A HALF OF TWO LIVES: A Personal Memoir by Alison Waley

A HALF OF TWO LIVES: A Personal Memoir

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Bloomsbury gothic: in the feverish, episodic style of a poetic romantic fable, Waley (b. 1901) tells of her obsessive 40-year love for scholar/translator Arthur Waley--a love thwarted (but never extinguished) by Waley's inextricable attachment to companion Beryl de Zoete. They meet by chance in 1929, in a restaurant. It's love at first sight: ""an enchantment seems to have descended. Time stands still."" But though they have everything in common, mutual passion abounding, Arthur says: ""You must never come here again. There is a lady in Fez."" The lady, of course, is Beryl--and Alison must give way upon her return. So she marries somebody else, has a son, there are brief, glancing encounters through the Thirties. (""Arthur turns and dives down the dark and squalid stair."") Yet, by 1943, Alison has separated from her husband--and for the next 20 years she and Arthur will be lovers whenever possible (""he drew me to him: crushed kisses upon me, murmured 'Love me. Love me now. Now' ""). . . while Beryl is always a witch-like, possessive, jealous figure in the background, especially when she becomes increasingly ill and unstable (Huntington's chorea) through the Fifties. Does Arthur love Beryl more than he loves Alison? ""Love her? I am terrified of her!"" Nonetheless, he will never leave her side--and Alison will accept the situation, even trying to share Arthur's devotion to Beryl. And when Beryl at last dies in 1962, the aged lovers (Arthur now in his 70s) will be together--sharing a house (after still more fussing) and marrying one month before Waley's death. A powerful story? Well, yes and no. As Hilary Spurling's helpfully factual introduction notes, ""the heightened language and fraught atmosphere. . . belong to an inner landscape of the emotions rather than to the biographer's world. . . . For a more objective picture, readers will still have to go to the many striking literary portraits"" by other writers. And this fiction-like presentation--which all too often involves hyperventilating clichÉs--cancels out the drama more often than it enhances it, especially since key questions of motivation (Arthur's sadomasochistic behavior, Alison's martyrdom) aren't even raised. Still: intriguing material, which may enthrall a few readers and lead others to more objective Waley sources.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1983
Publisher: McGraw-Hill