealousy, from the outside looking in; and, finally, like Gregor, he “[hangs] on until […] his last feeble breath,” and dies.[8]

In chapter six, my postmodernist episode, Beauty is in the library — reading every version of her own story she can find. She has perhaps just arrived at the castle, and, having discovered Beast’s library, begun poking around only to encounter a novel, and then another and another, that uncannily features a young heroine resembling herself. Perhaps we too have been reading an assemblage of different texts written in different times. The many Beauties born over the past two millennia are all gathered in my final chapter; and certainly they must differ from one another in ways I imagine will be fun to reshape and recontextualize as I cut and paste from as many variants of the animal bridegroom tale as I can find. For in my own retelling, I wish to defer to these and to the other texts mentioned here. In so doing, I will produce a novel that is itself in a constant state of transformation, a demonstration of my desire to obliterate boundaries between literary time periods, forms, and genres; and a challenge to myself at this point in my career to strive toward a stylistic range I have never dreamed of undertaking—a manuscript indebted to my PhD education at the University of Utah and to those most enduring novels that have so magically and beautifully inspired me while here.

NOTES

[1] Maria Tatar, Beauty and the Beast: Classic Tales about Animal Brides and Grooms from Around the World, Penguin Books, 2017, p. ix.

[2] Jerry Griswold, The Meanings of “Beauty and the Beast”: A Handbook, Broadview Press, 2004, p. 15.

[3] James Grantham Turner, “Richardson and His Circle,” The Columbia History of the British Novel, edited by John J. Richetti, Columbia UP, 1994, p. 76.

[4] Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, The Story of Beauty and the Beast, translated by Ernest Christopher Dowson, John Lane Company, 1740, pp. 1, 2-3, 5.

[5] Erich Kahler, The Inward Turn of Narrative, Northwestern UP, 1973, p. 148.

[6] Ian Watt, The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson, and Fielding. Chatto & Windus, 1957.

[7] Diane Long Hoeveler, “Teaching the Early Female Canon,” Approaches to Teaching Gothic Fiction: The British and American Traditions, edited by Diane Long Hoeveler and Tamar Heller, MLA, 2003, p. 105.

[8] Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis and Other Stories, B&N, 2003, p. 48.

Dogs and Horses and a Tortoise — Oh My!

Emily Brontë punched a dog in the face as he was mid-air and aiming for her throat. Keeper, as he was called, had come with a warning: he's loyal to a fault, unless threatened. Bad luck for Keeper, since he liked to sleep on Emily's bed! One day when she'd finally had it, she grabbed him by the scruff and dragged him down two flights of stairs. When she let go and he lunged, she "punished him" with a "bare clenched fist" in one eye, then the other, again and again, until he "was half blind" and had to be taken away. More here about how Emily herself nursed him back to health, and how he was first in line among the mourners attending her funeral, and miserable ever after. 

It's an intriguing anecdote, particularly because Lockwood can only be read as utterly emasculated every time he's threatened by at least one dog when visiting Wuthering Heights (always uninvited). Once, maybe twice, he screams for help and Heathcliff basically just points and laughs — but this is the same Heathcliff who once in his lifetime hung a dog in the yard to make a point, and in a novel that opens with Hareton hanging puppies from the back of a chair.

"She knows how to hang puppies, that Emily," Anne Carson will write more than a century later.

*

Wuthering Heights isn't the only 19th century novel populated with dogs. Bleak House also opens with dogs "undistinguishable in mire" — and horses, "scarcely better; splashed to their very blinkers" — covered by the very same street mud in which "tens of thousands" of human "foot passengers have been slipping and sliding since the day broke (if the day ever broke)."

