My last post, “Word Pressure” (March 20), brings me to what was to have been my first post. But first, a confession about the confession in my first blog proper, “The Fire Thieves” (January 23). In that blog I had confessed that I’d told three people that my first blog would be about my favorite character, but my muse deserted me just when I needed her (what’s new) and I had to write about Timon of Athens and Pale Fire and Brush Up Your Shakespeare! instead.
My confession about this confession may not seem like much of a confession to anyone who knows me or has read Pioneer Boulevard (or my last post) or attended one of my author talks. But I think it’s a matter of integrity to fess up that in that first blog proper I did write about my favorite character. If you read it you’ll find Hamlet there. This post will be about my favorite character in my own book, but because she is patterned upon my favorite character, you’ll find that great Dane here as well.
Kenneth Branagh with a bare bodkin, 1996
This post is inspired by the epiphany-triggering question I was asked at the Hastings Branch author talk on January 7. I had considered referring to the audience member who asked me this question as Tarun to protect his identity, but I realized that the pseudonym would not protect his identity. Tarun is the Hindi word for young, and any Indian reading this post would have figured out that I’m referring to Young, the reader who reads my blog faithfully and posts comments that keep my mind on its toes. For this, and for his epiphany-triggering question at Hastings Branch, this post is dedicated to him.
Young’s question was about my favorite character, whom I’d been waiting to be asked about since my first author talk (at the Pasadena Central Library on July 20, three weeks after Pioneer Boulevard was published). At that reading a friend I had invited asked me about her favorite character (Gertie in “Some Sunny Day”), but my favorite character had her fifteen seconds of fame only when I talked about her to fill an awkward silence during the Q&A session. Well, she got more than fifteen seconds whenever I talked about her, but nothing was enough for her. She insisted that she deserved more.
“I’ve given you countless hours of writing pleasure,” she whined after the South Whittier reading. “And I’ve helped you do something about that obsession of yours.” (She was referring to my Hamlet obsession. I wish I’d never told her about it, because she flings it in my face whenever she wants her way.)
“You certainly have, Delia darling,” I replied gratefully. “Beggar that I am, I am even poor in thanks.”
“Words, words, words,” she retorted ungratefully. “You owe me much more than thanks.”
“I know, Delia darling,” I re-replied placatingly. “You think I don’t want to talk about you? But no one asks me about you. I can only answer the questions—”
“The questions?” she re-retorted implacably. “Doesn’t that remind you of the question? That is, the question of what you owe me?”
“Yes, Delia darling, it does,” I re-re-replied, my voice softer and humbler. “I owe you much more than I’ve been able to give you.”
“Then isn’t it time you suited the action to the word?” she re-re-retorted, her voice louder and prouder. “Or will you just stand by like not-a-mouse-stirring and say the time is out of joint and let conscience make you lose the name of action?”
Before I finish relating that conversation, there’s something I must tell you about Delia. She thinks that because she was patterned upon my favorite character she can quote him for any little thing. She doesn’t always quote him accurately, but I am unable to correct her. Unable and unwilling. You see, I have pampered her. No, let me call a spade a spade. I have spoilt her rotten. So although I am her creator, I am putty in her hands.
“You’re right, Delia darling. It’s time I suited the action to the word.” My suiting the action to the word, I am ashamed to admit, involved an underhand move.
Laurence Olivier with a bare bodkin, 1948
Three days before the Hastings Branch talk I received an email from Young telling me his copy of Pioneer Boulevard had arrived. He said he could attend the Hastings Branch talk, and asked me if I like Christopher Marlowe. My underhand move is in my reply:
I did read Marlowe at college but where Elizabethan drama (or drama) is concerned, I am a one-man woman. So it won’t surprise you to know that my favorite story is “The Tiffany Lamp.” I am not reading from it on Tuesday, but I hope the excerpt I do read will provoke a discussion. Please come prepared to ask a question, to fill an awkward silence. Preferably something that occurred to you while reading one of the stories.
I was hoping that by telling Young that my favorite story was “The Tiffany Lamp” he’d rise to the bait (or fall for it), read the story before the author talk, and ask me about Delia. He read the story alright, but nothing prepared me for the question he asked:
Would you say that Delia, like Hamlet, is the tragic figure in her own story?
I was speechless (for a moment). I had never seen Delia as the tragic figure in her own story. The protagonist, yes, but not the tragic figure. To me she is the child whose diapers I have changed. How could I see her as anything else after that? I haven’t had real children, but I imagine that no mother sees her child as a tragic figure, no matter how great they grow up to be (or not to be). I’m guessing that Mary Arden Shakespeare never saw her firstborn son as anything other than the baby whose nappies she changed from April 23, 1564 (or April 26, when he was christened) until she had him potty trained.
David Tennant with a bare bodkin, 2009
That is only conjecture, of course, but please don’t tell me if you find out otherwise. If Mary Arden Shakespeare saw William differently, it will force me to see Delia in a new light and I’d rather let her remain the spoilt brat she is. I didn’t say that in my response to Young’s question, but he reads this blog so he knows now.