Hatred is presented within Rebecca West’s ‘Indissoluble Matrimony,’ through how the protagonist George uses his hatred of sex to express power over his wife Evadne, whom he believes has an overtly lustful interest within their marriage. In this essay, I will argue how West has used literary devices, such as personification, language choice and the use of insignificant memories of George and Evadne’s past to portray hatred as a parasitical, domineering entity that serves to overpower George and influence his actions.
West presents hatred as having an interrelated relationship with time, where one influences the other, by referencing specific moments of George’s and Evadne’s past. The extract portrays how George’s hatred of Evadne has developed over time. George recounts “old incidents of hatefulness-such as a smarting quarrel of six years ago.” The specificity of “six years ago” (IM, p. 109) gives the text’s implied reader a sense of how rooted and eternal George’s hatred of his wife is. This is emphasised by how George loathes Evadne for the most trivial of reasons: “whether Evadne had or not had not cheated the railway company out of one and eightpence on an excursion ticket.” (IM, p. 109) The text’s intended reader would view this as inconsequential, yet George found it so significant that he could remember it six years later, hence demonstrating George’s spiteful personality. He is perfectly aware that “the past was intangible,” (IM, p.109) and there is nothing he can do to change it, yet he still uses it as an excuse to hate Evadne, regardless of how unfounded his hatred is. George’s hatred of Evadne has been so prolonged that it has completely lost its bite and he has lost any true sense of where it began. This means that he is relegated to hating Evadne for the most unfounded and minor of reasons.
Hatred is portrayed as a catalysing force that is paradoxically destructive and essential within George’s marriage. The quotation “the strong passion which filled them threatened to disintegrate their souls,” (IM, p. 109)) presents the pair’s hatred for each other as so strong that it can corrupt their souls. However, their marriage is also presented as monotonous. There was a time when George would have seen Evadne’s “excited loveliness with suspicion,” (IM, p. 98) but now even if the “loveliness” (IM, p. 98) had been caused by some “amorous interlude he would not have greatly cared.” (IM, p.98) The quotation “it cheapened the memory of the fantasias of irritation and ill-will they had performed in the less boring moments of their marriage,” (IM, p. 110) further shows how the excitement in their marriage has decayed and all they have left is their hatred for one another, which is essential in keeping their marriage interesting. Their passion for each other is in their hatred. George’s contempt for Evadne is causing mutually-assured destruction, but he cannot live without it. This hatred escalates into paranoia, as George accuses Evadne of adultery and then follows her to find evidence. However, this lecherous contempt of his wife’s sexuality gives George an adventurous thrill, as he is determined to prove his wife’s guilt. George becomes so excited that “his heart battered his breast.” (IM, p. 105) The alliteration, as well as the double ‘T’ in “battered” (IM, p. 105) creates an abrupt, staccato rhythm, which matches George’s exhilaration at substantiating his wife’s supposed licentiousness. His efforts to prove Evadne’s adultery become so farcical that he impulsively chases her in his carpet-slippers, which he has to retrieve, after they are “engulfed in a shining pool of mud.” (IM, p. 105) This further portrays how George’s hatred is essential for him to stay interested in the marriage. If it were not for his suspicions of Evadne, he would not have followed her so spontaneously.
Hatred is a force that both overpowers and empowers George. His delusional attempts to control his hatred and use it for his own goals leads to his downfall. As the story progresses, George becomes controlled by his hatred. The use of “must” (IM, p. 105) in “he must follow her” (IM, p. 105) portrays how George’s hatred is forcing him into following Evadne. After George confronts her, he understands that “if he did not kill her instantly she would drop him easily into the deep riot of waters.” (IM, p. 111) Within the following paragraphs, the text’s implied reader sees George battling with his emotions, as he does not instantly attack Evadne and even gives her time to consider her actions. Yet, when he does strike her, it is impulsive and the product of an irrational emotional outburst, as hate continues to influence his actions. The use of “found” (IM, p. 111) in “he found himself striking her” (IM, p. 111) implies that George spontaneously struck his wife, which suggests that his hatred has possessed him and is manipulating his actions. Whilst George is still battling with his hatred in this section, he completely submits to its authority within the quotation “once more hatred marched through his soul like a king: compelling service.” (IM, p. 112) Hatred is portrayed as a sovereign ruler that George consciously chooses to submit to. He does not protest or complain, but instead allows his hatred to envelop him, thus catalysing him into acting on his under-lying feelings of resentment. The hatred “gave him passion enough to put an end to it all.” (IM, p. 117) Through George embracing his hatred, he becomes empowered by it thus allowing him to do what he would have been unable to do otherwise.