We all know about Dickens's sympathy for orphans, but animals in general and one dog in particular are given — in that great sweeping social epic of his — actual consciousness. The first of the passages is lengthy, but I'm including it in full with commentary interspersed: 

There may be some motions of fancy among the lower animals at Chesney Wold. The horses in the stables — the long stables in a barren, red-brick courtyard, where there is a great bell in a turret, and a clock with a large face, which the pigeons who live near it, and who love to perch upon its shoulders, seem to be always consulting — they may contemplate some mental pictures of fine weather, on occasions, and may be better artists at them than the grooms. 

The italicized "they" belongs to the novel's Anonymous Narrator (as most critics refer to him, which aligns him more closely I think with Tolstoy's third-person narrator than Flaubert's?), and the emphasis seems to indicate that even pigeons have better imaginations than the men tending the horses. (Later in the novel, in a passage describing Tulkinghorn's movement from one location to another, the Anonymous Narrator will unpack the nuances of "as the crow flies" and take us into the aerial view afforded by even this imagined, proverbial bird.) But for now we're still at Chesney Wold: 

The old roan, so famous for cross-country work, turning his large eyeball to the grated window near his rack, may remember the fresh leaves that glisten there at other times, and the scents that stream in, and may have a fine run with the hounds, while the human helper, clearing out the next stall, never stirs beyond his pitchfork and birch-broom. 

Again, an animal is granted more human consciousness than his human counterpart. And while the hounds above are off running in the roan's old memories, the

grey, whose place is opposite the door, and who, with an impatient rattle of his halter, pricks his ears and turns his head so wistfully when it is opened, and to whom the opener says, "Woa, grey, then, steady! Noabody wants you to-day!" may know it quite as well as the man. The whole seemingly monotonous and uncompanionable half-dozen, stabled together, may pass the long wet hours, when the door is shut, in livelier communication than is held in the servants' hall, or at the Dedlock Arms; — or may even beguile the time by improving (perhaps corrupting) the pony in the loose-box in the corner. 

This is not an "omniscient" narrator, as he's so judgmental and never passes up an opportunity to slip in some sly parenthetical or even outright condemnation. (Earlier in the novel, in one of his snarkiest moments, beautifully rendered, he criticizes the interminable endlessness of the Jarndyce and Jarndyce case and the wastes of space otherwise known as Chancery lawyers: "The little plaintiff or defendant, who was promised a new rocking-horse when Jarndyce and Jarndyce should be settled, has grown up, possessed himself of a real horse, and trotted away into the other world." It's my favorite line of the novel, after the fog's of course, because of how he so deftly handles the passage of time.) But back to Chesney Wold: 

So, the mastiff, dozing in his kennel, in the courtyard, with his large head on his paws, may think of the hot sunshine, when the shadows of the stable-buildings tire his patience out by changing, leave him, at one time of the day, no broader refuge than the shadow of his own house, where he sits on end, panting and growling short, and very much wanting something to worry, besides himself and his chain. So, now, half-waking and all-winking, he may recall the house full of company, the coach-houses full of vehicles, the stables full of horses, and the out-buildings full of attendants, upon horses, until he is undecided about the present, and comes forth to see how it is. Then, with that impatient shake of himself, he may growl, in the spirit, "Rain, rain, rain! Nothing but rain, — and no family here!" as he goes in again, and lies down with a gloomy yawn.

The Anonymous Narrator's insistence on the animals' possible thoughts, memories, fantasies — "he may recall," "he may growl," etc. — is an interesting narrative sleight-of-hand maneuver. He isn't claiming these "lower" animals really are as conscious, or even more so, than humans, but they may be. The reader can decide.

So with the dogs in the kennel-buildings across the park, who have their restless fits, and whose doleful voices, when the wind has been very obstinate, have made it known in the house itself: up stairs, down stairs, and in my lady's chamber. They may hunt the whole countryside, while the rain-drops are pattering round their inactivity. So the rabbits with their self-betraying tails, frisking in and out of holes at roots of trees, may be lively with ideas of the breezy days when their ears are blown about, or of those seasons of interest when there are sweet young plants to gnaw. The turkey in the poultry-yard, always troubled with a class-grievance (probably Christmas), may be reminiscent of that summer-morning wrongfully, taken from him ,when he got into the lane among the felled trees, where there was a barn and barley. The discontented goose, who stoops to pass under the old gateway, twenty feet high, may gobble about, if we only knew it, a waddling preference for weather when the gateway casts its shadow on the ground.

