January 2, 2013

"Through this twilight universe Daisy began to move again with the season..."

"... suddenly she was again keeping half a dozen dates a day with half a dozen men, and drowsing asleep at dawn with the beads and chiffon of an evening dress tangled among dying orchids on the floor beside her bed."

We're sticking to sentences, here in our "Gatsby" project. I won't pretend not to know that Daisy is the main female character in the book, but for the purposes of this project, I'm disregarding what we know about her and where she might be in the plot line when this sentence appears. I'd like to follow a rule that excludes all extrinsic evidence, but the phrase "this twilight universe" shows why that rule may be too severe. Nevertheless, I'm going to stick with the no-extrinsic-evidence rule, and accept "this twilight universe" as a mystery. Daisy has been up to something in what is now being referred to as "this twilight universe," and there's something poignant about encountering someone — a flower-named woman — in a mysterious place where she has moved before and is beginning to move again.
That Daisy's renewed movement comes with the season makes us think of the plants that come and go seasonally. One third of the way through the sentence, we are thinking about the annual cycle of the seasons as well as the daily cycle of light and dark that contains twilight. A flower that is a woman moves within the inexorable movements of the universe.

This lone female is suddenly joined by numerous men. Though the unnamed men never get definition as individuals, they presumably get one-on-one dates with her, since the numbers match up: half a dozen dates a day with half a dozen men. This is the kind of "dating" one associates with a prostitute. The "twilight universe" feels more sinister, and the next thing we see is Daisy in bed: drowsing asleep at dawn. The daily sun cycle has turned from twilight to dawn, the 6 dates have somehow been cranked through and (suddenly) there is our wilted flower on her bed, but there is a string of words — like a string of men — that we must experience before we get to to "bed" (the last word of the sentence (she and we must get to bed)).

The words are the things on the floor beside her bed: "the beads and chiffon of an evening dress tangled among dying orchids." Orchids! There is Daisy — the flower we associate with freshness and simplicity — and there, next to her, on the way to the bed, are the complicated flowers whose name, literally, means testicles. So the 6 men were unnamed, but there is a name that bespeaks male sexuality. And there are those testicles, dying (as Daisy is drowsing), dying and all tangled up the pretty tatters — beads and chiffon — of what once was a dress.

Note carefully that it is not a dress that is tangled up with the orchids, it is the beads and chiffon, suggesting that the delicate dress has lost all integrity. And yet our Daisy has disentangled herself from the spewings of sex that lie on the floor. And she's not passed out, dead drunk. She's drowsing, in her presumably pretty nakedness.

It's dawn, and she will emerge again, with the cycle of the new day, fresh and daisy-like again. Remember, she was only beginning to move through this twilight universe, and with the new day, the movement will continue, with 6 more men and another dress to move through. She's not caught in this twilight universe. She moves through it. She gets through the men and through the dresses, and sleeps lightly as the detritus dies on the floor.

52 comments:

wyo sis said...

"Keeping half a dozen dates a day" sounds more like appointments than dates. Something clinical about it.

Icepick said...

Something clinical about it.

Or professional, if you know what I mean.

rhhardin said...

The orchid is traditionally female genitals, etymology aside.

Caedmon said...

I think dates does mean appointments in this instance as in lunch, tea, dinner etc.

I read twilight universe to suggest living by night, rather than day, so Daisy goes to bed at dawn, when the workaday world is getting up. A universe dedicated to pleasure, which is out of reach of most people, rather than a universe which has to be hidden because it's disreputable.

sydney said...

Funny, I am used to the word orchiectomy, but never associated orchids with it. They don't look like testicles, why are they named after them?

sydney said...

Oh, it's the shape of the roots that gives the flowers their name. Do you think Fitzgerald knew the etymology of orchid? When I read that sentence, I think of orchids as funeral flowers, associated with death. Daisy, on the other hand, is a fresh, happy, sunny flower.

Mitchell the Bat said...

You can stay within the four corners of the sentence if you take "twilight universe" to mean she's on a bender.

Palladian said...

"Twilight universe" reminds me of a 1950s pulp magazine I own that features an article exposing the "strange twilight world of the homo-sexual"

Surfed said...

Yeah they're a bunch of well constructed pretty sentences. Wonder what the going rate for a high class call girl was in the mid '20's?

Patrick said...

This project ought to have its own tag. Isn't it at least conceivable that you'll want to blog about something Fitzgerald related, but not Gatsby related?

