This week I drew the 5 of Hearts, which corresponds to the impressionistic short story, “The Idea of Age” by Elizabeth Taylor. The unnamed narrator is a ten year old girl who clearly has a lot of anxiety about getting older. She has a great fear of her mother’s death which she expresses obliquely: she likes to read books about children who have dead mothers provided that the woulds are healed.
She carefully guards her mother along with a “mother-figure” in the form of a dramatic Mrs. Vivaldi who summers in the same place that the girl and her family go. Mrs. Vivaldi is a larger-than-life dramatic woman, who recites Shakespeare and plays with her long pearls. Mrs. Vivaldi also speaks a lot about being old.
Our narrator resolves no mysteries here, but she does give us a compelling portrait of the anxieties of a pre-adolescent girl who is worried about the concept of age, of growing old, and of the potential segue into death.
“When I was a child, people’s aged did not matter; but age mattered. Against the serious idea of age I did not match the grown-ups I knew—who had all an ageless quality—though time unspun itself from year to year, Christmases lay far apart from one another, birthdays ever further; but that time was running on was shown in many ways. I ‘shot out’ of my frocks, as my mother put it. By the time I was ten, I had begun to discard things form my heart and to fasten my attention on certain people whose personalities affected me in a heady and delicious way” begins the story.
And me too. For some strange reason, certain “celebrities” of all types grabbed my imagination which clung to them. For some, it was a name: C. Douglas Dillon–secretary of the treasury. What could the C. stand for? There was Liz and Eddie and Debbie. JFK and Jackie. I started reading newspapers and I lavished as much attention on The New York Times as I did on Photoplay. T.S. Eliot and Robert Frost were alive. At that age I could not and did not sort out the relative importance of Pat Boone and Nikita Krushchev; Edward Villella and Shirley Jones; Katherine Anne Porter and Princess Margaret Rose. They were all, in sundry ways, Mrs. Vivaldis for me.