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Authors: Rosemary Manning

The Chinese Garden

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Published by The Feminist Press at The City University of New York

The Graduate Center

365 Fifth Avenue

New York, NY 10016

feministpress.org

First Feminist Press edition, 2000

Copyright © 1962 by Rosemary Manning

Afterword copyright © 2000 by Patricia Juliana Smith

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced or used, stored in any information retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise without prior written permission of The Feminist Press at The City University of New York except in case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

Originally published by Jonathan Cape, London, 1962

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Manning, Rosemary.

The Chinese garden / Rosemary Manning.

       
p. cm.

ISBN 978-1-5586-1414-7 (ebook)

       
1. Teenage girls—Fiction. 2. Somerset (England)—Fiction. 3. Boarding schools—Fiction. 4. Lesbian teenagers—Fiction. I. Title.

PR6063.A385 C47 2000

823′.914—dc21

99-056679

This publication is made possible, in part, by public funds from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York State Council on the Arts, a State Agency. The Feminist Press would also like to thank Florence Howe, Joanne Markell, Jo Ann McGreevy, Caroline Urvater, and Genevieve Vaughan for their generosity in supporting this publication.

Printed on acid-free paper by RR Donnelley & Sons

05 04 03 02 01 00
     
    
5 4 3 2 1

FOR ANN

With much adoe was I corrupted and made to learn the dirty devices of this world
.

T
HOMAS
T
RAHERNE

CONTENTS

CHAPTER ONE

CHAPTER TWO

CHAPTER THREE

CHAPTER FOUR

CHAPTER FIVE

CHAPTER SIX

CHAPTER SEVEN

CHAPTER EIGHT

CHAPTER NINE

CHAPTER TEN

CHAPTER ELEVEN

CHAPTER TWELVE

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

AFTERWORD

Notes

Works Cited

CHAPTER ONE

                
Surgit, et aetherii spectans

                
orientia solis lumina.

V
IRGIL

(He rose and watched the dawning light of the sun in the sky.)

I
WAS
at boarding school for my sixteenth birthday, for it falls at the beginning of November. I climbed out of bed very early that morning, wrapped my dressing-gown round me and went to the window. The other members of the dormitory were still sleeping under bright red blankets. The window, as always in our spartan establishment, was wide open top and bottom, but I could hardly have been conscious of the cold air streaming in, for the room was never filled with anything else and my lungs had been breathing deeply of it all night. After four years, the code of Bampfield had fixed its iron bands around my spirit, and my innate puritanism so welcomed it that I found a deliberate pleasure in a mortifying regime of cold water, draughts, outdoor drill and bad food. Although I now look back on that regime with repugnance, I can summon up my gratitude for the trained indifference to discomfort and cold which enabled me to sit almost naked at an open, November window, and watch the sun rise.

For four years, during most of the weeks of the year, I had looked out every morning upon the same spectacle, the great desolate park, low-lying and swampy near the
house, then rising gently towards its farthest boundaries and crowned with a little wood. The rise was only a small one and beyond the park a modest range of hills, some three or four hundred feet high, could be seen lying in a crescent round the head of the vale, of which the park was almost the lowest section. Above the red fields, copses fringed the ridge like curls above a rubicund face. On the highest point of these hills there stood a group of Wellingtonias, planted so closely as to present one statuesque mass. They looked like a brooding figure and were known to us as Moses. They were so much a part of the scene, visible from almost every window of the school, that I can never call to mind the expanse of the park without seeing that lofty, immobile figure on the hill.

                
Could we but climb where Moses stood,

                
And view the landscape o'er;

                
Not Jordan's stream, nor death's cold flood,

                
Should fright us from the shore …

we used to sing in the school chapel, and staff and children would look at one another and smile, united more surely in that one foolish moment than at any other.

*
 
    
*
 
    
*

Across the park, dividing the lower marshy flats, with their clumps of rushes, from the mild acclivity which formed the farthest boundary, ran a small stream, with red, crumbling banks. Once it had been spanned at intervals by ornamental bridges, but these were now neglected and ruined and so unsafe as to be almost unusable. At each bridge had been planted and fenced a small shrubbery containing rhododendrons
and azaleas. Though these were thickly overgrown they were still bright with colour in spring and early summer, and in winter their foliage made a series of dark pools across the pale yellow-green of the park. The trees were not planted thickly. They stood in small clumps, and they, too, had been long neglected. A surprising number of them seemed to have been struck by lightning. In winter, when their living fellows were leafless, it was hard to distinguish the quick from the dead. Most of these trees were beeches and elms, and their trunks and branches were bleached as white as skeletons. The dead and deformed trunks, standing erect in the frosty landscape, the stiff rime-encrusted rushes, the bare trees, suggested a petrified forest. It was only saved from conveying an air of dreadful corruption and soft decay by its bracing armour of frost. When I became acquainted with the works of the Brueghels, I more than once recognized this same postponement of imminent corruption, as though the hand of winter could only arrest and temporarily conceal a natural and inevitable decay.

Yet though I see this landscape frostbound, it was not a bitter or repellent frigidity which encased it. It was too soft a climate for that. It was arcadian with the gentle, forlorn arcadianism of
The Deserted Village
, which became one of my favourite poems. Its structure was that of a landscape in a classical painting: the clump of trees, the gently rising slope in the background, the river and the road winding from the house to the lodge, leading the eye through the middle distance, and curling out of sight behind the hill. Only the strict orderliness, the neat prosperity of those landscapes was absent.

Describing it now, I remember a melancholy place of
bleaching bones and dilapidated bridges. It did not seem so to me as a child. Then, even in the depths of winter, at its most forlorn, it appeared wholly beautiful. Its ruin was invested not so much with romance or terror as with a pathos which endeared it to me. Perfection I might never have possessed, but this unwanted, neglected park I took to my heart and made my own.

