In this post I will be discussing a section of a conversation between Roland and Maud, which occurs in Chapter Fourteen, during their visit to the Thomason Floss (265-268—Vintage edition), focussing on a brief exchange near the bottom of 267, where, in the process of investigating Ash and Christabelle, Roland and Maud make an equally, or perhaps more, significant discovery about each other (267).
Here, Roland remarks that what he “really” wants “is to—to have nothing” further stating: “I have this image of a clean empty bed in a clean empty room, where nothing is asked or to be asked” (267). Maud replies: “That’s what I think about, when I’m alone. How good it would be to have nothing. How good it would be to desire nothing. And the same image. An empty bed in an empty room. White” (267). While attempting to uncover truths about Ash and Christabelle, they have uncovered a shared drive or deep desire for a pure and solitary existence, perhaps implying a state that is not mired in worldly problems and attachments, reminiscent of Christabelle’s account of the life she has chosen to live with Blanche as quiet, “solitary,” with “sweet daily rythms which are not disturbed,” calling it their “circumscribed little independence” (159). In contrast, the world that Roland and Maud seem to want to escape is necessarily messy and would perhaps be represented by a vision of a dirty room, and a dirty bed, perhaps not circumscribed, but not independent.
Maud characterizes this discovery as a “powerful coincidence” and remarks, a little farther in the exchange: “how very funny—that we should have come here, for this purpose, and sit here, and discover—that—about each other” (267). There is an implication in this passage that the kind of investigation that Roland and Maud are engaging in—or literary/biographical research in general, although characterized in theory as a straight-line narrative beginning with a research question and ending with a clear answer, often do not proceed this way in practice, probably suggesting that their proceeding in this linear fashion is not necessarily even desirable. What one discovers about oneself, or, when people work collaboratively, what emerges in the activity of interpersonal exchange, is being emphasized in this passage in a way that makes it come across as being equally important as the research conducted and the ‘truths’ revealed. This implication has broader significance in the novel as a whole when considered in light of characters like Cropper, whose very name makes him vulnerable to an interpretation in terms of an extreme representation of a narrow, ‘truth-collecting’ sort of research, which excludes (crops) the humanity of the researcher.