Furthermore, West presents hatred as a parasitical entity that absorbs George’s life. Even though his hatred provides him with the strength to murder Evadne, it also drains him of his passion in hating her. This is evidenced at the story’s conclusion where George passively climbs into bed next to Evadne. This emphasises the power that hatred holds as an autonomous entity, as it gives George strength and takes it away just as easily. Moreover, hatred is also an infection that decays its surroundings. Both George and Evadne see “the universe as the substance and the symbol of their hatred,” (IM, p. 110) and they see their hatred within “the stars [that] trembled overhead with wrath.” (IM, p. 110) West’s use of personification portrays George and Evadne’s hatred as omnipotent. Its power attacks and consumes the life force of any environment. Similarly, to how a leech would leave its host after it has had suitable sustenance, George and Evadne’s hatred deserts them and permeates into the surrounding environment, before sucking out the nutrition of “the dry moors, [that are] parched with harsh anger.” (IM, p. 110) West’s use of “parched” (IM, p. 110) presents the “dry moors,” (IM, p. 110) as being nothing more than just a hollow corpse, similarly to how George has become empty and drained at the story’s ending, where his hatred for Evadne has left him without any passion in his life.
In conclusion, West explores the theme of time in how she concludes the story with George resigning himself to his fate of being married to Evadne forever. He tried using his hatred for his own purposes to kill her, but he ultimately becomes overpowered by it. After George’s hatred empowered him into murdering Evadne, it abandons him, thus leaving him as a mere shell of the man that he once was. By the end of the story, he has been so overpowered by his own contempt that any motivation to continue hating Evadne has decayed. George accepts that their marriage will remain in a monotonous rut for all eternity. This is compared to how his hatred for Evadne is everlasting, yet just like his marriage, any spark or fire within it has become extinguished.
Word Count: 1320
West, Rebecca, ‘Indissoluble Matrimony’, BLAST 1 (1914), pp. 98-117, p. 109-110
This was the first essay that I wrote for my Modernisms module. For this module, we were looking at authors who were writing during the first half of the twentieth century. These authors traumatised by the horrors of the First World War looked for new ways to express themselves. They wanted be the first to do everything. In many ways, they were the hipsters of the day. My particular essay was based on the extract below from Rebecca West’s short story ‘Indissoluble Matrimony.
The strong passion which filled them threatened to disintegrate their souls as a magnetic current decomposes the electrolyte, so they fought to organise their sensations. They tried to arrange themselves and their lives for comprehension, but beyond sudden lyric visions of old incidents of hatefulness – such as a smarting quarrel of six years ago as to whether Evadne had or had not cheated the railway company out of one and eightpence on an excursion ticket – the past was intangible. It trailed behind this intense event as the pale hair trails behind the burning comet. They were pre occupied with the moment. Quite often George had found a mean pleasure in the thought that by never giving Evadne a child he had cheated her out of one form of experience, and now he paid the price for this unnatural pride of sterility. For now the spiritual offspring of their intercourse came to birth. A sublime loathing was between them. For a little time it was a huge perilous horror, but afterwards, like men aboard a ship whose masts seek the sky through steep waves, they found a drunken pride in the adventure. This was the very absolute of hatred. It cheapened the memory of the fantasias of irritation and ill-will they had performed in the less boring moments of their marriage, and they felt dazed, as amateurs who had found themselves creating a masterpiece. For the first time they were possessed by a supreme emotion and they felt a glad desire to strip away, restraint and express it nakedly. It was ecstasy; they felt tall and full of blood.
Like people who, bewitched by Christ, see the whole earth as the breathing body of God, so they saw the universe as the substance and the symbol of their hatred. The stars trembled overhead with wrath. A wind from behind the angry crags set the moonlight on Lisbech quivering with rage, and the squat hawthorn-tree creaked slowly like the irritation of a dull little man. The dry moors, parched with harsh anger, waited thirstily and, sending out the murmur of rustling mountain grass and the cry of wakening fowl, seemed to huddle closer to the lake. But this sense of the earth’s sympathy slipped away from them and they loathed all matter as the dull wrapping of their flame-like passion. At their wishing matter fell away and they saw sarcastic visions. He saw her as a toad squatting on the clean earth, obscuring the stars and pressing down its hot moist body on the cheerful fields. She felt his long boneless body coiled round the roots of the lovely tree of life. They shivered fastidiously. With an uplifting sense of responsibility they realised that they must kill each other.
(Rebecca West, ‘Indissoluble Matrimony’, BLAST 1 (1914), pp. 98-117, p. 109-110.)