Saturday, May 26, 2007

Lonely French Men, 2: Red White and Pink

It’s always a little silly when people want to make too much of color. I think that’s part of why I’ve been struggling to write this post for far too long now. And overwrought color symbolism can be insidious--racist and sexist, too. Still, even if we know that a color does not mean a thing, that a white dress does not equal virginity, we are still affected by the symbolic weight of seeing a young, fresh girl in a white dress. However sophisticated we might be, a white dress is different from a pink dress or a red one.

I had heard that The Mystery Guest had a Woolfian connection, but I hadn’t guessed how strong it was or that it was specifically a connection to Mrs. Dalloway. It’s a book about a confident, successful woman who gives a party. A man is an unexpected guest at that party. Flowers play a major role. The party is and is not a success.

The connection to Woolf is explicit: the novel is very involved in thinking about both Mrs. Dalloway and Joyce’s Ulysses. But the loveliest moment is one in which the protagonist comes upon a glorious and enormous bouquet of red and white roses. Praising them, his ex says, “the only flowers I could ever bear to see cut,” an allusion to Mrs. Dalloway that it takes him a moment to place. When he does, all sorts of illusions come crashing to the ground.

The flowers are red and white in Bouillier’s novel and that’s important and right, too. They are red and white in Mrs. Dalloway, colors that connote passion and purity, that seem to echo the novel’s double-vision throughout. For Clarissa’s most passionate time--her youth--was also the time when she was most in white. But the night when she meets Richard Dalloway, Peter remembers her in “something floating, white, crimson.” And now, at 52, she wears not white or red, but the cool and sexless green a mermaid’s dress, a dress for a woman who retains “a virginity preserved through childbirth.” Clarissa was in white as a young woman. Sally, in pink. And, at the party that evening, the young Elizabeth (she’s 18), who is both more and less than her mother, wears a dress that is sometimes described as red, sometimes pink. In fact--I went back and checked--the maid, an old woman, and her father perceive it as pink while Sally, who was so daring as a girl, is the one who perceives it to be red.

Some editors have wanted to correct the error--it’s confusing & Woolf was sometimes careless about such things. I am going to leave it. I don’t know what to make of it, quite, but it seems lovely and nice that Elizabeth gets to be both red and pink at once--a sign of the promise with which Woolf endows her.


Imani said...

I've started to read Mrs Dalloway for the first time and the most lovely passage yet was the one of Dalloway in the florist shop admiring all the different flowers..

The writing in general amazes me--just amazes me. The rhythm actually seems to buoy my spirit up. I've never had a sensual reading experience quite like this one. So...I think I have a new favourite author.

amcorrea said...

Seeing how Bouillier alludes to Woolf is a wonderful incentive for reading his novel (I too had been turned off by the book trailer). I also love that you're planning on leaving Woolf's "mistake" as is. It's only fitting that the play of colors becomes an and/or when it comes to Elizabeth. Beautiful.