‘Violets’ by Edna O’Brien


Violets by Edna O’Brien, 1979

The magic trick:

Offering insightful commentary about an otherwise unoriginal scenario

There’s not a lot going on here except a woman cooking and cleaning in preparation for a first foray into a romance with a married man. Hot stuff, sure, but nothing particularly original.

So if you’re going to focus your story in the mind of a woman doing something not particularly original, you’d better have something particularly insightful to say about the situation, right?

Well, O’Brien does. Very insightful.

The narrator recalls a Proust quote – that the only paradise is a paradise lost. This sets her into a consideration of life, love, power and need. It’s something for the reader to take and ponder – even if you’re not rationalizing an illicit love affair. And that’s quite a trick on O’Brien’s part.

The selection:

I cannot descend. I read something last night when I was unable to sleep. It has affected me. I read that the only paradise is the paradise lost. Proust. I read it years ago, but I had not absorbed it, and last night, after rereading it, I tossed and turned in my wide bed and thought of my caller and how I would seduce him. I saw our little drama as if on a picture postcard: a naked couple oblivious of the serpent that lies between them. And I thought that I could think of him to my heart’s delight, and that he need never know, that he must never know, that I could paint postcard after postcard and give to skin the tints and the textures that I love, and give to speech and action all that I ever desire. I could ordain it regardless of him, and of course I thought how futile that would be in the end.

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