Be this as it may, there is not much fancy otherwise stirring at Chesney Wold. If there be a little at any odd moment, it goes, like a little noise in that old echoing place, a long way, and usually leads off to ghosts and mystery.

Here we have an entire social network of animals in various hierarchies in relation to one another as well as humans. Note the Christmas-dinner turkey "always troubled with a class-grievance"! And yet, these are but a few paragraphs from a 900+ page novel about the people, politics, and problematic (non)progress of a specific time in the history of London. 

*

I have been thinking a lot about the great big social, historical, tragic epic novels on my list. Anna Karenina, for one, as I began writing about yesterday, and Bleak House. 

Let me add to these Blindness, which I first wrote about a while ago, when the dog of tears nearly brought me to tears.

And One Hundred Years of Solitude, in which the first spoken words are "Things have a life of their own. It's just a matter of waking up their souls."

It's the third-person narrator I'm most interested in. How close? How far? How judgmental? How objective? Just how invested is he?

And where are the novels whose Anonymous Narrators are implicitly female?  

*

I met with Steve last week to discuss Against Nature (which I'll get to soon, re: tortoise), and he and I got to thinking about who we are as writers today, compared to who we were when we entered this program. Our thoughts are not entirely dissimilar. Essentially, I feel I came here with all kinds of claims and declarations about "experimental" writing and "innovation." I thought generic hybridity a new thing (ha!). But to my credit, I came here willing to wipe clean the slate. I've maintained from day one that, out there on my own, I'd made it as far as I could go. I wasn't growing. I didn't know what was next. So I came here, desiring to be taught. To unlearn. To think and rethink. To wonder again. 

I believed I was a "spare" writer, that less was always more, that more words were always too many. I knew deep down I'd always loved Dickens, his obsession with orphans, his overstuffed spaces and descriptions, even his sentimental tendencies and flamboyantly obvious character names. But by then I'd already abandoned him for the spare and lyric narrative novels dominated by white space on the page. In part because I thought it political: women have been silenced, forced to the margins, and have too long been merely footnotes in history; so why shouldn't we silence and rewrite history in turn, reclaim those very margins and footnotes now? But with three years of this program behind me, I'm just not sure of anything anymore.

This is probably a good thing, though. And, really, my current thoughts have much to do with the fact that I've been fully submerged in the novels of my historical list nonstop for months on end. This post, the last, the next, however, mark the end of that list and the beginning of my contemporary. Narrative as I've known it, of late, is about to metamorphose entirely. I don't think there are any 900+ page novels ahead of me (thank god, I wanted to write just now, but at the same time equally lament). 

*

Next weekend, I'll meet with Melanie for the first time. She's asked me to prepare a clear re-articulation of my exam problematic, which was/is "liminality and narrativity." Today, what I think I know is that everything is liminal. Everything is always in flux, existing in the present, which of course has a lost past and unknown future. Literary movements, social revolutions, historical and history-making events, and even the private, personal day-to-day minutiae of our individual lives are liminal, unfinished, and always in-progress.

Anthropologically speaking, however, the term comes loaded with symbolic weight: liminality is a state of being specifically within societal rites of passage. A wedding, then, which is a rite of passage for all the heterosexual members of all the societies all over the world, presents us with the preliminal single guy or gal, their liminal status as grooms and brides who take part in the matrimonial ceremony, and their postliminal positions as husbands and wives. Childbirth, and the celebration of children's birthdays (each one a rite of passage for the child), marks another rite of passage for the parents: from preliminal not-parents, to liminal women in labor and men assisting (or not), to brand new postliminal mom and dad!

