Monday, November 24, 2008

'Odalisque' by PF Jeffery (DFL's Comments)


The Epilogue gives no authorship of itself and mentions PF Jeffery, ie: the person I know in real life who supposedly wrote ‘Odalisque’ as a whole, ie: the person who wrote about Tuerqui as a simple story or plot for our entertainment - or empathised with (became?) Tuerqui for the purpose of this novel - or always was Tuerqui until the Fiction (Magic Fiction?) revealed this co-identity. [Perhaps I created PF Jeffery! He appeared as a commentator in my 1974 novel ‘The Visitor’. In all seriousness, we are brushing against various truths here with each alternative of the Narrative's pecking-order (and more we have not yet thought about) and each is true, none are true, all are true.]

This Epilogue was in fact written by Jennifer Petrie (I recall) and she, in Odalisque’s future, gives an interesting (albeit possibly dry) bibliographical / historical view of the text we have just been reading. This sets up many tantalising thoughts in the reader and seems neatly to encapsulate and rationalise and make believable the text and its intrinsic as well as potentially apocryphal credo as fiction-reality.

To give a flavour here are some exemplary passages:

Almost a tenth of Tuerqui’s manuscript seems to be missing, and we have relied entirely on the P F Jeffery notebooks to supply the lost portions.

What is more, the manuscripts are not preserved in the correct sequence of pages, and are mixed with several other texts. Without the transcripts, placing the text in the right order would have been an enormously difficult task.

The papers believed to be in Tuerqui’s hand were amongst the manuscripts to be bound in royal blue leather about two hundred and fifty years after they were written. There are 127 such volumes, with Tuerqui’s handwriting scattered almost throughout. The neat exterior of the books belies the chaos inside. The confusion is compounded by the fact that each volume is made up of sheets of the same size paper. Tuerqui wrote on sheets of several different sizes, possibly with an eye to economy – this leads to adjacent pages being widely scattered. At one point, four consecutive pages are in volumes 114, 23, 119 and 6.

Also my responsibility are the idiosyncrasies of the notes. The empire has changed a great deal since Tuerqui’s time, and some points do need clarification for the modern reader. It is often difficult to judge what notes may be useful or necessary, and I am aware of having been inconsistent as to what requires comment and what may be passed in silence. Two chapters seemed to me too beautiful to be marred by my explanations.

Lisa-Louise went on to become a prominent pioneer photographer, specialising in portraits. Many of her pictures survive, including some of Lady Isobel and her concubines. These images must include Tuerqui, but her face has not been identified with certainty. Some years ago, Kimberly Price advanced convincing arguments to identify all of the slaves in the pictures. These identifications were generally accepted until, two years ago, Louise Grey magnified one of the images to discover the letters ‘Pa’ on what was supposed to be Tuerqui’s right thigh – making this, fairly certainly, a photograph of Passibelle.

Should not this be ‘governessship’ or ‘governess-ship’?

delete ‘the’:
may fall in the wrong the place

add ‘e’:
in the twenty-third regnal year of Bernice I,

The page which gives the links for all my comments on this novel here:
has a brief introduction which I wrote early in my reading of ‘Odalisque’ but after reading the first 29 chapters of ‘Of Bondlings & Blesh’ immediately prior to it becoming ‘Odalisque’, both of which versions of the novel derived from ‘Slave Girl of Surrey’ that was written by PF Jeffery to me over several years (?) serialised amid weekly handwritten letters during the eighties and then revised by him as a whole (I seem to recall) in the early nineties. O Jennifer Petrie, I need you, to sort all this out, if I’m wrong! In any event (without further beating about the bushibelle) my original sentence on that link page:-

I believe in ODALISQUE as a great fantasy/horror novel (spiritual, grotesque and humorous), but I am still in the personal throes of grappling with its strangely powerful (for me, almost alien) ethos -- greatly assisted by its beautifully silky style of expression.

is still appropriate. I think the ‘grappling’ was (is still) part of the pleasure of this novel by PF Jeffery and of its undeniable greatness. (Such grappling is probably only one slight remove from tumbling-with-text...)


Anonymous said...

Thank you for that… and thank you for the many comments you have posted over the months… or is it years?.

