Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Balancing Public and Private Space: Rebecca West Part 2

After surveying several pieces of West's work, I am struck by her outspoken views on women, men and society. They seem to point to the struggle of women having lives outside of the home and the double standard that often dictates the station a woman will have in her community. 

These themes are still relevant today and resonate with women who, even in today's world are fighting for fair wages, the right to vote, securing rights to their own bodies and extending themselves beyond the roles of wife and mother. 

As I pondered her words, her construction of plot, the layout of her paragraphs and the formation of her sentences, it was impossible not to ask the question: Have we, and women, in particular, made significant progress in the struggle to merge our private and public spaces? This question seemed to present itself over and over again as I read her work. This repeated theme in her fiction and even in reviews she wrote of other literature was often a struggle to answer this very question. 

The following quotes are from West's The Judge. 

 But the eastern sky was inflamed with such a livid scarlet dawn as she had never seen before, and the full tide was milk streaked with blood, and the sails of the barges that rode there were as rags that had been used to staunch wounds.

Words: Through out the book Maude finds comfort in looking out at the sea, but this particular day, one in which she endured the abuse of others with name calling and stone throwing, she finds no comfort. West uses jolting descriptive words to convey Maude's internal pain from ridicule.

     "Why didn't you tell me in your letters how beautiful she was?" she demanded.
     He answered mildly, "Didn't I?"
     "No, you didn't," she told him curtly. "You said you said you thought her pretty. Thought her pretty, indeed, with that hair and that wonderful Scotch little face!"
     She caught her breath in irritation at the expression on his face, the uneasy movement from side to side of his eyes which warred with the smile on his lips. Why, when he thought of his love, need he have an air as if he listened to two voices and was distressed by the effort to follow their diverse musics?

Sentences: West's sentences are made up of words and phrases that have clarity, cadence and important information about her characters. If I were to remove a phrase, the meaning wouldn't be the same. 

      In this passage, Maude, Harry's mother is faced with the fact that her treatment toward her son has left him conflicted. She spent his life playing the victim of a harsh male world, creating an unnatural connection between them. His need to protect his mother and meet all her needs, has tied him up emotionally to the point he feels disloyal if he loves another. 

    See how that one sentence packs an emotional punch; the way Maude can see, in the movement of Harry's eyes and the false smile on his lips, the internal war she is responsible for. 

Paragraphs:  With the advent of digital books, I'm finding it difficult to see patterns and wonder if how we write will evolve also. Usually breaks in paragraphs are very individual to writers. 

     In the Judge, which I read as a digital version, I often felt that a paragraph should have been divided differently. When I listened along on my version, I could tell that the reader often paused mid-paragraph. When I compared to the digital version, I could see clearly why the reader felt the need for a pause since the subject changed. 

     I would need to compare an original version to be sure, but my feeling is West had a tendency to write long sentences and large paragraphs. Which surprises me because understanding West often requires one to read between the lines. A rhetorical pause is often indicated by spacing, as is pace. 

The Evolution of White Space

     Are our paragraphs changing as digital becomes more prevalent? Will writers need to adapt to this change by inventing new conventions to create meaning and emphasis? Will the function of white space in literature change or become obsolete? 

When looking at books from the previous century, many of them appear dense compared to our book designs of the last century. White space serves an important function in poetry and literature and the question is: Will it remain important?  

 Photo: Bloomberg News
“The modern world has far too little understanding of the art of keeping young. Its notion of progress has been to pile one thing on top of another, without caring if each thing was crushed in turn, People forgot that the human soul can enjoy a thing most when there is time to think about it and be thankful for it. And by crowding things together they lost the sense of surprise; and surprise is the
 secret of joy.” —G.K. Chesterton

What does this tell us about white space? Are we losing our white spaces? 

1 comment:

  1. Interesting. White space is HUGELY important in middle grade books, although I have noticed that there must be a shortage of white space in Canada, if we are to judge from Lorimer and other Canadian presses. Hmmm.


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