Maeve Brennan's Ineffable Sadness

Maeve Brennan knows the sadness of the broken heart and the distance that can come between people.  She knows the foolishness that can blind us to the things that will ultimately make us unhappy.  She is aware of how we ignore the signals, the clear signs of the life ahead and she chronicles it relentlessly.

from "A Free Choice"
in Springs of Affection
Maeve Brennan

Not for one minute would she want Hubert Derdon to think she, Rose, would try to find him or that she would ask him for anything or expect anything from him. Only last night he has asked her if he might see her home from this party. She had been very pleased. That was only last night. She had thought of him all day and of the way he had looked at her when he turned at her door and spoke about the party. And here she was, and except for that one minute when she had seen him in the hall just after she arrived with the other girls, he had not spoken to her. It was a shame. She had imagined herself walking around here with him, and that everyone would see them together. She could have told him about the velvet curtains and all the rest. There was a lot to tell him that she had imagined he would like to hear. She and Hubert had never been alone together. her mother had always come in and sat in the kitchen with them when he came to visit, and then her mother had done nearly all of the talking, with Hubert occasionally making a sharp remark. That was one of the things Rose had against him--his tongue was too sharp. He was too sure of himself. But he was very nice, or at least he had seem to be nice until tonight.

How our unspoken expectations shape our sorrows and our joys--but most particularly our sorrows as we see them disappointed time and again.  And here is a young woman thinking about the person whom she will eventually marry and not really thinking much at all--making a list and checking it off, the one thing she holds against him.  But she has no details, cannot have details, and the loneliness of this part is to be propagated into the loneliness of their marriage and she has a moment when she glimpses this--a bare second of looking in to the heart of unhappiness.  Too bad we are not vouchsafed an image of what this looks like spread over weeks, and months, and years.  Too bad our minds are such that we cannot tick these things off and make a good decision. 

Or perhaps not.  Perhaps it is good that we do not recall every slight, every dissatisfaction, every moment of unhappiness because it is in the gaps that we make a life and the gaps are longer than the moments and the dissatisfactions are rarely so momentous that they should drag us down for long.  What seem to be lacking in Maeve's characters is flexibility, any possibility of hope because they are relentless in their expectations and disappointments, and these are what they carry and keep.


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