Angels From the Time to Come

Certain moments in a good story possess a quality that is logically very strange indeed, and that renders them often haunting and unforgettable. Consider Dorothea's choice of Ladislaw as her lover in Middlemarch: the logic of fiction would dictate that Dorothea should pair up with Lydgate, who is a heavyweight like her, and if after reading the first half of the book we were to try to predict the outcome, this would probably be our choice. On the other hand, when she upsets our expectations we are on reflection not disappointed but deeply excited by the depth of what has happened: strangely, we now realize that Dorothea's surprising choice was really inevitable all along, that it had to be that way; her originality, her tenderness, her St. Teresa-like sense of mastery could express itself no other way.

We get the same feeling when Edmund has his deathbed repentance in King Lear, and even more so when it turns out that his repentance, which would be the perfect deus ex machina to save Cordelia's life, ends up with no apparent plot function at all: in fact it makes Cordelia's death even more unexpected, arbitrary, and horrifying. Yet we recognize immediately the absolute Tightness of this reversal; it was inevitable all along.

One could cite dozens of other examples: the Odyssey is a compendium of them, Faulkner is a master at the art, and so is Tolstoy. In music the same thing happens: Mozart...

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