The Women Characters in A Concert Of Bach's Music by Hortensia Papadat-Bengescu
After a short story debut dominated by lyricism (“Deep Waters”, “The Woman in front of the Mirror”) and while trying (and managing) to get in sync with Western modernism, the author quite paradoxically accepts the appeal to objectify her narrative. Her acceptance leads to the merciless presentation of a world whose values had been shaken by the experience of war (closely familiar to the writer as a nurse and presented in the novel “The Dragon”) and who were in a state of irreversible decay. The cycle of novels dedicated to the Hallipa family (“Disheveled Maidens”, “A Concert of Bach’s Music”, “Hidden Road”, “Roots”) instances the dissolution from traditional values to the social image that only covers the lack of humanness.
Hortensia Papadat-Bengescu’s heroines comply with this world. The doctor Lina Rim, called the “good” Lina with overt irony, embodies every common place that underlies goodness, unconditional submission, generosity, obedience and meekness. Up to a point that signals the rupture; that “great crumbling of values” following which “good” Lina becomes bad: the perverted love of her husband for the unwanted daughter, the disgraceful outcome of a young age mistake, fills her with hatred, wipes off the memory of her previous goodness, displaces her maternal instincts for ever, drawing her ever closer to the vicious and materialistic world she is a part of. Her husband, authoritarian and subtle in private matters, that seemed to have come down from among Sade’s series of sinful old men, takes advantage of his spouse’s obedience, completing a marriage difficult to accept even for his lady friends.
For Ada this change is hardly noticeable and it runs anyway on the lines of her overt pragmatism. Her relationship with Prince Maxenţiu brings about the difference, doubled by a certain radicalism in rephrasing the traditionally accepted feminine-masculine opposition. The reader finds out who is running the show as soon as they come up in the novel: an accident with no serious complications reveals Maxenţiu’s inability to fulfill the role of a leader, not even of a dog-cart, which following his wife reproaches his inefficiency and “had taken the finely polished and nickelled reins out of his hands”. The fiery Ada, “the little gypsy”, “the smarty-pants” is the head of the family, – “Princess Maxenţiu was ruling admirably” – takes care of everything, she takes out the husband she had bought with good money, transforming the financial capital into a much more useful symbolic one, which she nurtures skillfully: from fashionable activities to offering her lover a hurdle-free race in among the respectable people. An independent spirit, Ada “needed men but couldn’t stand their rule”. Her deviation signals her complicity with the rules of the system, where breaking them only makes them stronger. Willing and wayward, impulsive and rational, owner of a thriving flour factory, Ada shifts skillfully between keeping up the appearances and fulfilling her own wishes. Ada’s masculine strong points contrast with the effeminate Maxenţiu. The serious illness he was suffering from, consumption, led him to coil inwardly, carefully observing the progress of the illness inside his body and turned him away from any activity that implied force, action, strength. His ridiculously precious concern with the way he was “recomposing his decomposed face” rises to insane heights. His angel-like state caused by the aggravating illness propels him into a space where all difference is nullified, preparing the uniformity of death.
Elena Drăgănescu is the quasi-Apollinian example of the “great lady”, capable of mastering her instincts in order to get as close as possible to the surface values of the world she is out to dominate by means of well organized and closely observed programs. The “Olympian” Elena is ruling with god-like majesty: she sternly leads her house, her family, her husband, who addresses her like an infallible oracle. In fact, Drăgănescu is intimidated by the strict authority of his wife, by her snobbery which she tries to clothe in authenticity; he is otherwise a decent man, of humble origin and “sober will”. Maybe it is not by chance that Elena - also owner of an inheritance that allows her financial independence - chooses a lover that mirrors her husband’s features: decency, shyness, honesty. What makes her choose him is not Ada’s unrestrained impulse, but rather the shared pleasure of music, the only revealed passion, situated beyond the social compromise of the musical Thursdays. What moves her is music, and Marcian, an unanimously recognized virtuoso, brings about the necessary completion, tearing Elena’s well-structured program to bits, propelling her into consenting to adultery, which is, although on a different level, synonymous with a “crumbling of values”. By accepting his advances in the field of music and elsewhere, Elena washes her hands of the values she stood by; the bureaucratic world (she likens her household to a “ministry”) whose remarkable representative she had thought she could be undergoes the surprising intrusion of the Dionysiac.
The bastards occupy a special place among Hortensia Papadat-Bengescu’s collection of characters, i.e. the girls Sia and Mika-Le. Marginalized on principle, embodying their parents’ mistakes, these heroines try in vain to nurture their difference: the former, a weak mind in a cumbersome body, fails in her attempt to become integrated among the respectable people, if only by remaining an outsider. Estranged from a father that gets the taste of social climbing and who understands that such a “dangerous liaison” would endanger it, unaccepted by a mother overcome by the serious sin in her youth, Sia tolerates Rim’s advances without suspecting that he is her mother’s husband. Although she is not very troubled on finding that out either; in a state of comfortable numbness, the only viable revenge seems to her to be turning the evil on herself. Caused by self-aggression, her death proves nothing, is rather only a pretext for organizing a fashionable event; the “the reckless maid” could not but disappear from a very choosy world, ready to sacrifice those who don’t go by its set conditions. If the retrieval, the reintegration in the system had failed with Sia, they seemed to work with Mika-Le. Elena’s step-sister, with a reputation of having caused her to break her engagement with Maxenţiu, is disowned and tries unsuccessfully to kill herself. Sia’s pendency, “the little bug” stands out physically: “Arabian” hair, “yellow eyes”, “plebeian” gesturing, she is “disharmonic”, “unmusical”, “unharmonious”, in short, only a “civilizing” treatment can tame the difference, colonizing it, adapting it to the dominating rigors. Once accepted inside the Drăgănescu house, she is humiliated by her sister, whom she serves for fear she might be exiled again. Clothed in her sister’s dresses, acting like a poor child tolerated by the bigwigs, Mika-Le, who had in the meantime – on Elena’s initiative – become Norica, does her best to rise to expectations, to get in sync with a world where human interplay only issues winners and losers. The gagnant, gagnant alternative is not present in this universe where the great crumbling of values causes people to lapse into their animal instincts, cruelty, aggression, deceit and the observance of social climbing, the only reference points come to people the empty spaces. “The hidden road” is, however, visible and it leads directly to doctor Walter’s sanatorium, a model of productive organization, and to Coca-Aimée’s complete dehumanization, where a return to the “roots” is no longer possible.
POLISH WOMEN WRITERS
Prezentacja Maria Kuncewiczowa_ Paulina Przewozna12