Zeno’s halfway-to-paradox-if-not-paradise 


DEAD MABELLE by Elizabeth Bowen

“…as though time were being unwound from the reel backwards, one would see all Mabelle’s unconsciousness under the descending claw of horror.”

I had seemingly forgotten that this work is Bowen at her most inspired, at her most high with literary and horror drugs, almost beyond herself — an apotheosis of a man who had not had a woman and becomes infatuated with a film star, Mabellebow who ages with large images on large screens in cinemas, not so much erotic as essential, shining black and white, and never have cinema images been so imposing, like a nightmare of giant mouthing faces (“It was as though she leaned forward and touched one”) , one particular face ……until she dies, but does not die in tune with Zeno’s halfway-to-paradox-if-not-paradise (“half hoping by some resolution, some obduracy, to staunch the bleeding-away of the minutes. […] …he hesitated half way across it, then slowly turned to the left […]…wander between showings of the film through anonymous vacant streets”), but, as if the reels of film have been switched, he yearns to die himself, pointlessly remove someone like him who was always nobody anyway, with a gun at the back of the drawer that turns out to be a crumpled tie he had forgotten about, to join up with her brand of a star’s eternity whatever the creeping dead star within her, all this rather than working at the Bank with another man who sucked a pipe like a snowman. …’ …’ …’

“‘What am I — but am I? If I am, what else is? If I’m not, is anything else? Is anything …’ He would start awake, sweating, from a nightmare of something that felt like an empty barrel rolling over the ups and downs in his brain and bumping into craters that were the craters of the moon, or of going round to the house where he lived to pay a surprise call on himself and being sent away with a head-shake, told point-blank he had never been heard of here.”

That moon cratered in Mysterious KÔR…

“When her head fell back in despair, while the man devoured her face horribly, one watched her forgotten arm hang down over his shoulder: the tips of the fingers twitched.”

“The flutter and click of machinery streamed out across the theatre, like the terrified wings of a bird imprisoned between two window-panes – it gave him the same stretched sensation of horror and helplessness. A foreign whiteness, a figure, more than a figure, appeared;”

“…the firelight fingered its way up her, crept round her arms’ fine moulding, her throat, her chin, with curbed greed, assurance, affection almost.”

“She seemed perpetual, untouchable. You couldn’t break that stillness by the fire; it could shatter time.”

“…that which was Mabelle would be a shoe, a bag, a belt round some woman’s middle.”

“Only that life was worth nothing because of Mabelle who was dead. And by death, had he hope that he wouldn’t quench himself utterly while Mabelle, who impinged herself everywhere, brightly burned on?”

And so much more I could have quoted from this sheer bravado of a 1920s story!



My reviews of Bowen’s story canon: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/31260-2/

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