They were melting under the influence.

“A thread of sweet sound was spun into the night.” Rose and Richard Quin attend a party at which he charms the hostess in many ways, not least by playing his flute in the summer-house.

“Above us the sweet hollow voice rose and fell, doubled back on itself and glided forward, ubiquitous, tracing a pattern among the stars and another within us, behind our breast-bones,” and Rose finds herself thinking about the boy standing next to her, that if he wished she would marry him, though she had planned up to this point never to marry. “There was no need for an exceptional destiny.”

“My brother’s music was proclaiming that there would be a huge vacuum in the universe, a hole that would swallow all, if we did not fill it with something that the notes defined with a clarity forbidden to words.”

But then she begins to listen to Richard Quin, “with the special knowledge that came of being his sister, and I was astonished by the simplicity of the strangers. They were melting under the influence of a tenderness which they believed to be in his performance, but was not there. They were inventing it because they needed it. The music promised sweetness which was for himself alone. He ached with a desire to be in another place than this, where he would find that sweetness. If he felt concern whether they found this same delight for themselves, it left no trace in the sounds he made. And he felt no such concern; from this and that, over the years, I knew he did not.

“There was this excuse for his indifference, he had already discharged whatever debt he owed to them. He could speak of what they desired and they could not. Without him they would have been voiceless. With him their need pierced the night like the reply to the ray of a star.

“Yet surely that was not quite right, surely one never discharges one’s full debt to other people. But again that cannot be true, if the payment one makes is large enough. I could not work it out.”

-Rebecca West, This Real Night

8 thoughts on “They were melting under the influence.

    1. I don’t know how music works its spell on us. The questions raised by West’s characters on nearly every page of her novels remind me of what Chesterton said, “The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man.” If something is mysterious, it can be worthwhile to ponder it without trying to reduce it to a more manageable fact. Or to have children of all ages in your novel wonder aloud, or make certain statements based on what the reader knows to be incomplete knowledge. Thank you, Dewena!

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  1. I found this hard to follow with my simple mind. But it reminded me of my brother, Will, who writes complex things like that. He’s been voluntarily homeless all his grown life spending his time writing complex prose and playing music like the man in this piece. I know he plays the flute, recorder, guitar and piano in various little places where an instrument is available. A very unusual life he leads. I guess I have some of this writing to look forward to in the Rebecca West novel I just received in the mail! 😉

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