Devotion: Question #6: Character

Devotion by ‎Patti Smith

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Devotion: Question #6: Character

Unread postby fireflydances » Tue Oct 23, 2018 7:44 pm

Eugenie and Aleksandr. Writers use descriptions, dialogue, and behavior to flesh out characters for their readers. Drawing on the text, give us your own take on one or both of these characters from Patti's short story. Try to describe them so that those who haven’t read the story can get a clear sense of them.

Some questions you might want to consider: What type of person or people are they? What motivates or even drives them? Are there good or dark forces at play in their psyche? Anything in their prior lives stick out as important? You can describe them physically, use things they said (dialogue), things they thought about.

We will talk about the story’s ending separately so tread lightly around that. This question is all about the people Patti’s words created.
"Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed and some few to be chewed and digested." Sir Francis Bacon, Of Studies

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Devotion: Question #6: Character

Unread postby nebraska » Wed Oct 24, 2018 11:19 am

Eugenia was like a wispy winter sprite, with frosted porcelain skin and black pixie hair. The black lashes of her downcast eyes lay on her cheeks like lacy frills; but as she slowly lifted her gaze one could see beyond, past the deep horizon of art, to a world of fluorescent color and flowing form hidden within her.

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Devotion: Question #6: Character

Unread postby fireflydances » Wed Oct 24, 2018 9:43 pm

Eugenie. I found her odd, and basically obsessed. What do I mean?

We meet her just before she turns 16. The immediate impression is of a young girl who is narrowly focused on skating to the exclusion of anything else: “She had risen early, said prayers in the student chapel, and having already completed her national exams, retrieved her satchel from her locker and left without hesitation or remorse. Though a star pupil, precocious in her studies, she was completely indifferent……Her sole desire was to astonish, all else faded as she stepped upon the ice..” And later, from Eugenie’s thoughts: "she was ambitious but to what end? She dreamt not of laurels but of unprecedented action.” I guess her drive was to breach frontiers in the execution of moves. More science then art?

Her earliest life was torn by trauma. Her parents were taken by the Soviets to Siberia months after Eugenie and her mother’s sister Irina escaped to Switzerland. She has no clear memory of her mother, “She stitched together any passing reference, simple recollection, new facet of an old story, entreating Irina to offer up some new patch for the fragile quilt that added up to herself. She never asked for love, nor longed for affection, had no experience with boys, not even adolescent kisses. She only wished to know who she was, and to skate.”

Her feelings towards Irina could be called distant. From Eugenie’s journal after Irina leaves an almost 16 year old Eugenie on her own, “Irina has been gone for almost two months. I know she would be angry that I left school. But no one there will mind. My conflicting thoughts and actions have always made my teachers uncomfortable and I believe there is nothing they can teach me. I understand why Irina left; there has never been much affection between us. I have been a responsibility that she was obliged to accept. Yet I have some misgivings about my behavior when she said goodbye. My heart was quite hard. I said nothing. Perhaps because I was afraid, for she was my only link to my family.”

When Aleksandr offers Eugenie an opportunity to achieve her skating goals, Eugenie is cool yet determined, willing to make any deal if it advances her ends.

“…..I can give you anything you could imagine.
I don’t care about such things. I only want to skate.
The ice will soon fail you.
She lowered her eyes.
I have a friend who is an important trainer from Vienna. You could skate all you want, through spring and summer until your pond is ready for you.
What is the price of this privilege?
He stared at her openly.
I only want to skate, she repeated.”

She reacts to his offer with mixed feelings. “Stirred by a chorus of sensations, she was at once liberated and trapped.”

As the relationship becomes physical, Eugenie’s perspective retains a distance that seems integral to who she is.

“Today is my birthday, she said. I am sixteen.
He welcomed her into a suite of rooms, displaying his worldly goods, precious icons, ivory crucifixes, heavy strands of pearls, trunks brimming with embroidered silks and rare manuscripts. He offered her anything she desired.
I don’t care about your fortune.
Perhaps a token for your birthday.
I only want to skate. That is why I am here.”

Her detachment continues.

“He made her breakfast as she washed. She approached him expectantly.
I knew you were trouble when I saw you walking toward me, he said, I felt you as you brushed against my coat.
I did not see you then.
Perhaps you felt me, as I felt you.
No. I felt nothing.”

Aleksandr gives her money to purchase new sheets for the bed in her room in his suite. Instead of the new sheets he suggested, she uses half the money to buy herself a simple chemise. Then she travels to another store, a resale shop, …”she found a slightly worn set of sheets with the name he had written on a tag, Italian sheets, slightly frayed, but they were much nicer than any sheets she had known…..[then] she stopped in a restaurant and ordered her own steak, a big one, and a large mug of coffee.”

