07 February 2009

"As a graceful larch to a venerable yew"

But enough of Gollies and wallies; I've darlied myself out and am now thinking of more literary matters.

I had hoped  (and let thud leaden hints a-plenty) for a Christmas or birthday prezzie to be given Salley Vickers' Where Three Roads Meet but it was clearly judged too brainy for me, so I went back to the novel I like best of hers and can never re-read too often or without finding new insight or pleasures - Instances of the Number 3.

Incidentally, that 'Salley' is not a mistype: it's spelled with an 'e' because it's the Irish for 'willow' as in W B Yeats' "Down by the salley gardens".

Then one evening it was taken away from me because I was paying the page more attention than my guest, so I sulked and revisited her excellent foreword to Edith Wharton's The Touchstone, whence comes the title of this post where SV talks of Wharton's reputation standing in the shade of her more famous male contemporary, Henry James, "as a graceful larch might to a venerable yew.". I know a catchy title when I see one.

That, too - her foreword - I can read and read again and find new lines to admire.

I was hooked by the second para when she wrote that, "BOth Wharton and James were fascinated by the lurking, misty dangers that inevitably accompany the exercise of free will; in the diabolical traps we set ourselves through self-referential obtuseness and self-protective blindness."

Self-referential obtuseness, eh? I first read that in the throes of smarting from the removal behind my back of my entire collection of cufflinks and tiepins that my girls had grown up with and had understood they would be receiving as mementos of their dad. They were taken to my brother's place in Italy where, still unbeknownst to me, they were handed over to be placed in a dark dank safe for 'safer' keeping from the thieving Corcyran locals.

No one, least of all me, could understood how or why that was done, until I came across the self-referential reference and realised that, of course, I was dealing with people whose entire world reference was to their *own* 40 acres and a mule.

Indeed, when I was spotted with "Instances #3" and asked what it was about, and replied that it was a 'ghost story', my mother looked askance and almost disapproving, as if Salley wasn't actually allowed to write anything as non-U as a **ghost** story. It's not a ghost story per se  except that the husband is a ghost but he exists in a uniquely Vickersory way.

Please don't read it: I can't stand the way everyone loves and admires her and understands her nuances and can comment perceptively. She's mine, all mine, dammit. Do you ever get that possessive feeling about a writer? Well, the wise and beautiful Ms Vickers does that to me.

Yes, I do know she's beautiful because I've sat next to her at dinner - twice - and I always mean to keep my trap shut but she gets me blabbing and blurting which must be a terrible bore for her so I reckon that instances of our adjoining placement will lodge at the number 2.

I also learn new words from her.

  • Vitiated
  • Aetiology
  • On which topic, nor do I know exactly what 'askance' and 'per se' mean. (Don't all write in)

    'The Touchstone' deals with an older woman once in love with a self-referentially obtuse and impecunious much younger man. Listen to this for nailing what we all go thru:

    "[The friendship] enacts for us that uneasy disjunction in any relationship where affection is not equally matched and which thus always threatens to dissolve, on one side into an atypical brutality and, on the other, into faintly accusing masochism."

    Howzzat for getting it bang to rights? Maybe if I'd read that before making such a fool of myself over a certain Miss, I'd've had an easier landing, who knows?

    Actually, I don't mind you reading her provided you keep your wiser shrewder opinions to yourself and buy the costliest editions to boost Salley's royalties so that she can continue writing.

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