Saturday, 3 July 2010

She Says, Says She

The landlady’s eyes popped. ‘Well, I should, Miss Moss,’ said she, ‘and that’s how it is. And I’ll trouble you to open it, if you please. Many is the lady in my place as would have done if for you and have been within her rights. For things can’t go like this, Miss Moss, no indeed they can’t. What with week in week out and first you’ve got it and then you haven’t, and then it’s another letter lost in the post or another manager down at Brighton but will be back on Tuesday for certain – I’m fair sick and tired and I won’t stand it no more. Why should I, Miss Moss, I ask you, at a time like this, with prices flying up in the air and my poor dear lad in France? My sister Eliza was only saying to me yesterday – “Minnie,” she says, “you’re too soft-hearted. You could have let that room time and time again,” says she, “and if people won’t look after themselves in times like these, nobody else will, “ she says. “She may have had a college eddication and sung in West End concerts,” says she, “but if your Lizzie says what’s true,” she says, “and she’s washing her own wovens and drying them on the towel rail, it’s easy to see where’s the finger’s pointing. And it’s high time you had done with it, “ says she.’

The entire story of Pictures told in one paragraph: the bald narrative and its nuances of class and respectability.

The speech is wonderfully demotic, though only a writer could concoct it: the balance of the phrases, its rhythm, is too smooth and artful for real speech. For example, the punctuation point, Miss Moss, with one phrase - I should Miss Moss - repeated twice, and all in the first half of the paragraph. Here she is talking directly at Ada, giving her the facts; emphasizing her respectability (scornfully of course), but contrasting it with her own honour (she doesn’t open other people’s letters; and doesn’t miss bills or tell lies). And then she leaves a rhetorical question – in mid-flow! – to make Ada feel guilty, or to raise her own anger?

When we don’t like someone we don’t just remember the facts. Oh no! We judge them too: all so high-falutin’ when she’s no better than me. However, it’s not so easy to say these things – they’re subjective, open to doubt and rude. What to do? You get your anger up. And perhaps you get Eliza to say them for you: she says, says she! (the use of these words is the real poetry in this piece.) The second half of the paragraph is dominated by these phrases; harsh full stops that hit Miss Moss again and again – irritating, they sound like wasps buzzing around the bedroom. How Mrs Pine let’s her have it! But of course, these are not her views, only her sister’s now far away! However, there is a danger with this approach. Because you pretend they are not your views, they lack some bite, there is some distance to them…

And Ada’s response?

Miss Moss gave no sign of having heard this. She sat up in bed, tore open her letter, and read:

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