Dress Down Sunday: The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks



published 2015

LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES



10M

[King David is telling his prophet Natan how he was attracted to Batsheva, the wife of one of his senior officers, Uriah]

“But Natan – it was an uncanny thing - ” His face softened, and his tone also. He was no longer curt and flip, but distant, almost dreamy. “I saw her quite by chance. I coiuldn’t sleep. You know how I’be been since the troops left. I was up on the roof, pacing, trying to quiet my mind, and there she was, on the roof of her own house – you know the one? – she and her maid. The maid was helping her to bathe. Oh, I know. I should have looked away as soon as I saw that she was undressing. I swear, I didn’t know who she was, or I would have done so. You will say I should have resisted the temptation, no matter whose wife she was. But I couldn’t… I loked at her, and I felt alive – I felt like myself – for the first time since the troops left. There was something about the moonlight on her shoulders, the tumble of her hair…. “ His long fingers caressed the air, describing a picture in his mind, and he smiled…

[Natan remonstrates with him, telling him how wrong and dangerous it was. David replies:] “Truly, I don’t think you need to concern yourself with this. I sent her off with a gift and I will not see her again.”


 
Secret Chord 2



commentary: That’s what you think David – we know better. You will be seeing her a lot more. He sounds like Bill Clinton who believed there could be no problems in keeping the story of Monica Lewinski quiet, because ‘no-one knows, right?’

This follows on from an earlier entry on the book, which is a historical fiction version of the story of King David from the Bible. [All the personal names are spelt in various ways in this entry, reflecting where they came from: it is transliteration, so no set spelling.]

In an item on sad scenes in literature (linked to a Guardian piece) I talked about the story of David:
In The Bible, the story of King David (in the two books of Samuel) has killer scenes - David mourning his friend Jonathan and later his son Absalom in language that burns down the ages. And there’s the tragic story of Uriah the Hittite, with Nathan’s heart-stopping moment of accusation: “YOU ARE THE MAN!” Guilt is not hidden - a lesson to adulterers everywhere, and also to those who think Kings are more important than common Hittite soldiers.
Uriah the Hittite is the husband of Batsheva, and once David finds that he has made her pregnant, he is involved in sordid plans to resolve the situation. Eventually David arranges for Uriah to die. It is not a good story. It resonates down the years: no-one could remain untouched by this story. Agatha Christie has Poirot use it as a warning in Death on the Nile.

These events get full attention in the book, which is narrated by Nathan the prophet mentioned above.

One of the great things about The Secret Chord is that Brooks gives a voice to the women in David’s story – something sadly lacking (unsurprisingly) in the Bible. Michal and Bathsheba, Tamar and Abigail, are all major figures in the book

David and Bathsheba is a very popular subject for great artists of the past for an obvious reason – a religious subject which might be seen to require a naked woman in it. I have chosen the top picture because it is by Artemisia Gentileschi, a woman, and the lower one by Lucas Cranach the Elder, from the Athenaeum, because it is a highly-clothed version.








Comments

  1. I know exactly what you mean, Moira, about the women from this story having voices (although they don't in the Bible). That in itself is a good thing. In that sense, it reminds me a bit of Anita Diamant's The Red Tent. Different story (this one features Dinah, daughter of Jacob), but the same way of including women's points of view. The writing style in this one looks appealing, too - contemporary, and yet respectful of the era when the story takes place.

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    1. Oh yes - I read Red Tent years ago. I do love the idea of giving a voice to those whom we've never heard from, and Brooks does it very well.

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  2. I've read a couple of Geraldine Brooks books and liked them very much. Haven't read this one though.

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    1. Me too - she's a really involving writer, isn't she?

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  3. 'Thou art the man!' as the Authorised Version has it, somehow even better. Yes, that rings down the centuries. Almost as stirring as 'J'accuse!'

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    1. Yes, it's a spine-chilling moment, isn't it?

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  4. This does sound like an interesting and very well told story, although I doubt I will ever read it.

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    1. I don't think it's really your genre - perhaps she will write a detective story one day! She is an excellent writer.

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  5. Whether as historical, mythological or scriptural, the story of David has a universal appeal. This is another fascinating glimpse into his life. I admire writers who turn (rather difficult) subjects like this into fiction.

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    1. I think it's quite brave, the writer is taking on a lot. But I found it illuminating. As you say, the story is universal.

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