“Tudor revival” houses are very common in the suburbs of the United States. Many were built during the 1930s under the influence of Edwin Lutyens.
11. The Copious Matter of My Song
After the elevator incident, Jennet found herself increasingly curious about Jonathan Sebelius. She couldn’t stop thinking about him. Sometimes she speculated about the possible sources of his misogyny, but other times, she simply daydreamed, allowing images of him to pass through her mind, like clouds scudding across the sky on a breezy day. Finally, she decided to look up his research on Joseph Swetnam. She found a 2005 article called “The Printing History of Swetnam’s Arraignment,” in which Sebelius described the pamphlet’s great popularity during the seventeeth century and its constant reprinting, mentioning in a footnote that his private collection included several exemplars. Another article speculated on Milton’s possible use of Swetnam’s work in Paradise Lost to reinforce the idea that the guilt for Man’s fall belonged to Eve. Finally she turned to the pamphlet itself. Reading though his bitter list of grievances against women, she came upon Swetnam’s acknowledgment that some might accuse him of sour grapes:
Yet perhaps some may say unto me that I have sought for the honey, caught the Bee by the tail, or that I have been bit or stung with some of these wasps, otherwise I could never have been expert in betraying their qualities.
Here, she thought, must lie the key to Sebelius’ character. His birth mother had dealt him one of the worst emotional blows a person could receive. Perhaps his sexual and romantic life had been disastrous too. He had a scar on his face. Could it be that other parts of his body were damaged? Maybe he’s impotent. That would explain a lot. One part of her felt compassion for him, even as another part was outraged at the nastiness of the language in the pamphlet. In her house she will be waspish, peevish, testy, tetchy, and snappish. It is meat and drink to her to exercise her spleen and envy, and with her twittle twattle to sow strife, debate, contention… Little wonder, indeed, that one of Swetnam’s female contemporaries had published an indignant response entitled The Worming of a Mad Dogge.
After a few days, Jennet received an email from Sebelius saying that Special Collections had politely refused to house the papyrus. He suggested they meet in the library so she could study it with a view to publication, and rather stiffly mentioned that he would be grateful for her help mounting the document in glass. Accordingly, she began to spend Thursday and Friday afternoons on the seventh floor, whenever neither of them had committee meetings to attend. Sebelius always seemed restless during these hours, setting out his notes and laptop to work on some project, then suddenly getting up to prowl the stacks.
Meanwhile she deciphered the papyrus in growing excitement. She quickly became accustomed to the unknown scribe’s handwriting, which was fine and regular. The document was almost certainly a New Testament letter, but she wasn’t sure which one. What she had so far looked familiar, yet she couldn’t quite place it. Certainly it was Pauline, not one of the Pastoral epistles, or Peter, or Jude. Now that she had transcribed several lines, she could compare these passages with a searchable version of the Greek New Testament, enabling her to make a quick identification
“This isn’t working.” She jumped as Sebelius spoke behind her, breaking into her thoughts.
“What do you mean?”
“I can’t get anything done here,” he complained. “I need my library at home. That’s where I usually write. It’s too much trouble to reassemble all the books I require every time I come here, and this library doesn’t have most of them anyway.”
The solution is pretty obvious, she thought, but remained silent as he sat down next to her. Finally, sounding surprised and rather reluctant, he said, “Oh. You could work at my house. If you wanted.”
“It doesn’t matter much to me whether I work here or there,” she said carefully. “Unless it’s a long drive.”
“No, I live in Parnell,” he said, sounding distracted.
“I can take a high-resolution digital photograph of the document, if you agree. Then I can study it on my own time. But I’ll still need to spend a fair number of hours checking the original. Is your house well-lighted?”
“I don’t think you’ll find it inadequate,” he told her, bristling a little.
The next afternoon, a Friday, she drove to Sebelius’ house, which was on the outskirts of campus in a neighborhood of mixed Craftsman and cottage-style houses from the 20s and 30s. His was a quaint Tudoresque stone cottage with a rounded doorway and meticulous landscaping. Seeing the small front and dormer windows, she worried that there wouldn’t be sufficient light to take a photograph in spite of the bright afternoon.
Sebelius answered the door in one of his jeans and puffy-shirt ensembles. His shirt appeared to be fine linen and had a V-slit at the neck, with two strings hanging from each side. His gold chain was visible as usual, and he was barefoot. Jennet couldn’t help staring down at his long, high-arched feet. Is there any part of him that isn’t beautiful? Jennet dragged her eyes away as he turned to lead her through the house toward a spacious sunroom addition in back. She viewed the interior of the house with amazement. It appeared to be furnished with props from the set of Captain Blood or The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex. Large, ornate chests in dark woods; tables of thick, heavy planks paired with sturdy benches and stools; thronelike chairs with leather upholstery, studded with brass nails. A tapestry covered one wall; another held a collection of swords and daggers. The only thing missing was a suit of armor. He probably keeps that in his bedroom, she thought in amusement. All the better to prevent anyone touching him.
