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The Happy Prince

(Some of us went to this, but at different times.)

I’ve always thought that Rupert Everrett is vacuous but this film has made me change my mind.

Rupert Everett – who writes, directs and stars in this magnificent drama – was born to play Oscar Wilde, and this, Everett’s “11th-hour masterpiece” (The Times) focuses on Wilde’s final years following his notorious trial and imprisonment for “gross indecency”.

Once one of the most famous men in England, the great man of letters is now living in a kind of exile around Europe (from Normandy to Naples to Paris) after being released following his convinction for his indiscreet affair with Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas. Lying on his death bed, his eventful life comes flooding back via expertly interspersed flashbacks featuring his glory days and the beginning of his downfall. Now, he must draw upon the last of his reserves to face the end of his life – and the wreckage of his public self – with immense courage…

Merlin Holland, Oscar Wilde’s grandson:  “He’s a better Christ figure than Christ, if you see what I mean,” he says. “He has the godly side, the extraordinary vein of genius, and then he has his human side. His human qualities are ones we all suffer from — the snobbery, greed, ego — and for him he was completely undone by them. Most of us get away with it.”

“In the Cadogan Hotel [where Wilde was arrested after losing a libel case to the Marquess of Queensberry, his lover’s father, who had left him a note calling him a “somdomitel, when he has the chance, he could have avoided his fate, and for some reason he chose not to. It’s his 40 days in the wilderness — when Christ was tempted by the devil.” Everett may have rejected his Catholicism in which he was raised, but he still knows his scripture. “Wilde decides then that survival would only come through Crucifixion.”

Except we don’t know about Wilde’s resurrection, I say. “But we do know!” Everett says. “He was very much resurrected afterwards. He was resurrected as a writer and resurrected as the founder of a movement. Because the liberation of gays very much dates from the Oscar Wilde scandal. He saw Uranism, or whatever he called it, as a struggle against society. He wouldn’t have seen it as a problem with the Catholic church. But he did say that the road [to equality] was going to be “smeared with the blood of martyrs”. I think it was an identity for him… separate from a married man having a bit of fun.”

So was Wilde’s marriage to Constance a sham? “No, I think he was in love with her, right up until their son Cyril was born, and turned right off her after that…. One of the things about Oscar was that he wasn’t always very nice.”

Actually, says Everett, Oscar rather liked that he had married money — and in those days you took possession of your wife’s property. He also very much liked the fact that Lord Alfred Douglas was the son of a marquess. This wasn’t, says Everett, the great love of his life; rather, “an act of snobbery”.

Wilde’s deathbed conversion to Catholicism — he was received into the church by a Passionist priest that his friend Robbie Ross found in Paris — is, in a way, pivotal to this drama. Wilde, he points out, believed “the pope cured him” of a persistent, perhaps syphilitic, rash during a papal audience. Everett himself loves Pope Francis although he detests the Church” — but admits he’ll always be Catholic. That’s what an education with the monks at Ampleforth does for you.

The priest was right to wear a biretta while hearing his confession but wrong to wear a chasuble for the funeral – unless it had been immediately preceded by a requiem mass..

This is a new treatment of Wilde – no Stephen Fry-style floppy-haired hagiography with Oscar dropping lilies and epigrams as he mooches towards death. Here, ravaged and dissolute, Wilde tumbles headlong into his downfall, dying destitute in St Germain De Pres at the age of 46 having ripped his life apart heedlessly, determinedly, and poignantly in a series of rash decisions. The Happy Prince sees Wilde alone and drunk in Paris, cadging money from former friends, almost willing himself to death. His soul is irreparably damaged after two years of hard labour in Reading Gaol for gross indecency and he wants to see his children, yet reunites with Bosie knowing what that will mean. “I am my own Judas,” he says.

Out of prison, Wilde had horrified his friends by resuming the destructive relationship with the exquisite, duplicitous Bosie (Colin Morgan), which causes the termination of the tiny allowance from his humiliated ex-wife Constance (Emily Watson) and endangers Bosie’s own income, leaving them nothing to live on. It’s the beginning of the end. Oscar treats his loyal allies Robbie Ross (Edwin Thomas) and Reggie Turner (Colin Firth) with ungrateful negligence, but Everett imagines him, in extremis, befriending a young Paris rent boy and his tough kid brother and whimsically holding them spellbound with his fairytale The Happy Prince. In happier times, he would recite to his equally entranced sons this story of a statue who allows a swallow to denude him of all his gold to feed the poor. In Everett’s hands, the tale becomes an ambiguous parable for Wilde’s passion and (possible) redemption, the unhappy prince who makes a lonely discovery that love is the only thing worth worshipping.

Everett likes to give us the famous lines from The Ballad of Reading Gaol in voiceover: “Each man kills the thing he loves …” But Everett takes us through the moment-by-moment horror of humiliation and poverty, which Wilde brazens out with gallows humour and wit as best he can. He vomits in agony on his deathbed before declaiming: “Encore du champagne!” Everett has clearly been influenced by David Hare’s 1998 stage play The Judas Kiss, in which Everett played Wilde, and also perhaps by Peter Ackroyd’s 1983 novel The Last Testament of Oscar Wilde.

Oscar bursts into tears on being reunited with Bosie – and when he is recognised in France by a bunch of British rowdies who are hateful and homophobic (although that second concept is not something that anyone present would have recognised, perhaps not even Wilde himself). The hooligans chase Oscar, Robbie and Reggie into a church where Oscar faces them down by yelling: “The natural habitat of the hypocrite is England! Go there and leave me in peace!” Hypocrisy is the key. Polite society was prepared to turn a blind eye to homosexual assignations if they were conducted within a proper carapace of secrecy and shame. There was no immediate objection to casual sex with the lower orders, who could be bought and bought off. A flaunted connection with the Queensberry family was a class transgression. Shrewdly, Everett shows Wilde with a portrait of Queen Victoria by his deathbed. He died one year before her, and the film hints that Wilde’s vindictive treatment was part of the ugly sense of shame and mortification at Romantic and aesthetic indulgence which the manly slaughter of the first world war was supposed to redeem.

Using vignettes and flashback, we learn about his few loyal friends, his relationship with his wife and sons, which was devoted if impossible, and how he allowed Bosie to continue to destroy him. This occasionally slips into cheap sentiment, but there are some stand-out scenes — Wilde singing ‘The Boy I Love Is Up In The Gallery’, for instance — and, of course, there are some terrific lines. ‘I am dying beyond my means,’ he will complain on his deathbed. As for Everett, he is terrific. His Wilde is not hagiographic. His Wilde is brilliant but also foolhardy, exploited but also wilfully self-destructive, funny but also pathetic. A sad film, but ravishingly so.

Wilde’s deathbed conversion to Catholicism, no big deal now but something pretty jazzy at the time, is carefully dramatised. Everett has clearly done his homework — sometimes to a fault, as his Wilde spends so long dying you can imagine the real Wilde sitting next to you urging him to hurry up so he can pop along for an absinthe.

Oscar, as a kind of decaying monument, drifts in and out of raucous Parisian nightclubs, extravagant dinners for which he foots the bill on dwindling funds, quiet French seaside retreats or exuberant all-male frolics to keep Bosie entertained in Naples, despite the thrill of lust having soured for him. “I am my own Judas,” he moans at one point, but there’s little poignancy in his self-destructive behaviour, even as the great man’s dignity, and ultimately his life, slip away from him.

Everett returns several times in flashback, the dandy is shown in his convict’s garb on the platform at Clapham Junction.

As he waits to be transferred to Reading Gaol, passersby gather round him, taunt him and finally begin to spit on him

He talks about being “shrouded in the symphony of adjacent copulation.” Late on, when he is sitting outside a cafe as the rain lashes down on him and can’t afford to go inside to settle his bill, he seems remarkably sanguine. At moments like these, he lives up to one of his most famous lines: “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”

He is suddenly recognised by an old “friend”, Mrs Arbuthnot (Anna Chancellor), who knew him in his glory days and pursues him.

“Surely you remember me?” she implores him. His response is to sponge £5 off her. Her husband catches them up and warns Wilde, whom he once admired, that if he ever speaks to her again, he will kill him.

“Dear Prince, I must leave you, but I will never forget you, and next spring I will bring you back two beautiful jewels in place of those you have given away. The ruby shall be redder than a red rose, and the sapphire shall be as blue as the great sea.”

 

“Surely Love is a wonderful thing. It is more precious than emeralds, and dearer than fine opals. Pearls and pomegranates cannot buy it, nor is it set forth in the marketplace. It may not be purchased of the merchants, for can it be weighed out in the balance for gold.”

 

“There is no good talking to him,” said a Dragon-fly, who was sitting on the top of a large brown bulrush; “no good at all, for he has gone away.”
“Well, that is his loss, not mine,” answered the Rocket. “I am not going to stop talking to him merely because he pays no attention. I like hearing myself talk. It is one of my greatest pleasures. I often have long conversations all by myself, and I am so clever that sometimes I don’t understand a single word of what I am saying.”
“Then you should definitely lecture on Philosophy,” said the Dragon-fly.”

 

“Everyone quoted it, it was full of so many words that they could not understand.”

 

“In the square below,’ said the Happy Prince, ‘there stands a little match-girl. She has let her matches fall in the gutter, and they are all spoiled. Her father will beat her if she does not bring home some money, and she is crying. She has no shoes or stockings, and her little head is bare. Pluck out my other eye, and give it to her, and her father will not beat her.’

‘I will stay with you one night longer,’ said the Swallow, ‘but I cannot pluck out your eye. You would be quite blind then.’

‘Swallow, Swallow, little Swallow,’ said the Prince, ‘do as I command you.’

So he plucked out the Prince’s other eye, and darted down with it. He swooped past the match-girl, and slipped the jewel into the palm of her hand. ‘What a lovely bit of glass,’ cried the little girl; and she ran home, laughing.

Then the Swallow came back to the Prince. ‘You are blind now,’ he said, ‘so I will stay with you always.”

 

“The living always think that gold can make them happy”

 

“There is no Mystery so great as Misery.”

 

“Who are you?” he said.

“I am the Happy Prince.”

“Why are you weeping then?” asked the swallow; “you have quite drenched me.”

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In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower (In Search of Lost Time Vol. 2) – Marcel Proust

ITSOYGIF 2The narrator’s memories of Paris and the Normandy seaside, at the heart of the story lie his relationships with his grandmother and with the Swann family. A meditation on different forms of love.

Proust was the first person to coin the term involuntary memory, in his novel À la Recherche du Temps Perdu (In Search of Lost Time or Remembrance of Things Past). Proust did not have any psychological background, and worked primarily as a writer. He viewed involuntary memory as containing the “essence of the past”, claiming that it was lacking from voluntary memory. In his novel, he describes an incident where he was eating tea soaked cake, and a childhood memory of eating tea soaked cake with his aunt was “revealed” to him. From this memory, he then proceeded to be reminded of the childhood home he was in, and even the town itself. This becomes a theme throughout In Search of Lost Time, with sensations reminding Proust of previous experiences. He dubbed these “involuntary memories”.

