Skip to main content

The Big House







    * John Singer Sargent, The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit (1882)*

 (Born a cosmopolite, French painter Sargent's oil paintings were suffused with a feel of high-brow urbanity. Loneliness and claustrophobia, however, seep in from time to time throughout his oevure when the sparseness of mankind takes over the focus of the expansiveness of space. Whenever seeing a restricted space in a painting it always pricks my curiosity of what lies beyond the frame. And thus in my head the house and the room are imaginatively expanded, but always the room in the picture stays the same, as if the room itself could engulf all of the expansions. We always have that grand house within us; the house which only lends glance of one room but leaves the others shrouded in mystery.)




The adults left their children and went to the party so the kids could only entertain themselves by playing in the drawing room. The loftiness of the room was oppressive. One could not stay in it without feeling its looming presence descending upon him like clouds of smoke. Even the china vases were looming, standing obstructively at every turn of the corner. One of the girls inclined her back against the surface of the vase and immediately a cold shiver ran down her spine; the hostility of the vase was thus keenly felt. The slant of light diminished bit by bit, no sooner would the little girls witness a trail of it slipping away out of the window, so would the glints in their eyes, albeit how burningly they sometimes shone.

And no sooner would night fall. I touched the wooden wardrobe and felt something slowly unravel from underneath. I disliked anything that was not unquestionably concrete, as if the walls would suddenly collapse on us and we would be forgotten for good, like a cluttered pile of dusts eventually swept and herded into the corners of the room. But even if we did disappear in the end the house still stood. This grand house, always assumed a solemn air, soundlessly and soullessly when seeing from without, even when within every room is packed full with people. Yes. From where the girls and I were situated we could still hear momentarily some faint ring and clang in other rooms. In an eventless day like this when the adults all ventured out for fun, the house was however never still.

Every room was resonated with sleepless spirits and throbbed with ceaseless sounds. Sometimes it always seemed as if a ball had just taken place, and the trail of the elegant music left an alluring afterglow in every room. All rooms seemed alive saved that of the drawing room the girls were commanded to stay. As noticed by one of the girls, no matter how shrilly they shouted the strident noise ceased the moment they mouthed their howl; the house itself commanded them to stay sotto voce. The youngest played noiselessly with a doll found in the room. The doll stayed in a posture of ecstasy, hands reaching heavenward beseeching for the mercy of God. The little girl could not bend down the doll’s hands so she could only cradle it gently in her arms and run her fingers through its sandy hair.

I announced to the girls- most of them staring at me with consternation- that we might be left alone again tonight; alone in this grand house. We were only left alone once but the memory failed us as it happened when we had yet gained knowledge. Waves of fear and excitement attacked me once I finished the announcement. No. I should not show my fear. To reassure the dejected girls I made with my hands a sweeping gesture around the room- we would be safe as long as the house was with us. And we in this house where nothing eventful could have happened. We could feel the enormity of the house gradually reduced to minutiae and infused with our souls. Once the house was within us we became the architects of the house; we built it, the house.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Honore Daumier

“If you shut up truth and bury it under ground, it will but grow, and gather to itself such explosive power that the day it bursts through it will blow up everything in its way.”- Émile Zola
Exited Honoré Victorin Daumier, 10 February 1879, in an impoverishment that many of his contemporaries, especially his foes, would have thought was his long overdue retribution- the painter was blind, heavily in debt, and later relegated to a pauper’s grave. His friends, upon visiting his resting place, would, I imagine, see it a chance to admonish their children: “Now that’s a lesson for you cheeky devils whose tongues rattle off things that should better stay unspoken.” But Daumier devoted his life in revealing those “unspoken things.” His lithography ink proved sharper than most writers’ pens. He vented his rage and stigmatised others’ infamy in his satirical and, oftentimes, side-splitting cartoons. The tone was relentlessly acerbic but only because Daumier was exposing truths that, in the time…

Review: Gaslight (1944)

Despite its varied forms or narratives, all Gothic fictions revolve on a fundamental contrast: that between the tenuous comfort of an isolated self and the dangerous fascination of an intrusive otherness. The Victorian is an age characterised by its obsession with the supernatural – poised on the verge of modernity, with scientific advancements like Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species inspired missions to unlock the myths of the natural world, people began to take notice of what lay outside their limited knowledge of things, of anything that is external to the closed domain of humanity. This curiosity for the unknown provoked an appraisal for the known – the immutable social system was revealed as hostile to the cultivation of individual minds, and time-honoured ethics such as that dictating a woman’s role in a traditional domesticity a menace to the preservation of personal integrity.
The negotiation between the old and the new, the internal and the external, is the dominant theme of V…

Review: A Taste of Honey (1961)

Life is a mixture of comedy and tragedy- tragicomic if both aspects are given equal measure of awareness; melodramatic when the two extremes are ratcheted up to a boiling point. For most people, it is only natural that they take the good with the bad. An ingrained fatalism dictates their attitudes towards the vagaries of human fate; therefore in joy they wait agonisingly for the day their good fortune is suddenly wrested from them, and in sadness for the glimpse of light that signals a gradual upturn of the dire condition. “Nothing lasts forever”- this well-worn adage becomes almost the guideline of their survival, and a perpetual reminder that life is ever mobile and unpredictable.

Every current of life, regardless of the varying destination it tends to, returns and oscillates invariably between two points: suffering and the struggle to survive. They are as much the fundamentals of human condition as the impetus for the cultivating of human resourcefulness: it is the battle of will be…