The Loves of a Prison Warden

I am still reading Thomas Mann’s Joseph and His Brothers. After reading about Pontiphar’s Wife–unintentionally Mann portrays a voluptuous vamp–I read about the prison warden whom Joseph was handed over to. This warden told an interesting story of unrequited love. Since I feel I also have suffered much unrequited love, I will quote a story that the warden wanted written as “A Tale of Two Brothers”:

“I was twelve years old and a pupil in the house of instruction within the scribal school of the Royal Stables. I was rather short and plump, just as I am today, for such is the stature and state given my life both before and after death. But my heart and mind were impressionable. One day I noticed a girl bring her brother, a fellow student of mine, his midday bread and beer, for his mother was ill… He called his sister who brought him his rations–three small loaves of bread and two jugs of beer–Beti, from which I surmised that her name was Nekhbet, which… [he], in response to my question, confirmed. For the name interested me because she interested me, and I could not take my eyes from her as long as she was still there not from her braids, her small eyes, or the bow of her mouth, and especially not from her as long as she was still there: not from her braids, her small eyes, or the bow of her mouth, and especially not from her arms, left bare by her dress and so beautiful in their slender fullness–they made the most profound impression on me. But all that day I did not know how great an impression Beti made on me, and discovered it only that night as I lay in the dormitory with me, and discovered it only that night as I lay in the dormitory with my comrades, my clothes and sandals beside me and my sack of writing tools and books in our dreams either. But I forgot them nonetheless, and all on their own my dreams knew to free themselves from this pressure…

[Though in his dreams he is married to Nekhbet, he knows better than to ask for her hand: they are too young to marry and their families render him an unsuitable match. Yet years later, his passion having apparently cooled, he sees another girl:]

Twenty years later, long after I had advanced to the rank of commissioned scribe of our victorious army, I was sent with three companions on a journey to Syria, to the wretched land of Her, to levy and inspect a tribute of horses, which were to be sent by cargo ship to Pharaoh’s stables. Departing the harbor at Khazati, I arrived first in the defeated city of Sekmem and then a city that, if I recall correctly, is named Per-Shean, where there was a posting of one of our garrisons, whose commanding office threw a party for both locals and the scribes in charge of remount horses, an evening affair with wine and wreaths held in his home of many beautiful doors… And there I saw a girl… And when I beheld this girl, the ivory merchant’s daughter, in all her youth, what had happened to me so many years before in the boys’ home of instruction happened to me a second time: I could not take my eyes from her because of the extraordinary impression she made on my heart, and the bliss I had tasted in the long-faded dream of betrothal returned in all its amazing familiarity…

“[When I inquired about her] I discovered that she was the daughter of Nechbet…”

The vividness of these passages–and I hope my quotations do them justice–remind me of those times I have been in love. Of course, my life in love is a ne’er-do-well’s, a hard luck case. I even have a man I am in love with at the moment, yet I suspect that my adoration of him is futile. This is because I have had only one boyfriend in my 42 years of life, and that was in high school.

It is perhaps true that what drives most honest men away from me is that I do not earn any money. The time when men wanted housewives appears to be over. Of course, I do not see myself as a house wife: I am a writer first and foremost. Yet I have sold few books, and that means that I have no money. Why must love be practical? Yet it always is. Perhaps that is why I sometimes have trouble believing in it, except for those brief moments of awe in which I discover the man of my dreams–but usually to no end. Isn’t it funny? If only the way love in old movies is portrayed was how love in reality existed. Yet reading these passages of love I see something of myself: the luminescent images of a beloved painfully out of reach. It is exquisite and painful at the same time…

Published by hadassahalderson

I am a professional author who lives in Wichita, KS. I went to Friends University and spent one year at Claremont Graduate University. My published work includes: The Bible According to Eve I-IV and Faust in Love.

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