Introduction to 'The Red Heart'
Rosie Scott is prolific and versatile..She has published a volume of poetry (Flesh and Blood, 1984), one of short stories (Queen of Love,1989) and five novels – the wonderful Glory Days (1988) and Nights with Grace (1990), the political novel Feral City (1992), Lives on Fire (1993), and Movie Dreams (1995), which expand her perspective. These novels vary greatly in subject matter and tone. A woman with many strings to her bow, she has now published a collection of essays, The Red Heart. Most of them are commissioned pieces written to be delivered as speeches at literary events, or for inclusion in anthologies. They have the refreshing directness and the palpable humanity found in works intended to be read aloud, containing nothing at all of the pedantic -although Scott’s wide reading is apparent.
Most of these essays concern three subjects – politics, religion and sex-that have been taboo in polite society for at least a hundred and fifty years. But Scott was born in 1948, and became adult after the rebellions of the late fifties and sixties. So her treatment of these taboo subjects lacks the defiant tone, the anger characteristic of those who break taboos.She writes easily , if with passion, about subjects close to her heart and mind. One pleasure of this book is Rosie Scott’s genial disposition.
Critics almost never recognise a political novel by a woman. They think only men write them despite the examples of Doris Lessing, Luisa Valenzuela, and others. Scott’s politics are grounded not in a party line, but in a humanist perspective. Her main concern is probably ecology -the drive to end the pollution of the globe. But also important to her are the function of education and literature in the formation of human character , the necessity of opposing bad laws and bribed leaders, and making oneself heard in an age of anonymity. Her attitudes are like those of a larger group of people , a loose movement whose members oppose the new global economics -precisely or vaguely. Although adherents of the new global economics use language to conceal their true purposes, they aim to create fascist corporate totalitarianism. This morality with its limited values -money and power- does not hesitate to snuff out dissent or destroy the poor, worldwide. Scott’s voice is a strong counterforce.
Scott is concerned both with the spiritual and moral aspects of life, without linking them to formal religion. Her spirituality is grounded in the senses: in human reception of glorious, powerful, dangerous, overwhelming nature, emphatically antipodean in its lush beauty. Reading her descriptions of the interweaving of mental/emotional processes with the sensations brought by this terrifying beauty, one feels she is rendering experience in a complete way found in few authors. Whether or not there is a god (I do not know Scott’s religious beliefs), for Scott, the world is holy, human feelings are holy, love is sacred.
Unlike spirituality, morality is connected to thought, and involves primarily empathy. Scott is an amazingly empathetic writer; her ability to live inside others and dramatize their feelings is extraordinary. I think of the scene in an upscale city shop, where Glory (of Glory Days) , who is poor and heavy, feels uncomfortable , out of place, as if everyone is looking at her. Her feelings are utterly believable, yet few people would imagine them. Morality is also connected with truth, but then Scott’s universe is all connected: the single standard is to create a morality that allows human beings to find felicity in daily life and justice and decency in the public sphere. Her thinking about morality it is most striking in an essay on her father-in-law, a man she never knew. Called The Red Heart (giving its name to the collection) it is a detailed character sketch of a hero -by Scott’s standards – and mine.
But above all, Scott is great about sex. I almost never find descriptions of sex attractive: sexual scenes in literature tend to be embarrassing – clinical, or filled with masculine self-inflation, or feminine narcissism. For Scott, though, sex is intrinsically rooted in nature and felt like nature, is one of its tendrils winding through our lives. I suspect people find the sex scenes in her novels arousing, which is all to the good. But they are also beautiful and believable. Her essays on sex protest the puritanism of Anglo-Saxon cultures, but quietly, as a question of reason and logic.
There are other topics covered in this wide-ranging collection. My favourite is a set of notes she wrote describing giving birth to her two daughters, “Birth Diaries” . It is such a simple idea, yet it has never been done before. The centuries in which childbirth was regarded as mere animal performance, as inessential to the great work of the world, as an illegitimate subject for literature placed a taboo over the subject. But Rosie Scott’s fresh clear vision offers it to us as the miracle and life-saver-for love does save lives- it is.