This insight has implications for the way we remember our past- it may be inaccurate, it also effects national memory – history, wars, religious beliefs (the Eucharist ‘in remembrance of…’) Once we create a memory, we, as it were, delete all other versions of an event.

Some members of our group found it ‘a lot of effort’ and not all finished it.

Yet one found it ‘sillier than expected…hilariously snobbish…a lot of energy.

Is the narrator neurotic?

The Narrator’s parents are inviting M. de Norpois, a diplomat colleague of the Narrator’s father, to dinner. With Norpois’s intervention, the Narrator is finally allowed to go see Berma perform in a play, but is disappointed by her acting. Afterwards, at dinner, he watches Norpois, who is extremely diplomatic and correct at all times, expound on society and art. The Narrator gives him a draft of his writing, but Norpois gently indicates it is not good. The Narrator continues to go to the Champs-Élysées and play with Gilberte. Her parents distrust him, so he writes to them in protest. He and Gilberte wrestle and he has an orgasm. Gilberte invites him to tea, and he becomes a regular at her house. He observes Mme Swann’s inferior social status, Swann’s lowered standards and indifference towards his wife, and Gilberte’s affection for her father. The Narrator contemplates how he has attained his wish to know the Swanns, and savours their unique style. At one of their parties he meets and befriends Bergotte, who gives his impressions of society figures and artists. But the Narrator is still unable to start writing seriously. His friend Bloch takes him to a brothel, where there is a Jewish prostitute named Rachel. He showers Mme Swann with flowers, being almost on better terms with her than with Gilberte. One day, he and Gilberte quarrel and he decides never to see her again. However, he continues to visit Mme Swann, who has become a popular hostess, with her guests including Mme Bontemps, who has a niece named Albertine. The Narrator hopes for a letter from Gilberte repairing their friendship, but gradually feels himself losing interest. He breaks down and plans to reconcile with her, but spies from afar someone resembling her walking with a boy and gives her up for good. He stops visiting her mother also, who is now a celebrated beauty admired by passersby, and years later he can recall the glamour she displayed then.

Two years later, the Narrator, his grandmother, and Françoise set out for the seaside town of Balbec. The Narrator is almost totally indifferent to Gilberte now. During the train ride, his grandmother, who only believes in proper books, lends him her favorite: the Letters of Mme de Sevigne. At Balbec, the Narrator is disappointed with the church and uncomfortable in his unfamiliar hotel room, but his grandmother comforts him. He admires the seascape, and learns about the colourful staff and customers around the hotel: Aime, the discreet headwaiter; the lift operator; M. de Stermaria and his beautiful young daughter; and M. de Cambremer and his wife, Legrandin’s sister. His grandmother encounters an old friend, the blue-blooded Mme de Villeparisis, and they renew their friendship. The three of them go for rides in the country, openly discussing art and politics. The Narrator longs for the country girls he sees alongside the roads, and has a strange feeling of unexplained memory while admiring a row of three trees. Mme de Villeparisis is joined by her glamorous great-nephew Robert de Saint-Loup, who is involved with an unsuitable woman. Despite initial awkwardness, the Narrator and his grandmother become good friends with him. Bloch, the childhood friend from Combray, turns up with his family, and acts in typically inappropriate fashion. Saint-Loup’s ultra-aristocratic and extremely rude uncle the Baron de Charlus arrives. The Narrator discovers Mme de Villeparisis, her nephew M. de Charlus, and his nephew Saint-Loup are all of the Guermantes family. Charlus ignores the Narrator, but later visits him in his room and lends him a book. The next day, the Baron speaks shockingly informally to him, then demands the book back. The Narrator ponders Saint-Loup’s attitude towards his aristocratic roots, and his relationship with his mistress, a mere actress whose recital bombed horribly with his family. One day, the Narrator sees a “little band” of teenage girls strolling beside the sea, and becomes infatuated with them, along with an unseen hotel guest named Mlle Simonet. He joins Saint-Loup for dinner and reflects on how drunkenness affects his perceptions. Later they meet the painter Elstir, and the Narrator visits his studio. The Narrator marvels at Elstir’s method of renewing impressions of ordinary things, as well as his connections with the Verdurins (he is “M. Biche”) and Mme Swann. He discovers the painter knows the teenage girls, particularly one dark-haired beauty who is Albertine Simonet. Elstir arranges an introduction, and the Narrator becomes friends with her, as well as her friends Andrée, Rosemonde, and Gisele. The group goes for picnics and tours the countryside, as well as playing games, while the Narrator reflects on the nature of love as he becomes attracted to Albertine. Despite her rejection, they become close, although he still feels attracted to the whole group. At summer’s end, the town closes up, and the Narrator is left with his image of first seeing the girls walking beside the sea.

Proust introduces some of his comic inventions, from the dull M. de Norpois to the enchanting Robert de Saint-Loup. It is memorable as well for the first appearance of the two figures who are to dominate the narrator’s life—the Baron de Charlus and the mysterious Albertine.

He is more concerned for the furniture than for the girls in a brothel.

Marcel makes quick work of Gilberte Swann. As with Swann before him, the more desperately he loves the girl, the less interest she displays in return. So he decides to put his love on ice, while maintaining his friendship with her parents.

Then, two years later, it’s off to Balbec. Marcel is now sixteen and still dependent on his mother and grandmother. He spends a seemingly endless summer at a grand hotel on the Normandy coast, watching strange places and people become familiar to him. He becomes a close friend of the Guermantes aristocrat, Robert de Saint-Loup, and of the painter Elstir (whom we met as a foolish young man belonging to Madame Verdurin’s “little clan” in Swann’s Way). He also meets the Baron de Charlus, who deigns to make a move on him, an overture which only mystifies Marcel.

More important than any of these is his acquaintance with the “little band” of girls whom he describes as adolescent, and who sometimes behave that way, but who surely are older. Indeed, two of them seem to be sitting for the bac or high-school leaving exam, which Proust passed — in economics and mathematics — just as he turned eighteen. (There is also the matter of the book’s title: some argue that “en fleur” is a reference to the menarche, which in 1900 was about fourteen for European and North American girls. Indeed, according to his grand-niece and biographer, that’s why Scott Moncrieff chose to bowdlerize Proust’s title for the book.)

Marcel focuses his adoration, first on one, then on another of these young women, but it is obvious to everyone except him that Albertine Simonet will be the love of his life.

One of Proust’s great themes and talents is showing character and how it may change over time. In this second volume he deals with friendship, including the curious sort of friendship that is carnal love. How do we bridge the gap between the stranger and the dear person he or she will become, as friend or lover? First,Gilberte Swann, whom Marcel first adores and then, after considerable pain, trains himself to ignore. Then there’s Robert de Saint-Loup then there is Albertine, the obsession toward which Marcel has been working all this time.

He is equally adept with the pretentious and social-climbing Bloch, whom we met in Swann’s Way  as a “precious youth,” greatly admired by the narrator. That admiration has now been qualified. Just as the homosexual Proust is often harsh in his treatment of “inverts,” so does he, the son of a Jewish mother, verge on anti-semitism in his ridicule of Bloch’s family, especially the uncle, Nissim Bernard. (Bloch’s first name is Albert, though I confess I had to look it up. Nor does he have much in the way of physical characteristics. He’s a year or two older than Marcel, though they were schoolmates at one time.)

As the title suggests, memory is a major theme of In Search of Lost Time. The author’s understanding of memory is clearly stated in this second volume, in the words of James Grieve for the Penguin Proust:

[T]he greater part of our memory lies outside us, in a dampish breeze, in the musty air of a bedroom or the smell of autumn’s first fires, things through which we can retrieve … last vestige of the past, the best of it, the part which, after all our tears have dried, can make us weep again. Outside us? Inside us, more like, but stored away…. It is only because we have forgotten that we can now and then return to the person we once were, envisage things as that person did, be hurt again, because we are not ourselves anymore, but someone else, who once loved something that we no longer care about.

Cf. translations: Scott Moncrieff “Whoever she is,” he went on, “hearty congratulations; you can’t have been bored with her. I picked her up a few days before that on the Zone railway, where, speaking of zones, she was so kind as to undo hers for the benefit of your humble servant….”

Grieve: “Well, anyway,” he said, “you deserve to be congratulated—she must have given you a nice time. I had just met her a few days before, you see, riding on the suburban line. She had no objection to yours truly, and so a nice ride was had by one and all….”

For  “ I had her pinned between my legs as though she was the bole of a little tree I was trying to climb. In the middle of my exertions, without my breathing being quickened much more than it already was by muscular exercise and the heat of the playful moment, like a few drops of sweat produced by the effort, I shed my pleasure…” (p.69) one of our members simply observed that “He came in his pants wrestling with that girl.”

When Marcel first enters the grand seaside hotel at Balbec, where he’ll meet those young girls in flower, he is awed by the majesty of the elevator boy. He tries to placate him with chatter, but “il ne me répondit pas.” Scott Moncrieff rendered this as “he vouchsafed no answer,” phrasing which appears unchanged in today’s Modern Library edition. Mr. Carter is more straightforward: “he did not answer me.” Just so!

He wrote this aged 48. Most sentences are over long.

Is there a double entendre in the scene with the lift boy: as he went on pushing and pulling the knobs and stops of his instrument.?

Like any extended summer holiday of youth, nothing really happens but it happens intensely. At first the narrator is unhappy and homesick. Later he makes a new friend and reencounters an older one, Bloch.

Bloch is a beautifully observed character. He is more worldly than the narrator (Bloch takes him to his first whorehouse, where the narrator loses his virginity), but less socially adept. Bloch is a good friend, but not a flawless one.

Bloch is Jewish. The narrator is not. The narrator thinks nothing of this difference, but others do and through their reactions and comments Proust makes apparent the casual and widespread anti-Semitism running through French life of this period. It’s a theme I understand the next book develops further.

The narrator falls in love with every girl he sees. The less he sees of her in fact, the more he falls in love. A glimpse of a woman from a moving carriage lets him fill in what he can’t see with imagination.

Although many of Proust’s close family and friends suspected that he was homosexual, Proust never admitted this. It was only after his death that André Gide, in his publication of correspondence with Proust, made public Proust’s homosexuality. In response to Gide’s criticism that he hid his actual sexuality within his novel, Proust told Gide that “one can say anything so long as one does not say ‘I’.”

In 1949, the critic Justin O’Brien published an article called “Albertine the Ambiguous: Notes on Proust’s Transposition of Sexes” which proposed that some female characters are best understood as actually referring to young men. Strip off the feminine ending of the names of the Narrator’s lovers—Albertine, Gilberte, Andrée—and one has their masculine counterpart. This theory has become known as the “transposition of sexes theory” in Proust criticism, which in turn has been challenged in Epistemology of the Closet (1990) by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and in “Proust’s Lesbianism” (1999) by Elisabeth Ladenson. Feminized forms of masculine names were and are commonplace in French.

