We Shall Not Be Moved

“How unspeakably lucky I am to possess you.  I shall think of you, you, you and nothing else, tomorrow, next day, and Sunday and Monday, and every day and hour and moment!”*

Does this do anything for you?  Me, neither.  Nor did do anything for Vita Sackville-West, to whom it was written. The writer was Vita’s lover, Rosamund Grosvenor, whom she dumped almost immediately afterwards.

Plutchik's Wheel of EmotionsFor me, writing emotion is the most difficult thing.  (Maybe this is the reason why I have had no success in womag writing.)  According to Robert Plutchik’s theory, there are seven emotions:  fear; anger; sadness; joy; disgust; surprise; trust; anticipation.  Aristotle listed some different ones, so did Darwin.  The writer feeling emotion as he/she is writing is not enough to make the reader feel, because the reader isn’t the writer and is not touched off by the same things.  So, you go through the motions of using all the senses (sight, sound, feel, smell and taste).  You use tropes.  You extrapolate from your own experience.  …And it still falls flat.  What about this, though?

“I arrived her yesterday [Duntreath Castle]… Do you remember the peacocks stalking round the house in the small hours of the morning uttering penetrating but unmusical cries, the gorgeous flaming sunsets that set the hills a-kindling for all the world like cabuchon rubies?  Do you remember the staid and stolid girl – a remote connection of mine – whose birthday we celebrated at a place called Lennox Castle?…”*

Do you feel the energy?  Do you feel the rhythm as every sentence is begun with the words ‘Do you remember…’?  The writer is rapping out quick rhythmical questions, each one starting with the words ‘Do you remember…’   She also is making a pitch for Vita, but, not bothering with abstract protestations of love, she is setting out challenges, by calling up specific shared memories.   This is Violet Keppel, who will replace Rosamund in Vita’s affections.

Emotion is a funny thing.  I’m furious that a sixteen-year-old posh girl, at the beginning of the twentieth century, can write emotion better than I.

So what advice can you give me?

*From ‘A Portrait of a Marriage’, by Nigel Nicolson (George Weidenfield and Nicolson Limited, 1973)

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8 thoughts on “We Shall Not Be Moved

  1. I could feel emotion in that first example – but it was the kind that would make me want to run if it was directed in my direction. It seems Vita felt the same way, so perhaps as an exercise in showing emotion it was successful?

    1. Yes, I’m sure that the writer of the first example was feeling intense emotion but she was not expressing it persuasively, hence Vita’s reaction.

      1. Well, perhaps she would have had success with a different person – if Vita had been passionately obsessed with her or if she had been in the first throes of love she might have been excited by it. There is excitement and passion in it – though personally I’m not wild about the possession bit, perhaps that’s what turned her off. I found the second a wee bit clunky, to be honest, though the imagery was fab and more interesting intellectually than just blunt passion – but we can’t know how Vita was really feeling and perhaps the actual characters of the women in question had more to do with it than the language? I think this tells me that we all react differently – some of us are more wildly emotional and have highs and lows, some of us are more pragmatic, and even keeled and see things more logically even with our emotional eyes. Or even, keep all emotions at a distance and thus don’t want too much passion. I think the key is to write what comes comfortably and the people who relate to it will be the ones who enjoy it…

      2. Thanks, Mary. Having now read more of the book (which I thoroughly recommend), I think it was indeed the possessiveness which turned Vita off. Later Violet would turn possessive, with the result that Vita charged back to her husband, Harold.

        Me, I like to keep my characters’ emotion under control, meaning that I like to control which direction it’s going in. The emotional bits, I write, rewrite and edit more than most. Otherwise they descend (using the word deliberately here) into me and go off at tangents. It’s also true that each of us react differently, often the same person (me) responding different at different times, depending on how we are feeling.

      3. Just wondering, Rosemary, if the fact that you control your characters’ emotions means you are not letting the story take a direction that it might naturally want to go? And denying your characters their real nature? Probably totally wrong so just ignore me!

      4. What I meant when I wrote that was that I need to keep thinking about who they are and not let them all descend into being me.

    1. Thanks. I’m struggling with Gravitar at the moment. It won’t register my WordPress user name.

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