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Black Lamb

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Now in its 14th year of publication, this magazine was created to offer the discerning reader a stimulating selection of excellent original writing. Black Lamb Review is a literate rather than a literary publication. Regular columns by writers in a variety of geographic locations and vocations are supplemented by features, reviews, articles on books and authors, and a selection of “departments,” including an acerbic advice column and a lamb recipe.

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Sam and Jane

June 1st, 2003

BY EMILY EMERSON

Book memories: a few stand out. The Little Engine that Could, for one, that morality tale for the pre-school set. You remember: “I think I can, I think I can,” (chugga chugga), “I think I can, I think I can,” (chugga chugga chugga chugga), “I KNOW I can!” (CHUGGA CHUGGA CHUGGGAAAAAA!). Moral: austeneven the littles of life can manage to pull off whatever they want if they chug hard enough. This idea, even though I don’t believe it, lurks in my mind and makes me feel guilty whenever I don’t just keep on chugging.

Or the Heidi books, which left me longing to live in a chilly chalet in the Alps, far from civilization, that smelled of dust, hay and wildflowers, with a silent old geezer who fed me bread and goat’s milk. Who knows? Maybe that’s one reason I’m living where I’m living now, in a chilly old house smelling of dust, hay and wildflowers, far from civilization in a part of the world where the bread is really good and the only cheese is chèvre. And then there’s Charlotte’s Web, thanks to which I’ve spent a lot of time saving spiders trapped in bathtubs.

These books took me to other worlds, but the book that made me see my own world most clearly, that made me see me and my own life most clearly, is Beckett’s Malone Dies, especially this bit: A man is lying partially paralyzed in a bed alone in a room somewhere, able to express himself only by writing with his pencil. Then, one day, as he’s writing, he drops the pencil:

“It is the soul that must be veiled, that soul denied in vain, vigilant, anxious, turning in its cage as in a lantern, in the night without heaven or craft or matter or understanding. Ah yes I have my little pastimes and they

What a misfortune, the pencil must have slipped from my fingers, for I have only just succeeded in recovering it after forty-eight hours (see above) of intermittent efforts.”

How could there ever be a truer account of life, and writing, than that?

But I admit that the book I’ve turned to most, the one I’ve reread more than any other, is Sense and Sensibility.

Yes, the one by old Jane with her villages far from “the littlenesses of a town” (Persuasion). This is the book I reread when I was trying to decide whether to get married, and again when I had a cancer scare, and again when I was in labor, and again when I left my husband. When in doubt, Jane.

In our world, almost everyone is using some mood-control substance in order to keep on an even keel, but in Jane’s world, equilibrium is achieved when sense learns sensibility and sensibility learns sense. This is comforting. If you can only master the right steps and keep your balance, you can join in the country dance and whirl about the room gracefully, and eventually the elusive but ever-polite love of your life, who’s also a sensible choice as a mate, will ask you to marry him.

There’s a twist, however. At the end of this long novel in which Elinor Dashwood renounces Edward Ferrars, puts up with taunts from Edward’s bitchy secret fiancée, almost loses her manic-depressive sister and has to mother her own mother, Edward tells Elinor that in fact he is not married, and she, finally letting herself go in sensibility, bursts into tears — but what happens next is not as it was in the movie. Hugh Grant (that is, Edward) doesn’t get right down on his knee and propose to a radiant Emma Thompson.

In Jane’s world, Elinor rushes out of the room to give in to her sensibility in private, while Edward, “who had till then looked any where, rather than at her [Elinor], saw her hurry away, and perhaps saw — or even heard, her emotion; for immediately afterwards he fell into a reverie, which no remarks, no inquiries, no affectionate address of Mrs. Dashwood could penetrate, and at last, without saying a word, quitted the room, and walked out towards the village….”

So toward the end of a long novel about star-crossed lovers, when the lovers finally get the chance to declare their love, what do they do? They separate, each completely alone. According to Jane, we’re all mostly alone in a crowd, as alone as Malone is in his room, but if we can manage that fine balance between sense and sensibility, we may end up like Elinor, who “…was oppressed, overcome by her own felicity.” In our world, who could ask for more? •

Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Book Issue, Books and Authors, Emerson | Link to this Entry

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