Ann Althouse said...

"Funny, I am used to the word orchiectomy, but never associated orchids with it. They don't look like testicles, why are they named after them?"

I looked it up earlier: It's the roots of the plant that got the name, not the way the flowers look. I'm sure Daisy was given flowers that were already detached from their roots... i.e., castrated.

Ann Althouse said...

"I think dates does mean appointments in this instance as in lunch, tea, dinner etc."

I agree that Daisy wasn't actually having sex with the men. She went back to her bed alone, and the men were only with her in the symbolic form of the flowers.

Craig said...

Thought an orchid was a street fighter's weapon, and the weapon of choice for Sam Delany's Kid in Dhalgren.

betamax3000 said...

RE: "with the beads and chiffon of an evening dress tangled among dying orchids on the floor beside her bed."

I find "among" a blurry word in this usage.

Depending on her previous-to-slumber activities I would think the dress might've been dropped 'atop' the flowers, or was 'beneath' the flowers that were therefore dropped later; both create inferences that are different (passion of the moment vs post-coital passive-aggressive disdain or disappointment, perhaps).

'Among'seems to imply it just happened, dreamworld twilight and all.

I keep coming back (like a boat against the tide -- oops - cheating) to how did this set-dressing actually come into being, or is it just that -- set-dressing for its own sake: a pretty picture that would never have ended up that way without the outside touch of the art director/author?

Need coffee.

Ann Althouse said...

"Twilight universe" reminds me of a 1950s pulp magazine I own that features an article exposing the "strange twilight world of the homo-sexual""

Hey, Palladian, are you okay? I belatedly saw your comment in that other post.

Ann Althouse said...

"This project ought to have its own tag. Isn't it at least conceivable that you'll want to blog about something Fitzgerald related, but not Gatsby related?"

I already had an F. Scott Fitzgerald tag, so this came within my anti-tag-proliferation policy. I might reconsider.

wyo sis said...

What comment on that other post? I've been wondering about Palladian since there were a few mentions yesterday.
Palladian I hope you're OK.

"Dying orchids" sounds decadent and self indulgent. Sort of establishes Daisy as not so fresh and not at all admirable.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

That sentence and actually much of the life of the Fitzgerald's reminds me of this song

betamax3000 said...

Mickey Spillane's "The Great Gatsby": now THAT would be a book.

In these twilight streets of weak-wristed men bearing orchids Daisy knew better. On the floor, beneath the useless flowers and the skimpy moll's dress, was her gun. Styles come and go with the seasons, hemlines rise and hemlines fall, but a gun that fits in a clutch-bag is always the sign of a dame bred for the city. She had never shot anyone before, but there had been times when it was close, so very close, like that night at the boathouse...

St. George said...

Fitzgerald is dreadful.

"Suddenly" she does this? She didn't work up to that number?

"Drowsing asleep" is overkill. Either drowsing or asleep would do. In any event, drowsing is imprecise. It implies a light nap which is not what she would be doing at dawn.

"Tangled" is a certain knotted-ness. Orchids are not interwoven in the chiffon. Orchids are strewn amid the gown's folds.

And the orchids are "dying." How precious. How literary.

As for "twilight universe," Fitzgerald was an alcoholic scribbling in a half-blind stupor. He's describing his own state of consciousness not the character's.

"The indispensable characteristic of a good writer is a style marked by lucidity." - Hemingway

Dust Bunny Queen said...

I agree that Daisy wasn't actually having sex with the men. She went back to her bed alone, and the men were only with her in the symbolic form of the flowers.

Symbolic schtupping. Sure.

betamax3000 said...

"You think you're the only writer that can give me that Barton Fink feeling?"

edutcher said...

Scott wants us to know she's killing her soul.

deborah said...

I ended up following the orange and lemon link and reading the book from the third chapter to the end.

I think creeley is wrong on the prose. It flowed beautifully, and I didn't find myself pausing over his word choices or lyricisms.

However, the next day I begin to puzzle over the internal logic of the thing and the conclusions of the narrator.

betamax3000 said...

"Now Gatsby -- despite all the finely tailored suits and pearl button rigamarole -- Gatsby was a sad sack, a swindler without having the swindler's true guts. Sure, Tom was the kind of guy who could break a dame's nose, but Gatsby was worse: a dame could be asking for it and he would run away to his mansion, eating tea cookies and jam in a silk robe...

betamax3000 said...

