“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.
For 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)