Monday, February 16, 2015

A Severed Wasp by L'Engle and the Questions I Found

I finished re-reading 
L'Engle's A Severed Wasp.
It was a suspenseful ending; an ending that held but
that that left me with a lot of unanswered questions. 
First, you must realize where the title is from, 
and that the book makes clear mention of:

“I thought of a rather cruel trick I once played on a wasp. He was sucking jam on my plate, and I cut him in half. He paid no attention, merely went on with his meal, while a tiny stream of jam trickled out of his severed esophagus. Only when he tried to fly away did he grasp the dreadful thing that had happened to him. It is the same with modern man, and there was a period -- twenty years, perhaps -- during which he did not notice it.  

It was absolutely necessary that the soul be cut away.  Religious belief, in the form that we had known it, had to be abandoned." 

—"Notes On The Way", George Orwell: The Collected Essays, Journalism & Letters. Volume Two, ISBN 1-56792-134-5
Thankfully I found more of this online here.
I have a lot more to think on this,
and I am wondering if in part,
esp. if L'Engle thinks this quotation to be true,
if she got it wrong.
I will try to get back to that.
and by the way I will be discussing this book in depth so if you need
a 'spoiler warning' this is it,
I am thinking of the main character Katherine, who is now
a newly retired pianist who still is in her prime 
in terms of performance and is well loved.
She is going over her life and the people she knew,
most of them all passed on to what the next life is and she,
still living is sorting her life out.
By the time L'Engle wrote this book she was already
going towards doing this for herself.
Her husband was still alive but
she is already writing characters who 
are living after the death of their husbands 
and she herself uses her lines from this book to describe
the loss of her husband in 1986.
You see L'Engle tying up a lot of loose ends in this book;
various characters, from other L'Engle books, grow up, have families, 
and L'Engle's first character from her first book,
The Small Rain meets a bunch of them in
A Severed Wasp.
When I first read this book, I was at TWU
and it was between 1999-2001, so about at least 14 years or so ago.
I was then 21-24  years of age, depending on what year I read it.... 
I was a young woman, still figuring a lot out,
I had lost a woman who was like my spiritual mother,
I was trying to figure out the mess the world had made, 
especially in academia, of gender and gender roles and I was reading 
many books to try to figure things out.
From what I remember of reading this book the first time,
and reading her Small Rain as well,
was that I could relate more to the characters lives when
they were young.
L'Engle has Katherine narrate how when she was young
she still needed a lot of mothering and fathering,
even into her twenties.
I know in my twenties I felt a lot of that need still as well,
though I can't say my parents were at all inept and I can say today
that my Mother is one of my closest friends and my Father
one of my trusted advisers in my life. 
I am just under 2 years from 40, 
whatever that means,
and I am sure sometime I will see how 'young' I still am.
But I have, I see, done some growing up in the last years.
They say marrying will do that.
Lots of learning in marriage, 
including standing and walking on one's own two feet.
Fr. John of the book Everyday Saints 
is very clear about how spiritual children need to learn
to stand on their own two feet and a spiritual father is not
one to carry one as much as to point one in the right direction.
See this lovely article about him, I highly recommend it.
Life is never just one thing but a juxtaposition of many things as well.
I realize that I relate to the character Katherine also in what
some expected of her and what she had to define boundaries about
who she is and is not.
When I was not even in my twenties I was going to a Mother-Daughter banquet 
in place of a Mother who had died.
Katherine in this book is often asked by the words and/or actions of others
to be more than she is (a person's Mother or Confessor for instance) 
and she has to firmly put the others
back in their place so that they can come to themselves and 
make the choices they alone can make.
I am pondering this a lot lately.
I really liked the line by the retired Bishop Felix who said when he was young
he was lonely and trying to get past this feeling,
had not realized that everyone deals with loneliness and that when he was 
younger he did not yet know this;
I think this is actually quite freeing.
Somehow Bishop Felix describes 'getting over himself' here.
I am pondering the fact of the sadness in this world
and that many are in need of help and I can't help them or 
in anyway save them from their situation or the consequences of choices.
And I have a lot of new questions from this book...and thinking on
many things in my life related to it... 
What does it mean to grow up?
What is friendship? What is balance in life and in friendship? What about the many times
that by circumstances one cannot be balanced?
Can their be friendship that is vulnerable about one's struggle
without the need of the other to solve this struggle?
For even though Katharine puts up boundaries, she ends up
healing a lot of people and solving huge problems that
really were not hers at all.
What does it mean to grow up
and does one ever not need one's Mother?
When one is old and is the Grandmother like Katherine in this book is,
is it only pain that leads one to maturing so that one
is suddenly the one that others look to?
Anyway, questions from this book.
I hope to get back to the other theme I mentioned, 
there are so many in this book,
but I understand a bit more about history and what the characters
who lived through World War II were trying to 
come to terms with
and Orwell's quotation is very important and enlightening in all of this. 


October Rose said...

The only thing I've read by L'Engle is her book on writing, and A Wrinkle in Time. Reading your thoughts and questions makes me want to read this book!

elizabeth said...

Oct. Rose ~ thanks. Do know that it is not an easy book to read really - she can be emotionally shocking I think and also deals with a lot of tough issues in this book; but it does give one a lot to think of and I think the book has a place and raises a lot of important things.

I love her book on writing (walking on water I assume?) and Wrinkle in Time!

I hope to write more on this author as she has much to offer but is also complicated enough to need at times some nuancing needs to be examined as her theological positions are not even and at times not fully Orthodox.

But I have been given MUCH by her and am grateful for this!

Amy said...

I really enjoyed hearing your reflections on this book. I would like to read more L'Engle. I read a bunch of her stuff almost ten years ago and really enjoyed it. I think I read a lot of her lighter stuff though:)

elizabeth said...

Thanks Amy... yes, she is a good author... her adult stuff is not as light but does have light in it too, just a bit more complicated and at times emotionally intense...

GretchenJoanna said...

I think we always will at least occasionally feel the need of a mother, no matter how old we get, and that makes me really glad to have the Mother of God and also the Church as a mother.

And as to "friendship that is vulnerable about one's struggle without the need of the other to solve this struggle," I think that is what women provide for each other. Often men feel helpless unless they can fix our problems, but we women can accept the unfixability of some things, and provide a listening ear, a sounding board, prayer and patient understanding - following the example of the Theotokos!

elizabeth said...

G-J: yes, this is very true, thank God!