Poor Myrtle: she was always the kind of gal who found herself in the wrong place at the wrong time. She thought she was meant for more than living in a garage on the outskirts of town, something better, but then sometimes the cards don't come up flush and you're only a rich guy's golf bag, taken out when he wants to play the course...

The car struck Myrtle like a heavyweight fighter with brass in his gloves, and she dropped to the ground like a burlap bag of ham.

When Daisy stepped out of the car she could tell that Myrtle wasn't long for this sick, sad world: she gurgled and gasped and blood trickled from her mouth as she tried to speak.

Gatsby, the coward, walked in useless circles, gibbering about this misfortune that had befallen him. He paced and sobbed while Myrtle flopped listlessly like a fish on Good Friday.

There are things a man should do because the situation calls for it, and things a man should do to jeep his own dignity, and then there are times the weak-willed man can do neither and a dame has to step up to the plate.

Daisy pulled the gun from her handbag and looked down at poor Myrtle, the blood spilling around her like useless angel wings. Sometimes a gun is a weapon, sometimes just a tool, but Daisy knew this time that it was sweet forgiving mercy...

deborah said...

Not bad, betamax, not bad.

Mid-Life Lawyer said...

"twilight universe", "season", "day", "dawn", "evening gown" . . . all references to time. Cyclical, day into night into day. Faceless men entering and leaving, entering and leaving. Time is passing and the flowers, the Daisy and the orchids are wilting, dying.

betamax3000 said...

As Gatsby floated in his swimming pool he couldn't help but feel as if his days were numbered. The guilt was a shapeless, formless thing, closing in from all around, and he wasn't sure if it sprung from things he had done or things he didn't do but should have: both pointed to the emptiness of his being, the host of a party that everyone will leave, a man that would be remembered for free drinks and very little else.

Of course, this vague feeling of despair and hopelessness became considerably more defined when Wilson showed up at the edge of the pool with a shotgun and a purpose. Indeed, a shotgun and a purpose: in the end, that is all a man can have and still call himself a man...

Paddy O said...

As I scanned the sentence quickly I read 'enervating' for 'evening.' It made sense in the context but it was a curious adjective to use, then I realized it wasn't the adjective used at all.

Still, 'enervating dress' seems to really sum up the whole context much better.

Ralph L said...

The "season" is the social season. In the teens, young women of her class didn't boink before marriage. Kissing a man not your fiance would have been considered "fast."

I'd forgotten their wartime romance was that advanced on her side. Fickle, thy name is woman.

Hagar said...

I half remember reading a short story - possibly by Budd Schulberg - about a guy set to babysit an alcoholic formerly great writer hired for a movie script.
The formerly great writer still came up with the occasional great paragraph, but passed away without ever completing a coherent script, and the project died with him.

mccullough said...

The six dates all had blue balls from their unreleased arousal. Dying orchids tangled among the beads and chiffon folds on the floor next to the bed is a very poetic way of saying the boys all had blue balls.

traditionalguy said...

The debutante Daisy was from Kentucky society.

Kentuckians could never stop dreaming of secession to the Confederacy and said the bold fighting words, but they would never do it because the cost to them was way too high. They are realists that hide in their fancy dreams and mint juleps at the socially important races.

mccullough said...

Tradguy, Daisy was from Louisville, which as someone else pointed out in another thread is neither Southern nor Midwestern.

Synova said...

Twilight universe makes me assume she is grieving or had suffered some loss, though she might possibly be depressed.

Daisy and orchids create a tension between pure and tawdry, but I hardly think the element of male sexuality comes into it for anyone who isn't an etymologist.

It also helps to keep the semi-colon in there, otherwise the word "suddenly" makes my fingers itch for the delete key and compulsion to fix a run on sentence and the problem with "began to move again" which suggests slowly overcoming entropy and the word "suddenly" which implies the opposite. With the more emphatic break in the sentence "suddenly" can be attributed to an "unreliable narrator" and be understood as how this looked to those not privy to the possible painful first movements after being still.

mccullough said...

Synova,

The etymology deepens the passage but you still get a good image conveying frustrated male desire with the flowers the suitors give her being cast onto the floor along with her gown next to her bed. No vase with water for the boys' flowers, which would be a nice sexual image for joint desire/love/copulation. Those flowers are dying on the floor because they are dry, like the boys are.