It was my fourth winter at Bampfield and I had seen the cold park dawn-flushed many times before. Moments of experience too often lack some necessary ingredient to render them memorable, or else include some element like a blister or a tiresome companion which spoils their recollection. But here was a scene of extraordinary beauty and a mood of heightened awareness to record it. I could only have felt as I did on my birthday. I had reached the stage in my lover-like relations with Bampfield of regarding the park and grounds as my personal demesne, and looked upon the sunrise as a personal greeting.

O my America my new fouand land!

I might have quoted Donne if I had read him then, and without any sense of ineptitude at the substitution of a place for a person, for my attitude to Bampfield was very much that of a lover. I felt possessive and was possessed.

As I sat at the window, the greenish sky was slowly suffused with a dark red stain. The lowering grey clouds were incandescent. Words flickered across my frozen mind and took shape as a poem. I dressed, and the sleepers round me stirred, rose and plunged their faces into icy water. Before any of them was fully dressed, I was out of the room, and down in my form-room, where I was supposed to do
early prep. My Smith's Latin dictionary beside me, I created a sort of hybrid sonnet in Latin, a poem of fourteen unrhymed hexameters, a flamboyant word-painting inspired by that violent sunrise blazing over the parkland. Did it include the words
flammantia moenia mundi
– ‘the flaming ramparts of the world'? The sonnet has vanished long ago, but that Lucretian phrase evokes for me, even today, the thin tongues of flame above a smooth, incisive line of low Somerset hills.

With breakfast, the world returned – the world of noise, ill manners, bad food, evil smells in sour corridors. The sun had disappeared already and left only a faint remembrance of warmth in the wintry sky. The frost had lost its sparkle, and the rushes, as my feet trod over them at break, were limp and soaking. My friends wished me many happy returns. The faithful Bisto (so called from her likeness to the advertisement), who loved me and whose love was a burden, pressed a small package into my hand. It was a handkerchief with an ‘R' painfully worked upon its corner. Bisto had no means of washing and ironing it, and it was grey in colour and rather creased. I experienced a growing depression.

As the day wore on, as parcels from home were opened and letters read, a deeper gloom settled upon me. A birthday laid one open to raids upon one's emotions. The family letters, so demanding, so pathetic, were felt as assaults upon my privacy. I pushed them into pockets and wished they had not been written, yet knew I should have been bitterly hurt if I had not received them. And Bisto – it was like Bisto to spend hours working at something secretly for me, and thrust it upon me, the crown of a term's love and endeavour. For her, I thought savagely, this moment is as
painful as it is for me. As long as she was still making the handkerchief she could enjoy it, could dream of the moment of giving. Now it is over. I have been ungracious and she is hurt. I wish no one had known it was my birthday, as Margaret does not know. She, at least, has ignored me.

After dinner, there was a period of comparative peace. I sat at my desk in the form-room, where the others round me were reading for the statutory twenty minutes after lunch. I put the finishing touches to the Latin poem I had written before breakfast, and murmured it through to myself under my breath. I felt restored. Moved by a sudden impulse, I left the form-room and went down to Lower V where Miss Burnett was sitting in charge, gnawing a yellow finger-nail and scowling over Latin exercises. At the time of my sixteenth birthday, I was at the height of my enthusiasm for Virgil, and this was reckoned an eccentricity, for no right-minded child liked Latin.

‘Arma virumque cano,'
Miss Burnett had intoned to the little philistines who composed her Latin class. ‘Those are the opening words of Virgil's epic, the
Aeneid. Arma virumque cano
. Can anyone tell me what they mean?'

‘Love me, love my dog,' answered the form wag.

This was my introduction to Virgil, but I survived it. At the age of sixteen most of one's enthusiasms for things are inspired by enthusiasms for people. It would be in order, therefore, if I confessed that I suffered from a
grande passion
for the Latin mistress, but this was not the case. I did not entirely dislike her. In some ways I found her a congenial spirit, for she posed as a rebel and a misfit in a girls' school. But, emotionally, Miss Burnett did not move me at all. My
classicism came to me on a pure intellectual stream and saturated my imagination so thoroughly that I have felt the influence of it all my life.

I laid the poem on the desk, on top of Miss Burnett's pile of exercise books. Thus far I felt privileged, as a poet.

‘I wrote it this morning,' I said. ‘Before breakfast.' I said nothing of my birthday.

Miss Burnett took the wrinkled notebook and smoothed out the pages. Her tobacco-stained fingers trembled, but her blue eyes lost their restlessness and took on an expression of concentrated interest. She read it carefully and slowly.

‘That's a wrong quantity,' she pointed out, but it was said as one critical artist to another, not in a spirit of superiority. ‘And that – well, I suppose you can use that word, but it's a bit unusual. Got it out of Smith's?'

‘Yes.'

‘What were the references?'

‘There was only one – Statius.'

‘I thought it was silver Latin. Used once and you must choose it.'

‘Well, I like unusual words.'

‘So do I. I share your liking and I like your poem. May I have a copy?'

‘All right. I'll do you one today.'

‘Isn't it your birthday?'

‘Yes, it is,' I said grudgingly. ‘How did you know?'

‘Oh, I saw your friend Bisto gazing at you like a mooncalf, and wishing you many happy returns. Shall I wish you many happy returns, Rachel Curgenven?'

The tired sardonic eyes surveyed me. The members of
Lower V were no doubt drinking in the conversation, but the actual participants felt themselves alone in a Lucretian and sceptical world.

‘Don't bother,' I said. ‘I hate birthdays.'

‘I respect your feelings,' said Miss Burnett. ‘You had better go back to your form-room.'

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