Earlier today, I had the time to catch up on the recent letters posted at Postmarked: Piper’s Reach. Many things struck me as I found myself once again lost in the world of EL and Jude, but one thing remained with me throughout the day:
For Jude, the interview is with Rebecca (Jude’s letter dated Sunday 31 March, 2013). In his first face-to-face with his wife since the separation, Jude is given the opportunity to “come clean” and offer a full apology and new promise to Rebecca.
He is not shy in making the offer:
“I am truly sorry for lying to you. For cheating on you. For betraying you. For exposing you to shame and ridicule. For abandoning you and the children.”
Rebecca leaves the door open for this to happen. She responds: “What do you want from me?”
He responds immediately: “Forgiveness. Trust. A chance to repair the damage.”
And then writes to EL: “Rebecca spelled out in no uncertain terms that I was not to see you again, to have no contact with you.”
Yet, he chooses to come to EL anyway. Regardless of whatever reason it might be, whether it is justified by readers or by Jude himself, he failed the interview. He had returned to Rebecca to ask for her forgiveness, her trust, a chance to repair the damage. He was given it, and immediately dismissed it with his decision to see EL.
It makes no difference what parameters he might set for EL (however ridiculous they might be to ban her from entering Piper’s Reach); in fact, just remove anything and everything about EL out of this picture for this one thought: if you isolate his words and his actions with Rebecca – and then his decisions made directly afterward, you see the very definition of Jude Smith.
When Hamlet shouts at Polonius: “Words, words, WORDS!” we begin to see and understand a character who is more caught up with the thought of the actions, and little more. All the ponderings, apologies, and analyses mean nothing when compared with actions. Jude suffers from the same illness, where words mean little in the shadow of his actions, including his blatant disregard for Rebecca.
It is not Jude’s tragic flaw that he has an inability to act; we have seen him conduct many actions that are followed by profound apologies and beggings for forgiveness. It is Jude’s tragic flaw that he knows nothing of standing by his decisions and following through with his actions. The follow-up words get in the way of the actions meaning anything of authenticity and significance.
In the case of Rebecca, he has asked for forgiveness. He has been given the parameters to be allowed back into her life. He breaks them immediately and lies to everyone about the motive of traveling to Sydney.
In the case of EL, he offers his help and provides her with similar parameters (of the concrete nature to stay out of Piper’s Reach). But when he is watching her during her interview, he almost admonishes her with his own wishes that she would have told him more: “Even just a hint of what you were going through so I could have been there for you like I was so many years ago.”
More words, words, words from a man who is driven only by his need to perpetuate endlessly the cycle of help, act, and hurt, which leads to guilt, apology, and absolution (We need look no further than Jude’s words to EL in his Wednesday, 3 April, 2013 letter: “…to again be there for you like I promised; to give these letters and make restitution and gain absolution”).
He has the chance to be there for her the very next day at the second interview. Yet, his inability to see opportunity or follow through with his own words or intent, is strikingly apparent in his closing words: “I am not sure what I’ll do tomorrow. I want to be there for the other interview, to again be there for you like I promised….”
Words. promises… Words. promises… Words. promises. . .
EL’s interview, on the other hand (as it is described by Jude), seems authentic, freeing, where he compares her to Christ’s crucifixion and then resurrection, or the rising phoenix from the ashes. We—the readers—are given every reason to believe that the absolution from this interview is a life-changer.
EL does not seek absolution; she does not ask for it; she does not even beg for it. She receives it despite the attacks she endures. With the lights and the cameras rolling, she is “naked” to the world, revealing and releasing layer after layer, as Jude puts it.
Maybe that is clearly the difference between EL and Jude. As EL sheds her layers and seeks genuine rebirth and resolution, Jude believes he can have the same thing by piling on the layers of more words, more apologies, and more promises.
We are near the end of this incredible story, and I still cannot fathom the details of its eventual conclusion. It does not matter. What Adam Byatt and Jodi Cleghorn have done for readers around the globe is truly astounding. This journey of debate, of discussion, of prediction and speculation is worth any turn of events yet to come.
And, I daresay, after we have all read those final words of Postmarked: Piper’s Reach, the discussion among us all will continue for many months to come.