“This is the best space for working in natural light,” he was saying; he had a study well supplied with lamps in case she needed extra lighting for the photograph. Collecting her wits, she got to work and was soon absorbed in the intricacies of the papyrus. After about half an hour, she looked up, noticing that Sebelius was nowhere to be seen. She worked on, and as the afternoon light began to dim, she packed up her things. Taking a few tentative steps toward a hallway that she supposed led to his study, she called, “Jonathan? I’m done for today. I’ll be going now.”
“Okay,” he answered, not showing himself. “See you next Thursday, same time.”
Sebelius listened as Jennet Thorne closed the door behind her. Before him sat the handwritten first draft of a new paper on Milton’s Samson Agonistes. During the past two hours, he’d completed more work on this project than he had in the past month. When the Woman appeared on his doorstep, he had fully expected to be restless and uncomfortable with her there, just as he was in the library. Yet once she was ensconced in the sunroom with the papyrus, he had retreated here— and immediately felt the urge to write. His focus had been sharp, his concentration complete. The ideas flowed freely from his pen.
Her presence in his house —but out of his sight— gave him an unfamiliar feeling, one he couldn’t explain. Knowing exactly where she was and what she was doing calmed him. The sure knowledge that she was settled here, within his domain, freed his mind of anxieties. Now, as she drove away in her little blue Honda Civic, he felt that elusive serenity slipping away, like the last grains of sand in an hourglass.
Copyright 2015 by Linnet Moss
Notes: The feeling Jonathan has when Jennet is working in his house is based on something the Long Suffering Husband once told me, before we were married. But I felt much the same way about him, and still do. In Jonathan’s case it is partly his feelings of possessiveness, but there is something deeper as well, the simple knowledge that THIS is the person he should be with.
What a lovely sentiment – knowing the whereabouts of a person you love (whether you know it or not) and feeling calm, inspired and concentrated. I can relate to that, although I had never actually ascribed it to a feeling of love. It’s totally true though.
In terms of the story arc, I am so glad that Jen and Jon have now moved into the privacy of a home – which will allow them to get to know each other without distraction. He seems a hard nut to crack. Hopefully he will not fight the new feeling he is experiencing but benefit from it.
Thanks Guylty. It’s something that long married people can recognize, but I believe that when people fall in love with the right person, they feel a premonition of it.
Love the description of that particular sentiment and I have to agree, I felt that same calm and contentment when I first met The Yak. (If only I could have foreseen his coeliac disease..ha, just kidding!) Great description of his house, I could really see it in my ‘minds eye.’ Methinks the situation may start to heat up?
Yes, we are headed for a heat wave!
Thanks for commenting on the “calm” side of things. So often in fiction, we focus on volcanic passions, but I don’t think that’s how one recognizes a true love 🙂
I’m definitely having a crush for Mr. Sibelius. Gold chain included 😉
ackkk, evil women! just when i have managed to exorcise that chain from my mental image…. (Saving the chapter for tonight 😉 )
Well, don’t worry. At a certain point, the chain will make a final exit…
Glad to hear it. I think a gold chain can be sexy, but it really depends on the man. Most can’t pull it off!
hm…… playing round in mental images… i can well imagine how a thin, long chain with some kind of special medal or pendant would be it… something you could only see when clothes would not hide it, like a tattoo.. that i can totally get on board with, even though i would much prefer the pendant to be on a leather cord than a chain..
I like the leather cord idea. In fact I used it in my book about Cúchulainn. He wears an amulet on a leather thong.
I love the switch of POV at the end, which gives a wonderful sense of closure to the scene. Wonderfully bloggified, yet again.
Many thanks! The switching of POV was one of the most difficult things to write, since the inside of men’s heads is a mystery to me 🙂
I know what you mean. I tend to write better male characters when I think about a particular man as I’ve seen him in a particular situation (for instance, I noticed my brothers at my mom’s funeral cried only a little bit, but they were holding back.) If you take a situation like that and do a little observing, it helps. Although what’s going on emotionally might be not that different!
Agreed. There’s got to be some common ground or we could never write about each other. But sometimes the masculine mind seems different in its basic assumptions.
I guess so! I base a lot of my writing off of the guys in my life whom I like and who tend to be like me in their thinking. There aren’t many major differences between me and my husband, but I notice that a few things. He holds onto anger for longer, I hold onto sadness for longer. He’s often amazed by my speed in recovering after he apologizes for something (or even if he doesn’t apologize, sometimes he’s pre-forgiven, depending on the circumstance…like when I know he’s just hungry). And I’m amazed by his ability to recover after a traumatic experience, stuff that would leave me wrecked for months.
Then, generally, there’s a different conversational style, although I don’t have to worry too much about this unless I’m writing a hyper-masculine character (perhaps because I’ve spent a lot of time being the female minority…maybe you can relate to that?) I bet you have to think about this with your character in this series though! He’s super masculine and must be tricky to write. (And you’re doing an excellent job with this, in my female opinion. It feels like you’ve tapped into a sexy hyper masculine archetype, and that’s very hard to write.)