The author does say, however, that love is more important than who you love. (p. 343)

I had to look up zoophytic (p. 436) = An invertebrate animal, such as a sea anemone or a sponge, that superficially resembles a plant; and vetiver (p. 529) = heavy, earthy fragrance similar to patchouli

ITSOYGIF 7Quotations:

From the Translator’s  (Grieve) Introduction

To win the Goncourt prize seldom requires literary genius. Cronyism, Parisian faddery and petty intrigue usually weigh more.

Inclined to see this volume as a ‘listless interlude’, Proust was surprised that ‘everyone is reading it’.’

From the narrator’s encounters with these great enigmas and temptations, Proust distils his lengthy meditations, variations on some of the most structural themes of his novel: the disparities between cognition and thing, theory and practice, desire and discovery, appearance and truth, imagination and reality. For the narrator is now coming to an awareness of life as mystery, full of passions that baffle, appearances that conceal, illusions that seem to promise, impressions that tantalize.  He has inklings of  the sheer unpredictability of beauty, the inability of words and names to capture the essences of things, the contradictions with which life replaces expectations, the discrepancy between impression and memory, his own sentimental fatalism.

that impressions, our only access to these, are inadequate to their conscious capture, that they are individual, irreplaceable by any generality, untranslatable in any word, accessible only by a freak of memory or through art.

Proust was intermittently unsure whether he was writing an essay or a novel.

His composition was often not linear; he wrote in bits and pieces; transitions from one scene to another are sometimes awkward, clumsy even. He can make heavy weather of simple movements: characters get stood roughly into position so that

the next demonstration may take place; action must be performed perfunctorily, so that protracted analysis of it may ensue

The Dreyfus Affair is made much of by some commentators on In Search of Lost Time. In fact, Proust deals with it hardly at all (in the whole novel, the name of Dreyfus occurs less often than the head waiter’s, a very minor character) and then only in its most trivial repercussions in fashionable society, such as those reflected on p. 92. More important to the novel than Dreyfus is the virulence of the anti-Semitic prejudice generally shared by the fashionable characters, of the sort satirized on p. 344 in a speech by Charlus (and perceptible, if less virulent, in Proust’s own ambivalence towards the Blochs).

ITSOYGIFFrom the text:

 He strode rapidly across the whole width of the hotel, seeming to be in pursuit of his monocle, which kept darting away in front of him like a butterfly.

As to the pretty girls who went past, from the day on which I had first known that their cheeks could be kissed. I became curious about their souls. And the universe became more interesting.

When Swann married Odette, he did not go through a process of renunciation of his former social ambitions — she had long since brought him to a state of detachment from them, in the spiritual sense of the word. And had he not been detached from them, it would have been all the more to his credit. In general, marriages which degrade one of the partners are the worthiest of all, because they entail the sacrifice of a more or less flattering situation to a purely private satisfaction — and, of course, marrying for money must be excluded from the notion of a degrading match, as no couple of whom one partner has been sold to the other has ever failed to be admitted in the end to good society, given the weight of tradition, the done thing and the need to avoid having double standards. In any case, the idea of engaging in one of those cross-breedings common to Mendelian experiments and Greek mythology, and of joining with a creature of a different race, an archduchess or a good-time girl, someone of blue blood or no blood at all, might well have titillated the artist, if not the pervert, in Swann. On the occasions when it occurred to him that he might one day marry Odette, there was only one person in society whose opinion he would have cared for, the Duchesse de Guermantes, and snobbery had nothing to do with this. Odette herself was all but indifferent to the Duchesse de Guermantes, thinking only of the people who were immediately above her, rather than of those who inhabited such a remote and exalted sphere. But at moments when Swann sat day-dreaming about what it might be like to be the husband of Odette, he always saw the moment when he would introduce her, and especially their daughter, to the Princesse des Laumes, or the Duchesse de Guermantes as she had become upon the death of her father-in-law. He had no desire to present them to anyone else; but as he imagined the Duchesse talking about him to Odette and Odette talking to Mme de Guermantes, and the tenderness the latter would show to Gilberte, making much of her, making him proud of his daughter, he could be so moved that he spoke aloud the words they would say.

My mother did not seem very happy that my father had given up all thought of a diplomatic career for me. I think she lived in the hope of seeing my nervous susceptibility subjected to the discipline of an ordered way of life, and that her real regret was not so much that I was abandoning diplomacy as that I was taking up literature. ‘Oh, look, give over,’ my father exclaimed. ‘The main thing is to enjoy what one does in life. He’s not a child any more, he knows what he likes, he’s probably not going to change, he’s old enough to know what’ll make him happy in life.’ These words of my father’s, though they granted me the freedom to be happy or not in life, made me very unhappy that evening. At each one of his unexpected moments of indulgence towards me, I had always wanted to kiss him on his florid cheeks, just above the beard-line; and the only thing that ever restrained me was the fear of annoying him. On this occasion, rather as an author, to whom his own conceptions seem to have little value, because he cannot think of them as separate from himself, may be alarmed at seeing his publishers putting themselves to the trouble of selecting an appropriate paper for them and setting them in a type-face which he may think too fine, I began to doubt whether my desire to write was a thing of sufficient importance for my father to lavish such kindness upon it. But it was especially what he said about my likings probably changing, and what would make me happy in life, that planted dreadful suspicions in my mind. The first was that, though I met new day with the thought that I was now on the threshold of life, still lay before me all unlived and was about to start the very day, not only had my life in fact begun, but the years to come and not be very different from the years already elapsed. The second, which was really only a variant of the first, was that I did not outside Time but was subject to its laws, as completely as the seasonal characters whose lives, for that very reason, had made me feel so sad when I read of them at Combray, sitting inside my wickerwork shelter. Theoretically we are aware that the earth is spinning, but in reality we do not notice it: the ground we walk on seems to be stationary and gives no cause for alarm. The same happens with Time. To make its passing perceptible, novelists, have to turn the hands of the clock at dizzying speed, to make the reader live through ten, twenty, thirty years in two minutes. At the top of a page, we have been with a lover full of hope; at the foot of the following one, we see him again, already an octogenarian, hobbling his painful daily way round the courtyard of an old people’s home, barely acknowledging greetings, remembering nothing of his past. When my father said, `He’s not a child any more, he’s not going to change his mind, etc.,’ he suddenly showed me myself living inside Time; and he filled me with sadness, as though I was not quite the senile inmate of the poorhouse, but one of those heroes dismissed by the writer in the final chapter with a turn of phrase that is cruel in its indifference: ‘He has taken to absenting himself less and less from the countryside. He has eventually settled down there for good, etc.’

My father, in an attempt to forestall any criticism we might have to make about his guest, said to my mother:

`I must say old Norpois was rather “old hat”, as you two say. When he said it would “not have been seemly” to ask a question of the Comte de Paris, I was afraid you might burst out laughing.

— Not at all, my mother replied. I’m full of admiration for a man of his calibre and his age who hasn’t lost that simple touch. All it shows is a fundamental honesty and good breeding.

In fact, his wife had married him, against much opposition from within her family, because he was a ‘charmer’. The general effect of this person of superlative refinement may be judged from the fact that he had a silky fair beard, a pretty face, an adenoidal pronunciation, bad breath and a glass eye.

ITSOYG 4It must be supposed in many marriages, such subservience of the outstanding to the is the rule, for one need only think of the opposite case, that of “fled wives who smilingly defer to their crass boor of a husband crushes their nicest conceits, then gush with loving indulgence inept buffoonery which he thinks is humour.

I also went on telling myself that Gilberte did not love me, that I had known this for ages, that I could see her whenever I liked and that, if I preferred not to see her, I would eventually forget her. But these thoughts, like a medication which has no effect on certain disorders, were quite ineffectual against what came intermittently to my mind: those two close silhouettes of Gilberte and that young man, stepping slowly along -the avenue des Champs-Elysées. This was a new pain, but one which would eventually fade and disappear in its turn

she probably lived in ignorance of all the regrets I invented for her to feel, and thought not only much less about me than I about her, but much less than I pretended she thought about me in my moments of private communion with the fictitious Gilberte, when I longed to know her real intentions towards me and pictured her as spending her days doting on me.

in accordance with her pious expertise in the rites and liturgy of such things, Mme Swain’s ways of dressing were linked to the season and the time of day by a bond that was necessary and unique) the flowers on her soft straw hat and the little bows on her frock seemed a more natural product of May than any flowers cultivated in beds or growing wild in the woods; and to witness the thrilling onset of the new season, I needed to lift my eyes no higher than Mme Swann’s sunshade, opened now and stretched above me like a nearer, more temperate sky, full of its constantly changing blue. Though subordinate to none, these rites were honour-bound, as was consequently Mme Swann herself, to defer to the morning, the springtime and the sunshine, none of which I ever thought seemed flattered enough that such an elegant woman should make a point of respecting them, of choosing for their pleasure a frock in a brighter or lighter material, its lower neckline and looser sleeves suggesting the moist warmth of the throat and the wrists, that she should treat them as a great lady treats the common people whose invitation to visit them in the country she has cheerfully condescended to accept, and for whose special occasion,

if she unbuttoned or even took off and asked me to carry the jacket that she had originally meant to keep buttoned, I discovered in the blouse she wore under it a host of details of handiwork which might well never have been noticed, after the manner of those orchestral parts which the composer has worked with exquisite care, although no ears among the audience will ever hear them; or else in the sleeves folded over my arm I picked out and studied, for the pleasure of looking at them or for the pleasure of being pleasant, this or that tiny detail, a strip of cloth of a delightful shade, or a mauve satinet normally unseen by any eye, but just as delicately finished as any of the outer parts of the garment, like the fine Gothic stonework hidden eighty feet up a cathedral, on the inner face of a balustrade, just as perfectly executed as the low-relief statues in the main doorway, but which no one had ever set eyes on until an artist on a chance visit to the city asked to be allowed to climb up there, walk about at sky-level and survey a whole townscape from between the twin steeples.

ITSOYGIF 3The wife of an elderly banker, after hesitating between various possible exposures for her husband, had settled him in a deck-chair facing the esplanade, sheltered from wind and sun by the bandstand. Having seen him comfortably installed there, she had gone to buy a newspaper which she would read aloud to him by way of diversion, one of her little absences which she never prolonged for more than five minutes, which seemed to her quite long enough but which she repeated at fairly frequent intervals so that this old husband on whom she lavished an attention that she took care to conceal should have the impression that he was still quite alive and like other people and was in no need of protection.

