Tag: presumption

Bowles, “The Echo” (1946)

paul bowles the echo colombia jungle

Colombia’s Ciudad Perdida trek 086 (McKay Savage)

Toward the end of the story Aileen, the young protagonist college girl reluctantly spending her vacation with her mother and her mother’s homebreaking lover Prue in a Colombian jungle, Aileen is walking by the huts of poor natives. A young man beckons her over through a mesh fence, then spits a mouthful of water at her face and dress. Westerners are not liked in the jungle, because they presume too much: “if Luz could only learn a little more about what white people like to eat an how they like it served,” Aileen’s mother writes her in the three-page letter that opens the story as Aileen is flying in through the white clouds she wants to step on, like a comic book character. The letter hints at the way Prue broke up the marriage between Aileen’s father and mother. The tension between Aileen and Prue is obvious from the letter. Prue to Aileen is “ungracious, ugly and something of an interloper.” Tension builds: it’s the story’s most appealing strength, that build-up. It explodes in a physical pummeling, by Aileen of Prue, after Prue flicks water from her glass at Aileen the morning of Aileen’s early departure, after her mother essentially threw her out for not getting along with Prue. A sense of the primeval recurs down to that primeval fight and the scream Aileen lets out at the end, when she is reduced to something primal, bashing the woman who’s taken possession of her mother. There’s nothing appealing in Prue, but Aileen is not much more so, and the intrusive sense Bowles builds up, of Aileen’s visit, is secondary to how obliviously intrusive all three of these characters are on the jungle around them. None of them belongs, not just Aileen.

Harper’s, September 1946

Chekhov: “Une nature énigmatique” (“An Enigmatic Nature,” 1883)

chekhov an enigmatic nature

“Study of an unknown woman in a train car,” George Estall
pen and ink, late 19th century. National Portrait Gallery.

A wealthy woman who thinks herself a martyr after Dostoevsky was born poor and wanted glory and wealth. She got it, through a rich husband, though all she wanted was his death so she could enjoy herself with his money. He died. He left her lucre and freedom. “I am as free as a bird,” she tells a traveler in a train compartment they share. But she now feels trapped by her freedom, unable to enjoy it. “But what — what stands in your way? I implore you tell me! What is it?” “Another old general, very well off—-” The enigmatic nature is a wink and a sigh.

Les éclats, 19 mars 1883