Some years ago, author Marilyn Z Tomlins wrote a sweet, poignant short story entitled Proof of Love, with the central character named Bella.
That must be just about the most beautiful name in spoken (or written) word creation, meaning as it does in French, when it’s spelled Belle, or in Italian with a final ‘a’, just that.
Ancient Italian, Latin, spoils things somewhat though, when it can also mean ‘wars.’
But never mind that. One syllable or two, its modern meaning is much nicer. Its longer forms sound, and look when read, just as beautiful too: Isabella and Annabella in Italian; Isabelle and Annabelle in French. There’s no getting away from it, in my view; some names just appear far nicer in the Romance languages. Considerably better than names like Tracy, to take just one ghastly example.
Here’s a brief taster extract from Proof of Love:
Bella Woolcock died three days ago. This is what the doctor told her sister-in-law. We all know that Bella died more than twenty years ago. The old woman they found in the bedroom of the small, untidy cottage was not Bella. Bella was beautiful and she was never going to grow old and unattractive. She said so. The first time she let us in on her decision to be young forever was on the day of her sixteenth birthday.
“The choice will not be yours,” we told her.
“Oh yes, it will be,” she laughed at us. “The day I feel I’ve had and known and felt it all, I’ll just darken my lamp.”
Poor Bella. When that day came she did not darken her lamp and we did not have it in us to remind her of what she had told us. She was the light in our lamps as well.
Of course, we did not believe that Bella had really had it all, seen it all and felt it all. Not Bella. We were certain she would come walking to us and her eyes would laugh daringly as she mouthed the word: “Magnificent, wickedly magnificent”. And we, with our plain faces and dull lives, will urge her to tell us more so that we could live it with her, share whatever was so wickedly magnificent.
It was what she had said to us the day she met Tom. It was spring and we were sitting in Molly’s garden. We were not particularly happy that day, we were feeling what we were – wives and mothers – and the season of spring we thought was for young girls.
Bella was twenty and dressed in white. She looked like a blossom, or a snowflake, or a swan: tender, fragile, eyes big and blue, her hair golden yellow and soft. I was expecting my second child, Molly was nursing her third, and here was this creature so perfectly beautiful that we could not help envying her. Molly jokingly said something about virginal youth, and Bella threw her head back and laughed. When she looked back at us, a smile was pulling over her lips forming a tiny dimple in her left cheek.
“Magnificent,” she whispered, “wickedly magnificent.”
Tom indeed merited such a description. He was dark and tall and when he spoke to you he made you feel you were the only woman in the world.
Molly and I never understood why Bella did not marry him. He wanted to marry her, I know, because he told me so. I was in hospital – I had developed some complication in the sixth month of my third pregnancy – and Tom came to visit me.
“It’s such a bore,” I told him. “I hate lying here and doing nothing.”
“If it is necessary,” he said, “you just lie here and wiggle your toes. Or are you not even allowed to do that?”
I confessed to him that I did not really want another child.
“Oh,” he cried out, “please don’t say that. You do not know how lucky you are to have a home and children.”
“Strange talk coming from a man,” I said.
I laughed and he laughed too.
“I suppose so,” he said. He added, a sad look in his eyes, “I asked Bella to marry me. She said no.”
He did not stay in our town, and just as well because three months later Bella became Mrs Woolcock. Mrs Charles Woolcock, mistress of Surrey House, the white mansion on the hill: the house we had spoken of so often, wondering what life was like behind its ivy-covered walls.
We saw little of Bella during the first few months of her marriage: she had not invited us to the wedding.
“I’m sorry about that,” she had said, “but you know what it is like.”
You can read the full story on Marilyn’s website at bit.ly/1vhVxKm
Marilyn must be very fond of the name Bella, because she used it again more recently in a full length novel, which I highly recommend. Here’s my review of that delightful, intensely moving book:
Another reviewer has commented that Bella isn’t just another Mills and Boon romance. It most certainly isn’t! As a mere man not normally interested in that genre, it came as a very great and very pleasant surprise to me. I was hooked from the start. Rather to my shame, I’ve never visited France, let alone Normandy, but this wonderful evocation of the sounds and sights and smells and tastes and essence of Britain’s nearest Continental neighbour transported me right there. It could only have been more Gallic in atmosphere if it had actually been written in that country’s beautiful language. (Presumably there’s also a French-language version of the book though?)
I really liked the way the author counterpointed the very different characters of Bella’s two Significant Others: Jean-Louis from her past, related in flashback, and English writer Colin looking for a peaceful environment in which to finish his novel, who enters her present. Both were wonderfully drawn, although Colin was certainly the more sympathetic. Bella’s sometimes troubled childhood as the daughter of an (unfairly alleged) wartime ‘horizontal collaborator’ made her difficulty in forming a lasting relationship but her need for one nonetheless seem all the more plausible and touching.
I enjoyed the well-rounded characters, such as gardener Fred and saucy waitress Alice, who stars in the (French) farcical restaurant scene involving drinking Calvados from a pistolet urinoir (yes, it really is what you think it might be), prior to Bella and Colin’s beautifully described first night of love.
This book gently captures your emotions. I felt totally involved with Bella throughout, hoping for a good outcome. The surprise, shocking, not completely resolved denouement made me wonder whether Ms Tomlins has a sequel in mind. One can but hope!
Thoroughly recommended for all romantically-inclined Francophiles!
Speaking of books, and another sort of repeating, here’s my new, soon-to-be-published novel The One of Us, which is all about identical twins. You can read extracts from it on this site, in the blogs Not so Rosie and Belongingness. It will be available from a purveyor of ebooks near you soon.