“Eustacia Vye was the raw material of a divinity. On Olympus she would have done well with a little preparation. She had the passions and instincts which make a model goddess, that is, those which make not quite a model woman…”
She found herself distracted.
The chalkiness of the old book she was reading felt heavy and rough on her hands and she was flighty in mind, something she never liked to be…something she never admitted to being. Comforted only mildly by the warmth of the blankets tucked neatly around her legs and the hushed light of the lamp beside her bed, she shifted often. She chewed on the roundness of her lower lip. She sighed.
She found herself distracted.
Blinking, she refocused on the page and read on, telling herself it was the lateness of the hour and not the subject matter that had her so unfortunately restless.
“…To see her hair was to fancy that a whole winter did not contain darkness enough to form its shadow: it closed over her forehead like nightfall extinguishing the western glow…”
It was certainly her imagination, she assured herself, that suddenly the sweep of bang on her brow felt heavy…felt deep and dark and shadowed with nightfall. It was certainly this ceaseless flippancy of late that had her pausing to consider the lushness of her own hair and the way it hung angst-ridden past her shoulders like the branches of winter trees. It was all certainly her imagination.
She tilted her head and she frowned. What was imagination, she wondered, but a runaway train whose passengers were the thoughts of other people…an author‘s paragraph in one car…an actor‘s delivery in another…these things that somebody else had thought of, rolling around in her head and offering her false hope and foolishness as weathered and worn-out ticket stubs.
The imagination was a dangerous thing that she simply didn’t trust.
Yet still, she read on.
“…Egdon [Heath] was her Hades, and since coming there she had imbibed much of what was dark in its tone, though inwardly and eternally unrecognized thereto. Her appearance accorded well with this smoldering rebelliousness, and the shady splendor of her beauty was the real surface of the sad and stifled warmth within her…”
She yawned into her free hand and she re-read the paragraph, losing her concentration yet again and wondering if perhaps this wasn’t the time to attempt to revisit an old and wordy classic. But something about the book had called out to her, as much as she could suppose any inanimate object could call out to a human being, and earlier, standing before her bookshelves with a considering finger against her lips, she had suddenly and without warning reached out for it with an almost hungry touch. She was determined to read at least the highlighted sections.
She stifled another yawn.
She read on.
“The only way to look queenly without realms or hearts to queen it over is to look as if you had lost them; and Eustacia did that to a triumph. In the captain‘s cottage she could suggest mansions she had never seen…”
She skipped ahead because reading of lost hearts and realms and queens and mansions and things that for some reason struck deep and low chords inside of her made her jittery. Restless. Distracted. Her bangs were heavy on her forehead and she straightened her shoulders.
“To be loved to madness -- such was her great desire. Love was to her the one cordial which could drive away the eating loneliness of her days. And she seemed to long for the abstraction called passionate love more than for any particular lover.”
She seemed to long for the abstraction called passionate love more than for any particular lover.
And, here, she thought of him. As if on cue. As if quoting a scene from a movie or a line from a play, as if falling in line with the words written out before her, she thought of him here, and she asked herself for the thousandth time why it seemed as if she didn’t miss him. She searched through her thoughts and her emotions, she imagined his hands upon her, she recalled the way that he was sometimes charming and sometimes hopeless, and she became so immersed in these rememberings, in this searching for a missing affection, that the book dropped from her hand for a moment and landed soundlessly against her legs. Her eyes glazed over and she thought of him.
But there was no sign of this elusive thumping of the heart, no sign of a thud of longing or a flutter of arousal, no glimmer of tears, no emptiness, no self-doubt. She had loneliness, of course, and a vague sense of regret, but only for location. Only for choices made in haste and confused efforts to be someone who she wasn’t. She had no regret for him and she only mildly thought that was odd.
She chewed at her bottom lip and she picked the book up with careful and calculating fingers.
