Thursday, November 17, 2005


I am scanning Tess of the d’Urbervilles looking for a reference to red lips. I am writing an erotic piece about lipstick. My horoscope yesterday said if I wanted to have money I would have to make some. It said the full moon would not be a hindrance.

Hardy describes Tess’s mouth this way: “The pouted-up deep red mouth… it had hardly as yet settled into its definite shape, and her lower lip had a way of thrusting the middle of her top one tipward, when they closed together after a word.”

He goes on to say: “Phases of her childhood lurked in her aspect still. As she walked along today, for all her bouncing handsome womanliness, you could sometimes see her twelfth year in her cheeks, or her ninth sparkling from her eyes; and even her fifth would flit over the curves of her mouth now and then.”

What excites me the most about this is the question of point of view. Who is the narrator? How does he know what Tess looked like in her fifth year, in her ninth – where is he now, to see these years flit over her features. How does he know that her lips have not yet settled “definitively,” which suggests they soon will. It suggests the point of view can fly forwards and backwards in time can be outside Tess and part of her. I think point of view is the most exciting thing about writing a novel. It allows the writer such freedom. Unthinkable freedom.

Everything is contained – the whole novel – in these few lines describing Tess’s mouth, how innocent she is and how inevitable the loss of that innocence, how it’s all tangled up with beauty. How beauty is momentary and about change, the face changing; how scary it is when we look that truth in the eye.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

re: point of view
I think there is a much mistaken but currently popular belief that privileging one character's point of view feels more intimate and authentic—as if writing weren't artifice the moment one takes up one's pen or sits at the keyboard. I, too, am excited by the freedom of point of view a novel allows, and as a reader I wish that more writers would play with it.
Wonderful passage you've quoted from Tess.

11:05 a.m.  

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