There is a small part of me that would like to be like Willa Cather, who, while reviewing Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, compared it to Madame Bovary, noting that Edna Pontellier and Emma Bovary “belong to a class, not large, but forever clamoring in our ears, that demands more romance out of life than God put into it", a class that “really expects the passion of love to fill and gratify every need of life”.
I have been a member of this clamoring class. I thought it was something I might grow out of, but. Mostly now I have to channel it into my writing. I understand now what my father meant when he told me, as a young girl, that all men lead lives of quiet desperation. I wasn’t a man, and though he wrongly attributed the quote to Eliot (it was Thoreau, in Walden), I raged against him and the thought that I would compromise, that I would accept a life of quiet desperation. I would die before I compromised. Or, at the very least, I would not be quiet about my desperation.
Of course, I prefer life (w/ its compromise) to death. So I’m glad I got past those moments. But I never really did get past occasional desire for romance. I am often falling in love–with men, with women, with the most inappropriate people. I love my family, my son, my friends; but I’m not sure you stop seeking romance, no matter. Emma Bovary learns it in the convent, and through her novel reading; Edna Pontellier yearns for it, as if it were a means of self-actualization, an alternative to artistry. If I were a man I believe it would be acceptable for me to admit this. But I’m not a man. I’m a woman and over 40 and I guess I thought I’d be more settled by now. The current pop cultural pseudo-celebration of cougars* notwithstanding, I think that our culture finds female desire repulsive. Women are meant to be desired, and then, as we age, to disappear.
*or more likely, the cougar trope is just an example of the kind of backlash against women who dare to desire, to claim that space that was once only the province of men.