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This article is taken from PN Review 151, Volume 29 Number 5, May - June 2003.

William Carlos Williams and Women (II): an embattled courtship Herbert Leibowitz

An Embattled Courtship

Charlotte's rebuff precipitated a far-reaching decision: if he could not win Rachel as his bride, he'd settle for Leah. In a surprise dip to the mating dance, he proposed marriage to Charlotte's younger sister Florence, whom he scarcely knew or had even much noticed. This blatant example of betrothal `on the rebound' indicates how desperate Williams was. Cornering the `kid' Floss, he made it clear that although he wanted her as his wife, he did not love her. Love would come, if at all, after they lived together. The absence of any romantic fervour or idealisation is striking - the proposal smacks, to borrow Williams' own phrase in `Romance Moderne', of `the stuff of blind/ emotions'.

Indeed, it is hard to conceive of a more inauspicious beginning to a relationship. His amour propre wounded, Williams had first to confront and overcome his defeat at the hands of Charlotte and Ed. (The word `defeat' always carries a special resonance for Williams and prompts a quest for compensatory action.) In his almost demented resolve, any rope that might pull him out of the trough of his misery was worth trying: hence the proposal to Floss. But his motives were mostly obscure to himself.

There was one thread of reason in Williams' decision. At this stage of his life, though attracted to confident, sexual women, he often felt maladroit in their company, even if he was not the sexual simpleton he recalled ...

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