Enough, Right on Time

Dear Poor Old Sightless Bird of the Feather-light writing!

Let’s start at the very end. An absolutely abysmal place to start, I imagine Julie Andrews thinking. But then again, like Elvis Costello, I very much prefer John Coltranes’ (he’s a saxophone player, dear, don’t get up) version of My favourite things to hers, so, you know, nuts to her. Near the end, You asked me about either my temper or my child and actually it doesn’t matter which because the answer is the same to both: Like the proverbial cucumber. My temper is rarely roused these days, even by bad grammar or by the arrival of younger people on Radio 4.

As for the child, well, contrary to the received opinion, I don’t think pride to be the apt sentiment, but he seems to be doing very well at the conservatory. I do suspect drugs, off course, who doesn’t? I understand that performance enhanchers are very much the thing now (you know, like the things the Le Temps Modernes crew used to take in the forties, at least the frog-like one), and sad to say: it has become hard not to be suspicious of too rapid progress on the Prokofiev’s and the Paganini’s. What is worse is that The Other Parent’s flaunt their suspicions to showcase their advanced level of being impressed. But, as someone so briliantly says in Pnin:

He who lives in a glass house should not attempt to hit two birds with one stone.

(It’s that kind of amusing immigrant misunderstanding still managing to capture some more profound truth than the original cliché that Nabokov fires off with ease, and overrated contemporaries like messeurs Shteyngart and Safran Foer struggle to achieve).

How tedious for you to relive the infirmities of pregnancy, Dear. I remember it to, of course. What I don’t remember, however, is feeling entitled to respect or even praise for being unreasonable, like some people do (I almost wrote ”women today”, but then remembered that not all women today are like that, and that some women where always like that, wheren’t they? Even Dear Mary McCarthy’s Group women didn’t rise much above it, but then again, she didn’t much care for her characters). Pregnant women often become like children, I feel. Children who don’t realise that their mood is due to sleep or food deprivation. Or men, god bless them, who don’t realise that they should really see a doctor about that sort of thing. I remember being infirm, tired, edgy, sensitive and in general unable to do things that I could normally do. But I don’t remember being unreasonable about it, because I remember understanding why I was like that. And had I been unreasonable, and had my then husband said that ”it’s okay, you’re pregnant”, the divorce would have happened much sooner than it did. How did your great late husband cope with your condition, by the way? Do you remember?

Now back to Pnin and not a moment too soon, I think. I could quote the book to you in full, in fact I’ve more then once been tempted to call you up and read it out loud. But this in particular is just too wonderful to miss out on:

For Pnin (…) the new Fall Term began particularly well: he had never had so few students to bother about, or so much time for his own research. This research had long entered the charmed state when the quest overrides the goal, and a new organism is formed, the parasite so to speak, of the ripening fruit.

It’s beautiful, it’s funny, and it’s true. I wish my Fall Term would begin as well, but alas I’m facing roughly 50 students, again. (My own fault, I guess, for continuing to deliver the ever popular ”Consciousness and the Novel” lectures). There is a marvelous scene near the end where Pnin is doing the dishes after his one and only dinner party that’s particularly poignant and moving. He drops something and… well, I shall not tell you. You really should read it. It’s Nabokov at his best, I think.

I’m doing my share of the feather-weight as well, by reaquanting myself (I really took that re-reading thing to heart, didn’t I?) with mr Smarty Pants Herr Sherlock Holmes. It was a recent TV- version emplying the talents of of a very clever script-writing team, and a very clever, very good looking actor in it, that reminded me and now I’m all into it again. It’s noteworthy that we’ve come so far that even in a modern remake, Dr Watson can plausibly be a recent, slightly shell-shocked, arrival from army duty in Afghanistan.

Keep your feet up, do.


P.S In our quest to complete all the stylish first half of 20th century serial novels, we shouldn’t forget about C.P. Snows Strangers and Brothers. At least two of them (ten in total) ranks among the finest university novels I know, and one, the Corridors of Power should probably be read just for us to be insufferable at parties, telling people all about where that expression came from. D.S.

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