October 22, 2020
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Revisiting My Old Friends

The other day, I was preparing a lecture for a Computer Science course at Brown, working to demonstrate some aspects of Storyspace in order to illustrate some questions of literary theory. At one point, I thought I’d show a bit of Those Trojan Girls, just because I wanted to dodge the intentional fallacy. We can’t talk about what the author intended, but I’m happy to tell students what I thought I wanted to do.

Anyway, I usually detest revisiting old fiction. But this one passage, which I chose at random, held up pretty well. It’s the summer of the occupation, at a country house party. Two girls are arguing with each other: Cassie (who knows what is coming but to whom no one pays attention) and poor, doomed, unknowing Polly Xena.

“You? Cassie Randolph, tagged at birth for a seat in Parliament? A loner? Pull the other one.”

“For crying out loud, Polly, put down the chip on your shoulder and look around. It’s not just who has money and family: that’s not the way the world works.”

“Maybe not if you’re heir to two separate fortunes and a pocket borough.”

“I’m not talking about me. I’m talking about you, Polly Xena. Stop being so selfish.”

“Me?”

“If you’re going to be head girl at Hill, you’ve got to wake up and understand that everybody’s family is fucked up. It’s not just you.”

“My family is fine, Cassie. Thank you very much.”

“Your father the country doctor is fine. How’s your mother?”

“How’s yours?”

“Mine’s dead. As you know. As everybody in the goddamn world knows. You probably watched the funeral on television.”

Polly stops short, her fury evaporating. “I did, actually,” she tells Cassie, chastened.

“So, like I said, head girl Polly, how’s your mother?”

“She’s a mess, OK? I don’t know why. No one will tell me anything.”

“Everybody’s family fucks them up.”

“OK, Cassie, you win.”

“I don’t want to win.”

“What the hell do you want?”

“I’m your friend. I always have been. Not that you’ve noticed, of course.”

Polly thinks. “OK.” She pauses. “You’ve got a funny way of showing it, but OK.” She offers her hand. “Maybe I misunderstood.”

“I just wanted to warn you.” Cassie takes her hand.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake, enough!”

Not skilled, not quite right, and too long — but it was nice to hear them again.