When William James describes consciousness as something that “does not appear to itself chopped up in bits” and uses the metaphor “stream of thought” I assume he refers to multiple parts joined together. Each part is aroused by a situation or event. A simple event arouses a simple feeling. A more complicated event, an 18th century masked ball for instance, arouses abundant feelings. Moments considered in an earlier time can evoke feelings and thoughts in the present.
As we age and move closer to death, events that were stimulating and exciting in youth, grow wearisome. We invest less emotion into them. This is the mood of Brigid Brophy’s The Snow Ball. Deeply influenced by psychology, Brophy’s novel deals with psychological time, which is subjective and measured not only by the emotional intensity of an event or moment, but also by our half-buried associations and interpretations. The multiple parts come together in ways that sometimes surprise us in their emotional response.
Each of Brophy’s novels that I’ve read so far have tiny temporal frames, yet invest all the life of their characters into the duration of that frame. It is no more possible to imagine the lives of Brophy’s characters beyond the frames of her stories than to imagine Vermeer’s figures stepping out of his paintings. Each character can exist only within themselves and to the other characters and time frame and setting of the story, recalling Kenneth Clark on Vermeer’s “flawless sense of the interval”.
Events in The Snow Ball are mediated partly through dialogue, and Brophy’s dialogue is especially crackling, an intricate role-playing game with perfect balance between what is said openly and what must be implied or hinted. But events are also mediated through the character’s thoughts and feelings, which expand and snowball (!) growing more intense as they roll upon themselves.
Without discounting Brigid Brophy’s originality and brilliance, she would be a very different writer without the influence of Freud and Mozart, both strongly present in The Snow Ball and to a lesser or greater extent the other of her novels that I’ve read. Brophy’s originality is to respond in fiction to the influence of both imaginations and make something uniquely her own.
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