Monday, 29 October 2007

I've finished Clara. And I am bereft

Oh, oh, oh, I have finished Clara, and it was absolutely perfect.

The story of Clara Schumann, the world-famous concert pianist, and her troubled marriage to the composer Robert Schumann, it follows Clara on world tours, through pregnancies, through hardship and loss.

It takes a writer of great sensitivity and talent, and beauty and control.I've read a lot of reviews about the 'misery' of Clara as she changes her life lived under a controlling and ambitious father to a life lived under a controlling and mentally ill husband. 'Patience, eggshells' is Clara's life as she negotiates life with her husband, waiting out his periods of madness, protecting him, putting him first.

But. But.

For me it is crucial to the book to understand that life with Robert Schumann and life with her father were two different things, made possible by the passionate love within her marriage. It is made quite clear that despite her continuing pregnancies, she never once thinks of abstinence. Managing Schumann's mental illness is impossible, but the intensity of their relationship is all bound up within it - he depends on her, terrifies her, loves her.

"When she cast her mind over what she had wished for, this marriage was not, in essence, so out of tune. It could not truthfully be counted less than she had wished. It was more, though what had to be learned to deal with that more was almost too terrible to bear."

The book has been written with such a sympathy for Clara, with such a respect for her acceptance of her situation and her continued passion for her husband. Which is a clever trick to pull off, especially for a modern audience who can perhaps barely understand how different life was for women in any case.

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