Rosie Scott is prolific and versatile..She has
published a volume of poetry (Flesh and Blood, 1984), one of short
stories (Queen of Love,1989) and five novels - the wonderful Glory Days
(1988) and Nights with Grace (1990), the political novel Feral City
(1992), Lives on Fire (1993), and Movie Dreams
(1995), which expand her perspective. These
novels vary greatly in subject matter and tone. A woman with many
strings to her bow ,she has now published a collection of essays, The
Red Heart. Most of them are commissioned pieces written to be delivered
as speeches at literary events, or for inclusion in anthologies. They
have the refreshing directness and the palpable humanity found in works
intended to be read aloud, containing nothing at all of the pedantic
-although Scott’s wide reading is apparent.
Most of these essays concern three subjects - politics, religion and sex-that have been
taboo in polite society for at least a hundred and fifty years. But
Scott was born in 1948, and became adult
after the rebellions of the late fifties and sixties. So her treatment
of these taboo subjects lacks the defiant tone, the anger
characteristic of those who break taboos.She writes easily , if with
passion, about subjects close to her heart and mind. One pleasure of
this book is Rosie Scott’s genial disposition.
Critics almost never recognise a political
novel by a woman. They think only men write them despite the examples
of Doris Lessing, Luisa Valenzuela, and others. Scott’s
politics are grounded not in a party line, but in a humanist
perspective. Her main concern is probably
ecology -the drive to end the pollution of the globe.
But also important to her are the function of
education and literature in the formation of human character , the
necessity of opposing bad laws and bribed leaders, and making oneself
heard in an age of anonymity.
Her attitudes are like those of a larger group of
people , a loose movement whose members oppose the new global economics
-precisely or vaguely. Although adherents of the new global economics
use language to conceal their true purposes, they aim to create fascist
corporate totalitarianism. This morality with its limited values -money
and power- does not hesitate to snuff out dissent or destroy the poor,
worldwide. Scott’s voice is a strong counterforce.
Scott is concerned both with the spiritual and
moral aspects of life, without linking them to formal religion. Her
spirituality is grounded in the senses: in human reception of glorious,
powerful, dangerous, overwhelming nature, emphatically antipodean in
its lush beauty. Reading her descriptions of the interweaving of
mental/emotional processes with the sensations brought by this
terrifying beauty, one feels she is rendering experience in a complete
way found in few authors. Whether or not there is a god (I do not know
Scott’s religious beliefs), for Scott, the world is holy, human
feelings are holy, love is sacred.
morality is connected to thought, and involves primarily empathy. Scott
is an amazingly empathetic writer; her ability to live inside others
and dramatize their feelings is extraordinary. I think of the scene in
an upscale city shop, where Glory (of Glory Days) , who is poor and
heavy, feels uncomfortable , out of place, as if everyone is looking at
her. Her feelings are utterly believable, yet few people would imagine
them. Morality is also connected with
truth, but then Scott’s universe is all connected: the single standard
is to create a morality that allows human beings to find felicity in
daily life and justice and decency in the public sphere. Her thinking
about morality is is most striking in an essay
on her father-in-law, a man she never knew. Called The Red Heart
(giving its name to the collection) it is a detailed character sketch
of a hero -by Scott’s standards - and mine.
But above all, Scott is great about sex. I
almost never find descriptions of sex attractive: sexual scenes in
literature tend to be embarrassing - clinical, or filled with masculine
self-inflation, or feminine narcissism. For Scott, though, sex is intrinsically rooted
in nature and felt like nature, is one of its tendrils winding through
our lives. I suspect people find the sex scenes in her novels arousing,
which is all to the good. But they are
also beautiful and believable. Her essays on sex protest the puritanism
of Anglo-Saxon cultures, but quietly, as a question of reason and logic.
There are other
topics covered in this wide-ranging collection. My favourite is a set
of notes she wrote describing giving birth to her two daughters,”Birth
Diaries” . It is such a simple idea, yet it has bever been done
before. The centuries in which childbirth was regarded as mere
animal performance, as inessential to the great work of the world, as
an illegitimate subject for literature placed a taboo over the subject.
But Rosie Scott’s fresh clear vision offers it to us as the
miracle and life-saver-for love does save lives- it is.