For those who haven’t been following this blog, let me introduce it a little. I am currently blogging my 21st novel that has the working title Daemon. The novel is about Aksinya, a sorceress, who, to save her family from the Bolsheviks, called and contracted the demon, Asmodeus. Her family was murdered anyway, and she fled with the demon from Russia to Austria.
Ernst took Aksinya to dinner and the opera. Aksinya is depressed and suffering from her temptation that Ernst supplies. She was drunk and spoke a truth he could not fully understand. In the morning, Natalya and Sister Margarethe force Aksinya to face the world...
In the morning, Sister Margarethe and Natalya would not allow Aksinya to sleep late. They woke her and poured strong coffee down her and dressed her. With one on the left and the other on her right, they half carried her to chapel where she lost the coffee and breakfast they had fed her. They both took her to the dining room and served her tea and a half a roll. Aksinya slept through her classes. She and Natalya finally arrived at dinner. Aksinya did not look very well. She ate listlessly.
Fraulein Trauen couldn’t remain quiet, “Well Countess, how was your evening? Did you drink too much again?”
Aksinya played with her soup, “I was provoked.”
Natalya didn’t look up from her bowl, “Herr von Taaffe declared his undying love to her and announced his challenge against any other suitor.”
The women around the table stared at her. Fraulein Trauen swallowed.
Fraulein Pfaff sighed, “Right in the middle of the opera? How romantic.”
Natalya nodded, “At intermission.”
Fraulein Pfaff stretched her arms toward Natalya, “How did she accept it…?” She immediately thought better of her address. She turned toward Aksinya, “Did you accept his love, Countess?”
Aksinya rolled her eyes and gave Fraulein Pfaff a disdainful scowl. No one spoke. Finally, Aksinya stated in unequivocal terms, “I took Ernst’s confession under advisement. For now, I will allow him to continue to court me.”
Fraulein Pfaff’s mouth hung open, “Do you love him?”
Aksinya ran her fingers through her short hair, “Love him? I’m not certain I desire him.”
Fraulein Trauen cried out, “What a shameful thing to say. To desire him? What are you thinking?”
Aksinya pushed her soup out of the way and lay her head at her place. She plucked at the tablecloth, “What would I want with a man. I have everything I need right now. The only reason I would want one is to satisfy my desires.”
Fraulein Trauen’s ears reddened. Her mouth opened and closed a couple of times finally, she choked out, “There is certainly much more to a man than to satisfy your desires. No proper woman should have any desires at all.” Fraulein Trauen glanced around, “At least that’s what my mother says.”
Aksinya glanced up at her, “Your mother is a fool and so are you. The purpose of men is to fulfill a woman’s desires. That is the only reason I would have one, and Ernst von Taaffe must prove his willingness to meet my needs before I will consider anything else.”
Fraulein Pfaff asked, “Is that what love means to you?”
Aksinya smiled. She sat up so the fish course could be placed in front of her. When they were served, Aksinya picked at the small piece of salmon on her plate and answered, “Yes, truthfully, that is love to me. A man should meet my needs and desires—to me that is love. What else could love be?”
Fraulein Pfaff surveyed the table. Fraulein Trauen wouldn’t meet her eyes. Fraulein Vogt stared at her plate. Natalya’s gaze was steady, but she remained silent. Only Aksinya would look directly at Fraulein Pfaff, and Aksinya’s opinion was the last one she wanted to hear. Finally Fraulein Pfaff asked, “How would you love a man then?”
Aksinya smiled a very broad smile, “I would meet his every need and desire myself.”
Fraulein Trauen’s hands moved up to her mouth, “You don’t mean every desire, even those…”
Aksinya grinned, “Even those. That’s what I’d expect from him.”
The nun at the table finally took notice of the women in her charge. She raised her head in time to catch Aksinya with a very smug look on her face, Natalya with a bored look, and the others with their hands over their mouths.
Aksinya’s appetite improved considerably, but the conversation at the table didn’t continue at all that evening.
The morning events for Aksinya are a transition. I want you to see the repetition of her worst days because I don't want you to forget who she is. Luckily, Aksinya has Natalya and Sister Margarethe to pick up the pieces for her. Again we arrive at dinner, where I have an opportunity to give you more information through the mouths of the characters--plus these conversations are always fun. Aren't they?
