April 25th, 2011 09:49 EST
Artemisia: The One Character Your World Can't Do Without
The one you`d rather not exist without
Faces on television and movie screens pass before us like leaves bobbing and whirling in a current. The ones that stick are memorable because we can no longer imagine our world without them. We want them to exist, just as we want Morgan Le Fay and Jane Eyre and Emma Bovary and Anna Karenina to have existed. We need them to have existed because the world would be the less without them.
Seeing my novel, Artemisia`s Wolf, published has prompted me to meditate about such matters. I had hoped to write a short novel that might be half as good as Glenway Westcott`s The Pilgrim Hawk. I wanted Artemisia Cavelli to be the sort of character that readers would want to exist and would feel lonely without. I wanted her to be as bright and memorable in her own way as Emily Deschanel playing forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan in Bones. I wanted people to feel somehow reassured that such a person exists.
Why is Bones so immediate? Is it the actress`s vivid beauty alone? I think not. There is plenty of beauty on screen. I think it`s the vivacity and quirkiness of the character she inhabits, its seeming obtuseness in a brilliant mind, its humor and endearing capacity for introspection.
We remember actors and the characters they play for many reasons, sometimes a single gesture or a way of walking "I`m thinking of Gloria Grahame`s unforgettable ambles and John Wayne`s hip-slung gait. These memories are our treasure cache. We can`t conceive of our lives without them. They accompany us through our trials and our deaths.
Sometimes the writer gives us a such a character and an actor adds to it or diminishes it. Sometimes an actor gives us a memorable character made from a thoroughly forgettable one in print. But however we come by these friends, these companions, they are more valuable to us than we can ever say, even though we would not list them for insurance purposes. Indeed, they influence our behavior. We instinctively wonder what they would have done in certain situations.
Artemisia Cavelli could have been made hapless like Emma Bovary or enigmatic and dangerous like Morgan Le Fay. Or indomitable like Boudica. Or she could have embodied all these characteristics. She is certainly indomitable and unpredictable. But I had another project in mind, another question. It arose from a poem I wrote about a shadowless world, a world in which shadows had been cremated. I envisioned Artemisia as a wraith in Greenwich Village, and that wraith became the Artemisia Cavelli of the novel.
Instead of evil as a foil, as a villain, as stagecraft, I wondered if goodness could be intriguing in a world in which evil simply happens the way our shadows fall, because there is light behind us. I wondered if the workings of decency had to be tedious and treacly. And I wondered if evil, the evil with which we`re all intimate, isn`t rather cozy and even incestuous, rather than the Wagnerian thing it`s habitually made out to be on screen. I wondered, in short, if we experience more evil every day than we encounter 8 to 11 on the little screen "and perhaps more corpses, too.
Because I live in a world of film I had several actresses in mind as Artemisia came to life, not because I envisioned them playing her but because I am influenced by the distinctive faces I encounter. I`m not sure, at this moment, whether I want to tell you which actresses; it might spoil the story. You will have your own ideas, and Artemisia may well bring to mind someone you`ve encountered. My hope is that she is someone you will want to have encountered. That`s pretty high ambition. My other ambitions pale by comparison, albeit I once thought them grand if not grandiose.
Djelloul Marbrook is a retired newspaperman. His second book of poems, Brushstrokes and Glances, will be published by Deerbrook Editions on December 20, 2010. His first book of poems, Far From Algiers, won the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize from Kent State University in 2007 and was published in 2008. It won the International Book Award in 2010. His novella, Artemisia`s Wolf, will be published by Prakash Books of India in December. His novella, Saraceno, was recently published as an e-book. His story, Artists Hill, adapted from the second novel of an unpublished trilogy, won the Literal LattÃ© first prize in fiction in 2008. The pioneering e-book publisher, Online Originals (UK), published his novella, Alice MIller`s Room, in 1999.
Del`s book, Far From Algiers: http://upress.kent.edu/books/Marbrook_D.htm
New review of Far from Algiers: http://www.rattle.com/blog/2009/05/far-from-algiers-by-djelloul-marbrook/
Artists Hill, Literal LattÃ©`s fiction first prize: http://www.literal-latte.com/author/djelloulmarbrook/
His blog: http://www.djelloulmarbrook.com
His mother`s art: http://www.juanitaguccione.com
His aunt`s art: http://www.irenericepereira.com