Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Only Connect

I started this astounding, depressing, horrible, autobiography because I thought the writer was someone else and I spent 100 some pages marvelling that such a magical writer as Tove Jannsson could have had such a dreadful, brutal childhood as Tove Ditlevsen. I wove an utterly convincing story about how the various characters in Ditlevsen's life were transmogrified through her genius into the winsome characters in the Moomintroll books. But eventually I started to get nervous as the writer kept writing "sensual" poetry about still born babies instead of cute little stories about moomintrolls and googled them. To my surprise I discovered they were actually different people--for example, one was Danish and one was Finnish. Plus, they died 25 years apart. It made a different kind of sense when I thought that out of this horrendous childhood, like a Lotus from the mud, grew Tove Jannson's work. But you can see from this passage that its an astonishing work in its own right.

"Childhood is long and narrow like a coffin, and you can't get out of it on your own. It's there all the time and everyone can see it just as clearly as you can see Pretty Ludvig's harelip. Its the same with him as with Pretty Lili, who's so ugly you can't imagine she ever had a mother. Everything that is ugly or unfortunate is called beautiful, and no one knows why. You can't get out of childhood, and it clings to you like a bad smell. You notice it in other children--each childhood has its own smell. You don't recognize your own and sometimes you're afraid that it's worse than others'. You're standing talking to another girl whose childhood smells of coal and ashes and suddenly she takes a step back because she has noticed the terrible stink of your own childhood. On the sly, you observe the adults whose childhoods lie inside them, torn and full of holes like a used and moth eaten rug no one thinks about anymore or has any use for."--Early Spring by Tove Ditlevsen