But there certainly are male-female differences and parts of the masculine mind that I’ve never been able to wrap my mind around. I’m sure some of them think the same of us and could launch similar complaints, but here are a few: I can’t think of many, but I’ve never understood the whole thing with certain guys who want to make love to you but then leave in right after, even if it’s 3am. It’s as if they’re afraid you’re going to want to get married upon waking. (And it’s not that they’re doing a drunken one night stand thing, because they call later, even the next morning.) I’ve thought about saying, “Dude, it’s just sleeping. I’m planning on rolling over right now and getting some shut eye. You can do the same or you can drive all the way home and possibly get into a wreck because you’re so tired. I promise I won’t make you breakfast or do anything too relationship-y. I’ll even take the wet spot.” 🙂 But really though, even if you make it perfectly clear that you have no expectations of them, some men have this visceral fear of sleeping—actually sleeping—with women. I don’t know what that’s about. There’s one of those mysterious male archetype traits you often hear and read about.
Or the weird passive-aggressive thing when they don’t want to be candid and stop a relationship, so they just make your life miserable until you do it. Isn’t fear of hurting someone’s feelings supposed to be a female trait? Yet I’ve noticed this behavior in men of all types and levels of education. I’ve heard it from my female friends, read about it, it’s cliché. I just don’t get how this is masculine—that’s the part I don’t understand. It’s cowardice and any rational person can see it prolongs the agony.
Then there’s the line: “I’m too messed up. You deserve better.” Do they really expect us to believe that? Do they not realize that they’re insulting our intelligence, and this hurts almost as much as the rejection? I don’t hear women using that line, but maybe I’m wrong.
I asked my husband about these things and he says it’s probably just kid stuff. (Yet he claims he didn’t do these things when he was younger, so…?)
Well, back on the writing note, Hariod Brawn (whom you probably know from my comments section) was very kind and offered to read my first chapter. He did an excellent critique, really top notch. (I probably shouldn’t advertise Hariod in this way as now he’ll get inundated with requests to read manuscripts, but he really did one of the best critiques I’ve ever had.) He pointed out a few things in my protagonist that didn’t seem like masculine behavior—just little details that I threw in without thinking much about them—and I realized he was right, and that I was projecting my feelings and reactions. My writing group is mostly comprised of women, but I really tried to get more men into the group for this reason. That didn’t work out, unfortunately. So I try to seek out male readers if in doubt. Sometimes there are things that you can’t catch. There’s nothing like having a mixed male-female feedback group. (Add mixed ages and backgrounds, and now you’re really cooking.)
Wow, so much to think about here. The sleeping thing–I believe that is fear of intimacy. Unlike us, men do not necessarily conceptualise sex as intimacy. So they can have sex just fine, but sleeping together is more challenging. As to the other behaviours you mention, I think they are used by both genders, though perhaps more often by men. They sometimes seem either to be callous or cowardly about ending relationships. But that’s not easy for anyone to do well.
How lucky you are to have such a generous male reader! I’m always glad when a male reader responds to my work, though I’ve been backward about seeking them out. In fact, I have not actively sought a writers’ group because I was more focused on writing something I want to read than what someone else wants, if you know what I mean. For me, the writing began as something private, almost like a diary. Still I enjoy sharing it, and I have become aware over time of flaws that other readers can catch better than I, so that the end result pleases me more as well.
It’s such a funny thing. I can’t think of anything more intimate than sex, but I suppose sleeping together could be considered intimate in a “marriage” sort of way that would be scary for some.
I think in your case with your blog, you might not need a writer’s group since you do already get instant feedback. I’ve been contemplating posting fictional pieces, but I’m having a hard time with that for all sorts of reasons. For longer works, like a novel, I like to get as much feedback as possible. I used to think I could just do it on my own, but I’ve had such great critiques that there’s no going back. I’ve missed so many things that others have caught.
I totally get what you mean about writing for yourself, writing what you would want to read. Well, all I can say is, you’re writing what I’d want to read too!
Thanks! Most of my readers are too polite to offer serious criticisms, although sometimes they reveal their reactions indirectly–things just don’t click, or they read the scene in a way different from what I had intended. People on Amazon are a different story–they will say exactly what they think without worrying about my feelings 🙂 No doubt it is a great boon to have people who critique, but do so in a constructive and supportive way.
saved this as last thing to read for tonight and it never fails me 🙂 Really like that feeling of calm she gives him when she is around in his environment; hopefully conducive to having her around more often 😉 I guess it is also because partially he feels in control of the environment and he mistakenly thinks in control of her there 😉
It is strange, i love the description of the house, but it is almost as if he has created a kind of fictional, timeless fantasy bubble home for himself; like a dreamland of things that make him feel safe from a time he feels safer in… I wonder how many people he’s actually let in…
So many things i’d like to know 🙂
PS My first thought however was so trivial and conditioned: i can’t believe he didn’t offer something to drink!! gosh, a glass of water man…. he really lacks any social skills at all! or she baffles him to the point where normal thinking eludes him 😉
Oh yes, he’s very lacking in skills. He sees this as a professional appointment, not a social call. And offering a drink might give her the wrong idea that he’s interested in her! LOL. He’s totally freaked out.
You nailed it in one about the home 🙂