The Venice of the West
 About the Author/Artist
 Alternative History Timeline  
 Double Fiction Issue

Part I: Alta California
 I Meet Mark Twain
 I Meet John Sargent
 A Humorist, Not a Politician
 The Venice of the West
 The Fair Marina
 A Candide Character
 A Swan Among Geese

 So Much?
 Gibralter the Egg Mule
 An American Vandal Abroad
Daisy and Oscar
 A Chance Encounter
 Goya’s Studio
 Holy Relics

Part II: Sakrametska in Rossland
 Boundary Values
 The Unholy Family
 Boom Town
 New Dog, Old Tricks
 Commission of a Lifetime
 Minor Moon of a Minor Planet

  NOVEL EXCERPTS by Patrick Fanning


Daisy and Oscar

Henry James
Lamb House, the Willows
Rye, East Sussex

May 29, 1879

Dear Hank:

Thank you for your epistle of the 18th. You have no idea how your subtle wit and affirmations of affection buoy me up as I drift around this cold and lonely world. The more manly arts of love and comradeship seem almost unknown in the New World. The people I meet here are uniformly too coarse and insensitive to sustain for long the kind of refined discourse that I find so effortless and gratifying with you.

Last night I attended Mr. Twain’s South Sea Island Lecture, a pastiche of rustic humor, mockery, and sly wit that induced occasional paroxysms of mirth in the local Philistines.

His remarks about the similarities between missionaries and mosquitoes were coolly received. Alta Californians revere their missionary past. The Franciscan missionary Junipero Serra was not only the Saint Paul but also the Saint Peter of New Spain. As the founder of the Western Papacy and the architect of much of the Californian social experiment, he was the kind of rebel I find so fascinating, and you find so alarming—an Oscar Wilde of religion, if that is not too sacrilegious.

Has Auntie Oscar committed any interesting atrocities lately? I find his flamboyance and flaunting of convention shocking, but fascinating. Sometimes I almost applaud him for his bravery and daring. I think to myself, in the privacy and safety of my apartment, “Why should he hide away like some timid lavender aunt in Belgravia?” But other times, having observed the blatancy of the Parisian chestnut gatherers in the Champs-Élysées, I reflect on my own circumstances and ambitions, and I shudder at the prospect of carrying on with such wanton disregard for decency. I think it has something to do with being a painter rather than a writer. The need for portrait commissions precludes blatancy and requires circumspection.

Here in Alta California they talk much about equality and tolerance, but I suspect their tolerance does not extend very far in the direction of sexual inversion. I am not very impressed by the many political freedoms they have won, because they have paid a high price, artistically. In rejecting control by Mexico and Spain and the Church, they have also rejected their artistic and cultural heritage. To my knowledge, the last decent painter they had was Francisco Goya, and he was actually a displaced Spaniard. He did not immigrate to California until 1776 or 77, I think. The Californian painters whose work I have seen are little more than folk artists, decorating bull carts for farmers and painting murals in cantinas. The churches and public buildings such as last night’s lecture hall are plain and uninspired. Basket weaving is more respected as an art than oil painting.

During our voyage from the islands, I re-read your novel and enjoyed it even more the second time. I especially admire the way you allow your reader to eavesdrop on Daisy’s thoughts, as if one were inside her head. One comes to know her deeply and intimately, without exactly loving her, for she reveals more to the reader about her own foibles and failings than she knows herself. You are such a clever imp.

I strive to accomplish the same trick in portraiture, presenting my subject in a pose and setting and light so characteristic that he recognizes, approves of, and delights in the likeness. At the same time, the perceptive viewer can see beyond the surface, to the vanity, insecurity, and social pretensions that prompted the sitter to commission his portrait; or to the nobility and dignity of a genuinely great man; or to the affection or lack thereof that I myself feel for the subject. Heady stuff to be contained in a thin layer of pigment on canvas...


  © Patrick Fanning, 2012


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