“A blaze of love, and extinction, was better than a lantern glimmer of the same which should last long years. On this head she knew by prevision what most women learn by experience: she had mentally walked round love, told the towers thereof, considered its palaces; and concluded that love was but a doleful joy. Yet she desired it, as one in a desert would be thankful for brackish water…”
It had become clear to her paragraphs ago why this was the book that had beckoned her read it. It had become clear to her paragraphs ago why she had taken a pencil years before and had frantically underlined sentence after sentence of this chapter VII that was so lush and so honest…so true to her…so hauntingly unfortunate that it could drive any female to consider her own life choices. She was not a stupid sort of woman and this was all very clear.
She sighed, she pushed her bangs aside and she crossed one ankle over the other, finally finding a settled position…finally coming into herself and allowing the characterization to read as a compliment, as a sonnet instead of an obituary.
She read it as if it proclaimed that she had had romance, she had had successes, she had had wealth and power and passion and beauty, and in the end she had needed none of it. In the end her desires and her longings were for ideas and solitude, considerations, logic, and were not at all for this ever-escaping man she was supposed to spend her life with. She read this as if it was a promise that her mistakes were simply in her nature, beyond her control, and her following somone from one city to another was because she couldn’t help herself.
But then came a vehement shake of the head because, hadn’t she only moments before compared her imagination to a train full of unoriginality? And what were these thoughts if not pirated imaginings? Besides, she told herself, wasn’t it a bit overzealous of her to be subconsciously comparing herself to such an epic character with such epic ambitions and activities? Wasn’t it beyond the simple person that she was?
She mischievously thought maybe not, and she felt a corner of her mouth lift into an ironic grin.
“Thus she was a girl of some forwardness of mind, indeed, weighed in relation to her situations among the very rewarded of thinkers, very original. Her instincts towards social non-conformity were at the root of this… And so we see our Eustacia -- for at times she was not altogether unlovable -- arriving at the stage of enlightenment which feels that nothing is worth while, and filling up the spare hours of her existence by idealizing Wildeve for want of a better object…”
Closing the book in a jolt of discontent she wondered why she had this constant burning need to explain herself, to find herself in books and to define herself as a certain person, a certain kind of person. She wondered why she wanted a confessional or a cocktail party or a late-night lover’s ear wherein she could whisper the intricacies of her psyche and explain why she was so devoid of emotion and concern.
Recalling the dramatic scenes she’d made in front of him, the long talks and the hours of stilted silent treatment, she thought these were little of her true self, and now with the binding of this book cracking against her clenched hands she wondered if it was all more because she wanted so desperately for him to love her than it was because she herself had any actual love for him inside of her.
But why, she wondered, should she have to explain herself when now she had a lofty title and a lofty office and lofty ambitions that she could tout and wave around proudly? Why should she have this nagging feeling of guilt and injured pride when she had moved forward so deliciously and he had moved so soundly backward? She had won. What was this need for explanations?
She reached over and turned off the lamp, bathing the bedroom in a heavy velvet darkness as she rolled over to lay on her side, reaching out to the emptiness on the other side of the bed, assuring herself of many things and wishing she were as epic as she seemed.
She wondered how much of her was trapped in her own Egdon Heath. She wondered how much of her was Eustacia Vye and how much of her was goddess on earth.
Before she fell asleep she thought she remembered that at the end of the book Eustacia died, as alone as before and having nothing to show for her intoxicating essence, and with that she almost felt herself frown. But then as sleep clouded her over-wrought mind and her contemplation gave way to hazy sorts of dreams her expression smoothed out, as it always had. She seemed, on the outside at least, to rest peacefully, and she rose the next morning as if this questioning of self hadn‘t happened in the first place.
“They stood silently looking upon Eustacia, who, as she lay there still in death, eclipsed all her loving phases. Pallor did not include all the quality of her complexion, which seemed more than whiteness; it was almost light. The expression of her finely carved mouth was pleasant, as if a sense of dignity had just compelled her to leave off speaking. Eternal rigidity had seized upon it in a momentary transition between fervor and resignation. Her black hair was looser now than either of them had ever seen it before and surrounded her brow like a forest. The stateliness of look which had been almost too marked for a dweller in a country domicile had at last found an artistically happy background.