… whenever society is momentarily stationary, the people who live in it imagine that no further change will occur, just as, in spite of having witnessed the birth of the telephone, they decline to believe in the aeroplane. Meanwhile the philosophers of journalism are at work castigating the preceding epoch, and not only the kind of pleasures in which it indulged, which seem to them to be the last word in corruption, but even the work of its artists and philosophers, which have no longer the least value in their eyes, as though they were indissolubly linked to the successive moods of fashionable frivolity. The one thing that does not change is that at any and every time it appears that there have been “great changes.”

Let but a single flash of reality – the glimpse of a woman from afar or from behind – enable us to project the image of Beauty before our eyes, and we imagine that we have recognised it, our hearts beat, and we will always remain half-persuaded that it was She, provided that the woman has vanished: it is only if we manage to overtake her that we realise our mistake.

… the interplay of their eyes, animated with self-assurance and the spirit of comradeship and lit up from one moment to the next either by the interest or the insolent indifference which shone from each of them according to whether her glance was directed at her friends or at passers-by, together with the consciousness of knowing one another intimately enough always to go about together in an exclusive “gang,” established between their independent and separate bodies, as they slowly advanced, an invisible but harmonious bond, like a single warm shadow, a single atmosphere, making of them a whole as homogenous in its parts as it was different from the crowd through which their procession gradually wound.

Our virtues themselves are not free and floating qualities over which we retain a permanent control and power of disposal; they come to be so closely linked in our minds with the actions in conjunction with which we make it our duty to practise them that if we come to engage in an activity of a different kind, it catches us off guard and without the slightest awareness that it might involve the application of those very same virtues.

The idea that one has long held of a person is apt to stop one’s eyes and ears; my mother, for three whole years, had no more noticed the rouge with which one of her nieces used to paint her lips than if it had been wholly and invisibly dissolved in some liquid; until one day a streak too much, or possibly something else, brought about the phenomenon known as super-saturation; all the paint that had hitherto passed unperceived was now crystallized.

Fashions change, being themselves begotten of the desire for change.

Finally, if I went to see Berma in a new play, it would not be easy for me to assess her art and her diction, since I should not be able to differentiate between a text which was not already familiar and what she added to it by her intonations and gestures, an addition which would seem to me to be embodied in the play itself; whereas the old plays, the classics which I knew by heart, presented themselves to me as vast and empty walls, reserved and made ready for my inspection, on which I should be able to appreciate without restriction the devices by which Berma would cover them, as with frescoes, with the perpetually fresh treasures of her inspiration.

The doctor … advised my parents not to let me go to the theatre. … The fear of this might have availed to stop me, if what I had anticipated from such a spectacle had been only a pleasure which a subsequent pain could offset and annul. But what I demanded from this performance—as from the visit to Balbec and the visit to Venice for which I had so intensely longed—was something quite different from pleasure: verities pertaining to a world more real than that in which I lived, which, once acquired, could never be taken from me again by any trivial incident—even though it were to cause me bodily suffering—of my otiose existence. At most, the pleasure which I was to feel during the performance appeared to me as the perhaps necessary form of the perception of these truths.

Whereas I had hated them for their cruelty, their consent made them now so dear to me that the thought of causing them pain stabbed me also with a pain through which the purpose of life appears to me as the pursuit not of truth but of loving-kindness, and life itself seemed good or evil only as my parents were happy or sad.

Believing the language to be less rich in words than it is, and her own ears less trustworthy, the first time that she heard anyone mention York ham she had thought, no doubt,—feeling it to be hardly conceivable that the dictionary could be so prodigal as to include at once a ‘York’ and a ‘New York’—that she had misheard what was said, and that the ham was really called by the name already familiar to her.

All that I grasped was that to repeat what everybody else was thinking was, in politics, the mark not of an inferior but of a superior mind.

If one has lost sight for a score of years of all the people on whose account one would have liked to be elected to the Jockey Club or the Institute, the prospect of becoming a member of one or other of those corporations will have ceased to tempt one. Now fully as much as retirement, ill-health or religious conversion, protracted relations with a woman will substitute fresh visions for the old. There was not on Swann’s part, when he married Odette, any renunciation of his social ambitions, for from these ambitions Odette had long ago, in the spiritual sense of the word, detached him.

It is because they imply the sacrifice of a more or less advantageous position to a purely private happiness that, as a general rule, ‘impossible’ marriages are the happiest of all.

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Larchfield by Polly Clark

LFThis novel about loneliness, unacceptance, survival, outsiders and creativity was inspired by the author’s own plight when she moved to Helensburgh in Scotland and found a connection with Auden that was to change her life. It evokes a small community as claustrophobic and inhibiting as the characters themselves. Helensburgh, (“the Wimbledon of the north”, according to Cecil Day-Lewis), is portrayed as a town where curtains twitch and ‘outsiders’ are treated with suspicion.

Post natal depression is described well.

Child abuse lurks.

The relationship with difficult neighbours was vividly described and many could relate to that from their own experience.

Helensburgh is not as self-contained as the novel suggests: many commute to Glasgow. The local paper opined: The sad thing is that there is some decent writing here. A novel solely about a premature child and post-natal depression in a strange West Coast town might have been fine. A non-fiction book about a curious period in the life of Auden would have been interesting. Together, they are not. There is also a sour undercurrent. Dora’s dastardly neighbours are, of course, churchgoers. They are, of course, hypocrites. This presumption that the Kirk is a crucible of sourness is, in my experience, neither true nor fair. I doubt very much indeed if she would have written this novel with the nasty upstairs neighbours being of Islamic or Jewish faith.

A good read, well-written, said members. Beautiful language.

She took a risk when merging the two different times and characters.

One member said that the breakdown scene was so vivid that he had to stop reading.

“You seem awfully nice in person” Wystan is told at one party, “and I’m sure your next book will be much better”). There are moments of escape, and we follow him there too – to brief holidays with his Christopher Isherwood where he makes the most of the soon-to-vanish freedom of Berlin’s gay clubs, and into a love affair with a working-class lad back in Scotland.

 According to one critic: Barely a page goes by without some stale and threadbare language. Shocking is usually “deeply”; people hiss instead of whisper, the baby perpetually gurgles, cuts are always deep. Nobody speaks like a human being, not even the kind of human beings that inhabit soi-disant and pseudo-literary novels – “Jamie! Thank you ! I mustn’t be stung by a wasp. Dr Boyce said it could make me very ill indeed.” This is twinned with a kind of needless poeticism: “a nest of wire and tubes” referring to a complicated cot; “one creature-combination of mother and baby” to describe the simple act of holding a child. It also must be the winner of my novel of the year to overuse italics.

The author:

Clark is the literature director of Cove Park, a writer’s retreat near Helensburgh, where she has lived for the last four years, as well as in the surrounding area for a further seven. Ever since she arrived – like Dora and Auden, from Oxford, where she had worked for a publisher –  she had known about Helensburgh’s Auden connection, that the poet had taught at Larchfield for a couple of years and that his first major collection, The Orators, was written while he taught there. Her daughter is a pupil at Lomond School, which is on the site of Larchfield. “Although the building in which Auden lived while he was there has been converted to flats, the façade is exactly the same, and in the photographs I’ve got of him with the boys, the background hasn’t changed. Helensburgh hasn’t altered too much either. I really didn’t need that much imagination.”

“This was such a formative time in his life,” she says, “yet nobody has really written about him in Helensburgh. But I didn’t want to write a biography, so for years I didn’t have any kind of hook on which to hang my knowledge of him. I used to wish it had been a completely different poet, someone I could relate to more – like Ted Hughes, say – because I didn’t think I had anything in common with Auden. He’s posh, he’s gay, I didn’t like his work so much – though I do now. I just didn’t see any connection.”

“Then I realised we had everything in common. We were both outsiders. Neither of us could be ourselves any more, we were both hiding who we are.”  Or, as she explains on the proof (though not the finished) copy of the novel: “I seemed to ignite anti-English feeling wherever I went. I couldn’t drive and became very isolated. When I had a baby, my ruin was complete. That’s when I first read Auden’s The Orators. And its poems changed my life.”

 Quotations:

“His arms are huge, the arms of an ape, and he’s lighting a cigarette as he gets settled for the journey from Oxford to Glasgow. ……His left ear sticks out, the remains of the schoolboy. The impression made is one of pale, large fragility. It isn’t until he looks up that his attractiveness becomes apparent.”

“He does not know that he will be more alone than he has ever been, that he will love more deeply than he ever thought possible – and he will long for the consolations that poetry cannot give, at least not to the writer.”
“hammering the piano, her broad shoulders moving volubly beneath her navy jacket”

“His mother needed a quite different sort of partner, a Latin Lothario who would have dominated her and treated her badly but ravishingly; his father needed someone simple and happy, who could be satisfied.”

“Ma should have married a robust Italian who was very sexy … Pa should have married someone weaker than he and utterly devoted to him. But of course, if they had, I shouldn’t be here.”

“‘Do you know about poetry, Mr Wallace?’
‘I know enough to know that rugby is more important.'”
“A hotel? [the nurse] repeated, almost wonderingly, looking at Dora anew, as if perhaps she were Oliver Twist and had said, Please sir, can I have some more?”

“The mothers lining the walls raised their drooping heads like desiccated flowers suddenly given a drink. Dora hauled herself across the room, just a step ahead of the silence cresting behind her.”
“Dora suspected she had probably never belonged anywhere […] while many thought her shy and brainy to the point of passionlessness, they were wrong. There had been love affairs […] These had always fallen apart at the point where she was expected somehow to change, to accommodate them in some profound way. She never wanted to, enough, and they certainly seemed to have no notion of accommodating her, and her need to scribble and read.”

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The Bell – Iris Murdoch

TB(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

This was all the rage when I was an undergraduate. A gay Christian was highly unusual then. Now, it’s almost compulsory.

This is a 1958 novel about a lay community sheltering in the grounds of a country estate.

Ex-teacher Michael Meade sets up a secular-religious enclave at his house, Imber Court in Gloucestershire, whose assorted inhabitants seek a “refuge from modernity”, which “with its hurried pace and its mechanical and technical structure” offers “no home to these unhappy souls”. The book depicts the portentous arrival of two visitors: a schoolboy, Toby, “greatly attracted by the idea of living and working, for a while at least, with a group of holy people who had given up the world”; and Dora, the errant wife of a scholar who is returning penitently but reluctantly to her stultifying marriage. Imber is in turn set against a convent of Benedictine nuns across the lake, a “buffer state” between the abbey and the real world in which Murdoch stages a clash of ideals: religious yearning, sexual passion, and the role of spirituality in a materialist era.

Consider, this novel was written in 1958 when homosexuals were whispered about, and called ‘pansies’ or ‘queers’.  Murdoch does not write of Michaels feelings towards Nick or Toby as dirty or twisted but just as a different kind of love.  It was beautifully handled.