Exploring Eugenie, I found myself alternately enjoying her very centered sense of self, and her independence, even within the bounds of her relationship with Aleksandr, but also uncomfortable with the psychological distance she maintained throughout.

Like an ice queen, you know? As Nebraska captures in her post about Eugenie.

I will write about Aleksandr separately.
"Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed and some few to be chewed and digested." Sir Francis Bacon, Of Studies

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Devotion: Question #6: Character

Unread postby nebraska » Thu Oct 25, 2018 12:14 pm

Firefly, I will be interested to read what you thought about him. I did not like him very much. He seemed to me like an sleazy older man taking advantage of a young girl and her passion for skating.

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Devotion: Question #6: Character

Unread postby fireflydances » Thu Oct 25, 2018 7:56 pm

Nebraska. I will definitely lay out an equally extensive analysis of Aleksandr. I hoped to do it tonight, Thursday. I am still gathering the quotes however, and want to take a little extra time to outline what I think about him. So, Friday night. I hope that is okay.
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Devotion: Question #6: Character

Unread postby SnoopyDances » Fri Oct 26, 2018 5:02 pm

Eugenie certainly had her problems...being separated from her parents at a young age, being raised by an aunt that didn't want her, being spoiled by her aunt's much older lover, and then being ruled by her own lover and skating coach.

If we look at these things separately, I think we get a better picture of the girl.

1. Separation from one's parents is a traumatic thing, especially at a very young age. In her journal, she writes that she has no memories or recollections of them...doesn't even know their names. Only what her aunt has told her, which isn't much. This leads her to be very isolated and lonely...she has no concept of love or being cared for...she has no appreciation of family or friendship. This makes her independent and self-absorbed because she has no one, nothing else to care about.

2. Her aunt didn't want her around, sharing the attention with Irina's lover. When Irina's lover died (I assumed he was married and had another family since they weren't allowed at the funeral and were kept in an apartment away from town), she picked up another lover to take care of her. This time, however, she didn't bring Eugenie along. Irina got by on looks and female wiles...something Eugenie was to learn as she got older. Why would she "need" an education if she was expecting men to shower her with things in exchange for sex.

3. She only wanted to skate...since she saw no future for herself and knew of no past, why not just skate? Why would she need anything else? The house was provided for her, her aunt left her some money, school was boring and unchallenging...that left skating. Skating made her happy. Skating became her world. This is an example of her youth and naiveté.

4. Her lover's promises...he saw a pretty, young girl, saw talent, perhaps even saw something from his younger self. He hated his family but loved his family fortune and privilege. He knew women liked men who gave them things. He knew that a girl with nothing would jump at the chance to have something...even if it was new skates and some lessons. So he made promises and for the most part, fulfilled them. She kept her end of the bargain, too. But it was never the happy arrangement they thought it would be.

5. Suddenly, the girl with nothing had a lover and a coach fighting over her. She didn't want to "study" skating and wasn't interested in being competitive or making a living from skating...that took away the fun and solitude of it...something was expected of her and she wasn't mature enough for that yet. That's why she didn't like school and acted out...she did the same with her coach. And her lover. She didn't want to be controlled.

I think Alexander did have feelings for her and perhaps had the best of intentions when he offered her the chance to skate and be coached. However, his own personal issues surfaced...he liked to possess things, objects. Eugenie presented a challenge. He admired her independence but longed to control her. She didn't want to be controlled. He did provide for her, but she didn't want the fancy things he offered, items that Irina would have grabbed. Being jealous and possessive, he took her away from the skating coach. The coach that wanted to take her to Vienna and away from him. The opportunity to skate that he promised her.

He dragged her all over Europe while gathering his trinkets, hoping she would enjoy it, grow up a bit, and fall in love with him and out of love for skating. He lied to her about their travels and I think she felt they were never going back home...or to skate...again. He wasn't fulfilling his end of the bargain anymore but she was still expected to fulfill her end.

She saw only one way out of the situation and took it. Once back home, she was guilt-ridden, punished herself by not skating, and, miserable, saw only one way out of that situation as well.

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Devotion: Question #6: Character

Unread postby fireflydances » Sun Oct 28, 2018 6:08 pm

Finally I am back. Under the weather.

I promised my take on Aleksandr. Here it is:

So, I see Aleksandr first as a collector. A dealer in artifacts, he is a connoisseur of the exquisite. Nothing but the very best ivory, textiles, pearls, and silks, which makes him an excellent purveyor of the very best for museums and wealthy investors. I find this sentence particularly illustrative. “The valuable he delivered to museums; the exquisite he kept for himself.” And this tendency towards acquisition, in which merely recognizing and owning an object is a worthwhile endeavor, marks his treatment of Eugenie.

