I am reminded of other women who have created unique dwelling-places in striking contrast to the conventions of domestic architecture -- Vita Sackville-West's Sissinghurst, Virginia Woolf's Monk's House, Gertrude Stein's atelier, even Marie Antoinette's hameau in a corner of the great park of Versailles. The comparisons are absurd in a way, for these Europeans were rich.
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Money, then as always, was a major problem. Danica has arranged every place she sits to provide pleasant vistas. Looking up at the vaulted ceilings and the freshly painted white arches of the kitchen-altar, I take pleasure in them too. A good stereo bought with a cash award from a magazine plays subdued classical music that sounds faintly ecclesiastical. While we talk, Danica busies herself with the special bread she bakes because of her allergies, but also, I feel, because she is a purist and prefers the hand-made and the organic.
There are modem appliances -- a microwave oven, a dishwasher, and a freezer downstairs in the basement. But her water supply is trucked in, and when I go to the bathroom I am careful not to flush wastefully and use the water that is acquired so laboriously. The old-fashioned and the modem, the mass-produced and the hand-made, go side by side here.
The questions I ask are not only my own. All week I have been reading Don't with my students, and I am the bearer of their questions. In class we have discussed what it means that someone elects to live in a church. We have speculated that the refuge we think of as home represents no safe haven for her, having roughly the associations of a torture chamber. There, her innermost privacy was laid open, made public, photographed, violated.
As a result, her sense of private and public have been reversed. On the subject of religion Danica is deeply ambivalent. She sees the church as complicit in her abuse, for when she appealed for help to the nuns and priests, they counselled obedience to her father's authority; she never willingly enters a Catholic church.
Yet, she often crept into the nearby church for sanctuary in the worst times. A little Hummel statue of Virgin and Child, sent by her grandmother to mark her first communion, became an icon, her beacon of hope. And Catholicism profoundly shapes her personal mythology.
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Even the description in Don't of her immolation in the basement is presented as a grotesque inversion of the nativity scene, a parodic grouping of Mary, Joseph, and the Magi. Danica clearly yearns to fill the emptiness left by the institution that failed her. In a sense, she has found it in the women who hailed her book and brought it into print, and in the multitude of women worldwide who have devoured it. I ask about her powers of survival, knowing how many others fall victim to drugs, suicide, multiple personality disorders, and self-abuse of all kinds.
She explains: if one person believes in you, believes your story, tells you that what is happening to you is wrong, it is enough to keep hope alive. She found that person in her maternal grandmother. In Holland, where the abuse began when she was four, the grandmother, learning of it, warned the father and told Elly to come to her if it happened again. But the intervention of her Oma precipitated the father's decision to move the family to Canada. Once there, as recent immigrants, they were isolated under his absolute power and tyranny, cut off from all outside help.
The father completed her isolation by forbidding Danica to speak Dutch so that she was unable to communicate with her Oma. She grieves for her younger sisters who had no such person, and especially for the sister who died by her own hand. Yet, the hope planted in the four-year-old was not extinguished. When Nicht, the Dutch translation of Don't, was published in Holland, she took a copy to her Oma, then Time, failing memory, and language barriers prevented the visit from being anything more than a symbolic gesture, yet it was important to Danica. It gave her a sense of something coming full circle and she celebrated by giving herself the gift of a Mont Blanc fountain pen.
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She does much of her writing by hand, filling copious diaries and notebooks. Is she satisfied by what her book has achieved? Not altogether. What's erased is who does what to whom. Phrases like 'dysfunctional family' and 'domestic violence' take the politics right out of the subject and create a comfort zone for men. I am curious about her surname, which falls on my ears like the brand name of a camera, that instrument of her humiliation. I have assumed it to be a relic of the disastrous marriage to which she fled in an effort to escape her abusive home.
Danica is not a patronymic but a Slavic first name; it means "morning star.
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The hours pass swiftly. Eventually I shut off my recorder and, forgetting this is an interview, we tuck our feet under us in the easy chairs and just chat about books. We actually go back a long way, Elly and 1, having been introduced 14 years ago by a local bookseller who thought we should know each other. As a result, she became my teaching assistant. But we were different people then. It was a year before my first book appeared and eight years before hers. In the intervening years we have exchanged greetings, met briefly at writers' gatherings, run into each other in bookstores.
She has always been an avid book-buyer in spite of the poverty, which literary success has not changed. She notes ruefully that if she had a dollar for every copy of Don't sold, she would be tolerably well off, but she earns only 23 cents on each copy of the trade paperback. Our discussion turns to her work and the long waiting period before she found the right voice for what she had to tell. She reads a little of the novel she has just finished, and we talk about the possibility of another autobiographical work fleshing out the spare lines of Don't. We speculate about her father and what produces such viciousness.
Did something happen to him as a teenager in that sub-basement where he spent the war years in fear and hiding'? We know well that the devastation of war goes far beyond the battlefield. But to answer that question would require funds for research and travel.
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It is really about her mother and grandmother that she longs to write more, to explore the substance of their letters over the decades. She is tempted to reconstruct that correspondence, curious about its veiled nature, since no letter ever went out without the father's permission. I begin to understand that her deepest pain comes not from having been raped by her father and his friends, but from the ruptured relationship with her mother.
She was an orphan, too, for from that time she was virtually motherless and her deep incurable yearning is for her lost mother. She says that yesterday was the anniversary of her mother's death and speaks of her long recovery from that event, which ended forever her hope of reconciliation with her mother. The publication of Don't she included her mother in the dedication deepened the rift and she was excluded from her mother's funeral. I believe the Hummel figurine represents for her not an image of Mary and Jesus, but of the nurturing, protective mother she lacked.
A photograph by her bed shows Danica as an infant on her mother's lap. And the female deity she invokes in Don't is the Sumerian goddess Inanna, whose name echoes that of her own mother -- Anna. I ask about her literary foremothers and, predictably, we discuss Virginia Woolf she prefers her diaries and letters and Louise deSalvo's book about the impact of sexual abuse on Woolf's life and work. The book that was instrumental in inspiring Danica, though, was The Yellow Wallpaper, Charlotte Perkins Gilman's account of mental breakdown and her treatment at the hands of her husband, a physician, and the medical men he consulted.
I know the book, which William Dean Howells described as a story "to freeze Darrica says, "It showed me how powerful a short book could be. When the light fades, she prepares dinner and we sit in the candlelight, drinking wine sparingly, aware of imminent departure and the drive along the roads now treacherous with black ice. The blizzard intensifies with the darkness as we head back to Moose Jaw. We make it to the brightly lit city streets, already festooned for Christmas, but I worry about her journey back. Volume 25 , Issue 2. The full text of this article hosted at iucr.
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Learn more Check out. Abstract Books reviewed: Fletcher, Joyce K. Disappearing Acts Grossman, Frances K.
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