Friday, March 9, 2012

Full of Sound and Fury and Signifying Something

                                                                                 David Kapell
Roman a clefs are novels based on real lives. And then there are some real lives that are like novels.  In reading the Times obit of Anna Lou Dehavenon’s (“Anna Lou Dehavenon, 85; Drew Attention to the Homeless,” NYT, 2/29/12), one would have to ask which novel or novel form it resembles to the extent that the tragedy, which occurred in the beginning, when Dehavenon became a widow of the great pianist William Kapell, was followed by a period in which she became a well-known figure in her own right. Few people remember William Kapell these days (despite Dehavenon’s attempts to keep the memory of his work alive), but in l953 when his plane crashed on his return from Australia, he was thought to have extraordinary talent and promise. Dr. Faustus, Thomas Mann’s novel about Schoenberg might be the model since both Kapell and his widow devoted their lives to music with Anna sacrificing her career for his. But from the point of view of a good title Great Expectations comes to mind and indeed the story has Dickensian overtones. the Times obit begins not like A Tale of Two Cities (“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”) but with the following lines, “Anna Lou Dehavenon, an urban anthropologist was documenting the lives of women living in a Bronx homeless shelter in the l980’s when she had an epiphany. She had just determined that the median age of women at the shelter was 26, and that the median number of children of the women was 2, when she suddenly remembered the day her own life was turned upside down—when she, too, was 26 and the mother of two.” On the verge of homelessness herself, Dehavenon became one of the great advocates for the homeless and documenters of their condition. A tale told by an idiot. Maybe. Fate is ruthless and full of sound and fury? Yes. But this time signifying something great.

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