In The Bell, Murdoch presents homosexuality through the context of several different characters. Firstly, there is the firsthand perspective of Michael Meade. Michael is inherently, though limitedly, affected by society’s perception of his sexuality, “Michael Meade at twenty-five had already known for some while that he was what the world called perverted”. Despite this understanding, Michael is acutely aware of his inability to separate his sexuality from the rest of his being, especially his religion, “It scarcely occurred to him that his religion could establish any quarrel with his sexual habits. Indeed, in some curious way the emotion which fed both arose deeply from the same source”. Murdoch provides the common societal attitude toward homosexuality through the character of James Tayper Pace. In describing his feelings towards Nick Fawley, James is nothing short of homophobic, displaying stereotypical attitudes reflective of 1950s English society, “‘He looks to me like a pansy,’….‘They’re always trouble-makers, believe me. I’ve seen plenty of that type. There’s something destructive in them, a sort of grudge against society’” . As yet another perspective on homosexuality, Murdoch provides the character of Toby with a more enlightened (though still not accepting) attitude, “In so far as he had up to now reflected on this propensity at all he had regarded it as a strange sickness or perversion, with mysterious and disgusting refinements, from which a small number of unfortunate persons suffered”.

In many ways, Murdoch’s representation of the homosexual experience is a direct reflection of common attitudes during the 1950s in England, “The Bell, Murdoch’s first fictional work that depicts the daily life of a male homosexual in detail, was published only months later in 1958 and accurately illustrates the legal dilemmas facing homosexual men during this era” . Murdoch’s examination of homosexuality during this time period should be considered especially courageous, “Murdoch often portrayed homosexuality in her fiction at times when it was not necessarily in vogue to do so, particularly during sensitive periods of change of legislative control over homosexuality in Great Britain”. In fact, during the 1950s “homosexual acts were still considered by law to be criminal offences” (“Cabinet Papers”). According to the Lesbian & Gay foundation, sodomy “was punishable by life imprisonment, though before 1861 it was a capital crime” (“Lesbian & Gay Foundation”). During the time period just before publication of Murdoch’s The Bell, prosecution against homosexuals was actually on the rise, “Between 1945 and 1955 the number of annual prosecutions for homosexual behaviour rose from 800 to 2,500, of whom 1,000 received custodial sentences” (“Lesbian & Gay Foundation”). As an alternative to imprisonment, some so-called “offenders” opted for a “cure” to avoid jail time, “In the 1950s and 1960s, behavioural therapy was used to try to “cure” gay men. Men convicted of homosexual acts were routinely given electric shock treatment, hallucinogenic drugs and subjected to brainwashing techniques” (Wheeler). According to Brian Wheeler of BBC News, “The most common form of treatment was aversion therapy, of the kind seen in Stanley Kubrick’s film A Clockwork Orange” (Wheeler). This treatment of homosexuality as a disease is reflective of Toby’s attitude in the novel, “He also knew, and differed here from his father, that it was more proper to regard these persons as subjects for the doctor than as subjects for the police”. While medical treatment would be far more desirable than criminalization, this is still a far cry from the attitudes towards homosexuality in England today.

In 1954, in response to increased controversy and media coverage, the Departmental Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution in Great Britain was formed to reassess the criminalization of homosexuality. Just before publication of The Bell, “The Wolfenden Report was published in 1957. It concluded that the criminalisation of homosexuality was an impingement on civil liberty. While the law should prevent abuse and protect the young and other vulnerable individuals, it should not intrude into matters of personal morality” (“Cabinet Papers”). Another revelation of the Wolfenden Report, was the vocational tendencies of criminalized homosexuals to seek refuge through clerical and teaching positions. Murdoch represents this tendency through Michael’s character. He is not only a teacher in his early career, but also a religious leader, who has dreams of one day becoming a priest. According to Grimshaw, “The guilt and fears some homosexual men experienced also stemmed from the social and moral responsibilities inherent in their vocations. Perhaps choosing such vocations to quell their fears and desires, homosexuals found that these fears paradoxically heightened when they could not suppress their sexual desires through their work”. Essentially, criminalization was driving homosexuals into these kinds of vocations where they attempted to escape themselves, but sometimes failed to do so, inevitably increasing the risk of harm to the young.

It could be said that Murdoch’s treatment of the social question of homosexuality certainly wasn’t undertaken in the search for popularity. It is very much the work of an activist, exploiting social issues through artistic literary means. During this time period, Murdoch also took the stance of activist in her contributions to the publication Man and Society, “Writing for the journal in 1964, Murdoch speaks out against members of society who “simply…make unfounded assumption about what it is to be homosexual,” adding that “the law and social prejudice” create difficulties for homosexual men”. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, homosexuality continued to be a topic of derision and judgment in popular media, “The infamous Sunday Pictorial feature of 1963, ‘How to spot a Homo’, [pictured above] might be less a subject of interest today.  Much use was made of stereotypes of mincing queens and child molesters or corrupters which bore at best marginal resemblance to the generality of gay men, then as now, but were nonetheless often believed”  (“Lesbian & Gay Foundation”). Homosexuality was not decriminalized in England until almost 10 years after the publication of Murdoch’s The Bell. According to the National Archives, “The Sexual Offences Act of 1967 decriminalised male homosexuality between consenting adults above the age of twenty-one” (“Cabinet Papers”).

Toby finds the lost medieval abbey bell while diving in the lake, where it was supposedly cast centuries earlier as a curse after a nun had an affair with a man; Dora suggests they secretly swap it for the abbey’s new bell, due to be delivered shortly, as a lark. Needless to say, things don’t go to plan, with consequences that are by turns slapstick and deadly serious.

In The Bell the mechanics by which the adolescent engineer Toby sets about getting an ancient submerged bell out of a lake – a tractor, a rope, an incline, then a makeshift crane and much leverage – are all worked out in such detail that one could imagine Murdoch having made drawings of the whole thing.

Everyone at Imber is trying to figure out how to lead a meaningful life amid the disintegrating ethical certainties of a secular society. But you can’t escape yourself.

The lay community doesn’t survive the scandal of the bell’s resurrection but the abbey remains at the novel’s end – its legacy secured, in fact, by Michael’s leasing of the house and its grounds to the nuns indefinitely.

Her novels often include upper-middle-class male intellectuals caught in moral dilemmas, gay characters, refugees, Anglo-Catholics with crises of faith, empathetic pets, curiously “knowing” children and sometimes a powerful and almost demonic male “enchanter” who imposes his will on the other characters—a type of man Murdoch is said to have modelled on her lover, the Nobel laureate Elias Canetti.

 TB 2Quotations:

[…] since, somewhere, something good existed, it might be that her problems would be solved after all. There was a connexion; obscurely she felt, without yet understanding it, she must hang onto that idea: there was a connexion. She bought a sandwich and took a taxi back to Paddington.

“like a bird out of the tower and fell into the lake.”

“potty communities are good for a feature”

“The bell is subject to the force of gravity.  The swing that takes it down must also take it up.  So we too must learn to understand the mechanism of our spiritual energy, and find out where, for us, are the hiding places of our strength.”

TB 3“I know how much you grieve over those who are under your care: those you try to help and fail, those you cannot help. Have faith in God and remember that He will is His own way and in His own time complete what we so poorly attempt. Often we do not achieve for others the good that we intend but achieve something, something that goes on from our effort. Good is an overflow. Where we generously and sincerely intend it, we are engaged in a work of creation which may be mysterious even to ourselves – and because it is mysterious we may be afraid of it. But this should not make us draw back. God can always show us, if we will, a higher and a better way; and we can only learn to love by loving. Remember that all our failures are ultimately failures in love. Imperfect love must not be condemned and rejected but made perfect. The way is always forward, never back.”
“Those who hope, by retiring from the world, to earn a holiday from human frailty, in themselves and others, are usually disappointed.”
“Our actions are like ships which we may watch set out to sea, and not know when or with what cargo they will return to port.”
“Violence is born of the desire to escape oneself.”
“The talk of lovers who have just declared their love is one of life’s most sweet delights. Each vies with the other in humility, in amazement at being so valued. The past is searched for the first signs and each one is in haste to declare all that he is so that no part of his being escapes the hallowing touch.”
“Toby had received, though not yet digested, one of the earliest lessons of adult life: that one is never secure. At any moment one can be removed from a state of guileless serenity and plunged into its opposite, without any intermediate condition, so high about us do the waters rise of our own and other people’s imperfection.”
“… he felt himself to be one of them, who can live neither in the world nor out of it. They are a kind of sick people, whose desire for God makes them unsatisfactory citizens of an ordinary life, but whose strength or temperament fails them to surrender the world completely; and present-day society, with its hurried pace and its mechanical and technical structure, offers no home to these unhappy souls.”
“The chief requirement of the good life’, said Michael, ‘is that one should have some conception of one’s capacities. One must know oneself sufficiently to know what is the next thing. One must study carefully how best to use such strength as one has. … One must perform the lower act which one can manage and sustain: not the higher act which one bungles.”
“But death is not easy, and life can win by simulating it.”
“Patchway had the enviable countryman’s capacity, which is shared only by great actors, of standing by and saying nothing, and yet existing, large, present, and at ease.”
“You don’t respect me,” said Dora, her voice trembling.

“Of course I don’t respect you,” said Paul. “Have I any reason to? I’m in love with you, unfortunately, that’s all.”

TB 4“Well, it’s unfortunate for me too,” said Dora, starting to cry.”
“Dora watched him for a while, nervously, and then returned to scanning the whole group. Seeing them all together like that she felt excluded and aggressive, and Noel’s exhortations came back to her. They had a secure complacent look about them: the spiritual ruling class; and she wished suddenly that she might grow as large and fierce as a gorilla and shake the flimsy doors off their hinges, drowning the repulsive music in a savage carnivorous yell.”
“Youth is a marvelous garment. How misplaced is the sympathy lavished on adolescents. There is a yet more difficult age which comes later, when one has less to hope for and less ability to change, when one has cast the die and has to settle into a chosen life without the consolations of habit or the wisdom of maturity, when, as in her own case, one ceases to be une jeune fille un peu folle, and becomes merely a woman, worst of all, a wife. The very young have their troubles, but they have at least a part to play, the part of being very young.”
“He went away, bent double with the pains of remorse and regret and the inward biting of a love which had now no means of expression. He remembered now when it was useless how the Abbess had told him that the way was always forward. Nick had needed love, and he ought to have given him what he had to offer, without fears about its imperfection. If he had had more faith he would have done so, not calculating either Nick’s faults or his own. Michael recalled too how, with Toby; he had acted with more daring, and had probably acted wrong. Yet no serious harm had come to Toby; besides he had not loved Toby as he loved Nick, was not responsible for Toby as he had been for Nick. So great a love must have contained some grain of good, something at least which might have attached Nick to this world, given him some glimpse of hope. Wretchedly Michael forced himself to remember the occasions on which Nick had appealed to him since he came to Imber, and how on every occasion Michael had denied him. Michael had concerned himself with keeping his own hands clean, his own future secure, when instead he should have opened his heart: should impetuously and devotedly and beyond all reason have broken the alabaster cruse of very costly ointment.”
“Toby had received, though not yet digested, one of the earliest lessons of adult life: that one is never secure. At any moment one can be removed from a state of guileless serenity and plunged into its opposite, without any intermediate condition, so high about us do the waters rise of our own and other people’s imperfection.”

