14 March 2011

From Wilkie Collins, 'The Woman in White': Epigraph 1.4

I threatened months ago to 'serialize' here the epigraphs that 'introduce' the various 'books' or sections of my novel A Kiss Before You Leave Me. The original idea was to reproduce them 'usually with no comments'--but, as I was thinking today about the quintessential Kiss epigraph, the one that precedes the first words of my first chapter, and that I intended as an epigraph for the book as a whole, I saw what a mistake it would be to leave the quotation on its own. It's the first sentence of another novel, Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White (1860):

'This is a story about what a Woman's patience can endure, and what a Man's resolution can achieve.'

Why is this the 'quintessential' Kiss epigraph? Not only because, removed from its original context, it seems to refer to the entire 21st-century novel that it introduces, but also because, like the novel as a whole, it means something completely different to a first-time reader from what it means to one who returns to it after finishing A Kiss Before You Leave Me: the words 'patience', 'resolution', 'endure', 'achieve', even 'man' and 'woman'--nothing is the same. What seems at the outset to be heroic or romantic ends up seeming... something else altogether.

I can say this much: the relationship of the epigraphs to the novel itself is always potentially ironic.

1 comment:

Jim Carpenter said...

I'm glad you are writing about the epigraphs. Keep em coming!