My first point of articulation about liminality, then, has to do with its anthropological origins regarding ritualized — and celebrated — human transitions, and, in particular, a focus on the liminal (not the pre-liminal or post-liminal) figure. Implicit in this point of articulation is the liminal figure's assumed forward and upward movement on their linear timeline. The liminal figure moves diagonally. Society chooses to see the diagonal line like this / but the liminal figure herself may see her trajectory like this \.  

My second point of articulation has to do with the fact that many literary critics choose to see tricksters as liminal figures. Other than The Odyssey's Hermes, Athene, Odysseus, and Penelope, and Sheherazade and all of her literary sisters, I'm not myself much concerned with tricksters. But tricksters are also marginal and inferior figures, as are: orphans, picaros, travelers, rogues, prostitutes (and spinsters, divorcees, single mothers, and widows — you know, unmarried women), beggars, the homeless, the diseased, the disabled. And of course people of color. Figures, in essence, who are not the heroes and heroines of our societally shared, culturally celebrated stories. Marginals and inferiors exist not diagonally but horizontally and vertically, respectively. And they do not move. If they did, they would be liminal and able to progress one way or the other, diagonally. They do not move because society rejects their social movements. Society needs to keep marginals and inferiors in their place

My third point of articulation has to do with the motion and progress of literary movements and their stories' shapes and forms — historical, generic, stylistic, etc.

And regarding all three points of articulation, the major question is: how do we, not just the people of the world, but especially writers, narrate the stories of liminal, marginal, and inferior human beings? (This includes journalists, news pundits, culture critics, bloggers, Twitterers and Facebook status updaters, etc.)

*

And for the purposes of this post, not just liminal, marginal, and inferior humans but animals too. 

Returning to Bleak House, and to the specific dog in particular previously mentioned, Dickens compares him to the novel's most tragic figure, Jo. He's so poor he doesn't even have an "e" at the end of his name. He's never been educated, never been to church, and so, even though he is the only witness who could testify, he's not allowed because he can't possibly know right from wrong and as such his oath, sworn on a holy bible, is considered meaningless. Jo has never known kindness. He is used and abused, moved and shuttled about at others' bidding. When, at a certain point, he is given a gold coin, he will hold it in his mouth, like an animal, for safekeeping. And, of course — this is Dickens, after all — he dies tragically. But before all that, this is what we know: 

It must be a strange state to be like Jo! To shuffle through the streets, unfamiliar with the shapes, and in utter darkness as to the meaning, of those mysterious symbols, so abundant over the shops, and at the corners of streets, and on the doors, and in the windows! To see people read, and to see people write, and to see the postmen deliver letters, and not to have the least idea of all that language — to be, to every scrap of it, stone blind and dumb! 

. . . Jo, and the other lower animals (emphasis mine), get on in the unintelligible mess as they can. It is market day. The blinded oxen, over-goaded, over-driven, never guided, run into the wrong places and are beaten out; and plunge, red-eyed and foaming, at stone walls; and often sorely hurt the innocent, and often sorely hurt themselves. Very like Jo and his order; very, very like!

A band of music comes, and plays. Jo listens to it. So does a dog — a drover's dog, waiting for his master outside a butcher's shop, and evidently thinking about those sheep he has had upon his mind for some hours, and is happily rid of. He seems perplexed respecting three or four; can't remember where he left them; looks up and down the street, as half expecting to see them astray; suddenly pricks up his ears and remembers all about it. A thoroughly vagabond dog, accustomed to low company and public-houses; a terrific dog to sheep; ready at a whistle to scamper over their backs and tear out mouthfuls of their wool; but an educated, improved, developed dog, who has been taught his duties and knows how to discharge them. He and Jo listen to the music, probably with much the same amount of animal satisfaction; likewise, as to awakened association, aspiration or regret, melancholy or joyful reference to things beyond the senses, they are probably upon a par. But, otherwise, how far above the human listener is the brute! 