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Wonderlands: Good Gay Travel Writing by Raphael Kadushin

WsHighly disparate pieces, some fiction, most not, with the feel of places, rather than mere descriptions of them. It all looks rather like some project done for the sake of it, though there are some gems e.g. Toibin’s and the one about the Isle of Lewis.

Mack Friedman’s recall of summer vac jobs with salmon almost evokes the smell of fish. The workers’ camp, the backdrop of an Alaskan fish factory, is as male-bonded a world as any Marine Corp barracks and it underscores the poetic first love that is the work’s more authentic refrain, and that becomes all the more moving for its lack of realization. His first novel was about a Jewish gay teenager, who goes to work in a fish factory – so there’s a(n autobiographgical?) connection. I had to look up ‘ulna ‘ =  long bone found in the forearm that stretches from the elbow to the smallest finger,

Brian Bouldrey’s piece was very boring, with all the stuff about languages and continual ‘Moo moo’.
Mitch Cullin has some interesting observations about travel and Japan, Hiroshima in particular.
Edward Field drinks tea with Paul Bowles – an occasion for name-dropping.
Rigoberto González – with him I share the energising feeling of being in a strange city
Raphael Kadushin settles into the ethereal sun of a Dutch spring.
Wayne Koestenbaum’s Vienna is both a city of high low culture, and as I don’t relate to operas I didn’t relate to his piece.
Michael Lowenthal remembers a jarring encounter in the Scottish Highland
Alistair McCartney writes airmail letters to his long-distance lover Tim Miller, who tallies the 1001 beds he has slept in all over the world as an air steward.
David Masello laments modernizing cities e.g. a church being demolished to make way for a car park.
Robert Tewdwr Moss tracks through the back roads of Syria and his own version of Arabian nights. I also had to look up ‘corniche ‘ = a road on the side of a cliff or mountain. It was becoming more liberal in 1998.
Bruce Shenitz also wrote The Man I Might Become: Gay Men Write About Their Fathers. Here, he explores a Dutch island – nicely enigmatic.
Colm Tóibín discovers a Spanish Brigadoon. Post Franco, the people are allowed in to ceremonies but there’s a dig at the officials who observe while drinking champagne.

Philip Gambone’s poignant “Do You Join in Singing the Same Bigness?” details his stays in China and a life-altering trip to Vietnam. Asia becomes a place of second chances.

Edmund White’s beautifully muted “Death in the Desert” elucidates the impact of AIDS with haunting clarity during a stay in the Middle East and recounts his harrowing drive through the Sahara with a man he loved.

Matthew Link’s “No Man’s Land” depicts his trip to the literal ends of the earth—Antarctica—in terms befitting Amundsen or Darwin.

Boyer Rickel’s paean to Italy, “Reading the Body”; observes male body language.

J.S. Marcus’s “Everywhere” deals with botched archaeological excavations.

Not all of the collection has overtly queer themes, and few pieces are truly sexual; there are no tours of gay Amsterdam, the Berlin homostrasses or the bath houses of the tropics. Rather, Kadushin has gathered highly disparate pieces, some fiction, most not, about the character of travelling, the subtleties and nuance that attend gay men together (or alone, but seeking companionship) in foreign climes and the feel of places, rather than mere descriptions of them,  learning about a place teaches about one’s self.

 

Overall, the world seems more hostile now.

Quotations:

Soon, I realized, Japan would seem no more real to me than my vivid dream of the crows, and I’d again find myself surviving on my own in the desert. And yet, for a while at least, I was content with the sudden realization that we are born alone, that we die alone, and that living provides us with the rare opportunity to truly love and to be loved; that, I suspect, is the only thing I know for certain.

Then, while sipping my coffee at the Excelsior Cafe and reading a short story by Haruki Murakami, my eyes stopped on a single sen­tence: “No matter how far you travel, you can never get away from yourself” Shimao said. How true, I found myself thinking. How per­fectly true. And so I shut the book, preferring instead to gaze out­side, mindful of the crows that were beyond the window and which were just now sorting through the debris of the storm’s widespread havoc—their long, curved beaks pecking at the messes created by both man and nature. Sitting there, my coffee growing cold, I could have stared at them all morning.

“Ever wondered what traveling and returning home have in common? In his introduction to “Wonderlands,” Raphael Kadushin writes, “We’re always leaving home because we’re partly looking from something else. And usually what we find, in the end, is a gift, a small wonderland that we may only recognize years later, when we’re back home, safe again.”

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At Your Own Risk: A Saint’s Testament – Derek Jarman

AYOR2(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

The title must be a reference to the frequent admonition about cruising grounds and such like in the former Spartacus International Gay guide.

Jarman was an arty-man to whom I couldn’t relate but this diary shows how normally human he was.

Saint? Well he was in ironic way in which the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence use the term

It’s not true that the Wolfenden Committee didn’t consult homosexuals.

He writes about being a boy and having innocent, unknowing attractions to other boys, and of being confused when the adults reacted with horror and censure to innocent boyhood flirtations. He writes of going to school and having no role models to help him understand what he was feeling, of having no idea that there were even others like him, that there was, in fact, a whole underground social structure of men with the same desires and feelings as him. “I was desperate to avoid being the sissy of my father’s criticism,” he writes, “terrified of being the Queer in the dormitory.” Later, he writes of discovering gay role models in art (Genet, Burroughs, Cocteau, Ginsberg) and truly awakening to his own sexuality during a trip to America in the 1960s.

At Your Own Risk is a very angry book because he was writing in the last years of his life, as he entered the advanced stages of AIDS-related illness, starting to go blind as many of his friends died from the same disease that he knew would soon enough claim him as well. Moreover, he was writing from within a culture that had, throughout his life, consistently restricted and tormented homosexuals, legislating their behaviour and, with the onset of HIV/AIDS, all but ignoring the problem until it dawned on everyone that heterosexuals were being affected too. Jarman’s book is structured by decades, from the 1940s to the then-nascent 1990s (the book was written in 1992, two years before Jarman’s death), and in each decade-spanning chapter, Jarman chronicles how gays were treated by society and how his own dawning understanding of his sexual identity developed.

This is also a very hopeful book, though, despite its righteous anger and outrage. Jarman is looking back here, examining a life lived within the restrictive boundaries of what he calls “Heterosoc” (a society-wide conformity that rejects all possibility of other ways to live and love), but he’s also looking forward, imagining a future in which young gay men won’t face all of the same problems that he’s faced. He ends the book with a movingly optimistic address to future generations: “I had to write of a sad time as a witness—not to cloud your smiles—please read the cares of the world that I have locked in these pages; and after, put this book aside and love. May you of a better future, love without a care and remember we loved too. As the shadows closed in, the stars came out.”

Basically each chapter is a decade and each decade is made clear with a montage of articles, states or minds in that time and his own look and experience on it. What I really loved about his writing style (and try to do the same in my stuff) was the blatancy and rawness but at the same time keep the mood light or not too overwhelming, no matter how outrageous and offensive it may seem.

AYOR1940’s – mostly articles about the gays in the Military and how they would be handled etc. And how some of them would be rent boys

1950’s – Alan Turing, who decoded the Enigma Code, was gay. The powers that be turned a blind eye at first, then , maybe they used and abused him.

1960’s – his first visit to a queer pub.  Laws changed and it felt like it was ok to be gay in the open but the police started giving them drama by raiding clubs and all sorts. Now Jarman keeps talking about the Heath, how the firemen would have a locking and invite gay folks in their pool after the gays had finished clubbing.

1970’s – founding of the Gay Liberation Front, gay politics, manifestos, the gay manual, the drugs, baths, saunas. Media making it worse with stupidity and spreading the wrong awareness about AIDS. Calling it the gay cancer. The circle of death as more and more known gay folks were dying of AIDS. Pasolini, Wilde, etc.

1980’s – New AIDS acronym – Arse Injected Death Syndrome. (rivals = Another Idiot Discovered Sex; All Interested Die Soon) More misleading quotations from the media. Doctors were making it even worse because if they knew their patient was gay they’d tell the patient he already was HIV+ so as to stop them from ‘funking around’. So many more deaths of Derek’s friends it’s like he never knew when he’d see them next. So he has a little Lamentation section in memory of quite a few of his friends, the memories he shared of them and a kind word or two… or not. The Sun whipped up the most flames with the most ignorant headlines and articles which were so far away from the truth. And so many pages were dedicated to such articles and headlines. And how Derek finds out he’s infected too how the kiss or death was his kiss of life. Living the life of an AIDS infected gay man, interviews on the subject and the like.

1990’s – Derek is canonised by the gay order of nuns (the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence) for his films and books as Saint Derek of Dungeness of the Order of Celluloid Knights.

An Appendix – which was basically information sent to him by his friends who were involved in the struggle for civil rights. Stuff about Hetero Hero (Magic Johnson) admitting he has AIDS and turned into all-American Hero by the president. While Freddie Mercury dies 24 hours after his public statement and how the tabloids heave into action. Statistics of criminal injustice even though being gay was not a crime anymore. Queer Policing. Tax money issues. Something that looks like a constitution, laws, rights, demands and bills for people with HIV..

AYOR 3Quotations:

For the first twenty-five years of my life I lived as a criminal, and the next twenty-five were spent as a second-class citizen, deprived of equality and human rights. No right to adopt children – and if I had children, I could be declared an unfit parent; illegal in the military; an age of consent of twenty-one; no right of inheritance; no right of access to a loved one; no right to public affection; no right to an unbiased education; no legal sanc­tion of my relationships and no right to marry. These restrictions subtly deprived me of my freedom. It seemed unthinkable it could be any other way, so we all accepted this.

In ancient Rome, I could have married a boy; but in the way that ideals seem to become their shadows, love came only to be accepted within marriage. Since we could not be married, we could not fall in love. Since we could not fall in love, we were not loved.

The Heath no more belongs to the people of Hampstead than the Palace of Westminster belongs to the people of Westminster.

No man is an island, but each man created his own island to cope with the prejudice and censure. The time for politeness had to end.

Already the dormitory was divided into three groups: those who would report you – future guardians of morality; those who enjoyed themselves – myself; and the rest, frightened by their own come, and probably destined for the cloth.

James Lindesay writes: Heterosexuality (derived from the Greek `heteros’ meaning different, rather than the Latin `heitare’ meaning ‘to yawn’) is a condition in which the individual is sexually attracted to members of the opposite sex. It is becoming increasingly apparent that heterosexuals (or ‘drabs’ as they call themselves) do in fact make up a significant proportion of the community.

