I’m in a mood to write right now. I just finished my last story I need to read for my English 202 course, and it hit harder than I expected it would. With my Marriage anniversary next week, and Alex losing his young cousin… even the name in the story is my own…
I summarize the story for anyone who hasn’t read it, so don’t click if you want to read it on your own.
The story, To Room Nineteen by Lessing is centered around Susan who is married to Matthew. It talks of the two of them getting married later in life after all their friends have settled down. They both have great jobs and an excellent schooling. Their marriage begins based on that intelligence, and how they have the perfect marriage since they understand the pitfalls, challenges, and choices they need to make and understand how to overcome these obstacles while still retaining the perfect marriage. They have four children, and Susan becomes the mother while Matthew works for the money. They live in a large white house with a garden and a view of the river in their back yard. Everything is perfect.
Even after Matthew confesses to having an affair with a girl from a party, Susan forgives. She surmises that there is nothing else to do than forgive, be it the correct word… but she does. The whole affair only takes up one small paragraph of the whole story, and seems to have no point whatsoever other than to say she forgives and moves on.
Anyway, the story continues with the children leaving for school, and Susan suddenly having nothing to do. When summer break rolls around, she then starts wishing she could return to having nothing to do… and this feeling grows. She starts hiding away, trying to escape anything that might require her attention. She begins by escaping to a bedroom and eventually she starts renting room nineteen at a cheap hotel. She does nothing in this room but sit, close her eyes, and stare into nothingness.
The story ends when the husband has a detective follow here and find out she’s been going to a hotel every day. He obviously expects she’s having an affair on him. Knowing she can’t get him to understand what she considers irrational herself, she makes up a story and tells him that she is, in fact, having an affair. He responds by saying he too had been having an affair and asks if they just want to put all secrecy aside and meet up as a foursome to get lunch sometime. She agree’s, smiles, and they fall asleep. The next day, after he gets up and goes to work, she goes, for one final time to room nineteen in that old cheap hotel, feels the sweet touch of nothingness once more, and kills herself. (She does it by putting a rug under the door, closing the windows, and turning on the gas to the fireplace and letting the gas slowly asphyxiate her.)
Of all the stories to end with this one hit me the deepest… It could be because Lessing writes much in the same style as I do… or perhaps that this Tuesday (May 16th) is my 3rd year marriage anniversary… maybe it’s because Susan’s husband shares my name so it almost seems she’s talking about me… it could also be because one of my old best friends called me to tell me that his little cousin, who had been his flower girl at his wedding, had committed suicide last night because a boy broke up with her… She was only 14.
So… among the jumble of emotion ranging from fear of the future, sorrow for what’s past, and uncertainties of the present… I need to figure out which part of the story hit home the hardest…
The most memorable line from the poem for me is the line in the middle of the second page… simply stated: “And yet…” A line that states that after this grand introduction of a brilliant couple who loves each other dearly and had everything they wanted…. and there was still more. This line is the preparatory statement for the end of the poem. Susan loved him and yet she left him. She loved her family and yet she couldn’t stay with them. She loved her life and yet it wasn’t enough. The demons haunted her, and her own emotions refused to let her relax and yet she didn’t ask for help. She couldn’t.
After that… the end section of the story that haunts me is the end. She did everything she could to almost erase herself from the world. Hid herself away where nobody knew where or who she was. She didn’t do anything, but just let herself sink into nothingness.
“And then she went back to the chair, empty, her mind blank. Sometimes she talked aloud, saying nothing — an exclamation, meaningless, followed by a comment about the floral pattern on the thin rug, or a stain on the green satin coverlet. For the most part, she wool-gathered–what word is there for it?–brooded, wandered, simply went dark, feeling emptiness run deliciously through her veins like the movement of her blood.”
She was already dead to herself. Somewhere inside herself, she was begging to die, and I can’t for the life of me figure it out. I’m sure there is just something innate in people that plan and commit to an act as committed by Susan at the end of the story that I don’t, and will never understand. With all her education and reason, I don’t see how she could see no future. It’s beyond me.
So, in the end, she commits the house to Sophie, whom she choose for her excellent traits to be a mother and future wife… although you don’t know it at the time. She leaves with no comment. She’s already dead. She killed herself a long time ago. All she has left is to make her final journey to the River Styx… using borrowed money to pay the boatman.