08 September 2011

From John Fowles, 'The Collector': Epigraph 6.1 - In the Name of Miranda

One of the shortest epigraphs in A Kiss Before You Leave Me may appear at first quite innocent: '...Her name as beautiful as herself, Miranda.' That innocence doesn't last for long, but here I'll pretend to preserve it a bit longer by talking first about my secondary reason for using the quotation and only after that, and cryptically, about my primary reason.

Miranda is of course the name of the apparent protagonist of A Kiss Before You Leave Me, whose beauty animates the so-called 'Miranda paintings' for which she poses. In using the epigraph from John Fowles, I wanted the reader to think, if only for a moment, about the name Miranda (as well as the recurrent subject of 'my' Miranda's beauty).

Miranda is such a popular name today that we may forget that it seems to have been invented by Shakespeare. (He used it, of course, for Prospero's daughter in The Tempest, the source of another epigraph [4.1].) The form 'Miranda' is a Latin gerundive--'a 'verbal adjective' formed from the present participle of a verb, always passive in force; e.g., agenda (neuter plural), literally, '[things that are] to be done'; 'referendum'; 'propaganda'; 'Amanda', '[she who deserves] to be loved'. The meaning of the name Miranda is sometimes given simply as '[she who is] to be admired', but the verb mirari means not only 'admire' but also 'look at', 'marvel at'. I propose that we gloss 'Miranda' as 'she who is to be gazed upon in amazement'. Miranda Kincaid is admirable in every way... and beautiful, yes, astonishingly, wondrously so--but not necessarily to be emulated--especially in her moments of 'passivity'.

Miranda's beauty is a huge topic. Among other things, when other characters find her appealing, her beauty is often all they can see, or at least all they can name. We wonder at times how deeply others understand her, especially those who are attracted to her. Moreover, as the novel goes on, her beauty becomes a commodity of sorts, subjected to commercial exploitation. Some readers may discover a recurring theme of the connection between (a) certain loves' failures to see deeply or to understand and (b) the monetization of beauty or of love itself.

But my primary reason for including the epigraph from John Fowles's 1963 novel The Collector was to remind readers already familiar with it that Miranda is the name of the young woman in that novel. I don't want to say much here about the plot of The Collector, because that might imply a closer parallel between situations in the two books than is actually there. But the least I can say is that my brief reference to Fowles's novel suggests that what presents itself as a passionate love of beauty, a love or 'love' that understands itself as collecting, preserving and protecting the exquisitely beautiful, can also be the enemy of what it admires.

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