In his Symposium Plato recommends that only young men who love each other are fit for public office.

The modern Queer was invented by Tennessee Williams. Brando in blue jeans, sneakers, white T-shirt and leather jacket. When you saw that, you knew they were available.

Swinging London swung in the imagination rather than reality; however, there was a limitless horizon of optimism. What were these bars like? None of them would pass muster these days; apart from the lack of alcohol, sound systems were in their infancy so dance floors were an after­thought.

Part of the con was to steal the name Stonewall and turn our riot into their tea party. We are now to be integrated into the worst form of British hetero politic – the closed room, the gentlemen’s club – where decisions are made undemocratically for an ignorant population which enjoys its emasculation.

So they – Stonewall – won’t acknowledge this criticism. They’ll pretend there isn’t a debate. The only way that they can succeed in their politics is through the myth of homogeneity and the ‘gay community’. But our lives are plural. They always have been – sexuality is a diversity. Every orgasm brings its own liberty.

The slow-witted approach to the HIV epidemic was the result of a thousand years of Christian malpractice and the childlike approach of the church to sexuality. If any single man was responsible, it was Augustine of Hippo who murdered his way to a sainthood spouting on about the sins located in his genitals.

Those who thought otherwise, that sexuality was to be celebrated, were executed or pushed into the shadows. The battle goes on with Augustine’s pack hunting in the debased tabloids. Augustine was joined by other demented saints.

The passions in fact are dishonourable since the soul is more damaged and degraded by sins than the body is by illness… Real pleasure is only in accordance with nature. When God has abandoned someone every­thing is inverted, for I tell you that such people are even worse than murderers. The murderer only separates soul from body but these peo­ple destroy the soul within the body.

`Three years ago he was diagnosed HW+. His doctor, who knew he was gay, organised a test for him. When he went back two weeks later for the results, he was told he had the virus. The doctor was a born-again Christian and he said my friend should give up his homosexuality and become a Christian. He didn’t do that and we coped for three years. A month ago he was called up and asked to go and have further tests by the hospital. He was tested and then re-tested and called back to be told he had never had the virus. They had been investigating the doctor, who had been giving young men who he knew were gay false positive results.’

 The average police clear-up rate for the mainly consensual gay offences of buggery, procuring, and indecency is 97%, which is 28% higher than the average clear-up rate for rape and indecent assault on a woman. This extraordinarily high clear-up rate for victimles-s homosexual offences is suggestive of a police vendetta against the gay community.

Compared with men who have consenting sex with girls under 16, men who commit the consensual offence of ‘indecency between males’ with partners over 16 are five times more likely to be prosecuted, and three times less likely to get off with a caution.

Convictions for victimless homosexual indecency rose by 106% between 1985-’89. According to the Home Office this can be explained by the decision of some Chief Constables to ‘target’ these offences. Comparable heterosexual behaviour is rarely, if ever, targeted by the police.

As a result, the number of convictions for consenting homosexual indecency was nearly four times greater in 1989 that in 1966 – the year before the ostensible decriminalisation of male homosexuality.

Men who have consenting sex with 13 – 16 year old boys nearly always get charged with ‘indecent assault’ (despite the boys being willing partici­pants); whereas an ‘indecent assault’ charge is almost never brought against men who have consensual sex with girls in the same age range.

Prison sentences for consenting homosexual relations with men aged 16 – 21 are sometimes as long as for rape, and are often twice as long as the gaol terms for ‘unlawful sexual intercourse’ with a girl aged 13 – 16.

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Realms of Strife (En los Reinos de Taifa): The Memoirs of Juan Goytisolo

FT 3For Spain to join the EU, despite the latter being a capitalist club, would be a socialist move in that trade union would have to be recognised.

A lot of it is tedious name-dropping, with the exception of the long section on Genet.

The subtitle misleadingly suggest that the memoirs cover the period 1957 to 1982 in Goytisolo’s life. In fact, this volume deals almost solely with the 1960s and early 1970s, only briefly touching on later times.

Goytisolo’s approach is also different from that in Forbidden Territory. Neatly divided into longer chapters (seven of them), Goytisolo offers chunks of his life, focussing around specific events and people.

Living mainly in Paris with long-time companion Monique, Goytisolo achieved quick critical success with his first novel. Though Goytisolo mentions his books at various points, in particular to point out what life-experiences later influenced his work, he writes surprisingly little about the success and reaction to the various books, acknowledging only that his first book was the only one that was practically universally acclaimed. He is surprised by his initial success — which was indeed fairly impressive: My name appeared after Cervantes in the list of most-translated Spanish writers published under the auspices of UNESCO in an annual survey of world literary activity relating to 1963.

He acknowledges that “The phenomenon entirely omitted specific literary factors: it developed exclusively from the world of publishing.” Nevertheless, it made him a man of note in the literary world in which he then moved.

Much of Goytisolo’s early time in Paris was centred around the French publishing house, Gallimard, where Monique worked and where he also was involved in finding Spanish authors and books to translate. Goytisolo moved in illustrious literary circles, including Sartre and de Beauvoir.

Trips abroad to Cuba and later the Soviet Union are among the more significant events offered. Goytisolo remained a soft sort of Marxist, critical but supportive. He had disappointments in Cuba, but seemed genuinely taken by the Soviet Union.

Politics play a large role. One longer section on the troubles surrounding the magazine Libre may be of literary-historical interest but, to those not familiar with Spanish and Latin American literary and political concerns around 1970 and the petty (and not so petty) infighting among the various characters, it is largely baffling and boring.

Goytisolo also continues to move towards acknowledging his sexual inclinations. He and Monique (and her daughter) live together as a nice little family, but Goytisolo finds that he is irresistibly drawn to a certain type of young Arab male. He finally admits his yearnings (and that he acted on them) to Monique in a letter, most of which he prints here verbatim. Monique isn’t too shocked and they continued to live happily together, finally getting married in 1978, fourteen years after he revealed his secret lustings. (Goytisolo explains a lot regarding his sexual preferences, but it does not seem quite enough.)

There is a fair amount of introspection — especially regarding sexual preferences, but also about having children (Goytisolo adamantly refuses to have any), and his own stature and place as a writer. Though not necessarily honest, Goytisolo is certainly brutally frank, especially towards himself.

Goytisolo’s adventures in what he calls the ” Sotadic zone,” or the world of macho Arabs who swing both ways. The term seems top have been coined by Richard Burton, who asserted that there exists a geographic zone in which homosexuality (referred to by Burton as “pederasty”, at the time a synonym) is prevalent and celebrated among the indigenous inhabitants. The name derives from Sotades, a 3rd-century BC Greek poet who was the chief representative of a group of writers of obscene, and sometimes pederastic, satirical poetry.

Realms of Strife is an interesting document, though it lacks the power of the first volume of his memoirs. The shifting foci makes for a more episodic read. The details are good and well-presented, but they do not fit together to provide the big picture. Gaps remain.

Quotations:

As far as I am concerned, the mismatch between life and writing was not resolved till some years later, when hand-to-hand combat with the latter, the exploration of new areas of expression and conquest of sub­jective authenticity, gradually integrated the former in a universe of text: the world conceived as a book ceaselessly written and rewritten, rebel­liousness, struggle, excitement fused in life and script as I was consumed by the delights, white heat, torments of the composition of Don Julian.

Seven months later I embarked with Monique on the visit to Almeria, postponed because of Octavio Pellissa’s arrest; we left her daughter in the Valencian village of Beniarjo and paid a return visit to our friends in the pension Zamora in Garrucha. In – a small four-horsepower Renault we drove round the villages and communities of the area: Huercal Overa, Cuevas de Almanzora, Mojacar, Palomares, and Villaricos. Monique was deeply impressed by the forlorn poverty we saw: she did not share the personal motivation nor secret affinities which drew me to that land, and she was horrified by the idea of vacationing, sunbathing, enjoying life with the reptilian indifference of a Swedish blonde in a landscape that was luminous and beautiful while harsh and poverty stricken. That was the starting point for our frequent discussions of the subject: Monique would reproach me from then on for my aesthetic fascination for places, regions, and landscapes where living conditions inevitably offended anyone with a minimum of social awareness. I was more hardened than she to the spectacle of poverty and strangely attracted by human qualities and fea­tures that have been inexorably swept away by the leveling commercia­lization of progress: my attitude was indeed ambiguous

The attacks directed at a writer are very often the proof that his work exists, that it wounds the moral or aesthetic convictions of the reader-critic and, subsequently, they provoke his reaction: in short, they enter a dynamic relationship with him: you yourself see them usually as a paying of respects and, fortunately, there is no lack of professional swashbucklers: an innovative work stirs up a defensive response from those who feel threatened or under attack from its power or novelty: the phenomenon is as real today as in the day of Gongora.

The novel that avoids the easy well-trodden paths inevitably creates a tension, collides against the unformulated expectations of readers: the latter are suddenly faced with a code they are not used to, and this code poses a challenge: if that is accepted and the reader penetrates the meaning of the new artistic system, the victorious hand-to-hand combat-with the text is itself the prize: the reader’s active enjoyment.

If your books were one day welcomed with unanimous praise, that would show they had become harmless, facile, and anodyne, very quickly they would have lost their power to repel and their vitality.

an unsettling sense of alienation and detachment in respect to our milieu: a furtive awareness of being an impostor, a result of not matching up to the role you were playing; the tedium of nighttime living, only tolerable thanks to the use and abuse of alcohol. My recent political disappoint­ments and the bitter certainty that I had created a work that had perhaps satisfied my civic responsibilities but fell totally outside that dense, purifying, initiatory zone forged by literature was now joined by the sudden realization of my homosexuality and the distressing clandestine nature of relationships, which I will describe later. The combined essence of all this could be summed up in one word: weariness. Weariness with the bustle of literary publishing,- political militancy, functional writing, my ambiguous image and usurped respectability. So I felt more and more sharply and clearly the need to concentrate my physical, intellectual, and emotional energies in those areas I deemed vital and to throw all else overboard.

Journal du voleur, which a friend had lent me two years before on my first brief stay in Paris. The reading of that book had an enormous moral and literary effect on me. The author’s strange, per­sonal, fascinating style accompanied an introduction to a world totally unknown to me; something I had sensed darkly from adolescence but that my upbringing and prejudices had prevented me from verifying. I can remember the person who gave me the grubby copy of the work once pointing out an individual in his thirties, looking defiant and insolent, heading for the cafe terrace exactly, opposite ours—it was called and I think it’s still called La Pergola, next to the Mabillon metro station—and muttering knowingly: “That’s Genet’s friend.” Days later, when I returned the book, he asked me whether I had masturbated as I read it. I said I hadn’t, and he looked taken aback, a mixture of disappointment and incredulity. He said, “I did dozens of times. Every time I read it, I jerk myself off.”