This evening Fraulein Trauen has the courage to speak up first. Aksinya must look defenseless or at least ill. It is obvious that Aksinya drank too much. The girls likely note that when they see her. It ruffles their mores, but they are usually cautious of their criticism. Note, even Fraulein Trauen speaks around the issue. Aksinya gives an answer that is surprising. She said she was provoked. This is half true and half a lie. Ernst didn't intentionally provoke Aksinya, but the entire situation did provoke her. The touch of Asmodeus was all over it. This is what Aksinya means, but she can't say that out loud. Did you notice, I like to develop situations where as much is said as left unspoken? In my opinion, this is just like real life.
Instead, Natalya answers for Aksinya, and even Natalya's reply is a boiled down rendition of the most flattering statement of the evening. In case you missed it in the excitement, Ernst declared his undying love to Aksinya and promised to fight off any other suitor. Natalya didn't miss this very important point. I didn't want you to miss it either--that's why I repeat it here. The response of the other women around the table tells you how big a deal this is in this culture. They have seen the progression of Ernst's relationship with Aksinya. It is like a fairy tale to them. The wicked witch is about to make an appearance.
Natalya gives a few more details, but then the important question is voiced by Fraulein Pfaff. We know the answer: Aksinya got drunk and had a wonderful one sided argument with Ernst. This obviously can't be said. Plus, look at the writing technique in Fraulein Pfaff's question. She begins by addressing Natalya--the wrong thing to do. Something, likely Aksinya's appearance, makes her change her address and question to Aksinya.
Aksinya's answer to the question is typical of her. We could have guessed this. Fraulein Pfaff's next question is ours too. Does Aksinya love Ernst? This was the wrong question to ask Aksinya. Look, if you haven't figured it out already, Aksinya is a really screwed up young woman. It is unlikely that she understands anything about love at all. Aksinya loves luxuria and sorcery. People are out of her concept of love. We aren't certain she loved her family although she gave up everything (except her life) for them. The except her life part is important.
To Aksinya at this point, love equals desire. She desires luxuria. She desires sorcery. She desires herself. These are love to her. But love comes in many colors. You might ask yourself just how Aksinya loves Natalya. Aksinya might not be able to answer that question.
You can count on Fraulein Trauen (Trauen means marriage in German, by the way), to bring the conversation into a moral sphere. I want you to see this because it was the social and cultural view at the time. Not every woman thought this way or held to this view, but it was very common. To many, desire itself was considered evil or at least a temptation.
Aksinya's answer reflects her view of the world. She has everything she needs right now. The only reason she would want a man is to satisfy her desires. We have seen how Aksinya satisfies her desires, by herself. Asmodeus tried to get her to seduce Sister Margarethe to awaken Aksinya's desire for sex. That hasn't happened yet, but there is an inkling here. She does not love Ernst, but she is contemplating using him to satisfy her other desires.
Fraulien Trauen's response is exactly what I was referring to before--the view of the culture about a woman's desire. Aksinya has another view entirely. She is a countess and an aristocrat. You might also wonder about her upbringing. Her statement is scandalous. She is testing Ernst to see if he meets her requirements (desires). So far, Ernst has done so--he has provided her luxuria. What he has held back is the sorcery books Aksinya desires. Did you forget about the books and this part of Aksinya's desire. She hasn't.
Fraulein Pfaff is our little romance infatuated woman--you knew that. She can't believe her ears--is that love to Aksinya? Aksinya's answer is straightforward. She caps it with: "What else could love be?”
They can't answer her question. Can you? Aksinya just blew all their notions about men and love out of the water. Fraulein Pfaff's half hearted question is important to all of them: “How would you love a man then?” The response to Aksinya's answer shocks them. This is only logical, if love to her is desire then the love from a man is one of desire. The response of the young women is very important here. Look at Natalya--she is bored. Aksinya has won, at least philosophically. The others are shocked--you just don't say these things in polite society. The sister at the table finally catches a piece of the conversation, but she can't correct a countess. Thus Aksinya brought temptation to those around her. She confounded the innocent ideas of her schoolmates. She is definitely not a good example. She is not a good girl or person. Her actions bring her happiness and others unhappiness. You should understand what this means. She has gone from winning the conversations with grace and levity to shocking the sensibilities of others, and this is the end of chapter 12. The kicker is a gentle one. It has importance in the broad scheme of the novel. The answer to the question of what is love is an important one in the theme, but you knew that. Tomorrow, the beginning of chapter 13.