Extraordinary Women & The Graveyard Competition: How Absurd We Are!

Compton Mackenzie Extraordinary Women 655430I chortled over the quotation below from Compton Mackenzie’s comic novel, Extraordinary Women.

Madame de Randan had long ago decided that the behavior of her husband entitled her to display openly the animosity and scorn she had always felt for the male. The mere contour of a man affected her mind as unpleasantly as the contour of a mountain affected the old Roman mind.

In the flamboyant first chapter, Mackenzie tells us that this grumpy character left her charming French husband because she tired of meeting his mistresses in society. In her villa on the Bay of Naples she knew “no Phaon would ever again trouble her dreams.”  But how can she prevent her 16-year-old daughter Lulu’s amorous assignations by moonlight with the chemist’s son? She sends her to the island of Sirene with the English governess. According to the jacket copy, Sirene is populated by lesbian characters based on several of Mackenzie’s friends on Capri.  Out of the frying pan into the fire?

It’s odd the things that remind us of our mothers. My father’s behavior didn’t turn Mother against men, but she never dated again. “I didn’t feel like it.”  Longing to protect me from amatory agony, she was upset when I was very young and “Phaon troubled my dreams” in the shape of an older man.  Well, if I could go back in time and pass on that one…but we learn from bad decisions.

She died in 2013, and I spoke with her ghost till this year.  I’m psychic!  If it was not her ghost, it comforted me anyway.  Now she’s done with chatting and has gone on to the afterlife.   But DNA tells:  I look at my feet and eerily see her feet–probably because we both bought the same sandals!

I recently visited my hometown.   It was difficult to find her grave: it has a flat gravestone.  It is not far from the road, between my grandparents’ grave and my uncle’s.  It’s almost Memorial Day.   I left a basket of flowers.

Last year I  didn’t get there till after Memorial Day and was dismayed to find my mom’s  grave bare and the other relatives’ decorated.   It was probably an oversight on the part of my cousin, but she lives there and I don’t.  I can’t believe I think am in a Graveyard Competition!  But I know our super-competitive DNA:   she will be frustrated that I beat her!

I am apparently a character in a D. E. Stevenson novel rather than Compton Mackenzie’s.

4 thoughts on “Extraordinary Women & The Graveyard Competition: How Absurd We Are!

  1. It is strange the angles by which we identify with characters in books. It’s probably wholly unpredictable and idiosyncratic. That’s what makes talking about books and characters with someone else where the two are really frank — perhaps possible only one-on-one — so startling. Novelists cannot predict this line of reaction either.

    My parents’ grave is on Long Island, right to the east of New York City. It’s a 5 hour plus drive to NYC and then another 2 to this place in Suffolk. I saw my father’s grave only once after he died: when my mother was buried in the same grave. I looked down and saw his coffin as hers was lowered in on top of his. Books sometimes suggest it comforts people to go to the person’s grave. It didn’t me. I have Jim’s urn on my mantelpiece with the ashes in it. Izzy will not let me scatter them as yet. I think I’ve played a trick in my mind so as to stop my emotional circuit when I look at that urn. On one side I’ve put a photo of him; on the other, a small stuffed sheep we bought when we had a joyful time at Stonehenge. I have no sense of ghosts or anything truly connecting me to him. And yet on the urn is a poem he wrote, one entirely in character. So I make the gestures of feeling but I cannot let myself feel.

    I’m probably not a character in Stevenson or Mackenzie. I recognized myself in Elena Ferrante’s characters, in Jenny Diski’s personas, recently in some of the characters in Gaskell.


    • Yes, writers haven’t the faintest idea what readers will think. And it doesn’t do to be too persona most of the time…though these strange thoughts come up.
      I do find my mother’s grave comforting. It is because of her own tie to her hometown, her family, and tradition. The “family plot” was doubtless bought when my grandmother died, and she visited the graves every Memorial Day. You have your own little shrine to Jim: it’s more personal. But it wouldn’t have done for my mother. You know how these things go.


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