The Free Women 1
‘Well, there was an announcement in the paper, he said he’d never paint again. He said it was because the world is so chaotic, art is irrelevant.’ There was a silence, until Anna appealed: ‘Doesn’t that mean anything to you?’
‘No. And certainly not from you. After all, you aren’t someone who writes little novels about the emotions. You write about what’s real.’
Anna almost laughed again, and then said soberly: ‘Do you realize how many of the things we say are just echoes? That remark you’ve just made is an echo from Communist Party criticism — at its worst moments, moreover. God knows what that remark means, I don’t. I never did. If Marxism means anything, it means that a little novel about the emotions should reflect “what’s real” since the emotions are a function and a product of a society …’. She stopped, because of Molly’s expression. ‘Don’t look like that, Molly. You said you wanted me to talk about it, so I am. And there’s something else. Fascinating, if it wasn’t so depressing. Here we are, 1957, waters under bridges, etc. And suddenly in England, we have a phenomenon in the arts I’m damned if I’d foreseen — a whole lot of people, who’ve never had anything to do with the Party, suddenly standing up, and exclaiming, just as if they had just thought it out for themselves, that little novels or plays about the emotions don’t reflect reality. The reality, it would surprise you to hear, is economics, or machine-guns mowing people down who object to the new order.’
‘Just because I can’t express myself, I think it’s unfair,’ said Molly quickly.
‘Anyway, I only wrote one novel.’
‘Yes, and what are you going to do when the money from that stops coming in? You were lucky over that one, but it’s going to stop sometime.’
Anna held herself quiet, with effort. What Molly had said was pure spite: she was saying, I’m glad that you are going to be subjected to the pressures the rest of us have to face. Anna thought, I wish I hadn’t become so conscious of everything, every little nuance. Once I wouldn’t have noticed: now every conversation, every encounter with a person seems like crossing a mined field; and why can’t I accept that one’s closest friends at moments stick a knife in, deep, between the ribs?
She almost said, drily: ‘You’ll be glad to hear the money’s only trickling in and I’ll have to get a job soon.’ But she said, cheerfully, replying to the surface of Molly’s words: ‘Yes, I think I’ll be short of money very soon, and I’ll have to get a job.’