Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Domineditrix Will Clothe You Now!

"Much of this week has been taken up by doing by what I'd sworn I was not going to do."

As I started typing the above sentence, I had it in mind that my next sentence would begin with, "I had told John Wirenius that I simply had to focus on my own work and would not be able to turn my attention to doing a third and final edit of his novel, Phineas at Bay, and he had been completely gracious about it, since we do have a little wiggle-room before it is published by The Monocle Press, and therefore -"

But of course, I had gotten no further than "by what I'd sworn I was not going to..." than my fingers were stilled upon the keyboard by an overwhelming rush of mental images of all the things I had sworn to myself I wasn't going to do in the week just past, and then had wound up doing anyway.  Several of these things involved cheesecake.  Others involved not going over budget on what we would spend on bathroom tile layouts. In both cases, I should have mentally added, "Unless I happen across a really nice one that nobody in their right mind would even try to resist.

Other things I wasn't going to do included going out to breakfast with my friend,s instead of hastening home to work on finishing my own novel. 85% of the way to the book is done! seems to be where I hit what is known on Facebook as "Hump Day," except I seem to have more trouble getting over it, and gazing at cartoon camels in risqué positions does nothing to help the situation, because then I'm fooling around on Facebook instead of finishing the book.

I also wasn't going to give my teenager any hint of which of the three colleges he is considering is the one I wish he would select - carrying out that one, of course, was a truly epic fail on my part - I cracked in under 15 minutes.  This happened right after I wasn't going to go to Broadway Bagel for his daily breakfast bagel (despite the fact that I was out already, running errands) because he has two perfectly  good legs of his own, and should get a little fresh air and exercise, and who does he think is going to be fetching him bagels when he's forty, and - "Yes, please, sesame - ha-ha, that's right, he did sleep in because it's Saturday. Yep, that's true, I am a nice Mom..."

This, Gentle Reader, is but a partial list, and only cites the least embarrassing items.

But getting back to Phineas at Bay - I might have stuck to my resolution, but the fact is, it's all Theodore Dreiser's fault.  I finished re-reading Sister Carrie in record time, having found an edition with nice big print that didn't strain my eyes - and, after that was gone, I needed something good to read.  Well - John's book fit the description like a kid elbow glove on an Edwardian Professional Beauty.  It's a good read.  In fact, third time around, it's an even better read. (You will, I hope, pardon me for preening a bit if I say, "And that's because I edited the first two drafts.")

Don't get me wrong - it was an excellent novel the first time around, before I ever had anything to do with it.  But John is one of those rare writers who can take his ego completely out of the way and think about "What is the best thing we can do in the service of this book?"  The book itself - das Buch an sich! - and getting it as good as it can be, is all.  By the time I had finished Round One of the editorial process, I was already rejoicing in the half-affectionate, half-sardonic nickname John had bestowed upon me - Domineditrix.  I think the fiercest crack of the whip I gave was when I sent John and his main character, Phineas Finn, down into a Welsh coalmine...he hadn't written a description of the horrors endured by nineteenth century colliers, and I implored and argued and harangued, and finally used my ultimate weapon - "Your reader will feel cheated if it's not in the text!" - until he said, "Right, I'll give it a go and see how it turns out," and wrote it just to shut me up. And it's one of the best things in the book, by gum.

And then, of course, there was the fact that John allowed me to dress his ladies.  I like fabric.  I have always liked fabric.  When I was young and introverted, I embroidered tablecloths and pillow slips with all the fervor of Catherine Sloper in The Heiress, and probably for the same reason - I couldn't seem to find anybody to take me to the dance on a Friday night.  I make my own curtains.  I go into a fabric shop, and they have to send in a bloodhound three hours later to fetch me back out.  Like a deranged magpie, I pick up spools of satin ribbon at garage sales without having the least idea of what I'm going to do with them, because they're so pretty and they're only twenty-five cents.  In short - textiles get me where I live.

John, on the other hand, while always impeccably dressed (he is the only person I know who routinely wears a gold pocket watch tucked into his vest pocket...and consults it when he is asked the time) probably can't tell a pelisse from a mantua, and most likely thinks that a peplum is something one puts in a bottle to feed infants.

Therefore, I had a field day making suggestions, explaining the difference between handmade French and English lace of the period, and decreeing that one particularly raffish Society lady must always appear in various shades of blue to complement her famous eyes, while another - a wise, warm-hearted, yet withal wily Woman With a Past - would habitually dress in more somber shades, yet always spice them up them with a dash of something brilliant and exotic.  One of my favorite characters - a woman already known to Trollope readers as "Lizzie the Liar" - was permitted to revel in the kind of seductively sumptuous clothing she'd always wanted to wear.  I felt we should indulge her freely, for one does not want to get on the bad side of Lady Elizabeth Eustace.  She has such a way of turning nasty and petulant when anyone tries to prevent her from having anything she thinks she ought to have. Spoiler alert - the author was kind enough to marry off one of the characters, so I had the joy of researching Late Victorian wedding garb and in the process dredging up details I recollected from a recent exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of art that had paired authentic period gowns with Impressionist paintings of the women who wore them.

So that is how I spent my week, and a very good week it was, too.  I'm awfully sad, though, because now I've finished John's book and there's nothing left to read except Oliver Twist, and nobody wears anything nice in that.

No comments:

Post a Comment