The Woman Who Pretended to Be Who She Was: Myths of Self-Imitation

By Wendy Doniger | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SEVEN
Face-Lifts

There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet.

T. S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (1917)


THE AGING WIFE

“How could you expect anyone who’d been through the tortures of the last ten years to remain the same? The very fact that I am like her now is proof that I am not she.” This argument that Zara (Garbo) makes in As You Desire Me (1932) is implicit in many of the tales of self-impersonation. The woman the rejected wife actually impersonates in many variants is the wife herself before the torments of normal aging, exacerbated by her husband’s rejection of her, made her change and age. Marcel Proust felt that these changes might be so profound as to trigger misrecognition:

The transformations effected in the women particularly, by white hair and by other new
features, would not have held my attention so forcibly had they been merely changes
of color, which can be charming to behold; too often they were changes of personality,
registered not by the eye but, disturbingly, by the mind. For to “recognize” someone,
and, a fortiori, to learn someone’s identity after having failed to recognize him, is to
predicate two contradictory things of a single subject, it is to admit that what was here,
the person whom one remembers, no longer exists, and also that what is now here is a
person whom one did not know to exist; and to do this we have to apprehend a mystery

-137-

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