03 February 2009


So, one of the things I've begun to notice about my mother over the last few years is that if you ask her for information about her subject area (Shakespeare, and the Renaissance more generally), she involuntarily falls into a kind of teaching mode.  This means:  she lectures you the way someone would lecture you in a classroom.  This makes it slightly dangerous to ask my mother a question like, "Where did the playgoers SIT?" because you'll get a half-hour lecture (although, oddly, if you ask her a question like, "Who was that guy Ben Jonson shot again?" she will answer you in a perfectly normal tone.   I think this information counts as gossip, which is why it doesn't come as part of a lecture).  Now, to be fair, although I love my mother, she does favour the monologue as a mode of communication generally - my friend J.W. once said her style "kind of takes the con- out of conversation" - but nonetheless my sudden observation of this style of answering on her part has led me to wonder if, after a while, teaching just becomes your habitual mode of communication.  If you normally talk to people about a certain subject in the style of lecture, do you just fall into that style whenever you talk about that subject?

I contemplate this tonight because at the dinner table I happened to tell some people the plot of Lamia, a superwonderful poem by John Keats that you can find the text of here.  And as I was telling them the plot I noticed my voice taking on its teacher tone.  Yeep!  Will I start to bore people by giving them long lectures when they just ask a simple question?  I'm definitely going to have to keep an eye on that.

Gosh, I miss teaching, though.  I miss getting to talk about literature I really love with people who've also read it.  

Because I can't do that, and because it's my blog and I can do what I like, and because I figure maybe I can entice people into reading some Keats they wouldn't otherwise read if I quote a good bit of it, I quote below almost my favourite moment of Lamia, the moment when Keats describes what the beautiful Lamia looks like in the eyes of the man she is trying to seduce:

A virgin purest lipp'd, yet in the lore
Of deep love learned to the red heart's core....

Clever man, John Keats, and daring, too, to describe what so many men secretly want in a woman:  someone who knows everything about how to supply sexual pleasure (that "red heart's core" is no accidental choice of words) without ever having been touched by another man.

Lamia was a very popular subject for Pre-Raphaelite painters, and here is a version of it as today's illustration:

The answer to the Jonson question, incidentally, is, "[My name here], he didn't shoot anyone. He killed Gabriel Spenser in a duel, and he beat Marston and took his pistol." If you say this in the weary and exasperated tone of someone answering a person who's asked them this same question ten times before, always getting it wrong, you'll sound exactly like my mother.  A patient woman.

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