Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Stein's "The Good Anna"

The language in this short story is plain and sturdy, like the good Anna herself, a German woman who lived to serve, to manage and scold her big and helpless mistresses. The repetition of sentences, almost word for word, serves as the verbal equivalent of the moral touchstones that Anna lived by to be good. Through repetition, the simple diction gains the fervency of commitment, and the mystery of constancy.

Part 1:
Anna led an arduous and troubled life (5).
You see that Anna led an arduous and troubled life (7).
You see that Anna led an arduous and troubled life (14).

Part 2:
The widow Mrs. Lehntman was the romance in Anna's life (23).
Remember, Mrs. Lehntman was the romance in Anna's life (26).
Mrs. Lehntman was the only romance Anna ever knew. (42).
But what could our poor Anna do? Remember Mrs. Lehntman was the only romance Anna ever knew (44).

When the exposition on friendship and love comes, it comes with a eloquence powered by the directness before and after it:
In friendship, power always has its downward curve. One's strength to manage rises always higher until there comes a time one does not win, and though one may not really lose, still from the time that victory is not sure, one's power slowly ceases to be strong. It is only in a close tie such as marriage, that influence can mount and grow always stronger with the years and never meet with a decline. It can only happen when there is no way to escape.

Friendship goes by favour. There is always danger of a break or of a stronger power coming in between. Influence can only be a steady march when one can surely never break away.

Anna wanted Mrs. Lehntman very much and Mrs. Lehntman needed Anna, but there was always other ways to do and if Anna had once given up she might so do again, so why should Mrs. Lehntman have real fear?

No, while the good Anna did not come to open fight she had been stronger. Now Mrs. Lehntman could always hold out longer. She knew too, that Anna had a feeling heart. Anna could never stop doing all she could for any one that really needed help. Poor Anna had no power to say no.

And then, too, Mrs Lehntman was the only romance Anna ever know. Romance is the ideal in one's life and it is very lonely living with it lost. (45)

I love prose that gropes for the almost inaudible vibrations of the human heart. In Stein's prose is the heartbreak of the all-too-certain, all-too-clear.

* page numbers from Signet Classics edition of Three Lives and Tender Buttons.

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