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.
Aksinya is drunk and is dancing with the Graf von Taaffe. He has an important question and Aksinya's response does not please him. Still, he has good news for her. Aksinya is speaking...
“I have not given him my answer yet.”
Graf von Taaffe’s smile widened again, “He told me he would begin to train to take over the business. I think he is completely serious about you.”
“He said as much. He said he loves me.”
“Indeed, he has never, to my knowledge, told a woman that before.”
“That makes me happy. I would have liked to have kissed him a little longer.”
“Why didn’t you?”
Aksinya made a face and an unmistakable gesture of her head toward Natalya.
“Your chaperone. I understand. I would very much like you to accept my son as your husband. You would be very good for him.”
Aksinya raised her eyes to the Graf’s and cocked her head.
“We don’t have many young women, even in the aristocracy, whose presence brightens a room like yours. You are an absolute treasure to the nobility.”
“You may laugh at me, but you move and act like a princess, and I have seen many princesses. Most of them couldn’t hold a candle to you.”
“You laugh again?”
“Sir, my face is plain and my body is boyish. I indulge too much, and I…” She continued in a mumble, “I have other faults not so visible.”
“Yet, by walking into a room you captivate it. By simply existing, you capture the attention of everyone around you.”
“If I were not a Countess, I would be nothing.”
The Graf raised her hand to his lips, “If you were a washerwoman, I believe you might have captivated my Ernst. Whatever you did, it ensorcelled his heart, and I can easily see why he is fascinated by you.”
Aksinya pushed back from him, “Temptation. I am a temptation.”
“Yes, you are, and I’m glad your eyes are at least on my Ernst.” The Graf let go of her hand and stepped back. The music ended, “Thank you for the dance, Countess. Even drunk, you are a wonderful partner.” He bowed.
Do you remember the conversation at dinner? The question on the table (pun there), was Ernst's participation in his father's business. Aksinya warned that she didn't want Ernst to become dour. The Graf countered that Ernst needed to become part of the business so he could take care of a family. Thus, at dinner, the Graf was pressuring Ernst through Aksinya to take on his family's responsibility as a requirement for marriage. A marriage obviously to Aksinya.
Because Aksinya has not accepted Ernst's proposal, this ruins the Graf's plan to make a responsible man of his son--first through the family business and second through marriage. However, everything is not lost. Aksinya has not given her answer. This allows the Graf to put pressure on Aksinya: "I think he is completely serious about you.” Ernst is indeed serious about Aksinya--so serious he would do the thing he hated and that would tie him down. He would become responsible for her sake. He would basically give up his irresponsible life to marry her.
Aksinya gets this. She finally figures out what it means for Ernst to love her. He is willing to give up something (in a way, everything) for her. Thus her confession: “He said as much. He said he loves me.”
The Graf puts more pressure on Aksinya. He really wants Ernst to marry her. Ernst told Aksinya that he didn't have much experience with women. This becomes more evident here--although the Graf could just be ignorant of his son's activities. We did note that much of Ernst's knowledge seemed to come from Asmodeus.
Look at Aksinya's inadvertent confession: “That makes me happy. I would have liked to have kissed him a little longer.” She would only say this while drunk. Such a statement would be unseemly in the culture and the times. The Graf plays along. He is not shocked--perhaps he instructed Ernst in how to propose and tempt Aksinya (more likely the demon, but his response is interesting).
Natalya isn't the only one who is angry, but you knew that--didn't you? Aksinya is a little miffed at Natalya for ruining her fun. The Graf gets this. Natalya was just doing her job. The Graf likely applauds this. His point is more poignant; he wants Aksinya to say yes to marriage and: "You would be very good for him.”
This perplexes Aksinya (it should perplex us a little too). So far we haven't had much positive about Aksinya. We generally don't see her the way others might see her. We did get a couple of descriptions of her physically--we know she isn't much to look at. We do know she has an unusual effect on others, but mostly we ascribe that (like Aksinya) to the fact she is nobility and a countess. Now, at once, we see Aksinya through the eyes of Ernst and the Graf. Note, this parallels the opinion of the Freiherr and Freifrau. Aksinya's personality and her decorum are what set her apart. It isn't just the fact she is a countess. She herself is a treasure.
