Topic: April 2005
Thanks for your patience in awaiting the continuation of this discussion. Between illness, medical leave, travel and appearances, the last two months have been far too busy for the more thoughtful matters of this blog.
In the later sequences of the first part of four in this book (part one being dubbed "The Emperor"), we get an introduction of things to come in the form of Winterson's careful and exacting use of repetition.
Louise, a little girl who often followed Henri around, asks:
'Will you kill people, Henry?'
'Not people, Louise, just the enemy.'
'What is enemy?"
'Someone who's not on your side.'
This defamiliarization with humanity, a mindset commonly imposed upon military troops to make it more psychologically motivating for them to take lives in battle, says as much about the way Bonaparte viewed the masses.
It seems a bit cliched to imagine the Emperor-to-be as a boy-man standing before a glistening board of carefully painted statues and terrain in miniature, using a long stick to move armies around as if they're nothing more, really, than decorated lead. But Winterson's take on Napoleon, and on the moral implications of war, is just that.
One can also trace Winterson's depiction of Bonaparte's continuing disdain for women in particular, despite his consistent sexual appetite for them, through references to chickens throughout THE PASSION. Consider this passage:
The cook grabbed a chicken from the hook above his head and scooped a handful of stuffing from the copper bowl.What follows is a lurid scene in a brothel where the cook gets a taste of his own crude disrespect. It's enough for our humble virgin Henri to seek shelter through the excuse of a headache.
He was smiling.
'Out on the town tonight, lads, and a night to remember, I swear it.' He rammed the stuffing inside the bird, twisiting his hand to get an even coating.
'You've all had a woman before I suppose?'
Most of us blushed and some of us giggled.
'If you haven't then there's nothing sweeter and if you have, well, Bonaparte himself doesn't tire of the same taste day after day.'
He held up the chicken for our inspection.
What isn't cliched at all is Winterson's considerable finesse in placing these repetitive images and phrases at key emotional "fractured zones" throughout the book. There are several memorable ones, often used verbatim, or in keen paraphrasing.
"Had I come all this way just to lose him?"These returning phrases don't serve as reminders (though they do remind) as much as they enhance the tension of key moments in the story while achieving a hypnotic quality, not as sharp and direct as punctuation, but effective in accentuating the underlying theme of the book. This use of repetition, to my mind, prevents the narrative from running into polemics.
"There is only the present and nothing to remember."
"The cities of the interior are vast, do not lie on any map."
"We are a lukewarm people."
"In between fear and sex passion is."
"There's no such thing as a limited victory."
The effect on the reader is powerful. Consider the repeated lines in a long poem. You hear a line repeated in random fashion in a poem, you stop expecting it after a few stanzas are read and it doesn't turn up. But when it does crop up again, later, at a crucial axis in the poem, it takes on the peculiar power of shaping your perception by being familiar. You've heard it before and yet, in that instance, it is new. And true.