Sunday, November 25

I knew an Effi when I was a child, and though she was as different from Effi Briest as anyone could possibly be, she too suffered from lonliness and boredom. She was a solid, ruddy Austrian divorcee with a deep voice and a deeper tan. If her son Hans Eric wasn’t home by dinnertime, she’d set the neighborhood dogs barking by standing on her driveway and bellowing, "Haaaannnnn Zzzzaaaaahhhhhhrrrrrrrick!" with that special Bavarian r-roll. For a long time I thought his name was spelled Han Zehrick, or something. Her perpetual summer wardrobe consisted of a faded lavender tube top or faded blue bikini top, white terrycloth short-shorts three sizes too small, and some rather menacing-looking gardening gloves. I remember this disco hit man uniform well.

Effi’s house lay at the corner of a major neighborhood intersection, and the yard contained a mound with a rock garden of sorts, strategically placed to be visible to as many motorists as possible. Effi spent Saturdays and Sundays weeding and planting in this garden, her butt rising ostentatiously into the air whenever she sensed the presence of a male, like a cat in heat. I’m pretty sure it operated of its own accord, like it was equipped with testosterone-sensing radar. You could be in the middle of a conversation with her, and she’d suddenly bend down, forcing you to crouch to continue your tete a tete. Thirty seconds later, the guy across the street would come out of his house to get his mail. It was amazing. The ass never went up if it was a woman or a kid heading for the mailbox. It was the same with cars; the butt could sense a male driving a vehicle from several blocks away. The intersection she lived on was so busy, however, that on Saturdays, Sundays, and holiday Mondays she basically had to spend the whole day bent over. I don’t know if this ploy ever lured any men or not.

I remember one winter day Hans Eric and I decided to sled down the little hill in the front yard. I toppled off the sled and onto a snow-covered clutch of cactus, and the needles went through my mittens and stuck in my palms and in between my fingers. Effi had little sympathy and mostly scolded me for potentially damaging her cactus garden.

Tuesday, November 13

The other night I read La Bete Humaine right before I went to bed. I stopped at the point when Jacques was lying in bed debating killing Roubaud and could not sleep a wink. Interestingly enough, I didn’t sleep well that night. I had several dreams where I thought I was awake and that there was someone in my room. I tried to turn on my bedside light, but the light bulb was burned out and wouldn’t turn on. I had a similar one where I woke up and I knew I needed to go to work, but the lamp was burned out again and my clock was broken. I couldn’t tell if it was time to get up or not, and for whatever reason, I was unable to get out of bed without the lamp being on. I have dreams like this all the time, but I thought of it just as I was reading scene on pages 319-20 where Jacques goes to strangle Severine but then she puts out the lamp and he is okay (for the time being, at least). Zola has made an interesting inversion of the typical cliché of the monster who comes out in the dark.

It’s interesting how Zola is able to make you dread the inevitable when Jacques kills Severine—and yet he must drag it out so that you both dread it but at the same time you just want him to get it the hell over with! And why does Severine have to get so clingy and annoying and murderous right before he kills her? I am very upset that Jacques kills her even though I knew all along he was going to do it. She loves him so much! She’s so childlike! Yet at the same time, she’s going kind of crazy. The scene is set up so that there is nothing Jacques can do but kill her—even if he hadn’t had the dark urge to kill a woman since childhood, I think he may have been driven over the edge anyway. And yet I wonder if that scene is set up on purpose to test the reader: which thing do you see? That Severine is a sweet devoted (though somewhat misguided) lover, she loves Jacques madly, and her desire to kill Roubaud is completely natural and justified; or that she has become a beast herself, desperate and cloying, and she drives Jacques over the edge? (All of the above, of course).

What drives me crazy is that if Severine wants Roubaud dead so badly, why doesn’t she just kill him herself? It’s interesting how many times you are told how docile and submissive she is, but she really stops being so much so after she has her sexual awakening with Jacques. So why does the narrator keep saying that she is? Clearly she is pushing her own agenda when she’s trying to “help” Jacques to kill Roubaud by using her “affectionate docile innocence,” (328), but she is so obsessed with this idea of she and Jacques being one that she believes they are completely of the same mind.

Severine and Jacques are a good example of the notion that love makes you crazy; and that passion and madness are so closely related that sometimes they are the same thing, and that passion often causes destruction. In the end, passion destroys everyone because it is the beast! Misard kills Phasie because his only passion is for her money, and her only passion is keeping it from him; Flore kills a bunch of people and herself because of her passion for Jacques; Cabuche gets dragged into everything due to his misguided idolizing of Severine and because the cops are so passionate to prove their own convoluted theories (and clearly aren’t familiar with the principle of Occam’s Razor), Pecqueux kills himself and Jacques and, everyone on earth (it seems like everyone metaphorically, anyway) in a jealous rage. I am that at least Roubaud gets what he deserves. And as for Jacques, I would be more upset if killing Severine had completely sated his lust for murder. It seems wrong, but it’s better that it’s entirely his problem and has nothing to do with her. Her life has been so sad, and the moment she finds love, it is her undoing. This novel forces you to think things that are unspeakable. Earlier, when Jacques cast about in the streets looking for a victim to murder, I thought, “No, don’t murder the poor sad woman,” and was relieved when he instead chose the happy woman to murder. Good God!

Can I just say that as I have been writing this paper, I have been listening to a CD I made myself at least 5 years ago and just found today. I couldn’t remember the songs on it, so I popped it into my CD player, and here are some of the eerily appropriate song titles that have been playing as I’ve been writing: “Where Is My Mind?” “Killer Queen,” “The Metro” (about a train), “Psycho Killer,” “Everything She Wants,” “She’s Come Undone,” and “Love is the Drug.” Kinda freaky.