The Yellow Notebook
Then she realizes she is falling into a lie about herself, and about women, and that she must hold on to this knowledge: that when she was with Paul she felt no sex hungers that were not prompted by him; that if he was apart from her for a few days, she was dormant until he returned; that her present raging sexual hunger was not for sex, but was fed by all the emotional hungers of her life. That when she loved a man again, she would return to normal: a woman, that is, whose sexuality would ebb and flow in response to his. A woman’s sexuality is, so to speak, contained by a man, if he is a real man; she is, in a sense, put to sleep by him, she does not think about sex.
Ella holds on fast to this knowledge, and thinks: every time in life I go through a dry time, a period of deadness, I always do this: hold on to a set of words, the phrases of a kind of knowledge, even while they are dead and meaningless, but knowing that life will come back and make them live too. But how strange that one should hold on to a set of sentences, and have faith in them.
Meantime, men approached her and she refused them, because she knew she could not love them. The words she used to herself were: I won’t sleep with a man until I know I could love him.
Yet, some weeks later, the following incident: Ella meets a man at a party. She is again conscientiously going to parties, hating the process of ‘being on the market again’. The man is a script-writer, Canadian. He does not attract her particularly physically. Yet he is intelligent, with the cool wise-cracking transatlantic humour she enjoys. His wife, at the party, is a beautiful girl, as it were professionally beautiful. Next morning, this man arrives at Ella’s flat, unannounced. He has brought gin, tonic, flowers; he makes a game of the situation ‘man coming to seduce girl met at a party the night before, bringing flowers and gin’. Ella is amused. They drink and laugh and make jokes. Out of the laughter, they go to bed. Ella gives pleasure. She feels nothing, and is even prepared to swear that he feels nothing either. For at the moment of penetration the knowledge goes through her that this is something that he set himself to do and that’s all. She thinks: Well, I’m doing this without feeling so why am I criticizing him? It’s not fair. Then she thinks, rebellious: But that’s the point. The man’s desire creates a woman’s desire, or should, so I’m right to be critical.
Afterwards they continue to drink and to make jokes. Then he remarks, at random, not from anything that has gone before: ‘I have a beautiful wife whom I adore. I have work I like to do. And now I have a girl.’ Ella understands that she is the girl, and that this enterprise, sleeping with her, is a sort of project or plan for a happy life. She realizes that he expects the relationship to continue, he takes it for granted that it will. She indicates that as far as she is concerned the exchange is over; as she speaks there is a flash of ugly vanity on his face, though she has said it gently, positively, compliantly, as if her refusal were due to circumstances beyond her control.