I have never liked this kind of confidence and I cut short the con­versation. As Genet told me years afterwards, he found nothing more irritating than the inopportune homage to the pornographic virtues of his work: he gave no credit to the opinion of homosexuals and appreciated only the praise of those outside the ghetto described by him, who took his novels for what they were, that is, an autonomous world, a language, a voice. As for the so-called friend singled out by my initiator into the novels, it must have been Java or Rene, considering the date. “But neither of them used to go around Saint-Germain-des-Pres,” Genet observed when I mentioned the incident to him, “both of them were pimping in Montmartre or robbing queers in lavatories or in the Bois de Boulogne.

on social inequality a very similar role in the interplay of the complementary and opposites to that normally played by difference of sex, would later deepen, become sexual, as it reached out and went beyond the limits of my language and culture into the incandescent brilliance of Sir Richard Burton’s Sotadic Zone. But at that stage it represented only a strange trait perceived by some third person as a whim or eccentricity.

Monique was passionately drawn to the world of masculine friendships: to the extent that she did not feel rejected, she was attracted by my ambiguity. On the beach at Peiliscola she had once seen me tipsily caress or let myself be caressed by one of our fisherman-friends who had stretched out next to me by the side of the boats, and the spectacle really stirred her up: it didn’t go any further and I made love to her in the hotel—still smelling of him, she said—while my friends drank and dived in darkness, drunk and naked. The Sunday meals in Rueil-Malmaison went on for some months: once or twice, in response to our friends’ invitations, we invited them to the rue Poissonniere. Monique’s diary for 2 December 1956 pinpoints a detail: seventeen Spaniards in the house! Vicenta and Antonio prepared paella for everybody, and the banquet went on till very late, much to the excitement and happiness of Carole, spoiled and entertained by those nostalgic expatriates separated from wives and children.

Along with this chance invasion by Jose’s worker-friends began another, slower, more furtive, and interstitial: Vicenta’s brothers, sisters, and relatives gradually disembarked in Paris, appearing at our flat with their bags and big old suitcases. We had to help find them jobs and accommodations and, through Jadraque and Monique’s friends, we managed to salvage some of them. The fresh migrants from Beniarjo trundled leisurely along from the rue Poissonniere to the Piles bar and from there to the vast pavements of the rue de la Pompe. Sometimes, Vicenta extended the sphere of her recommendations to other villages in the region: the girl dressed in mourning who came to our flat asking after her, she’s from Benifla, Vicenta said, but she’s a good soul. After a time, we had combed the entire field of our friends and acquaintances, and closed down our free employment agency with a feeling of relief. The untimely appearances and visits became less frequent. We had been drained by those months of intense Spanification and, as we admitted to each other, laughing at the end of a particularly hectic, rowdy day, we’d about had enough of it.

Your immense vitality allowed you to ride roughshod over the needs of sleep, take on the boreal rhythm of arctic nights: writing a novel or following the timetable at the publishers, reading for pleasure or out of duty, chatting at length after supper, drinking calvados in your favorite bars, going to transvestite haunts, getting drunk and making love. While you devoted the weekends to visiting Rueil-Malmaison or towns on the Normandy coast with Carole, you finished off your respective days with a tour of the cabarets on the rue de Lappe, next to the hotel where Genet was then staying, or with dinner in one of those modest Vietnamese eating-houses in the environs of the Gare de Lyon. Then night seemed young and somnambular, and you did not notice the first signs of aging and wrinkles till the early morning. Your body obeyed every caprice and decision without rejecting any, as if it were a mere appendage or instrument of your will. There was no such thing as tiredness, and you bravely fought off the impact of alcohol with Alka-Seltzer in the course of the long evenings. At that time Monique professed a real worship of queens. Guided by her cousin Frederic, you began to explore their lairs and hiding places: you sometimes went to dine at Narcisse, a restaurant where you joined in an extravagant reveillon with streamers, confetti, and hysterical shouts from a group of Spanish males decked out in mantillas and combs, as if on the lookout for the hero of Sangre y arena or some remote, improbable Escamillo; at other times, you dropped in on the dance at the Montagne de Sainte-Genevieve, where a huge, brazen queer, also from your country, performed a number of acts with a profusion of obscene gestures, propelling, whirring his tongue round as fast as an electric fan. Genet later told you that the most audacious, provocative queens he came across in his wanderings and stays in the prisons and red light districts of Europe were always Spanish. Whether beautiful repellent, pathetic or derisory, their rejection of any notion of decency, their defiance of all norms and good manners, the waggles and grimaces their laboriously recreated bodies endowed them with an exemplary moral hue. The fact that Spain forged and exported the most outrageous specimens was no product of chance: it revealed the great power of the social stigma that marked them. Their excessive response was directly related to that excessive rejection. Unlike the Sotadic Zone; where extended, diffuse bisexuality erases and removes the frontiers of illicit and becomes secretly and implicitly integrated in the marrow of society, the gravitational pull of the Hispanic canon determines existence of centrifugal, extreme, disproportionate reactions. The plentiful numbers and aggression of the queens, Genet explained to you, response to the oppressive atmosphere that shaped them: it was the of constrained official machismo, its lower, lunar, cleft face, its visage.

In the company of Frederic and Violette Leduc, who had been discharged from the sanatorium where she had been held, you the rather sordid haunts by the Gare de Lyon or Montmartre

unable to take reality by the horns, I sought refuge in militancy as if in a protective religious order: but neither Marx nor Lenin nor the working class had anything to do with my real worries. In truth, my case was quite similar to those middle-class youths who, as Octavio Paz would later write, “transformed their personal dreams and obsessions into ideological fantasies in which the end of the world takes on the paradoxical form of a proletarian revolution without a proletariat.”

My previous homosexual experiences were negative, and from the time we started to live together up to a year ago, I had no relationships with men, nor did I even contemplate one except fleetingly. Your love had inspired me with a self-confidence that I lacked, and for a long time I thought my homosexuality was a thing of the past. You attracted me physically and I felt secure in myself. Things began turning sour when  came by, when my cycles of depression and impotence started as a result of my jealousy and loss of that previous certainty—in spite of the ephemeral nature of your adventures and my conviction that you preferred me to everybody else. Consequently, I lived through some difficult years and, on the rebound, I made you suffer them too. Don’t think I attribute to you the least responsibility for what then happened: circumstances, as I see now, only contributed to showing the precariousness of my physical relationship with women. You should think rather that without you I would probably never have known a female love that was requited. There were many ups and downs, periods of calm and relapses. The jealousy got worse in my case because after the first cycle of depression I again fucked women but with difficulty, and two out of three times I was impotent. For months, as you know, I went to bed with whores from Saint-Denis until repeated failures made me bring the experiment to an end. In those circumstances, the feeling you were in love, even only transitorily, with other men was unbearable for me. I seriously contemplated suicide and loathed myself for not having the courage to go through with it. Afterwards there was Cuba, the need to hold on to something, to find another door. With_____, I reached a point of intense jealousy, depression, desire to throw everything overboard. I had no release with women and lost control of my actions: the only things I am ashamed in my life are a product of this phase; I was not responsible for myself yet was nevertheless aware of the moral degradation. Then, gradually, I had the impression I had touched rock bottom, realizing that henceforth I could not jealous of you. The day I saw Luis, I explained the situation to him and told him the only possible way out was some kind of homosexual life. It was then that spoke to you, and you mentioned the conversation to me, but I was still probing was unable to respond with any certainty.

It must be about a year ago that I started to go out with Arabs and I ne few weeks to recognize the evidence: I did recover my equilibrium and coal with you once again; but I also discovered that I was totally, definitively, vocably homosexual. From then on, as you must have realized, our relationship improved; although differently, I began to love you more than before and reached a kind of happiness that I had not attained in the past. I felt at peace, pl share life with you, to have you and Carole at my side. As you can imagine, I wanted to tell you what had happened; but our well-being seemed so fragile was afraid of undermining it. Then there was your need to leave Galli write about your mother: I wanted to support you on both fronts, not to decision that was central to your future. Despite my secret, life in 1964 was happy the year when our relations firmed up and I recovered my lost peace of mind decided to keep my silence, to help you cut loose from Paris and the to support you as you support me. I went to Saint-Tropez prepared to the new life I had discovered, content to dedicate myself to the novel, you, Carole. The months we have spent together have shown me how far I feel ly and emotionally united to both of you.  But they have also shown me I cannot do without real homosexual life. The (ambiguous) friendships I have are not enough and, although I am happy in your company, I am choked by chastity toward my own sex. In Paris I could have kept my secret without creating suspicion; in Saint-Tropez it is impossible, and if at times I wanted to go with _____, I put the idea to one side because of you, your status in the the possible scandal that could flare up, the gossip. The reality of life there rendered impossible the dual sexual life I was leading and confronted me with need to confess the truth to you fully. 1

I could not care less about what others think. Since I have been sure of my homosexuality, the only problem worrying me is in relation to you and Carole—the damaging impact that its discovery would now have on her. I am the opposite of an exhibitionist, and my sense of shame and attachment to secrecy are deeply rooted; but I am not afraid of the truth, and the few people I can rely on are you, Carole, and Luis. I told him all about this on my last trip. It remained only to tell you.

This letter explains my anxiety. I know too well what effect it will have on you, and yet I am forced to write it even with the risk. I am thirty-four, I love you, and I love Carole, I cannot live without you, I feel a boundless affection for you. What should I do? The void that life alone would be terrifies me, but I will accept it if that is what you decide. I would have wished from deep down that things could have been different, that my deviation had not happened but what I know of myself now is eating me away and, surrounded by our Saint-Tropez friends, I am suddenly aware that I am a usurper, that our friendliness is fictitious and based on deceit, that I must cast off the esteem of those who would be disgusted if they knew the truth. How often I have wanted to walk out slamming the door behind me when they were talking about me as if I were one of them, toclear off and live friendless in a country where no one understands me, in total isolation. I am obsessed by the destiny of Jean (Genet). Sometimes when I wake up at night I want to shout out. I then say to myself that this is my truth, that all the rest is fabrication, facile deceit. That if I am to do anything morally valid, I should make a clean break with everything. I am now on a knife-edge. I can suggest nothing, promise nothing at all. Your reaction fills me with anguish, but secretly I want to know. I realize I am destroying my happiness close to you, yours when you are close to me, which I feel to be so strong. I have begun the letter time and again with a timid heart. I pray you do not see it as a breakup although I am powerless if you do. I am afraid of life without you: your face, your capacity for love, your eyes, your affection. I have never been closer to anyone than I have to you.

“Which country are you from?”

“From Spain.”

“Where did you say?”

“Spain.”

“Spain, Spain .. Whereabouts is that in the Soviet Union?”

One observation that will interest you: while European homosexuals usually reveal themselves by imitating women, here, in contrast, they take on an extra layer of exaggerated virility. That’s what attracts me to them and helps me to distinguish them without fail, since naturally there are plenty who aren’t.

You can download it from here

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