Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Reading Glenn Haybittle's - That Time Is Past

I'm reading Glenn Haybittle's revisons of That Time is Past. Ivan, who has abandoned his wife and children to write a biography of Shelley and live in Italy with the appropriate Romantic intensity, is taking the beautiful, if distant, Isabella on a tour through the Villa Cenci, the centre of a lurid family tragedy involving incest and murder in 16th century Rome, that inspired Shelley to write a verse drama. Instead of imaginatively entering the passion and atmosphere of the place in search of what Shelley saw or thought, he's analysing his non-relationship with Isabella.

"He thought of something Shelley had written in relation to Epipsychidion: “I think one is always in love with something or the other; the error, and I confess it is not easy for spirits cased in flesh and blood to avoid it, consists in seeking in a mortal image the likeness of what is eternal.”

The quote holds a core truth of the novel. Almost everyone in the book is avoiding anything like a meaninful relationship while busy imposing some ideal of their own on someone else, and finding they fall short, and the revisions are strengthening that point.

The Romantics touted strong emotion as the 'real' source of aesthetic experience, but these neo Romantics, who, as Lady Lydia points out, seem to be "at rather a loss," make a career out of completely avoiding anything that smacks of actual emotional involvement. There is much here on the modern engagement/disengagement question but it's well coated with wit and fun and a good helping of Italian light.

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