Nemonymous (nemonymous) wrote,

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

Chapter 40 – Engaged


An arranged marriage in prospect for Tuerqui – arranged by her father to one of the suitors I earlier mentioned in these comments! And the scene of crude cynical sex between Captain Grace (the suitor in question) and Miss Miles in this chapter (in front of Tuerqui) is probably one of the most distasteful scenes in the whole novel so far. Having said that, the uniquely styled distastefulness in parts of this novel is indeed a moot point and could easily be the subject of a long critical essay at PhD level. Meanwhile, it is the reader who finds the onward thrust of the plot to his or her taste (or not). That’s the test of taste.


 Tuerqui’s relationship with her father is perhaps typical of many such relationships, but to an extreme degree:


Sourly, I gazed upon my parent, knowing that he planned to murder Tuerquelle. My anger towards him no longer flared brightly, but inescapably continued to smoulder. Slitting him from groin to throat would have given me satisfaction and pleasure. But, as Lisa-Louise had pointed out, that would do nothing to save my daughter.


I wonder if Tuerqui means the following when speaking to her father, but is just simply rebelling for its own sake:


“I’m whipped too much as it is,” I said sourly. “Miss Miles whips me in the schoolroom and drill yard. Then Captain Grace says that he intends to whip me some more, should we marry.”


Being whipped, after all, is earlier portrayed as a fulfilment for Tuerqui.


A telling passage below:


By contrast, there was a new urgency to the arms training – my sword work had an extra, vicious, thrust – imagining Captain Grace’s blood flowing with every stroke. Acquiring an ability to kill had started as a means back to my mistress. The previous day, preserving Tuerquelle’s life had provided a powerful new motive. Now was added escape from a marriage too dreadful to be contemplated.


Mrs Modesty Clay becomes another of this novel’s inscrutably interesting characters:


Turning, I kissed her, without haste and tenderly, convinced that not only didn’t I know her, but never would. There was in her, I sensed, much – representing whole phases of her life – that would be forever closed to me. Up to a point, I was welcome as a companion, and as a lover – but no further. Her inner core was more private than that of anyone I’d previously attempted to know.


I don’t agree with Miss Miles’ view of syntax because sometimes a hanging preposition can be a useful device (often deployed in much literature):


Phoebe – you should not leave a preposition hanging at the end of a sentence. 


And positively in my view the split infinitive in the example below is far better than the non-split one:


 “Quiet! I will hear not another word from you! For your information, the split infinitive was 'to really worry you'. The correct form is 'really to worry you' – do you understand that?”


And indeed one later sees Miss Miles is being cynical in making such play on these grammatical points.


Partly aghast, and partly relieved not to be directly involved, I watched as Miss Miles applied the most vicious punishments I’d seen her administer. As she wielded the strap, the governess’ face revealed a mixture of anger, malevolence and deep satisfaction. My feeling was that grammar mistakes and possible insolence were no more than pretexts for the thrashings. The real reason, no doubt, lay in the aunt’s improved health placing an inheritance beyond her grasp.


Tuerqui (as shown in the short skirt, ooops, short sentence below) perhaps for the first time has a truly negative emotion in contrast to the rather more (as portrayed) positive emotions deriving from poignant sadness, fear, experience of being brutally punished, hate, lust etc:


I emerged from the training shed feeling a little depressed.


The exchange below between Tuerqui and Miss Miles is a telling one and gives further inscrutable shading to a relatively sketchy part of the otherwise richly textured novelistic portrait painted by the narration team:


"Do you see my desk, girl?”

“Yes, miss.”

“What do you see upon it?”

“The schoolroom cane and strap, miss.”

“Good. And do you, in any way, dispute my right to use them upon you?”

“No, miss.”

“Do you think that you are likely to receive them this evening?”

“I will try to do nothing to deserve a thrashing, miss.”

“That did not answer my question, young lady. I didn’t ask whether you would deserve them, but whether you expected to be thrashed. The question of whether you merit punishment is not your concern – it is entirely my decision. Or do you disagree, child?”

“No, miss. I don’t disagree.”

“And do you expect me to thrash you this evening, girl?”

“Yes, miss, I do.” It was the truth.


The reader is potentially both paradoxically cherished (spoilt?) and left to the wolves of cynicism given positive oxymoronic virtue. The novel continues to please and shock. One wonders if any readers find a guilty pleasure and fail to tell anyone else about the novel’s and their own mixed emotions.

Word docs of the actual chapters are freely available to readers of this blog.

The links to all Chapter comments by me are here:

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