I have now corrected both of the typos.

“Governesship” – thus – was the result of some thought. Having considered both “governessship” and “governess-ship” as alternatives, I rejected the former as the triple ‘s’ seems too barbarous. My feeling is that the only words with triple letters are onomatopoeic – ‘hsss’ for a hissing sound, ‘errr’ for an indecisive sound, ‘ummm’ for a sound associated with taking thought, and so on. The question is what happens when a word ending in a double letter receives a suffix beginning with the same letter? I have a feeling that at least one such word must already exist – double f followed by –ful, double n followed by –ness, there are numerous possibilities. My feeling is that the answer is not a triple letter. “Governess-ship” is a lot less barbarous. One reason I don’t like it is that it looks as though it might refer to a sea-going ship. (Perhaps the official craft assigned to a governess when she journeys across water, perhaps a synonym for “flag ship” – a ship that acts as governess towards other ships.)

Of course, Jennifer Petrie might possibly have used the word “governorship”. The reason she would not do so is that the world in which lives emerged from the world in which Tuerqui and her daughters lived. In the empire of Berenice I and her immediate successors, a governesship would be one within the empire (with a female default) as opposed to a governorship within the wicked kingdoms (with a male default).

(I don’t think that the term “wicked kingdoms” occurs in “Odalisque”, but it does in “Jane”. The term encapsulates the realms hostile to Berenice’s empire.)

The P F Jeffery mentioned in the epilogue is the one credited on the title page. It is hard to see how this could be the same person as the P F Jeffery you know. The “Odalisque” transcriber P F Jeffery must have had access to the archives of the Imperial University at Berenice. Alas, the P F Jeffery you know will surely die long before that learned institution is founded. That said, there may be a P F Jeffery in our time who claims some authorship of Tuerqui’s memoires. That is a mysterious matter.

The Epilogue is quite possibly dry – contrasting strongly with the book proper. Tuerqui and Jennifer Petrie are very different from one another, and this is reflected in the way they write. Tuerqui is an odalisque, a liver of life. Her intended audience is her mistress. Jennifer Petrie is an academic, an archivist, a commentator upon life. Her intended audience is (presumably) the academic world. In so far as both Tuerqui and Jennifer Petrie have been embodied in the same writer (in the world we know) switching between them has entailed making sharp changes in viewpoint.

Jennifer Petrie’s writing may emerge as somewhat dry, but she is not a faceless academic. She refers, quite rightly, to the idiosyncrasies of her notes. We may note her saying that two chapters were too beautiful to be ‘marred’ by her explanations. The reference to marring is not, I think, false self-deprecation. My feeling is that she admires Tuerqui and (at some level) wishes that she could be more like her. I think, too, that she regards Tuerqui as living in a heroic age, and considers her own time as almost debased, although a lot safer. Jennifer had her reasons for choosing to become an archivist in a place where documents from the early imperial era are preserved. She has, as I see it, been proactive in launching the project of editing Tuerqui’s memoires, and has devoted several years of her life to work on the manuscripts.

A particularly interesting DFL comment is: “Such grappling is probably only one slight remove from tumbling-with-text…” There is, I think, a curious physicality to Tuerqui’s memoires. It might be well, at this point, to take another look at the epigram on the title page. It seems to me to sum up the spirit of the book very well.

Maybe the Epilogue will help the reader, at the end, to disengage with that physicality, to return to a distance from the events.

But the primary purpose of the Epilogue is probably to allow the reader a measure of closure on questions that are likely to arise. What happened to Fluff? How did Tuerquelle relate to her half-sisters after Lady Isobel’s death? How long did Tuerqui live? Of those three sample questions, the Epilogue provides a definite answer to the last, and implies the answers to the other two. Of course, the future lives of Tuerqui, her friends and daughters are mostly left for the reader to complete as she or he will. That is the right course, but it is also (I feel) right to be left with a few pointers.

Thank you again for joining Tuerqui on her long journey, and for commenting upon it so copiously.

Nemonymous said...

It was my pleasure to tumble with this text.

I look forward to starting my scrutiny of your novel-in-progress ('Jane') during 2009.