Clearly she is prized -- beauty and spirit. His eye is drawn to her; he follows her, and he is mesmerized, has to come back, and has to acquire her. But this insistent desire to possess that plays out in the initial scenes with Eugenie, before she was aware of his presence, was downright creepy. This sense of objectification continues as the relationship becomes physical. She becomes his spun sugar doll in a dream sequence, his little witch, his Philadelphia because, as he puts it, she is a hot bed of freedom, such an insensitive choice for a lover who feels absolutely no freedom.

And this leads to the second observation I have about Aleksandr, his strange, even odd, innocence. There is this wholesale inability to grasp Eugenie’s own distancing behavior toward him. For all his worldliness, obviously this is a man with only the most superficial understanding as to how to interact with another human being. How to surmise what is occurring, what the other is feeling.

I am sure that, from his own perspective, Aleksandr’s gestures -- paying for her skating tutor and ice time, bringing her presents, and indeed, handing over to Eugenie the pouch he wears around his neck, seem appropriately generous and even kind in his eyes. But they are so clueless.

The relationship is purely mercantile -- fair payment for goods received. He seems only dimly aware of what Eugenie means when she responds to his “You’re killing me" with the very same words, “you’re killing me," but her meaning, which is clearly dripping with venom, has nothing to do with his meaning. Yet he reads poetry to her, speaks about his family, asks about hers. Perhaps these were just generous gestures of a man attempting to treat his possession well? After all, one takes care of one’s belongings, correct?

I still can’t get over that he gave her the mechanism to his rifle and also, in another bewilderingly blind gesture, told her he would give her the rifle, too. I come back to it, over and over, wondering what he was thinking? It's also odd that he has separated the two -- mechanism of the shooting chamber and the rifle itself. As a protective gesture, which....he then decides to offer to a young woman who is all about freedom.

Two of the oddest characters I have ever come across. Yeah, odd is kind of the byword for me.

I wanted to add that I will respond to other's comments, but I thought it best to just hang up what I was thinking, by itself, before coming back and commenting on other posts. I did not like these characters. I have moments of charity towards them. Aleksandr is an acquisitive idiot who has no idea what he has brought into his life. Eugenie is more damaged for me. I see her great artistry, but her separation from humanity, even though much of this is caused by her early trauma, is really off-putting.
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Devotion: Question #6: Character

Unread postby nebraska » Tue Oct 30, 2018 5:27 pm

I did not like Aleksandr at all, starting with those creepy scenes of him lurking in the forest to watch her skate. He struck me as a predator and she was not much more than a child at that time. I don't think I ever got past that impression. Through the story, I continued to see him as a user, gathering up things he found attractive and keeping them to himself instead of sharing with the world. He gave some things to museums, but those he liked best he kept back. He treated Eugenie like a possession; he manipulated and groomed her for his own pleasure. I really didn't care what made him that way, I didn't want to have any sympathy for him. :grr:

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Devotion: Question #6: Character

Unread postby fireflydances » Tue Oct 30, 2018 5:57 pm

Yes, he was a user. Although I think he was utterly blind to the way he treated her. Clueless.

The thing is I eventually decided that both of them were to some degree obsessed -- he by his possessions and she with her skating--- and that these obsessions could be seen as the far side of devotion. I don't know if that is what Patti was going for? Sort of a showcasing of what happens when one's devotion crosses the line.

I have to say that I wonder about this story all the time. Because neither character draws out empathy in the reader. I feel a smidgen of something -- not quite sorrow -- for Aleksandr, who was so clueless that he handed Eugenie his death sentence. But then I don't really understand --- at all!!! --- why he did that. Death by possession? Eugenie seems so steely I think she will just keep going, doesn't need any one else.
"Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed and some few to be chewed and digested." Sir Francis Bacon, Of Studies

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Devotion: Question #6: Character

Unread postby nebraska » Tue Oct 30, 2018 9:00 pm

fireflydances wrote:Eugenie seems so steely I think she will just keep going, doesn't need any one else.

I thought at the end that she killed herself by knowingly skating on thin ice, drowning in the lake in the forest, due to her guilt for his death. :perplexed3:

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Devotion: Question #6: Character

Unread postby SnoopyDances » Wed Oct 31, 2018 5:03 pm

nebraska wrote:
fireflydances wrote:Eugenie seems so steely I think she will just keep going, doesn't need any one else.

I thought at the end that she killed herself by knowingly skating on thin ice, drowning in the lake in the forest, due to her guilt for his death. :perplexed3:

:highfive:


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