The Chronicles

Oh Dear

I wonder whether you ever engaged in that peculiar parlour game “Humiliation”. David Lodge describes it in one of his awfully funny novels set in academia. The game is this: you have to mention a book that you haven’t yet read,  but think that the other participants have. The winner is the one who comes up with a title that all, or the most of, the others have read. The name of the game is self explanatory. But oh Debbie, old thing, go on, do it anyway. Alright then: Owning up to not having read something that most of your peers have is supposed to be humiliating. If you make your living partly by being viewed as well read, it might even be dangerous. A bit of a warning, though: choosing dear mrs Susan’s “The valley of the dolls” doesn’t work a bit as well as you might think. It might have, if the game was played on a global level, but you’ll be surprised how statistically abnormal the circle of friends you have around for parlor game time can be. (Speaking of Jacqueline, did you ever catch one of her book tours? Spectacular! It’s the literary counterpart to what I imagine Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show must have been like. If you’re a native american).

Howards end is one of my guilty items, and would come in useful in the game of humiliation. Come to think of it, I don’t believe I even own a copy. I do, I must confess, own a copy of the film-version though, in which darling Emma is so utterly adorable and good. In his scandalous autobiography “the Fry Chronicles” which I devoured almost in a single setting last week, Stephen goes on and on about what an amazing presence Emma was, even as a young student and fellow foot-lighter. The autobiography is scandalous, you see, because it is unforgivingly nice to almost everyone concerned (with the exception for some americans and sleazy producers who, we gather, wont be offended because they don’t, generally, read). There’s some perfectly juicy gossip in it too, however, and certainly worth the read for that reason alone. He does accomplish one thing that is really quite difficult in an autobiography: keeping the readers’ interest and sympathy while describing the transition from striving and self-doubting to settled and economically independent.

To answer your question: Forster was gay, dear. Forster was well gay, as they say. Keeping to my main theme of academia novels (goes well with macadamia nuts, you wont mind me pointing out for reasons of cuteness), I enjoyed his Cambridge set “The longest journey” immensely. It contains that truest of sentences “You can’t be good until you’ve had a little happiness”. I wonder whether the Vicar would agree. I wonder whether you do.

Our unfinished business is turning out to be quite political, to, in a caustic slapstick kind of way. I’m pausing now, to warn you about the appearance of a “spoiler” in the next sentence. Suffragettes raid the golf course.

I’ve put aside a little mostly unpolitical gem, however, to use in future publications and lectures. Writing about Macmaster’s first book

”He had expected a wallowing of pleasure – almost the only sensous pleasure he had allowed himself for many months. Keeping up the appearances of an English gentleman on an exiguous income was no mean task. But to wallow in your own phrases, to be rejoiced by the savour of your own shrewd pawkinesses, to feel your rhythm balanced and yet sober – that is a pleasure beyond most, and an inexpensive one at that. He had had it from mere ”articles” – on the philosophies and domestic lives of such great figures as Carlyle and Mill, or on the expansion of inter-colonial trade. This was a book.”

I admire, as ever, your patience for gardening, and for pet-keeping. I know that I probably should engage in those practices to. To complete the set, as it where, of being an older, single woman, bookish and pleasant bordering to the mawkish. More Judi Dench in “Ladies in Lavender” than as “M”. Only I simply rather not. (“I really ought to go home and go into business myself”, as someone says in Henry James’ “The Ambassadors”. “Only I simply rather die”). So plums would be much welcome, and if properly preserved, we might even trust British Rail to get them here before they, and I, decompose. Hey! Look at me, going on about the state of the national railway! I may be able to complete the set yet.

Yours, romantically disentangled


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