short stories: extract from The Romance of Iris Poole
But now I had no pleasure from the spectacle, I only wished, and heartily, that the room was empty of its music and people, empty of all but Iris – to whom, if miracles could happen at all, I would enter suddenly and brave her startled gaze with my love-making, and take her. But the most wonderful thing about miracles is that they never happen, so I could do nothing but stare at her as far as I could disjointly see her among the moving crowd; a creature of green and gold that night, for her dress was of jade, and her hair, I thought, couldn’t of course be but gold to ornament it fittingly; so that, I said, she will always be her own carnival, even in a desolate place. And once again, with that white face under hair which seemed that night more than ever barbaric in its splendour, she gave me that feeling of her as a strange thing from some wild legend, a woman of doubt and desire so consummately human as to be almost inhuman: tamed into life just for this moment, but only for this moment, without a why nor whence nor whither…
observations: This is a good example of Michael Arlen’s strange style: some of those sentences above are verging on self-parody, and don’t really make sense, and possibly are open to stylistic and grammatical criticism. But they are dramatic and to some extent engaging. This is a book of four long short stories, and it appeared a few years before his great masterwork, The Green Hat – one of the inspirations for this blog. [for more on this, follow the links or click on the labels below]. You can see the bones of The Green Hat in there – Iris Storm is the heroine of The Hat, to go with Iris Poole here.
Arlen heroines are sexy women, unfaithful, beautiful and outrageous. They are all pretty much the same, and the relationships with men in the stories are pretty much the same. There is a lot about lilies, and crushing them, in one of the stories, which is strangely reminiscent of Proust – whom Arlen does not otherwise resemble in the slightest. There is a very odd interlude where the amount of cigar ash sitting undisturbed is used as an alibi to satisfy a suspicious husband. In truth, by story number 4 the reader is getting a bit tired of these lives ruined by love, these British straight men who can be destroyed by Consuelo and Fay and Iris. The stories are narrated to a male listener, a friend of the main protagonist: the listener might or might not have a role to play in the action.
Arlen sounds like an entertaining and charming chap, and The Green Hat is one of my guilty pleasure books, but I’m not sure I would read more by him based on The Romantic Lady: there is not much depth, and not many surprises, in this book.
But, hey, isn’t that a fabulous dress? - picture from the NY Public Library