in American Senator

Chapter 54 – Arabella Again at Bragton

hymns of love and constancy

Lady Augustus thinks that Arabella’s visit to John Morton’s deathbed will earn Arabella some praise for what appears to be her steadfast devotion to her fiancée.  These “hymns of love and constancy” are reminiscent of the epinician genre of Ancient Greek poetry.  Poets such as Simonides or Pindar would compose poems that celebrated a victory, usually of an athlete, on his return to his home city.  The praises that Arabella’s decision to visit John Morton will receive in general society will be a kind of celebration of her love.  These praises, Lady Augustus muses, would hurt her chances of becoming engaged to Lord Rufford, who does not know that Arabella is visiting John Morton.  [CD 2012]


straining for water that would never come, a rolling stone which would never settle

The narrator, in describing Arabella’s thoughts about her decade-long struggle to marry, uses imagery that alludes to Tantalus and Sisyphus.  Tantalus, a mythological king, was punished by the gods for killing, cooking, and attempting to serve the flesh of his son at a banquet which the gods were attending.  For this great offense, the gods sentenced Tantalus to stand in a pool of water with fruit branches hanging overhead.  Each time he would stoop to drink, the water would recede, and when he reached for the fruit branches, they likewise would draw back out of his reach.  Sisyphus, a mythological king who tricked death, must perpetually roll a bolder up a hill.  Once the bolder would almost reach the top of the hill, it would roll to the bottom.  Arabella laments the short-lived affections of the men on whom she has practiced her art.  For a short while they are enthralled with her beauty and charms, but they lose interest quickly.  For Arabella marriage is a goal that appears to retreat from her each time it becomes a possibility in a courtship.  Like Tantalus, she strains for something that appears to be within reach but never actually becomes close enough to hold.  She is like Sisyphus in that her constant struggle to marry, which she calls her “work,” is never completed.  She finds herself, again and again, forced to begin a new courtship after a potential suitor’s affection for her cools.  [CD 2012]

Sources: OCD.