She's a cock tease. That comes across in this sentence.

Crunchy Frog said...

But if our novels are to have meaning, don't we need to knit those sentences together?

Chip S. said...

"twilight universe" => this is really a book about vampires

creeley23 said...

I think creeley is wrong on the prose. It flowed beautifully, and I didn't find myself pausing over his word choices or lyricisms.

deborah: Well, it flowed beautifully for you, but not for me. Perhaps you don't construct a word image in your head and reality check it as I do.

The numerous complaints Fitzgerald receives for overwriting and the like are not without merit. I find him an uneven writer in all respects. I notice that Ann does not claim this line was chosen at random.

Today's sentence does work beautifully. It is of a piece. I love the D and DR consonance, and -Y assonance, and the whole dreamy, drowsy, flowery, chiffony female feel to the line.

I don't think of prostitutes at all, but of the desirable debutante leisurely circulating among the young, upper-class men, seeking the right match.

Fitzgerald creates wonderful portraits of lovely young women. It's one of his specialities.

deborah said...

Apologies, I should have said I read it differently from Creeley. I noticed most of all how clear and light his writing is. It reminds me of how Vanity Fair and Moby Dick sound current and fresh even today, as opposed to The Scarlet Letter or Middlemarch, which have more stilted styles.

Kirk Parker said...

OK, seeing this next to the Afghanistan post, and remembering something from the audio books thread yesterday...

How about when you're done with this, do the same project with Churchill's The River Wars. Winston was a pretty good writer, too! :-)

Synova said...

mccullough, I figured that the orchids were never meant to be in a vase, but were the sorts that a girl would wear on her wrist while she was out.

Ann Althouse said...

"The numerous complaints Fitzgerald receives for overwriting and the like are not without merit. I find him an uneven writer in all respects. I notice that Ann does not claim this line was chosen at random."

I absolutely do make that claim!

creeley23 said...

OK.

But it sure did look like a salted line because all novels, by necessity, are largely composed of mechanical lines that just move the story along a jot between whatever flourishes the writer can manage.

Here's a random line I picked right now by flipping open Gatsby:

"He's a bootlegger," said the young ladies, moving somewhere between his cocktails and his flowers.

Fitzgerald manages a higher punch-to-pedestrian ratio in his sentences than most writers -- and that is his glory -- but he is not exempt from that iron law.

Chip S. said...

I absolutely do make that claim!

I was wondering what your randomization algorithm is.

deborah said...

Excuse me, not Middlemarch.

Kirk Parker said...

St. George,

See? Hemingway went to that workshop!

betamax3000 said...

The novel reads better if you replace "Daisy" with "haughty Jezebel".

Also: replace "orchids" with "questionable salmon fillets with crab meat."

betamax3000 said...

Daisy knew it was time to get away, to get far, far away.

Wilson would end up doing what good cuckolds do: shoot the man, shoot yourself -- it was handbook, like tipping a prostitute for a glancing kiss.

Nick would attend Gatsby's funeral, even if no one else did. A sap tries to simulate honor, even when they do not understand the true meaning of the word: there are always hands to shake and condolences to be uttered, and someone in this world is always sad and in need of a meaningless gesture.

Daisy: well, Daisy knew the best place for her was anywhere but here: the police could ask questions that a batting of a demure eye and a 'who? me?' brushing of the thigh did not deter.

She had a friend down south, Atticus; perhaps it was time for a visit. He was a good man, the kind of man who would harm neither mockingbird nor fly, the kind of man whose good heart would only bring sodden trouble, the kind of trouble only a dame with a gun could prevent.

Yes, Daisy would visit Atticus and give him support -- warm, warm support: the kind of support that moist red lips can impart to a listening ear and harden a heart on the darkest of nights...

Penny said...

"... suddenly she was again keeping half a dozen dates a day with half a dozen men, and drowsing asleep at dawn with the beads and chiffon of an evening dress tangled among dying orchids on the floor beside her bed."

Does anyone really believe Daisy, or anyone else, could have six dates in one day?

Not likely.

More likely that the very beautiful INTROVERT, Daisy, attended one event, whereupon she met four, six, eight men who sapped her of every ounce of strength she had for ever having left her house to dare to mingle with them in the first place.

Not a single one quite like her.

But ... "Twilight"!

Fitzgerald might have killed her off right there and then had he not been the author who could assure that she went home to bed alone, and pretty miserable at that.

What a guy.

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