Aksinya's response shows she thinks this is just flattery. She can't accept this about herself. She has never imagined herself as a treasure, not in her family, not in her life. We do see there are great positives about her, but also great negatives. We wouldn't have called her a treasure either, but we know her better than the Graf. Still, his flattery isn't all false. He would not want Aksinya to be part of his family otherwise--we know by this he is telling the absolute truth from his thoughts.
Then there is a foreshadowing. I know many readers will forget all these wonderful little hints throughout the novel. That's why I keep giving them to you. The Graf's statement to Aksinya really sounds like flattery to us: "You may laugh at me, but you move and act like a princess, and I have seen many princesses. Most of them couldn’t hold a candle to you.” What if this were true.
Aksinya doesn't dispute him but rather points out her perception of herself and we know this is also true. Plus, she has other faults not so visible. Okay, a little theme talk here. Aksinya is not little miss everyone, but I certainly want everyone who reads this novel to associate themselves to some degree with Aksinya. Aksinya represents the desire in all of us for power and for control. She represents desire (the demon represents temptation). She is in many ways like all of us. Like most of us, she knows she is not beautiful. She does not strive at what she should. She strives at those things she should not. She loves luxuria (indulgence). She is like all of us in this. These are the bad traits that everyone knows they have, and that most admit in secret, but never in public. Aksinya is like all of us. She is prideful. She is tempted and sinful. She does not work hard at the good. She...look I could go on and on. She is just like all of us know we are deep down inside. She, like everyone has “...faults not so visible.” We just know all about her faults. They are hidden deep inside Aksinya, just as they are hidden deep inside most people. With Aksinya, we get to see the worst side of a person--yet the worst side of a person who really is trying to do the right thing. Aksinya knows what is right. She knows what is good. She just can't reject temptation. She, however, unlike everyone else, can see the demon she carries with her. Okay, there was a theme statement that concerns this entire novel. Did you get that. Everyone knows they carry around their own personal demon--they just don't really see theirs the way Aksinya can see hers. That, in a nutshell, is just what the theme of this novel is ultimately about. The story and plot point to this, but this is a theme concept. It isn't something an author directly tells you in the writing. I'll state it in more direct terms: the main theme of this novel is that Aksinya has a demon (just like everyone has a demon), the question is how to remove this demon. You can take away that a solution Aksinya determines (or discovers), might work for anyone. But that's the theme--a high level idea encompassed by the story and plot.
Back to the conversation. Aksinya's reaction to the Graf's flattery: “If I were not a Countess, I would be nothing.” This is the idea pounded into her head by the girls at Sacré Coeur. She did not think this from before. She has been affected by others around her (but you knew that).
The Graf's response is overwrought and ironic, but perhaps true. Not that the demon of luxuria would have used a washerwoman as his vessel of evil. The washerwoman idea is a foreshadowing, by the way. (It will help if you remember in German a putzfrau is a cleaning lady--a kind of washerwoman.) Look at the words of the Graf. He has made inroads to Aksinya's thoughts and heart, but then he blows it: "Whatever you did, it ensorcelled his heart...”
Aksinya knows what this means. She understands too well about sorcery. She has truly ensorcelled Ernst's heart and she knows it. She also knows much was the work of Asmodeus and not she herself. This is certainly not what Aksinya wants, but it is what she desires. Do you see this difference and how important it is. Just like everyone, there are wants and desires. We indulge our wants (that is what we know is right) and gain greatness. We indulge our desires (that which we know is wrong) and find ashes. Akinsya rightly sees she is a temptation for Ernst and for his father.
The Graf doesn't understand at all, but how could he. He does acknowledge Aksinya's state of inebriation. Tomorrow, preparations for bed.