It can't be said that Dickens is only using this drover's dog to make his point, instead, or more relevantly, about poor Jo the orphan. We have already read several sections of momentary dips in and out of various animals' thoughts, memories, dreams. The drover's dog's intelligence, his education and training, his belonging to another who claims him — all of this is, of course, heightened to draw attention to Jo's lack of such luxuries. And the Anonymous Narrator distinguishes him, too, from those other animals at Chesney Wold who may be thinking, feeling, acting. This dog "evidently" thinks, and although he "seems perplexed" and "can't remember" at first, he soon "remembers all about it." He's sharp, mentally and physically; and "how far above" poor Jo he is, indeed. 

*

The great big sweeping social and historical epics in prose are such because they account not just for the heroes and heroines of their narratives but also include figurations of liminals, marginals, and inferiors. 

If I know nothing else, I have at least developed a newfound respect for 900+ page novels I once rejected. (And I'll defend here, as I always have, Harry Potter for this reason, too. Read everything, yes? Be not a snob.)

*

And while I won't belabor, as I did with Dickens's animals, Tolstoy's representation of "Frou Frou" — come on, how can you not love a horse named "Frou Frou"? — I will say that the scenes of the horse race and the dramatic turn Anna Karenina takes in the carriage ride after are most impressive.

Does Frou Frou die tragically and symbolically? Yes.

But does she die to teach others how to live? No.

The love-triangle characters all begin to die a little, too, from this point forward. 

Oh, Frou Frou. 

Poor Frou Frou! (Seriously, who ever named you Frou Frou?)

*

Which brings me, finally, to the poor tortoise in Against Nature. Shell painted gold and inlaid with jewels. Dead, soon after, under the weight of all that cruelty and artifice. 

I don't know what to make of the decadents, I really don't. As I said in a previous post, I'm just not sure how much time I want to spend unpacking their movement. But the image of that tortoise haunts me. Sickens me, when I think of that book and Des Essientes. I think I'm supposed to feel this way, but I'm not sure. 

I am sure, though, that Des Essientes is a self-made marginal who turns the tortoise into an inferior. I can't ignore him, then, as I might want to, because "bad" marginals and inferiors are part of the picture too. They're not all innocents like Jo, victimized like Frou Frou and the bedazzled tortoise.

And they don't all die at the end of their narratives. Many persist and endure, for better or worse. 

So while Against Nature isn't one of those great big sweeping social epics, it does remind me, in thinking about those that are and their narrative constructions, to not look away from the self-exiled or reviled. 

Like Dorian Gray.

Or Lord Henry Wotton.

Or the Underground Man. 

Or Liza, Moll, Emma, Anna. 

Or Betsy, Stiva, Nikolai, Marya. 

Or the governess in Turn of the Screw, if we read her not literally but pathologically. 

Or J-J Rousseau.

Or Ahab.

Or Homais. 

Or the blind man.

Or Job.

Or the devil, the accuser, God

Or Frankenstein.

Or Frankenstein's creature.

Or Mephistopheles.

Or the Hunger Artist's manager. 

Or Gregor's father. 

Or Aschenbach.

Or the "lusty knight." 

Or, to bring us full circle, the Heathcliffs and Haretons (and Emily Brontës?) of the world.

Murderers, manipulators, misanthropes, whores, the willfully unmarried, the amoral, the adulterers, the diseased, the untouchables, the mentally ill, the runaways, the quitters, the baby abandoners, the disabled, the unworthy medal of honor winners, the poor, the homeless, the rich, the unholy, the entertainment-seeking deities, the power abusers, the power-hungry, the monsters, the demons, the corrupters and corrupt, the pedophiles, the rapists, the Chancery lawyers and Christmas-dinner turkey slaughterers, the apple-throwers, and even the puppy killers — they're part of our histories and stories, too.